Category Archives: Reviews

The Weeping Woman

I was lucky enough to be able to read a proof copy of a book released in April called The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex (Gabrielle Williams, Allen & Unwin) recently. And I must say I really enjoyed it!

In 1986, a Picasso called ‘The Weeping Woman’ was stolen from the National Gallery of Victoria by a group of people who called themselves the Australian Cultural Terrorists. The ACT held the government to ransom with it, demanding more funding for young artists. But the painting was soon returned, no more funding ensued and the ACT were never discovered. (You can read more here.) The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex is based around the story of ‘The Weeping Woman”s theft, and speculates on how its disappearance could have affected the lives of four young Melburnians.

24500090Guy (the guy) is a serious party animal who isn’t doing particularly well at school. When his parents go away one weekend, he promises them that he won’t host a party. He is talked into having a party, however, and meets a girl. But on the way back from dropping this girl he has met home, he sees something that changes his life forever . . .

Rafi (the girl) is a girl with a past. She and her mother moved to Melbourne from South America soon after Rafi’s three-year-old brother drowned. Her mother became obsessed with the legend of La Llorona (or ‘The Weeping Woman’ in English – a coincidence . . .), a beautiful woman who drowns small children. Rafi is supposed to be babysitting the baby who lives next door, but she wants to go to a party. Instead, her mother ends up looking after the child, and her La Llorona obsession goes to a whole new level . . .

Luke (the artist) is a Cultural Terrorist. He and his friends Dipper (who is a guard at the Gallery) and Real (who is an art dealer – but nobody really knows who he is . . .) have orchestrated pretty much the entire thing. But soon enough, the cops realise that Dipper may have been involved in the theft of ‘The Weeping Woman’, and so begins the unraveling of what was supposed to be the art theft of at least the decade . . .

Penny (the ex) was once an über-cool rock chick; she was once with Luke. Then Luke got her pregnant. And soon after she gave birth to her little boy, she ditched Luke. (And quite rightfully so, because Luke treated her like rubbish.) One day, Penny decides to go out with a ‘friend’ to see a band, and leaves her son in the care of the girl next door. But when Penny gets back, her boy is gone . . .

I really enjoyed The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex! The book is styled as a series of vignettes, and though a lot happened, a lot didn’t happen, too. And I have always loved books like that. I would recommend it to an age-bracket of 13/14+. One of the best books I’ve read all year!

A Tale of Two Siblings (and their mother)

Another book I have read and reviewed recently is called Apple and Rain (Sarah Crossan). It’s a bit of a typical tweenange fiction book, and the storyline was relatively unoriginal. But regardless, it was still quite a good book.

Apple (short for Apollinia) has lived with her overprotective grandmother for eleven of theApple-and-Rain-Sarah-Crossan thirteen years of her life. She yearns for the mother who disappeared one Christmas Eve over a decade prior. One day, Apple is pulled out of school only to find her mother has returned. She disregards the pleas of her grandmother (and her father), packs her bags, and goes to live with her mother. But Apple soon discovers she is not her mother’s only child. She finds that she has a younger half-sibling (Rain) who is also living with Apple’s mother. Rain is convinced that her doll, Jenny, is a living child, and clearly suffers from a mental illness of some kind.

Apple is still convinced her mother is ‘the coolest person she’s ever met’, despite the fact that she expects Apple to look after her flat and babysit Rain whilst she looks for acting jobs for unpredictable amounts of time. But when her mother disappears one evening (in pursuit of one of these “acting jobs”), Apple realises that perhaps her mother isn’t quite who she thought she was.

I enjoyed Apple and Rain, but found it quite clichéd. The storyline is very similar to a lot of other books I have read, and the “twists and turns” were fairly predictable. However, I still very much liked the book. Recommended to an age bracket of 11-14.

Eating the Sky and Drinking the Ocean

Hi! I’m Adela, the newest ‘blogger in residence’. I look forward to posting on here more in the future!

Recently, I reviewed a book by the name of Eat The Sky, Drink The Ocean. The book was billed as a collection of sci-fi short stories, so not being a huge fan of the sci-fi genre, I was a little skeptical at first. But it turns out my preconceptions were wrong!

Eat the Sky, Drink the OceanEat The Sky, Drink The Ocean is a collection of speculative short stories – some in graphic format, some in text – by Australian and Indian women. Many of the seventeen stories are collaborations between an author and/or artist from each country. They span everything from the rewriting of a Shakespearean character and a futuristic time-travelling version of MasterChef, to the story of a modern-day Indian heroine and non-conformity.

Whilst the book is marketed as ‘a collection of sci-fi and fantasy writing’, it is just as much centered on contemporary issues such as women’s rights, pollution and body image. It was in fact conceived as a collection of feminist writings not long after Jill Meagher was murdered. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book. Many of the stories are dystopian (a genre which I don’t enjoy), but I found the political themes balanced it out enough to make it a highly enjoyable book.

I very much enjoyed Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, a collection of politically-themed speculative fiction, and would recommend it to an age bracket of 12-16.

Elementary, My Dear Watts

Every Breath is the first in a series of young adult crime novels by Australian author Ellie Marney. Niav wrote a post on this book back in January of 2014, but I read the book myself and have a few things to say about it.

It follows seventeen-year-olds Rachel Watts, recently uprooted from the country to come live in inner-city Melbourne, and her neighbour, the troubled genius, James Mycroft.

At the beginning of the book, Mycroft and Watts find one of Mycroft’s friends dead. When the police lose interest in the murder of the vagrant, these two teenagers decide to take things into their own hands.

In case you didn’t know, I really like crime novels, so I loved Every Breath. It was refreshing to read a murder mystery with teenage characters directed at young people, as opposed to another young adult dystopian trilogy, or a murder mystery for adults. While the Mycroft and Watts’ relationship was clichéd at times, it was also hilariously awkward and enjoyable to read about.

This book will be very enjoyable for fans of the TV series Sherlock.

5/5

Is this the end?

The Blood Of OlympusThe final instalment of Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, was released last October. Having followed this series for years, I went out to get a copy  of The Blood of Olympus as soon as I could, but only got around to writing a review two months later. Sorry for the wait.

[Editor’s note: And Samuel only got around to posting it two months after THAT. Blame him for forgetting about the blog over the Christmas period.]

The Blood of Olympus tells of the final, epic battle converging on the Acropolis of Athens, the birth place of the Greek Gods, but also much closer to home at Camp Half-Blood. With the fate of the world riding on the crew of the Argo II and their impossible plan to stop Gaia, every minute counts. But the reunion of the seven demigods is bittersweet, as the prophecy looms over them promising death and destruction.

Once again, Riordan has delivered an exciting, humourous, plot-driven instalment in the series. There was more of a focus on the minor characters from previous novels, Reyna and Nico, which offered a new perspective, but became frustrating at times when the focus was diverted from the main action. The histories of these characters provided a much more complex background to the story, and revealed important events and individuals who had shaped these characters and influenced every decision they made.

As the story drew to an end, I was desperate to get inside particular characters’ heads, but was instead stuck with characters who I felt had already finished their stories and had provided the reader with enough closure. Don’t get me wrong, the  narrative, almost written in third person at times, was effective in showing the extent of everything that had happened and concluding other stories from afar, but I would have liked a more intimate account from each character. I wasn’t as emotional as I was reading the final Percy Jackson novel, or even the rest of the Heroes of Olympus series. I felt oddly removed from the characters. I did enjoy the novel – I was just expecting an epic finale to the series that I had loved for so long. And in reality, Riordan did deliver this. It just didn’t feel as powerful or resonating as it could have been.

Among other things, this really delayed a sense of closure until the very end of the novel; it was hard to believe that it was really over until the last page. And even so, I feel as though there is still enough material to write another five books – but that might be pushing it.

Nonetheless, all fans of this series will be compelled to turn each page, and wait nervously for the end. This series has grown with its readers, coming a long way since Percy Jackson’s first adventures. It feels almost like the end of an era as you reach the back cover of this novel, but Riordan promises plenty more modern mythology to come.

Endgame: The Calling

Please note: this review is based on my own interpretation of the book and my personal opinions of it. The way I feel about this book may not reflect how others will feel.

EndgameI chose to read Endgame: The Calling by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton because I thought it would be fun to read a book people are saying will be the next Hunger Games. I was wrong – very, very wrong.

First, the premise. Endgame: The Calling is about twelve thirteen- to twenty-year-olds who are each part of one of twelve specific bloodlines from which every living person is descended. These twelve people are ordinary (apart from the minor detail that they’ve been trained almost their whole lives to be warriors/killers) humans who are fighting to save humanity or to destroy the world.

So that sounds a lot like The Hunger Games . . . only Endgame: The Calling is not The Hunger Games.

I hated Endgame: The Calling. It was not an enjoyable book to read. The only good thing about this book was that it was reasonably fast-paced. If it had not been, I probably wouldn’t have finished it.

The first page alone demonstrates a number of reasons why I disliked it so much. Firstly, the book is written in the third person, but the present tense is used. This may or may not be a problem in and of itself – it could be (and probably is) this book’s writing style more generally which I despise. Secondly, the first character introduced is a pretentious, narcissistic, ostentatious, unrealistic, unrelatable, arrogant, dull brat. (My thoughts on the other characters are very similar.)

Thirdly, is that the writing style of this book is childish. The way Endgame: The Calling is written is monotonous, using simple words to construct short and simple sentences. Despite this, the book is written with a pretentious kind of immediacy, as though the authors are telling you the events as they happen, and it often feels as though the narrative is being forced upon you.

The childish and monotonous writing style is contrasted with the authors’ use of terms like ‘T7’ and ‘C1’ when referring to bones in the human spine. This use of scientific language feels like an ostentatious display of the authors’ knowledge (which may be plentiful regarding our skeletal structure, but seems to be severely lacking when it comes to writing successfully).

Adding to the impression that the authors of Endgame: The Calling are trying to show off is the fact that every time a measurement is used, an age given, a time period mentioned, or anything to do with numbers happens in the book, these numbers are given ludicrously precisely: 12.25 hours, 13024.838 nautical miles, 19.94 years, 3.126 inches, 11 seconds, 9.91 kilograms, and the list goes on. In almost every instance, this kind of precision is unnecessary and unrealistic. (Because you can obviously tell by holding an object that it weighs 9.91 kilograms. Or that something is 3.126 inches long just by looking at it.)

This brings me to my next problem with this book: it is unrealistic throughout. If this is meant to be something that is ‘actually happening’, as all of the marketing surrounding this book aims to convey, then shouldn’t these characters and this book be somewhat more realistic? (Yes, they most certainly should.) Unfortunately, I cannot list the many reasons why this book is absurd, as they contain spoilers.

I mentioned earlier that Endgame: The Calling, whilst sounding like (and being hyped up by people who probably don’t know what they’re talking about) The Hunger Games, it is not. Endgame: The Calling is not developed enough to compete with Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. By this I mean that the whole concept of this book (and its accompanying nine novellas and two sequels) is flawed.

Whilst I would not recommend that you read this atrocious collection of childish, pretentious, monotonous words masquerading as a book – if you must, then do not expect anything like The Hunger Games.

0.5/5

 

Some extra information:

You might be interested in knowing that there the movie rights to this book have already been sold. Also, this is only the first book in a new dystopian trilogy, with one book being released each year. Nine novellas will also be released between books.

Endgame: The Calling is going to have a puzzle built into it, with a grand prize of 1 million dollars on offer for the person who can solve it.

Huckleberry Finn

huck and tom

I’m aware that I’m reviewing a classic, so I’ll try to remain as objective as possible.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain probably has the biggest claim to being the Great American Novel. Intended at first as a simple story of a boy’s adventures in the Mississippi Valley – a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – the book quickly blooms under Twain’s hand into a work of immeasurable richness and complexity.

I haven’t read Tom Sawyer, but I think that I probably bet on the right horse when I chose Huckleberry Finn over it. I won’t deny it took me a while to get through, being much longer than Tom Sawyer, but personally I found it far more rewarding. Tom Sawyer (the main character, who also appears in Huckleberry Finn) is all fun and games, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. However, Huck seems to be a more developed character, more concerned with doing the right thing. Huckleberry Finn tells the story of how Huck helps a runaway slave escape and become free, and throughout he weighs up his own morals against the morals of the society that he finds himself in. Twain satirises the topsy-turvy morals of the slavery-era south. His protagonists, Huck and Jim, are two people at the bottom rung of the social latter – a runaway slave and the son of the town drunk. Though they’re not valued by society, they turn out to be the two most honourable characters of the book.

I think, perhaps, the difference between Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer is that Huck tends to put more emphasis on the stakes of the situation. Huck isn’t subtle about anything; he’s honest and lets us know step-by-step what he’s thinking. Twain pulls off a wonderful twist near the end of the book: Sawyer suddenly reappears on the scene, pulling the same hijinks he always has, but now we see them through Huck’s and Jim’s eyes. Huck wants to find the most direct solution to the problem of freeing Jim, who’s been recaptured, but of course Tom wants to complicate things, as he always does. So rather than just pulling a loose board out and making off, Tom insists on digging under the wall, and loosing bugs into Jim’s prison so he can be properly ‘prisonerish’, and finally warning the family about the impending escape to make the whole thing more dangerous.

While Sawyer did horrible things in his own book – most notably faking his own death so his Aunt Polly could about die of sadness – we forgave him then because the book was a lark, told through his eyes, and we understood that it was all about fun. Twain takes a leap in Huck Finn, showing us an adult world and then showing us what real stakes look like when Tom Sawyer gets a hold of them, and it’s sad to watch Tom toy with Jim’s life this way. This radical flip elevates Huck Finn considerably.

I only really had one negative point, which was that Jim’s character didn’t really drive the plot very much. He never pushes anything forward himself. He’s certainly shown to be kind, and we’re allowed to see him weeping for his separated wife and children, and we get to see his heavily allegorical refusal to allow Tom to throw rattlesnakes into his prison to make it more realistic. We’re allowed into Jim’s humanity, yeah, but he never gets to drive the plot. At the end, when he realizes that he’d been a free man all along, and Huck didn’t know it but Tom did and Tom was just playing… I wanted a moment of anger from him, not just a constant passivity. Didn’t he deserve it? He’s been tortured by Tom’s manipulation for months on end. Shouldn’t Jim have had a moment when he said, ‘What about my wife and kids?’

All in all, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not one to be missed. The language is full and rich, and I don’t think I could ever get sick of listening to Huck’s voice. There’s something deliciously humble about the way that Twain paints him… I’m not really sure what it was, but it had a certain charm about it. A certain spirit that I found admirable. Some of the passages where he’s crafting opposing arguments in his head and working things through were some of my favourite parts, just because of the way they’re written. He’s honest, cheeky and believable, and is now one of my favourite fictional characters.

This is just a quick sidenote here, but I recently saw a movie called Mud starring Matthew McConaughey, and the plot was quite similar to Huckleberry Finn. The acting was superb, the direction very classy for a small-budget movie, and I highly recommend you watch it.

mud

Clariel

clariel cover thingClariel is the prequel to the Old Kingdom trilogy, a young adult fantasy series written more than a decade ago by well-known Australian author Garth Nix. The original three books, in chronological order, are SabrielLirael and Abhorsen. The events of Clariel take place approximately six hundred years before  the beginning of Sabriel.

The book, which takes place in some sort of medieval period, follows almost-eighteen-year-old Clariel, who has just been uprooted from her quiet forest-bordering home and taken to the capital city of the Old Kingdom because her work-obsessed goldsmith mother has been invited to become a part of the city’s goldsmith guild.

Besides being related to a member of one of the highest guilds in Belisaere (the city), Clariel is also related to the King of the realm and the all-powerful, almighty line of sorcerers called the Abhorsens. Clariel doesn’t want to become involved with the politics at play in this city and does not want anything to do with the mess her parents have put her in, but when she discovers that the fate of Belisaere, and to an extent, the whole land, is at stake, she doesn’t have a choice.

If I told you anything more about the plot, I would spoil the book, so here ends my synopsis.

As for my thoughts on the book – I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as good as the other three books in the series. Specifically, the first third of the book was slow, the middle third was only slightly faster, and the final third felt too rushed for the rest of the book. Also, I didn’t like the epilogue. The whole thing felt tacked-on and the last line or two contradicted the rest of the epilogue and felt like it had been put there so the book would have a ‘deep and meaningful’ last line.

Although not a bad book, for me, it just did not meet the standard set by the original three books. Clariel is about a 3/5 star book.

Sabriel, and this series of books in general, are international bestsellers, and very highly regarded in the young adult fantasy genre.

The Help

The division of people by people is a phenomenon which has been causing strife for centuries. Many authors have explored these issues from various perspectives in various different settings in time and space, both real and imagined. In Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, many different perspectives of racism in the deep south of America in the 1960s are brought to light.

the-help-stockettThree different women convey Stockett’s story, each with a unique link to the issue explored. Aibileen has raised seventeen white children in her role as a maid, and watched as they all have grown into another generation divided by race, leaving the behind the colour-blindness of childhood. Minny has always known that she would be a maid, leaving school at fourteen like her mother before her. But she never left behind her sharp tongue and love of food. Skeeter was raised on a cotton plantation by her maid, who disappeared while she was away at college, and still no one will tell her where she went.

Brought together by a desire for change, Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter take it upon themselves to challenge the system in Jackson, Mississippi, and risk losing more than their friendship.

I really enjoyed the pace of this book and the different perspectives offered by each character. I was impressed by the distinctive voice created for each narrator, as it is so easy for the narrative voice to become a single entity, even when composed of more than one person. Each woman is witty, admirable and has overcome their own challenges of living in Jackson.

Help_posterEach chapter disclosed more of the dangers of being the help and, ironically, trying to help them. Learning more about the twisted system that placed them at the bottom of society encouraged me to keep reading, as it seemed the odds were impossibly against the protagonists. The expression of their anxiety over their fate underlies each chapter and is woven so seamlessly into each character’s mannerisms that I almost didn’t notice how often I was making excuses to pick up the book again. Aside from the tension and the desire to know what happened, this book was a joy to read and the intimacy of each character’s narration really allowed me to empathise with them and build a strong connection with Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. I wasn’t only interested in the success of their campaign for change, but also in each individual’s fate. Stockett has managed to capture perfectly that life has to go on, even in the middle of adversity. She has conveyed the sacrifice that each woman has made quietly every day, in order to make a change that will actually be noticed.

This book is about so much more than segregation. Stockett explores what we define as family and love, and examines the trust between friends that is strained when dreams fall short.

This is a brilliant book that presents a universal message and is written skillfully. I haven’t seen the 2011 movie, but if the book is anything to go by, it must be pretty good.

The Golden Touch

Joan London’s latest book is, I sheepishly admit, the first of hers I’ve ever read. But, after just a few pages of The Golden Age, I’m her newest fan.

Lovers of London’s prose will know just how lightly and effortlessly she manages to craft her tales. This particular one is set in the Golden Age, once a West Australian pub, now home to children who are recovering, physically and emotionally, from polio. “Some considered that this wasn’t a suitable location for a hospital. But the children found the noise soothing and loved the lights shining all night through their windows.”

Our protagonist is Frank Gold, a small, thin boy who has a golden tongue and only faint memories of his upbringing in German-occupied Hungary. He has a depth of feeling that is set in astonishing relief against the tight-lipped stoicism of the other residents of the home, predominantly British Australians. What is unsaid in this novel is often more powerful than what is, as we delve into the world of Frank and his migrant parents, as well as the other patients and their families.

Although this book is ostensibly about illness, we rarely pity these afflicted children. Their resilience and determination shines, as they allow polio to shape their lives but not define them. For Frank, “polio had taken his legs, but given him his vocation: poet”. He also discovers love in the shelter of the Golden Age, in the form of an angelic girl called Elsa. Their relationship is one of intense feeling and deep understanding, affecting not only the course of their own lives but touching those around them as well.

A beautiful novel that eddies and flows in the bright Western Australian light, London explores passion, first love, and what it means to be part of a family.