Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke – Book Review

Maxine Beneba Clarke was born in Australia to parents from a distant background of Africa, whose ancestors were taken as slaves, ended up in the Caribbean, then more recently in, the UK and finally, back to her parents here in Australia. Judging from the stories that she tells of growing up in suburban Sydney, she’s a bit younger than me, and that makes these stories even worse for me. The way she was treated, for being a girl of colour, in a very white society. I hated these stories, and I can only hope that I was never part of the nasty racism, the casual comments or the lack of understanding that anyone not caucasian has been through. And it’s not over. This is not a thing of the 80s or 90s, it still happens. This is an important memoir, an important book that we should read, and I can only hope it will make society more compassionate.

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The Media and the Massacre: Port Arthur 1996-2016 by Sonya Voumard – Book Review

This is not at all the type of book I read – I have very little interest in the Port Arthur Massacre or looking into the killer’s background of mother. I read this because it was on the Stellar Prize long list and I have put my mind to reading all the books that got there – partly to be contributing a bit to the pocket of contemporary female authors, and partly because I do love me a list. Anyhow, I thought that this was going to be a look at the way the media in general treated the massacre. Instead, it was essentially a critique of another book – Born or Bred by Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro – a book which used parts of Martin Bryant’s mother’s journals allegedly without her permission.

I suspect that this type of enquiry is important – that a book which has been written with questionable ethics should be challenged and there should be some accountability. I just don’t think that I needed to read a whole book about it. It’s possibly very good academic writing, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

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13 Reasons Why vs 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – Book Review

Clay Jensen is a fairly normal, quiet teenager who has suddenly come into possession of a series of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, a classmate who has recently completed suicide. The tapes are being passed around the people who Hannah claims played a part in her decision to die. There has been assaults and friendships gone bad, betrayal and loss.

I watched this after watching the series, and it meant that it didn’t have as much impact as I think it may have reading it first would have. I think I spent a lot of time noticing the differences rather than enjoying the book as it unfolded. I think that it is a very troubling story in that it is difficult for a dead person to put the blame of all of their problems on other people – even if those people have done terrible things. I also think that the book only touches on the depth of most characters, and that the series was able to explore things a lot more, which presents its own problems….

13 Reasons Why – TV Review

Because Hannah is no longer there, and we are getting the story through the tapes and through memories, especially those of Clay, the TV show is told in two main ways – partly as a series of flashbacks, and partly as current events in the post-Hannah world. This means that we get to know the characters a lot more, see their flaws and this makes the idea of blame coming from beyond the grave even more problematic. It also makes Hannah more flawed as a character, which I think works well because it de-romanticises her, giving the real sense that her blame is very much her own opinion, and not straight out fact.

There have been a lot of claims, especially since the television series came out and the story has been able to reach a wider audience, that this could set off other people who may be having a tough time and feel that suicide may be an option. This is coming from professionals and I think that they have a very valid position that comes from research and experience. I also think that there are issues, particularly in relation to the way women and girls are seen and treated in society, that are handled very well in the show. It is very much worth watching the documentary, 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons that plays afterward if you let it carry on automatically on Netflix. I think that the show is flawed, but I think that the show is important, and has importance beyond the original premise. I don’t know what to do about those who may have more difficult issues that are pushed by watching the show, but I feel like perhaps it may help to open up conversations about some of these issues.

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – Audio Book Review

Read by Michael York

Finally, I have read this book! I’ve been meaning to for so many years but just kind of haven’t, but I know it is in the same esteem (and somewhat similar style) of 1984. And wow, how wonderful.

So, it is the future, and everything in the world is controlled, from birth to the sleep learning of status and structure, to the set careers and playtime fun through to death and the recycling of the human body. Sex is a normal interaction like conversation, spending time alone is considered freaky, and no one reads. People are bred and conditioned into several groups, from the Alphas who control everything and have the most fun to the Epsilons who are deprived of oxygen during incubation in a test tube (people are decanted, not born. No-one actually carries a baby anymore). And to avoid emotions and anything unpleasant, people take Soma, a drug that can stimulate good things and send people on holidays in their mind.

Bernard is an Alpha who feels that things are not quite right, and when he goes on a holiday to a savage reservation in New Mexico with Lenina, a woman who plays by the ‘normal’ rules of sex and dating, he discovers an Alpha woman who was abandoned there many years ago. She was pregnant, an unacceptable state in society, and has become an alcoholic who sleeps with men to get drink. Her son is now an adult, and Bernard delights in bringing him back to society to be shown off like a trophy, like a novelty, a creature who, despite his recitation of the famous line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Oh brave new world that has such people in’t), finds society disgusting and disgraceful.

The one thing I found difficult from the reading of the book by Michael York was the range of accents he (or the producer) chose during the reading. Bernard is Welsh and The Savage and his mother are from the North of England, possibly Birmingham as a couple of examples. This creates a different reading to it which I’m not sure was intended by Huxley, and I wonder if it added a sense of class that changes things. It’s a shame in a way, because I think I would have preferred to have kept it relatively neutral.

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Poum and Alexandre: A Paris Memoir by Catherine de Saint Phalle – Book Review

What is the purpose of a memoir? Having recently loved Magda Szubanski’s, and also The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Smith, I found this a tricky one. See, the characters are great, fascinating, unusual, and it’s a strange life the author had, somewhat disconnected to her parents and yet close to them and thus disconnected from those around her. Yet I felt like I needed something more – some kind of theme, or a through line, or something.

It’s beautiful and yet disconnected. I enjoyed it, but I get the feeling that there will be a lot of people out there who will really love it.

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Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – Audio Book Review

Read by James Franco

I had no idea what this book was about, just that I’ve been meaning to read it for years. I knew it was a classic, and I knew it was about war. I did not expect time travelling or aliens or… well, any of that. And wow. It’s pretty hard to describe this book succinctly, but it’s about the bombing of Dresden, about a group of American soldiers who were prisoners of ware and were there for the aftermath, about a man trying to write about it and then… yes, aliens and time travel and etc. etc.

Initially, I was disappointed that it was read by James Franco. He’s okay, but I found his voice a bit monotonous. But, as it went, I found that his voice was prefect for this text – it had the resigned tone of someone who has lived through hell and needs to tell of it, but also kind of can’t. The only issue I had with it as an audio book was I couldn’t get a strong sense of the structure of the story, but I still really loved it.

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett – Audio Book Review

Read by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell

I’ve avoided audio books for the longest time, because when I drive or walk or whatever, I tend to listen to podcasts on my tiny little old iPod nano. But recently when about to leave work for my usually forty minutes drive home and heard that there were accidents everywhere and it was likely to take me a lot longer to get home, and my iPod nano was flat. Boo. But, thanks to a lot of advertising my audible on many of the podcasts, I knew what to do. I downloaded the app and headed to the audible store. Just because it came up early on and I’ve been meaning to read it for ages. One thing I have found in general about audio books is that listening to them is quite different to listening to podcasts, for some reason. Often, I’ll be listening to podcasts and find myself drifting in and out of concentration, and have to flick to music. But audiobooks hold my attention for much longer. Interesting.

So, The Help. The book is written from several perspectives – from Skeeter, the white woman who wants to be a writer, who sees the society and the segregation around her differently to her peers and family, who starts to write a book telling the stories of the African American women who take care of the houses and children of the rich, white woman; then there are a couple of the maids, Aibileen and Minny, who are faced with these horrible women who are happy to let black women raise their children but refuse to share a toilet. I recall that I found the film of The Help to be quite light – yes, it was dealing with serious issues, but it was kind of fun and entertaining. I found the book far more intense, giving a greater sense of how potentially dangerous the actions of these women could potentially be. The reading was wonderful, especially having different voices for the different characters. It was certainly a great introduction to audio books.

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