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.

28 November, 2014

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

From Goodreads: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

Thoughts: Why has it taken me so long to discover Neil Gaiman? Why did no one grab me by the shoulders, shake me and shout YOU NEED TO READ THIS!! Gaiman has definitely become one of my go to authors. I listened to this, read by Neil Gaiman himself. I love when an author does a talking book, you get to hear it the way they intended.
Gaiman's writing is just beautiful. His storytelling draws you in, takes you back to childhood where you were sure monsters were real, but so were heroes; friendships were forever, even if you ended up living miles apart and adulthood was something a long way away. Each of the characters is real and tangible. Even those characters which aren't central to the story such as the mother are clearly seen and observed without intruding.
This book has the ability to cross age groups - complex enough to engage adults, with a story enthralling enough to capture kids. I plan to listen to this again as we take the long drive south for Christmas - something a little bit different to break up the monotony of the trip. 
Soon, very soon I plan to do a list of books that would make good Christmas presents. This one will make the list. Read it - I know very few people who will regret it.

27 November, 2014

Book Review: Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase

From Goodreads: Forgive me, Dorothea, for I cannot forgive you. What you do, to this child, to this child's mother, it is wrong...
Roberta likes to collect the letters and postcards she finds in second-hand books. When her father gives her some of her grandmother's belongings, she finds a baffling letter from the grandfather she never knew - dated after he supposedly died in the war.
Dorothy is unhappily married to Albert, who is away at war. When an aeroplane crashes in the field behind her house she meets Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski, and as their bond deepens she dares to hope she might find happiness. But fate has other plans for them both, and soon she is hiding a secret so momentous that its shockwaves will touch her granddaughter many years later...

Thoughts: I'm sure I came across this book on another blog, but I can't remember which one! It sounded interesting enough to request at the library and then wait ages for it to come in. 
While nothing to set the world on fire, Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase was a good read. The story moved along at a reasonable pace, the premise was believable. Walters doesn't clutter her story with unnecessary characters. All the characters in this book play an important part in supporting and moving the story along. Walters also jumps from modern day back to WW2 without the clunkiness this transition can sometimes be handled with. 
I'd recommend this book for those who are looking for a well written easy read. 

26 November, 2014

Book Review: Australian Prime Ministers

From Goodreads: Larrikins or patricians, socialists or silvertails - in the century following Federation, Australia's prime ministers were as diverse as the nation they served. Some came from backgrounds of rural or urban poverty and were largely self-educated, looking to the ballot box as a tool of social justice; some were drawn to politics as their destiny; still others regarded high office as no more than their due. One or two demonstrated that, as well as being the art of the possible, politics can also be the art of the unlikely.
In this lively and authoritative book, 21 historians, biographers and political analysts discuss and profile the men who have attained Australia's highest public office and the forces that shaped them. In doing so, Australian Prime Ministers obliquely considers the nature of Australian democratic and political power.

Thoughts: With the recent death of Gough Whitlam I found myself wanting to know more about the people who had lead Australia over the past 100+ years. My information above  (the cover and the blurb from Goodreads) is a bit of a mish-mash. I read the most recent edition, which is the cover I used. As it was not available on Goodreads, I took it from Booktopia. The blurb comes from Goodreads, but doesn't include Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott who are included in the most recent edition.
 This was a really fascinating read. Most chapters were no longer than 30 pages, making it easy to read a chapter a day which was my aim. I can now say my knowledge of my country's leaders is a lot stronger and I have a much better idea of how our parliament and the parties within it have developed. As always with history, hind sight is a wonderful tools. A few years distance can see a Prime Minister judged very differently to they way they were perceived in office. One thing they all have in common though is that under their leadership, both good and bad decisions were made. As to what you yourself see as a good or bad decision may depend largely on your own personal politics.

Book Review: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

From Goodreads: When Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy took their first steps into the world behind the magic wardrobe, little do they realise what adventures are about to unfold. And as the story of Narnia begins to unfold, so to does a classic tale that has enchanted readers of all ages for over half a century.

Thoughts:  For me, one of the marks of a good book is one that can survive time. I don't think there will ever be a time when The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe goes out of circulation - at least not in my lifetime. I downloaded this as an audio book after we finished The Series of Unfortunate Events series and I'm thrilled to say the kids seem to have loved it as much as I did. It's one of those books that you get a whole different view of as a adult. As a child I never saw the religious connotations of the book and even now with a few weeks between finishing it and writing this review, all of the things I went "oh" at have vanished from my memory. All that is left is the knowledge that I enjoyed revisiting this book immensely and I don't think any childhood would be truly complete without it.


27 October, 2014

Little Black Marks - Now on Facebook!

I'm making a concerted effort to post more. I know I go through long periods of nothing and then a barrage of stuff. I'm also wanting to widen what I post about, not just reviews. So what better way to help myself than social media!

I'm a FB junkie - I spend way too much time on there, but now at least I feel it has a slightly better purpose. I'd love you to pop on over and check out my Facebook page and like it if you are so inclined.


Click here to go to my Facebook page!

26 October, 2014

Book Review: The Invaders

From Goodreads: Hal and the Heron brotherband are on the trail of Zavac and his precious cargo. Will they be able to find the pirates when the weather clears? And when they do, how can they possibly beat the mighty Raven and its crew of vicious cut-throats and killers?
A chance discovery will lead them to their prey, but the pirates have a well-fortified position. The Herons must drive out the invaders - and to succeed, Hal will need to devise a foolproof plan. In the icy waters of the Stormwhite, the smallest mistake could prove fatal.

Thoughts: I'm a long time fan of John Flanagan. Loved his Ranger's Apprentice series and raved about the first in the Brotherband series - The Outcasts - a couple of years ago. His books are full of adventure, fast paced and exciting. They show young boys in a positive light. I'm a bit behind in the Brotherband chronicles. So far there are five books in the series and if it's anything like Ranger's Apprentice chances are it will just keep getting better and better. 
Flanagan pulls very few punches in his books. The world he writes about is tough and hard to survive. People die, people kill - including the good guys. Things are not necessarily solved with diplomacy but frequently with swords and arrows. The adventure aspect of these books would appeal to boys. I've often thought Flanagan a  perfect author for reluctant male readers. Brotherband is definitely aimed more at the young adult audience than Ranger's Apprentice if for no other reason than the deaths I've already mentioned. The characters in Brotherband are a little older and have less hand holding than Will does in Ranger's. It's a good follow on series where the author has managed to maintain the magic.

Book Review: The Briny Cafe

From Goodreads: Brimming with warmth and wit, a delicious tale of friendship and love, and the search for a place to call home
Ettie Brookbank is the heart and soul of Cook's Basin, a sleepy offshore community comprising a cluster of dazzling blue bays. But for all the idyllic surroundings, Ettie can't help wondering where her dreams have disappeared to until fate offers her a lifeline, in the shape of a lopsided little cafe on the water's edge.
When Bertie, its cantankerous septuagenarian owner, offers her "the Briny" for a fantastic price, it's an opportunity too good to miss. But it's a mammoth task, and she'll need a partner. Enter Kate Jackson, the enigmatic new resident of the haunted house on Oyster Bay. Kate is also clearly at a crossroads running from a life in the city that has left her lonely and lost.
Could a ramshackle cafe and its endearingly eccentric customers deliver the new start both women so desperately crave?

Thoughts: Susan Duncan's memoir Salvation Creek spoke to me. Just like her, I live somewhere accessible only by boat and it truly is a different way of life. The community and the way of life are something I don't think I could ever give up - I truly struggle to see me ever living on the mainland again.
The Briny Café draws on Duncan's offshore living experience to build the fictional community of Cook's Basin. Just like Salvation Creek, community and food are at the heart of this book. The story travels along at a good pace, following Ettie's journey as she takes on the run down Briny Café while helping newcomer Kate find her feet within the offshore community. Filled with likeable characters, The Briny Café is not going  to provide you with a challenging read, but with a setting that you will want to come back to in order to see what you're new friends are up to.

Book Review: The Good Earth

From Goodreads: This tells the poignant tale of a Chinese farmer and his family in old agrarian China. The humble Wang Lung glories in the soil he works, nurturing the land as it nurtures him and his family. Nearby, the nobles of the House of Hwang consider themselves above the land and its workers; but they will soon meet their own downfall.
Hard times come upon Wang Lung and his family when flood and drought force them to seek work in the city. The working people riot, breaking into the homes of the rich and forcing them to flee. When Wang Lung shows mercy to one noble and is rewarded, he begins to rise in the world, even as the House of Hwang falls.

Thoughts: This is our book group book for November. For various reasons we skipped October - it just became too hard to set a date! I will admit that I started to read this with absolutely no idea what it was about. The cover of my kindle edition was very plain with no clues as to what the book entailed. It's actually kind of a nice way to approach a book - no expectations at all.
I loved this. It was so engaging and enthralling. Buck's style of story telling is almost factual. In a story where there is much room for judgement, Buck doesn't. She simply tells what happens and leaves the reader to make up their own mind. For me, at times, this led to conflicting feelings about the characters. At times I was angry at Wang Lung for the way he treated his wife O-Lan or at O-Lan for not being so subservient, but at other times I was touched by the obvious love and respect they had for each other and the way they each played a role in building their lives together. The story travels through the landscape of China, allowing a glimpse into the China of that time. While the time frame is never explicitly stated, it is thought to be set in the early 1900's, around the time of the Xinhai Revolution.
A quick look at Buck's bibliography shows her to be incredibly prolific. This book alone is one of a trilogy and her publishing career spanned over 40 years.  If this is any indication of her other writings, I plan to read more. After talking to my mother, I've discovered that my grandmother was a great Pearl S Buck fan and she was a woman of great taste!

24 October, 2014

Book Review: Candide

From Goodreads: Brought up in the household of a powerful Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man, whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief that 'all is for the best'. But when his love for the Baron's rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own way in the world.
And so he and his various companions begin a breathless tour of Europe, South America and Asia, as an outrageous series of disasters befall them - earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder - sorely testing the young hero's optimism.

Thoughts: After our last book group discussion of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, one of our members recommended we read Candide by Voltaire - another story where the main character has a very whatever will be will be attitude. I approached it with trepidation - classics and I often don't mix, but what I found was an rollicking read that had me laughing out loud and completely enjoying the total unbelievability of Candide's adventures. His focus on finding his true love,
Cunegonde (whose name I pronounced in my head at least a dozen different ways, none, I'm sure, correct!) gives the story ongoing motivation. Rather unsettling though was the very matter of fact, off hand way Voltaire often described rather horrific events such as wars, rapes and general mistreatment of others. At only 94 pages, Candide is not at all daunting and well worth the read.

Book Review: The Scorch Trials & The Death Cure

From Goodreads:The Scorch Trials
 Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end.   
 Thomas was sure that escape from the Maze would mean freedom for him and the Gladers. But WICKED isn’t done yet. Phase Two has just begun. The Scorch.  
There are no rules. There is no help. You either make it or you die.
The Gladers have two weeks to cross through the Scorch—the most burned-out section of the world. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.  

Friendships will be tested. Loyalties will be broken. All bets are off.
There are others now. Their survival depends on the Gladers’ destruction—and they’re determined to survive.

The Death Cure
It’s the end of the line.
WICKED has taken everything from Thomas: his life, his memories, and now his only friends—the Gladers. But it’s finally over. The trials are complete, after one final test.
Will anyone survive?
What WICKED doesn’t know is that Thomas remembers far more than they think. And it’s enough to prove that he can’t believe a word of what they say.
The truth will be terrifying.
Thomas beat the Maze. He survived the Scorch. He’ll risk anything to save his friends. But the truth might be what ends it all.
The time for lies is over.

Thoughts: So here's the problem - I read both of these while on a camping holiday and, unlike The Maze Runner, I  didn't sit down and immediately write a review for me to type up when I got home. Both these books made such a small impact on me I'm struggling to remember anything to write. It's not that they were particularly bad - if they had been I wouldn't have finished them - but I do know I got frustrated with both books. Thomas started to annoy me - his tendency to pass out unbelievable. (In fact a reviewer on Goodreads counted the number of times Thomas passed out or fell asleep at the end of a paragraph or chapter and came up with 29!) The frequency with how often he explains away his decisions as just "knowing" or "feeling" it's right or wrong left me feeling the character had no depth. Another common complaint I've read about the books is Dashner's tendency to tell the reader everything rather than use the characters actions or surroundings to let them work it out themselves. On the whole the series held a lot more promise than it delivered.
I'll be interested to see how the movie versions develop. I can only hope that like The Maze Runner, the movie is better than the books!

23 October, 2014

Book Review: Monkey Grip

From Goodreads: Inner-suburban Melbourne in the 1970s: a world of communal living, drugs, music and love. In this acclaimed first novel, Helen Garner captures the fluid relationships of a community of friends who are living and loving in new ways.
Nora falls in love with Javo the junkie, and together they try to make sense of their lives and the choices they have made. But caught in an increasingly ambiguous relationship, they are unable to let go - and the harder they pull away from each other, the tighter the monkey grip.

Thoughts: I loved Helen Garner's The Spare Room and This House of Grief. I saw something on TV about Monkey Grip, which was her first novel so decided to download it to my kindle and add it to my holiday reading list.
Monkey Grip is one of seminal pieces of Australian Literature that's often included in best of or must read lists - truthfully I'm wondering why. If this had been the first Garner I'd read, it may very have been the last. It just seemed to go nowhere. There was lots of people going in and out of each others rooms and houses, often in the very early hours of the morning, drug taking, having conversations that were never described so you don't know what the conversation was about and fucking. Never called sex, making love, rooting - just fucking. It struck me as trying to shock or portray it as meaningless or insignificant, but it just jarred for me.
Maybe if I had lived through that time (it was written in 1977, I would have been 6 and obviously lived in a world far different to the one described in the book.) I would see the book differently, but it's not something that struck a chord with me.

Book Review: Tampa

From Goodreads: Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She's undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.
But Celeste's devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.
In mere weeks, Celeste has chosen and lured the lusciously naive Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his teacher, and, most important, willing to accept Celeste's terms for a secret relationship—car rides after school; rendezvous at Jack's house while his single father works late; body-slamming encounters in Celeste's empty classroom between periods.
Ever mindful of the danger—the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack's father's own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind—the hyperbolically insatiable Celeste bypasses each hurdle with swift thinking and shameless determination, even when the solutions involve greater misdeeds than the affair itself. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress driven by pure motivation. She deceives everyone, and cares nothing for anyone or anything but her own pleasure.
With crackling, rampantly unadulterated prose, Tampa is a grand, uncompromising, seriocomic examination of want and a scorching literary debut.

Thoughts: Purchased after watching an interview with the author, I always knew Tampa was going to be confronting.
Tampa is the story of Celeste, a middle school English teacher who has a predilection for 14 year old boys and sets out to deliberately seduce one of her students. Yep, I know, icky to say the least.
Let me get one thing straight here - sexual abuse of children is abhorrent, regardless of the sex of the victim or the abuser. The idea that what happens in this book is in anyway ok because it "fulfils the fantasy of just about any 14year old boy"  is bullshit. Reading this gives a very clear description of the manipulation and predatory behaviour that any sexual predator engages in. Celeste is all about the sex - for her there is no emotional connection and no thought for the emotional well being of her victim. Her description of the sex (and there is a lot) is clinical and all about her arousal and satisfaction. All her fear is around being caught and cut off from adolescent boys.
The end I found hard to read. As a reader, mother and teacher I wanted justice but the reality is in the real world what happened is most probably fairly close to what would happen. It was obvious to me that Jack was badly damaged by the encounter - obvious in more ways than one.
Tampa is not a book for all. It's confronting and not at all comfortable to read. It's not a book I would recommend to anyone although I'd be more than happy to discuss it with people and let them make their own decision. It was compelling though and hard to put down - if only to get it over and done with as soon as possible.

21 October, 2014

Book Review: The Maze Runner

From Goodreads: "If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human."
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.
"Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade."
Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.
"Everything is going to change."
Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.
Remember. Survive. Run.

Thoughts: I bought this and the next two in the series straight after I saw the movie, reasoning they would be perfect fodder for our 10 day camping trip - and it was. It is however, one of those rare moments where I prefer the movie to the book. While the movie included all the plot development the book did, how they got there was very different and much of what happened in the movie seemed way more plausible. The characters in the movie were also better developed and easier to empathise with. Truth be told, I don't think I would enjoy the book as much is I hadn't seen the movie.

Book Review: This House of Grief

From Goodreads: On the evening of 4 September 2005, Robert Farquharson, a separated husband, was driving his three sons home to their mother when his car plunged into a dam. The boys, aged ten, seven, and two, drowned. Was this an act of deliberate revenge or a tragic accident? The court case became Helen Garner's obsession. She was in the courtroom every day of Farquharson's trial and subsequent retrial, along with countless journalists and the families of both the accused and his former wife.
In this utterly compelling book, Helen Garner tells the story of a man and his broken life. At its core is a search for truth that takes author and reader through complex psychological terrain. Garner exposes, with great compassion, that truth and justice are as complex as human frailty and morality.

Thoughts: Harrowing is a word that instantly springs to mind in regards to this book. Helen Garner sat through and shares her thoughts about the trial of Robert Farquharson, a man convicted of murdering his three sons by driving his into a dam and allowing them to drown.
I've read a lot of true crime books, but Garner is the first writer who manages to not sensationalise or aim purely to horrify the reader. Her observations are thoughtful, heart-rending and have the tone of someone who is truly interested in the truth and at times conflicted by what she sees and hears in the courtroom. It's also a book that examines our jury system, removing any idea of the glamour of prestige Hollywood portrays these trials to be. Instead it shows how gruelling, often boring and frequently distressing they can be.
This House of Grief is a harrowing (there's that word again!)read, but well worth the emotional roller coaster it will take you on.

16 October, 2014

Book Review - Eyrie

From Goodreads: Eyrie tells the story of Tom Keely, a man who’s lost his bearings in middle age and is now holed up in a flat at the top of a grim highrise, looking down on the world he’s fallen out of love with.
He’s cut himself off, until one day he runs into some neighbours: a woman he used to know when they were kids, and her introverted young boy. The encounter shakes him up in a way he doesn’t understand. Despite himself, Keely lets them in.
What follows is a heart-stopping, groundbreaking novel for our times – funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting – populated by unforgettable characters. It asks how, in an impossibly compromised world, we can ever hope to do the right thing..

Thoughts: Does anyone do self absorbed characters like Tim Winton? He's also the master of the character driven novel. He takes mundane ordinary people who, lets face it, are often having a shit time, and make you want to know what happens to their sad, ordinary lives. Against all odds he makes you care about them.
Tom Keely's life is a mess. Instead of turning this into a "watch a good man pull himself up by his bootstraps" kind of book, Winton lets Keely wallow in his misery. What's more, he complicates things further with the introduction of Gemma, a girl from his childhood and Kai her six year old grandson. Everything that occurs simply leads the hapless Keely into deeper and deeper trouble until you wonder if he'll ever be able to extract himself.
Don't read this looking for an uplifting story. Don't read it looking for resolution. Read it for Winton's beautiful sparse use of language, his chronically flawed characters and his portrayal of life in all its messiness.

29 September, 2014

Book Review: The Lake of Dreams

From Goodreads: Lucy Jarrett is at a crossroads in her life, still haunted by her father's unresolved death a decade earlier. She returns to her hometown in Upstate New York, The Lake of Dreams, and, late one night, she cracks the lock of a window seat and discovers a collection of objects. They appear to be idle curiosities, but soon Lucy realizes that she has stumbled across a dark secret from her family's past, one that will radically change her—and the future of her family—forever.

Thoughts: This book should have been so much more than it was.I struggled to get into it, struggled to stay with it and was relieved when I finished it. It had all the elements of a good story but it just fell flat for me. It had a strong feminist story line which some how missed the mark, family intrigue which appeared to be way more important than it was, the chance for someone to struggle with and resolve the direction of her life that happened way to easily. In the end it was just very...meh. And that's the best I can say.

Book Review: The End

From Goodreads: Dear Reader, You are presumably looking at the back of this book, or the end of THE END. The end of THE END is the best place to begin THE END, because if you read THE END from the beginning of the beginning of THE END to the end of the end of THE END, you will arrive at the end of the end of your rope.
This book is the last in A Series of Unfortunate Events, and even if you braved the previous twelve volumes, you probably can't stand such unpleasantries as a fearsome storm, a suspicious beverage, a herd of wild sheep, an enormous bird cage, and a truly haunting secret about the Baudelaire parents.
It has been my solemn occupation to complete the history of the Baudelaire orphans, and at last I am finished. You likely have some other occupation, so if I were you I would drop this book at once, so THE END does not finish you.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

Thoughts: And thus, we come to The End - the final book in a Series of Unfortunate Events. We almost didn't make it - in fact, we reorganised our car pool arrangements to ensure we finished before the school holidays. The End does not explain everything - in fact it most probably explains very little and raises a few more questions. Many reviews I have read of it take umbrage at this but for me it was the only way it could end. As the series went, things became murkier and murkier. The children started to realise that not everything is black or white, good people can do bad things and bad people can do good things. Questions can get answered, but quite often those answers simply throw up more questions. If this book wrapped everything up neatly it would have been so out of line with the rest of the series I would have been offended. To follow this whole series through to the end takes commitment but I think it was well worth the effort.

17 September, 2014

Aussie WIP Wednesday

Little White Dove
I'm going to attempt to do this more often as a way of encouraging myself to get some sewing done! I have a few projects that I need to finish, especially as we get closer to the end of the year and the dreaded festive season!
Yesterday I sat down at the machine and finished sewing these rows together.

This will end up being a queen sized quilt for my niece who turned 21 this year. Yes, turned - I'm running late! It's one of two 21st quilts I'm making for nieces this year. The other top is finished and waiting on this one so I can send them off to be quilted.

This needs pink sashing between each row, the same pink sashing as a border and then another 4.5in border to finish.

I was going to do some more today, but ended up taking my mum (who is visiting from Canberra) down to the beach with chairs, coffee and books instead. Maybe tomorrow...

Do you have something you're working on you'd like to share? Pop over to Little White Dove and link up or leave a link in the comments here. I'd love to see what you are working on - hopefully it'll inspire me to keep going!


15 September, 2014

Book Review: The Little Friend

From Goodreads: Bestselling author Donna Tartt returns with a grandly ambitious and utterly riveting novel of childhood, innocence and evil.
The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet - unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson--sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss.

Thoughts: A couple of years ago, stuck on the couch with a broken leg, I read The Secret History. I really enjoyed, but knew it had been an intense read. That, coupled with the fact that The Little Friend was so big has put me off reading it. However, as part of my TBR Spring Clean Challenge, I picked it up and started. So much of what I loved about The Secret History was there - solid characters, wonderful descriptions, a building of suspense. Again, a dense, attention demanding read, but enjoyable, thought provoking. Tartt sets you down in the middle of a sweltering Mississippi town and takes you into the lives of two very different families. The Cleves - a dysfunctional middle class family of some standing in the town; a family which has never recovered from the suspicious death of Robin a the age of 9. The Ratliffs - a family of four poverty stricken, drug addled brothers and their grandma. You can smell the different houses, see the different people as you read. The story slowly brings parts these two families together as Harriet spends her summer trying to solve the murder of her brother over 10 years ago.
I loved the writing. Tartt is a vivid story teller but (and it's a big but) the story just stops! Nothing - and I mean absolutely nothing - is resolved at the end! While I also detest books where everything is tied up in a neat bow at the end, this type of ending is equally frustrating. It truly felt like she had a word limit, she reached it and stopped. Not quite mid sentence, but it may as well have been!  I actually checked to see if there were pages missing.
Maybe it's me - maybe I'm the one missing something, but to say I was disappointed by the end of this is a major understatement. I felt betrayed (the book is 555 pages of small type) and abandoned. I'd formed an attachment to Harriet and her struggle. I needed to know she would be ok, but there is nothing to hold onto. Nothing to give you hope, nothing to suggest that the summer changes any thing at all for her or the Ratliffs. Disappointing.