Tag Archives: Goodreads

Book Review: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

 

Romy Hall is a young woman serving two consecutive life sentences at Stanford Women’s Correctional Facility in California. Outside, in the free world is her mother and her seven-year-old son. Inside, is a world where she has no rights, where hustling to survive is the norm and boredom is rife. Her upbringing by her single mother was less than ideal and she does what she can to escape the cycle of poverty which was pre-ordained from her childhood. Working in various jobs, dabbling in drugs, she ends up as a dancer in a strip club where a man stalks her and that’s where the trouble begins.

The Mars Room, short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2018 is the name of the strip club where Romy worked. We are in her head, observing and feeling the desperation and despair of prison life. Detail slowly unfolds until we find out the reason for her incarceration.

The legal system is frustrating and her overworked legal counsel is barely adept because she can’t afford anything better. Her side of why she did what she did wasn’t permissible and the injustice of it all permeates.

Her lawyer explains, “Even in these unbelievable cases, where the lawyer is totally out to lunch, they (the judiciary) still side with him. One guy fell asleep during cross-examination of his client. Another was a felon himself, handing a murder case as community service, but had no experience as a trial lawyer. Think those guys were ‘ineffective’? Not according to the Supreme Court. You got a very tough deal. There’s no question, and I feel for you.”

The author takes us on a bleak ride into the gritty and raw lifestyle of people who are down and out, abused and drug addicted, and into an institutionalised system where prisoners are barely treated with any human dignity. The characters are well drawn and Kushner does a remarkable job to show not just their flaws but their vulnerability and humanity particularly fellow women prisoners. Kushner gives us brief interludes into other points of view, mostly men; Doc the corrupt detective, Hauser, the teacher and even the stalker.

I’m in two minds about this book. On one hand it’s a fascinating look at life through the eyes of a prisoner. On the other hand, it was disjointed as the chapters flipped in and out of Romy’s point of view and I found this to be a bit laboured. I think I would have preferred to see the world only through Romy’s eyes which was quite rich enough. It’s very well written and the  ending was incredible stayed in my head long afterwards. It’s definitely a book worth checking out.

Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

I loved Backman’s book, A Man Called Ove and was keen to read another of his and found  Beartown to be very different.

It’s about a small town nestled in a forest somewhere in Sweden. The community is depressed and the only thing that brings the town together is ice-hockey. Hopes and dreams are pinned on the junior hockey team and in particular its seventeen-year-old star, Kevin. The burden of hope rests with the team and their General Manager, when the team has the chance to win the national championship. An act of violence by a boy to a young girl tears the town and the team apart. Is she telling the truth or is it a conspiracy to prevent the team from winning?

Let me say at the outset that this is a long book with many characters. We are introduced to many of them and are witness to each of their hopes, dreams, weaknesses and strengths. The town itself is set in a snow covered wilderness and even though it’s summer here, I shivered and not always from the images of ice and snow.

I’m not much for following sport although living in a football loving city, I regularly witness the fanaticism, zealotry and love for a team of men who often have no other talent than play sport. And this is what this book shows us. But it also shows us that sports players are not God, they are mere humans who get things wrong and sometimes do the wrong thing.

This story also shows us what happens when money and sport mix and when it can be a lethal combination blinding everyone to accept a toxic culture for the greater good of winning. It also tells us about community;  of the rich and powerful who don’t hesitate to use their power for what they want regardless of who they may hurt; about the brave and the cowards and the honest and the cheats.

There are many facets to this book and it comes with a warning. It takes a long time to get there. The first three-quarters gives us a multitude of characters in the town and in the team. There is a lot explained about the sport of hockey, as there should be. But for me it got a bit too much and I almost gave up on several occasions, and at times, I admit it, I did skip some bits (sigh).

But if you persist, you’ll be rewarded with a story about right and wrong which will stay with you for a long time after.

 

Pic from Goodreads

Book Review: Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

I held this tome of a book in my hands with trepidation at first, just because it’s a long read. Now I’ve finished it, I hold it like it’s a bible of words to be revered.

I simply loved this book.

Within the first few pages we’re introduced to the narrator, Matthew Dunbar, who, the day after getting married, is digging in someone’s backyard he doesn’t know for a typewriter he’s never seen before.

If before the beginning … was a typewriter, a dog and a snake, the beginning itself – eleven years previously – was a murderer, a mule and Clay.

And from that point we are engulfed in the story of the five Dunbar boys whose mother, Penny has died and their father has fled. The oldest is Matthew and the fourth boy is Clay who builds a bridge.

The moving family saga swaps between the present, the past and the time before and while this may be confusing at first, this is a book that commands your undivided attention and almost your every waking moment. There’s a rhythm and heartbeat to the writing, much like the metronome used by the Penny when teaching kids to read. The writing is pared back and at times almost poetic. The words are there for a reason and boy, does Markus Zusak know how to put them together.

For the longest time then, ten minutes at least, he stood at the mouth of Archer street, relieved to have finally made it, terrified to be there. The street didn’t seem to care; its breeze was close but casual, its smoky scent was untouchable. Cars stubbed out rather than parked, and the powerlines drooped from the weight of mute, hot and bothered pigeons. Around it, a city climbed and called:
Welcome back, murderer.

Each boy has his place in the family but Clay is the one they all look up to and need. The bonds of brotherhood can never be broken and their survival and hurt belongs to them all.
I loved the animals; the mule, Achilles, is a star in his own right.

This grey, patchy, ginger, light brown, thatch-faced, wide-eyed, fat nostrilled casual bastard of a mule – was standing steadfast, on the cracked lino.

And who could forget fur-shedding Hector the cat, Agamemnon, the head-butting fish and Telemachus the pigeon?

We grow to love Penny, and understand her background and the power of motherhood on her tribe of boys. Her passing is truly heartbreaking.

The reader is privy to the rough and tumble of what young boys are like, beating each other up all in preparation for what lies ahead.

They reached the sixth floor and Clay dumped Tommy sideways and tackled the mouth on his right. They landed on musty tiles, Clay half smiled, the other two laughed, and they all shrugged off the sweat. In the struggle, Clay got Henry in a headlock. He picked him up and ran him round.
‘You really need a shower, mate.’ Typical Henry … To interrupt, Tommy, thoroughly thirteen, took a running jump and brought all three of them down, arms and legs, boys and floor.

And like an onion we peel off the layers and the story reveals itself bit by bit so that by the end we know everything that’s happened and why.

I enjoyed spending time with the Dunbar boys. I worried for them, shed a tear for them, laughed with them, and didn’t want to leave them when I closed the final page. They will stay with me for a very long time.

Dive in, take your time, immerse yourself and enjoy this one.

 

 

 

Reading Rap Up of Results for 2018

 

I’ve previously written a couple of posts about the reading challenge I set for 2018. (https://sckarakaltsas.com/2018/09/14/my-2018-reading-progress/)

My goal was 24 books for 2018 and managed to read 36 so I’m pretty happy about that. What made the difference for me? It was the ability to track my books by using Goodreads which is a great place for readers (and authors too). I love to be able to look back at the list. Since joining Goodreads more than five years ago I’ve been astounded at what I have read.  It might sound a lot to some but compared to others, the amount is a mere morsel. I’ve seen others who read over one hundred. Perhaps I’m a slow reader. Maybe I’ve been busy writing. That’s right, I did just publish my third book, A Perfect Stone.

So for a summary of 2018 I list some stats below.

Books: 36 (27 for 2017)

Pages: 11999 (8901 for 2017)

Books by Women: 21 (17 by Australian women)

Books by Men: 15 (8 by Australian men)

Book of the Year: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Other books which were strong contenders for Book of the Year were: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Now to sort out my challenge for 2019. Any suggestions?

 

Reviews for Out of Nowhere: a collection of short stories

Goodreads is a community of book lovers. Readers and writers come together to share thoughts and feelings about books. As a reader, I’ve loved reading what others think of books. I’ve also taken the time to share my relections.

As an author, it can be a place of trepidation as readers tell you what they think of your book. Not every book can be liked by everyone. I generally write for myself and when others appreciate what I’ve written, it’s an added bonus.

I am therefore very humbled by everyone who left a review for my short story collection, Out Of Nowhere.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35152873-out-of-nowhere

Thanks to everyone who took the time to talk about it.