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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The Nine Types of Book Review

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Once a book is published, there are two things an author hopes for: sales and reviews. Sales are good because they allow a writer to be financially supported as they write their next book. Reviews are good because they lead to more sales. And the more stars each review has, the more validated the author feels and the more confidence potential readers have.

But regardless of whether a book is good, bad or somewhere in between, and assuming it has had enough exposure, it will have each of the following types of review.

The Never-Read-It Review
Obviously someone who reviews a book they’ve never read has a nefarious purpose, either to promote or prevent the reading of it. Platforms like Amazon usually don’t allow a review of a product that hasn’t been bought directly from them so that helps a little. Platforms like Goodreads rely on the honesty of the reading community they have assembled. It doesn’t always work. Continue reading

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: Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian

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Full disclosure time: in 2016, this book was shortlisted for the Text Prize for Unpublished Children’s and Young Adult Writing along with a book I’d written and three by other writers. Clearly, my book and those three others didn’t win and this one did. I was always going to read Beautiful Mess because 1) it won a writing prize and that’s a pretty great endorsement, 2) I wanted to know what Claire Christian had done better than me and use it as a learning process, and 3) I’m a little masochistic (but mostly the first two). I’m very pleased to report that it’s an amazing book because 1) it justifies that it won the Text Prize and 2) I get to write a glowing book review and avoid looking like a sore loser. Continue reading

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

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This book has so many 4- and 5-star ratings on Goodreads that I was convinced there must be some sort of extraordinary twist at the end. There isn’t. It’s a well-written but averagely-plotted book. Anyone who has ever lived in a small Australian town where the landscape is brown more often than it is green will recognise the setting and the small-minded residents who think you can never be a local unless you were born there. But anyone who has ever read a crime novel will also recognise the formula. So I’m perplexed as to why there was so much hype. Continue reading

Book Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

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Liane Moriarty is Australia’s ‘it’ author at the moment on the back of a string of terrific books and the success of the Hollywood adaptation of the New York Times bestselling Big Little Lies. And there’s a reason for that. She takes the ordinary and usually manages to make it extraordinary. But despite the readability of Moriarty’s writing, Truly Madly Guilty starts out ordinary and stays that way. Continue reading

Preparing for People Who Won’t Like Your Writing (and How Not to Take It Personally)

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I’ve written before about how writers seek criticism when what they really want is praise. Who doesn’t? Everybody wants their endeavours – regardless of what those endeavours are – to be validated. But no matter how hard a writer works on a piece of writing, there will be people who won’t like it. Not necessarily because it’s bad but just because. That’s life.

A writer can solve this problem by choosing not to release their writing. But it smacks of cowardice and self-perpetuating redundancy. Most people who write want to be read. So we find the courage from somewhere while reminding ourselves that universal popularity just isn’t possible. Because for every person or book or movie or decision that seemed to have plenty of admirers, there will always be a group of people who vehemently dislike or disagree with them or it. Their dislike or disagreement may be valid. It may have carefully considered logic behind it. But it may also simply be a reflection of personal prejudices or specific preferences. Continue reading