28 October, 2015

Book Review: Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight

From Goodreads: Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight is two weeks in the life of Joel Hedges and Cat Davis. Joel would prefer to get through his final year of high school without Cat Davis or his mother's faux Spanish boyfriend and just hang-out with his best-friend Luke. Cat Davis has an annoying best-friend, and even more annoying little brother, and a deep abiding hatred of Joel Hedges.
Due to an unfortunate incident involving a leaking pen and suspected outbreak of Bird Flu, Joel and Cat are forced to sit next to each other in Extension English. To make matters worse, and to their mutual horror, they are paired together for a tandem story writing assignment. 

Thoughts: A tandem story about a tandem story! I am in awe of anyone who can write a good tandem story. I've read books where it worked really well like Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens, Green and Levithan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson and I've seen disasters like Picoult and van Leer's Between the Lines. Earls and Sparrow I am glad to report pulled it off with great aplomb! Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight is what good quality young adult fiction should be. It's fun, interesting, thought provoking, has a little bit of angst and laugh out loud funny.
For me, any good YA does have a bit of a moral/ education to it. Maybe it's the mum in me, maybe it's the teacher, or maybe it's just that I like books that give you that little bit extra than just pure entertainment. The real skill is presenting that information without hitting teens over the head with it, because, lets face it, we can't teach them anything! (Oh to be back in that time when I knew EVERYTHING!) The message in Joel and Cat can be summed up beautifully in this meme

Things are not always what they seem. The person who seems to have it all in reality most probably doesn't. It takes nothing to be kind and non-judgmental. You may find out something you never knew.

Joel and Cat Set the Record Straight gets 4 stars

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

20 October, 2015

Book Review: Brother of the More Famous Jack

From GoodreadsAsk today's favorite novelists what books influenced their writing and you'll hearBrother of the More Famous Jack again and again. Dog-eared copies of this long out-of-print novel are highly prized and shared enthusiastically in literary circles-its return to print is cause for celebration.
Stylish, suburban Katherine is eighteen when she is propelled into the heart of Professor Jacob Goldman's rambling home and his large eccentric family. As his enchanting yet sharp-tongued wife, Jane, gives birth to her sixth child, Katherine meets beautiful, sulky Roger and his volatile younger brother, Jonathan. Inevitable heartbreak sends her fleeing to Rome, but ten years later, older and wiser, she returns to find the Goldmans again.

Thoughts: This was our book group read for October. After I finished it, I though - meh - interesting, but nothing spectacular. Then I started to think about what I would say about it at book group and suddenly discovered the book had infiltrated me in a way I didn't expect. There was a lot more to it than I first thought. 
Trapido follows Katherine from a young, fairly innocent girl, through young love, heart break, years of discovering what she loves and a rediscovery of love and friendship. Like life itself, this book meanders along and the big events are not realised as big events until they are after. You know what I mean, the times when something happens and later on you look back and realise how momentous it was. Through the book you can hear Katherine's voice mature, her mature and grow. You can feel the effect events have had on her and the way she has had to deal with them build her into the person she is. I love her connection with Goldman's and the way they seem to need her just as much as she needs them. This book is full of surprising characters that speak to you more than you realise. At only 256 pages it's not a long read and one that I feel may be well worth revisiting.

Brother of the more Famous Jack gets 4 stars.

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

Book Review: The Complete Peanuts 1977 - 1978

From GoodreadsAs the 1970s wind down, the last two recurring Peanuts characters have fallen into place: Snoopy’s brother Spike and the youngest Van Pelt sibling,Rerun. But that doesn’t mean Schulz’s creativity has diminished; in fact, this volume features an amazing profusion of hilariously distinctive new one-(or two-) shot characters!For instance, in an epic five-week sequence, when Charlie Brown, found guilty by the EPA of biting the Kite-Eating tree, he goes on the lam and ends up coaching the “Goose Eggs,” a group of diminutive baseball players,Austin, Ruby, Leland, and—did you know there was a second black Peanuts character, aside from Franklin?—Milo. Also: a tennis-playing Snoopy ends up reluctantly teamed with the extreme Type “A” athlete Molly Volley... who then reappears later in the book, now facing off against her nemesis, “Crybaby” Boobie. (Honest!) Add in Sally’s new camp friend Eudora, the thuggish “caddymaster” who shoots down Peppermint Patty and Marcie’s new vocation, an entire hockey team, and a surprise repeat appearance by Linus’s sweetheart “Truffles” (creating a love triangle with Sally), all in addition to the usual cast of beloved characters (including the talking schoolhouse and the doghouse-jigsawing cat, who gets hold of Linus’s blanket in this one), and you’ve got a veritable crowd of characters. It’s another two years of the greatest comic strip of all time, full of laughs and surprises.

Thoughts: Another great two years of Charlie Brown and the gang. Some reviewers have said that they feel this is the beginning of the end of Peanuts - the strip was getting tired. I personally don't find that. It is changing, starting to reflect the societal trends - jogging and tennis feature as prominently as baseball - and take on a more mature vein of humour - less laugh out loud and more appreciative chuckle at a astute observation or realisation. I plan to take a break from Peanuts for a bit, but hopefully not too long!

The Complete Peanuts 1977 - 1978 gets 3 stars

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

09 October, 2015

Book Review: The Martian

From GoodreadsSix days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Thoughts: Last Thursday night, I reluctantly agreed to go to the movies to see The Martian. My husband assured me I would enjoy the movie, I wasn't so sure. It was AWESOME!! Easily the best movie I have seen in awhile. So like all good bibliophiles, my first thought was - need to read the book. It was even MORE AWESOME!!
Books and movies like this are fantastic because they make science so cool. It shows the power of intelligence and how being a scientist can take you to some amazing places where you can do amazing things. Also shows you how science can save your life. Like any fiction book, I'm sure there are scientific inaccuracies, but from everything I've read and the conversations I've had with my science nerd husband, it's pretty good.
Weir creates a character you really want to make it. Watney's diary can almost be read as a daily pep talk to himself - focus on the positive, solve the problems, get home. I also really liked Watney's slightly rebellious nature it doing things he knows NASA would not approve of, but also acknowledging how much easier it is with their input on the problem solving. I did find myself getting a bit frustrated with NASA, wanting them to realise this guy had managed to survive without them and maybe they should just give him a little leeway.
Weir is also excellent at weaving humour into the story.It helps that his main character is so up beat and a laugh-or-you'll-cry type of guy. I think if he'd gone the serious, we're all going to die doom and gloom route with the book it would not be any where near as successful. The humour stops the reader being fully immersed in the true horror of the situation and the seemingly insurmountable odds of survival.
If I had a criticism of the book it would be in regards to the secondary characters. They seemed a bit flat to me, not quite fully formed. Whether part of this was because Mark Watney was larger than life, or because there was no time or space to flesh them out I'm not quite sure. The reality also is a lot of people would be needed to work a mission like this and in the interest of keeping the book as real as possible, those people pop in and out of the earth side of the story.
The Martian is a great read. Even if you are not a big sci-fi fan, I'd suggest you get hold of this and give it a go. 

The Martian gets 5 stars

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

06 October, 2015

Wanda: The Untold Story of the Wanda Beach Murders

From BooktopiaOn an overcast, wind swept day in January 1965, two teenage girls were raped and murdered on an isolated beach in Sydney's southern suburbs. The discovery of their bodies the following day sparked a public outcry, media frenzy and one of the largest police investigations in Australian history. To this date the deaths of Christine Sharrock and Marianne Schmidt - notoriously know as the Wanda Beach Murders - remain unsolved and the story behind the crime has never been told. In this book Alan Whiticker re-creates the lead-up to the aftermath of the murders and provides a fascinating insight into the history, lives and fate of Christine and Marianne.

Thoughts: I use to be almost fanatical about books to do with murders - especially mass murderers, serial killers and unsolved murders. However, after awhile it became hard to find anything new, different. Anything that wasn't simply a rehash of stuff I'd read before. 
When this came through the returns chute a work it looked interesting enough for me to pick it up. It is one of those events carved into the psyche of many Australians. Two girls who were brutally murdered with no real trace of who committed the crime. 
The thing that most probably stood out for me in this is how far our law enforcement services have come in the processes they use. Everything they do now is so more precise and the equipment they have available a lot more accurate.
The book contains no explosive insights. What it does do is analyse the crime investigation and the media coverage of the murders. It looks at possible links to other murders and the suspects who came under the microscope.
Wanda is well written and keeps you turning the pages. As I said, nothing explosive, but well worth the read if true crime is a topic you are interested in.  

Wanda gets 3 stars

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

03 October, 2015

September in Review

Better reading month - 8 finishes. I'm still about 5 books behind schedule for 100 books this year, but it's not like it's life or death if I don't finish!

There was plenty on my plate this month. Amongst it was the chance to attend a book launch for Questionable Deeds, written by Michael Burge from the blog Burge Words. It was a great night at Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane. Listening to Michael talk about his journey with his partner Jono was incredibly moving. Questionable Deeds is my definite pick of the month for September and I urge you all to read it. I'm looking forward to reading more of Michael's work with Closet His, Closet Her and Pluck both on the Kindle ready to go.

The book launch also gave me the chance to do something I don't do a lot of any more - browse a bookshop! More often than not I buy my books for the Kindle and any hard copy I read comes from the library. This has encouraged me to add another part to my monthly review called looking forward, where I'll highlight what I hope to read in the next month, whether it be library, hard copy purchase or Kindle - but more about that later. First up, let's go with some September stats.

Kindle - 2                                   Library - 4
Book - 4                                      Own - 4
Audio - 1                                     Borrowed (non library) - 0
Graphic - 1

Fiction - 6                         
Non-fiction - 2

Female Author - 1                        New to Me Authors - 3
Male Author - 7
Australian Author - 1

As I said before, Questionable Deeds is my pick this month. A Game of You: Sandman Volume 5 is, for me, the best Sandman so far. I'm trying to cut down on my library list at the moment, so will wait a bit before I put the next volumes of Sandman and Peanuts on request.
Midnight's Children  by Salman Rushdie and Coin  Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami were both book group reads this month. There was also a third (we'd had trouble getting together recently so ended up having an extended lunch meeting and discussing all three books.)called The Swan Book by Alexis Wright but I simply could not get my head around it at all.
Only one audio this month - The Faceless Ones, the third in the Skulduggery Pleasant series. The ending of this was a definite hook into the fourth and I almost went there straight away, but instead have been indulging in some podcasts from This American Life and Richard Fidler's Conversation Hour

Looking Forward.
So what's next? As I said earlier, I have a few books I bought while at Michael Burge's book launch, including a new Tim Winton (be still my beating heart!). 

I actually bought Not Just Black and White for mum, but I'm hoping to read it before she gets here on the 13th. The bottom one is Shaun Tan's The Singing Bones, a book of his sculptures inspired by Grimms fairy tales.

Speaking of fairy tales, we had Kate Forsyth  visit the library I work at a little while ago and I was lucky enough to be able to listen. I also got to purchase a couple of her books and get her to sign them. I regret not getting a photo with her, will make sure I do next time!

Finally, there is my stack of library books. It's not too bad, but I do need to get through them as I can only renew them so many times!

The blurb on the back of The Jungle Dark says:

On 21 July 1969, 3 Platoon, A Company, 6 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment forced their way through the damp Vietnamese jungle on a patrol as part of Operation Mundingburra. With the insects biting and the humidity sapping their strength, the platoon established a safe harbour and listened as the news came across the radio: Neil Armstrong had become the first man on the moon. Moments later, their skipper, Platoon Commander Lieutenant Peter Hines, stepped on a mine and exploded in a maelstrom of dirt, smoke and blood.

Platoon Commander Lieutenant Peter Hines was my mother's cousin. She has spoken of him frequently and so when I happened to flip this over and read the blurb at work one day, I knew I had to read it. She herself was unaware of the book so she too will get to read it when she visits later this month.

As for the Kindle, September saw me buying Closet His, Closet Hers and Pluck, both by Michael Burge, Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapidio which is or October book group read and The Martian by Andy Weir which is what I am currently reading after seeing the movie on Thursday night. Great movie, highly recommend it. Really enjoying the book as well.

So that was my September and my plans for October. What's your month been like?

01 October, 2015

Book Review: Questionable Deeds

From GoodreadsOne random night in 2004, Michael Burge’s long-term partner, choreographer Jonathan Rosten, died suddenly while rehearsing a show. In the midst of the ensuing grief, Jono’s relatives started the secret and devastating process of disenfranchising Michael from his position as Jono’s next of kin.
With his name removed from Jono’s death certificate, Michael found himself unable to wrap-up his de-facto partner’s affairs; in a legal, ethical and financial ‘David and Goliath’ battle that was none of his making.
Exiled from his own life, facing grief, depression and suicidal thoughts, Michael eventually found the courage to fight back.
Along the way he came face-to-face with his own demons, and those of the generation that faced HIV/AIDS and the ensuing legislative no-man’s land which saw many de-facto couples disenfranchised by homophobic families.
Through asserting his right to grieve the loss of his partner, not only personally, but on a public and legislative level, Michael’s story offers a rarely heard, surprising and honest voice for all Australians dealing with loss.
Set against a country coming to terms with the human rights and responsibilities of same-sex equality, Questionable Deeds offers one man’s argument for marriage equality and why it’s a no-brainer for any 21st century nation.

Thoughts: I've long been a believer in same sex marriage. My attitude has always pretty much been one of love is love and therefore you should have the same rights, no matter who you love. After reading this book it becomes more than apparent why equal rights to marriage is not just desirable, it's essential. One little bit of paper, a bit of paper I have somewhere in my house and barely think about, would have saved Michael the grief of being made a non entity in his beloved husband's life on top of the grief of losing him. One. Piece. Of. Paper. 
Questionable Deeds is raw. Michael pulls no punches, hides nothing from the reader. His grief is devastating, leaking out of the pages as he struggles to understand what is happening and why. His anger is palpable, driven by his confusion about events he should have control of but doesn't. His skill in extrapolating his experience to the lives of those around him and his subsequent drive to make sure his story is not someone else's shows you the true measure of this man.
The attitude and actions of Jono's mother and brother astound me. Try as I might, I cannot wrap my mind around why you would want to deny such a large part of your child's life. I struggle to understand people who feel that a gay child is a failure - either of the child or the parent. A child who has no compassion, no empathy - that is a failure. A child who meets and builds a life with someone they love - that is a success. Michael is a bigger person than me as he at least tries to understand Jono's mum's point of view and actions. His final decision in how to end the impasse amazing.
I'm lucky enough to know Michael. We live in the same community and have had a handful of conversations and interactions which have been thought provoking and insightful. It's always a bit daunting  reviewing a friend's work, but  reading Questionable Deeds was a great privilege and has simply confirmed for me the principled person Michael is.
Questionable Deeds should be read by anyone who has any doubts as to the importance of same sex marriage. The existing laws are not enough - they didn't help Michael. One piece of paper that hurts no one, but could save someone from an incredible amount of pain is all we need.

Questionable Deeds gets 5 stars.

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

Book Review: The Complete Peanuts 1973 - 1974 & The Complete Peanuts 1975 - 1976

From GoodreadsThe twelfth volume of Peanuts features a number of tennis strips and several extended sequences involving Peppermint Patty’s friend Marcie (including a riotous, rarely seen sequence in which Marcie’s costume-making and hairstyling skills utterly spoil a skating competition for PP), so it seems only right that this volume’s introduction should be served up by Schulz’s longtime friend, tennis champion Billie Jean King. This volume also picks up on a few loose threads from the previous year, as the mysterious “Poochie” shows up in the flesh; Linus and Lucy’s new kid brother “Rerun” makes his first appearance, is almost immediately drafted onto the baseball team (where, thanks to his tiny strike zone, he wins a game), and embarks on his first terrifying journey on the back of his mom’s bike; and, in one of Peanuts’ oddest recurring storylines, the schoolhouse Sally used to talk to starts talking, or at least thinking, back at her! The Complete Peanuts 1973-1974 also includes one of the all-time classic Peanuts sequences, in which Charlie Brown’s baseball-oriented hallucinations finally manifest themselves in a baseball-shaped rash on his head. Forced to conceal the embarrassing discoloration with a bag worn over his head, Charlie Brown goes to camp as “Mister Sack” and discovers that, shorn of his identity, he’s suddenly well liked and successful.
From GoodreadsThat’s right! With this volume, The Complete Peanuts reaches the halfway point of Charles M. Schulz’s astounding half-century run on the greatest comic strip of all time. These years are especially fecund in terms of new canine characters, as Snoopy is joined by his wandering brother Spike (from Needles), his beloved sister Belle (from Kansas City), and... did you know he had a nephew? In other beagle news, Snoopy breaks his foot and spends six weeks in a cast, deals with his friend Woodstock’s case of the “the vapors,” and gets involved in a heated love triangle with Linus over the girl “Truffles.” The Complete Peanuts 1975-1976 features several other long stories, including a rare “double track” sequence with two parallel narratives: Peppermint Patty and Snoopy travel to participate in the Powderpuff Derby, while Charlie Brown finally gets to meet his idol Joe Shlabotnik. And Peppermint Patty switches to a private school, but commits the mistake of allowing Snoopy to pick it for her; only after graduation does she realize something’s not quite right!Plus: A burglary at Peppermint Patty’s house is exacerbated by waterbed problems... Marcie acquires an unwanted suitor... Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty become desk partners... The talking school building collapses... Lots of tennis jokes... and gags starring Schroeder, Lucy, Franklin, Rerun, Sally, and that vicious cat next door. It’s another two years of Peanuts at its finest! Featuring an introduction by comedian Robert Smigel .
Thoughts: 1975 - 1976 marks the half way point of this series of books. Sad to think we are on the downhill run. I continue to enjoy this series, especially as viewing it through the eyes of an adult is completely different from seeing as a child. My heart breaks for Peppermint Patty - no child should be made to think they are stupid. I love Linus' continued devotion to his blanket. Lucy's certainty that her and Schroeder are meant to be together and Schroeder's equal certainty that they're not. Best of all, I like the way they all work their way through the year, never getting up, sure that this year will be their year.
The Complete Peanuts 1973 - 1974 and 1975 - 1976 both get 4 stars.
 *        Did not like it
**       It was OK
***      Liked it
****    Really liked it
*****   It was amazing