The House on Carnaval Street (Margarita Wednesdays) by Deborah Rodriguez – Review

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A little bit Shirley Valentine, a little bit Eat, Pray, Love: a memoir by the remarkable Deborah Rodriguez.

A hairdresser and mother from the United States married to an aspiring warlord in Kabul, she has been forced to flee Afghanistan. On her return to the US she finds herself lost and floundering. At forty-nine she decides to move to Mexico, packs up her belongings, including her cat, and drives South. She purchases a tiny house in Mazatlan and begins slowly to get to know herself and her surroundings.

A woman who has always taken the road less travelled, Rodriguez allows us to live her exotic life vicariously. She describes the expat scene in Mazatlan, the locals and her new relationships and family with candour and humour.

I found the memoir inspirational. Rodriguez shows us that it is never to late to change course or start life over. Her first nonfiction book, Kabul Beauty School, tells of the beauty school she established in Kabul and again in Mexico she is driven to help make a difference in her community the best way she knows how.

Rodriguez is also the author of  The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul.

 

I received this book to review via Netgalley.

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Review: The Unknown Woman by Jacqueline Lunn

Book ReviewThe The Unknown Woman explores issues of modern motherhood: the challenges of juggling work and family, the mothering instinct, abandonment, choices and the secrets that people and families keep.

The central character of the novel is Lilith Grainger, 44, a Sydney Eastern Suburbs housewife who is dedicated to the smooth and efficient running of her home and family. In the process of growing her perfect family though, Lilith has somehow, inadvertently lost her way. She is beginning to feel invisible and to question the path her life has taken. Her family and friends are oblivious to her inner turmoil and largely take her for granted. Lilith’s  well-meaning actions all appear to be adding up to a purpose-less life. She grapples with her existential angst and her slightly bizarre way of dealing with her dilemma provides the novel with a quirky twist.

I found many of the novel’s characters to be unlikeable, which is perhaps the point. Obsessive stay-at-home mums focused on elevating their ordinary children to the extraordinary, women trying to make life feel purposeful by creating lists of busywork. Blonde pony-tailed women in exercise gear drive their European 4WDs to pick up their over-scheduled children from expensive private schools. Lilith’s  teenage daughter Olivia, is narcissistic and secretive. Her yoga friend Nikki is vacuous and unpleasant and Lilith’s mother or mother-in-law are unsupportive.

This is a great book to spark discussion for book clubs as it explores modern dilemmas, societal values and the choices that women make. Questions for bookclubs are provided on Random House’s website.

I received a free e-copy of The Unknown Woman to review from Random House via NetGalley.

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Top 5 books I’ve read this year

1. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

This has replaced The Poisonwood Bible as my all time favourite book. The novel is narrated through the eyes of 11 year-old Darling, a Zimbabwean child who lives in grinding poverty. We see the world through her eyes, first as a child living in Zimbabwe and then as a teenager experiencing life as an illegal immigrant living with her Aunt in America. It is funny and grim and raw and enlightening.

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Nick and Amy are seemingly a perfect couple. Then on their fifth wedding anniversary Amy disappears. As the book progresses we discover that all was not well with the marriage and the mystery of Amy’s disappearance deepens. Without giving anything away there are some surprising twists and turns.

3. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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A novel about Victoria, a troubled young woman who has grown up in the foster system. Her story is intertwined with her gift  for understanding the meaning and language of flowers.  Beautiful and gripping.

“I’m talking about the language of flowers,” Elizabeth said. “It’s from the Victorian era, like your name. If a man gave a young lady a bouquet of flowers, she would race home and try to decode it like a secret message. Red roses mean love; yellow roses infidelity. So a man would have to choose his flowers carefully.”

4. Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin

You are either into this kind of fiction or you’re not. My family had to get used to me being absent until I had waded through all the books in the series so far. Total escapism.

5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The tragic tale of the beautiful and unhappily married Anna and her affair with the dashing Count Vronsky.

This novel was first published in Russia in 1873 yet it’s themes of morality, love and family still resonate tonday. It “explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.” from Goodreads.

Book Review: Kitchen Table Memoirs

 

 

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Kitchen Table Memoirs would make a gorgeous present for mother’s day. It is infused with the love of family and the triumphs and tragedies played out around the kitchen table. It brought back to me fond memories of growing up in the seventies in Sydney, watching Countdown on a Sunday night, jumping on a trampoline endlessly throughout the school holidays, and the joys and tortures of sitting at the table while family dramas played themselves out.

Prominent Australian writers and foodies have donated their stories:

  • Denise Scott remembers her mother’s kitchen table as a hub of activities including tea drinking, smoking, sewing and tanning children for gym competitions. She describes what it feels like to witness her mother’s Alzheimer’s as she reshapes the history of the kitchen table to help her cope.
  • Dan Stock describes his experience working and eating as a chef at the River Cafe.
  • Helen Garner reflects on the different tables she has purchased for different phases of her life.
  • Annabel Langbein enjoys sharing a workers lunch in Italy.
  • Valli Little describes a kitchen table left behind with her parents in England when she leaves to live in Australia.
  • Martin Brown points out the merits of table climbing learned while living in a shared household as a student.
  • Elizabeth Cashen reveals what she learned at the table as a patient at an Eating Disorders Clinic during a difficult period in her life.
  • Barbara Santich’s childhood table taught her to enjoy the preserving of fruit, jam making, bread baking and the happiness of preparations for Christmas lunch.
  • Jean Kittson describes the journey a table takes from generation to generation with her working class family in the countryside. The table is a country where babies are bathed, pipes are smoked and family tragedies and triumphs are played out.
  • Tony Wilson’s brother is laid out on the kitchen table after a trampolining stunt gone wrong.
  • An adult Jane Caro tries to talk to her mother at the table about growing up that she has revisited in recent therapy .
  • Jessica Adams realises that growing up in Australia had a lot to do about sitting down to dinner in front of Countdown every Sunday night.
  • Bruce Esplin talks about what it was like to sit for his wife Roz’s Archibald portrait prize entry.
  • Gemima Cody grows up in the school of hard knocks and travels the world to find her way back home.
  • Spiri Tsintziras sits at the family table at her parents’ house with her own kids.
  • Ben Robertson finds a love of family and his table.
  • John Tully works as a chef in the Antarctic and prepares an extravagant Midwinter dinner.
  • Stefano de Pieri enjoys the ritual of an Italian Sunday lunch with his family and friends  in Australia.
  • George McEncroe is one of a family of seven so table room was at a premium growing up. She now has four of her own small children and the table conversation is priceless.
  • Simon Marnie talks about finding and eating Australia’s first truffle and the genius of chef Tim Pak Choy.

A percentage of royalties from each book sold will be donated to Foodbank, Australia’s largest food relief agency.

Note: I was given a copy of Kitchen Table Memoirs to review for MumsDelivery.

To Hellas and Back – Book Review

Lana Penrose is a friend of mine who has successfully published her first 2 books with Penguin. She is now self- publishing and re-launching her books so I have written the review below to introduce you to her and her witty and honest portrayal of her time living in Greece as portrayed in To Hellas and Back.

When Australian-born Lana Penrose’s boyfriend Dion is offered the job of a lifetime in radio in Athens they are thrilled. Lana sees it as an opportunity to have a sabbatical, take a well-earned break from a hectic career and discover the joys of Greece.

Like all good Greek tragedies things start to unravel fairly quickly when they arrive in Athens and Lana discovers an inability to grasp learning Greek and a dislike for feta cheese. “For me, English was my one and only idiom and it seemed that the vernacular part of my brain was welded shut” says Penrose ruefully. Meanwhile Dion enthusiastically rediscovers and embraces his Greek heritage.

Lana is not allowed to work in Greece which meant she had time on her hands, living in a country that she experiences as confusing, unwelcoming and sometimes frightening. To Hellas and Back is dedicated to “The Displaced” which reflects how Penrose felt for those 4 years in Athens.

Penrose describes her slow decline into depression and despair as she fails to assimilate and over-come her culture-shock. She spends lonely hours unsuccessfully trying to find friends and a purpose to fill her days. She describes her new-found obsessions with ironing and hair removal and the slow disintegration of her relationship with raw truth and humour.

This is no pity-party though and her honest and raw account of her life in Athens is told with wit and a healthy ability to laugh at her struggles.  Penrose’s advice to those about to embark on a similar journey is “to read ‘To Hellas and Back’ and do the opposite of everything I did. In that way, you’re guaranteed happiness!”

She says that To Hellas and Back began as an idea for a guidebook for those visiting Athens – full of pith, wit and wisdom. It somehow evolved into a memoir that was first published by Penguin. This is a funny and poignant story that will make you laugh and cry.

Lana Penrose’s second book Kickstart My Heart follows on from her time in Athens. She arrives in London shell-shocked from her experiences in Athens and resumes her career, catering to a global pop sensation. She is now based in Sydney and is currently working on her third novel Addicted to Love. Her books are available digitally and in print from www.lanapenrose.com.au