reading

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.

This is life by Dan Rhodes

I’ve been very slack in writing about the books I’ve been reading on here.  I’ve been a bit slack on here all round to be fair.  But spurred on by other work avoidance I am going to tell you about This Is Life by Dan Rhodes.  Regular readers (I know there are three of you – Hi Mum!) might remember my penchant for Dan Rhodes’ books.  This author makes me happy.  Happy in an ‘I don’t want this to end’ kind of way.  I was worried about this book, which is a great big one for him.  Previously his books are lightweight little numbers which have fitted slimly into your bag, I was worried he couldn’t sustain the fun for a weighty tome.  I was worried needlessly.  It was a lovely whimsical story, exactly as I had hoped.

Young art student Aurelie, is working on her big assignment, short on inspiration she takes a punt, and decides to throw a stone into the middle of a square in Paris, whoever the stone (it’s a small one) hits, she will spend a week with that person and draw them in their surroundings to get to know them and use them as a muse.  Unfortunately the stone lands on a baby, as if this wasn’t bad enough the mother of the baby hands it over and walks off, with the promise of returning in a week.  Aurelie has no experience with babies, little experience of the world in general and it is all a little overwhelming for her, as you would expect.  Thus begins their adventure.

It is also the beginning of some large adventures for her friends, her best friend who leaves a trail of broken hearts behind her, the professor and his wife who take her in temporarily, a Japanese family whose lives will completly change as a result of meeting Aurelie, her friends and the baby.  Funny, whimsical, cute, clever and a little bit silly this is a light hearted romp through Paris.

I loved it, wanted it to last longer, and can’t wait for Dan Rhodes to give me some more treasures.  Disappointingly I bought it as an e-book and am now going to have to spend more money and buy a paper copy to keep.  Great news for Mr Rhodes, not great news for my wallet.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern

Well first I discovered the website for this book.  Have a look here (you’ll have to sign in with a Facebook or Twiter account) and tell me you aren’t a little intrigued.  A friend of mine had read this book and just loved and adored it so I thought “best I give it a whirl”  The Night Circus is the result of a challenge, a long standing competition between two magicians.  In this case a young girl, Celia and Marco a young boy in the early days, rescued from the streets and trained to high levels of magicianship.  The two have studied, trained and honed their skills, which are then shown off in the Night circus.  The mysterious circus all in black and white which arrives in a town in the middle of the night and then after a few days, just as mysteriously disappears only to turn up in another location.

This is however a love story, Celia and Marco despite themselves, fall in love.  This is not in the plan!  They have a dilemma.  They compete for superiority of magic within the confines of the circus, the performers and the public love the circus and don’t want it threatened, and yet there must be a winner in the competition of skill which will probably lead to the destruction of the circus.

It is a lyrical book, magic and imagination run wild in it.  I found myself liking it instantly but then getting a bit bogged down in the details in the middle, I put it down, wandered off reading something else for a bit, then came back to it and polished it off in an afternoon.  It is a gorgeous story, full of the mystical and mysterious and if you are looking for that in a book then this is bound to be a treat.  My favourite characters were the twins and Bailey.  Read it to find out who they are.  Book trailer below.

Look at Me by Jennifer Egan

Having really enjoyed A Visit From The Goon Squad last year I thought I’d have a go at this one by the same author.  I was helped along in this decision by the fact that Kobo had it for about $2 for the download so that was the decision made, very quickly and smartly.  It was off to a cracking start.  We meet Charlotte, a model who is getting a little long in the tooth for her job, she has been in a car accident and after extensive plastic surgery and rebuilding her face is being held together with 80 screws, on the outside as she slowly heals she looks like a totally different person to the model in her portfolio.  She is recovering in her hometown which puts her into contact with her sister, who is married to a man she cannot get along with and the location also stirs lots of childhood and teenage memories of her friend and the brother of her friend.  This brother becomes a central character in the story, as does another Charlotte, the daughter of the friend.   We will meet a detective who is researching a guy Charlotte knew before her accident, a shady character with murderous intentions.  Somehow these disparite characters will tell the story of how Charlotte (the younger) and Charlotte (the more senior) are linked and we will witness the soul searching of all the characters.

I hadn’t read a single thing about this book before I started it, and I’m pleased I hadn’t because I think that I would have read the book with a different eye if I had read the reviews which focussed on the terrorism factor in the book.  Yes I saw it but it wasn’t the main thing I saw in the novel which it does seem to have been for many of the reviewers.  I was interested in the two Charlottes, the journey back to wellness for one and into self awareness for the other.  There are some great scenes in the book, particularly I liked the interactions with Charlotte (the younger) with her friends.  I could also see lots of ideas in the book which are further explored and developed in Goon Squad.  It is a good read!  It could have been a great read.

 

Ramblings on the iPad

English: Apple iPad Event

I’ve had my iPad2 for a few months now and have deleted all my half written musings on it.  I’ve come to realise they were written far too soon after it’s acquisition.  Now, a couple of months on I have become a better iPad user and have learnt some tricks and found the pure joy that an iPad can bring.  I am that woman who will play Pyramid HD for days on end.  In fact I have even discovered the joy and pain when a game gives you ‘iPad finger’ from stabbing those little Egpytians to get them to move faster to build their pyramid in a bid to get a golden scarab, I know it’s sad but there it is!  iPad finger can occur when you are playing Find It games, time management games or enjoying the coolness of Zinio or Fliboard.  The reason I bought the iPad was for reading.  I wanted a piece of the reading action on an e-device which also did all kinds of other stuff.  I already had a dedicated e-reader (a Kobo) which I’d had great reading experiences on, but I wanted all the rest of the functionality, a laptop without having to drag a laptop around, to be able to read on the plane but also to search the web, answer my email, listen to my music and use to take notes in meetings.  The iPad does all that and plenty more.  So, here is what I think so far.

The Pros

It is lovely to hold, it isn’t uncomfortable to read on in bed at night.  Slightly more awkward than the Kobo just because it is bigger and heavier, but the reading experience itself is great.  I use the Kobo app or the Kindle app both are pretty much the same.  I can share my library with my partner, we can both read the same books and each buy books on my account (well, actually it is me buying the books on there but that’s fine.)  I like the night reading setting for when the light is out and you want to read in the dark.

Great for games.  In our place the games are all about finding stuff, building stuff, and Bejewelled and matching games of that type.  We are not hard core games.  But last week I clocked a solve the mystery game in two days, just because it was so easy to play it on the iPad wherever I was – on the couch, at the table, in bed.  Terrible.

Flipboard, this is just wonderful, tailored to your interests you get fed articles you are interested from all over the internet.  For me that is stuff on reading, libraries, books, education and publishing.  But you could be interested in anything from bumbebees to surfing and tailor it to your interests.  Zinio, Zite, Pulse, all these will be your news and magazine friends.

Games, try em, buy em and become an addict.  I’m hopeful this addiction problem will wear off but that is part of the reason that posts on this blog have been infrequent!  Majong Towers, Pyramid HD, anything from Big Fish Games,

There are so many great apps, tools and Bridget’s little helpers online, with new ones coming along every day that a girl could be forgiven for getting lost for long periods of time just in the App Store!

The speaker is decent.  Not awesome, but decent.  I use my iPad all the time at work to listen to TED talks while I’m covering books, to listen to conference presentations, podcasts (Nancy Pearl and BBC Books) and it works really well.

Cons

It is hard to share a book you’ve loved when you only have an electronic copy of it sitting on your Amazon or Kobo account.  We don’t have access to iBooks here in NZ!

It is not always 100% reliable at hooking up with the work wifi, not sure why but it doesn’t really matter because I am mostly using it offline at work, it is a slight pain though.

Um Um.  Trying to think of cons.  My fingers are too big to type on the tablet keyboard…. it isn’t much is it?

Therefore

There you go.  Some not very coherent musings and really just an advertisement for my lovely iPads cool factor.  It is the toy which is a tool but which still feels like a tool.  I belong to the iPad group at school, and remain unconvinced that learning happens any quicker, better or deeper with an iPad, but I do think that they are user friendly and a nice way to integrate really fast technology into school if you can afford to buy em and sort out the management of them in your school in a way that works for everyone.  As a personal tool they are just awesome and I’ve only just begun to dip my toe into these deep rippling waters!  What lies beneath?

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How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Where to start.  Right, I bought it for the cover.  I just couldn’t help myself, there she was staring straight at me from the cover, a stroppy woman, I could tell, I knew I’d like her.  As I launched myself at this book, snorting with laughter by the end of page 1 or possibly 2, I knew I had spent my money wisely.  It is an account of the life so far of the very untraditionally raised Caitlin Moran, growing up in very un-wellheeled circumstances, in a council house in Wolverhampton in England, taking care of five younger siblings, running away from bullies, having nothing to wear – actually nothing, and maintaining a good sense of humour.

She headed out to work at the age of 15, and it’s been a whirlwind since then.  She worked in the coolest job someone like I could have imagined when I was a kid, working for a music magazine.  She had a miserable relationship with a bloke and came out the otherside thinking hard about her girly bits and how easily abused they are and became a kind of feminist.  But don’t read this book if you are looking for the new feminist treatise, read this book as a kind of British Tina Fey, witty, funny, and full of good ideas, with stuff to say on modern culture and our obsessions and written in a really accesible and amusing way.  This is basically a look back a her diary over the years, lots of juicy bits, and a bit of a fright from time to time.

She writes hilariously about getting her first period. Her need for a bra.  Her discovering that the love of her life was sitting right behind her every day at work.  She is also very very good on the culture of celebrity, I just adored her comments on Rhianna.  Her outing with Lady Gaga was hilarious.  Her comments on how we are simultaneously titivated by and yet horrified by the invasion into the personal lives of women celebrities, who have allowed us into their world but by doing that have made their lives miserable and us so judging of them I found resonated with me.

Other chapters deal with abortion, the terror of being a parent and marriage were great.  This is a laugh of a book, not all the way, but huge chunks of it.  I’m sorely tempted to buy a copy for each of my girls.  Read it for her interesting views on modern women, read it because it is a hell of a fun ride, and read it because Caitlin Moran has written a book for women right now.

But, there are the fashion rules – I loved her shoe advice.  What you need in your handbag, given I have finally purchased one.  On fashion, Leopardskin is a neutral, You can get away with nearly anything if you wear the thing with black opaque tights and boots.  3.  Contrary to popular opinion a belt is often not a good friend to a lady … 4. Bright red is a neutral.  ….  There are more but these ones particularly work for me!  Thanks Caitlin, you’ve confirmed what I thought.

Want to read a great interview with her?  Diana Wichtel wrote this for the Listener.  And this one is Kim Hill talking to her on Radio New Zealand.