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July 8, 2012 / Tracey

Review: Gone For Good | Harlan Coben

Gone For Good by Harlan Coben is the story of Will Klein.  He lost his older brother Ken at a young age, when Ken fled the family home after being accused of murdering Will’s ex girlfriend Julie and was never heard from again.  Eleven years on and Will’s mother is losing a battle with a terminal illness and gives Will the news that his brother is still alive.

His mother’s death and her shocking revelation sets a number of events into motion.  Will’s girlfriend disappears and he begins to find out more about his brother Ken and the past he never new about.

The best character in Gone For Good is undoubtedly Will’s friend, Squares.  Squares got his nickname after having his swastika – that was tattooed on his forehead in his misspent youth – tattooed into squares rather than removed, to remind him of his troubled past.  Squares and Will both work at Covenant House, reaching out to homeless youths and trying to offer them a better future.

Will believes his brother Ken is innocent, however he is torn between a love for his brother and doing the right thing.  There is danger and tension throughout this thriller and a twist that caught me a little by surprise.

My rating = ***

That’s my four bucks!

July 6, 2012 / Tracey

Review: The Richest Man In Babylon | George S. Clason

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason is a modern classic and has sold millions of copies.  It’s a collection of parables set in ancient Babylon based around financial wisdom and how to achieve wealth and reach financial independence.

The lessons apply as much in today’s society as they did in ancient Babylon, and each story or parable has a cast of characters, a plot and is enjoyable to read.

Originally these stories were published as pamphlets and issued to customers of banks and insurance companies before being brought together and published as a book in 1926 entitled The Richest Man in Babylon, which is quite interesting.

Since then, the book has gone on to sell millions, and the simple financial concepts, such as: “a part of all you earn is yours to keep” and the “Seven Cures for a Lean Purse” have become familiar and accessible to many.

If you haven’t read it already, I recommend you do; and at a mere 144 pages, it’s a very quick read.

My rating = ***1/2

That’s my four bucks!

July 6, 2012 / Tracey

Gothic Tales

I love a good gothic read, so I have put together a list of gothic tales from my list of books on Library Thing and have mentioned them below.  I’ve included links to my reviews where possible and would love to hear about any gothic tales you’ve enjoyed.

Gothic Tales
Andahazi, Federico   (The Merciful Women)
Egan, Jennifer   (The Keep)
Harris, Jane   (The Observations)
Hill, Susan   (The Small Hand)
James, Henry   (The Turn of the Screw)
Maurier, Daphne Du   (Rebecca) to-read
McGill, Bernie   (The Butterfly Cabinet: A Novel)
Morton, Kate   (The Distant Hours: A Novel)
Morton, Kate   (The Shifting Fog)
Moss, Tara   (The Blood Countess: Pandora English Novel)
Rice, Anne   (Angel Time – The Songs of the Seraphim)
Rice, Anne   (Interview With The Vampire)
Rice, Anne   (Memnoch the Devil)
Rice, Anne   (The Vampire Lestat)
Rice, Anne   (Violin)
Setterfield, Diane   (The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel)
Stoker, Bram   (Dracula)

What makes a novel Gothic?

1. Setting in a castle. The action takes place in and around an old castle, sometimes seemingly abandoned, sometimes occupied. The castle often contains secret passages, trap doors, secret rooms, dark or hidden staircases, and possibly ruined sections. The castle may be near or connected to caves, which lend their own haunting flavor with their branchings, claustrophobia, and mystery. (Translated into modern filmmaking, the setting might be in an old house or mansion–or even a new house–where unusual camera angles, sustained close ups during movement, and darkness or shadows create the same sense of claustrophobia and entrapment.)

2. An atmosphere of mystery and suspense. The work is pervaded by a threatening feeling, a fear enhanced by the unknown. Often the plot itself is built around a mystery, such as unknown parentage, a disappearance, or some other inexplicable event. Elements 3, 4, and 5 below contribute to this atmosphere. (Again, in modern filmmaking, the inexplicable events are often murders.)

3. An ancient prophecy is connected with the castle or its inhabitants (either former or present). The prophecy is usually obscure, partial, or confusing. “What could it mean?” In more watered down modern examples, this may amount to merely a legend: “It’s said that the ghost of old man Krebs still wanders these halls.”

4. Omens, portents, visions. A character may have a disturbing dream vision, or some phenomenon may be seen as a portent of coming events. For example, if the statue of the lord of the manor falls over, it may portend his death. In modern fiction, a character might see something (a shadowy figure stabbing another shadowy figure) and think that it was a dream. This might be thought of as an “imitation vision.”

5. Supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events. Dramatic, amazing events occur, such as ghosts or giants walking, or inanimate objects (such as a suit of armor or painting) coming to life. In some works, the events are ultimately given a natural explanation, while in others the events are truly supernatural.

6. High, even overwrought emotion. The narration may be highly sentimental, and the characters are often overcome by anger, sorrow, surprise, and especially, terror. Characters suffer from raw nerves and a feeling of impending doom. Crying and emotional speeches are frequent. Breathlessness and panic are common. In the filmed gothic, screaming is common.

7. Women in distress. As an appeal to the pathos and sympathy of the reader, the female characters often face events that leave them fainting, terrified, screaming, and/or sobbing. A lonely, pensive, and oppressed heroine is often the central figure of the novel, so her sufferings are even more pronounced and the focus of attention. The women suffer all the more because they are often abandoned, left alone (either on purpose or by accident), and have no protector at times.

8. Women threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male. One or more male characters has the power, as king, lord of the manor, father, or guardian, to demand that one or more of the female characters do something intolerable. The woman may be commanded to marry someone she does not love (it may even be the powerful male himself), or commit a crime.

9. The metonymy of gloom and horror. Metonymy is a subtype of metaphor, in which something (like rain) is used to stand for something else (like sorrow). For example, the film industry likes to use metonymy as a quick shorthand, so we often notice that it is raining in funeral scenes. Note that the following metonymies for “doom and gloom” all suggest some element of mystery, danger, or the supernatural.

This list of gothic elements has come directly from the Virtual Salt website
June 29, 2012 / Tracey

Review: Breathless | Dean Koontz

Grady Adams lives on his own in the Colorado mountains together with his massive Irish Wolfhound named Merlin and the book takes off when they come across a pair of animals Grady has never seen before.  Grady asks his friend Cammy Rivers – a vet – to come and take a look, and she names the unique, gentle, inquisitive creatures Puzzle and Riddle, and it soon becomes apparent that these creatures will change the world.

Meanwhile there are two sub plots taking place that eventually link up at the end to make for a great climax.  I’ve said it before, but Koontz loves to write about dogs and animals and Breathless carries on this theme.

There was a particularly good section of writing that made me laugh and is a good example of why I keep returning to Koontz.  The excerpt comes from Page 216:

“If Northcott’s smile looked like a grimace, then his grimace was more like the expression of a man who found a live cockroach swimming in his soup at the very moment he broke a tooth on a ball bearing spooned from the same bowl.”

Classic!  All in all, this was an easy read and highly recommended for animal lovers everywhere.

My rating = ***

That’s my four bucks!

June 26, 2012 / Tracey

Author Interview with Robin Baker, author of Killing Richard Dawson

Robin Baker

Today we’re joined by Australian writer Robin Baker, author of Killing Richard Dawson, published by Pantera Press and recently reviewed and given four stars on My Four Bucks. You can read my full review here.

Thanks so much for joining us Robin. When you were writing the characters within Killing Richard Dawson, did you feel they were representative of Generation Y in Australia?
I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of an entire generation, but the characters and their attitudes were certainly accurate to what I experienced at that age. I have had feedback from readers of various generations saying how much they related to the themes of hopelessness and uncertainty in the novel, which are feelings a lot of us deal with when we’re that age, so I’d suggest it speaks more about being a certain age than a particular generation.

Being a young writer and belonging to Gen Y yourself, what would you like people belonging to other generations to know about Gen Y? Did you intend to communicate any of these in Killing Richard Dawson?
I don’t agree with art that ‘preaches’ or tries to convey a particular message or point of view, so I make a point not to tell anyone how they should feel about a given topic. I try to be as emotionally honest as I can and let the work speak for itself.

There’s a paragraph on page 144, where Mel – who has a crush on the narrator – is introduced by him to Jade, with whom he has a romantic interest. There is an awkward stretch of silence between the three characters, and you describe the sequence of meaningful glances between each of them so perfectly that it was one of the funniest moments in the book for me. What motivated you to write in such a way? Were you simply trying to highlight the tension between the characters or were you trying to make us laugh?
I like to tread the fine line between comedy and tension/horror whenever I can, so this seemed like a good opportunity. Embarrassing situations are always funnier when they involve someone else! Comedy is good way to get people to lower their defences; I think people are much more willing to go to very dark places with you if you can make them laugh along the way.

Characters discussing nightclubs over several pages in Killing Richard Dawson reminded me of characters talking about restaurants in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Was this a silent nod to the classic or completely unintentional?
I’m not sure if I had read American Psycho when I wrote that scene (but have since read it and loved it) but the joke here was that, throughout the book, whenever a character discusses anything serious, or emotional, or indeed anything that actually matters, they are quickly dismissed and the subject is changed. This particular scene is possibly the longest dialogue exchange in the entire book and is about the most vapid of subjects, which I thought was a nice irony.

Do you have any literary influences?
I admire Don DeLillo very much. Each of his works is unique and I think Underworld is one of the greatest novels ever written. Stephen King was a big influence while I was growing up and I still enjoy his novels today. I very much admire writers of believable dialogue and character who offer moments of truth or insight into ourselves and each other.

When asked if he’s ever delved into the world of Dean Koontz, Robin had this to say:

I’ve read three or four Dean Koontz books (not sure of the titles now, it was a long time ago) but never really got into them – they felt too much like Stephen King Lite. One of the things I enjoy most about King (and something I feel he’s very underrated for) is the human element of his books. His characters are so believable and he offers some great insight into people, which I never got from Koontz. I may have to try some of his newer stuff and see if it changes my mind. 

I find it fascinating that you decided to leave your career as an English Teacher and take up work as a Funeral Director. Is the funeral industry what you expected?
I’m not sure what I expected when I first started, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience! It’s an industry that tends to be shrouded in mystery, so it was interesting to see what really happens behind the scenes, so to speak. It was challenging, rewarding, confronting and strangely fascinating. I have no regrets about my time there; I met some wonderful people, saw some things I will never forget and gained some interesting insights into life, people, grief and death, among many other things. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it was a great industry to be a part of and I enjoyed my time there very much.

What prompted this career change and how has the experience shaped or enriched your writing?I had always been curious about the industry and an opportunity arose just after my current teaching contract expired. I wasn’t enjoying teaching at the time so decided to take a chance and ended up staying there for nearly six years. It taught me a lot about myself and others and is a job that really makes you reassess what is important in your life. My next novel, Chasing the Sun, was written during this time and deals with themes of mortality and belief and what we leave behind.

Some writers have a particular writing regime or preferred method of writing. How do you prefer to work and do you have any habits?
I write on a laptop but always carry a notebook with me (or a note-taking app on a phone, if a notebook is not appropriate) where I’ll write scenes, ideas, or even just single lines of dialogue. I will either work in silence, or find one particular piece of music that suits the tone of the scene I’m working on, then play it on repeat until I drive everyone else crazy.  I prefer working earlier in the day and into the afternoon when possible, so I usually do the majority of my writing on the weekends or days off and use evenings for editing.

As a former English Teacher, are you also a voracious reader and do you have any favourite authors or books you’d like to share?
I’m always trying to read more. I write book reviews for a local newspaper so I’m lucky enough to get new releases fairly regularly, which is nice! Some of my personal favourite authors are Stephen King and Don DeLillo, as I mentioned, but I’m also a fan of clean, stripped-back, minimalist writing such as Amy Hempel, Bret Easton Ellis, Cormac McCarthy and Chuck Palahniuk. If you want something completely unique, I can recommend you check out Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a true one-of-a-kind that you won’t soon forget.

I understand that you’re working on your next novel Chasing the Sun. What can you tell us about it?
Chasing the Sun is “a twisted tale about Feng Shui, vampires, drinking, pet psychiatry, genocide, belief and mortality” and will be available in October this year from Pantera Press. I think it shares a similar tone and style with Killing Richard Dawson but tells a very different story and deals with different ideas and themes. I’m excited for its release and really hope you enjoy it!

Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for reading Killing Richard Dawson, I’m thrilled you enjoyed it! Thanks also for inviting me here today!

June 24, 2012 / Tracey

Review: My Hundred Lovers | Susan Johnson

My Hundred Lovers is written by Aussie author Susan Johnson and I’ve been reading it as part of an Allen & Unwin read-along; you can read my previous two posts about the experience here and here.

The premise of the book is a woman turning fifty who reflects on her life and sorts through her body’s memories.  In 100 chapters, the woman – who refers to herself throughout the novel as ‘the girl’, Deb and ‘the Suspicious Wanderer’ – gives us her one hundred lovers; in essence one hundred sensual memories.  

From first glance at the title, a potential reader might assume the main character to have had one hundred sexual lovers, however this is not the case.  Deb’s sensual memories do include lovers, however they also include other physical memories such as the love of croissants, riding a horse, the sensation of her mother’s red fingernails scratching her back or the feel of raindrops on her face.

Each chapter is a vignette, a glimpse into Deb’s life and the chapters are not always in strict chronological order.  This is a personal and at times revealing piece of fiction and Deb is very open and honest when reflecting on her physical intimacy with her lovers; men and women.  At times sexy, at times a little confronting but nevertheless it was moving throughout as it followed the path of Deb’s exploration of self.

While reading this book I couldn’t help but begin to think of my own physical memories, what would my own list contain if I were to create one in the same style?  I would definitely include the smell of fresh cut grass, and the glorious sensation of getting into a bed warmed by an electric blanket on a chilly night.

Deb left one of her most important relationships until the very end of the book, the revealing of which drew a surprised and sad groan from me.  This was clever writing and left me wanting more.  The read-along definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the book and if the above has piqued your interest I definitely recommend My Hundred Lovers for your reading pleasure.

(This book also qualifies for my Aussie Author Challenge 2012)

My rating = ****

That’s my four bucks!

June 23, 2012 / Tracey

Big Books To Get Stuck Into This Winter

Are you looking for a chunkster to get stuck into this winter?  Do you relish the heft and challenge of a juicy long book? Do you enjoy the odd doorstop here and there to break up your reading list?  Look no further!

I’ve put together the following list of all books greater than 700 pages long from my GoodReads list to satisfy these needs and linked them to my own reviews where possible:

Clarke, Susanna (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Falconer, Colin (When We Were Gods)

Follett, Ken (World Without End)

Follett, Ken (The Pillars of the Earth)

King, Stephen (Bag of Bones)

King, Stephen (Duma Key)

King, Stephen (Insomnia)

King, Stephen (Under the Dome)

Koontz, Dean (False Memory)

Kostova, Elizabeth (The Historian)

Lewis, C.S. (The Chronicles of Narnia)

Paolini, Christopher (Brisingr)

Paolini, Christopher (Inheritance)

Rice, Anne (Blackwood Farm)

Rice, Anne (The Witching Hour)

Rowling, J.K. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

Rowling, J.K. (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

Rowling, J.K. (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

Stephenson, Neal (Cryptonomicon)

Tolstoy, Leo (Anna Karenina)

Happy reading this winter, and feel free to tell me the longest book you remember enjoying, or perhaps the longest one you never finished.

That’s my four bucks!

June 21, 2012 / Tracey

My Hundred Lovers Read-Along Finishes

The Allen & Unwin read-along began on 1 June 2012 and  each Friday a bookish discussion has been going on over at 1 Girl, 2 Many Books who has been doing a fabulous job of hosting the read-along.  Thanks Bree!

It all ends tomorrow and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the different comments and responses from the range of other book bloggers. So much so that it has changed the way in which I read this book; slowing down from my usual pace and paying more attention to the content knowing that we would have the chance to discuss it online together in a book club type of environment.

Here are my comments from Week 1 and 2 of the read-along.

Week 1

Hello all, many of you have commented on the segments of My Hundred Lovers I have enjoyed, so instead of repeating them here, I’ll share what I found surprising or confronting that hasn’t been raised yet.

The first is the girl’s relationship with Nina Payne. (I love the author’s use of ‘the girl’ too by the way). On pages 20-22 she has Nina walking around in a skirt without any underwear and then makes her sit on the ground with her legs apart says: “the girl would have stuck her finger in except that her friend stood up and ran away.” Am I the only one that found this a little confronting?

Even though I didn’t do it myself, I know girls practice kissing with each other, but I found the girl’s sexual curiosity went further than most and I want to know why. Perhaps this will be revealed later in the novel.

I was also shocked at the mother’s cruelty on page 18 when she says to her naked daughter in the bathroom: “I don’t remember my inner lips being so exposed when I was a girl.” I mean, way to give a young girl permanent body issues, and what loving mother would be comparing their daughter’s body to their own anyway?

How did other readers respond to these two sections? Were there raising of eyebrows, quickening of pulses or did you all take it in your stride?

Week 2

I’ve been looking forward to our discussion this week, because often I don’t have the chance to discuss the books I’m reading with others on such a detailed level, and when I read Chapter Thirty-Eight, I was confused and desperately wanted to discuss it with you all.

I understand her husband wanted to make love to Debbie although she had fallen out of love with him; that is straight forward and I’m sure many of us have been at one or both ends of unrequited love. However, is she using the slam of the coffin as an analogy for the death of the love she had for her husband or something more? Does she feel dead inside?

Debbie’s reluctance to tell us about her husband and the circumstances surrounding their relationship tells me there is something quite significant there. She is protective of this relationship in particular and open about other passing liaisons. We’re now 3/4 of the way through the book and I’m hoping she will open up to us soon. I can certainly feel the tension building, can you?

So, with that said, I’ll be posting my review of Susan Johnson’s My Hundred Lovers separately, as the read-along draws to a close.  But it’s been a lot of fun, and thanks go to Allen & Unwin and to Bree at 1 Girl, 2 Many Books.

That’s my four bucks!

June 19, 2012 / Tracey

Review: Killing Richard Dawson | Robin Baker

* From publisher for review *

Killing Richard Dawson is narrated by a uni student with a tragic back story now living alone with his Gran.  He’s visited once a fortnight by a young social worker who checks on his Gran’s welfare as well as his own, although he’s been keeping his real thoughts and emotions well hidden from her for years.

Lonely as a child until he met his best friend George, the narrator has never had much luck pursuing girls or socialising.  He makes a friend at University – calling her Fatty Mel – and soon falls into a wider group of friends who go to nightclubs, get drunk and hang out.  He is depressed, directionless and unmotivated until he meets Jade, a turning point in the book.

The friends belong to Generation Y, and whilst we’ve all heard countless stereotypes of Gen Y, this conversation between the narrator and his friend Beau on page 160 really stuck with me:

“Why can’t we fix it? If we’re all so depressed, why can’t we do something to change?”

Beau shrugs. “Because we’re all so fucking lazy? I mean, where do you start? Changing the world isn’t easy. It’s a scary thought. Most people would much rather bury their head in the sand and wait for it to fix itself.”

And there you have it, although Beau’s answer can apply to anyone too lazy to change.

Back to the story, and Robin Baker brings a fresh new voice to Australian writing.  In one particular beach scene it was set up so logically I believed the outcome was 100% predictable until the joke was on me, the author flipping the plot on its head.  Similarly, I had a feeling I knew what was happening with a particular character during the novel and then wham, towards the end I found myself scrambling back through the pages scouring for clues.  

When it was all over, I turned straight back to re-read Chapter One – which serves as a prologue – with an entirely new appreciation.

Killing Richard Dawson is the exploration of a young man with a sympathetic and difficult past trying to find his place in the world, depressed, confused and falling in love.  It’s dark, it’s surprising and it’s strangely comic.

My rating = ****

That’s my four bucks!

Robin Baker speaks to My Four Bucks about his writing and more, click here to read the interview.

June 14, 2012 / Tracey

Author Patrick White

Author Patrick White

Today I watched a documentary which aired on the ABC on 22 May 2012, entitled: Patrick White: Read Me When I’m Dead? and have been thinking about this Australian author since.

I’ve always known he was the only Australian writer to have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (which took place in 1973) however I haven’t been an active reader of his work.

I studied A Fringe of Leaves at University, but I remember finding it really hard to get into and I don’t think I read it right through to the end to be honest.

Patrick White at Centennial Park
by Brett Whiteley (1979-1980)

One opinion expressed in the documentary is that White’s work is inaccessible to the average reader, too intellectual, and consequently he is widely unknown to the general public. 

As a lover of books and supporter of Australian authors I find myself wondering if I should give White’s work another chance.  It’s been a significant number of years since I failed to engage with A Fringe of Leaves and he wrote 12 novels in total so there’s bound to be something more to my liking isn’t there?  And of course, there’s the recent posthumous publishing of The Hanging Garden this year, albeit unfinished.

I’d love to hear from others about their favourite Patrick White novel, or any advice for first timers like myself, about the best place to start.

That’s my four bucks!