31 March, 2015

Book Review: Gough Whitlam: A Tribute

From ABC ShopAn all new photographic tribute to a giant of Australian politics.
When Gough Whitlam died on 21 October 2014, his legacy to the Australian people was a nation transformed. With all royalties going to the Whitlam Institute, this tribute traces his extraordinary life through the photographers' lens from his childhood and meeting his great love Margaret, to the soaring successes and shattering defeats of his political life and his ongoing enthusiasm for the great cause of a fairer, more mature Australia.

Thoughts: This was a chance find. It simply came through the return chute at work and it appealed to me. I grew up in a very left wing house. Not surprisingly then, my own politics have a strong left lean to them. While I don't have a living memory of Gough Whitlam as Australia's Prime Minister (I was three when he uttered those immortal words, "Well may we say God Save the Queen, for nothing will save the Governor General!) my mother was a staunch supporter of him. My sister benefited from his belief that education was a right, not a privilege and studied her university degree under the no fee system introduced by the Whitlam government. Like or hate him, you have to admit the man had presence and his career will be forever talked about by both sides.
Each of the pictures in the book had a commentary about it - what it was, when it was taken and the significance of it - whether it was a family photo or Whitlam meeting international heads of state. It is unashamedly pro Whitlam. It focuses on his strengths, his desire to bring about radical change and his role as one of the first in government to lever the press in his favour.
If you want a snap shot of Whitlam, his life in and out of politics, you could do worse than this book. As for me, it has feed a desire to read something more in depth about this great man.

Gough Whitlam: A Tribute gets 3 stars 

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing

29 March, 2015

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility

From GoodreadsFrom one of the most insightful chroniclers of family life working in fiction today comes a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen's classic novel of love, money, and two very different sisters
John Dashwood promised his dying father that he would take care of his half sisters. But his wife, Fanny, has no desire to share their newly inherited estate with Belle Dashwood's daughters. When she descends upon Norland Park with her Romanian nanny and her mood boards, the three Dashwood girls-Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret-are suddenly faced with the cruelties of life without their father, their home, or their money.
As they come to terms with life without the status of their country house, the protection of the family name, or the comfort of an inheritance, Elinor and Marianne are confronted by the cold hard reality of a world where people's attitudes can change as drastically as their circumstances.
With her sparkling wit, Joanna Trollope casts a clever, satirical eye on the tales of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Reimagining Sense and Sensibility in a fresh, modern new light, she spins the novel's romance, bonnets, and betrothals into a wonderfully witty coming-of-age story about the stuff that really makes the world go around. For when it comes to money, some things never change. . . .

Thoughts: "The Austen Project is a major new series of six novels teaming up authors of global literary significance with Jane Austen's six completed works." (Source: The Austen Project)
Those who have read my blog for awhile know that I am relatively new to Austen. I find the classics hard going, but think I may have finally cracked them. To date I have read Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Dare I say that I've even enjoyed them! So when I heard about the Austen Project I was fairly sure I'd give them a go at some point.
Working in a library has it's advantages. When I spotted Joanna Trollope's Sense and Sensibility on an overloaded shelf, right where I needed to put a book, it seemed like the universe telling me now was the time. So I borrowed it.
I've never read Trollope before so I can't compare this to her other works. What I can say is this had the potential to be a complete and utter mess and it wasn't. It wasn't brilliant either, but I think Trollope made the best of a difficult situation. To take the story set in Austen's era where women really had few if any marketable skills and your best hope was to land a good husband and translate it to today was never going to be easy. It's difficult to swallow that a household of 4 women (or 3 women and a teenager) today would find they had no skills or prospects. And that I think is where this book struggled. A good love story is a good love story no matter when it's set. Trying to stick to the original premise that a good marriage was Elinor and Marianne's only hope was a little harder to sell. 
Many of the reviews I've seen of this have panned the book, and I can understand why. I enjoyed it and found it interesting to compare to the original. However it had definite short comings. Read it if you wish, but if you are an Austen purist, prepare to be disappointed.

Sense and Sensibility  gets 2 stars 

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing

19 March, 2015

Book Review: Carry A Big Stick

I have this fabulous friend called Jodie. 
Me and my friend Jodes

I mentioned her in my February round up post.  Earlier this year she decided to give up alcohol for the month of February to raise money for a friend of hers who has Multiple Sclerosis and wants to go to Russia for treatment. Jodie had never blogged before, but with some encouragement from another friend, started. I loved her blog from the start - she was funny, interesting and willing to bare her soul. She was worried about blogging every day, worried she'd run out of things to say, so I offered to do a guest post. Then on February 19 the unthinkable happened and Jodie's husband Adam, the father of their two beautiful boys passed away. Blogging stopped for Jodie, for me reading stopped. But eventually she started writing again, being incredibly brave in sharing her grief and journey on this darkest of roads. A couple of days ago I asked her if she still wanted a guest post from me - Tim Ferguson's book Carry A Big Stick: A Funny, Fearless Life of Friendship, Laughter and MS.

Goodreads blurb

She said yes, so I did and now it's up on her blog. You can read it here at Over The Rim of my Glass. While you're there, I strongly suggest you stick around and read more of her posts. Then, if you could, I'd love it if you could pop over to this Gofundme page and help us reach the target of $20 000 for Jodie and the boys. (we are oh-so-close). 

Team Bowden.

Book Review: The Virgin Suicides

From Goodreads: The haunting, humorous and tender story of the brief lives of the five entrancing Lisbon sisters, The Virgin Suicides, now a major film, is Jeffrey Eugenides' classic debut novel.
The shocking thing about the girls was how nearly normal they seemed when their mother let them out for the one and only date of their lives. Twenty years on, their enigmatic personalities are embalmed in the memories of the boys who worshipped them and who now recall their shared adolescence: the brassiere draped over a crucifix belonging to the promiscuous Lux; the sisters' breathtaking appearance on the night of the dance; and the sultry, sleepy street across which they watched a family disintegrate and fragile lives disappear.

Thoughts: "On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide - it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese - the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope."

As opening sentences go, I think this is one of the best I've ever read. But in the end, the book is not so much about the girls as it is about the effect of the girls on those around them. Told from the point of view of one of the neighbourhood boys who desperately wanted to know the girls better, 20 years after the events, the reader, like the narrator is never fully in the picture of what is going on. Instead we are standing on the outside, looking in, trying to make connections, trying to be a part of their lives and feeling helpless as it all falls apart around us. The Virgin Suicides is a metaphor lovers wet dream - the demise of the girls, the demise of their house, the demise of the neighbourhood, the demise of middle class America. It's all there. Commentary on teen suicide and it's rise is an obvious, but important theme, although there is a slightly disparaging tone as you feel the focus on suicide by the media and schools is simply an effort to appear to be concerned without offering any real solutions - an attempt to look like you're doing something while actually having no idea what you should do.
Once again Eugenides writing has me believing I was reading the recollection of someone who many years on was still trying to make sense of it all. You  could imagine sitting with the narrator at a bar as he told you this sad and desperate tale, realising the lasting effect it had on him and the others who grew up within the orbit of the girls. I find his writing captivating. Not a word is wasted or misplaced. Another writer I will definitely read more of.

The Virgin Suicides gets 4 stars

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing


Book Review: Looking for Alaska

From Goodreads: A deeply affecting coming-of-age story, Looking for Alaska traces the journey of Miles Halter, a misfit Florida teenager who leaves the safety of home for a boarding school in Alabama and a chance to explore the "Great Perhaps." Debut novelist and NPR commentator Green perfectly captures the intensity of feeling and despair that defines adolescence in this hip, shocking, and emotionally charged work of fiction.
Miles has a quirky interest in famous people's last words, especially Fran├žois Rabelais's final statement, "I go to seek a Great Perhaps." Determined not to wait for death to begin a similar quest, Miles convinces his parents to let him leave home. Once settled at Culver Creek Preparatory School, he befriends a couple of equally gifted outcasts: his roommate Chip―commonly known as the Colonel—who has a predilection for memorizing long, alphabetical lists for fun; and the beautiful and unpredictable Alaska, whom Miles comes to adore.
The kids grow closer as they make their way through a school year filled with contraband, tests, pranks, breakups, and revelations about family and life. But as the story hurtles toward its shattering climax, chapter headings like "forty-six days before" and "the last day" portend a tragic event―one that will change Miles forever and lead him to new conclusions about the value of his cherished "Great Perhaps."

Thoughts: Like many people, I fell in love with John Green's writing through The Fault in Our Stars. Looking for Alaska was his first book and while not quite the power house The Fault in Our Stars is, it still packs a punch. 
Green takes you and places you in the teenage world and makes you see what is possible. Sure, the characters a little bit unbelievable, but if you took normal teenagers and put them in a book, it wouldn't be that interesting. Your characters need to be outside of what we think teenagers are for a couple of reasons. First it reminds readers that societal stereotypes are just that - stereotypes. And while there are those who fit that picture perfectly, there are also those who don't. There are teenagers who appear wise beyond their years, who read and comprehend above their age group, who think deeply and feel differently to others. There are those that form strong, dynamic, once in a life time friendships. In fact there are most probably more of those than we realise. Secondly I believe it shows teens what is possible - that they don't have to fit the stereotypes set by society, that they can and do have extraordinary events happen and the way they react to them is not the same as everyone else and that's OK.
As with TFIOS, it was fairly obvious what was going to happen. The beauty in the book is how the reader is lead to the pivotal point and the journey the characters go on after it. While I never found myself sobbing in this book, I felt for the characters and their pain - the pain of loss, of grief and guilt. Given the runaway success of the screen adaptation of TFIOS, I'm not surprised to here that this too is likely to be made into a movie. I've already put Green's next book An Abundance of Katherines on hold at the library. Hopefully I will continue to be impressed.

Looking for Alaska gets 4 stars

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing

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13 March, 2015

Book Review: The Bat

From Goodreads: Harry Hole is sent to Sydney to investigate the murder of Inger Holter, a young Norwegian girl, who was working in a bar. Initially sidelined as an outsider, Harry becomes central to the Australian police investigation when they start to notice a number of unsolved rape and murder cases around the country. The victims were usually young blondes. Inger had a number of admirers, each with his own share of secrets, but there is no obvious suspect, and the pattern of the other crimes seems impossible to crack. Then a circus performer is brutally murdered followed by yet another young woman. Harry is in a race against time to stop highly intelligent killer, who is bent on total destruction.

Thoughts: Quite awhile a go, a friend of mine who is a prolific reader suggested Nesbo to me. As we most people who read a lot, a have a huge to read list so filed away the suggestion as something I would get to some day. The other week I was shelving at work (I work in a library) and came across two copies of The Bat on the shelves. The shelves were stuffed full and I needed a space. Obviously the solution was for me to take and borrow one of the copies - so I did.
Here's the thing about me - if it's a series of books, I must read them in order. It is rare and hard for me to break this rule. So despite the fact I have seen many Nesbo books around, I had to start with this one - it's the rules.
I enjoyed it. I found it incredibly interesting that at times Nesbo had a better understanding of Australian indigenous/ non indigenous history than a lot of Australians do. The story moved at a good pace, the solution wasn't too obvious and the character were well formed. I won't promise I'll get to the next one any quicker than I got to this one, but  I will get to it.

The Bat gets 3 stars

 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing

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11 March, 2015

February in Review

So my February review is a little late. February has not been a good reading month for a couple of reasons. The first is I started a new job which has cut back my available reading time. No major problem, it just is. The second reason has a had a huge impact on my life and to be truthful, has been devastating.

On February 19 my husband rang me at work to tell me that one my best friend's husband had died - suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically. Adam's passing has left a huge hole in the life of my friend, Jodie and her two boys. Our families are close - very close. Losing Adam has been like losing a brother for myself and my husband, an uncle for my kids.
Adam doing something he loved.

Jodie started blogging at the beginning of February as part of her alcohol free month, aimed at raising money for a friend of hers with MS. She has continued to blog her journey after the loss of Adam so you can read about her and her wonderful family here at Over the Rim of my Glass. There is also a GoFund me page to help Jodie and her boys here. If you want, or able to, please donate to either her cause, or her friend Mary's cause.
For about two weeks after Adam's death I could not read. Just couldn't focus or settle on anything. The last week has seen my reading mojo start to return, so lets look at the reading aspect of February.

First, some stats.

Kindle - 1                                       Library - 2
Book - 2                                         Own - 1
Fiction - 2                                      Borrowed (non library) - 0
Non-fiction - 1

Female Author - 2                         New to Me Authors - 2
Male Author - 1
Australian Author - 

In February I completed 3 books.

Yep, that's it, three. My pick for the month would be Bones Never Lie.

Our book group book for this month was Self-Made Man. To say I didn't like it is an understatement and it scored my first one star for the year. It did provide some good discussion though.

Anna Karenina is still going in the car. As of today, I have listened a further 77 chapters, taking me to the end of chapter 156 of 238. That's 12:48:21 of listening time since the end of January. Added to January's total, that is 25:18:21 total or just short of 67% - I'm getting there!

That's my February. How was yours? What were your picks for the month? Hopefully my March will be better.

Book Review: Lolita

From Goodreads: Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, whom he'll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? ...Or is he all of these?

Thoughts: I wanted to read this after I read Tampa late last year. Given they are both deal with paedophilia, I suppose the comparisons were inevitable. For me however, they are both very different books. In Tampa Celeste is very deliberate and up front about her seduction of the boys. She sets out to trap them and use them for her own satisfaction.In Lolita, Humbert Humbert places the blame with Lolita. As far as he is concerned,what he is doing is not his fault -she seduced him and really society should take that into account.
The subject of both books is abhorrent - and notice I call the subject abhorrent, not the book themselves. As uncomfortable and distasteful the subject matter is, I feel books like this are important. Both give a window into the minds of the abusers, both cause us to question, debate, think about a subject we would rather wish didn't exist at all. Not surprisingly, it features frequently in lists of banned books world wide.
Reading Lolita is uncomfortable. HH's romanisation of his relationship with Dolores, (who he calls Lolita) should not sit well with any reasonable person. His increasingly desperate attempts to keep her away from others and to protect their "relationship" is testament to his depravity.
I'm glad I read it. I don't feel you have the right to comment on a book if you have never taken the time to read it. I didn't find it easy to read, and not just because of the subject matter. I didn't enjoy Nabokov's writing at all. While many reviews rave about the writing, his word play and flow, I just didn't get it. I found he took 20 words to describe something he could have described in 10. At times I found it hard to follow, difficult to know who was talking and exactly what was going on. Glad a read it, unlikely to ever read again. Would I recommend it? Absolutely, if for no other reason to than to say you have and be able to offer a true, considered opinion.

Lolita gets 2 stars from me.

        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing

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