Tuesday 31 December 2013

Top Ten Books I Read In 2013

1. Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington. I wasn't expecting to like this, but the story drew me in and the characters stayed with me long after I'd finished.

2. Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan. This was definitely my favourite book of the year. Such a vivid, beautiful read.

3. The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. The third book in the series finally made me see why everyone is so obsessed with it.

4. Dare You To by Katie McGarry. Silly, cheesy, awesome fun.

5. This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers. A zombie book that's more about humans. Gorgeous.

6. Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay. A wonderful memoir and audiobook narrated by the author herself.

7. Wildlife by Fiona Wood. This is YA perfection.

8. All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry. Unique and riveting. 

9. Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I can't believe it took me so long to read this book. I loved it!

10. Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland. A totally fun zombie story, done really well as an audiobook.

P. S. I plan to do more 2013 round-up/2014 planning posts tomorrow but for now...


Thursday 26 December 2013

Audiobook Review: What Maisie Knew By Henry James, Narrated By Maureen O'Brien

Confession: I was drawn to What Maisie Knew because the movie adaptation stars Alexander Skarsgard. But I decided to read (or, in this case, listen) to the book because the story of a divorce/custody battle in the 19th century really intrigued me. It seems like such a modern issue that I was interested to see an earlier take.

What I learnt was that not much has changed. Granted, it's probably more common now, but I was surprised by just how relevant the ground covered in What Maisie Knew is today. No wonder it leant itself to a modern movie adaptation! The book begins with Maisie's divorced parents fighting a vicious legal battle to try and gain custody of their young daughter. They want to hurt each other as much as (or perhaps, more than) they actually want custody of the girl. They end up getting joint custody (something that I didn't expect - I had the idea that men automatically got it back in the day), and then each try to turn Maisie against the other, openly putting each other down in front of her and sending her back and forth with petty messages. But soon they have new partners, and their fight over Maisie turns into who can spend the least time with her. She becomes a burden to be inflicted on each other.

Maisie's parents are, needless to say, truly awful. My heart just broke for Maisie several times over. I actually quite liked Sir Claude, Maisie's stepfather, and it was so lovely to see her get some affection and attention from him. I didn't hate Mrs Beale, Maisie's stepmother, though I suspect I was supposed to - and I couldn't stand Mrs Wix, who I think was supposed to be an admirable, if slightly ridiculous, character. She was so self-righteous and silly - but this may just be my own modern morals framing my judgement.

What Maisie Knew is told from the third person perspective of Maisie herself, and I found it quite hard to understand at times. I'm not sure if this was intentional - as though Maisie herself didn't understand what was happening - or if it was just my modern brain not picking up the subtleties and assumed knowledge the contemporary reader would have had. This made the experience quite a frustrating one, something that wasn't helped by the repetitive plot. While at first I was quite captivated my Maisie's plight, by the time she was chucked back and forth, back and forth, again and again between her various parents and step-parents, I was pretty over it. There are only so many times you can bear what is essentially the same plot point repeated in the same story.

The narration by Maureen O'Brien was quite good, but by about the halfway mark, I found What Maisie Knew to be pretty unbearable. I was really tempted to quit, and only didn't because I had come so far. I was really disappointed with the ending, and unsatisfied overall. I don't know that I'll read another Henry James soon.

Rating: 2/5

Fine Print
Published: 2011, AudioGo
Get It: Audible

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors In 2013

1. Fiona Wood. Wildlife was one of my favourite reads of the year, it's such a wonderful, authentic teen novel. Its predecessor, Six Impossible Things, is great too.

2. Neil Gaiman. Yes, until a couple of months ago I had never read a Neil Gaiman novel. As it is I've still only read one. But it was an awesome one.

3. Jackie Kay. I discovered Jackie Kay at the Sydney Wrtiers' Festival earlier in the year and then listened to her memoir, Red Dust Road, on audiobook. It was amazing and I'd love to read some of her fiction soon.

4. Courtney Summers. This Is Not A Test is a fantastic zombie book, but the emotional heart of the story is what has really stuck with me. I'm really keen to read more of Summers' work.

5. Sarra Manning. Adorkable was such a fun read, I loved Mannings' voice, and I really want to read more of her stuff too.

6. Margo Lanagan. Sea Hearts is an exquisite, lovely, whimsical book and I instantly fell in love with Lanagan's writing.

7. Cath Crowley. I love finding new Aussie authors and Graffiti Moon definitely cemented Crowley in my mind as one to watch!

8. Julie Berry. All the Truth That's In Me is one of the few books I've stayed up all night reading. It's brilliant, and the fact that it's written in second person and works so effectively really shows how strong Berry's writing is.

9. Megan Whalen Turner. I loved the world and characters of her The Queen's Thief series - completely addictive.

10. Jessica Shirvington. I avoided Shirvington's first series because I can't stand angel books, but I adored Between the Lives so I want to go back and read what I've missed.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Mini Reviews: The Jane Austen Academy Series by Cecilia Gray

The Jane Austen Academy series is a modern adaptation of the works of Jane Austen. Each book retells a different Austen novel, with the characters recast as teenagers all attending the Jane Austen Academy. It's kinda odd to have all the heroines and heroes interacting with each other, and it also means that the secondary characters of each book have been stripped back, to the point where most of the girls are only children, and one character becomes the equivalent of George Wickham, Henry Crawford AND John Thorpe. A minor point that bothered me was the fact that Jane Austen and her novels still existed in this universe - which doesn't make a lot of sense considering the characters in this series are supposed to be living the stories themselves. Theses are by no means perfect adaptations, but if you're after sweet, easy teen romances with a hint of Austen's characters, then you would probably enjoy them.

Fall For You (Book One), based on Pride and Prejudice
Source: Netgalley
Perhaps because Pride and Prejudice is my favourite Austen novel - or maybe because I was still getting used to the concept of the Jane Austen Academy - but I didn't really love this book. I found Lizzie actually drove me nuts, Dante made for a very poor Darcy (his name didn't help), and the story as a whole was pretty far removed from Pride and Prejudice. It actually reminded me a lot of The Hairy Bird with the way it centered around the uproar over an all-girls school letting in male students. I probably would have enjoyed the story more if it wasn't actually supposed to be connected to Pride and Prejudice. What was there that related to Austen's work felt very rushed. Fall For You was OK, but not great.
Rating: 2.5/5

So Into You (Book Two), based on Sense and Sensibility
Source: Netgalley
While this book is based on Sense and Sensibility, it actually only adapts Elinor's plot - Marianne has disappeared all together. That made me a little sad, as her story is great, but I quite liked what was done with Elinor - or Ellie, here - and her dramas. Her tuition troubles were a good way to modernise the way the Dashwoods fall on hard times, and I really liked Ed. The tension between Ellie and Ed was well developed and a lot of fun. Even with half the story missing, I felt like So Into You was a better adaptation than its predecessor.
Rating: 3/5

When I'm With You (Book Three), based on Northanger Abbey
Source: Netgalley
This was probably my favourite in the series (that's been released, anyway), and funnily enough it actually takes place away from the Jane Austen Academy. Kat is a budding actress who jumps at the chance to spend her holidays on a film set as the assistant for her celebrity classmate Josh Wickham (yes, THE Wickham, doubling here as John Thorpe). Kat's love of drama and overactive imagination are well done, and Josh and his female co-star as the scheming Thorpes works effectively. I really liked the love interest, Henry - he was cute and sensitive, and his scenes with Kat were lovely. It was kinda nice that he didn't go to the Academy, too - the whole hooking up within the one friendship group thing was already feeling like a bit of a stretch. I've always had a soft spot for romances involving celebs/Hollywood, so I enjoyed this.
Rating: 3.5/5

Suddenly You (Book Four), based on Mansfield Park
Source: Purchased on Amazon
I didn't feel like the main characters, Fanny and Tran, resembled their Austen counterparts much at all (side note: I find it incredibly odd that after modernising pretty much all of the names, Gray left Fanny). I still enjoyed their friendly but confused dynamic, and I also liked Fanny's connection with Josh (who took Henry Crawford's place here). I actually felt pretty bad for Josh at the end. I kinda hope he gets a happy ending before the series is over. He's much nicer deep down than any of his Austen influences, I think. Once again, I probably would have enjoyed this story more without the Austen connection, but it was still pretty fun.
Rating: 3/5

Overall, the Jane Austen Academy series is good for a light, quick read. It's not amazing, but it's enjoyable, and I'll definitely continue with the final two books when they come out.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Review: The Never List by Koethi Zan

Best friends Jennifer and Sarah keep a "Never List" - they are all-too-aware of the dangers in the world and have implemented restrictions on every aspect of their lives in order to keep themselves safe. Sadly it doesn't stop them from being kidnapped and locked in a basement, along with two other women. They are tortured for years before Sarah and the two other women escape - but not before Jennifer is murdered. Ten years later, Sarah has escaped and is trying to put her life back together, but is rarely able to leave the house. She is very much still a prisoner, only this time it's self-inflicted, a result of her severe PTSD. When the possibility arises of their torturer getting out of prison, Sarah makes it her mission to leave her comfort zone and find out what happened to her best friend once and for all - for her own peace of mind, and also in the hopes that uncovering Jennifer's body will allow murder charges to finally be laid.

The Never List unfolds in the present, as Sarah sets out to find the truth, with flashbacks to what happened to her and the other women in the past. We slowly find out what Sarah went through, how she escaped, and why the other women she was trapped with hate her. Sarah is deeply, understandably, traumatised, and the exploration of her anxiety is confronting but well-handled. I did feel like there were times she was able to get past it a little too easily, putting herself in extremely dangerous situations after years of not even being able to leave her apartment, but at the same time it was great to watch her gaining power back over her life.

Alongside psychological trauma, forgiveness plays a big part of the story. It delves into just how far people will go for freedom - and how much they're willing to forgive, not only of others but of themselves. Many of the revelations about the past are quite horrific, and you get a strong sense of Sarah's internal struggle to come to terms not just with what was done to her but also what she herself did.

I really liked the twists and turns of The Never List for the most part, and there were a few great surprises, although some plot points were a bit unbelievable. There was also a few times it veered into torture porn territory, which made me incredibly uncomfortable. Plus the dialogue was very clunky and distracting in places, and some of the characters were pretty flat. What I liked most was following Sarah's journey and the ups and downs of her inner conflict. The Never List is a disturbing thriller about the horrible things humans do to each other and themselves, and the lengths we go to in order to survive. While it is incredibly bleak at times, it's also bittersweet and ends on a somewhat hopeful note.

Rating: 3/5

Fine Print
Published: 2013, Pamela Dorman Books
Source: Netgalley
Get It: Book Depository

Review: The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

"A seven-year-old girl puts a nail gun to her grandmother's neck and fires." How can you not be drawn to a book with a blurb that starts like that?! What... just me? Ahem... But seriously, the premise of kids killing their families all over the world grabbed me straight away. I don't know what that says about me. But there's something about murderous children that makes them the most unsettling kind of villains in the horror genre. The Uninvited certainly delivered on the creepy children front.

Hesketh Lock, an anthropologist with Asperger's Syndrome who has trouble with people but excels at patterns and puzzles, is investigating a case of corporate sabotage that ends in the perpetrator's suicide. Similar events are happening all over the world. Hesketh begins to see a pattern, and detects it's somehow connected to the increasing number of attacks by kids everywhere. But it's not until events hit closer to home than he ever imagined that he realises just how connected everything is. 

I don't want to give too much away, because this really is a deliciously suspenseful read and it's best not to know a lot going into it. I loved the central mystery, the creepiness of the whole thing and the way events escalated to the point where the world of the story was well and truly a horror to behold. But what made it so compelling was the unique and complex character of Hesketh, and the way he reacts to the situation and tries to make sense of everything. His complicated and often touching relationships with the other characters, and the way the horror enters his own life, provides the emotional core of the novel. And boy, was it emotional.

Liz Jensen's writing is strong, and Hesketh's voice felt very authentic to me. I really liked the pace of The Uninvited, as it starts out as a slow burn before expanding to Lord of the Flies-type mayhem on steroids. The only thing that let this book down for me was the ending. I just found the explanation of what had happened to be really silly. It's a shame because otherwise this is a really effective horror story.

Rating: 4/5

Fine Print
Published: 2013, Bloomsbury
Source: Netgalley
Get It: Book Depository

Friday 22 November 2013

Friday Link Dump: Vampire Academy, Internet Linguistics And Ra-Ra-Rasputin

-A new trailer for Vampire Academy has been released and it looks much better than the first teaser. I hope the movie is good. Or at least craptastic. (Yahoo!)

-As much as I love Anne Shirley, this post about how you'd react if you met her in real life is hilariously accurate. (The Toast)

-I love words, and I love getting creative with them. So I really love internet language and totally agree with this article in defense of it. (The Toast)

-I am loving this season of American Horror Story, so I found this post on the real story of one of the characters fascinating. (Flavorwire)

-There is a TV series about Rasputin in development and I am excited. (Deadline)

-Kids movies in the '80s really were pretty scary. (Flavorwire)

-I am SO excited about the Muppets Most Wanted movie. The trailer looks great. (YouTube)

-Oscar the Grouch met Grumpy Cat and it was the most awesome meeting of cranky minds in history. (YouTube)

-You will not believe these drawings aren't photographs. (BuzzFeed)

-This acapella version of Royals by Lorde is aca-mazing. (YouTube)

-The napping adventures of a boy and his puppy is my new favourite Instagram account. (Instagram)

-These dad jokes are actually pretty funny. (BuzzFeed)

-This is why killing a lion is the most cowardly thing you can do. (BuzzFeed)

-This account of two journalists who went undercover on an asylum seeker boat headed for Australia is a must-read. Amazing. And heartbreaking. (The New York Times)

-I saw Catching Fire yesterday and it was amazeballs and of course I reacted in GIFs. Earlier in the week I discovered you can actually buy Katniss' wedding dress, although no word on if it comes with fire tricks. (This blog)

Thursday 21 November 2013

The Movie Was Amazeballs: Catching Fire

Omigod, you guys. Catching Fire was amazing. 

Going into it, I was a little nervous, because Catching Fire is my favourite book in the series and I hoped the movie would be great, too.

But I loved the first movie, so more than anything I was really, really, excited.

The opening with Katniss and Gale, connecting back with the first movie, was great.

Then the Victor's Village was perfect.

President Snow was so deliciously creepy.

The tension between Peeta and Katniss was great.

Peeta my bby.

The Victor's tour was heart-wrenching.

There were some sweet and funny moments though.

And then, OMG...

Poor Gale.

Poor Katniss.

Poor Peeta.

Poor Effie.

But then there was Finnick.

And Johanna.

And Mags and Nuts and Bolts.

Katniss was totally impressive.

But Peeta stole the show.

Then there was some sweetness.

Followed by a big whammy of heartbreak.

It was Quarter Quell time.

And I was all...

And then...

Then it was like...


With a bit of...

And some more...

Finally it was like...

With some of this...

Then it was like...

With a bit more...

Then at the end I was like...

And it was over and I was all...

And now I'm ready to watch it again.