Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop
The weekend and the Book Blogger Hop.  The is hosted by Jennifer over at Crazy For Books and is a great way for book bloggers to mingle.  And the question for this week to help with the mingling is:

Which book are you most looking forward to being published in 2011?  Why are you anticipating that book?

You know I don't have an answer to this one.  I don't mean to sound lame, but there is is.  I am more than happy for the year to unfold as it will.  There are so many books published before this year that I am dying to get to.  I look forward to hearing from the other hoppers with what they are looking forward to.

Happy reading and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Novel for Australia Day "Cloudstreet" by Tim Winton (audiobook) read by Peter Hosking

I finished listening to the audiobook of Cloudstreet on my walk this afternoon.  I am struggling to find enough superlatives to do my feelings for this story justice.  I have read three other books by Tim Winton and really enjoyed them all, especially "The Riders", which is one of my all time favourite novels.

Cloudstreet is such an Australian story if there is such a thing.  It covers twenty years in the lives of two families from Western Australia, the Lambs and the Pickles, from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s.  The families, both looking for a better life, move from small towns in WA to Perth where Sam Pickle has inherited an enormous ramshackle house on Cloudstreet.  The Lambs become the Pickles live in tenants in the cavernous house. 

Two more different families would be hard to imagine. Sam and Dolly Pickle are both hapless dreamers.  Sam is a gambler and Dolly an alcoholic.  Their children for much of the time are left to raise themselves.  The Lambs are God fearing, very hard working folk.  Both families bring more than their fair share of tragedy and hardship to the house.

The children of Sam and Dolly Pickle and Oriel and Lester Lamb grow up in Cloudstreet.  They combat poverty, disability and their parents' demons to try and make their way in a country that is also finding its identity at the time.  Winton does a wonderful job of combining a clear sense of what is happening in Australia at the time socially, with the personal stories and struggles of his characters.

For me Tim Winton is that rare thing, an author who marries truly beautiful writing with exceptional plotting and character development.  He is my favourite Australian author.  It was an absolute treat to listen to this story.  And if any of you are wanting to read (or listen to) a superbly written novel that is distinctly Australian I don't think you could do better than Cloudstreet.  The word that comes to mind to describe Cloudstreet best is a word that I don't think I have used before in a post because it can sound so naff and nauseating.   Cloudstreet is genuinely heartwarming.  I have met these wonderful, ordinary characters and I feel uplifted and the richer for it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

To Have and Have Not isn't a brilliant story, but it is an arresting depiction of a man in trouble. 

The novel was published in  1937 and tells the story of Harry Morgan who runs a fishing boat out of Key West, Florida.  He also runs contraband between Cuba and Florida to help make ends meet.  Harry is left desperate for money after a customer who has chartered him out for a fishing trip does a runner without paying.  Harry ups the risks he is prepared to take and agrees to transport illegal immigrants and then bank robbers.  There was only ever going to be one way this whole thing could end for him.

I wouldn't normally read Hemingway.  I have read The Old Man and the Sea.  But I was stranded at my dad's place during recent flooding and there was not alot to choose from.  I would describe Hemingway's style in this book as economical and hard.  Hard as in bleak.  Like I said the plot barely chugs along but he does capture the desperation and misery of the depression era.

In very few words Hemingway gets to the essence of his characters; often through good use of dialogue.  There are plenty of "bar talk" scenes in downtown Key West and we get a good feel for the difference between the poor local inhabitants and the wealthy tourists who blow in.  There is a sense of recklessness, depravity and violence in the town that is related to the uncertain times and people literally not having enough to eat.

I was also surprised because I found the female characters in this story were portrayed sympathetically and well. I had always thought that Hemingway had a reputation for being a bit of womanising so and so.  The relationship between Harry Morgan and his wife is sensitively and poignantly conveyed.  I was moved by their relationship and quiet understanding.

I am sure that To Have and Have Not is not one of Hemingway's best books, but I enjoyed reading it for the understated writing and the strong sense of place and feelings it evoked about the struggle to survive in the depression era.   It has encouraged me to pick up more of his work.

The picture of Hemingway is from 1939, and sourced from Wikipedia

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Three Seconds by Roslund and Hellstrom

Three seconds formed part of my holiday reading.  I could only get hold of it in hardcover, but it was well worth lugging around.  It is a publication from Swedish duo Roslund and Hellstrom.  The jacket cover reveals Anders Roslund to be an award winning journalist and Borge Hellstrom is tantalizingly described as an ex-criminal.

The novel is about Piet Hoffman who is an "infiltrator" that is, he is someone with a criminal pedigree who the Swedish government has unofficially, off the books, employed to infiltrate major criminal syndicates, provide intelligence and bring those criminal organisations down.  The novel is also about the man who "runs" Piet, the bureaucrats who manipulate him and the police murder investigator  who attempts to unravel the whole sordid mess.

Piet who has been run in this capacity for nine years is now required to enter one of Sweden's high security prisons, and take over the very lucrative amphetamine drug trade in the prison.  Piet's criminal and survival instincts are fascinating.  From the outset he knows that he can trust no one: not the criminal organisation he has successfully infiltrated for the past nine years, not his handler and certainly not the government who he feels certain will burn him the moment it becomes expedient to do so.  Piet has a parallel life as a husband and a father, that he stands to lose if things go wrong.  Things go very wrong.

Why did I enjoy this book so much?  In a world where the bookstore shelves are groaning with crime fiction and thrillers, Three Seconds offers something original.  The details provided in the book could only result from some exhaustive research and personal experience and so ring alarmingly true.  And while the pace is fabulous and frenetic, the authors successfully convey aspects of the human toll associated with law enforcement in all of its forms.  It's a ripping good yarn on the one hand but also left this reader with some lingering reflections on what might actually be going on behind the scenes in attempts to combat major crime.

Finally I would like to thank Zohar over at Man of la Book who recommended Three Seconds.

Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd

You know what it is like, one week through a holiday and I had already read the two books I loaded into my suitcase and find myself, craving something to read, and standing in an enormous bookstore trying to make a decision.  Two things made me select Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd, firstly I absolutely loved one of his earlier books, Restless, secondly there was a sticker on Ordinary Thunderstorms declaring it to be in Whitcoulls (the New Zealand store I found myself in) Top 100 books.  It must be good then right? 

I suspect the only reason I finished this book is because I paid top dollar for it and I had nothing else to read at the time. 

I have not come across a less plausible thriller opening, and lets face it some thrillers are pretty unlikely in their opening scenarios but this one absolutely takes the cake.  Main protagonist Adam is an English climatologist, who has been working as an academic in the US in recent years but after the breakdown of his marriage he returns to the UK and is applying for work in London.  The novel opens one afternoon as he has just attended a job interview for an academic post in London.  Craving some Italian food Adam stops by a little Italian restaurant in London where he starts up a conversation with a medical scientist.  The scientist leaves first and Adam notices that he has left a briefcase behind.  Adam having some time to kill that afternoon decides to return the briefcase personally.  When he enters the doctors apartment he finds the doctor stabbed.  The doctor, still alive, begs Adam to remove the knife protruding from his stomach.  Not knowing what else to do Adam complies and then flees the apartment.  Basically Adam returns to his own accommodation to find a thug waiting for him and so rather than go to the police he decides to run, change his identity and live as a homeless person on the streets of London.

The plot touches on noble themes such as research cover ups in the pharmaceutical industry, but honestly, I loathed it.  The plot barely sustains itself as the increasingly annoying and unlikeable Adam Kindred fights for survival and assumes a new identity, while being pursued both by the police and ex military heavies employed by the pharmaceutical company to shut him up.

Has anyone else read anything from William Boyd?  I can't believe the guy that penned the mesmerising spy thriller "Restless" came up with this.  More astonishing, I can't believe this book made the Top 100 books for a leading bookstore.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Back from holidays to major flooding.

Well I had a very enjoyable two week holiday  travelling around the north island of New Zealand; a magically beautiful country.

Due to flooding, I can't get home to Toowoomba here in Queensland, and I am stranded at my Dad's house in Brisbane, where there are also devastating floods.  Fortunately we are high here so out of the water.  The flooding over the last week in Southeast Queensland has been unbelievable.

Here is a picture of my hometown of Brisbane as it looked this morning when the flood waters peaked.  It is all very sad.

(Photo sourced from

I look forward to eventually getting home and back into blogging about books.  Just posting this as I have been absent for a few weeks and miss it.

I did read a wonderful Swedish thriller while away called "Three Seconds" by Roslund & Hellstrom, and a disappointing thriller by William Boyd "Ordinary Thunderstorms".  I say disappointing because "Restless" by the same author was brilliant.

Will hopefully be back posting reviews soon.  Mel