Luke’s End of Year Reading Round-Up

AllegiantNow that the year is done for me, I have spent more time reading. So, I thought I’d write a round-up on the books that I finished more recently.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Tris and Four, along with a few others, decide to travel pass the limits of their world, where their faction-based society was shattered. But what they discover beyond the fence is an outside world just as dangerous as their old one. The conclusion to the Divergent Trilogy—where do I even begin? Firstly, Allegiant, just like its predecessors, was amazing; it was epic, action-packed, compelling…and heartbreaking. And it’s more than the fact that it is the final book. Veronica Roth has done it again, has astounded me, and I can’t wait to read her future novels. In the meantime, I am excitedly waiting for the Divergent film (March 21, 2014).

The Maze RunnerThe Maze Runner by James Dashner

Imagine this: You wake up in a lift, remembering only your first name, and join a community of kids in a place known as the Glade, surrounded by a maze with half-animal, half-machine creatures. But wait, there’s more: the very next day, a girl—who, like you, can only remember her first name—arrives with a note, and you discover a dark secret is trapped deep in your mind. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? The Maze Runner was also thrilling, intricate, and full of mystery. Looking forward to the movie next year (September 19, 2014).

OriginOrigin by Jennifer L. Armentrout

At the end of Opal, Katy was taken by the Daedalus after the raid on Mount Weather, and while trapped, questions arise: who is the real bad guys? Daedalus, mankind, or the Luxen? Meanwhile, Daemon will do anything to get Katy back—no matter what. Origin, the fourth book in the Lux series, takes the series into a more dangerous direction than its preceding instalments. It’s my favourite in the series so far. I didn’t want to put it down—at all—but do you know what the consequence of that is? Reaching the end. And waiting until the next book, Opposition, comes out in August 5, 2014.

Wait For YouWait for You by J. Lynn

All Avery wants is to escape her old life—especially what happened at a Halloween party five years ago. So, she attends a college far away from home. But there, she gets the attention of Campbell Hamilton—and even falls for him. Then she receives threatening messages from somebody who refuses to let her move on from that night. Unlike the first three books, which are Young Adult, Wait for You is a New Adult. J. Lynn (the pen name Jennifer L. Armentrout writes under for her Adult and New Adult novels) wrote a stunning, gripping, and unforgettable novel. I can’t wait to read Trust in MeWait for You in Cam’s point of view, and Be with You, Teresa (Cam’s sister) and Jase’s story (out February 4, 2014). 


Luke’s Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble Review

Don't Let Me Go★★★★★ – excellent!

It’s been over a year since Nate and Adam started their relationship. But when Adam graduates, he takes an off-Broadway job in New York. Through Skype calls, Nate catches glimpses of Adam’s shirtless roommate. Then Nate starts a blog. He also becomes the centre of a school controversy. On meeting a new boy, Nate must confront who and what he really wants.

What influenced me to read Don’t Let Me Go was the review by Brigid Kemmerer, author of The Elemental Series, on Goodreads. I agree with her: it was amazing.

Nate is an awesome character. For one, he could’ve told Adam to stay, but that’s not what he did; instead, he insisted Adam to pursue his dream, not wanting to hold him back. All he wanted was for Adam to be happy. Also, in the present events, he isn’t afraid to show anyone who he really is. The t-shirts are a symbol of this—and he also wears them to piss off his English teacher.

I found the slogans on Nate’s t-shirts amusing. Closets are for brooms, not people, the first one says, then there’s the second one: I can’t even think straight. But wait, there’s more: Your gaydar should be going off right about now; the rumor’s right. But, unless I’m [bleep]ing you, it’s none of you business; HOMO, “the O’s were actually pink hearts
”; I kiss boys; and Sexy [bleep].

Overall, Don’t Let Me Go was an awesome read. It really shows the difficulties of a long-distance relationship. Also present, as the blurb says, is timely discourse about bullying, bigotry, and hate in high schools. I love the writing—it’s quite witty.


Melissa’s The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler Review

16058645Esme Garland, an English PhD candidate in New York, has a passion for art history, books and a man who is unhealthy for her. Unfortunately her plans of a challenging academic life are sidetracked when, just as she is about to tell her boyfriend about their unexpected pregnancy, he dumps her, claiming boredom with their sex life. She sets about trying to balance her PhD, a job at a local secondhand bookstore and her imminent baby.

The Bookstore, as stated by a cover quote, is a love song to books and to Manhattan. It is a beautifully written exploration of a young life changed by startling circumstances.

The relationship with her boyfriend bothered me so much, that when she takes him back for a time, I put the book down for a while. He and his family are repulsive.

The secondhand bookstore where she works, The Owl, is expertly rendered, I feel as if I have been there, perusing the shelves of secondhand treasures myself. The team who work at the store are a lovely, eclectic bunch who become Esme’s second family and teach her many lessons about life and books.

The ending is left open, I have my hopes for what happens next for Esme, but it is delightfully full of hope.

Overall, what kept me reading was Meyler’s writing. This was her debut novel and I am excited to read what she produces next. I adored the character Esme and Meyler’s narrative voice. The plot wasn’t captivating in a way that compels you to continue reading, but it was a great story.


Luke’s Undercurrent by Paul Blackwell Review

Rating: ★★★★☆ – great!

UndercurrentAfter Callum Harris tumbles down the waterfall, he wakes up in an alternate world of his own. One where his parents aren’t separated. One where his brother, Cole, is paralyzed. One where he is some big sport star. One where more than just his former best friend wants him dead.

“Well, if everything stays the same forever, you stop enjoying what you’ve got. And stop appreciating people.”

A couple of months ago, I came across Undercurrent while I was looking at the books coming soon list on the HarperTeen site. One aspect that reeled me in was the alternate reality. Fascinating, I thought.

When it arrived at the library, I got excited—the way I usually get after waiting, you know, ages. Then, when it came to reading it, I was immediately gripped. There was always questions running through my mind, and they propelled me to read.

However, I feel like there were some unresolved parts, but maybe a sequel can resolve them.

Overall, I thought Undercurrent was intriguing, gripping, and thrilling. I especially loved the sci-fi. Now I’m hoping there will be a sequel.


Melissa’s Review of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Rating: ★★★☆☆ – very good!

Wow. I had to decompress for a few days before I could think what to write about The Night Circus.the night circus

The story centers on a game between two very old magicians that catches many extraordinary people in their net. The venue is a most spectacular circus with dazzling affects that draws committed followers from all over the world.

Intertwining the stories of Celia, Marcus, Widget, Poppet, a clockmaker and the boy who can save the circus, Morgenstern builds to a shocking climax. While some of the characters are better developed than others, most of their emotions are somewhat soft. Some of the characters are left hanging. It isn’t really clear to me why Marcus is chosen among the other boys at the orphanage, or why the boy who can save the circus is the one. The magic isn’t explained, only that it must appear as an illusion so as not to upset the normal people.

The descriptions of the different elements of the circus are fantastical. I am unsure how the normal people are supposed to ascertain the illusion in some of the tents, like the one where you jump from high up and miraculously land. But it is just the sort of circus I would like to visit.

This story tends towards the literary style, without alienating the audience, much like Audrey Niffenegger – who writes high praise for this book. This book is very much plot driven, with the mystery pulling you through the immense description. Morgenstern is a magical storyteller, the way she weaves words and stories is beautiful. She is truly talented.


Luke’s A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger Review

A Trick of the Light

★★★★☆ – great!

A Trick of the Light follows fifteen-year-old Mike Welles, who is losing his sense of direction; then a voice in his head tries to guide him to become faster and stronger than he was before—to get rid of everything that holds him back.

Like the author, I never knew boys could get eating disorders. It is described as a “girl’s disease,” but the males with eating disorders are understudied, as I found out in the Author’s Note. In this book, I learnt that 10 million people in the United States have an eating disorder, but about 10 percent—which is about 1 million—of those are male.

I found the choice of narrator interesting. Rather than the narrator being Mike, Lois Metzger decided to narrate from the point of view of Mike’s eating disorder, which is a nagging presence in his head. It knows Mike better than he knows himself. It even thinks it has Mike’s best interests at heart. I found this voice creepy and unsettling at times.

This is one of the most intriguing, original, and insightful books I have ever read. You don’t read about males with eating disorders every day. It is a short (190-page) and complex book. I am glad to have found it, and I can tell you that it is a much recommended read.


Three Books I am Eagerly Anticipating in 2014

This year has sped by and I have started thinking about 2014, and I am pleased to announce that I have found my first set of things to look forward to. Of course, I had to settle the book situation, now I can think about what else may happen!

There are definitely many more books coming out that I would like to read, but these are at the top of my list. Picoult and Alexandra are my top two favourite living authors and Lynch is a new favourite…

Jodi Picoult at an elephant sanctuary
Jodi Picoult at an elephant sanctuary

Jodi Picoult’s 23rd book Leaving Time will be out in late 2014. On her website, Picoult provides a synopsis:

Ten years ago, Alice Metcalf was a researcher studying the reaction of elephants to grief – they are one of the few animals species that recognize and mourn for their dead, as humans do. Along with her husband, Thomas, she ran an elephant sanctuary – until one tragic night, an animal caretaker died in an accident and Alice disappeared, leaving behind only one witness: her three year old daughter, Jenna. Now, ten years later, Jenna is determined to find her mother – whom she believes would never leave her behind willingly.“

She also provides some information about her research trip to Africa earlier this year and an excerpt.

If you want some other reading while you are waiting, you could try The Storyteller, Lone Wolf, Sing you Home – or really any Picoult book.

Golden_Earrings_Belinda_Alexandra2-193x300Belinda Alexandra will be releasing Sapphire Skies around April 2014:

“This is the story of Katya Makarova, downed from France and in danger of capture by German soldiers. Saved by a Frenchman, the two lovers try to find each other again after the war through a maze of Soviet red tape, lies and deception.”

Her last book, Golden Earrings, was another tremendously, heart-warming, heart-wrenching, epic story by a master storyteller. It was released two years ago this month. Her website provides synopses of her previous five books, they are all worth a read.

I am also eagerly awaiting Sarah-Kate Lynch’s next novel, Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga. All I know is that she wrote it by accident, between planning another novel and leaving for the research trip (to France!) and that it is set in the wedding beesMumbai. She has warned that previous stories took several drafts and that she has only just finished one, but I am excited none-the-less. In the meantime you can find my review of her most recent book, The Wedding Bees. Find out more on her blog.

What are you eagerly anticipating next year?


Melissa’s The Watsons By Jane Austen and Another Review

Rating: ★★★★★ – excellent!

Imagine if your favourite author wrote six novels (masterpieces, really) and passed away with a few unfinished pieces. Then imagine someone took one and finished it, adhering to the style as best they can. I have been reading The Watsons, by Jane Austen and finished by Another. It has been a great read!

Emma Watson is an unusual heroine for an Austen novel, she is the only protagonist who must work (or contemplate it) for her income. Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) is taken in by her cousins and Jane (Emma) is not a main character. The Bennet sisters (Pride & Prejudice) need to marry well to be secure, but they do not talk of finding work.

Emma is a gentle, nurturing young woman who has been bought up in luxury with a wealthy aunt and uncle. She is deposited home with her invalid father and sisters after her uncle’s death and her aunt moving overseas to marry a foreign man. In true Austen-style, she is noticed for her beauty and her intellect. The story begins with her settling in to her family home, after a long absence she is more like a stranger. But she manages to befriend her older sister and father, becoming indispensible to the latter.

After many trials, including the death of her father, Emma is nearly sent to work as a governess. However, fate intervenes when she is called to stay with a friend who helps along the process of courtship with a local parson. True to the formula, there are misunderstandings and we watch with breaths held, as the pieces finally fall into place for the match.

There was no way I was going to dislike this book. I was able to get lost in the fact that it was another Austen novel. While there was no escaping that it just wasn’t as deep – the plotting, the wit or the character development, it has taken a place in my heart beneath the other six treasured books.

Fancy, Movies/TV series

Wicked the Musical!

It blew my mind!elphaba and glinda

Wicked the Musical came to New Zealand and I scored a ticket due to my partner having to work that night.

I entered Auckland’s Civic Theatre for my first time and was confronted by a large mechanical dragon hanging above the stage. The theatre itself was amazing.

From the moment they began I was blown away by the voices and the dancing. There is nothing quite like the experience of your first time hearing phenomenal singers live. Sure, I’ve been to concerts, but they had nothing on these women.

Suzie Mathers as Glinda and Jemma Rix as Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) were two of the most amazing singers I have ever heard.

The re imagining of the classic Oz story was truly astonishing. They wove in a prequel and a convincing alternative explanation to the witches and their roles in the Oz story. This story centres around the friendship of Glinda and Elphaba and how they changed each other for the better. It was really thought provoking to see how a different point of view can vastly change the way we see a character.

It was also really funny. Suzie Mathers’ portrayal as a young Glinda was part-Legally Blonde, part-Clueless, and although she was entirely more superficial than you would imagine Glinda to be, surprisingly, it fit. One of the people I went with said their eardrums had been shattered by the pitch of Glinda’s squeals of excitement.

The entire cast was amazing, from the dancers, to the actors, to the monkeys – I was super impressed with the monkeys. It was flawless.

This was a spectacular, well produced, well performed, event that everyone should see to understand what theatre can be.


More time?

I work reduced hours. It started as an experiment two and a half years ago, when I was deathly exhausted from working full time with chronic pain and fatigue. Now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is so muchWhite_Rabbit_KHREC to be savoured in life, so much to do. Beautiful brothers to see grow up, writing aspirations to attempt, gorgeous dogs to hang out with and so much to read!

The New Economics Foundation in the UK are supporters of the reduced working week. By working less, more efficient and productive hours, they hypothesise that we would reduce stress on ourselves, the economy and the environment.

Obviously, we can’t all afford to do it. We need to increase wages in line with living costs. New Zealand certainly has a way to go to figure out how to make a more just system, but a pay rise for the lowest wages seem a good start. I am lucky to have managed to work in a sector that has endowed me with the skills and experience to, after a university degree and seven years working, earn enough money to subsist on a reduced income. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an opportunity cost, I don’t spend a lot on clothing, I don’t go on holiday very often (I haven’t been overseas since I reduced my hours) and I am frugal with my money.
This does mean that when I purchase something, it is almost always a measured decision and I am always grateful for it.
As someone who works 25-30 hours per week, I am efficient and “on” in my working hours. Afterwards, (after a quick rest), I get to have an afternoon! I pick my brothers up from school, supervise homework, walk the dog, cook a nice meal, read, write, whatever I like. I am a staunch defender of this lifestyle. For someone who is not struggling with a chronic illness, the “reduced hours” quota may look different.
But imagine, if your banker wanted to coach a primary school softball team and she got to finish work at 3 on a Thursday to do that? How much more willing to be helpful to her clients would she be? Imagine if your doctor, instead of being harried when they see you, their 20th patient that day, got to have one day a week off? Imagine if all mothers could negotiate a way to work only school hours? Well this one is easy, children would be supervised, nurtured, entertained – surely this would translate into healthy, happy young people with less likelihood of leaving school early, offending or drug and alcohol use.
21 hours
You can find the New Economics Foundation’s 2010 report 21 Hours exploring organisations that had introduced a shorter working week. The benefits they suggest a shorter working week would produce are:
  • Safeguarding the natural resources of the planet.
  • Social justice and well-being for all.
  • A robust and prosperous economy
Of course, they are aware that things need to change to accommodate this, including flexibility in the workplace and higher wages. I found it to be interesting reading, so you may too. 
Find an overview of the book here, which includes the introduction and chapter listings.