Category: Recommendnation

05
Dec

Some books I read, loved and can recommend.

Every now and then I take a photo of a book, or even a stack of books, with nice lighting and cute composition, with the intention of placing said photo on the Instagram, enthusiastically endorsing them so that everyone else can experience the same thrill and feverish page turning mania I did.

Then I forget to post it, start a new book, and promptly forget all about previous book, especially when someone says, ‘Read any good books lately?’.

So here’s a list of (some of the) Books I’ve Loved* this year.

That doesn’t mean they’re the only books I read, nor that they were necessarily released this year, by the way, just that I read them this year. So don’t get all fidgety if you see Are you there God, it’s me Margaret on the list. A good book is a good book! They don’t expire! Good on them!

Of course, it goes without saying (but not, apparently, without writing) that a book is a tremendous Chrimmus gift, especially since many people, like myself, get crippled with indecision at the book shop.

Another great gift is a homemade cream and sponge cake, in case anyone I know is reading this.

TODAY WILL BE DIFFERENT, Maria Semple

If you are yet to read Maria’s brilliant Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, for the love of lice, do. It is a triumph in funny, clever, manic story telling. This is equally wonderful, her female protagonist again dancing dangerously between feisty, glamorous wife, mother and woman, and complete nervous breakdown. Semple is a former writer for SNL, Mad About You and Arrested Development. So, yknow, chops. She’s sharp as lemon and funny as hell.

Good for: Lovers of wit, sassy dames, and just all women with pulses, really.

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THE DRY, Jane Harper

Utterly harrowing and at times difficult to read (as a mother – those who’ve read it know what I mean) this Aussie outback murder-mystery-thriller is a cracking yarn, which is not a sentence I thought I would ever write, but there you go.

Good for: People into crime stuff.

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ELEANOR AND PARK, Rainbow Rowell

Not only does Rainbow win at names, but her tale about two misfit teens falling in love (in the EIGHTIES NO LESS!!!) is a masterpiece of deep feels and wonderful detail. I loved this book so much. Make me a mixtape already.

Good for: Romantics and nostalgics and ’80s kids.

eleanorandpark

THE GAP OF TIME, Jeanette Winterson.

A sexy, elegant, (get ready for it…) unputdownable modern retelling of Billy Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. (Also: Jeanette Winterson! She of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit!) Fun fact: The Gap of Time was the first in a series of modern Shakespearian re-tellings. Since then Anne Tyler has published Vinegar Girl (casually hanging out in the stack next to my bed) which is based on The Taming of The Shrew, and the inimitable Margaret Atwood has just released Hag-Seed, a retelling of The Tempest. Woo!

Good for: Shakespeare fans. And also non-Shakespeare fans.

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BURIAL RITES, Hannah Kent

I finally read this (2013) smash as a catch up before reading Kent’s new book, The Good People, which I have not got around to reading but it’s coming on holidays with me because what could be better than some dark and miserable Scandi Noir over summer. Like billions of others, Burial Rites grabbed be my the goolies and did not let go. And that’s saying something cos a tale set in rural Iceland in the 1800s about a woman condemned to death for the murder of her employer is not generally my jam. Kent is a phenomenal writer, and this is an exceptional book.

Good for: People who can read.

burial-rites

BEAUTIFUL RUINS, Jess Walter

I read this in 2015 and again this year because I’m lazy, sure, but also cos it’s great. It’s wonderful and often feels as though you are watching a film. There’s romance! Glamour! Mystery! Love! Italy! Movie stars! Death! Oh, what a ride! Jess Walter is constantly referred to as a ridiculously talented writer, but this book is rubbish. No, wait. This book proves it! This book proves it.

Good for: Romantics and film-lovers and fans of a good bloody story.

beautiful-ruins

LETTERS OF NOTE, Compiled by Shaun Usher

I gift this book constantly. (Also it’s follow up, More Letters of Note.) It is a magnificent, very special collection of rare, romantic, historical, heartbreaking, harrowing, hilarious, breathtaking and bombastic letters from presidents, poets, painters and paupers, featuring job applications, suicide notes, letters from fans and the first recorded use of OMG. This is a brilliant, gutting, gorgeous book, full of gems, and OH, how I love it.

Good for: ANYONE. No, wait. EVERYONE.

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WHAT I’VE LEARNED, (US) Esquire

My favourite page from my favourite magazine (note that it’s US Esquire, not that stinkin’ UK edition), where, thanks to the exceptional interviewing skills of (usually) Cal Fussman, you get access to the most crystallised, potent little mind diamonds from successful, fascinating and brilliant people. Often funny, always interesting, and with more wisdom than, I don’t know, something really wise like an owl maybe, there are a few editions, but the older ones can be tricky to get your mitts on. The most recent edition (featuring Ted Danson, Robert DeNiro, Aaron Sorkin, Lionel Richie, Sigourney Weaver, Amy Schumer etc etc) isn’t though.

Good for: Everyone but tis an especially terrific gift for any male human you’re struggling to buy for.

esquire-what-i-ve-learned

WE FOUND A HAT, Jon Klassen

The newest and maybe my favourite from the king of very silly and very perfect picture books. If you haven’t already bough his other hat-based tales, This Is Not My Hat, and I Want My Hat Back, then you’re a sweet fool.

Good for: Toddlers and – gasp! – their parents.

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Also I hear that beauty book Amazinger Face is good, and that book that they made a telly show made out of, The Wrong Girl is great, and The Younger Man and Playing The Field and Textbook Romance and Air Kisses are really awesome and worth a read too, but I can’t remember who wrote them except I think her name had something to do with a beer and she has frizzy hair.

 

*I also read lots of (often dull) non-fiction (Unfinished Business, What To Do When It’s Your Turn, Big Magic, The Importance of Being Little, The Whole-Brain Child) and am totally up to date with Sweet Valley High, but they’re not books I loved with a big pink loveheart.

Responses to this drivel: 33 Comments
28
Nov

My favourite bits of Italy.

Despite the fact that it requires many thousands of dollars/kilometres for Australians to holiday abroad, and our currency is always being picked on by the bigger kids, we Strayans continue to travel overseas in rising numbers, and with craftier luggage tricks. Good on us.

I usually choose Italy. I’ll go there annually if they’ll continue to have me, despite my terrible pronunciation of “grazie”.

Some reasons include:

  • Carbs
  • Fashion
  • Negronis
  • Ricotta cheesecake
  • Swimming off rocks and no sand anywhere
  • No judgment when ordering a bowl of pasta, then pizza
  • Friendly, warm, welcoming Italians
  • Everyone looks great because everyone wears sunglasses always
  • Carbs

Like most people, I’ve done the classic Italian hotspots: Venice, Positano, Sicily and, of course, Athens. Here are some of my favourite things to do/see/eat/visit in the aforementioned hotspots.

Taormina, Sicily

We stayed in Taormina, on the beach, rather than up in town. But with a cable car swinging its way between the town (all the food/shops and most of the hotels) and beach (a handful of hotels and restaurants) all day, both options are good. Have a fancy, view-soaked drink at Grand Hotel Taormina, and outstanding aperitivo at Timoleone. Have your (daily) granita at Bam Bam bar, swim at Isola Bella, and make a day trip to Noto and Syracuse if time permits. Definitely eat lunch (or ideally stay) at Country House Villadorata, just outside of Noto, if you’re roaming. It served up the finest meal of my trip.

 

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Portofino

Portofino could never be accused of being cheap, but that’ll happen when you’re a) tiny, b) breathtaking, and c) overrun with super yachts and tourists. But it’s so lovely! Pop on your best boaty pastels and make the trip already! Head up to Hotel Splendido (often called the best hotel in the world, and after staying there, I’m a believer) for a sunset cocktail, and when the bill arrives suck it up and file it in your “Lifelong Memories” folder. Buy some cheese, wine and crackers in town and have a picnic in the surrounding national park; have a casual lunch at La Taverna del Marinaio, or walk away from the packed main square to L’Isolotto for some of the best pizza of your goddamn life. There’s a small, protected swimming area just below Splendido where locals swim laps (scene of one of the most magical rock swims of my life), or Paraggi beach just outside town.

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Venice?

Rome?

Capri and Positano?

Florence?

Click here.

Definitely not here.

Responses to this drivel: 6 Comments
03
Aug

Five Total Florence Food Wins.

In a sentence that’s so gross even I’m repulsed: a few years back I lived in Tuscany while writing a novel. When I say ‘lived’, I mean schlepped around from B&B to B&B, from Lucca to San Gimignano, Forte dei Marmi to Florence, for six weeks. But still, it counts for something. Oh no, no, no, you mustn’t call me a local, it’s too much, basta, basta!

Florence swiftly stole my heart, the old dog. That’s its thing! It’s a heart-stealer, an extremely pretty, romantic city boasting an exciting history, art superstars, terrific food, world-class shopping and breathtakingly long queues for nude statues. (Also, in July, far too many tourists, but as one of them, even a local one, I’m not meant to say that.)

ZOEFLORENCE

 

As it happens each time I fall off a plane, I Goog everything from ‘finest Negroni in Florence’ to ‘best gelato in Florence’ to ‘local favourite pizza Florence.’ I need to know what’s best, old and new. If I’m in a city for only a few days, there is no time for a bad meal. They each must be sensational, lest my holiday slip below a 100% perfection rating. (Airports and, yknow, actual travel in general notwithstanding.)

And not a bad meal was had. Click this link to read my favourites, all of which are pretty perfect if you only have a few days/a stomach with a perfectionist complex.

Click this link if you like hearing goats yell like humans.

Responses to this drivel: 2 Comments
22
Jun

Recommendnation: Kid’s music that doesn’t suck.

I love recommendations.

I love them for restaurants, and travel spots, and places to swim, and peanut butter brands, and shapewear, and chiropractors, and apps, and hip-hop, and dry shampoo, and books, and movies, and just EVERYTHING.

I thirst for them, I live for them, I inhale them; I need them.

I love being given recommendations, or uncovering them accidentally, or hearing them second-hand even when they’re not for me, and I love writing them down furiously while listening to podcasts. And obviously, since I am a self-important person with access to a blog and social media, I like making recommendations myself.

Not because they are necessarily the best, after all, a recommendation is just an opinion dressed up in hyperbole, but rather to save other people the time and energy and bullshit of researching things that require being in the know (‘where should I eat dinner when I am in Brisbane?’), or overwhelmingly subjective (‘which pram is best?’), or authority (‘which lip balm should I buy?’) or being a bit of a tightarse (‘how can I save money on toilet paper?’)

And so, I wanted to start a specific category of blog post (and sometimes maybe just a social media post) that deals only in recommendations.

I will throw mine up on a topic, and then, since you have the ability to leave comments/your own ideas about what is good and what you like, you get to throw your recommendations down below in the comment tornado.

And so together, we create a living, breathing, dynamic, organic, passionate, authentic recommend… nation. A recommendnation!

What fun! What absolute magic!

Oh, let’s begin already, my heart can hardly take it. Tonight my recommendation concerns:

GOOD KID’S MUSIC.

As a parent you are inevitably and perhaps unfairly thrust into a world of music that you would not, in a child-free existence, toot towards. As a passionate music lover, and the owner of a home that must always have music playing, (Spotify via Sonos, since you asked) I was determined not to listen to music that sucked just cos I had a kid. I would listen to music that was child-friendly, even made for children, but not music that would make me want to stab myself in the knee with a fish knife. I realise it has to be fun for my son to hear and sing along to, but since I am listening too, well, it can’t be shit, basically.

So, it’s Aladdin, it’s Jungle Book, it’s the Muppets, it’s Rockabye Baby, Medeski, Martin and Woods, it’s Caspar BabypantsThe Dream Jam Band, (Nicky Nicky Knock Knock is a terrific song, I don’t care how old you are) and it’s Ralph’s World and Raffi (polarising/daggy but I love) and some Wiggles stuff (I think that Wiggle Town has shades of The Beatles. Yes, I just wrote that.)

Raffi

It’s generally pretty folksy and gentle; easy to have on in the background through the day without feeling like you’re about to eat some cut-up vegemite sandwiches, a squeezy yoghurt then take a nap.

Also we listen to Kinderling radio, mostly in the evening, when it’s cruisy and there are some stories and instrumental stuff to calm mad little bugs down, (I find all the talk during the day annoying). And thank F we do, cos that’s how I discovered The Teeny Tiny Stevies, a couple of Melbourne sisters doing some very good, and very easy to listen to indie-folk music for little people that I find myself singing along to even when the music has stopped, and sometimes even playing when Sonny is not around.  Kind of remind of me of the Whitlams a bit, if anyone remembers those guys. (You will know this song.)

Teeny-Tiny-Stevies

Here is my Little Kids Spotify playlist. Have a listen, or, don’t. Be sure to list any recommendations for good little kids music below. Be judicious, for the love of Gabba Gabba, be judicious.

Ultimately kids music is just music. If it’s catchy, and good, then I will listen to it. I’m not a genre snob, I just like good music. Whether that’s classical, rock, jazz, rap, pop, EDM or kids: if it’s good, I’ll listen.

Except for death metal. I fucking hate death metal. Sorry.

Responses to this drivel: 38 Comments