Penguin Problems by Jory John

Published: 27th September 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Random House Books for Young Readers
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

What?!

Oh, you’re going to read this book? Somehow I seriously doubt that. I bet you won’t even finish reading this flap. 

Don’t worry about it. Why would you want to learn about some penguin’s problems when you have plenty of problems of your own? Just look around. The world’s a mess!

Besides, you probably don’t even like penguins. Heck, I barely like penguins and I am a penguin.

Seriously, I’ll understand if you put the book back on the shelf. Go ahead. It’s for the best. 

I’m sure you’d just get a bunch of paper cuts, anyway. And you’d probably bend the pages. And you’d get your little fingerprints everywhere.

When was the last time you washed those grubby hands of yours? No offense.

Sigh.

Listen: I’m going back to bed. Read, don’t read. Buy, don’t buy. Whatever. 

Just try not to wake me up. 

I’m a light sleeper. 

And I have a lot on my mind.

The first cute thing about this book is the front cover. The second cute thing is the little blurb on the inside of the cover. I was in love with this book before I’d even gotten to the title page to find out what it was even called. The book is in fact called Penguin Problems and it is fantastic! I fell deeper in love with Smith’s beautiful little illustrations, they are simple and yet convey so much at the same time. I felt the hardships of this little penguin and I loved him for that.

The little penguin complains about the cold, about how his beak is cold and it gets dark. He has problems like orca and leopard seals and he doesn’t know who his mum and dad are. I adored this little penguin who complained so much. It is a funny book that make me laugh multiple times. The words are simple but they tell a story and the illustrations make the experience even more fulfilling,

The illustrations are a combination of single images and large full page ones. Smith balances these out wonderfully to match the needs of the story. The single image of a penguin lying on his back on a small mound of snow is the perfect representation for the start of the book.

Another thing I loved about this book is that it doesn’t go where you expect it to. I wasn’t expecting to read about a penguin who hated the cold, and as I read on there were more surprises and by the end even when you think you know where it’s going, you don’t. I loved that in this picture book that has so few words and so few pages that this great little journey could be gone on so successfully and with such wonderful humour and cuteness.

You can purchase Penguin Problems via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

Fishpond | QBD

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Published: 8th February 2018 (print) / 1st March 2018 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Raven Book / Bolinda/Audible
Pages: 512 / 16 hrs and 41 mins
Narrator: Jot Davies
Format:
 Audio
Genre: Historical/Crime
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

How do you stop a murder that’s already happened?

At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.

I loved this book. I loved that I was confused, intrigued, amazed, perplexed. I loved that my brain nearly short circuited as I tried to get my head around what I knew, what clues I should be picking up on, weaving together this story told in fractures and out of order and yet happening all at the same time.

Turton takes you on a journey unlike any before to help solve a mystery like you’ve never seen, I cannot believe this is his debut novel. What he has done is incredibly complicated but brilliant. It’s the desire of every detective to see everyone’s perspective of the moments before a murder and with a mystery and a loop trapping the participants, it is the opportune moment to piece together clues and motives. Don’t let the 500 pages daunt you, it’s an intricately woven puzzle that makes use of the space and has the feel of an old fashion mystery, information obtained through observing and questioning, lurking and snooping, and secret meetings in the library.

I loved the loop. I love anything that has a loop factor. Turton plays with this notion creatively and in an odd way it reminds me of playing a computer game and playing the same levels over and over. The first time around you don’t pick the fruit from the tree and you go on but fail. The second time you pick the fruit and can trade it for information with a villager. Turton has done an exceptionally clever job piecing this together so that the reader has no idea what is going on just like our narrator, but as he learns, we learn and it allows us to start piecing together our own theories and suspect lists.

The benefits of knowing how much longer there is in this book is you are almost giddy with anticipation at what could possibly be left to happen. There is even a moment when you think it’s finally solved but there are 3 hours left on the audiobook and then all hell breaks loose again. It’s divine! I listened to this riveted to my seat, unable to do anything else much because I was captured by this story. I couldn’t even try and figure anything out until a moment before I was told I was wrong because of the beautiful chaos and complexities and intricacies that are seamlessly making up this story that here’s no time to do anything except listen dutifully in astonishment.

Turton makes use of every one of these 500 pages and right up until the final moment there is perfect pacing that is just the right speed and intensity that the scene or the character needed. You could feel what these characters felt, you understood who they were. The ongoing stress and impact of these loops is shown believably and cleverly within the novel in a way that affects the story, it can’t even just be an inconsequential act, Turton makes sure every act that is taken has meaning and an affect somewhere within this house and for its occupants.

I basically stopped doing anything so I could focus on this story, I listened with intensity for the final third of the book unable to stop listening such was the fascination I had developed. I have never read anything quite like this before, similar stories exist for sure, but what Turton has done, mixing these styles together is genius and unique and I loved every second of it. I genuinely cannot believe this is a debut novel and I certainly wait with anticipation what Turton will come up with next.

You can purchase The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository | Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Published: 16th August 2011 (print) / 5th April 2012 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Crown Publishers / Random House AudioBooks
Pages: 374 / 15 hrs and 40 mins
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Format:
 Paperback/Audio
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 

I loved this story. I loved that Wade was able to geek out about his love of videos games and it was a widely supported thing. I also loved how Cline brilliantly and so creatively managed to combine popular culture and video games with a futuristic dystopian setting while also making it feel so retro at the same time.

It was a good move on Cline’s part to establish that Wade was obsessed with all things 80s. It made sense in terms of Halliday and it helped include as many references as possible without needing to explain it to the readers too much. Knowing Wade is the kind of stickler for details and knowing so much, it also made sense to have so many references about every song that plays or game that’s mentioned. The moments of convenience where Wade knows what something is to tell us, the uninformed reader, doesn’t come across as unbelievable because it has been long proven that Wade knows obscure details and is proud of it.

The world and future Cline has created sounds both amazing, terrifying, and also pretty much believable. The detail he included is astounding because so often it doesn’t mean anything but it expands on the OASIS universe or real society just that little bit more. I loved that when Wade was logged into the OASIS you felt like you too were immersed inside the virtual reality and I could easily imagine every move he made inside the system. Cline’s writing explains the futuristic dystopian world wonderfully and creates a vivid image of that society is like at both ends and across the country and how it connects naturally with the OASIS system.

There is everything to love about this book if you like the 80s, or are a fan of videogames. The 80s references are abundant, and the joy in reliving movies and games from a less technological time is brilliant. It gave me a great appreciation of how far videos games have come, even if a few of them were fabricated the familiar concept was there; creating avatars, inventories and points, not to mention the solving of riddles and treasure hunts. The other retro joy was remembering arcade games and seeing familiar games in the spotlight again.

The 2045 setting allowed Cline to take from both worlds, not so far in the future that a focus and having believable knowledge and access to 20th century media wasn’t possible, but also far enough ahead that based on current technology and gaming trends, it is also highly believable that we could get to that stage with minds like Halliday at the helm.

There are a myriad of surprises in this book, you never know what to expect because you don’t know what kind of world Cline has created and when anything is possible inside virtual reality, anything is possible. What I found interesting was that I actually found this quite believable. I could see that if such a system existed that there would be those who would try and monetise it and make it more exclusive. I could also see that when there is a mass fortune on the line people can get desperate.

Cline’s imagination is astounding. He has created a world and a virtual world that brings together so many vast and obscure references that even though I knew only a few, I still loved that they were there. I had so much trust in him that these games and characters existed I didn’t even question it. This is just one of the reasons I loved this book. It is so clever, and the OASIS is such a fantastic world that the inside jokes and references make it a better experience, and the excitement Wade has as he hunts for the egg is shared by the reader. Well, this reader anyway.

It’s not just the references or the structure, the characters he has put into this world make all the difference as well. The development and understanding of online relationships is wonderful and I found myself wishing that such a system like OASIS existed because it sounds amazing. Wade’s online connections as Parzival with Art3mis, Aech, and all the other online avatars demonstrates a great community and allows Cline to show off more of this amazing OASIS that he has created and allows him to show more sides of its functions, away from just hunting for the egg.

I listened to both the audiobook and read the physical book. The audio was read by Wil Wheaton and he did a great job. It was especially more enjoyable because Wil himself is mentioned in the book as well as multiple Star Trek references.  I like to think that even if you didn’t like or play video games or even if you don’t like or understand a lot of the references you would still enjoy this book. It has mystery and suspense, and there are twists and turns and surprises that make it an engaging read. Like a video game there are battles and side quests, and there are levels that you must go through even if you don’t realise it when you read. An important part too is that Cline keeps the timeline realistic, understanding that with all puzzles there can be short bursts and long waits, and Cline fits his story into this mould perfectly.

I think I could go on about this book forever but I won’t. I urge you to read it if it’s something you think you would like, even if you don’t think you will give it a go. It’s an adventure and a mystery and it’s dystopia all in one.

You can purchase Ready Player One via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

QBD | Fishpond | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Angus & Robertson | Wordery

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Published: 25th July 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Tinder Press
Pages: 341
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction Dystopia
★   ★  – 2 Stars

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

I first picked this up because the blurb sounded interesting. I liked the idea of this mystery and what happened at the end of the summer. What suddenly changed for all these girls? However, what I found when I started reading was a strange story that had great potential to be an eerie cult society but still failed to hold my interest. I soon found myself skimming it because while I was intrigued about the mystery when I first picked it up, I wasn’t engaged enough to read the rest.

Melamed tells the story through the eyes of a select few girls. There are chapters devoted to these girls and each of their stories and experiences and they cross over with one another’s lives. They are all widely different from one another, and yet they are similar as well. The overarching nature of their lives a constant reminder and is almost a threat hanging over them.

There’re a few uncomfortable things hinted at but not shown about what happens to these young girls, and the strong cult vibe is a little unsettling, though curious in its own right as most cult stories are. But the problem I found is that while there is a mystery about the whole island and the people within it, and you are following the strange and bizarre lives of these girls over many months, it isn’t a very engaging story to read.

It was curious and odd, which was interesting in its own way, but it also had moments when it was just boring. If you look deep into it there is a strong female power of rebellion and defiance, of a powerful patriarchy and an unease about how and why this entire society even happened. Melamed does tell a good story of joy and freedom, coupled with imprisonment and control. The darkness ever present as the secrets that are untold and the taboo moments are skirted around hang heavy over the vast amount of characters you have to keep track of. And yet, I still had to skim the story because I didn’t really care and these great moments, while recognisable, weren’t compelling.

This duel emotion was perplexing because as I say, on the surface it should be an interesting read, albeit eerie and unsettling. I felt nothing for the characters and I wasn’t interested in what happened to them or what they were going to experience. The few surprises were nice but had no real effect on my reading and I found myself skipping pages just to get further into the story and closer to the end, still not game to stop entirely in case there was some answer or mystery to be revealed because if the mystery hinted at was somewhere in what I had already read, it wasn’t really worth the trouble.

You can purchase Gather the Daughters via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia

Fishpond | Wordery | QBD

Amazon Aust | Amazon

Book Sale Bargains

For the cost of a gold coin donation to local charity Got Your Back Sista, Newcastle City Council had a book sale today where you could take home as many books as you wanted. After tossing up whether to make the trek to see what was on offer, I caved with curiosity and the thought of new books and off I went.

I haven’t gone to a book sale in a while but there was the usual crowd waiting outside the doors, long before they opened, eager to be the first ones inside. When the doors finally did open, I went to the YA section first followed by the children’s books. I snagged a few YA books, some familiar titles, some I hadn’t heard of but by authors I knew and loved so in my bag they went.

Book sales are fascinating things, while I look for books it’s always a curious endeavour to watch people look for their own discoveries. Mothers in particular are non-apologetic in their determination. In the past I’ve seen them devour a box of children’s books and start ripping the tape off unopened ones underneath a table in order to rifle through it. It’s quite admirable really. Eldery ladies are also quite persistent in pushing in to get at what they want. Today the popular items were the non-fiction section with dozens of people circling and rifling through box after box. I stayed away bar a quick walk by and focused on the fiction and the YA.

While there is a lingering sense of urgency in the air, there is also a combined joyful experience as people joke about the amount of paperback romance books available, “all with the same picture on the front” it was remarked to me. It was also good to see the teamwork as people asked what other people were looking for and handing over books when they found something someone was looking for.

With my own determination to systematically make my rounds I was in and out in 45 minutes with three loops of the room and a thorough investigation of all the YA, children, and adult fiction boxes. I had made a promise to myself not to pick up any old book just because it looked good. With those restrictions I still managed to pick up a few good ones, no real gems like the last time I came to this library book sale, but I am happy. In the end my haul was 6 books:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Dark Hollow by John Connolly

The Seal’s Fate by Eoin Colfer

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Loop by Brian Caswell

All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

Now I only have to find room for them on my shelves. That shouldn’t be too hard…I hope.

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