Tag Archives: books

Book Review: Wimmera by Mark Brandi

I was totally unprepared for this unexpected story.

The blurb, (which I rarely check before diving in) is about two young boys, Ben and Fab, who in 1989 do all the things youngsters do; play cricket, go yabbying and camping. They talk about all sorts of things except for how Fab’s dad hits him or what happened to the girl next door. When a new neighbour moves in, their imagination soars wondering if he’s a secret agent. The opening scene is the discovery of a drum in the local river.

It’s a moody book and the first half is pretty much about the boys’ everyday lives from Ben’s point of view with a slow build of tension and foreboding when they meet Ben’s far too friendly neighbour.  Half way through the novel, Ben’s voice disappears and we’re propelled into the future almost twenty years later into Fab’s point of view. Fab still lives in the same country town, lost and alone working in a supermarket and we’re left to wonder what happened to Ben.

The second half takes on a sense of urgency and the story unfolds in a very unsettling way.  I appreciated the second half far more than the first. There was much left to the readers imagination and for the reader to piece together and I liked that. The last couple of chapters was dramatic and a page turner.

The subject matter isn’t for the faint-hearted and there’s no trigger warning about child abuse. But if you can see your way through the dark subject, it’s a very decent debut.

Book Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey

A masterful tale of what it is to be different, down and out yet surrounded with hope and the goodness of the human spirit.

Honeybee comes from the author of the much-acclaimed Jasper Jones and is not a disappointing read. It’s uncomfortable at times and heart-wrenching, yet has a soul. Its spotlight has no doubt raised incredible awareness into a little-known community who is still finding its voice.

Sam Watson the main character, is a fourteen-year-old who meets Vic, on a bridge. They’re both there for the same reason and an unlikely friendship ensues brought about by a shared bond of their individual suffering. Through Vic, Sam learns acceptance and sets him on a path toward a better life. But Sam also gives something to Vic.

It’s a coming-of-age novel full of petty thefts, extortion plots, botched bank robberies, drag shows and Julia Child’s inspired cooking. But more importantly, it’s a novel of wonderful characters.

Firstly, there’s the sensitive, naïve but heart of gold, Sam. His journey to find himself and learning to live with who he truly is, is beautifully done. Then there’s Vic, who with the help of Sam finds redemption for something he’s lived with his entire life. His love for his wife Edie is touching and the care Sam shows Vic and Edie is very moving. Next, there’s Aggie, a full of life teenager who doesn’t give a damn about what Sam looks like. She sees him for who he really is, knowing him more than Sam himself. There’s Peter, the drag queen who helps pick up the pieces, who extends a hand and role models how life could be for Sam. His mother Sarah, is a difficult character to warm to yet drawn out enough to allow us to understand her much difficult path in life and the choices she made.

It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion, dark and light, despairing yet hopeful and a great read against the backdrop of beautiful Perth. Put this one on your list.

Book Review: Colour-Coated Identity by Bala Mudaly

What an inspirational story of one man’s journey to understand his place in the world.

This is a memoir by an older Australian who was born an Indian in South Africa. It’s a compelling, personal story of life under Apartheid. It also tells of the author’s fraught travels across Africa, Europe, Asia and, eventually, Australia to find a sense of self beyond the toxic constraints of race, colour and class.

Growing up under South Africa’s brutal regime of apartheid, Mudaly struggles to overcome the hurdles and obstacles to acquire education and employment because of the colour of his skin and his race.

He roams the world searching for answers. Along the way he embraces life as a teacher in the newly formed country of Zimbabwe, undertakes further studies obtaining his Masters and Doctorate, works in Scotland, travels across Europe and goes back to the land of his grandparents, India. His experience opens his eyes to a life of freedom, beyond the country of his birth where upon his return, he struggles to accept and fit in with the harsh conditions under which, as an Indian he is forced to live.

“I’ve journeyed long, travelled far and, in the process, faced many inconvenient truths about myself.”

 To find a voice and purpose, Mudaly throws himself into the sometimes, dangerous yet courageous path of activism joining the ANC in order to help bring about change not just for his country but for himself.

This is a remarkable memoir pulling the reader into Mudaly’s recollections while reliving with him the harsh reality of segregation in South Africa reminding us all of the constant struggles between races, past and present.

It’s as thoughtful as it is thought-provoking, full of insight, resilience and reflection. Highly recommended.

Review copy courtesy of the author

Available now on Amazon

Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

A remarkable read about a young girl growing up in a fundamentalist Mormon family who prepared for the end of the world, believed that the government and health professionals weren’t to be trusted and that education should only come from home-schooling.

How Tara Westover achieved her education without stepping into a classroom until she was in university is quite incredible.

But this memoir is more than her struggle and achievement towards education. It’s a journey to understand her family and her place in it after she learns how to think and question and challenge her family and the way they live.

As a small child, Tara is home-schooled, learning to read and write mostly from the bible. When she’s big enough she is enlisted alongside her other siblings, seven in all, to help out in her fathers scrapping junkyard. Her father knows nothing of safety and when he threw scraps of metal Tara made sure she got out of the way. Indeed, the accidents on the site made for harrowing reading: her brother Luke’s burning leg, another brother, Shawn who fell from a great height, her mother’s head injury after a motor vehicle accident where seat belts weren’t worn and finally her father’s own horrific accident where he almost died. What was even more horrifying was the parents’ belief that the injuries could be dealt with at home from faith and herbal remedies.  Doctors were never visited and hospital was out of the question.  Tara herself suffered as well.

“My back struck iron: the trailers wall. My feet snapped over my head and I continued my graceless plunge to the ground. The first fall was seven or eight feet, the second perhaps ten.” Of her mother’s reaction to her fall? “She rested her left hand lightly on the gash and crossed the fingers of her right. Her eyes closed. Click, click, click. ‘There’s no tetanus,’ she said. ‘The wound will close. Eventually. But it’ll leave a nasty scab.’

As Tara grew into her teens, she realised her place as a woman in the family and outside of it. She was constantly reminded of her place in the kitchen by her father. A loving relationship between her and her older brother Shawn turned sour and violent in her teen years scarring her physically, emotionally and mentally. The terrifying violence was made all the sadder because Tara and her family cover for Shawn. When she questions it as she grows older and challenges what he has done, the family turns against her.

It’s a sad story but also an uplifting one as Tara makes her way in the world without the shackles of her gaslighting family. You could mistake her childhood memories as being inaccurate or exaggerated, but she has verified her memories with those of her older brothers, Tyler, Richard and Tony. They made their way out on their own and have been supportive of her.

This is an extremely well written and impactful story detailing a life not in the 1800’s but in the last thirty odd years. An incredible read.  

Book Review: Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Milla hadn’t seen Curtis, Dale, Heather and Brent since the fateful day ten years earlier when Saskia, Curtis’s sister went missing in the alps, never to be found. A reunion in a remote chalet on the French mountain turns deadly as the five ‘friends’ discover themselves stranded, alone and snowstorm brewing.

The premise sounds suspenseful and the descriptions of the surrounding snow and cold, vivid. What happened on that mountain ten years earlier unravels throughout the novel with accusations flying between the friends until the cracks appear.

Knowing nothing about snowboarding, the author, an experienced professional snowboarder provided terrific descriptions. I did get lost at times but appreciated in the end how technical and skilled a snowboarder must be and the intricacies of the sport. Nevertheless, at times it appeared a little repetitive, perhaps because it lost me. I’m sure those who know the sport might appreciate it more.

I was grateful for the short chapters which flipped between now and then until they merged towards the end of the novel where we find that not everything is as you expect which is what I really liked about it.

The characters, however let it down somewhat as they weren’t particularly likeable and in particular, Milla was frustrating. But she is written as being young, naïve and single-minded to the point of taking too many risks bordering on stupidity. Unfortunately, I didn’t care much for her even though I did try. And although her motivation was explained, she seemed much the same as she’d been ten years earlier. Saskia was even worse, as I didn’t get her at all nor did I understand the relationship with her brother. I expected some big family revelation but there was none.

It’s a light easy read, slow in the first half but picks up pace in the second half but not so riveting for me.  I guess I just grew tired of these people on the mountain.

Book Review: All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton

This is historic fiction but not as we know it.

Set in Darwin during World War Two, it opens with Molly Hook a young child, digging graves for her father and uncle who care more for moonshine and stealing items of value from graves than for her. Her life is hard having lost her mother. She lives in a cemetery with her only friend Bert her shovel, and looks to the sky for guidance. When bombs begin falling, she grabs her grandfather’s treasure map and runs with the idea that if she can locate Longcoat Bob she can convince him to lift the curse she believes he put on their family many years earlier. She meets up with Greta Maze a sharp-witted actress and Yukio, a Japanese pilot along the way and find that they too have their own need to run.

The history of the Japanese invasion of Darwin and the impact on Australia was a fascinating account both from the point of view of Yukio as well as from the various characters in the book.

What stands out with this novel is the characters who are all very well drawn. The relationship between the glamourous actress, Greta, the caring Yukio and Molly was heartfelt and beautifully portrayed. Dare I say it, the star of the show would have to be Bert, the shovel who comes in handy on many occasions throughout the odyssey.

Dalton excels in placing us right into the landscape, the rocks, the foliage, the animals and especially the crocodiles and the imagery is a vivid showcase of Australian landscape reflected also in the magnificent book cover.

The second half of the book fell into magical fantasy which was completely unexpected and jarred a little but I went with it, fantastical as it was with a craziness from a completely vivid imagination. As I read, I found it a little difficult to take the leap to believability.

Yet it’s a very well written book, grappling with themes of intergenerational trauma, loss and hope, and like a fable is a good one to read. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

This is the brilliantly imagined story about Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son who inspires the writing of the play Hamlet.  But it’s more than that. It’s a story about Hamnet’s mother, Agnes (Anne) Hathaway, the wife of Shakespeare.

The first half of the novel sets the scene.  Judith, Hamnet’s twin sister suddenly falls ill and her bewilderment is described in detail.

“She cannot comprehend what has happened to this day. One moment, she and Hamnet were pulling bits of thread for the cat’s new kittens … and then she had suddenly felt a weakness in her arms, an ache in her back, a prickling in her throat. … Now she is on this bed and she has no idea how she got here.” 

Hamnet desperately tries to find help for his sister.  His mother is out looking after her bees, his grandparents are not where they should be and his father is away in London. His desperation grows as does our anxiety for him and Judith. Then, it slips back in time between chapters from the present day to when Hamnet’s parents meet. Their love is genuine despite the 8-year age gap (Shakespeare is said to be 18) between them and when Agnes falls pregnant, they marry.  

In the second half, Agnes comes home to find her child ill. With her herbal remedies and gift for seeing into the future she desperately tries to keep her child alive.

It is imagined that the child falls sick from the plague and the author provides a delightful side story about a flea and its journey from continent to continent via the sea until it comes to rest in the village and bites Judith. It makes for even more compelling reading given the state of the world we now live in and the migration of our present day virus.

The other fascinating thing about this book is that Shakespeare’s name is never mentioned. He is merely referenced as the tutor, the father, the husband which serves the purpose of pivoting the story squarely on his little-known wife. Indeed, we become familiar with the detail of her everyday life:  her marriage, childbirth, living with her in-laws, moving from country to town, the separation from her husband and the subsequent death of her child.

Imagery so fine, that we can imagine ourselves there. “She is drifting through the apartment, touching things as she goes: the back of a chair, an empty shelf, the fire irons, the door handle, the stair rail…. She is … out the apartment’s back door, which leads into a shared yard… she fires the oven in the cookhouse and coaxes the dough into rounds, adding a handful of ground herbs from the kitchen garden.”

Losing a child was more common than it is today but is nevertheless just as painful. No detail of the mother-child bond is spared and the depth of grief is raw with emotion.

The other characters are well drawn and the love between Agnes and her husband and the bond she also has with her brother is moving.   

A novel, beautifully crafted and lyrically executed makes this one a joy to read.