31 December, 2013

Book Review: Barracuda

From Goodreads: "He asked the water to lift him, to carry him, to avenge him. He made his muscles shape his fury, made every stroke declare his hate. And the water obeyed; the water would give him his revenge. No one could beat him, no one came close."
His whole life Danny Kelly's only wanted one thing: to win Olympic gold. Everything he's ever done - every thought, every dream, every action - takes him closer to that moment of glory, of vindication, when the world will see him for what he is: the fastest, the strongest and the best. His life has been a preparation for that moment.

His parents struggle to send him to the most prestigious private school with the finest swimming program; Danny loathes it there and is bullied and shunned as an outsider, but his coach is the best and knows Danny is, too, better than all those rich boys, those pretenders. Danny's win-at-all-cost ferocity gradually wins favour with the coolest boys - he's Barracuda, he's the psycho, he's everything they want to be but don't have the guts to get there. He's going to show them all.
"He would be first, everything would be alright when he came first, all would be put back in place. When he thought of being the best, only then did he feel calm."
A searing and provocative novel by the acclaimed author of the international bestseller The Slap, Barracuda is an unflinching look at modern Australia, at our hopes and dreams, our friendships, and our families.

Thoughts: My kids bought me this book for Christmas and like any good reader I started it immediately! It's my last review for 2013 and I am glad to be finishing on a high note.
Tsiolkas is an excellent writer. To say I enjoyed his book, The Slap  would be incorrect, because they are not books you enjoy really. You do however get engrossed and challenged by them.
Barracuda was the same - not enjoyable per say, but challenging and engrossing. At certain points in the book the Australian character is discussed, and not always in nice terms. This was unsettling, to see Australian's as others may see as and agree with some of the assessments they make about us.
Tsiolkas never sets out to make you like his characters. Flawed doesn't even start to describe some of them. Danny in particular had me running the full range of emotions about him - pride, pity, annoyance, understanding...
By the end of Barracuda you are questioning a lot of things - what does it take to make a champion, why do some keep going and others give up, what role does the family around you make and is what you perceive others think about you the truth and does it really matter.
Barracuda is an excellent read and a great way to finish the year.

Challenges: Aussie Author Challenges

Book Review: Bring Up the Bodies

From Goodreads: Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.
At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel's "Bring Up the Bodies" follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne's head?

Thoughts:  Wolf Hall was my last book of 2012, which apparently I then failed to review! I know that while I enjoyed it, it wasn't easy going, so have looked at this several times this year, but never quite been game enough. I finally bit the bullet and am glad I did. I found this easier to read than Wolf Hall, more familiar with the characters and more stable characters. (Let's face it, anything set at the King's Court during this period has a cast of thousands, all with hidden motives!) While I won't say I flew through it, I did read it a lot quicker.
I think you could read this as a stand alone quite easily, especially if you had a little knowledge about how Henry came to be married to Anne Boleyn. 
Mantel focuses on Cromwell, something not often done. You can almost feel the tightrope he walks as he deals with the King, Anne and the other members of court. I really hope she writes further books about Cromwell, as I know it doesn't end well for him and really would like to see how she chronicles his downfall.

Challenges: Ebook Challenge

Book Review: Men At Arms

From Goodreads:'Be a MAN in the City Watch! The City Watch needs MEN!'But what it's got includes Corporal Carrot (technically a dwarf), Lance-constable Cuddy (really a dwarf), Lance constable Detritus (a troll), Lance constable Angua (a woman... most of the time) and Corporal Nobbs (disqualified from the human race for shoving).
And they need all the help they can get. Because they've only got twenty-four hours to clean up the town and this is Ankh-Morpork we're talking about...

Thoughts: Ah Pratchett, when all else fails, there is Pratchett. I have finally started to drift into the territory of Pratchett's I haven't read before - don't ask me why I stop reading an author I so obviously love - I just did. Men at Arms focuses on the Night Watch, as they become a more professional outfit - going for a bit of representation of minority groups and actually attempting to solve crimes. However, there are people (including that Patrician and the head of most of the Guilds) who aren't so sure about these new fangled ideas. Once again though, good wins over evil (sort of) and everyone lives happily ever after (until the next time).

Challenges:  Ebook Challenge

26 December, 2013

Book Review - The Shifting Fog

From Goodreads: Summer 1924: On the eve of a glittering society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.
Winter 1999: Grace Bradley, 98, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet's suicide. Ghosts awaken and memories, long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace's mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge; something history has forgotten but Grace never could.

Thoughts:  This has also been published as The House at Riverton.
As the end of her life draws near, Grace Bradley looks back at her life as a housemaid at the grand house, Riverton, and the tragic events that happened there.
This is the second Kate Morton I've read and I wonder why I left it so long! I actually listened to this as an audio book. While it took a little while to get into, it ended up being very engaging.
Morton shifted back and forth between 1999 and 1924 with ease. Using Grace as the connection, her recollection of earlier events opened the door onto the past. There was a twist at the end, which had been hinted it through the book, but you were never really sure what had happened and it still managed to surprise me. I can only hope I don't leave it this long before enjoying Kate Morton again!

Book Review: Habibi

From Goodreads:Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth—and frailty—of their connection.
At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.

Thoughts: This came around because I enjoyed Craig Thompson's Blankets  so much. 
Habibi follows two orphan slaves who run away and live in an abandoned boat in the desert. Separated, their journeys travel different paths, but they never forget each other.  Eventually they are reunited, but can the changes they have both gone through be overcome to find happiness.
Into the story Thompson swirls Christian and Islamic religious beliefs and ideas. If there was somewhere he lost me, that was it. The religious stories were meant (I think)to lend deeper meaning to the whole story - be a layer to help explain the content, but I often found it too hard to link back. They were more of a distraction or a side story.
The drawings were exquisite. Detailed and rich, you again could lose yourself in just looking at them. The story was engaging and you did become invested in the characters lives. Well worth the read.

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

From Goodreads: Audrey Niffenegger's spectacularly compelling second novel opens with a letter that alters the fate of every character. Julia and Valentina Poole are semi-normal American twenty-year-olds with seemingly little interest in college or finding jobs. Their attachment to one another is intense. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. From a London solicitor, the enclosed letter informs Valentina and Julia that their English aunt Elspeth Noblin, whom they never knew, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions to this inheritance: that they live in it for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the estranged Elspeth and Edie, their mother.
The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders the vast and ornate Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Radclyffe Hall, Stella Gibbons and Karl Marx are buried. Julia and Valentina come to know the living residents of their building. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword-puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive compulsive disorder; Marijke, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including - perhaps - their aunt.

Thoughts: Well, hmmm, interesting. Like many, I loved The Time Traveler's Wife. It was such a beautiful love story and Niffengger is a lyrical writer. I'd been warned by many that this was very different and they were right.
Niffengger's writing is most probably what kept me going. She is mesmerising to read. The story however just kept getting stranger and stranger and the characters more and more inconsistent and unlikable. While I found the premise of The Time Traveler's Wife plausible, the further Her Fearful Symmetry wnet, the less believable I found it. I just think if Niffengger had taken it in a different direction or even changed the motivations  or actions of a couple of the characters it would have been a very different book. Instead I think she had an idea of where she wanted to go and continued (unsuccessfully) to force the story to that framework.

Chanllenges: Ebook Challenge

Book Review: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

From Goodreads: Precious Ramotswe has taken on two puzzling cases. First she is approached by the lawyer Mma Sheba, who is the executor of a deceased farmer’s estate. Mma Sheba has a feeling that the young man who has stepped forward may be falsely impersonating the farmer’s nephew in order to claim his inheritance. Mma Ramotswe agrees to visit the farm and find out what she can about the self-professed nephew. Then the proprietor of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon comes to Mma Ramotswe for advice. The opening of her new salon has been shadowed by misfortune. Not only has she received a bad omen in the mail, but rumors are swirling that the salon is using dangerous products that burn people’s skin. Could someone be trying to put the salon out of business?
Meanwhile, at the office, Mma Ramotswe has noticed something different about Grace Makutsi lately. Though Mma Makutsi has mentioned nothing, it has become clear that she is pregnant . . . But in Botswana—a land where family has always been held above all else—this may be cause for controversy as well as celebration. 

Thoughts: It's always a good day when I discover a new No 1 Ladies Detective Agency book. It's like having an old friend pop over for a cup of tea and cake (because, as Mma Ramotswe says, you must have cake!) In this, the 14th book in the series, Mma is dealing with several issues. She needs to establish the true identity of a young man who is the beneficary of a will, discover who is trying to destroy the reputation on the new beauty salon at the mall and work out what she is going to do without Mma Makutsi when she has her baby!
As always, the contrast between the old Botswana and the new is apparent. The beauty of the landscape is showcased and the relief of rain felt. I always finish these books with a smile on my face, looking forward to the next one already.

Challenges: Ebook Challenge

25 December, 2013

Book Review: Emma

From Goodreads: 'I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.'

Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work.

Thoughts: Finished! Two Austen's in one year - how good am I!

As always, to help with a classic, I also watched various versions - the Gwyneth Paltrow movie, The Emma inspired movie Clueless, The BBC 1970's version (very dry and very English!) and a later BBC version. Going a bit overboard?? Maybe...

I enjoyed the book, although like most writers of her time, Austen could get a bit verbose. Seriously, if one sentence takes up half a page, it might be time to review it! What I find really interesting is how judgmental the characters could be. The women would be described as plain, or pretty enough, but no great beauty, their intelligence judged and questioned. We talk about how bitchy women are today - I think they may have had their beginnings in Austen's time! To be fair, the men were also subject to such scrutiny. I did find Emma to be a pretentious cow at times, lucky to have any friends at all. Austen obviously was a great believer in the class system - everyone had their place and please stay there! However, I enjoy her books and will continue my quest to read all of her works.

Challenges: Ebook Challenge

Book Review: And The Mountains Echoed

From Goodreads: Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and step-mother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Adbullah, Pari, as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named, is everything. More like a parent than a brother, Abdullah will do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. Each night they sleep together in their cot, their skulls touching, their limbs tangled.
One day the siblings journey across the desert to Kabul with their father. Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the fate that awaits them there, for the event which unfolds will tear their lives apart; sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand.
Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, with profound wisdom, depth, insight and compassion, Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives, the ways that we help our loved ones in need, how the choices we make resonate through history, and how we are often surprised by the people closest to us.

Thoughts: I had high expectations for this book as I loved The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I'm pleased to say I wasn't disappointed.
Hosseini is a master storyteller. He weaves the threads of the story so perfectly it's seamless. The reader is let into secrets the characters will never know. You hold you breath as you wonder when or if the characters are going to find out that one crucial piece of information, or will they meet before it is too late.
Hosseini exposes both the beauty and brutality of Afghanistan. His characters are flawed and damaged, unable to keep promises or realise their full potential. Never read one of his books expecting a happy ending, but do expect to be spell bound and touched by a writer whose books are bound to become classics.

24 December, 2013

Book Review: A Game of Thrones

From Goodreads: Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.
As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.
The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

Thoughts: If you haven't heard about this series, what rock have you been living under? Between the books and the TV series, A Game of Thrones has become a sensation. 
This is the first book in the series - and it was good. In a break with tradition, I saw the series before I read the book. I enjoyed the series and am glad that the book was also worth my time. These books are very blood thirsty. Lots of nasty ways to die and characters who seem to enjoy inflicting them on others. Just so you get an idea of how many deaths are in the series, check out this picture I found on Geekologie 

Every post it is a death - so just a few.

The intrigues in the book are complicated with a lot of characters to keep track of but I somehow managed - I do think having seen the series first helped.
I do think this is a series you will either rave about or wonder what all the fuss is about. Personally I just hope Martin maintains the interest and momentum for the whole series.

Challenges: Ebook Challenge

Book Review: The World's Strongest Librarian

From Goodreads: Josh Hanagarne couldn't be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn't officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6'7" when — while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints — his Tourette's tics escalated to nightmarish levels.
Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman — and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison — taught Josh how to "throttle" his tics into submission through strength-training.
Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City's public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette's.
The World's Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability — and navigate his wavering Mormon faith — to find love and create a life worth living.

Thoughts: I picked this up on recommendation from a friend. Josh Haragarne is a 6ft7 librarian with Tourette's. He is also a Morman (somewhat lapsed) and a weight lifter. This book explores his journey with Tourette's, it's increasing effect on his life and his search for a way to control it.
Having read this book, I'd love to meet Josh. While he has obviously had tough points in his life and his fair share of struggles, he has also maintained a great sense of humour. The stories of people in the library made me laugh out loud - mostly because I've had fairly similar experiences and conversations while working in libraries myself. His honesty about his faith, both at full belief and as it waivers was refreshing and incredibly non judgmental. This is a really wonderful read.


23 December, 2013

In Which I am Crafty...

I'm an intermittent quilter. I will go guns blazing for weeks and then nothing. I'm finding it too hard (and just a little embarrassing given how long my sewing blog has been neglected!) to maintain two blogs so I've decided to blog any quilting stuff here. I am hoping in 2014 that I might also get into some Project Life stuff as a way of encouraging me to take more photos and record our lives.

As for now, this is what I wanted to show off.

Pinwheel Flowers - lots of them!
My sister had a friend who was pregnant, and Dale (my sister) asked if I would make a quilt for her - sure! I said. And then did nothing!

In the meantime, Dale found a pattern, we bought fabric, she sent me the pattern...and I did nothing...well not nothing, I made a doll's quilt for a swap and a quilt for my son's teacher, but nothing about the baby quilt. In the meantime, the baby was born and I had done nothing! So in between school ending and sorting Christmas stuff, I started the quilt. It calls for 18 different sized pinwheel flowers. I had fun making them! Today I knew I wanted them finished, ready to start putting the quilt together after Christmas. All I had to do was put the centres on and appliqué them...I don't needle turn appliqué! Luckily the pattern said if you didn't you could do it however you want...thank goodness! So out comes the Visoflex and the iron. Then I simply stitched them in place with my sewing machine.

I say simply, but I have never used my machine for anything but straight stitching visoflex stuff and I wanted something a bit fancier. I love discovering new things I can do with my machine!

Not bad for a first timer I feel! So now all the flowers are done and I am ready to construct the quilt - but after Christmas. For now there is a trampoline to assemble, presents to wrap and food to prepare. Dale is coming to visit for a week on Boxing Day so hopefully she can watch me put this little quilt together.

In the meantime, I also plan to blog a backlog of books and some other crafty stuff. However, if I don't manage that, I'm sure you won't be surprised!

21 December, 2013

Christmas Boogie

Miss Dove over at Little White Dove has decided to revive Bloggers Boogie for the holiday season.

In fact I am listening to her Christmas installment as I type!

Miss Dove has gone a Christmas theme - me, while I don't mind the odd Christmas carol/ song, am, on the whole, not a fan.

However, with it being holidays and me having promised my kids I will try and get them to a surf beach at least once a week, I do expect to spend some time in the car. So my five songs are the top 5 on high rotation in our car at the moment!

My advice? Turn it up loud!

Want to link up and join in? Well you can, over here!

15 December, 2013

Book Review: Kingdom of Silk Series

The Kingdom of Silk by Glenda Millard

Synopsis: The Kingdom of Silk is a wonderful, beautiful engaging series of books aimed at younger readers. The Silk family lead a life full of love, laughter and tender moments. They also face their own perils and problems, which they solve as a family, embracing the nature around them and the wider community.

What I thought: I had to write my own synopsis since I plan to review the series as a whole. The link under the picture will take you to the Goodreads entry for the first book, The Naming of Tishkin Silk.
There are 7 books in the series.

The Naming of Tishkin Silk
Layla, Queen of Hearts
Perry Angel's Suitcase
All the Colours of Paradise
Plum Puddings and Paper Moons
The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk
Nell's Festival of Crisp Winter Glories

I reviewed The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk as part of the Younger Readers category for The Children's Book Council Awards, 2013. This inspired me to purchase the series for my 8 year old daughter and read them.

The Kingdom of Silk series is written by Australian author Glenda Millard. I've always been a fan, and this series once again shows us her wonderful talent.

I read a review that said Glenda Millard knows how to write families and she does. In this she has written a gorgeous family that anyone would love to be part of. But they are still believable, they have foibles, worries and concerns. The way they choose to face these problems though give us all food for thought.
The series explores a variety of sensitive themes in a caring and compassionate manner. Millard covers grief, SIDS, acceptance of others, foster care, refugees, aging and health scares. She approaches all of these issues from a child's point of view, exploring the fear and trepidation involved. She also explores the importance of community during these times, as well as the value of celebration. While they sound like tough topics for kids books, Millard's handling of them is perfect, always leaving the reader with a feeling of security and love and the ability to face the toughest challenge as long as you have the support and love of family and friends.

Challenges: Aussie Author Challenge