30 April 2012

Review: Born To Run by John M. Green

Born To Run by John M. Green book cover
* From publisher for review *

After reading and reviewing Nowhere Man by John M. Green, I received a personal email from the author and Pantera Press - an Australian publishing house - asking if I was interested in reviewing his second book Born to Run.

Nowhere Man is an economic thriller set in Australia and Born to Run is a political thriller set in the USA so I knew before opening to the first page that I was in for a very different ride this time.

Plot Summary

Isabel Diaz had a poor childhood - with the scars to prove it - and is now a philanthropist and America's favourite in the lead up to the presidential elections.

She is set to become the first female US President in history until it is all ripped from her grasp in a carefully researched and live TV show.  Also happening at the same time is a carefully plotted terrorist attack on New York City that has the potential to bring the city to its very knees; but how are the terrorists connected to the politicians and who's pulling the strings?


What was noticeably different between Nowhere Man and Born to Run was that Nowhere Man had an identifiable destination in terms of plot; there was a mystery that needed solving and therefore the reader was aware of the direction the novel was heading.  This isn't the case with Born to Run.

In Born to Run, you are never sure what is going to happen next; events take place but the reader is never permitted to peek around the corner or even get half a step in front of where the author wants you.  This had the effect on me of a slow burn thriller, and I found that the last third of the book went by in an absolute rush and the heady climax was reached.

My favourite character in the novel was Isabel's deaf son Davey who added such dimension to the plot and a fresh perspective on parenting when one parent understands ASL (sign language) better than another.  Davey even had me laughing out loud when he tells a King Kong joke in ASL.

I was also surprised at the Australian author's ability to fall into US politics so seamlessly despite his comment in the Author's note that he's: "...addicted to US presidential elections..." I must've tried at least half a dozen times in my life to understand how US government operates and then six months later, I've forgotten it all again.  (This also happens to me with the rules of cricket).

Nevertheless, you don't need to be an expert in politics to enjoy Born To Run, but if you have an interest it may enhance your enjoyment of this political thriller.

Stay tuned as I'll be interviewing the author John M. Green very soon.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

Author John M. Green talks to My Four Bucks about his two novels, his writing and more, click here to read the interview.
29 April 2012

New Design & New Pages

I thought it was time for a design change so I hope you like it!  The first thing you'll probably notice is that the old wallpaper has gone and it's in with the new!

I've created a new Challenges page to incorporate the reading challenges I'm participating in at the moment and I'll be keeping them up to date as I progress throughout the year.

A short while ago I also created an About Me page to the blog to add to the reader experience.

In addition to the new pages, I've added a 'Follow Me on Pinterest' button and a new GoodReads window together with a few minor tweaks here and there to fonts.

If you have any suggestions on things you'd like to see or articles you're interested in, please let me know.

That's my four bucks!
28 April 2012

Review: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

It's time for another classic and this time it's the gothic ghost story by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw. Referred to here and there, I've always wanted to read it and find out if it's still scary by today's measures.

Henry James wrote too many novels and short stories to mention, most notably The Portrait of a Lady in 1881. Published in 1898, The Turn of the Screw has an ambiguous ending, but of course in my arrogance I believed I would finish the last page with a firm idea of what had happened and little room for any doubt.  

You see, I dislike ambiguous endings and I always have an opinion, so if a book requires the reader to decide the ending then I make a decision and get on with it. If the author doesn't tell me the ending of the book then I decide for myself, but in The Turn of the Screw, it wasn't as easy as all that.

Plot Summary
A governess is hired to look after a young boy Miles and his younger sister Flora in a large gothic house (pictured above) after the death of their parents. The children are charming, well behaved and a pleasure to teach and look after. It comes as a shock then when the governess is notified that Miles has been expelled from boarding school, although the letter is vague regarding the reason for his expulsion. This was the most intriguing part of the novella for me and a great cause for discussion amongst academics and students alike.

While this has been happening the governess has been seeing a female and male presence on the estate and begins to suspect they are ghosts and that the children are aware of their presence but won't admit it.  With the help of the housekeeper, the female ghost is identified as Miss Jessel - the previous governess - and the male ghost as Quint - also a previous employee -  both who mysteriously died.

The governess tries to protect the children from their evil presence while Miles seems to know more than he is letting on. Late in the story, Miles says he was expelled from school for telling something to those he liked, who then told those they liked. Some argue this is evidence Miles was expelled for homosexual behaviour but discovering this hypothesis after finishing the book was such a shock that I just find it difficult to believe.

I won't spoil the ending, but here are the possibilities I came up with:  
  • Miles could have told his classmates that he killed Miss Jessel and Quint; the classmates then going on to tell their friends and so on, resulting in his expulsion. 
  • Another possibility is that Miles could have told his friends that he was seeing ghosts; his friends could have spread the gossip, laughed and teased him, leading to his expulsion for being of unsound mind.
  • Miles was incredibly manipulative and his expulsion could have been related to his devious and manipulative behaviour.
Was it scary?
So, was The Turn of the Screw scary? Well, it was certainly creepy, I'll give it that much! Miles was a manipulative character and a believable one. I enjoyed the gothic evocation of place, and the conversations Miles had with the governess made me squirm.

Immediately after finishing the novella (it's a short read) I went online to seek out discussions related to The Turn of the Screw and the ending in particular. I'm still not satisfied and I just wish the author had organised for the answers to be printed upside down at the back of the book.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
25 April 2012

Review: The Juice Master - Over 100 Delicious Juices and Smoothies by Jason Vale

The Juice Master - Over 100 Delicious Juices and Smoothies by Jason Vale book cover
I recently purchased a juicer and a family member gave me this book to read for recipe inspiration. I've really enjoyed it, and I'd go so far as to say that The Juice Master goes further than a regular recipe book in that it provides details on the vitamins contained in each juice and the way in which it will 'juice' those that drink it.  

The easiest way to demonstrate this is to share a recipe from the book. Today feels especially cold so I'll share a juice called 'Cold War'.

Cold War
1/4 pineapple
1 orange (peeled but leave the pith on)
1 inch of lemon (with skin on if unwaxed)
1 teaspoon Manuka active honey
4 ice cubes

Juice the pineapple, orange and lemon.  Pour the juice into the blender and add honey and ice. Blend until smooth.

Look what's in it!
Vitamins B6 and C, calcium, folic acid, iron, potassium, magnesium, beta-carotene, natural sugars, plus active antibacterial honey.

How will it help ward off my cold?
This juice is loaded with vitamin C, which is not only a natural antibiotic but also helps dissolve mucus.  The active Manuka honey also has powerful antibacterial properties. The impressive showing of the anti-cancer king - beta-carotene - and the enormous quantity of anti-oxidants all help to build your natural defences.

With over 100 recipes in this format, this is more than just a recipe book, it's a treasure trove of information and also contains juices designed with particular health benefits in mind. With an index sorted by name of fruit and vegetable, it is easy to find what you are looking for.

The documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead has made juicing very popular again although I didn't hear about it until I was buying my juicer. Watching it I found it very inspirational; have you seen it?  Excited by the documentary, I asked my Doctor if I could do the juice fast and she gave me an emphatic 'no.' Oh well.

In summary, this is a gem of a juice book and I'm reluctant to return it.  If you have a favourite juice recipe you'd like to recommend, please share it in the comments section, I'd love to try it out.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
18 April 2012

Review: Vanish by Tess Gerritsen

Vanish by Tess Gerritsen book cover
This is my first encounter with the increasingly popular author Tess Gerritsen and her series of books featuring Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles.  The series of novels have been developed into a TV series called Rizzoli & Isles which I have been following; so when a member of the family offered to lend me one of Gerritsen's novels I thought why not?

As I know from experience, the book is always different from the movie/TV show and it was no different here.  In Vanish, Detective Rizzoli is heavily pregnant which is quite a departure from the character from the TV program and I don't think I ever quite got used to the idea of Jane as a mother in the novel.

Taken hostage in the hospital while in labour - which was a little unbelievable - Jane does her best to stay alive, however the case is taken over by the highest powers and Jane and her FBI husband try and work out what is behind the clean up attempts and hidden evidence.  There are allusions to terrorism and a visit with a Senator however the ending was extremely disappointing - spoiler alert - in that it all boiled down to a sex/snuff tape featuring the most powerful man in the Intelligence arena.  

This is an average crime story, but nothing more than that.  It did contain a moving sub-plot of a young girl struggling to seek freedom however it was mildly entertaining at best.  My cover is different to the image above (no naked image of a woman) and contains the following quote:
'This is crime writing at its unputdownable, nerve-tingling best.'                                                                                                                - HARLAN COBEN
Unfortunately I didn't find Vanish unputdownable or nerve-tingling and I'm not sure if I'll be giving Gerritsen a second chance in the future; not for a while anyway. I think I'll stick to the TV Show for now, which I enjoy very much.

My rating **1/2

Carpe Librum!
16 April 2012

Aussie Author Challenge 2012

I participated in the Aussie Author Challenge 2012 hosted over at Booklover Book Reviews blog in 2012.  The challenge ran from 1 January 2012 - 31 December 2012, and the two levels of participation were:

Tourist - read and review 3 books by at least 2 different Aussie authors
Dinky Di - read and review 12 books by at least 6 different Aussie authors

I achieved the first level easily, but unfortunately they didn't have a middle level so pushed through to achieve the Dinky Di level of participation, and made it on the last day of the year, phew!

Here is a list of the books I read for the challenge:
 1. The Blood Countess | Tara Moss
 2. Nowhere Man | John M. Green
 3. The Light Between Oceans | M. L. Stedman
 4. Born To Run | John M. Green
 5. Killing Richard Dawson | Robin Baker
 6. My Hundred Lovers | Susan Johnson
 7. Rocks in the Belly | Jon Bauer
 8. The Crossing | B. Michael Radburn
 9. Bitter Greens | Kate Forsyth
10.Blackwater Moon | B. Michael Radburn
11.Back From The Dead - Peter Hughes' Story of Survival and Hope After Bali | Patrick Lindsay
12. Crimeson | Justin Gardner
15 April 2012

Review Published in April 2012 Edition of Good Reading Magazine

Review published in Good Reading Magazine (top of page)
I'm excited to announce that Good Reading Magazine has published my book review (right) of Caught in the Crossfire by Matina Jewell.

The review was published in the April 2012 edition of the magazine (pictured below) and is now on sale.  

Being such an avid fan of the magazine - and reading the reviews every month - it was a thrill to have my own review published; particularly given the high regard in which I hold the author, Matina Jewell.  

April  2012 Cover of
Good Reading Magazine
If you've ever thought       about writing a review  yourself or have a goal to publish a poem or story in a magazine, I highly recommend you push any self doubt aside and just go for it!

The excitement of success makes it all worthwhile but you'll never reach your goal unless you take your first step and give it a try.  I'd love to hear about your goals so leave me a comment and tell me what your writing goals are for the remainder of 2012.
13 April 2012

Review: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory book cover
As a fan of historical fiction I've admired the work of Philippa Gregory from a distance for a long while now, and enjoyed the film The Other Boleyn Girl based on her novel of the same title.

I'm excited to have finally made her acquaintance so to speak after receiving two of her books from The Cousin's War series for Christmas last year: The White Queen and The Red Queen.

To be honest, I'd been procrastinating about reading The White Queen, enjoying the fantasy that Philippa Gregory could be my next favourite historical fiction author and at the same time prolonging any chance of disappointment.  When I finally found the courage to take the plunge, I was both pleased and excited to find she exceeded my expectations in every possible way.  Phew!

England in the late 1400s during the time of the House of Lancaster and the House of York is rich with material although some authors seem to drown in the details of court politics, rebellions and uprisings and end up confusing the hell out of their readers.  And then there are authors like Philippa Gregory and Robin Maxwell who delight in the narrative and tantalise us with their tales of secrets and betrayals, war, love and sieges.

Elizabeth Woodville is a widow who meets King Edward IV on a roadside in an attempt to speak with him about her dead husband's land when a spark of attraction is ignited between them.  They fall in love, although Elizabeth won't risk her reputation to lay with him and so the King proposes and they secretly marry.  Elizabeth goes on to give birth to two sons; the Princes disappearance years later will mystify historians for centuries to come in the mystery known as the 'Princes in the Tower.'

Elizabeth is fiercely loyal to her family and protective of her children, ending her association with the House of Lancaster when she marries the King and joining the House of York; continuing to work out who she can trust and who to build alliances with until the very end.

Philippa Gregory walks us through complicated history with remarkable ease and I got a real sense of what it must have been like to live during these times of political unease and uncertainty.  One day Elizabeth is a Queen and the next she is in sanctuary fearing for her life.

Regardless of the subject matter, The White Queen was easy to follow and the love story was quite a feature which I happened to quite enjoy; another surprise from Gregory (I don't usually handle the romance section of a novel too well).

Another bonus is that this novel contributes towards my Historical Fiction 2012 Reading Challenge, which is great news given I signed up for the Struggling the Addiction level of ten books.  Click here if you'd like to join the challenge with me.

The next novel in this series is The Red Queen and I can't wait to read it soon.  Have you read any books by Philippa Gregory?  What were they and did you enjoy them?  Drop me a line and share your reading experience.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
09 April 2012

Review: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman book cover
* From publisher for review*

I finished reading M. L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans last night, and I now understand why it was the subject of a bidding war and I am certain it is destined to become a huge bestseller in the months to come.

Tom Sherbourne returns from World War I with his limbs intact but carrying psychological scars and seeks to get as far away from people as possible.  He seeks refuge on Janus Rock as a Lighthouse Keeper, where the regulations and routine of lighting up, maintaining the light and recording everything that happens in the log book, calm him.

Tom meets Isabel at Point Partageuse and they soon marry. Izzy joins him on Janus Rock for three years at a time, and they have no contact from the outside world except for the quarterly visits from Bluey and Ralph on the supply boat.

Shortly after a miscarriage, a small row boat washes ashore with a man and baby onboard.  Unfortunately the man is dead but miraculously the baby is still alive.  Did God answer their prayers for a baby?  Should they report it?  What if they disagree?  Tom and Izzy's actions that follow the surprise discovery ultimately change the course of their lives forever.

It's easy to judge what you would do in such a situation, but in reading The Light Between Oceans it was painful to see the chain of events unfold and the toll on their relationship.  Sometimes there is no right or wrong, and in the end there are no winners.

This was an incredibly moving story.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about what it was like to be a Lighthouse Keeper in Australia during this period.  The isolation and the weather were beautifully captured and written however didn't feature so much as to become tiresome for the reader.  I loved the references to the night sky and Tom's love of astronomy in addition to Tom's - and the fellow lighthouse keepers' - love for the light.  A life 'on the lights' was something I knew nothing about prior to picking up this book and I feel my life is richer for having read about this aspect of our history.

Born and raised in Western Australia, Stedman now lives in London, however there's no doubting she's an Aussie.  She has captured the Australian lingo of the period exceptionally well, and I truly felt transported back in time with words like: 'girlie', 'humdinger' and 'stepping out.'

I was captivated and swept away by Stedman's writing style, and I'd like to share my favourite section from The Light Between Oceans.  It is an extract from Page 24, and in the lead up to this section the author is writing about the death of children:

"The town cemetery had always recorded this truthfully, and its headstones, some lolling like loose, grimy teeth, told frankly the stories of lives taken early by influenza and drownings, by timber whims and even lightning strikes.  But in 1915, it began to lie.  Boys and men from across the district were dying by the score, yet the graveyards said nothing."
I've been thinking about these words every day since I read them; that the graveyards said nothing.  I found this incredibly moving and poignant and just one example of the author's powerful writing style.

I couldn't recommend M. L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans - named so because the Janus lighthouse overlooks the merging of two oceans - more highly.

My rating = *****
06 April 2012

Review: Nowhere Man by John M. Green

Nowhere Man by John M. Green book cover
Nowhere Man is the successful debut novel from Australian author John M. Green and is set in Sydney. The novel begins with Sonya returning from her early morning run only to find husband Michael has left her, leaving a mysterious note on the bed for her to find.

We soon learn that Michael was a very private man working from home and trading on the stock market. When Sonya discovers his private computer files, she realises Michael has been keeping secrets from her the entire time they've been together.  

Looking at his letter with fresh eyes, Sonya begins to suspect Michael may not have left her voluntarily and sets out determined to find the truth.

Nowhere Man is an economic thriller with a science fiction twist and the plot and pace had me turning the pages well into the night.

I thoroughly enjoyed Nowhere Man, and look forward to reading more from this author in the future.   (Click here to read an interview with the author).

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

P.S. I'm so excited to have received a personal message from the author himself:

"I'm so thrilled you enjoyed my first novel, Nowhere Man.  Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and for writing such a great review on My Four Bucks."

Isn't it great when writers take the time to interact with their readers directly?  Fabulous!
01 April 2012

Just surpassed 20,000 hits!

It gives me great pleasure to announce:

My Four Bucks has now reached 
and surpassed 20,000 hits!!

Many thanks to my regular followers. Books are my passion and I continue to enjoy writing reviews, interviewing authors and sharing bookish news.

Happy Reading to you all!