Happy Birthday to Me… and please vote!

They see Easter is a time for new life right? Well just one year ago, the tiny project that is theBOWreview was born. Yep, its official – my blog is one year old!

And here I am reflecting on the same time last year when I started my long weekend jotting down name ideas for this very blog. I purchased my domain name, chose a WordPress template, started working on an About Me post, and promised myself that this would not be like my other fads in life. This project was a keeper.

In truth though, theBOWreview has been a long time coming. The idea came about some years ago when a friend was going on holiday and she asked me what she should read on the beach. Then I found myself sending her a mini review on everything great I had recently read, and I bloody enjoyed writing it for her. I suspect she ended up just buying a Marian Keyes at the Newslink, but none-the-less, it ignited an idea.

It wasn’t until I couldn’t read every night, that I realised how important books were to me. You see, when I had my baby three years ago, we were blessed with the most adorable, clever and breathtaking night owl that ever graced the planet. We went through around nine months of sleep deprivation. The kind of tiredness only a sleep school patient would understand. Getting up eight times a night, rocking for an hour to be rewarded with a 40 minute cat-nap, when ‘Me Time’ was closing your eyes while on the toilet kind of tired. In fact, my life was such a blur that I didn’t even think about books or how much I missed them. Of course, people recommended books to me, (please god, will they just shut up about Tizzie, fucking, Save our Sleep Hall?) but I was rather tired, cranky and generally too spaced out for any meaningful action such as a library visit.

So it was actually two Easters ago that I was reminded of my love of reading, and the seed of this new baby was sewn. A holiday weekend away from home, not long after being discharged from sleep school ‘training’ (controlled crying with Temazepam for Mummy) and we all had started to get some rest. After such a long time getting by on broken sleep, a nap during the day and 7 hours uninterrupted at night, I was like a 20 year old drinking red-bull at a dance festival grinding away on my jaw.

But what to do during those daytime naps? Yes napping myself was an obvious option, and I definitely opted for it as often as I could. But on this occasion, after checking Facebook for the nineteenth time that hour, I was drawn to the iBookstore on my phone. Reading on a tiny phone screen definitely goes against the grain for me, but there was no bookstore anywhere near our holiday spot, and I was onto my second G&T anyway so couldn’t venture anywhere in a vehicle.

And there I found myself downloading my very first eBook. Now I can’t say my judgement was particularly good at that time: We need to talk about Kevin was probably not the ideal choice for a Mum whose child seemingly had an evil agenda when it came to sleep time, however I read that bastard in a day and a half. Books were back.

THAT look!

THAT look!

 

So as I write this post and reflect on why I started a blog, I think about significant events in my life and how books were intertwined with them.  I’ve always considered the characters in books my friends.  As a child, if you interrupted my reading you copped a death-stare; a look that I still demonstrate to this day if you mess with my lit.

 

 

One day I hope to write a great Australian novel, or the story of someone excellent and inspiring. But right now I don’t have the discipline, plot ideas or will-power to start working on this dream. But the commitment to writing a least a monthly post, and the thrill I get when people have read, it is sustaining me and my creativity for the time being.

And I’m proud that after just a year of fiddling about with this thing, that people are responding, and that I’ve stayed motivated, and that I’ve even worked out what the hell a widget is in WordPress.

I’d be grateful if you’d vote for me in the Best Australian Blogs competition People’s Choice round. The blogs shortlisted in last year’s comp inspired me to take part, and I’ll be honest – my artistic ego would get a huge boost knowing that you like me – even just a little bit when there’s nothing else interesting happening on the interweb.

In Short: Happy birthday to me. Thanks for reading!

Vote for me by following this link:  http://svy.mk/1jn6yQW
I’m listed as theBOWreview (about 3/4 down the page). You can also click on the Best Australian Blogs Logo, as seen in the sidebar above. #bestblogs14

Easter Reading

To me, Easter holidays always meant reading. By this time of year, visits to the beach were futile in the Melbourne climate, relatives began to hibernate after the Christmas and new-year gatherings, and the end of daylight savings had taken the twinkle out the pre-dinner playtime, and summer festival frequencies.

As a girl, I always looked forward to Easter school holidays. There were elements that were a given – a little more interest in RE classes before school finished for the term, the pumping fish ‘n chip shop trade on Good Friday, the customary egg hunt through backyards across the nation, the smell of burnt sultanas under the grill and buttery hot cross buns, and the all-day telecast of the Good Friday Appeal humming away as the soundtrack to the start of your holiday. Each year I pledged some pocket money in the hope that my name would appear in the ticker across the bottom of the screen, or better yet, be read out live by a Home and Away star!

But over and above these, was the opportunity to spend time snuggled up on the couch, or in bed reading. Getting through chapter books; Roald Dahl, the Baby Sitters Club, Paul Jennings, and Sweet Valley High. I spent most of my Easter break reading books. And in fact I still do.

Those four precious days off work, and an inability to visit the shops on Good Friday, offer me savoured reading time, and I look forward to it every year.

So I thought, this year, why not get in touch with the Easter Bunny, and encourage him to give kiddies a book as well as sweet sweet Cadbury Crème Eggs! Fortunately I managed to get hold of his gmail address (he hardly ever checks twitter) and so thought I would share and invite you to send him a letter or picture, letting him know what else you want for Easter.

See the picture above for details on how to receive a letter in the post from the Easter Bunny, and go in the draw to win a kids reading pack by writing the best message. (prizes drawn and announced on my facebook page so please LIKE!)

In Short: Ask the bun-man for a book as well as some chocci!

The site of the last execution in Iceland, where Agnes was beheaded.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial RitesYet again a book has sent me falling down a rabbit hole.  I am fascinated, engrossed, compelled to find out more.  More about Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland in 1830. And here I am google imaging her, scouring Wikipedia, and historical records in search for an image, a grainy photo, a look at her handwriting or court records, or something more to put a face to the main character in Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.

So powerful is this debut novel, that I feel as though I know Agnes’ intimate and innermost thoughts, and at the time of reading I felt the icy chill of the inhospitable country, the heartbreak, the indignity and isolation.

Of course I love a good piece of historical fact-ion; a reimagining of true events that occurred over 180 years ago.  After visiting Iceland as a mere 17 year old, Hannah Kent was inspired to research and interpret the life and execution of Agnes, who was sentenced to death for her part in the gory murder of two men on a desolate farm.

While awaiting execution, Agnes was housed in the rural home of an official, Jon Jonsson, and his wife and daughters.  In Kent’s novel, the family is horrified to have a murderer in their midst, and are scared and disgusted at times by her presence.  However, her sheer human-ness and vulnerability fascinates Jonsson’s wife Margret, and soon the family are conflicted by an unavoidable sympathy, and a begrudging like for Agnes the woman.

There are moments in this book that are truly breathtaking.  Details of the brutal murder emerge gradually, as do the hardships of Agnes entire life.  The end will have you utterly convinced that Kent was there, 183 years ago on that chilly hillside.  And a simple gesture made towards Agnes in her final hours will have you sobbing for its simple and divine meaning.

Kent spent much of her life planning and researching what is a remarkable and moving novel.  I am envious of writers like her: people who have the ability to pick away at facts, and find their own interpretation of a story.  But to tell that story with such truisms and authenticity that it is hard to dispute the reality of it.  So Hannah, I am supremely jealous of your talent, but moreover grateful that you have slaved away to perfect and deliver such a gem to hungry readers like me!

In Short: As crisp and breathtaking as the chilly landscape of Iceland.

 

Picture above: The site of the last execution in Iceland, where Agnes was beheaded.

Photo Credit: http://bit.ly/1hFAO8V

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

dr sleepMy husband is a newspaper man.  He subscribes to his reading material of choice both digitally and in print.  Nothing makes him happier than hearing the thunk of the cling wrapped paper hit our driveway on a Saturday morning.

He reads the papers from cover to cover, but he starts at the back pages for sport.  He knows every sporting result, every match up, every ladder.  He also knows world events, politics, and what’s hot and not this week.  He reads book reviews to get ideas for me, hates Andrew Bolt, and has a special patronising voice that he reserves for reading out the guilt laden and superficial advice from the Body & Soul section.

On Sunday, he savours the broadsheet.  In the morning he uses it as a plate to eat his egg sandwich, yolk and salt dripping on the parts he’s already gotten to; and at night he pours over the extras and inserts while elbowing me in bed as he tries to manoeuvre the 3 metre pages.

So while I can say my husband is an avid reader, it’s normally The Age annual footy guide that takes pride of place on his bedside table.

Last night I went to bed late.  I expected him to be snuggled up with the light off, snoring gently after a hell of a week.  However there he was, legs tucked up to his chin, no blanket, eyes boring holes into the crisp white pages of Stephen King highly anticipated new book.

When he finally looks up, his eyes are wide and he’s bitten his lip.

Holy shit, this book is getting good.’

When I first saw the movie The Shining, there were so many creepy elements that affected me.  The dead twins in the hallway, the trademark Kubrick direction, the 70s bowl haircut on the kid who spoke to his finger, and none more than the hideously sexy ghost who seduces ‘Heres Johnny’ John Torrance and then turns into a naked rotting corpse in his arms.

And it’s only moments into reading the sequel Doctor Sleep that this ghoulish character returns and you’re reminded that you’re back reading the master of the supernatural genre.

The tale picks ups decades after the horror at the Overlook Hotel took place, with little Danny (Doc) Torrance all grown up and battling with the demons of the past.  He’s been drifting, fucking up and trying to escape both his father’s legacy and the events of his childhood that haunt him.  He self-medicates to drown out his ‘shining,’ but soon, remnants of his supernatural abilities re-emerge and the meeting of teenager Abra Stone forces him to go into battle to save her soul.

While a whole bunch of cool mind-reading, ESP, telekinesis stuff goes on between Dan and Abra, there is evil lurking nearby.  A travelling tribe of highway folk called the True Knot are in search of sustenance.  And they want Abra.  Part vampire, part kidnappers, part murderers, they are led by a powerful, engaging, and chillingly evil woman in a top hat who drives an RV.

In true King style, the action and spooks are from start to finish.  There is real substance to Dan’s personal struggles as he fights his demons in a gritty and authentic portrayal of addiction. There is a love story of sorts between an unlikely pair, and the plot is fast moving, uncomplicated and tense.  The baddies are really bad, and the goodies are genuinely flawed.  It also gives the original The Shining more depth and intrigue, as the story travels back in time to Danny’s awful memories of the hotel on the hill.

While there is always a risk of a King ending being just that bit too epic (think the giant spider in IT) the climax here is cleverly crafted and will not disappoint.

In Short: “Holy Shit, this book is getting good.”

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvery

Jasper-Jones (2)To me, reading a good piece of Australian literature is of equal importance to my cultural identity as Anzac Day, a beach Christmas, a day off for a horse race, and the smell of burning eucalypt.

I love when I read an Australian author and slip into the familiar landscape and scenery, the language and dialect, and the society and ideologies. Like being wrapped in a comfortable blanket, I’m home, at once. However, the good authors always manage to make that blanket just a little bit itchy at times, forcing me to shift position and think on what I am actually cosy with.

Craig Silvery has mastered the art, and it has taken me three months to digest this book and finally write a review. I’ve been mulling over it and chewing on the plot for ages because of the notion that this is close to the best book I’ve ever read.

Set in the regional mining town of Corrigan in 1965, Jasper Jones is a thoughtful, wise, coming of age story. It is heartbreaking, tense, hilarious and riveting.

On a hot, summer night, our reluctant hero, thirteen year old Charlie Bucktin is woken by an urgent knock on his window. An outcast in the country town, mixed-race Jasper Jones urges Charlie to join him outside and help him with a desperate situation.

Jasper had always been a boy who both intimidated and intrigued Charlie. The scapegoat for all the town’s mishaps, but stoic in the face of prejudice. When Charlie follows Jasper to a secret glade across the bush, he bears witness to a horrendous discovery. Forced to keep the secret, an unbearable weight on his shoulders and in his gut, he is thrown into turmoil as all around him the town and his loved ones erupt into fear.

What is so sophisticated and charming about the story, is that while there are horrible things going on in both Charlie’s life, and more broadly the town, he still manages to cope. To carry on like a normal teenage boy; love-sick and precocious, rude to his parents, and sarcastic and playful with his best friend. Perhaps it’s the arrogance of youth, but it makes it so real. It gives the character credibility: even though shit is going down, the rest of the world doesn’t cease to function.

One highlight for me, was the relationship Charlie has with his best friend Jeffrey Lu; an overzealous Vietnamese boy and Cricket tragic. The dialogue between these two made me feel as though I was eavesdropping on my little brother and his friends. So authentic and genuine, I was laughing out loud, falling in love with the wit and sharpness of their exchanges.

This story touched me on many levels. It has a solid and unexpected plot, believable characters, and a familiar but uncomfortable setting that gets under your skin from the first hint of summer heat, sleepless nights, and small town stereotypes.

In Short: Authentic and Amazing. A modern day classic akin to Harper Lee’s Mockingbird.

Gift Ideas and Reading Inspiration

night sinsIdeas for the ladies in your life

The Light Between Oceans ML Stedman: utterly moving

Oh Dear Silvia Dawn French: hilarious and heartwarming

Night Sins by Tami Hoag: Thrilling crime

white-earthAnd for the blokes

Pure by Andrew Miller: award winning historical fiction

The White Earth by Andrew McGahan: Australian Drama

The Tour de France; The Good, The Bad and the just plain weird: self explanatory huh?

baby litFor Young Readers

Vanguard Prime Series by  Steven Lochran: super adventures for pre-teens

Matilda by Roald Dahl: who doesn’t love reading and magic?

The BabyLit Series: Board books for brainy babies

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil: Sweet and funny YA.

writing-fifty-shades-of-gray-bdsm-erotica-reminders-ecards-someecards1And for someone you hate

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL Gross.  The good news is that op shops are teeming with copies of this series so you won’t have to spend more than it’s worth.

SPEED REVIEW: The Book of Love by Phillipa Fioretti

book of love2At first glance, this book is full of fluff. References to a self-styled queen of fashion, a dashing Russian, and a ‘seductive mystery that will steal your heart,’ put me way off for fear of nonsense and romance.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I entered a world of rare antiquities (of the bookish kind) a determined heroine, and a missing boyfriend who may well have met with the foulest of play. Set in a Sydney second hand bookshop, and then landing firmly in the bustling streets of Rome, the pace is fast, the humour dry, and the adventure is palpable.

There is no doubting this book is chick lit. But it also has substance, humour and a good old fashioned mystery at its core, which makes it an excellent beach read or gift for a girlfriend.

In Short: Chick Lit with Substance