Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson - Book 40, 2009

Title: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
Genre: Literature, history, young-adult
Rating: 8.5/10
Plot summary: (From School Library Journal)
In this fascinating and eye-opening Revolution-era novel, Octavian, a black youth raised in a Boston household of radical philosophers, is given an excellent classical education. He and his mother, an African princess, are kept isolated on the estate, and only as he grows older does he realise that while he is well dressed and well fed, he is indeed a captive being used by his guardians as part of an experiment to determine the intellectual acuity of Africans. As the fortunes of the Novanglian College of Lucidity change, so do the nature and conduct of their experiments.
Comments: Very readable while being stuffed with historical detail that gives a different perspective than usually portrayed of the time of the American Revolution.  Would be a great text for Year 10-11 English and/or as a springboard for discussion about American history.  Much of the writing is in the storyteller style of Peter Carey.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell: Book 39, 2009

Title: Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell
Genre: Modern literature
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Very compelling read about the ultimate dysfunctional family in small-town dead-end America, told through the eyes of 19-year-old Harley who has taken on parenting responsibilities of his 3 sisters while his mum serves time in jail for killing his father. Both shocking and disturbing, yet tender and funny in places.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner: Book 38, 2009

Title: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
Genre: Children's
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Written in 1894 and continuously in print until at least 1994, this is considered one of the classics of Australian literature. Although I was always a voracious reader there are some surprising gaps in my literary history.

It tells the tale of seven wild siblings living outside Sydney in the 1880s and the various scrapes they get up to, tormenting their army father and young step-mother (who at 20 is only four years older than the eldest sibling). For the most part it avoids the excessive moralising of most children's books of this era and it survives the test of time reasonably well. The writing style is that of a storyteller speaking directly to her audience. While I loved the Australian setting, I don't think it is quite as good (from an adult reader viewpoint) as Anne of Green Gables, which I think is a reasonable comparison.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Book 37, 2009

Title: The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Romance, Sci-fi
Rating: 10/10
Comments: A total mind-f*ck, combining the best of romance and "what if" sci-fi. This is the story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist from an affluent family whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare meet when she is six and he is 36; marry when she is 22 and he is 30 and do their best to live a 'normal' life despite Henry's genetic predisposition to vanish in time and place, causing havoc and danger to himself and others.

Photo finish by Ngaio Marsh: Book 36, 2009

Title: Photo finish by Ngaio Marsh
Genre: Detective
Rating: 6/10
Plot summary: (from Amazon)
In Ngaio Marsh's "Photo Finish", Inspector Alleyn travels to Marsh's back yard -- New Zealand -- to consult with an Opera diva who is being stalked by a mysterious photographer. Unflattering photos of 'The Sommita', as she is known, have driven her -- as well as her 'patron' and his staff -- to distraction. Alleyn, along with his artist wife, Agatha Troy (who is to paint a portrait of the singer), journey to a remote island hideaway where murder -- no surprise -- quickly occurs.
Comments: Characters are stereotypical and over-the-top, plot is predictable but still an enjoyable read if there is nothing else around.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld: Book 35, 2009

Title: The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld
Genre: sci-fi, epic
Rating: 9.5/10
Plot summary: (from Amazon)
In the far future, human beings have colonized 80 worlds across space, and are ruled over by an immortal. The Emperor of this future realm has ruled for over 1600 years after discovering a way to raise the newly dead so that they may live and serve him forever.
The Empire has been at war for decades with an all-female race of humans called the Rix. These Rix are cyberneticly enhanced cultists who worship planetary A.I's. The Rix have taken it upon themselves to spread these A.I's to the worlds controlled by the Risen Empire, which would in-turn, change the Empires worlds into giant living minds.

Comments: One of the best science fiction books around, combining great ideas, great writing and an epic, twisting plot. It forces the reader to confront the ultimate question - what is life? Can a machine have true sentience? Can death really be overcome? Westerfeld's descriptions of the evolution and use of nanomaterials in this futuristic world is both highly imaginative and highly believable; a fascinating conception of the possibilities and dangers of new technology. Another aspect of this book that was interesting was the emphasis on how strengths could be weaknesses and vice-versa: the soldier hero wears prosthetic legs and a prosthetic arm due to enduring months of torture and imprisonment; the forward-thinking senator had to take regular doses of an 'apathy' drug to avoid descending into madness - yet these are not impediments to their love and ultimate triumph. Compelling reading.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos: Book 34, 2009

Title: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
Genre: wit and humour
Rating: 10/10
Plot summary: (From Amazon)
Anita Loos's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" is a comic masterpiece. Loos tells the story of Lorelei Lee, a blond, money-seeker, opportunist girl on a trip through Europe. From Now York to London, to Paris and all the way through Vienna Lorelei meets lots of gentlemen, charms them, gets money and jewels from them and then light-heartedly leaves them with a short note in which she promises she will meet them somewhere else, perhaps. A real strumpet, Lorelei Lee emerges as a delicious creature from Loos genial prose, and by the end of the book, we have learned to love her.
Comments: I loved the movie (starring Marilyn Monroe) but this book, while hysterically funny, has a darker and slightly crueller edge.  Lorelei Lee is completely without conscience and has an entertaining mix of determination, idiocy, and a constant belief in her own towering intellect.  A far more likeable version of Paris Hilton, set during the Jazz Age, without a sex tape in sight.

The Green Mile by Stephen King: Book 33, 2009

Title: The Green Mile by Stephen King
Genre: thriller/supernatural
Rating: 9/10
Comments: Stephen King is a master story teller and this is a fantastic example of his skills.  The story is narrated by an elderly man who worked on death row during the Depression.  He recalls the events of 1932 when they had three prisoners on death row - a large black Negro called John Coffey who can't tie his shoelaces but was convicted of raping and murdering 2 girls, a psychopathic young killer who insists on being called Billy the Kid with a special skill in causing trouble, and a pathetic Frenchman called Delacroix whose only friend is a tiny clever mouse.  His biggest problem, however, is with a bullying subordinate who uses his powerful connections to maintain his position despite his incompetence and unsuitability for the job. King cleverly weaves parallels between the narrator's past and present experiences to create a tale of justice and injustice, miracles and curses, vengeance and redemption.  Originally published as a 6-part serial, it translates well as a novel although there is a little repetition.  A gripping page turner that kept me up all night to the very end.

Monday, 8 June 2009

F is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton: Book 32, 2009

Title: F is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton
Genre: detective/thriller
Rating: 7/10
Comments:An enjoyable and fun read. Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone is hired by the father of a convicted murderer who the law has finally caught up with after her escaped from prison 15 years ago. He now claims he never did the crime - but takes the first opportunity to flee from custody again. Kinsey needs to uncover layers of secrets and intersecting small-town relationships to uncover the truth.