Category Archives: Book reviews

Book Review: Snakes and Ladders by Angela Williams



This is a story which is raw, brutal and honest. Angela Williams memoir could almost be fictional and you wish that it was.

Angela with university and teaching credentials stepped out to cross a road and was hit by a postie’s motor bike. Police took down her name and a statement and came back two days later with a warrant for her arrest. There was no court case, no bail opportunity, no appeal, just straight to a correctional facility in handcuffs in front of her dismayed partner and young son. Why? She’d served time for a crime she committed when she was a drug addicted teenager, thirteen years earlier. Except she’d only served five months of it. She was taken away to serve the rest.

I’d seen an interview with Angela on the ABC News less than a month or so ago where she talked about her book which had just launched. My curiosity peaked. I had to read it.
Angela pulls no punches. The introduction warns the reader what to expect.

Let’s take something from the old me and jump in with both feet. Let’s hold our breath when we need to, and laugh when we need to, cry when we need to, eat doughnuts when we need to. I’m here, in the future, holding your hand. I promise it all turns out okay… I drove myself mad to tell you this story, so you damn well better read it.

And once you start reading you can’t stop because no matter how much we see of the old Angela, the prison system, the cruelty of her upbringing and enter her old world, we know it turns out okay. That’s what kept me going. That and the writing, which is wonderful.

Acrid panic froths across the back of my tongue. A glint of burning light off chrome catches my eye. I lock onto this shred of bright, body frozen in place. Crickets chirp in the bag hanging from my hand.

Learning about the women in the modern-day prison system, how it runs, life as a sex worker and drug addict was astonishing at times to read, yet eye-opening. Her own personal journey gives hope.

I couldn’t stop myself from questioning power imbalances, was filled with rage at small inequalities and awed into silences by big ones. But I keep trying, trusting, writing, thinking.

I couldn’t help comparing this book to the Mars Room which is fictional and was short listed for the Booker 2018. Snakes and Ladders, I think, is so much better.

Book Review: Magnolias don’t Die by A J Collins

This is the sequel to Oleanders are Poisonous, (see my earlier review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2020/03/06/book-review-oleanders-are-poisonous-by-a-j-collins/). I read this one just as quickly.


We skip ahead two years later when Lauren meets her old friend, Harry in a pub where she’s started singing. He convinces her that she has talent enough to make singing a profession and she escapes the sleazy manager and heads off on the road with Harry. There’s one thing she knows and that is, she wants more than friendship from Harry. Of course, it’s not easy as Lauren battles the demons of her past and especially that night on her sixteenth birthday.

This was as pacey as the prequel and my sympathy for Lauren never altered.  I found myself cheering for her hoping she’d put Harry out of his misery, because Harry is a truly likeable guy. She’s grown up a bit more; is gutsy and feisty while finding a way to learn how to forgive and heal. I enjoyed the relationship with Snap too, although he needed more from her than what she was capable of giving. No spoilers.


I’m not sure how you would go reading this one first, I think it would make sense and it is a longer read. But to enhance the reading experience, I’d recommend these books in sequential order. So, buy them both!

Book Review: The White Girl by Tony Birch

Pic from Goodreads

This is the first book I’ve read by Tony Birch and it won’t be the last.

Odette Brown is a woman who lives in shanty town in outback rural Australia in the early sixties. She looks after her grand-daughter Sissy keeping them both from the attention of the welfare authorities who systematically remove fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families supposedly for their own good.

When Sissy turns thirteen, she comes under the notice of new policeman in town who zealously takes on the job of being the legal custodian all aboriginal children in the district. Odette leaves with her granddaughter and heads to the city with the policeman in hot pursuit.

This book, although a fictional story gives us a sense of the Aboriginal experience, one which was never taught in Australians schools or talked about in the daily newspapers.

For years, Aboriginal people living on the mission were barred from entering town, except on Saturday mornings between eight and noon, when they were permitted to shop at the company store in the main street. “

It’s well-paced and filled with tension. It’s also a story of resilience, love, courage and hope as well as connection to and the importance of family. In the words of the author, “What I do hope for with this novel, is that the love and bravery of the tenacity and love within the hearts of those who suffered the theft of their own blood.”

It’s an easy to read and well-written book which touches on important issues of a nasty era.

Book Review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

 

This Pulitzer prize winning book for 2018 was quite a surprise.

It’s about a failed writer called Arthur Less who receives a wedding invitation from his ex-lover, Freddy. To add to his woes, he’s about to turn fifty, lamenting his old age and the way his life has turned out. Instead of facing his problems, he runs away by travelling the world. Along the way he picks up an award in Italy, teaches in Berlin, rewrites the manuscript his publisher turned down and enjoys a fling or two.

Some failed writer was my immediate thought!

Poor old Arthur Less is a bit hopeless in the love department, a bit clueless about life and how he fits into the world. It makes for some amusing times, although for me, it’s not laugh- out loud funny, yet for others it may be.

“Perhaps Less, alone, is kidding. Here, looking at his clothes – black jeans for New York, khaki for Mexico, blue suit for Italy, down for Germany, linen for India – costume after costume. Each one is a joke, and the joke is on him: Less the gentleman, Less the author, Less the tourist, Less the hipster, Less the colonialist. Where is the real Less? Less the young man terrified of love? The dead-serious Less of twenty-five years ago? Well, he had not packed him at all. After all these years, Less doesn’t even know where he’s stored.”

The writing is magnificent with descriptions of place so intricate and long in sentence that you feel you’re right there in the thick of it.

“It’s nothing like he expected, the sun flirting with him among the trees and houses; the driver speeding along a crumbling road alongside which trash was piled as if washed there; the endless series of shops, as if made from one continuous concrete barrier, painted at intervals with different signs advertising chickens and medicine, coffins and telephones, pet fish and cigarettes, hot tea and ‘homely’ food, …”

I confess to feeling a bit ho hum about this book at first and it seemed like a travel log reminiscent of Eat, Pray, Love – gasp – except the themes of self-doubt, lost love and age are central. I wondered where it was going and as I continued on my reading journey, Arthur Less grew on me, bit by bit. The end brought it all together, the twist, revelation, call it what you will, was fantastic and filled me with love for this book.

Book Review: Oleanders are Poisonous by A J Collins


I don’t normally read a lot of young adult fiction but what I have read is usually quite suitable for adults. Oleanders are Poisonous is one such book.


Lauren, is a young teenage girl who lives in a small country town. She has a close mate, Harry whom she’s known for years. Singing with him takes her mind off her home life where her mother is deteriorating from a debilitating illness. Lauren and her step-father, Samuel struggle to cope until one night on Lauren’s sixteenth birthday, when everything dramatically changes.


This is the first book out of a series of two. Being short, I read it in a few hours and found I couldn’t put it down: reading it on the train, on the escalator and in the dentist waiting room hoping he was running late – he was.


I was hopelessly hooked into this coming of age story, immediately caring so much about Lauren and what was happening to her. How she navigates her feelings and her way in the world had me cheering for her all the way. Collin’s writing is superb and fast-pace. Oleanders are Poisonous is an easy and quick read. 


Now for the sequel, Magnolia’s don’t Die.

Book Review: The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

This book is a difficult one to review as I have mixed feelings about it. I’d read The Natural Way of Things which won the Stella Prize and was blown away by it.

The Weekend is absolutely nothing like it. The story is about three seventy-something- year- old women who come together over Christmas to clear out the house of their dead friend. The relationship of the women is complex, as it is long, having known each other for more than forty years. Jude is an accomplished restaurant manager, Wendy, a published academic who owns a very old dog, called Finn and Adele is an ageing and out of work actress. Sylvie, the dead friend is the connection for the four and we are taken on a journey tackling their losses, loves, friendship, grief and betrayal.

It’s well-written and the setting on the north coast of N.S.W. is divine. Yet I struggled to find any real connection to any of the women. They didn’t seem like good friends, instead they each came across as needy and selfish, barely tolerant of each other. I didn’t understand why they were indeed friends. Jude was an odd character. Confident, well organised, supposedly self-reliant earning her own money yet she’d been a kept mistress for twenty years. The dog, Finn dominated the story a lot in an almost repetitive way. Wendy, seemed a bit dithering and Adele was narcissistic and self-absorbed, more like a teenager than a mature woman and that was a challenge for me to accept.

Yet, I was compelled along as it was an easy read. The second half of the book was almost like watching a dramatic play and I could easily visualise it. Perhaps this was intentional, perhaps not. In the end, I didn’t love it but I didn’t mind it.

Book Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

It’s taken a few weeks to find the words to describe how powerful this book is. And even so I probably won’t do it full justice.

Girl, Woman, Other written by Bernadine Evaristo, together with The Testaments by Margaret Attwood, won the Booker Prize in 2019.

This book, set mostly in Britain contains twelve different stories in various timelines about a group of diverse women, most of whom are black. The reader is taken on a journey with each of the women and we learn about them and their lives with an almost brutal honesty.  This book is a social commentary of what it means to be black and a woman in modern Britain and predictably it’s not always pretty.

There’s Grace in 1905 an orphan, Winsome in 1953, a migrant from Barbados, Amma is 1980 who sets up a feminist theatre. Then there’s Carole, the high flyer in 2008 who turns her back on her Nigerian heritage, and Morgan, once known as Megan in 2017 navigating her way to independence.

These are almost stand-alone short stories except that there is a connection which comes together with an incredible last chapter via Penelope who bears the brunt of family secrets in a calamitous way.

The characters grow on the reader quickly because the writing is succinct, poetic yet direct. The absence of regular punctuation such as full stops and capital letters to start sentences doesn’t call attention to itself as the reader gets very used to the easy to read style within a few short pages.

Amma misses her daughter now she’s away at university

not the spiteful snake that slithers out of her tongue to hurt her mother, because in Yazz’s world young people are the only ones with feelings

but she misses the Yazz who stomps about the place

who rushes in as if a hurricane’s just blown into her room –

 

A word of warning: The connection between the many characters can be confusing and a map would have helped on occasion to prompt the memory. But if you read the book quickly, it shouldn’t worry you too much. And it is very easy to read. But my advice is to take it slowly and saviour it as each word earns its place.

This one is an important book to read, enlightening us all about the history of the black women’s experience in Britain.

I simply loved it.