“My God, Mae thought. It’s heaven.”

The Circle by Dave Eggers

What a profoundly terrifying book. I feared for Mae’s sanity the moment they decided to add more than 2 screens to her work space. To be honest, I found it a little bit unbelievable that there can be so many people that naive about the world The Circle was proposing. But then when I really think about it, how many of us are always on social media now? Reading this book almost made me deactivate Facebook, that’s how scared I was.

Some of the benefits proposed in this technological dystopian novel are actually available now to a degree, and we’re able to maintain these with signing our souls over to the entities offering these services.

For example, as a Canadian living in Australia, I had my entire immigration processed online. I didn’t have to go down to a run down office building to wait in line or do face to face interviews. I’m sure others with more complicated situations than mine would still have to do so, but I did not.

Same thing with the annual income tax reporting in Australia–it’s all online. I don’t have to use an accountant and I don’t have to go to a tax office (we did have to go visit a run down office to speak with the IRS when we were doing taxes in the States).

And both these services were available to me by simply providing a couple of pieces of basic identity information. I didn’t have to install a chip in myself or wear a camera around my neck 24/7.

Eggers seems to have taken the current obsession with social media, with being heard and seen, to the extreme. His work with The Circle reminds me of A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (for those of you too lazy to read about it, it’s a satirical essay about eating offspring from poor families in order to reduce poverty).

Another book I read from Eggers A Hologram for the King. I also enjoyed the social commentary Eggers was hinting at in that novel. Eggers is definitely an author I want to read more of.

“I always get the shakes before a drop.”

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

This is the first book I’ve listened to on my own as an audio book. I’d run out of podcasts I enjoyed and I needed something to listen to on my morning jogs. I remember hearing bits and pieces of this book back when Jamie was listening to it on audio, and I remember liking the bits I heard.

The book is amazing. It’s right up there with Ender’s Game, or maybe even better than Ender’s Game. It’s a much more grown up novel, and it was extremely relatable despite the setting being in space. Also very interesting how Heinlein was able to weave so much philosophy into an interesting, futuristic story.

And it is nothing like the movie. Which I thought was awesome. I don’t think any film producer could have really done this book justice, especially when so much of what makes it a great novel is not something you could translate easily into a visual representation. I loved this book so much that I actually want to read a paper copy now just so I can fully immerse myself into the feeling of the novel.

“Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.”

Normal People by Sally Rooney

This is pretty much something Connell would sing to Marianne, by the way.

The last line of the book:

I’ll always be here. You know that.

Don’t you love it when the first sentence of a novel connects seamlessly with the last? It gives the whole story a gift-wrapped feeling. The first line and last line of this book are like the catch that turns a string into a circle. And these two lines basically sum up their entire dynamic: Marianne will always answer the door when it’s Connell ringing the bell. She will always be here.

This book reminds me so much of my favourite book, One Day by David Nicholls. It follows the years of these two people’s lives–two people who keep coming back to each other because of an attachment that neither can explain.

First of all, the book was wonderfully written. The language was poetic without being flowery, and the dialogue felt natural. The characters were very real to me, even though not as relatable. I couldn’t really identify with either of them, but that was okay. In this story I didn’t really need to relate to either character in order to care about them, kind of like when you can’t understand a friend’s decision, but you support them anyway.

I feel that this book is not so much trying to address any issues about sexuality as simply just bringing attention to the fact that there are various different people with different preferences, but they are still just people, even if we cannot understand them. At least that’s what I took away from it. There were no heavy handed morals or judgements being handed down–just an interesting look into the lives of two people and the ones who love them.

My favourite dynamic in this book is the relationship between Connell and his mother. It was wholesome, even though they were not a wholesome family. Connell calls his mother by her first name, which I think shows the maturity and closeness of their relationship rather than the emotional distance it might initially imply.

Overall I would read this book again. This book reads like it has many layers, enough to be discovered by second and third readings. Plus it’s just enjoyable. It was not a suspense novel where you are just reading it to get to the Big Reveal, but I was emotionally invested enough in the characters to want to keep reading.

“She was aware first of the scent of the hotel shampoo, a Middle Eastern aroma reminiscent of anise, and then–when she opened her eyes–the way the light from the window was different from the light in the rooms in the hotel where the crew usually stayed.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Photo of flight attendants from the 1960s.

A very very long first sentence to a novel, but it worked to set the scene. Immediately we know that the character is in the Middle East, and that she is waking in a place she would normally not stay at. Immediately we have a bunch of questions we want to answer and so we read on.

This was an enjoyable read. I was hooked into the story and I wanted to read it to the end even though it didn’t seem like there was a mystery to begin with. I wanted to read it to the end because I wanted to know what happens to Cassie. She is a likeable character (an unpopular opinion, apparently) and I found her relatable.

Cassie is a flight attendant who is also an alcoholic. She has blackouts from drinking too much and this aspect of her character is what sets the scene for the rest of the book. Something life-destroying happens to Cassie and we follow along to see how everything unravels.

This is the first book from Bohjalian that I’ve ever read, so I didn’t really have any expectations of what it’d be like. I picked this book off of the featured shelf at my local library and got lucky that I just happened to like it.

This book worked for me because I was wanting to read more suspense, and The Flight Attendant provided it. The story wasn’t exactly believable in regards the FBI and police, but that’s why it’s fiction. I would read another book from this same author as I really like his writing style. It’s not too flowery, it’s straight to the point, and it has a good mix of action and exposition to keep the story flowing.

Alcoholism is one of the central themes in this book. I don’t know very much about the topic beyond what’s been covered in popular culture, so I have no idea if Bohjalian did it justice. What I like is that there wasn’t some heavy-handed moral being slapped down about alcohol abuse. It didn’t feel like the author was pushing his personal opinions with this novel.

As for whether I’d read this book again: nah. It’s a one and done book.

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.”

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Jackson died at age 48.

This was a book club book that I really struggled through. It’s not that it was difficult reading or disturbing, but I simply found it way too boring. The characters were not well developed until at least half way into the book. I love Uncle Julian, but again, I didn’t feel this until much later into the book. I just simply didn’t care enough about any of the characters to want to know what happens to them next.

Jackson spent much of the first half of the book developing a theme–a family of hermits with a whole village hating them. Right. Okay. I got that about two chapters in, but Jackson goes on and on to develop this theme at the expense of developing her characters.

What did I like about this book? Probably just uncle Julian. I didn’t like any of the other characters. None of the other characters were sympathetic or had much to go on. We never really got to know any of the other characters very well. I felt I only came to know uncle Julian because there was so much to be read from Merricat’s observations of her uncle.

In the end I finished the book because I had to. I really wanted to quit the book, but I have this thing about finishing books I want to talk about at book club. It’s astounding that it took me about two weeks to finish the book considering this is the shortest book I have read in a LONG time.

“The body lay on a gurney in the middle of the room.”

A Perfect Marriage by Alison Booth

This book had so much promise. It is a library book that caught my eye. It was an entertaining read until about two-thirds into the book. The amount of intrigue inserted into the beginning and middle part of the book felt like it was leading up to something much bigger than what the book ended on. How disappointing.

The dynamic of two women who were united by a single man’s violence reminds me very much of A Thousand Splendid Suns, but the huge difference here between these two books is that Splendid Suns felt authentic and believable while this book just felt trite.

What a disappointing read!

“On the morning he was to die, the old man woke early and set about making breakfast.”

The Last Equation of Issac Severy by Nova Jacobs

An interesting book that kept me reading the whole way through. This was a library book. It’s interesting how so many popular general fiction novels now have some kind of “whodunit” aspect to it, as if the crime thriller genre has just taken over everything. Is that what sells now?

The story had a great first line. It immediately hooks the reader in. So we’re about to read about someone dying. And why did it sound like the old man knew he was going to die, and all he was doing is waking up early and make breakfast?

The rest of the story itself wasn’t entirely believable to me, but that could be because I’m not versed in mathematics at all. Though one of the blurbs/reviews about this book was that anyone would be able to enjoy it, whether they were into mathematics or not. Now that I think about it, I did enjoy reading it, I just didn’t find it wholly believable.

The novel itself doesn’t really have much of a “message” or moral to it. It was really just an interesting story. Something a buddy would tell you at a pub and you’d keep thinking about it later. Nothing to really learn a life lesson from or anything, but just something fun to read about.

I want to talk about the characters. Hazel is meant to be the main character of this novel, but we come to find that parts of this story are also told by Gregory (Hazel’s brother) and Philip (Hazel’s uncle). Strangely I didn’t find Hazel or Gregory as believable narrators, but Philip’s voice rang the most true to me.

Hazel talks about herself and her life as if she was an utter failure. Yet somehow we are to believe that her brilliant genius of a grandfather had entrusted his life’s greatest work to her. This was not believable to me–perhaps it would have been more convincing if there were more backstory to the relationship between her and Isaac to show readers a reason for this trust between them.

Gregory… such a strange character and his motivations are obvious yet ridiculously unbelievable at the same time. I’m not going to elaborate further as that would amount to spoiling the story, but his part of the story is just… it felt like he was a plot device.

Philip was very well done, I thought. I found him relatable and easily likeable. I actually felt bad whenever it seemed like misfortune was about to befall him.

As for keeping the reader going: Jacobs did a very good job of setting up several questions to be answered. I wanted to know the answer to everything and the pace of each slow reveal was well-timed. Jacobs has a good eye for plot and pace, and this make the book entertaining to read. Though there were a few points in the plot that felt forced, where the characters made decisions that just didn’t seem true to themselves, and were made more to drive the plot forward to its eventual end.

Would I read this book again? Probably not. It’s not really a “deep-read” type of novel and really the interest is gone as soon as all the questions have been answered.

Would I recommend this book to someone else? Prooobably not. It’s not really a book I would raved about. Maybe if someone was bored and wanted a fun, light read, I’d recommend this book. Or if I knew any mathematicians that wanted to dabble in a cool story that had nothing to do with maths…

All in all, a fun, light read. Thank you, Nova Jacobs.

“All the years I have lived in this world and in the other I have been known by many names…”

The Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins

This is a book club book. One of the new book clubs I decided to try out on Meetup in Adelaide that mainly focuses on sci-fi and fantasy novels.

First Impressions (8% read): I’m having a hard time being gripped by this book. I can’t really get a good feel of the two main characters, Daniel and Rose. I’m liking Em, but I assume she’s a new character that’s been introduced. I have a burning question about whether Daniel and Rose were characters established in a previous novel (this book is tagged as book 3 in a series, I believe?).

White Flag Review: I quit this book at around page 20ish. I just couldn’t keep going. The writing wasn’t fantastic and I had a hard time caring about the characters. None of them felt real to me. It felt like I was reading fan fiction written by a 12 year old to be honest. And that’s not mean–I was myself once a 12 year old who wrote fan fiction. I would not expect everyone to read what I wrote and enjoy it, especially if they felt no connection to the subject matter. This novel kind of made me feel like I need to be in some special club in order to actually understand the story and its characters. It made me feel cast out.

“It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before…”

The Dry by Jane Harper

This was another pick-off-the-shelves-at-the-bookstore book. I had this book sitting on my bookshelf for a while and I can’t say for sure when and where I actually bought it. I suspect it was when we were still living in Sydney, the second time around.

That’s what happens with books you buy, isn’t it? You put off reading them because they are always there. You read the library books and Bookclub books first, because those actually have a deadline. Personally I find I have that attitude with everything else in my life: if I’m sure it’s going to be sticking around, I tend to neglect it for something else that is only temporary.

On to the book. This was another gripping novel for me. I wanted to read it every free moment I had. It obviously had a great hook and there was a double mystery. A double whodunit. And true to a whodunit novel, we were led in various directions through out the novel as the story unfolded and the secrets of a small town came tumbling out.

While I really enjoyed reading this book, I was a bit annoyed at how obvious the writer’s attempt to lead us astray was. When I read these whodunit novels now, I end up comparing them to Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. That was a whodunit novel that really had me guessing, but the guiding hand of the author was not so obvious then.

One of my favourite things about this novel was how Harper brought attention to some serious issues faced by Australia by weaving them into an entertaining crime novel. Drought and domestic abuse. I feel that she did this without “preaching” on these issues, which is a method I prefer when I read novels. Perhaps we can attribute this method of story-telling to her journalistic background: report the facts and leave your personal opinions out of it. I like reading authors who can do this as I feel free to formulate my own opinions rather than finding myself hating the dictating voice of the author. A clear example I can think of is The Ballad of Banjo Crossing by Tess Evans, another book I read recently. In Banjo Crossing, I constantly found myself curling my lip at the tone of the author. Some of the beliefs Evans held felt like it was forcefully being crammed down my throat. It annoyed me.

Reading about a farming town in Australia and the fallout from two years of drought made me consider things I have never consider before. The entire town suffers, and not just industry, but everything. The school can run out of money. Doctors and other essential professionals can leave. It’s truly terrifying the effects drought can have on farming towns. I feel humbled learning this from this novel. I like how the drought was made a real villain in this novel.

As for characters–I liked them. I kept seeing the lead agent from Criminal Minds (also named Aaron) as Falk. But this is really only because both are named Aaron and both are federal police. The characters felt real to me.

I would absolutely read another book by Harper. In fact I’ve already looked up the second book in the Falk series.

Re-read material: I would not read this book a second time, mostly because what I found gripping was the plot, and not exactly the language. It was not poorly written, but it’s not poetic, which it obviously doesn’t have to be. I just don’t think there’s much need to re-read a whodunit novel when you already know who’s actually “dun it”.

“Jasper Jones has come to my window.”

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Absolutely amazing book. This one is a library book I found featured at the Burnside Library during one of our toy runs (they have a massive toy library for toddlers).

One of the first things I usually do when I move to a new town is to sign up for a library card. I have a bit of an obsession with libraries. It could be because my very first ID card as a child was a library card from school and our local library. I have always loved books, and being in a library felt like home-coming. There is nothing that soothes me more than being surrounded by walls and shelves of just books.

The library was always a gateway to other worlds for me. An endless well of information just sitting there, waiting for me to drink from its depths.

I love libraries.

Onto Jasper Jones. This is easily one of my favourite books of all time in any genre. The last time I fell in love with a book so utterly and completely was on my second reading of One Day by David Nicholls. With Jasper Jones, the infatuation was immediate and the fall itself was an incredible adventure.

The book its a good mix of coming-to-age story and crime thriller. The story is told from the point of view of Charlie Bucktin, a teenage boy growing up in a small town in 1960’s Australia. It reminds me a lot of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The narrator himself even refers multiple times to works of Twain. Many of the same themes found in Twain’s work is reflected in Jasper Jones, such as racism and small town bigotry.

Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed was the description of cricket. I didn’t really understand cricket before I read this book, and maybe I still don’t fully understand it–but I sure am a lot more interested in cricket now after having experienced the passion for it from Silvey’s well-developed characters.

Overall this story had a very balanced mix of action and exposition. Charlie was a very intelligent and thoughtful character. He was very loveable even though he was fallible. His father was the perfect “hero”, and I very much love the relationship Charlie has with his father. He is aware that his father is human, yet he still hopes for great acts of valour and would sometimes be disappointed. Their relationship portrays a very heart-warming example of the love between a father and a son.

All of the main characters were well-done. They all seemed very real to me and not once did I question a motive. Their reactions and behaviours seemed true to themselves and that made for a very believable story.

Lastly, the dialogue. Oh the dialogue. The repertoire between Charlie and his good friends back and forth were hilarious and seemed to me very accurate of teenage boy talk in 1960’s. The dialogue is what makes me wish this story could be a screen play for a movie. I’d watch the hell out of this movie. My husband is currently reading it and he’ll be able to confirm this better as he himself was a teenage boy.

I absolutely would re-read this book again, and I absolutely recommend it. I kept gushing about it to my husband until he’s started reading it too–and he’s loving it so far.