Worthy Thoughts

Books, reading, life & other worthy thoughts

In August the CBCA will announce the winner and honour books for their six categories. Of course, my favourite category is older reader and I have read all six books that have been nominated for this category. I have written reviews for four of the six books and here are my final two reviews. I am not really fussed, which two books win ‘honour’ books. My favourite book and my pick for the winner is Lenny’s Book of Everything.

In Changing Gear, we are introduced to Merrick, who six months ago lost his grandfather. One day his grandad was there and then he’s not. Merrick had a special bond with his grandfather – they were friends and Merrick’s grandfather was always there to help him navigate life. Without his grandfather, Merrick feels lost and ‘like a passenger in  his own skin.’ Merrick decides he needs to get out of his own head and he needs to escape from his life. He takes his bike and a couple of hundred dollars in cash and heads off. He leaves behind his phone and any connection to his life. Along the way, Merrick’s bike breaks down. It is during this time that he meets up with Victor, a man who spends his life walking the Australian roads. Victor is a man of few words and a man who doesn’t suffer fools. Victor and Merrick walk the roads together and as they walk, they talk.

I thought I would like this book more than I did, but it just didn’t resonate with me. I did like that Merrick was a relatively normal kid – he has friends, he’s not a complete loser and he seems to be doing reasonably well at school. Life throws him a curveball when he loses his grandfather and he feels off-kilter. He’s in his last year of high school and he’s not quite sure what he’s doing with his life. Maybe this book will resonate more for young men in their final years of school.

One aspect of the book that I enjoyed was Gardner’s writing of Australia. His descriptions of the Australian landscape is breathtaking. He captures the absurd beauty of this country exceptionally well. Changing Gear moves at a slower pace to match the walking speed of Merrick and Victor – this wasn’t particularly to my liking, but I understood that Gardner wants us, the reader, to slow down and unpack Merrick and Victor’s lives – and our own. Changing Gear by Scot Gardner is a solid read and has a lot to offer many readers, but I wasn’t one of them.

Between Us is a beautiful book. It weaves together three narrative voices flawlessly. I was quite moved by this book. I do believe that if you want to change people’s perceptions, then you have to show them, rather than being didactic. It is evident that Atkin has done extensive research for this book and her understanding of the issues that she writes about is clear. Between Us is a book that all Australians should read because it allows the readers to step inside someone’s else’s shoes.

The story revolves around Jono, Ana and Kenny. Jono is depressed. His mother and sister have moved away and he’s suffered quite a lot of sadness in his young life. He lives with his Vietnamese father who works at the Detention centre and the relationship the two share is not an easy one. Ana is an asylum seeker from Iran; she lives in a detention centre but is allowed to attend one of the local high schools. Jono and Ana meet and they connect.

Between Us gives readers an insight into multi-generational immigration and how everyone’s immigrant story is different. Jono’s father’s story is different from Ana’s and even his sister’s, Minh. They are all immigrants, but they look at Australia differently because of their experiences.

This is a story that will resonate with you long after you finish reading. A book that is truthful and credible but at the same time is delightful, gentle and captivating.


Small Spaces

The Art of Taxidermy

The Bogan Mondrian


Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Penguin Books

‘You look the type to break your father’s heart.’
‘Yeah, but he broke mine first.’

When Rosie Gennaro first meets Jimmy Hailler, she has walked away from life in Sydney, leaving behind the place on Dalhousie that her father, Seb, painstakingly rebuilt for his family but never saw completed. Two years later, Rosie returns to the house and living there is Martha, whom Seb Gennaro married less than a year after the death of Rosie’s mother. Martha is struggling to fulfil Seb’s dream, while Rosie is coming to terms with new responsibilities. And so begins a stand-off between two women who refuse to move out of the home they both lay claim to.

As the battle lines are drawn, Jimmy Hailler re-enters Rosie’s life. Having always watched other families from the perimeters, he’s now grappling, heartbreakingly, with forming one of his own . . .

An unforgettable story about losing love and finding love; about the interconnectedness of lives and the true nature of belonging, from one of our most acclaimed writers.

I was excited to see a new Melina Marchetta book and looked forward to reading it. I did enjoy it and I thought it was beautifully written, but it didn’t weave its way into my heart as it appears to for so many other readers.

A Place on Dalhousie is a beautiful examination of grief, love, loneliness, family and the power that comes with belonging.  Marchetta gives us complicated and flawed characters and what I particularly like about her writing is that sometimes I don’t particularly like the characters – there were times that Rosie and Jimmy irritated me big time, but that’s what I like about Marchetta’s writing that she makes me feel like this for the characters.

Rosie Gennaro meets Jimmy Hailler during the Queensland floods – both are a long way from home and both are a little lost. The two have a brief fling and part ways. Rosie and Jimmy lose contact with each other until almost two years later when Jimmy learns that Rosie has a baby boy, named Toto and he is the father.

Rosie has returned home to Sydney and is living with her step-mother, Martha. The two women are living in the house that Rosie’s father was rebuilding before he died. The tension between the two women is high and neither of them is preparing to give an inch. Rosie believes the house should be hers and Martha feels entitled to the house since she continued to pay the mortgage and work on the renovations. Rosie has taken over the top floor of the house and Martha the bottom floor and a line has been drawn.

Personally, I love Martha and I love Martha’s friends. Martha was someone I  could be friends with– she’s snarky and doesn’t tolerate fools. The emails between Martha and her best friend Sophie at the beginning of the book made me fall in love with Martha and I guess this is probably why I actively disliked Rosie for such a good portion of the book because of her antagonistic behaviour towards Martha.

Sophie, you better not have given anyone my email address after I’ve spent three decades making sure they can’t contact me. Just what I need. Another shitload of vacuous emails sent by people who have nothing better to do with their lives. And for the record, what part of ‘You lost us the grand finals’ spoken by Elizabeth King would I have misunderstood in Year Twelve?


P.S. We haven’t seen each other for two weeks, Sophie. Don’t be so dramatic.

Of course, Rosie is struggling with being a young mother and not being a particularly agreeable person she tends to get a lot of people offside and so she doesn’t have a lot of support in bringing up her baby boy, Toto. Being a prickly person, myself, I could empathise with Rosie (sometimes), but most of the time she irritated me.

Jimmy arrives on the scene and is determined to be a good dad because he didn’t have a great role model in this department, but he struggles because he hasn’t had a lot of experience with babies and seriously doubts himself in the father department. Also,  Rosie and Jimmy can’t seem to reconnect and find themselves at odds with each other for most of the novel.

Marchetta reintroduces a lot of characters from previous books and even though I had read these books I had a lot of difficulties remembering the characters and so it was hard to reconnect to these characters, maybe it was more natural if you didn’t have any knowledge of these characters. Though, I imagine if you are a huge fan of Marchetta’s work, then it would have been wonderful to meet up with these characters again. In saying this, you don’t need to have read her previous works to enjoy this novel, but I think at times, it may have helped to have that relationship with these characters.

The Place on Dalhousie is a powerful, character-driven novel that deals with some hefty issues, but Marchetta handles these issues with just the right balance of lightness, seriousness and humour. There are some genuinely funny moments in this heartwarming book. Marchetta beautifully writes about grief, new parenthood, friendship, family and finding your place in this world of ours.

The ending of this novel resonated with me and was my favourite part of the book. Marchetta definitely weaved her magic with the ending.

Table, Cup, Coffee, Background, Cafe

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Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Harper Collins

I had forgotten how much I enjoy a good Sarah Dessen novel. Once you start reading and get immersed in a Sarah Dessen book, you feel like you are being enveloped in a big hug. It all feels so familiar, yet Dessen still manages to make every book different.

Reading Dessen is like taking a summer holiday in your favourite location. She writes about summer so beautifully. Summer always feels like it is full of possibilities – no matter what age you are, but particularly when you are a teenager. I do think Dessen has captured this feeling in The Rest of the Story.

Once I was immersed in this book, I really started to enjoy it. To begin with, I felt a little lost with the book, but once I began to get my head around all the characters, I couldn’t put the book down. I hope that Sarah Dessen writes another book with these characters because I felt like we only touched on their lives and I would like to know more about Bailey, Trinity, Jack, Mimi, Oxford and so on.

The book centres around seventeen-year-old Emma, who is being sent off to stay with her mother’s family for three weeks while her father honeymoons with his new wife.  When we are introduced to Emma we learn that she has anxiety problems, most likely stemming from the fact that her mother was an addict who died of an overdose and that her father has anxiety issues of his own arising from his relationship with Emma’s mother. This is where I thought the storyline was flawed. I know Emma wanted her father to go off and enjoy his honeymoon with his new wife, but I would imagine this would have been a somewhat stressful situation (going to live with family members who you haven’t seen in thirteen years and barely remember) and her anxiety would have been in peak overdrive. Dessen does then begin to introduce a slew of characters, so I guess Emma (like the reader) is so overwhelmed by all the characters that she doesn’t have time to be too anxious about her situation.

Emma finds herself immersed in her mother’s world. Her mother told her stories of the lake and Emma remembers that the stories always made her feel safe and happy, but she doesn’t remember actual specifics. Emma’s mother’s family runs an inexpensive motel on the working-class side of the lake named North Lake. The other side of the lake is called Lake North and belongs to the wealthy tourists – even the teenagers who work on Lake North are rich and privileged. Emma’s father worked as a sailing instructor at Lake North and this is how he met Emma’s mother.

Emma, herself, has led a life of opportunity and advantages and despite losing her mother to a drug overdose has never really had to struggle in life. Her father’s family obviously has money and Emma has never had to think much about money. Suddenly Emma finds herself in a world where everyone thinks about money, their jobs and paying bills. Despite her differences with her mother’s family, Emma finds a place working and socialising with her quirky and unpredictable cousins and their friends. She is starting to understand her place in her mother’s family and she is learning more of her mother’s story and in turn, her story.

Her sense of belonging though is suddenly interrupted when her father arrives with his new wife and his mother and Emma is expected to go stay in the ritzy resort on the other side of the lake. Emma’s world is once again turned upside down and she worries that the story she was only beginning to understand will be lost to her again.

I enjoyed this book, but I wanted more. I felt like I only started to get to know the characters and their stories when the book finished. I also felt like there were lots of stories I didn’t get to know. I wanted to learn more about Mimi, Oxford, Celeste, Jack, Taylor, Trinity, Gordon and so on. I wanted to know more about Roo and Emma. I also felt there was a whole story about Waverley (Emma’s mother) and Chris (Roo’s father) that was barely touched on – so much was left unanswered. There is a part of me that hopes Dessen will revisit these characters again, in maybe ten years. I would love to know what became of them all and I would like to immerse myself in their world once again.

“Well, you need to start asking people their five sentences…the basic idea is that since you meet a ton of people at the beginning of every summer, everyone has to condense their bio down to the main ideas. Thus, five sentences.

I love this idea of five sentences. Five sentences to describe yourself.

Born and bred here at North Lake. High school senior this fall. Work multiple jobs. Want to go to journalism school. Allergic to shellfish.

“Wow,” I said. “I didn’t see that shellfish part coming.”

“An element of surprise and oddity is crucial with this,” he told me.

What are your five sentences?? Remember you need a combination of facts, intrigue, as well as being random and memorable.

Jumpshot Photography of Woman in White and Yellow Dress Near Body of Water


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Author: Catherine Greer
Publisher: Penguin

Love, Lie, Repeat is a gripping read from start to finish. It is an action-packed thriller, so if that’s your thing, then you will like this book. I wanted to like the book and I admit that it was easy to read, it hooked you from the beginning and when you realised what was really happening, you wanted to know more, but there were lots of things about this book that I just didn’t like.

Australian author Catherine Greer introduces us to three beautiful, rich teens whose lives seem perfect, of course they aren’t, and as you delve deeper into the novel, you realise that girls live quite toxic lives.

Annie and her two best friends, Ash and Ruby, have everything – on the surface. The girls are rich, attractive and talented. The girls are supportive of each other and it would appear that their bond is strong. The girls call themselves the Sirens (which really, really irritated me). The Sirens are there for each other – they have survived divorces, mothers, boys, step-mothers and mishaps. It would appear that the girls have an unwavering bond.

Suddenly there is a new arrival on the scene. Ash’s step-dad brings his son home to live with them in Australia. The appearance of Trip throws the girls and their friendship into chaos. Trip is beautiful, charismatic, smart and has a dangerous past that he can’t seem to escape from. Annie is immediately attracted to Trip and he has a profound effect on all the Sirens. Annie falls hard for Trip, but she finds it hard to trust him and this where most of the drama, twist and turns occur – in Annie’s lack of ability to truly trust those around her. Does Annie trust the Sirens? Is their friendship built on a solid foundation or just a foundation that Annie has been able to manipulate and control? As the plot unravels, more is discovered about Trip, Annie, Ash and Ruby.

Love, Lie, Repeat is a thrilling, psychological drama filled with lots of twists and turns. Of course, as the old saying goes, nothing is what it appears to be and this is true for the Sirens’ friendship. Underneath this seemingly unbreakable friendship, there lies jealousy, aggression, guilt and betrayal.

What I didn’t like

  • I know that Catherine Greer wanted to show the many different layers of friendships that exist between girls and she successfully did this, but I found the whole premise of the book a little bit too dramatic. I found it all a little jarring. The relationship between the girls was unhealthy and the power play between them was toxic. I didn’t enjoy this aspect of the book. I know that manipulation, backstabbing and secrets are standard amongst girl friendship groups, but this book was all very over the top and I found all the drama too much at times.
  • I found the constant body shaming unnecessary and I didn’t truly see the point of it – particularly when a lot of the body shaming came from the mothers. I don’t think it was needed in the book, or it could have been handled differently. I am not sure that Catherine Greer succeeded in wherever she was going with this plot line.
  • I didn’t like any of the characters. Annie was troubled, vindictive, hateful and a victim and I really hate victims.
  • Ruby’s character seemed pointless except for the fact that she was needed to show off Annie’s manipulation and need for control.
  • Ash, I’m assuming is the girl that we were meant to empathise with the most, but she was a bit meh and I didn’t feel anything too much for her at all. I think I was meant to want to protect Ash, but I didn’t care what happened to her.
  • The parents were all one dimensional and lacked believability.

What I liked…

  • It is an intense novel.
  • The friendship, in the beginning, is impressive and you are hooked into the idea of these three girls forming this unbreakable trio.
  • The sinister, creepy feeling that Catherine Greer creates in the novel – right from the start.
  • Catherine Greer succeeds in making the book disturbing and yet addictive reading.
  • Greer maintains a reliable voice throughout the novel, the novel never wavers and it remains unsettling from start to finish.
  • I loved Dashie, the dog and I was on tenterhooks the whole time expecting something awful to happen to Dashie.

The book was a look at a world that I wouldn’t want to be a part of and I genuinely hope that our wealthy and privileged do not live lives like this because if they did that would be truly troubling. If you are after a break from reality and you like a psychological thriller, then this is the novel for you.

Truth, Lies, Philosophy, Wisdom

Image result for blowing the doors off

Author: Michael Caine
Publisher: Hachette

What’s not to like about Michael Caine? He is utterly charming. If you have ever seen Michael Caine being interviewed on TV you know that he exudes that appealing mix of shyness, brashness and humour. His writing is very similar. He wrote an excellent autobiography a few years back, but his new book Blowing the Bloody Doors Off And Other Lessons in Life is so much more than an autobiography. On the surface, it appears to be a book filled with tips for acting, but actually, it is a book filled with tips on how to get the most out of life without too many, or in Caine’s case, any regrets.

My father gave me this book and said that there were some valuable life lessons to be learnt from this book. I could go through and summarised the book and highlight Caine’s eventful life and his experiences with greats such as John Wayne, Jack Nicholson and John Huston, but instead, I’ve decided to take the nine quotes that spoke to me. So, dad, this one is for you, here are the life lessons that I received from Caine’s book.

  1. I would never get caught giving less than 100 per cent. Why do anything if you’re not going to do it as well as you possibly can
  2. You are always auditioning.
  3. Any time you learn from a failure, it’s a success.
  4. Whatever form it takes, do your homework!
  5. The rehearsal is the work, the performance is the relaxation.
  6. The best directors, like the best leaders in other industries, achieve great things by gathering the right people around them, then trusting them to get on with the what they do best, giving them a quiet nudge whenever they need it to keep them on track.
  7. Bad directors are bad for all the same reasons other bosses are bad. They are not good enough at their jobs, they don’t work hard enough, or they are bullies.
  8. There will always be someone faster than you, cleverer than you, better-looking than you, richer than you, luckier than you. So forget competing with other people: it will just make you bitter, self-pitying, unhappy. Do your own thing and do it as well as you possibly can.
  9. The worst thing you can do to an enemy is to ignore him. To be angry is to be a victim. To move on is the only victory.

Blowing the Bloody Doors Off is a fun and easy read. Like the man himself, Caine’s writing is entertaining and honest. He writes frankly and unpretentiously about being famous. Caine admits that maybe he has remained the way he is because his success came later in life and because he nurtured friendships that kept him grounded – also pretty good advice. Caine looks back on his life with incredible insight. He doesn’t hide from his failures in life. Instead, Caine looks at what he learnt or what the experience gave him as a person. He has a gift for telling a good story and this book is a definite read for anyone who wants to learn how to get the most out of life or who just wants to be delightfully entertained.

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Author: Nova Weetman
Publisher: UQP

As soon as I heard that Nova Weetman had a new novel out, I wanted to read it. When it arrived in the Australian Standing Order package at school, I pounced on it (quite literally). My library assistant asked me what it was about and I couldn’t answer her! I just knew that it was by Nova Weetman, so it was definitely going to be a good read – and I am happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. Sick Bay is a heartwarming, empathetic and often hilarious novel about the beauty of friendship.

A dual-narrative story about two girls in Year Six who meet in the sick bay at school. For Meg, the sick bay is a place of refuge to avoid the bullies and her life at home. Whereas Riley, a diabetic, doesn’t like sick bay and she can’t understand why anyone would choose to hang out voluntarily in such a place.

Riley is a type 1 diabetic who finds school relatively simple. She’s well-liked and smart and her life at school is pretty good except for her diabetics, which she finds herself hiding from her “popular” friends who wouldn’t understand.

Meg isn’t like most girls her age; she quotes Anne of Green Gables and she has a slightly different take on the world.  Her dad has died and mum isn’t doing a great job of looking after Meg because she’s battling with depression and dealing with her grief.

Meg and Riley’s home life, much like their school life is entirely different. Meg’s mother is consumed by grief and so is neglectful of Meg. Meg has been left more or less to her own devices and is raising herself while also trying to make sure that her mum is okay. Meg’s mother isn’t working and money is tight – there is barely enough money for food, let alone new shoes, so Meg finds herself wearing slippers to school because her regular shoes no longer fit. Of course, this makes her the object of ridicule at school and she is given the nickname ‘slipper girl’.

Riley, on the other hand, has an overprotective and overbearing mother who believes that only she knows what is best for Riley. She doesn’t understand that Riley wants a life that isn’t always ruled by her diabetes.  Riley wants to have control of her diabetes. She wants to live a life that isn’t always about her diabetes. As Riley is leaving childhood and entering teenagehood, she wants to take control of her body.

The two girls meet in sick bay and both are curiously drawn to each other. When they first meet, the two girls know relatively little about each other, but slowly they develop a friendship – a real friendship.

Sick Bay isn’t just about Meg and Riley; there is a whole supporting cast that gives you great insight into the two girls. One of my favourite characters was Dash – another regular in sick bay. Dash is an asthmatic and his visits are twofold – to deal with his asthma and to visit Meg. He and Meg have history and a bond and even though Dash is younger and popular, he has a protective nature towards Meg. One of my favourite lines in the book is about Dash.

I think he’s just observant, like most kids who’ve had to sit out of things and watch the world go on around them.

A lot of our understanding of Meg and Riley stems from their interactions with the supporting characters. Every character adds an element to the story from Sarah, the school receptionist to Meg’s favourite aunt. I love how Nova Weetman places these minor characters in the story and gives insight on how different people will affect us throughout our lives. We are all touched by different people in our lives and Weetman highlights this beautifully. I am sure that Meg will remember Sarah’s kindness for a very long time.

Sick Bay is a heartwarming story of friendship and staying true to yourself and it reminds us that it is the little acts of kindness that make all the difference.

Sick Bay

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Author: Sharon Kernot
Publisher: Text Publishing

Sharon Kernot’s verse novel, The Art of Taxidermy, is an exquisite, profoundly moving story of grief, loss and love and family.

The Art of Taxidermy is a beautiful verse novel that is set in a small country town in the 1960s. Kernot explores the theme of grief through her character, thirteen-year-old Lottie, who has experienced a great deal of death in her short life, including the loss of her mother. As the book unravels, you learn more about the losses that Lottie has experienced and you begin to understand why Lottie is so obsessed with death. Lottie’s way of grieving is unique – she collects dead animals and attempts to preserve them.

Lottie’s family has experienced significant losses and adversity. They are a German family living in post World War Two South Australia and one thread of the narrative is how members of the family were imprisoned in the Loveday Internment Camp during the war. Lottie’s family were considered enemies during this time and as such experienced great difficulties and hardships.

Lottie lives with her father, Wolfgang, who is gentle and kind-hearted, but he’s busy with work and he’s also distracted with his own grief. Her aunt Hilda lives nearby and helps Lottie’s father in the raising of Lottie. Aunt Hilda is a practical woman and she doesn’t understand why Lottie or her father cannot just move on with their lives. She doesn’t understand why they are both haunted by their losses.

The novel takes place in the 1960s and it is a time when people didn’t talk to children about death and dying. Lottie is confused and has been left to find her own way to understand what has happened to her family and to comprehend why she feels the way she does. No one is giving her advice or support, so she turns to taxidermy because that helps and gives her a place to understand her grief.

The reasons for Lottie’s desire to express her grief through taxidermy are evident.

I wanted flesh and blood, not ghosts.

Lottie’s father, a scientist, is accepting of her interests. Aunt Hilda, though, finds it ghoulish and unladylike. Kernot does manage to add some dark humour from the Lottie and Aunt Hilda relationship. Aunt Hilda finds some bloody sheets from one of Lottie’s experiments and believes Lottie has started her period. Aunt Hilda is delighted with this turn of events and gives Lottie advice and menstrual pads. Lottie accordingly uses the cotton from the menstrual pads to stuff a lorikeet.

The artwork on the cover also needs to be mentioned – the delicate gumnuts, wattle and pale blue and green eggshells that fill the cover are stunning and add another layer to the connection to the Australian bushland which features heavily in this verse novel and almost becomes another character in the book.

The Art of Taxidermy is ideally suited to verse novel. The dark and strange subject of taxidermy is a perfect fit. Verse novels are challenging to write and not many people can write them well, but Kernot has created a masterpiece. Beautifully voiced, this narrative took my breath away. What I love about this book, though, is that Kernot in such a beautiful way reminds us that no matter how ugly things may seem, there is beauty around every corner and that we all don’t have to see beauty in the same way.

Flower, Dead, Wither, Rose, Death