Book Review: Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

Kate and Harriet are best friends who grow up on an isolated cape in the 1880’s where their fathers are the lighthouse keepers. They do everything together and as they grow into young women their lives are disrupted by the arrival of a man, McPhail. A moment in his cabin changes their lives forever.

The author, picked over the bones of a true story and imagined the lives of the girls. From the first line and last lines in the prologue, the reader is propelled head-long toward the climax.

“The sky was clear and blue forever that day.”

“I remember the way Harriet turned, breathless, laughing, a strand of her golden hair caught on her bottom lip. After that, I try not to remember.”

We are dropped into the stunning wilderness of the cape near Jervis Bay, NSW, and into the lives of the families. We are privy to everything about the girl’s friendship, their deep love for each other and the expectation of them as young women in that era. Loyalties are tested and risks taken as we are led to the edge of the cliff and back again.

The writing is beautiful and evocative; the cover stunning. This is a wonderful Australian debut novel by Kate Mildenhall.

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Book Review: The Lost Pages by Marija Pericic

Marija Pericic won the Vogel Prize for this stunning debut novel set in Prague in 1908. Pericic reimagines the relationship between literary giants, Max Brod and Franz Kafka.

Knowing little about either novelist, I was quickly drawn into a story full of anguish, tension and human fragility. The author veered away from the known story that Brod was asked by his friend Kafka, on his death bed to destroy all of his unpublished work. Instead, Brod publishes it making sure that posthumously, Kafka is revered and honoured into the future.

What happens though, if history is rewritten? What if Brod, a tortured man with physical disabilities is filled with self-doubt and actually loathes Kafka as his rival? What if Brod falls in love with a girl who loves Kafka? It makes for a compelling read. Does it matter that the work is fiction? It’s an interesting take on historical figures. Events are true but the rest is not.

The writing and development of characters was exquisite as we are taken into Brod’s point of view. His disability is a key theme “The tongues of those who inhabited my world were silent, but their eyes were not. Their eyes spoke, that sea of eyes through which I moved each day. They glanced and looked in secret and averted their gazes, and this looking and not-looking spoke louder than any voice of disgust, curiosity or, worst of all, pity.”

Life in Prague in the early 1900’s is rich with description and mood which changes with the deterioration of Brod’s mind. The twist at the end caught me by surprise leaving me yearning for more.

My Reading List for 2018

In my last post I listed the books I read for 2017 and chose my Book of the Year. https://sckarakaltsas.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/books-of-the-year-2017/

It’s time to start compiling the books I want to read in 2018. Some in my list are ones voted on by my book group, some I’ve heard about and others are recommendations.

Let’s see how many I actually get through.

Here goes -:
1. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
2. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
3. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
5. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
6. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
7. The Choke by Sophie Laguna
8. Force of Nature by Jane Harper
9. City of Crows by Chris Womersely
10. Our Souls of the Night by Kent Haruf
11. The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose
12. Band-aid for a Broken Leg by Damien Brown
13. Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall
14. Conspiracy of Lies by Kathryn Gauci
15. The Horsemen by Tim Pear
16. The Lost Pages by Marija Pericic
17. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
18. Play Abandoned by Garry Disher
19. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
20. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon

No doubt there will a few new releases thrown into the mix as well. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear about them.

Book of the Year: 2017

I decided at the beginning of the year to  keep track of what I read and have surprised myself with the list. I know for some readers, twenty seven books is not that many, just over 2 per month.  I guess that’s not too bad especially since I haven’t included all the books and papers I’ve read as research for the current book I’m writing.  Interestingly, my list contains 18 books by women, of which 12 happen to be Australian. My selection is skewed to Australian writers, there are 17 on the list which makes me think I should widen my choices. But there are just so many good Australian authors and if you’ve never tried one, then you should.  I’ve completed reviews on half and hope to continue this into 2018 as I become more diligent with my reading.

Here is the list for 2017.  I wonder how it compare to yours.
1. Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan *
2. Talking to My Country by Stan Grant
3. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
4. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Die by David Nyuol Vincent
5. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart *
6. A Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes
7. The Good People by Hannah Kent
8. The Embroider by Kathryn Gauci
9. The Sciences of Appearances by Jacinta O’Halloran
10. The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
11. Eileen by Ottessa Moshefgh *
12. The People Smuggler by Robin De Crespigny
13. Reckoning by Magda Szubanski
14. North Water by Ian McGuire *
15. Everything to Live For by Turia Pitt
16. The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver *
17. The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn
18. Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
19. The Heat by Garry Disher
20. A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill
21. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
22. Boswell’s Fairies by Peter Lingard
23. The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes *
24. The Lakehouse by Kate Morton
25. An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire
26. The Dry by Jane Harper
27. The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel *

My top picks for 2017 are highlighted in bold. The ones with an * are my least favourite and as for the rest, I’d recommend each and every one of them. But I have to pick my book of the year, and it is pretty hard as it’s very close. But my choice would have to be  The Good People by Hannah Kent. Beautifully written, it’s a haunting story of three women in rural Ireland in the 19th Century.

On to 2018. Happy New Year everyone.

 

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

 

Aaron Falk, a Federal police officer returns to his hometown in country Victoria to attend the funeral of his former childhood friend Luke, who murdered his wife and son then turned the gun on himself. Behind the scenes, lies the twenty-year-old history of the death of a teenage girl which still  haunts Aaron and the town. Luke’s grieving parents, plead with Aaron to investigate what they can’t accept as a murder-suicide and together with a local policeman, he unwinds more than he bargains for.

The tone of the novel is pure Australian small town and the author does a wonderful job of pulling us right into the pace never letting us go. It gets into your head as you wonder why Luke stopped his killing spree with his baby daughter, the only survivor. The heat and the drought are nothing new to Australians and is a supporting role in this story of survival as it climaxes toward the end. Anticipating what we think will happen next is thwarted by a twist.

Beautifully written,  the buzzing blow flies  and blast of hot air made me shudder as I read the opening pages. It’s not often that I am unable to put a book down, but with this one, I read it until I finished. I wanted to know what really happened and when you read it, you will too.

Book Review: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

The novel opens in a small Australian country town with a young policeman informing Chris Rogers that her younger sister, Bella Michaels may have been found after having been reported missing. He asks Chris to identify the brutally slain body which turns out to be Bella.

Unlike so many crime novels, this is told mostly from the point of view of Chris and we feel every bit of her anguish. ‘The loss of her is already too much and then there’s the other thing – the end of being loved in the way only my sister could love me. What I feel for her survives and that hurts like battery acid every minute, but worse is that what she felt for me died with her. I will never be loved like that again. ‘

Twelve years older than Bella, our hearts break as the relationship and the intense love between Chris and her only sister is revealed. We’re introduced to Nate, Chris’s truckie ex-husband and their complicated relationship.

The crime and the police investigation is secondary to how the people who are left behind deal with the trauma of loss. The writing is superbly raw and honest and delves into themes of an ever-present feeling of violence, vulnerability and fear felt by many women particularly heightened in the aftermath of a vicious crime. About men’s violence on women, the following paragraph is the most poignant of all.

And there are men who don’t cause quite so much damage and so are all too happy to publicise the worst so they can look mild in comparison, and men who do no violence and so don’t see how it is their problem that others do, and here are men who want us to know about the bad and the worse and the negligent so that we go to them for protection and there are men … who are pure and good of heart and intent and who want only to be our friends and brothers and lovers but we have no way of telling those from the others until it’s too late and that, perhaps is the most unbearable thing of all.’

On the other side, is the media’s portrayal of a slain girl who is interesting only because she is young and pretty and the relentless pursuit for an angle at all costs. And this is where we’re put into journalist, May Norman’s point of view. We read her posts just as we would the newspaper. She too must deal with the aftermath of the murder and her job of reporting, while escaping from her own loss of love. If there is any weakness at all in this novel, it would be this character whom I found difficult to warm to.

Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin and Stella prize in 2017, this is an important novel to read, well executed and exquisitely written.

Book Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

In 1964, Bert Cousins gate crashes a christening party being thrown by a colleague for his daughter, Franny Keating. Impulsively kissing his colleague’s wife, Bert’s actions set off a chain of events  intertwining both the Cousin and Keating families together for the rest of their lives.

This story takes us through the trials and tribulations of blended families and how the behaviour of  parents can have a long-lasting effect on their children.

Growing up in the ’60’s with little parental supervision was an upbringing for many of us which, in today’s world, would probably  be considered neglect. For many, there were no lasting consequences but for the blended family of six children in this novel, there is.  What happens is cleverly teased  across the story by the author.

As an adult, Franny meets a writer and releases her family’s story to him which is published years later. Instead of being a critical turning point, as we expect, this event blends itself into the narrative. The expected uproar never eventuates and we are left wondering why.

Voyeuristically, we are party to the lives of each of the family members and their relationships. And the author compels us to want to know how they turn out. I thought the climax would be the coming together of the family during a funeral, but the novel twisted further into the future leaving me wanting closure on some of the siblings such as Holly and Albie.

The author delivered characters so well that I felt I knew them. I cared what happened and wanted to be part of it. It’s not perfect, it jumps point of view on occasion, some loose ends were left, but the strength of the characters and the style of the writing is hypnotic. I really enjoyed it and am sorry it’s ended.  Check it out for yourself.