books

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

lessArthur Less is one of those endearingly frustrating men, he cruises along, not being anything in particular and stuff happens to him. Usually really good stuff. He is ageing and starting to feel his mortality, he has gone from being the slightly shy and aloof person that people notice to being largely ignored. His latest novel has been rejected and he is hurt and lonely. He makes the impulsive decision to head off to a bunch of events in different countries in order to avoid attending his ex partner’s wedding. So we follow Arthur to these locations as he missteps and bumbles his way about. It sounds vacuous, but the writing is so sparkling and it is so wryly funny that I was drawn in immediately and loved this book.

The story is not the thing in this book, it is the atmosphere the author creates, the way that Arthur looks back on what has happened to him, the role he played in the lives of others, his perspective on his life, what the relationships he had have meant to him and where he is now. He is getting old, his life seems to have no substance and he is floundering. He is a kind of bumbling fool, someone who never makes a decision, someone who drifts and this is the charm of the book. Gentle and sweet and sad and lovely, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I loved the feeling of it, a flight of fancy and something lovely to spend time with.

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Broken Ground by Val McDermid

brokenI had so wanted this to be great but is was only ok. I like Karen Pirie and have read a few of these books in the past and thought them pretty good. I’m a died in the wool Val McDermid fan and always want them to be amazing and she usually delivers. This one wasn’t my fave though, I loved the start, and thought the whole idea of burying motorcycles so that they could later be retrieved after the war and sold, was cool. Then they find a body buried with the bikes and Karen and her team enter to investigate this historic murder. Unfortunately Karen is grieving her partner, her boss hates her and is setting her up to fail. That isn’t good but then Karen goes on dates with one of the suspects and generally behaves in a way that I found unrealistic and the story just plods along. We get bogged down in the drama between Karen and her boss, the spy who is infiltrating Karen’s team and the detail of the investigation, so much detail, so slow to move along.

I got frustrated with Karen, need the story to get moving and just struggled through it. I was helped by a plane journey which meant I got stuck into it in the end but it seldom takes me so long to finish a book. I do however look forward to a new Val and hope for one that is a bit more exciting.

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

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic by David Arnold

noahReasons to read this book:
The writing: David Arnold completely nails current teen speak. It feels authentic and on point. It feels like he is inside Noah’s mind, with all the fixations and drama of being a teenager, using the internet to answer the big questions, being obsessed with books and music of particular artists especially Bowie, but comic book culture and movies. Remembering phrases from these and quoting from them all the time. There are so many quotable passages in this book, some that make you stop and ponder and want to write them down.
The Relationships: Noah, Alan and Val are such individuals, those of us who work in high schools know these kids. They stand out and are unafraid to be who they are. Noah’s sister Penny is wonderful, a great anchor for the family life with the crazy uncle, the unusual parents and the whole back story of their lives.
The angst: I love how Noah’s sporting life is handled, his injury and the guilt it induces even though the lie is perpetuated despite the bad feelings.
The goodness: This book has so much to offer in the way it deals with kindness and concern, not just for the people Noah knows but with the relationship he forms with an elderly man and his eventual understanding of the way his weird uncle behaves. Noah is eventually wise to how others feel and perceive him and I really liked that growth.

Yes this is thoroughly weird in some ways, but it is a novel which is so relatable and genuinely goodhearted, it made me smile often and it made me think. In YA fiction that is what I’m after. I want to offer my kids books which are different and not cookie cutter and this book is certainly that. All the kids I’ve talked to about this book are keen to get their hands on it and that is a great sign. Give it to your John Green and Rainbow Rowell fans. Give it to those who want to read something real and unfettered. They’ll thank you for it.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

transcriptionIt is such a worry when one of your favourite authors has a new book out, will it live up to what you’ve loved before. Will it satisfy you in the same way that her other books have? The answer to this question, in this case, is a firm and hearty yes. I finished the book almost overnight in a fever of reading and then was, of course, gutted that it was done and I now have to wait years for another Atkinson.

We are in the middle of the 2nd World War in London. The bombings are rampant and a young Juliet has a job working for MI5. She types transcripts of conversations being recorded in the room next door where Nazi sympathisers are being strung along thinking that they are chatting with a high level Nazi informant but who is actually MI5 operator. Juliet is alone in the world and her job is her focus. She pines for more than just to type these conversations and eventually she is recruited to infiltrate The 5th column. A group of Nazi sympathisers which comprises some high level and influential people in British society circles. Thus she begins to lead a double life.

Juliet is complex and just how complex is revealed at the end of the book, I loved that she was more complicated than she appeared. I loved learning her story, about her early life and about what happens to her after the war. How life can play games with you, revealing more after something happens than you are aware of while things are playing out. Kate Atkinson draws you in and holds fast to you while you get caught up in the happenings of her characters lives. I could see this story playing out in my mind and would be completely unsurprised if it becomes a movie, I’ll be disappointed if that doesn’t happen.

I learnt a lot about the 5th Column and headed off to find out more. There are lots of interesting things to read about in the authors notes at the end of the book and I’ll go back and read these again.

One of the things that I loved was that Juliet’s life at work is so interesting despite the fact that the job she is doing is so incredibly boring, typing the tedious transcripts of the horrible people in the room next door, yet she is drawn into the conversations which the sympathisers have. I loved the minor characters in the book, her friend Clarissa, Godfrey and co. Even the story of the dog was great. I just loved it.

Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

NightI like Gemma Woodstock. She is nicely flawed, has the potential to get herself thoroughly into trouble in her personal life as well as in her police work. She pines for her little boy who is living with his Dad. Gemma has moved to Melbourne to live, to continue to climb the career ladder after the events of her first book The Dark Lake. She is a troubled soul. She has a new police partner who isn’t entirely easy to get along with, who tries a bit too hard and she has befriended the homeless woman down the street from her flat. It is a good set up for a story about a murdered homeless man and Gemma is keen to get the lead investigator role. Next minute there is another murder, a young star has been killed on the set of a zombie movie. Two cases which seem so different both complicated investigations and Gemma has too many suspects!

Sarah Bailey writes Australian landscape really well, her descriptions of small town life is so evocative far more successful than her Melbourne descriptions I think. This is one of those crime novels where you have to suspend your disbelief and just read it for the story, if you do that, you’ll have a great time with these very contemporary crime novels. I’m keen for the next one.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

cabinThis wasn’t really what I expected. One of those horror books which starts with a golden scene, a lovely little girl collecting grasshoppers in front of the cabin where her family have gone on holiday. A man arrives, you start to hear the sinister music soundtrack in your head that the characters never seem to hear and you know it is to turn to custard.

I loved the men in this story, I loved reading a story where the gay men were just ordinary nice men, where the family was always referred to as a family and not stereotyped or cookie cutter. They were so nicely written, I loved their moments of affection in the midst of terrible troubles. I loved their relationship with their daughter.

This is a nicely written story, one which gave me lots to think about and it preyed on my mind a lot while I was reading it, I was rushing to get back to it. I really enjoyed the structure, the way that the author gradually revealed the nature of the interlopers. It made me think about the way that you could construe an apocalypse and use the media to help you create a myth. It made me think about the nature of online groups, how those people who feel isolated can find others to share their weirdnesses, for both good and evil. How sometimes even the nicest people can become caught up in plots which turn their heads.

I did not love the rushed explanation at the end of the book, I needed more of a drawn out moment of revelation. Even thought it was ultimately a satisfying ending, it could have been better handled. All in all this is great.

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

WhatYou can see the Netflix series playing out in your mind as you read this rather lovely book.

Arthur is working for his mum in her law office in New York, the family have moved there for the summer and Arthur has an internship doing the filing. He has cool gossipy workmates who are incredibly entertaining, they look out for him and make the job interesting and fun.

Ben is stuck in summer school, not his ideal way to spend the summer. He has broken up with his boyfriend, it is hard, he is a bit broken. Worse the ex is also attending summer school so he has to see him all the time and that is sad and hard.

Arthur meets Ben at the Post Office in the midst of a flash mob, it is the cutest thing. Love at first sight but then they spend the next while trying to find each other. They don’t have many clues, but this is love, they need to find each other. So investigations take place, they get everyone involved in the search and of course, when all seems lost they find each other. Ohhhh my poor wee heart just went all gooey! Now we have them working through all the stuff of the past, thinking about the future and dealing with life as it plays out for them. This is the summer of dreams but sometimes it is the summer of angst. There are heaps of lovely references to gay culture, musicals, coffee shops that are amazing – though I’ve had plenty of coffee in New York and I’m skeptical about these – this is a New York story with a thoroughly New York state of mind.

I feel a bit bad for the 3 stars, it is really a firm 3.5. I felt that it was just a bit wordy. It took a tiny bit too long for things to happen and while the chat in the book is so brilliant and witty and on point, there is just too much of it. The cuteness is just so lovely, the banter excellent, the families of the boys are so nice, so accepting of their interesting and complicated gay kids. I loved it when the two families had dinner together. Seriously, this is so nice! Like a romantic froth of powder blue tulle! Like puppies and kittens. Like my dog on Insta! It just needed a bit of substance.

I think this will be a huge hit. And I’m so pleased that books like this are becoming mainstream. Here are the authors talking about it.