Sample Saturday – three from authors I’ve read before

Sample Saturday is when I wade through the eleventy billion samples I have downloaded on my Kindle. I’m slowly chipping away and deciding whether it’s buy or bye.

This week all the books are from authors I’ve read (and enjoyed) previously – Continue reading

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In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – a literary mixtape

It’s ludicrous that I haven’t read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote until now. I thought I was the only person who hadn’t read it (although Bonnie fessed up that she hasn’t either).

There’s nothing left to say about this book – it’s genre-defining; it’s clearly a touchstone for many books since (I’m looking at you We Were the Mulvaneys); it’s absolutely gripping; and it’s beautifully written.

So instead of a review, I’m going to retell the story in songs. Of course, you’ll understand my sequence of choices because you’ve read the book. Note: the Flashdance inclusion is relevant for the song title only! Continue reading

Smile by Roddy Doyle

Reviews of Roddy Doyle’s latest novel, Smile, are taking one of two approaches – focused on style and a brief reference to the plot OR spoilers and trigger warnings.

Although it’s not my usual approach, I’m going with spoilers and trigger warnings (look away if you want).

Smile is the story of Victor Forde – he’s middle-aged, alone for the first time in years, and has just moved into a new apartment. Every evening, he heads to his local pub, Donnelly’s, for a pint. At Donnelly’s he meets Eddie Fitzpatrick, a man who claims to have been at school with him, although Victor can’t recall him. Victor dislikes Fitzpatrick, particularly because he stirs up memories of being taught by the Christian Brothers.

The story switches between the present and Victor’s memories of school; his marriage to Rachel (who became a celebrity); and of his own brief media career on the radio.

So, to the spoilery/triggery bit: Continue reading

The Party by Elizabeth Day

The individual elements of Elizabeth Day’s suspense novel, The Party, are promising – campus-lit, British society, and a very fancy party where an ‘incident’ occurs that threatens reputations and relationships. Unfortunately the story was a bit of a fizzer.

At the centre is Martin Gilmour, who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Burtonbury School. Usually the outsider, Martin meets the charismatic and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice and via him, gains access to society’s elite. The boys develop a close relationship although it’s one that’s lopsided – Martin has deep feelings for Ben, which are further complicated by a secret he has promised to keep.

By the time I got to Cambridge, my reinvention as Ben Fitzmaurice’s surrogate brother was so convincing to me, I’d almost forgotten I had a different past – one that involved gas fires and sausages in tins… Continue reading

Two short(ish) reviews

I read two fantastic books in the middle of my manic assessment period at the end of first semester – Euphoria by Lily King and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Both books featured strong, memorable characters, and both books were set in foreign countries (New Guinea and Zimbabwe respectively), each with a beautifully developed sense of place. Some thoughts on each – Continue reading

Woman of Substances by Jenny Valentish

I saw author Jenny Valentish speak at last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival. At the time, I hadn’t read her memoir, Woman of Substances – I often wonder how much my thoughts about a book are influenced by hearing the author speak before I’ve read it. Invariably their passion and post-publication reflections rub-off, and I go into the reading experience ‘looking out’ for certain things, which is why I left Woman of Substances almost a year before picking it up.

Woman of Substances is a memoir-research hybrid. Valentish uses her own experience of drugs and alcohol to explore how women deal with addiction and treatment. There are two main threads in the book – firstly, Valentish examines how trauma and self-destructive behaviours – such as eating disorders and high-risk sex – complicate substance use for women.

There’s an illusion of power in being as sexually aggressive as men are allowed to be, but it can sometimes take a stupefying blood-alcohol level to override the misgivings. Continue reading