Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Living by Matt De La Pena / Poems by Edgar Allan Poe / The Colour by Rose Tremain

The Living by Matt de la Pena
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I downloaded a copy of The Living by Matt De La Pena as part of this year's AudioSYNC programme of free YA audiobooks. The book began well with the introduction of various characters on a luxury cruise ship. Our protagonist, Shy, is a Mexican-American teen working on the ship over the summer and we follow him, seeing this amazingly luxurious setting through his less-than-pampered eyes. I liked De La Pena's inclusion of characters from many nationalities, ethnic groups and social classes. He manages to present them all well and this is a definite strength of the book. However Australian listeners should beware of this Brilliance Audio recording. The narrator apparently hasn't ever heard an Australian accent so, for Kevin, he wavers around Dick-Van-Dyke-in-Mary-Poppins for several chapters before finally settling somewhere near Johannesburg. Kevin's supposedly Australian accent never even gets close!

The Living is a book in three distinct parts. The first is set on the cruise ship where we meet nuanced characters in beautifully described surroundings and I was happy to immerse myself in the story. Then a storm hits the ship, followed by The Big One - a giant earthquake in California which leads to a series of devastating tsunami. De La Pena's disaster writing is superb and had me breathless at the characters' predicament. The shipwreck is frighteningly realistic and I then really felt for those few survivors adrift at sea. Five star book to this point.

Then it all goes very weird, plot holes gape at pretty much every turn, and The Living dissolves into a completely different book altogether. And, my pet hate, becomes the First Of A Series thereby allowing the author to believe that he doesn't need to write a proper ending! Grrr! Very disappointing and I won't be risking my time on any further installments.

Poems of Edgar Allan PoeThe Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I tried listening to an Audible download of an Edgar Allan Poe poetry collection several years ago and almost completely failed to get into his writing. When this similar poetry collection was offered as the free daily ForgottenBooks download in September, I thought I should give Poe another chance. His work is so popular worldwide that there must be some essence I had missed.

I am pleased that I did get on better with written Poe poetry than spoken. Being able to revisit lines and ideas definitely helped me to understand and I enjoyed reading his classics such as The Raven and Annabel Lee. (I love Annabel Lee as a Sarah Jarosz song too and hadn't previously realised the origin of its lyrics.) Other poems which particularly spoke to me were The Coliseum and A Dream Within A Dream. However, I didn't like much of the included early poetry written in Poe's youth, and the lengthy Al Aaraaf was lost on me! I passed on most of a play excerpt too - The Politian.

This collection ended with a lengthy essay, by Poe, discussing his poetic principles and quoting from other poets whom he admired. Despite its pompous tone, I did find the ideas interesting and preferred several of the quoted works here to Poe's own. I suppose he is simply not the poet for me!

The ColourThe Colour by Rose Tremain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Buy the paperback from Waterstones

The Colour by Rose Tremain was recommended to us by our friend Frances who was lucky enough to actually visit Hokitika in New Zealand. Therefore, when I saw a copy at Dave's daughter Gemma's house I was very keen to borrow it! Both Dave and have now read The Colour and we both loved the book.

Set in 1860s New Zealand at the height of a gold rush, Tremain manages to brilliantly evoke not only the enthusiasm and dedication of the early white farming settlers but also the madness and extreme endurance of the gold prospectors. I was impressed by her descriptions of the stunning landscapes as well as the contrasting living conditions across South Island. The characters are wonderfully well-drawn too. From underestimated Harriet to hard-done-by Lilian, selfish Joseph and opportunistic Will. Even minor characters such as Lily are perfectly real and believable and the racism shown towards Chinese settlers was depressing to read. I liked the interweaving of Pare's Maori narrative and wondered if an actual Maori folk tale was behind her story or if it was a parallel of the Maori loss of New Zealand to the colonising Europeans.

The Colour is an easy book to read, but one which I think will remain with me for quite a while. I found it difficult to put down and so finished in a day. I am now wishing I had made it last longer!

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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