Terra Nullius – Claire G. Coleman

Terra Nullius was a recent breath of fresh air for me from debut author Claire G. Coleman. Jacky was running, running away from the Settlers, hoping to return home to his family if he could find where home is. This daring escape causes a sense of unrest within the Natives and the Settlers are eager to establish peace as soon as possible. Starting off just how you imagine colonisation was all those years ago when the British first invaded Australia but as the plot progresses the reader discovers not all is what it seems.

 

Terra Nullius was a fascinating work of speculative fiction, strong for a debut novel. This novel really puts the reader in the shoes of the Natives under the control of the brutal Settlers. A very important perspective to take on in current day Australia amidst current political debates (*cough* change the date *cough*). Coleman has managed to write a great, fun, memorable story on a superficial level and has eft some important lessons in there for the reader if they choose to see them, for which I salute her. On both levels I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

 

I found the multiple personalities and enjoyable method of teaching the reader about both the Natives and the Settlers and enjoyed learning about each of the characters. Terra Nullius was fast-paced and immersive, I devoured this one in little over 24 hours and already know I will read it again. This is one I hope to see taught in high school around the country in the years to come as I feel it provides an important insight into our countries history, while being relevant and standing on it’s own as fiction. A great read and one I urge you to pick up asap. I give Terra Nullius four stars.

 

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Every Lie I’ve Ever Told – Rosie Waterline

Every Lie I’ve Ever Told is Rosie Waterland’s second book about her life and experiences. Like most of Australia I fell in love with Rosie’s hilarious recaps of The Bachelor, honestly, making work weeks much more bearable laughing along to her astute and hilarious observations. Ever Lie I’ve Ever Told is a collection of personal essays that each begin with the premise of a falsehood that Rosie has told herself or others. What follows is hilarious and heart-breaking in equal measures.

 

Every Lie I’ve Ever Told is Rosie at her absolute best. I honestly could have read it in a single sitting if I was given ample time. Sadly I did not and had to make do with finishing it in three sittings across two days. This book is laugh out loud funny, embarrassingly so. I honestly was constantly sniggering, probably irritating the hell out of my colleagues when I read it at work during lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed the format – particularly the chapter names and reading all her lies. Rosie has a unique talent for blending humour with tragedy and still managing to discuss important social issues.

 

Honestly, the most important thing about this novel is that it opens the dialogue for some incredibly relevant issues. Issues such as the honesty of mental health, how grief works differently in all of us, abusive and dysfunctional relationship, standards towards women and even abortion (echoing Lindy West, who I watched discuss the same issue at writers week earlier this  year). Rosie is so brutally honest like no-one else I have ever read, from fart-sniffing to sexual escapades to mistakes on social media. There is zero pretence, which in a world where we live by social media standards, is such an important gift. To realise we are all a little weird and if you aren’y, you are lying.

 

In this book you will laugh and you will cry. This is a strong second book and I know I’ll eagerly anticipate anything else Rosie swings our way in the future. I would urge you to give this book a go if only to raise you aren’t along in this cray world. I give Every Lie I’ve Ever Told four Polly Pockets, the best toy of our childhood.

 

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Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

Days Without End came onto my radar while long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. This novel follows protagonist Thomas McNulty and his best friend and partner in crime John Cole. After forming their friendship under a bush in the pouring rain the two boys are inseparable and find themselves signing up in the US army to fight in the Indian Wars and later the Civil War. What follows are moments of great brutality showing the very worst of humanity and moments of profound love and tenderness. Adopting a young Indian girl along the way the reader wonders how can their happiness survive in such a precarious world.

 

For me this was a fascinating story which I just could not put down. The novel takes the reader to such extremes. The ugly and dark violence of men at war in both the Indian and Civil wars. These times were full of brutality and bloodlust where men caught up in the moment will do anything. Then the reader is privy to moments of peaceful beauty within relationships and the family unit, although a highly unconventional family in those times. I found myself almost too invested in the relationship between Thomas and John Cole. The devotion and love our protagonist help for John Cole was touching. I was almost panicked at the thought of an unhappy ending for the men.

 

I was able to lose myself in Barry’s memorable writing. I did find at times if I wasn’t concentrating properly I would lose the thread of what was going on – so definitely a read you wan to consume yourself in, not a light one in my opinion. I found myself having to reread passages several times to ensure I took in what was going on but ultimately loved the style and tone employed by Barry. In fact there are so many beautiful passages and scenes that I can’t stop thinking about.

 

This truly is a novel of contrasts and in my opinion is well worth picking up. I can definitely understand why this was included on the Man Booker long-list and I hope to see it short-listed in the coming months. Days Without End is full of beautiful prose, tender moments juxtaposed with moments of brutality and violence, which was so dominant in that era. I give Days Without End four donkeys leading our heroes out of danger.

 

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Taboo – Kim Scott

I realised that I haven’t read nearly enough fiction about Indigenous Australians. A few of my earlier reads this year, Where The Trees Were and Storyland, have touched on the theme but I certainly need to read more. Enter the mysterious sounding Taboo. Taboo tells the story of the unspeakable past and of the present returning to the taboo. Of mending old bridges and culture and family. Of resilience and addiction and abuse. The story of the Noongar people living in the present day with ever present spiritual connections that cannot be broken.

 

Taboo is built on a great concept straddling several genres. We see shades of drama, historical fiction and fable just to name a few. The story starts with the all too familiar concept of several wrongs do not make a right: white man does something insensitive, indigenous men retaliate with a crime, white mob massacre any indigenous person they can get their hands on. An all too common and tragic story from Australian history.

 

This is a strong novel dealing with intense themes. It gives an honest depiction of drug and alcohol addiction in our indigenous community, manipulative and charismatic men in power, the importance of family and community and culture. I love that this novel crosses into, not magical realism, but spiritual realism. A window into our indigenous culture that I’m ashamed to say I don’t know enough about. An understanding of the culture and connections to the land. This aspect is not at all overwritten, almost blink and you will miss it.

 

This novel left me wanting more. More knowledge about indigenous Australian culture (recommendations, please). More from Kim Scott, who himself comes from an indigenous heritage and is a two time winner of the Miles Franklin award. A unique and haunting novel and one I would highly recommend, particularly to Australian readers. I give Taboo four skulls, a reminder of the Taboo.

 

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Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Dark Matter was another quick read for me, started and finished in a day. Jason Dessen is in the throes of middle-age with a wife, son and your average day job until one night is abducted, knocked unconscious and his whole world changes. He wakes up, strapped down to a stranger welcoming him back. Where is he? What happened? The novel is a race to find all the answers before it is too late.

 

Part thriller, part science fiction this is another thought-provoking novel. Are you happy with your life? Would you do anything different? Are there any decisions that changed the course of your life? This book is fast-paced from the get go with the reader thrown in the thick of things straight away. Dark Matter is a great exploration of the multi-verse concept and I very much enjoyed exercising my brain with all the twists and turns that ensued. Just when you think you have the idea nailed down you get another curve ball thrown at you.

 

The writing is compelling with a unique and fun concept. Dark Matter is well worth a read, especially if you are a fan of sci-fi or even if you are someone wanting to dip your toe in the pool for the first time with an easy read. Given this novel dips it’s toes in several genres it is a good one for those starting out. I give Dark Matter four stars and predict if this one turns into a movie Matt Damon will be our Jason.

 

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Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours tells the story of two families, two generations. Present day we have Avery, a girl who has it all: the loving fiancé, a great career and a prominent and loving family, who she has returned home to in the wake of a health crisis of her father’s. Late 1930’s we have Rill Foss, a young girl living with her siblings and parents on a river boat. Happy and carefree everything changes when she and her siblings are ripped form their home and packed off to a group house. Can Rill keep her family together? How does this tie in with Avery? This historical fiction gives insight into stolen children and illegal adoptions.

 

One things I really enjoyed about this novel was how it grabbed my attention from the beginning. The format of the book switching narrators and time periods kept an air of mystery that kept me wanting more, wanting to know how it fit together. Incredibly fast-paced with strong writing I was captivated. Some aspects of the storyline were a tad predictable, but not necessarily in a bad way, I was just able to predict where certain aspects would lead. I enjoyed Avery’s voice in the present, desperate to understand her family’s involvement with a mysterious figure at a nursing home.

 

Rill and the story form the past was captivating, harrowing and touching. The characters were loveable and vivid and all you wanted was for them to get their happy ending. It was heart-breaking to realise that despite the characters being fictional, the experiences were realistic and not far-removed from the truth of those group homes. Wingate provides some background information and reading at the end for the interested in the historical aspect. I though the ending was realistic and not too sentimental. Quite fitting for the story as the reader comes to discover.

 

I would recommend this one for lovers of historical fiction, especially those that enjoy something realistic and historically accurate. This was a fast-paced and beautiful read, one I thoroughly enjoyed. I give Before We Were Yours four dragonflies, for each of the sisters.

 

 

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Barking Dogs – Rebekah Clarkson

I couldn’t help myself with this collection of inter-related short stories set in local Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills. These stories are full of Adelaide-isms so definitely one to read if you have lived in Adelaide or the surrounding hills at some point in your life. These short stories tell the struggle of a once rural town in the midst of it’s shift to a thriving suburbia and the invasion of shoe-box subdivisions.

 

I really enjoyed the eclectic mix of characters. In Barking Dogs we get all ages, genders and walks of life. Some characters are all too likeable, some not so much. I really enjoyed trying to pieces together all the connections and little mysteries contained within the threads of the stories. Barking Dogs is an honest representation of real life – the ups and the downs, the tragedies and struggles and of course the simple pleasures.

 

There is a great little twist at the end of the collection, something that ties it all together. This was a collection of stories that I could pick up again and again and glean something new from it each time. An enjoyable, fun little treasure of everyday suburban life and one I recommend to try even if you haven’t read short stories before, a new adventure worth trying. I give Barking Dogs four suburban houses.

 

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