Author Archives: kyliel

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut

Published: 1997

Summary (taken from blurb):
‘Timequake explores what happens to Vonnegut when, in 2001, a ‘timequake’ hits. The universe has a decade of self-doubt, shrinking back to 1991 and forcing everybody to relive the last 10 years of their lives exactly as they had before, but without free will. The same mistakes. The same corny jokes. The same doses of clap.’ James Urquhart, Independent

Comments:
I really tried to enjoy this book, but it was just so disjointed and confusing that I couldn’t really get into it. Part autobiography and part fiction, it’s often hard to tell where fact ends and fiction begins. I know the book is supposed to be this way but, regardless, I struggled with this method of writing.

The basic plot (and I use the term ‘plot’ very loosely) discusses a ‘timequake’: an event whereby the universe shrinks slightly and everyone is thrown back 10 years in time to relive their lives exactly as they happened the first time around. That is, every thought, every action and every word is identical. When the timequake ends and humans are suddenly presented with free will again, most don’t know what to do with it. It’s an interesting premise, but one that isn’t used to great effect. The timequake is more like a thin thread that weaves together some of the thoughts and anecdotes of Kurt Vonnegut, which make up the bulk of the book.

Timequake’s saving grace is that Vonnegut comes up with some absolute gems concerning humans and their environment. Some of his stuff is very quotable (so quotable, in fact, that I forgot to write any down!) I’d only recommend this for the more hardcore Vonnegut fan. Having only previously read Slaughterhouse-Five, I’m not in that camp myself, but Timequake certainly hasn’t put me off reading other works by Vonnegut.

Rating: 6/10

Review by Kylie

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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Published: 2006

Summary (taken from blurb):
Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten. It was once the imposing home of the March family – fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, Charlie, her brutal and dangerous brother, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmaline and Adeline. But Angelfield House conceals a chilling secret whose impact still resonates…

Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield’s past – and the mystery of the March family starts to unravel. What has the house been hiding? What is its connection with the enigmatic author Vida Winter? And what is it in Margaret’s own troubled past that causes her to fall so powerfully under Angelfield’s spell?

Comments:
The Thirteenth Tale is an engaging and atmospheric gothic novel, and Setterfield reveals herself as an excellent story-teller. Having a booklover narrate the story helped me to identify with Margaret, the main character, and there are some lovely insights on reading.

The story is very well developed and the mystery is built up nicely. I wouldn’t say it was suspenseful, but I was kept very interested in learning the outcome, which I didn’t guess beforehand. I like that not everything was resolved, and also that the story had no definite time setting; it helped add to the mystery.

The main problems I had with the book were Margaret’s obsession with her twin, which came on a little strongly, and I also felt that the Angelfield family were a little too unbelievable as characters. They were all so remote as to not even seem human most of the time, and in the time setting that I had concocted in my mind, they seemed very out of place (actually, when I tried to place them at different points in time, they didn’t seem to fit anywhere).

Overall, a very enjoyable book; different and full of intrigue. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8/10

Review by Kylie

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Published: 2005

Summary (taken from blurb):
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. And will become busier still.

By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.

So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

Comments:
What a beautiful piece of work. One of those books that tugs at the heartstrings and reminds you why you love reading so much: for the chance to come across a gem like this every now and then.

The characterisation is brilliant. The characters are so real – they’re unique, flawed and beautiful, and I came to love every single one of them. The narration by Death and all the little asides that came with it is very well done. And it’s interesting how Zusak uses Death to tell us what is going to happen, but manages to do so without lessening the impact of the story in any way.

I could rave about the characters until the cows come home, but I’ll try to restrict myself to a few short points. Liesel is a beautifully charming young girl, and her foster father, Hans Hubermann, is such a wonderful person – the type you wish you knew in real life. I enjoyed the infrequent but invaluable insights into Rosa Hubermann’s real character and my heart broke for Rudy over and over throughout the entire book. Max Vandenburg’s artwork also lent a lot to the book – much more insight is given into his character through his stories and art, all of which was very touching.

I haven’t read a lot in the way of WWII literature so I don’t have much to compare The Book Thief to, but I love that Zusak gives the reader a German perspective of what was happening in their lives.

This is one of the most powerful books I have read in a while and has definitely been added to my list of absolute favourites. A brilliant and very emotional read (I recommend having a lot of tissues handy). Having shamelessly gushed over this book, all that is left to say is that I very highly recommended it!

Rating: 10/10

Review by Kylie

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Published: 1958

Summary (taken from blurb):
It’s New York in the 1940s, where the martinis flow from cocktail hour till breakfast at Tiffany’s. And nice girls don’t, except, of course, Holly Golightly. Pursued by Mafia gangsters and playboys millionaires, Holly is a fragile eyeful of tawny hair and turned-up nose, a heart-breaker, a perplexer, a traveller, a tease. She is irrepressibly ‘top banana in the shock department’, and one of the shining flowers of American fiction.

This edition also contains three stories: ‘House of Flowers’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’ and ‘A Christmas Memory’.

Comments:

Truman Capote is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, and Holly Golightly has to be one of the best characters I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in a book. For such a short story, her quirky character is developed nicely and to great effect. I watched the movie again straight afterwards and thought they did a pretty good job adapting it for the big screen, except the obvious change of the ending (and Mickey Rooney’s character in the movie is a little over-the-top and unncessary, I thought).

The three short stories included in the book were also very enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed A Christmas Memory – a very touching story.

Rating: 10/10

Review by Kylie

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The Graduate by Charles Webb

Published: 1963

Summary (taken from blurb):
‘For twenty-one years I have been shuffling back and forth between classrooms and libraries. Now you tell me what the hell it’s got me.’

That’s how Benjamin Braddock talked when he came home from university. Somehow it didn’t seem to be what his father expected from a college education. And everyone was really appalled when Ben raped Mrs Robinson (that was her story anyway) and ran off with her daughter in the middle of her wedding to someone else…

A brilliantly sordid tale of a young man’s search for identity and a portrayal of the worst-behaved yet most sympathetic anti-heroes of the day.

Comments:
I can’t really make up my mind whether I thought this was brilliant or just good, so I’m rating it somewhere in between. I think in this instance it really helped that I’d already seen the movie, because I was able to picture the actors in the roles and that brought it to life a bit more. If I hadn’t seen the movie first, I probably wouldn’t have been too impressed.

The dialogue comes across as very dry and a little unbelievable. The characters like saying Ben’s name and they seem a little deaf most of the time (‘What?’). And I never quite worked out why Mrs Robinson’s daughter wanted to run off with Ben. He didn’t come off that wonderful or interesting in the story, and there were never any particularly touching moments between them. Once you get past all that though, it’s a very good story and Ben is ultimately a likeable character. He’s just struggling with those big life issues that we all come across sooner or later. Recommended.

Rating: 7/10

Review by Kylie

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Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Published: 1818

Summary (taken from blurb):
Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with the secret of resurrecting the dead. But when he makes a new ‘man’ out of plundered corpses, his hideous creation fills him with disgust.

Rejected by all humanity, the creature sets out to destroy Frankenstein and everyone he loves. And as the monster gets ever closer to his maker, hunter becomes prey in a lethal chase that carries them to the very end of the earth.

Comments (possible spoilers):

I loved this book. It took me a while to get into it (through no fault of the book’s), but once I did I thought it was a terrific read, and not at all what I had expected. I thought the story would dwell a lot more on the creation of the monster itself, but in fact it was more concerned with the consequences of Frankenstein’s actions.
Speaking of which, Victor’s actions often baffled me (for example, when he turned his back on the monster without trying to find out where he went and without considering what he might have unleashed on the world).

I saw a theatre production of The Phantom of the Opera a few nights ago and I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the Phantom and Frankenstein’s monster. Both are shunned by the people who created them, and by society as a whole, through no fault of their own. They yearn to be loved by good people but ultimately their unhappiness consumes them and they turn to a life of violence in the misguided hope of getting what they want. I found it interesting that the people who rejected them were good people, but they ultimately suffered greatly because they were unable or unwilling to look beyond the surface of what they were faced with.

They are both truly tragic tales and I found them to be really heart-rending. Some of what Frankenstein’s monster said really struck a chord with me, and I sympathsised with him a great deal (well, until he became violent). Very, very highly recommended.

Rating: 10/10

Review by Kylie

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The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Published: 1927

Summary (taken from blurb):
An ancient bridge collapses over a gorge in Peru, hurling five people into the abyss. It seems a meaningless human tragedy. But one witness, a Franciscan monk, believes the deaths might not be as random as they appear.

Convinced that the disaster is a punishment sent from Heaven, the monk sets out to discover all he can about the travellers. The five strangers were connected in some way, he thinks. There must be a purpose behind their deaths.

But are their lost lives the result of sin?…Or of love?

Comments:
The story is a philosophical look at why bad things happen to people. I suppose we’ve all wondered at one time or another why bad things happen to other people while we escape unscathed. I like that the questions posed were never really answered. It was left up to the reader to put the pieces together and to decide what it all meant, if indeed it meant anything.

An interesting story. I didn’t love it, but there’s nothing I didn’t like about it really. It was just a bit…meh. As in other reviews I’ve read, I think the book suffers a little from detachment. The characters are given thorough and interesting backstories but I never really felt close to them. That said, there were some lovely quotes on human nature and love, and I liked the interconnectedness of the characters and their lives. A good read, and nice and short. Recommended.

Rating: 6/10

Review by Kylie

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Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Published: 1814

Summary (taken from blurb):
Fanny Price has always felt like an outsider. She was adopted by her uncle as a child and now lives in luxury at Mansfield Park, but doesn’t fit in somehow. Shyer and much sweeter than the glamorous cousins she has grown up with, she feels she can only stand by and watch from the sidelines, never living her own life.

Fanny won’t admit – even to herself – who she really loves. Her uncle conducts the search for a husband as if it were a business deal, and when the time for Fanny to marry comes, will she be handed over on a handshake? Or will she have the strength to make her own mistakes – and finally find true happiness?

Comments:
Another brilliant offering from Jane Austen, although I have to say that it’s probably my least favourite of the four I have read so far. I found all of the characters hard to sympathise with, although I did like Fanny. I can understand why people would think she is a weak character and dislike her because of it, but she reminds me quite a lot of myself, and I don’t necessarily see myself as weak – I can probably understand her motives and feelings a bit better.

As usual, Austen’s writing is beautifully lyrical throughout the book, and interspersed with subtle humour and irony. Another thing I keep forgetting with her books is that everything gets resolved in the last few pages, and they’re usually rapped up very quickly and with little dialogue. Sometimes it’s a little disappointing and you wish she would give as much time and care to the end of the book as she did to the rest.

Nevertheless, a brilliant read and highly recommended.

Review: 8/10

Review by Kylie

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Breath by Tim Winton

Published: 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):
When paramedic Bruce Pike arrives too late to save a boy found hanged in his bedroom he senses immediately that this lonely death is an accident.

Pike knows the difference between suicide and misadventure. He understands only too well the forces that can propel a kid toward oblivion. Not just because he’s an ambulance-man but because of the life he’s lived, the boy he once was, addicted to extremes, flirting with death, pushing every boundary in the struggle to be extraordinary, barely knowing where or how to stop.

So begins a story about the damage you do to yourself when you’re young and think you’re immortal.

Comments:
Breath is a coming-of-age story about the teenaged ‘Pikelet’, who befriends the reckless ‘Loonie’ and their surfing mentor ‘Sando’. Pikelet and Loonie develop a friendly rivalry and push themselves and each other to their physical and mental limits. Under Sando’s watchful eye, they gradually become more daring and take on bigger and more dangerous waves.

While I sometimes found myself getting a little impatient with all of the surfing descriptions, I also got more and more absorbed, to the point where I imagined that I felt a little short of breath at the same time that Pikelet was struggling for breath after getting dumped by a huge wave. The vivid descriptions really enabled me to be there, cresting the waves right alongside Pikelet.

As the story goes along, it gets more and more depressing as Pikelet gets in over his head. Ultimately it’s a story of triumph, but there’s always an underlying current of sadness that permeates throughout the entire book and doesn’t make for a particularly happy read, albeit it’s a very good read.

This isn’t usually the type of book I would go for, but it’s by one of Australia’s most critically-acclaimed authors and I’ve been wanting to read his work for a while. I’m looking forward to more of it.

Rating: 8/10

Review by Kylie

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Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Published: 1981

Summary (taken from blurb):
The game is called Beatie Bow and the children play it for the thrill of scaring themselves. But when Abigail is drawn in, the game is quickly transformed into an extraordinary, sometimes horrifying, adventure as she finds herself transported to a place that is foreign yet strangely familiar.

Comments:
Abigail is an insightful, although not always likeable, teenager who lives in The Rocks, an historic area located next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. While chasing a young girl through the maze and alleys of The Rocks, Abigail finds herself transported back in time over 100 years, to a time when poverty and illness were widespread, and lives were very different. She is taken in by a family and discovers that she must help them to preserve The Gift.

The story is well-written and Victorian-era Sydney is portrayed very realistically (presumably, I wouldn’t actually know having never lived in that time myself!). What I mean to say is, The Rocks are really brought to life. I know the area a bit, which is always an asset when reading. It’s a very interesting place and I’d love to go and retrace Abigail’s steps through the labyrinth that is The Rocks.

I last read this book when I was in primary school, some 15 years ago at least, and I had very vague recollections of it. I think it’s still a common text in most primary schools, and long may it remain that way!

Rating: 8/10

Review by Kylie

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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