#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

“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

#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

#aww2018 “But just as the river is always at the door, so is the world always outside. And it is in the world that we have to live.” // Review of “Across the Nightingale Floor” by Lian Hearn

Title: Across the Nightingale Floor
Author: Lian Hearn
Audio book narrator:
Anna Steen, Tamblyn Lord
Genre:
  YA/fantasy
Dates read: 14/02/18 – 20/02/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

The reason this book doesn’t get a higher rating from me is because I could never quite work out what it was trying to be. The characters were in their late teens, yet it felt more like a middle-grade novel in writing style. But then there’d be an attempted rape or some other kind of mature content that definitely does not fit into middle-grade fiction. So I just felt sligthly off-balance the whole time.

I am hoping that one day I will come across a Japanese-inspired fantasy that I really love, but I guess this is not that book.

The magic system in this one is interesting, though I would have liked to see a bit more detail. Takeo’s abilities just seem to come to him. Even in training, there is no real sense of his powers developing; one second, he can’t do things, the next second he can. The only time this wasn’t as apparent was when he was teaching himself to cross the Nightingale Floor.

I am torn about the heroine, Kaede. In some ways, she just seemed useless, though I did realise that part of the point was that she was pawn in other people’s games. She did develop a bit more gusto by the end of the book. I groaned and rolled my eyes at the insta-love between her and Takeo, particularly considering it is all based on nothing more than gazing at each other from afar for such a long time!

I did find myself getting a bit more involved in the story towards the end, but I still don’t find myself feeling the need to go on to the next book in the series.


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

Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save

“I call it a dream, but it feels realer than my life.” // Review of “Magonia” by Maria Dahvana Headley

Title: Magonia
Author:  Maria Dahvana Headley
Audio book narrator: Thérèse Plummer, Michael Crouch
Genre:
  YA/sci-fi/fantasy
Dates read: 06/02/18 – 14/02/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This was one of those books where I got to the end and thought, “Well, that was… fine.” I don’t think I’ve read another YA book like it, but at the same time, I’m not entirely sure it struck the right balance between sci-fi and fantasy that it was trying for. On top of that, there were some aspects to the characters and plot that I just didn’t like, which meant that the originality got weighed down for me.

I found the world-building in Magonia fascinating, even though I didn’t necessarily like all of it. The idea of ships and cities in the sky? Yes, please! And half-bird people indentured to the Magonians and secretly plotting revolution? Yes, please! Especially if those people are described in such beautiful, vivid colours. Birds that live in the lung or heart of the person they’re bonded to and sing from within…? Um. Not quite sold on that part.

Honestly, I think this would make a very good movie. So much of the description is visual or auditory. Even a graphic novel would probably work if done with the rights colours and visuals.

As you can see, most of the world-building here is fantasy based. But then there was also the sci-fi aspect, particularly from the POV of Jason, Aza’s love interest. He is convinced she is not dead, and is tracking weather patterns and designing apps to track where the Magonians appear to be travelling. The climax also has more of a sci-fi bent than fantasy. It all felt like a bit of a weird clash.

Speaking of Jason, neither he nor Aza has any other friends, and the fact a co-dependent friendship developed into a romance was a bit troubling for me. I really don’t know how Jason got away with so much without getting into trouble in a number of different countries.

One thing that annoys me in books is when the main character is kept in the dark for no good reason. The side  characters are constantly dancing around main character, Aza, for no other reason that I could see than to pad out the plot a bit further. To be honest, not a lot happens; it’s interested at the start, then becomes a long training montage for a while, then the climax happens.

This book also reminded me why sometimes audio books aren’t the best way of experiencing a book. For example, Jason displays OCD tendencies, one of which is to start reciting Pi when he is anxious. And he knows Pi to a hell of a lot of decimal places. If I had been reading the print book, I could have just skimmed over the dozens and dozens of numbers. As it was, I was just listening to a string of numbers for literally a few minutes in one case. This is neither the fault of the book nor the audio version, but an observation on how the experience can be affected.

Overall, this book gets marks for originality and for adapting a mythology that has not really been explored in YA fiction before (or any fiction, I think). It’s just a shame that I didn’t quite warm to the characters and took issue with a few parts of the plot.


Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save

“It feels like music, like a heartbeat, like magic… Like Beauty.” // Review of “Hunted” by Meagan Spooner

Title: Hunted
Author:  Meagan Spooner
Audio book narrator: Will Damron, Saskia Maarleveld
Genre:
  historical fantasy/fairytale retelling
Dates read: 28/01/18 – 03/02/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows that I am a fan of fairytale retellings. This book has been on my TBR ever since it was released, so when I saw the audio book available through my library’s digital borrowing app, I snapped it up.

With her father’s fortune in ruin, Yeva and her family return to the forest where her father used to hunt. When her father claims a beast is tracking him through the wood and then goes missing, Yeva sets out to find him. When she discovers he is dead, she tries to kill the beast she believes is responsible, but ends up a prisoner in his castle instead, told only that he needs a hunter to kill a quarry for him and break his curse.

The thing I loved about this book was the writing, and I think it was enhanced by two narrators with very soothing voices to carry the rhythm. For a while it bothered me that I wasn’t excited or invested about the characters, but after a while, I sunk into the story itself despite that. The characters are well-written, but not in such a way to get really invested in.

will admit I’m not an expert on Medieval Russia but the historical setting seemed very well formed to me. I loved the wintery atmosphere – all that snow! The descriptions are beautiful. I also really enjoyed the way this was not only a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but also drew on the Russian story The Firebird. I spotted a few indications of the ties between the two stories early on in the book and was rewarded with the pay-off at the end.

If you like fairytale retellings, or atmospheric, character-driven fantasies, I definitely recommend checking this one out.


Find me on:
GoodReads | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Save