Redeemable – Erwin James

I received Redeemable as part of the Sensei Subscription pack brought to you by Books on the Rail. A monthly package is sent out with a book, four books on the rail stickers and this month an adorable bookmark. Books on the Rail also run a bookclub on the rail to discuss the months read – sadly I’m not a Melbournite and will be unable to attend. I would highly recommend getting on board, particularly if you are from Melbourne. Redeemable is the story of Erwin James, who had a tough upbringing after his mother died in a car accident and his father turned to violence and alcohol eventually leading him to a life of crime. First appearing in court a month shy of his eleventh birthday this book details how he ends up in prison serving a life sentence for murder. There he meets a prison psychologist who helps his turn his live around. This was an incredibly honest and thought provoking tale, which I am glad to have had the opportunity to read.

 

Seriously, my subscription to Books on the Rail has already paid off. I had never heard of this book before I received it and probably never would have or even picked it up if I had heard of it. Non-fiction is not my usual go to but I’m finding I’m continuously surprising myself and loving these books. One of the main takeaway points from this tale is that of empathy. Being able to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective. The lesson that Atticus Finch famously teaches young Scout. This is an ability I highly value in those around me and is an important lesson for us all to take on into our own lives. This is in part what draws me to not only reading but reading such an unorthodox mix of books. I cherish the ability to put in myself in so many different shoes, all different shapes, sizes and colours . This book does this in such an eloquent way, taking you in to a life you can only being to imagine and understand.

 

James is careful in his writing. He in no way writes this to garner sympathy, or pass off the blame of his actions to his traumatic upbringing. In fact he is very careful to explain that he was responsible for his actions and that he in no way can atone for what he has done, particularly for the hurt he caused his victims families. I think it is respectful that he doesn’t discuss the murders that he received his life sentence for. He isn’t using their story to get attention, he is using his own. The way he describes his life and his lessons is with no nonsense, a sense of honesty and integrity. A lesson to those out there that life is a series of choices. That you can make many mistakes that take you down a path but you can always change that. There is much to be learned from this novel and I implore you to give it a go.

 

There isn’t much more to say about this piece of work other than to pick it up and see for yourself. I finished it in two days despite attending a music festival at a winery leading me to feeling quite tired today. I was consumed by the story and couldn’t put it down. In the words of James himself he “went from being a prisoner who wrote to being a writer in prison” and has gifted us his life lessons in Redeemable. A worthy read I give Redeemable three typed pages of James’ columns.

 

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Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer

Without quite realising it I stepped outside of my usual comfort zone and picked up a nonfiction read with this selection. Into The Wild is an expansion of a magazine article written by Krakauer looking into the death of Chris McCandless, an idealistic young man trying to escape into the Alaskan wild to live of the land. Unfortunately not all went to plan and McCandless was found starved to death by hikers in August 1992, four months after he first set foot in the Alaskan wild. This was an extremely sobering read, yet highly intriguing looking into McCandless’ years on the road and some attempt to understand the psyche of this young mind and his obsession with the Wild.

 

Having quite a personal interest in the idea of disappearing into the wild for a period of time, on your own at one with nature. Living on the road by simple means, I have always enjoyed novels along the lines of Wild, On The Road, loving the concept and longing for the day I can set out on my own adventure. Into The Wild tells the extreme, opposite side to this story. McCandless was on the extreme end of the spectrum, giving up his worldly possessions, burning his money and abandoning his beloved car. His ideals were also extremist following ideas laid down by Leo Tolstoy and Jack London. Having such resolute ideas in uncommon and reading his thoughts as laid out by Krakauer was fascinating.

 

This gives he reader much food for thought. In some ways you can understand his ideas and actions, yet conversely lament the outcome in particular the effect it has on his family, who lost touch with him two years prior to his untimely death. I appreciate the lengths Krakauer has exhausted to tell as complete a story explaining McCandless’ actions and intentions as much as possible. He was a fascinating soul and I enjoyed the comparison with other individuals throughout history who followed similar paths of solitude into the wild that ultimately ended with premature death.

 

A definite must-read for those who have an interest in this area. This account is haunting and consuming, leaving the reader with much to contemplate upon completion of the novel. This review is short and sweet as there isn’t much to reflect on this story that can be shared, a personal reflection feels more appropriate. This is definitely a book I will revisit with a hope to take more in the next time I peruse the pages. I would urge you to give it a go, if only to put yourself in another shoes so different to the norm. I give Into The Wild four bowls of rice, the bulk of McCandless’ diet in much of his adventures.

 

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Skylarking – Kate Mildenhall

Just to add to the theme of reading books based on real events, particularly following Hannah Kent’s The Good People, comes Skylarking. This is very loosely based on an event the author stumbled across while camping on the east coast of Australia. Skylarking follows the story of best friends Kaye and Harriet. The girls are living in Australia in the 1880’s, daughters of lighthouse keepers living in a small community. The story follows the growth of their friendship over the years with the girls sharing everything. Eventually Harriet, two years Kate’s senior, starts to leave her behind complicating their relationship until finally one moment changes their lives forever.

 

I found this an incredibly easy and enjoyable read, finishing it in only a day. The story sucked me in from he beginning. I have always loved lighthouses and the rugged Australian coastline so found the setting incredibly romantic and interesting. The thought of living in a time when it was so undiscovered and wild is so intriguing to myself and I just fell in love with the setting. Mildenhall describes this time and place beautifully down to the depiction of the complex relationship with the indigenous Australians, who were at the time treated so abhorrently.

 

What perhaps kept me so immersed in the story was the character of Kate and her intricate relationship with Harriet. I found her character so relatable even in present times. Who hasn’t felt like the didn’t quite measure up to someone else in their life? As if this other person (friend, sister, cousin) was the most perfect, beautiful, charming, captivating soul that you could never compete with. The feelings of inadequacy, of envy, of jealousy. But then the conflicting feelings of love, admirations, even captivation yourself that you hold for that person. This novel plays upon those feelings that we have all experienced. That continual battle of love and hate with someone and how each of those emotions can escape and shape your actions at different times. I found this feeling, this accurate portrayal intriguing and found myself connected to their relationship.

 

Mildenhall employs the use of one defining event, that is a mystery to the reader to keep the pace of the plot. References to this event and how it changed everything are made throughout the novel keeping the reader interested. You start to formulate your own hypotheses about what happens and as simple as the outcome is I had completely different ideas of where the story might go. As much as this plot device is obvious I found it worked and I was curious to see what happened to our characters.

 

Overall I found this book a very enjoyable read. The relationship of Kate and Harriet was fascinating but the other supporting characters were just as interesting. Some were mysterious and you wanted to know more and some were also just as relatable, seeing a little of yourself in them. I do recommend this read for something easy and light but so very consuming. I give Skylarking three fish of the sea, an important part of their life.

 

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

This is a book I picked up purely by chance after seeing it recommended by staff at a bookstore. I have never heard of it before or seen it pop up on bookstagram. The premise of this book (seriously, the name is too long to repeat) is what drew me in, particularly after reading Life After Life recently. This book follows a similar idea, the protagonist Harry August lives his lives over and over again. Each time he dies he starts again and gains all the knowledge from his past lives. Eventually he discovers that there are other kalachakras in the world and that they make up the Cronus Club. Described as a literary thriller, in Harry’s eleventh life he receives a message on his death bed that the world is ending. What follows is his decisions and contributions into protecting the future of the world.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the concepts of this book. The theme of multiple lives or even time travel and alternate realities leads to a lot of thought on ethics and morality – something I enjoy considering in fiction as there is so much range. Should you be going through these lives letting history play out as it was meant to be? Do you try and change it for the better? Stop wars, save lives. When do these good deeds backfire? The list is endless. Harry makes some interesting decisions that the reader will not predict throughout his many lives. Whether they are entirely ethical always is another story and I enjoyed following his actions and their subsequent consequences.

 

This book may be a little confusing at times for people as the story is not necessarily chronological. After the first couple of lives the story jumps between his first fifteen lives, back and forth. It can be a little difficult to keep track of but ultimately it works with the novel as different aspects of Harry and his motivations are revealed as they become relevant.

 

There are a host of characters that weave in and out of his many lives. Some are other kalachakras. Others include the people of his early life, parents, adoptive parents and other family members. Then there are love interests and other singular characters an of course the villain that is required. Each of the time plot lines are interesting and may seem a little irrelevant at times but they all contribute to the feel of the novel and who Harry becomes across his hundreds of years.

 

The twist halfway through the book increases the pace and I found myself moving through the second half of the novel quickly. In particular the ending of the novel is quite satisfactory, although came up quite quickly for me and I hadn’t realised I was on the final pages until I turned the page and there was no more. The conclusion leave you much to ponder and I thoroughly enjoyed how thought-provoking, yet easily enjoyable this book was.

 

I would highly recommend this book for something different. Particularly if you are a fan of multiple life spans/alternate realities/time travel. There are some great concepts that North has explored. Harry was also particularly enjoyable as a protagonist as he was far from a perfect or even highly skilled being. Despite his hundreds of years he was still thoroughly human in many ways and in that way quite relatable. I give The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August three bolts of electricity, which play an important role in this novel.

 

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Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go has been on my TBR list for a while despite not really knowing what it was about. This story follows Kathy, a carer in a dystopian reality who is reminiscing on her younger years at Hailsham School, navigating growing up, friendships and several mysteries that plague her over her years at Hailsham. Slowly the reader learns more about life in this alternate world and the darker purposes that rule Kathy’s life.

 

This was a fairly short read that I found easy to get into. The perspective of Kathy and the writing style employed by Ishiguro were enjoyable and easy to follow. In fact I finished this book in less than 24 hours. On the other hand there was no real pace to the story. At no point did I feel I like I just couldn’t put it down or felt myself racing to find out what happened next. I have no complaints about the characters or plot line but something in it just fell a little flat for me. Put this book next to other dystopian type novels and I feel it falls behind. Novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale or The Heart Goes Last both by Margaret Atwood or even The Natural Way of Things left me with such stronger reactions. I feel this is in part due to the fact that this story doesn’t fully develop the dystopian society that the novel is set in and the mysteries in this story don’t feel like the big reveal that they are intended to be. I feel this book was more focused on the relationships between the characters.

 

The interactions between Kathy and two of her Hailsham classmates was the strongest part of the novel. Tommy and Ruth were important people in her youth that she crosses paths with in her present work as a carer. The story slowly reveals how intricate their relationships become over their school years. Again, I have no complaints about the characters, they play their roles well, however I found myself feeling a little frustrate at Kathy. Ruth is clearly a manipulative frenemy playing the role of queen bee. The strength of the relationship between Kathy and Tommy is apparent from early on, yet neither of them commit to it. Even the emotions of the characters were underwhelming and felt a little detached, resulting in me also feeling disengaged from the story line.

 

 

This book has some amazing reviews and I’m sure there are many out there who love it. I would recommend giving this book a go, it was an easy and enjoyable read as much as my descriptions are ambivalent. I think I have just read a few too many other books this year that fit into a similar category that I enjoyed more (and also recommend, just follow the links above). I give Never Let Me Go three headphones playing Kathy’s cassette that she cherished so much.

 

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One hundred words.

One hundred posts. One hundred words. To say just how much this experience has shaped me. I have enjoyed the critical thinking. Putting my feelings into coherent sentences. I have loved the challenges blogging has brought me. Reading books I would never have normally have picked up. Trying mediums I would not have otherwise attempted. Thank you for your support. Your likes. Your follows. Your comments. You have made this an incredible experience. An experience I plan to continue. To grow. To expand. On to the future. The next hundred posts. The piles and piles of new books. Thank you.

 

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