Autumn reads

Autumn is one of my best seasons for reading. Change is in the air, the days are getting shorter and the air crisper, giving way to long evenings that beg for time spent on the couch with a blanket and a good book. For us Southern Hemisphere dwellers, autumn comes in March, as the year buckles down to serious business – and really, is there any business more serious than working your way through your book list?

While autumn has been shy around these parts (currently we’re finishing up the hottest May on record) I’ve had a stellar season of reading. From novels experimental in form to deliciously light reads to revisited favourites, the past few months have been spent poring over pages whenever I got the chance.

Here’s what I’ve been reading this autumn:

Autumn Covers

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty – Vendela Vida

I read this book for my book club, and it was the perfect pick because I may not have chosen it for myself.

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty follows a young woman as she runs, desperately, from her old life and journeys to Morocco. Something shattering has happened, the narration vibrates with a tense anxiety from the beginning, and throughout the book glimpses of the truth are revealed.

Interestingly, the book is written in second person. I liked this technique, not imagining that I was the character battling her way through the streets of Casablanca, but that the character had lost her identity so fully that she could no longer name herself.

The book had an immediacy I liked, though at times the character was frustrating. But aren’t we all a bit frustrating to outsiders in times of life shattering happenings? I think she can be forgiven.

The Life and Death of Sophie StarkAnna North

Through the eyes of those closest to her and those farthest removed, we learn the story of Sophie Stark.

Sophie is an ingénue with a twist. She’s a young and innocent film director with infinite potential, the hottest thing on the US film scene, and yet she’s paralyzingly socially inept, rude and, at times, terribly cruel to those who love her.

Throughout the novel, we learn about Sophie’s life through the stories of her brother, lovers, fans and critics. The novel reads like an unfolding map, revealing more and more about Sophie’s character, and yet following Sophie as she continues to move further from finding her way.

Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer

I can’t remember where I stumbled upon this YA gem, but I’m so glad I did. Written diary style, it follows teen Miranda through an apocalyptic survival story that focuses on the domestic, rather than the heroic, a twist on the genre that I loved.

When a meteor collides with the moon and pushes it closer to earth, life as Miranda and her family knows it ceases to exist. The earth’s environment changes, causing cataclysmic natural disasters, and society breaks down. Electricity is limited to random bursts, which means internet use, phones and heating become luxuries of the past.

Rather than centering around an epic journey across country in which Miranda saves all mankind, this novel focuses on her experience as a teen, with teen desires and angst, as her family stay put and quietly battle for survival in their new world. This more realistic scenario, stripped of bravado, is chilling to experience through Miranda’s eyes, making me question “what would I do” if this situation came true.

The Chocolate PromiseJosephine Moon

Josephine Moon is a local writer who has had international success with her books The Tea Chest and The Chocolate Promise. I love reading books by writers of my home state, and Josephine Moon certainly did us proud with this one.

The Chocolate Promise follows chocolate artisan Christmas (the name makes sense in the book!) and as she builds her life in Tasmania. Having suffered in the past, Christmas protects herself from disappointment, depression and heartbreak with a serious of rules that govern her life. Instead of looking for love or worrying about the past, she focuses on finding ways to make her chocolate not only as delicious but as beneficial to her customers as she can.

Of course, love and chocolate go together so well that her rules get shaky when Lincoln van Luc comes to town. This book follows Christmas as she journeys from Tasmania to France, through her past and into her future. It’s a fun novel full of delightful, small town characters, beautifully described settings and lots and lots of chocolate.

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Reading The Chocolate Promise while reminiscing about the trip we took to Tasmania last September and eating my favourite Meiji chocolate was a highlight of the month!

The Tusk That Did the Damage Tania James

Another book club read, though with an elephant protagonist (or antagonist, depending on how you read it), I probably would have picked this one up regardless.

The Gravedigger is an infamous elephant renown for viciously killing humans in unprovoked attacks, then “burying” their bodies. This book follows three narratives told from the perspectives of The Gravedigger, The Poacher and The Filmmaker, exploring the effects of elephant poaching and the ivory trade in South India from a variety of perspectives.

I can find books with multiple points of view a bit hard to follow at times, but each separate narrative in this book is told in such a distinct voice that I had no trouble jumping between stories as the chapters rolled on. While I could have enjoyed a whole book told from The Gravedigger’s perspective, the three different stories provided a much broader look at the co-existence of people and elephants and the issue of poaching.

Perhaps because I had expectations of a kind of vengeful Animals of Farthing Wood-esque story, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I hoped I would, but I learned far more than I expected. If there’s a trade-off for not getting the cutesy elephant story you expected, I think that should be it.

The Art of FieldingChad Harbach

The Art of Fielding is a much loved favourite of mine, and an indulgent re-read this month. If I start a proper review I’ll end up gushing on for pages and pages, so I’ll just say that I adore this book and every character in it. It’s a beautifully and carefully crafted piece of writing, inspirational to me as a writer and totally endearing as a reader. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it as the perfect read for any time of year.

 

I’m preparing my winter reading list now with much excitement, keeping in mind the ten day tropical holiday we’ve got coming up which will call for the appropriate beach reads. Do you have any great winter or holiday reading recommendations?

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Planting poppies

Poppies are my favourite flower. Their cheerful heads bobbing hello in the morning, their fuzzy buds and delicate, papery petals, their association with remembrance. Any colour, anywhere, any day, I’ll take poppies!

My father scatters poppy seeds across the front garden each year, with months of blooms to follow. For years, I’ve looked forward to living in a house with suitable space to grow some of my own.

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I planted my first poppy seeds last weekend, and already a handful of tiny seedlings have sprouted. New life, stretching toward the sun, promising me a potful of colour over winter and spring. I chose Icelandic poppies this year, hopefully we’ll see a mix of white, orange, yellow and pink flowers popping up.

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We also set up a herb garden a few weeks ago, which is flourishing inside a wire cage designed to keep the possums at bay. It’s wonderful to add flavour to home cooking with fresh herbs again. In particular I’ve been enjoying adding handfuls of mint in Anglo Asian Lamb Salad, and fresh rosemary and thyme to roast chicken and vegetables.

Gardening always serves as a great reminder to slow down. A little poke in my side encouraging me to remember during busy days that life still takes time, and how eager other living beings are to adapt, grow and flourish. To bask in the sunshine, soak up food and water, sway in the breeze. A few minutes in the morning spent watering and watching for new growth is a welcome addition to my routine.

Do you have favourite plants in your garden?