The 13-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

Published: 1st September 2011 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Pan Macmillan Australia
Pages: 256
Format: ebook 
Genre:
 Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Who wouldn’t want to live in a treehouse? Especially a 13-storey treehouse that has a bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool, a tank full of sharks, a library full of comics, a secret underground laboratory, a games room, self-making beds, vines you can swing on, a vegetable vaporiser and a marshmallow machine that follows you around and automatically shoots your favourite flavoured marshmallows into your mouth whenever it discerns you’re hungry.

Two new characters – Andy and Terry – live here, make books together, and have a series of completely nutty adventures. Because: ANYTHING can happen in a 13-storey treehouse.

I have been meaning to read this series since it came out and I finally have gotten around to it. I have to say, tiny bit disappointed. It wasn’t the story I was expecting it to be. Not that I really know what I expected it to be.

We are introduced to Andy and Terry, book creators, friends, and treehouse roommates. We are also introduced to their magnificent 13-storey treehouse. It has all sorts of fun things like a bowling alley, shark tank, laboratories and fun inventions. It has very little text and lots of grand and intricate pictures, especially of the treehouse.

Andy and Terry are the odd couple, Andy wanting to write the book for their publisher and Terry keeps having wacky adventures and causing havoc. Fun and silly, not altogether unenjoyable, but it didn’t feel like a story.

It’s a book that breaks the fourth wall, mocks itself and the creators. It’s silly and clever, and certainly a book I can see kids loving. It’s imaginative and nonsensical, absurd and unexplainable which is always fun, but it was just a bit dull, well not dull but lacking a decent narrative.

I dislike when I’m not a fan of books like this, acknowledging they are not for my age, but still disappointed I couldn’t enjoy them regardless. I suppose if I look at this as the start of any other series it is one where we introduce characters, have a little beginners story before kicking it off in the remaining books. With so many yet to read I feel that may happen but I’m not sure. I will be sorely disappointed if they were all like this, I had hoped to read this series and love it.

You can purchase The 13-Storey Treehouse via the following

QBD | Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Bookworld | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Wordery | Publisher

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Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Published: 26th July 2016 (print)/20th July 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Flatiron Books /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 415/15 discs
Narrator: Caroline Lee
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

First of all, let’s all rejoice, I have read a Moriarty book I didn’t dislike! It was interesting, it had characters I liked and who were interesting, and there was a good plot that had purpose and flow.

After a few unenjoyable books by Moriarty I was worried going into this but it surprised me. The classic “I’m not going to tell you what I’ve been hinting at for most of the book until almost the end” Moriarty approach is there which surprisingly worked very well in this story. In the past, it’s been a frustratingly drawn out longer than need be experience, but this time it works ideally. With the numerous perspectives to cover it spreads the novel out and covers multiple angles and adds depth to the story and more complexities.

With so many characters Moriarty circles around the unspoken event, also known as “the worst day” and just as you get closer she spirals out again. It seamless and I loved that we inch our way closer and closer and then are flung straight back out again into someone else’s point of view and backwards or forwards through time.

The characters are full and brought their lives to the page, Moriarty showing us exactly who they are with a few words or actions that encapsulates them perfectly and Lee adds another level with her excellent voices and narrating ability. Each character felt real to some degree and had their own depth and unique quality. Moriarty made even the briefest characters have something that made them stand out. I enjoyed Oliver’s kind but abrupt nature, and while I disliked Erika’s character, I liked that she was different and could annoy me, which is a weird experience. On the other hand, I can’t tell if I feel sorry for Harry or not. In a way I think we are meant to feel sorry for him, but at the same time not. I liked that Moriarty made me have such conflicting feelings about so many of her characters.

When the surprise does come it’s after much speculation on the reader’s part and Moriarty doesn’t disappoint. The slow reveal is wonderful and linked to so many characters that it adds more questions and sparks a whole other set of problems and dramas.

The ending I think was perfect, it was the best ending for the characters and I am glad Moriarty didn’t try to make it any other way which she easily could have. There are surprises and wonderful moments, it’s not without its problems but it was an enjoyable book that was complicated and messy and revealed how one single event can affect everyone differently and can change everything.

You can purchase Truly Madly Guilty via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia | Wordery

Book Depository | Kobo| Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust | QBD

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Published:  10th September 2013 (print)/10th September 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Little, Brown and Company/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 336/10 discs – 12hrs
Narrator: Morven Christie
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard. 

I quite liked this book. It was slow but not unenjoyable. Kent uses her language with intent and there’s weight behind her choice of words making you feel everything she is telling you with importancemakes you feel the drawn out winters and longer periods of time. The house and the surrounding environment are described in vivid detail that make you understand the close knit quarters and the family dynamic. There is a great sense of heaviness as you read as well; the looming sentence and fear over Agnes’ head, the reluctance of the family, the ostracisation by them towards Agnes, not to mention the mystery over what actually happened.

I enjoyed the historical era that the story is set, the true history it is based on is fascinating as well. I enjoyed learning about the region and the farm as well as the culture and history. It was a lot better than other literature and acclaimed novels I’ve read. I can see how it won the awards, and I’m surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did. I wasn’t blown away, but it kept my attention and even surprised me at times.

You can purchase Burial Rites via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust

BookWorldWordery

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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

Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

Published: 9th January 2007 (print)/2008  (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Delacorte Press/Bolinda audiobooks
Pages: 384 pages/7 discs
Narrator: Angela Goethals
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

With unravelled embroidery and fraying hems, the Traveling Pants are back for one last, glorious summer.
Lena: Immerses herself in her painting and an intoxicating summer fling, fearing that the moment she forgets about Kostos will be the moment she sees him again.
Carmen: Falls under the spell of a sophisticated college friend for whom a theatrical role means everything and the heritage of the Pants means nothing.
Bridget: Joins a dig for an ancient city on the coast of Turkey and discovers that her archaeology professor is available in every way except one.
Tibby: Leaves behind someone she loves, wrongly believing he will stay where she has left him.
It’s a summer that will forever change the lives of Lena, Carmen, Bee, and Tibby, here and now, past and future, together and apart.

The first year of university for the girls and with it comes all sorts of drama and life lessons. Brashares did a good job bringing us into this world of separated friends who are trying to find their place in the big wide world and still struggling to hold onto their former lives. The distance of college and being forced to grow up and be independent challenges the girls and makes them assess who they are and what they want from life.

And, again, Pants that still fit and don’t smell and apparently still look wearable after having pond water, dirt, sweat, and who knows what else on them make the rounds. At least this time doesn’t seem to be focused as much on the Pants. They make their appearance and are shown to be worn a few times, but they mainly just sit nearby, so much so I had moments forgetting they were even in the story until they were mentioned. They have definitely become more of a symbol than requiring any real wear from them.

After seeing some improvement in Bee after the first two summers, her storyline is strange and annoying. I’ve figured out I’m just not going to like her character. I will accept her for who she is and just not like her that much. Why Brashares needs Bee to have these older guy relationships, 15 and 19, now 19 and 30. Can’t she stop falling for older guys who are now not only married but also her teacher? The fact she’s even on a dig in Turkey is a complete surprise, has she been harbouring this archaeological love for three books without us knowing? This plotline came from out of the blue as far as I know. Full credit to her though, she treats her family storyline with care and brings to light the struggle she has had over the years.

One thing Brashares doesn’t seem to have realised that book four means the girls are practically 20, and while they do 20 year old things, they still act like they’re children at times. Her language is telling us these adult things are happening, but the petulance and childishness still remain from her characters.

Having said that, some of the girls are better than others. Carmen, who also has picked up a theatre hobby from nowhere, was much less spoilt than before. I actually sympathised with her a lot in this, Brashares develops her like a proper person and makes us understand her emotional neglect and absence from her friends. Lena also is a bit more focused and adult, she is being the 19 year old she is meant to be, working out who she is and what she wants in her life.

I will admit, while I have been a fan of Tibby’s for the series, I think Brashares drew out her storyline for a lot more drama and length than needed. I liked the drama, but I disliked the overdramatic reactions. Though four books deep into this I really so think it’s the writing that keeps bugging me. I think Brashares just needed to tell the same story better and it wouldn’t feel as melodramatic and sickly sweet and charming sometimes. She writes really well sometimes and then other times it just doesn’t work.

Where Brashares shines is in the final chapters. The summation of this story and these girls’ journey is the best part. It is about friendship, about memories, about love and good times. I remembered why I enjoyed reading these stories in the beginning; it highlights the growth of the friendship over the years and gives you a sense of satisfaction as it ends. It remains the sweet and charming book it’s always been, but Brashares ends the fourth book with respect and a promise for the girls’ futures.

You can purchase Forever in Blue via the following

Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Fishpond

BookWorldAmazon Aust

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