Author: Bridget Schaumann

Reader of books, lover of food, watcher of film, lover of the yummy things in life. Mum, Partner, School Librarian, Careers Advisor. There is a lot more ..... but you will have to read the blogs to find out

Artemis by Andy Weir

artemisI was really excited when I was approved by Netgalley for this book, The Martian was one of my favourite books last year and I was really looking forward to getting stuck into this. This one is a very different story, still with all the science and clever techie stuff that Andy Weir is making his signature style, but this time with a female protagonist and set on the Moon. Jazz is a fabulous character, a bit of a rebel and with a renegade spirit. She needs cash, fast. She lives in Artemis, the first and only city on the moon. Her Dad is the master welder (which is going to come in very handy) and because Jazz has been a bit of a rogue in her past she doesn’t work in the family business but works as a courier delivering packages. This allows her the opportunity to import forbidden items into Artemis. She is basically running an importation business. This means she meets some dodgy people.

The structure of Artemis is fantastically described and I loved reading about all the features of it’s bubbles and how the society is managed there. Life is pretty grim for many of the inhabitants but looks great to the tourists who visit for the opportunity to go out onto the moon surface with the qualified EVA people who take tours, Jazz has just failed her exam to become an EVA specialist when we meet her.

When Jazz is offered the opportunity to earn a huge pile of money she jumps at the chance. She is going to sabotage large machinery and enable her friend to pick up the contract from which he will make a fortune. This sabotage plan will mean danger and risk to Jazz and the story is about her planning and organising this and then putting it into action. It is really detailed. At times I was left a little underwhelmed by all the detail of the sabotage but while there is a bit of a lag in the middle of the book, it picks up markedly towards the end and I found myself completely absorbed as the book raced to it’s conclusion.

There is a heap to like in this book, The Martian was always going to be a hard act to follow and I think Andy Weir has done a good job on this one and I’m looking forward to the next.

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My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

darlingThis is one of the most shocking and moving books I’ve ever read. At times I found myself gasping at the horror of Turtle’s situation and constantly admiring the atmospheric world that Gabriel Tallent had made for her to live her horrific life in. This is Julia’s life, she prefers to be called Turtle and her awful father calls her Kibble. She is growing up on the outskirts of Mendicino in California with her survivalist, abusive and frankly psychotic father, her grandfather lives nearby and he eventually eventually figures out that Turtle is in danger, real and constant danger. There is a heap of terrible family history and lives lived with regret and anger. Turtle knows how to survive, she knows all these things about the natural world, but cannot manage so well at school, is not good with people because her life is so opposite to anything any of her peers or teachers have experienced and she lives in constant fear.

I loved the way that the author wrote Turtle’s conflicting emotions about her father and grandfather. I loved the way he gradually introduced other people into the story. I loved the way that the teacher was written even if that seemed somewhat unrealistic compared to the rest of the story. This book is cringingly awful, mind blowingly beautiful and engrossing. The abuse is like watching a train wreck, you can’t take your eyes off it even as it looms in front of you and makes you want to cover your eyes in horror (I did actually do that). I loved it and I hated it and it is a clear 5 stars from me.

I’m also just adding that this book looks and feels beautiful.  I completely love the cover.  Here is the lovely Joan Mackenzie talking about the book far more eloquently than me.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

exitwestSo many big themes in such a small book. I completely understand why it is shortlisted for the Booker, it is utterly contemporary and perfect for our times. I found it completely absorbing and it was great company for an afternoon where spring finally sprang and I could luxuriate in in the first really warm day of the season. This is the story of migration, of war looming on the horizon of people’s ordinary lives, of the lack of safe places and the rise of the refugee as a political and social force. I was completely absorbed in the lives of Nadia and Saeed and their quest for a peaceful life with enough resources for them to make a decent life without struggling for every sip of water and bite to eat.

This is also about the pressures on their relationship. Dealing with the guilt of leaving Saeed’s father behind, of being each others only company for extended periods, of the pressure of trying to find a community in a world of strangers and suspicion. It is so clever, politically really interesting, beautifully constructed and totally absorbing. I know lots of people who will love this book.

I found this interview with the author which makes the origins of the story very clear.

Summer at Mount Hope by Rosalie Ham

MountHopeI am a Rosalie Ham fan. Through and through! She makes me laugh uproariously, she brings a tear to my eye, she nails her characters and she loves a feisty young woman. Her descriptions are second to none and really she is one of the great underappreciated Australian authors. I’ve had this sitting on my bookshelf for ages and I’ve been saving it for a moment when I needed cheering up and a wee break from YA fiction. I have been savoring it and now that I’m finally done I need to sit down and write about it.

Set at a time of drought and depression in rural Victoria in the 1880s and 90s this book tells the story of Phoeba, a feisty young woman who is practical and along with her father, running their farm and vineyard. Her ridiculous sister Lilith is only interested in making herself glamorous and finding a fine specimen of a husband. They couldn’t be more different. There is no money, their mother is constantly criticising their life and the misfortune of having to live in the country, there is a wonderful aunt who is poverty stricken. All in all, there is a wonderful cast of characters who inhabit Mount Hope and they each have a role in determining Phoeba’s future. My I loved the descriptions of the terrible neighbours, particularly the poor gasping woman whose corset was eventually her undoing, Spot the particularly ornery horse and Freckle the delivery man. This is domestic drama, laced with a dose of rural romance and given a hefty dose of Jane Austenish spice. In other words, it is perfect.

Sparrow by Scot Gardner

SparrowOne of the best books I’ve read this year! Scot Gardner is one of my favourite authors, he gets teenagers and he writes them well. This one is particularly good. It is the story of a boy called Sparrow, it takes place in dual time settings, beginning on an uninhabited island where he has washed up after his ship sinks, this island is far from idyllic, there are terrible creatures everywhere all of which want to hurt (or even eat) him. We also meet Sparrow before this happens when he is living on the street, helping out in cafes to try and get free food to keep himself from starving. We begin to find out how he ended up in this situation and there is nothing good about his past life. He has been abused, mistreated, lied to and abandoned. Despite all this Sparrow is loveable and kind to others.

Sparrow’s journey from abandoned urchin to imprisoned youth is gripping. I fell in love with him from the very first sentence and I cried at some of the appalling things that happened to him. Sparrow’s relationship with the cafe people is wonderfully written, very realistic, full of pathos and at times raw and edgy.

If you are looking for books for teenage boys just head out and buy all of his books for them. They are properly real and beautifully constructed, but their real beauty is in the characters of realistic boys who deal with the crap life throws at them in amazing ways. A real contender for my YA book of the year.

Below is Scot Gardner reading the first chapter.  You should definitely listen to it. Definitely!

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old

groenOh this book. It is a week or so since I’ve finished it now and finally I have my thoughts gathered enough to write a little something about it. In short, I really enjoyed it. In length, I thought it was sad and beautiful and funny and sweet. When I first started it I thought it might be a good present for my dad who is nearly aged 83 1/4 years old! As time went on I realised that it might be a bit too close to the bone. Even though there are lots of moments of levity in Hendrik’s life, there is also a lot of dying going on. I guess that is what happens when you reach a ripe old age and so have your friends.

I loved the war of the old people raging against the petty rules and regulations of the rest home, I loved the relationships between the friends, their outings and the sadnesses and challenges of their lives. There are a few times in the story where it drags a little, but a gentle slowness when you are so very old is fine I think. I love the stories of acquiring a mobility scooter, of world politics happening quietly in the background but being completely unimportant in the scheme of these people’s lives. The description of the elderly ladies dressing in their finest and primping every time a new bloke arrives on the scene in the nursing home is spectacularly funny, as is the discussion on womens magazines.

It is a lovely book and I think it will be enjoyed by lots of people for a very long time as it has universal themes. For those who like a sad and beautiful book this is a little gem.

Under the Lights by Abbi Glines

underI’ve been generous with these two stars. As the book went on I disliked the characters, their attitudes and the way they carried on more and more. I hadn’t realised that this was book 2 in the series when I started it, I don’t think it mattered that I hadn’t read the first one, and I’m not going to read it now. I’m a bit gutted as I’ve bought the series for school on the strength of reviews I’d read, I should have realised from the gushing that it wasn’t going to be for me.

At the beginning I enjoyed meeting Willa who has had a very troubled life, with a mother who is flakey and we hear over and over how Willa ruined her life because she was born when she was too young. Luckily for Willa she has grown up with her grandmother mostly, having loads of fun with the children of the family her grandmother works for in ‘the big house’. Then Willa goes back to live with her mother and discovers sex drugs and social media and is involved in an event which lands her in juvenile detention. Now she is back at grandmothers house and rebuilding her life. This is all good!

Then we encounter the boys from the big house and the guys and girls they are friends with and it all turned to custard for me. The attitudes towards the girls are horrifying, there is not a single ounce of respect for them from the boys. The comments on their sexual behaviour are horrible, on what they wear, on what they look like. I thought this was a novel with attitudes from the 1950s. Sexist and classist and redneck. I finished it in the end because it was a bit like watching a train wreck, you know it is awful but you can’t take your eyes off the horror. I really need to strip off a star. There, I feel better now.

I hate the idea that this is popular with teens, I hate the idea that the attitudes portrayed in this novel are considered acceptable by young people in this so called enlightened age. Don’t read it.