The Trauma Cleaner

By: Sarah Krasnostein

Review: This is a book that can shift the emphasis from empathy for to empathy with. It makes us question what defines a flawed person and whether there is such a thing? Is the ‘flawed person’ just a banal line used to grab attention and allow for a perpetual state of victimhood? Or is it merely a state of being for every one of us? Sarah Pankhurst is no victim. Her story is about awakenings both for Sarah and those that she touches and works with. It’s about the backwards and forwards journey towards those moments. It’s about the big battles that people face to get through each day and where they find their comfort and safety. As a reader, we’re challenged to an awakening of our own, one of real and unjudging compassion. Sarah opens our mind to what could be any one of us, while encouraging us to question societies progressiveness, or lack thereof.

Pages: 261

Genre: Memoir

Book Blurb: A woman who sleeps among garbage she has not put out for forty years. A man who bled quietly to death in his loungeroom. A woman who lives with rats, random debris and terrified delusion. The still life of a home vacated by accidental overdose.

Before she was a trauma cleaner, Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, sex reassignment patient, sex worker, businesswoman, trophy wife…

But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.

Sarah Krasnostein has watched the magnificent Sandra Pankhurst bring order and care to the living and the dead – and the book she has written is remarkable. It is not just the compelling story of a fascinating life; it is an affirmation that, as isolated as we may feel, we are all in this together.

Book Blurb Source: Krasnostein, S., The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disaster, Text Publishing, Melbourne, Australia.

Book Review: The Overstory

By: Richard Powers

Review:

The Overstory is nothing short of epic. The writing is original, insightful and challenging. I feel like I’ve been led on a journey through the forest of Powers mind, and it is a place of ‘fluid beauty’ (p.61). Like the central character – the trees – the storyline spirals out like annual growth rings, building layers of sublime narrative to merge the deep connections of humanity and nature. One of the many messages is that we need to listen with more humility and then perhaps we might be able to see.

‘The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story’ (p. 336). And Powers sure has delivered just that, a story that’s impossible not to be changed by.

Pages: 493

Genre: Literary Fiction

Awards: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018

Reviewer: Jody

Book Blurb:

The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond:

An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling in a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A Hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing and speech impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another.

These four, and five other strangers – each summoned in different ways by trees – are brought together in a last violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest. There is a world alongside ours – vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

Book Review: Unsheltered

By: Barbara Kingsolver

Review: I’m drawn to family sagas, and Unsheltered is just that. It interweaves the story of two families connected by the same house yet separated by 150 years. While not one of Kingsolvers finest, it’s passable and for me it fits into the ‘Brain Clearing’ category. Structurally, it alternates chapters between the two families, dedicating good chunks each and allowing for reasonably well developed characters, even if it is a tad repetitive at times. It’s certainly a worthy read if for nothing other than the historical references, particularly those relating to the theories of Charles Darwin and the public’s responses at the time.

Pages: 480

Genre:Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Brain Clearing

Published:November 2018

Reviewer:Jody

Blurb:

2016 Vineland

Meet WillaKnox, a woman who stands braced against an upended world that seems to hold normercy for her shattered life and family – or the crumbling house that containsher.

1871 Vineland

ThatcherGreenwood, the new science teacher, is a fervent advocate of the work ofCharles Darwin, and he is keen to communicate his ideas to his students. Butthose in power in Thatcher’s small town have no desire for the new world order.Thatcher and his teachings are not welcome.

Both Willa and Thatcher resist the prevailing logic. Bothe are asked to pay a high price fortheir courage. But both also find inspiration – and an unlikely kindred spirit– in Mary Treat, a scientist, adventurer and anachronism.

A testament to both the resilience and persistent myopia of the human condition, Unsheltered explores the foundations we build in life, spanning time and place to give us all a clearer look at those around us, and perhaps ourselves. It is a novel that speaks truly to our times.

Book Review: ‘Ghostly Tales: Spine-chilling Stories of the Victorian Age’, illustrations by Bill Bragg

Review: Give me a good psychological horror, add in a hardback edition with haunting illustrations and the subtle formality of the writing style of the 1800’s, and you’ve nailed one of my many reading pleasures! This is a collection of seven short stories, some familiar and some new to me. Although none are truly terrifying, I must confess as I was driving home a week ago in the midst of a storm, a modern version of Amelia B. Edwards, ‘The Phantom Coach’, was playing out in my mind. Through these stories I was reminded of the mastery of Dickens with ‘The Signalman’, while being introduced to F. Marion Crawford, who had me sitting by the fire, three parts gone with a glass of Hulstkamp, right beside Captain Charles Braddock while listening to his tale of the screaming skull. Every now and then we need to be reminded of what good writing is, and it’s right here.

Pages: 175

Genre: Horror

Reviewer: Jody

Blurb: A vengeful phantom lurks in a country graveyard. A whaling crew becomes trapped on a haunted ship. A human skull is kept locked in a cupboard, but sometimes at night, it screams….This collection of tales will transport you to a time when staircases creaked in old manor houses, and a candle could be blown out by a gust of wind, or by a passing ghost. Penned by some of the greatest Victorian novelists and masters of the ghost story genre, these stories come alive alongside exquisitely eerie art in this special illustrated edition.

Source: Dubin, E. (Designed by), Ghostly Tales: Spine-chilling Stories of the Victorian Age’, illustrations by Bill Bragg, (2017), Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

Book Review: The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage

by Philip Pullman

Review: Not normally one to pick up a book part way through a series, let alone a fantasy novel, I thought I’d make an exception for Philip Pullman’s much talked about novel in twenty years. Having no preconceptions of Pullman’s audience, I was surprised to discover that it’s the kind of book you could read to a pre-teen. It’s fantasy lite, well written and ticks all the boxes for a story that’s original and has good pace. It manages to discreetly touch on the topics of refugees, religious zealotry, political and social structures, freedom of thought, sexual predation, gender, empathy and climate change. I can see this as a book that provides an opportunity for parents to introduce all, some or none of these issues to conversations, or simply enjoy and wait for the second book in the series to be released no matter what age you are.

Number of pages: 546

Genre: Fiction, Pre-teen Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb: Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child…he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own playing with his damon Asta in their canoe, which was called La Belle Savage.

Malcolm Polstead’s life in the pub beside the Thames is safe and happy enough, if uneventful. But during a winter of unceasing rain the forces of science, religion and politics begin to clash, and as the weather rises to a pitch of ferocity, all of Malcolm’s certainties are torn asunder.

Finding himself linked to a baby by the name of Lyra, Malcolm is forced to undertake the challenge of his life and to make a dangerous journey that will change him and Lyra for ever…

Twenty-two years after the publication of the ground-breaking His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman returns to this epic parallel world in a masterful new novel: the long-awaited volume one of The Book of Dust.

Blurb Source: Pullman, P., The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage, (2017), David Fickling Books, Oxford.

Book Review: Force of Nature

By Jane Harper

Review: Some years ago I heard the term ‘brain clearing’ being used to describe books that don’t ask too much of the reader but are engaging enough to keep you anchored. I put great value in these type of books, to the point where I think they deserve their own genre. This is one of those books and can easily be read in a day. It’s clear, simple and structurally well enough written with a formula that incrementally builds the characters and story to keep you interested enough, despite it being a tad repetitive in parts. The scene of Jane Harper’s second novel is a work retreat where two groups have to hike for three days in the bush, just the place to test relationships and pick through everyone’s dysfunctional families. Predictably things don’t go to plan and we again meet Agent Aaron Falk as he solves his next case along with a few recurring characters from Harpers first novel ‘The Dry’, although each can be read independently. This is just the type of book to read when life around you is a bit crazy, you don’t want to think too hard and you just need a few moments to zone out. Don’t expect too much of it and it won’t expect too much of you.

Number of pages: 380

Genre: Crime Fiction, Brain Clearing

Blurb: What has happened to Alice Russell?

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case. She knows all the secrets: about the company she works for and the people she works with.

Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, Falk is told a tale of violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers run far deeper than anyone knew.

Blurb Source: Harper, J., Force of Nature, (2017), Sydney, New South Wales, Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd.

* Feel free to add your own review as a comment

Book Review: Moby-Dick (or The Whale)

By Herman Melville

Review: Initially I was having trouble engaging with this book, repeatedly returning to the start as my reading was not doing it justice. I found an audio on Spotify, this worked by slowing down my reading and allowing me to really appreciate the breadth of mastery of the descriptive language combined with the formality of the 1800’s. There’s layers of references, some of which I grasped and some I didn’t, a richer experience for those that I did manage to connect with and awed – not frustrated – by those beyond my comprehension. Make no mistake, it’s dense, demanding, and sometimes you feel like you’re swimming through concrete, but it’s also intricate and poetic with many lines for pause, reflection and savouring. It’s filled with razor sharp observations; social commentary; character studies; philosophy; mythology; religious, scientific and historical analysis; tradition and superstition; and humanity. An epic and sophisticated book that places high expectations on its reader, yet I’m sure that the more life experience I have the more it will reward.

Pages: 625

Genre: Classics, Literary Fiction

First Published: 1851

Blurb: “It is the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships’ cables and hawsers. A Polar wind blows through it, and birds of prey hover over it.”

So Melville wrote of his masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imagination in literary history. In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopaedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author’s lifelong meditation on America. Moby-Dick can be read as a “disorderly elegy” to democracy, which Melville saw threatened on many sides: by the spirit of utilitarianism, by America’s accelerating pace of expansionism, and by the drive toward industrial power. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

Blurb Source: Melville, H., (1992), Moby-Dick, New York, Penguin

* Please add your own (one paragraph only) reviews by using the ‘comments’ option.

Book Review: A Horse Walks into a Bar

by David Grossman

Review: What were the judges thinking when they awarded this the Booker International, surely we can do better than this? The setting of an Israeli stand-up comics routine going horribly wrong simply doesn’t work in this instance and ends up being gratuitous, unbelievable, repetitive and dull. By trying to tackle too many themes, the author manages to void any possibility of emotionally engaging, rendering the story scrappy and disjointed. Or perhaps it was just too clever for me!

Pages: 198

Genre: Literary Fiction

Awards: The Man Booker International Prize 2017

Blurb: A comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience has come expecting an evening of amusement. Instead they see a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a would he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between two people who were dearest to him.

Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dov provokes revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he’s been summoned to this performance…

Blurb Source: Grossman, D., (2016), A Horse Walks into a Bar, London, Penguin Random House UK.

Review: What were the judges thinking when they awarded this the Booker International, surely we can do better than this? The setting of an Israeli stand-up comics routine going horribly wrong simply doesn’t work in this instance and ends up being gratuitous, unbelievable, repetitive and dull. By trying to tackle too many themes, the author manages to void any possibility of emotionally engaging, rendering the story scrappy and disjointed. Or perhaps it was just too clever for me!

Pages: 198

Genre: Literary Fiction

Awards: The Man Booker International Prize 2017

* Please add your own (one paragraph only) reviews by using the ‘comments’ option.

Quarterly Bookclub 2 – Wrap

Greetings fellow bookclubbing friends,

Firstly, a big thank-you to Fran for organising our second Bookclub at Eaton Mall in Oakleigh. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to visit this little outdoor gem, it’s loud, energetic and has the vibrancy of all that is what we might imagine a meeting place in a Greek town to be! A must stop is Nikos, you haven’t seen a cake shop until you’ve been here. Opening at 7am and closing at midnight every day, it’s a coffee and cake destination, or that detour on your way home. How did we not finish here on Friday????

NEXT MEETUP: Friday 16th March 2018

BOOK: Moby-dick by Herman Melville 

POETRY: Your choice

Hillbilly Elegy:

A big congratulations to all as we all managed to finish the book this time round! Discussions centred around the contemporary insights against the backdrop of today’s society in the U.S. and the parallels in Australia, Hillbilly = Bogan, generational identity, working class, class mobility and the loss of various industries in regional areas. A timely and relevant topic if ever there was one. If you’d like to further explore this I can highly recommend the ‘Quarterly Essay’ series. They’re ongoing opinion essays on current issues concerning political, social and cultural questions and provide an opportunity to think about some of the important issues affecting society today.

Pillars of the Earth:

Gina and I also got through Sue’s secondary suggestion of ‘Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett. Mixed feelings about this 1076 page monster; repetitive, simplistic, and it was all that, but on a positive I read it when I was in the middle of exams so it was the perfect book for me to wind down to before bed. It didn’t ask too much of me, therefore fitting into the category of what I term a ‘brain clearing’ and Sandy terms ‘pulp’ books. I’m a big believer that these books have a valued place at different times in our reading life.

Poetry:

It seems we’re all impacted by the beauty and insightfulness that this genre has the power to provide the reader. What a treat it was to share with each other poems that have touched us at different moments or that we continue to be drawn back to. A truly delicious addition to our format, so explore and enjoy if you have time.

Fran: ‘Warning’ by Jenny Joseph

Sandy: ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver

Gina: ‘Bright Star’ by John Keats

Jody: ‘Sonnet 130’ (My Mistress Eyes) by William Shakespeare

Notes:

There was a consensus towards a classic for the next meetup and we raised the idea of supporting each other in our reading wish list. ‘Those books’ that we’ve always wanted to read, but for some reason have never quite got to. I think of them as my ‘bragging rights bunch’! And as one of those fitted the criteria of a classic, and of which none of us had read, we settled on Moby-dick. Quite fitting as we’re coming up to the summer months where we’re all likely to partake at sometime in some ocean swimming…

We also discussed the option of an Australian author, which even though we didn’t end up selecting one, we all agreed that we should look to explore for the Bookclub after perhaps. On that note I think Tim Winton’s new book is due to be released around mid-March so that may be one to consider. Bring along your suggestions and we’ll decide on the night. Gina also suggested that we select a secondary book for those that have the time, I think this is a great idea even though we didn’t settle on one this time.

I want to emphasise that this isn’t the type of Bookclub that you can’t come to if you haven’t read the book, we’re all busy and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Nor are you expected to even turn up, if you can make it you’re most welcome, if not, then maybe next time. If you know someone who wants to join in then by all means invite them, it can be as a one off guest or ongoing. It’s simply about people getting together every few months to chat primarily about books and poetry, and then perhaps even movies or plays or even podcasts, or anything at all that you think might be of interest.

On another note, Sue has floated the option of a Bookclub on her boat ‘Claire’. As discussed at Bookclub, this is a great option for an extra event for those that are interested in reading poetry on the high seas of the bay! It would mean putting aside a day rather than the quarterly Bookclubs format of a few hours, but I can highly recommend this as a fabulous day out and if it does go ahead I will definitely be joining in. I will endeavour to find some fearsome watery offerings to inspire and startle…I’ll leave this up to Sue to organise, but wanted to flag it with the rest of the group.

So until next time,

J xx

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