Tuesday, 16 February 2016

One In a Million Boy ~ Monica Wood

I'm not a reader of the well-known books in life, per se. I have never read books like Harry Potter, Pride & Prejudice (for zombies, or otherwise), War and Peace, Treasure Island, and other more modern well-known offerings. Sorry. I just never have. This is only to let you know that if I pick up a book to read and manage to finish it, it's because it captured me for some reason and I liked where the author was taking the story.

I haven't read any of Monica Wood's previous titles, so this was my first, and it is due for release this April.

You can read the back page blurb here.

Why did I like this book? Because it was different. The characters are wounded and flawed, and I really like the Dad, Quinn. He is what we call a "battler", one who perseveres through sheer will - if, for no other reason. His motive gains strength through the story as he morphs as an individual. None of the characters are perfect (except maybe the boy), and watching Quinn travel the distance is satisfying because, as you get older, you learn some stuff. If you don't learn life's lessons, you never grow up. Ever.

Quinn truly grows. One of my favourite moments came when he had a moment of personal revelation on David Crosby. When I look back at my earliest encounters with famous souls it is so easy to see how he travelled so far with the impressions he did. It's so simple and so profound, and it's these simple profundities that make a novel really tick.

Ona is one epic lady, and I liked her very much. Her 'task-focused' approach at times reminded me of myself, where I can lose sight of a person because I'm so intent upon my goal. Yet on many occasions, she is so people-focused she forgets everything else. Above all else, I enjoyed her wisdom and perspective, which can only be acquired by living so many years and through so much. Older people are SO cool.

The final chapter was the best by far, and DON'T YOU DARE read it before the rest of the book simply to find out what it says, or else you will ruin its impact completely. To be with the boy, to know his thoughts, it is intimate and beautiful, and this section is done in such a lovely way that it makes the whole unforgettable.

As I said, this isn't my usual story, and perhaps that's much of why I liked it. There was a bit much swearing for my liking and this always makes me hold a story at arm's length. Quinn's encounters and experiences with the Christian boy band are also interesting to me, and I'd be interested to know where Monica wrote from in these sections. Curious...

Yes, I recommend a read. I think this will be a fantastic book club choice that will provide many questions, and I hope it does come with prompts for clubs who like to dissect their reads more thoroughly.

If you're an older soul, I'd enjoy knowing what you think of this one.

Reader copies can look so smart!
The white bit comes off, leaving a completely red book.
How snappy! :)


Monday, 15 February 2016

The Midnight Watch

It was back in year 3 that I first picked up A Night to Remember from the school library when all the other kids were grabbing The Hungry Caterpillar and Dr Seuss. Already, something inside me was drawn to ships, but even more so to the fact that a very large one had sunk whilst brand new, and with so many people on board because of the lack of lifeboats available. So my love for all things maritime was truly sparked, and in this instance, for the Titanic.

People, this was long before the James Cameron movie. It was well before Robert D. Ballard had even found the wreck in two halves on the bottom of the North Atlantic. Most curious to me was what Walter Lord so politely called the "mystery ship" between the Californian and the Titanic. I was too young to discern that such a ship did not exist. The Titanic and Californian were looking right at each other, and in his new novel, David Dyer expands on this intensely.

When our lovely Penguin Rep came by and handed me her stack of new offerings, I quickly laid claim to this one and had it read with equal speed. David Dyer does the story justice. He has clearly sifted through the 1912 transcripts that I became mired in to get to the bottom of what happened, and has accurately gotten beneath the skin of his subjects, translating facts and experiences into the highly readable novel, The Midnight Watch.
Nothing here is overworked. It would be so easy to give main character John Steadman his usual role as Boston American graphic artist-cum-storyteller to the dead, and paint heartbreaking tales of the souls lost. Instead, reporter John digs much deeper when on the scent of something rotten and the effect is profound.
If you are at all acquainted with the wider story of the Titanic, you will know that in addition to the avoidability of the disaster, there was a ship nearby that could have prevented such great loss of life. So why did that ship not respond? This is the question John seeks to uncover as the story breaks and the focus shifts between the saved and the lost. The things he uncovers left me wide-eyed afresh.
John has suffered his own losses, and the novel opens with this background. It's quite unbelievable, and I can imagine weird things like this do exist (weird, like w-e-i-r-d). Then, in 1912 with the awakening of the suffragettes, John is still dealing with his losses while maintaining a good relationship with his daughter, Harriet (she's pretty cool), who is something of a girdle for him (and she would hate my saying that, I'm sure).
What I found to be a beautiful angle was how John voyages to England and (unexpectedly) sees for himself first and foremost, the people, not the story. He's perfect for this task, and the author brings this home so well that you have to pause for thought and let it sink in. This is real.
The biggest moment for me would have to be when John looks into the eyes of Captain Lord. I found him so soulless, as much as I did when still a youngster and reading about him. And by the end of the book I was left utterly shaking my head at this man for the responses he gave and the ones he did not. I dipped my toes back into history and also went in search of images of Captain Rostron of the Carpathia, the ship that did pick up survivors. One thing you will notice as I did: Rostron is frequently smiling, where Lord is not.
Wonder why that is.
This weekend I'm attending the Perth Writer's Festival, and am deeply looking forward to hearing David Dyer expound, and to having him sign my copy of The Midnight Watch. I admire anyone who can keep up with this kind of thorough research, and highly recommend you find a copy - Titanic buff or not. It's going to be a provocative read among many ;)
The book that started it all for me.
It was just about the ONLY book I hired from the library!
Kids' books were SO boring ;)
...And I now have a terrible collection of books on the subject. Eeek :)

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek & TJ Mitchell

Impossible! Has it really been this long since I posted? A change of life, scene, EVERYTHING, can have that effect. I seriously have not been able to get in front of my computer for too long, and in fact, most of my friends will be under the impression I'm writing posthumously...

I guess it's only fitting I publish this at long last, and that it's on death.

It's been about seven months since I was able to review a book here, so there's a spot of catching up to do. I've decided to break the drought with something a little different - this book by Judy Melinek and TJ Mitchell, Working Stiff.

One of the benefits of working in a bookshop is picking up damaged copies of books to take home and read that you might not otherwise have picked up because 1) you've already burnt the budget with buying too many books, or 2) you have time to peruse it during lunch hour when the pace slows down and realise that closer inspection reveals more than you bargained for. Taking home Working Stiff was so worth it.

I read this while moving house and really liked it. If you want to perk up your book club, grab a copy of this one. It is many things (poignant, touching, funny) but never dull. Judy's firsthand point of view takes you straight into where the action happens, and I never felt queasy once (the only times I've felt yuck around blood is in year 5 when Brad Byrne showed me his HUGE skin flap when he bit his tongue playing soccer, and when my eldest lost her first tooth and showed me while I was meeting with a client. Gross). I honestly think just about anyone could read this.

Judy forms a sincere connection with those she talks about, and for better or for worse, conveys her tales with deep respect, right down to dealing with the tiniest remains from 9/11, which makes for very sad, astonishing reading. I loved the medical side to the stories and if you have a natural curiosity about the human body, don't shy away from it in death.

"To confront death every day, to see it for yourself, you have to love the living."

It's always difficult to know what to write in a review without giving everything away, but the above statement sums it up. Facing death not only lets you know you're alive, but you get a chance to marvel at the intricacies of the human body. For as Scripture says, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made". For me, this book thoroughly proved that, and it's lovely to have books that show just how amazing the body is, especially how it behaves in death.

Don't buy it on e-book. Grip the pages as they turn, live the smell of the written word, use a bookmark, AND be alive. This is one for the collection.