31 August, 2014

Book Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

From Goodreads: It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The Mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not… Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan’s earlier life in which – remarkably – he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century. Already a huge bestseller across Europe, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a fun and feel-good book for all ages.

Thoughts: This is my book groups book for September. I love it when I love a book group book - especially when I chose it! The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is a true gem. Totally irreverent and full of humour, the book moves back and forth between the events that occur after Allan absconds from his nursing home on the day of his 100th birthday and the amazing life he led as a younger man. I've read reviews that compare it to Forrest Gump and I can see the comparison - Allan, it appears to have had a hand in many of the world's major political events - but HYOM is more intelligent that Forrest Gump. Allan's character is brilliant. He has lived, and continues to live by the idea that it will all be ok in the end. Take people at face value, treat them as you would like to be treated and chances are it will all work out. His complete lack of interest in politics means he has no problem in helping an American President or a Chinese Dictator. He is also an incredibly loyal friend and generous to boot.
This book has me giggling frequently. It taught me aspects of history I never knew and entertained me at the same time. While it took awhile for me to get into the rhythm of it (an issue I frequently have with translated books) I soon got to a point where that was part of it's charm. Suspend all belief and enjoy this book for what it is - a wonderfully fun-filled tale of an amazing man and why being 100 shouldn't mean the end of your life! 

TBR Spring Clean Challenge.

Spring has sprung - at least it has in Brisbane, Australia. Chances are there are still parts of the country battling the cold, but it's definitely warming up here!

Since buying my Kindle, I've bought most of my books via it. It's easier to lug about and I know I will never be short of a book. However, I have managed to collect a small pile of hard copy TBR's. My aim this September is to whittle it down a bit by devoting my reading almost exclusively to the pile you see above. So the rules are as follows:

1. My reading in September must come from the pile of books above.

2. The only books that can come from somewhere else are library books that need to be read before their due date (at the moment, there is only one, but I have several on request that may or may not come in over the month), or books that are the second of a series where the first must be read. (only candidate as far as I know is Susan Duncan's Gone Fishing)

3. If I am reading a book from another source, I must read one from the pile straight after.

4. If I start the book and am not liking it, I am under no obligation to finish it, but must choose another book from the pile to substitute.

5. If I am enjoying the book, but finding in unwieldy I may purchase it to read on my kindle - especially if it's something I am likely to read again.

Anyone is welcome to join me! Just head over to my tracking page and leave a comment. Follow my rules or make up your own - what ever works for you. Most of all - have fun!

27 August, 2014

Book Review: Gravity

From Goodreads: In this exclusive insider account Mary Delahunty takes us behind closed doors to tease out thepersonal from the political and reveals the human cost of brutal modern politics. In Gravity we are eyewitnesses to history. Our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard came to power suddenly after the night of the long knives in a coup that perplexed the nation. She hurried to an election and was chained to a hung parliament. She out negotiated Tony Abbott and formed a minority government but the deepest threat was from within. The man she beat for the top job was to relentlessly undermine her for three tortuous years.
In gathering material for the book, journalist and politician, Mary Delahunty had rare and unparalleled access to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, following her for her last 6 months. She was present at public speeches, party events and community cabinet. Mary was in her private office and the PM’s wider office during parliamentary sitting weeks, particularly witnessing from the inside the compelling dramas of the no-show coup in March and the defeat in June. Mary was the only journalist/writer to speak with the PM on June 26 ( the spill and caucus vote was that evening) and she has the exclusive conversation with the vanquished PM in her private office the Morning After.
The book uses Gillard’s own words to reveal the personal behind the political, the colour of contest,
the cost of defeat, the drama from within the PMO bunker and just how fast power drains away. It
explores resilience in public life and the disposability of modern leaders.

Thoughts: Reading this book made me sad. If you compare Australia's government today to what we had, what we could have had, it makes me angry. The treatment of Gillard, not only by those outside her party, but by those inside it is appalling. Whether you think it was her gender, her policies or a combination of both, no one can dispute that fact that no other Australian Prime Minister has been treated with such contempt and lack of respect for the office they held. 
I truly believe history will judge Gillard very differently from the way she was judged in office. In fact you only need to look at some of the literature around already to realise it started the moment she lost office. 
The saddest thing for me though is, as Delahunty points out, Gillard was never given the chance to truly what she could do. Attacked not only her opponents, one of her own (Rudd) worked incredibly hard to bring her down - ultimately succeeding and doing great damage to the Labor Party in the process. However, while leading a minority party, Gillard's government managed to get through 561 bills - including the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Education reforms, National Broadband Network (NBN) and the carbon tax. 
I am, and always will be a Gillard supporter. I don't ever imagine a time when I am not angry about her treatment and the damage done to Australian politics by her detractors. Delahunty is obviously also a fan, but she does paint a picture of a less than perfect person. (which is only fair and right!) She examines some of the areas where Gillard failed and where a difference in her attitude or demeanor may have made a difference. In the end though, this book tells the story of an incredibly determined woman who would not be swayed from what she believed in. A woman who refused to let a bunch of white, middle class men with a huge sense of entitlement push her around. She fought and she fought hard. Since leaving politics she has conducted herself with dignity and grace. Love her or hate her, I challenge you to read this book and not be impressed by her.

Book Review: The Penultimate Peril

From Goodreads: Dear Reader, If this is the first book you found while searching for a book to read next, then the first thing you should know is that this next-to-last book is what you should put down first. Sadly, this book presents the next-to-last chronicle of the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, and it is next-to-first in its supply of misery, despair, and unpleasantness.
Probably the next-to-last thing you would like to read about are a harpoon gun, a rooftop sunbathing alon, two mysterious initials, three unidentified triplets, a notorious villain, and an unsavory curry.
Next-to-last things are the first thing to be avoided, and so allow me to recommend that you put this next-to-last book down first, and find something else to read next at last, such a s the next-to-last book in another chronicle, or a chronicle containing other next-to-last things, so that this next-to-last book does not become the last book you will read.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

Thoughts: Things are getting exciting now!! This is the second last book in the wonderful Series of Unfortunate Events that have followed the terribly sad tale of the Baudelaire orphans from that fateful day when their parents perished in a dreadful fire.
As with the previous books, more questions are raised and very few are answered. The Baudelaire's continue to wrestle with the question of their own nobility or villainy - is it ok to do something villainous for noble causes? Do the ends always justify the means? Characters from previous books resurface as everything starts to draw to a conclusion. In fact, I think half of the enjoyment of this installment for the kids was recalling who came from what book and what role they played in it. As always as this book drew to a close, the kids were begging me to download the last book - aptly titled The End. I will admit, they didn't have to beg too hard! Now all I hope is that we can make it through the last book before the school holidays start - not sure we could wait two weeks to find out what ultimately happens!

25 August, 2014

Book Review: Lost in A Good Book

From Goodreads: The inventive, exuberant, and totally original literary fun that began with The Eyre Affair continues with Jasper Fforde's magnificent second adventure starring the resourceful, fearless literary sleuth Thursday Next. When Landen, the love of her life, is eradicated by the corrupt multinational Goliath Corporation, Thursday must moonlight as a Prose Resource Operative of Jurisfiction, the police force inside books. She is apprenticed to the man-hating Miss Havisham from Dickens's Great Expectations, who grudgingly shows Thursday the ropes. And she gains just enough skill to get herself in a real mess entering the pages of Poe's "The Raven." What she really wants is to get Landen back. But this latest mission is not without further complications. Along with jumping into the works of Kafka and Austen, and even Beatrix Potter's The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Thursday finds herself the target of a series of potentially lethal coincidences, the authenticator of a newly discovered play by the Bard himself, and the only one who can prevent an unidentifiable pink sludge from engulfing all life on Earth.

Thoughts: I think Fforde is my new go to fun author. What this man does with literature is hilarious. I mean really, who would have thought that Miss Havisham is a speed freak??
This is one of those books that's hard to review without giving too much away. Needless to say if you are one of those who has lived your life wishing you could literally get lost in a book - this series may be for you. Thursday Next's life is beyond chaotic. Her husband has disappeared - worse he's been eradicated so no one except her even remember he ever existed, the Goliath Corporation are after her as is the public relations manager for SpecOps.
This is a series you need to read from the beginning, but I highly recommend it. It all starts with The Eyre Affair (Jane Eyre will never be the same again). I'm highly interested to check out his Nursery Crime series as well.

Book Review: Couldn't Keep it to Myself

From Goodreads: In a stunning work of insight and hope, New York Times bestselling author Wally Lamb once again reveals his unmatched talent for finding humanity in the lost and lonely and celebrates the transforming power of the written word. For several years, Lamb has taught writing to a group of women prisoners at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut. In this unforgettable collection, the women of York describe in their own words how they were imprisoned by abuse, rejection, and their own self-destructive impulses long before they entered the criminal justice system. Yet these are powerful stories of hope and healing, told by writers who have left victimhood behind.
In his moving introduction, Lamb describes the incredible journey of expression and self-awareness the women took through their writing and shares how they challenged him as a teacher and as a fellow author. Couldn't Keep It to Myself is a true testament to the process of finding oneself and working toward a better day.

Thoughts: I read this as part of my quest to read anything by Wally Lamb. While Lamb did not pen this, he worked closely with the women who did, teaching them, supporting them and ultimately editing their stories for publication. 
Books like this are invaluable. They provide a window into a world the majority of us are lucky to not inhabit. The stories of these women are heart wrenching. They focus mainly on early life experiences rather than the crimes they have been incarcerated for. Those stories are enough to show you how some of the ended up where they did. I don't think there was a single story in this book that didn't include sexual abuse. None of these women had support structures in their lives that could help them when they needed it most. Many of them found that support in prison and a voice in writing. This book is equal parts inspiring, heartbreaking and uplifting.

Book Review: Only the Animals

From Goodreads: From award-winning novelist Ceridwen Dovey, a collection of linked short stories as innovative and beautifully written as Nam Le's The Boat.
Ten tales are told by the souls of animals killed in human conflicts in the past century or so, from a camel in colonial Australia to a cat in the trenches in World War I, from a bear starved to death during the siege of Sarajevo to a mussel that died in Pearl Harbour. Each narrator also pays homage to an author who has written imaginatively about animals during much the same time span: Henry Lawson, Colette, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Tolstoy, G√ľnter Grass, Julian Barnes, and others.
These stories are brilliantly plotted, exquisitely written, inevitably poignant but also playful and witty. They ask us to consider profound questions. Why do animals shock us into feeling things we can't seem to feel for other humans? Why do animals allow authors to say the unsayable? Why do we sometimes treat humans as animals, and animals as humans? Can fiction help us find moral meaning in a disillusioned world?
Ceridwen Dovey is a prodigiously gifted storyteller, an insightful thinker, and a prose writer of great range. Each of the storylines is an opening to a new way of considering the nature of violence and the relationship between human and animal experiences of the world. Only The Animals will ask you to believe again, just for a moment, in the redemptive power of reading and writing fiction.

Thoughts: I read this as part of an online book group through That Book You Like. I follow the FB page and always up for a new reading adventure I jumped on board.
One of the things I love about book groups is they challenge you to read things you normally would not have read. This is very true for Only the Animals. I'm not an animal person. That's not to say I don't like animals, I do, but unlike a certain percentage of our population I don't see them as anything other than animals. I have pets and I love them dearly, but they are still animals. I've never drawn a parallel between my pets and my kids and I have pretty set ideas on how pets should fit into a family.  I've also never been a big fan of the anthropomorphisation of animals in stories. I just never really got why animals would think or act like humans.
All of this most probably goes towards explaining why this book missed the mark for me. Truth be told, without the book group motivation, I wouldn't have ever picked it up. The stories were ok, but I cannot stretch my disbelief enough to buy that animals are at all interested in our lives. The one exception would have been the elephant story - the story which not surprisingly had the least amount of human/ animal interaction.  
Only the Animals is something I would recommend only for those true, dyed in the wool animal lovers. For those I say go forth and enjoy. As for the rest of us, give it a miss.

12 August, 2014

Book Review: The Bone Collector

From Goodreads: Lincoln Rhyme was once a brilliant criminologist, a genius in the field of forensics -- until an accident left him physically and emotionally shattered. But now a diabolical killer is challenging Rhyme to a terrifying and ingenious duel of wits. With police detective Amelia Sachs by his side, Rhyme must follow a labyrinth of clues that reaches back to a dark chapter in New York City's past -- and reach further into the darkness of the mind of a madman who won't stop until he has stripped life down to the bone.

Thoughts: A couple of posts back I was lamenting the difficulty in finding a new crime author to sink my teeth into. I love a good crime series, something I can return to and catch up with the same characters. I love Val McDermid's Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, I've read all the Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan series and while not a series, I devour Minette Walters
I knew about Jeffery Deaver's  Lincoln Rhyme series, I've even read The Bone Collector before, a long time ago and thought maybe this is what I was looking for - and I was right!
What I want more than anything in a crime novel is the need to keep turning the page - to have to know what happens next and Deaver delivers in spades. I am now eager to see how Rhyme and Sachs develop, how their relationship grows and changes. 
Reading this straight after reading Minette Walter's Acid Row also has lead me to reflect on the differences between American and British crime fiction. Straight up, I cannot remember ever reading any American crime fiction that does not have a least one (if not multiple) deaths by gun shot. The gun culture in America is so entrenched I'm not sure an American crime novel without guns would be believable. Body counts in American novels also tend to be higher, with the deaths usually more violent. I also find American crime novels are more action based - car chases, chaotic crime scenes. The British tend to deal more with suspense and analysis. I'm not saying one is better than the other - both can be equally good and bad - but I do find it interesting that I find it a lot harder to find an American series that sustains my interest. Hopefully I have found it in Lincoln Rhyme series.

Book Review: Acid Row

From Goodreads: Acid Row - a no-man's land where angry, alienated youth controls the streets. Sophie Morrison, a young doctor, is trapped at the centre of a terrifying siege with a known paedophile. Young Amy is missing and the mob want retribution, no matter what.
Thoughts: No one does crime fiction like the Brits and Minette Walters is one of the best. Acid Row is the nickname given to a run down council estate which descends into chaos when it becomes known that a paedophile has moved in. On the surface you can read Acid Row simply as a crime novel, trying to work out who actually has the child who has gone missing and how the police are going to get the situation under control. On another level you can view it as a piece about the dangers of partial information and whether or not the public should be informed if a paedophile is living in their area.
 Personally I have very mixed views about public registration of sex offenders. I read many years ago (and I so wish I could find the article now!), that studies in America showed that in states that had public notification of sex offenders (and that's all sex offenders, not just child sex offenders), only 60-70% of offenders reported to police when they moved or changed jobs. In states where the register is available to law enforcement only, over 80% of offenders complied with the requirement to notify when changing address or place of work. In my mind, I would rather the police know where over 80% of offenders are and me not know at all as opposed to knowing where only 60-70% of known offenders are. The other reality for me is recidivism rates for sex offenders is low - around 2%  and the majority of arrests for sex offences - 96% - are the first arrest for the perpetrator - ie. They were not on the register and therefore an unknown threat. (Source: http://theparson.net/so/#no%20effect) The reality is, your child has a more of a chance of being abused by a family member or friend than by a random person in your street. More and more studies are showing that laws such as Megan's Law in the US are not effective.In my mind nothing beats vigilance and teaching your children how to protect themselves.
Anyway, back to the book! I enjoyed Acid Row - it's fast paced, the characters are engaging and while it doesn't tax your brain, it does give you something to think about. Whether you support a public register or not, Acid Row highlights the importance of having all the information before acting. Things are not always as they seem.

07 August, 2014

Book Review: Jasper Jones

From Goodreads: Late on a hot summer night in 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan.
Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress. Jasper takes him to his secret glade in the bush, and it's here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper's horrible discovery.
With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu.
And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse.
In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

Thoughts: Wow. Simply wow. This is my book groups August book and it was fantastic. Craig Silvey has written what I am sure will become an Australian classic. In my mind, Silvey has the potential to find a place in my heart right alongside Tim Winton.
Jasper Jones has many layers. It's a story of small town intolerance, of family dysfunction, of friendship, of guilt, of growing up. It's all these things, yet it all works. The different themes blend and meld into a story that has you cheering, crying and shaking. (thisiswhathappened).
Silvey writes characters that are worth investing in. I found myself desperate for things to work out for the narrator Charlie, for Jasper to find whatever he's looking for, for Jeffrey to find acceptance. Silvey also has the ability to make you forget, momentarily, what the book is actually about and become immersed in something else - namely a cricket match - and even if you don't like cricket, you will be on the edge of your seat.
However, for me, it's the ending that will stay with me. (thisiswhathappened) It's the end that had me rocking, shaking, moaning even as the truth is revealed and you wonder how will they survive this.
Jasper Jones has just become my 2014 you must read this book. Trust me, you must read this.

05 August, 2014

Book Review: American Gods

From Goodreads: Shadow gets out of prison early when his wife is killed in a car crash. At a loss, he takes up with a mysterious character called Wednesday, who is much more than he appears. In fact, Wednesday is an old god, once known as Odin the All-father, who is roaming America rounding up his forgotten fellows in preparation for an epic battle against the upstart deities of the Internet, credit cards, television, and all that is wired. Shadow agrees to help Wednesday, and they whirl through a psycho-spiritual storm that becomes all too real in its manifestations. For instance, Shadow's dead wife Laura keeps showing up, and not just as a ghost – the difficulty of their continuing relationship is by turns grim and darkly funny, just like the rest of the book.Armed only with some coin tricks and a sense of purpose, Shadow travels through, around, and underneath the visible surface of things, digging up all the powerful myths Americans brought with them in their journeys to this land as well as the ones that were already here. Shadow's road story is the heart of the novel, and it's here that Gaiman offers up the details that make this such a cinematic book--the distinctly American foods and diversions, the bizarre roadside attractions, the decrepit gods reduced to shell games and prostitution. "This is a bad land for Gods," says Shadow.
More than a tourist in America, but not a native, Neil Gaiman offers an outside-in and inside-out perspective on the soul and spirituality of the country--our obsessions with money and power, our jumbled religious heritage and its societal outcomes, and the millennial decisions we face about what's real and what's not. --Therese Littleton

Thoughts: Gaiman, I think is either a love him or hate him author. You're either going to get a mass of enjoyment and reflection out of what he writes or you going to think it's a complete waste of time. Me, I loved it. I loved it because it makes your mind twist and turn in directions it normally wouldn't. It makes you think about the world around us and how we react to it - either passively or actively.
Reality is if you are looking for a book that takes a nice linear line, where you never go "hang on, what the hell happened there!", where your characters always make sense and the story comes together in a nice, cohesive way, this is not the book for you.
It's also an incredibly hard book to review for all of those reasons. David Monroe on Goodreads summed it up beautifully for me. He said:

Much like any Neil Gaiman story, the devil is in the details, and you just have to resolve yourself to coming along for the ride or you'll miss it. It's not one story, or two, it's many, and it's all complete...and you have to just read it, and enjoy it, and accept it. Or just don't bother.

The devil is in the details and if you can give yourself over to just taking the journey Gaiman wants to take you on, it's fabulous. On the other hand, you could just not bother - it's completely up to you.

This book completes the Fantasy aspect of my 100 Best Books List challenge