Thursday, 14 January 2016

Review: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Finally, after an embarrassing period, I have decided to resume this blog. Call it procrastination,  guilt or an excuse to not exercise, or perhaps it's just a blatant plea for free books, I am writing irregularly once again!

Not my usual review-style but I haven't had time to write an essay.
In brief, I appreciate the research Geraldine Brooks has done for the topic as she does for all her books. It is well written and an easy read. The characters are vivid, the dialogue, real. The only disappointment was in her taking the now-prevalent view of certain key relationships in David's eventful life which jarred against my personal, more traditional, beliefs.

Perhaps I might expand on this review later. I don't think the evidence is as clear cut as the theory's supporters advocate but sadly, I'm pretty sure this will be even more the popular view now.

I wish to thank Goodreads for my giveaway copy of The Secret Chord.
Slightly disharmonious, three strings out of five.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Made it - with 20 minutes to spare!

Celebrations are in order....I have finally completed my reading for the MS Readathon! 

Clocking out at 11.40pm, 30 September, I closed the cover on my last book and promptly rejoiced by spreading the news on social media. Alas, no one was awake but that did not diminish my happy thoughts! 

This has been a most interesting experience. I have never been one for lists and timeframes when it comes to recreational reading. The closest form of restriction is when:
a) my library book is about to expire or,
b) book club is meeting tomorrow and I still have 200 pages of our group read book to go. 
Then it's frantic reading time but often only for a night or two! 
For the MS Readathon, we had to read according to all the letters of our cause.  Though I had mostly stuck to the books I nominated, based on my allocated letters, there were some minor changes, but I am still rather chuffed at completing 13 fairly different books spanning several eras, genres, and styles.

This event took 3 months to complete so a marathon it was indeed. And like all marathons, pacing was important. I started slow, but with great heft. Warming up in a light trot (The Importance of Emma), it was then an uphill climb all the way (Anna Karenina and Moby Dick). The load of these great classics were upon me when I sought relief through Love Letters of Great Men. Once refreshed, I was ready for another long haul of BIG IDEAS: war (The Iliad), religion (Eifelheim), Truth and fate (The Odyssey).  Such a journey to Novel Destinations could only end in the stars (Shards of Honor) before I returned to solid Earth with a thud, flying bullets and a mad dash to the end (A Farewell to Arms, The Lady in the Lake, and Red Harvest). Unlike Pheidippides, I did not collapse in exhaustion, although I did need (and got!) a very good night's rest.

A good cause deserves great effort and this was not lacking in any of the team members. Check out their achievements on our facebook page. But most of all, it deserves great heart and partnership with our sponsors. Whilst the reading has ended, there is still more to do. In the next few weeks, we will be posting up more reviews of our readathon books. To complete the readathon, we now ask our wonderful sponsors to donate and show their support for people with MS by giving generously. And yes, this is a shameless and blatant request for money.

You can donate by clicking here: 
 Thank you for your support and encouraging words throughout the readathon!


Thursday, 13 September 2012

Update on readathon progress

It's September and I'm nearly 3/4 way through the readathon...time for an update!

The Importance of Being Emma (reviewed)
Anna Karenina (yes- that's the whole month!!) (reviewed)

A lot of catching up to do....

Moby Dick or the Whale (read)
Love Letters of Great Men (read)
The Iliad (reviewed)
Eifelheim (read)

A very productive month!

Truth (read)

7 down, 6 more to go, none the size of Anna Karenina - woohoo!!

Started on:
The Odyssey
Novel destinations

Still to go:
Shards of Honor
Red Harvest
The Lady in the Lake
A Farewell to Arms

Must read...can't do any more reviews until after the readathon!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Review: The Iliad by Homer

Needed a few sillies after the last oh-so-serious review...not too hard to guess the mash-up :)

It sta-arts with Achilles, a total sook he i-is,
His girl is taken from him, in Homer's Iliad.

King Agamemnon tri-ies, to quell Achilles' pri-ide,
But 'go away' he su-ulks, to Ulysses and friends.

I-L-I-A-D, by H-O-M-E-R,
the longest ode to war
in western history!

 And off to mum he go-es, and mum flies up to Jo-ve,
who has been running the sho-ow, with all his fellow gods!

Olympus has its stri-ife, the kind of god and wi-ife,
and squabbles high in heaven, falls unto goodly men. 

I-L-I-A-D of H-O-M-E-R,
the Samuel Butler prose
translated from the Greek

Ten years they have been fighting, the Trojans and Achaeans, 
with warriors great and mighty, and heroes known to all.

Prince Hector is the noblest, his brother Paris much less.
What makes a man a hero? Is glory more than life?

 I-L-I-A-D by H-O-M-E-R,
Achilles, Patroclus,
  of rage and love and grief.

But death is close at ha-and, crushed skulls of fragile ma-an,
in heavy helmets fly-y, and torsos ripped in half.

What special care for armour, is paired with quest for valour,
yet story after story of kills and bloody gore.

I-L-I-A-D by H-O-M-E-R,
before the Odyssey
but where's the Trojan horse??!?

4 war-spurring gods out of 5

Monday, 27 August 2012

Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Ah, the Russian novel. Full of worthy philosophising, internal torment or potential bleakness on every page, this is not an endeavour to be taken lightly. I have thrice started on Russian novels without any success at completion. Perhaps Dostoyevsky was too deep, I thought. Perhaps I needed a love story. Passionate, tragic people in love. Another Heathcliff and Catherine. I can do that. 

Hmm. It seems not without a lot of help from my friends. On this second attempt (the first, a few years back where a very kind friend lent me her book and I didn't quite make it to the appearance of the heroine of the title, but kept the book for an embarrassingly long time to try and try again...), I needed 3 other friends to read along. 2 parts per week, it was at a gruelling pace but I am very happy to say that I have now finished a Russian novel. I am no longer a literary wimp. 

And what did I think of it? 

I would love to say that my efforts were richly rewarded. That necessary sleep was sacrificed because the story swept me away or I could not bear to part from the pair of lovers. But that would be a lie. I read because I had to. I had a deadline. 

No doubt, it was a worthy novel. It was dense. Of characters, of places, of ideas and ideals, the breadth of human experiences. A perfect social novel that explored a time, a place and a people through a carousel of multiple cast members, in the best tradition of Victorian literature. But I could not like it.

Tolstoy famously started his novel with,  
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 
Happiness was an elusive thing for all the characters, and it was through his characters that we search for the meaning of life. No one is ever truly happy. Perhaps the happiest of the families in Tolstoy’s masterpiece was Levin and Kitty, and they provided the only lightness in the book, and for only a few amusing chapters in the middle at that. But even they were not immune to the mysteries and unhappiness of life, love and marriage. While Stiva acted like a guilty little boy, not quite as contrite as he should be, his unhappy wife, Dolly, struggled on and tried to bury her unhappiness by focussing on her children. The most unhappy, unsurprisingly, were the main couple, Anna and Vronsky. However, though I knew the unhappy end that was to come, I did not expect the tragic foreshadowing from the start of their meeting. 

This was a difficult read. Not because of the language though Tolstoy's grand philosophical concepts needed deep interpreting. It wasn’t his essays on farming, or the conversations depicting uncertainty between the old and the new Russia, nor Levin’s socialist struggles with his place in society, or that the plot centred on an extra-marital affair. Tolstoy packed a lot in his novel. His observations about people, both individually and as a society were insightful and most accurate. The central themes of the novel were big and important: What is forgiveness? How does one find faith? What is the measure of love and can love be too much to bear? 

But the difficulty lies in the main characters themselves. Selfish, entitled, and purposely blind, the impassioned characters who took action acted foolishly harming mostly themselves, whilst passivity dominated the others who allowed fear and an unwillingness to face the situation with moral conviction to rule. Everyone’s frozen despair hung over the novel like the icy Siberian winds. This was perhaps Tolstoy’s genius, that he wrote extremely unlikable characters that were at once fragile and wilful, frustrating yet pitiable. Of all who suffered, the jilted husband, Karenin, was perhaps the foremost example. Though he remained weak, despised and unbending, the slow stripping of his character revealed the tenderness of a broken heart. 

Tolstoy did not give clear easy answers. His internal monologues, so modern in its stream of consciousness style, revealed, to an extent, the motivations of these frustrating people, especially Anna and Levin, the parallels of the story. At many points I wanted to throw the book away (metaphorically!!) or incur violence on most of the characters. It is a testament to the undeniable power of the book, that we can feel so strongly one way or another for all of them. But in spite of this, I could not like the book because I could not like its protagonists, nor the motivations and actions that propelled the plot.

3 trains out of 5.  My head hurts.

Friday, 24 August 2012

It's a team effort!

We are Annie, Tien, Jacklyn, Jonathan, Anthony & Robyn. 

Here is the list of books we are reading for the MS Readathon - 26 books altogether in 3 months…and hopefully raising $1,300!

M – Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Annie) READ (to be reviewed)
U – Ulysses by James Joyce (Robyn)
L – (The) Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Tien)
T – The Magic of Recluce by L.E. Modessitt Jr (Anthony)
I – (The) Iliad by Homer (Annie) READ (to be reviewed)
P – (The) Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (Tien)
L – (The) Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (Annie)
E – Emma by Jane Austen (Robyn?)
S – Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (Annie)
C – Child 44 by Leo Demidov (Jackie)
L – Love Letters of Great Men by John C. Kirkland (Annie) READ (to be reviewed)
E – Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (Annie)
R – Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (Annie)
O – On The Road by Jack Kerouac (Annie)
S – Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) by Deborah Harkness (Tien)  COMPLETED
I – (The) Importance of Being Emma by Juliet Archer (Annie) COMPLETED
S – (The) Shack by W. Paul Young (Jacklyn)
R – (The) Reason by William Sirls (Tien)
E – (The) Egyptologist: A Novel by Arthur Phillips (Tien)
A – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy -Read-a-long (Annie, Jackie, Robyn, & Tien) COMPLETED
D – Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (Robyn?) OR Death comes to Pemberley by P.D. James(Annie / Jackie) if Robyn isn’t reading DZ
A – A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (Annie)
T – Truth by Peter Temple (Next BC Read)
H - Hospital InPatient Waste Identification Tool (Robyn)
O – Ones a poner time by Ilsa Evans (Tien)
N – Novel Destinations by Shannon Mckenna Schmidt (Annie)

Wish us luck and good eyesight!!  
And remember, if you wish to sponsor us, please click here:

Review: The Importance of Being Emma by Juliet Archer

As I wasn't planning on actually reading any real Austen, I thought it would be fun to do a couple of related works, starting with Juliet Archer's retelling of one of my favourite novels for my first readathon book, The Importance of Being Emma.

Emma Woodhouse (along with Elizabeth Bennett) is arguably the most contemporary of Jane Austen's heroines; her beauty, intelligence and strong personality is easily translatable to the career woman of 21st Century. Ms Archer has set Emma in the world of gourmet foods
. She is the new marketing director of Highbury Traditional Foods, her father's business, a role one infers may have been devised and arranged by the lady herself. She is 23, has just graduated from Harvard and is set to drag the company, kicking and screaming into the modern world of online shopping. To help her gain hands on experience, her father engages Mark Knightley to be her new mentor; longtime family friend, brother-in-law and old schoolgirl crush. The story mostly follows the original with one or two significant detours. She acquires a new PA, trashy temp Harriet Smith, has to put up with the ever talkative Mary Bates, her father's assistant, is intrigued by the elusive Flynn Churchill, a celebrity chef from Australia, and gets frustrated with Jane Fairfax, an intern she considers her nemesis.

The irony of the new setting was rather amusing given Mr Woodhouse's love for thin gruel in the original. The characters mostly stayed intact although 'Gusty', Elton's new squeeze, was possibly less annoying than her predecessor. This is not a serious book. It is a complete mystery to me how Oscar Wilde got involved in the title. Did someone get confused about which retell it was??

My version was an ebook which took merely a few hours to complete at a very easy pace. It is published by Choc Lit, which probably should have been my first indication. I have since seen a cover that gave away the rest of the clues. 

This is pure chick lit fluff of the romance variety, from the blurb to the unexpected amount of sex in the plot. It isn't really that graphic but don't say I didn't warn you. 

I have previously read the next Austen retelling by the same author (Persuade Me) and had thoroughly enjoyed it, but this was a great disappointment. It could have taken more risks and veered further from the original to make the story fresh and less offensive. Instead, there were differences that did not make sense and did not ring true. Worse still, the charm of the characters were diminished. The main pull for me in Emma was how well all the characters were constructed by the incomparable Miss Austen. It took me years to come to love snobby manipulative Emma but saw exactly why the perfect hero, Mr Knightley, loved her so. It took the first page in the new book for me to go back to disliking Emma, and ye gads, even Mark Knightley has slipped many notches down the hero scale! To recover from this first misstep, I was compelled to watch Clueless, the adorable 90's movie by Amy Heckerling to see how a modern Emma can be done right. 

1 Highbury Hamper out of 5. "It was badly done, indeed!"

Next book: Anna Karenina.....