It’s Monday! What are you Reading?

September 1, 2014 What are you Reading 10

It’s Monday, What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted over at Book Journey. I thought I’d join in with this meme as a way to be more consistent with my posting schedule, the idea is to post regularly. As I treat this blog as a book journal I thought it might be nice to have this kind of information documented.

how to build a girlHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

What do you do in your teenage years when you realise what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realises she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar—written by Rizzo from GreaseHow to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it.

middlemarchMiddlemarch by George Eliot (still)

Writing at the very moment when the foundations of Western thought were being challenged and undermined, George Eliot fashions in Middlemarch (1871-2) the quintessential Victorian novel, a concept of life and society free from the dogma of the past yet able to confront the scepticism that was taking over the age.

In a panoramic sweep of English life during the years leading up to the First Reform Bill of 1832, Eliot explores nearly every subject of concern to modern life: art, religion, science, politics, self, society, human relationships. Among her characters are some of the most remarkable portraits in English literature: Dorothea Brooke, the heroine, idealistic but näive; Rosamond Vincy, beautiful and egoistic: Edward Casaubon, the dry-as-dust scholar: Tertius Lydgate, the brilliant but morally-flawed physician: the passionate artist Will Ladislaw: and Fred Vincey and Mary Garth, childhood sweethearts whose charming courtship is one of the many humorous elements in the novel’s rich comic vein.

Check out my reading stats from last week thanks to Literally.

What Are You Reading?

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Monthly Kickoff – September 2014

September 1, 2014 Monthly Kickoff 2

gone girlSeptember is easily my favourite month of the year, maybe that is because I got married five years ago on the 9th and my birthday is on the 30th. So hopefully it will mean a return to my reading stride, I have so much to catch up on and I’m back at university again reading some very old books. This is giving me mixed emotions but I’m hoping the lectures will help me understand these novels. For the book club we will be reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn as part of the thriller theme. I remember really enjoying this novel when I read it, it kept me up to 4 am reading but I also know the ending can cause a bit of rage. So this means we should see a lot of good discussions of this book happening over on the threads at Goodreads.

Next month we are heading into steampunk when we read The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. I have no idea what to expect from this novel, I’ve never heard of it. So this will be a very interesting journey into steampunk for me at least. November’s theme has been decided and we are finally going to read some short stories so we will need some help over at Goodreads to pick some books for this poll, so if you know any good ones, make sure you nominate early as nominations are only open for a very short time, first six-ten books will be picked. Don’t forget you can join in on all the other fun over at Goodreads as well as helping us pick our next theme and books by voting in the polls.

I’m not too sure what my reading plans for September will contain. I will be finishing off Middlemarch by George Elliot (hopefully) and How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran (which was described as The Bell Jar written by written by Rizzo from Grease). My university schedule has me reading Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Odyssey by Homer, Gulliver’s Travel by Jonathan Swift, and Beowulf translated by Michael Alexander, but I don’t know which order I’m reading them yet. It could be an interesting month or turn very stressful quickly; hopefully these books aren’t as scary as I think they are. Let me know if you have any books planned for the month and happy reading everyone.

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Monthly Review – August 2014

August 31, 2014 Monthly Reading 1

In cold bloodAs most people know, I have been on vacation to the United States. While this has a great six weeks off, it did come with some disadvantages. I may talk about all the bookshops I visited while in America in a future post but I am sad to say during this holiday I only managed to finish three books. While away, the book club read the true crime classic In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, a book I read before vacation so I wouldn’t miss out. I wasn’t able to get involved with the discussions but it was good to see it happening while I was enjoying myself.

Looking at the Literary Exploration book club, it is great to see things happening without my involvement. It looks like next month we will be preparing for the movie adaptation of Gone Girl for our Thriller theme. Obviously I’m talking about our great book club but if you are not aware, the book discussion and everything else happens over on the Goodreads forums, so feel free to join in there.

While I’m not happy with the amount of books I read, I really did enjoy the three books anyway. Cannot pick a highlight from The Paying Guest by Sarah Waters, The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller and Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill; you’ll just have to wait for the reviews. What have you been reading and what have your highlights been?

Read more »

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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

August 30, 2014 Book of the Month, Non-Fiction, Truman Capote 0

In Cold Blood by Truman CapoteTitle: In Cold Blood (Goodreads)
Author: Truman Capote
Published: Penguin, 1965
Pages: 336
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In 1959 a farmer from Holcomb, Kansas was killed along with his wife and two of his four children by a couple of two-bit thieves. This brutal crime spawned a desperate search for the killers who left bloody footprints at the murder scene. From petty crime to mass murder, In Cold Blood tells the story from murder to the gallows where they were executed by hanging.

In the Truman Capote literary masterpiece, it is easy to consider In Cold Blood a crime novel; it has shades of pulp and southern gothic throughout the book. However this journalistic investigation has often been cited as the first and best example of the non-fiction genre known as true crime. While there have been true crime books before In Cold Blood, this book did redefine the genre. Capote likes to call his book a non-fiction novel which he defined in an interview with The New Your Times as “a narrative form that employed all techniques of fictional art, but was nevertheless immaculately factual”.

However this is not just a book about the brutal murder of the Clutter family; we also get a Capote’s depiction of rural America. Outside the details of the crime, the author paints a descriptive backdrop of Kansas, the way he sees it. Religion, masculinity, femininity, the nuclear family and small town communities all play a big part in developing the scene. When he talks about the crime, the reader gets to explore the psychological motivations of murder and awaiting execution.

There is the issue of mental illness that needs to be explored when talking about In Cold Blood. It is almost like Truman Capote wants to challenge the reader to consider if Perry and Dick suffered from an untreated mental illness. There are shade of delusional, depression, schizophrenia and a sociopathic personality that comes through when talking about these two people but as this is 1959 I expect no psychological consult or treatment were given to these men; the court rejected the request.

I expected a true crime book but I feel like In Cold Blood was trying to do something similar to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I was very impressed with this book and I feel like Capote may have ruined true crime and even narrative non-fiction for the rest of the authors in these genres. Capote’s investigational skills and mastery over the written word is what makes this book a masterpiece.

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Wicked by Gregory Maguire

August 28, 2014 Fantasy, Gregory Maguire 2

Wicked by Gregory MaguireTitle: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Goodreads)
Author: Gregory Maguire
Artist: Douglas Smith
Published: Harper Collins, 1995
Pages: 538
Genre: Fantasy
My Copy: Paperback

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

We all know the story of The Wizard of Oz; if we haven’t read the 1900’s classic written by L. Frank Baum we probably saw the 1930’s film starring Judy Garland. What if was to tell you that the Wizard is not as sympathetic as he wants you to believe? In fact, the Wizard could be considered a classic example of a nutcase dictator. It is all about perspective; some may see the Wizard as great and powerful but in the eyes of Elphaba he is just an old fool.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire tells the untold story from the perspective of Elphaba (known to some as the Wicked Witch of the West) and is the basis of the award winning Musical. It is important to first state that unlike L. Frank Baum’s series of books, this is not directed at children. This is social and political commentary, full of sex and violence; it just so happens to use the world of Oz as its basis. As a nod to the world created, the Wicked Witch of the West was named using the initials of L. Frank Baum; Elphaba (L-F-B).

This novel works like an origin story for Elphaba, which gives the world a whole different perspective. In The Wizard of Oz everyone uses names like The Wicked Witch of the West and gossip about how evil she is but we never really hear the other side of the story. As a reader we tend to take what is written at face value; if someone is said to be evil we accept this fact without any consideration. Wicked also plays on the female archetype that seems to associate intelligent and age with witch-like characteristics.

What I enjoy about Wicked is the way the reader gets to explore these concepts of good and evil. I am reminded of Frankenstein with the approach to this topic. Elphaba is different, born with green skin and sharp teeth; a monster that society tries hard to reject. From her parents, to the world around her, we get to explore the harsh nature of society towards something outside the norm. Elphaba herself believes she is soulless and evil but I seem to view this as a projection of the ideas imposed on her by society.

We follow the life of Elphaba through this novel and this allows Gregory Maguire to give a critique of our society from the perspective of someone that is considered evil. Are people born evil, do they choose to be evil or are they pushed into evil by society? These are just some of the questions we have to ask ourselves when reading Wicked; the whole fate verse free will play heavily within the novel. There is also a critique on guilty verse blame, family life, religion and gender role that come across within Wicked as well.

My wife has been telling me I need to read this novel for a while now and for some reason I kept putting it off. Not because I don’t trust my wife’s opinion; she said it had a Frankenstein vibe to it but I kept getting distracted by other books. I finally picked this book up because I didn’t want to see the Broadway musical before reading the book. I am glad I was pushed into reading Wicked; it is definitely my type of novel. I wonder what the next book in the series is like.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet

August 26, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 4

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet. I’m looking forward to going through my wishlist and picking ten books. So here we go;

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  • Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
  • Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim
  • The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin
  • The Librarian by Mikhail Elizarov
  • A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli

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  • Candide by Voltaire
  • The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith
  • Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine
  • & Sons by David Gilbert
  • The Parrots by Filippo Bologna

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just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth

August 23, 2014 Contemporary, Kirsten Krauth 0

just_a_girl by Kirsten KrauthTitle: just_a_girl (Goodreads)
Author: Kirsten Krauth
Published: University of Western Australia Publishing, 2013
Pages: 272
Genre: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

“I’m just a girl, Take a good look at me. Just your typical prototype” – Just a Girl by No Doubt.

just_a_girl tells the story of Layla, a fourteen year old girl navigating the waters of adulthood and a budding sexuality. The novel is told from the three different perspectives, Layla, her religious mother Margot, and Tadashi, a stranger on a train. Through these three different sets of eyes we begin to see the complexities of growing up beginning to form.

This novel is marketed as “Puberty Blues for the digital age, [or] Lolita with a webcam”, a description that I’m not too pleased about but I can see where it comes from. just_a_girl (also Layla’s screen name) serves as a psychological look into a teenager’s life in a world that that forces her to grow up far too quickly. It is that type of thought provoking novel that gives you far more questions than answers.

What I loved about this book is the way that Kirsten Krauth looks at the life of a teenager girl but never blames or suggests that her problems are the cause of one thing. Can we blame the internet for the struggles that Layla faces? Maybe, but it is not the sole cause. We could accuse her mother for being ignorant and too focused on religion but then what teenager wants to share that much detail with their parents? I could go on; there are so many little defining factors that make up this struggle.

just_a_girl is a novel that explores different facets of growing up, isolation, loneliness, friendship, love, relationships, religion, sex and the digital world. Layla feels like she has to navigate through life on her own and the reader gets to watch this progress from three different points of view. The three narratives all bring balance and complement each other; With Layla we have a sense of confusion and urgency, Margot provides some ignorance and concern towards her daughter in a stream of consciousness, while Tadashi has a gentle, quiet observation of what he sees happening.

The raw emotion that Kirsten Krauth invests into her debut novel is the real reason just_a_girl works. There is something real and honest with everything that is going on within the pages. This is both scary and uncomfortable but it raises so many important questions. I won’t list some of the questions I asked, it is something that each reader needs to discover for themselves.

Layla struggles to navigate her life, trying to make a connection is such great topic to explore and Krauth did it so well. I was very impressed with this novel, even if I would never associate it with Lolita; I think the two novels are vastly different and comparing to a masterpiece just isn’t fair to a debut author. I could stick all the standard ‘dark’, ‘gritty’ or ‘transgressive’ labels to just_a_girl but I would rather say that is thought provoking and asks some very important questions. It is nice to see a contemporary Australian debut take a risk and pull it off, I highly recommend just_a_girl.

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Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

August 21, 2014 Mystery, Stephen King, Thriller 4

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen KingTitle: Mr. Mercedes (Goodreads)
Author: Stephen King
Published: Hodder, 2014
Pages: 496
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
My Copy: Paperback

BuyAmazon, Book Depository, (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When I picked up Stephen King’s new novel Mr Mercedes, I felt anxious and nervous. This novel has been billed as King’s first hard-boiled detective novel and it reminded me of his past attempts at pulp fiction. Joyland was billed as a pulp novel and by all accounts it had the makings of a good dime-store novel but the end result felt like King stuck to what he does best and only paying homage to the genre. Mr Mercedes has all the hallmarks of a hard-boiled novel, a brooding and jaded detective, a femme fatale and mysterious villain but this read more like a cat and mouse suspense thriller. Don’t get me wrong, this novel is a homage to detective fiction; Philip Marlow gets a mention and a fedora even makes an appearance. Though the third person narrative and chapters focusing solely on the killer meant we are in a thriller and I had to adjust my expectations.

Bill Hodges is a retired cop with not much to do; when he was on the force he was highly decorated but now he is left alone with the thoughts of all his unsolved cases. One of those cases was the psycho-loner who ploughed down a crowd of people in a stolen Mercedes. One day Hodges receives a letter from this killer taunting him into a little game of cat and mouse. This is a high-stakes race against time; can Hodges catch the Mercedes Killer before he strikes again?

I found it interesting that Stephen King picked the fundamental character archetypes found in hard-boiled fiction, in particular to Bill Hodges, and made it his own. On the other hand the plot felt into the typical tropes found in suspense thrillers. So we have a book that is walking a fine line between homage and cliché. When it comes to hard-boiled detectives, there has been a great evolution in the genre and character archetype; it was felt a little dated to see an old white guy again. I felt it to be unnecessary, in fact I am struggling to think of any ethnicity within the book that didn’t come across as stereotypical. It was a shame because you can do so much with a hard-boiled detective and still keep him as a homage to 1940’s crime novels.

I get the impression that maybe Stephen King is the kind of writer that sticks to the tried and true methods of writing within a genre. As prolific author, I’m beginning to question if he ever takes a risk in his writing. I am not one to judge King’s work, I’ve only read a few of his books (I think five) but they all seem to follow the typical tropes found within their genres. Does he take risks?

It is starting to bug me this whole ‘old white guy’ category of novels all feature non-multicultural characters and if we do have some ethnicity, they all feel a little too stereotypical. It isn’t necessary in today’s novels; there is room to explore some diversity within a book. I won’t go into anything about feminism because I fear I would give spoilers with what I want to say but we need more strong/independent women in novels like this.

Having had a bit of a rant, I found that I’ve managed to talk about the novel and not give any spoilers. I did in fact enjoy the ride this took me on, it was predictable and typical of the genre but sometimes it is fun to go on that journey again. In fact (with the exception of On Writing) I think this is the first Stephen King novel that I have actually enjoyed. I find some parts of his other books entertaining but on a whole they do not work for me. Maybe I’ve just read the wrong King novels. Bill Hodges is returning in another two more novels and I will be picking them up and using the books as a little entertaining read when I need them.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books People Have Been Telling Me I MUST Read

August 19, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 17

toptentuesdayIt’s Tuesday again which means time for another round of Top Ten Tuesday; I like joining in on this meme because I have a set topic to work with. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Books People Have Been Telling You That You MUST Read. I went through my Goodreads recommendations and picked ten books from there.

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  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec
  • The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
  • Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer (mean people)
  • The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

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  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin
  • On Literature by Umberto Eco
  • My Beautiful Enemy by Cory Taylor
  • Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

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Plot, Character, Style, and Themes

August 16, 2014 Literature 8

bookpileWhile listening to an episode of the Bookragous podcast they had a topic on Plot, Character, and Style and I thought that was interesting and maybe something I can explore further. For those of you that are not aware the concept was taught to one of the podcasters in how to help sell books. If you are not sure what to recommend, ask the customer to rate plot, character and style in the order of personal preference. This can help narrow the type of book to recommend which is a nice idea but my initial reaction was, ‘This wouldn’t work for me.’

When picking books, my preference is towards a book that explores interesting themes; I want a book that challenges me and offers me some new idea to explore. I know I’m different but recently in a review of Divergent I wondered if people read books for plots or themes. I suspect I’m the odd one out but I had it in my head that people like themes over plot. However, I think I may be the only person that picks up a book thinking it will explore some nice themes rather than plot, characters or style.

If I were to pick preferences, I would say style is the most important thing in a book, characters have to be interesting but plot doesn’t really matter as much. I would want the characters to be developed and complex; if you have a good style and characters you don’t need a plot at all. This obviously comes down to personal preferences, but this does bring me to one of my bête noires, likeable characters.

I hate it when people say they don’t like a book because the characters are not likeable. What is the point of that? Why would you want all characters to be likeable? I know this post is about to turn into a rant but I need to say it. In life we know that not everyone is going to be good or likeable, so why except differently in a book. We read to discover new worlds and experience new things; it is impossible to explore some themes or subjects if everyone is likeable.

Look at The Catcher in the Rye as an example; would this modern classic work if the characters were likeable? I have to admit that I read The Catcher in the Rye when I first started reading and I didn’t enjoy it because Holden was whiny and annoying. This is something I hate to admit because I’ve been an advocate for unlikeable characters and transgressive fiction as of late. I feel like I have come to a point in my life where I’m going to have to reread The Catcher in the Rye again just so I can get it right.

To get back on track, let me know in the comments below what your preferences are between plot, characters and style. Also do you think themes are important in a book or am I just a minority. We can also complain/debate about hating books because of unlikeable characters in the comments as well. I just wanted to explore my thoughts in a stream of conscious style; that is why this is a little all over the place.

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