Monthly Archives: October 2014

Just making sure…

Customer: Hi. Sorry are you busy? Can you help me?
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Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing

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I am a huge fan of young adult novels.

I also hate the term ‘young adult’ when categorizing – you don’t have to be aged 12 to 21-ish to enjoy reading books in this category.

Quite often in my bookstore, I see adults buying copies of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent for themselves to read, and it really is fantastic to see that they aren’t fazed by categorization. There are some other fantastic stories out there that are deemed ‘young adult’ but which I think adults would really enjoy too. These books also often deal with rather adult themes, and The Jewel is no exception.

This first book in a new dystopian series sees Violet auctioned off as a surrogate to an elite royal family in The Jewel. As with all dystopian heroines, Violet is not one to readily settle for her fate. She meets Ash, a handsome young royal companion, and they begin an illicit love affair, all while being used as puppets in a deadly game of court politics. In a world where these young surrogates are treated as objects, or even ‘pets’, Violet unwittingly becomes the only person able to change the current status quo.

With a cliff-hanger to rival that of any television drama, this books slowly hooks you in and, at times, I forgot that it was a ‘young adult’ novel that I was reading. It did take a few chapters for me to really get into the novel, as it starts with Violet at a training centre where the potential surrogates spend a number of years honing their special skills. It took a while to get to the crux of the story, but once it does, the themes the book deals with are quite adult in nature. There were moments where I did actually feel a bit uncomfortable about what I was reading. I think the best way to describe this book is terrifyingly beautiful. It is beautiful in the gilded and glittering in the clothes, parties and palaces that Violet frequents, but also shockingly brutal when it delves into the (at times) confronting details of Violet’s role as a surrogate.

Overall, I thought this book was quite unique, and therefore an engaging read, despite the sometimes uneasy and graphic scenes. It shares many similarities and tropes of other dystopian novels, but in terms of subject matter, it is quite unlike any other dystopian novel I have read. I would definitely recommend this book for readers aged 16+.

Rating 6/10

Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Up until about a week ago, I had never read one of Liane Moriarty’s books, which is rather surprising considering she is a local author in my area, and I am a huge supporter and advocate for Australian authors.

I had also been hearing almost all of my colleagues at work rave about her novels, so I thought I would give her latest one a whirl, though I was a bit worried that I may not enjoy the book. I will admit I am not normally one to read a book about the lives of fictional suburban mothers and their families. Quite frankly, I find the notion of reading a book about daily trials of mothers and their kids rather dull and unexciting.

That is, until I picked up Liane Moriarty’s latest book.

Big Little Lies takes place in the fictional Sydney suburb of Pirriwee and revolves around a group of kindergarten parents and their respective children who attend the local public school. The whole novel revolves around one key event – Pirriwee Public’s annual school trivia night. Why? Because a parent is dead.

The three central characters are Madeline, a highly extroverted, bubbly force to be reckoned with, Celeste, an effortlessly gorgeous, wealthy mother of twin boys and close friend of Madeline’s, and Jane, the young single mum who is new in town. This trio form the foundation of the story we are told, and all have their own worries and trials to deal with in their personal lives.

The majority of the novel takes places over the months leading up to the ill-fated trivia night, and delves into the cliquey world of helicopter parents and playground politics. At times, you almost forget that one of the characters you are reading about is in fact dead, but Moriarty very cleverly keeps you on track – at the end of every chapter there are excerpts of witness statements and background information being given by the schools parents and teachers. In this way, Moriarty also cleverly keeps you guessing as to who exactly the deceased person is.

As sombre as the overall storyline sounds, Moriarty’s latest novel is actually quite funny, while at the same time heartbreaking. She really knows how to get you emotionally invested in her characters, and to love and loathe them in equal measure. This is one of the best examples I have seen of really well written, well-defined characters. You know exactly who they are and how they will most likely react to certain situations, even though they are works of fiction.

I also love that Moriarty hasn’t compromised herself as an author just to appeal to the American mass market. The book is rife with ‘Australian-isms’ – including a brief discussion of ‘mum’ vs. ‘mom’ spelling, greetings of ‘gidday’, and particular aspects of the first year of school that evoked nostalgic memories of my own kindergarten days. I was able to relate to many things in this novel, despite not being in the target reader demographic.

I can’t wait to pick up another Liane Moriarty novel sometime soon.

Rating: 9/10

Edit: It is exciting to see both Nicole Kidman’s and Reese Witherspoon’s respective production companies option the screen rights to Big Little Lies! Read more here.

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

 

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I am a quick reader. I normally read about 2 books a week. I devour novels like lions devour gazelles. Or like my best friend devours chocolate. Books sustain me and I hunger for new stories all the time.

But The Night Circus was different.

It took me just over a week to finish it.

I wanted it to last.

I wanted it to go on forever.

I was actually quite upset when it ended (even though, as a logical adult, I know all books must end).

I have never been so reluctant to reach the end of a book, and so disappointed with my reality when it did. Much like the patrons of the circus in the novel, you do not want the experience to end. The challenge I face now is trying to adequately write a review of it. For those of you who have read The Night Circus, you will know how much of a challenge this is.

The novel is essentially about Marco and Celia, two illusionists, who are trained by their respective tutors in preparation for a challenge, of which the rules, time and venue are all unknown. But then again, it could be said that this novel is also a story about an impossible love and the nature of the human soul. Or it could even just simply be about a travelling circus.

You start reading this novel not quite knowing what you’re in for, the blurb simply stating:

“The circus arrived without warning. No announcements precede it… it is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

Even though this seems vague and meaningless at first glance, in hindsight, this sums up my experience reading this book – I came across it without meaning to, I hadn’t heard anything about it, and I knew nothing about it, but now it is ingrained in me when a week ago it wasn’t there at all.

The book, at first, seems to be an incoherent collection of stories of people’s lives. However, the further into the book you go, the more intertwined these lives become, and the clearer the bigger picture becomes. You fall in love with the circus and the characters, and you end up feeling like you have lived across the years that the circus spans – you feel apart of the circus, of something bigger than yourself.

Morgenstern jumps back and forth through the years from the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. The reader is able to keep track with the dates of the events taking place, as they are conveniently stated at the start of every chapter. Her writing style is sumptuous and enthralling, and you are immediately transported into the world of Le Cirque des Rêves – The Circus of Dreams – every time you open the book.

This novel is breathtakingly beautiful. If a book were to be compared to a work of art, this would be the shining example. You want to take your time with it, to savour it and give your full attention to it. You want to appreciate every word, every detail and every moment, trying to commit each to memory so you can relive it over and over again.

The best way I can think of to even come close to giving a sufficient summary of the novel is to give you one piece of advice: Do yourself a favour and go out and buy this book and get lost within it’s pages. It is the only way to truly understand and experience this world that Morgenstern has created.

I cannot recall the last time I read a book where I lost myself in the author’s literary vision so utterly and completely. Most definitely, without question, one of my top 10 books I have read this year.

Rating: 10/10

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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Being the only staff member in my book store to have not read one of the most hyped up book-to-movie adaptations of the year, I thought I had better jump on the bandwagon and give it a go.

I do love a good crime/thriller novel, and it had been a while since I had read a really good one, so I was more than ready to give this book a go.

“Who are you? What have we done to each other?”

The tag line for this book, Nick’s philosophising lamentation at both the start and the end of the novel, nicely sums up both the overt simplicity and underlying complexity of this story.

The story revolves around the two central characters of Nick and Amy Dunne, and how, on the day of their five-year wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. As the police begin to investigate, evidence starts turning up which points the finger squarely at Nick being responsible. Told from two points of view, Nick’s first hand account and Amy’s diary entries, this story very soon becomes a case of trying to decipher who is telling the truth, who is lying, and which version of shared events between Amy and Nick is the more accurate account. This book keeps you guessing as to what is going on, what the bigger picture is, and what will happen next, right up until the final page.

As I got further and further into the book, I began to formulate two potential endings, both of which I thought would fit in with the psychological overtones of the novel. However, while I was ready to accept neither of my imagined endings taking place, I was not ready to accept the ending that Flynn decided upon. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I really disliked, and possibly even *gasp* hated, the ending of the book. I would just like to note though, that the ending has indeed divided all the staff in my book store – half of us hate the ending, while the other half think it was brilliant, so it really does come down to personal opinion and preferences.

This novel really is a page-turner because you desperately want to know what the hell is going on the whole way through, and as you get towards the end, you want to see whether certain characters get what they deserve. Aside from the clear-cut story and plot line of the book, this novel also deals with issues and topics on other levels as well. There is a definite psychological element to the book, and everything in the story ultimately comes down to the reader asking themselves, how well do you really know the other person you are sharing the rest of your life with?

I did actually really enjoy this book, despite feeling like the author’s choice of conclusion let the story down in the end. I would definitely recommend reading it before seeing the film (which was excellently done, by the way).

Rating: 7/10