Sunday, December 29, 2013

"The Housekeeper & the Professor" by Yoko Ogawa

This book was recommended to me by the same friend who also recommended "The Rosie Project", "The Book Thief" and "The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas" - all of which I have loved! So I had fingers crossed this would be another wonderful book.

According to wikipedia "The story centers around a mathematician, "the Professor," who suffered brain damage in a traffic accident in 1975 and since then can produce only 80 minutes' worth of memories, and his interactions with a housekeeper (the narrator) and her son "Root" as the Professor shares the beauty of equations with them."

This book was recommended to me by Shelley, who also recommended the Book Thief, the Rosie Project, and the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - all of which I have loved.

I'm not quite sure why I loved this book so much. It is not action packed, no big dramas take place, nothing much actually "happens" in it. If I try to describe it, I'm sure it will sound dull. But it's not. It's very different to many other books I've read. It is written by a Japanese author and translated into English..I think it's the first book by a Japanese author I have consciously read. It's also quite short, so if you are unsure whether to read it or not, you might as well take a chance.
Anyone who knows me knows I struggle with maths (despite being a scientist), it is not one of my strong points and it doesn't interest me...I prefer to give the maths issues to people who have talent in that area. Sometimes I am forced to use maths as a tool, but it is not beautiful. However, reading this book ignited a tiny spark about how cool and beautiful maths can be. I was fascinated by the excitement and beauty of some of the maths puzzles brought up in the book, and the way the beauty of maths and human love evolved and existed between the Professor, the housekeeper and her son and that it has no pretentiousness and is simply wonderful. It is sad and uplifting. It's not exciting, but I think if you read it you will have a new perception of another aspect of life which you might not have otherwise. At least that's what I felt.

Started reading on my kindle: 30th December 2013
Finished: 5th January 2013
My score: 8.5/10

Friday, December 27, 2013

"The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" by John Boyne

A very sad and very powerful story of the Nazi concentration camps, told with a simplicity and innocence that reminded me of "the little prince". Unforgettable. It's hard to know what else to say about this book, but it's definitely now in the list of "must read" books when people ask me for recommendations. I think the book could be described as a fable and although it is written as a children's story and from the point of view of a 9-year old boy, it definitely covers some very challenging/disturbing/important moral issues at it's heart. I guess that's what reminds me of "the little prince" or perhaps even "the Alchemist". It tells the (possibly implausible) tale of two 9-year old boys on opposite sides of the fence at 'Out With' (alternative name for Auschwitz concentration camp) who become friends, despite one being the privileged German son of the Commandant of the camp, and the other being a Jewish boy from Poland who is imprisoned in the camp. I thoroughly recommend this book, although be warned it is not a happy book to read (obviously due to the topic) and you will probably need a box of tissues handy.

Started reading on my kindle: 27 Dec 2013
Finished: 30th December 2013.
My score 9.5/10.

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This book is an historical novel that was highly recommended to me by more than one person lately. It was written by an American author, Mary Ann Shaffer, but finished off by her niece Annie Barrows and published after Mary Ann's death. The title is quite long and curious, but don't let that put you off reading it. It is set during and in the aftermath of WW2, mainly in the Guernsey Channel island which is a small rural island that is part of the UK and was occupied by the Germans during the last World War. It is narrated mainly through a series of letters which is quite unusual, but very effective. You see the story through several characters eyes, and as they are told through personal letters you really form an attachment to the various characters as if they were people you actually know and care about. Many of the characters in the book share a love of books and the arts in various forms, and if you are a book-lover it is lovely to read and connect with characters with the same love. The details of what the war was like on the Channel islands was fascinating to me as I knew little of the history before reading this book. 

A lot of people recommended this book to me. I found that it reminded me a lot of another book I read this year - "War Brides" by Helen Bryan. So if you have read "the Guernsey Literary and potato peel pie society' and enjoyed it but haven't yet read "war brides" I think you might like it. I read "War Brides" earlier this year and my review can be found here.

Started reading "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" on my kindle: 24th December 2013 Finished: 27th December 2013
My score: 8.5/10

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Aussie Author Challenge 2014 Accepted!

I had so much fun and discovered so many great Australian authors and books this year through participating in the Aussie Author Challenge advertised on the Booklovers book review blog, so I have decided to sign up for the Challenge again in 2014!! :-)
I have chosen to attempt the hardest level of the Challenge - "Kangaroo" which involves:
 - Read and review 12 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 4 of those authors are female, at least 4 of those authors are male, and at least 4 of those authors are new to you;
- At least 6 fiction and at least 2 non-fiction, and at least 3 titles first published in 2013 or 2014.

I can't wait to see what new Australian authors and books I will discover in 2014!!! :-)

"Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins

"Mockingjay" is the final book of the Hunger Games trilogy. Overall I found the trilogy to be gripping and easy to read, and found them hard to put down. Some aspects of the books I found to be really novel and exciting, other aspects I found a bit disturbing as they don't seem so far fetched in light of some of the obsession with reality TV shows or the technology that is already here, and definitely the greedy, manipulative, corruption that is seen in politics around the world. However I was disappointed with the ending, and also found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the main character Katniss as the trilogy unfolded. While this sounds like a bit of a negative review, I actually really recommend this trilogy, although the underlying vibe of the book is one of distopia for me. These books would be great to read on a series of long plane flights where you can get absorbed into the story and read them quickly one after the other.

Started reading on my kindle: 7th December 2013

Finished reading: 23rd December 2013 
My score: 8.5/10

"Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

"Catching Fire" is the second book in the popular Hunger Games trilogy.
I started reading it on my kindle: 1st Dec 2013 and finished it: 7th Dec 2013
My score: 8/10 (not as good as the first book in the series as it was very slow to get into it, and then ended mid-story). Still very addictive though and I will be going on to read book 3 next! Once I finished reading "Catching Fire" I went to see the film version of it which is currently screening in cinemas in Adelaide at the moment. I must say that the film of "Catching Fire" is one of those rare movies where the film is equal to or even better than the book! Definitely recommend seeing it on a big screen if possible :-)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is a very popular trilogy, and I am quite late in getting on the bandwagon. Lots of people have recommended these books to me as gripping, fast paced, easy/quick read. I must agree, I certainly found this first book in the series to be a great story, easy and fast to read, a mix of fantasy and dystopia and reality-tv-like scenarios...very addictive reading! I started reading it on my kindle: 27th Nov 2013 and finished: 1st December 2013. it's one of those books where you stay up way too late at night reading despite having work the next day as it's a page-turner. I'm going straight on to read the rest of the trilogy.
My score: 8.5/10

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Aussie Author Challenge 2013 Summary

Yay, I have done it! Completed the Aussie Author Challenge for 2013! In fact I have exceeded the number of Aussie books required by the Challenge and there's still one month to go for 2013 :-) I am really glad I chose to take part in this Challenge, it has encouraged me to read more widely and to choose some books to read that I otherwise might not have even thought of reading, and in doing so I have discovered some wonderful authors and books!

Here's the summary of the books I read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2013:

By Male authors (4 required, 5 books read):
Tim Winton "Dirt Music" (Fiction; Drama)
Peter Goldsworthy "Wish" (Fiction; Science)
Markus Zusak "The Book Thief" (Fiction; Historical fiction)
David Gillespie "Sweet Poison" (Non-Fiction; Nutrition/Science)
Graeme Simsion "The Rosie Project" (Fiction; Comedy/Humour)

By Female authors (4 required, 7 books read):
Caroline Overington "Ghost Child" and "Sisters of Mercy" (Fiction; Crime)
Geraldine Brooks "People of the Book" (Fiction; Historical fiction)
Krissy Nicholson "Tsunami and the single girl" (Non-Fiction; memoir/autobiography)
Hannah Kent "Burial Rites" (Fiction; Historical fiction)
M.L. Stedman "Light between oceans" (Fiction; Historical fiction)
Kate Forsythe "Bitter Greens" (Fiction; Fantasy)

By authors who were new to me (4 required, 9 books read):
Markus Zusak
David Gillespie
Krissy Nicholson
Hannah Kent
Caroline Overington x 2
M.L. Stedman
Graeme Simsion
Kate Forsythe

Ensure at least 2 Non-Fiction books:
"Sweet Poison" by David Gillespie
"Tsunami and the single girl" by Krissy Nicholson

Ensure at least 4 fiction genres are included in your 12 books:
Fiction genre 1 (Crime): 
Caroline Overington "Ghost Child" and "Sisters of Mercy" 

Fiction genre 2 (Historical fiction):
Hannah Kent "Burial Rites"
M.L. Stedman "Light between oceans"
Geraldine Brooks "People of the Book"
Markus Zusak "The Book Thief"

Fiction genre 3 (Comedy/Humour):
Graeme Simsion "The Rosie Project" 

Fiction genre 4 (Drama):
Tim Winton "Dirt Music"

Fiction genre 5 (Science):
Peter Goldsworthy "Wish"

Fiction genre 6 (Fantasy):
Kate Forsythe "Bitter Greens"

Plus some other books by Aussie Authors that I have read this year so far which exceeds the requirements of the Challenge:

Peter Goldsworthy "Everything I knew" (Fiction; Drama)
Sarah Turnbull "All good things" (Non-fiction; memoir/autobiography)


"Burial Rites" by Hannah Kent

Written by an Australian, the Goodreads website describes this book as "A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829". This is the final book that I chose to read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge.

Started reading on my kindle: 3rd November 2013
Finished: 10th November 2013
My score: 8.5/10

This book is bleak in many ways; set in Iceland in the 1800s; dealing with a woman convicted of murdering 2 men; the last woman in Iceland to be executed; and this book is a fictional account (based on a lot of historical knowledge) of this convicted woman's last few months 'imprisoned' on a remote farm. However, I found this to be a great book, almost poetic in some of the descriptions, despite the austere characters and landscape. You end up really feeling for the 'criminal' Agnus, and the book develops into a bit of an inevitable tragedy, reminding me of reading King Lear or Antigone. Very impressive book for such a young and new South Australian author. I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Tsunami and the single girl" by Krissy Nicholson

I read this book as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. It's basically a memoir written by an Australian woman in her 30s about her life as an international aid worker for Oxfam combined with her search for "Mr. Right". In many ways I found it to be a book of contrasts, which is probably reflective of the authors life, one minute dealing with humanitarian emergency situations and the next some fairly shallow relationship or party situation. While at times the search for romance and social distractions were a bit annoying and seemed to be at odds with the more serious topics covered in the book, other times it did provide comic relief. It also perhaps makes this book appeal to a wider audience who might not otherwise choose to read a book about humanitarian disasters in Africa or Asia, and gives an insight into the cultures, differences, challenges of these different countries and communities and what is actually involved in aid work in these emergency situations. I had mixed opinions about this book, some aspects I really enjoyed and as I didnt really know much about how all these sorts of aid programs are run and what it must be like to be an aid worker I found this really interesting. However some of the more shallow, immature, selfish side stories often jarred with the professional, hard-working, aid worker stories. While in some ways this made the book more honest and 'real' it also detracted a bit from the overall enjoyment of the book for me personally. I score this book 6/10. That said, the book still inspired me to want to do more, especially for women, who don't have all the wonderful opportunities that we take for granted living in Australian cities, so if this book has a similar effect on other readers then that is a great achievement by the author.

Started reading on my kindle: 26th October 2013
Finished: 3rd November 2013
My score: 6/10

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Everything I Knew" by Peter Goldsworthy

I read this book as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. I have previously read two other books by this author ("Wish" and "Honk if you are Jesus") both of which I thought were excellent. This book was quite different. It was set in Penola, South Australia. It reminded me more of Tim Winton's style of writing rather than the style I associate with the other Peter Goldsworthy books I've read. Basically it follows the story of a young teenage boy and his infatuation with his teacher. Some very creative aspects, but inevitably tragic, like a train crash watched in slow motion. The ending was not satisfying to me, and actually reminded me of when I had creative writing assignments at school and was criticised for ending my stories with "and then she woke up and it was all a dream". Peter Goldsworthy is  a great writer and captures so many details of the era and the atmosphere of a small country town in South Australia, but it left me wanting more from the last 1/4 of the book. 

Started reading on my kindle: 19th October 2013
Finished: 26th Oct 2013
My score: 6/10

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Sweet Poison" by David Gillespie

This book basically explains to a general (non-scientist) audience the problem with the high amount of sugar (in particular fructose) we as a general western population consume. If you don't know what I'm talking about, or think that eating a "low fat" diet is going to help you really lose weight (but are constantly surprised why you are not losing any weight), then this book would be a great place to start. I didn't learn a lot I didn't know from this book overall (but I have been reading a few things including scientific papers around this topic lately), but it did fill in some of the details and gaps and give historical perspectives and made it make more sense in easy-to-read language. If you don't want to read the book, take home over-simplified message is: Minimise/eliminate sugar from your diet, also eliminate things you might have been taught are healthy like fruit juice as it is basically concentrated sugar (fructose) without the goodness of fibre etc which would be found if you just ate a piece of real fruit. You aren't going to sit down and eat 5 apples in one sitting but you will get the same amount of sugar from a glass of juice and you still will feel hungry after the juice and go and eat more food. Plus our bodies don't have the same biochemical checks and balances to tell yourself you have eaten enough fructose, compared to similar checks and balances for consuming fats or even glucose (e.g. insulin). Also just for fun, next time you want to buy some 'low fat' product at the supermarket, compare the sugar content to the similar "normal fat" product, it's often higher in sugar. I know I'd rather have the full-fat but lower sugar version any day. I must confess I have been experimenting with the 'Paleo lifestyle' this year, and finding that i have a lot of energy, losing weight and feeling awesome. Cutting back on sugar and processed food is a big part of the Paleo lifestyle combined with cutting back/eliminating grains, so the anti-sugar/fructose message in this book definitely appeals to me.

This book is the first non-fiction book I have read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. It is also written by a male author who was new to me, I hadnt previously read any of his books before. It's not a long book, and I think if it was the first time I came across the concepts in this book I would probably rank it higher, but I am giving it 6.5-7/10.

Started reading on my kindle: 19th October 2013
Finished: 20th October 2013.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

This book was like nothing else I've read before. I don't think I can even remember another time when a book made me physically cry so that I couldn't see the words to keep reading, but the last 50 pages of this one did. I don't think I will ever forget this book. I 100% recommend it, despite the tears, it is one of the best books I have ever read. It is written from the point of view of a very unique narrator - "Death" who oversees and follows the main characters of this book during the time of Nazi Germany. Despite how grim this story sounds from my review so far, trust me it has so many beautiful unforgettable moments in it, and it is told in such a different way to other stories I have read, it is a great book. I don't want to give the storylines away, just want to say that you really need to read this book.

I actually read this book without realising it was written by an Australian author. It was recommended to me by a few friends and one of them lent me their copy to read. It turns out the author is Australian, so I have added this book to my Aussie Author Challenge list, as a male author (new to me), historical fiction genre.

Started reading: 6th October 2013
Finished: 19th October 2013
My score: 10/10

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Bitter Greens" by Kate Forsyth

I read this book as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2013.I like historical fiction in general, and also have a soft spot for fantasy and fairy tales, so after reading some online 5 star reviews of this book (e.g. this review on the Book'd out blog that I enjoy following) I thought I was on to a winner. However I was quite disappointed overall, and have given this book a score of 5/10. The book is basically told from 3 different women's points of view; Rapunzel (Margherita), the evil witch (La Strega) and a controversial French noble woman (Charlotte-Rose) from the Sun King's court. None of the characters really grabbed me, although the witch was the most interesting of the three and I would have liked to have heard more from this character, followed by Margarita, and I never really understood the point of Charlotte-Rose's character apart from to add a bit of a '50-shades-of-grey' tone to the book. Parts of the book were entertaining and interesting, and I did like the creative re-telling of the traditional Rapunzel story. However, the overall vibe for me was a teenage infatuation/romance story with a bit of historical fiction and fairy tale flavour thrown in. To me this was equal to the lower end of Jean Plaidy's spectrum.

Started reading on my Kindle: 24th August 2013
Finished:6th October 2013
My score: 5/10

Friday, August 23, 2013

"People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks

I read this book as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2013. I found it to be a very interesting story woven throughout hundreds of years and delving into lots of countries and religions and fascinating characters. I really enjoyed this book, it is a very rich historical novel and appears to be very well researched with lots of tiny details from many countries, religions and ages. It's basically the story of a very special illuminated religious (Jewish) book that turns up in modern day times in Sarajevo, and the main character who is a kind of scientist who preserves and conserves ancient books & manuscripts comes along to study the book before it is put on display in a museum. The tiny bits of evidence she finds throughout the book from stains, to insect wings are all brought to life by going back in time to show you how those things came to be there, and how such a contentious book survived through wars and religious conflicts. I am an atheist, however I appreciate everyone's right to have their own opinion and beliefs and I also find it interesting to learn some of the history behind various religious beliefs and conflicts through I found this book (which included aspects of Jewish, Catholic and Muslim religions) from the 1400s up until the 2000s very interesting and also very entertaining, the characters were mostly very believable, with just a few scenes/aspects of characters seeming a bit far fetched, at least to me.

Started reading on my kindle: 19th August 2013
Finished: 24th August 2013
My score: 9/10 
Aussie Author Challenge 2013: Female author, historical fiction.

"Second Chances" by Charity Norman

This is the first book I've read by this author Charity Norman. It is the story of a family who leave the UK for a better life in New Zealand, and then how the "dream"/"nightmare" unfolds. It is very well written with good descriptions of characters and landscapes, and I have to admit I actually cried towards the end (I almost never cry reading books or watching movies so that's saying something). I must say I had suspicions early on in the book about who was at the root of the 'nightmare' and why, but this didnt detract from my enjoyment of the story unfolding, and I did find it quite a page turner. the reason it too me so long to read the book was no reflection on how gripping it was, it just happened to be a very busy couple of weeks at work combined with waiting for an electrician to fix the problem with the lights in my bedroom, so I didnt get a lot of reading done. 
Being Australian, but having friends from both the UK and New Zealand some of the aspects of the book dealing with the family's assimilation after migration from the UK to New Zealand was really interesting, and the author did capture many of the local mannerisms and customs that seem normal to Aussies/Kiwis but seemed more foreign when seen from the UK family's point of view.  I am keen to read more books by this author, although since signing up for the Aussie author challenge I think I better try to fill in a few of the gaps in my Australian literature first ;-) I have heard from a friend that another book by this author "Son in law" is also very good.

Started reading on my kindle: 4th August 2013
Finished: 17th August 2013
My score: 8.5/10

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

Earlier this year (in April), I decided to consciously try to read more books by Australian authors. At that stage I was not aware of the "Aussie Author Challenge 2013", but I participated in the "Australian Literature Month" which I heard about on the "Reading Matters" blog. April saw me read two Australian books, both by authors who were new to me at the time (Caroline Overington - "Sisters of Mercy" and M.L. Stedman "Light between oceans"). Inspired by the Australian Literature Month, I have continued to read quite a few more books by Aussie authors this year, and now that I have stumbled upon this "Aussie Author Challenge 2013" on the Book Lover Book Reviews website, I have decided to officially accept the Challenge at the Fair Dinkum level (see below). I'm hoping it is acceptable to include Australian books that I have read earlier this year as my intention to read more Aussie books and to discover new Aussie authors was the motivation behind reading these books, even before I heard of the Challenge today, and the books have all been read during 2013.

The rules of the Aussie Author Challenge 2013 - Fair Dinkum level are:

- Read and review 12 books by Australian Authors
- Ensure at least 4 of the authors are male, at least 4 of the authors are female and at least 4 of the authors are new to you
- Ensure at least 2 of the books are non-fiction and at least 4 fiction genres are represented amongst your 12 titles.
Balanced and diverse reading is the objective here.


So far the books I have read this year which I am including as part of the Aussie Author Challenge are:

"Sisters of Mercy" by Caroline Overington (Female, Fiction, New to me, Crime) April 2013
"Light between oceans" by M.L. Stedman (Female, Fiction, New to me, Historical novel) April 2013
"Ghost child" by Caroline Overington (Female, Fiction, Crime) June 2013
"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion (Male, Fiction, New to me, Comedy/Humourous) June 2013
"Dirt Music" by Tim Winton (Male, Fiction, Drama) July 2013
"Wish" by Peter Goldsworthy (Male, Fiction, Science) August 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Wish" by Peter Goldsworthy

I read a review of this book on page 12-13 of the current issue of "The Adelaide Review" which prompted me to download it onto my kindle. This book is a novel set in Adelaide about a sign language teacher who teaches Sign to a gorilla liberated from a Melbourne research lab. This isn't a new book, but it has been recently re-released with a new introduction. Peter Goldsworthy is an Australian medical practitioner who also writes amazing books. I found this novel to be really interesting, page-turning, powerful, sometimes confronting which felt almost non-fictional in it's believability, exploring the boundaries between human and ape, language, intelligence. Unlike anything I have read before. It's also set in Adelaide (where I live now) so a lot of the setting is very familiar and makes the book come to life even more for me. This book, combined with recently seeing Adam Hills' live comedy performance translated for the deaf has seeded a desire in me to attempt to learn the basics of Auslan (Australian Sign Language). I thoroughly recommend this book.

Started reading on my kindle: 3rd August 2013
Finished: 4th August 2013
My score: 9.5/10

"Inside of a Dog" by Alexandra Horowitz

In this non-fiction book "Inside of a Dog", Alexandra Horowitz (a scientist who studies animal behaviour and also a dog-lover) tries to give insights into what it would be like to be a dog, what senses and perceptions they have that are similar and different to ours, how they have evolved and been bred by humans to be our 'best friend'.

An interesting book, but overall disappointing for me. I expected a lot more from it. There were countless examples where the author  would describe some aspect or ability of a dog, then completely forget to apply that knowledge to another situation described in the book. E.g. the interesting ability that dogs possess where they can detect minute changes in chemical smells such as when a human has cancer, or can detect if you are sad by smell etc...then a bit later the author describes a 'clever' experiment in which dog owners pretend to have a heart attack and the dog ignores them, and she interprets this to be because the dog fails to recognise an emergency situation. I think it is more likely the dog realised that the person was not having a heart attack (in the absense of any stress/heart attack chemical signals) and that their owner was just fooling around. Anyway there were lots of examples like this that were a bit disappointing, but other bits were really interesting to read..and many that I would have liked to learn more about. On the positive side, I have found myself observing dogs when I'm out walking and looking at different signals I never noticed before reading this book.  

Started reading on my kindle: 12th July 2013
Finished: 3rd August 2013
My score 6.5/10

Sunday, July 7, 2013

"The hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared" by Jonas Jonasson

This book was recommended to me by an assistant in a bookstore ("Pocket Shop") at the central train station in Stockholm. I asked for suggestions of books by Swedish authors (translated into English). Among the many Swedish crime writers that were suggested to me, this book by Jonas Jonasson caught my attention. This book is a humourous novel about a 100 year old man who decides (one hour before his birthday party) to go on an adventure, so he climbs out the window of his retirement village and sets off in his slippers...

I just started this book yesterday, so I will add more to the review when I finish it.

Started reading: 6th July 2013.

"Dirt Music" by Tim Winton

Tim Winton is an Australian author. Some of his books I absolutely loved and couldn't stop turning the pages (e.g. "Breath"). "Dirt Music" however was not one of my favourite of his books. There were some lovely descriptions capturing landscapes and emotions and situations in unique ways in this book. But many of the characters were unlikable and the tone of the book was as if you were constantly just waiting for something violent and destructive to occur, as if you were in the eye of a storm. I also found the lack of quotation marks to indicate what was being said and by which character pretty distracting and annoying - not sure how much this had to do with me being tired when I was reading but it constantly kept frustrating me as I had to re-read bits to figure out who was speaking..

Started reading on my Kindle: 20th June 2013
Finished: 6th July 2013
My score: 6/10

Friday, June 21, 2013

"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion

This is the first book I've read by Graeme Simsion, an Australian author. It was recommended to me by 3 different friends who all independently rated the book as a '10 out of 10'.

I found it to be hilariously funny and a great romantic comedy crossed with science geekiness. It's about a genetics professor who seems to have Asperger's syndrome (a kind of Autism) without being aware of it, who is highly intelligent but lacks some social skills. He decides it's time he finds a wife, and sets about devising a questionnaire to give to women to eliminate the incompatible candidates quickly. His interactions with various people and the hilarious adventures that ensue as he searches for a perfect wife are priceless. Never read a book like it before, thoroughly enjoyed it, was only disappointed that it wasn't longer!

Started reading on my kindle: 19th June 2013, finished the same day.
My score 10/10!

"War Brides" by Helen Bryan

This book is set mainly in the era of World War II in the UK, with the exception of the initial and final chapters which are set approx. 50 years later. It is an historical novel, following the lives of 5 very different women from diverse backgrounds who all end up living in a small country town called Crowmarsh Priors during the war. Reading this book reminded me of when I was at school and read "Goodnight Mister Tom" about the children being evacuated to the country from London during the war to avoid the bombings by the Nazis, or some of Richmal Crompton's "Just William" stories set in wartime UK. Although many of the characters in "War Brides" initially frustrated me with their immaturity, I really enjoyed the book especially as I got further into it and the characters developed. The book gives some insight into what it might have been like for women during the war, trials and dreams and daily life, and how they coped and responded in different ways. It also has an element of espionage and gives some insights into the French Resistance efforts, and the trials and terrors besetting Jews at the hands of the Nazis. I quite enjoyed this book, although was somewhat disappointed with the ending.

Read: 15th - 18th June 2013
My score: 8.5/10

"Frankenstein's Cat" by Emily Anthes

This is a popular science book written by a science journalist without any science degree, and aimed at a lay audience. However, even as a scientist I did enjoy reading this non-fiction book and learnt a few interesting things I didn't know previously and also discovered a few things I still thought existed only in Sci Fi have actually already been achieved in the lab! The book looks at how humans modify animals using biotech/genetics/neuroscience/electronics/prosthetics etc. It does try to hype things up a little, but it also tries to explain the technology and de-mystify it to a non-science audience, and also deals with a lot of the ethical issues behind animal use. And reminds us that changing animal behaviours and appearances isn't new, we have been doing it for 100's or 1000's of years, but this is just more sophisticated technology allowing far greater power and while sometimes this can be beneficial we have to bear in mind that just because we Can do something doesn't mean we should do it. It includes prosthetic limbs for animals (including dolphins), goats that are genetically engineered to produce special proteins/drugs etc in their milk, robotically controlled rodents and insects, glow-in-the-dark-fish, chickens which cant pass on certain viruses (think avian flu) and many more fascinating critters. Some are obviously good things, some are obviously ethically not good, and some are definitely in the grey zone. But as this stuff is all becoming possible it was an interesting read to start thinking about these issues and also to see how the non-scientists in the community might interpret them.

Read: 10th June -  21st June 2013
My score: 6.5/10

"Ghost Child" by Caroline Overington

This is the second book I have read by the Australian author Caroline Overington. Similar to "Sisters of Mercy" it is written in a realistic crime/mystery style which deals with some pretty dark and unpleasant aspects of child abuse and failures of the welfare system and foster carers in Australia. It is a novel, but told in a way that seems very real, and with lots of little details that make the story convincing. The story is told from several people's viewpoints, including Lauren, Harley and Hayley - 3 siblings whose brother died at the age of 5 under suspicious circumstances. Despite the troubling topics raised in this book, I give it 8.5/10. It's definitely not a happy feel-good story, but brought up lots of issues to think about and I have the feeling I wont be forgetting this book any time soon. I preferred "Sisters of Mercy" but both were well written and I'd definitely be keen to read other books by this author.

Read on my Kindle: 11th - 12th June 2013.
My score: 8.5/10

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"A Storm of Swords" by George R.R. Martin

I am currently reading the third book in the Game of Thrones series: "A Storm of Swords". I am thoroughly enjoying it, but as it has approx 1200 pages it will probably be another week or more before I complete it. I will update this post once I have finished reading this book, although you can probably already guess the score I will be giving it as it's awesome :-)

Reading on my kindle: 29th April -11th June 2013.
My score: 10/10. Really loving this Game of Thrones fantasy series!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"A short history of tractors in Ukrainian" by Marina Lewycka

I'm not quite sure how to describe what I thought of this book. I haven't read a book quite like it before. It reads kind of like a soap opera in which none of the characters are 100% likeable...but you feel sympathy, frustration, disbelief about them all in turn, and you do want to keep turning the pages (I finished the book in 2 days). While the cover says 'extremely funny' I think it's more in the way of black humour rather than laugh-out-loud funny most of the time.

The story is interesting though, and I did enjoy it in some ways, but it kind of felt like I was spying on an extremely dysfunctional family a lot of the time. Basically the story is of a family in the UK who were orginally immigrants from Ukraine after the second world war. The 2 grown-up daughters barely talk to each other, but are brought together as co-conspirators when they discover their elderly father (in his mid 80s) is about to marry a 'gold-digging' hussy in her 30s, who basically seems to be marrying him to get a permanent visa into the UK from Ukraine, despite already being married, having a teenage son and multiple affairs going on. So the two daughters Nadia and Vera unite forces to try to prevent this occurring, and the dramas that ensue are sort of funny and sort of sad, mixed up with history of the war and politics and tractors....

Started reading on my kindle: 26th April 2013
Finished: 28th April 2013.
My score 6/10

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman

This is the second book I have read in my part of contributing to the Australian Literature Month promoted on the "Reading Matters" blog. M.L. Stedman is a female Australian writer, and this is her first novel. I had not heard of this author before, but a friend recommended this book to me a couple of weeks ago and I thought I would give it a go immediately so I could hopefully finish it during April.

The book "The Light Between Oceans" is set in Western Australia, starting in the 1920s. The main character introduced is Tom - a decorated (and emotionally somewhat scarred) returned soldier from the First World War, who starts a new peacetime life as a Lighthouse Keeper. He is posted to a remote island situated between the Southern and Indian Oceans. Just before he is posted to the island, he meets and later marries a young woman, Izzy, who seems to represent the complete opposite in nature to Tom - vibrant, carefree, vs quiet and measured. I don't want to give away any more of the story line, except to say that the book is the story of their life together on this island, isolated for the most part from mainland civilisation, and how their relationship and life develops and then is completely ripped apart by a single shared secret.

The novel is well written, extremely sad, in fact has elements of a classical tragedy - reminding me at times of how I felt when I first read Shakespeare's "King Lear" or "Othello" - although the storyline and characters are completely unique.It deals with issues of trust, ethics/morality, right/wrong and the strength of the bond between mother and child.

I read this book on my Kindle from 9th April - 24th April 2013.
My score is 8/10

Saturday, April 6, 2013

"Sisters of Mercy" by Caroline Overington

This is the first book I have read by this Australian author (Caroline Overington), as my part in contributing to the Australian Literature Month on the Reading Matters blog. I didn't really know what to expect of the plot, characters or writing style, but I had read a couple of reviews which warned that the book didn't tie up all loose ends so I was prepared for that. Of the reviews I read on the Goodreads website, the book seemed to polarise opinion (people either seemed to really like it, or find the ending wasn't satisfying and therefore hated it). 

It is a contemporary crime/mystery set in Sydney and Melbourne, and is told in a way that makes you believe it is a real unsolved mystery based on real events (although it isn't), with many little accurate details of locations and events scattered throughout. It is thought-provoking, well-written and a real page turner. It is disturbing in parts (but more in the way of a Kathy Reichs book rather than Michael Faber's 'under my skin'). It does bring up issues of foster care and welfare of severely handicapped children in Australia over the last 40 years, some of which is pretty horrific and you just have to hope that at least the worst of it is all fiction... The story is told by two main characters: Snow Delaney (a nurse caring for handicapped children; currently in jail) and Jack Fawcett (a journalist following the case of Snow's missing sister).

I don't want to give away too much of the plot or of the character of Snow, as the slow unfolding of her story and her unbalanced mind is one of the most compelling aspects of this book. And the book is not all dark, there are touches of humour, for how can you not love a book which includes a budgie named Tony Abbot?! I am really thrilled to have stumbled upon a new Australian author whose writing I really enjoy (and excited to discover she has already written several others for me to look out for). Thanks to the Australian Literature Month challenge which inspired me to go looking for a book by an Australian author that I had not previously read before.

The synopsis of the story from the publisher's website:
 "Sisters of Mercy" by Caroline Overington is the haunting crime novel of two sisters - one has vanished, the other is behind bars...
Snow Delaney was born a generation and a world away from her sister, Agnes. Until recently, neither even knew of the other's existence. They came together only for the reading of their father's will - when Snow discovered, to her horror, that she was not the sole beneficiary of his large estate. Now Snow is in prison and Agnes is missing, disappeared in the eerie red dust that blanketed Sydney from dawn on September 23, 2009.
With no other family left, Snow turns to crime journalist Jack Fawcett, protesting her innocence in a series of defiant letters from prison. Has she been unfairly judged? Or will Jack's own research reveal a story even more shocking than the one Snow wants to tell?

I read this book on my Kindle in April 2013.
My score: 9/10

"Under the Skin" by Michael Faber

I recently read a 5-Star review on the blog "Reading Matters", which prompted me to read this book. Now that i have finished reading it myself, I can say although I agree almost wholeheartedly with her review, my (non)appreciation of the horror element to this book lead me to give it quite a different score. The book is set in Scotland (near Inverness), and the central character, Isserley, is unlike any character I have met before ("half Baywatch babe, half little old lady" as described in the book), but really that doesnt even begin to explain how strange this character is. I'm not sure if the correct term to describe the world portrayed in this book is "Distopic" but I found it creepy, depressing and more than a bit twisted. However it did cause me to stop and think a bit more about some issues associated with meat consumption and treatment of animals destined for the meat market. I'm sure if I appreciated the macabre horror genre more I would give this book a higher score, but I found it too twisted to really enjoy reading it, and often kept turning the pages just to have closure rather than because I was enjoying the book.

I read this book on my Kindle in March 2013.
My score: 6.5/10

"The Girl with the Cat Tattoo" by Theresa Weir

Not the sort of book I usually read but a bit of a break from the more complex worlds and characters in the books I have read lately. This was an easy, quick read, a story about a match-making cat. Nothing stand out really, but the cat, Max, was a cute character. The book was a freebie I downloaded from Pixel of Ink when I felt like a bit of light reading entertainment instead of watching TV...but probably watching TV would have given my brain more of a workout than this book.

Read on my Kindle in March 2013
My score: 4/10

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" by Mark Haddon

Until recently I had not heard of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time", but last month 3 different people recommended it to me while having lunchtime chats about good books to read, so as soon as I finished the 2nd Game of Thrones book I took a break from high fantasy and read this book.
I found this book really interesting as it is a detective story told from the perspective of a boy with autism. It is humerous, sad, touching, different. Definitely worth reading. It isn't a long book but one you will most likely remember long after you read it. It's not so much the story-line itself that is so fantastic, but the outlook of the main character and the way they describe the world that is quite different to any other book I have read so far. It gave me a bit more insight into what I imagine it might be like to be autistic or to relate with someone who is autistic. 

I read this book on my Kindle in March 2013.
My score: 8.5/10

"Game of Thrones" by George R. R. Martin

I don't intend to write much here about "Game of Thrones" since it has received a lot of attention lately due to being made into a TV series, and I'm sure most people already know quite a bit about it. Basically it is high fantasy, an epic story with many complex characters and plots woven through it. If you love Lord of the Rings or the Wheel of Time, chances are you will love Game of Thrones also. I have read the first two books in the series so far ('Game of Thrones' and "A Clash of Kings"), and thought they were both awesome. Initially it was a little hard to get to grips with who all the characters are and who they are related to etc, but if you get hold of a family tree it makes it a lot easier, and pretty soon you are so drawn into the story you have no trouble following. The chapters alternate between about 8 of the main characters (more are added in the 2nd book), which works really well. My favourite characters so far are Arya (the adventurous tom boy daughter of Ned Stark), Jon Snow (Ned Stark's bastard), Daenerys Targaryen (another strong female character) and Tyrion Lannister (the dwarf). I watched the DVDs of the TV version (series 1 and 2) after I read the books. The TV version is also excellently done and the first 2 series follow the first 2 books very closely, however, like most books turned into tv/film, the books are by far better and more complex and I'd recommend reading them first.

I read the first book in February, and the second in March 2013, both on my Kindle.

My scores:
Game of Thrones: 10/10 for Fantasy
A Clash of Kings: 9/10

Friday, April 5, 2013

Snapshot from 2012

To get this blog up and running, I thought I would start with a snapshot of the books I read in 2012 (since March anyway, when I made my resolution to start reading for fun again). This will also give a bit of an idea of the kinds of books I read and the ones I like and dislike, so you can get a feel for whether you have a similar taste in books as me (and whether it's worth following this blog) or not. Feel free to leave comments if you have read or are interested in reading any of these books, I'm always happy to hear other people's opinions and recommendations of books.

1. "Armageddon's Children" by Terry Brooks. 8/10
Terry Brooks is one of my all time favourite fantasy authors, I always enjoy his books.

2.  "The Zookeeper's War" by Steven Conte. 7/10
Interesting historical novel, but fairly depressing, especially the ending.

3. "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave. 10/10
This is an awesome book. Definitely one of the standouts for me in 2012. It was a book I had not heard of before, and chose it randomly at an airport bookstore without expectations, and was totally gripped by it.

4. "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd. 9/10
I bought this book second hand in New York from the Housing Works Used Book Cafe in Soho.
Read on flights from Los Angeles to Australia. Several people had recommended it to me before I read it, and it was a great read with characters you could really feel for.

5. "Ant Egg Soup" - Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos by Natacha Du Pont De Bie. 7/10
Another second-hand shop purchase. Interesting reading (especially as I read it in preparation for an upcoming trip to Laos!). The descriptions of the food and locations and people make it come to life. I wasn't sure whether to be excited or scared by some of the menu items described in the book though!!!

6.  "Fishing for Stars" by Bryce Courtenay. 7-8/10
(Australian author)
I actually listened to this in audio book format while doing craft stuff, rather than actually reading it.
I found it very interesting. I like all Bryce Courtenay books I've read. This one covers a wide range of topics/themes, from World War II in the Pacific, politics and Greenie movements in Tasmania, big business in the Pacific Islands, and the relationships of the main character with 2 very different but strong female characters.

7.  "Songs of the Humpback Whale" By Jodi Picoult. 1/10
I was very disappointed with this book. So many people had recommended Jodi Picoult books to me over the years, and this was the first one I tried to read. I couldnt even finish this book (and I almost never give up on a book once I start it), and could not empathise with the main characters...

However, a couple of people who are Picoult fans have since told me this was the one book by her that they disliked.

8. "Flash and Bones" By Kathy Reichs. 6.5/10
This was the first book I downloaded onto my kindle that I received for my birthday.
I do like Kathy Reichs books - the science is pretty accurate and the stories are usually pretty good. This one was set in the NASCAR heartland of USA. I found it interesting to compare to the things I've seen while volunteering at the Bathurst V8 supercar races. The actual story line wasn't as strong/good as previous Kathy Reichs books though.
9. "Brother Fish" by Bryce Courtenay. 8/10
(Australian author)
Despite it taking me about 2 months to read this book, I did really enjoy reading it. It's set partially in a small island fishing community off the Tasmanian coast, partially in the Korean war (which I had not previously known anything about), and in mainland China and Hong Kong. As with all Bryce Courtenay books the characters are so real you feel like you know them, and the locations and experiences are very well described.
10.  "Fifty Shades of Grey" by E.L. James. 5/10
Not the sort of book I normally choose to read, but after all the hype and so many people talking about it I had to read it. I downloaded it on my kindle. It's definitely not the most well-written book, but it sure is a bit of a sexy page-turner! :-P Not sure if it was exciting enough to read the other 2 books in the trilogy though...

11. "Gold" By Chris Cleave. 7.5/10
This book was pretty good but not as good as his previous book "Little Bee" (that i gave 10/10). It is about 3 Olympic cyclists and all the emotional turmoil they go through to compete at that elite level. However the star of the book really is the daughter Sophie who has Leukaemia.
12.  "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. 8.5/10
This book is set deep in southern America during the 1950s. The characters are so well described with different writing styles to match, and the storyline is also very good, dealing with the fight for equal rights for black American maids with their white employers. The movie based on this book is also very good (I saw the movie before I read the book, which is unusual for me, I normally like to read a book before I see the movie version).
13. "Bones are forever" by Kathy Reichs. 7/10
A pretty depressing storyline with infant/baby deaths. However it was interesting from the setting point of view, dealing with Alaska and native Americans and wilderness protection vs mining in the Arctic.

14. "Flaunting, Extravagant Queen" by Jean Plaidy. 6.5/10
An historical novel about the life of Marie Antoinette, from when she left her family in Austria as a child bride to the young Dauphin of France (to be Louis the 16th) up until she was executed during the French Revolution. 

15. "Puberty Blues" By Gabrielle Carey & Kathy Lette. 6/10
This was currently on TV in Australia as a series at the time I read the book. A few people recommended the book to me, however in my opinion it's one of the rare cases where the TV series appears better than the book (slightly - neither were wonderful).
This book is set in Sydney (Cronulla) in the 1970s, following a group of teenagers in their quest to be cool. The book was fairly easy and short/quick to read but depressing with how young the girls were and the drugs etc they were involved in. And the final chapter of the book revealed pretty much all the kids in the group either died of drug overdoses before the age of 20 or ended up in jail/rehab except for the authors who skipped school to write the book. Despite all this, it was still fun to read and see all the colloquealisms (if that's a word) and the lifestyle of the 70s on the Sydney beaches. Not hugely removed from some people's lives at my high school in the 90s I would think.
16. "The Riders" by Tim Winton. 7/10
(Australian author) I found this book quite gripping/haunting, but was left a bit disappointed at the ending...not sure if I just confused myself and didn't understand the significance of the ending or not. But I keep thinking back through it and get the feeling parts of the story and the characters will stick in my mind for some time.
17. "What looks like crazy on an ordinary day" by Pearl Cleage. 6.5-7/10
This was a very quick read, easy to keep turning the pages. I liked the main characters and their positive vibe throughout the story despite some pretty depressing issues being dealt with (and one pretty traumatic scene to read).
The book is about a woman who finds herself HIV-positive and how she takes this pretty devastating news and gets on with her life. While this might not sound like a fun topic to read a novel about, it also involves a really good love story, very positive family and friendship themes and a bit of an insight into how we all can make bad decisions in life but sometimes we learn from them in a positive way (and sometimes we don't). I read this review of the book which is what prompted me to read the book in the first place:
18. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" By Rebecca Skloot. 8/10
I would guess that most of my sciency friends will have heard of HeLa cells (and many will have grown them in the lab at some stage). This book is about Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose cervical cancer cells (taken without ethics consent in the 1950s) became the first immortal human cells grown in culture, and all the amazing discoveries, drug/therapy development and knowledge that have resulted from growing and experimenting with "HeLa" cells in laboratories around the world.
I found this book to be very interesting, although the life of Henrietta and her family is pretty tragic. Very interesting and sometimes disturbing all the things HeLa cells have been used for over the years. 

19. "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making" 
By Catherynne M. Valente. 8.5/10
Great fantasy fairytale adventure - it's a kids book but full of imagination and I loved it. Some aspects were kind of like Alice in Wonderland meets Harry Potter.
20. "Let's Pretend this Never Happened" By Jenny Lawson. 6/10
Really hilarious in parts making me laugh out loud at inappropriately funny moments....but other parts were just cringingly bad drama queen scenes. A lot of the language and stories come across as if they were mainly written for shock value. However I did really get a good laugh out of a few of the early chapters :-)

21. "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult. 8/10
After my first disappointing attempt at a Picoult book (Songs of a Humpback Whale), I decided I should give the author another shot, since so many of my friends kept raving about her books. This time I chose one she is famous for, and this time I did enjoy the book. It is about a family who have a daughter with an aggressive form of Leukaemia, and decide to have another baby that will be able to become a bone marrow/blood/organ donor in order to save the first child's life. It brings up lots of issues involving ethics and 'designer' babies. I also found it interesting from the medical point of view.
22. "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. 3/10
I bought this book with my last Thai bahts while waiting at Bangkok airport, and it had a sticker on it saying that was recommended on the Oprah's bookclub list.
What I liked about this book: reading about the scenery of the Pacific Crest Trail, the camaraderie of the various hikers met along the way, and the theme that you can do anything you set you're mind to achieve.
What I didn't like: I found the author/main character extremely immature/short-sighted and was unprepared for almost every situation she encountered on her hike, even those that anyone who knows nothing about backpacking might forsee. E.g. not packing her hiking pack until the night before she set out on her hike and then discovering she couldn't even lift it off the ground, wearing hiking boots too small for her feet and she hadn't bothered to break them in or even wear them once before she set out on her 1000+mile hike...but despite countless examples of this sort of behaviour throughout the book she did manage to hike the trail and achieve her goal.