12 August, 2014

Book Review: The Bone Collector

From Goodreads: Lincoln Rhyme was once a brilliant criminologist, a genius in the field of forensics -- until an accident left him physically and emotionally shattered. But now a diabolical killer is challenging Rhyme to a terrifying and ingenious duel of wits. With police detective Amelia Sachs by his side, Rhyme must follow a labyrinth of clues that reaches back to a dark chapter in New York City's past -- and reach further into the darkness of the mind of a madman who won't stop until he has stripped life down to the bone.

Thoughts: A couple of posts back I was lamenting the difficulty in finding a new crime author to sink my teeth into. I love a good crime series, something I can return to and catch up with the same characters. I love Val McDermid's Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, I've read all the Kathy Reichs Temperance Brennan series and while not a series, I devour Minette Walters
I knew about Jeffery Deaver's  Lincoln Rhyme series, I've even read The Bone Collector before, a long time ago and thought maybe this is what I was looking for - and I was right!
What I want more than anything in a crime novel is the need to keep turning the page - to have to know what happens next and Deaver delivers in spades. I am now eager to see how Rhyme and Sachs develop, how their relationship grows and changes. 
Reading this straight after reading Minette Walter's Acid Row also has lead me to reflect on the differences between American and British crime fiction. Straight up, I cannot remember ever reading any American crime fiction that does not have a least one (if not multiple) deaths by gun shot. The gun culture in America is so entrenched I'm not sure an American crime novel without guns would be believable. Body counts in American novels also tend to be higher, with the deaths usually more violent. I also find American crime novels are more action based - car chases, chaotic crime scenes. The British tend to deal more with suspense and analysis. I'm not saying one is better than the other - both can be equally good and bad - but I do find it interesting that I find it a lot harder to find an American series that sustains my interest. Hopefully I have found it in Lincoln Rhyme series.

Book Review: Acid Row

From Goodreads: Acid Row - a no-man's land where angry, alienated youth controls the streets. Sophie Morrison, a young doctor, is trapped at the centre of a terrifying siege with a known paedophile. Young Amy is missing and the mob want retribution, no matter what.
Thoughts: No one does crime fiction like the Brits and Minette Walters is one of the best. Acid Row is the nickname given to a run down council estate which descends into chaos when it becomes known that a paedophile has moved in. On the surface you can read Acid Row simply as a crime novel, trying to work out who actually has the child who has gone missing and how the police are going to get the situation under control. On another level you can view it as a piece about the dangers of partial information and whether or not the public should be informed if a paedophile is living in their area.
 Personally I have very mixed views about public registration of sex offenders. I read many years ago (and I so wish I could find the article now!), that studies in America showed that in states that had public notification of sex offenders (and that's all sex offenders, not just child sex offenders), only 60-70% of offenders reported to police when they moved or changed jobs. In states where the register is available to law enforcement only, over 80% of offenders complied with the requirement to notify when changing address or place of work. In my mind, I would rather the police know where over 80% of offenders are and me not know at all as opposed to knowing where only 60-70% of known offenders are. The other reality for me is recidivism rates for sex offenders is low - around 2%  and the majority of arrests for sex offences - 96% - are the first arrest for the perpetrator - ie. They were not on the register and therefore an unknown threat. (Source: http://theparson.net/so/#no%20effect) The reality is, your child has a more of a chance of being abused by a family member or friend than by a random person in your street. More and more studies are showing that laws such as Megan's Law in the US are not effective.In my mind nothing beats vigilance and teaching your children how to protect themselves.
Anyway, back to the book! I enjoyed Acid Row - it's fast paced, the characters are engaging and while it doesn't tax your brain, it does give you something to think about. Whether you support a public register or not, Acid Row highlights the importance of having all the information before acting. Things are not always as they seem.

07 August, 2014

Book Review: Jasper Jones

From Goodreads: Late on a hot summer night in 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan.
Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress. Jasper takes him to his secret glade in the bush, and it's here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper's horrible discovery.
With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu.
And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse.
In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

Thoughts: Wow. Simply wow. This is my book groups August book and it was fantastic. Craig Silvey has written what I am sure will become an Australian classic. In my mind, Silvey has the potential to find a place in my heart right alongside Tim Winton.
Jasper Jones has many layers. It's a story of small town intolerance, of family dysfunction, of friendship, of guilt, of growing up. It's all these things, yet it all works. The different themes blend and meld into a story that has you cheering, crying and shaking. (thisiswhathappened).
Silvey writes characters that are worth investing in. I found myself desperate for things to work out for the narrator Charlie, for Jasper to find whatever he's looking for, for Jeffrey to find acceptance. Silvey also has the ability to make you forget, momentarily, what the book is actually about and become immersed in something else - namely a cricket match - and even if you don't like cricket, you will be on the edge of your seat.
However, for me, it's the ending that will stay with me. (thisiswhathappened) It's the end that had me rocking, shaking, moaning even as the truth is revealed and you wonder how will they survive this.
Jasper Jones has just become my 2014 you must read this book. Trust me, you must read this.

05 August, 2014

Book Review: American Gods

From Goodreads: Shadow gets out of prison early when his wife is killed in a car crash. At a loss, he takes up with a mysterious character called Wednesday, who is much more than he appears. In fact, Wednesday is an old god, once known as Odin the All-father, who is roaming America rounding up his forgotten fellows in preparation for an epic battle against the upstart deities of the Internet, credit cards, television, and all that is wired. Shadow agrees to help Wednesday, and they whirl through a psycho-spiritual storm that becomes all too real in its manifestations. For instance, Shadow's dead wife Laura keeps showing up, and not just as a ghost – the difficulty of their continuing relationship is by turns grim and darkly funny, just like the rest of the book.Armed only with some coin tricks and a sense of purpose, Shadow travels through, around, and underneath the visible surface of things, digging up all the powerful myths Americans brought with them in their journeys to this land as well as the ones that were already here. Shadow's road story is the heart of the novel, and it's here that Gaiman offers up the details that make this such a cinematic book--the distinctly American foods and diversions, the bizarre roadside attractions, the decrepit gods reduced to shell games and prostitution. "This is a bad land for Gods," says Shadow.
More than a tourist in America, but not a native, Neil Gaiman offers an outside-in and inside-out perspective on the soul and spirituality of the country--our obsessions with money and power, our jumbled religious heritage and its societal outcomes, and the millennial decisions we face about what's real and what's not. --Therese Littleton

Thoughts: Gaiman, I think is either a love him or hate him author. You're either going to get a mass of enjoyment and reflection out of what he writes or you going to think it's a complete waste of time. Me, I loved it. I loved it because it makes your mind twist and turn in directions it normally wouldn't. It makes you think about the world around us and how we react to it - either passively or actively.
Reality is if you are looking for a book that takes a nice linear line, where you never go "hang on, what the hell happened there!", where your characters always make sense and the story comes together in a nice, cohesive way, this is not the book for you.
It's also an incredibly hard book to review for all of those reasons. David Monroe on Goodreads summed it up beautifully for me. He said:

Much like any Neil Gaiman story, the devil is in the details, and you just have to resolve yourself to coming along for the ride or you'll miss it. It's not one story, or two, it's many, and it's all complete...and you have to just read it, and enjoy it, and accept it. Or just don't bother.

The devil is in the details and if you can give yourself over to just taking the journey Gaiman wants to take you on, it's fabulous. On the other hand, you could just not bother - it's completely up to you.

This book completes the Fantasy aspect of my 100 Best Books List challenge

24 July, 2014

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

From Goodreads: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Thoughts: I listened to this as an audio book. It was narrated by Kate Rudd, who is not someone I had every heard of before. I mention this because I have come to realise how important a narrator is to an audio book. Kate Rudd is a good narrator. I didn't find myself distracted by her voice, it didn't sound "put on", she made the book enjoyable.
It's easy to see why this book has done so well. I found it to be a strong story that dealt with the tough topic of teenage cancer sufferers without becoming condescending or clich├ęd. It became apparent to me what was going to happen fairly quickly, but I think anyone with half a brain would have seen it. I don't think John Green set out to put in a big twist that no one would see coming, instead I think he wanted a book with emotion and thoughtfulness and I think he achieved it.
The book made me cry, but I don't think I cried where most YA readers would have. The parts that had me almost sobbing as I sat in the car park at Woolworths (handy hint - emotion laden books while driving, not such a good idea!) was the conversation Hazel had with her parents towards the end of the book. Hazel is living on borrowed time - you know it the whole way through. As a parent, I cannot and do not want to imagine what that feels like. Hazel's fears for her parents took my breath away and had me wanting to reach out and grab her, hold her close and promise her they would be ok and then I wanted to tell her parents that when it came, I would support them too.
One of the thing Green is a master of is producing quotes you just know teens are scrawling down all over the place because those words touched them. Google A Fault in our Stars quotes and you'll see what I mean. Here's a taste:

The thing is, I remember just about every scene where those words were spoken. I could put them in chronological order for you. John Green writes words that have power. The problem may be believing those words come from teens.
After a short FB discussion with a friend about AFioS I started to think about the portrayal of teens in young adult books. I know I have often thought that the characters are unbelievable, wise beyond their years - and this holds true for AFioS. The insights and reactions of Hazel, Gus and even Issac is way beyond what I think most teenagers would display. But here's the thing, I don't remember ever thinking that when I was a young adult reading such books - and I don't think the characters in the books have changed that much. What has changed, obviously, is me. I'm older, I have more experience and I am now (far) distant from being a young adult and therefore the direct target audience for these books. So here's my conclusion on teens wise beyond their years in YA books - they have to be. If the characters in YA books were your typical teens, you wouldn't get the stories you do. I think it's also a way of showing YA readers what they can become, presents a model of maybe who they'd like to be. This slightly unrealistic presentation of their age group doesn't worry them because they can imagine that's what they could be like. If adults truly want to get the best out of YA books, they need to stop expecting them to be books for adults and accept they are books for young adults - teens.

Book Review: The Arrival

From Goodreads: In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean. He's embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life- he's leaving home to build a better future for his family.
Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant's experience through a singular work of the imagination. He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images. Because the main character can't communicate in words, the book forgoes them too. But while the reader experiences the main character's isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy.

Thoughts: Shaun Tan is fabulous. His ability to tell a full and emotive story suing pictures is bought to the fore in this book. The Arrival is a graphic novel without words, but at no stage are you left wondering what the story is about, what emotions the characters are feeling and why they are making the decisions they do.

The Suitcase - Shaun Tan

The Old Country - Shaun Tan

Telling the story of a man who leaves his family and journeys to a new country in search of a better life, Tan illustrates the strangeness of a new place, where nothing looks familiar and there are so many things you don't understand.

Freshman Monroe Scholars

The Market - Shaun Tan
Yet people are met, stories shared and you realise you are not the only one to have struggled in this new environment.

Columbus State University Unfamiliar Genre Wiki - Graphic Novels
Friends are made,
Dinner - Shaun Tan
families reunited,

Josephine Zupan's English 4561 E-Folio
and all without the reader having read a single word.

This book is so rich. You could easily spend a couple of hours pouring over the illustrations, looking at the detail and delighting at the story.

Shaun Tan explains some of the inspiration and processes behind The Arrival on this page. You will need to scroll down past the pictures to read the article. 

This book also fits into my 100 Best Book List Challenge, covering the Young Adult category.

21 July, 2014

Book Review: The Shelf

From Goodreads: Phyllis Rose embarks on a grand literary experiment—to read her way through a random shelf of library books, LEQ–LES
Can you have an Extreme Adventure in a library? Phyllis Rose casts herself into the wilds of an Upper East Side lending library in an effort to do just that. Hoping to explore the “real ground of literature,” she reads her way through a somewhat randomly chosen shelf of fiction, from LEQ to LES.
The shelf has everything Rose could wish for—a classic she has not read, a remarkable variety of authors, and a range of literary styles. The early nineteenth-century Russian classic A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov is spine by spine with The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Stories of French Canadian farmers sit beside those about aristocratic Austrians. California detective novels abut a picaresque novel from the seventeenth century. There are several novels by a wonderful, funny, contemporary novelist who has turned to raising dogs because of the tepid response to her work.
In The Shelf, Rose investigates the books on her shelf with exuberance, candor, and wit while pondering the many questions her experiment raises and measuring her discoveries against her own inner shelf—those texts that accompany us through life. “Fairly sure that no one in the history of the world has read exactly this series of novels,” she sustains a sense of excitement as she creates a refreshingly original and generous portrait of the literary enterprise.

Thoughts: The idea of this book appealed to me as I have often looked at a library full of books and wondered if you could systematically read the whole thing. Logic tells me no, but it could be rather fun to try! Phyllis Rose didn't attempt to read a whole library, but she did aim to read a whole shelf. The choosing of the shelf was not completely random, she did come up with a few guidelines to help her choose which of the  1249 fiction shelves in the New York Society Library she would read. The guidelines included the shelf having to include a classic, having no more than 5 books by one author (of which she would only have to read 3) and a mix of contemporary and older works.
Rose's exploration of her shelf turned up some wonderful works for her. She fully explores not only the book, but the author, at times contacting the author to discover more of their story. You could look at each of the eleven chapters as separate essays, tied together by the shelf. Her analysis of the effects of different translations of one book was fascinating, as was her look at  women in fiction and the amazingly complex world of weeding or deaccessioning in a library.
The Shelf won't be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. I fought hard to limit the number of books Rose mentioned making it onto my TBR list, although a few have found their way to it. I will also admit to being awfully tempted to undertake a similar challenge....