I’ve read some real humdingers lately … books that have kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning, have made me roll around the bed laughing until tears roll down my face, have seen my eyes pop out in amazement, left me sitting at the breakfast table until well past when we SHOULD have made a move describing a particularly poignant scene to Abby, and begging Julian to listen because “you’ll never read it, will you, so just let me tell you – it was extraordinary!”

And so I thought it must be time to share a few …

Well … there’s not much I can say about Gone Girl without completely destroying the premise for you.  In fact, don’t read the reviews on Amazon – despite declaring that they contain no plot spoilers, they do.  So I shall simply say, very carefully, it’s about a woman called Amy who disappears from her house on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary.  Her husband Nick is frantic.  I shall say no more.  Did I enjoy reading it – oh yes!  Would I read it again – oh yes!  Do I recommend it – oh yes!  Would I call it a thriller – absolutely not.  More like a very very black comedy – a book of despair and bleakness that pokes the reader with a sharp needle, making me sit up and acknowledge my own flaws and failings.

The character development is fabulous – there are characters who you never feel comfortable with – in fact, I didn’t really become overly fond of any of them.  But they were engaging that’s for sure.  As for her descriptions of life in and the social and economic landscapes of Manhattan vs. Missouri – incredible.  At times, Flynn enmeshes her reader in environments that are so cringingly uncomfortable – positively Dickensian –  that you wonder what kind of future any of these people have.  Read it.  I would call it a light read – certainly not good literature – and it won’t take you long but you’ll never forget it!

Hee! hee! hee! hee!  I love Colin Cotterill.  I must confess, when I learned that he had ditched Dr. Siri, the septogenarian pathologist from Laos, for Jimm Juree, the unemployed journalist from Thailand who is just desperate to crack a big story after moving south to a derelict holiday resort with her family, I was very petulant.  I didn’t think this young upstart could hold a candle to the marvellous Siri, and I wasn’t sure I would find descriptions of modern Thailand anywhere near as entrancing as post war Laos. Wrong!  Totally different in one way – i.e. environment and people – but classic Cotterill in the other.  These are the first two in what I’m sure will be a new series.

Wacky cast of characters – some real gems – some are a little stereotyped but others – like Ed the fisherman and the local Buddhist nun are really sympathetically drawn.  The family is delightfully loopy – Mair, the mother who is beginning to unravel a little, Granddad Jah a bitter, almost silent ex-traffic policeman, Sissi the transexual computer hacker, Arny the body builder, and a menagerie of grotty dogs.  Lieutenant Chompu is divine.  If you’ve been to South East Asia, you can just imagine the village – hot, hot, hot, and exceptionally muggy where the most sensible thing to do is sprawl (you can’t sit, too many parts of you stick together with sweat if you sit, you must sprawl) in the shade with the fan pointed directly at you, and do not move until it is absolutely necessary .  Cotterill sets the scenes so beautifully – he has a magical way with descriptions – they not only leave you laughing out loud, but you can feel the steamy, damp settling into your hair, your eyes squint in the glare, and the smells of Thailand fill your nose and clothes.  The crimes are eccentric – a little creepy, sometimes sinister.  The twists and turns are intriguing and occasionally eye popping.  The political satire is very pointed and witty.   A very fun read – with the first being a bit better than the second.  I raced through the first – mad keen to find out what on earth had happened.  The second was more meandering.

Odd, odd, odd.  Continuing on with my fascination with the Orthodox Jewish culture (yeah, just in case you never heard me mention it, we live in a very Jewish neighbourhood which I find entrancing), this is my first read about life as a *dissatisfied* Hasidic wife.  And boy, Deborah was dissatisfied.  The book has been quite controversial with Deborah’s family and former friends, who vehemently denounce her recollections and storytelling.  I’ve no idea or opinion on whether her writings are fact or fiction.  Did I enjoy reading it – not really.  Would I read it again – no.  It’s a bit clumsy.  I don’t like Deborah’s voice – frankly, she’s a bit of whinger – not that I want to demean her story – it’s her written voice – it’s just not appealing.  She doesn’t have a way with words at all.

But I did read it to the end and it was very informative and at times fascinating – describing aspects of a rigidly traditional and patriarchal society that is usually so utterly closed to the eyes of the outsider.  At the risk of sounding a bit odd, learning about customs such as the ritual baths and the “logic” behind the many rules that control the everyday lives of Hasidic Jewish women makes me look at my neighbours with even more curious eyes. Some of the books I’ve previously read describing life according to the Halacha have left me feeling almost wistful that such a strong and vibrant community is completely out of my reach – such as Seven Blessings, by Ruchama King – I really love this book and have read it a few times now.  But Unorthodox has reminded me that any extreme culture requires conformity and the loss of individual at some level – bit of a pin popping the balloon moment really. So do I recommend it?  Y.e.e.e.e.s. – maybe.  But only if you’re really interested and can borrow it from someone else.

Markovits‘ first novel in English is in total contrast to the previous book.  Not overly sympathetic to the Hasidic lifestyle – especially the treatment of women and the expectation that they will expect NOTHING but a life of servitude to their family, community and faith.  Beautifully written, heartbreakingly sad, compelling character development, fascinating backdrop – starting with the war in Eastern Europe, moving onto Paris and England, and finally Brooklyn.

The theme that I was most drawn to was that of righteousness.  What is it?  Who decides? Is it ever okay to deviate?  If so, when and why?  Are men held to a different standard of righteousness then women?  The terrifying power one moment’s desperate indiscretion has to destroy many lives.  Can individual responsibility really exist when every single aspect of your life is so curtailed/shaped by religious law?  It’s a really good book.  Terribly sad. But really good.  If you’re interested in Hasidic life, then yes, read it.  You’ll be engrossed.

Ahhhh …. deep cleansing breath.  Complete change of pace here.  An utterly wonderful, funny, poignant, fascinating, inspiring account of a pair of young farmers, determined to create a better way of living and share it with their community.  I loved it.  Oh there were parts that were so sad – had to describe them to the family in great detail – such as the fate of the poor wee Jersey cow.  Kristin is delightful – and her style of writing, really appealing.  As for her husband Mark – I just adored him!  Like a cowboy, even more eccentric, version of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

It’s not rose coloured and romantic – for instance, their farm house sounds truly revolting.  I would go BATTY putting up with it.  And the work is hard, hard, hard, hard, hard, sometimes heartbreakingly unrewarding, painful and very very dirty.  Fabulous read.  Highly, highly recommended.  Especially if you enjoy the countryside and have any farming dreams.

Okay.  I don’t think Bella Bathurst is a great writer.  And in the hands of someone whose words flow and bloom, the Lighthouse Stevensons could have read like Treasure Island itself.  However, Ms. Bathurst provides a very sensible, well written and meticulous (at least it seems to me!) account of Robert Louis Stevenson’s incredible family and their passion for lighthouses.  Can you believe that for more than one hundred years, one family was responsible for building every lighthouse along the Scottish coast.  And even if the style is pedestrian at times … there’s a bit of “dum-dee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum” if you get my drift … the content is so utterly fascinating and the feats achieved by these men against the most mercurial seas and dangerous conditions, that the Lighthouse Stevensons is a compulsive read.  I adored it.  It will provide you with endless trivia to share :-)

Yes, if you share my lifelong love of lighthouses and have a shivery fascination for wild seas and terrible storms and bleak, lonely razor sharp rocky outposts … then this is the book for you!  Unbelievable stuff.  Just awesome.  And what a cast of characters – especially the old granddad.  I especially loved how it showed Edinburgh – unlike the cities of England – to be a place where education and hard work was enough to transform your life.  No need for family wealth or a title.  And it really reveals the marvellous disposition the Scots had for learning, experimentation and engineering.  What a bunch of clever clogs.  Would I read it again – yes!  Do I recommend it – yes!

Okay – can’t say too much about this final read, because I’ve only just started it.  However, it is FANTASTIC and I LOVE it!!!!!  :-) :-) :-)  Utterly divine!  Told in the first person by Professor Don Tillman who spends his days in his genetics laboratory here in Melbourne, getting mice drunk.  What a gorgeous fellow – a strong streak of Aspergers, unwittingly leaves you rolling around in bed laughing.  Oh so appealing – you just want Don to win and have a marvellous time whilst he’s doing it.

You see, he wants to get married … oh, even if you just read it for the description of his friendship with his elderly neighbour and her love of daphne, it brings tears to my eyes just writing this … but he’s had no luck thus far.  So – he decides to approach finding a wife in a more scientifically rigorous manner.  Really – just ignore the rest of the books on this post and just read The Rosie Project.  I guarantee you’ll be emailing me, with a smile from ear to ear, exclaiming “Oh my god, lily, thank you so much for introducing me to this book!”

Now … I’m going to bed to read.

recently read

5 thoughts on “recently read

  • February 21, 2013 at 4:10 am

    Thanks for sharing- I put some of those on my Amazon wish list. Always looking for good books!

  • February 21, 2013 at 4:36 am

    thanks for the review on some of the books. I have had Gone Girl on my ipod to listen to for a while and I will probably read it next. Never heard of any of the others and will put on my queue to listen to.

  • February 21, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Thanks Lily! I will look some of these up! May I reciommend The Fault In Our Stars and the Night Circus. Both mesmerizing in different ways.

  • February 21, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks Lily. “I am Forbidden” looks intriguing. Some how all my reading of late has been related to Jewish diaspora. I would highly recommned “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks (she’s Australian too) and “History of Love” by Nicole Krauss. Both brilliant!!

    I loved your Roslyn history. I get excited about industrial histories. Woollen mills especially – my Nana was a tailoress at the Petone Woollen Mills.

  • February 22, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Hi Lily,
    Yes I felt the same way about Unorthodox – fascinating but not a great read! Can I recommend Dancing in the dark / Robyn Bavati.
    Its set in the hasid communities in and around Caulfield – its a young adult title (Abby will enjoy it too!) but fascinating – especially with all the local references – National theatre, Glenhuntly road, trams etc. So fascinating what different lives others lead right on our doorstep!

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