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Book 40 – Tess of the d’Urbervilles

“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” by Thomas Hardy (1892)

audio book narrated by Anna Bentinck

I have really enjoyed listening to books this year, especially since my increased commute in May. However, choosing audio books has been quite challenging. I have 138 books on my waiting to be read shelf and over 100 books on my want to read list, so there’s no shortage of choice, but a lot of books aren’t audio books and I don’t want to buy audio books when I already have them as real books.

So, a couple of weeks ago I asked each of the teachers in my faculty what book they had read that had stayed with them, that had a real impact on them. The list is very interesting. And it starts with this one, Renee’s choice.

“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” is a miserable book. I was sad the entire time I listened to it. It reflects a time when women were damned to lives that limited them in every way. It tells the story of a poor girl in impoverished times. It explores a story of less than perfect morals and the outcome is painfully obvious almost from the outset.

I totally understand why this book has stayed with Renee. The characters are complex and engender sympathy. I’m glad I read this book.

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Book 39 – Go Set A Watchman

“Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee (2015)

If you read the press leading up to the release of this novel, you, like me, might have been dubious about reading it at all. I felt sure Lee’s best interests were not protected in the decision to publish and made up my mind not to obtain it…

Then my old school friend, Jon, decided to save me the final decision by very kindly posting me a copy as a gift. Now I don’t feel so guilty about reading it, as I didn’t personally contribute to its profits.

Much has been written and said about this book. It is not, as is often cited, a sequel to “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Rather, it is the first draft of a novel that ended up becoming “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

The plot, or what there is of one, centres around adult Scout’s return to Maycomb for a holiday and her ‘discovery’ that Atticus is not the paragon of virtue with whom we all fell in love in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Rather, he is a voice of reason and measure in complex, racially divided times. Anyone who tells you that this book reveals Atticus as a racist and a bigot hasn’t really read the book. It is perfectly logical that an adult daughter will see her hero-dad has, to varying degrees, feet of clay. So it goes.

The book is a messy lump of a novel, full of plot holes, voice change and weak textual integrity. So it should be. It was a first draft. A much better novel came from it. An old lady has been taken advantage of, and it is a sad state of affairs indeed.

Please don’t buy this book.

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Book 38 – American Psycho

“American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)

audio book narrated by Mick Landrum

As I have previously mentioned, I purchased several audio books when audible had a sale recently. I knew this book was a modern classic and I snapped it up for a bargain, feeling very virtuous that I was going to be able to tick another book on the next one of those silly “How Many of these 100 Books Have You Read?” quizzes on Facebook.

And then… then… I started listening…

This is definitely the most disturbing thing I have ever read. Largely because of how accurately it portrays the consumer-driven yuppie culture of the ’80s. You know, with some putridly graphic decapitation and violent sex scenes thrown in for shock value.

The novel reveals protagonist Patrick Bateman’s actions, morals (or lack thereof) and predilection for chopping people up and eating bits of them (maybe). He is an extremely wealthy merchant banker on Wall Street and there are hints that he has come from monied stock as well. The novel is a confronting stream-of-consciousness vomit of a book which I could not stop listening to, despite it being vile from beginning to end. I actually found myself several times with my hand over my mouth, chanting in my mind “they’re just made up words, they’re just made up words…”

Mummy. Don’t read this book. Susan. Read this book.

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Book 33 – Leviathan

“Leviathan” written by Scott Westerfeld and illustrated by Keith Thompson (2009)

I’m a massive Westerfeld fan, especially his Uglies series, and I’m a bit astonished to realise that this book is 6 years old. It’s been sitting on my WTB shelf for years, so maybe it’s been there all 6! There are hundreds of books on that shelf… don’t judge me!

This steampunk novel is SO good. I really enjoyed so many things about it. The characters are appealing (always an important element for me), the alternative reality of a world where Darwin’s findings on the origins of species have been taken in a whole different direction is mind boggling but simple to follow, the setting within real pre-World War I events is grounding and gives structure and logic to the otherwise astonishing removal from truth, and the adventure offers page-turning excitement. In addition, Thompson’s illustrations are not just visually appealing, but also support engagement with the plot.

The opposing forces in the book are Clankers, with their mechanical war machines, and Darwinists, with their genetically modified (fabricated) animals as weapons. The plot revolves around two key characters – The Clanker, Aleksandar Ferdinand (son of the just murdered Archduke) and Darwinist and Scottish girl, Deryn, who wants to be a pilot and goes incognito as a boy (Dylan Sharp) to achieve her dreams.

When the Leviathan, the fabricated whaleship where Deryn/Dylan serves as a midshipman, is damaged in an air fight with German planes and comes down in the Swiss Alps, Alek, who is in hiding in a fortress nearby, after fleeing his homeland following the murder of his parents, defies his companions and takes medical supplies to the stranded ship and its crew. This leads to an unusual alliance that may save Alek and be the undoing of Deryn/Dylan’s subterfuge.

I really loved this book and look forward to reading the rest of the series. I can see real value in this as a teaching text, particularly in a cross-KLA unit with History. I will be chatting with our History Elective teachers to see if we can’t come up with something fun for Stage 4 or 5.

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Book 31 – Enduring Love

“Enduring Love” by Ian McEwan (1997)

Audio book narrated by David Threlfall

A few weeks ago I asked in the staff room for recommendations as audible had a sale on and I was clean out of audio books in my library.

Justin recommended anything by Ian McEwan. I had to confess to never having read anything of his so Justin recommended I start with this one.

The novel is set in the Chilterns and the plot involves a tragic ballooning accident that brings two strangers together. The story moves along via the complicated mess that ensues as a consequence of one of the men’s obsession with the other.

I was completely enthralled by this book. It was narrated well and had me second guessing my assumptions throughout. Unfortunately, I found the author’s final ‘cleverness’ a bit too much and the ending was spoiled for me. I doubt it would bother anyone else and I think it’s bothersomeness was more related to the audio book than it would be in print. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I do recommend it.

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2014 in review

I’m a bit late with my review – usually I write it on New Year’s Eve. But I had actually pretty much decided to stop blogging when it came to New Year so this post remained unwritten.

I have relocated my blog mojo, however, and here are my highlights from 2014…

First of all, I read a much improved total of 39 books. I only read 25 books in 2013, so I am very pleased with this higher figure. I think the discovery of audio books has had a big impact on my ability to ‘read’ more consistently.

One of my reading goals for 2014 was to read more young adult fiction, which I did. 15 of the 39 books I read were in this category. I also added new categories – Drama and Children’s Literature – and read some excellent texts as a result.

However, all of my top 5 books come from my two favourite categories – YA and Adult Fiction. And here they are:

5. ‘Archer’s Goon’ by Diana Wynne Jones

4. ‘Retribution Falls’ by Chris Wooding

3. ‘Vertigo’ by Amanda Lohrey

2. ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by Lucy Maud Montgomery

and

in no surprise to anyone who follows my blog

my favourite book for 2014 was…

1. ‘Eyrie’ by Tim Winton

And now it is 2015. My reading goals for this year are very simple… I want to keep reading. Whatever comes my way. And I want to maintain the approach I more successfully developed last year, of building more reading time into my schedule.

Happy reading!

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Book 25 – Thirteen

“Thirteen” (The Last Thirteen) by James Phelan (2013)

“Thirteen” is the first book in a series where books, counting down from 13 to 1, have been (and will be) released monthly. The series has been released up to “Five” so far, so I’m a bit late to the party.

The premise is that there are ‘true dreamers’ who can dream the future, and return to their dreams and alter the course of that future. Sam, our protagonist, is a true dreamer, and perhaps one of the ‘final 13’ who are destined to save the world. However, at the start of the book he thinks he’s just a normal kid, and when he is kidnapped from school he discovers nothing is as it seems…

The book is fast-paced and engaging. A quick read, at 207 pages with several visuals, such as emails, hand-written notes and newspaper articles, the book will appeal to readers who like an adrenalin rush mixed with some mystery. It reminded me a great deal of The Conspiracy 365 series that I read in 2012. That series, too, was released monthly, and has spawned a whole franchise and is now in its third series.

I don’t think I’ll bother reading 12, 11, 10, 9, or any of the rest… but this is a book I will recommend to reluctant readers in the future.

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