30 May 2012

Review: "Delirium" by Lauren Oliver

Last weekend I wanted to read something light and fun and essentially YA. I had that YA craving - do you know what I mean? So I went scouting on the shelves in our new study/library to see what I could dig out and ended up with Lauren Oliver's "Delirium". I kind of had regretted buying it and had occasionally thought that I would never get around to reading it but I decided to give it a try - my deal with myself was that if I was not captured by page 20, I would just forget about it and give it to charity. 

Surprise, surprise, by page 20 I had no idea about which page I was on as I was so engrossed in the plot! This is fine YA! It is a dystopian book in theme with books such as Hunger Games and just like many of these books, the protagonist is a teenage girl with an independent spirit. 

Lena Holoway is an orphan who lives with her aunt and uncle and spends her time either at school, running or with her best friend. the beautiful, stunning Hana. In this dystopian version of Portland, Maine, cities have become little islands in a desert of forgotten countryside. It is a world dictated by a disease, deliria also known as love. Scientist have found the cure for love and when you turn 18 you get the cure and are set on your life path. Based on interviews and data, society will dictate who you marry, what job you will do, how much money you will make and so on. All there is left for the individual to do is to navigate life within these strict and non-negotiable boundaries. 

Lena comes from a family of deliria sufferers and she looks forward to the day where she will be cured and free to start living without the fear of falling ill. But then something happens... or actually someone happens. She meets Alex who has not been cured and he awakes feelings in her that she never knew existed. 

Right, so as you can probably guess this is not the most surprising of novels. Actually, a lot of the plot is down-right predictable. The only part that really surprised me was the ending which was absolutely fantastic. It was a bit of a cliff-hanger but I might not read the sequel (or I might, we'll see) and it worked for me anyway because it had a real statement to it. 

The lack of surprise in the plot is counter-acted by the detail with which this dystopian world has been created; it is a believable and engaging. It really caught my attention and imagination and it kept me reading even when I knew what would happen next and that is the strength of the book. 
The plot is standard, as it were, the characters were ranging in quality with some being better and more believable than others but the dystopian setting is superb - if nothing else, read it for that. 

Read it if: You want a lighter, more YA appropriate version of the world from Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaiden's Tale". You are working your way through the best parts of YA dystopia. 

25 May 2012

The Inspiring J. K. Rowling

Do you love Harry Potter? Do you find the story of how J.K. Rowling wrote the books inspiring? 
Then please take the time to watch the video below. It is the Commencement Address that J.K. Rowling gave at Harvard University in June 2008 and it is absolutely beautiful. It is called “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination" and it is both funny and inspiring and really beautiful. So with no further ado I give you this quote and urge you to watch the video: 

"Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.
I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension. I know that the irony strikes with the force of a cartoon anvil, now."

20 May 2012

Review: "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles

Show me someone who claims to have never dreamed of time traveling and I will show you a liar - because come on people, time traveling would be so cool!! Of course we only dream of traveling to the good times in history, the masked balls, the celebrations and the events that will go down in the history. The lack of opportunities for a shower and brushing teeth and the option to pop a pain killer the day after the party is something that we conveniently forget.
Luckily we have books that allow us to travel through time from the comfort of our warm chair with a hot cup of coffee next to us and the opportunity to brush our teeth at any time we should feel so inclined. Thanks to the authors of historical fiction we get to soar through the most interesting parts of history and dream ourselves away. 

Recently I bought a ticket for the "historical fiction time traveling machine" when I picked up "Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles. The destination was New York in the 1930's and as soon as I had read the first line, I was lost in a different world, off on adventures with a young lady called Katey Kontent. 

Katey Kontent is in her 20's, a daughter of Russian immigrants who left the land of samovars and revolution to seek their fortune in the land beyond Ellis Island. She is a girl who knows how to have a good time and during night out with her beautiful, charismatic friend Eve, she treats New York as her playground. Thought money is tight, these girls know how to party and when on New Years Eve they meet the rich, waspy banker Tinker Grey, they become fast friends with him and doors are opened to a different type of life. 

The story follows Katey through that fateful year of 1938 where her life changes, some parts for the better, some for the worse, and where events transpire that will set her on the path that will shape the rest of her life. It is a year of sorrows and joys, of gin martinis and silk stockings, of country clubs and scruffy flats, of women in pearls and young men with the world at their feet. 
Katey becomes increasingly entangled in this world of privilege and Tinker is always there in the back of her mind... 

It is an amazing book, a really fascinating beautiful story of life and what it does to us. It is about surviving and making the best of what you get given. About grabbing life in the moment and shaping it to your wishes. It is a reminder of the importance of enjoying yourself even when you have little money for rent and food and none for martinis. 

This is retro Manhattan. It is the clever entertainment for girls who find Gossip Girl and Sex In the City a little too pop culture and glossy. 
It is the book that you long to come home to because it takes you to a different world - a glamourous, tough New York where men are gentlemen and women are enjoying an new-found freedom. It is the ultimate time traveling experience.

Read it if: You enjoyed "Valley of the Dolls" by Jacqueline Susann. You love New York and have a secret longing for a life full of martinis, silk stockings and elegance. 

7 May 2012

Nothing cheers a girl like going shopping - in Waterstones!

Yesterday I met up with a really good friend for lunch. We hadn't seen each other for almost a year so there was plenty to talk about! From the lunch, we went on to Starbucks to have a cup of coffee and she asked me if I could recommend any good books. Which is kind of like asking a chef for a good recipe - it is an open question with thousands of possible, correct answers. So after having raved on about a random assortment of books (such as "Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady" by Florence King), I realised that some of them (such as "Confessions...") might not be readily available at any book shop.
Now, my darling boyfriend is not one who can spend hours in a book shop (or in any shop for that matter...) so I spotted an opportunity and suggested that I could go with her to go with her to Waterstones to pick out books.

Oh the joy of being in a big, lovely shop full of new, delicious books hiding plots and characters behind beautiful covers, just waiting for me to come find them. There were so many books there that I wanted, had to have and which have now been added to my TBR. In the end I restrained myself and bought only two because we are moving to a new flat next week and have enough stuff to move already...

I will do a separate post about what I actually bought but this is what will be coming home with me next time I hit Waterstones:

"The Capital" by John Lanchester
Pepys Road: an ordinary street in the Capital. Each house has seen its fair share of first steps and last breaths, and plenty of laughter in between. Today, through each letterbox along this ordinary street drops a card with a simple message: We Want What You Have. At forty, Roger Yount is blessed with an expensively groomed wife, two small sons and a powerful job in the City. An annual bonus of a million might seem excessive, but with second homes and nannies to maintain, he's not sure he can get by without it. Elsewhere in the Capital, Zbigniew has come from Warsaw to indulge the super-rich in their interior decoration whims. Freddy Kano, teenage football sensation, has left a two-room shack in Senegal to follow his dream. Traffic warden Quentina has exchanged the violence of the police in Zimbabwe for the violence of the enraged middle classes. For them all, this city offers the chance of a different kind of life.

"Charlotte Street" by Danny Wallace
It all starts with a girl ...(because yes, there's always a girl...) Jason Priestley (not that one) has just seen her. They shared an incredible, brief, fleeting moment of deep possibility, somewhere halfway down Charlotte Street. And then, just like that, she was gone - accidentally leaving him holding her old-fashioned, disposable camera, chock full of undeveloped photos...And now Jason - ex-teacher, ex-boyfriend, part-time writer and reluctant hero - faces a dilemma. Should he try and track The Girl down? What if she's The One? But that would mean using the only clues he has, which lie untouched in this tatty disposable...It's funny how things can develop...

"The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides 
Brown University, 1982. Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English student and incurable romantic, is writing her thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot -- authors of the great marriage plots. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different men, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead, brilliant scientist and charismatic loner, attracts Madeleine with an intensity that she seems powerless to resist. Meanwhile her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus, a theology student searching for some kind of truth in life, is certain of at least one thing -- that he and Madeleine are destined to be together. But as all three leave college, they will have to figure out how they want their own marriage plot to end.

6 May 2012

10 Things I Love About... "The Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles

1) Katey Kontent.
A heroine with that kind of name is made to be noticed and Katey Kontent is as cool, classy and confident as her name is cliched. 

2) The harsh reality - quote from page 63
"It wasn't about who had dibs now or who was sitting next to whom in the cinema. The game had changed; or rather, it wasn't a game anymore. It was a matter of making it through the night, which is often harder than it sounds, and always a very individual business."

3) New York in the late 1930s. A place of jazz and glamour, of old money and new fashions, of Depression era worries and of opportunities. If this book is turned into a film, it will be a feast for the eyes. 

4) Did I mention the glamour? - quote from page 47
"The men wore tailored suits and accented their breast pockets with untouched handkerchiefs. The women wore silk dresses in royal colors and chokers of pearls."

5) Katey Kontent's love of Dickens - quote from page 128
"Admittedly, there's something a little annoying about all those plucky underprivileged kids and the aptly named agents of villainy. But I've come to realize that however blue my circumstances, if after finishing a chapter of a Dickens novel I feel a miss-my-stop-on-the-train sort of compulsion to read on, then everything is probably going to be just fine." 

6) Tinker Grey. A fascinating character is all I can say... For some reason he keeps reminding me of the lyrics from Regina Spektor's "Man of A Thousand Faces":
The man of a thousand faces
Sits down at the table
Eats a small lump of sugar
And smiles at the moon like he knows her
And begins his quiet ascension
Without anyone's sturdy instruction

7) The truth about going to the hairdresser - quote from page 233
"Historically, once in the hands of a hairdresser, I had done whatever necessary to stymie conversation: grimacing; sleeping; staring blankly into the mirror; once I even faked ignorance of English."

8) The determination of Evie Ross - quote from page 15
"True, she was only five foot five, but she knew how to dance in two-inch heels - and she knew how to kick them off as soon as she sat in your lap."

9) The stories of elite Manhattan kids - quote from page 169:
"For a group freshly spilled from the country's finest schools, they were surprisingly aimless, but that didn't make them bad company. They didn't have much spending money or social status, but they were on the verge of having both." 

10) The stories of Russian immigrants in New York - quote from page 283:
"The first wind of the New York winter was sharp and heartless. Whenever it blew, it always made my father a little nostalgic for Russia. He'd break out the samovar and boil black tea and recall some December when there was a lull in conscription and the well wasn't frozen and the harvest hadn't failed. It wouldn't be such a bad place to be born, he'd say, if you never had to live there. 

5 May 2012

The Descendants - loved the film, what about the book?

The other night I watched "The Descendants" - a wonderful, strange, bittersweet movie starring George Clooney and Shailene Woodsley. Personally, I think that Clooney is a wonderful actor  - he is so good at playing a little bit rough, confused and bruised. He does modern male incredibly well and "The Descendants" is no exception - it is Clooney at his finest portraying the tempest-tost land baron, husband and father Matt King. Matt was king in his own life, rich, privileged, married to a beautiful woman with two gorgeous daughters. At the opening of the film, however, this in the past because his beautiful wife is in a coma and he has not the faintest idea how to be a father to his two girls. The oldest girl is played by Shailene Woodsley, who complements Clooney perfectly and does a superb job of making a difficult, tormented teenage girl come to life on the big screen. She is definitely one to watch. 

It is a moving film about the loss of a wife and the loss of a parents but most of all it is about the loss of life as we know it. It is about what happen when what we thought was forever and took for granted can be taken from us in a second. I loved it, though it was bittersweet and a times sad and when the credits rolled I spotted some of my favourite words "Based on...". 
I love that! It is so fantastic to find out that a great movie is based on a book - a book that could be just as amazing. 

So "The Descendants" by Kaui Hart Hemmings is going straight on my TBR and here is what it says on amazon.com:
"Matthew King was once considered one of the most fortunate men in Hawaii. His missionary ancestors were financially and culturally progressive–one even married a Hawaiian princess, making Matt a royal descendant and one of the state’s largest landowners. 
Now his luck has changed. His two daughters are out of control: Ten-year-old Scottie is a smart-ass with a desperate need for attention, and seventeen-year-old Alex, a former model, is a recovering drug addict. Matt’s charismatic, thrill-seeking, high-maintenance wife, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident and will soon be taken off life support. The Kings can hardly picture life without her, but as they come to terms with this tragedy, their sadness is mixed with a sense of freedom that shames them–and spurs them into surprising actions.
Before honoring Joanie’s living will, Matt must gather her friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation made worse by the sudden discovery that there is one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair, quite possibly the one man she ever truly loved. Forced to examine what he owes not only to the living but to the dead, Matt takes to the road with his daughters to find his wife’s lover, a memorable journey that leads to both painful revelations and unforeseen humor and growth."

2 May 2012

Review: "The Sisters Brothers" by Patrick DeWitt

There are so many reasons to pick up "The Sisters Brothers" by Patrick DeWitt. The title which is cool and awoke my imagination, the cover art that is like a punch in the face in a bookshop (in the best way possible) and the author's headshot in which he looks exactly like a literary author should. 

Another good reason to pick up "The Sister Brothers" is that it is a bloody good book. It is a piece of intelligent, literary Western fiction taking place in 1850's Oregon and when you read it, you can smell the dust in the air and feel the electricity of the gold rush. 
Eli and Charlie Sisters are the brothers, not just any brothers, they are the Sisters brothers. The murderous Sisters brothers whose paths few dare to cross. They are riding South from their Oregon shack on a mission to find Hermann Kermit Warm and ... well... kill him. It is a mission and as professional assassins, this is what they do for a living so initially, it is just another job. 
However, as they travel the dusty roads, Eli starts considering the life they are living. Though he is murderous and doesn't feel any guilt killing people who he deems to have "deserved it", he is also a gentle giant who dreams of opening up a clothing shop and marrying a nice girl. 
His brother Charlie is not gentle, not by any meaning of the word. He is ruthless and on the hunt for more money, more power and more whiskey. 

On their travels they meet a strange cast of interesting characters - from men hunting gold in the riverbeds to whores with an alcohol problem and a dentist who has failed at everything else. It is a tour through another time, a cool and collected Western that takes aim and hits you right in the imagination. It is a great book. A pretty fast read but one that you will find hard to put down because it is utterly fascinating. 
I found myself really rooting for Eli - even though he is a bit of a psychopath (nowhere near as bad as his brother though), he is also quiet a reflected individual. He thinks about right and wrong, about life and living and surviving. It is hard not to identify with him, not to find him lovable when he makes a big deal out of brushing his teeth. 

It is no wonder that "The Sisters Brothers" was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize because this is a winning novel, a really different (again, in the best way possible) book that makes an impression. It is clever, well-written, exciting - basically it is a good book!

Read it if: Your favourite cartoon figures are the Dalton Brothers from Lucky Luke. You usually like the novels that get nominated for the Man Booker Prize. You want to try something different that will leave you feeling rewarded at the end.