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 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

The July Booklist

I’m finding that it’s getting harder to read non-fiction. It doesn’t hold my attention very well, and makes sitting down to read feel like a bit of a chore.
I can lose myself in a fictional world and can (and will!) easily read for hours, but know there are nuggets of gold in other books that are good for my spirit and soul growth. What to do?
Audiobooks. I’ve been listening to non-fiction via audio and it’s a game changer. I can listen while I run, or do the dishes, or drive. I think I retain more this way, and then I can save my sit-down-reading-time to indulge in a beautiful work of fiction.

I thought I had read more this month, but I guess that’s the beauty of keeping track—I’ll have to up my game next month!

So these are the books I read in July:

Circe by Madeline Miller
This was our bookclub pick. Apparently it made some waves and all the important and well-connected Instagram types were raving about it. And if Brene Brown raves, you know the rest of us want to see what the fuss is about. I didn’t quite get what the fuss was about with this one, and the jury was out on this one in bookclub too. Some of us loved it, some (me) not so much. If you like epic sagas and Greek mythology, then this is your jam. I was a little bit lost in the sprawling plot lines and flowery language. My book club associates did, however, help me to see the beauty in it; the heroine who discovers herself and the intelligent thoughts and messages throughout (Magic man-rapists into actual pigs? Nymphs and goddesses… yes, just a healthy sprinkling of feminism). It’s a re-telling of Greek mythology, which is interesting and slightly gripping… but the bulk is spent on an island with a rather naive immortal woman who did not have the depth of character I needed her to have. I did enjoy the immersive aspect of the novel though, there were some beautiful poetic lines in it that I loved.

The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life by Erwin McManus
I’ll leave you with my favourite quotes:

“Life is a series of challenges, adventures, and yes, even battles. There will always be giants to subdue and dragons to slay. I have already decided to die with my sword in hand. There is more courage in us than danger ahead of us. You are strong enough for the battles ahead.”

“I do not believe anyone is born average, but I do believe that many of us choose to live a life of mediocrity. I think there are more of us than not who are in danger of disappearing into the abyss of the ordinary. The great tragedy in this, of course, is that there is nothing really ordinary about us. We might not be convinced of this, but our souls already know it’s true, which is why we find ourselves tormented when we choose lives beneath our capacities and callings.”

“Be ready when you get there. Don’t make the mistake of living your life waiting for good things to happen—make good things happen. Be faithful in the small things that do not matter to you as much and treat them with the same level of respect and importance as the big things connected to your hopes and dreams.”

The Way of Life: Experiencing the Culture of Heaven on Earth by Bill Johnson
This was a refreshing look at church culture, at the way of Jesus, and the way it all should/could be.
This was wisdom. So much wisdom.

xx

The June Booklist

It was a cold month and I was tired.
Maybe it’s the working mum gig. It’s been an adjustment.
It probably also has something to do with the weather. It was too wet (the wettest Perth June on record, for 14 years actually) to do much, other than read.
If I’m not careful, I can use books the same way other people use Netflix. I’m a book binger.
Particularly with fiction.
In June I feel like I binged a lot. Which meant I stayed up too late to read ‘one more chapter’ and didn’t write, or run. I just read, and read some more.
I’m not going to feel sad about it. There are worse things to binge on.
And now we’re getting some sunny days I can ride my bike again… to the library… for more books… it’s a vicious cycle my friends.

Here’s my June list:

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton
Tim Winton is a literary genius. I loved the protagonist’s voice throughout this book—Jaxie’s voice is so raw, and some of the colloquialisms made me actually laugh out loud and read them again, and then out loud to my husband, who uses so much of the same teenage slang himself. Winton makes every day Aussie speech sound like poetry—poetry with a lot of profanity. With guts. Not to mention making the-middle-of-nowhere in Western Australia sound like somewhere you’d want to go. And then those hit-you-in-the-guts phrases that bring to life the struggles of humanity, of brokenness, and the reality of love. It’s uncomfortable, and brutal and heartbreaking, and hilarious. Also, it’s one of my book club reads—have I told you about my book club? A real life book club with wine and cheese and conversation and women in a room who are writers and want to get better at their craft, and talk literature and life and writing ohmyheart counting down the sleeps until our next book club night!

How’s Your Soul by Judah Smith
This one was an audiobook, and not a long one. I like Judah. He makes me laugh. His writing style is easy to read (listen to). Maybe too easy, for a topic that has the possibility of a lot of depth, but which I didn’t feel went as deep as it could have. There’s some beauty in its simplicity though—in knowing and accepting that outward indicators are not a sign of success, that the health of our soul is vitally important to the life God calls us to live. “Walking implies that our souls are experiencing steady, controlled progress. It means that we are moving forward. It means that rather than running for cover every time a threat appears, we are stable, we make good choices, and we have a positive outlook on the future. Steadily and surely, we are advancing.”

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
I was saving this one, I really was. I wasn’t going to start it—it’s the last available book in the Outlander series. The author, as far as I know, is still writing the next one. So I was saving it, the way you save the biscuity base of the cheesecake for last because you know it’s the best bit. But then I rode to the library with Eden, and I accidentally wandered the ‘g’ in fiction, and locked eyes with this book. Before I could activate my self-control, and walk away, my hand had grabbed it off the shelf as fast as lightening and there was no going back. And then I remembered why I really should read these books on my Kindle – hashtag heavy.
And oh my heart I was not ready for it to end, and now I personally want to knock on Gabaldon’s door and tell her to hurry up with the next book please.

Wolfpack by Abby Wambach
Yes, yes and YES. Fem lit that makes me want to look around at my fellow females and smile a we’re-on-the-same-team smile. I love Abby’s insights into leadership, teamwork, feeling benched, cheering each other on. She has so much wisdom—I was nodding and hissing yesssssss through my teeth, and fist pumping throughout this entire book. This book is a win for sisterhood, for culture-changers and unity.

Still Lives by Maria Hummel
An easy fiction piece with a little bit of suspense, and a little bit of detective work. Another of Reese’s Book Club picks, which I think I have to start lowering my expectations of a little. Lately, it seems it’s been predominantly chick lit, very romcom/soapie style and it’s not my favourite. BUT when bingeing on books, fiction that is easy to read, a plot that was simple to follow and provided a dreamy escape into a world of art in Los Angeles, was just the thing. Also, my fantastic little local library is so great at ordering in books I request, and this was one of them. So grateful.

Done any book-bingeing lately? Any you’d care to recommend?

xx

The May Booklist

I finally found the perfect little armchair for our lounge room, but it’s become the favourite spot for children and/or a certain ginger cat to curl up in. So when I don’t have the heart to remove them from their cosy space, the autumn sunshine was very kind to me, in my little corner of the bedroom.

I spent last week sick with flu symptoms, and barely made it to (newly formed, very fabulous) bookclub, but really, nothing was keeping me away. But reading is hard when you’re snotty and exhausted, so Netflix won out most nights. Before that, however, I impressed myself with my intentional stopping and reading—who knew that even without Instagram I could find distractions from doing the things that are best for me?!

My little May reading wrap up and mini reviews:

1. Home Fires by Fiona Lowe
This is a newly released novel by Australian author Fiona Lowe. My lovely writer-girl friend Amanda Viviers was given a box full of bookish goodness by publisher Harper Collins including multiple copies of this novel, specifically with the request to use it for bookclub! How incredible! She gifted one each to a circle of local writers and book-lovers for us to read, with the promise of a chat with wine and cheese at the end of the month.
I must admit, I flew through this book.
I loved the Australiana, and it made me realise I don’t read enough from Aussie authors (bookclub will soon fix that!)—the fictional town of Myrtle with its Country Women’s Association, Aussie volunteer fireies, and themes around friendship were the best aspects.
And although I felt that the story moved too slowly in the beginning, and wrapped up too quickly at the end, I did love the light it shed on the aftermath of a bushfire for regional towns.
It was easy to read, and light entertaining (with darker parts of the plot line though, as a little warning from me).

2. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
THIS. The best book I’ve ever read on writing. Ever.
It’s compiled of short essays, each chapter tackling a theme or an idea or a thought.
It made me want to write, and I did actually begin to see and feel the act of writing and journaling as a practice, the same way as yoga practice or meditation practice. There’s an aspect of writing that we can use as a tool to explore the deepest places in us, to record memories and life. The book reminded me that all of life is magnificent and none of it is unworthy of our attention, and that every one of us has a story and a perspective—a way of looking at the world that is unique to us, and that we can and should write it down.
It reminded me of my deep, forever, unending, passionate love affair with writing. I am so grateful for this book, I know it’s one I’ll go back to again and again.

3. Love Does by Bob Goff
When this book was released, there was a lot of hoo-ha across my Instagram and other social media. It got me curious and I added it to my to-read list.
I finally got around to it, and listened to this one on Audible. I did really enjoy having Bob narrate his own book straight into my earbuds, and I did enjoy his writing style and the way he wove his stories throughout the book—what a life he’s lived! He’d be a great guy to spend a day with, just to hear about his adventures. However. You know when a movie isn’t as good as you expected purely because of the hype around it, and you know you’d have loved it so much more if you didn’t read any reviews or didn’t hear all your friends raving about how phenomenal it was? Yeah. I think I would have enjoyed the book so much more if I’d not had such high expectations. A good reminder to myself to lower them.

4. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
I’ve been diligently following along Reese’s Bookclub recommendations, and borrowed this one from my local library, who I’m sure actually bought the book on my request. I love being the first person ever to read a new library book (book nerd thrills!) While I’ve absolutely loved every one of Reese’s Bookclub books so far, this one is probably my least favourite. Maybe it was the rom-com, chick-lit kinda genre… it just seemed like the plot was pretty linear, and I didn’t get to know protagonist Nikola as well as I would have liked, I think because of the changes in tense. In saying that though, the friendships between the three women are pretty accurate, and did make me laugh at some of their text conversations. I also loved imagining living in East LA, walking to cafes and living in apartments, and drinking in trendy bars, and being a freelance writer for the New York Times and O magazines. It wasn’t terrible, and I read it in less than 24 hours. A good one for a lazy Saturday recovering from the flu.

So. As usual, I’d love to hear your recommendations! What have you read and loved recently?
Have you read any of the above? Did you feel the same about them? Drop me a line and we can have a mini bookclub chat!

For book club this coming month we’re going to read some Tim Winton and the latest from Madeline Miller Circe which I’m telling myself to have ZERO expectations for.

Can you believe we’ve hit June already, and winter here in Australia?
The sunshine today would say otherwise – I’m off to curl up in some of it and read for a little while.

xx

The April Booklist

Autumn is my favourite season.

The weather has just begun to change here in Perth, and while we’re still being dished some deliciously warm days, it’s the days that are a bit chilly and have me chasing a patch of sunshine that are my favourite.
The light has moved again, and the edge of my bed has the perfect strip of sun along it in the afternoons, so that when I curl up there on the weekend I can bury my feet in its warm patch.

I’ve had my eye out on secondhand marketplaces for the perfect armchair for an empty corner of our lounge room, and I’m imagining curling up there with my grey hand knit throw, and hot cups of tea. Summer reading is good, but I’m happy to welcome back the cosiness of Autumn days.

April book roundup:

1. An Echo In The Bone by Diana Gabaldon
After last month, I swore I wouldn’t pick up the next in the Outlander series. They’re too long. I get too involved. I live and breathe seventeenth century Scotland and America. My internal voice assumes a highland lilt and frankly, my shoulder is weary of the extra half a kilo I’m carrying around in my handbag with me everywhere. The only problem is, that I was gifted #7 for my birthday last. And it is shiny and gold.
I had to start averting my eyes as I walked past the bookshelf. No. Give it six months. Wait. Read something that doesn’t remove you from real life for so long.
My husband shouldn’t have left me alone. There was no stopping me. I devoured it in just over a week.

Gabaldon is a ferocious storyteller—multiple plot lines are interwoven, frantic and suspenseful. Sometimes I hate her for what she puts her characters through, as much as I’ve hated Shonda Rhimes during a season finale of Grey’s Anatomy. Gabaldon seems just as observant of the nuances of life and love as Rhimes, with the same amount of dry wit.

Thankfully, the next one doesn’t yet sit tantalising me on the bookshelf, and I’m avoiding ‘G’ in the fiction section at my local library until I’m sure my self control is in order.

2. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
I’m a feeler, and perhaps it’s getting worse as I get older and learn to love and embrace all the parts that make me who I am—serial cryer included. Or, Manning has a way with words that seems graced and breathed straight from heaven. The first chapter alone made me weep.
Manning is an alcoholic, a Franciscan priest, and a self-confessed ragamuffin—and though the book was written almost 30 years ago, it still speaks poignantly to exactly where we are in history now. I mean, to think this sentence was written before the age of social media: “The temptation of the age is to look good without being good… The dichotomy between what we say and what we do is so pervasive in the church and in society that we actually come to believe our illusions…”.
Manning speaks to our apathy, to complacency, to religiosity. His words speak to our ego, our people-pleasing, street-corner-shouting, title-addicted, clean-and-shiny Christianity and he bluntly scolds, berates and loves us with his words into real grace.
This is a book that needs to be on every person of faith’s bookshelf.
It was not an easy read.
I read it over the month in fits and starts, highlighting and scribbling in margins, writing out paragraphs into my journal. It is challenging and made me feel free and uncomfortable all at once.
The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behaviour.” Um. What. Insert stunned emoji here.
I’m still recovering from this one, and I’ll be referencing it for ever.

3. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
This one I listened to on Audible. I listened as I walked along the ocean, and when I went for runs, and when I was in the car driving alone. It’s another one that made me cry. Not just for the content—twenty years of research into shame and courage and vulnerability is incredible—but for Brené’s ability to lace these stories together, to help us to see, to draw us in to a bigger picture of humanity, and of ourselves. Her ability to write. The way she articulates all the nuance of humanness, and has me saying, “Oh my gosh, me too, me too, me too” and wondering how she managed to construct so many of my fleeting thoughts and feelings into actual tangible explanations. She is profound.

4. The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
This is another of Reese’s Book Club picks, the latest in fact, and the third on her list that I’ve read. It’s a beautiful piece of fiction set in 1930’s Malaysia, with a protagonist who accidentally pickpockets and as a result is taken on an adventure of wild dreams, ghosts, childhood love and the refusal to be owned or boxed by any man—amidst a mystery of deaths occurring from a man-hunting tiger. It is a rambling tale full of magic realism and Chinese and Malaysian myth and folklore and descriptions of food, which reminded me of novels like Midnight’s Children and Like Water for Chocolate. Easy to read, I was so immersed in the story, and loved Ji Lin’s sassiness, and Shin’s devotedness. It was a great way to finish school holidays, finding patches of sun and whiling away long hours reading.

So, four months in of mini book reviews and I’d love to know if you’ve read any of them?
Or if you have any recommendations.
I haven’t quite decided what to read in May, and I’m on a self-imposed book-buying hiatus because there are too many unread new books on my shelf.

xx