Tag Archives: books by women

Book Review: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

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The Island of Sea Women is a fascinating novel of sorrow and grief but more importantly it’s also a novel of friendship, spirituality and the strength of women in an unusual matriarchal society.

Set on the  Korean Island of Jeju, the friendship of two women Young-sook and Mi-ja stretches across time from the occupation by the Japanese until 2008. From different backgrounds, they join the Haenyeo, a collective of women, who traditionally for centuries dive and harvest sea creatures to not only feed themselves, but for sale. The men traditionally stay home and look after the children while the women come together and dive. The island is known for their Haenyeo traditions where women dive even in freezing conditions and worship a female god to protect them when they go out. At the age of fifty-five they retire and nuture baby dives in their teen years.

I thought the book started slowly as we learnt about how the friendship began and all about the matriarchy of the collective and the diving. I have to be honest, while I didn’t warm to the characters at first, I persisted and I’m so glad I did. The next two thirds was a dynamite of action, tragedy and heartbreak. The story flipped into and out of 2008 but not too often.

It’s a fascinating history and the author has done a mountain of work on her research, not just about the Haenyeo, the ancient practice of worshipping female Gods but of Korea’s past and lead up to the War. I’d never heard of this particular Island and when I finished the novel, I found myself reading more about it.

I’d recommend it thoroughly.

Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

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There’s a lot to admire about this novel. The writing for one is wonderful. It’s quite different although you’ll need to get used to the lack of dialogue punctuation. But I liked this touch, as if listening in on a conversation. There are lots of detail which puts you right into the world of two young people, Marianne and Connor. We’re taken into key moments in their lives identified by the chapter headings of two months later, six months etc. You might also be surprised as I was that it’s not set in America but in Ireland.

Now, for a bit of background. Marianne is friendless and alone in high school with a poor home life, despite being wealthy. She’s the odd one out and is ostracised by everyone. Connor on the other hand is one of the popular boys at school and he fits in well. The class difference is stark as Connor’s mum is Marianne’s family cleaner. At school they pretend not to know each other but a relationship between them builds. He’s desperate to keep their relationship a secret for fear of ridicule but she doesn’t care. This changes when they leave home and go to the same University where being the odd one is cool and popular while Connor struggles to fit in.

Their relationship and the power dynamics between the two, twists and turns from sexual to friendship and back again. Apart, they’re different people and struggle with their own angst about their identity and how they fit into the world. What happened in Marianne’s family is teased out slowly until we understand her more, although I failed to understand why her mother was so against her. Together, they’re better people but can’t seem to communicate clearly about what they want and this becomes a pattern in their relationship. At times this feels frustrating and I can see why it has polarised some readers. About three-quarters of the way through I was getting restless and then I was pulled in again.

There are dark themes tackled and there’s been a lot written about the ending which I enjoyed. It was as it should have been. The subject matter of young love and angst may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s one to read simply because it’s very well done. Long listed for a host of prizes including the Booker, it really is a good read, skilfully written.

Book Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

 

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It’s an ordinary day for Lucy. The kids are arguing over a television program, her husband Ollie is cooking burgers on the barbecue, and the house is a mess. When police knock on the door, Lucy knows what it will be about.

“I close my eyes because I already know what she is going to say. My mother-in-law, (Diana) is dead.”

A suicide note is found next to Diana but things don’t add up. She was an upstanding member of the community with high standards. She also happens to be very wealthy and questions begin piling up. When Ollie and his sister, Nettie both desperate for money, find out that the will was changed only weeks earlier, things really begin to get interesting.

The story is told mostly from two points of view, Lucy and Diana. We get inside the heads of both women, feeling their pain as their secrets unfold. When Lucy met Diana, she hoped for a  mother figure to replace her own long dead mother but is disappointed by her mother-in-law’s coldness.

I liked the intricacies of the relationships between every member of the family and secrets are revealed nicely so that the reader understands why they behave the way they do. Diana’s harsh upbringing and the way she treats her children makes sense when you find out what happened to her as a teenager. Her husband Tom is a saint keeping the peace between his children and his wife.

It’s an intricate story weaving back and forth between the main characters. In fact, each character is well drawn and the changing relationship particularly between Lucy and Diana is very well done.

This is another great book by a Melbourne author who also happens to be a New York Times best seller.  If you’re looking for something fantastic to read during the holiday season or a great gift, then grab this one.

Book Review: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

As the girlfriend, then wife of a lead guitarist of a rock and roll band in the late seventies, I was very interested to read Daisy Jones and The Six. The book is a chronicle about a band who reaches the dizzying heights of stardom and fame before dramatically coming apart in 1979.

The band starts as The Six in the early seventies founded by Billy and his brother Graham. They gather other musicians, Eddie, Warren, Karen and Peter to form a band and have little success at first. Like any other form of art, most bands don’t make it to stardom and fame yet are content to make music for whatever reason. There are some like the Stones and the Beatles who do and this is the story of one such band. It’s said that the author was inspired by Fleetwood Mac but it isn’t their story by any stretch of the imagination.

The Six plod along playing wherever they can get gigs with Billy writing songs hoping for a hit. Their manager introduces Daisy Jones to them suggesting that with her style, looks and talent, the band will achieve the heights of greatness they’re all looking for. Daisy herself is a girl raised in California with natural talent, incredible looks and an attitude that she’ll do things her way to counter sexism in the music industry.

There is everything in this novel as you would expect; sex, drugs and rock and roll. The highs and lows of music, fame, fortune, relationships, ambition and infidelity are all covered and the struggle with addiction was thoughtfully explored.

This is not like any other book I’ve read. Each person who has a history with the band past and present is interviewed by an anonymous journalist. They have the opportunity to have their say and the writing flies directly in the face of ‘show, don’t tell.’ It is pure ‘tell’ but is done so cleverly that you almost feel as if you are watching a documentary. Each character explains their perspective and sometimes as in real life, interestingly come up with differing views of the same event. Possibly their recollections might seem repetitive yet the differing perspectives make it satisfactory. This book will have you reaching for google to find out more until you catch yourself – it’s pure fiction.

I can see why so many have raved about this one. I was totally hooked and disappointed when it ended. And did my husband’s band have any similar history? I’m afraid that’s a story for another day.

Book Review: Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

I’ve been reading some amazing books lately and here is another.

Stone Girl is Eleni Hale’s debut novel set in Melbourne, Australia during the nineties. It opens with twelve-year-old Sophie at the police station with blood on her clothes holding a backpack full of her treasures. She’s been found in a flat with her dead mother and is clearly traumatised. With her father living in Greece and no other relatives, she becomes a ward of the state shunted from one place to another, living in despair without hope and learning the ways of the world from other children who’ve been removed from parents. When she meets Gwen, Matty, and Spiral, she finally feels she belongs.

To say this is an eye-opener is an understatement. Nothing is held back as the reader is taken on a ride with Sophie. We hope that someone will care enough about her and then despair when it doesn’t. We follow her journey through her teenage years which is dictated by a system that can’t give her what she needs, let alone what she and any other child in her situation deserve.

The fact that the author knows firsthand about what it’s like to be a ward of state gives this book more of a punch. Although it’s a work of fiction, it’s not make-believe. Children in the system aren’t vote-catchers so resources aren’t a priority. They’re akin to refugees within our own society and that’s horrific. That’s not to say that youth workers, social workers and the like aren’t doing their job, they are, but in stretched circumstances. Is it really acceptable to house half a dozen broken children in one place with an adult who is on shift, without time and energy to develop relationships with those in their care? Is it any wonder that most of these children end up on the streets, on drugs with a pathway to jail or even worse a short life span? Surely there is nothing worse than to lose your home and your loved ones. Yet this happens with children who are the most vulnerable, time and time again.

I felt so much for Sophie and was annoyed at the uselessness of the adults around her who let her down, time and again. To watch her spiral out of control was heartbreaking. The climax had me reading until the end and closing the last page left me thinking about every kid who ever needed a home, love and respect and those who aren’t lucky enough to get it.

This is classified as Young Adult and has begun winning awards. The writing is authentic and rich. The characters are like no-one you probably know if you live in a middle-class world. It’s a powerful book that needs to read by adults of all walks of life especially by those who make policy as well as those who allow children to slip from their grasp.

Read this one. It’s important.

https://www.penguin.com.au/books/stone-girl-9780143785613

Book Review: Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar

This is a masterful book delivering long after the end.

Kitty Hawke lives alone with her wolfdog on Wolfe Island somewhere in the American region of Chesapeake Bay. All other inhabitants have fled due to rising sea levels. Kitty is a sculptor whose work is driven by what she finds on the island, a place that has strong links to her mother and grandmother.

Estranged from her own family, Kitty is surprised one day by a visit from her granddaughter, teenage Cat, and refugee friends Luis and his seven-year-old sister Alejandra. Despite their intrusion, Kitty becomes involved in the plight of Luis and Alejandra who are both clearly traumatised. We don’t know the details of their lives before but with some snippets of information about their parents we get enough of an idea and it’s not pretty. The world beyond the island is bleak where people smugglers known as runners take on refugees like Luis and Alejandra who are fleeing persecution from their own country somewhere in the South.

We learn about Kitty’s past but she’s also forced to confront the ugly present day of a world where no-one can be trusted when she leaves the island to help Cat get Luis and Alejandra to the safety of the North during the winter. It’s a difficult journey for them all and Kitty carries the responsibility of their safety on her shoulders.

Treloar writes with confidence, her language beautiful and rich with colour. It reminded me a little of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Written in first-person narrative from Kitty’s point of view, we are with her the whole way feeling her desolation, her hope, her drive to do what it takes to get those kids to safety. It’s as much about the journey Kitty takes in her mind as it is on the road.

The seasons and the landscape are beautifully described and the tension builds slowly. A world with vigilantes who decide whether people look like they should belong or not is terrifyingly close to the bone in today’s world. There’s a lot to love and think about in this book. Every page is masterful and compels you not to put it down.

Book Review: The Fragments by Toni Jordan

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Oh, how I adored this book!

Inga Karlson a phenomenally successful novelist in the late 1930’s died in a New York fire which also destroys all evidence of her latest and highly anticipated book. An exhibition of her life in the form of photos and fragments of burned manuscript comes to Brisbane. While strolling through the exhibition Caddie Walker, a bookseller and Inga fan, crosses paths with an elderly woman named Rachel who recites;

“And in the end, all we have are the hours and the days, the minutes and the way we bear them, the seconds spent on this earth and the number of them that truly mattered.”

Caddie is astounded when she realises the fragment of a burned page that survived ended the above sentence at ‘we bear them.’

The fact that Rachel can recite the next line leads her to believe the lost book may actually have survived or that this woman has somehow read it or knows something.  So ensues a chase through history to investigate and discover what really happened to Inga and what was so important in her last book. For Caddie the possibilities of her own book and Ph.D. about Inga are in her grasp.

This literary whodunit story is beautifully written and evocative of 1980’s Brisbane and 1930’s New York. Told in a dual time-line narrative the characters of Rachel and Caddie evolve wonderfully and then come together in a very satisfactory end. Rachel’s love story was gentle and beautifully told contrasting nicely with Caddie’s own difficult love life. But it’s not a love story, it’s a mystery portraying the ends people will go to destroy another person’s life. In Inga’s case, it was her work and her life while in Caddie’s case it was academic theft of her work by her ex-lover Professor.

The politics of academia is explored as is the politics of pre-WW2 German activity in America. It’s a fascinating examination and the novel is well-paced with unsettling tension. If you are after a page-turner, then grab this one.