Book Reviews

Welcome to my Book Reviews!
Only my last 20 reviews show up here because in the way of all things techno-babble, every new review pushes an old one into some dark quantum place. If you’re really keen, you can see all my reviews on Goodreads here.
In case you’re wondering why I don’t include synopsises synopses a synopsis, it’s because of how I read reviews:

– First, when I’m deciding on the next book to read, I read the publisher’s blurb. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting that just right so if it doesn’t grab me, no-one else’s summary is likely to do any better, no matter how well written.
– Next I scan a few dozen reviews. I like to know what people think about the book: what moved them, what put them off, whether they want to read more. But if everyone starts with a lengthy summary, well… TL;DR.

So the last thing I want is to add another summary. If you want to know what it’s about, read the book.

I like to keep the review as short as I can but sometimes I waffle a bit (can you tell?). Especially if it’s really good. Or really bad not as good.
But above all, like mum always said, be nice or get out of the kitchen!
You can click on any title to be redirected to the original on Goodreads (you don’t need to be a member): then you can access other people’s reviews and the blurb and the many versions of the synopsii I left out. And if you make it through all of this, the graceful Margot likes grasses, insects and snails, but don’t feed her bread.
  • Review: The French Photographer

    The French PhotographerThe French Photographer by Natasha Lester

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Oh, Natasha Lester has a beautiful way with words! For starters, she taught me a few new ones—bathetic, pleached—and for another she never expects me to know French, or to look it up; neither does she patronize those who do by translating. But mostly it’s her sheer capacity for imagery that makes this her best work yet. Just listen to these examples as they speak to you:

    “He was very good-looking, especially with candles flickering around him, offset by a garden so fecund she could almost hear the buds opening and new shoots pushing forth, and accompanied by a bottle of wine as full-bodied as a burlesque dancer, and pâté so rustic and fresh that she wanted to eat it with her hands.”

    It’s not just beauty she captures, she’s also very capable of capturing emotions such as anger and frustration; or the hollowness a person must feel on returning to normality after witnessing unspeakable horrors:

    “Jess…walked out onto the street, to an assault of buses and cabs and horns and neon signs and intact buildings and people wearing colours other than khaki and carrying purses instead of weapons, unhelmeted, not a gas mask in sight, or a jeep, or a drop of blood.”

    In fact, such is her power she can do it in a single line:

    “The words settled on D’Arcy like a fur coat in summer.”

    There is something intangibly beautiful about this book, too. Whether it’s more like Lester’s first novel What Is Left Over, After in its rawness and humanity, or whether it’s just more…I don’t know…Lester-y: it seems more of her style and personality ekes out of these pages than ever.

    The story itself unfolds as more of a mystery of why than who, and is a wake-up call as to how entrenched sexism has been, and still is—shame on me: even I, a woman, assumed The French Photographer was a male.

    Such is the power of this story that even when something quite unbelievable happened, an event I could pull apart with half a dozen faults, it didn’t matter. I remained entrenched in the story, blamed the ‘faults’ on the humanity of the characters, and even now have decided it’s me who’s made the mistake, not Lester.

    Simply put, this is an outstanding story and one that I’m grateful Lester chose to tell.

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion

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  • Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever wondered what happens to gods on the Discworld when people stop believing in them? Or worse, when people believe more in the religion than in the god?

    This is one turtle’s fight to regain his almighty and feared status. In the meantime, the formerly Great God Om struggles to make himself heard:

    The devils of infinity fill your living bones with sulphur!

    fails to avoid sandled feet:

    Your feet to fly from your body and be buried in a termite mound!

    and very nearly becomes a Citadel dinner:

    The worms of revenge to eat your blackened nostrils!

    With the Om-inspired religion filled with hymns such as ‘The Way of the Infidel Is A Nest Of Thorns’ and ‘He is Trampling the Unrighteous with Hooves of Hot Iron’ it’s not surprising turtle-Om has such a mean temper.

    Nor is it surprising his followers believe more in the Exquisitors who enforce His law than in Him. But now that he has perspective, Om thinks up a few changes that could make all the difference:

    When he had his power again, he was going to spend quite some time devising a few new hells…and a couple of fresh Precepts too. If he’d thought of one like Thou Shalt Bloody Well Pick up Any Distressed Tortoises and Carry Them Anywhere They Want Unless, And This is Important, You’re an Eagle a few years ago, he wouldn’t be in this trouble now.

    Lu-Tze the ‘sweeper’ makes his first appearance, being generally invisible while he makes just the tiniest changes to history.

    Death has a siginficant role in Small Gods too, in his case it’s because the exquisitors are busy, and the exquisitors are busy not just because of general unrighteousness, but because an underground of Omnians believe the earth might actually be flat and carried on the backs of elephants on a turtle.

    The Turtle Moves.

    And, as no kingdom of the Discworld would function without someone to sell them takeaway food, there’s also a special appearance by:

    Cut-Me-Own-Hand-Off Dhblah, purveyor of suspiciously new holy relics, suspiciously old rancid sweetmeats on a stick, gritty figs and long-past-the-sell-by dates.

    It’s always nice to hear about other years besides the year of the Notional Serpent in the Century of the Fruitbat; the year of the Astounded Beetle, and the year of the Lenient Vegetable both get a mention in Small Gods.

    Filled with such curses, anger, and torture, you’d expect Small Gods to be graphic and depressing but seen through Brutha’s innocent eyes it turns into a hilarious parody of heresy, inquisitions, torture, and belief.

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  • Review: Moving Pictures (Discworld #10)

    Moving Pictures (Discworld, #10)Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Moving Pictures is a return to familiar characters doing familiar things: the beloved Patrician, who caused a servant to have ‘chosen of his own free will to become a spy’ given the alternative of ‘choosing of his own free will to be thrown into the scorpion pit’; and the guilds, such as the Alchemists whose only discovered skill so far ‘was the ability to turn gold into less gold’; and Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler who becomes the first to think of advertising when moving pictures are invented; and Ankh-Morpork itself, the city where

    All roads lead away from Ankh-Morpork, but sometimes people just walk along them the wrong way.

    In a cracking great look at just how much advertising has wormed its way into everything we’ve ever invented (and at ourselves for playing along) Pratchett throws what must be thousands of puns and cultural references into:

    A Storie of Forbiden Love!
    A searing Sarger of Passion that Bridged Spaes and Tyme!
    This wille shok you!
    With a 1,000 elephants!

    Speaking of elephants, it’s also the first time I’ve seen Pratchett lead an idiom so extensively to its natural conclusion when Banana N’Vectif

    cunningest hunter in the great yellow plains of Klatch

    built the perfect mousetrap. The poor guy had

    heard a trader say that if any man ever built a better mousetrap, then the world would beat a path to his door [so] he look[ed] at a few mousetraps when he was in the town

    and made himself the perfect mousetrap – just as (presumably*) Azhural beats a path over his village with a thousand elephants on the way to fulfil CMOT Dibbler’s crazy promise.

    And yet it’s Pratchett’s subtlety that quitely stands out, such as when a relative of You Bastard, the most intelligent mathematician in all the universe and also a camel, (see Pyramids) appears. Evil-Minded Son of a Bitch doesn’t have as big a role as You Bastard, but his appearance alone is somehow familiar and heartwarming. And makes you feel just a little bit smug for having spotted it.

    On the surface of things, Moving Pictures is a cheap dig at the Hollywood circus, but hidden in its depths lies the unspoken illogic of a society gone crazy with unjustified hero-worshipping.

    Well done, Sir Terry.

    * Because Pratchett never spells anything out in full

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  • Review: Eric (Discworld #9)

    Eric (Discworld, #9; Rincewind #4)Eric by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 2 of 5 stars

    The plot to Eric is forced (no pun intended). Was Sir Terry too distracted by his work on the really good stuff of his next few instalments? Was Eric originally a venture into short stories that he hurriedly linked together when a deadline arose?

    At least it still has his classic humour (multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind!!!).

    And his depiction of hell is good – an eternity so boring even Rincewind can’t stand it (a demon showing holiday snaps to the poor souls under its command; another telling stories about its hernia operation).

    But events are linked by nothing other than Eric himself; a character we know nothing about so we can neither empathize nor hate him as he goes about his having his teenage wishes granted, literally jumping from plot point to plot point.

    And although the beginning resolves the ending of Sourcery, the ending just leaves us back where we started: where is Rincewind and the Luggage?

    Read it for completeness, but don’t read it as your first Pratchett experience.

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  • Review: Wyrd Sisters (Discworld #6)

    Wyrd Sisters (Discworld, #6)Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Starring Three Witches, also kings, daggers, crowns, storms, dwarfs, cats, ghosts, spectres, apes, bandits, demons, forests, heirs, jesters, tortures, trolls, turntables, general rejoicing and divers alarums

    Another pleasant witchy surprise on my re-reading journey with another witchy five-star read!

    The plot in Wyrd Sisters is probably the tightest yet with Pratchett staying on point and developing each of the considerably-fewer-than-usual characters. I particularly love how the witches themselves are developing – Granny and Nanny are at opposite ends on the ignorance scale and both are equally hilarious.

    Pratchett’s unique descriptions are still scattered throughout, some of them short and sweet:

    The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin.

    …and some of them deliciously two paragraphs long:

       It was a rich and wonderful voice, with every diphthong gliding beautifully into place. It was a golden brown voice. If the Creator of the multiverse had a voice, it was a voice such as this. If it had a drawback, it was that it wasn’t a voice you could use, for example, for ordering coal. Coal ordered by this voice would become diamonds.
       It apparently belonged to a large fat man who had been badly savaged by a moustache. Pink veins made a map of quite a large city on his cheeks; his nose could have hidden successfully in a bowl of strawberries. He wore a ragged jerkin and holey tights with an aplomb that nearly convinced you that his velvet-and-vermine robes were in the wash just at the moment.


    Plus the groundwork’s been laid for the magic swords and strawberry birthmarks to come…

    Wyrd Sisters is definitely a favourite so far!

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  • Review: Sourcery (Discworld #5)

    Sourcery (Discworld, #5)Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Sourcery starts out full of promise – after all it’s not every day you can argue inevitability with Death and win some kind of reprieve, and it’s certainly not every millennium that Death is unable to outstare an infant.

    But by about the middle the speed wanes, and even though the story chops and changes between characters and events, scenes manage to feel drawn out and forced.

    There are still some standout lines, like when the skinny hero tries to force open a door:

    ‘his biceps standing out on his arms like peas on a pencil’

    or two skinny men head off with the orangutan:

    ‘walking between them like a sack between two poles’

    or the scene after a whole lot of wizards got scared and ran away, leaving Rincewind all alone to note that:

    All the wizards were wazards.

    And after some magic shenanigans, Ankh-Morpork is (thankfully) returned its heartwarming familiar self:

    People were returning to Ankh-Morpork, which was no longer a city of empty marble but was once again its old self, sprawling as randomly and colourfully as a pool of vomit outside the all-night takeaway of History.

    Maybe more footnotes would have helped make Sourcery an easier read, but instead any interesting or punn-ish tangents are embedded in the text, resulting in a ramble. Lots of rambles.

    Still, for the sake of completeness (and because it’s not a bad book on the whole – and it is another chapter in the story of The Luggage), it’s a good enough read to have almost earnt four stars.

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  • Review: Equal Rites (Discworld #3)

    Equal Rites (Discworld, #3)Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Third in the Discworld series, Equal Rites branches out from the wizards of the first two books to their natural counterpart: the witches. And, being Discworld, only men can be wizards, only women can be witches, hence the clever title when a girl aspires to be a wizard.

    Pratchett’s style is clearly settling into his norm: the story feels less ‘jumpy’ than The Colour of Magic and even The Light Fantastic – it’s as if his confidence had grown. (Also, I remember reading somewhere that The Carpet People was the series he expected to write to the extent of Discworld, not Discworld itself – and if this is true, perhaps by Equal Rites he’d already realized that was not going to be the case.)

    Granny Weatherwax’s character in this, her first of many appearances, is already nicely set. Here, her unfounded opinions –

    For the first time in her life Granny wondered whether there might be something important in all these books people were setting such store by these days, although she was opposed to books on strict moral grounds, since she had heard that many of them were written by dead people and therefore it stood to reason reading them would be as bad as necromancy. Among the many things in the infinitely varied universe with which Granny did not hold was talking to dead people, who by all accounts had enough troubles of their own.

    And here, after using her frightening mum-voice that has even a wizard’s staff cowering in fear, her ‘headology’ threats –

    First it’ll be the spokeshave. And then the sandpaper, and the auger, and the whittling knife…and what’s left I’ll stake out in the woods for the fungus and the woodlice and the beetles. It could take years.

    There is a distinct lack of footnotes in Equal Rites, and I wonder if Pratchett and his editor were having an argument about their pros and cons – in which case I’m glad the editor won out. This book is stronger for their lack (but see future reviews…).

    Pratchett’s puns are continual (something I don’t think anyone can ever get away with again) such as the revelation that some really odd fossils are leftover from the time when the Creator hadn’t really decided what to make and was just

    ‘messing around with the Pleistocene’

    – or when Granny moves in next to the well-guarded premises of a respectable dealer in stolen property because she’d heard

    ‘good fences make good neighbours’

    His comparisons, coming out of someone else’s pen, might be offensive, but when Pratchett says it in the voice of his narrator the suspension of disbelief is so perfect we just laugh –

    She hit one [of the Things from the Dungeon Dimension], which had a face like a small family of squid, and it deflated into a pile of twitching bones and bits of fur and odd ends of tentacle, very much like a Greek meal.

    – or cringe –

    The streets were filled with silt, which on the whole was an improvement – Ankh-Morpork’s impressive civic collection of dead dogs had been washed out to sea.

    Sometimes, too, Sir Pratchett toys with us – we can read what he says at face value, but there’s often a deeper joke lurking within the depths, and I suspect that’s developing nicely even at this early stage – when Esk reaches one of the trees marked by an axe to assist lost villagers on snowy nights and it’s marked with ‘dot dot dot dash dot dash’ – it might be random, but it’s also Morse Code for ‘ok’ – and she suddenly ceased being ok at that very moment.

    On the whole, although I still wouldn’t recommend a newcomer start here, the series is becoming stronger and stronger by the book, and even though I’ve already read them all, I find myself discovering new things and even wondering what happens next!

    More than anything though, I find myself astounded that Pratchett keeps up this momentum, even improving, through dozens more books yet.

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  • Review: Pyramids (Discworld #7)

    Pyramids (Discworld, #7)Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Finally! Pratchett gives us the answer to the greatest question humanity has ever asked: who built the pyramids? And why? And how? Ok, that’s three questions…typical Sir Terry.

    Teppic has just inherited a kingdom, has just become the Divine Bringer of the Morning, Lord of the Heavens, Charioteer of the Wagon of the Sun, Steersman of the—anyway, he now rules over the kingdom of Djelibeybi (lit: child of the River Djel), where women sport names like Mrs Ptaclusp and Ptraci, and sons are named IIa and IIb (took me a while, too).

    Oh and pyramids are everything. Everything.

    So interfering with the shape, orientation, or paracosmic-measurement-plumbing of the pyramids could lead to the whole world being swallowed up. Apparently, as any camel could tell you, it’s quantum. And it was probably forewarned in ‘squiggle, constipated eagle, wiggly line, hippo’s bottom, squiggle’ if only there was someone alive who could still read the ancient dialects.

    So when the new pyramid built for Teppic’s late father, King Teppicymon XXVII, is the biggest and best yet, with ‘various measurements of paracosmic significance built into the very fabric at no extra cost’ the chaos is bound to be, well, big. Bigger even than that half-hearted Plague of Frog we had last century.

    This is classic Pratchett, and if you’ve never read any of his works before, you can safely start right here – if you don’t love this one, then Pratchett is not for you (unlikely as that is).

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  • Review: Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind

    Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and spawn new obligations.

    Sapiens is a series of well-thought out arguments on why we are what we are. It explores the beliefs, revolutions, choices, and sheer luck that has brought us to this point in time. Why are we a patriarchal society? What have we lost as civilizations grew and our hunting and gathering skills eroded? What does our money cost us in health?

    From the observation that we live in a dual reality caught between ‘the objective reality of rivers, trees, and lions’ and ‘the imagined reality of gods, nations, and corporations’ to the spine-chilling realization that capitalism/consumerism is ‘the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do’, it’s obvious Harari has spent the best part of his lifetime thinking and researching this epic work.

    Sapiens certainly gave me a new perspective on life and most of its players.

    History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.

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  • Review: Each Way Bet

    Each Way BetEach Way Bet by Ilsa Evans

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    This book is such a delight! The language is so clear and the silly ‘grass is greener’ style of jealousy between siblings is so real.

    Early on there were extra commas and an abundance of italics that tried hard to break my stride, and the dream sequence completely pulled me out of the story – it was too confusing to the reader, and had none of the flow real dreams have (even when they’re impossible, dreams always feel like they’re making perfect sense – instead, I had to check and re-check what I was reading for two pages before realizing I’d been conned).

    But Cricket! Oh wow how three year old Cricket makes up for anything! The way this ‘more attractive version of Little Orphan Annie’ swears like a trooper at exactly the right moment had me forever in stitches.

    Even better than Cricket’s precocious terrorizing was the flow of conversation during Melbourne Cup day at the Jack and Jill household. It was so realistic it rolled straight off the page and into my head as though I was there – not involved (because that would be way too hard to keep up) but as a fly on the wall, privy to everyone’s perspective and thoughts.

    A beautiful, delightful read you can knock over in a day.

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  • Review: Guards! Guards! (Discworld #8)

    Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8; City Watch #1)Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    I’ve got one word to say about book 8 of the Discworld series – VIMES! I adore this man. Sybil step aside! Although I admit I quite like Sybil too. And her dragons probably wouldn’t let me near him.

    Anyway, what is there not to love about this book?! Here’s a taste of Pratchett’s sense of humour, starting with the footnote on page 3:

    …even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one of those that look as though they were designed by M. Escher on a bad day and has more staircases than storys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter. The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.

    Fabricati diem pvnc [the City Watch’s motto]

    The thief shrugged. ‘I seem to recall stories about virgins chained to huge rocks,’ he volunteered.
    ‘It’ll starve around here, then,’ said the assassin. ‘We’re on loam.’

    He couldn’t help remembering how much he’d wanted a puppy when he was a little boy. Mind you, they’d been starving – anything with meat on it would have done.

    Honestly, if you’ve never read any of Terry Pratchett before – START HERE!

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  • Review: Reaper Man (Discworld #11)

    Reaper Man (Discworld #11)Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    This is a truly beautiful story about Death’s personal growth. It’s heart-rending and moving. So what a pity its sideline story is a crass dig at shopping malls and involves those bumbling wizards! Perhaps Pratchett meant that side of it to be ironic or surreal, or even absurd – but it’s just awkward.

    In spite of that I’m rating this highly – such is the power of Death’s story, the comedy of some of the undead characters, and the shortest- and longest-lived creatures on the Disc.

    Listen to the mayflies, ‘which barely make it through twenty-four hours’:

    ‘You don’t get the kind of sun now that you used to get,’ said one of them.
    ‘You’re right there. We had proper sun in the good old hours. It were all yellow. None of this red stuff.’
    ‘It were higher, too.’
    ‘And nymphs and larvae showed you a bit of respect.’
    ‘They did. They did,’ said the other mayfly vehemently.
    ‘I reckon, if mayflies these hours behaved a bit better, we’d still be having proper sun.’
    The younger mayflies listened politely.
    ‘I remember,’ said one of the oldest mayflies, ‘when all this was fields, as far as you could see.’
    The younger mayflies looked around.
    ‘It’s still fields,’ one of them ventured, after a polite interval.
    ‘I remember when it was better fields,’ said the old mayfly sharply.
    ‘Yeah,’ said his colleague. ‘And there was a cow.’
    ‘That’s right! You’re right! I remember the cow! Stood right over there for, oh, forty, fifty minutes. It was brown, as I recall.’
    ‘You don’t get cows like this these hours.’
    ‘You don’t get cows at all.’

    And this from the Counting Pines who display their age in pale letters at eye level on their trunks (and were felled to extinction by the ornamental house number plate industry):

    (The conversation took seventeen years but has been speeded up.)
    ‘I remember when all this wasn’t fields.’
    The pines stared out over a thousand miles of landscape. The sky flickered like a bad special effect from a time travel movie. Snow appeared, stayed for an instant, and melted.
    ‘What was it, then?’ said the nearest pine.
    ‘Ice. If you can call it ice. We had proper glaciers in those days. Not like the ice you get now, here one season, gone the next. It hung around for ages.’
    ‘What happened to it then?’
    ‘It went.’
    ‘Went where?’
    ‘Where things go. Everything’s always rushing off.’
    ‘Wow. That was a sharp one.’
    ‘What was?’
    ‘That winter just then.’
    ‘Call that a winter? When I was a sapling we had winters-‘
    Then the tree vanished.
    After a shocked pause for a couple of years, one of the clump said: ‘He just went! Just like that! One day he was here, next he was gone!’
    ‘It happens, lad,’ said one of them, carefully. ‘He’s been taken to a Better Place*, you can be sure of that. He was a good tree.’
    The young tree, which was a mere five thousand, one hundred and eleven years old, said: ‘What sort of Better Place?’
    ‘We’re not sure,’ said one of the clump. It trembled uneasily in a week-long gale. ‘But we think it involves…sawdust.’
    Since the trees were unable even to sense any event that took place in less than a day, they never heard the sound of axes.

    *In this case, three better places. The front gates of Nos 31, 7, and 34 Elm Street, Ankh-Morpork.

    Besides, Pratchett includes one of my favourite lines of all time:

    I’m just going out,’ he said. ‘I may be some time.’

    It’s meaningless unless you happen to love the story it comes from like I do 😉

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  • Review: Of Mice and Men

    Of Mice and MenOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    A short story that packs a punch at least twice its size.

    There is such beautiful imagery in Of Mice and Men, and it’s often right where you don’t expect it yet uncannily right where it belongs. There’s this in the first moments after a murder and before its discovery:

    It was very quiet in the barn, and the quiet of the afternoon was on the ranch. Even the clang of the pitched shoes, even the voices of the men in the game seemed to grow more quiet. The air in the barn was dusky in advance of the outside day. A pigeon flew in through the open hay door and circled and flew out again. Around the last stall came a shepherd bitch, lean and long, with heavy, hanging dugs.

    Steinbeck’s use of ‘Chekov’s gun’ is superb (and literal): the first shooting – of a loyal creature that doesn’t deserve to die, a noble creature that obediently walks to its own death – one that hurts everyone, and the second shooting – of a hopeless creature that almost doesn’t deserve to live – leaving almost everyone feeling a sense of righteousness.

    The story is almost a hundred years old, and set in a place and time I don’t know but thanks to Steinbeck I was there.

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  • Review: The Bronze Horseman

    The Bronze Horseman (The Bronze Horseman, #1)The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    What a beautiful story! A deceptively simple tale of impossible love that captured me from the opening scenes.

    Simons perfectly portrays the thrill of new love, setting it against the backdrop of an eternal languid summer. As love deepens and war advances, Simons equally perfectly renders the tragedy of the siege of Leningrad; the freezing cold, the starvation and death of maybe a million citizens, and the horror of bodies stacking up in the streets.

    This story is so passionate, so deep, so well formed, so Russian. I can’t wait to read the next in the series.

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  • Review: 12 Rules for Life

    12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

    My rating: 2 of 5 stars

    Rule 1 had me in tears. It was about children growing up in less-than-perfect circumstances to become adults unable to deal effectively with bullying. Already I was moved. The writing was clear, the wisdom humbling. I found myself wishing I could go up to 6 stars.

    But sadly, the gentle repetition evident in the first few rules soon became overbearing. I’m not sure whether Peterson doubts my ability to understand him the first few times or whether he’s unable to choose the best way of explaining himself, but the effect was the same – I struggled to listen.

    Peterson uses sexist language such as ‘the leading man in your own drama’ and we ‘make little avatars of ourselves [then] act like he does in the real world’ and ‘a good therapist will tell you what he thinks’ and the most dramatic of all ‘the role [women] played raising children and working on the farms was still instrumental in raising boys and freeing up men – a very few men – so that humanity could propagate itself and strive forward.’

    As for being assured of Freud’s genius ‘because people still hate him’ does that mean that Einstein wasn’t a genius? Or that Hitler was? Or Esther Lederberg wasn’t but George W Bush was?

    Rule 7 devolved into a 40-page theology lesson, with an almost complete lack of neuropsychology.

    Rule 9 made rape sound like a consenting act between rapist and victim.

    Rule 10 advises me to tell a story precisely so a person can identify ‘wheat from chaff’ and arrive at a conclusion for themselves, although Peterson only summarizes this with a vague example. He gives valid advice such as ‘if the conversation is boring, you probably aren’t [listening]’ but without examples on how to enact that listening.

    But Rule 11 is downright dangerous. It makes a direct association between anti-patriarchal views and the death of millions of people in the former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Let me say that again in Peterson’s clear and unequivocal words: ‘feminist, anti-racist, and queer theories…are heavily influenced by the Marxist humanists… Marxism was put into practice…the result? Tens of millions of people died. Hundreds of millions more were subject to oppression.’

    For page after page Peterson details how hard it is to be a boy in this ‘postmodern’ world, promoting the gender stereotype of women = family, emotions, and home, while men = education, toughness, work, and career.

    Ironically, after denouncing those who force facts to fit a viewpoint, Peterson forces the facts of gender-related job statistics to fit his own view. After warning of the dangers of distilling the details he vastly oversimplifies social equality issues.

    The rest of Rule 11 is a lecture on the greatness of a patriarchal society, how liberating it is, and holds up two males who are advocates for tampon-use as proof.

    If Peterson followed his own rules about ‘pitching [the facts] precisely to the level of the audience’s comprehension’ then I, as a female scientist, am not meant to be his audience. This book is a collection of essays, someone’s challengeable opinions – it is not a handbook for life.

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  • Review: The Desert Nurse

    The Desert NurseThe Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    An exquisite, evocative, and powerful read!

    Reading The Desert Nurse was like learning about the horrors of WWI all over again. I cried tears of pain, exhaustion, and frustration, and yet more tears of hurt and anger.

    But I was also overwhelmed with pride, respect, and love.

    I’ve heard what it’s like for the men as they wait for battle to engage, of time spent trying not to think of the coming violence, or the inevitable suffering as they or their friends face pain, maiming, and death.

    But this story, so long overdue, tells what it was like for the women – not the women at home, but the nurses right behind the front line as they try not to think of the intense surgery to come, for the overwhelming numbers of dead and dying, for the men they know they can do little or nothing for, and for the hope they can save more than they lose when the fighting starts.

    From the opening scene, filled with a concise and unadulterated reality of the sexism women faced then (and many still face now), Hart demonstrates her excellent power over words. She sweeps you from Victoria Barracks in Sydney to Heliopolis Palace in Cairo with a single line of text, saving everything for the front line where she immerses you in Evelyn’s war: one-hundred-plus non-stop pages of it.

    And still they came, stretcher after stretcher, shrapnel wounds and gunshot wounds and bayonet wounds, broken ankles which had to be set and pinned, and, worst of all, amputations.

    Try not to feel Evelyn’s exhaustion with her, her elation, her suffering; her brave face and her putting aside of emotion to deal with literal life and death. Try not to experience an assault on your senses.

    As usual, Hart’s men are deep, complex, yet retain their own strength and masculinity. The lives of soldiers are full of small unrecognized acts of bravery, and sometimes the greatest of these aren’t celebrated publicly. Linus’s rescue attempt is one such example and honours so many men and women.

    And I still can’t read the eleventh of the eleventh ending without tears springing to my eyes like I’m really there.

    An outstandingly gorgeous story that fills a giant hole in our history; schools would do well to include it on their curricula.

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  • Review: The Girl Before

    The Girl BeforeThe Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ok I admit it, I avoided reading The Girl Before because I just couldn’t face yet another ‘girl’ book – until, that is, a friend insisted I would love it.

    And love it I did!

    Delaney drip-fed me just the right amount of info to make me think I knew the facts, and just enough clues to think I knew everything. I was busily updating my guesses, mapping and re-mapping events and motives in my mind, feeling completely in control right up until the bombshell-moment that I did not see coming.

    I loved the paralleling of the two girls’ stories, the way Delaney sometimes used repetition, sometimes left things unsaid (but obvious).

    More than anything (and no matter what happened later) I loved the way Emma’s brokenness was portrayed: the shame she felt after a sexual assault, and her twisted need for acceptance. As alien as parts of her character were to me, I have no doubt they are real and valid to some.

    Let this be a lesson to me to never judge a book by its title!

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  • Review: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising

    A People's History of the Vampire UprisingA People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    I pretty much always love a genre-crossover but this one pushed even my limits. Imagine reading World War Z with every 4th or 5th chapter replaced with a chapter from An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure. No offence meant to the legal profession, but even lawyers skip at least some legalese.

    Having said that, the story is meant to be told after the fact, and is written from the perspective of a person having thoroughly researched many sources, so of course legal transcripts are going to form a part of that.

    I adapted.

    But even putting the clashing genres aside, I was pulled out of the story too many times: a segment supposedly occurring in Australia’s Melbourne was entirely American—complete with cowboy hat; an interviewee’s recall of a meeting at least two and a half years ago not only details the exact meals both of them ate but also recalls information about the feral pigeons cruising the cafe (I’m a bird-nerd and even I ain’t gonna be able to remember those details unless it was a particularly life-changing meeting); and odd emotional reactions such as the occasional unwarranted shouting in mid-conversations or an ultra-quick recovery from the murder of a much-loved relative.

    And as for one particular unwitnessed murder towards the end, how do we know what they whispered? No-one else was there! Unless the murderer is the writer (which doesn’t match up with what we know) this is all guesswork. And yet the introduction clearly states that ‘other accounts’ are negligent at best, their prose too concerned with the salacious details of irrelevant events (not that I’m accusing said pigeons of being salacious exactly).

    Possibly the most annoying of all is that the uprising of the title hasn’t finished, so don’t expect any closure. None. Come on! You can’t have all that build-up and hint-dropping like we never had a chance or many people would point to that day as the last time the human majority felt any sympathy with the Gloaming minority without something actually happening afterwards to look back from.

    And yet I couldn’t put the book down. Despite its inconsistencies, A People’s History is compelling reading.

    I can imagine it being found a couple of hundred years from now—considering its ‘expert’ feel, would people treat it as truth? Or would our future selves, knowing it be fiction, wonder what else we faked? The holocaust? Vietnam? Trump?

    A movie version would lose a lot of that, but at least then I should get my closure!

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

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  • Review: Throne of Glass

    Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    What a beautiful breath of fresh air this is! A return to fantasies of old!

    I can’t sing the praises of this book enough, but I’ll try.

    Firstly, Maas draws fully-formed and multi-dimensional characters: the baddies aren’t all bad, the good have done things they shouldn’t have, even the bit-players have personality.

    Our first introduction to the world is from the point of view of a have-not. We see the wrongs of the kingdom and the suffering of its people and know its rulers to be cruel. The protagonist is believable and well-crafted and the balance between back-story and actual story is perfect. But when we see the world from the perspective of one of those haves it turns out not all is as it seems: the antagonists are just as deep, just as full of drive. We begin to wonder if the protagonist has the right world-view even as we know she can’t be far wrong.

    Secondly, there’s the story itself. It grows. The plot is believable. New side-stories come in at the perfect times. The perspective changes at a pace to keep us interested as well as showing us more about the characters we’re so damn attached to already.

    But best of all, the ending is a double-whammy and is really what gives it the fifth star: not only does it all wrap up nicely at the end, but there are so many hints at hidden pasts and future alliances that I can’t wait to read the next one. I’m hooked!

    My only regret is that when I had the chance to buy the full set I only bought the first. (That, and I couldn’t put it down long enough to include any excerpts here. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.)

    It puts me in mind of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series * – not the storyline, but the breadth and depth and scope and the general way you just can’t be pulled out of the story even if you want to.

    Definitely one of my top reads for this year!

    * The early part of the series, when it was still great – say up to The Blood of the Fold or, at a push, The Faith of the Fallen.

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  • Review: The Paris Seamstress

    The Paris SeamstressThe Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Yet another classic from Natasha Lester! Her depiction of life in troubled times, and the far-reaching effect this has on the self-confidence, contentment, and love-lives of so many people is outstanding.

    I admit it took me 169 pages to feel anything though: I couldn’t identify with the characters before then and maybe that’s why I found time confusing (was that night in Paris really just one night?). But it might be my own fault – I love Lester’s work so much I probably put unfair expectations on her.

    I was delighted not to pick all the resolutions – I love it when an author can keep me in suspense, making me feel so smug when all along she’s carefully in control. More than once I was blown away and moved to tears, or driven to feel her characters’ frustration.

    This is definitely a great read: beautifully executed, moving, passionate, and warm.

    I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion

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