Sunday, November 4, 2012

Librarian Skills required!

A little chaos is a good thing but when it comes to bookclub we like things to be organised. This month the books were a mess because it seems that last month we forgot to record who had what and adopted a lottery system. I now fully understand the important role that librarians play in the world of books and also why SILENCE is necessary among those neat shelves and why books are catalogued and not arranged by the colour of the cover! I suspect that much of our chaos this month was because of all the chatting last month and not paying ATTENTION. 
Library Science is a mysterious qualification and I have wondered just what there is to study about being a librarian that would take two or three years - YAWN!  I am sure there is lots about being a librarian that we do not know!
As a child I loved my local library where books took me to a world outside of  our small village and where I discovered the size and scale of just how big that world is. Aged 6 or 7, the furthest I had been was Blackpool, and when I read that it was in the same county as St Helens, I almost fell of my library chair with surprise when I realised just how big the immense country of England must be .......the size of the world was just too big for me to even contemplate! Laughable when we consider the world now a Global Village.
I visited the library every week - sometimes twice and often couldn't wait to get home before I starting reading the books I had borrowed, stopping to sit on a garden wall to enjoy or the bus stop bench. On a recent visit back to the UK and returning my Auntie Gladys's books, I was thrilled to see that libraries there are still busy and well used spaces where people go to read the papers and check the community notice boards. I never visit the library here in SA - apart from the university one - the municipal ones are too depressing! If you want to find some interesting libraries click here.
Back to bookclub! Our new books this month are:-
Sweet tooth by Ian McEwan:
Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge, and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. The year is 1972. Britain, confronting economic disaster, is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism and faces its fifth state of emergency. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the fight goes on, especially in the cultural sphere. Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is sent on a 'secret mission' which brings her into the literary world of Tom Haley, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage - trust no one. McEwan's mastery dazzles us in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love, and the invented self.

The Seamstress by Maria Duenas
Spain, 1936 and the brink of civil war.Young, poor Sira Quiroga is swept up in a whirlwind romance with her wily love Ramiro. Fleeing Madrid together for Morocco, her love blinds her to his real failings. Soon abandoned, left penniless and in debt to the authorities, she has to rely on the one skill she still possesses: sewing.Taken under the wing of the bullish but caring housekeeper Candelaria, Sira is able to sew for the glamorous foreign English and German women in Tetouan. Privy to their unbridled gossip, Sira becomes invaluable to the British secret service, a position that is filled with untold risk. A story of danger, espionage, romance and war, The Seamstress is a WWII tale like no other.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Brown University, 1982. Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English student and incurable romantic, is writing her thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot – authors of the great marriage plots. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different men, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead, brilliant scientist and charismatic loner, attracts Madeleine with an intensity that she seems powerless to resist. Meanwhile her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus, a theology student searching for some kind of truth in life, is certain of at least one thing – that he and Madeleine are destined to be together.
But as all three leave college, they will have to figure out how they want their own marriage plot to end.

The forth title remains a mystery because I didn't study library science and nor can I read my own writing! Oh Dear!!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

So many lovely books - So little time!

Well another month gone by and bookclub come and gone! Another evening of sharing and caring! A love of books unites us but our bookclub has  been together a long time - One member, Judy M, can affirm that Shakespeare's Sisters has been together for over 34 years although she has only been a member for about around 30. On her 25th bookclub anniversary - her membership was celebrated with a Silver Jubilee Bookclub, champagne, a tiara  and a special cake! We do have a sense of royal occasion. Sheila is in second place and I have been a member for 15 years and am considered one of the 'new comers'.
You can't meet monthly for all that time and not feel bonded to the sisterhood! We have been through motherhood (Jacqui's youngest was born while she was a member); marriage (my very first bookclub was a sort of kitchen tea for Marion - who was about to be married and now lives in Hagga Hagga); milestone birthday celebrations; travel experiences; empty nest syndrome as our kids left for varsity and distant shores; menopause and mad husbands (is there a connection?) and the sad loss of parents. All that life has thrown at us has been shared, not in a complaining way but in a caring and supportive way. BookClub is viewed as a 'night off' from family, responsibility and life's lessons and there is an unspoken agreement that moaning is banned.
Sometimes the conversations can be a little strange though and cause much hilarity. I will give you a couple of examples of actual conversation this week:
 "My husband keeps popping out!" "My daughter pops out all the time - she's hyper mobile." 
"My husband is semi retired now - he is making dumb valets for everyone and there is one in every room."
"We were in a restaurant last week and this couple were eating one another - licking one another."
"Did the restaurant have a liquor license then?"
"I am not sure who sent the message - it was either the man who was drunkenly devouring that woman or the hunchback with no neck. I hope it wasn't the hunchback!"
See what I mean????
However we did get around to the topic of books and currently we are enjoying, The Moment by Douglas Kennedy,Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced middle aged, American writer living a very private life in Maine . In touch only with his daughter and still trying to reconcile himself to the end of a long marriage that he knew was flawed from the outset - he finds his solitude disrupted by the arrival, one wintry morning, of a box postmarked Berlin. The return address on the box - Dussmann - unsettles him completely. For it is the name of the woman with whom he had an intense love affair twenty-six years ago in Berlin - at a time when the city was cleaved in two, and personal and political allegiances were haunted by the deep shadows of the Cold War. Readers are enjoying the descriptions of Berlin and Kennedy's masterful story telling.
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown tells the story of three sisters who return to their home town in the states because their mother is ill with cancer - each sister is concealing a.  secret. I am currently reading this and it is whimsical easy read with delightfully likeable characters. What makes The Weird Sisters unique (to me, at least; I'm sure there are many novels that feature William Shakespeare but this is the first I've read) is the Shakespeare factor. The Andreas family are voracious readers and their dad is a Shakespeare professor, so it rather goes without saying that the girls lives are very much soaked into Shakespeare. They're named after Shakespeare's characters: Cordelia, Rosalind, Bianca. The title of the novel comes from Shakespeare and the girls and their dad consistently quote sentences written by the bard himself.  This all makes for an interesting read.
The PostMistress by Sarah Blake is still in demand and its a beautifully written, thought provoking novel and tells a lovely, moving and beautifully evocative story linking an American journalist  reporting in London during the Blitz and a Postmistress in a small American coastal town. Its unforgettable, insightful and compelling.
I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity by Izzeldin Abuelaish This humbling true story has been a real hit with bookclub -  written by a Palestinian doctor, born in a refugee camp in Gaza, and who, after his wife died, then lost 3 of his daughters when the Israelis fired into his home in the Gaza strip. His daughters died simply because they had been sleeping against "the wrong wall" that evening. Although angry and deeply grieving the death of his 3 daughters, Dr Abuelaish felt no hatred towards the Israelis who had conducted the unprovoked attacks. His live interview on Israeli television just hours after their deaths captured world attention not just on the plight of the Palestinians living in the Gaza but also astonished by the absence of calls for revenge, a call which many would have expected. Instead, he called for peace and cooperation between the 2 sides, for an understanding and acceptance of each other as individuals deserving of respect.

I will report on the new books for this month in my next post. so many lovely books so little time!!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dressing Up, Dressing Down. Dressing Gowns!!

Comfy slippers, fluffy gowns and a teddy or two set the scene for bookclub this week when we surprised our hostess by arriving in sleepwear! We all agreed that Bookclub in our Pyjamas was a jolly good idea! We lamented that there was a time when we went out in ball gowns and not dressing gowns but warm slippers were very welcome on an August evening.
 After our usual catch up and book returning - new books purchased for the month were announced.
They were Jane Raphaely's autobiography - Unedited; As well as being the autobiography of this doyen of the Magazine industry in South Africa - this book records the political and social changes in the country as it emerged from apharteid and the experiences of women from the late 60s through to today. I am a true fan of Mrs Raphaely and started to read this when I arrived home - I had to force myself to put it down an hour later and can't wait to get stuck into it again. 
The Cats Table by Michael Ondaatje. (author of The English Patient)
In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England - a 'castle that was to cross the sea'. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly 'Cat's Table' with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another, 'bursting all over the place like freed mercury'. And at night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner - his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.This book comes as a recommendation from another bookclub and promises to be a GREAT read!
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. (Winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2011) We are usually a bit suspect of books that have won awards but a couple of us have read this short book and we agreed it was a fascinating story.
Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life. Now Tony is retired. He's had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He's certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer's letter is about to prove.
Home by Toni Morrison: This is a stunning new novel, by the author of Beloved. An angry and self-loathing veteran of the Korean War, Frank Money finds himself back in racist America after enduring trauma on the front lines that left him with more than just physical scars. His home -- and himself in it -- may no longer be as he remembers it, but Frank is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from, which he's hated all his life. As Frank revisits the memories from childhood and the war that leave him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he thought he could never possess again. Toni Morrison's deeply moving novel reveals an apparently defeated man finding his manhood -- and, finally, his home.

Great eats; Great Wine; Great Company and Great Books!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Must Read of 2012

'He's in a place where there's just wind and waves and light, and the intricate machinery that keeps the flame burning and the lantern turning. Always turning, always looking over its shoulder.'
This book is tipped to be the 'must read' of 2012 so I had to have for my Kindle and have started it. The review is from the Amazon site.

Tom Sherbourne is haunted by traumatic memories of his horrific experiences in World War I. He is one of the men who have returned to Australia, as so many did not. He is not physically scarred, 'but he's scarred all the same, having to live in the same skin as the man who did the things that needed to be done back then.' Now, looking to his future, he becomes a lighthouse keeper. He takes a position on remote Janus Rock, off the coast of South-Western Australia, with Point Partageuse being the nearest community on the mainland. Partageuse is a place where everyone knows everyone else, and where, after the war, 'gradually, once again lives wove together into a practical sort of fabric..', where '..Janus Rock, linked only by the store boat four times a year, dangled off the edge of the cloth like a loose button that might easily plummet to Antarctica.'
He meets local girl Isabel Graysmark whilst he is on the mainland, they correspond with each other when Tom returns to the lighthouse, and they fall in love and marry. For Isabel, the war has instilled a sense of urgency into life: 'If the war had taught her anything, it was to take nothing for could snatch away the things you treasured, and there was no getting them back.' Moving forward in time to the mid 1920s, we meet them living out on Janus Rock together, with a sadness hanging between them that they have no children, Isabel having suffered miscarriages. When a boat is washed up on the rock, they make a decision that day which will change the rest of their lives, as the couple is torn between love and desperate need, and the truth and reality of their situation.

There are some beautiful descriptions of the places, which made me want to visit the fictional Partageuse. Equally, the remote location of the lighthouse, the effects of the weather, the detail of the daily duties Tom carries out, is all conveyed well, and very convincingly, so that the reader can imagine the routine of their days, sense the isolation of the lighthouse keeper and his wife, and feel the remoteness of life on Janus Rock. The effects of the War on the community in Partageuse are movingly described, reminding us of the involvement of Australia in that conflict.
This is stunning prose and heart-wrenching storytelling for a debut writer. Through the story, the author delivers many truths about life. She highlights the best and worst sides of humans, the amount of courage, the strength of love, the severity of intense pain, the cruelty inflicted by a decision made out of Isabel's desperate longing, the remorse felt. A lovely read, it is also heartbreaking as the story unfolds and the repercussions play out. I was willing all the characters to the 'best' outcome for all of them, somehow. This story really touched me, I felt quite deeply affected by it, and I cried at the end. I loved this book. It's a great debut novel.
Something to look forward to.....



Sunday, August 19, 2012

Themes for Book Club

Shakespeare's Sisters is a fun bookclub and we often have themed evenings like the one earlier this year when we had an Alice in Wonderland theme. Its not like we plan these themes at the beginning of the year - they tend to come from a random comment made during the evening that sparks something off.
In the past we have arrived dressed in bubble wrap, soccer kits, pyjamas, hats and dressed as hobos, witches and animals. We have even had a swimming gala! These evenings are fun - only this morning I was chuckling at the memory of a bookclub that was sparked off by a book which was turned into Tom Hank's film, 'Castaway'. We were all invited to bring an item we would take with us to a desert island. Our hostess had gone to town and dressed the house in nets, shells and even a sandy floor awaited us - or it could have just been that her home was opposite the beach! Suitably fishy eats were on the table and we revealed our treasures. These included (if my memory serves me right) Shampoo - What self respecting gal would be seen on a desert island with dirty hair? Mascara and Lipstick for similar reasons. A can of Coke - we have an addict in our midst! The Bible - to take advantage of all that time to read it. Chocolate - lets hope there is a fridge on this desert island! Sunscreen - this sparked off a discussion of whether starvation, dehydration or melanoma would get us first.
My item was to be a piano - We had one at home and I had always wanted to learn to play it - My sisters had lessons but the money ran out by the time I came along and I used to still in front of it and try to make tunes feeling hard done to! If I turned out to be unmusical, it could be turned into a raft and I envisaged sailing into the sunset on it. I changed my mind however after seeing Tom Hanks in the film eating raw fish and sucking the slimy contents from a crab's leg, and decided a box of matches would be absolutely essential.
We concluded that most interestingly none of us had brought our husbands to bookclub as the item we would choose to take to a desert island for survival. Hmm! We sipped our wine thoughtfully!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dont Judge a Book by its Cover

I finished this book last night - on Kindle and WOW! One of the nicest books I have read for a while! I've read a few of Jojo Moyes' previous books - Ship of Brides, The Last Letter From Your Lover and The Peacock Emporium (meh) - but I think she's moved onto a whole new level with her latest offering. I highly reccommend it.

'Me Before You' features Lou Clark, a bright but directionless young woman who drifts between dead-end jobs until she eventually (rather reluctantly) takes a post as a carer to a young man who has been left in a quadriplegic state following a road accident two years earlier. Will Traynor had a high-profile, well paid career and a very active lifestyle, until it was all taken away from him in the blink of an eye as he crossed the road to hail a taxi. To say he's bitter and angry about the hand life has dealt him would be an understatement. His family are at the end of their tether, and shortly after Lou is hired she hatches a desperate plan to try to convince Will that his life is worth living.

Sounds a bit grim and depressing? Well think again. I've never noticed much in the way of comedy in Moyes's novels before, but this book had me alternating between laughing out loud and smiling wryly (oh and crying - more of that later), and I was reminded very much of Marian Keyes in her prime. I loved the affectionate banter between Lou and her family and the not-so-affectionate verbal sparring between Lou and Will.
And now for the serious stuff. The subjects of quadriplegia and the rights of disabled people are dealt with sensitively and compassionately. The descriptions of Will's day to day existence, which involves relying on others for almost every aspect of his personal care, really hit home.

Its an emotional read but it's also a very uplifting and life-affirming. It's not often that I become so emotionally involved in a storyline and the memory of this thought-provoking book and the wonderfully engaging characters Jojo Moyes has created will stay with me for a long time.

PS. I almost didn't read it because I thought it looked like a whimsical Chick Lit offering - so glad that I wasnt put off by the cover!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Club Catch-Up

There has been quite a gap between posts but that doesn't mean that I haven't been reading or I have missed club. Rather that I have been travelling and working. I always find time to read - books are my sleeping pill, my anti depressant and my tranquiliser! What have I been reading?

I read Fifty Shades of Grey as promised, and even though it is badly written, it is compelling and HOT! The other two books in the trilogy arrived at bookclub with brown paper covers so they could be secretly read! I have heard book two is better and I have it on my Kindle. I have also enjoyed "Far from my Father's House" by Jill McGivering. Set in Afghanistan, it's the moving and compassionate account of a family life torn apart by the Taliban. I was reminded of The Kite Runner and it was very well written with strong characters and a great story line.

I really enjoyed The Paris Wife by Paula McClain which is an account of Ernest Hemingway's life in bohemian Paris during the Jazz age 1920s where life is fuelled by gossip, alcohol and infidelity. Its written from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's wife, and gives a fascinating glimpse into her marriage to this talented, troubles, volatile free spirit. It made me want to find out more about her, read some of Hemmingway's work and revisit Paris!

I am currently reading "Why be Happy when you could be Normal" by Jeanette Winterson. A million miles away from Paris, its set in Accrington, Lancashire where the author was raised by her adopted mother, a peculiar, pentecostal, eccentric woman. It gives a hilarious account of growing up in Lancashire that I can really relate to. I have on my bookshelf this author's best selling novel, "Oranges are not the only Fruit," but have never found the time to read it. After enjoying her auto biography it's definitely my next read.
Mr Christian Grey will have to wait - he won't like that one bit!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Between the Sheets

Is there anything better on a chilly wet evening that a hot bath and then snuggling under the duvet with a good book? It's really the only part of winter that I like and all the better if you have a book to read about warm sunny olive groves or sun ripened vines. However I hear that its not chic lit holiday reads that are keeping the heat between the sheets, but the new trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. The story starts when literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.
Interestingly it was written by a middle aged woman and published for free online - as it seared to best seller status it was snatched up and put into paperback format and the film rights were snatched up for an undisclosed fee. The lastest hot gossip is around who will play the  female lead.

There is a waiting list for this at Exclusive Books and while we havent bought it for bookclub, one of our members has read it and was absolutely riveted. Although its not that well written, its an addictive, compelling read and she can understand why its creating an erotic epademic out there. I will give you my verdict soon enough - I have ordered the Kindle version - at least I can make the text large print - but am afraid to start reading it until I have finished my book club books in case I get hooked.

 If you are a fan of Racy Romantic novels try here to find what else is out in print to set your heart alight and the bed on fire!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Club Eats

Bookclub means great reading, good company, fun, wine and eats. When you are hosting you don't want too spend too much time away from the books or the company so look for easy recipes that look and taste good. This quiche is a winner - economical and easy to serve.

Tuna Quiche
2 eggs                                                 pinch of cayenne pepper
90g grated cheese                              5ml Fondor
1 small onion fried in 15 ml butter    1 Tin of tuna (200g)
5ml powdered mustard
150 ml milk

Spray/grease pie dish. Mix tuna, cheese and pepper. Mix eggs, milk, mustard and fondor. Pour over fish (tuna) mixture in pie plate. Bake in a pre-heated oven 180C for 30 to 40 mins. Freezes well....but you wont have any left overs!

An easy peasy bran loaf bake.
1 cup of bran flakes
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of dried fruit or raisins
....................soak the above in a cup of milk for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Add 1 cup of self-raising flour and stir in well.
Bake in loaf tin at 160/180C for around 40 mins or until firm to touch.
Allow to cool.
It's delicious sliced and served buttered!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Holiday Reads

Holidays conjure up a picture of sunshine, beaches, relaxation and fun for most people, but if you are an avid reader then holidays mean books - and an opportunity to catch up with your reading. I am off on my travels on Sunday and have a day and half of flights ahead of me. I am so happy that my Kindle is fully loaded and there will be no chance of running out of reading material on the way or the hassle of carrying two heavy books with me.
When I travel I like to read books that are set in the country or area that I am travelling in. I thought I was alone in this but there is even a book that is full of recommendations of this sort. When we visited Egypt I buried myself in Wilbur Smith's River God and Seventh Scroll and followed the trail around Luxor and the Valley of Kings that the slave Taitus describes. To be in the setting where the story is set just adds so much atmosphere to the journey. I felt that the characters were there with me.
I was drawn again to The Da Vinci Code when in Paris and admiring the Michaelangelo's paintings in the Louvre and recently when in the UK I enjoyed Ann Granger's Mud, Muck and Dead things - a murder mystery set in the Cotswolds. I will leave you to guess where I read Death in Venice and the Venetian Mask!
So what's on my Kindle for Australia? The Thorn Birds? There wasn't much Australian fiction available on Amazon UK but I found a novel called "Eucalyptus" by Murray Bail. It is set in New South Wales,where a man named Holland lives with his daughter Ellen. As years pass and Ellen grows into a beautiful young woman, her father announces his decision: she will marry the first man who can name all the species of the eucalyptus, down to the last tree. Ellen observes the challengers come to the estate, one after another, drawn by tales of her legendary beauty. She gradually sinks into despair. But one afternoon a mysterious young man appears among the gum trees and tells her stories of faraway lands. It sounds intriguing and a movie is in the making with Nicole Kidman in the role of Ellen.

I also have Still Alice to take with me - not set in Australia but telling a story of a women who has early onset Alzheimer's and We all Ran into The Sunlight by Natalie Young.  I am hoping to browse some bookshops in Melbourne - Is there anything more absorbing and indulgent on holiday than time spent in an unfamiliar bookshop! Looking forward to three weeks of good reading!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Our Choices for Book Club

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
This book is  being enjoyed by many of the bookclubs and I am sure its going to be popular with ours - thats why I have the Kindle edition too!
When Alice finds herself in the rapidly downward spiral of Alzheimer's Disease she is just fifty years old. A university professor, wife, and mother of three, she still has so much more to do - books to write, places to see, grandchildren to meet. But when she can't remember how to make her famous Christmas pudding, when she gets lost in her own back yard, when she fails to recognise her actress daughter after a superb performance, she comes up with a desperate plan. But can she see it through? Should she see it through? Losing her yesterdays, living for each day, her short-term memory is hanging on by a couple of frayed threads. But she is still Alice.
I read her second book last month - Left Neglected - and loved it. I have since learned that she has a degree in Biopsychology and holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. She is a member of the Dementia Advocacy and Support Network International and Dementia, USA and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association. No wonder she writes with such empathy and experience!

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
Edmund de Waal is a renowned ceramic artist who's work has been exhibited in Tate Britain and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He can trace his ancestry back to a wealthy Ukrainian family who made their fortune from grain exporting and later banking, and who had spacious and luxurious homes in Vienna, Tokyo and Paris. When Edmund inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese netsuke carvings from his Uncle Ignace, he felt prompted to investigate their place in the family history. The Hare With Amber Eyes is the result.

The book opens with De Waal studying in Tokyo in 1991 while on a two year scholarship, visiting his Uncle Iggie (Ignace) in his home in Tokyo, which he shares with Jiro, his partner of 41 years. Ignace has a wonderful collection of netsuke which has been in the family since the late 19th century. Three years later, Uncle Iggie dies, and Jiro writes and signs a document bequeathing the netsuke to Edmund once Jiro himself has gone.
When Edmund eventually owns the netsuke he finds himself greatly intrigued by the history of this remarkable collection, and realises that all he really knows are a few anecdotes, which become thinner in the telling. The only answer is to carry out a proper investigation into their story - and off he sets to visit the locations the netsuke have resided in and to investigate those who owned them before.
The Hare with Amber Eyes is a lovely book. I have read similar accounts of family history where too much is assumed, where scenes are guessed at, conversations created where none could possible be recalled, and personalities are elaborated until they are far too larger than life. Edmund de Waal seems to be a very careful writer. He has only written about what he knows and what he can prove from primary sources. This gives the book a far greater sense of authenticity than many others. In addition, as an artist himself and a creator of fine porcelain objects, he is well suited to trace the course through of these netsuke over the last 150 years - he is wholly equipped to understand the meaning of such things and is adept at communicating his love for them with his readers.
When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
Young Elly's world is shaped by those who inhabit it: her loving but maddeningly distractible parents; a best friend who smells of chips and knows exotic words like 'slag'; an ageing fop who tapdances his way into her home, a Shirley Bassey impersonator who trails close behind; lastly, of course, a rabbit called God. In a childhood peppered with moments both ordinary and extraordinary, Elly's one constant is her brother Joe. Twenty years on, Elly and Joe are fully grown and as close as they ever were. Until, that is, one bright morning and a single, earth-shattering event that threatens to destroy their bond for ever. Spanning four decades and moving between suburban Essex, the wild coast of Cornwall and the streets of New York, this is a story about childhood, eccentricity, the darker side of love and sex, the pull and power of family ties, loss life. More than anything, it's a story about love in all its forms. I think that this is a book that you will either love or hate! Either way it will create an emotional response from the reader. I enjoyed the first half better than the second  - but still a good read!
The Kashmir Shawl by Rosy Thomas
We had a few of Rosie Thomas's books and they are enjoyable in a gentle and endearing way. We loved Iris and Ruby. The Kashmir Shawl is an epic set in the time of war, family secrets and forbidden love, set against the stunning exotic backdrop of 1940s Kashmir. Amazon says "Within one exotic land lie the secrets of a lifetime…Newlywed Nerys Watkins leaves rural Wales for the first time to accompany her husband on a missionary posting to India. Deep in the exquisite heart of Kashmir lies the lakeside city of Srinagar, where the British live on carved wooden houseboats and dance, flirt and gossip as if there is no war.But the battles draw closer, and life in Srinagar becomes less frivolous when the men are sent away to fight. Nerys is caught up in a dangerous friendship, and by the time she is reunited with her husband, the innocent Welsh bride has become a different woman.
Years later, when Mair Ellis clears out her father’s house, she finds an exquisite antique shawl, a lock of child’s hair wrapped within its folds. Tracing her grandparents’ roots back to Kashmir, Mair embarks on a quest that will change her life forever.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Nigella write `If this was just an account of life as a restaurant critic, it would be interesting enough. But Ruth Reichl somehow makes this an investigation into personality. In order not to be recognized when on the job as The New York Times' restaurant review, she adopts a number of disguises and notes the effect this has on her own character and behavior. Oh, and the food she writes about what she's eating, I just salivate' --Nigella Lawson, I stumbled across this book and thought it sounded entertaining and combines our book club love of food and fiction. I hope I wont have to eat my words!

Lets hope the books are well received and read. Will let you know next month!


Thursday, March 29, 2012

March Book Club

We had the most wonderful book club this week! Firstly we had an amazing venue - we usually meet at our homes but for a change we had book club in the Donkin Coffee shop which adjoins the lighthouse. The Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth has recently been cleaned up as part of the NM inner city development and forms part of an art route. It was a perfect evening for sitting under the stars in the shadow of this majestic building drinking up the views and catching up on each others news.The Fact that we were dressed up as characters from Alice in Wonderland added something to the occasion.....and attracted some interesting looks from passers-by!

Shakespeare's Sisters can be counted on to arrive in style. This is our very own Cheshire Cat!
She was joined by The Queen on Hearts, two White Rabbits and a Mad Hatter!

The Alice in Wonderland theme was due to the fact that two of our books had rabbits in the title and the third had the name Alice! The table was set out with wacky teapots, lacy cloths, cake stands and the most delicious food that shouted "Eat Me"
Last months choices were discussed as we handed back our books. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova was given a 5 and we highly recommend it. It's the story of a high flying career woman who suffers brain damage as the result of a car accident and tells the story of how she, her husband and young family cope with the differences this has made in their lives. Well researched, well written and a thought provoking read!
Cocktail hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness was also enjoyed and scored highly. It is the latest book by Alexander Fuller and a memoir of her early childhood growing up in Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was named then) and the exploits of a wacky mother. We just love her style of writing.

This months book buys are :- The Hare with Amber Eyes; When God was a Rabbit; Still Alice (Lisa Genova's first book), The Kashmir Shawl and Garlic and Sapphires. (A review of these will follow this post).
This last book is by a food critic who worked for The New York Times. If she had been with us on Tuesday, she would have had lots of good things to say about the 'eats'. They were simply divine!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Farewell our Elephant Whisperer

I was really saddened to hear the news that Lawrence Anthony,the author of the Elephant Whisperer had died suddenly at the beginning of this March. His son Dylan wrote how the elephants came to say their goodbyes to him.
"For 12 hours the huge beasts slowly made their way through the Zululand bush until they reached the house of the man they loved – to say good-bye."  That, according to the son of conservationist and adventurer Lawrence Anthony, who passed away while on a business trip to Johannesburg last Friday, was the profoundly moving sight at Thula Thula Private Reserve this week. Dubbed ‘the elephant whisperer’ for his unique ability to calm traumatised elephants and herds, Anthony became a legend when it came to light that he had rescued animals from the Baghdad Zoo during the Iraqi invasion. There are two elephant herds at Thula Thula. According to his son Dylan, both herds arrived at the house after Anthony’s death.  “They had not visited the house for a year-and-a-half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” said Dylan. The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. ‘They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush,” said Dylan. Yesterday family and close friends gathered at Thula Thula for a private memorial service, following a public service held at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Thursday. Anthony, in a collaboration with his brother-in-law, former Durban journalist Graham Spence, wrote the book “Babylon’s Ark”, which details his unorthodox rescue of animals from Baghdad Zoo. The pair also co-authored “The Elephant Whisperer”, which tells of Anthony’s techniques in communicating with elephants.

Having been at the frontline in the war against rhino poaching in Africa, when he died Anthony was in the process of launching a third book (also co-authored with Spence), “The Last Rhinos”, which tells of his exploits deep in the Congo jungle.
Having enjoyed the Elephant Whisperer and Babylon's Ark, I am really looking forward to reading The Last Rhinos.


Friday, March 16, 2012

What is it about bookshops and airports? No matter if you have a book in your bag and are halfway through reading it, the Exclusive Books bookshop at the airport is like a magnet and you are pulled towards that pile of irresistible pages! The shops are aways in a small space and incredibly difficult to navigate with your luggage and other traveller's suitcases are just waiting for you to trip over them - but none the less - no journey is complete without a browse in a bookshop.
Yesterday, I browsed but I was pleased with myself for packing my Kindle as a two hour delay meant that I finished one book and started another great read by one of my favourites Marlena De Blasi - this time the setting is Sicily, in a magnificent if somewhat ruined castle in the mountains where she stumbles upon Tosca, the patroness of the villa and her story. Only writing of this brilliance can make time travel without effort, and before I knew it we were boarding! Thanks to Marlena I was transported from OT airport to the mountains of Sicily and thanks to BA who gave me time to get stuck into my new book!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Curiouser and Curiouser

My bookclub choices for March include a book with Alice in the title and two other books with bunny connections so it seems pretty obvious to go with an Alice in Wonderland theme. I am looking forward to seeing what my whacky friends will come up with for attire and apart from serving the wine in teapots, the eats will be pretty curious too!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Wise Words - Book Quotes

Here are some of my favourite quotations about books.

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book. ~Groucho Marx

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. ~Chinese Proverb

A dirty book is rarely dusty. ~Author Unknown

You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend. ~Paul Sweeney

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. ~Mark Twain

Book lovers never go to bed alone. ~Author Unknown

Medicine for the soul. ~Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes

To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting. ~Edmund Burke

A house without books is like a room without windows. ~Heinrich Mann

Never judge a book by its movie. ~J.W. Eagan

Books are a uniquely portable magic. ~Stephen King

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. ~Richard Steele, Tatler, 1710

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. ~Francis Bacon

No person who can read is ever successful at cleaning out an attic. ~Ann Landers

To read a book for the first time is to make an acquaintance with a new friend; to read it for a second time is to meet an old one. ~Chinese Saying

Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me. ~Anatole France

Americans like fat books and thin women. ~Russell Baker

Do you have a favourite?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Night Circus

I have just finished reading this book and enjoyed it immensely. Every page conjures up an image not dissimilar to a Harry Potter set, weaving the magic, illusion and wonderment of a Victorian Circus which appears at night and disappears by dawn and makes you question whether the circus itself is real or imaginary. The black and white tents of the Le Cirque Des Reves sets the stage for a challenge between two highly gifted sorcerers who are being used as puppets to settle an old score of ancient times. If you are imaginative, enjoy being whisked away into a fantasy world and enjoy romance - yes a love story is woven between the pages - then you will love this. It has all the makings of a movie to be enjoyed by Twilight and Harry Potterians and its not surprising that it has already been adapted for the big screen. For book fans  it is written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Book Club Pavlova

There are those amongst us who set themselves on a pedestal and let the world believe that they are incredibly special and skillful and talented - they protect their power by creating an highly decorative illusion.
Each January as the world welcomes the new year and we bravely decide what we are going to stop doing - smoking, eating, drinking and what we are going to start doing - eat salad, change jobs, study quantum physics! I set myself a number of challenges including a culinary one. I have in the past challenged myself to make fragrant Thai food, spicy Indian curries, complicated pastries and to be braver with vegetables.

A couple of years ago, the challenge was to make a Pavlova - a larger than life, flamboyant and decadent dessert that always makes an impressive entrance when served. I googled, researched and studied as I usually do when I set out to do something that requires skill and discovered that the Pavlova is an impostor. Its just a simple combination of sugar and egg white with a dash of cornflour and vinegar - its a sweet reminder that to be impressive you don't have to be complicated. Some things are not as they seem and when you scratch the surface they crumble and disintegrate till you are left with nothing ...but egg on your face!

Here's the pavlova recipe that I use to make an entrance at bookclub - it often recieves spontaneous round of applause but sadly there is never enough for an encore!

6 egg whites, 350g of Castor sugar, 2tsp of vinegar, 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence, 2tsp of cornfour.

Preheat the oven to 150C. Prepare a silicone baking mat or line a baking tray with silicone baking paper.

Separate the egg whites and beat them with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar - a little at a time - into the egg whites. Add the veinegar, vanilla and cornflour and whisk in. Spread in a circle onto the baking sheet building the sides up slightly higher and place in the centre of the oven. Reduce the heat to 140C and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Leave to cool in the oven.

Decorate with whipped cream, fruit and drizzle with melted chocolate! Enjoy the compliments!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Our New books for February

Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexander Fuller.

We loved her previous books, Scribbling the Cat and Lets not go to the Dogs Tonight, so we are looking forward to this one and i get the feeling it will be in great demand amongst us. Alexandra Fuller recalls in her electrifying new memoir that her mother  “Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she has on occasion preferred to introduce herself "had always wanted a writer in the family, “not only because she loves books and has therefore always wanted to appear in them (the way she likes large, expensive hats, and likes to appear in them) but also because -  "she has always wanted to live a fabulously romantic life, for which she needed a reasonably pliable witness as scribe " you can read the rest of the NY Times review   here.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jo Jo Moyes  
We have also enjoyed a couple of her books and this is getting good press. It promises to be a sophisticated, page-turning double love story spanning forty years-an unforgettable Brief Encounter for our times.  It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter.

Hand Me Down World
Written by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones - this is the story of an African maid working in a hotel in Tunisia meets another African from Berlin there on business. They have a brief affair. She has a child. She believes they will marry. She signs documents she does not understand. One day the man leaves with the child. Thus begins one of the most heart-wrenching novels you will read this year or any year for that matter. Get the tissues out girls!

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
This is a second book by the author of Still Alice, which we have heard great things about but is not yet in our book club. It's my choice this month and I am excited to read it first. The cover says that it is about Sarah Nickersons who has it all a  successful career, a loving family and and a second home. she has it all but in a split second when she takes her eye off the road - her life is changed! I started it as soon as I got home and am already gripped!

....and lastly Karma Suture by R Kendal to keep you in stitches!!!!!

Sue Carey is a driven, 20-something doctor struggling to preserve her sanity, sobriety, and humanity in the corridors of one of Cape Town's biggest public hospitals. Finding imaginative ways of saving patients is her life's work, though finding a man who wants more than a one-night stand would be nice as well. Both harrowing and hilarious, her journey of self-discovery leads to the bedsides of the patients who make her weep and the men who make her weak. Based on the author's own experiences as a doctor in South Africa, this medical drama packs a quirky, feminine punch as it reveals powerful lessons on pain, sex, love, and ultimately, hope. Several of us enjoyed The Angina Monologues and there is already a queue to read this one in Book club.

You may have read some of the above - please comment on your book experience!