Books to Read Before I Die

Book Bucket List

I am a definite book worm. My room resembles a library. I buy books for retail therapy while other girls shop for shoes. Life does get in the way of reading them all though, but at least it means I’ll never be stuck for something to read! I have a little secret though – it’s so much easier to pick up a trashy chick flick or sensational thriller, than it is to wade through a wordy piece of literature that requires full concentration. But, there are certain books that are must reads. I can’t call myself a book nerd if I’m not at least aspiring to read them! I’ve come up with a list of those books.

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Almost Perfect – Kelly Denley

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Almost Perfect is Kelly Denley’s inspirational story of how she took her super-sized family on an Australia-wide journey to bring them closer together, so that they were better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations that the world was throwing at them.

Kelly Denley - Almost PerfectGrowing up, Kelly Denley had dreamed of the perfect family, and of being the perfect mum, but as the mother of eight she discovered that almost perfect was actually just perfect enough.

A full-time wife and mother since the age of 17, by 31 Kelly Denley has lost sight of who she truly is. Postnatal depression takes its toll on Kelly, her father is given just a year to live, her husband is retrenched, one daughter is hospitalised and another on antidepressants and, in a final frightening development, her eldest boy, who suffers from Asperger’s, threatens suicide. Distraught, Kelly blames herself and knows that everything has to change. Concerned about her children’s school problems and behaviour, Kelly takes dramatic action, putting her university dream on hold so the family can travel Australia for a year in the hope that the experience will draw them closer together.

How Kelly tackles both the joy and pain that lie in wait, from discovering the beauty in nature she’d always been too busy to see and mastering the art of home-schooling in a tent, to nearly drowning in a flooded river and more heartache over her children, makes Almost Perfect an inspiring, moving, yet often hilarious rollercoaster ride of a memoir.

Denley not only conquered year 11 and 12 as a mature age student* so that she could get into university, but she did it with eight kids (two of whom had disabilities). After facing that challenge, and then having to face seeing her kids struggle at school when people couldn’t handle their differences, Denley set her sights higher. To save her family from falling apart, she took them on a year long camping trip around the gorgeous sights and sounds of Australia. Eight kids, two cars, one trailer. Home schooling, family arguments, financial crisis. It was by no means an easy year for the Denley’s, but the rewards that they reaped made it more than worth it.

*Check out this article for a little more information on Denley’s return to high school as a 33yr old woman with eight kids*

Denley tells her story without pretension. In every page, her love for her family is clear. The reader empathises with her battle with her weight, and cheers as she finally sheds her insulation. You can’t help but die a little inside reading about the struggle of her two eldest boys, suffering from Aspergers – the eldest of whom doesn’t even make it on their trip.

While the writing wasn’t always smooth or polished, it was the story that captivated me. Reading about the challenges that this family overcame is strengthening. Without the trip, who knows where the Denley’s would be. With it, they became a tight-knit family unit, dragging their feet to return to their old ‘normality’. Overcoming so many obstacles, the Denley story is an inspiration to us all; families should come before the rat race. Taking time out to get to know and connect with the most important people in one’s life is a paramount goal. The Denley family should be congratulated on their monumental achievements.

This book was hard to rate in a way. Denley wasn’t a polished writer as such, but her story was compelling. It was the story of an underdog, fighting for her family, and herself, in a world that doesn’t always want to accept the outsider. It was a story of triumph.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to have a little hope, or to any mother who is looking for a way to create the kind of family that every parent dreams about; close, happy and memorable (you can find it here). I wonder, after this huge step, where the Denley’s could go from here…

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Sophie Kinsella

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Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopoholic novel shot to fame after Isla Fisher played the role of Rebecca Bloomwood in the motion picture released in 2009. There is no doubt in my mind that the movie was fantastic. Hilarious. Isla Fisher was the perfect choice for the role, as were the supporting characters. I was excited to race out, buy the book that the movie was based on, and rip into it.

Sophia Kinsella - Confessions of a ShopaholicUnluckily for me, it was a waste of my time. In print, the characters were flat, and the scenes were dull. There was no life force in the novel that was bringing it to life in my imagination. I finished the book, as a book really has to be appalling to make me stop half way through. But I didn’t walk away with the buzz that finishing a good book usually gives you (or the sadness that comes with leaving an alternate reality behind). While there was nothing hugely wrong with the book – there were no grammatical errors or serious plot deficiencies – there was nothing outstanding.

For a long while, I attributed this to the novels’ being overshadowed by the movie. Surely, a book that was so well known that it spawned five sequels and was considered hugely popular must be good… Sophie Kinsella is a world-famous author!!

So, I read another of her books, The Undomestic Goddess. From the blurb, I was interested. Sure, it was a typical boy-meets-girl type novel (different setting, different names, different issues… you know how it is), but that is a tried and true formula for a good reason!

Sophia Kinsella - Undomestic GoddessMain character Samantha Sweeting is much more grounded and punchy than the wishy-washy Rebecca Bloomwood. Bonus points there. And I have always had a soft spot for transformation stories – and Sam’s metamorphosis from high-strung lawyer to domestic goddess definitely qualifies. More bonus points. However, the story still didn’t have the pizazz that I look for in a good chick novel. You see, what chick lit lacks in originality it is supposed to make up for with punch. This novel failed to do so.

After reading these two books, I’d have to say that Sophie Kinsella is relegated to ‘mediocre’ novelist in my mind. I won’t be re-reading these books anytime soon (although I’m sure I will be watching the movie again!), which isn’t a great sign.

Please, anyone who has jumped on the Kinsella bandwagon and found it to be the ride of their life, feel free to argue your point! And if you want to find out for yourself, you can find these books here and here.

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How to be Single – Liz Tuccillo

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Liz Tullico, author of He’s Just Not That Into You, and How to be Single is renowned for her female-empowering novels, and was an executive story editor for Sex and the City. HJNTIY (come on, give me the acronym, it’s a really long title) is now a major motion picture, with a star studded cast, including the lovely Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long. We all know how fantastic SATC is, I don’t have to sing any praises there. It was on the wave of this success that Tullico’s How to be Single hit the market.
Liz Tuccillo - How to be Single

I’ll admit that I haven’t read HJMTIY, although I have seen the movie and know the general plotline. When I read How to be Single, I thought that it would be a similar self-help type book, written from the point of view of a fictional character. It sounded quite bizzare, but as soon as I sunk my teeth into it, I knew it was more than a platitudinous ‘be happy with who you are’ airport novel.

Protagonist Julie Jenson has had enough with bad dates, failed relationships and girls nights out on the town that end in the emergency room. Julie is the pioneer for her group of friends, all of whom are having an awful single time. So, she sets out to find answers. Taking one for the team, she takes leave from her job and travels to Iceland, Brazil, India, Beijing, Bali, Paris, Australia, Rome and Rio de Janeiro. She seeks out single men and women to figure out how they handle the single lifestyle. Interspersing stories from Julie’s single friends back in the USA, How to be Single combines chick literature with travel writing. Excellent combination, if you ask me.

This book was incredibly engaging. Not only did Tucillo provide insight into many different cultures in the world, and how their people interact with each other, but the uplifting stories that are shared by the characters that Julie meets leave the single girl less despairing about the single life. Apparently, people in other countries handle being single with way less drama than Australians, Americans and the English. Who knew?

The characters in the novel would be easily be described as four dimensional if that was a real thing. Slightly crazed post-divorce Georgia, dating-for-a-living (literally) Alice, Serena who is taking the swami pledge to find enlightenment and Ruby who has been mourning her cat for months… any reader can find something of themselves in one of these girls.

Tucillo writes with humour, and straight-forwardly takes us around the world on a journey to find single satisfaction. Just the right amount of tough love and sensitivity. This book isn’t going to make you want to kill yourself for being single, nor is it going to make you take a lifelong vow of celibacy. It will, however, make you laugh and teach you a little something about not taking yourself too seriously.

This book was fantastic. Well done, Liz. This book is on my must-read list. If I’ve convinced you, you can get yourself a copy here.

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The Litigators – John Grisham

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The Litigators - John Grisham
A little behind the eight ball, I’ve never read a John Grisham novel. So, I had high expectations when I picked up The Litigators – and I wasn’t disappointed. Grisham has made what could be considered a very dry topic into a page-turner, with some humour thrown in for good measure. Not an easy task, when your subject matter includes in-depth research, client interviewing, and filing numerous court documents.

The novel centres around the ‘boutique’ (re: dodgy) law firm of Finley & Figg. Oscar Finley and Wally Figg essentially spend their time chasing ambulances, and waiting for their ‘big break’, while bickering like school children over client fees, ethics, and whether or not advertising on bingo cards is a good idea. They look set to spend another decade scraping through, until David Zinc waltzes through their door, blind drunk. David was, until ten hours earlier, a lawyer at one of the top firms in the city. However, that morning, he’d had an epiphany and realised that being on the fast (and exhausting) track was killing him – so he’d walked out and spent the rest of the day at a bar. When a drunk David sees Oscar and Wally in action, he knows where he wants to start his legal career over again.

Not long after David arrives, Wally stumbles upon what he believes is the big break they’ve all been looking for. Popular drug ‘Krayoxx’ is suspected of causing heart attacks in its patients, and suing the pharmaceutical company could mean millions for Finley & Figg. All Wally needs to do is find a few clients who are willing to sue, and then he can ride the coat tails of the national class action all the way to fame and fortune. But, of course, nothing is ever that simple, and the trio of lawyers are soon in way over their heads.

Grisham managed to make this novel a page-turner, predominantly because of the interesting, though not always likeable, characters. Where David is a straight-laced family man, with an idealistic view of life outside of a giant corporate law firm, Wally is a schemer always looking to make money, and Oscar is like a strict father figure who is constantly exasperated about Wally’s antics. The storyline was good, but it was somewhat predictable that Wally’s plan wouldn’t go off without a hitch, so I wouldn’t really consider it a legal thriller, as the cover said it would be. That said, I couldn’t put the book down because I really wanted to know whether they’d manage to wriggle out of all their troubles.

As a lawyer-to-be, I was particularly interested in this storyline. With no real idea of what being an actual lawyer in a class action is like, I enjoyed reading about life in the ‘real’ legal world. Yes, it was a fiction novel, and Australian law isn’t exactly like what we see on American TV, or in American books, but it still makes the profession look exciting and worthwhile. After five years of writing essays and attending lectures, it’s reassuring to think that our careers may be something like those of the lawyers at Finley & Figg… though hopefully less chaotic.

If this book piques your interest, you can get it cheaply (and with free postage!) here.

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I have hundreds of books lining the walls of my room – as well as numerous piles that are overflowing onto the floor. There is something about print, and the smell of new books, not to mention their portability… Mmmmmm, I love books.

I’ll have to admit, I don’t know everything about myself yet. I’m not quite sure where my place in the world is… but I definitely know that the world that I feel most comfortable in is totally unreal. Literally. As in, the fantasy world of fiction novels, the fairytale world of commercial television where everything ends happily, a person blogging about their own life, or even the real world expressed in a biography belonging to someone else.

In a world created by someone else, you know that there will be no difficult decisions to be made (other than deciding whether or not to continue reading), there will usually be some kind of happy or uplifting ending and you receive a complete escape from reality.

Why do I need to blog about these alternate realities? Well, I’m sure that, somewhere, there are other people who prefer a fictional world to their reality. Hopefully, there will be something here for everyone; a guide of sorts to an alternate reality to escape to. While every stop of my map may not be for you, hopefully one or two destinations will prove worthwhile (or not, depending on the review).

Welcome to the Annabel & Alice Book Club! Happy reading!Blog Sign-off