Islands by Peggy Frew – Book Review


A family with their flaws. Parents who split. Daughters who cope with the destruction of their family in their own way. And then a daughter disappears.

This is a beautiful and tragic book. The structure is a bit confusing at times, but I trusted that Frew knew where she was taking me and, sure enough, everything made sense.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Book Review)

Watching Upstart Crow recently, I learned of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, who died of the plague. It seemed a strange coincidence that around the same time that I watched this episode, I saw this book which is set around the life and death of Hamnet. It tells of how William Shakespeare (never referred to by name) meets Agnes (who we know as Anne Hathaway), how they fell together and started a family before he left for London and began to pursue the life of a playwright. Agnes has gifts, a type of sight, and the ability to heal using herbs. Their lives are challenging and tough, never more so than after Hamnet dies.

I read this as part of a book group, and the discussion after was very interesting. For example, we discussed the idea that so many women in books set in this time were seen as witches, or healers, or having some kind of gift. Whether this is because that is a common trope, or because there weren’t so many roles for women to play. The more I think of books I’ve read set in this time, the more I can think of. Is it simply because we want women to have some kind of power?

I thought the choices O’Farrell made were very interesting. I feel as though I know a lot (broadly so) about Shakespeare and his life, but O’Farrell has used her research and made connections that may or may not be strictly factual. This is what I quite enjoy about historical fiction- I know it’s not fact, but it’s one interpretation of how things might have been.

Future Girl by Asphyxia – Book Review

It’s some time in the future, and there are huge food shortages in the world. A large company now provides people with ready made meals that contain nutrients enough to keep people going, along with inbuilt medical treatment. ‘Wild food’ – food that is grown and prepared naturally – is reported widely as causing  severe poisoning. In this world, in Melbourne, live Piper and her mother. Piper is deaf and has been raised by her mother to pass as ‘normal’ and to toe the company line on the food nutrients. She meets Marley and is introduced to a world with possibilities beyond her imagination.

There are so many reasons to love this book. It’s an own voices book – that is, the author, Asphyxia, is deaf. It is so important to have own voices books in the world. Also, the book is beautiful – Piper is an artist, as is Asphyxia, and every page contains colour and drawings and beauty. Then, as a Melburnian, reading about my neighbourhood is delightful – even in a dystopian future that seems very possible. I highly recommend this book.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Book Review)

Toby Fleishman is recently separated and discovering the glories of internet dating, sexting and casual sex. He feels deeply wronged by his ex who suddenly goes off the grid, leaving him to negotiate summer and school holidays and sex without her.

I picked this up because I’d heard it was extremely good, and in all honesty, I loved the cover. As I read it, I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the way the story was being told. There was Toby who seemed to be a super unreliable narrator, and an old college friend who seemed like a confusion to the mix. And then I got to the last section and everything seemed to fit into place. The last section took it from a good but somewhat unsatisfying read to a work of brilliance which I absolutely loved.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Book Review)

Cath and Wren, twins, are going to college. Wren is outgoing, looking forward to establishing her own way, even if it means leaving Cath in her wake. Cath, our protagonist, is anxious and struggles to find her way without the sister who has always been there for her. The one thing she has is her fanfiction. Cath writes about Simon Snow, a Harry Potter-style character, and the world she creates is read by thousands across the globe. How can she find her own way while she is living in a fantasy world?

I love Rowell’s writing, the way she creates these characters who I very quickly come to love and want (desperately want) to see them  succeed. I read Carry On (which is the fanfiction which Cath is writing in this novel, and which Rowell published separately) a few years ago, and now I really wish I’d read this first. Maybe one day I’ll go back to Carry On, now I’ve strangely seen how it was created.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie – Book Review

A resort town in the UK in the fifties. A collection of characters – couples, singles, children. And Hercules Poirot, whose reputation precedes him, and many jokes are made about him being somewhere that there isn’t a murder. And then… there’s a murder.

This is pretty standard Christie. Very much of its time when it comes to attitudes and depictions of characters, there are the red herrings and confusing lines of thinking we’ve come to expect. And, of course, the murder is solved – along with some other strange happenings.

Everybody Died, So I Got a Dog by Emily Dean – Book Review

Emily Dean is one of the co-hosts of the Frank Skinner show on Absolute Radio in the UK, and I’ve been listening to the podcast of this for years now. It’s my cup of tea for sure, but she’s always been an unknown quantity. Funny – oh yes, very. I’ve learned a bit about her over the years, so when her memoir was mentioned on the show, I definitely wanted to get my hands on it.

Wow. As you can tell by the title, there’s some tragedy in this. Emily recounts her mysterious childhood surrounded by eccentrics and actors, and goes into her life, telling tales with her self-deprecating humour. And then the real tragedies start, and tissues are needed. It’s a beautifully written book. I’m not sure if someone who doesn’t know Emily Dean’s work (including her podcast where she goes dog walking with various celebrities – also recommended) would enjoy it, but I’d say give it a go.

Educated by Tara Westover (Book Review)

Tara Westover was raised in a fundamentalist Mormon family who didn’t believe in the evils of the wider world. Half her siblings didn’t have birth certificates or attend school. Hospitals and doctors were evil and everything could be cured by prayer and a form of homeopathy that her mother practised. Educated tells Tara’s story from her childhood to eventually moving away to college and moving into the world.

This is an amazing story. The way her family lives, the choices that were made. The fact that any of them survived, the idea that she could forge a different path. Wow. It’s just amazing.

Dr Sleep by Stephen King (Book Review)

This sequel to The Shining imagines where Danny would be as an adult. Would he still have the shining? Would he have found the success that his father never found? Would he ever recover from the absolute horror he experienced as a child?

I only read (via audiobook) The Shining last year and loved it, and so approached this with some trepidation. Being Stephen King, I knew it was going to be a good book, regardless of whether I enjoyed it. I thought he found a really good balance between the old book and this story, and tied both together through place and through the concept of ‘the shine’. I didn’t love it, but I did enjoy it, and it was good to get some further closure on the life of young Danny.