All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Looking Forward To 2021: Reading Challenges Part 3

I’ve been waiting for the announcement of this challenge for a little while now! The Reading Women Challenge is hosted by the Reading Women Podcast and I’ve taken part the past 2 years. I didn’t finish all the prompts in the first year and I still have 3 to go this year but sometimes, it’s not about finishing. Of all the challenges I sign up for, this is the one that pushes me to widen my reading the most. The prompts are often things I really have to think about, do research on and use the Goodreads group to find suggestions from other, much more widely read participants! For 2021, the theme is really focused on international authors, so reading from countries that are not your own and also, reading trans authors or those that are comfortable being included in a challenge that focuses on authors who identify as female.

I am really interested in some of these prompts already – there are some that I know won’t be too much of a challenge for me, some where I own books that already qualify or will definitely acquire something that qualifies throughout the year. There are others though, where it’ll be tougher to find books that fit the prompt or where I have to go to the group for suggestions (there are already boards for each of the prompts, with examples already listed and the challenge was only announced about half an hour before I started writing this post!). The Goodreads group is definitely invaluable to me, when it comes to completing as much of these as I can, throughout the year.

If you want to learn more about this challenge, you can visit the information page here.


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/}:

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!


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 F Team by Rawah Arja

The F Team
Rawah Arja
Giramondo Publishing Company
2020, 363p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Meet Tariq Nader, leader of ‘The Wolf Pack’ at Punchbowl High, who has been commanded by the new principal to join a football competition with his mates in order to rehabilitate the public image of their school. When the team is formed, Tariq learns there’s a major catch – half of the team is made up of white boys from Cronulla, aka enemy territory – and he must compete with their strongest player for captaincy of the team.

At school Tariq thinks he has life all figured out until he falls for a new girl called Jamila, who challenges everything he thought he knew. At home, his outspoken ways have brought him into conflict with his family. Now, with complications on all fronts, he has to dig deep to control his anger, and find what it takes to be a leader.
In confronting and often hilarious situations, Tariq’s relationships with his extended Lebanese family and his friends are tested like never before, and he comes to learn that his choices can have serious consequences.

Recently I saw YA/MG Aussie author and blogger Danielle Binks heaping praise on this and I think that Danielle and I have some pretty similar tastes so I made a decision to bump this up my pile and check it out as soon as I could.

It centres around the suburb of Punchbowl in Sydney’s south-west. In probably the 1990s, Punchbowl became one of those notorious suburbs in the news, particularly centred around the Lebanese community. There was a lot of talk of gangs, obnoxious and criminal behaviour, it became a place people talked about in disparaging ways, as did the neighbouring suburbs around the Canterbury-Bankstown area. It was probably just the latest at the time, in a long line of ‘targeted’ suburbs heavy with multicultural influence where one or two incidents mean that everyone gets tarred with a similar brush. It still happens today – here in Melbourne where I live, the focus is on suburbs rife with Sudanese ‘gangs’ and much is made of how there are places where people are too scared to go out at night.

Tarik, the main character, is Lebanese. His parents came to Australia, as his dad will tell anyone that wants to listen ‘to give his kids a better life than he had’. Tarik is part of a busy, noisy, big family – he has two brothers and two sisters and they all still live at home. His uncle also lives with them too and keeps bees in the backyard where he makes honey. Tarik and his friends go to Punchbowl High School, which thanks to a few pranks and negative incidents that have made the news in recent times, is in danger of being shut down. There’s a new principal who is determined to drag the school’s image up from the gutter and keep it open and he’s not afraid to use Tarik and his friends to do it. They’re rugby league players and the principal comes up with the idea (punishment?) to make them participate in a camp run in conjunction with the National Rugby League (NRL) but Tarik and his friends get paired with kids from Cronulla, which was famously the scene of the Cronulla race riots, focused on those of Middle Eastern background.

This book is brilliant – I absolutely loved it! Tarik and his friends are this tight knit, raucous bunch of boys who fight and rough each other up and tease each other but at the bottom of it, they are family. They are funny and clever and real and full of flaws. Tarik himself, whilst good-looking and smart, destined to go far, is clumsy emotionally at times, hurting his sister and his uncle and the girl he likes (and the girl he doesn’t) with thoughtless, sometimes sexiest comments. He gets schooled on what ‘women’s work’ is – his mother is a rather traditional stay at home Arab mother who nurtures with food and he seems to see cooking and cleaning and preparing as not things men should do. Despite this though, Tarik has a really good heart and he feels it when he upsets people. He’s also really distressed when one of his close friends (his closest) starts acting out in ways that Tarik doesn’t understand. He knows he needs to find out why but he doesn’t have the emotional maturity to force the confrontation, instead taking refuge sometimes in anger himself. The friendships between the boys (and the ups and downs thereof) is so well done, so real, for boys that are fifteen and in year 10, who have the impact of a possible school closure going on over their heads and the difficulties of adolescence and family issues for some of them as well.

The boys are passionate about their rugby league (Canterbury-Bankstown have a team in the NRL, the Bulldogs that has a very loud and obsessive fanbase) and games make up a portion of the book as well as the boys getting tickets to see an NRL game. Rawah Arja perfectly captures the atmosphere of a “Doggies” game and I really enjoyed that part, especially Ibby’s antics. I enjoyed how the principal used the boys’ love of the sport to channel them, but he demands things from them in return and he’s not afraid to take things away from them (Tarik’s captaincy in particular) in order to pull them into line. A lot of what Tarik’s friends do, or the other boys in school, is stereotypical stupid high school boys stuff. I remember my grade 10 classes tormenting casual teachers in much the same way as Tarik’s class do the science teacher here but it’s the fact that the school is so under scrutiny that makes everything they do seem heightened by 1000x. A harmless scuffle in the schoolyard becomes a dramatic brawl, with mobile phone footage leaked to the local news, etc. All those added together keep the school in danger and it’s the new principal’s job to save it. His methods are unorthodox and the boys resent the heck out of him at first….but slowly, he makes progress. And brings them round.

My favourite part of this was Tarik’s family. It’s big and noisy and chaotic and his dad with his funny lectures and expectations of Tarik’s behaviour (he’s not afraid to embarrass the heck out of Tarik when he thinks Tarik has done the wrong thing) and his mother who takes care of everyone, his smart and dedicated older sister as well as his clever and funny younger sister. Tarik is very family oriented and everyone in the neighbourhood is basically welcome for a meal at his place. Tarik’s mother often feeds his friends who perhaps have less of a family influence at home or who aren’t quite a part of a similar type of family unit. There’s a real contrast between Tarik’s family and Aaron’s (from the Cronulla school). Tarik sees the possessions whereas Aaron sees the connections. And the part with Tarik and his uncle is heartbreaking and beautiful. My close second favourite part of the book was the way the boys from Punchbowl and the boys from Cronulla inch towards friendship. There’s a lot of hostility and wariness at first but soon they are sort of united by a common enemy and they learn to adjust and accept each other and from there, it’s a journey toward being a team, towards building friendships with people who are outside of their social and cultural circles.

And as funny as this is, there’s plenty of seriousness in here as the boys negotiate racism and social expectations and perceptions. It was interesting reading from this perspective as well, of hearing how the judgements and accusations affect them as a whole and how they rally behind each other as a community. How they fight the ‘Angry Arab’ stereotype, or struggle against fighting it, every day. I don’t read a lot of YA from a male perspective so for me, this was refreshing. I also have two sons that’ll be teenagers soon and this is the sort of book I want them both to be reading.

I thought this was fantastic. Highly recommended.


Book #183 of 2020

The F Team is book #71 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

I’m also counting The F Team towards my Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’ll be using it to check off prompt #13 – by an Arab woman. It’s the 15th book completed for the challenge.


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Review: Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Know My Name
Chanel Miller
2019, 368p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

The riveting, powerful memoir of the woman whose statement to Brock Turner gave voice to millions of survivors.

She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral–viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.

Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways–there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.

Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.

Like a lot of people, I remember feeling outrage at the Brock Turner case. I remember reading then-known-as Emily Doe’s victim impact statement, which was published in its entirety on Buzzfeed and then went viral online, people sharing it over and over and over again. For a long time, the narrative in that story was about Brock Turner. How much of a promising swimmer he was. How he didn’t deserve to have his life ruined because of this one act. How his victim had been drinking so much she blacked out and how could we really know what had happened if she was unconscious? She doesn’t even remember it. She was reduced to “intoxicated, unconscious woman” whereas with Brock, it was all about his potential, what he might have been, what he might have become.

Now, Chanel Miller is naming herself, taking back some of the control in this story and giving her side. This is one of the most powerful books I think I’ve ever read. In it, Chanel Miller outlines exactly what she remembers from that night and how she felt waking up on a hospital gurney, only to be told that she might have been assaulted, they ‘weren’t sure’. How she thought they had the wrong person, that it couldn’t be her and then the slow realisation as other people informed her what had happened to her. Then there’s her decision to press charges and that experience, the horror of the trial and cross examination. It dives into the commonality of victim blaming in sexual assault cases as well as the strain everything had on her, her sister, their family and also her relationship with her boyfriend Lucas.

This is an eloquent, honest, raw memoir as well as a critique of both society’s views on sexual assault and also the justice system responsible for adjudicating over such crimes. Sexual assault cases are notoriously difficult to get to trial and even harder to get a guilty verdict because so often, it’s one person’s word against another. But in Chanel’s case, she actually had witnesses – two Swedish men riding their bikes who spotted her on the ground, thought ‘something isn’t right here’ and chased down her assailant, Brock Turner, when he ran at seeing them. They caught him and held him, gained the attention of others nearby who called the police. Despite this, the ways in which the narrative was twisted by the defense, how they tried to reframe it with Brock, this promising, talented athlete as the victim, were utterly astounding. And yeah, I get it. It’s innocent until proven guilty. But the ways in which women are blamed for their own sexual assaults are just mind boggling to grasp. Every single time it’s the same thing – what was she wearing? Why was she out at night? Was she dancing with him? Was she alone? Did she accept a drink from him? He may have expected that she’d come back to his apartment/go somewhere/do something with him.

None of that matters. None of it. It’s frustrating that in 2020, it’s still the way things are framed. A lot of her cross examination revolved around her drinking – how much she had drunk, how often she drank, had she ever blacked out, was it possible that she had given consent and was now regretting it? Then it was suggested that she was interested in hooking up, after all Brock was a promising athlete – surely he had his pick of women keen to show him affection, completely ignoring an established narrative that he’d already harassed other girls at the party. The facts by now, are well known. Brock Turner’s story of it being a consensual, enjoyable hook up that he ran from in fear from the Swedes because he thought they were going to hurt him (whereby he leaves this woman that he’d hooked up with so consensually, in a vulnerable state, alone with two guys he possibly thought were predators) is understood to be false and instead he preyed on a young woman in a vulnerable state, who was so drunk she blacked out and could not consent and he abused her and would’ve kept abusing her if not for the interruption by the Swedes.

Not going to lie, this is a difficult book to read and it caused me to have extreme feelings of anxiety for her (even though I know the result, the court scenes were so hard to read) as well as a sort of impotent fury at what she experienced. She mentions reading the comments on news stories on the case which….I don’t know how she kept doing it. I even find these days I can’t read the comments on pretty much any story, so inflammatory and troll-like are most of them. People who exist merely to post contentious things just to provoke arguments, or who are all too ready to point fingers of blame against people in situations like this, comments that indicate her drunkenness is reason and/or cause of her assault and a suggestion that she perhaps deserves it.

We have all done things in our lives (or most of us) that thereby for the grace of whatever you believe in, could’ve turned out horrifically bad. For many people, it did turn out horrifically bad. But the thing is, women should be able to wear what they like without inciting comments and/or attention, they should be able to go out and drink if they want, have fun and not risk waking up in hospital and learning they’ve been sexually assaulted behind a dumpster, they should be able to walk home at any time of the day or night without fear. Instead of teaching women to moderate their dress/behaviour/activities, teach men to respect personal boundaries, to leave women alone, to learn the signals, to not assault and/or rape them. And yes, #notallmen etc, etc. But any men doing this is too many men.

So much is focused on what Turner will lose – his scholarship, the chance to get a degree at Stanford, etc. but I felt a lot of the time what got overlooked was what Chanel Miller lost, and this is what her story attempts to highlight. This was a traumatic experience that lasted years for her and continues on well after the trial, sentencing and Brock’s time served is well over. He only got six months, served three. The case caused significant outrage and resulted in at least one law being changed as well as the recusal of the judge by a horrified Californian population. The justice system as a whole, needs overhauling when it comes to sexual assault cases, the way that they are framed, the way that people look at them. When I was at university some twenty years ago, they gave us something that we called the sexual harassment cube. I think I’ve mentioned it here before. It was a cube made up of smaller cubes that you could manipulate to say different things – I’m drunk means no. I have a boyfriend means no. I don’t want to means no. I’m asleep means no. I’m unconscious means no. I’m unsure means no. Silence means no. BASICALLY EVERYTHING THAT IS NOT YES MEANS NO. I felt then that it was somewhat sad that they had to give those out, to make such a point. But it seems as thought the point still needs to be made. Frequently.

Chanel Miller writes incredibly well, with eloquence and in such a vivid way that gives you an insight into the process and her emotional state throughout. She is passionate about not being ‘just a victim’ but also being Chanel, a woman who has a before and an after. I experienced such a range of emotions reading this – at times I wanted to cry, at other times to rage but sometimes I was so proud of her I could burst. And that’s weird right? I don’t even know her. But the bravery of her sharing her story, laying herself bare for the world to see despite what people had said and would say….for her tireless pursuit of justice and ability to keep going. This is utterly remarkable.

Also? #betheSwedes


Book #39 of 2020

I’m counting this towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. 100% this has to be prompt #12 – About a woman who inspires you. Chanel Miller is an inspiration for us all. It’s book 7 of 26 for this challenge.

Love a book that can pull double duty and this is my second this week! I’m also counting this in my participation of Shelleyrae from Book’d Out’s 2020 NonFiction Reader Challenge!

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 ticking off the category Feminism. It’s the fifth book I’ve completed for this challenge – I originally set myself a task to read 6 for this because I honestly wasn’t sure how much non-fiction I’d be reading, even though I have been wanting to add more. It’s only March and so far I’m almost halfway through completing all of these topics….so I should be able to tick every single one off at least once in 2020!


Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You 
Celeste Ng
Blackfriars (Hachette UK)
2014, 305p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest in the family – Hannah – who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.

Everything I Never Told You is a gripping page-turner, about secrets, love, longing, lies and race.

Almost two years ago, I read Little Fires Everywhere, and absolutely loved it, like pretty much everyone else. I ended up buying this book, her previous, in either one of those cheap or freebie deals iBooks have, as a promo. I can’t remember now if it was free or if it was discounted down to a couple of dollars but I snapped it up as soon as I saw it, probably not long after I read Little Fires Everywhere. And I’ve only just gotten around to reading it, even though I’ve been meaning to ever since I bought it.

It starts with the best line – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know that yet.” And the Lee family are going about their early morning routine: Dad James is driving to his office where he’s a professor at a local college, mother Marilyn is preparing breakfast for her children Nath, Lydia and Hannah. Only Lydia doesn’t come downstairs and when Marilyn heads up to her bedroom to look for her, her room looks untouched, her bed not slept in. It’s several days later when Lydia’s body is found after they drag the local lake and from then on, it’s about finding out what happened to her. As the police investigate, what they turn up about her daughter doesn’t match the image her parents have of her. And her disappearance and death reveals cracks in her parent’s marriage that have been there for years.

The story then delves into Marilyn and James – how they met, became involved, married and had children. They’re a mixed race couple – Marilyn is white from Virginia or somewhere equally conservative and James is ethnic Chinese but born in America. His parents travelled to the midwest when he was small in order to take up jobs at a boarding school and James received an education at the same school and was accepted to Harvard. He was the only person of Asian ethnicity at his school and when he meets Marilyn at college, mixed marriages are not at all common. In fact when they get married, their marriage could be illegal in several different states. Their children have James’ colouring apart from Lydia, who has his hair but in a genetic lottery, her mother’s blue eyes. They are also the only children of Asian heritage at their school as well in 1970s Ohio and they experience the standard questions and childish bullying in regards to their Asian features.

Lydia’s disappearance highlights the way in which her parents interacted with her and her siblings. James is desperate for his children not to have the same isolated childhood that he did. He wants them to fit in, have friends, be normal teenagers. He’s happiest when he believes that Lydia is giggling on the phone to one of her friends or picking a dress to wear to a dance, or when Nath is playing a game at the local pool with some neighbourhood kids. Like James, Nath has been accepted to Harvard and is only weeks or a few months away from leaving the home when Lydia disappears. Their own relationship is explored in this novel as well, how they both cope with their parents frustrated ambitions for them. While James wants them to fit in, Marilyn has much more ambitious plans for Lydia. She wants Lydia to be her, to complete what Marilyn was not able to. Marilyn wanted to be a doctor and she bonds with Lydia when Lydia is a young child by tutoring her in maths and science, honing and shaping her knowledge so that one day, Lydia might be pre-med. Lydia is so keen to actually spend time with her mother, be the focus of her attention that she says yes to anything, because of a pact she made when Marilyn vanished briefly from their lives when Lydia was eight. And Hannah, she was the reason Marilyn’s dream was thwarted a second time and she’s largely ignored by everyone. They had to turn their attic into a bedroom for her when she was born and so she lives mainly up in the roof or in the background, almost forgotten, raising herself. She’s much younger than her siblings and although they are kind to her, she doesn’t share the closeness they had with each other, the bond of getting each other through the expectations. With Nath soon off to college, she feels abandoned by him, like he cannot wait to escape and leave everything behind, including her.

Although the book begins with Lydia’s disappearance and the discovery of her body and there’s a running question of what happened to her – was it accidental/misadventure, did someone harm her or was it self inflicted, the book is about the complex relationships between the family members and the way that James and Marilyn’s own childhoods have affected the way they parent their children and what they want for them out of life. It’s about racism and small town ostracisation and not fitting in. I really liked this and I can’t wait to read more from Celeste Ng in the future.


Book #201 of 2019

I’m counting this one towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’m using it to check off the first prompt, mystery or thriller by a WOC. Although a domestic drama, there’s definitely a mystery running through this book of what happened to Lydia and how/why she came to be in the lake. This is the 21st novel completed for the challenge…..can I actually manage to finish this?!



Review: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Celestial Bodies 
Jokha Alharthi (translated by Marilyn Booth)
Allen & Unwin
2019, 243p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Celestial Bodies is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada.

These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, Celestial Bodies is a coiled spring of a novel, telling of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.

This was a really interesting read but it’s the sort of book that’s quite difficult to review. It’s written in a way that means it moves back and forth in time – there are chapters told in the first person by Abdallah, which seem to be significantly far into the future of the other chapters, all told in third person and revolving between a bunch of different people as the focus. The book begins with Abdallah’s marriage to Mayya and the subsequent birth of their first child and the ways in which Mayya and her mother observe the rituals in Oman that centre around childbirth.

At its core, the story is of three sisters, Mayya, Asma and Khawla. All three of them marry for very different reasons. Mayya marries Abdallah, who cares for her very deeply, loves her but it’s a love that she doesn’t return. She experiences a heartbreak and then marries Abdallah and although they seem to make a good life together, it’s obvious to Abdallah his marriage is uneven and a lot of his chapters revolve around his feelings for his wife and also the cruelty he experienced as a child at the hands of his father.

Asma is the middle sister and when two brothers come seeking the hands of her and her sister Khawla, Asma takes some time to think before agreeing to the match because it’s what she should do. Khawla on the other hand, refuses the brother interested in her because she considers herself long promised to her cousin from childhood, a cousin who has moved to Canada to study. Khawla seems to fiercely believe he will come back for her, like he promised but most others seem skeptical, having heard the rumours about the freedom he is enjoying being in Canada. Khawla remains loyal though, refusing to even consider anyone else, keeping herself only for her cousins.

This book spans multiple generations and takes place during a time of great change for Oman, the outlawing of slavery and the reluctance of some such former slave owners to accept the new laws and that things were changing. Also things were confusing for slaves, who were once owned and are now free….but free to do what and go where? Slavery is all they have ever known in most cases. Some choose to stay where they were owned, unsure how else to make their way in this changing Oman. It’s pretty euphemistic but I assumed that some of the female slaves that were spoken of giving birth, were generally giving birth to children their owners had fathered, although this did not seem to be acknowledged. In some cases, slaves did seem to be openly recognised as mistresses of their owner, such was the case with Abdallah’s father. Slaves that the owners were pleased with were often rewarded with marriages to other slaves and it did seem as though the owners controlled every aspect of the slave’s lives.

This book was the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2019, awarded to a book translated into English. Normally I don’t have a lot of luck with prize winners but I found this book beautiful to read, from a standpoint of looking at individuals and their choices or lack of them, a family as a unit and even a country as a whole. I’ve never read anything set in Oman before, which was one of the reasons I requested this from the publisher, because I’m really interested in trying works of fiction from new-to-me places, especially from authors who are from or living in those areas. The translation felt flawless too, creating a very evocative piece where I felt I could picture myself there as Mayya experienced her confinement after giving birth and feel the sand beneath my feet as her father trekked the desert to the Bedouin community. I really enjoyed the complexity of the woven in stories that took the reader far beyond Mayya and her sisters and explored the class system in Oman, the British influence, the languages, the city versus the more rural village areas. It felt to me, a very thorough book despite a relatively slim page count.

Jokha Alharthi definitely goes on a list of authors to watch out for in the future because I definitely want to read more from her.


Book #137 of 2019

I’m counting Celestial Bodies towards my participation in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge for 2019, for the prompt #6 – Multi-gen family saga. Originally I had another book chosen for this prompt but given one of my personal goals was to read as widely as possible, I decided this one fit better. It’s book #19 for the challenge.


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Review: Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover
Windmill Books
2018, 384p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

EDUCATED is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with the severing of the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, from her singular experience Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

My parents just left yesterday after being here with us for two weeks to celebrate our oldest son’s 11th birthday, which was lots of fun. We went to the Melbourne Zoo on his actual birthday and did the giraffe behind the scenes experience, which my husband and I have done before. It’s really amazing. Giraffes are such amazing creatures, so huge and gentle looking. Their big eyes and eyelashes and fuzzy little horns are the best. I do not understand how anyone can shoot one and feel that’s an accomplishment in life. I mean, I don’t understand big game hunting at all anyway, I think it’s all pathetic. But something about looking into a giraffe’s eyes makes it somehow even more heinous.

So it was good to have the family staying but the downside is always the blog gets neglected and not many books get read! Goodreads is already getting ready to chastise me – I’ve gone from about 4-5 books ahead to just on track so I need to sort myself out! I guess because I haven’t read that many I’m not super behind on reviews but I’m enough behind that it gives me a bit of anxiety about catching up as well as finding the time to start tackling my monthly TBR, which I have made almost zero progress on. Because I’ve been reading library books!

Educated was a book I chose for my participation in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge where the prompt was to choose a book from the 2018 Reading Women Podcast Award shortlist. This was really the only one that interested me and I’d heard plenty about it recently, plus it was easily accessible through my local library. This book was fascinating as all heck but man, do I have questions upon finishing it.

Tara grew up in remote Idaho, the daughter of a Doomsday Prepper type. She was a home birth, didn’t have a birth certificate until she was 9. Didn’t ever go to the doctor or a hospital. Didn’t go to school. She spent her childhood being halfheartedly taught by her mother and working a scrapyard with her father who seemed to delight in pushing his children to do dangerous things that might actually kill them in an attempt to keep his business afloat. After encouragement from one of her siblings who ‘flew the nest’, Tara educated herself enough to pass an exam to be accepted to Brigham Young University, where she at first found not only fitting in, but the academics a struggle. She didn’t understand until like a semester in, that she had to read the textbook for the course. She was just looking at the pictures, which was something I found a little bit mind boggling. What did she think all the accompanying words are for? She didn’t even glance at them, out of curiosity? Didn’t notice that the chapters or subjects might’ve corresponded to things her lecturer was talking about? Anyway, somehow we get from that to her winning some scholarship to Cambridge University and also being invited to Harvard and there seems to be a lot skipped in between of how she went from the girl that didn’t know what her textbook was for to the girl who got to go and study at a couple of the most prestigious universities in the world.

As well as her learning to make her way in a world as an adult that she wasn’t prepared for, there’s a lot about her home life and it’s one of paranoia and violence. One of Tara’s older brothers grew more and more violent from the time she was in about her mid-teens, regularly abusing her physically and verbally and quite often, it seems like most of the family turned a blind eye. Even when his behaviour became more known or talked about, excuses were often made and it was Tara who generally bore the brunt of the family’s wrath for not forgiving him or not understanding why he was like that. Eventually she became estranged from her family because she couldn’t do what they wanted in terms of basically just forgetting what he had done and moving on as if it had never happened. No one wanted him to actually take responsibility for his behaviour and apologise or to, it seems, even accept it was wrong. And it was mostly her family that rejected her, not the other way around. There are several times in the book where she attempts to make amends with them only to be told the same thing over and over, basically that her feelings don’t matter and what she experienced doesn’t matter anymore, that she should just forgive her brother and move on. I really felt for her in those moments, because she isn’t asking for anything outrageous, she still wants to be a part of her family, despite the gaslighting and abuse she has experienced, and not just from Shawn. But the more she went back there, the more I was like ‘you’re not going to get what you need here, cut your losses and just move on for the sake of your own mental health’.

Tara’s parents have made claims that some of what she describes in the book isn’t true or has been greatly exaggerated. There’s a picture of her father, who, in the book, was apparently burned so bad he nearly (and probably should have) died and was basically saved by Tara’s mother’s herbal remedies and the sloughing away of his dead skin day after day and yet he looks unblemished. Now it’s possible the picture is from before he was burned and they’re saying it’s from after. It’s possible Tara’s youth made the burns seem much worse to her than they were in reality and she’s openly frank in several instances in the books where she’s consulted her siblings on their memories of incidents and their memories differ greatly to hers. So sometimes we do remember things differently and trauma can probably affect memories, as can youth and connection to the person injured.

‘Memoirs’ like those by Helen Demidenko and James Frey mean that sometimes people are wary of experiences they read, are careful to take things with a grain of salt. Do I believe in all of Tara’s experience? I honestly don’t know. I would’ve liked more on her adaptation into university as a capable student, not just the stuff she found awkward or got wrong, because it’s difficult to imagine her going from Point A to Point Z without seeing some more of the competent stuff in between. She’s obviously a very intelligent and hard working woman, she has done the absolute best she can to use education as a means of escape from a lifestyle that was not fulfilling for her and was probably downright dangerous, between her brother’s abuse and the manipulative demands by her father that she work in the business in order to continue to be allowed live in the family home. The abuse however, that felt far more defined to me, you can see it escalating in the way that family violence so often does. The way that Tara tries to fight back sometimes, that only earns her more rage and how she then quickly acquiesces in order to restore things to the status quo.

It’s impossible to read and not have questions. The questions I have don’t mean I doubt the story being told or think that the author is lying or embellishing or making things up. It just means that not everything was covered and that some of what has been told here has thrown up questions for me which weren’t addressed at all or not in a significant enough way. After all, 6 of the 7 children attended some form of higher education and apparently 3 of them (at least 2, Tara and also Tyler) have Ph.Ds. Either her mother’s education is much better than Tara credits her with in this book or the offspring are of incredible high intelligence that they were able to overcome a lack of formative education and still earn Ph.D’s in a timely manner. So in summary, I found this a really well written and compelling emotional read but I am left with questions that went unanswered.


Book #126 of 2019

Educated was read as part of my participation in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge for 2019. It checks off prompt #17, from the 2018 Reading Women Award Shortlist and is book #16 for the challenge.



Review: Alone In Antarctica by Felicity Aston

Alone In Antarctica: The First Woman To Ski Solo Across The Southern Ice
Felicity Aston
2014, 320p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

In the whirling noise of our advancing technological age, we are seemingly never alone, never out-of-touch with the barrage of electronic data and information.

Felicity Aston, physicist and meteorologist, took two months off from all human contact as she became the first woman — and only the third person in history – to ski across the entire continent of Antarctica alone. She did it, too, with the simple apparatus of cross-country, without the aids used by her prededecessors – two Norwegian men – each of whom employed either parasails or kites.

Aston’s journey across the ice at the bottom of the world asked of her the extremes in terms of mental and physical bravery, as she faced the risks of unseen cracks buried in the snow so large they might engulf her and hypothermia due to brutalizing weather. She had to deal, too, with her emotional vulnerability in face of the constant bombardment of hallucinations brought on by the vast sea of whiteness, the lack of stimulation to her senses as she faced what is tantamount to a form of solitary confinement.

Like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Felicity Aston’s Alone in Antarctica becomes an inspirational saga of one woman’s battle through fear and loneliness as she honestly confronts both the physical challenges of her adventure, as well as her own human vulnerabilities.

For quite a few of the prompts in my Reading Women Podcast Challenge, I’ve been eternally grateful for the Goodreads group and the members who have suggested a number of options for even the most difficult sounding of prompts. One of them is a book about/by a woman athlete and nothing was really grabbing me interest wise until I saw a post for this, about the first women to ski solo across the southern ice. Regular readers would know I have a serious fascination for Antarctica and also the Arctic Circle. Antarctica is, relatively speaking, quite close to where I live but it could not be more different. I will watch any documentary, read any book set in either location and so when I saw the recommendation for this, I knew I had my book for the prompt.

Felicity Aston, some years before, put together a team of women from different parts of the globe who had very little skiing or trekking experience and did a similar trip as a team. However to challenge herself she decided that one thing left was to try it solo with no aids. Others had done the same journey with parasails or kites, both men. Unlike the early explorers Scott and Armundsen, Felicity would have the opportunity to drop supply packs at strategic points in her journey before beginning so she could limit the amount of stuff she had to carry at any given time. She also had quite a tight timing schedule in which to complete this trek as the weather is only forgiving for a portion of time and as her start is delayed by weather that doesn’t allow the plane to fly her to her start point, she’s already stressed she won’t make it before she even begins.

Although this does talk about the physical journey – the amount of distance she can cover in a day, the terrain, the landscape, the fitness levels and how her body changes on the way, it’s really very much about the mental journey. Felicity is mostly completely alone for the entire 70-something day trip. She does briefly stop at the South Pole to restock supplies and she also encounters 1-2 other parties on their own treks but apart from that, she’s alone. She makes a call each night with a satellite phone to reassure of her continued survival but that’s it. She can tweet from the satellite phone as well but it’s a one way thing. She cannot see replies or interaction with the tweets or respond to them.

The mental toll on Felicity was very interesting to read about. It’s situational, which is to say the way that the brain reacts to being in such a location, as well as the actual isolation itself. For example, I didn’t realise that given a complete lack of stimulus (like a white landscape for weeks on end) the brain will create its own, with vivid hallucinations. Aston was aware of the possibility or likelihood of this and she saw a psychologist before undertaking the journey (probably for various reasons) but one of the things they discussed was how to cope with hallucinations and recognise that they were in fact, hallucinations and not real. And as she gets deeper into the trip, you can actually see her grip on reality beginning to slip in a way. She starts off talking to herself, saying out loud what she needs to do, what her tasks are, what she has to complete, what she sees, what is next. But as the isolation settles in, she stops doing that and can go days without speaking a word except on her check in, which she comes to resent as intruding into her silence. She also begins to talk to the sun as though it is a sentient entity, able to understand her and even read her thoughts about it. A lot of her progress relies on the sun’s appearance and this is a large part I think, of why she comes to view it in such a way, almost feeling she has to bargain with it or appease it in order for it to make an appearance each day.

I enjoyed this because it’s really focused on someone setting themselves a really difficult challenge and then doing whatever it takes to complete it through some pretty tough conditions. However, for me, I was looking for more about Antarctica itself, about the physical journey, more about her surroundings and what it was actually like to be there. I know she’s been there before both working as a researcher at a station and also doing the team trek (which she also wrote a book about, but I haven’t read that one) so perhaps she feels as though that’s been covered. It’s what I’m interested in regarding Antarctica but the mental aspect is a very important part of it. It’s definitely not a place many people could cope with, especially under those conditions. And Aston is very honest I think, it felt very genuine. It’s a no holds barred kind of thing with the mental aspect, it didn’t particularly feel as though the physical aspect of it was much of a challenge.


Book #125 of 2019

Alone In Antarctica was read as part of my participation in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge for 2019. It’s the 15th book read for the challenge.

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Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year Of Food Life 
Barbara Kingsolver w/ Steven L Hopp & Camille Kingsolver
Harper Perennial
2008 (originally 2007), 370p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life—vowing that, for one year, they’d only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an enthralling narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.

One of the more difficult prompts for me in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge was a book about Appalachia. Firstly, I didn’t know what or where Appalachia was. Turns out it’s a cultural region stretching from parts of New York (the state) to Alabama/Georgia in the south. It’s recognised as a distinctive region (thanks Wikipedia!) and it seems that the inhabitants and general culture of the area are kind of maligned and stereotyped. A lot of the focus on the recommendations in the Goodreads group was about finding a book that didn’t do that. And was sensitive to the region and its people and often the issues of poverty etc that the region is sometimes known for.

I was limited in my choices through the library but this suggestion caught my eye for a few reasons. Firstly, it is a non-fiction book and I wanted to spread my reading a bit so this seemed a good prompt to try that and secondly, it’s by Barbara Kingsolver, a novelist I’ve talked about many times before on my blog. She’s incredibly well known – author of The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, Lacuna, Flight Behaviour, etc. All books that I own. All books that I have not read. So yeah this gave me an opportunity to learn something about the region of Appalachia and also finally, finally pop that Kingsolver cherry.

So Animal, Vegetable Miracle is about Kingsolver, her husband and two daughters moving from Tucson Arizona back to the farm her husband Steven had purchased years earlier in Virginia. The family had rented it out and also spent summers there in a cabin on the property away from the main house. But this time they were going to live there permanently and they were going to grow as much as their food as they could and purchase whatever they couldn’t as locally as they could. Living in Tuscon, they realised just how far a lot of the food they consumed had to travel to reach them – often thousands and thousands of kilometres and how much that would cost in fuel. They wanted to eat seasonally – and only seasonally. If it wasn’t the growing season then they wouldn’t consume it. This book is a diary really on that first year and the learning curve of growing your own food, buying local produce and sourcing ethically and sustainably. It’s about the history and challenges of the property, which had quite little flat growing area for the amount of land they owned as well as including recipes they used when certain produce was in abundance.

This book certainly made me think differently about food. I have to admit, I actually think only a little about seasons and what’s grown locally at certain times. I know the Australian asparagus season and I’m always super excited when that starts, because I absolutely love asparagus and I don’t find the stuff flown in from Peru to be the same. I also like the Aussie avocados and I only eat stone fruit in the summer – I never buy stone fruit flown in at different times in the year. But other stuff? Like vegetables and whatever? If it’s there or if I want it, I buy it. I don’t know the broccoli or cauliflower growing season. I don’t know when snow peas are grown or even where. I toss it in the trolley without thinking too much about it, just crossing items off my list.

I know I could eat better, it’s something that has been on my mind a little bit in recent times. I’m 37 and I can’t eat what I ate when I was 17 or even 25. I don’t eat fast food anymore, haven’t for years. I can’t tolerate McDonalds or Hungry Jacks or KFC. I know I still eat too much processed food and probably not enough servings of vegetables. I’ve been looking for some meat free meals to add to the rotation of things we eat regularly. I was a super fussy eater as a kid, didn’t eat vegetables except the mashed potato and peas my parents forced me to eat every night. Left to my own devices at university when I moved out, I became less afraid to try things and now I’ll eat quite a lot of food, quite a lot of vegetables. However the two I don’t really like? Mashed potato and peas. I like stir fries with a lot of colourful veggies, I like baked vegetables and occasionally I’ll eat salads in summer. But I’m guilty of buying stuff and then taking the easy route and having pasta again while the fresh stuff languishes in the vegetable crisper. There are many reasons for food fatigue I think – firstly, I don’t really enjoy cooking. Never have. My husband does, thankfully and he does 99% of the cooking in our household. But he also works a couple nights a week and I’m in charge. Secondly, our kids are super damn fussy. They don’t eat anything. It’s exhausting trying to feed them. I just get sick of it. And people keep saying ‘oh they’ll eat when they’re hungry, just serve them up what you’re having’ – yeah I can tell you, they won’t. My hope is that my kids will be like me and as they get older and experience more things, they’ll try more foods and find the things they like. As they say, pick your battles. And I’m tired of fighting this one!

In some ways, this seems so idyllic. A patch of land, growing your own food, fresh eggs etc. But it’s damn hard work as well and Kingsolver doesn’t shy away from that. They’re lucky in some ways in that this isn’t either of their ‘incomes’ as such – it’s something they can do because they also earn money elsewhere. It’s a full time job it seems, at least part of the year anyway, during the summer growing season. Where they are snows in winter and they have to have enough food to last them until they’re planting again, so there’s lessons in canning and freezing and preserving. My in-laws have always had an extensive vegetable garden (Italians!) and they grow kilos and kilos of tomatoes a year that they turn into their own pasta sauce. There’s also a glut of some crops (silverbeet, tomatoes, zucchini) and the fatigue that comes from trying to consume them all, especially when you can’t really give large amounts away as everyone tends to have the same problem. There’s a long period without fresh fruit because of their rules but each family member did get to pick something they couldn’t sacrifice – such as coffee, which isn’t grown locally.

As well as their diary of food growing, this book also includes a lot of information on the decline of farming in America and the ways in which it has changed in recent years, such as the domination by big companies who push out smaller, family run operations as well as the modification of products that have severely reduced the number of things such as tomatoes available. There used to be hundreds, or thousands of different types of tomatoes and this has been greatly reduced because the big companies also control the seed industry. Heirlooms are cultivated privately and seeds exchanged between growers. I found a lot of that stuff quite dense, but also very interesting because I’m sure it’s mirrored in places like here in Australia. We were a very fertile country and we grow a lot of food. But drought and urban sprawl etc has forced many people off the land. A lot of the large farms are now owned by foreign companies and they’re buying up more. Australia exports 60% of the food it produces – there’s those fuel consumptions, because we’re isolated so whatever we’re exporting, it’s probably going pretty far away. There’s also a huge amount of food wastage – supermarkets are notoriously picky about only choosing perfect looking fresh produce. Changing climate is also a concern in a place like Australia, which already has vast amounts of desert. There’s also things like the dairy industry, basically controlled by overseas companies and I have read more than once about farmers simply dumping huge amounts of milk because they money they were being paid was actually less than what it cost to produce per litre – Murray Goulburn were paying farmers about 35c per litre. I think it has changed now, after a huge amount of publicity and media attention but a couple of years ago in 2016, that’s what farmers were being paid. A lot of the framing of stories about farmers is often negative too – whinging for government handouts, never satisfied, etc. What about X people who do Y? What do they get? These are the people that produce your food. What are you going to do without them?

This was a fantastic and insightful read…..about food. I’m not sure it provided much information for me on Appalachia itself but I did enjoy the setting and the local flavour that Kingsolver included. It certainly made me think about my own buying and eating habits concerning food and how I could do more to support local industry. We do fruit pick locally in summer – we have a number of beautiful orchards about 30min away but I could definitely do more in sourcing local farmers markets etc, to buy more locally and not rely so much on the convenience of supermarkets.

For a book I thought I would struggle to review, I didn’t seem to have any trouble finding things to say in the end!


Book #122 of 2019

This book ticks off prompt #4 in the Reading Women Podcast Challenge – About or set in Appalachia. It’s the 14th book completed!




Review: Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi
2019, 291p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories–equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel” to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can–beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

Perdita Lee may appear to be your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make. Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far-away (and, according to Wikipedia, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. In fact, the world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval–a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.

Decades later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value. Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, it is a true feast for the reader.

Haha, what even is this book about?

I don’t know. I like a dash of magical realism – I’m a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen. But I have to admit, this I think, was perhaps a bridge too far for my personal tastes? I hadn’t heard of Helen Oyeyemi before receiving this but I was really quite intrigued by the premise and the cover. The cover of this book is stunning. The gold is foil and it contrasts so nicely with the more subdued background.

Perdita is a 17yo girl living in England with her mother, an apparent expat from the country of Druhástrana, a country that no one really knows where it is and only three countries every acknowledge its existence and now two of those countries have revoked that. Apparently it’s maybe somewhere near Czechia or maybe Hungary or whatever but it has entirely closed borders and you can’t get in or out without some truly drastic measures being taken. Perdita’s grandmother escaped with her daughter (Perdita’s mother) Harriet. Now Perdita has taken the chance to visit her mother’s homeland.

I think I quite enjoyed the set up for this, the story of Harriet and Perdita in London and what Perdita does in order to visit her mother’s homeland……then it delved into Harriet’s past as a child/teen in this mysterious place of Druhástrana and somewhere in that section I think, is when I felt that this book and I kind of started to part ways. Things just started to get a bit too strange and I couldn’t really figure out where it was going…..or why. My knowledge of Hansel and Gretel, which people are saying this is retelling of, is a bit vague but there is a lot that just simply doesn’t seem to fit. I try not to read reviews of books I’ve read until after I’ve written my own review but I did glance at reviews on Goodreads and it seems a 50/50 split of people praising its brilliance and amazing writing and people who like me, were a bit confused what was going on and felt the story was a bit over their heads.

Reading is always your milage may vary and I think for me this was a good indication of how much magical realism I enjoy – more a pinch than the whole dumped in amount. There were too many things here that I felt weren’t particularly adequately explained and just ignored away because it was magical realism and didn’t require an explanation. Which okay, fine for some probably but it made it too difficult for me to really sink into the story because I was always wondering about things. And the story kind of petered out about halfway through and went from heading somewhere to just…..not. I didn’t understand why Perdita did what she did and what it achieved, or didn’t achieve. The writing was good, excellent even but the story was just lacking for me. It was super quick, which was in its favour (especially as I read this during a break from slogging through an 830p book) and it was difficult…..but I did find that I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck was going on and why something was either happening or not happening.

Safe to say, this isn’t my sort of story. But it seems that Helen Oyeyemi has a lot of fans and her books are widely praised so I might be tempted to try something again and see if perhaps I enjoy her style more on further exploration. And if not, well then I’ve given something a go.


Book #44 of 2019

I discovered upon finishing this that I can use it towards my Reading Women Challenge. Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria so I’m ticking off category #3. It’s the 7th book completed for the challenge out of 26.

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