I’m Glad My Mom Died

Memoir about being a child actor with an abusive mother

Content warning: child abuse, emotional abuse, eating disorders, sexual harassment

I 100% chose this book for the provocative title. I was couple of years too old to be the target audience for this author’s breakout role in the Nickelodeon TV series “iCarly“, so I wasn’t familiar with her work or fame but when I saw this book come up I thought it would be an interesting one to listen to while out jogging.

Image is of “I’m Glad My Mom Died” by Jennette McCurdy. The audiobook cover is of the author, a young white woman wearing dusky pink clothing and holding a bubblegum pink urn that has confetti coming out of the top.

“I’m Glad My Mom Died” written and narrated by Jennette McCurdy is a memoir about her life as a child actor. The book opens with Jennette visiting her mother who is unconscious and dying of cancer. In an attempt to get her mother to wake up, Jennette tries to tell her mother something that she will be really proud of: that she is very thin. The story then goes back to Jennette’s early life and her mother’s desire that Jennette become famous. Initially, Jennette will do anything to make her mother, who is a cancer survivor, happy. However, as Jennette grows older, she soon realises that she actually doesn’t enjoy acting. The pressure caused by the auditions and pursuit of perfection starts to take a toll on her, but the successes seem to make her mother happy and start to bring in some income for the family. When Jennette lands a role on the TV series iCarly, her fame becomes a rollercoaster that she cannot get off. However, it is a rollercoaster that takes her away from her mother’s control and slowly, painfully and with many bumps along the way towards independence.

This was a captivating, heart-breaking story that was beautifully and expertly narrated by McCurdy herself. I think given the public fascination with celebrities and TV stars, it is easy to think that become famous must be a wonderful and easy life. Some of the pressure has been highlighted in reality TV shows like “Dance Moms“, but these highly scripted shows often focus more on the adults and the competition. It was truly illuminating hearing from someone who was for all intents and purposes forced into the life of a TV star, and truly heartbreaking hearing the impact on her through vulnerability to controlling behaviour, condoned and encouraged eating disorders and poor mental health. I think, however, the most devastating part of this book was how little the rest of her family and the television industry intervened in what everyone could see as abuse from her mother. There were also some really horrifying stories about behaviour from men in positions of power on the shows Jennette was appearing on. McCurdy has a warm, slightly sardonic style and a clarity of voice that other ghostwritten memoirs don’t seem to always have.

A challenging and honest memoir that reveals the darker sides of the dream being a child actor in Hollywood.

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Wildwood Dancing

Historical fantasy retelling of the fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Content warning: sexual harassment, controlling behaviour

After a very heavy audiobook and a bit of a hard time, I was in the market for a book that I knew would be heartfelt, enjoyable and have a (hopefully) happy ending and Juliet Marillier never disappoints.

Photo is of “Wildwood Dancing” by Juliet Marillier. The paperback book is resting in a bush of purple flowers between two purple and red shoes at night time. The cover is of a young woman in an elaborate satin dress and gloves, in a nightscape of tiny creatures, flowers and woodland.

“Wildwood Dancing” by Juliet Marillier is a historical fantasy novel and a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“. The story is about Jena, the second of five sisters who live an idyllic life in Transylvania and secretly visit another realm every full moon and dance all night with members of the magical court there. When their father goes away to recover from an illness, the older sisters are left in charge of the household and the family business under the supervision of their father’s cousin. Initially, things go well and level-headed Jena has things under control, even if people occasionally look at her a little askance with her pet frog Gogu. However, after tragedy hits, Jena finds that things are not going so well and finds it harder and hard to resist her second cousin Cezar’s attempts to take control of the situation. In her efforts to try to get things back on track, things get even worse and soon her eldest sister, the Other Kingdom and even Gogu are at risk.

This was a sweet, enjoyable book that took the famous setting of “Dracula” and reimagined it as a beautiful, magical forest setting. I really enjoyed the visits to the Other Kingdom and the warmth of the characters the sisters meet there. Jena was a very relatable character, eager to take on adult responsibilities but struggling to let go of the naiveté of her childhood. The onslaught of Cezar’s controlling behaviour was done really well, and Marillier captured the nuance of how small transgressions can soon turn into abusive behaviour. The prejudice expressed against the Night People provided an interesting overlay to the story.

Although this book was very enjoyable and was similar in style to many of Marillier’s other lovely stories, I felt that it was coded slightly younger than some of her other books I have read. There were some reveals that didn’t feel as surprising to me as in previous books, and I wasn’t sure if that was because the audience was intended to be a bit younger or not.

A sweet story full of heart that brought a traditional fairytale to life.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Bedtime Story

Memoir about a mother trying to explain cancer to her son

Content warning: death, cancer

There has been a lot of loss in my family this year. When looking for my next audiobook to keep me company while running and gardening, I came across this one. Although I read one of this author’s books previously and didn’t love it, I thought that something to help me make sense of grief would be helpful.

Image is of “Bedtime Story” by Chloe Hooper. The audiobook cover is of a starry sky with copper coloured text over the top.

“Bedtime Story” by Chloe Hooper and narrated by Lisa McCune is a memoir about Hooper’s partner’s cancer diagnosis. Narrated in the second person to her eldest son, Hooper turns to children’s literature to try to find a way to explain the diagnosis to her children. However, she soon finds that most children’s literature is manifestly inadequate when it comes to explaining death and mortality. As her partner grows more unwell as treatment progresses, Hooper puts off the explanation further. However, she finds that her son picks up more than she thinks and finds his own ways of making sense of what is happening to their family.

This is a thoughtful, gentle book that grapples with how we break terrible news to children. I enjoyed Hooper’s exploration of different examples of children’s literature and they ways in which they do (or do not) deal with death. Second person narratives are a relatively unusual form of storytelling and one that I think worked well for the subject-matter. McCune’s narration captured the tone really well. It is matter of fact but sensitive, soft but clear.

I think this was probably not the right book for me at this time. I think this is a book for someone who is pre-grief; who is dealing with life-shattering news but the axe has not yet fallen. Someone who is dealing with waiting and who is hoping for the best but expecting the worst. I realised too late that this book is actually illustrated and for that reason alone, I do regret listening to the audiobook version because of course they weren’t included.

An introspective story about dealing with difficult news as a family.

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2022: A Year in Books

Well, it’s time for my annual reading wrap-up and what a challenging year it has been! I am very behind in my book reviews and barely crossed the finish line on New Year’s Eve to meet my annual reading goal. Nevertheless, books were read and I had thoughts and feelings about them, so here are my best reads, my most popular reviews and a wrap-up of my reading challenges for the year. This was also my first year using StoryGraph as my new reading tracker.

Best Reads of 2022

I read a lot of different genres this year.

However, my favourite reads fell into the following genres:

  • literary fiction
  • non-fiction
  • graphic novels
  • fantasy
  • historical fiction, and
  • crime/thriller.

As I mentioned earlier, I am quite behind in reviews but I’ll update with links as I catch up.

Literary Fiction

I haven’t managed to review it yet, but I really was impressed with “Young Mungo” by Douglas Stuart. Chris Reilly’s narration with a thick but perfectly clear Scottish accent really made the audiobook an immersive experience.

Non-Fiction

I read a few non-fiction books that really made me think this year. “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble” by Zac Bissonette was part-biography, part-economic history about the beanie baby craze of the 1990s. “Flush” by Virginia Woolf was an utterly charming biography of poet Elizabeth Baker Browning’s cocker spaniel. I also finally managed to get a copy and read Shu-Ling Chua’s short collection of essays called “Echoes” which was so delicately written.

Graphic Novels

Photo is of “Heartstopper” by Alice Oseman. The paperback book is resting against a legal graffiti wall beneath a simple representation of the Ukraine flag, blue and yellow, twisted in the middle, partially covered by a hot pink tag. 

Like so many people this year, I fell in love with the delightful young adult queer romance “Heartstopper” by Alice Oseman and the TV adaptation especially. I also had to review “Rigsby, WI” by SE Case which is an early 2000s slice of life webcomic I have been absolutely loving. I was so excited for the next installment in the 1950s detective noir “Blacksad” series by Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido with “Blacksad: They All Fall Down – Part 1”, the first release (and English translation) since 2014. This has been a real favourite of mine and I was thrilled to finally have the next book. I finally got around to reading the utterly charming “Dinotopia” by James Gurney, a beautiful adventure story about a land where humans and dinosaurs live in harmony. I also enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s “Black Dog”, an unsettling story set in his “American Gods” universe.

Fantasy

I couldn’t quite shake “Flyaway” by Kathleen Jennings, a tightly wound story with many complex threads. Ursula Vernon’s “Nettle & Bone” was a subversive take on the fantasy adventure genre complete with demon chicken. “Legends & Lattes” by Travis Baldree was a delightfully down-tempo, queer, cosy, fantasy romance.

Historical Fiction

Image is of “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. The hardcover book is standing upright behind a crystal vanity set with a small vase, a small glass and a squat box on a crystal tray. 

Hannah Kent’s “Devotion” was a beautifully written and creatively courageous story about a family who emigrates to Australia from Prussia. “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles was an exceptionally paced, well-crafted novel about a Russian aristocrat condemned to indefinite house arrest in a classy hotel. I loved Kate Forsyth’s Cretan World War II and labyrinth retelling “The Crimson Thread”. I also loved Anita Heiss’ novel “Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray” which explores the story of a historical flood in Gundagai, New South Wales and the effects of colonialism on the Wiradjuri people.

Science Fiction

Fictional podcast “Forest 404” by Timothy X Atack was an immersive listening experience about the relationship between humanity and nature. I was completely hooked on China Miéville’s novel “Embassytown” that had everything you could ask for in a science fiction story including faster than light travel, weird aliens and linguistics.

Crime/Thriller

Gillian Flynn’s deeply disturbing novel “Sharp Objects” lingers with you in the same way the journalist protagonist’s troubled upbringing lingers when she returns home to cover a story. I was also haunted by “The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters, and the question about whether malevolence is coming from inside or outside the house.

Magic Realism

I finally ready my first book in Bahasa Indonesia: “Cantik Itu Luka” by Eka Kurniawan, a difficult but highly original novel about the struggle for Indonesia’s soul. I was completely blindsided by K-Ming Chang’s Taiwanese family saga “Bestiary” I became obsessed with the body horror novel “Bunny” by Mona Awad. Nardi Simpson explores the ripple effects of racism and segregation in rural Australia in “Song of the Crocodile“.

Most Popular Reviews of 2022

There has been a bit of a shift in which reviews have been the most popular this year, with erotica and old reviews being knocked down a bit and some more recent reviews jostling for position.

2022 Reading Challenges

I attempted 5 reading challenges this year:

To kick off my first year using StoryGraph I thought I’d give their Onboarding Reading Challenge a go. It was a bit random, but it was great excuse to make a dent in my to-read piles and you can see the books and categories here.

I had a bit more trouble with the Pondathon II: The Quiet Pond’s Story-Driven Readathon. I had a lot of fun setting up my character and loved the designs, but I ultimately found the admin a bit intensive and only logged three books with the challenge (and got a bonus plant for Lunar new year). Unfortunately the challenge ended about 6 months earlier and CW, the blogger behind the Quiet Pond, has discontinued their blog so I never got a chance to catch up.

I signed up for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge and aimed for Mount Blanc: 24 books. I haven’t quite got the final result (not sure if books bought during the year count) but I think I got at least 30 which meets the goal but doesn’t quite meet the next level of Mount Vancouver. You can see all the books for this challenge here.

For the second year I ran my own reading challenge, the Short Stack Reading Challenge, and I smashed out 20 short books in December which helped me achieve my last reading challenge. I was thrilled to see one or two other people joining in this year so I’ll try to promote it more next year.

I was so relieved to meet my reading goal of 80 books. I finished my last one at about 8:30pm on New Year’s Eve, but it was really down to the wire. I really enjoyed the user experience of StoryGraph and will definitely be sticking with them moving forward.

Wishing all my readers a happy new year and hope to have lots of reviews up very shortly.

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Amnesty

Literary fiction novel about an asylum seeker in Sydney whose visa has expired

Content warning: racism, exploitation, family violence, torture

This was one of the books for Asia Bookroom‘s book group this year that unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend this one. I read another book by this author and really enjoyed it, so even though I missed the book group I was still very keen to read it.

Photo is of “Amnesty” by Aravind Adiga. The paperback book is standing between an orange bottle of Mr Muscle cleaner and a vacuum cleaner attachment. In the background is the vacuum cleaner and in the foreground is a yellow cleaning cloth.

Literary fiction novel about an asylum seeker in Sydney whose visa has expired

Content warning: racism, exploitation, family violence, torture

This was one of the books for Asia Bookroom‘s book group this year that unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend this one. I read another book by this author and really enjoyed it, so even though I missed the book group I was still very keen to read it.

Photo is of “Amnesty” by Aravind Adiga. The paperback book is standing between an orange bottle of Mr Muscle cleaner and a vacuum cleaner attachment. In the background is the vacuum cleaner and in the foreground is a yellow cleaning cloth.

“Amnesty” by Aravind Adiga is a literary fiction novel about a young man known as Danny who lives in Sydney and works as a cleaner. With blonde-tipped hair, an anglicised nickname, a local girlfriend and his portable vacuum cleaner, Danny has been working hard to make a new life for himself after his application for refugee status as a Sri Lankan was denied and his temporary visa expired. Danny spends his days cleaning, meeting up with his girlfriend and dealing with his landlord whose shop he lives on top of. However, one day, Danny finds out that one of his clients has died and that police are involved. Danny gets a call from the doctor she was having an affair with to come clean the apartment she was let him stay in. He keeps calling and calling and Danny is faced with a difficult choice: go to the police and have his visa status discovered or do nothing.

This was a tense, cramped type of book that follows the events of a single day. Adiga uses an interesting narrative structure where the books is broken down into elapsing periods of time, sometimes as small as a single minute, to show how Danny is grappling with the events as they are unfolding. Agida really centres this story in Sydney, but in a Sydney that not everyone experiences. Through Danny’s eyes we see opportunity, diversity and natural beauty but we also see poverty, exploitation and inequality. This is a cuttingly insightful book that unpeels a corner of Australia’s asylum seeker policies and shows not only the hardline stance towards asylum seekers, but also how the economy is propped up by the underpaid labour of people like Danny.

However, despite the cleverness of this novel, I didn’t always find it especially readable. Adiga’s focus on the minutiae of Danny’s life was at times claustrophobic. He builds and builds the tension without relief and the streets of Sydney feel more and more oppressive.

An intelligent yet uncomfortable reminder of the way asylum seekers are treated in Australia.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, General Fiction

The First Binding

South Asian-inspired Epic Fantasy Novel

I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the publisher.

Image is of “The First Binding” by R. R. Virdi. The eBook cover is of a person with dark skin, long hair and a ragged red cloak facing mountains and a city in the distance.

“The First Binding” by R. R. Virdi is an epic fantasy novel about a storyteller called Ari. After arriving at a tavern and providing a memorable performance, Ari meets a mysterious young woman with whom he forms an instant connection. As they navigate politics and danger in a foreign land, Ari shares the most personal story of all: how he overcame adversity to become a legend and The Storyteller.

This story has all the elements required for epic fantasy: orphan child, early mentor, street urchins, selective magic school and a journey to prove oneself. The book is set against a stunning South Asian backdrop and weaving in captivating mythologies and cultural elements to create rich, unique worldbuilding. I think my favourite part of the book was actually the interlude chapters set in the nation of Etaynia where Ari must navigate dangerous political games, though I did enjoy the competitive kite flying chapters as well.

However, this was not an easy book to read. It is over 800 pages long and it had a very slow start. Virdi has an overly descriptive style and I wish I was exaggerating but the book spent 30 pages describing a bench in a tavern. There were pages and pages of unnecessary descriptions of banal items: candles, cutlery and benchtops. The story really only felt like it began to get moving at page 375, well over a third of the way through. I actually feel like the editors did this book a bit of a disservice by not paring it back much, much more.

Ari is supposed to be an expert storyteller but I didn’t feel like the excellence of his storytelling was self-evident. Instead, there was a lot of reliance on audience reaction rather than having the stories shine in their own right. I also found the magic quite laborious. I understand that mastering the idea of folds took years and was very difficult, but the magic system took a long time to explain for something that did not inherently appear to be particularly complex. I also understand that Ari had gone through some things that perhaps made the magic much more difficult to execute in the earlier chapters however again, it seemed like there was a lot of time spent describing and not really that much magic to show for it which, as a reader, I found very frustrating. I also found the love interest quite cliched with a lot of batting eyelashes and a lot of male gaze. I think I could have forgiven quite a lot of these issues had the premise (rather than the setting) been more original.

There was some lovely worldbuilding in this book but you could have cut it in half without sacrificing the key parts of the story.

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The Great Beanie Baby Bubble

Non-fiction book about the beanie baby craze of the mid-1990s

Content warning: mental illness, family violence

I needed a new running book, but I can’t remember exactly why I picked this one except it had something to do with this photograph:

Photo of a man and a woman in a courtroom in front of a pile of beanie baby toys, dividing them up from the Huffpost.

As a 90s kid, but not one who had beanie babies (Pokemon cards, yoyos, Tazos and Tamagotchis on the other hand…), I found myself intrigued about how exactly this craze came about. The book was an ideal length for me (approximately 8 hours) and I was in the mood for some non-fiction.

Image is of “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass delusion and the dark side of cute” by Zac Bissonette. The audiobook cover has a photo of a light brown teddy bear toy with a red tag that says “ty” on its ear.

“The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass delusion and the dark side of cute” by Zac Bissonnette and narrated by P. J. Ochlan is a non-fiction book about Beanie Babies, collectible animal bean bag toys created by billionaire Ty Warner. Bissonnette pieces together the notoriously reclusive Warner’s life through interviews and memoirs of people who knew him and worked with him, and uses economic and business theory, to try to understand the meteoric rise of Warner’s Beanie Babies in the mid-1990s. Bissonnette also looks at the secondary market created by Beanie Babies, inflated prices, the role played by the internet and Warner’s own unique, perfectionist personality.

This was a really interesting book in many ways. I have next to no knowledge when it comes to business and economics and I found Bissonnette’s explanations of the marketing and scarcity tactics used by Warner’s company Ty to be both highly informative and very engaging. Bissonnette goes into lots of detail about the design (and redesign) of Beanie Babies that made them so attractive to consumers and the various factors at play during the time that created the perfect environment for the craze. Bissonnette also spends a considerable amount of time on Warner’s biography, especially through former employers, employees and girlfriends, to try to understand the man, and the salesman, behind the plush toy. For someone not interested in economics in the slightest, I found this book really easy to listen to. Bissonnette skillfully constructed a narrative around the phenomenon, and if he didn’t have all the answers, he certainly had a story.

I think the only thing I found less interesting were some of the superfluous details about Warner’s personal life. While he certainly seems like a very singular character, there were parts of the book that felt almost voyeuristic. I much preferred the parts of the book that, for example, discussed how an intern came up with the idea to create a Beanie Babies website which would regularly crash it was so popular, rather than sad, secondhand information about Warner’s broken family relationships.

A fascinating book about how an affordable plush toy became a worldwide craze.

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Embassytown

Award-winning science fiction novel about cross-cultural alien communication

Content warning: war, addiction, mental illness

I picked up a copy of this book many Lifeline Bookfairs ago for one very obvious reason: the book’s tinted edges. While possibly originally black, the edges have since faded to a purplish colour. This book has been sitting on my shelf for a very long time and I was inspired to read it when it came up in the category of “7th most read genre in your all-time stats” of the StoryGraph Onboarding Reading Challenge 2022.

Image is of “Embassytown” by China Mieville. The paperback book is upright against a glowing white background. Beside it is a small replica of the Rosetta Stone.

“Embassytown” by China Mieville is a science fiction novel about a young woman called Avice who comes from the eponymous city on a planet at the edge of the known universe. The city serves as a trading post and protected place of diplomacy with the endemic alien species the Ariekei, referred to as the Hosts. After becoming one of the few people born in Embassytown who manage to leave and travel through space, Avice returns to her childhood home with her partner: a passionate linguist who has a keen interest in the Hosts’ unique form of language. Diplomatic relations with the Hosts are conducted by a very select few humans called Ambassadors and while mutual understanding between humans and Ariekei is limited, Embassytown has enjoyed peace, stability and exchange of technologies for some time. That is, however, until a new Ambassador arrives from the Out.

This was an extremely clever and well-constructed novel and it is not a surprise in the slightest that it won a plethora of awards when it was published. Mieville’s premise is highly original and is an incredibly creative exploration of language, communication and diplomacy and how small misunderstandings can have catastrophic effects. Without giving too much away and detracting from the enjoyment of letting the reader’s understanding of the novel unfold, I really enjoyed the worldbuilding such as the expression of names as linguistic fractions, the buildings made from biomatter and the almost indecipherable concept of humans as similies that left me puzzling long after the book was over. Mieville leaves no stone unturned when it comes to exploring the implications of Embassytown’s establishment and each decision thereafter, but manages to do so without ever being boring. In some way, as the reader, we are required to empathise with the difficulties in understanding another culture by initially being faced with an unfathomable society and gradually gaining understanding and context as the book progresses.

I think the only very slight disadvantage to this book is that while Mieville’s pacing is very carefully done so as not to either overwhelm or underwhelm the reader with information, some readers may feel the time it takes to find your fitting a bit too long.

An exceptionally intelligent piece of science fiction, I am really looking forward to reading more of Mieville’s work.

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The Last White Man

Speculative fiction novel about humanity’s skin changing colour

Content warning: racial violence

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.

Image is of “The Last White Man” by Mohsin Hamid. The eBook cover is dark navy blue with stylised block text in pink and orange, and pale yellow and orange.

“The Last White Man” by Mohsin Hamid is a speculative fiction novel about a young white man called Anders. One morning, Anders wakes to find that his appearance is changed. He is no longer white. Confused and unsure what to do, he reaches out to his friend and lover Oona. As they slowly renegotiate their relationship, other people in society start experiencing changes in their appearance and skin colour until it becomes clear that society will never be the same again.

This was a deceptively simple book that explored race and racism in a novel way: what would happen if people who had lived their lives as white suddenly had to live their lives with a different racial appearance? Hamid uses a small but effective cast of characters to explore some of the subtle and not-so-subtle racist views that people harbour, and how those views must be grappled with in the new society he has created. Some of these issues play out in public displays of violence and conflict, while others play out in the privacy of family homes. Particularly effective were the interactions between Oona and her mother, whose refusal to accept the situation becomes untenable, and Anders and his father, who find a new understanding through this experience. However, I also thought that the otherwise banal setting of the gym where Anders works was where issues of discrimination, exploitation and tolerance were truly borne out.

I think the only thing that I found myself wanting was a bit more of an explanation of why this had happened. With a confidence that I can only admire, Hamid just sets the scene without any attempt to justify – scientifically or otherwise – what is causing people to change. I think I would have liked just the merest whiff of a theory to cling to.

A thought-provoking and original story that encourages the reader to really think about the social impacts of racism.

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Sharp Objects

Psychological thriller about unsolved murders and a suppressed past

Content warning: self-harm, child abuse

I am still trying to make some headway in my reading challenges for the year, so I have been trying to double up a little bit and combine both the StoryGraph Onboarding Reading Challenge and the Mount TBR Reading Challenge into one. This was apparently a book that fits all of the criteria of my reading profile: a fiction book that is mysterious, dark, tense, fast-paced and 300-499 pages long. Specific! I actually have read a book by this author previously, and I had picked up another of hers from the Lifeline Bookfair some time a go and was keen to see what it was like.

Photo is of “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn. The paperback book is sitting inside a dolls house between a doll’s chair and a doll’s bed with a blue and white floral bedcover. There is a wooden table with a basket and a miniature bread roll inside. The cover is plain black with embossed dark blue text.

“Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn is a crime thriller novel about a journalist called Camille who is asked to investigate a disappearance in her home town. Reluctantly, Camille takes on the assignment to cover the story of the second missing girl in a short period of time. When she arrives, she braces herself to see her estranged family while she interviews local police and the victim’s family. However, the longer she is in town, the clearer it becomes that despite the wealth and splendour of her family home, there are some very dark secrets that she thought she left behind. Despite seeming relatively stable if uninspired in her job, as the book progresses we start to see just how much of a toll Camille’s childhood has taken on her. Camille also has the opportunity to get to know her much younger, precocious teenage sister and becomes determined to protect her. The question is: who really needs protecting?

This is a compelling, disturbing story that examines the way trauma can ripple through families regardless of class with devastating effects. Flynn juxtaposes Camille’s mother’s pursuit of beauty and perfection with the emotional and physical scars Camille bears from growing up in that environment. Flynn is a very good at building and maintaining tension, and just like in “Gone Girl”, no matter how challenging the subject matter becomes, it is almost impossible to look away. There is a TV adaptation which is just as good with excellent acting.

I think the only thing about this book is that at times it feels almost provocative for the sake of it, kind of the same way that Camille’s little sister Amma is provocative for the sake of it. There were parts of this book that left me deeply uncomfortable; not just the fallout from terrible crimes, but the ethics of Camille’s own decisions.

An eminently readable yet uneasy story.

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