Worthy Thoughts

Books, reading, life & other worthy thoughts

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Author: Kate DiCamillo

Publisher: Walker Books

I loved this book! I fell in love with the characters. I devoured it and I wanted more. I was utterly enthralled by Kate DiCamillo’ beautiful writing. I wanted Louisana’s story to go on and on and I was disappointed when the book finished.

In a compelling first-person voice, twelve-year-old Louisana relates the story of her journey to Richford, Georgia. The year is 1977, and this adds to the charm of the story. Louisana tells her story with great detail and always includes her thoughts and opinions – which are heartfelt and at times hilarious.

Louisana’s impulsive, erratic grandmother awakens her one night because the day of reckoning has arrived, insisting that they must leave town immediately. Louisana and her grandmother travel through Florida and stop in Richford, Georgia, at the Good Night Sleep Tight motel. The trip from Florida to Georgia is far from uneventful, and ending up at the Good Night Sleep Tight motel is due to circumstances from their action-packed journey.

Lousiana finds out many truths while in Richford, Georgia that throw her into great turmoil. All that she has believed to be true isn’t and Louisana feels alone, shattered and unanchored.

The characters in this book are delightful and funny. I was captured by this small town and the characters that live within the town. In particular, DiCamillo builds a resilient and compassionate character in Louisana, and her observations of the people around her are hilariously both down-to-earth and whimsical.  Louisana’s comments give us so much more than if DiCamillo had described the so-called character trait.

I was starting to see what kind of person he was. He was the kind of person who, if you asked him for one of something, gave you two instead.

I did not understand how someone could play the organ so poorly, just as I did not understand how someone could have a seemingly lifetime supply of chocolate caramels and not share them.

“OK,’ I said. “And maybe as an extra-special surprise for me, you will actually remove the curlers from your hair.”

Much of what happens to Louisana is heartbreaking, but Louisana always makes you smile and her sharp observations of the world make you laugh through the tears.

Louisana’s Way Home is a beautifully written book. It also a beautifully presented book and would sit proudly on many bookshelves. The characters are charming and the language so exquisitely crafted. A special book that deserves to sit on many gorgeous bookshelves.

sadie

Author: Courtney Summers

I have read a lot of young adult books over the years and you always have your troubled teenager, but Sadie was the first young adult book where I felt that there was no hope for the main character. You can feel the insurmountable battle she is up against and your heart breaks for her. Every step of her journey is disheartening. You do wonder if by some miracle Sadie will get her happy ending, but then again Sadie isn’t looking for a happy ending, she just wants justice and justice isn’t always happy or satisfying.

Sadie will haunt you long after you have finished reading. Yes, the story is intense and uncompromising, but this a story that should be heard. We see and hear so much from celebrities on the #MeToo movement that we forget that there are victims out there who will never be heard and who will never be able to free themselves from the legacy of abuse and poverty.

Courtney Summers is a writer who doesn’t hold back. Her honesty is unflinching.

Nineteen-year-old Sadie is determined to find who she believes to be her younger sister Maddie’s killer. Sadie knows who killed Maddie; she just needs to find him and make him pay for what he did.

Interwoven with Sadie’s first-person account is the transcript of West McCray’s podcast series, The Girls, tracking his efforts to learn what’s happened to Sadie. Summers use of the podcast transcript becomes an effective way to build a backstory to Sadie and to let a multitude of characters have their say. Summers writing is taut and she keeps you captivated and you find yourself wanting to skip forward to Sadie’s narrative but also wanting to know what McCray has discovered. Sadie’s chapters are fast-paced and compelling. Sadie is determined to find Maddie’s killer and along the way she discovers many dirty secrets. McCray’s investigation follows Sadie and he talks to people who Sadie has shaken down to get information from to find her sister’s killer. The two perspectives work well together and you will become engaged entirely with both stories.

Sadie isn’t a likeable character and she’s probably not even sympathetic. Sadie has never had a lucky break and most likely never will. She left school, struggled to find a job because of her stutter. People think she’s stupid because of her stutter. She’s sarcastic but not in a light-hearted way. Her mother was a drug addict. She lives in a trailer park. She has suffered from both emotional and physical abuse. Her sister has been murdered.

Summers doesn’t write her as the beautiful, broken, misunderstood but sassy character. What found compelling about Sadie is that she’s tough, smart, perceptive and vulnerable. It is her vulnerability that will have you fighting for her and her story. You want Sadie to have the justice that she so deserves. Sadie’s relentless search isn’t about revenge, but justice.

This is a book that should be read. It is a frightening revelation of what many children have to deal with every day. Children who live with neglectful parents, abuse and poverty.

Sadie is an edgy, suspenseful book about abuse and power. It is a harrowing, intense and challenging read. A powerful book and one that I hope makes its way into many hands. Sadie isn’t an easy read, but that’s what I liked about it. I liked that it made me uncomfortable. Sadie will leave you gutted.

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Author: Lili Wilkinson

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

I was captivated by this book. I find preppers endlessly fascinating. Full-on doomsday preppers and conspiracy theorists seem driven by paranoia and pessimism and I find that sort of mindset curious.

Before I read this book, I thought that doomsday preppers were a little eccentric, maybe slightly mad. Pru’s father would certainly fit that bill, but what I also learnt is that doomsday preppers have some fantastic skills and are certainly prepared for any disaster that may prevail.

Pru, her two sisters and her doomsday prepper father live on the outskirts of Jubilee, a remote mining town in the Kimberley. The girls are home-schooled and live a relatively isolated existence as their father has forbidden any social media and they aren’t encouraged to make friends or become a part of the community. They spent most of their time learning skills and practising drills for the apocalypse. The girls humour their father, but unlike him, they don’t believe that one day the world will cease to exist as we know it.

So what happens when their dad is right? When a solar flare triggers a shutdown of all power and electronics and Pru and her sisters are thrown into a world that their father has prepared them for, or has he?

Pru’s father is away at work on the mines hundreds of miles away and Pru, as the oldest sister, must take charge and make decisions for her and her sisters. With a bunker of supplies and survival skills provided by their conspiracy-theory obsessed father, the girls know how to keep themselves safe. Pru’s dad has been prepping the girls for this event for years.

But the girls don’t think like their father and that’s where the problems arise. Pru’s dad has trained her for this event and in that training comes the mantra, ‘family first’. But Pru isn’t like her dad and she feels a connection to the people in the town. As each day passes and Pru feels the severity of the situation, she begins to wonder whether her father was right.

Would you share supplies, even if it meant depriving your family? Would you keep your family safe? Would you keep your secrets from a community that needed you? As an introvert and someone who doesn’t particularly like people, my first thought was that I would bunker down and not worry about the community. But I have to admit that Wilkinson made me question this decision and that’s the beauty of this book. I can understand Pru’s dilemma, she is following her dad’s directions and she feels an obligation to the only person who has ever taken care of her but is her dad right?

The book chronicles a disaster and its aftermath, but it is also a story of community, friendship and love. There is also a lot of humour in the book. The characters are beautifully written and you find yourself, like Pru, drawn to them. The people are realistically and honestly portrayed and Wilkinson has done an excellent job of making you care for each and every member of the community.

‘In the past,’ he says slowly, ‘the holiest priests were the ones who kept themselves apart from the world. They formed monasteries in harsh, remote places. They saw only one another, and spent their lives devoted to prayer. This, they told themselves, brought them closer to God.’ He uses a tea towel to wipe the mugs clean. ‘I respect their devotion, but honestly I think that’s nonsense. Prayer brings me comfort, but it doesn’t bring me closer to God. People do. Hard work. Helping others.’

After the Lights Go Out has a dramatic premise of a disaster placing Australia and most of the world in a situation that is scary and unthinkable for most, but like most Australian young adult writers Wilkinson writes with such humour that you find yourself laughing throughout the book. I love how Australian authors use humour to balance their stories.

Keller pulls his shirt over his head and follows her. He doesn’t react to the coldness of the water in any way, because he would think it unmanly to squeal. That’s the kind of dickhead he is.

Wilkinson is a brilliant writer. Her writing pulled me into the story and I was mesmerised from beginning to end. After the Lights Go Out is uncompromising, shocking, thrilling and yes, funny.

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Author: Carlie Sorosiak

Publisher: Harper Teen

Wild Blue Wonder is a quirky, original and beautiful book about grief and guilt.

The story alternates between two timelines, both narrated by Quinn. We follow Quinn in the present day during fall/winter, as well as the previous summer when Quinn’s life changed forever.

Quinn is seventeen years old and the middle child in a family that has drifted apart. As well as Quinn, there is her gay older brother Reed and her rebellious younger sister, Fern.

Quinn’s life was turned upside down when her best friend Dylan died in the summer. Dylan was adored by all three siblings and his death tore a once close-knit family apart. We find out that Quinn feels responsible for Dylan’s death and it would appear that her siblings blame her as well. She feels ostracized by not only her family but the small town that her family live within. The siblings are grieving and rather than turn to each other for support; they have decided to deal with Dylan’s death alone.

Instinctively, I roll my eyes, noticing that Fern and Reed do, too, and for a split second we forget not to smile at each other. When we remember, even the room sighs, all the hardwoods letting out a collective whoosh.

Quinn’s family owns a summer camp called The Hundreds, which serves as the setting for the majority of the book. The Hundreds is a magical place and Sorosiak makes you want to live in such a place. Her writing makes The Hundreds come alive both in summer and winter with her beautiful descriptions – blueberries grow in  winter, sick cats wander into the woods and suddenly they’re cured, ghosts wander through the camp and according to the family, an aquatic monster roams the depth of their cove.

The Hundreds, the summer camp that my family owns and operates – where we live. It’s aggressively pretty under the moonlight and dusting of snow. Small rustic cabins. A meadow of dormant wildflowers. A hundred acres of birch, ash and maple trees that whisper to one  another in the wind. No matter how green it is in June, The Hundreds is most striking in fall and winter.

In the flashbacks to the summer, we are given glimpses of life for the family before Dylan’s death. The siblings were inseparable and loving. They were the perfect family. The happiness and love you feel during the summer months contrast entirely with the emptiness, anger and despair that you feel in the winter months. Quinn was present when Dylan lost his life and she blames herself. She has decided that she is not worthy of living a happy, full life when Dylan’s is gone. Her siblings are confused and angry and all this is enhanced by the cold winter backdrop.

Wild Blue Wonder is a story of grief, but it is also a story of friendship and family. Sorosiak lightens the read by introducing us to some beautiful supporting characters including Quinn’s best friend, Korean-American Hana Chang and Alexander Kostopoulos, a Greek-British student grappling with family issues of his own. Hana and Alexander provide a humorous element to the book so that you aren’t overwhelmed by the guilt, anger and grief felt by the family characters. Also add to the mix, Quinn’s eccentric, hilarious grandmother Nana Eden who is determined to put the family back together again.

The plot is compelling and you will be drawn in by the mystery of what happened to Dylan, the fun of the summer camp, the beauty of winter in Maine and the characters who will make you laugh, cry and scream.

Sorosiak has masterfully written some likeable and well-developed characters and you will want everything to work out for them. This family deserves a happy ending. This is the first book of Sorosiak ’s that I have read and I was mesmerized by her writing.

She can write snark:

Fern can walk out of a room like she’s slamming a door in your face.

And she can write so so beautifully:

Outside it’s foggy, tendrils of haze crawling along the ground like vines. Even though the birch trees are whispering to each other, it feels empty. Beautiful, but empty. I miss the summer – the chaos of voices in the mess hall, sunshine against emerald glass, and fullness. Now the only moving things aren’t living at all: icicles on the ropes course swaying with the wind, haloed mist swirling above the wildflower meadow, and vague, shadowy shapes on the Yoga and Meditation Cabin’s porch. When I pass, they drift back and forth like splinters of moonlight, dispersing in the air as squid ink does in water.

Carlie Sorosiak, I am happy I found your beautiful book.

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Author: Scott Westerfield

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

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I loved Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series. I have read other Westerfield books, but none have captured my imagination as the Uglies series did.

I was pretty excited to hear that there was to be a continuation of the Uglies series consisting of four new novels, the first one being Impostors.

Set in the futuristic world of Westerfield’s Uglies books, I was hoping that this book would hold my attention as much as the original series. I enjoyed Imposters and I know that Westerfield fans will love this book and I think that he will gain a whole new readership with this series, I found it to be a good read, but I didn’t devour this book like I did the original series.

Frey and Rafi are sixteen-year-old twins and their father is a powerful and controlling man, leader of the city of Shreve.

Rafi was raised in the public eye; she is the face of Shreve. She has been taught to be the ultimate diplomat and the good daughter. She has a public profile and regularly attends parties and functions. Frey is a secret to the public. As far as the people of Shreve and other cities know there is only one daughter. Frey has been taught to be Rafi’s body double. She has been trained to ward off would-be assassins and she takes Rafi place in the public when it is deemed too dangerous for Rafi.

The twins father strikes a deal with the first family of a neighbouring city, Victoria. He wants steel and is negotiating an agreement with the ruling family. The family do not trust the twins father and ask that Rafi is sent as collateral to ensure that there’s no funny business on his part. Of course, Rafi is not sent but Frey. As far as their father is concerned Frey is disposable.

Frey is sent to Victoria. The first family of Victoria are honourable people and they live a different existence to the people of Shreve. I did enjoy this part of the story. Victoria and Shreve are ruled entirely differently and it makes me wonder what our world will be liked in the future and how different countries and cities will adapt.

Col and I walk on the street like randoms. No body armour, just half a dozen wardens blending into the crowd around us. A single drone hovers up among the pigeons. It’s probably only there to make sure I don’t run. The weird thing is, I’m more free as a hostage here than as a second daughter back home. House Palafox has no special corridors or elevators. No spy dust in the air.

My tutors explained how privacy is an obsession in Victoria. The city scrubs its data every day, forgetting where everyone went, what they pinged each other, what they made with their holes in the wall.

Shreve felt a little like a future America and Victoria felt like a European city. Westerfield through the depictions of the different cities and leadership is able to explore themes such as environmental conservation and individual freedom.

If the wardens in Shreve want to know what happened at a certain place and time, they just call it up on the city interface. They can watch from any angle, replay any sound but the softest whisper.

The book is flawlessly plotted as you would expect of a Westerfield novel. It is a book that moves quite quickly but still allows you to have an understanding of the character’s motivations (including the minor characters).

It is an impressive book by an accomplished author, but for me, it lacked the heart and emotional connection of the Uglies series.

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grace and fury

Author: Tracy Banghart

Publisher: Little, Brown

I enjoyed Grace and Fury, but it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. I was led to believe that it would be more groundbreaking. There seems to be a lot of books these days that have us believe that we are going to be thrown into a world where women have very few rights. Is this a way to remind women of how far we have come or is it because it makes for a good story? It would be nice to read a book where the men are the inferior sex or maybe where women and men are equal, but where’s the outrage in that story?

Grace and Fury is another book where female readers are meant to be incensed at the fact that women are subservient to men. It is all a little predictable. Though in saying all that, I did enjoy this book and I found it easy to read, fast-paced and gripping, but I am hoping that the next book in the series is more left of centre and takes the characters in a different direction. Grace and Fury is just another feminist story of oppression and resistance that is beginning to get a little old and unoriginal.

A story about two sisters, Nomi and Serina, who are fighting for their freedom in a world where women have no rights. One of the sisters has been chosen as a Grace (a Grace is a female companion to the royal leader) and the other sister has been sent to an island where she must fight for her life under primitive and cruel conditions.

The setting is a world with a tyrannical monarchy that makes the rules up as it sees fit. The only choices that women have in this world are servitude, factory work and marriage unless of course you are chosen to be a ‘Grace.’ A Grace is an attendant to the royal monarch and means that you and your family will be looked after. A Grace will never want for anything, but in return, she is a servant to the royal monarch in every way. She can make no choices for herself and must never refuse her royal monarch.

Serina wants to be chosen to be a Grace to the Heir of the monarch and she and her mother have spent their whole life working towards this goal. Of course, we have Nomi, the unruly rebellious sister who wants nothing but to be able to read and study like her brother. In this world, it is illegal for women to go to school or to read (sound familiar?).

Of course, nothing goes smoothly and Nomi being the wild younger sister sets off a chain of events that results in the girls being separated and facing challenges that they haven’t been prepared for in their young lives. Serina has been brought up to be a Grace and Nomi was brought up to be her sister’s maid. Neither is equipped to deal with the challenges that they are about to face.

Also, just once, I would love a character like Serina – who has trained her whole life to be a Grace to crumble under the adversity that is thrown her way, but of course, she doesn’t and she rises to the challenge – as all strong women do.  I understand what the author is trying to achieve, but I find it all a little banal and would welcome something a bit unexpected in stories like this one if only to throw the reader off balance.

I  was disappointed that considering this was meant to be a story of women empowerment that there were love stories thrown in for both girls. Though thankfully the romance didn’t take over the plot. I found both romances to be unnecessary and I think the author could have found more original ways to incorporate these men into the story.

Grace and Fury is an entertaining book and you will find it gripping and hard to put down once you start reading but if you are looking for a book with a fresh take on female empowerment than you need to keep looking.

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Author: Tayari Jones

Publisher: Vintage Books

An American Marriage is a powerful novel and it is a novel that will haunt you long after you finish reading.

Tayari Jones’ novel about marriage, life and the criminal justice system is intelligent and compassionate and never didactic.

The story begins with Roy and Celestial – a newlywed black couple who are intelligent, beautiful, successful and upwardly mobile. Roy and Celestial are going places. Roy is an ambitious, handsome man who isn’t the perfect husband (he has a wandering eye) but it is clear that he is devoted to Celestial and their life together. Celestial is a strong black woman who is an up and coming artist. She has reservations concerning Roy, particularly his disdain of her career and is suspicious of his fidelity but she doesn’t question his love for her or his wanting to build a life with her. Roy and Celestial are strong-minded individuals who are new to marriage and they are figuring out how to remain true to themselves and how to be a couple with a shared future.

“I know that there are those out there who would say that our marriage was in trouble,” Roy says. “People have a lot of things to say when they don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, up under the covers, and between night and morning. But as a witness to, and even a member of, our relationship. I’m convinced that it was the opposite.”

Then on a visit back home, Roy is arrested for a crime he did not commit. He is tried, convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison.

Tayari Jones gives us a little insight to the couple before Roy is imprisoned, but it is scarcely a glance at their lives together. This helps play into the fact that Roy and Celestial have hardly begun their married life together when Roy is put in prison for twelve years.

The story is then told through letters that Roy and Celestial write to each other during his imprisonment. The letters are emotional and you feel their frustration and anger with the circumstances that life has thrown their way. You learn more about each character through the letters. As the years’ progress, you can feel that Celestial life is moving forward. Her career is flourishing and she a success both artistically and financially. You don’t learn much about Roy’s life while he is in prison and you so you get this sense of Roy being stuck.

Tayari Jones is a talented writer. I don’t think you ever fully take sides between Roy and Celestial as you watch their marriage and future collapse. She presents the story in such a way that you can see where both of them are coming from and you wonder how they can both move forward to being happy. Jones will tug your heart in different directions and you’ll find yourself being more sympathetic to a certain character but then she will take you in another direction in the next few pages. You can feel the pain of both Roy and Celestial. She never ignores their flaws or their arrogance, but she also shows two people who want the best for each other. Two people who are ultimately kind and good. You can also see the growth of both Roy and Celestial. They are much nicer people at the end of the book then they were at the beginning.

This is a book about marriage as the title of the book suggests but it is so much more. It is a novel about the criminal justice system in American which from all reports is seriously letting the American people down, particularly black Americans. The book is set in Louisiana, the state with the highest per-capita rate of incarceration in the United States and where the ratio of black to white prisoners is four to one. Startling statistics and the way that Jones writes the arrest, trial and conviction are so matter of fact. Roy has no chance. It is quite chilling and is a timely reminder that we all should remain considerate and empathic and not so quick to judge. For only the grace of good fortune, this could happen to anyone.

Of course, An American Marriage is at its heart a love story, but it is so much more than a love story. It is, of course, a comment on our society today and who we are as people.

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