Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Echo in the Bone - Diana Gabaldon

My favourite author, and my favourite series of books! I have just finished the seventh book in the Outlander saga, and my appetite has been whet for more. Thankfully this installment has left so many little doors open that I have no doubt Diana will write another one.

These books are the story of Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, and are much more than just a romance. They are historical and could even be considered (in a very, very broad way) to be science fiction as Claire is a time traveller. An accidental one. It would be almost impossible to give you a brief run down of the story as it spans the time from the Scottish Rising, right through to the American Revolution - with a little bit of modern day thrown in.

In a nutshell though, nurse Claire Randall finds herself accidentally in 1743 after a plant-gathering expedition near some standing stones in Scotland. Claire meets Jamie Fraser, a highlander, and after some initial trials and tribulations (Claire first has to realise that she has travelled back in time from the 1940s to the mid eighteenth century), they fall in love and marry. Their life together spans several continents, many wars and battles, the accusations of witchcraft, years of separation, the birth of children, life as early settlers in the colony of America, and of course, life and death. Their incredible lives fill seven wonderful novels, and have even spurned a second series - a spin off about one of the other major characters, Lord John Grey.

Diana Gabaldon is a genius as far as writing is concerned. Her novels suck you in until you feel as though you are a part of her characters lives. You weep with them and you laugh with them. It is impossible not to fall in love with Jamie, and as equally impossible not to want to be Claire, and to experience the life she has - to know and understand what society was like in both modern day, and the eighteenth century. What a thrill!

The first novel was published as Cross Stitch here in Australia (Outlander in the US and Europe), and if you are ready to be swept away in a glorious story that will have you thinking about it for days after you've finished, then grab yourself a copy. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Secret River - Kate Grenville

The Secret River is the rarely told story of our nation from the perspective of an early convict turned free settler. It is amazingly accurate, and I believe should be part of every high school curriculum.

It is the story of William Thornhill, and begins on the streets of dreary London where William grows up poor, cold and always hungry. It follows his life through to adulthood, and the fate that befalls him after his run in with the law. Saved from the noose, he is shipped off to Sydney. His wife Sal follows as a free settler and in the new land, becomes his master. After a few years, William is pardoned and the family begin their new life on the Hawkesbury.

The challenges they face are hardly imaginable to us today. Forced to deal with Australia's extreme climate and harsh landscape, the family struggle to build a home and grow crops. The opportunity to 'own' something when he has always had nothing, pushes William to perservere. What Thornhill didn't count on though, was that the land already belonged to someone else. Tensions between the new settlers and the local Darug people simmmers slowly. Some settlers treat the Darug as less than human - raping the women, chaining them up like dogs and poisoning their food. Others choose to live in harmony with them, but must keep this fact a secret for fear of being outcast. Eventually the tensions reach boiling point and Thornhill, a man of principle, must decide if he will do what only ‘the worst of men would do.’ (p.300).

Kate Grenville is a literary genius and in this book, she has taken history and made it real. So very real. The subtleties of the story were the strongest for me - the changes in the relationship between husband and wife; the ability children have to assimilate without question; the questioning of your own truth when your choices are difficult and life is too hard to understand; the loss of intimacy with the land, culture and spirituality.

Reading of the pain and suffering of not only indigenous Australians, who were so cruelly de-humanised, but also our early ancestors, who may as well have been on another planet, has given me a much better understanding of why our relationship is the way it is today. The Secret River was not an easy read in terms of emotion. It made me incredibly sad, and I felt immense guilt. In the same vein though, it also made me feel very proud to be Australian.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brida - Paulo Coelho

It took me all of two days to read this wonderful little book. Written in much the same style as Coelho's famous work, The Alchemist, Brida is a story of love and of discovery. As with all his novels, Coelho wraps this underlying message up in prose and magic.

Brida is the story of a young Irish girl who is searching. Searching for love, for acceptance, searching for answers to her questions on spirituality, searching for magic, and searching for her ever elusive Soul-Mate. Coelho introduces us again, to only a few key characters - Brida, the Magus, Wicca and Lorens. When Brida encounters the Magus of the forest, he accepts her as a student of the Tradition of the Sun, and teaches her how to overcome her fears. However, not immediately satisfied that this is the magic she needs, Brida approaches Wicca who, in turn, teaches her the Tradition of the Moon, and how to dance to the hidden music of the world. With the magical combination of these discoveries, Brida visits parallel worlds and learns more about herself and her faith than she had ever imagined was possible.

I loved this story. I loved the way it was written, and I loved the characters. I felt as though I knew Brida personally by the end of it. I saw myself in her, and her fantastical world resonated with mine. While unbelievable to the majority, Brida's experiences are what I long for.

This novel has an interesting mix of Christianity and Pagan mysteries, all blended in a very Coelho way. It requires an open mind. One that can read between the lines, and look past the poetry to understand the message. Because there is one in there. A beautiful and important one.

"We are responsible for everything that happens in this world. We are warriors of light, and with the strength of our love and of our will we can change our destiny and that of many other people."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Room for a Little One - Martin Waddell & Jason Cockroft

I thought it apt to add my favourite children's book in here today. It's called Room for a Little One, and is one of the most beautiful interpretation's of the Christmas story, that I have ever seen.

It is told from the perspective of the animals who sheltered in the Bethlehem stable on that cold winter's night many moons ago. It is simple, yet descriptive, and captures the magic completely. The first time I read it, my voice cracked as I read the last few pages. It touched my soul.

Story aside though, it is the illustrations that will capture your child's imagination. They look as though they might be watercolours, or maybe even air-brushed, but my untrained eye might be wrong. Suffice to say, they are gorgeous and my children adore them spending time just gazing.

This is a book that will be treasured and enjoyed by my family for years to come, and now that my daughter is old enough to sit quietly and enjoy being read to properly, I can't wait to share it with her.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Bride Stripped Bare - Anonymous

This was one of those books that attracted me by something other than the content. I was struck by the fact that the author was anonymous. Why? What could they be writing about that they wouldn't want to put their name too?

This is definitely not a book for those looking for a soppy romance! It is written in almost diary style, with each chapter headed with a lesson. The story of our anonymous woman begins on her honeymoon in Morocco. As her life changes and she discovers more about who she is, her circumstances take quite a perilous turn. No longer the faithful wife, she delves deep into her darker side and begins to experiment with infidelity and lust. She takes risks that many might never consider and her double life begins.

This erotic tale left me bewildered. I enjoyed the thrill of her adventures. They put me in places that were uncomfortable, but they also left me secretly delighted. The character is confused but certain, frightened but brave, in love but alone. She made me want to help her, and in a certain shocking way, made me want to be more like her.

A true dichotomy, the book's ending is both predictable but unexpected, and left me wanting to know more about this intriguing character. The opening page of the story has a quote from an Alfred Hitchcock story, and it epitomises her journey -

"I have a feeling that inside you somewhere, there's somebody nobody knows about."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Expected One - Kathleen McGowan

As some of you may know, I have quite a fascination with Mary Magdalene, and for reasons far too complex to explain here. Because of this, I am always on the look out for books, fact or fiction, about this wonderfully interesting and powerful woman. On one of my routine internet surfing sessions, I came across quite a bit of controversy surrounding the author Kathleen McGowan and her claim that she is a descendant of the Magdalene. The detective in me was determined to find out more. After looking at her website I was even more intrigued, so I searched for a second hand copy (yay, for ebay!) of her first book, The Expected One.

This is a fiction novel full of fact, and closely echoes the likes of The Da Vinci Code and other similar books. I really enjoyed it. Mostly because it kept me on the edge of my mattress (I read in bed...), but also because it was a history lesson and covered aspects of the Magdalene that I had yet to discover.

Maureen Pascal is a journalist who is on the verge of beginning a new book. Unbeknownst to her, she is about to embark on a journey that could change the course of history and most definitely the rest of her life. When she starts to make sense of the visions she is having of a weeping red headed woman, she begins to unravel secrets that were hidden from the world two thousand years ago - the hidden gospels of Mary Magdalene. She becomes incredibly immersed in the secret cultures and dynastic families of the Southwest of France - the Cathars, the Medici and the Borgia - and begins to link their stories with those of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and ultimately herself.

The story exposes the reader to the fictional character of the slightly neurotic Maureen (loosely based on the author's own persona), but also takes us back two thousand years and attempts to place us in the mind of Mary Magdalene. In Mary's shoes we experience the crucifixion of her beloved, his resurrection and her alleged escape to France. Both the modern and historical stories were well written, and in a style that was convincing for both characters. In between these two fascinating characters, is the somewhat controversial story of Mary Magdalene, her Easa (Jesus Christ) and what became of her after his demise.

Whether one believes or not, this book is definitely a good read. It will satisfy history buffs, crime fans and romance lovers, and at the same time allow the reader that wonderful escape we all crave.

An introduction

I've found some amazing blogs in my short blogging history. It's so addictive! There are some incredibly talented people out there whose blogs are not only beautiful to look at, but wonderful to read too. I'm an avid reader and blogs have been a great way to sate that appetite, but books are still my first love. There is nothing like diving into another person's world and escaping my own existence, if only for a little while. Because I read so much, I decided to start a book review blog so that I can share my discoveries with you all, and hopefully ignite in you the same passion for reading that I have. I have already read so many books this year that it would be impossible for me to add them all - I just don't have that kind of time! So I will pick a few of my favourites and gradually update the blog, but once that is done, I will just add each book as I finish reading.

So here it is - A Garden in my Pocket! Enjoy...