All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Mini Reviews {5} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

on April 18, 2019

So every so often I cheat a little and package a few mini reviews up into one post. Sometimes it is because the books don’t really lend themselves to being a full review – I’ve just got a few things here and there to say. Sometimes it’s because life gets in the way and all of a sudden it’s been quite a while since I read them and that’s why I’m bundling these together. I read all of these before a lot of personal stuff happened, including travelling interstate to my grandmother’s funeral and frankly, I’m not sure that my brain has retained the details vividly enough for my usual style of review.

The War Artist
Simon Cleary
UQP Books
2019, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

When Brigadier James Phelan returns from Afghanistan with the body of a young soldier killed under his command, he is traumatised by the tragedy. An encounter with young Sydney tattoo artist Kira leaves him with a permanent tribute to the soldier, but it is a meeting that will change the course of his life.

What he isn’t expecting is a campaign of retribution from the soldiers who blame him for the ambush and threaten his career. With his marriage also on the brink, his life spirals out of control. Years later, Phelan is surprised when Kira re-enters his life seeking refuge from her own troubles and with a young son in tow. She finds a way to help him make peace with his past, but she is still on the run from her own. The War Artist is a timely and compelling novel about the legacy of war, the power of art and the possibility of redemption.

This started off quite promising, even though I’m not particularly into books about veterans of war. I just don’t really connect with them – I don’t really know anyone that’s been to war and although it’s a very important issue, with PTSD and the changing views of veterans etc, I just don’t particularly enjoy reading them. However I was interested in James Phelan and what had happened to him in Afghanistan and how it came to be that he was being blamed for it…and how it was impacting on him emotionally. His marriage was interesting too.

Unfortunately, the further I got into it, the less I really enjoyed it. I didn’t like the dalliance with the tattoo artist and I found that I could predict most of what happened, before it occurred, including the truth about the child and the ending, which lessened the impact for me and I just…..didn’t enjoy the twists of the story. Some of them made me feel pretty awkward reading it. I think my sympathies lay a lot with Phelan’s wife and all she’d been subjected to and how well she seemed to accept the situation.


Book #47 of 2019

The Glad Shout
Alice Robinson
Affirm Press
2019, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

After a catastrophic storm destroys Melbourne, Isobel flees to higher ground with her husband and young daughter. Food and supplies run low, panic sets in and still no help arrives. To protect her daughter, Isobel must take drastic action.

The Glad Shout is an extraordinary novel of rare depth and texture. Told in a starkly visual and compelling narrative, this is a deeply moving homage to motherhood and the struggles faced by women in difficult times.

This was interesting – and timely. Climate change is a real concern at the moment, even if certain people currently in charge of this country (and others?) don’t seem to really think so. Given Australia has such a large coastline and something like 90% of us live along that coast, rising sea levels are an issue that will impact us greatly in the coming years. And then there are violent storms and changing weather patterns, which is something that this book addresses. A catastrophic storm/flood has destroyed Melbourne (and presumably, other parts of Australia but communication seems to be gone) and those residents that can have fled to a “local sports stadium built on a hill” that seems to be the MCG as a refuge point. It’s basically chaos – food is rationed, hygiene is questionable. The location wasn’t built to house that amount of people permanently. There’s no sign of the floodwaters abating and slowly society starts to disintegrate. Main character Isobel knows she needs to get out with her 3yo daughter. Interestingly, Tasmania has become a place of desirability, due to it’s mountainous interior and they’ve closed their borders. It becomes the reverse of now – boat people come from the mainland of Australia, seeking shelter elsewhere.

I feel as though this book could almost be a warning for the not-so-distant future. It’s not too much of a stretch to believe that we could be decimated by something in this way and the way in which Robinson portrays a crumbling society is really interesting. We are all built to survive – in any way we see fit. In the absence of the usual societal structure and clear rules and laws, it takes little time for things to descend into violent anarchy. And I couldn’t imagine how much more difficult having a young toddler would make things in such a situation. I didn’t always like Isobel (and her family situation was a complete mess that got irritating after a while, when we went back in time to her childhood) but I really liked the story. And I’ve never been a doomsday prepper but I see the value in it now!


Book #48 of 2019

The Glad Shout is book #21 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone
Felicity McLean
Harper Collins AUS
2019, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

‘We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’

Tikka Molloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long hot summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth vanished during the night of the school’s Showstopper concert at the amphitheatre by the river, surrounded by encroaching bushland.

Now, years later, Tikka has returned home to try and make sense of the summer that shaped her, and the girls that she never forgot.

Of all the books here, this one is probably the hardest to review. You know how sometimes there is a book that everyone else really seems to enjoy and find deep and meaningful, and when you read it, you just don’t have that reaction to it? For me, that was this book. It’s filled with half-truths and vague recollections and things that change as different people discuss them and a kind of lackadaisical attitude towards what the heck happened to two of the girls. Tikka’s older sister knows something really quite shocking about one of them but even as an adult, doesn’t seem to find this at all concerning. She seems to think it’s just best forgotten, whereas for Tikka, it has basically dominated her entire life. She sees the Van Apfel girls everywhere, even when she’s working in America. There’s a neighbour that witnesses something really freaking disturbing but does nothing about it. This is described as “blackly comic” but I did not find it to be at all so. It’s very The Virgin Suicides but without that book’s nuance.

I think for me, if I read 304p, I want something at the end. This just left me with too many things left hanging and I read all this background to get zero closure and sure, life is like that sometimes. But there’s enough mysteries out there in real life (William Tyrrell, Madeleine McCann etc) that I need some answers, not to finish the book feeling more clueless than when I started it. Unfortunately, this was not something I enjoyed. I just had too many issues with the complacency of the locals and the lack of resolution was something I personally found frustrating.


Book #50 of 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is book #23 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

The Aunts’ House 
Elizabeth Stead
UQP Books
2019, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Sydney, 1942.

Recently orphaned, Angel Martin moves into a boarding house populated by an assortment of eccentric and colourful characters. She’s befriended by the gregarious Winifred Varnham – a vision in exotic fabrics – and the numerically gifted Barnaby Grange. But not everyone is kind and her scrimping landlady, Missus Potts, is only the beginning of Angel’s troubles. Angel refuses to accept her fate. She is determined to forge a sense of belonging despite rejection from her two maiden aunts, Clara and Elsa, who blame Angel’s mother for their brother’s death. Her Sunday visits to the aunts house by the Bay expand her world in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

Elizabeth Stead brings her classic subversive wit and personal insight to this nostalgic portrait of wartime Sydney. In Angel Martin, she has created a singular and irrepressible character. A true original.

This was the quirky story of a young orphan named Angel who is sent to live in a boarding house after the death of her mother in a sanitarium. It’s set in the 1940’s, so probably not the most sympathetic of times to the mentally ill. Angel is regarded as a nuisance by the battleaxe that runs the boarding house but is befriended by several of its more permanent residents. She spends her free time away from chores going to visit two of her aunts, who make it clear that they don’t want her there but Angel is determined to be loved by them.

This is a sad life wrapped in humour. Angel has very little (and wants for nothing, to be honest, she is not bothered by material possessions) but at such a young age she’s lost her father, her mother, her home and experiences very little human kindness. There are several alluded to (and one described) incidences of childhood sexual abuse and Angel, who is 10 (the same age as my eldest child) knows way too much and her cavalier attitude toward it is a coping mechanism I think. The book ends up being quite (very) dark in places with villains at every turn – although an attempt to balance this is made with people that genuinely care for Angel and her welfare but who aren’t really in a position to do much about it.

I think people will either love Angel’s originality or not. I found her unique and irrepressible but I think I found myself more focused on the what that is happening to her and her travelling around Sydney on her own. I enjoyed this read without actually loving it or deeply connecting with it.


Book #53 of 2019

The Aunts’ House is book #25 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

This has helped clear my backlog a little – books that had been sitting on a pile on my desk for a few weeks, waiting for me to get to them. I’m still no where near up to date. I am probably still half a dozen or so books behind but at least now I have reduced the pile and the ones left are ones I’ve read since my return home and are much more fresh in my mind so that I can begin planning them out and getting the scheduled. It takes very little time for things to spiral a bit but hopefully I’m back on track now!

3 responses to “Mini Reviews {5} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

  1. My condolences on the loss of your grandmother.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these books.

  2. […] The Glad Shout by Alice Robinson. My review. […]

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