Have you read…? The year to date in books

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book post so I think it’s time to do a quick round up of what has been sitting next to my bed, my couch, and shoved in my bag and carried around!

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The Book of Hygge by Louisa Thomsen Brits ‘Hygge’, that lovely concept of Danish cosiness, is hot right now, yes? And there are quite A LOT of books in the bookshops explaining to harried souls how they can incorporate hygge into their daily lives. This was the ‘how to hygge’ book that I received in my Christmas pile. It is a lovely looking book. The pics are muted and tranquil and they made me want to spend my days wandering through forests or sitting by candlelight with a mug of hot chocolate. And, to be honest, this is pretty much what the text said – over and over again! There was a lot of ‘hygge is stopping by at your neighbours and sharing a glass of wine on the verandah’,  ‘hygge is a basket of knitted slippers at your front door’, or ‘hygge is lighting a candle and eating breakfast together’. Now I am not averse to any of these suggestions, but I probably only need to hear the suggestion once, not once each chapter.  Reading the book made a long haul plane flight feel a bit more hygge-like, but I’m not sure if I’d been sitting on my couch at home that I would have continued reading it from cover to cover.

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The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North Fairly self-explanatory from the title what this one is about! The story of the wunderkind filmmaker Sophie’s life and death is told by those closest to her – her brother, ex-husband and lover, and those who were part of her working life – film subject, film reviewer and producer. As I read the novel, I was a little unsure how I felt about it. I wondered if I was learning more about the characters who had had relationships with Sophie, than I was about Sophie herself. The focus of their recollections seemed to be how THEY responded to Sophie, how she made THEM feel. But as I read on, I started thinking that in showing how they were affected by Sophie, they were painting a picture of her – a self-contained, distant young woman who was an observer of life (appropriate for a filmmaker!), who,  when she did become a participant, seemed driven by her own desires rather than the desire to share herself with others. For the most part, I found it difficult to warm to her, but Anna North has managed to infuse her with enough victimhood and trauma in her life for her to be seen as a psychologically isolated, tragic young woman. Not sure that I super enjoyed it, but the fact that I am still mulling it over weeks down the track shows it was an affecting read.

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The Dry by Jane Harper This was a goody! Set in the fictitious sunburnt Victorian town of Kiewarra, this thriller seeks to discover who was responsible for the murder of the Hadler family. Is it a murder-suicide, or is there a killer in the small town? Aaron Falk, a former local, now a member of the Federal Police, returns for the funeral of his old friend, Luke Hadler, and is persuaded by Luke’s father to assist in the investigation. Aaron’s return stirs up the town’s emotions surrounding the crircumstances of the death, years earlier, of Ellie Deacon, a friend of Aaron’s and Luke’s. Were they involved in her death? Had Luke killed her? Had Aaron? This novel had sufficient twists and turns to keep me wondering throughout as to what had taken place, and satisfyingly, kept me guessing until the end on both counts. Recommended!

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Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance And now for some non fiction! Hillbilly Elegy is part autobiography, part social commentary. JD Vance grew up in Kentucky, then Ohio before becoming a Marine and then graduating from Yale Law School. He spent much of his life living with his grandparents whilst his mother battled drug addiction and cycled through one failing relationship after another. Vance shines a light on what constitutes hillbilly culture – its genesis and how it has spread from the south to the Midwest as hillbillies have migrated in the search for work. Alongside his own story of what it was like to grow up in this culture, his time spent in the Marines, and at Yale, he describes the culture of a people who feel hardly done by through the decline blue collar jobs; who feel minorities have gained an advantage over them through Democrat presidencies. Being Australian, I have read this book as an outsider – I cannot judge how accurate his evaluation is. I have read some criticisms of the book; that Vance seems to be saying that because he has become successful, others could too if they’d only put in the work. I didn’t get that impression from the book. I saw it more as explaining why there was a disaffected group in US society ripe for the politics of Donald Trump. And throughout, for me, he was conscious of his good fortune in having a family who despite their violent tendencies, aggressive behaviour and addictions, valued education and knew that he could achieve. They knew he had the ability to choose a path in life, that he didn’t have to accept what was, and it is this that he feels needs to be role modelled for those growing up within the hillbilly culture. An interesting read to learn more about US society.

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Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty I’ve never read any Liane Moriarty before and with Big Little Lies hitting the small screen, I thought it was time to give her a go. I’m not sure if this novel is reflective of her others, but I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by this one. The story revolves around three couples, Erika and Oliver, Erika’s ‘best friend’ Clementine and her husband, Sam, and Erika’s neighbours, Vid and Tiffany. The three couples, plus the daughters of Clementine and Sam, and Vid and Tiffany, gather for a barbecue one afternoon at Vid and Tiffany’s. Early on we learn that something has taken place at the barbecue that shakes the relationship between the couples. The chapters flick between the day of the barbecue and the present where we are made aware of the strains in Erika and Clementine’s friendship, Erika’s mother’s hoarding, Clementine’s cello audition, and Vid and Tiffany’s attempts to maintain a relationship with Clementine and Sam in the wake of the barbecue. For me this was a page turner but only because there was such a heavy-handedness in writing about what had happened at the barbecue – along the lines of ‘if only we’d stayed home’, ‘if only we hadn’t agreed’ – that I was saying through gritted teeth ‘just get on with it!’. I’m not sure that I felt the fallout from the incident to be entirely warranted, and I didn’t warm to the characters sufficiently to be concerned with their stories once the incident had been revealed. As a holiday read, maybe it’s okay. I guess I’d say ‘proceed with caution’!

Have you been reading anything interesting this year? Have you read any of these? Should I try another Liane Moriarty?

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11 thoughts on “Have you read…? The year to date in books

  1. That’s exactly how I felt about Truly, Madly, Guilty. I’m a first time Liane Moriarty reader too, and this doesn’t make me want to run out and buy her other books. In fact, since the big reveal I can’t be bothered to even finish it. Thumbs down from me too!

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  2. I read a book recent, on hygge, it’s all a bit meh I think!

    I’m liking that book called ‘the dry’ I like a good mystery must look out for that . Truly madly sounds like the book/film the slap I think it was called ??

    My bedtime reading is a bit bland at the minute, I need to up my game !

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  3. You’re such a fabulous book reviewer, Carolyn! I loved The Dry, too. I haven’t read Truly, madly, Guiltily but have read Big Little Lies – and I am enjoying the mini-series. Might have to put off reading TMG now, after your review – too many other good books to read!

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    1. Thanks, Karen! I was having lunching with friends the other day and they are watching the show and one of them had read the book and enjoyed it so I am prepared to give it a go. Yes, put TMG towards the bottom of the ‘to read’ pile!

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  4. I love reading your reviews Carolyn. I was particularly interested in Hillbilly Elegy – not a book I had heard of. So interesting hearing an ‘insiders’ account of where the support for Trump has come from – it reminded me of this intelligent article about where the support for Hanson has come from in Australia – https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/jul/04/pauline-hanson-takes-centre-stage-again-but-this-time-we-should-listen-not-lampoon?CMP=soc_568 – is seems like there is far too much grand-standing and not enough deep listening going on – a much more effective approach to finding real solutions that bind rather then divide. I agree Truly, Madly, Guilty was a poor read. I much preferred Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, far superior at timing the unfolding mysteries and drama. Please keep the reviews coming!

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    1. Thanks, Sam! I’m pleased to hear you like the reviews. I’ll check out that article about Pauline Hanson. I’ve heard Big Little Lies is good so I’ll try to borrow that one. I’m prepared to give Liane another chance!

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  5. Your book reviews are delightful and I love the way you criticize them. Very well done. I’m starting Hillbilly Elegy today for my Nonfiction Book Club (here in Pennsylvania). Thanks for your review(s).

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    1. Thanks Joan! I am pleased you enjoyed them. I’d be interested to hear what you and your book group think of Hillbilly Elegy. Whilst I’ve visited the US quite a few times, I’ve never been exposed to Appalachian culture so I can only read it through an outsider’s eyes. But for me, it did seem to explain a little about what is happening in US politics at the moment (as we see it presented in Australia!).

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