Book Review: The First Stone by Helen Garner

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Helen Garner could write a book about painting one wall of her living room and it would still be fascinating, that’s how good a writer she is. But having now read three of her books, I’m seeing a theme: she is baffled at why everybody doesn’t think like her and more baffled when people won’t take the time to try to convince her to think otherwise, then give her the opportunity to do the same.

The First Stone is creative non-fiction, meshing tales from Garner’s own personal life, particularly emphasising her and her friends’ experiences with feminism and unwanted male attention, with the story of two accusations of sexual harassment at the University of Melbourne by two students against the head of Ormond College, one of the residences. It comes to her attention when she reads about it on the front page of The Age newspaper, as the students have taken their complaint to the police after being unsatisfied with the university’s handling of the matter. Continue reading

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Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

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Gayle Forman is a brilliant writer. They say that easy reading is hard to write and If I Stay was a very easy read. Told in a first person narrative by Mia, a seventeen-year-old high school senior and a gifted cellist, the news comes through that schools are closed for a snow day so Mia, her parents and her little brother plan a busy day out visiting friends, family and stores. They never even make it to their first stop on the itinerary though because a truck slams into their car.

Her parents die instantly and the scene Forman writes describing the aftermath of the crash is so visceral that I was nervous getting in a car afterwards. Seeing their lifeless bodies, Mia can’t bring herself to look for her little brother and instead stumbles across her own. Except she isn’t dead. She’s badly injured and for the rest of the book has an out-of-body experience watching the doctors and nurses trying to save her and her friends and family in the hospital waiting room coping with their loss and praying there won’t be any more. Continue reading

Book Review: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

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Reading The Spare Room by Helen Garner reminded me very much of reading Glenice Whitting’s Something Missing. Not because of their stories or characters but because I know Glenice and when I read her book, I realised that it was based heavily on and drew extensively from her own life. I don’t know Helen Garner personally at all but I’m starting to wonder how much of her fiction is actually fiction. Almost everything she’s written that is classified as such seems to have a real life twin.

Helen (yes, the main character’s name is Helen – more evidence of a thinly veiled story) has agreed to host her Sydney friend, Nicola, in the spare room of her Melbourne home while she undergoes three weeks of cancer treatments. Nicola has always been a bit flighty and end-stage bowel cancer isn’t going to change that. She’s already done the chemo, the radiation; it hasn’t worked. So now she’s placing her faith in the Theodore Institute where they intravenously pump her full of Vitamin C, have her hold electrodes while in an ozone sauna and perform cupping, all to force the “toxins” out. Nicola’s immense pain is proof that it’s working, they say. Continue reading

Book Review: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

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Jed Rubenfeld is a modern-day Renaissance man. A professor of law at Yale University who has also taught at Stanford and Duke, he is an expert on constitutional law, privacy and the First Amendment. He studied theatre and Shakespeare at Julliard and wrote a thesis on Sigmund Freud during his senior undergraduate year at Princeton. He is also the author of six books, two of which are novels. It seems as though there’s nothing he can’t do. If I didn’t admire him so much, I’d be horribly jealous. (Well, maybe I can do both at the same time.)

The Interpretation of Murder was his first novel. It’s a very intricate weaving of true events and characters with fictional events and characters. Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Sandor Ferenczi, Ernest Jones, Abraham Brill – all real life figures in the early 1900s movement of psychoanalysis, which was new, controversial and in competition with neurology – mingle with the fictional Elizabeth Riverford, Dr Stratham Younger, Nora Acton, George and Clara Banwell, Coroner Hugel and Detective Littlemore. There’s a miniature essay at the end of the book clearly outlining what’s real and what’s not and the artistic licence taken, which is a good thing because the blending of them is seamless. 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

Book Review: Secret Smile by Nicci French

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This book was so engrossing that I started reading it late one evening and then couldn’t stop. I finished it in one sitting as I kept thinking, “Just one more chapter,” and then not being able to stand not knowing what was going to happen next. By the time I was finished, six hours and 310 pages had gone by and so had most of the night, as well as any opportunity for sleep. Continue reading