Author Archives: Fay

The Bookshops in my Street

Hello from London!

I’ve had a great time frequenting the many bookshops here. I loved the London Review Bookshop with the classy cafe and history titles arranged by time period. I loved the British Library bookshop with its wide ranging collection and Virginia Woolf dolls. (I super regret not buying one.) I loved the multi-storied Foyles with a great set of author events. Most of all I loved the sheer number of shops selling books! And so to narrow it down I thought I’d introduce you to ONLY the bookshops that were on my street.


I don’t know if this quite qualifies but it is definitely the classiest self-help centre ever. Apart from running classes on improving your life (with talks from Germaine Greer among others) they stock a heap of self-help books you wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen reading on the train. But the real reason they make the list is because of the excellently designed How To series they publish by writers and thinkers (such as How to Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton).


Apart from being painted a shade of blue guaranteed to brighten a grey London summer (rainiest in 100 years apparently!) this great shop has a great selection ranging from gay themed fiction, memoirs, non fiction, philosophy and more. Aside from the books and the friendly staff there are also CDs, DVDs and a notice board full of stuff going on in the community.


This little antique bookshop has a very quirky selection. As well as a larger collection of antique typography books than you would think possible, I found a multi-volume Chaucer set next to a pamphlet of greetings sent by famous fingers of the early 1900s.


Skoob is simply amazing. Down in a basement there are literally thousands of books on every subject imaginable – history, literary criticism, philosophy, learning music, art, a whole section of popular penguins, I don’t even know what else. There’s also a functioning upright piano! And plenty of nooks in which to sit and peruse.


While Skoob comes a close second, my favourite bookshop in the street would have to be Judd books. With fiction upstairs and non-fiction in the basement it had an extensive collection, but not so much as to be overwhelming. There are stacks of new books at bargain prices in the centre and a huge range of second hand titles in shelves up to the ceiling. But best of all was their silent policy! No phones, no ipods, talking frowned upon, no rushing. Such a lovely atmosphere to browse in.

So those are the bookshops of Judd Street! I hope you’re enjoying the lovely Sunflower back in Melbourne and I’ll catch you soon with more book related travel news!

Love Fay



Bookshop Crushes

Hello Melbourne peeps! I may be overseas but I am never on holidays (from books). As my patient hubby will attest, I insist on going into pretty much every bookshop we pass and have to persuaded not to fill my bag with books in languages I don’t understand, just because they’re pretty. Anyway I thought I’d share some of the lovely bookshops of Paris with you.

A very homey place in Tolouse

Just near Bastille station… check out that tree thing!

Excellent window stuff

With an appropriate window display

Love the ladders

And, of course, Shakespeare and Co

But none of them are as wonderful as Sunflower Bookshop! Come down and visit, I wish I could. I’m on holidays and I miss work, so that should tell you how cool Sunflower is. (Or how uncool I am.) And, as always, join me on my blog for more book reviewing, travelly goodness and shameless self promotion.

Fay out!

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Hello from not Melbourne!

Hey everyone! This is Fay, checking in. I haven’t died or been arrested or anything, I’ve just stopped checking and updating this blog obsessively. This is probably healthy, as Steven told me. But don’t worry, I’m still obsessively checking and updating mine, and I just posted about some books we (probably) have in stock. (Unfortunately I am not able to monitor Sunflower stock in real time. Otherwise I would probably end up doing a lot less sightseeing.) So if you want to hear my thoughts on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan and Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam then come on down to (Check it, Ste, I finally figured out how to link!)

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ToB: Lightning Rods vs 1Q84

Ah Lightning Rods, the book we have nothing to say about.

Well there goes the last book I’d read in the matchups.  I am indebted to Lightning Rods for knocking out Salvage the Bones , a book I refused to read (dog death), but then it kept on getting up in my face and knocking out things I liked, while not being available in Australia. It sounds interesting and has polarised commentors but seriously I have nothing to say about it. Go check out the matchup comments to see how people who’ve actually read the book feel about it.

1Q84 on the other hand I have lots to say about. But I’ve already said it in three other posts. Previously, on 1Q84 : I really liked it, found it really entertaining the whole time, it was ambitious and often successful, had some minor problems, I didn’t agree with some ToB judge criticisms probably because I didn’t find it as painful as others to get through. I really like soemthing Judge Michelle Orange said: “The emphasis is less on the sentences themselves than their layering and arrangement for cumulative effect. It’s like reading underwater—at times it feels extraordinary, silky, buoyant, and strange, like moving through a new world.” There’s also an interesting discussion of Murakami’s writing style in the commentary.

Goodbye 1Q84! I’m glad you made it this far and not surprised you didn’t make it further. Tune in tomorrow for the last of the semis!

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The Quarterfinals (some of them)

Hello from Venice! That’s right my blogfriends, this post comes to you from halfway around the world, from the city of love! Or is that Paris? Don’t worry,  I will be blogging from there too! Care too much? I believe I care the perfect amount, as officially endorsed by the Tournament of Books reviewers as the best bloggers in the entire world. Their words, not mine.*

But enough about me, let’s talk about books. In a super shock decision on Tuesday Lighning Rods beat The Sense of an Ending. Cmon Roxy Reno, what the hell! Or at least that’s my initial thoughts having not read Lightning Rods. As mentioned before, it’s not possible to get it in Australia and I don’t think it ever will be  due to extremely conservative and fearful publishing strategies. (‘Who’s Jennifer Egan?’ I hear Australians ask until 2011. ‘Oh, she’s just a much lauded, talented writer, with numerous awards and publications to her name.’ ‘Oh she just won the Pullitzer, I guuueesss we can publish her books now, just a small print run though…’) But I digress. I haven’t read Lightning Rods but I sure have read The Sense of an Ending and I know that it is beautiful and elegant and effortless and prize worthy. But hey, it’s not like it hasn’t won any prizes. But if you’re interested in Lightning Rods you should go and read the commentaries and comments left on it’s matchups. There are some really interesting and engaging thoughts by people who’ve actually read it. And just quietly, it’s getting kind of slammed.

Look you guys! It's me, in Venice!

Onto 1Q84 and The Tiger’s Wife (our personal shout out matchup). DISAGREE! As previously mentioned I loved both books. I really really did and would happily recommend either one of them. I loved the carefully manipulated sci-fi-fantasy of 1Q84 with it’s crazy interweaving plot threads and careful study of the mundane. But, for me, The Tiger’s Wife is the winner. It’s so much tighter and I found it more thoughtful, with a more subtle and considered take on the big questions it poses. I didn’t agree with any of the criticisms put up against it. I personally can’t think of one, where I can think of a few complaints for 1Q84. I think I’ve already voiced them but if you want me to elaborate let me know and I will! There was a discussion in the first round match up about rewarding failed literary ambition over the soemthing with a smaller aim. I think that’s what happened here and I don’t think it’s fair. 1Q84 went big, and while it didn’t always succeed, it worked a lot of the time. But The Tiger’s Wife is not short of literary ambition, and it worked all of the time. (Tiger all the time?)

Final note: I’m glad The Art of Fielding seems to have legs as a zombie (zombie legs?) because, like Steven, I am very eager to see it in a matchup with The Marriage Plot. Which I haven’t forgotten by the way! Boy did Steven say some hurtful things. Don’t worry crew, I will take him down next time and I take comfort in the fact that when customers come in to buy the book or talk about how they like it he can’t contradict them. Heyhere’s an idea,  all you fans, go in to Sunflower and tell Steven how much you liked The Marriage Plot! We could make it a thing, like Marriage Plot Fridays or something? I’m happy to make up a roster.

Goodbye for now! I hope you are enjoying Melbourne as much as I am enjoying Italy (did I mention I’m in Venice?)

*Actually my words, not theirs

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Tournament of Books <3 Sunflower Bookshop

You guys! YOU GUYS! Tournament of Books gave *ahem* “the well-read staff at Sunflower Bookshop in suburban Melbourne, Australia”  a shout out in the official commentary!

They like us! They found us! How did they find us? They think Steven and I are well-read! THIS IS SO EXCITING!

So check back in tomorrow to catch up on all the ToB news at their officially* favourite ever Australian bookshop. We are going to have to print up new business cards.


*I have no idea if we’re officially anything except awesome at bookselling

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Goodbye, Sweet Sunflower!

Hello internet amigos!

As some of you may know, today I am off on an exciting adventure! I’m (reluctantly) leaving Sunflower to travel through Europe for six months! I will be in Italy, France, Spain, UK, Croatia, Turkey and who knows where else. All being well I will return to Sunflower in September but until then you will be in the capable hands of the usual crew. Although I fear slightly for the welfare of our blogging community once Steven gets free reign….

I will be trying to keep in touch for some occassional Chatz (probably not on Sat[urday]) and to post some thoughts on the Tournament of Books. But I may not be able to adequately defend The Marriage Plot so this is a call to all Eugenides fans – back me up in comments, I need you! I’m also hoping to go to some literary events in Europe and would love to keep you updated.

If you miss me too much you can follow me on my regular blog where I am slowly working my way through the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. While I’m away I’ll be reading books linked to my locations to provide witty and relevant commentary on both the novels themselves and my personal experiences. I hope. More likely it will be the usual vague and uninsightful ramblings. But you might miss that!

If you have any country related suggestions (for books or for visitng!) or wish to tell me how much you’ll miss me, feel free to email me at

So farewell for now! I will miss you muchly!

Love Fay


ToB: The Stranger’s Child vs The Tiger’s Wife

I am on a lucky streak! Loved The Sense of an Ending, hadn’t read the other, it won! Refused to read Salvage the Bones, it lost! Just finished The Tiger’s Wife, loved it, it won! Watch out Steven! Here comes The Marriage Plot ftw! No, I sincerely think my luck will have run out by then. I want The Marriage Plot to win first round just as much as Steven wants it to lose, but I am very worried that my run will have been used up by then.

But I am happy for it to be used up on The Tiger’s Wife. Loved it. LOVED it. I literally just finished it about half an hour ago which I know always helps but still I thought it was great. It’s my new  personal Sisters Brothers. But with a better title.

The Tiger’s Wife is Natalia, a young doctor taking medical supplies across a war torn Baltic region to an orphanage. As she learns of her grandfather’s death she finds herself in a foreign landscape filled with superstition and myth and finds herself tracing her granfather’s own story, that of the woman who loved tigers so much she almost became one. As Natalia traces the story of the tiger’s wife, the deathless man and the diggers at the vineyard where she is staying, legend and reality fuse, superstition and medicine intertwine. Truth becomes lost in the mythology of the past while stories live on and provide a basis for the future

The deathless man and the tiger’s wife are both stories of fear and awe, possibility and impossibility and Tea Obreht tells them simply and lyrically. Her style effortlessly swoops from folk tale to harsh realities and past to present. She perfectly catures a plausible, passionate and not in any way twee relationship of grandfather and grandaughter. Meanwhile all this is set against a history of war and violence in the region, unobtrusive yet influential. And it’s her first novel. And she’s only 26. And she wrote it when she was 24! I am so, so jealous of her talent.

May I add that I don’t think the attacking of the judge was fair or justified at all? And as some further comments have said that sometimes judging reveals more about the person than the book, perhaps attacks on the judge reveal more about the attacker than the judge?

But I definitely recommend The Tiger’s Wife to anyone. ANYONE. Apart from being enjoyable it’s also, as Bethane Kelly Patrick comments,  significant, full of big questions and demands active reading. Steven, care to weigh in?

Steven: Nope. They’re both in store? At the wallet pleasing price of $19.99 each!

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ToB: 1Q84 vs The Last Brother

Fay: For once I’ve actually read both books. Quel excietment! I’ve talked about 1Q84 in a previous review so feel free to refer back for my explicit praide of the books. I’m sorry if I overlap.

1Q84 follows the dual stories of Aomame, a gifted personal trainer who kills irreperably violent men who beat their wives. She is self contained and largely friendless, but has a secret and perfect love that keeps her going. Tengo is an aspiring writer convinced to ghostwrite a crazy story written by a seventeen year old so that it will win a prize and shake up the literary world. But she is a very unusual girl and the usually chill Tengo finds himself getting involved with cults, private detectives and hiding missing people. Aomame gets similarly involed and although their paths do not interesect together they tell to story from different angles, revealing different information and insight into a reality that can’t possible be true.

So I complained a lot about 1Q84. I know I did. It made me feel better about spending weeks wading through the biggest book I think I’ve ever read. I think I actually read The Last Brother during one shift at work WHILE I was reading 1Q84.

BUT that being said I enjoyed every minute I spent reading it! I honestly did. I found it immensely readable, very wacky, excellent fun. And not just fun, also interesting thoughts about love and space and time and justice and parenting and the nature of reality. I was excited to get back to reading it, even though it was a complete pain to hold up in bed. Sure, there were flaws. Putting the three books into one meant that there was some overlap at the start of each new section as they explained what had just happened. NOT NECESSARY when you’ve just read what just happened. And it would have been such an easy edit/rework to sort that out! Also I found some of the translation a little clunky. BUT AGAIN, I loved reading it. For weeks! I didn’t get sick of the story, the characters, the general weirdness or the unusual dialogue.  I think that’s quite an achievment.

The Last Brother
on the other hand is very very short. Translated from the French, it tells the story of Raj, a young boy who lives with a violent father in a secluded spot on a Mauritian island. Poor and friendless he takes to following his father to the jail where he works as a guard. Here he encounters David, a young Czechoslovakian boy who has excaped from his home and the Holocaust to find refuge in then Palestine, only to be turned around and sent to jail. The two lonely boys become friends but when Raj decides to break David out of prison the results are…. not good.

The story takes the form of an older man reflecting on his past and as such it is filled with a mix of nostalgia and sadness. The language is lovely, very poetic. And it paints a vivid picture of the jungle that Raj find salvation in, as well as the easy friendship of two young boys who have each been through a lot of suffering. It was good, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as ANY of 1Q84. I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to judge books, and there are more constructive things I could say. It was easy to see where The Last Brother was going right from the start. Part of it’s charm lies in it’s simplicity. But 1Q84 was not just literally but literarily a much bigger work, so carefully constructed around a work of insane imagination, pulling in characters and storylines at all the right moments to keep it compelling

I think the jusge made this point (more or less) and that was their reasoning for awarding the win to 1Q84. But I disagree with their judgement that is was 400 pages too long (maybe 200?) and I also disagree that the end fell apart. I thoguht the introduction of the noir element was a successful way to draw the book to a finishing point and a climax to the ending. I think it was even better than Misha Angrist gave it credit for (for more check my previous post).

I also agree with the commenters who found the The Last Brother was emotionally manipulative. I agree that it sometimes felt like it was working for you to cry, which actually worked against it’s sadness at some points.

Steven, any thoughts?

Steven: Nope, haven’t read either.

Fay: Ok, so in summation: my favourite won, both good books, both in store, come by them now.

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Chatz on Sat(urday) – ToB Stylz

Steven:  Wassuppp

Fay:  Hey ste

Fay: Shall we go through the rigmarole?

Fay: What are you reading this week?

Steven:  WELL mon frere for funsies i am finishing The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips which is FANTASTIC and hopefully when it comes out in paperback we’ll stock the shit out of it

Fay:  I don’t know how I feel about your language

Steven: i feel very good about it, very positive

Steven:  Then not for funsies i am reading don ihde’s bodies in technology and nicolas rasmussen’s picture control for my THESIS in my HONOURS year

Steven: no biggie

Fay:  You’re doing HONOURS? Who knew? In what field?

Steven:  the well known and widely enrolled in and celebrated discipline of history and philosophy of science

Steven: let me tell you when i graduate the jobs will come ROLLING IN

Steven:  what about you bruda?

Fay:  I just finished The Keep by Jennifer Egan and it was excellent! I’m going to order some into the shop. It’s interesting and a bit different and compellingly told just like Goon Squad. She has a real gift for voices, that Egan lady

Steven: especially privileged white voices!

Steven: i kid!

Steven: (but a little)

Fay:  Some of these voices are not so privileged! I think they are all white though

Fay: She won ToB last year right?

Steven:  she sure did fay!

Steven: SEGUE


Steven:  as mentioned yesterday, sense of an ending DEMOLISHED devil all the time

Steven:  and today lightning rods surprisingly CRUSHED Salvage the Bones

Fay:  I was so excited when I woke up yesterday!

Fay:  I got to read some judging on books, some commentary on books and then my favourite won

Fay:  And I don’t know how you get DEMOLISHED from a discussion pointing out the merits and flaws of both books

Steven:  your favourite aka the only one you read?

Fay:  Yup

Fay: But I really liked it

Steven:  well disciples, guess what?  I READ THEM BOTH

Steven: yes you can have it all

Fay: I wish you’d stop calling them disciples

Steven: NEVER

Fay:  So even though I agree with the outcome I disagree with the ToB discussion around the ending of Sense of an Ending. I thought it was perfect for a book that is an understated meditation on memory. NO SPOILERS but I found it NEITHER anti-climactic nor a comment on the nature of twists

Steven:  well for that NO SPOILERS alone you are one better than a certain 2012 Age Short Story competition winner/horrible monster, BRAM PRESSER

Steven: SEGUE

Steven: into the epic tale of betrayal

Fay:  Tell us more!

Steven:  once upon a time, there was a sweet, naive, relatively newly employed bookshop person who was simultaneously handsome and clever

Steven: this certain person, no names or anything, happened to be planning on reading Julian Barnes’s most recent book The Sense of an Ending

Steven: when in walked into the shop, the devil in human form, BRAM ‘UGH’ PRESSER

Steven:  he acted all friendly like sure, we were introduced, and he started up a conversation with our 2nd most presently-in-the-country manager, margaret, about, like, books and stuff

Steven:  he went on for a while in such a manner, lulling me into a false sense of security when B(R)AM! he struck

Steven: and he goes something like ‘yeah and really what happened was SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER MUAHAHAHAHA’

Steven: and then i had an unfortunate sense of the ending

Steven: and now we are enemies, he and i


Fay:  It’s a story for our times

Fay: It’s like Brutus and Peter Pettigrew mixed together

Steven:  it’s like when SPOILER betrayed SPOILER

Fay:  It’s exactly like that

Steven:  the joke being BRAM ‘RESPONSIBLE FOR 9/11?’ PRESSER would have put names there that would RUIN things for people

Steven: also i read the devil all the time!

Fay:  Does that one come with a terrifying yet mesmerising backstory?

Steven:  fortunately for me, no, though those words would pretty accurately describe the book

Steven:  it should have been called DEATH all the time!

Steven:  (though The Devil all the Time gets Steven’s coveted Best-name-of-the-ToB award.  The Sisters Brothers (The BEST Brothers!) gets the worst)

Steven: it’s set in rural backwater Ohio and West Virginia and it is about poor people doing terrible things/having terrible things done to them

Fay:  Wow that sounds like fun reading times

Steven:  it opens with the story of returned WWII soldier Willard Russell giving blood sacrifices in the vain hope of saving his dying wife, then follows several connected characters including a serial killer and his wife, her brother the corrupt sheriff, travelling preachers turned murderers theodore and russell, and most importantly, Willard’s son Arvin, fundamentally a good man but led to violence

Steven: it is a gruesome southern gothic

Steven: and it is well written

Steven: but overall there’s just not enough there

Steven: (though all the characters’ stories do come together in a clever way at the end)

Steven: it’s not a book that sticks with you, and it’s not deep enough

Steven: a pretty good book but not a great book

Fay:  Whereas Sense of an Ending is definitely a great book (to get my foot back in the door of the conversation)

Steven:  sure is!

Fay:  It’s understated and deceptively simple

Steven:  mr. booker distributed his book prize wisely this year

Fay:  and so so beautifully and carefully written

Fay: and real, like with wisdom that can be applied to real life

Fay: as opposed to southern murderers

Fay: also wonderfully quoteable

Fay: (I really liked it)

Steven:  well real life wisdom is hardly the benchmark of a good book

Steven: but yes it was very good

Fay:  no but it makes it stay with you when the other factors are there too

Steven:  and i like the idea of a melancholy reevaluation of the past

Fay: definitely

Fay: good choice, Emma Straub!

Fay: as for today’s match, neither of us have read either book

Steven:  as mentioned earlier on the blog, it’s pretty difficult to get Lightning Rods in australia

Steven: and Salvage the Bones has animal death, which basically means it’s out of bounds for fay and me with our sensitive souls

Steven:  it’s disquallification saves us from having to read it though!

Fay:  I was definitely not reading about dog fighting

Steven:  THOUGH it is meant to be very good!

Fay:  And we have it in!

Fay: So if you’re into animal cruelty, come visit!

Fay: and we’ll report you to PETA

Steven:  (again though, good book)

Steven:  anyway tomorrow we have the VERY BIG 1Q84 up against the very little The Last Brother

Steven: which fay will have some things to say about

Fay:  A conversation I will DOMINATE

Fay: having actually read both books for like the only time in the first round match ups

Steven:  i personally am waiting for the battle between state of wonder and sisters brothers. were it judged by anyoneelse i say the former would be an easy win but i’m hoping wil wheaton’s (better known as this guy) nerditude could let my fave through

Fay: So we’ll see you soon for more ToB fun!

Steven:  ‪so stay safe guys, against my best efforts BRAM ‘POSSIBLE SEX OFFENDER’ PRESSER is still on the streets

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