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 – Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

May 2017 – Janelle’s choice

 

Big Magic

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Published 2015

Genres: Non-Fiction / Self-help

 

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.”

Elizabeth Gilbert is a champion of creative living, and in this book she shares tips on pushing past fear, giving yourself permission, and committing, to live out your most creative dreams.

 

Janelle says…

This is my second time reading this book, and while I can see why others have taken fault with it, I still love it. This is Liz Gilbert’s call to creativity, a kick-up-the-bum that we all sometimes need. Applicable to whatever your form of creative outlet is, this book quashes the usual excuses for not starting that project, or making time to do something you love, or taking that chance. Fear/time/embarrassment/lack of confidence….she covers it all. This book is your permission slip to allow yourself to do whatever it is that you truly yearn to do. In fact she says so herself in the book, she personally gives you permission!

Admittedly, at times this book does get a bit woo-woo. But while I don’t necessarily believe in Gilbert’s way of viewing how ideas are born and realised, I do think it’s a fun and motivating way of thinking about it. Meditating on the thought that if you don’t pick up a floating idea and do something about it, it will move on to someone else, does make me feel more inclined to take my ideas seriously lest I lose them.

I don’t really get why Gilbert cops such a lashing from critics and readers, I think she deserves to be cut some slack. I loved Eat Pray Love, and I love Big Magic. The first time I experienced Big Magic was on audio, and I felt so inspired I wanted to shout from the mountaintop about all the amazing things it made me want to do with my life. In the time between reading this the first time and reading it the second time, I have taken a big step in making one of my creative dreams come to fruition, and reading this again while knowing that I AM already allowing myself my creative freedom made me so happy and proud. And honestly, Big Magic did play a part in giving me the nudge that I needed to get going.

If you have ideas or hobbies or passions, or even if you don’t but you’d like to, let Elizabeth Gilbert inspire you to make your life full of beautiful creativity!

Rating:

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

 

Mel says…

I’m going to start by stating that I am not a creative person, in that I don’t write (aside from this blog), paint, build, dance or play music. I wish I had a creative bone in my body, but sadly I have attempted all of the above and I just don’t have the talent or patience for such things.

With that said, I found it hard to connect with Big Magic. I would read several pages and get bored, put the book down and not touch it for days.

There was the occasional passage that I found intriguing, such as Liz Gilbert’s theory on Multiple Discovery. I like to think that ideas are out in the Universe, just waiting for their creator to grab them with both hands and mould them into something brilliant. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy, for some strange reason.

Aside from this, I have to admit I did a lot of skimming and then decided to give up after 3/4 of the way through. I apologise to my sister, who I know loves this book, but I just could not relate and so will forever more be a huge fan of creativity, but I was not created to be the creator…

Rating:

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

 

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Buddy Read – The Girls by Emma Cline

March 2017 – Mel’s choice

The Girls

by Emma Cline

Published 2016

Genres: Fiction / Literary

“I didn’t tell him that I wished I’d never met Suzanne. That I wished I’d stayed safely in my bedroom in the dry hills near Petaluma, the bookshelves packed tight with the gold-foil spines of my childhood favourites. And I did wish that. But some nights, unable to sleep, I peeled an apple slowly at the sink, letting the curl lengthen under the glint of the knife. The house dark around me. Sometimes it didn’t feel like regret. It felt like a missing.”

1969. California. Fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd is living a standard suburban teenage life- trying to make sense of her split family situation, learning about herself, noticing boys. And noticing the group of scruffy, devil-may-care girls who keep crossing her path. Something about them is alluring to her. One of them in particular sticks in her mind, and through some coincidental events, Evie manages to weave her way into their group and become entwined in their lives. Living off the grid, she experiences drugs and sex, and very quickly leaves her old life behind. However the influence of the group’s “leader”, Russell, is about to become something more than she could have ever foreseen.

 

Mel says…

I chose this book for our March Buddy Read as I had heard such amazing reviews. Celebrities were posting about it and it made me want to find out what all the fuss was about.

At the start, I enjoyed the writing style of Emma Cline. The back and forth from past to present was intriguing, for about half the book. I found the present day Evie to become irrelevant. There seemed no real logical explanation for bothering with present day Evie. She added zero value to the storyline, in my opinion and I began getting irritated when I would turn the page and there she would be, for the next 10-20 pages.

From start to finish, I was expecting something….more. I felt like I was constantly on the brink of some huge revelation in Evie’s life, that never came. She was the kind of protagonist that you wish would be killed off in the dying pages. She was infuriating and I just couldn’t get on board with her way of thinking, even when I tried stepping back into teenage-Mel’s shoes.

I think the saving grace for me was the plot itself. I have always been intrigued with real life crime stories and this was very closely related to the Charles Manson story. The cult following, the era and the murders. This is what kept me reading and I have to admit, by the end, I was somewhat relieved it was over and was severely disappointed!

It took me weeks to write this review after finishing The Girls. Partly because of my poor time management, but mainly due to the fact that as the days wore on, I forgot what actually occurred. If I could sum this book up in one word it would be; Forgettable!

Rating:

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

Janelle says…

Well, it started out ok.

It’s no secret that this story is meant to be reminiscent of the evolution of the Manson family. But if you’re going into it expecting a lot of gruesome details and a focus on the murders, you’ll be disappointed. This is a story about puberty, love, friendships, and learning about oneself – your limitations, your image, your self-restraint.

As far as a book that studies the above topics goes, it doesn’t do a bad job. If I was reading this about 15 years ago, I probably would have felt very connected to the internal challenges that the main character Evie faces. I could definitely identify with her at certain times, particularly in her defiant moments.

But…..that’s it. In all honesty I just found this to be, well, boring. I had the scene all figured out within the first 100 pages or so, I didn’t need it to go on with the same stuff for the next 250. It probably didn’t help that I had already read reviews and opinions on this book when it first came out, but still, that didn’t stop me wanting to read it. Now that I have read it though, I found it lacking in substance, and basically just forgettable.

Teens and other people into YA would probably really enjoy this, but personally I think I just can’t be interested in teenage girl problems. I wasn’t interested in them when I was a teenage girl myself. Sorry not sorry.

 

Rating:

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

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Buddy read – Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

February 2017 – Janelle’s choice

Our Souls at Night

by Kent Haruf

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Published 2015

Genres: Fiction / Literary

We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.”

And that’s how the story starts. One night in Holt County, Ohio, Addie Moore visits her neighbour Louis Waters, with this simple proposition. From there, an innocent and honest friendship blossoms, but some of the bystanders surrounding this couple aren’t too pleased.

 

Janelle says…

I chose this book because it was mentioned on an old episode of the ABC’s The Book Club and all the panellists doted over it, a rare occurence! And it sounded sweet. And it was sweet!

This is a quick, 180-page read but for such a little thing, it really does manage to cover a bit of ground. It explores growing old, how society sees people of a certain age bracket and expects them to behave, and whether we can claim any ownership over the actions of our loved ones, our elderly and frail loved ones especially. This exploration is made all the more poignant and beautiful by the fact that this novel was published posthumously, written by the author as he was dying. This post/review by The Guardian really does a good, honest job of paying homage to both the author and the book if you want to know more.

I fell in total love with the two protagonists, Addie and Louis. I was in their corner from the very first page, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would try to deny them the friendship they were creating with one another. But over and over again their meetings are judged as shameful by those around them, and I just wanted to jump inside the book and shake everybody by the shoulders!

I really found the dialogue to be written in an interesting way. There was no “she whispered”, “he moaned”, “I gasped” etc., it was purely just the actual words spoken between characters. It was just a different style of approaching dialogue, and I noticed that difference straight away. I liked it, it kept the story flowing in a very realistic way, without the need for drama.

I think more than anything, this is a book about hope, and the message that it’s never too late to chase happiness. And I think it’s one I’ll come back to again, when I feel the need to hear that message.

 

Rating:

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

Mel says…

This book was 180-pages of pure sweetness. I fell in love with Addie, Louis and their companionship. Their little adventures were adorable and all I wanted to do was pack my bags and join them on their picnics, lunches and camping trips. At one point I sighed and asked my husband if we can please go camping, it sounded so pleasant.

The picture that Kent Haruf paints of this world is written in such an unusual way, that at first I struggled with the dialogue, but once I was roughly 20-pages in, it became quite easy to read and was a definite page turner.

Over the course of the book, I grew very attached to Addie and Louis and became very defensive about their companionship. So much so in fact, that when the towns folk began questioning the relationship in the beginning, all I wanted to do was tell them to mind their own business.

If you are looking for a short and relaxing read, then this is the book for you. It is light and a breath of fresh air. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

 

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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Buddy read – Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

October 2016 – Janelle’s choice

Tiny Beautiful Things

by Cheryl Strayed

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Published 2012

Genres: Non-fiction / Self-help

“…understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again. You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.”

This is a collection of letters that were submitted to the online advice column Dear Sugar on the website The Rumpus, and the responses from “Sugar”, a.k.a. Cheryl Strayed. At the time the letters were written, the identity of “Sugar” was unknown.

Janelle says…

Straight up, let me say that this is the second time I’ve read this book, and I knew before I was even halfway through it the first time that it would be the newest addition to my shelf of favourite books.

It’s hard to pigeon-hole this book into a category, although “self-help” would be the closest. But the thing about self-help is that usually you go in with a topic in mind that you want guidance or insight on. Tiny Beautiful Things is not like that. The letters within Tiny Beautiful Things are so varied, they range from relationship troubles, to life-goal worries, to dealing with grief and loss, to self-acceptance, and everything in between. They are at times shocking, upsetting, and maddening.

It’s not the letters themselves though, but Cheryl Strayed’s responses, that are the magic in this book. They are so thoughtful and poetic and honest and profound, that somehow, no matter whether the problems raised in the letters resonate with you or not…..she speaks to you. She could be addressing some poor soul who is worried about the ickiness of their secret sexual fantasies, and you could find a message in her words that makes you think “yes, this totally applies to the work problem that I’m having right now!” It’s a combination of her life experience (and she’s had her share of experiences), her ability to stick with reason and truth, and her beautiful way with words, that provides insight like no one else can give.

This book makes me feel inspired, confident, and ready to take risks and win at life. It’s like a kick up the arse, a warm hug, a slap in the face and a big belly laugh, all delivered at the same time. Truly incredible. No matter where you’re at in life, or what ails you, you WILL get something out of this book. The back cover blurb sums it up best – “…this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.”

Rating:

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

Mel says…

Let me start by saying, I didn’t like this book…I LOVED THIS BOOK! When Janelle first suggested we read this as a buddy read, I was sceptical. I had never read a book that was written as a collection of letters and responses from an advice column dubbed, ‘Dear Sugar’. But I love reading new things, so I gave it a go and I am not exaggerating when I say, it changed my life!

How did a book change my life, you ask? Let’s just say that if Cheryl Strayed started her own religion, I would join up. She is THAT amazing. I loved the way she put these anonymous debacles into perspective. Some of the questions asked were real head scratches, others were as simple as ‘WTF?’ (seriously), but the way ‘Dear Sugar’ responds to each and every one of these questions is amazing. She relates the issues back to her own life experiences and is able to break down the letters in a way that made me hug this book, several times over.

There was one response from ‘Dear Sugar’ that was in relation to becoming; how you don’t know what something will turn out to be until you’ve lived it. This entry was one of the ones that stood out to me the most and spoke to me, so much so that I got my husband to read this chapter as well. In a nutshell, Dear Sugar’s response is in relation to losing her Mother and how a simple act of kindness from her Mother, ensured that Dear Sugar’s future daughter would have a gift from her late-Grandmother to cherish forever. It seems like a simple and nice story, but for whatever reason, this gave me goosebumps and made me realise that what seem like simple acts to us in the present, could cause massive waves in the future.

If you have ever asked yourself ‘WTF?’ in relation to love, friendship, family, work or life in general and let’s face it, we all have, then you need to read this book. This book will make you view obstacles in a whole new light and cast perspective on how to step back from issues and “tackle” them head on, even if it hurts or is scary. It’s ok to be bitter at times, but maybe all you need is a little ‘Dear Sugar’ to sweeten up whatever is causing the bitterness!

 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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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

american housewife

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

IMG_0761

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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