The Trespasser

06/05/2017 at 12:09 PM (Books, Mystery, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

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This was my first experience reading Tana French and my negative reaction to it is attributable to a mistake on my part. Had I been introduced to the main detective earlier in her Dublin Murder Squad book series, I might have found her sympathetic. However, this was a pick up from a local bookshop after reading the following blurb.

Being on the Murder squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she’s getting close to the breaking point.

Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers’ quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blond, pretty, groomed to a shine, and dead in her catalogue-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner. There’s nothing unusual about her—except that Antoinette’s seen her somewhere before.

And that her death won’t stay in its neat by-numbers box. Other detectives are trying to push Antoinette and Steve into arresting Aislinn’s boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy figure at the end of Antoinette’s road. Aislinn’s friend is hinting that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And everything they find out about Aislinn takes her further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be.

Antoinette knows the harassment has turned her paranoid, but she can’t tell just how far gone she is. Is this case another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?”

Due to my lack of research into reviews of this book and expectations of fast-paced story, when I realised it was the reverse I found the descriptions of police procedural rather tedious because it seemed to border on the excessive. I enjoyed her writing and her characterisation was very well done but personally I think this book probably didn’t make for a very good stand-alone read. The mystery was interesting enough in its individualistic way but the paranoia exhibited by Detective Conway grated on my nerves. My favourite part was when a certain arrogant character got his comeuppance from an unexpected ally but I disliked the brow beating of the primary suspect in the murder mystery. I was coming in expecting a psychological thriller so I was disappointed despite the motivations of the murder victim.

All I can say is if you are a Gone Girl fan, don’t go for this type of book. It’s not the type of psychological thriller you are looking for. For me this particular reviewer’s assessment of The Trespasser is spot on. For a positive perspective on the book, try this review.

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Shiver

09/05/2014 at 11:08 AM (Books) (, , , , )

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.

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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.

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On the Jellicoe Road

07/15/2014 at 12:11 PM (Books) (, , , , , )

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta is a young adult novel about Taylor Markham, who is elected as the leader of the boarders at Jellicoe School. Although not a popular choice, the fact  she lived at the school for most of her life gives her an edge over the competition. While the departing leaders were concerned with protecting their established boundaries in the annual territory wars from the Cadets and Townies, Taylor is preoccupied with a hermit who whispered in her ear, a prayer tree which means a lot to her sincere friend Raffaela and the Brigadier who brought her back when as a junior she ran away with Jonah Griggs, new leader of the Cadets. For Taylor, the answers to the mystery of her past lies in the disappearance of Helen, the person who found her. The only clue is an unfinished manuscript about five people who had their lives collide on the Jellicoe road twenty years ago.

On the Jellicoe Road Book Cover

Soon as I turn the initial pages, I am introduced to something called territory wars between the Boarders, Townies and Cadets. This becomes confusing. Student wars in boarding school over land use? I am an adult and I am confused. Luckily I kept on persevering and was rewarded for my tenacity. The disjointed threads of narrative become interconnected to resolve why Taylor’s mother abandoned her on the Jellicoe road when she was 11 years old, the point of the territory wars, the significance of the hermit, the relevance of the prayer tree, the story of the Brigadier and Taylor’s history with Jonah Griggs in evocative prose. To be honest, I can’t say more about what happens without giving major plot details away but suffice it to say Taylor finds answers. To get through the first part, I recommend a dose of patience but I can promise it gets better rather than worse.

So the author on her blog has revealed On the Jellicoe Road is going to be adapted into a film. Not too surprising for a novel that won the Michael L Printz award. It is being directed by Kate Woods, who did the same for Melina Marchetta’s novel Looking for Alibrandi.

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The Diary of a Young Girl

07/06/2014 at 1:21 PM (Books, Classics, Inspired) (, , , , )

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

I recently finished reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. The diary was a birthday present given to Anne. She decides to make the diary her trusted confidant to whom she spills her innermost thoughts and addresses it as ‘Dear Kitty’. Her diary is full of lively, imaginative prose and brings the personalities of the residents of the Secret Annexe to life. It is miracle her diary survived confiscation by the Gestapo.

When the Nazis occupied Holland in 1942, Anne was a 13-year-old girl of Jewish descent who was persecuted into fleeing her home and going into hiding along with her family and another family. For two years until their location was betrayed, her family resided in the secret annexe compartment of Anne’s father’s office building. In her diary, Anne writes about this experience and her daily conflicts with the imposed living conditions in tight quarters, the fear of discovery and the penalty of death. Despite this, she also talks about typical problems faced by teenagers – waging battles of will with her parents, having romances with boys and the struggle of keeping up with her clever, intelligent older sister Margot. In the grand scheme of life, it is sad to learn this budding writer’s demise was a result of the Holocaust. While her mention of her family is sparse in the early entries, this changes after her confinement. Through her diary, Anne Frank portrays a compelling, evocative and poignant story on bravery and resourcefulness in the face of danger.

Unfortunately the only family member to survive the Nazi occupation was Otto Frank, Anne’s father. Luckily he was able to rescue her diary and bring it worldwide attention. Anne says in her diary “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”. In a sad roundabout way, her wish was fulfilled. I think the simple and plain language will make this an easy text for the majority of readers as long as they are able to keep in mind this was a personal diary and not a work of imagination.

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In Search of a Distant Voice

04/09/2012 at 8:40 AM (Books, Fable, Mystery, Romance) (, , , , )

I picked up this book by chance. It was the extra book you toss in your library bag when you are running short of good selections. All the books I wanted were on reserve so my last-minute choice turned out to be a surprisingly good read. Apart from Harry Potter and LOTR, I’m not a fan of anything close to science fiction (exception being Jules Verne) or fantasy.

In Search of a Distant Voice Book Cover

Written by Taichi Yamada, In Search of a Distant Voice has a grim start with foreboding overtones. The main character, an immigration enforcement official by the name of Kasama Tsuneo, has to track down some Indian “illegals” without visas in a graveyard. Subtle references are made to his dark past in Portland, Oregon which gives the impression that there is a secret to unravel which drives the plot along for a while. It is made clear that he wants to put the past behind him and be ordinary. He was an illegal in the US himself so the job he has in Japan bothers his conscience. In the course of his work, something unusual happens – he gets overtaken by a “force of erotic pleasure” while he is about to capture his quarry in the graveyard and hears a woman’s voice in his head. I must admit that took me by surprise.

It seems some sort of telepathic connection has occurred between the mystery woman and Tsuneo. Then it starts getting bizarre but Yamada does a good job of persuading the reader to stick around to find out who the woman may be. Meanwhile Tsuneo tries to figure out whether he is crazy or if this woman actually exists and how such an occurrence can happen. In description, it sounds silly and unfathomable but the handling of punchy dialogue, prose and skillful interweaving of side plots such as an arranged marriage and the revelation of the secret bothering Tsuneo intrigues a reader enough to continue to the end. The narrative voice also switches between subjects and tenses in a clever enough way to make the content of the book seem distinctive in style since it could be either one or all of the following: a story about truth, a story about repentance or in the most basic sense, a ghost story. But when we reach the end, we are as illuminated by the identity of the woman as when we began.

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Breath

11/22/2011 at 1:33 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Inspired, Nostalgia) (, , , , , , )

In Breath by Tim Winton, we have a gripping tale that is simple and profound in the topics it tackles – adolescence, the need for heart-pounding and risk-filled excitement, a yearning to outshine and outdo the competition and how old wounds affect the passage of life as time passes. This book which is mostly about the friendship between two boys and their daring surfing exploits is melodic in its use of written language and deserved the Miles Franklin Literary Award it won in 2009. As an immigrant Melburnian, surf culture is alien to me but as Winton paints such a vivid verbal picture of that world, and how the ocean could be both enthralling and toxic, Breath is a captivating read.

Book Cover of Tim Winton's Breath

 

The most touching moment was when or coming of age protagonist had to admit that he was ‘ordinary’ after all. You realise it is a melancholy book as the trajectory of events clues you in that this is no flowery ode. Since it’s structured from the start as a reflection on past events, you can’t help but feel for Bruce Pike, the main character and later on his love interest. It did surprise me that the amount of time spent in learning about his present was very miniscule.

Set in Western Australia where surfing beaches abound, Breath gave me enjoyment in reading about the landscape. Sometimes authors overdo it to the point that it becomes a pain to read but Winton avoids relying on description and infuses his tale with enough dialogue and dramatic tension to sustain interest. You need to realise beneath the story surface story evoking nostalgia, there are themes such as addiction, dreams vs reality and growing old integrated into the plot as an undercurrent.

 

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Books Worth Losing Sleep Over…

09/07/2010 at 12:43 PM (Books) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

So in the middle of volunteering for MWF 2010, where I got to hug Bryce Courtenay at The Wheeler Centre, take photographs for Eduardo Antonio Parra at ACMI and assist Terry Denton with running illustration workshops at Birrarung Marr, I managed to read five books. When I begin to read , I can’t be bothered to eat or sleep and even find the necessity of basic bodily functions annoying so I generally end up fueling myself with endless cups of caffeine-laced coffee and also water when dehydration seems imminent which is why I can probably finish a 800 page novel in a couple of days.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

Book Cover

This second novel by the author of best-selling novel, The Kite Runner, explores the war landscape in Afghanistan this time through the eyes of two female protagonists, Mariam and Laila. It is a tragic, depressing and heart-wrenching story of grim desolation and wasted potential with vivid, compelling characters placed in circumstances beyond their control. If you can stomach stories of martyrdom and sacrifice, it is worth reading at least for the glimpse of daily life in Kabul, prior to and during the harsh regime of the Taliban.

Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat Pray Love

Exploring three countries beginning with the letter I (Italy, India and Indonesia), Elizabeth Gilbert recounts how she recovers from depression after going through a complicated divorce in New York. In Italy she spends time eating food, locating the best meals in town from grocers, fishmongers and fruit and vegetable vendors. Next in an ashram in India, she harnesses the power of meditation drawn from different religions and uses it to find peace within herself. Then in Indonesia where she gives her company to an old medicine man, she finds someone to love. If you like stories that celebrate free spirit and encourage pursuing that unrelenting need for change , this is your oyster.

The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown


The next thriller Robert Langdon finds himself mixed up in has author Dan Brown getting his readers bogged down into a theological adventure involving the history of the Freemasons. Failing to double-check an invitation to speak at the U.S. Capitol Building by someone claiming to be a colleague of his friend, Peter Solomon,  has him suddenly thrust into a clandestine world of mystery locations, forgotten lore and well-kept secrets in pursuit of an all-encompassing truth. Unfortunately he has to do this code-breaking business while battling against a deadly villain whose identity is unfortunately far too predictable.

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

My first impression of this book was “my god, what a lot of sex and cunnilingus!”. Nevertheless I suppose if your husband was the type that disappeared in sporadic bursts either into the past or into the future and you had no guarantee of  his return, you would probably make the most of intimate moments.Science fiction is something I usually fiercely detest unless it is that of a supernatural bent, so as an extension of the genre I rather enjoyed this romance between Henry De Tamble, the librarian and Clare Abshire, the artist, as it was refreshingly different.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

Oskar Schell, a nine-year-old amateur inventor, jewelry designer, astrophysicist, tambourine player and pacifist searches New York for the lock that will match a mysterious key in an envelope with the word “Black” on it left by his late father who was a victim of the September 11 attack. His grandparents’ tale of woe  which centers on the Dresden firebombing intertwines with the quest which drives the plot. The narrative I found to be moving without being cheaply sentimental but the typographical stunts and gimmicks like the two page numerical code soliloquy while daring kind of annoyed and distracted me from its essence.

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Kane and Abel, The Bride Stripped Bare, Prey

01/31/2010 at 10:32 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , , )

Okay I was a bit late in updating this so I’ll just give micro-reviews for three books I read last week. Instead of going for the completely new I opted for some oldies that are not quite cult classics.

Kane and Abel Book Cover

Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer: This was an exhilarating read from start to finish. The complicated tangle of love, lies and deceit culminates in tragedy. When you discover the truth, the ending is utterly heartbreaking even if predictable.

The Bride Stripped Bare

The Bride Stripped Bare by Anonymous. (or Nikki Gemmell if you want to be pedantic about it). This particular tale of  love, lust and adultery stupefies with its confounding and mysterious finale.

Prey

Prey by Michael Crichton. I am usually not a fan of science fiction but this was written in an enticing  way with the house-husband business and supermarket nappy discussions paralelling the looming threat of an evolving nano-virus so it works well as a futuristic thriller.

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