Month: February 2013

Monthly Review – February 2013

Posted February 28, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

It’s so great to see just how well the reading challenge is going; over 500 books have been read from the group so far. I’m so happy with the response and pleased to see people still had time to read The Fault in our Stars. Plenty of interesting thoughts have come out of this book from the group and while there was some people that didn’t like the book, I’m so glad to see so much great constructive criticism in the threads; this is what we live for. For those who don’t know about the reading challenge, there is still time to join in the fun, so check out my introductory post here.

I’m really impressed with the book club’s efforts this year and as we move into March, I’m looking forward to seeing what people will say about Lolita for our Russian literature theme. In January, I managed to read twenty books but this month I’ve read fifteen, which is not a bad effort and still a number I can be proud of. Five of those books go towards the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge and you can find my own record of the challenge here.

Highlights this month include the epic cyber punk noir novel Altered Carbon and the recently translated German crime blockbuster Snow White Must Die. Also I got to read a modern masterpiece by an author that is quickly become a favourite of mine; Jeffery Eugenides. The Virgin Suicides was his debut novel and it was wonderfully bleak; I can’t recommend it enough. How was February for you and your reading life? Let me know in the comments below.

Monthly Reading

  • Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
  • Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
  • Dirt by David Vann
  • Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
  • Gun Machine by Warren Ellis
  • Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne
  • March Violets by Philip Kerr
  • Occupation Diaries by Raja Shehadeh
  • One for the Books by Joe Queenan
  • Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
  • Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus
  • The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Young Philby by Robert Littell
  • Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Posted February 27, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Book of the Month, Young Adult / 0 Comments

The Fault in our Stars by John GreenTitle: The Fault in our Stars (Goodreads)
Author: John Green
Published: Dutton Books, 2012
Pages: 313
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster has been dealing with Stage 4 Thyroid cancer since she was 13 years old. Having recently decided to join a support group for children living with cancer she meets Augustus Waters (with osteosarcoma), and the infatuation was instantaneous. Their relationship grows and a common obsession with Peter van Houten’s An Imperial Affliction finds them in Amsterdam trying to track down this obscure author.

There really isn’t much I can say about this book that I haven’t said before. I really like John Green’s books; he writes some great characters and Hazel and Augustus are not exception. This isn’t a typical cancer book, but it is a typical Green book (not that there is anything wrong with that). I do feel like Green have some reoccurring themes in all his books but this one tries hard to break the mould. Obviously since it’s still a John Green book it never will break out, he knows what he likes; his style works really well, so there is nothing too wrong with keeping to it.

This book tends to shift a little into the unrealistic, but I’m sure there are intelligent and witty sixteen year olds that act and talk like these two; I’ve just never met them. I love how Green does a pretty typical YA love story but then finds interesting metaphors and ideas to throw in the mix. Hazel Grace and the reader are left examining life; sickness and health, life and death, what defines them and even the legacy they will leave behind.

The whole concept of ‘death being at your door the entire time’ makes for a very interesting YA novel. I’m pleased to say this is a fine example of what John Green does. I’ve read most of John Green’s novels now and I’m a huge fan of his works; I’m a little sad to think there is only one more novel of his left to read. I would love to know who else can offer intelligent and mostly realistic Young Adult novels for me to read.

 


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Posted February 26, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Young Adult / 0 Comments

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom RiggsTitle: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Goodreads)
Author: Ransom Riggs
Series: Miss Peregrine #1
Published: Quirk, 2011
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Sixteen year old Jacob Portman goes to Wales on a search to find out the truth about his Grandfather’s past and unbelievable demise. There he meets Emma, a “strikingly pretty” girl who not only knows Jacob’s grandfather but can control fire. She takes Jacob to meet Miss Peregrine, who, accompanied by some very Peculiar Children, is stuck in a time loop set back in 1940, throwing Jacob into a mysterious situation full of strange killings and peculiarity.

What really stood out to me in this book was the real dark and almost gothic feel to the plot, this mixed with vintage photographs, setting and great characterisation makes for a refreshingly new style of YA novel.  Ransom Riggs seems to take the paranormal YA novel to a whole new level, putting other writers to shame with his unique blend of paranormal and character development. It was just a wonderful eccentric read and the vintage photographs were a nice touch; you feel like you know these characters and then you can look at the photos of them.

I think this is a cliché but for a debut novel, Ransom Riggs has shown great skill and love for his craft, developing a beautiful and slightly weird world. Riggs has stated there will be a sequel and I, for one, am looking forward to returning to this world and seeing where Jacob’s adventures will take him. This book has that dark and gloomy feel about it, almost like a horror movie, but yet the story never feels like it will become too dark. To give you an idea of the type of novel this is, 20th Century Fox are planning to adapt it into a film and want Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick-Ass,  X-Men: First Class) to write the screen play and have Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sweeney Todd) direct.

For people that like a little darkness in their YA novels this is a book you should check out. I’ve never been a fan of paranormal novels but this is just a perfect example of the genre being done well. The mystery, the characters, setting and plotting all come together to make this a great YA novel. I’m excited for the sequel and the film adaption.


Perchance to Dream by Robert B. Parker

Posted February 25, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Pulp / 0 Comments

Perchance to Dream by Robert B. ParkerTitle: Perchance to Dream (Goodreads)
Author: Robert B. Parker
Published: Putnam, 1991
Pages: 217
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

Philip Marlowe returns to the Sternwood mansion in the hills of Los Angeles, having been called by Norris, the butler. Marlow finds the older daughter, Vivian, still resides there and still dating gangster Eddie Mars but her younger sister Carmen, still tormented by the events of the original story, has been sent off to live at Resthaven, a psychiatric rehabilitation facility. When Carmen disappears from there, Marlowe is hired to find her.

As most people will know, I’m a huge Raymond Chandler fan, and I think Philip Marlowe is such a great character. I was a little concerned to see that Robert B. Parker was authorised to write a sequel to The Big Sleep. As far as I can see, he butchered the character, the series and it just was torture to read. Parker is something of an expert with all things to do with Chandler, having been hired to complete the 1958 unfinished Chandler novel; Poodle Springs. But being an expert doesn’t mean he can write like Chandler nor do any justice to Marlowe.

Parker’s take on Philip Marlowe is a disaster; I found none of the wit remained and as a Private investigator, he was a bit of a lightweight. The attempt at nostalgia turns into an unequivocally puerile attempt at Chandler’s coolly sardonic narrative. Chandler’s plots are like a shadowy figure in the background, making it difficult for the reader to predict just what will happen but Parker’s plot is thrown at the reader and nothing is surprising.

Hugely unnecessary, Perchance to Dream adds no significance to the series and is just pointless. While I want to read more of Marlowe’s adventures, if they are anything like this, it’s not worth it. I’m sure I can find fan-fic with better character development and plotting than this attempt at another Philip Marlowe novel. This is the only Robert B. Parker novel I’ve read and with the damage he’s done to my beloved Marlowe, I don’t think I would want to read anything by him again.


Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry

Posted February 24, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtryTitle: Books: A Memoir (Goodreads)
Author: Larry McMurtry
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2008
Pages: 259
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Larry McMurtry is known for his novels Terms of Endearment and his 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove, among many other things. But what people might not know about Larry McMurtry is he is also a rare-book scout.  Owning many second hand bookstores called Booked Up, McMurtry is always on the hunt for good books. Book is a memoir of adventures as a book seller.

Let’s face it, I love a good book memoir so I thought I had to check this one out, but I’m a little disappointed. At times in this book it felt more like bragging than actual book scouting; I don’t really enjoy reading a whole lot of “I found a book that was worth hundreds of dollars and brought it for mere dollars”. There needed to be a bit more about his love for the books and less showing off to really make this book enjoyable.

I think it would be cool to be a book seller or scout and it was interesting to read about his journey as one. I did actually visit all the second hand book stores in search for gems so maybe this book did have an effect on me. The only difference was, gems for me are the books I really want to read and not books that would make me money. I also would have enjoyed some more about Larry McMurtry’s reading life as well amd the books he was passionate about or recommends, but this just wasn’t there.

I think this book just lacked passion overall; I felt like Larry McMurtry saw books as money makers and there was no love for them. It’s an interesting book but now I know what to look for in a book about books, I don’t think I would pick up another book like this; unless recommended to me. Book sellers or book scouts may get more out of this book but I have a feeling that most would probably share my opinion.


The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

Posted February 23, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Fantasy / 0 Comments

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad WilliamsTitle: The Dirty Streets of Heaven (Goodreads)
Author: Tad Williams
Series: Bobby Dollar #1
Published: Hodder, 2012
Pages: 416
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Bobby Dollar is an angel, his role here on earth is to advocate for the souls caught between heaven and hell. As a result of this, Bobby knows about sin, in fact, he wrestles with a few himself; pride, lust and anger. Whether it’s pride or just instinct, Dollar can’t trust his superiors or his fellow earth bound angels so when souls start disappearing, things are bound to get bad; end of the world bad.

Like the Dresden Files, The Dirty Streets of Heaven blends urban fantasy with hard-boiled crime. Bobby Dollar is a great character, but while he isn’t fully hard-boiled he plays the role really well. I don’t think I would want him to be more hard-boiled; as an angel he does need to have a bit of a moral compass and he does have to try to be good, so in this aspect I think Tad Williams got the balance right.

I’ve never been much for fantasy novels, but I really like these urban fantasy novels that take old hard-boiled and noir styles and blend it; I just can’t get enough of them. I believe this is Tad Williams first attempt at this genre but he has done this masterfully; the conflict between heaven and hell with Bobby Dollar and not knowing who to trust makes this novel. I will admit the Angel and Demon warfare aspect of this book is what I enjoyed the most; Williams added some interesting concepts and blended some theology in as well and I think it balanced out nicely.

I wasn’t sure if The Dirty Streets of Heaven was going to turn out anything like Dogma or The Dresden Files, but I think the author took parts of both that he liked and made it his own. It’s dark and gritty, fully of sex and violence but there is also pop culture references and humour with this book. The humour within this book was great; it didn’t over shadow the darkness of the novel and often came unexpectedly.

“You show me what someone listens to; I’ll tell you everything you want to know about his soul. (For instance, a bunch of Nickelback albums would have indicated he never had a soul in the first place.)”

I’m pleased this is the first book in a new series for Tad Williams; currently there are another two in the works and I am excited to be thrown back into this world. The more I discover these Urban Fantasy Noir novels, the more I want to read them; I really should read some more from the Dresden Files while I wait for book two. Does anyone have any recommendations for books like this, because I really enjoyed this book, more than I ever expected.


Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Posted February 22, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne FowlerTitle: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (Goodreads)
Author: Therese Anne Fowler
Published: St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
Pages: 384
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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The beautiful and reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre first met Lieutenant Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald at an Alabama country club dance in 1918; she was seventeen at the time. Scott had a big dream, to be a rich writer and he wanted Zelda to join him on this ride of a lifetime. Taking a chance on him, their life soon became a whirlwind of glamour and fame. Z is a fictionalised account of Zelda Fitzgerald and her life with the dashing F. Scott Fitzgerald who everyone wants to meet.

This Side of Paradise (1920)

The novel starts off with Zelda just shy of her 18th birthday, when she meets Scott, a man with big dreams and unlike all the others. The novel The Romantic Egotist was rejected multiple times and almost killed Scott’s dreams, but it was Zelda who kept pushing him to try again. Their attraction blossoms quickly and soon they find themselves engaged. Scott goes off to try and makes a life for them; Zelda doesn’t take too kindly to waiting and with a bit of pushing they are married. Just a little after This Side of Paradise is released with great success. The popularity of this novel turns them into celebrities; everyone wanted to get to know this new author and his scandalous wife.

The Beautiful and Damned (1922)

Life is good with their new found fame for this newlywed couple, but both are passionate people and slowly this started to cause issues. Firstly with the success of Sinclair Lewis’ novel Main Street, the popularity of This Side of Paradise fadeds quickly and soon this couple found themselves struggling to make ends meet. With all the short stories and  eventually the release of The Beautiful and Damned, which was largely based on their marriage, they were able to get back to living beyond their means.

The Great Gatsby (1925)

Scott began working on a new novel, which he was very passionate about. So passionate in fact that their marriage suffered again and Zelda planned on leaving. With a lot of beginning she eventually stayed and Scott continued to work on the novel that would eventually become The Great Gatsby. He was so passionate about what this novel would become, he could envision what was wrong with the drafts and what needed to be fixed to make it work, when it was released with mixed results, it really hurt him.

Save Me the Waltz (1932)

When Scott became friends with Ernest Hemingway, he started to spend most of his time with him. Scott loved truly loved Hemingway (platonically presumably) and with all the time he spent with him, Zelda and their daughter Scotty felt left out. Due to either boredom or isolation, Zelda’s behaviour became increasingly erratic and eventually she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Her novel Save Me the Waltz is a semi autobiographical account of her life and marriage.

Tender Is the Night (1934)

The failure of Save Me the Waltz, and her husband’s scornful criticism of her book by calling it “plagiaristic” and her a “third-rate” writer crushed her spirits and she never wrote creatively again. Scott became an increasingly heavy drinker, which caused many health problems for him as well, but while Zelda was hospitalised, he managed to write Tender is the Night, a book about the rise and fall of a promising young psychoanalyst and his wife (who was also his patient). These were the darkest years of their lives together and this was reflected in this novel.

The Love of the Last Tycoon (1941)

Zelda found out her husband had died of a heart attack from her parents, first thinking something was wrong with Scotty. His death, his legacy and her life afterwards were never really explored in this book. We do know that they were in debt when he died and most of his life insurance went towards covering those costs. His unfinished novel The Love of the Last Tycoon was completed by his friend, the literary critic, Edmund Wilson, based on the notes Scott had written but this wasn’t explored either.

I was really interested in reading about Zelda Fitzgerald after seeing Alison Pill’s brief performance of her in Midnight in Paris. I was more interested in her life than his; she seemed like a real fiery person and Z does really explore the first part of her life really well. The major problem I had was that I didn’t really find out enough about the struggles they faced from the 1930’s onwards. The bulk of the book takes place in the 1920’s and then really skips over their marriage and health issues. It completely missed life after his death all together.

I also had issues with the writing style, it just felt too modern and didn’t feel like how a person would talk in the 1920’s. To put it in perspective in the author notes at the end Therese Anne Fowler used the terms “Team Scott” and “Team Zelda” and the novel felt it was using modern phrases like this as well. While it was an interesting look at their lives, I can’t help wonder how much is actually true; fictionalised accounts of historical events are great but sometimes you need to know when creative licensing is in effect. I might have to read the biography Zelda by Nancy Milford and Save Me the Waltz to really know more about her life. I’m not sure why learning more about her life is more important than his life, but I’m just going to go with it.

Z is a great look at the quintessential “Flapper” of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties but for me I wanted more of the other stuff. Glamour and Fame do have their hardships but it looks like they are nothing compared to what happened next. I really enjoyed learning about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald; they had an interesting life and I know there was so much to cover. I know more about their lives than I thought I would and while I’m still not sure how much is true, it’s enough to make me want to continue exploring; right after I read every novel written by the Fitzgerald’s as well as Main Street by Sinclair Lewis.


Truth by Peter Temple

Posted February 19, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Crime / 0 Comments

Truth by Peter TempleTitle: Truth (Goodreads)
Author: Peter Temple
Published: Text, 2009
Pages: 287
Genres: Crime, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository
(or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Inspector Stephen Villani stands in a luxury apartment, a young woman dead in the bath. He finds certainties of his life crumbling after the discovery of this murder. His four months as the acting head of the Victoria Police homicide squad have not gone well; first, two Aboriginal teenagers are shot dead and there is also no progress on the killing of a man in front of his daughter. A novel about murder, corruption, treachery and ultimately the Truth.

I didn’t realise this was the sequel to The Broken Shore when I started this novel but seeing Inspector Stephen Villani was only a minor character in the first book I thought it was ok to continue. But I wonder if I should have read them in order, because Truth never really clicked with me.

The novel was very difficult to read and hold my attention; the flashbacks, the sheer amount of characters and attempts at complexity made it really difficult to know what is what in this novel. It tried to be a gritty police procedural with some political aspects but never really seemed to click. While the main plot could have worked well, the flashbacks and cast size turned this book into a difficult book.

I’m surprised this book won the Miles Franklin award; I know a lot of people that loved The Broken Shore and hated this book so I can’t help but wonder if this book won based on the love of its predecessor. It was interesting to see Peter Temple’s character Jack Irish making an appearance in the book.

I just don’t see the appeal to this book but it wasn’t the writing style that made this book so hard to read. While this is the first Peter Temple book I’ve read, I can see why he is one of Australia’s better crime writers. I will try The Broken Shore sometime just to see why one was so loved and this one was so hated.


Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Posted February 14, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Classic / 0 Comments

Les Misérables by Victor HugoTitle: Les Misérables (Goodreads)
Author: Victor Hugo
Translator: Lee Fahnestock, Norman MacAfee
Published: Signet, 1862
Pages: 1463
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

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This is the story of Jean Valjean, a man seeking redemption after serving nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving relatives. When everyone else turns their back on him, it was a Bishop that showed him immense kindness and inspires him to do the same to everyone else. He finds him eventually appointed mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer but then back on the run hunted by police inspector named Javert.

That is a very brief outline of what this book is about, as the book is about 1400 pages.  If I tried to go into more detail it could be too big for a one paragraph synopsis, but I think people are familiar enough with this novel to know the basic plot of this book. I decided to read the book because of the recent adaption; yes I know it was an adaptation of the musical but I still wanted to read the book first so I’d have a better understanding of the plot.

This novel covers some very interesting topics from the nature of the law and the idea of grace, politics, justice, romance and moral philosophy. All this weaved into the plot but then you find yourself reading huge chunks of text outlining the battle of Waterloo, religion, the construction of the Paris sewers and urban design of Paris. These digressions really threw me off with the book and honestly think that if the editor removed them, the book would have been more accessible and readable.

There is a lot to offer within the book and I would say I could easily read it again (not now but in the future) and explore the sense of compassion and love that is in this book. It’s a heart breaking story but I will admit I cried more in the adaptation than I did in the book. I know I haven’t mentioned the French Revolution which is a huge part of this book, but it really is hard to review a book that is so packed with ideas and still cover the plot points as well.

While this book did take a while to get through and at times I was struggling to enjoy it. In the end I found this to be worth the journey. Now that I’ve also seen the most recent movie adaptation I would probably recommend people just watch that. But if you are interested in digesting a book this size and exploring the ideas it raises or you just love to read great literature then make sure Les Misérables is on your to-read list.


One for the Books by Joe Queenan

Posted February 13, 2013 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

One for the Books by Joe QueenanTitle: One for the Books (Goodreads)
Author: Joe Queenan
Published: Viking, 2012
Pages: 256
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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Joe Queenan is a humourist, critic and author from Philadelphia who become an avid reader as a means of escape from a young age. One for the Books is a memoir where Queenan tries to come to terms with his eccentric reading style.  Joe Queenan is not your typical reader, and One for the Books is not your typical book about books.

 Joe Queenan is a very odd and particular reader, he knows what he likes and this book is not really humorous but more self-deprecating. I thought I was a bitter and jaded person but Queenan puts me to shame, throughout the book it feels like he will never be satisfied and will always be a cranky reader. Even some of his opinions towards books and book collecting seem outlandish and weird for a reader like me but it works for him and you can’t really argue with that.

I was looking forward to reading about someone who is a grump with a passion for book and while this was explored in this book, I think he took it too far sometimes. I know it is his personal opinions but the way he talked about hating people giving him books or even recommending books to him was just a little too far; he is old and set in his ways but I tend to think a little kindness towards others, especially when giving you a gift isn’t too much to ask for.

Joe Queenan is like that weird relative that everyone has; not sure what he is thinking, always set in his ways and you don’t want to get him drunk. This book is really interesting and I enjoyed his approach to this book. While his opinions differ from my own in some aspects, he really does love reading and this doesn’t always come through in the book but you know it is there.

One for the Books is really different to any other book related memoir I’ve read and that is what makes it so interesting. If you don’t want to read about a grumpy old man’s opinions towards reading then you don’t want to read this book. If you want something different then give it ago. I’m happy to have read this book; it makes me feel almost normal when it comes to my opinions on reading and books.