27 April, 2015

Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

From GoodreadsWill Grayson meets Will Grayson. One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers are about to cross paths. From that moment on, their world will collide and Iives intertwine.
It's not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old - including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire - Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history's most awesome high school musical.

Thoughts: I did hear about this book way back in 2010 when it came out, although I heard more about David Levithan at that stage than John Green. I even read one of Levithan's books - Love is the Higher Law and really enjoyed it.
For me, the idea of two authors writing a book together is a thing of intrigue. I imagine it's a bit like team teaching with someone - it either works really well or is a total disaster! This and Good Omens and two that work very well. Pratchett and Gaiman said that they wrote Good Omens with a lot of emails and phone calls. I would love to see those emails, I think they would be hilarious. Similarly I think Green and Levithan's conversations about this book would be incredibly interesting.
For two writers who have fairly different writing styles, they choose a fairly safe path. Writing alternative chapters, each author writing the POV of one of the Will Grayson's. And for anyone who has read either of these authors, it wasn't hard to pick who was who.
Green's Will was, as many of Green's main characters are, intelligent, nerdy, but part of a really solid friendship with a few other slightly out of the box kids on the edge. They don't fit in, but they don't really want to so that is ok.  Levithan's Will is much darker - suffering from depression and self imposed isolation, the one friend he seems to have is basically a conniving bitch. Both have aspects that I think teens would identify with. Eventually their paths cross and they end up sharing a friendship with the hugely flamboyant and ridiculous Tiny. The book provides some truly hilarious moments,  ones where I found myself laughing out loud. It also has moments where your heart aches for Will Grayson (Both of them.)
I found Levithan's Will slightly harder to read for a couple of reasons. Obviously as a way to distinguish between the two Wills, Levithan's chapters are written completely in lower case. no capital letters at all, for anything. lower case i's, lower case names, everything. i hate it. if you are going to need to distinguish your text, do something like use italics, or a different font. Don't go abusing grammar! I read a review where someone said Levithan did it because his Will "is a lowercase person. His whole self image is what he projects in that space, and his one comfortable form of communication is when he's anonymous and sending instant messages." I'm sorry, I'm not buying it. I think Levithan managed to portray that about Will without making it difficult for an old fuddy duddy like me to read.  Which brings me to the second reason I think I found Levithan's Will hard to read - he was so raw. Will was suffering from depression - proper, true, there is nothing good about me,  I can't get out of bed without medication depression. And Levithan writes it so well. 
Will Grayson, Will Grayson is worth the read. In a market that is becoming increasingly saturated with substandard pulp fiction , Levithan and Green are making YA credible. 

Will Grayson, Will Grayson gets 4 stars!

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

25 April, 2015

Book Review: Skullduggery Pleasant

From Goodreads: Stephanie's uncle Gordon is a writer of horror fiction. But when he dies and leaves her his estate, Stephanie learns that while he may have written horror, it certainly wasn't fiction. Pursued by evil forces intent on recovering a mysterious key, Stephanie finds help from an unusual source - the wisecracking skeleton of a dead wizard.

Thoughts: The kids and I have been listening to this in the car. For various reasons, I haven't had all 3 children as frequently this term, with an almost 3 week break it became a bit fractured. I decided to go back and listen to the whole thing again, partly because after Anna Karenina I was struggling to settle to anything and partly because I wanted a clean run at it. The kids haven't finished it, but I have
I'm so glad I did. How bloody brilliant is this book! Intelligent, funny, amazing characters, fast paced story and fantastic dialogue - just like this:

"So you won't keep anything from me again?" 
He put his hand to his chest. "Cross my heart and hope to die." 
"Okay then. Though you don't actually have a heart," she said. 
"I know." 
"And technically, you've already died." 
"I know that too." 
"Just so we're clear."

I also think the narrator had a lot to do with how enjoyable this was. Rupert Degas has apparently received critical acclaim for his narration of Skullduggery Pleasant, and he truly deserves it. Just listen.

Although when I Googled him, he looks nothing like what I thought he would!

Skullduggery Pleasant is in the league of Harry Potter. It's a book that will get non readers reading and engage kids in some good quality writing.

The kids have just over an hour of audio left to listen to. I'm holding off downloading book two until they finish in the hope they are as eager as I am to continue the Skullduggery adventure. If not, I will go it alone!

Skullduggery Pleasant gets a well deserved 5 stars!

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

Book Review: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

From Goodreads: In The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel’s trademark gifts of penetrating characterization, unsparing eye, and rascally intelligence are once again fully on display.
Her classic wicked humor in each story—which range from a ghost story to a vampire story to near-memoir to mini-sagas of family and social fracture—brilliantly unsettles the reader in that unmistakably Mantel way. 
Mantel brutally and acutely writes about gender, marriage, class, family, and sex, cutting to the core of human experience. Unpredictable, diverse, and even shockingly unexpected, each story grabs you by the throat within a couple of sentences. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher displays a magnificent writer at the peak of her powers.

Thoughts: This is our book group read for May. I'm not really sure what to think. I didn't particularly enjoy any of the stories, but have the distinct feeling I missed something. I'm looking forward to our discussion on it in the hope the other members of my book group can shed some light.
At the moment though, I kind of feel like Mantel was trying to be too clever for her own good. Many of the stories seemed to go nowhere and say very little. In fact, only days after finishing the book, the only stories I can recall in any detail are Winter Break and the title story - The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. The stories were short, which was just as well since by the time I got to the end of them, I was ready to give up on them. The book itself if not long - only running to 300 pages all up. Hmm, will wait and see what the others say.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher  gets 2 stars

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

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

From Goodreads: Katherine V thought boys were gross
Katherine X just wanted to be friends
Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail
K-19 broke his heart 
When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.
On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

Thoughts: So having really enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, I approach any new John Green with excitement and fear. Excitement, because I'm anticipating another good book, fear because what if I'm disappointed.
I wasn't completely disappointed. In fact, if this had been the first John Green I'd read, I would have thought it was ok, but I wouldn't have rushed out to read his other books.
The characters in this just didn't really gel for me. Colin's best friend Hassan I found to be an annoying little twerp and Colin himself was only slightly better. In fact, although I know teenagers are a bit self-obsessed, Colin managed to take it to a whole new level.
And then there was the footnotes. Footnotes work in books if they add something to the story. Pratchett is a master at it. The footnotes in this were just distracting and stopped the flow of the story.
If you are a John Green fan, read it, but be prepared to finish it and just go hmmm.

An Abundance of Katherines gets 2 stars

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

Book Review: Anna Karenina

From GoodreadsLeo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky.
In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.

Thoughts: Yay!! I finished! All 38 hours done.  Now to try and review it.
I'm glad I chose to listen to this rather than read. Last year I had an aborted attempt to read Les Miserables, mainly because I struggled with the huge swathes of text that had nothing to do with the story. I found the same with this - pages on farming techniques and political processes that appeared to have little or nothing to do with the main story. However, listening to it seemed easier than reading it - maybe I should try listening to Les Miserables instead.
I find I have to constantly remind myself of the time and era books such as Anna Karenina were written and set in. In particular, I have to remind myself how different the world was for women and how devastating it could be for them to be left on their own. Leaving your husband also meant leaving any children and destroying any social standing you had.
None of the characters in the book really endeared themselves to me. The amount of time spent worrying about what others thought, or assuming what others thought frustrated me beyond belief. Second guessing your decisions constantly also annoyed me. Again, something I think I must accept as part of the time.
But what most probably confuses me the most about Anna Karenina is why it's named Anna Karenina. Her story is only part of the book, and Levin seems to be a much more central character.
In the end, I'm glad I've read (or at least listened to) it, if only to say I have. Would I choose to read it again? Most probably not. I will however, track down a movie version. Any recommendations?

Anna Karenina gets 2 stars

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

12 April, 2015

Book Review: Two Brothers

From GoodreadsTwo Brothers is a heartrending story of two boys growing up under the darkening shadow of the Nazis. Born in Berlin in 1920 and raised by the same parents, one boy is Jewish, his adopted brother is Aryan. At first, their origins are irrelevant. But as the political landscape changes they are forced to make decisions with horrifying consequences.

Thoughts: This is my book group read for the month and since book group is today I thought I should get the review up! I chose this book for the group and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.
This is not the normal book you would expect from Ben Elton. No satire, no playing it for laughs, this is straight down the line serious. And so it should be. The subject matter as always is confronting and almost unbelievable. 
Otto and Paulus are born on the same day as the German Socialist Workers Party, better known as the Nazi's. Through out the boys lives, Elton comments on what the Nazi party is doing at the same age. He takes attributes of that age and weaves it into the behaviour of the party, describing the party as  a squalling baby to start,a tantruming toddler at about 3 years old and a surly, psychopathic teenager.
The twins however are not biological. One has been adopted, although it's not until much later in the book you know which one. And just like the time it was set in, to start with it didn't really matter. 
Elton paints a picture of Germany between the wars and gives the reader a view into the state it was in when Hitler came to power. That background allows the reader to understand how the Nazi's came to power and how they were allowed to strip away the rights of a whole section of the community with little to no protest. 
The boys form a friendship with a the daughter of a wealthy Jewish business man and the daughter of their nanny/ maid. This group of four and how they survive the war years becomes the basis of the second half of the book. It was here that I really started to get into the book. Watching how it played out, how the situations of the four shifted and changed and how they worked together (mostly) to try and ensure they all survived. The characters were strong and believable. Dagmar and Silke's animosity as they both developed feelings for the boys and the boys total blindness to all but Dagmar. Dagmar herself was an interesting and complex character who turned out to be more than I thought.
Elton weaves all aspects of this story together, keeping it tight, right until the end. The end game is astounding and heartbreaking for many reasons. At the end you step back to take in the whole picture and see how clever Elton was.
As with any book about Nazi Germany, Two Brothers is confronting at times. I still believe it is so important we continue to read and write about this time - may it never happen again.

Two Brothers gets 4 stars

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

10 April, 2015

Book Review: Sweet Valley Confidential Ten Years Later

From GoodreadsNow with this striking new adult novel from author and creator Francine Pascal, millions of devoted fans can finally return to the idyllic Sweet Valley, home of the phenomenally successful book series and franchise. Iconic and beloved identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are back and all grown up, dealing with the complicated adult world of love, careers, betrayal, and sisterhood.  

Thoughts: When this came through the return chutes at work I knew I had to read it. I was a massive Sweet Valley High fan, although I never read the Sweet Valley University books. I also knew it would be cheesy, unbelievable and ridiculous. 
And it was, but it was fun! At no point did I expect anything else.  At the very end Pascal gives a potted history of all our favourite Sweet Valley characters and it's amazing how many people were "as cute as ever" or "had retained their good looks." Not surprisingly  everyone was still either stunningly gorgeous or at least cute.
The funniest thing about this book for me however was the reviews on Goodreads. The number of people who seem surprised at how bad it was. Really? Surely you realise you are reading pulp fiction from your teenage years. To complain about poor writing, unbelievable story lines and poor character development is ridiculous. As much as I loved the books as a pre teen/ teen, I know that's exactly what the original books were like. Any one who thought they would get anything more from them was delusional to begin with.

Ten Years Later gets 2 stars , with one being for the trip down memory lane.

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

04 April, 2015

March in Review

Well in terms of reading, my March was a lot better than February. Back in the groove and books I actually enjoyed. 

March stats:

Kindle - 1                                       Library - 5
Book - 6                                         Own - 2
Fiction - 5                                      Borrowed (non library)0
Non-fiction - 2

Female Author - 1                         New to Me Authors - 4
Male Author - 6
Australian Author - 2

I'm finding that working in libraries again means I reading a lot more library books and less Kindle. This is neither good nor bad, just is.

In March I completed 7 books - on par with January, a significant improvement on February.

My pick for this month would be either Looking for Alaska or The Virgin Suicides.

Our book group book for this month was The Rosie Project. I simply never got around to re-reading it and I was unable to go, choosing a night away with my husband instead. (sorry girls!). From what I hear the meeting went well and there was good discussion.

Hubby and I at Mt Tambourine.

Anna Karenina is still going in the car. By the end of March, I had listened to a further 53 chapters, taking me to the end of  chapter 210 of 238. That's 8:48:06 of listening time in March. A total of 34:06:27 total or around 90%. Hopefully April will see the end of it.

So that was March. I do need to pick it up a bit if I want to hit my target of 100 books this year. According to Goodreads I'm about 8 book behind schedule.

03 April, 2015

Book Review: Interesting Times

The oldest and most inscrutable empire on the Discworld is in turmoil, brought about by the revolutionary treatise What I did on My Holidays. Workers are uniting, with nothing to lose but their water buffaloes. Warlords are struggling for power. War (and Clancy) are spreading throughout the ancient cities.
And all that stands in the way of terrible doom for everyone is:
Rincewind the Wizard, who can't even spell the word 'wizard'...
Cohen the barbarian hero, five foot tall in his surgical sandals, who has had a lifetime's experience of not dying...
..and a very special butterfly.

Thoughts: With the recent passing of Terry Pratchett, it was impossible for me to not read one of his books. I really like this cartoon a Pratchett fan drew so thought a book that featured the luggage was particularly fitting.

Source: Asplenia Studios
Once again, Pratchett did not disappoint. A scheming warlord who wants to be Emperor, a band of ageing barbarians, Rincewind the wizard, the luggage and even a brief appearance by death towards the end. What more could you want from a Discworld novel? As always if you want to look beyond the bare basics of the novel, there is a lot of commentary about society and the silly way cultures have done and continue to do things simply because that's the way it's always to be done. Or you can just take it as a rolicking good read and find yourself sniggering at the funny bits on public transport!

Interesting Times gets 4 stars

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