December has been a good month for reading. Since last post I have read some great books. December book club was lovely with a Christmas theme - bubbly and delicious home made mince pies and other treats. Books being read are much the same as last month, the most popular and up for most discussion being The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Can't wait to read it myself. The sequels to this first novel have also been put in, so now the whole series is there for us. The Blue Notebook, about child prostitution in India also provoked a lot of talk. Far too depressing and awful for me to read, especially since my year living there. Well and truly over exposed to this underbelly.

Book club books I have read are as follows :

BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin

I loved this beautifully written and thoughtful story of a young girl's easing into the adult world. Eilish is born and bred in a small Irish town, in the 1950s, the town not having much to offer young people. The expectation is that she will get married and have children just like all the other young women in the town have done for decades. Even if there are few eligible and attractive men around. There is a sense that she has no control over her life. Quite by chance and quite fortuitously the decision is made for her by her mother and the priest that she move to New York and begin a life there. And she does. Although it does take a while, as one would expect, for her to find her feet with a job, the boarding house she lives in with good Catholic girls, and a social life. Slowly the quiet, shy country girl blossoms into a confident, interesting and interested young lady. Until she is called back to Ireland following a tragedy. There she finds that the ties that bind are indeed very strong and some serious decision making is required.

The style of writing is a little detached and some of the others in our group who have read this book did not like it for this reason. I think that is what makes such a mundane, ordinary life so fascinating and such a great read. We come to care very much about Eilish and the decision she has to make. In fact, for me it became a page turner. I have read The Blackwater Lightship and just could not get excited about it at all. This however is a completely different book, it feels to me that he loved writing it, that he loves and cares for all his characters and this comes through in his writing. As in real life there are plenty of oddities about all the characters in the story, but that just makes it more real and endearing to the reader.

We also learn quite a bit about New York City at this time, and I think Mr Toibin also has a great affection for this city as well as the variety of people that live in it.

Highly recommended.

THE CARPET WARS by Christoper Kremmer

This is not the first book I have read about this deeply troubled area of the world. It would appear the conflict of the last fifty years or so is nothing new, we just know more about it now, and the impact on the rest of the world is more profound. The first book I read was in the 12 months or so after 9/11 when places we had never heard of were in the daily news all the time. In An Unexpected Light Briton Jason Elliot recounts his time in Afghanistan in the early 1980s disguised as a fighter for the anti-Soviet mujheddin resistance movement. Scary enough. English foreign correspondent Christina Lamb details her involvement in most of the world's conflicts of the last 25 years in Small Wars Permitting, one of her favourite countries being Afghanistan.

Australian journalist Christopher Kremmer uses his passion for Oriental carpets as his device to take him from country to country and regions within the Middle East prior to 9/11. Afghanistan features heavily of course, but the chapters on Iran and Kashmir are particularly interesting. He also travels to Iraq, Pakistan, and the various -kistan countries north of Iraq/Afghanistan and west of China. Plenty of history, right back to Alexander the Great, plenty of war and horror, both past and present, and the sheer indestructibility of the peoples who live in these areas of the world. They have seen it all before, it seems there is no longer horror, but simply inevitability that things never change.

My only criticism of the book is that I would have liked an introductory chapter on Oriental carpets that summarised all the information distributed through the book into some logical organised form. I wish too the photos of the carpets were in colour! I became so interested in all this that I went to the local public library and looked at books there.

This is a book to expand and open the mind about an area much maligned by the West. We can learn from Mr Kremmer's travels and observations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq prior to 2001.


This would have to be one of the most thought provoking, interesting and fascinating books I have read in a very long time. In a society infatuated with the concept of success, beginning right from when a child is born, this book is a revelation. We obsess over our children's academic achievement, the best school to go to, their class mates, the calibre of the teachers, league and result tables and so on. Whereas in fact it seems that these are not the only factors that influence a person's final success. In a lot of cases it is the well-worn adage '20% talent, 80% effort' (the 10,000 hours scenario), or what time of the year you happen to be born (early in the year for Canadian ice hockey or the under 20 All Blacks if you play rugby in New Zealand), or what culture you belong to (Asians and maths). I found this last example particularly interesting as at the local high school about 1/3 of the school roll is of Chinese or Korean birth, or 1st generation born. The academic achievement from this school is very high, as is the very high representation of academic prizes going to these students. This is at the expense of the WASP students,
who excel in the sports and cultural (except music) areas. Again Asian students take out the music prizes. Virtually all these Asian students have out-of-school tuition, and as Mr Gladwell points out, these high achievers don't necessarily have the highest IQs, but through sheer hard work, effort and constant practice at subjects like maths they beat the pants off everyone else.

The other section of the book I found very interesting was the culture differences between an airline such as Korean Air which traditionally is very hierarchical and a Western airline which is more egalitarian. These are of course direct reflections of the overall cultures the airlines operate in, the cockpit being a very focussed and intense example. My husband flies for a Western airline and spent 20 months flying for an Indian airline which was also very hierarchical. He related very easily to the behaviour in the cockpit of the Korean Air airplane.

For Christmas I was given Blink and The Tipping Point. From reading other book blogs these sound better than Outliers and I am very much looking forward to reading them.


A most interesting mixture between small town Ireland complete with all the personalities such a community could throw up, and the exotica of three beautiful Iranian exiles and their culinary traditions. Very similar to Joanne Harris' Chocolat in terms of plot, protagonists, eccentrics and baddies. Uncannily so. Nevertheless with a Middle Eastern leaning to it rather than chocolate and gypsies, this is also a light hearted and heart warming read, good for summer holidays or evenings by the fire. I don't think it is nearly as well written as Chocolat, being far more syrupy and too touchy-feely for my liking. The food thing and the recipes however sounded beautiful and I could imagine the aromas and tastes from how they were described. Maybe Ms Mehran should be a food writer.


Been a while...


A most surprising book in every possible way, from the intriguing title, the cover, the author, the plot and the way it is told! Firstly the author. Muriel Barbery is not English or American or from an English speaking country as you would imagine, but is French! Google her and she appears to be the epitome of French chicness and refinement. She is a philosopher, and lives in Japan of all places with her husband. She loves Japan and everything Japanese. The story is translated from the French, and that must have been one helluva job for the translator. The sentences are very long, but extremely very well put together and punctuated so you never feel too lost. Her vocabulary is, to say the least, extensive, using words I have never heard of so the dictionary was close by. But don't be put off by all this. Not at all, as I said, everything about this book is surprising, including of course the story and how it unfolds.

Mme Renee Michel is 54, of very lowly poor origins, uneducated in the traditional sense. She has been a widow for ten years and a concierge at a very high-end apartment block in Paris for 27 years. She is 'invisible' to the inhabitants of the building who include amongst others old money, a high ranking politician, self- proclaimed greatest food critic in the world. Also included are the spouses, children, pets etc. But like the book, Mme Renee is also full of surprises being self-taught in art, music, literature, current events, philosophy and so on. The other main character is Paloma, a 12 year old girl, daughter of said high ranking politician who hates her life, everything and everyone in it. She plans to kill herself on her 13th birthday and take the whole building out with her.

These two extreme personalities eventually come together along with a number of others in the building. Through a series of events and encounters their individual views of the world and their places in it change. It surprises all the way to the last sentence. From my own personal point of view there was a bit too much philosophising from the various characters, especially in the middle where I was starting to get a bit fed up with the author's take on the world. The story of course does come back to reality and some action, plus in parts it is exquisitely written (and translated), so naturally I was compelled to continue reading. Glad I did.

FINDING TOM CONNOR by Sarah-Kate Lynch

Molly is trying on her wedding dress, when through the ground level changing room gap she sees a very sexy pair of red high heels standing very close to a pair of very familiar looking men's shoes. With her wedding dreams and her future life of wedded bliss and lots of children in tatters, wearing only her dress and a pair of Doc Martens, she flees from Auckland to Ireland with her very wealthy career woman aunt in the search for a long lost uncle/brother by the name of Tom Connor. Parallel to all this and in alternate chapters is the story of the inhabitants of a small Irish village that finds itself the center of religious fervor as the result of a sighting of the Virgin Mary, who then proceeds to show herself at 4pm every day. You wonder when or even if these two wildly disparate plots will ever join, and eventually in a roundabout protracted sort of journey they do. With some great stories and episodes in the meantime. Thoroughly enjoyable story with the hapless Molly coming to grips with her imploded life, and the aunt also discovering a side of herself she had lost touch with. Excellent book to take on holiday, a good story told with much warmth, affection for the subject and lots of humour.


Linda Grant is an English journalist and author whose book The Clothes on Their Backs was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize. It was apparent from reading this book last year that she has a love of clothing and dress, not just for protection or warmth, and not just to show off brands, size of budget and so on. For her dress and clothing are an integral part of one's self-expression, who we are and where we have been. This latest book takes a very personal look at the business of dressing, why we dress the way we do, why females of all ages are seemingly biologically programmed to love clothes and males aren't. She writes about some very interesting people and stages in twentieth century fashion history. The one thing I have really taken away from this book is not to hide a love of clothing or colour, or to be afraid to wear what you really like rather than just what is in the shops or in the fashion pages. She also makes the comment that if you look at old photos of yourself, what you are wearing more than anything else will instantly bring back memories of the person that you were then, how you were feeling and so on. A most enjoyable read that also makes you think.



Dog On It by Spencer Quinn - funny story about the world through a dog's eyes. Easy read

Someone Knows My Name
by Lawrence Hill - story of young girl kidnapped by slave traders, her life as a slave and as a free woman, ultimately ending up back in Africa where she started from. Inspiring.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - first in the recently published trilogy by a Swedish writer, taking the world by storm. People are mad for this book.

The Adventure of English and Son of War by Melvyn Bragg - one of our readers loves Melvyn Bragg so is introducing him to the rest of us. First book is about the history of the English language, and the second one is part of a trilogy about a man, his experiences of the wars, and how they affect his subsequent life.

Between Assainations - by Aravind Adiga - follow up to his Man Booker winner The White Tiger. Not a novel as such, but reads more like short stories. Similar tone and themes to his first book.

The Blue Notebook by J. Levine - more harrowing reading about modern day India, child prostitution in this case. Very moving but also very horrific.

Where Underpants Come From by Joe Bennett - entertaining and interesting read of Joe's journeys to discover where his Made In China underpants actually come from.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - if you spend 10,000 hours doing anything then you too can be as successful as the world's most successful people! A look at what builds success and why some people seem to have it more sorted than the rest of us.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin - poignant and beautifully written tale of a young Irish girl and her new life in New York during the 1950s. Mundane subject matter made exquisite.

A December Week by Sebastian Faulks - from the first person to read it, an excellent book by this popular author

Luke warm

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Nieffienger

The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte - apparently not nearly as beautiful as his other books.



Jewelia is the name of the necklace in this book, named after Julia Child, heroine to many. This alone made me snigger into my cup of tea. A true story, the premise behind the book is rather nice I think, a group of women in a Californian city band together to purchase a beautiful diamond necklace that each has for a month at a time to wear or lend out or whatever they want to do with it, passing it onto the next person. Much like a book club I guess. Each of the 13 chapters focuses on a different woman in the group, detailing a bit of her background, how she felt about the concept, her 'relationship' with the necklace, how wearing it affected her, because funnily enough it seems to affect all of them in some way. Mostly from a self-esteem point of view, as if the necklace has been endowed with some sort of magical charm. And this is my problem with this book. California is probably the new age/self-help capital of the world, and that is what this book is all about. I found it all a bit ridiculous really, reading about how a necklace is able to transform lives. But on the other hand, if people feel better about themselves because of it then great; I just don't think a book needs to be written and published documenting it. Nevertheless the real world does intrude in the form of petty arguments and differences between the women, and little power plays that go on in any 'committee' or club where people meet for a common cause. One woman for example gets upset when another woman, on her turn, lends the necklace out to the daughter of a family friend for a special occasion, before her own daughter gets to wear it for a similar event. I don't think it is brilliantly written, it is almost as if it has been put together in a hurry, there is very little depth to it. I am not really sure what the purpose of the book was - to tell us about 13 women and their relationship with the necklace, or the 'management' and 'ownership' of the necklace, or its use as a fund raising tool, which is barely touched upon but could have been quite interesting to find out more about.

THE WHITE TIGER By Aravind Adiga

A number of us have now read this book. We all enjoyed it very much, primarily for its sheer story telling. Set in modern day India it tells the rag to riches story of Balram, a young lad from 'The Darkness', an area of extreme poverty and deprivation, where all the wealth, such as it is, is held in the corrupt and dirty hands of a few. It is narrated by Balram himself in the form of a letter to the Chinese Premier who is about to make a state visit to India. He is basically telling the Premier not to believe all the gloss and hype about India, but to look a little more closely and he will see the evil, the corruption, the insidiousness of the caste system, and the inability to escape it unless you are prepared to take some very drastic action which is what Balram does. At many times he is not a likeable character, but the writing is skilful enough that the reader does sympathise/empathise, and wants him to achieve his goal, ie get rich! It is probably a very simplisitic view of modern day India, and many Indians probably do not like it, but for sheer storytelling, and pace, you can't go past this as a good read. And unlike many Man Booker winners of the past, it is a jolly good read.

PEOPLE OF THE BOOK By Geraldine Brooks

Another great read, with excellent story telling, tonnes of history and social commentary, and excellent characterisation. The 'Book' is a Haggadah, a book of prayer used in the Jewish Passover ceremony. Geraldine Brooks' novel is a fictionalised account of a Haggadah that has been preserved and hidden and protected all over Eastern and Western Europe since the 1400s. You can google it, and see illustrations of it, and read all about its real history. It is absolutely fascinating. The central character, other than the Book, is Hanna, an Australian book restorer, who finds herself in Sarajevo restoring the Haggadah. From a number of items she finds in the book, and some marks and illustrations on the pages, the story of it unfolds back through the centuries. Parallel with this story is Hanna's own story as she travels from Sarajevo to Austria, New York and Australia. And that is also very readable. In the past we have read other books by Geraldine Brooks - Foreign Correspondent, Year of Wonders, and March. I don't think any of us have read all of them, but we have enjoyed what we have read. I personally think this is a marvellous story, gripping from beginning to end.

DIRT MUSIC by Tim Winton

Multi layered, beautifully written, descriptive and atmospheric. A love story revolving around a love triangle, but also a journey of self discovery for each of the three troubled characters, each with more baggage than an inner city railway station. They are a mess, and so are the relationships. Set against the raw and rough and unforgiving land and sea scape of Western Australia, beauty and love and forgiveness somehow happen amongst these three damaged individuals. What remains with me the most is the power of the human spirit to overcome and that where there is life there is hope. It is not a sad story by any means but there are a number of obstacles and challenges. Georgie Jutland, in her early 40s, an ex-nurse who somehow finds herself living with fisherman Jim Buckridge, sad widower with 2 young sons, in a fishing town on the coast. Jim has a hard man reputation to live up to which is not really him. Georgie has come to the realization her life has no meaning but does not know what to do about it other than drink and roam the beaches in the middle of the night. Lastly there is Luther Fox, probably around the same age, born and bred in the same area, who is dealing with losing his family in a tragic vehicle accident, of which he was the only survivor. He is also leading an aimless life, trying to make a living by fishing illegally. The clash when the lives of these three merge keeps you turning the pages. I have read 'Cloudstreet', an early novel of Tim Winton's, which I did not really enjoy, but I am glad I persevered with another of his books.