Posts

Showing posts with the label Book Review

Book review: The life to come by Michelle de Krester

Image
One of the characters I most enjoyed in Michelle de Krester's The life to come is Sydney's inner west.

I arrived in Newtown on a yellowy January morning in the early 1980s and lived above King St near the start of Erskinville Rd for six months before a succession of terrace houses across Newtown, Emmore and Macdonaldtown.

Coming from the country to study 'Communications' I could easily have been minor character fodder for the author, momentarily shuffling by in ill-fitting jeans alongside the ubiquitous Pippa and George (that is, they are the only characters appearing in all five sections of what is an artfully decentralised narrative).

I might not have done too well descriptively from de Krester's pen. She finds a way to poke holes in all of her characters, perhaps with the exception of expat Christabel who is the most downtrodden of characters, but not by the author, who otherwise sustains a mildly scornful, disapproving or comedic tone.

For example, George the E…

Book review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

Image
Little Sammy Went is gone, and while The Nowhere Child tells us where fairly quickly - who, how, why and at what cost takes the rest of this fast-paced book to uncover.


I use the cliche 'fast-paced' on purpose because like most genre books, except for the exceptional few, the 'fast-pace' does rely on cliches to a fair degree.

Which is not to say The Nowhere Child is a poor novel. Rather it is a clever book, with more than enough periods of real tension and surprise to keep the reader turning pages (or flicking them as the case may be).

Clever because it embeds just enough themes that are deemed praiseworthy and admirable in the subjective group-think world that is publishing. (That is not a criticism of the book or publishing, just a reality in these days of thought-fear.)

Of course there is the obligatory references to reading and authors - we must worship at the the book altar of course. Being set in both Australia and the US may explain why at times Matthew Reilly c…

Book review: The Choke by Sophie Laguna

Image
The Choke tells the story of a young girl raised by her war-ravaged grandfather in a beat-up house near the fictional Victorian town of Nullabri on the banks of the Murray River.

Nullabri may well be located across the water from fictional Bellington and Riversend from Chris Hammer's Scrubland as we find ourselves in another rendition of dystopian rural Australia where the river (or lack of) is a silent presence.

Author Sophie Laguna has again given her child heroine Justine and the other young characters a warmth and vulnerability so easily observable in children and it is part of the growing tension of the book as to how this will be ripped apart by the mostly dysfunctional adults in their lives. Or by the eroding process of simply growing up in poverty and ignorance.

There is something dangerously criminal about Justine's father who is mostly absent yet longed for by Justine and her step-brothers. The depiction of his return, his dismantling of his sons' fragile confide…

Book review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Image
There's a rhythm to Chris Hammer's Scrublands that could easily have become monotonous in the same way driving to and from the small parched town of Riversend to the larger river town of Bellington again and again could be monotonous.

Except that both rhythms are edged with beauty and tragedy and cornered by the possibility of salvation or damnation which is why we are often addicted to the most monotonous things.

Post Gaza Strip foreign correspondent Martin Scarsden is sent to Riversend by his old-school editor Max Fuller who knows there's a half decent headline in revisiting the horrors of a churchyard massacre on its one-year anniversary.

At least equally as important to Max is the hope that it will provide a gently-therapeutic return to form for his star reporter. After all, having done a stint or two in the role, I've always believed editors of newspapers were print-pastors at heart - of their readers' weeping and rejoicing certainly, if not also of their lost…

Book review: The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton

Image
Fifteen-year-old Jaxie urgently flees his motherless home and what is left of his abusive father, taking his chances on foot in the vast and desolate West Australian desert, hoping for the solace of an unlikely reunion with the girl he loves.

With the undaunted, brutalised but majestic voice of a teenager on a desperate journey and the dust-in-your-eyes realism of Tim Winton's landscapes, there comes a god, not so much in the machine, but in an unlikely hut on the edge of seemingly endless salt plains.

Is the hut's occupant Fintan MacGillas saviour, or anti-saviour, we are not quite sure, and similarly unconvinced is Jaxie who reluctantly accepts sustenance but only after anger and threats and a degree of ongoing suspicion.

It turns out MacGillas is a banished priest and Jaxie perhaps not unfairly assumes incorrectly he must be a pedophile but with the relentless terrain a merciless (or merciful) leveller, a steady truce and growing companionship come to carry the story forwar…

Book review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Image
This is one of the saddest books I've read in a long time although most popular literary books I've read of late make a good effort at being reasonably depressing.

Which is not to say Everything I Never Told You is a poor read. On the whole it is eminently readable but I found myself constantly trying to peel back my own experience of family to see if secrets, silent shame and unspoken fear are as prevalent.

Perhaps I wouldn't know but I think not, hope not. But then I haven't experienced being in a multiracial family 40 years ago amidst the racial angst of the US.

With blue eyed Marilyn seeing her daughter Lydia through her missed opportunity for independence and career, and her black haired Chinese father James content with signs of her daughter's popular normality neither can see, or want to see, so much that is unspoken, or deliberately hidden abut Lydia, their middle child.

While we know the outcome from the start - the what - it is the gradual revealing of the…

Book review: I'm not crazy I'm just a little unwell by Leigh Hatcher

Image
Leigh Hatcher’s book about his years suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome nearly had a completely different name.

But all along he’d felt the Matchbox 20 lyric I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just a Little Unwell seemed to resonate with his experience and so he went with his heart and it became the title of his best selling book.

And that’s something Leigh is good at, going with his heart, and he bares plenty of it in this riveting story of one man’s crash out of life and into a world of misunderstood and often mysterious sickness.

In his preface, Hatcher - one of Australia’s best known journalists, news presenters and authors - explains that ‘no two CFS stories will ever be the same’ and so it is fitting that he simply tells his story, with its backdrop of iconic political moments, Olympic excitement and the inner workings of television and radio.

In a tightly written book that moves along at a clipping pace but still manages to pack in plenty of detail, Hatcher describes his fascinating life…

Book review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Image
The comparisons for The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl are coming thick and fast and will do sales of the former no harm as it is published in Australia this month.

And there are plenty of similarities - the gradual denuding of all of the main characters in The Girl on the Train, so that their worst (and perhaps for some, their best) is gradually and in some cases terrifyingly revealed recalls the gradual descent into evil and despair so evident in the main relationships of Gone Girl.

The psychological double and triple plays ensure that even with the rapid fire chapters, the (slightly generous) reader will find themselves well and truly hooked. I read it in a day or two, for example.

The Girl on the Train plays on the fears and curiosity many of us would find familiar from modern life where we are thrust together randomly with people - often in close quarters - in trains, traffic, buses and housing, affording us the opportunity to be mutual voyeurs and wondering what night happen if …

Book review: Misfits Welcome by Matthew Barnett

Image
When Matthew and Caroline Barnetts' story first broke into Christian consciousness across the globe, it inspired many pastors and leaders to finally acknowledge the part of themselves they had been often taught to ignore.

It was unusual to hear of a large, popular, American, Pentecostal church that centralised radical engagement with the poor.

Most church experts would teach us that you can't build a church with 'people like that' but maybe, when your church was big enough and had a great building and shiny brochures then, perhaps, it could have such a ministry, in a small corner some where.

In his first book, The Church that Never Sleeps, a young Barnett turned that idea on its head and breathed life into many pastors and churches that had always struggled to justify their seeming indifference to the disadvantaged. For a while he was the flavour of the month, speaking at pastors conferences around the world and even now, many years later, there is increased intention…

Book review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Image
Theo Decker, a 'god of layers' perhaps, and that is what he is, surviving a bomb blast that kills his mother, comforting a dying antique trader and following his delirious urging to take hold of a treasure that takes hold of him in so many layered ways.

There are times this book infuriates when characters fail to do what 99 per cent of people would do - what you the reader are urging them to do - and so end up in several long chapters of chaos.

And then there are the thousands of sweeping words that carry you forward, heart racing. Or the long ragings at the world or detailed vivisections of meaning that cut so close to the doubts of your own heart.

As a title, The Goldfinch suggests a stuffy but polite story of manners and it is a story of manners but never stuffy or polite and not what you would think at all.

It tells of the world we all might nearly belong to if our deceptions were allowed to fester a little longer. A world just beyond ours, that world we wonder about when …

Book review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Image
The Rosie Project's lead character, Don Tillman, would be satisfied that I read on the Kindle platform of his project to find a wife. While reading I was informed of what percentage of the book had been completed and also was given the estimated time in the current chapter so I could adjust my optimal reading speed.

Despite these and other efficiencies I found my reading broke into my sleep allocation such that I finished the book at 4.13am. I determined not to adjust my daytime schedule but to increase by 29.7 per cent my intake of caffeine.

But seriously... it is perhaps a tribute to the steadiness of voice and rhythm of author Graeme Simsion and the sympathetic, human and lifelike characters that he has written, that I now find myself thinking and talking like Don, who is apparently non-the-wiser of being well and truly on the autism spectrum.

A professor of genetics, he undertakes to find a wife through the mechanism of a fool-proof 16 page questionnaire and as a res…

Book review in brief: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Image
For an Australian author like Richard Flanagan, there is material enough for a great novel just telling of the lives and suffering of Australian prisoners of war during World War 2.  Even more so considering his father was just such a prisoner on the Burma railway, something Flanagan speaks of 'imbibing' while growing up.

Instead he settles for a broader and more difficult panorama. Alongside the adept before and after descriptions of Australian soldiers - of love affairs and guilty confusion - we are also taken into the minds of Japanese officers and Korean soldiers and dystopian post-nuclear Japan.

Somehow it all rings as true as his depictions of Melbourne society and Tasmanian poverty. The heat of Adelaide is pitched against the humidity of Siam and the unresolved heroics of an Australian surgeon against the inconclusive brutality of Japanese prison commander.

It is not a triumphant book or a cheery one, and it offers little hope except that sometimes people survive, des…

Book review: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Image
The obvious attraction of I Am Malala is the inside story of this young women's violent struggle with the Taliban but there are even greater, quieter wonders on offer for the patient reader.

Malala Yousafzai tells her story with a refreshing lack of self-consciousness so that we are given not only a deeply personal insight into her own soul, but into the intricacies of her family and her troubled Swat homelands in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The entire world focused on one day of her life, Tuesday, October 9, 2012 when the high school student and campaigner for girls education, was shot by a member of the Taliban who also wounded two of her fellow students.

The entire world has again focused on Malala with the announcement she is to jointly receive the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.*

Although the book takes its time to provide satisfying detail as to the events of the day she was shot, there is no sense of frustrating delay as the reader is first introduced to…

Book review: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

Image
Probably the most interesting thing about The Tournament is how I received my copy.
Which is not to say Reilly's departure into historical fiction is bland or boring, but that fact is often stranger then fiction, even when the fiction is by one of Australia's leading action authors.

Returning from my favourite Sydney CBD coffee shop, Vella Nero on Clarence St, I saw relaxing in the sunshine on Druitt St, a young man, with all the indications of being homeless, and with this copy of The Tournament sitting next to him.

He was hoping people would drop a few coins in a hat, as I recall, and as I did I asked what he thought of the book.

'It's a great read,' he said. I got it last night and have been reading it ever since. Just finished it.'

'That's good to know,' I replied and before I could move one, the young man continued our conversation.

'Would you like to read it? Here, take it.'

I hesitated for a moment and will admit to wondering just wher…

Book review: Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Image
In Luke 19, a rich man climbs a Sycamore tree to get a closer look at Jesus who is passing through the city of Jericho. Inspired to acts of justice after Jesus visits him for lunch, the man, Zaccheus, gives away much of his wealth to those he has previously robbed as a tax collector.

In John Grisham's latest legal thriller, Sycamore Row, a rich man climbs a Sycamore tree and hangs himself, and there ensues an almighty court battle over how he has divided his estate. I'll say no more about Zaccheus only that Grisham may well have been inspired by this very gospel story....

Sycamore Row is billed as a sequel to ATime To Kill, being set in the same small southern community of Clanton, Ford County, with same lawyer Jake Brigance in the pivotal legal role.

Those who have read A Time to Kill, or seen the movie, will at times find it hard to fit the smouldering performances of Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock, with the somewhat subdued and more nuanced characters Grisham depic…

Book review: Open House - Conversations with Leigh Hatcher

Image
Learning from the lives of others is one of the great opportunities we have for personal growth, as we see ourselves reflected in their stories.

Just such an opportunity, multiplied 30 times, is presented to readers of Open House - Conversations with Leigh Hatcher launched this week.

Open House is the popular Sunday night radio interview program hosted by well-known media personality and journalist Leigh Hatcher and the book is a collection of some of his best and most recent interviews.

Although I am somewhat wary of anthologies of this kind, sometimes feeling they are an easy excuse for a book, this one has been thoughtfully and carefully prepared so that it is a fast-moving and fascinating read and you never feel you are getting a re-run of past glory.

Instead the interviews are a good length for reading, not too long but enough detail to capture the pathos of people's story-telling - which is where personally I could at times see something of my own life - or a friend or fami…

Book review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Image
Although Jane Austen may be known as a writer who cut through the veil of manners that surrounded English landed gentry, she was still a woman of her time and is unlikely to have ever imagined a book such as Jo Baker has written.

Longbourn covers the same set of events as Pride and Prejudice but from a firmly 'downstairs' perspective - although we should also include the attic where the servants seem to sleep.

Mr and Mrs Bennet and their five daughters are still recognisable, as are their balls, dinners and rendezvous with numerous gentlemen or soldiers of slowly determined character.

Getting wet and having a fever, being too slow to show your interest in a visiting clergyman, or too feisty to receive his offer, are all unfolded in Longbourn along with occasional glimpses of Mr Bingley, Mr Darcy and more detailed interaction with the constantly menacing - from the servant's perspective - Mr Wickham.

But this is much more than a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, although it …

Book review: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

Image
Receiving the kindle version of I Am Pilgrim as part of a bloggers book tour, I settled into read the novel without researching the author or any broader publicity for the book.

The brief blurb I had read set it up as interesting thriller and to be honest, I wasn't even aware the author was Australian although references through the book, such as Dr Sydney, convinced me this was the case.

After turning the last page (or more accurately tapping the last screen) I read the book's credits and was impressed with Terry Hayes lengthy and stellar career as a journalist and screen writer which, by then, fitted well with my admiration for his first novel. (click cover to purchase)

I Am Pilgrim starts at a suitably rapid pace with a shocking crime scene, steamy sex references, fast-talking New York cops and a mysterious, intelligent, brooding figure from whose eyes the story is told.

Briefly I was worried it was going to be a trashy tale of blood and guts and tits and guns but after the…

Book review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Image
Described as the best novel ever written by several authors and critics, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy feels at times like a remarkably contemporary story dealing as it does with illicit affairs, frustrations with bureaucracy, the shallowness of popular culture and the struggle between reason and faith.

Yes, there is a love story, or two, woven through the story and the compelling attraction of Alexis Vronsky and Anna Karenina is masterfully drawn and surprisingly intimate despite the dominance of manners and 19th century propriety.

So too the love lost, love regained relationship of Levin and Kitty which, unlike the tense and tragic dilemma faced by the scandalous adulterers, ends in a picture of relative domestic bliss.

But if you have put off reading this book because you think it is a Russian romance novel then it's time to load it on to your iphone like I did and add it to your list of reading accomplishments.

It has earned the respect of readers and writers over the centuries…

Book review: The Pain Book - Finding hope when it hurts by Philip Siddall, Rebecca McCabe, Robin Murray

Image
All books are created at least twice. There's the creation in the mind of the author and in the secret place of planning and plotting, drafting and editing. And then there's the creation of the setting of type, placement of headings and illustrations, designing of covers and the committing of print to paper or code to kindle, as it were.

In the case of The Pain Book: Finding hope when it hurts by Philip Siddall, Rebecca McCabe and Robin Murray, it is fair to say it is a book created many times over in the lives of real people who have found hope in their pain.

The three lead clinicians of Greenwich Hospital Pain Clinic, Sydney, have loved and laboured over this book for many years and more than that, have proved it week by week in the clinic they run, with the patients they support.

This process shows in the text which is disarmingly simple and relatively brief when the complexity and vastness of the topic is considered. It speaks of a well-honed message delivered many times o…