Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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It is a mixed bag of feelings to finish a book and be both upset and happy at how it ends. For an Australian author to have such a high degree of success, however, is extremely satisfying.

Markus Zusak is the author of The Book Thief and it was first published in 2005, before zooming into atmospheric success, winning multiple awards and spending 375 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list and being translated into over forty languages. It has also been developed into a movie of the same name (which now I need to put on my ‘To watch list’).

Narrated by Death, it follows the timeline of World War II and the story of Leisel Meminger as she buries her brother and steals her first book, ‘The Gravedigger’s Handbook’. She is delivered to the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann in Molching where she is soon loved and she learns to love, even if her foster ‘Mama’ is a prolific swearer and calls her names. Her foster ‘Papa’ teaches Leisel to read, using her first stolen book as an aide, every night when she wakes from nightmares. Thus begins her compulsion to appropriate other books from various places and continue her love of stories and learning to read and write. Hans also plays the accordion, and it is this instrument that settles the direction of the future for the Hubermann family, unbeknownst to them at the time.

While in Molching, Leisel gains a best friend in the form of Rudy Steiner, who loves her and dearly desires a kiss from her, however, she resists. Leisel also forms a reserved and uncertain friendship – if it can be called that – with the owner of a personal library which is a huge privilege in a town whose books were burnt by the Nazis in a bonfire.

However, it is her friendship with a Jewish fist-fighter Max Vandenburg, who takes up residence in the Hubermann basement when he arrives on their door-step seeking shelter, that is perhaps the most important of this story. Hans and Rosa ask no questions of Max, however, they tell Leisel in no uncertain terms that if she mentions the fact of the man in their basement to anyone, they will burn her precious books and they would more than likely be taken away from her and she would never see them again. This is more than enough reason for her to consent to silence. However, their growing bond is sufficient grounds for Leisel to ensure that no-one finds out about the man with feathery hair hiding behind drop-sheets beneath their house.

This story is one that will remind you that we all die eventually. We all have a story throughout life and we all have a story behind our death. And Death doesn’t enjoy taking the souls of those who are taken from Earth – in fact, Death is tired of what he does, but knows that it is forever his job to eventually carry you gently away when your time comes.

While many books have left me reeling from the story within its pages (I either can’t believe how it ended, or wish that I could stay in the world of the characters who have been brought to life), I can say with all honesty that this is the first novel in which the words on a page have made me tear up. I won’t give it away and tell you which section this happened in, because then it is a spoiler. But this in itself is my testament that Zusak is a spectacular writer. I will say no more other than that you need to read this book if you haven’t already. I’ll wait for you while you go and buy or borrow it… Done? Good. Now get reading!

Have you read ‘The Book Thief’? What did you think?

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Book review: The Promise Seed by Cass Moriarty

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I first came to know about this book via Twitter, and figured that due to the attention it was receiving, it would be worth the read. And boy, am I glad that I listened to those tweets!

‘The Promise Seed’ is the 2015 debut novel from Brisbane author Cass Moriarty; it was shortlisted for the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards (Emerging Queensland Author manuscript award).

It follows the story of neighbours, a young boy and an old man, and the friendship that grows between them. The old man has a past that he doesn’t share with anyone, whereas the boy has a life that leaves a lot to be desired and so he doesn’t willingly issue any information either. They have a simple friendship unwittingly tied together by their hidden secrets, and a love of chickens, gardening and chess. But can their alliance survive the awfulness that comprises the boy’s life?

This is a well-written and touching novel which delves into family environments that are not always pleasant. It shows us that a person’s history may only ever be what they tell (or don’t tell) others, and that assumptions are not always correct. ‘The Promise Seed’ is a poignant reminder that the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies to people also.

I look forward to reading more from Cass Moriarty, and I always get a tad excited to discover a new author to follow. It’s a bonus that she is Australian also!

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Title: The Promise Seed

Author: Cass Moriarty

Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Pages: 304 (paperback)

RRP: $29.95

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Have you read ‘The Promise Seed’ yet?

Book review: The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

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I’ve been reading, reading, reading lately and haven’t gotten around to reviewing anything, so I thought I’d better remedy that.

A lot of people would have heard of ‘The Dressmaker’ as it was a hugely successful Aussie film in 2015; Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth and Hugo Weaving are just a few of the names you should recognise who starred in the movie. I’ve been told by my lovely librarian that as she watched it, more and more recognisable Australian actors kept popping up in it, and that it was great to see them all in the one spot.

The book by the same name that this movie is based on was written by Rosalie Ham in 2000, and to be honest, until the movie starting making splash waves I hadn’t heard of the book before. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, as I was busy crying under my desk with my curtain drawn across my cubicle as I tried to ward off homesickness in my first year of boarding school (I got over myself soon enough, so don’t worry. It was then all about what movies to watch on the weekends and walking to the shops, feeling mighty grown up). Anyway, back to the book.

This book did make waves at the time, unbeknownst to me, as found on Rosalie’s website:

Finalist, State Library of Victoria’s Most Popular Novel (2007)
Shortlisted, The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction (2001)
Shortlisted, Book of the Year Award – Booksellers Association (2001)
Featured, CAE Book Club List
Prescribed, VCE Literature List
Bestseller, The Age Fiction List

And so what did I think of this novel? I loved it. So completely different to anything else that I have read (much how I felt about the ‘Language of Flowers’, it was thoroughly original also), it follows Myrtle Dunnage as she hops off the bus in her home town of Dungatar, to look after her mother Molly who has slowly become more and more unhinged as the years passed.

Tilly and mad Molly have been shunned by many in the town, for reasons that will become clear throughout the book. There are a very small number of people who quietly helped mad Molly while her daughter was busy living overseas training and working as an expert dressmaker; and a few who are happy to befriend her once she comes back.

Every character in this book has their own quirky elements, making each and every one a very unique personality. While it is slightly hard to believe that there could be so many peculiar people in the one town (but then again, do we truly know others, and what goes on behind closed doors?), it makes for a very enjoyable read to see how each of them interact with each other and react to the crazy situations that constantly crop up. And so, while I haven’t seen the movie yet, I intend to, as I’d love to see the characters brought to life.

Have you read ‘The Dressmaker’? Did you enjoy it?

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Books, foster care, clairvoyance, writing, this post has it all…

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I apologise in advance for the words that are about to spew forth. I went to book club last night and our discussion was so diverse – not just about the two books that we read – that I kind of came home and ruminated on it all and couldn’t get to sleep. I was home at 10.30pm but I did see 1am on the alarm clock and I was awake again at 5am. WTF is with that?

So where to start? Pride and Prejudice was last month’s book club selection, and when I last blogged about it, I hadn’t yet finished it. I ended up enjoying it to a degree. Yes, the way it was written kind of made me frustrated, it was convoluted at times and I felt like getting a red pen and writing ‘TIGHTEN THIS’ across most of it. But then, it was written in 1813 and I guess this is a sign of the times for then. I can understand why it is a classic and I believe that maybe in another few years, I’d be happy to have a re-read and see if I pick up anything new in it, now that I am familiar with the writing style of Jane Austen. And the movie – I am keen to watch it and see how it compares.

SIDE NOTE: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant was another that I had not finished yet when I posted about it. Quite simply, it is a compelling and beautifully written novel. It encompasses womanhood and female bonds and when both of my daughters are old enough to read it (and by this I mean maturity, not reading level), I will be passing it on to them to read.

The second book that we talked about last night was our current one, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. The majority of us loved this book, and I am one of them. It is so completely different to anything that I have ever read. Victoria is now eighteen and after having had a childhood of being in the foster care system and continuously let down or mistaken or sabotaging her possible opportunities at happiness, she gets a second chance. She communicates using the Victorian language of flowers (for example: marigold = grief) and this has served her well until she must learn to open herself up in other ways. This novel skips between past and present, but you are never taken out of the story; it flows well and it all melds together wonderfully.

READ THIS NOW!

READ THIS NOW!

Because one of the questions about this book was what we all thought of the American foster care system after having read it, we also moved onto the topic of actually being a foster carer here in Australia. I think I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have the emotional capacity to do it. Obviously the majority of kids that would be coming to you are from broken homes, violent backgrounds, parents with a drug abuse or alcoholic history and so on – and while I feel desperately for these children, I believe I would have enormous trouble not getting attached to these kids in need and would hate to give them back knowing that they are possibly being thrown straight back into the thick of a really shit situation. And while this doesn’t help the already overworked system, it is quite simply how I identify with the whole state of affairs. Heavy stuff, right?

Now, another topic discussed was clairvoyants. Diverse bunch aren’t we? I have never been to one, and quite frankly am still not sure that I would be comfortable to see one. I don’t disbelieve in them (I think there are too many things in this world that can’t be explained), but also realise that there are probably more shonky ones out there who would be keen to take your money and tell you any old crap to keep you happy than real ones. I am probably more afraid of finding  a clairvoyant who is a ‘proper’ one and hearing stuff that I’m not ready or don’t want to hear. But at the same time, I do want to hear it. Does that make sense? If my husband reads this, he’ll be shaking his head and rolling his eyes and thinking, weirdo.

The subject of raising children, and in particular the differences of boys and girls (hello to Steve Biddulph, I will be buying two specific books soon) and when you should be encouraging them to participate in group activities and finding their own groove in life and everything in between was also brought up. Oh boy. If only being a parent was straight-forward. But then life would get boring, yes?

And finally… *inhale* I also came out last night. No, not as someone who is at AA or identifies as LGBT. I came out as a writer, to my book club group. And I tell you what, it got me in a bit of a flap. It is so true what many people say, that many writers are introverts at heart and to say out loud that we write, almost feels like we are admitting that we just sit around all day long wasting our time and not doing anything worthwhile like proper work. Which is a load of bullshit. Most writers still have full-time jobs and/or families and/or commitments and/or health issues and/or a life in general. Wednesday is my only (almost) set-in-stone writing day, because I have no kids under my feet. And while I don’t ‘work’ in a normal job, I do do the farm book work and have three kids, two of whom are participating in guitar, NRL, tennis and dance this year. It makes it bloody busy after school, I’ll just let you know quietly. And then there’s the littlest one who constantly needs feeding or being pushed on the swing or supervised in the toilet and all that stuff that is a part of being a mum… And so while I am slowly letting others know that I am a writer (because I am!), which is something that close family and friends do already know, there is still a bit of a ‘What are other people going to think?’ feeling that I have running around in my brain all the time. The ladies last night were very encouraging though, and I think I have some new beta-readers when the time comes. I did mention it might not be for another year or two yet, but they’re there waiting in the wings… *waves* Hello, book club girls! *exhale*

So, my questions for you today are:

Have you read Pride and Prejudice or The Language of Flowers or The Red Tent or Raising Boys or Raising Girls? Thoughts?

Are you a foster carer? How do you go? If not, do you think you could be one?

Do you write, but are too scared to admit it? 

And now that I have all of that off my chest, I’ll get to work on my manuscript, which is currently sitting at 14,111 words (not 15,000 like I thought last night – hopefully I’ll hit that today!) See y’all on the other side 🙂

Book Review: The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh

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A little while back I finished reading The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh, and it is a wonderful book.

It starts with an introduction to Luc Bonet, a lavender farmer in the Luberon region of Provence, France. His family is Jewish, and at the start of World War Two, this is not an ideal situation to be in. After learning of a secret that involves his heritage, and watching his family be subjected to the Nazi horror, Luc joins the Resistance as a Maquisard.

Meanwhile, Lisette Forester lives in London, and with German/French/English parentage and the language skills to boot, she comes to the attention of the Allies. It doesn’t take much to convince this feisty young lady to become a spy, and she is soon on a mission to use her womanly wiles on Colonel Markus Kilian, a member of the German army. Lisette is put in touch with Luc and their paths are now intertwined – what will become of their alliance? And what will transpire from Lisette and Kilian’s relationship?

This book has it all – heartache and tragedy, love, suspense and of course, a touch of history thrown in for good measure. It is a page-turner and I was delighted to read in the Acknowledgements that it has a sequel called The French Promise, which I will be sure to buy in the near future.

I highly recommend this novel, and with school holidays rapidly approaching, I would urge you to go and grab it for some Easter reading. You won’t be disappointed!

I have the pink version which helps out the McGrath Foundation

I have the pink version which helps out the McGrath Foundation

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Title: The Lavender Keeper

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Paperback: 496 pages

Publisher: Penguin Books

RRP: $22.99 normal version / $12.99 for Pink Popular Penguin version

Book Review – The Mapmaker Chronicles series by A.L. Tait

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The Mapmaker Chronicles is a great fantasy adventure series for primary-aged kids, written by A.L. Tait. The three books (Race to the End of the World; Prisoner of the Black Hawk; Breath of the Dragon) follow young mapmaker Quinn along with his Captain Zain, as they compete against two other crews to map the world in one year.

Each Captain has the chance to win the prize of their choice; Zain’s is to be freed from slavery if they are back first with the best map, while King Orel (who requested this campaign) promises a parcel of land to the winning mapmaker. As the youngest of his family, Quinn has no desire to travel the world and be away from his family for so long, but knows that the prize of land is too good to dispute. And anyway, he doesn’t have a choice!

The crew of the ‘Libertas’ confront many obstacles, but their determination and pluckiness is to their advantage in many situations, particularly when the Captain’s and crew of the other two boats don’t possess as many principles. But is their endurance enough to win this race?

This is an exciting series sure to capture the attention of both young and older readers alike. I enjoyed these books myself, and now the two older kids are keen to get stuck into them. Being able to have books that all members of the family can read and keep on the bookshelf make them a great investment, don’t you think?

TMC-2 TMC-3

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Titles: Race to the End of the World; Prisoner of the Black Hawk; Breath of the Dragon

Author: A.L. Tait

Paperback: 256 pages each

Publisher: Hachette Australia

RRP: $14.99 each

Book Review – The Lake House by Kate Morton

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The Lake House is Kate Morton‘s fifth novel, and it has proven to be just as magnificent as her previous books.

Sadie Sparrow has found herself in a situation that is not agreeable to her employer, the London Metropolitan Police. As such, she ends up visiting her grandfather, Bertie, in Cornwall and finding herself engrossed in the mystery of the Edevane family who once lived at Loeanneth, a now uninhabited house. There are only two original remaining family members, Deborah and Alice, with the latter sister being a famous novelist. Do either of them know what happened to baby Theo, their brother that went missing during the annual Midsummer Eve party at Loeanneth?

As with all of Kate’s novels, she bounces between years (past and present) and characters, slowly but surely feeding us new information and keeping us waiting with bated breath as to what will happen next. The Lake House is an engrossing read, with the secrecy of the Edevane family eventually coming to the fore. The ending will leave you applauding at Kate’s cleverness. READ IT.

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Title: The Lake House

Author: Kate Morton

Paperback: 608 pages

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

RRP: $32.99