#AWW2018 “Nothing meant anything if I kept everything.” // Review of “Lessons in Letting Go” by Corinne Grant

Title: Lessons in Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder
Author: Corinne Grant
Genre:  memoir
Dates read: 30/04/18 – 07/04/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I am the opposite of a hoarder. I am so up for clearing out and donating or otherwise getting rid of “stuff”. So I did have a bit of a morbid curiosity regarding how one becomes a hoarder. I’ve seen some of those TV shows where someone comes in and just starts throwing things out, but they never really seemed to  deal with the whys and wherefores.

Corinne Grant does go into this aspect. She talks about the psychological barriers that  prevented her from throwing out anything, and how hard it was to ever face the fact that she had too much stuff. I have to admit, this first section of the book was quite sad, bordering on depressing.

I did become more engaged once Corinne began discussing the catalyst for the change in her mindset, which led to her beginning to clear out her stuff.  This included a trip to Jordan, where she interviewed refugees, and realised that the problems she had paled in comparison to these people. Having just travelled to Nepal last month to witness the work being done by UN Women post-2015 earthquakes, I engaged with this section on a personal level.

I was rooting for Corinne as she faced her demons and changed her life, and I had some feelings of second-hand pride at the end. This is definitely an uplifting story, and I recommend if you are into reading memoirs, or if you have an interest in the subject matter.


This review is part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2018. Click here for more information.

Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save

Advertisements

#AWW2018 Book Review: “Galax-Arena” by Gillian Rubinstein

Title: Galax-Aren
Author: Gillian Rubinstein
Genre:  Children’s/sci-fi
Dates read: 26/03/18 – 30/04/18
Rating: ★★

Review:

This… was a weird book. I think there were some interesting ideas in there, but to be honest, I found it both slow and not very-well fleshed out. Now that I write that, the two things seem a bit contradictory, but somehow that was my experience.

The plot was intriguing, but I think it could have done with a bit more fleshing out. I guess one could argue that the focus was more on the characters, I don’t think the characters were quite strong enough to carry the book on their own.The character dynamics were interesting, and realistic, but not enough to adequately make for a character-driven story. Some of the character development was there but some actions felt a bit forced – “SEE WHAT THIS CHARACTER WAS DRIVEN TO DO?” kind of thing.

There was also the dialogue. The young characters all learn Patwa, or Jamaican Creole, in order to communicate with each other. It took me out of the story every time I had to say a line out loud to work out what it was, or consult the glossary at the front of the book. With so much of the dialogue written this way, it was distracting.

The twist towards the end made sense in some ways but not in others. The bigger reveal made sense, in fact I had suspected, but the intricacies of it seemed like an awful lot of effort to go to for perhaps not much reward.

This is the second book by Gillian Rubinstein that I’ve read this year (the first was Across the Nightingale Floor, published under the penname Lian Hearn), and I’m beginning to think that her writing maybe just isn’t for me.


This review forms part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save

“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.” // Review of “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Date Read: 25/04/2018 – 26/04/2018
Rating:
 ★★★★☆

Review:

As someone who very often finds classic literature dry, stuffy and inaccessible,  I  had put off reading Murder on the Orient Express for a long time. It’s so iconic, and I didn’t want to sllog my way through it and then end up disappointed. I needn’t have worried. I flew through it in two days. It was completely engaging.

While I’d never read a Poirot book before, I had seen many an episode of the TV series starring David Suchet. Poirot is just as interesting a character on paper; his way of talking to people makes me laugh, but his powers  of deduction are masterful.

Having reached the end of the book, I could see why this particular one is so iconic, and widely considered Christie’s best. I tried keeping track of details, but of course, the outcome took me completely by surprise. Just when I thought things were getting completely unrealistic and ridiculous, that gets addressed and is part of the solution.

The reason that this doesn’t get a full five stars from me is because the decisions made by Poirot in literally the final paragraphs threw me off a bit. I couldn’t quite reconcile it, and even after googling some discussions surrounding the ending and coming to understand it, I still don’t know how I feel. But honestly, that was the only issue I had.


Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

“Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.” // Review of “Anne of Green Gables” by L. M. Montgomery

Title: Anne of Green Gables
Author: L. M. Montgomery
Genre:  YA/children’s classic
Dates read: 02/04/18 – 17/04/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

When I told people recently that I was reading Anne of Green Gables for the first time, the most common reaction was shock. How could I not have read this as a young girl?! I know, I know. And I’m a little sad that I didn’t, because I think in leaving it until I was an adult, I missed the boat a little. I think there is a certain amount of childhood nostalgia attached to it, and I have missed out on that.

Still, Anne Shirley is a character who you can’t help but like. She’s overly talkative, and clumsy and dorky and makes mistakes, but she has a wonderful attitude towards the world at large, and I did constantly find myself smiling at the things she said. The side characters were also well-written; I really felt like I knew all these figures in the small farming community.

I did often find myself wishing that events were described as they happened, rather than us witnessing them via Anne telling her guardian, Marilla, about them afterwards. Sometimes she would go into detail, but sometimes we wouldn’t get more than a “Marilla, it was simply wonderful!”

I have the rest of the Anne books available, and while I didn’t love the book the way many have, the story was definitely enjoyable enough that I do want to revisit Avonlea again at some point.


Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save

“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable.” // Review of “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Genre:  YA dystopia
Dates read: 24/03/18 – 27/03/18
Rating: ★

Review:

Spoilers Ahoy!

Consider yourself warned.

Ayeesh. According to GoodReads, this is only the third book I’ve rated one star, in my 7 years on the site. It’s the first time I’m reviewing a book I’ve given that rating. To be fair, I wasn’t quite sure if a 1 star rating was exactly right, since that means “I didn’t like it” (going by the GoodReads system, which is what I use) and there were parts that I thought were okay. But the more I thought about it, the more disappointed with the book I became. I will say that I think there is a reasonably okay YA dystopia somewhere in this book. It just got overshadowed by inconsistent world-building, dudebro characters and the author’s smugness.

Let’s start with the world-building. Giant VR that everyone is just always plugged into? Sounds cool! A competition based on the creator’s obsession with the 80s? That sounds fun! Except the descriptions of the world inside the OASIS were inconsistent. First we were told that Wade can’t touch or feel anything within the system, but then there are references to him doing exactly that. This could be explained by the fact that he upgrades his equipment throughout the book, but things like downing a drink made no sense even then.

The fact that so much of the action took place in a VR also meant the stakes weren’t very high. There would be a dramatic end-of-chapter cliffhanger, “X was dead.” Except, in most cases (to be fair, not all), it was just his avatar. Sure, he lost all his progress within the game, but they can always start again. The real world was shown just enough for us to supposedly understand why everyone would prefer to live in OASIS. But it was all tell and no show. Instead of Wade avoiding sinister characters who might mug or rape him, we just got a throwaway line about how you had to be careful outside because there were people who might mug or rape you. The idea of trailers stacked on top of one another does give a sense of trailer park environment in a high density situation, but it didn’t really make actual sense when I thought about it for more than two seconds.

The constant barrage of pop culture references actually didn’t add anything to the story. The narrator would name-drop a whole bunch of authors, or movies, and then do very little with them, if anything. In a lot of cases, it became unclear exactly who the target audience was, since people who understood the references already didn’t need the huge explanations of them, but those who did not would still be able to tell they were getting a condescending “Oh, you didn’t understand this one? Guess you’re not a real geek” explanation. Even when the references weren’t shoehorned in necessarily, the way they were reffered to made no sense. This was particularly true of song titles, which were always referenced in the format of “Song Title, sung by XXX and released by LABEL in 1985.” No one talks about music that way!

The main character, Wade Watts, is literally the white male geek who is overweight, doesn’t have any friends and lives in his mother’s basement. Just switch out basement for rusty abandoned car, or sparse rented room later on. He is the most knowledgable, super-geeky, super-good-at-video-games, super-clever at solving the competition puzzle geek who ever geeked. I literally don’t understand how he has time to go on in-game quests, work a full time job and still watch dozens of movies and TV episodes the way he says he does. He’s only had five years. It’s actually not that long when you consider how much media he has suppoesdly consumed.

He’s also the epitome of the Nice Guytm.  The “romance” in this book is fairly typical of the type that white guy nerds with no friends who live in their parents’ basements think they are deserving. Wade has a crush on a character called Art3mis, who he has followed from afar on her blog, and meets during the competition. They hang out together for a while, they even become close friends,  but when Wade tells her he’s in love with her, and she tells him to back off, he of course does the opposite of that. He sends her chat requests and emails, and even stands outside her avatar’s base blaring 80s music from a boom box. Of course, she falls for him in the end, too, because persistantly stalking someone until they change their mind is romantic, y’all. Actually, after the spoiler about Aech, I really hoped that Art3mis was the online girlfriend she referred to. But that was too much to hope for.

One of the “spoilers” that has me putting a spoiler warning on this post is that there is a diverse character. This SHOULDN’T BE A SPOILER. But it is, because for literally the first 325-odd pages of a 375 page book, we think she is a white male, because that’s what her avatar is. And while Wade of course questions Art3mis on whether she is actually a woman (because could a woman really have all that geeky knowledge? Girls are usually fake geeks, amirite?), the same never goes for Aech. It was also like Ernest Cline was told he needed diverse characters, so he just created a fat, black, gay woman and ticked all his diversity boxes with one character. Who was still shown and referred to as a white man thereafter. (Okay, caveat to this bit of the rant: it was actually a clever idea that a black woman would choose to create a white, male avatar and thus create her own privilege in possibly the only environment where you can do that… but this was never really explored, so why even bother?).

While I was reading Ready Player One, I couldn’t help making comparisons with Marie Lu’s Warcross, which I read at the end of 2017. The characters actually had personality and there were stakes outside of the Warcross game as well as within it. I  would recommend reading that one (or basically any other book with a similar concept) rather than this one.


Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save

Book Review: “The Sherlockian” by Graham Moore

Title: The Sherlockian
Author: Graham Moore
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Dates read: 19/03/18 – 24/03/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Having just recently listened to the audio book of Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night, I mayeb went into this one with too-high expectations. It was enjoyable, but I never got quite into it.

In 2010, after the death of a Sherlock Holmes expert who has claimed to have discovered the the missing diary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harold White follows the clues left behind to finally solve the century-old mystery. At the same time, in 1900, Arthur Conan Doyle and his friend Bram Stoker investigate the deaths of several women in London with ties to the women’s suffrage movement.

Perhaps it’s just because I’m not the biggest Sherlock Holmes fan, but I just didn’t find the events of this book something to geek out about and get invested in. There were a couple of moments where something happened to give me a jolt, but for the most part, when I wasn’t reading, I wasn’t wishing I was, if that makes sense.

I think part of the issue was that it was structured in a very set alternating perspective: one chapter from Harold’s perspective, the next from Arthur’s. Sometimes something dramatic would happen at the end of a chapter, but then we would return to the other character, and I had to remind myself what had taken place two chapters ago. By the time we returned to the first one, the momentum had been lost.

I think also, while Harold was a well-written character, I just couldn’t really get into someone who honestly thought he could just waltz his way into a murder investigation because he thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes (okay, so he did solve the mystery, but it’s still pretty arrogant). I had the same issue with Doyle – while he is a well-rendered man of his time, there was little for me to identify with.

Still, if you’re interested in Sherlockiana (I believe this is the correct term), or historical fiction based on real-life mysteries, then this may be the book for you.


Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save

“On the day he would first meet Thomas Edison, Paul watched a man burn.” // Review of “The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore

Title: The Last Days of Night
Author: Graham Moore
Audio book narrator:
Johnathan McClain
Genre:
Historical fiction
Date Read: 13/03/2018 – 18/03/2018
Rating:
 ★★★★★

Review:

I gave a book 4.5 stars back in January but this is my first 5 star book of 2018! To be honest, had I simply enjoyed this book, it probably would have only got 4, but I’m giving it the extra one because I kept running off to google historical events and figures because I found it all fascinating, and I’ve never done that before. On top of that, it actually helped me with the world-building for my own novel, so I definitely owe it for that!

The Last Days of Night tells the story of “the war of the currents” between Thomas Edison, commonly considered the inventor  of  the electric lightbulb, and George Westinghouse. The novel’s central character, Paul Cravath, was Westinhouse’s lawyer, and along with him, the reader observes events from a layperson’s perspective. Most of the characters and events in the novel really took place in one way or another, though Graham Moore does admit in his lengthy author’s note at the end that he did take some liberties with the timeline and amalgamated some figures into one character.

Paul is depicted as a likeable yet fallible character. He makes some mistakes, some with huge consequences for his client, and others which affect him more personally. Thomas Edison is arrogant and self-serving, though the book did manage to make me feel sorry even for him at the end. George Westinghouse was more sympathetic, though he was still a businessman. And Nikola Tesla, another key figure in the game… I wanted to give him all the hugs.  Though to be honest, I have always wanted to give Nikola Tesla all the hugs.

I got rather invested in the romantic subplot between Paul and his client-turned-love-interest, Agnes Huntington. Agnes was a great character, too. She was intelligent and not afraid to speak her mind, though she was also caught up in the typical pretenses of New York high society. Even though this was one of the things I googled and I knew that the real Paul Cravath did marry the real Agnes Huntington, there were a couple of points where I wasn’t completely sure their fictionalised versions were going to get it together and actually get engaged. I may have made som undignified squeaking noises as I worried about this.

do need to mention that there is one scene of particular animal cruelty that may upset some readers. There’s also a rather graphic description of the first execution by electric chair, which is not for the faint-hearted, along with some other descriptions of electricity-induced accidents.

But all in all, this was the first time I’ve really felt like I was learning something as I read a historical fiction novel This is a fascinating examination at a unique point in history, and I recommend it!


Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

#AWW2018 Book Review: “A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald” by Natasha Lester

Title: A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald
Author: Natasha Lester
Genre:  historical fiction/romance
Dates read: 11/03/18 – 15/03/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book reminded me how good historical fiction can be. I actually went back and checked how much of it I had read in the past year, and it turned out not much. In 2017, I read four historical fiction books, and I wasn’t really into any of them. I’m glad this one reminded me how good it feels to get sucked into a different time and place.

After witnessing a woman die of childbirth in the woods while the men in her life look on and do nothing, Evie Lockhart wants is to become a obstetrician.  But it’s 1925 and so to pay her way through medical school, Evie becomes a Ziegfeld Girl, starring in the infamous Ziegfeld Follies every night. But with the man she should have married threatening her, and the man she wants to marry away in London for months at a time, how long can she maintain this double life?

The best thing about this book was how easily I got invested  in the characters. Evie was easy to like, and I was rooting for her the whole time, as well as her relationship with Thomas Whitman. Charles Whitman made me go and write angry  GoodReads updates. He was dispicable, and I couldn’t even sympathise with him from the perspective of “younger brother always in the older brother’s shadow”. I also appreciated the support that Evie got from the women in her life, particularly her best friend, Lil, and Mrs Whitman.

The 1920s is of course a very fun era and I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Follies, the speakeasies and the fashions. Lester has payed close attention to detail to ensure that the historical atmosphere of this book is as accurate as possible. It’s not all fun and games, though; the misogyny of the era is also brought to light quite thoroughly and realistically. It made me angry, but it also made Evie’s triumphs throughout the story all the more satisfying.


This review is part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2018. Click here for more information.

Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save

#AWW2018 Book Review: “Call Me Sasha” by Geena Leigh

Title: Call Me Sasha: Secret Confessions of an Australian Call-Girl
Author: Geena Leigh
Audio book narrator: Louise Crawford
Genre:  non-fiction/autobiography
Dates read: 10/03/18 – 11/03/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is not a book for the faint-hearted. The trials that Geena Leigh went through in the first forty years of her life are horrendous, and make you wonder how anyone could have the stamina to get through it. While this story is definitely worth of a book, I feel that another editing pass could have made all the difference.

Geena describes her family life as a young girl, growing up with a father who abused her both physically and sexually, her subsequent homelessness and eventual entry into the sex trade, and the drug and alcohol abuse that came with it to  numb the pain. She describes her attempts to go straight, and how she eventually managed to complete her education and find true love.

As I said above, I did feel that while the bare bones (and some of the muscle and sinews) were definitely there for this books, the writing sometimes felta bit chunky. To be honest, it felt a little immature, like it had been written by someone much younger. There were a few inconsistencies, like an Avril Lavigne song being referred to in a chapter that would have taken place in the late 90s. Small things in the long run, but they pulled me out of the narrative.

There were some rather broad claims made about sex work that, having read memoirs by other sex workers, I met with some wariness. There was also an implication that a lesbian couple would have a masculine and a feminine counterpart (odd considering she is now in a relationship with a woman herself and would surely know that same-sex relationships don’t have to comply with heteronormativity) and another section where she says she didn’t want to call herself bisexual because it sounded like she couldn’t make up her mind, which is always a problematic statement.

I don’t usually mention audio book narrators unless they really stand out to me in one way or another. I have to admit that Louise Crawford’s tendency to finish sentences with an upward inflection (making everything sound like a question) wore thin pretty quickly. She also sounded quite petulant, making me wonder if some of the things said in the book would have bothered me as much had I been  reading the print copy.


Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save

Book Review: “Daddy Darkest” by Ellery Kane

Title: Daddy Darkest
Author: Ellery Kane
Genre:
Psychological thriller
Date Read: 0/03/2018 – /03/2018
Rating:
 ★★★

Review:

This thriller started off very strong, and the writing was strong the whole way through. I definitely found it gripping, but as I went on, I did find myself a bit confused by some of the choices one character in particular made, which resulted in an ultimately lower rating.

When Sam’s best friend, Ginny, disappears in an airport bathroom while wearing Sam’s letterman jacket, it soon becomes clear that the kidnapper intended to take Sam. As she struggles to find Ginny, she starts to question whether everything she’s ever known is a lie…

The book alternates between chapters in Sam’s first-person POV and her mother, Clare’s, bacak in 1996, when she worked as a prison psychiatrist. I enjoyed Sam’s chapters, I thought her voice was really authentic. Even if it did sometimes stray into YA tropes such as kissing the hot guy you’ve known for two days, despite the fact he seems to be pretty shady.

Clare’s chapters were well-written and unraveled the details of Clare’s past at a good pace. It was Clare herself I couldn’t figure out. I couldn’t work out whether her messed up upbringing could be blamed  for her bad decisions, or whether she was just completely irresponsible. While the author was going for the former, I expect, the more I thought about it, the more it felt like the latter to me.

There were a few aspects of the plot that I had predicted, but it wasn’t completely predictable overall. It was interesting to see how all the characters were tied to one another, not just in obvious ways. The ending was intriguing, but I felt it fitted the events of the book. I think it is just an ambiguous ending, and that there will be no follow-up, but it works that way.


Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram