Saturday, 14 December 2013

Tipping the Velvet

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Ah this book. I have wanted to read this book for years and years, I finally thought about it at the right place at the right time (while in the bookshop instead of at home) and managed to pick myself up a copy. And over the last year of it sitting there, I've just  heard again and again how good a writer Sarah Waters is. So for an historical fiction challenge, I decided I should pick it up.

I watched the BBC miniseries of the book 10 years ago when I was much more naive. I had some friends who had taped it off tv and brought it around while I was housesitting. I turned down a date with Lexx (it was the first few weeks we started seeing each other) to sit at home with the girls and watch "a lesbian, Victorian, possibly bdsm, tv show". He offered to bring some wine and come along too (very selfless of him (piffle) but we had plenty though). But I had no idea what I was about to watch. Not so much bdsm, but I never knew the BBC made shows like that (far cry from The Bill for example). I've wanted to read the book ever since. Except the few times it came up that my Mum's friends loved it... that was a weird convo.

So with an history and a build up like that, it had to be good. And it was. It was mostly brilliant. I love historical fiction that you just engage with the characters and follow them unconditionally where they are going. I just abandoned a book as the language was so jarringly "I'm reminding you this is ye olde-y" it was horrible. Tipping the Velvet didn't do that at all. They used Victorian language but you didn't notice too much (a lot of the "quaint" words were still reasonably frequently used for me anyway), you just went with them on their journey.

Again, back to place. She is remarkable as well with this. yes, it helped I was walking some of these streets a few weeks before, but I was 130 years in the future. You could completely feel, smell, see the world or environment she was building. For me, this is so important in a book. I want characters I can believe, an interesting story and to feel like I am placed in that world. I know, I don't ask for much.

I did feel like the story started to drag a little once or twice, particularly in the last third of the book. It just needed a bit of editing. And I can't remember how different the ending was to the miniseries (to be fair we had probably drunk our 19 year old body weights in wine while we watched the whole 6 hours, so god knows if I remembered the ending the next day). But I liked the ending in the book. Who cares about the series, the book's what matters! That's what I'm meant to say, right?

Out Stealing Horses - #42

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This book is a fantastic example of what I am loving about Scandinavian lit at this point in time. I was hesitant about it when a friend of mine recommended the book. I mean, the premise doesn't sound overly interesting. A story of two boys and they steal horses one morning, and then "their lives change forever". Not really a gripping concept, not to mention that phrase is over done. But I am glad I stuck with it.

The plot really is about one boy Jonas, and the summer in 1948 he spends with his dad in the Norwegian woods. It's not one event that changes the direction of Jonas' life, but the discoveries that Jonas finds out over the course of the whole summer, along with events that occur that change him and his family.

The narrative is mainly told between Jonas now as an old man, and him in the summer of 1948. But there are flashbacks to just before and after that summer as well. It's not told in a horrible overworked way, but flows almost seamlessly between them all.

It's just a beautiful little book. It takes a simple story and twists and turns it into something intricate and compelling. I'm also really lucky that these last few reads had such a beautifully feeling of place, and this book is no different. You feel like you can reach out and touch the Norwegian trees, the tiny little creek and it's rowboat, the fir needles under your feet, see the almost unending twilight in the northern Norwegian summer.

Treat yourself and read it.

Friday, 6 December 2013

The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency - #41

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I remember first hearing about this series when my step-father asked for it one Christmas. I was slightly bemused being young and judgmental. But then the hype and acclaim got louder and louder. And I knew I was being silly.

But I have still left it until now to read about Precious Ramotswe and her detective agency. I am actually glad this challenge kicked me up the butt to read this book. Did I think it was as amazing as all the reviews have told me for the last 10 years? No. Was it a fun read? Yes. I did feel it was a little tainted with the overhype, but that is not the book's problem.

What actually impressed me about the book was two things. One was the sense of place. Alexander McCall Smith has an amazing way of describing the landscape and the surrounds that you actually feel like you are there. I saw an interview with him and he was just so in love with the landscape of Zimbabwe (where he grew up) and Botswana, and that makes complete sense as it it comes across in his writing. It was like the country and the environment was a character in the story. As someone who comes from a very ragged country herself, it was lovely to have that kind of environment talked about in a book. None of this Thomas the Tank Engine style of manicured landscape, this was real.

Secondly, there is no doubt this book is a cozy. However, there are so many topics and taboos that are talked about in this medium that don't usually fit. It was refreshing. Cozies have a tendency to be so clean and sanitised. None of that horrible life stuff (besides murder of course). But this one talks about rape, witchcraft, domestic violence, sacrificial killings, etc. It was an interesting mix. And yet a very safe way to raise these issues. I was impressed with the sensitivity to the audience, yet the lack of glossing over the truth.

Did I completely fall in love with it? No. Will I go back for a second helping? Yes. I need to see how it develops. I probably won't stick around for the whole 14 books, but I have a bit more time in me for Precious and her agency in the meantime.

Tephra, the new chicken, decided she wanted to write to you all too. I include her blog post below: "25555555555555555555555555555555555thuiuiuiuigggynutuul,;l'[=K9.;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll568655555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555556+"

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Something Fresh

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While I was overseas, I finally bit the bullet and started a Wodehouse. This is an important time in every girl's life, and I am very happen that it occurred while I was actually in Wodehouse country. I am really quite serious about that last part. I cannot imagine a better intro to Wodehouse than I have had.

I picked up Something Fresh, the first in the Blandings Castle series, in a bookshop in Oxford. I had luckily discovered that morning, that I had brought the wrong book overseas with me for the September Challenge I was running. So I just had to buy another book. Life is so incredibly hard sometimes.

The book starts in the West End of London, which we had just been spending the last week wandering around exploring. I could imagine perfectly the streets or buildings, if I didn't know the exact area it was describing. When we weren't in London, we were up in Oxfordshire visiting my brother who was in an old family manor/stately home which had been converted to a hospice. But it was very similar to what I imagine Blandings would have been like. Just a bit smaller.

The book itself was fun. A little old fashioned, but no more than other writers of that era are now. But I can see why he is such an acclaimed writer. The book introduces us to the Threepwood family, their staff and friends. This time we meet them when it looks like Freddie, the youngest and particularly useless Threepwood, has just gotten engaged.

The story honestly is a little thin, but that's not why you read Wodehouse. You read him for his interactions between people and his observations of just about everything around them. And when he is does this and pointing out the slight absurdity of it all, he is brilliant. I am not a huge fan of slapstick either, but when it is written in such a dry, sarcastic... British, way. Oh I was nearly crying with laughter on the train. I highly recommend picking it up for a light, fluffy read.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Mahu - #40

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Oh this book is just fun. Murder mystery, surfing, Hawaii, hot boy on boy action. What's not to love?!

The trimming's aside, this is a great little police procedural, murder mystery style book. Murder happens, policeman makes mistakes, rapidly tries to cover up mistakes while solving crime, gets kicked off case, must solve crime at all costs and does. I would mark that as a spoiler, but really. All of us who read crime fiction or murder mysteries knows that's how it goes. It's like the quote from That's Entertainment of either Frank Sinatra or Gene Kelly (I'd have to crawl under the house to get the VHS to tell you which one). Everyone knows the plot to a musical is "Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy looses girl. Boy sings song and wins girl back." It's not a spoiler if we all know that's going to happen!

So disclaimers aside about spoilers, this book does it well. Throw in Hawaii for a nice change of scene. And more importantly for cultural twists on the coming out story. Mind you, that did surprise me somewhat. As well as the workplaces response. There is no workplace in this country that could have responded to an employee coming out like that that would not get it's arse sued off for discrimination and wrongful dismissal. I have a hard time believing that in a country like the States where you seem to be able to sue any one for anything, that this was not an issue.

However the book reminded me again and again we were not in the States, we were in Hawaii. There were a large mix of cultures and traditions at play here and it was interesting to learn about them all. Kimo's family particularly is one we get a good glimpse into and learn a few of their customs and quirks.

Maybe again, not the best on the train read. Although the cover is pretty inconspicuous. But if you are prone to blushing like myself, maybe not the best place to read this book. The sex isn't graphic and usually tastefully dealt with with the literary equivalent of the fade out. I realise that with masculine sexuality there may be a bit more physicality to some sexual experiences, but I did feel there was a few scenes where sex was used as a power play thing, and danced around the edges of sexual abuse. But we never got to the line, let alone fell over it. It just was a little... off... at times. But when it was all with good intentions, I have absolutely no problems with that or the amount of nipples. There's lots of nipples.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Love in the Time of Cholera - #39

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Oh this is a tricky book. I hate these posts where I have no idea where they are going to end when I am starting.

Again, a very highly acclaimed book, but probably more, a highly acclaimed author, Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez. I have heard so much about him. Actually, to be fair it did prepare me for an incredibly dense read. And I think I got off lightly on that front. Yes, I read it for a week, then on a 3 hour bus ride to the airport, then a 24 hour flight to the UK, then multiple 1 hour train rides to where my brother lived in Oxfordshire from London. But from what I had heard of his writing, I expected it to last me almost 4 weeks of travelling. I was pleasantly surprised.

I mean, that is a long read, but it could have been worse. The measurement of life really.

The story itself is about a lady called Fermina Daza. You meet her at the end of her life. Well, on the day her husband dies.  And then we go back in time and look at her life, but more importantly, through her relationship with a man called Florentino Ariza. It's nice. I like Fermina. I want to know about her and her husband.

Who I do not like is Florentino. Which is unfortunate as about 70% of the book is about him. It's about his love. His infatuation. His conquests. His lovers. His lies. I just don't give a shit. He seems like a repulsive man I would spend no time with and probably in all honesty, not talking myself up here, see through his bullshit and send him on his way.

I am, I concede, a very different woman to Fermina and who she was allowed to be in turn of the century Columbia. But really? You buy it? All of it? Do all of the other women? Really?

Look, you will turn me off when you write a book saying (author [yes you Paulo Coelho] or character) "I'm a fucking studmuffin". I don't buy it. It screams fantasy. I do not need to partake in it. More importantly, I do not WANT to. Go away.

So why 3 stars? (sorry, SPOILER). Because for what it was it was well written, vaguely enjoyable studmufffin fantasy. But because I liked Fermina. I wanted to know how her story ended. And I did and I understood her. I am not sure who he meant to be the "main" character in this book and whether this achieves his goal or not. That intrigues me about the man. And will I got back for A Hundred Years of Solitude one day? Yes.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Kite Runner - #38

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As some of you may have gathered or otherwise know, I have been MIA in the last little while (family emergency that required urgent and immediate overseas travel).  I am back however now, and have a whole pile of books to review for you. No really, I have 6 books sitting here with 2 more soon to be added to that list. By the end of the next few weeks you will be thoroughly sick of me!!

The Kite Runner. It's nearly 2 months since I read you. This is another book that has been recommended to me over and over again. I am glad I finally got a chance to read it. The book starts with the story of Amir and his friend/servant Hassan, and their relationship as children. Then, one day an event happens that changes this forever, and if that wasn't enough, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan and changes their country and the world forever.

Amir and his father escape to America, and the book follows their story as Afghani refugees/migrants in the States and the lives they make for themselves there, including considering the problems/issues that these refugees/migrants had in America 30 years later, after September 11.

I was worried about this book. I was worried it wouldn't live up to the hype. I enjoyed the first half of the book, although I really need to read a nice happy, fluffy book sometime soon for the sake of my sanity. And then I felt like I plodded through the rest of the book. But looking back on it, I plodded at an extraordinary speed and read that 50% of the book in one afternoon. I knew I devoured the last bit of the book, but not quite that much. I finished it, and put it down, and thought "Hmm". And then the book worked it's magic.

I could not stop thinking about it. I found myself zoning out hours later thinking about the story and the characters and what happened and what could happen...

I usually do this for an hour or so, if the book was good. Maybe a day if it was amazing. But this book kept going. I couldn't think about any other story for almost 72 hours. I had heard of friends of mine reading this book and breaking down in public places like buses. I didn't have that, so thought it didn't affect me. 

Not at all it turns out, this one is a slow burner.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

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I finished this a few weeks ago. I had to digest it. In fact I started it on the plane to Thailand, but this thing is an absolute MAMMOTH of a book. And it does make sense as it tries to take on a incredibly large scope of things.

What the book is the story of two magicians, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (didn't see *that* twist coming, did you!), trying to bring the art and practice of magic back to England. There are many theoretical magicians still around, but no one has managed to do a magic spell for hundreds of years. Well, until these guys pop along. This is quite an epic story in itself. Throw in an entire alternative history of England including it's folklore and myths, which involves magic and faeries being commonplace and integral to this history, and it turns into this tome. That the North and the South of England were different kingdoms, with the North ruled over by a magical king called the Raven King. And then there are all the other stories that tie in and out of the main plot.

It is a clever book. It reads like a Georgian, Industrial Revolution period book. It has the feel, the language and the tone. It's a bit of a shock when you remember it was only published 9 years ago. It's subtle and sarcastic. I found the sarcasm perfect in fact, I would read parts with a smug smirk on my face.

But it's so LONG. It's slow to start. I'm glad I gave it go number two on the plane over there, as I had nothing else to read (and I was NOT going to re-read Invisible Monsters) as I pushed through the first 200pp or so, and was really enjoying it when we landed and I was at page 400 or so. But then the middle of the book could have cut down a bit. Just a bit. I felt there was a bit too much same same at one point. The ending while pretty good, just I felt wasn't as epic as I deserved for investing myself in 1008pp. It was good, don't get me wrong, it was just... subtle.. again.

Overall I really enjoyed the book. I wanted to settle for a bit, to see what I thought after a few weeks. And I am the same. It was a 4 star book. I am glad I read it. I'm not annoyed I read over a thousand pages for what I got, as in the end I got a wonderful story about magic and magicians and alternate history and a wealth more of stories and lore to file away. And really, it confirmed that Yorkshire is an inherently magical place. That's worth reading a book for *wink*.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Solaris - #37

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I have issues. I really do. It's a known thing, and when Lexx recommends books to me, one such caveat that is usually given is "there's a long description of lore/politics/history/science in the middle of the book". Now usually, those are things I get off on. As if I need to tell you guys. Mythology is my not so secret weakness. I love understanding the history of a place/event/person. Politics helps everything make sense. And science is fundamental to understanding anything. Including the three subjects above.

But what I don't like is the author taking me on 50 or 100 pages of this at once. Interweave bits and pieces in to the story, and I am yours. But I realised this style was not my thing in 1984. At least I loved the book though, so I paid attention for 80% of it. Then Lexx made me read one of his all time favourites, Magician, with a good warning that if I wasn't that into that part of 1984 (I had warned him when I passed the book over) I may encounter again. I did. I was bored.

So, when I was reading Solaris, and then I hit page after page after page of "science" of the planet and the scientific social history of the scientists, I was ready to scratch my eyes out. Which was disappointing. Because the other half (yes, HALF) of the book, which was the actual story, was fascinating. I wanted to know more about the stationed scientists, Kris, Snow and Sartorius - who I still know almost nothing about and just had to google him to find out his name.

I want to know more about the appearance of the visitors, I want to know who or what Snow's and Sartorius' visitors were, I want to know what happened after with the sea, I want to know more about Kris' and Rheya's relationship in the past.

Instead, I know more about a fictional planets formation of plasma waves that act like a geological formations than I ever, ever need to. I know the differences of some made up, dead scientist's theory against another made up, dead scientist's theory. In fact, I know the differences between many of these, both theories and people.

You know why I think it annoys me? Because I will never be able to remember all the information I will learn about this world. Trying to remember all the fascinating bits of science about the real world is hard. Remembering all the relevant bits of history to understand our world is pretty impossible. I can hardly speak one language, let alone any others. I can't remember all the facts of the wonderful and beautiful stories I have already read.

And then to spend a novel filling my head with pages and pages of "science" that was drier than my Advanced Issues of Cognitive Neurobiology textbook I have somewhere (complete snoozefest), I feel cheated!! I could use that space in my brain better. You could use that space in your novel better!!!

I gave the book 2.5 stars. Mainly as the half of the book I enjoyed, I really enjoyed. It was just let down by the other half.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Invisible Monsters

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I have spent a lot time recently reading how wonderful Chuck Palahniuk is on reddit. So when I didn't have a firm i option for my alphabet, I thought I'd pick up this book that has been on my shelves for years and years. I loved Fight Club, as most people did. My housemates swear some of his other books are great. This one, not so much.

This book is about a model who has been shot in the face, parts of her rehabilitation, mainly the woman she meets in there who is going under gender reassignment surgery, her life afterwards and her life before. They are all horrible people. I really need to stop reading books about horrible people I could not stand being in a room with. There was a plot, and I couldn't really care about it. I wasn't really bothered.

Bluntly, if I wasn't stuck on a plane, I wouldn't have finished it. I should have listened to Lexx who kept on pointing out while our plane got delayed in Sydney airport, that there was a bookshop next to our gate, and this was my last chance. He is a smart boy. Or he just got annoyed listening to me swear under my breath at the book in the first airport, on the first plane, and then in the second airport. Oops.

I gave it 1.5 stars, as it was well written for what it was, and it did have a couple of Palahniuk-esq twists in it, that I didn't see coming. And I knew a lot about gender reassignment surgery for when it randomly came up on the beach in Thailand by some of our friends. Which is where the book got left too. I can let you know which hotel if you're keen.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Happiest Refugee

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I read this a while ago. Nearly a month ago. I was so grumpy at my country and it's petty politics when it comes to people coming to us seeking asylum, I couldn't write a review for a while. And then in the last 6 days, my country has completely lost the fucking plot. The two major parties are trying to complete to be the cruelest to the relatively small number of people who come to Australia each year (it's small as it's a hard place to get to. We limit the numbers of refugees already just by being geographically difficult), wanting a safe place to live. And I am disgusted. Repulsed. Absolutely and utterly ashamed. Which leads me to my point. This is not going to go away for a while (in fact, since I started writing this last night, the opposition has come out with another hideous policy), as the politicians feeds us lies and twisted weasel words of mistruths to the ignorant masses. There will not be a time for the foreseeable future I will not be too angry to write this review. So here we all are.

Anh Do is an Australian comedian. I'd link a video but a lot of them are locked down to Aus. So YouTube him on your own time. I've known of him for about 10 years or so now, mainly as he was a regular for the Canberran comedy competition for a few years, would come to our local comedy club every now and then, and then he and a few other comedians from other ethnic backgrounds started touring around together doing shows on growing up in Australia as an immigrant or from an immigrant family.

This book tells his experiences of growing up in Australia as a poor, Vietnamese refugee and the ridiculous things that happened to him and his family. He also details how his family escaped Vietnam in a boat dodging communists and pirates, sometimes not very successfully.

It's eye opening. Even as someone who spends a fair amount of time reading or listening about these issues. The reality is I'm always going to experience Australia as a white, middle class, educated Australian. There are parts I will never fully understand as it's not my experience of this country. I've always known of Vinnie's stores (St Vincent de Paul, a charity/thrift/op shop). They are nothing special. But if you have only owned one pair of clothes and then you walk into a store full of clothes going for $1 each, I can appreciate that this is almost magical. But it will never be an experience I will fully get I am sure.

The book is reasonably well written. It's written like a collection of comedy sketches, with a vague chronological order throughout the book. Because of this, it's really easy to read. I knocked it out in a couple of days. But the last part of the book was a little resume-y. A little too "look at at all the awesome things I have done". Which is great. For a kid who nearly didn't make it to Aus, and turned his life into a success story, that's fantastic! But when it's "then I was on this successful tv show, and then on this famous tv show, and then this one" I was sitting there thinking, "I know mate, I can look up your IMDB profile".

It's a good book. I recommend it highly, especially if you need to experience the world outside of your own world view like me. I would love to beat our general population and politicians over the head with it, pointing out that this is how we humanely deal with and settle refugees. How refugees spend so much time working so hard trying to "earn" the opportunities they have been given by being given a safe place to live.

It's an important book. And it's hilarious.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Summer Book - #36

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I started reading this book before The Gardens of Evening Mists. I put it down for 2 weeks to read Evening Mists, and then came back to it. Because of this, I had two different reactions to this book.

When I started reading it, I loved the feel of the book. It read like a lazy, hazy summer day. Where you relax and do what you please, or whatever the day lead you to do. This made some sense, as the book tells the stories of Sophia, who is around 7, and her Grandmother at and around their summer cabin on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Sophia's Papa is around too but he doesn't really say much. But that was the feeling of the book, the relaxing and calm summer holiday.

Coming back to it from Evening Mists, the elements of calm and peace seemed to have gone from the book. I am not sure if that is because the stories changed, or that coming back from serene Japanese gardens in the Malaysian rainforest without any children had changed my threshold for calm.

I loved Grandmother. I found her rather fun. A complete smart arse but also knew exactly what to do to placate Sophia. The stories were well constructed and just the right length. And for someone who hasn't made it to Scandinavia yet (my 5 year old self is so upset about this. She's been waiting so many years to go find Vikings!), I really had no trouble imagining this little, quiet island.

The problem I had when I came back to the book was that Sophia seemed more spoilt and indulged. And I got so annoyed with her tantrums. Although objectively, she was stuck on an island with only two adults who sometimes didn't pay her any attention at all. Maybe I can understand her slightly. However, I had to take one star off because of Sophia though.

But it's just a bit like life I guess. No matter how much of a relaxing summer holiday it is, someone always has a kid that will come in, throw a tantrum and ruin it just a little bit for every one else.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Garden of Evening Mists - #35

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I'm going to do something in this post that I have noticed no one else who has done a "proper" review that I have read of this book has done. In fact, two things. By proper I mean reviews that have been published in old school places like literary reviews, and book sections of newspapers. I tend to read a book then have a quick look around the web for other peoples thoughts. Today's scout disappointed me.

So here it is.
1. I am not going to spoil the book. Unlike every review I have read, I am not going to give away a plot twist or the end of the book. Seriously. Who thinks that's a good idea?
2. I'm going to get my facts right. Most reviews I have read spout all these fact of what happens in the book. I just read it and they are wrong. Did they even bother reading the book? Or just the blurb on the back and some Goodreads or Amazon reviews? Bah.

After that build up. I really enjoyed it. REALLY! The book is the story of a Supreme Court judge in  Malaysia who retires (first chapter, not a spoiler). She heads up to a house she owns in the Cameron Highlands, and meets up with an old friend who still lives in the area. We then get told the story of her now, mixed with the stories of her past. We learn about the area, her history, the history of the country and about the Garden of Evening Mists.

What I loved about this book was the sereneness. The calmness. The stillness. I expected that when we were being walked through a beautiful, sculpted Japanese garden with Taoist, Buddhist and Shinto elements. What I didn't expect was it to trickle out of the garden and into the other elements of the book. Even the more violent or destructive parts of the book. I found that to be quite a skill.

I enjoyed the book also as it gave me a peek at the Pacific element of WWII. I am a bit over the European war stories. But this was a part of the war that we were directly a part of in some instances, but we talk very little about. And this was told from the perspective of not only the Malaysian Chinese, but the Japanese as well. Both of these are sides we never hear here in Aus. Then also, the aftermath of the war, with the instability of Malaya before it became Malaysia. I find it astounding we have so many Malays and Malaysian Chinese in Australia, yet we are taught nothing about their history, even the modern stuff. Sometimes I wonder if this is not more relevant than some European history. Mind you, didn't learn a lot of that either.

I definitely recommend this as a read. I enjoyed the journey the book took me on. I liked that there was another character in the book that was the garden itself. I am wondering how much gardening advice I can take out of this book to apply to my own overgrown, chaotic garden to instill into it some of the tranquility this book gave me.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Midnight Robber - #34

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Sick of all those sci fi books where the entire universe seems to be painted with an Anglo-Western brush in an American accent? Then this is the book for you.

Midnight Robber is set in a world where it's not the Americans or the Euros or the Asians who have colonised. This is a world evolved from and is so obviously Caribbean. It is the story of a girl called Tan-Tan who lives in this technologically advanced world, but then her father commits a crime that results in him being sent to a parallel world. Tan-Tan sneaks off with him, not knowing  that means never coming back. It's the story of Tan-Tan in this other other world, dealing with not only a more primitive version of her world, but also the creatures and other species in it that come right out of her Anansi stories.

This book is fantastic. It takes a well known theme of colonised, technologically advanced, new worlds and throws it on it's head. It's world building is phenomenal in my mind. I bought it all. A world where people don't have to do hard labour anymore and look down on those who do. Implants in your head feeding you information. Sending criminals away to a different version of your world so you don't have to deal with them. The culture of the douen. The tie ins to all the Anansi mythology and stories (some of which my Trinidadian friend had just told us about at dinner the other day). Loved it.

Not only that, it's written in a form of Creole. I assume it's pretty anglicised so those of us outside of the Caribbean cultures (and no doubt Creole changes from island to island) can understand it. But it adds a whole new element to immersing you into that world. It's clever. Each part of the book starts with a folklore story as well, so you feel you are sitting around a fire being told a story by a wise woman.

Because of this language however, I would say that it took me a lot longer that normal to read the first third of the book. You can't skim this one. You have to think through the sentences. You have to flip the words round and make them fit. You have to think back to what "doux-doux" or "pickney" meant. This gets easier though, as you get used to the grammar being not quite how we use it, the rhythm of the language, and words that get used again and again fall into your own vocab (like the above). It gets faster as the story gets faster. You get whisked along with it.

But for me, the climax failed. I couldn't relate to Tan-Tan anymore. She became someone I couldn't understand or empathise with. She was so incredibly selfish. All the other characters I loved though and felt so strongly for them, but not Tan-Tan. Then the ending for me was disappointing. One because I thought it was a lame end for Tan-Tan's story. But mainly it forgot about all those other characters I fell in love with in the book. I once again thought I was on to a 5 star read and the last 70 or so pages failed me.

It was sad, but I am so glad I read it. I am going to read more of Nalo Hopkinson's stuff as others who have said the same as me have recommended other reads of hers. I wanted a different sci-fi with an immersive world, and that's what I got. I wanted to start reading more books that had won awards like the Hugo, and I can see why it was shortlisted (it lost to a Harry Potter and was against a Song of Ice and Fire book. Tough competition). And it threw me into a culture I didn't know much about. And when it comes down to it, that's why I'm doing this challenge.

Friday, 17 May 2013

From the Mouth of the Whale - #33

Image sourced from here
This book is beautifully written. It's lyrical. It picks you up and carries you along. You are swept through streams of consciousness and through herbal medicinal books, and then through third person narrative. You switch from one to the other seamlessly. It's a masterpiece in that regard.

But I am left with one overwhelming question.

What the fuck was that all about?

I mean I get it. It's the story of Jonás the Learned and his exile. It's about the amazing things he does or witnesses before he is accused of sorcery  It is about his weird magic realism visions. It's about his wonderfully patient wife. It's about him going to Denmark. But... what's the point?

I dislike getting to the end of the book and being thoroughly confused. It's the awkward break up conversation. "It's not you, it's me. I just don't think I can see this going any where." The book is as silent as my exes on the receiving end of the speech. Which could be a credit to my exes. But you just burble to fill in the space. In the end you just convince the other person they are better off without you or your understanding, because you have just revealed yourself as being slightly insane and they feel like they have dodged a bullet. "Why doesn't this girl just shut up?!?"

But I don't like that it my reading. The book that is cute and charming enough to get you to snog it while you're a little bit drunk, and then wake up thinking "What the hell did I just do? Please tell me it's not lying next to me." The book that tells your these epic sagas and then gets to the punchline and tells you "Oh I would tell you the point but it's too existential for you." (which is an "excuse" I was given by a staff member turning up 5 hours late for a shift (shifts were 4 hours long)).

See. This makes me grumpy. It conjures up images of break ups, drunken snogs with pretty, vapid boys and horrible prats who think they are all higher plain but are just fuckwits. It takes you on a pretty journey and I don't get the conclusion. If there is one. And I just don't know why I was taken on the journey.

I really do wonder if it is a cultural thing. Do I not get it coz I'm not Icelandic or even Scandinavian? I'd hope not but I may be right. I will read another of his books. I hope it is just this book, and it is the longest of them all. But I am prepared to be completely confused again. I'm not saying don't read it, just in case it is really me.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

What's with the Rainbow?

So to get all political on your arse (like that's never happened before... piffle). I believe that if you love somebody, it doesn't matter what race, creed, gender, colour or sex you are. You should be able to commit to each other in a loving relationship in front of your friends and family if you wish. Not everyone likes the idea of marriage, that's cool, I'm in a relationship with one of them. I'm also not saying a religious organisation should have to perform over unions they do not agree with.

What I think is that a relationship between two people who love each other should be able to have that recognised if they wish.

At the moment I live in a country that seems to be governed by conservatives who are more scared of what the evangelicals in their electorates think than the majority of Australians. I live in a country where an atheist PM (of the debatable "left" party) in a defacto relationship is terrified of the conservative vote. It does my head in.

This is why I have a big rainbow here. It's to say while I personally am not same sex attracted, my family members and friends who are and who want to get married, should be able to. And I will protest, and demonstrate, until they are able to. This is a wonderful thing. Two people willing to stand in front of everyone they know and commit themselves to each other is great. And this rainbow is declaring my support for this cause, and at the end of the month there will be a snapshot of all the websites who display this rainbow and be sent to the Australian Government. Follow the rainbow to see other sites who support this, add the code yourself, or dismiss it (it shouldn't show up again for you, yay for no spam). I don't mind, but this is what it is about.

And those of you who have quibbles, or just want a good rational debate, you should listen to this conservative pollie from New Zealand the other day when they debated, and passed, their own marriage equality bill.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Ender's Game

Image sourced from here
Alright. I read it. Our relationship can survive to be fought over normal relationship matters now, not the fact I haven't read his favourite book.

There was a threat made earlier this year that after all these years of not reading Lexx's favourite book, the crunch time was coming that he may leave me if I did not. I decided it was prudent to read the book, and not see how much of this threat was jest and how much truth was behind it.

I put it off honestly as I don't do spaceships. I just have an aversion to them. I don't know why, but it may have something to do with the fact my darling brother watched Star Wars and Return of the Jedi everyday for over 6 years. He would have watched The Empire Strikes Back too but we "lost" it at some point (I may need to thank my parents for this fact). So I procrastinated and read many other interesting things. I also put it off when I found out Orson Scott Card is a complete nutter and a rabid homophobe. But I finally picked it up.

It was a good read. I don't think it was fantastic, but I wonder what I would have thought as a young adult. But I did enjoy it a lot more than I was expecting.

First of all though, I had problems with believing Ender was the age he was. I had a very hard time suspending that belief. Once he ages, it was easier, but it was still slightly unbelievable. I mentioned this and got a long lecture about how they were genetically engineered kids and such. But still. I like some believability in my genetically engineered geniuses.

The bit I loved about the book the most I can't talk about. It's annoying but it all happened in the spoiler part of the book. To summarise as best I can though, the twist is great. I gasped audibly when it came. And the last 10 pages I left last night, as it was late and I was tired, and I wish I hadn't at all. I am so glad it ended where and how it did.

I believe I will enjoy Speaker for the Dead more. It's apparently more philosophical and political than Ender's battles and strategy. I read today that Speaker was actually the story he wanted to write, but he needed the back story and it got complicated.

I'm glad it did as I liked Ender. Really liked, he's a great protagonist. You can understand him, you understand his decisions, and above all you emphasise with him immensely. I liked Bean (he was good for a giggle) and some of the others, but no one as much as Ender. I recommend it highly. But just don't buy it new. Borrow it, secondhand bookshop it, whatever. And if you have to read one book to possibly save your relationship, there are millions of worse things to read ;)

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Day Watch

Image sourced from here
In October I read Night Watch, for a Kazakhstan/Russian read. I picked up the sequel, Day Watch, as I enjoyed it so much. This book follows on, but instead of focusing on the Night Watch, it, as the name suggests focuses on the Day Watch. However I found this slightly not the case, as the stories frequently flick from the Day Watch agent's perspective to that of previously met Night Watch agents. Where as you felt in Night Watch that he liked his characters, does not seem to feel that way about the Day Watch and seems to keep running back to the previous characters he prefers more.

I noted the technology being dated a lot more in this book. I know they were walking around Moscow with minidisc players in the last book, but I viewed it as a quirk. However the running to their desktops to open Netscape to start searching made me laugh. Mental note to self, if ever I write a book, don't mention operating systems or search engines. In a few years they seem ridiculously out of date.

But it was still fun, just not as much. But you get taken further than Moscow in this volume, passing into the Crimea, Ukraine and Prague. I still will read the other two though. I still love the style of writing, the Russian tone. Cannot get enough of it.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Toppler - Northern Lights

Image sourced from here
I've had this book on my radar for a while. An old friend of mine recommended it to Lexx and I as an "atheist Narnia". Now, I loved Narnia. Was completely and totally in love with it. My old copies of the books are falling apart, especially Prince Caspian which was my Mum's before mine. And I remember reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as one of my first "grown up" books at aged 6. So this recommendation was a winner for me.

I picked up the book expecting to be able to read it in 24 hours for the last Toppler YLTO held a couple of weekends ago. I has assumed it was a kids book. I do think now it still is a kids book, but one which is not dumbed down for kids. If there was a word that perfectly fitted what Philip Pullman wanted to say, he used it. Who cares if kids don't know the word sardonic. They either learn from the book, or if they are really interested they'll pull down a dictionary or more likely Google (not sure how many houses besides ours has a giant dictionary anymore), or god forbid, ask their parental units. It was not Harry Potter writing, this was seriouz biznezz.

Which was great, but wasn't achievable on my Sunday. But the story was enjoyable, fun and full of adventures. It was also dark, scary, descriptive and had a bit of death in it. I was a bit shocked every time these kind of things happened. Lexx just looked at me and said "I told you it was different." It's true, he did. But you know, since when did I pay attention?

The main thing to note is that I still consider it a kids book. There is always hope in the book. And to me, that is what makes kids books so much easier to handle that adult books. There is always hope that good will prevail. It's not as in your face in this book as most others, but you still feel it. And that's important for kids. Bad stuff happens, but you should always hope.

Otherwise, witches, ghosties, talking bears, gypsies, animal familiars, magic, parallel universes. What's not to love?! The one thing I can't work out is my real surname is rather similar to the main baddie's name. Never mentioned before, by anyone. It's not a common sound either, so I was surprised. And a little chuffed that someone in a book nearly had the same name as me. Trust me, this is a big deal.

I don't know why there is a big hoo ha about how it's all anti-God. It's not. There baddies are an institution that has evolved from the church. It's anti that establishment, for free thinking, and so on. But the first book wasn't a challenge to Christianity (not sure where the others go). Mind you, the people that claim these things probably think that if a caterpillar looks at them funny it's challenging Christianity, so I won't think about it too hard

So read it. Read the sequels, as I am planning to. Read it to your kids, or let them discover it for themselves. Although if you do choose it as a bedtime story, choose your ending points well. And always remind the kidlets there is hope.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Challenge - Jane Eyre

Image sourced from here
I got given Jane Eyre many years ago. Much to my mother’s distaste. In fact I mentioned to her the other day I was reading it and she groaned. And flopped over. And continued groaning and stooping lower and lower until her arms were dragging on the floor while she trudged around the kitchen at an incredibly slow and thumping rate.

If you think I’m prone to overreaction and drama, you should meet my Mum.

It then emerged that she couldn’t quite remember reading it as she ran around the house warbling “Cathy!!!” and I pointed out that was the wrong sister and book, not that I have read Wuthering Heights either. She did finally remember reading it when I was speculating on the end, and she got an evil grin on her face, opened her mouth, clamped both hands over it quickly, and ran away.

See my previous comment. Throw in my Dad’s Yorkshire tendencies to tell long, rambley stories over a pint or 7, and I didn’t stand a chance.

So on my second attempt to read it, I finished. I had to read it. We share a name. In fact when I came across the quote, which I actually really like;

Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!” –p282

I am wondering if my good friend in high school calling me (and writing all over my stuff) “Jane, plain and small” was actually her being literary. Strong possibility.

So what did I actually think? I loved the first half of the book. Besides the love of semi-colons (says the girl with the love of commas and parentheses), I really enjoyed the writing. And she at least knew how to use those semi-colons. I loved the feeling of being back in Yorkshire. I loved the moors. I liked Jane. I even liked Mr Rochester. As I said to Mum, “He’s actually quite funny and intelligent. Until he doesn’t stop talking. He just goes on and on and becomes ridiculous, and you just wish you could shake him and say ‘Oh just stop talking!! I liked you so much better when you weren’t talking!!’”. She pointed out in mirth that may be the pot calling the kettle black. Bah.

But then it goes a bit pear-shaped. The big twist in events happens. She meets St John Rivers, who needs to get the .. hell... over himself frankly. The book gets ridiculously preachy. I got stuck in sermons that I didn’t realise I being lead into, and that made me grumpy at the characters for breaching my trust. Oh and then the end! Dear god!

So I’m glad I read it. I liked the first 300pp or so. It was going to be a 4 starrer I thought. It would pull me out of this 3 star slump I’ve been in. But alas, it was not to be.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Challenge - The Catcher in the Rye

Image sourced from here
I try and make it a habit not to discuss overly discussed books. Although I don't think it would be fair of me to read this book without allowing myself the opportunity to respond to it.

I have heard about this book for years. It was one of the books I had to have read. It was one of the ones I *should* have read. I get so annoyed I had my 5 year hiatus of reading in my teenage years. I read one or two things, and read things for English at school. But after years of being ridiculed at primary school for reading and knowing things, I was determined not to in high school in order to fit in. It kind of worked. Until I read a book I loved and then devoured it with a rabid hunger that was screaming to be fed. I should have taken the hint I was a junky, but I was 14. I knew better.

The problem with this now, is that I am over 5 years behind on my reading (going on my stats from the last two years, averaging 20 books a year, that's 100 books I could have read). And when you are 5 years behind, there is a lot of reading you postpone again and again. Catcher was one of these.

I loved and hated Holden. There were things he said that I though were brilliant and I could not believe that a 17 year old could have said. There were moments where I wanted to slap him upside the face and give him a good shake. I thought long and hard since I finished it what 17 year old Rusalka would have though of him, and I don't think she would think much differently. She was a bit of a prude, although had a thing for the bad boys. God knows really. But the fundamental frustration and intrigue I think would have been similar.

I loved the bit though where he is talking to at the moment unnamed source (spoilers!) about the concept where the name of novel came from. That was beautiful. That was the part 17 year old me would have fallen in love. That's the main part of the book that felt real. However the rest of the book I wanted to kill him. He was so frustrating. And I know 17 year old Rus would have felt the same. We, her and I, have always had a small amount of patience for boys with self important bullshit.

In the end I can see why this book was mind blowing when it was written. I can see why 13 year olds may flock to it. But in a present day world. I don't quiet get it. Maybe it is the late 20s me that doesn't get it too. But I feel that great books can speak to you no matter your age, even if you can see that you would have loved it more at XX age. I'm glad I read it, but a little overhyped. I'm expecting to be burnt at the stake so go for it ;)

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The She Devil in the Mirror - #32

Image sourced from here 
Murder mystery with a twist. Usually my thing. Set in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, Laura's best friend Olga Maria is shot dead in her living room in front of her two daughters. All very upsetting and such, and Laura is trying to find out who has done it. And along the way she finds out more and more about her best friend who she didn't know as well as she thought.

The interesting thing about this book is that it intertwines the history and politics of El Salvador with the book. The animosity towards the socialists was rather surprising, mind you not so much once you realise how well off the families are, especially Laura's. Nor when you realise that maybe the socialists were or could be as corrupt as the capitalists. I have to admit I know very little about the socialists in El Salvador, and it would be very naive to assume all socialists regimes in South and Central America were/are the same. So, interesting.

What made me have an INCREDIBLY hard time engaging with this book is that it is told from the perspective that you are one of Laura's closest friends and the entire book is her speaking at you. I know the book was 175ish pages but that was too long. There is no way I would spend more than 2 mins talking to this woman. I have been known to jump in front of moving traffic to get away from people like her (deadly serious here). I went out of my way of 4 years of all girls high school to avoid people like her, for them to be forced upon you in your reading life is frustrating as hell. She's such a horrible, gossipy woman who just talks inane crap and jumps from one subject to the other, nattering away about some things that just don't matter. Not to mention she doesn't let you get a damn word in edgewise!!!

... You know, I think that's what bothered me the most. I am a chatty, talkative person. I am reasonably forceful, especially with my close friends, in getting my point heard. To be rendered silent was ... just ... so goddamn uncomfortable! I just felt like I was spending the experience going "Bu.... Excuse...Just...uh... yeah bu... /sigh."

The last couple of pages though were great. And if you need to praise someone for writing prattling women, this guy has it down pat.

Monday, 4 March 2013

A Case of Exploding Mangoes - #31

Image sourced from here
I need to start reading the backs of books.I was convinced that this book was about a Pakistani family and their hilarious drama. So I spent the first 30 pages reading waiting for this to start, then read the back of the book. My thought straight away was, "You've bloody done it again". You would have thought that I had learnt from my Iran read. But hellz no! Learning from experience is for losers. Or something. /sigh

Ah well, on with the show. What the book is really about, is the sudden firey, airplaney death of the Pakistani President/Dictator in 1988 and the circumstances, imagined and real, surrounding it. This is not a spoiler by the way. You're told this happens on the first page. And the back of the book, which is why I frequently don't read them.

We are following the story of a Pakistani officer and his arrest as his roommate goes AWOL. Ali Shigri, tells us what happens to him during his interrogations and imprisonment. But we also flick between him, and none other than Mr President himself, and the people and events that surround him.

It was again a very well written book. I can definitely see why it made it on the mixed blessing Booker Longlist in 2008. It just wasn't a subject matter that interests me. Actually, that isn't entirely true. The political, societal and religious themes very much interest me. Shigri is a drill commander though, and drill bores me. Military things bore me. I'm the daughter of a short time Naval Officer (I got in the way of that) and a career Submariner in two different Navys, but military things, especially things like drill and parade and chest puffing and displays of tanks... *snore*

I'm actually striking it pretty lucky this year. While the subject matter has not always been up my alley, the vast majority of my books this year are really, incredibly well written. I feel like I should like them out of respect for the authors. And it is what has made me persevere with them. I want to know where the story goes as I am lead there by the writing, not because I am entirely riveted by the story itself. 

But the benefit to that is I have no hesitation recommending this on to people who are into that kinda thing. If you like military mysteries or historical fiction, read it. If you like people in stupid uniforms calling each other Sir and obeying their commands with no hesitation because of a small bit of cloth or metal makes them better apparently, then go for it! Even if you are not, like me obviously, then still feel free to give it a go, as there is enough to pull you through. Especially if you like mangoes, as that bothers you right until the end. What on earth is with the mangoes?

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Toppler - Grave Witch

I read this book for a Valentine's day themed Toppler. Everyone was reading soppy books and I thought I would make a dent in my Vaginal Fantasy to read pile that has been building up. I also read the first Sookie Stackhouse book, but like Harry Potter in Dec's Toppler, so much has been said about these books I won't review them on here. If you are interested though you can always ask.

I enjoy Vaginal Fantasy, not only because the girls are funny as, but also it is a good way of discovering books I wouldn't normally read, and have them vetoed by people I "trust" beforehand. If I saw Grave Witch in the bookshop there is no way I would have picked it up. I mean, look at it:

Image sourced from here 

I am very glad I bought it though.

The story is about a witch, a grave witch in fact, called Alex Craft. She uses her grave magic to talk to people who are dead and have information, which would be very a useful skill to have if you were a private detective, which of course she is. Usually about how and why they are dead. Like a darker version of Pushing Daisies. Unlike Pushing Daisies though, this is all out in the open. As the witches and the Fae have announced to the world they exist and are somewhat integrated into the real world.

Most people are using magic to a small extent in their lives. Complexion masking enchantments, warding spells, healing enchantments on bandages. But not everyone is happy to have magical people in their lives or in their world. There is a political group for humans first (of course). Alex's Dad is a senior person in this party, and the leader has just been found dead.

The story goes through Alex trying to solve this murder for her estranged family who don't seem very appreciative of this help. And her trying to deal with a new Detective in the Police Department.

It sounds... trite. And done before. But it's actually a whole heap of fun and I love the lore and background to this world. It's a nice new spin on it. Alex is actually a very likeable character, and a nice strong female character too, which is somewhat hard to find in this genre (yes, thank you very much Twilight).

Will it be the most intellectual book you read? God no. But if you like fun books with mystery, magic, murder, and incredibly hot faerie sex, give it a go. I'm buying all the rest. Now.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Wolves of the Crescent Moon - #30

Image sourced from here
I finished this book a week ago. I still don't know what I want to say about it. Now don't think that means I didn't like it. I did. It's just one of those books that seems like anything you say will not do it justice.

The book tells the stories of three men. One, our main narrator Turad, is a Bedouin from the desert who through many misfortunes has ended up working in many service roles in Riyadh and feels rather bitter about the whole thing. Fair enough. The second is his friend, Tawfiq, who has been brought as a slave to Saudi Arabia from Sudan as a child. The third, Nasir, is an orphan who has been brought up in orphanages and foster homes. Most of his story is imaginings of Turad but we find the three men's lives have intertwined enough to give us some facts about Nasir's life.

The stories aren't particularly nice. It's not an overly happy book. But the storytelling has a great quality to it. It's almost magical. Like you're being whisked around by a hot desert wind, flitting to story to story, whirling into one narrative to the next. The feeling of a little sense of achievement when you find the smallest hints of a tie in to a larger story. 

The book is banned in Saudi Arabia, and I'm not overly surprised. While not very political, it does touch on sexual topics I would think are taboo in Saudi Arabia. Hell, most of them are taboo in our culture. It did make me wonder if the character telling the story, or the author himself had underlying issues. However, he moves on quickly and carries on. It's just worth flagging, and if anyone else has read it, if they felt the same?

It's a short review. But it's a short book. I feel like I cannot talk about it too much as I may give away the story. If anyone is looking for a book about Saudi Arabia though, or by a Saudi author though, I definitely recommend this one. Don't read, Girls of Riyadh whatever you do. Garbage.