This is the third book I’ve read by this author. I really, really loved “Winter’s Bone” and “Give us a Kiss”, and this one had been sitting on my shelf for ages waiting for the right time. I borrowed it from a friend who had struggled to finish it, but I given how much I’d enjoyed his other books, I was certain I’d enjoy this one as well. This was my 9th book in my five weeks of American literature, and again, I forgot to take a photo of it. Instead, here’s a photo from an incredible lake I went to in Montana.
“Woe to Live On” by Daniel Woodrell is a historical fiction set during the American Civil War around the Kansas/Missouri border. The story is told from the perspective of 16 year old Jack Roedel, the son of Dutch immigrants who has joined his childhood friend Jack Bull Chiles in becoming a Bushwhacker. Due to his heritage, Jake isn’t liked by the other Bushwhackers, but his steely nerves and friendship with Jack Bull Chiles earn him first tolerance then begrudging respect amongst the men. However, as the war progresses, more men die and the violence perpetrated by the Bushwhackers becomes less about Southern values and more about personal gain. Left mostly to himself hiding out one winter, Jake becomes friends with another unliked but tolerated Bushwhacker: Daniel Holt, a free black man. As the season thaws, Jake begins to lose his taste for guerrilla warfare.
Some of the incredible things about the books of Woodrell’s I read prior to this one were his fearlessness in tackling complex social issues, his characters and his unflinching portrayal of pockets of America. So (and I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say this) when I reached a point where I thought that it was maybe going to be an interracial gay romance set on the Southern side of the Civil War, I was so impressed at the bravery of this book. What a premise! What a literary gamble! However, it turns out that this it is in fact not an interracial gay romance. Instead it is much less groundbreaking exploration of the violence and wildness of young men, the futility and hypocrisy of war and the apparent temperance that a family and hearthside brings to one such hot-blooded man.
This is one of Woodrell’s earliest novels, and I think that his later ones are much better crafted. This one just didn’t have either the tension or the punch that I was expecting. While his writing is fine, the characters were pretty beige and despite all the horse-ridin’, gun-totin’, yee-hawin’ action – the plot was really much more of a gentle hill than any kind of great climax. There were so many times in this book I thought that Woodrell was going to take a risk and do something interesting with his characters but he never did. I think history buffs and people who are interested in the Civil War might get something out of this, but for the rest of you: forget this one and go straight for “Winter’s Bone”.
I was in the mood for something fast-paced, and I had this book sitting on my shelf after I picked it up for an easy $2 from the Canberra Lifeline Bookfair. This book has gotten a lot of attention recently after being made into a film, and has been touted as the next “Gone Girl“. Would it match up to all the hype?
“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins is a thriller novel set just outside London, UK. Rachel, a thirty-something woman with a drinking problem, catches the same train to the city, morning and evening. While the rest of her life seems like it’s falling apart, she looks forward to that brief moment twice a day where she can watch a particular blissful couple she’s named Jess and Jason and daydream about their perfect lives. Until one day, Rachel sees something. Something that shatters her fantasy and pulls her back into a world she’s been desperately trying, and failing, to escape with alcohol.
This book starts out strong and kind of fizzles from there. I think there’s no other way about it. The premise of the fleeting glimpse from a train window is a compelling one, and the beginning seems really promising. However, it ends up being like one of those old time cartoons where the scene starts off beautifully illustrated and the further the character walks, the more unfinished the scene becomes until they end up just standing by themselves on a blank page looking admonishingly at the animator.
The characters end up being quite two dimensional (I think only one woman character out of four has a job). The men are kind of indistinguishable, and the amount that the women’s lives seem to revolve around the men is super boring. Opportunities for interesting relationships and characters are lost (I’m looking at you, red-headed cockney train guy). The “twist” is easy to guess. Only one character has any kind of interesting backstory. Even the conversations end up being really repetitive because there’s never really any new information.
I could understand how “Gone Girl” was so popular – it was enthralling and it was an excellent example of the unreliable narrator. This book instead leaned heavily on the concept of unreliable memory and as a result the revelations just felt a lot more unlikely (or uninteresting).
A quick read but by no means an excellent read, this book is exactly OK.
I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the publicist.
“The Beat on Ruby’s Street” by Jenna Zark is a historical young adult novel about Ruby, an eleven year old girl growing up among the Beat Generation in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1958. Living a carefree existence with artist Nell-mom, musician Gary Daddy-o and brother Ray, everything comes crashing down when “the Man”, in the form of a social worker, comes looking for her. Although she tries to comfort herself with her own words and poetry, when she misses out on seeing Jack Kerouac, Ruby worries that her golden birthday coming up in just a couple of days isn’t going to be so golden.
This is a great little story that is really easy to read. In fact, after being invited to come watch my friend play jazz this afternoon, I thought what better place to spend my afternoon reading a book about the bohemian lifestyle than at a quirky live music venue. Ruby is a strong character with the perfect adolescent mix of overconfidence and uncertainty. Although we see the Beatnik scene through her eyes, this book raises some interesting questions about the children who grew up there and the tension between artistic self-interest and acceptable standards of care. Ruby has far more freedom that many children do today, but she also has a lot of uncertainty about meals, schooling and, sometimes, even the location of her parents. The only thing that I was a little disappointed in was the abrupt ending. However, this book does have a bit of a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” feel about it and I think is ultimately meant to just be a glimpse into Ruby’s life.
I really enjoyed this book. A lovely and nuanced little snapshot into a vibrant time in history.
I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the publicist.
“Wake Me Up” is a literary family drama by Justin Bog. Set in Montana, USA in 2004 the story is narrated by Chris, a teenage boy in a coma. As Chris’ body fights to recover from a brutal attack by four young men from his class, his consciousness drifts into the past to observe the events that led up to the hate crime.
I was really impressed by this book. Bog is a beautiful writer with a strong sense of empathy that shines through his characters. The premise is horrific, nuanced and all too realistic. Bog captures the complexity of a family falling to pieces and the damage self-interest can inflict on our closest relationships. Chris is a wry yet relatable narrator – an average kid who shows us both the senselessness of violence as well as the vulnerability of having, or even being suspected of having, an LGBTIQ identity.
This is quite a long book, but it’s an absorbing book, and is definitely about the journey rather than the destination. I wasn’t quite sure about the cover choice, but when I read the story of the painting in the acknowledgements, I actually think it’s perfect.
An engrossing and very relevant story about families, crime and identity.
I’ve been following this graphic novel series (by Brian K. Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples) for a while, so if you want to see what I’ve written about earlier volumes you can check them out here, here and here.
In my last review, I said that I liked Volume 6 a bit less than the other volumes. I’m very sad to say that I think despite starting out all guns blazing, Saga is on a downward trend. If you’re going to kill off main characters, you need to replace them with something of equal or greater value. Unfortunately, I’m just not loving the replacements. It’s such an action-intensive series that, especially with these volumes only coming out every 9 months or so, it’s a bit hard to keep tabs on everything that’s going on. I think maybe it’s also crossed the line from being wild and irreverent to actually quite maudlin.
Anyway, look, I’ll probably keep reading these, but I’ve definitely lost a bit of my enthusiasm after the last couple of volumes. It’s still hard-hitting, but maybe not as fun.
Melina Marchetta has been the trailblazer of Australian teen fiction since the early 1990s, so I was really excited when she came to speak at Muse in Canberra not too long ago. A quietly thoughtful and articulate speaker, afterwards she kindly stayed back to sign copies of her latest novel.
“Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil” is a modern mystery thriller set in France and the UK. Chief Inspector Bish Ortley has been temporarily relieved of his police duties after an incident with a colleague when he gets a disturbing call from an old friend. A bus has been blown up in France and his daughter, who is away on camp, was on it. Pulling himself together enough to drive over the Chunnel, Bish finds out that his daughter was not the only person of interest on that bus. Another teen, Violette LeBrac, is the daughter of the infamous Noor LeBrac who is serving a life sentence for her involvement in a bombing in London many years earlier. When Violette disappears taking another teen with her, Bish finds himself leading the hunt to find her. Along the way, he finds himself forced to face his demons, past and present.
This is an interesting, compelling and relevant story with many, many layers. Marchetta is second to none when it comes to exploring the teenage psyche and she definitely has not lost her touch with the advent of the internet and social media. After writing about the Italian immigrant experience in Australia, Marchetta does a convincing job tackling the Middle Eastern experience in Europe. Her exploration of race is multifaceted and informed, and Bish’s own complex identity is a valuable conduit between two very polarised experiences. Although there were times where I felt the characters were perhaps a little too virtuous, the rest of the story more than made up for it and I found myself staying awake way too late to finish this one.
A cracking read that couldn’t be timed better. Reading this book is like having your finger on the pulse of Europe.