The Elephant by Peter Carnavas

Published: 3rd July 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 University of Queensland Press
Pages: 180
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Olive’s father has a sadness so big that she imagines it as an enormous elephant following him around. Every day Olive sees the elephant, and every day she wishes it would go.

With the help of Grandad and her best friend, Arthur, Olive sets out to chase the elephant away.

Just reading the blurb of this book made me instantly want to start reading it. It’s the story of a girl called Olive who lives with her dad and the elephant that follows him around. Olive is tired of seeing the looming elephant near her father, she is tired of seeing how it affects him and how it makes him forget about her.

I loved seeing how Carnavas explores Olive’s different relationships. I loved seeing her interact with her grandad, how he treats her and takes her on special adventures. I also actually really loved when Olive tries to be with her father. She’s always hopeful, always trying to get him to see her through the elephant.

There was one part that I thought really summed up the experience of depression and grief very well: “[Olive] longed to share it all…In the end, she said nothing because her father would never listen – really listen – with the elephant beside him.” I felt that this part portrayed the relationship Olive and her dad have. He doesn’t ignore her; he just can’t be there in his entirety for her because his sadness is too great, it overwhelms him.

This book is ideal for kids who need help understanding depression or how grief can affect the people around them. This isn’t a book that explains what depression or grief is or how it is treated, it doesn’t explicitly try to be either, but it is a story about a girl who lives with a dad who is sad all the time and can’t always be there for her.

There are some beautiful moments in this story and there’s a lot of wonderful surprises as well. I love Olive’s imagination and her creative mind, and I love Carnavas’ illustrations that fill this special book.

You can purchase The Elephant via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia | Publisher

Amazon | Fishpond

Book Depository | QBD | BookWorld

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The Martian by Andy Weir

Published: 28 October 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Random House
Pages: 387
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. 

After a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

I love this book. I knew before I started I would love this book. It’s funny and clever, and I love it. You don’t need to know anything about space or Mars or NASA because Weir writes in such a way that it is all official and practical, but it isn’t bogged down the technical language. You know what is happening at all times and it makes you amazed. This is helped along by Watney’s logs, he is a character who is fun and light-hearted so he makes jokes, and enjoys himself, even when he is in dire situations.

The events in the novel take place over a couple of years, switching between Mars and Earth. The book starts right in the middle of crisis mode on Mars. Watney is presumed dead and the team have left him behind. From there we see his struggle to survive and eventually we get to see their journey home with the knowledge he’s died and can’t be brought home. Watney is the main narrator, he gets first-person control. But there’s ample third-person narration that comes in a few chapters in where we see the NASA side of things and how various characters contribute and are dealing with the Mars Situation. I liked the characters Weir compiled to create his not so distant future NASA (the year is never actually stated but it can be worked out and the answer is online). They’re clever and tough and take no backchat. But they’re also good at their jobs and excited about what they do which makes it fun for the reader to experience alongside them.

One criticism: Didn’t like Annie. I know we don’t have to like all the characters but she actually didn’t come across as A Character We’re Not Meant To Like. She was fine until she started making fun of the ‘nerds’. Really Weir? Are you telling me, NASA’s Director of Media Relations would be making fun of the NASA scientists for liking LOTR? The brilliant NASA scientists who are working on saving a man left on Mars? Is Annie just some random reporter who likes making fun of “nerds” despite them being in NASA herself and who deals with important things like sending people to space. Is that a nerdy thing? I don’t know. I have steered this off the review but it annoys me so much that we still feel the need to make these jokes in movies and books. Can we never let go of the stereotype of making fun of people for liking things other people deem uncool? Anyway, rant over. Back to the awesome book which is awesome despite Annie. (Also it’s very hard to emphasise the importance of NASA when it is already in capitals).

What I also loved about this was nothing was rushed. You see Watney’s full time on Mars albeit a few months here and there. You see his slow progress working things out and taking the time to travel outside the HAB. None of it drags out, because Weir needs to explain Watney’s process makes it seem plausible, and because it’s Watney it’s fun and interesting and hilarious. No kidding, there is so much humour in this book it’s amazing. I predominantly chose to read this book because of one hilarious snippet I saw posted online and that got me in (the biggest outrage was this scene was not in the movie!). Watney tells his story through journal entries which vary in length so you will get an entry of a few pages or you may get one a few paragraphs or one line. It really mixed u the flow of the story and breaks up the story nicely into these snippets of events and times when things happen.

You would think that having to describe the day to day goings-on would be tedious and repetitive, but it isn’t. Weir balances it out perfectly. We root for Watney and his struggles. We see him succeed and we see him fail. Weir makes us enjoy checking in on potato crops and solar panels because of the environment it is happening in. We’re enjoying seeing Watney succeed/struggle, but we are also fascinated that it’s happening at all. I could not fault this book. From beginning to end it was wonderful. I adored the ending and Weir never takes his foot off the pedal when working out logistics of everything while still making it enjoyable and understandable.

I genuinely could have started this book again the moment I finished. Instead, I watched the movie and marvelled how actually very true it was to the book. They included all the important points and any minor changes made no real difference whatsoever. It’s one of the better film adaptations in my opinion. This does account for the 2.5 hour runtime though.

If you do see the film instead of reading the book I suggest you read it as well. You miss out on some of the hilarity and Watney ruling Mars by himself is a delight to behold on the page.

You can purchase The Martian via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Wordery | Book Depository

Fishpond | Amazon

10 Years of NaNoWrimo

It’s the night before NaNo (Oh my god it’s the night before NaNo!), and I thought since this will be my tenth year participating I would honour the occasion by looking back at my previous NaNo years. I first heard about the National Novel Writing Month in 2008 from a friend at Uni and made the last minute decision on 31st October to sign up and participate. I remember being so worried about not reaching the 50k goal my first story had 4000 words just on a lady vacuuming her house. I have since learnt my lesson and trusted my story will stretch without the inane fillers.

I have been lucky enough to reach the 50k goal each year, mainly I think because I couldn’t stand it if I didn’t. I’ve had a few years where I have been well behind, well behind, and had marathon word count days to catch up. In 2013 I had to write 12 800 words on the final day to make my goal. It was probably the most stressed I have ever been for NaNo. I finished at 11:56pm, uploaded and verified with minutes to spare. I had been counting down the clock for the final 24 hours and had 15k to write in that time. It didn’t help either that that particular year was tough because while I’d loved my story idea, after the halfway point it was like pulling teeth.

I also finished with 45 minutes to spare in 2015. That wasn’t a tough year story-wise, I quite enjoyed it. The main rule to remember is as long as you get 50k by the 30th, it doesn’t matter when you hit each word count goal. In 2014 I didn’t get 25k until the 22nd and yet by the 30th I had my 50k. I’ve also started one week in on numerous occasions when I was still at uni, sometimes even two weeks in. The delightful year was when I had to do the two side by side and was trying to do NaNo and assignments alongside one another. Fun times.

My best and the most favourite year was in 2012 where I smashed the 50k and wrote almost 60 000 words, exceeding the daily word count every single day. I went back and worked on this story again last year, adding another 25k whilst writing a short story collection alongside it. I plan to do the same again this year, it’s definitely the story I want to finish and refine out of all I’ve written.

There is a wonderful thrill about doing NaNo. I love the prospect of diving into a fresh new story, discovering where it will go and realising more often than not how unprepared you actually are. And knowing you are doing it alongside millions of people around the world is a great comfort. There’s a resource right there for guidance and support, people who know what it is like.

My favourite thing on the website is the personal stats. Not only do you get the usual per day ones once the event starts, you also get the Expected Finish Date, which in the past has often said mid March the following year when I’ve been quite behind. I also love the new one which tells you the Total Word Count of all your NaNo pieces. It makes you feel rather proud when it tells you you’ve written over 465 000 words.

Ten Years of Genres

I have written many types of stories for NaNo, I’ve liked writing all of them, but some I pulled off better than others.

2008: Mainstream Fiction
2009: Satirical
2010: Romance
2011: Historical/Family Saga
2012: Mainstream Fiction
2013: Historical
2014: New Adult
2015: Fantasy
2016: Short Stories
2017: Mainstream Fiction

I couldn’t really say which one I liked better in terms of genre. Fantasy was fun, but historical was as well. And Mainstream is easy because there’s technically less you have to research when it’s all right in front of you and not 80 years ago or locked in your imagination.

 

Advice

I can’t go on about being part of NaNo for ten years without leaving you with advice for first-timers.

  1. Quantity over quality

Resist the urge to edit. It will be hard, I know the pain of wanting to get a scene/paragraph/sentence just right, but this is not the time. There’s a strong chance the entire page and the three before it will be scrapped in the second draft, so don’t waste valuable time critiquing what you have. Just get it on the page; the time to edit is December 1st.

  1. Use the Forums

They are a brilliant resource for inspiration, challenges, distractions, or self-promotion. I have used the forums numerous times over the year for title ideas, shout outs for personal word count goals, or just for some fun games to relax. You can talk through problems or discuss non-Nano things as well. There’s groups for other people in your area too so you can have some nearby support, and there’s always someone willing to help.

  1. WriteOrDie is a gift from the writing gods

It is your friend, your saviour, and a god among writing programs. My love for this online resource knows no bounds. It has helped me through every single one of my stories. It helps you push through the urge to stop and think by punishing you if you pause to long. It also makes me think on my feet and actually makes ideas flow much better.

  1. Reward your achievements

They don’t have to be big. Have a chocolate for hitting the daily word count. Hit a personal goal? Reward yourself. Motivate yourself to keep going; it will be amazing how much you can get done when you add up the little goals you’ve set during the day or the week.

  1. Listen to all the advice out there.

There are always tips and tricks for doing NaNo. The NanoWriMo Twitter is always offering advice and doing writing challenges to help the word counters rise. There are professional and published authors out there who still do NaNo, they have advice as well on how to keep going when it seems like you’re at a loss.

  1. Don’t Worry if You Don’t Reach 50k

And last of all: don’t worry. If you don’t hit 50k, that’s fine. You still tried. And maybe next year you’ll get closer. Remember that whatever you ended up with is more than what you had in October, and it’s a start onto something amazing. Be proud of what you are doing. Not everyone is trying to write a novel in 30 days.

Good luck to everyone who is participating in NaNo, whether you are seasoned or diving in for the first time.

The Muse by Jessie Burton

Published: 26th July 2016 (print)/26th July 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Picador/HarperAudio
Pages: 445/1 disc – 12hrs (MP3)
Narrator: Cathy Tyson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

A picture hides a thousand words…

On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn’t know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences. 

I actually read this before I read The Miniaturist and since I didn’t like that, I wonder if I would have picked this up. But since I read it before I eagerly took it up and actually rather enjoyed it. It was steady, not obviously exciting or adventurous, but it was interesting and dramatic in its own way. There was a lot of focus on the characters and their interactions with others to create the drama rather than needing too much outside influence, despite the civil war looming in the background in the 30s, which I must say did add its own tension and a wonderful historical reality.

The story has a dual timeline which switches between 1960s London and 1930’s Spain, a connection between the two we’re not sure of until a painting arrives at the gallery where Odelle Bastien has begun working. Burton switches between the 1960s and the 1930s beautifully, mixing the stories together and revealing what needs to be told at the right times, holding back when needed.

I liked that Burton gave us a few intriguing mysteries to ponder. I had theories about them and changed and altered them based on what happened in the story. Of course, some were predictable in hindsight, but there was always a slight chance that I was wrong, and I guess when I had a bet on either side I was going to right either way. I loved Odelle as narrator. I listened to the audiobook so Tyson did a beautiful accent which brought Odelle to life. But even without that, Odelle is a great character, she is a smart, sensible woman, she has pride and respect for herself and while she is a bit timid at times, she is also loyal and curious. This curiosity gets her involved with her employer and starts her on her own investigation into why there are so many unanswered questions and mysteries surrounding not only her employer but also this new, important painting.

There are many intriguing characters in this story. Isaac Robles and Olive Schloss are complicated in their own ways, as is Teresa. The pressure of their era and the secrets that they must keep haunt them and Burton brings this out in their words and their actions, making each one complex and full. The tone changes between each era are subtle but make a huge difference. Burton doesn’t just tell us we’re in the different decade, her writing has a different tone to it that feels freer or more confined, depending what is needed.

I enjoyed where this story went, I became more invested as it went along in both Odelle and Olive’s storylines. I wanted to know the answers as much as Odelle did and I was curious how Burton would approach their reveal. What resulted was a captivating story with twists and turns that actually did surprise me at times. I loved the chaos of the characters and the human motives behind decisions that alter paths completely.

I found myself wanting to keep going, I looked forward to getting back into the story, and with a curiosity of my own I wanted to see how it ended. Burton has created a story that will delight and surprise you in a multitude of ways. It has great a great historical presence across two defining eras of the 20th century, which has been coupled with fascinating characters that bring their own dramas to the page. Even if you weren’t a fan of Burton’s other work (as I wasn’t), give this story a go because it might just surprise you.

You can purchase The Muse via the following

QBD | Booktopia
Amazon | Wordery
Book Depository | Dymocks

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Published: 3rd July 2014 (print)/26th August 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Ecco/HarperAudio
Pages: 416/1 disc
Narrator: Jessie Burton
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Magical Realism
★   ★  – 2 Stars

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s life changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways…

Johannes’s gift helps Nella pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation…or the architect of their destruction?

I’ve given it two stars, but by the end of it I wanted to give it 1.5. I was told this was a brilliant read, I did not find this. I persevered and hoped for something to come of it. And not only did I get no real answers, the ending was unsatisfactory and I feel a bit cheated. I don’t know whether this has to do with the magical realism side of the story, but I wasn’t a fan.

The beginning started out ok, after a prologue from an unknown voice we’re introduced to Nella and her arrival at her new life. We’re thrust into Amsterdam in the 1600s and all its glory. Burton makes it easy to understand while still having the gravitas it needed and the seriousness to understand Nella’s predicament, and her style of writing feels like it suits the era and is easy to comprehend.

I settled into the story and got used to Nella and the other characters. I was intrigued, I was curious. It does start to go a bit stale and as part two hit I was weary but something finally seemed to be happening. This didn’t last though and the story dragged on. I think Burton tried to include too much. There’s the historical story happening with sugar, plus a lot of religious elements and political components. On top of that is Nella’s place and the mystery of the miniaturist. It makes for a heavy story and one that takes a lot of pages to tell.

Some parts were predictable and it was a case of waiting for the book to catch up with what you already suspected. Other times it felt like every second chapter had a typical twist of some kind and it got to the point it was just “Oh, another twist, sure, why not’. I will give Burton some credit, she actually followed through on a few things I thought she wouldn’t, that impressed me. But in doing that she also added to the unsatisfactory feeling and the sense that while some things appeared to be resolved, nothing felt like it was. We’re left hanging, not even with a sense that we understand how things would keep going, an abrupt finish that doesn’t answer anything.

I found that I wanted to get to the end without reading the middle. I figured I could ignore this middle part and just see what happens and get the answers to the big questions that Burton keeps raising. I wanted to get to the end to find out what the whole point of it was and found nothing but disappointment. It was anticlimactic after the [supposed] build up and it felt flat.

I’d been looking forward to reading this for months and had it praised and recommended to me by a few people so I was eager to see what it was like. Not to mention the beautiful cover. To come out the other end with meagre enthusiasm is a sorry state to be in.

You can purchase The Miniaturist via the following

QBD | Booktopia

Amazon | Wordery

Book Depository | Dymocks

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