Monday, 15 February 2016

Weekend Wrap Up

Putting the bikes to sleep after a long day.
Okay, it's really Monday here but it is still a weekend in other parts of the world (Hawaii?) so I can hang on to its tail.

This past week was busy but all I said would happen did, plus more.  I did do the 900 km (540 mile) bike ride last weekend. We took three days and it was blazing hot especially wearing all that protective gear (that the silly people in the rest of the world don't/won't wear). It was filled with adventure. We had two bikes fall over in the petrol station, one was being filled up and petrol was spilling out of it very quickly until several men jumped on it and hoisted it up. I got out of the way.

Another man in our group was riding just a bit too fast (the ego of some 70 year old men is not much different than some of their 20 year old counterparts). He slipped off the edge of road, over corrected and flew through the air to the other side, completing a 180 degree spin and landed in a ditch opposite wrapped up in barbed wire. A horse stood nearby thinking this was a bit crazy.  (By the way. you motorbike riders in the USA who think helmets are a violation of  your civil liberties....yeah right.) I have had two friends in serious accidents and it was only their armour and helmets that saved their lives and both are happily riding again. But as this blog is not political in anyway (you fools) I digress.

Smoke along the west coast from the massive bush fires here prevented us from going into the wilderness areas on the Sunday but six of us lady bikers (all geared up) managed to get to two markets and a lovely bike show.  We had a great time even if we sweltered in the heat.  The cold beer and showers at the end of the day were only appreciated more.

Then I pretty much crashed (oops no pun intended - on the couch) on the Tuesday after the 400 km ride home.  Our roads are not straight divided highways either. They are up and down mountains and they often turn back onto themselves so 900 km here is not at all like an interstate although great fun I might add.

This week saw me leave the house only for groceries, a dinner out with friends and reading three books.  I have not read three books in one week in ages and I must say I really got the momentum going.

Here is the information about the books.

1.  The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman saw the Penguin and I living on a small island with Tom and Isabelle, off the coast of southwest Western Australia.  We really enjoyed this book but what a dilemma they faced. They are a young couple. Tom manages the light house and I really found the information about the structure and record keeping of the light house interesting. I could see the fountain pen writing in all the details into the log with a sharpened nib. The year was just after WWI.

Isabella wanted a family so bad but after three miscarriages and still births hope was fading. Then one day a dinghy washes up to shore. In it is a man who is deceased and a baby who is crying. Yes, the baby is very much alive. Well, I don't need to tell you what happens next. Isabelle is ecstatic and wants to raise the little girl as their own as she has just lost her baby and no one knows yet.  Tom is much more hesitant. He feels guilt from the death of his brothers and mates in WWI and now feels guilt over this decision. He doesn't know if the baby has a mother who is grieving or did she die overboard?

They decide to adopt the baby and the rest of the book are the consequences of that decision.  Don't worry I won't give away any spoilers but they do discover there is a woman who is grieving the loss of her Austrian husband and child. The town's people harassed him endlessly believing he was a German and he jumped into a dinghy with his daughter and rowed away to get some space.

What would you do after raising this child in isolated bliss on the island when you find out there is a mother pining for her child and husband who has no idea what happened to them?  I kept going back and forth on what I thought they should do. This book is being discussed at our book group in another week or two and I can't wait to see what others think.

2. The next book was a debut crime book by Ruth Ware. It is excellent. No gore, nothing too graphic but a monster of a mystery. I thought I had it worked out but I didn't, though the ending did not surprise me. In A Dark Wood is the name of it.  The Penguin and I attended a Hen Party in the middle of nowhere in a very modern glass house in the English countryside. It has no curtains because it sets out in the country with only very dark forest around it. It is winter. Clare is having her Hen Party weekend there organised by a very needy friend of Clare.   Flo is really disturbed. She even dresses like Clare. Nina a doctor and the protagonist, Nora,  gets an email to attend this Hen party. She has not seen Clare since ten years previously and can not figure out why she is invited. The others at the party are Tom, a gay man happily married to his partner; Melanie who has a six month old infant at home and she is leaving him for the first time. So we have these six people. Nina and Nora decide that if each other goes to this weekend then they will go together.

It gets really creepy after that. Flo seems quite normal but then you see how haywire she starts to go.
The Penguin and I sat out in the car and watched the rest of the book because it was just a bit scary. But we did want to see what happens.  This is a great mystery.

It starts as Nora wakes up in the hospital and is trying to remember what has happened. She over hears the police guard talking at the hospital door about it "is definitely a murder." Why does she have a police guard and why is she in the hospital.  The characters are really well developed. I had really strong feelings about the ones I liked and didn't and I could not read this book fast enough. In fact I spent yesterday reading this book in one (almost- had to stop for dinner) sitting. 338 pages in one sitting. I even read it while the local news was on. It is psychological and not gory so a safe read for those who don't like graphic stuff.

3. The third book I read is also for my book club meeting coming up. It is the Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett.  I really enjoy his writing and his sense of humour. The book is only 100 pages long and as my husband is working on a friend's farm today, the dogs were quiet as it's cool and rainy out, I read it in the bath.  What a pleasant little book. The Penguin took a nap but I told him about it and he thought it was something he would really like. I hadn't realised it is a true story.

Alan Bennett has an elderly street type, homeless? almost; woman hoarder living in a van on his property. (You grammar Nazi's ignore that last sentence structure).  She stays there for a number of years and it is interesting as to how he goes about his normal business with such eccentricity outside his window. As he writes at his table he can see her dilapidated van. She is a true character and I really liked her.  The main reason that our book club chose this book is the film begins with Maggie Smith here in March and we're all going to see it.  I believe we're scheduled for the 15th of the month.  I am really looking forward to it.

It amazes me how cruel some people can be to the older less fortunate people in our world yet the goodness shown by others is incredibly heartfelt.  You see both sides of the human race in this small book.  I like to think I am in the latter category. I never pass a homeless person on the street without making eye contact and smiling at them. If I can help them with food or simply kindness in the  moment I will. I am not silly enough to know I can give them all money and a better life. But I do what I can.
Just recognising that they are people and need to be treated with respect is all we should do minimally.  It is only chance that we are not in their shoes.

Well, my goodness, aren't I doing a lot of pontificating today.  I love that word. I was writing an email to my friend earlier and I used it there. I challenged her to use that word in her vocabulary today.  It's good to pontificate sometimes.

What are you reading this week and also what issues do you pontificate about?

May the Penguin watch over all of us.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Happy to See This Post Back Again

The Broke and the Bookish (here) used to regularly post a cocktail hour.  Book bloggers and others interested in books answer a Thursday Query while sipping a cocktail. Virtual of course. As she says, it is always 5:00 somewhere in the world.

Here is today's question and I will attempt to answer it with what comes first to my mind. I don't want to think about it too much as I think the books in the world would run rampant over my brain. That happens enough already.

 What is one book you recommend pretty much across the board -- regardless of genre or what the person normally reads?

Quickly without thinking these are the three books I would recommend to anyone.

1.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Maggie Smith (1943)
I have read this book several times and it tells a story of Francie amongst the poor immigrants in New York City. She is a young girl, age 12 who deals with not only the poverty of her family and others who enter her world but has a yearning to be educated and read as much as she can.  She is a wonderful character and it is interesting to see this world from her eyes. 

2.  87 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff  (1970)
I had read this book perhaps more than any other book except Black Beauty. The wonderful relationship between the book shop owner in London and the woman in New York is wonderful. The discussions through the mail, long before email, Facebook and mobile phones is wonderfully told and it is probably my biggest comfort read of all books. 

I might add the film with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is just as good and one I  have seen dozens of times. Just love it.

3.  Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (2003)
The story of a young boy from poverty like we have never known in rural China. He rises through the dance world eventually ending up in The United States. I  think the best part of this book is when he first visits America and discovers the materialism of the country, that he could not ever have imagined. It was quite embarrassing to this American/Australian and made me realise what an absolutely wasteful society the west really is. 

I MUST add, these are the three books that popped into my mind TODAY.  You could ask me the same question and I would probably strongly recommend other books like Grapes of Wrath or Olive Kitteridge or All the Light We Could Not See.  There are just so many really excellent books that have been written over the years and three recommendations are never enough but for today this is what you get.

What book pops into your mind, RIGHT NOW, without thinking more than 5 seconds? I'd love to know. 

I'll talk to all of you again next week. This weekend I am going with 27 members of Ulysses motorbike club to the northwest of the state on my big Italian scooter. More than a 1000 km return so I probably won't be able to do much next week except lie in bed and type.  And I imagine at the rate the Penguin is going with those cocktails he may be there too.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Monday Mania and Some New Penguin Books

It has been a bit crazy in Tasmania the past couple of weeks.  We have had the western half of the state covered in bush fires, one count was as many as 80 separate fires, many in very remote areas.

Then came the water. A deluge of rain covering, wouldn't you know it, the eastern half of the state and lightning sparking 16 more fires in the west.

We have fire fighters in the state from several states on the mainland as well as some Americans who came over here with some great technology.

My favourite second hand book store, Cracked and Spineless let me know these wonderful green Penguins had been purchased by them and he set some aside for me.  Today I was in there and the flooding had come through their ceiling soaking a great many of their newer books. I always hate to see that. The books were so swollen with water Richard could not pull them off from the shelves as they appeared wedged and glued together.  Thank goodness for insurance but the loss of so many books is very sad.

I have been busy reading this month trying to get caught up on book club reads. I finished the Gilded Hour which I have spoken of previously. My Book Club book club rated Gilded Hour as 4 stars and everyone loved it. It is also the beginning of a series so we look forward to the next book that is published. We loved the characters, especially and there are lots of story lines to continue wrapping up.

I am also halfway into Magic Lobsters and Flying Tangines by J.P. Haley.
This is a fascinating book. It is translated fiction under LGBT umbrella. It takes place in Morocco and is one of the quirkiest tales I have gotten into for awhile. More to come later.

I will say the descriptive writing makes one feel as though they are in this dusty little town south of Morocco. You can smell the decay in the buildings. You can laugh at the manipulative female characters and feel exhausted by all that happens.

Then I finally finished All The Light We Cannot See, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel about WWII by Anthony Doerr.  I won't even try to review this book because I know a lot of people have done better than I could.  I will say it must be the best book I have read in a very long time. If I had to think of one word to describe the writing I would have to say, "Exquisite".  Our Fullers Shop book club will talk about it in more depth on Thursday night.

Our next books for the book clubs are The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.  Our group will see the movie once it is produced.

Also the The Lady in the Van is to be discussed. The movie will be here in March and we have set a date to see that together. It should be a lot of fun. I love Maggie Smith.

Reading I am behind with? Yes, my Spin Book was supposed to have been reviewed by 1 February. It is a vintage Penguin about New South Wales. I do still want to have a look at it and I have another short story in the Deal Me In Challenge to do TODAY!

So much to read so little time. In my defence, I did finish the Photoshop Course I signed up for. Thirteen lessons of reading, exercises, assignments and exams.  I had hoped to have it done by Christmas but me and the best laid plans of course. But that is a large chunk of time I have gotten back. Now to start all the photographic projects.

Our writing group begins this Wednesday. I am the facilitator for the next 6 month and that will be a new experience.  I need to get cracking and get some pieces turned out. We are putting together a book of our writer's work for 2015. That should be finished soon and off for printing.

Friday I have a performance to see at The Theatre Royal, which I do look forward to. Then Saturday we have a 3 day motorbike ride through the highlands of the state to the far northwest coast. A ride of more than 500 kms (300 miles). Another ride the following day from the cabin that 5 of us are staying in and then the ride home on the Monday which is a bank holiday for Regatta Day. The only state I know of that has a public holiday for boat races. That is Australia for you.

I will post up some of the travel photos that occur next week as the state is beautiful. I hope some of the fires are out and we don't end up in heavy smoke and that the flood waters have receded.

So far there has been a great start to 2016 and already it feels as though we are more than a month into it.

The Penguin is exhausted from all of the activity so we will take a couple of days this week to work on our Macro on a Tabletop challenge, due Friday for the Hobart Photographic Society.

What have you been up to this week and what book has been in your hands this week? And where has it taken you?

May the Penguin smile upon you.............

Places travelled this week through books:  Germany, France, Morocco, countryside south of Morocco.