29 December, 2014

Book Review: Soul Music

From Goodreads: Other children get given xylophones. Susan just had to ask her grandfather to take his vest off.
Yes. There's a Death in the family.
It's hard to grow up normally when Grandfather rides a white horse and wields a scythe – especially when you have to take over the family business, and everyone mistakes you for the Tooth Fairy.
And especially when you have to face the new and addictive music that has entered Discworld.
It's lawless. It changes people.
It's called Music With Rocks In.
It's got a beat and you can dance to it, but...
It's alive.
And it won't fade away.

Thoughts: We needed something to listen to on a recent 14 hour drive. It needed to be something that would engage hubby as he was the one driving, but also needed to be something I could listen to. The kids didn't matter - they were plugged into their own devices! Soul Music fit the bill perfectly.  Pratchett once again takes something you think you've got a pretty good handle on (Rock 'n' Roll) and turns in on it's head. The music puns flow thick and fast and you could end up in a competition to see who can "name that song" if you listen to it with someone else. Best of all you will laugh a bit, snigger a lot and just plain enjoy it.

Book Review: Norwegian Wood

From Goodreads: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.

Thoughts:  I read this as part of my 100 Best Books List challenge for the love category.
I was vaguely aware of this before I read it. One of those things where you know it's been made into a movie, you know it's been raved about, but you don't actually have any idea what it's about. With this huge sum of knowledge, I entered the world of Toru Watanabe, student, survivor of his friend's suicide, searcher of...who knows. Watanabe comes across to me as I imagine many people are at 18/19 - not really sure what they want and just killing time until it becomes obvious. His friendship of Naoko is a tortured exploration of first love, complicated by her mental illness. Add into this mix Toru's friendship with the rebellious Midori and you have a story that takes many twists and turns and leaves the reader feeling just as confused and unsure as any one was at this stage of their life.
It's hard to judge Murakami's writing as this is a translation. In reality you are judging the ability of the translator to convey the original meaning. If it's any reflection of Murakami's writing, it's lyrical and moving. Reviews and other information I've read suggests this is the most straight forward of Murakami's books which makes me wary of reading anything else he's written.
Norwegian Wood is a unique love story. I'm not sure you could call it beautiful, although I found the prose to be so. If Murakami's other writing is more "out there" than this I think I will steer clear. I find translated books often lose something in the translation and I feel a story not so straight forward could lose much of it's impact.

28 December, 2014

Book Review: The Rosie Effect

GREETINGS. My name is Don Tillman. I am forty-one years old. I have been married to Rosie Jarman, world's most perfect woman, for ten months and ten days.
Marriage added significant complexity to my life. When we relocated to New York City, Rosie brought three maximum-size suitcases. We abandoned the Standardised Meal System and agreed that sex should not be scheduled in advance.
Then Rosie told me we had 'something to celebrate', and I was faced with a challenge even greater than finding a partner.
I have attempted to follow traditional protocols and have sourced advice from all six of my friends, plus a therapist and the internet.
The result has been a web of deceit. I am now in danger of prosecution, deportation and professional disgrace. 
And of losing Rosie forever.

Thoughts: I loved The Rosie Project. It was funny and quirky. Funnily enough, this made me a little hesitant about The Rosie Effect. Kind of a too much of a good thing. On the whole I was wrong. Once again, Simsion has written an enjoyably quirky book with lots of laughs and giggles to be had. Is it as good as The Rosie Project? Not in my opinion, but it comes close.
My biggest problem is one I frequent have with sequels - the characters don't change at all. I get Don's issues - his need to adhere to the rules, his totally logical and unemotional way of looking at things - but I think I did expect him living with Rosie would loosen that up a bit. Maybe not loosen, but teach him to look at things from the perspective of someone else, especially since he has the motivation of loving Rosie. I think I expected him, as a fairly intelligent man to look at something and think I don't understand why they think like that, but...and he doesn't. He continues to expect everyone to see the world as he does and is truly perplexed when they don't.
I think Simsion has taken the The Rosie books as far as he can. I really hope there isn't another one. Don's inability to change would make another book a farce. I really hope he does write more, just not about Don and Rosie.

Book Review: Good Omens

From Goodreads: According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

Thoughts: I listened to this as an audio book and loved it. Pratchett and Gaiman write a hilarious account of the last days. Crowley (a demon) and Aziraphale (an angel) have come to know and let's face it, like each other, over the several thousand years they've spent on earth. What's more, they've come to like earth – it's music, it's movies, it's food, even some of it's people. And having survived the 14th century, they feel things are on the up and up. But now apparently it's time for the apocalypse and well, they're not sure they want it!
Along with motorcycling riding 4 horse persons of the apocalypse, an 11 year old Antichrist who, through a baby swapping mix-up has been raised as a normal human child and a very confused hound of hell, they race towards the end wondering who will win and does it even matter.
Pratchett or Gaiman by themselves are brilliant and hilarious. Together they are dangerously funny. I would love to have been a fly on the wall as they created this, I'm sure some of the conversations would have been incredible. All I can say is if you are after a book that will entertain you, make you laugh and remind you that not everything is doom and gloom (even if the apocalypse is approaching) read this. You won't regret it!

27 December, 2014

Book Review: And Then There Were None

From Goodreads: The World's Bestselling Mystery
"Ten . . ."
Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious "U.N. Owen."
"Nine . . ."
At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead.
"Eight . . ."
Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . one by one they begin to die.
"Seven . . ."
Who among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

Thoughts: Another read for 100 Best Books List Challenge, this time in the crime category. I've never read an Agatha Christie before, not sure why – most probably because while they aren't your high brow literature classics, they are still classed as classics and let's face it, it's taken me a little while to get over that hurdle!
And Then There Were None was originally published as Ten Little Niggers and then as Ten Little Indians. Not hard to see why and in my opinion, one of the few justifiable changes to a books original texts. (I never understood the need to stop Noddy and Big Ears sharing a bed or having Harry Potter look for the Sorcerer's Stone rather than the Philosopher's Stone).
I chose this particular Christie title because it was on the list. My dilemma now is which one to read next – do a read in chronological order or series order? Suggestions welcomed!
I liked this for several reasons – mostly because it was clever and not full of guns and car chases. At no point did I have any idea who the murderer was. Maybe as I read more Christie I'll pick up her style and be able to make more educated guesses, but for this moment I love being completely in the dark. I was totally perplexed until the end.
My biggest issue was at the same time I was reading this, my husband I started watching The Walking Dead. As I am wont to do with things that make an impression on me, I dream about them. Can I just let you know a dream that is a mash up between Agatha Christie and The Walking Dead results in zombies walking around a old English country house drinking whiskey and speaking in plum English accents is in equal parts of hilarious and frightening!

Book review: The Miniaturist

From Goodreads: Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam-a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion-a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.
"There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…"
On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.
But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .
Johannes' gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?
Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

Thoughts: This was our Book Club read for December. Even though I knew I wasn't going to be at the meeting, I wanted to read it as it sounded pretty good – and let's face it, I'll read anything!
I would have loved to have been part of the discussion to see what others thought of it. I enjoyed it, the writing was good, the story was compelling and I did want to know what happened. But for me the book just petered out...just finished with no real conclusion either way. It was almost like I was missing part of the book. In the end the book just left me feeling...meh.
There are a few other things that didn't sit quite right with me as well. For an 18 year old who came from a country village,  to a marriage to a man who barely spoke to her, into a household that sounded pretty foreboding, Nella found her feet awfully quickly.  Her reluctance to stand up to Marian didn't fit with her apparent confidence in this new situation. The maid as well seemed a bit too forward given the general atmosphere of the house.
Where the novel does stand up well is in the meticulous research into the period and place it is set. This I think is what saves it. There is promise there from Jessie Burton as a debut author. I will be interested to see her next book and how she grows.

Book Review: Angels

From Goodreads: After catching her husband having an affair and being fired from her job, Maggie Walsh suddenly finds her perfectly organized existence has become a perfect mess. She decides, for the first time in her life, to do something daring -- and flees to her best friend, Emily, in the faraway wonderland of Los Angeles. In this mecca of tanned, beautiful bodies, unsvelte, uncool Maggie is decidedly a fish out of water. Yet, overnight, she's mixing with film folk, pitching scripts, even experimenting with sex -- and discovering that the end of a marriage is not the end of the world.

Thoughts: This is another book I picked up on my sewing weekend. I've read a few Marian Keyes before so I knew this would be good holiday fodder.
While I've never found anything by Keyes to be as good as Rachel's Holiday, this was perfect for the beach. Light, fluffy, funny but well written with a decent story line.
Ireland seems to produce some wonderful chick lit author and Keyes is no exception. Lots of fun without insulting your intelligence. Perfect!

26 December, 2014

Book Review: One Day

From GoodreadsEmma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows? 
Twenty years, two people, one day.

Thoughts: On the last weekend in November, I went away with a fabulous bunch of girls for a weekend of sewing and socialising...maybe a drink or two! One of them, Bec, bought a bag full of books for us to all pick over. Given the ridiculous length of my TBR list, I only had a brief look, happy to let the others have first pick. I did however spot this and grabbed it. I'd heard about it, mostly because a movie has been made based on the book. The idea intrigued me. Two people, twenty years – a snapshot taken of their lives on the same say for twenty years.
I almost gave up simply because of the size of the font – either it was tiny or I'm getting older than I'm willing to admit. Either way, it took me awhile to settle into a rhythm but once I did – oh boy! Could. Not. Put. It. Down! I wanted, no, needed to know what was going to happen. Would Dex and Em end up together? When or why not? How or what stopped them? Would Dex ever grow up? Would Em loosen up a bit? Of course any time one of my questions was answered another dozen were thrown up. There were times I could have easily strangled both Emma and Dexter – they could be equally frustrating for completely different reasons. There was also times I wanted to hug and protect them.
Nicholls has an extensive screen writing history and you can see how this book could easily be translated to the screen. Given he wrote the screen play for one of his previous books (Starter for 10), I would be interested in seeing both movies. I'll also be hunting down his previous books.

Book Review: The Hunters

From Goodreads: Hal and his brotherband crew are hot on the trail of the pirate Zavac and they have one thing only on their minds: Stopping the bloodthirsty thief before he can do more damage. Of course, they also know Zavac has the Andomal, the priceless Skandian artifact stolen when the brotherband let down their guard. The chase leads down mighty rivers, terrifying rapids, to the lawless fortress of Ragusa. If Hal is to succeed, he will need to go beyond his brotherband training. He will need to challenge the pirate one-on-one, knowing only one of them will survive.

Thoughts: The Hunters picks up where The Invaders left off. Zavac the pirate escaped with the Andomal and the Heron Brotherband, lead by Hal are in hot pursuit.
One of the things I love about John Flanagan is his female characters. None of your wishy washy damsels in distress here. Flanagan's female characters in the Ranger's Apprentice Series were strong, capable and diverse. The Invaders saw the first major female character in the Brotherband series and Lydia returns in this instalment. And just like her Ranger's Apprentice counterparts she is more than capable of taking care of herself. What is sad is that is worth mentioning in a review.
As always Flanagan has written a fast paced, exciting adventure story that would appeal to a wide audience. A highly recommended series for any teen.

Book Review: The Pilot's Wife

From Goodreads: Who can guess what a woman will do when the unthinkable becomes her reality? From the bestselling author of THE WEIGHT OF WATER, this enormously gripping and powerfully wrought novel asks the questions we all have about ourselves and definitively places Anita Shreve among the ranks of the best novelists writing today. Being married to a pilot has taught Kathryn Lyons to be ready for emergencies, but nothing has prepared her for the late-night knock on her door and the news of her husband's fatal crash. As Kathryn struggles through her grief, she is forced to confront disturbing rumours about the man she loved and the life that she took for granted. Torn between her impulse to protect her husband's memory and her desire to know the truth, Kathryn sets off to find out if she ever really knew the man who was her husband. In her determination to test the truth of her marriage, she faces shocking revelations about the secrets a man can keep and the actions a woman is willing to take.

Thoughts: Another second hand book buy. Shreve is one those authors I've always meant to read, but have never got around to it. (holidays are great for those types of authors!) I figured for $3 I really couldn't go too wrong. If worse came to worse I'd leave it in the cabin for the next person.
The Pilot's Wife was very enjoyable. A few plot holes, a few things a bit far fetched, but on the whole good – great holiday fodder. I didn't pick the twist at the end but it was a bit far fetched for me. What the book did do however, was make me wonder what it would be like to lose my husband (maybe that bit wasn't so good for a holiday...). I started reading it sitting on a beach while my husband spear fished. In this situation I frequently look up to “lay eyes” on him. At times it can take awhile to spot him, raising my anxiety levels somewhat. So here I was, just before Christmas, reading about a woman who lost her husband just before Christmas, unable to spot my husband who was spear fishing. Not surprisingly my mind went to that dark place you really don't want it to go. Thankfully hubby bought popped up reassuring me that everything was ok this time. Shreve takes her character to that dark place and then adds some extra issues just to really drip her in it. As I said, this made great holiday reading and I can imagine reading more of her stuff.

25 December, 2014

Book Review: Dead Famous

From Goodreads: From a celebrity performer, bestselling author of Popcorn and Inconceivable, a stunning satire on the modern obsession with fame.
One house. Ten contestants. Thirty cameras. Forty microphones.
Yet again the public gorges its voyeuristic appetite as another group of unknown and unremarkable people submit themselves to the brutal exposure of the televised real-life soap opera, House Arrest.
Everybody knows the rules: total strangers are forced to live together while the rest of the country watches them do it. Who will crack first? Who will have sex with whom? Who will the public love and who will they hate? All the usual questions. And then suddenly, there are some new ones.
Who is the murderer? How did he or she manage to kill under the constant gaze of the thirty cameras? Why did they do it? And who will be next?

Thoughts: While on holidays we ended up on a second hand bookshop. How unusual for my bibliophile family! While there I picked up this book. In it, Ben Elton takes a dig at the reality TV industry. The show, called House Arrest is a Big Brother style show. One of the house mates has been murdered. Ridiculously, given the 30 cameras and 40 microphones covering the whole house (house mates don't even go to the toilet unobserved), the identity of the murderer is unknown.
The scenario is ridiculous, the characters are ridiculous and Ben Elton makes it work. The events that take place are so unbelievable, but the world of reality TV is so far fetched there is a small part of you that wonders if it could really happen.
I worked out the murderer about half way through the book. What I couldn't work out was the how! Of course like everything else in the book the end was so ridiculously over the top I'm not surprised I couldn't work it out!
While completely and utterly over the top, Elton's Dead Famous does raise the question of how far reality TV would go to get the ratings and what sort of people not only nominate to go on these shows, but what type of people run them!

Book Review: City of Bones

From Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?
This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know... 

Thoughts:  As I've mentioned before, I've started to struggle with a lot of young adult fiction. I've had trouble putting it into words, however recently Australian author John Marsden (Best known for his YA Tomorrow When the War Began series) managed to say what I've been thinking - I’ve gotten a little tired of the young adult market, or the genre. It seems to have gotten very crowded with a lot of pretty unattractive books; a lot of books where writers are trying terribly hard to capture the voice of this funky, cool teenager; it just doesn’t ring true. Too many adults have invaded the territory with motives that might have more to do with their own immaturity than anything else.’’ (Source)
I've contemplated The Mortal Instruments series for awhile, but after two recommendations (one from my non reading hairdresser and the second from my book mad niece) I decided to give it a go.
So the verdict – I'll be reading the second. While it wasn't the can't put down read of something like The Hunger Games, it was engaging enough and more importantly intelligent enough to keep me interested. There are characters I would like to know more about like Alec and Isabelle. There is room for characters to grow and the story to develop. The universe the author has created is interesting and again, has room to develop. I picked the twist early, but was still interested enough for it to not ruin or taint the story. If you're looking for a halfway decent YA series, this is worth a look.

Book Review: Dracula

From Goodreads: The aristocratic vampire that haunts the Transylvanian countryside has captivated readers' imaginations since it was first published in 1897. Hindle asserts that Dracula depicts an embattled man's struggle to recover his "deepest sense of himself as a man", making it the "ultimate terror myth".

Thoughts: I read this as part of my 100 best books list challenge, the classic category. Dracula is a proper vampire - no glittering, love lorn pretty boys here, just pure blood sucking evil!
Using diaries, letters and personal recounts, Stoker leads the reader down the dark paths the characters follow to track and destroy Dracula. When reading the classics I often have to remind myself about the realities of being a woman in the time to the book is set. This of course means that often they have little, if any power and their gentle sensibilities need to be taken into account. Female characters in Dracula were no different. Mina obviously has a brain and used it, but in the end, all the heavy lifting is left to the men. The men however, did have their own weaknesses and foibles and in the end they had the best interests of Mina and the rest of humanity at heart.
Anyone who claims to be a fan of vampire fiction needs to read this. While it may not be the first book to feature vampires, it was the first widely popular one and as such, it set many of the vampire conventions – blood sucking, stake through the heart, aversion to garlic.
I don't know if I'm getting better at classics as I found this easier to read than I normally do. Maybe there is hope for me yet! Glad I took the time to read it.