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BOOK REVIEW: The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky

Thursday, March 16, 2017




The Waiting Room – Leah Kaminsky


BLURB (from GoodReads)

Leah Kaminsky’s powerful fiction debut—a multi-generational novel perfect for fans of The Tiger’s Wife and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena—unfolds over a day in the life of a young physician in contemporary Israel, who must cope with modern threats in the shadow of her parents’ horrific wartime pasts.

A young doctor in Haifa, Israel, must come to terms with her family’s painful past—and its lingering aftermath—as the conflict between Palestine and Israel reaches its height and the threat of a terrorist attack looms over the city....

Born to two survivors in the smoky after-haze of WWII, Dina has never been able to escape her parents’ history. Tortured by memories of Bergen-Belsen, her mother leaves Dina to inherit her decades of trauma. 

Dina desperately anchors herself in family—a cherished young son, a world-weary husband, and a daughter on the way—and her work as a doctor, but she is struggling to cope, burdened by both the very real anxieties of her daily life and also the shadows of her parents’ ghosts, who follow her wherever she goes. A witty, sensitive narrator, she fights to stay grounded in the here-and-now, even as the challenges of motherhood and medicine threaten to overwhelm her. 

In taut, compelling prose, The Waiting Room weaves between Dina’s exterior and interior lives, straddling the present and the past—and building towards a profoundly dramatic climax that will remind readers of the fragility of human life even as it reassures them of the inescapable power of love and family.



MY THOUGHTS: 

Set in modern-day Israel, The Waiting Room tells the story of a single day in the life of a female Jewish doctor who is haunted by her parents’ tragic past. Born to Holocaust survivors, Dinah has always been acutely aware of the unspoken horrors of her parents’ survival. Struggling to build herself a new life in Haifa with her husband and child, she finds her internal life buckling under the pressure of her external life as she struggles to care for her family and patients in a world fraught with terror. 

Leah Kaminsky’s prose is simple, elegant, restrained, and shot through with moments of humour both bright and dark. Past and present, reality and unreality, are woven together until neither the narrator nor the reader can be sure exactly what is happening. A powerful and insightful book into the very black shadows the Holocaust continues to cast. 

Love books by Australian women writers? Try Nest by Inga Simpson

ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ME? Leave them in the Comments below!


BOOK REVIEW: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


BLURB:


The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko's English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in a day, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river...


MY THOUGHTS:


Arundhati Roy burst onto the literary scene with this Booker-Prize-winning novel in 1997, which became the biggest-selling book ever written by an Indian author still living in India. She received half a million pounds as an advance, and the book was sold into eighteen different countries within two months. It’s the kind of dream run every writer longs for, yet Arundhati Roy has never published another novel. 


Perhaps this novel was so deeply felt and personal to her that it was the one book of her soul, never to be repeated.


I bought it in 1997, and tried to read it then. I disliked it emphatically. I found it faux-naïf: awkward, self-conscious, disjointed. There were so many characters – ten introduced in less than five pages! And the narrative structure was kaleidoscopic, making it difficult to connect to either the characters or their story. I put it away, thinking I’d try it another time (this is my rule with books I don’t like.) So it sat on my to-be-read-one-day bookshelf for twenty years. I pulled it out a dozen times, hesitated over it, then put it back. I almost gave it to charity once. But something made me keep it.


Then, one day, determined to read some of those books I’d bought but never read, I took it down again. This time I read it swiftly and eagerly. I found the jumps about in time and point-of-view fresh and exhilarating. Her boldness and originality struck me forcibly. No-one has ever written like this before, I kept thinking. The naivety and awkwardness now seemed a perfect choice for a story told from a child’s point-of-view.


It is not an easy book to read, both because of its subject matter – the tragic consequences of violence and cruelty and small-mindedness – and because of its repetitive and disjointed narrative structure. And I felt as if Arundhati Roy set out deliberately to shock and provoke, breaking as many taboos as she could, from the Indian caste system to incest. I have read that the book was inspired by true events in Arundhati Roy’s life. I can only hope it was the setting and not the events of her life. 


The God of Small Things is undeniably brilliant, innovative, and thought-provoking. I was moved and troubled by it, and found tears in my eyes at the end. And I can only applaud her virtuosity and boldness with language. A truly astonishing book.  




BOOK REVIEW: The Ties That Bind by Lexi Landsman

Monday, February 13, 2017

BLURB:

On opposite sides of the world, two lives are changed forever. One by the smallest bruise. The other by a devastating bushfire. And both by a shocking secret . . .

Miami art curator Courtney Hamilton and her husband David live the perfect life until their ten-year-old son Matthew is diagnosed with leukaemia. He needs a bone-marrow transplant but, with Courtney being adopted, the chances of finding a match within his family are slim. 

Desperate to find a donor, Courtney tracks the scattered details of her birth 15,000 kilometres away, to the remote town of Somerset in the Victorian bush. 

Meanwhile Jade Taylor wakes up in hospital in Somerset having survived the deadly bushfire that destroyed the family home and their beloved olive groves. Gone too are the landmarks that remind her of her mother, Asha, a woman whose repeated absences scarred her childhood.

As Jade rallies her fractured family to rebuild their lives, Courtney arrives in the burnt countryside to search for her lost parents - but discovers far more . . . 

MY THOUGHTS:

I met Lexi Landsman at the Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival, and bought her book there (I always come home from a festival with a suitcase laden with books!) The Ties That Bind Us is her first novel, but I can guarantee it won’t be her last. From the heart-rending opening scene, when a child is stolen from her pram, to the emotional lump-in-the-throat ending, the story unspools swiftly and surely, the pages seemingly turning themselves. 

It’s the story of a young mother, Courtney, who discovers that her ten-year-old desperately son needs a bone marrow transplant. His best chance of surviving is to find a familial match – but Courtenay is adopted and knows nothing about her birth family. She sets out on a quest to discover her origins, and uncovers all sorts of dark secrets. A really engaging and heart-warming read.


BOOK REVIEW: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

Sunday, February 12, 2017



BLURB:


With stunning locations and page-turning tension, The Paris Secret is an intense and gripping tale from bestselling author Karen Swan.


Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.


High-flying fine art agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to assess these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and discover who has concealed them for so long.


Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren't all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family's affairs - but just what is he hiding?


MY THOUGHTS:


‘Down a cobbled street in Paris, a long-forgotten apartment is found. Thick with dust and secrets, it is full of priceless artworks that have been hidden away for decades.’ 


It was these words – the opening sentence of the blurb on the back of the book – that sold me on this book. It’s just such a fascinating premise. I would love to find such an apartment myself – just imagine the forgotten stories hidden within.


The Paris Secret is probably best described as a contemporary romance, and so it’s full of descriptions of gorgeous designer clothes and handbags, and has a brooding French bad-boy millionaire as the romantic interest. It’s not my usual kind of book at all, but it was perfect for a plane trip of a few hours (I bought it in the airport bookshop). I ripped through it in a few hours, and enjoyed it immensely. I loved the inside view of the international art world, and the scenes set in Paris, one of my favourite cities in the world. I enjoyed the romance too, which was deftly done. All in all, it was a great light read, perfect for a beach holiday.


BOOK REVIEW: The Suspect – Michael Rowbotham

Friday, January 06, 2017

THE BLURB (from GoodReads):


London psychiatrist Joseph O'Loughlin seems to have the perfect life. 

He has a beautiful wife, an adoring daughter, and a thriving practice to which he brings great skill and compassion. But he's also facing a future dimmed by Parkinson's disease. 

And when he's called in on a gruesome murder investigation, he discovers that the victim is someone he once knew. Unable to tell the police what he knows, O'Loughlin tells one small lie which turns out to be the biggest mistake of his life. Suddenly, he's caught in a web of his own making.



MY THOUGHTS:


I bought this book for my brother’s birthday and then borrowed it from him. It’s the first in Michael Rowbotham’s bestselling contemporary thrillers featuring psychologist, Joseph O’Loughlin. I’ve read the third in the series, Shatter, and reviewed it thus: ‘Chilling, powerful and superbly written. Highly recommended for the brave.’ I’ve been wanting to read the rest of the series ever since, and so naturally decided to start with the first.

Michael Rowbotham deserves every prize and accolade he’s ever won. The Suspect was just nail-bitingly suspenseful and surprising as you could wish for. Brilliantly constructed and executed, I was kept guessing right up to the very end. Joseph O’Loughlin is a brilliant character – flawed and yet empathetic, he has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and so is struggling with his own body as much as with the murderer who seems to know his every move. Engrossing stuff.


BOOK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Friday, October 28, 2016

There’s been a lot of buzz about this book, which has been a global bestseller. I’ve also really liked other books in this new genre they’re calling the ‘domestic thriller’ (books like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty and The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton). So I read this ahead of Paula Hawkins’s appearance at the Sydney Writers Festival. I enjoyed it immensely. It’s told from the point of view of three different women, but the primary narrative is the story of Rachel, a divorcee and a drunk, who catches the same train every day. She looks out on to the backyard of a row of houses in an aspirational suburb and imagines the lives of the people within. One day she sees something … and so we enter a world of lies, deceit and murder, set in a world instantly recognisable to most of us. A really good quick read.

BOOK REVIEW: Nest by Inga Simpson

Sunday, October 23, 2016

BLURB:

Once an artist and teacher, Jen now spends her time watching the birds around her house and tending her lush sub-tropical garden near the small town where she grew up. The only person she sees regularly is Henry, who comes after school for drawing lessons.

When a girl in Henry's class goes missing, Jen is pulled back into the depths of her own past. When she was Henry's age she lost her father and her best friend Michael - both within a week. The whole town talked about it then, and now, nearly forty years later, they're talking about it again.


Everyone is waiting - for the girl to be found and the summer rain to arrive. At last, when the answers do come, like the wet, it is in a drenching, revitalising downpour.



MY THOUGHTS:

Inga Simpson is an Australian writer and Nest is a rhapsody about the importance of being at one with the natural world. The protagonist Jen is a middle-aged artist who has retreated from the world after a bitter break-up. She lives on the edge of a sub-tropical rainforest, which she has turned into a paradise for native birds and animals. Hers is a quiet life; she watches the birds, teaches a local boy to draw and paint, and practises her own art when she can. One


 day a local girl goes missing, and Jen’s tragic past collides with the present. Somehow she must find peace with her own father’s disappearance many years before, and find the courage to push the boundaries in both her creative and personal endeavours. Simple, elegant, wistful, Nest is as delicate and as nurturing as the birds’ home it describes. 

BOOK REVIEW: A Bad Character - Deepti Kapoor

Friday, October 21, 2016

BLURB:

She is twenty, restless in New Delhi. Her mother has died; her father has left for Singapore. 

He is a few years older, just back to India from New York.

When they meet in a café one afternoon, she—lonely, hungry for experience, yearning to break free of tradition—casts aside her fears and throws herself headlong into a love affair, one that takes her where she has never been before. 

Told in a voice at once gritty and lyrical, mournful and frank, A Bad Character marks the arrival of an astonishingly gifted new writer. It is an unforgettable hymn to a dangerous, exhilarating city, and a portrait of desire and its consequences as timeless as it is universal. 


MY THOUGHTS:

One of the wonderful things about the Sydney Writers Festival is that it introduces you to a lot of books and authors that you might not otherwise discover. I chaired a panel with Deepti Kapoor, Toni Jordan and John Purcell called ‘Who’s Been Sleeping in my Bed?’, talking about contemporary depictions of love, desire and sex in fiction. A Bad Character is the story of a love affair between a young woman and man in modern-day Delhi. It begins: ‘My boyfriend died when I was twenty-one. His body was left lying broken on the highway out of Delhi while the sun rose in the desert to the east.’ Then, in a series of small broken scenes, expressed in concentrated language that is poetic in its intensity, the narrator tells the story of how she came to meet her boyfriend, their passionate and ultimately destructive relationship, and the damage left behind. The city of Delhi is brought to vivid and pungent life, and so too is the inner life of this one young women caught between tradition and a longing to be free. Beautiful and full of pain, A Bad Character is a dazzling debut.

BOOK REVIEW: THE MATISSE STORIES by A S Byatt

Monday, June 06, 2016


These three stories celebrate the eye even as they reveal its unexpected proximity to the heart. For if each of A.S. Byatt's narratives is in some way inspired by a painting of Henri Matisse, each is also about the intimate connection between seeing and feeling--about the ways in which a glance we meant to be casual may suddenly call forth the deepest reserves of our being. Beautifully written, intensely observed, The Matisse Stories is fiction of spellbinding authority.

I picked up this little book in a second-hand bookstore, only knowing that I love Matisse’s art and A.S. Byatt’s novels. I’m also very interested in how writers drew on the work of visual artists in fiction (I’m working on a book about the Pre-Raphaelites right now).

The book is comprised of three short stories, loosely linked through some mention of Matisse. The first story is the weakest, involving a frustrated middle-aged woman who visits a hairdresser because she likes his Matisse print on the wall. The second was my favourite, involving a tense triangle between a woman, her artist-husband, and their cleaner, who is much more than she seems. The final story – a sharply observed vignette about some of the problems of modern-day academia - is the one most closely concerned with Matisse. 

Each situation is acutely observed and stamped with A.S. Byatt’s trademark wit and irony.



INTERVIEW: Georgina Penny, author of Summer Harvest

Monday, May 30, 2016

Interview with GEORGINA PENNEY, author of A Summer Harvest 



 Are you a daydreamer too?
Definitely! If I don’t give myself time to daydream I don’t get any sleep at night. I find my best ideas turn up when I just let my mind wander for a bit. A nice sunbeam and a comfy couch to do said mind wandering are always welcome.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
According to family legend, I’ve been telling stories since conception so I’ll have to say yes. I just didn’t really know how to get around to it until I found myself an expat wife in Saudi Arabia around ten years ago now.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do? 
I was born in Kununurra in the top end of Australia and have lived all over really. I think I counted over 30 house moves in Oz and internationally the last time I sat down and thought about it. I love to travel and meet new people. I think having a good conversation with someone is the peak of human experience and I definitely know how to talk!


How did you get the first flash of inspiration for A Summer Harvest?
I was listening to a friend who was going through a tough time recovering from breast cancer tell me about the fear she faced every day of a relapse and I decided I wanted to get that down on the page.



How extensively do you plan your novels? 
Enough that I have my head around a setting, my lead characters and their main conflicts. Everything else is a sweary, messy fight to wrangle those characters into some sort of plot!

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Absolutely. I’ve been known to launch out of bed on many occasions, muttering to myself over forgetting to leave a notebook out ready. I tend to find my brain uses dreams to let me know about plot holes in the stories I’m writing. I wish it would pick a better method and a more convenient time but there it is☺

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
I love writing characters of all ages, especially in families. I think that’s the discovery. I loved writing the secondary characters and especially Rob Hardy and Gwen Stone, they were an absolute joy to get on the page.

Where do you write, and when?
I try and work to a 9-5 schedule but when I say that, I’m kind of lying. What usually happens is that I sit down in the morning, intending on getting everything down and then my imagination decides to go on strike until around 3 in the afternoon when I’m left frantically trying to get all the ideas down before they escape. I’ve tried sitting down at 3 to start my day but it doesn’t work. It seems I need the run up!

What is your favourite part of writing?
Getting the ideas initially and then the editing afterwards. Essentially everything but the actual writing of the first draft!
 
What do you do when you get blocked? 
I go for a walk or better yet, have a conversation with someone. I’m a talker and the minute I start chatting with someone, I tend to find interesting solutions to whatever problem I’m having on the page.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I shut out all the white noise. I find being online too much or watching too much mindless TV numbs me out. Instead I try and listen to good music, watch good movies and read good books. Oh, and I travel a lot! Even when it’s to the next village here in Scotland as opposed to somewhere international, I always find something new to experience and think about.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 

Definitely. I’m a fruit cake with that kind of thing. I have to have a cup of tea next to me when I start my day and it has to be in my ‘writing’ cup if I’m writing or in my ‘editing’ cup if I’m editing. I’m also been known to talk to myself to nut out problems and I may sing far too loudly to music when I’ve got my headphones in. There’s a whole raft more of battier things that may involve taking whiteboard markers into the shower to scribble on the tiles when I’m really stuck on a problem but then it gets a little weird… ;)

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
This kind of question is always so hard because depending on my mood and the day, the list changes. So, how about I go for the first ten authors I have on the top shelf of my’ comfort read’ bookcase?
Terry Pratchett, Zadie Smith, Amanda Quick, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, PG Wodehouse, Rohinton Mistry, Haruki Murakami, Val McDermid, Elmore Leonard, Junot Diaz



What do you consider to be good writing?  
Anything that fires the imagination and transports the reader. While I truly appreciate beautifully written prose, my first port of call for a good book is whether or not it triggers my emotions and takes me on a journey. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Want it badly, be brave and do it. It’s a messy, random, wonderful, sometimes exasperating process and if you want it badly enough, you’ll get there. Oh, and know that your best opportunities will come from kindness to others☺

What are you working on now? 
 Too many things! I’m beginning to suspect that I’m a workaholic. At the moment I’m pottering away on my next Aussie set book, the first in a steampunk series and the second in a US based contemporary series. I’ve worked out that the way to keep myself from going nuts worrying about sales, fate and whether or not the universe is going to smile on any given day is to keep on truckin’ ☺

Love interviews with writers? I have lots more!
 



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