reading

La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, book 1, by Philip Pullman

dustAfter reading this I’m ready to forgive Philip Pullman for all the books he has written that I didn’t want to read. This one made the wait worthwhile. It takes you into Oxford where His Dark Materials began and we meet Lyra as a baby, but this story isn’t really about Lyra it is about Malcolm Polstead, the son of the publican of the Trout. The pub is close to a convent and in the convent there is a baby, a baby who needs to be protected from dangerous forces who are out to get her. Malcolm and the kitchen maid Alice rescue baby Lyra in Malcolm’s canoe and begin a journey which will be terrifying and deeply fulfilling.

I knew from the first page that this was going to be wonderful. The fact that the peacocks were called Barry and Norman was enough for me, I felt that I was in safe hands, that Philip Pullman was going to make me smile and fear and worry about the characters who were coming along as the chapter progressed.

The presentation of the book is lush and gorgeous, the cover alone is a thing of beauty. The illustrations at the beginnings of the chapters are simple and perfect. The print is large and friendly and makes the book seem like a giant, but it isn’t really. It is a manageable size and best of all, it never talks down to it’s reader, it understands that it is for a reader of all ages. I just loved it.

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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.

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.

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.