Virago is an international publisher of books by women for all readers, everywhere. Established in 1973, their mission has been to champion women’s voices and bring them to the widest possible readership around the world. They found me! From fiction and politics to history and classic children’s stories, their writers continue to win acclaim, break new ground and enrich the lives of readers. That’s me! Read on…
My Goodreads Book Review
Superb anthology of the last forty years of Virago Modern Classics with a gorgeous bookcover illustration. Great for readers who appreciate women writers and also for students studying literature. Each contemporary author writes a sincere and thoughtful introduction from their own perspective as a reader. They cover the classics, from fiction and comedy to famous diaries and autobiographies. For example, Margaret Drabble discusses Jane Austen ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and further on Jilly Cooper talks about E. M. Delafield ‘The Diary of a Provincial Lady’. Although I’ve not read ‘Strangers on a Train’ by Patricia Highsmith, I think Claire Messud has convinced me to read it. At the end of Amanda Craig’s introduction on Rebecca West ‘The Fountain Overflows’ she says ‘The novel is one of those rare books that leaves the reader feeling happier and more hopeful than before.” And that’s exactly what this Virago Modern Classics makes me feel ♥ https://www.goodreads.com/gretchenbernetward
Virago celebrated their fortieth anniversary of Virago Modern Classics, Virago Press published the book I so eagerly purchased ‘Writers as Readers’, an anthology of forty introductions from the last four decades…books that deserve once again to be read and loved. Virago also reintroduced the iconic green spines across their whole booklist.
Virago has a huge booklist, I’m sure you’ve read several of their titles, and rather than me listing every book available, you can visit their beautiful website: https://www.virago.co.uk/
Yes, fear that I will become addicted. Fear that I will push myself to read a gazillion books a year so I can frantically, faithfully rate and review them. Fear that I will get hooked on groups, authors, discussions, surveys and polls—or even worse, a bestseller—and thus lose my individuality.
What if I was swamped by a wave of literary-ness which swept away my identity and I became a book character, never able to reach the shores of reality, adrift in a choppy sea of font and words, desperately swimming towards the final chapter so I could beach myself on that last blessed page?
It didn’t happen.
I know this because I have finally joined the ranks of Goodreads readers.
Why did I join? Because I was caught, hook, line and sinker by a single author and her book ‘The Rose and The Thorn’.
In August 2019, I posted my very first Goodreads review on Indrani Ganguly’s historical novel (also here on my blog) and the Hallelujah choir sang. That was it!
I think I shelved about twenty books in one hit. Then about thirty, then more, and before I knew it I was writing reviews; albeit after I sussed out their (ssshh, whisper here) rather archaic system.
Without fear, without favour! I am part of Goodreads for better or worse!
So far I have followed a couple of authors I enjoy, and a couple of groups which seem relevant to my reading tastes. I encompass miscellany, similar to my blog, so I am open to your book reading suggestions.
Take a peek, you may find the same book we both have read . . . but will our rating or review be the same?
Her invitation to participate offers a change from THINKING to DOING if that suits your purpose but my TBR is backing up and I need to list seven of the books I desperately WANT TO READ—which, er, goes over the Three Things limit. I just want to blab about these great books 😃 GBW.
These two books are side-by-side because they involve food and drink.
has written a humorous memoir of his escape to the country. I did hear him at an author talk but he didn’t divulge the full story. ‘Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga’is sometimes sad, sometimes gruesome but I’m hoping it’s an uplifting story of the joys of living on the land. http://www.toddalexander.com.au/
set her novel ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ against the backdrop of real events in 2012, a time in Michael’s life when everything is turned upside down. Cricket, football and the seaside are woven through the story as he strives to make sense of the changes involving death, suspicious neighbours and a school bully. https://mariadonovan.com/
This is a mixed bag of goodies sharing the same photographic background.
has golden wattle on her bookcover (I’m allergic to pollen) but the inside of ‘The Geography of Friendship’ greatly appeals to me. The blurb reads ‘We can’t ever go back, but some journeys require walking the same path again’. I won this novel at UQP behind-the-scenes publishing event. http://www.sallypiper.com/
is an Australian icon. I couldn’t begin to details his many and varied works here but his poetry is brilliant. The ‘An Open Book’ flyleaf reads ‘Malouf reminds us of the ways poetry, music and creativity enrich our lives . . . about the dynamics of what escapes and what remains’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Malouf
lives in my city of Brisbane. He has written two novels about war and its devastation. ‘The War Artist’ . . . ‘tackles the legacy of the Afghanistan war and the crippling psychological damage of PTSD’ and follows the shattered life of Brigadier James Phelan when he returns to Australia. http://www.simoncleary.com/
writes the most adorable children’s picture books. I have been a fan of Squish Rabbit since his first appearance and assisted Katherine at one of her library book launches. Forty children were expected and 140 turned up! ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ is my favourite so far; profound and endearing. https://katherinebattersby.com/
I love bold bookcovers which alone tell a tiny bit of the story.
was recommended to me by a librarian with hair dyed pink, orange and green. A reader of quirky books like me (although my hairstyle is more conservative) she advised that this book is a bit different. And, yes, he’s the brother of John.
I have to say I have no idea what is in store for me with ‘An Absolutely Remarkable Thing’so I will just leave you with the quote ‘In Hank Green’s sweeping, cinematic debut novel, a young woman becomes an overnight celebrity when her YouTube video goes viral . . . but there’s something bigger and stranger going on’. https://www.hankgreen.com/
Right, that’s it, the seven books I’m going to read—not counting those on my ereader—now comes the wait until I post my book reviews. Ciao for now!
A snapshot of what’s happening in my reading world. Three books! Three genres! Three reviews! My theme was originally started by Book Jotter under the title ‘Reading Looking Thinking’ but I’m only doing the Reading part for this installment.
Quote “I couldn’t stop staring at babies and toddlers in the street: their impossibly tiny nails, pores around their noses, the way each hair on their head existed not as an individual but as part of a silken wave.” Janice, Page 125.
Toni Jordan’s new book ‘The Fragments’ has hit the shelves and in preparation I’ve just read her novel ‘Our Tiny, Useless Hearts’ which I think is a clever rom-com story. Jordan has the knack of writing intelligent gems of heartfelt dialogue from the mouths of sincere characters then setting them in a ludicrous situation. Well, Caroline’s house isn’t ludicrous, it’s more a trendy vehicle for British-style upstairs, downstairs naughtiness and relevant sex scenes. The main players are two couples with shaky marriages (think clothes shredding) and the rest have grit in their relationships. Protagonist Janice (with microbiologist syndrome) is meant to be the sensible one but she has just as many hang-ups as those around her. Amid the embarrassing yet hilarious turmoil, Janice’s divorced husband Alec turns up. The tension escalates even higher, a bad case of ‘Who is going to explode into a million pieces first?’. I was entertained by this book of forthright and dysfunctional people who drew me into their lives. GBW.
Quote“Browsing is part of the tradition of a bookshop,” Florence told Christine. “You must let them stand and turn things over.” Florence, Chapter 5.
What a sombre little story this is. I try not to read reviews or publicity first so I was quite impressed when I saw that English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald wrote ‘The Bookshop’ in 1978 when in her sixties. That’s a lot of life experience, and later a Booker prize. Fitzgerald had worked for the BBC, taught in schools and ran a bookshop. I felt the struggles of Florence Green, fictional proprietor of the East Suffolk small town bookshop, were genuine. Her droll experiences with young helper Christine Gipping appear to be first-hand. In comparison, I found Mr Brundish, Milo North and the rapper (poltergeist) written along classical lines to add drama. Village life is parochial and Florence battles with Mrs Gamart and her far-reaching resentment against resurrecting Old House as a bookshop. Editor Hermione Lee says that Fitzgerald had a ‘tragic sense of life’ and I agree. But her finesse with dialogue, letter-writing and the unspoken has launched countless tropes. By all means prepare, this book has more thorns than roses. GBW.
Quote“My speciality is Ancient Civilisations with a bit of medieval and Tudor stuff chucked in for luck. As far as I was concerned, 1851 was practically yesterday.” Maxwell, Book 5.
The term preferred by Dr Bairstow, Director of the Institute of Historical Research at St Mary’s Priory, is ‘contemporary time’. Jodi Taylor, author of ‘The Chronicles of St Mary’s’ series, writes about a humorous herd of chaos-prone historians who investigate major historical events. They are led by intrepid historian Madeleine Maxwell (aka Max) Chief Operations Officer. After costume fittings, the historians travel in pods with armed guards to places like Ancient Egypt, Mount Vesuvius, Great Fire of London, etc, to observe and take notes while Time Police loom threateningly. Best read in chronological order but Dramatis Thingummy explains characters and each gripping story unfolds, threefold sometimes, as another disaster hits the team. Historians die; Dr Tim Peterson gets bubonic plague; at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Bard himself catches alight. There are currently 22 books, in long and short format. If, like me, you have ever daydreamed of visiting an historic moment in olden times, these books are for you. GBW.
One post with three acts READING, LOOKING, THINKING, an idea started by Book Jotter, innovative blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley. Her invitation to participate offers a slight change from Thinking to Doing if that suits your purpose. I can love, like or loathe in three short bursts! GBW.
This fun tag was brought to my attention by productive book blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley of BookJotter fame. Originally created by Beth of Bibliobeth the idea is to share a picture (aka ‘shelfie’) of your favourite bookshelf and then answer ten questions related to the titles displayed.
Visit Beth’sblog to see more info, the logo and tag and view posts by participating bloggers. Then launch your own unique Q&A Shelfie by Shelfie.
I think many readers will find these titles unfamiliar…
1. Is there any reason for this shelf being organised the way it is or is it purely random?
Short answer is ‘subliminally shelved’. Long answer is there are many bookshelves in our home and until I decided to participate in Shelfie by Shelfie I didn’t realise that most of my books are grouped. Either when they arrived or over a period of time, I’m not sure. There are clumps like non-fiction, poetry, humour, crime, fantasy and (not all shown) Australian content.
2. Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you, i.e. how you got it / a memory associated with it, etc.
Hard to pick just one. I know some of the authors (or received uncorrected bound proofs to review prior to publication) but my all-time special one would have to be ‘My Beachcombing Days: Ninety Sea Sonnets’ by Brisbane poet John Blight. His daughter, a family friend, gave it to me as a birthday gift in the same year as disastrous flooding hit the city. The flood waters also coincided with me securing a glam job in a travel agency which had 12 inches of river mud throughout the ground floor office.
3. Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?
No contest! It would be Tom Keneally’s ‘Shame and the Captives’ a semi-factual diatribe about World War II prisoners-of-war from Italy and Japan who are held in a compound in Gawell, New South Wales, but allowed to work on a local farm. It does have its altruistic moments but there’s bloodshed aplenty and the ‘uncertainty and chaos’ never worked for me.
4. Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?
‘Withering-by-Sea’ written by children’s author and illustrator Judith Rossell. Young heroine Stella Montgomery is the epitome of someone I would have loved to have known when I was a child. I did read a lot of British kids books! Set in Victorian England, the story is both adventurous and creepy. Apart from dressing up as a mature-age Stella Montgomery for library Book Week, two years ago I had my copy of the book signed by Judith Rossell when I attended her writers workshop in historic Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne.
5. Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?
Hmm, that would be a toss-up between Nobel Prize for Literature winner Patrick White ‘The Cockatoos’ and Miles Franklin ‘My Brilliant Career’ both yellowing reprints dated 1974 and 1979 respectively. I guess Mr White wins.
6. Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?
Another toss of the coin. ‘Truly Tan Hoodwinked!’ (Book 5) kids chapter book written by Jen Storer, and ‘Care of Australian Wildlife: For Gardeners, Landholders and Wildlife Carers’ by Erna Walraven, a 2004 revised edition but in mint condition and recently purchased in a second-hand bookshop. The most adorable teeny tiny Koala baby is on the front cover. The Koala wins by a nose.
7. Which book from this shelf are you most excited to read (or re-read if this is a favourites shelf?)
I have a ‘thing’ for DBC Pierre, expat Aussie writer, and admire his off-kilter books. I own two of his novels (the rest were loans) and love ‘Breakfast with the Borgias’ which I willingly re-read; and I’m usually not a re-reader. Perhaps the fact that one of the characters is named Gretchen has something to do with it.
8. If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.
There is a small cardboard cut-out figure of Lisa Simpson from TV series The Simpsons which probably came with a McDonalds meal deal. Lisa is holding an armload of books and in the show she is the lone advocate of literacy and learning. I always like to think she influenced a generation of TV viewers to read. And that she’s happy on this shelf.
9. What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?
It doesn’t tell you that I borrow hugely from my local library; or that I read too many e-books; nor that my current audio book is, ironically, ‘The Book Case’ by Dave Shelton narrated by Colleen Prendergast. It does shout that I’m an Australian reader.
I read most genres and most writers regardless of nationality (translated helps!) but I keep coming back to Australian authors. In an online book forum, I recall an American reader saying he only read American books because he understood them. He didn’t mean the language, he meant emotional ties, recognition, connection. That’s what I get from Australian books, nevertheless, I do think we have to step outside our comfort zone.
10. Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.
A free question I can make up sounds good. NOTE I do not activate Comments, you will have to answer it in your own Shelfie by Shelfie blog post.
BONUS QUESTION: Do you discuss the books you read in a face-to-face situation, online book reviews, or clutch your latest read to your chest saying ‘my precious, my precious’?
Happy reading, blog stars!
For modern Australian book reviews I can recommend blogger and bookseller Simon McDonald https://writtenbysime.com/ while this list contains notably mature Australian authors: Thea Astley
Janette Turner Hospital
Jill Ker Conway
Leonie Judith Kramer
John Dunmore Lang
James Phillip McAuley
Bernard Patrick O’Dowd
Katherine Susannah Prichard
Henry Handel Richardson
Alfred George Stephens
Arthur William Upfield
Can you tell a book by its cover? Sure you can! Just the same as an individual’s personality and clothing can tell something about them, a book lures the reader with an enticing cover image. That visual reveal, a hint of what’s hidden within the book is a very important marketing tool.
A contemporary bookcover, no matter what the genre or category, has to be identifiable. It has to look good on publicity material, it has to create a mood and it has to appeal to its target audience. The font style, back cover blurb and all-important artwork join together to get you interested enough to part with your money. Unless you are borrowing the book from your local library. Nevertheless, you will still be interested in that lurid hardback in your hand because it promises so much…just look at that out-of-context quote from a famous author who said “chilling depth” and “sizzling romance” from a “writer with imagination”.
Millions of modern eye-catching bookcovers are perfectly serviceable and practicable and sensible and don’t mislead the intended reader. It can be argued that bookcover images only hint at a small portion of the entire book. But, as a person who reads books very closely, I disagree. I like to make my own assumptions and not be misled by skewed artistry.
Thus I start my LONG bookcover show-and-tell, documenting that which has annoyed me for some time – the all-to-obvious artwork on bookcovers, those illustrations which give the game away.
The reveal: I loathe it when the crime bookcover shows the pivotal moment in the book. A dead giveaway! Is that the graphic artist’s fault for reading the front and back page? Is it the publisher’s fault for handing out the last chapter?
Bookcover clue giveaway: I have just finished a police procedural and the creepy black-and-white cover photo with a rundown house on the hill encircled by barbed wire is actually where the bodies are buried. No kidding, I knew every time the detective went up that hill, he was darn stupid. Or the one with the sketch of a child on a rocking horse holding a scythe over her shoulder – storyline crumbles before it starts. Worth mentioning that a rocking horse was not even in the story.
Vignettes snipped from a chapter: Like historical fiction “Golden Hill”, where a sketch of the hero is seen on the bookcover leaping across a roof top in true Hollywood style, no doubt aimed at action-loving readers, when the bulk of the story revolves around cruel social hierarchy.
A mystery novel: Well, murder actually because several people end up getting killed. This illustration managed to ruin the first three punchlines in the first three chapters. Not to mention the good guy is seen working in the downstairs office window when his office is upstairs. Plus the red motorbike heading up the road outside is meant to be him, at the same time. Lovely drawing but couldn’t they have chosen something more accurate?
Overcooked Clones: There’s the hand frozen in ice (guess how the victim dies) there’s the bridge across the river (guess how the victim dies) there’s the threat (a big dark old building) there’s a corrupt political serial killer millionaire mowing his way through rich widowed neurotic socialites on board his yacht (guess how the victims die) or bones poking out of the earth…black crow…wolf in snow…lonely highway…stark tree…dropped gun…body part…the train racing through the underground station…all overdone crime tropes.
To quote Tim Kreider, essayist: “The main principles of design—in books…is your product must be bold and eye-catching and conspicuously different from everyone else’s, but not too much! Which is why the covers of most contemporary books all look disturbingly the same, as if inbred.” Which leads into––
Dark silhouette: I, for one, thoroughly dislike the brooding male or female silhouette in a heavy coat, head down, walking toward a menacing city skyline/bridge on a rain-soaked evening. Boring! The stock standard photo silhouette has been on countless bookcovers for years. Think of Lee Child.
Expected bookcovers or Clone II: Why does (1) Romance have the obligatory well-developed over-muscled man and well-developed bust-overflowing woman, and (2) Literary fiction has a sedate, toned, almost elegant layout with a design which purrs good taste? (3) Non-fiction is so varied it usually has just a colour photo with a word overlay. (4) Historical fiction will have a woman in period costume gazing at house or hillside. (5) Children’s books, fantasy and science fiction have a place all their own. Renegades breaking up the predictable.
Flip side: An irrelevant illustration. There are obscure bookcovers like “The Midnight Promise” with two hands shaking as though in agreement when the Promise is nothing like that image. At least it gave me something to ponder.
World-wide: I’m commenting on English language publications and referring to p-books and e-books. I’ve mentioned arbitrary books I have read and tried not to name them. However, the same book published in different countries gets a different bookcover. This is where designers and image stock can become tricksy. I have seen translated children’s books looking very adult, young adult books looking too adult, and adult books looking sugary sweet, e.g. cosy mystery covers with blood-thirsty content between the pages.
BONUS: Terry Pratchett’s bookcovers by artists Josh Kirby and Paul Kidby tell a detailed story. With fiction, decide how closely you should look. Decide if you want to undermine the plot. You may not even notice pictorial clues! Ask yourself if you are exercising your own freewill, or are you conditioned by a generic bookcover image.
Today, the mass market book illustrators, the image makers, appear to acquire design inspiration from their clinical, perfectly sculptured computer programs. Perhaps they should visit an art gallery, or see what’s shakin’ in the real world, then tell that miserable silhouette model to get lost.
Never stop reading!
Postscript : A Tiny Bit of History : Literature has changed in more ways than one over the centuries. Illuminated manuscripts gave way to smaller volumes with dust covers/jackets in 1820s Regency, then refined in 1920s to make hardback books more attractive. Before this the majority of bookcovers were a plain single colour with gold embossed wording and little adornment. Swanky ones did have lithographs or a portrait frontispiece. It is considered that 1930s paperback printing changed the course of bookcover art.