Sunday, 30 November 2014

30* days of books for christmas - big stone gap

Sweetly scent gardenias, sheltering from the heat, dips in a cool pool at the end of the day, gaggles of cousins inside and out, cricket humming away in the background - these summer constants have always been accompanied by great reads.  In the past, there was always Noel Barber (remember Tanamera?), Jackie Collins, Maeve Binchy and Rosamunde Pilcher.  I eventually moved on to Steven King, Patricia Cornwell and Tim Winton.  Then, when Tom was a baby and we were still living in Ireland, a great friend put me on to Adriana Trigiani...

Big Stone Gap is one of those novels I'd like to read again for the first time.  I fell for it straight away and nestled down to read it every chance I could.  Adriana Trigiani introduced me to life in the Blue Ridge Mountains, red pepper sandwiches and, most importantly, Ave Maria Mulligan and Jack MacChesney.  Adriana Trigiani's lyrical prose carried me through the remaining books in the Big Stone Gap series (Big Cherry Holler, Milk Glass Moon, Home to Big Stone Gap) and hooked me in to stand-alone novels Lucia, Lucia and Queen of the Big Time.

Adriana Trigiani's novels are filled with love, humour, good food, rich settings and memorable characters.  If you haven't come across her before, start with Big Stone Gap.  Now a movie starring Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Wilson, Jenna Elfman and John Benjamin Hickey, I'm hoping it will come to Australian shores next year.  But just like any adaptation, best to read the novel first in case the movie isn't as good!  I'll be sure to check back in and give you the verdict!

Have you read Adriana Trigiani's Big Stone Gap series? Will you be rushing out to see the movie?

PS. Cover image via here (where there is also a free sample of the novel) and Picmonkey collage.

* I should retitle this series as 30 plus days of books for Christmas as I've missed a couple of days now!

Friday, 28 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - the vacationers

A family vacation to Mallorca comes under the microscope in Emma Straub's The Vacationers.  It's make-or-break for parents Franny and Jim, whilst their children are both on the verge of new lives, then add in Franny's beloved friend and his partner, desperate to be parents themselves.  The Vacationers is busy, entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny.  I found it hard to read about holidays when I was really busy in my own life (!) and recommend Christmas as the ideal time to hunker down with this novel, poolside or beachside.  Enjoy!

PS Cover image via here and Picmonkey collage.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - the one plus one

If you're a lover of gutsy reads with love at the core, make time this Christmas to meet Jojo Moyes.  I discovered her work some years ago - I think it might have been The Peacock Emporium but I can't be sure.  Jojo Moyes is so fabulously consistent, I'd be happy to pick up anything she's written, knowing I will walk away with the joyful satisfaction that comes from reading a great book.  The One Plus One is no exception - when Jess meets Ed, neither of them could imagine the outcome.  Their reluctance to rely on anyone else dissolves into friendship and possibly something more.

Have you met Jojo Moyes?  If you haven't already done so, why not start with The One Plus One and move on to Me Before You. It's bound to make you cry, so remember the tissues!

PS Image via here and Picmonkey collage

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - my salinger year

Escape to New York with Joanna Rakoff in My Salinger Year.  This memoir was immediately engaging and completely swept me into the world of 1990s publishing.  Rakoff's time spent answering JD Salinger's fan mail (using a proforma letter devised in the 1960s) is chronicled here, in an office environment where computers where shunned and the typewriter was still King.  I heard Rakoff interviewed via So you want to be a writer (and through which I won a copy) and she writes just the way she talks - a fabulous gush of anecdotes and colour.  Consider this a must read for Christmas (you're going to be busy, aren't you?!).

Are you a fan of the memoir?  Have you come across a Joanna Rakoff interview?


PS Image via here and collage via Picmonkey.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - the art of adapting

The Art of Adapting by Cassandra Dunn centres on Lana, her two children and brother who find themselves housemates following her separation.  Each of them experience growth throughout the novel, helping each other directly and indirectly in order to do so.  Family is one of my favourite themes in reading and I loved these characters and enjoyed watching their relationships strengthen.  A particularly good read at Christmas, as Lana examines her life and decides what she wants from her future, something the New Year often prompts us to do.

Have you read The Art of Adapting?  What was your take on it?  Otherwise, do you have any recommendations for my list?

PS Cover image from here and collage via Picmonkey.

Monday, 24 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - the age of miracles

When the slowing comes, Julia's life is forever changed as is the world around her. Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles answers the question of what would happen if the earth rotated at a lower speed - the days would lengthen, hours on end of sunlight affecting wildlife and the natural environment.  In the middle of this is our eleven year old protagonist, troubled by birds falling from the sky, her feelings for a rebellious school mate and the diminishing relationship between her parents.  Karen Thompson Walker takes an already difficult time of a young person's life and adds this end of world premise to the mix, successfully producing one of my favourite reads from 2014.

PS By this stage I can hear you thinking 'I bet you say that about all the books', but I don't!  It's a reflection of the quality writing that continues to be published throughout the world and I'm delighted to be a willing recipient!

PPS Image via here and collage via Picmonkey

Sunday, 23 November 2014

30 days of books - the invention of wings

Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings, set in 19th century America, begins when Sarah Grimke is given a slave on the occasion of her eleventh birthday.  Sarah's reaction - and the events that follow - shape both girls' futures in a heartbreaking tale of slavery, friendship and prejudice.  I loved so many things about this novel and it is another of my favourite all-time reads - I seem to have accrued a number of them this year which is exciting in itself!  This is a must for any reader - just wonderful!

PS You may have noticed I've skipped a couple of days - woops!  It's that time of year!

PPS Image via here and collage via Picmonkey

Friday, 21 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - the signature of all things

Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things is up there with one of my top reads for 2014.  Please don't shy away from this if Eat, Pray, Love wasn't your thing - this is a different book entirely and one worthy of your consideration.  The novel features the Whittaker family and its journey from rags to riches, from London to the Southern Hemisphere, America to Amsterdam and more.  It is exquisitely written and tender-hearted at its core.  A fabulous read.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - the good house

Hildy Good is a recovering alcoholic, fresh out of rehab where she was sent following an intervention by her daughters.  A witty and acerbic narrator, we see her continue to slip (through cleverly written prose) and the ramifications for those around her.  I fell in love with The Good House from almost the first line in the novel and enjoyed seeing Hildy's interactions out in the world - cringeworthy though they may be at times.  Ann Leary's novel is funny, dark and complicated.  A must read this Christmas.

PS Image via here (US cover) and collage via Picmonkey.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

30 days of books for Christmas - the last days of rabbit hayes

Rabbit Hayes is dying.  With only days left in the world, her family and friends gather around to laugh, love and reminisce about a life well lived.  Anna McPartlin's The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes was a novel I fell in love with straight away, wanted to read and lap up all in one, but also wanted to savour it as long as I could.  While it's an enormously sad book, it is filled with humour too - the out loud, snorting kind of laughter, particularly in reaction to the comments made by Rabbit's mother Molly, who says exactly what is on her mind.

A beautiful Christmas gift for anyone who loves reading - and pop a copy in the stocking for yourself - it's a keeper!

PS Cover image via here and collage via Picmonkey.

Monday, 17 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - the mapmaker chronicles

Allison Tait's The Mapmaker Chronicles - Race to the end of the world landed in our house to much excitement.  I've interviewed Allison here on the blog and couldn't wait to get my hands on the first of this trilogy - not just for me, but for the whole family.  My son Tom, aged 11, was hooked right from the start and has already begged that we get the rest of the series (as they become available.)

Who better than to recommend the book than its ideal reader?!  Over to Tom:

The Mapmaker Chronicles - Race to the end of the world is a great book for all those adventurers out there who enjoy a bit of medieval action. The story is about this young boy named Quinn who gets appointed for a quest to make a map in a race around the world. His crew come across fire-breathing creatures at sea, cannibals, treacherous enemies and fearsome storms along the way. They are put to the test to come up with the best map in the quickest amount of time. But, will they succeed?

This is, without a doubt, the best christmas present for your children over the summer holidays because they will absolutely adore it!

Now if that's not a call to go out and buy the book, I don't know what is!  Enjoy!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - the tea chest

You'd almost buy Josephine Moon's novel just for the cover, it's that beautiful!  Featuring Kate Fullerton, tea designer and co-owner of The Tea Chest who flies to London to open a new store.  Leaving her husband and young family in Australia was hard enough, but when she arrives in England, there are many more problems to face.  A lovely read - a story of hope, love and friendships which will put you right in the spirit of things for the Festive Season.  According to Josephine Moon's website, her second novel, The Chocolate Promise, will be out in April, so you request it Christmas 2015!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

30 days of books for Christmas - confessions of a qantas flight attendant

Owen Beddall's Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant is the perfect Christmas gift for someone keen to get the scoop on life inside the airlines.  The ups and downs, ins and outs, gossip, tales tall and true - this memoir has it all.  The glamorous life Beddall envisaged up in the air was, in reality, hard slog through numerous timezones, eventually taking its toll on even the most seasoned of flight attendants.  A world of intense politics, you will never look at your airline staff the same way again.  This is a must for the Christmas stocking - and if it's not yours, make sure you give it to someone who will pass it your way when they're finished reading!


PS Cover image via here and collage made through picmonkey.com

Friday, 14 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - big little lies

This is one trivia night you would be happy to miss - depending on your degree of curiosity and morbidness!  By the end of the function, one person is dead and nobody is talking.  The police think it's murder, but don't have the evidence.  Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty's latest bestseller, zips back in time to six months prior to the event.  We meet three key characters, each of whom the novel focusses on in turn, and start to put together the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Big Little Lies is the first of Liane Moriarty's novels that I've read and I wasn't disappointed.  Her clever writing style has you laughing one moment, shocked the next and all the while completely engaged with the text.  I would highly recommend this novel for anyone who likes a mystery and really delving in to other people's lives - you'll see what I mean once you start reading!  What's been best for me, is that Liane has written a number of other novels and now I have the joy of tracking them all down and reading them - don't you just love that?!

Please feel free to add your book recommendations in the comments which I will add to the 30th post - all in time for Christmas shopping!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - stanley and the hot air balloon

Christmas wouldn't be the same without Stanley and the Hot Air Balloon.  This beautiful picture book - for children and adults alike - has stunning handcrafted sets, designed and written by blogger Kate Bruning (Greedy for Colour)…  who just happens to be my sister!  Familial ties aside, I can absolutely recommend this book without bias.  Not only is there a gorgeous storyline, you can make your own Stanley and his hot air balloon, with all patterns from the book appearing at the end.

'The book is fantastic! I love everything in it!' said Sophie (8) when I asked her opinion on why Stanley and the Hot Air Balloon would make a great Christmas present.  'In our family it would be special because the writer is our auntie.  She then said it would be special for other people too because it looks nice and it has cool writing.  Now if that's not a good reason I don't know what is!

Currently, anyone who purchases a copy of the book will receive a bonus Stanley postcard and magnet and all shipping is free!  Details here.

PS Please feel free to add your own recommendations for Christmas reading in the comments and I will add them to my 30th post.  Thank you!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

30 days of books for christmas - we are all completely beside ourselves

Karen Joy Fowler's We are all completely beside ourselves is beautifully written.  It starts out with a slow pace that leads us inside protagonist Rosemary's world.  She tells us that as a child, she used to talk a lot - not that anyone would realise now.  Instead of voicing her feelings, Rosemary's thoughts become internalised and the readers is blessed with her insight and sharp commentary.  As she reaches back into her memories, we learn that Rosemary's family life was less than conventional.  She is now an adult, coming to terms with the loss of her siblings.

Short listed for the Man Booker Prize, this novel is a must read that suits the holiday mode - not that it is a light read by any means, but because you need time to savour the prose and enjoy it for what it is.  It's not a book to be rushed, so take the phone off the hook, sit back and soak it in.  And with a cover like this, it makes a welcome addition to the bookshelf, whether it's nose in or facing out - just beautiful don't you think?!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

30 days of books for Christmas - ruth reichl's delicious!

The time for denial is over!  Christmas is just around the corner and it's time to think about great reads for your family, friends and yourself during the holidays.  I'm going to make it easy for you and share 30 books over the next 30 days - all of which have been read by members of our family in 2015, so there will be something for everyone.  There will give you plenty of time to track them down and put them under the tree, making you the most popular person around this festive season!
First up is Ruth Reichl's Delicious!  Billie Breslin's career at Delicious magazine is over before it began.  The magazine folds just as she gets her foot in the door and she's left in an empty building to carry on with the Delicious Guarantee - the magazine's promise that all their recipes were guaranteed to be successful.  As Billie mans the hotline and prepares the building to be closed down, she discovers a cache of hidden letters, correspondence between a twelve-year-old girl and chef James Beard during World War II.  All sorts of adventure to be had, perfect for that Christmas beach read or snuggling in front of the fire, depending on where in the world you live.

PS The books will be featured in no particular order, just however I find them on the day!

Monday, 10 November 2014

writer's edition: the second manuscript

Almost a month ago I sat down and felt almost nervous about starting my second manuscript.  I had  thought about it for a long time, had recently bought a notebook and sketched out ideas, but what if that all went pear-shaped when I went to write?  What if I had…  nothing?  Well, as it turns out, there was something, in fact 17,040 words of something from that date until now!  It was there all along, just waiting for my hands to touch the keyboard - much to my relief!

As with my first manuscript, the ideas have started to come no matter what I'm doing: cooking dinner, in the shower, watching television, reading something else entirely.  Once they are written down, they lead on to more and so it goes - kind of like magic!  It means that, even in what can only be described as a mucky week writing-wise (Melbourne Cup, kids with days off school, a birthday party), I could sit down on Saturday morning and write over 4270 words.  The story wants to be told no matter what!

How are things in your creative life?  Do you manage to fit it all in, one way or another?

PS A new white iris in our garden - would love to share its name with you but the plant tag ran away with one of the kids!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

creating a garden from scratch: before and after...

It's fair to say we landed on a pretty desolate place when we moved into our new home two years ago.  The grass had all been scraped back during the building process and we were left with a dismal mess of sand and clay.  The row of pot plants went some way to brightening the place up…  but only some!
At the start of this year, things were looking somewhat improved - the pots all planted out and even a few baby silver birches.  Patches of grass forming and a metal planter with some mixed herbs and vegetables, but still we wanted to do more...
Fast forward to yesterday (only ten months after the photo above this) and we've widened the beds - a vast, lush improvement.  The stages I've shown you will explain my continued obsession with the garden, a place that has been transformed in a relatively short period of time.

The flowers to the right were only planted out a couple of days ago, transferred from the pots I bought for Sophie's birthday.  So far they are in tact, but it probably won't be long until Jono finds them!  He's mad on picking flowers, but not always gentle and sometimes the whole plant comes out as well.

Do you have a space at home that's your obsession, inside or out?  Tell me I'm not on my own!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

an icypole party in the garden...

Sophie's party was one of those times when you have the bones of an idea, put together the components and think wow, I did that and it worked!  I used a combination of honeycomb paper decorations, chinese lanterns and bright flowering plants and set them up under the shade of our trees.
It was a scorching hot day and we ended up inside until all but the end, when we had the cake.  Thank goodness for air conditioning - and yes, it was only the end of October, but we needed it already!  And it was just as well I took the decorations down that evening as we woke up to rain the next morning!
The cake was a great success.  I originally planned on cutting out an icypole shape, as per the invitation on the right, but realised it would have made for quite a small cake.  I could have supplemented with cupcakes, but that would have made another job altogether.  I compromised with the icypole template on top of the cake, forming the shape on the icing and sprinkling the rest with hundreds and thousands.

All done for another year and with decorations we can use again and again!  I've actually left all the honeycomb ones tied to the silver ribbon - they unfold when you remove the paperclip that joins them, which is very handy.  It will be like untangling Christmas lights to re-use them, but saves time putting the whole thing together next time!

Are your parties done for the year or do you have more to go?!  My birthday is still to come and the jury is out yet as to what we will do, but big or small it will be marked in some way!

Monday, 3 November 2014

big little lies, the vacationers and a trip down memory lane with edna walling...

It's time for a reading and watching catch-up!  I heard Liane Moriarty, author of Big Little Lies, interviewed on So you want to be a writer and loved the way she spoke in such a chatty and honest way - a sure sign I was going to enjoy her writing.  Her latest novel focusses on a school trivia night gone wrong, so wrong in fact that there's been a murder.  Join Madeleine, Celeste and Jane six months prior to the event to hear their side of the story - a fun read and I have another of Moriarty's novels, The Husband's Secret, lined up to read next.

I found Emma Straub's The Vacationers a little hard to get into, however I think it was more that things have been so busy around here, concentration has been in short supply.  Perhaps it was the novel's holiday setting that I found so hard to relate to when it's that time of year when there is never a dull moment?!   Whatever it was, I had heard such great things about this novel that I persisted and I'm glad I did.  Wonderful, biting humour - a recommended read.

Edna Walling's Gardens in Australia is research for my next book.  I love her writing style and think she would have been a whiz at social media.  Both this and Letter to Garden Lovers are among my favourites.  As well as the gems I'm finding for my work, I'm also picking up tips for garden design and plant choice along the way, taking copious notes and putting them aside for future use.  If you're unfamiliar with Ms Walling, she was a landscape garden designer whose career began in the 1920s.  The ABC has a website dedicated to her - see here for more details.

Season 4 of Treme has rolled around far too soon.  It's now 36 months post Hurricane Katrina and we have one last chance to catch up with the cast before series end.  It was only a 5 episode run, budgetary constraints apparently, but I feel it was wrapped up well.  We've had such a New Orleans vibe happening recently, through True Detective, Chef and this, that Joe and I are convinced we will have to go there one day, just to see what it's all about!

And in brief, we missed Anzac Girls when it was on television, so we've had to hire it through the library.  Lots of blood and gore - a bit too graphic at times for my squeamish stomach, but I'm doing my best to cope!  It must have been such a shock for the Australian and New Zealand nurses to be catapulted right near the battlefields, away from the relative orderliness of their former hospitals.  I'm really enjoying seeing so many young ANZAC actors doing their countries proud - loving the homegrown aspect, I'm always a fan of our own productions.

What have you been watching and reading lately?  Any recommendations?

Sunday, 2 November 2014

october 2014 in pictures - instagram

I'm having such a love affair with my camera!  Partly it's the sheer joy of taking pictures of plants grown in our own garden, but also because it's such an important form of communication.  I love the notion that an idea is framed, captured and expressed all in one simple click of a button.  The visual message is conveyed so easily, no need to speak a common language, no need, even, to read.  Something that people of any age can look at and understand and enjoy.

Have you been getting your camera out lately?  What's been your focus?