Sunday, December 8, 2019

"Wolfe Island" by Lucy Treloar

Started reading: 7th December 2019
My score:

Aussie Author Challenge: Female author, historical/speculative fiction?

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt

Started reading: 11th November 2019
My score:

I haven't finished reading this book yet. I'm 115 pages in but still not really liking any of the characters. It is a shame as it feels like the book is building suspense and probably will be a really good thriller. I might pick it up again soon, but for now I am reading Lucy Treloar's "Wolfe Island" and that has hooked me from the first pages.

Friday, October 4, 2019

"The Old Lie" by Claire G. Coleman

Started reading: 4th October 2019
Finished:sometime in October 2019.

I read Claire's first novel "Terra Nullius" last year, and it was a very powerful book that had a huge impact on me. While very different in some ways, "The Old Lie" also has similar powerful themes throughout it, making you reflect on humanity, refugees, empathy, racism, colonialism, all while being gripped by a sci fi war story full of interesting characters whose paths eventually intertwine in unexpected ways. I thoroughly recommend it. The book also connects to one of the few poems I remember learning at high school that made an impression on me at the time - Wilfred Owen's "Death et Decorum est" - the beginning of the story definitely transported me into the scenes that poem evoked.

Aussie Author Challenge: Female author, Indigenous Australian Author, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction.

“The Missing Lynx” by Ross Barnett

I was very excited to start reading this book about the cool Pleistocene (“Ice Age”) mammals of the UK written by fellow ancient DNA time travel friend Ross. We shared a PhD supervisor, although Ross was based in Oxford and I was based in the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at Adelaide, and while my PhD focused on the ancient DNA of extinct and ancient bears, Ross’s PhD  focused on ancient Felids/large cats like Smilodon and Cave Lions.

I bought my copy of the book from Ross directly, and he kindly posted it to me along with a bookmark inserted at arguably the most important part - a whole chapter on ancient bears!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. After a pretty intense few months reliving some of of the not so great aspects of my PhD experience this year, this book helped to remind me why I wanted to do a PhD in ancient DNA in the first place! It's incredible to think of all the wonderful almost mythical creatures that roamed the earth not that long recently in fact that our ancestors would have seen and hunted them. It is so sad that so many have been driven to extinction and we will never see Mammoths, Mastodons, Giant Short-Faced Bears, Cave Lions, Sabre-Tooth cats again. But with ancient DNA, it is kind of the closest you can get to time travel, using genetic and isotope technology and paleontological analysis to learn about what they ate, how they responded to climate change, their interactions with early modern humans, what they were related to...etc It also makes you value the diversity of species we still have left, but scares you with how much humans have destroyed and are continuing to destroy in this 6th Mass Extinction that we are living through (and causing) currently.

Ross not only tells you interesting facts about all these cool creatures of the Ice Age, but shares fascinating stories of history and science and human culture, plus lots of random and often hilarious side stories and footnotes. It is not a dry non-fiction book, it is page-turning and full of interesting stories, personal insights/opinions and humour. There are plenty of side references to pop culture throughout, including Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and Star Wars. The book obviously was pretty close to home for me, with many of the animals and ancient DNA techniques, characters and concepts being familiar from my PhD days...but I still learnt heaps of things from the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also dont think you would need to be an ancient DNA nerd like me to enjoy it immensely.    

Started reading: 14th September 2019
Finished: 4th October 2019
My score/review: 9/10

Genre/Topics: Non-Fiction, Ancient DNA, Paleontology, Ice Age, Extinctions.

"Too Much Lip" by Melissa Lucashenko

"Too Much Lip" by Melissa Lucashenko was the latest book I chose to read as part of the annual Aussie Author Challenge that I take part in most years (where I try to read 12 books by Australian Authors), and as part of my personal reading challenge to myself (to make sure at least 6 of these books are by Indigenous Australian authors this year).

This book was the Winner of the Miles Franklin literary award in 2019. I found it to be a real page turner (I read it cover to cover in less than 2 days, and it has been a long time since I have done that), yet it wasn't a light superficial book, it was packed full of hard truths about racism. I’ll be reflecting on this book for a long time, and I am really grateful for Melissa writing this book and giving me the chance to see a glimpse of life in Australia from a very different perspective to my privileged white experience. It shows many ways that colonisation has had a negative impact and still is having a negative impact on Aboriginal Peoples. The story is raw, hard-hitting, but also full of dark humour. I was gripped by it and was drawn into it. In contrast to Kim Scott's "Taboo", Melissa has injected a lot of Aboriginal language (Yugambeh language?) from northern NSW/QLD and Aboriginal-English slang throughout the story. Sometimes the words are explained, often they are just woven into the story and the reader can guess the meanings from the context. I really loved this aspect of the book, and given how many Indigenous Australian languages have been destroyed through colonisation I think it is really generous to share little parts of this language with the readers in this way. 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and I have been loving hearing various Australian Indigenous languages celebrated more openly in the last year or so. I would love more local Indigenous languages being spoken around Australia, with place names and other words reverting from the English names to the names they were previously given for 1000s of years. For those who are interested, there is an ABC Radio podcast called "Awaye" that covers a lot of interesting topics on Indigenous art and culture and often has segments showcasing Indigenous Australian words from different languages around the country.

This is the first book by Melissa Lucashenko that I have read, but I will definitely be adding one of her previous books "Mullumbimby" to my 'to read' list now.

Started reading: 13th Sept 2019
Finished: 14th Sept 2019
My score: 10/10

Aussie Author Challenge stats: Female author, Indigenous Australian author, New to me author

Sunday, August 4, 2019

"Dyschronia" by Jennifer Mills

"Dyschronia" by Jennifer Mills is one of the short-listed books for the Miles Franklin 2019 awards. It is set in South Australia and has an environmental/climate change angle which of course makes it a must-read book for me.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that Jennifer Mills' writing is beautiful, unique, and skillful. I wrote down several quotes from the book as I read it because I was so captivated by the words and how she captured the tricky ways in which time can seem to move:

"Three years since she'd seen Ivy, maybe four. Twice that long since she had left saying she needed time, as if time wasn't everywhere, seeping into every crevice."

"It wasn't right the way these moments, the worst moments, could tear out of their resting places. As if nothing ever passed into history, as if everything was only another layer of now, sticking over and over itself like old wallpaper."

"And time came off it's axis and rolled away".

"Time doesn't stop until it stops for good. It only heals until it kills."

These are just some of the examples of the way time is described in "Dyschronia", and similarly other concepts, are written in a multitude of different ways that each seems to capture the essence of the thing being described so perfectly, only to have that thing described again in a completely different way at another point in the story that is perfect from another view.

The book itself can be hard to follow in some ways, deliberately so, as most of the book is told from the point of view of Sam, who suffers from migraines that appear to forewarn of the future, and each chapter jumps back and forth in time and between what is really happening and what Sam has 'seen' through her migraines over several decades of her life. As I have read mentioned elsewhere, the other chapters of the book are reminiscent of the 'chorus' from Greek Tragedies like King Lear or Antigone, and are told from the point of the collective town members.

The story itself is dystopian/speculative fiction, set in South Australia in a town called Clapstone with many similarities to real world Whyalla, including multiple references to the giant cuttlefish that spawn in that special part of the world. The book deals with climate change, it appears to be set in the very close future, and looking back at our current time in a nostalgic way, but this is mixed with a depressing acceptance of the new reality of unviable land, forced relocations of towns and cities, living in 'domes', never-ending drought, the death of all sea life, hardly any birds except drones that look like birds or caged pet budgies.. the book is quite bleak, and depressing, because it feels like this is eerily familiar to what we are on the cusp of now with the general apathy and lack of leadership in this country to address global warming and the climate crisis with the urgency and seriousness that it deserves. It's like we are sleep-walking into a dystopian migraine of a future that seems all too credible:

"For our generation, the course of life seemed tilted towards growth. The boom was infinite, like the ocean."

"But there's no safe, not after tomorrow. We exist between emergencies, emergency responses, more emergencies."

I would give this book 10/10 for the writing and the uniqueness, but I'm giving it 9/10 overall because I found the last few chapters unsatisfying in tying up the loose ends and was a bit confusing. It was probably intentional, and maybe I was unsatisfied because I wanted a positive outcome, but the ending is probably more in keeping with the themes of the book.

Started reading on my kindle: 4th August 2019
Finished: 13th September 2019
My score: 9/10

Aussie Author stats: female author, new author to me, dystopian/speculative fiction genre.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

"What I talk about when I talk about running" by Haruki Murakami

I picked up this book at my favourite second-hand book shop - Adelaide's Pop-Up Bookshop - currently at the Adelaide Central Markets. I haven't read any other books by Haruki Murakami before, but am aware he's a prolific and highly regarded author. I chose this book because it is about running, something I love doing when I can motivate myself to do it regularly, and although I don't consider myself particularly talented at it, it brings me a lot of positive experiences and a way to process my thoughts.

I really enjoyed this book as it is an insightful contemplation of training for and completing marathons (and triathlons) in various locations around the world. The way the author describes his meditative experiences of running really resonate with me, and I also have contemplated some of the same things he ruminates on while running. As someone who has also trained for and travelled to New York to participate in running events (the New York Marathon for Murakami, the 15km Ted Corbitt run in Central Park for me) I have also experienced similar feelings and scenes.

The book is well written and I really enjoyed Murakami's writing style. This particular book is translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, I'm unsure if he has translated other books by Murakami, but it was a pleasure to read and I will be looking out for more books by this author/translator team. 

While I have not yet run a half marathon or a marathon, both are on my bucket list, maybe for 2020. I have had a break from running for most of this year - I struggle to find the energy during the heat of summer - but winter is here now and so I have recently started running 3-5km once a week again and once again am about to start building up a regular running routine. I find having a goal event to work towards and look forward to helps with starting or re-starting a regular running routine, but once habituated again I become addicted to running and feel out of sorts when I am prevented from running for some reason. Reading Murakami's thoughts and experiences of regularly running long distances while aged in his 30s-50s was encouraging, plus the way he planned for and travelled to specific places to run events contributed to motivating me to set some new running goals. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys long distance running, or is trying to find motivation for any kind of endurance exercise. 

Started reading: 11th July 2019
Finished: 21st July 2019
My score: 9/10

"Australia Day" by Stan Grant

I'll include a short review here once I finish reading it.

Started reading: 7th July 2019
My score:
Aussie Author Challenge Stats: Male author, Indigenous Australian author, non-fiction genre

"The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf" by Ambelin Kwaymullina

I'll add a short review once I finish reading this book.

Started reading: Sometime in May? 2019
My score:
Aussie Author Challenge Stats: Female author, Indigenous author, Young Adult Fiction and Fantasy genre.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

"The Rosie Result" by Graeme Simsion

After the depressing nature of the previous book that I read (Wimmera - by Mark Brandi), I decided I needed to find a lighter, more enjoyable read for my next book. So I chose to download "The Rosie Result" onto my kindle to read next as I loved the first book in this series - The Rosie Project.

"The Rosie Result" did not disappoint, it was a great end to the trilogy. It is both insightful and sensitive but also at times witty. It was easy to read and the characters by now are well-loved. As a scientist myself I find so many of the situations and experience and characters familiar and can readily relate to the stories in the Rosie trilogy.

Started reading: 7th April 2019
Finished: 18th April 2019
My score: 8/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: male author, drama with humour genre

"Wimmera" by Mark Brandi

Initially when I started reading this book I was really excited as it reminded me a little of "Jasper Jones" but unfortunately as I read on it didn't live up to the high standard of Craig Silvi's novel. Both focus on teenage boys living in small Australian towns, navigating the experience of growing up, seeing things through a child's eyes then slowly becoming more aware of the darker side of adulthood and that not everything is as it may appear. While (mostly) not explicit, the dark side of this novel was sickening and disturbing, and I found the multiple failures of both the parents and the police/judicial system to protect the innocent kids in this book was depressing. 

Started reading: 31st March 2019
Finished: 3rd April 2019
My score: 4/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: Male author, new to me author, fiction, crime-fiction.

"Fusion" by Kate Richards

I first heard of this book when Lucy Treloar posted about it recently on Instagram. It is a really unique book - the writing is quite beautiful, sometimes poetic, the central characters are unusual protagonists - adult conjoined twins named Sea and Serene who live in an isolated cabin in rural Victoria. For the beautiful writing and the thought-provoking uniqueness of the characters and the way they spoke/thought/interacted together I would rank this book very highly. However I found both the storyline and ending a little unsatisfying/underwhelming, so in the end I think I would rank it closer to 6.5 - 7 out of 10.

I read this book as part of the Aussie Author Challenge, the author has a medical degree and works part-time in genetics, it is the first time I have read a book by this author, I'm not sure what the genre would be, but I have heard the story described as a "modern Gothic tale" which seems to fit well I think. I'd definitely be interested to read other books by this author in future.

Started reading: 12th March 2019
Finished: 31st March 2019
My score: 7/10

Aussie Author Challenge stats: New to me author, Female author, genre - described as a 'modern Gothic tale'.

Friday, February 15, 2019

"About Grace" by Anthony Doerr

This book was recommended to me recently by a really good friend, Hannah. Then the week after she recommended it to me I found a secondhand copy at the Mockingbird Lounge in Glenelg South and quickly snapped it up. I have previously read "All the light we cannot see" by Anthony Doerr and loved it (I scored it a 10/10), but hadn't realised he had written other books.

Started reading: 11th February 2019
Finished: 11th March 2019
My score:8-9/10 Beautiful writing, sad character and story.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Aussie Author Challenge 2019 - with an Indigenous Australian focus.

I have participated in the Aussie Author Challenge at some level or other since 2013. This year I am participating with an added personal challenge of my own. Two of the books that I read that had the most impact on me in the last year or so were "Dark Emu, Black Seeds" a non-fiction book by Bruce Pascoe about the evidence and history of the oldest human agriculture on earth by Australia's First People, and the novel "Terra Nullius" by Claire G Coleman. Both are by Indigenous Australian authors, and both blew my mind in different ways, and started to help make me aware of how ignorant and unaware I was/am about so many aspects of the amazing culture and people who have been on this land for so many thousands of years and how horrific colonisation was and is in their experience, and how little we understand and appreciate it. So this year I am deliberately seeking out more books by Indigenous Australian authors to help continue learning more from them. So I thought I would combine this personal challenge I have set for myself to broaden my understanding and awareness of Indigenous Australian culture, challenges, discrimination, languages and reconciliation with the Aussie Author Challenge 2019. So I am attempting to read at least 6 books (Wallaroo level) by Indigenous Australian authors and/or focus on topics relevant to our First Nations people in the Aussie Author Challenge 2019.

"Taboo" by Kim Scott

Started reading: 27/01/2019
Finished: 11/02/2019
My score: 8/10

Two of the books that I read that had the most impact on me in the last year or so were "Dark Emu, Black Seeds" a non-fiction book by Bruce Pascoe about the evidence and history of the oldest human agriculture on earth by Australia's First People, and the novel "Terra Nullius" by Claire G Coleman. Both are by Indigenous Australian authors, and both blew my mind in different ways, and started to help make me aware of how ignorant and unaware I was/am about so many aspects of the amazing culture and people who have been on this land for so many thousands of years and how horrific colonisation was and is in their experience, and how little we understand and appreciate it. So this year I am deliberatly seeking out more books by Indigenous Australian authors to help continue learning more from them. I have quite a few lined up to read, but if you have read any that you think I should add to my list, please let me know!

"They cannot take the sky" by multiple authors

A collections of stories written by refugees and asylum seekers imprisoned by Australia over the last 2 decades.. A friend lent me this book, I packed it away when I moved house, and just came across it again this week so at last I am making the time to read it.. As described in the forward by Christos Tsiolkas, 'we read for pleasure and we read for knowledge. And there are some books we read because we must, for in not reading them we are in danger of not understanding our world and our own place in the world." He places it alongside books such as "The Diary of Anne Frank", George Orwell's "1984" and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago".

Started reading: 30/12/2018

"Unsheltered" by Barbara Kingsolver

Started reading on my kindle when I was travelling in Dec 2018, maybe 12th Dec 2018.

Finished: 27th January 2019
My score: 8/10

This is the latest novel by Barbara Kingsolver, I usually really like her books, and so far this is a good one too.

This book alternates between two different stories, both set in the same house in Vineland USA, but one story is set in the time of Charles Darwin in the 1800s, where the debate between the established religious belief and the new scientific theory of Evolution was hugely controversial, and the other is set in current times, where despite the author's statement that "among the novel's twenty-first century characters, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental" there are quite obvious references to Trump as "the Bullhorn", a Billionaire running for President that boasts he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and people would still vote for him"....etc.
The underlying theme is to showcase the similarities in the incredulous reaction to evolution in the 1800s and how 'head in the sand' many people were in the face of what we now see as obvious, and the current situation we face with severe effects of global warming on our doorstep and the inaction and denial of it by many of our political leaders. Barbara Kingsolver was a biologist before she became a writer and I'm sure it's one of the reasons I love her books so much, they are great human dramas, well written, but with important underlying messages embedded. This one has climate change and sustainable living and evolution woven throughout, plus a fair measure of equity for women. Science Communication by subtle and powerful means through a novel.

I was only slightly disappointed by the ending or I would have scored it 9-10/10 instead of 8.

“Any ordinary day” by Leigh Sales

Started reading: 28/09/2018
Finished: sometime early Oct 2018.
Score: 10/10
Aussie author, my favourite anchor on the ABC 7:30 report and someone I have a lot of respect for 🙂

“Questions of Travel” by Michelle De Kretser

Started reading: 16 September 2018

I bought this second hand a while ago. It won a Miles Franklin award and sounds like it will be a great book 🙂 I’m only a few pages in so far and I already like the writing style.

"The ones you trust" by Caroline Overington.

Started reading on my kindle: 11/09/2018
I've read other books by this Australian author and they are usually gripping easy page turners that make you think/question society's norms by featuring crimes and issues normally covered with a stmga and can be a little uncomfortable but great reads.

Finished reading: 15 Sept 2018.
My score: 7/10
Easy, page turner with some good twists.

"Prodigal Summer" by Barbara Kingsolver.

This is a second-hand book
Started reading: sometime in July/Aug 2018?
Finished: 10th September 2018
My score: 6.5-7/10 

Not as good as the Poisonwood Bible, the Lacuna or the non-fiction 'animal vegitable miracle'. Still an enjoyable book, and I actually started to enjoy it more and warm up to and be interested in the characters towards the end and was disappointed when it ended. It felt like the whole book was leading up to the real story and then just ended before the real story happened. But along the way the insights into the landscapes, history and characters were interesting.

“The Storyteller” by Jodi Picoult.

I find Jodi’s books hit and miss, some I love, some I can’t get into and never finish. Mum recommended this one and gave it to me after she read it so it’s probably one of the former

Started reading: 24/06/2018
Finished: 10/07/2018
My score/review: 9/10

“The Wife Drought” by Annabel Crabb

I really like Annabel’s commentary on politics, and love the Chat10Look3 podcast she does with Leigh Sales. 

Started reading: ~18/06/2018
As part of the Aussie Author Challenge.
Finished: 01/01/2019
My score/review: 8/10
Interesting, full of Annabel's characteristic wit and smart observations.

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver

Started reading: 29th April 2018
Finished: Finished sometime in 2018.
My score: 8/10
Non-fiction book about the author and her family challenging themselves to grow their own food or eat locally grown food for a year. Really interesting.