Must-Read Monday

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner

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In this memoir, Nina Willner tells the true story of her family who were separated from each other by the Iron Curtain for over forty years, and who were reunited upon the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Hanna, the author’s mother, left her parents and seven (later, eight) siblings and escaped from East Germany into the West at the age of twenty. Eventually Hanna married and moved to America, where she had her own children, including Nina. Nina joined the intelligence services and, in a twist of fate, was posted to West Berlin as the first female Army Intelligence officer to lead intelligence operations into East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.

I am not a big reader of non-fiction or biographical books. I may read one or two a year, and often I find them average at best. But I found this story a captivating read. I know it’s only early January, but I feel like it may make it to my Top 5 Books Read in 2017.

The story would be heartbreaking as a work of fiction, but is absolutely devastating as a recount of fact. The depth of description of the events and horrors that were experienced by the author’s East German family during the Cold War was absolutely chilling to read about. The black and white family photographs that appear throughout the book also make the story that much more real, and that much more enthralling. The author gives us the big picture world events that were happening both in the West and in the Eastern Bloc throughout the decades of the Cold War.

I felt every single emotion this family felt. I felt like I had lived it with them. And in a rather roundabout way, I have.

My own grandparents, my Oma and Opa, along with my aunt and uncle (then in their early teens), fled East Germany in the mid 1950s before eventually emigrating to Australia. Through Nina Willner’s recounting of her family’s struggle living in the East and her mother’s frightening escape to the West, I feel like I now better understand my grandparents and their experiences in East Germany at that time, as well as the reasons for their terrifying escape into the West. I think this emotional connection to the story definitely enhanced my reading of the book. However, regardless, I still think this is a book that is a must-read. I haven’t before come across this level of factual detail and first hand account of life in East Germany during this time. This is an excellent novel that really hits home as to how things really were for the people who lived through this period of history.

Sentimental Sunday

Harry Potter

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Like every child who grew up in the 1990s, Harry Potter defined my reading habits, and was the centre of my reading world for 7 years. I was 10 or 11 years old and I remember a couple of my friends talking about it, and I remember seeing a lot of kids at school reading it. So, naturally wanting to fit in, I begged my mum to buy it for me. As there was no special occasion such as a birthday or Christmas coming up, my mum said no. I kept begging for an entire school term and finally, at the start of the school holidays when we were heading on vacation to Queensland, she finally bought the first book for me.

Suddenly, I was nervous. What if I didn’t like it? What if I didn’t finish it? What if all of the hype was for nothing? I think it took me a few days to actually build up the nerve to crack it open and start reading. I remember thinking that the first page was pretty boring, thank you very much (see what I did there?), but I kept going, and like everyone around the world, I was hooked. It took me two weeks to finish the book, keeping in mind that I was only about 11, and this was in the year 2000 during the Sydney Olympics, so most evenings were spent cheering on Australia. After I finished the first one, I HAD to have the second. I even used my very own pocket money to buy it. As a kid who only earned $3 a week, this was a big deal.

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The year 2000 was defined for me by Harry Potter and the Sydney Olympics

I’ve always loved books, stories and reading, but before Harry Potter, I cannot actually remember being completely drawn into any fictional story or any fictional world in the same, obsessive way that I had been with Harry Potter. It was like an awakening. Stories can be this amazing? Books can actually be this engaging and wonderful? Characters can have well-defined, relatable personalities? It was an utter revelation! Like everyone else during the peak period of Harry Potter mania (BEFORE the films, for all you young ‘uns!) it became the centre of my world. I had to have all the merchandise. Unfortunately, most of it was only readily available in the States, but luckily for me, in 2001 our family vacation took us to the West Coast of the USA, and boy did I have my Harry Potter shopping list ready! Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans? Check! Chocolate Frogs? Check! Harry Potter Trivia Board Game? Check! Harry Potter Trading Cards? Check!

In 2002, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published. I had not been a part of the craze when Prisoner of Azkaban had come out, so this was my first experience at actually pre-ordering the new book! Mum wouldn’t let me do any of the subsequent midnight launches for any of the books 4 through 7 (boo!), but I always carefully shopped around before pre-ordering to see which department store or book store was offering the best add-on incentive to pre-order with them. Usually Dymocks bookstores had the best Harry Potter swag, usually in the form of the (now vintage) metal Harry Potter bookmarks.

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The now-vintage, metal Harry Potter bookmarks

To this day, I am still a massive fan of EVERYTHING Harry Potter. I have been done the Harry Potter studio tour in London, I saw all eight movies as they were released in the cinemas, I have visited various filming locations around the UK from the movies, I own LOTS of Harry Potter merchandise and companion guide books, I have embraced the new world of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Working in a bookstore, on the launch day in July 2016 for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I did a full costume dress-up as Hermione. For me, this book has and continues to define my reading habits. It defined an entire generation. If it weren’t for J.K. Rowling and her wonderful series of books about an orphaned boy who discovers he is a wizard, I don’t know if I would have been the same person that I am today.

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The Diagon Alley set at the Warner Bros. Studios in London, UK
Screen Version Saturday

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger tells the story of Henry and Clare. Henry has a genetic condition that causes him to spontaneously and uncontrollably time travel. Clare is Henry’s wife who is left to worry about him and his frequent absences. Due to his time travelling, Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 years old, and he is 43. Henry, on the other hand, first meets Clare when he is 28 years old and she is 20. The book alternates between the first-person perspectives of these two characters, and due to the jumps in time (and ages) it can be, at first, a bit of an effort to follow and comprehend. While the book divided critics, I absolutely loved it. It was an original premise and made for an intriguing and unconventional love story. This is one of those books that I have re-read multiple times over the years. When I first heard it was being made into a movie, I was a bit worried because I loved the book so much, and the movies are NEVER as good as the books.

The 2009 film of the same name stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as Henry and Clare. Much as the book did, the film also divided critics, but I actually really enjoyed it. It was a very close adaptation of the novel, and one of the better book-to-film movies I have seen. All the major and important scenes from the book are present in the film, and very few are changed or adjusted in any way for the big screen. The only major difference between the book and film is the very final scene, and while it is different, it still does the same job that the scene in the book accomplished. Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana do a fantastic job at portraying the characters of Henry and Clare, and look eerily similar to how I pictured them in my head while reading the book. Regardless of whether you have read the book or not, you will need to have tissues handy for the end of the film. I first saw this movie with two friends, one of whom had read the book, and by the end of the film all three of us were in tears. All in all, this movie is great chick flick that has emotional depth and an engaging storyline. That being said, if you are not a fan of the book, you may not be a fan of the film.

 

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

Fun Fact Friday

Cyberspace

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Did you know that the term “cyberspace” was first coined in the 1980s?

The term “cyberspace” first appeared in the fictional works of sci-fi author William Gibson. The very first time he used the term was in a short story in 1982 called Burning Chrome, but more famously, it was used in his 1984 novel Neuromancer.

Travel-The-Globe Thursday

The Trinity College Old Library Long Room

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This is probably my favourite bookish location on the planet and is an absolute “must-see” for anyone visiting Dublin, Ireland. The library was constructed in the 18th century and inside visitors are able to the not only the stunning Long Room, but also the historic Book of Kells – a 9th century manuscript famous throughout the world. The library itself houses 200,000 of the college’s oldest books and all the bookcases are made from oak. Interestingly, due to the library being built on marshy, soft land, the books in the Long Room are shelved by height and size so that the weight of the books are able to be more evenly distributed!

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Exhibitions are held in the display cases running down the centre of the room, and the help to show visitors a selection of some of the amazing texts and documents that the library holds. Now, we all know that the harp is an instrument synonymous with Ireland (the Guinness beer logo anyone?), and one of the amazing artefacts to be found in the Long Room itself is the Brian Boru harp. It is the oldest harp of its kind in Ireland and dates back to the 15th century.

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The Brian Boru Harp, Trinity College, Dublin

I have been lucky enough to visit this AMAZINGLY GORGEOUS library in person, and it was everything I hoped for and more. All the woodwork, ladders, alcoves and spiralled metal staircases set the scene in this hallowed space. Are you one of those people who love the smell of old books? Well, multiply that by about a thousand and that starts to paint the picture of what it is like to be in this magnificent room. I was only in Dublin for 3 days, and I managed to visit this place twice in that time. This is what I imagine heaven would look like!

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Wishlist Wednesday

The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon

The Song Rising, the third book in Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season series, is without a doubt my most anticipated read of 2017.

I first read The Bone Season in 2015 and got completely ensnared by the world Scion London and the story of Paige Mahoney. Even though the story was SO GOOD that I didn’t want it to end, I raced through the book before promptly going out and buying the follow-up, The Mime Order. With the plans for this series to be seven books long, I recommend all of you who love a meaty sci-fi/dystopian series to get started on this one pronto!

I have mentioned before about books ticking all the boxes for me, and this one is no exception; strong, real and three-dimensional characters, excellent story and plotline, fantastic world building, and brilliant writing. These alone are reasons enough to have The Song Rising on my wishlist, but why is it my MOST anticipated read of the year?

Because I have been waiting in anticipation for this novel for two whole years!

Yeah, yeah. I hear all you George R.R. Martin fans laughing at me, but you have no idea the level of cliffhanger that The Mime Order ended on! In addition to this, Samantha Shannon originally wanted to have this book out in the world by mid-2016, but ultimately her publishers (for reasons Shannon outlines on her blog here) decided on a March 2017 publication date.

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Maybe not twelve years of waiting, but it feels like it!

So, my body and mind are ready. Bring. It. On.

The Australian publication date for The Song Rising is 22nd February 2017.

 

P.S. If all of that isn’t enough to get you excited, check out the Spotify playlist that Samantha Shannon has created for The Song Rising (there are also playlists for her first two novels as well).

Top Ten Tuesday

Books Read in 2016

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I am proud to say that I read 72 book in 2016, a new personal best with only 2 of them being re-reads. So picking only ten as my top reads for the year was a pretty hard job – there were just so many good ones! – but I finally managed it. Although I read widely and enjoy books in a variety of different genres and targeted at different demographics, the majority of books that I read are regarded as ‘young adult’, so the list is skewed slightly in that direction.

Here we go!

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#1 Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

As I mentioned in my previous post about this book, this was definitely my favourite book I read last year! It had everything I look for in a good fantasy novel; great characters, great world building, and as an added bonus a twist that I did not see coming!

#2 The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid

I devoured this book in two days! I love a good sci-fi YA novel, and this stand-alone book ticks all the boxes. It has a fantastic storyline, lots of well-written characters, and many emotional ups and downs. This novel also poses an important and topical question: should we treat someone as lesser than us just because they are different?the-diabolic-9781481472678_hr

#3 Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

This was my favourite contemporary YA book of last year. Again, it ticks the boxes of brilliant characters, clever dialogue and fantastic, heartfelt storyline. The author has made excellent use of humour throughout the novel, which was the cherry on an already delectable cake. The thing I loved most was that it was surprisingly original in a genre that can be very same-same-but-different.28186273

#4 Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Gemina is the much-anticipated sequel to my favourite book of 2015, Illuminae, and it packs just as much of a punch as the first one! It continues the space saga that began in Illuminae, but this time from the point of view of two teens on jump station Heimdall. There are lots of shocks, twists and turns, some of which may cause emotional wreck and ruin to readers so be warned!gemina-by-amie-kaufman-and-jay-kristoff

#5 The Good People by Hannah Kent

I loved Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and this book is just as magnificent. Kent’s brilliant ability to weave the landscape into her stories makes for extremely atmospheric reading. In fact, the landscapes and terrain are so central to her stories, they almost become one of the characters. Typically bleak, dark and rugged, this story sucked me right in. 29248613

#6 People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Although originally published in 2008, I only read this book for the first time last year. As someone who has studied and has a keen interest in the subject of history, this novel had me hooked from the start. Told through multiple timelines, it follows the story and history of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an important Jewish text. A fantastic and well-researched piece of historical fiction! screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-9-37-09-pm

#7 Frankie by Shivaun Plozza

One of my favourite Australian young adult fiction novel of last year! Set in Collingwood, Melbourne, this book is a brilliant read. I especially loved the character of Frankie and her sassy, Shakespeare-tome throwing ways. With a bit of a whodunit element, the story is a real page-turner and shows that making bad decisions does not make you a bad person.27193294

#8 Broken Sky by L.A. Weatherly

This book is probably one of the most underrated young adult books of last year. The first in a new trilogy, what I really loved about this book was the fact that the world that this story was set in was a kind of distorted, dytopian-esque 1940s America. With an amazingly inspirational female main character, this is definitely a book to try if you love a good cliffhanger25925784!

#9 When We Collided by Emery Lord

What a gorgeous story. This book shines a spotlight on mental illness and how it affects those with the illness, as well as those around them. It deals with lots of important and serious issues, but it doesn’t get too bogged down in the darkness of them. The characters are vivid and it shows how colliding with the right person at the right time can change you forever9781408870082.

#10 Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

My top ten would not be complete without the new novel from Liane Moriarty. I am a massive fan of all of her work, and this one is no exception. With that same feeling and tone of knowing something has happened, but not exactly what that that she had in ‘Big Little Lies’, Moriarty brings together another thrilling page-turner with realistic characters and pockets of relevant humour. Another stand out novel from this author!1469669631233

Well, that’s my Top Ten from 2016. I’d love to know what everyone else’s favourites were. Comment below and let me know! 🙂

Must-Read Monday

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

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It is going to take all my willpower and skills to give a relatively succinct synopsis of this book.

So, here it goes…

With her family torn apart by the powers that be, Mia Corvere is alone and afraid with only her gift of talking to the shadows to keep her company. It is this gift that leads her to a retired killer who takes her in and teaches her his trade. Years later, Mia has vowed vengeance for her family and she becomes an apprentice with the Red Church – the deadliest, most devious group of assassins that exist. She and her fellow students are put to the test, all of them vying for the ultimate honour of becoming a Blade of the Church. But soon someone in their midst starts killing off the apprentices, and Mia discovers that finding a murderer in an institution filled with assassins is not an easy task.

Wowza! Where do I even start? As a fan of fantasy novels, I absolutely LOVED this book! This novel is definitely in my favourite of all that I read in 2016. Kristoff’s attention to detail in his world building transports you into the universe he has created, so much so that at times I completely forgot I was reading a novel. His characterisation is likewise just as brilliant, complex and well thought out as his world building. Kristoff presents us with a fantastic cast of individual personalities taking part in the story, some of which you love, some of which you hate and some of which you underestimate!

While the main character is of young adult age, and struggled with/experiences issues and emotions typical of a young adult, I would definitely NOT class this book as a ‘young adult’ fiction novel. This novel has an abundance of coarse language – f-words are frequent and c-bombs make many notable appearances. It also contains several rather explicit and descriptive sex scenes. And of course, there is all the blood, stabbing, killing and general violence.

That’s not to say that I think we should censor the reading habits of teens or that I don’t think young adults should read this. However, since the publication and worldwide success of the ‘Illuminae’ series – a series Kristoff co-authored that is targeted at young adults and therefore means many of his fans are of young adult age – I do think it is worth mentioning that there are definitely adult themes and adult language present in this novel. As always when choosing a novel to read, regardless of the reader’s age, it depends on the individual reader and what they do and don’t like in a book.

The Elevator Pitch

Think Harry Potter but sexier, and with assassins. And vengeance. And stabbing. And death. Lots and lots of stabbing and death. #stabstabstab