Monthly Archives: May 2015

Stranded, Alex Kava

StrandedOMG! hooked from the beginning, this book had my pulse racing at an unbelievable pace. I am gutted that it is finished, that I have turned the last page, that I am out of the forest, that the race is over. What a ride!

I loved the mystery in this thriller. There were so many layers to the action and the characters were so beautifully moulded that it was irresistible. I will definitely be looking for more books by Alex Kava! So excited to find a new writer!!

Debra Oswald, Useful

9780670077823My apologies to Debra Oswald, but I have to confess that I grabbed this book in excitement at the local library on Friday because I thought it was written by Debra Adelaide who wrote The Household Guide to Dying. And I love Debra Adelaide. I love her enough to have emailed her when I read The Household Guide to Dying to tell her how moved I was by her book. So, you can only imagine that when I saw Useful by Debra … I jumped, pounced, grabbed. It was the last, lonely copy on the new release shelves. A ‘RED HOT READS’.

Anyway, long story short, I didn’t reailse that Debra Oswald was not, in fact, Debra Adelaide, until I sat down and started reading. After a momentary pang of disappointment, I was thrust into this wonderful book and I soon forgot that initial pang as I fell in love with Debra Oswald and her overwhelming skill at crafting such an intriguing novel filled with these wonderous characters.

I finished the book in less than 24 hours. I couldn’t stop. I had to find out what was going to happen, hanging desperately on to the tiniest thread of possibility that Sully would indeed find his way down the correct path, hoping that maybe I would be spared the weight of an ending that left me doubting …

Now, I won’t spoil it for you by revealing anything more. What you need to know about this book before you commit to reading it is that you will be intrigued. Meet Sully, a man who has never done anything useful in his life. He is the epitome of a bludger, in the true Aussie sense and an alcoholic to boot. He has a well meaning heart but is often sabotaged by his inability to stay sober and the outrageous commitments he makes whilst drunk. But, he’s a likeable guy and that is central to the novel’s success. We first encounter Sully on the edge of a tall building as he prepares to end his useless life. He has it all planned out. There is nothing to live for. He has given away all his possessions, said his goodbyes and he is ready to take a final leap.

What Sully doesn’t consider is the fact that he might survive … that he is so useless that he cannot even execute a suicide! The novel unfolds from that point and Sully goes on to encounter a range of wonderfully vivid and really Australian characters. As we journey with him, we discover the intricacies of attachments that he has made, the beauty of his relationship with a dead man’s dog and the fragility of being honest about emotions.

There is no doubt in my mind. It’s not Debra Adelaide, but this book has it all and I loved it. I loved it so much that I’m looking forward to my next Debra Oswald (as well as my next Debra Adelaide – hint, hint, nudge, nudge!).

If you like a well crafted Aussie drama with balls then this just the book that you have been waiting for!

What the Ground Can’t Hold, Shady Cosgrove

9781742612737The thing that grabbed me about this book was the title: it bothered me. Still does. And I want to rewrite it – “What the Ground Cannot Hold”.

But despite the fact that the title nagged at the edges of my reading view, I persisted and I am delighted that I did.

There are several different elements which are sure to intrigue readers in this book. Firstly, the plot. An avalanche on a mountain in the remote Andes – what’s not to love for those of us who enjoy a thriller? But this is only the background. The real intrigue lies in the complexity of each of the characters who find themselves stranded together in an isolated cabin, cut off from the rest of the world, alone in the white world of the mountain.

I thought Cosgrove was quite clever at how she wove together the narratives of each of these characters. This afforded the novel both a level of interest and a sound structure. In addition, it created a space for the reader to meander through the story filling in the gaps created by a single perspective as other voices were introduced. But more than this, it is what Cosgrove omits that is most intriguing about this book. In so many ways she leaves readers in the dark, providing only the scantest details about contextual events and the personal lives of each of her characters. I found these omissions both fascinating and irritating. What will Emma do about the lies her parents told her? How will Pedro reconcile himself to his past? Will the German family forgive themselves and each other? The book resolves none of these questions. They merely hang in the air, left for readers to ponder. Similarly, the plot is left hanging – “Surely I could hold on.” It is a brave ending, a climactic and tension filled crescendo which is left in mid air. I admire Cosgrove for leaving us like this, in the space that opens up with the not-knowing. I didn’t like it, but it leaves me with great respect for her as an author.

This was certainly an interesting read and I will look out for more of Cosgrove’s books – perhaps there will be a sequel and there I will find the resolution that I so crave as a reader?

The Children Act, Ian McEwan

the-children-act-cover-imageIf there’s one thing that I can be certain of in this life, it is that if I am at a loss for something to read, Ian McEwan will certainly deliver greatness. The Children Act didn’t disappoint.

There was a special quality to this book that I think rested in the intimate yet detached narrative voice afforded by the perspective of Fiona Maye – a leading HIgh Court judge presiding over cases in the family court. Maye is a perfect protagonist; she loves her job, is committed to the morality and ethics of the outcomes she delivers, she is in awe of the law and yet she is distant from the people she rules against as her position necessitates. This affords her the ability, as a narrator, to present a simultaneously distant (her husband might say cold), yet intimate view of the cases that come across her desk. McEwan replicates this in his text: “London. Trinity term one week old. Implacable June weather.” The truncated sentences, sparse but layered with implied detail, provide the perfect space for Maye as narrator. The Washington Post describes The Children Act as “finely choreographed”, too long to be a novella but with “that focused intensity and single arc”.

With elegance and skill, in two pages, McEwan paints Maye as first an accomplished, professional, emotionally removed judge whose life is littered with the rewards of that position, and then, almost in the same breath, he exposes her humanity – “He had made a shocking declaration and placed an impossible burden on her. For the first time in years, she had actually shouted, and some faint echo still resounded in her ears. ‘You idiot! You fucking idiot!’… ‘How dare you!'” – she is talking to her husband, Jack, who has just declared that he needs to have an affair because he feels unsatisfied in their marriage. The stark juxtaposition between the complex issues that Maye is considering in advance of her court appearance in the morning – “Tomorrow, coming before her again would be a despairing Englishwoman …mother of a five-year-old girl, convinced, despite assurances to the court to the contrary, that her daughter was about to be removed from the jurisdiction by the father, a Moroccan businessman and strict Muslim, to a new life in Rababt, where he intended to settle” – and her emotional response to her husband  which unfolds half in her subconscious and half out loud.

I loved the tenuous balance that McEwan weaves between Maye as judge and Maye as wife. For me, it was this that afforded the book its brilliance, its ebb and flow, indeed, its edge. It is this that enables McEwan to explore a complex legal issue without drowning in the details and jargon, allowing Maye’s voice to be believable and honest, for her to be trustworthy narrator.

Inspired by true events, The Children Act swept me along in a symphony of reading bliss. It is exactly the type of reading experience that I like to highly recommend!

The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama, Julie Szego

9780987381149I applaud Julie Szego for grabbing this story and shaking it until its bones rattled. I applaud her for dealing with the harsh, grating issues that lie beneath the facade of the shocking plot surrounding the ‘tainted trial of Farah Jama’ – a black Ethiopian man convicted on the flimsiest of evidence for a crime that he did not commit against a white woman … all in a country as democratic and beautiful as Australia.

Szego explores the crime, the crime scene and the various characters involved, from a range of different and compelling angles. She clearly and competently conveys the complexity of this case – the victim, the accused and his traditional, Ethiopian family, and the honour and pride of the Ethiopian community. In layers, Szego unwraps all of these elements, drawing readers into the heart of questions about morality, truth, justice and race relations in Australia.

I loved how this story unfolded. It is part investigative journalism and part social commentary with a touch of thrilling mystery. The way that Szego crosses the boundaries of these genres makes this a fascinating book to read. This book teaches us about humanity, about prejudice, about assumptions and presumptions and about the fallibity of our legal system. Most importantly, it forces us to appreciate the value of asking questions and investigating until we are certain that we have come to understand the truth.