Tag Archives: Goodreads

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: 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: A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

I bought this book because of the hype around it. If I’d bothered to read the reviews, both supportive and divisive, I probably wouldn’t have read it. But this is a debut novel by a young Australian woman and I wanted to give it a go.

Jena Lin is a twenty-three-year-old classical violinist who as a child prodigy, toured the world. Something happened when she was fourteen and she stopped playing and embarked on a ‘normal’ life. Her relationship with her mother and mentor is fractured.  When she resumes her career, she is caught up in a world of rehearsals, performances and practice. In her spare time, she hooks up with just about anyone she meets using sex as a crutch to fill her loneliness.  When she is awarded an internship with the New York Philharmonic orchestra she begins to take control of her life and her comeback on her terms.

The book is essentially the blurb, reading almost like a diary of rotating daily activities of rehearsal, performance and sex, which in my opinion is overly graphic and gratuitous. There’s not much of a plot here and the sex scenes, and there was a lot, detracted from what was really going on with Jena.  There was little depth in her relationships and there was only just enough interest for me to find out about what had happened at fourteen. The world of the classical music lifestyle also held me to a point but I found that this too became repetitive.

The problem I had with the book was that while it was detailed in some aspects it was frustratingly short on depth in characters and Jena’s relationships. The characters almost seemed like cardboard cut-outs wheeled out at periodic times. As a reader we knew more about Jena’s day to day life than we did about much else.

On the day of the audition, I wake early to take a long shower, scrubbing off the residual sweat of sleep, washing my hair, shaving my underarms and legs. In the bathroom mirror, I squint at my own reflection.”

Trying to understand Jena, her motivations and the people around her was at times, quite bewildering. In particular, I would have liked to have known more about her relationship with her mother, and her father who is rarely mentioned. Half way through, I almost gave up but I slogged on hoping to get more than a superficial insight, even just a glimmer of emotion from just about anyone.  

Yet, I appreciated the themes the author was trying to explore, racism, sexism, female sexual desire, and loneliness. I’d never given a thought to classical music and in particular how most of it is written by men.

“I wonder why none of the music I play has been created by a woman and whether that exclusion was deliberate. What is the point of being any kind of artist if your skin colour or gender excludes you from the choices of old white men, just because you don’t look like them or they don’t see themselves in you?”

I didn’t mind the writing style and it’s slightly reminiscent of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. However, the characters are largely unlikeable and although there was some limited sympathy for Jena, the book left me frustrated and disillusioned. I know others liked it and but I don’t think it was for me. I guess I just wanted more depth.

Book Review: The Yield by Tara June Winch

This highly awarded book is an evocative and eye-opening read from Australian (Wiradjuri) author Tara June Winch.

There are actually three stories all cleverly constructed to relate to each other:

Pop (Albert Goondiwindi) composes a dictionary of Wiradjuri words. He peppers the meanings with stories of his family, his past and his culture in the hope that none of it will be lost. He passes away before completing it.

The second story is from his granddaughter’s point of view. August flies home from England for Pop’s funeral and faces the family she ran from many years earlier.  She’s embraced by her grandmother and aunties and must confront the reasons for running away.

The third is a series of letters from Reverend Greenleaf of German background who set up a Mission for Aborigines in the late 1800’s.

This is a remarkably clever reconstruction of a history largely forgotten and untold in Australia. The dictionary was genius giving us a real sense of the Wiradjuri language including pronunciation. The focus on intergenerational trauma as well as the strength of connection to land and culture was inspiring.

Look at it this way – when people travel overseas the first thing, they do is learn a handful of words, learn the local language – please and thank you and hello and goodbye, maybe even where is the supermarket? People do it because it makes life easier but they also do it out of respect…

And then we’re all migrants here, even those first-fleet descendants, we forget we’re all in someone else’s country.”

Reading The Yield gave me all sorts of feelings. The anguish and anger of what happened to our indigenous people was detailed in the letters written by the Reverend. His seemingly good intentions to set up a mission under the guise of removing a long-established culture to impose another was incredibly misguided. But this is what he and most missionaries around the world have done. Even so, his so-called protection was never enough.

Then there was the sorrow about the loss and trauma experienced by August: her missing sister, not knowing what happened and the affect it had on her for years afterward, her emptiness and lack of belonging to the land or to her people.

The disgust about how we treat the fifty-thousand-year-old indigenous history. If we dug up a Roman building, we’d revere it yet that history is new in comparison to what exists in Australia. Who can forget Rio Tinto blowing up a 46-thousand-year-old sacred site only last year? And the novel’s story parallels this when the land that Pop had lived on and loved was sold off for a tin mine.

This is another great novel for all Australians to read. These stories help us to understand. Please check this one out.