Saturday, March 5, 2011

Short reviews

Somehow I got six books behind with my blog reviews. So these are going meant to be short-shorts.

The Screwed-up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson:
This was kindly sent to me by Chris of Charlie is a 17-year-old misfit: he's too tall, too skinny, and he's worried about the size of his penis. (Actually Charlie is REALLY focused on his penis. Never having been a 17 year old boy, I can't say whether it's normal but I kind of felt like I needed to wash my hands after reading the book). Charlie stumbles and bumbles along, picking through the minefield of high school and  his over bearing father. When a new boy starts at Charlie's school, and joins Charlie's soccer team, things really start to look up.

The Screwed-up Life of Charlie the Second is funny and insightful without being mawkish or sentimental. Charlie's kind of an asshole, but he is a 17 year old boy, so I suppose that's sort of a given. Being an openly gay 17 year old boy is never going to be an easy ride, and Charlie has a habit of making things more difficult for himself than they need to be. But with a little help from his friends, and family, things might not be as bad as Charlie thinks they are.

8/10 That movie that you've watched 100 times and you never get tired of

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
This really deserves a longer post and a review of its own but ... six books. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a series of letters written from the mother of a boy who killed nine people in a school shooting. 

She's writing them to her ex-husband, and the letters range from musings about parenthood - and their own failures with Kevin - to Kevin's upbringing, to family and beyond.

Eva is unsparing and unflinching as she examines Kevin's life up to - and including -  the shooting. 

We Talk About Kevin is a harrowing read, no question. But it's a thought-provoking and compelling one as well; especially reflecting on the nature of motherhood, and what it can really take from you.

8/10 That movie that you've watched 100 times and you never get tired of

The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder
Alice Blackadder has spent her formative years in disguise as a boy, her family hounded into obscurity by the more powerful Hume clan. She and her father have been living in hiding for many years, until they return to Scotland from France with Mary Queen of Scots, and court shenanigans ensue.

Jesse Blackadder reached into her own family history for the source material for the story, and it's an interesting read, although I found the first person, present-tense style of the narration a bit jarring. Get past that, however, and you have a solid historical novel. Plus it had the added advantage of making me want to read everything ever about Mary Queen of Scots.
7/10 Someone else cooks dinner – yay!

Genesis by Bernard Beckett
This is a read. Genesis is 142 pages of philosophical science fiction, and there's a lot going on for such a short book.

Anaximander is applying for a place at the prestigious Academy; an application that takes the form of a gruelling, four-hour examination. Her chosen topic is  the life of Adam Forde, a long-dead hero of Anax's, who was, in a lot of ways, the catalyst for the society Anax is living in now. 

Genesis is packed to the gills with ideas and philosophy, and the whole book takes place over the course of Anax's examination, with flashbacks to key events in Adam Forde's life.

The dystopic, futuristic and Platonic society that Anax lives in, and that Adam Forde's time was moving towards - is barely hinted at; just sketches through Anax's eyes as she takes the Academy examination. There's more going on than Anax realises , and Genesis packs an unexpectedly emotional punch.

8/10 That movie that you've watched 100 times and you never get tired of

True Grit by Charles Portis
I always seem to do this the wrong way around with adaptations. I actually saw the Coen Brothers' True Grit before I read the book. It's a faithful adaptation, though, and the Coens do an excellent job of making Mattie the front-and-centre voice of the film.

Anyway, the book. Fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross is on a mission. Her father has been murdered, and no one is on the trail of his killer, Frank Chaney, who has escaped into the Indian Territories.

Mattie - a single-minded, somewhat prim and humourless but smart - girl enlists the help of Federal Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a man she believes has 'grit'. Along with a flashy Texan ranger, the three set off into the Territories on Chaney's trail.

Mattie's voice in True Grit is strong, clear and never, ever wavers. The story itself  is commonplace enough, but the narrative is so compelling that it doesn't matter as Mattie tells the tale of riding into the wilds in search of revenge or justice - whichever comes first.
9/10 So good, you'd take it to meet your Mum

August by Bernard Beckett
Tristan and Grace - relative strangers - are in a car accident. Their car rolls, and they find themselves trapped upside down in the car on a nameless cliffside.

At first glance, they appear to be prostitute and client, but Grace and Tristan have a much more complex relationship, and a sort of shared history that comes out over the course of the night as they wait to either be rescued - or to die.

Like Genesis, August is a deeply philosophical novel, although more dystopic than science fiction. Actually, I wasn't expecting the dystopic element, but it made the story that much richer. 

Tristan and Grace tell each other their stories - how they both came to be in the car on this night, on this cliffside - and there's a lot of suffering in both their backgrounds. The crash might be their last night, ever, and Tristan and Grace have a lot of baggage to work through. Sigh. This is an inadequate description of an awesome book, but I'm about tapped out on reviews. Six. Books. O.O
8/10 That movie that you've watched 100 times and you never get tired of


Violet said...

I finally got Genesis from the library. Fingers crossed for this one!

Kailana said...

Chris sent me the Chris Ferguson, too. lol I think he is trying to tell people something... Now maybe I should actually read it!

Kailana said...

oops! I mean Drew, not Chris.

chrisa511 said...

Hooray for finishing Charlie :D I'm glad you liked it Maree!!! And unfortunately, I DO think that was a fairly accurate depiction of 17 year old boys :p Coming from an all boy highschool, I can tell you that penises are the main topic of conversation in public and alone, lol.

The other books sound fantastic too!

Vasilly said...

I love Charlie the Second! I picked it up because of Chris too!

Maree said...

Violet: Eep! I hope you like it! At least it's short - lol
Kailana: Lol yes I think he is :)
Chris: Heh, I'll take your word for it ;) They were good, I've been lucky lately :D
Vasilly: He's good like that :)