REVIEW: A Thousand Shards of Glass by Michael Katakis (Review by John Purcell)

Click here for more details or to buy Thousand Shards of Glass

I loved this little book. A finished copy was recently given to me by Simon and Schuster Australia.

I get sent a lot of books but I suspect this one was chosen for me the reader not me the bookseller. Whoever thought to send it probably guessed I would love it.

Michael Katakis, who I have never heard of before, now feels like an old friend. Reading his short (144 pages), hard-bound book of essays, letters, quotes, one poem and snippets from conversations about the US with people he met outside America, I became engaged with the world again. His conclusions about the US have a ring of truth to them. His love of life in the face of tragedy is heroic. He has loved and has been loved in a way which will make others envious.

It is by no means a perfect book. It is human. Approachable. It invites conversation and asks you to walk with it.

I was angered, saddened, enriched and inspired by this book. Thank you, Michael (and the thoughtful folk at Simon and Schuster).

Blurb: Once upon a time, Michael Katakis lived in a place of big dreams, bright colours and sleight of hand. That place was America.

One night, travelling where those who live within illusions should never go, he stared into the darkness and glimpsed a faded flag where shadows gathered, revealing another America. It was a broken place, bred from fear and distrust – a thousand shards of glass – filled with a people who long ago had given away all that was precious; a people who had been sold, for so long, a foreign betrayal that finally came from within, and for nothing more than a handful of silver.

These essays, letters and journal entries were written as a farewell to the country Michael loves still, and to the wife he knew as his ‘True North’. A powerful and personal polemic, A Thousand Shards of Glass is Michael’s appeal to his fellow citizens to change their course; a cautionary tale to those around the world who idealise an America that never was; and, crucially, a glimpse beyond the myth, to a country whose best days could still lie ahead.

Photograph © Ralph Elliot Starkweather

Photograph © Ralph Elliot Starkweather

About the Author

Author and photographer Michael Katakis has travelled extensively for the past thirty-five years, writing about and photographing a wide range of cultures and geographic locations. His books include Photographs and Words with Dr Kris Hardin, Traveller: Observations from an American in ExileThe Vietnam Veteran’s MemorialSacred Trusts: Essays on Stewardship and Responsibility, and Excavating Voices: Listening to Photographs of Native Americans. Katakis has exhibited his work at the British Library, the Royal Geographical Society in London and the International Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. In 1991 the National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C., acquired Michael’s portrait of Maya Lin for their collection.

REVIEW: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris (review by Sarah McDuling)

LokiHere’s what I knew about Norse mythology when I first picked up The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris.

a)     Norse gods live in a place called Asgard.

b)    Loki is the coolest god . Sure he’s evil, but he’s also played by Tom Hiddleston (see left) and therefore his evilness is cancelled out by his perfect male beauty.

c)     Thor is the god of Thunder. He has very large muscles and a magic hammer.

So yeah. As you can see I had some major gaps in my knowledge. Gaps that have now been filled with Joanne M. Harris’ spellbinding recounting of Norse myth and legend, through the eyes of the most instantly engaging narrator I have encountered in a long while.

The Gospel of Loki is a surprising book. For starters, the only other book by Joanne M. Harris that I’ve ever read is Chocolat and The Gospel of Loki is a very different kind of read. I loved Chocolat. It was enchanting, heart-warming and utterly lovely.  The Gospel of Loki is none of these things. It’s dark, quirky, occasionally grim, often hilarious and gloriously bold.

Given the subject matter, I was expecting The Gospel of Loki to be more of a traditional fantasy epic, heavy on world building and probably involving some kind of The Gospel of Lokiheroic journey quest. Instead, I found myself lost in a series of episodic adventures, wicked little parables on how best to lie, cheat, trick and bluff your way to success. In Loki’s case, of course, success means getting revenge against his fellow gods and causing the downfall of Asgard.

By far and away the most wonderful thing about this book is the voice Joanne M. Harris has given her delightfully immoral anti-hero. I’m not always a great fan of first person narrative but I have to make an exception for  The Gospel of Loki because this is how first person narration should be done! Loki’s character shines through in every line, dripping sarcasm, twinkling with mischief and humming with that special kind of unrepentant arrogance so often found in archetypal “trickster” characters like Robin Goodfellow and Peter Pan.

This is a character who, when asked if he can achieve the impossible, routinely replies, “Of course. I’m Loki.” He is gloriously conceited, packed full of swagger and playful cheek. He’s a lovable villain, a mischievous bad-boy, a fiendish puppet master who knows just how to manipulate people. It doesn’t take much. Just whisper into someone’s ear, a well-timed and seemingly offhand comment and voila! Disaster ensues!

And yet, the true genius of Harris’ Loki is that he is so dammed lovable. Despite his inherent wickedness, you just can’t help rooting for him. He’s not malicious, after all. He’s simply a creature of chaos. It’s in his nature to cause trouble.

Now come on. Tell me he doesn’t sound like the coolest god ever?

Joanne m. harrisHarris gives us a Loki who is constantly mistreated by his fellow gods. Always an outsider, always rejected, always everybody’s convenient scapegoat.  This of course makes him the ultimate underdog. No matter how evil his plots become, or what depths of wickedness he sinks to, the reader cannot help cheering him on because … well … he’s Loki.

So thoroughly did I enjoy The Gospel of Loki that I was compelled to check whether Joanne M. Harris has written any other books in a similar vein. To my joy, I found out she has!  Runemarks and Runelight  – two Young Adult fantasies inspired by Norse mythology, both which of I will be reading as soon as possible.

And now excuse me while I go and pray to Odin, Allfather of the gods and ruler of Asgard, to give Loki his very own Marvel movie (with at least two sequels).

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Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiaster fibber. You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

Grab a copy of The Gospel of Loki here

the-gospel-of-lokiWith his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

But while Loki is planning the downfall of Asgard and the humiliation of his tormentors, greater powers are conspiring against the gods and a battle is brewing that will change the fate of the Worlds.

From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster.

 

REVIEW: Sugared Orange : Recipes and Stories from a Winter in Poland by Beata Zatorska

Click here for more details or to buy Sugared OrangesAnyone who loved Rose Petal Jam is going to adore this chilly sister volume about the winter foods of Poland. Sydney GP Beata Zatorska is back with more family and carefully chosen classic recipes from around her native country, lovingly collected on journeys through snow and ice. It takes a lot of love to publish a book that puts so much effort into photography (magical snowscapes by Beata’s documentary maker husband Simon Target) and superb design, creating the effect of a cherished family album.

One thoughtful and sensitive aspect of Beata’s recipe gathering is the way she’s integrated recipes from Jewish culture alongside those from Catholic homes. So you’ll find ways to cook fish for Easter and special saints days favourites alongside dishes for Chanukah celebrations.

The result is simply gorgeous to look at and a source of great inspiration when it comes to rib sticking slow cooked comfort food. Beetroot soup with wild mushroom dumplings gets my vote. Author: Beata Zatorska There’s a modesty and frugality to the ingredients, with meat used sparingly as a garnish rather than the main event, and vegetables given prominence in a culture where growing your own and going to local markets is not a fashion, it’s a way of life.

And of course, the sweet tooth factor is not forgotten. The only way you are going to enjoy a white Christmas is if you substitute sugar for snow. Orange ice cream, typically eaten in minus freezing temperatures is a pretty and refreshing option that will adapt to our climate in one scoop.

Review by Caroline Baum

Also by Beata Zatorska…

Click here for more information...Rose Petal Jam

Recipes & Stories from a Summer in Poland

Beata Zatorska recently returned to her native Poland for the first time in more than 20 years. Her base was the small mountain village in which she was raised by her grandmother, a professional chef whose homespun herbal remedies – using fresh ingredients from her own garden and made according to recipes perfected over generations – inspired in Beata the desire to become a doctor. It was a dream she would fulfill with her family’s unstinting support, ultimately establishing a general practice in Sydney.

Accompanied by her husband Simon, Beata spent the summer exploring her home country, travelling tiny roads lined with wild rose bushes, finding castles and palaces in rolling meadows and untamed forests. Beata also rediscovered her grandmother’s delicious family recipes – an extraordinary almanac of traditional Polish dishes.

Rose Petal Jam brings together more than 50 of those recipes in one delightful collection. Recipes for Beetroot-shoot Soup, delicate Pierogi (Polish ravioli), Pork with Caraway and Onion and tasty sweet treats like Apple Pancakes and, of course, Rose Petal Jam reveal the subtlety and variety of Polish cuisine.

But it is much more than a simple cookbook: Beata’s memories of growing up in the Communist Poland of the 60s and 70s intertwine with the couple’s discovery of a modern, vibrant and optimistic Poland, a member country of the European Union. Traditional paintings and poems celebrating the best of this rich culture are scattered throughout. And hundreds of photographs taken by Simon on their travels reveal an unspoiled countryside to rival the better-known rural idylls of Tuscany and Provençe, as well as the impressive architectural heritage of centuries-old cities like Warsaw, Gdan and Kraków.

Rose Petal Jam is part-memoir, part-travel narrative, part-cookbook … and altogether a charming and engaging introduction to a relatively undiscovered world and its people, culture and traditions.

Click here for more details or to buy Sugared OrangesAbout the Author

Beata Zatorska was born in Jelenia Góra, Poland. She started her medical training in Wrocław but graduated from the University of Sydney, and now works as a family doctor in Australia. Rose Petal Jam was the story of her return to Poland after 20 years away.With photography by her film maker husband Simon Target, Beata recalled summers spent in a remote village in the foothills of the Karkonosze Mountains in the care of her beloved grandmother, and the recipes she learned to cook there. Translated into German and Polish, the book has won design and print awards in many countries.

Copies available here…

Review of Michael Fullilove’s Rendezvous with Destiny by Terry Purcell

Michael Fullilove’s Rendezvous with Destiny has been met with glowing reviews from all quarters. Terry Purcell shares his thoughts.

In 1939, America was nervous and parochial; yet in 1940, she began to re-arm and re-mobilise; and by the end of 1941 she was at war and her course was set towards global leadership.

This important new book by the Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove commences when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was still leading his predominantly isolationist country out of the Great Depression and despite ill health was still weighing up whether he should run for an unprecedented third Presidential term.

However, Germany’s invasion of Poland on the first of September 1939 made Roosevelt realise that he had to continue to lead America.  Once re-elected he needed to quickly acquire a deeper understanding of what was really happening in Europe, the nature of any threat it might pose for the US, and whether there was any possibility of a negotiated peace.

The focus of Rendezvous with Destiny is on the steps Roosevelt took through the astute appointment of 5 special envoys during 1940 and 1941 with both Democrat and Republican backgrounds to undertake this task.  He relied on five uncommon individuals – a well-bred diplomat, a Republican lawyer, a political fixer, a former presidential candidate and a tycoon.

The first sent was Under Secretary of the State Department Sumner Welles who visited France, Germany and Great Britain during “the phony war” in early 1940 in order to see whether Hitler had any interest peace. He also wanted to get a firsthand understanding of the capacity of France and Great Britain to respond to German’s threats and the role Italy might play.

While little overtly came from this initial foray, Roosevelt had a much better understanding of unfolding tragedy in Europe which was confirmed by the fall of France within weeks of Welles’s return.

Welles was followed in July and August 1940 by Republican war hero and lawyer “Wild Bill” Donovan to see if the British could hold out against a German invasion.

Next to go was Roosevelt’s most trusted aide and long term adviser Harry Hopkins in January 1941 to assess Britain’s needs and also to help Roosevelt get a better understanding the new idiosyncratic British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

This was to be the first of several missions Roosevelt sent the ailing Hopkins on during that year including visiting the Soviet leader Stalin to assess USSR’s capacity to withstand the German invasion and how the US could assist in terms of arms and munitions.

Hopkins’s first visit was quickly followed by defeated Republican Presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie sent to shore up support for Roosevelt’s Lend Lease program, the proposed basis for supplying Britain with much needed armaments, oil and food.

The final representative was Averell Harriman, a wealthy and politically ambitious Democrat with extensive management experience.  He was sent by Roosevelt to ensure the smooth running of Lend Lease program to ensure the British got what they needed, initially to defend themselves against invasion, and then to carry the fight to Germany in North Africa.

Taken together, the missions plot the arc of America’s transformation from a reluctant middle power into the global leader.

Of the five envoys, Harry Hopkins was the real star of Roosevelt’s strategy, who, despite ill health and no foreign relations experience, was the person charged with establishing a basis of trust and gathering vital intelligence initially with Churchill and later with Stalin.  Roosevelt knew neither and politically or personally had little in common with them as individuals, yet Hopkins’s judgment, charm, high intelligence and self-effacing nature ensured that a strong working relationship was quickly established between these truly unlikely allies at a time the world needed them working together.

Fullilove’s influential book is a highly recommended good read and fills many gaps in the understanding of Roosevelt’s leadership and vision in preparing America for war, a role long overshadowed by the later victories in Europe and in the Pacific and by the cold war struggle which so dominated the headlines for the next fifty years.

Click here to buy Rendezvous with Destiny from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

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Terry Purcell is a solicitor and was the founding director of the Law Foundation of NSW and is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog.

REVIEW: Old School by Nathan Hindmarsh (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

In a world where sportsmen fight, drink and tweet their way into trouble on a daily basis, Parramatta, New South Wales and Australian great Nathan Hindmarsh is a different breed. The softly spoken people’s champion is now playing his last season for his beloved Parramatta Eels. Sadly he will end his career never winning a premiership, but in Old School he has released one of the best autobiographies of the year.

Hindmarsh has always worn his heart on his sleeve while playing, a true gentleman of the game. However before the release of Old School little was known of the twenty-three time Australian representative off the field, apart from occasional shots of his wife Bonnie watching in the stands with their three boys Archie, Buster and Rowdie. As one of the millions of children born in the eighties named Andrew, I can’t tell you how cool those names are.

Hindmarsh became a regular first-grader for Parramatta in 1999, and just one year later was playing for Australia. In 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006 he was voted the second rower of the year in the NRL, an achievement that may never be broken. His popularity can also be measured in being awarded the Provan-Summons medal, aka the fan’s player of the year, in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and last year, 2011. To put that into context, for nearly half of his entire career, he has been judged to be the best and most popular player in the NRL. An achievement that, in a game that celebrates its tribalism and partisanship, is absolutely remarkable.

But Old School isn’t just another autobiography about a kid done good. Hindmarsh also tells the harrowing tale of his caustic gambling addiction, a crutch that threatened to bring down his career and his personal life. Crippled by debts of over two hundred thousand dollars, four times the average wage for a professional Rugby League player, Hindmarsh suffered silently and upon the book’s release even former teammates and close friends have admitted they knew nothing of the extent of his battle. A battle that, in true Nathan Hindmarsh style, he fought with in the dark, desperate for his problems not to burden his friends and family.

For the sports nut, the curious observer, or anyone trying to find their place in the world, Old School is a wonderful story of a footballer trying to find balance in his life while seemingly living his dream. Funny, moving and uplifting, don’t miss out on the journey of a boy from country NSW who became an idol to millions.

Review by Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach

Click here to read all of Andrew’s Posts. Click here to follow Andrew on twitter.

Click here to buy Old School from Booktopia,
Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

REVIEW: This Is How by Augusten Burroughs (Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach)

In June, Augusten Burroughs will pop his spectacled noggin up over the horizon of the literary landscape once again with another treat for fans of his work and those fearful of it alike. In his new offering This Is How, Burroughs rips a hole in the starboard side of the self-help industry and takes it upon himself to be your very own agony uncle.

Using extraordinary life experiences that he previously drew upon to write the book that propelled him into a superstar, Running With Scissors, Burroughs takes aim at problems we all face, the great quandaries of the human condition. Topics like self-esteem, addiction, suicide and the 9 to 5 are subjected to his unique voice and signature black humour.

If you never thought you’d buy a self-help book rest assured this isn’t one. However it’s without a doubt more effective than any out there. You can read it as a memoir of sorts, or as a tongue in cheek anthropological study from the watchful eyes of a master word smith.

If you love the self help genre and see it as the putty that fills in the cracks, Burroughs’ treatment of edgy subjects are excellent, his wit and wisdom the implements with which to open your mind to new ways of thinking and living.

The key to This Is How is the over-riding feeling Burroughs is simply suggesting alternatives to the current channels, not screaming at you from the pages as so many life advice books do today. His humility is paramount as he almost apologetically tackles potential problems head on, aware to be simply another voice around the table, albeit the most compelling and sensible one out there in recent times.

This Is How never directs and never forces, and like Burroughs’ other acclaimed books it will take you through the full gambit of emotions in just a few treasure filled pages.

Augusten Burroughs wants you to know that you matter, just as he has discovered himself, and with a deft touch he’ll empower you to discover the beauty of your world and everything around it.

Guest Reviewer: Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach

Click here to read all of Andrew’s Posts. Click here to follow Andrew on twitter.

Click here to order This is How from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

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This is How

by
Augusten Burroughs

From the New York Times bestselling author of Running With Scissors comes a groundbreaking book that explores how to survive the “unsurvivable”.

Augusten Burroughs has lived an unusual life, and has faced more than his fair share of humiliation, transformation and everything in between. This Is How is his noholdsbarred book of advice on topics as varied as:

  • How to feel like crap
  • How to ride an elevator
  • How to be thin
  • How to be fat
  • How to find love
  • How to feel sorry for yourself
  • How to get the job
  • How to end your life
  • How to remain unhealed
  • How to finish your drink
  • How to regret as little as possible

And much more

Told with Burroughs’ unique voice, black humour, and in-your-face advice, This is How is Running With Scissors – with recipes.

Click here to order This is How from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

US hardcover edition also available from May 8th.
Click here for more details or to order.

Mini Review: With My Body by Nikki Gemmell (Review by Toni Whitmont)

In 2003, Nikki Gemmell created waves when The Bride Stripped Bare became a literary sensation with its raw unflinching depiction of female sexuality.

Now she returns with another tour de force addressing the questions of what is intimacy and whether it is ever really possible to know another person.

It is at once a manifesto of married mothers everywhere and a highly personal story of one woman’s sexual awakening.

This is beautiful, and literary, and raw, emotional and bold. It is also deeply resonant of the classic French erotic writings of Colette and Nin although with a modern and provocative twist.

However, to label it as erotic is to do With My Body a disservice. Gemmell has absolutely nailed the female psyche with this novel. This story is more about discovery of self than discovery of sex.

Yes, women will read this book in droves, but if they give it to their male partners to read, the world would be a happier place.

Click here to order your copy of With My Body from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

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