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Jansson

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I read therefore I am

Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and What Comes Next

Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and What Comes Next - Richard Denniss Yes, yes, yes! An excellent essay that will get you angry at how our current politicians have failed to fulfil their obligations and truly honour their oath of office. It also arms the reader, of any political persuasion, with the wherewithal to demand more of their local member and other elected representatives.

Unsheltered

Unsheltered - Barbara Kingsolver When I first started reading this story I thought it was a bit slow. But as the story went on I found myself enjoying it more and more. It’s an excellent piece of historical fiction, but it is also a great examination of the Trump era. Kingsolver dissects why a person would support a politician who offers them nothing more than the veneer of solace.

The reader can discern a lot of symbolism and parallels between today and the 1880s in the story eg, a house falling down, early resistance to Darwin’s theories, a new life, descent into disorder, the power of science/knowledge to help us find our way out of it, resilience, etc. There’s too many really to go into & there’s not much point going into them as I’m sure most readers won’t need to be told.

Surprisingly, I found Nick to be the most interesting character in the story, and also the moral fulcrum in many ways. Tig also had a role in this respect, but I felt she was more of a bridge to understanding and compassion, in much the same way that Mary Treat was. Even though Nick’s opinions were born of ignorance and fear, he was the one with the most to lose, the most vulnerable and most at risk at the hands of Trump’s America. Carruth on the other hand experienced the realisation of such harm, just not in the time of Trump.

I thought the mixing of real characters with fictional ones from the 1880s was deftly handled. This, along with the believable and very human present day characters helped to make this a very entertaining and thought provoking read.

Moment of Truth: History and Australia's Future

Moment of Truth: History and Australia's Future - Mark   McKenna Excellent essay full of so many pertinent observations I don’t know where to start. But I think the one that stays with me is his excellent expansion of our inability to imagine something like what happened to indigenous peoples happening to us. Our empathy and compassion is clearly conditional.

Lillian Armfield: How Australia's first female detective took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and changed the face of the force

Lillian Armfield: How Australia's first female detective took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and changed the face of the force - Leigh Straw I enjoyed it, but this book had quite a personal resonance for me. I am very familiar with many of the places it references, as wells as the experience of being a female in a male dominated industry. However, it was interesting reading about the story of one who can claim to be a first. The courage that Armfield must have shown going into those situations armed with only her pearls, handbag and her wits is astonishing. Inner Sydney in the early 20th century was a much more violent place that it is today. It is always difficult going first as you have no role models, no one to give you a help along and show you what you might expect.

It was very well researched, but it was only ok. I would have like to have seen less repetition of events and more analysis of specific situations or of the roles of women in society generally in comparison to that of women in the police. But it didn't significantly detract from my enjoyment of the book and my admiration for Ms Armfield.

Principles of Civil Litigation

Principles of Civil Litigation - David Bamford Ho hum, another text book.

Man Out of Time

Man Out of Time - Stephanie Bishop I had to think on this book for a while before I wrote this as it is very much a multi-layered book. There is the plot, the things that happen. However these things are not as important as the way the characters perceive them and feel about them; Bishop's writing is such that you get a front row seat into this. It is not like you are at the movie watching events unfold. You are within the character and feeling it unfold, getting an idea of what it feels like within. It is much more of an intense experience of being with the character, it goes much further than evoking empathy.

It is one of those stories that made me question what is bequeathed us by our parents and our family? Can we ever truly escape it? Is it inevitable that we eventually turn into one of our parents? And if that is the case, do we get to chose which one? These questions are much more pointed because of the opposing psychological and emotional states of Stella's parents.

The event that precipitated Leon's descent into madness is less important than the descent itself (I use the term madness very loosely here). Also the fact that, while Frances probably tried harder to hold on to her bond with Leon, it was Stella who was able to maintain it more effortlessly despite herself. Bishop's writing is beautiful in places and was really evocative of this. She allowed the reader a gentle slide into Leon's disordered way of thinking through his internal dialogues as well as those with his family, mainly Stella.

The novel also addresses how children may react, or act out, in the face of a parent's descent into disorder (I think that is a much better term than madness), not just how one might react emotionally.

I enjoyed this book. The three characters (there really are only three that are explored in any great depth) are interesting and I grew attached to them all. I can't really say that I disliked any of them. Sometimes I wondered why they were doing the things they were, but Bishop always drew this out, slowly and gently without bashing either the reader or the characters over the head. I would class it as an emotional drama and I really enjoyed the places that the characters took me.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern I just loved this book, it was delightful. It had me enraptured right from the beginning. Even when things aren't happening, connections are being weaved, everything is interconnected. Even though many of the characters could perform feats of wondrous magic, many of them longed for the magic of the connections that are forged in everyday life. This was echoed in the sentiment that maintaining the connections required to keep the circus and its magic in existence was tiring and difficult to maintain over the long term. I think it is also echoed in the person ultimately chosen to run the circus. A beautiful sumptuous book.

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions - Randall Munroe This book is great, I mean laugh out loud great. I didn’t understand all the maths & science in it, but Munroe relayed it in a down to earth manner so I always got the gist of it. If you are reading a big weighty, worthy or intense story, this is the perfect reset book. And if you’re not? It’s still great, a real hoot to read.

Eggshell Skull: A memoir about standing up, speaking out and fighting back

Eggshell Skull: A memoir about standing up, speaking out and fighting back - Bri Lee I would describe this book as memoir as suspense. The sense of foreboding created by Lee in the telling is palpable. Her story and those that she relates would be recognised by many women and girls (myself included) as that terrible unspeakable fear that lives within us, the experience of dangerousness and vulnerability at the hands of those we know and possibly even love.

Lee articulately questions how the criminal justice system and our wider society deals with domestic violence and sexual violence. She illustrates this by pointing out the gendered language of victimisation (the accused only pushed their partner against the door, yelled at them and raised his fist, he didn't actually hit the victim). This is language that is not only used by the court, police and lawyers, but by everyone, often including the victims.

Through it is the plaintive cry, why do so many of our men have so much trouble believing us? It seems that for a significant number of men, the only time these issues really hit home is when it is one of their immediate family who is subjected to such violence.

It should be noted that there is no misandry in this novel, Lee celebrates the men in her life who believe these accounts of women. However, as she illustrates, the very low conviction rates of many such offences is evidence that there is a significant proportion of the male population who doesn't. In fairness, there is also a significant proportion of women who don't want to believe it either.

For this reason, I will be promoting this book to the men I know, and women, while acknowledging that in a number of instances I may be preaching to the choir. However, the more this message gets out there, the more we can break down this wall of disbelief.

A Shout in the Ruins

A Shout in the Ruins - Kevin Powers This book is great. The writing is superb, painted a great picture. The concept of the intimacy of violence was a really interesting one.

I think what most impressed me was the empathy employed by Powers in the telling. This empathy along with the intimacy helped to illustrate the true consequences of violence and in civility. These consequences seemed to transcend the physical world in some instances, in other instances it obliterated their world. This often set off a chain reaction leading to tragedy.

Tragically, a number of the characters seemed to bear the burden of cruelty despite their better natures, all of them dealing with this in their own ways.

It was a bit difficult to keep track of the characters at times, but it is worth sticking with. Powers painted a terribly compelling picture of the casual cruelty of oppression and managed to do so beautifully.

Book of Colours

Book of Colours - Robyn Cadwallader This is a very good book. It took me a little while to get my bearings regarding the time in which it was set. I'm not really big on the history of this time. But it is a really good historical novel painting a great picture of London at that time.

It also explores what happens to those people struggling against straitjacketing and oppression. The female characters are strong and believable in their attempt to navigate their way through a world that is inflexible in the place it has to offer women. The male characters each have their struggle as well, so it's not one sided in that respect. None of them are perfect, but they are all likeable in their own way.

The essence of the struggle depicted is emotional and it is told through the creation of a book of prayers. The lady for whom it is commissioned clearly wants something to speak not only to her place in society, but to her personally. And the people making it invest the images they create with their beliefs and ideas about her, as well as their own hopes and struggles. Some of their beliefs and ideas about her are based on their assumptions about her, others are either an accurate assessment or informed by direct experience. It is through this 'conversation' that Cadwallader weaves a tale about finding your place in an ever changing and harsh world.

There is no real happy ending, but the book is finished, and while it appears as if nothing much has happened otherwise, the characters all come to a better understanding of their lives and how they want to live them. This is the important journey in this book, and even though it is 1321-1322 in London, the things the characters grapple with still resonate today.

The Immortalists

The Immortalists - Chloe  Benjamin I did enjoy this book. I found the stories of Simon and Klara heartbreaking and very real. I recall that time when AIDS first revealed itself. Simon's story is an interesting study on that time and the many factors involved in its emergence. However we never loose sight of the personal in this story, that it is Simon's story.

You don't really get much of an idea about the interconnectedness of the siblings in the beginning, but it does emerge as the story connects. With Klara's story you get a much richer understanding of the nature of the relationship between Klara, Simon and their father Saul. When Daniel and Varya's stories are broached you get a much better idea of the trajectory of the family's relationships.

Each of the siblings has their own issues with connection; Simon's with feeling safe enough in his difference to express affection; Klara's with believing in the magic of everyday life which holds those we love and have loved close to us; Daniel's with relinquishing control and allowing life to evolve as he would choose it to and Varya's is embracing the meatiness and corporeal nature of our bonds with our nearest and dearest, not trying to rationalise and think them through.

The book very cleverly asks some questions about agency, choice and fate. The fortune teller is the vehicle for this questioning. She is quite a contradictory figure. Is she responsible for their fates? Is she bad? Is she a victim herself? Is she simply at the whim of her 'gift'? These are interesting questions when considered in line with other questions I asked myself while reading this book. Should we live everyday as if it's our last, knowing that our death may be just around the corner? Or should we live disregarding death, embracing only life, putting death to the side, assuming it to be way down the road? Even though the Gold children were probably too young to hear the news the fortune teller told them, they didn't stay children. So where was their adult agency, sense of reason and emotional nous in their later years? Or is their reaction to this sort of news completely normal and understandable, even if you don't believe in fortune tellers?

I think the weakest part of the story was the FBI character. Klara was enchanting enough without him. I would like to see less of him and more of Klara's magic. I still think that having the fortune teller investigated for fraud was clever, and there is a way to have Daniel's story evolve as it did, without the investigator's obsession with Klara. This thread through the story seemed implausible and unnecessary; without it, I would have given the book five stars.

But that aside it is still a great book which will get you thinking and asking the big questions.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart - Holly Ringland This is a lovely book. Ringland's writing about young Alice's experience of domestic violence was compelling and disturbing. However, surprisingly, this didn't stop the writing from being beautiful. It also had the ring of truth about it. I think this is why I felt myself becoming completely immersed in the story; it was one that I recognised. The weaving of the language of Australian natives into the narrative probably helped to soften it and render it less brutal in some respects. In other respects, the contrast of the beauty of the language of Australian natives sharpened the brutality of the domestic violence depicted.

The story cleverly illustrated the impact that witnessing domestic violence, being present where it occurs, has on the children in the family. It also shows how experiencing or witness such violence primes children to repeat this cycle in their adult life. I say prime because it is not inevitable, but it does certainly make navigating intimate relationships problematic.

Ringland's story also shows how strong and assertive women are just as likely to be victims of domestic violence. It is part of a belief that they have control over what abusers do, steer someone else's choices. In some ways it is as if the idea that they have no control over it is even scarier; with control comes predictability and with predictability comes the possibility of avoiding it. Ringland shows this very clearly while Alice is living in Central Australia.

The end made me realise that even though I had just read Alice's story, her memory of it was incomplete, until the end. So the story came full circle in that respect. I felt that after she regained her memory of her past and her family history (from those who knew her family as well as her own rediscovered recollections), she had no need for the language of flowers, she could speak in her own language. I think this is why she passed this legacy on. Once she recalled and understood she could move in the direction she needed to, and this was Alice's growth.

A truly beautiful book which will not only leave you thinking about the subject matter, but also hungry for details about the meaning of beautiful Australian wildflowers.

The Lucky Galah

The Lucky Galah - Tracy Sorensen In lots of ways this book was a joy to read, some of the passages are just glorious (see pages 20 and 124). I loved Lucky and in some ways the anthropomorphising of him served to highlight the damage we do when we cage birds. I also loved the two main families. Sorensen managed to give each member a unique personality as well as giving each family its own personality.

I just feel that the ending was a bit flat. There needed to be more tension in the story so it went somewhere, either in terms of plot or character development. With a better ending, or resolution it would have easily been five stars.

The Paris Seamstress

The Paris Seamstress - Natasha Lester This book was a bit of a slog for me and took me a lot longer to finish it than I thought it would. I found it hard going, one dimensional and flat.

My reasons?

I found the writing clumsy and ham-fisted. Lester was too busy telling us to show us. She was telling us how beautiful dresses were, how beautiful scenery was, how beautiful characters were and how ugly a few were. It is sometimes necessary to tell, but as a general rule, writing is at its best when it shows. There was way too much telling going on here.

The other reason was, I felt that Lester did nothing to challenge any stereotypes or any assumptions. The characters who I thought were all supposed to be good were good, those who were supposed to be bad were, and they all had the characteristics that I expected them to have. There was nothing to challenge the reader, or at least this reader. This lack of nuance and the unexpected left the reading experience flat for me.

I did quite like the plot, but it was not enough. I never felt for the characters, could not identify with them in anyway and while I wanted to find out what happened, I never really cared about what happened.

The Good Daughter

The Good Daughter - Karin Slaughter This book is ok. I’ve read better thrillers, but it was good enough to keep me reading to the end. I find stories that rely heavily on twists and turns in plots and over plays implausible connections between characters and events leaves me feeling as if the author has been toying with the reader, which is a feeling I don’t really enjoy. This was how I felt reading this book. I have been told by fellow readers that Slaughter is a very good writer, which prompted me to give this book a go. However, I felt she over-played her hand to a great extent and the story would have benefited from a more subtle and deft touch.