Friday, October 31, 2008

Dewey - Vicky Myron

Dewey - Vicky Myron (2008)
One cold morning librarian Vicky Myron heard a noise in the book return slot, and found a little ginger kitten who was thin and so dirty they originally thought he was a grey cat. This little fellow become Dewey, who lived and worked in their library in Iowa for the next nineteen years.

I'm a bit of sucker for a good animal tale. I like Marley and Me, and was drawn to this little book by the super cover. I read the first chapter standing in the bookstore several weeks ago waiting for friends. I don't remember which movie we saw, but I kept thinking about the book. After only waiting for a couple of weeks for it to come to me from the library, I got to enjoy it in a good 24 hour period.

Sweet, it still managed to be a story about the author and her life, and the community of Spencer, Iowa as well as being about a cat. 4/5

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Skeletons at the Feast - Chris Bohjalian

Skeletons at the Feast - Chris Bohjalian (2008)
Inspired by a friends grandmothers diary of her escape ahead of the Red Army at the end of World War Two, Chris Bohjalian takes us on a journey across the roads of Germany.

Anna, lives with her wealthy family on a farm in Prussia where they have had a comfortable life during the war due to their Nazi contacts. As the German army is forced to retreat, the Russians now are coming ever closer. Gathering their family, two wagons and their Scottish POW worker Callum, they leave their farm and join the many refugees heading west.

Two other stories connect with theirs, Manfred who is actually an escaped Jew called Uri who fell from a train two years earlier on the way to a camp, is desperately trying to find his family and younger sister. Posing as a German soldier, he escapes from many a desperate situation with the use of his gun.

Cecile is a young French Jewish woman, who after being in a labour camp, is sent with her friends on a forced march ahead of the Russians.

As with all novels of this genre, it causes me to pause, to wonder what I would have done in similar circumstances. 4/5

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Young at Heart

Young at Heart (2007)
This movie had popped up in our local international film festival, but crazy screening times meant we were unable to see it. Luckily the favorites return, so we didn't have to wait long to see this one.

Basically it is a documentary following a chorus made up of singers aged from 73-92 in the states. The difference is instead of singing show tunes, these chaps and ladies sing songs from James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads and Coldplay.

As well as showing the choirs practices and fantastic videos, we get to see a bit about a few of them and learn about their lives, and their love of their singing group.

As well as lots of laughs, I managed to cry my mascara off, so take a tissue. I'm going to step up and give it my first 5/5 for the year (and the whole blog). Take a tissue and go and see it, or rent it at the video store. Perfect.

Sashenka - Simon Montefiore

Sashenka - Simon Montefiore (2008)
I had picked this book up in bookstores a few times in the last few months, before finally surcoming and actually ordering it from the library. It only took a week, and as in all the times when you have a lot of work to do (study), you end up with a good pile of reading material.

Luckily I had an extended long weekend away, so this book was my birthday holiday read. Sashenka is a novel written by a normally non-fiction writer with a great knowledge of Russian history. Divided into three parts, the first begins with Sashenka, a wealthy old daughter of Jewish parents. Rejecting the frivolous lifestyle of her mother and the protection of her father, she is enticed by her uncle to become involved with the communists on the eve of the revolution.

In the second part Sashenka is married to a powerful leader with two young children. Still within the inner circle of power, her life begins to unravel in ways she never expected.

Finally we reach the last part, set in the recent years. A young student is asked to travel to London to research the family history of some rich Russians, who know nothing of their past and family.

Certainly a story premise that I was drawn to, I did enjoy the story although it did drag a little in some places for me. 3/5

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tethered - Amy McKinnon

Tethered - Amy McKinnon (2008)
Don't you love those moments in a bookstore, when you are drawn to a book and when you read the blurb, you know it will be right for you. Certainly I was drawn to this by the beautiful haunting cover, and its description of Clara, who works in a funeral home and is visited by a child Trecie.

A quick read, Tethered had a real dreamy quality, one you could sense would be perfect for a little film, done in the tyle of The Virgin Suicides, with a certain style of calmness and looking at the world.

Clara has a damaged past, and works quietly at preparing the dead. She tucks her own home grown flowers into their coffins, each bloom a reflection of the qualities that they had when living. With her boss, and a policeman she helps to look for the girl who turns up while she is preparing the dead. However, it is not a car chasing, guns blazing type of novel, yet it does talk of child abuse so is not one for the younger crowd.

So a 3/5 for me and I am off to do some serious relaxing and reading.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dead Man's Footsteps - Peter James

Dead Man's Footsteps - Peter James (2008)
I had never encountered this author before reading a short review of this book, on our local libraries new thriller section. Roy Grace is a detective in Brighton, UK who is investigating the discovery of a female body in the local sewer. Leads and connections mean that the investigation takes us to Melbourne, Australia and to New York.

It took me to at least page 300 to be able to figure out who did it, as there were a few concurrent stories that did not interlock until the end of the book. And best of all, a twist that did not play out until the final sentence, which leaves me wanting the next book.

So after the disappointment of the Peter Robinson books which are too slow and bumbling for me, I think I have found a worth replacement. 3/5

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Reading Pile

One of my sweet friends has suggested a book club. I am never very good at clubs, and always forget the rules. So I thought I would let you know what books were piling up in my room, calling out to be read (they are all library books and have to be back soon!!). You would be welcome to pull up a chair, grab a glass of whatever you fancy and a nibble of something tasty. Let me tell you what is on the book pile, waiting to be read.

  • Dead Mans Footsteps - Peter James. A thriller that I am currently reading and enjoying a lot. I have never read this authors books before but will be searching out more when I have finished.
  • Tethered - Amy McKinnon. A woman works in the mortuary and is visited by a strange young girl. I read the first two chapters while on a slow bus journey the other day. I try not to have two books on the go, my brain is slow and I am easily confused.
  • Skeletons at the Feast - Chris Bohjalian. Always a very readable author, this again is a tale of a group of folks who end up together in Europe after WWII. Who can resist a war tale?
  • Sashenka - Simon Montefiore. A novel about a woman in revolutionary Russia. Again another compelling time, and an author who has written non-fiction about the time. I read a recommendation on a web site for this one.

Waiting at the library to be picked up is : Nocturne by Diane Armstrong, whose book Winter Journey I just read and thoroughly enjoyed.

So that is the next months reading pile. Why do I always find great books when there is so much study to do? Luckily television is pitiful at the moment, and so switching off the box and curling up in bed is not a bad alternative. The weather is such, that we have one nice spring evening followed by three cloudy and windy ones, so great reading weather.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Duchess

The Duchess (2008)
It had turned into a rainy and suddenly very cold Saturday afternoon, so me and my 3/4 sleeve top managed to coerce my shopping friend to go and hide out in the local overpriced cinema complex. Normally we avoid it as it smells of burgers, is full of teenagers and the prices on the sweets go up swifter than the price of petrol. After charging us a small mortgage payment to enter we were glad to find not a single person under 18 at this movie, and we were not the oldest either.

The Duchess, is based on a real life relative of Princess Di, who for her time was famous for her beauty and for her marriage to a one of the richest men in England. When she introduces a friend to the Duke, she suddenly finds herself having to share her marriage and spends her time feeling trapped and unloved (sound familiar?).

Well Keira Knightly does a fantastic job. She is mesmerizing to watch, although the costumes, hair and jewels all make her an amazing fashion horse of the time. I have a soft spot for Ralph Fiennes too, as me and a good friend had seen him play Hamlet in London many years ago. Our seats, were the cheapest meaning we were 5 stories up in the air and could just about touch the ceiling. Even though many of our glances at him, were at the top of his head we were mesmerized. In this movie, he plays a dull and frustrated Duke, who makes the rules and expects to be obeyed. Oh what a world to have been born into.

So, a nice little costume drama. I still managed to snooze off, but that could be all the shift work and late nights lately (study not nights out). We did laugh that all the padding, petticoats, corsets etc managed to make miss Keira look wide and in certain scenes gave her a heaving bosom. It is hard to imagine how a more modern miss with a touch more padding would appear in some of the outfits. But bravo to the costume designers, hairdressers and milliners, your work was spectacular. 3/5.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Coraline - Neil Gaiman

Coraline - Neil Gaiman (2008)
This is a graphic novel of the book by Neil Gaiman, but the fantastic illustrations are by P. Craig Russell.

Coraline has moved with her parents, to a secluded and spooky house. Even with lots of exploring done Coralines main problem is she is bored. Seduced by the secret places in the house, she enters into a parallel house with strange inhabitants. Essentially the book is about Coralines journey back.

I can't say that I am a big fan of the fantasy genre, and the books I have tried to read of Neil Gaimans usually get put aside. Still the graphic novel was a quick and more entertaining way of reading for a change. I think this is meant to be a children's book, and my first thought was if I enjoyed it I would get it for Belle. Sorry hon, I thought it only was worth a 2/5 and not worthy of you.

Winter Journey - Diane Armstrong

Winter Journey - Diane Armstrong (2005)
After reading a couple of so so books, I came across this little lovely. I think I found it by looking at our fab libraries website for Sarahs Key, another recent read. I followed the links to Jewish second world war novels. I had heard of the author before. I knew she was Australian (although Polish by birth), and had written a book called The Voyage of their Life, a non-fiction book about the sea voyage of many Jewish refugees made to Australia and New Zealand. The link is here:

Anyways this story is a novel about a forensic dentist Halina Shore, who travels to a rural town in Poland. She is asked to help identify the victims in a mass grave, who were the Jewish families of the town, who were rounded up in a barn and burnt alive. She not only manages to help with the controversy that surrounds the tragedy, as it seems the Nazis may not be to blame, but Polish villagers themselves. She also finds bits about her own past, that she was unawares of as she had been bought to Australia as a girl, with only her mother.

It was a compelling read, I enjoyed it and didn't mind when a loud neighbours party kept me up til one reading. How compelling these stories are, the horrible bitter reality of what people can do to each other. I always wonder if we would let it happen today, but maybe we do in places like Dafur and Iraq.

Anyways, if you need a good read, I am going to give it a 4/5 and I am going back to the library website to reserve her next book Nocturne.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Do Dead People Watch You Shower? - Concetta Bertoldi

Do Dead People Watch You Shower - Concetta Bertoldi (2008)
Concetta Bertoldi is an American medium, who has written an entertaining short book on what she understands about life after death, and she answers questions that have been put to her over the years.

Apparently yes, the dead do watch you shower, go to the loo and all the other delightful things that we do day to day. They don't judge or seem to particularly care. They are just watching out for you and sending their love.

One of the things I think I read in this book was the fact that she described herself as 'not being religious, but being spiritual'. I liked the sound of that.

Anyway this was definitely readable and entertaining. I still am not sure what to believe, but her version of things sounds fine to me.


The Beach House - Jane Green

The Beach House - Jane Green (2008)
Light read about a woman who with mounting debts decides to open her beach house up to paying guests. Of course she is sitting on a property worth millions, so the developers are circling.

The guests are all toubled and recovering from bad relationships. Will they find happiness? What do you think?

Totally predictable but harmless read. 2/5

Saturday, October 04, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
Set in Romania in the 1980s, roomates Otilia and Gabita spend the day organising a meeting with Mr Bebe who will perform an illegal abortion in a hotel room.

I didn't know much more than this was a particularly graphic depiction of such a grim event, and that as the Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, it seemed to be a fave of the critics. Being a rainy movie and the best our tv had to offer was Joe Dirt and a Hannah Montanna movie, it was off to the movies. A cheap Chinese dinner was pleasant, even if the restaurant smelled as though it had 15 cats sleeping in it, a quick Italian icecream filled the tummy.

So the actesses did an awesome job, the director captured the mood well and the costume designers scoured the op shops for nice 80's European fashion and home decor items. It might have been the warm movie theatre or the sofas they provide, but I kept snoozing off. Sorry I found it a bit serious and dull.

Definately not a movie for the children, but maybe it might make you consider your views on what happens if you make abortion illegal. 1/5

Sarahs Key - Tatiana DeRosnay

Sarah's Key - Tatiana DeRosnay (2007)
Oh you delightful little book, you managed to restore some delight for me in picking up and getting lost in a book. I was just lamenting last week that it had been such a long time, since I had really enjoyed a read, something that you can't wait til bedtime to pick up and would recommend to all of your friends.

Sarah's Key is told concurrently in two parts. The first is Sarah a 10 year old Jewish girl who with her family is taken by the French police, first to the Vel'd'Hiv, a bicycle stadium in Paris in 1942. When the police arrive Sarah convinces her small brother to hide in a cupboard, as she thinks she and her family will return soon. Instead they find themselves in horrid conditions, and then transported to a camp where the adults are separated from the children, and sent on to concentration camps.

The second of the stories is about Fiona, an American journalist who has lived in Paris for 25 years and is sent to cover the 60t anniversary of this often forgotten story.

Told with a fresh voice, I felt that the author was able to provide a unique spin on this war story and it was interesting to hear of the French attitude to this dark place in their past story. Unbelievable that people could be living in what was Drancy the French camp for Jewish prisoners, who were sent on from here to camps in Poland and across Europe.

Oh little book I enjoyed you a lot, but now I have to face the evil study and avoid the bookshelves temptations for a while longer. I wonder how long it will be til I find the next enjoyable read? Weeks, months? Who knows!

4/5 - I am sure I will remember you for the rest of the year.

Friday, October 03, 2008

All the Colours of Darkness - Peter Robinson

All the Colours of Darkness - Peter Robinson (2008)
It is a funny time of year for me. I am in the midst of my studies, so time to reading is limited to a 20 minute rest before sleeping and maybe 10 minutes in the morning as I dry my hair. So I want the book to be good, to make up in quality when I am unable to read any quantity of stories. I want my investment of time to reap rewards, to feel satisfied as I put the book down, and to want to race to pick it up as I climb into bed.

This is the second Peter Robinson novel I have read this year. Chief Inspector Banks is this time investigating the alleged murder suicide of a homosexual couple in Eastvale, Yorkshire. Well standing in the shower the other morning I realised as I applied my second shampoo that I knew who did it and why at page 213. Only another 194 pages til the end of the book, and I felt they dragged on through.

Somehow I think that I should really be a 65 year old bloke, with a knitted cardi, a pipe and sitting beside the fire reading these books. A bit slow and predictable and although peppered with current music and cultural references, it all felt like the author was trying too hard.

I do have another of his books on the shelves to conquer sometime. In the meantime I will try to find something more satisfying to read. Oh I wonder what will be next? (I did pop into the library today as some reserved books were ready).