All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: 138 Dates by Rebekah Campbell

138 Dates
Rebekah Campbell
Allen & Unwin
2021, 414p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Gripping, authentic and inspiring, Rebekah Campbell’s quest to find love and happiness is packed with hilarious mistakes and insights that can help us all become better at relationships.

What will it take to follow your dream?

On the outside, Rebekah Campbell has an enviable life. She is founder of hot Sydney startup Posse.com, writes a popular blog and gives inspirational talks at conferences for female entrepreneurs.

But when she turns off the light each night, she is alone and terrified of the future. She knows that what’s important to her isn’t money or startup glory or social media followers. She wants love. She wants a family.

And she is stuck. She hasn’t been on a date in ten years. She’s too embarrassed to list herself on the internet and can’t bear the risk of getting rejected.

She decides to act. She’ll take the tactics she’s learnt building companies and apply them to finding a man. Her epic journey will take her on dates with 138 different men in Sydney, New York and San Francisco, while at the same time confronting the immense challenges of launching a business.

She’ll face exhaustion, humiliation and heartbreak; she’ll meet some strange and dangerous characters. And she will strip herself of the ego and expectations that have been holding her back. She will not stop.

138 Dates proves that the end is always worth the effort.

Honestly, I think I’d rather just be alone forever than try and find love in the era of dating apps. I’m a very introverted person, I find meeting new people intimidating and the idea of fronting up night after night to meet people who are basically strangers and seeing if there’s anything there in a brief round of drinks and maybe a quick meal, is my worst nightmare. If I were to somehow find myself single again, I don’t think this sort of thing would be an option for me. But I had my first child at 26, was married the day before I turned 29 and had my second child later that same year. In Rebekah’s case, she makes it to 35 without having had a partner for a very long time and a relationship and children is something she very much wants. She feels her time is running out to find someone and create a family and so she decides to be more proactive about it, to look harder as it’s clearly not just happening naturally.

Rebecca is a successful person in her career (I think, it honestly seemed quite exhausting as well, trying to get people to invest in her venture and try and secure funding constantly so she has money to pay wages etc) but she longs for the whole intimate relationship and children as well. She had a boyfriend in her 20s, whom she ended up breaking up with and then he was killed in a car accident and this seems to be a very shocking thing for her and she is still very affected by it a considerable time later. She seems to feel he’s with her and often talks to him about her dating and attempts to find a person. She’s spent a lot of her late 20s and early 30s building her career, moving forward and getting involved in different things but now she’s looking for more. So she decides to go out on at least one date every week. And this continues on for almost three years.

Some of the dates were pretty funny, some were nice, some were kind of disastrous. There are occasions where the man is perfectly lovely but she doesn’t feel the chemistry or anything more than friendship. There’s a relationship that ends badly, with Rebekah left questioning what happened. And there are plenty of occasions where it never goes any further than a quick drink or meal and then they go their separate ways and never see each other again. Rebekah does however, make some friends out of this venture, with some of the men where it doesn’t work out romantically, which was nice to see.

For me however, this book felt split in two. It’s in part, a memoir about her dating journey and her quest to find a real and lasting relationship, someone to create that family with. However, it’s also quite a lot about trying to grow her career to the next stage and at times, those two stories didn’t necessarily mesh well together into one cohesive one for me. I found myself getting bogged down by the constant rounds of trying to secure funding mixed in with all the dating. And because there are so many dates to be honest, the men virtually blur into one indistinguishable one with only a few really standing out. And when Rebekah finally did meet ‘the one’ it felt a bit rushed, like there’d been so much lead up but now that the real thing was here, there wasn’t enough time to tell that story properly. Which was a little disappointing.

I enjoyed this and I think that for women in a certain phase of life, it could be quite motivating, be that professionally or personally, if they’re struggling through trying to find their own one on dating apps. But if you’re like me and that idea fills you with horror, it’s probably not a story you’ll connect with on a deeper level. I did admire Rebekah, for her perseverance, because it seems online dating is horrible for the self-esteem and she had to battle an inner voice constantly that criticised her for not being whatever – but at the same time it often felt she was quite critical of a lot of the men she met up with!

The author has a good voice and it was entertaining.

6/10

Book #142 of 2021

This is book #61 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: The 99th Koala by Kailas Wild

The 99th Koala
Kailas Wild
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 208p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: In last summer’s devastating fires, Kangaroo Island lost half of its koala population, with many more left injured and starving. This is the inspiring and sometimes confronting story of someone who went to help and ended up a koala dad.

When Kailas Wild – arborist by trade and conservationist at heart – heard that there were injured koalas on Kangaroo Island who could only be reached by a tree climber, he drove 1500 kms to volunteer.

Seven weeks later, he had crowd-funded sixty-five thousand dollars, participated in the rescue of over 100 koalas and had formed a special bond with a baby koala – Joey Kai. His social media postings gained tens of thousands of views and press attention around Australia and overseas, including the BBC, The Times (London), The New York Times and The Daily Mail.

The 99th Koala shares that experience, in words and pictures, and introduces us to some of the koalas of Kangaroo Island. Sometimes tragic, sometimes hopeful, Kai’s story above all commemorates our unique wildlife, and demonstrates the power of one person trying to make a difference.

It’s impossible to grow up where I did and not interact with koalas in some way. There’s a strong local population and we had several that made their homes at various times of the year, in the gums across the road from our house. Mating seasons were noisy. And then of course there’s the local koala hospital, which was established decades ago to care for and rehabilitate injured and sick koalas. If you find one (and lots of people do, either in their backyards or hit by cars, or attacked by dogs, etc), that’s where you take them. As the area increased in popularity and more people moved there, they lost more and more of their habitat and sometimes found themselves in places where it was dangerous for them. Everyone who lives there has visited, probably multiple times, and at least half have thought about volunteering there. I live 1400kms away now but I still take my kids there whenever we visit.

In September of 2019, that area began experiencing bushfires, which was very unusual. It’s a temperate climate, usually high rainfall and lacking in extreme temperatures -not immune to bushfires by any means, but unusual, especially as it was even before summer. There were loads of sick, burned and injured koalas taken to the hospital ( an estimation of a loss of around 40% of the populations as well) and it wasn’t long before other parts of NSW and then other parts of Australia, starting experiencing a truly catastrophic bushfire season, known now as Black Summer.

This is about one of those places – Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. In January of 2020, it was torn apart and devastated by fires that took human lives and countless animal lives. Kailas Wild is an arborist from NSW who also volunteered with the SES and had koala-handling experience, and when he heard what had happened, he put out feelers to see if someone with his skills might be needed. After all, koalas are often high up in trees and when threatened, will climb higher. In order to get some of them down for medical attention, or to relocate them to areas less devastated, his abilities might be helpful. Even crucial.

Most of this book is photographs – stunning photographs. Some of them show koalas peering out of cages as they await medical examination or to be transported to a healthy habitat area, or orphaned joeys being bottle fed by volunteers. Others are truly devastating. Koalas with burned hands and feet or missing the fluff from their beautiful ears. Landscape shots showing the destruction of the fires and scores of trees reduced to little more than black stumps. They are all powerful images, a mix of heartbreaking and hopeful and showcasing some of the volunteers who like Wild, gave up their time and spent weeks dedicating themselves to helping the injured animals to often devastating consequences.

This book actually made me realise something I’d never thought about for people undertaking this role – how truly traumatic it must be and how much it could and would affect someone’s mental health. Wild is frank about some of the terrible things he sees or the times where he rescues a koala only for it to be assessed as so injured or burned that it could not possibly survive and the kindest thing to do would be to end its suffering. It’s heartbreaking for him each time, especially as wild animals often “rally” and appear strong as a defense mechanism: to appear weak in the wild is to be a target. So sometimes wild animals will seem quite well and it isn’t until things are truly dire, is it obvious that they are not well at all. I’ve seen this in nature documentaries and the like before, but to witness it in real life, especially after you’d put so much time and effort into each rescue, trying to help each koala, to know that some of them cannot be helped, although a reality of the situation, would still be utterly devastating. And Wild is also frank about the emotional trauma as well, how helpless he feels at times and how he questions whether stressing these already stressed koalas in his attempts to get them down from their trees, is the right thing to do. Especially for the ones who are quite far gone. It is sadly, not something I thought much about before, your thoughts are generally focused on the animals. To read the mental sadness and the toll it takes on the humans working with them, was definitely eye-opening.

I appreciated a lot about this: the effort, time and dedication of the workers, the message about the toll it takes and the subtle talk of the importance of biodiversity and tackling climate change. This book doesn’t have a lot of words, a lot of it relies on the photographs, but the ones it does have, are important.

9/10

Book #84 of 2021

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Audiobook Review: The Little Book Of Hygge by Meik Wiking

The Little Book Of Hygge: The Danish Way To Live Well
Meik Wiking
Narrated by the author
Penguin Audio
2015, 3hrs 13m
Listened to via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Denmark is often said to be the happiest country in the world. That’s down to one thing: hygge. ‘Hygge has been translated as everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things. My personal favourite is cocoa by candlelight…’

You know hygge when you feel it. It is when you are cuddled up on a sofa with a loved one, or sharing comfort food with your closest friends. It is those crisp blue mornings when the light through your window is just right. Who better than Meik Wiking to be your guide to all things hygge? Meik is CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and has spent years studying the magic of Danish life. In this beautiful, inspiring book he will help you be more hygge: from picking the right lighting and planning a dinner party through to creating an emergency hygge kit and even how to dress. Meik Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. He is committed to finding out what makes people happy and has concluded that hygge is the magic ingredient that makes Danes the happiest nation in the world. 

The more I read about hygge the more I’m convinced I should’ve been born in Denmark. This was the book most recommended to me about the concept, but when I requested it from my local library, I noticed that their copy was due back over a year ago and hadn’t been returned, so was probably not likely to ever be. So I got the audio version, read by the author, from Borrow Box. It’s quite short, only 3 hours, so it took pretty much no time at all.

Meik Wiking is the CEO of Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. It’s literally his job to research why people are happier in certain parts of the world (Denmark is often regarded as having the happiest citizens in the world) and what can be done to improve happiness levels. It sounds like a dream job and given their role, care is taken to make their workplace comfortable and a great advertisement for hygge.

I feel like this book covers hygge a lot more comprehensively than the others I’ve read and mixes how deeply ingrained in the Danish culture it is with examples of creating hygge spaces in the home, alone or with others. Basically everything he describes is my ideal living environment – soft, cosy spaces with mellow light (I hate overhead lights, I’m forever turning off lights in my house as it seems the other occupants do not share my dislike!), lots of textures, little things of comfort. In one section, there’s an entire ‘kit’ suggested, which is a box with things described as hygge – a blanket, book, chocolate, favourite tea, soft socks, a cushion, a new notebook, a favourite pen, among other things.

I find the concept of a happy society really interesting, especially with what is considered as markers of happiness. Quite often you hear about countries like Denmark and other Nordic countries being regarded as the happiness in the world, rotating around the top few spots and a lot of this is also attributed to the excellent services the countries provide: ie, they are what is known as ‘welfare states’ with free education, a generous and wide ranging welfare system that supports its unemployed, studying or lower earning citizens and also provides things like free medical care. According to the World Happiness Report, these are the top 10 happiest countries for 2021:

  1. Finland (for the 4th year in a row)
  2. Iceland
  3. Denmark
  4. Switzerland
  5. The Netherlands
  6. Sweden
  7. Germany (jumped 10 places)
  8. Norway
  9. New Zealand
  10. Austria

Apart from New Zealand, which also shares a lot of the same traits such as free education and medical care, a welfare system, etc as well as a high level of trust in its government, pretty much all of these countries are confined to the same part of the map in Western Europe and Scandinavia. Another thing that’s quite heavily supported in some of these countries, Denmark and Finland specifically (but probably others that I haven’t read as much about) is the work-life balance and this book touches upon that as well. In Denmark, this balance is very important and Danes keep quite strict (but flexible) work hours. Those with children often leave at 4 to pick them up from school or daycare and apparently, you won’t find them staying back after hours or popping into the office on weekends to catch up. A lot of these countries also promote an outdoor lifestyle in downtimes as well – in parts of Sweden, summer island homes are popular, skiing is a winter pastime in many of these countries. Many of them are bicycle and public transport friendly. Also – the more participation citizens have in representative government decision making, the happier they tend to be. My country, Australia, ranks 12th in this index.

Now, I don’t think it’s as simple as the fact that Danish people own a lot of candles/have fireplaces/fluffy blankets/enjoy warm drinks after a bracing afternoon hiking or skiing or something similar. But to be honest, it seems like a pretty good place to start.

I really enjoyed listening to this!

8/10

Book #56 of 2021

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Review: Mumlife by Paula Kuka

Mumlife: Witty And Pretty Musings On The Truth About Motherhood
Paula Kuka
Tiller Press
2020, 160p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A witty, empathic, and beautifully illustrated look at the roller coaster ride that is modern motherhood.

Mum, mom, momma, or ma—whatever you’re called, being a mother can be hard, filled with stress and anxiety. But of course, it also delivers its own unique joy.

Instagram sensation @Common_Wild, the popular account run by Australian artist Paula Kuka, channels that heady stew of anxiety and love in a series of relatable, warm, and funny cartoons that are eagerly shared by women around the world.

Kuka features moments instantly recognizable to any parent, from new mom to experienced toddler-wrangler. Scenes like cooking an elaborate meal only to have it swept to the floor by a picky child, or dragging strollers home from the playground in the rain, bring parenthood to life on the page. She also winks at the societal expectations that ask women to do it all, including “taking care of themselves,” with a smile.

But most importantly, she highlights the huge love that underpins the journey of parenthood, and the sometimes-surprising things you learn about yourself while watching your children grow up.

The perfect gift for first-time parents—or for yourself, when you need to remember that you are not alone, and it’s okay to relax and enjoy the moment.

This is a delightful little book.

I have two kids but as most people who know me know, those kids are well beyond the stage of mothering that this book is really aimed at. They are 12 and 9 and even though some things don’t change exactly, the haze of those early days with a newborn, are well behind me. I was also pretty lucky with my kids as they both enjoyed sleep quite a bit as babies. In fact in some ways, some of their best sleeping was when they were tiny. It was when they became toddlers that they started messing up night and day. My husband still tells the story of getting up at 3am for some reason, seeing a glow coming from the living room and finding our oldest happily on the couch, watching cartoons, thinking it was nearly morning time. “Didn’t you notice it was still dark?” my husband said. He shrugged. It was winter in Melbourne, to be honest, it’s dark a lot. And my youngest went through a pretty lengthy stage beginning when he was about 3, where he didn’t spend a whole night in his own bed. Thankfully he’d climb in and go to sleep but it’s still sleep disrupted by a little person kicking you, laying on you, etc. He grew out of it when he was probably at kinder/preschool and honestly? Whilst I never enjoyed that stage at the time, I kind of miss it now.

There’s a lot of stuff I could relate to in this, either dredging up memories from the time my children were much younger, or things that are still relevant now. I might not be sleepless because my kids are awake but you still lay awake at night worrying about things. You still wonder if the choices you make are the right ones, if you’re feeding them properly and agonising over screen time or how much McDonalds you might’ve consumed recently because of long busy days and not a lot of free time.

The drawings are really well done and there were a lot that I connected with about different facets of parenting and also self-worth and opinion, before and after children. There was stuff about how hard it can be to meet and befriend other mums, who all seem like they know each other already. Just so many things where I was like “Yes, I remember that!” and “Oh, I’d actually forgotten that I felt that way”. There’s also the reassurance that you don’t have to love every facet of parenting every moment of every day. There are things that are frustrating, mind-numbingly boring and things that will infuriate you and make you wonder if your kids might actually be demon spawn. I remember before I had kids, I thought I’d really enjoy imaginative play. I like writing, I think I have a pretty good imagination. Oh wow, do I ever hate imaginative play and I would do anything to avoid having to do it for any length of time. Kid #1 enjoyed it but kid #2 was very solitary and preferred playing on his own. One of the things in this book are thoughts from other mums and there’s one here about someone who had a 10 month old and one day was like “did I even speak to you today?” after they’d spent a large portion of the day in solo exploration and play. That was me with child #2.  It’s incredibly reassuring actually, to read the same perspective from someone else!

This would be a sweet read for any new mum….or a wonderful trip down memory lane for those that have moved past that stage.

7/10

Book #43 of 2021

This is book #20 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

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Review: Decluttering At The Speed Of Life (Audiobook) by Dana K. White

Decluttering At The Speed Of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle With Stuff
Dana K. White
Thomas Nelson/Audible Audio
2018, 6hrs 6min
Narrated by the author
Listened to via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

You don’t have to live overwhelmed by stuff–you can get rid of clutter for good!

While the world seems to be in love with the idea of tiny houses and minimalism, many of us simply can’t purge it all and start from nothing. Yet a home with too much stuff is a home that is difficult to maintain, so where do we begin? Add in paralyzing emotional attachments and constant life challenges, and it can feel almost impossible to make real decluttering progress.

In Decluttering at the Speed of Life, decluttering expert and author Dana White identifies the mind-sets and emotional challenges that make it difficult to declutter. Then, in her signature humorous approach, she provides workable solutions to break through these struggles and get clutter out–for good!

But more than simply offering strategies, Dana dives deep into how to implement them, no matter the reader’s clutter level or emotional resistance to decluttering. She helps identify procrasticlutter–the stuff that will get done eventually so it doesn’t seem urgent–as well as how to make progress when there’s no time to declutter.

Sections of the book include:
Why You Need This Book (You Know Why)
Your Unique Home
Decluttering in the Midst of Real Life
Change Your Mind, Change Your Home
Breaking Through Your Decluttering Delusions
Working It Out Room by Room
Helping Others Declutter
Real Life Goes On (and On)

As long as we’re living and breathing, new clutter will appear. The good news is that decluttering can get easier, become more natural, and require significantly fewer hours, less emotional bandwidth, and little to no sweat to keep going.

One of the categories for my 2021 Read Non Fiction Challenge, was self-help. I was looking for a new audiobook as I’d finished my previous one and I thought maybe listening to something non-fiction might be a good idea. That would help me kickstart that challenge and I’d really enjoyed the other non-fiction audiobook I listened to this year (A Life On Our Planet by David Attenborough) but the few I’d listened to since then had all been fiction. Scrolling the non-fiction section on the app my library uses to loan out eBooks and audiobooks, I came across this and thought, okay, I think this is for me.

I’ve never been one of those people with a pristine, tidy house. My house is (generally) clean. With a cat I have to vacuum at least every second day and it’s probably better if I do it every day, so I tend to just do that. I do bathrooms and floors weekly, but I can never seem to really get my house tidy. There’s always things lying around, on the floor, on bookshelves (things that are not books), on the dining room table, the kitchen bench, etc. I always admire those people where you walk into their home and you don’t see their stuff. Where is it though? Do they just not have any? Or are they so ruthlessly organised that everything has a place tucked out of sight.

The house I live in now is pretty terrible for storage. It’s the story with most rental houses, to be honest. This house has a small kitchen with a lack of enough storage for the things that are owned and consumed by a family living in a 4-BR home. There’s one linen cupboard in an awkward space. When I was younger, mess didn’t bother me. But the older I get, the more it does, honestly. I just want to look around the room and not see….things. My kids’ shoes after they came home from school and just inexplicably removed them in the middle of the room. The pair of socks I took off when I got hot when the day warmed up (I’m as much to blame as everyone, I know this!). I also want to declutter our house, get rid of the things we do not use, do not need and are just taking up space. Space that could be better dedicated to thing we do use and need.

My biggest problem with decluttering is that….I’m really bad at letting go of things in case I need them one day. Even though there are things that I haven’t worn in years, haven’t used in forever, forget I have, don’t remember buying, etc. This book does really help with methods to just start with trash/rubbish and throw it out immediately. Then do the easy stuff by returning things that do not belong to where they do. If there’s no obvious space for them, you ask yourself two questions, which should help you decide if you keep it or declutter it. And then look at the stuff that is harder/you need to think about. There’s some good advice about how your home is a container and everything in it, also containers of various sizes. Your kitchen is a container and if what you have doesn’t fit, you need to throw things you don’t love out until what you have does fit. Same with your wardrobe, bathroom cabinet, etc. I need to start looking at things that way. Also starting at your front door and looking at your house like it’s not yours. Like you’re walking into someone else’s house. What do you see? What would you think if you walked into someone else’s house and saw this? Also I put off decluttering for a long time because all the donation places were closed. This book is very blunt about getting things out of your house as quickly as possible. Not leaving them in bags in the garage, because that’s just the same mess in a different spot. That is something I need to really consider: setting aside a few days to go through the entire house, getting rid of rubbish (stuff like broken toys etc) and then digging into the stuff I can donate like toys, books, clothes. And getting it out of my house that day. I’m probably going to need a skip bin for this exercise. And I need to realise that I can get by with less than what I think I need. I don’t need 5 (or however many) sets of winter sheets, even though I like them all. My laundry cupboard is a certain size and I need to remember that!

I’m kind of excited to do this. But now I just need to get my husband on board and he’s even worse at throwing things out than I am. Maybe I should get him to listen to this book. It’s really repetitive but it’s the repetition that helps, actually. The author says by the time you’re finished the questions and routines will be ingrained and I think she’s right.

I actually found this a lot more useful than I thought I would. Now I just need to do it and I should set myself an accountability date.

7/10

Book #41 of 2021

Decluttering At The Speed Of Life is the first book read for the 2021 NonFiction Reader Challenge. I’m using it to tick off the category of Self-help

1. Biography

2. Travel

3. Self-help

4. Essay Collection

5. Disease

6. Oceanography

7. Hobbies

8. Indigenous Cultures

9. Food

10. Wartime Experiences

11. Inventions

12. Published in 2021

1/6 books complete. Yay for progress!

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Review: Penguins: The Ultimate Guide by Tui De Roy, Mark Jones & Julie Cornthwaite

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide 
Tui De Roy, Mark Jones & Julie Cornthwaite
Princeton University Press
2014, 240p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Penguins are perhaps the most beloved birds. On land, their behavior appears so humorous and expressive that we can be excused for attributing to them moods and foibles similar to our own.

Few realize how complex and mysterious their private lives truly are, as most of their existence takes place far from our prying eyes, hidden beneath the ocean waves. This stunningly illustrated book provides a unique look at these extraordinary creatures and the cutting-edge science that is helping us to better understand them.

Featuring more than 400 breathtaking photos, this is the ultimate guide to all 18 species of penguins, including those with retiring personalities or nocturnal habits that tend to be overlooked and rarely photographed.

A book that no bird enthusiast or armchair naturalist should do without, “Penguins” includes discussions of penguin conservation, informative species profiles, fascinating penguin facts, and tips on where to see penguins in the wild.

Okay so pretty early in March, around the 10th, I finished my March TBR that I’d set for myself that had the ARCs I’d received from publishers for that month. I have other books to read of course – I always have other books to read. When I got a notification from my library that a book I’d requested was in, I set aside some time to pick it up. Going to the local library is A Process, right now. For a start, the over 55s place next door is expanding and getting a park is almost impossible as all the builders park in the library carpark with big dual cabs, trucks, even the odd crane. Also you have to sign in with an employee, use the check in app, sanitise, one in one out sort of process but the reduced numbers means it’s much easier to wander the shelves. I usually don’t “browse” when I go to the library. I go, pick up my holds, leave. But I need some non-fiction books to get my 2021 Read Non Fiction Challenge underway so I browsed the shelves for a while. The first book I saw, was this one.

I love penguins – particularly the little penguin (Eudyptula minor) which is native to southern Australia and New Zealand. They’re my favourite animal – I can spend hours watching them at the zoo and since COVID hit, the Melbourne Zoo have been streaming the little penguin enclosure live, which we love. I’ve also been to see them at Phillip Island, south of Melbourne and loved that. I’m planning a trip to New Zealand next year (hopefully) for a milestone birthday and quite a few things I want to do, revolve around seeing little penguins.

But I’m an equal opportunity penguin fan. I like all types of penguins. I’ve watched a few documentaries but I’ve never actually read a book on them, for all that I like them. So it felt like a good opportunity to learn a bit more, because there are species I know nothing about. And this book is so stunning, one of the authors travelled to some of the most remote places on earth (because for the most part, that’s where a majority of penguin species make their homes) and took the most amazing photos. Places like Antarctica, New Zealand, Africa, South America and remote islands off the coast of those places. Many species were hunted to near extinction in the past and these days a lot of protections are in place. The species’ range in numbers from ‘least concern’ to severely endangered. The Galapagos penguin and Yellow-Eyed penguin (which is native to NZ) have estimations of in the low 1000s left in the wild.

This book is split into three sections, each curated by one of the three authors. The first section is devoted to showcasing all 18 species in their natural habitats and has loads of amazing photographs and a description of what it was like travelling there and seeing them in those places. Some of the Antarctic ones in particular, are stunning (I’m already pretty partial to the Antarctic landscape anyway). The second section is essays sort of, on conservation and science, stuff like how they track penguins at sea, how they store food, their colours and variations, as well as the uncertain future that several of the species’ have. The final section is penguin history, facts, range, population status and then a profile on each type. There’s a little bit at the end which tells you where you can see them in the wild as well and then some suggestions of further reading.

I borrowed this for myself, but also to flick through with my younger son, who shares my love of penguins but often gets distressed in nature documentaries when they show one getting nabbed by an orca, or one of the species that has to hurtle themselves out of the ocean and up sheer cliff-faces to their nests (spoiler alert: not all of them are successful). He really enjoyed looking through this as well and learning a bit about the penguins that are lesser-known.

There’s no doubt that you wouldn’t probably pick this up unless you love penguins, although to be honest, the first section’s photos are worth it for even a casual reader. But if you like penguins, like I do, there’s loads of information and speculation as well as the photos to pore over.

Protect the penguins at all costs ❤

8/10

Book #40 of 2021

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Review: Hygge: The Danish Art Of Happiness by Marie Tourell Søderberg

Hygge: The Danish Art Of Happiness 
Marie Tourell Søderberg
Michael Joseph
2016, 224p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Others books will tell you how to be hygge. This is the only book that will show you.

Though we all know the feeling of hygge instinctively few of us ever manage to capture it for more than a moment.

Now Danish actress and hygge aficionado Marie Tourell Søderberg has travelled the length and breadth of her home country to create the perfect guide to cooking, decorating, entertaining and being inspired the hygge way.

Full of beautiful photographs and simple, practical steps and ideas to make your home and life both comfortable and cheering all year round, this book is the easy way to introduce hygge into your life.

I think a lot of people will be aware of the Danish philosophy of hygge – it’s become quite popular in a lot of places recently and I’ve seen it referenced more and more on instagram and YouTube and places like that. It’s basically a sort of mood where things that are cozy or make you feel content, bring about a simple happiness – ‘to give joy’. The Danish dedicate time to this practice or really, it’s more than that. It’s incorporated into a lot of aspects of their lives. The home is a large portion of the practice of hygge both because it’s where one should find haven and according to this book, because in Denmark, the climate is often miserable, so they spend quite a bit of time indoors.

I love the idea of making time for these things that give you simple joy. It’s not about the big moments, it’s about the small, little things you can experience to increase happiness and contentment. The author lists what hygge is to her so of course, I started to think about what hygge is to me.

  • My morning cup of tea (in a pretty cup)
  • A new book(s)
  • Pedicures with my stepdaughter
  • Listening to rain at night in bed
  • Little penguins
  • The smell of the ocean and walking along a beach
  • Fresh linen on the bed
  • Fluffy blankets
  • Cosy sweaters and soft, warm winter pyjamas
  • Fresh flowers and/or scented candles in my home
  • Stationery (particularly colourful pens and unblemished notebooks)
  • Being in the car
  • Catch ups and long chats with friends

There are a lot of other things that I could also have included but these are the ones that speak to me the most. Other time with friends and family count as well but for me, that’s kind of a different type of enjoyment.

This is a really pretty book – like a little type of coffee table book. It has a lovely cover and it’s full of people’s personal experience with hygge. What it is to them and their family, how they connect with others because of it and that sort of thing. It was an interesting read and has made me a lot more interested in the concept and practice of hygge and making it a conscious part of my life. It’s less about the ‘how’ – it talks about the importance of the home and hygge and that’s something that interests me, that I want to know more about. As a more introverted person, I spend a lot of time at home and comfort is important to me. I love nice linen for my bed and comfortable throws and fleecy blankets in winter. Squishy couches and well-stocked bookshelves. This book is more about people’s thoughts on what it is to them, which was interesting to read but I don’t know who any of them are or why they were chosen to be included in the book.

I looked up hygge in my library’s online system and found a lot more books, so I’ve requested some more to read. I find it a really interesting concept and it’s also very soothing to read about! Is it possible that reading about hygge is actually hygge?

6/10 (A good starter but I’m looking for more)

Book #39 of 2021

 

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Mini Reviews {12} – Non Fiction I’ve Been Reading Lately

A Life On Our Planet
David Attenborough
Penguin Audio
Narrated by David Attenborough
2020, 6hrs 20m
Purchased via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

I am 93. I’ve had an extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary.

As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world – but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet’s wild places, its biodiversity.

I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet contains my witness statement and my vision for the future – the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake, and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right.

We have the opportunity to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited.

All we need is the will do so.

I love David Attenborough! I’ve watched so many of the documentaries he has narrated and fronted but this is the first time I’ve read (or rather, listened to) a book he wrote. David Attenborough wrote this book (with someone named Jonnie Hughes) and also recorded the audio for it and that was what had me buying it. His voice is just so incredibly soothing and wonderful to listen to, even when he’s basically telling me about the systematic destruction of the planet’s natural resources. There’s something incredibly comforting about David Attenborough, even when he’s being forthright about what we need to do to change the current trajectory of the path we are on.

I really found this interesting. It begins with Attenborough’s background when he was a young child. The world’s population was 2.3 billion people in 1937, the carbon in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million and the world’s remaining wilderness was 66%. By the time we reach 2020 at the end of the book, the world’s population is 7.8 billion people. Carbon in the atmosphere is 415 parts per million. The world’s remaining wilderness? 35%.

A Life On Our Planet is Attenborough’s look at how we got here and what we can do to attempt to rectify it. There are numerous suggestions, most of which aren’t really new ideas: consume less meat so that less farmland is needed for animals like cattle that take large amounts of feed and also, damage farmland when farmed in such high numbers. Turn more to renewable power, like solar and wind and hydro. The fact that my entire country isn’t run on solar power now, with the space we have available and the sunlight hours, is still remarkable to me. There’s huge focus on renewing biodiversity – it’s biodiversity that makes things tick, makes the wilderness thrive and our lifestyles now, tend to reduce biodiversity in natural areas. There was a lot of interesting stuff in here about wild fishing and just how dire the wild fish populations are. I don’t eat seafood, so I honestly didn’t know just how badly the oceans are being overfished. Attenborough also wants to see a drastic change in the way animals are farmed and cites some examples where these methods are working and renewing wilderness. It’s not necessarily the methods being imparted here sometimes, I think in a lot of the case, it’s the fact that it’s Attenborough who is imparting them.

“Our planet is small, isolated and vulnerable. It is the only place we have, the only place where life exists as far as we can tell. It is uniquely precious.”

I highly, highly recommend the listening experience of this book but I also borrowed a print copy from my local library to read, to further absorb the ideas, statistics and stories that Attenborough tells.

9/10

Book #9 of 2021

Women And Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons
Julia Gillard & Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Vintage
2020, 368p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

An inspirational and practical book written by two high-achieving women, sharing the experience and advice of some of our most extraordinary women leaders, in their own words.

From their broad experience on the world stage in politics, economics and global not-for-profits, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Julia Gillard have some strong ideas about the impact of gender on the treatment of leaders. Women and Leadership takes a consistent and comprehensive approach to teasing out what is different for women leaders.

Almost every year new findings are published about the way people see women leaders compared with their male counterparts. The authors have taken that academic work and tested it in the real world. The same set of interview questions were put to each leader in frank face-to-face interviews. Their responses were then used to examine each woman’s journey in leadership and whether their lived experiences were in line with or different from what the research would predict.

Women and Leadership presents a lively and readable analysis of the influence of gender on women’s access to positions of leadership, the perceptions of them as leaders, the trajectory of their leadership and the circumstances in which it comes to an end. By presenting the lessons that can be learned from women leaders, Julia and Ngozi provide a road map of essential knowledge to inspire us all, and an action agenda for change that allows women to take control and combat gender bias.

Featuring Jacinda Ardern, Hillary Clinton, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Theresa May, Michelle Bachelet, Joyce Banda, Erna Solberg, Christine Lagarde and more.

I knew I wanted to read this from the moment I heard about it. I’m a huge fan of Julia Gillard and some of the most horrific treatment towards her during her term as Prime Minister of Australia was sanctioned, encouraged and well, some would even consider mandatory by the Murdoch press. She was savaged constantly for her hair, for her dress, for being unmarried but in a defacto relationship, for her partner being a hairdresser, for the fact that she enjoyed knitting, for the fact that she was, as someone declared her “deliberately barren” and couldn’t possibly understand Australian families. I have also read Hilary Rodham Clinton’s memoir What Happened where she talks about similar treatment: the talk about her hair, make up, her pantsuits etc.

I bought this because I wanted to hear from women like Julia Gillard, Hilary Clinton, Jacinda Ardern etc. But some of the most interesting stories were about women I had honestly never heard of. Women who had experienced political persecution in countries in Africa and South America. Some of the stories were incredible (all of the stories were incredible really) and even women like Theresa May, who I never particularly found all that personable in public office, came across in fascinating ways. What May experienced over not having children was awful and it feels so wrong that total strangers (journalists, political commentators etc) can take women to task for not having children, especially without knowing whether or not it’s by choice or because they cannot have children. Theresa May gave an interview at age 59 to clarify reasons they did not have children and why should she have to do that? It’s literally no one’s business other than her and her husband’s, why they do not have children. Women like her and Gillard are criticised for not having had children and then flip it and look at Jacinda Ardern, who gave birth in office and that was worthy of criticism too and loads of “oh no, emotional woman in charge!” jokes. Hilary Clinton, long past the age of giving birth when she ran for US President also details some of the jokes she bore about how you don’t want an emotional woman having the nuclear codes.

Gee. Must’ve somehow missed all those wars that were started by emotional women, hey?

I liked the way this was set out, the 8 questions or issues that women face often when in the public eye in politics – the only thing was, I think I wanted more! Some of the stories could’ve gone on longer, a lot of the women had much more to share. But this is just one book. Hopefully they do more like it in the future or I can find other books that also tell some more stories and share more experiences from these women and others like them.

8/10

Book #13 of 2021

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Review: Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Open Book 
Jessica Simpson w/ Kevin Carr O’Leary
Dey Street Books
2020, 461p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Jessica tells of growing up in 1980s Texas where she was sexually abused by the daughter of a family friend, and of unsuccessfully auditioning for the Mickey Mouse Club at age 13 with Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling before going on to sign a record deal with Columbia and marrying 98 Degrees member Nick Lachey.

Along the way, she details the struggles in her life, such as the pressure to support her family as a teenager, divorcing Lachey, enduring what she describes as an emotionally abusive relationship with musician John Mayer, being body-shamed in an overly appearance-centered industry, and going through bouts of heavy drinking. But Simpson ends on a positive note, discussing her billion-dollar apparel line and marriage with professional football star Eric Johnson, with whom she has three children.

I was never a big Jessica Simpson fan, actually I can’t tell you a single song she sings apart from the remake of These Boots Were Made For Walkin’ for the Dukes of Hazzard movie. But she and artists of a similar age – Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake etc – are my contemporaries and the musical sounds of much of my high school. I did watch her reality show Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica and I remember little about it except some of the very classic things she said, like “chicken of the sea” and “buffalo wings” etc. When this came out, I heard really good things about it and I requested it through my library not long after it was released but because of covid, it took until now to get to the top of the list.

There’s a lot in here I didn’t know, in particular about Simpson’s problem with medication and alcohol. She began self-medicating at a very young age, relatively harmless over-the-counter stuff to go to sleep that on it’s own, wouldn’t be an issue but when taken all the time and from such a young age, eventually leads to seeking out other methods for the same result. After being signed to a label (Columbia) she was told immediately to lose 15lbs (almost 7kg, which for a 5’3 17yo girl is a very significant amount of weight, especially when she was only 118lbs, which is 53kg), which led to a lot of diet pills. They also wanted her to bare a lot of skin, get some ribbed abs, presumably to fit into that 1990s aesthetic popular with pop stars. They also wanted to shoehorn her into a type of music that she wasn’t particularly comfortable with or maybe even into, rather than lean into the big power ballads she preferred. To be honest, it seems like the way the music industry treated vulnerable teenage girls was basically criminal. You’d like to hope it’s different now but I’ve honestly no idea if it is.

Simpson is astonishingly frank in this, both about her childhood as well as her adult life – her failed marriage to 98 degrees star Nick Lachey and the reality show that had a role in its downfall, as well as her various relationships including a toxic on-off one with pop star John Mayer who actually comes across as a manipulative stalker at times. She’s blunt about how naive she was, how unready for the life she was and how she often had no filter and whatever popped into her head fell out her mouth, which led to some embarrassing gaffes in interviews. She also talks about the relentless criticism of her looks and her weight in the media, the constant analysis of her figure and if she had put on a few pounds or lost weight. The scrutiny would be so incredibly damaging to a person’s psyche, that constant judgement and the cruel and merciless comments. Simpson readily admits she piled on weight with her pregnancies and that by then, she had reached a point in which she didn’t really care – she had deals with Weight Watchers in place to lose it before the babies were even born but there was still pressure in other ways – you can’t just lose the weight, your body has to be as good or even better as it was, pre-pregnancy. Before this, I didn’t know that Simpson had also built a $1b clothing empire and it’s something that she’s very passionate about. Her own pregnancies made her realise she couldn’t find any maternity clothes she liked and so she also decided to make her own. Despite the fact that she was often portrayed as stupid and vapid, she comes across in this as bright, funny, personable and self-deprecating. Occasionally a bit ditzy and she’s clearly had to endure a lot of obstacles, including being sexually abused as a child, something which she’s still dealing with now, as well as recognising her dependence on alcohol. She talks about dropping her kids at school and having already had her first drink of vodka from her glittery keep cup and hitting a sort of rock bottom and realising that she had to quit. Her second husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson also quit with her, and Simpson had to reassess herself as she did so. They’d built a reputation as having a fun party house for all their friends and now they had to reconcile their new alcohol free selves.

I really enjoyed this – even more than I thought I would, after hearing so many good things about it. I found Simpson an interesting and casual narrator, she writes this like she’s a friend, confiding in you and I think that’s the way she saw it herself. She makes comments in hindsight and talks about how she wishes she could’ve warned her past self about things. I really connected with the way she spoke about being a mother and how she feels about it and I admire the way she rebuilt herself and started her clothing line. The way she talks about music sometimes, it was like she had her love of it destroyed by the image makeover, the shoehorning of her by record companies into a certain genre but she talks about slowly starting to write again, to make the sort of music she wants to. And the way she talks about it, it makes me want to listen to it and see what Jessica Simpson sounds like, the way she wants to, rather than the way someone wants to market her.

I’d recommend this – it makes for good reading whether you’re a fan or not. And I suspect that for many who read this without being a fan, they’ll become one after this, simply due to the way it’s told.

8/10

Book #10 of 2021

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Thoughts On: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Promised Land
Barack Obama
Viking
2020, 751p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making-from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency-a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective-the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change,” and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible.

This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day. 

Where to begin?!

This is a monster of a book and it only covers Obama getting the Democratic nomination for president, the election and then most of his first term. Obama will tell you himself (early on and then often) that he’s very verbose: people ask him a question and he gives them a half hour dissertation in response. His book is somewhat similar, he talks about things at length and in detail. I’m Australian, so my intricate knowledge of American policy is well, teeny tiny. And there’s still quite a bit of this that went over my head, like how mortgages worked in 2009 (why were people buying with no money down?) and the banking crisis etc but this book does a pretty good job in explaining Obama’s decisions, why he made them, the fallout of them, how he could’ve done things differently (or how if he had the time again, he’d still do things the same way) and the complete and utter difficulty of the GOP, led by Mitch McConnell who made it absolutely clear that they wanted Obama to be a one term president and did not intend to work with him on anything.

There’s a lot about the divide (which is surely only worse now, after 4 years of a Republican Trump government) and how right and left have become so opposed to each other on principle that even on things they might agree on, find some common ground, there’s a refusal to. He breaks the book down into big issues: the financial crisis he inherited and the ways they tried to get out of it, the war on terror and conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, environmental concerns and trying to get it seen as an important issue as well as how it tied into the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, foreign relations with places like Russia, China, the Middle East, his healthcare platform and how passionate he was about it and also the search for Osama bin Laden, the successful operation of which is the closer for this book.

If you ever wonder what Obama was thinking about a certain issue or why he made a choice that he did regarding policy, you’ll most likely find the answer in here. It’s very thorough about all the things he wanted to achieve, all the things they did during that first term, the disappointments of things they couldn’t get done and his views on various happenings. There’s not a lot about his personal life though, his thoughts and dreams. Obama comes across as quite unflappable – he doesn’t appear to lose his temper very often (although he does detail 1 or 2 incidents of having to bawl out a cabinet member) and for the most part, he seems to remain steady, even when he’s being stymied at every turn or in the middle of the birther conspiracy. Michelle is seemingly the more passionate one of the pair, quicker to anger (he does drop several remarks that his wife be fierce) whereas he is more measured, maybe prone to a sarcastic side comment but little else in the way of expressing frustration. He has obvious love for his family but protects them here, keeping their private lives mostly private except for a few anecdotes, most of which revolve around things his daughters think he should fix.

This took me five days to read, which for me, is a long time. I was averaging just over 100p a day because it is very detailed and probably more so for me because this is not my home country and a lot of these things are simply things I don’t have in my news cycle every day and also because some of this stuff is over a decade ago now and has faded from memory. I do think that despite all the dissection of policy and critique, Obama’s voice comes through strongly. I’ve always enjoyed listening to him talk or hearing him interviewed (he reads the audiobook of this, which I have grabbed as well, to listen to in the future) and his eloquence and intelligence, his compassion and humour do come through, even when he’s talking about the ins and outs of Wall Street or the motor industry.

I have a stack of political memoirs or biographies to read: I have My Life by Bill Clinton, Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton and a biography on Franklin D. Roosevelt that my husband borrowed from our local library that he’s read and enjoyed and passed onto me. Roosevelt’s New Deal and a lot of Clinton’s policies (as the previous Democratic president) get quite a bit of page time in this book so I’m interested to read both of those. And Hillary’s book is a little bit of a cross over with this one as Hard Choices details her time as Obama’s Secretary of State.

I found this compelling reading – no one is perfect and you can’t please everyone, something that is detailed here more than once. But all you can do is try and I think Obama certainly comes across like he tried to implement a vision. It didn’t always work….but sometimes it did.

8/10

Book #232 of 2020

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