Read by Janelle: September 2015 – The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

The Beautiful Bureaucrat

by Helen Phillips

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Published 2015

Genres: Fiction / Literary / Suspense / Mystery

“Back in 9997, Josephine stood beside her desk, eyeing the accumulated files, dizzy. A bead of sweat rolled from her armpit down her torso. She did not dare touch them. Like snakes. Handle with a stick, avoid skin contact at all costs.”

Married couple Josephine and Joseph have moved to “the big city” to make a new life for themselves. They both score mediocre jobs, frankly just to make ends meet, and spend a lot of time moving from one questionable basement apartment to the next. Josephine’s job is unusual, her one and only role is to input specific lines of data into The Database, ensuring that she works through the mountain of files that magically appear on her desk every morning. Her boss, who we know only as The Person With Bad Breath, gives no hints as to the purpose of The Database or the logic behind the data that is being added to it. Their workplace is a windowless cube, with no obvious corporation name or other way to identify it, other than the entry doors on the outside of the building, marked “A” to “Z”. Before too long, this sterile environment begins to take its toll on Josephine’s mind and body. She becomes suspicious of those around her, both at work and outside of work. And then Joseph starts to disappear for periods at a time with no explanation. What have they got themselves into?

Janelle says…

think I liked this book? I’m still not completely sure, it was such a whirlwind fast read (less than 200 pages) with a whole lot of mystery and weirdness thrown in, I’m still making my mind up. One minute I was totally absorbed in what was happening, the next minute I was frustrated and thrown by how completely bizarre the writing was.

The mystery at the core of the book is The Database, and trying to figure out what it’s for and what the data in it means. Josephine slowly works this out as the story progresses, and all is explained. But in the meantime, get ready to scratch your head in bewilderment a lot. I present to you – Exhibit A:

“She didn’t know whether pomegranates should be selected based on firmness or fragrance or hue.

Poor me granite.

Pagan remote.

Page tame no.

This starts happening more and more as we move through the book, because Josephine’s strange occupation is slowly sending her bonkers. Every couple of paragraphs or so, she will pull apart a word that is mentioned and rearrange the letters to form new words, as above. At first it’s kind of funny and intriguing, then it just becomes annoying, even though it is proving a point about our protagonist’s state of mind. And then, we have this:

“A laundromat, washers and dryers all filled with bright clothing, but the machines static, not spinning. A gorilla in the driver’s seat of a parked car. A transparent bird, a snagged plastic bag, a woman’s arm vanishing into a brick wall. Three luminous Coca-Cola trucks pulled up to a factory.”

It goes on. For a whole page. I have no idea what’s going on here. She is drunk at this point in the story, or at least a little tipsy, but is it possible she is also high on ‘shrooms or something and I didn’t know? What the actual?!

I enjoy books that are slightly off-centre, I do, but to a point. “The Beautiful Bureaucrat” ebbed and flowed in its weirdness, and its saving grace was that it wasn’t completely ridiculous the whole way through.

I really enjoyed the whole mystery around The Database, and whenever I was reading Josephine outside of the office, I was thinking “hurry up and get back to work!”. I love a good puzzle story. The conclusion was satisfying, and it left just enough unturned to let the reader continue to wonder a little more. I loved the whole concept of this story, and ultimately this is what has just tipped me over on to the “liked this book” side of the scales.

This book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea that’s for sure, but if you enjoy your mystery/suspense novels with a good side dose of crazy, then this short read might just be up your alley.

 

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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Read by Janelle: September 2015 – Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman

by Harper Lee

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Published 2015

Genres: Fiction / Literary

“He began dating her on her annual two-week visits home, and although she still moved like a thirteen-year-old boy and abjured most feminine adornment, he found something so intensely feminine about her that he fell in love. She was easy to look at and easy to be with most of the time, but she was in no sense of the word an easy person. She was afflicted with a restlessness of spirit he could not guess at, but he knew she was the one for him.”

Janelle says…

So, I have read it. Well actually, that’s not entirely true.

I couldn’t ignore the hype, the controversy, or the significance of this book. The story of its discovery through to its publishing, with all the conjecture and divided opinion in between, was completely fascinating. Personally, I don’t believe this manuscript was published with the blessing of Harper Lee. If she was in fact of sound enough mind to consent to its publishing, and the words that announced the publishing did in fact come from her own hand, then why would she sit idly by while the motives of her spokesperson and friend, Tonja Carter, were repeatedly questioned by readers and the media? Wouldn’t she have spoken out to defend her? And why would she have waited so long to publish it? I can’t believe she merely “forgot it existed” once To Kill A Mockingbird once released.

Then again, who am I to comment on how Harper Lee’s mind works?

You might have heard that in Watchman, we learn that Atticus Finch has become somewhat racist, whereas in Mockingbird he was an advocate for racial equality. And there was a definite turning point in this book where that change of heart became apparent, but in my opinion, the discovery of it wasn’t quite shocking or raw enough to warrant the chapters and chapters of Jean Louise’s (Scout’s) grief and outrage that followed. I was expecting something else I guess, maybe some kind of explosive verbal diarrhoea on his part and then gasps and tears all around…….and it was mellow compared to that expectation. I felt like yelling at Jean Louise to just confront him about it already so we could all move on!

There also seemed to be a lot of nothing much happening. I found that I was sitting down to read, and after about a page or so, I would turn to my phone or the TV instead – I was looking for something to distract me from the boredom of continuing to read.

Considering this book was published in the form of the unedited manuscript that was found, I was surprised at how few errors it contained. There were definitely a few, but I was expecting more. However, it was clear to me that a number of areas would ideally have been cut back, had they been edited.

While I was reading, I kept asking myself whether it should be a prerequisite to read Mockingbird before reading Watchman. I think the answer is yes, because if you read Watchman first without any context as to the time or the place or the people or the cultural and social agenda at the heart of the story, you would probably dump this book by page 50. If you’ve read Mockingbird already, there’s a chance you might just finish Watchman. As it turns out, I didn’t finish it. I gave it a good 190 pages before I bailed. I’m not usually a book-quitter, and I really did want to see this one through. But in the end, my interest just couldn’t be revived, and I couldn’t be bothered sticking with it for the remaining 90 pages.

I would absolutely recommend that you Kill A Mockingbird, but I wouldn’t endorse Setting A Watchman.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

DNF (Did Not Finish)

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Read by Mel: July 2015 – Secret Keeping For Beginners by Maggie Alderson

Secret Keeping For Beginners

by Maggie Alderson

Published May 2015

Genres: Fiction / Chick Lit

Everything lurking beneath the surface of this seemingly happy family is about to come bursting out….

Secret Keeping for Beginners follows the individual stories of four women; mother Joy and her daughters, Tessa, Rachel and Natasha, as well as Rachel’s boss Simon. Each individual has a differing underlying ‘secret’ and it is only a matter of time before it starts to affect their relationships with one another and the ‘secret’s come bubbling to the surface. 

Mel says…

I think it is important to start this review by stating that I absolutely LOVE Maggie Alderson. I have read all of her books, so when I found out she was releasing a new book, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it for my first individual review.

This book sets the scene with the family of four women. Firstly there is Joy, the hippy/eclectic ageing mother who is the problem solver of the family. Her eclectic style, utilising meditation and crystals as her main sources of calm and guidance in her life, displays great amounts of compassion to not only her children, but others throughout the story. I found myself wishing I could carry some of my own problems to Joy and have her hold my hand and make everything ok. Her character has the great depth of warmth and welcome that Maggie Alderson was aiming for.

There was no doubting the closeness that was described of the three sisters; Tessa, Rachel and Natasha. I did feel that Rachel’s story was by far the stand out of this book. Her issues and character development made me feel for her in more ways than any of the other characters.

If I had to pick one character whom I disliked, or did not take to, it would have to be Tessa. I felt that Maggie Alderson didn’t portray her well and she felt like a bored stay-at-home Mum. Her back story annoyed me and I found that I would get irritated with her dedicated chapters.

As the title suggests, this book is full of secrets. One for each main character in fact. I felt that the secrets were definitely what drove the story and as the name suggests, each character had uphill battles with their own concerns as well as supporting one another. There was one secret though that I felt was worthy of more than the minimum mentions that it was granted, and that was Joy’s. I was disappointed that it was not given more depth, and it could have possibly been left out completely as Joy played a great role as the confidante.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. Would I read it again? Probably not. But it did give me the heartwarming feel that Maggie Alderson always seems to bring out in me.

Rating:

Did not like it  –  It was ok  –  Liked it  –  Really liked it  –  It was amazing

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