31 December 2013


Favourite Reads of 2013

So many books ... so little time!

Astute and wry observations about a raft of topics  
A provoking satire of the US

A degustation of plotlines, a showcase of thoughts
Each a tasty course, each a contributing part to the whole

Like a flaky pastry - layer upon layer
Enclosing tasty morsels


30 December 2013



100 Must Read Works of Southern Literature

Tournament of Books Long List

 So far, from the list I have read :

All That Is by James Salter x
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout **
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra **
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King **
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell **
The Flamethrowes by Rachel Kushner X
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi ***
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt **
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride **
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid ****
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson *****
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri ***
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood ***
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert x
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki ****
Tenth of December by George Saunders ****
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann **
You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt **

On the Kindle, to be read :

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Hild by Nicola Griffith
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

06 December 2013

Doctor Sleep ~ Stephen King

** OK **

Nicely paced, easy to read, pageturner ... tick
Horror of the nightmare variety ... cross

This is a sequel to The Shining but it worked well enough as a standalone (well, it had to for me because I haven't seen or read The Shining).  There was some referencing to the previous book but not enough to be intrusive.

The premise was well developed and incorporated into the plot.  The characterisation was strong (though I found the names of the members of the Knot a bit on the corny side).  There was cute referencing to other literature.  In fact there is a fair bit of corny and cute throughout the book!  But the narrative seemed to just follow a writing formula : not boring, but predictable.

This was a suspenseful supernatural adventure.  It had scary moments.  It had evil monsters.  But, unlike some other Stephen King works, you didn't need to read it with the lights on and the doors locked.  Maybe he contracted someone else to write it for him?

05 December 2013

The Signature Of All Things ~ Elizabeth Gilbert


Tournament of Books : 2014

Tedious Boring Banal
Exposition with no characterisation 

Give me a break!  I only persevered because this had been recommended by a friend (even after I paled at the mention of Eat Pray Love).   And also because it is on the ToB X Long List (omg omg omg ... it couldn't possibly make the Short List! Please, NO!!!)

While there may be a lot of factual information, it is simply regurgitated in a neverending narrative peopled with dull characters. Blah blah blah ... Botany ... blah blah blah ... History ... blah blah blah ... Masturbation ... blah blah blah  ... a Touch of Everything (whoops, sorry to put that right after the masturbation reference).

The author has the gift of good description and has a broad spectrum of research showing through  but it is all buried in an avalanche of words.

04 December 2013

The Flame Throwers ~ Rachel Kushner

-X NO X-

Don't know about art (or motor cycles) ... 
But I know what I like (and it is not this)

This did not throw flames for me ... in fact, I threw the book (metaphorically speaking, as I was reading it on my Kindle).   And there were lots of metaphors in the narrative

Maybe, like artistic photos of tire tracks on a salt pan, this appeals to those who are far more hip than myself.  It is not that I like join-the-dots or paint-by-numbers but the topics of the narrative (art and motorcycles) bored me.  Was this why I couldn't engage with the narrative? 

The writing was vivid in places but it didn't convince me to finish.  The characters were players on a page.  The plot was ... hey, was there a plot?? There was a series of events but not much of a storyline.

03 December 2013

A Tale For The Time Being ~ Ruth Ozeki

***** FAVOURITE *****

Tournament of Books : 2014

Like a flaky pastry - layer upon layer
Enclosing tasty morsels

I enjoyed this so much that I have avoided writing down my opinion about it because I could not possibly do it justice!  Many books are "multilayered" but this one does it so well.  

It is set in different geographic locations, different time periods, different generations, different cultures, different POV - but they all interlink and overlay each other.  

It explores Zen Buddhism, bullying, relationships, self esteem, mental illness, aging and more.  

There is a wealth of "trivial" information by way of footnotes (mainly Japanese background) and the autodidactic husband (a mine of information about everything from ocean currents to growing trees).  

The story is developed through narrative, diary entries, emails, dreams.  

There is a wisp of humor, a low note of despair, a fascination with the supernatural.  

I particularly loved the way it explored the relationship between the writer and the reader.  But then, I loved everything about this book - and engrossing, provoking, entertaining read.

02 December 2013

The Good Lord Bird ~ James McBride

*** LIKE ***
Winner : National Book Award 2013

Fictionalised history in drag that dragged
A ridiculous romp

This was an interesting, unusual and irreverant look at the abolitionist, John Brown, through the adventures of Onion.  Unfortunately, I was so incredulous that Onion could fool everyone for so long that "he" was a "she", that it made me question the validity of the historical aspects. It was quirky and told in the vernacular, giving it a Huck Finn feel and there was some creative cussin'.

The characters and locations and actions were interesting, but Oh So Repetitive (like John Browns prayers it went on forever when it didn't need to).  It held my interest then it became boring, then interesting, then boring.  Did I mention that it was repetitive?

01 December 2013

The Man He Became ~ James Tobin

 **** RECOMMEND ****

How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

In depth and specific
Well researched, well told 

FDR "defied" polio but wasn't "defined" by it ... yet it definitely shaped the President he became.  Polio sharpened his character and remodelled his ethics.  The argument presented isn't that FDR became President in spite of his polio, or that FDR became President because of his polio, but, as the title says so clearly, the argument is about the man (and President) he became.  

The author stays on task and presents a lot of interesting information and statistics about polio, its causes and its effects. There is also a lot of social information about the perception of those with disabilities and how FDR challenged this.  FDR had to overcome the illness (physically and mentally) and not waver from his ambition to be President.

Not just a fascinating account of polio and FDR, but also full in interesting insights into the society of the day, this is an excellent read.  The book finished with FDRs nomination, but I would have liked a little more of the "man he became" of the title, not just winning the Presidency but an indication of the "man he became" as evidenced in his policies and actions as President.

05 November 2013

Divergent ~ Veronica Roth


My divergent opinion : YUK 
Trite and contrived (whoops, you can only belong to one group) 

OK, so "divergent" means "departing from stereotypes" and the premise was that heroine didn't fit any of the stereotyped groups offered to her.  Sounds fine but the execution was ridiculous.  What could have been deep-and-meaningful was trite and contrived.

There seems to be a sly dig at intellectuals (who, of couse, must wear glasses), and hippy/pollyanna types who like to grow things, and pallid grey self depreciating do-gooders, and honestly, I can't remember the other loser group!  (Oh!  Just checked, they were the cannot-tell-a-lie group.  Honestly!) Not that they matter much because it rocks to be a tough guy, where brave equates to stupid-but-awesome.  

Character development was well nuanced.  No, sorry! says a member of Candor (honesty).

The book shows the tribulations of coming-of-age. No it doesn't, says a member of Erudite (knowledgeable).

This book might be just what you are looking for.  Ooo, yes, says a member of Amity, sipping on green tea (peaceful).

Have my copy. Please do, says a member from Abnegation (selflessness), and please take parts 2 and 3!

But someone from Dauntless doesn't need an opinion,  just a knife or a gun or a bit of hand-to-hand combat will resolve any differences of opinion.

04 November 2013

Girt ~ David Hunt

 The Unauthorised History of Australia

 **** RECOMMEND ****

Cheeky early Australian history, 
Warts and all (especially the warts!)

The author at times tried a little too hard to do a Brysonesque (Bill) look at early Australian history.  There were some points that rubbed (endless footnotes), humour that missed the mark, broadbrush generalisations,  and some rambles that seemed disjointed.

But, that being said, it is about time we had some Australian larrikin getting into print and telling our history with such wonderful irreverence.  This history has a sense of the ridiculous, a wry poke at political correctness, a satirical slant to conventional history.  And it is still a mine of trivial but true information.  While it is about early British settlement in Australia, there is plenty about world exploration, major historical figures and society of the time to give it wider appeal than just an Oz audience.

Bring on Part 2!

Caution : Avoid reading in public unless you like drawing attention to yourself.  You will tend to laugh out loud!

03 November 2013

A Feast For Crows ~ George R Martin

 *** LIKE ***

Game Of Thrones - Book 4

So much about not much
It was a slog but had to be done!

Whoa!  Did this go on forever!  Good things happen, bad things happen, not much happens.  We are given a lot of background information but, rather than broad scope, this installment of GoT concentrates on Cercei, Brienne and Jamie with just a little of Sam, Sansa and Ayra thrown in to season the plot.

It is definitely worth the read because it is part-of-the-whole but that didn't always make it easy to swallow.  In some ways it was like the need to clean up your dinner plate so that you can have dessert!  Bring on the pudding!  Book 5 next!

02 November 2013

A Cook's Tour ~ Anthony Bourdain

In Search of the Perfect Meal

*** LIKE ***

Some reservations
A less than perfect meal

Watching "No Reservations" it all seems so unscripted, so shoot from the hip, so take it as it comes.  And I love that.  It is the world of the traveller. But that is my problem with this book ... I have seen the TV series and this is just a write up of the events so the spontaneity was missing.  

Maybe if I had read this first ... If only I had read this first ...

I loved Kitchen Confidential - laughed till my eyes watered, salivated over the food, thought it should be the book in the hand of every would-be apprentice chef.  A Cook's Tour contained humour (though not as barbed or insightful), travel, food, - all the right ingredients - but it didn't engage me.  It was a little bit of a jumble with some chapters better than others.  But it all felt more contrived in provoking reader (or viewer) reaction.

01 November 2013

One Summer : America, 1927 ~ Bill Bryson

** OK **

Regurgitated research
Short on humour, long on history

The part of me that loves trivia and loves history would probably give this 3 stars.  But those aspects of it were overwhelmed by the lack of a good laugh and the dominant themes in the book.

I do not want to know one more trivial (boring endless minute) detail about trans Atlantic air flight or (run-screaming-from-the-room) baseball. I think I know just about every less-than-fascinating detail about Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth.  Even the few other topics that were covered in detail didn't gain my interest (even Bryson made it seem like Calvin Coolidge was the most boring President ever).  

Luckily, along the way, there was enough general trivial detail to keep me reading (from Henry Ford's eccentricities to hot dogs).  Missing was the wonderful fun that is injected into his other works that I love.  Maybe he is a baseball & aviation nut and it was a chance for him to indulge ... I just didn't want to go along for the flight.

06 October 2013

The Goldfinch ~ Donna Tartt

*** LIKE ***

Long awaited but long winded
Not all that cohesive

The bottom lone for me was a definite "Meh".  I thought it too long, unnecessarily so.  

I really (truly!) love a slow reveal, not much has to happen to keep me happy (Secret History is right up there on my Favourites List) but this meandered, and, at times, it seems to lose the thread of where it was headed.  By the end it was sermonising and philosophising page after page.  A good edit would have done wonders.

 Some parts were good, some were laboured.  Some characters were vivid (would have loved more Hobie), others cliched, other characters struck me as convenient pop ups (Tom and Pippa).  Theo, the main character, wavered inconsistently between boring and stupid. 

I did not take to Boris and didn't find him believable.  He stayed on the page as a larger than life caricature even though he was fleshed out, copiously, in print.  A good "for example" would be that we are told he talks with an Australian accent ( Kindle  'Loc 4070')- but why are we told this? what evidence is there that he does?  Nothing remotely Australian ever crosses his lips in way of an accent (and just a few possible examples of Oz vernacular ... "dunno"?).  I couldn't wait for the Las Vegas section to finish (so much repeated behaviour)... but Boris made a reappearance for the convoluted, improbable finish.

05 October 2013

Night Film ~ Marisha Pessl

**** RECOMMEND ****

Edgy writing = On edge reading
Book Noir : the mean streets

This was a mysterious, moody suspense novel that was creepy and compelling.  Maybe what made it stand out so much was its creative approach with its mixed media inserts (that created a bit of a problem on the Kindle).  Rather than gimmicky, I found them tantalising, with the multi-media making and already creative story even more multi-dimentional.

The plot was deep and dark and had you second guessing what you knew, what was happening, what would happen.  It was a mesmerising page turner, continuously intriguing and sinuous in plotline.  I didn't even mind the end (rational? mystical? you choose!). 

04 October 2013

Stormy Weather ~ Carl Hiaasen

**** RECOMMEND ****

As barbed as a fishing hook
Larger than life

sarcastic, caustic, satirical, witty, wry, the work of a twisted mind

01 October 2013

The Lowland ~ Jhumpa Lahiri

*** LIKE ***

Shortlisted : National Book Award 2013 
Shortlisted : Booker Prize 2013 
Tournament of Books : 2014

07 August 2013

Little Star ~ John Ajvide Lindqvist

*** LIKE ***

All The Birds, Singing ~ Evie Wyld

** OK **

More like a cacophony than birds singing
Disjointed storyline that jars.

I like a broken timeline, putting the past in perspective with the present, but with this novel it was like jagged edges.  It was almost as if the author had written a linear narrative but taken to the manuscript with scissors and reconstructed the fragments. Rather than a slow suspense-building reveal, with the sins and horrors of the past coming to torment the present, it skated around shards of story poking through the fabric of the narrative.

The language provides menacing characters and locations and the narrative provides suspense and threat.  Interest is maintained because, even though there is a rather unrelenting bleakness, you are drawn in to the mystery and touched by Jake's toughness.

A lot is left unrevealed for the reader to speculate about.  Fine, but ultimately I ended up dissatisfied with the lack of a conclusion; it was almost as if the author was being too clever to finish off her own narrative.

06 August 2013

Orkney ~ Amy Sackville


Felt like I was chewing the same thing over and over
Lyrical but lacking

The setting was superb.  The concept was poetic.  The execution was repetitively shallow, repetitive monochrome, repetitively boring.  There were some evocative descriptive passages but of the same things - maybe to back up the theme of infatuation and obsession?

I can see how it was meant to be mystically etherial but the daydream-like quality became too much waffle.  Instead of poignantly compelling, it lacked intensity, dulled by the lack of plot and lack of character development.

05 August 2013

Wake In Fright ~ Kenneth Cook

**** RECOMMEND ****

As the narrative unravels, so does his life
Wake in fright and live the nightmare!

This is a compelling and disturbing read.  It is realistic, all too easy to imagine.  The harshness of the setting is a contrast to the naivete of the main character.

The narrative is as lean and sparse as the bleak landscape.  The hero seems abandoned and surrounded by rough characters, inferred violence and imagined horrors.  As you read you wait for the next turn-for-the-worst that his life is going to take, and the fact that you feel disaster's inevitability adds to the suspense. His path to destruction is unrelenting and unforgiving.

04 August 2013

Storm Boy ~ Colin Thiele

** OK **

Pure and simple
An old time classic

This is a short children's novel.  It would be great for poor readers.  It doesn't push any boundaries as far as vocabulary or language devices.  I actually found it a bit lacking in descriptive qualities.  It tells a story and does that in the briefest and most superficial way.

It hasn't aged well.  But I can see that it would make a great movie (must see it some time!)

Pre-trip reading before heading to the Coorong.