Review: Leila Mottley – Nightcrawling

Leila Mottley

“Kiara Johnson and her brother Marcus are barely scraping by in a squalid East Oakland apartment complex optimistically called the Royal-Hi. Both have dropped out of high school, their family fractured by death and prison. But while Marcus clings to his dream of rap stardom, Kiara hunts for work to pay their rent—which has more than doubled—and to keep the 9-year-old boy next door, abandoned by his mother, safe and fed.”

I could not bring myself to finish this book. I felt pretty grimey while reading it, and I just couldn’t get the point of it. Everything was so passionate and big that I didn’t know what the actual important parts were. Oh no, Kia has to turn to prostitution. Yes, it’s a dangerous ‘job’. She feels like she has responsibility for the boy next door, yet doesn’t invite him into her own home? So like, paying twice the rent she needs to?

I felt like I was slogging through the book and I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading it. Did I just miss something when people were handing out awards for this book? It’s overly descriptive and filled with metaphors that go nowhere. There’s a certain something in describing a pool filled with dog poop, but it didn’t need to come back again and again to the spotlight. Even after the reader learns why the pool is important to Kiara, it still doesn’t make sense in the wider context of the novel.

Not everyone has a happy ending, and not everyone has choices in life. That being said, I just couldn’t keep reading this. The prose was too dense, and too many topics were being covered at once. I’m tagging this as ‘literature’ – I’m sure that at some point someone will want to read and critique it. Not me though, I’ve had enough. 1 star from me.

Bloomsbury | 7 June 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Toni Jordan – The Fragments

The Fragments
Toni Jordan

Caddie is a placid bookseller by day, and an avid Inga Karlson fan all the time. Named for a character in Karlson’s first novel, Caddie obsesses over the second book that was never published – The Fragments. After Caddie attends a Gallery showing of The Fragments, she meets a woman who gives her another line of the novel. Caddie is thrown into the path of academia once again and maybe romance too.

I didn’t read this when it was first released because it arrived as a PDF. Thus it’s taken me two years to read it! While it was a nice enough story, and had some important implications for writing, I found myself mainly frustrated and left unfulfilled by the novel.

If Inga was so filled with the need to write a story, why didn’t she write another? A while lifetime might be enough for that. This is something that you won’t fully understand until you read the novel yourself. The twist at the end seems believeable, but it makes the flashbacks in time a little confusing – if she’s not alive, why are we able to ‘hear’ these memories? It’s intriguing, and apart from the fact that I found Caddie a complete derp, quite enjoyable to read.

Caddie, what is wrong with you? Do you have no brain in your head? How can you possibly obsess over two men like that at once? Caddie’s relationships seemed to spiral out of control very quickly, and I found it unbelievable that someone who is smart enough to do a PhD and do research could be so clueless!

I felt quite on the fence about this novel – 3 stars from me. I wouldn’t reread it, and I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it to someone to rush out and buy it.

Text Publishing | March 2020 | AU$22.99 | eBook

Review: Agustina Bazterrica – Tender is the Flesh

Tender is the Flesh
Agustina Bazterrica

The flesh of animals has become poisonous to humans. Unbelievably, the only source of protein left is ‘special meat’. Otherwise known as meat from ‘heads’, there are specially bred humans that are used only for meat and hides. Marco’s job is to check and maintain their quality. And yet, gifted with a beautiful head, Marco isn’t sure if humans are still valid meat.

This is a rich novel that is intended to be confronting and powerful, but is instead I found it off putting. It seemed like a train wreck from the start, and yet I kept hoping for a satisfactory conclusion. Instead what I read made me feel irritated and grossed out. Also there were parts (such as Marco’s ?affair? with the butcher) that I didn’t understand the importance of. This is literature, not light reading. It demands attention and thinking that I just didn’t have the space to give.

Some of the imagery in this novel was very disturbing. For me, it was reading how the pregnant humans had their limbs removed so that they couldn’t kill their own fetuses. See, now, doesn’t that say to a ‘head’ farmer that you shouldn’t do that? To my knowledge, no animal currently harvested for meat does this.

Maybe I missed the point of this novel? Should it have humanised the (non-human) meat industry for me? Unfortunately growing up as a beef cattle farmer’s daughter, I’m pretty pragmatic about meat, and where it comes from. I knew all those beef burgers and lamb chops by name before they were meat, and it never bothered me.

I didn’t realise that this was originally translated from Spanish (the author is Argentinian). That’s not something to hold against it – I’m honestly pretty sure that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it regardless of the language. It’s supposed to be a critique on meat eating, but I interpreted it as an actual hypothetical situation. It turned me off reading in a way similar to the way that The Biggerers did (again, maybe I missed the point?).

A high flaunting novel that missed the mark for me. I finished reading it, but was left disgusted and dismayed. I think the answer from me is ‘yes’ I would do cannibalism if you told me that I had to, in order to survive. But I wouldn’t accept human meat that’s been bred for the purpose.

Faber Factory Plus Ffp | 31st March 2020 | AU$27.99 | paperback

Review: Timothy Jay Smith – The Fourth Courier

The Fourth Courier
Timothy Jay Smith

The Fourth Courier brings together a straight white FBI agent and gay black CIA officer as they team up to uncover a gruesome plot involving murder, radioactive contraband, narcissistic government leaders, and unconscionable greed in 1992 Warsaw, Poland.

This is a very. serious. novel. Literature people, literature. Which I can enjoy and appreciate some of the time – Witchcraft Couture for example. But this novel? I ploughed through this novel, and I didn’t really come up for air. I didn’t really enjoy it, even if I appreciated some aspects of it.

The real world grittiness of this novel was deeply atmospheric and I felt as if I was standing on the banks of the frozen dirty river watching the dead men examined by their killers. I walked the streets of Warsaw with Porter  and sat in the bar with Mladic. And in fact, I could have done without Mladic’s sex scenes which seemed to me vaguely gratuitous and certainly misogynistic and awkward to read.

What I think could have improved this novel were less perspectives. Jay felt like the main character and the person that the reader should be rooting for. So it would have been ok in my opinion to simply narrow it to his and Crawford’s perspective. Because adding all the others meant that I didn’t feel as much suspense as I might have. It’s not really a mystery when you can already tell who the bad guys are.

For quite some time I didn’t realise why it was important that Crawford was gay. It was a major selling point from the author for me to review it and from the blurb it seemed like he would be a major player. Instead while it was important for ONE crucial plot point, the rest of the time it was just a thing that I kept thinking was important.

Aleks was certainly able to give up heroin very quickly. And the ending was really quite questionable. What will happen in the future? What about that coat check?

I’m giving this 3 stars, but I think for the right audience it could be right up there in a 4-5 star range. I received a copy of this novel directly from its author (who I also interviewed here).

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

Review: Sarah Cohen-Scali – Max

Sarah Cohen-Scali

Max isn’t born yet. But once he is, he will be the first of his kind – the first of a bred blonde haired, blue eyed Nazi. Self-aware and self-proclaimed as brilliant, this novel follows Max’s growing up in Nazi Germany where he doesn’t know that the Nazi’s are ‘evil’ and knows nothing but his relatively privileged life.

28231016Max’s unique mature mindset makes it possible for the author to expose monstrosities in a matter-of-fact manner that nonetheless touch the reader and leaves them thinking about humans in general. Sometimes it felt like there was too much to absorb.

Something that irritated me about the cover was that there were ‘Two boys, two destinies.’ I spent the first half or so of the novel wondering when the perspective would change to the other boy, but in fact that never happened. The perspective remained with Max, even as his views and understandings changed.

This novel remains readable while also providing insight into an area of Nazi Germany that many people may not know about. It is based around the true story of a facility and breeding project that had been set up in order to breed perfect little Germans who follow the will of Hitler. The beginning of genetics! My favourite!

This novel has been translated from French, and there are no objections here from me. The dialogue and descriptions still flowed seamlessly, and I didn’t even know it was translated until I looked on GoodReads for the cover!

I think I enjoyed Dog Boy (also by Text Publishing), more than I enjoyed this one. While Max was more absorbing (I read it straight through, keeping me up past my bedtime), Dog Boy left me with more to think about. Either way, they are both worth 5 stars.


Review: Eva Hornung – Dog Boy

Dog Boy
Eva Hornung

After being abandoned by his mother and uncle, Romochka is adopted by a yellow dog, her two other adult dogs and four puppies. What follows next is confusing yet satisfying at the same time. Romochka becomes a weak dog, but a potentially powerful animal.

16566340For a novel which could have been quite dry as a translation, it spoke powerfully to me and I was thinking about it while I wasn’t reading it. It seemed like more of the straight forward questions I had were answered, yet at the same time, more questions were raised. Is this really possible? Can you be raised by dogs, or wolves as in The Jungle Book?

Something that both irritated and pleased me was the doctors, and how their perspectives were portrayed. I couldn’t believe how much they used him. Until just now, thinking about where the book is set (Moscow), and the medical ideas of the time, I had thought it was barbaric.

I couldn’t believe the events leading up to the end, and the end itself! I mean, I guess I should have seen it coming, but it was a shock and horror moment all the same. I am still struggling to come to terms with it, several days later.

Now, this book, this book should be on literature lists everywhere. If it isn’t, it’s a chastity. It’s got so many interesting themes and a good meaty (haha) storyline to keep readers enthralled. I know it worked on me! Better than Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’ any day. Less depressing but just as rich for thinking about past political times and complicated discussions of animals (including men).

I’m giving it 5 stars – I wish I had the time to reread it because I feel like it has so much more to offer me.


Review: Sarah Vincent – The Testament of Vida Tremayne

The Testament of Vida Tremayne
Sarah Vincent

Vida has become trapped in her own mind, while Dory is trapped in the suburbia of her job. When Dory comes to clear out her mother’s house, in preparation of Vida never recovering, she finds a house-guest who witnessed Vida’s demise – but the truth is to be found in a series of journals.

23583770The novel starts out with Dory’s perspective, and you feel yourself thrust into her busy mindset. Dory is a woman who knows her own mind, and is determined to succeed in all of the ways her mother failed. The other chapters are excerpts from Vida’s journals, exposing both Dory’s childhood and Vida’s decline.

Honestly, it took me a while to write this review. This was a novel I needed to think deeply about and prod myself to dig into it. Initially I struggled to get into this novel. The prose put me a little bit off balance, and then, about 20 pages in, I suddenly got hooked. By about half-way through the novel, I couldn’t put it down, and spent time thinking about it while I wasn’t touching that gorgeous cover.

Vida. Dory. Vida. Dory. Rhiannon. They were all brilliantly characterised and had very separate voices. I never felt confused as to who was speaking. I was unfamiliar with the countryside, and the external world-building was good, but oh my, the characters were just so good.

I wanted to talk about this book having finished reading it, almost to anyone who would listen. I doubted my own reading of it. I wondered if I had missed something. Somewhere, the lines of fiction and fantasy get blurred, and I couldn’t tell where that point happened. Arg! How could that happen! The action drove me to keep reading, and perhaps I missed some of the nuances. Or maybe, just maybe, the author tricked me into thinking I should know more, but leaving me wanting more instead. Either way, really compulsive reading.

The ending was haunting. Especially as it wasn’t clear what was actually wrong with ‘the monster’ or what had happened to ‘the animal’.

It’s a definite re-read for me. And I have a family member in mind who would absolutely LOVE to get her hands on this kind of novel, so I might offer it to her for a read.

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Review: John Lauricella – 2094

John Lauricella
It is 2094, and life has changed for humans all over the planet. The majority of humans are pretty much comatose, and the few on the run are dying out. Others are trapped in cages – and the overload lives on Mars. The question asked by this novel is whether life is worth it, and what people can be happy living with.
If you’re sensitive to mentions of sex, please do be aware that that’s the currency of the majority of the world. There are few scenes that are explicit in a way (I mean, two SexBots having sex), but I’m sure you could skip those parts if you wanted to. For once though, sex is woven into the text, and it’s gratuitous. Rather it’s moving the novel forward, always keeping in mind that sometimes sex doesn’t solve everything.
My initial reaction was ‘Wow. This novel was really something awesome.’ I would strongly recommend it for both personal reading, and as a school text. It’s about time the high school curriculum got a shakeup, and this novel is just the thing to do it. The sex will bother some people, but at the same time, teenagers are growing up a lot faster these days.
For once the genre listings on the back were completely spot-on. It’s ‘fiction, literature and dystopian’. It doesn’t read as a fiction, it reads as if the author has seen into the future, and brought back the true of it. Some others categorise it under sci-fi, which is reasonable enough, but there’s nothing that we couldn’t expect to see in the next couple of years.
The back asks me to ‘suspend my disbelief’ – I barely needed to do that. Given the news in the media at the moment and the way that some human seem to act, it’s likely this is a step towards the future. I guess everyone needs a minion?
What I couldn’t understand was why any humans were kept alive at all. The only ones seeming to reproduce are the Initiates, and even then, it’s a product of genetic manipulation. Why keep trying to survive? That’s a clear question that each person needs to answer for themselves.
Some people have faith, and that enables them to keep strong in the face of ‘Discipline & Punish’. Others have their families, and a strong resistance to being broken up. But the world is a harsh place, and sometimes death is the only way out without losing yourself.
It’s obvious that this book has been created with 1984 in mind, even if you didn’t pick it up from the title. It mirrors some things, such as the failures of human decency, and yet gives the next thought of what Big Brother could be doing.
Get out there, buy a copy, and read this novel.
While getting the novel’s cover from Goodreads, I found this comment from the author:
“Mainly the risk is that the narrative’s interconnectedness goes unperceived. For that reader, the novel is going to seem scattered and random. It should not be possible to misread 2094 in that way, as a haphazard, sprawling farce, but an inattentive reading could cause it. Especially dangerous — to the book, to the reader — is the cursory sort of skim-job practiced by review-writers. Rifling through the book quickly, reading just five or ten pages here and there then skipping, skipping, and moving on, would allow such a reader, particularly one not much interested in the novel’s premise or subject-matter, to form a very wrong impression of how the book works and what it’s trying to do. Add any strong bias to this scenario and the result is probably a disaster. “
I’ve been reading about author/blogger relationships this week, and this is really summing it up for me. I feel slightly put out that it intimates that all review-writers don’t read the book throughly. After I read about the top reviewer on Amazon who reads 30+ novels A DAY I’m not surprised with having that opinion.
Don’t worry John and other authors! I’m not a reviewer like that, and that’s why I tend to have extended wait times for reviews. Peace.

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Review: Peter Carey – The True History of the Kelly Gang

The True History of the Kelly Gang
Peter Carey

This novel is metafictional – Carey has taken the facts and then changed them to suit the story if it had really happened. Instead of Ned Kelly being an unforgivable highway robber, he is a painted more as a lovable modern day Robin Hood in a way. He is set on the pathway to criminality by his mother, trying to support a huge family of Irish children with no support from Ned’s father.
110090The language of this book is hard to get into, as Carey attempts to capture the language of Ned Kelly back in the early days of Australian history. The novel is sectioned according to where Ned’s correspondence comes from. As always, Carey’s writing challenges conventions.

This book is relevant to anyone who has an interest in Ned Kelly. Sure, you aren’t going to get historical facts out of it, but if you have someone who hates Australian literature (and for good reason!) or don’t know very much about our ‘national icon’, then this is a great book to introduce them to it.

This isn’t a novel I would read of my own volition, this was yet another literature text. It was one of the more enjoyable ones to read, surprisingly since it was Australian literature! However, the language usage, although ‘authentic’, was very offputting for me.

If you had to pick a Peter Carey to read out of this and Collected Stories, I’d pick this one over it. Collected Stories gives you a nice variety, but it’s all very deep and meaningful. The Kelly Gang is slightly more lighthearted, and infinitely easier reading.

It is very sensitively written, and doesn’t contain any swearing, though of course Ned comes up with his own adjectival curses! It’s likely suitable for teens, and certainly for adults.

As with many books for my literature classes, I didn’t purchase this book, rather I borrowed it from my local library. I don’t think I would reread for pleasure, although others may feel differently.

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