Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Published: Crown Publishing Jan 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from January 29 to 31, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

“So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.
So yeah. I’m fucked.”

I wasn’t expecting The Martian to be funny but I found myself chuckling surprisingly often. Watney’s logs are full of witty wisecracks and good humour, even if it is occasionally juvenile and crude. Mark Watney is an optimist – perhaps the ultimate optimist. No matter the challenges thrown at him – lack of food, an exploding tent, a smashed faceplate, disco music, he just keeps going, solving one problem at a time. Watney’s MacGyver-like skill may be a little hard to swallow but I was willing to go with it and believe in him.

“Also, I have duct tape. Ordinary duct tape, like you buy at a hardware store. Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape.”

The amount of tension was also a surprise, with each setback on Mars, and back on Earth as the rescue effort gets underway, I found myself more and more anxious for Watney. I really wasn’t sure if he would or would not survive, but I desperately wanted him to find a way off of the planet and get back home.

“Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me.”

I have no idea if the science in The Martian is accurate, but I believed Weir anyway, plus this is science fiction so he is allowed plenty of leeway. While I admit that on occasion I found some of the technical detail tedious, I appreciated the sense of authenticity it lent to the story, and I feel like I learnt stuff – always a bonus.

“The chemistry is on my side. the question now is how do I actually make this reaction happen slowly, and how do I collect the hydrogen? The answer is: I don’t know.
I suppose I’ll think of something. Or die.”

Witty, clever and thrilling The Martian is a terrific read. Science fiction is far from my favourite genre but this book may well be one of my favourites of the year.

Available to Purchase From

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SciFi set in space

Review: Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

Title: Things Half in Shadow

Author: Alan Finn

Published: Gallery Books December 2014

Status: Read from December 28 to 30, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Things Half in Shadow is an entertaining mystery thriller with a paranormal twist, set in postbellum Philadelphia, in which author Alan Finn (the pen name of Todd Ritter) introduces an unusual crime solving duo – independently wealthy crime reporter, Edward Clark and brazen confidence trickster, Lucy Collins, who become unlikely allies when they are present at the death of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city’s most highly regarded medium.

Edward tells the tale of Things Half in Shadow as an old man sharing the story with his granddaughter. The two lead characters are wonderfully drawn, interesting and believable with intriguing secrets.
Edward is a gentleman, a veteran of the civil war, independently wealthy and engaged to a young lady of society. Tasked by his editor to expose Philadelphia’s psychic fraudsters preying on the grieving families of those lost in the war, he is reluctant to do so, though he has a secret that makes him uniquely qualified for the feature.
Mrs. Lucy Collins claims to be a ‘spiritually gifted’ young widow, offering her services as a medium to the bereaved of Philadelphia and is Edward’s first target for his newspaper expose. In truth she is a ‘fallen’ woman, successfully scamming Philadelphia society with simple sleight of hand.

The plot sees Edward and Lucy forced to cooperate in the wake of Pastor’s murder to clear their names, despite their mutual antipathy. There are several suspects including the other man and women who were in attendance at the seance, Leonora’s husband and a mysterious man in black who seems to be shadowing Edward. The suspense is well crafted, and the mystery behind Leonora’s unusual death is much more complex than it seems, eventually exposing a startling conspiracy that stretches back into Edward’s past.

Historically atmospheric, with a surprise cameo from PT Barnum, Things Half in Shadow is a great mystery tale, and one of my favourite books for 2014. Finn hints that Edward and Lucy may return soon, I can’t wait.

Available to Purchase From

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in Australia: via Booko

Review: The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

 

Title: The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

Author: Anna McPartlin

Published: Black Swan: Transworld UK December 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from December 20 to 21, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, wildly funny and emotionally devastating, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes is a superb novel from Anna McPartlin.

Forty year old, single mother Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes has bravely fought the ravages of cancer for four years, but now she and her family are forced to face the truth…she has just days left to live. As Rabbit drifts in and out of consciousness in her hospice bed, recalling the most important moments of her youth, her family and friends struggle to accept their impending loss.

A story of heartbreak, joy, love and loss, a novel with heart and soul… I was smiling broadly through it all, despite the tears running down my face.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Eden by Candice Fox

 

Title: Eden {Hades #2}

Author: Candice Fox

Published: Random House December 2014

Status: Read from December 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The sequel to Candice Fox’s stunning debut, Hades, Eden is a story about monsters, not the type that hide under the bed or in your closet, but those that walk amongst us, wearing the face of humanity. Murderers, rapists, pedophiles and cannibals shrouded in the guise of well dressed gentlemen, respected police officers, and restless children.

The narrative is a bit of a surprise, I was expecting, given the novel’s title, that the story would unfold more fully from Eden’s perspective, instead it is the first person voice of Frank, and a series of flashbacks illuminating Hades’ past that dominate.

Frank is still reeling from the events that occurred in Hades and is drowning in booze, pills and sorrow, resisting Eden’s attempts to get him back to work. But Eden doesn’t take no for an answer and she forces his hand, first when she asks him to do some work for her father, Hades, and then when she accepts an undercover assignment in pursuit of a serial killer.

While Eden searches for the murderer on an isolated farm housing runaways and petty criminals, Frank divides his time between watching over Eden and searching for clues to decipher the fate of a girl Hades once knew, in order to shake the attentions of her nephew who is convinced Hades killed her.

Flashbacks of Hades early years introduce the girl, Sunday, and provide insight into the formation of the man and underworld legend. Fox has developed a dark and twisted past for Hades, stained with violence and loss which is not always easy to stomach.

As dark and gritty as its predecessor, Eden is a riveting story, rippling with tension and barely leashed savagery. This is compelling reading.

 

Available to purchase from

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****

Click the cover to learn about Hades

 

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Review: Laurinda by Alice Pung

 

Title: Laurinda

Author: Alice Pung

Published: Black Inc Books November 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from November 15 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Alice Pung has received critical acclaim for her memoirs, Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter which explore her experience as an Asian-Australian.

Laurinda is Alice Pung’s first fiction novel and features a teenage girl, Lucy Lam, who is awarded the inaugural ‘Equal Access’ scholarship to the exclusive Laurinda Ladies College.

Lucy is the daughter of Chinese/Vietnamese ‘boat’ immigrants who live in a ‘povvo’ area of suburban Australia. Her father is a shift worker in a carpet factory while her mother, who speaks almost no English, sews in their garage under sweatshop conditions while caring for Lucy’s baby brother. As an Asian-Australian scholarship student without a background of wealth and privilege, Lucy is an outsider at Laurinda in more ways than one, but wants to fit in and take advantage of the opportunities the school affords her.

Initially Lucy feels confident she will be able to hold her own at Laurinda but she soon realises that there is a cultural and social divide she is at a loss as to how best negotiate. In particular, Lucy is both fascinated with and horrified by the dynamics at the school which contrast sharply with her experience at Christ Our Saviour College. Laurinda is in thrall to three young women known as the Cabinet who wield a frightening amount of influence within the school with the tacit approval of the headmistress, Mrs Grey. Amber, Chelsea and Brodie are manipulative and cruel yet have cultivated an aura of power that none of their peers, and few of their teachers, are willing to challenge. As Lucy is absorbed into the school’s insular environment she is caught up in the ethos of Laurinda, and nearly loses herself, but eventually finds a way to forge her own path.

The narrative is presented in the form of a series of letters addressed to ‘Linh’ whom we assume is a friend of Lucy’s from her previous school. The author’s portrayal of Lucy is compassionate, sensitive and achingly real. Lucy is smart, capable and strong, but she is also a teenager and as such is beset by bouts of insecurity and vulnerability. Though I do not share the same ethnicity nor background as Lucy, I found her, and several of her experiences, easy to relate to.

Part satire, magnifying the pretensions of private school and the aspirations of immigrant families, part poignant coming of age tale, Pung draws on her own experiences which gives the story a sense of authenticity. Privilege, racism, class, identity and integrity are all themes explores in the novel. Pung also skilfully captures the almost universal experience for teenage girls negotiating high school where a small number of students often have an inexplicable cache of power and wield it without mercy. While Lucy is not the only victim of the Cabinet’s bullying, she also has to negotiate the additional stress of cultural discord and the expectations of Laurinda’s principal who demands Lucy is suitably grateful for, and repays, the privilege she has been given.

The writing is sharp and witty with characters and scenes that are vividly portrayed. The pace is good and the structure works well to deliver an interesting surprise. Laurinda is a clever, entertaining and insightful novel, suitable for both a young adult and adult audience and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to either.

 

Available to purchase from

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*****

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Weekend Cooking: Mug Cakes by Mima Sinclair

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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Title: Mug Cakes

Author: Mima Sinclair

Published: Kyle Books: Simon & Schuster Au November 2014

My Thoughts:

It takes just a handful of ingredients and a few minutes in a microwave to make one of the 40 cakes in Mima Sinclair’s Mug Cakes. These single serve treats are ideal for a quick sugar fix or delicious dessert.

Mug Cakes is presented in a small format hardcover book with full colour photographs accompanying most recipes. The ingredients and method for each recipe are well set out, with additional tips highlighted. Both of my daughters (18 and 10 years old) easily followed the instructions to make their own mug cakes without any supervision.

Sinclair begins Mug Cakes with some useful tips about choosing ingredients, how to check a mug is appropriate for use, and some essential advice on how best to prep, cook and enjoy the recipes. One tip we can pass on is to heed Sinclair’s advice about the size of the eggs. We only had extra large eggs to prepare one of the recipes (Sinclair recommends medium sized eggs only) and there was a distinctly ‘eggy’ taste to it.

The cookbook is divided into four sections: Classics, Occasions, Happy Hour and Treats and Puds. You need little else other than a spoon, mug and microwave and ingredients you likely already have in your pantry or refrigerator. From Carrot Cake to a Chocolate Brownie, Black Forest to Mojito, Rocky Road to Lemon Curd Cheesecake, the recipes are varied and most take less than five minutes to prepare and bake.
Included also are recipes for a Gluten-Free and Egg-Free cake which can be tweaked with flavour and topping to suit.

My daughters enjoyed the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cake (the recipe can be found HERE), the Triple Chocolate Cake and the Red Velvet Cake. I liked the Apple & Cinnamon Cake with caramel sauce. My best friend tried both the Mocha and Baileys on the Rocks recipes and was delighted with the results.

Offering quick, easy and delicious recipes Mug Cakes is a treat of a book. I know it will be used often in my household and I think it would also make a wonderful gift, accompanied by a mug cake of course!

mugcakes

Vanilla with choc chips & Mocha

Mug Cakes is available to purchase from

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Review: Forbidden Fruit by Ilsa Evans

 

Title: Forbidden Fruit { Nell Forrest Mystery #3}

Author: Ilsa Evans

Published: Momentum: Pan Macmillan October 2014

Status: Read from November 01 to 02, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Forbidden Fruit is the third fabulously entertaining book in Ilsa Evans’ cozy mystery series set in the small fictional Australian town of Majic, featuring the middle aged accidental sleuth, Nell Forrest.

Forbidden Fruit picks up not long after Ill-Gotten Gains left off. Nell has moved into her newly purchased and renovated home, once the storefront for her absentee father’s butcher shop, and is digging a hole to plant an apple tree in her backyard when she uncovers human remains. The body is eventually identified as a young wife and mother who once lived in the adjoining premises and disappeared in the early 1970’s. The police suspect Nell’s father murdered her, prompting his return from England where he has been living for over thirty years, but Nell is convinced they have it wrong and sets out to prove his innocence.

Nell has her hands full in Forbidden Fruit what with two of her five daughters about to give birth, new in-law’s-to-be to entertain, her part time lover, Detective Ashley Armistead, demanding a commitment, and her ex husband parading his newborn daughter around town, yet she can’t help but get involved in the investigation when her father is charged with murder. Aided by her sister, Petra, and with clues provided by the gossipy residents of Majic (including Grace June Rae – the character I won naming rights to), Nell uncovers some disturbing secrets about the early years of her parents marriage, and unmasks a killer.

The mystery is well plotted with a trail of red herrings and surprising twists. It was well over halfway before I figured out the identity of the real killer, though not their motivation until the final scenes.

I have loved the humour in this series, from the ‘fan’ letters (Nell writes a syndicated newspaper column called Middle Aged Spread) that preface each chapter, to the exasperated snark Nell mumbles under her breath. The barely restrained chaos of Nell’s family life is a real feature in all three books, as is the eccentricity of the residents of Majic.

Forbidden Fruit, like the entire series, is a delightful blend of mystery, humour and domestic drama. Sadly this will be the final installment in the Nell Forrest Mystery series unless Nell finds a stronger audience. I implore readers whose interest is piqued to purchase a copy from your favourite ebook retailer.

* As of Nov 2014 the first book, Nefarious Doings is free to download from Amazon and both books 2 and 3 are just a few dollars

Available to Purchase from

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Review: Family Matters by Pat McDermott

 

 

Title: Family Matters: Laughter and wisdom from the home front

Author: Pat McDermott

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Status: Read from October 28 to 29, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

There would be few women who have never picked up a copy of The Australian Womens Weekly magazine during their lifetime, I grew up reading its mix of celebrity features, hard luck stories, recipes, and regular columns, my favourite of which was always Pat McDermott’s ‘Family Matters’.

For thirty years McDermott chronicled the chaos of her family life as the wife of the MOTH (Man Of The House aka Dennis) and as the mother of five children, Reagan, Flynn, Patrick, Courtenay and Rowen (aka Ruff Red), and more recently also as a mother in-law and grandmother.

Family Matters is a collection of some of her columns spanning the time from which her children were rambunctious toddlers to grunting teenagers, to adults who left to make their own way in the world, and then came back. Her anecdotes, and confessions, are warm, funny, honest and so easy for me, as a mother of four, to relate to. As it happens, I have a ‘Ruff Red’ of my own!

Family Matters is a wonderful, laugh out loud read for any parent in the trenches or those with fond memories of raising their family. Personally I was left wanting more of Pat’s charm and humour and I hope there will be more collections from her column published in the future.

Available to purchase from

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Review: Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

 

Title: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Author: Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Published: Scribner: Simon and Schuster August 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 07 to 08, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“Don’t jaywalk. Wear your seat belt when you drive. Better yet, stay out of the car, and get some exercise. Watch your weight. If you’re a smoker stop right now. If you aren’t, don’t start. Guns put holes in people. Drugs are bad. You know that yellow line on the subway platform? It’s there for a reason. Staying alive, as it turns out, is mostly common sense.”

This is the advice of Judy Melinek, the author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, gleaned from her experience as an assistant medical examiner in New York City. From 2001 to 2003 Melinek performed hundreds of autopsies on the victims of homicides, suicides, accidents, natural diseases, therapeutic complications, and undetermined causes, that crossed her table.

Melinek’s very first post mortem involved the death of a young man, a heroin addict diagnosed with sickle-cell trait who died in hospital, her second an elderly man who sustained severe burns in a house fire, the third a pregnant woman, the victim of a hit and run. In general, each chapter of Working Stiff groups together cases by manner of death, detailing Melinek’s examination of patients young and old, male and female, destitute and wealthy, and everything in between. The final chapters focus on the medical examiners office’s role in the wake of the Twin Towers collapse on September 11, and the crash of American Airlines flight 587.

The narrative is very readable, almost conversational in tone, and mostly free of the medical jargon one might expect. Melinek is at all times respectful but not humourless, sharing both professional perspective and personal observations. I do feel compelled to warn the unwary reader that this isn’t a book for the squeamish with its graphic record of gruesome injury and detailed descriptions of the forensic autopsy process.

What shines through is Melinek’s passion and commitment to her job as she works to investigate and determine the cause and manner of death, comfort the bereaved, provide assistance to the justice system and “speak for the dead”.

Informative, entertaining and engaging Working Stiff is a fascinating account of the work of a medical examiner, well told by Judy Melinek and her husband T.J. Mitchell.

* I gave the book an extra 1/2 star for Judy’s admission she wears “sensible shoes and a Medical Examiner windbreaker” during her rare visits to crime scenes – not six inch stiletto’s and Armani suits.

 

Working Stiff is available to purchase from

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Review: Deeper Water by Jessie Cole

 

Title: Deeper Water

Author: Jessie Cole

Published: Harper Collins Au August 2014

Read an extract

Status: Read from August 03 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Jessie Cole’s second novel, Deeper Water, is a graceful, captivating novel introducing Mema, a young woman who lives a simple life with her mother in a remote valley in Northern New South Wales.

Mema is twenty two but, having spent most of her life isolated from wider society, has an innocence more befitting a young teenager, happiest running barefoot in the rain with her only friend, Anja, or watching the sky lighten at dawn. She is not uneducated but is unworldly, with little curiosity about what lies beyond the boundary of the family property. She is naive but not unknowing, aware of her mother’s reputation for promiscuity, but uninterested in men or relationships. But everything begins to change for Mema when rescues a stranger, Hamish, from the flooded creek and slowly her ‘unknowns become knowns’.

They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I’m yet to know”

Deeper Water beautifully explores Mema’s belated coming-of-age, her growing awareness of herself, of her desires, and of what the outside world may have to offer her. Mema is a richly drawn character struggling with the emotional changes Hamish’s presence awakens, and the way they affect her relationships, with her family, Anja and a neighbour, Billy, in particular.

Deeper Water is also about connection, or the lack there of. Mema is intimately connected to the landscape in which she lives, and the family she loves, but divorced from the wider world. Hamish, despite being horrified by Mema’s lack of internet and mobile access, can claim no real anchor, and despite his environmental credentials, has little connection to the land.

The landscape in which Deeper Water is set has character of its own and is brought to life by Cole’s evocative descriptions.

“At dusk the creek takes on a certain colour. velvety brown. Without the dapples sunshine, its depths are muted and mysterious and all the creatures seem to come to the surface. The catfish linger on their nests and the eels float by like black ribbons. The turtles perch on the flats of exposed rocks and the kingfishers fly past like the brightest of tailsmans.”

With its simple yet elegant prose, and quiet yet deeply felt emotion, Deeper Water is a mesmerising story about a young woman’s awakening to the possibilities of love and life.

 

Learn more about Jessie Cole and Deeper Water in this guest post, published earlier today

Deeper Water is available to purchase from

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Deeper Water Trailer from HarperCollins Australia on Vimeo.

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