31 May 2012

Review: The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner

* From Publicist for review *

Alex Housman is sixteen and when he's not at home with his divorced alcoholic Dad, he's at the 24 hour movie theatre or out driving a stolen car around the city following girls.

This is a coming of age story about Alex as he tries to navigate his way through school with the shame of living where he does and having a father who drinks way too much and too often.  Separated from his brother and then sent to a boy's home for stealing cars, Alex is wrenched from the only home he has ever known.

Whilst I found the story rolled along quite well, I don't believe it quite lives up to the following quote from one enthusiastic critic: "one of the great coming of age novels in the twentieth century."

What I enjoyed most from Theodore Weesner's The Car Thief was the relationship between Alex and his father.  It was complex and painful, layered and superbly written.  Alex is torn between loving his father, being proud of the way he dresses and presents himself, ashamed of his drinking, and feeling pity for the way in which his wife (Alex's mother) left him.  Their interactions are mostly sparse but seem to communicate so much, and for me these were the richest sections of the novel.

Second to that was the relationship Alex has with his younger brother.  Again this relationship is precious to Alex and deeply layered and Weesner is able to paint the tension and hurt onto the page in a scene as benign as a boat ride and a game of pool.

These two relationships were rich and moving and I enjoyed being in them more than I enjoyed reading the scenes where Alex was on his own.  Reading the author's note at the end, it seems most of this novel was autobiographical which makes this reader wonder if this was a restriction when writing The Car Thief.  

What I'll take away from reading The Car Thief is one of the best father son relationships in fiction I've read in quite a while, however this is secondary to the coming of age story of Alex Housman.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
30 May 2012

My Hundred Lovers Read-Along

My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson book cover
I'm very excited to be participating in the Allen & Unwin My Hundred Lovers read-along being hosted by 1 Girl, 2 Many Books.  

The read-along commences on 1 June and I'm just one of many book bloggers participating in the event.  We're all very excited to be taking part, and many of us have been visiting each other's blogs, saying 'hi' on Twitter and leaving comments here and there.  

Incidentally, I noticed that Cheryl Akle has selected My Hundred Lovers by Aussie author Susan Johnson as the June book club book on The Circle, and I'll be looking forward to watching the segment online after the read-along.

So, what's the book about you might be wondering?

Blurb:  A woman on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, reflects on one hundred moments from a lifetime's sensual adventures.  By turns humorous, sharp, haunting and wise, this is an original and exhilarating novel from one of Australia's premier writers.

If you'd like to join me in the read-along, leave a comment below and I can post updates on my progress.  Counting down now until 1 June.

That's my four bucks!
26 May 2012

Review: Horseradish - Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid by Lemony Snicket

This little book is a collection of quotes, phrases and stories divided up into categories, and as the title suggest, some are bitter truths tinged with humour whilst others are steeped in simple wisdom.

For those that don't know, Lemony Snicket is a pen name and some will have heard it associated with A Series of Unfortunate Events, a children's series narrated and penned by Lemony Snicket.

This book, Horseradish - Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid is a collection of short writings, each confined to a single page and each amusing whilst delivering advice or imparting wisdom at the same time.

I've chosen two of my favourite excerpts to share for the purposes of this review, to give you just a taste of the content, after which I'm sure you'll want to discover the rest for yourself.

"Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter."  Page 84, Chapter 7, TRAVEL

"If an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, "Well, this isn't too bad. I don't have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me if I am right-handed or left-handed," but most of us would say something more along the lines of "Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!"   Page 92, Chapter 8 EMOTIONAL HEALTH

I really enjoyed making my way through Lemony Snicket's pages, laughing and pausing to reflect along the way. Highly recommended for all ages, and best enjoyed with others.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
22 May 2012

Interview with John M. Green, author of Nowhere Man and Born To Run

John M. Green

Thanks to John for joining My Four Bucks today.  John is the author of two novels reviewed on My Four Bucks, Nowhere Man and most recently, Born to Run.

In your bio, we learn that during your 30 year career you were a very successful banking executive and partner in 2 major law firms before deciding to leave the business sector and become a writer.  What gave you the courage to leave all that behind and plunge into the uncertainty of being a writer?
My wife was the trigger, my role-model. She gave up a successful business career to follow her artistic passion, sculpting, and encouraged me to do likewise with my own passion for writing. It’s a thrill to be able to inhabit two entirely different worlds, the business and the artistic, and to get to do it together is pretty rare.

What can you tell us about your writing habits?  Do you ever like to write outside or in public? 
When I’m in ‘the zone’ I’m fairly oblivious to my surroundings (unless they’re part of a scene I’m writing), so I’m not prissy about where I write. My third novel, The Trusted (out in November 2012), was written at home at my desk, in bed, in the garden, on boats, trains and planes, in airports, hotel rooms, and in places where I’ve set it, such as Saint-Petersburg, Paris, Venice, Athens, New York, Boston – even North Narrabeen beach in Sydney. 
But my main routine – how I write mostly – is by hopping out of bed around 4am when the world around me is dead quiet, and sitting at my computer for as long after that as I can. Some days I’ll write for a couple of hours, some for 16 hours, sometimes I’ll write nothing – perhaps fiddling, plotting, researching. Other days I’ll write maybe 1,000 or 2,000 words and there have been days when the characters won’t stop doing what they do and they’ve given me way more.

Do you listen to music when you write?  Do you take any handwritten notes?
Because I wanted to get into Tori Swyft’s head—she’s the hero of my 3rd novel, and will be the mainstay of my new series—and she was world junior women’s surf champion at 13, I wrote a lot of The Trusted with surf rock instrumentals crashing over me: classics like the Atlantics (Bombora, Pipeline) and the Surfaris (Wipeout) and more recent works like The Break’s Church of the Open Sky – The Break’s members are from Midnight Oil and Violent Femmes, and one is a mate.
Thatcher, another character in The Trusted—a professional hacker – has a thing for Brandenburg Concerto No 4, so that was another course of my musical diet for this book.
My first novel, Nowhere Man, was driven quite a bit by Midnight Oil’s Power and the Passion (and there’s a chapter set to it) and Puccini’s Nessum Dorma.

One My4Bucks reader would like to know how you came up with the idea for Nowhere Man and why it took so many years to publish after you completed it in 2001.
I started with a question ‘What if I were the Time Traveler in the HG Wells classic, where (or rather, when) would I go to live an enjoyable life?’ And I decided it would have to be in Australia, and today. Despite the politicians, we Aussies do live in a postcard, right?
Why so long? I finished it in August 2001, but in that original version of the story, my fictional terrorists destroyed the World Trade Centre in New York. And when that terrible event actually happened a few weeks later, it was also literally the end of the story. I had some strong emotional connections to that horror, which I explain in my Author’s Note in the book, so it took me quite a while to come back to the manuscript to find a new catastrophe and embark on a rewrite. Funnily enough, I settled on a global financial crisis, and ‘finished’ in 2006/7, just before it happened, so when it actually happened, once again I had to rewrite the book before it got published.

A second My4Bucks reader would like to know if you're planning to write a sequel for Nowhere Man, as she'd like to know more about how the program works, how people can travel through time using it and what happens to Sam Sing.
I’d like to know, too! A lot of readers have asked me about a sequel, and it may come, but I’m not working on it yet. I’ve got too tied up with my new character, Tori Swyft.
One reader even emailed joking that his copy of Nowhere Man was defective because the stock price chart on page 104 stopped too early, and he wanted the copy that showed the share prices going forward a couple of years from now so he could use it for stock trading.

I imagine being a co-founder of Pantera Press requires you to read submissions from writers much of the time.  How do you decide when a writer is worthy of being published by Pantera Press?
Because it’s so tough even for great writers to get published, we expressly set up Pantera Press to focus on debut authors, with the aim of nurturing and continuing to publish them, and building their readership over time. What we’re on the lookout for are great stories – plot is critical to us – with characters who readers will care about, and strong writing. We also need to ‘click’ with the writers; developing personal relationships with our writers is critical to us.

When you're not reading for work, what are some of your favourite books/authors?
I have an eclectic taste. I happily go from Kate Grenville, Geraldine Brooks, Edmund de Waal to Michael Crichton, Marele Day and Harlan Coben (and Pantera Press’s other authors, of course, who I read for the pleasure as much as for work). I read loads of non-fiction too.

My favourite character in your political thriller Born to Run was the little boy Davey, and my favourite part in the novel was when Davey was telling the King Kong joke in ASL (sign language).  It really had me laughing out loud, can you tell me your inspiration for his character?
I’m thrilled you loved Davey, and the humour. Because I had a seemingly “ideal” couple – Isabel, hot favourite for the White House and her ex-general war-hero husband – I didn’t want it to be a plastic set-up, I needed tension at home, so I used the humour for lightness, to contrast with the darkness that Davey’s disability stemmed from psychological distress over his father’s first marriage break-up. 
One of my favourite actresses is deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who won an Academy Award for leading actress in Children of a Lesser God and was also fabulous in The West Wing. Subliminally, she might have inspired me. To paint Davey as realistically as I could, I consulted a US expert on hearing-impaired kids.
By the way, because I needed a US president in my next novel, The Trusted, little Davey and his mother, President Isabel Diaz, get a small role, but it isn’t a sequel to Born to Run.
I really like it when authors have a crossover of characters in unrelated novels; it's like a little treat for loyal readers who have read all of their work.

In Born to Run, you were able to write about your love of US presidential elections, do you have any other interests that you'd like to explore or focus on in your next book?
Saving the planet is a justifiably hot topic. So in The Trusted I pitch light green against very dark green. The story is about brilliant eco-terrorists, PhDs, who spend ten years as sleepers, getting themselves into positions of great influence and power from where they hope to turn back the planet’s gas-guzzling clock – by destroying the financial system, food supplies, shipping, you name it. They’re trying to save the planet, though their methods are extreme. When I started researching this, I discovered there are many extremist green groups, though none as sophisticated as my fictional one – at least none I’ve found so far, and fingers crossed, it will stay that way.

Having now published two books, do you have a favourite?  Has one sold more than the other, or is that akin to asking a parent which is their favourite child?
I think that’s right. Maybe when I have a few more books under my belt, I might have more perspective to answer that question.

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’m going to be overseas for a bit of it, mainly in NY so I can enjoy the run-up to the presidential elections, but also to get the vibe for the novel I’m just about to start. It will be the second Tori Swyft thriller.

Anything else you'd like to share with your readers?
A surprise for me, a pleasant one, has been how readers can sometimes read what you thought you’d written quite differently to how you see it. For example, a few readers have told me they wished Nowhere Man had a happy ending, but for me it is a really happy ending. I won’t explain that to your readers, Tracey, since it gives the ending away, but I suspect you know what I mean.

Thanks so much for joining us here at My Four Bucks John, it's been a pleasure having you.
My pleasure, Tracey. Thank you for the opportunity, and also for taking the time to read my stories.
19 May 2012

Review: The Midnight Club by James Patterson

The Midnight Club by James Patterson book cover
First published in 1989, I somehow missed reading The Midnight Club by James Patterson, not to be confused with his series the Women's Murder Club.

The protagonist in The Midnight Club is John Stefanovitch, a New York cop confined to a wheelchair after being shot and left for dead by the Grave Dancer. Despite losing his wife to the Grave Dancer on the same chilling night, and undergoing years of rehabilitation, John is still on the force and as determined as ever to get his man.

While John was fighting and clawing back his life, the Grave Dancer was climbing the ladder of success, and is now part of an elite and secretive international unit of organised crime lords, otherwise known as the Midnight Club.  

I thoroughly enjoyed having a male protagonist in a wheelchair who was attractive, strong, protective and driven without feeling sorry for himself or drinking himself into oblivion. Patterson steers clear of all the possible traps and cliches here, which makes The Midnight Club feel like a fresh piece of writing, despite it being 23 years old.  

There are references to the twin towers and a few other things that remind the reader of the passage of time however on the whole, this was an enjoyable crime novel with a very likeable good guy in New York cop John Stefanovitch and an equally well written bad guy.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!
16 May 2012

Review: Before I Wake by Robert J. Wiersema

Before I Wake by Robert J. Wiersema book cover
Before I Wake from Canadian author Robert J. Wiersema is a story about young Sherry, a 3 year old girl who is seriously injured when she is involved in a hit and run accident on a traffic crossing by a pickup truck driver.

Sherry's parents Karen and Simon Barrett face their worst fears when their only child won't wake from her coma and unfortunately their marriage fractures under the pressure.  Karen takes Sherry home, hires a nurse and settles into a steady routine with daily visits from Simon.

The plot really starts to pick up pace when Sherry's nurse Ruth begins to suspect that Sherry has had a role in curing the painful arthritis in her hands.  Ruth's sister is dying of cancer so she brings her to Sherry's bedside and places the comatose little girl's hand on her chest in an attempt to heal her.

Before long, news crews, journalists and pilgrims are outside the front of Karen's house asking for statements about the reported miracle healings and asking to see Sherry.  However, along with them come religious protestors led by a shadowy figure, Father Peter who claims Sherry is a false idol.

He threatens the Barrett family and is never far away when bad things start to happen.  Father Peter travels all around the world, following reports of miracle healings, and shuts them down by whatever needs necessary.  Father Peter believes he's doing God's work and clearing the way for the return of Jesus.  However as one character put it, "how do you know you haven't already met Him?"  Wiersema has given us an interesting look here at religion, in terms of the Church, faith and miracles.

Meanwhile the driver of the truck is consumed with guilt, but when he decides to take his own life, he jumps from a cliff only to find a mysterious hand pulling him back.  The driver finds himself living in the 'in between' and must find himself and his purpose.  I enjoyed the supernatural/fantasy element to this novel and the so-called true identities of the truck driver's mentor Tim, and Father Peter.

Before I Wake isn't a sunny, bright story.  This is a 'what would you do' story, and a thought provoking tale that makes you think about bigger issues.  I especially liked the identity twist and the men living in the 'in between' at the library. I was really curious to know their stories and to be left wanting more at the end of a book is certainly the mark of a great read.  

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!
14 May 2012

Kate Morton's novel The Secret Keeper is coming soon

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton book coverIt's no secret that author Kate Morton is one of my favourite Australian authors. Her novel The Forgotten Garden (5 stars) is one of my Top 20 favourite novels and I also enjoyed reading The Distant Hours (5 stars) and The Shifting Fog (4 stars).

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton book coverWell, I'm very excited about Kate Morton's latest book The Secret Keeper, due to be published later in the year.  

Until now, the cover designs for The Secret Keeper have been a well kept secret, but they've just been released so I thought I'd share them on My Four Bucks.

Which cover design do you like the most? I prefer the green and blue design best, but that's just me. I can't wait to read The Secret Keeper when it's published in October 2012. Will you be adding it to you your TBR pile too?

Carpe Librum!
13 May 2012

Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory book cover
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory is the second book in the Cousins' War series and follows on from my reading of The White Queen which completely swept me away a few weeks ago, earning the novel four stars here on Carpe Librum.

The Red Queen of the title is Lady Margaret Beaufort, devout from a very young age she takes pride in her saints' knees, calluses on her knees from the hours spent in prayer on hard surfaces.  Pious and determined to devote her life to God and be as influential as Joan of Arc, she is horrified when her Mother tells her that her lineage as descendant of Edward III and her being a girl means she has no choice but to be wedded and bedded, her sole duty to produce an heir for the throne.

Her dreams of being an Abbess now destroyed, Lady Margaret marries Edmund Tudor and gives birth to Henry Tudor at the tender age of just thirteen.  She is lucky to survive the birth at all; at one point the mid wives even toss her in a blanket ten times making her vomit.  The birth is so hard on her little body she will never be with child again.

The houses of Lancaster and York both fight for the throne and Lady Margaret plots for years to place her son Henry Tudor - in exile for most of his childhood - on the throne for the House of Lancaster against Elizabeth Woodville aka The White Queen and her King Edward IV and later against King Richard III and the sickly Queen Anne Neville.

Lady Margaret is punished for a failed uprising and we experience her hopes, disappointments, plans for rebellion, secret alliances and historical events from the Red Queen's perspective this time; whereas in Gregory's previous novel The White Queen, we viewed this dangerous and exciting period in history through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville.

Lady Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville were both powerful women in their own right although incredibly different from each other; Lady Margaret was pious and devout with a lineage directly from Edward III whilst Elizabeth Woodville was a commoner, a widower prior to marrying the King, a fertile woman of infinite beauty and reputed to be the daughter of a witch.

I thought it would be difficult for an author to write a book and character that was at such odds with their previous heroine so to speak, nevertheless, Philippa Gregory was able to remain unbiassed and create two completely different voices, overlapping in time and place but without favouring one or the other.  Quite a feat of writing actually.

Historical fiction is my favourite genre and I'm excited to say that I've found my new favourite author in Philippa Gregory!   The next in the Cousins' War series though is The Lady of the Rivers, which is the story of Elizabeth Woodville's mother Jacquetta.  And after that she has a back catalogue of 20 books for me to choose from, phew!  Do you have any recommendations?

My rating = ****1/2

Carpe Librum!
04 May 2012

Dark Tower series has arrived!

The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
Last week I won the Hachette Australia competition on Twitter, and was the lucky recipient of Stephen King's entire Dark Tower series!

Well, today my books arrived and I just had to take a photo of them all.  The spines look so beautiful lined up next to each other, don't you agree?  The last one you can see on the end is the most recent of the series, The Wind Through The Keyhole

This is my best competition win ever and I'm looking forward to reading them all.  A huge thank you to Hachette Australia!

That's my four bucks!