Book Review: Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw

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There is a touch of The Girl on the Train in this story, unreliable witnesses, plenty of selfish motivations, interesting characters, great writing. But the plot isn’t mind-blowing and that makes it, like The Girl on the Train, another okay mystery. And there’s starting to be a very big pile of three-star books just like it. It needed a moment that punched the reader in the face unexpectedly but it just didn’t have one.

Iris is a single mother and part-time lawyer. Ray is in a hospital for the criminally insane. When Iris’s mother goes away on a holiday and asks Iris to house sit, particularly to look after the large saltwater aquarium full of fish in her home, she agrees. It takes nothing more than one of the fish dying to set the unfolding of this mystery in progress. The meticulously kept logbook of the aquarium’s conditions has the name “R. Boelens” on it and Iris’s mother’s maiden name was Boelens. Suddenly, Iris can’t rest until she knows who R. Boelens is.

It turns out he’s her much older half-brother. Convicted of murdering his attractive neighbour and her small daughter, he’s been in prison and a hospital for the criminally insane ever since. Still, Iris is intrigued, mostly because her mother never breathed a word of her brother’s existence. She goes to visit him at the hospital and offers to look into an appeal against his conviction, although mostly to find out exactly what happened. He agrees. Continue reading

Book Review: An Imaginary Life by David Malouf

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I first read this book in high school because it was one of many on that year’s reading list and it was chosen by the powers that be as one of four all students in my grade would study. I didn’t have great memories of it or any memories really and having read it again, I know why: it’s one of those books that make teenagers think they hate reading when really what they hate is poorly chosen books. Continue reading

Book Review: The Insult by Rupert Thomson

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What a strange, strange book this is! It suffers from many problems but the biggest is that the blurb in no way resembles what it ends up being about.

It opens in a medical clinic where Martin Blom wakes up to people telling him he’s been shot in the head and he is now blind. His neurosurgeon tells him that one of the potential complications is hallucinations as his brain adjusts to its inability to see. Then one evening as he’s wandering through the gardens of the clinic, Martin realises he can see in the dark. He’s completely blind during the day but the darker it gets, the better his eyesight is.

This is where the book’s first problem becomes obvious. The neurosurgeon has told him that he might hallucinate but Martin is convinced that what he’s seeing is real. So the reader is torn between wanting to believe and struggling to. The unreliability of the narrator is a constant concern. And when Martin’s paranoia kicks in and he starts to believe he’s actually part of a high-level experiment, you really don’t know what to think. Continue reading

Book Review: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

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I had high hopes for this book. A straight-laced woman looking for her artsy, younger, pregnant and unmarried sister after she is reported missing by her landlord. And the longer I read, the more certain I was that the end must be mind-blowing because the build-up took forever. But when it came, I realised that the author had been jerking me around, using every writer’s trick in the book, just to let me down with a mediocre ending, a not particularly complex bad guy and a cliffhanger that, to be honest, I could see coming from a mile away.

Beatrice lives in New York, is successful in an unimportant job and catalogues everything in her life according to Pantone colours (although she really only needs one – beige). She’s engaged to Todd but clearly doesn’t love him – he’s just a safe option. Tess, the missing sister, is a student at an art college in London but she’s been forced to take a sabbatical by her tutor who is also her married lover and doesn’t want his bosses to find out he’s been sexing up students. She’s just weeks away from giving birth when Beatrice receives a call from her mother telling her that her sister has gone missing. Continue reading

Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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When the first thing you read after opening the front cover of a book is that the author was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, it sets up a very big expectation in the mind of the reader. So imagine how pleased I was to discover how worthy this book and its writer were.

Of Mice and Men is the kind of book that high schools make students read in English classes, usually before they are emotionally ready to understand the importance of it. First published in 1937, it beautifully portrays the hard lives of two itinerant workers, George and Lennie, as they struggle to find their place in the world. Lennie is a “simple-minded giant” – today he would be described as intellectually disabled – and George is his protector, has been since the death of Lennie’s Aunt Clara. Why he feels this responsibility is unclear. They dream of a little patch of land they can call their own and just need the money to buy it. But there has been trouble in the past and as the two men prepare to take up new jobs on a California farm, George and Lennie agree on a place to meet up if there’s any more. Continue reading

Book Review: Hell Island by Matthew Reilly

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Hell Island was released in 2005 as part of the Books Alive promotion – the only way to get it at the time was to buy another Australian book in order to receive it for free. Given Matthew Reilly’s popularity at the time, it was a brilliant idea. People (including me) were desperate to get their hands on it. (I bought a Phryne Fisher book by Kerry Greenwood – didn’t like it but love the TV series that is based on the book series.) That was when I first read it.

The story is part of the Shane Schofield narrative, Reilly’s heroic US Marine who always seems a little smarter, a little stronger, a little more strategic than everyone else around him and one hell of a survivalist. In the Schofield chronology, it takes place after Scarecrow and before Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves but is easily removed from it. And enough is regurgitated to make this a stand-alone book. Continue reading

Book Review: Messenger (The Shifter War Book 1) by KK Ness

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I don’t normally read fantasy fiction but with a terrific cast of characters and great writing, this is the kind of book that could change anyone’s mind.

Danil is a scavenger in the deadlands (barren for centuries after a widespread scorching event that ended the Great War) that separate the kingdoms of Roldaer and Amas. Danil and his fellow humans live in Roldaer under the rule of King Liam and his numerous magi, powerful sorcerers. Amas is the land of shapeshifters. Born into human form, they gradually discover their true form, basically their spirit animals, and then can transform at will and back again. Continue reading