Review: Kathy Reichs – Temperance Brennan Series (books 1-8)

Temperance Brennan Series (books 1-8)
Kathy Reichs

“Dr. Temperance “Tempe” Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, who investigates human remains at crime scenes where the flesh is too degraded for a coroner to obtain evidence (victims of arson, mutilation, advanced decomposition, etc.). She is a native of the Carolinas and one of only fifty board-certified forensic anthropologists in North America.”

Let’s hear it for a middle-aged, moderately attractive, highly skilled scientist. One of the best parts about these novels is that Tempe is highly flawed and quite relatable. I love the science that is inherent in everything she does, and I have a morbid interest in death in all its forms!

Let it be said that the only reason I decided to read these is because I enjoyed the TV series “Bones”. The reason I stopped watching Bones is very much like the reason I stopped reading these – they became repetitive. I mean sure, it’s a different victim and a different death measure, but overall the theme is the same. Temperance always catches the bad guy, and her sidekicks are always telling her she knows nothing.

These did make good retelling stories when asked to fill a silence in the car! My only problem was that I wasn’t sure how much of it was likely or true. For example, there is a case where the victim has been removed from Mt Everest in an icey form! There is a ‘Death Zone’ which is just colourful from all the jackets of people who have frozen to death there… Likely? Maybe (yes it is, and you can check out this link for more!).

I’ll give these 3-4 stars – once I started each novel, I had a compulsive need to keep reading it, but I wouldn’t go and reread them now that I know who the bad guy is!

Review: Ben Bravery – The Patient Doctor

The Patient Doctor
Ben Bravery

“At the age of twenty-eight, with his Beijing-based science communications business doing well and a new relationship blossoming, Ben Bravery woke from a colonoscopy to be told he had stage 3 colorectal cancer…. Now, driven by his experience on both sides of the healthcare system, this patient-turned-doctor gives a no-holes-barred account of how he overcame the trauma of his illness to study medicine and shares what he believes student doctors, doctors, patients and their families need to do to ensure that the medical system puts the patient at the very heart of healthcare every day.”

Hmm, this was an interesting book, but not an outstanding one. While it was interesting to see the way that Ben-as-a-patient affected Ben-as-a-medical-student, it wasn’t anything particularly new to me. I also already had some pretty in-depth knowledge about how broken the medical system is in Australia.

The medical training provided to doctors in Australia is good in some ways (covers a lot of important information, very physiology/anatomy based) but bad in others. It seems to pay lip service to making compassionate great communicators out of doctors. As Ben exposes again in his book, there’s just so much crammed in and an idea that providing patient-centred care will take longer in a workplace where doctors are already overwhelmed.

It was fascinating to me that I saw the changing hospital/specialist centre size from both a patient (this book) and a nurse (A Caring Life) perspective. I also find it of interest because we usually assume that larger medical clinics will be better specialised to help people, even if this isn’t necessarily accurate. I felt that Ben’s attitude and understanding of his condition (and the humour he had to offer) was impacted by doctors the most. Now I’ll be waiting for a fully-fledged doctor’s thoughts on the system at the time!

I’d love to see a memoir or non-fiction from a higher up hospital administrator who is responsible for some of the funding and why student doctors / specialists / surgeons / every medical professional in the system are so overworked. I’m all for making sure doctors aren’t unemployed, but being underemployer or overworked is not good enough.

I am grateful that I live in Australia and healthcare is free. That’s reason enough that I might just be happiest with whoever I see in a hospital. What Ben advocates and encourages through his book is for patients and their families to feel confident speaking up for themselves. That’s something easier said than done, but I think it could be done.

I’d recommend this for readers interested in what it looks like to be a complicated cancer patient and the beginning trials of medical school. There’s some humour to keep it light, even if overall I think the book is a picture of the complicated nature of healthcare in Australia.

Hachette | 29 June 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Jennifer Niven – All the Bright Places

All the Bright PLaces
Jennifer Niven

Finch doesn’t have a  problem, he just doesn’t want to go back into the ‘asleep’. Violet isn’t sure how to move past the death of her sister. They meet on the edge of the belltower, and talk each other off the ledge. Finch is desperately treading water, and attempting not to get expelled. As the two teenagers collide, will either of them survive?

This novel forced me to read it. I couldn’t put it down and it thoroughly distracted me from real life. I saw it while idlily looking for an audiobook to listen to on my phone. I HATE reading on my phone, but somehow I got sucked in. Then I had all of the feelings that kept me reading it.

This novel could be considered trigger warning-ed for mental illness, teenage drinking, eating disorders etc. However, I’ve read that trigger warnings aren’t actually useful, so never mind…

I didn’t want the novel to end the way it did. And yet, it sort of had to end like that. I thought that the storyline ended what seemed an inevitable downstream slide so it wasn’t unexpected. But I guess most humans hope for a positive outcome, even if realistically it’s not going to happen.

Ok, let’s talk about the problems of this novel. Other reviewers have commented about the behaviour of the adults of this novel being poor – they did nothing to aid the grief or depression of the main characters. This, for me, was actually very close to home. I emoted very strongly with Finch who maintained that there was nothing wrong with him, and kept reassuring people he was fine. I know what it feels like to be outwardly ok, but inside actually really wanting someone to care. So for Finch’s parents to be indifferent was normal. Not ideal, but that’s where this book succeeds at reflecting what high school actually looks like.

Equally, the approach by Violet to Finch’s mental illness, and her experiences at parties were quite shallow, but again, most real life instances are going to have this. A disclosure of suicidal thoughts and an indifference to them is pretty common!

It’s not a perfect YA novel, because we don’t see very much representation from people of colour, women’s worth (as anything other than a sex provider) or queer folk. However, I would argue that again, this is something that is common at least in Australian schools – the population is extremely Anglo-Saxon and we didn’t even had a token person of colour! What I’m trying to say is, this book really only tackles two issues – mental illness/suicide and grief/loss. If you’re looking for more than that, look elsewhere.

Review: Patrick Radden Keefe – Rogues

Rogues: True stories of grifters, killers, rebels and crooks
Patrick Radden Keefe

“Keefe explores the intricacies of forging $150,000 vintage wines; examines whether a whistleblower who dared to expose money laundering at a Swiss bank is a hero or a fabulist; spends time in Vietnam with Anthony Bourdain; chronicles the quest to bring down a cheerful international black-market arms merchant; and profiles a passionate death-penalty attorney who represents the ‘worst of the worst’, among other bravura works of literary journalism. The appearance of his byline in the New Yorker is always an event; collected here for the first time readers can see how his work forms an always enthralling yet also deeply human portrait of criminals and rascals, as well as those who stand up to them.”

Once this book arrived, I wasn’t sure if I would be interested in a series of academic essays about ‘rogues’. That being said, I actually found myself quite eagerly diving into the stories, and it helped that the first was about wine fraud! After each one I needed to take a breather to really absorb what I had read and I ended up reading the book over two major sittings. By the end, my brain was feeling a bit overused and I would have said that the last 40% was a slog. I’m not certain that the last story really covered a ‘rogue’ (Anthony Bourdain – more of a sad ending than anything else) but none-the-less it was a good point to end the book.

I wondered whether the author had become self-realised after profiling defense attorney Judy Clarke — who represents “the worst of the worst” – and realising that what he has done in this series of essays is very much alike to what Judy does with her clients. In each case, I felt that Keefe had eventually become quite sympathetic to the person involved which went a little against what I believed was supposed to be a journalistic neutral position.

Be aware that some of the language, particularly regarding legal circumstances, can be quite impenetrable for the average reader. I occasionally felt quite stupid while reading because I didn’t know anything about the political context or any of the major players. I don’t think this is deliberate by the author, and it’s probably just a side effect of me avoiding anything that looks like news/media.

I think that this book is great for anyone who has an interest in law and international crime. Also, anyone keen on knowing more about journalism in the ‘old days’ would enjoy it. I feel as if ‘true journalism’ is a dying art – social media now allows, and even encourages, people to write their own narratives (which we see to some extent for the criminals discussed). However, if someone is already an avid reader of Keefe’s work this probably isn’t a great buy as this isn’t new content just reprints.

Pan Macmillan | 28 June 2022 | AU$36.99 | paperback

Review: Jodi McAlister – Here for the Right Reasons

Here for the Right Reasons
Jodi McAlister

Cece James has worked hard to get out of her foster care system background. It’s so hard though, when you work from day to day and don’t have any financial or family support. She has her two closest friends, but no ‘man’ to look after her either. When she drunkenly applies to a dating show, she’s horrified and then relieved, to be accepted – she needs the cash to survive the Pandemic.

This is another novel I sort of gulped down on a plane trip. I polished it off between Melbourne and Perth, so I know it was around a 2-3 hour read for me. Something nice and light, fluffy and not too much hard brain work required! Let’s just say that I could see the ending coming by a mile off, but still kept reading and still was a little surprised by the end!

Something that didn’t make that much sense to me was the way that they were locked in the Convent. If she didn’t know if she was being paid, how was her rent outside the set being paid for? Did it just auto-deduct? Or was it paused because this was the first lockdown and renters were getting extensions on their payments? Anyway…

Perhaps you know someone who loves The Bachelor or Married at First Sight. If you enjoy those, you’re going to definitely enjoy this one! It had reminiscent vibes for me as Love Plus One and now I want to go and reread that novel too! Maybe I’m feeling jetlagged, but I’m giving this 4 stars.

 

Simon & Schuster | 1st July 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Anna Kent – Frontline Midwife

Frontline Midwife
My Story of Survival and Keeping Others Safe
Anna Kent

“Anna Kent has delivered babies in war zones, caring for the most vulnerable women in the most vulnerable places in the world… In Frontline Midwife, Kent shares her extraordinary experiences as a nurse, midwife and mother, illuminating the lives of women that are irreparably affected by compromised access to healthcare. This is at once an astonishing story of the realities of frontline humanitarian work, and a powerful reminder of the critical, life-giving work of nurses and doctors at home and around the world.”

Nurses work bloody hard. Every novel, every book I read, I know that nurses work very hard for sometimes very little reward. My mother was a nurse in aged care and I understood how hard it was for her to deal with patients dying every shift. For Anna to be able to keep her head above water and to keep working as a midwife even with all the avoidable deaths is amazing all by itself.

Anna’s storytelling is spot on, and it makes for compulsive reading even if you know what the ending is. She manages to personalise all of the women she meets even as you know she is protecting their identities. It’s unsurprising that Anna suffers from PTSD and I am grateful and humbled by Anna’s willingness to share it with the world.

I would swear to you that I reviewed this book, but perhaps I did it only in my head. I certainly felt quite strongly positive about it while reading it, even if I found some of the messages to be mixed.

My problem with this book is that it is assumed that all women will want to have children. Kent recounts the story of triplets being born and wonders what their mother will do when she learns she can’t have more children. Um, isn’t three enough? Or, you know, she might like to do something else with her life rather than just produce children – she’s not going to die in childbirth at least. Perhaps she will be able to get an education? Perhaps she can be a local midwife.

I felt the same way about the woman who had had multiple miscarriages and then lost her husband right before successfully birthing a child. How will she provide for herself? How can you bare to bring up a person in poverty like that? Of course, it’s not the woman’s fault, or Anna’s fault – it’s a humanitarian crisis that shouldn’t exist but does because of the wealth disparity in the world. Please don’t interpret this review as a critique of who should be ‘allowed’ to have children – that’s another whole problem in itself.

Australians should feel blessed that Anna Kent has told this raw, honest story and also given a careful look into what Doctors without Borders can look like in practice. We don’t all need to be midwives, but we can all use more compassion. Buy this book for anyone who needs their eyes opened to the horrific realities that we still face in 2022. Buy it because you’re curious to know what it looks like in the war torn countries of the world. buy it because it’s ultimately a human story that we have all been part of.

Bloomsbury | 31st May 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Rebecca Lim – Tiger Daughter

Tiger Daughter
Rebecca Lim

Wen Zhou knows her place in the world – and it’s not a great one when she considers her mother’s stifled life and her father’s abusive ownership of his women. There’s hope for Wen and her best friend Henry though – perhaps they will be able to enter a select entry school and make it away from their unhappy immigrant homes.

If anyone could give the prevailing emotion of this novel, you’d think that it would be hope. I felt however that this novel was desperately sad, because although there is hope for the future I don’t think that the change we see in the men is necessarily sustainable. It takes courage to face what you are, but it also takes money and time – and I worry that there isn’t enough of either for our protagonist.

What appealed to me the most about this novel is that it depicted moments in time that can occur in anyone’s life, not just those who are newer immigrants to Australia. Almost everyone will be targeted for something wrong or different about themselves at some point. Australia suffers from ‘Tall Poppy’ syndrome – anyone special should be chopped down as soon as possible. Let’s hope that this changes into the future.

I borrowed this one as an eBook to keep myself occupied on a flight from Melbourne to Perth (4-5 hours). I was /just/ getting into the story when it ended and the flight literally turned back around to Melbourne! So I was disappointed by both of these things. This is a cute little novella that could have easily been developed into a powerful novel about belonging and felt cut short to me.

4 stars from me, and I’d expect this to be a primary school reader book in future.

Review: Jack Jordan – Do No Harm

Do No Harm
Jack Jordan

As a talented heart surgeon with a better-than-average success rate for saving patients, Anna has been presented with an impossible choice – kill a patient and make it look like an accident, or have her kidnapped son dumped in a well. As Anna’s previously picture-perfect life tumbles out of reach, the question remains – can she get away with murder?

This novel was terrifying and nail-biting and brilliant! I feel like I haven’t read such a great psychological thriller for a long time. I’m not even sure how to start reviewing it, I want you to trust my word for it and go read it!

Anna is somehow a distinctly relatable as a full-time working mom who is going through a messy divorce and is stressed out about not spending enough time with her child. The novel opens on her feeling horrible regret that she was unable to save the patient on her operating table – something that most people don’t have to feel responsible for! But the human factors of Anna draw us in, even as Margot’s character makes us turn away.

Something that always confuses me a little in these crime syndicate novels is that if they threaten to kill you or a loved one, what are the chances that they still won’t just kill you when you’ve done what they’ve wanted? I feel like if you’ve killed that many people before, what’s one or two more to the body count?

This was a compulsive read. However, now that I know the ending, I’m not sure how keen I am to read it again. Perhaps in another couple of years when I have forgotten the epic twists in the tale? 4 to 5 stars for me – go and read this novel. You’d better start reading in the morning though, because you aren’t going to want to put it down until the bloody end.

Simon & Schuster | 1 June 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Fleur Ferris – Seven Days

Seven Days
Fleur Ferris

The last thing Ben wants is to spend his school holidays with his tough cousin and some terrifying farm animals. He sets his timer to count down the seven days to leaving, but suddenly finds himself engrossed in solving a family feud that has been around for the last 100 years. Do the jewels exist?

I didn’t realise that this was a novel for younger teens, and so I initially found myself really disappointed in this latest novel by Ferris. However, once I realised the audience, I thought that it was actually pretty good!

Something that made me somewhat uncomfortable is the Uncle’s role as a counsellor. It made me get all sorts of wrong vibes, particularly as I’ve been reading a lot of abuse memoirs lately. I didn’t like the way that he approached the falling-out of the boys, and I felt like it was offensive the way that they just followed Ben home.

I would have bought that twist easily. Also, the ending was far too neat, but again, appropriate for the age group. I would have liked to see a little more about how it all broke down, but what’s a good book without a chase scene?

This comes as highly recommended teenage boy reading from me! It’s got action, it’s got a bad guy, and it’s got a (literally) kick butt kangaroo. Sure, there’s not all that much character development and some plot points are little inconsistent, but ultimately it’s a face-paced read. Ferris has found her niche in all-is-not-as-it-seems fiction, and it works. 4 stars from me.

Penguin | 3 May 2022 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick – She Gets the Girl

She Gets the Girl
Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick

Molly’s social anxiety has made life hard for her during highschool – but she’s followed her dream girl to college, and damn it, she’s going to get the courage up this time. Alex on the other hand can’t seem to keep any girl, but she’s sure that this one is worth it.

A cute little love story that doesn’t ask you to think to hard, or get too invested. I love that their love came about by conversations, and that’s how many of the best relationships start and continue successfully. A relationship can only thrive if both people work at it – and unexpectedly, they’re working on other relationships yet forming a sneaky one on the side.

I thought that the treatment of some of the serious ‘themes’ here could have been a little more thorough. Alex’s mom is a chronic alcoholic, and Alex accepts responsibility for everything. Molly’s mom clearly has some issues about her adopted heritage that aren’t explored at all. Oh, and then there’s the fact that English majors find it very hard to find jobs – I actually thought Alex’s plan to do pre-med was very viable and even if it doesn’t mean she has to send the money home to her mom, it’s a good reliable job!

Phew, I got through this one in record time. I saw it come in my front door and proceeded to pounce and read it almost instantly. Then I gobbled it. A light-hearted read of young lesbian love – what’s not to like? It’s not deep enough for a reread, but I did really enjoy it. 4 stars from me.

Simon & Schuster | 1 May 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback