The Boat by Nam Le


This book had been receiving such good reviews, I couldn't help myself but purchase it, particularly as it is the debut book from an Australian author, Nam Le. I was in a reading slump when I started it, and I am so grateful to Le because this wonderful book was able to catch my attention and pull me out of it.

The Boat is a collection of short stories, which is certainly not something that I would normally read. These, however, are more special and unique than the short stories you would normally read. There are seven in total, and each is based in a different part of the world, including Australia, Tehran and Japan. It is not a collection of happy stories, but this makes them all the more special. They are all about human suffering and our reactions in the face of adversity. There are many poignant moments in amoungst all of the stories, almost bringing me to tears on several occasions. Le is really able to capture the pain that these characters are feeling and convey this to his readers very keenly.

Each individual story is cleverly crafted. They don't really feel like stand alone short stories, more like they are excerpts from a bigger narrative. Perhaps this is because they are all woven so tightly together that it almost feels like you are reading a novel rather than a collection of short stories. I think that what Le really conveys through this collection is that even our own individual stories are part of a bigger world narrative; we are all connected by our common experiences of suffering and pain and hope, even if the source of those experiences are different.

The first short story, "Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice" is a little autobiographical. It is written from the perspective from an aspiring author, Nam, who decides to write the story of how is father survived a massacre during the Vietnam War. In writing this short story he comments on people's attitude toward "ethic literature", and this discussion is quite thought provoking.

Le himself was smuggled to Australia by his parents on a fishing boat, making him what is colloquially (offensively) known in Australia as a 'boat person'. Indeed, the final story is about the harrowing journey of a group of 'boat people' coming to Australia in an old fishing boat, and the harshness of the picture that he paints is heart wrenching.

Although some of the stories were more compelling than others, this was a wonderful book that I would recommend to everyone, especially to people who (like me) are a little wary of the short story genre.

(Please note: This review was first posted at Book Lovers Inc. Head on over to check out a great blog)


Summary

What kind of read is this?
A quick read, but it's like reading a tapestry if you could do such a thing. Very international.

Do I recommend this book?
Yes. Even to people who don't like short stories. It is something different that it would be great for people to try.

Do I recommend buying this book?
I am glad that I have it on my shelf, but I accept that it won't be necessary for everyone to own it.


Star Rating

6.5 / 8

Brilliant, couldn't put it down.



Has anyone ever thought that a book might have sent them crazy? Seriously?



I just finished We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and I have been crying hysterically on the lounge for about 5 minutes after I turned the last page.

That image at the end of the book... if you have read it you know the scene I mean... it is burned into my mind.

I know it's just a book. It's not real. But I think I will be haunted by it and by that image forever. Haunted. How can I write a review of something that might have scarred me for life?

I think I am going to have bad dreams tonight.

Weekly Wrap Up

PAGE TURNERS

I celebrated Page Turners first birthday this week! Suzanne and Darlyn both won an Australian book in my birthday giveaway, and I have shared some of my firsts with everyone here at this post: My first time... (it's not what you're thinking).

I did two reviews this week: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling.

Big news here in Australia, Truth by Peter Temple won Australia's premier literary award, The Miles Franklin Literary Award. You can read about the controversy and the excitement here at this post.

Truth be told, it hasn't been a giant week here at Page Turners because I have gone back to work, and I haven't been able to use the computer much at home, which has limited my blogging time significantly. In the near future I will have reviews of Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin, The Boat by Nam Le, Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry Greenwood and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (which I expect to finish soon). So if you are interested in any of those titles make sure you check back in.

Also have a look at my meme, Book Beginnings on Friday!


ABOUT THE HOP

It is hosted at Crazy for Books. In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and find new book-related blogs that we may be missing out on! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs that they may not know existed!

Book Beginnings on Friday


Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence. (Thanks to Rose City Reader for inspiring this meme)

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

This book is extremely depressing. I have to admit that up front. But it is certainly food for thought.
"I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you."
I enjoy this beginning. It's is immediately clear that the book is going to be a conversation (if one sided) between two people through writing letters. They are obviously apart from each other, since she needs to be moved to write to him. And the sense of unease that permeates this book is there from the very beginning.

If you have been thinking about reading this books, I recommend that you pick it up.

What about you? Leave a link to your Book Beginnings on Friday post in the Mr Linky below.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Having already met Harry in the Philosopher's Stone, this is the book where we start to get stuck into a little bit more of Harry's history with Voldemort. I love the way that JK Rowling just sort of lets little bits and pieces of information come out over time, leaving the readers to piece together the puzzle.

In this book, there is a mysterious presence in the castle that is petrifying animals, ghosts and people left right and centre. Harry is hearing voices that no one else can, and we discover that he can speak Parseltongue (a fact that will become increasingly significant as the series progresses). Hermione is her usual preppy self, and Ron is his usual side kick self.

**SPOILER ALERT** Don't read on if you are planning on reading this book.

I don't know why, but this Harry Potter book is probably my least favourite of the series. There is just something about the story that doesn't grab me. Perhaps this sound a little crazy but maybe the story in this one is just a little bit too far fetched. I mean really, how can a giant snake have been going around the school corridors with no one noticing? What a co-incidence that it only happens to catch a few people off guard when no one else is around, and those people just happen to be suspiciously connected to Harry. That's what I mean by it being just a little bit too far fetched for me.

I also thought the way in which the finger was pointed at Hagrid was very clumsy. Him being in Knockturn Alley. The giant spider. Being expelled. It just felt very forced.

In hindsight, I think that JK Rowling was also trying to give clues about Ginny's involvement in the whole mystery, but again I don't think that it was well done.

There were things that I enjoyed; meeting Fawkes and Professor Lockheart are definitely highlights for me. And for as much as this was my least favourite, it is still part of my favourite series and deserves a high rating.

Summary

What kind of read is this?
Being a children's book, it is quick, easy and magical.

Do I recommend this book?
Without reservations.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Absolutely.

Star Rating

7 / 8

Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Recommend that you buy it.


Light's, Camera, Blog Action!

This is a special feature dedicated to spreading the word about the other great blogs that are out there! I have found a lot of great blogs through such features and I want to be able to share some book blog joy too!

If anyone would like to participate email me at pageturnersbooks@gmail.com.

Today I am featuring Patrick from The Literate Man. I have been having some lovely email exchanges with Patrick and his blog is worth checking out. I will describe it using mostly Patrick's own words: It's tagline is “Throwing men a life preserver in an ocean of chick lit.” The blog is focused on books by men, for men, or of interest to men, and they try to emphasize fiction over non-fiction (though we could be better about that). It is a blog that is trying to do it's small part to get men reading fiction again. A blog with a great purpose, especially when you think about the book blogosphere is mainly all women. I hope you take the time to really have a look at this blog.

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Tell us something about yourself


Though I’m an American, I love Australian literature (and I think your blog is wonderful). I read Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelly Gang a year ago or more, and I found the device that he used—inventing snatches of diary written by Ned Kelly to his young daughter—not only innovative, but so effective that I cannot now think about the story of Ned Kelly without feeling like I knew him personally. I love that about Aussies—there’s an honesty and a desire to take risks that makes the culture different from any other. Another Australian book that I love is Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, which was so well-written and imaginative that it made me want to become a writer. Coincidentally, Jonathan Franzen just published a review, entitled “Rereading ‘The Man Who Loved Children’,” in the New York Times Sunday Book Review (May 27, 2010), in which he notes, first, that Stead has been compared to Tolstoy, and, second, that his wife calls The Man Who Loved Children the truest book that she has ever read. I couldn’t agree more.

What was your favourite book as a child or young adult, and why?

I grew up in rural Western New York, where the forest-covered hills were full wildlife, and there was a lot of time for reading and contemplation. Partly for that reason, I think that Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, was the first book that really affected me. The idea that every creature under the sun had a voice and a story to tell felt like an undeniable truth, and White’s story was so well-written and tender that it made me want to read them all.

Why do you love to read?

I think that storytelling is the way that we understand ourselves, each other, and our place in the universe. That’s not an original statement, of course—cultures around the world have been telling their stories since the invention of language. And books are not the only method of storytelling, but I do find that they are the most engaging. There is an intimacy and an understanding that comes with reading (and contemplating) the story of someone else that I cannot reach by listening to audio books or watching movies or even going to the theater. I think well-written literature is unique in that way—it brings you into full-on, emotional contact with its characters, and you walk away understanding something new about yourself and the world around you.

How do you choose your books?

Recommendations, generally. After your review, I can’t wait to get started on The Book Thief.

If you had to narrow it down - who would be your 3 favourite authors and what would be your 3 favourite books?

Here they are, in order of preference: (1) Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, (2) John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and (3) J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man. But I have to say again that Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children is way, way up there.

When and why did you start your blog?

We’re new kids on the block, having started this past March, but we’re in it for the long haul. As for the reason why, a National Public Radio story some years back determined that only 20% of fiction readers (in the US, UK, and Canada) were men. I’d be shocked if the number were higher in Australia. Not only do I think that this is a tragedy for men on an individual level (as I said above, I think fiction allows us to understand ourselves and one another), but it is a tragedy for society at large where a little empathy and understanding can sometimes make all the difference between uninformed violence and informed compassion. There is a real debate over whether the fiction-reading gap is due to a genuine lack of interest in reading on the part of men or a result of the heavy marketing dollars that are poured into romance and young adult novels based around female characters (the so-called “chick lit”). I tend to think that it’s is a combination of the two, but I do think that the publishing industry bears some responsibility for the actual state of affairs. Hopefully, with the continued development of reading technologies (an area in which men are definitely interested), that will begin to change. In any case, we at “The Literate Man” want to do our small part to get men reading again.

How did you choose your blog's name?

“The Literate Man” is a little pretentious, and we fully expect to take some shots for that, but we wanted to challenge men to get out there and read. And we wanted to dispel any sense that literature is just for women—Ken Kesey, for example, was about as rough and tumble as they come, and his fiction reflects a distinctly male attitude. Anyone who thinks that fiction is for girls simply hasn’t read, and we want to challenge those people to do so.

What do you love about book blogging?

I love the sense of community that it brings. Growing up in a rural area, it was difficult to find people (especially men) who shared a love of literature. Now, living in Miami Beach, I face the same situation, but for very different reasons. Blogging allows me to share ideas with all those others around the world that share an appreciation of writing as an art that is vital to our existence.

What tips do you have to offer to other book bloggers?

I’m not sure that I’m in a position to give advice just yet—I think you need to be around for a year or so before you can call yourself a real blog. But, if pressed, I’d say don’t be afraid to throw your voice out there, not only on your own blog, but on others. Get out there and comment and forge relationships. Speaking of which—thanks Becky!
 
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No problem. I very much admire the purpose behind your blog, and it really is nice to come across a male book blogger. The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey is an amazing story, there is no doubt about that. After hearing you say how much you enjoyed Christina Stead, I tried to read the Stead book I have had sitting on my shelf for a long time (I'm Dying Laughing) but wasn't able to get into it I have to admit. It's also funny that you should mention Charlotte's Webb. I haven't read the book, but it was the first movie that I cried in (the cartoon version).

Truth by Peter Temple win the Miles Franklin Award 2010


I was very excited when I saw on the news last night (SBS news, commercial stations wouldn't report on something as meaningful as this) that Peter Temple had won for his book Truth. The most exciting part about this, is that Truth is both the first crime novel to be short listed and the first crime novel to win the Miles Franklin Award. You can read about the award ceremony and winner here and here.

The Miles Franklin Literary Award is Australia's premier literary award, having been established in 1954. In order to be eligible for the award, the book was present Australian life "in any of its phases" and have significant literary merit.

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the Miles Franklin prize this year, which I have written more about here. Much of the controversy was raised as a result of comments made by Alex Miller, whose book Lovesong was shortlisted for this years prize. You can read what he has to say here and here.

Arguments were raised that The Miles Franklin Awards position as Australia's premier literary award was under threat of being usurped by new literary awards with higher prize money (like the Prime Minister's Literary Award), instead of new and increased funding being given to the Miles Franklin Award in order to reflect it's significance in Australian literature.

There was also criticism that the writers themselves were no longer taking the Award seriously, with decreasing numbers of long and short listed authors attending the prize ceremony each year. It was reported that last year none of the authors shortlisted for the award, obviously including the winner (Tim Winton) turned up.

I think it is a shame that such a prestigious and long standing award is losing it's significance, if you accept that is the case. I for noe love the Miles Franklin Award. I always make a point to try and read the winner of this award each year, and some of the short listed novels as well if I can. I have very rarely been disappointed by a book that has been associated with this Award.

The fact that this the first crime novel to win the Miles Franklin Award demonstrates to me how important this award is and seriously we should take it as an award that pays heed to the value of Australian literature, and is able to emphasise the variety of literature that deserves accolade.

Have you read any of the shortlisted novels? What do you think of the choice?

My very first time..... (it's not what you're thinking!)



Page Turners first birthday was yesterday, as so I thought that it might be fitting to have a post dedicated to all my blogging firsts!

Book Lovers Inc: As some of you may be aware, I have joined the team over at The Book Lovers Inc, a wonderful blog hosted by many different bloggers. I recently posted my first ever review on Book Lovers Inc - I reviewed The Boat by Nam Le, which I know a lot of people have said that they are interested in reading about. So, if you click on the name of the book, it will take to you to my Book Lovers Inc review debut!

My first review: The very first book I ever reviewed on Page Turners was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling. It is amazing to look back over my past reviews and see how they have changed (improved, lol) over time. You can read my first ever review of this Harry Potter novel here.

My first Australian review: The first Australian book I reviewed on Page Turners was Eucalyptus by Murray Bail. I had very mixed feelings about this book, I wanted to love it, but couldn't quite. It's worth a read.

My first author interview: I felt so lucky to be able to interview Marie Heese, author of The Double Crown, which won the Best Book of Africa in the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize.  Please have a read of her interview here.

Challenges: I began to host my first ever challenge, The Aussie Author Challenge. After I started it, I discovered another blog was already hosting the same challenge. I have kept mine going, but probably won't run my own next year. I have also completed my first ever challenge, The Chunkster Challenge.

Features: I used to run many features in the past but cut down. Now the only 2 features I have are Lights, Camera Blog Action (where I interview other bloggers) and Book Beginnings on Friday (where everyone can join in and share the first line of their book with everyone. Click on the links to see my first ever posts of these two features.

Memes: Here are some links to my first ever meme posts; my first ever It's Monday post, my first ever Teaser Tuesday post and my first ever Booking Through Thursday post.

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There have been many other firsts for me, like the first time I really realised how much I enjoyed blogging about books, but these seem to be the easiest ones to share with everyone. I hope that you have the time to check some of the out!

I am also hoping, in honour of Page Turners first birthday, to share some photos of my book cases. Check back in throughout the week to see my shelves.

Teaser Tuesday: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Tuesday Teaser is great meme hosted by Should Be Reading and is a great way to find out about new books.Here are the guidelines: Grab your current read Open to a random page Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

For those of you that saw my 'It's Monday' post yesterday, I opted to read We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I started it this morning and I am really enjoying it, if enjoying is a word I can use for such a disturbingly honest book. Here is my teaser, a short one for once:
"The twinge of bitterness in such jibes had been on the increase. My hard-won anthropological nuggets apparently served as reminders that I'd gone on an adventure abroad while you were searching suburban New Jersey for a tumble down garage for a Black and Decker."
I am only a short way, but so far it is refreshingly (read also: depressingly) honest look at a marriage.

Happy Birthday Page Turners - Winners of the first birthday giveaway announced!!


Well, not to me... to Page Turners!!

Happy first birthday Page Turners. I can't believe that I have been blogging for a year now. It has gone so quickly. 

First things first - who won the competition? The two winners are:

Darlyn

and 

Suzanne!

Congrats. I will email you soon in relation to your selection of the 3 books up for grabs.
As for the rest of the birthday celebrations - I am off to work now but I hope to have a few different birthday related posts throughout the week so I hope that you come back and join me in celebrating Page Turners birthday.

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday, what are you reading? is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. It is a chance for us to share with other book bloggers what we have just finished reading, what we are currently reading and what we are reading next.

Just finished

Wow, it's been a big week with books I have just finished.

The books that I have recently finished and have also had a chance to review are:
1. By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano (8 / 8 stars)
2. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (7 / 8 stars)

The books that I have finished but haven't yet reviewed are:
1. The Boat by Nam Le (this will be reviewed early this week)
2. Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling (audiobook) 

Currently Reading

I am currently reading Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry Greenwood, an Australian crime/mystery novel. In fact, there appears to be whole series of these books. Another blogger actually recommended this author to me, and then by coincidence I was going through a lady's books that she was giving away (more on that wonderful night later) and I found this one. I am enjoying it. It is a little bit like an Australian or British version of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.

Up Next

That's tough. At this stage it's a toss up between We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and another book I got from the same lady mentioned above called Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A friend recommended it to me, and when I had the chance to grab a free copy, I was very excited. Then by coincidence the author was interviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald this weekend, which I think might be a sign that I should read this one next :-)

First Birthday Giveaway ends tomorrow!


Just a reminder that Page Turner's first birthday giveaway will end at 5.00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, which is in 19.5 hours from now. 

If anyone hasn't entered yet and would like to, you can do so here. It is open to everyone, not just followers. It is open internationally as well. All you have to do is leave your name, blog name and an email and I will put you into random.org. Two winners will be chosen and will have their choice of 3 Australian books on offer sent to them from The Book Depository.

Can't wait to celebrate with you.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (a real ghost story)

I was keen to read another Henry James novel after finishing The Portrait of a Lady earlier this year and having very mixed feelings toward it.  So I was very grateful to the wonderful Bethany from Words, Words, Words (definitely worth having a look at this great blog), who sent me a copy of The Turn of the Screw after she had finished with it.

This novella is your classic ghost story. It begins with a group of people sitting around a fire in an old house, on Christmas Eve, telling each other ghost stories. One of these people then agrees to tell the others a story he was once told by a woman he once greatly admired. The scene is set, a few nights later they all settle in to listen to his tale.

The story then switches into the first person, and the remainder of the book is written from the perspective of a governess who recounts her experiences as a live in governess at a property in the country called Bly. She is hired by a well-to-do man who has become the carer for his niece and nephew after their parents have passed away, leaving them orphans. He has sent his charges to live in the country, and he hired this governess to care for them, giving her the only condition that she is in no way to contact him about the children. As she settles into the house and routine, and falls in love with the children, she begins to experience increasingly strange occurrences and see apparitions. It begins with seeing a sinister man standing on their roof top and later staring in through a window, and later she sees an equally sinister woman staring longingly at the children. She becomes increasingly disturbed when she believes that the children can see them too, and she determines to save them from any evil influences in the house.

The ghost story is so perfectly formed that I was totally caught up in it, and totally freaked out. I read it in almost one sitting, and was surprised to see that 2.5 hours had passed in barely the blink of an eye.

The language is typical of James; there are very long sentences that often go off on tangents, and it can be hard to lose the train of thought without concentrating on what is being said. Having said that, I actually love language like that; that old fashioned language that winds all over the place, but I am sure that it is a matter of taste.

I have been surprised to discover that there is actually debate about whether this a true ghost story or the governess was actually just going crazy and making it all up in her psychotic mind. I personally think that anyone who thinks that the governess was crazy is crazy themselves. It couldn't be clearer to me that these ghosts were 'real' and they meant harm.

What made it all the more real to me was that the ghosts weren't white floaty things, making things mysteriously move about and all that typical ghost like behaviour. Instead that were just the reincarnation of certain people's evil intentions during life. They behaved liked real people and looked like real people, and they were all the more scary because of it.

To further emphasise the creepiness of the occurrences in this house, I loved the way that James described the children. You are never quite sure what they are really thinking, and what really motivates their angelic behaviour. It makes the children themselves seem sinister, adding to the creepiness of the story.

The tension that James created made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I loved being freaked out by a book. This is one that I would definitely recommend.

Summary

What kind of read is this?
It is a ghost story, and a scary one. Also, although it is a very small book, it takes longer to read than you might think simply because of the complexities of James's writing.

Do I recommend this book?
Yes, especially for those of you who like some real tension. I am not usually a reader of mysteries, but this was tense.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Yes I do. It is creepy enough to warrant a second or third (or more) reading. I feel like it is one of those books that the more times you read it, the more things you will pick up.

Star Rating

7 / 8

Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Recommend that you buy it.