Book Review: Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler


I’ve racked my brain for a perfect one-word description for this book and the best I can come up with is this: pointless. It’s one of those books that is easy to read because it’s really well written. So clearly Anne Tyler knows how to write but given the complete absence of plot, I don’t think she knows what to write.

Back When We Were Grownups is narrated by Rebecca, a middle-aged woman trapped in her own life. Married at twenty after abandoning her high school/college sweetheart fora much older man who mesmerises her during a two-week courtship, she becomes an instant stepmother to three daughters, gives birth at twenty-one to a biological daughter and then is widowed at twenty-six when her husband dies in a car accident. Continue reading

Book Review: Kat Jumps the Shark by Melinda Houston


Oh, with a title like that, Melinda Houston was just begging for poor book reviews to come rolling in!

For anyone who doesn’t know it (although surely everyone does by now), the Fonz jumped a shark while water-skiing in a latter season of Happy Days and it is considered to be the point at which pretty much everyone realised the show had its best times long behind it.

This book suffers from a pretty common problem – it’s a novel about the television industry written by someone who has worked in the television industry. Just like those novels written by actresses about an actress trying to make it in Hollywood. There’s a common saying to “write what you know” but often these types of books become inside jokes – only the people on the inside get it. And I suspect that’s the case here. Certainly the quote on the front cover from Kat Stewart, the well-known Australian actress, seems to suggest this. She calls it, “An irresistible cocktail of intrigue, egos and insider information.” Take out the word “irresistible” and I might agree. Continue reading

Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan


There are a lot of things that I just don’t understand why other people like them: Justin Beiber, Justin Beiber’s music, Justin Bieber’s hair, Game of Thrones. Unfortunately (I genuinely mean that, I am genuinely disappointed that I didn’t like this book more), I am adding Will Grayson, Will Grayson to the list.

The novel is narrated in alternate chapters by Will Grayson #1 and Will Grayson #2 (thus the title), two teenage boys struggling through their formative high school years. Will Grayson #1 is straight, single and attempting not to care about anything as a means of protecting himself from getting hurt. Will Grayson #2 is gay, desperately in love with his internet boyfriend and managing his depression diagnosis with medication and his mother’s help.

Perhaps a little strangely then, this isn’t actually Will Grayson’s story. It’s not even the other Will Grayson’s story. Both Wills are just supporting characters in a tale about the overweight, gay football player and musical enthusiast, Tiny Cooper. Tiny is Will Grayson #1’s best friend and Will Grayson #2’s potential love interest. Continue reading

Book Review: The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold


When I read the final page and then closed the back cover of this book, I thought to myself, ‘That was terrible.’ It’s generally not the feeling a reader – or an author – wants to have. And unfortunately, it wasn’t that I just suddenly felt that way. I’d felt that way throughout most of the book. But I wanted to read it all the way to the end and give it the chance that all books deserve. But my feelings didn’t change.

The subject matter of The Almost Moon is not easy. Helen Knightly is an only child and, since her father’s death, the only person willing and able to look after her elderly mother, Clair. Clair is eighty-eight and although Helen describes her as suffering from dementia on the very first page of the book, she has struggled all her life with what a neighbour tells a young Helen is ‘mental illness’. That might be how it started but now she’s also cruel and parasitic and has prevented Helen from really living her own life. Within the first chapter, Clair is dead and Helen is the one who has killed her. But almost as soon as her mother is dead, Helen realises she hasn’t thought her actions through and doesn’t know what to do next. Continue reading

Book Review: The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson


Billed as “contemporary noir” with rapturous praise from authors like Dennis Lehane and Mark Billingham, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is Peter Swanson’s first novel, developed and extended from what was originally a novella. You can tell. It’s one of those novels that is short and yet still feels too long. The writing is uninspired, the main characters are dull and the plot, which is supposed to be an homage to old-fashioned, Maltese Falcon-type detective stories, is instead a poor imitation. Continue reading

Book Review: Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas


“Contemporary writers annoyed him, he found their worlds insular, their style self-conscious and ironic.”
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, page 331

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Except I would add the words “of literature” after “contemporary writers”. Contemporary writers of literature are a peculiar breed of writer who seem to think certain topics make their writing realistic and gritty. The reality is, however, that readers wonder why it is necessary to include them. Those topics include pooing, peeing and masturbation. Normal, everyday occurrences but also often distasteful, boring and unnecessary to the story being told.

Barracuda contains so many instances of pooing, peeing and masturbation that if they were taken out, the 513-page novel could probably have been reduced to a 213-page novel. Continue reading

Book Review: All That Is by James Salter


I’ve never read James Salter before. When I read the blurb, it didn’t seem like it would be the sort of book I would enjoy but I was seduced by the cover, a white background to a vortex of parallel ocean blue and metallic silver swirls. But I think we all know what they say about not judging a book by its cover. Continue reading