Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Song of Us by J. D. Barrett – Book Review

Zoe was a concert harpist playing internationally until an incident put her career on hold and she returned to her home in Bondi to regroup. Five years later she is having a relationship with a man unable to leave his ill wife, watching the affairs of those around her and playing music to those in hospital dying. It is one of her clients who challenges her, forcing Zoe to make some tough choices. How is she going to live her life?

It’s always fascinating to me how a good writer can create a character who is making terrible choices (especially choices that are quite immoral or just plain nasty) and still have the audience on side. Barrett creates great characters who have these dilemmas and don’t always make the healthiest choices for themselves, but you can’t help but be by their side. I was cheering Zoe on – well, at times, I was just yelling at her to sort herself out, but the whole time, she was my gal and I wanted to see her treated right. Oh, and June? And Clem? Gold.

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Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan – Book Review

Levithan contrasts the different lives lived by several gay teenagers in contemporary America in a series of stories that are held together with a Greek chorus of gay men of previous generations – most in particular, the men who lived through the rise of AIDs during the 80s and 90s and watched many of their number fall ill and die. It’s beautiful and sad and hopeful and wonderful altogether.

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Two Brothers by Ben Elton – Book Review

There are two boys growing up in Germany in the years before the Nazis come to power. What they don’t know is that one has been adopted into the family; one is Jewish and the other isn’t, and both are in love with a local beauty, the daughter of a rich Jewish man who owns a department store. As Hitler rises, they need to find ways to survive, with or without each other.

I really enjoyed this book – although I find that ‘enjoyed’ is always a problematic word when describing a book that covers these kinds of tough times. It’s odd, because I didn’t write this straight after reading as I usually do, but a few months later when I realised I hadn’t reviewed it. I had to do a quick look online to see if I could find the character names, and it seems that this book was not very well accepted by the critics. I’m surprised, as I thought it was great – at times tough. It was less funny that most Ben Elton stories, but that’s hardly surprising given the material.

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Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird – Book Review

In all honesty, I have very little interest in the British royal family. Or any royal family, past or present. So when this huge book, a new biography of Queen Victoria, was long-listed for the Stellar Prize, I was kind of disappointed – I wanted to read books by female Australian authors, but this was not my cup of tea. Or so I thought.

Julia Baird has managed to write about this family in a way that compelled me to read more. I wanted to know about Victoria and her horrible mother and the love affair between Victoria and Albert, and about all of the children, and about Mr Brown and about the young Indian man who won her attention in her later years. What fascinated me was how much other people knew about Victoria. I’d mention I was loving this book and people would tell me how horrible she was to her children, or how she treated her guests or, well, all kinds of things. What I found most amazing was that she kept detailed diaries and had a huge correspondence, but after her death, one of her daughters went through the whole lot, picked and chose what the world should know, and destroyed the rest. Destroyed it! Unbelievable! And yet we can still end up with such a wonderful biography – read it.

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Asking for It by Louise O’Neill – Book Review *spoiler alerts*

It’s a relatively small town in Ireland. There’s a bunch of teenagers who hang out together, but the queen bee is Emma, who is beautiful, but doesn’t always treat her friends all that nicely. They like to go out and have a few drinks, go to parties, sometimes there might be some drugs around. Sometimes, they have sex, sometimes things get a bit wild. But when Emma has a blackout one night, she figures everything will be ok – and then she gets to school on Monday, and everything has changed.

There is a lot of talk about how young people interact now that things like sexting and the internet are around – with easy accessibility to large amounts and type of pornography, has this changed the way people have sex? And what is posted online? And then there is the whole discussion on consent and victim blaming and reputations and how a single night can change the path for someone. It was an interesting choice to have Emma as quite an unlikable character initially, as it can shape how we, as the reader, view what happens to her, and what happens afterwards. It was an interesting take, and it certainly played out in a believable way. I didn’t want the story to end – but then, I also wanted things to be different for Emma. But that’s books, isn’t it?

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Offshore: Behind the wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson

I set myself the task of reading all of the books that were long-listed for the Stellar prize this year, and this one was, for me, the most difficult. Firstly, it’s non-fiction, and I’m not a lover of non-fiction writing. It’s just not my jam – I often enjoy it, but if I’m going to be reading, I really love reading me some fiction. Secondly, it’s really hard subject matter. Living in Australia today means living in a country that treats a lot of people badly, and asylum seekers, especially if they arrive by boat, are amongst the worst. If you don’t believe it, read this book.

I’m glad I read it. It summarises what happened to have government policy create these offshore camps, what appalling conditions existed, the number of attempts to show how bad it was and the way the government refused to admit any error. One day, there will be an official apology to the people who were on these islands – and maybe to the staff as well – but not for decades. For now, both still house asylum seekers.

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Firefly Summer by Maeve Binchy – Book Review

Set in the small Irish town of Mountfern in the early sixties, Firefly Summer follows the life of the townsfolk as they come to terms with the big American Patrick O’Neill, who has come back to the town of his forefathers to restore the old estate into a large Hotel. In particular, it’s about the Ryan family who run the nearest pub to the site and how they deal with the potential effects that it will have on their lives.

Maeve Binchy was such a go to in my teenage years. She creates these worlds where you get to go and live for a while, these characters that you love and become invested in. Her first two novels, Light a Penny Candle and Echoes will probably always be my favourites, but this is up there. I’m not sure if I’d have liked it as much if I read it now without my prior love of the book, but it was a great trip down memory lane to reread it.

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