Wine & Words Wednesday 31/05

Wine & Words Wednesday is back and we are ever close to my favourite season of the year: red wine season. Let celebrate with a bottle of the good stuff. Today’s bottle comes from a new favourite cellar door. Artwine‘s beautiful cellar door is located in the Adelaide Hills, with wine grown there and in the Clare Valley. Their cellar door was filled with friendly staff who were all too happy to oblige in any way they could. I had a great tasting (all the wines I tasted were delicious) and even ended up buying a glass to drink there so I could sit and read in the sun. What did I sit and drink there? Well the focus of today’s pairing, The Temptress 2016 Rose, grown in the Clare Valley. This Rose is made from Tempranillo with aromas of strawberries and florals and yet some savoury spice, stopping it from tasting too sweet. This Rose is delectable and I couldn’t help myself walking away wth a bottle and a glass for there. What might I pair this delicious and pretty wine with?

 

Well, with a name like Artwine you cannot go past a book that combines these two great things: art and wine. Okay, so maybe wine isn’t a heavy focus in this book but the characters definitely drink some wine in this novel. The Muse by Jessie Burton is a great read that follows two storylines, both heavily influenced by art. Odelle is a typist working at a fancy gallery when a mysterious piece of artwork is discovered. Olive is the young daughter of a famous art dealer who believes that women can’t be artists. This is an addictive and captivating novel that I highly recommend. Is there a temptress in this book too? Why, yes there is. Another fitting example of why this book and wine should be paired together. Who that temptress is, and if there is one or more, well you will have to read to find out.

 

Had a bust week at work? Need to unwind after a long day? Chill a bottle of The Temptress and transport yourself to London in the 60’s and Spain in the 30’s and lose yourself in this fascinating book, while pleasing your palate at the same time. Have the opportunity to visit the cellar door? Well, don’t delay, bring the Muse along and settle in with a glass and one of their amazing looking platters and take in the beautiful views of the Adelaide Hills.

 

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The Piper’s Son – Melina Marchetta

A companion book to Saving Francesca the reader finds themselves reunited with some familiar faces and a few new ones in the Piper’s Son. Tom is grieving his uncle who died in an explosion on the London Tube. He dropped out of uni, walked away from his music and turned his back on his friends, including the one he can’t forget, he one who can’t stand him after the “one and a half night stand”. Living with his single, pregnant aunt he tries to piece back his life together while trying to accept his alcoholic father back into his life.

 

This novel is like a walk down memory lane, or as a good friend put like “putting on a pair of comfy old pants”. We are welcomed back into the lives of Tom, Francesa, Justine and the gang. What is interesting is seeing where they all are five years down the track. Is it where you thought they would be? This answer will be different for everyone but it is fascinating nonetheless. With the switch and focus in perspective on Tom you see the old characters in a new light but with plenty of references back to the familiar old days that will have the reader grinning along at all the in-jokes. For all you die-hard Marchetta fans there is a easter egg hidden within the novel. One I congratulated myself on picking up with a subtle reference until the following pages made it a lot clearer. All I will say is when you find it, it will make a little too much sense and leave you feeling a little lighter.

 

Despite all my references to the past this is a complete stand alone novel that anyone can read and enjoy. I myself found it quite difficult to get into initially because of my previous ideas about the characters and didn’t really settle into it until about halfway through. I did find myself falling back in love with these characters who have grown and matured in so many ways. I also fell in love with some of the newer characters, Tom’s family in particular. His aunt Georgie was a gorgeous character to follow through her highs and lows of pregnancy as a single woman with a complex history. Ned was another highlight, the poetic chef who hates rhyming.

 

This novel deals with themes of grief that manifest in different ways. We watch how Tom and the rest of his family move through the the different stages of accepting the death of a family member. A death that occurred on the other side of the world. A death that left not even a body to bury. Marchetta understands the complexities of family relationships strained by years of smaller tensions, stretched in these circumstances.

 

Once again I found myself caught up in Marchetta’s words and her characters. There is something about her writing that gets under my skin and I find myself enjoying her novels every single time. I do recommend the Piper’s Son, particularly if you are aquatinted with her earlier YA novels but also a snapshot of grief and how it can consume you. How it can set fire to the pages of your life while you watch it turn to smoke. This is an unflinching, yet heartwarming novel with the buoyancy of youth. I give the Piper’s Son three of Tom’s guitars.

 

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The Lauras – Sara Taylor

The Lauras by Sara Taylor was another writers week discovery for me. This novel follows a mother and child on a road trip across the US. A pilgrimage to rediscover past friends, to right old wrongs and find a fresh start. Your typical road trip story of cross-generations discovery? Not quite, this book has a little extra something that makes it stand out from the rest. I’m giving you fair warning that I will be discussing a potential spoiler below so story reading if you want to discover it for yourself. Personally, this extra piece of information was what made me decide I wanted to read this book, however, I’m aware others may prefer not to know.

Okay, all ready for spoilers? Good, because you have been warned. The trick to this book lies in the offspring in this book, Alex. You see Alex does not identify with a gender. Sometimes Alex is just like her mother. Sometimes she identifies with the traits of her father. This gender neutrality is not a problem for Alex, which is one thing I like about this book. Nether is it a problem for Alex’s mother. It is other characters that the book comes across that can’t seem to comprehend Alex’s neutrality. That want to put Alex in a box. That have a burning desire to know what anatomy lies below Alex’s jeans. Which, by the way, the reader never discovers either and so they shouldn’t. This novel makes the point that is doesn’t matter what the outer shell of the body shows. What matters is what is is Alex’s mind, what Alex wants. This is a defining feature of the novel and in my opinion what really makes it. The reader doesn’t realise straight away, Alex’s gender neutrality, as the book starts when Alex is young enough that gender doesn’t need to be identified. Despite knowing this about Alex I still found myself picturing Alex as more feminine, perhaps because that is my own gender and what I identify, perhaps because for the most part novels that focus on the relationship between mother and child tend more to be books about mothers and daughters? Either way, it is still interesting that I subconsciously still attributed a gender to my metal image of this characters. It goes to show just how ingrained the impulse is to categories people as male or female. Taylor shows us great insight into a minority of people that many of us don’t know a lot about and perhaps need to understand so that we, ourselves don’t continue forcing choices on them, making them feel as though they are odd ones out, because they aren’t. They are ordinary people just like all the rest of us.

 

I loved the concept of the Lauras, where the title came from. Each of the characters from Alex’s mothers past were named Laura and we slowly hear about them as their journey slowly passes. We meet so many interesting characters on the road with Alex, all so fascinating that I suggest going and reading about them yourselves. I think this provides an excellent point of view that we can all consider, that each of our parents are more than just our parent. They were people before us. People with hobbies and interests and beliefs that may have fallen to the wayside with children, but that still shaped them as people. We should all be mindful of that and attempt to understand those that brought us into this world. You see themes of puberty, growing up, privacy and sexuality all deal with as Alex comes of age on the road.

 

There is so much to ponder within the Lauras, from the story at the superficial level to the deeper issues that are brought to the surface within these pages. Overall, this is a captivating book with beautiful prose and an urgency that develops to know what happens. I loved the ending, how it all came full circle for Alex. Personally I would recommend this book to anyone. I give the Lauras four cars taking Alex across the US.

 

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Storyland – Catherine McKinnon

I attended the book launch for Storyland and left feeling very excited to read this and in fact started it the next day. A short description of this book is that effectively it is Cloud Atlas but set in Australia. Set along the Illawarra across four centuries we meet five very different characters and learn their stories of living on the land.

 

Much like Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas we meet the five characters, each living in a different time point from the past to the present to the future. These stories are all, however, set in the same region, along Lake Illawarra which is south of Sydney in New South Wales. Each of the characters are linked in some way, whether it be by the land, or blood or history. I loved McKinnon’s transitions from character to character. They were seamless and smooth.

 

Each of the characters were very unique, some likeable and some were not. My favourites were Lola, an unsurprising common favourite. She was a strong, independent woman trying to do fight by her family in a harsh time that was made harsher if you were a woman without a husband. Bel was another favourite but completely different. She is a child and her perspective it described in the innocent way that only children can. She is an unusual soul and the way her mind works is unique and fascinating. I really enjoyed McKinnon’s glimpses into the future, they seem all too possible which is a terrifying thought.

 

An added bonus in this story is that many of the past stories have some basis in truth. Will’s story is based on an expedition with Flinders and Bass and was written after consultation with Flinder’s diaries for accuracy but from the perspective of their servant boy, Willian Martin. The character of Hawker is based on a true event where an Aboriginal woman was shot and mauled for stealing corn, an all too common story in those days that is no less horrific. In Bel’s story an ancient skeleton was dislodged in a storm, another even that occurred in the 90’s in this area. These fictional stories steeped in truth and accuracy lend this novel a little something more, lend it more reliability and impact on the reader.

 

The experience of reading this book was supplemented by the good fortune of having just listened to Girt by David Hunt as an audiobook in the days prior. I, therefore, understood the references to Bass and Flinders, Bennelong and Macquarie giving it a little something extra. It certainly adds to the enjoyment if you are familiar with Australian history but won’t make the novel any less enjoyable if you aren’t. If you are not overly familiar with Australian history, particularly if you are Australian yourself, I do recommend David Hunt’s unofficial Australian histories in Girt and True Girt (next up on my audiobook list). His books are a comical, yet accurate explanation of Australia’s history, which I found fascinating. We don’t learn a lot about our own (accurate) history at school and I found this a fascinating experience. Our history is at times so ridiculous that it sounds like fiction.

 

The only slight let down for me was that the ending seemed slightly anti-climactic but in a way it suits the style of the book and finishes of the tale nicely. I would highly recommend picking this book up. I have no doubt that Storyland will eventually become an Aussie classic, a tale of life in Australia and how we are all interconnected. I give Storyland four lyrebirds.

 

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Norse Mythology – Neil Gaimen

Before the beginning there was nothing – no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky: only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.

Norse Mythology is Gaimen’s most recent release. Simply put this book is a retelling of the Norse myths of old with the unique flair of fantasy king Gaimen. In all honesty there really isn’t much to this review as it is such a simple concept. Thanks to Marvel we are all familiar with the Norse gods Thor and Loki, what many of us don’t know are the origins of these characters and the stories surrounding them. Gaiman provides colour and flesh to these stories taking the reader on a journey from the creation of the world until the end of it. I would definitely recommend this book, particularly if you have an interest in the mythology of old world gods. Growing up I always loved ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology so loved immersing myself in the stories of the Norse gods.

 

These myths do keep to the stories of old so as much as Gaimen fleshes these stories out, he does not deviate from them. The reader can tell he has a genuine love and affinity for these myths in the way he crafts his words. Personally I much prefer the flair that comes from true fiction and would probably recommend American Gods over this novel first. Gaiman takes these mythological characters and places them in a fictional story where he can manipulate the storyline as he chooses, while keeping true to the characters. This particular novel is masterful and consuming, one I know I will read again and again. That being said this is an easy and enjoyable read that teaches you about the history of the Norse gods. I give Norse Mythology three of Thor’s hammers.

 

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On The Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta

After meeting this incredible woman at the (semi) recent Adelaide Writers Week I felt compelled to re-read my favourite book of hers, On The Jellicoe Road. A trusty old favourite I found when I returned to my copy the edges of the pages have yellowed showing just how long I have had this book, I can only imagine how many times I have read these pages over time and now want to share my love for this novel with you all. On The Jellicoe Road tells the story of Taylor. Taylor’s mother abandoned her at the 7-Eleven on the Jellicoe Road and here she is head of the boarders at the Jellicoe School  in the annual territory wars with the townies and the cadets. Just when this responsibility falls to her shoulders, Hannah, who found her on the Jellicoe Road disappears leaving Taylor her manuscript. A manuscript about a group of five kids in the eighties, living in Jellicoe. The manuscript is disordered, unfinished, and yet the stories stir a nostalgia in Taylor that she has no right to own. These stories, the disappearance of Hannah and the reappearance of the cadet lead Taylor down a path. A path that she hopes leads to some answers.

 

It does not matter how many times I read this novel, this story, the characters, the nostalgia stirs something in me and I always end the book ugly crying at the beauty and tragedy of it. Marchetta is a true story teller and in this novel she creates such a compelling tale of friends, family, love, abandonment set in the rugged and beautiful Australian bush. The characters are all memorable and unique. You fall in love with the abrupt, prickly Taylor who acts as though she doesn’t need anyone, and who can blame her. The character development, the unfurling of this character as she realises that life is better when you let people in, when you demand the attention and love you deserve will melt your heart. Along with Taylor you will also fall in love with the eighties mob, larrikin Fitz, hopeful, idealistic Webb, intense Tate, the unfathomable Narnie and Jude, who just wants to belong to them all. Full of references to Australian eighties pop culture this book made me fall in love with the famous Cold Chisel song Flame Trees. Although everytime I hear the haunting Sarah Blasko version I can’t help but think of this book. Seriously if you have read or plan to read this book, when you finish sit down and listen to this version of the song and soak up the melancholy.

 

This book has a bit of everything that a good YA book should have: there are teenage dramas, a bit of love and romance, a lot of pent up feelings, friendships that have no limits that only the young can have, tragedy, laughs and the most colourful characters you will ever find. This is more than just another YA novel, it is a snapshot into growing up in Australia. I’m not sure if I have done this book justice with this review, it is suprisingly difficult to write about a book you are familiar with like the back of your hand. A book that you cant fathom anyone not loving as much as you. All I can say is please read this book. A five star read for me without a doubt that I would recommend time and time again.

 

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Wine & Words Wednesday 17/05/17

Just look at that beautifully balanced date (I’m a bit weird like that, I love dates that are balanced in some way of another). Let us celebrate with a bottle of wine and a great book. Just because. Today’s wine is brought to you by a favourite South Australian winery, Bird in Hand. Looking for a well-priced but absolutely delicious sparkling wine? You cannot go past their Sparkling Pinot Noir. Seriously, go try it. But this is not the focus of today. Today I am presenting you with their 2014 Two in the Bush Merlot Cabernet. A delicious and way too easy to drink red, this is what you might call their budget line of wines and yet it is still very drinkable. If you ever make your way to Adelaide, do head up into the hills and taste their many delicious wines, you really cannot go wrong.

 

What novel comes to mind when I think of birds and bushes or trees? Well the absolute classic To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. There are birds and trees filled with treasure and to be honest some of my favourite characters in all the literature. If you have not read this classic, I implore you to pick it up, Most deserving of the hype is this novel and if you have rad this but back in the old school days, pick it up again. My water damaged copy was purchased in Paris. I had been backpacking for almost two months and missed home and my own space. I picked up this familiar story to entertain myself for the rest of my trip and I was not disappointed. In fact I probably read this book every twelve months. If you don’t know what this book is about, who even are you? But if you haven’t, this book teaches you a very important life lesson, that is that…

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Ahhh, the wise words of Atticus Finch. Autumn is a beautiful time in the Adelaide Hills. The trees are turning orange and depositing the golden leaves on the ground. The mood is contemplative and melancholic. Grab your own copy of this novel (you won’t regret it) and take a drive up to Bird in Hand, grab a bottle of Two in the Bush and a blanket (provided by the winery too) and sip a little while immersing yourself in Maycomb County with Atticus, Jem and Scout. A better afternoon could not be found.

 

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