All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The City Of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

The City Of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1)
S.A. Chakraborty
Harper Voyager
2018, 526p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

Probably a year ago I was in a local bookstore and I saw a pile of the second book in this series, The Kingdom Of Copper when it was a new release, ready to put put on the shelves. It was so eye-catching, this vivid green. I didn’t know anything about it and would’ve bought it based on the cover alone but when I looked it up, I saw it was the second in a series so I didn’t bother. I just added the series to my Wishlist and finally got around to buying the first book in it, this one, earlier this year. It’s been sitting on my TBR pile waiting for the right time and I finally got around to picking it up in order to progress on one of my challenges.

Nahri lives in Cairo. She possesses some strange abilities – she can understand languages when she hears them, she also speaks some sort of language she calls her native tongue but no one else seems to know it and she doesn’t know what it’s called. She can heal herself of any injury. She’s a bit of a thief, a bit of a charlatan, doing palm readings and the like, in partnership with an apothecary. She will send her clients his way to purchase what she says will cure them of curses and ills. She doesn’t really believe in some of the darker stuff she dabbles in, like driving out demons – until she accidentally summons a djinn and a bunch of creatures called ifrit who try and kill her. The djinn, known as Dara, whisks her away and it’s he who tells her that she’s the last of a family of healers and he takes her to Daevabad where she meets the ruling family and is welcomed as a sort of prodigal daughter….but all is definitely not as it seems.

I really enjoyed this overall. It’s very long – over 500p and it takes some time for Nahri to be told exactly who she is and reach the city of Daevabad. But when she does, the pace certainly ramps up and there is lots of political intrigue and unrest in the land. To be honest, not all of it is straightforward – the history is dribbled out in bits and pieces and often from different points of view which gives conflicting ideas as to the why but there was some sort of uprising or rebellion or war type thing and there are both full blooded djinn (the human word for what they call themselves) and half-bloods known as shafit, which are the offspring of djinn and humans. There’s different types of magic as well and definitely a lot more than meets the eye to both Nahri, who still has a lot to learn about her heritage and ability as well as Dara, the djinn with a bloody and violent past who is bound to Nahri and her family lineage.

I actually became really invested in Dara and Nahri – things are definitely complicated and there’s a lot of secrets being kept and things that Nahri doesn’t know yet. She’s also introduced to the royal family – there’s a King, who has two sons – the eldest who is heir to the throne and who seems to pass most of his life by being a good time party boy and Ali, the second son who is a bit of a religious zealot who is being groomed for the role of Qaid, which is essentially the head of the Royal Guard, charged with protection of the family and the law and order of the city. Ali is deeply suspicious of Nahri but charged by his father to befriend her in order to bend Nahri to their will, which would be to marry her off to the elder son. Neither Nahri nor the elder son are particularly keen about this idea but the problem is when Ali, who has until this point not been tempted by the female flesh due to his devoutness, starts catching feelings. I don’t know how I feel about this. I have a habit of always picking the wrong one in a love triangle (Nahri starts out with Ali as a “mark” but she ends up quite liking him by the end of this book) and the ending of this concerned me in multiple ways. However there are still two (very fat) books to go so….I have hope! Don’t kill it for me.

This was a bit slow in the beginning but once I settled into the story and kind of sorted everything out in my head, I really got into it and I’m definitely off to purchase the second (and third) ones this week!

8/10

Book #223 of 2020

City of Brass counts towards my participation in the 2020 Reading Women Challenge hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’ve used to check off prompt #9 – inspired by folklore. This is seriously rich with Middle Eastern and Egyptian folklore. It’s the 22nd book completed for the challenge. I have just four books to go to finish this!

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Review: The Bookish Life Of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

The Bookish Life Of Nina Hill
Abbi Waxman
Headline Review
2019, 333p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own… shell.

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all–or mostly all–excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.
1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

I’ve seen a few glowing reviews of this one and heard a lot of talk and it was also recommended in the Goodreads group for the Reading Women Challenge, particularly for the prompt of feel good/happy book. I requested it through my library months ago but it was checked out and the library was closed for so long (even the return chutes) so they just kept extending the time everyone could keep their library books. I’ve had some for what must be about 7 months. Anyway, libraries are finally reopening, they’ve stopped a lot of the automatic extensions and things have actual return dates again. So this book finally made it’s way to me when the library reinstated its excellent delivery service.

Nina is almost 30, lives in a sort of granny flat of a larger property owned by friends of her mother’s. She works in a bookshop and has a pretty full life of book clubs and trivia nights and occasional yoga as well as plenty of time alone to read. Then a lawyer visits the bookshop and tells her that her father has died. The father Nina never knew anything about, even his name. His death brings a load of relatives she never knew existed into her life, with mixed results and then there’s the prospect of a potential romance, if Nina can let someone into her solitary existence.

I enjoyed this – it is a feel good/happy sort of book. Nina is living the sort of life I don’t think I’d mind! Despite the fact that she’s shy, a bit of an introvert, she has friends, she does social things. Some of them revolve around her work, others don’t. But she does need time alone to decompress, which is something I can 100% relate to. I liked all the stuff with the quiz teams, especially the team names, they were fun. I enjoyed the awkwardness between Nina and Tom and I found her extended family amusing (mostly) although I’m not sure we ever really got a handle on the character of Nina’s mother and why she would make the choices she did.

I really loved that the book included the pages from Nina’s planner every day where she recorded what she did, what she was going to do or should be doing etc. I love planners and planning and have several different planners every year (a blog one and a personal/family one) so seeing that was a lot of fun. I actually found myself relating a lot to Nina – not her childhood, which couldn’t be more different from mine or the arrival of random family members, but more the way in which she enjoyed living her life, the fact that she blocked in actual time to do nothing and read. That is total goals. Nina also has anxiety which hasn’t made sense to her for a long time, especially as her mother seems the complete opposite but meeting her family members on her father’s side gives her some clarity about some aspects of her personality and I think, more acceptance of herself.

This was a great afternoon read, lots of references to books and pop culture and I laughed out loud reading it more than once. It wasn’t perfect and the end did feel very neat and “solver of all problems” type or read but it was still very enjoyable and I would definitely seek out more by this author.

7/10

Book #221 of 2020

Counting this one towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge for 2020 – prompt #20, a feel good/happy book, which this definitely is! It’s the 21st book read for the challenge, which means I have just 5 left to go! Really hoping I can finish this although there are still a few prompts where I feel it’s going to be a struggle.

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Review – The Five: The Untold Lives Of The Women Killed By Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper
Hallie Rubenhold
Transworld Digital
2019, 415p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman. 

In participating in the Reading Women Challenge for the past two years, I have relied on the Goodreads group for a lot of suggestions in the categories I am less familiar with. There’s a lot of incredibly widely read people in there who have some excellent suggestions for even the trickiest of prompts. This was one that came up a lot in the thread for suggestions and recommendations of books that fulfil the “non-fiction by a woman historian” prompt and given it wasn’t particularly long (it says 415p but it’s probably close to 80 or so pages less than that as a large portion at the end is taken up with footnotes, photos and a bibliography) as well as the fact that it was $4.99 on Amazon kindle, I decided it would be a good choice.

I don’t know much about Jack the Ripper – just the basics. Never caught, murdered women that were apparently mostly prostitutes however this book tackles that assumption head on. There are five women that people are sure were definitely murdered by the person called Jack the Ripper, these are known as “the canonical five”. However there are other murders in different areas, some of which are similar some of which are different, where there are disputes about whether or not they were committed by the same person, by someone who attempted to mimic the Ripper style or just by someone completely different. This book focuses on the canonical five and delves deep into their lives. It is meticulously researched.

This isn’t just about the lives of the women, although as I mentioned, they are gone into with thorough detail. It’s also about poverty, Victorian morals and sensibilities, as well as how women were treated especially if they were homeless, or alcoholics or not even prostitutes, but women who aligned themselves with a man for protection in a relationship of convenience. For women without a fixed address, this was often a necessary part of the life. Having a male partner not only helped protect them from men who might seek to take advantage of them or hurt them in other ways, it also meant that sometimes, the meagre income was doubled and if one couldn’t afford a room or bed for the night, sometimes two could. But for women who slept rough or tramped around parts of greater London, a common-law marriage was often the best way to protect oneself, even if it meant that women who often moved around as relationships dissolved, were often looked down upon or mistaken for being prostitutes. And by entering into something like this, at least the woman could make an active choice about who she gave her body too, rather than the threat of someone taking it. This book even delves into the definition of prostitution and how it was a difficult label to apply.

Most of these five women were born into and perpetuated a cycle of extreme poverty. They were generally from a large family (common during the time) often ravaged by disease and hunger. Even when the fathers of these families had what would be termed good working class jobs, those good jobs didn’t stretch to supporting households often upwards of 8 or even 10. The mothers in the families were trapped in a cycle of getting pregnant and having babies, some of which died young. Many of which died young. These women often died young themselves, leaving the children behind even more disadvantaged. Sometimes they were placed in workhouses or forced into marriages – women in these times, in these lives, had few options. Not many were educated, few could read or write. Almost, if not all of the five, had fallen into alcoholism one way or another. Some had left behind lives of “respectability” – marriage and children. In the case of the first woman, Polly, she voluntarily turned herself over to a workhouse in order to escape from her husband after it was clear he preferred someone else. In these times, few options were available to women for them to leave their marriages and in doing so, they’d almost certainly be left homeless, destitute and vulnerable. To make such a choice, one would have to have been desperate.

This is an excellent book – I found it written so well, so compellingly. The lives of all these women were interesting to me but it’s the circumstances as well, down to the police investigations, the reporting by the newspapers and how testimonies at the inquests were twisted (still happening today, really). It says a lot about how women have been treated when they’re victims – from being made to register as sex workers and inspected for disease (it was believed they spread syphilis, however men were not monitored, checked or considered to be spreaders) to the way they were looked down on if they were out at night and, when and if they were the victims of vicious crimes, it was “because they shouldn’t be out late at night/selling sex/ etc”. This was a time when it was still legal for a man to beat and rape his wife and if way to blame a woman for any circumstance could be found, it would be and applied. When a lot of the focus has been on Jack the Ripper – who was he, how did he never get caught, why did he do it, how many was it really, why did he cut them/remove their organs and why did he stop? – this book is focused purely on the five canonical victims and their lives, their stories. And it’s done really, really well.

8/10

Book #217 of 2020

This book checks off prompt #6 – Nonfiction by a woman historian. It’s the 20th book read for the challenge! I have just 6 left to read and I actually feel like I can do this.

 

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(Extremely) Mini Reviews {11} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I realised there’s a few books sitting there in my reads that I haven’t actually written anything for and I thought I’d just whip up another of these posts to try and include a few of them. A lot of them were actually read a little while ago so my recollections are probably a little vague now!

Actress
Anne Enright
Vintage Digital
2020, 269p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and London’s West End. Katherine’s life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings.

But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s damage. As Norah uncovers her mother’s secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Then, fame turns to infamy when Katherine decides to commit a bizarre crime.

Actress is about a daughter’s search for the truth: the dark secret in the bright star, and what drove Katherine finally mad.

Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd.

I was curious about this because Enright had won a Man Booker or whatever it’s called these days and this book was also long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. She was also taking part in the Melbourne Writers Festival and this happened to be available through my local library at the right time. I was able to read this before her MWF session, which was my preference just in case the sessions talked a lot about things best left unspoiled.

This was okay. It was interesting in the way it was told, from the perspective of the daughter of an actress, who was kind of this person on the outside looking in. I enjoyed a lot of the narration of Katherine’s early life coming into acting, especially around London and Dublin and found her an interesting character in many ways. But I also felt that for me, it kind of lost its way a bit the further I got into it. However there was enough in the writing that I would read more of Anne Enright.

6/10

Book #150 of 2020

Readhead By The Side Of The Road
Anne Tyler
Vintage Digital
2020, 192p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work – his TECH HERMIT sign cheerily displayed on the roof of his car – maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs (7:15, every morning). He is content with the steady balance of his life.

But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction because of a cat. And when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle.

Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.

I had never read Anne Tyler before but I had heard some amazing things about her writing. I’m not sure this one was the best one to start with, but it was the only one available through my local library so I decided to try it. Like Actress above, this was just okay for me. It started off quite promising, I was sort of interested in Michah and his somewhat very compartmentalised life but the arrival of the past actually ended up making me lose interest. And it wasn’t long enough for me, I found it a bit unsatisfying – like the previous one, perhaps not the best choice for starting, maybe there are others out there by Tyler that I will like more.

6/10

Book #157 of 2020

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing
Jessie Tu
Allen & Unwin
2020, 293p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Growing up is always hard, but especially when so many think you’re a washed-up has-been at twenty-two.

Jena Chung plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and is now addicted to sex. She’s struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing family demands, those of her creative friends, and lots of sex. Jena is selfish, impulsive and often behaves badly, though mostly only to her own detriment. And then she meets Mark – much older and worldly-wise – who bewitches her. Could this be love?

When Jena wins an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. Is the dream over? With echoes of Frances Ha, Jena’s favourite film, truths are gradually revealed to her. Jena comes to learn that there are many different ways to live and love and that no one has the how-to guide for any of it – not even her indomitable mother.

This was another book I read before the Melbourne Writers Festival as Jessie Tu was also the focus of one of the sessions that I’d booked into. This book sounded really interesting – and her session at the Festival was amazing, I really enjoyed it. But….even though the book was well written, I have to admit, the subject matter wasn’t always particularly for me.

There’s a lot in here about loneliness, about grief and longing and unfulfilled or untapped potential. The main character is incredibly destructive – addicted to sex, constantly searching for the high I think she gets from being with someone, and she’s willing to put herself into some pretty dangerous situations in order to achieve it. She’s also for a large part of the book, involved with an older man in what seems to be a borderline abusive relationship that seems to cause her a lot of grief but that she seems to struggle to break away from, but it was never really made clear why she was so enamoured with this person. I enjoyed Jena a lot more as a character when the action moved to New York and I felt like I got the focus of her music, of her playing ability, of her actually wanting something and achieving something.

There’s some very strong racial representation here which was fantastic and I felt like the complexities of being the offspring of migrants was explored well, as was Jena’s prodigious talent but a lot of the more gratuitous stuff left me cold.

6/10

Book #161 of 2020

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing is book #57 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Loner
Georgina Young
Text Publishing
2020, 247p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Set in Melbourne, Loner is a humorous and heartfelt exploration of new adulthood. Lona kills her days by sneaking into the dark room at her old art school to develop photographs. She kills her nights DJ-ing the roller disco at Planet Skate. She is in inexplicably, debilitatingly love with a bespectacled Doctor Who-obsessed former classmate, and in comfortable, platonic love with her best friend Tab. Lona works hard to portray a permanent attitude of cynicism and ennui but will her carefully constructed persona be enough to protect her from the inevitable sorrows and unexpected joys of adult life? Loner re-examines notions of social isolation experienced by young people, suggesting sometimes our own company can be a choice and not a failing. 

I really enjoyed this – I thought it was something I could really relate to, even though I’m now much older than Lona. I loved the setting in Melbourne and the little touches like Lona’s job working as a DJ in a roller disco. For many people, leaving school and beginning that next phase of your life is really difficult and Lona is navigating that – things aren’t working out, she’s stopped going to her university. She is also stretching her wings by moving out, finding a job that will help pay the bills, that sort of thing. She’s met someone she likes. The chapters are very short, which gives it a quick feel and there’s a lot in here that reminded me of my own first forays out of my parent’s home.

7/10

Book #162 of 2020

Loner is book #58 in The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Dreams They Forgot
Emma Ashmere
Wakefield Press
2020, 228p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two sisters await the tidal wave predicted for 1970s Adelaide after Premier Don Dunstan decriminalises homosexuality. An interstate family drive is complicated by the father’s memory of sighting UFOs. Two women drive from Melbourne to Sydney to see the Harbour Bridge before it’s finished. An isolated family tries to weather climate change as the Doomsday Clock ticks.

Emma Ashmere’s stories explore illusion, deception and acts of quiet rebellion. Diverse characters travel high and low roads through time and place — from a grand 1860s Adelaide music hall to a dilapidated London squat, from a modern Melbourne hospital to the 1950s Maralinga test site, to the 1990s diamond mines of Borneo.

Undercut with longing and unbelonging, absurdity and tragedy, thwarted plans and fortuitous serendipity, each story offers glimpses into the dreams, limitations, gains and losses of fragmented families, loners and lovers, survivors and misfits, as they piece together a place for themselves in the imperfect mosaic of the natural and unnatural world.

Unfortunately, short stories are just really not for me. I’ve almost never found one that I like but I keep being tempted by them. These are in many ways, written very well but they just don’t speak to me. I am always left wanting more or wondering what happened next and in some cases, wondering what on earth actually happened. Sometimes they’ve very ethereal and mysterious. Perhaps the way I read as well, doesn’t particularly suit this mode of storytelling – I’m very much a read in one sitting type of person, I like to begin and finish. These might be much better dipped in and out of, really taking the time between each one to mull the prose over and sink into the ins and outs of what’s being told.

Book #180 of 2020

This was book #69 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

The Lying Life Of Adults
Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
Europa Editions
2020, 336p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Is she turning into her Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise? Surely there is a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is.

Giovanna is searching for her reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves from one to the other in search of the truth, but neither city seems to offer answers or escape.

Named one of 2016’s most influential people by TIME Magazine and frequently touted as a future Nobel Prize-winner, Elena Ferrante has become one of the world’s most read and beloved writers. With this new novel about the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, Ferrante proves once again that she deserves her many accolades. In The Lying Life of Adults, readers will discover another gripping, highly addictive, and totally unforgettable Neapolitan story. 

I loved the Neapolitan Quartet and I was really excited for this, Elena Ferrante’s next book. However – I didn’t love this at all. In fact I struggled my way through it, constantly bored with the plot and the characters. A couple of times I considered DNF’ing it but in the end I persevered until I got to the finish. Honestly I just didn’t care about anything that was happening here.

3/10

Book #197 of 2020

Binti (Binti #1)
Nnedi Okorafor
Tor
2015, 96p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive. 

Going to be honest here – I chose this book to read because I’m pretty behind in my Reading Women Challenge and I also didn’t have anything that qualified as Afrofuturism/Africanfuturism, which was one of the prompts, so I had to buy something. A few people recommended this in the Goodreads group and it’s really short – only 96p. It’s the first in a trilogy and so in order to make a bit of progress, I decided to read this.

It was really good – despite the lack of length in the story, it felt incredibly well rounded and the characterisation and description of setting were very well done. Binti is the first of her people to be offered a place at a very prestigious university and she has to basically turn her back on everything she knows in order to accept it, almost running away in the middle of the night. On the way there, the ship is attacked by these alien creatures – and Binti is one of only two left alive. She can communicate with them and so she makes a sort of bargain, in order to preserve her life.

I’m really tempted to go on with the other 2 instalments, they’re probably quite short too and I’m keen to know what happens next for Binti.

8/10

Book #209 of 2020

Binti counts towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. It’s the 18th book I’ve read and ticks off prompt #7 – Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism. This leaves me with 8 books to go for this challenge, which is definitely going to be a real struggle!

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Review: The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

The Mother Fault
Kate Mildenhall
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 336p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mim’s husband is missing. No one knows where Ben is, but everyone wants to find him – especially The Department. And they should know, the all-seeing government body has fitted the entire population with a universal tracking chip to keep them ‘safe’.

But suddenly Ben can’t be tracked. And Mim is questioned, made to surrender her passport and threatened with the unthinkable – her two children being taken into care at the notorious BestLife.

Cornered, Mim risks everything to go on the run to find her husband – and a part of herself, long gone, that is brave enough to tackle the journey ahead.

From the stark backroads of the Australian outback to a terrifying sea voyage, Mim is forced to shuck off who she was – mother, daughter, wife, sister – and become the woman she needs to be to save her family and herself.

Welcome to a future that doesn’t seem as farfetched as it probably should.

This is a dystopian Australia, where a large portion of the country has fallen victim to rising seas or stripped of everything from creeping drought, overfarming or fracking. Water is piped in from the north, the places that still experience the wet season, down to the south, to a lucky few where genetically modified crops are grown. After the two main parties imploded, a new one rose and at first, everything seemed ideal – people were looked after. But then after a few incidents, the governing body clamped down on its citizens. Everyone is chipped, their every moves tracked and observed. No one gets out without them knowing about it. And anyone who doesn’t fall into line is taken to something called “BestLife” a sort of rehabilitation centre that feels more like brainwashing.

Mim’s husband Ben works a FIFO job in “Indo” (Indonesia) at a gold mine. It’s the sort of job where Ben believes that despite it, he can still do good, keep the company held accountable. Mim is a geologist but is now a stay at home mother, although she’s looking at returning to work soon. They have two children and Ben is on one of his stretches away when she’s contacted about him. It seems he’s missing – something that probably shouldn’t be possible in this age of being basically microchipped and tracked. She’s warned to stay put, has to surrender their passports. Mim knows that no good can come of this. If Ben has done something, they’ll be used as leverage to bring him to heel and if they think they’re complicit, it’ll be BestLife for them all. She makes the decision to run in order to protect her children and decides to find Ben herself and discover exactly what is going on.

This starts with a bang – a brief summary of how things ended up this way and then Mim discovering that her husband was missing and that those you don’t want looking for you, are definitely looking for him. And making sure that Mim understands the seriousness of the situation.  There’s a lot of suspense and built tension from the very beginning that only increases when Mim decides to go on the run. It’s almost a spur of the moment thing, with no real preparation and her plan is something that evolves over time. She originally flees to her family farm, driving from Victoria into New South Wales but this earns her the ire of the all-seeing government body, who told her to stay at her residence while they searched for her husband. Mim decides the danger is too present and so she takes some drastic steps to go “off grid”. It involves also driving from where she is now in NSW to Darwin so that she might be able to get a boat to Indonesia, as flying is out of the question due to surveillance and also the fact that her and the children’s passports have been confiscated.

There’s a lot in this that is really amazing – the evolving climate, the damage done environmentally by rising seas (there are what’s called climate refugees, presumably those that used to live along the coasts), the dangers of fracking and what’s been done to the land, how they’ve had to divert huge amounts of water from the north down to the south. There’s not a lot about global politics but what there is, is enough to give you a picture of the world, who has risen in terms of power and who has faded. The thing that is most unnerving about this book is how much you can see something like this unfolding. That it’s not that farfetched, that it’s not that unbelievable, that even though it was probably written before the events of 2020, there’s something in it that gives you a sense of foreboding about what we could become.

However, there were a few things in the plot here that I felt pinned too much on coincidence and luck rather than anything that Mim planned or any skills that she had. And I don’t say that she should have skills to evade the government, it just honestly felt like she wanted things to happen and then miraculously, they did. She just happened to know someone that could do Thing A for her and then she just happened to know someone that could do Thing B for her. And these people did it, even though one hadn’t seen her in over a decade and it might’ve gotten them killed, incarcerated by BestLife, who knows what else. Also, for me, after the high tension of most of the book, the ending felt somewhat….flat. Don’t get me wrong, there was a reason for Ben’s disappearance but it sort of felt a bit rushed and glossed over in a way….well yeah, of course it was something like that *shrug* It didn’t feel as impactful as I thought it would and there were a few moments where I really questioned Mim’s choices and decisions (she seems to think very little of putting others in danger due to her actions, nor does she seems to really care that much when the inevitable happens. She thinks about it for a few minutes and then sets it aside and the way she treats Nick is gross) and also her ability to extract herself from the situation towards the end of the book.

For me this was very clever writing, that hooked you in but there were just times when I felt like the details of the plot were a bit lacklustre.

7/10

Book #216 of 2020

The Mother Fault is book #81 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

I’m also counting this towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’m going to use it to check off prompt #19 – Frequently recommended to you. I’ve had quite a few people ask me if I’d read this and urged me to, when I said I hadn’t, more than I’ve had recommend other books to me of late. This is the 19th book read for the challenge which means 7 to go! I can see a light at the end of the tunnel!

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Review: Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould

Perfect Tunes
Emily Gould
Scriber UK
2020, 270p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The perfect song. The biggest dream. The love of her life.

It’s the early days of the new millennium, and Laura has arrived in New York City’s East Village in the hopes of recording her first album. A songwriter with a one-of-a-kind talent, she’s just beginning to book gigs with her beautiful best friend when she falls hard for a troubled but magnetic musician whose star is on the rise. Their time together is stormy and short-lived – but will reverberate for the rest of Laura’s life.

Fifteen years later, Laura’s teenage daughter is asking questions about her father, questions Laura does not want to answer. Laura has built a stable life in Brooklyn that bears little resemblance to the one she envisioned all those years ago, and she’s taken pains to close the door on what was and what might have been. When her best friend – now a famous musician – comes to town, opportunity knocks for Laura for a second time. Has growing older changed who she is and what she most wants? After all the sacrifices and compromises she’s made along the way, how much is she still that girl from Ohio, with big talent and big dreams?

Funny, wise and tender-hearted, Perfect Tunes explores the fault lines in our most important relationships, and asks whether dreams deferred can ever be reclaimed.

I was at university in 2001, when New York was in the news for months. This book begins just a little before that – Laura is from the Midwest but she’s finished university and has moved to New York to link back up with her high school best friend Callie, who went to university there. Laura dabbled in songwriting and has always longed to make music her career but it’s because of Callie that they get noticed. She turns heads and even though music isn’t really what she wants, it seems to be the only way Laura gets noticed. Through Callie she meets Dylan, guitarist of a band just about to hit it big. Dylan is moody and brilliant but occasionally dismissive of Laura’s musical ability. Just when they might get a big break, Laura is hit with two devastating things that impact her in the months after 9/11. She must make a choice and decide where a musical career lies in her priorities.

I think New York always makes for an interesting setting for these college or post-college novels – it has such atmosphere and I think it’s what people think of when they think of starving artist types trying to make it big in their chosen fields, be they writing, art, music, etc. It has a great music scene, especially at the time this novel is set where there were a lot of emerging bands in that garage rock style, playing gigs in dive bars and the like. The guy Laura meets is on the cusp of something big, they’ve been chosen to open for a highly successful band and they’re going places. What they have isn’t really a relationship and I think people will relate to that too. Dylan is not necessarily a bad boy as such but he’s got some issues: he’s pretty heavily into drugs and alcohol and it comes out later that there’s definitely some depression and maybe even deeper psychological issues in his family. He and Laura hook up and she’s aware of wanting more but not sure how to approach it. Her friend Callie says that she won’t/can’t change him and shouldn’t even bother. Just be happy with what it is, or move on. But before Laura can even make a choice about that, everything changes.

Laura goes from this carefree life working as a server in a bar earning tips, trying to make it musically, to having this responsibility. To not being able to make ends meet, dodging her landlord when she’s behind in the rent. But she doesn’t ever seem to really consider leaving New York, instead finding creative ways to make it work, teaching music and carving a market for herself. She’s mostly on her own, except when she begs Callie for assistance in emergencies and she has to watch as Callie achieves the recognition and success that Laura desired, despite not seeming to have the talent. For Callie it was charisma and being in the right place at the right time.

The story skips forward several times, settling when Laura is in her mid-thirties and struggling with her now-teenage daughter. I’m probably showing my naïveté here in parenting teenagers (my eldest is 12) but I found the behaviour concerning and everyone’s reluctance to address it even more so. There are some underlying issues but as the “difficult” child, she seems to get away with a lot, draw a lot of attention often to the detriment of others and pretty much seems to just do as she likes. I have to admit, when the narrative did skip forward to this section, I became less interested in the story. I was enjoying Laura struggling to find herself, to reconcile the idea of the direction her life had taken with her desire to play music and be successful, to be “discovered”. The domesticity of the more present day and the focus around her daughter was not as compelling plus the friendship with Callie, which had continued throughout the years despite the different trajectory their lives had taken, felt toxic and one-sided, like Callie was getting all the benefits and Laura pretty much none. And perhaps that had actually been the case the whole time but it seemed more amplified in the later years, when Callie would swan in from her exotic life, meet with Laura and want things from her, despite the fact that Laura was the one who was snowed under and busy, not living a hugely comfortable life. She was living the life Laura had dreamed of for herself and seemed almost irritated that Laura had made another choice and wasn’t there to prop Callie up when her shortcomings were showing.

This was ok but…..I actually thought there’d be more of a focus on music. It started off in that way but then became a more backseat part of the plot as Laura’s concerns changed to parenting and Marie’s behaviour. I found the first part of the novel much more interesting than the second.

6/10

Book #200 of 2020

I’m running out of time, so I’m using this book to check off #10 – About a woman artist. Laura is a singer/songwriter/musician who dedicates her life to it, even during hard times such as after Marie’s birth. It’s the 17th book read for the Reading Women Challenge of 2020, so I have 9 to go.

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Review: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

The Thorn Birds
Colleen McCullough
Harper Collins AUS
2012 (originally 1977), 735p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The bestselling Australian novel of all time, THORN BIRDS is the sweeping saga of three generations of the Cleary family.

Stoic matriarch Fee, her devoted husband, Paddy, and their headstrong daughter, Meggie, experience joy, sadness and magnificent triumph in the cruel Australian outback. With life’s unpredictability, it is love that is their unifying thread, but it is a love shadowed by the anguish of forbidden passions. For Meggie loves Father Ralph de Bricassart, a man who wields enormous power within the Catholic Church…

As powerful, moving and unforgettable as when it originally appeared, THE THORN BIRDS remains a novel to be read … and read again.

So somehow I made it all the way to 38 years of age without ever having read The Thorn Birds despite the fact it was published before I was born, despite the fact that it’s an acknowledged Australian classic. I bought this copy several years ago, intending to read more books classed as Australian classics and didn’t get around to any of them. But when this was chosen (voted) as a choice for my online bookclub, it gave me an excuse to finally tackle it.

The Thorn Birds is a sweeping family saga spanning decades, beginning in New Zealand, moving the outback of New South Wales and then as far abroad as Rome and London. It centres around the Cleary family – Paddy and his wife Fiona (Fee) and their hoard of children – about 5 or 6 boys and then a girl, Meggie. In time they’ll add 3 more children, all boys. Their life in NZ is spent in poverty, until Paddy gets an opportunity from his sister in Australia, to take over the family farm that was her husband’s. Drogheda is a behemoth of a property: 225,000 acres or something and Paddy and his boys are to learn it and run it. It also means that young Meggie, about 11 when they move, meets Father Ralph de Bricassart, the local priest although he is destined for great things. For Meggie, Ralph is the perhaps the first person to really see her, a girl in a pack of boys, boys considered more valuable especially in terms of things like running a farm.

Look everyone knows that this book involves an affair between a woman and a priest, it’s no spoiler. It wasn’t really the affair that bothered me – I’m not a Catholic and I’m not scandalised by a priest having sex. I’ve never thought the celibacy thing expected of priests was very normal and it’s probably the reason you get loads of them abusing people, especially children because their authority is deemed to be absolute. For so long, no one would or could ever question a priest. The thing that did kind of concern me was that Meggie is just a child when they meet (although she is an adult when their brief dalliance takes place) and it felt a bit uncomfortably like grooming, even though that’s not exactly what Ralph is doing. He’s kind to Meggie, in times when I think few people are. Her mother doesn’t seem to know what to do with a daughter – she seemed to lavish all her attention on her oldest child and when he was lost to her, became uninterested in parenting in general. Meggie suffers from quite a lot of emotional neglect. There’s a scene in the book where she’s about 15 and she gets her period but doesn’t know what it is. She thinks she’s going to die of this terrible thing because she keeps bleeding and doesn’t even know where the blood is coming from. It’s actually Ralph that has to explain to her what is happening to her in a delicate way (this is probably in the 1920s or 30s as well, such things would never have been discussed). It’s probably no wonder she falls in love with him but Ralph’s first loyalty is to the church (or is it to Ralph? I can’t be sure).

There’s a lot of heartbreak and misery and few people in this story ever seem very happy. I feel like there’s a brief portion of it, when the family first arrive from New Zealand to New South Wales and settle in at the homestead. They are sort of treated more like workers than family who would one day take it over (sort of) but they are comfortable with that and they are equipped for hard work. But it’s a harsh life still, despite the relative comfort and wealth of a spread like Drogheda but for most of them, life is punctuated by misery and grief and loss. It’s an easy read, quite simple to just sink into it and enjoy it although I have to say, I do feel it’s about 200p or so too long. The last section really dragged for me and I found myself becoming quite disinterested when the action moved away from Australia. I feel like these days it would’ve gone through a pretty decent slash and burn but fat sagas used to be much more the thing. When I was reading it though, it did make me curious as to why this one reached the height of “most sold Australian book”. Was it just because of how scandalous the affair with the priest would’ve been and it sticks in people’s minds? It’s a good story absolutely but a lot of what happened I suspect, will fade from my mind pretty quickly except the part about Meggie and Ralph. And I honestly don’t know how I feel about them. It wasn’t really a love or relationship I could get behind – hard to cheer for a couple when one half of them is on the fast track to Rome and serving the Pope, etc. And Meggie was so young when they met, so impressionable, did she ever really have a chance to develop feelings for someone else? When she does marry, it’s a poor facsimile of the one she can never have so she’s never really open to the possibility of anyone else.

I think it was interesting and perhaps I’d have found this far more romantic if I’d read it as an impressionable 15yo who complained that her parents didn’t understand her. But at 38, I find myself less enamoured with Meggie and Ralph. He seems vaguely predatory and although I don’t fault him for taking the temptation that was dangled in front of him (not just Meggie), I wasn’t invested in them. I was actually much more invested in Paddy and Fee and wanting to know more about them. Colleen McCullough (I actually hadn’t read her at all before now either!) excels at depicting difficult or unusual relationships and I thought that was probably the book’s greatest strength. The story of Paddy and Fee, the difficulties between Fee and Meggie, and then Meggie’s relationship with her own children.

I did enjoy this but I didn’t love it. I might’ve liked it more if I didn’t find the last section quite so tedious. I understand why some of that happens – after all Meggie says ‘I took away, now I give back’ so it’s not exactly subtle but it definitely just felt like it made the book drag on too long and I was quite relieved when I finished it. Now I might watch the mini-series – I’m surprised no one has rebooted it, given everything gets rebooted these days. Curious to see how that goes.

7/10

Book #188 of 2020

The Thorn Birds is book #73 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

I’m also counting The Thorn Birds towards my Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. It fits perfectly into prompt #17 – over 500 pages. It’s the 16th book read for the this challenge. If I manage to watch the adaptation, I may break my rule of only using one book per prompt because lets face it, it’s practically two books!

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Review: The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun

The Disaster Tourist
Yun Ko-eun (translated from Korean by Lizzie Buehler)
Serpent’s Tail
2020, 192p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Yona has been stuck behind a desk for years working as a programming coordinator for Jungle, a travel company specialising in package holidays to destinations ravaged by disaster. When a senior colleague touches her inappropriately she tries to complain, and in an attempt to bury her allegations, the company make her an attractive proposition: a free ticket for one of their most sought-after trips, to the desert island of Mui.

She accepts the offer and travels to the remote island, where the major attraction is a supposedly-dramatic sinkhole. When the customers who’ve paid a premium for the trip begin to get frustrated, Yona realises that the company has dangerous plans to fabricate an environmental catastrophe to make the trip more interesting, but when she tries to raise the alarm, she discovers she has put her own life in danger.

It got to almost the end of August and I realised that I had not read anything that contributed to my Reading Women Challenge in a while and that I was probably falling behind. I’ve read 13 books out of the 26 prompts (not including this one) and so I thought I’d better find something that would count. Because I can’t request titles from my library anymore due to this Stage 4 lockdown, my ability to find relevant titles has diminished a bit. I’m restricted to what I already have or what the library has available on one of their electronic borrowing platforms. There’s a good selection but it can be quite random. I’d spotted this a few times and in the end, rearranged a book I’d already used to tick off translated from an Asian language to a book set in Japan instead so that I could use this book for the Asian language. Sometimes you just have to get creative!

Yona is a woman in her early 30s working as a programming coordinator for Jungle, a company that puts together “disaster” holiday tours. Think visiting volcanoes, areas devastated by tsunamis etc. She’s very successful but such success is a precarious thing because Yona has seen colleagues before, suddenly disappear. They all live in fear of a mysterious yellow card which designates some sort of strike. Yona’s boss also starts touching her inappropriately and rumour has it he only targets those who are about to receive the yellow card. When she wants to quit, he instead convinces her to take a fully paid business trip to one of their tours that is not cutting it in terms of profit and analyse it undercover, making a report as to whether or not it should continue to be offered. Yona picks the most expensive tour, one of an island named Mui off the coast of Vietnam which boasts a sinkhole.

This starts off relatively straight forward. Yona is overworked – it seems that vacations aren’t really a thing at Jungle until you’re almost due a nervous breakdown. She’s been a consistently high performer and I’m not sure why she seems to feel like she’s about to be targeted for a mysterious yellow card. But when her boss starts sexually harassing her, it seems like it’s almost a foregone conclusion. There are others that he has targeted and they seek her out as well, wanting her to stand in solidarity with them as they protest his behaviour. When Yona tries to quit, she is instead urged to ‘take a break’ but that break is essentially work as well, as she will be assessing a tour for whether or not it should continue to go ahead.

Then, about maybe 2/3 of the way into this book, things take a rather sharp, unexpected turn. After realising that the tour is not particularly worth keeping, Yona is separated from her group at the end of the tour and forced to return to the resort on Mui where they all stayed. Whilst there, she uncovers a plot by some sort of mysterious owner of a company to fabricate a large disaster, to bring those who thrive on ‘disaster tourism’ flooding back to the island. And it was here things definitely started to get a little….unusual. Whilst Yona thinks she’s involved in the plan and has a role to play, she suddenly discovers that her role is not what she thought – actually, no one’s is.

I thought this had some interesting things to say on the popularity of ‘disaster tourism’ – visiting places where awful things had occurred, whether it be to pay respects to those lost or to marvel at nature’s fury or even just be a little glad that it was something that someone escaped. People visit areas of disaster (be they man made or natural) all the time and there’s a sort of macabre glee – like in this when a 5yo along for the tour is given paper and pen to draw and after hearing a story of a massacre, starts drawing the tour group as victims, severed heads and all. On the island, Yona and the tour are treated to a reenactment of the massacre that is said to have taken place there and spend a night living as those from the story would have. But when Yona returns to the resort, she discovers that nothing is as it seems and she’s stumbled onto several very unexpected plots, some where her discovery threatens others and one where it directly impacts on herself. I have to admit, the last third of this book was very interesting – kept me invested as the plan to fabricate the disaster was unveiled and there were a lot of things that happened which I did not expect. However, there was still quite a lot in the story that I found unsatisfying or not addressed. I don’t read a lot of fiction translated from Asian languages so that stripped back, more bare style might be something that’s quite common in these stories.

This had a lot of interesting ideas and some unexpected twists but I was still found somewhat wanting in the end.

6/10

Book #172 of 2020

The Disaster Tourist is book #14 of my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by The Reading Women Podcast, for 2020. I’m a little behind….. There’s only four months in the year to go and I need to read 12 titles in order to complete it so I’m definitely going to have to lift my game. I have a clear 2 books on my September TBR that will count towards this (By an Arab woman and also over 500p) but I want to find a third book as well, to not fall further behind. One of the prompts is frequently recommended to you, so I need people to start recommending me things! Lol.

The prompts I still need to check off are:

  • Nonfiction by a woman historian
  • Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism
  • Inspired by folklore
  • About a woman artist
  • Read and watch book to movie adaptation
  • By an Arab woman
  • Over 500p
  • Frequently recommended to you
  • A feel good/happy book
  • By a favourite or new-to-you publisher
  • Bonus: Book by Toni Morrison
  • Bonus: Book by Isabel Allende

 

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Review: Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

Truganini
Cassandra Pybus
Allen & Unwin
2020, 336
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Cassandra Pybus’ ancestors told a story of an old Aboriginal woman who would wander across their farm on Bruny Island, just off the coast of south-east Tasmania, throughout the 1850s and 1860s. As a child, Cassandra didn’t know this woman was Truganini, and that she was walking over the country of her clan, the Nuenonne, of whom she was the last.

The name of Truganini is vaguely familiar to most Australians as ‘the last of her race’. She has become an international icon for a monumental tragedy: the extinction of the original people of Tasmania within her lifetime. For nearly seven decades she lived through a psychological and cultural shift more extreme than most human imaginations could conjure. She is a hugely significant figure in Australian history and we should know about how she lived, not simply that she died. Her life was much more than a regrettable tragedy. Now Cassandra has examined the original eyewitness accounts to write Truganini’s extraordinary story.

A lively, intelligent, sensual young woman, Truganini managed to survive the devastating decade of the 1820s when the clans of south-eastern Tasmania were all but extinguished. Taken away from Bruny Island in 1830, she spent five years on a journey around Tasmania, across rugged highland and through barely penetrable forests, with the self-styled missionary George Augustus Robinson, who was collecting all the surviving people to send them into exile on Flinders Island. She managed to avoid a long incarceration on Flinders Island when Robinson took her to Victoria where she was implicated in the murder of two white men. Acquitted of murder, she was returned to Tasmania where she lived for another thirty-five years. Her story is both inspiring and heart-wrenching, and it is told in full in this book for the first time.

I can’t remember when I first read about Truganini, but it was definitely not as early in life as it should have been. I definitely did not learn about her at school, and it seems like she is someone I should have learned about. I knew that after “colonisation” by the British, when they pushed through to Tasmania (and named it Van Dieman’s Land) that the indigenous population was eventually exterminated. This book, focusing on Truganini’s life journey specifically, also deals with the methods and plans used by colonisers to round up the local Indigenous population and herd them to a point where they would be easily captured. There were plans to remove them to remote islands off the coast of Tasmania, some were also taken to the mainland (including Truganini).

Cassandra Pybus is a descendant of a coloniser who was given a large patch of land on Bruny Island, on Tasmania’s east coast. Abutting that ancestor’s land was another patch of land given to. a man named George Augustus Robinson, who later became some sort of self appointed (and then officially appointed) protector of the Indigenous population and was responsible for basically tracking them down and making sure that it was possible to implement the plans to remove them from the island, where they had upset those given farming patches of land by travelling around and occasionally stealing a sheep. Pybus was determined to only use primary sources to tell this story, mostly Robinson’s diaries as it seems he was a prolific diarist, who often detailed his many interactions and dealings in the guise of “protecting” these people. He’s seen as pompous and self-important.

I knew that this would contain some pretty brutal acts and I was right. There’s plenty in here of the callous disregard for the Tasmanian Indigenous population, the systematic attempts to round them up and drive them from the land they had occupied for thousands of years. There are children taken to be raised as slaves for wealthy (or probably even non-wealthy) colonisers, there are plenty of them engaged and then shot, the women and young female children stolen and the men beaten in midnight raids, the bribing of women for sexual favours with rations like sugar. The sealer men not only take the women, beat them, rape them, keep them as slaves but then they also relentlessly hunted the seal population of Tasmania almost to extinction, which is shown in stark contrast of the Aboriginal way of harvesting the bounty of the seas. Truganini witnesses her mother and sister taken and is not long after dependent on Robinson, who uses her and her father to help him round up other tribes, seemingly under the guise of ‘helping them’. They are often left stranded on rocky barren islands with little in the way of food. Disease and illness becomes rife amount the tribes, especially when they are removed from their local lands. The connection between Indigenous people and the land is something I don’t think we can understand and it’s commented on often about how they sicken and die very soon after being removed to somewhere else. The white people also introduced fun things like syphilis to the local population, shared with the women when they are raped or taken as slaves and if they escape, then they bring it back to the local menfolk. Robinson is also advised to do things like bribe them with alcohol.

Pybus’ decision to only use primary sources (those who saw and spoke to Truganini and then recorded it) is admirable but it also removes her from her own story and also removes her people. All of the views that Pybus is forced to use, are by white people, early settlers who saw the local population a certain way. Even people like Robinson, who believe themselves to be magnanimous and helpful, who don’t believe they are hurting them, are still trying to buttonhole them into a new way of being. Turning them into ‘good, Christian people’, forcing them to dress conservatively, to adhere to strict Christian values around sex and renounce their beliefs to worship a God in the sky and fear a Devil underground. At best they would’ve been possibly well treated servants, in this new settlement, but even that was unlikely in many cases. Pybus tries to insert some of Truganini’s character into the story, such as when she leads Robinson and his crew in circles when she’s supposed to be tracking someone down but it’s difficult to really get a picture of her, as she’s always seen through Robinson’s eyes, or those of someone like him. And Robinson loses interest in his role of protector at some stage anyway, and can’t wait to be rid of them be it marooning them on Flinders Island or taking them to the mainland and basically pushing them into a community there, overseen by someone else, so that he may wipe his hands of the whole affair.

I feel the story of Truganini and those like her, her tribe, the tribes she knew and had relationships with, is an important story and it’s one that everyone should know. But at the same time, I’m still very much aware that even this story of her, is told from a perspective that is not her own or even that of one of her kin. That their stories were not recorded and that so much of our history is taught from the words of those that oppressed them, removed them from their lands, even murdered them, is an undeniable truth.

8/10

Book #126 of 2020

This book qualifies for all 3 of the challenges I am undertaking this year!

It is book #42 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Truganini is the 7th book completed for my participation in the 2020 NonFiction Reader Challenge. I’m using it to check off the History category.

1. Memoir

2. Disaster Event

3. Social Science

4. Related to an Occupation

5. History

6. Feminism

7. Psychology

8. Medical Issue

9. Nature

10. True Crime

11. Science

12. Published in 2020

I’m also counting it towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I am using it for prompt #15 – A Biography. It’s the 13th book completed for the challenge. Halfway there!

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Review: Red At The Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Red At The Bone 
Jacqueline Woodson
Riverhead Books
2019, 196p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

Before my library closed indefinitely in March, I picked up a bunch of hold requests, which, some months later, I hauled out from under my desk. As COVID-19 advanced, I sought out a lot of what I’d term “lighter” reads, with more gentler topics, less chance of being distressed. There was only so much negativity I could take in real life, reading couldn’t contribute to that. As we move out of restrictions and record fewer and fewer cases, I’ve been slowly adding those books with potentially heavier or more distressing topics, back in (I’ve ordered a bunch that I’ll term “really heavy” but more about those in another post). Apparently a lot of my requests were longlist books for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (one of my ‘read the longlist whims’) and this is one of them.

This is a short book in length but huge in characterisation. The way that Woodson is able to impart so much on a character with so few words, is admirable. And not just one character, but many.

It begins with Melody, 16 in the year 2001 standing in the dress her own mother should’ve worn for her coming of age ceremony, sixteen years before. Melody reflects on her relationships with all the important people in her life – her mother, her father, her grandparents, her best friend. It’s not just Melody’s story. The narrative also encompasses her mother Iris, who discovered she was pregnant with Melody at just fifteen, Melody’s father Aubrey who grew up poor with a single mother and Melody’s maternal grandparents, who both had very different reactions to Iris’ pregnancy. It details Iris leaving Melody with Aubrey and her parents so that she might attend college, as well as what she realises about herself while she is there. And it also explores the relationship of Melody’s grandparents, how they met and married. Melody’s maternal grandmother Sabe is from Tulsa, so the book includes the Tulsa race riots which led to the family moving to Chicago and then after marriage, to New York where they reside in a brownstone. Aubrey moved in after Iris fell pregnant and remained there, caring for Melody along with his non-official in-laws, when Iris went to college on the other side of the country.

The writing in this is a masterpiece. I knew almost nothing about it going in and the story – or really, stories as each one is almost individual as much as it winds through and around the others – gripped me in so many ways. It says a lot but with using few words – such as the account of September 11. Iris and Melody both grew up in the same Brooklyn brownstone, enjoying many more privileges than Aubrey did as a child, moving from city to city with his single mother.

I’ve only heard of the Tulsa race riots recently, in terms of them being raised throughout the Black Lives Matter movement, by a viral video of a girl answering the question of why black people were destroying their neighbourhoods and property. She states plainly that they don’t own it – and that when they did own property, when they made successes of themselves in Tulsa, there were white supremacist riots and massacres there and so I’ve done a bit of reading but I still have a lot to do. I always appreciate fiction books that weave in factual history which leads me down a rabbit hole of non-fiction reading, as a way to broaden knowledge. This year I have been trying to read a lot more non-fiction and often use the fiction books I read to choose subjects to explore further in non-fiction.

This is the first book I’ve read by Jacqueline Woodson and I’ve made exploring the rest of her (quite extensive) backlist a priority because I really appreciated the way that she uses words and tells her story.

8/10

Book #111 of 2020

I’m counting this book towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I can tick off prompt #24 – From the 2019 Reading Women Award Shortlists, which this book was included on.

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