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Archive for February, 2015

Despite what it sounds like, this is NOT a pre-school kids book. Quite the opposite.

This PopSugar challenge led me to discover the e-book lending services from my local library. I didn’t want to buy a book; it seemed like too big a risk to fork out cash for a book just based on its cover design. So I finally downloaded the Overdrive app, found my dusty library card and set up the account.

Wow. All those e-books, for free? Sign me up. This is going to be huge help to completing this challenge.

Even better, the browsing structure means that on the first screen all I can see are the book covers and the book titles. Normally this would be annoying – it’s a pain to have to click through to read the blurb – but for the purposes of this exercise, it’s ideal. I skim through the fantasy and science fiction section, and straight away there is a book with a very striking cover image.

I don’t know anything else about this book. Never heard of it, never heard of the author, Kieran Shea… but I like the title, the font, the pulp fiction style of the cover. Sold. I borrow it.

Then I read the blurb. Uh oh. I’m pretty relieved I didn’t pay for this book, because the blurb – and the chapter headings – are making it sound sleazy and cheesy. Seems to be a lot of mentions of ‘boywhores’, the main character is a brothel owner and the setting is described as a ‘manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence’. Although I do read and enjoy books that are graphic in both sex and violence, I’m thinking this might a bit lurid for my tastes.

The PopSugar reading challenge has a category called ‘a book you can finish in one day’. Not sure how many pages Koko takes a holiday runs to in the paperback, but I finished it in a few hours. I was pulled along the pace of the action, the awesome world building and that the story, while definitely pulp fiction style, wasn’t over the top. There was plenty of bloody violence and very little sex, a touch of romance, and a lot of thrills cyberpunk -style.

I did have one small issue with the novel, which echoes the comments made in a review by PopInsomniacs. One of the key characters suffers from a mental illness that I imagine is intended to be akin to depression (it being called depressus and all). And I agree with the reviewers that I found Koko’s go-get-em-tiger, just-snap-out-of-it pep talk was a bit off, even if it does become clear in later novels that depressus is a more engineered condition.

While I’d toss it in the cyberpunk pile, Koko takes a holiday was less gritty and dark than other books I’ve read in the genre, such as Snow Crash or Neuromancer. Maybe it’s just that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, that there are moments of light humour and the world Shea constructs is pretty colourful. The ending positively screams a sequel and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.

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This is the last item on the Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge, but the one I started with. The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin. I didn’t post it first, because it was such a disappointing read. I guess a challenge to read a book you abandoned is probably not going to end well in most cases.

In 2011, I visited Mullumba Creek Falls in Bermagui, a site sacred to the Yuin people of the south coast of New South Wales. It was the first time I had visited a sacred site in Australia. I’m an atheist, but the natural beauty of the place made me think that this is must what some people feel when they enter a holy building. A sense of deep spiritual contentment, of communion, of feeling one with something larger than oneself. A connection with forty thousand years of human history.

I left Bermagui wanting to know more about the culture and landscape of Aboriginal Australia. And then I heard a story on the song lines on Radio National, and I was immediately attracted to the concept. Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines was the first book I came across that seemed to cover the subject, so I bought it.

Thirty pages later, it was left to gather dust. I think I expected more of an academic discussion of the Songlines; instead I was reading the fictionalised story of an Englishman in Australia, wandering the red centre and relating the anecdotes from his journey. The language occasionally used in the telling was a bit jarring to my ears, although no different perhaps to the casual racism I heard often in my childhood in 1980s Western Australia.

So with grim determination I returned to The Songlines, this time at least clear that the book I was picking up was more travelogue than anthropological – or ethnological – or ethological – or ethnographical! memoir. And I did enjoy it more than the last time. The first section of the book – while rambling and often condescending in tone – dipped occasionally enough into interesting territory to keep me engaged. But as non-fiction it didn’t have the content I wanted, and as fiction it didn’t have the story I wanted. The fragmented structure meant it was all to easy to put down – and most of the time it was only a sense of obligation that made me pick it back up.

Bolstered by reading of other reviews, I was prepared for the forty odd pages in the middle of the book which consisted entirely of excerpts from travel notebooks. Like my own notebooks, I was fascinated by a few entries, interested in some, read most of the rest out of duty and skipped a few altogether.

Yes, Songlines has inspired me to learn more about Central Australia and Aboriginal culture – but because of what it lacks rather than what it offers.

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Finding a book that you haven’t read that will make you cry seems like a tricky ask. There’s a few ways to go about it: just keep reading until you find one; trawl the reviews; or ask your friends.

Of course, since I became a mum, I cry at everything. Disney movies? Check. Inspirational Facebook videos? Check. The Qantas ad where all the kids sing? Check. So it shouldn’t be too hard to find a book to check off this PopSugar challenge.

I ask my friends. And one of them recommends Room by Emma Donoghue, has a copy, lends it to me. I figure if I don’t cry, I can always file it under my book-with-a-one-word-title challenge.

That’s not necessary. This book makes me cry. Not in an all-out bawling way, ‘cause I’m sad. This book makes me cry in unexpected ways. I cry with relief, with hope, with mixed sadness and happiness. And I cry because I see me in the mother, my daughter in the narrator, the bond that exists between them.

What I loved about this book first and foremost was the voice of the narrator, a five year old boy called Jack. Donoghue does a lovely job of walking the line between a read for adults and maintaining the endearing grammatical chaos of a five year old. Jack describes the events in his life in a way that is fundamentally innocent, but also demonstrates his understanding of his world and allows the reader to understand the context of what is happening. It’s quite an accomplishment.

I don’t want to talk too more about the things I loved about it for fear of spoiling it for others. I came to the book armed only with a one sentence description of its subject, and this allowed the novel to unfold for me in a way that might not have been possible otherwise. I do admit to skipping ahead a few chapters at one particular section of the book though!

Yes, Room made me cry. And it was a book that I could file under the book-read-in-one-day challenge. Every time I put it down I counted the minutes until I could pick it back up, and cursed the everyday tasks that took me away from Room.

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PopSugar Reading Challenge

I’m planning a series of posts covering the PopSugar Reading Challenge. If you’re doing this too (and blogging about it), please link your blog in the comments as I’d love to read about it.

I didn’t make a 2015 resolution to blog more, but I do want to read more (and more widely), and to write more. I like the PopSugar challenge because the sometimes offbeat categories mean I’ll have to try at least some books and genres I wouldn’t normally read. And by blogging about each of the fifty odd books after I read them, I hope I’ll be thinking about them more deeply and critically than normal.

I’m still writing too, and about to start the flash fiction course over at www.hollylisle.com. Holly suggests (at least I think it’s Holly) that one of the key jobs of a writer is to read. (I’m sure she says it much more elegantly though). So I’m declaring that for me, 2015 is going to be a year of reading.

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