All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Other Half Of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

The Other Half Of Augusta Hope 
Joanna Glen
Borough Press
2019, 384p
Copy courtesy of Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in.

At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi.

And now that she’s an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia.

When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta’s life, she’s propelled headfirst into the unknown. She’s determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?

I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect going into this one. The blurb is pretty vague and looks like it could go in any number of directions.

Augusta Hope is a twin but her and her sister Julia are quite different. Augusta loves words – she reads the dictionary for fun and is always looking for new words, things that interest her. Her parents, one of whom runs a uniform shop and the other who helps out but is mostly a stay at home parent, don’t quite know what to make of Augusta. She has a thirst for knowledge and it seems that her surroundings don’t really satisfy her. Augusta also has a kind heart – she is one of the only people to befriend her next door neighbour’s child, a boy with profound disability, much to her father’s chagrin. Augusta and her twin Julia are inseparable until Augusta gets the marks to go away to university. Julia remains behind, living with their parents in the same childhood bedroom. From there, their lives begin to move in two very different directions.

Parfait is a young boy living in Burundi when the story begins. He and his family are caught up in the middle of a civil war and Parfait can only watch helplessly as much of his family is wiped out by the violence. A local missionary Priest from Spain gives Parfait the idea to escape to Spain. It’s a long, arduous journey that will take its toll on Parfait in more ways than one and it sets in motion the events that will eventually link these two narratives together.

I found quite a lot of the early parts of this story quite charming – Augusta is quirky but in just the right amount and her intelligence and desire to know more, her love of words, were all things that I found really quite enjoyable about her. Their street is an interesting depiction of what I feel is middle class Britishness, especially later on with the discussions of Brexit and the like, when Augusta is an adult. And the parts set in Burundi (which just happens to be one of Augusta’s favourite words and therefore her favourite country, which she has taken it upon herself to learn as much about as she can) were heartbreaking and yet also strangely uplifting in terms of wanting Parfait to succeed in his desire for a better life for himself and those who remain in his family. This is not easy and it gets a whole lot worse for Parfait, before it begins to get any better.

The two narratives don’t come together until quite late in the novel. Parfait’s tragedy has been a constant thing but Augusta’s doesn’t happen until she’s an adult and she’s completely blindsided by the two events. From quite a way out you can see where the book is going, bringing these two characters together but it’s a bit of a slow burn to get them there. I enjoyed the process though, and the journey of getting to know both Augusta and Parfait. Both of them are isolated in many ways, sometimes by circumstance, sometimes by design. And yet when they come together they discover that they are linked by one tragedy that encompassed people they both cared about. It’s something that binds them, makes them an unlikely pair. And although this is so serious, it’s littered with moments that lighten the mood with warmth and charm. I especially found amusing Parfait’s reaction to Augusta knowing absolutely anything about Burundi (even where it is) and he’s blown away by the depth of her knowledge about his country and the love and connection she feels toward it, even though she’s never been there. Just from being a child, connecting with the word, choosing it as her favourite and then obsessively devouring everything on it that she possibly could.

I ended up enjoying (most of) this quite a lot. I think there were probably a few small, niggling kind of issues that for me, cropped up very late in the book that I did wonder at the necessity of including. It’s quite difficult to really discuss why I had a problem with one aspect of the story in particular without spoiling it but it did make me feel a bit like it was presented as necessary but I didn’t at all feel it was. I didn’t agree with something Augusta did late in the book but I’ve also never experienced the sort of thing that drove her to it either so perhaps it’s just difficult for me to understand that level of grief and what it might make people do. It’s just not something I felt contributed to the story in a positive way really because it could have been achieved in other ways. I just found it a bit….odd. And so it was a bit of a curious note toward the end for me. It didn’t take away from the earlier charm I felt the novel possessed but it did stand out for me as something that didn’t work.

7/10

Book #116 of 2019

 

 

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Review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland
Jhumpa Lahiri
Bloomsbury ANZ
2013, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight. So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives. Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portrayal of lives undone and forged anew, The Lowland is a deeply felt novel of family ties that inelucably define who we are.

Jhumpa Lahiri is one of those authors I’ve always meant to read. I actually received this for review when I was wanting to read books from the 2013 Man Booker longlist (I think) but the best laid plans often go astray and I’m only just reading it now. I picked it up specifically because I’ve slacked off a lot on my Reading Women challenge in the past couple months and I decided I needed to pick it up a bit. I don’t think I’m going to finish all 26 of the prompts because there are 2-3 of them that I just feel that I am stumped on or am unlikely to find something to work for it. But I’m trying to complete as many as I can and to also read a separate book for each prompt, instead of counting several for the same prompt.

I know almost nothing about India. I’ve never studied their history, nor have I read much set there. What I have read seems to be pretty limited to Victorian-era British colonisation with mostly rich Birtish expats in positions of power enjoying a bit of warm weather. For example, I wasn’t at all aware of the Naxalites until I read this book, a political organisation of far-left radicals inspired by Chairman Mao of China. This book is set in and around the time of the rise of Naxalites, which main character Subhash’s brother Udayan becomes involved in.

The book begins in Subhash and Udayan’s childhood, their striving for good marks, university degrees, things that will please their parents. Subhas and Udayan were inseparable as children, studying, playing, schooling together, being less than 2yrs apart in age. As they reach adulthood though and attend different universities and study different things, there seems to be a growing divide between the two of them. Subhash also decides to move to America to further his studies and it’s while he’s overseas, he realises just how deeply Udayan has become entrenched in the Naxalite movement. When tragedy strikes, Subhas makes the ultimate sacrifice, which changes his life forever.

This was a really interesting book. It’s my first Lahiri so I really have no benchmark but she’s a very admired voice – enough to have a whole category dedicated to her in the Reading Women challenge! This book covers a lot, from Subhash and Udayan’s childhood to his journey studying overseas at the time of the Vietnam war as one of very few Indians in that part of America, the relationship he has with various members of his family and how that changes with Udayan’s involvement in the Naxalite movement. There are several narrators (others I don’t want to mention, because it will spoil the direction that the novel takes) but it deals with a few generations over a lot of years.

I always find books that tackle motherhood in different ways quite interesting to read. Motherhood is a very complex thing and so many books portray it as this moment of instant wonder and if that happens, that’s great. But a lot of people don’t really find it to be that way and for some, that moment of connection can never come. It can be a burden, the wrong choice, something that they just don’t connect with. And the emotions revolving around just reading that can be complex too because children are innocent and they didn’t ask to be born. They exist because two people created them. The way that people behave can be so damaging to children psychologically and it doesn’t even have to be physical or emotional abuse to be traumatising. A child can grow up in a safe and comfortable environment and yet still be isolated, rejected and feel like they don’t belong or aren’t wanted. There is a child in this book that is deeply scarred by their mother’s actions, her distance during childhood and then the fact that she vanishes completely (by choice) in their pre-adolescence. Those years are so formative and these deep scars manifest in so many ways much later on in that child’s life.

There’s a lot of sacrifice in this book. Different types of sacrifice too. Political, familial, love, happiness, ones sense of self, etc. There’s also a lot about duty. Subhash desires very much to be a good son and yet it seems that in some ways, he can never quite measure up, despite everything he’s worked hard to achieve. He also makes decisions that cost him personally in order to do the right thing, to protect people and perhaps there’s a tiny bit of selfishness in there too. He gets rewarded in one way but his decision costs him dearly in another.

I really enjoyed this. I felt that for someone like me, it gave a lot of Indian cultural background about families and customs and expectations as well as some political history. The relationships were intricate and the plot went in some unexpected directions. I enjoyed Subhash’s experience as an Indian student in America in a time and place where there were few as well as Gauri’s desire for further education and how it conflicted with the cards life had dealt her. Even though I didn’t agree with a lot of her choices, I actually found that I understood some of them.

Definitely going to read more Jhumpa Lahiri.

8/10

Book #115 of 2019

This covers bonus prompt 2 of the Reading Women Challenge – Book by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s the 9th prompt I’ve completed for the challenge. Still need to lift my game a bit so I’ve been going back to the prompts and looking at books I have and what I can make work. I’ve requested a couple from my local library for a few prompts where I don’t have anything that fits. Some of the categories like series, romance/love story etc I have a lot of options. I’m pretty confident I can get most completed by the end of the year. The ones that are really going to trouble me is prompt 14 and prompt 8.

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July Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 19
Fiction: 17
Non-Fiction: 2
Library Books: 0
Books On My TBR List: 7
Books in a Series: 5
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 12
Male/Female Authors: 2/17
Kindle Books: 4
Books I Owned or Bought: 5
Favourite Book(s): Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, Bowraville by Dan Box.
Least Favourite Books: Just like last month, nothing below a 3/5 this month!
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 11

I feel as though July helped bounce me back into a bit of a reading rhythm. I spent the first 2 weeks on holiday taking my kids to see my family. My grandmother is 90 this year, my brother and his kids are there, my parents too and I don’t get up there as often as I used to these days, with both kids in school restricting my visiting times, flight costs etc. But it was great to get away from a Victorian winter – the weather was glorious up there. About 20*C every day and a bit more sometimes, there were 2-3 days of on/off rain and the rest was brilliant sunshine. My kids even swam at the beach! We did quite a bit of walking along the river/ocean break wall, a bit of beach walking and my oldest went whale watching in this wave runner boat and got to see humpbacks making their northerly migration. And while I was there, I read 8 books and a 9th going home on the plane.

Since I got back, I read another 10 books to give me a total of 19 for the month, which helps after last month’s low total. It was also a really great reading month. I rated just one book 3/5 on Goodreads and the rest were 4 with 2x 5-star reads. I absolutely adored the book Red, White & Royal Blue and if the movie rights for that have not been snatched up yet then it will make the most amazing rom com one day, in the right hands. It’s funny and sweet and the two characters have great chemistry and contrast. Also great was Bowraville by Dan Box, a look into the disappearance and murder of three Indigenous children from Bowraville, a small town on the mid north coast of New South Wales, actually just over an hour away from where I spent the first 2 weeks of the month. That book was an eye opener for sure, in many different ways.

Moving on to August. Okay my plans for this month, they feel a bit intimidating.

Here are the review books! I don’t know much about any of these, most arrived while I was away and I really haven’t even sat down and had a proper look at most of them yet. I am excited about the new Barbara Hannay though, I love her books. I’ve heard great things about A Lifetime Of Impossible Days which was sent to me by the author (thank you Tabitha!) and also The Boy With Blue Trousers which gets a great review from my fellow blogger Theresa Smith. The Burnt Country looks interesting and I’ve read Kate Furnivall before and enjoyed the book. It’s been a long time since I read Philippa Gregory so curious to see what that’s like. Taking Tom Murray Home is the winner of the (inaugural) Banjo Prize, a Harper Collins award for an unpublished manuscript. So, lots to dive into here.

But! There’s more haha. I also have a couple of books that I didn’t quite get to last month, so they’re still on the pile.

Also I’ve requested a bunch of books from my local library to help me catch up a bit on my Reading Women Challenge. After getting off to quite a good start early in the year, I’ve slacked off over the last few months and I hadn’t read anything for a while. I did manage to complete two books in July that count toward it and so I’ve been searching for recommendations and plugging them into my library’s catalogue to try and knock off some of the trickier prompts where I don’t really have anything in the pile that fits. I’m also trying to read a good mix for that challenge as well, so fiction and non-fiction, women authors of colour and books set in places I don’t read about a lot. So I have to go pick up some books that have come in today so you can see how things this month look a bit ambitious! Also my parents will be visiting during the month for Child #1’s 11th birthday and I obviously read less when I have visitors! I haven’t been to the library in a while but I’m lucky that my local one is very good and it’s a convenient way to be able to flesh out this challenge.

What I’m reading at the moment: A book from my shelf that I’ve had for years that I’m going to be counting towards the Reading Women Challenge – The Signature Of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is actually eligible for several of the prompts so I’ll decide later which one I decide it’s for, depending on some other reads.

Hope you all had a wonderful reading July! If you’ve read anything on my pile, let me know!

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Review: The Desert Midwife by Fiona McArthur

The Desert Midwife
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

What if the love of your life forgot who you were?

When outback midwife Ava May meets Zac on a flight to Alice Springs, they tumble into a whirlwind affair. But an exciting adventure leads to a terrible accident, with shattering consequences. The couple who had so much going for them now find themselves with everything to lose.

Devastated, Ava retreats to her family cattle station to help salvage what she can of the critical situation. But at home on the drought-ridden farm, her brother is being pushed to his limits, and as his depression intensifies, Ava must step in to prevent another family tragedy.

Against the majestic backdrop of Australia’s Red Centre, old dreams are shattered, new babies are born and true love takes flight.

By Australia’s renowned midwife and bestselling author of Mothers’ Day, The Desert Midwife is a romantic drama about strong women, medical miracles and new beginnings.

I really enjoy Fiona McArthur’s books, she’s an auto-read author for me already and that was before I realised that this book contains amnesia which is one of my favourite tropes! I picked up an eBook of this because it had that ‘I want to read it right now’ feel about it and read it right then I did.

Ava is a midwife who also occasionally gets pulled into other departments like emergency when they’re short staffed. She’s on her way back to Alice Springs from a conference in Sydney when she meets Zac on the plane. They’re seated beside each other and there’s a huge amount of chemistry between them. Their one night stand was supposed to be just that – except they end up working together pretty much right after it. It becomes much more until an accident, after which Zac doesn’t have any memory of Ava. The last few months have been wiped from his memory.

I really liked so much about this. The setting is amazing – rural Northern Territory in and around Uluru as well as some of the surrounding areas. Both Zac and Ava have worked in some remote places and they have a lot in common in their jobs in the medical field. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff about Ava’s midwifery, especially as she delivers a lot of babies for the local Indigenous women. I found that really supportive and sympathetic of their wishes, particularly that their babies be born ‘on country’ ie on their tribal lands. It’s obvious that McArthur (who is a midwife) is very knowledgeable and has researched or experienced extensively what it is like to deliver babies in rural areas, when there are other contributing factors as well, particularly women who may not trust local care providers. Ava works very hard to establish that trust with the local women and to listen to them without compromising the level of care she can provide. There’s a couple of really interesting descriptions of how to handle a particular birth in here and it was so good to read this. Since I had my own babies I read birthing scenes differently and I feel like you can definitely tell when one has been written from the point of view of someone who has a lot of not only just medical knowledge, but understanding of people.

This book made me really want to visit Uluru. It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for years but now I’ve actually started planning a trip there (probably 2021). I’m not interested in climbing it, never have been, for me it would just be about experiencing it and the local area, seeing it at sunrise and sunset, doing the walk around the base and hopefully learning a lot about the local people and their way of life. Climbing it will be outlawed in October of this year anyway (which I feel is a positive thing). Uluru is a huge presence in this book – Ava’s family farm is located only a short distance away and it forms a rather important part of the journey of Ava and Zac.

The family farm also forms an important part of the narrative as it’s where Ava and Zac recuperate after their accident. Times are hard on the farm and Ava’s brother Jock is feeling the pressure in many ways. This was a very sympathetic exploration of the difficulties farmers face when it just won’t rain. Jock is full of self doubt and it manifests in really serious ways. Despite having two medical professionals living there, who both notice that he’s struggling, even they fail to see just how serious and advanced the situation is. I think as a city person who has never truly lived rural, it’s very difficult to properly understand the pressures and expectations placed on people who farm the land for their living. So much of what they do is reliant on something they cannot change or predict in the weather and just a few weeks out on predictions can really change things on a huge scale. I hadn’t thought about the logistics of farming in such an area before and the daily routines were quite fun to read about as well as the challenges, types of livestock, etc. The only thing I feel about this particular aspect of the story is that I would’ve liked a bit more in depth of the ‘after’. I know it isn’t Jock’s story but it was quite serious and I feel as though it warranted just a bit more exploration and attention at the end.

A good, solid read that rekindled my interest in Uluru. The setting and locations were my favourite part – the romance was okay but I did struggle to really get on board with the swiftness of it all, it just seemed a little too rushed for me, particularly just because of who Zac and Ava were, the types of people that they were. It wasn’t super jarring or enough to stop me enjoying the book, but I’m just not sure I was as invested in them as a couple as I could’ve been.

7/10

Book #114 of 2019

The Desert Midwife is book #53 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Top 10 Tuesday 30th July

Welcome back to another instalment of Top 10 Tuesday, hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. Today is a freebie topic where we can do anything we want. So I decided to go with –

Top 10 Chunksters I Tell Myself I Haven’t Got Time To Read

Years ago, before book blogging, before ARCs and NetGalley were a thing, when I was a poor university student who couldn’t afford food some weeks, let alone books, I enjoyed a chunkster. The more pages, the better. The longer I spent reading it, the more I felt it was worth my investment in it. I read a large number of books up to 1000p. But I’ve noticed a lot these days that I’ll reach for the the smallest book in my pile. That sometimes it’s become about just getting numbers of books read, because I receive a lot for review, because I buy more, my TBR pile is huge and sometimes it makes me feel a bit guilty looking at it. So I read those 300p books because I can knock them over in a few hours and move onto the next one. And the big ones languish on my shelf unread because aint nobody got time for that right now. So I’m going to shame myself into hopefully reading some of these by creating this post, because I’m sure they’re all going to be amazing books, I just have to let go of the idea that I don’t have time for them. I do.

  1. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. 615p. loved the first two books in this series – and I read them for a challenge which I think really pushed me to finally read them (I was pretty late to the party). I bought this when it came out but I still haven’t actually read it yet. Part of it is the size but part of it is because I’m not sure I’m ready for what’s going to happen.
  2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. 832p. I bought this when it won the Man Booker. I have this love hate relationship with prize winners. I want to like them but I so rarely do. Anyway, this is huge…..I actually picked it up one day, read the first page and went ‘haha, nope’ and put it away again. But I’m determined to get to it one day, to tackle these books that intimidate me.
  3. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. 673p. I have a beautiful hard cover version of this book that I actually picked up in a second hand bookstore about four years ago now. It’s so pretty to look at and I’ve read several other Kate Morton books and I absolutely adore them. She writes such beautifully evocative books, with rich settings and generally quite large cast of characters. I have 2 books of hers I haven’t read yet (and there’s many more I haven’t read and don’t own) and I just need to incorporate them into my challenges so they get my attention!
  4. War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy. 1456p. Okay so I’ve read relatively little Russian literature in my life, but what I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would. Particularly Anna Karenina. It’s always been my plan to also read this absolute monstrosity and I know there are challenges that run every year that revolve around reading a chapter a day or something. This is on my ‘reading bucket list’ and it’s challenging and intimidating for a lot of reasons. But I still want to do it!
  5. The Seven Sisters The Storm Sister by Lucinda Riley. 628 688p. I was sent a copy of the second book for review and then shortly after, the first was free on one of the eBook platforms so I snatched it up. They’re now up to book 5 or so of these 7, so I’m way behind but I’ve heard some really good things about this series and it seems right up my alley with elements of romance and mystery and perhaps a bit of interwoven historical? But because there’s quite a few now, this becomes an even larger investment, time-wise!
  6. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. 720p. I bought this one forever ago now. I’ve heard amazing things about it but people also seem to find it somewhat psychologically traumatising as well, which makes me nervous. Books like that I need to be in the mood for, so not only is it intimidatingly large but it’s also potentially a difficult read emotionally. I want to conquer it though!
  7. Kingdom Of Ash by Sarah J. Maas. 984p. I want to read this, I just have to keep plowing through Tower Of Dawn first because I’m still yet to finish that thing. It’s also large enough to be included on this list but I have actually started it. I made the mistake of reading about 200p just before we moved house. Then we moved and I never picked it up again. I wish I’d just gotten it out of the way.
  8. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver. 600p. Okay, interesting thing – I have never read a Barbara Kingsolver novel. We own maybe a half dozen and all have been on my ‘really must read these and soon!’ pile for years. Especially The Poisonwood Bible. But yet, I’ve never actually got around to picking any of them up. It’s a travesty.
  9. The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett. 973p. I own a bind-up of the first 2 books (in eBook form, so it’s only 2000p electronically, which is a lot less intimidating than a print copy!) but I’ve never read this series, or even this author actually. They seem quite universally enjoyed and actually I’m not sure how I didn’t read these during my ‘bigger is better’ reading period!
  10. Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton. 635p. I really like Hillary Clinton and I thought What Happened was excellent. It really made me want to read her other books. I am sure she has a team of people helping her, but the voice in that book was really engaging and frank and actually made me like her even more than before. She has this book and also one from being First Lady I think, and I’d like to read them both at some stage. I own this one but not Living History yet. Also interestingly, there are so many books on Goodreads about Hillary Clinton that spell her name wrong. I know this because I accidentally spelled it wrong looking up the third book and ended up with nothing by her in the search but a bunch of books on her. How do you write and publish a book about someone and then spell their name wrong in the title? I find it interesting that she’s such a divisive figure – the people that hate her, really hate her and she seems far more controversial than even someone like Donald Trump. I have a lot of thoughts on this but probably best not to get into them in this post!

These are just some of the big chunky books I have on my shelves, demanding my attention. There are many others, over 500p making up the TBR pile! These are just the ones that I really feel like I should be making time for, to stop telling myself, hey you don’t have time to read them, you could read 2-3 books in the time it takes you to read that one book. It shouldn’t be about the numbers of books I can get read, but the sort of books I want to read. I try to keep telling myself that, but sometimes I succumb to the pressure.

I’d be interested to know if I’m alone here or if others feel the same way. Let me know!

 

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Review: Bowraville by Dan Box

Bowraville
Dan Box
Viking (Penguin Random House AUS)
2019, 322p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A true crime story cannot often be believed, at least at the beginning. In Bowraville, all three of the victims were Aboriginal. All three were killed within five months, between 1990 and 1991. The same white man was linked to each, but nobody was convicted.

More than two decades later, homicide detective Gary Jubelin contacted Dan Box, asking him to pursue this serial killing. At that time, few others in the justice system seemed to know – or care – about the murders in Bowraville.

Dan spoke to the families of the victims, Colleen Walker-Craig, Evelyn Greenup and Clinton Speedy-Duroux, as well as the lawyers, police officers and even the suspect involved in what had happened. His investigation, as well as the families’ own determined campaigning, forced the authorities to reconsider the killings. This account asks painful questions about what ‘justice’ means and how it is delivered, as well as describing Dan’s own shifting, uncomfortable realisation that he was a reporter who crossed the line.

I am ashamed to admit that I grew up just over an hour from where these three murders took place and I didn’t even know about them until I received a press release for this book in my email inbox. I grew up in one of the larger mid north coast towns of NSW and my family still live there. I went to school with some of the local Indigenous population and there’s a well known Mission close to Kempsey, which is not far away. I didn’t live in the town when these children were murdered but I moved there a couple years after and would’ve been living there for a good 10 years while a lot of this was going on. In the book, comparisons are made between how little resources this got, compared to the Ivan Milat case, backpackers found murdered in the Belangalo State Forest near Bowral in the NSW southern highlands. And I remember all of that well. I remember when they found the bodies, it dominated the news cycle every night. But I don’t remember ever hearing anything about this and reading the book, I’m definitely not alone. Even Dan Box, journalist for The Australian newspaper had little to no knowledge of it when Detective Gary Jubelin approached him about pursuing it in the attempt to shine a light, get some publicity. A colleague, older than him, hadn’t heard of it either when Box explained what he was working on.

In late 1990 and early 1991, three Indigenous children went missing all from the same place, the Mission or just near it in Bowraville, in northern NSW not too far from Coffs Harbour. The first victim was 16, a girl named Colleen and her mother wasn’t aware she was missing for days – no one told her she hadn’t been seen. When she went to report her missing, the police station was closed (it was a Sunday) and she had to go back the next day. She was met with disinterested police and the firm assumption that she’d probably “gone walkabout”. The next victim was four year old Evelyn and her family were also told she’d probably gone walkabout. The final victim was another 16, a boy named Clinton. Police weren’t too interested in his disappearance either. Indigenous children did this. They took off sometimes, off up north or maybe out west. They might’ve moved to Sydney. Eventually they’d turn up back on the Mission or someone would see them.

Except one of the children was four years old. Where was she going to go? But people had an answer for that too. The family, fearing that welfare might be onto them for abuse issues, had spirited her away to other family, somewhere else. There were no crimes, everything was fine. Until the bodies of Clinton and Evelyn were found, pretty close together. Colleen’s body has never been found but her clothes were, discovered in a river not too far from where the bodies of Clinton and Evelyn were. All of a sudden a crime couldn’t be denied any longer. But by now, months had gone by. Any crucial evidence was probably long gone. People’s memories fade, dates blur together. And so begins the family’s search for justice in conditions where justice is unlikely, and not just because of those early bungled days.

I don’t really listen to podcasts (I tend to lose focus and zone out and then come back in and realise I’ve missed the last 10 minutes! The same thing happens when I listen to audiobooks as well) so I haven’t heard Dan Box’s five part one on the Bowraville murders. So I went into this with very little knowledge and was astounded to find how much I’d missed, especially considering this is the case that overturned (in NSW) one of the fundamental rules of law. And the further into the book I got I realised how not-alone I was. How so many people were ignorant of this. The further into it I got, the angrier I got, the sadder I got, for so many reasons. Dan Box spends so much time with the families of the victims, who have all fought so hard for some sort of justice. Because detectives like Gary, who has spent over 20 years working on the case, believe they know who did it. But knowing and proving are different things, especially when the early days of these crimes were treated the way that they were – as not crimes at all. There are so many mistakes, so many times where this was underesourced or people were put in charge who really probably were not at that stage of their careers. Some people did work really hard on this. Around the clock, for years, they dedicated themselves to the case as well as working other cases. But when you compare it resource-wise to other cases of a similar nature, multiple deaths in the same location with probably the same perpetrator, it was woefully undermanned. And those early crucial hours, days and weeks had been lost and you can’t get that time back.

I admire the families of the victims. Because they have been tireless in their search for justice, relentless. There’s nothing that they haven’t tried to overcome, and the obstacles in their way have been great. They have campaigned for important law changes (and got them through!), they have lobbied countless people in power to be heard. And yet at every turn they have also been stonewalled, blocked, rejected and ultimately, frustrated. I feel for them, their grief and sorrow pours out of every page of this book. That frustration and anger extends to some of the people that have worked on the case, have dedicated their lives to it, for some of them. The more time Dan Box spends on it, the more he finds himself drawn into the families and their journey, their quest for justice. As he states at one point, he became not just a journalist telling a story, but a campaigner.

This isn’t just about the crime, it’s about much more than that. It’s about race. It’s about the divide between white Australians and the Indigenous populations, the attitudes each hold towards the other. The ways in which the two communities in Bowraville interact, the different ways of life. It’s about the Indigenous culture and how they react differently to questions, or interviews and how those reactions are misinterpreted by police or people of authority. There aren’t enough liaisons between the two communities to help them understand the other’s way of doing things. For Indigenous people, police aren’t often seen as helpful. They’re seen as the people who took their mother or father away from their families, who come to arrest them for petty crimes or who don’t care when they report a crime themselves. It’s about crime statistics and how much more likely Indigenous children are to be harmed or murdered. It’s a vicious cycle on the Mission sometimes and yet the overall message I got was how important family is to them. How many of them are all connected and related in various ways and their connection to their local area and to each other. Family is so important, it’s everything and it’s why they haven’t given up. It’s why it feels like they’ll never give up.

This isn’t just a good read, it’s a crucial one. I feel as though I learned so much reading it and it’s the sort of book that also encourages self-reflection, or at least it did in me. Highly recommended. And I am going to try the podcast too.

9/10

Book #113 of 2019

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Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Disappearing Earth
Julia Phillips
Scribner
2019, 263p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern tip of Russia, two girls – sisters, ages eight and eleven – go missing. The police investigation that follows turns up nothing. In the girls’ tightly-woven community, everyone must grapple with the loss. But the fear and danger of their disappearance is felt most profoundly among the women of this isolated place.

Taking us one chapter per month across a year on Kamchatka, this powerful novel connects the lives of characters changed by the sisters’ abduction: a witness, a neighbor, a detective, a mother. Theirs is an ethnically diverse population in which racial tensions simmer, and so-called “natives” are often suspected of the worst. As the story radiates from the peninsula’s capital city to its rural north, we are brought to places of astonishing beauty: densely wooded forests, open expanses of tundra, soaring volcanoes, and glassy seas.

Disappearing Earth is a multifaceted story of the intimate lives of women – their vulnerabilities and perils, their desires and dreams. It speaks to the complex yet enduring bonds of community as it offers startlingly vivid portraits of people reaching out to one another and, sometimes, reaching back to save each other. 

Spellbinding, moving – evoking a fascinating region on the other side of the world – this suspenseful and haunting story announces the debut of a profoundly gifted writer.

This starts off really promising. Firstly it was set in an area which I’m unfamiliar with, the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia. I’ve never read anything set there before and actually, I don’t read much set in Russia at all. What I have read has been more focused on the western parts, around Moscow and St Petersburg. It begins with two young girls, sisters 11 and 8, who are amusing themselves during their summer holidays. Their single mother has to work so often she leaves money for the girls to go to the movies or the zoo or to the beach. As they are about to go home from the beach, a man asks them for help and the two girls disappear.

After that there are a plethora of narrators who are connected to the crime somehow or the girls or connected to someone else connected to someone else connected to what happened, or from the same area or something else. Just as I would begin to get into each new part of the story, it would end and we would switch to someone else, which, as the book went on, I have to admit became quite annoying. I rarely felt like I got any sort of conclusion from any of these characters and some of them added very little, if anything, to the story. It was in some ways, an interesting portrayal of life in this part of the world but I don’t know how accurate it is, or if it evokes the feeling and character of eastern Russia. I don’t know anything about eastern Russia but the author isn’t Russian, although she did spend a year in this area presumably to research and write this. One of the characters is a native who resented her childhood spending summers herding with her family who seem to uphold a lot of the traditions. She’s now studying at a university and has a white Russian boyfriend who keeps tabs on her but finds herself drawn to another native student when she joins a dance class with her cousin. Also there is the contrast in police investigation between the two younger white girls that go missing compared with a native girl a bit older, where it’s just assumed that she ran away and never got in touch with her family. I know that the two girls further south were much younger, which also influenced an investigation but it seemed everyone was dismissive of the 18yo that disappeared. Because she was older, but also seemingly, because she was native.

Each of the individual chapters/sections were well written and also contained narratives I enjoyed but I think overall, the weaving together of them as a whole didn’t really work for me. I kept wondering too much about characters I’d seemingly left behind and whether or not I was ever going to get answers about them from the questions that were raised within their chapters. And sometimes things in there were seemingly just random. It’s a large cast of characters and I did have to constantly refer back to the list of characters at the beginning of the novel to remember who was related to who and why they were relevant. Some stages the book felt like it was starting to get bogged down and not know where to go which is a bit concerning when it’s under 300p. And I wasn’t really a big fan of the ending. Some people love an ending like that but overall, it wasn’t for me.

This was okay. Interesting in some parts but the constantly changing narrative and introduction of new, often unimportant and irrelevant characters got tedious after a while.

6/10

Book #112 of 2019

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Review: Those People by Louise Candlish

Those People
Louise Candlish
Simon & Schuster AUS
2019, 384p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Could you hate your neighbour enough to plot to kill him?

Until Darren Booth moves in at number 1, Lowland Way, the neighbourhood is a suburban paradise. But soon after his arrival, disputes over issues like loud music and parking rights escalate all too quickly to public rows and threats of violence.

Then, early one Saturday, a horrific crime shocks the street. As the police go house-to-house, the residents close ranks and everyone’s story is the same: Booth did it.

But there’s a problem. The police don’t agree with them.

Lowland Way in the south of London, is like a suburban paradise. The street is full of friendly people – some of them are even family. Every Sunday they close the street to traffic, block it off and let their kids play in the street on bikes, scooters, etc. They’re tight knit, often socialising together and things have always been done a certain way. Then the previous occupant of #1 dies and her nephew Darren Booth inherits the property. It’s clear Darren isn’t really like them. He’s probably come up from somewhere else, maybe from one of the housing estates. A disagreeable man in his 50s with his wife Jodie, he’s not interested in the way things have been done in the street before. He wants to knock front walls down and renovate the house as well as running a used car yard from the front of the property. The rest of the residents are horrified but reasoning with Darren Booth is impossible. Between loud music at all hours, his cars taking up all the street parking and his attitude, things between him the other residents don’t get off to a good start and they only get worse.

I think most people have probably had neighbours they didn’t see eye to eye with at some stage or other. We’ve had some interesting ones, but probably the worst was a house of young blokes who had four quite large and aggressive dogs in a very small backyard. The dogs barked incessantly, often for hours at a time in the middle of the night. If we walked along our shared fence, they would throw themselves at it repeatedly, barking and growling. They ripped away lower parts of the wooden fencing. It got to the stage where the kids couldn’t go outside because walking down the shared fence terrified them. I was also quite worried that they might put a hand down where dogs had ripped parts of the fence away, or have a toy go there or something. We tried our best to block up the parts the dogs had ripped away with spare roof tiles and rocks. At one stage, several of the dogs turned on each other and had a vicious fight which the owners struggled to break up. One of the dogs disappeared after that and was never seen or heard of again. I never had anything to do with the people living there but they weren’t receptive to fixing the fence and it was a relief when the house was put up for sale and they moved out. The dogs had trashed the inside too, so the house underwent some pretty extensive repairs before being sold. It wasn’t a pleasant time but it could’ve been much worse in that we never had any interaction with the people themselves. I’ve never had a neighbour dispute but I can imagine that seeing someone daily when there’s a disintegrating relationship would be very difficult.

The book opens with someone’s death and then goes back to show you how it came to be. The narrative revolves between a few people living on Lowland Way – Sissy, a woman in her 60s living across the road from #1 who runs a B&B, Ant a young father who lives next door to #1 and shares a wall, Ralph a well-to-do resident several doors down from #1 who is incensed about Darren and his activities and Tessa, who lives next door to Ralph and is married to his brother Finn. This is a bone of contention for Tessa, who wants to sell and move and get out of the influence of Ralph and his wife Naomi whom Tessa often feels inferior too. Each of them have run ins with Darren and his partner Jodie that escalate and when there’s an incident of sabotage it honestly seems like any or all of them could be responsible. It’s become about more than just Darren and the unsavoury look he’s brought to Lowland Way and the fact that he won’t play nice or join in or even observe the Sunday tradition of clearing the street of cars. It’s become about winning, about not letting Darren succeed in bringing them down, especially for Ralph. And I felt especially for Ant, who with his wife and young child, shares a common wall with #1 and has to put up with incessant rock and metal music at deafening volume well into the night, every night, which takes its toll on his baby and also on his wife Em. Their marriage disintegrates under the strain, the constant noise and the fact that Ant is more a pacifist and won’t stand up to Darren or do anything about it. I found it quite interesting that for a man portrayed as he was, Darren rarely ever raised his voice, rarely ever got angry and almost never instigated anything. The longer it goes on, the more the other residents begin to seem unhinged, like Darren and his ways are quite literally driving them to the brink of mental instability. That here are these well to do, seemingly rational grown up people who are getting more and more erratic while Darren just calmly carries on doing as he’s always been doing. He doesn’t retaliate, he doesn’t shrink from the group of people that often accost him. He wasn’t likeable at all, but there was something about that way in which he didn’t rise to the bait that I found interesting.

This was a fun read although it did lag a bit in the middle after a dramatic reveal where things just kept kind of muddling along without really going anywhere and everyone kept being implicated and then not. It felt a fraction too long in parts, like a lot of it was just filler and repeated conversations that had kind of already taken place and the same two police officers wandering around and asking pointed questions and giving nothing away at the answers. The story got a little frustrating at times because I didn’t feel like it was moving forward, like all the characters were just a bit stagnant and stuck in the same pattern. Also if this is an accurate representation of how councils operate in London, it’s a sad state of affairs! The residents try very hard at first, lodging objections and complaints about what Darren is doing and it seems the whole car yard thing he’s running is definitely illegal but they get no where. And ultimately things escalate to the fact where tragedy is the outcome.

I did appreciate the ending. Something very poetic in that.

7/10

Book #111 of 2019

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Review: Fake by Stephanie Wood

Fake: A startling true story of love in a world of liars, cheats, narcissists, fantasists & phonies
Stephanie Wood
Vintage (Penguin Random House AUS)
2019, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Women the world over are brought up to hope, even expect, to find the man of their dreams, marry and live happily ever after. When Stephanie Wood meets a sweet man who owns a farm and property, she embarks on an exhilarating romance with him. He seems compassionate, truthful and loving. He talks about the future with her. She falls in love. She also becomes increasingly beset by anxiety at the lavish three-act plays he offers her in the form of excuses for frequent cancellations and no-shows. She begins to wonder, who is this man?

When she ends the relationship Stephanie switches back on her journalistic nous and uncovers a story of mind-boggling duplicity and manipulation. She also finds she is not alone; that the world is full of smart, sassy women who have suffered at the hands of liars, cheats, narcissists, fantasists and phonies, men who are enormously skilled at deception.

In this brilliantly acute and broad-ranging book, Wood, an award-winning writer and journalist, has written a riveting, important account of contemporary love, and the resilience of those who have witnessed its darkest sides.

I’d heard a little bit about this in a couple of facebook book/reading groups that I’m in and it made me really curious. The other day I went into the city for some reason and picked up a copy because it was one of the first books I saw when I walked in the door. The subject really interests me, how people do this – and why.

Stephanie Wood is a journalist who used to work for Fairfax. She met a man on a dating app and although it wasn’t amazing fairytale love at first sight, he was persistent and after a little while, she found herself falling in love. Joe owned a sheep property where he ran dorper sheep and was from an interesting background. For a while all is well…..until it isn’t. Joe frequently cancels plans, vanishes for days, stands her up for important events. He will arrange something and then come up with a terrible reason for why he cannot go through with it. The alarm bells start to ring for Stephanie but she’s determined to believe in him. After all, so much about him seems to add up. But soon they’re a year or more in and she’s not seen his home. She hasn’t met his family, despite repeated arrangements that all mysteriously fall through. Finally she ends it, her anxiety through the roof at his games and tries to unravel just who Joe is and what about him is true.

This is catfishing on another level. Catfishing generally involves just the internet, but often the phone where people create fake profiles and present themselves as someone entirely made up, often for years, stringing people along in relationships with people that don’t exist. Often they vanish as the pressure to meet face to face increases. And there’s a whole show devoted just to deciphering if someone is being catfished. Stephanie’s story differs because she spent all of the time with Joe face to face. They met on a dating app, had a first date and everything went from there. They went away on holidays and for weekends. They went to explore potential properties for Joe to purchase. Stephanie was looking at leaving her whole lifestyle to live with Joe on a property, thinking about the vegetable gardens she would preside over. Ultimately this all came to nothing though, because despite claiming wealth, Joe had almost nothing. He didn’t own a property, he didn’t run dorper sheep and he certainly wasn’t looking at spending millions on a spread in the Southern Highlands. And Stephanie wasn’t the only woman Joe was running this scam on.

This is Stephanie’s story but it’s also about narcissism and fantasy and the impacts that are felt by people who cross the paths of people like Joe. Stephanie is brutally and frankly honest of what the constant push/pull factor did to her mental health. She could never rely on Joe because he would tell her one thing, like that he had definitely booked a flight to go to QLD with her to a wedding and then……just not turn up. He would claim that they will do this or that and then cancel at the last minute because of some disaster or another, often concerning his children which makes it difficult for a woman to question. Because a man should prioritise his children and if they need him….sometimes he cannot be available to go out for dinner or away for the weekend. But there was a pattern to this behaviour, a suspicious amount of disasters and often Joe would just vanish for the night. Stephanie would be waiting for him and he’d simply not show up, not return calls or messages until the next morning or the day after with profuse apologies and stories of how he was the victim in whatever had occurred. Stephanie looks back with the benefit of hindsight in a ‘how on earth did I not see through this earlier’ but she’s also frank about how much she wanted to believe in him. Because she loved him. Because the times when they were together were good. Because she thought that if they just got through this incident, things would be better on the other side. And that once they were living together, everything would settle down and things like this wouldn’t be a concern anymore because she’d be by his side, supporting him during these crises with his ex-wife and incidents with his children. Men like Joe are seemingly quite good at finding supportive and understanding women like Stephanie, who wait around whilst being completely and utterly dicked over. And she’s frank too about how lonely being a woman unpartnered at her age can be and starting again is daunting for pretty much anyone.

This is a brave story and contained within are the stories of other brave women and research into this sort of behaviour as well. It’s a very all round read. It’s Stephanie’s story as it unfolded and how it introduced her to others who had somewhat similar stories as well as put her in touch with people who attempt to understand this sort of thing, so that she might understand it. Stephanie doesn’t get all the answers she seeks – even after discovery, the mystery of Joe is never really deciphered. There are bits and pieces that come out that help to put together several pieces of the puzzle but stuff like income etc was never really gotten to the bottom of. Joe didn’t sit back and allow Stephanie to pay, he quite often footed the bill for dinners and weekends etc which is fine when it seems he’s a wealthy grazier but curious when it appears that he has no actual job. There are a lot of red flags here but Joe seemingly has answers for every one of them and I think that ultimately, humans are a trusting lot. We tend to trust first a lot of the time and wonder why later. When you’re so close to something, often you can’t see it.

Compelling and brilliant…..and all true.

8/10

Book #110 of 2019

Fake is book #52 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Top 10 Tuesday 23rd July

Welcome back to Top 10 Tuesday, hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. This week our topic is:

Top 10 Settings I’d Like To See More Of/Read In Books

  1. Alaska. Oh my gosh. I love Alaska! I watch a lot of Alaskan-based TV shows about homesteading and survival and stuff and it’s like crack to me. I’d love to read more books revolving around that sort of thing. Perhaps they’re out there and I just don’t know how to find them! But I would really like to read some good gritty Alaskan stories focusing on the difficulties living off grid and what it’s like in winter with such long periods of darkness. It’s something I can’t really fathom living down here in Australia. I’d also accept northern Canada as an option.
  2. Antarctica. From the top, to basically the bottom. I’m interested in Antarctica too although it’s different in that it’s mostly inhabited by scientists and researchers and has no real stable population. But I love a good doco based there and I’ve read a couple of fiction books set there too. It’s a more limited setting but there are things that can be done with it.
  3. Africa. I have a bit of an ‘A’ theme going on here. This is a bit of a cop out as Africa encompasses a lot of very different countries but I’m interested in reading something from pretty much any of them. I’ve read a few set in Botswana, a few in South Africa. I think I’d like to read a few from places like Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania. I’m really quite into a lot of the wildlife in parts of Africa so I think a few books on conservation efforts and things like that would be really interesting.
  4. Asia (Central). Might as well keep the A going. I think Central Asia is something woefully underepresented in terms of books I’m seeing and have read. Something from any of the lesser known ‘Stans – Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan would be amazing. I’ve read a non-fiction book about a man who followed the trail of Gengis Khan which went through some of these and it was really interesting. Would be super keen to read some books that are about life there, be it fiction or non.
  5. Australia. But not the obvious ones. I live in Australia, and there’s a lot of Sydney/Melbourne based books, a smattering of Brisbane and then some set in fictionalised rural towns. But I’d like to read books set in far North Queensland, or the Northern Territory. Western Australia particularly around Broome or Port Headland. I’ve read a few here and there but I’d really like some more. Remote Tasmania, western New South Wales. We have a lot of really different places in this country.
  6. (the) Amazon. Let’s see if I can keep this ‘A’ thing going! I haven’t read a lot of books set anywhere in South America but particularly the Amazon area, which just seems ripe for so many fascinating stories.
  7. Albania. Never read a book set there. Or anything about it.
  8. Scandinavia. Well it had to end eventually. I’ve read some Scandinavian crime, which exploded a few years ago and there’s some very good ones out there. I’d like to branch out into other types of books but set in these countries.
  9. Rural Russia. Away from the St Petersburg/Moscow areas. Seems like it could be interesting.
  10. University/College. I found living in dorms and stuff for university/college a very formative part of my early adulthood and I really enjoy reading about teens going through that experience. The post high-school era is a bit underrepresented too, there’s lots of YA about high school and then quite a lot of early 20s people trying to find jobs and their way in life, which are both great. I’d like to read a bit more of that in-between period.

There’s lots of things I’d love to see, I am always interested to explore new-to-me places in fiction. I’ll often pick up a book purely on it being set somewhere I’ve not read before or don’t know much about. I can’t see myself ever doing much actual travel so sometimes reading is a way to do that as well as learn new things. And it gets super boring to read the same Australian city/American city/UK city type thing over and over again.

If you know something that fits the above, feel free to recommend it!

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