Book Review: Astray by Emma Donoghue

Astray

Category: A Collection of Short Stories

Astray is a collection of historical short stories, the characters, created from real life newspaper stories, diary entries and the like. In Astray, Donoghue has used fact to create fiction, a world of characters lost in transit, waiting for something that may never come.
Cleverly separated in to three parts; Departure, In Transit and Arrivals, Donoghue’s characters are all on a journey. Some are searching for a new life, some are trying to make do with the one they have. Luck has not been on their side, and for some of them, it never will be.

Astray
features touching stories such as ‘Onward,’ inspired by letters written between author Charles Dickens and a brother, about a young lady he helped escape a life of poverty and prostitution or ‘Man and Boy,’ the heart-warming story of a Zookeeper and Jumbo, his Elephant, inspired by newspaper reports. ‘The Widow’s Cruse’ tells of a manipulative woman who so cunningly uses the men around her to her advantage, and ‘The Body Swap,’ a fictionalised version of the body snatchers who attempted to steal President Lincoln’s body.

Due to the nature of the book, Astray is a good holiday book for putting down and picking back up again when you need to. There’s a story or two for everyone, and whilst some of the stories may not engage everyone, there is a wide range of subject matter to keep most readers happy. This is the first book of short stories I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will be picking up more short stories over the course of the next year!
Five/Five Stars

Book Review: The Colour by Rose Tremain

colour

 

Category: A Book Set in the Country Where you Live

Newlyweds Joseph and Harriet Blackstone, along with Joseph’s mother Lilian, emigrate from England to New Zealand. Determined to make a name for himself outside of his late Father’s shadow, Joseph makes a string of poor choices that leave him and his family unprepared for the harsh realities of life in the wilderness of New Zealand.
His fortune, however, may be about to change after he finds gold dust in the creek bed on his land. Consumed by greed and his need to be successful, Joseph sets off towards Hokitika in search of The Colour.

I enjoy historical fiction, especially those set in the Victorian times. The Colour was recommended to me by a colleague who said it was beautifully written; which it is. New Zealand is described in vivid detail, the scenery, the bush, the mountains and oceans coming alive off the page. It was easy to imagine Tremain’s version of Aotearoa. However, this was where the brilliance ended for me. The storyline fell flat. I couldn’t relate to Joseph and Lilian’s motivations even though I could empathise with their situations and the poor decisions they made.

Being English herself, Tremain attempted to add Te Reo Maori into the novel, but there wasn’t enough. It didn’t flow naturally throughout the story and there were passages where the writing would have been improved with the Te Ao Maori view, especially during the second half of the book when Maori secondary character, Pare, has her own story line. The book is saved by the tenacity, bravery and determination of Harriet, who against all odds, manages to survive the harsh realities of Victorian New Zealand in the winter mostly on her own.

Three/Five Stars

Love is a losing game

‘Love is a losing game;
One I wish I’d never played.’

My god how Amy was right.

I’ve been single coming up three years. When I became single, that’s all I wanted. To be on my own. To be independent, to be fully comfortable with myself and have a firm set of values and beliefs.
Time passed. I healed. I began to listen to what my intuition was telling me. I learned why I made the choices I did, didn’t do the things I would have done for others, for myself. I worked on the things I wanted to improve in my life. I still am.
Things were great and I was content with life.
And then I started thinking… I reckon I’m ready.
I reckon I’m ready to really put myself out there, put the hard yards in and try and find the person for me.

Well, in this modern day and age, ‘put yourself out there’ (when you live as isolated as I do) means ‘online dating,’ and ‘online dating’ is code for a cess pool of time-wasting men (or people), many of whom don’t give a fuck about anyone except themselves.

So, without delay, let’s delve into the world of my ever-failing love life.

First, there was the Plumber who came in STRONG.
So strong that one day, after only three dates, he came around to my house while he knew I was out… AND DID ALL OF MY YARD WORK.
AND TOOK THE GREENWASTE AWAY WITH HIM, so as not to leave a trace.
He then preceeded to lie about having done it, but did let slip “I was so worried the entire time that you’d come home and be like “WTF are you doing!?” ”
Well… YES. That’s exactly what I was thinking, so, Pal… if you were thinking it… why were you doing it in the first place?!!!
Such a helpful, yet gross invasion of privacy!
There was no connection, but I endured. It’ll develop, I thought.
After, once again, showing up at my house unannouced, he invited me to go diving at the beach with him. I apologised and said I couldn’t as I had some work to do, needed a bit more notice, but would like to another time.
Two days later I recieved a message saying “It’s not going anywhere and I’ll see you around.”
Here, folks, was the first time I encountered the come in hot, abrupt ice cold exit strategy.
It wouldn’t be the last.

I then dated a Geologist. He was nice. He was kind. He was tall.
What he wasn’t, however, was engaging. Or overly interesting.
We had two dates,  one of which I was very unwell on. Needless to say, my patience ran out very quickly and his big-boy charm became big-time irritating.
I apologised to him and told him I wasn’t interested, and I wished him well, thinking it was the end.
He then continued to send me snapchats for up to eight months after the fact.
What do you do in this instance? Reply? Not…? I don’t know how to navigate this social norm.

Next, was the Doctor. Oh, the Doctor.
Interesting. Check.
Smart. Check.
Sense of humour. Check.
Vegetarian. Check.
Concerns for the environment. Check.
Cares about people. Check.
Connection. Check.
Love. I was sure it was going to turn into love.

Oh, how I was wrong.
Not only did he completely forget that we had arranged to have a date one night, he had forgotten because he was too busy playing the new handheld PSP he had just purchased. How do I know?
I phoned him several times only for it to ring, then go to Voicemail. When he finally checked his phone and realised, (tail between legs) he said he was so sorry, his “phone had gone flat.”
Funny; when I phone my friends and their phone is flat it goes straight to Voicemail. Flat my arse.
When I arrived, the PSP had been carelessly strwen on the ‘bed’ (matress on the floor).
Lies. Check.
Lack of basic level of bedding for a thirty year old. Check.
Exit Strategy…  Check.
He moved. Islands. To Dunedin.

‘It wasn’t love, it wasn’t love.’

There was the date with ‘the Builder’ who was so intimidated by me that he showed up to the venue already drunk. And smelling of stale cigarettes. That, teamed with his clear mysogyny was enough the curtail anything there. Goodbye.
And another Plumber who asked how tall I was… (164cm) and promptly ghosted me.
Clearly I wasn’t petite enough [for his small stature and tiny ego].

After the Doctor I went on one date with a Paramedic and one with a Builder.
I paid for drinks on both dates because, feminism. Generosity. Kindness. You pick.
Well, ladies… both ‘ghosted’ me immediately after. Turns out being self sufficent or independent isn’t attractive!
Oh gosh darn. What a shame.

It was then that I reaslised that dating was exhasuting. Being rejected constantly does take a bit of a toll on ones self. I needed to rebuild my mental health, spend a bit of time recharging. I took a break. It was a good break. It was a long break. It was a needed break.

Did I mention dating was exhuasting, per chance?
I did? Oh, good. Because as it turns out, after a very reasonable break, I seemed to have forgotten this very, very important fact.

Next, the Journalist.
There were so many good things about him. He was interesting. We shared values and he was socially progressive like noone I had met before.
Yet every time someone asked me about him I replied with something along the lines of “aahhh yeahh…. I dunno…. he’s nice.”
Here, after such a long break spent on my own (mostly working and reading books) I applied the same line of thinking as the Plumber… Maybe if I keep going on dates with him it’ll happen… something will happen… surely? Anything? Maybe…?
No. The answer was no.
Whilst there was some good chat, there was no chemistry and a few awkward moments which ultimately ended up with him attempting to clean up dog shit he’d trampled into my carpet one day.
Are you surprised, fair reader, to hear that after this… once again… after two months of dating…
Ghosted.
No, neither am I. I mean… why would you talk about your feelings or care about anyone elses’ when it’s just SO easy to not do ANYTHING at all!

To be fair. Upon reflection of all of this dating, I have learned a few significant things about myself. Like the fact that one goes on dates to meet someone, to get to know them… but I won’t actually let anyone get to know me, not without a deep connection, and generally not in the first three to five(ish) months at least. Go figure!
Socialising is exhausting.
Small talk is the worst.
It’s tiring tying to be yourself,  but not all of yourself, or not too much of yourself at once…
As one friend mentioned when I was dating; “You can’t go ‘Full Sarah’ to begin with! You need to ease them into that!”
I love you, friend. But I only know how to be me and that’s either full on fairy, or awkward unicorn.
Also… I was right. I do want to be on my own. It’s so much more comfortable!

I think, perhaps, from now on, I’d much prefer to stay in the house and read a book instead. Bring your babies to me for cuddles.

‘Well I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart.’

Farewell, dear Journalist. I wish you well on your endeavours.
And your potential move to Dunedin. A place it’s looking likely, I may never, ever visit.

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

1984

 

Category: A Book Originally Published Between 1900 – 1950

Individuality. Free thought.
Rebellion.
All banned by Big Brother and The Party in Oceania.
Winston Smith is living in a post-war dystopia where the ruling party need to control everything from how you speak to what you wear, and even what you think. Surveillance is paramount.
Increasingly unsettled by life in Oceania, Winston sets on a course of defiance in hope of finding the Brotherhood, the resistance. Along the way he discovers Julia and together they find delight in their silent rebellion.
But when you defy Big Brother… There may be no return.
Released in 1949, Orwell wrote of a dystopia where surveillance is paramount, control is essential and individuality is non-existent.
1984 is a work of fiction which may very well be more relevant now, than it ever has been. In the light of the recent Facebook surveillance scandal and what we now know about how our technology use is tracked, 1984 is a novel that rings more truth now about our daily lives and how we are monitored without being aware. It will make you consider your consumer habits and question if we really live un-influenced, free lives. 1984 is a classic novel, which everyone needs to read, and re-visit in order to remind ourselves of what may be lurking around the corner.
1984 will make you question freedom in this post modern world.

Four/Five stars

Book Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark; One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

gone in the dark

Category: A Book First Published in 2018

A standard bedtime routine. Put on your pyjamas, brush your teeth and read a story to your daughter before bed. Your family goes to sleep.
Instead of joining them, in her daughter’s playroom surrounded by toys and dolls, author Michelle McNamara would boot up her laptop and search for a serial killer.
McNamara spent years searching for the man she dubbed the ‘Golden State Killer;’ a man who terrorised the state of California for a decade between the mid 1970’s to the mid 80’s, leaving 50 rape and 11 murder victims in his wake.
A search so obsessive, it cost her her life.
McNamara finished only two thirds of her book before she passed away in her sleep in 2015, leaving her husband, friend and research assistant to piece together and finish her book.

Like many people, my attention was drawn to McNamara’s book when, in April of this year, 2018, Californian Police annouced they had a DNA match and arrested the Golden State Killer… less than three months after the release of McNamara’s book.

McNamara paints a picture and brings sleepy mid 70’s suburban California to life, a direct contrast to the horrors she writes being committed behind closed doors.
McNamara writes of a killer so calculating he would watch his targets for months before attacking. He would break in to their homes, learn the layout, disarm firearms, move furniture for hasty getaways. He would phone them to learn their routine. Repeatedly breathe down the phone. Then he would attack.
McNamara pieces together over ten years of evidence in an attempt to gain clarity and uncover the identity of the man who terrorised neighbourhoods for over a decade.
Thirty-two years after his last murder and two months after the release of this book, they arrested the Golden State Killer and called him so; an ode to McNamara, surely.
A relevant, must-read True-Crime book.

Four and a half/Five stars

Book Review: My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

My-Sisters-Bones-195x300

Category: A Book with a Family Member in the Title

Caution: Trigger warning.
Kate, a war-zone reporter has returned to Herne Bay following her mother’s death. As she attempts to deal with the PTSD of her job & her alcoholic sister, Kate is haunted by the trauma of her most recent assignment in Aleppo. Not to mention that being home raises the grief of the loss of her little brother during infancy. Unable to mend her relationship with her alcoholic sister or find her missing niece, Kate is supported by her brother in law. Struggling to sleep, she begins to see and hear things during the night. There’s a wee boy next door, who looks just like her brother, only, it can’t be. He’s obviously neglected, but no one believes that he exists and her neighbour insists she doesn’t have a child. Is she going mad?

Determined to save the boy next door when she was unable to in Aleppo, Kate is driven to uncover the truth that will severely change the lives of her family forever.
My Sister’s Bones is a dark story that takes readers down the path of many types of manipulation and abuse and how it is calculated and hidden. Affairs, alcoholism, assault, miscarriage, sexual and emotional abuse, murder and imprisonment are explored in this dark and raw, emotional novel that will be sure to leaving you asking questions about the motivation of men and hardiness and resilience of women. Whilst upsetting, My Sister’s Bones is one of the more thrilling novels I’ve read in recent years.  

Four/Five Stars

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

nightingale.jpg

 

Category: A Book Set in a Foreign Land

France, 1940. As sisters, Vianne and Isabelle couldn’t be more opposite. Vianne, older, married, with a child has waved her husband off to the front to help defend France from Hitler when her younger sister arrives. She disapproves of Isabella, younger, outspoken and kicked out of school after school due to her poor behaviour and inability to comply or follow instructions. She’s a liability. As the Germans invade France the war arrives not just in their town, but forces itself into their home in the form of SS Captain Beck. Vianne wants to toe the line in order to keep her home and her daughter safe. Isabelle, angry and rebellious wants to fight, and hard.
Each sister sets off on a journey of their own, fighting and surviving in the face of adversity.

This is a beautifully written story set in the most desolate of settings. Reminiscent of The Book Theif and All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale differs in the shaping of it’s older, determined female characters. Hannah so eloquently shapes these two very different women in to strong, resilient heroines, who will stop at nothing to keep their family and others safe. Isabelle and Vianne are well constructed, their struggles and motivations real. The way Hannah has conveyed the raw desperation of survival during occupied France is written in such a way as to make it real for the reader, but not in a way which overpowers the hope and optimism our heroines are fighting for. The brutality and horror of the Holocaust is communicated when required, the realities of war explored in a way that allows the spirit of our heroines shine. The first third of the text takes a slower pace to the rest of the book, but once there, you won’t want to put this novel down. The last six pages will be sure to conjure a tear or two and break your heart.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, much more than anything I have read in the past two years. I felt so connected to the characters and mourned their exit from my life once I had finished reading, the first book hangover I’ve had since reading The Bronze Horseman. 
Much like All the Light You Cannot See and The Book Thief, The Nightingale attempts to embody the spirit of determination, resilience and the overwhelming sense of what’s right and good in the world during the darkest of times. If you enjoyed these texts, you will enjoy The Nightingale.

Five/Five stars.