30 December 2011

2011 Top 5 Reads

It has been difficult ...

I resisted the temptation to "cheat" and list the ones I longlisted ...

but after careful deliberation ...

and hasty decision making ...

here are (maybe) my picks for my 2011 Top 5 Reads :

Drum Roll ....

Cloud Atlas ~ David Mitchell

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas ~ Hunter S Thompson

The Passage ~ Justin Cronin OR The Last Werewolf ~ Glen Duncan : Can't decide!!!!

Skippy Dies ~ Paul Murray

Super Sad True Love Story ~ Gary Shteyngart

10 December 2011

Countdown ~ Mira Grant

< OK >

A Newsflesh Novella
A prequel to the Newsflesh trilogy

Very short ~ a mere 65 pages.

Well constructed, neatly interlinked vignettes giving background to The Rising.

I read this after #1 & #2 of the trilogy ... and I think that is when it was released. I think it sits well here even though it is a prequel. It adds depth to the Zombie saga even though most of the information about the release of the virus had come though in Feed and Deadline.

Maybe this was just a titbit to feed the hungry hoards of rampaging zombies eagerly awaiting the release of #3 Blackout.

09 December 2011

Deadline ~ Mira Grant


Does she think we have the brain of a zombie???
#2 of Newsflesh Trilogy
There were so many times while reading this book that I had to put myself on auto pilot and just keep reading while gnashing my teeth!

#1 (Feed) was a great Zombie book but this second one in the trilogy was a good idea poorly executed (but like any good zombie, it kept getting up and walking again). The editor let too much through to the keeper.

There was way (waaaaaay) too much repetition to remind us what happened in #1. Constant. All the time. Repetitive.

The "talking" to his sister wore so (soooooo) thin. Oooooh! only you can hear her ~ everyone thinks you're crazy!! Give us a break ~ I got it the first time. Constant. All the time. Repetitive.

The references to Shaun drinking Coca Cola (because his sister was in his head) was ... you guessed it ... constant. All the time. Repetitive.

There were other annoying bits :
Shaun's childishness (OMG ... the survival of the human race depends on him ... Help!!)
Shaun's willingness to gloss over and forgive Buffy, their partner and friend who had duped them but his antagonistic and unforgiving attitude towards Kelly because she had worked for the baddies before coming over to the good side.
The characters were very flat.

But ... I am looking forward to #3!
#1 had a great political background, #2 had a more medical background. It was a page-turning read in need of a good edit

08 December 2011

The Madonnas of Leningrad ~ Debra Dean


Take me to the Hermitage!
Recommended by Jeannie

This was a gem. The narrative had two threads, present and past, and I found both to be of equal interest.

The "present" thread presented the sad, sad story of the onset of Alzheimer's eating away at the fabric of existence, with old age robbing you of your family and your dignity. This was poignantly told. Not over sentimentalised and very touching. Marina was drifting away into her past. There was also a sadness in the fact that we are simultaneously being told of this past yet she had never passed this personal history on to her children.

The "past" thread was Marina's experiences at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad during the German siege in World War 2. The horrors of war and the deprivations and resilience of the people are brilliantly counterbalanced by the richness of the artwork of the museum. I am not particularly into art (call me a philistine) but this book left you craving a visit to the Hermitage (or any art gallery!). Marina is involved in packing away the artworks for protection. She walks through the emptied galleries committing the works to memory by visualising and describing them. These descriptions are detailed and vivid.

This was a book where I audibly groaned when I turned the page and found it was the end!

07 December 2011

Feed ~ Mira Grant


Putting new life into Zombie Literature!
A great pop culture tribute

There was something here for everyone ... so you didn't even have to be into zombies. The title/cover was a clever play on words/icons. There are lots of make-you-smile references to George Romero's zombie movies ... which, in the future, have now moved out of the realm of cult movies to survival guides.

In the (as always) dystopian future, after The Rising, the survivors have to worry about not just zombie attacks but the radical religious right politicians that continue to plague the world. Fear is used as a control mechanism by the power hungry (sound familiar?).
Blogging is a legitimate arm of the media specialising in on the spot live feeds - with Newsies (providing the facts), Stewarts (providing the opinion), Irwins (providing the action) and Fictionals (providing the literary take) ... and, yes, that is Stewarts after Jon and Irwins after Steve.

The book was overly long (and it is Part 1 of a trilogy), a little repetitive and there was a lot of explanation about how The Rising came about ... but it was not zombie-trance inducing.

Loved the pop culture references.

Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel 2011

06 December 2011

The Call ~ Yannick Murphy


A most unusual narrative style
Sweet, understated, odd

I have to admit I was quite put off at first. But ... it worked! I went with the flow of the Mental Journal style of abbreviated writing and enjoyed the reveal coming through everyday actions and thoughts.

WHAT HAPPENS IN THIS STORY : We follow a vet making house calls in a small rural community and trying to find out who accidentally shot his son
WHAT DOESN'T HAPPEN IN THIS STORY : We never find out about the spaceship
CALL : Mostly it is someone about their livestock, but sometimes it is a mysterious, unknown caller
ACTION : Deliver a kid, put down a horse, treat a sheep, donate a kidney to a "son".
RESULT : An interesting take on narrative
WHAT I THINK ABOUT AS I READ THIS : Is the whole book like this?
WHAT I DID : I jumped to the back to have a look to see if it was all like this

WHAT THEY HAVE FOR DINNER : Some might find this irritating but I enjoyed it!
This gave the book the warmth that was needed as the writing style made you a bit detached.
DID I ENJOY THIS BOOK : Well, yes ... but I wouldn't want to read everything like this! ... I preferred the odd narrative style of "Super Sad True Love Story" ... but I would recommend it if you are after something a little oddball.
AM I SERIOUS : Yes ... the whole book is like this!!!!

05 December 2011

Gilgamesh ~ Joan London


Bring on the thesaurus for a description
A comforting, evocative, quixotic read.

The story started and finished on a farm in Western Australia and, in the middle, travelled to Armenia. The pace of the storytelling is slow and detailed yet it is sparing in its language and certainly lacks overblown prose. It is this gentle osmosis that lets the characters, the time period and the locations seep into your imagination.

The original Gilgamesh saga is threaded through the story.

04 December 2011

The Chrysalids ~ John Wyndham

 *** FAVOURITE ***

Could be on today's bestseller list!
Religious fundamentalists in a dystopian world

First published in 1955, this book, with its theme of persecution, is as fresh as a daisy. I read it as a teen and loved it ... but loved it even more this time around.

The pace of the narrative was unrelenting ... it was go to whoa storytelling with natural characters and suspenseful action. The children need to survive in and escape from, a paranoid, intolerant, repressive world. Maybe last time I read it as kids-own-adventure stuff whereas this time I was so struck by the underlying questions about society. And is the society that rescued them any better, any less judgmental?

More Wyndham to come! I shall have to revisit my previous favourite, The Day Of The Triffids.

03 December 2011

The Hundred Foot Journey ~ Richard C Morais

< OK >

Be easy to use lots of edible puns here
A snack, a tasty bite, but not a meal

This was a fun, light read. There was lots to keep a foodie interested and it was a colourful journey taken by the main character. It started in India and wound up in France so there was an interesting international diversity in both setting and cuisine.

The characters tended to be more caricature than complex. The author states that he would love this to be made into a movie and I feel that this was his aim in writing. So it is vivid and flamboyant and quirky and distinctive enough to make a fine film ... but, as a read, it needed more seasoning (ooops ... a food pun).

02 December 2011

Cain ~ Jose Saramago


Delicious tongue-in-cheek
A challenge for a punctuation pedant

A subversive retelling of Old Testament as Cain wanders the world on a time-space continuum. He is marked by God and through him we meet up with the players in the stories of Babel, Sodam & Gomorrah, Lot, Noah, Joshua & Jericho. And we constantly find an difficult and vengeful God.

The writing style is as (more?) confrontational than the material. This guy doesn't seem to believe in punctuation ... sentences go on for pages and pages, dialogue is written with no indication of the speaker, capital letters are few and far between.

But it is all a breath of fresh air ... or maybe more like a bucket of cold water thrown over you! This book is quirky and funny and refreshing.

Saramago is a Noble Laureate and I must make sure to find some more (Blindness has great reviews)

08 November 2011

The Happy Prince ~ Oscar Wilde


Catch up on a classic
Short stories (or fairytales)

This was a First Tuesday Book Club book ... and it was a gem!

While there were other stories, The Happy Prince was a standout. It was beautifully written and poignantly told. All the stories in the book had a strong touch of bitter-sweet.

I just don't know how I missed this up till now ... and I think it is worth a re-read anytime!

First Tuesday Book Club

07 November 2011

The Door Into Summer ~ Robert Heinlein

< OK >

Back to a classic
A bit dusty and dated

Having loved Heinlein as a teenager and read all of his that I could get my hands on, I decided to reread this one. I came across it on a YA "recommended reading" list and it was described as one of the best time travel books. So I thought it was worth a reread.

Not sure that I would go out of my way to recommend it or put it on a list or label it great time travel.

I actually found the time travel a bit clunky. It took quite a while to set up the scenario. I found it a bit ERK that when he goes back to the time he came from to beat those who screwed him over ... and meets up with the prepubescent daughter of his partner and arranges to marry her when she takes the Big Sleep to the future (hmmm he is in his 40s and she is not yet a teen ... and while she will be in her 20s when they meet up again ... it is still erk)

It was also a bit on the funny side given that it was set in the 70s with the hero taking the Big Sleep to the "future" in 2000 ... and the book was written in the late 50s ... so Heinlein's vision of the 70's was future-gazing as much as his conception of 2000 (like he was soooo wrong about purple flares being the right clothes in 2000 ... instead of the 70s!)

06 November 2011

The Tiger's Wife ~ Tea Obreht

** LIKE **

 Orange Prize : 2011 Winner
Tournament of books : 2012


It took me a while to get into the narrative but eventually it all knitted together and rolled along. I never worked out the role of Zora to the plot and there were often longwinded descriptions.

I was particularly impressed with how she interlinked the characters from the stories of the grandfather (the Deathless Man and the Tiger’s Wife) ... never overly coincidental, never a hard push to link up. She skilfully interweaves the stories of the grandfather with the events of the life of the narrator. I also liked the way character background is given without it seeming like “author’s notes” just added in to fill it out.

The books was full of the superstitions and violence of the region but lacked emotional involvement ... there were times I just skimmed, making a choice of giving up or moving on.

05 November 2011

Soulless ~ Gail Carriger

* LIKE *

“Steampunk!” I learnt a new word!
Cute, campy, overwritten, giddy.

A fun read with werewolves, vampires and ghosts integrated into everyday living in Victorian England (in fact, they have their own special advisors to the Queen ...and are possibly the reason why Britannia rules!).

It has a particularly strong female heroine. But way too much smooching. While the book is in no way profound, the characters are well developed and the world the exist in is well drawn. The author makes excellent use of Victorian vernacular and witty observations... making it delightfully ’edifying’.

Steampunk : a sub genre of sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history and speculative fiction that involves a setting where steam power is still widely used, usually Victorian era Britain. Works often involve anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as the Victorians might have envisioned them. Steam punk was influenced by, and often adopts the style of the 19th century romances of Jules Verne, HG wells, Mary Shelly Eg : Philip Pullman, China Mieville (don’t think that Jasper Fforde is quite ‘goth’ enough)

04 November 2011

How I Became A Famous Novelist ~ Steve Hely


Awesome! Funny, funny book.
A perfect companion for “The Bear Went Over The Mountain”

I really enjoyed this ... smiled my way through ... loved the irony of writing a novel about writing a novel which is all about suckering the public to buy it ... and the merchandise ... and the movie rights. This is a wonderful satire about understanding the formula to writing a best seller and is complete with jottings from a range of genres where the ‘author’ is trying his hand at various styles. (And I even loved the over embellished, over emotive, claptrap he was dabbling in ! ... ahhh! I must be ripe for the picking ... I obviously can’t tell a Booker from a Bestseller!).

It is all here : literary pretension, publicity posing, selling out, cliched cleverness, a real insight into writing a novel.

Makes it hard to look at a popular novel/novelist the same way!

And then they reviewed it on First Tuesday Book Club ... and generally panned it! HUMBUG!!!

Winner : Thurber Prize for American Humor (2010)

First Tuesday Book Club

03 November 2011

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick ~ Chris Van Allsburg

* LIKE *

Ahhh ... should have left it to my own imagination!
Some good, some ordinary, few as good as the illustrations!

Ok ... there were good ones ... ok, there were even lots of good ones ... They ranged from readable to enjoyable. There were creepy ones, sci-fi ones, sweet ones.

But ultimately for me it was like putting a bird in a cage. Like putting a limit on your dreams. Like watching TV rather than read a book.

I find the intro and pictures in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick so vivid that they enthral your imagination. I have used it often in the classroom and each time I would take it out something new, different, wild or whimsical would come to mind. The “Mysteries” tantalises where the “Chronicles” serves it on a plate.

Is there a place for it? Yes ... i can see that it is a good way to introduce children to a range of genre. Give them an idea and let them better it.

02 November 2011

Birdsong ~ Sebastian Faulks

< OK >

Didn’t do it for me ... so much
The horrors of war are lost in a silly love story.

The preface read so well, promised so much. Faulks was so aware and so stunned by the horrific loss in WW1 that he wanted to write about it. Instead it was the mere background to a rather poor love story.

The book seemed to be peopled with too many characters. Pointless characters. I am still perplexed about the role of the girl from the present. Often I felt like characters were just sentences made from an authors jottings (hmmm .. I know ... I’ll have Elizabeth a bit of a modern miss ... she can go hiking in the north by herself ... yes ... and jump into bed with some young buck ... yes ... And why the birth scene ... ohhh ... wouldn’t it be cool if she gave her grandfather’s name to the baby ... )

I just wasn’t convinced by the modern romance or the main “love” story.

I felt he captured the confusion of battle, the depravations they endured and the human tragedy unfolding around him .... but the Preface lead me to believe that he would bring to the reader a sense of the “extermination” of 10 million men ... TEN MILLION MEN. ... The most we got from the Somme was a rather passing stiff-upper-lip comment of “those poor chaps are doing it hard at the Somme”. My only glimpse of that hideousness, the incredible slaughter, came through Elizabeth’s field trip when she came across a large memorial minutely inscribed with the names of the missing, not the dead, just the missing.

“... the experience of this war had somehow slipped form public understanding ... this was in part due to the reticence of those who had been there .... and then only 20 years later a second frenzy had convulsed the world, one aspect of which had been so well memorialised at the insistence of its victims that it seemed to leave no room in the public memory for earlier holocausts”

10 October 2011

The Sisters Brothers ~ Patrick deWitt

* OK *
Tournament of Books : 2012 (Winner)

Nice cover
Shame about what's between the front and the back

Thing I like most about this book is its cover. Cool. So if that is what you are looking for in a book then you can’t go wrong.

It wasn’t that it was too oddball or too violent for me ... I just found the narrative too sketchy. It was lacking in pace and the climax was indifferent.

The characters were desperate and depressing yet slightly comic. The setting was a western road trip from Oregon City to the goldfields of Sacramento. I missed the point somewhere because I just didn’t engage.

If you want a Western with great characterisation, great vernacular, great narrative ... pick up True Grit

09 October 2011

The Sense of an Ending ~ Julian Barnes

**** RECOMMEND ****

Man Booker Prize : 2011 Winner
Tournament of Books : 2012

Barely a novella ~ 
But every word is worthwhile.

I was a little worried when review blurb talked about “stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication” and references to “memory, ageing, time and remorse” had me worried that it was like previous winner “The Gathering” by Anne Enright (yuk).

I prefer to quote from a San Francisco Chronicle review that says : “At 163 pages ... it is the longest book I have ever read ..” because this is a deliciously intense read. Such an elegant, polished writing style where every word/sentence seems to resonate.

But while it is complex and skilful writing, the narrative itself shines clear. It is a subtle reveal in a tidy package.

08 October 2011

Joy Luck Club ~ Amy Tan

*** LIKE ***

Finalist : National Book Critics Circle Award 1989

I was lucky I found joy.
It took a while ... but I came to appreciate it.

Once again, because I have read some excellent literature that uses change of voice vividly (for example : “Cloud Atlas” or “A Visit From The Goon Squad” or “Room”), I found this a bit of a trial at the beginning as it was not well done. At times it was difficult to tell who was the storyteller and the time period of the story ... there are multiple vignettes told in flashback to the daughter’s childhood and the mother’s childhood ... as well as anecdotes and histories from the other members of the Joy Luck Club. It really took me till the last third to feel involved in the storyline.

In the long run, it was a good book. It covers Asian/American + Mother/Daughter relationships well. I am glad I read it ... it was enjoyable ... by the end. But I have others of a similar ilk that I prefer.

07 October 2011

My Sister's Keeper ~ Jodi Picoult


Welcome to my first and last Jodi Picoult
Mawkish mucky muck

Just not my kind of a read ... if it is going to be melodrama then I will take it in period costume. This was trying to be philosophical but fell on its arty arse. The multiple narrative was woeful ... the “voice” used was the same, usually impossible to tell (without names) who was narrating the chapter. (Maybe the problem is that I have recently read some great change of voice/point -of-view multiple narratives that work in spades!!)

I found the characterisations a bit on the clunky side, lacking credibility. In fact there were too many characters who were not relevant to the plot ... what was the point of the lawyer’s old love affair?

Maybe the only problem with the surprise ending is that they weren’t all treated to the same fate!

06 October 2011

Mockingjay ~ Suzanne Collins


Part 3 or TGIF ~ Thank God It’s Finished
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to read 3-in-a-row.

I do admire that the author planned for a trilogy and stuck to it ... but why did that still lead to a feeling that the ending was so unsatisfying. I felt the main themes were the evils of war and subjugation of people with an underlay of the love triangle. So I was a little aghast that the main character who had had so much grief and physical and emotional torment and torture thrown at her was happy to vote for another Game involving innocents, that she loses sight shooting Snow on a whim. And then there is the avoidance of a reasonable ending to the romance ... Gale went away, Peeta hung around ... boy, that bought it to a climax!

05 October 2011

Catching Fire ~ Suzanne Collins

< OK >

On With The Games ~ Part 2 of the trilogy
Ummmm ... ok ... but ....

I gave a Book 1 a “Reading Excellence” ... fast paced, certainly sucks you in, good plot and characters ... but in Book 2 those characters start to wear thin. The main character, Katniss, becomes a bit wearisome and the two rivals for her affections are too similar in their insipidness. Implausibility seeps in and leads to a bit of eye rolling as you read. And it ends abruptly with a “cliff hanger” that is an unsatisfactory finishing off of the book ... just leaves you hanging.

Push on ... now for Book 3!

03 October 2011

The Hunger Games ~ Suzanne Collins


Fast paced teen fiction ~ Let The Games Begin
Part 1 of a trilogy

Not highly original but that makes no-never-mind as it is such a smooth, slick read. Plenty of non-stop action - a bit bloodthirsty but not overdone. Plus a bit of romance with star-crossed lovers and a bit of teens getting the better of adults. Nice to have a strong female lead and I guess you can forgive her shortcomings because of her youth.

I enjoyed it and have moved straight on the Part 2 ... but will it wear thin?

02 October 2011

Super Sad True Love Story ~ Gary Shteyngart

***** FAVOURITE *****

Tournament of Books : 2011

A satirical dystopian future set in a USA owned by China 
(...hmm hold on???)
Cute, funny, smart

Life is all about social networking, personal and credit ratings, text instead of books, images instead of pictures ... a sad decaying world. Everyone walks around with their “appararati” (iPhone) - a streaming media artefact - constantly reviewing the status of others and posting their own updates (ie Farcebook or, in SSTLS, “GlobalTeens”). The world (well, New York/USA) is ruled by Retail or Media and, according to your race, you are encouraged to spend or save. The $US is pegged to the Yuan, the US is ruled by the Bipartisan Party.

This is a smart political and social commentary. The “love story” runs a poor second to the tragedy of a future showing the decline and implosion of a consumer based world.

I think this is a Love It or Hate It book (though probably that should read LIOHI).
I loved it.

First Tuesday Book Club

12 September 2011

The Hare With Amber Eyes ~ Edmund De Waal

< OK >

A biography for those who are into self indulgent dilettantes
Not for me ~ gave up

This was a family memoir that was glued together by following the family collection of Japanese collectable. The family members came across as materialistic and grasping ... but mainly dull, dull, dull. To me, the author and family researcher did not give life to the characters. It is factual but it is also slow going (did I say it was dull) and dragged in places ... interesting does not equate to fascinating or scintillating ... wealthy does not even equate to interesting.

A nice memoir for the author’s children (said with tongue firmly in cheek).

First Tuesday Book Club

11 September 2011

The Hypnotist ~ Lars Kepler

< OK >

Hypnotist = Hype + no
Just ‘cause it’s Scandinavian doesn’t make it good

Maybe the problem was that “Lars Kepler” is actually a husband-and-wife writing team. The first 300 odd pages read really well ... a truly nasty psycho baddie ... but he just about disappeared in the last third as the story went off on another tangent. And the other tangent could have been a stand alone story.

There was an overabundance .... of characters - the hypnotist and the detective, but also the wife and the father-in-law ... and baddies - the serial killer, the Pokemon gang ... and multiple individuals from the hypnotherapy group. Too much.

I didn’t so much mind the flashback sections with the hypnotherapy sessions but found it dragged and could have been just as relevant with a good edit. And sadly the main psycho from the group just showed up as a bright-red herring to me. So obvious.

And then there were the overly cutesy bits ... the detective who always needs to be told he was right and taking Maccas to father-in-law in hospital made the last few pages gag worthy.

But apart from all that ... it was a get-you-in read (in need of a good edit)

10 September 2011

The Polio Paradox ~ Richard L Bruno


“Uncovering the hidden history of polio to understand and treat PPS”
Heavy going but thorough and informative

We have ordered the “hard” copy of this which will be easier to read than the Kindle version. I think you need to skim, skip and browse as it becomes brain befuddling to read from cover to cover. It was a little overloaded with anecdotal referencing for me.

Below is some pertinent information copied from the post polio newsletter :

What are Post-Polio Sequelae
“Post-Polio Sequelae (PPS, Post-Polio Syndrome, The Late Effects of Poliomyelitis) are the unexpected and often disabling symptoms -- overwhelming fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle and joint pain, sleep disorders, heightened sensitivity to anesthesia, cold and pain, as well as difficulty swallowing and breathing -- that occur about 35 years after the poliovirus attack”

Is there treatment for PPS
Yes. Polio survivors need to ''conserve to preserve,'' conserve energy and stop overusing and abusing their bodies to preserve their abilities. Polio survivors must walk less, use needed assistive devices -- braces, canes, crutches, wheelchairs -- plan rest periods throughout the day and stop activities before symptoms start. Also, since many polio survivors are hypoglycemic, fatigue and muscle weakness decrease when they eat protein at breakfast and small, more frequent, low-fat / higher-protein meals during the day.

What can family, friends
Polio survivors have spent their lives trying to act and look ''normal.'' Using a brace they discarded in childhood and reducing overly-full daily schedules is frightening and difficult. So, friends and family need to be supportive of life-style changes, accept survivors' physical limitations and any new assistive devices. Most importantly, friends and family need to be willing to take on taxing physical tasks that polio survivors may be able to do but should not do. Doctors, friends and family need to know about the cause and treatment of PPS and listen when polio survivors need to talk about how they feel about PPS and lifestyle changes. But friends and family shouldn't take control of polio survivors' lives. Neither gentle reminders nor well meant nagging will force polio survivors to eat breakfast, use a cane or rest between activities. Polio survivors need to be responsible for caring for their own bodies and ask for help when they need it.

09 September 2011

Cloud Atlas ~ David Mitchell

***** FAVOURITE *****

Shortlisted : Booker Prize 2004
Finalist : National Book Critics Circle Award 2004 
First Tuesday Book Club

This book is Ice Cream Soup*.
A disturbing dystopia we are already creating.

This was shortlisted!!! for 2004 Booker ... I shall have to read the book that beat it (The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst) because it must be a mighty fine book!

This is something brilliantly different. You can’t skim read because it is so rich in thought, so rich in style. It is a book to be enjoyed for the author’s talent - for the the structure and the stories.

This book is extraordinary in that is a series of short stories that are interlinked by the major theme and by the interconnectedness of the characters. It spans time periods from the colonial Pacific in the 1850’s, composers in the 30’s in Belgium, shonky nuclear reactors in Reagan's California, the dystopian world of the conurbs and fabricants, to the disintegration of civilisation. All echoes down a corridor of time.

I have blathered on ... I shall have to edit this when it filters through my synapsis.

We go up the timeline with a short story of each, then back down the timeline finishing off their tale. Simply brilliant use of language, voice, pace.

Way tooooo hard to explain. You just had to be there! Awesome. Epic!

But not for everyone. So I don’t want to know if you don’t like it.

*Ice Cream Soup : As a child, my sister, Mary, used to make her bowl of ice cream last until we had eaten ours, just so she still had some left. What she really had was just Ice Cream Soup ... but she did get to draw it out and savour it for as long as possible, and just maybe we did envy that she still had some.

This is a book to savour ... and I wish I had some left!

08 September 2011

The Graveyard Book ~ Neil Gaiman


Winner of the Newbery (2009) and Hugo (2009)!!!!!
A dark fantasy for kids.

A children’s award winner ... but a Hugo as well???

It was an engaging narrative not overloaded with characters but many fleeting glimpses of the ghosts and ghouls that inhabited the graveyard world of Bod (short for Nobody). Growing up in a graveyard gave Gaiman lots of action scenes and creepy descriptive opportunities.

It is suitably supernaturally creepy to keep adults interested but not too scary for its intended audience.

07 September 2011

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane ~ Kate DiCamillo


Children’s fiction at its best
Recommended by Colin

This is a really sweet story ... but never ever saccharine. Its sweet simplicity hides a story of great love and great sadness. Both the desperate situations that he finds himself in and the flawed lives of the people who own him, lead “Edward” to find room in his heart for love.

It is more than bittersweet at times as Edward learns to open his heart. (Note : I didn’t cry ... I just had something in my eye)

Not sure what age group I would read it to or suggest it to ... there are confronting topics within.

06 September 2011

On The Anatomization of an Unknown Man (1637) By Franz Mier ~ John Connolly

* LIKE *

Short Story ... an inexpensive Kindle download
Connolly doing creepy rather than crime.

Should short stories be sold in an anthology? Is this a way for Amazon to make more money by selling short stories one at a time ... and it was only 99c? Or is it a way for Amazon to introduce a writer to a new market?

I have read Connolly’s “creepy” writing before though his crime novels also have a high level of supernatural creepiness. My fav Connolly (The Book of Lost Things) is not one of his crime series. I have a “creepy” anthology (Nocturnes) and, as with most anthologies, you love some and hate some.

So the positive about this was that is was cheap download and, as opposed to the love-some-hate-some of a collection, this stand alone was a good creepy read. He manages sinister very well and this was suitably dark.

It reminds me of one of those good old spine-tinglers that cuz Jan used to read to us when we were young (Poe? Saki?)

05 September 2011

The Well Of Lost Plots ~ Jasper Fforde

* LIKE *

#3 in the Thursday Next series
Like drowning in a Well ... and the Plot was a little Lost

This one didn’t tickle my fancy anywhere near as much as the previous Thursday Next novels. I love the witty literary references and the madcap ridiculousness of the alternate world of Reading but this one wasn’t a racy read.

Maybe because the action took place in Bookworld (working for Jurisfiction) and was more about text and grammar (beware of attacking grammasites) and punctation (who stole all the punctuation from Ulysses) and spelling (with the misspeling vyrus) it all became a bit overloaded.

Buuuuut ... I’ll be ready (sometime) for another in the series just because Fforde has a wonderful way with puns and word play and are so imaginative. (#4 “Something Rotten” ... hmmm not sure how much I’m into Shakespeare?!)

Loved the bit where the rabbits fro Watership Down have overbred ... but Lenny likes to come and visit them.

04 September 2011

The Night Surfer ~ Alpheus Williams (Draft)


Hot off the press (aka the printer).
The newly-revised draft of the first 150 pages

This is great! A very tight rewrite - more than an edit, this is a re-write of the original idea. Characters have been trimmed, the plot cleared and it is all systems go. This is still the original story but without the detritus. It is sharper and more powerful. I especially loved Amma’s stories at the beginning but the descriptions and storytelling throughout kept me engaged.

Now waiting for the rewrite of the next section!



03 September 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake ~ Aimee Bender

** OK **

Tournament of Books : 2011

Funny book ~ not funny “ha ha” but funny “peculiar”.
May have been better as a short story!

I didn’t exactly dislike it but .... it had a good premise for the story but it just became weird in an unsatisfactory way. It is told from the point of view of Rose, starting from when she was 8 till she was an adult but the “voice” doesn't change that much ... it all remains rather immature for an adult or a little too astute for a child.

Rose has a “gift” in that she can identify people’s emotions by eating food they have cooked. This gift is the bane of her existence that she finally comes to terms with. He brother also has a “gift” ... hmmm I think it is that he can “think” himself into inanimate objects. The father may also be “gifted” but avoids testing himself.

So they are odd. So is the book. Quirky idea left hanging by the author.

02 September 2011

Sister ~ Rosamund Lipton

* LIKE *

Oddly unusual, crime/psychological thriller.
Fast paced page turner with nice twist at the end.

I enjoyed this ... but not sure if I enjoyed it because it was a good read ... or because it was readable - after that bad-taste-in-my-mouth last read (The Gathering). The book was engaging and, while the plot line jumped through time and place, it was easy to follow.

Characters, while maybe a little two dimensional, were believable. The narrative was told through Beatrice giving her statement to the prosecutor with addition information coming though her flashbacks or imaginary talks with her sister.

There seems something a little surreal about her deposition but I can say no more without revealing too much ....

10 August 2011

The Gathering ~ Anne Enright

< OK >

Winner : Man Booker Prize 2007

Yikes! What were they thinking?!

Just not my cup of tea! Think you would have to have masochistic tendencies and a devotion to boredom to enjoy.

It probably is an insightful slice-of-life but the narrative is shallow and padded out with so many aimless sentences. So many aimless sentences littering the pages. Aimless sentences well expressed. Aimless sentences blithering around about not much at all and hinting at maybe something. And aimlessly composing scenes about grandmother Ada’s sex life. Get the idea.

The storyline jerks repetitively up and down the timeline making it fractured rather than a slow reveal. It’s vagueness makes it torturous and tortuous. I cried ENOUGH half way through!

Obviously the judges were into tedious melancholy ... I just feel a bit sad for whoever else was on the Booker prize short list. And I wonder if it was the same panel of judges who had awarded the prize to the similarly boring “The Sea” by John Banville a couple of years earlier.

09 August 2011

The Advancement of Spencer Button ~ Brian James


An Australian Classic! Published in 1950.
This is a must read for school teachers!!

Apart from the fact that it was a joy to read a book that was so well edited ... grammar, punctuation, language, plot ... all precise ... there was so much else that made it a joy!

It was a wonderful period piece of the NSW education system. Ahhhh! The old days of The List and Country Service! This follows Spencer’s path from the 1890’s to the late ’40’s, from his days in a country school as a student to beginning teaching to principal (with Mudgee Fort Street, Broken Hill, Grafton disguised with pseudonyms.)

How easy it is to “recognise” characters on staff and Spencer’s broadsheet plan for his advancement. I can see so much of Mr B. in Spencer ... always does the right thing, upright and conventional. Spencer seems so remote and uncaring about anyone or anything including his wife.

True, nothing much happens in the book ... such is the lot of teaching! Life is spectacularly predictable (right down to the track to Advancement).

08 August 2011

The City And The City ~ China Mieville


Multiple Award Winning Sci-Fi detective story :
Phillip K Dick meets Raymond Chandler?

Took me quite a while to get into it but then it paid off.

This is a sci-fi detective story. The book blurb compares it to Phillip K Dick meets Raymond Chandler ... slightly overgenerous praise.

The City is kind of a doppelganger of The City. They co-exist, not as parallel universes but within and beside each other. This was a good analogy to the blind eye we turn to groups within our society (the poor, different racial groups) or to suburban enclaves. People were trained from birth to “unsee” the other City, even though it may be just across the street. Contact between the two Cities is strictly controlled and enforced by Breach.

Turned out to be interesting and unusual. But lots of long, poorly constructed sentences. Quite wordy and the plot became convoluted.

Winner of Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C Clarke ... big stuff

07 August 2011

The Long Song ~ Andrea Levy

**** RECOMMEND ****

Shortlisted : Man Booker Prize 2010

Soooooo much better than the Isabel Allende “Island Beneath the Sea” which has a similar story background.

Set in Jamaica, the story tells of the last years of slavery through the eyes of July. She is a plantation slave who becomes a house slave and finds love then abandonment. There are many bitter-sweet moments and the characters are well drawn against the social upheaval.

06 August 2011

The Killer Inside Me ~ Jim Thompson


Dark dark dark
Did I say this was DARK

Just as the blurb says “... most chilling and believable first person story of a criminally warped mind ...”

Whoa ... talk about dark ... too dark for “noir”.

SO glad that I read it before seeing the movie. The movie was a faithful to the book but I would have turned it off because of the horrible nature of it. The book had pre-conditioned me.

Set in a small town and told through the voice of the deputy sheriff. There is mindless violence and killing ... though, as we are seeing it through his eyes, it is not mindless to him.

A savage look at a psychopath.

05 August 2011

Cold Comfort Farm ~ Stella Gibbons


Reviewed on First Tuesday Book Club.
A scathingly funny portrait of society in rural England in the 1930’s.

Flora is such a delicious caricature ... because she is all so real ... yes, she is exaggerated and easy to lampoon but her heart is in the right place.

All the characters are exaggerated and easy to lampoon because that is what the book is all about ... poking fun at the Great Rural Novel (Hardy, Lawrence, the Brontes). And it does so with great relish. It is all about good manners, repressed urges, religion and oddballs.

It is also chock-a-block with repeatable sayings ... like “something nasty in the woodshed”

First Tuesday Book Club

04 August 2011

The Fifth Witness ~ Michael Connolly

< OK >

#4 in the Mickey Haller series.
Wearing thin ... next one will be #Who Cares

Another beach read ... a bit of a yawn though ... I found it a “page-turner” because I wanted to get it finished.

Didn’t really care if he got his client off or not.
Don’t care if he gets back with his wife or not.
Don’t care if I read another or not.

There seemed to be a lot of courtroom blah blah blah and maybe I watch too much CSI stuff but the courtroom “drama” wasn’t that dramatic.

03 August 2011

Started Early Took My Dog ~ Kate Atkinson

< OK > 

Odd plot, jumpy narrative, unsatisfactory ending
... and there wasn’t much about the dog.

I never mind when a narrative jumps from one character to another - I enjoy seeing the plot develop through other points of view ... but this one didn’t do it well for me ... maybe because there were jumps in the time frame as well.

There was an excess of characters who were not necessary to the main plot. And after allllll this being about stolen children/ missing children, all is left up in the air about the child that was “sold” at the start.