books

Review: Shame and the Captives

Shame and the Captives
Shame and the Captives by Tom Keneally

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been completely engrossed in this novel. It is about a real event which I had never heard of before, despite living in Australia for many years, the uprising of Japanese prisoners of war at Cowra during the 2nd world war. The intertwined stories of the people of the town was just great. I particularly loved the story of Alice and Giancarlo, she is living on her husband’s family farm, her rather dour father in law is running the farm because her young husband is in captivity in a prisoner of war camp in Europe, their relationship is beautifully drawn. I loved the way the tension built, the frisson in the air as the rebellion built.
Tom Keneally is such a great writer, the sentences are so beautiful. The dry atmosphere of country Australia is completely captured in this novel. I loved it.

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Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick

QuickOh Matthew, you give me the feels so bad every single time! I love that about you, and even though I know it is coming you can still surprise me with a great big feely moment. I love your troubled teens and the way they never quite fit in the world. Nanette is in her last year of high school, she is great at soccer and in line for scholarships to college. Then she falls out with her favourite teacher, she encounters a book which she connects to in all kinds of ways and sets about finding out the answers to the mysteries the book throws up. She encounters first love, obsession, encounters with the law and a hell of a lot more.

At the beginning of this book I was reminded of the novels of E.L Konigsberg but that feeling passes as you read on. Nanette is a great character, she is interesting, she goes through a lot of change during the course of the novel and while it gets very dark there is a message of hope. Nannette discovers sex, drugs and rap music and there is, as you expect in a Matthew Quick novel some swearing and dodgy choices, but this is very real and always appropriate and although there is a terrible preventable death (suicide) it is very much a book with hope.This is another really good novel by Matthew Quick and just confirms my love for his writing.  A great book for secondary school libraries and one your sensitive types will love.

 

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

lee childAt about the 3/4 point I nearly gave this away. In the end I quite enjoyed it, but along the way I got mighty worried about Mr Reachers penchant for knocking people off right and left, his stealing and pillaging of people’s belongings and cash and his blatant disregard for the law. His rap sheet must be considerably longer than my arm! I know that these are the kind of books where you have to suspend your disbelief, but sometimes it gets a bit much for me. And the attitude to women is considerably less than satisfactory, Mr Reacher you are a dick! And yet I keep reading the bloody things.

In this one the Special Investigator team the Reacher was in charge of in a previous life, are being knocked off. The remainder of the team get together to figure out who is doing it and why. With money being no object and a little bit of romance for Reacher on the side they set about their mission. Taking cars, phones, cash and leaving a heap of bodies in their wake.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

HopeCrikey, where to start with this book.  Hope Arden is forgettable. She begins to become forgettable at 16, you can only remember her when you are in front of her. Walk away, stop paying attention and you will not know who she is. There is no explanation for why this has happened to Hope. Being forgettable is lonely, how do you go to school, keep a job, get medical treatment, have friends?  The only ones who remember her are her sister Gracie and animals. But being forgettable means you can be a thief, operate in the underground and behave badly at any time and nobody will remember.  She becomes a jewel thief and a master at winning by counting cards at casinos. This is the beginning of the story.

Then there is Perfection.  Perfection is an app, one which drives it’s users to want to be better.  They want to be richer, more beautiful, have more things, make it up the ladder higher and higher in order to reach the highest level of Perfection.  It provides incentives, products, parties, all kinds of bonuses to those who become more of the ideal of perfection.  This includes access to brain stimulations which will take away your clouded thoughts, make you more and more fulfilled and perfect.  During a party, Hope steals a jewelled bracelet and becomes embroiled in the world of Perfection.  After witnessing the death of someone she has connected with, she decides she is going to take Perfection down. We enter the world of the Deep Web as Hope endeavours to get the code to take Perfection down. She encounters two people there who will change everything.

This is a book with big ideas. The idea of a big brother app using mind control and people’s vanity to manipulate, the way technology and social media have permeated our lives, celebrity culture and a bunch of other big ideas are all explored.  We travel the world in Hope’s shoes on her quest. You learn a whole heap of things about Japanese culture and the world of spies. A book to make you think and above all a gripping story.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and I thank them and the publisher for the opportunity.

My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul

cover77953-mediumIt is hard to find books which appeal to reluctant high school age boy readers at the moment which are stand alone and which are not fantasy. I was excited to get my hands on this one via Netgalley and will certainly buy a copy when it is released.

This is Hank’s story. Hank’s mum and brother have died and left him with a broken heart and a broken dad.  His dad has taken up with a string of inappropriate, not teenage son friendly girlfriends. Dad drinks way too much and it seems his only interests are baseball and beer.  Hank is not into either of those things. As he tries to get on with his life Hank is making his way through high school and is very keen on the popular girl in his year. He decides to make a grand gesture and invite her to the prom.  But not just in any ordinary way, he decides that he will write his invitation in sparklers on her lawn.  Obviously, she will gaze upon this and be desperate to go with the person who made this awesome thing happen.  Unfortunately, Hank underestimates the flammability of the tree he ends up putting his sparklers under, and almost sets her house on fire.  He thinks he has got away with his stupid idea, but Peyton an odd girl who lives nearby has seen him and is using the information against him.  Thus, Peyton and Hank end up becoming friends, but it is a long road to this friendship.

This novel starts off as a fun romp and ends up dealing with lots of big issues.  Abuse, neglect and a serious case of pyromania, but friendship is at it’s heart. These kids really talk to each other. Through misunderstandings and miscommunications and a lot of racing around on bikes, Hank does a huge amount of growing and he is a lovely person and as we come to understand Peyton we feel for her pain. This is a great book with lots of good messages and I loved the humour. Great for year 9 – 11 boys and girls as well.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

shock of the fallIt was the cover that got me.  The tree that didn’t look like a tree, twisted and slippery looking, odd spindly branches coming off it, rather like the odd spindly people who inhabit this book.  The cover also had a Joan’s Pick sticker on it and I have to say that she doesn’t usually let me down.  In this book we meet Matt and we witness his gradual descent into madness.  He has been teetering on the brink most of his life.  His brother Simon was born with intellectual difficulties and Matt feels that because of his actions he caused his death.  This is Matt’s story, which he is writing to tell us all in order that we understand what happened

 

in his childhood, how there is a history in his family of mental illness, and in order for us to understand what happened to Simon and why Matt can hear him calling to him.  Matt is a likable boy but his story is gut wrenching, you grow up with him, witness his mum withdraw him from school, cutting him off from his peers.  Meet his Nan who has her own tragic story but who cares so deeply for him even when he is at his most challenging.

These are characters who will stay with you and for whom I felt a huge sympathy.  There are funny moments amongst the grim and the love of these people for each other is what lifts the book and makes you consider how incredibly difficult peoples lives are when their brain is behaving in a way over which they have no control.  It is a lovely book and I recommend it highly.

This video was inspired by the book, I think it rather lovely

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Yellow birds 2It isn’t often I read a book about modern warfare, or any kind of warfare, but this book was recommended to me so highly I thought I’d read it.  I’m so glad I did, this small book packs a powerful punch.  It moved me.  Reading the memories of John a soldier, from country Virginia USA, and his reflections on what happened when he was in Iraq has been gripping, moving and thought provoking.  The writing in this book is poetical with imagery which is vivid, clear and bleak.  You know he speaks from personal experience being a veteran himself of tours of duty in Iraq and while I’m sure it is even more horrific than the picture he paints here this book makes you think you have some idea of the experience.  The dirt, dust, architecture and bleakness.  The attitudes of the locals to the American soldiers and their attitude to them.

Bad things happen at war and these bad things affect you, make you unable to cope with life when you come home and they twist and turn in your mind and make you a different person to the boy you were when you left home.  Read this book to get a tiny bit of understanding of how this would be.  Of how you would feel when your friend is killed in a horrific way – but then there are so many horrific ways to die in Iraq – and how you would deal with the promise you’d made to his Mother that you would watch out for him.

It is a stunning book.  I highly recommend it and will be singing it’s praises for a long time to come.