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

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.