Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

One of the things I was looking forward to most this year was the release of The Twelve by Justin Cronin. It was worth the wait. I couldn't put it down.

The Twelve felt very different to The Passage. It felt to me to be more of a thriller than a piece of paranormal speculative fiction (or whatever else you might classify it as).

Also, where The Passage seemed to deal more with the experience of the individual in the aftermath of the virus, The Twelve dealt more with the station of the nation following the release of the virus. We see people spread across the country living in different outposts, attempting to establish themselves in a manner they can sustain in the face of the adversity they now face.

Where some of those new cities are facing their challenges with respect for the human race, there is another city being established and controlled by the 'red-eyes' where this is not the case. The Homeland, as it is called, is run by people who have infected themselves with the virus but have not flipped, and they see themselves controlling the world in conjunction with the virals. In this way, an interesting question is raised in The Twelve: how can the virals sustain themselves when they have almost eaten their entire food source? It's a question I am surprised I never really considered while I was reading The Passage. In The Twelve we see one solution imagined by humans who are willing to betray their own race.

The characters I came to know in The Passage had all gone in their separate directions, and yet I still felt attached to them all. I was invested in their lives and read with baited breath to see what had become of them now.

I do have to say I was rather frustrated that there was so much about The Twelve that I didn't understand.

*SPOILER ALERT* Why didn't the red-eyes flip? Why was Lucius Greer so attached to Amy, was he her familiar? What is this ship they were talking about? How was it that Amy came to be talking to Carter, as if in real life? How is it that Wolgast came back into the story as a viral? Why didn't Alicia flip and who is talking to her at the end of the story? My questions could go on and on. *END SPOILER*

I hope very much that these questions are answered in the third book. If not, I am going to need someone a lot smarter than me to explain it all to me. 

Ultimately, the pace was fast and I couldn't stop reading. If I were to be honest with myself I think that a big part of why I couldn't put it down was my commitment to The Passage rather than the contents of this book, but I still loved every minute of it.

7 / 8 
Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Recommend that you buy it. 

So, who else has read The Twelve yet? I am dying to hear what you thought of it after all the anticipation. Were you as confused about a lot of what happened as I was?

Has anyone participated in an online book club?

Just wondering if anyone has participated in an online bookclub before and how it worked? Did someone pose questions on a website for people to discuss in the comments? Did people write their own reviews and post to share with everyone? Just looking for some ideas. Thanks in advance.

Review: Earthly Delights by Kerry Greenwood (Australian)

Kerry Greenwood's Earthly Delights was an easy and enjoyable read, albeit one I wouldn't rave about to everyone. 

Earthly Delights is a detective story. The protagonist Corinna Chapman is a straightforward woman who runs her own successful bakery. Like a lot of detective stories, there are a series of mysteries to be solved. Who is the stalker who is threatening all the owners of Corinna's unit block? Is Corinna's new bloke Daniel more than he seems? Why has a junkie ended up dead in Corinna's back yard?

Whilst I can tell you the main mysteries that Corinna was faced with in Earthly Delights, I must admit that for me, months later, the plot is pretty forgettable.

Perhaps some of the plot got lost in amoungst the larger than life characters. In Earthly Delights we have a baker, a dominatrix, a Wiccan, a professor, an old married couple, a social worker helping the homeless, computer geeks and stupid young girls. Although this provided great variety, and people are certainly varied, it still struck me as a bit too far fetched that you find so many unusual individuals all living within a stones throw of each other and all being involved in one way or another with each other. What else struck me about the characters is that even though each appeared so unique on the surface, somehow or other they all feel so cliched. I felt like I could just tick of the cliches as I went, the hippy witch, the Gen Y girls obsessed with their phones and clothes, the handsome do gooder and so on and so forth.

What I appreciated even less than the cliched characters... were the cats. Corinna Chapman is a cat person. And I am not. I must admit I heard far too much about her 3(?) cats and what they got up to.

What I did appreciate was that Greenwood was certainly trying to make a point about drug use and homelessness in Australian society, and how people who live with these issues are viewed by the broader population. As someone who works with people like this I could identify to a certain extent with the way in which those people were portrayed. Greenwood was able to make her point that sometimes people fall into situations that they can't get themselves out of, and sometimes (only sometimes mind you) some help and compassion can help those people make some positive change in their lives.

Earthly Delights is a harmless and enjoyable read. Fun read... but nothing special. I suppose it didn't help that I read it straight after having read The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. They were, despite their different settings, similar in terms of having a strong female protagonist with a variety of mysteries to solve, and her own personal history to come to terms with. And yet The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency delivered this in a unique manner without any cliches. And, at heart, I am still a Phryne Fisher girl when it comes to Kerry Greenwood.

5.5 / 8
Enjoyable. I would recommend it if you are looking for an easy read to fill some time. 

Do you ever feel that your feeling about a certain book is effected by the book you read before it?
  I would be interested to hear when it has happened to you and how you felt the book effected your reading of the following one. 

What am I reading at the moment?

Well, it's been along time since I joined in with Book Journey's "It's Monday! What are you reading?" 

I am, however, trying to increasingly read and blog so I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to share what's been going on in my reading life.

I recently finished read A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. Eggers is the author of books such as Zeitoun, What is the What and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I read A Hologram for the King for the book club my friends and I have formed amoungst ourselves (all 3 of us!). There was a consensus amoung us that although it was an easy and interesting read, there was nothing in it that any of us could identify with and so it fell a little flat.

I am currently in the middle of rereading The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien before I go to bed. What can I say? I could read Lord of the Rings over and over again. If I was marooned on a desert island and could only take one book, that would be it. 

I am about to start rereading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte ahead of the release of the new movie directed by Andrea Arnold. I read Wuthering Heights some time ago, and remembering finding it very black. I am looking forward to reading it again because I think it is going to be one of those books that improves with every reading because you notice more and more of the nuances of the story.

Why all the rereading? That's all I have space for in my mind at the moment but I am not too concerned. I find that rereading a book is often a way to find new parts of the story that you hadn't previously appreciated.

I would love to know if you often reread books? Why/why not?

Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King was going to be my first time reading an Stephen King novel and I was very excited about it. It seemed like a book right up my alley and I wasn't disappointed.

The story was really interesting. School teacher Jake is approached by a local cafe owner who has discovered a portal to the past. Jake's mission is simple, to go back in time and prevent the assassination of JFK. There will obviously be a butterfly effect from these actions, something that Jake is always aware of as he sets out to change history.

I liked that the writing was straightforward, and created a real sense of place. I also liked the idea behind the story, how single events can shape the course of history. My only reservation was that King seemed slightly... corny at times.

I only read half the book. This wasn't because I found the book boring or difficult. I enjoyed it. Sadly, it was just a little too long for me to read at the moment. I got to half way through, and although I wanted to keep reading it, I could tell it would take me till Christmas time to get it finished with a 6 month old baby to look after. So I have left it to finish off another time when I give it the attention it deserves. 

A few months in the life of Page Turners - here's my baby

Here he is, Baby Page Turners aka Ninja Turtle and... can you believe it he is almost 7 months old. 

He is the most adorable thing that there ever was. Although I sometimes find his a little frustrating (go the eff to sleep Ninja Turtle) every single moment is worth it.

This is a photo of him in his cot. We haven't transitioned him from our bedroom yet, but hopefully I will be ready to let him sleep in his big boy bed soon. No crawling yet, but he's giving it his best shot.

His favourite books are The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where is the Green Sheep?

I have been doing a lot of re-reading simply because I find it isn't too challenging to my fuzzy baby brain. I have fit a few new books in there though. Now, I just need to find more time to actually get on the computer.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

*Does contain some spoilers, sorry, it was unavoidable given the nature of the story and in order to properly convey my thoughts*

I hope it's not too corny to say that I experienced a hurricane of emotions whilst reading Jesmyn Ward's novel Salvage the Bones. 

In Salvage the Bones Ward provides the reader with a snapshot of family life in poverty stricken areas of New Orleans. The story is about one such family in the twelve days leading up to and including Hurricane Katrina.

The protaganist, a young teenage girl named Esch, and her three brothers are being raised by her alcoholic father in their run down house. Her father doesn't work and sometimes is abusive towards her brothers. There's little money for necessities such as food. Instead they live off the land as much as they can and hope that they can make money off the litter of pure bred pit bull terriers one of her older brothers is raising. They steal at times. Significantly to the story, at age fourteen, Esch finds herself pregnant. 

The picture Ward paints is a bleak one, and at times I found it to be quite an assault on the emotions.

At other times however, particularly in the middle of the book, I found that the story moved a little too slowly for my liking. The book is primarily an account of the daily activities of the family. So much of their time in the days leading up Hurrican Katrina was dedicated to raising the pit bull terrier pups they hoped to sell, and as someone not particularly interested in dog rearing my attention wandered. 

Just as I was really hoping for something more interesting to happen, Hurricane Katrina hit. From this point in the story the pace became so fast and the tension kept mounting and mounting as the water climbed and the storm raged on. I was reading so fast to match the pace of the events that sometimes I lost track of where I was on the page.

So, although some of the book I found to be quite slow, in the end I think that Ward effectively used the contrast in the pace of the book as a technique to really show the calm before the storm. Just as life for the real victims of Hurricane Katrina continued as usual in the days leading up to the hurricane, with all the mundaneness of daily life, so did the lives of Esch and her family, that is, until the hurricane hit and wiped everything out.

I didn't feel that Ward was too melodramatic about the damage caused by the hurricane. She presents it very calmly:
"We reach the end of the road. Here the hurricane has ripped even the road that rimmed the beach away in chunchs so there are red clay and oyster shell cliffs. The gas station, the yacht club, and all the white columned homes that faced the beach, that made us feel small and dirty and poorer than ever when we came here with daddy, piled in his truck, for gas or chips or bait on our swimming days, are gone. The hurricane as left a few steel beams, which stick up like stray hairs, from concrete foundations. There are rivers running down the highway that lines the beach. A man with white hair and an open button-down shirt is sitting on the arm of the sofa, and he is holding his head or he is rubbing his eyes or he is smoothing his hair or he is crying, and a dog, orange and large in the sun, is sniffing around him in circles, and then it is running and it is barking excitedly at what it has found. A closed black casket."

I think it's important to note that although the book does describe the devastation following the hurricane, it doesn't address any of the political fall out that occured following the hurricane. For me, the only hint of dissatisfaction with the way in which the Government handled the crisis was in the way in which Ward portrays the automatic phone calls asking residents to evacuate, which were too little too late. 

Instead, Salvage the Bones, focuses on the characters. 

Ward creates a real sense of wildness and need around Esch and her family. She created this by slowly revealing little details that really demonstrated the level of poverty they lived in. Bit by bit we see the dirty sheets, the lack of food, the condemned house. Ward reveals how the children had to raise their younger brother when their mother dies in childbirth. Esch is fourteen years old and has been sexually active since she was twelve for the sake of, by her own admission, some loving affection from other people that she doesn't feel at home. For me, the most poignant moment in the book (which nearly bought me to tears) was when Esch's father apologised to her on discovering that she is going to be a mother.

Yet I rarely felt pity for them because they never felt pity for themselves. Each of them has hope. They accept their reality without letting it depressing them and they make the best of their lives with what they can.

All of the characters are salvaging something. Skeetah, one of Esch's brothers, salvages anything he can for the sake of his dogs; wormer, food, planks of wood. In doing so Skeetah is really attempting to salvage his sense of purpose. They all salvage items from their property in order to prepare for the hurricane, just as everyone who was affected by the hurricane must salvage what they can of their lives. For Junior, one of Esch's brothers, it is memories of his mother that he attempts to salvage throughout the novel.

Motherhood is certainly a recurring theme in Salvage the Bones. Everyone is Esch's family remembers their mother with love. Esch's father is clearly a man devastated by the loss of his wife and the mother of his children. Esch, on the cusp of becoming a mother herself, reflects on the good that her mother did and the big shoes that she and her brothers had to fill when her mother passed away. Ward takes time to show Skeetah's dog China's attempts to be a mother to her new pups, and Skeetah's attempt to take on this roll when China and the pups need him to.

This is all occuring against the backdrop of mother nature, who is impartial to the lives of the people of New Orleans:
"I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, th emother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was s torm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut is to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes." 
Salvage the Bones is a poignant book about family, love and survival. I would recommend it to anyone.

6 / 8 stars
Really enjoyable and well written. I would recommend it.

If you have read Salvage the Bones, I would like to know if your interest waned in the middle of the book, only to be reignited when the Hurricane hit? 

Also, I have read that Jesmyn Ward was criticised for not dealing sufficiently with the political aspects of  Hurricane Katrina, that is (I believe), criticism of the Government's response to the disaster. Do you think that she should have given this issue a larger role in the book?

4 month update of my little man

Here he is, my beautiful baby boy, now 4 months old and enjoying his first coffee (not!). It is perhaps the most wonderful thing in the world being a parent, and at the same time very challenging. I love every minute of it though. 

I am finally starting to read a little more and... shock horror!!! I have actually written a couple of reviews. I've also been spending a little more time reading your posts and I hope to read even more. 

So thanks for hanging around and I hope that everyone is well and happy in their lives. I'm just discovering how wonderful life really can be and I hope everyone else is just as happy as I am :-)

Final thoughts - a cheeky grin from my cheeky little man.

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

In Mockingjay, the final instalment of the Hunger Games trilogy, Collins gives us the full scale revolution of the Districts of Panem against the Capitol.

 Katniss plays an integral role in the revolution, although at first she is not convinced that she wants or is even able to take on this role. She soon realises, however, that her needs are not as great as those of Panem and she takes to her role wholeheartedly. Although the love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta is still explored in Mockingjay, it is the themes of oppression and revolution that play a primary role in the story.

I found the plot in Mockingjay more... messy (for want of a better word) than the plots of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. It felt a little as though Collins was trying to fit so many parts of the story into the final book that it became a little chaotic.

Having said that, I so admired the way in which Collins portrayed the revolutionary forces and the Capitol that a little chaos in the plot was soon forgotten.

In Mockingjay, Collins doesn't give us a black and white world. The Capitol is not portrayed as always being in the wrong, just as the revolutionary forces are not portrayed as always being in the right. Both the Capitol and the revolutionary forces use the same media indoctrination techniques as each other to takes their messages to the masses. The revolutionary forces create short video clips, essentially advertisements for the revolution, which they boradcast throughout the country.  To do this, the revolutionary forces send camera crews into real battles, people are dressed in dramatic costumes for effect and great thought is given to setting up 'scenes' that best suit the video clips they are creating. These clips are often as manipulative as the Hunger Games themselves were. In fact, the leaders of the revolutionary forces are shown in the end to be just as power hungry as the leaders in the Capitol.

It is clear in Mockingjay that the desire for power can corrupt the best of people who have the best of intentions, regardless of which side of a conflict they are on, and in showing the extremes that the Capitol and the revolutionary forces are willing to go to in order to manipulate and even harm the populace in the name of their cause, Collins gives the conflict a sense of reality.

I did find that Mockingjay was a little slow to get started, and perhaps a little repitive in the early stages while Katniss was deciding whether she was willing and able to play the part in the revolution that people wished her play. I also thought that Katniss's journey to the Capitol was a little far fetched but then I reminded myself that this was fiction, a YA novel set in a possible future, and so a little bit of implausability could be forgiven.

All the same, there is is something so raw and real about these books that I was unable to put them down. Mockingjay definitely doesn't disappoint as the final instalment in this thrilling trilogy. 

8 / 8
One of the most enjoyable books I have ever read.  Everyone should read it, it is amazing.

What did you think about the final instalment of The Hunger Games trilogy? Did you find it a satsifying end to the story or were you hoping for something different? How realistic did you find Collins portrayal of the social and political revolution that was taking palce in Panem? 

I was on ABC Radio National's 'The Book Club'!!

 Here in Australia, we have a national radio station called Radio National. It has a program called Books and Arts Daily, which "is Australia’s only national radio program devoted to all aspects of literature and the arts. It explores the many worlds of performance, writing, music and visual arts".

Every month, Books and Arts Daily has a Book Club, where they feature a different Australian classic novel. 

On 25 May 2012, the book featured was The Timeless Land by Eleanor Dark. The Timeless Land  is my Grandmother's favourite book. So, in June 2010 I read and reviewed it here at Page Turners.When The Timeless Land was being featured on Books and Arts Daily, I was contacted by the producer to offer some thoughts on my experiences with the book on their monthly book club.

I was very pleased to be given the chance to discuss The Timeless Land on the radio and enjoyed myself very much. 

If anyone is interested in hearing the discussion about this Australian classic, and listening to yours truly on the radio (I am 27mins into the program), please have a listen to Book Club: Eleanor Dark's The Timeless Land. 

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox

** Originally posted 22 November 2009. Re-posted as part of the Full Marks series **  

Now this I can definitely say is one of the best reads I have had for a long time!

I bought this book at the Sydney Book Fair after having a read a review of its sequal in the Sydney Morning Herald. I thought that it sounded different to most books; dark and medieval, and that is how it was.

It follows the story of Sobran Jordeau, a vintner in early 19th Century France. One night in 1808, Sobran meets an angel, and there begins a relationship that spans for years, until the end of Sobran's life. Each year they meet each other on the anniversary of their first meeting, until that one yealy meeting is no longer enough for either of them. In the meantime, Sobran's life continues, we see him marry, survive the Napoleonic wars, have a family, take lovers and improve his vintages. His feelings for the angel invade every aspect of his life.

The story is dark and violent at time. There is a sexual undercurrent throughout the book, unerlying Sobran's relationship with his wife, lover and also the angel himself. It is also there in the story of the countryside girls who are brutally raped and murdered at the hands of someone in their community. The story has a complex and rich storyline, full of secrets and desires.

At the beginning of the book I wasn't sure that I really liked Sobran Jordeau. He was so young and selfish and reckless. There were times in fact where I wondered if he wasnt a bit dangerous. As he aged and matured, however, I came to understand him better; I believe that I had a better understanding of his motivations and desires. Xas, the angel, was a lot harder to come to know, but I think that given he is an angel the reader perhaps isn't supposed to fully understand him. He is a creature of God (the devil?) and therefore to some extent above understanding.

I won't spoil the story too much with this review, in fact, reading over I dont think I've really given anything significant away at all. I really want people to read this, especially if you're looking for something different to read. I would be really interested to know what someone religious thought of the concept in this book, particularly relating to Xas and his decscriptions of heaven and hell.

In looking for the picture to use for this post, I discovered that this book has been made into a movie that is being released in November 2009, and I am so excited about seeing it!

Please, if there is one book I have reviewed on this blog that I recommend you read, please make it The Vintner's Luck!

Star Rating

8 / 8

One of the best books I have ever read. Everyone should read it - it is totally amazing. I am in love.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

* Originally posted on 23 February 2011. Re-posted as part of the Full Marks series *

I just want to gush about perfect it was. How much I loved Jane. How beautiful and poignant the writing is. How I wish it would never end but I couldn't put it down. So bear with me while I ramble about how wonderful it was.

**If you haven't read Jane Eyre – don't read this post. It is impossible to talk about with spoiling most of the story and I want you to read it without knowing what happens. A lot of the time, you probably won't understand what I am talking about anyway. You have been warned.

Jane is such a wonderfully headstrong but moral character. I constantly felt heartbroken on her behalf but nothing seemed to break her spirit. She believed in what was right and Christian and she acted upon it no matter what cost to her. She is perhaps one of the strongest characters I have ever read.

I admit to be initially incredulous at the way in which Jane leaves Thornfield Hall after the disastrous wedding and all that follows. I imagined that she would be the kind of person who would reject the kind of impropriety that behaviour demonstrates. It also seemed a bit over the top for her to then be wandering around the countryside begging and sleeping in fields. Maybe a little bit too over dramatic.

After talking to a friend though about this issue I feel a bit better about it. Jane was so fixated on doing the right and moral thing, demonstrated particularly by her returning to her Aunt on her deathbed. She had been like this for her entire life. Even at Lowood School she could not accept the injustice that she saw in the way Helen Burns could, regardless of whether it was done in the name of God or not. I can see now that Jane believed so strongly that it was wrong for her to live in sin with Rochester, as he was urging, but she didn't trust her all too human desires and so rather than betray her beliefs, even her own nature, she chose to leave Thornfield Hall urgently.

I still found the aimless wandering around the countryside a little bit melodramatic, but I know I am probably out on a limb on this issue. In any event, it serves as the way in which she comes to meet her natural family and so I can easily not worry too much about my misgivings about this section of the story.

Then there's Rochester. I don't know what to make of him. Part of me thinks that he is just so adorable. Perhaps not initially – but when they are finally at the point of declaring their feelings for each other and he explains how he has been feeling that whole time that he has been watching her and trying to figure out what she feels about him – I couldn't help but sigh a big long "aaaaawwwwwwwwww". Bless. What a sweetheart. And his reaction when he finally comes back to him at the end of the book with his sweet confusion about whether it could really her come back to him because it's just too good to be true – I couldn't help but sigh another big long "aaaaaaawwwwwwww". Bless.

On the other hand, the man has locked his crazy wife up in the attic. For years. And then tries to trick an innocent young girl into bigamy, then treats her like sh*t at the wedding when all is exposed and tries to convince her to live in sin with him. All of which he knows (or should know) that she would morally abhor, and in doing so puts her in a position where she feels her only option is practically to escape with what little she has – and we know how that turns out!

He doesn't once take responsibility for his actions (in my humble opinion anyway). I mean I know times were different back then – but there is no real sense of remorse for what he has done. There is just this sense of how hard done by he feels that he is. And he is selfish. He thinks about himself and his own happiness more than he thinks about Jane's.

And yet…. Their romance is just so sweet. He loves her. She loves him. And despite everything, they end up together. He is a sinner, but her love redeems him. Beautiful.

The wife in the attic – that is a whole other issue. I know times were different back then – but you can't help but think that locking someone in an attic would only send them more crazy. This was the only part of the story I didn't feel had any real conclusion. I wasn't satisfied with Rochester's story about how she came to be crazy and a prisoner at Thornfield Hall, it just seemed a bit one sided.

(If you ignored my advice above and are still reading this post even though you haven't read the book – at least don't read this paragraph for me) Then there is the way in which everything has such a neat conclusion. She goes to the charity school which is terrible but then it improves and she becomes a teacher there. Because she does well as a teacher she is able to become a governess, and meet the man she will fall in love with. Her potential marriage collapses when she finds that Rochester has been lying to her and she finds herself homeless and starving. Then the people that she seeks help from just coincidentally happen to be her long lost relatives. Then she gets a massive amount of money left her and becomes very rich. Then she finds that Rochester's wife has died so she can marry him. And he is blind which places them on equal footing.

It almost feels too good to be true – but you love Jane so much that it doesn't matter. You want the best for Jane and so you are willing to believe the almost unbelievable for her sake.

And what about St John Rivers! I have to admit that at one point I almost thought that she would agree to marry him. That man was horrible. Yet in the end he is able to come to understand his faults and mistakes and so is forgiven.

I think that overall this book is mostly about morality, more than Christianity or anything else.

I am not going to go too much into this because there are scholars out there that are better placed than me to talk about it. I think, however, that Bronte was sharing a powerful message that what man says about God and religion isn't always the right thing – that behaving in a manner that is moral and good is sometimes bigger than religion.

In the preface to Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte says:
Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.

These things and deeds are diametrically opposed: they are as distinct as is vice from virtue. Men too often confound them: they should not be confounded: appearance should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is – I repeat it – a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.
Regardless of whether you are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, atheist or agnostic, I think that this is a useful lesson for everyone.

I think what best illustrated Bronte's views on these issues was the contrast between Jane Eyre and her friend Helen Burns at Lowood School. Helen accepted the way of like at Lowwod; the starvation, the diseases, the abuse and humiliation because she believed in forgiveness preached in the Bible and had convinced herself that in the name of God it was her duty to accept things as they were (that's how I saw it anyway). Jane on the other hand wasn't willing to accept the wrongs perpetrated against the inmates of Lowood School in the name of forgiveness. She saw that the behaviour of the management of the institution (the Church), although done in the name of God, was immoral and a crime against the children and those acts were worth fighting against.

The same can be seen in the character of St John Rivers. He believes that he is a Christian man (in fact he is a clergyman),and yet he is depicted as a demanding and almost deceitful man (I am thinking about when he accused Jane of going back on her promise to marry him when in fact she gave no such promise) and it often feels as though he is only doing the acts that he does in order to make himself seem better in the eyes of others.

The biggest lesson I learnt from Jane Eyre is how important it is to stand up for what you believe in and doing the right, good and honourable thing will always be the most personally rewarding.

I will just leave you with my favourite moment in the book - the moment when Rochester and Jane are having their first meaningful discussion in the living room by the fire. Jane spoke to him as if she were his equal, despite being at times confused about what he was trying to say. They were so obviously trying to get the feel for the other person and they had this instant connection and the tension between the two of them was palpable. Their discussion continued for quite some pages, and I remember closing the book when their conversation ended and just feeling exhausted and emotionally drained by their exchange.

Ultimately – what does Jane Eyre mean to me? It means passion and that living a passionate life is living a full life.

I love Jane Eyre.

8 / 8: One of the best books I have ever read. Everyone should read it - it is totally amazing. I am in love.

Am I over reacting or did you love it as much as I did? Feel free to post your comments on my random thoughts and opinions, I imagine some of them might be controversial?

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is an epistolary novel from the perspective of Eva Khatchadourian, who is writing to her apparently estranged husband Franklin. We know from the very beginning that she is writing to her husband following an unimaginable event; her son Kevin has committed a mass shooting at his high school, killing students and teachers alike. Her letters explore a fundamental question; to what extent is she to blame her sons actions?

Eva is a happy and intelligent woman. She runs a successful business writing and selling budget travel guides, a job that allows her to travel the world on a regular basis. She is a Democrat, left wing and very suspicious of American patriotism. Strangely enough, she falls in love with Franklin, an entirely stereotypical American male who votes Republican, likes his sport and loves his country unconditionally. In Eva's earlier letters, she explores why it is they decided to have children when they were happy without them. For Franklin, children are the answer to "the big question". Eva has no such view. In the end, it feels as if Eva decides to have children more to prove something to herself and to society than out of any genuine desire.

They decide to have children and Kevin is the result. From the very beginning Kevin exhibits malicious behaviour; he throws unusual tantrums, he is not interested in any activities and his speech, motor and toilet skills appear to be deliberately delayed. Throughout his childhood Kevin is implicated in many anti-social incidents; children breaking things at play school, a young girl mutilating herself, bike accidents, bullying and brick throwing. Significantly, he is also suspected (by Eva) of having some involvement with a serious incident that befalls his younger sister Celia that sees her disabled for the rest of her life.

Eva is always suspicious of Kevin's motivations, indeed she has been since his birth from the moment that he refused to be breastfed. She is never able to think of his as being innocent of misbehaviour and instead over time she becomes locked in a power struggle with him, never able to love or trust him. This is effectively contrasted with Franklin's attitude toward Kevin. He loves Kevin unconditionally and always gives him the benefit of the doubt.

As it turns out, Eva's instincts were correct, but was it Eva's attitude that created this psychopathic Kevin?

The murder itself is so chillingly told I could barely bear to read it. The tension was such that I almost felt compelled to pace around the room as I was reading it. The twist in relation to the shootings and the twist that follows were so horrific that I could barely contain my horror and revulsion in order to finish reading the book.

I don't have an opinion as to who, if anyone, was responsible for Kevin's actions. But in exploring her own culpability, I thought that Eva was a thoroughly believable character. I don't mean to suggest that we can believe everything she has to say. The entire story is told from her perspective, and given her motive in telling the story seems to be to explore her own role in the disaster, we cannot entirely trust her perspective as being completely accurate. What I mean is that I think her character was very true to life. She was honest about her feelings and perspective on things. This meant that she wasn't always likable, but it was satisfying to see someone be truly honest about what they feel, even if it meant saying those things that you are not meant to say. This is what made her a believable character.

This book explores those deeper issues that people are sometimes to scared to really deal with. Issues like the nature vs nurture debate, the nature of evil, the culpability of society for individuals actions and the responsibilities of parenthood and the assumption that it is for everyone.

This is the most disturbing novel I have ever read. I have definitely never had such a strong reaction to a novel before. I couldn't say that it will become a favourite book, it is far too disturbing and depressing for that. I will, however, dare to suggest that it is perhaps one of the best novels I have ever read.


What kind of read is this?
Dark. Depressing. Disturbing. Emotionally challenging.

Do I recommend this book?
Yes I do, despite how horrible the story itself is. Sometimes we need to challenge ourselves emotionally and give thought to those issues that are too scary to otherwise think about. We are all responsible to each other, and I think that is an important lesson contained in this book.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Although I won't be re-reading it any time soon, I definitely recommend that you buy it, if only to remind yourself of your reading experience.

Star Rating

8 / 8

One of the best books I have ever read.

* Originally posted on 6 July 2010. Re-posted as part of the Full Marks series *

The 'Full Marks' series

Over the many years that I have been reading and blogging, I have been very lucky to have read some absolutely amazing books. 

8 / 8 stars!!

They range from classics to science fiction and everything in between.

To celebrate almost 3 years here at Page Turners, between now and Page Turners 3rd anniversary in June I will be sharing with you those books that I really fell in love with. Some of them I fell in love with because of their beautiful writing, others because of their heart stopping action. All of them excited my imagination.

I hope you enjoy revisiting these reviews with me, and hopefully you will find something new to enjoy.

Greetings from the Realm of Parenthood

Wow, I don't know how people with children manage to blog. I barely manage to read! I am still around everyone and I hope to be back to blogging soon.

Why I am an ereader convert

As the title of this post would suggest - I am an ereader convert. 

I had been reading ebooks for about 3 years on my iPhone. I enjoyed reading in this format because it enabled me to have a book on hand at all times even when I didn't have a book with me. I enjoyed reading on the bus, which I couldn't do with a physical book because of travel sickness. I enjoyed reading while standing in lines. The list goes on.

An iPhone, however, is not an ereader. Reading the ebook on my phone felt different somehow. It was stop gap. Something I did on occasion to fill my time. It was always an old book I had dowloaded on some random app that I had usually read before and could therefore go some significant period of time between readings without having to worry about losing track of the story line.

Where my ereader differs from reading an ebook on my iPhone is that the ereader actually takes the place of books.

I had been a little... suspicious of ereaders in the past. I love books so much I doubted that an ereader would be the same. You've heard it all before. I like the feel of a book, the smell of a book. How could an ereader possibly be the same?

Fortunately for me I was given the opportunity to find out.

My wonderful partner purchased me an ereader for Christmas last year and I have never looked back.

What I love about the ereader

I live in a 2 bedroom unit. Already I have over 500 books. They are on two bookcases, in one chest and now heading into a third book case. My point is, I am space poor.

And yet, within 4 days of being given the ereader I had over 500 new books to read, waiting just at my fingertips. All of them are books I want to read. All of them are books that I couldn't purchase because I don't have the space to keep them anywhere. I could borrow them from the library but the difference is that here I can access them right away when I need them, without having to reserve them and then return them by a set date (something I fail to do almost every single time).

I don't need to find self space for all these wonderful titles and within days I have doubled the number of books I have right at my fingertips.

I also have to admit that I enjoy looking for new books to download. It's like being able to go book shopping any time I want, without having the leave the house. 

Finally, I have to say that with a newborn baby, I spend a large proportion of every 24 hour period (day and night have ceased to have much meaning for me) breastfeeding.  Although I am becoming an expert at doing almost anything one handed, I  just haven't managed to lean how to hold a book, turn the pages and breast feed at the same time. An ereader on the other hand doesn't need to be held, it can just be rested in front of me and I can use a single finger to turn the page with a single swipe across across the screen. Perfect.

Can an ereader provide the same reading experience as a book?

I think that why most readers are suspicious of the ereader is because they love books. I am one of those people. I have a large collection of books. I love seeing them in my house. I love holding them in my hand. I love the idea that a second hand book has its own story (aside from the story it contains). I love the smell of new books and the feel of their new pages turning. The book itself, as well as the story inside it, has captured my imagination.

I  couldn't help but question whether an ereader could give me the same experience.

It can't, but what I have discovered about myself if that no matter how much I like the book itself - it is the story it contains that is what really captures my imagination and speaks to me. Personally, I haven't lost anything of the reading experience by swapping from physical books to the ereader. If an author has produced a piece of work that speaks to me, it speaks to me equally regardless of the medium through which I read it.

I still love a book, don't get me wrong. But what I love most is what it contains. The characters, the setting, the storyline. I can access those regardless of how I read it.

Why I am an ereader convert

So, in short, I am an ereader convert because of the convenience it offers me at this time of life. Also, because it has allowed me to increase my book collection twofold without taking up any extra space in my already crowded unit. If I respond the story, it doesn't matter to me in what form I read it. The physical book doesn't contribute to the story for me. It might contribute to my sensory experience, but ultimately I am primarily after the story it contains.

The point of this post? Really just to share my own experience. But also just as a reminder to people to be open minded. We all love books, but sometimes you can be surprised when we try something new. Sometimes we even learn something about ourselves.

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games largely focused around Katniss, her relationship with Peeta and surviving the Hunger Games. All this of course while also dealing with themes such as individual freedom, oppressive governments, media influence, poverty and social inequality. Catching Fire expands on these latter themes.

The Capitol is not happy with Katniss and Peeta for their show of defiance at the end of the Hunger Games. Uprisings are beginning in some of the Districts, and the Capitol blames this on their act of defiance, which they fear is inspiring other acts of defiance from the Districts. To punish Katniss and warn the people of Panem that defiance will not be tolerated, Katniss and Peeta are again thrown into the Hunger Games, where all of the surviving winners of past games are pitted against one another.

Catching Fire, however, is about more than just the survival of Katniss and Peeta. 

Where Catching Fire really adds to The Hunger Games is the shift from this more narrow focus to the broader themes raised by the political situation in Panem; fighting against oppressive governments and bringing hope to the people. In Catching Fire we see the subtle shift in the population – when people stop accepting and start questioning. The government is trying to maintain control of an angry population who have discovered that there’s hope for a better life, as represented by Katniss and her individual act of defiance.

Katniss herself is just as strong and independent a character as she was in The Hunger Games, something I think is hard to come by in YA novels, especially for female characters. The teen angst surrounding her love triangle is still present and is a little teenage for my tastes, but it is a YA novel after all. Nonetheless, Katniss has grown from her experiences in the past. She is more grown up, more cynical and more realistic about the world in which she lives and her role in it. She is strong female character, willing to fight for what she believes in and those that she loves.

Without knowing it, in her final act in the Hunger Games Katniss has come to represent to the people of Panem that spirit of rebelliousness they all feel inside them. In Catching Fire, Katniss becomes swept up in events bigger than herself and bigger even than the Hunger Games and in doing so she begins to question what she can do for the people of Panem.

 8 / 8
One of the best books I have ever read. Everyone should read it - it is totally amazing. I am in love.

Did you think that Catching Fire added to The Hunger Games by building on the themes I mentioned, or do you prefer the love triangle plot between Katniss, Peeta and Gale?

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is an utterly compelling YA Dystopian novel from author Suzanne Collins.

The book is set in the future, when the world has been largely destroyed by an environmental disaster that has changed the face of the planet forever. More specifically, it is set in what used to be North America, now known as Panem, a country of 12 Districts all ruled by The Capitol. The Capitol is an oppressive government, forcing the people of the Districts in poverty while they consume the bulk of what the Districts produce. In punishment for past uprising by the Districts against The Capitol, The Capitol has given the people of Panem the Hunger Games. But what are these Hunger Games?

"The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins."

The Hunger Games is a first person narrative, written from the perspective of a teenage girl by the name of Katniss from District 12, the coal mining District. Katniss and her family live in poverty in the Seam, relying on Katniss’s hunting skills to supplement their meagre diet provided by the Capitol. When Katniss’s younger sister Prim is chosen as District 12’s tribute, Katniss steps up to take her place. She is soon joined by a young man by the name of Peeta, someone to whom she and her family owe their lives.

What follows is the story of Katniss and Peeta’s experiences leading up to, during and following the Hunger Games (that’s not a spoiler – this is the first of a trilogy after all!). A large part of the story that follows deals with the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, Katniss’s best friend. Both young men are in love with Katniss and Katniss loves both of them in return, but is unable to determine which she has more genuine feelings for. It is this element of the story that is certainly the most teenage part of the book.

Having said that, although The Hunger Games might be marketed to a young adult audience, this is equally a book for adult readers of all types.

One of the things I was most impressed with was the way in which Collins brings to life her characters and emphasises those personal attributes that should be admired. For what is essentially a plot driven YA novel, she did this incredibly well. There were so many different layers to the various characters which meant as a reader I could connect with each of them in different ways. Collins explores loyalty, courage, morals, family, love and much much more.

But where Suzanne Collins really excelled, and what I think adult readers will appreciate the most, are the themes that run through the book. There are so many adult themes that run through this book that I couldn’t possibly hope to deal with them all. These themes include social inequality, poverty and political hype/power. A lot of these were explored through the contrast between the lives and lifestyles of those in the Capitol and the lives and lifestyles of those in the Districts. The decadence of the first and poverty and starvation in the second.

What resonated most for me was Collins exploration of the power of the media and more specifically, the prevalence of reality television, in today’s society. What are the Hunger Games? It is children killing other children, but more than this, it is entertainment for the masses. To win the Hunger Games Katniss has to kill the other children, but she also has to win over the audience as the producers in charge of the television event manipulate their environment, exercising ultimate control over what happens within the arena and to the contestants. They are not children, they are contestants. It isn’t life or death, it’s entertainment. It isn’t manipulation of viewers and contestants alike, it is ‘reality’. People are so desensitised to violence that they can watch these events without blinking and without questioning.

Clearly our current western society doesn’t stoop to such lows, but in reading The Hunger Games you can’t help but reflect on our own reality and the role that the media plays in our lives. To what extent are we manipulated in the way that the populace in The Hunger Games are manipulated? Why do we allow it? Where will it end for us?

All I can really say is that The Hunger Games is so much more than you might expect. I was completely carried away by this book; I couldn’t put it down during the day and I was dreaming about it at night. It’s a little like a young adult version of Orwell’s 1984. Not as well written, not as complex, but just as clever in its use of the future to explore today’s society.

8 / 8
One of the best books I have ever read. Everyone should read it - it is totally amazing. I am in love.

I would love to know if other people enjoyed it as much as I did? Has anyone been avoiding the series because of the hype and do you think that you could possiblyh rethink your decision?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: An Introduction

The last few books I read last year were those that comprise The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins; The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.  

These came at a perfect time for me. I had just about given up on the idea that I was going to be able to read anything new until the baby was born. Then I tried The Hunger Games and I was absolutely hooked from the very first moment.

What inspired me to read them was the fact that movie will soon be released here in Australia and the shorts looked really exciting. Like many avid readers, I do like to read the book before I see the movie where ever possible. Turns out, it was a brilliant decision.

This series has everything in it that I love, which I will elaborate on further in my reviews.

What I plan to do is review each book in turn and then have a post at the end where I sum up some of my broader thoughts about the trilogy as a whole.

What I did want to say though is this – don't be a book snob. Don't be one of those people who don't read a book simply because of the hype. Sometimes there is hype for a good reason, and that is the case with The Hunger Games trilogy. I have recommended this book to 3 of my close friends, 1 of whom has completely the opposite taste to me, and all 3 have said that these are some of the most exciting and enjoyable books they have read.

I know everyone has individual taste, but I really can't emphasise enough that these are books where I recommend you put aside any prejudices you might have, be brave, and give them a go.

The vast majority of you won't regret it.

My new little baby has finally arrived!

Here he is - my beautiful little boy Rafael. 

We were admitted to the hospital on a Monday because I was very unwell and finally after lots of complications I had an emergency c-section on the Thursday morning and out emerged my bubba!

We were in hospital for 9 days but are finally home. 

Things are going well. I am so delirious with exhaustion I barely know what my name is, only getting between 4 and 6 hours sleep an evening in 2 or 3 lots of sleep. 

But it is all worth it. He is so cute that we can't stop staring at him and kissing his little cheeks.He looks almost identical to me when I was born which was a really nice surprise. He does have his Dad's ears and forwn though :-) 

I doubt Ill be around here for a while yet, but hopefully I'll be able to catch up with you all over the internet when I am back in action.

Review: The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith's The Sunday Philosophy Club is a detective/mystery series much like The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in many respects, although set in Edinburgh.

In this book we have another female protagonist, Isabel Dalhousie, who is a philosopher and the editor of The Journal of Applied Ethics. She has a strong sense of morals and greatly allows this to influence her interactions with other people. In The Sunday Philosophy Club, this moralistic tendency causes her to involved herself in a mystery when she witnesses a man fall from the dress circle at an orchestra performance. In investigating the fall, she discovers possible links to insider trading at various Edinburgh financial institutions. Is this what has lead to the death of the falling man, or is the solution closer to home?

In The Sunday Philosophy Club McCall Smith delivered what most murder mysteries of this type deliver; an easy read and a mystery with a range of suspects for the reader to choose from. Having said that, The Sunday Philosophy Club was definitely on the dull side.

Isabel was far too particular for me to really connect with, or even to like very much. She came across as a stiff middle aged woman who thought that because she had studied philosophy she was on some sort of moral higher ground to the people around her.

For me, this quote embodies the boring person that Isabel is:
"She went into the larder and retrieved the ingredients for a risotto she would make for Cat and Toby. The recipe called for porcini mushrooms, and she had a supply of them, tied up in a muslin bag. Isabel took a handful of the dried fungus, savouring the unusual odour, shark and salty, so difficult to classify. Yeast extract? She would soak them for half an hour and then use the darkened liquid they produced to cook the rice."
Excuse me while I snooze.

The plot involving the falling man wasn't as compelling as it could have been. The solution to the puzzle wasn't revealed until the final few pages of the book and it came very suddenly and unexpectedly. Personally, I found it a bit of a let down. The solution made me feel as though McCall Smith had been wasting my time for most of the book.

In The Sunday Philosophy Club there was also a subplot involving Isabel's niece Cat and Cat's love life. I found this subplot a little strange. What was its purpose? What did it add to the book, if anything? Not much I would have to say.

I had a rather sad suspicion that McCall Smith wrote The Sunday Philosophy Club as a means of airing his own inner philosophical ponderings. Some of these ponderings weren't even particularly unique. For example, Isabel at one stage finds herself having a conversation with a random man on the street about why he is dressed the way he is, that is, in black clothes with holes in his pants, safety pins, lots of piercings etc. His response is something to the effect of he wants to avoid being labelled as normal or part of the mainstream. This leaves Isabel to question whether he isn't just rejecting one label for another and whether this defeats his purpose. Haven't we heard that before a million times? I have. Here's another example:

"The answer, surely, is that lying in general is wrong, but that some lies, carefully identified as the exception, will be permissible. There were, therefore, good lies and bad lies, with good lies being uttered for a benevolent reason (to protect the feelings of another, for example). If somebody asked one's opinion of a newly acquired – but tasteless – possession, for instance, and one gave an honest answer, then that could hurt feelings and deprive the other of the joy of ownership. So one lied, and praised it, which was surely the right thing to do. Or was it? Perhaps it was not as simple as that. If one became accustomed to lying in such circumstances, the line between truth and falsehood could become blurred."

To me, it's just thoughts that we have heard before, and that weren't particularly interesting to begin with.
My final though is in relation to the title of the book – The Sunday Philosophy Club. I have no idea where this title came from or how it even remotely relates to the story. In the book, Isabel does mention being the founding member of a group of people called the Sunday Philosophy Club – but that is as far as it goes. The group plays no role in the story and as far I could tell from the few mentions it received, the group of people had never even met each other. Why on earth it is the title I have no idea.

This review is perhaps a little harsher than I meant it to be. The book was harmless and easy to read. It just needed a more sympathetic protagonist, a little more action and a little less philosophical pondering to improve it.

There are more books in this series. I will read them if I even come across them for cheap at Vinnie's or a garage sale, but I couldn't honestly say that I will be rushing out to buy them.

4.5 / 8
Alright. Worth reading if you get the chance, but don't prioritise it. 

If you have read it, were you a little disappointed by this book? Are you sometimes disappointed when what seems like it has potential to be an interesting and fun read falls short of your expectations? What was the last book that did that for you?

Review: Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

It's time for the truth: I am not a fan of Shakespeare. I am still traumatised by being made to read his plays in High School when I could have reading many more cooler and more interesting books (to my teenage mind). The hangover from this is that the thought of reading Shakespeare still sends shudders down my spine.

Bill Bryson, on the other hand, I love. His books usually have me laughing out loud on public transport and at other inappropriate places and times.

So when I saw a book entitled Shakespeare by Bill Bryson I thought that it was the perfect opportunity to learn something about one of the greatest known playwrights, while being amused by a funny writer, and without having to read a Shakespeare play.

Fortunately, I was right, and it was a great read.

What's clever about this book is that Bryson isn't trying to teach us everything there is to know about Shakespeare. Instead he seems determined to convey how little we know about and how little we can know about him. Everything from how he looked to how is really spelled his name is a mystery. I learnt that there are only a few surviving samples of Shakespeare's signature, and not one of them is spelled the same as any of the others and none of them are spelt in the manner that we are accustomed to seeing his name written now.

Bryson points out that as we know so little about the man, academics and scholars have instead largely concentrated on what it is possible to know about Shakespeare's plays:
"Faced with a wealth of text but a poverty of context, scholars have focused obsessively on what they can know. They have counted every word he wrote, logged every dib and jot. They can tell us (and have done so) that Shakespeare's works contain 138,198 commas, 26,794 colons, and 15,785 question marks; that ears are spoken of 401 times in his plays; that dunghill is used 10 times and dullard twice; that his characters refer to love 2,259 times but to hate just 183 times; that he used damned 105 times and bloody 226 times, but bloody-minded only twice; that he wrote hath 2,069 times but has just 409 times; that all together he left us 884,647 words, made up of 31,959 speeches, spread over 118,406 lines".
Essentially what Bryson does in Shakespeare is to concentrate on sharing interesting facts about we can know about Shakespeare's writing and what we do know about the times in which he lived. This includes matters such as transport, town planning and dress.

Bryson uses these observations and historical facts in two ways. The first is to attempt to draw possible conclusions about what Shakespeare himself was like and what his life may have been like. He also, however, uses facts that can be gleaned from Shakespeare's work to draw possible conclusions about what life in England must have been like. So, we find interesting facts such as this:
"Pronunciations, too, were often very different from today's. We know from Shakespeare that knees, grease, grass and grace all rhymed (at least more or less), and that he could pun reason with raison and Rome with room. The first hundred or so lines of Venus and Adonis offer such striking rhyme pairs as satiety and variety, fast and haste, bone and gone, entreats and frets, swears and tears, hear and get. Elsewhere plague is rhymed with wage, grapes with mishaps, Calais with chalice (the French town was often spelled 'Callis' or 'Callice')."
Bryson does all of this with his characteristic sense of humour; poking fun at the extent of scholarly attention the minutiae of Shakespeare's writing has received, as well as at some of the conclusions these scholars have reached based on what little primary evidence there is about the man himself.

This includes of course the conjecture around whether Shakespeare was really the author of his own plays. Bryson dedicates an entire chapter to these theories at the end of the book. This chapter, in fact, is really dedicated to making fun of the various theories about who might really have authored the plays and was one of the funniest chapters in the book.

This isn't Bryson's most humorous book but if you, like me, enjoy a good chuckle and aren't so fussed about Shakespeare, this is a great introduction to the life and times (or what we can know of them) of a great playwright.

6 / 8
Really enjoyable and well written. I would recommend it

I would love to know if you enjoyed this book in the same way that I did? I admit, that I can perhaps see that fans of Shakespeare might find Bryson's light hearted attitude a little irritating at times.

Review: The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

The first book in Tarquin Hall's Vish Puri detective series, The Case of the Missing Servant, sounded fun and promising. With a quote like this on the back "If Mma Ramotswe is an African Marple, Puri is an Indian Poirot…" I didn't think I could go wrong.

Here's a taste of what you can expect from this book: "Meet Vish Puri, India's most private investigator. Portly, persistent and unmistakably Punjabi, he cuts a determined swathe through modern India s swindlers, cheats and murderers. In hot and dusty Delhi, where call centres and malls are changing the ancient fabric of Indian life, Puri s main work comes from screening prospective marriage partners, a job once the preserve of aunties and family priests. But when an honest public litigator is accused of murdering his maidservant, it takes all of Puri s resources to investigate. How will he trace the fate of the girl, known only as Mary, in a population of more than one billion? Who is taking pot shots at him and his prize chilli plants? And why is his widowed Mummy-ji attempting to play sleuth when everyone knows Mummies are not detectives? With his team of undercover operatives Tubelight, Flush and Facecream Puri ingeniously combines modern techniques with principles of detection established in India more than two thousand years ago -- long before that Johnny-come-lately Sherlock Holmes donned his Deerstalker. The search for Mary takes him to the desert oasis of Jaipur and the remote mines of Jharkhand. From his well-heeled Gymkhana Club to the slums where the servant classes live, Puri's adventures reveal modern India in all its seething complexity."

I really enjoyed this book. It was everything it promised to be.

The mystery was exactly that – quite a mystery. There were many twists and subplots that kept me entertained and it was interesting to watch it all unfold and see the roles that the individuals in the story each played in the resolution.

Hall was also able to work into his story the many different ways of life within India, from the slums to the middle and upper classes. I imagine that what I read was an accurate portrayal of the lives of many people in India (I say imagine because I have never been there).

If I sound like I am holding back a bit it is because of this: there was nothing original about this book. I know I know. What kind of originality could I possibly expect of a book of this nature? It's been done before; Puri is just a new character in a very well defined literary tradition.

I suppose I didn't expect it to be quite as unoriginal as I felt it was. In my mind I couldn't help but compare it with Shamini Flint's Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder. This is a very similar book I read in 2011 that I still felt added something new in a way that The Case of the Missing Servant failed to do. Puri was a bit too close to Poirot for comfort, everything from the round body to the perfect moustache and the affected manners. This may have been done deliberately but it turned me off a little bit I have to admit.

Having said that, please don't let this turn you off the book. It was a very compelling read, with larger than life characters, mystery and heartbreak. For people who enjoy this genre, this is certainly a series you won't regret reading.

5.5 / 8
Enjoyable. I would recommend it.

Do you think I am being a bit harsh expecting something a bit more original from a book like this?

Happy Australia Day! You know you're Australian if......

I know it's a day late but happy belated Australia Day.  I found this on someone else's blog and couldn't help but laugh. It certainly coinjures up images that wouldn't apply to all Australian's by a long shot, but it's still worth sharing with you all. 

You know you're Australian if....

* You believe that stubbies can be either drunk or worn.

* You're liable to burst out laughing whenever you hear of Americans "rooting" for something.

* You pronounce Melbourne as 'Mel-bin'. You believe the 'L' in the word 'Australia' is optional.

* You can translate: 'Dazza and Shazza played Acca Dacca on the way to Maccas.'

* You believe it makes perfect sense for a nation to decorate its highways with large fibreglass bananas, prawns and sheep.

* You think 'Woolloomooloo' is a perfectly reasonable name for a place.

* You're secretly proud of our killer wildlife.

* You believe it makes sense for a country to have a $1 coin that's twice as big as its $2 coin.

* You understand that 'Wagga Wagga' can be abbreviated to 'Wagga' but 'Woy Woy' can't be called 'Woy'.

* You believe that cooked-down axle grease makes a good breakfast spread. You've also squeezed it through Vita Wheats to make little Vegemite worms.

* You believe all famous Kiwis are actually Australian, until they stuff up, at which point they again become Kiwis.

* Beetroot with your Hamburger... Of course.

* You believe that the confectionery known as the Wagon Wheel has become smaller with every passing year.

* You believe that the more you shorten someone's name the more you like them.

* You understand that 'excuse me' can sound rude, While 'scuse me' is always polite.

* You know what it's like to swallow a fly, on occasion via your nose.

* You know it's not summer until the steering wheel is too hot to handle and a seat belt buckle becomes a pretty good branding iron.

* Your biggest family argument over the summer concerned the rules for beach cricket.

* You shake your head in horror when companies try to market what they call 'Anzac cookies'.

* You still think of Kylie as 'that girl off Neighbours'.

* When working on a bar, you understand male customers will feel the need to offer an excuse whenever they order low-alcohol beer.

* You know how to abbreviate every word, all of which usually end in -o: arvo, combo, garbo, kero, metho, milko, muso, rego, servo, smoko, speedo, righto, goodo etc.

* You know that there is a universal place called "woop woop" located in the middle of matter where you actually are. *

* You know that none of us actually drink Fosters beer, because it tastes like shit. But we let the world think we do. Because we can.

* You have some time in your life slept with Aeroguard on in the summer. Maybe even as perfume.

* You've only ever used the words - tops, ripper, sick, mad, rad, sweet - to mean good. And then you place 'bloody' in front of it when you REALLY mean it.

* You know that the barbecue is a political arena; the person holding the tongs is always the boss and usually a man. And the women make the Salad. (sad, but true in my experience)

* You say 'no worries' quite often, whether you realise it or not.

* You understand what no wucking furries means.

* You've drank your tea/coffee/milo through a Tim Tam.

* You own a Bond's chesty. In several different colours.

* You know that roo meat tastes pretty good, But not as good as barra. Or a meat pie.

* You know that some people pronounce Australia like "Straya" and that's ok.

All questions welcome if you need something explained!! 

Review: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos is another of his eery science fiction classics with universally significant themes.
The rural village of Midwich in country England was little known until "Dayout". The entire town becomes enclosed in an invisible dome. Everyone inside the dome falls asleep, and no one outside it can enter or determine what is happening. Just as inexplicably, the dome is soon lifted and the inhabitants come to.

Everything seems to go back to normal fairly quickly, but one by one each of the women of child bearing age and ability find themselves pregnant. Each bears a child, but these children are not what they seem. It soon becomes clear to the villagers that the Children have an ability to make people do their bidding, as well as a very special connection between each other. Eventually the town must make a choice, do they save themselves or do they save the world?

There was much to love about this book, although I found it somewhat of an anticlimax compared to his other books.

I think the reason for this is that the action that is so integral to his other novels takes a back seat to Wyndham's own philosophising on matters such as evolution, race, religion and justice.

The story of The Midwich Cuckoos provides the perfect mechanism for exploring these fascinating issues. Are the Children really men or some other species? If they are some other species, is it murder to kill them? Is it murder if they kill people in the village? How do the laws of one species govern the behaviour of another? Is justice about getting even or is there something more to it? If God created all species, did he intend that mankind's supremacy on earth come to an end when he created the Children, is it simply a part of evolution?

Then there is the more over arching question of collectivism vs individualism - should mankind as a whole be prioritised over the lives of some individuals that comprise mankind? How can such decisions be made and by who?

I am not quite sure where to place this in my thinking of the book, but it did occur to me that what Zellaby does at the end of the book reflects to a certain extent what Jesus Christ is said to have done for mankind. Going hand in hand with the question of individualism v collectivism is this idea of self sacrifice and what role it plays/should play in our lives. How far would be go for others and in what circumstances? This is something that is worth further thought, especially in conjunction with Wyndham's (through his characters) reflections on religion throughout the book. It's something I will reflect more on during a second reading of the book.

There were so many fascinating questions explored, but I felt at times as though Wyndham was pushing his own agenda and views on me through the character of Zellaby, who does most of the philosophising in the book. It was somewhat frustrating, especially when it was mixed with what I consider old-fashioned ideas about religion and more particularly female gender roles.

Don't get me wrong, I loved this book. It was tense when it needed to be; there was danger and mystery. The premise of the story was unique and thought provoking. It only needed a little more action and a little more talk to make it one of my favourites.

6.5 / 8
Really enjoyable and well written. I recommend that you buy it. 

How did you find this one compared to his other books? Does it bother you when you feel like the author is more concerned with getting a message across than getting on with the story? I would also love to know what people thought of the movie adaptations if you have seen them.