Ransom by David Malouf – Book Review

This is a retelling of part of the Iliad – the tale of King Priam who wants to get the body of his son Hector back from his killer, Achilles. Achilles, wild with grief for his lover, Patroclus who was killed by Hector, refuses to hand the body over, and Priam’s decides that he will dress as a peasant and deliver his fortune to Achilles in the hope of getting his son back.

I really struggled with the start of this book having a lot of issues with the names and the way the story was put together. But I persisted, and I’m so glad I did. I particularly liked the way the relationship between Priam and the cart driver, Somax, and the way each gets a glimpse into the other’s class.

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Scrublands by Chris Hammer – Book Review

It’s been a year since a priest in the small NSW town of Riversend shot five men and then himself and no-one knows why. Martin Scarsden, a journalist who is dealing with his own issues, is sent to do a follow up on how the town is going, and he is surprised to learn just how much everyone loved the priest. But all clearly is not what it seems.

I really liked the way this was written. I didn’t particularly like the main character, but that didn’t matter. I found the twists and turns compelling, and I was constantly surprised. I did kind of turn my brain off while reading it, in that I quickly realised that I was not going to pick what happened, so I just enjoyed the ride.

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The Life to Come by Michelle De Krester – Book Review

The book is structured as a series of stories which cover times in the lives of a variety of different character. Initially it seems as though they are not related, and then you see Pippa turning up everywhere. It feels as though this is really the story of Pippa but told often almost in the periphery.

I really disliked this book for the first third or so. I didn’t like the characters, I couldn’t see the point. And then something clicked, and I couldn’t put it down. I got sucked into the world, I wanted to know whose story was next and how it related. And while I still didn’t like Pippa, I wanted to know everything.

The Life to Come was a finalist for the 2018 Stella Prize.

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Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough – Book Review

Set in an elite private school in Sydney, Amelia Westlake tells the story of a character made up by a couple of students who want to speak out about problems within a strict educational institution. Having created a fictional student who submits cartoons to the school newspaper, they find themselves embroiled in intrigue and controversy. How far will it go?

I read this in almost a single sitting. The world is familiar yet nothing I’ve experienced, and I found it saddening to think that some of these stories are still happening. It felt so real that students who feel like when then try to speak out, are silenced by the powers that be need to find another way to be heard. It’s great, it’s fun, it’s queer and I think it will be loved by many teen readers.

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Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay – Book Review

Having read Bad Feminist and Hunger recently, I feel like I know Roxane Gay. I’m also extremely aware that I know only what she wants to put out into the world. I know her story and was interested to read her fiction having read her essays.

Gay’s writing is beautiful, even when telling horrible stories. She creates these beautiful worlds, these women who are challenging or challenged. The story that stuck with me the most is of the sisters who need to hold each other tight, to save themselves. My heart broke many times as I read this.

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A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson – Audio Book Review

This is the companion piece to Life After Life – not a sequel as such. Life After Life has the main focus on Ursula Todd, and A God in Ruins it is turned to her brother, Teddy. In the author notes, Atkinson says that she had two key concepts to write about after a lot of researching World War 2 and that was the London Blitz (Life After Life) and the British bombers (A God in Ruins).

The story itself follows Teddy’s life, and those lives around him. As an audio book, sometimes it took a moment for my brain to catch up when it started following one of the other characters. It leaps around through the stages of his life and would have the potential to be confusing except that Atkinson is such an excellent writer. Teddy is great, but there is something dissatisfying in his life and experiences – he seems to be surrounded by some very annoying people and situations, and I kept wanting more for him, better for him. And then it ends… and that all but ruined the novel for me. Having a poke around online to see other’s thoughts, it seems that a lot of people loved the book, and so perhaps the end didn’t bother them. But… overall, I’m glad I read it. I did love being back in the world of these characters, even though I wanted far more Ursula, and so long as I can forget the end, I think I will look back on it fondly.

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Seriously… I’m Joking by Ellen DeGeneres – Book Review

This is a strange collection of memoir, fun activities, silly stories and just general craziness. It’s easy to read it with Ellen’s voice in your mind, joke after joke after joke. However, there are numerous jokes that have a real tone-deaf element – and by that, they feel dated since the days of #metoo and the concepts of toxic gender roles. Then I checked when it was written – 2011. It’s still mostly funny, just some parts are a bit… not-quite-right.

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