Tag Archives: reading

Book review – The People Smuggler

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The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny was a book club read back earlier this year.  It was the first book everyone in the group actually finished,  which is telling in itself. While it doesn’t seem quite right to use the word ‘enjoy’ about such serious and at times disturbing subject matter,  I did enjoy this read.
Ali Al Jenabi is a regular guy from a regular family who happens to live in Iraq. His father is a passionate man who questions the regime of Saddam Hussein and raises his sons to question and make their own judgements. This lands them in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison where all are tortured horribly and held for years, one brother never emerging.

What follows is the story of how an ordinary man in a violent and unjust country tries to smuggle himself and his family out to safety.

The story covers years and many attempts and travels to many countries, betrayals, sacrifice and heartbreak and enduring hope.

Ali loves his country, and you get the overwhelming sense that if he could live anywhere in the world in safety,  he would choose Iraq, even now.  But the Iraq of his childhood no longer exists and return to that country is impossible for him.

He is taken advantage of repeatedly by people smugglers and eventually, in despair of the ruthless and heartless smugglers he has encountered, begins to arrange his own boats and smuggling people to Australia himself.

The story of betrayal continues when eventually he lands in Australia himself only to be arrested, have his application for refugee status (possibly) deliberately sabotaged by the government and be the first person charged with people smuggling in Australia.

This book was an eye opener into a complex issue,  one with a great deal of misinformation and irrational and unnecessary fear.

The intention of this blog is to talk about writing and books, not politics, so I won’t get into the rights wrongs and wherefores on this issue, just to say we are a massive country with many resources and this is an issue we as a nation handle appallingly, with that said I am here to talk about the book.

There’s no doubt this book is written from one point of view and is very sympathetic to Ali’s plight and cause, the Australian government comes off very poorly, not as bad as Saddam Hussein sure, but I am sure the book does no harm in positive publicity for Ali’s asylum claim.

But it is a worthy read, particularly in this county where we hear the fear mongering every day in our media. An emotional and sympathetic telling of the people smuggler’s side serves as a counterpoint.

As a book club we also read I am Malala, another story of atrocity and injustice, but a tough and annoying read. I felt it natural to compare the two and The People Smuggler certainly came out on top. I would recommend this, and I have.

Read it, consider the issues, as one sided as this version is, it’s a worthy addition to the debate. For more info you can visit the web page set up around the book.

Apologies for typos and errors, this post was written on my phone 🙂

Book Review – The raw shark texts

20150420_140721I almost don’t want to review this book here as when I picked it up from the library I really had no idea what I was in for, and discovering it along the way was a heck of a ride. But I also want people to read it. Tough one!

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall was his debut, published in 2007, he hasn’t published anything since.

It is literary fiction, speculative fiction, kinda science fiction – it’s a complicate, unique and rich read.

It starts with the protagonist awakening – yes I know you should never start a story with waking or the weather but this is fantastic, you truly believe he has surfaced from a near drowning and is gasping for breath on his living room floor. He has absolutely no memory of who he is and finds a note.

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Intriguing right? What follows is an amazingly complex dive into an alternate view of the world we live in, or is it into the psyche of a disturbed mind?

I found this novel through a recommendation in comments on a blog post suggesting novels to introduce people to science fiction reading, so picked it up not really knowing much about it. Flicking through the pages though you find pages like these:

20150420_14113820150420_140947and it’s not a gimmick, it’s an intrinsic part of the story. While I found the technology of the story a little hard to understand at times, the story itself was fantastic.

This is a novel that will stay with me for quite some time. I don’t immediately want to pick it up and reread it but I found it difficult to part with and return to the library.

My writing tutor, the fantastic Toni Jordan, told me that she had huge bookshelves installed in her loft conversion, so huge she thought she’d never fill them. Two years later she is going through her books and choosing what she really has to keep – this, she said, is unequivocally on her keep pile.

I’d recommend this book, yes, I don’t want to tell you much more about what it is about, I want you to discover it as I did.

Has anyone read it? Love to hear your thoughts – I think if I ever do reread it I’ll get a much greater appreciation of some of the explanations but I appreciated reading it with some confusion as Eric Sanderson (the protagonist) had.

Lost between the covers

bookmark_2673937I just love this idea – a bookstore that has on display all the bits and bobs they find inside the second hand books they receive. SO many story ideas spring from this!

It’s not just photos – ‘One of the most intriguing finds was a white DVD, labelled in green texta: ‘Mitch and Rob’s Massive Bangkok Adventure’. Mr Kemp hasn’t viewed it – he’s afraid of what he might find.’

But is it a disappearing treasure trove now that our photos are digital and not printed out? What strange things have you used as a bookmark?

What was he reading???

I work in the local public library a lot, it helps me avoid the guilt of undone tasks glaring at me while trying to write or work from home (not that I’d take procrastination to the extreme of actually vaccuuming).

This week I had set myself in my favourite spot, near a a power point, on an angle with my back to the wall so I can see out into the courtyard outside and into the library to people watch the other patrons. There was a guy next to me for most of the day as well. He had an ipad he spent some time on, listened to music through his ear buds and not much else. At one point a friend came and met him and they went to use one of the computers. He stood and started to follow his friend. His friend pointed out that he’d left his wallet and phone on the table at his chair. He responded that it was ok to leave it, no one takes anything at this library. But he turned back and took the novel.

He left his wallet. He left his phone. He took the book.

I love that.

What was the book? I never found out. How fabulous it would be to be the person that wrote a book someone cared more about losing than their phone or wallet!

Book Review – State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett

As you know this was my selection for wine, I mean book club. I had wanted to choose something that was a good yarn but also contained enough interesting issues to generate discussion. I wanted to choose something I hadn’t read before and also something that was easy for people to access, whether at the library or to buy.

Phew! On top of that it couldn’t really be too long a book, all the book club members have young children and most struggle to finish the book in the month allotted, so when I read The Circle by Dave Eggers, while I loved it and it would have been a fantastic book club book, there was no way many would have finished it (oh, another one I need to add to the book review list!)

So, I found it tough to choose!

I haven’t read anything else by Anne Patchett I know her novel Bel Canto won both the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and it looks great – it’s on the ever growing list.

state of wonderSo State of Wonder is about Dr Marina Singh who works in the lab at a major pharmaceutical company. Her lab partner is sent to the Amazon to convince the obstinate but brilliant Annick Swenson to return with her research or to avaluate how close she is to producing something they can test. There has been no communication at all from her for 2 years and she is deeply resentful of any level of ‘interference’ from her sponsors. Unfortunately the first letter in two years from Dr Swenson informs Marina and the drug company CEO, her older lover, Mr Fox of the death of her lab partner.

Marina is then dispatched to find out what happened and also to finish the mission. They are in the jungle investigating what it is that allows the women of the ncredibly remote Lakashi tribe to continue to bear children into their 70s – with implications for western IVF and fertility.

I really enjoyed the novel, I read it at Christmas time to make sure it wasn’t a dog’s breakfast before recommending it to the book club, and then quickly a second time in the week before the meeting. It’s funny that the middle section that I felt dragged the first time I read it, didn’t bother me on the second reading, and others felt that while this section did drag, it needed to, to convey the emotions of Marina being made to wait by her former mentor with no knowledge of when she may be granted an audience. This nicely mirrors another evening from years before when Marina, a medical resident, was on obgyn rotation with Dr Swenson as the Dr in charge. In an emergency, Dr Swenson made Marina wait to an ultimately devastating end, resulting in the end of Marina’s medical studies and shift into pharmacology.

The novel is full of clever little writing tricks of this type. The childless Marina and Dr Swenson investigating a fertility drug, Dr Swenson’s clinical approach to reproduction but extreme attachment to a remarkable native boy.

We all felt that the ending felt rushed, that another chapter was called for, not for the neat bow-tying to satisfy a happily ever after, it just felt such a rush from the jungle, that there were consequences to be addressed if not resolved and relationships that would be changed that needed a spotlight.

However it is a wonderful book, with evocative language painting a vivid picture of the oppressive and cloying nature of the wildness in the Amazon – well worth the read.

Harper Lee – a tough act to follow

As would have been the case for many other booklovers, I awoke to the news that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is set to publish her second novel this year, 55 years after her iconic debut.

Initially I greeted this with surprise and excitement. I knew Harper Lee had never published again and was something of a recluse, I knew she must have been past 80 (she’s 88). When I read the article and discovered this wasn’t a new work, but rather a rediscovered manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, from the late 1950s my enthusiasm dimmed a little.

While I think it is wonderful that literature is front page news today, what will this book actually be like? There is no doubt that writing styles have changed significantly since 1960 when To Kill a Mockingbird was published, while that novel is undoubtedly a classic and stands up, to publish a novel in the same style and flow today runs the very real risk of seeming old fashioned.

Also the complexities of the social issues it addresses are compounded by the intervening years and all that has happened to society in that time. We view racial and ethical issues in a different light now.

But of more concern was the fact that this manuscript wasn’t considered for publishing when it was written, Harper Lee took two and half years of revision on To Kill a Mockingbird. She is now 88, profoundly deaf and partially blind, living in an assisted care facility. You have to wonder how much work this manuscript needs to whip it into shape, and whether Harper Lee is realistically up to the task.

It will sell, of course it will, I’ll certainly read it, she won’t need to do library readings and bookshop signings.

But you have to wonder. I don’t want to be a wet blanket however, so, despite some reservations, today I am happy for Harper Lee, and for readers everywhere.

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Are you doing it right?

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Insert catchy headline here

No, the headline is not a sub editing snafu – rather one of the random ramblings I’ve been thinking about.

from freepik.com

from freepik.com

There is no doubting the importance of a catchy headline, particularly in this electronic age when an entire story can be conveyed in just 144 characters. In fact one of the most often clicked-on posts in this blog is most likely found through a Google search by Metallica fans, the post title is Ride the Lightning aka Unintended Meanings . The post content is more about how once art is in the world you have lost the ability to control how it is interpreted, however I get so many hits from what I assume are Metallica fans googling the record title.

The other day I was reading the newspaper online and one of the articles I could have clicked on in the lifestyle-type section was headlined ’10 unusual things to do with breast milk’ – sorry peeps, I’m not providing a clickable link for that one! Apart from feeding an infant I would have thought any other use would be considered unusual. However, the point is, the headline was certainly not enticing me to click through!

A second slightly related rambling – As I was sitting in the library waiting for the annoying windows updates on my netbook to happen I glanced around at my fellow bibliophiles, as you do. There was a sweet older gentleman, probably a retiree, sitting in a sunny corner, absorbed in a book. I envied him the luxury of having an afternoon with nothing more pressing to do than sit and enjoy a read in a comfy chair. He suddenly exclaimed under his breath ‘sh1t!’ and flicked forwards pages in his book, flicked back again, read some more. And immediately I thought – how fantastic to be able to elicit such a response from a reader. I tried to spy the book he was reading when he stood up suddenly and headed back into the shelves. I was able to glimpse the title as he disappeared, re-emerging from the shelves empty-handed and then he left the library. I’m not quite sure what he was expecting when he picked up Benjamin Law’s book Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East – but I would have thought that title was a fair indication of what you were letting yourself in for!

And a third, somewhat sad side note – Tom Clancy died last week, I still enjoy watching and reading Clear and Present Danger and The Hunt for Red October. He still has a book to come out, Command Authority is due for release on 3 December.

Reading by example

The changing face of technology means that our kids don’t necessarily ‘see’ us read any more.

It’s National Literacy and Numeracy Week down here DownUnder, and in my real life incarnation I’ve been doing some Facebook prompting to encourage people to get involved, that literacy and numeracy exercises are not just for kids or students.

libraryAs we all well know children learn best and insidiously from example, our example. I’ve been reading quotes and studies about how fantastic it is for our kids to see us read, to realise that reading is done for enjoyment, not just news and education. And this goes for kids of any age. In particular it is great for boys to see their male role models reading for pleasure.

We read a lot in our house, however, Little Man actually probably doesn’t ‘see’ us read all that often. I mostly use my Kobo ereader, particularly as I’m into book 4 of Game of Thrones – and they are some heavy books! And BMan reads loads but has fallen in love with audio books. So it is not very often that the Little Man gets to see us with a book in hand.

So how does that go for influencing the future generations? I have no answer to be honest.

I’m not concerned for Little Man – he’s 5 so we read stories to him nightly and we have literally hundreds of books in the home and regularly visit the local library. We make it pretty clear that reading and story telling is a great past time.

However it’s something that may be telling as this techno generation get older.

Interesting.

WIP update – I’ve got my manuscript entered into Scrivener now, have categorised large slabs of it as Purgatory – in need of work prior to being released back into the manuscript proper. Now I’m embarking on reading the current manuscript, to refresh my memory, be proud of what I’ve done to date and to cringe and hide my head in shame at other points.

Too weird for fiction, this is real life baby!

So folks I’m back on board after a crazy couple of weeks, hope you didn’t miss me too much 😉

After some recent events and also inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild that I am halfway through, I got to thinking about how a dramatic event in your life can derail you so completely that your life is suddenly and irreversibly chaged forever. Not just the changes one expects to come along, getting a new job, moving towns etc. but something that, to you, is earth shatteringly changing, enough to change your thought patterns, your natural way of interacting with your world, your very behaviour, even your own perception of yourself.

For many of us we ride this life rollercoaster, even with all its dizzying highs and plunging lows, on a fairly even keel, we absorb the impact and continue on changed, but recognisable. For others the results are far more dramatic. These are the people that we read and write about. Funny thing is, in fiction, these dramatic shifts in personality and behaviour can often ring untrue.

Cheryl Strayed was rocked to the core when her mother died, her behaviour over the next five or so years was dramatically different to life while her mother still lived. If her memoir was written as fiction you would put it down in disgust, why would this loving wife do such seemingly despicable things? So out of character? What was the author thinking, did they really think we’d buy this? please! But she did, really. And then she wrote about it, raw and honest.

The truth is truly stranger than fiction.

What about those perfect storms of coinicidental events that culminate in drama. They all happen in our lives, we know that, but when we read a book or see a movie where a seemingly ridiculous sequence of good or bad luck occurs to one person, it doesn’t ring true. But in life we know it happens.

It’s funny that we need to temper our fiction to make it believable.

When we returned from holiday last night we first pulled into our local shopping centre to restock the pantry. I rushed from the car, leaving Little Man sleeping and Bman phoning friends. As I hurried past the corner coffee shop I noted a bit of a crowd was clustered, When I drew closer I saw one of the outdoor tables was covered with a blanket and there were two people holding brightly coloured giant parakeets, just stroking their heads gently and silently. There was also a man holding a piglet wrapped in a blanket, but no one was looking at him. Bizarre! I felt like I was in a parallel universe. I’d only been gone 2 weeks, what on earth had changed in my short absence? If I wrote this scene up, which I’m tempted to do, would it ring true? There was no obvious explanation why the wildlife was there, nothing happened, I didn’t pat the bird or the piglet, but the sense of scene was so odd.

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On a completely different note my just turned four year old Little Man is showing signs of being a story teller. During a particularly gruelling ferry crossing, where I did not manage to maintain my dignity, my Little Man made up adventures to make me feel better (while the ever supportive Bman slept!). They were serious boy’s own adventure stuff, lava surfing, rocket boosters and speed, elaborate in their action, seriously light on plot and character development. I loved every minute of it!

We bought a litte exercise book and he dictated three stories to me. They were less dramatic than his earlier offerings as I wrote too slow for him!

One proud writing mama will treasure this holiday souvenir for a long long time!