Month: January 2017

Review: When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh this book! Read in a day. I’ve been wanting to read this since it came out and it wasn’t disappointing. I loved lots of things about it but in particular I loved the story of how Paul Kalanithi became a neurosurgeon, the pathway he took which led him to the realisation of where he felt his place in the world was. It is brutal and honest and tells how gruelling the days are for a surgeon, ten years training and still not there. He wrote this book as he lay dying of cancer and that really is the journey, he talks about his treatment, how he discovered he was sick and the various treatments he went through. You know that he does not survive but can’t help but admire his ways of dealing with his illness. I particularly liked the after story which is written by his wife, she fills in some of the gaps which I felt were missing as the story went along. At times the writing does feel a little cold, understandably as he was writing about the end of his life as it happened. There are some great passages in here and I’ll be sharing it with the staff at school in our bookclub. I didn’t find this as hard to read as I did Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture which had me weeping from almost the moment I started it. What I did love about this is the look at dying from the point of view of a man who has spent his working life telling other people that they have cancer, now being in the opposite position. There are wonderful literary quotes and it is certainly a great book. Quite a lot more religious than is to my taste but that was part of who this man was.

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Review: The Colour of Magic

The Colour of Magic
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I kind of re-read this accidentally, had forgotten that I had already read it, I get a bit confused with the Discworld books and meant to read The Light Fantastic and ended up reading this, #readingproblems #toomanybooks #clickingrandomly. Anyway I loved it again, it is so quick to read and it just rollicks along with poor old Rincewind getting into all kinds of trouble. I’ll be giving it a huge push at school this year as I think it is a real shame that more of my students aren’t reading the vast collection of Pratchett books we have. The humour is great, the snarky attitude is wonderful and it was great to revisit old friends.

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Review: Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you loved Laini Taylor’s previous books, then you are going to love this one. She makes a world that is clever, interesting, full of people you’d love to meet and with interesting quirks. It has been a while since I read a YA fantasy book and it took me a bit to get into it at the beginning, despite the male lead being all kinds of wonderful and on top of that, a librarian. He is obsessed with finding out about the lost city of Weed, eventually he is offered the opportunity to travel there and discovers that there are good reasons why it is such a secret place. We also meet Sarai, one of the remaining few goddesses who have survived a terrible carnage which took place in Weed. There are ghosts, dream invaders in the form of beautiful moths, magic in many forms and flying machines made of plants. There is a lot going on, and it is beautifully described and very real sounding. The world within these pages is scary and gorgeous and I can see that it will have huge appeal to those who love a great YA fantasy.

Thanks to Netgalley for giving me access to this great title.

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Review: The Girl in the Red Coat

The Girl in the Red Coat
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I couldn’t decide what to rate this a 3 or 4 star. I did really like it but it was not without faults. It is a crime novel, but bloodless and occasionally a bit overwritten. A small girl, Carmel, is kidnapped and the story is told from the point of view of both Carmel and her mother. I really enjoyed Carmel’s chapters, how she felt about her kidnappers and her relationship with the other children she ends up with. I felt though that Beth’s chapters were not as well done. Don’t get me wrong, it is still really good and very moving, the thought of losing your child and never knowing what happened to her is completely wrenching. It is a fast read, the pace is relentless almost all of the time and I found myself trying to figure out the ending from about the middle. A book you can race through.

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Review: The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cora’s story is harrowing, I found myself wanting desperately for her to survive, to be safe and to live through the ordeals she faced as a slave on the run. There is so much written about this book I’m just going to write a brief thing here. There is a heap of fascinating information in this book, I’d never heard about the underground railroad until this book came out, and I’d been completely unaware that such a thing existed, then in NYC I discovered you could take a tour which showed you the stops there. Sadly, we didn’t get time to do that tour. Anyway back to the book, for me it isn’t a 5 star, but it is really good, mostly because the story is so engaging, but the structure was at times very confusing. I found it a little disjointed in places and I wanted more of the characters. I loved the newspaper advertisements for the runaway slaves at the beginning of the chapters, they made it so much more real. I thought about this story a lot while I was reading it, at times feeling a little guilty that I wasn’t loving it quite as much as I thought I would, but it does have power, it tells an important story and it shocked me to read again about the treatment of blacks people in the past. Horrifying and moving, this is an important book but not one I found easy to read.

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Review: The Good People

The Good People
The Good People by Hannah Kent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started this book with a poor attitude and ended it with tears in my eyes and a huge admiration for the author. The good people of the title are the fairies and this story really centres upon the relationship of the inhabitants of a small Irish hamlet with a local woman who appears to have the gift of being able to communicate and know the good people and their ways. It is a sad, complex and layered story. Very grim and atmospheric and so sad. Nora has lost her husband as he laboured in the fields, she has lost her daughter to illness and inherited her grandson as a result, a grandson who is afflicted with terrible disabilities. She is convinced that this child is not her real grandson, that he is a child of the good people and that with the right magic, that the real child can be returned to her. It is awful, and fascinating. A beautiful grim book. If you like historical fiction then this book will really appeal.

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Review: The Rules of Backyard Cricket

The Rules of Backyard Cricket
The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is great. There. I could just stop there, but I’ll attempt more. This is the story of two brothers, Wally and Darren Keefe, cricket obsessed, playing constantly in the hot Australian sun in their backyard throughout their childhood, trying to get into better and better teams and generally just living for the game. Their mum is always there, supporting and helping out, trying to ease the path and always with their backs. Cricket, however, is as rife with dodgy players, scams and all manner of grasping and manipulation as any other sport, Darren, from whose point of view the story is told, is caught up in the seedier side of cricket life from an early age. His brother is the paragon of virtue though, a fine upstanding cricketer through and through.

The opening of the book finds Darren, tied up and stuffed into the boot of a car. The beginning of every chapter finds him still there, struggling to get out and reflecting on his life. The people he annoyed, the people he mixed with and the opportunities he took which maybe he shouldn’t have! No … he definitely shouldn’t have! Great story, fabulous writing, excellent structure and a blimmin brilliant read. (Disclaimer: I’m not a cricket fan, I’m often surrounded by wall to wall cricket in my life as my partner is a serious fan, I can talk about cricket but I really don’t care about it, and yet still I enjoyed this book!)

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Review: The Way We Roll

The Way We Roll
The Way We Roll by Scot Gardner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Scott Gardner, you write books that I want all my boys to read! You get teenagers. You understand their need to always look good, their mateship and the way that they can be kind to each other even when that is about as uncool as it is possible to be. I love all your books but I think this one might be my new fave. I’m heading out to buy lots of copies because I know that I can pitch it to lots of guys who pretend to hate reading. There is fun, sadness and quite a lot of dodgy behaviour, but it is always real, never overwritten and well just perfect. I’ve begun looking at the trolly boys at my supermarket in a whole new way! Another one that every secondary school needs to buy, and that every English teacher and high school librarian should read. (Don’t you love it when people tell you that you SHOULD do something – not!)

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Review: Celestial Navigation

Celestial Navigation
Celestial Navigation by Anne Tyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anne Tyler is all about the characters in her books. How they think and dream and yearn and love, often there is all this rich interior life going on, but they can’t express their thoughts verbally. The conversations are sparse and often no action happens for a long time, but there is heaps going on in the interior lives of her people. I love how she does this. She makes very ordinary people (whatever they are) leap off the page and tell you their sadnesses and trials from the inside.

Jeremy who is the pivotal character in this book is at odds with the world, he sees things very uniquely. He is an artist who makes collages, taking just the right shade of colour by cutting up anything he can find, whether it is an advertisement in a magazine or a piece of one of his children’s clothing. For a long time he is isolated from the world, his mother has died and he is letting out rooms in the home he has always lived in to boarders. Jeremy is not able to leave his street, he is anxious about almost everything and orders things he needs from a Sears catalogue. Then suddenly all this changes. He is swept into a world he never expected and is only just able to cope with.

The story is told from multiple points of view and every one of them is wonderful. By the end of the book I felt like I knew these people, that they had inhabited my life and I was sad to finish. It moves slowly along and that won’t appeal to everyone but I loved it.

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Review: We Come Apart

We Come Apart
We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The individual voices in this story, Niku and Jess, are distinct and different to anything I’ve read. I loved them. I swallowed this book in a big gulp in one sleepless night. Jess has a horrific homelife, she is fighting to stay in her home but the bully her mother is living with is terrorising her and her mum. She is forced to watch her mum get beaten. Niku is Romanian and has come to England with his family, he cannot speak English and is treated badly by his classmates but along with these struggles, he is being forced into marriage to a girl he has never met back in his home country. It sounds dreadful, it is dreadful, but it is a story which has hope. It also has one of the most shocking endings, it left me open mouthed with shock.

Buy it for your high school library, this is quality literature and I highly recommend it.

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