Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Girl on the Train

I was in the mood for something fast-paced, and I had this book sitting on my shelf after I picked it up for an easy $2 from the Canberra Lifeline Bookfair. This book has gotten a lot of attention recently after being made into a film, and has been touted as the next “Gone Girl“. Would it match up to all the hype?

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“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins is a thriller novel set just outside London, UK. Rachel, a thirty-something woman with a drinking problem, catches the same train to the city, morning and evening. While the rest of her life seems like it’s falling apart, she looks forward to that brief moment twice a day where she can watch a particular blissful couple she’s named Jess and Jason and daydream about their perfect lives. Until one day, Rachel sees something. Something that shatters her fantasy and pulls her back into a world she’s been desperately trying, and failing, to escape with alcohol.

This book starts out strong and kind of fizzles from there. I think there’s no other way about it. The premise of the fleeting glimpse from a train window is a compelling one, and the beginning seems really promising. However, it ends up being like one of those old time cartoons where the scene starts off beautifully illustrated and the further the character walks, the more unfinished the scene becomes until they end up just standing by themselves on a blank page looking admonishingly at the animator.

The characters end up being quite two dimensional (I think only one woman character out of four has a job). The men are kind of indistinguishable, and the amount that the women’s lives seem to revolve around the men is super boring.  Opportunities for interesting relationships and characters are lost (I’m looking at you, red-headed cockney train guy). The “twist” is easy to guess. Only one character has any kind of interesting backstory. Even the conversations end up being really repetitive because there’s never really any new information.

I could understand how “Gone Girl” was so popular – it was enthralling and it was an excellent example of the unreliable narrator. This book instead leaned heavily on the concept of unreliable memory and as a result the revelations just felt a lot more unlikely (or uninteresting).

A quick read but by no means an excellent read, this book is exactly OK.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Mystery/Thriller, Uncategorized

The Beat on Ruby’s Street

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

The Beat on Ruby's Street

“The Beat on Ruby’s Street” by Jenna Zark is a historical young adult novel about Ruby, an eleven year old girl growing up among the Beat Generation in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1958. Living a carefree existence with artist Nell-mom, musician Gary Daddy-o and brother Ray,  everything comes crashing down when “the Man”, in the form of a social worker, comes looking for her. Although she tries to comfort herself with her own words and poetry, when she misses out on seeing Jack Kerouac, Ruby worries that her golden birthday coming up in just a couple of days isn’t going to be so golden.

This is a great little story that is really easy to read. In fact, after being invited to come watch my friend play jazz this afternoon, I thought what better place to spend my afternoon reading a book about the bohemian lifestyle than at a quirky live music venue. Ruby is a strong character with the perfect adolescent mix of overconfidence and uncertainty. Although we see the Beatnik scene through her eyes, this book raises some interesting questions about the children who grew up there and the tension between artistic self-interest and acceptable standards of care. Ruby has far more freedom that many children do today, but she also has a lot of uncertainty about meals, schooling and, sometimes, even the location of her parents. The only thing that I was a little disappointed in was the abrupt ending. However, this book does have a bit of a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” feel about it and I think is ultimately meant to just be a glimpse into Ruby’s life.

I really enjoyed this book. A lovely and nuanced little snapshot into a vibrant time in history.

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Filed under Book Reviews, eBooks, Historical Fiction, Uncategorized, Young Adult

Wake Me Up

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

Wake Me Up

“Wake Me Up” is a literary family drama by Justin Bog. Set in Montana, USA in 2004 the story is narrated by Chris, a teenage boy in a coma. As Chris’ body fights to recover from a brutal attack by four young men from his class, his consciousness drifts into the past to observe the events that led up to the hate crime.

I was really impressed by this book. Bog is a beautiful writer with a strong sense of empathy that shines through his characters. The premise is horrific, nuanced and all too realistic. Bog captures the complexity of a family falling to pieces and the damage self-interest can inflict on our closest relationships. Chris is a wry yet relatable narrator – an average kid who shows us both the senselessness of violence as well as the vulnerability of having, or even being suspected of having, an LGBTIQ identity.

This is quite a long book, but it’s an absorbing book, and is definitely about the journey rather than the destination. I wasn’t quite sure about the cover choice, but when I read the story of the painting in the acknowledgements, I actually think it’s perfect.

An engrossing and very relevant story about families, crime and identity.

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Filed under Book Reviews, eBooks, General Fiction, Uncategorized

Lost the Plot – Episode 14

Also available via iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/lost-the-plot-podacast/id1185190716

Seeking Tumnus YA Fiction Podcast
seekingtumnus.com/

World Builders
worldbuilders.org/page/fundraising
Michelle West books

Lost Rocks
Lost Rocks

The Great Book Swap – Indigenous Literacy Foundation
www.greatbookswap.org.au/

My New Bookshelf 😀
Book Shelf

Blemish Books – Pulpture
blemishbooks.com.au/news/index.shtml
blemishbooks.com.au/pulpture/index.…tform=hootsuite
WIP Pulpture

Banjo Paterson Park
Banjo Paterson Park

Banjo Paterson Bricks

Treasures from my Bookish Past

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Does anyone want these? Comment somewhere and I will send them.

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30 books!! I’m not making this up – people would have been sponsoring me like 20c a book.

 

 

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Hugo Award Finalists
www.worldcon.fi/wsfs/hugo-finalists/

Sad Puppies
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sad_Puppies

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/…d-wolf-erlbruch

Banned Books Week – 2016 Top Challenged Books
www.facebook.com/bannedbooksweek/…f=PAGES_TIMELINE

2016 Top Challenged Books
www.bustle.com/p/the-most-challe…leanor-park-50160

Aranda Primary School Decommissions Library
www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/ara…-gvtcpx.html

National Simultaneous Storytime
www.alia.org.au/nss#resources

Anita Heiss’ New Book
www.facebook.com/AnitaHeissAuthor…/?type=3&theater

Cleverman Graphic Novel
www.facebook.com/ClevermanTV/phot…/?type=3&theater

Tara Moss Working on New Book
www.facebook.com/taramossauthor/p…/?type=3&theater

Free Copies of the Handmaid’s Tale in NYC
www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/free-c…af6d718a3ee6

My Cousin Rachel
www.facebook.com/ViragoPress/vide…f=PAGES_TIMELINE

Berlin Syndrome
www.facebook.com/BerlinSyndromeAU…f=PAGES_TIMELINE

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Casting
www.facebook.com/pottermore/photo…/?type=3&theater
www.buzzfeed.com/eleanorbate/the-…books#.otw8edGB3

The Wheel of Time TV Series
variety.com/2017/tv/news/wheel-…tv-series-sony-1202

Kim Morton
feminartsy.com/unspoken-the-real…btqi-communities/

Apply to be a CBCA Judge
cbca.org.au/judges-judging

What’s In a Name by Myles Walsh
trove.nla.gov.au/work/213497657?s…sion=NBD58638784

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe
www.goodreads.com/book/show/303422…from_search=true

Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr
www.goodreads.com/book/show/298660…from_search=true

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Filed under Lost the Plot, Uncategorized

Saga Volume 7

I’ve been following this graphic novel series (by Brian K. Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples) for a while, so if you want to see what I’ve written about earlier volumes you can check them out here, here and here.

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In my last review, I said that I liked Volume 6 a bit less than the other volumes. I’m very sad to say that I think despite starting out all guns blazing, Saga is on a downward trend. If you’re going to kill off main characters, you need to replace them with something of equal or greater value. Unfortunately, I’m just not loving the replacements. It’s such an action-intensive series that, especially with these volumes only coming out every 9 months or so, it’s a bit hard to keep tabs on everything that’s going on. I think maybe it’s also crossed the line from being wild and irreverent to actually quite maudlin.

Anyway, look, I’ll probably keep reading these, but I’ve definitely lost a bit of my enthusiasm after the last couple of volumes. It’s still hard-hitting, but maybe not as fun.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Graphic Novels, Uncategorized

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil

Melina Marchetta has been the trailblazer of Australian teen fiction since the early 1990s, so I was really excited when she came to speak at Muse in Canberra not too long ago. A quietly thoughtful and articulate speaker, afterwards she kindly stayed back to sign copies of her latest novel.

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“Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil” is a modern mystery thriller set in France and the UK. Chief Inspector Bish Ortley has been temporarily relieved of his police duties after an incident with a colleague when he gets a disturbing call from an old friend. A bus has been blown up in France and his daughter, who is away on camp, was on it. Pulling himself together enough to drive over the Chunnel, Bish finds out that his daughter was not the only person of interest on that bus. Another teen, Violette LeBrac, is the daughter of the infamous Noor LeBrac who is serving a life sentence for her involvement in a bombing in London many years earlier. When Violette disappears taking another teen with her, Bish finds himself leading the hunt to find her. Along the way, he finds himself forced to face his demons, past and present.

This is an interesting, compelling and relevant story with many, many layers. Marchetta is second to none when it comes to exploring the teenage psyche and she definitely has not lost her touch with the advent of the internet and social media. After writing about the Italian immigrant experience in Australia, Marchetta does a convincing job tackling the Middle Eastern experience in Europe. Her exploration of race is multifaceted and informed, and Bish’s own complex identity is a valuable conduit between two very polarised experiences. Although there were times where I felt the characters were perhaps a little too virtuous, the rest of the story more than made up for it and I found myself staying awake way too late to finish this one.

A cracking read that couldn’t be timed better. Reading this book is like having your finger on the pulse of Europe.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Mystery/Thriller, Signed Books, Uncategorized

South of Forgiveness

Please note that this review discusses sexual violence and may be upsetting to some people. I use the term “victim” and “survivor” interchangeably throughout this review.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Lost Magazine. I first became aware of this book, and the controversy surrounding it, when I watched the International Women’s Day episode of Q&A earlier this month. I was pretty taken aback by the premise: an author touring Australia with her rapist to talk about the book they have written together? Before I had even seen the book I was conflicted.

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“South of Forgiveness” by Thordis Elva and the somewhat befittingly named Tom Stranger (in slightly smaller writing), is a recount of a week that they both spent together in Capetown, 17 years after Stranger raped Elva when she was 16 years old. While finishing high school in Iceland in 1996, 18 year old Australian Stranger met Elva and they started dating. Very early in the relationship Stranger brutally raped Elva while she was completely incapacitated by alcohol then broke the relationship off shortly afterwards. A number of years later, long after Stranger had moved back to Australia, Elva reached out to Stranger by email to talk about what had happened. After 8 years of emailing, Elva and Stranger agree to meet in South Africa to see if they can finally achieve what they both long for: Elva’s forgiveness.

Where do I even start? I found this book to be incredibly problematic in a plethora of ways and I have a lot of very complex thoughts about it. From the outset, this is a very difficult and uncomfortable book to read. I found myself many times sitting there with the book next to me procrastinating on my phone – not because the book was badly written (Elva is a spirited and eloquent writer) – but because I was so reluctant to dive back into the incredibly raw, challenging and morally ambiguous conversations.

Having some knowledge of justice systems and restorative justice programs, I was quite appalled that Elva would embark on a journey like this at all. Due to the Icelandic statute of limitations, the length of time that had passed and issues of evidence, there was no possibility of Stranger being charged for his crime. As a consequence, Stranger is caught in this awkward grey area of not being a convicted criminal but being remorseful for his actions nonetheless. Living on opposite sides of the planet doesn’t help, and access to joint counselling, mediation or any kind of formal process is impractical and ultimately never raised. I think my biggest reaction in this regard was wondering how Elva could feel safe spending a week with her rapist. As the story unfolds it transpires that this is not the first time that they have met up since the incident, but even so, it made for some very intense reading.

However, it’s not just physical safety that could have been a concern – it was also emotional safety. Sexual violence is about power, and Elva is clearly driving this bus. In fact, even from the writing it is clear that Elva is a very strong, determined person and Stranger seems much more hollow and unsure. The difference in tone between Elva’s parts and Stranger’s parts is clear. Nevertheless, it made me wonder: what kind of message is this sending for other rape survivors? I’m conflicted about the idea of recommending that people forgive their rapists generally, let alone over the course of a week of intimate discussions in a country not your own. One of the biggest obstacles for most victims, obviously, is actually having a rapist who feels remorse for their actions. I don’t think that forgiveness is essential for everyone’s survival. Elva decided that this was what she needed to do to let go of her trauma, but I don’t think that this is going to be the path for everyone. Everyone deals with suffering in their own way, some people could be seriously retraumatised by having to face their attacker. This is one point where I think it’s important to reiterate that this book is not and should not be taken as prescriptive.

Another message I had concerns about was the message for perpetrators. As I mentioned earlier, Stranger essentially got off scot-free, and I worried about this sending the message to rapists (or potential rapists) that a) they were unlikely to ever be prosecuted, and b) that their victim would forgive them eventually. I had concerns about the extent to which this book could be interpreted as being apologist, but I think ultimately that was not the case. The book is divided into 7 sections, one for each day in Capetown, chronicling Elva’s experiences and their conversations, and then finished with a brief summary from Stranger. Despite never having faced the law for his actions, Elva’s observations and Stranger’s sections show that he has been wracked with guilt. Although my knee-jerk reaction was for someone to throw the book at him, on reflection that is probably against my core beliefs when it comes to the justice system. Sentencing by courts typically have one or more of three main purposes: punishment, community safety and rehabilitation. Despite my initial desire to see Stranger punished, ordinarily, that’s not the purpose I subscribe to and I prefer prisons and sentences to be more about community safety and rehabilitation. After reading this book, I was left with two questions to answer: did I think that Stranger was safe to be in the community and did I think that he had been rehabilitated? My answer to both was yes.

I think that this raises two important points. The first is that legal systems worldwide are still extremely flawed when it comes to sexual violence, both in the laws and their application. Maybe if circumstances had been different, Stranger would have gotten a conviction, maybe he wouldn’t have. I recoil from ideas of vigilante justice, but I acknowledge that the legal system frequently does not get it right. The second point is what Elva calls the monster effect, and I think this is the most important message of the book. Sexual assault isn’t always done by some stranger down an alleyway, sexual assault can and is done by people known to the victim. This is in some ways even more traumatic because of the enormous breach of trust. Most people who know Stranger probably consider him a “good guy”. There are probably millions of men around the world like him who did a similar, once-off thing and kept going when their partner said no, or took advantage while their partner was not able to give consent. This raises further moral questions about to what extent people are and should be judged on a once-off action. Most casual rapists probably never think of it again, while the impact on the victim can be lifelong. I think this book treads a fine line between raising awareness of this different kind of rapist and inviting the reader to believe that people can change and be “on the right side” again.

There was one part of the book that made me deeply uncomfortable. Towards the end, Elva and Stranger visit a rape crisis centre together and although Elva seemed completely fine with this, Stranger and I were not. While I appreciate (as I’ve said above) that Stranger was never convicted of a crime, I think in my heart a rape crisis centre is a safe place for survivors to seek assistance. This was one point in the book where I felt like Stranger and Elva’s reconciliation was put before the best interests of others. It was almost like a betrayal of the CEO’s trust. Without any criminal convictions, there was nothing apart from Stranger’s own guilt stopping him from being there but eventually Stranger grew so uncomfortable that he left. I felt as though if this had truly been about Elva networking, she could have gone alone but there was a sense that this was more about proving a point.

I think another thing that felt a bit incongruous with the core subject of the book was how much of this book seemed to be a joyful celebration. I think I described this book to my partner as something along the lines of “misery porn meets travel blog”. The beginning of the book in particular feels like it’s leading up to a hugely traumatic event, but the rest of the book had a bit of a summer holiday by the beach feel with Elva and Stranger doing a lot of their discussions on various tourist activities. Elva has quite a whimsical writing style and there is a fairly strong spiritual undertone to this book with references to the “playwright in the sky” and a lot of credence given to signs and serendipity. They both laugh a lot, and they both cry a lot. I think this serves to highlight just how complex the relationship between Elva and Stranger is with years of history and trauma between them, but also a fragile friendship. I think again it would be incredibly unrealistic for most rape survivors to have a fun holiday with their rapist and talk it out heart-to-heart.

My final problem with this book is a problem with money, and I think ultimately I would not have bought this book myself. In Australia especially, it is illegal to profit from your crime, however again Stranger finds himself in the grey area of having admitted to a crime but never having been convicted. Technically, the proceeds of the book go towards him for having done a bad thing rather than having done a crime, but I think my reaction is still the same. There has been some call for him to donate any profits he makes and I understand Elva said that she would be receiving the bulk of any royalties anyway.

My main message to people who are considering reading this book is to not take this as a recommendation for how to respond if you have been sexually assaulted or sexually abused, or you yourself are a rapist. This book depicts an extraordinary situation with two very privileged and educated people that would be completely out of reach for most. I think that the correct way to take this book is as a thought experiment to unpack some of the moral and social issues around rape. It is an incredibly challenging book to read and ultimately I’m not sure where I fall on every moral conundrum, but I think anyone who reads this book should read it with caution.

If you have experienced sexual violence, either as a survivor or a perpetrator, please report and seek assistance through your local services. 

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Filed under Book Reviews, Non Fiction, Uncategorized