Well, that’s Christmas and New Year done and dusted. I told you in a recent post that we have given up on Christmas – it’s a Victorian-era invention that has led to us all rushing around, stressing out and wasting money on presents that people probably don’t like or need. So we don’t get caught up in the fuss. We spent a lovely, quiet day with Zeph, Zsa Zsa and the horses.

New Year’s Eve – the same thing. I used to love watching the Sydney Harbour Bridge fireworks and I remember, back in 1999, getting to a particular spot on the harbour foreshore at around 2.00pm. Just to get a prime position to see the fireworks. It was fun then but heck, can’t be bothered now. I think I went to bed at around 11.45pm. The district was quiet too; no-one seemed to be setting off fireworks. Good thing really considering all the farm animals in the area.

Every year, I do try and make some resolutions. Very rarely do I stick to them beyond mid-January but I give it a go. I think it’s good to strive after goals. My resolution for 2014 was to continue making my way through stuff – makeup and skincare – and not buy too many new items. I’ve been reasonably successful. My lovely Croatian friend keeps sending me Russian skincare and Essence cosmetics, so that doesn’t help 🙂

So what to resolve this year? Well, El Hubs and I have the combined resolution to move from here to the North Island. We thought we knew where but that has changed because we found another wonderful spot. We’ll go up again in February or March to scout around.

Beyond this, it’s to keep eating mainly vegetarian. I’ve been doing that for two years now. Also, minimise the consumption of sugar as much as possible. Going okay with that too despite the occasional falling off the rails. I have, at least, dramatically cut down the sugar intake and that’s a good starting point.

That leaves me with a reading challenge I saw on a website. I’ve been enjoying some great books recently and I thought I’d share my thoughts, in case you want some good books to read. And here’s the 2015 reading challenge I’ll be doing.

The Steady Running of the Hour. This is a debut novel by Justin Go. I am 50/50 on this book. It’s looong and sometimes meanders. There’s a lot in this panoramic novel – two love stories across time and space; historical details about WWI; mountaineering and the race to climb Mt. Everest; a fortune to inherit. I think it is beautifully written. The prose is elegant and masterful. The ending really p*** me off though. It seemed rushed and it’s certainly not what you would expect or hope for. A bit too much mountaineering detail towards the end and I didn’t find the characterisation of the major female character (Imogen) to be convincing. And Tristan’s inane wanderings around Europe had me shaking my head. Having said this, it’s an enjoyable novel and you can read what you will into the ending. Worth a read simply to be delighted by Go’s writing talent.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I don’t normally read novels that have been turned into the next Hollywood crime thriller movie but was intrigued. Amy Dunne disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary and you have a cast of suspects, most notably her husband, Nick. I think Flynn excels at detail – both psychological and forensic – and you really feel like you are in the heads of both Amy and Nick as they tell their respective sides of the story. It’s a page-turner for sure and then the big twist comes along and the characters you previously sympathised with you begin to dislike. The finger of blame that the media point at Nick is a sub-theme in the book and highlights their persuasive power. Flashes of darkness in Amy and Nick’s marriage are woven throughout the text. Here is another novel with an unsatisfactory ending. I think this is because we want baddies brought to justice; we like neat endings, not open-ended ones or ones we don’t like. However, a good read.

Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly MacMillan. Yeah, wasn’t fussed about this debut novel. It’s a dark subject – a mother lets her 8 year-old son run ahead in the woods. Kid vanishes; mayhem ensues. This is another book that features the media (particularly social media) and how it can cast blame, in this case on Rachel Jenner (the mother). A cast of suspects keeps you constantly guessing. For some reason though, I just couldn’t get into this novel. Certainly, the writing is good and the way MacMillan intersperses public opinion from websites and blogs throughout the narrative is very effective. This is not a light-hearted read though due to its dark subject matter.

The Girl on the Train. I have an advance reading copy of this book by debut author, Paula Hawkins, and it’s a cracker of a read. I think it’s being made into a movie. The book will be released sometime in January 2015. I can see comparisons with Gone Girl but I prefer Hawkins’ handling of the psychological aspects. The main character, Rachel, takes a train every day and from her window seat she imagines the perfect life of a couple “Jess and Jason”. Then “Jess” goes missing but who will believe Rachel because she’s basically an alcoholic. In fact, Rachel is somewhat unlikeable, which I found an interesting twist to characterisation. There are times when you just wanted to smack her. The sub-text of this novel, in my view, is emotional abuse and Hawkins handles it brilliantly.

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray. This is the first book in the Firebird trilogy. A fast-paced futuristic thriller that sees a young girl, Marguerite Caine, chase her father’s killer through multiple universes. Her parent’s assistant, Paul, kills her physicist father and escapes into another dimension beyond the grasp of the law. Did Paul really kill Henry Caine? And what dark secret does the Triad Corporation desperately want to protect?

Sounds like a great futuristic romp through multiple universes but I didn’t like it. Meh. I thought I was reading young adult fiction. Gray’s writing style was a bit too simplistic for me and I think she somewhat wasted a potentially good plot.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. One word describes this ambitious novel – superb. I’ve only read Eat Pray Love by the same author and thoroughly enjoyed it (I believe she was a journalist before authoring books). I wondered how Gilbert would handle a novel and one as historically sweeping as this. Set in the time of Charles Darwin, Alma Whittacker is a very unusual heroine who studies mosses. At a time when the existence of God was being challenged by science, Alma’s studies take her deep into the mysteries of evolution. You get the feeling that Gilbert meticulously researched the 18th and 19thC, particularly when it comes to Victorian social mores and dialogue. The book takes you on an enthralling adventure from London, to Peru, Philadelphia, Tahiti and Amsterdam. Along the way, you meet Sir Joseph Banks, Captain James Cook, missionaries and abolitionists, bawdy sailors, and a cast of quirky characters. Gilbert is a rare storyteller. Can’t wait for her next epic novel.

I reviewed some books I was reading back in April last year and I’m thinking of making book reviews a regular feature of the DailyOxford. Meanwhile, Saffy and Karma wish their many fans a Happy New Year and a successful year ahead.