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.