Book Review of Jane Harper’s The Dry

the dryThis is a reading choice based around the press and discussion around this title – and I have to admit, it’s quite a good story and wonderful to read a mystery so quintessentially Australian.

Aaron Falk is a Federal Investigator who follows the money – that’s his kind of policing.  But when he discovers that his childhood friend in the rural community of Kiewarra has killed his family before turning the gun on himself, Falk not only runs back to the town he never thought to revisit, but is drawn into the investigation.  While most of the town has written Luke Hadler off as a killer, there are tiny details about the crime scene that make just one cop doubt the perpetrator could have been so intimately connected to the family.  Falk cannot leave if there is even a chance of saving his friend’s reputation.

But staying in town isn’t easy either – Falk left under a cloud of suspicion about the disappearance of a young girl 20 years ago.  So while he works to exonerate Luke, he also has to delve back into the past, and confront things he has avoided for so many years.

It’s neatly done and engaging, not the book of the year, but worthy of turning Harper into a success.

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Book Review of Theodore Boone

theodore booneTheodore Boone is a budding lawyer – hard to be anything else when his parents are partners in a law firm. Theo has grown up surrounded by the law, and is a welcome guest in the chambers of many judges in the local courthouse. He also gives free advice to his peers – which is what sparks the action of this light-weight but entertaining novel.

Theo is avidly following an exciting local mixer case playing out in his favourite judge’s courtroom, when he unexpectedly gets some crucial evidence from a source unwilling to be revealed. But without revealing that source, the information won’t be admissible. And Theo’s not sure he can let a murderer go free…

Just precocious enough to be impressive without painful, Grisham walks that fine line here in creating an eighth-grade Wunderkind, who still in the end recognises he can’t manage it all and must bring in adults at some point.

I read the entire book whilst holed up waiting for a small surgery. It was the perfect mix of simple but engaging to pass the time and keep that mind focused where I wanted it. Likely for younger readers and while I don’t read a lot of John Grisham, no doubt for his fans as well.  And the start of a whole series as well that might hook him a new audience.

 

Book Review of Like a House on Fire

like a house on fireI should read more short stories… because when they are done well, they are so infinitely beautiful.

To me, one of the masters of the short story is Raymond Carver, whose beautiful tiny portraits of the disconnection of modern life are so gut-wrenchingly quiet but realistic that they make your heart bleed.  Cate Kennedy’s Australian series of Short Stories, Like a House on Fire, reminds me very much of that deep insight.  It too is a celebration of the triumph and tragedy of everyday life, reflecting how we all have a story and that each life and each moment is of itself, a thing of beauty.

Stand out for me were Laminex and Mirrors, which while cataloguing the experiences of a young woman working as a cleaner in preparation for a trip overseas, is really about the inescapability and inevitability of kindness growing in our hearts.  Seventy-Two Derwents masterfully uses a child narrator to tell a story that is anything but childish in nature. And while nothing much occurs in Waiting, it is a powerful observation of just that – what the mind does while sitting and waiting for news.

It’s clear that Kennedy is more comfortable writing from a female perspective, but there are male voices here too.

I also saw her recently at the Melbourne Writers Festival and had a brilliant time at her free talk on the Anatomy of a Short Story – insightful, fun and relevant.  I have ordered in some more of her work to read.

Delighted Book Review of The Book Ninja

the-book-ninjaFrankie Rose has all but given up on love – and almost on herself too.  Once a budding author with the Melbourne literary world at her feet, she now works at a bookstore with her best friend, where they amuse themselves by guessing the preferred genre of each patron as they enter, with a $5 prize to the winner.

But then she gets a genius idea, sure to attract a man with the most important quality there is – good taste in books.  To find him, she starts dropping her favourite books on public transport, with a note and her email address seven pages from the end.

As the dates roll in, she starts a blog with all her experiences… and the blog begins to trend.

In the meantime she meets handsome and sweet Sunny, an artist healing from a broken heart.  There’s just one problem – he only reads YA fiction.  In true Pride and Prejudice fashion, Frankie will need to either overcome her literary snobbishness, or risk losing out on a chance of love.

Despite all the good press, I wasn’t sure how I was going to enjoy this in the opening chapters… I was after something light and easy to read, but wasn’t sure this wasn’t going to be on the trashier side of light.  But as it progressed, I found myself utterly charmed.  The Book Ninja is incredibly sweet, and the perfect relaxing read for bookish girls such as myself.

Endearing.  Spend a rainy weekend with it.

Book Review of The Woman in the Window

woman windowI saw a friend reading this and asked if I could borrow it after seeing it on a number of recent “must-read” lists.  When she passed it over with that facial expression we all make when something isn’t that good, I was a little surprised.  I’m not really now that I have read it.

Anna is a shut-in, isolated in her New York home after a traumatic accident.  She spends her days watching old movies, chatting online (ironically she is a psychologist), playing chess online… and watching her neighbours through the viewfinder of her camera… is this starting to sound familiar?  Oh!  And she drinks too.

Then, one day she sees something unspeakable… the murder of a woman she has befriended across the road, the wife of a controlling, abusive husband.  She makes powerful allegations to the police, but is not believed when a woman answering to her name presents herself.  And then they discover all the wine bottles….

If you are thinking Hitchcock’s Rear Window, you’re absolutely right.  A.J. Finn borrows shamelessly from the classic film, referencing the film-makers body of work relentlessly throughout the film, which at least lets the reader know the MARKED similarities are intentional.  While lacking originality, it’s not a dull read.  It’s easy and just engaging enough to fill a plane or train ride very pleasantly.  I was myself stuck on a train for two hours recently with this book, and it kept me very entertained.  Pick it up if that is the type of read you are going for.

Awed Book Review of Philip Zimbardo’s Man Interrupted

man-interrupted.jpgI keep reading these wonderful books for work, and often I think I have found the best one yet.  As my latest passion takes me into an exploration of masculinity and how to help grow good men, I finally picked up this wonderful title by Philip Zimbardo – famed psychologist behind the Stanford Prison Experiment.

As of this day, this is one of my favourite professional reads, and possibly the best book on boys I have read.

It is certainly the most detailed – and the most researched.  Zimbardo ranges broadly over relevant topics such as porn, peer and romantic relationships, parenting, video games, academic achievement, drugs, feminism and more.  Why are girls doing better than boys in schools?  Why are they finding themselves so disconnected to modern women?  Why do they occasionally display those behaviours we would describe as toxic?

What’s more impressive, is that this is one of the few books I have read that is also totally solutions-oriented. The entire final section of the book breaks down key actions we can take to support men to live their best lives… whether you be a parent, woman, teacher, or a politician.  And men themselves, reading this book.  Zimbardo lets them know what  they need to do right now.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is an important book that everyone who has something to do with young men should read.  It’s also incredibly readable, so I promise you wont regret it.

Book Review of The Golden Age

The-Golden-Age-by-Joan-LondonI picked this one up as an option for VCE English next year.  It is a lovely, soft, and lyrical novel surrounding the patients, nurses and families who visit The Golden Age, a hospice for children with polio in the 1950s.

At the centre of the novel is Frank, an intense Hungarian Jew who emigrated with his family to Australia after the rise of Hitler.  Frank was introduced to poetry by another man he connected to in hospital, who died whilst receiving treatment in the dreaded iron lung.  Armed with a prescription pad in lieu of proper notepaper, Frank writes down free verse that inspires him – and he is largely inspired by beautiful Elsa in the girls’ ward.

This is a quiet story of connecting and losing connection.  I found it slow in places, but was still committed to getting to the finish.  I’d be hesitant putting it on a text list for this reason too.  This is no easy read and the payoff is subtle and perhaps, short lasting.  Lacks deep impact.