31 December 2012


Favourite Reads of 2012 ... and it isn't that easy!

This year there haven't been any that have grabbed me by the heart and become all-time, close-to-my-heart, favourites ... but there have been some damn fine, entertaining reads :

~ perfect pre-reading for my New England Road Trip
yet to be reviewed 
~ Oh my! Breathtaking!
An engrossing, disturbing, memorable book
~ Awesome! Just loved it!!!
And now I think I'll have to read some Dickens!
~ Wow! North Korea is another world entirely
Almost like sci-fi!
~ Excellent use of voice;
Masterful suspense.
~ Excellent page turner,
Gotta love a psychopath!
~ Chock-a-block with interesting trivia;
Totally readable, totally riveting!
~ Non Fiction, Mexican travel diary
Another "if only I'd read it before visiting Mexico!!!!"

15 December 2012


Interesting Web Sites:

2013 Tournament of the Books

08 December 2012

The Night Surfer ~ Alpheus Williams

***** FAVOURITE *****

A dystopian present
Myths of old become a portent of our future

The Night Surfer is a wide ranging read in terms of location and time. The narrative is set on the coast : Emerald Beach, Australia and Santa Cruz, USA but there are also links to the rugged coast of Ireland. If you have an interest in Celtic myths, and how the storytelling of old is portent to our future, then you will find it here. 
I loved the imagery and mysticism of Amma and the stories she passes on to Frank (I will always be drawn to run my fingers over knitted cables to find the hidden “stories”).  These myths give the family lineage of the Night Surfer, Matty.

The main characters, Orson and Buster, on opposite sides of the Pacific, try to unlock the secrets of the strange events surrounding Matty’s disappearance.  Their efforts put them both in danger, and you are never sure who is good and who is evil, who you should trust and who will do you harm.

(This gives me the chance to say that immortal line : "Dear Reader, I married him.") 

Available now on Amazon

07 December 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette ~ Maria Semple

 **** RECOMMEND ****

Tournament of the Books : 2013

A farce paced ride
A compulsive page turner with a screwball edginess

By golly, does this take you along for a fast (or farce) paced ride!  And while it is a screwball comedy it is also full of pathos and funny/sad observations of the Subaru-driving, Microsoft-working, status-obsessed denizens of Seattle.

I thought the book had a terrific sense of place, just needed a coffee in my hand and I felt like I was in Seattle!  (I'll have to take the author's word for the Antarctic!)  Location almost has as important a role as the characters, providing a cultural landscape for the action.  The narrative is well crafted and far from ordinary.  The tightly woven plot is provided through the documents, emails, journal entries and other information accrued by Bee who is trying to find out where her mother, Bernadette, disappeared to ... and that is a lot more quirky than it sounds! 

The book is about relationships : within the family, between husband-and-wife and mother-and-child, with neighbours, the school community and co-workers.  It is also about motherhood and fulfillment.

Funny, clever, a rollicking read full of affectionate barbs and irresistible characters.

05 December 2012

How Should A Person Be? ~ Sheila Heti


Tournament of the Books : 2013 

Answer to the question : Bored Stupid
Get over yourself!!!

I jumped to the end in the hope that they all died ... sadly, they didn't!

This is self indulgent, fatuous, aimless, drivel filled with pointless minutiae.

This was stream of consciousness writing that bludgeons you into boredom.  I actually checked info on the author (aged 35), and at least I will give credence to the fact that she seems to be able to write the thoughts of a vacuous 20-something-year-old.  But Heaven help us if this is a true picture of what goes on in the mind of contemporary young women.

Instead of groundbreaking, I found the writing "style" (huh!!!) to be lazy and incomplete.  Maybe the sex scenes are what give the novel its fame (The "Fear Of Flying" of today???).  Fine, she writes "sex" with no emotion ... and that fits with the rest of the no "narrative" (Huh! again) where there is no emotional connection with the "characters" (huh!!!!).

04 December 2012

This Is How You Lose Her ~ Junot Diaz

**** RECOMMEND ****

Shortlisted : National Book Award 2012

Honest and depressing
Love and Yunior are the interwoven threads

This was a wonderful compilation of short stories, where each one left you both satiated and tantalised, annoyed that it finished but a little richer for having read it.

Yunior and his family are US immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Yunior is a womanising louse.  This gives the fabric of the collection for the threads to weave through, producing a rich tapestry of life.  Yunior is so easy to dislike (as a womanising louse!) but at the same time so easy to understand and identify his stupidity with relationships. 

I loved the sly humour, the sense of place and poverty, the street cred language, the trials and tribulations of love of family, friends and girlfriends. There were long portions of Spanish simply inserted into the text and translation wasn't needed as the tone and emotional direction of the writing was so obvious.  Clever writing, honest and depressing.

03 December 2012

The Color Purple ~ Alice Walker

**** RECOMMEND ****

Winner : Pulitzer Prize 1983
Winner : National Book Award 1983 
Finalist : National Book Critics Circle Award 1982

01 December 2012

Behind the Beautiful Forevers ~ Katherine Boo

** OK **

Winner : National Book Awards (non fiction) 2012
Finalist : National Book Critics Circle Award 2012

Not my cup of chai
creative nonfiction

01 October 2012

10 September 2012


Next month we are off to the States.  We will be doing a road trip through the New England area ... so this month I have started on some pre-trip reading.
 I have previously read these "place appropriate" books :
The Witch of Blackbird Pond ~ Elizabeth George Speare
Little Women ~ Louisa May Allcot
The Crucible ~ Arthur Miller
It and others~ Stephen King
Cider House Rules and others ~ John Irving
The Perfect Storm ~ Sebastian Junger
Mystic River and others ~ Dennis Lehane
Charlie Parker series ~ John Connolly
Caleb's Crossing ~ Geraldine Brooks
The Marriage Plot ~ Jeffrey Eugenides

05 September 2012

Empire Falls ~ Richard Russo

**** RECOMMEND ****

Winner : Pulitzer Prize 2002

Will right review when I get back!

03 September 2012

Olive Kitterage ~ Elizabeth Strout

**** RECOMMEND ****

Winner : Pulitzer Prize 2009
Finalist : National Book Critics Circle Award 2008

02 September 2012

In The Heart Of The Sea ~ Nathaniel Philbrick

***** FAVOURITE *****
Subtitled "The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex"

Winner : National Book Award (non fiction) 2000

Chock-a-block with interesting trivia
Totally readable, totally riveting!

Non-fiction is usually not my reading choice, too many dreary details or written by an expert in the given field but with little talent for writing.  This is so not like that!

The writer crams in an amazing amount of fascinating trivia.  The story goes off on a multitude of tangents giving insight, details, history, background ... everything you could want to know and more!  But never a bore!!!  The writing style is extremely personable and articulate.  The material is rich and vivid.

Half way through, and the Essex has been scuttled by the sperm whale, I'm thinking : what on earth can he fill the rest of the pages with?  But not once did I put it aside to pick my way through in bits and pieces (as I usually do with non-fiction).  This was a riveting, absorbing tale of factual adventure.

It almost made me want to re-read Moby Dick!

01 September 2012

Ethan Frome ~ Edith Wharton

*** LIKE ***

Pre trip reading - a short one to start with!
Cold climate, cold story.

 This is really a novella.  Short.  Astute.  Cold and clear as a winter's nights.

As a precursor to our New England Road Trip, it didn't exactly instil a sense of "can't wait to get there"!  (Plan to visit The Mount in Lenox, MA, home of, and designed by, Wharton.)

The setting is Starkfield ... perfectly named.  While the village, its inhabitants and community life had rustic appeal, the weather was bleak, as were the central characters ... a whining and manipulative "sickly" wife, a forlorn hard-done-by young girl, and a tormented unfulfilled husband.  The story is depressing ...  exactly what the pitch and timbre of the writing aims for.  A perfectly painted and perfectly executed melodrama ... a good read, but not a joy to read!

First woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1921 (The Age of Innocence)

09 August 2012

The Mirrored World ~ Debra Dean

 ** OK**

Want more than a superficial reflection.
Needed more of the "holy" less of the "fool"

I so loved The Madonnas Of Leningrad that I may be judging this too harshly.  MOL was a multi faceted book (read my review : http://book-file.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/madonnas-of-leningrad-debra-dean.html) that came to life.  TMW stays on the page, flat, uninspiring.

I don't mind dark, grim, bleak ... and this setting was all of those things.  My problem was that I never felt empathy for the characters, I never felt I was there, I never felt I cared (I finished it just to finish it).

Xenia comes across more as a woman with a broken mind than a saint in the making.  While Dean is a lyrical writer, I found the narrative was lacking.  We were just provided with tantalising glimpses of Cathrerine's court and the contrasting riches and poverty and we were introduced to Xenia's early life but then followed her cousin to the conclusion.  The "holy fool" came across more as a heart-and-mind broken "fool" than a "holy" mystic.  I never felt a belief in why Xenia would be sainted (other than her broken-minded generosity).

08 August 2012

Sharp Objects ~ Gillian Flynn

 *** LIKE ***

Sharp characters, sharp language
Dark and nasty ... avoid small towns

So glad that I was introduced to Gillian Flynn through Gone Girl.  This one didn't do it for me ... maybe because I was on to the perp half way through so the ending was no surprise.  Or maybe because I felt it wallowed a little in the middle just padding things out which was odd because I felt that the ending was far too rushed.  In general I felt it was a little overwritten.

I do think that Flynn does wonderful "nasty" ... both plot twists and characters ... and I love the fact that she doesn't shy away from flawed, and rather unlikable, very dysfunctional, female characters.

07 August 2012

Signed, Mata Hari ~ Yannick Murphy

 ** OK **

Light on detail,
Long on getting anywhere.

How awful to be thinking, when you know someone is going to get executed ...  get on with it!  But that's the way it was.

This was a quick, easy read and, while the writing had a strong poignant quality, I did not find enough depth to satisfy me.  The story was told in flashback, jumping between Mata Hari in prison and Margaretha growing up.  We are presented with a picture Margaretha : an abandoned girl, a young woman in a loveless marriage, an ingenue in the making BUT I never felt that the effort was made to present a picture of Mata Hari : exotic dancer, performer, courtesan, spy.  That part of her life lacked vivacity and colour and she seemed always to be presented as rather pathetic and a bit of a bumpkin.

I love The Call by Yannick Murphy ... and thoroughly recommend it.  It was the reason I went in search of other works by her.

06 August 2012

The Fault In Our Stars ~ John Green

 *** LIKE ***
Tournament of Books : 2013 (finalist)

Pitch-perfect Young Adult
(but doesn't stop anyone from "enjoying" it)

Funny to use the word "enjoy" with this book given the topic is Teenage Cancer.

The main characters are well drawn; they elicit our sympathy but not necessarily in a maudlin way.  You feel empathy for them ... and their friends and their families ... and even for mere acquaintances.

But for me there was one major annoyance : While the author captures the precociousness of his teenagers' voices, I felt he failed with the voice of the cantankerous, drunken Van Houten.  While Augustus and Hazel were maybe a trifle overwritten (though not to their detriment given their circumstances) Van Houten was underwritten and stayed a bit flat for me.  To be fair, if the book is aimed at Young Adults then maybe that is the way it should be ... but he always felt contrived, one dimensional and just there for the convenience of the plotline.

05 August 2012

The Dog Stars ~ Peter Heller


A voice that insinuates itself into your thoughts
Well written dystopian future

Such a quiet little book ... yet it continues to resonate well after reading.

It is simple in some ways but its very simplicity, just like a world that has been stripped of everything familiar, is what makes it so honest, so moving, so intimate.

The storytelling voice, a kind of stream-of-consciousness telling, was excellent.  The writing style is both lean and lyrical, with little observation of the conventions of punctuation, but with enormously poignant impact.

Jasper, the dog, was excellent ... so obvious when an author is a dog-owner (or is owned by a dog ... so maybe it should be "dog/owner")

04 August 2012

Gone Girl ~ Gillian Flynn

***** FAVOURITE *****
Tournament of the Books  : 2013

Excellent page turner,
Gotta love a psychopath!

Wonderfully written characters make this a riveting read.  You are waiting for what evil twist will come next ... what will unravel ... what will trip the evil bitch up.

The plotline isn't that typical one of conflict/resolution building to a crescendo.  Instead we are teasingly dripfed the revelations through alternating points of view ... but were this has been done before, in Gone Girl the twists and turns are constant and you are kept off kilter not knowing how things will develop.  It runs from intriguing (can't take your eyes of the car wreck of a marriage) to fascinating (like a mongoose fighting a cobra) to horrific (that car wreck just turned into a highway pileup of enormous proportion!).  And the ending is a sucker punch!  Takes your breath away.  Loved it ... so unconventional!

The language was witty and erudite, characters are uncomfortably believable and it was a darkly suspenseful novel.

03 August 2012

Wool ~ Hugh Howey

 < OK >

This is actually "Book 1" of a 5 part omnibus
Don't know if I should/will continue!

It is not that it is a bad read ... it is more that it is over-hyped to the extreme.  For me this lead to dissatisfaction and a sense of is-that-all-there-is?

And I don't mean the brevity of the read.  It is a short story and is well executed.  But ground breaking, mind-blowing sci-fi .... I don't think so.  My goodness, Philip K Dick would rate off the screen with online rating.  I am trying hard not to think that the ratings and reviews are the work of trolls.  I am trying hard not to think they are disingenuous.  Buuuuuuut ... I am not succeeding. 

It is a clever story of a dystopian future but not in the realms of Margaret Atwood or Cormac McCarthy (just as a "for instance" because there are many others) when it comes to style and depth (they are worthy of the 5 star ratings!)

But I will continue.  I don't mind the episodic approach and think I will choose to read it that way, inserting a new episode into my reading at intervals rather than read the omnibus as one.

02 August 2012

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry ~ Rachel Joyce


Longlisted : Booker Prize 2012

Should have just walked away.

Again, I am out of step with the Reading Public.  I found this was a bore and a disappointing read.

If it was meant to be "quirky", I found it cliched.  If it was meant to be philosophical, I found it shallow.  If it was meant to be endearing, I found it dreary and uninspiring.

And more than that, I found it poorly written.  It ended abruptly.  Character development was minimal and superficial. The sense of place, which could have been a real feature, was lacking, due to the poor use of descriptive devices.  With a chance to paint a vivid picture, the author used a monotone palate.

01 August 2012

Talulla Rising ~ Glen Duncan

 ** LIKE **

It rose to the challenge of a good sequel.
Pros and cons but I was infected

I will admit it took a while for it to win me ... I really loved The Last Werewolf and initially thought that this was a second rate sequel.

This was a much faster paced book with many action sequences and lacking the rather cute literary references from TLWTLW was witty and clever, TR is gritty and dramatic.  The was a surfeit of sex in TLW but in TR it was way over the top. I don't feel that Duncan does female voice of Talulla as well as world weary Jake in TLW

But ... still ... I enjoyed it.  It is a well constructed page turner.  Characters had depth.  The premise Duncan constructed is thought out and the plot is plausible (ok ... I know it is a fantasy ... but it still has to believable!) ... background is provided, threads are knitted together ... and part 3 is set up!

05 July 2012

Galore ~ Michael Crummey


Epic!  Mythic!
Wild and wooly like the setting

This is intricate without being detailed, sprawling and yet stark.  It is a difficult ride to describe ... somewhat like 100 Years of Solitude set in Newfoundland!

 I really enjoyed being transported to this untamed place peopled with a strange collection of characters.  Not a book where you developed empathy for the characters but one where the narrative was a passing parade of their lives and times.  And what a harsh, bleak life that was!  And what times of deprivation and endurance!

There were definite elements of "weird" ... lead by Judah who is "born" from a whale's belly, forevermore bleached and stinking.  But there were elements like the village custom of passing a baby through the branches of an ancient tree, or the itinerant priest who sleeps with the widow with the ghost of the husband sitting by the fire, or the webbed fingers passed down after an encounter with a mermaid.

As it was a cross generational novel, it crossed history.  There were wonderful insights into such things as the unionisation of the fishing fleet, the ebb and flow of religious tolerance, long-held superstitions, and the intermingling of families.

04 July 2012

Zone One ~ Colson Whitehead


How to turn yourself into a Zombie
Bore yourself stupid reading this!

I think this may have turned me off zombies for a while (not matter, there are always werewolves and vampires).

One line of thought could be that this more literary author was attempting a more literary style of zombie narrative ... another is that he was just "taking the mickey" out of the reader.  And personally, I lean towards the second.  I think it was a shameful poke at readers of dystopian futures where he swathed his premise in higher order gobbledy-gook and pretended that he has written a deep-and meaningful literary work for them.

This was so poorly written.  I have not read any of his "serious" fiction - and am totally disinclined to do so! There were repeated lists. Lists of who did what, who was there, what they were doing, what they were wearing, what they had done.  And then just a page later you would have another long string lazy writing with background information provided by yet another list.  He achieved the amazing feat of overwriting and underwriting at the same time!

Maybe it is just "author jealousy" and he was trying to emulate the amazing Margaret Atwood who does powerful "literary" and "dystopian".  Give up Mr Whitehead!!!

03 July 2012

Crossing To Safety ~ Wallace Stegner

 **** RECOMMEND ****

Finalist : National Book Critics Circle Award  1987
First Tuesday Book Club

A time when we were selfless rather than self-serving
Eloquent Mature Comforting

This is one of those "quite achievers" that seeps into the recesses of you mind.  It is not big and showy.  It is not peopled with larger-than-life memorable characters.  But it is filled with high ideals, a forgotten humanity and decency, and a warm sense of time and place.

You are absorbed into their circle of friendship.  You want to experience the journey of life with them. You want to understand them.  And Stegner wants you there as well.

This is simple.  This is beautiful.  This is simply beautiful.  The writing is sensitive and evocative.  It recalls a time that may be forgotten - when we cared about the welfare others more than about self aggrandisement.

02 July 2012

Gold ~ Chris Cleave

 < OK >

An alchemist is needed to make this gold!
Such a disappointment.

The race was on!  For me it was a race between throwing it across the room or getting to the finish. Only the fact that it was on my Kindle saved it being thrown. And only the hope that it would improve got me to the finish.

I had been so eagerly awaiting this.  I had read pre-release review and interviews, so I knew that it was a change of pace to The Other Hand (aka Little Bee) and Incendiary.  But I did expect the depth, the empathy, the sharp observations, the bittersweet storytelling that I found in both of them.  But that was not to be.

The storyline followed the rivalries of Olympic cyclists.  It gives backgrounds of the main protagonists via flashbacks.  But the storyline itself is predictable and saccharine, and the dilemma seems so contrived.  The language was often cliched and clumsy.  Characterisation is set out at the beginning and doesn't get any development.

Where the child in The Other Hand had cute characteristics, the child in Gold is cloying.  I was amazed in both of the previous books at how well Cleave writes female voice, but in Gold I didn't quite believe in Kate.  As a highly competitive athlete, she lacked verisimilitude.

01 July 2012

The Brothers Karamazov ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky


Supposed to be reading  for The Rooster Book Group
But it is sooooo long

I think I have put it aside for a while!  (Gold was just released)

I have picked it up again ... the journey continues

And I've put it aside ... again (this time for Crossing To Safety)

06 June 2012

JUNE 2012

Top Ten Literary Quotes from The Simpsons
Drunk Texts from Famous Authors
Books To Annoy Your Conservative Friends :
Summer Reading List for College Freshmen

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close ~ Jonathan Safran Foer


Noooooo ... I can't do it
Not going to finish this

It became an act of perseverance.  Then not even skimming helped.  Not even jumping to the end and reading backwards (to see if it gets any better).

Just awful. Blerk. Yukky.

And the surprising thing is that it was recommended by a friend who also recommended Year of Wonders and Madonnas of Leningrad ... both awesomely spectacular wonderful favourite reads.

Precocious doesn't come close to an apt description for the voice of the main character ... I'll go for obnoxious instead.  His repetitive behaviours which are meant to be both cute and indicative of deep trauma are simply ... repetitive ... they are "heavy boots" in fact ... or even "What the?"... or "Jose" ... let's have a bit of artificial swearing because it is pretentiously cute!!!

05 June 2012

The Orphan Master's Son ~ Adam Johnson

***** FAVOURITE *****

Winner : Pulitzer Prize 2013
Finalist : National Book Circle Critics Award 2012 
Tournament of the Books : 2013 (winner) 

Wow! North Korea is another world entirely
Almost like sci-fi!

This book held me captive ... which would sound like a cute take on the book, except for the true horror that goes with being captive in North Korea.

While the setting and the narrative are extremely depressing, the book is not.  There is resilience, hope and humanity underlying the heavy cover of violence and deprivation.  This is a world where it pays to be paranoid.  This is a world where you belong to the State and you only survive by accepting the propaganda.  The people are unceasingly fed a version of the "truth", to the point where group mentality is accepted as normal and where they express distress for foreigners who are not so well cared for by their governments and have to pay for goods and make their own decisions.

This is a riveting read.  The cruel edge cuts right through.  The narrative is a patchwork, jumping back and forth on a timeline but I think I relished this as a foil to the compartmentalised prescriptive lives that the characters led.  There was a bit of everything - romance, adventure, drama, torture, innocence, depravity.