#AWW2018 Book Review: “Galax-Arena” by Gillian Rubinstein

Title: Galax-Aren
Author: Gillian Rubinstein
Genre:  Children’s/sci-fi
Dates read: 26/03/18 – 30/04/18
Rating: ★★

Review:

This… was a weird book. I think there were some interesting ideas in there, but to be honest, I found it both slow and not very-well fleshed out. Now that I write that, the two things seem a bit contradictory, but somehow that was my experience.

The plot was intriguing, but I think it could have done with a bit more fleshing out. I guess one could argue that the focus was more on the characters, I don’t think the characters were quite strong enough to carry the book on their own.The character dynamics were interesting, and realistic, but not enough to adequately make for a character-driven story. Some of the character development was there but some actions felt a bit forced – “SEE WHAT THIS CHARACTER WAS DRIVEN TO DO?” kind of thing.

There was also the dialogue. The young characters all learn Patwa, or Jamaican Creole, in order to communicate with each other. It took me out of the story every time I had to say a line out loud to work out what it was, or consult the glossary at the front of the book. With so much of the dialogue written this way, it was distracting.

The twist towards the end made sense in some ways but not in others. The bigger reveal made sense, in fact I had suspected, but the intricacies of it seemed like an awful lot of effort to go to for perhaps not much reward.

This is the second book by Gillian Rubinstein that I’ve read this year (the first was Across the Nightingale Floor, published under the penname Lian Hearn), and I’m beginning to think that her writing maybe just isn’t for me.


This review forms part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2018 Book Review: “A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald” by Natasha Lester

Title: A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald
Author: Natasha Lester
Genre:  historical fiction/romance
Dates read: 11/03/18 – 15/03/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book reminded me how good historical fiction can be. I actually went back and checked how much of it I had read in the past year, and it turned out not much. In 2017, I read four historical fiction books, and I wasn’t really into any of them. I’m glad this one reminded me how good it feels to get sucked into a different time and place.

After witnessing a woman die of childbirth in the woods while the men in her life look on and do nothing, Evie Lockhart wants is to become a obstetrician.  But it’s 1925 and so to pay her way through medical school, Evie becomes a Ziegfeld Girl, starring in the infamous Ziegfeld Follies every night. But with the man she should have married threatening her, and the man she wants to marry away in London for months at a time, how long can she maintain this double life?

The best thing about this book was how easily I got invested  in the characters. Evie was easy to like, and I was rooting for her the whole time, as well as her relationship with Thomas Whitman. Charles Whitman made me go and write angry  GoodReads updates. He was dispicable, and I couldn’t even sympathise with him from the perspective of “younger brother always in the older brother’s shadow”. I also appreciated the support that Evie got from the women in her life, particularly her best friend, Lil, and Mrs Whitman.

The 1920s is of course a very fun era and I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Follies, the speakeasies and the fashions. Lester has payed close attention to detail to ensure that the historical atmosphere of this book is as accurate as possible. It’s not all fun and games, though; the misogyny of the era is also brought to light quite thoroughly and realistically. It made me angry, but it also made Evie’s triumphs throughout the story all the more satisfying.


This review is part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2018. Click here for more information.

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#AWW2018 Book Review: “Call Me Sasha” by Geena Leigh

Title: Call Me Sasha: Secret Confessions of an Australian Call-Girl
Author: Geena Leigh
Audio book narrator: Louise Crawford
Genre:  non-fiction/autobiography
Dates read: 10/03/18 – 11/03/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is not a book for the faint-hearted. The trials that Geena Leigh went through in the first forty years of her life are horrendous, and make you wonder how anyone could have the stamina to get through it. While this story is definitely worth of a book, I feel that another editing pass could have made all the difference.

Geena describes her family life as a young girl, growing up with a father who abused her both physically and sexually, her subsequent homelessness and eventual entry into the sex trade, and the drug and alcohol abuse that came with it to  numb the pain. She describes her attempts to go straight, and how she eventually managed to complete her education and find true love.

As I said above, I did feel that while the bare bones (and some of the muscle and sinews) were definitely there for this books, the writing sometimes felta bit chunky. To be honest, it felt a little immature, like it had been written by someone much younger. There were a few inconsistencies, like an Avril Lavigne song being referred to in a chapter that would have taken place in the late 90s. Small things in the long run, but they pulled me out of the narrative.

There were some rather broad claims made about sex work that, having read memoirs by other sex workers, I met with some wariness. There was also an implication that a lesbian couple would have a masculine and a feminine counterpart (odd considering she is now in a relationship with a woman herself and would surely know that same-sex relationships don’t have to comply with heteronormativity) and another section where she says she didn’t want to call herself bisexual because it sounded like she couldn’t make up her mind, which is always a problematic statement.

I don’t usually mention audio book narrators unless they really stand out to me in one way or another. I have to admit that Louise Crawford’s tendency to finish sentences with an upward inflection (making everything sound like a question) wore thin pretty quickly. She also sounded quite petulant, making me wonder if some of the things said in the book would have bothered me as much had I been  reading the print copy.


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#aww2018 “But just as the river is always at the door, so is the world always outside. And it is in the world that we have to live.” // Review of “Across the Nightingale Floor” by Lian Hearn

Title: Across the Nightingale Floor
Author: Lian Hearn
Audio book narrator:
Anna Steen, Tamblyn Lord
Genre:
  YA/fantasy
Dates read: 14/02/18 – 20/02/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

The reason this book doesn’t get a higher rating from me is because I could never quite work out what it was trying to be. The characters were in their late teens, yet it felt more like a middle-grade novel in writing style. But then there’d be an attempted rape or some other kind of mature content that definitely does not fit into middle-grade fiction. So I just felt sligthly off-balance the whole time.

I am hoping that one day I will come across a Japanese-inspired fantasy that I really love, but I guess this is not that book.

The magic system in this one is interesting, though I would have liked to see a bit more detail. Takeo’s abilities just seem to come to him. Even in training, there is no real sense of his powers developing; one second, he can’t do things, the next second he can. The only time this wasn’t as apparent was when he was teaching himself to cross the Nightingale Floor.

I am torn about the heroine, Kaede. In some ways, she just seemed useless, though I did realise that part of the point was that she was pawn in other people’s games. She did develop a bit more gusto by the end of the book. I groaned and rolled my eyes at the insta-love between her and Takeo, particularly considering it is all based on nothing more than gazing at each other from afar for such a long time!

I did find myself getting a bit more involved in the story towards the end, but I still don’t find myself feeling the need to go on to the next book in the series.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“I feel strongly that from my being a little lost boy with no family to becoming a man with two, everything was meant to happen just the way it happened.” // Review of “Lion” by Saroo Brierley

Title: Lion (previously published as “A Long Way Home”)
Author: Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose
Audio book narrator: Vikas Adam
Genre:
  non-fiction/autobiography
Dates read: 26/01/18 – 28/01/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

The story of Saroo Brierley’s journey from living on the streets in Kolkata, to being adopted by an Australian couple in 1987 and then finding the village where he was born on Google Earth twenty-five years later is a fascinating one.

Brierley describes in great detail what it was like as a six-year-old in a poverty-stricken family in a tiny Indian village, and I felt his fear when he described realising he was trapped on a train speeding away from his home town. I also loved his insights into life as an adoptee and how even as a six-year-old, there were cultural differences that he had to get used to. It was interesting how his parents coped with some of these difference as well.

I listened to this straight off the back of another memoir, The Hospital by the River by Catherine Hamlin, and the writing in this one is far less disjointed. I did Vikas Adams’ narration of the audio version a bit distracting, though mostly because I couldn’t place his accent. My best guess was that he was English and lived in Australia for a while before settling in America. Turns out he’s Canadian, so I don’t know if that has any bearing on the fact that he sounded a bit English and a bit Australian as well.

Still, that won’t even be an issue if you are reading the physical book. This is a fascinating story and I definitely recommend it.


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#aww2018 “Catherine has one son and 35000 daughters.” // Review of “The Hospital by the River” by Doctor Catherine Hamlin

Title: The Hospital  by the River
Author: Dr Catherine Hamlin
Audio book narrator:
Kate Hood
Genre:
  non-fiction/autobiography
Dates read: 09/01/18 – 26/01/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

The quote at the top of this review is not one from the book, as I usually do with reviews. Actually, I forgot to bookmark any. The quote is something Dr Hamlin’s son, Richard, said at her 90th birthday party, and it is absolutely true.

In 1959, Reg and Catherine Hamlin arrived in Ethiopia with the six-year-old son to being an OB/GYN and midwifery school in Addis Ababa. After realising the sheer numbers of women in Ethiopia who suffer from a traumatic childbirth-related injury, obstetric fistula, the Hamlins made it their life’s work to cure as many women as possible.  This led to the opening of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, which has now been operating for nearly 50 years.

I have to admit that there were times when this book challenged me a bit. In terms of personal values, Catherine and I are quite different. What I perceive as the great social movements of the 60s, Catherine viewed as degeneracy and worried for her son, whom she expected would finish his schooling in England. Catherine, a staunch Christian, does not believe in abortion; I do (and I’m rather of the opinion that religious beliefs shouldn’t get in the way of your medical profession). And yet, the great work that the Hamlins have done in Ethiopia tends to outweight all of that, proving that someone can have different values to you and still be a wonderful person.

It was quite fascinating to also learn about medical history, particularly the evolution of the fistula repair surgery, as wel as the history of Ethiopia. I had no idea that Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of famed suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, had spent  much of her life campaigning for women in Ethiopia.

Some of the writing of the book seemed a bit choppy. It felt as though all the chapters had been written in isolation to one another,  and that no one had tidied them up later. A medical procedure would be described in detail in one chapter, and then described again almost verbatim later. There were other smaller statements that would also feel a tad repetitive throughout the book. It also bothered me that there wasn’t any consistency regarding the plural of fistula: both fistulas and fistulae got used. I’m not sure if there was a reason for that; if so, it wasn’t explained and it felt a bit choppy.

Still, if you can put up with that, and are interested in any of the subject matter, then there’s a very good chance you will enjoy this book.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#aww2018 Book review: “False Awakening” by Cassandra Page

Title: False Awakening
Author: Cassandra Page
Genre: urban fantasy
Dates read: 26/12/17 – 04/01/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I reviewed the prequel to this book almost exactly two years ago. I think this book suffered a little from me not remembering all the details of the previous book; however, the dreamscapes of Cassandra Page’s Oneiroi world do make for enjoyable reading.

Dream-therapist Melaina thought that her problems with nightmare spirits and dream blights was over with, but  that’s not the case. Other people around her are still being possessed, the Morpheus himself wants an audience with her, and her cousin has gone msising. All three things seem to be connected, but can Melaina save those she loves?

The dream sequences are definitely what I enjoyed best about this book. Page expands on the world-building she did in the first book, bringing in new Oneiroi characters, setting up more of their laws and customs. Once again the scenes where Melaina fights off the blights in other people’s dreams were also well done. There was a lot of action, and the rules of the magic system were well maintained.

The characters are well-written and I particularly like the contrast between Melaina and her wealthy relatives. I have to admit, though, that with the exception of the climax, I never really felt myself invested in the characters and what was going to happen to them.

also have to admit that I will always simultaneously love reading books set in my adopted city of Canberra and also find it a bit weird recognising all the locations. This is obviously not a criticism of the author; just an observation!


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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