• Some of my all time favourite books

    BOOKS I LOVE

    sloppySLOPPY FIRSTS – Megan McCafferty

    Possibly my most favourite books ever, Sloppy Firsts and sequel Second Helpings. There are three more (Charmed Thirds, Fourth Comings, and Perfect Fifths, released 2009), but IMO Second Helpings was the gem of the series. In a way I wish Megan had stopped after two; that book was the epitome of perfection for me. But we love Jess too much to miss her progressing through life, which is sometimes painful and hard to read, but we’re there till the end (a bit like Twilight?)

    What is it about these books? Well frankly, Jessica Darling is very nearly me. Okay, my running prowess is not as good as hers (although it was the only physical thing I was ever good at), nor am I as insanely intelligent or confident, but at heart she is me. She’s obsessive, grumpy, neurotic and driven and of course given to overanalysing everything.

    Basically, the series follows Jess through high school, college and beyond, and her on/off relationship with unlikely candidate and reformed bad boy Marcus Flutie. It’s full of her droll observations about friends, family, and life in general… I don’t know how Megan does it but she is absolutely inside the head of a 17-25 year old (I can’t quite remember what ages Jess is throughout). It’s incredible.

    McCafferty nails her character’s voice perfectly through journal and letter format (which works surprisingly well) and Jess’ dry sense of humour comes through beautifully. Given our similarities and how much I identify with her I almost feel like she is the blueprint of my life and what happens to her will mirror my future. Hence, my waiting with bated breath for PF to arrive in NZ. (Which it has – stay tuned for my thoughts…sometime)

    issac_asimov_foundationFOUNDATION series – Isaac Asimov

    Okay, so this one’s a bit of a departure for me. Isaac Asimov, I’ve learned, is known as the master of SF (scifi for you noobs :P). I, Robot is based off one of his novels.

    The Foundation series tells the story of humanity god knows how far in the future. Asimov took inspiration from the rise and fall of the Romans (who else?). There are practically uncountable inhabited worlds across the Galaxy (once we got space travel sussed, we colonised other worlds and made them habitable. Like Trantor, which we decided to basically cover in metal and steel). The Galactic Empire, which is a centralised governing body, is slowly dying – dramatic, I know – but psychohistorian Hari Seldon has a plan to avert the 30,000 years of doom and barbarity he foresees coming.

    Now, that’s one of the things I loved: the concept of psychohistory. The name’s a bit bizarre, maybe a bit misleading, but essentially it’s like statistics. Get a large enough group of humans and you can accurately predict what they’re going to do and plot out their future, with potential deviations and branches to boot. Individual reactions can only be guessed, but humans in mass are predictable creatures.

    And so Seldon devises a method to preserve the best of humanity and reduce this dark time down to a mere thousand years. It’s sparks the debate of free will and the ability to muddle through and make poor choices for yourself, of having a higher power helping you along. It’s interesting to ponder, at least for me. Would you rather have total free will, taking the good with the bad, or essentially have someone playing God and looking out for you? Manipulation, if you will.

    I think it’s interesting that futuristic tales often tend to revert to old fashioned, even medieval, customs/speech. In Foundation, everything is very hierarchical, formal and proper. There’s a Galactic Empire. There are rules and regulations, it’s male biased, there’s a definite hierarchy of power. They speak quite formally and observe the strict processes they have in place in terms of things like politics. Anyway, after devouring the series I haven’t really found anything to match him. Not that I’ve looked that hard but other SF writers just don’t appeal.

    The actual prose is not particularly exciting, however, and Asimov likes to get far too clever for his own good – a lot of the plotting and strategising really went over my head. He was a big fan of the twists and letting things happen  – THEN explaining them all in lengthy monologues after the fact.

    I began by reading Foundation and Earth, an addition to the original trilogy. Although it’s not seen as kindly as the first books (and I guess it’s not as groundbreaking, but again, it was the intensive worldbuilding and travelling that hooked me. I was just fascinated by his imaginative descriptions of the worlds Trevize and co encountered). When I got out the original Foundation books, the writing didn’t grip me, but the worlds did and the stories of the characters. Plus, it made much more sense (because Asimov tends to refer back to past events a lot).

    Asimov’s Robots series also really kicks ass, maybe even more than Foundation, as it’s more readable and is based in a far more interesting time period (long before the Foundation, during the age of robots, of course). So that should keep me busy for awhile. Trying to track down novels this old isn’t easy!

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    The Other Side of the Story – Marian Keyes

    I love, love, love Marian Keyes. And this is her best work. There are no neat ends here but it’s a great yarn, and far more engaging (I thought) than books like Sushi for Beginners. There’s Jojo, the larger than life book agent who’s sleeping with her boss, Lily, her delicate, unfailingly kind and lovely author who’s written the ultimate sappy escapist fantasy book ever, and her ex best friend Gemma, who despises Lily for ‘stealing’ the love of her life.

    Their lives run parallel, but come to cross in different ways. They all come to learn some hard lessons about themselves and others, and how to move on. It’s a touching, heartwarming book with healthy doses of Marian Keyes’ delightfully wry sense of humour. Quintessential chick lit at its best.

    Her other books are also a must to check out! I mean, they’re not just about finding love. They’re about grief, heartache, family and addictions. I may not always identify with her characters but it doesn’t detract from her writing. Of note: Anybody Out There? is fantastic (mid-way twist I did not anticipate) and Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married is pretty good.

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    Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

    Enough said.

    Okay….maybe a few lines.

    Great characters, amazing storylines (increasingly intricate plots I couldn’t actually get my head around towards the end) – just a real accomplishment.

    I do agree with critics that the books got increasingly bloated after #3, but my faves are Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire; rip roaring good tales without too much weighing them down.

    BOOKS TO READ
    See my to-read shelf:
    My book recommendations, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (to-read shelf)

  • My Sister’s Keeper vs Handle With Care

    sisters-keeper-page hwc-157

    I’m a latecomer to Jodi Picoult. When My Sister’s Keeper exploded, I ignored the hype completely. It wasn’t until I was hanging out at the library awhile ago that I saw her latest offering, Handle with Care, which I picked up and proceeded to devour. Then I decided to get my a into g and check out MSK, which EVERYONE recommended, and for good reason! It kicked HWC’s ass so many times over. HWC was good, but it was a weak shadow at best.

    Here’s why: it was essentially the same story told over with details here and there tweaked, but without that same sense of soul and engagement. To be honest, it actually REALLY annoyed me after reading both books, just how much of MSK was echoed. I’ve read through the synopses of most of her other novels (and they sound really interesting, esp Plain Truth, Nineteen Minutes, Mercy and Keeping Faith).

    I get that most of them end up in the courtroom, and involve tons of family drama; that’s her thing. But I felt like MSK and HWC went way beyond that. Like she just took the same formula and hammered it out again, to get a book, any book out, on time.

      The father’s jobs. Brian’s a firefighter, Sean’s a cop.
      The child’s horrendous illnesses – Kate’s leukemia, Willow’s osteogenesis.
      The lawsuit that divides the family and splits the parents up.
      The parents’ courtroom reunion, essentially.
      The troubled, ignored sibling – Jesse and his arson, Amelia and her cutting
      The tragic twist ending.

    Just as an aside, I hear My Sister’s Keeper has a different ending than the book. Hmm???

  • The Girl in Times Square

    I’ve had this book sitting in my room for some time. I can’t even remember where it came from and how it got to be in my possession.I do remember picking it up one night, and getting a few chapters in before giving up, totally disterested and disengaged. 101626_girl-in-times-square_pbilimage1

    This week I cleaned out my pathetic book collection and put the book in the ‘sell/donate’ pile. (My book collection is rather eccentric and doesn’t really reflect my tastes. I read books from the library. When I have the time, I read voraciously. The only books I ever personally bought were at a garage sale for 50c – all my other books have been given to me, won in competitions or sent to me to review.) And then I thought, why not give it one more go? I’ve heard such good things about it. And god knows a couple of the other books in the ‘get rid of’ stack were insanely bad, and I even managed to finish reading those.

    Second time around, I was pleasantly surprised. Like I tweeted the other day, I don’t know about the straight 5star Amazon rating, but it was certainly a great novel.

    The characters are in denial. They are all so deeply flawed, and so human, it’s frustrating and almost hard to read on at times. The parts where Lily’s grandmother recalls her WW2 experiences are simply heartbreaking.

    Surely everyone knows what it’s all about, but here’s a quick overview: Lily’s a young girl struggling by in NYC. Her roommate and best friend Amy goes missing while Lily is visiting her parents in Hawaii. Her big brother Andrew is implicated as a suspect in Amy’s disapperance, but Spencer, the detective on the case, grows close to Lily and they form a beautiful, awkward friendship. And in the midst of all this, Lily gets leukemia.

    It’s such an intricate book; there’s so much going on, from Lily’s cancer and lottery win, to Amy’s disappearance and how it links to Lily’s brother, the blossoming bond between Spencer and Lily, and Lily’s alcoholic mother and enabling father, her stubborn, strong grandma, her moneygrubbing sister Anne and her selfish sister Amanda.

    It’s funny though. People see The Girl in Times Square first and foremost as a love story. Which I suppose it is. But it wasn’t the love story that I kept reading for. I just really, really wanted to know what happened to Amy. Lily and Spencer’s relationship was secondary to that. Ultimately, it’s about love, loss, learning, family and betrayal, and in that vein, although we get a satisfactory ending in true romance style, there are no tidy loose ends.

    At times, I found it a little too arty, a little too flowery and too…I don’t know, literary? I don’t appreciate techniques like suddenly launching into the present tense to emphasise the moment, for example. I like fairly straightforward clean writing. I enjoy a good creative passage, but when writers launch into lengthy descriptions, I just skim on ahead. Part of it is, I just cannot visualise images in my head. I find it exceedingly hard, and I don’t have the patience to try. I can accept the beauty in the way an author describes a landscape or a view, but rarely does it translate into a mental picture for me.

    My only other gripe might be that the premise of Amy’s disappearance, and all the reasons behind it, were just a little too unbelievable. But aside from that, I really enjoyed it the second time around. I’ve been wanting to read The Bronze Horseman, and that is definitely next  on my list!

  • Confessions of a Shopaholic

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    I thought I would like this series- honestly! Normally these are just the kind of lighthearted books I like to skim through in my spare time…but they just didn’t do it for me. I’ve read three of the series now – Confessions of a Shopaholic, Shopaholic and Sister, and Shopaholic and Baby, and my final impression? Blah.

    In the first book, I found Becky really grating, shallow, unlikable, and silly. I preferred her in Shopaholic and Baby; she’s still fun, she’s still a bit ditzy, but she’s not so actively irritating. In the other two, her spending habits are INSANE and her shopping denial is at a high. In Shopaholic and Sister, the lengths she went to in order to try and build a relationship with Jess were admirable. If I found out at the age of 25 that I had a sister, I’d hope she would be as sweet as Becky was. But in all other aspects, she drove me crazy. Frankly, I would have been encouraging Luke to break up with her! Like Jess says, she lies, she overspends, she’s shallow, spoilt and irresponsible. The girl FRUSTRATED me, which is a pity because I don’t mind Sophie Kinsella’s (typically British) writing style.

    I know Becky always means well, and has a big heart, and that’s meant to overshadow everything else and redeem her for all her faults. And she’s just bloody lucky her fuck-ups always turn around and work in her favour. But I like a little bit of realism in my books, and these just don’t do it for me.

  • One of my favourite books.

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    I haven’t seen the movie, but like Twilight, I’ve heard terrible things about it, so I’m probably not going to bother.

    I have to admit, reading through, that sometimes it does seem sort of glamorous. Getting immaculately dolled up, dazzling and entertaining men with wit, charm, grace and beauty, being admired and having someone who pays all your living expenses and more to spend time with you.

    But it also seems like a really lonely existence. You work all day, every day. You always have to maintain a perfect facade. You’ve always got to be in control; you can’t be off game for even one night. And yet at the same time, you have very little control over your own destiny. As Mameha says, “We don’t become geisha because we want our lives to be satisfying. We become geisha because we have no other choice.”

    And it’s so true. Getting sold to an okiya, incurring huge debts during training and not being able to pay it back for years, if you’re an adopted daughter, never seeing any of your own earnings, adhering to a strict hierarchy. Having to entertain rude, ignorant or downright disgusting men. The geisha can’t be truly successful without a wealthy danna to pay for her upkeep. And I struggle to comprehend the role of women in this world – at one point she quotes “When a man takes a mistress, he doesn’t divorce his wife.” Fine, fair enough. But how hard must it be for the wife? To know your husband is off with someone else, in the evenings, on weekends? At another point, they’re all at a party. The wife sees all the geisha out and gives them leaving presents. One of the geisha has “left early”, but really has gone to another wing of the house with the husband for the night. And the wife knows this.

    What I thought worst of all was that when the war began, Sayuri had no one to turn to. She says that no one wants a geisha in need. Every geisha in Gion is turning to the men they know hoping for help, hoping to be rescued. None of them can survive of her own accord.

    So while I love, love love the book, and I think it’s an amazing insight into a totally exotic world, it saddens me as well the more I read it. I know it’s not true. That’s something I had trouble believing – it sounded so realistic, and the “foreword” didn’t help. I just wanted to believe the beautiful ending, that she’d finally found happiness.

    The prose is super flowery and super poetic. Some people probably think it’s too over the top. At times it’s a little irritating I guess, a little too extreme. But considering the culture, and Sayuri’s personality, I think it’s appropriate, and I’m totally amazed at Arthur Golden’s ability to build such a strong, convincing female voice.

  • Blast from the past

    Something stirred my memory the other night. Thinking back, I can’t actually remember what it was now, but it spurred me to to get online and look up The Chalet School and Malory Towers (two book series I devoured from the ages of like 6-8. Yeah, I know that’s really young, but I would definitely have been under 8, because we moved to NZ just after my 8th birthday, and I never read any of them once we got here. Too many other awesome books to choose from in Aucks).

    I got totally lost in the world of the books I used to read. There are fan sites for seriously EVERYTHING! One was really quaint, Friends of the Chalet School, which was a paper fanzine produced a few times a year and mailed to members (none of it was posted online). I didn’t realise there were actually around 60 books in the series…I definitely never read them all.

    Reading through Enid Blyton sites got me remembering various books of hers I’d read (the Secret and Adventure series, one of which featured a character called Fatty!) but forgotten until now. Along of course with the Famous Give and Secret Seven, and Cherry Tree Farm and the one about the magical world on top of the Far Away Tree!

    Although I actually remember very little of the books, I know that I used to know and love them well. I considered trying to track down copies and rereading them (mainly the Chalet School books) but the few quotes and excerpts I found online deterred me. Some things are better left in the past. These are definitely books from a different generation (mid 20th century) and I think I have grown too much to go back to them. Maybe when I’m older and have too much time on my hands, and then can pass them down to my nieces/grandkids, whatever.

    I did however dig out my one Enid Blyton books (a double one) and tore through the Children of Green Meadows and More Advenutes on Willow Farm. Yeah, she really has the dullest, most unimaginative, least descriptive titles (think Famous Five Have a Lot of Fun, or similar), and although her books don’t really follow the typical story plot, they’re still a rip roaring good read IMO. I hope they don’t die out over the next generation.

    chalet

    killi

    None of these book covers actually look like the ones I remember….but I guess the international eds had different slips!

  • Thoughts about Twilight

    it really bites to have a book you love continue, as a series, and watch it go downhill.

    i heard about the twilight series pretty late, long after they’d been rereleased with their pretty new covers and stephenie meyer’s name was getting big. i remember loading a story about her from the HoS and the name vaguely sticking with me. then one day i was in whitcoulls browsing, waiting for the hour when my bus would come. i spotted a book with a black cover, a girl’s hands holding a red apple, titled twilight.

    so i picked it up, realising it was the book from the article, and flipped through…read a few pages, not particularly expecting much, and was hooked. not that that says much, everyone who knows me knows i have somewhat unsophisticated literary tastes. but from that day anytime i had a spare half hour or so i popped into the store and read a bit of the book. i made it all the way through to breaking dawn, which i’ve nearly finished.

    the series has its faults. the description is at times laborious and unoriginal. but as i’m a skimreader i normally glide over those parts anyway. her writing from other viewpoints isn’t all that great. i really didn’t like the sections told by jacob, ie, a huge chunk of breaking dawn.

    as the series got more fantastical and far fetched, i started to like it less, but i had to keep reading. knowing there were more books meant i had to read them ALL, no matter what.

    i’m not sure what it is exactly about the series. i guess i’m just a hopeless romantic. although personally i would have gone with jacob, the much more earthy, fierce choice. i could never understand exactly why bella liked the whole cold, hard, pale thing in edward.

    for a couple who were mean to have this deep undying love for each other, it seemed pretty shallow at times. all she ever said was about how impossibly beautiful he was. that and the fact that he was far far too good for her, and she could never understand why he was with her.

    the secondary characters are really something, i’m envious of their powers. that’s probably the other thing – they seem to be the family i would love to have, freakishly enough.

    as for my other favourite books, new jess darling book out soon! we shall see what happens with her and marcus.