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....

17 July, 2014

Book Review: Me Talk Pretty One Day

From Goodreads: David Sedaris' move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section. His family is another inspiration. You Can't Kill the Rooster is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.

Thoughts: I can't remember where I first heard about this book, but it stuck with me enough to include it as one of my back up books for my Five from Forever challenge. Just as well I had a back up because I cannot track down a copy of my 5th book - Egg-Larva-Pupa-Woman. Me Talk Pretty One Day also has the added bonus of being a book in my 100 Best Books List Challenge - one book, two challenges! Excellent!
Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of short essays, columns written by David Sedaris about his life. The first half is in America and includes stories on his family, his life in college and his foray into experimental art and drugs. The second part of the book concentrates on his adventures in France after he moved there with his boyfriend.
The book provided some genuine laugh-out-loud moments and several wry chuckles. Many of the reviews on Goodreads are either scathing or full of love - I can see both points of view. One review relates a story about the mother of the reviewer pretty much being snubbed by Sedaris at a book reading/ signing. Any one who had read the book should not have been surprised by his reaction to the mother's behaviour.
I'm don't think I'd like David Sedaris. I think I would find him self centred and obnoxious. I'm equally certain he wouldn't care what I thought. I think it's this aspect of him that makes the book what it is. Not sure I'd recommend it to anyone, but if I did I would suggest they proceed with caution.

Challenges:  Five from Forever, 100 Best Books List

Book Review: A is for Alibi

From Goodreads: Laurence Fife was a slick divorce lawyer and slippery ladies' man. Until someone killed him. The jury believed that it was his pretty young wife, Nikki, so they sent her to prison for eight years. Now Nikki's out on parole and Kinsey Millhone's in for trouble. Nikki hires Kinsey to discover who really killed her husband. But the trail is eight years cold, and at the end is a chilling twist even Kinsey doesn't suspect--a second eight-year-old murder and a brand-new corpse.

Thoughts: I've been looking for a new mystery series to read. I really enjoy them, but have been struggling to find something new and engaging. I picked this up in the hope it would be it, especially given it would give me at least 26 books to read (23 have been published, x, y and z are to come). The concept of the alphabet thing also appealed to me. I like a nice, ordered series. However, the reality is it didn't really grab me. I'm not rushing out to get B is for Burglar. I may come back to the series at a later date, but I'm really in no rush. The search continues...

Book Review: Spinifex Baby

From Finch Publishing: I thought I knew how hard it would be. What I didn’t know was that it would test me to the inner core. This desert with its rolling dune fields is an unforgiving land that relentlessly destroys even its own ancient beauty. It is a place where, compared to the age of the landscape, a single life means less than a grain of sand. I could not have known that the biggest challenge I would face would not be from the piercing sun, not from the unforgiving dust, not even from the aching loneliness of isolation, but from the treachery of my own self.
When Karen and her partner Al set forth from the cold mountains of Tasmania to the 45-plus degree heat of central Australia to transform a cattle station into a conservation reserve, they were ready to embrace the beauty of the land and throw themselves into the task of protecting native plants and animals. They thought they had all the skills necessary to beat the heat, the dust and their isolation from society. However, when Karen became unexpectedly pregnant, their lives were turned upside down. Suddenly their biggest danger was not their exposure to the harsh elements but to the deepest fears that resided within themselves…

Thoughts: I'm so excited to read this book, if for no other reason than it signifies the return of book group in my little corner of the world!! Yay!! Spinifex Baby was recommended by one of book group members who happens to be Karen Harrland's sister-in-law.
As an Australian, you can hardly imagine two landscapes more different than the Tasmanian mountains and the Queensland outback. One cool, green, wet with lush bushland. The other hot, red, dry (unless it's wet season and then it's really wet) and sparse vegetation. Add to this the remoteness of the desert and Karen and Al are way more adventurous than I would ever be!
Karen truly brings the beauty of the outback to the fore. Her writing has made me want to visit the landscape. She does however, also bring the harshness out. A place where when you hang washing, the first piece is dry before you put the last piece on the line. A place where a walk across the yard can leave you exhausted and sunburnt. A place where the nearest medical help is four hours by plane.
Given how ill she was during her pregnancy, I'm in awe of the fact she stayed out there. I wasn't even remotely as ill as Karen and I found it hard to go to the shops, let alone help keep a remote station running. As for returning after she'd had the baby, I don't think wild horses could have dragged me back!
Spinifex Baby is a wonderful book. It showcases the Australian outback without romanticising it. You are left with no doubt that it's not easy out there, but if you are willing to put the effort in, the rewards are incredible. It's a great read and I'm really looking forward to the discussion I know it will spark on Saturday.

09 July, 2014

Book Review: Ugly

From Goodreads: Robert Hoge was born with a giant tumour on his forehead, severely distorted facial features and legs that were twisted and useless. His mother refused to look at her son, let alone bring him home. But home he went, to a life that, against the odds, was filled with joy, optimism and boyhood naughtiness.
Home for the Hoges was a bayside suburb of Brisbane. Robert's parents, Mary and Vince, knew that his life would be difficult, but they were determined to give him a typical Australian childhood. So along with the regular, gruelling and often dangerous operations that made medical history and gradually improved Robert's life, there were bad haircuts, visits to the local pool, school camps and dreams of summer sports.
Ugly is Robert's account of his life, from the time of his birth to the arrival of his own daughter. It is a story of how the love and support of his family helped him to overcome incredible hardships. It is also the story of an extraordinary person living an ordinary life, which is perhaps his greatest achievement of all.

Thoughts: Another book I came across one day while shelving and decided to grab. I'd heard of Robert Hoge, seen a few of the publicity interviews when this book came out and knew that I wanted to read it.
First up this is a very well written memoir - unsurprising given Hoge's background as a journalist. However, I often find a journalist style doesn't transfer well to story telling. Hoge's however has spent a life time writing stories which was obviously a good grounding for this book. His style is easy to read, conversational. Along with looking a serious issues such as his medical care, Hoge's lightens the tone with stories of any normal Australian childhood. In fact for me, the strength of this book is the highlighting of the normality of his life. His struggles are ones many can identify with (fitting in, feeling/ looking different, making friends etc) even if the reasons for those differences are not the same.
Ugly is well worth the read if you are after a book to inspire you. It's a book that supports the theory that often the only limitations we have are the ones we place on ourselves.

07 July, 2014

Book Review: Allegiant

From Goodreads: The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.
But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.
Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

Thoughts: This is the third and final book in the Divergent series. I reviewed the second book Insurgent last week and said I was unlikely to read this one for awhile. However, the request I had on it at the library came through and it's only a 2 week loan, so needs must and I read.
Allegiant is definitely better than Insurgent, but still sadly falls short of the promise offered in Divergent. The view point switches between Tobias and Tris, but their voices became so similar at times I had to double check whose view I was reading. The world they find outside the fence holds some pretty big and shocking truths, truths that really have a huge effect on their whole lives. What's happening inside the fence becomes a secondary, minor, story line which was frustrating. The first two books had spent a lot of time setting up this faction/ factionless war and it amounted to nothing.
My biggest issue with the end is how neatly it's all resolved and how quickly. It's a common problem and I understand why. You've written a trilogy, your audience, especially if they are young, want to know how everything ends. They like nicely packaged answers. The problem however, is in doing so, the ending often feels rushed and too perfect. It clashes with what we know is reality - there isn't an end, things rarely work out neatly.
It's a good series, especially for it's target audience. I do like how it has strong female characters and even once romance is introduced, the female characters retain their strength. They are able to make decisions without the romantic interest or without deferring to them. I like how Tris owned her decisions, didn't back down from what she believed and called Tobias on some of his behaviour. There needs to be more of it.

04 July, 2014

Book Review: Lockie Leonard Legend

From the Blurb: Lockie's survived his first year of high school, settling into a new town and his first mad love affair - it’s all behind him; he made it!
But the world of weirdness hasn't finished with him yet. His little brother's hormones have kicked in, his baby sister refuses to walk or talk - but eats anything in sight - his Dad arrests a sheep and his Mum seems to have checked out of the here and now.
As Lockie's world turns upside down, he learns that life is never as simple as it seens and along the way finds out a lot more about himself than he ever realised was there.

Thoughts: I truly believe Tim Winton is a good author regardless of whether he is writing for kids, young teens or adults. I find so few authors manage to straddle all three.
In the third Lokie Leonard book, things get serious. Lockie's mum is suffering from depression and Lockie needs to stand up and help take care of his family. There is still the trademark Winton humour, but there is obviously a serious side to this book. It's a book about realising what's important in life, banding together as a family and learning to take care of the ordinary every day things. What can I say, it's Winton and we all know I love him.