Monthly Archives: January 2017

Travel-The-Globe Thursday: Topping & Company Booksellers, St. Andrews

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In August 2015 I did some travelling around Ireland, Scotland and England, and naturally, I visited all of the bookish places I possibly could in that time. Compared to Australia, Ireland and the UK have many, many, MANY more physical bookstores and it is a much bigger industry over there than it is here in Oz. Out of all the bookstores I visited (and that’s quite a lot!) my absolute favourite was Topping and Company Booksellers of St. Andrews in Scotland.

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My favourite thing about it is the fact that it looks EXACTLY like my ideal movie-style bookstore – wall to wall, floor to ceiling timber bookshelves, sliding bookshelf ladders (a book lovers dream!), comfy couches and chairs, little cosy nooks and just every surface covered in bookish goodness! I could have spent HOURS just basking in the glory of this gorgeous store!

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Another thing that really stood out was the genuine friendliness and helpfulness of the staff there. When I mentioned to one of the staff members that I work in a bookstore in Sydney, Australia, she told me how she got her start in bookstores in Sydney! She then proceeded to invite me to make myself comfortable on one of their couches and she went and got me a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits so I could sit back and enjoy the store (it all came out on a tray complete with matching teacup, saucer and teapot).

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One of my favourite things about bookstores in the UK generally, but especially at Topping and Company is the sheer number of signed editions of books! Compared to how many we get in bookstores in Australia, it was a little overwhelming trying to only pick a few to buy. As most authors – especially UK and US authors – tend to tour the UK when promoting their books, it stands to reason they would have more signed editions than us poor little forgotten bookstores in Australia.

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Topping and Company in St. Andrews still remains my favourite bookstore that I have ever visited.

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Must-Read Monday: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

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I love a good historical fiction novel as I find it a really interesting and engaging way to learn more about periods and people in history. While The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is an historical fiction novel, it is one with a difference. There is a touch of magic in this one, which really appealed to me.

The story takes place in Victorian London in the 1880s. We are introduced to Thaniel who one day inexplicably finds an intricately and beautifully made gold pocket watch in his small rented apartment. Fast-forward six months, and this pocket watch mysteriously and inexplicably saves him from a fatal bomb blast that completely destroys Scotland Yard. Wanting answers, Thaniel goes in search of the maker of the watch. He discovers its maker is Keita Mori, a solitary Japanese immigrant. He forms a close friendship with Mori, although Thaniel feels as though Mori is deliberately keeping something from him. When Thaniel meets Grace Carrow, an eccentric physicist, he starts to question his friendship with Mori.

This novel was an absolute beauty to read. The atmosphere the author creates really puts you right into the heart of the story, and she expertly blends real historical happenings with little bits of fantasy and magic. The biggest strengths in this novel are the two main characters, Thaniel and Mori. They end up not feeling like characters, but like real people from an age gone by. Thaniel starts out as the typical polite, proper Englishman, and Mori the quirky, odd foreigner. As the story progresses, and as their relationship develops, each of them reveals more of their character, and soon they start to change and affect one another. They jump off the page with their complexities and their personalities.

I listened to this novel as an audiobook, and it was definitely they best way I could have consumed this story as it made everything seem so much more alive and realistic, despite the magical element in the tale.

This novel felt like what a steampunk-style novel done right should look like. I normally do not enjoy reading steampunk, but this book was right up my alley. A light hand and restraint from the author definitely made this a trope-free, Victorian fiction novel that has quickly become one of my favourites. Ultimately an examination of how much chance, coincidence and luck play a part in our lives, this novel is charming, beautiful, profound and simply a joy to read.

Travel-the-Globe Thursday: The British Library


As a lover of books and an aspiring librarian, I LOVE visiting libraries in other countries and the British Library is one of my favourites.


The British Library is the second largest library in the world based on the number of items catalogued. As a legal deposit library, the British Library receives a copy of every book produced in the UK and Ireland, which is approximately 8,000 per day. The Library’s collections include 14 million books as well as a substantial number of manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 2000 BC.

The Magna Carta

One of the best things about the British Library is that it is free to visit! They have some of the most significant treasures in the world on display for visitors to peruse including: Shakespeare’s First Folio, the Magna Carta, handwritten Beatles lyrics and drawings on pages from Leonardo Da Vinci’s Notebook.

The King’s Library Tower

My favourite part of the British Library is the King’s Library Tower. This is a six-storey glass and bronze structure that dominates the British Library’s entrance hall, and it is just an amazing sight! It is worth visiting just to see it.

Wishlist Wednesday: Penguin Teen 2017 Releases

I am going to do something a little different this week. I am lucky enough to be in Melbourne for a few days and lo and behold, the Penguin Teen Australia showcase just happened to be on at the same time. So, I am going to give you my Top 5 Penguin Teen 2017 Books that are on my wishlist!

#1 Valentine by Jodi McAlister

Ok, so even though I have secured myself a pre-release copy of this gorgeous novel, it technically doesn’t come out until February, so it qualifies as being a wishlist item. This book is about four teenagers who are all born on the same Valentine’s Day start to disappear and bodies start piling up. Pearl has to figure out what’s going on at the same time as dealing with Finn, the most annoying boy she knows who she shares her Valentine’s birthday with. One of the four kids is a Seelie fairy – the Valentine – and now the Unseelie have come to kill them. I love books based around fairy folklore and so this is a book I am very keen to read!

#2 Wreck by Fleur Ferris

In the third book from Fleur Ferris, we meet Tamara. She has just finished high school and is planning her life at University with her best friend Relle. Things start to unravel when she arrives home to find her house has been broken into and ransacked, and her life put in danger. Fleur’s books always give me a chill and that’s because her stories and characters are so real and relatable. I’m really looking forward to this one! This book will be out in Australia in July.

#3 One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Pitched to us at the showcase as The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, I am super keen for this book! It is the story of what happens when five kids walk into detention but only four make it out alive. They are all suspects and they all have secrets that they don’t want to share. This book will be out in Australia in June.

#4 This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

This is one for dystopian/fantasy fans and sounds very 5th Wave-esque. It tells the tale of the daughter of a leading geneticist. When he dies, she must take on the task of solving the mystery heleaves behind in order to save the world from a lethal plague. This book will be out in Australia in November.

#5 Troublemakers by Catherine Barter

A powerful over about activism, terrorism and family that is set in London. We meet Alena whose mother died when she was little. Raised by her older brother and his boyfriend, her life is about to be turned upside down when a bomber starts leaving explosives in supermarkets around East London. This book sounds extremely relevant and very emotional – a must read! This book will be out in Australia in July.

Top Ten Tuesday: Picture Books

Picture books were my first introduction to stories, and ultimately played a big part in forming my love of books and stories. To this day, I still love a good picture book and am a firm believer that they are not just for young children! So, here are my Top Ten Picture Books.

pigcover#1 Pig the Pug – Aaron Blabey

I love all of Aaron Blabey’s picture books, but Pig the Pug has to be my favourite. In this book Pig is not willing to share his toys with his friend Trevor the sausage dog. However, Pig soon learns the hard way that sharing isn’t so bad after all! This book is great fun, with rhyming prose that kids love and a moral at the end of the story.

#2 Ida Always – Caron Levis & Charles Santosoida-always-9781481426404_hr

A beautiful and sad tale that is perfect for introducing the concept of grief to young children. Gus and Ida are polar bears who live in a zoo and are best friends. One day Ida gets sick, and Gus learns that she isn’t going to get better. Gus learns that even after Ida is gone, she will always be with him through the memories he has of her. This is a very moving book.

16101018#3 The Day the Crayons Quit – Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers

One of my ’go-to’ picture book recommendations at work, this fantastic book tells the story of Duncan and his crayons. Duncan opens up his crayon box one day, only to find all of his crayons are gone! Each one has left him a note explaining why they have quit. This is a funny story that will have children and adults alike in stitches!

#4 Possum Magic – Mem Fox & Julie Vivaspossum-magic

An absolute Australian classic! Grandma Poss decides to use her bush magic to make Hush invisible in order to keep her safe. However, when Hush wants to be visable again, Grandma Poss can’t remember which specific food Hush needs to eat to break the spell. The two set out on a road trip around Australia sampling Aussie food staples such as ANZAC biscuits and Minties in an effort to find the right food item. This is a fun, whimsical story that beautifully showcases all things Australian.

9780140541120#5 Animalia – Graeme Base

Graeme Base’s books are the kind that can be enjoyed by kids of any age. Animalia is one of my favourites. Animalia creates a fun imaginary world where every letter of the alphabet has a story created out of words starting with that letter. It starts, naturally with “A is for an Armoured Armadillo Avoiding an Angry Alligator”. The fun of this book comes from finding all the hidden objects in each scene that start with the letter being showcased.

#6 Each Peach Pear Plum – Janet & Allan Ahlberg6193c55pyhl

This book has been a favourite of mine from a very young age. This beautiful rhyming book encourages young children to interact with various nursery rhyme and storybook characters, as they try to spy the different characters in each of the gorgeous illustrations. This book is an absolute classic that never gets old!

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#7 The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

Another absolute classic is The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This beautiful counting book is a hit with children due to its brightly coloured illustrations and the finger-sized holes for exploring. This book also shows children the life cycle of a caterpillar.

#8 Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy – Lynley Doddcover

This is another classic rhyming story that has long been a favourite of mine. Hairy Maclary decides to go for a walk through town. At each house he passes, one of his canine friends comes out and joins him. Eventually they all encounter Scarface Claw, the toughest, roughest cat in town, and this is where things get interesting. The terrific illustrations really cap off an engaging story.

the-fantastic-flying-books-of-mr-morris-lessmore-9780857079459_hr#9 The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore – William Joyce

This picture book speaks deeply to the booklover in me. It is a beautiful allegory about the healing and curative power of books, and that those who care for them will reap the benefits of them. This is a wonderful story that can be read at face value as a magical, fun story, or can be read with deeper meaning and metaphorical life lessons.

#10 Magic Beach – Alison Lester9781741144888

This book is another childhood favourite of mine. The illustrations are my favourite part of this book, and the story shows the power of the imagination of a child. The rhymes and make-believe stories within the book are lots of fun as well, and the depiction of life by the sea is very typically Australian.

Must-Read Monday: Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

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In Mao’s Last Dancer Li Cunxin tells us the story of his life in China under the Communist regime of Chairman Mao. At a young age he is taken from his poor village and relocated to Beijing in order to study ballet as part of the Mao Cultural Revolution. As part of a cultural exchange trip, Li visits America in the late 1970s and begins to realise that the anti-American propaganda fed to them by the Chinese Communist Party may not in fact be true. He eventually defects to America – although not without drama – and later moves to and settles in Australia.

Much like Forty Autumns, one of the things that I think makes this a must-read is the fact that we don’t really know what life was like under these cruel regimes until you hear about it from a person who lived through it. We all know about these periods in history, and often study them in school, but you never really comprehend how it was until you read books like this one.

One of the themes that really struck a chord with me in this book was the struggle between individuality and conformity that Li experiences throughout his life. Often times, these struggles are illustrated through confronting scenes that Li witnesses, such as the public executions of counter–revolutionaries by firing squad. The turning point for Li is when he is initially denied permission to return to America to further improve his ballet training. He says “My beliefs were now completely altered after my experience with the ministry of culture and after having time to think about what I had seen in the West. Now I knew with absolute certainty, that I had been manipulated by Chairman Mao’s communist propaganda for many years.”

Having visited China myself, this book has had a particular impact on me. Even though things in China have vastly improved since Chairman Mao’s reign, there is still an element of terror, control and conformity imposed by the current Chinese Communist Party leaders. For example, when we visited Tiananmen Square, we were told not to mention anything about the 1989 Massacre when we were in the square because the government has cameras and microphones installed in order to deter any potential repeat of 1989. We were also told that if we mentioned it and were caught, we would likely be arrested, as the Chinese government still publicly maintain that the 1989 massacre never happened.

The book is emotional, heart-breaking, eye opening and inspiring. To have lived the life Li has, and to have ended up where he did is absolutely astounding. There were many times through my reading of the book where I got so angry at the treatment of the Chinese people by their leaders, and many more where I got goose bumps. This is one of the most evocative books I have ever read.

Sentimental Sunday: Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie is undoubtedly the Queen of Crime. She wrote 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, wrote the world’s longest-running play, and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all time. These are all monumental and incredibly significant achievements. And luckily for me, an Agatha Christie novel was my first introduction to the wonderful world of crime fiction.

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The Queen of Crime herself; Dame Agatha Christie

I remember when I was about 13 or 14 we were staying at my grandparents’ place down the South Coast of New South Wales. Every Saturday morning there is a market at Moruya, and like we did every time we were at my grandparents’ place, we visited the markets. Being a bookworm from a young age, I have always been drawn to the second-hand bookstalls at markets. This particular time, I remember my Mum picked up a thin, battered old book and showed it to me, saying that she had loved this author at my age. Seeing as the book was only $3, I bought it. That book was Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I had never really read books that weren’t specifically written for kids before, nor had I read a crime novel.

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Hercule Poirot as portrayed by David Suchet

At that age, I have to admit it did take me a little while to get used to the language of the books and the very proper way the characters speak – I mean, it was originally written in the 1930s! With Poirot being Belgian – not French, if you please! – I found the occasional French words and French phrases frustrating, as I didn’t understand them. And the strange abbreviations I hadn’t come across before; Mlle, M, and Mme! What were these strange combinations of letters! I eventually figured it all out and adjusted to the language, and could finally focus myself on the story being told.

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Murder on the Orient Express and the odd little character of Hercule Poirot absolutely blew me away! The attention to detail and precision of all the facts was astounding. All the red herrings, the twists and when you finally find out who the murderer is… wow! My mind was blown! I didn’t know that books like this existed! It absolutely revolutionised reading for me, and began my love of a good crime novel. Since being introduced to the Queen of Crime and her most famous detective, I have devoured many Hercule Poirot novels and continue to scour second-hand bookstalls at markets for more of these golden oldies.

Screen Version Saturday: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak tells the story of Liesel, a girl who is sent to live with a foster family near Munich during the Second World War. With the guidance of her foster father, she learns to read and develops an intense love of books and stories. They become irresistible to her, and whenever the opportunity presents itself she steals books from around her small town. She shares her stories with Max, a Jewish man that her foster parents are hiding from the Nazis. The book itself was brilliant and has been a best seller all over the world. I especially loved the fact that the novel itself is told from the point of view of Death and not from the point of view of Liesel, the main character. This creates a sense of foreboding and darkness in the novel, balanced out by the innocence and guileless morality of Liesel.

The 2013 film, starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, was welcomed with a very split response from critics. Regardless, I really enjoyed the film version. This was another book-to-film adaptation that I think was done really well. Geoffrey Rush was excellent in the role of Liesel’s foster father and, in my opinion, stole the show. I thought Liesel’s foster mother in the books came across as rougher, more forbidding and more disgruntled than she did in the film. In the film I thought she seemed positively cuddly in comparison to her book character. The character of Death still narrates the film, but I felt he doesn’t have the same presence in the film that he has in the book. These are minor issues that I have with the film, and it is still a great adaptation of the book. I loved both the book and film for the fact that while the setting of Germany during WWII was important in the telling of the story, it wasn’t the central storyline itself, which is unusual for stories set in this historical period. I highly recommend everyone see this film.

 

Rating: Book screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-24-07-pm/ Movie screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-24-14-pm

Fun Fact Friday: Location of Hogwarts

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Did you know that if Hogwarts were to actually exist, it would be located in the Scottish Highlands?

J.K. Rowling has said before that she has always imagined Hogwarts to be in Scotland, but that’s a big area! Based on little tidbits of information from the various Harry Potter novels, along with the fact that we know the Hogwarts Express travels north and it takes almost a whole day to get to the school via train, the math checks out and the Scottish Highlands is the only logical location for the famous school. There is a full, detailed working of this information found here.

 

 

Travel-The-Globe Thursday: Hobbiton

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Hobbiton had to be one of the most unique and unusual bookish locations in world. It was custom built for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, and was then re-used (with some modifications and additions) in the Hobbit movie trilogy. This essentially makes it a permanent, 12-acre, open-air movie set.

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There are many cute little Hobbit holes throughout the site, each decorated with its own exterior décor and detailed furnishings, however the main attraction for fans of the movies is undoubtedly Bag End, home to Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Complete with its “no admittance except on party business” sign, this was definitely one of the highlights for me when I visited the site. While you don’t get to walk into any of the Hobbit holes (mainly because there is nothing behind the doors!), walking around and looking at them is enough to satisfy even the most hardcore of Tolkien fans.

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If you do a guided tour, you end the tour at The Green Dragon Inn where you can treat yourself to a mug of ale. There is an open fireplace and some fantastic armchairs inside, and a lovely, festive beer garden area outside where you can relax and take in the sights of Hobbiton over the lake.

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I absolutely loved my visit to Hobbiton, and would definitely do it again next time I’m in New Zealand! It felt just like being in the fictional world of The Shire that you read about in Tolkien’s books, and the attention to details throughout the site is impeccable. Although the guided tours are expensive, I would highly recommend doing one so that you get all the information about the site, and all of the interesting stories and trivia that go along with that.

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