Category Archives: Reviews

For your reading list.

Two wonderful books have recently crossed the bigbookcase desk. Both have been at the centre of publishing industry hype via strong sales, awards and/or film options.  Having now read these books, they clearly both deserve every second of hype and more. If it is time for you to spoil yourself with a new book, head to your local bookseller for one (or both) of these titles. And don’t walk, run.

rosie projectThe Rosie Project

by Graeme Simsion

Text Publishing, 2013

 

Professor Don Tillman is a quirky man: logical, organised, intellectually brilliant yet utterly socially awkward. Don clearly displays elements of Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism, a fact which is evident to everybody except him. The premise of The Rosie Project is that a very logical Don realises he is lonely and sets about to rectify this problem in a very scientific manner, devising a questionnaire to screen future candidates for the position of his wife. Yet love is the least scientific of all the human elements and Don finds himself in all sorts of bother, especially when he meets Rosie.

Simsion began this book years ago as a screenplay, and after a somewhat roundabout voyage his project ended up as a novel and the feel good hit of 2013, with the rights being sold in over thirty countries. After its original inception as a screenplay it is ironic that after the success of the book, the film rights have been promptly optioned by Sony Pictures.

The Rosie Project is utterly charming, heart-warming and laugh out loud hilarious. It is a novel about human relationships in all their forms, and about the power of love to overcome almost anything.

 

harold fryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

by Rachel Joyce

Black Swan, 2013

 

Harold Fry is a retired Englishman, barely existing in a repetitive and melancholic fashion with his wife Maureen. One ordinary morning he receives a letter from an old colleague Queenie, who informs him that she has a terminal illness. On his way to post a reply, Harold decides to walk to the next post box, then the next and suddenly he has embarked upon a pilgrimage to walk from one end of the country to the other. He believes this act of faith will save Queenie.

As he walks, Howard slowly comes to life. This gentle and, as we discover, damaged man undergoes a significant transformation as he methodically puts one foot in front of the other. The reader becomes aware of many Christian references as the novel proceeds: faith, pilgrimage, discipleship, love and redemption. Howard revisits the painful aspects of his life, including the troubled relationships with his son and wife, and we share his grief. During his journey Harold meets a succession of eclectic characters, and eventually word of his pilgrimage leaks to the media and suddenly Harold’s humble journey turns into something more. Yet its ultimate purpose remains unchanged and the final scenes will bring more than a tear to your eye.

As a debut novelist, Rachel Joyce has achieved something very rare – a novel examining the very core of human existence which still manages to be joyous, inspiring and utterly exhilarating. No wonder it was long listed for the 2012 Man Booker prize.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will make you laugh yet it will break a little piece of your heart. Touching and ultimately uplifting, Joyce’s prose is deceptively simple yet utterly moving. If you read just one book this year, make it this one.

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Family holiday reading.

This time of year is a joy for avid readers. Here in the southern hemisphere we are blessed with summer holidays where we visit the beach, laze around the pool, or enjoy the test cricket during these long, relaxing summer days – which all adds up to the perfect environment in which to indulge in a little reading.

It is a time of year where I can read for pleasure, not work. In my Christmas stocking this year there were two very different books, both of which I requested and both of which I have already devoured.

The first was by my favourite holiday reading author: Maggie Alderson. everything changesHer latest book, Everything Changes But You did not disappoint. Set in England, it investigates a problem experienced by many individuals and couples in the modern world: the tyranny of distance. The plot revolves around families, relationships, love and secrets and as is usual with Maggie Alderson’s work, I devoured her book in two days. Bravo Ms Alderson. (For those who would like to read more of Maggie Alderson’s work, I would highly recommend one of my favourite summer reads of all time: Shall We Dance? which is mentioned here).

The second book in my Christmas stocking is one which I have been eagerly anticipating: the sequel to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall: Booker Prize winner Bring Up the Bodies. bring up the bodiesI finished this late last night and feel bereft at the end of this reading experience. This is one of those books where the reader savours every word, every nuance, every morsel offered by the author. Bring Up the Bodies is the second book in the trilogy exploring the life of Thomas Cromwell. This volume covers the fall from grace of Anne Boleyn in the court of Henry VIII. Though dense in its subject matter the tension is palpable and Mantel manages to neatly convey all the treachery, danger and subterfuge of Henry’s court.

During this holiday season my family has joined me in indulging in my favourite pastime. Husband has finally discovered Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series and is speeding through each book faster than I can supply the next. Teenage daughter no. 1 has just finished the sublime Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (this will feature in a future post about Australian novels) and teenage daughter no. 2 is currently knee-deep in Rick Riordan’s The Mark of Athena.

Happy holiday reading.

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The great reading drought of 2012.

Books have played a major role in my life for as long as I can remember. They have been my friends in times of loneliness and my solace in times of suffering. They have accompanied my on every holiday and their pages hold the treasured memories of my youth. So it was rather unnerving earlier in the year to find that I had lost the desire to pick up a book and I virtually stopped reading.

The reasons for this still remain unclear. The logical explanation of course is that as I am surrounded by books all day at school, and as I read constantly for my work and this website, I finally became overwhelmed by the surfeit of books in my life. Perhaps like the chef who comes home and makes a simple sandwich for dinner or the plumber who can’t be bothered to change a leaking tap, this teacher librarian finally came home and decided she couldn’t bear to open the cover of yet another book.

Strictly speaking, I did actually open the cover of a book. Many books. I even started reading numerous books. The trouble was I could not develop the slightest interest in any book, leaving countless novels discarded, unfinished and heartbroken. Like a shallow flirt I casually read a few chapters before tossing each and every book aside. Alarmingly, the number of books I discarded began to outnumber the books I actually finished reading.

There were a couple of successes. In September I read and finished The Reluctant Hallelujah (you can read the review here). In the October school holidays I read Anna Karenina, but this was no true victory. I first read Tolstoy’s masterpiece some twenty years ago so re-reading it was more like catching up with an old friend rather than forging a new relationship. For just as there is no need to establish an old friend’s background and history at a reunion, the same can be said of a re-read: the plot, characters, language and even the rhythm are stored somewhere in the recesses of your reading past. Reading and finishing Anna was a hollow victory; meanwhile the pile of books I began and failed to finish kept on growing.

Beginning to despair, I turned to an as yet unread author and page by page my dejection was cautiously transformed into elation. Success! Within a couple of a chapters I was thoroughly hooked. With eager joy I began to look for stolen moments in my day when I could sneak away with my new friend and at night I read far too late, eagerly turning the pages to inhale more of the story. And when I eventually turned the last page of the book, I felt bereft and mourned the loss of my latest literary companion.

The bewitching book that broke my reading drought was Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper.

Kate Morton is an Australian author who has had international success beginning with The Shifting Fog (also known as The House at Riverton). The Secret Keeper is best described as historical mystery, alternating between the story of famous actor Laurel Nicholson in 2011 and the life of her mother during the Blitz in 1941. Despite the historical label, Morton does not weigh the story down with historical detail; the perfectly researched history simply adds a natural supportive structure to the narrative. And the narrative is superb.

I became absorbed in the intertwined lives of the characters and the secret which is introduced early in the piece. About two-thirds of the way in I thought I had solved the mystery, but to my delight I was totally wrong and the twist was surprising yet totally satisfying, allowing all the pieces to fall into logical and satisfying place.

Morton is a discerning and gifted writer who cleverly unravels the plot, piece by piece, displaying an astute insight into the foibles of the human character and the secrets hidden deeply in the past of all families. This was my first taste of the sublime Ms Morton’s talent, and it has whetted my appetite for more.

Bless you, Kate Morton for breaking my reading drought.

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An intelligent and entertaining read.

The Reluctant Hallelujah

by Gabrielle Williams

Penguin Australia, 2012.

 

There’s something quite irresistible about a road trip novel. The metaphorical journey is addictive, resplendent with road trip antics and thrilling adventures. The Reluctant Hallelujah ticks all these boxes and more. Equally as enjoyable as all other road trip novels, this book has a distinct trump card: one of the passengers on this road trip is none other than Jesus Christ.

Dodie  and Coco are sisters; two Melbourne teenagers living in a happy family with their thoroughly decent and down-to-earth parents. Things start to go awry and this seemingly perfect existence is threatened with the sudden disappearance of their parents. The girls are consequently befriended by Enron, the boy from across the road, who holds the answer to their predicament: a secret lies in the basement of the girls’ house. This secret is so big it has led to the disappearance of their parents and will forever change the lives of everyone: beneath a concealed trapdoor lies the perfectly preserved body of Jesus Christ.

It becomes the responsibility of the girls, Enron and two other boys called Jones and Taxi to safely deliver Jesus to Sydney. The road trip is resplendent with evil bad guys, unexpected miracles and enchanting teenage romance. And despite Jesus being the star passenger on this adventure-packed road trip, the tone is never irreverent. The characters are cleverly developed as authentic, typical teenagers whose reactions to their precious cargo and dire predicament are both believable and endearing.

This is an intelligent and entertaining read from the very talented author of Beatle Meets Destiny. Most of the novel’s value lies in its ability to entertain, however, there is scope for religion classes to ponder passages from this book and debate their own hypothetical reactions to the responsibility of transporting the Messiah’s body in a modern world.

Recommended for ages 15+

 

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The brilliance of Artemis Fowl.

Artemis Fowl series

by Eoin Colfer,

Penguin Books, Australia.

 

Now it’s common knowledge among fans that the boy himself, the genius anti-hero Artemis, is brilliant. However the brilliance to which I am referring is that of Eoin Colfer’s series itself.

I was forced to read the first book in the Artemis Fowl series in 2002 when I was a teacher librarian at a boys’ school in Sydney. A group of Year 8 boys persistently nagged me to read me to read a book they had loved, which they described as ‘a fantasy book about fairies’. I politely declined, explaining that I hadn’t much enjoyed reading fairy books since my childhood Enid Blyton days. After deciphering the Blyton reference, the boys persevered (as they do), so I succumbed (as I do) and took Artemis Fowl home on a Friday. I spent that evening and weekend enjoying the most gratifying young adult reading experience I’d had since Harry Potter.

Artemis Fowl, the title character, turned out to be a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind who has cunningly secured the fairies’ book of secrets, and the fairies led by Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit are out for revenge. These are not your common bottom-of- the-garden Blytonesque fairies. No, these fairies are of the weapon-toting ass-kicking variety and I loved them as much as I loved Artemis Fowl. Full of clever writing with a great plot, packed with suspense and plenty of dry humour, I knew this book would be a success.

And what a success it has been. In the ten years since my first reading, the brilliant Irish author Eoin Colfer has written another seven equally brilliant books in the series. I now work in a different school to the one where I was first introduced to my friend Artemis, but these books have been just as beloved in my current library as they were in the other. The graphic novels which are being gradually published are also hugely popular, and Colfer’s website for the series is a favourite among the boys.

And now we are at the end of the series which Colfer has referred to as “Die Hard with fairies”. The eighth and last book, Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian, was released this week. This will be met with great sadness from my little Fowlites, but I have no doubt that like other beloved series, Artemis Fowl will be re-visited many times by its vast legion of fans.

Recommended for ages 11+

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The reality of a tragic world

The Shiny Guys

by Doug MacLeod

Penguin, Australia, 2012

This is the first Doug MacLeod novel I have read and Mr MacLeod is my new hero. I received a copy of The Shiny Guys last Friday at a professional development day hosted by Penguin and started reading it on the train on the way home. When I arrived home all chores were ignored and I devoured the rest.

Set in a mental health institution, The Shiny Guys is an intelligent and sophisticated young adult novel. It explores the complicated issues of teenage angst, depression and mental illness via beautifully crafted characters and a compelling narrative.

Colin Lapsley is fifteen years old. His family has suffered an appalling tragedy and Colin is now a patient in Ward 44, largely due to the so-called ‘shiny guys’: huge cockroach-like red men which terrorise Colin. Whilst undergoing treatment, Colin discovers a portal to a parallel world where the shiny guys actually exist. Colin shares this exciting discovery with fellow patients Mango, his trusted friend, and the newly arrived Anthea, who promisingly sees shadows which Colin senses may be his shiny guys.

The Shiny Guys will make you laugh and cry, but most of all it will break your heart. Colin is the most wonderful protagonist and reading his narrative from the comfort of one’s lounge chair, it is impossible not to feel sadness at the reality of his tragic world. Yet this novel is not a tragedy – far from it. It is a celebration of the spirit of a unique individual and an intelligent examination of the way in which the human psyche deals with grief and suffering.

The Shiny Guys would be an excellent set text for years 9 and 10. It is rich in character and plot, and the references to Kafka will generate excellent discussion and further reading.

Recommended for ages 14+

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The thrilling world of Erebos

Erebos

by Ursula Paznanski

Allen & Unwin, 2012

 

There have been many YA books written about computer games, and the merging of the real world with the cyber world. Despite this, Ursula Poznanski manages to bring something unique to Erebos by merging the cyber world of the game (and the lives of the teens who play it) with a real life thriller.

Sixteen year old Nick Dunmore is handed a DVD by a student at his school and told that the game on it is ‘amazing’. He soon discovers this is the modus operandi of the game distributors: to surreptitiously pass the game from student to student, under very strict guidelines.

Nick installs and launches the game, agreeing to stringent conditions before gaining full admittance to the world of ‘Erebos’. The game draws him into its very realistic world, communicates with him and eerily seems to know him.

Nick, like the other players, is soon addicted but in order to stay in the game he is required to carry out tasks in the real world. This is the curious and sinister aspect of the game: the way in which it compels its adolescent participants to carry out instructions in the real world, some of which are manipulative, others of which are cruel and some of which have dire consequences.

Erebos had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Originally written in German, the English translation by Judith Pattinson is clearly excellent as the text is both compelling and riveting. It is not hard to see why Erebos is an award winner and international bestseller.

Recommended for ages 13+

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