19 May, 2015

Book Review: Dancing on Knives

From GoodreadsA damaged family and their generations of dangerous secrets
At twenty, Sara is tormented by an inexplicable terror so profound she hasn't left her home in five years. Like the mermaid in the fairytale her Spanish grandmother once told her, Sara imagines she is Dancing on Knives, unable to speak. She feels suffocated by her family, especially her father – the famous artist Augusto Sanchez – whose volcanic passions dominate their lives.
Then one stormy night, her father does not come home. His body is found dangling from a cliff face. Astonishingly, he is still alive, but the mystery of his fall can only be solved by the revelation of long-held family secrets.
At once a suspenseful murder mystery and a lyrical love story, Dancing on Knives is about how family can constrict and liberate us, how art can be both joyous and destructive, and how strength can be found in the unlikeliest places.

Thoughts: I ended up doing a bit of extra work shelving at a different library the other week. It's the largest library in the network I work in and it interesting to see how such a big space works. While shelving I came across this. I'd never seen or heard of it before so my immediate thought was it was brand new Kate Forsyth. I loved The Wild Girl so I immediately put it to one side to check out. 
Sitting on the train later I pulled it out, read the author's note and the apprehension started. Basically Dancing on Knives is an old book of Forysth's and has undergone many reincarnations in it's life. The scribblings of a sixteen year old, the thesis of a twenty six year old, a published novel under a different title. My misgivings came from the fact that when I've often gone back and read the earlier works of an author it becomes apparent why that book was not their break out novel. In fact it is often incredibly disappointing. Nevertheless, I resolved to give it a go.
First things first. If you have read and loved The Wild Girl, don't expect the same type of book. Dancing on Knives is completely different. Having said it's good. Not Wild Girl good, but worth reading. It's storyline follows Sara, a twenty year old held hostage by her inability to leave the house and by the family where she has been the mother figure since her own mother died. Her father's unpredictable mood swings clash with her older brother's need to provide some stability, leaving Sara in the middle trying to keep the peace and the family together.
Forsyth writes rich characters. You can see Sara's fears and apprehension, feel the tempest in the house when Augusto is raging, hear the tiredness and weariness in Joe's voice. At different stages through out the book you want to slap each of them, plus the other characters. 
Forsyth's writing is lyrical. poetic. 
Sara has often thought that most people seemed to live their lives only splashing about in the shallows. But she...she was dragged down into the fathomless depths again and again, where no light struck and hideous monsters of the deep swam. She tried so hard to stay where she could touch the sane with her feet. But always she was swept out, always she was sucked under.
You do start to despair of this family ever untangling itself, but Forsyth slowly and painfully brings them to a point where you can glimpse a possible happy future, if only they will grab it.

Dancing on Knives gets 3 stars!

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


17 May, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

From GoodreadsRachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train… 

Thoughts: I was looking for a new audio book and this was one I knew I wanted to read, but also knew it was something that could be continually pushed back for others. I don't know about other audio listeners, but there are some books I'll happily listen to, but others have to be read. This was one I knew could go either way.
After all the comparisons to Gone Girl, I must admit I was a little bit wary. I enjoyed Gone Girl and usually find myself disappointed when one book is compared to another. Apart from the fact that they have similar writing styles I didn'tn find them comparable. 
Girl on the Train is told using three different voices - Rachel- a woman who is struggling over the end of her marriage two years ago, Anna - Rachel's ex husband's new wife and Megan - the girl who has gone missing. I must admit I did find myself questioning what each character told me. How reliable is their recount of what happens? Are they telling me the truth or simply putting the best spin on it? And I suppose in that way, I did keep comparing it to Gone Girl, wondering if I could trust what I was reading. Interestingly, I don't think I would have questioned as much is I hadn't read Gone Girl.
About half way through I found myself questioning my judgement of the characters. I was being particularly harsh on Anna, feeling she was being rather horrible towards Rachel. However, when I stopped  and thought about it, I could see where she was coming from. I needed to remind myself that I knew things about Rachel she didn't and if I just took into account what she knew, she was completely justified in her opinions. I did however continue to find her weak and easily exploited by Tom. Personally I would have rung the police long before she did!
At times I was equally frustrated with Rachel and her lack of control and inability to leave things alone, not call her ex, not go past the house. I also struggled with her desire to have back a man who cheated on her.
The Girl on the Train will mess with your mind. If you have read Gone Girl, you will find yourself feeling like you are in familiar territory, but not so familiar you feel like you have already read the book. You will find yourself questioning what the characters tell you. I will happily say if you liked Gone Girl, you will like Girl on the Train.

The Girl on the Train gets 4 stars!

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

14 May, 2015

April in Review

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm feeling a bit like this at the moment.

The year is flying by at a ridiculous rate of knots.

April stats:

Kindle - 2                                     Library - 3
Book - 3                                       Own - 4
Audio - 2                                      Borrowed (non library) - 0
Fiction - 7                               
Non-fiction - 0

Female Author - 2                        New to Me Authors - 2
Male Author - 6
Australian Author - 0
No Australian authors this month, although I'm teetering about Ben Elton because he does live here now. Also the first month with no non-fiction.

My pick for this month is hard. I loved Two Brothers and Skullduggery Pleasant.

Our book group book for this month was my choice and I went with Two Brothers. It's a great book for a book group and we had a great discussion. Some of us enjoyed it more than others, which I value in a book group book. It's interesting to see how things you really thought enhanced the story were a negative for others. 

I finished it!! You can read my review here. While I'm glad I can now say I've read (or listened to) Anna Karenina, I don't think it's something I will read again. I have the movie at home to watch and I'm looking forward to that.

So that was April. According to GoodReads I'm still lagging behind on my target of 100 books for this year. Just as well I'm not overly worried! The Children's Book Council has released it's short lists so look out for the reviews of the younger readers and older reader books. I'll also do the picture books and the early childhood books, but have a bit of a different plan up my sleeve for them.

How was your April?

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