Tag Archives: books

Review: How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

27 Jan


How to be a Good Wife is a cold, harrowing psychological thriller that wades through the murky waters of marriage, trauma and madness. Set in a remote, unnamed Scandinavian village, this is British writer Emma Chapman’s debut novel, a suspenseful and cleverly written mystery with parallels to S.J. Watson’s bestselling Before I Go to Sleep. (more…)

Review: In One Person by John Irving

6 Sep


Brave and beautiful at times, In One Person is a tragicomic story of desire, longing and sexual identity. It both delights in and agonises over sexual differences and gender-bending, with a diverse cast of characters and a conflicted narrator who comes to understand that “we are formed by what we desire.”

This is John Irving’s 13th novel, and in many ways recalls some of his most-loved books such as The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp. There are familiar themes and motifs: prep school, writing, wrestling, New England, Vienna, missing parents. Both tormented and funny, this is a memorable coming of age story that charts the shifting politics of gender and sexuality over more than half a century as the narrator, William, comes to terms with his own identity. (more…)

Review: Beautiful Fools by R Clifton Spargo

18 Aug


There’s something seductive about the legacy of F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald that makes them the perfect subjects for fiction. Beautiful and volatile, the novelist and his muse were icons of the 1920s Jazz Age, where everything seemed shimmering and decadent and reckless. But the aftermath of youth hit them hard, and their story quickly became a tragedy. Beautiful Fools is one of three novels released this year imagining the lives of Scott and Zelda, and of the three is the most accomplished. With a masterful sense for the nuances of characters, R Clifton Spargo creates an intimate, startlingly human portrait of two people and the end of their love. (more…)

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

5 Jul


Seeping with darkness, pulsing with dread and jagged as barbed wire, Gone Girl delves deep into the trenches of a very twisted marriage. A compelling and sharp-edged psychological thriller, Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel grapples with the manipulations, games and lies that go on in relationships, and asks the chilling question: how well can you ever really know another person’s mind? (more…)

Review: Animal Wise by Virginia Morell

10 Jun


Anyone who has ever loved a pet will tell you without hesitation that animals have thoughts and feelings – but what do we really know about how they think and feel?  In Animal Wise, science journalist Virginia Morell delves into the current pool of knowledge we have about the minds of our fellow creatures, surveying the most recent research on animal intelligence and the scientists who have devoted their lives to finding out what goes on behind those majestic creatures’ eyes.  (more…)

Review: Indiscretion by Charles Dubow

1 Apr


Indiscretion is a sensuous novel about desire, folly and love in all its permutations. Set against the alluring backdrops of the Hamptons, Manhattan, Rome and Paris, debut novelist Charles Dubow tells the story of the splintering of a seemingly perfect marriage. Though not exactly a literary masterpiece, this is an engaging beach read that blends the dramatic and the familiar, providing a bit of escapist fun.

To dispense with the negative comments up front: as a first novel, Indiscretion has its fair share of flaws. The dialogue often feels like it’s from a bad soap opera, unnatural and laden with eye-rollingly profound statements. The characters motivations are not always believable, and much of the action borders on the clichéd. And yet, if you can put all that aside and allow yourself to just be taken into this world, you’ll find it’s quite an enjoyable one. (more…)

Review: All the Way by Marie Darrieussecq

14 Mar


In the small French village of Clèves – a sleepy place, where the main attractions are a seedy nightclub and a yearly carnival, and where “the whole school is obsessed by sex” – teenage Solange is navigating the anxieties of her ever-growing sexual desire.

All the Way is the latest work from award-winning French author Marie Darrieussecq, best known for her 1996 debut Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation, a beguiling story of a young woman who is slowly transformed into pig. Here, she continues her exploration of the female body in a darkly humorous coming of age story that is both familiar and surprising.  Naïve and awkward, Solange is coming into an awareness of her body and discovering the pleasures and pains it is capable of. She is desperate to be touched, to experience, to have the reassurance that comes with being desired. But as much as she is obsessed with the idea of having sex, she is consumed by a feeling that she’s not pretty, not sophisticated, not quite the same as all the other girls. (more…)

Review: Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth

9 Mar

Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth

Sufficient Grace has been longlisted for the very first Stella Prize, a major new literary award for Australian women’s writing.

Deep in the heart of rural Wisconsin, 13-year old Ruth and her cousin Naomi are grappling with sin, penance and the dark tensions of adulthood. Living in a small community tightly bound by their Pentecostal faith, the two girls are like sisters, wrapped up in an unconditional devotion to one another – “she is mine,” Ruth often reflects. They are also bound together by a horrifying secret, and as they seek help through prayer, their faith becomes as suffocating as it is a comfort.

Sufficient Grace is the debut novel from Melbourne-based American writer Amy Espeseth, and won the 2009 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Narrated through the perspective of Ruth, the story stretches slowly over five months in a harsh winter, brought to life with an enchanting, almost folksy resonance. It comes as no surprise that Espeseth herself grew up in a Wisconsin fundamentalist community much like Ruth’s. This is an authentic rendering of a world created through intimate knowledge and a penchant for rich, earthy detail.   (more…)

Review: Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy

8 Feb


Like a House on Fire has been longlisted for the very first Stella Prize, a major new literary award for Australian women’s writing.

A man takes a trip with his overbearing, difficult mother to scatter his father’s ashes. A new mother returns to work from maternity leave, feeling dislocated and empty in a suddenly uncomfortable environment. A young girl writes in her journal about her unstable family, longing desperately for a beautiful set of 72 Derwent pencils.

Intimate and familiar, Like a House on Fire takes a close look at domestic life and the quiet frustrations that simmer beneath the ordinary. This is Cate Kennedy’s second collection of short stories, returning to the form of her highly acclaimed Dark Roots, which earned her a reputation as one of Australia’s most masterful writers of contemporary short fiction. With her characteristic lightness of touch, Kennedy guides us quietly in and out if fifteen carefully distilled worlds, letting unexpressed aches and pains reveal themselves through simple actions. (more…)

If you’re looking for a book to read…

23 Jan


Looking for something to read? I can help! Here are some great books I reviewed over the past year…


Blood by Tony Birch

An absorbing and affecting story about the bond between siblings and the strength of children in a world where the adults are unreliable, Blood was an impressive contender for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award. This is the first novel from Tony Birch, author of the short story collections Shadowboxing and Father’s Day and longstanding creative writing lecturer at the University of Melbourne. Through his sparse, unadorned prose, Birch vividly evokes the harshness of the Australian landscape, and his mastery of pacing creates a sense of immediacy and tension that makes this book almost impossible to put down. Read my full review here. (more…)