Worthy Thoughts

Books, reading, life & other worthy thoughts

Authors: Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

I was immediately drawn to this book. Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? I liked the idea of twins throwing a dinner party and inviting three guests each, but the other doesn’t know who they asked – it has disaster written all over it. After the first few chapters, I felt slightly cynical and was thinking that it was all too slick and too predictable. I stuck with it, though, and I will say you will enjoy the book if you let go of your cynism. I guess it could be quite a fun read. Though, because I am quite cynical, I thought the book was quite ridiculous.

It’s senior year for brother and sister Sam and Ilsa and time for one final dinner party at their grandmother Czarina’s rent-controlled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The rules are simple: The twins may each invite three people and see how the guests interact. The premise is excellent and one that I could get on board with but I struggle with the book beyond the blurb.

Sam’s list of invitees is his ex, Jason Goldstein Chung who comes across as obnoxious and bitter. Ilsa’s ex, Parker, who appears to have no faults – he is sophisticated, gracious, kind and considerate. Sam’s final invitee is Johan, an Afrikaner whom Sam has been checking out on the Subway and he decides to invite to his dinner party (as you do!). Ilsa’s list consists of her school friend Li Zhang, KK Kingsley who is a rude socialite and I expect we are automatically supposed to dislike her because she’s presumedly white and privileged and finally Frederyk Podhalanski, a blonde Polish exchange student who communicates mostly through his sock puppet, Caspian. I never grasped the whole storyline with the sock puppet and I hope someone can help me with my blatant ignorance. I also found Caspian rude and obnoxious, but this was acceptable behaviour (for some reason) – once again, if someone could explain this “character”, I would appreciate it.

Like most dinner parties there is too much alcohol, too many exes in one room and too many unresolved “issues” and most of those issues seem to stem from the twins. The evening is narrated from alternating points of view over the evening – Sam & Ilsa. The book I gather is meant to be a humorous romp, but I thought it was severely lacking and it was trying too hard to be witty, hilarious and edgy. I found it all a little too politically correct and a good dinner party needs to be the opposite. This is one dinner party that won’t be remembered fondly, but I know, that others will hold it dearly in their hearts – each to their own.

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Author: Melissa Albert

Publisher: Flatiron Books

I didn’t know what to expect from this book, but from reviews that I have glanced over, I knew that it was a combination of twisted fairytale and emotional horror. I would venture to say that this isn’t a book for everyone. If you like your stories dark, black and cruel dive on in because you won’t be disappointed, but if you aren’t a fan of fantasy, well this book won’t be for you.

I think all of us at some time or another wonder what it would be like to venture into a novel we are reading. I think it was this premise that drew me to this novel. I will admit that there were times when I wondered if The Hazel Wood was a little “too much”, but then again if you like dark and twisted fantasy, this is the book for you.

The story revolves around Alice. Alice’s mother (Ella) is missing and Alice is determined to find her. The twist being that Alice thinks Ella has been kidnapped by sinister characters from land set in a fairy tale called The Hinterland.

Ella’s mother was a reclusive author of a cult book of fairy tales and it would seem that Ella has spent her whole life trying to escape her mother’s eccentric fans, life and bad luck. Alice has never read her grandmother’s collection of fairy tales nor has she ever met her grandmother. Her mother has protected her from that world. Of course, being denied access to this world has created an insatiable appetite on Alice’s behalf to know more. Also, Alice is convinced that Ella’s disappearance is directly connected to her grandmother’s fairy tales.

Alice’s grandmother is dead and finding a copy of her grandmother’s book is proving to be difficult. Alice enlists the help of her classmate and superfan of her grandmother’s book, Ellery Finch. Together, Alice and Ellery go off in search of The Hinterland.

Alice is a complicated character  – she is angry, prickly, princess-pretty and seems to believe that the world is against her. The supporting characters are strong and they provide a nice contrast to Alice.  Ellery is sensitive, kind, biracial and geeky. Her step-sister Audrey is marvellous – she is sultry, opinionated and whip-smart.

The Hazel Wood is beautifully written and Albert’s writing will bewitch you, but if you like your books realistic and you only tip your toe into the world of fantasy this book is not for you. It is also one of the most beautiful books I own, with a stunning cover and decorative endpapers.

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Author: Trent Dalton

Publisher: Harper Collins

I was drawn to this book because it appears to be the Australian ‘Book of the Year’ and I felt that I should read it rather than wanting to read it. It isn’t an easy read and at times the gruesome violence can be quite difficult to read, but I like that it was set in Brisbane during the 80s when Brisbane was just starting to come into its own as a city and as Dalton shows this was both good and bad.

I found the story fascinating mainly because it was inspired by real-life events of journalist Trent Dalton’s youth.

Boy Swallows Universe follows Eli Bell from ages 13 to 18 and is set in Brisbane’s suburbia (a dangerous and violent place indeed). The book opens with Eli living with his mute brother, his mother and step-father – who is the local heroin dealer. And to add to the mix, his babysitter is an infamous criminal.

Dalton doesn’t hold back in his writing and he writes about prison, suburban crime, alcoholism, unemployment, domestic violence and you tend to believe it, knowing that Boy Swallows Universe is 50 per cent truth and 50 per cent embellishment.

Dalton shows both sides of everything. He shows Australian suburbia as both murky and ruthless and beautiful and charming. Human beings can be both dark and light. Everyone lives a life of choices and those choices will determine your path. Life isn’t mapped out for you and your fate isn’t determined – you decide your own future.

Boy Swallows Universe is not a happy book, but somehow Dalton makes this book joyful and hopeful. You never feel like Eli is going to be swallowed by the greed, addiction and violence. There is something about Eli. Even when he should be defeated and is defeated – underneath it all you can always feel that winning spirit about him. Eli is smart and strong-minded and likeable.

What I particularly loved about Eli was his love for his mum, step-father and his dad – the flawed adults in his life. Eli never blames and he never plays the victim. Eli is determined to understand what makes a good man and Eli wants to be a good man. Eli, though, does understand that being a good man is both complicated and straightforward.

Eli Bell is a character that you instantly fall in love with and who you want to succeed. Boy Swallows Universe is a novel full of escapades, humour and love. You will be taken on a ride with Eli and you will find it both exhilarating and frightening. You will laugh and you will cry, but most of all this book will make you feel hopeful.

Boy Swallows Universe is sure to become the next Australian classic.

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Author: Gail Honeyman

Publisher: Harper Collins

There’s not a lot that I can say about ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ that hasn’t already been said.

The book is ultimately about loneliness and that as humans we profoundly need to connect with other humans. Human connection is incredibly important if we are to keep our humanity. I thought this one of the saddest, but most accurate quotes in the book.

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it, other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similiar horror upon them”

As you read the book, you realise that Eleanor’s ways are due to her lack of ‘life experiences’. Eleanor wasn’t brought up with the simple niceties that most of us are taught and then through imposed isolation, she hasn’t learnt how to interact with others. Eleanor finds it easier to do the crossword than talk to her colleagues (who most of the time she doesn’t understand). Eleanor takes language literally and speaks in an old-fashioned register. She’s an oddball living in a world that she can’t quite get her head around, so she just chooses not to.

Though, to be perfectly honest, I LOVED ELEANOR OLIPHANT. Yes, there were times when my heart broke for her, but to be honest a few more “Eleanors” in the world would make life much more interesting and more straightforward than the weak-willed sycophantic idiots the world seems to be made up of.

Many reviews have said that Eleanor isn’t a likeable character and that it took them some time to identify with her. I never found that at all (which probably says more about me), I found a connection with Eleanor from the first page. AND yes I understand that deep down Eleanor is incredibly lonely, but I loved her interactions with her colleagues and the people around her. Even now, when I am in a situation, I sometimes think – ‘What would Eleanor do?’.

So rather than give a review of this beautiful book written by Gail Honeyman, I have decided to write two lists and to say that this book is one of my favourites of all time.

What I Learnt from reading ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.’

  1. It is essential to see the world from different viewpoints.
  2. We shouldn’t judge a person by their appearance (once we know them, judge away!).
  3. We live in a world of self-absorbed people.
  4. There’s a difference between being alone and loneliness.
  5. You need human connection, even if it is just one person that you connect with.
  6. Good people (like Raymond) are in the minority.
  7. Enjoy your happy “shiny” moments in life.
  8. It is okay to be YOU.
  9. Channelling Eleanor can be a good thing!
  10. It is never too late!

My favourite quotes from ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.’

“Human mating rituals are unbelievably tedious to observe. At least in the animal kingdom you are occasionally treated to a flash of bright feathers or a display of spectacular violence. Hair flicking and play fights don’t quite cut the mustard.”

“Pilot is there too, the handsome, soulful-eyed hound. If the book has one failing, it’s there is insufficient mention of Pilot. You can’t have too much dog in a book.”

“Sport is a mystery to me. In primary school, sports day was the one day of the year when the less academically gifted students could triumph, winning prizes for jumping fastest in a sack, or running from Point A to Point B more quickly than their classmates. How they loved to wear those badges on their blazers the next day! As if a silver in the egg-and-spoon race was some sort of compensation for not understanding how to use an apostrophe.”

“And the office is largely staffed by shirkers and idiots, Raymond. Managing them and their workloads would be quite a challenge, I can assure you.”

“No thank you,” I said. “I don’t want to accept a drink from you, because then I would be obliged to purchase one for you in return, and I’m afraid I’m simply not interested in spending two drinks’ worth of time with you.’

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Recently on holiday in Kingscliff, I came across this seat on the beach. The first time I saw it, I was with my partner and we weren’t able to take advantage of it because it was being used by a man and his dog. I was hoping we would find another seat similar and we kept walking, but it wasn’t to be.

The next day I was walking on my own and I came across the seat and this time it was taken by a mother and her child. I walked further thinking that there must be another seat like it on the beach, but there wasn’t.

On my way back the seat was vacant and I took advantage of this and sat for awhile and read and looked at the beautiful view that the seat afforded me. The seat was quite comfortable and I began to wonder why it was there and who had put it there.

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Did someone put it there for their own use? What about when they came to the beach and someone else was using their seat? Do they politely ask them to move? Can they do that? There is no sign or plaque indicating that it was put there for any particular reason.

Did someone put it there for people to stop and take in the view and to wonder and think and relax? Was it put there to allow for a person to stay and gather their thoughts? Was it put there for a person to stop and just look at the water and to stop thinking? For someone to just sit and take in the world around them?

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The least unromantic scenario is that the council put it there, but why only one? I immediately decided that this couldn’t be the case.

I’ve decided that someone put it there for the lost souls, the couples, the families, the individual and their dog, for anyone really, for any reason that they need at that particular time.

I would like to think that it was put there so that we stop and take in the beauty that is around us because it really is quite magnificent.

Maybe there should be more seats like this to make us stop and to appreciate the beautiful world that we live in.

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Author: AJ Betts

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

I am not quite sure why I decided to buy this book.  I liked Zac & Mia (AJ Betts most well-known novel), but it isn’t one of my favourite books, so I didn’t buy this book because I loved Zac & Mia.  I think I bought it because I had just come off from reading In The Dark Spaces by Cally Black and How to Bee by Bren MacDibble (who are actually the same person but that’s another blog post!) and I was drawn in by the idea of bees (through the cover) and a new world.

It took me quite some time to get my head around AJ Bett’s strange world in Hive. I often found myself re-reading sections because I thought I had missed a critical piece of information. I struggled to understand the world that AJ Betts had created, but I am happy that I kept reading because, by the last third of the book I couldn’t put it down, I was completely and utterly immersed in this unique world.

AJ Betts builds up this world, slowly and almost hypnotically. Her writing is mesmerising and you find yourself drawn into this strange, distinctive and closed world. I have read a lot of dystopian novels over the years, but this world is utterly original.

The protagonist of the book is a beekeeper named Hayley. At first, it would appear that Hayley is quite content in her small, inflexible and strict world. An underwater world ruled over by a mysterious, indistinct council.

I am not sure whether it is because I am watching The Handmaid’s Tale, but I felt myself making many comparisons. The world is much kinder in Hive – there are no sanctioned hangings or chopping off limbs for disobeying, but there is still this sense of foreboding in the world because everything is controlled by the “council”. Three hundred people live in this constructed hexagonal world. The world is set underwater, so day and night is created with phased artificial light. Zero population growth is carefully maintained and because there are so few citizens, this is a process that is methodically followed to safeguard genetic integrity. Within the world there is a shared sense of community and purpose – everybody does what is expected of them in their job and station. No one questions the council or the way the world operates. It feels very cult-like. There is no spontaneity in the world. Every day, every hour, every second is meticulously planned. This world doesn’t like surprises. Knowledge is confined and the citizens are given a limited vocabulary. The citizens cannot read or write. Books are non-existent for the citizens because as the judge’s son says, “Books never forgot.”

I love how AJ Betts subtly allows you to feel the cult-like world that Hayley lives in.

“Solitude wasn’t a sin, but to desire it was a cause for suspicion. It could be a symptom of sickness or melancholy – or worse, madness. Solitude was frowned upon and not to be trusted.”

Hayley enjoys her role as a beekeeper and it would appear that she is quite happy with her life, but she suffers from “head pains” (migraines).  In the world that Hayley lives head pains are seen as a sign of madness and Hayley has seen what happens to those who are deemed “mad”. Hayley finds that the one place that she seems to have relief from the head pains is the engineering room, so she breaks the rules and finds herself seeking solace in the engineering rooms on a regular basis.

During one such visit, Hayley finds a drip in the ceiling and it this drip in the ceiling and her interaction with the judge’s son that makes Hayley start to question everything she knows about her world. Hayley’s questioning takes her into a dangerous place because being inquisitive is not acceptable. The council likes their citizens ignorant and docile. The more Hayley questions her world and the council the further removed she is from her safe and predictable world. Hayley’s head pains lead her to seek relief through different avenues and at times she finds herself seeing the harsh reality of her world. The more Hayley sees, the more Hayley questions. Though Hayley finds all the questions “maddening” and she wishes for a simpler life – like her fellow citizens, but Hayley can no longer go back to living in her simple, ignorant world.

“I inhaled the sweet smoke of paperbark, hoping it would calm me as it calmed the bees. If only I could fall asleep while someone took apart my world, cleaned it up and put it back together in a neater version than before.”

Hive is a cleverly written dystopian novel that will appeal to fans of this genre. Hive, though, is much more than a dystopian read. AJ Betts has carved out an intimate, intriguing world and in this world, she has placed a tenacious protagonist who is questioning everything that she knows. Hive has captured my imagination and I am very much looking forward to reading the second and final volume in the series, next year.

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Author: Lily Anderson

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Undead Girl Gang is a hilarious and quirky novel. As we know, I am susceptible to a great book cover and I am also known not to read a book if I don’t like a cover. I didn’t like the cover of this book.  I know that many fans have swooned over the cover, but I can’t cope with the denim or the enamel pins. Luckily, for me, I received it in hard copy and was able to take the cover off to read it. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to feel about this book but I wanted something light and fun to read and the blurb suggested this may fit the bill and it did.

Lily Anderson has written a well-crafted and unique tale but what I loved most was the characters, particularly the main character Mila Flores. Mila is snarky, sarcastic and witty and I fell in love with her immediately. We meet Mila at her best friend’s funeral. According to the local police, Riley committed suicide. The third suicide in less than a week at Cross Creek. Mila doesn’t believe that Riley would commit suicide and feels there is foul play at large. Mila is at Riley’s funeral and she’s annoyed. She’s annoyed that Riley isn’t there, she’s annoyed that everyone believes that Riley committed suicide and she’s annoyed that Aniyah Dorsey wrote a poem for Riley and that the Fairmont Show Choir is going to perform.

“Your poem fucking sucks,” I growl at her.

I was enjoying Mila’s internal dialogue while at the funeral, but when she utters those words to Aniyah Dorsey I was hooked and so I began chapter two.

Mila is Mexican-American, overweight and Wiccan. Before Riley died, Mila and Riley would dabble in spells and so Mila decides that she needs to bring Riley back from the dead to prove that she didn’t kill herself and was instead murdered.

In bringing back Riley, Mila also unwittingly brings back June and Dayton – the two other girls who had committed suicide. Bringing back June and Dayton wasn’t part of the plan. June and Dayton were popular girls and as such had little to do with Mila and Riley who were seen as Fairmont Academy outcasts.

Suddenly Mila has three undead girls and all the girls have issues that need to be resolved. None of the girls can remember what happened to them leading up to their deaths, but all three are adamant that they didn’t commit suicide and so begins a hilarious chain of events that eventually brings the unravelling of what happened to all three girls.

Though it wasn’t the mystery that kept me reading until the end, it was the characters. I enjoyed getting to know Mila, Riley, Dayton and June. All four girls were smart, sassy and funny. The four girls get to know each other and realise that they actually like each other.

It was the character of Mila that I relished the most.  I enjoyed her snark. She was a character that I would love to see in a television show. Lily Anderson did a great job with her.

“People are assholes,” I say.

He laughs quietly. “That should be your catchphrase.”

Undead Girl Gang is a well-paced page-turner that will make you laugh out loud. Yes, the book does lack suspense but it is much more than a mystery and the snarky, witty narration definitely makes up for any weakness in the plot. A book that is highly quotable and completely relatable – particularly if you find people incredibly annoying. This is a joyful and hilarious book about friendship. So if you like books with quirky, funny, snarky, sarcastic and witty characters that will make you laugh out loud, this book is perfect for you.

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