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THE 50/50 PROJECT: Flying in a helicopter

Thursday, February 23, 2017

It was my 50th birthday last year & so I set out to fulfill as many items on my 50/50 project as possible.

You may not know about The 50/50 Project – it’s simply a list of dreams and plans and ambitions that I hope to make come true. There’s no deadline, and I probably will never achieve all of them, but it is fun trying!

No 25 on my list is to ride in a helicopter, and so my lovely husband organised a secret adventure on the day of my birthday (which is 3rd June – sorry, it’s taken me a while to post about it!)






June is winter in Sydney and it was a cold, wet, blustery day. 

My husband thought it was a shame, because Sydney is so beautiful when it sparkles in the sunshine, but I didn’t mind at all. 

In fact, it was so exciting and atmospheric seeing the raindrops hit the glass and feeling the wind rattle the rotors. 








Then we went out for lunch, and my husband gave me another wonderful surprise - some gorgeous ruby earrings!




So I was very spoilt on my 50th birthday ... and I can cross another thing off my bucket list!

BOOK REVIEW: Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

Friday, February 17, 2017

BLURB:

Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband Paavo and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of their past and put down new roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackåsen, a mountain whose foreboding presence looms over the valley and whose dark history seems to haunt the lives of those who live in its shadow.

While herding the family’s goats on the mountain, Frederika happens upon the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The death is dismissed as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain that the wounds could only have been inflicted by another man. 

Compelled to investigate despite her neighbors’ strange disinterest in the death and the fate of Eriksson’s widow, Maija is drawn into the dark history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackåsen. Young Frederika finds herself pulled towards the mountain as well, feeling something none of the adults around her seem to notice.

As the seasons change, and the “wolf winter,” the harshest winter in memory, descends upon the settlers, Paavo travels to find work, and Maija finds herself struggling for her family’s survival in this land of winter-long darkness. As the snow gathers, the settlers’ secrets are increasingly laid bare. Scarce resources and the never-ending darkness force them to come together, but Maija, not knowing who to trust and who may betray her, is determined to find the answers for herself. 

Soon, Maija discovers the true cost of survival under the mountain, and what it will take to make it to spring.

MY THOUGHTS:

Atmospheric, compelling and full of foreboding, Wolf Winter was one of my best discoveries this year. It is set in Swedish Lapland in 1717, and begins with the discovery of a dead man’s body in the mountains by two little girls. The girls’ mother, Maija, finds herself unable to let the murder rest. It must be someone she knows, she reasons, and yet … who? 

Filled with superstitions and the fear of witchcraft, the local people all have secrets to hide. And so does Maija. The result is something so eerie, so chilling, so powerful, I could not put the book down. It reminded me of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, two of my favourite books, in the sheer desolation of the landscape and the sense of a dark threat that hangs over the characters. Brilliant.


BOOK REVIEW: The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson

Thursday, February 16, 2017



MY BLURB:


London, 1728. Tom Hawkins is headed to the gallows, accused of murder. Gentlemen don’t hang and Tom’s damned if he’ll be the first. He may not be much of a gentleman, but he is innocent. He just always finds his way into a spot of bad luck.  


It’s hard to say when Tom’s troubles began. He was happily living in sin with his beloved, Kitty Sparks — though their neighbors were certainly less pleased about that.  He probably shouldn't have told London’s most cunning criminal mastermind that he was "bored and looking for adventure." Nor should he have offered to help the king's mistress in her desperate struggles with a brutal and vindictive husband. And he definitely shouldn't have trusted the calculating Queen Caroline. She’s promised him a royal pardon if he holds his tongue, but then again, there is nothing more silent than a hanged man.     


Now Tom must scramble to save his life and protect those he loves. But as the noose tightens, his time is running out.


MY THOUGHTS:


The Confession of Thomas Hawkins is the sequel to The Devil in the Marchelsea, which I read and loved last year. Thomas Hawkins is a brilliant creation – flawed and yet so likeable. 


The son of a parson, he spends his day drinking and gambling and falling into trouble, with the help of his sharp-tongued, strong-willed lover, Kitty Sparks, who refuses to marry him because women lose all power once the wedding ring is on their finger. 


Set in 1728, the book is rich in sensual historical detail and yet the pace is unflagging. Thomas is in a race against time to solve a gruesome murder and outwit a sadistic aristocrat before the hangman’s noose is put about his neck. A truly fabulous historical romp.


BOOK REVIEW: Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson

Thursday, February 16, 2017

BLURB:

'All in?' Kieran pulled me up, and the others followed. We gathered around the bigger tree. No one asked Matty - he just reached up and put his right hand on the trunk with ours.

Kieran cleared his throat. 'We swear, on these trees, to always be friends. To protect each other - and this place.'

Finding those carved trees forged a bond between Jay and her four childhood friends and opened their eyes to a wider world. But their attempt to protect the grove ends in disaster, and that one day on the river changes their lives forever.

Seventeen years later, Jay finally has her chance to make amends. But at what cost? Not every wrong can be put right, but sometimes looking the other way is no longer an option.

MY THOUGHTS:

A beautiful meditation on the Australian landscape and the Aboriginal connection to it, Where the Trees Were is a must-read for anyone who has ever swung on a tyre over a slow-moving brown river or lain on the ground looking up at a scorching blue sky through the shifting leaves of a gum tree. 

Told in Inga Simpson’s deceptively simple style, the novel moves back and forth between the adulthood and childhood of a Canberra art curator called Jay. In the past lie tragedies and misunderstandings that shaped Jay’s psyche and still have ramifications on her life today. Jay is searching for a way to make amends for what happened, but her quest may cost her everything she most cares about. 


BOOK REVIEW: Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

Wednesday, February 15, 2017



BLURB:


Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.


Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies...


Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone..


MY THOUGHTS:


The final book in Juliet Marillier’s latest magical historical trilogy, Den of Wolves wraps up the story of Blackthorn and Grim beautifully. It draws together the familiar narrative strands of Blackthorn’s quest for justice and her fear of drawing too close to anyone with the situation of a young woman who does not seem to fit into her world. Blackthorn is a wise woman who has suffered terribly in the past, and Grim is her huge but gentle sidekick who worships the ground she walks on. Their story began with Dreamer’s Pool and Tower of Thorns, which you must read first, and, as always with Juliet Marillier, is a wonderful mix of history, romance, and fairy-tale-like enchantment. I’ve really loved this series, and am sad that there will not be any more stories about the damaged healer and her taciturn giant of a companion. I’m only comforted by the knowledge that Juliet Marillier is working on a new project. I can only hope we are not kept waiting too long!



BOOK REVIEW: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


BLURB:


The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko's English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in a day, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river...


MY THOUGHTS:


Arundhati Roy burst onto the literary scene with this Booker-Prize-winning novel in 1997, which became the biggest-selling book ever written by an Indian author still living in India. She received half a million pounds as an advance, and the book was sold into eighteen different countries within two months. It’s the kind of dream run every writer longs for, yet Arundhati Roy has never published another novel. 


Perhaps this novel was so deeply felt and personal to her that it was the one book of her soul, never to be repeated.


I bought it in 1997, and tried to read it then. I disliked it emphatically. I found it faux-naïf: awkward, self-conscious, disjointed. There were so many characters – ten introduced in less than five pages! And the narrative structure was kaleidoscopic, making it difficult to connect to either the characters or their story. I put it away, thinking I’d try it another time (this is my rule with books I don’t like.) So it sat on my to-be-read-one-day bookshelf for twenty years. I pulled it out a dozen times, hesitated over it, then put it back. I almost gave it to charity once. But something made me keep it.


Then, one day, determined to read some of those books I’d bought but never read, I took it down again. This time I read it swiftly and eagerly. I found the jumps about in time and point-of-view fresh and exhilarating. Her boldness and originality struck me forcibly. No-one has ever written like this before, I kept thinking. The naivety and awkwardness now seemed a perfect choice for a story told from a child’s point-of-view.


It is not an easy book to read, both because of its subject matter – the tragic consequences of violence and cruelty and small-mindedness – and because of its repetitive and disjointed narrative structure. And I felt as if Arundhati Roy set out deliberately to shock and provoke, breaking as many taboos as she could, from the Indian caste system to incest. I have read that the book was inspired by true events in Arundhati Roy’s life. I can only hope it was the setting and not the events of her life. 


The God of Small Things is undeniably brilliant, innovative, and thought-provoking. I was moved and troubled by it, and found tears in my eyes at the end. And I can only applaud her virtuosity and boldness with language. A truly astonishing book.  




BOOK REVIEW: The Ties That Bind by Lexi Landsman

Monday, February 13, 2017

BLURB:

On opposite sides of the world, two lives are changed forever. One by the smallest bruise. The other by a devastating bushfire. And both by a shocking secret . . .

Miami art curator Courtney Hamilton and her husband David live the perfect life until their ten-year-old son Matthew is diagnosed with leukaemia. He needs a bone-marrow transplant but, with Courtney being adopted, the chances of finding a match within his family are slim. 

Desperate to find a donor, Courtney tracks the scattered details of her birth 15,000 kilometres away, to the remote town of Somerset in the Victorian bush. 

Meanwhile Jade Taylor wakes up in hospital in Somerset having survived the deadly bushfire that destroyed the family home and their beloved olive groves. Gone too are the landmarks that remind her of her mother, Asha, a woman whose repeated absences scarred her childhood.

As Jade rallies her fractured family to rebuild their lives, Courtney arrives in the burnt countryside to search for her lost parents - but discovers far more . . . 

MY THOUGHTS:

I met Lexi Landsman at the Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival, and bought her book there (I always come home from a festival with a suitcase laden with books!) The Ties That Bind Us is her first novel, but I can guarantee it won’t be her last. From the heart-rending opening scene, when a child is stolen from her pram, to the emotional lump-in-the-throat ending, the story unspools swiftly and surely, the pages seemingly turning themselves. 

It’s the story of a young mother, Courtney, who discovers that her ten-year-old desperately son needs a bone marrow transplant. His best chance of surviving is to find a familial match – but Courtenay is adopted and knows nothing about her birth family. She sets out on a quest to discover her origins, and uncovers all sorts of dark secrets. A really engaging and heart-warming read.


BOOK REVIEW: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

Sunday, February 12, 2017



BLURB:


With stunning locations and page-turning tension, The Paris Secret is an intense and gripping tale from bestselling author Karen Swan.


Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.


High-flying fine art agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to assess these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and discover who has concealed them for so long.


Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren't all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family's affairs - but just what is he hiding?


MY THOUGHTS:


‘Down a cobbled street in Paris, a long-forgotten apartment is found. Thick with dust and secrets, it is full of priceless artworks that have been hidden away for decades.’ 


It was these words – the opening sentence of the blurb on the back of the book – that sold me on this book. It’s just such a fascinating premise. I would love to find such an apartment myself – just imagine the forgotten stories hidden within.


The Paris Secret is probably best described as a contemporary romance, and so it’s full of descriptions of gorgeous designer clothes and handbags, and has a brooding French bad-boy millionaire as the romantic interest. It’s not my usual kind of book at all, but it was perfect for a plane trip of a few hours (I bought it in the airport bookshop). I ripped through it in a few hours, and enjoyed it immensely. I loved the inside view of the international art world, and the scenes set in Paris, one of my favourite cities in the world. I enjoyed the romance too, which was deftly done. All in all, it was a great light read, perfect for a beach holiday.


BOOK REVIEW: The Summer Bride by Anne Gracie

Saturday, February 11, 2017



BLURB:


Fiercely independent Daisy Chance has a dream—and it doesn’t involve marriage or babies (or being under any man’s thumb). Raised in poverty, she has a passion—and a talent—for making beautiful clothes. Daisy aims to become the finest dressmaker in London.

 

Dashing Irishman Patrick Flynn is wealthy and ambitious, and has entered society to find an aristocratic bride. Instead, he finds himself growing increasingly attracted to the headstrong, clever and outspoken Daisy. She’s wrong in every way—except the way she sets his heart racing.

 

However, when Flynn proposes marriage, Daisy refuses. She won't give up her hard-won independence. Besides, she doesn't want to join the fine ladies of society—she wants to dress them. She might, however, consider becoming Flynn's secret mistress. . .

 

But Flynn wants a wife, not a mistress, and when Flynn sets his heart on something, nothing can stand in his way. . 



MY THOUGHTS:


I’ve been eagerly awaiting the last book in Anne Gracie’s ‘Chance Sisters’ quartet, and now I’m all sad that the series is over. All four books have been delightful, full of wit and romance and poignancy, with each of the four young women so distinctly different in their personalities and each travelling a very different route towards happiness. 


If you love sparkling Regency romances, Anne Gracie is a must-read! Start with The Autumn Bride, which introduces the characters and situation, and then read them in order. 


BOOK REVIEW: Rising Ground by Phillip Marsden

Friday, February 10, 2017



BLURB:


Why do we react so strongly to certain places? Why do layers of mythology build up around particular features in the landscape? When Philip Marsden moved to a remote creekside farmhouse in Cornwall, the intensity of his response took him aback. It led him to begin exploring these questions, prompting a journey westwards to Land's End through one of the most fascinating regions of Europe.From the Neolithic ritual landscape of Bodmin Moor to the Arthurian traditions of Tintagel, from the mysterious china-clay country to the granite tors and tombs of the far south-west, Marsden assembles a chronology of our shifting attitudes to place. In archives, he uncovers the life and work of other 'topophiles' before him - medieval chroniclers and Tudor topographers, eighteenth-century eighteenth-century antiquarians, post-industrial poets and abstract painters. Drawing also on his own travels overseas, Marsden reveals that the shape of the land lies not just at the heart of our history but of man's perennial struggle to belong on this earth.


MY THOUGHTS:


I love books which take a place or a time or a person or a natural phenomenon, and then uses that as a springboard into a wide-ranging meditation on art, history, science, poetry, or any manner of things. And I have always wanted to go to Cornwall.


So I was interested in Rising Ground as soon as I heard about it. 


Philp Marsden has a degree in anthropology and has written a number of books about his travels in Ethiopia and Russia, as well as numerous essays for The Spectator. He was, however, raised in Cornwall and recently bought a farmhouse on a creek there with his wife and children. The book is not a memoir of the renovation of this old house, though some of his personal experiences are woven into the narrative. It is more about ‘topophilia’, a lovely word which means ‘love of place’, and examines some of the little-known but interesting people of the past who have loved Cornwall and studied it and written and painted about it. 


It’s the sort of book that you can pick up and enjoy, then put down and not pick up again for a few weeks, as each chapter is an essay on a particular aspect of Cornwall. I was particularly interested in the chapters on the standing stones and barrows and graves and other ancient monuments, and on the blind-and-deaf Cornish poet Jack Clemo, who I had never heard of before. 


A really interesting read. 



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