Monday, 24 June 2013

The reading forecast: 5 great wet weather reads

What's the reading forecast?

It's wet and wild here in Sydney. Frankly, I just want to hibernate. The only good thing about being forced to stay indoors is the extra guilt-free reading time it brings. Fortunately, I've got several books on my to-read list and, as soon as my work is done, I'll be curling up with a hot water bottle and one of these:

1. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
All I know about Hosseini's new book is that, like his previous novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, it begins in Afghanistan. I loved both these books so that's enough for me. I'll let you know how I get on.

2. Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie
Described as a 'riveting psychological thriller about a grieving mother who finds out years after her daughter's death that her child may still be alive,' this book intrigues me for several reasons. The book's subject matter, of course, sounds gripping and I'm sure it will be beautifully written too; McKenzie is a very successful journalist turned author. Who knows, I might even pick up a few tips from her.

3. The Twins by Saskia Sarginson
I lived and worked in London in the '80's. Sarginson did too - she was the editor of Company, a glossy magazine for young women; while I was in PR, trying to garner publicity in magazines such as hers. I didn't really know her, but I did recognise her name when I saw it on the front cover of The Twins. I heard she excelled in her MA in creative writing and am sure this book, probably just the first from this talented Brit, will be a joy to read.

4. The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman
I was given this book a little while ago and haven't yet gotten around to reading it, possibly because I know I'm going to love it and don't want to fritter it away in 10-minute breaks between jobs. It's described as 'a mesmerising novel of loyalty, love and unbearable choices.' I know it will be one to savour.

Andy Mulligan's The Boy with Two Heads: a book worth sharing?
5. The Boy with Two Heads by Andy Mulligan
I love reading to my two boys and am always on the look out for the next book we can share. The book blurb says: 'How would you feel if you woke up and found another head growing out of your neck? ... a living, breathing, talking head with a rude, sharp tongue and an evil sense of humour. It knows all your darkest thoughts and it's not afraid to say what it thinks.' It sounds like the old Richard E. Grant movie, How to Get Ahead in Advertising - reinterpreted for kids. That's fine with us. It's a great idea for a story and somehow I think Mulligan's version might be even more entertaining.

What's on your to-read list this winter?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Nigella and Charles: is this their final chapter?

Nigella Lawson: time for a fresh start?

Dark, voluptuous and a great cook, Nigella Lawson is everything I'm not and I like her all the more for it. We don't hear too much about her in Sydney but when we do, she reminds me of my life in London. 

My husband and I were given How to Eat as a wedding present and I bought How to be a Domestic Goddess when I was pregnant with my first son. I loved her elegant and rather camp writing style as much as I loved her recipes. She was part of London weekends too. When The Times  plopped through the letterbox each Saturday morning, I would go straight to the magazine. For her column about beauty and make-up (wittier and more intelligent than you might think) and her first husband, John Diamond's column about his battle with oral cancer. Reading them both was a Saturday morning ritual and I joined the nation in mourning when John died. More than a decade later, I still have Nigella's books on a shelf in my kitchen and dip into them regularly, especially when I'm planning on baking.

She hasn't been much on my radar over the last few years. Those Twinings ads are enough to make me want to give up tea altogether and I haven't bought any of her recent books. But I couldn't have been more horrified to see her on the news this week, with her husband, Charles Saatchi's hands around her throat. I read that Saatchi has now been cautioned by police yet, bizarrely, he claims no real harm has been done:

"Nigella's tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt."

If that's what he thinks, Saatchi evidently knows more about fiction than the rest of us. I was relieved to hear that Nigella and her children from her first marriage had left the family home. I hope they don't return. Nigella has already lost her mother, Vanessa; her sister, Thomasina; and her first husband, John. After so much sadness in her life, I'd like to think her story will have a happy ending. After what's unfolded this week, Saatchi is no hero in my book. I hope to God, he isn't in hers.

What do you think?

Friday, 7 June 2013

The wonder of Wonder: 5 reasons I love this book

May was madness in our house. The combination of a well-above average number of writing projects, the kids' school and sports commitments, the impending publication of Burned and all of us bar the dog falling sick, meant my stress levels were at an all-time high. Trying to squeeze more productive hours out of each day, I got up too early, went to bed too late, and ditched every task I deemed 'non-essential'. Sadly, reading was one of the casualties.

So it has taken me weeks to read R. J. Palacio's Wonder. I read the last few pages this morning and am so glad I did. It's one of the best books I've read in ages. Here's why:

1. It's a simple story, beautifully told. The language is restrained, understated and all the more powerful for it. Here's the most famous example:
'My name is August. I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.' 
2. The story allows us to inhabit the minds of kids and adults. As we follow August's journey through fifth grade, we see his story from several points of view. It's a great technique and skillfully used here - all our questions are answered but with the lightest of touches.

3. It's an elegantly structured book - the story arc follows the school year and each bite-sized chapter leaves you wanting more.

4. Its simplicity is deceptive. As I say, in many ways Wonder is a simple tale, but it does pose bigger questions. 'Which side of the fence would I be on in this situation?' for starters.

5. Wonder is, without question, a great read for adults or kids. Better still you can enjoy it together - I'm going to start it with my boys tonight.

There is so much I can learn from this book, as a writer and as a human being. I saw on Twitter that Wonder is being made into a movie. I'll be first in the queue.