Category Archives: Book Reviews

A Christmas Carol vs A Christmas Carol – TV Review and Audio Book Review *spoiler alert*

Guy Pearce features as Ebeneezer Scrooge in this three-part TV adaptation of the classic Dickens novella. We all know the story… Scrooge is a grump who hates Christmas and people and life in general, and he employs Bob Cratchit (Joe Alwyn) who is barely making his meagre wage stretch to keep his family going. He grumbles about giving Cratchit the day off for Christmas and calls everything Christmas ‘humbug’. Then, on Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley (Stephen Graham) who warns that Scrooge must change his ways. Scrooge is then visited by three ghosts, Christmas Past, Present and Future, who show him visions that make him a nice person who loves Christmas and is generous and kind.

The television show takes a lot of liberties with the story, adding subplots and backstory to give Scrooge reason for being the way he is, giving a much larger role to Bob’s wife, Mary (Vinette Robinson), giving Jacob Marley reason to be as he is. Given I’d never read the novella, I wondered just much had been changed. Time to rectify that: I got an audiobook and listened to it. There are heaps of versions of A Christmas Carol available on Audible, with a wide variety of readers, but in the end, I settled on Sir Patrick Stewart, and I was very happy with this decision. The only thing was that this was 1hr 40 while others were over 3 hours. I’ve been back and can’t see that it was an abridged version, so I can’t really explain it.

The original novella is sparce, telling a good story well, though it does feel that Scrooge very quickly atones and changes. I wonder if just the concept of ghosts was more scary back in the 1840s, or if the creators of the TV show decided that today’s audience needed more. I liked that there was more of Mary and the family in the TV show, though suggesting magical powers seemed a stretch. Several of the reveals of Scrooge’s past seemed to either be giving him and excuse for being an arsehole, or making him more evil rather than just grumpy. All seemed valid within the world created, especially his poor business practices.

For me, I don’t think all of the expanded and reimagined parts of the tale were great choices, but I enjoyed the beauty of the show. I felt the terror of Scrooge (and his attempts to excuse or reason the visions he was having), and I felt that regardless of whether the audience was sympathetic or not, his change of attitude seemed genuine. Overall, I reckon definitely worth a watch.

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Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) vs Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

For so long, I’ve thought of Scientology as a joke – you know, some crazy religion made up by a sci fi writer who once said that the only way to make money was to start a religion. It just all seemed dodgy and I felt that if you got sucked in, too bad. Then I read this book and wow. It’s a pretty comprehensive history along with interviews of ex-Scientologists and it’s really a pretty horrible thing. The amount of abuse (physical, emotional), the genuinely insane things that have happened and, really, even just the horror. It’s a fascinating read, and lead to the equally fascinating documentary. For me, I read it with amazement and disgust, but also hope that perhaps it wasn’t true. Certainly, there are plenty of footnotes throughout noting that various people claimed certain things hadn’t happened, but for me this didn’t take away from it at all. It’s exhausting.

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Terra Nullius by Claire Coleman – Book Review

I don’t want to say much about this book because when I read it, not knowing anything made all the different. Let’s just say that when Australia was colonised, there were a lot of atrocities committed and this book will give you a unique perspective on this.

I loved it. It was compelling and anger-inducing and strong. I discovered it as it was a finalist in the Stellar Prize 2018 – gee, that list gives me a lot of good reading material. I look forward to more from Claire Coleman.

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Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton – Book Review

Eli is a kid who is living in the Brisbane suburbs in the early eighties with his mother and stepfather who are sellers and sometimes users of heroin and his older brother who doesn’t speak. Eli wants a safe place and he wants to make his world right.

I was recommended this book by several people who absolutely loved it and it certainly seems that it is a book that has grabbed a lot of people. There was a lot that I enjoyed about it. It’s complex, and seeds that are planted early come to fruition later.  Dalton allows the story to reveal itself, and throughout there are moments where I found I had to go back and re-read a page or two because something which seemed small and insignificant was actually a really big reveal. I can totally see why people love it, and I really can’t explain why I didn’t. I’m glad I read it, and many of the characters will stay with me, but I didn’t love it. Oh, I just read a couple of articles about it, and apparently, it’s based in Dalton’s childhood with characters very much based on reality and my heart has broken for him. I wonder if knowing that before would have changed my reading experience.

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The Yearbook Committee by Sarah Ayoub – Book Review

Charlie has moved (against her will) to Sydney with her mother and stepfather and is trying to get through her final year of high school so that she can return to Melbourne. She is forced by the principal to be part of the yearbook committee – a group of five, with only one eager participant. Gillian, who wants to be there, is bullied at school by the popular girls and at home by her image-conscious mother and politician father. Ryan is the school captain and, until a recent injury, the school soccer star who having lost his sport, is struggling to find reason. Matt, the scholarship student, is a loner who is dealing with a mother who is having a severe depressive episode and he is trying to keep them afloat. Finally, Tammi, best friend to Gillian’s biggest bully, sent to the yearbook committee to keep an eye on Gillian. A year can be a long time at school, and friendships can form in unexpected ways.

I love Ayoub’s writing. She paints characters beautifully and it takes no time to enter their world. Some of the events and connections in this book are a little far-fetched, yet she makes them totally believable. My own issue was that it was too short – a lot happens in the final stretch of the book and I really wanted to see the characters deal with things. It doesn’t feel as though a sequel is due, but it would be good if there was one. I just wanted more!

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The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover – Book Review

Nostalgic for Australia of the 60s and 70s? Think everything was better then? This is the book for you… unless you hate being proven wrong. Glover looks back to his youth at everything from cars and holidays to man-made fabrics and strange dinner parties. It’s hilariously familiar – I’m old enough that some of this stuff was still happening in my childhood. Like, everything being shut on Sundays. I remember meandering about with friends on bikes, dashing diagonally across the carpark at the local shops because nothing was open and the carparks were empty. And Sunnyboys. They were amazing. But, as Glover points out, most things are better now – safer, less institutionalised and generally accepted racism, sexism and homophobia, and in almost every case, just better. Still, crocheted slacks and no seat belts? Crazy times.

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Fair Game: The Incredible Untold Story of Scientology in Australia by Steve Cannane – Book Review

Having read and watched Going Clear, watched the Louis Theroux Scientology movie and listened to about 9 hours of the podcast Oh No, Ross and Kerry where they investigate Scientology, I’ve become casually fascinated by how Scientology came about and how it continues.

While there are quite of lot of things in Fair Game that had been covered in Going Clear, it was very interesting to read about it from an Australian perspective. It’s fascinating and I’m keeping an eye on where things go from here. I also really enjoyed Steve Cannane’s style and I look forward to reading more from him.

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