Friday, 15 December 2017

Les Misérables A French Language Primer

I'm rather excited about participating in the Les Miserables Chapter-a-Day Readathon next year. So much so that I might have had a little Les Mis splurge recently. The first of these books arrived today.  

I must have been in quite the frenzy because I didn't actually remember ordering this book. It appears I did though. And because I was still 10 books away from my Goodreads goal for the year I read it as soon as it arrived. Which admittedly was not all that hard really as it is a board book aimed at (bilingual) babies. And now I'm a mere 9 books away from my target! With 17 days to go. 

Les Misérables A French Language Primer is not a super condensed version of the story, but a kind of bilingual Les Mis themed first dictionary. It is a BabyLit board book. 

Each double page is a matching, inverted colour spread with a word in English and French and an accompanying short phrase.

Most of the pages are predictable- words that are thematic to the Lis Mis story:  L'Homme, Le Prêtre, La Fille. I was surprised by the inclusion of Le Rat though, and wonder if rats appear much more in the book than I am expecting. I suppose they will feature in the sewers when that part of the story happens. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for them in my reading next year. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

My Life in Books (2017 Edition)

Picture Source

I don't often do two posts on a day, but I saw this meme at Brona's Books this afternoon and I knew that I had to do this today too. It's a hot day, and I'm hiding out inside under the fan, perfect conditions for meme generation. 

Brona was inspired by Adam at Roof Beam Reader

The rules? Pretty simple: answer the questions with books you read this year!

In high school I was: Scrappy Little Nobody (Anna Kendrick)
People might be surprised (by): Good Me, Bad Me (Ali Land)

I will never beThe Worst Witch (Jill Murphy)

My fantasy job isMy (Part-Time) Paris Life (Lisa Anselmo)

At the end of a long day I needGood Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Elena Favili, Francesca Cavallo)

I hate it when: Five Give Up The Booze (Enid Blyton)

Wish I hadA Paris All Your Own (Eleanor Brown)

My family reunions areThe Case Against Fragrance (Kate Grenville)

At a party you’d find meWasted (Elspeth Muir)

I’ve never been toThe Beach at Night (Elena Ferrante)

A happy day includes
Millions (Frank Cottrell Boyce)

Motto I live byCan't We Talk About Something More 
Pleasant? (Roz Chast)

On my bucket list isA Paris Year (Janice MacLeod)

In my next life, I want to haveNew Life, No Instructions (Gail Caldwell)

Refugee Asylum Seeker Book List

I really enjoyed this list of stories for children about refugees and asylum seekers from Book Trust.

It's the humanitarian issue of our time really and I think deserves it's own list that can continue to be expanded as I've done with Brona's War Book List. I've added a few already, and will add more over time -as I remember them, and new books as they come up. 

A Dangerous Crossing - Jane Mitchell
A Long Walk to Water - Linda Sue Park
Alpha: Abidjan to Gare du Nord - Barroux, Sarah Ardizzone (translator)

A Story Like The Wind - Gill Lewis, Jo Weaver (illustrator)
Azzi in Between - Sarah Garland

Boy Overboard - Morris Gleitzman

Girl Underground - Morris Gleitzman
Give Me Shelter - Tony Bradman (editor)

Home and Away - John Marsden, Matt Ottley (illustrator)
Hope in a Ballet Shoe - Michaela & Elaine De Prince

Illegal - Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin
In The Sea There are Crocodiles - Fabio Geda, Howard Curtis (translator)
Inside Out & Back Again - Thanhha Lai (see my review)
Jackdaw Summer - David Almond

My Name is Not Refugee - Kate Milner
My Two Blankets - Irena Kobald, Freya Blackwood (illustrator) (see my review)

Now is the Time for Running - Michael Williams

Oranges in No Man's Land - Elizabeth Laird

Refuge - Anne Booth, Sam Usher (illustrator)
Refuge - Jackie French
Refugee - Alan Gratz
Refugee Boy - Benjamin Zephaniah
Refugees - David Miller

Shadow - Michael Morpurgo
Soraya The Story Teller - Rosanne Hawke
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey - Margaret Ruurs, Nizar Ali Badr (artist)
Suri's Wall - Lucy Estela, Matt Ottley (illustrator) 

The Arrival - Shaun Tan (see my review)
The Bone Sparrow - Zana Fraillon
The Island - Armin Greder
The Journey - Francesca Sanna
The Lines We Cross - Randa Abdel-Fattah
The Little Refugee - Anh Do, Suzanne Do, Bruce Whatley (illustrator) (see my review)
The Milk of Birds - Sylvia Whitman
The Other Side of Truth - Beverley Naidoo

The Red Pencil - Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Silence Seeker - Ben Morley, Carl Pearce (illustrator)
The Silver Sword - Ian Serraillier
The Treasure Box - Margaret Wild, Freya Blackwood (illustrator) (see my review)

Welcome to Nowhere - Elizabeth Laird
When Michael Met Mina - Randa Abdel-Fattah

Ziba Came on a Boat - Liz Lofthouse, Robert Ingpen (illustrator)

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Goodreads 100 Books to Read Before You Die

A fabulous list from the Goodreads folks. I would actually like to read most of these books before I die. There are some serious admissions in my reading. Rather large holes that I will hope to fill some time. 

There's a few exceptions of course. I can't imagine that I'll ever try to read Ulysses in this lifetime. I might give an audio version a go at some stage, as I can listen to things that I'd never be able to read. I'm currently a third of the way through the Moby Dick Big Read which is way further than I thought I would ever manage to do. 

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

1984 - George Orwell

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

Animal Farm - George Orwell

Catch- 22 - Joseph Heller

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

Lord of the Flies - William Golding (see my review)

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

Ulysses - James Joyce

100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

Dracula - Bram Stoker

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien (see my review)

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

On The Road - Jack Kerouac

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (see my review)

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

Atonement - Ian McEwan

Middlemarch - George Eliot

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (see my review)

Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

The DaVinci Code - Dan Brown

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Moby Dick - Herman Melville (currently listening!)

Persuasion - Jane Austen

Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

The Secret History - Donna Tart

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I'm going to read Les Mis in 2018!

The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffeneger

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (see my review)

A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

The Color Purple - Alice Walker

Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

Emma - Jane Austen

Dune - Frank Herbert

Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone - J.K. Rowling

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding

Watership Down - Richard Adams (see my review)

The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas (see my review)

Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

A Town Like Alice - Nevile Shute

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (see my review)

The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis (2.5/7)

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

Winnie-the-Pooh - A.A. Milne

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome (see my review)

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

The Call of the Wild - Jack London (see my review)

Beloved - Toni Morrison

Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut

A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

Hamlet - William Shakespeare

Bleak House - Charles Dickens

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

Inferno - Dante

Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson

Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

I'm rather toying with the notion of this one,
a new annotated version

45/100 (I've included books that I gave a good crack, but may not have finished for whatever reason in pink)

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Les Misérables Read Along 2018

I was so very excited to come across the Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-Along hosted by Nick at OneCatholicLife a few weeks ago

I had found Nick's Nonficiton November post pairing Les Misérables with The Novel of the Century (no prizes for guessing what Santa might bring me for Christmas), and Nick mentioned that he was thinking of hosting a 2018 read along of Les Mis. Cue excitement. 

I was astonished to realise that Les Mis has 365 chapters (this can't be a coincidence), making it absolutely perfect for a chapter a day year long read along- thank goodness 2018 is not a leap year! 

I have come relatively late to the Les Mis party. But I've fallen quite hard since I saw the musical movie version in 2012, which sadly I call the Russell Crow movie version. I saw it two or three times at the cinema. I've since seen the stage show four times in three cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane), including two consecutive nights in Melbourne. I've been to an amazing exhibition also in Melbourne in 2014, Les Misérables From Page to Stage that included Volume 1 of Victor Hugo's manuscript- which had flown to Australia on it's own business class seat. And I've listened to the incredible BBC Radio 4 Radio Play, but thought that would be my lasting taste of the book for quite some time.

It's not that I'm not prepared to read Les Mis, I have a copy of Les Mis in the house. I bought the beautiful cloth bound Penguin edition (the 1976 Denny translation) a few years ago , and figured that I would get to read it when I retire. But A Chapter A Day? Even I can do that. The chapters are often only a few pages long. 

But the big question is will reading it in English be enough for me, or will I be stupid enough to try to read it en français too? I think we all know the answer to that one. I've read the first line online, and that wasn't too horrendous... 

En 1815, M. Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel était évêque de Digne. C'était un vieillard d'environ soixante-quinze ans; il occupait le siège de Digne depuis 1806.
Surely the next 1200ish pages can't be all that bad? 

Although given I struggle with 21st century French I have no idea how I'd go with 19th century French. Well, actually, I do have some idea of how I'd go with 19th century French, and it isn't pretty. But I'm going to give it a crack. I'll read it in English first and then pair the English and French text. I'll understand some of it, and I'm sure it'll be fascinating, and I'll practice my French and undoubtedly learn some things along the way. And if I progress beyond chapter 1 that'll be fantastic. 


Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog  

Friday, 1 December 2017


I do love a verse novel. Strange to say. But I've really, really come to enjoy them over the past few years. They are so quick to read, they're like a literary palate cleanser. 

I've read a few Sarah Crossan books before, One (see my review), which I enjoyed but not as much as everyone else it seemed, and The Weight of Water, which I thought was ok, but in my slackness I didn't get around to blogging. 

So, I was very intrigued by Moonrise when I discovered the main character, Joe, has a brother on death row. I'm always astonished at the subjects that are contained within literature aimed at a younger audience. 

Joe Moon lives in Arlington, New York. I'd never heard of this Arlington, and always kept thinking of Arlington, Virginia. I wondered if this was on purpose because of Arlington National Cemetery, a place to honour America's military dead. Joe's brother Ed has been in jail in Texas for the past ten years, since Joe was seven. Joe doesn't know the man his brother has become, and only has memories of the young boy he was. 

Joe's is smart and athletic and doing well in school. But his family are poor, and chaotic. His Mum has left, his father is dead, and Aunt Karen has stepped in to fill the void.

Everything turned to shit
when Ed got put away;
nothing worked any more. 

But now Ed has been given an execution date and Joe travels to Texas on his own to visit his brother on death row in the weeks leading up to the scheduled date. The story alternates between current day Texas and Joe and Ed's childhood in New York. It is masterfully done. 

See, we aren't the people anyone pities.

Issues of justice, guilt, innocence, inequality, the social costs of drugs, alcohol and poverty are all dealt with, as well as the more personal stories of Joe, Ed, their family and friends. 

Cos it all depends on
who you kill
where you kill them

Sarah Crossan's views are fairly easy to see, she wears her heart on her sleeve- she tells us it costs $4 million dollars to go through with an execution, eight time more than the cost of imprisoning someone for life. Yet she suffuses her words with humour too, it's not all overly earnest. 

In the Author's Note at the back of the book Sarah Crossan tells how she first came to be interested in the issues about the death penalty when she was required to watch a documentary, Fourteen Days in May, as a fifteen year old schoolgirl. I'll be watching it soon. 

You can watch Sarah Crossan recommending some of the books she used in her research for Moonrise. 

We live in such strange times. You can also watch someone (TheBookishManicurist) make nail art for nails to match the cover of Moonrise. She actually does an amazing job of it. 

Sunday, 26 November 2017


I am SO terrible at TBRs - no sooner had I completed by Nonficition November 2017 TBR than I was in my local bookshop in a bit of a buying frenzy. I plucked this book off the shelves because it was so, so pretty, and very soon had it read. 

It's an unusual little book. A small palm sized book, priced for the impulse buy ($19.99, yes that is cheap in Australia). There is no author credited, just "with Bird Life Australia". It's an art book. It's a lesson about cockatoos.

There's lots of cool cockatoo facts. 
Most cockatoos are left footed.
I'm so going to have to watch out for that. 
Only female Black Cockatoos incubate eggs. The smaller cockies and corellas tend to share egg-sitting duties.
And some sad ones. 
Five of Australia's 14 cockatoo species have populations that are on the national threatened species list. 
I must say that I find this description from the Hardie Grant Gift website rather odious and unappealing. I do realise that it's a description for booksellers, but it makes it sound awful.
A contemporary design-conscious souvenir for international and local tourists. Featuring international and local illustrators. 
Cockatoo is a companion book to Koala (published last year) a book that I completely missed, but now of course would like to read. I am now firmly convinced that every book I read only serves to make my TBR grow ever bigger. 

Friday, 24 November 2017

Fever Dream

I'm not sure that I know how to even start thinking about Fever Dream. It is such a sparse and haunting tale. It is a small morsel of a book. 151 pages. 

Fever Dream is written as a conversation. Our main narrator Amanda, is unwell, possibly dying, and lying in an unnamed, under resourced hospital bed in an isolated clinic. At her side is David, a boy, not her son, who is urging her on to tell her story. Here is the story opening, David is in italics, Amanda not. 

They're like worms. 
What kind of worms?
Like worms, all over.
It's the boy who's talking, murmuring into my ear. I am the one asking questions. 
Worms in the body?
Yes, in the body.
No, another kind of worms.
It's dark and I can't see. The sheets are rough, they bunch up under my body. I can't move, but I'm talking. 

Amanda and her daughter Nina have recently rented a holiday cottage and things have gone very, very awry. Amanda meets Carla, David's mother, at the holiday house. Carla is a local and tells Amanda of strange local goings on. 

It really isn't clear what is happening throughout the book. Why Amanda is sick. What has happened to children and animals in the local area. And yet Samanta Schweblin creates a wonderful sense of unease and foreboding as the book progresses. I'm not sure that I've ever read anything translated from Spanish before, and I really don't think that I've read an Argentinian author. I do wonder if the names were really Amanda, David, Nina and Carla in the original Spanish, it seems improbable to me. 

I came across Fever Dreams in a few videos recently on Russell's Booktube channel Ink and Paper Blog, where "trippy cloud with horse heads" is as good a summary as anything. So when I found it at Basement Books in Sydney this week (I spend hours in there every time....) I snatched it off the shelves (with quite a few other books it seems) and then read it in my hotel room. 

Fever Dreams was shortlisted for the  2017 Man Booker International Prize. After some moments of confusion I'm not sure that I've ever realised that there is now (and has been for quite some time mind you, over a decade) a Man Booker Prize (books published in English), and a Man Booker International Prize (books translated into English). Très embarrassment. The Guardian recommended an immediate second reading- I do see how that would help. I've only ever done that with one book- The Road, back in 2007. Also read in a hotel room from memory, although in Melbourne. 

One World Publications is a new publisher to me. They have a rather intriguing catalogue of authors and books with lots of translated fiction. But perhaps, they're not completely new to me, I see that I recently bought another one of their titles The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman (mainly on title it must be said), although of course I haven't read it yet. 

You will notice that Fever Dreams is neither Australian, nor Non Fiction (my stated November aims). C'est la vie. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Nonfiction November 2017 Week 2 Book Pairings

Here, slightly late, are my Nonfiction November Week 2 Book Pairings. This is such a fun concept. I've really enjoyed trawling my way through everyone's pairings over at Sarah's Book Shelves

A few weeks ago I started listening to the Moby Dick Big Read on a whim. I'd never given serious consideration to reading Moby Dick. It's too big, I don't like big books and I cannot lie. Anything over 500 pages is a big struggle for me. I don't like starting them. The Penguin Classics paperback of Moby Dick is 720 pages. That would take me quite some time. Literally months if I was to read a print version. But I was really keen to give a free podcast a go. And much to my surprise about a third of the way through I'm still really enjoying it, although they're just launching the boats for the first time and I'm really not looking forward to the grittier parts of whaling. 

My somewhat unexpected enjoyment of Moby Dick has made me ponder other things. Will I come to read Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby-Dick? I hope that I would if I get through Moby Dick, or perhaps the argument to read it is even stronger if I don't get through Moby Dick. And it's only 131 pages! Of course Nathaniel Philbrick also wrote In the Heart of the Sea, maybe I should read that too....

I read The Hate You Give a few months ago preparing to see Angie Thomas at Melbourne Writers Festival. You can listen to that session here. It was just as fabulous (and important) as everyone says.

I also saw Reni Eddo-Lodge speak at Melbourne Writers Festival in a fabulous talk with Benjamin Law. You can listen to it online here. I bought her book after I got home. 

Although I could finally get to reading Maxine Beneba Clarke's The Hate Race, which I bought last year, it's a memoir about growing up black in Australia. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Burial Rites

I've been meaning to read Burial Rites since it came out in 2013. It was huge, everyone was reading it, everyone was saying how amazing it was. I listened to the buzz, but didn't get to reading the book.  I asked for a copy of Burial Rites that Christmas and that copy been sitting in my bedside stack ever since. Debut author Hannah Kent even had an episode of Australian Story which I watched and was even more fascinated. (I just rewatched it via the magic of Youtube). Recently I had the opportunity to see Hannah Kent speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2017 and that finally spurred me on to read it. Actually I was trying to fit in other festival reads so I borrowed the audiobook from my library and popped it on in the car.

Oh, I'm so, so glad that I did. I absolutely loved it. Burial Rites is perhaps an unusual tale from a debut Australian author, and a young one at that. Set in Iceland in the 1820s it tells the rather sad, and oft times completely harrowing tale of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman executed in Iceland.

Agnes was a poor servant, in the cold, desolate north of Iceland. She lived and worked on the remote farms of the area. She is charged with murder and arson along with two others for her role in the deaths of her boss, farmer Natan Ketilsson and a guest on the farm, Pétur Jónsson.

Hannah Kent has done an amazing job telling this story. She uses an interesting structure to great effect. Much of the storytelling is in third person, with smaller sections first person in Agnes' voice, 

Those first person segments are particularly poignant and compelling. Interwoven are historical documents and letters regarding Agnes and the events at Ilugastadir.

The writing is ethereal and atmospheric. Hannah Kent invokes the sparse, barren landscape of northern Iceland. It is lyrical, it is moving. I sat listening to Chapter 6 as I arrived at the work car park, mesmerised as Agnes described a particular defining moment in her childhood. I think I held my breath. The audiobook is beautifully read, and helps with the difficult Icelandic names (well to an Australian mind at least) roll ever so easily off the tongue, where I feel I would have stumbled over them reading the actual book. 

Burial Rites makes you consider the clustered, hard lives of the people living in remote Iceland at the time. Such a harsh, difficult, inhospitable place to live. So hard just to survive there. Hannah Kent does an amazing job of making you feel like you're right there in the cramped badstofa (a combined living/sleeping area where all the people of the farm lived, masters and servants alike). Hannah makes us realise what a stifling existence their lives were, with no privacy possible.

The other thing that I thought about a lot while I was listening to Burial Rites was the history of "justice" over time. We get things wrong even now with all of our forensics and technology, how many centuries of injustice have been handed out by superstitious folks?

Burial Rites is deservedly already being studied in schools. 
It's so fantastic. See Hannah's FAQ.  If like me you are one of the few people left who hadn't read it then rush to your bookshop or library right now and get a copy. At first I wasn't sold on the premise of Hannah's second book, The Good People, also set in the 1820s but in Ireland this time- the story of three women and a child with some magical elements I believe, generally not an appealing type of story to me, but I'm so in love with Burial Rites that I'm now intrigued and will trust Hannah to tell another amazing tale with her breathtaking prose.

In Iceland in September there was a retrial of Agnes and her Fridrik Sigurdsson, news reports say that Iceland was "riveted". Although it seems that the murders of Natan and Pétur and the subsequent executions of Agnes and Fridrik are not forgotten in Iceland I do wonder if the retrial would have garnered such interest without such a sympathetic portrayal of Agnes in Burial Rites.

I was surprised to read in the Author's Note at the end of Burial Rites that Hannah says that she wrote the book to write a "more ambiguous portrayal" of Agnes. Which I was confused about initially, but most of the portrayals of Agnes have apparently conveyed her as an evil figure and she has repeatedly said that she wanted to create an empathetic, rather than a sympathetic portrayal of Agnes. I thought the book did give a rather sympathetic  view of Agnes, not in a sentimental way, just that Agnes was trapped by the circumstances of her birth, her personal history, her gender and status as a servant. 

We live in such a magical age wherein we can so easily see some of Hannah Kent's own photos of Iceland, the site of the murders, the site of Agnes's execution. There is lots of content online.

I will treasure my now autographed copy of Burial Rites, and will hope to reread it sometime.