A mid-year book review – Part 1

Today marks the midway point of the mid year school holidays and I thought now was a perfect time to review what I’ve been reading.  Sadly, there have been times when reading for pleasure has been pushed aside for school work, uni work or just work in general, but I can’t live like that for too long so it always comes back to the front eventually.

I’m going to be very organised and go in order of how I read them.

1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (the third in the trilogy) – Loved all three of these, perhaps the first more than the other two.  I would highly recommend these to anyone who likes a bit of YA action and have been spruiking them at school often.

2. The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey – ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT!!  This book ruined me for reading for a good few weeks, nothing else came close.  It’s a little like the TV show The Walking Dead, in that there are zombie-type creatures spreading havoc across the world, but this is even more original and the ending was just perfect.

3. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai – Remember the young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for going school and survived.  This is her story, it’s fascinating, but terribly written.  I had so much trouble sticking to this book.  The back story – written by someone else – was way too convoluted, detailed and dull, going way, way back in the history of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it didn’t flow easily with the modern story of Malala.  I felt like there was too much pressure to get her story out quickly – while people still remembered her – but that she was no where near ready to write it.

4. Paradise by Toni Morrison – This was another difficult read one which I was disheartened by.  I’ve had Toni Morrison on my to-read list for ever so my expectations were very high.  This book didn’t live up to those expectations.  It’s premise, race relations flipped on their head, was brilliant and some of the characters were beautifully written and explored, but I was left wondering what the hype was about.  I think I’ll read another one, but I don’t think I’ll ever be singing from the mountain tops about this author the way others seem to do.

5. The Line of Beauty  by Alan Hollinghurst – this book took a while to get into, but is well worth sticking to.  It’s set in Thatcher-era Britain and followings the story of a young gay man, Nick Guest, as he tries to find a place for himself to exist amid the social and political turmoil of the times.  This book opened my eyes to just how hard it must have been for gay men to be themselves and to find space to be couples.  In many ways this is a tragedy, a depressing kind of read, but one that is written with such sublime language and a message that resonates loudly in times when marriage equality is being hotly debated.

6. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – Oh my goodness!  This book!  I’ve put off reading it for so long because I got it into my head that it was going to be too hard going.  And, of course, the premise is extremely hard to come to terms with – a mother dealing with the horrific act of a child and facing her own guilt at having given birth to and raised a person who could do such things – but the writing will sweep you up in a way that makes it near impossible to put down.  A book that challenges our ideas of mothers and sons, of families.  DO NOT read while pregnant!

7. Mother’s Grim by Danielle Wood – what a follow up to the previous book!  This book club read is a collection of short stories each depicting the ‘grim’ life of mothers.  I loved it, others had quite the opposite reaction!  The stories were bleak and often depressing, mothers who had made terrible choices in partners, or who had those choices forced on them.  Mothers who were trapped by circumstance.  This is not an uplifting read, but it is very real.  I had the thought, often, that that could be me if just this one thing happened/changed.  I recommend it warily, read at your own peril.

8. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery – a re-read of a childhood classic.  It’s still a classic.  I just love the world Montgomery creates around her irascible Anne (with an e of course!), the strict but loving Marilla, the dear and kind-hearted Matthew and the loyal-to-a-fault Dianna.  This is one of a very few books that I will come back to all of my life, like a comforting blanket and the smell of home, it takes the hard edges off life just when I need it.

9. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall-Smith – this is one of the many First Ladies Dectective Agency novels, of which I’ve read most.  Set in Botswana with a cast of loveable characters, this is one for a rainy day or relaxing by a pool somewhere warm.  It’s easy to read, light and you can guarantee a happy ending.  McCall-Smith is one of my go-to authors when other reads are still playing on my mind.  It’s pure escapism, nothing to keep you up a night, but a delightful read nonetheless.

10. Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff – this books is like a punch right in the face, leaves your eyes watering and you struggling for breathe.  There is nothing easy about it.  The language is harsh and intense, the characters are often times despicable and the story is one of utter despair (with a little light at the very end).  It recounts the lives of various members of a Maori family living with violence, addiction and poverty.  It’s award-winning for a reason and if you can bare the intensity of it, I would highly recommend it.  But here I will let you in on a little secret, I listened to this one as an audio book.  It was read by Jai La’gaia, and his beautiful Islander voice added something wonderful to this very difficult story.  I’m not sure how I would have coped reading it myself.

Okay this is getting a bit long – so stay tuned for part 2, coming soon.  And as always, feel free to share what you’ve been reading lately too.

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