I Don’t Believe in Dragons by Anna Walker

Published: 18th October 2010Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Scholastic
Illustrator: Anna Walker
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★  – 2 Stars

When kindergarten teacher Miss May tells her children she sees a dragon, the children react if different ways. Some are intrigued, some surprised, some scared. But Jack says he doesn’t believe in dragons. When Emma wonders where the dragon is, Jack reminds her there isn’t any such thing. When Ned finds a feather and asks if dragons can fly, Jack assures him it’s a bird’s feather – nothing to do with a dragon. And what about that snoring sound? Not a dragon, insists Jack. So do dragons really exist?

I picked this one up because the cover was adorable, and while the story didn’t quite hold up to the same standard, it was a nice story all the same.

In a reverse Pete’s Dragon situation, everyone believes in the dragon that teacher Miss May can see, everyone except Jack. It is a sweet story as the children theorise about what the dragon likes to do and eat, accompanied by Walker’s illustrations. The illustrations are quite cute and are the part I liked the most. The dragon is drawn simply, as are all the illustrations, in a colourful, rough design. I’m not sure what appeals to me about the dragon but I really enjoyed the design, it does remind me of the Pokémon Dragonite just more beige.

I liked Walker’s creativity with the illustrations, she manages to create pictures that allude to a child’s imagination but also have the possibility of being real. The colours are soft and the lines are rough but that only adds to the gentle nature and the magic of having a dragon hanging out at your school.

I ended up admiring the drawings because while the story starts with promise, it falls flat after a while. The story isn’t too engaging, but it’s cute so I’m sure kids can enjoy it all the same. With a few more pages there could have been a conclusion or any kind of recognition about what seeing the dragon actually meant and how Jack who’s been a buzzkill to everyone else about their belief, has a change of heart and finally learns to believe.

You can purchase I Don’t Believe in Dragons via the following

Fishpond | Amazon Aust

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Published: 1st April 2013 (print)/1st April, 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Perennial /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 416/11 Discs (13 hours 49 minutes)
Narrator: Caroline Lee
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died…

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves.

Note: Possible spoilers ahead, maybe

Liane Moriarty and I have a strange relationship. My affection for her books can vary depending on the story and this is one of those books were my affection was waning. Which is a shame because I can see what Moriarty was trying to achieve, I just felt that it could have been a lot stronger in the execution.

There are multiple characters telling this story, their stories happening side by side until their threads start coming together. In terms of style, the writing is clever, small discoveries and snippets of information means this mystery is a slow reveal and characters know more than the reader so all we can do is wait until their secrets are revealed even further. The contents of the letter are the driving mystery in the start and when the contents finally come to light, the consequences unfold through the remaining chapters.

We get to know these three women that this letter will affect and as we delve deeper into their own personal lives and histories there is a lot to take in. The connecting moment between the three takes a while, and in that time you have to retain a lot of information and remember who’s who and where they fit in connection to others. Cecelia still felt like the main player in this story, though the others get their share on the page, whether it was because it all came back to Cecilia’s family it felt that way, or maybe I just liked Cecilia’s character and her story stuck with more than the others.

There is an element of tragedy and certainly an irony which would suit any crime show these days. I found it was predictable and drawn out without the real interest to sustain it, but I admired Moriarty’s attempt to create such a story and to invoke these dilemmas from Cecilia and the other characters. The question of what would you do if faced with these decisions was the goal for the reader, to make us think and challenge our own conceptions. I can’t say I thought about what I would do but I disagreed with the ending so maybe that’s my answer?

I won’t go into detail but there was a line in here that hit me that I need to take about. I was listening to this as an audiobook and even after the secrets have been revealed and it’s gone in a few unexpected and expected ways, there came the line “I loved her, then she laughed at me”. This line stood out to me so much, because it’s The Line. The Margaret Atwood line about men laughing and women being murdered. Moriarty’s book didn’t seem to have the right severity to have a line like this in it. It was filled with grief and drama, but it never seemed severe.  That is the tone this book could have gone with, this tragedy and secrecy could have been made to have a greater impact, instead it falls flat and with an ending which I couldn’t get behind and one I felt was a strange solution to the characters we’d been following for the entirety of this book.

You can purchase The Husband’s Secret via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

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

Chasing Odysseus (#1) by S. D. Gentill

Published: 1st March 2011 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pantera Press
Pages: 353
Format: ebook
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Weak-eyed Hero is the beloved daughter of Agelaus, a Herdsman of Mount Ida, which looms over the fortified citadel of Troy. Hero, raised under the gentle hand of her father, in the protective company of her three wild, but noble, brothers, is ruled by a fierce piety, and tormented by her Amazon heritage. 

The Herdsmen of Ida hold a sacred trust. Throughout a 10-year Greek siege, they have been feeding the citizens of Troy using the secret tunnels that run beneath the fortress walls. Faithful and fearless, they traverse the ancient passages that only they know. Now Troy has fallen, and despite having led the survivors out of the carnage, the Herdsmen are falsely accused of betrayal. 

Agelaus is murdered by the anguished Trojans. The Herdsmen find themselves hated and hunted by both the Greeks and their friends, the people of Troy. They are forced into hiding, labelled cowards and traitors. Desperate to free their people from the stigma of treachery, young Hero and her brothers accept a magical ship from Pan, their beloved woodland god. They chase after Odysseus, the strategist of those who laid siege to Troy. Only he can explain how the Greeks entered the city, and in doing so cleanse the Herdsmen of the stain of treachery. 

I have wanted to read this book for ages and totally forgot I’d gotten a copy from NetGalley (bad reviewer!). What I found though when I did start reading it, was that it was quite underwhelming. I had been so intrigued by this book for ages and heard good things that I genuinely thought I would enjoy this more than I actually did. I like Greek mythology and I like The Odyssey but while this had familiar characters and references, it did not hold my interest. I found myself skimming just to get through faster.

The story begins up in the mountains that overlook Troy with the herdsman Agelaus and his four children; Hero and her three brothers, Machaon, Cadmus and Lychon. We are introduced to their lives as the Trojan War enters its tenth year and we’re shown what life has been like for those outside the city. We learn early on of Hero’s heritage as an Amazon and how she was rejected by them and left with Agelaus because of her poor eyesight and she is adopted into his family.

The main story kicks off with the fall of Troy and Agelaus is accused of being a traitor who helped the Greeks raiders get into the city. This of course sparks outrage and backlash and it falls on Hero and her brothers to clear the name of her father and discover how the Greeks breached the walls of Troy. This of course means chasing after Odysseus in an effort for him to reveal how he got into the city.

The premise of the story seems intriguing enough, but it is the characters that I feel let it down. I didn’t like Hero as a character. I kept waiting for her Amazonian heritage to come into play and have her be some mighty force, even with her poor eyesight. Instead she is subdued and focuses more on praying to the gods than doing much in terms of helping. Her brothers constantly mock her for her devotion to the gods, and I will say I did like the reminder that just like the present day, not everyone believed in the gods. Her brothers aren’t that interesting either. They all kind of mixed into one another and I didn’t feel connected to them at all.

As for the story, I was intrigued by the premise but it just seemed so strange and mediocre. Gentill does well to reference the original story of The Odyssey, following Odysseus after he ransacks Troy and all the places he visits, but aside from that familiarity I wasn’t that interested. Nothing seems to happen, following after Odysseus isn’t very captivating and even though Gentill tries to add danger and suspense, my lack of interest in the characters didn’t make me concerned for their safety or success and following an already established story didn’t add any real mystery as to what might happen next, probably not in the way Gentill expected it to.

There are heartfelt moments and sad moments which tries to give depth to the narrative, but not executed well enough to feel substantial in my opinion. This is only the first book in a trilogy so it is highly possible all the characters will get some kind of development and growth as the story progresses. The only problem with that though is my interest hasn’t been piqued enough in this book to want to keep going with the series.

You can purchase Chasing Odysseus via the following

Booktopia | Dymocks | Fishpond

QBD | Angus & Robinson

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: 6th March 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 W. W. Norton & Company
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin through their upheaval in Ragnarok. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki son of a giant blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose, these gods emerge with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

I know that this is a Neil Gaiman book, and Neil Gaiman is a great storyteller, this time, however, I can’t say that is the case. I loved his work for younger kids, Coraline and The Graveyard Book are amazing. But this…it was boring. It was dull and read like an information dump and I couldn’t get into the “story”. I’d read Gaiman’s introduction and heard all the praise from reviews and readers and I was ready to be taken into this world of mythology alongside Loki and Thor and all their misadventures.  I wanted to be thrown into this world and be captured by their charm and cheek and might. But there was none of that. It was dry and needed a bit more substance to make it less like a textbook of names and facts.

I’m sure this was not Gaiman’s intention, mythology doesn’t need to just be “this god did this and then that happened and then this other god did this” which is how this felt for me reading it. A bit of interesting and creative storytelling could have been included to make it read more like a story without losing the well known mythology. I wasn’t expecting it to read like The Odyssey or anything like that, I didn’t need poetic verse, but I thought Gaiman could have made it more seamless and natural, more of a novelisation of these myths. This was not a story, nor was it even a bunch of short stories. It was a weird experience and one that I grew to dislike very early one.

Now, I will admit some parts were funny. I did laugh at a few scenes and lines, and in the end I had learnt things I hadn’t known about Norse mythology. The problem was that by the midway point I was losing interest and resorted to skimming a few stories and going back in for the final few chapters. The disappointing thing was that nothing much of the stories was lost on me since the book just had key points listed one after another I could get the gist of what I needed to learn and the story that was trying to be told.

The final chapters were interesting, Ragnarok being a hard thing to really ruin, but it was the same style of writing that failed to grab me. I chose to focus instead on looking at the bigger picture and thinking back to the entire story as a whole and making my own story and connections to bring the entire mythology to an end. Something maybe Gaiman could have done a bit better himself.

You can purchase Norse Mythology via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks | Booktopia

Amazon | Amazon Aust 

World of Books | Fishpond | Angus & Robertson

QBD | The Nile

 

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