Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

What a mouthful of a name! It actually took me a few days into reading this book for me to realise the full title. I just thought that the title was Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki. Oops! Look at the cover, you might understand why? Maybe? Either way Murakami is a name that has kept on popping up all over the place. After pursuing his catalogue at the bookstore I finally settled on this one for my first foray into his works. A fine choice if I do say so myself. Safe to say after only a few pages in I was a fan. This novel is about, you guessed it, Tsukuru Tazaki and his relationship with his four best friends form high school. Each of their names translates to a different colour, while Tsukuru is well, colourless. Colourless by name and colourless by nature, in his opinion anyway. One day out of the blue his friends decide to stop speaking to him with no explanation. Tsukuru struggles through life unable to form meaningful attachments with others until he is prompted to return to his past and find out what really happened. Why did his friends abandon him?

 

Instantly I fell in love with Murakami’s writing style. It is straight forward, stoic, yet descriptive and rich. The Japanese voice is unlike any other. Compare it to the highly emotional, impulsive mind of a Westerner like many of the books you read. The contrast is sharp and I found myself responding to the simple honesty of his words. Tsukuru was an intriguing narrator. He was well spoken, modest and clearly damaged by his past. I found his inner monologue a pleasure to read. His view on death and how close he came to it was fascinating. I also loved his descriptions of his group of friends: Aka, too intelligent for his own good, Ao, the typical jock, shy and beautiful Shiro and the quirky and funny Kuro. I wanted to know so much more about them and, ultimately, to understand why the abandoned him without a warning.

 

I can see where others may not have enjoyed the ending. This is a book that will leave you hanging. While many of the questions posed in the book are answered in a more than satisfying way, there are a few niggling questions left unanswered. If you aren’t a fan of a lingering mystery, this may not be for you. I found that enough of my questions were answered but I found myself wondering what really happened in the end? Did Tsukuru end up with was he was so sure he wanted by those last few pages? I will never know, but I can wonder. Another aspect of the book that I quite enjoyed was the references to the metaphysical. The existence of Tsukuru’s true nature within himself and the other abstract thoughts that Murakami introduced were intriguing and, again, quite representative of aspects of the Japanese culture.

 

While this was my first Murakami, it will certainly not be my last! Although with such a large back catalogue any suggestions of where to go to next? Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki was a fairly short, enjoyable and addictive read. The characters were mysterious and elusive, the mysteries of the novel left you wanting more and the use of language by Murakami was impeccable. I give this novel three of Tsukuru’s train stations that he enjoys so much.

 

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Looking For Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta

Looking For Alibrandi is another novel by a favourite young adult author of mine. After having a few quotes from the book run through my head a few times I decided a reread was in order. This novel is told from the perspective of Josie Alibrandi, seventeen and starting her last year at school. Josie has ambitions to become a barrister, if only she can get through the drama of her HSC year. Coming from an Italian background Josie has to negotiate the melodramas of her mother, grandmother and suddenly a father who has thus far, been nonexistent in her life. Plus all that goes along with being a teenage girl, school, boys and friends.

 

Josie is a fun narrator. She is emotional, dramatic and passionate about her life. There is never a dull moment between her family, friends and boys. You will laugh along with all of the typical teenager moments and fall in love with Josie and all those around her. This books isn’t all young adult teenage fluff though. This novel touches on some serious issues, some may be less relevant in today’s more lax society, but this novel provides great insight into the life of someone straddling two cultures that don’t always understand where the other is coming from. Definitely a common situation in our multicultural society. Not to mention touching on subjects like the parental pressures, illegitimacy, family conflicts and much more. As Josie rides the waves of her last year at school, you fill find yourself riding along with her anticipating what will happen next and will she make it through the year unscathed.

 

Marchetta provides the reader with not only one strong independent young woman, but two more. Both Josie’s mother and grandmother are strong women who had fought their own battles over the years that the reader slowly learns about, along with Josie over the course of the novel. The other supporting characters, Michael, John, Jacob and Sister Louise, to name a few are all vivid and memorable characters. They give the story life and you end up caring about them all too much by the end of the novel.

 

This is your standard coming of age novel but with so much more. I would recommend this a standard for all young women during their high school years. There are many lessons to be learned within these pages. It is also a story that can be enjoyed later in life, reminiscing on the days past where you were young and passionate about life itself with big dreams and so much potential. There is also a kickass movie to go along with it. I promise if you watch it U2’s With Or Without You will never be the same for you again. If you haven’t read this already I would definitely recommend picking it up. I give Looking For Alibrandi four of Jacob’s motorbikes.

 

 

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After You – Jojo Moyes

A quiet Friday night in, I decided it was finally time to face After You. I absolutely loved both the book and the movie Me Before You so I was curious to see how Lou was coping in life post-Will. After You follows Louisa eighteen months after Will died. She is working in an airport bar and pretty angry with life. Until one night someone  comes along and changes it all. The books follows on watching Louisa heal and start to rebuild her life.

 

This book was an extremely easy read, in fact I read it in one sitting. Personally I wasn’t overly impressed with it. I didn’t really feel that the book had a distinct plot. Yes, I was curious to see how Lou was faring and anxious to see her end up in a good place but upon completing the book I didn’t really feels as though I gained much in the end. In fact, I would prefer the book Me After You having just been a stand alone as I feel it tells a complete and powerful story on it’s own. Yes, After You gives you a picture of how grief really is, that it just doesn’t go away but I feel there are a multitude of other books out there that will give you the safe feeling.

 

I think my main issue with the novel was that I found it hard to connect all the characters to their former selves from Me Before You. It almost felt like an entirely new set of characters. Of course it is expected that grief and loss will change people but I found it difficult to imagine this new Lou to be the same person as the old Lou. Even the dynamics of her family was completely different and hard to imagine. Her relationship with her family was once again strained but in a completely different way and I found it difficult to marry the two completely different dynamics.

 

The new characters were loveable and unique and I have no complaints about the writing style or the twist in the story. Moyes once again manages to write a touching story with loveable characters. However, the magic that I encountered in Me Before You was lost for me in After You and I know I will not read this particular story again. I do feel a sense of guilt to the author and characters but I feel I must give this book two of Lily’s plants as I was just unable to connect with it. That is not to say that many of you out there will not love the continuation of Lou’s story so if you are really curious to see where it goes, I do still recommend reading it yourself and making up your own mind.

 

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Great Aussie Reads.

Beaches. Vegemite. Kangaroos and Koalas. Hemsworth brothers. A lot of great things have come out of Australia. Great fiction is another. A fellow bookstagrammer recently posed the question: having moved here, what local authors should she try? This got me thinking, thinking of all the amazing Australian authors that have supplied me with some of my favourite books of all time. Thinking about how I want to share them all with you. Here it is, my list of must-read Australian authors.

 

John Marsden is probably the most prolific young adult author in Australia. his back catalogue is extensive, with novels such as So Much To Tell You, Letters From The Inside and Checkers. His novels deal with some serious issues for teenagers. His writing is mysterious, evocative and his stories will stay with you. His most popular work is the Tomorrow series and many Australian teenagers grew up reading Tomorrow When The War Began as an English text. Read: Tomorrow When The War Began is definitely the best place to start. While his books are aimed at young adults, this series translates well to adults also. The plot is unique and fascinating, leaving you wondering what would you do? A definite must-read and a classic I find myself coming back to regularly.

Melina Marchetta is another young adult author that I believe should be a staple in all teenage Australian girl’s lives. Her novels follow strong, independent and unique young women navigating life. Looking For Alibrandi and Saving Francesca are both set in the suburbs of Sydney with both Josie and Francesca hailing from Australian/Italian families and their unique sets of cultural and familial issues along with all the teenage drama of schools, friendships and boys. On The Jellicoe Road follows Taylor, at boarding school in country NSW. This novel is different to the other two, splitting off between the present times and written memories from a bunch of teenagers in the 80’s. The story is a puzzle for Taylor to put together to understand how she came to live on the Jellicoe Road. Each of Marchetta’s books will touch your heart and leave you in love with the characters. Read: Looking For Alibrandi is the popular favourite, also made into a movie in 2000 but you can’t go wrong with Saving Francesca and On The Jellicoe Road. In fact, read them all!

No other author describes the feeling of Australia quite like Tim Winton. I can’t even describe how his words just capture the essence of Australia and the beautiful landscape that encompasses it. His prose is like free-form poetry and I have found myself under his spell on many occasions. He is definitely a crowd favourite here and has more than earnt every praise. There isn’t much more to say than you need to try one of his books once in your life, particularly if Australia has been your home at some point in your life. His words conjure a strong nostalgia than makes you fall in love with Australia over and over again. Read: Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and Breath are all favourites of mine and all worth the time spent devouring their pages.

The late Bryce Courtenay is definitely a beloved Australian/South African author. The Power of One is one of my favourite novels of all time and certainly my most read (in fact my copy is falling apart from too much love). His love for both his homes: South Africa and Australia is evident in his writing. While both The Power of One and it’s sequel, Tandia, highlight the many problems in South Africa, they describe a harsh but beautiful landscape and culture that you can’t help but fall in love with. Read:  Jessica is one of his novels set in Australia. It is one of the most tragic, yet arresting novels you will read.

Kate Morton is the queen of romantic fiction in my books. A discovery I only made this year, I have been captivated by several of her novels and intend to immerse myself in more. Morton creates some intricate mysteries than are generally transgenerational, often taking place over several decades. The ending are perfectly placed puzzles that alway fall together to make complete, dainty endings. Read: Morton’s latest offering The Lake House is what initially hooked me on her work, with The Secret Keeper being another crowd favourite.

Everyone knows Markus Zuzak and his masterpiece The Book Thief. Seriously, if you haven’t read this book, go out and read it. One of my favourite bookish memories from this year was listening to this story as an audiobook. It wasn’t until then that I realised just how poignant his words and descriptions are. This book is 100% worth the hype. The Messenger is one of his lesser known works that is another great read with some interesting perspectives. Read: The Book Thief should definitely be read by all but I would also recommend branching out and trying The Messenger for sure.

Christos Tsiolkas is probably the most forthright author I have ever read. His prose is brutally honest, too much so at times, and utterly riveting. Also another author that highlights how multicultural Australia is, his novels talk about the hard things in life. How they really are and what people really think. I found his words confronting at times but they always ring true. His work is always a great bookclub choice,  from the content to the writing style, Tsiolkas’ novels are designed to create opinions and discussion. Read: The Slap is a great book and an interesting look at one event in the eyes of eight different people. You won’t be disappointed.

Relatively new to the writing scene Hannah Kent is a debut author, whose first novel has won much acclaim. I may be biased with Kent hailing from Adelaide, my hometown, but her debut novel Burial Rites has earnt a reputation all of it’s own. Burial Rites follows the story of Agnes, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Her language, particularly in regards to the scenery, is haunting and leaves you wanting more. Read: Burial Rites is currently her only work, however, keep an eye out for her second novel, The Good People, due to be released in October.

 

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Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Life After Life is a book that I had no knowledge of before purchasing it. The description intrigued me enough to buy it there and then. What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right? Atkinson’s book follows Ursula  Todd throughout her many lives. The lives she lives over and over again trying to get it right. You follow her on her many paths watching her choices, her mistakes and how different paths can still lead to the same place. The novel starts in 1910 as Ursula is born and follows through her childhood and much of her adult life, focusing on the years of WWII.

 

This book is highly unique in its delivery. You live Ursula’s lives over and over again. Resetting each time she slips up and the darkness closes in. Funnily enough, I found the style reminiscent of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. The books you would read over and over again in your childhood. Starting back at the beginning each time you hit a dead end, striving to make it through unscathed. I have to admit, it got a little wearing at the beginning when her lives were often short and you found yourself back in the snow repeatedly, reliving the same scenes again quite quickly. Just as it was starting to really grate me, Atkinson eases on the early childhood and you start living Ursula’s adult lives often admits the war. From there I found the book intriguing and moved my way through the first half quite quickly.

 

Atkinson’s way of telling this story was superb. There was no mythical mumbo-jumbo or fluffy predicability. Ursula’s deaths are explained simply and concisely. Her foresight or feelings of unease in particular situations are well written and quite natural. There is an amount of foresight that you encounter at times but it is kept understated and does not take over the plot. It allows the reader to focus on her lives as she lives each one, while quietly wondering where the paths would differ, where they would lead. The opening passage gives you a hint of where the book will ultimately lead, which opens up another interesting idea proposed by Atkinson. How different would history be if you erased one prolific figure? Something to leave you pondering even after the story is finished.

 

The characters that Atkinson described were all interesting and vibrant. Ursula was a pleasurable experience for a narrator. She was bright, engaging, interesting and most of all I found seeing all her different selves, depending on her path, quite fascinating. I fund it really highlights how much  a certain event can have lasting effects on a person. Izzie was another highlight. Irresponsible, impulsive but a great laugh. She is a bit of a train wreck of a character, but one you love despite it all. The rest of the Todd family are intriguing characters (apart from the dreaded Maurice, whom no one likes) that you don’t learn enough about. They each are alluded to being quite multi-faceted, however, this is not explored in the book and you are left wanting more. Atkinson has written a companion novel, A God In Ruins, following Ursula’s beloved brother Teddy if you want more of the Todd family. I think this one will be added to my TBR list.

 

Overall, Life After Life is an interesting read. It is unique, insightful and delves into some great concepts that leave you plenty to ponder once you have concluded the story. I give Life After Life three bunnies, rescued by Ursula’s foresight.

 

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Ape House – Sara Gruen

After loving At The Water’s Edge and Water For Elephants I was delighted to discover that there was a third novel from Sara Gruen. After reading the blurb once again she managed to pique my interest. Ape House begins with Isabel and her family of bonobos, the smaller species of chimpanzee. They are part of a research facility that is working on the use of sign language as a means of communication with the bonobos. Everything goes wrong when animal rights protestors set the bonobos free and the apes are sold to smooth over the situation. Isabel is devastated and eventually the apes resurface on a reality TV show. What follows is Isabel trying to reunite with her ape family and John, a reporter who met the apes before the attack, trying to get the story and keep his career afloat.

 

This book has quite a fe negative reviews about the place. Most of these stem from the disappointment in realising that this is not the hard-hitting literary story that they imagined. And while the apes are the focus of all the action, they are not primary focus of the plot. The story mostly follows the actions of the people around them, those that are affected by they lives. Rather than being a heavy-handed story that pulls at your emotions, Gruen keeps it a light, enjoyable work of fiction. Personally I found it highly enjoyable, an easy read that I couldn’t put down and enjoyed every aspect of it.

 

This book does touch on some important issues relating to the rights of animals and how they are treated. You can’t escape the themes of animal experimentation and mistreatment at the hands of humans. Gruen does pay respect to these opinions and the reader will leave with a sense of disappointment with the human race underneath it all. You can tell she is an animal lover herself and some of the experiences described i the novel are ones she lived herself. Gruen studied hard to be invited to visit the Great Ape Trust, the real-life equivalent found in the book and relished her time meeting the apes. This book was well-researched and it shows within the story.

 

Ape House does mostly focus on Isabel and John over the course of the story. They are both great characters. Isabel with her incredible passion for the bonobos, her family. I loved the way this character introduced the ideas of how similar humans are to the bonobos but how their relationship with us is merely that we are similar and can communicate with each other, without an insinuation if mastery over each other. Something that humans are unable to do, we believe we are more intelligent than other life-forms and that, therefore, we are above them, they are mere animals. Isabel challenges that and her character is highly enjoyable to learn about. John is a completely different character. He is floundering in life. Both him and his wife are trying to keep their heads above water in their cut-throat careers. I enjoyed his point of view immensely and loved the way the novel followed. Comical at times with a host of vibrant peripheral characters. Characters that probably offended those that were after their literary masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong I adore heavy, emotional literature that tears up my soul leaving me shattered at the conclusion (A Little Life, I’m looking at you) but I do also enjoy something light and breezy and I felt this book was a great combination of the two.

 

Definitely give this book a go (minus the high expectations) particularly if you are a fan of Gruen. I have loved every one of her novels so far, each unique, each with a crazy story and each has touched my heart. Ape House was no different. In fact it taught me quite a bit about bonobos and other primates and I quite enjoyed the small snippets in the book from their perspective. I give Ape House four bonobos, the cheeky little monkeys!

 

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Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas

In what must have been well-planned timing this book was brought to my attention as a mini-series on TV just as  we are coming into the beginning of the Olympics. Australia, as I’m sure many of us are aware, is obsessed with swimming and what better way to bring it in that with a story told form the perspective of a young swimmer. Danny is 14, has jus been offered a scholarship to a fancy school. Something he isn’t too thrilled about, however, his mantra is that it will make him a better swimmer. Swimming is Danny’s hing and he is well aware that he is faster, stronger, better than the others. This book is told in split perspectives of Danny’s across a period of almost 20 years. Starting at 14 and following him through to the present. A present very different to his earlier prospective one.

 

This novel was true Tsiolkas style, honest and brutal telling you how it is. If you are offended by strong language or graphic content, particularly related to sexuality then this may not be the book for you. Personally, I love Tsiolkas’ style that gets straight to the point not matter how harsh it may sound. Like with The Slap there are times you are aghast at the internal dialogue of Danny but the beauty of it is that it is the truth. Us as humans all too often think things that are too hard, things we wouldn’t say out loud, things we don’t really believe, but do think for those fleeting seconds. I like that he captures a true inner monologue, even though it may be confronting and repulsive at times, it captures the essence of reality.

 

Because of this inner monologue I found myself disliking Danny quite a lot as a narrator. He is arrogant, expects everything to go his way and is unable to compromise from wha he believes to be true in the way that only a teenager can. On the other hand he is also compulsive, competitive and single-minded to his own demise. For those reasons I was unable to put the book down and found that I had read half the book in just one night. As much as I dislike him as a person, I found his fascinating to no end. Our personalities are complete opposites so this was an opportunity to put myself into the shoes of an elite athlete, with that level of discipline that I could never begin to experience within myself. In contrast I really enjoyed the chapters from the point of view of Dan, now grown up having lived through the consequences of his past actions. Much more matured, measured and deeper, more feeling. This Dan I found much more relatable and likeable. The fact that the book kept jumping between the two time points kept me on my toes, kept me wanting to bridge the gap between these two jarringly different characters.

 

Once again Tsoilkas has written another though provoking story that you just can’t put down and walk away from. His written word is blunt, offensive and undoubtably Australian. He captures the essence of hypocrisy in our society in a way that might make many people feel uncomfortable. Another great choice for a book club, guaranteed to spark debate. Hitting the nail on the head again, I give Barracuda  three swimmers, the nation’s sporting obsession.

 

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