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Read-a-long Discussion Post #1 – The Storyteller & His Three Daughters by Lian Hearn

Storyteller

Anyone not taking part in the read-a-long skim to the bottom of the post to enter to win 1 of 5 copies

Hello everyone and welcome to the first discussion post for The Storyteller & His Three Daughters by Lian Hearn. Before you read this post or comment please make sure you’ve read the first section of the book, from pages 1-131 to avoid being spoiled for anything!

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The setting of the book is late 1800s Japan which is something I’m not very familiar with and is not very well represented in my reading. It seems that it was a bit of a time of turmoil for Japan with the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the rise of the Meiji Restoration which opened Japan up to trade with Europe. Japan wanted to be a superpower in world affairs and there was some thought that like other world superpowers such as Britain, France etc, they should also have colonies and for this they seemed to be eyeing off their neighbouring Korea. I found the history incorporated into the story quite interesting, especially seeing as it was done in a way that seemed quite subtle and not like it was deliberately educating the reader. Is anyone else as unfamiliar with the setting as me and if so, did you feel that the book did an adequate job of helping to set it for you? Do you like the style of the writing and the way that the story is unfolding?

The story centers around Sei, a storyteller in his fifties who is experiencing a slight decline in his career given that newer and younger storytellers are on the block, working in European fables and myths, making their work more exciting than Sei’s more traditional stories. He has three daughters all of whom he has arranged marriages for but two of the marriages break down in the first section of the book which means that he has two of his daughters come home to live. He is in some debt but an answer to his financial problems might’ve come in an offer from a charismatic man only Sei is unsure whether or not to accept or decline only to find out that the decision has been made for him – and now he must fulfill his part of the bargain. He looks to the comings and goings of his neighbours for inspiration for new stories and through them he discovers a Korean actor. These relationships that he observes become the basis for a new story and one of the lodgers at his neighbours house introduces him to French novels and they become the basis for several more.

A recurring interest in the novel so far is “nanshoku” or “man love” which seems to be culturally ingrained in Japan during the time of the warriors and is described as “more admirable than falling in love with a woman”. It ran to all facets of society before it was basically outlawed. Sei himself is familiar with it although claims to have had no real personal experience. However he becomes fascinated with several male-male relationships around him revolving around the young Korean actor Kyu and he becomes very invested in what is happening between all of the players for what he thinks will be his greatest story yet.

I found the role of women interesting – although Sei loves his daughters, he refers to his youngest daughter as their “third disappointment” and it’s clear that he mourns the loss of his only son, who died as a small child, very deeply. He hasn’t been able to speak of his son and he even avoids his two grandchildren at times because they remind him. Several of the female characters seem to breaking through the traditional molds: Michi, who lodges with Sei’s landlord and helps with meals and housework and is stated as being one of only 3 or 4 female medical students in the country. Another is Sei’s middle daughter who has left her wealthy but domineering husband and wishes to carve out a name for herself as a writer. Most other women within the story seem to fulfill traditional roles of homemaking and have little to do outside of the home.

Sei is described as cold and prideful and ignorant to his wife’s desires – do you agree or disagree with this description of him? What sort of man do you think him to be and do you think he knew what was really happening in the discussion and secret meeting with Yamagishi Takayuki? I find the idea of a storyteller really fabulous – more intimate than the theatre and more personal. I really enjoyed the stories that Sei performed near the end of this section and look forward to the ones he’s working on – although I do have a bit of an ominous feeling about what might happen!

I hope you all are enjoying this read so far and have lots to say about it in the comments and we’ll be back here next week for the second part of the discussion and wrap up.

Giveaway!

Want to win a copy of The Storyteller & His Three Daughters by Lian Hearn courtesy of Hachette Australia? Simply fill in the form below. Australian residents only.

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The Storyteller And His Three Daughters by Lian Hearn Read-A-Long Schedule

StorytellerHello everyone taking part in our read-a-long of The Storyteller & his Three Daughters by Lian Hearn. Sorry for the delay in communication, there was a small delay with some people receiving copies! We’re all set now so the schedule for the read-a-long will be as follows:

Week 1 Discussion Post: Wednesday 16th October. Yep, that’s this time next week. That gives everyone a week to get through the first part of the book and think about things they’d like to say. The book isn’t too long so this first discussion post will be about pages 1-130.

Week 2 Discussion Post: Wednesday 23rd October. This post will continue the discussion talking about pages 131-163 (end). For anyone who falls a bit behind, don’t worry! The posts will always be there so you can come and join the discussion anytime. Just please be aware that the posts and the discussion comments will contain spoilers so if you don’t want anything like that, don’t pop by until you’re up to date with where we are up to.

Thanks in advance to everyone that is participating and I look forward to seeing you all here next week to begin discussing the book. For those blog readers who aren’t taking part, I’ll have some giveaways of this book thanks to the fabulous people at Hachette Australia, so keep an eye out for those!

 

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Lifesaving For Beginners – Ciara Geraghty Read-a-long Discussion Pt 3 & Wrap Up

Lifesaving For BeginnersHello everyone and welcome to the final part of the discussion for Lifesaving For Beginners by Ciara Geraghty. Reactions to this book have been mostly positive it seems, with a few who haven’t enjoyed it as much as others. I was enjoying the book so much that after I finished Part 2, I wrote the post right away and then finished it that night. I had to know what happened. Once again, please be aware that if you’re not finished, there will be ***SPOILERS***

If last week was about Denial and the question of Doing The Right Thing, then it seems that this week is about Recognition and Redemption. Kat has an almighty scare when her younger brother Edward, who is disabled, is admitted to hospital with an acute arrythmia, which was mostly likely the result of the congenital heart condition. He has surgery and is fitted with a pacemaker and makes a good recovery but Kat spends most of the time Ed is in surgery, making “bargains” for his recovery, although she won’t admit to whom she is bargaining with. Perhaps she doesn’t really know or she doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that she does know. When Kat is told that Ed’s procedure went well, she has a panic attack. For Kat, it’s like the dam has burst and in a second she realises and accepts the mistakes she has made and where she has gone wrong. She takes responsibility for Thomas, for Faith, for a lot of things.

She confesses to her editor that she hasn’t written the next novel, she tells her family that she is Killian Kobain and she has someone organise a press conference so she can tell the world the same. She also admits to having adopted out a baby when a teenager, thereby beating the blackmailer to the punch and taking back the power they previously had over her. While the press is besieging her parents home, Kat makes plans to go and finally see Faith. Faith doesn’t make it easy for her but the end of the book, which takes place a little later shows that they’ve manage to forge some relationship.

Were you satisfied with the ending? If not, why?

What do you think Milo’s role in the story was? Do you think that without him, Kat and Faith would have been able to connect?

Was Kat redeemed as a character? Did you like her/identify more with her at the end of the novel than you did at the beginning? Do you think she evolved in a believable way?

For those that enjoyed this novel, if you haven’t before, will you be reading any of Ciara Geraghty’s backlist/her future novels? Has this read-a-long introduced you to a new sort of book and a new novelist that you might wish to read more of?

I’d like to thank everyone that took part again here with me, I do enjoy reading books with other people and hearing your thoughts and opinions. We all see things in many different ways and I find other people’s perspective interesting. It can be hard, so I do appreciate those that take the time to comment on my discussion posts or post their thoughts on their own blogs each week and keep things going. Thanks also to the fab team at Hachette AU who put the group together again and provided us with our books.

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Lifesaving For Beginners – Ciara Geraghty Read-a-long Discussion Pt 2

Lifesaving For BeginnersHello everyone and welcome to the second part of our discussion. Thank you to all who took the time to drop by last week and comment and leave their thoughts and contribute to the discussion. Again, this post will contain ***SPOILERS*** up to page 296.

Part 2 revealed what a lot had already suspected: Kat is Faith’s birth mother. Pregnant at 15, she didn’t even realise until she was into her 7th month. I hear about these people but in the 2 times I’ve been pregnant I’ve looked like a person with a beach ball wedged up my top and both my babies have kicked the living bejeesus out of me. So I’m never going to have one of those pregnancies that takes me by surprise with a mere 6-8wks to go! Kat’s mother didn’t find out until she was in labour and she made the decision that Kat should give the baby up for adoption. She felt it was the best thing to do.

Faith, having gotten the address of her birth mother (via Milo, in the first section of the book) took herself off to Ireland, Milo in tow to attempt to meet the woman who gave birth to her. This didn’t go so well, as Kat refused to turn up to her parent’s place where Faith was waiting.

In other news, Thomas learned that Kat had a baby and Kat learned that Thomas is getting married. And someone is blackmailing Kat with the knowledge that she is the author of the Declan Darker series.

Two things stood out at me reading this section. They were DENIAL and DOING THE RIGHT THING. It seems that Kat lives a life of denial – she never thinks of the baby she gave birth to (she didn’t even know if it was a boy or girl, she never saw it, never held it, never wanted to). She doesn’t want to deal with Faith’s appearance in her life now – she could have gone around to her parent’s and used that as a way to meet her in the company of others, which may have made it easier. But instead she ran away and that seems to be what Kat is doing these days. She’s holing up in her apartment, drinking too much wine, eating too much take out, unplugging the phone, not working on her novel. She even applies this form of denial to her relationships – she refuses to see how she cares for Thomas, or acknowledge it. Perhaps if she did, it would put her in a position where she would need to move forward, perhaps get married, or entertain the idea of children… and all of that would bring about memories Kat has kept firmly locked away.

Likewise there’s several mentions of doing the right thing – Kat’s mother tells her that she thought adoption was the right thing at the time, but now all of these years later, she’s not sure that it was. Faith’s aunt tells her that her adoptive parents didn’t tell her that she was adopted because that’s what they felt was right… they didn’t want her to feel any differently from the twins, or from Milo.

I think that Kat’s mother is a large part of the way Kat is, especially once I saw the way in which her parents interacted. I also think that never speaking of it has had severe repercussions.

A few questions:

Do you agree/disagree that Kat is severely in denial about many things? Do you think this contributes to the fanatical way in which she guards her privacy?

Did her mother do the right thing in arranging an adoption? Was it the right thing to never talk about it, ever?

Did Faith’s parents do the right thing in not telling her that she was adopted?

Who do you think Kat’s blackmailer is?

Thanks everyone and I’ll see you back here next week to wrap it all up!

 

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Lifesaving For Beginners – Ciara Geraghty Read-A-Long Discussion Pt 1

Lifesaving For BeginnersHello everybody! Welcome to the first of three discussion posts that we’re going to have on Lifesaving For Beginners by Ciara Geraghty which has been kindly organised by the lovely folks at Hachette AU. I’ll just preface this by saying that both the discussion post and the comments will contain ***SPOILERS*** so if you have not yet completed Part 1 of the read-a-long, which was pages 1-149 you may want to avoid this post until you’re done. Okay!

How is everyone liking the book? I have to say, the opening sucked me in immediately. We had a combination of a fatigued truck driver and a deer on the road that caused an accident which took the life of one woman and injured another. Our two narrators are Milo, a 9yo boy who lost his mother in the accident and is now in the care of his older sister, and Kat a writer writing under the name of a pseudonym who wasn’t severely injured but is finding it hard to cope out of hospital. She should be delivering the latest installment of her Declan Darker crime series but instead she finds herself suffering writers block. And Milo has discovered this older sister was adopted and isn’t in fact his sister at all. His father ran off with a younger woman, who is now pregnant and his twin brothers are away in London at University. Life has changed incredibly for Milo and it seems that the only thing that keeps him grounded is his lifesaving for beginners class, which he looks forward to every week and.

Is the dual narration working for you? I know sometimes I struggle with them, because it can be hard to balance out each story as they run parallel to each other in pacing, etc. Especially when your narrators are as different as Kat and Milo are and I think Geraghty has done a great job with these opposing voices. I’m really enjoying both the uniqueness of Milo’s voice and his matter-of-fact telling of what is happening around him. I feel so incredibly sorry for him – he’s lost his mother, the most important person in his world and his father can barely be bothered with him, living in Scotland with his new girlfriend and expecting a baby. I have to say, I think that announcing the pregnancy after the funeral of Milo’s mother was one of the most insensitive things I’ve ever heard. Is there anyone out there that would actually think this would be a good idea? I feel for Faith, Milo’s older sister too. She’s dealing with an awful lot. I don’t think it’s been mentioned how old she is, but I’m guessing around 23 or 24. She says she remembers her mother being pregnant with the twins and they’re at University so I’m guessing they’re around 19. She’s had to deal with losing her mother and now having the responsibility of bringing up her younger brother, something that is beginning to conflict with her band and cause trouble in her relationship with her boyfriend. On top of that, Faith found out that she was adopted and is now searching for her adoptive mother. She has a huge amount on her plate and I find myself becoming very immersed in her story, told through the eyes of Milo.

Kat is quite a different character altogether, not immediately sympathetic other than being the innocent victim in the accident. Her treatment of her boyfriend Thomas is quite harsh (as it seems to have been since day 1 actually, but she really ups the ante out of hospital) but I got the feeling later on in this particular section that Kat’s demons are about to come out. Samstillreading and I also find ourselves quite interested in Declan Darker! We agreed that they sound like books we’d love to read. I always find a story within a story fun and I hope we get more about Declan along the way. How do you all feel about Kat? Do you feel sorry for her? Do you want to give her a bit of a shake and tell her to snap out of it? Can you see her and Thomas reconnecting at any stage within the book?

Okay this turned out to be quite a bit longer than I expected. Only 150 pages in and already a lot has happened in this one and I think it’s a good choice for a read-a-long. Going to turn it over to you all in the comments now, so don’t forget to leave your thoughts and raise anything I may have forgotten.

 

 

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Lifesaving For Beginners by Ciara Geraghty: Read-a-long Schedule

Lifesaving For BeginnersHello fabulous read-a-long participants! Hopefully now you all should have your books so it’s time to begin reading! The book is about 438p so I’ve split it up into 3 sections. This is going to be our guide:

Week 1 Discussion: Monday 11th Feb, we will be discussing pages 1-149

Week 2 Discussion: Monday 18th Feb, we will be discussing pages 150-296

Week 3 Discussion: Monday 25th Feb, we will be discussing pages 297-438

Discussion posts will be posted up here on my blog and each Monday you’ll receive an email with the link. Pop by, read the discussion and be sure to leave your thoughts. You all have about 10 days to get the first part of the book read and get into the rhythm of the story.

See you all back here on the 11th and hopefully you all enjoy both the book and the read-a-long. Thank you to you all for taking part!

 

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Melbourne Writers Fest – Saturday 1st September {Part 2}

The second session I attended on Saturday 1st September was an In Coversation event with British author Chris Cleave. I first read Chris Cleave back in 2006, his debut novel Incendiary. At the time, my now-husband and I had just started seeing each other but we lived in separate states. We used to talk a lot about books – he was much more a buyer of books than I was back then (how that has changed!) and more than once he sent me some books to read, buying me my own copies of books he’d read and loved. One of those books was Incendiary and he told me sometime much later on that those books were sort of a ‘test’ – he couldn’t have seen himself marrying anyone that didn’t see the beauty in them!

Blanche Clark was the one asking the questions and guiding the session and she opened with mentioning that Chris had lived in Melbourne about 17 years ago for a year. He worked as a bus-boy in a nightclub in South Melbourne. He was an aspiring writer, even back then and wrote a novel while he was living here in Melbourne.

It was about a roadtrip to Mexico – he hasn’t been to Mexico, nor did he research it. And also, he couldn’t drive. It was 20,000 words long which, at the time to him, seemed an absolutely EPIC length. He got 15 rejection letters for it which he keeps in his “big envelope of bitterness”. Thought that clearly the publishers (and perhaps the world) were not ready for his genius! He also wrote another novel set in Mexico, about a man working in a bar who invents a cocktail called Tequila Mockingbird (also the title of the book). Mercifully (his word!) that one was rejected too.

In 2003, Chris and his wife welcomed their first child into the world and he said that had a huge impact on the way he thought and on the way he wrote. His reasons for writing changed. Originally he thought “everyone should listen to me and what I have to say because I’m terrific!” but after his child was born, things that had seemed abstract such as human rights, state intervention suddenly became important to him. He had stopped being the centre of his own life and this made him more politically engaged – he began to care.

He wrote Incendiary in 2004. Since then, London has changed a great deal and he feels that it has a remarkable regenerative power. It has faced adversity time and time again and been destroyed (plague, fire, etc) and continued to just keep regenerating. In the last 8 years since he wrote the novel, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased – the super rich have moved into London and that has pushed the prices up. A lot of people essential to the city now cannot afford to live there, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, police, etc.

There’s also been some very positive things, including the London Olympics. There was a huge amount of excitement about it, about London hosting something so useful, becoming a world centre again. A lot of people’s relationship with the city was reset by this announcement and the preparations.

On the 6th July 2005, the announcement was made that London would host 2012 and he wanted to mark that moment as a novelist. He was interested in the opportunity to explore the psychological backstory and behaviour of an athlete. He finds it fascinating that for them to succeed, to win, to achieve their goal, everyone else in the world must fail.

In order to research, he trained for 20 hours per week. He once found himself 125kms from home with no way to get back, he got so into his training! He wrecked his immune system, almost completely destroyed his white blood cell count after training for 6 months at high intensity and ended up in bed for a year. This was when he began writing the book and it was because of how he found himself ill that he decided to include a character within the book that has leukemia.

In order to research that section of the book, he spent a lot of time at a children’s hospital and was allowed to shadow a doctor going on rounds with him, sitting in on his consults and diagnostic appointments. He interviewed nurses, other doctors, patients and parents and met so many inspiring characters during his time spent at the hospital.

It was asked why he chooses to write from a female perspective – all 3 of his books are narrated by female characters. Chris answered that he made a rule to be someone that he’s not in real life in his work to ensure that he’s not telling his own story. He crosses boundaries of gender and race. He’s fascinated by adopting the female point of view and it changes the way in which he sees the world. Originally Gold was from a male perspective, but when he chose to switch to a female voice, he began to question so many things. Females are making harder choices in athletics (and in many other areas) than male competitors, such as sacrificing or balancing a family. Women are asked “when are you going to have a baby?” but if a man in a prominent sporting career has a child, no one expects him to take time off to look after the baby in the way it would be expected that a female would. He became incredibly indignant about the inequality in sport because of gender.

He joked that there are two types of criticism leveled at a writer – 1. that you write about yourself, or 2. that you write about someone else!

He feels a responsibility to get the details right if he chooses to write from a different point of view. If he can get that representation right then all of the other things can fall into place. However, he’s very careful of not mistaking one character portraying all of that gender, or all of that race.

Chris thinks that ‘someday’ he will probably write a novel about a white man but he’s not that good or interested in writing about what he knows. He will write about himself if/when that is the best way to tell the story.

He has worked as a journalist and says that with fiction, you can something that newspapers don’t have the space for and that television doesn’t have the time for – exploring backstory.

He thinks that journalism is in a relatively healthy state but feels that the TV reality format shows where you take people with no social skills are a celebration of mediocrity and by repetition, this becomes ‘normal’.

He was asked for his opinion in regards to the events leading to Osama bin Laden’s death (Osama features heavily in his first novel Incendiary, which is at its essence, letters to Osama written by a mother grieving the loss of her child). He says that now there will never be any answers to the questions people have. It bothers him that their only weapon is the gun, not the word and he doesn’t think the war on terror has been won.

A question from the audience came about the opening paragraph of The Other Hand/Little Bee and when he wrote that. He said that often he doesn’t know what the book is about until it’s finished and then he realises and he goes back to retrofit it. The opening paragraph of that novel was the last thing he wrote to complete the book.

He was then asked about his research on asylum seekers, also in reference to The Other Hand/Little Bee. He said that he was very lucky and that he only needed to travel about 1/2 a mile from where he lives and find a refugee from pretty much anywhere. He met people who went through the detention system or who were living outside it. He interviewed a few dozen people and asked them things like what they were running from, the sort of things that they expected when they reached England, their hopes for their families, etc. He learned things that he cannot un-know.

In terms of the “official” side of things from the people in charge of the detention centres, the policies, etc, he tried to get that side. He was stone-walled for a year then he was assigned a press contact who just never answered his calls.

That ended a truly wonderful session – a lot was packed into this hour and I enjoyed every minute of it. I hurried off to get my books signed and chatted to another fan in the line while we waited for Chris to arrive. He was so polite and personable and interested in what people were saying to him. I introduced myself, told him about my husband sending me Incendiary (I got him to dedicate that to my husband) and also talked about the fact that my husband was at home with our kids so that I could be attending MWF. He thought that was amazing – said he was honoured by it!

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