Review: Julie Randall – Patient 71

Patient 71
Julie Randall

Julie Randall went from being a partying 50 year old to having major surgery to remove a tumour from her brain in less than a month. Following that, Julie had to fight to get the treatment she needed in order to survive and be with her kids – whether she’s in Australia or not.

So it’s a reasonable enough memoir but not exactly what I was hoping for. As long-time readers will know, I’m a scientist by training and so I was hoping for more juicy details about everything – the science behind the new treatment, the ‘magic pill’ that might have cured everything, what’s it’s really like to be a scientific guinea pig. Instead, I got a bit of a repetitive heartthrob tale that I didn’t really feel any inclination to keep reading. Instead I would have thought that “breakfast, school run, chemo” is actually a more relatable story even if that one doesn’t actually have a happy ending so to speak. Cancer is hard.

I appreciate that the author is a real person, with real problems, and I would hate to read a negative review of a novel I had probably put a lot of time into crafting. But honestly, some of the fault must also lie with the publishers. This book could have benefited from some significant editorial guidance. There’s a lot of inconsistent tenses and it would have been really useful to define who is alive/dead earlier in the novel. Additionally, I know the author actually wrote letters to her dead mother while undergoing treatment, but I actually found the letters quite distracting and not actually very useful.

The author makes it sound like this wonder drug is a complete cure but at any time, as far as I can see, the cancer could return. She seems to say that she has monthly treatments on a maintenance dosage. I really hope she’s making the most of life that she has left, because knowing about drugs and cancer, they always have the capacity to surprise you.

I’d also like to complain about the repetitiveness of Julie’s little chant about ‘My body is healthy, my organs are healthy’. I’m all for mindfulness and appreciating what you have, and supporting your body mentally, but arg! it just was very irritating for me. There is some useful things to take from this because it promotes still having a healthy lifestyle and remaining active as much you, but also really pushing for the help that you need.

Thankfully no need to provide stars for this one. Look elsewhere for an Australian cancer memoir.

Hachette Australia | 27th June 2017| AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Bree Record – The Road to Transition

The Road to Transition
Bree Record

Sarah was destroyed by Steven, now Bree is ready to take her rightful place in the world. This novel chronicles the 40 days before her surgery, interspersed with her most distressing memories of the last 55 years of her life. This is the transition of everything.

I love the way that the blurb labels this as a ‘gender confirmation surgery’. It’s not a reassignment surgery, which implies that there is something weird about it. I think it is very difficult to properly convey the feeling of both relief and confusion when someone takes their identified form. I would really like this novel to have a bit more after the form change, but it’s limited in pages to explore everything.

While the imagery was beautiful, I needed more substance. I could have had more of everything, particularly more about Bree’s relationship with her Wife. When a transition takes place, it often rips apart families, particularly as people who never thought they were gay suddenly find themselves with a same-sex partner. I find that that usually raises a really interesting question.

It had potential I think, but could have done with significantly more editing to improve the flow. It feels a little like the journal was just plucked up and turned into a novel without much thought of how a reader would enjoy having the storyline presented to them.

I’ve hit a lot of splashback in the past from people feeling like I haven’t thought as the author/their cousin/aunt/mother as a real person with a true terrible journey. Let me be clear – I am not criticising the author’s life (how should I know what parts haven’t been included?), simply the literary construction of the novel.

I read this one night that I was suffering insomnia. It kept my attention because I couldn’t sleep, but it wasn’t that great. However, this was so so much better than when Adam became Audrey. That’s written from the perspective of the partner of the transitioning person, and it’s absolutely horrible. I can’t warn people away from it enough. This is a good book in comparison.

Review: Henry Marsh – Admissions

Admissions
Henry Marsh

Dr. Henry Marsh was a Political Studies student before wagging college for a year. Eventually, he ended up studying medicine and becoming a celebrated neurosurgeon. This novel is a memoir of his experiences in remote hospitals in places such as Nepal and Pakistan, where he offers his services as surgeon and teacher to those in need.

I honestly expected more juicy stories and less reflection, but perhaps that was a hallmark of this being his second novel – perhaps they were all exhausted by his first novel, ‘Do No Harm’. For me then, there was too much memoir and reflection on aging rather than substance about the joys and upsets of being a neuroscientist. I can accept a certain level of introspection, but I’m not certain what regular readers would pull from this novel.

Although I enjoyed the scientific discussion because I’m a scientist and know something about the brain’s morphology, it would have been very useful to have diagrams of what the incisions and brain areas looked like. Nothing too gastly, I’m certain it would be difficult to get permissions to print images of patients, but just dry diagrams could have been useful.

The brief discussions about how Henry could apply his knowledge to neuroscience about how personality probably does [not] exist after death could not save the novel for me. Neither could the discussions on his renovation project in his retirement. Additionally, I wasn’t actually sure what family he had left, which made me wonder at his sanity! Also, he is obsessed with getting dementia which derails a lot of the chapters.

If you are looking for more ways of living mindfully, shaped by what others dying has done so far (The Five Invitations) or are looking for a provocative discussion of the implications of a ‘Good Death’ (The Easy Way Out), this is not the novel for you. It wasn’t really the novel for me, but others might enjoy it. Thankfully it is non-fiction, so I don’t have to assign a star rating to something I didn’t particularly enjoy.

Hachette Australia | 16th May 2017 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Maude Julien – The Only Girl in the World

The Only Girl in the World
Maude Julien

Maude’s mother was chosen when she was six years old to give birth to blonde Maude and train Maude as superior being – at Maude’s father’s request. Maude is forced to endure torture in the basement, sitting in the dark for hours with rats running past her feet, and to spend hours practicing the piano and accordion.

I actually expected this novel to be darker than what it was. Reading the blurb made me think that Maude was inexplicably (physically) tortured in horrific ways. That’s not to say she wasn’t – but it was more psychological torture, which to an extent can be much harder to recover from. This is a success story though, as Maude has gone on to be a ‘doctor of the mind’ and assists other victims of trauma and abuse.

I was right there with Maude from the very beginning, and the prose was written in such a way that it wasn’t dry or stilted. In fact, if you didn’t tell someone it was a memoir, I’m pretty sure they would just think it was some horrific form of fiction. There is a climax of sorts, which fits in with a fiction novel, but the outcomes of the novel were much more real. I don’t think I am expressing myself adequately here, but trust me, it is written flawlessly.

As this is a memoir I’m not giving it any stars. But it is a fantastic memoir that I recommend highly. It’s a unique survivorship novel of what cults can do to children, but how the resilience of children can create positive outcomes.

Text Publishing | 1st May 2017 | AU$32.99 | Paperback

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

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

Review: Emily Reynolds – A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind

A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind
Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds struggled with depression from teenagerhood, ending in a period of psychosis that finally had her correctly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type I. This novel is her insights on how to cope, how to get help and how to speak to others about having a mental illness.

Emily has written a brilliant guide for those who might be affected by mental illness, either as a patient or as a concerned friend. Her articulation of the problems she faced in getting a diagnosis and getting well are ones that many with non-physical illnesses will recognise.

You’re going to need to be a bit insensitive to lots of swearing, the text is liberally scattered with them. But for me, this rang true as the mind of someone with mental health things going on. Sometimes just saying ‘f*** it’ is all you can do! And being sick is something that you can swear about.

At times, Emily’s conversational tone seems a little much for the ordinary reader, but there are real gems of wisdom in there. I particularly liked her section on relationships and how NOT to tell someone you have health problems! Emily says that every person is supposed to have a novel in them, but honestly I feel like Emily has already written mine!

Towards the end of the novel I started feeling quite weighed down by her discussions of suicide and self-harm. Although lighthearted, it’s not exactly easy reading. In addition, her frank discussions on the impact her uncontrolled illness had on her family were potentially unsettling. In fact, it came as quite a relief that a significant chunk was helpful resources and acknowledgements.

Buy this for a loved one, buy it for yourself. I am certain that the style of this novel will not be for anyone, but it is worth trying it out. Despite giving this 5 stars, I’m not sure it is going to remain on my shelf – I want it to get out there and be available for other people who are less experienced than I in this field.

Hachette Australia | 28th February 2017 | AU $32.99 | Paperback

Review: Steve Martin – Vet Academy

Vet Academy
Steve Martin

Do you have a child who loves animals? Do they want to be a vet? Do they just have an interest in pets in general? This book is going to be for them. With fun stickers, a poster and a model to build, this book has plenty of things to keep a child entertained.

This book covers animal health needs from pets, to zoos, to farms. It also has fun facts that will perk interest from adults as well. It could be a good book for a long car ride, because there are a range of activities to do.

The reading level in this book is probably a late primary school age, but you can also leave it with a beginning (precocious) reader who will flick through and look at the beautiful illustrations and then ask lots of questions!

This is a non-fiction, so I’m not going to be giving it any stars. But if you have a child who likes animals, or you need to give a gift to a primary school age child, this book is perfect. I can’t think of a child that wouldn’t enjoy having it, even if not all the animals take their fancy.

Allen & Unwin | 25th January 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

Review: Brian Jay Jones – George Lucas, A Life

George Lucas, A Life
Brian Jay Jones

George Lucas was born to an average family and was expected to follow in his salesman father’s footsteps. Instead, Lucas survived a horrific car crash, went to film school and created the iconic Star Wars.

For an unauthorised biography, this was pretty damn good! I found myself quoting weird things I learnt about George Lucas for ages afterwards. When I went to see Rogue One in the cinemas, I could pick out points that I knew Lucas wouldn’t have wanted Disney to do.

It was quite slow going at times and I picked it up and put it down over the course of about a week. I needed time to digest each of the facts. In fact, I found myself wishing I knew more about the other filmmakers that are referenced in the novel, and experienced more films. I haven’t even see Jaws, which was a friendly rivalry between Steven and George.

I wouldn’t reread it, I in fact passed my copy on to my father who partially started my own love of Star Wars. If you have a Star Wars lover in your family, and you have no idea what to get them, this novel offers you the perfect solution to your problems.

Review: Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey – Belles on their Toes

Belles on their Toes
Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

After the patriarch’s death, the dozen surviving members of the Gilbreth clan must learn how to get along with Mother away, and a budget of $600 for several months. Then there is a bout of chickenpox which can be cured by only one The blurb is quite misleading, suggesting that the Gilbreth children set up an egg farm to sell eggs. If this does occur, it’s not discussed in the novel. They do collect manure from the streets though!

1129940This sequel to Cheaper by the Dozen simply didn’t hold as many good ‘tips’ on motion study as did the first one. It’s a bit more entertaining perhaps and catalogues what older society times thought of a woman teaching motion study to engineering men.

I think I’d like a motion study kitchen! Imagine the inefficiencies that have crept into smaller businesses from the loss of people like the Gilbreths from the world. My partner notices these inefficiencies every day in her workplace. Ah, for simpler times.

Do I give this stars? For GoodReads, I have to, and so there I’ll give it 5 stars. But here, it’s non-fiction, so I’m just going to recommend it as a good, oldfashioned non-fiction that illustrates what can happen in a big family after a father dies.