July 29, 2009

Coraline: The Graphic Novel - Neil Gaiman

I have continued to struggle to concentrate on too much reading wise at the moment so my partner suggested the graphic novel Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I'm still pretty new to the world of graphic novels but I have to say I really loved this story and this style.

Coraline is a girl who has just moved into a new house with her parents - a house that offers plenty in the world of exploration and discovery - so exploring Coraline does! She discovers another world within the house containing in some ways mirror images of her real life - including another set of parents that turn out to be far more than what they first seem to be.

I asked my partner before I started reading this one if it was scary - he assured me that it wasn't but after finishing it I realised that everyone has very different ideas of what is scary for them! I did find aspects of this story scary and disturbing I have to say! I was really caught up in Coraline's worlds and I was hoping that she would come out of her experiences ok.

I have read some of Gaiman's work before and even though this genre is not the sort of thing I would normally read I love all of his work that I have read - it is imaginative, fun and thought provoking. Coraline in the graphic novel format was the perfect read for me at the moment.

July 25, 2009

Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince - J. K. Rowling

One book I have managed to focus on and complete in the past week is Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince. Although I have read this book before, when it was first released, I thought (given my completely pathetic memory for things that I read) it might be a good idea to re-read it in preparation for watching the movie.

I'm so glad that I did because I have to say, after watching the movie I was a little disappointed with how it was put together. I know a lot of people and critics are claiming it to be the best Harry Potter movie but I thought it was quite patchy and difficult to follow - and I knew what was going on!! I did love the developing relationships between the characters though - I thought this was presented really well - I just think a Harry Potter movie should be so much more than this. Maybe my expectations were a little high??!!

Anyway, back to the book - the sixth and second last in the series. I remember eagerly awaiting this books release because I had been a little disappointed with the fifth book in the series - Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix - I felt this was a bit of a "filler" book. HP and The HBP is probably my second favourite of all of the books after The Goblet of Fire so I really enjoyed being able to re-read it. I love how this book expands and develops the relationships between the characters and I think this is one of the strengths of the series overall - the characters do develop along with the plot. I also love the sense of mystery that is built up through the book and the history that is provided about Lord Voldemort and why he might be the wizard he has become.

As you can tell I am a huge Harry Potter fan!

July 24, 2009

Energy Needed!

The last week or so has been pretty exhausting - work has been busy and stressful and there have been lots of other "life" things to take care of in the meantime. I have found myself lacking energy for anything but the most basic of tasks and as a result my blogging - and my reading has suffered.

I feel like I am surrounded by plenty of amazing reading material but I just can't find the energy or motivation to become interested and captivated in a book at the moment. I hate this feeling - the fact that I am always attached to some sort of reading material is such a big part of my personality - books help me feel like me - without them I am feeling a little lost and miserable.

So, I am calling on you out there to help inspire and energise me!! Has there been a book you have read recently that has captured you completely? Or, can you think of a time when you felt similar to the way I am feeling now - what book brought you back to reading and helped you to concentrate??

I know this feeling will pass - they always do - I will just search for that magic book in the meantime!

July 18, 2009

New Books

Even though I am being quite disciplined (for me!) and borrowing most of my books at the moment I have had a few lapses where I have just had to lash out and buy new books. Three of my new purchases have been:

1. The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey - I have heard nothing but fantastic things about this book (shortlisted for the 2009 Orange Prize) in the blogging world so I had been searching for it in local bookshops after finding that it wasn't in my local library. I finally discovered it but it was a hardcover copy for $52 AUS!!! Crazy prices!! So, thanks to The Book Depository I now have my own copy for less than half that price.

2. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor - I must admit that the gorgeous cover of this one did draw me in - but I had heard lots about this author as well and the storyline sounds like my kind of thing.

3. Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith - I discovered McCall Smith's books at the beginning of the year and just fell in love with his writing and his characters so I was very excited to see his brand new book in stores this week - of course a copy came home with me!

July 17, 2009

Buying A Piece Of Paris - Ellie Nielsen

I'm keeping up my reading of books that are helping to get me in the mood (not that I really need any extra assistance for that!) for our upcoming trip.

Buying A Piece Of Paris caught my eye with its cute cover but I'm afraid that was about the only thing I truly enjoyed about this book.

As the title of the book suggests, the Australian author is telling the story of her experience of buying an apartment in Paris with her husband and young son. I was prepared for some details of the practicalities and realities of this experience but I wasn't prepared for EVERY detail to be shared and gone over in such a painstaking way. I would have liked to have heard more about the background to the story - why was the author so intent on buying an apartment in Paris? Why did it mean so much to her? The author does touch on these things but not enough to make the book feel like it has any real substance or heart to it for me.

If you are planning on buying a place to live in Paris this book may be helpful in terms of hearing about another persons experience but for me just wanting to connect with the author and her story it really didn't do it for me unfortunately.

July 12, 2009

Death at La Fenice - Donna Leon

Death at La Fenice is my first Donna Leon book - and I understand this book to be the first in her Commissario Guido Brunetti series following the Venice Detective in his work?

I do not read a lot of crime/mystery novels for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I work in this area and so I find myself either critiquing the novels from a professional perspective or feeling like I haven't really left work even though I am at home supposedly relaxing by engaging in my favourite hobby.

The other reason I do not often pick up this genre of books is that I tend not to like how they are written. I find that crime/mystery authors seem to use the "tell" not "show" version of writing which I find really annoying and a little patronising. I realise I am not very well read in this genre so I would love to hear from people who have read great crime/mystery authors that they would recommend.

In Death at La Fenice Commissario Brunetti is attempting to solve the murder of a famous conductor who is found poisoned in his dressing room backstage at the Venice Opera House. Brunetti systematically works his way through interviewing possible suspects and relevant people in the conductor's life and along the way we also see glimpses into Brunetti's own personal life as Leon sets up future novels in the series.

I did enjoy reading about the setting of Venice - and for me the city was my favourite character in this book. Brunetti was engaging - but in a distant, stereotypical police officer way - you wanted him to "catch his man" so to speak but other than that I didn't feel all that connected to him - not enough to make me want to read further into the series.

This was definitely a quick, light read (despite the content) and I did feel some satisfaction at the end having worked out the mystery for myself - something I am usually never able to do!

July 11, 2009

Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout

I had read many good things about Olive Kitteridge around the blogging world (please forgive me if you have written one of the reviews that tempted me to read this one - I cannot remember all of them now!) so when I saw a copy available at my library I grabbed it.

Olive Kitteridge is a book made up of 13 short stories all interconnected in some way by the character of Olive herself or the community in which she lives in small-town Maine.

Not that I am in any ways an expert in the awarding of literature prizes but it does not surprise me that this book was the winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize - it is an amazing collection of stories - each one simple in construct but complex in emotion and character development.

As the book begins we hear from Olive's husband, Henry, about what his life is like living with such a strong-willed woman as Olive. I didn't exactly warm to Olive to begin with - she makes it tough for people to like her but it is clear that Henry loves and adores this woman.

The other stories all provide perspectives on Olive from her son, Christopher, her varied students from the local high school, other community members and Olive herself.

Each story in this collection is divine - you want each one to keep going and yet at the same time I think the author has timed and paced them perfectly.

If you enjoy brilliantly written books centred on character development and introspection than this is novel for you - just wonderful. I will be thinking about Olive for a long time to come.

July 09, 2009

If I Stay - Gayle Forman

I first read about If I Stay over at DoveGreyReader and then over at Dot's Blog - both reviews had me eager to read this book so I ordered a copy from Amazon only to find it days later in bookshops in Australia! Oh well - my copy is hardcover and gorgeous so I have come to terms with it!

This is one of those books where it is hard to describe the plot, structure and techniques of the book without giving away the core message that you need to discover in your own time as you read it yourself so I will just give you the description as outlined on the author's website:

“Just listen,” Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.
I open my eyes wide now. I sit up as much as I can. And I listen.
“Stay,” he says.
Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones. Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her friends and family behind?
Then, one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it’s the only that matters.
If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

I found this book incredibly moving and powerful - and it actually does take quite a bit to move me! The writing is spot on and while the book is intended as a young adult book I don't think it would be out of place on the adult fiction shelves.

Highly recommended!

July 08, 2009

Prada and Prejudice - Mandy Hubbard

I have to admit I was a little hesitant about picking up Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard after my last Jane Austen spin off reading experience but I have to say that this was a very different experience - and one that I actually enjoyed!

Prada and Prejudice was my second read for the Everything Austen Challenge and after my disappointing first read I was intending to go back to the real thing for my second book to restore my faith but when this book arrived in the mail yesterday I thought I would give it a go.

The main character in the book is 15 year old Callie - an American girl on a school trip to London. When the book starts Callie is not having the best of times and she takes us through a little bit of her history as the "not so cool girl in school" - a time I am sure many of us can remember. Callie decides to do her best to fit in with the "in" crowd - which of course means using her mother's credit card to buy a brand new and authentic pair of Prada heels. Callie, being Callie, is not used to walking in such high heels and she ends up doing a nose dive into the London pavement causing her to black out and wake up in the English countryside - in the year 1815. Now, I'm not usually one who is able to get on board with the whole time travel thing but I was able to do it for Lost in Austen and I was able to do it for this book too - it's just a matter of suspending belief for that little while and getting caught up in the story.

The two things that I felt really made this book work were 1) Hubbard's strong and clear writing style and 2) The character of Callie - you believed this girl and you wanted her to come out on top.

This is clearly a book meant for adolescents but the adolescent in me really enjoyed it - a great light and fun read.

July 07, 2009

The Flâneur - Edmund White

As we continue to prepare for our trip overseas (less than 2 months to go now!) I am seeking out books about the places we are visiting. I have actually had The Flâneur on my shelves for a while now but it jumped out at me last night when I was looking for something to help get me focused on our trip. In one respect I am a little sad about our time in Paris as we only have 3 nights there and all that I am reading and taking in is making me want to cancel every other part of our trip and just stay there for the whole time! However, I also know I am very lucky to be going there at all so I will take my 3 nights and be happy!

In The Flâneur: A Stroll Through The Paradoxes of Paris, Edmund White takes us to his "secret" Paris - the parts of the city and that stories from its history that may not always be mentioned in mainstream guidebooks.

White introduces the concept of the flâneur as "a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the streets he walks". With only 3 nights in Paris I am not sure how much "flâneur" behaviour I will be able to indulge in - but I would like to think I could give it a try!

Now my knowledge of French history, people and language is very limited, some would say non existent (especially regarding the language) so I am sure that some of what White writes about goes above and beyond me. Having said that though I really enjoyed this book and the journey through Paris that it takes you on. White has divided the book into 6 chapters each one focusing on an element of the city and its history that White has found significant to his experience of Paris and its people. There is a chapter on the multicultural society of the city, gay Paris, Jewish Paris, the royalist tradition and the writers and artists that have called Paris home. There is also a really comprehensive section at the end of the book suggesting further reading in each of these areas.

July 05, 2009

Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

Wow! This is pretty much the reaction I had after finishing Revolutionary Road – I am still thinking about it and the impact it has had – because if this book has anything it is definitely impact!
Is the book depressing – kind of – but in a hopeful way if that can make any sense? Reading about the lives of the characters April and Frank Wheeler I actually feel pretty hopeful for my own life – things certainly aren’t as bad as they got for them!
This book is extremely powerful – the language, the scenes, the relationships and the choices the characters make, even the moments of silence and contemplation all hold you – you aren’t going anywhere once you have started this book.
Frank and April Wheeler have been married for 6 years after meeting at a party in New York shortly after the end of WW2. They are now living in the suburbs with 2 young children – Frank commuting into the city everyday to attend an office job he couldn’t really care less about (and only took in the first place because April fell pregnant) and April stays at the home and cares for the children, having dinner on the table and a martini in hand when Frank returns home at the end of the day.
The Wheeler’s despise the conformity that they see surrounding them in 1950’s America and they dream of a life in Europe where they can be free to explore “who it is they really are”. Or, at least April is dreaming of this for Frank – she feels that they have become trapped in an existence that neither one of them has asked for but she seems overly concerned with the impact this life is having on Frank – her extraordinary husband. It is only towards the end of the book that April begins to realise the impact their way of life is having on her – and it is then that choices have to be made.
Themes of identity, choices, conformity and isolation are all explored in Revolutionary Road – how do we know we are living our lives the way they were meant to be lived? Is this all there is? Should all of our expectations and dreams be met?
For me the book highlighted some of the dangers of indulging in too much introspection – I felt some of the challenges faced by the characters in this book were because they over thought things! Now I am normally quite a thinking and reflective person but I think at some stage you just have to go with the flow! Does that mean blind acceptance and taking what life hands out – maybe a little?
As you can tell – this book (despite what I have said just above) has me thinking – one thing I am definitely sure of is that Yates is an amazing and incredible writer and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of his work.

July 04, 2009

Austenland - Shannon Hale

Austenland by Shannon Hale was my first read for the Everything Austen Challenge and I have to say that I was very disappointed with this book. I was so looking forward to reading it after hearing and reading such great things about it but I have to say - I don't think there is even one thing I can say that I liked or enjoyed in this book. I feel so awful saying that about a book that clearly so many people have enjoyed but I guess that's the way things go - not everyone is going to like the same things - and the world would be a very boring place if we did!

Austenland is the story of Jane Hayes - an American woman in her early 30's obsessed (as many of us are) with Pride and Prejudice - especially the BBC film version with Colin Firth playing the role of Mr Darcy. Jane has apparently been comparing every man she has ever dated with Darcy - with of course the only result being that every man has come up short. Jane has realised that this really isn't the most sensible way to live her life so in order to get over this compulsion to find her own Mr Darcy she takes a trip to Austenland - an English country estate set up to deliver its guests with an authentic taste of the Jane Austen period - complete with dashing suitors and possible offers of marriage.

I was just never able to get into this book or the storyline it presented. I wasn't ever really convinced of the character of Jane Hayes or what it was she was actually looking for - if anything. Her character, to me, seemed shallow and poorly developed - and I'm not sure how spending time in a Jane Austen theme park was actually going to "cure" her obsession with Darcy! I think this book highlighted my reading style - I like characters with substance and Jane Hayes did not deliver this for me. So, Austenland was not for me - maybe I need to go back to some authentic Austen for the time being...

July 01, 2009

The Spy Game - Georgina Harding

Yet again another gorgeous book cover that caught my eye and drew me in! I keep falling for these amazing covers and thankfully, for the most part at least, there are wonderful stories and writing within them.

The Spy Game focuses on 8 year old Anna and her older brother Peter and covers the time in the early 1960's when their mother disappears and the children are told that she is dead even though they are never allowed to see her body or attend a funeral or a burial. Peter begins to take Anna on a mesmerising journey forcing her to think about the mother she knew - where did she come from and what happened on the day that she died and the days leading up to that day. The political and social climate of the day is woven into the book and Peter and Anna start to regard their mother in a new light when they consider her Eastern European background and the fact of her sudden death and disappearance in their lives. This questioning continues into the children's adult lives, particularly Anna's, as she travels back to her mother's homeland to explore and pose her questions there.

I found this book completely absorbing - I have heard it compared to Ian McEwan's Atonement and while I certainly didn't think it was as amazing as that book it does share some similar qualities. I still have so many unanswered questions of my own having now finished the book and while that frustrated me at first I have come to accept that this may well be part of the experience of this book - just as Anna and Peter will continue to question, so does the reader.