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I read therefore I am

The Ice

The Ice - Laline Paull I did enjoy this book. Paull built the suspense well and you did get a sense of the trajectory of Sean and Tom's friendship and the impact their different paths had on its development.

I guess I was a bit nonplussed with the ending. I didn't really buy the climax in relation to Sean and Gail's relationship, even though it was left up in the air to a certain degree. I felt as if, while Sean was doing the noble thing by fully disclosing all the events in relation to Tom's death, even if it was almost too late, I didn't feel that there was any way his character could come back from his actions and decisions. That part felt a bit unsatisfying for me. This is especially so since the issues in their relationship were penned as if they were largely Sean's issues. The climax in relation to his relationship with Martine on the other hand, was completely believable.

While many of the characters were clearly either good or bad, Sean wasn't drawn in such a clear and definitive way. While I didn't like many of his actions and the justifications he told himself for these actions, I did come to feel a sense of empathy for him. For my mind, his character appeared to be a bridge between the very good and the very bad. His inattention to the badness, inattention that appeared to border on wilful blindness at times, probably makes him representative of most of us in society. Deep down, we know our affluent lifestyle comes at a cost, but we all baulk at making meaningful changes that would benefit those less affluent and the planet generally.

I did enjoy this book, and while I know some readers appear to have found the binary of environmentalist/good v big business/bad unappealing, it probably is indicative of a market capitalist society where everything, even the greater public interest and global environmental and climactic health is subjugated to the forces of the market. We can't say it doesn't happen. Every now and then there is a good policy emanating from a country that appears to be balanced in relation to the competing demands of business and the environment, but I would have to say that generally speaking, the balance swings in favour of 'doing business', and wider environmental concerns come a distant second.

The concept of a global and influential group that persuades big businesses to take other things into account when doing business, such as the environment, ecosystems and endangered species was intriguing. This book seemed to be questioning if this is really possible. It was also asking at what point does a 'wrong' move from being a simple mistake, to negligent inattention, to immoral or amoral decision making to straight up criminality. Can a society collectively commit a wrong? If members of this society benefits from the wrong in some way, even when they weren't directly involved in the wrong, but in circumstances when they should have known it was being committed, how culpable are the individual members of that society?

Power is also an important theme in this book. Who has it, who wields it, for what purpose and what happens to those who attempt to talk truth to power? How does power intersect with the questions above?

These were all things that came to mind while reading this book. And as I have said before, any book that makes you think is well worth reading.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book and it kept me riveted throughout. It's just a shame that the ending wasn't a bit tighter (I can't think of another word to describe my feeling about the ending); hence four stars rather than five. But other than that, it was a very good book.

A Stolen Season

A Stolen Season - Rodney Hall I feel the weight of responsibility, being the first to review this book, but here I go.

This book was very very good. Hall’s writing was very clever with some beautiful passages. I was impressed with how distinctive the narratives were, there is no way you could mix them up. They did come together in the end, but this story is not plot driven.

The most salient uniting factor between the three narratives is the sense that none of the characters are where they thought they would be, and each takes decisive action to make sense of it and get their life moving in a more meaningful direction.

I think the most poignant aspect of the story is Bridget and Adam reconnecting on a much deeper emotional level after physical intimacy becomes problematic. This occurred in the context of Adam deciding to let Bridget go so she can live a full life.

Those who prefer plot driven novels may find the going a bit slow, but I have to say, I didn’t. Hall's writing kept me happily reading, bearing witness to the emotional drama playing out on the pages and discerning the subtle and not so subtle connections between the characters.

In relation to the title, I wasn’t sure whether the stolen season is one that was taken from the characters leaving them in their predicaments, or them taking back control in some way and so stealing back another chance. In truth, it’s probably both.

The Ruin

The Ruin - Dervla McTiernan A really good thriller. The story was well paced, starting off steady and progressively building up as it progressed. In some ways there weren’t any surprises in terms of style and characterisation, but it stuck nicely to its genre without being inflexible.

The story hinted at many issues that are in the current zeitgeist (child abuse, the church, poor institutional responses to it), but ultimate it boils down to one fatally flawed person who is the architect of their demise, notwithstanding their tragic childhood.

I’m very interested to see where Sgt Cormac Reilly goes in the next instalment.

Cruel Crown

Cruel Crown - VICTORIA AVEYARD Nice quick read with interesting details regarding Cal and Farley's back stories. It isn't really essential reading for the series, much of it is inferred in the main books. But they're a fun read nonetheless.

King's Cage

King's Cage - Victoria Aveyard I am enjoying this series of books. I find it quite interesting, many of the characters and the strategies they employ bring to mind those used by many insurgent groups and terrorists around the world, whichever label you apply depending on the 'side' you are on.

The personal interactions are also interesting, especially that between Maven and Mare, which in my mind resembles that of a either a stalker or a domestic violence offender. There is no way that Maven can be rehabilitated in my mind. Aveyard's writing of these interactions is quite nuanced at the beginning, but by this particular book, the reader should be in no doubt. Maven abuses and tortures Mare.

I wondered at the events that may have influenced Aveyard, the techniques utilised by the Scarlet Guard and Silvers and the manner in which women and those of a lower status are viewed as objects to be traded for more power and status. I wonder what effect the events of Sept 11 2001 had on her. I believe she may have been about 10 or 11 years old?

The book, and the entire series seems to explore themes of terrorism v insurgency, obsessive/stalking attachment (I will not call this sort of thing love) and cruelty and torture in a domestic setting. While the Mare is not perfect, she has a lot on her plate and her unwise decisions must be viewed in their context. The difference between her and Maven at this point seems to be her desire to do right by others rather than simply fortifying her position and power.

That may be the lesson of the series, to what degree do we absolve someone of responsibility for their actions because of their situation and how much responsibility should they bear regardless of their situation?

Little Gods

Little Gods - Jenny  Ackland This book took a while to get going, but once it did, it was great. I found it to be a very different book to The Secret Son, and I mean that as a good thing. I found aspects of that book pretty good and other aspects underwhelming. But this book was one of those that was a slow burn.

It started off a bit iffy, and it seemed as if the different threads linking the characters was going to be difficult to discern, even down to figuring out who Olive's father was. However, I think that was a reflection of the main voice, that of Olive's being a child narrator, and as a result her immaturity rendered her a somewhat unreliable narrator. She saw everything, but she also saw connections where there was none or drew conclusions that were informed by what she wanted to believe. In this way, the voice of Olive was honest, sincere and realistic. Rest assured, the pieces of the story do come together. While some clever editing could probably improve this, I think it would be a mistake to do away with this aspect of the narrative altogether.

Part of what made Olive an unreliable narrator were the 'secrets' that were kept from her by the adults in the story. It is clear in the book that this was done to either spare Olive pain, or more likely, to save the adults from the pain of recounting the events to Olive. But as children (and most of us adults) are apt to do, in the absence of information, they will create their own. And it is in this creation that Olive finds herself on a path that she believes will atone for losses in hers and her family's lives. Her efforts bring them to the fore in spite of attempts to ensure they remain hidden, and what Olive finds out isn't what she expected.

Olive is a fiercely smart and determined little girl. Unfortunately this fierce spirit takes a bit of a beating in her attempt to uncover her family's secrets. Olive is transformed by this experience, and has a much more subdued sense of her own strength and worth. However, this is probably a universal experience, as we all have to swallow that bitter pill of not being quite as fantastic as we thought we were, and I think this is a big part of Olive's journey. Her hurt is palpable as this is her first discovery that her reasoning and her judgement are fallible.

Ackland's writing is lovely; she clearly and beautifully evokes a childhood in Australia. The reader is right there beside Olive every step of the way. A lovely and sad book.

Glass Sword

Glass Sword - Victoria Aveyard Not quite as good as the first one, but I fear that second volumes usually lag a bit in general. I will keep reading though as Mare’s final act in this volume probably sign posts her redemption to come.

It is interesting reading all the usual tropes common in wars, civil wars & acts of insurgency/terrorism. It’s a dialogue we hear every night on the news, convincing ourselves we are on the side of right.

Given that the book has made me think about these issues I will definitely keep reading to see what’s next.

The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects

The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects - Olinka Vistica I enjoyed this book. I read it in between preparing to move house. It was sad, funny, poignant, all the emotions that go with endings. I wonder if I could send them a memento from my much loved soon to be former home? Or would this be unfair to my wonderful future home and a new beginning?

Every Note Played

Every Note Played - Lisa Genova I think this book will be one of my best reads for 2018. It is a very quick read, but it is likely you will experience a post-reading haunting. It will stay with you.

We all know what the outcome is for ALS sufferers, but Genova takes us on a journey traversing not just the passage of an illness, but also that of a relationship.

With ALS, you don’t have the opportunity of a ‘do-over’. So if you want to make it right then you have to enter the realm of acceptance, forgiveness and taking responsibility. Genova paints a beautiful picture of a family clumsily navigating this and facing up to all their daft decisions made at a time when they thought there was plenty of it left.

In making the telling of the passage of ALS so heartbreakingly real, she beautifully skewers the whole concept of ‘fighting’ degenerative diseases and shows that the real fight is with ourselves to ensure we live well right to the end.

This is a truly wonderful book.

Red Queen

Red Queen - Victoria Aveyard I really enjoyed this book. It was fun watching Mare come into her own power. The story will probably take off on other tangents, there is no point coming into your power if you aren’t ultimately challenged.

The writing was great and really well paced. Finished it in no time.

Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer

Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer - Sena Jeter Naslund I'm not sure about this book. I did enjoy it, and some of the writing is sublime. But a significant proportion of it is long winded and for a time when minority groups weren't really treated that well, there seems to be very little by way of any bigotry experienced by Una, giving it near progressive-liberalist fairy tale quality at times. On the other hand, it is set in a time when progressive ideas were percolating into the public consciousness.

I'm also not sure whether Naslund is giving Melville the bird, or trying to salvage his Ahab. It is true that she has taken a very few passages in Moby Dick about this character and fleshed a completely new one for this story, but she has also done the same for Ahab, and as a result he doesn't appear to so remote, unhinged and ruthless as he does in Moby Dick. I think if there were about 200 less pages, this might be easier to discern.

As it is, it is easy to get lost in a morass of very worthy writing. A few less pages and more directness in the characters' voices and the narrative may have given the story a much lighter feel in significant places. Unfortunately, as it is, I found it difficult to find the motivation to give this story the attention it probably warranted. While I as the reader must bear some responsibility for that, the writer also needs to accept their part in that.

So while I feel that the writing deserved four stars at times, at other times I felt like I was being overly generous giving it 3 stars; so 3 stars it is.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty I wanted to read the book before I watched the TV series, mainly out of exasperation that the location was changed from the Northern Beaches in Sydney, Australia to somewhere in the US. I don't believe that US audiences are so stunted that they can't accept and understand a great story containing universal themes set in another country. We got used to 'their' stories, surely then can get used to 'ours'?

Now that I have my rant out of the way (it will probably go unread as this review will be way, way down the list so no one will be bothered to click through all the pages to read it; not really sure why I bothered), this was a great story. It was really well handled with just the right dose of reality, wry observations, irony, irreverence, delicious bitchiness, ridiculousness and compassion so that the messages and themes aren't weighed down by the burden of their gravitas.

I won't go into detail about the themes, the messages and the characters (other than to say my favourite was Madeline, she was such a hoot!) as other reviewers have probably covered it in sufficiently insightful detail. I would only say that if you are a bit shy about reading it because of all the publicity around this and the TV series, don't be, it's fantastic.

All the Beautiful Girls

All the Beautiful Girls - Elizabeth J. Church Elizabeth Church is without a doubt a writer of feminist stories. She writes stories about women for women that tackle issues experienced by many of us. Her first book, The Atomic Weight of Love followed one woman's awakening of her sense of self and her personal power. This book tackles domestic violence and the objectification of women according to their looks.

Church follows the story of Lily Decker, aka Ruby Wilde, as she experiences exploitation of one sort or another at every age. Some of this exploitation Lily/Ruby accepted and in the short term benefited from. But her story shows the trajectory of such manipulation in a woman's life and how it scars us in the long run. Using the world of a showgirl was a fantastic tool with which to illustrate this.

I didn't have quite the same emotional response to some parts of this book as I did with Church's first book, partly because the life of a showgirl is so removed from my everyday experience. But other parts of Lily/Ruby's experience from both her childhood and her life of a showgirl resonated with me painfully. The experience of exploitation and manipulation is universal and socioeconomic status is no barrier to its experience.

Church's writing hinted at the darkness under the bright, shiny, facade of a showgirl's life, so that while I was enamoured with this life to a certain degree, I never really coveted it.

Church shows how the initial exploitation and abuse experienced by Lily/Ruby as a child primed her to accept her objectification, even if as a showgirl on the stage she felt in control. This control was clearly short-lived, as at some stage a showgirl has to leave the stage and the casino, and this was where Lily/Ruby felt the long-term effects of her manipulation, despite her strong and spirited nature. Lily/Ruby was primed for the grooming that occurs in an abusive relationship.

While the ending was a bit too neat in some respects, it contrasted with the tragedy at the beginning of her life. I think the story would have been a bit too dark if terrible tragedy book-ended her life, considering the challenges she faced throughout her life.

I did enjoy the book very much and would heartily recommend it. Some of her writing is heartbreakingly beautiful, especially those passages relating to Lily/Ruby's early childhood. But without the same emotional response that I had to The Atomic Weight of Love, it just misses out on being exquisite.


Sign - Colin Dray This is a good book. It was interesting reading about the inner workings and history of a family, albeit from the perspective of one person. As I was reading it I was seeing everything clicking into place and I was waiting for Sam to catch up. This didn't spoil things for me as it was a source of suspense in the story.

I remember driving across the Nullabor on a family holiday when I was a kid and I remember how fraught it could be. Hours of straight driving can send a child (and adults) a bit stir crazy, and I could feel that mounting impatience, boredom and fear in the kids, along with the revealing of Dettie's true state of mind.

While the story was written from the perspective of a child, the voice wasn't particularly child-like in some respects and showed a lot of mature insight. Sam not being able to speak probably resulted in him turning inwards, so this could be explained in this way. But there were a few times that I thought his line of reasoning and his emotional insight would have been out of reach for most kids. But none of this was bad enough to spoil my enjoyment of the story.

While the impending events were telegraphed, I kept reading because I wanted to see how they would get there; that was enough for me to happily keep reading. I also thought it was very clever that not all story lines were wrapped up. A particularly crucial one was left for the reader to ponder, and it was this that made me ask questions regarding issues around personal responsibility in the context of mental illness. And I will happily recommend any novel that gets me thinking.

A Long Way from Home

A Long Way from Home - Peter Carey This book really is two books within one. The first part is an exploration of white Australian culture and its enduring motifs including cars, masculinity and yobbo culture. Carey interrogates how those who don't fit into this might navigate the Australian way of life.

But these perceived struggles between masculinity and feminism, as well as yobbo culture and intellectualism are only part of any exploration into Australian culture. History tells us that Australian culture has been built over the top of the subjugation of Australian Aboriginal culture. Carey goes where few Australian authors have dared to go. Some possibly because of a belief that this aspect of the Australian experience isn't white Australian's story to tell and some probably because it is so far from our everyday experience that we are simply not capable of writing about it. As a result the second part of the story has a very different feel and pace to. However it is no less compelling for that.

Even though I found it inexplicable at times, if I let the writing wash over me, hang on and stay the ride, I discovered that I experienced an understanding at a much more elemental and emotional level rather than a logical intellectual one. This is Carey's genius; he is able to elicit this reaction in the reader. His ability to evoke the feel of the outback from the ever-present enveloping dust in the dry to the unrelenting mud in the wet probably had a lot to do with it.

In hindsight, Willie's status as the outsider in the first half of the book telegraphed his status as the centre of the story in its second half. The title of the book also provokes questions as to who is a long a way from home, where is home, whose home is it and how far do we have to travel to get there?

The book is sad, compelling and forces the reader to stare directly into the underbelly of white Australian history. It also shows us a culture that has survived despite its subjugation and draws for the reader everyday small acts of rebellion as well as suggesting big acts since colonisation that have largely gone ignored by white culture. I believe that this book will be remembered as one of Australia's great stories.

The Waves

The Waves - Virginia Woolf This book isn't for me. I can appreciate that it is all about loss, grief, change, mortality, the self and how we navigate the world. I can also appreciate that the characters probably aren't strictly separate characters, but rather representations of different aspects of one person. I also appreciate the quality of the writing. But I found a whole book of stream of consciousness soliloquies from different perspectives very difficult to read. It sometimes felt as if nothing much happened, which I know wasn't true, the action was all emotional. But I got lost. The voice never really changed throughout and I found myself skim reading at times.

I still appreciate the intellectual giant that is Woolf, but I'm afraid her dwarfing of me in this respects leaves me nonplussed by her book. As a result I would probably not recommend this book to too many people. However, this hasn't diminished my interest in her personal life in any way and I would still probably try other books of hers at some stage.