01 September, 2015

Book Review: Fox Evil

From GoodreadsWhen elderly Ailsa Lockyer-Fox is found dead in her garden, dressed only in nightclothes and with bloodstains on the ground near her body, the finger of suspicion points at her wealthy husband, Colonel James Lockyer-Fox. A coroner's investigation deems it death by natural causes, but the gossip surrounding James refuses to go away. 
Friendless and alone, James and his reclusive behavior begins to alarm his attorney, whose concern deepens when he discovers that his client has become the victim of a relentless campaign accusing him of far worse than the death of his wife. James is unwilling to fight the allegations, choosing instead to devote his energies to a desperate search for the illegitimate granddaughter who may prove his savior as he battles for his name-and his life.

Thoughts: It's rare to find a crime writer who doesn't seem to end up repeating themselves. Minette Walters is one of that rare breed. I think the fact she doesn't write a series with reoccuring characters has a lot to do with it. Her books are stand alones which allows focus on the events in that story rather than getting intertwined with history from previous cases. I also like the fact that she tells her tales from third person point of view. In a crime novel it feels more objective, like you are an observer and are not having what you see tainted by only one persons view.
As with many of her books, Minette Walters has a whole raft of characters you need to keep track of. Some are highly important, some not so much. Half the challenge is working out who you need to keep tabs on and who you can let go. I know some readers find this distracting and difficult, but I love the complexity it adds to the story. As a British writer Walters also uses the psychological aspect of the crime to drive the story a lot more than the non stop action you get in American crime novels. For me it makes the story more complex, more compelling and a lot less formulaic. Walters is an author I need to remember the next time I hit a reading rut. The holes her characters dig for themselves only serve to lift me out of mine.

Fox Evil gets 4 stars

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

Book Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods

From GoodreadsA rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn't had the easiest childhood. 
But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count. 
So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he's fairly sure he's done the right thing ...
Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.

Thoughts: OK, so now I want to read Kurt Vonnegut. This is a bit of an issue because usually when I read a book because I read about it in another book I end up sorely disappointed. I don't get it the way the characters do and really, that's just disappointing. But apart from that, I loved this book. Alex is an extraordinary boy. He is intelligent, puzzled by the way the school world works, (why can't others see the value of knowledge??), wise beyond his years in some ways and incredibly naive in others.
Alex's voice in this book keeps it from becoming a rather depressing, maudlin book. His matter of a fact way of looking at things, at analysising the situation stops you from dwelling on the sadness in the book. That's not to say Alex is emotionless, he isn't, he is just able to reason why he is feeling the way he does and accept it.
Any time you get a friendship between an older character and a younger one in a book I feel you have to tread carefully. Extence manages to make the friendship between Mr Peterson and Alex one of equals, but not straight away. Each character stays true to themselves - Alex has to prove himself before Mr Peterson allows him to be anything other than the kid who comes and helps him. It starts as a student/ teacher, mentor type relationship and grows to one of equals. The best bit is the reader doesn't even realise it's happening, it just suddenly occurs to you the friendship has grown and matured.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods takes you in unexpected directions - but that is good. It challenges you to think outside the box, explore your reactions and those around you. It's another read that is easily labelled quirky and for me falls into the same category as A Man Called Ove and The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared - left of centre, guaranteed to induce an emotional response and force you to re-examine certain aspects of your life and beliefs.
I listened to this as an audio book narrated by Joe Thomas. It took me awhile to get use to his voice, but in the end it truly suited the character of Alex. Not emotionless, but restrained and logical.

The Universe Versus Alex Wood gets 4 stars

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

23 August, 2015

Book Review: Season of Mists - Sandman Volume 4

From GoodreadsVolume Four of New York Times best selling author Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed creation, with updated coloring and new trade dress.Ten thousand years ago, Morpheus condemned a woman who loved him to Hell. Now the other members of his immortal family, The Endless, have convinced the Dream King that this was an injustice. To make it right, Morpheus must return to Hell to rescue his banished love — and Hell’s ruler, the fallen angel Lucifer, has already sworn to destroy him. 

Thoughts: So have you ever wondered what would happen if Lucifer decided to abdicate his throne in Hell? Not only abdicate, but evict everyone and close the doors? Welcome to the Season of Mists, where Lucifer has left the building and handed the keys to Morpheus. What follows is the story of the other deities and entities who believe they should be given the keys. They all arrive at the Dream Castle to try and convince (bribe, threaten, cajole)  Morpheus to hand over the keys to, in the words of Morpheus sister, Death, "The most desirable plot of psychic real estate in the whole order of created things." 
One of Gaiman's strengths is he makes it completely believable that Odin, the Trickster , Faeries, Demons, a Japanese deity, Bast and Anubis, and angels would all want the keys and sit down to a banquet together to petition the lord of dreams to hand them over. Can you think of many writers who can gather such a stellar cast of big characters and make it work? Gaiman does, and all in a graphic novel format where he has to trust the artists to flesh out his words. And that in itself is a good point to make about these books - there are so many more people involved than just Gaiman. Yes, he gives it a great framework to build on with an excellent story line, but the illustrators, letterers and colourists all contribute to make it the excellent production it is. Once again, well worth the read.

Season of Mists gets 4 stars

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

*****   It was amazing

Book Review: The Wonder Lover

From Goodreads: "The compartments in our father's life were not the separations he needed to build to preserve his sanity. They were his sanity. When he fell in love... when he fell to the abjection he deserved, the walls began dissolving. And once the walls came down between all three, or now four, of his lives, so did every other retaining wall - between past and present, present and future, self- and non-self, dream and wakefulness. The walls were his sanity. Love had driven him mad."

This is the story of John Wonder, a man with three families, each one kept secret from the other, each one containing two children, a boy and a girl, each called Adam and Evie. 
As he travels from family to family in different cities, he works as an Authenticator, verifying world records, confirming facts, setting things straight, while his own life is a teetering tower of breathtaking lies and betrayals.

Thoughts: In a move to get me out of a reading slump I borrowed three "fastbacks" from the library. A fastback is a 7 day, non renewable loan of high rotation, high interest books. I picked this for no other reason than it looked interesting and it was.
I'm always fascinated by people who live multiple lives. The amount of energy and planning that must go into it is huge! John is exceptionally good at compartmentalising his life into the three separate families he has. To be truthful, he never planned to have three families, it just kind of happened. He has managed to convince himself that maintaining 3 is kinder than breaking up 2, although I'm sure at times he doesn't believe his own rational. To add a fourth relationship into the mix can only spell disaster for an already stretched timetable.
The narrator of the story is one of John's six children talking for all, or all 6 depending on how you look at it. The term "our mother"is used for all three women and thankfully is followed by the name of the mother in question. However, the children and even the wives to an extent, remain shadowy figures in the background of this story. Plausible explanations are given for how each of them believe John's stories of why he is away 2 weeks out of 3 and you even get the feeling he has fallen for women who don't question it too much because they actually prefer it that way.
The book started really strongly for me. I was intrigued, interested and eager to read more. However some where along the line it seemed to loose direction and purpose. It started to meander and I became unsure of the point of the book. In the end it just petered out and left me feeling rather unsatisfied. It has however, seemed to reignite my desire to read. I finished it and immediately picked up something else - something I haven't done for quite awhile.

The Wonder Lover gets 3 stars

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

20 August, 2015

Book Review: Inside The O'Briens

From Goodreads: From award-winning, New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova comes a powerful new novel that does for Huntington’s Disease what her debut Still Alice did for Alzheimer’s.
Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.
Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?
As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.
Praised for writing that “explores the resilience of the human spirit” (The San Francisco Chronicle), Lisa Genova has once again delivered a novel as powerful and unforgettable as the human insights at its core.

Thoughts: I must admit I was wondering how indepth Lisa Genova's research for this book had been. It appeared to be fairly detailed and she came across as being pretty knowledgeable about Huntington's Disease - so really not that surprised to find out she's a neuroscientist.
I listened to this as an audio book and loved it. A bit slow to start with, I found it really picked up once Joe received his diagnosis and Katie's story came more into play. I liked how Genova concentrated on Joe and Katie rather than trying to tell the story of all four of the kids. While I'm sure the other three, JJ, Meghan and Patrick, all have interesting stories in their own right, but by limiting it to just Katie you didn't feel overwhelmed.
This book raises so many questions for the reader about their own life. If you could know the approximate timing of your death, would you find out? Is there a point to finding out if there is no treatment? How would knowing or not knowing change the way you live your life?
Genova takes an ordinary family dealing with ordinary things - grown kids, work, money concerns,  - the same stuff we all deal with day to day. Into this family she drops a bombshell and then follows the shockwaves as they radiate out and touch others around them. The strength of this book for me lies in her ability to paint a family I can believe in. I can identify with how Joe's kids feel, how his wife feels, even with how he feels. I get frustrated with things they do or say, just like I would with my own family. I cried at their heart breaks and cheered at their triumphs. In short, the O'Briens became my friends and despite the fact they are fictional characters, I found myself sending them love to help them through their journey. Regardless of the outcome, I know those who survive will be ok.

Inside the O'Briens gets 4 stars

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

July in Review

I've hit a bit of a reading slump at the moment - nothing appeals, nothing inspires. Anyway, it's flowed to my blog obviously and it's taken me awhile to get motivated and get my July in review up.

Stats for July

Kindle - 3                                    Library - 4
Book - 3                                      Own -4
Audio - 1                                     Borrowed (non library) - 0
Fiction - 7                             
Non-fiction - 1

Female Author - 1                        New to Me Authors - 2
Male Author - 7
Australian Author - 0

Big graphic novel/ comic strip month. Reading slump.

Pick of the month would easily be All The Light We Cannot See.  Beautifully written and moving. If you are interested in WWII fiction, I highly recommend it. I was a little disappointed with Buy Me The Sky, interesting subject, but just lacked something.
Book group Coin Locker Babies and I am still working on it. I missed the discussion as the kids had a trampoline competition!

Skullduggery  was the only audio book for the month and I continue to recommend this series. Audio seems to be the only thing firing for me at the moment and I am close to finishing my second one for August.

So I continue. I'm struggling with August's book group book as well. I'm dipping into a lot of different things in an attempt to fire my reading mojo again. I think it's working. Anyone got any - you absolutely have to read this ideas for me?

How was your July?

18 August, 2015

Book Review: The Complete Peanuts 1971 - 1972

From GoodreadsPeanuts surges into the 1970s with Schulz at the peak of his powers and influence: a few jokes about Bob Dylan, Women’s Liberation and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex” (!)aside, these two years are as timeless as Peanuts ever was.
Sally Brown—school phobia, malapropisms, unrequited love for Linus and all—elbows her way to center stage, at least among the humans, and is thus the logical choice for cover girl... and in her honor, the introduction is provided by none other than Broadway, television and film star Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked, Pushing Daisies), who first rose to Tony-winning fame with her scene-stealing performance as Sally inYou’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Two long Summer-camp sequences involve Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty, who has decided that Charlie Brown is madly in love with her, much to his clueless confusion. Snoopy shows up at camp as well, as does Peppermint Patty’s new permanent sidekick, the one and only Marcie.
The eternally mutable Snoopy mostly shakes off his World War I Flying Ace identity and turns into Joe Cool, college hipster extraordinaire. And in three long sequences he writes a fan letter to his favorite author, Miss Helen Sweetstory, then goes on a journey to meet her, and finally enlists Charlie Brown’s help when her latest opus, The Six Bunny-Wunnies Freak Out, falls afoul of censors.
Also, Woodstock attends worm school, falls in love with a worm (perhaps the most doomed unrequited Peanuts love story ever!), and is nearly eaten by the neighbors’ cat... Peppermint Patty is put on trial for another dress code violation and makes a very ill-advised choice in terms of lawyers... Snoopy turns Linus’s blanket into not one but two sportcoats... Lucy hits a home run...and the birth of one Rerun Van Pelt!

Thoughts: During reading slumps it's good to turn to something warm and comfortable - like Peanuts. I've been struggling to find anything that's truly engaging me recently. Peanuts is my safety blanket. A reminder to keep going even when the chips are down. Friends turn up in unexpected places and just occasionally you get a win.

The Complete Peanuts 1971-1972 gets 3 stars

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