Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Mockingjay Flop

What a disappointment! My first thought after reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins was 'What the heck? What was that about?' I can't believe this got published. If Collins couldn't come up with a decent conclusion to The Hunger Games trilogy then she should have taken more time to figure it out. I know many people haven't read the book yet so I don't want to write anymore except to say I would avoid this one at all cost even if you loved the first two. This book is just ridiculous. There's a lot of senseless death and the ending (aargh)....don't get me started on that. So much for curing my book slump, Mockingjay only made it worse.

I think I need an excellent classic novel now. Any recommendations?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Book Slump

August hasn't been a good reading month for me plus I have writer's block. I can't seem to write a decent post. I hope it's because I'm pregnant and I've been suffering from intermittent morning sickness. I'm now in my second trimester and feeling so much better. I hope I'll be inspired to write again soon. I think it would help if I read something good. This doesn't usually happen but I've abandoned two novels this month - Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and The Passage by Justin Cronin. I have to read Atlas Shrugged for my book club and it's a painful and tedious read at 1000 plus pages with minuscule font. Of course it doesn't help that I'm not a fan of Ayn Rand being familiar with her philosophy and her life story and having slogged through The Fountainhead a few years ago for another book club. From what I've read about her, she seems like a horrible person. I tried to persevere but unfortunately (or fortunately) I have too many more interesting books in my To Be Read pile.

The Passage meanwhile was incredibly riveting for the first 250 pages before it completely turned around. Part two jumps a hundred years to the future and is filled with a gazillion new characters. There's just about enough people to make my head spin. I've put it aside for now and I plan to continue it at a later date but I certainly need a break. I want a good book! I'm off to buy Mockingjay, the third part of The Hunger Games trilogy. I can't, can't wait!!! This is just the right book to get me out of my book slump and hopefully my writer's block.

I'd love to hear what you thought of the books I mentioned. Should I continue with The Passage? Does it get better later on? How about Atlas Shrugged? Has anyone read it and what's your opinion of the book and Ayn Rand's philosophy? I'd love to hear from you. My book club meets in a week and since I didn't read the entire book, it would be worthwhile to know the views of other readers.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dark Matter

From the publishers that brought you The Passage by Justin Cronin comes a new and suspenseful novel called Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, the bestselling writer of The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness Books for children and young adults.

I was lucky to receive a  review copy of this as it will only be released in October of this year. I actually have a pile of review copies waiting to be read but as soon as I opened the package containing Dark Matter, I decided to just sample reading a few pages. I was hooked right away and finished it in just a few days. Dark Matter is the kind of horror story that can chill just about anyone. It's completely atmospheric as it's set in a fictional Arctic bay called Gruhuken.

It's July 1937 and twenty-eight-year-old Jack has just been offered a job to join a team of four men on a year long Arctic expedition. The endeavor promises to be dangerous as well as difficult because of the endless nights that occur during the winter. Jack is desperate for a change in his life and he decides to take the job in spite of the fact that he has nothing in common with his well-to-do companions. Gruhuken turns out to be an extremely cold and isolated place and as one by one his new friends have to leave, Jack feels a growing unease. Something or someone seems to be haunting Gruhuken. The short days turn into longer nights and as the sun completely disappears, Jack is even more apprehensive about what lays outside his cabin. Is it a ghost or a man? Though he senses something is out there roaming in the snow, his rational mind continues to clear his doubts. In spite of repeated attempts by his companions to pick him up before the sea freezes over,  Jack is determined to finish his job and refuses to leave Gruhuken. Sooner or later he must come face to face with what he fears.

Michelle Paver studied biochemistry at Oxford and has had a lifelong fascination with the Arctic. She traveled and spent time in the Arctic region. As she explains it, "“I’ve always loved ghost stories and for the past decade, I’ve have had Dark Matter at the back of my mind. The title came first, and soon afterwards, I realised that the story must take place in the Arctic: the land of extremes that has haunted me for years.   Dark Matter is my attempt to capture the beauty and menace of the Arctic – in a ghost story that will scare the hell out of you.”

Paver's research and experience shows in her vivid descriptions of the cold and isolated Gruhuken.  She's also overwintered in the Arctic and her depictions are indeed creepy and menacing. It truly must be horrible to have days and weeks without sunlight and it must be even worse to be experiencing all this and be utterly alone. This book is spooky in a very intelligent way.

Mark your calendars, Dark Matter will be released on October 21 so definitely be on the lookout for it. Thanks very much to Helen Richardson at Orion for sending me an advanced copy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Slap

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas is the first book I've read that's on the Booker longlist and I'm not quite sure if it's deserving enough to get on the shortlist. I did read the whole book but only because it felt like a very good season of a TV soap like Desperate Housewives or Mad Men only in this case I think it should be renamed Desperate Housewives and Husbands.

The premise is very interesting especially if you're a parent yourself. At a suburban barbecue in Melbourne, Hugo, a spoiled three-year-old child is about to hit Rocco, an older boy, with a baseball bat. Hugo's parents do nothing so Rocco's dad quickly picks up Hugo and slaps him in front of the stunned guests. Was he right to do this or not? Thus begins the book as told from the points of view of different guests and the parents involved. But it's not only about this incident, it's also about the sad lives of some of these people. The book is filled with graphic sex, foul language, adultery, racism and drug use. In fact, I'm surprised at how much drugs was such a rampant and casual thing in this novel even among young teenagers. It almost felt as common as having a drink.

The Slap was a huge success in it's author's country, Australia. It won the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Overall Best Book and was at the number one spot for weeks. I think the most interesting aspect of this book was reading about the immigrant experience in Australia. This is something the author himself has first hand knowledge of coming from a Greek family. It was also a novelty to read a contemporary Australian novel and get a view of suburban life in Melbourne. Because of all the graphic scenes and language, The Slap was unpleasant at times but as I said I kept reading on wondering what would happen to each and every character. So it was definitely engaging enough to keep my attention. The end, I think, was unsatisfying and ultimately just sad all around. This wasn't a great book for me, it was just ok.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

"The beauty! The beauty!" (page 345)

The other day I mentioned that Junot Diaz is so far, the best writer I've discovered this year. He has his own unique style - fearless,  casual and cool. He defies categorization. I've never seen writing like this before. The Pulitzer Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is written in English but with so many Spanish words and phrases thrown in. There's no glossary for non-Spanish speakers. If you don't speak the language, well then that's too bad. But seriously, you can still read the book, however, you'll miss so much of the humor, the fun and the incredible style and energy of Diaz that makes him one of a kind. That's why I mentioned he is fearless. For an author to write a bilingual novel without a glossary, he'd be labeled arrogant for sure but obviously he didn't see it that way.

I found this quotation on the internet from Junot Diaz where he was asked by a journalist if he was trying to alienate non-Spanish speakers from reading his book:

"...people have come to me and asked me…  are you to lock out your non-Dominican reader, you know? And I’m like, no? I assume any gaps in a story and words people don’t understand, whether it’s the nerdish stuff, whether it’s the Elvish, whether it’s the character going on about Dungeons and Dragons, whether it’s the Dominican Spanish, whether it’s the sort of high level graduate language, I assume if people don’t get it that this is not an attempt for the writer to be aggressive. This is an attempt for the writer to encourage the reader to build community, to go out and ask somebody else. For me, words that you can’t understand in a book aren’t there to torture or remind people that they don’t know. I always felt they were to remind people that part of the experience of reading has always been collective. You learn to read with someone else. Yeah you may currently practice it in a solitary fashion, but reading is a collective enterprise. And what the unintelligible in a book does is to remind you how our whole, lives we’ve always needed someone else to help us with reading."

It's true that besides the Spanish there are various references to all things Lord of the Rings which would be lost on someone who isn't familiar with the books or the films. There are also several references to the X-Men and other science fiction characters that I didn't know and Diaz does not add any footnotes to explain it all. I just had to look up the ones I wondered about. I hope I myself haven't turned off the non-Spanish speakers. If you don't speak the language, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is still a beautiful and wonderful page-turner of a novel. It tells the story of Oscar, a teenage immigrant from the Dominican Republic who's overweight and can't get a date. He's obsessed with The Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons and science fiction novels and wants to write his own book one day. He dreams of falling in love but as the years pass and he remains obese and unattractive, this dream seems to slip further and further away. Oscar blames it on the fuku, a curse that has haunted his family for years. I loved Oscar and I loved the supporting players - Oscar's mom, his sister Lola, his grandmother called La Inca, and his best friend Yunior. What a cast of characters and what stories they had to tell! This is truly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize and I only wish Diaz was more prolific. It took him eleven years to write this one.

It's interesting to add that actually all the Pulitzer Prize winners I've read (and I haven't read many of them) have been wonderful. The ones that come to mind are Middlesex, The Amazing Adventures of Kavlier and Clay and The Confederacy of Dunces. All of them are great novels and there's surprisingly a lot of similarities among them and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The epic scope, the cast of fabulous characters and the layers of different stories.  I think I must pick up more Pulitzers especially since I may have to wait for years for Junot Diaz's next book. At least I still have his critically acclaimed short story collection, Drown, to look forward to.
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