Draw Your Weapons – Sarah Sentilles

Draw Your Weapons was a non-fiction novel thrust into my hands on Love Your Bookshop day. Something different to try, I was so glad I went out of my comfort zone. A difficult one to summarise as it is nothing like anything else I have read. A collection of anecdotes, snippets of information about everything from war and violence to art and photography to psychology and theology. This book examines the relationship we have with violence and war and how it interacts with all these mediums and theories about how we relate to it. Plus there are personal stories from the author and her experiences with several people who have travelled these paths.

 

This book was compelling, fascinating and heart-breaking. This book may kill your faith in humanity a little but the content is so important and something we all should consider at some point. You want to race your way through, consume it all at once but also you know that you want to savour it, linger over the concepts, drawing meaning from the words. I will warn you, if you read it your Google history may end up looking a little dodgy. I found myself googling waterboarding, Nazi conspirators and internment camps for the Japanese during WWII, just to name a few.

 

Draw Your Weapons is something that you can read over and over and learn a little more from it each time. As I have mentioned the format is unlike anything else I have read before. The paragraphs may seem random at times but it somehow all works together perfectly. This is an exceptional piece of work, one of the most thought-provoking tinges I have read and I’m so glad it found it’s way into my hands. I know my descriptions don’t really do it justice, it is such a hard book to encapsulate in a few paragraphs but I would urge everyone to pick this one up immediately. I give Draw Your Weapons five bombs ready to blow.

 

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A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls was an exquisite middle-grade novel as compelling to children as to adults. The monster arrives at 12:07 but he isn’t nearly as scary as the nightmare Conor has each night. The monster has three tales to tell him before he must tell his own. The reader follows along Conor’s tale of grief and invisibility and growing up.

 

I absolutely fell in love with this book from the very beginning and could not put it down. In fact I read it in less than two hours in a single sitting. If you are going to read this I do highly recommend sourcing the illustrated copy – pictures will not do this stunning copy justice. The result is such a visually pleasing and immersive experience with the illustrations setting the tone of the novel.

 

This is one book well worth the hype surrounding it. Ness is an absolute wizard weaving a tale of growing up, grief, good and bad and all the complexities in between. I loved the fantastical fable element to the novel and found it fit the moral of the story perfectly. I sobbed my heart out reading this one and think it is a must read for anyone. I highly recommend seeing what all the fuss is about. It is a book I’m still thinking about several days later and a book I know I will pick up again and again. Five stars to this memorable novel. Please read.

 

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Touch – Courtney Maum

This was the first book in ages that I loved so much I stayed up late reading it because I had to finish it. I really was not expecting to become so captivated. First read of the synopsis makes Touch sound like a fluffy contemporary. We have our female protagonist, Sloane, who works as a trendsetter, has an integral famous boyfriend who you immediately suspect is a bit of a dick. What you actually get us so much more.

 

This is the kind of novel that leaves the reader much to contemplate long after they have finished reading the pages. Richard Flanagan in The Narrow Road to the Deep North states “A good book leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul”. The perfect quote to describe this read. Touch deals with the increasing prominence of technology in our lives and the effect it has on intimacy and relationships. Are we destined to sail solo off into the future run by technology eliminating any need to human contact? This novel made me realise the importance of switching off and revelling in human contact, even the simple pleasure of a hug, a touch.

 

The characters in this novel are great. Sloane is a fun protagonist and you quickly fall for the side characters. The writing is immersive. The pacing is spot on, I hit a point of no return early on a read the bulk of this book in one sitting and in fact finished it in one day. I highly recommend picking this novel up ASAP. A touching satire in today’s society. Oh, and go out, leave your phone at home and giving someone a hug. Particular someone who lives alone, who misses the simple act of human touch. I give Touch five stars. Please read.

 

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The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This was my third time reading this novel and I was completely blown away all over again. In the Shadow of the Wind we meet Daniel whose father is a bookseller and mother has died. Daniel finds solace in a book he comes to own, The Shadow of the Wind and sets out to find more novels by the author Julian Carax. What he discovers is that there is a mysterious man in a mask who is hunting down every novel written by Carax and burning them, intent on destroying his memory. Daniel’s quest to find out the truth about Carax and this mysterious man turns into a gothic thriller that leaves the reader wanting more.

 

The writing is a real highlight of this consuming gothic tragedy. The prose is rich and evocative, a delight for the reader to peruse. The Shadow of the Wind is thrilling with an intricate plot that slowly comes together over five hundred pages leaving you speechless when it all falls into place. This novel has the most romantic, whimsical setting: the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which copletey appeals to the avid reader. Just imagine a cavernous room in the catacombs of Barcelona filled with shelves and shelves of abandoned books, the last refuge keeping them from falling into the abyss and being lost forever. Convinced yet?

 

The characters are perfection. You have your tourtured protagonist you can help but empathise with, Fermin Romero de Torres, one of my all time favourite fictional characters (he is seriously entertaining),  a terrifying and rabid villain and of course our masked and mysterious figure in black. Who he is, can you figure it out? There are many twists and turns throughout the novel, some that you will never guess (and one that you probably will). In my opinion this is a masterpiece of modern literature and a must-read for all book-lovers. Do not hesitate in picking this one up. I give the Shadow of the Wind five books kept safe in the Cemetery of Forgotten books.

 

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Foreign Soil – Maxine Beneba Clarke

Foreign Soil. Ah-mazing! Maxine Beneba Clarke is such a strong writer that god help me if she ever writes a novel. She has such an uncanny ability to develop such whole characters even in such short stories that the reader finds themselves wholly immersed in the experience. Foreign Soil is a collection of short stories that tell the often untold tales of minorities. The ostracised, the forgotten and the persecuted. These stories span decades of our recent history and stretch as far wide as Africa to the US, England to Australia. Don’t be fooled into thinking these are stories that designed to invoke your sympathy towards the cultural minorities that are often preyed on. These stories are so much more than that. They merely tell these untold stories, acutely honest and in no means stereotypical painting all white people as bad guys or all people of colour as heroes, tell these stories that need to be told.

 

Beneba Clarke’s writing is so evocative, so honest, so unaffected. There are no airs, no graces and these stories re certainly not overwritten, appealing for sympathy. None of these stories are fairytales, they are the harsh realities of life and, yet, with pockets of beauty. I could not put this collection down and in fact read it from cover to cover in less than 24 hours (which included a full nights sleep and a usual day’s work). Different stories n this collection will stand out to different people. In particular I enjoyed their stories David, Hope, Foreign Soil, Shu Yi, Gaps in the Hickory, The Stilt Fisherman of Kathaluwa and the new addition Aviation.

 

Beneba Clarke is such an important author – her books should be read by everyone, in particular the privileged middle-class. I hope to see this book taught in high schools around the country if only to give our youths a little perspective, helping to guide them in making their own informed opinions rather than parroting what they hear at home or from friends. If you haven’t read this collection I would highly urge you to pick it up, I feel there is much to be gained from these stories for everyone and I dare anyone to walk away and not be touched by at least one of these stories. I give Foreign Soil five bicycles from the first story in this collection , one of my favourites.

 

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A Conjuring of Light – V. E. Schwab

Finally! The last instalment of my favourite fantasy series of 2016 is here. This was a highly anticipated read of mine and it certainly did not disappoint. A Conjuring of Light tells the third part of the story of Kell, Lila and the three Londons. I won’t go in to much detail describing the plot, assuming if you are bothering to read this you will have already read A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering Of Shadows. One thing I will recommend is if you have not read either of the first two books in a while you should definitely brush up on characters and events at the end of the second book before starting this one. I did not and I spend a good fifty pages trying to get my head back in this world and figure out what was going on.

 

I loved every minute of this last book. The book starts are a rather important cliff hanger and the plot doesn’t slow down from there. In fact looking at where the plot begins and seeing just how thick this book it you wonder how much can happen as it feels like you are near the end of this battle as the story begins. However, Schwab just keeps on giving and so much happens in this last instalment. The ending is quite satisfying and although these are adult novels (some very adult moments in the book that may leave you blushing if you read them in public) the ending still has a YA feel to it, essentially good does trump evil, everything you want to happen does indeed happen and while I won’t say that it is predictable, it is along the lines of what you might have expected. I certainly don’t mean this as a criticism. This is what I love about fantasy. Fantasy is my happy place and seriously, these books are my comforting, happy place.

 

What truly makes these novels my happy place are the characters. Nell, Lila, Rhy, Alucard, even Holland I find myself rooting for and loving in their own separate ways. Yes, Holland too because as much as he was always the bad guy, you always knew there was more to him, hoping he had something more to give. My favourite relationships are found in this series. You root for Kell and Lila long before they knew how they felt about it each other and the fact that it doesn’t happen right away adds to the built up tension. Another this I love about this novel is the relationship that existed between Rhy and Alucard, two males. These characters have such tension, which I loved from the beginning and even more so because it felt natural and not just something that Schwab added for diversity sake. Their romance is beautiful and fragile and makes your heart burst.

 

Basically I love everything about this books and know I will relive this series again and again in the future. Do yourself a favour and experience them yourself, particularly if you are a fan of fantasy. I give A Conjuring of Light five of Lila’s knives, ever deadly.

 

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Big Little Lies – Liane Moriaty

Seeing as this book is everywhere these days due to the TV series, can I just say that it is most deserving of the hype surrounding it. Trivia night at Pirriwee Public as ended in shocking tragedy with a parent dead, physical altercations and several others in hospital. How did it end up here? Was this tragedy murder or a horrible accident? Who is to blame? It all began four months before trivia night with one little story.

 

I had little knowledge of the plot before I jumped into this book. I has been sitting on my shelf for months and thanks to the hype of the TV show I figured it was time to see what all the fuss was about (and to make sure I didn’t witness any spoilers). What I found was a novel with the perfect balance of light and dark. This novel deals with serious themes of violence, both domestic and sexual and yet it maintains a light parody of playground politics. Seriously, if you are a school mum or dad or a teacher pick this up if only for the acute stereotypes found within pretty much every school around.

 

Moriaty, in my opinion, writes an important portrayal of domestic violence. She reiterates that it can happen to anyone, it can go both ways, that you can still love the person doing it to you. If the depiction within Big Little Lies makes just one person reconsider what domestic violence is and how it can escalate and changes their actions, stands up for themselves, it is worth its weight in gold.

 

This novel has the perfect balance with a biting satire of parenting and schoolyard dramas. The friendships, politics, stereotypes, guilt and jealousy and, yet, it still retains a lightness and playfulness in this mocking. The format was another highlight, with the witness statements sprinkled throughout the novel doing much to inject the lightness, stopping this novel from becoming too dark. The pacing and mystery was perfect keeping me on my toes throughout the novel. I couldn’t put this down and given the opportunity  I would have likely devoured this in a single sitting.

 

The characters narrating the novel were all likeable and very relatable. My absolute favourite from the beginning was Madeline. She loved and cared too much, jumped to her friend’s defence whenever necessary and was full of pettiness of the kind we are all guilty of but probably never voice. She was completely relatable and always meant the best and I loved her form beginning to end. Celeste and Jane were great characters too along with the many supporting roles within the book. Moriaty slides in the Aussie cliches perfectly without making the novel confusing or inaccessible for readers of other backgrounds and I found myself giggling at these little Aussie-isms sprinkled across the pages.

 

I could not predict the outcome and at one point even had to physically put the book down after one (of the many) revelations. The writing was masterful and I look forward to reading more of Moriaty’s work in the future, oh, and watching the TV adaptation too. I give Big Little Lies five dangerously strong cocktails that turn Trivia Night upside down.

 

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