Other Prizes

Brief Thoughts: Jack Glass, Men We Reaped and The Lie

Jack Glass (Golden Age)

Jack Glass by Adam Roberts

Five words from the blurb: society, crime, asteroid, murder, freedom

Jack Glass started well, with a group of prisoners being left on an asteroid. These men will only survive their ten-year prison sentence if they work together to produce food and water, mining the rock for everything they require. The dynamics of this new society was well drawn and each of the characters jumped from the page. Unfortunately things went downhill in the second section. The new characters failed to engage me and I became increasingly bored with the story. The third section was even worse and I ended the book very disappointed. It’s a shame it failed to live up to its early promise. 


Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Five words from the blurb: black, poverty, loss, family, struggle

I loved Salvage the Bones so was excited about trying Jesmyn Ward’s memoir. Unfortunately I found that the story was diluted by the inclusion of too many people. I found it too fragmented and lacking the emotional power of her novel. I’d have preferred a more intimate story, focusing on a smaller group of people.


The Lie

The Lie by Helen Dunmore

Five words from the blurb: man, returns, war, quiet, consequences, truth

I’ve had a mixed experience with Helen Dunmore in the past (The Siege is one of my all-time favourites, but I wasn’t as fond of The Betrayal) so I wasn’t sure what I’d make of this one. Unfortunately The Lie failed to grab me. It was too slow and gentle. Individual paragraphs were well written, but the central character was distant and I failed to become invested in him. This combined with a meandering plot to create a novel that wasn’t to my taste.


Have you read any of these?

Did you enjoy them more than I did?


DVD Review: Untouchable (French Cinema)

Untouchable [DVD]

Five words from the blurb: Paris, slum, quadriplegic, wealthy, adventure

I don’t normally review films on this blog, but I don’t often watch ones that are as good as this! Untouchable is funny, but moving; entertaining, but with a deeper message beneath the surface. It is made even more wonderful by the fact that it is based on a true story.

Untouchable begins in Paris with Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic, interviewing for the position of his carer. Driss, a poor Sengalese man, is only attending the interview in order to get his benefit book stamped, but Philippe loves his attitude and hires him on the spot. The pair form an unlikely friendship, with Driss injecting fun and adventure back into Phillipe’s life.

The acting was flawless and the chemistry between the two characters was heart-warming to watch. It is rare to see male friendship investigated on screen and I think we could all learn a lot from their interactions.

I loved the way the film highlighted the problem of society looking down on disabled people, assuming they are stupid and of no value. The way it contrasted these issues with the problems faced by those living in poverty was cleverly done. It somehow managed to avoid being condescending, simply showing how important it is to make the most of what we have.

There was a lot of bad language, but it was an accurate portrayal of the people involved and never felt gratuitous. Scenes of a sexual nature wre minimal, but there was a touching love story that added an extra dimension to the emotional rollercoaster.

There were some sad moments in the film, but the majority was uplifting and I ended it with a massive grin on my face. It’s the best thing I’ve watched in ages.

Highly recommended.


Have you seen Untouchable?

Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

2013 Chunkster Historical Fiction Recommended books

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things

Five words from the blurb: botanical, explorer, woman, independent, evolution

The Signature of All Things was the best novel I read in 2013. It is a rich, atmospheric story about one woman and her passion for moss. I know that sounds like the dullest premise imaginable, but Elizabeth Gilbert has woven horticultural details with amazing characters and a heartwarming series of events to create a fantastic novel that gets better every time you think about it.

The book begins in 1800 with the birth of Alma Whittaker. Her father’s passion for botany infects her and she gains an interest in moss. Her studies soon get her thinking about evolution and this leads her on a journey that encompasses several continents and enables her to meet a range of fascinating people.

I’m not a keen gardener, but I found the details about plant collecting and classification fascinating. It was eye-opening to learn about the infancy of this industry and the difficulties faced by those trying to cultivate plants like vanilla for the first time.

The book was made extra special by Alma Whittaker – one of the best female protagonists I’ve ever come across. It was a rare pleasure to be able to follow a character from birth into old age with a complete understanding of their fears, desires and motivations. I loved the way that she changed and developed as she aged:

“But you are still young, so you think only of your own self. You do not notice the tribulations that occur all around you, to other people. Do not protest; it is true. I am not condemning you. I was as selfish as you, when I was your age. It is the custom of the young to be selfish. But someday you will understand that nobody passes through this world without suffering – no matter what you think of them and their supposed good fortune.”

Racist/homophobic attitudes were occasionally difficult to stomach, but I think they helped to show how far we’ve come since then.

The plot was slow, but it never dragged and I loved being immersed in the past. Everything appeared to be incredibly well researched (although I’m no expert) and I loved the way that fact and fiction were blended together. It was simply good, old-fashioned story telling with no tricks or gimmicks.

The Signature of All Things is one of those books that sounds far less interesting than it actually is. Trust me. Give it a try!


Other Uncategorized

Brief Thoughts: Salvation of a Saint, My Husband’s Secret, Underworld, The Summer of the Ubume

Salvation of a Saint

Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

Five words from the blurb: husband, dead, poisoning, suspect, deceit

This wasn’t in the same league as The Devotion of Suspect X. The writing was simpler and it didn’t contain any of the same clever twists. I read to the end in the hope of being surprised, but unfortunately I wasn’t. Disappointing.


The Husband's Secret

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Five words from the blurb: letter, secret, opens, truth, family

This book was so gripping I found myself trying to read it whilst doing other things. It was a real page-turner, with a fantastic cast of characters. Unfortunately it is one of those books that falls apart under scrutiny and my opinion of it lowers every time I think about it. It created a fantastic discussion at my book group, but I think we’ll all have forgotten what happened by the next meeting.

(because I enjoyed the experience of reading it so much)


Underworld by Don Delillio

Five words from the blurb: baseball, Russian, bomb, global, Bronx

I really wanted to read this modern classic, but I’m afraid the baseball bored me rigid. The writing was fantastic, but I failed to connect to any of the characters and felt an increasing sense of dread every time I picked up this massive chunkster. Life is too short to battle through a book this long that does nothing for you, so I abandoned it after about 150 pages.


Summer Of The Ubume, The

The Summer of the Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku

Five words: folklore, ghost, real, explanations, mystery

I was worried that this book might be too scary (it is described as horror on the cover) but that isn’t the case. The Summer of the Ubume is a rich discussion of the Japanese spirit world, concentrating on Ubume, the beings created when a pregnant woman dies. Unfortunately the book is dominated by a debate about what is real and what isn’t and I was already familiar with all the quantum physics and most of the philosophical arguments. If you’re new to this sort of discussion then you’ll love it, but I’m afraid I’d heard 90% of it before.

Despite the problems, it is probably still worth reading for all the information about the Japanese spirit world. 


Have you read any of these books?

What did you think of them?


Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore

Five words from the blurb: dusty, books, curious, analysis, technology

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is an entertaining mystery that will appeal to book lovers. The story focuses on Clay, a web-designer who gets a job working the night-shift at a mysterious book shop. Clay becomes increasingly puzzled by the fact that no-one ever buys any books; instead clientele use it like a library, exchanging strange coded books. Clay sets out to discover the secret behind their bizarre behaviour, uncovering a mysterious group of people with a shared mission in life.

This was an engaging read and I loved all the bookish detail. The passion for literature was blended with cutting-edge computer science and I loved the fact that it wasn’t afraid to go into detail about how everything worked. The technical explanations occasionally went over my head, but I was never lost. In fact I liked the way the book poked fun at those who weren’t following:

But now, with the data in hand, I’m building my model of the store. It’s crude–just a bunch of gray blocks slotted together like virtual LEGOs–but it’s starting to look familiar. Simulated light from the simulated windows casts sharp-edged shadows through the simulated store. If this sounds impressive to you, you’re over thirty.

It also revealed interesting details about working for Google. I’m not entirely sure how much of it was true, but that makes it a good discussion point!

My only real complaint was the number of coincidences, especially the fact that Clay happened to have three friends: a millionaire who could pay for their adventures, a Google employee with access to all their expensive equipment, and a set designer who could build everything they needed for their secret mission. It may not have been realistic, but it did make a great story.

Much of the book reminded me of The End of Mr Y, but using computers instead of philosophy. It’s not great literature, but it is an escapist adventure that introduces some interesting ideas on literature and its place in our modern, data-driven world.

Overall this was a light, entertaining read that will probably gain a geeky-cult status, at least until the technology becomes outdated.

Recommended to those looking for an escapist read.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

The last couple of paragraphs in particular will fill your heart with joy! Books, Bones and Buffy

The mystery felt really poor-constructed, and the final revelations were hastily narrated. Reading on a Rainy Day

 Even though the ending is a smidge predictable it did not take away from my pleasure of the whole book. So Many Books

2013 Other Prizes

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

Questions of Travel Winner of 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award

Five words from the blurb: world, guides, tourist, return, dreams

Questions of Travel picked up almost every literary award possible when it was released in Australia. It also received a very mixed selection of reviews. I was interested to see how I’d react to this divisive book so I accepted a review copy. Unfortunately I’m still unsure what to make of it – my reactions are almost as mixed as the reviews!

The book focuses on two main characters: Laura, an Australian travelling the world in hope of finding the culture that she feels is missing from her country and Ravi, a Sri Lankan forced from his home by horrific events. The book has very little plot, but instead it explores the thoughts and emotions of those travelling away from home.

I shouldn’t have liked this book and thought about abandoning it on several occasions, but every time the lack of action began to bore me I was re-engaged by a fantastic piece of writing. I have done a lot of travelling and the experiences described in the book often rang true:

Laura had read widely to ready herself for adventure: traveller’s tales, histories, guidebooks. They warned of pickpockets. rabid dogs, unboiled water, children’s eyes in which the incautious might drown. But no one mentioned the sheer tedium of being a tourist. Dreaming of travel, Laura had pictured a swift slideshow of scenes. But oh, the long, blank hours that linked! … It was like being trapped in a particularly irritating Zen koan: In order to advance, the traveller must stay still.

The analysis into the motivations for travelling were fascinating and I think most people will be able to relate to some aspects of it. It was also nice to see details about how the Internet has made the world a smaller place and comparisons between finding ideas online rather than by travelling were thought provoking.

This is a book to be savoured slowly. The meandering plot often frustrated me, but once I decided to treat it more like a series of essays than a novel I began to enjoy it more. The fact I finished all 500+ pages, despite the lack of a compelling plot, is a testament to the quality of the writing. It isn’t for everyone, but if you appreciate good writing and are interested in travelling then this is the book for you.