Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Your meme is hosted here:

I'm still picking away at Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay but I suspect it might have to go back to the library largely unread. I'm enjoying it but it's a large, dense book that demands rather more time than I have at the moment, I fear.

I picked up My Life in Paris by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme and it's far more my speed right now. It's basically a collection of reminiscinces (ouch spelling) by Child about her years in France and it's a lovely, light read.

What are YOU reading?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

There are two Will Graysons.

Well, I'm pretty sure there are lots of Will Graysons but for the purposes of this book there are two.

The first Will Grayson is in high school in Chicago, and has just reconnected with his best friend – the very large, very fabulous and very gay Tiny Cooper. Tiny is planning a musical based on his own life, and Will – who has two simple rules for living – Don't care too much and Shut up - finds himself reluctantly dragged in to help.

Will prefers to be a passive sidelines observer, but with Tiny as a best friend, it soon proves to be impossible.

The other Will Grayson is living a very different life. Different town; different school, he battles daily with depression and the only human contact he really has is with his friend Maura – who he doesn't seem to like very much – and Isaac, a boy he chats to online that he has a major crush on.

By a series of strange coincidences, the two Will Graysons meet after the first one gets ditched by Tiny and Jane – the girl that Will is crushing on – at a club, and the second travels to Chicago under the impression he's finally going to meet Isaac.

However, nothing really goes to plan.

Will Grayson one is pissed that his friends ditched him, and Will Grayson two is devastated when he finds out that Isaac is nothing more than a cruel trick played on him by Maura.

(Side note: When I read that, I swear my brain went "NNNNNNOOOOOO" in slow motion.)

That's a terrible summary – lol.

The Wills tell their stories in alternating chapters, and it takes a little bit to get used to the way the second Will never capitalises anything, but it fits with his depression and feelings of smallness in the world.

Of course, when he meets Tiny, his whole world tilts upside down. They begin dating, despite living in different towns, and the first Will finally owns up to his own feelings about Jane, a friend of Tiny's.

I loved Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I loved it pretty much beyond reason. Both Wills are very well-realised and my heart broke more than once for the second Will, especially after his friend betrayed him so badly.

I wanted to smack the first Will around the head a little for sometimes being dense, but he's there for his friends when it counts, and as for Tiny ...

... how much did I love Tiny? To distraction. Tiny Cooper is larger than life and so very much himself that as much as I felt myself holding my breath for the Wills (Will two especially), Tiny felt like a long, welcome exhale of breath.

Green and Levithan's writing is so sharp and so clear, and there are so many quotable sections that I'd end up violating copyright.

I have to quote this bit, though, because it's just so insightful and so painful that it's impossible not to put it ... everywhere:

"i think the idea of a 'mental health day' is something completely invented by people who have no idea what it's like to have bad mental health. The idea that your mind can be aired out in twenty-four hours is kind of like saying heart disease can be cured if you eat the right breakfast cereal. Mental health days only exist for people who have the luxury of saying 'i don't want to deal with things today' and then can take the whole day off, while the rest of us are stuck fighting the fights we always fight, with no one really caring one way or another, unless we choose to bring a gun to school or ruin the morning announcements with a suicide.”

That passage in particular struck a deep chord with me as it summarises Will two’s struggles and how much he feels like they isolate him from the world around him.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson was one of those books that I didn’t want to stop reading, possibly ever and now I need to read all of the things that Green and Levithan have written.

I have read Nick and Norahs’ Infinite Playlist, and Naomi and Ely’s No-Kiss List both of  which Levithan co-wrote with Rachel Cohn, but this was my first anything by Green – clearly a grievous oversight on my part.

10/10 Could not be improved on, even by angel dust and a basket of kittens

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Fall is del Toro and Hogan's second novel in The Strain trilogy. It picks up from where the first novel - er, The Strain - left off, with a small band of human survivors valiantly battling against the vampire menace that's now threatening the whole world.

Dr Ephraim Goodweather (sidenote: I love the names in this. I really, really do), formerly of the CDC and now  a rogue on the run has banded together with a small motley crew of humans to try and ward off the coming darkness.

It's a pretty bleak situation for the humans as vampires  just spread like a virus throughout New York  and, presumably, the rest of the world.

I like this series. I like it a whole lot. Because it's bleak and there really is very, very little hope, even though Eph and co keep striving against the Master (a rogue Ancient vampire who's responsible for unleashing the plague, as it were), doing their best to keep a little light shining.

del Toro's unusual  creative point-of-view is all over The Strain and The Fall, and it's backed up by a solid structure, all of which served to make me want to keep reading.

It is a little bleak and unrelenting, and there are some terribly heartbreaking elements to The Fall, which truly made me wonder whether the humans were going to prevail.

I'm still wondering, actually ...

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

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox

My first finish. I'm aiming for 12 books :-)

Dreamhunter is set in an alternative New Zealand. Actually, in an alternative Southland, which always gives me a kick, because that's my province. :D

Anyway. In this New Zealand, dreams can be "caught" and shared. Only certain people can become dreamhunters - those able to enter the mysterious Place, catch dreams, and bring them back out to share. The dreams are shared either at dream palaces like the Rainbow Opera, or, depending on the dream, at hospitals, prisons ...

Laura and Rose are cousins the same age, as close as sisters. Rose's mother and Laura's father are famous  and powerful Dreamhunters in their own rights.

Laura and Rose, at 15, are set to Try over the long summer - a yearly ritual whereby boys and girls of a certain age discover whether they have Dreamhunter potential. If they do, they step into the Place. If not, they carry on with their ordinary lives.

Rose is sure that she will be successful, leave school and embark on  a stellar career as a Dreamhunter. Laura - used to living in her cousin's shadow and quite happy there - is less confident, but doesn't want to be left behind.

However, when it comes to the girls' Try, it's Rose that gets left behind, as Laura is the only one of them able to enter the Place ...

I have read Dreamhunter before, and I love it. The idea behind it - the dreamscape of the Place, and the image of the Rainbow Opera ... the imagery is fantastic, and there's just enough of a dark undercurrent under the whole concept to give a pleasant little chill up the spine.

Laura and Rose are fantastically realised as characters, and their relationship is one of my favourite things about the book - especially Rose, who comes out  of her disappointing Try even stronger, and resolves to help Laura any way she can.

Laura - who starts out in the book (for me) a little vague and wishy-washy, does start to ... colour in  a bit? Especially after her father - who does mysterious work for the Government - disappears and is presumed dead.

There are so many layers to Dreamhunter that I could go on and on about: there's the dreamhunting itself, and the way it gets used by the Government; the family dynamic between Laura, Rose and their respective parents, the deeper mysteries of the Place ... I'm getting rambly, like always when I'm talking about a book that I love.

I haven't read the sequel - Dreamquake - yet, but it's on my list very, very soon. Dreamhunter ends on a hell of a cliffhanger, and I need to know what happens next.

9/10 So good, you'd take it to meet your Mum

Sunday, January 9, 2011

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Monday again! How does that keep happening? As always, your meme is here:

I've had a fairly productive 2011 so far - I've finished three books already: Ash, by Malinda Lo, The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, and Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, which was my first read for my very own challenge: (sign-ups are open all year. It's super-easy - come play!)

Er, so, on the agenda for this week I have How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, and The Mists of Avalon by Marian Zimmer Bradley.

Happy reading!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash opens with a funeral. Ash's mother has just died, and she is being buried according to the ancient rites and rituals that have generally fallen out of favour.

Ash is just a young girl, and flounders without her mother. She visits her grave every night, unaware of being watched.

Ash's world is a prosaic one, but there's another, secret world overlaying that, that humans have largely separated from.

But it's that world that will prove a threat to Ash in the long run.

Sigh. That summary feels a little bit inaccurate, but there's not much more of substance I can grasp on to.

Ash is one of those books, where you read the whole thing and kind of think "but where's the story?"

It's well-written, and the premise is excellent: it's a re-telling of Cinderella, wherein Ash is Cinderella, and her handsome prince is actually the King's Huntress, which is a more than welcome twist to the tale.

I enjoyed Ash while I was reading it, because as I said, the writing is very good. But it felt like there was no ... point to hang the story on. Ash sort of went from one crisis to another and another, until the rather cinema-like climax at the end.

There is, I believe, a companion novel coming, and I liked Lo's writing enough to look forward to it, but now that I've finished Ash, and I'm reflecting on it, I didn't like it as much as I thought I did.


7/10 Someone else cooks dinner – yay! - because the writing IS strong. I just wanted a better story, with a stronger core.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Short reviews and my top five of 2010

Somehow I ended up being backed up by about seven books. I'm still not sure how that happened.

My final total for 2010 was 44 books, which I'm aiming to at least double. In fact, I think one of the challenges I joined for 2011 is related to that but more on challenges in a later post.

Given that I have only read 44 books, here are my top five, in no particular order:
1) Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness - the final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. Perfection, Mr Ness. Now, what are you working on next?
2) The City & The City by China Mieville - Well aren't you a clever author then Mr Mieville? Yes you are. (Disclaimer: sleep and coffee-deprived blogging)
3) Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey - Kiwi YA at its very, very best.
4) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - Heartbreaking.
5) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson - Smart mystery.

Okay. Short reviews:

Juno of Taris and Fierce September by Fleur Beale:
Kiwi YA dystopic novels about a young girl living in a biodome with 500 other people; sent away when it looked like the world was going to crumble around them. Juno is rebellious and outspoken, questioning everything. The world of Taris is a kind of careful, not always benevolent dictatorship, but the dome is failing ...
A very readable duo of books, and I'm hoping there's more in the Juno series :-)

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

Enchanter's End Game and Guardian of the West by David Eddings:
Mr Eddings, I still have nothing but much love for you <3
9/10 So good, you'd take it to meet your Mum

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham:
When Peter Harris's wife's younger brother Mizzy comes to stay, Peter knows that his world is going to be turned upside down. Mizzy is young, charming - and a drug addict. It's a recipe for disaster waiting to happen. By Nightfall is good, but there's something at the core of it that left me slightly cold.
7/10 Someone else cooks dinner – yay!

The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter:
Detective Chief Inspector Morse finds himself in hospital with a perforated ulcer. When someone visiting another patient drops off a self-published book about a 19th-century murder,  Morse finds himself intrigued - and bored enough to do a little investigating of his own. It's a good premise, but The Wench is Dead didn't quite live up to its summary for me.
6/10 Leaving work 30 minutes early

Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie:
When Luka's father falls ill, Luka travels to the magic lands, searching for a cure. Everything there is something from a story his father has told him, and Luka finds himself on a quest with a very disparate group. Luka has a certain charm to it, but once again, there's something lacking at the core of it for me - a certain warmth. 
7/10 Someone else cooks dinner – yay!

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie:
I've read this so many times - lol. Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a very old, very rich man, whom no one liked. It's a classic locked-room mystery, and there is a lot of blood. Perfect Christmas reading!
8/10 That movie that you've watched 100 times and you never get tired of