I found All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld on one of those prize-winning book lists. They are what I go to as a source of reference when I find myself at a loss as to what to read next. All the Birds, Singing is the winner of the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award.
It is about a young Australian woman living on her small sheep farm on an island off the British coast. Jake Whyte likes to live in isolation and does her best to avoid mingling with the local population. As we get to know her past, it is hard to blame her for this. Her only companion is a sheepdog called Dog. I think the author is trying to signify Jake is trying to be free of attachment. Unfortunately for Jake, her sheep are turning up dead.
The second chapter is set in a sheep station in Australia, where Jake works as a shearer. The chapters switch between Britain and Australia. But it takes a while to for the reader’s mind to adjust to the switches in geography. The chapters set in Britain portray Jake’s life and her determination to manage and care for her sheep. We learn how Jake ends up as a shearer, why she came to Britain and how she got scars on her back. Wyld is very good at feeding minuscule hints and building tension to keep the readers yearning for an ultimate conclusion. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t find the end very satisfactory. But enough is already revealed so that readers know what the characters want is unlikely to happen. Perhaps there is a hint that Jake learns how to trust again but I felt something was left unfinished. Reading this you expect find a hearty meal at the end only to find it’s just salad without even dressing. There is showing off of some experimenting with tense but that didn’t woo me.
I understood from the beginning, All the Birds, Singing was meant as a bleak, sad story but I expected a hint of happiness by the finale. Instead it seems to be a revelation of a multitude of tragedies. Sometimes as it is narrated in the first person by Jake, you wonder if she is mentally unhinged. It wouldn’t be surprising given how traumatic a life she lived. She notices things other people don’t see and feels fears people around her don’t understand. Lots of practical things seem to have been skipped over too – while that makes for great viewing in a movie, it makes holes in a book.
Read this review for a more positive perspective.
I first encountered the The French Lieutenant’s Woman after finishing The Collector by John Fowles but had to return it to the library before I had the chance to finish. I gave it another go and was able to make it to the end of the book before it was time for overdue notices!
Sarah Woodruff is a governess who is looked upon with contempt by the English community of Lyme Regis due to falling for a French naval officer who left her behind after he allegedly ‘ruined‘ her. In spite of her pious employer’s warnings, she walks by the cliffs pining for her lost love. Meanwhile Charles Smithson is a Victorian gentleman engaged to Ernestina , the daughter of a wealthy tradesman who is residing with her aunt Tranter in Lyme Regis. After Charles accidentally stumbles across Sarah, he becomes fascinated by her history and tries to convince her to go to London where her tale of scandal is less likely to be outrageous. But Sarah is not amenable to that particular course of action and asks Charles to compromise himself by meeting her in secret in order to give her emotional support while pretending she lacks the will to alter her life. During the course of this meetings, Charles begins to find himself falling for her despite warnings from her doctor that Sarah’s mind is not in the best state and may drag others down with her.
You could be forgiven for thinking this is a tragic melodrama but now the story starts to veer off in a different track as the narrator begins to intervene in the novel and supplies three possible endings. Each offers a possible ending for Charles’s pursuit of Sarah: the first ends with Charles married to Ernestina without him explaining the details of his meetings with Sarah, the second with a recreation of a relationship with Sarah which hints of a future reconciliation, and the third with Charles ending partnerless deprived of both Ernestina and Sarah. The narrator explains the fairest way to end The French Lieutenant’s Woman is to present all the ways in which it could possibly end.
I think The French Lieutenant’s Woman is really clever and ingenious with all the interpretations given to the reader to finally conclude. But I feel it also shows the limitations of plot devices and how much authors are constricted by the rules governing writing. There are few authors who pushed through that boundary and Fowles was one of the early ones.
In James Dashner’s post-apocalyptic novel, The Maze Runner, the protagonist Thomas finds himself in the Glade without any memories of his past apart from his name together with a community of boys who have made it their home. The Glade is surrounded by a maze out of which an escape has not been found. At night, mechanical creatures called Grievers roam around the maze and attack any boy who has not made it beyond the gates after sunset. A new boy usually appears in an elevator called The Box once a month but after Thomas there is another delivery on the second day, a comatose girl, the first girl to ever appear in the maze. Afterwards they are warned there will be no more deliveries of anyone.
Each of the boys have roles in their community and Thomas finds himself yearning to be a Runner. Runners are required to explore and decode the maze while escaping Grievers who are informed by spies called Beetle Blades belonging to WICKED. They also keep Maps to preserve patterns as the maze changes everyday. There are also Builders, Baggers, Track-hoes, Med-jacks and Sloppers. Try and guess what those careers might entail? Thomas proves himself to the Keeper of the Runners and makes some friends and also enemies after a Gathering is called to discuss his brave but foolhardy, rule-breaking actions.
After purposefully subjecting himself to injury, Thomas finds out a way to recover some lost memories. However he finds the solution to the maze is not the most pleasant of prospects for their future. I’ve since found out that Thomas’s story continues on in The Scorch Trials and is finally resolved in The Death Cure. Perhaps the upcoming movie version might amalgamate all 3 books into 2-hours? Although I’ve heard the movie has made some significant differences to major plot points.
As for my thoughts, I initially found The Maze Runner a little slow and irritating because the boys in the Glade speak in their own dialect using words like Greenie, klunk and shuck-face. However it is fairly easy to get into the swing of it in a couple of chapters because you are purposefully fed so little information that you keep turning the pages to find out how the kids ended up in the maze. The writing is quite simple to read but is captivating enough for young adult fiction. This is a very plot based book and not much depth is felt with the characters apart from Thomas and his best mate in the Glade, Chuck.
Shiver is the very first novel written by Nikki Gemmell, the author of very controversial book, The Bride Stripped Bare. Although Shiver is described as a novel, it seems autobiographical given her inspiration for writing the story came from her own personal experiences.
We are introduced to Fin, a radio journalist who works the police beat for the early morning shift. When an opportunity arises to undertake an observatory expedition to Antarctica, she volunteers. In real life, Nikki Gemmell went to Antarctica to cover a scientific expedition, courtesy of radio station Triple J. In the southernmost continent, she crosses a boundary of journalism by falling for someone she interviews. Guess what happens in Shiver? There isn’t much to read between the lines. But falling in love comes at a cost in both the real and fictional worlds and so we are fed the saccharine but trite parable of not giving up and following your heart.
The plot although it has potential felt rather dull. The characterisation of the all the different men in Antarctica was too brief because I felt a new potential suitor appeared every 15 pages and and nothing about their personalities comes through the narration apart from the fact sexism is rampant and mostly tolerated. I will admit though she has a knack for writing imagery in poetic and lyrical prose. However that can be easily be disillusioned by sentences like, ” I’ve been in one of these in Bass Strait, and a bag of vomit was passed from person to person, and there was vomit on vomit” and “I’ve done one very large **** and it’s not going anywhere. I can see bits of my dinner from last night in it”. So while I was interested in her portrayal of landscape, I found her descriptions of human interaction and functions jarring. I wondered if the beauty in prose about landscape and the grossness in prose about human needs was purposefully done but I’m doubtful about that interpretation of Shiver.
Lena has now become a fully-fledged member of the resistance and is trusted to take on roles that require leadership skills. The rebellion in Pandemonium was only a stirring of unrest. Now a full-scale revolution is underway and the government can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the protests of the resistance fighters. This means the government starts to look at the Wilds as a threat to their order and structure and it ceases to be a safe haven. Regulators come past the border to combat the resistance head on. While the former have strength in numbers, the latter know how to put up a fight that does not require assistance from bombing planes.
While Lena makes a stand with the resistance, we also learn of the fate of Hana – Lena’s best friend from Delirium. From Hana’s perspective, we learn she is the fiancee of the mayor’s son, Fred Hargrove, her assigned partner. Hana quickly learns Fred is not what he appears to be on the surface and takes refuge in helping Grace, Lena’s cousin. What Lena and Hana don’t know is that their stories are going to collide.
What I haven’t pinpointed in the above plot is the love triangle of Julian-Lena-Alex. I think the entry of Coral as a nemesis for Alex gave the story a bit more bite but it was obvious Alex was still having feelings for Lena even if she was not able to see that. I felt sad for Julian because he quickly adapted to the Wilds after being torn from the life he had known but was only a source of secondary comfort for Lena. The decision she made to hook up with Julian in Pandemonium after Alex sacrificed himself for her was truly baffling but it did allow room for intense, seriously emotional cliffhangers.
The end felt somewhat curtailed but ultimately the series seems to have achieved its purpose with its depicted culmination of events.
Emotionally distraught at losing Alex and trying to put her nightmares behind her, Lena puts her heart and soul into helping the resistance group that rescued her by infiltrating the protest group DFA – Deliria Free America. The mascot of the group is Julian Fineman, the protest group leader’s son, who is willing to martyr himself for the cause. Lena’s assigned job is to keep an eye on Julian but the resulting adventures after they are captured by Scavengers creates a shift in the dynamic of the relationship between them. So when a place of shelter is raided before they make it to safety, Lena makes the decision to rescue Julian rather than subject him to the cure which could potentially kill him. In this story, Lena does for Julian what Alex did for her.
Later on Lena learns there were things that played out which were planned for her but realises she wasn’t taken into confidence about them. While she feels betrayed and used, she ultimately receives support she needs when she makes a strategic plan of her own. She is also rescued by a freedom fighter in the top ranks with whom she has a connection. But before she can even come to terms with that discovery, the final chapter brings with it a massive twist in the tale. So all I can say is Requiem will be heart-wrenching.
I think the transformation of Lena from insecure, disgruntled, whiny Cinderella to assertive and capable character makes Pandemonium quite an interesting book to read. It is easy to fail to see that chapters shift in perspective between past and present. I did this so I was a confused for a while with the first few chapters. Because her characters have been established, Pandemonium is directed more by action rather than governed by emotions of characters but I felt that made the built world more concrete.
I heard about this series in the books sections of an anime forum I tend to visit occasionally. The plot reminded me of Hunger Games and Divergent which I had liked so I decided to give Delirium a chance as well. Delirium was written by Lauren Oliver, who wrote Before I Fall, which is about death. She has claimed she wrote the Delirium series because she wanted to write about the concept of love as a disease and the idea came to her while watching a report on a pandemic.
We learn civilisation is segmented to areas which had survived bombings of the past and travel between cities is restricted. Electric fences enclose the population to protect them from people who have escaped without undergoing the procedure for the cure – the cure which prevents all over the age of eighteen contracting amor deliria nervosa which used to be called love. Beyond the perimeters of the fencing is the unregulated territory known as the Wilds.
The established government teaches, through the Book of Shhh, love is a disease often referred to as “the deliria”. For citizens over 18, the surgical cure for the deliria is compulsory. The fate for those that fail it or even families with a connection to someone uncured are not pleasant. The main character in the story, Lena Haloway, is eagerly awaiting the cure so she can forget the pain of her past and move on. Then she meets Alex, an Invalid (a name given to people who have not taken the cure and who live in the Wilds) who is part of the resistance and succumbs to the symptoms of the deliria herself. Alex starts to shows her that love is beautiful and erases her initial reluctance and doubts.
When Alex suggests a means of escaping the cure by going to the Wilds, Lena undergoes some inner turmoil at the thought of leaving some close friendships but ultimately finds the idea not unpalatable. Unfortunately for the couple, someone has informed the regulators about plans they have made for the impending flight and Lena is trapped against her will so she can be cured early. At the last moment, her best friend, her little cousin and Alex all contribute to her rescue .
Alex and Lena come to the borders of the electric fencing but alerts have been put out regarding their attempted escape. As a result, only one of them can make it into the Wilds. But Lena’s tale isn’t over yet because it continues on in book two of the trilogy Pandemonium.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is my newly assigned book club read. Love finds you is the defining message in this marvellous tale full of hilarity which is narrated by the character of Don Tillman.
Don Tillman is an awkward and socially incompetent genetics university professor who decides to get married. Unfortunately he is extremely fussy and designs a sixteen-page questionnaire to eliminate undesirable candidates from the get go. This way he can ensure his potential wife is not a barmaid, a smoker or drinker and is always punctual.
Rosie Jarman is asked out by Don Tillman and she accepts. He finds out to his chagrin she fits all his undesirable criteria. To gently let her down, he offers to assist Rosie in finding out who is her biological father. After all, he does have genetics lab facilities at his disposal.
While he spends time with Rosie, Don starts to find out the nuances of social cues and how to fit in properly. He starts to see how accepting Rosie has been while he has been discriminating. He even manages to get a second date for the first time in his life and avoid ice-cream taste issues. Perhaps Rosie Jarman fills the Wife Project candidate criteria after all?
We also are given insight into the life of Don’s best friend, Gene. His project is to sleep with one woman from every country in the world. Don’s understanding of social constructs or lack of it hinders him from understanding Gene is a jerk. Exposure to Rosie changes the way he observes the world and reacts to it.
In the Rosie Project, Don Tillman ultimately learns love is a master that you can’t fight with objectivity because it can deprive one of reason when it chooses to find you.
Kate Forsyth intrigued me once with her spellbinding retelling of Rapunzel in Bitter Greens. When I saw she authored The Wild Girl, I did not hesitate. This time, she explores the story of Dortchen Wild who is credited as having told many of the fairy tales belonging to the collection of the Brothers Grimm.
Set against the backdrop of the German kingdom of Hessen-Kassel in the early nineteenth century, we learn about boy next door Dortchen fell in love with the first time she saw him, her best friend’s brother, the poor but handsome scholar Wilhelm Grimm, who has returned from Marburg. War interferes in their newly budding romance because Napoleon’s army conquers their kingdom, takes over the palace of the Kurfürst and begins an oppressive regime setting French decrees. So the Grimm brothers embark on a mission to preserve the folk tales of their heritage and publish them in a book.
Dortchen, having grown up in the care of Old Marie, knows several beautiful old stories. These include Hansel and Gretel, The Frog King, All Kinds of Fur and Six Swans. She has to tell them to Wilhelm in secret as her tyrannical father opposes her plans to get married to Wilhelm and as the story progresses we learn it is for the darkest of reasons. Although their ardour deepens, Dortchen has to guard a dark secret but Wilhelm remains mostly oblivious even when she tells him the truth in the guise of a story. For Dortchen, as time passes and all of her sisters find husbands, marriage to Wilhelm seems an unlikely outcome.
Does this teller of fairy tales who has her heart trampled and spirit wounded get her happy ending? You’ll have to read The Wild Girl to find out. This may be a darker forbidden love story but both the protagonists have better fates than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
The Light Between Oceans was a heartbreaking story about the consequences of a momentous decision made in the throes of grief and haste. Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper living on Janus, a remote island off the West Coast of Australia together with his wife Isabel. He harbours Lucy, a baby who washed up on to the shores of the island in a boat, because of guilt over his wife’s miscarriage. However when a chance encounter with the mother of the child preys on his conscience, he can no longer keep silent. When his wife learns of his betrayal, they drift apart while Lucy tries to acclimatise herself to the stranger who keeps calling her Grace and makes a claim that tears the fabric of existence she has hitherto known.
The decision the couple makes to pass the child off as their own has heartbreaking results. Lies quickly unravel, unflattering truths come to light and a lot of pain and hurt is felt. In the middle of this, Lucy navigates trying to find her true identity while locked in a battle of two mothers vying for her custody, one with a legal claim who had never seen her since she was a baby and one with no legal claim but one who raised her in her formative years. M.L. Stedman’s poignant, riveting novel received several literary accolades and awards and since then Hollywood rights have been acquired for film production by Dreamworks.
Three characters stood out to me in this novel because of the internal conflicts each faced and weathered. Isabel struggles to cope with the loss of her baby but the arrival of Lucy changes her life but by the time she is willing to admit the truth, it is too late to not hurt anyone which nearly made a villain out of her to me due to her selfish desires. Meanwhile Tom is guilt-ridden because he feels survivor’s guilt after escaping physically unscathed from the war. This is why he goes against his straight-laced ethics when he decides to omit details in his logbook to keep Isabel happy. Hannah is sympathetic as the mother who thought her child was literally dead but has to fight an uphill battle to convince Lucy of the truth of the situation. The Light Between Oceans plot is complex as it encompasses a moral dilemma and it is possible to be empathetic to both the female leads but as the story unfolds, it shows justice for one party can lead to tragic loss for the other party. The conclusion however just might surprise you.