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 32 – The Restaurant at the end of the Universe

“The Restaurant at the end of the Universe” by Douglas Adams (1980)

Audio book narrated by Martin Freeman

I actually finished this book weeks ago but blogging about it has been one of those things on the to do list that just kept getting put off. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. But I didn’t have a burning motivation to write about it. When I really love a book I want to tell the whole world. Same when I hate a book. But when a book is just, well, you know, doing its job, keeping me entertained from beginning to end, well, there’s just not that much to write about.

This book is described as the second book in the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, but it is, in fact the second book in a series that spans 5 or maybe 7 books, depending on your point of view. It picks up the story of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Trillian and Zaphod Beeblebrox as they escape the planet Magrathea and get attacked by a Vogon destroyer. The rest of a summary would sound as foreign and meaningless as the above, so I won’t go…

Look, these books are silly. They are a whole level of silly beyond anything else silly I have read. I’m not sure I’ll keep reading the series, though. It’s a bit like the sixth season of a TV drama that might have stayed with you forever if they’d stopped at one season, or maybe two. The silliness all just got a bit much.

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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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Book 30 – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

“What I talk about when I talk about running” by Haruki Murakami (2008)

Audio book narrated by Ray Porter

It seemed appropriate, in the week leading up to my first run all year, to listen to Murakami’s ponderings on running. The book was recommended to me (as so many are) by Damian, my running mentor, and so I was keen to receive some inspiration and motivation from the book.

My expectations were met, although the book was nothing like I expected it to be. When I started listening to it I hadn’t even made the connection that Murakami is an author. I have his book, 1Q84, sitting on my waiting-to-be-read shelf, but it wasn’t until the Foreword that I realised whose writing I was listening to.

Early on, Murakami wrote that he had no intention of writing a philosophical treatise. This book was a memoir, if anything, a pondering on what running meant to him. No one had asked him to write it and he didn’t know if anyone would read it, but he wanted to put down on paper what he loved about running, why he did it, what it had meant to him during his life.

I must say that it was a challenging book to listen to, as opposed to reading. Murakami is a well known Japanese author and he wrote quite a lot in this book about translating things into Japanese and how stilted his own use of English is. In that context, I did find it quite anachronistic to be listening to a really drawly, arrogant sounding American reading it to me. No offence, Mr Porter, you’re probably lovely, but your voice was annoying.

At the core of this book is Murakami’s insistence that runners are all different and only a runner knows what running means to them and a runner is never going to convince a non-runner to become a runner. So, there’s no point in me recommending this book to you if you’re not a runner. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. And it certainly got me in the right frame of mind for Sunday’s event. I think it’s fair to say that I think of running as one of the great achievements of my 40s. Like Murakami, I do my best thinking when I’m moving. He taught me, in this book, to stay focused on my own achievements, and compete against myself. This was advice I needed to hear. Read it if it’s your thing.

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Book 29 – Ready Player One

“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline (2011)

Audio book narrated by Wil Wheaton

This all started when Damian recommended the book to Luke. So Luke bought it. And then he left it lying around. And then I read a bit. And then I downloaded the audio book. And this is, hands down, no contest, the best book I have read in years. I love, love, loved it.

Set in 2044, the novel follows the story of Wade Watts, a suburban kid who spends all of his time online, attending virtual school, hanging out with his best friend in his virtual basement and accessing every book, film, song, anything, ever created in the endless archives within the Oasis, a virtual utopia. The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday, died 5 years before the story begins, and upon his death, left an Easter Egg in the Oasis and instructions that the person who found it would win ownership of his entire fortune. Like millions of people around the world, Wade is hunting for the Egg. He is a Gunter, working solo, competing against other solo players, clans and a huge corporation called IOI whose only business is winning control of the Oasis.

Doesn’t really sound like my kind of book, does it! The thing is, while the publicity for this book will tell you that all the pop culture references are from the late twentieth century, the truth is they’re all pretty much from the 1980s, and there isn’t really a single reference that I don’t get. When Wade is trying to win the first of three keys needed to unlock the egg, his opponent advises him that they will need to joust and Wade asks, “Won’t we need horses?” When his nemesis responds, “No, we will need birds…” I screamed out loud in my car, “OH MY GOD! THEY’RE GOING TO PLAY JOUST!!!” In 1982, when I worked night shifts at St Leonards Bowling Centre, I worked the shift that Joust was installed in an upright at the centre. My great friend and work colleague, Scott, and I played Joust every night after work for months. I am honestly a bit of a gun at Joust. Or at least I was, 33 years ago.

All of the characters, competing against all the odds in this book, are appealing and the plot keeps you engaged throughout. A really well written, highly entertaining book that I thoroughly recommend. I gave a copy to my brother, Patrick, for his 50th birthday a couple of weeks ago. I hope he loves it as much as I did.

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Book 28 – Loyal Creatures

“Loyal Creatures” by Morris Gleitzman (2014)

I’m a big Gleitzman fan and I see his books on students’ desks in wide reading lessons all the time. He has a natural flair for engaging writing and kids love him.

I saw “Loyal Creatures” in the book shop in Huskisson last time we were there and read the blurb. I don’t usually buy his books because mostly they are better being left to be loved in their own right than to be ruined by a rotten English teacher. But something about “Loyal Creatures” suggested a good teaching text, so I picked it up.

The book is about Frank and his Dad. And their horses. And World War I. And the Australian bush. And the Light Horse. And Egypt. It’s got sad bits and happy bits and bits that make you laugh out loud.

What I loved about this book was the easy authenticity of the voices. I think it would be a really successful text in a voices of war unit or any close study focusing on the concept of voice. It is an easy read and would make a great text for lower ability year 7 or 8.

I’m definitely adding this one to my book room wish list.

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Book 27 – The Lieutenant

“The Lieutenant” by Kate Grenville (2008)

Audio book narrated by Nicholas Bell

I read “The Secret River” several years ago and “Sarah Thornhill” earlier this year. They are clearly a story and its sequel. Interestingly, this book is considered part of a trilogy – but it has no connection to the story of the Thornhills featured in the other two books. The common theme across the three books is that they are all based on historically accurate events from Australia’s colonial past.

The story is based on a real life friendship between Lieutenant William Dawes, a soldier with the First Fleet, and  a young Aboriginal girl, Patyegarang. Dawes set out to learn the language of the people of Sydney Cove, the Gadigal. His notebooks begin with lists of nouns and verbs and grammatical forms, but gradually abandon that approach for a more human one: Dawes recorded entire conversations that took place between him and Patyagarang.  Between the lines of the converstations it’s clear that they developed a relationship that was mutually respectful, that they were friends. The friendship, sadly, brought Dawes on a collision course with the authorities and eventually he had to choose between his relationship with Patyegarang and her people, and the military reality of his life.

This book is a fictional drawing out of this story. Grenville goes to great lengths to ensure that her readers understand that she made lots of this up… but it is as close to historically accurate as the records will allow.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend all of Grenville’s work. She has a lyrical quality to her writing, especially with regards to the Australian landscape and a deeply moving engagement with the atrocities committed against the first people of Australia.

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