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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Loveable – Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Lily and the Octopus

by Steven Rowley

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Published June 2016

Genres: Fiction / Literary

 

“….Thursday nights are the nights my dog, Lily, and I set aside to talk about boys we think are cute.”

Ted lives with his long-time companion, his dog Lily, and through their years together they see relationships come and go, they share heartbreak, they have adventures and they ponder cute male celebrities. But with the arrival of the octopus, their world could completely change.

 

Janelle says…

 

It was the wonderfully weird synopsis on Netgalley that enticed me to read this book – “…a struggling writer finds himself unable to open up to the possibility of love – except through the companionship of his aging dachshund Lily. But with the unexpected arrival of a small octopus that affixes itself to Lily’s head, it soon becomes clear the invader is strangling the life from his dog and threatening the bond with his one true friend.”

Now who wouldn’t be intrigued by that?

I don’t really want to say too much about the story here for fear of giving away spoilers. What I can say is that this is the story of a long friendship between a single man and his dog, and that for both of them the relationship is the most important one in their lives.

The animal lovers among us will know that our pets are there with us through our challenges and triumphs, like any other member of the family or close friendship circle. You’ll empathise with the bond that these two characters share, although perhaps you might not have been absolute best friends with your pet like Ted is with Lily in this book.

The book certainly is strange, but there is a sad logic to the strangeness. Overall I just found it to be very sweet and I was immediately endeared to Ted and Lily. I laughed out loud in spots, and then in others I teared up. At times this book felt like a great big hug, and at other times I felt like I had been punched in the chest. And I’m not saying anything more! Other than if you’ve ever loved a pet, and even if you haven’t, I think this book is well worth your time.

Lily and the Octopus will be published in June by Simon & Schuster.

 

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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Mysterious – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

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Published 2011

Genres: Fiction / Young Adult

 

“There’s no time,” he whispered. Then he raised his head off the ground, trembling with the effort, and breathed into my ear: “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940.” I nodded, but he could see that I didn’t understand. With his last bit of strength, he added, “Emerson – the letter. Tell them what happened, Yakob.”
With that he sank back, spent and fading. I told him I loved him. And then he seemed to disappear into himself, his gaze drifting past me to the sky, bristling with no stars.

A mysterious island.
An abandoned orphanage.
A strange collection of very peculiar photographs.

Mel says…

Right from the start, I was drawn into the world of Miss Peregrine. I had only heard little snippets of feedback about this book and it was all mysterious, which intrigued me even more.

The protagonist, Jacob, is enthralled in his Grandfather’s strange behaviour and stories about a world he knows nothing about. After a family tragedy, Jacob begins to question what his Grandfather’s life was really about and decides to make a trip back to where it all began. As answers unfold, I found the pages were turning more quickly, as I was becoming more and more excited to know where this story would lead.

The photographs throughout the book add an extra air of mystery and add some reality to the stories of individual characters in the book. This is something we rarely see in fiction, but I would love to see more of as it worked so well to add that little extra oomph to the story. If you decide to read Miss Peregrine’s, please ensure you read the book and don’t go for the audio version, which I almost made the mistake of doing. The photographs are worth your reading time alone!

This is the first book of the series and I can safely say I will be continuing the series to see where it leads. I was also excited to find out that Tim Burton is bringing this book to life in a movie, due to come out late 2016, so if you are wanting to read this book, do so before the movie is released! It is worth the hype!

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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Buddy read – Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

February 2016 – Janelle’s choice

Horrorstor

by Grady Hendrix

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Published 2014

Genres: Fiction / Horror

“During the day, Orsk was a building like any other, a sensible container built with modern materials to house furniture and people. But after eleven o’clock, when no one roamed its aisles, when its back offices went dark and the last customers were escorted out the front doors, when its entrances were dead-bolted, when its final floor partners went home, it became something else.”

That quote pretty much sums up the premise of this book. Inexplicable things keep occurring overnight in an Ikea-copycat store. A group of staff decide to sleep over in the store one night to figure out what’s going on (as you do). Gory and creepy things ensue.

 

Janelle says…

Ikea only opened here in our city a matter of months ago, so I thought it was the perfect time to buddy-read this book with Mel! I assumed that it would be a bit of suspenseful, nail-biting fun, nothing too terrifying or scarring, and I was absolutely right.

There’s no great social or political moral or message here. I wouldn’t read Horrorstor if you’re in the mood for a book to really sink your teeth in to, or if you feel like having the crap scared out of you. But this is perfect for those times when you just want a break from heavier reads, and you’re after something quick and enjoyable but with a hint of squeam.

“Amy screamed. She thrashed and struggled, bruising her shoulders against the sides of the box, but it was no use. She could barely move. And the less she could move, the more she needed to move, the more she needed to get out right now.

That’s when she felt the water.”

I adored the format of this book, which was reminiscent of a store catalogue. Each chapter was named after an individual product found in the store (and some only found after the lights are out – oooooooo!), complete with sales taglines to persuade you that your life won’t be complete until you buy said catalogue. The store floor plan at the front of the book was a nice touch too, and made it easier to follow the movements of the characters as they ran around between the furniture displays.

The only point that brought this book down for me at the time was the repeated moments of characters making really dumb decisions. Yes, this is a plot that sees characters in some scary situations, and if you were in a similar situation your rational decision-making mind might be a little off its game, and you would never be in a situation like the one in this book anyway because it’s fiction and it’s outrageous….but stillllll. It just irks me when as an observer of a book or movie, you find yourself shouting in frustration – “What?! You IDIOT! Why would you DO that?” But thinking about it now, if we didn’t have those moments, the book or movie would probably be pretty boring I guess….

So my general consensus on Horrorstor is that, while it wasn’t quite good enough to score a 5/5 “AMAZING” rating, it was still a damn entertaining book and I had a great time reading it.

 

Rating:

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

Mel says…

When I first collected this book from the library, I was excited, as the layout of this book is mimicking that of an Ikea catalogue. It isn’t the usual novel size, nor does it follow a traditional layout throughout. These aesthetics were the start of my excitement to read this book.

The moment I began reading, I almost devoured the entire story in one sitting, if it weren’t for previous social plans *shakes fist*, I would have.

Right from the start you know that the fictional store, Orsk, is eerie and that there is more to the furniture store than initially meets the eye. After a few “situations” that involved soiled furniture stock, manager Basil approaches store partners Amy and Ruth-Anne to cover a night shift to see exactly what was happening in the store after hours. This is where the fun begins!

There were a few moments that I found I would groan in annoyance at the characters and their occasional stupidity, but there was also many times I found I was covering my eyes with my free hand and reading between my fingers. There is one such scene that made this claustrophobe very uneasy, to the point I had to place the book down and have a tea break before continuing. If that doesn’t hint at good writing, I don’t know what does!

Horrorstor is full of ups and downs and takes you through a world of supernatural fun. The only let down for me was the characters themselves. I didn’t form a connection with any of them, but the exciting plot outweighed this negative.

A trip to Ikea will never be the same, once you read Horrorstor!

Rating:

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

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Controversial – Troublemaker by Leah Remini

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology

by Leah Remini

Published 2015

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Genres: Non-Fiction / Memoir

“It is to the Church of Scientology that I say this: I wrote this book because I feel an urgency and responsibility to reveal the injustices and hypocrisy that were perpetrated against those who left and spoke out before me. Those who again and again have been harassed and bullied into silence. This book is also a personal act of defiance – against intolerance, which I have witnessed, lived with, and been part of for far too long.

Mel says…

When I heard that Leah Remini was releasing a memoir based on her experiences in the Church of Scientology, I was so excited! I love Leah Remini, as I was a huge fan of her show King of Queens, so knew that her personality would ensure this book was highly controversial and guess what? It was!!

Leah’s brutal honesty makes this book what it was. There was no holds barred when it came to naming and shaming in this book. One such person who’s name one would expect to appear in any story around Scientology, is Tom Cruise. Yes, you do get a LOT of Tom Cruise dirt and yes, it is cringe worthy!

This book is not purely about Scientology though, despite the fact that it consumed most of her life, she does delve into the nitty gritty of her personal life. She isn’t afraid to acknowledge any transgressions she has committed and one such example was breaking up a marriage at the age of 19.

Leah Remini is a love her, or hate her kind of girl. You won’t put this book down thinking hmm…she is ok, I guess. 

I am not a Scientologist, nor have I ever read much about the religion, however this book is a real eye opening recount of one person’s experience of the church. A must read for anyone who is as curious as I was!

“..it’s been a little more than two years now since I left the organization, for the first time it’s like I’m living a real and authentic life – everything from sitting and enjoying a glass of wine with non-Scientologist girlfriends without secretly judging them as they speak about their lives and thinking Scientology could help them with that, to worrying that I am wasting my time finding enjoyment in my child or family when I should be on course or in session instead. I put so much time, energy, and resources into the church that it left little room for anything else.” 

 

Rating:

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

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Wise – Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please

by Amy Poehler

amy poehler yes please

Published 2014

Genres: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Humour

 

“I stood onstage in my blue checked dress, Toto in my arms, and looked at the audience of parents, teachers, and students. I breathed in….and I had a huge realisation. I could decide right then and there what the next moment would be. I could try something new. I could go off script and give something a shot. I could say whatever I wanted.”

 

Janelle says…

This is just what a memoir/autobiography should be – a good balance of personal history, life lessons and advice, gossip and humour.

It’s also just what an audiobook should be. There’s so much content you don’t get with the printed version. There are special guest appearances, from Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, Seth Meyers, and Amy’s parents. There’s snippets of extra narration from Amy along the way. She even performs a sweet little song. There’s even a haiku read by Patrick Stewart!

Amy goes into detail about her early life, her stand-up/improv/acting career to this point, and the people who have influenced her along the way. She also tackles divorce, female self-image, and most interestingly to me – parenting.

“I loved being pregnant, I loved being at work and still feeling vital and busy while this extraordinary thing was happening inside of me. I never felt alone. I always had a companion.”

This is EXACTLY how I felt when I was pregnant, especially the first time, and I remember saying basically the same words to my husband.

Amy is so honest and heartfelt in her thoughts on being a mother. At one point she speaks a lot about “mother-on-mother crime”, which is absolutely a real, sad and ridiculous thing. I love her saying, “Good for her! Not for me” – this viewpoint really needs to be adopted by mothers in general, it would save us all a lot of judgement and hurt!

This review is already a little quote-heavy, but I just can’t resist slipping in one more – in my opinion, the most hilarious moment in the book. Enjoy – and get yourself a copy of this on audio! You will laugh and nod and it will make you happy!

“But take it from me, no one knows the biz like I know the biz, I love the biz. Hollywood’s a crazy biz, and I know the biz, cause the biz is in my blood. Some say I’m a biz-wiz. Either way, show-business is my business, so you better get busy with the business I know.”

Rating:

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

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Read together: August 2015 – The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

August 2015 – Mel’s choice

The Farm

by Tom Rob Smith

The Farm

Published February 2014

Genres: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

“Had I chosen blindness, I’m quite sure Hakan would’ve celebrated my choice, delighting in my surrender and rewarding me with a host of friendships. But blindness is not an easy path. It requires commitment and dedication. The price was too high: I would become an imitation of Elise. Perhaps she was imitating a woman before her, perhaps this pattern of blindness was generations old, women forced to empty their heads of questions or criticisms, playing a part that was as old as these farms – the part of loyal devotion – a role that would bring me acceptance, maybe even happiness of a kind. Except when I was alone. I’d hate myself. It’s how we feel about ourselves when we’re alone that must guide our decisions.”

Daniel believed his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth. But with a single phone call, everything changes. 

Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. In fact, she has been committed to a mental hospital.

Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad…I need the police…Meet me at Heathrow. 

Daniel is immediately caught between his parents – whom to believe, whom to trust? He becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury. Presented with a horrific crime, a conspiracy that implicates his own father. Daniel must examine the evidence and decide for himself: who is telling the truth? And he has secrets of his own that for too long he has kept hidden…

Mel says…

I read a couple of reviews on The Farm and from those reviews, I immediately wanted this book in my life. All the reviews said the same thing, read this now! 

From the first 10-odd pages of this book, I was captivated. Within sentences, the author has this adventure off and running. The main plot focuses on a series of events, told to Daniel by his mother, Tilde. During the chain of events, I found that I was wanting to jump into the book and play detective, right beside Tilde.

As the story progresses, I found myself concocting all kinds of possible outcomes and reasons for the series of events. I knew there would be more to each event than was being presented, and wanting to find these reasons out as soon as possible pushed me to zoom through this book faster than any other in a long while.

By the time I finished the book, I was bewildered and shocked. I love books that take many twists and turns to end up in a place you had no idea existed. This book is a must read for anyone who enjoys an unpredictable storyline and outcome. For anyone who is looking to discover that not everything is quite as it seems. Get on down to your local bookstore or library and pick The Farm up today!

Rating:

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

Janelle says…

When Mel suggested this book for our next joint read, I actually hadn’t heard of it. So I looked up the summary on Goodreads, and I believe my reply to her was something like, “Holy cow! Get this book in my face right now!”

I knew it was going to be suspenseful, I would be plagued with questions the whole time, and I would not want to put it down. And it delivered!

The Farm wastes no time getting down to business. You’ve barely learnt the names of the main characters when BAM! The rollercoaster begins, and it feels like with each turn of the page you change your mind about who you believe, who is in the wrong, and who needs saving.

The overarching themes here, are secrets and trust. Secrets from people who you’re not supposed to have any secrets from. Secrets that threaten to hurt or destroy. Secrets that are too unfathomable to be believed. Questioning the long-held trust you’ve had in your loved ones. Not knowing who to trust in desperation. Not knowing if you can trust yourself.

I really did blast through this book at speed, but the one small thing that let it down for me was its style. The majority of the book is written from the POV of the mother telling her complex story to her son as a chronological order of events, in the hope that he will believe her story if she has shown evidence and clear facts to substantiate her claims. But there was something about the language, it felt far too formal for me to believe it was a mother speaking to her son, even if what she was relaying was a detailed series of events, rather than just casual chit-chat. The language she was using was more conducive to a job interview than speaking to a member of her family. I couldn’t naturally envision the scenes in my head as I was reading, and it irked me.

Having said that though, that is no reason to overlook this book. If you enjoy suspenseful thrillers (like me!), with a little emotional trauma and dysfunctional family dynamics thrown in, then I think you’re gonna love The Farm.

Rating:

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

Joining in with The Weekend Rewind with Maxabella Loves and friends

Read by Janelle: August 2015 – Down Under by Bill Bryson

Down Under

by Bill Bryson

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Published 2000

Genres: Non-Fiction / Travel & Adventure / Humour

In the motel, I dumped my bag and reflexively switched on the TV. It came up on the cricket, and I sat on the foot of the bed and watched it with unwonted absorption for some minutes. Needless to say, very little was happening on the pitch. An official in a white coat was chasing after a blown piece of paper and several of the players were examining the ground by the stumps, evidently looking for something. I couldn’t think what, but then one of the commentators noted that England had just lost a wicket, so I supposed it was that. After a time a lanky young man in the outfield, who had been polishing a ball on his trouser leg as if about to take a bite from it, broke into a loping run. At length he hurled the ball at the distant batsman, who insouciantly lifted his bat an inch from the ground and putted it back to him. These motions were scrupulously replicated three times more, then the commentator said: ‘And so at the end of the four hundred and fifty-second over, as we break for afternoon nap, England have increased their total to seventeen. So still quite a lot of work for them to do if they’re going to catch Australia before fourth snack.”

 

Janelle says…

The two-story compendium you see in the picture above is the first Bill Bryson I’ve ever owned, or read. I picked it up on a whim at one of our local bookfairs, knowing only that Bryson was a name in travel and adventure non-fiction and was supposedly funny. It was the first, but it won’t be the last.

I fell in love from the first few pages of the first story in the book, A Walk In The Woods (soon to be turned into a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. Not happy about the choice of actors). Immediately, I wanted to step out my front door and walk to somewhere wild and far away. Although, maybe not as wild or far away as the Appalachian Trail. I don’t know that I’ll ever be willing to risk being eaten by bears after reading this.

But this review is not about A Walk In The Woods, it’s about the second story in this collection – Down Under. In which Bryson explores this fascinating country from east to west and top to bottom, by rail, car and foot, and manages to see more of it in 4 weeks than I have in my entire lifetime living here.

Firstly, a disclaimer. This book was written in 2000. Things have changed in Australia since then – in politics, in infrastructure, in global status, in most ways really. Bryson’s views in this book must be taken with a grain of 15-year-old salt.

Most of Bryson’s observations aren’t too surprising. The outback is vast and empty. Sydney is sparkling and sprawling. Adelaide is lush and pretty. Canberra is spacious but boring (not true! I’m offended!). But he does bring up some interesting points as an outsider. He speaks to white Australians about Indigenous Australians whenever the opportunity presents itself, persisting to ask questions and try to understand the situation even when it is clear that for some people the topic is uncomfortable. He learns of the events in our fractured history, and becomes aware that there is still a definite divide between the two peoples of the country. But although he seems to build a solid grasp of how the realities of life differ for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and reflects on this with sadness, he admits that he doesn’t know what the answer is to solving the problems, but that something needs to be done and now.

He also comments again and again on Australia’s invisible status to the rest of the world, despite the many examples given of feats of exploration, miracles of science and nature, amazing people and fascinating tales that emanate from the land down under. By the end of the book, he seems to be stumped as to why Australia has not been given the credit he believes it does deserve.

For me, the most amusing parts of this book were the (many) parts where Bryson obsesses over our diverse and bizarre flora and fauna, in particular, the fauna of the deadly variety. I can’t help but enjoy it when foreigners become fixated on the numerous dangerous creatures we share this space with, and how the hell we manage to not be killed every day. Bryson too can’t seem to fathom how we get away with it. I don’t know, Bill, we just do!

 

“You probably won’t see any redbacks out there,’ Sonja reassured us. ‘Snakes are much more of a problem.’

This intelligence was received with four raised eyebrows and expressions that said: ‘Go on.’

She nodded. ‘Common brown, western puff pastry, yellow-backed lockjaw, eastern groin groper, dodge viper….’ I don’t remember what she said exactly, but it was a long list. ‘But don’t worry,’ she continued. ‘Most snakes don’t want to hurt you. If you’re out in the bush and a snake comes along, just stop dead and let it slide over your shoes.’

This, I decided, was the least-likely-to-be-followed advice I had ever been given.

 

Bryson learns something through his travels about the Australian way – which is generally easygoing, laidback, witty and humorous, with a sense of community and “we’re all in this together”. He is most definitely taken with the country, and I believe the connection he felt on his trip is due to the fact that he likely personally possesses these qualities too.

Down Under, and indeed, Bill Bryson in general, will suit you if you love sarcastic humour, and are curious about the world around you and the people in it.

 

Rating:

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

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