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.