Buddy Read – 11/22/63 by Stephen King

August/September 2017 – Mel’s choice

11/22/63

by Stephen King

Published 2011

Genres: Historical Fiction/Thriller

 

“You’re healthy and in the prime of life. You can go back, and you can stop it.’
He leaned forward, his eyes not just bright; they were blazing.
‘You can change history, Jake. Do you understand that? John Kennedy can live.”

Maine high school teacher, Jake Epping is about to have his life turned upside down. The owner of the local diner reveals to Jake that he’s discovered a portal to travel back to the 1950’s, and wants to enlist Jake to carry out his plan to stop the Kennedy assassination. What will life be like for Jake in a different era to the one he knows? And could he really stop Lee Harvey Oswald?

 

Mel says…

Wowsers, what a ride!

11/22/63 took me 2 months to read from cover to cover. It was a damn big commitment when it comes to books, at 1080 pages, but I kept chipping away at it and boy am I glad I did.

This is my second attempt at completing this book. The first attempt was a ‘did not finish’ (DNF) due to lack of dedication and the sheer volume of pages to devour. BUT, I picked this as our August (come September) Buddy Read so Janelle and I could keep each other motivated enough to stick it out to the end.

Aside from the sizing of literature, this was an excellent addition to the Stephen King collection. It is only the second King novel that I have read, but it won’t be the last! The amount of research and thought that were put into these pages is astounding and evident. If I was naive enough, you could tell me this was a Non-Fictional recount of a time travellers journey and I would whole-heartedly believe you.

I felt that 1080 pages was too long for this story however, as it was edging to the finale, I was sad to think it would soon be over. As the day of the assassination neared, I myself felt the nervousness and eagerness that I could believe of George Amberson/Jake Epping and felt that King took his readers to those emotions with such cleverness, from a master of the written word.

I rate 11/22/63 4.5 stars. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever been fascinated by the JFK assassination and has ever asked themselves, ‘was Oswald a lone gunman?’

Rating:

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

 

Janelle says…

I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this book. However, I am glad that Mel chose it as our Buddy Read, as I think the sheer size of the thing would have forever turned me off it had I not been forced to read it.

I agree with Mel that it did not have to be quite so lengthy. The middle of the book did get taken up with the details of George Amberson’s/Jake Epping’s new life in the past, and while some of that was necessary to the plot, I got bored with the story at this point. It was difficult to motivate myself to read on to the end, and I did consider DNF’ing the book.

BUT I wouldn’t let it defeat me! It started out so strong, and having had previous success with reading King, I persevered. The story raced towards a thrilling finish and I ended up breezing through the last third of the book. I’m not sure I was entirely satisfied with the ending, only because a possible (and much more exciting, in my opinion) ending was hinted at and then didn’t eventuate, so I had been expecting and hoping for a different conclusion. In general, I was expecting and hoping for more time travel back and forth, and was somewhat disappointed when the protagonist got stuck in the late 50’s/early 60’s for the majority of the book.

Overall, not my favourite King so far but well worth the read if you can handle the commitment.

Rating:

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

 

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Buddy read – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

January 2017 – Mel’s choice

Life After Life

by Kate Atkinson

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Published 2013

Genres: Fiction / Historical / Literary

As the story begins, Ursula Todd is born with the cord wrapped around her neck and does not survive. The next chapter, the same incident occurs, but this time, the doctor is present and is able to remove the cord from Ursula’s neck, so she lives through this ordeal, only to die in a differing way a few years later. As the plot progresses, so does Ursula’s life through the differing scenarios that play out and as she surpasses these various events from her previous lives, she begins to suffer from deja vu. 

“All those names,” Teddy said, gazing at the Cenotaph. “All those lives. And now again. I think there is something wrong with the human race. It undermines everything one would like to believe in, don’t you think?”

“No point in thinking,” she said briskly, “you just have to get on with life.” (She really was turning into Miss Woolf.) “We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try.” (The transformation was complete.)

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again,”Teddy said, “until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” 

Mel says…

I was super enthusiastic to read this book, as the premise of the story is doing life over when you don’t get it right the first time. What put me off reading this book for so long after I purchased it, was the 600+ pages, but in the end, I was intrigued enough to make this my first read of 2017.

I must admit, the plot sounds slightly confusing and it was at times. I found after roughly 200 pages, I was constantly wondering who certain characters were, as well as getting irritated with the use of various languages for a sentence here and there, with minimal translation applied. These were minor irks, but ones I carried until the very last page.

The positives were the way in which Kate Atkinson writes. It is so descriptive and she builds the characters personalities in such a way, that I felt I had built rapport’s with the main characters, by the end of the first hundred pages. The uniqueness of this book was a standout and one that I enjoyed exploring.

Specifically, I was intrigued to read about Atkinson’s interpretation of the raw brutality that was World War II and I actually felt like she got her descriptive details so perfect, that I could just imagine the colourless and depressive nature that was London during this significant part of history. The “version” I guess we will call it, of Ursula’s life as a warden during World War II, was my personal favourite. I found it so confronting and interesting at the same time, but it also felt so appropriate to the time period that she was living in.

Overall, I felt this book didn’t require 600+ pages to complete the story. I began waning with my enthusiasm by page 400, but pushed on with minimal reward. There are several unanswered questions, which is always irritating, but I enjoyed it enough to grant it 3.5 stars.

Rating:

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

Janelle says…

I was similarly intrigued by the premise of this story, but the size of this book meant I was put off again and again from starting it. The new year does feel like a great time to sink in to a massive tome, though! And I’m glad I did.

The story explores how a life can be irrevocably changed through one small movement or decision, which unbeknownst to you, could end up defining your future. Something which is terrifying, yet accurate and fascinating.

I, like Mel, also thought that the book was longer than it needed to be. There were some chapters in the middle of the book that were soooooo long that I started to struggle with them. But it was the uniqueness of this book, my curiosity over where it would go next, and my love for the well-developed characters that kept me going.

This is not a book about only one character, we become deeply familiar with all the members of the Todd family and others around them. Because deja vu is a theme that runs throughout this book, there are links between chapters – sometimes the links are strong and obvious, sometimes so small they’re almost overlooked. I loved this clever trick, it felt like going on a treasure hunt.

I did lag with this book at times but nonetheless I was still keen to sink in to this world again and again to revisit the characters I had grown to love. I was expecting to get a different resolution out of it, but found that at the end I wasn’t completely satisfied that it had been tied up neatly enough. However, ultimately it was the unique format Kate Atkinson employed to pull off this premise that was enough to warrant a four star rating.

 

 Rating:

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

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Raw – Like a Queen by Constance Hall

Like a Queen by Constance Hall

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Published 2016

Genres: Non Fiction/Biographical

“Every time you are expressing kindness, handing over some of your wage to a charity, giving another Queen a compliment, recognising a lonely Queen and taking the time to get to know her, offering to babysit for that single mum at school who’s doing it all on her own, sacrificing your coffee money for that homeless guy who waits at the train station every morning, choose to understand instead of judge.

You are changing the world. Every time that you are connecting yourself to someone else, you are changing the world.

Queens are the change the world needs.

This, Queens,

Is just the beginning.”

Australian “Mummy” blogger, Constance Hall’s, first book. A must read for all ‘Queens’.


Mel says…

Before I read Like a Queen, I had only read exerpts of Con’s writing on Facebook and my only memory of her was from a series of Australian Big Brother, many many years ago. So let’s just say that my opinion of her was fairly iffy, at best. But as my girlfriends and fellow Mum’s started raving about this book, I just had to give it a read.

I’ll start with the negatives first; for one, Con is up front with her lack of grammar and punctuation in her blog but I must admit, publishing a book should come with an editor, right? So I don’t think it is too much to ask for someone to have proofread and corrected the use of the words ‘woman’ and women’ in their correct context. It is minor, but something that ALWAYS irritates me. Secondly, I did get a tad irritated with how much Con used the word ‘Queen’ throughout. I know, I know, the book is titled Like a QUEEN for crying out loud, but to use it up to 5-6 times in one paragraph just irked me.
By the last 50 or so pages, I was kind of over the whole book, but I do appreciate the messages that were coming across.

Ok, I have gotten the negatives off my chest, so on to the positives. This book literally had me LOL’ing many times, once in a busy cafe with other patrons staring awkwardly at me. Con tells it like it is and when it comes to early motherhood, it was pretty bloody accurate. As a new mother myself, a lot of the stories that were told resonated with me, as they were so fresh in my memory from my own personal experiences.

From poop to sex and everything in between, this book made me cringe, laugh and hold back tears. I did enjoy reading about Constance’s life in general however, as I was not an avid fan of hers before reading her book, I wasn’t all that interested in those chapters. The chapters that were in relation to mothering and motherhood are what kept me intrigued, but I did struggle to finish it.

Overall, this is a book for women but in particular, Mum’s. New Mum’s, old Mum’s, Grandmothers and step-mothers. I think we can all relate to a lot of the stories and learn from the generous heart that belongs to the original “Queeny’ herself, Constance.

 

Rating:

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

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Buddy read – Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

August 2016 – Janelle’s choice

Truly Madly Guilty

by Liane Moriarty

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Published 2016

Genres: Fiction / Suspense

The air rushed from Clementine’s lungs. Afterwards, everyone would say, ‘It happened so fast’, and it did happen fast, but at the same time it slowed down, every second a freeze-frame in unforgettable full colour, lit by golden fairy lights.

Clementine leaped to her feet so fast her chair fell over. What? Where? Who?

This story revolves around three families – Erika and Oliver; Clementine, Sam, Holly and Ruby; and Tiffany, Vid and Dakota. Their insecurities, their worries, their relationships with one another, and the life events that have shaped the people they presently are. But most of all, it revolves around one day in all of their lives when their worlds are irrevocably changed. One incident at a backyard barbeque that changes everything.

Janelle says…

I think it’s safe to say I’m a “Liane Moriarty fan”, now having read two of her books. Big Little Lies blew me away with its suspense and all the connections between characters, I was really looking forward to more of the same with Moriarty’s newest – Truly Madly Guilty.

The narrative jumps back and forth between life prior to the barbeque (which is the defining point in the book), and then replaying the barbeque itself up until the point of the “incident”, and then throwing to life after the barbeque. All the while, hints are dropped along the way about what might have happened at the get-together but never giving enough away that the reader can piece it together. The gap between the two narratives gradually closes until we finally reach the incident itself and all is revealed.

As said about Big Little Lies, I do really enjoy this format of slowly working away at the puzzle, especially when the end result is something completely surprising that I didn’t see coming. All in all I enjoyed this book, the plot kept me hanging on to find out what happens, while also bringing up interesting thoughts around the themes of what is socially acceptable as an adult, as a parent, and just as a person in the world.

I had two reasons for not rating it any higher than 3 out of 5. Firstly, to me it was a dead ringer for another Australian book I read a couple of years ago, which shall remain unnamed so as not to give away the endings of either book, BUT the endings were so eerily similar that I couldn’t get it out of my head and it really bugged me that I felt like I was reading something I’d already read. My other reason is that I didn’t think it needed to go on for as long as it did. This is a pretty hefty book, and there were moments where I was reading and thinking “Yes yes yes, get to the point…how is there still 200 pages to go?!!”

It’s no Big Little Lies, but if you’re a Moriarty fan, it’s definitely worth a read.

Rating:

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

Mel says…

This is the third Liane Moriarty book I have read and it followed the same suspenseful format that I have come accustomed to. The day this book launched, I had my hot little hands on my own copy and began devouring it. By page 100, I was hooked and hungry to know what the big “incident” at the barbecue was, that the characters kept eluding to.

The characters were all so personable. Vid was the kind of man I would love to be friends with, his wife Tiffany was the kind of woman I would be intimidated by, Clementine was the kind of person I would warm to and Erica was the kind of woman I would try and avoid. As the story unfolded, these opinions started to shift and not necessarily in the way I thought they would.

It took a fair amount of reading, but once I approached the actual “incident”, it had me gasping in shock and dismay. I couldn’t continue reading until I had given myself time to digest what happened. As the story continued past the barbecue, I started to better understand the characters, their differing reactions and the aftermath.

It is hard to go into detail, without giving away what the actual “incident” is, but I think if we were to spoil that part of the book for the readers of the blog, it would take away any desire you may have to read this book for yourself. The shock factor is what made this book a great read.

I agree with Janelle in that this book was longer than necessary, but I enjoyed the plot enough that it didn’t annoy me as much as it could have. This book is a must for any Liane Moriarty fan, or if you are looking for a read that creates intrigue, mystery and a little bit of heartache with a twist of humour. Sounds like an odd mix, but once you read it for yourself, you will understand what I mean!

Rating:

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

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Finality – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

by JK Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

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Published 2016

Genres: Fiction/Young Adult

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-aged children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth; sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

The eighth story.
Nineteen years later.

Mel says…

Bringing out another Harry Potter book, even as a screenplay, was always a risky move. Potterheads around the world are very passionate about the stories and speaking for myself, I was so nervous about this book. It was either going to be amazing, or ruin everything JK has created.

I am sure by now, you have realised that I am a huge Potterhead. My bio picture is of me with my nose in the first Harry Potter book, so you can assume that yes, I am obsessed!

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This was the first series of novels that I fell head over heels in love with. I still remember the Christmas I received the first four books from my parents, as well as the awesome day  of reading I spent with my sister (Janelle) when the final book was released. Many laughs and tears have been shed over these characters, so let me begin my honest review, with that in mind.

It was important to me to read this with an open mind and to remember that this is not meant to be read like a normal novel. For starters, it is the rehearsal edition script for The Cursed Child play, currently being held in London. This did not bother me. I found it quite easy to navigate the dialogue of each character and create the pictures in my head from the little scene setting paragraph at the beginning of each scene and act.

The original characters still play a large role within this story, but to be honest, that annoyed me. I don’t really understand why, either. I think it may be because rehashing the original main characters when they are middle aged, takes away from the magic we are so familiar with, when they were written as children in the book series.

Focusing the main story around Harry’s son Albus and Draco’s son Scorpius, was a likeable decision. I felt emotion towards Albus, as I could imagine how he would feel intimidated by having to grow up in his father’s shadow and Scorpius Malfoy was, shockingly, like another version of Ron Weasley; very likeable.

The story itself, (and I won’t go into too much detail as I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot for everyone), was in my opinion, disappointing. I was hoping for so much more and that could be due to the enormity of the Harry Potter franchise in prior years, but with JK Rowling’s as only a co-author, I felt that this impacted on the story and you could really sense the disconnection between this screenplay and the original series.

I was really wanting to rate this as amazing, purely for the Harry Potter title, but in my honest opinion, I give it 3 stars. Will I read it again? Maybe. Will I see the play if it ever hits Aussie shores? Definitely. Do I recommend other Potterheads give this a read? Let me put it this way, I am glad JK stated that this is the final adventure for Harry, Ron and Hermione. The decision to overwrite the previous ending given to the series is completely up to you! Do I still love Harry Potter? Always…

Rating:

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

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Buddy Read – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

February 2016 – Mel’s choice

All The Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

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Published 2015

Genres: Fiction / Literary Fiction / Historical Fiction

“..maybe the Germans are advancing as inexorably as lava, but Marie-Laure is slipping into something like a dream, or perhaps it’s the memory of one: she’s six or seven years old, newly blind, and her father is sitting in the chair beside her bed, whittling away at some tiny piece of wood, smoking a cigarette, and evening is settling over the hundred thousand rooftops and chimneys of Paris, and all the walls around her are dissolving, the ceilings too, the whole city is disintegrating into smoke, and at last sleep falls over her like a shadow.”

For Marie-Laure, blind since age six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic layers within the priceless diamond that is guarded in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth.

 

Mel says…

This book has received so many rave reviews, as well as being the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction, so naturally I was eager to read this book and see what all the fuss was about. Initially, I must admit, I dragged myself through the first hundred or so pages and thought ‘meh’. BUT, I did change my tune as I pushed on.

The first thing you must know is that this book is not a quick, easy read. It is very deep and emotionally driven, which you would expect as the story is based during WWII, and the Nazi invasion of France.

This is a beautiful story of two innocent children, Marie-Laure and Werner. Marie-Laure is a young, blind girl who relies heavily on her father to assist with daily life tasks, so once the invasion of Paris begins, her story and life become very different from many others.

Werner is a young, German orphan who grows up with his sister, Jutta, and who is led into a life of service by the Nazis. He is still a child when he is enlisted and I believe he is fairly unaware how much of an impact on the war his engineering skills actually make.

This story is generously flecked with beautiful metaphors, and the meaning behind the title just makes Anthony Doerr’s work that much more exciting. All The Light We Cannot See is a must read for anyone wanting to read something with a little more depth and meaning.

Rating:

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

Janelle says…

Like Mel, I was keen to read this based on the positive reviews I’d heard, and the fact that it had won the Pulitzer. And my reading experience was actually the opposite of hers – starting out of the gate, I was really engaged with the characters but I became less motivated as the book went on. I really did like the format of very short chapters all throughout this book, it meant that I could read small snippets if I only had a short amount of time to spare, and it was always possible to simply read to the end of a chapter before putting the book down, rather than stopping mid-chapter. However, it felt like it took me FOREVER to read this (it took me two weeks), and I started to feel twitchy to finish it and move on. I’m beginning to think that perhaps I just lose interest with long books!

War stories are not a genre I’m that interested in reading (surprising, given that I worked in a war museum for many years. Perhaps I’ve just had my fill of them). But I did appreciate that this story was delivered from an angle a little different to most. Our protagonists are two children – one a German orphan boy, the other a blind French girl. And it’s in the development of these two characters where this story really shines. I was taken with both of them immediately, especially Marie-Laure. I had never wondered before about what it might be like to experience something as life-altering as living through a war, if you had a sensory impairment like blindness.

I can see why this book won the Pulitzer. Doerr’s writing is beautiful, he sets the scenes so vividly and delivers his characters with tenderness. If you enjoy fiction surrounding WWII then you should definitely give this a read. Personally, I did like this book, but I had trouble maintaining enthusiasm and focus from about mid-way onwards, and unfortunately it just didn’t “wow” me.

Rating:

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

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Buddy read – American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

March 2016 – Janelle’s choice

American Housewife: Stories

by Helen Ellis

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Published January 2016

Genres: Fiction / Short Stories / Humour

 

Meet the women of American Housewife: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like it’s a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven.
These twelve irresistible stories take us from a haunted prewar Manhattan apartment building to the set of a rigged reality television show, from the unique initiation ritual of a book club to the getaway car of a pageant princess on the lam, from the gallery opening of a tinfoil artist to the fitting room of a legendary lingerie shop.

Mel says…

Reading through this collection of short stories had me laughing out loud, cringing at stereotypes and wondering if women like the characters in each story actually exist.

I loved the differing perspectives of writing for each story and think that Helen Ellis nailed the variety of styles in each story. In one story you are reading it from a characters living perspective, the next through emails from differing characters and the next via a list of must-do’s.

If you are looking for an easy and quick read, this book is a must. It is light and funny and a good book to break up what can sometimes be an intense time in reading, when you have a long ‘to read list’ and just need a bookish holiday. This book keeps you turning pages until the very end. It is non-committal as protagonists constantly change and you aren’t required to make any emotional commitments to them, through their experiences.

This is one for the lady-on-the-go who needs to fill in a small amount of reading time.

Rating:

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

Janelle says…

I do love a short story collection. Especially when the other book I have on the go is almost 1000 pages long. Anything to distract me from the massive commitment staring at me!

Short story collections are the anti-commitment books. Perfect “in-between” books, and great for when you’re busy. This collection had me at the title. American Housewife? Say no more, just hand it over. At 185 pages long, I can practically fit it in my back pocket.

I was expecting a snappy little collection of witty, humorous stories about the stereotypical housewife, perhaps a story or two that dared to smash that stereotype by exposing “the truth” of how much work is actually involved in being your average housewife (note: not your rich and privileged housewife) (ie. a lot). Fast forward to the contents page, with story titles such as “What I Do All Day”, “Hello! Welcome To Book Club”, and “How To Be A Grown-Ass Lady”. Oh yes, this was going to be good.

And it was good. Just good. Not fabulous. I laughed (“The Wainscoting War” – I could have read a whole book just of that one story!), but I also meh’d (“Dumpster Diving With the Stars” – which just happened to also be the longest story in the collection). I wasn’t expecting that this collection would touch on some of the not-so-funny realities of being a housewife. Like loneliness, and jealousy, and subservience. I think it’s great that it did though. That’s real life.

But I did find myself at times thinking, “ho-hum”. So for that reason, I’m ranking American Housewife in the middle, with 3 stars out of 5.

Rating:

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

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Unique – Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker

Dear Mr. You

by Mary-Louise Parker

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Published 2015

Genres: Non-Fiction / Memoir

“Perhaps there are no answers for us poor humans, but we know a handful of things. We know that there exists a planet with four thousand versions of songbirds. Because that is possible and because on that same planet can exist sentient beings made up almost entirely of stardust, and because actual poetry erupts mightily from some of those beings, and there is music, sex, and babies; because we are all roaming a universe that may in fact be a hologram, with another dimension consecutively projecting itself outside the definition of relativity and gravity; because of all that, there is no reason why my prayers shouldn’t be able to reach your mother whose name I didn’t even know.”

 

Janelle says…

This is not your standard autobiography. And thank goodness, because more than anything, I really liked the unique format of this book. Writing letters to people (in the case of this book – men) who have influenced your life in some way – sometimes through a close relationship, sometimes with only an obscure or fleeting impact – is such an intriguing method of self-exploration and sharing your story.

Parker writes in a way that is almost stream-of-consciousness, with really insightful thoughts about the world and the important moments in our lives. It wasn’t until I was about a third of the way through the book that I was really taken by her writing though. The more I read, the more I understood her way of thinking and writing and her letters grew on me, and by the end I felt a real affection for her.

The mystery of the book is that we don’t know for sure who all of the letters are to. Some are obvious or have been deciphered and discussed online – her grandfather, her ex. But for most of them, we might never know. Which I think actually adds to the lure of this book. The idea that seemingly anonymous people who may have only touched your life for a day or an hour or less, can still make you ponder life’s questions deeply and embed themselves in your memory in the long-term.

I wouldn’t say this was one of my favourite books of this year, but it’s clear that Mary-Louise Parker has real writing talent. She’s funny, and honest, and has a way of describing things that make me feel like maybe I have had the same thoughts once, but would never have been able to figure out how to get them down on paper. If you have been a fan of Mary-Louise until now, or are just in the mood for reading something a little out-of-the-square and thoughtful, then give Dear Mr. You a read.

 

“He won’t be able to jump until he is almost eight, will not be capable of pronouncing the letter r, and will pass through a period, as his mother did, where he will stutter so badly that it makes him cry. There will be plenty that he won’t be the best at, but it is within all the medium and below that I will find relief, knowing he can enjoy the enviable position of normal, and the thrill of improving from floundering to adequate.”

 

Rating:

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

*I was provided with an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review*

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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 together: July 2015 – Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

July 2015 – Janelle’s choice

Annihilation

by Jeff VanderMeer

annihilation

Published 2014

Genres: Fiction / Sci-Fi

“The air was so clean, so fresh, while the world back beyond the border was what it had always been during the modern era: dirty, tired, imperfect, winding down, at war with itself. Back there, I had always felt as if my work amounted to a futile attempt to save us from who we are.”

The biologist has joined the twelfth expedition to Area X – an area uncharted and lost to the rest of society, affected by an unspecified environmental disaster we know only as The Event. With no clear objective, only vague details of the landscape, and an awareness of the ill-fated eleven expeditions before them, the four expedition members are wary of their surroundings and one another. They soon discover things existing in this desolated place that none of them have ever come across before. What has happened in Area X? What happened to the members of the expeditions before them? And can they trust each other?

 

Janelle says…

I found the writing to be report-like a lot of the time, which made sense as it was written as one of the character’s field journals. But with the language being somewhat clinical at times, this caused me to zone out at times and I had to read some sections over repeatedly before I was clear on what was being said.

“The recurring data points found in the journals that related to repeating cycles and fluctuations of seasons of the strange and ordinary were useful in establishing trends.”

See what I mean?

This meant it wasn’t a fast read, even though the book is under 200 pages! I wasn’t drawn in until about a quarter of the way through the book. Strange things start to happen, but as you’re following the story through the biologist’s eyes, you’re just as clueless as she is.

You don’t find out where Area X is in relation to the “real” world. You don’t find out what happened in Area X to set it apart. You don’t find out why The Southern Reach are sending expeditions in to Area X. You don’t find out any logical explanations for anything that happens or anything that is seen in Area X. You don’t even find out the names of any of the characters mentioned in the whole book.

Sounds like there are a lot of holes? There are, but that’s half the fun of the book – trying to put two and two together, coming up with your own theories….it becomes a puzzle to solve. Although I don’t think I got close to solving it. Maybe it can’t be solved? I’ll just have to read the other two books in the trilogy to find out.

I found underlying themes in this book of overcoming grief and loneliness, how we can be hindered by these states and how we can be helped by them. But mostly, it’s just an interesting piece of sci-fi fun, I don’t think there are aspirations for literary greatness here. I haven’t read The Hunger Games series, but having seen one of the movies, I thought this story was vaguely reminiscent. HG fans might like to give it a try. You’d also like this book if you like stories that have you trying to solve riddles and connect dots.

I did enjoy this book, I thought it was just the right size, and I’ll be continuing on with the next book in the series to learn what happens next in Area X!

Rating:

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

Mel says…

To be honest until Janelle suggested this book for our second joint review, I had never even heard of the author, Jeff VanderMeer. The initial description of this series sounded intriguing and I was honestly excited about reading this book. Then I started reading…

I found this book so confusing and frustrating. I didn’t understand who was who as the characters don’t go by their actual names, but by their specialised area, for example – The Biologist, The Psychologist, The Surveyor, The Anthropologist and The Linguist. If you are like me and have bare minimum science interest/knowledge, these titles and ways in which the characters were described will go straight over your head.

By page 40 I was struggling to scrape the desire from the bottom of the barrel to pick the book up and continue. Ok, that is a tad harsh, but you get the point.

On a positive note, there were parts of the book that I found interesting, but then it would revert to science-speak and I would be lost all over again. I am not a fan of sci-fi and honestly struggle to understand the lingo, so I struggled to finish this book. Sorry folks, this one was a flop for me!

Rating:

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

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