31 December 2014

2014 Favourites


2014 ~ An interesting year in reading!

I took the advice of others and decided that life was too short to read what you are not enjoying, so there were many marked as unfinished (The Bees; The Blazing World; By Night In Chile; How A Mother Weaned Her Girl From Fairy Tales; Long Division; The Magicians; Mermaids In Paradise; Perfidia; Red Rising; This Is The Water)

But there were also some that I kept reading (book club? as a form of punishment? prize winners that I didn't enjoy?) and wasted valuable reading time (Annihilation; Family Life; The Fracking King; Frog Music; The Paying Guests; Serena; The Son; The Turner Of Silences; The Wonders) ... whoa ... that is quite a lot of NFM reading (Not For Me).

So ... favourites from 2014 :
THE ENCHANTED by Rene Denfeld
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.C. Carey
THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton
STATION ELEVEN by Emily St John Mandel

And very much enjoyed : (and just couldn't decide what to move to the Top 5)
Americanah
Galveston
Half A Yellow Sun
The People In The Trees
An Untamed State

And also great reads : (but just out of Top 5 contention)
Bone Clocks
A Dance With Dragons
Egg And Spoon 
Fourth Of July Creek
Ghostwritten
The Golden Age
Shibumi
The Wolf In Winter

13 December 2014

DECEMBER 2014


An added bit of awesomeness ... this graphic from Google Images 
comes from the Bookshop Santa Cruz ... awwwww ... happy memories!!!

Long List for Tournament of Books
http://www.themorningnews.org/post/the-long-long-list-for-the-2015-tournament-of-books

So far I have read : 
All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld 
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Area X: Southern Reach Trilogy : Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
California by Edan Lepucki
Euphoria by Lily King
Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
The Secret Place by Tana French
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

03 December 2014

The Interestings ~ Meg Wolitzer

** OK **

Seriously?  The Not-At-All-Interestings
In fact : The Downright-Borings

In some ways I felt the author was trying to (badly, very badly) imitate A Secret History (with its slow simmering plotline peopled with eccentric misfits coming to terms with a dark secret). But this was boring, repetitive and superficial, fluffed up with token pop-culture references, full of irrelevant repetitive detail and peopled with caricatures.

By the end I wondered why I had hung in there and finished. What uninteresting characters! What a trivial narrative!

That self-obsessed, centre-of-their-own-universe, trite shallowness of adolescence resonates throughout the book. All well and good for adolescents, except the characters that we meet as teens seem to age chronologically but not emotionally.

We are kept at arms length from the cardboard characters. We are told they are Interestings, full of promise, talented, witty etc but that is only words and their actions belie this. They are boring (Oh, OK, it was exciting when Julie changed her name to Jules! Wowee!!) and one dimensional (Look at me! I'm gay!) and hung up on stereotypes and physical appearances (repeatedly told of the buxom-blond would-be dancer, and eczema-covered love reject, and hunky probable-rapist). 


03 November 2014

Perfidia ~ James Ellroy

X NO X
- UNFINISHED -

Perfidy : an act of deception
And so I was deceived into reading it.

And I was bored when I did.  And I was over the staccato writing and the lack of depth to the parade of characters.  The writing style.  It was abbreviated.   There was an air of immediacy.  Unrelenting in it's "hold your breath, something dramatic might happen".  It wore me down.  It was like a parody of writing styles.  Characters may have walked the walk and talked the talk but were rather like caricatures.

Reached the half way point and decided that, like the sentence structure, life was too short.

06 October 2014

Mermaids In Paradise ~ Lydia Millet

X NO X
- UNFINISHED -

Facile
insufferably mean-spirited, self-involved and snobbish
overwritten giddy 
over-the-top stereotypes do not make it satire 
buff or bumbling the characters were cardboard
mean-spirited, self-centred morons don't equal quirky

03 October 2014

The Paying Guests ~ Sarah Waters

X NO X
- UNFINISHED -

2015 TOURNAMENT OF BOOKS

I wish I wasn't The Paying Reader!
Refund, anyone??

I was intrigued by the time and place, I was interested in the characters and their relationship, I liked the premise of the unfolding plot ... but it was soooooo repetitious, sooooooo tedious, so padded out with so much self indulgence.  It bored me stupid.

Short story?  Yes!  It would have made a great one!  But, as a novel, it lacked novelty. 

It was a romance ... it was a blighted love affair between one boring-as-batshit character and one trying-to-find-herself-wacko (actually both descriptions apply to both almost-indistinguishable characters!).  It wasn't even a case of style over substance!  The style was gushy, overwrought, period chic lit ... the substance could have been good but it took sooooo long to get anywhere (actually, at two thirds I skipped to the end! Enough was enough!)

This was my first Waters and I was expecting so much, given the reviews for this and her previous good standing ... now I don't know if she is worth the effort!

08 September 2014

Neuromancer ~ William Gibson

X NO X

A head-trip of hallucinations
Found myself just reading words

I will admit I fretted over my rating.  What if I just wasn't smart enough to get it?  What if I should read it again to decipher it better?  Aren't I geeky enough? What is my problem??

But basically, it just wasn't me.  Its convoluted mind games, its "and then I woke up" feel, its virtual unreality ... just wasn't me.  To each his own.  Basically I found it boring, hard to follow, and, at times, gibberish and phantasmagoria.  The plot and characters were lost in the vagaries of cyberspace.


07 September 2014

Between Here And The Yellow Sea ~ Nic Pizzolatto

- UNFINISHED -

didn't grab me...or leave me wanting more ... have only read the first 2 ... will come back to it before I rate it

06 September 2014

How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales ~ Kate Bernheimer

x NO x
- UNFINISHED -


Hope I was open minded ... think I gave it a fair go.  Did not like her previous book at all ... got this on the Kindle for Alphie
Read two of the short stories ... stinkers ... enough for me

Love this quote from a review :
The writing is deliberately sparse, intended, Bernheimer said, to leave “nonrepresentational space, meant to allow lucid encounters”

Yep ... that is another way of describing this self righteous wankiness  ... so instead of a review I will just leave a representational space

05 September 2014

After Darkness ~ Christine Piper

** OK **

After Darkness ... was light
As in light-weight

Don't mean to sound condescending but it was a good read - suitable for serialisation in a light-weight weekly mag.  It was nice, light, easy-reading historical fiction.  It was strong on context but weak on content, as in, the author managed to give a sense of place and historical detail but the characterisation and plotline were dull.

The narrative skirted around the darker aspects of the subject material with violence kept at arms length.  In fact anything that could be considered a bit nasty ... from camp latrines to personal privations ... was excised from the novel.  The horrors of chemical warfare were alluded to but the war itself was just a backdrop.  Sex never reared its ugly head except for sweetly colouring his relationship with the unattainable nun, and frequent reference to his melancholy marriage.  Whoops, I forgot ... there was that one nasty guard ... boo hiss ... but he got his come-uppence ... suspended without pay!

The voice of the first person narrative is restrained and understated.  His relationships with others lack empathy and intimacy.  Fine, that was the way he was meant to be written, but, given that the pivotal point to his character is his belief in honour, dignity and "saving face", I found his behaviour lacked verisimilitude (eg, the very public tears in the courtroom).  At times he seemed to just go through the motions and this lead to a failure to engage me as a reader.  There was a lack of passion, a lack of poignancy.  The climax of the book was as murky as the dust storm that shrouded it.  Too much of the narrative was loosely strung together historical research. 

Interesting ... yes.
Engaging read... moderately so.
Did I care what happened to the characters ... no, they were boring, with no life breathed into them, behaving in unbelievable ways so that all that research didn't go to waste.

And I am just not sure how the title relates to the narrative?


04 September 2014

Broken Monsters ~ Lauren Beukes

*** LIKE ***

Fragmented ending with a broken ending
Monster murderer nothing new

03 September 2014

The Wonders ~ Paddy O'Reilly

 X NO X


A book with no heart, that never took wings, and a very woolly storyline.
It's a wonder I finished it!

02 September 2014

Winter's Bone ~ Daniel Woodrell

*** LIKE ***

Icy cold and trimmed to the bone
Poetic and eloquent in its sparse writing

08 August 2014

The Golden Age ~ Joan London

*** LIKE ***

Glows with beautiful language
Sharp edged nostalgia but a nebulous narrative

There was a lot to love.  London is a poetic, visual writer.  Her prose is sharp.  Without waxing lyrical, she sets the scene vividly.  I loved her commentary on the Royal Visit (the photographed flowers, the framed letter).  I felt I could see and breath in the Perth of the '50's that she pictured so clearly for me.  Many memories from my own golden childhood were tickled in the narrative from Argonauts to Choo Choo bars (though shame of Frank for being a little dismissive of Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopedia - my treasure trove of trivia!).

The backstory was deftly woven : comparing Old World Europe and provincial Perth, setting nostalgia for what was against hope for a new life, showing family as belonging and family as isolation.

But I was disappointed.  I am a big fan of Gilgamesh (pushing it on anyone interested in Australian literature).  I so wanted to love this one.  My husband is a polio survivor, still haunted by his time in hospital as a child, so there is a personal context.  Unfortunately there was little substance woven within the beautiful prose.

The story of the emerging "first love" between Frank and Elsa wasn't enough to make the Golden Age anything more than a mellow, nebulous embrace. All the niceties were there, but you were left wanting so much more : something as sharp-edged and unsentimental as the characterisation.  We have a series of poignant vignettes without an emotional investment in the characters.
 
I love this quote from towards the end (and well done to an author who has done her homework)
"Polio is like love, ... years later, when you think you have recovered, it comes back."

A small, almost meaningless point : I wasn't taken by the cover before I even started and, now that I am finished, I see it as questionable and irrelevant.  It shows a young man on a train - something that doesn't pertain to the narrative at all.  This is meaningless stock photography, a cheap letdown for the author and the reader.

Having just finished reading, I will see how it settles in my memory and may come back and change this to a 4 star review ... so I guess it is a 3-and-a-half review.
 

01 August 2014

Fourth of July Creek ~ Smith Henderson

**** RECOMMEND ****

Not a creek for a playful paddle but one 
of deep holes and deadly whirlpools

This was a dark, engrossing read, brim full of the dregs of society and those who seem to be striving to reach the bottom.  It reminded me of Chandler's "mean streets" transposed to the Montana backwaters and peopled with failures and fanatics.

The "hero" is so very, very flawed.  He is an alcoholic, a failure at marriage with family and social relationships, but with a dogged perseverance when it comes to discharging his duties as a social worker.  And that means developing a close relationship with a fanatical, anti-government isolationist and his son.


Characterisation and the sense of place are both extremely well done.  There is a sub-story about Pete's runaway daughter interspersed throughout in an odd (but not off-putting) Q&A style.   The narrative starts as a slow burn but the suspense builds, though surprisingly not to the expected Fourth-of-July fireworks.  The ending is not a foregone conclusion; satisfying, yes, but not exactly wrapped up in happy-ever-afters which rather suits the hit-and-miss outcomes of Pete's interventions.

09 July 2014

The Blazing World ~ Siri Hustvedt

- UNFINISHED -


Didn't set me on fire!
Arty-farty (but more hot air farty)

I am an unrepentant, self-admitted non-fan of modern art and modern art was at the non-beating heart of this book.  For me it became an ordeal to read - I felt a sense of intellectual alienation with it esoteric referencing.   

The narrative was filled with irrelevant detail and wallowed in pretentiousness.   I didn't feel any empathy towards the two dimensional characters and the vagueness of the structure annoyed me.  The  story is told through a collection of texts but in this regard I felt it was a major fail without significant differentiation of voice from one entry to the next.

08 July 2014

By Night In Chile ~ Roberto Bolano

- UNFINISHED -


ugh... I know BolaƱo is supposed to be a literary genius. I know he's like the Latino James Joyce. But seriously, this novella is one long run-on sentence. I simply could not get anything out of it. And yes, it's the deathbed narrative of a halfway-lucid elderly priest, so the nonsensical style is for a reason... but that doesn't make it readable. 

Many will appreciate Bolano's lack of convention, his eschewing the paragraph and the sinuous, stream of consciousness quality to Urrutia's deathbed narrative. But I found the lack of transitions, atypical structure, and ubiquity of ceaseless sentences grating.  

I give the author kudos for his style of writing, but the content was simply awful

Meh. This book was just Not For Me. The writing style had the trifecta of things I hate: no plot, sentences that ran on for pages, and no paragraph breaks at all. Roberto Bolano is supposed to be the greatest Latin American writer since sliced bread. I'll take their word for it. I'm just glad the book wasn't any longer than it was, or I would not have finished it.  

I think the low rating is largely my fault. This book requires one to concentrate. The stream of consciousness style of writing makes it difficult to put down and pick up again - which I did, after reading another novel in between - and the writing is dense. That being said, i would like to go back and read it more carefully at some point.  

07 July 2014

California ~ Edan Lepucki

 ** OK **

Babes in the (red)woods
Another dystopian fairy tale


I quite enjoyed California. Not loved, but liked.

I was certainly happy to lose myself for a while in the redwoods …

Hansel and Gretel (aka Cal & Frida) are abandoned (by society) in the deep dark forest (the Californian Redwoods). They stumble around, helped by forest creatures (the Millers), before coming upon the enticing treats of the Gingerbread House (Micah’s village). But here, all that is good is not as it seems. The evil forces are about to do away with them but rescue is at hand and they are whisked to the safety of a Settlement (happily ever after-ish).

There were some annoying bits, eg, the rather symbolic turkey baster (when they didn’t seem to have packed any useful tools) but my biggest negative would be the predictable stereotyping of people (especially gender).

It was a diverting enough read – average, but diverting.  Too many lost opportunities.

Did I enjoy it? Yes.
Would I read the sequel that I feel it set up? Probably not.

03 July 2014

Annihilation ~ Jeff Vandermeer

 X NO X
2015 TOURNAMENT OF BOOKS

Breathy, superficial, first-person narrative.
Full of vagaries - just fill in the blanks.

"Surreal" would be a better title as it has the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream ... and don't you just hate it when someone goes on and on about their weird adventures while asleep ... wake me up when it is over!!

The (nameless) characters are exploring (the almost nameless) Area X.  When exploring a "tower" (no, it is not a tunnel!) and follow a gibberish set of words they meet up with an amorphous, mucilaginous Thing.

In fact, it is not just the "thing" that is amorphous and mucilaginous.  The plot is without clear definition - can something be dry and viscous at the same time?  Characterisation is minimal, without substance or credibility.

If I remember correctly the term "annihilation" was the hypnotic trigger to commit suicide ... and this book did just that!

05 June 2014

The Martian ~ Andy Weir

*** LIKE ***

Really it was only an ok read but I am rating it *Like* because it was different