Thursday, 30 April 2015

A Walk in the Woods

Image sourced from here
This particular romp takes us through hiking the Appalachian Trail in the eastern most states in America, through the stereotypical storytelling, facts and ranting of Bryson. The trail starts in Georgia and works it's way along the coastal states to Maine. Bryson and his friend Katz decide to walk the whole thing, with no hiking experience, as well as being rather unfit.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I was worried it would be a bit too much about their particular hike and day to day activities. Walked, pitched tent, slept, walked, etc. But I should have known better. While there were parts that were definitely regarding them on the trail, these were tied in wonderfully to history, science, tales of environmental destruction and woe, but also the wonderful anecdotes of the other people they encounter on the trail or experiences they have.

As always, Bryson handles his stories about the environment and the amazing devastation we humans are causing, and then through our own incompetence are increasing, beautifully. He doesn't preach (possibly unlike the reviewer). He states with an air of exasperation. What troubles me is that it is nearly 20 years since the books publication. I hate to think of the state of affairs now.

My one problem with the book, is the whole thing was written in the imperial system. Which is fine, as Bryson is an American in America. But as there were so many measurements (miles hiked per day, feet of mountains, slopes rising at rates) and temperatures, it really did hurt my brain converting all the time to meters, kilometers and celsius. There were a few pages in the last third of the book which were discussing mountain heights in great detail. I couldn't keep up. The book was thrown across the room with a long and loud tirade about backwards systems.

It honestly detracted from my enjoyment of the book as I had to stop at least once a page to convert something in my head to a vague approximation. And I probably was off a lot of the time. I was more annoyed as my copy was an Australian copy. I would recommend people check if there is a metric version available if you think this would bother you too.

But it honestly is a minor quibble. It's another enjoyable, educational and very funny read.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Let the Right One In

Image sourced from here
Sometimes you pick up a book, or get recommended one, and it is absolutely nothing like what you expect. This book was both of these things. I picked it up a couple of years ago for a couple of dollars, as I heard it was a movie and Swedish. I like Swedish things, and movies, and Swedish movies. Give it a go.

It's then sat on the bookshelves for a while, until my brother in law saw it last year and exclaimed (which is always exciting as he's incredibly tall) when he saw it. "Have you read that?! You have to! It's so scary! It's really good!". Right noted. Swedish and scary. Vampires no less.

So it is all of this, but not the scary vampire book I had in my mind. We meet Oskar, who is a bullied and psychologically traumatised if we are being honest, 12 year old boy living in the outskirts of Stockholm. He meets a girl who has moved in next door to him at night time (although that's not hard as it's late autumn/early winter in Sweden) in the playground, and he strikes up a friendship with her. But Eli is a little odd and has some very strange behaviours. But to be fair, so does Oskar.

There are vampires. They do gorey things. But that's not the point of the book. The point of the book to me is really more about friendship and finding someone you can trust and be yourself with. It's about overcoming adversity whether that's bullies, loneliness, thirst for human blood and being the size of a 11 year old. You know. Big issues.

For me, the scariest thing in this book was the setting. Stockholm but where the woods meet the city, in snow and ice and frozen lakes and just fricking cold. But most importantly for me though, was that these things were coming out at night. And it's October/November. THE NIGHTS ARE BECOMING LONGER AND LONGER!

This freaked me out more than anything else really. My own brain doing the maths. I mean, in winter here the nights are only 12-13 hours long at June (longest day). Can you imagine if there were things that could come at you in the night and your nights were 15 hours long and only getting longer?

This was a clever and disconcerting look at vampires. It wasn't what I was expecting and I'm very glad for that. For a subject matter that has been beaten to death over the past decade, this is a refreshing and very Scandinavian take.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

In the Darkness

Image sourced from here
Eva is walking alongside a river with her daughter, and they discover a dead body in the water. They go to a phone box to call the police, although Eva doesn't actually call the police so not to get her daughter or herself involved. But this is the second murder in this small town that occurred within a few days...

This book is pretty much what I love about Nordic Noir. We have a clever investigator (this time, an actual policeman), with an interesting backstory and past. A murder or two which may or may not relate to each other. Flips of narrative and playing with storytelling devices. Twists. Sudden ending. All with amazing descriptions of landscape and wonderful Scandinavian settings.

What annoys me about translated books, particularly with crime books, is that publishers tend to choose what they think are the "good stories" and just translate those. Who cares if it's book 7 in a 10 book series! This series is no exception, unfortunately, with many other Inspector Konrad Sejer books published before the English publishers thought that book 1 was worth translating. I'm glad they did though as I think this was a beautiful introductory novel, and I will join this Inspector again on his skydiving over fjords and maybe another murder.

Sunday, 19 April 2015


You know when you find a book that is so engrossing, you can't do anything besides read it? This was one of those. In the middle of this book, I completely tuned the world out. Lexx talked to me for ages and I have no idea what he said. Turns out, after he repeated himself, he was asking if we should go out. The answer was a yelled "No! Not yet!" and I promptly returned to the book and devouring the rest of my fingernails.

This is the story of Jack and his Ma, who are locked in a small room together. The story is told from Jack's perspective, which while some have found irritating, I enjoyed as a writing device. As the narrative is from a 5 year old's perspective who has absolutely no idea what the real world is like, and what normal is. I think the author uses this perfectly to describe to us a horrific situation. Jack doesn't think his world as horrific. It just is.

The second half of the book is where I really engaged with the characters.


Once we are drawn into Jack and Ma's escape, I had this desperate need to know they'd be okay. As mentioned above, I had invested 10 fingernails to the cause. Watching the freak out of Jack, the elation and then despair of Ma when the world wasn't what she expected, the complete lack of comprehension, understanding and empathy of the outside world. It was fascinating and yet makes me hope that we treat actual victims of such trauma so much better than this.

You can come back now.

For a book that deals with incredibly heavy issues, the ending for me is one full of hope. I was wondering while reading, how on earth you tie something like this up, but the author does it well. It allows the readers to gently and happily disengage with the characters. I can't give it 5 stars as there were parts that annoyed me somewhat, but it's a pretty damn good read.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015


Image sourced from here
After hearing this book described for years and years as the quintessential Australian novel, I finally picked it up to find out what the hype was about. I am so glad I did.

It is very rare you pick up a book and find the essence of your cultural identity seeping off the pages. Not that I lived through the years after WWII, not that my family had the same troubles as these families. The families aren't even that sympathetic as you start reading. But the attitudes and values that they have and display are so familiar and comforting that it draws you in and makes you want to stay. Loyalty, pride, the fair go, the Aussie battler, hard work, family, friendship, finding humour in everything, every situation and everyone. It wraps you up like a large old blanket and makes you feel safe and understood.

While as I say, the families are not overly sympathetic characters to begin with, throughout the story you end up deeply caring for them. It sneaks up on you. You realise that you want to know that they are all going to be okay, because really, they are all pretty good sorts deep down. You don't necessarily agree with them or their decisions overall, but there is a deep feeling of connection when you finish the book. They creep into you, the Pickles and the Lambs. And I think that is the strength of this book. The slow, gradual, unnoticed sensation of comradery you build with the characters.

For me, the magic realism of the book wasn't really a big feature. To me, a lot of the time I didn't even think about these elements. They didn't bother me, I didn't question them. Strange things happen in the bush. You go out there long enough, particularly by yourself, in the big, wide, emptiness and you can see things. After driving 6 hours each day for the last couple of days, if I didn't have people in the car, I wouldn't have been surprised if I believed there was someone in the car with me. If I had been almost disemboweled by a kangaroo and was experiencing extreme blood loss, I would have some crazy dreams too.

I appreciated reading this book for fun and not for school where you focus on every single nuance of these elements of the story and dissecting it to death. I was happy to read and to accept that this land gets under your skin and things happen. Just like the Pickles family and the Lamb family. I am better for meeting them.