Book Review: ‘The Labyrinth’

I am utterly speechless and surprised. Not only in this book but in myself. Literature is not often my forte, nor do I usually find pleasure and addictiveness in reading literary language, plots and character conversations – yet THIS! WOW! I am blown away and can 100% see why ‘The Labyrinth’ by Amanda Lohrey won the Miles Franklin Literary Award for 2021.

Where to start …

‘The Labyrinth’ begins with the introduction of Erica, our main character. She is reflecting on her time as a child where she has just witnessed her mother abandoning Erica and her brother, Axel. They are left in the care of their father, who raises the children on the ground of a psychiatric facility where he also works as the head psychiatric doctor. This environment sets a feeling and acknowledgement of intense mental health and psychotic episodes throughout the novel. This theme reoccurs when Erica is comparing the life and work of her father, to her son Daniel.

Daniel is an incredibly interesting character in this story as we meet him whilst in goal. Erica bought and moved into a small coastal beach shack to be closer to him. We know that he is in goal after obsessing over a person, mostly through painting and drawing this person over and over. It is implied that this obsession then took a bad turn. Daniel connects to the world through his art, and there is an amazingly dark scene where Erica visits Daniel in goal after she has written multiple times to the goal administration to allow Daniel oil pastels. Daniel receives these but at the visitation with Erica, he breaks one in half, sits half on the table for her and proceeds to place the other half in his mouth, chew it and smirk as Erica. It’s twisted and dark and psychotic. You’re left thinking as the reader, what does this mean?! All the while, Erica continues to visit him due to this feeling of responsibility for him being the way he is and self-sabotage.

The idea of building a labyrinth comes to Erica in a dream and she feels this overwhelming urge to create one. The process of designing, developing, finding the right stonemason, obtaining material and the emotional support along the way, is all part of the core plot. The story is quite simple, yet it isn’t. Majority of my book club really enjoyed this novel and felt that Erica’s journey really did represented a Labyrinth. The circling relationship with Daniel, the moving past different characters and not overly investing time in or with them, or getting to know them. Erica’s dreams and final scenes in the novel were incredibly raw and moving.

I love that the Literature Book Club I’m leading is really pushing me out of my comfort zone. The discussions are AWE-some and really switching on this appetite for more Australian literature. If you’re looking for a novel to ponder over long after it’s finished – read this one!

Book Review: ‘The Night She Disappeared’

I can safely say that since forming and leading our local Crime Fiction Fanatic Book Club, my standard of crime fiction reading has boosted. Anddd… maybe I’m becoming a little more picky and snobish about which crime fiction novels actually peak my reading interests. I believe these feelings are arising due to the variety of novels we’re choosing to read and discuss – I’m really starting to find which themes, plots and character perspectives I like to read.

‘The Night She Disappeared’ by Lisa Jewell follows three perspectives. Tallulah is a 20 year old woman, mother, social studies student and in a relationship with Zach. They share a one year old son, Noah. He is the sole reason their relationship has found new life. Tallaluh does not feel that Zach’s forceful and controlling behaviour in their relationship is something she can foresee for her long-term future.

Kim is Tallulah’s mother and we also hear from her. Tallulah, Zac and Noah are currently living with Kim and she sees them as a happy couple and family trying to make things work. Until, Tallulah and Zach go out for an evening to the local pub, leaving Noah at home with Kim, and there is no reason for them not to come home after an enjoyable dinner and a few drinks – so where are they at 1am and the next 24 hours? Kim starts to question how healthy Tallulah and Zac’s relationship actually was.

Sophie is new to the little english village where this novel is set. She is our third perspective. She’s a writer of detective novels and is currently in the process of trying to write her next book. Her and her partner have moved into temporary teacher accomodation (with some sneaky history to it, you’ll find out if the final chapter ๐Ÿ˜‰). Her partner is the new head teacher of the local college that Tallulah and Zac attended, and somehow, it’s a bit like their stay was set up … When Sophie comes across a note at her back gate saying “Dig Here” she is thrown into uncovering clues connected to the disappearance of Tallulah and Zac. Things start to play out a bit to much like her own crime fiction novels … IS somebody setting her up?

I won’t be giving too much away in this review, as I know some of my book clubs members read my blog and I don’t want to sway their reading process! However, what I will say it that this definitely wasn’t one of my favourite novels we’ve read this year. I felt it lacked something for my reading tastes and I wasn’t overly ‘wow’ed’ by the ending or characters. It did have good twists and turned but now, after reading around 6 crime fiction books this year, it’s hard not to start comparing. Our meeting, as it usually does, may change my point of view. Here are a few questions I intend to provide the group:

  1. How did you view Tallulah and Zac’s relationship?
  2. What did you think of Sophie being a crime writer herself and how this tied into the plot?
  3. Did you view Scarlett as a manipulative character or a product of her environment?
  4. Tallulah’s sexuality played a major role in this book. What do you think would have happened if her relationship with Zac continued?
  5. Arachnophobia: the extreme and intense fear of spiders. How did you predict this statement would tie in?

Happy reading folks! ๐Ÿค“

Book Review: ‘Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief’

If I was not in public right now writing this, I’d be crying. I’m not a crier when it comes to novels but, just wow, this book moved me! Regardless of age demographic and whomever this book is targeted towards, I strongly encourage all ages to read this – no restrictions. Now let me tell you why:

This Russian inspired story is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Reading and hearing from the perspective of a young 6 year old boy by the name of Sasha, we learn what living through the trauma of World War II was really like. This novel is fresh, current and important. The title ‘Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief’ is so critical to the story.

Rabbit. As a child before the thick of war, Sasha was know a ‘Little Rabbit’ to his Mama. I believe this represents his time of innocence and pure joy as a 6 year old living life in a small loving village. His Papa has been lost in the war effort thus far, but this is the extent of his loss and tarnished childhood. His Russian community works together on their collective farm, known as a kolkhoz. This was his sense of normality. His life at this point was surrounded by love, flowers and games.

Soldier. Soon Sasha is thrown into a life he’s forced to live – a war-torn orphan who is taken in by soldiers of the Red Army. This new journey of his story is a violent push into the reality and consequence of war times and what will now define his life. The Russian people turned soldiers (as many of them were because they genuinely just wanted to protect their ‘Motherland’) become his new family. The way Sasha identifies and describes them in the novel is very child-like, which allows us as the reader to see this environment through his eyes. The regiment included Papa Scruff (a father figure to Sasha who had a dark unmanageable mop of hair), Grumpy Boris (constantly grumpy and not interested in childish antics), Invincible Ivan (get’s injured in every German encounter but survives every time), Windy Rustkov (who’s stomach really cannot handle cooks food and limited ingredients of potatoes and cabbage) and many more. This time as a solider was very crucial to the next part of his journey.

Angel. The Angel of Stalingrad. Sasha’s regiment takes in a frightened and lone newspaper reporter for a short time. During his stay, Sasha shares his story thus far with whisps of humour, storytelling, song and dance. Again, this is the child-like element of the story and showing the reader how different experiences, significant events and conversations can be altered through a younger perspective. This reporter named Sasha ‘The Angel of Stalingrad’ for his his ability to boost moral through song, story, affection, personal care and cuddles in the Red Army. Papa Scruff played a huge role in who he became through this time on his journey.

Thief. This is where we are currently, in the present with Sasha. He is in a war hospital healing from incredible trauma and he refuses to speak. He instead is collecting and thieving from other war patients, doctors and nurses around him. They know he is doing this but they allow him to take the items anyway because as they believe it will help him relive and recover his story. Spoons, feathers, watches, flowers, eight buttons, a shovel and a pair of clean underpants are just some of the items he takes. We live through these items with Sasha and learn his story along the way. A clever, clever plot structure.

All in all, I look forward to seeing how this novel is received in the book world. Katrina Nannestad‘s novel ‘We Are Wolves’ was selected for the 2021 Children’s Book of the Year Awards Shortlist. I have no doubt this novel will be a strong contender for the 2022 CBCA winner. Her writing is literary, emotive and honest but appropriate for a younger audience. Perfect for younger readers who like to delve into historical fictions and wonderful for adult readers looking for a little escapism.

November New Releases

At the beginning of each month, the temptation strikes and I begin to see my Instagram flooding with new release titles! It’s so hard to draw your eyes away from new books (I say this while squinting at my bedside book stack … If I squint it becomes smaller right ๐Ÿ˜‰). Here are 5 November releases to look forward too ๐Ÿ“š

How We Love by Clementine Ford

There is love in this place, just like there is love everywhere we care to look for it. There is beauty and there is hope and there is a boy and there is a mother and there is the past and there is the future but most importantly there is the now, and everything that exists between them that has got them from one moment to the next. The now is where we find the golden glow where, for the briefest of moments, the sky rips open and we see what it is we are made of.
Tell me a story, he asked me.
And so I began.

Clementine Ford is a person who has loved deeply, strangely and with curiosity. She is fascinated by love and how it makes its home in our hearts and believes that the way we continue to surrender ourselves to love is an act of great faith and bravery.

This tender and lyrical memoir explores love in its many forms, through Clementine’s own experiences. With clear eyes and an open heart, she writes about losing her adored mother far too young, about the pain and confusion of first love – both platonic and romantic – and the joy and heartache of adult love. She writes movingly about the transcendent and transformative journey to motherhood and the similarly monumental path to self-love. ‘We love as children, as friends, as parents and, yes, sometimes as sexual beings, and none of it is more important than the other because all of it shows us who we are.’

Extract from Allen & Unwin

Devotion by Hannah Kent

Prussia, 1836: Hanne Nussbaum is a child of nature – she would rather run wild in the forest than conform to the limitations of womanhood. In her village of Kay, Hanne is friendless and considered an oddity . . . until she meets Thea.

Ocean, 1838: The Nussbaums are Old Lutherans, bound by God’s law and at odds with their King’s order for reform. Forced to flee religious persecution the families of Kay board a crowded, disease-riddled ship bound for the new colony of South Australia. In the face of brutal hardship, the beauty of whale song enters Hanne’s heart, along with the miracle of her love for Thea. Theirs is a bond that nothing can break.

The whale passed. The music faded.

South Australia, 1838: A new start in an old land. God, society and nature itself decree Hanne and Thea cannot be together. But within the impossible . . . is devotion.

Extract from Pan Macmillan AU

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

Tully and Rachel are murderous when they discover their father has a new girlfriend. The fact that Heather is half his age isn’t even the most shocking part. Stephen is still married to their mother, who is in a care facility with end-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

Heather knows she has an uphill battle to win Tully and Rachel over, while carrying the burden of the secrets of her past. But, as it turns out, they are all hiding something.

The announcement of Stephen and Heather’s engagement threatens to set off a family implosion, with old wounds and dark secrets finally being forced to the surface.

A garage full of stolen goods. An old hot-water bottle, stuffed with cash. A blood-soaked wedding. And that’s only the beginning …

Extract from Pan Macmillan AU

The Last Woman in the World by Inga Simpson

It’s night, and the walls of Rachel’s home creak as they settle into the cover of darkness. Fear has led her to a reclusive life on the land, her only occasional contact with her sister.

A hammering on the door. There stands a mother, Hannah, with a sick baby. They are running for their lives from a mysterious death sweeping the Australian countryside.

Now Rachel must face her worst fears: should she take up the fight to help these strangers survive in a society she has rejected for so long?

From the critically acclaimed author of Mr Wigg and NestThe Last Woman in the World looks at how we treat our world and each other – and what it is that might ultimately redeem us.

Extract from Hachette AU

Wiradjuri Country by Larry Brandy

The Wiradjuri are the people of the three bila (rivers) and their nguram-bang (Country) is the second largest in Australia.

Come with Uncle Larry Brandy on an enlightening journey through his Countryโ€™s rivers, woodlands, grasslands and rocky outcrops, as well as the murri-yang (sky world). Along the way, young readers will encounter animals such as bila-durang (platypus), and maliyan (wedge-tailed eagle), plants like the maybal (grass tree) and yirany (yam daisy), and discover stories like that of Tiddalik the giant frog. They will learn how Wiradjuri people lived on their Country, using the flower spikes of the grass tree as spears, soaking its flowers in water to make a sweet drink and weaving its leaves into baskets.

This is a unique book combining language, culture, Indigenous history and storytelling, written by a Wiradjuri author. It features colour photographs of animals, plants and habitats, as well as illustrations by Indigenous artists Kristie Peters and Scott โ€˜Sauceโ€™ Towney.

Extract from Collins Booksellers Wagga Wagga

There you have it book lovers! I hope you all have a fabulous week and enjoy browsing your local bookshops in person, online or via socials ๐Ÿ“š

Book Review: ‘Wild Place’

I want to start with saying, don’t read this Christian White book first. Oww Mel – harsh!! But true.

I strongly encourage you to pick up and read ‘The Nowhere Child’ and ‘The Wife and the Widow’ prior to reading this book. I say this because sadly, I do not think this new novel is Christian’s best creative work.

Christian’s White can do no wrong in my eyes and I still really enjoyed this novel! I was gripped, I finished it in four sittings and stayed up late needing to know the who, why and how of Tracie going missing. It was a good, quick and … pleasant read. Naturally, it is incredibly hard NOT to compare an authors’ books to one another, especially when the other two are in your top 10 crime fiction reads. Therefore, when I felt a little “Hmm well okay” by the ending and climatic plot twist, I was left a little deflated.

In Christian’s previous books, the climatic twists and character turns are so left hand that you really do not see them coming. This one was a little predictable and dramatic for my liking. In saying that, this is just my opinion and I know others will feel the total opposite to me!

‘Wild Place’ is about a young adult, Tracie who goes missing. We never really hear from the perspective of Tracie which I think I would have enjoyed. Usually, this creates more connection for me to the character and what their inner monologue was at the time of their disappearance. We mostly observe the whole novel from high school teacher Tom. He taught Tracie and feels an overwhelming sense of responsibility to help find her and/or discover when remains of her. But Tom has secrets – Tom’s whole family has secrets actually. Suspicious characters are set up well and there is a theme of devil worshipping/ a witchy cult type lead but all of this seemed, well … a little odd. I guess what I mean is that, reflecting on the story, I wanted something MORE clever, more gritting and more *gasp*esk. I’m a smigin disappointed. HOWEVER, I will continue to read anything Christian White creates as I do believe the good aspects of his writing outweigh the bad.

Wow, I think this is my first negativish book review! Happy Friday folks! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ“š

Book Review: ‘Love & Virtue’

Where do I start with this one … I really feel like many more reviews will do this book justice and be able to articulate the pleasurable feeling and satisfaction of fine literature this book provides. I will say that my perspective is one from the outside.

I have not lived a life of luxury, much like Michaela.

I have not lived a life of dominant feminist perspective or political projections thrust in my face like many characters within this novel.

I have not lived a city, elite and/or privileged life. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of how privileged I am for living where I do, experiences and opportunities in my life yet in comparison to some expressions and environments in this novel – they truely baffle me (maybe that’s the small town girl in me). What is more baffling, is that these places, events and types of personalities exist within the world. Basing this book in Sydney had a large impact on my perspective of elite social classes and their impact on society.

‘Love & Virtue’ by Diana Reid is an Australian debut novel. One of many stella novels to come from the new kids on the block, Ultimo Press. They are picking up and supporting bold, fresh and impactful Australian writers and they truely knew what they were doing with this one.

The focal themes in this novel are power, privilege, consent and well, love. We love who we love, even when their actions seek to destroy our sense of being. Michaela and Eve have an instant female friendship at university living across from one another in their dorms. This is their commonality yet their lives are completely parallel. Eve is transfixed, shines as the centre of attention and seeks to make an impact in this world – she wants change, particularly in the space of sexual consent and public recognition in their Sydney girls college. Eve believes that her writing and influential abilities on campus deem her the most appropriate person to share Michaela’s sexual experiences in her drunken O-Week. One experience that Michaela was still uncertain of her own standpoint, which in my eyes represented the misinformation of sexual consent and sexual behaviour within the realms of alcohol consumption and college/university behaviour. This, I believe was written well.

The voice of Michaela is so strong in this novel that I found it incredibly hard to remove myself from her talking and thinking. From listening to her navigate both friendship and intimate relationships, succumbing to the opinion of others and attempting to take a step back and view her world from an outside perspective when you’re stuck in this whirlwind/secluded world of privilege. Her character was so unique yet so perfectly placed for juxtaposition that you couldn’t not understand her point of view in comparison to Eve – subtile yet so clear. Social media and the power of technology is also evident and clever within the structure of this book – I liked the contemporary use of texting and Instagramming as dialogue.

I am temporarily leading our Literary Lovers Book Club and I had chosen this for our October read. I think it has challenged me and opened for a wide variety of conversational topics at our meeting. Some questions thus far will be:

  1. Did you connect with the primary voice of Michaela?
  2. What impact do you think the novel would have had being told from Eve’s perspective?
  3. Was there a scene that stood out to you the most? (I won’t tell you mine because it’s a spoiler***!)
  4. Do you think connecting sexual consent to a campus setting was a good move? Why?
  5. What are some of the ways Diana Reid represented elite privilege in characters, events and environments?

All in all, I really REALLY enjoyed this book and if I didn’t have so many books on my TBR, I’d safely say I’d go back and re-read this novel. I’m looking forward to discussing these questions and more at my book club meeting. Oh, and a HUGE congratulations to Diana Reid and Ultimo Press – what an epic way to burst onto the Australian book scene and get Australian society talking about timely topics that need serious attention!

Book Review: ‘100 Remarkable Feats of Xander Maze’

Oh Xander Maze, what a special and long-lasting place in my heart you’ve got. ‘100 Remarkable Feats of Xander Maze’ by Clayton Zane Comber has flown up there on my top 3 list of Australian Young Adult novels. I finished this book in four sittings as it’s amount of dialogue, perfectly paced character experiences/developments, as well as its heart-warming plot really pulled me in – and QUICK!

Xander Mazes’ Nanna is his #1 person he trusts in his life. His curated ‘Memory List’ includes numerous happy, warm and safe memories with her. But Nanna is terminally ill and has recently moved into end of life care. Xander recognised this new environment of Nanna’s because it has less beep and whir noises than the regular hospital. Xander notes that he will have to make a new mental map of this hospital layout while Nanna is a patient.

Nanna suggests Xander make a list of ‘100 Remarkable Feats’ and ticks them off in the wish it can help his Nanna feel better, yet Xander interprets this as a way he can help save his Nanna’s life and prevent loosing her forever. This list soon goes viral (thanks to the help of his clever Nanna) and Xander’s world is about to change.

Making a best friend, having a ‘yes’ day, asking out Ally (#1 prettiest girl ever), driving a car for the first time, learn to surf, go to a party, befriend weird neighbour Mr. Abramowitz, make Nanna proud – are just a few of the 100 feats. Xander’s development and journey is hard to draw your reading eyes away from. His innocence in the beginning really helps mould his character and maturity throughout the novel. I kind of felt like a proud Mum reading this book. I’m proud of what Xander achieved with his list and how it allowed him to bloom in this new world he created with the help of new friends and family.

I look forward to the day that I can visit Clayton Zane Comber’s book store/cafe ‘Bouqiniste’ in Kiama, NSW! I also look forward to reading more of his work. Okay now that’s me signing off to read ‘The Gilded Cage’ by Lynette Noni ๐Ÿ‘‹๐Ÿผ

Bookish Recommendation

I’m all about comfort when I’m reading. I will squirm, switch spots, cross and recross my legs and then huff that I’m in a good spot but then forget where I sat my coffee. Squirm, switch, cross, recross and huff I go again! Seriously, the life of a reader ๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿคฃ

Essentially, what I’m saying is that comfort is key to immersing yourself in a good book and feeling content. I recently researched, compared and purchased the most fabulous staple for book worms – a Reading Cushion!

Where did you get it Mel? Pillow Talk Australia or pillowtalk.com.au

How much was it? I purchased this striped, soft grey reading cushion at full price, HOWEVER, it is currently on sale for $47.95 (I would jump on that!)

How often have you actually used it? I’m not joking with you when I say that every time I pick up my book, I also pick up this reading cushion (see the handle). I’m hiking this bad boy with me everywhere!

Perfect for sitting perched up in bed, relaxing on the couch, or maybe even on the lawn while reading in the sun. I’m obsessed – you might be too!

Book Review: ‘Wandi’

‘Wandi’ is an Australian Junior novel that is beautifully written, descriptive and heart-warming. It shows pure connection between animals and humans. This new novel is perfect for ages 8 (good reader) and up.

Favel Parrett has broken into the Junior Fiction scene what a statement and her adult, award-winning literary writing really brings Wandi’s experiences to life.

Wandi is an a baby Dingo snatched from his home in the mountain. He is separated from his family and familiar surroundings with no idea of how to get back. A great eagle has clawed his back in the action of snatching him and Wandi is left injured and alone. He is soon discovered by a Human. This is the first Human that Wandi has smelt and seen before. His Mum and Dad always warned him of Humans, saying that they hunt dingos like Wandi for sport. It was cruel and unfair. Wandi was worried about this Human but the Human was kind, gave him warm hugs and made him feel safe and comfortable enough to fall asleep.

This Human lead Wandi on an important journey, one where Wandi was introduced to more dingos in a big dingo reservation. For a long time, Wandi felt different and like he didn’t fit in and that’s because he didn’t. He was special. He had special colours, special grub finding skills and special instincts. He was a rare species of Dingo that needed to be preserved. Wandi soon found another dingo – a female dingo, who was the same as him and had started to feel, as he did, that this new home wasn’t so bad. They got fed, they were comfortable, they had love and they were safe.

This story was SO beautiful – for both children and adults. It is short, snappy and displays such a strong perspective of what it is like, from an animals perspective, to be moved into a new home and environment. I really think that children will resonate with this story and find those special connections between animals and humans as something to learn from. It is also super important to mention and acknowledge that Wandi is actually a real dingo! He is a real Pure Alpine Dingo from the Victoria Highlands in Australia. He now lives a happy life at the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary in Toolern Vale, Victoria.

Book Review: ‘The Silent Patient’

I want to start by saying that if you choose to pick up this book, you will have it finished in either one sitting (if you’re spending the day reading) or in a matter of days. It was fast-paced, cliff hanger at the end of every chapter and twisted just the right amount to keep you guessing – but then totally shocked by the ending. ‘The Silent Patient’ is the first book, in a long time, that I HAVE NOT seen the ending coming. This impresses me – mainly because I am knocking over a book a week at this point in my life and most consist of pretty predictable story lines. This was predictable in some ways – yes, but it also had me gasping at the final reveal of who, what, when, where and why!

Alicia Berenson has been silent for 6 years. It has been 6 years since she shot her husband, Gabriel in the face five times. What provoked her to to this? Why was he tied to a chair in their home when shot? Who influenced her decision? How has she not uttered a single word for 6 years yet been convicted of first-degree murder, referred to a mental institution and now sits in front of Theo Faber for a criminal psychotherapist session. Did she actually commit the crime?

Theo Faber has his own troubling past with relationships and is drawn to Alicia. Even more so when he discovers that his wife, Kathleen has been cheating on him with a younger, more fun version of himself. Throughout the book he follows and observes their meetings, yet never confronts either of their infidelity. In an unprofessional manner, Theo starts to dive deeper in the psychological and emotional motives behind Alicia’s silence and actions. What his finds creates a gripping, page-turning and suspicious number of suspects who have good reasoning to have thrown Alicia into the firing line.

I’m telling you, I was left reeling by this book. No joke, I sat in my reading chair just thinking, thinking, thinking. How did I miss this plot?! How did I not piece it together?! This was my Crime Fiction Fanatic Book Club pick for September and I am really looking forward to discussing it with my group. I’m making a big statement here and saying that it has been my favourite read of our book club yet!