Archive for June, 2011

Armchair Romance Makes the World Go Round

June 30, 2011

I started reading category romances in the early 80s. Mills and Boon, Harlequins, Loveswepts, Candlelight Ecstacy Supremes (yup – thanks for that line Dell!) and Silhouettes. I devoured them. I love reading romances with their optimism, affirmative relationships and their happily ever afters. But something that sneaked up on me, something that I was only vaguely aware of, was my enjoyment of reading category romances set around the world and, in particular, in different states of America.

Oronce Finé 1534 World Map - Cordiform Projection

The first time I recall choosing to read a romance because of  its setting was after I had read Janet Dailey’s Tidewater Lover (set in Virginia) and Mistletoe and Holly (set in Vermont). I then borrowed from my local library A Lyon’s Share (Illinois) and realised that this was no coincidence. After a little bit of research I discovered that Janet Dailey had decided to write a category romance for every state of America. How fabulous! I had hit the mother lode! I continued borrowing and buying Dailey’s books purely for this reason. I don’t think I read all 50 in her Americana series but it certainly put in the hook for reading romances set in specific states or countries.

I am a huge fan of Anne McAllister‘s Montana Cowboys, ooh! and her Boston Savas’s. I loved Cindy Gerard‘s Wyoming based Outlaws trilogy and oh! those hot hot hot Westmorelands by Brenda Jackson live all over America. They’re in Montana, Colorado and Texas just to list a few states.

Of course, settings in category romances go beyond America and are set all over the world with the reader getting a wonderful sense of place from many stand out authors. Sarah Mayberry has a wonderful balance of character and place in her books which are mostly set in South-Eastern Australia, Karina Bliss‘ sense of New Zealand and those wonderful English villages juxtoposed with exotic Spanish, Greek, Argentinian and Italian villas in Lynne Graham‘s angsty gems.

For the reality is, wherever in the world you are, whatever country you are traversing, whichever place you are discovering, it is inevitable, that somewhere and sometime, someone has had a romantic moment there. And as a romance reader and armchair traveller, I want to read those stories.



Travels in India

June 29, 2011

For me, when I think about it, all books are travel books. I read because I want to travel, to experience different places, different times, different lives. My favourite book takes me to India in the 1950s, just after it gained independence. Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy is an epic read at almost 1,500 pages, but so delightful that I didn’t want it to end. It is full of vibrant colours and emotions, engaging characters and landscapes and fascinating details of Indian lives from the most impoverished to the very wealthy. The characters, including the country itself, have stayed with me and I have tried to recapture the glorious feel with other books set in India ever since.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best move to start with A Suitable Boy because I have not found a book to match it and have never read another book set in India that manages to capture such beauty and hope amidst the struggles. Tishani Doshi’s The Pleasure Seekers and Susan Kurosawa’s Coronation Talkies come close and I do love E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India and Rumer Godden’s The Peacock Spring, both set during England’s rule. Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance appears on so many favourites lists but I confess that I found it the most depressing novel I have ever read! A country of great contrasts, I’m not sure I’ll ever visit India in person, but I do love to go there in a book. I like going to China too, and England and France and Japan and……


Halo: the novelisation of games

June 28, 2011

When Star Wars: episode IV : a new hope hit the big screen in 1977 it was a huge success and led to a myriad of franchise elements – alongside clothing and toys there arose an ongoing range of novels following the exploits and adventures of the numerous characters and exploring the worlds this space opera movie series introduces. More recently it has become common practice for high grossing movies to produce a broader range of merchandise to satisfy public demand, this expansion is not just into clothing, novels and toys but also into games – for example, Pirates of the Caribbean and Avatar.

The flip of this is when a game does the reverse and produces clothing, toys, movies and novels.

When Halo: combat evolved was launched on xbox in 2001 it was a huge success and led to a massive cult following. Not only have there been more games (Halo 2, Halo Wars, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo: Reach), a dvd of short animated films (Halo Legends) and plans for a movie, but a range of novels written by noted sci-fi writers exploring much of the back-story to the world of Halo and the various characters met and played throughout the games. The true value of these novels  (The Fall of Reach,The Cole Protocol,  The Flood, First Strike, Ghosts of Onyx, Contact Harvest, and Evolutions) is the way they complement the story-line of the Halo games and satisfy public demand whilst waiting for the next game to be launched.

Halo is a space opera, the games transport players to an alien landscape which is both familiar and foreign and where the aliens species are both enemy and friend. The Halo novels allow further explorations of these landscapes, and relationships, and satisfy player demand to know more about these worlds. It’s also pretty cool that a game is so popular, among its unique audience, that it demands and gets its own novel series.


Where the wild things are by Maurice Sendak

June 27, 2011

Where the wild things are was first published in 1963 and millions of copies have since been sold. It remains one of my (now adult)  sons’ favourite stories and pretty soon he’ll be reading it to his daughter too.

Poor Max, sent to his room for being a “Wild Thing”. Well, maybe don’t feel to sorry for him, because Max is able to travel in his boat all the way across the sea , through the forest and into the land of the Wild Things. There he become the King of all Wild Things, leading the wild rumpus until… is that dinner he smells? Well it’s a long trip, but Max travels all the way home, just in time for tea.

Close your eyes and travel with your imagination… I bet you can see Max and the Wild Things too.

From here to there by Jon Faine and Jack Faine

June 26, 2011

This book is a great story, but it’s not fiction. This trip happened. Father and son. Years and lists and lists of planning gave way to ultimately 6 short months to drive from Melbourne to London. How would they fare with limited equipment, no tent, not all the correct visas and permits, language and religious barriers and only their own company? I thought about how I would feel if my family decided to take this trip. How would I cope being alone, how much would I worry about them? Or, if I decided to go myself, would I have the trust in human nature that seems so inherent in Jon?
This father and son travelled over 39,000kms through Australia, East Timor, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France and England. If you are looking for an excuse not to plan such a trip, reading this book could provide you with one. If, however, you desperately want to do something like this, read the book, especially chapter 45 – “Mistakes we made, things to avoid” set a date and write your first list. Just don’t ask Jon how much it cost.

some great time travel reads

June 25, 2011

As promised in yesterday’s post, here are some of my favourite time travel reads. I tried to include something for everyone – from the geek, to the history buff, to the romantic.

my four favourites, behind the cut

tempus fugit or tempus frangit

June 24, 2011
Tempus Fugit, by flickr user Forty Two

Tempus Fugit, by flickr user Forty Two

My ultimate #goreads are about travelling not so much geographically, as temporally. Time travel provides a reading paradox, because it breaks us from our normal understanding of time as a linear thing. This is not only refreshing, but also offers a particular imaginative insight into history.

While I like history, and read a lot of historical novels it is in time travel fiction that I often find the tiny minutiae of day to day life, the banal details of the daily and the ordinary – the kind of detail that you can’t always get from history books. Time travel novels are works of fiction, born of the imagination, but there’s something about that imaginative experience that draws me in. I read for the imaginative discovery of history. As the reader, I am also a time travel protagonist… a 21st century person taking in a whole new world.

I started my time travel obsession early, with Penelope Lively’s A Stitch in Time – a wonderful slightly paranormal children’s/YA novel about a girl who forms a curious, unexplainable bond with a girl who lived in her Victorian house 100 years earlier. This novel was inspired by Penelope Lively’s love of her childhood home… and she wrote a follow up non-fiction work a few years ago exploring the living history of houses over generations.

Penelope Lively has written other ‘timeslip’ novels, as have fellow UK writer Alison Uttley, and New Zealand YA author Sheryl Jordan. It seems a very popular way of exploring time travel and history for YA readers, possibly because the idea of a time slip… suddenly, accidentally finding yourself in another time… requires no explanation, allowing readers to get right to the heart of the narrative without too much exposition.

As an adult, though, I required more answers as my obsession with time travel grew. My time travel reading explored a vast array of different theories and temporal places – from chaos theory, to genetic temporal displacement disorder, from Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America, to a secret society of time traveling cyborgs addicted to chocolate (!!!), to a medieval princess trapped in the 23rd century (a science fictional retelling of Sleeping Beauty).

It’s a great genre to dip into if you like the comical (like Jasper Fforde’s much loved Thursday Next novels), if you like historical detail, or if you just like a little bit of a mind bend, or the unexpected. And it’s a great way to experience history from both a great height (the privileged moment in which you can observe a great moment in history, as it happens – but with the luxury of hindsight) and from the often benighted, murky depths of those who must live through history as it happens. The contrast between these two experiences is, I think, the thing that I love best.

So whether you like your fictional universes explained in convoluted detail, or are just happy to suddenly have a fresh 20th or 21st century perspective on the past, I suggest giving time travel a try.

Tomorrow I’ll share some of my favourite titles and authors.


Two greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo

June 23, 2011

Planning a trip to Italy? If  history and food interests you, how will you decide where to go, where to omit? Can’t decide? Well, Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo have done it all for you. These two friends are passionate about their country of birth, its’ history and the produce that has literally shaped the nation. The recipes are easy to follow, mouthwateringly tasty. Yum. My suggestion is this… find a map of Italy then read each section of this scrumptious book, north, south, inland or seaside. Plan your menu and chop, slice, dice, simmer, saute, braise or roast, for one or many, as you travel your way around the countryside. If you are lucky enough to visit Italy, use this book to identify regions and locally produced foods. If not, Two greedy Italians is a travel experience you can have at home again and again, deliciously.


Eighty Years of Tintin and Still Travelling

June 22, 2011

For eighty years, Herge’s Tintin books have been a formative reading experience for most kids. And for many children, it is Tintin that first introduces them to the life of reporters, travelling the world and solving mysteries along the way. His adventures saw him visit the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and even the Moon. But for Tintin, it was not about the journey. It was the story he had to write. The setting was incidental and understanding the culture and terrain went along with solving and reporting his mystery.  And for many avid fans following Tintin’s travels becomes a planning guide for their own journeys.

Vol 714 Pour Sydney

Tintin never reached Australia. He had all intentions to get to Sydney but somehow, in the investigative Tintin way, after he took off from Jakarta his plane made an unscheduled stop on a Dutch East Indies island instead. Thankfully, Tintin, in the form of books, did get to Australia. And whether you owned his books, borrowed them from a friend or discovered them at the library, the foreign correspondent resplendent in plus fours, a long beige coat and his wire fox terrier remains one of literature’s instantly recognisable characters.


Armed with an Atlas

June 21, 2011

I am innately curious about the world around me (makes sense that I’m a Reference Librarian then). I love watching Global Village and will often organise dinner around when it is on TV so I can sit down and watch. I love the fact that I can watch it on SBS1 and then flip to SBS2 and watch a previous show that I may have missed (or watch it again if I’ve already seen it).  Exploring a country (sometimes my own) from the comfort of my lounge chair is a relaxing and rewarding experience and seems to satisfy a deep need to know things within myself.

But I simply cannot watch Global Village without my handy 20+ year old Atlas beside my chair as I like to know the exact location of the show in relation to the rest of the world. When watching shows like Ice Truckers I rely on the topography maps in my atlas to help me appreciate the isolation and dangers being faced by the truck drivers in this show – to put everything I’m seeing into context. Food Safari, Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam, Jamie does…., any cooking show which explores the culture and cuisine of another country is guaranteed to find me sitting there with my handy dog-eared Atlas on my lap pinpointing precisely where in the world that little town or country is.

Let’s be honest, sit me down in front of a documentary and lo and behold I’ll grab my Atlas and have it open before 5 minutes have passed – I’ve even told my family they can buy me a new one for my birthday! Next to the family dictionary it’s the most used book in the house – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. An Atlas opens up the world around us in ways that are suprising, unique, and oddly informative – and a great way for the whole family, not just me, to learn about and explore the world.