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Book Reviews: Literature & Fiction


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Company by Max BarryBook Cover of Company by Max Barry

Read by Natalie in 2008

Natalie recommends as a good book, although not as funny as I thought it would be

Stephen Jones is a new employee at Zephyr Holdings - some big corporate company that seems to be quite successful from the outside. However once he's in, he discovers that things are far from normal, with the receptionist earning more than anyone else, the sales reps using self-help books as manuals, a missing CEO and most importantly, no one actually knows what the company does or sells? His investigations which lead him to the missing 13th floor should have gotten him fired, but instead he is promoted and from this he learns what the company is a really about - a giant experiment. This had the potential to be really funny, with loads of references to poor management, higher ups having no real idea and so on. While I did enjoy the book, it was just missing something and didn't turn out to be as funny as I thought.

Max has a website that is dedicated to his other books and even an online game that he has developed.

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo IshiguroBook Cover of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Read by Natalie and Tracy in 2008

Natalie and Tracy recommend this as an interesting and unusual book

Never Let Met Go was nominated as a Man Booker Finalist. This is a very interesting story, set at an exclusive school somewhere in the English countryside. At first we have no idea what this mystery school is or why the children are so protected and the teachers so weird. But if you have seen the movie The Island, you will soon come to realise that these "students" are actually clones bred to supply their "owners" with organs should they ever need them. Despite being allowed out into the real world and even able to form relationships with each other, the children never understand what their role is. They simply accept it as ok when someone has to undergo surgery and don't really question when numerous surgeries ultimately result in that person's death. I did enjoy this book, if that is the right way to put it, but didn't think it held true when the students discovered what they were. I am not sure, faced with the same discovery, that I would be so complacent about what I was and what my ultimate fate would be as more and more organs were taken from my body.

There is now (2011) a movie released on the novel starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly and Andrew Garfield. This is getting a lot of publicity in the UK with a lot of media space and the Guardian had a fantastic interview with Kazuo Ishiguro on 29 January2011. See if you can track it down as you will be interested in how Ishiguro overcame his generations prejudice against sci-fi as a genre and created a fascinating and disturbing book which makes you become aware of your own mortality in a visceral way.

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Headgames by Nick EarlsBook Cover of Headgames by Nick Earls

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy recommends as a light hearted funny read - not sure if it should go into chic lit though.

Okay it seems I am becoming a fan of Nick Earls. He writes books that move with the times and he writes in a likeable style - nothing too thought provoking, hmm sounding more and more like chic lit. This book is about Frank and Philby who meet at a Queensland university. They are total opposites both exactly what the other is not i.e. Frank is ultra-cool and sexy whereby Philby is nerdy and dysfunctional. However they both love sipping Creme de Menthe (well that is something few people would have in common I presume). The book then changes tact and becomes narrated by different characters and how Frank and Philby's friendship grows as they attempt to conquer work and women.

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Sacred Games by Vikram ChandraBook Cover of Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy recommends for another great insight into Indian culture.

This is Chandra's second novel and it is an epic depiction of India and life in Bombay (one of my favourite Indian cities). The hero of the book is Sartaj Singh who is a Sikh policeman, historically known for not accepting bribes, but when his marriage to a wealthy wife collapses, this starts to change and when he is offered a tip-off on the whereabouts of a famous gangster (Ganesh Gaitonde), Singh starts to buckle under monetary problems. The book is full of international espionage, police procedures and a gangster chronicle, but it also brings in some female roles, albeit superficially, but that may be the Indian culture. I did enjoy reading this book, but I think Chandra could have excluded some of the inset chapters, which didn't really add much to the storyline, and it would make it a much lighter (literally) read.

Vikram has a website that provides information, contact details and a listing of publications.

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Lunar Park by Bret Easton EllisBook Cover of Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy recommends it for people who love frantic reads

This is my second Ellis book - the first being Glamorama, which I found totally baffling with the extremely fast paced narrative and movement of the characters. Ellis was the author of American Psycho and is considered to be one of America's most important Generation X or Postmodernist writers, so I thought it would be unfair not to give another of her books a go. The book is about a writer who is haunted by his past and previous literary creations. Strangely is narrated by a Bret Easton Ellis, and Ellis uses initials [BEE] to narrate, this I found extremely annoying and then spent most of book wondering if it was semi-autobiographical. The supernatural creations start to appear at a Halloween Party where BEE's supposed perfect life is starting to unravel. BEE has been married for three months and is the father of two children, one to his now wife from a previous incarnation of his relationship and another who is not biologically his. BEE has not adapted to married life and is also unable to develop any parenting skills and has resorted back to his life of drugs, alcohol and unfaithfulness. The underlying horror story borrowed from various slasher films (Nightmare on Elm Street is a perfect example) and I felt it hard not to wonder if this is just Ellis not facing the demons of her past.

Like Glamorama, this book was extremely fluid, fast moving and egotistical, but I was not able to be absorbed by the characters and fear it may be my last Ellis foray.

Bret Easton Ellis has an authors page at Random House.

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Mother Tongue by Bill BrysonBook Cover of Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy find this disappointing and not in the same category as other Bill Bryson books

Bryson uses this book to look at the English language and explains how different words got into our every day language. He also looks at the other anomalies in the Australian and American varieties of English. Although interesting, it lacked Bryson's wit in his other books and I found it hard to read, taking me weeks with picking it up sporadically.

Bill Bryson has an official website where you can stay up to date with Bill's travels, writings. You can also view excerpts from his books, sign up for a newsletter and join him on Facebook.

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Thank You For Smoking by Christopher BuckleyBook Cover of Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley

Read by Natalie in 2008

Natalie recommends this as a hilarious book. This is a seriously funny book!

Told from the other side by Nick, a tobacco company employee who actually wants people to smoke. He is joined by his partners in crime from the Society for the Advancement of Firearms & Effective Training in Youth (SAFETY) and the National Association of Alcohol Beverages, along with many other non-PC organisations. A fantastic insight into corporate America and the lengths people will go to sell something, even if it's bad for you, and the tactics those opposed to this take. A classic revenge of the nicotine patch if you like! Still, don't expect Nick to discover or redeem himself, but do expect a lot of laughs along the way! There is also an equally funny movie version of this book.

Christopher Buckley has an authors profile at Random House for further information on his current exploits.

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The Glass Palace by Amitav GhoshBook Cover of The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy recommends as an inspiring novel set in Burma

I enjoyed The Hungry Tide so couldn't wait to start this one. It is 1885 and the British are invading Burma. This invasion opens the doors for the poor who could now access previously impossible dreams. Rajkumar is the poor boy who builds an empire on the back of political instability and ensuing social chaos. British soldiers debunk the Burmese royal family and Rajkumar takes one of the young women of the court under his wing. He falls deeply in love and uses his wealth to search her out.

This is a fantastic choice for your book club. If you want some further information and book club discussion questions - check out the OurBookClub Book Club page.

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Second Glance by Jodi PicoultBook Cover of Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

Read by Natalie in 2008

Natalie recommends this as a different type of Picoult book, although I am still not a huge fan.

This was my second Picoult book and I did find it quite different to My Sister's Keeper. This is basically a mystery/ghost story featuring flashbacks to the 1930s as well as the present day. The story revolves around a man who has tried to commit suicide several times, having lost the love of his life, who runs into a decendant of the Abenaki Indian Tribe in the Vermont mountains. Their meeting starts of a chain of events that lead to the eventual solving of an ancient murder. Although hard to get into a first, particularly the flashbacks, I did find this book quite interesting and in the end was excited to see how it all tied together. I thought Picoult did this quite well and the end result was very interesting. Some of the side characters were not quite fleshed out enough though and there were some remaining questions that were not fully answered.

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A Fine Balance by Rohinton MistryBook Cover of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy recommends as a tragicomedy that will have you reaching for the tissues.

This is a beautiful haunting tale of a country in flux. In 1975 Dina Dalal (a Parsi widow) takes in lodgers to help her survive in her dingy flat in Bombay. Her lodgers are Maneck Kohlah who has been sent from his village in the Himalayas to study air-conditioning and refrigeration and two taylors (Ishvar and Omprakash) who are uncle and nephew who have also left their village to seek their fortunes. The four live together and build a friendship that helps to overcome the caste divide. In this era (1975) under the rule of Indira Gandhi who suspended the constitution and India came under a state of emergency, the slums are cleared and a horrific population control method is introduced and the four become entangled in this web. A Fine Balance could easily have become a political diatribe, but Mistry focused on the resilience of the human spirit. The story is not happy and there is definately no feel good ending, but it is realistic and highlights how the human spirit can encounter and overcome everything thrown at it. I have to say that I cried in this book just because of the unjustice that happens to those that are trying to dig themselves out of poverty but are inextricably pushed back into it.

A Fine Balance won Rohinton Mistry the LA Times Prize in Fiction, Commonwealth Writers Best Book of the Year and the Giller Prize. It was also a Booker Prize finalist. Although more importantly in 2001 it was selected for the Oprah Book Club where he earned a huge amount of publicity.

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48 Shades of Brown by Nick EarlsBook Cover of 48 Shades of Brown by Nick Earls

Read by Tracy in 2008

Tracy recommends as a great coming of age book.

This book won Earls the prestigious Children's Book of the Year: Older Readers Award from the Children's Book Council of Australia. Sam must decide: go to Geneva with his parents, or move in with his Aunt Jacq (22 year old and plays the bass), who would you choose. Aunt Jacq of course. It is not all plain sailing and Sam must now negotiate his final year of school and survive in a different home environment. Of course the impact of his aunt's friend Jacq, Naomi, causes him a few sleepless nights.

There is a movie which has a guest appearance by Nick Earls himself 48 Shades of Brown.

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