the booklist—june & july

One of the things I’ve always loved about reading, is that particular books take me back to specific places and times over the course of my life.
My bright pink copy of Sophie’s World which I read in Year 11 takes me back to that searching, trying-to-understand-all-the-things period of my younger life and my super smart friend Amy, walking together from my house to hers.
My battered copy of Blue Like Jazz was my first glimpse into real, non-religious, authentic relationship with Jesus, and reminds me of Year 12, drinking coffee for the first time, and drinking vodka for the first time too.
The Hobbit reminds me of a camping trip when I was 11, curled up in the back seat of our old Holden, and Karri trees.
I read Redeeming Love when I worked my first job at a law firm on Barrack Street in the city. I was 17. It reminds me of my chocolate brown pencil skirt and square-toed heels, woollen scarves and the firm’s lunchroom where I read while waiting for my sandwich to toast.

Every time I read a book that I know will stay with me, I also know that this moment in time will stay with me too. Some of the books I read in June will forever remind me of stacking shelves at the State Library, of commutes to the city with rain chasing itself down the train windows, and leaves glued to wet pavement.

Here’s what I’ve read since the beginning of June:

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
Yes, the world’s climate and a desire to learn and to embrace the stories of black people informed some of my reading choices. Looking back through my booklists I realised that although I was reading somewhat diversely, I could be more intentional and thoughtful in my reading. This one is a memoir of a black Christian woman who shares her experiences as such, in ministry, life and the world. It was beautifully written but at the same time I felt like it lacked a handle—she spoke openly and honestly about the ways in which white people had gotten it so wrong, but I wasn’t given any tools as to how to make it right. What is the right thing to say? How should I speak to you about those issues? It left me hanging, and nervous to say anything.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Firstly I’ll say that this book is so necessary. I grew up in the 90’s and the Australian history we were taught at school was not only lacking, but misinformed and whitewashed. This book challenges the notion that First Nations people in Australia were hunter-gatherers and attributes them with incredible intelligence, innovation, agriculture, engineering and kindness. It draws on historical facts, artefacts, diaries of colonists, the experiences of First Nations people from other colonised countries, and other evidence. It’s fact-driven, yes, but needed. I’m so glad that our kids are being taught a more accurate history in schools, that we are slowly changing the narrative, and that Indigenous people themselves are rising up and challenging the white story. Read this. And while you’re at it, track down the kids version too.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
To be honest, I started this one because I had a big, monotonous job at the library, shuffling a section of biographies and 900’s from one section to another. I needed an audiobook, and this one happened to be available instantly on BorrowBox. So, over two solid days I listened to this book and it. was. incredible. It absolutely came alive thanks to Stig Wemyss and his absolutely incredible voice acting skills and Eli’s poetic, melancholy, thoughtful narration was so beautifully written. I went in with zero expectations, and came out awed at Dalton’s writing, laughing at some of the very Australian one liners and in shock at where the book took it’s readers. Set in 1980’s Brisbane, it’s a very Australian bildungsroman, with some profound observations about life and family, humour and a plot you could never predict—it was brilliant. (Warning, lots of explicit language!)

The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Mystery/thriller novels have never been my thing, except for a brief phase when I was fifteen and read a whole bunch of Agatha Christie that I found in the depths of my Nanna’s cupboard. Foley had been recommended to me at the library multiple times, and then I saw that The Guest List was one of Reese’s Book Club picks and I happened to come across a copy that I snatched up. I read it in less than 24 hours. It was psychological, intriguing and set in the peat bogs of Ireland (I had to look them up!). You guys, this was like a modern day Agatha Christie! Switching between points of view sometimes irritates me, but I liked getting a glimpse into the minds of some of the characters. It was a fun and easy foray into a genre I don’t usually read!

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
I am drawn always to anything set in New York City—it’s my wanderlust muse, my dream. This one is set in Greenwich Village in the 60’s, sold.
The story tackles friendships, marriage and faith, but there’s something more than that… this insight into life, humanity that was beautiful and thought provoking.
Sometimes I felt the characters were being used only to portray specific viewpoints, and there were some changes towards the end that felt out of character for them. It was character driven, explorative, and full of beautiful impressions of growing up in life and faith. It wrapped up a little too quickly towards the end though, felt a bit forced.
But a delightful story.

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey
This book deserves it’s own blog post; maybe one day. For now though all I can say that Sarah Bessey is one of my favourite authors. I love that she is explorative in her faith, suspicious of organised religion, and has clearly experienced the hurtful side of ‘Christianity’, yet she examines God and faith and Christianity in a way that is not condemning or blame casting, or finger pointing. I love that she is an unashamedly Jesus-loving, tongues-speaking, halleluja-ing woman, who also unashamedly calls out our (my!) religious, proud and pious mindsets. I simultaneously love her writing and am jealous of the way she articulates the nitty-gritty heart stuff. I’d like to write like her when I grow up, thank you please.

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith
The first of this series was our Bookclub’s choice for May (see The May Booklist Here). I was told they got even better than the first, so I ventured to begin the second. Strike is faced with a gorier and more dangerous crime to solve this time, and Robin continues on as his trusty sidekick, despite the obvious annoyance by her fiance. I must admit one of my favourite aspects of these books so far (definitely intend on reading the rest) is the traipsing over London, and lots of eating of English food and drinking beer. I love the imagery of the old pubs, with their dark bars and cosy booths, as Strike and Robin discuss various aspects and suspicions of the crime as it snows outside.

Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode–and into a Life of Connection and Joy by Aundi Kolber
Okay so I listened to the audio version of this and when I finished, promptly ordered a paperback. It’s the kind of book that can become a rich resource for doing the deep work of mental health. White knuckling: it’s when we hustle through pain, painful experiences, hurt. It’s when we tell ourselves (or listen to others who tell us) to try harder, knuckle down, push through. And it’s not good for us. Kolber’s approach, as a clinical psychologist and a Christian is to try softer. And she gives us very practical, doable ways to help us identify our white-knuckling, and gently slow down, observe, and be kinder to ourselves. The book is a counselling session that is illuminating and full of care. I can’t wait to get my hard copy to underline and dog-ear, to refer to the tips and tools that are laid out throughout it’s pages. It’s a must read/do/apply.

So. I’m at 36 books this year. Reading for intentionally learning, soul-caring, slowing.
My to-be-read pile really isn’t getting any smaller though!
This month I’ve got The Alice Network, Love Her or Lose Her, My Brilliant Career and a biography about Miles Franklin. What are you reading/hoping to read?
Also, I start Semester Two of uni today, wish me luck!

xx

The April Booklist

This rather late booklist is brought to you by a freezing autumn morning, wrapped in a scarf, cosied up on the train on my way to the city.
Last month was just the beginning of the ways in which Covid-19 would affect us here in Perth. Libraries closed, I lost all of my work (being a casual) and the kids started online learning. This month our restrictions have started lifting, following other places across the globe. I’m looking forward to finally eating and reading and having a coffee at a cafe sometime soon, some are re-opening cautiously this week.

This month I was lucky enough to score a short term contract with our State Library.
So, this month, I’ve become a daily commuter to the city, and I’ve eaten bagels with crunchy autumn leaves at my feet, surrounded by architecture.
This month, I was prescribed reading glasses—I’m uni for all the time I’ve had to spend in front of a computer screen. But also, the glasses make reading books a bit easier, fancy that. Still not sure about the look of them, but at 35, I’ve found myself a little bit past caring too much about how I look.

Anyway, train rides are short, so here’s my list of April reads and some short reviews:

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Sometimes I feel a bit rebellious, and refuse to read popular fiction. If I see it too much across our library shelves, if there are too many reserves placed on our copies, I turn my nose up a little. And the hype surrounding Me Before You (I didn’t read the book, gasp, I watched the movie, and didn’t love it) turned me off Jojo Moyes. But for some reason or another, maybe it was the cover or the title, this one made it’s way onto my Kindle. I’d never even read the blurb. YOU GUYS IT’S ABOUT A TRAVELLING LIBRARY IN THE 1930’S. Yes I’m shouting! Why hadn’t I read this sooner?! I loved it. I loved the concept, I loved that it was based on a real band of women who took books to families in rural areas on horseback—horseback librarians! Yes! I love the camaraderie, and the little library, and the system devised to record who had which book, and the era… Apologies to Jojo Moyes for my hasty judgements. Your books are popular for a reason!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This is one that has been on my radar for years. I love love love books set in New York. Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the early 1900’s comes alive in this novel. It’s sweet and observant and harsh and confronting. I loved seeing Francie grow up. I loved the book’s insight. I love that classics such as this one capture life in that time period yes, but also capture the universal truths of love and family and parenting and getting by and living.
It’s a beautiful book. Slow at times, painfully detailed at others, but poetic and descriptive and profound. I’m so glad I finally read it!

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healy
I reserve books from the library a lot. When I come across one on Instagram, or someone recommends a title, I quickly jump on my phone and go to the library catalogue, and place a reserve. Then, a notification: the book you’ve reserved is ready for collection.
This one was the first of mine to collect from our library’s click-and-collect service during lockdown. I picked it up and looked at it quizzically, and for the life of me couldn’t remember why I’d reserved it. Oh well, I shrugged, you’re coming home with me. (Oh, you don’t talk to your books?) I read this after I’d finished a huge assignment and needed a breather. It reminds me of afternoon sunlight, a bed with extra blankets strewn across it, sourdough toast and almond milk coffees. I read it in two days. I loved the concept of a story set amidst the moving museum artefacts to safety from London in the Second World War. It’s gothic and almost creepy (kind of fails on the gothic front, if I’m honest). I wasn’t a fan of the love story, I feel like the women’s friendship would have been stronger and their story more powerful had they not moved to being lovers. But Lockwood Manor itself was the star. Who doesn’t want to imagine a large gothic manor full of museum taxidermy?!

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
This was the joint Man Booker prize winner last year. It’s 12 different stories, really. Each told by a different woman, somewhat interwoven from the previous. It’s contemporary, yet follows some of the woman back into their memories of the past. These women are British, and (mostly) black. And I felt like I was better for having read it. Which is why I love reading so much. Because our ability to empathise with others can only happen when we connect with their stories. And these stories are powerful, and we can identify with facets of each of the women. Evaristo doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, she’s relentless, and the book sings from front to back, we are here, this is us, our collective experience and our individual stories, our mess and our hurt and our triumph, this is all of us.
Some of it is painful to read. Some of it is political. All of it is a feminist fist punch—some of it was too overtly political, and feminist-fist-punchy for my liking, I would have rather had the stories speak for themselves. That being said though… the last lines of this novel sum up its entirety:
this is about being
together

Quite a motley bunch, my April reads, but I was delighted to have gotten through that many. I didn’t realise how much I’d read last month until I looked back.
This month has been a bit of a dry reading month. I’m glaring at YOU, dumb assignments.

Have you been able to read lately? I ebb and flow, but I’m starting to flow again after the crazy Corona stuff kept me distracted and not super productive.

xx

The March Booklist

I just read my February booklist. I felt nostalgia for the Em of February who didn’t know that within a few weeks the global Coronavirus pandemic would close the libraries she works in, leaving her jobless for the moment, and sad. She didn’t know her kids would be learning online from home, that laying on the lawn in the back yard with two of her besties would be the last real hangout with any of her friends in a long time…
It’s almost inconceivable, how much the world has changed.
I’m so thankful for reading.
We can read anywhere, any time.
And now seems like a great time to let you know that with your Australian library card, you can sign up to loan e-resources like ebooks and audio books and it is the best. I love the audiobook life: long drives, tedious housework, crochet… it can all be done while reading (well listening to a book being read to you!). My kids love them too.
Head to sites like https://www.borrowbox.com/ or download an app like Libby and then sign in with your library card. Your local library will still have some staff there, even though they’re not open to the public, so they can help you over the phone if you need it.

Anyway. 2020 is turning into a pretty read-y year. Here’s my March reads wrapped up and reviewed:

The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner
Another historical fiction novel read for the year, set in Poland during World War II. It’s about a mother and daughter hiding in a barn, and what happens to each of them when Rosa decides that her young daughter Shira would be safer hidden within a convent. I loved the concept, and it was different to many of the novels I’ve read set in the same era. It didn’t keep me as captive as I’d expected; I wasn’t as immersed or engrossed as I’d hoped, and I think the musical element was a bit lost on me.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
This. I fell in love with Nina Hill, and claim her as my very own fictional bestie. She is smart and sassy and works in a book shop in LA… but also deals with crippling anxiety, and builds walls to keep people out. This novel was so sweet, full of witty cultural and literary references, and her cat Phil made me laugh out loud numerous times. It was just such a fun, beautiful read with a cast of loveable characters. Contemporary lit for the win!

The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister
This was so different, and I’m glad I went in with no expectations! I don’t usually love magical realism, especially when it’s set in modern day, but somehow this story was woven so well. Emmeline lives on a remote island with her father. We don’t know why they’re there, but it’s all she can remember. He keeps a wall of bottles—scents captured inside—and the mystery surrounding them, the secrets of their past, is what propels the story forward.
I loved the second part of the story, as Emmeline grows up, and the people she begins to be surrounded by but the ending #facepalm. It wrapped up too quick, and almost felt like a completely different book!

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
I listened to this one on BorrowBox, on a recommendation from one of my colleagues. It was so interesting, and not what I expected at all. Rather than being at all about Jack the Ripper, it focused in on the Victorian era itself, the way families lived, and the difficulties they faced in England during that period. It was the era that produced writers from the likes of Charles Dickens, and George Eliot, and it completely makes the late 1800’s come alive—with it’s work houses and scarlet fever … this book served to bring Victorian England alive, and gave voice to the women and their families who lived there.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
“This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decision on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands. Who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don’t get to see the future. And if you screw up – if with your incomplete contradictory information you make the wrong call – nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative.”
Frankel’s writing is magic, the way she captures the universal struggles and hesitations and worries of parents is incredible.
The best part is that we get to know each of the five children, the parents and their love stories, their failures and faults and they’re all so real. As is the issue of gender dysphoria.
Reading a book like this will almost certainly make you a more empathic person.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
I know, lets read a novel about a global pandemic that sweeps the world and kills 99% of the population, in the midst of our own global pandemic, which we’re in a season of social isolation for.
If it wasn’t for our own very real global events I don’t know if this book would have held my attention. It’s rambling and fumbling, taking us back and forth pre and post pandemic, following a cast of characters with either too much detail, or not enough.
The idea was interesting, but it was just a little on the slow side for me, and just wasn’t really the story I was hoping for. In saying that, 20 years post pandemic was interesting to read about, and a bunch of people living in an old airport was an intriguing idea. I just wished for… more?

So. Are y’all reading a whole lot more these days?
Any recommendations for me?

Stay healthy.

xx

The February Booklist

I’ve been a devourer of books this month.
Last week on my day off, after I took my youngest to school, I eyed my current novel and thought just one more chapter. Two hours later I finished the novel, and carried its characters with me for the rest of the day.
I’ve been running again so audio books have been my favourite. I find it difficult to sit and read non-fiction for long periods—they’re just not as entertaining and easy to read, so audiobooks are a great way for me to consume them.
School has gone back so I’ve been reading with Amie. We’re almost finished Pippi Longstocking and we’ll watch the movie on the weekend.

I’m glad it’s been a big reading month, though, because life is about to get exceptionally busy. This crazy girl has just gone back to uni to do a Graduate Diploma in Information and Library studies. Part time, but on top of part time work and and a full time life. So, maybe the next few months will be quiet reading months as I get through the semester.

Here’s my Feb reading round-up:

Roar by Cecelia Ahern
Okay, this one I’m in two minds about. Firstly, I’ve never been a fan of short stories. I feel frustrated that they end so soon—I need more damnit, more background, more time with the characters. This compilation of short stories was no exception. Secondly, I feel like they became tiresome. Always centred around ‘the woman’, a different woman in each, but still a nameless woman. I love the imagination behind each of the stories, and their fantastical nature, like the hole that literally opens up when you feel embarrassed and the woman who finds herself in it, and the woman who grows wings and actually flies, and the woman who returns her husband to the market she purchased him from 40 years prior… there is no lack of imagination, but nor is there a lack of subtlety in each of the messages. They seemed a bit obvious, which meant I didn’t have to think, or wonder or analyse. I appreciate the feminist sentiment, the ‘lets all band together and appreciate the diversity of women’ but it was still too clean-cut, and neatly packaged for me to swallow.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
I like Edward a lot. I like how perceptive he is to the people around him, and to his own internal struggles.
I like the story, and the simple way Napolitano tells it, without fanfare or overt suspense or thrill.
I like the complex relationships between the characters, and the fact that we got to know the others on the plane too.
“The air between us is not empty space.” – Ann Napolitano, Dear Edward

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
This one took me a couple of months to get through, despite it’s small size. Each small essay packs a punch in the form of rich prose and insight into this writing life—as obsessive, curious and frustrating as anyone who pursues writing knows it to be. It’s not a how-to guide, but more analogy, life, observations and experience of the author.
“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”
– Annie Dillard

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
This novel moves up to one of my favourites. I read the blurb months ago, and instantly knew I’d fall in love with the story, and I’m so glad it didn’t let me down. It has all the trims and trappings that make chic lit so fun and easy to read—a strong protagonist, who is complicated and loveable, and has equally complicated and loveable friends. It had a sweet romance, that began with post-it conversations. And it had deeper, more intense themes like emotional abuse and gaslighting, and all of the suspense and grip that makes you unable to put it down. I’m in love.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Firstly, wow. Secondly, I highly recommend listening to this one on audiobook, read by the author. Her voice, accent, language, pronunciation—it was stunning. She brought Celie to life. It won a Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1983 and I think it’s just as poignant today, in the context of an age of Black Lives Matter, and even in Australia where our racial progress is still in infancy.
Aside from it’s importance, it is a beautiful and redemptive story. Hard to read in parts, confronting and heartbreaking, yet stunningly hopeful. It is rich in observations of life, and profound.
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.” – Alice Walker, The Colour Purple

Mind Over Clutter by Nicola Lewis
Look, I’m still exploring minimalism, and still slowly working my way through my home and decluttering. I hunt down these types of books to keep me motivated, but yet nothing has had the impact that Joshua Becker’s book had (read my thoughts here).
This one’s focus is on organising your clutter: get more baskets, go through your magazines often, shove things in the cupboard nicely, make more space, get some more baskets, try different tubs, make it a pretty space with another basket, and why not buy a new candle to make the space really fressshhhh. Okay it’s not that bad but nowhere does she address the reasons for our cluttered homes in the first place—she’s primarily talking to well-off people who don’t need to address their spending habits and are happy to continue to accumulate stuff but need some help on how to store all of this stuff so that they are not stressed out by it. It’s practical and somewhat helpful, but not what I was hoping for.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Look, if you ever need a book recommendation, I feel like Reese’s Book Club will never let you down. This was brilliant, in both storytelling, and depth. I love that the characters are not one-dimensional. I love that it calls out the ‘white saviour’—we will never know what it’s like to be a person of colour, we will probably always do and say the wrong things, we probably are not as self-aware as what we think we are. It’s about white privilege and class and gender and race as well as being about humanity—how do we decide what to do with our lives? How do we be happy for our friends when they surpass us? How do we come to terms with unmet expectations of ourselves? This book is intelligent. It reads like light-hearted chick lit (which is why I flew through it way too fast) but is heavy with social commentary and authenticity.

So there you have it.
I’m just happy that this month (as opposed to January) contained a few books that I’ll love forever and ever.

Tell me what you’re reading/hoping to read in March?

xx

The January Booklist

Last year, setting a reading goal for myself was such a highlight.
And it really was for myself. Because reading is a form of self-care for me; switching off, curling up with a cup of tea and a novel, or sliding into a hot bath with a book, I know it’s something I love to do.
But who knows that the things we love to do are often the things that are shoved aside in favour of the things we should do, or must do, or need to do.
Setting myself a goal to read 40 books in the year kept reading on my radar.
Sometimes I would go a week or two without picking up a book, but because I knew I had a goal to reach, I always had a book on my bedside ready to go. Also, it helps that I work in a library and books are always on my radar…
But the goal made me read, and reading makes me feel like I am caring for my little self, and that has been a win.
So, this year I’ve kept the same goal, and the same thing in mind. Read. Read more. Read widely.
And then share what I read here, to keep me accountable. And also conversations about books are my favourite, so come chat!

You can also find me on Goodreads here.

So. Here are my reads for Jan:

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Imagine. Here I am at the beginning of the year, ready to dive into a good novel. It’s evening. Husband is watching the cricket, I pull up my legs on our tan leather couch, freshly showered and wearing new pyjamas. I have a cup of tea next to me. The front door is open and letting in the summer breeze. Then I start to read. It’s slow going. Some of the writing is intelligent and insightful. I like the voice given to human stuff. But then over the next few days I keep reading, and I find it more and more difficult to pick up. It’s slow. The main character’s melancholy is depressing. The story doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The character is going places, physically, like travelling, but the plot? I don’t even know where it’s going it’s moving at a snails pace.
So all my ‘leaping into a good novel’ dreams are dashed, because this one for me was not a good novel.
Time I won’t ever get back and all that jazz. 1 star for the writing style. I don’t know how on earth this won a Pulitzer prize!

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Oh, you were hoping my January reads were going to get better? So was I!
What. did I just read.
I was drawn to this one because literary journalism is one of my favourite genres. This author followed each of these three women intimately for years, to capture their stories. I love that immersive style of reporting, Capote-style.
But this time, the result actually physically repulsed me.
It wasn’t the sex, truly. I mean, I can’t believe I’m even admitting this but I’ve watched Orange Is the New Black. I’m not a prude. I am not a G-rated only Christian girl who only watches Anne of Green Gables.
It actually wasn’t the explicitness of the book that I found so disturbing.
I kept reading, and waiting for redemption, and there was none to be found. What I wanted was for the three women to awaken to their identity, to take their power back, to have a happy ending for goodness sake!
But there was none.
And the idea presented that these kind of relationships are a normative expression of feminine desire and sexuality…
Just no.
I have to go wash my eyeballs. Another bummer.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Ahhh now this one was more like it. This was the one I read into the wee hours. The one I looked forward to coming home to. The one that took me on a journey. I love that the story is told through the eyes of a boy, as he grows up. I love the sense of foreboding that the house in the story gives, as if it’s a character itself—and it kind of is. This quote, that I quickly scribbled down, is an example of some of the profound insights into humanity, into our individual stories:
”There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.”
The book is less plot driven than I’d have liked it to be, and can be a bit slow in parts. But, after two novels that left me shaking my head, this was a welcome reprieve!

Cold Storage by David Koepp
Okay, this would not be a book I would naturally pick up. But, when Harper Collins sends your friend a bunch of copies for your book club, and she drops one to your house, and then reminds you to read it with the words, “It’s not what you think, give it a go I think you’ll like it!” then you pick up the book. And then you fly through it, even though it’s about a mutating fungus and a retired Pentagon bioterrorism operative, and science fiction but oh my goodness it’s thoroughly entertaining and actually I laughed out loud at a couple of places. It was lighthearted, and even though sometimes people exploded into green goo-like substance after being infected with weird fungus-from-space, I really liked this book. Honestly, I surprised myself!

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
I kept coming across this title in the libraries where I work, and it had me intrigued enough that one day I borrowed it myself. It follows a family fleeing from war in Syria and it does an incredible job of giving faces to the faceless refugee crisis that plagued our media outlets a couple of years ago. It gave them human faces and insight into their plights, and the risks they had to take to escape the war zone that had once been their places of residence. It sheds light on insufferable loss, on the repercussions of trauma, on hopelessness. Nuri and his wife Afra help to give voice to those who lost so much. It’s heartbreaking.

When Less Becomes More: Making Space for Slow, Simple and Good by Emily Ley
After reading Chasing Slow and Minimalist Home last month, I needed something to keep the ball rolling in my downsizing, minimising, decluttering life, and I came across this one.
To be honest, it was similar to Chasing Slow, but didn’t have the punch I expected. It was more focused on minimising our time on social media, and devices, than much about decluttering our homes or the minimalist movement that I’m experimenting with. There are definite faith overtones, and it reads like an extended blog. But I did enjoy listening to it as I decluttered my house some more.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising by Marie Kondo
Remember when this book went viral? I’m sure you’re familiar with her phrase about getting rid of something if it doesn’t spark joy. Well, did you know that she also empties her handbag every night because she thinks it will ‘feel full’ and then she also thanks it for it’s work that day. Needless to say, there are some ideas in this book that I won’t be implementing. But there are others that are more practical, and I think it’s helpful if you find it hard to part with material things, particularly if they’re somewhat sentimental. She doesn’t really address the practical things that we need to have in our homes, or give any ideas about how to store or organise those things. In that area I feel like Minimalist Home is much more practical. But I had to read (listen) to this book because it’s such a widely-read book in the arena of minimising.

So. I’m off to a roaring start, having seven notches in my 2020 reading belt.

On my bedside are The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, Roar by Cecelia Ahern, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and I’m currently listening to The Grown-up’s Guide to Teenage Humans by Josh Shipp.

What are you reading? Do you have a reading goal for 2020? It might not be as ridiculous as 40 books fo rate year – maybe it’s just one a month?

xx

The December Booklist

Twenty nineteen is done and dusted. As dusted as so many previously neglected areas of my home, after a couple of my December reads that I honestly think have completely changed the way that I think, and have been a catalyst to some changes and decisions I’ve made as I’ve moved into this new year.
December was busy—in that regular December kind of way, that sneaks up on you even when you think you’ve been organised and prepared. But also in a different kind of way. Because life is different now that I have a big grown-up job, and this alone affected the way we prepared for Christmas and the expectations I laid down around having and doing it all. It was different, but lovely.

I worked on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve and served library patrons, and wished them happy Christmases, and tracked down book titles they’d heard about, and extended due dates for the ones who’d be holidaying in January and wouldn’t be able to return their books on time. One of the things I love about the library is that it whirrs on; there is always someone available to help you photocopy, or chat with you about your latest read. In the crazy Christmas hustle, the library was like a refuge. I watched people walk through our doors and breath a deep sigh of relief; this was no busy shopping centre, and here there was no to-do list.

So, in all the working hours and Christmas preparations, I made sure to read a Christmas novel, and a few others in between. Here’s my December wrap-up:

The Christmas Party by Karen Swan
Irish countryside, long-held family feuds and multiple plot lines, all centred around Christmas? Yes please. I am a sucker for a good romance, even if it’s as predictable as my morning coffee. My morning coffee is no less enjoyable in its predictability, and neither is a romantic novel. And a Christmas one at that.
This was our bookclub choice for the month (and when I say our pick, I do really mean two of us who needed something lighthearted and Christmassy, after some heavy choices in the previous months!). I loved having this to look forward to curling up with after a long day at work!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
I think my favourite part of the book was the prologue, in which the author talks about meeting and spending time with the man whose story she wrote. Her friendship with the elderly gentleman grew over three years, in which he shared with her his story, in bits and pieces of memory. The end result is a beautiful, moving piece of historical fiction, about a Slovakian Jew in the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau who meets the love of his life. I listened to this one on audio, and it was beautifully read. I will always be shocked and heartbroken over the treatment of human beings at that period of history—anything that reminds us of the evil we are capable of, and serves to then help to prevent further horrors, is a good thing.

Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
This was another audiobook. Before the kids finished school, and as I was preparing the house and presents and ticking things off my to-do list, I’d put on my headphones and listen to Erin read me her book. I loved hearing her journey through excess, share her faith and her values, and question all the things I’ve questioned: what am I chasing? When will I arrive? Will this stuff ever make me happy?
”There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” (G. K. Chesterton)
This is more of a memoir than anything (with a few recipes along the way – I did actually go and make her better pasta recipe, with a creamy cashew sauce and zucchini noodles and it was delicious!) but I love the way she writes, her honesty with herself and her readers, and I was inspired to evaluate the things I cling onto too. Ultimately, this journey of slow is exactly that: a journey.

The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Refocused Life by Joshua Becker
This. There was this one week, prior to Christmas where I had a couple of days off and I was determined to use them well, and to sink my teeth into something I may otherwise not have time for before Christmas. The back room had been getting on my nerves prior to then, with the dusty blinds and windows, and it was a big job. I wanted another audiobook after I’d finished Chasing Slow, and I needed one that was available now, not in a few weeks. So this one came up as a recommended read. I wasn’t that excited about it to be honest, but because I was standing over a bucket of hot soapy water, and was about to spend the following four or five hours scrubbing blinds and windows until they shone, I tapped ‘borrow’ and set to it.
I was ridiculously inspired. This book is both incredibly practical (room by room, drawer by drawer, why do I need two vegetable peelers? ) and also inspires us to look at the underlying issues of why we keep so much, why we need to store, collect, display and hoard. This quote I scribbled in my journal in the days I was listening:
”Minimising forces us to confront our stuff, and our stuff forces us to confront ourselves”
The advantages to a minimalist lifestyle are actually profound. There is so much joy to be found in owning less. I 100% recommend this book (and, in fact, any of Becker’s resources) if you are looking to simplify your life in 2020.
This is only the beginning of a journey for me, but one that I’ve begun with decluttered kitchen drawers and sparkling windows.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
This is probably my favourite Advent devotional ever. It has 45 readings, or chapters, each by a different author. There are readings by CS Lewis, Sylvia Plath, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey, TS Eliot, John Donne – I could go on. It’s literary and spiritual genius, that focuses on the significance of Christmas. This is a book that will be well-loved and dog-eared for many years to come.

So. Folks. I did it.
I read 45 books this year—5 more than my goal.
I shared each of them here on my blog with a mini review, which seems like a massive feat in itself for this not-great-at-finishing-things-I-start kinda girl.

We started a bookclub, and I fell in love with reading again, and now I work in a library.

Life.

What to read in 2020?

Follow me over on Goodreads and send inspiration, and let me know what your 2020 reading goals are?

xx

The November Booklist

I’ve recently (thanks to being a public library employee) discovered our free e-lending system.
It has been a game changer. We’re really intentional about what we sign up for—read: stingy, we’re stingy with the things we sign up for. I don’t want to be leaking money in areas that are not being used, or in areas that are unnecessary. For example, I refuse to pay for a gym membership when I much prefer pounding the pavement on actual pavement. (Daniel does however, have a gym membership because he uses it almost daily) We only have one tv streaming account, and our music streaming is a part of Daniel’s phone plan.
This year we downsized our phone plans, too. Anyway. The point is, why pay for downloadable e-resources when you can get them for free through our public libraries?!
Cue: BorrowBox or Libby (by OverDrive) or any number of the borrowing apps that will work when you sign up with your public library.
It’s changed my reading game. I can listen to audio books while I’m washing dishes or weeding the garden, or driving long distances. They’re not completely the same as cosying up with a paperback, but they serve their purpose all the same, and I am stoked to be able to access this stuff for free. Get a library card my friends.

Anyway. November was a good, albeit heavy, reading month. I’m looking forward to December’s Christmas novel to lighten it all up a bit more!

Here’s the November read list:

The Pearl Thief by Fiona McIntosh
”Oh, you must try one, my dear,” says an elderly woman stuffing her library card back into her purse with arthritic fingers and a twinkle in her eye. “They’re so well researched. All the stories are just lovely. I couldn’t put this one down.” It wasn’t the first of Fiona McIntosh’s titles that had crossed my path this month, they’re popular and I was intrigued. I popped this one aside, and rode home from work with it in my bike basket.
I wasn’t disappointed. It contained the right mix of popular fiction with historical facts, doing justice to the Holocaust and it’s survivors. I loved its straight-backed protagonist and the ending was perfect.

Boys Will Be Boys: Power, Patriarchy, and the Toxic Bonds of Mateship by Clementine Ford
I cannot even, with this one. I listened on Audio, and while Clem is very, very angry, by the end of the book it really isn’t difficult to see why. There was one moment, where I was driving down the freeway listening in horror to the absolute injustice of men who have committed horrific crimes against women and have not been given fair punishment. It seems that this book was a punch in my already-aching justice-loving feminist heart.
It needs to be read, far and wide.
I’ll write more about this. I will. Because I know I already lost 80% of you with the word feminist.
But, ladies, remember this: the feminist movement is what has given you your right to vote, to decide whether you’d like to have children or not and to decide whether you will work inside the home or out of it. It wasn’t that long ago that we weren’t given that autonomy, and we should be grateful.
*puts the feminist soapbox aside… for now*

Beloved by Toni Morrison
I know I’ve probably harped on a little about book club. Or maybe I haven’t harped on enough, because BOOK CLUB! My girl gang is a book club and this makes my bookish heart so happy.
We gathered again to talk about this book, our pick for the month. We ate pavlova and as I licked the last of the cream from my fork, and stared at a flickering candle on the coffee table, legs tucked underneath me in my corner of the couch, I got to hear what was loved, what was learned, and what was gained from Beloved. And share my thoughts too.
This book is a bit hectic. I don’t love ghosty stories, and if you’ve ever seen the movie (it has Oprah in it, by the way) you’ll know it’s a horror genre. Which the book doesn’t fully portray. What is horrific, however, is the way people of colour were treated in that period, and the pain inflicted on families and generations and women. I always love the historical aspects of books, love to learn about our pasts, about different time periods and other peoples. Toni Morrison is a master storyteller, and this book is a classic for a reason. But go in prepared for discomfort.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman
I needed a Fredrik Backman novel after Boys and Beloved!
Earlier this year I read Britt Marie Was Here and while this one didn’t quite captivate me as much (I got a bit tired of the imaginary world, I just wanted to go on with the story in the protagonists here and now) it was a reprieve from the heaviness, and lovely to curl up with in the evenings and make me smile. Everyone needs a granny like Elsa, and I think I want to be that kind of granny when I grow up too.

Next month I want to read at least two corny Christmas novels, and I’ve just borrowed Erin Loechner’s Chasing Slow to listen via BorrowBox.
What are you reading/hoping to read this month?

xx

The October Booklist

October was contentment.
I’ve been making my way though a devotional book this year that is a compilation of Henri Nouwen’s words, and this quote sums up the month for me:

‘Every time we decide to be grateful it will be easier to see now things to be grateful for’

There is so much to be grateful for.
Finding my feet as a Library Assistant, getting to know regular patrons and learning the way each of the libraries run took most of my time and energy this month—yet being surrounded by books never ceases to inspire me.
I often leave work loaded with books, often ones I’ve come across during the day that I’ve thought my kids would like, and go back for at the end of my shift.

My love of picture books has been renewed, and I took a stack home to renew my kids’ love for them, too. We sat, for a few nights in a row, reading a book or two and feasting on the illustrations.
Our very favourite is Oliver Jeffers’ Here We Are. His illustrations are incredible, but it’s the pure heart behind this one that makes it a firm favourite.

Other books I read in October:

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
Encountering God in our every day. Outside of the confines of a church building, outside traditions we’ve appropriated without thinking, outside of the typical formula of Christianity that I had implemented without thinking for too long—this book wasn’t anything I didn’t know, but it gave me the permission I didn’t know I needed, to see God in the places I was already finding Him, and realise that they had been spiritual practices all along.

Inspired : Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
I love the way Evans creates narrative from Bible characters, and brings them to life. I loved learning some of the context of Bible times, and understanding the Jewish way of reading the Torah—entering into midrash, open to interpretation, entering into the story, wrestling with meaning.
I love that Evans gives voice to issues in the Bible I’ve been uncomfortable about, and makes it feel like it’s okay to question, without being berated for my ‘lack of faith’. Some of what I read I am still mulling over, unsure about, and need to do my own research on—but I think it’s important to read things that stretch us, confront our ideologies and expand our thinking.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
This book is based on the true story of holocaust survivor Dita Kraus, who was charged with the role of secret librarian at 14 years old, in Auschwitz, after being sent from the Terezin ghetto in Prague. The library consisted of only eight books, but represent the will to keep learning and keep living, in the midst of unspeakable horrors. The afterword was my favourite part though, where the author recounts meeting with an aged Dita, and where her spunk and tenacity come alive.

Tell me, what have you been reading?

xx

The September Booklist

Oh September. You are sunnier days, and cool nights. You are wildflowers and storms and surprise sunburn.
You are all over the place, yet beat with a constant whisper of warmer days to come.
I started working in my city’s libraries. There are four across our sprawling suburbs, and each one with its quirks, demographics and shelving layouts.
It’s overwhelming.
Not the patrons, whom I love, and not the shelving, which I find cathartic – but the sheer, heaving, growing mass of reading material available. I am well read. I’ve been a reader since I was a little girl, reading out the children’s library in my own home town so that mum would have to drive me to the next suburb’s library. Despite this, despite me being familiar with so so many titles of books and authors, and having read a lot in my lifetime, there is still so many books to read.

There are so many more being written, so many classics I haven’t heart of, so many titles I’m coming across that I must read, so many paperbacks with beautifully designed covers, so many new works of fiction I didn’t know about…

then there’s the horrifying knowledge that there is not, and nor will there ever be, enough lifespan to read all the books. So, I’ll plod along and read as many as I can in the time that I do have, finding patches of spring sunshine to distract me from this sad knowledge. And revel in the fact that I work in these spaces heaving with books, because actually – what a dream.

So here’s what I read this month:

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This was our book club’s pick, and we have yet to meet and discuss. A patron happened to ask me to reserve this book for them recently (to whom I apologised, that I myself happened to have a copy at the time) because they’d heard an interview on ABC Radio with Min Jin Lee, and said the book sounds delightful. You can listen to the full interview here. The book is delightful.
It’s also a very long saga, that follows a dizzying array of characters across multiple generations—because of this I was never sure if I should be invested in a particular character because actually I may never hear of them again as the stories trailed on. What I did love was the history, the culture and reading in the stories the deep-rooted ways Koreans live. I wasn’t aware of some of the history between Japan and Korea, and I loved reading about the foods and jobs and relatives and customs of these fictional characters, trying to get ahead in Japan, after being forced to leave Korea.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
You guys. I’ve never read this before.
Of course I’ve seen the movie. Of course I know all the pop-culture references that came from the movie. I actually have a very vivid memory of sitting on my Grandmother’s fold out couch, in her spare room at the back of her house, watching this movie for the first time. I would have been no more than five years old. I had a sore tummy, and I really wanted mum and dad to hurry up and get me, but I’m assuming that The Princess Bride kept me entertained well enough until they did.
Anyway. This book is hilarious and William Goldman is a genius.
I laughed out loud the entire time. It is satire at it’s finest, and Westly and Buttercup came alive for me again but with depth and humour and quiet mocking.
How is S. Morganstern not a real person and Florin not a real place and this story not a thousand years old? Goldman. Genius. Now I am off to watch the movie again.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Did you know that Elizabeth Gaskell was a friend of Charlotte Brontë? That she wrote Brontë’s biography, and was a novelist herself, who published novels in and about the Victorian era? Move over Jane Austen. I’m kidding of course, Austen wouldn’t move over for anyone. Gaskell though, has a similar style and if you are a fan of old Jane, and Charlotte and literature from the 1800’s, then you won’t be disappointed. Except maybe about the ending, because we all knew it was going to happen, but I needed more. If you’ve read it, you’ll understand. I was surprised how modern this book felt, considering it was published in 1854, and how strong a protagonist Margaret was. She was no weak Victorian heroine that’s for certain, and I loved her.

So that’s September wrapped up!

What are you reading?
Please have a conversation with me about The Princess Bride!
I need to talk about this.

xx

The August Booklist

Look, it’s been a big few months okay?
There have been some job changes over here in the H household, and I’ve felt all the transitions between seasons down deep in my bones—achey and slow.
Sometimes there’s just no brain space leftover for reading. I had two library books on my bedside for weeks, and I couldn’t pick them up. Back to the library they went.
For a little while, reading just felt hard you know?
I’ve eased myself in again, in the past couple of weeks and I’m glad I’ve reacquainted myself with this love.
Anyway. Being the low-reading month that it was, my August reads were as follows…

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.
This was our book club read for the month (I really, really must blog about book club soon. It makes me so happy), and my favourite pick of book club so far. It had me at New York City. Then it had me at 1940’s New York City. And although I’ve had a love-hate relationship across Gilbert’s works over the years, this work of fiction is stunning. Vivian Morris lands in NYC as a nineteen year old, come to live with her Aunt who owns the Lily Playhouse. Vivian is a talent with a sewing machine, and creates costumes for the show girls who work at the playhouse—and although her character as a whole is rather shallow, she’s still self-aware enough of her naiveté. And look, there is definitely some debauchery throughout the novel as Vivian discovers the world of the show girl, but it’s simultaneously light-hearted and profound.
A couple of my favourite quotes I noted down as I came across them (I’ve found it handy lately, to read with a notebook nearby for moments such as these!):

“Then my mercy swelled, and for just a moment I felt mercy for everyone who has ever gotten involved in an impossibly messy story. all those predicaments that we humans find ourselves in—predicaments that we never see coming, do not know how to handle, and then cannot fix.”

“I fell in love with him, and it made no sense for me to fall in love with him. We could not possibly have been more different. But maybe that’s where love grows best—in the deep space that exists between polarities.”

“All these years later, I felt like he was still trying to do that. Still trying to find a safe radius somewhere in the world. Someplace where he could stop burning.”

The Binding by Bridget Collins
I loved the concept of this book. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before.
Set in nondescript medieval history, there exist craftsmen called bookbinders, who not only craft beautiful books with leather and gold, in their workshops, but have a gift of binding the book owners memories into them. Those who have experienced that which they’d rather forget seek out these bookbinders, who remove the memories, creating a book with them, and locking them safely away. They then are dangerous and secret, holding the scars of people who no longer remember that they’ve been bound. Magical realism at it’s finest.
The story follows farmer-boy Emmett and his lover, and while it is immersive fantasy and incredible storytelling, I couldn’t help but feel that it was lacking something I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe I just wanted more of the history, the place in time… something. I felt that it took me on a path I wasn’t quite interested in, and there were other offshoots to the trail I would have preferred to wander down.
Still, if you go in without expectations (especially if you have expectations regarding the blurb, do not read the blurb) I think you’ll be glad you did.

That is all.

xx