Review: Eva Hornung – The Last Garden

The Last Garden
Eva Hornung

The isolated community of Wahrheit is awaiting the return of the Messiah, with Pastor Helfgott at the helm. Then Benedict’s father shoots himself and murders Benedict’s mother just as Benedict returns home. What follows is the communion of the boy growing to a man under the watchful eyes of the animals that he shares a home with.

 

Normally the ‘literature’ style of writing might have put me off – it’s filled with beautiful prose that waxes lyrically about the lines between Man and God. Don’t expect it to ‘end’ in a conclusive manner, instead the reader is left to wonder what good can change in the world.

The characters are individual, and despite having somewhat unpronounceable place names for me to remember, I managed to keep them in my mind while I wrote this review! What can one say about a novel such as this? The scenery, the bloody but tactfully innocent chicken deaths, all of it added to a novel as a whole that was compelling to read.

I’m not sure what drew me into this novel, but once I was in there I was intrigued, much as I was when reading Eva’s other novel, Dog Boy. I didn’t want to be drawn in. I just wanted to read a page or so to decide whether it was for me, but by the time I had done that, it was too late.

I don’t feel compelled to read it again, but I do feel compelled to share the novel with other people, namely other adults! I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on this novel. So I’ll be giving this 4 stars, and hoping that someone else will want to add to the discussion!

Text Publishing | 1st May 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Leonie Howie & Adele Robertson – Island Nurses

Island Nurses
Leonie Howie & Adele Robertson

Leonie and Adele worked as the primary health care providers on remote Great Barrier Island before any of the mod-cons were available such as phones and consistent electricity. Only 100km from the mainland, the government didn’t realise the isolation and trials for the nurses in this wild place and so these stories are how the nurses could negotiate the realities of isolated life.

While the stories were quite entertaining and there was plenty of variety, something about the tone of the novel made it feel slightly awkward to read. Ah yes. Is it in present tense? My literature interpretation is a bit rusty. Anyway, I’m sure it was written in this manner to give a sense of presence and urgency to the life situations, however it just made it awkward for me to read.

What I appreciated was the wide range of situations that were covered in the novel. The other recent nursing novel I read, Aussie Midwives, focussed on the experiences of different midwives, so this had an entirely different content to it. Less internal thoughts, more events!

Something that still carries stigma and is rarely discussed is that many women suffer from miscarriages for no obvious reason. Both Leonie and Adele want to have children, but it will be hell for one of them. While perhaps not a key part of being a remote nurse, it is a fact of life that dealing with births is a regular occurrence, no matter how painful it might be at the time.

This was another memoir I found to be lacking in substance, but it was certainly more enjoyable than Admissions. This had a greater number of anecdotes that energised me and that I couldn’t wait to relate to others. Additionally, I have a nurse in my family who I knew would appreciate the novel so it won’t go to waste!

Allen & Unwin | 26th April 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback

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Review: Amy Tintera – Avenged

Avenged
Amy Tintera

Em has rescued her sister Oliva from the torturous confines of Lera’s dungeons. A promise by Em’s husband Cas means that she trusts the Lerans won’t attack Runia while her family rebuilds – but there are more politics than anyone can presume to understand.

I wanted to reread Ruined before I read this sequel, but I just couldn’t hold out, the siren song of Avenged was too strong. Then I saw Ruined on the bookshelf at home and almost picked it up in a frenzy read, but I was sadly interrupted by dinner preparations.

In this novel, Em continues to be the underdog heroine who has to use her wits to survive because she is Useless – no Ruined magic to speak of, she is almost as bad as a human. Worse, since she is supposed to be Queen. After her sister Olivia suggests a diarchy so that Em can deal with the horrible humans, Em continues in her role, but she has to balance up the needs of her people with her own longing for the new King of Lera, her husband Cas.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I’m not sure Olivia had any feeling bones in her body before, but she certainly didn’t get any favours from being tortured. Olivia hates everyone, even her sister sometimes, and she’s a threat that will eventually need to be neutralised.

Aren gets a bit more airtime in this novel, and there’s a bit of romance for him too. What I liked was the way that romance complicated things, yet didn’t overwhelm the main fantasy storyline. It wasn’t just a means to an end, it actually changed the outcomes subtly. This also applied to Cas’ appearances in the text, both from Em’s POV and his own.

The first novel ended with a bang, and this one was no better! I felt so discouraged after finishing it, simply because I wanted to just keep reading. I should have prolonged the reading experience by reading more slowly, but the fast paced action just wouldn’t let me stop.

I’m giving this 5 stars. I can’t wait until the next novel comes out, and I can’t believe that it’s another whole year away. Perhaps I’ll have to read the other two novels by Tintera in the mean time (Reboot & Rebel).

Allen & Unwin | 26th April 2017 | AU$16.99 | paperback

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Review: JC Burke – The Things We Promise

The Things We Promise
JC Burke

During the height of the HIV and AIDs epidemic in the 1990s, Gemma is blissfully ignorant of any health issues that could be going on in her home town of Sydney. Her worst concerns are who she will hang out with school and what kind of hairdo she is going to have her brother Billy do for her formal.

I’ll be the first to say that a lot of the language in the novel is offensive. It’s particularly offensive to gay people, eg. “limp-wristed, pillow-biting, doughnut punching bum bandit”. Which, given the subject matter, I’m not surprised that it’s targeted so negatively. But I also appreciated the hard feelings and accuracy of that. It felt ‘real’.

The problem some reviewers had with this novel was that it was horrifically offensive to a variety of people. While I agree that it is, I also accept that this novel is an accurate snapshot of the early 90s, where this sort of language, beliefs and behaviour was common. If you are easily offended and can’t understand the setting of the novel (such as a slavery novel with ‘nigga’ in it), this novel is not for you.

It’s an interesting way of approaching the early years when very few people knew about HIV and how it was transmitted. It paints a picture of how miserable things really were from a personal perspective, not just a sheer number of people who were infected as a sterile statistic.

I’m giving this three stars. It took me a while to warm up to it, and despite eventually enjoying it, it seemed a little forced at times.

Allen & Unwin | 22nd February 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: John Scalzi – The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire
John Scalzi

Kiva thinks that the worst of her problems is potentially infected Haverfruit… not the collapse of inter-space travel as they know it. While the characters struggle to understand the devastating consequences this will have on their personal lives, the potential to wreak havoc on the universe is limitless.

This is a low key science fiction novel that is easy to read, with not too much jargon or assumed knowledge. I found myself slipping effortlessly into the pages and refusing to come out again. The parts of physics and basic explanations of the Flow made my eyes glaze over a little, but I didn’t need to completely skip those sections to keep my interest!

This is definitely an adult’s novel. There are graphic sex scenes and unflinching comments from the characters who have failed to get a sex life happening. It’s actually quite refreshing as there is nothing romantic going on in these couplings, it’s sex just because it’s desired! Which I can imagine is quite freeing for people in this universe, as well as an open mind to practically everything.

The characters are nicely fleshed out, and I enjoyed getting to know each of them. I was devastated to discover that this was ‘Book One’. I’m ready to know more about them, and I can’t wait to read the next novel. I can’t think how they can fix things the way they are now, but I look forward to finding out.

I’m giving this 5 stars as the first adult sci-fi novel I have enjoyed in some time. If you love sci-fi, I’m not sure this will be for you because it’s too light!

Pan Macmillan | 1st April 2017 | AU$19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Jeanne Ryan – Charisma

Charisma
Jeanne Ryan

Aislyn is cripplingly shy, barely able to function in school social settings and completely inept at parties. Her little brother Sammie has cystic fibrosis and is hoping for a genetic cure. Instead, Aislyn is offered a split second change to change her shyness into audacity – but the consequences could be deadly.

There are lots of crazy gene enhancements that can take place, and will take place in the future. What this novel sets out is the capability of gene technology to change fundamental aspects of human personality, Gattica style, but after the human subject is already grown. Crisper-Cas makes this all possible, in real time! This novel could be happening right now…

This novel made me think of former.ly in terms of unknown suspense, and Sapient and The Ego Cluster for gene engineering. Oh! And there’s the regulars, where becoming beautiful is just some drops away. In fact, I would think of this novel as a slightly simpler teenage/YA version of The Ego Cluster.

As I’ve been saying lately, any YA/teenage novels about science are great (The Square Root of Summer) and this one is a really good example because it also deals with the ethical implications of some areas of science. I loved this novel and happily tore it apart in a couple of hours (neglecting everything else, and holding it in one hand while I ate).

Honestly, apart from the side effects, I didn’t see anything wrong with Charisma. So perhaps that is the explanation for the ending. The bigger question it is asking is whether it is ‘right’ to treat something that ‘could be’ overcome by therapy. Aislyn tells us she has tried everything, and nothing has worked. Isn’t this just another form of medication?

I’m giving this 4 stars. I’m not going to re-read it, it don’t have the same qualities as Sapient and The Ego Cluster, but it is a much more accessible read for teens without too much heavy science.

Simon & Schuster | 1st April 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

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Review: Brigid Kemmerer – Letters to the Lost

Letters to the Lost
Brigid Kemmerer

It’s been months since Juliet’s mother was killed in a hit and run. Juliet visits her grave, weeps and writes letters, wondering how she will ever move on with her life. Declan has been doing public service at that same cemetery for months, and when he discovers one of her letters and writes back, a friendship begins that neither of them would have predicted – and opening up to a perfect stranger is sometimes the only way to talk about guilt.

My hands are legitimately still shaking as I sit down to write this review. The final chapters are so compelling that it was impossible to put down, and I was left crying despite, or perhaps because, of the ending. This is a powerful novel that pulls you in gently, then rips your heart out for caring.

Other reviewers have mentioned that they didn’t click with Declan, and couldn’t love a character who was potentially violent and rough. But really? Most people think they want a ‘bad boy’ hero, but don’t think about why things might be the way they are. For me, Declan wasn’t a cliche placeholder, but a breathing character that I recognised and felt real pain with.

If anything, Juliet was the weaker character for me. I do like the way she eventually gets insight into the way teachers see ‘bad’ kids, but she was a little bit too… clingy? Grief changes people in different ways though, and that’s quite a lot of what this novel was about.

What I want more of? I need more of Rev. I want to get inside his skin too. His behaviour towards the end of the novel makes me want to love him more, because I also got reverberations of feelings with him.

The only other recent novel I can think of at the moment that would be similar to this one is Haunt Me, where the author starts to delve into guilt and depression and getting a healthy dose of therapy to deal with problems, rather than just starting a love story! But I gave that one only 3 stars, because the characters couldn’t do it for me. Juliet and Declan on the other hand, I could keep reading them all day!

I’ve previously reviewed Thicker Than Water by Kemmerer, and I gave it 4 stars. But this novel? Letters to the Lost gets 5 stars from me, and I unequivocally can’t wait to read more from this author. Fantastic work.

Bloomsbury| April 2017 | AU $16.99 | Paperback

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Review: Joy Callaway – The Fifth Avenue Artists Society

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Joy Callaway

Virginia wants to be a novelist and marry the boy next door. This wasn’t necessarily a problem – except that in the 1890s women were expected to marry and produce children rather than having a career. It seems as if she will get to have both dreams come true, right until “her man” proposes to someone more wealthy.

This novel was sent to me by mistake by Allen & Unwin, but I decided to read it anyway. I love music and appreciate artist talent, despite not having much talent (or none, when it comes to art) and so I thought it could be good. Instead, I was hit with Ginny’s romance, and very little writing! I was frustrated that she didn’t do more with her art. I also found it unrealistic in how talented simply EVERYONE was.

Ginny got very close to men that she wasn’t married to. She’s kissing them in public, being felt up on the couch. For a period romance, I don’t think this was realistic. The same applied for some of her sisters. I thought that the 1890s was a very conservative time, even in America. Someone please correct me if I am wrong, I know that history is not my strong suit.

The ending could have had more pizzaz. Considering that Ginny was all ‘If it’s not my Charlie, I’m not going to marry’, she was pretty broken about what happened with the salon. And her hero worship for her brother was… cloying? Unrealistic? Ginny may be an idealist, but I didn’t think she was that much of an idiot!

With all that in mind, I still stayed up late finishing the novel and so I’ll be giving it 3 stars. I was just disappointed in the ‘happy ending’, and the way the prose got slower and slower as the novel progressed.

Allen & Unwin | 23rd November 2016 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Michael Finkel – The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods
Michael Finkel

Christopher Knight drove until his truck ran out of petrol, then walked into the woods and didn’t speak to another human for another 27 years. He survived in only a tent through the harshest winters of Maine, stealing food from nearby communities to survive. As a riddle and a legend, most feared his invasions into their homes – despite never actually seeing him.

I learnt some really fascinating things about surviving in the woods, or at least in cold temperatures. I couldn’t stop telling people about all the cool things I had learnt and the implications and complaints of the novel in terms of its comments on society. Please go and buy or borrow a copy of this novel! It is a fantastic read.

I think it is unfair to say that he is ‘the last true hermit’. There could be other hermits out there that just haven’t been caught or identified, particularly in Asian countries where meditation and retreat is revered. What comes to mind is an isolated tribe that was only recently discovered by entirely an accident. I liked that the novel did explore some of the hermits of the past.

After I finished this novel, I was left dying to know more about his life after the period covered in the novel. I googled, and googled, and all I got were photos of Chris that destroyed the picture of him I had in my head. I appreciate his need for privacy, and his family’s need for privacy.

I’d be keen to go ‘off-grid’ and live a slightly more hermit-y life. I’d need someone to provide me with novels though, and I’m not sure my body fat is sufficient to keep me through a icey winter! Also, I really like my family and I wouldn’t want them to get left behind (or not know where I had gone). That’s life.

Simon & Schuster | 1st March 2017 | AU $29.99 | Paperback

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Review: Laurie Frankel – This Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is
Laurie Frankel

Penn couldn’t keep away from Rosie when she was interning as a doctor and he was writing his ‘damn novel’. When they inevitably get married, they know that they want a couple of kids – and end up with 4 boys before having a final run of getting a biological girl. Instead, they get Claude, who for his fifth birthday wants to ‘be a girl’. This novel is an exploration of what happens in a family, and a community, when a secret this big is kept for years.

This is from the perspective of the adults for the most part, but the omniscient narrator reveals all that you could hope for. It’s not ‘just another transgender novel’. Some of the lines from it are so memorable and touching that you will be tempted to cry. It’s ok – I cried, I’m not going to hold it against you.

I’ve left this too long before writing a review to give you a proper run-down of what I loved about it. Just reading other people’s reviews on GoodReads of this novel makes me want to read it again.

The author is a parent of a transgender child, but this is not her story. This is a fictionalised account which I think could reflect many families’ experiences when it comes to living with (and to an extent, explaining) a child with gender dysphoria. All I can say is that more novels like this help de-mystify gender dysphoria to the general population and perhaps will help reduce the horrifically high rate of transgender suicides.

I’ll give this the full five stars – I couldn’t stop reading it and talking about it to my partner. This is for adults, and fits a niche that George and Luna (both decent teenage/YA novels in their own rights) just don’t fill. I loved it, not because it was a niche novel, but because it was bloody well written.

Hachette Australia | 1st February 2017 | AU $32.99 | Paperback

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