Month: August 2017

Otherworld by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

otherworldI’m always looking for books which the gamer guys, the Ready Player One guys will enjoy, this book fits the bill really well. In the same way as RPO you are immersed in the game with competing with other players. You’ve left your body behind and you are in the virtual reality of a world which feels completely real. It is very cleverly done, scene after scene with a very real feeling, an almost breathless ride, action pushing forward all the time. There is a lot of tension between the characters, mystery and mayhem are all taking place in a breathless rush.

There is such a lot going on that it gets a bit relentless at times. It has a feel of a book which is written for a specific audience and which nails that well, but at the same time there is a slight feeling of emptiness. Maybe the characters could have been developed a bit more. Simon’s obsession at all costs, even to constantly endangering his life for the sake of his friend are at times unbelievable. There is a huge conspiracy, bad doctors and dodgy hospitals all over the place, Simon in in the game and trying to save his friend. There is a lot going on. I got a bit over the relentless struggles inside the game but I can imagine that these would be thrilling for the target audience of teenage boys.

Given it is labelled #1 it is obvious there is going to be another and I’ll definitely be buying this for our library.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this title.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

sapiensI’ve been obsessing about this book, telling everyone I spoke to about how fantastically interesting it is. I felt like I was reading a more objective Bill Bryson, and I think that if you like Bryson’s books you will love this.

This is a history of the human race from it’s origins to 2014, on the way we will discover foraging, the formation of settlement, transport, agriculture, economics, industrialisation and a bunch of other stuff along the way. You begin to realise that the links between all these are more complicated than you think, that throughout history people have benefited at the expense of other people and the machinations of how that works, who ultimately wins and who loses. Every time I thought I was reading my favourite chapter I found another one which was my new favourite. I love the tone of the book, slightly snarky and not taking itself too seriously, but not playing for laughs in an obvious way. Complicated ideas explained in a way that anybody can understand and linked together in ways that make you go oooohhhh!

I’m going to add his next book to my tbr pile, it might take me a while to get to it though.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

happinessUsually I reserve the category of favourite for those books which are a clear 5 stars -ooo just thought about that and updated it to 5, and here is why!

This book is a gigantic statement of Indian politics, attitudes and how the influences of the outside world have influenced society in India since the 1980s. It is bigger even than that, it is about the marginalised and the isolated, those who stand up for what they believe in, even being prepared to die for their causes. There are spies, soldiers and politicians and a cast of interesting characters. At times I lost track a little bit of whose story I was reading, but I found it best just to keep on going as things became clear in time.

The structure of the book is varied, the beginning is a story, we meet the wonderful Anjum, born with both male and female genitalia, I spend lots of time hoping we were getting back to Anjum and eventually of course we do, I loved everything about Anjum and wanted an entire novel about just her. But then there were the others, weaving in and out of the story are politicians and rogues the gentle and the violent. There are lists and itineraries and it is a book made up of lots of parts.

To me it felt like Arundhati Roy was writing her impressions of everything that has happened in India in the time since Indira Gandhi was running it. Her observations are definitely personal, this entire book is full of her, to the point where it almost isn’t a novel. It is an observation, a comment. It made me think deeply about society and how technology has changed India, the influences of western culture on India and politics in general. It is a big book which drew me in, confused me and made me think. This is an experience rather than a novel.

Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

unearthedI completely loved this book. Nicely played Kaufman and Spooner! Science Fiction and archaeology combined in an action packed thriller set on a far away planet where aliens have left clues for the human race. Earth has huge problems with it’s environment and is gradually becoming destroyed to the point where people will have to find either a way of fixing it fast or will have to move to another planet. The race is on to be the person who will find the technology on another planet to bring back to Earth to save us all.

Deciphering the clues in massive temples though, provides vast challenges, they are puzzles with death as the outcome if you get them wrong. Amelia is a scavenger, raiding ancient sites on far off planets to sell for cash which she is using to pay her sister’s captors back on earth. She runs into Jules, who is the son of a disgraced historian, someone who said too much and who is now in jail. Jules has travelled to this planet to try and solve the biggest mystery ever and to prove that his father was right, but also for the personal satisfaction of being the guy who solved a massive mystery. Jules has studied the messages sent back to earth by the inhabitants deciphered the codes and is on a mission to find out what the clues in the messages mean for humanity.

This is going to be hugely popular, I hope it has an awesome cover with an androgynous cover on it. the fraught relationship between the two protagonists is great. The way that total mistrust leads to complete trust is so nicely done. I love the protagonists alternating chapters.

Secondary school libraries are going to want to buy lots of copies of this. And it is just the beginning of a series, one I will be following avidly.

All The Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler

dirtyWell, this is going to be controversial! Public libraries rush out and get this as soon as it is available, school libraries, I bet this one gets you some interesting comments! I can see the lights flashing and the censors racing to ban this from every library in the land.

Someone here on Goodreads has placed a comment that it should be reviewed by males, and I can see that, after all, we are firmly placed inside the head of a teenage boy who is thinking about sex, having sex, exploring all manner of sex and being generally a sex crazed teenage boy. This isn’t a relationship book and yet it is, this isn’t a helpful guide and yet it is.

I liked almost all of this novel.

I liked that it was short. There was no need to draw this out. Nice job Daniel Handler.

I liked that this teen guy seemed real, no stupid conversations, no helpful parents, just him and his penis and his constant thinking about using it.

I liked the honesty, the judgments that he was putting it about too much, the attitudinal change of his friends and classmates as he embarked on a relationship which excluded all of them.

I loved the way his relationship with his best friend changed as they tried out sex and then tried to figure out where they fitted in the hetro/homo state of the world.

What I didn’t like:
I didn’t love the girl in here, she seemed so one dimensional compared to him. But I get it, it is really all about her – ahem … attributes.

Many people will cringe at this book, but I’m going to buy a copy and hand it to our school counselor because I really liked it and I see it as having a voice that young people might really like, but there will be a bunch of haters and they are gonna hate real strong.

Yep, this is a novel about sex. All of the everythings about sex, from the point of view of a teenage boy and so it is really aptly named.

Thanks Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this. It was very enlightening and I won’t be looking a teenage boy in the eye for a couple of days now that I know what is going on behind those eyes.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

beforefallAfter I’d done a few investigations about the author when I’d finished the book I realised why I liked the tone of this so much. This guy wrote the Fargo TV series, a favourite of mine. Ah ha, I thought, this is why the tone is so good. The structure of this is really interesting. It starts off with a straightforward story of a plane crashing into the ocean, the only survivors are an artist and a little boy, they swim to shore from the crash. It is exciting, tense and really gripping. Then you take a step back and you get the stories of the people on the plane, written in a kind of report style. At first, I wasn’t sure about this, particularly about the character Ben Kipling who is secretly doing dastardly business. You’ll have to read it to find out what, but in the end, I loved these sections. Our story travels to and fro between the accounts of the lives of those who have been killed and our hero Scott who saved the little boy.

Yes, this is a crime novel but it is a great exploration of the human psyche, how we react under pressure, the things we hide from our loved ones, how we are able to push ourselves in times of strife. It has comments on the role of the media, how artists view the world differently to those of us who are not artistic, how some of the things we value in society are not attractive qualities. This is a really interesting book. I read an e-book and all through it people had highlighted paragraphs of insightful writing. I’m looking forward to more novels from this author.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

essexAn interesting and marvellous book. Marvellous because it has much to make you think, to mull over and ideas to carry around and consider while you are reading it. It is a big story, with characters who started to take over my life. Often the minor characters became people I wanted to grow bigger in the story and then low and behold they would get a bigger role. Cora Seabourne is a young widow, she and her young son head from London to a village in Essex where the locals are spooked by rumours and strange goings on which are blamed on The Essex Serpent, a creature which has become the stuff of legend even though nobody has actually seen it. She is introduced to the local reverend and his wife via mutual friends and their relationships form a large part of the story.

There is so much in this book, unrequited love, suspicion, repression, suffering, religion, love, friendship and dying. It is set in an age where women were considered capable of learning but not able to have a career or study at any level higher than school. I think it would be a wonderful book to study, to pull apart and savour all its little moments which build to make a whole which feels complete and satisfying.

And would you just gaze upon this utterly glorious cover!

 

Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

oursoulsA clear 5 stars from me. I read it in a day. Swallowed it up and then sat, staring into space when it was done. This is the story of two older people who are lonely, they live in a typical small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Addie is so lonely it gives her pain. If you are lonely and you know the man up the street is also lonely, and your greatest desire is to have someone to share your nights with, after all nights are the loneliest time, then isn’t it only right that you should get together to share those nights? So, Addie approaches Louis, who agrees tentatively, to come and spend the nights with her. They are nice people, they don’t want to be the talk of the town.

Then Addie’s grandson comes to stay and the three of them and the newly acquired dog begin a process of healing, growing together, building their relationships and becoming close. This is rudely interrupted by Addie’s son, the father of Jamie who judges them harshly and meanly. The small mindedness of people, their judgyness and their thrusting of what they think their elders need upon them is so awful and so well depicted in this book.

This gorgeous short novel which made my heart happy.

Awatea’s Treasure by Fraser Smith

Mixed feelings about this one. I can absolutely see why there are recommendations by Jack Lasenby and Sam Hunt on the cover, it is the sort of book I can see them really liking. A bit like a yarn told by an older man to his grandchildren. I was not really hooked in the first quarter of the book, it felt like it was tricky to set up the relationships, particularly between Awatea and his uncle Kim, stronger editing would have made the book much better at hooking me (and the kids) in. The dialogue was not quite right but after we get past that, the story moves along and is really great. My concern is that this would be clunky to read aloud, this is disappointing because this is exactly the sort of book which gets read aloud in our school.  It is a relief when the story gets itself sorted and becomes a good read.

The characters of Awatea and his grandparents and the neighbours along the beach are beautifully done. Lots of rich New Zealand country kid stuff to treasure in there, the bush, the beach, the tree hut that needs to be worked on, hidden treasure of a very interesting kind, fish and crayfish to be caught and a parrot for company.

There is a lot to like about the book but a fix up to the opening section would really have helped it.

Here comes a political statement.  New Zealand stories are important.  Our children need to read stories that reflect their lives. This is a good story, but it is set long before any of our current youth were born.  Publishers, you need to sort your shit out and start commissioning some stuff which is like this but which is contemporary.  We have lots of stories of the past for our youth, but we don’t have stories of kids who live now, who go on holiday with their grandparents now, who have experiences like Awatea has but who have them in 2017.  I have to tell you that my kids don’t care what happened in the past.  They want stories of now!  I honestly think we need to move on from stories recommended by elderly men.  I want a story recommended by Julian Dennison.  Or by

Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

world endsAn incredibly moving and gripping book set on the islands off the coast of Scotland in the western most islands of the Outer Hebrides one of the most remote locations you could imagine. The inhabitants eek out a living by hunting on rocky vertical outcrops called Stacs, which are out in the ocean, gathering birds and their eggs and selling them to the owner of the islands and living on only those in teams. Then a boat arrives back and carries the hunters back to their family on the nearly as miserable island, Hirta, where they live with their families. It is grim. They have little to no equipment to use, they have frayed ropes and not enough warm clothing.

This book tells the story of one team of 9 men and 3 boys out harvesting on the Stac in 1727, it is based on a true event and is written beautifully by a fabulous writer who has obviously done her research on the horrific event that occurs in this book. I think it is best not to give a warning of what befalls these poor people, but just to say that they are there a terrifically long and miserable time. This is a rich and sorry tale but completely gripping. I’ll be recommending it all over the place to staff and students.

Talon by Julie Kagawa

talon Hmmmm. I was encouraged to read this by one of the boys at school, he loves this series and for a year has been harassing me to read it, so I’ve just finished it. I can absolutely see why he likes it and I the combination of teenage romance and dragons is a winner. It is pretty predictable but the dragons are described perfectly and I really liked the fighting scenes, but the pining of Ember for the hot boys got a bit wearing. Sometimes it is a bit slow to move along then whoo hoo we are off and it is all action. Overall I found it a mixed bag, but will definitely be encouraging the dragon lovers to have a go at it. And that cover! That is a thing of beauty!