Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children, #1)The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The blurb: This novel of awesome beauty and power is a moving saga about people, relationships, and the boundaries of love. Through Jean M. Auel’s magnificent storytelling we are taken back to the dawn of modern humans, and with a girl named Ayla we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world they shared with the ones who called themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear.

A natural disaster leaves the young girl wandering alone in an unfamiliar and dangerous land until she is found by a woman of the Clan, people very different from her own kind. To them, blond, blue-eyed Ayla looks peculiar and ugly–she is one of the Others, those who have moved into their ancient homeland; but Iza cannot leave the girl to die and takes her with them. Iza and Creb, the old Mog-ur, grow to love her, and as Ayla learns the ways of the Clan and Iza’s way of healing, most come to accept her. But the brutal and proud youth who is destined to become their next leader sees her differences as a threat to his authority. He develops a deep and abiding hatred for the strange girl of the Others who lives in their midst, and is determined to get his revenge.

My review: I started reading this book in August 2013, but didn’t finish it until February 2015. That’s right, it took 18 months. In fairness, I did have a lot happening in my life which was a contribution; but, having said that, I read numerous other books during this time.

When I started the book, I was drawn in and held. I enjoyed the character of Ayla. I was fascinated by her situation and interaction with the Clan. However, half way through the book I got bored. I was tired of the never ending descriptions and the long lessons on how plants and roots were used. Honestly, I didn’t care to know these things and found myself skimming whole paragraphs and then whole pages until something appeared to be happening in regards to the actual storyline again.

I put the book down one day and didn’t pick it up again for twelve months.

Then in February I decided that as I had read half the book, I really should finish it. I didn’t hate the storyline, I just didn’t enjoy the author’s ramblings. So once again I visited the world of Ayla. And, yes, I did skim the rambling parts and only concentrated on the storyline itself. When I did this, I was fine with the book and was happy to read it. Sadly, I was even happier to finish it.

Although I do own the second book in the series, I have no desire to read it.

The Clan of the Cave Bear is not awful, but it is not for me. I cannot recommend this book.

Book Review: Still Alice

Still AliceStill Alice by Lisa Genova

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life—and her relationship with her family and the world—forever.

At once beautiful and terrifying, Still Alice is a moving and vivid depiction of life with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease that is as compelling as A Beautiful Mind and as unforgettable as Ordinary People.

My review: My mother has early dementia. Eight months ago I moved into the family home to become her primary carer. I would be lying through my teeth if I said it was easy, because it’s not. Sometimes I feel as if I cannot continue. Sometimes I feel as if I will let my father down (before he passed away I promised him that I would look after her). Often I feel I will let my Mum and myself down too.

Then, I was given Still Alice. What can I say? I needed to read this book, at this time. It helped me see things from Mum’s point of view. It showed me the confusion she must be experiencing, the total loss of control over her life, the sadness and grief she is going through. Yes, I include grief, because she is grieving her old self, just as I am grieving for that same person.

This book helped me to accept what was happening, and to find a new level of patience.

If you have a family member suffering from dementia then you should read this book too. But even if you don’t know anything with the disease you should still read the book because it is quite simply brilliant.

Alice is the top of her friend, in the prime of her life and then she starts forgetting things and getting confused. She thinks she’s working too hard, or perhaps she has started menopause, but she doesn’t think for a section she actually has something like early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. For heaven’s sake, she’s only 50.

But she does have the disease and once it takes hold, it progresses quickly. Before she knows it, she is forgetting how to get to the lecture room, let alone what she is meant to be lecturing. She is disorientated in places she has been visiting for decades. And the faces of people she should know are not recognisable.

Confused? Of course she is. Scared? Yes.

The story shows the effects of the disease as it slowly eats away her life. It shows how it affects the relationships she has with the people closest to her (family, friends and work colleagues).

It left me feeling sad for those affected and sad for the carers. But it helped me to understand and accept my own family’s situation.

Honestly, the book is brilliant and I couldn’t put it down. A must read.

Book Review: The Hunger Games Series

Sitting on the train beside a complete stranger, I was not surprised by the fact that the young girl was totally absorbed in her reading. I usually sat reading too, but my stop was approaching and I was readying myself to leave the train.

The girl closed the book with a huge sigh and we suddenly had eye contact.

“Good book?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “But I’ve just finished it and feel…” She searched for the right word. “…I don’t know, I want it to continue.”

“What’s the book called?” I ask.

“It was last book of The Hunger Games,” she replied, holding up the book for me to see. “If you haven’t read the series, you should. It’s brilliant!”

Strangely, I had been given a copy of the first book, The Hunger Games, some weeks before this recommendation. I had watched the movie several years beforehand. I could remember, vaguely, the plot, and knew I had enjoyed the movie, but the book (in most circumstances) is always better.

This short conversation on a train with a stranger inspired me to pick that book up and start reading it. Yesterday, I sat in my back yard and put the third book down with a big sigh, knowing how that young girl on the train felt, because I felt the same way.

 

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

My review: The book kept my interest. I enjoy reading about possible futures of our world. The concept of The Hunger Games wasn’t new, but quite captivating. Couple this with characters such as Katniss and Peeta, as well as a number of others, and it makes for an excellent read.

Some might find Katniss a little annoying, but my take on this is that we never truly know how we would react to any given situation, until we are thrust into it. Because of this, I was willing to accept Katniss’ behaviour for what it was and just enjoy the story.

I found the story to be well plotted, emotional and full of twists and turns. And it made me want to grab book two and continue reading, and that is exactly what I did.

 

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

My review: The story picks up shortly after the first book ends. I felt a little disconnected to begin with, but soon got back into the storyline, and characters. To win the games and then have to go through what they went through would leave me feeling confused and untrusting too.

I don’t want to give too much away. But the Games in this book was a lot shorter and in some ways I felt it was a little rushed. However, I guess the author didn’t want the book to be too repetitive or a copy of book one. Again, I accepted that decision.

The characters continued to speak to me. I enjoyed their stories, their interaction. I felt as if I knew them extremely well.

This book ended with a cliff hanger, which I am not a fan of. However, I already had the third book so kept reading, but feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t have the book ready to go.

 

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb: “My name is Katniss Everdeen. Why am I not dead? I should be dead.”

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Though she’s long been a part of the revolution, Katniss hasn’t known it. Now it seems that everyone has had a hand in the carefully laid plans but her.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay – no matter what the cost.

My review: I have mixed feelings about this book. The plot unfolded nicely and the characters blossomed, so to speak. Yet, the tone of the story was different, darker. The story was more gruesome.

Where the story goes is not surprising. When I sit down and think about it, the author had given plenty of clues along the way. There was no need to be shocked, but it left me feeling incredibly sad for the two main characters (Katniss and Peeta). In fact, I actually shed a tear I felt so sorry for them.

After I read the final words of the book and put it down, I thought about what had happened and where the characters ended up for a very long time. And then, later, I realised I miss reading about them and that, dear readers, told me everything.

The books left an impression and I enjoyed them immensely.

I recommend you read them all to get the full effect. You will not be disappointed.

eBook Review: Kid Combat – A Lost Secret

The Adventures of Kid Combat Volume One: A Secret Lost

The Adventures of Kid Combat Volume One: A Secret Lost by Christopher Helwink

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book for middle graders, or as we say in Australia “primary schoolers”, which covers the ages of 9 to 12 year olds.

It’s a sort of cross between Get Smart or Inspector Gadget verses Superheros, although none of the characters have super strength or can fly. The reason I’ve made that connection is because the kids are a bit inventive and use different gadgets and they wear a uniform or costume when assuming their “other” identities.

This is another classic case of the cover stopping me in my tracks and yelling at me “read me”. So I did. The first two books in the series are available for free from the iTunes bookstore.

The story itself is about a group of intelligent kids who decide to stand up (secretly) against the tyrant of their town, Jones. The old man owns half the town and plans to own the other half too. He’s corrupt and the once lovely little town is changing … for the worst. Kid Combat (that’s the main character’s nickname) and his friends want to expose him and save the town from further evil and corruption.

I liked the fact that there was no foul language in the book as I believe that’s how it should be in books for younger readers. I liked the actual storyline and the characters – simple but adequate. However, there were several times when parts (either sentences or paragraphs) were repetitive, which was a bit annoying or distracting. And there were a few little inconsistencies or flaws, which I could see but a younger reader may accept without question. Overall, however, I feel the target audience (9 to 12 year olds) will enjoy the book as it will ignite their imaginations.

Paperbacks v Digital Books

There was a time in the not so distant past when I clearly remember believing paperbacks would always be my preferred reading source. I love books. I love reading. It’s the one thing I do constantly in my life and have done since I was a very young child. Books are important to me.

I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. I love seeing them lined up in a book case, showing their vivid colours and inviting me to jump into their secret worlds. These things cannot be said about digital books.

I love walking into someone else’s home and viewing their books of choice scattered around the place. It hints at the type of person they are, the imagination they might have. It’s possible to spy reference books which tells you of that person’s interests too. And in moments of quiet, they allow you to point to a book and ask them about it … which may well lead to a very interesting conversation. Again, these things cannot be said about digital books.

I love walking into a book shop and browsing the shelves of unknown authors, never before seen covers. Picking them up and flipping them over to read the (hopefully) catchy blurb on the back. Will it intrigue me enough to want to read it? Or does it sound boring or too serious for me, which will make me put it back on the shelf? At the risk of repeating myself, this cannot be said about digital books.

Yet, with all this said and done, I can’t help but prefer to read books in digital format these days. In 2011 most of the books I read were digital. 2012 has only just started, but my reading list comprises of digital books only so far. I have a beautiful wooden bookcase in my bedroom, filled with wonderful books. I want to read them all. They deserve my time, but I feel pulled to my reading device.

It’s a small object really. Most people would lift an eye brow and scoff at reading on it. They mumble things like “small screen” and “eye strain” but I always assure them that the size of the screen is not noticed and I’ve never had eye strain whilst using it.

Perhaps it’s my personal circumstances that make reading this way more attractive. Our lounge room has no lighting except for a single lamp. Reading in the evening is difficult due to shadows across the pages. To avoid the shadow I must sit in an uncomfortable position. I’ve tried using a book lamp but it was more trouble than it was worth, to say the least. However, when I use my reading device I can sit anywhere I want, however I want because the backlight on the screen is just right (for me) for reading.

If I can’t sleep, I can sit in bed and read in comfort. If I want to sit in the garden, I can. I can read on the train, and can swap and change between books if I want to. I can take a selection of books with me on vacation or to work or to the hospital. There’s no weight, no storage problems. If there’s a power source, I can plug in and read. If not, the battery lasts for an entire week if all I’m doing is reading on the device.

I have purchased ebooks from online bookshops, but there is no personality and no feeling of belonging. Shopping in the virtual world is not as good as shopping in the physical world. I still want to browse books, pick them up and flick through the pages, read the blurb and make a decision. But I think when the decision is made I’d like to be able to go up to the counter and say I want the digital version.

Bookshops need to get with the times, and I believe this is starting to happen, but it’s not something I’ve seen for myself. Bookshops draw booklovers to them, so why not entice the booklover to walk out of the shop with a book in hand (be that paperback or digital). Instead of denying the existence of an ever changing world, merge with it and grow.

People will continue to buy printed books, but more and more people are swapping to digital reading. Once, I would have vocalised loudly about the need for paperbacks, but now I find myself vocalising more loudly about reading itself, not the format it’s done in.

Audio Book Review: The Shack

The Shack

The Shack by William P. Young

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Horror of horrors, I came to the end of my knitting supplies and have nothing to fill my morning train ride hours. No, I can’t write. I’ve tried it and I’m too sleepy to be able to focus. Besides that, my eyes water like crazy, which is more than a little annoying and I was arriving at work looking as if I’ve cried all the way because my eyes were so red and puffy. Not a good start to the day, I can tell you. Yet I find I can knit and not suffer any “side affects”.

After some complaining, I woke one morning to find a small mp3 player sitting on the kitchen table, along with a spare battery. Upon querying why the device was there, I was told that an audio book borrowed from the library had been converted and loaded onto the player and that I was to take it with me on the train. I did. It’s not the first audio book I’ve listened too, but it’s the first time I’ve realised that I can listen to a book without “side affects” too. Yay!

The Shack (Amazon / Kindle) is a story of a man whose six-year old daughter is taken and murdered, while the family is on a camping trip, and then goes on to tell the anguish that follows the tragic event – emotionally and spiritually. When G borrowed the item from the library and when I first started listening to the story, neither of us knew it was religious. By the time I did realise, I had already grown attached to the main character and his problems (I could identify with him because of my own loss) and I wanted to know more. I wanted to know if this man, this father, could get through the darkness that I knew so well…so I kept listening.

Yes, this story is highly religious and my one complaint is that at times the dialogue felt more like a sermon than a discussion, which really grated on my nerves. Yet at the same time, I was drawn in and held tight by the ideas behind the sermons. I guess I even found comfort in those ideas to a degree. So, again, I kept listening.

This book was written to get those religious thoughts across to an audience. I know and accept that. Prior to 18th May 2006, I wouldn’t have listened to the entire book because I simply don’t like being preached at and to be honest I wouldn’t have related to the characters and events at all. But I’ve changed…in many ways. I didn’t like the preachy parts, but I sat and listened and was completed absorbed in what was being said. I was touched by the emotional struggle the father was battling, enough to bring tears. I remained oblivious to the comings and goings of other passengers. I was oblivious to everything happening around me. In fact, when I turned off the player and looked around I was shocked to see so many people seated around me when I had been completely alone when I pressed play.

This isn’t a book I would feel comfortable recommending to others because not everyone will get something from it. It’s a book that the reader should read if they have experienced troubled times, if they know grief and if they want to attempt understanding just one possibility of the whole picture. It’s a book I believe will pull a reader/listener in, but only if that person can relate to profound grief and emotional stress.

Religious or not, I’m glad I listened to this audio book because I gained something from it.

Book Review: Writing Fiction for Dummies

Originally posted on another site on 12 March 2010.

writing-fiction

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy

My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Writing Fiction for Dummies is an excellent resource for new writers. It covers all the basics from starting out to looking for a publisher, which would provide a solid foundation to get started with for any serious writer.

As I’m not a newbie, I didn’t get as much from the book as a new writer would, but I knew that when I purchased the book. I bought it for two reasons, no make that three reasons:

1.One of the co-authors is Randy Ingermanson (the snowflake guy). As I use the Snowflake method all the time and I subscribe to his newsletter, I was sure the book would be useful in helping me improve my method…I was right!

2.I needed an inspiration boost and felt I’d get it from this book. This is related to the first point in a way; knowing the content would be heavily Snowflake influenced convinced me that I’d be inspired to get stuck into my own planning…and I was right again!! (I love being right.) 😉

3.I was interested to read the section of writing proposals. This is something I’ve been researching for a few weeks now, but I haven’t been able to find anything useful. When I realised there was a section on proposal writing in the book, I was pleased. I didn’t know what to expect, but I learned more than I imagined and now have a “Proposal Template” saved in my writing file. I’m sure I’ll be returning to that section of the book often when I need help filling in the different sections of the proposal.

While new writers need to find a method that works for them, a more advanced writer needs to bring things back into prospective at times and I think that’s what I got from the book most of all – a reminder that determination and persistence is the only way to move forward.

Thanks to this book, I’m enthusiastic about my next project.

What a difference a decade makes!

During my lifetime I’ve seen some changes in the world, especially where technology is concerned. I remember, in 1990, when my boss paid $50,000 for two computers. I was thrilled to be given one of those computers to work on. It was a buzz to use exciting new equipment and I learned quickly that I liked computers. Yet, looking back, that computer hardly did anything compared to today’s computers. There were two programs on it, it didn’t have the internet or email. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of those things back then. When I left that job in 1995, there was talk of this new thing called Windows. I had no idea what that could be…and I didn’t find out for a couple of years.

Back then, in what might seem like the dark ages for some people, reading was only done from printed material. Books were wonderful to look at, to touch, to smell. The stories within the covers were sometimes not so wonderful, but I learned to pick and chose quite well so that I didn’t waste too much of my hard earned money. It’s shameful to admit, but the cover was the first thing that caught my attention. Then…if the blurb on the back was good, I’d open the book and read the first paragraph. If I liked the way the words were put together, I’d consider buying the book. If I didn’t like the word flow, the book was rejected. This method worked well for me over several decades of reading.

In 1997, I bought my first Windows operated computer. I installed a word processor called Word Perfect and happily wrote two 200,000+ manuscripts from start to finish in about three years. What happened to those manuscripts is another story, for another day. Yes, I saw the icon on the computer that would connect me to the internet and email, but I still didn’t know what those things were and had no need for either of them because I was happy doing something else I loved – writing.

The years passed, the millennium came and went without the huge catastrophe that everyone seemed to be warning us about. Instead, things went on as usual and then started to grow and grow. Finally, in early 2001, I was introduced to the internet for the very first time. I remember my fascination with the concept that we had instant access to all this information and we could communicate with people all over the world at any time of the day and night. It was brilliant. And what made it better – and worse – was the knowledge that I wasn’t the only writer writing the next best seller. (I say “worse” because it’s since the internet that I stopped writing at every spare moment I had.)

I learned so much in the years that followed. About everything, not just writing. But then I discovered something called self-publishing and the weirdest thing yet, ebooks. I found it difficult to grasp the concept of books without paper. In a lot of ways, I rejected the notion. It just felt so wrong! As did self-publishing.

That first Windows computer was quickly replaced with bigger and better systems, which were again replaced for newer technology a short time later. This cycle happened several times in the effort to stay up with the times, but we soon realised that it was an impossible situation and we finally accepted that our new laptops would have to see us through for some years to come. We were now completely immersed in the instant world of viewing, downloading, accessing, emailing, blogging, facebooking, gaming, chatting, online buying and selling, paying, meeting…

Still the years ticked by, technology rolling along in front of us, always showing us new and fascinating things. Suddenly, self publishing and ebooks became real, acceptable, the way of the future. I found myself wanting to “try out” the self publishing side of the publishing industry and I certainly looked at ebooks in a more favourable way. This was especially true when technology provided a gadget that I could hold in my hand, allowing me to sit wherever I wanted and read peacefully. Especially when I could carry a dozen or more books with me everywhere I went (or a lot more if I really wanted to), without giving myself back ache from the weight of carrying heavy paper books.

What a difference a decade makes!

This year, I have listened to my first audio book and have read at least two ebooks. I look forward to reading more. I already have them queued up in my iPod Touch. I carry an assortment of books with me every day – fiction and non-fiction – because who knows what I’ll want to read at lunchtime or on the way home?! And with modern technology, it doesn’t matter because I have my pick.

I thought choosing ebooks would be more difficult than printed books. Riskier. But I find the cover still catches my attention first and if the blurb is any good then I’ll proceed to view the first page of the ebook and see if I like the author’s style of writing before I decide whether or not I’ll part with my hard earned cash. This method always worked with printed books and, so far, it’s done me well with ebooks too.

If the last decade has given us such changes, I wonder what the next decade will bring. I can’t even begin to imagine.