Review: Carly Nugent – Sugar

Carly Nugent

Persephone (not pronounced like telephone) was diagnosed with diabetes straight after her father’s funeral – she almost fell in the grave! She’s certain that the two events are connected somehow, and if she can solve it, maybe life will make sense.

There is a trend at the moment to have characters off screen who (may) have committed suicide. If this is something that triggers you, you probably should avoid this novel. I found the subject to be treated sensitively and without blame. There is also a physically abusive relationship in the novel.

This author absolutely nailed the book’s atmosphere. I could feel the sweat and heat of the bushfire season, and the sticky sweetness of Persephone’s diabetes. It provided a beautiful counterpoint to Growing Up in Flames, which I hadn’t enjoyed.

I empathized and recognized the teenage angst that leaked out of these pages. I perhaps didn’t understand the c*** word use, and why it’s relevant to Persephone. Since Alexander Manson is in the blurb, you’d think he’s important (he isn’t). Persephone’s complicated other relationships ring very clearly though.

I thought it was very interesting how Persephone contemplated the end of the world and that she’d be one of the first to die – unless it was a zombie scenario, she’d be the first person out there to be bitten. This resonated deeply with me, due to the Holocaust books I have read recently where once the supplies of insulin run out the unfortunate diabetics die quickly.

I’d highly recommend this to teenagers who need to understand someone with diabetes or the sheer unfairness of life. It reminded me a little of A Series of Small Maneuvers. I don’t think I’ll reread it, but I might be surprised. 4 stars from me.

Text Publishing  | 29th March 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Daisy Buchanan – Careering

Daisy Buchanan

Harri has dreamed of taking the helm of Panache and has hustled hard to get there. The problem is that she’s been passed over, and now is expected to run a new magazine that seems likely to fail. Imogen has finally moved from unpaid intern to writer thanks to her sexually explicit blog. But can the two women make it work? Or are things careering off the rails…

I like the play-on-words in the title, very smick!  Unfortunately, that was where my enjoyment ended. I don’t understand this novel. It’s going to appeal to a super specific audience, one that feels like the fashion industry is where they should be. Specifically, the magazine/printed word fashion scene. If you enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada or Ugly Betty, it’s a fair bet (haha) you’ll enjoy this novel more than me.

The blurb made it seem like we were going to get equal knowledge about both women, and be able to draw parallels. Unfortunately, the only one I picked up (besides that they both had to work really hard for their jobs) as that they had sex with Sam Strong.

The text at times seems quite ‘dirty’ and sex-ridden. I didn’t actually see where it added anything to the plot. I felt like Imogen (apart from the walrus confrontation) was benefitting somewhat equally with the ‘relationship’ with Sam. Come on! She got food more regularly! But is it abuse? I’m not sure.

I really don’t consider this book is doing justice to “stage a rebellion the only way they know how”. I didn’t really see any rebellion – they just seem to keep going where they are. Also, even if they do exit the rest of the fashion rat race, do they know how many startups are doomed, and how few get through the first two years?

This gets two stars since I finished it, but it left me feeling wrung-out and not very satisfied by the characters or the plot. If you like fashion, give it a go. If you don’t, maybe give it a miss.

Hachette | 8th March 2022| AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Erik J Brown – All That’s Left in the World

All That’s Left in the World
Erik J Brown

The superflu has wiped out 99% of the population. Pockets of people remain, some clustered, and some on their own. Jamie’s cabin-in-the-woods is well appointed and isolated, and Jamie is alone to contemplate life. When Andrew stumbles into the cabin, Jamie suddenly has to look after someone else – and maybe begin to care for someone he never thought would matter.

This novel was breathtaking. I couldn’t bare to put it down – I needed to read right to the very (bitter) end. Several hours later, and I’m still thinking about Jamie and Andrew and the future. I sank deeply into the universe and felt the dirty sneakers on their feet as my own. I couldn’t decide which character I liked more, which is quite rare for me with a dual narrator (usually I like the first one introduced the best).

I loved the slow-burn romance and the gritty reality of a world in pieces. I loved the fact that this was exactly how I imagined the next COVID-19-like outbreak to go in some countries. It doesn’t seem like society has learnt anything, and people are still demanding ‘rights’ across the world. I also appreciated how many issues the author managed to fit in, without seeming to over-dramatize the novel.

I’m desperate for another novel from this author. I am certain that he will reach the ranks of Adam Silvera and the like. I can’t wait to see the future of this debut author (and I hope the future comes soon).

If you liked What if it’s Us or Anything but Fine, this novel is for you. Even if you didn’t know you wanted a queer post-apocalyptic novel, you now need this one. Buy it for yourself, for the queer person in your life, or for anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic fiction. I promise you won’t be disappointed. 5 stars from me.

Hachette | 8 March 2022| AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Astrid Scholte – League of Liars

League of Liars
Astrid Scholte

Cayder Broduck’s goal is to punish illegal users of magic. Anyone using extradimensional magic (edem) for their own self-interest should be stuck in Vardean for life. Cayder is determined to ruin as many lives as he can in retribution for his mother’s death. Unfortunately, the three criminals he’s supposed to defend seem to be more important and more interconnected than he knows what to do  with…

Another reviewer has put this really well – ‘all the characters are morons’! Oh! It’s so true! They could all go die, I couldn’t have cared less about the outcome.

League of Liars was a confusing novel because – of course – everyone is lying. However, the rate at which the lies are exposed is quite slow. Thus due to this slow pacing I could easily put this book down in the middle of reading it.

I wasn’t that invested in any of the characters – it’s not like any of them are actually actively dying. They just happened to get stuck in this prison together! Even what seems like a betrayal is pathetic and transparent. Perhaps it would have worked for me better if I hadn’t had all the different perspectives and I did only see things through the eyes of what I would consider the main character (Cayder).

Ok, now, the ending. It wasn’t really an ending. There’s got to be a second book for this because the ending, although it might clear up the current set of lies, doesn’t actually meet and complete most of the storyline criteria. I found it really quite disappointing and I’d only give it three stars. I was just so disappointed in the ending and novel in general. Even if there ends up being a sequel, I wouldn’t recommend it. Don’t waste your time.

Allen & Unwin | 1 March 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Zach Jones – Growing Up in Flames

Growing Up in Flames
Zach Jones

After Kenna’s mother Ava dies, Kenna must live in the tiny town that Ava grew up in. Kenna struggles with guilt and PTSD from the bushfire that took her mother’s life. Noah lives with the trauma of his childhood and the call of flames. When the two collide, their paths cross for better or for worse.

Growing Up in Flames is theoretically a great young adult novel about the impact of potential bushfires on teenagers growing up in remote and regional areas of Australia. Unfortunately, although the main characters seemed to fear fire, it seemed to be used as a plot point that didn’t actually have a reasonable or even legally appropriate ending.

I found the jumps forwards and backwards in time quite confusing and I was frankly quite disgusted at the behaviour of some of the characters. I felt like there were quite a lot of legal guidelines crossed – particularly the psychologist that is theoretically treating the two main characters who just happened to become friends. And also that the psychologist gives tacit approval for Noah dosing his mother.

I’m sure that things were very different back then (1970s?) but the fact that Kenna’s mom and boyfriend basically blame someone/anyone else for their problems is reprehensible. Not to mention that they then let someone else end up in a wheelchair and show no signs of remorse.

I knocked this over in about 2 hours sitting outside in the sun with a good drink in hand but I don’t think there’s any way to actually enjoy this novel. I’m going to give it three stars but again I don’t really know who it’s aimed at. You could give it to teenagers but only really if you want them to set things on fire – so it’s probably not a great idea for summer reading.

Text Publishing | 1 March 2022 | AU$ | paperback

Review: Jo Browning Wroe – A Terrible Kindness

A Terrible Kindness
Jo Browning Wroe

William Lavery comes from a long history of embalmers and is proud of the work he does. Little does he know that the first professional job he does will bring his history, his present, and his future crashing together. While William tries to make sense of his life, the others who care about him are thrown aside and expected to cope.

A Terrible Kindness was a bit of an odd book in the way that it jumped forwards and backwards through time. What I was expecting was a book that had a bit more about the intricacies of embalming and looking after body after it has died. From the back cover, I thought that I was going to learn about different techniques that could be particularly used in an example where the bodies were quite degraded. Also, a direct discussion of about how traumatic it can be to embalm a child.

Unfortunately, this book seemed to be more about mental turmoil of the main character and how his background as a choirboy impacted his life choice to become an embalmer. I found myself very frustrated at times at the undercurrents of, not sexual tension, but hints of homosexuality that affected his wife and his friendships. It was weird to me that this was a thing that needed to be discussed. The music could have been a marvelous distraction and addition, but instead it seemed largely gratuitous and offensive.

In the end I wasn’t really sure what I got out of reading the book. I wouldn’t read it again because I already know what happens in “the big reveal” of what went wrong. What happened when he was a teenager isn’t as exciting as you think it will be, and the ending left me unsatisfied. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to end it like that! How did William just walk away!? I don’t understand how any man could think that it’s a good idea to walk away from your life and make your wife try to choose someone else. If his life was soo terrible, why was suicide not an option? It was an option for others in similarly dire straights, why not William?

I finished the novel out of a sense of duty. I wouldn’t have bothered finishing it if I knew the ending. 3 stars from me. I’m not sure who to recommend this novel to.

Allen & Unwin | 1 February 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Jacinta Parsons – Unseen

The secret world of chronic illness
Jacinta Parsons

“Broadcaster Jacinta Parsons was in her twenties when she first began to feel unwell – the kind of unwell that didn’t go away. Doctors couldn’t explain why, and Jacinta wondered if it might be in her head. She could barely function, was frequently unable to eat or get out of bed for days, and gradually turned into a shadow of herself. Eventually she got a diagnosis: Crohn’s disease. But knowing this wouldn’t stop her life from spiralling into a big mess of doctors, hospitals and medical disasters.”

Wow. This is a heartbreaking and heartwarming account of one woman’s live destroying disease and how she got through and lives with her condition. I could hardly believe that doctors had gotten it so wrong, and the huge impact of a clinical trial gone wrong on the rest of her life. Remember that you don’t have an obligation to participate in something, but you do have an obligation to make the most of what you have. This is something the author realised over time, thankfully not too late.

Jacinta admits that Indigenous Peoples and people of colour or low socioeconomic standing struggle to advocate for themselves in the system. That’s fine. My problem arose in that she didn’t consider other countries where healthcare isn’t a basic human right at all. I think of the horror of the USA system, and I consider Australian healthcare to be brilliant in comparison!

Possibly TMI time, but I’ve always struggled with ‘period pain’. I generally think of myself as quite stoic and straight-forward, but it’s something I haven’t bothered to go to the GP about. I manage to somehow forget that it’s a problem! Jacinta highlights why this is a BAD idea, and also why it’s something that women do that undermines themselves – and gives the statistics to back it up.

I hope that the medical students that I help to train have compassion and curiosity to look deeper into chronic health problems, and the self-awareness that it’s ok if GPs are sick sometimes too. This is a book not just for ‘normal’ humans to understand chronic illness, it contains insights relevant to health professionals as well. I would recommend reading it in small doses – as an audiobook I found it almost overwhelming, yet compelling to listen to at the same time.

Review: Andra and Tatiana Bucci – Always Remember Your Name

Always Remember Your Name
Andra and Tatiana Bucci

“A haunting WWII memoir of two sisters who survived Auschwitz that picks up where Anne Frank’s Diary left off and gives voice to the children we lost. … An unforgettable narrative of the power of sisterhood in the most extreme circumstances, and of how a mother’s love can overcome the most impossible odds, the Bucci sisters’ memoir is a timely reminder that separating families is an inexcusable evil.”

I have been ‘enjoying’ a number of non-fiction novels lately about the Holocaust. I say ‘enjoying’, but really they are quite sad reads due to the devastating loss of life as a result of Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. I found myself horrified and yet not surprised at the level of brutality exhibited by the Nazi’s. It’s one thing to have a critical idea of World War II (as I’ve said before, my history knowledge is poor) and another to really experience it as these writers did.

To hear that 230,000 children were deported, and that less than 200 survived is horrific. No, that’s not a typo. Somewhat confusingly perhaps, the book blurb suggests that all of these children were subjected to experiments by Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death. This was not the case – the majority of children were simply gassed to death because they were deemed to be useless. Andra and Tatiana remain together because they are thought to be twins – and remembering their names is crucial in being able to return them to their parents many years later.

I am haunted by the last fact I learnt in The Keeper of Miracles – some people don’t believe that the Holocaust happened. This makes it all the more important to keep publishing, promoting and researching literature about this catastrophic loss of more than six million lives. This book should be higher on the high school reading list than the iconic fiction book of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (which has noticeable inconsistencies with the real events of the Holocaust) or the very dense memoir If This is a Man. Always Remember Your Name gets full stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 20 February 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: James Clear – Atomic Habits (S)

Atomic Habits
An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
James Clear

“People think when you want to change your life, you need to think big. But world-renowned habits expert James Clear has discovered another way. He knows that real change comes from the compound effect of hundreds of small decisions – doing two push-ups a day, waking up five minutes early, or holding a single short phone call… These small changes will have a revolutionary effect on your career, your relationships, and your life.”

This book really dives into all the insights of habits and leaves pretty much nothing out. It gives an in depth understanding of how habits are formed and how to start new habits. My only downside was that it had a lot of tips to create new habits but not a lot on changing old ones.

It has a summary page after every chapter – which has at least twice as many on the creating a good habit side then it does breaking an old. The chapter summaries are great to refer back to and the examples throughout explain each concept thoroughly. I would have perhaps liked to see the same example for each step to get more of an idea of how they stack together but otherwise the variety of examples were good.

I loved the advanced tactics section at the end which both summarizes and adds to the book, rather than just the 4 laws and then a conclusion. Overall I would recommend it to someone wanting to change their life by starting a new habit. As this book says it doesn’t need to be a massive change, but an atomic small habit. This is the only book on ‘habits’ you should read. 4 stars from me.

Review: Robert Gerrish – The 1 Minute Commute (S)

The 1 Minute Commute
Robert Gerrish

“Map your path, define your work style and seize your market. From freelancers and soloists to entrepreneurs and micro-business owners, this book will give you the knowledge and skills to shape your professional life to fit your lifestyle. Ditch your job and work for yourself…  Work for your best boss yet – you. What are you waiting for?”

I listened to this as an audio book. It was just average. It wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. I expected a lot more modern tips and tricks such as working from home apps, software, and things to assist in the modern age. I guess the author did have outsourcing in there in a general form which was nice. But instead, pretty much all of the tips and insights have been discussed before and I didn’t get anything new from it. For example, one point was the the urgent/important quadrants of using your time.

It sounded promising at the start, but then went into too much detail in some things that weren’t needed. At the same time there was not enough detail in other areas. It also seemed to just jump around a lot and had no consistency. You could pick it up anywhere and not feel lost. Overall, I would recommend it to anyone that is just starting a business or in the early stages of business. It’s a nice reminder that you’re a solopreneur to work in with your lifestyle. I’m giving it 3 stars.