Time for a Catch UP


This week has been pretty busy. Our Play Reading class on Tuesday continued with our Oscar Wilde theme. Not having been exposed to a lot of his work I have been enjoying it. We finished the play The Importance of Being Ernest which we all enjoyed. Then we watched the DVD of the play. It has so much humour in it. We are looking at the various types of writing Oscar Wilde produced. Serious, biblical, children’s writing to very funny and entertaining. We are really having an Oscar Wilde fest this term. We are currently reading Salome’.



I have begun War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. What a genius this man was.  I downloaded the audible version of it from audible.com and as I had a vintage Penguin Classics copy I thought I would read a long. However the two translations were very different with the Penguin Classic being much wordier.


I found the same translator on Kindle books and downloaded that copy for 99cents. Now we are in sync.  I must say I am enjoying it quite a bit.  Although I am only into Part II.  The Napoleonic wars have just begun. I didn’t expect the humour from some of the characters and it hasn’t taken me long to jump into and start caring about everyone. A long ways to go yet.



(Narrated by Frederick Davidson, translated by Constance Garnett)


Wednesday was our writing class. I took the bus into Hobart and walked down to the Tasmanian Writer’s Centre where our weekly (except the third Wed of each month) group is held. It is school holidays, it was sunny and a very pleasant day, though chilly, down on the waterfront. People everywhere.  The best thing about the winters in Hobart is the sun shines almost every day. Really puts a different perspective on things. I noticed the big ice breaker Aurora Australis ship was in port. It is a large orange ship that goes regularly to Antarctica taking people and supplies. It is such an icon on our waterfront and I always enjoy seeing it when it is in port.



I finished the Australian novel of The Golden Child by Wendy James. It is for our end of July book club meeting and I really enjoyed it. I will be looking forward to what the others thought of it. Lots of points for discussion.  I had not heard of it before. It is about the bullying done online in a high school setting between so called friends. The ending really packed a wallop so I will say no more.  It touched on many social issues that young people must deal with today and having read it I am glad there was no social media when I was in high school.  I thought the book was well written, the characters very believable and as I said, I loved the ending. If you get a chance to have a quick read I can certainly recommend it.



The weekend ahead is looking a bit quiet at this point. There is currently a documentary called Kedi, about seven cats in Istanbul whose lives are followed around the city. It is playing at our local State Cinema in Hobart. Having visited Istanbul not that many years ago and seen all the street cats I am looking forward to seeing how this film goes. We ate outdoors at many restaurants while there and often ended up putting half our plate of food on the ground under the table for the cats while the waiters backs were turned. I hope to see this very soon.

The documentary Kedi takes place in Istanbul, Turkey

Winter continues here. I am planning to keep reading War and Peace at least an hour a day until I finish it. So far so good.

How did your week go?  Any good books happening this week?

Until next time, the Penguin and I wish you well. Snip20161117_4

Salinas, California-John Steinbeck Country

20170603_112506When I was overseas visiting family I finally got to Salinas to the John Steinbeck Centre. It isn’t as large as the Jack London Ranch north of San Francisco but it was every bit as interesting. I thought I would share some of the photos.

The museum is set up with little nooks and crannies one can walk through. Each area represents one of his major books. There is information to read about the publishing of the book, a screen with the film version screening with benches to sit and watch parts of them. Photos, quotations and trivia.

House Steinbeck grew up in.

I enjoyed passing through The Grapes of Wrath section, East of Eden and Travels with Charlie. Travels with Charlie and the Grapes of Wrath are my favourite books by Steinbeck. I remember I went on a Steinbeck kick in the early 70’s and read five or six of his books in quick succession. It is time to revisit those books again I think. The museum certainly inspired us to do so.

The gift shop was full of Steinbeck memorabilia but the only thing I bought was the T shirt with a list of all of his books on the back.  Enjoy the photos.



The route he took in his book Travels with Charlie. Charlie was his standard poodle.


This is the pick up truck and camper he lived in during Travels with Charlie. Can you spot the silly Penguin?  He thought we were going to take off in this. (Just a dream)


A picture of Steinbeck with Charlie



We had to eat lunch at the diner next door as there was a sign in the window that said this is where Steinbeck hung out.  I can see him sitting here having a smoke and a coffee. 

What Steinbeck books have you read?  What is your favourite Steinbeck book?

If you get anywhere near Salinas this is a happy way to spend an hour or so.

The Graybar Hotel-Thanks Scribner

Snip20170625_2(This book will be released in early July, 2017)

I was looking at net galley  one day and came across this book. It sounded interesting. I applied to Scribner  Publications and they kindly sent it to me.

I don’t normally read non fiction about prisoners. In fact, I think this was the first time. I found the description of the book appealing and as I looked into it more I see it takes place in the state of Michigan. I grew up in Michigan so am familiar with the various places it mentions. Sitting in Tasmania it seemed quite far away.

The author, Curtis Dawkins grew up in rural Illinois and earned an MFA in fiction writing at Western Michigan University. He struggled with alcohol and substance abuse through most of his life and, during a botched robbery, killed a man on Halloween 2004. Since late 2005, he’s been serving a life sentence, with no possibility of parole, in various prisons throughout Michigan. He has three children with his partner, Kim. She is a writing professor living in Portland, Oregon.

For someone who had everything going for him I can’t really get my head around it. I just can’t imagine continuing to live when facing such a tragic outcome.

The book is written in a series of short stories all connected with Mr. Dawkins. (Think Olive Kitteridge.)  He doesn’t talk about his crime. Instead he talks about the friends he makes, some of the procedures he endures from day to day and how he passes the time. How does one pass the time when facing a lifetime of incarceration.

In one of the early chapters and my favourite,  he describes using the telephone to dial up random numbers. First the recipient must accept the charges after hearing the person calling is doing so from prison. Several people take him up on his offer and a very few let him know he can call back. He does so and has on going conversations about their lives and almost becomes a friend. “Just don’t do it too often,” one man states.

This book is a different story. It is not about the violence that one normally hears about prisons. There is nothing in his situation that is sensationalised.  Each story is of a different person he shares a cell with, the things they talk about or the experiences he has.  There were a couple of relationships that had me chuckling a bit. There is no doubt that each man may have friends but they are always watching out for number one.

I was fascinated by the tales. I liked Curtis. I did not see him as a murderer who completely ruined another’s life and that of the family. He was a man who did a stupid thing and it ended up in tragedy and a life of no hope. The story shows the feelings of the man, how he tries to cope day to day. What makes him laugh and how he tries to make his life mean something so he doesn’t completely go off the rails.

The men he shares his life with are first of all people, secondly people that really screwed up. I thought at times, this could happen to any of us in a fit of desperation, rage or just really bad judgment, especially as a young person.


The only criticism I had of the book was perhaps the ending was tidied up a little too quick. I felt it rather ended quite suddenly. I wanted a summary of sorts. I


am not sure I know what I mean by that but I was left wanting a bit more. More revelations of how he is going to survive.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys studying relationships between people who find themselves in unusual positions. How would we cope? This is an interesting slice of life written by an educated writer.











War and Peace for Winter?

Snip20170619_2This challenge has come out of left field for me. I have been looking for a War and Peace read along for some time. I see several of the bloggers I follow have signed up and having looked at it I think it is achievable.  It is being hosted by Reading in Bed which is a blog that was unfamiliar to me but I am now following her. It looks good. (here)

First I had to look at the schedule.

War and Peace

Soon: The War and Peace Newbie Tag
July 3: Start reading!
July 10: Volume I, Part I
July 17: Volume I, Part II
July 24: Volume I, Part III
July 31: Volume II, Parts I and II
August 7: Volume II, Parts III and IV
August 14: Volume II, Part V and Volume III, Part I
August 21: Volume III, Part II
August 28: Volume III, Part III
September 4: Volume IV, Parts I and II
September 11: Volume IV, Parts III and IV
September 18: Epilogues I and II
Late September: Draw winners, wrap up, etc.

Next I had to answer the questions. I think they are pretty straight forward. I have heard of this book all of my life but never read it. 

What edition and translation are you reading?



I am going to listen to the audio version (unabridged) narrated by Frederick Davidson from Audible.com. The translator is not mentioned in the blurb. It is published by Blackstone Audio books, 1998. I have no idea if it is a good version or not but the reviews are pretty good. We’ll see.

How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

I know very little about this book. I know it is a period history about the Russian Revolution and a great love story. I am not at all knowledgeable about Russian history. 

How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I am not preparing at all. I have downloaded the book. I realise this is probably a book one needs to read two or three times to get more out of it but I am looking forward to my first read. As Mortimer Adler says in his book, How To Read A Book this book is like moving in to a village and gradually getting to know all the residents one encounters and the events of the community. It takes time.

What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

It is one of those books everyone wants to say, “Oh yes, I have read that.” (Don’t deny you want to say that). But I have thought about reading this book for such a long time but did not want to attempt it by myself. I think it is a book where discussion about the chapters will be useful. I am looking forward to seeing how others interpret it and what they feel about it.

What are you intimidated by?

I am listening to the audio version first because I cannot in anyway begin to pronounce the names. The names, places and events will have Russia references and I want to hear how those words are pronounced. Then if I ever read a written copy I will have that information somewhere in the file cabinets in my brain and I might be able to find those files again. Snip20170619_3

Do you think it’s okay to skip the ‘war’ parts? 

In one word, No. 

The Penguin and I are looking forward to travelling through this book with the others whose opinions I respect. 



Back in Australia

Snip20170615_11Apologies first. I always have this idea that when I travel I will read books, photograph amazing landscapes and update the blog with the penguin every night. I will have great amounts of energy and will love sharing it with everyone.

The reality however is overseas travel is tiring. It’s exhausting. It was hot. I felt grimy. Photos had to be retaken because the first ones were crooked or accidentally shot my feet as I checked the settings.

I give up. No more promises about updating the Penguin and my blog while we travel until we get home or are at least in one place for 10 days.

As I said before, I did finish Herman Koch’s book The Dinner on the plane ride over. I also began an interesting book I was able to get a hold of on NetGalley. However much I enjoyed it I can’t write about it yet as it won’t be published until 4 July. Give me another week or so on that one.  I will show you the cover though.Snip20170615_9

I visited a famous author’s museum and the Penguin was photographed on an amazing piece of literary history. You’ll have to wait for that post too.

While travelling with my sister we listened to an audio book she picked up in a second hand book shop for a few dollars. When I saw the title and the author, I thought, “Oh no, not him.” But the freeways were long, the day was hot and the air conditioning in the car felt good. We listened to it. Will I talk about it? Yes. Now? No.

What I will try to do is get this trip in order. It was only three weeks long but it seems a lot happened and a great deal of miles were covered.

Snip20170615_8The highlight of the beginning was meeting James in Novato, California for a coffee. Many of you will know James, of James Reads Books. I had some Penguin Sci Fi books for him I brought along as I am downsizing the massive Penguin collection I have. It was such a pleasure to meet him and he does look just like his photo in his blog, but I could see his whole face and not just him peeking over a book.

I really enjoy his posts. He reads a great assortment of books. Some of them are for his Grade 7 students and I enjoy hearing about their experiences. He sometimes writes about  reading in his classroom.  Some of the comments he posts from his students make me laugh out loud.  James is a very good writer and he has a sense of humour. If you haven’t looked at his blog I think you should and see what ‘ his new favourite book’ is.  Thank you James for agreeing to meet us.  (Read James here.)

I have personally met two bloggers in person since I began writing this thing. Lovely friendships.

I have a lot yet to get through over the next few weeks so I am going to do it one experience at a time. I hope you will enjoy the journey.

Day 1 in San Francisco & a Finished Book

My sister indulges my book addiction.

The book people amongst us will be happy to know that I arrived safely in San Francisco and less than two hours later I was already looking around City Lights Book Store in downtown San Francisco. I really do love that store. You will also be surprised that I did not buy any books. I keep thinking of the couple of thousand books I still have at home, many of them still TBR.

I need to get into some of my Penguin classics and boxed sets that I have collected over the past years. I may have sold off the main series collection but there are many other series I still have. I would also like to visit the Puffin books once in awhile.

This would be a fun activity as long as it didn’t involve the hills here.

The flight from Hobart to Sydney then Sydney to San Francisco was without incident. I am currently sitting by a window flying on United from San Francisco to Chicago then will head up to Traverse City in northern Michigan. I did think about making a big stink while on United. They could drag me screaming from the plane, punch me in those nose. I know the nose would heal and I could get a multi million dollar settlement and have yet more money for travel and books.

Snip20170521_2On the flight to America from Australia I finally read the book The Dinner by Herman Koch. I know, I know, probably all of you have read it but it takes me awhile to get around to new books at times. Many people reading this will already know what this is about but the gist of the story is:
A politician running for Prime Minister in the Netherland (Serge) and his wife (Babbette) have dinner in an exclusive restaurant with Serge’s brother (Paul) and his wife (Claire.) In the beginning of the book Paul and Claire seem to be the good guys. Serge is impossibly arrogant and on show all of the time to his prospective voters. The novel is divided into various part of the dinner from Drinks to Entree to Main Course to Dessert. As we hear about this excruciating dinner there are flashbacks to the activities of the teenage children of both couples who are involved in some very unsavoury activities. I don’t want to say more because if you haven’t read this story it will spoil it. It pretty much boils down to how far would you go to save the bright future that you think your children deserve?

Street Scene

I would go from really disliking these people to trying to understand the decisions they make. I really could see both side of the coin but I don’t know how I would handle this situation not having children of my own.
The book held my attention over the Pacific Ocean. I enjoyed the writing.

The down side of the story: I thought there were a couple of threads that were left unfinished. I didn’t think they were needed but they were small and soon forgotten. I also thought the editing could have been a bit tighter and although I could not help keep turning the pages I breathed a large sigh of relief once I was finished. As all the reviewers have said before me, these people are not to be liked at all. Neither are their children.
I think I enjoyed that part of the book. This is not really a ‘happily ever after’ book.

Now, I know those of you who read this have an opinion. As a young woman on the

A random shelf of books. I am sure I could find something to read here.

Qantas flight sitting beside me said, “Oh, I read this book. It is a great book for book club discussions.”

I agree.

Now, I must apologise for the Penguin. He will be making a appearance soon. He has more jet lag than I do and is soundly sleeping at the bottom of my bag.

Let me know what is happening re: books and travel in your life

As an extra here, I must show you the beautiful basset hound dog we met walking down the street on the way back to the car. Isn’t he gorgeous and he was absolutely huge. Had feet like dinner plates. Snip20170521_7

American Housewife and America


I thought I was going to stay in one place for awhile but it turns out I am flying to the state of Michigan on Friday. My mother is 91 years of age and quite frail and I decided we needed to visit again before it is too late. I will be in northern Michigan for one week. My old school friends from the Class of 68 are going to organise a lunch while I am there too in central Michigan (Grand Ledge) where I grew up. My father is buried there and I will take some flowers to the cemetery for Memorial Day. I have not seen the classmates outside of the Class of 68 Facebook page for 49 years. It should be a lot of fun.

After a week in Michigan I will be flying back to San Francisco to visit my sister for two weeks. She lives just north of there. I am also going to have a coffee with blogger, ‘James Reads Books’ as he lives in the area so that will be fun. We have followed each other for a few years and he is now collecting vintage Penguin science fiction books.

I am taking Penguin with me as Mr. Penguin will be taking care of our five pets at home for the three weeks I am gone.

I need to be back in Tasmania by the 11th June as I am going to a theatre presentation of Dracula on the 15th. I should be over my jet lag by then.


I am currently reading the book American Housewife by Helen Ellis. There has been a lot going on and it is a book I can actually concentrate on. It is a series of short stories and very light hearted.

Good Reads states:  

A sharp, funny, delightfully unhinged collection of stories set in the dark world of domesticity, American Housewife features murderous ladies who lunch, celebrity treasure hunters, and the best bra fitter south of the Mason Dixon line.

Meet the women of American Housewife: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like it’s a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. These twelve irresistible stories take us from a haunted prewar Manhattan apartment building to the set of a rigged reality television show, from the unique initiation ritual of a book club to the getaway car of a pageant princess on the lam, from the gallery opening of a tinfoil artist to the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop. Vicious, fresh, and nutty as a poisoned Goo Goo Cluster, American Housewife is an uproarious, pointed commentary on womanhood. 

The writing moves along quite quickly, there are some funny lines and it is good to pick up during the day while you are trying to do other things and needn’t worry about losing your place. I am enjoying it. If you want to read something more serious where you think about issues,  then this is not the book for you. However if you are a bit headachey or have something stressful going on, are tired or just tired of deep and meaningful books then this one is a good one.  I wouldn’t say it is uproariously funny. I think Bill Bryson is uproariously funny. Though I laugh in places. It isn’t always too far from the truth of the life of the housewives of the 50’s and into the 60’s. I really don’t think I could have endured that lifestyle and we are so lucky we have so many more choices now.

Tomorrow I will be sorting out the few clothes I need to take and of course my camera gear which takes up more room than clothes, my tablet, laptop etc. Penguin doesn’t travel with much and I am pleased to say this is the 4th continent he is goinSnip20161117_4g to visit in his life. Pictures will go up on Instagram (follow Travellin Penguin) and I will keep up reading notes, photography, funny travel tales (if there are any) and any surprises that occur. My sister and I hope to visit a few places around California or might go on a road trip for a few days. I think America is the best place in the world for a road trip.

Hope you’re all doing well and the people in the northern hemisphere are enjoying nicer weather and the southern hemisphere people are staying warm and getting used to shorter days.

Grief is the Thing With Feathers

Snip20170511_1Okay, here we go again. I don’t know if it’s just me that I am not in keeping with the rest of the world but that seems to be the way it is with these modern books. I think I am getting old.

This book by Max Porter has caught my eye for months. I have seen it in every book store I go into. I like the idea of the crow. He caught my attention immediately and has stayed with me for months. I did not even open this book to see the style of the writing. I put it on hold at the library and after a couple of months it finally came in.

I couldn’t wait to read it. The other day I had several appointments so I popped it in my bag to travel with me for the day.

I had a doctor’s appointment (just routine) and as she was running late I read most of it in her waiting room.

The story (as probably most of you know as everyone reads these books long before I get around to them) is about the death of a mother. She has left her grieving husband and two sons behind. The crow appears almost as a counsellor for the family.

The book is written similarly to free verse poetry without the rhythm or rhyme. Each page or two is written from the point of view of ‘dad’, ‘sons’ or ‘crow’.

I got irritated with it.  I thought, after all these months, it would be more of a narrative about these people and their relationship with the crow.  Although I found it went along quite well in a logical sequence I thought it was being just that bit too clever. I never held that connection between all the characters in the story. They seemed completely separate to me. Authors trying to be too clever seems to be a criticism I have with many modern books.

I felt manipulated or I didn’t  feel anything at all. This story didn’t make me feel sad. It should have. Usually if I read or hear about a family of young children who have lost their mother I am sad. Fiction or not. It is one of the more miserable things on earth. Truth being in this book I didn’t care for anyone except maybe the crow.

I really liked the premise of this book. To think a crow (or any animal for instance) could infiltrate a family and be a part of its grief is quite interesting.

Maybe I just missed the whole point. It wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe my expectations of what I thought this book was about was too much. Either way, I have finisSnip20170511_4hed it, the crow is no longer and the book goes back to the library Tuesday.

At least it is out of my system and I can now move onto the next ‘modern’ book that grabs me by its cover or premise and again talks me into reading it.

Next week there is something fairly big happening. I am starting to prepare. It involves the Penguin, travel and reading. Stay tuned.

If you have read this book what did you think about it? Feel free to completely disagree with me as I notice Good Reads reviews has quite a few four and five star reviews. Maybe a C+? I did like the premise of it.

Tuesday Trivia and a Catch up

I have been remiss in continuing to post lately. I took a long time to get over the very bad throat and ear infection I picked up in Japan. I am still coughing but getting back to normal.Snip20170509_2

I finished the short novella The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers. It is described as an American Gothic tale.

It is the story of Miss Amelia who was married to Marvin Macy but she threw him out ten days after the wedding. He was very mean but also the most handsome man in town.

Amelia reminded me a more complex Olive Kitteridge especially in appearance.. She is a big woman, almost 6’3″ and seems to live inside her head quite a bit. She lives alone, runs a cafe and doesn’t really interact a great deal with the locals except to administer some of their medical needs from a naturopathic point of view.

One day a man arrives at her cafe. He is a hunch backed dwarf. It turns out he is called Cousin Lymon. He introduces himself to Amelia as a distant relative and without further ado he is invited to live in the cafe. He is very attention seeking and needs to be involved in everything that is happening. I think Carson McCullers was brilliant in character development in everything she wrote and Cousin Lymon and Amelia are as real as can be.

With the arrival of Cousin Lymon the cafe begins to pick up.  It becomes quite the social hub and there is a love between Amelia and Cousin Lymon.  Although this love is not disclosed much, the reader feels the fondness they feel for each other. They seem to feel the loneliness each of them has suffered.

Then one day her ex-husband arrives out of the blue. Marvin Macy is a cruel man and has been incarcerated and out of the picture for quite sometime. He eventually moves into the cafe. Cousin Lymon appears to facilitate this arrangement.

This is where I will stop telling you what happens. The story is about loneliness, betrayal and community ties (or not). I found it to be a sad tale but that wasn’t unexpected. The title informs us of that. Snip20170509_3

I found the first half of the story went along quite nicely and then towards the end it slows down. By the end of this tale I was just happy to be away from all of these people. It was a story worth reading but one I probably won’t be revisiting. I cannot forget these characters.

The beautiful writing and descriptions are there but I felt the story weakened as it continued until there was nothing left. In a way I think that is how it was meant to be.

Something interesting I read in this book was the information about Carson McCuller’s herself. I will share this information with you.

“Carson McCullers was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1917. She was always a delicate person and as a young adult began to suffer from strokes, and by the age of thirty-one was paralysed down her left side. For awhile she could only use one finger to type, and for years before her death could not sit at a desk to work. In 1938 she married James Reeves McCullers, a corporal in the US army.  The marriage was not a success and they divorced. They did, however, keep in touch and subsequently remarried, separating finally in 1953. He later committed suicide.”

She was established as a writer by her early twenties but it was not until she published, The Heart is A Lonely Hunter at the age of twenty-three that she won widespread recognition.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has long been one  of my favourite tales. If you haven’t read it I would recommend it. A beautiful book. There is a line of sadness throughout her writing but not so much it puts me off. I think knowing what I do of Ms Carson’s life there is no wonder her stories can be pretty downtrodden.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 20.15.31I would read more of her stories.  I still have a few short stories of hers on my shelf to be read.

I am happy to be picking up again in energy and health and look forward to more happening in the next month but I will explain that in my next post.