31 October, 2013

Book Review: Blankets

From Goodreads: Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, Blankets explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated country, and the budding romance of two coming-of-age lovers. A tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith.

Thoughts: I'm not sure how I came across this. In fact when I go the notification from the library it was ready to pick up, I struggled to remember even requesting it! I'm so glad I did. Running to just short of 600 pages, this exquisite graphic novel is a semi auto-biographical account of Thompson's relationship with his family, his first girl friend and faith.

The intensity of a first love is perfectly portrayed with angst filled illustrations and dialogue. His journey as he questions his faith, the fear of sin and reprisal is heart wrenching.

Some of the illustrations had me examining the pages, discovering hidden treasures within the panels. A smooth line, a jagged edge or nothing at all can portray so much feeling.
Just like Maus, the felling in this graphic novel is raw. Without a lot of language to hide behind, Graphic novels seem to strip back to the raw emotions. A good graphic novel bears out the saying, a picture is worth, a thousand words.


Book Review: The Stalking of Julia Gillard

From Goodreads: This is the story of one of the most extraordinary episodes in recent Australian political history, of how a powerful media pack, a vicious commentariat and some of those within her own party contrived to bring down Australia's first woman prime minister.
'Don't write crap. Can't be that hard. And when you have written complete crap, then I think you should correct it.' Julia Gillard
When Julia Gillard took the reins of the Australian Labor Party on 24 June 2010 she did so with the goodwill of the majority of her party and a fawning Canberra press gallery. The man she had supplanted, Kevin Rudd, led an isolated band of angry Labor voices at this surprising turn of events. The collective political and media verdict was that his time, short though it had been, was up. But when Gillard announced in February 2011 that her government would introduce a carbon pricing scheme, Rudd and his small team of malcontents were already in lock-step with key Canberra and interstate journalists in a drive to push her out of the prime ministerial chair.
Never has a prime minister been so assiduously stalked. Cast as a political liar and policy charlatan, Julia Gillard was also mercilessly and relentlessly lampooned for her hair, clothes, accent, her arse, even the way she walks and talks. Rudd, on the other hand, could barely do any wrong. His antics were afforded benign, unquestioning prime-time media coverage.
This is the story about one of the most extraordinary episodes in recent Australian political history. It focuses on Team Rudd and the media's treatment of its slow-death campaign of destabilisation, with its disastrous effect on Gillard and the government's functioning. It is about a politician who was never given a fair go; not in the media, not by Rudd, not by some in caucus.

Thoughts: The reality is, if you didn't like Julia Gillard, if you truly believe she was lying, back stabbing bitch who nearly ran the country into the ground (something that a lot of the facts do not bear out), you most probably won't like this book. If you do not agree with the view that Kevin Rudd is an egotistical, power hungry, narcissistic man, who struggled to make decisions, insisted on micromanaging the government into paralysis and refused to believe he was no longer the saviour Australia needed, you will dismiss it as the one eyed view of a pro Gillard loyalist - and nothing will change your mind.
The book reads very much like a diary or a blog. In fact Walsh makes sure in her introduction that you know this is the case. She doesn't pretend it's an indepth analysis of the Rudd/ Gillard stoush. Instead she recounts what she observed and saw over the period of time from Gillard taking the leadership, through to the unsuccessful second challenge. Unfortunately the book came out just after the final successful challenge which handed Rudd back the leadership. That's a pity because I would be interested to know what she thought about that whole incident!
What this book does is outline how Kevin Rudd and his small, but powerful band of followers (who, despite what the mainstream media and the Liberal party would have you believe,  were not faceless, but very, very up front and obvious!)white anted and undermined the Gillard government and made it near impossible to get any good publicity. The mainstream media (also known as the fourth estate)bought into the whole thing, focusing on a leadership challenge that had no legs. (Rudd never had the numbers needed) Coupled with the fact that the media rarely, if ever reported on the success and skillful management of a minority government,* Gillard had little to no hope of retaining leadership, let alone government.
I believe this book gives a good account of the egotistical, self centred personality that Kevin Rudd appears to be. A man whose desire to lead over rode everything - including the best interests of the party he professed to love.
Walsh recounts and notes the major news stories during the time. She also notes the lack of coverage of other events. She shows the media's bias and how they failed in their duty to the Australian public. Little wonder people are losing faith in the fourth estate.

*Regardless of your view of Gillard and her government, they manged to pass close to 600 pieces of legislation during the minority government. Given the negotiation that would have had to happen to get any legislation passed, this can only be seen as successful and a testament to their ability to negotiate with independents and other members of parliament.  In fact,  an analysis by Nick Evershed in the Guardian online, showed that Julia Gillard and her minority government passed more acts per day of their term than any other Australian government - ever!

Challenges: Ebook Challenge, Aussie Author Challenge

Book Review: The Rosie Project

From Goodreads: Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. Then a chance encounter gives him an idea. He will design a questionnaire-a sixteen-page, scientifically researched document-to find the perfect partner. She will most definitely not be a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker or a late-arriver. Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is strangely beguiling, fiery and intelligent. And she is also on a quest of her own. She's looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might just be able to help her with-even if he does wear quick-dry clothes and eat lobster every single Tuesday night.

Thoughts: A totally enjoyable, humourous, quirky book. Professor Don Tillman is obviously at the far end of the Asperger's Spectrum - but completely unaware of it. His way of dealing with being a "misfit" is to play up to it. In younger years he was the class clown, now he accepts the laughs and jokes at his expense, even if he doesn't understand them. His life is ordered and controlled and perfectly ok thank you very much. Then he meets Rosie. She turns his world upside down and while at times it makes him uncomfortable, it shows him the possibility of there being more, of the positives of being less structured. 
What I loved about this book was watching the growth of Don - of him going from being totally rigid and timetable driven to relaxing that slightly (not too much!), of learning to trust other's may have something to contribute to his world and he having a contribution to make to theirs.
This book made me laugh, wince, question and really just plain entertained me. Love it!

Challenges: Ebook Challenge, Aussie Author Challenge

Book Review: Dirt Music

From Goodreads: Luther Fox, a loner, haunted by his past, makes his living as an illegal fisherman — a shamateur. Before everyone in his family was killed in a freak rollover, he grew melons and played guitar in the family band. Robbed of all that, he has turned his back on music. There's too much emotion in it, too much memory and pain.
One morning Fox is observed poaching by Georgie Jutland. Chance, or a kind of willed recklessness, has brought Georgie into the life and home of Jim Buckridge, the most prosperous fisherman in the area and a man who loathes poachers, Fox above all. But she's never fully settled into Jim's grand house on the water or into the inbred community with its history of violent secrets. After Georgie encounters Fox, her tentative hold on conventional life is severed. Neither of them would call it love, but they can't stay away from each other no matter how dangerous it is — and out on White Point it is very dangerous.
Set in the dramatic landscape of Western Australia, Dirt Music is a love story about people stifled by grief and regret; a novel about the odds of breaking with the past and about the lure of music. Dirt music, Fox tells Georgie, is "anything you can play on a verandah or porch, without electricity." Even in the wild, Luther cannot escape it. There is, he discovers, no silence in nature.
Ambitious, perfectly calibrated, Dirt Music resonates with suspense and supercharged emotion — and it confirms Tim Winton's status as the preeminent Australian novelist of his generation.

Thoughts: Ah Tim Winton, you've done it again! Winton's characters are so flawed and damaged you wonder how they manage to get out of bed in the morning! But he drags them out and makes them expose themselves to the reader, using the harshness of the Australian landscape as a perfect, brutal back drop. Winton's description of the landscape are awe inspiring. A few words and you are standing there on the baking blacktop, clear blue sky with an overly bright sun above, rugged cliffs plunging to a perfect sea on one side, scrubby, stunted bush on the other as you shade your eyes and feel your skin burn.
Georgie and Fox are both hiding from their past - or ignoring it. Fox's pain especially leaks off every page. Georgie's need to save him so blatantly a way to avoid her own issues. 
Don't read Winton expecting a fairytale ending...in fact don't expect an ending at all! He will leave you hanging, the last line an open statement that resolves nothing. My love for Winton is so large he is the only author where this doesn't annoy the shit out of me! In fact, if he ended any other way I would be disappointed. Needless to say, my love affair with Winton and his writing continues.

Challenges: Aussie Author Challenge 

Book Review: The Shape of Snakes

From Goodreads: Mrs. Ranelagh has never stopped thinking about the dead body she found in the gutter twenty years ago, during Britain’s Winter of Discontent. “Mad Annie,” as she was known, was the only black resident of her West London neighborhood and openly despised by the community. The police called her death an accident, but Mrs. Ranelagh has always suspected it was murder. However, her pleas for an investigation were met with a vicious hate campaign that drove her and her husband from the country. Now, determined to uncover the truth, Mrs. Ranelagh has returned to England, where she quickly discovers a sordid trail of domestic violence, racism and adultery that shockingly could lead back to her own family.

Thoughts: Once again Minette Walters writes a fantastic book that simply keeps you turning the pages.I truly believe she is one of, if not the best crime writer around.
In this, M (you never find out her first name, just M or Mrs Ranelagh) is trying to prove that "Mad Annie", a black woman who suffered from Tourettes, was murdered 20 years ago and not killed by an accident as claimed.
Walters leads us through many twists and turns as M does what the police didn't - unravel the stories of those in the street - many who did not like having a black woman in their neighbourhood.
Walters uses a lot of characters - some of which are red herrings, others that play a larger role than you first imagine. The plethora of characters can be confusing, but as the net narrows on the guilty, there are less to deal with. None of the characters are perfect - in fact none of them are even truly likable, even M, whose motives you find yourself questioning. In fact, frequently throughout the book I questioned her mental stability and wondered what she was really looking for. In the end the mystery is solved, but the outcome is not necessarily satisfactory. A really good read.

14 October, 2013

Book Review: Big Brother

Goodreads: For Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the “toxic” dishes that he’d savored through their courtship, and devotes hours each day to manic cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn’t recognize him. In the years since they’ve seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It’s him or me.

Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much sacrifice we'll make to save single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.

Thoughts: Shriver inspiration for this book came from her own brother who died from complications due to morbid obesity. My first thought was, could you write this book without that personal experience? There is a lot of stigma around weight, carrying it and losing it. As someone who does struggle with my weight, I know how annoyed and incensed I get when someone who has never had a weight issue tells me how to lose weight or, even worse, how fat they are. You feel insulted and belittled and it's only recently that I have come to accept that quite often that's not what people mean. The thing is fat is a very personal issue and one that people are frequently judged for by strangers, the media and even our own families. By having had experience with this issue through a family member, Shriver lends a legitimacy to it.
This is the first of Shriver's books I've read the whole way through since We Need to Talk About Kevin and I enjoyed it. She raises many questions about relationships, loyalty and blame. I also found the dichotomy between a husband who over controlled food and a brother who had no control over food interesting. Was what her husband doing any better than what her brother was doing? And again, having had personal experience of a certain level of food control in my childhood, I was aware of the possible implications on the kids at a later date.
Loyalty was a big thing to. Who do you owe your loyalty to? A family member you have chosen (your husband) or a family member you have had your whole life? (your brother) Or is it a matter of choosing who needs you most at that time? While I could understand Fletcher (her husband's) reactions, I felt he was an incredibly selfish man. He was also one of those who pre judges those who are fat and immediately assumes they can not change, that they are at complete fault for their situation and if they would just show a bit of will power they would be fine.  He is the exact person who makes you feel that you can never change, you will never lose the weight and so why should you try? In fact I wonder if Pandora would have chosen Emerson if Fletcher was not such as arsehole.
Then there is the end. It's not what you expect and I can imagine that some people would feel betrayed and angry about it. I was at first, but the more I thought about it, the more ok I was with it. And while I'd love to say more, I can't for fear of spoiling the book.
Big Brother is very readable. Funny in parts (laugh aloud funny), tragic in many. If you are incredibly sensitive about weight issues I wouldn't recommend it, but I do think it gives an interesting take on a growing issue in the western world.

08 October, 2013

Book Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

From Goodreads: The year is 1803, and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years. There are now two handsome and healthy sons in the nursery, Elizabeth's beloved sister Jane and her husband Bingley live nearby and the orderly world of Pemberley seems unassailable. But all this is threatened when, on the eve of the annual autumn ball, the guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley's wild woodland. As it pulls up, Lydia Wickham - Elizabeth's younger, unreliable sister - stumbles out screaming that her husband has been murdered. Inspired by a lifelong passion for the work of Jane Austen, PD James masterfully recreates the world of Pride and Prejudice, and combines it with the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly-crafted crime story. Death Comes to Pemberley is a distinguished work of fiction, from one of the best-loved, most- read writers of our time.

Thoughts: Having recently come to discover the joy that is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I was curious to see what other authors could do with it. Let's face it, one  of the biggest problems with finishing a well loved book is the want, even the need to know what happens next! Do they live happily ever after? Do they have children? Does everyone else come to terms with the fact that Darcy married not only a woman who was seen as beneath him, but also appeared to hate him? So many questions!!
And yes, they were mostly answered, but as to whether it was satisfactory or not may be up for debate. For me, this lacked...something. The plot trudged along, neither slackening it's pace or picking up. Elizabeth seemed to have lost some of her fierce independent mindedness that I loved in the original. Darcy was a little lacklustre too, although Lydia and Wickham lived up to expectations.
If you're a fan of P&P, by all means read it. Just don't expect to fall in love with it or with James' interpretation of the characters. 

05 October, 2013

Book Review: Wishin' & Hopin'

From Goodreads:
It's 1964 and ten-year-old Felix is sure of a few things: the birds and the bees are puzzling, television is magical, and this is one Christmas he'll never forget.
LBJ and Lady Bird are in the White House, Meet the Beatles is on everyone's turntable, and Felix Funicello (distant cousin of the iconic Annette!) is doing his best to navigate fifth grade—easier said than done when scary movies still give you nightmares and you bear a striking resemblance to a certain adorable cartoon boy.
Back in his beloved fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, with a new cast of endearing characters, Wally Lamb takes his readers straight into the halls of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School—where Mother Filomina's word is law and goody-two-shoes Rosalie Twerski is sure to be minding everyone's business. But grammar and arithmetic move to the back burner this holiday season with the sudden arrivals of substitute teacher Madame Frechette, straight from QuÉbec, and feisty Russian student Zhenya Kabakova. While Felix learns the meaning of French kissing, cultural misunderstanding, and tableaux vivants, Wishin' and Hopin' barrels toward one outrageous Christmas.
From the Funicello family's bus-station lunch counter to the elementary school playground (with an uproarious stop at the Pillsbury Bake-Off), Wishin' and Hopin' is a vivid slice of 1960s life, a wise and witty holiday tale that celebrates where we've been—and how far we've come.

Thoughts: I like Wally Lamb, but I don't find his books easy to read. This however, I powered through in a day! Lighter than his other books (reviewed here, here and here) I found myself laughing out loud several times. Felix is so naive and innocent that you just can't help but love him and his view of the world. His family is loving, but unassuming. You get the feeling that he will look back on this time and realise how wonderful and precious it was.
I love Lamb's characters and especially love that Felix, who is second in the class (behind the most annoying Rosalie Twerski!) is best mates with Lonny, who has been kept back twice. There is no huge angst in this book, just the year in the life of a really likable character on the verge of puberty, discovering things about life he never really knew.

04 October, 2013

Book Review: Thursday's Child

From Goodreads: Through the long years of the Great Depression, Harper Flute watches with a child's clear eyes her family's struggle to survive in a hot and impoverished landscape. As life on the surface grows harsher, her brother Tin escapes ever deeper into a subterranean world of darkness and troubling secrets, until his memory becomes a myth barely whispered around the countryside.

Thoughts: Sonya Hartnett does not write cheery, happy books. No, instead she complex, dark, thoughtful stories that leaves her reader shocked and bleeding - I love it! Her real strength is in her characters, so simply drawn but with such depth you feel you would know them the moment you saw them.
She frequently uses the Australian landscape to punctuate the desolation felt in her stories - the stark, dry landscape, the tough, suspicious people it breeds. If I close my eyes, I can see the Flute family standing in front of me, sunburnt and dusty, squinting into the sun, sunbaked earth all around them.
Like most of her books, Thursday's Child is character driven. The story happens around the people in it, with seemingly every day events taking on greater meaning as the story builds to it's climax. In less talented hands the story would drag and falter, but Hartnett's characters keep you there with them, watching as their lives fall apart, sharing with them the belief that finally, eventually it must get better. Hartnett is, without a doubt, one of Australia's most talented writers.

Challenges: Aussie Author Challenge.

03 October, 2013

EmmaApproved: Clueless

Clueless is a modern day adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. Cher, the Emma-ersque character is played by Alicia Silverstone - rather well I thought!

Half the fun of watching this was working out who was who, drawing parallels with the book and today's world. I also walked away feeling like I shouldn't like Cher and her friends, but I did. Best of all, it does stand alone. While having an understanding of Emma gives you some aha moments, it is not necessary. It was pleasant way to while away an afternoon.

Book Review: The Boy Who Fell To Earth

From Goodreads: Meet Merlin. He's Lucy's bright, beautiful son -- who just happens to be autistic. Since Merlin's father left them in the lurch shortly after his diagnosis, Lucy has made Merlin the centre of her world. Struggling with the joys and tribulations of raising her eccentrically adorable yet challenging child, (if only Merlin came with operating instructions) Lucy doesn't have room for any other man in her life.
By the time Merlin turns ten, Lucy is seriously worried that the Pope might start ringing her up for tips on celibacy, so resolves to dip a poorly pedicured toe back into the world of dating. Thanks to Merlin's candour and quirkiness, things don't go quite to plan... Then, just when Lucy's resigned to a life of singledom once more, Archie -- the most imperfectly perfect man for her and her son -- lands on her doorstep. But then, so does Merlin's father, begging for forgiveness and a second chance. Does Lucy need a real father for Merlin -- or a real partner for herself?

Thoughts: I've never been a big fan of Kathy Lette as an author. Apart from Puberty Blues, I have never managed to finish one of her books. I read this on the recommendation of a friend who has a young child with high functioning Autism. I mention this because it did colour the way I read the book.
I don't have a child with special needs. I have taught children with a variety of special needs - either physical, intellectual of behavioural. I have many friends who have children with autism, ranging from you wouldn't know the child had a diagnosis unless you had spent a lot of time with them through to the child who will need care for the rest of his life. I have seen people who react (for want of a better word) to children with special needs in atrocious ways and those who don't react any differently than they do with any other kid. I've dealt with the education system as a teacher, trying to provide the best opportunities and I have heard stories of an education system that want to wash their hands of anything out of the ordinary that make me so angry. I'd like to thinking that I have at least a basic understanding of autism and the challenges faced by families with children with autism, but I know I have no real idea of what it like day to day.
I had some issues with this book. I had some issues with Lucy. I has some issues with Lucy's mother, her mother-in-law, her boyfriend and her ex husband. I had no issues with Merlin. 
My thoughts can best be summed up by another reviewer over on Goodreads, Sam Pope, who has a daughter with Asperger's.

Additionally, if [Lucy] is meant to be portrayed as a sympathetic character, Lette has failed miserably. She talks constantly of how much she loves her son but doesn't properly inform her army of lovers of his difficulties and when he puts his foot in it and talks inappropriately she just feels embarrassed rather than protecting him. I have a child who at times blurts out things that are best left unsaid and try to gently steer her away from a topic of conversation if it is inappropriate. What we see with [Lucy] is her just sitting there and indulging her own embarrassment rather than shielding her son.
 And that was my issue. For all of her talk of love, for all of her trying to get Merlin into a decent educational setting, she never seemed to sooth the way for Merlin in social situations. Even I know you don't take someone to meet someone with Asperger's without first explaining the person's quirks, their lack of filter, their inability to pick up social cues. It astounded me that she continued to have conversations with people within Merlin's hearing, saying things you really don't want repeated (like the fact your MIL is two faced and you wonder which one she will be wearing today), knowing there is a really good chance he WILL repeat it. I was infuriated by Archie's inability to understand that Merlin would take things literally - that if you told him to play in the traffic he would.

And yet, despite all of that, I did enjoy the book.It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me wince. I do think it gave insight into what life with a child with Asperger's could be like. However I don't think it took any time to celebrate the joy a child with Asperger's can bring as well - and for that it is a poorer book.

02 October, 2013

Book Review: Behemoth

From Goodreads:The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.
Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan's peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.
Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what's ahead.

Thoughts: This is the second book in the Leviathan series. I reviewed book one here as part of the 13 in'13 challenge
So Deryn, a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek, the heir to an empire posing as a commoner, are back as World War I continues to heat up. Set largely in Istanbul, it once again give a bit of a view into world history - even if it is set in an alternate universe.
I love the steampunk universe, the way what we consider the natural order of things may not be so. The question also being, would you be a Darwinist - someone who tinkers with the natural to make it more than it was, or a Clunker - someone who replies on pure mechanics. Personally, I like the idea of living, breathing machinery!

EmmaApproved: Emma - The Movie

So once again I am hitting off the challenge by watching the movie.

Having not read the book, it's hard ot tell how good a job the movie does. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a better Emma that Keira Knightly made Elizabeth. I love Toni Collette in anything and I think she made a wonderful Harriet. In the end, the movie was sufficient for it's purpose - to make me familiar enough with the story to allow me to tackle the book.

01 October, 2013

Challenge: Emma Approved

I mentioned awhile ago that my friend, Miss Dove over at the Doves Nest, had issued a challenge in regards to Jane Austen's Emma.

After the success of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Pemberly Digital (who produced LBD) are now doing an Emma adaptation.

So, to celebrate, Miss Dove issued a challenge. Of course I'm in.

My plan - watch the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version, watch the BBC version, watch the movie adaptation, Clueless, read the book, watch Emma Approved and (so help me!) join up for the Tumblr stuff! (I won't link there, I have no idea what I'm doing!)

In the meantime, look out for my review of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie!

Book review: The Deep

From Goodreads: Alice lives in a house by the sea. Snakes and spiders don't scare her, but she's very afraid of the deep ocean water. Her swimming, splashing, diving family urge her to come out and play with them, but no matter how hard she tries, Alice still can't leave the green shallows for the deep. This moving story about a girl besting her fears is matched with warm, light-splashed illustrations.

Thoughts: I thought if I was going to aim to read all of Tim Winton's books, I couldn't ignore one just because it was a picture book.
The Deep is about Alice and how she is afraid to swim in the deep. Every day her family jump off the jetty to swim, but Alice is afraid. She knows how to swim, so why can't she swim in the deep? Then one day some new friends help her conquer her fear. 
Winton captures the fear and frustration of Alice beautifully, helped by Karen Louise's illustrations. I am seriously in awe of this mans ability to move between audiences.