Book Review: The Heat by Garry Disher

Wyatt is a smart thief with scruples who’s been around long enough to be cautious and wily. Turning down a job in Melbourne with the haphazard Pepper brothers, he instead, accepts a job in Noosa to steal a painting. He’s meticulous in his planning, holding off the charms of the local real estate agent who freelances as a crook herself. But the plan dramatically unravels as Wyatt, using his wits fights to survive.

I don’t often read crime novels and this one was told from the criminal’s point of view. This is the first book I’ve read by Australian Garry Disher. I’d not heard of him until this book was recommended to me by a friend. Although, this is the eighth in a series, it appeared not to matter that I’d not read any of the earlier novels.

The start was slow as the story and characters were set up. Then the action started and I could barely put the book down. I enjoyed the description of places I know well.  I didn’t  really warm to any of the characters – well, they are crooks after all. The fast pace of violence and suspense hooked me as I tried to figure out the double cross. Oddly, I found myself on Wyatt’s side hoping he’d get away with the crime and survive.

Overall, I enjoyed the writing style. The Heat is an enjoyable holiday read, perfect to lose take you away from your everyday.  I think I may now be hooked on crime novels especially by Garry Disher.

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Book Review: The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver

Having read Shriver’s incredible book, “We Need to Talk about Kevin,” I was very excited to read her latest. Set in 2029, this is a story about a family whose large inheritance is wiped out when America’s economy spirals into a financial abyss. The story follows the lives of the Mandible family and how they cope with hardship along with millions of others over the next twenty years.

The daily lives of the citizens are reminiscent of a country at war – spirally prices for scarce food, lack of water and no jobs – yet the country is not at war. This might be set in the future but I can think of a number of countries where this is happening in the present day.

The authors imaginary world includes accounting chips embedded into the necks of citizens to track their income and expenditure so as to ease the Government’s collection of a 70% tax rate; robots; flexscreens which are paper thin devices of communications. There’s a wall between America and Mexico which is designed to keep the subservient Americans out of affluent Mexico.

Most of the dialogue is dominated by the family’s obsession about the economics of their country’s plight. It is so heavy handed it becomes a bore of information dumping revealing little about the characters other than their sameness. This is what lost it for me. When the story actually gets going (after about page 200), I became more engaged. The family’s difficulties and their survival is interesting. But the lack of depth of the characters left me with little empathy for any of them. After 400 pages I knew little more about them and more importantly, cared less about them than I should have. Was I enlightened with all the economic speak? Not at all. An interesting premise could have given so much if the author had concentrated more on her characters.

I was disappointed as I expected more than was delivered. But then maybe, reading about the financial ales of a country like America is not a futuristic surprise just a daily reality for much of the world.

Book Review: The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn

 

The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2017. A tantalising story about the last day in the life of the eccentric and elderly writer, Ava Langdon. Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Blue Mountains, the author has very skilfully drawn an exquisite character, inspired loosely on the real life writer, Eve Langley. She dresses in men’s clothing, drinks from a sherry bottle in the park and apart from her machete which she carries with her, obsesses over her writing.

There is hardly a plot, as the author, almost poetically takes us through a day with Ava meandering around the township of Katoomba. We are inside her head as she imagines the stories of the locals who are wary and barely tolerant of a person they little understand. A recluse, we are given a tour of her derelict hut yet happy in her surroundings, she asks for no pity. There are hints of how she has arrived at such a place, alone and destitute. Our idea of how an elderly woman should behave is challenged as we’re taken with her to the café, the library, soup kitchen, the Post Office, the pub, and hospital.

A surprise visitor brings us a glimpse of her past and as the book ended, I was left wanting more of her sad back story. Not a long book,  I enjoyed reading it, and the language was evocative and superbly crafted, but it might not be to everyone’s taste.

Book Review: Everything to Live For by Turia Pitt

 

Turia Pitt at 23, with a loving partner, great job and everything to look forward to, entered an ultramarathon in 2011 and was caught in a bushfire which changed her life forever. With burns to 65% of her body, her survival was miraculous as was her battle to adapt and fight.

I’d read a bit about Turia over the years from the media. What happened to her and other competitors was tragically avoidable. Her gut wrenching story unfolds bit by bit with the help of writer, Libby Harkness. The details of what happened and why, are clearly explained. I found myself caught up in the emotion, particularly when I read about her bravery and the steadfast courage and love from her partner, family and friends.

No parent wants what happened to Turia for their child and her mother’s dedication and belief in her daughter is incredibly moving. I challenge you to read it and not be affected. It truly is a story of inspiration not just of Turia but everyone around her who never gave up.

For anyone who is going through a hard time and thinks they can’t do something,  read this book and I hope you’ll soon see that with the right mindset, you probably can.

Book Review: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

I finished Eileen a little while ago and mulled over what to say. Short listed for the Man Booker Prize 2016, it’s a story about a girl trapped in a dreary life, caring for her alcoholic father at night and  working as a secretary in a dead end job in a boys’ prison during the day. She dreams of breaking free and after meeting the beautiful and smart, Rebecca,  is pulled unwittingly into a crime with unexpected consequences.

Eileen is not a girl you can like nor is she a girl with too many redeeming qualities. But she is a girl, who at certain times in our own lives, reflects a tiny, teeny bit of ourselves. She has the maturity of a child in the body of a woman, full of uncertainty, yet so seemingly self-aware of every one of her flaws, and there are many. The story drags at times and much of her thoughts and inadequacies become repetitive, so much so, that even if I wanted to like her, her character allows no-one to feel pity.

I admire the author’s ability to get deep inside the head of this character. Except for the contrasting Rebecca,  grotesque glimpses of other characters are a mere sideshow to Eileen and her obsession with self. We’re left wondering about Rebecca and whether Eileen in her final act was ever truly empathetic for anyone else. I think not.

Overall, a challenging read but I’m glad I persevered. Did I like it? I can’t say I did, but then everything we read shouldn’t be about entertainment. It took me out of my middle class comfort zone that’s for sure. Well done to the author.

How do you take your books?

The other day someone asked, “How do you take your books?”
“With a cup of tea or a gin and tonic depending on the time of the day,” I replied with a grin.
But it got me thinking.

With bulging bookcases and little space, some years ago, I began reading my books electronically saving space and weight particularly when on holiday or travelling. Reading on my iPad meant I didn’t have to search for the best lighting – I could just take it with me. Simple and easy. The cost of electronic books was also very affordable which meant I could buy more. With so many advantages to reading on a device, why don’t more people buy and read their books that way?

Perhaps it was a fad but I find myself now reverting back to the good old paperback. I like to hold it and flip the pages back and forwards. To read the blurb on the back cover, inside cover, to look at the artwork. Sure I can do that electronically, but I like the feel of it in my hands. Sometimes I just don’t want to look at another screen.

 I like to read in bed – a paperback doesn’t hurt as much as a dropped iPad on the face. Yes, that has happened to me. I bought a new book shelf and I actually love to look at my books – I don’t get that same feeling with the books on my device. Sometimes, I scan the shelf, pick a book I’ve already read, open it anywhere and start reading. I’m also fussy when I buy a paperback not just because it’s more expensive but it has to earn its place on the tight real estate space of my book shelf.

I haven’t totally given up electronic books- I still get them occasionally. Now I’m thinking about audio books. I can listen while I’m out walking or driving and I like that idea.

Thinking about that question again, I’d say, I take my books in a variety of forms but I prefer the paperback.

What about you?

It’s my anniversary.

Twelve months ago I launched my debut novel, ‘Climbing the Coconut Tree.’ Three years ago I commenced my writing journey, made a heap of mistakes and learnt a lot along the way.  How time flies.

So how’s it been going?

Here’s my report card on Climbing the Coconut Tree-:

  • It received 23 reviews across various sites.
  • It’s available to buy across UK, Europe, USA, Australia and NZ in print format and across more than 70 worldwide digital platforms including Amazon, Kobo and Apple.
  • E-book sales are 12.6% of my total sales.
  • It’s available in seven libraries and two independent book stores in Melbourne.
  • Three book groups have included it on their list.
  • It’s travelled the length and breadth of Australia, across the Pacific to the US and  Europe in the hands of multiple readers, many of whom have embraced the beach lifestyle and drink of choice, gin and tonic.
  • It’s been spotted with a number of celebrities, including past Presidents, sportspeople and movie stars although they may have been in a wax museum . . . see my earlier post on that one https://sckarakaltsas.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/whos-reading-my-book/

What else is coming?

My collection of short stories, ‘Out of Nowhere’ is completed and once the cover is finalised will be released shortly.

A short story, On the Side of a Hill was recently published in the Monash Writers Anthology. Another called, ‘The Surprise’ was short listed in the Lane Cove Literary Awards in 2016. Both stories will be available in my collection.

I’m also working on another historical novel called, ‘The Perfect Stone’  set during the Greek Civil War in 1948. Hopefully it will be out in 2018.

Whew! I guess I have been just a little bit busy.