Sunday, March 25, 2012

Suzanne Collins - 'The Hunger Games'

For me reading this book was a bit of a have to read it not a want to read it. My 11-year-old daughter had it recommend to her at school last week by her classroom teacher and the deputy principal. I was horrified. I had seen the movie preview (which has a M rating in Australia) and had already decided I didn't want to watch the movie or read the book because I thought it looked too scary! Admittedly, at that point I hadn't realised it was aimed at a teenage audience. My daughter of course wanted to read it and she knows with these sorts of books she has to check first. I need to say here, that I love my daughters' school and this particular teacher is fabulous! However I think he made a error in promoting this particular book to a class of students that age. After reading, it wasn't as inappropriate as I thought it was going to be, but nothing takes away the fact that the story is about children being sent out to kill other children as entertainment for other people. I did decide to let Erin read it, but I am still not terribly comfortable with the decision and I am going to go speak to the teacher about it.

Now that bit is out of the way, I admit that, as an adult, I loved the book! Once again unputdownable (sorry to anyone who doesn't like this word). But I literally sat and read it in two sittings in the one day. The story is simply written and is fast paced. It is a little predictable, but I don't think it would have been as good if the story had gone another way.

The Hunger Games is a reality TV show where each district is forced to choose one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete. The contestants are chosen by a ballot and are then paraded as part of the lead up to the show. Once placed into the arena it is a fight to the death and the audience expects it to provide entertainment. Katniss Everdeen steps forward to compete rather then let her sister die. It is a battle of survival where food, shelter and weapons are all currency and the way to get ahead is by pleasing the audience, but at the end of the day there can only be one winner.

I recommend this book for teenagers or adults who enjoy action books and who can separate the themes from the fact it is supposed to be about children. I am still not convinced it is a book for younger children thematically, even though stylistically written at a style and pace that is appropriate.

Kathryn Stockett - 'The Help'

I saw the movie of this book last year sometime (or possibly even the year before? Whenever it was at the movies anyway), and then this was my bookclub's book for this month.

I found this book 'unputdownable'. Even having seen the movie, albeit a little while ago, and having a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, I found the book and engrossing, but easy to follow story.

Set in Mississippi in 1962, it follows an unlikely friendship between a young white woman, "Miss" Skeeter, who is home from college attempting a career in journalism and Aibileen and Minny, two older black maids who work for two of Skeeter's childhood friends. At a time where legalised racism is expected, but the civil rights movement is gathering force, these women combine to make a difference in their own way.

The cast characters includes the bossy "Miss" Hilly Holbrook, the insecure "Miss" Elizabeth Leefolt, "Miss" Celia Foote who just can't quite understand the rules and Skeeter's mother who just can't understand why her daughter won't conform and won't explain what happened to Constantine, the beloved maid who had raised Skeeter. Hilarious in some parts, horrifying in others and with many touching moments this book looks at the lives of ordinary people of the time.

Reactions during the bookclub were varied. I have done a reasonable amount of reason on the broader topic and while I found the story touching and it a great novel, it didn't really raise any issues with me that I hadn't already considered. Other members however found it very confrontational especially considering it was set in the mid-twentieth century. Definitely a book worth reading.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Randa Abdel-Fattah - 'Does my head look big in this?'

I saw this book on the shelf at a bookshop a few years ago and thought it would be good for my girls to read. They go to school in a very multicultural school and a number of girls were headscarves. My knowledge of Muslim culture is sadly lacking and I thought this book might help with that. Anyway when I saw it on sale online I snapped it up and I am glad I did!

The book is narrated by "Amal Abdel-Hakim, a sixteen-year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim still getting to grips with [her] various identity hyphens". Amal makes the decision that she wants to wear a hijib full time. If this wasn't a big enough decision, the story is also set in the year following September 11, so anti-Muslim sentiment is rife. It is important to note though that this isn't a key point of the story. It comes up in passing as part of natural storyline, but the focus is really on what it is like to be a teenager becoming your own person. For Amal wearing a hijib is part of this journey.

Amal's friends also have their own problems.You also get to see different perceptions of what it means to be an Australian Muslim. From one family who's primary aim is to be as "true blue Aussie" as they come to a friend is super smart but has a mother who thinks she should be getting married. Amal's school friends have their own issues too. Including the all important boyfriend issue.

I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy read and perfect for teenagers (who are the target audience). My 12 year old has started it and is enjoying it too (much to her amazement). Definitely recommended to anyone who wants to learn a bit more about Islamic culture, for any girl who may be coming to terms with her own religious identity especially if it comes with dressing or acting a bit differently and really any one who has ever had to work out who they are how they fit it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sophie Kinsella - 'I've Got Your Number'

I was waiting and waiting for this book to come out! Then I had to wait for my birthday (the girls were going to get it for me) and then we had to try four different shops!

I am happy to say it was worth it! Sophie Kinsella is just one of those authors where every book is better then the last. (Ok the exception here is 'Can You Keep a Secret?' which is still my favourite, but other then that).

Poppy Wyatt is a bride-to-be who just happens to lose her engagement ring. If this is not bad enough, it is only a week until the wedding. It was a family heirloom and she is already incredibly intimidated by her fiance's academically over-achieving family. Oops. Then to make matters even worse, she loses her phone on the same day. Fate intervenes however when she finds an abandoned telephone in a rubbish bin, meaning she has a number to give to the hotel staff, the police and anyone else who needs it.

Sam Roxton however is less impressed by fate. It is his phone Poppy has acquired and he would like it back. When Poppy begins to "help" in his personal and professional life he is even less impressed.

A twist to this book is that there are ongoing footnotes which "are for things which aren't your main concern but nevertheless hold some interest"* and they definitely add to the fun of the story. That said, as with all good footnotes, the story is perfectly readable without them. If you happen to reading this story electronically there may be a trick to reading them. I am not sure what this is, this is just from comments I have read by others on facebook.

A colourful cast, bizarre situations and lighthearted fun. Highly recommended to any lover of chick lit.

*quote from page 11. This should be a footnote, but I don't know how to do them on here!

Bernard Cornwell - 'Enemy of God'

This is the sequel to 'The Winter King' and the second book in Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles.

Once again, it is an Arthurian story based around more historically accurate medieval times rather then the romanticised Arthurian legends so many of us love. This version is told from the point of view of Derfel, a former pagan warrior turned monk, who is transcribing the stories for Igraine the current Queen of Powys some years after they occur.

Mordred, Urther's legitimate son, is not yet on the throne and Arthur, the War Lord, is battling against the Saxons to help keep Britain safe. Merlin is on a quest to find the sacred Treasures of Britain where dangers are of the spirit world as well as the physical one. Trouble is always there though and the tensions between the new Christians and the older pagan faiths are on the rise. This is particularly enhanced when new gods for far away lands are also introduced. The crown is not safe despite Arthur's best efforts and loyalties are torn.

A worthy sequel to the first book. I would recommend reading them in order though. For anyone who likes a medieval adventure or any Arthurian enthusiast who would enjoy a very different view point.

Traci Harding - 'Being of the Field'

I read Traci Harding's first book 'The Ancient Future' when I was 17. It was my introduction to historical fantasy and it immediately became one of my favourite books. Since then I have read all of her others (except two) and some I love, some I haven't thought were as good.

'Being of the Field' is the first book in her most recent triad* and it was published in 2009. I have only just got around to reading it despite the fact it was originally lent to me a couple of years ago. Not that I have had it since then! It sat at my place for a while, then I gave it back and ended up buying my own copy a few weeks ago. The reason for this lack of motivation to read it was that this book, like some of Traci Harding's other books is most firmly in the science fiction genre. Science fiction is just not my favourite genre. In fact, I think they only ones I own are other books of Traci Harding's which finish off trilogies.

I shouldn't have waited! Once I finally picked up the book and began reading it,  I was unable to put it down. The thing about waiting is I know where I can borrow the second book and the third one is due for release any day now. Sometimes waiting is a good thing.

Dr Taren Lennox is a comparative youngster at 50 years of age and yet her research into is being carefully followed by a number of people from a number of organisations for reasons Taren has no idea about. Her personal life is a mystery and she is careful to keep most people at a distance in order to protect herself and her "Powers". However, Taren is overjoyed when she is invited to join a prestigious space project thinking it is an opportunity for her to extend her work. Instead she discovers colleagues who quickly become friends, danger and a whole new world.

Definitely recommended for any Traci Harding fan and for anyone who likes science fiction. This book is "very Traci Harding" with all the characteristics that this entails.

*If anyone knows the difference between a triad and a trilogy please feel free to enlighten me!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sophie Kinsella - 'Remember Me?'

I have read this book lots of times before. But I am home sick with something poxy (literally) and it is the perfect time for re-reading, and for chick lit. Plus my mum has got the new Sophie Kinsella for me for my birthday (but I haven't got it yet) so I am enjoying re-reading old ones in in anticipation.

It is 2005 and Lexi Smart is a 25 year old with a life where everything is not quite right. Bad teeth,  a funeral to go to and a love life and professional life that could do with some improvement. Then Lexi wakes up and it is suddenly 2007. Lexi is now 28, gorgeous, boss of her department and married (to a millionare no less). Unfortunately Lexi has no idea how she got between these two worlds or how she is going to maintain her new persona when she still feels like a bumbling 25 year old. Worse, as she discovers more about her new life she is not sure it is the life she wants to be living.

Funny. Warm. Addictive. I love Sophie Kinsella and this book is great. If you want a book that is going to change the world, this is probably not for you. But if you want a book that will make you smile and take you to a happy place I highly recommend picking up this book.