Tag Archives: new release

Book Review: The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is ideal for a book club as there’s so much in it to discuss.

Thoughtful, as it is thought provoking, Flanagan challenges the reader to think, to feel and to pay attention. What about? Death not just our own, but others, of the planet and our way of life. And the themes are wrapped around aging, displacement, child and elder abuse, trauma and environmental destruction. It’s not a happy book nor is it meant to be.

Flanagan cleverly uses the slow and excruciating demise of Francie, the mother of Anna, Terzi and Tommy. Terzi in particular, and Anna decide that it’s not time for their mother to die and do everything they can to keep her alive, against the wishes of Tommy her carer, as well as Francie. Their brutal decisions have a background story for their motivation.

‘They saved her from death, but only, thought Anna, by infinitely prolonging her dying. ‘

Many of us are facing the dilemma of aging parents and what might be best for them. At the core of this, is listening and respecting our parents’ wishes and not impaling them with our own controlling ideas. Flanagan explores the family dynamics beautifully to bring about a strong emotional and sometimes, uncomfortable response for the reader.

Anna finds parts of herself vanishing starting with her finger and nobody notices. Perhaps a metaphor for the fact that no-one notices the disappearance of animal species and habitat across our planet?  Told from Anna’s point of view we feel her dismay, her displacement and her own disappearing. I wondered whether like so many middle-aged women she also felt ignored, irrelevant and dismissed as if her voice no longer matters.

And there’s the issue of what social media is doing to us. When Anna is confronted by difficulties, she escapes into an alternative life of social media, to ignore and hide from herself, her family and what’s happening around her.

 “Instagram, blessed Novocaine of the soul! Foodholidayssmilinggroupsshopping. She had to get off. She knew it. She had to get off.”

Alongside this story is a commentary of what’s happening in the world from the extinction of the orange- bellied parrot to the destruction of swathes of habitat. Fires raged in Australia destroying more than a million animals. I well recall the devastation, the smoke, the fear last year, and Flanagan brought it all back, making us pay attention to our uncertain future and the fact that we are sitting atop a climate emergency yet no-one is truly taking notice.  

Flanagan has got a lot to say in this book and certainly his words pack a punch in an interesting way. The ending was profound, moving and powerful with a glimmer of hope and goodness inspiring us all to each do our bit. It’s not an easy read but it’s an important one leaving its mark on you.

Book Review: The Silent Listener by Lyn Yeowart

I turned the last page a few days ago and this book hasn’t left me alone to think about anything else other than the characters and the page turning story.

The first line “the moment he dies, the room explodes with life”, pulls you in and propels you through three time zones, 1940’s, 1960’s and 1983. Each chapter highlights which character it’s about and when, so it’s not difficult to follow.

The main character Joy returns after a long absence in 1983 to nurse her dying father, George, a highly respected and upstanding citizen of the rural community of Blackhunt. Alex Shepard, the local policeman, suspects foul play when George is found with a belt pulled tight around his neck and we’re left wondering if Joy has done it.

We’re then propelled back in time to George’s marriage to Joy’s mother Gwen, their whirlwind courtship, the run-down dairy farm she lives in and how she survives her new life.  It’s through eleven-year-old Joy’s eyes in December 1960 that we learn about her fixation with words, about her religious father and his abusive consequences on Joy and her siblings. In particular, Joy’s special relationship with her older sister Ruth is fascinating as it is revealing.

“Joy knew she should feel sorry for Ruth, but the truth was she felt a familiar white tremor of jealousy.”

Beyond that we get a strong sense of the community and the era particularly when nine-year-old friend, Wendy who lives on a neighbouring farm disappears and is never found which haunts the same investigating policeman, Alex Shepard twenty years later.

The novel is divided into four parts and the first half slowly but intricately unveils the many secrets of Joy’s family sucking the reader into a web of intrigue. A few twists and turns threw me into an unexpected direction culminating in an ending I had no idea was coming.

“His room smells like the orange blankets have licked up the dying odours from his body and are slowly releasing them into the air, and the semi-darkness reminds me of the day I hid in here and saw a snake on the bed, about to attack me.”

There are so many elements to this story and to say too much would be to give away spoilers however, it should be noted that there is a strong theme of domestic violence and child abuse. And although not explicit, it is nerve-wracking and somewhat harrowing. Nevertheless, Ms. Yeowart holds nothing back, taking us on a journey where nothing is as it might seem, where neighbours turn a blind eye and where families hide what really goes on behind closed doors.

It’s disturbing and tense, gripping and complex yet beautifully crafted by debut novelist, Lyn Yeowart. Definitely worth checking out.

Book Review: A Room Full of Leaves by Kate Grenville

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Oh, what a story Kate Grenville has put together.

I’d read about Elizabeth Macarthur in the incredible non-fiction work by Michelle Scott Tucker (see my earlier review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2020/05/22/book-review-elizabeth-macarthur-a-life-at-the-edge-of-the-world-by-michelle-scott-tucker/ ) where she brought Elizabeth out from behind her famous husband John Macarthur. And it was a glimpse behind the façade of a woman who perhaps should have been given more credit for Australia riding on the back of sheep instead of her notorious husband.

In this book, we are asked to imagine that Elizabeth has kept a secret memoir from her time before she comes to Australia on the second fleet. It conveys her inner most thoughts and feelings and Kate Grenville brings us a story of what might have really been going on in this famous marriage. It’s fascinating.

Grenville as always, beautifully captured the colonial settlement, the struggles and deprivations from Elizabeth’s point of view. Importantly it also gave a voice to how women had to carefully navigate their lives around who they should marry. One wrong decision meant the difference between happiness and sadness, poverty or respectability. In Elizabeth’s case she made the wrong choice in marrying a man like John yet the conclusion that she would have made the best of it is entirely believable.

It’s an easy read and beautifully written and I couldn’t get enough of it. Then the last few pages drew her story to an abrupt close and I wondered why the rest of her life couldn’t have been explored like I wanted it to. It would have made for a huge volume of pages, that’s true, but perhaps the author felt that she had explored the more important parts of her life. We don’t get to see how Elizabeth managed the farm and brought about prosperity for her and her family. After the birth of her third child, the rest of her pregnancies are summed up in barely a sentence. Perhaps had I not read the comprehensive work of Tucker I may not felt a little cheated. Or perhaps I’m just greedy for more.

Highly entertaining and if you read this book then I’d suggest following it up with Michelle Scott Tucker’s work.

Book Review: Riptide by KirstenAlexander

Pic from Goodreads


Another wonderful Australian author writes a  pacey, well-written novel which transports us to Queensland in 1974.

 Charlie and his sister, Abby are travelling along a back road to their father’s farm where they encounter a lone vehicle who is forced off the road because Charlie, who has the wheel has drifted to sleep. The pregnant driver is killed and instead of alerting authorities, they flee leaving her beside the road. When they arrive at their father’s farm, they realise the dead woman is their father’s fiancé.

This is set in Queensland in an era of harsh corrupt policing and a right-wing government. It’s a family drama of secrets and lies never devoid of tension and twists, many of which I didn’t see coming. The guilt splits their family apart and plagues Abby and Charlie in different ways which we see because the narrative is split by their alternate point of view. My sympathy lay with Abby mostly, a woman trying to juggle three children, manage her high-flying husband, her self-absorbed brother and her grieving father. Somewhere in all that is a future she dreams of which now slips away. 

 This book is certainly a page turner and the references to the major events of the time such as Cyclone Tracey’s devastation of Darwin, were insightful and enlightening.

I’m in two minds about the ending which was abrupt and I found myself asking but what about… Nevertheless, it’s a good read and a compelling premise with lots going on, so give it a go.

Book Review: The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld



This is a book where the reader needs to work. By that, I mean not everything is delivered to you and neatly tied up in a bow. You must concentrate and think beyond what is on the page and it’s not a book for everyone.

For a start there are three different stories in three different timelines and numerous characters and some side stories along the way. And what they all have in common is Bass Rock set in coastal Scotland.

“something about the Bass Rock was so misshapen, like the head of a dreadfully handicapped child.”

There is Sarah, a young woman in the 1700’s accused of being a witch who is on the run after being saved by a priest and his son. Then in a post-WW2 setting, there is Ruth, who marries a widow and tries to come to terms with being a young bride and stepmother to two young boys. The third story is about Vivienne in present day who grieves for her dead father and comes to Bass Rock to be caretaker of the house once lived in by Ruth.

It’s a difficult thing to do full justice to three very rich stories. For me the strongest story is around Ruth and could have stood alone or at least could have withstood sharing the pages with Vivienne. The one with Sarah was difficult for me to engage with and had little connection to the other two stories. 

In Ruth’s story, the behaviour of the village townspeople, and in particular the priest is quite bizarre, yet she is made to feel the odd one out. There is a mysterious ghostly presence in the house which is felt by Ruth and Vivienne and the unravelling of this separate story is violent and difficult to read. The manipulation of Ruth by her husband is infuriating and what goes on in the boy’s boarding school is left to the reader to piece together.

“Ruth had slept badly, waking throughout the night, too hot or too cold, with the smell of the school in her nose, like thick mud and flowers left to rot in their water.”

This is a tale of murder, domestic, sexual and psychological abuse, generational trauma in a largely patriarchal setting. At times brutal, the harshness of life for the women matches the harshness of the landscape. Somehow the thread of resilience and survival binds the women in their relationships with others. For Ruth it’s with Betty the housekeeper, for Vivienne it’s with Maggie a woman she befriends and for Sarah it’s with the boy.

It’s an intricate, haunting and thought-provoking novel, beautifully written. I found myself re-reading it to make sense of some of the story and fully analyse and appreciate the characters.

Nevertheless, this one will stay with me for a quite a while.

Book Review: The Testaments by Margaret Attwood

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I was curious to read this, having read and enjoyed the much lauded, The Handmaids Tale. I was probably more intrigued to see why The Testaments shared the 2019 Booker Prize with Girl, Woman, Other by Bernandine Evaristo. See my earlier review (https://sckarakaltsas.com/2020/02/21/book-review-girl-woman-other-by-bernadine-evaristo/

First, a bit about the book. It picks up fifteen years after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, a sequel touting the answers to what happened to Offred. But this isn’t so much the case. Attwood cleverly pieces the narrative through the eyes of three women, although it took me quite a few pages to work that out. We have the elderly Aunt Lydia, (previously a judge before Gilead) who used the system to rise through the ranks. The others are two young women, one in Canada who was a baby refugee from Gilead and the other born and raised within Gilead. The three are involved in Gilead’s downfall.

It makes for interesting reading and like The Handmaid’s Tale is a fascinating look at a dystopian world inspired by past and present tyrannical regimes according to Attwood. The character of Aunt Lydia is quite brilliant in contrast to the two young women, who sounded similar in character, and perhaps that was the point  when we learn about their connection.

I have mixed views about this one. I feel as if it were written purely to satisfy the readers who wanted more from the first book and from the hugely successful television series which I didn’t watch. Did it satisfy those questions? For me, it didn’t because I didn’t yearn for a sequel in the first place. Perhaps I’m being cynical but I wonder if it was written to capitalise on the success because it surely would have been a money spinner.

Did it deserve to win an equal spot with Girl, Woman, Other? I would say no. It is well written as you would expect and it is enjoyable to read. There’s a clever plot with a thrilling finish. But is it the literary masterpiece I’d expected? For me, it wasn’t. But hey, check it for yourself.

Book Review: Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Pic from Goodreads


The town of Edenton, North Carolina is front and centre of this dual timeline novel and what a surprisingly gripping historical mystery it is.


Morgan Christopher, once an art student is in jail for a crime she didn’t commit, when she is released on bail to restore a post office mural in time for the opening of a gallery in Edenton. She has no training on restoration and has a short deadline to complete it or she faces returning to jail. She sets to work on the mural and as she cleans and restores it, the painting reveals more than she expected.


Anna Dale, a young talented artist wins a contest in 1940 to paint the mural for the Edenton Post Office and we follow her story. Coming from the north near New York, she confronts prejudices and secrets in the small town. She disappears and so does the mural until it turns up in 2018 for Morgan to restore and the questions mount throughout the book until we reach the satisfying climactic end.


The prologue opens with three black children discovering a dead white man setting the scene for a deliciously slow unveiling. I so enjoyed this book, particularly the last half and was unable to put it down. The character development of Anna and Morgan was very well done. The two find themselves and each other with art.


Chamberlain does an amazing job with both timelines and her research into the real town and its history, good and bad,  was very enlightening. Both stories are compelling and heart-breaking fully engaging the reader from start to finish.


You won’t be disappointed reading this one and I’d heartily recommend it.