Thursday, December 31, 2009

Feeling Blah

Weather horrible.

Children bored.

Slept for 12 hours last night and still feel tired.

What is wrong with me? I'm having a definite post-Christmas slump. Thank goodness we didn't go away like we usually do at this time of year. Caravans and caravan parks by the beach are not so fun in rainy weather. It's been bad enough at home. Joshua got a new bike for Christmas and he hasn't even been able to ride it yet. We haven't been able to go to the beach. Chris' colleague at work has lent us his boat (just a tinnie) so we can go out fishing, but we haven't been able to. Poor Chris, he has to go back to work on Monday, and I don't think he's had much of a fun holiday.

It's New Year's Eve today. Every year there are fireworks down at the waterfront, not far from here. It's doable to head down there for the 9pm fireworks and be home and in bed by 10pm. Yes, we are such party animals! Every year there's a circus, and every year the kids ask to go, and every year we don't. But this morning I was feeling sorry for everyone, so I swung into action, found out that the circus is on at 3pm, (giving us plenty of time to get dinner then be ready for the 9pm fireworks), and got us some ringside seats! Yay for me! Only one problem, I think I might have missed the window of opportunity for pleasing my kids. I think they might be a bit too old and too cool for the circus now. When I told them that we were going the circus, their responses were less than ecstactic. Oh well, I'm trying...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Not Quite Wrapping up the Everything Austen Challenge

Unfortunately with only a day or two left until the Everything Austen challenge deadline, I am well aware that I'm not going to make it. Everything Austen has been hosted by Stephanie at Stephanie's Written Word, and was designed for all of us Jane Austen fans. The idea was to experience (or re-experience) six Austenish books, movies or the like. Sadly, I have managed only two, Mr Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange and Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster.

Even though the challenge is going to officially end, I'm going to continue on into the New Year. I'll still post reviews, and finish in my own time. Thanks Stephanie, for all your hard work hosting the challenge.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wrapping up the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge

Thanks so much to the delightful Beth at Beth Fish Reads for hosting the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge and introducing me to these enjoyable books. Their author, Charlaine Harris, has written other series also, as well as some short stories, so I'm definitely glad that I've found her!

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris. Borrowed from my local public library. **** "Great, as expected."
I'm having a little bit of trouble with this review. I read this one, and the last one Dead and Gone, immediately after one another in the space of a day and a half, and I'm finding it hard to remember where one finished and the other started!

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris.

Borrowed from by local public library.

**** "Fun!"

So, I'm not wanting to give away too much to those of you who will be wanting to read these books for yourselves. Lets just say this much - the weres are battling in From Dead to Worse and the fairies are battling in Dead and Gone, and Sookie manages to be right in the middle of it all. Bill is still professing undying love for Sookie, but her bond with Eric is strengthening. Not to be left out, Quinn and Alcide both make appearances in these books also. As usual, all Sookie wants is a peaceful life and a man in her bed that she can rely on to hang around for a while, and as usual Sookie ends up in danger and physically and emotionally hurt.

If you haven't tried the Sookie Stackhouse books, but like fast paced easy reads that are just a little bit trashy (!), then I recommend that you give these books a try.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Welcome to the Post Christmas Book Binge

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas, each in your own way. Is it wrong? I actually enjoy the days after Christmas leading up to New Year better than Christmas itself. Having visited both sides of the family, cooked and eaten, given and received presents, yada, yada, yada, I find this time of year restful and enjoyable.

The kids have some new presents to amuse themselves with, my husband is at home because his work shuts down at this time of year, and I GOT SOME BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS! Aaaaah, time to relax and read!

I have a little bit of a backlog of reviews from books I have read lately, (why oh why is it so easy to motivate myself to read a book, and so hard to motivate myself to write a review?) so I'll get on with it so I can bury my head in a book.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.

Bought for a friend for her birthday, and borrowed back.

**** "Interesting and enjoyable!"

From the back cover: "From the moment she's struch by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is marked for greatness. When she uncovers fossils of unknown creatures in the cliffs near her home, she sets the scientific world alight, challenging ideas about the world's creation and stimulating debate over our origins. This is an arena dominated by men but luckily Mary finds and unlikely champion in prickly, intelligent Elizabeth Philpot. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty and barely suppressed envy. Despite their defferences in age and background, Mary and Elizabeth discover that, in struggling for recognition, friendship is their strongest weapon."

This book is set in the Austen era, and is essentially the tale of two women. Mary Anning is the daughter of a cabinet maker who is deeply in debt and dies young. Her family's only form of income is the money they make from the sale of "curies", fossils that Mary finds on the beach at Lyme Regis. Visitors from London will pay in pennies, or sometimes even shillings for these curiosities. The family lives hand to mouth, always on the brink of starvation, and constantly have the fear of being sent to the workhouse hanging over their heads.

Mary has an instinctive abilty to find fossils. She is well practiced in the art of cleaning them and displaying them to their best advantage, but even more, she has a talent for reconstructing the skeletons of mysterious and unknown creatures. Her finds begin to catch the attention of gentlemen for whom the collection and display of fossils is their latest hobby, and eventually they come to the attention of the greatest scientific names of the time. Some of her finds are still on display today.

Elizabeth Philpot is one of three spinster sisters who are sent to live in a small cottage in Lyme Regis with their one servant and their one hundred and fifty pounds a year when it becomes apparent that they will not marry. They live modestly in their diminished surroundings, with less society than they are used to in London, and to their credit they find ways to quietly fill their days. Elizabeth has a great interest in natural science, and takes to scouring the beach for fossil fish, in which she has a particular interest. But upon witnessing the incredible discoveries that Mary Anning makes, she begins to question her ideas about God's creation. Why would God create animals, only to allow them to die out? If God created the earth, just as it is today, how did the animal bones get inside the rocks? And how could the earth possibly be only 6000 years old?

This book is a work of fiction, but is based on read people and real events. Because I had already read some popular science that dealt with scientific thought at this time, I could really appreciate the events as they unfolded. But I think a reader with no previous scientific knowledge would still enjoy this story.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

grave sight by Charlaine Harris

grave sight by Charlaine Harris

Borrowed from my local public library.

**** "Loved it!"

From the inside cover: "Harper and Tolliver are experts at getting in, getting paid, and then getting out of town fast - because the people who hire Harper have a funny habit of not really wanting to know what she has to tell them. At first, the little Ozarks town of Sarne seems like no exception. A teenage girl as gone missing, and Harper knows almost immediately that this girl is dead. But the secrets of her death - and the secrets of the town - are deep enough that even Harper's special ability can't uncover them. With hostility welling up all around them, she and Tolliver would like nothing better than to be on their way. But ten another woman is murdered. And the killer's not finished yet..."

This book is the first in Harris' "grave" series, telling the story of Harper Connelly and her step-brother Tolliver Lang. Harper and Tolliver are strongly bonded through the experience of parental neglect during their formative years - her mother married his father, and together they descended into a drug and alcohol fueled decline. During these desperate years, Harper was struck by lightning, and though she survived, she was left with a legacy of ill-health and a strange, unexplainable gift - the ability to locate corpses and identify them, along with their cause of death. Harper and Tolliver travel the country as a very unusual private detective team; Harper finds the dead and allows them the dignity of a burial, while giving their families closure. tolliver supports the fragile Harper, and takes care of the business side of things.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know that I am a very frequent visitor to my public library. That is because I simply don't have the disposable income to buy many books. Often the books that I want to borrow are already out, and for some reason my library charges $2.50 to put you on a waiting list to receive it when it comes back in. For this reason I often check my library's online catalogue frequently so I can see when a book is back in and nab it quickly! grave sight is one of those books that I had to be patient for, so I actually ended up reading the second book in the series, grave surprise, first. You can read my review here.

Anyway, the fact that I had read the second book in the series first in no way diminished my enjoyment of this book. The characters of Harper and Tolliver are interesting, and their not-quite-brother-and-sister relationship is fascinating. The paranormal aspect of Harper's gift is handled very well, without hoopla. Apart from Harper's ability, this is not a paranormal story, rather it is more like a classic murder mystery. I like the way that while Harper and Tolliver's story goes on, the mystery is wrapped up by the end of the book. In this way, the books are like episodes of your favourite TV show - you don't want to miss one, but if you do it's not the end of the world, you can keep watching.

Highly recommended. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do You Believe In Coincidences?

Today I was browsing in a book store with my hubby Chris, and while I was in the Jane Austenish area I picked up a copy of Sense and Sensability and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters, just to show him. I'd heard a bit about this book, and another in the same vein called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I'm participating in the Everything Austen Challenge, hosted by Stephanie, so these Austen mashups have not escaped my notice.

Imagine my surprise when I got home, checked my emails, and found that I had won a "gently used" copy of Sense and Sensability and Sea Monsters from Ashley at Ashley's Library! Spooky coincidence...or something more???

Thanks Ashley!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas

Well the presents are wrapped, school is finished, the Christmas parties are done. In just a few short days we'll be unwrapping the gifts, getting together with family, eating, drinking and being merry. So why don't I feel very ho-ho-ho-happy?

I guess I have had a pretty busy time of it lately. I'm probably mostly just tired. And I think sometimes we put a lot of pressure on special occasions and holidays to live up to our expectations. We think that Christmas should be so special and shiny and merry, and I think it's hard for it to live up to the hype.

So I'm just going to take things one day at a time. (Which is how I try to live all the time.) This afternoon we're heading down to my sister's place to have a BBQ dinner. We usually get together once a week, but lately end-of-year festivities have gotten in the way. So tonight will be our first meal together in a while, so I should plan to enjoy it! (It's a bit sad when you have to remind yourself to enjoy things that should be effortlessly enjoyable - so I guess I must be tired!)

Chris and I went to Lizotte's in Newcastle last night and saw the Bondi Cigars with some friends. Check them out in this video (not taken by me, just found on YouTube).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

More about the iphone and Books

Remember I was talking about e-readers and iphones the other day? Well check this out!

With thanks to Judy at Hey Jude!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Lollipop Shoes

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris.

Borrowed from my local public library.

**** "Captivating"

From the back of the book: "Seeking refuge and anonymity in the cobbled streets of Montmartre, Yanne and her daughters, Rosette and Annie, live peacefully, if not happily, above their little chocolate shop. Nothing unusual marks them out; no red sachets hang by the door. The wind has stopped - at least for a while. Then into their lives blows Zozie de l'Alba, the lady with the lollipop shoes, and everything begins to change...

This book is a sequel to Chocolat, which was made into a movie, but it's not necessary for you to have read the book or seen the movie to enjoy The Lollipop Shoes.

The Lollipop Shoes is the story of a mother's love. Yanne is really Vianne, a gifted witch who uses her magic to protect her family and bring love and hope to those around her. It appears however, that her gift is placing her children in danger, so she runs away, changes her name, and swears to never  use magic again. The opening of the book finds Yanne living in fear, trying desperately to be as invisible as possible. She lives above a little chocolate shop, in which she works selling factory-bought chocolates. No longer the wearer of red dresses, and the creator of divine home-made chocolates, instead she is as brown and bland as possible.

Yanne's daughters have inherited her gift for practical magic, but Yanne is frightened of the consequences so is desperately trying to explain away any unusual occurences as "accidents". Her older daughter, Annie (formerly Anouk), is approaching adolescence, and really needs her mother. But she cannot trust the stranger that Yanne has become.

Into this mix sweeps Zozie, with her "lollipop shoes", eclectic mix of bohemian clothing and unstoppable energy. Zozie is also a witch, and befriends Annie, slyly becoming the mother figure that Annie desperately needs. She has sinister plans for the little family.

I thoroughly enjoyed this magical tale. Like Yanne, I have an eleven-year-old daughter, so the description of their increasingly difficult relationship resonated for me. It reminded me how much our children need to see us being authentic, open and not fearful. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Kindle and Other e-book Readers

Christmas brings with it lots of catalogues and shopping, and I find, lots of ideas for things that I'd really like to have! Lately my mind has been on the idea of getting a new mobile phone, perhaps even an iphone. All the apps make it a one stop shop for phone, music, photos/video, internet and personal organisation. Not to mention, it has an e-reader.

My husband has been warning me that using your iphone for everything can cost a lot! Apparently the trick is to make sure that your internet access is via your own home network rather than charged as phone calls. Also, he reminds me that if you have one device for everything (i.e. all your eggs in one basket), then disaster strikes if something happens to that precious device. So I don't think I'm getting an iphone any time soon.

I am, though, quite taken with the idea of an e-reader. For uni this year, one of the readings was via an e-book which I borrowed from the uni library. First I had to install some software to act as my library, then I downloaded the book, and read it on screen. That's the sum total of my experience with e-books. But the idea of a small, portable device that can hold hundreds of books is enticing. Also, many e-books are available for free, and (I've heard) others are very cheap.

I have heard though, that Australian users can find it a bit frustrating because copyright prevents us from owning many of the e-books that are readily available elsewhere. Bummer.

My friend Ruth, at Skerricks has been lobbying (no success so far) to receive a Kindle, or similar, to review. Let me tell you, she deserves it. She loves her library, loves her kids, and works hard to continually improve service. She never rests on her laurels, but is always trying new things. She is ever the optimist, and seems tireless. Today she posted about e-readers here and provided a link to a very interesting blog post and slide show about e-readers and e-books in Australia. Check it out here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

How's your relationship with classic literature? Mine's pretty rocky. Over the years I have read several books that I felt that I really should love, but just didn't. Nothing by any of the Bronte sisters appeals to me, much to my embarrassment.

So it was with some trepidation that I began The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I feared that I would find it dull, or difficult, or un-finishable.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

Borrowed from my local public library.

*** "Readable"

The cover of the book that I borrowed from the library is extremely boring, so I've used a still from the recent movie adaptation.

So what's it all about? The "picture of Dorian Gray" has become a well-known idea in our culture, and is often used as a metaphor. Sometimes people are said to be like Dorian Gray, or it is wondered whether they have a portrait hiding in a closet somewhere. But what does it all mean?

Dorian Gray is a young, naive, beautiful, innocent boy. An artist paints a portrait of him, and all at once he is arrested by his own beauty. He laments the fact that he will gradually age and lose his looks. He wishes that his portait could do the aging for him, and that he could remain untouched and beautiful forever.

At the same time, Dorian strikes up a friendship with an older man, Lord Henry Wotton. "Harry" takes great delight in influencing and moulding Dorian's character, likes and dislikes, and opinions. He advocates sensuality, and decries morality. Bit by bit, Dorian does away with conscience, and embraces a life of style over substance and the pursuit of pleasure. As time goes on, Dorian's life descends into depravity, despair, madness and murder.

And that's basically the whole story. There's not really a whole lot of plot going on. And while I was keen to know what was going to happen, and how it would all play out, I would have liked a bit of subplot or some more expansion of other characters.

The writing is fabulous. Harry is deliciously wicked and ironic, and the dialogue and descriptions are wonderful. I must, however, be a bit uncouth, because I like to have a bit of action with my excellent writing.

Well worth a try, and I enjoyed it more than any of the "classics" that I have read.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Year 6 Farewell Pics

Please enjoy these photos taken last night at Alana's Year 6 Farewell.

All dressed up and ready to go.

With her besties before going inside.

I love you Alana XOXO.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

All Together Dead

It's not too late to sign up to take part in the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge. Head over to Beth Fish Reads and check it out.
Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Series are listed below, with links to my review posts.

All Together Dead
From Dead to Worse
Dead and Gone

And so we move on to my review for All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris.

Borrowed from my local public library.

**** "A great fun read."

From the back of the book: "Betrayed by her longtime vampire love, Louisiana cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse must now not only deal with a possible new man in her life - the oh-so-handsome shape-shifter Quinn - but also contend with a long-planned vampire summit..."

I found this instalment in the series pleasantly satisfying. A lusty sex scene (no, I won't tell you who!), a declaration of undying love (or at least desire), and a mysterious blood exchange ritual leading to an irrevocable bond.

Of course, as usual, there's death and destruction, murder and mayhem - perhaps a little too much for me. The ins and outs of the vampire summit, the sheer number of villians, and the complex relationships between all the different players were difficult for me to get my head around. I still don't think I quite understood what happened!

Nonetheless, an entertaining diversion that provides Sookie with plenty of scope for adventure in future episodes.

Year 6 Farewell

Alana has her Year 6 Farewell tonight at the school hall.

5.30pm meet and greet and photo opportunity.
(I'm not making this up, it actually says this on the invite!)

6pm sit down dinner and speeches.

Then they "dance the night away".
The fun finishes at 8.15pm.

Parents are welcome to arrive back at the school from 7.45pm.
(To do what? Spy on our kids "dancing the night away"? More "photo opportunities"?)

I'll be sure to post tomorrow to let you know all about it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

(Image courtesy of

I don't want to speak too soon, or too loudly, but I THINK I MIGHT HAVE FINISHED MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Puppets Rock Out to the Christmas Story

This morning at church we had our annual children's end-of-year presentation. Each Sunday School group presents an item, then each of the children are given a small (book) gift to celebrate the end of another successful year.

Alana received Sophie's Encore by Nancy Rue.

From the back of the book: "How can God let bad things happen? Sophie's baby sister, Hope, is born with Down syndrome, and the Flakes dis her over an annoying new girl. Even her research as medical expert Dr. Devon Downing won't fix things, but Sophie learns love is at work even when she can't see it."

Josh got My Life as Crocodile Junk Food by Bill Myers.

From the back of the book: "Chased by thieves through roaring rapids, over a killer waterfall, and into the hands of primitive jungle natives! This isn't exactly what Dad had in mind when he took his son on a missions trip to the South American rain forest. But he should have known better. After all, we are talking about Wally-If-Anything-Can-Go-Wrong-It-Will-McDoogle."

The most entertaining part of the morning for me (sorry kids) was the showing of a video that someone had stumbled over on You Tube. I won't try to explain it, you just have to watch it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Full Blast by Evanovich & Hughes

Full Blast by Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes.

Borrowed from my local public library.

*** "Readable"

I've got one word to say about this book - trashy. Which is great, if you like that sort of thing. Which I usually do. I am a big fan of Evanovich's "By the Numbers" series (she's up to Finger Lickin' Fifteen). Sure, they're trashy, but the heroine is lovable, the love interests are interesting and there is plenty of humour. Full Blast's heroine, Jamie Swift, is a bit boring. I wasn't feeling it. The love interest, Max Holt, just didn't do it for me, and there were no laugh-out-loud moments.

Sorry folks, if you feel like an enjoyable, trashy read with a bit of romance (or just plain sex!), a bit of humour, and a mystery to solve, you'd be much better of with Stephanie Plum, or even Sookie Stackhouse.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Books I can't finish.

I've read posts on other blogs lamenting the inability to finish a particular book. And the debate on whether or not to force yourself to finish it, whether to write a negative review, or whether to follow Mum's advice and "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all".

Lately I've been experiencing a bit of a reading slump; coming across no fewer than three books that I couldn't make it through. What's happened to me???

an Umbrian Love Story by Marlena de Blasi. Borrowed from my mother, who thought I might enjoy it.
Despite the fact that I couldn't finish this book, I don't think that it's terrible. Not at all. It's a lovingly written memoir, detailing life in country Italy through the eyes of an outsider.

de Blasi concentrates on the food, festivals, family life and architecture of the town of Orvieto, where she and her husband settle with the intention of buying a house and entertaining family and friends.

Sorry - I can't tell you how it all works out.

Capital Crimes by Faye and Jonathan Kellerman. Borrowed from my local public library.
I've read lots of books by both Kellermans in the past, and enjoyed them. What happened here?

This book is two long short stories, Nashville and Berkeley. I started with Berkeley, and couldn't get into it. So I flipped the book over, and tried Nashville, which I enjoyed. so I flipped again, tried Berkeley again, and still couldn't get into it.

The Enigma of Numbers by Lance Storm. Borrowed from my local public library.
I thought this book was a sure thing for me. I have a mathematics degree, I love "popular science" and am super interested in psychology, philosophy and human consciousness.

From the back of the book: "Quanlitative numbers are mysterious symbols, giving rise to puzzling patterns and uncanny coincidences. His journey takes us from Pythagoras, the ancient Creek mathematics and mystic, through philosophy, arcane religious symbolism and pre-science to the number archetype of the pshychologist C.G.Jung, which grounds this work."

It sounded good to me, but I just didn't find it readable. It was too dense, and too difficult for me.

So, that's my three failures. But never fear, I've got some more to try!