The Dry by Jane Harper: A Book Review.


The Dry by Jane Harper has all of the quirks and devices that a crime thriller needs. Set in the small country town of Kiewarra, Australia where the heat is exhausting and water is scarce, a tragedy shakes the community to its core. It seems, on the surface, to be a textbook case of murder suicide, Luke Hadler murders his wife and six year old son, before turning the gun on himself.

The problem is, Luke was an upstanding citizen, a family man and a hard worker. Sure, he had a dark streak to him that often annoyed and frustrated his friends while growing up. Jane Harper manages to set in motion a trail of events that led up to a face paced, anxiety driven climax, and from the very beginning, she is able to plant the seed, the question, for the reader – Luke was many things, but a murderer?

Aaron Falk comes back to town for his best friend’s funeral and it is clear that being home is something he hadn’t ever wanted to do. He’d made a life for himself in Melbourne, when his father had moved them there twenty years ago and being back on familiar soil, a place that he and his father had been chased out of, is a unnerving feeling.

Harper’s narrative is inviting and gripping, once you’re in, you’re in for the rest of the novel. Smooth writing, along with imaginative prose and an ability to craft eccentric and down to earth characters, is definitely something Harper pulls off. As the town turns on its self, questioning friend, father and neighbour, the reader too begins to question every one Falk comes into contact with.

At first, it seems clear – Luke was a strange child who lived for the fast exhilaration of taking risks, he had caved under the pressure of drought and poverty, killing his family and himself. But as stated, Harper is quick to take the reader away from that assumption.

The town of Kiewarra has its dark secrets and many come out of the woodwork the more Falk and Sergeant Raco investigate, which forces Falk to think and come to terms with something that had happened in his childhood; the death of one of his friend’s and a girl he had fallen in love with, perhaps before he knew what love was, Ellie Deacon. Her death was pinned on him and his father, due to a note found in her pocket when her body was discovered, it read Falk. She had been bright faced and determined to escape the shadow of her father and his vile ways, but her journey was cut short when she drowned the lake she and her friends used to hang out at.

Most people believed it had been a suicide but there were those, particularly, Ellie’s father and her cousin, Grant Dow, who believe it was Aaron. Harper manages to convince the reader that it was Mal Deacon and his nephew who had killed Luke Hadler, due to their hatred of the Hadler family – perhaps out of revenge for what happened to Ellie, the Deacons’ were quick to blame Aaron, but also, Luke, who’s alibi at the time of Ellie’s death, was that he was with Aaron, shooting rabbits.

We are so invested in believing this that when Aaron confronts Mal Deacon, an old, sick man, the reader fails to see the other signs, we fail to see who the real murderer (of Luke, Karen and their son) is. In a shocking twist, Aaron uncovers the truth as to what happened the Hadler’s and Luke’s name is cleared. The town start to view Aaron differently, embarrassed by their actions – having driven him out of the town when he was younger, spreading rumours about him and making his stay in Kiewarra horrible – showing just how fake, delusional and narrow minded the town’s people are. And a couple of gruesome pages later, we find out that Mal killed his own daughter.

As much as I enjoyed this book, there was one part that bothered me. The abuse that Mal subjected his daughter to. The use of sexual violence was put there, in one scene, towards the end, as a plot device. Ellie was beaten by her father and that was enough for us to understand her hatred towards him, it was enough for us to see that he was a disgusting person, it was enough for us to understand her actions and her planning to leave.

However, there was one scene where he invades her space, climbing on top of her in her bed. She wakes and manages to push him off, but it is implied that he has, in her sleep, though she woke up, sexually abused her. This scene felt as though it was added last minute, as something to horrify us, which of course it does, but that is all it is there for – shock value.

It was unnecessary, if a writer is to write about such things, then it shouldn’t be used as shock value or as a plot device to push the story forwards, which is what happens here, as it is called the catalyst. But this demeans the victim, in this case Ellie, to nothing more than a ploy in the plot to show how horrible Mal is. We already know that, we already know he was a vile human being.

Sexual abuse is an extremely traumatising thing to happen to a person. In some cases, as Ellie’s is, the abuse ends in murder. It is not something to be taken lightly or brushed away, which is what happens in this novel. It is swept under the carpet as it were, there only for a couple of lines to horrify the reader and used as a plot point, rather than being treated with the importance it should be written with. It demeans survivors of this abuse and their experience, to little importance.

Therefore, as much as I would have liked to love this book a lot more, I cannot with Harper’s treatment of Ellie. When are novelists, script writers and so on, going to understand that rape is not something to be used as shock value?

 

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Nemesis: A Book Review.

Nemesis opens with Min, a young woman, after being killed.

Every two years on her birthday, her murderer who wears a black suit and glasses, kills her. She never knows why, no matter how many times she asks or fights him off, every two years she dies in a horrific way. No one believes her. Who would, after hearing someone tell you for years, since they were eight years ago gets killed by a stranger? That is, until strange things start happening.

Noah, is another young person who suffers with a similar predicament. Except, his psychiatrist tells him that they’re dreams and the ‘blue pill’ he gives him, will keep them at bay. Do they? No. Soon, it becomes clear that the town they both live in is keeping far too many secrets. They can trust no one not even their parents. It becomes clear that a group of officials are planning something. Their headmaster, their psychiatrist, the policeman and the black suit, as Noah calls him.

Noah and Min realise that their lives are far more intertwined than they want to believe. Noah is a quiet boy who suffers with anxiety (understandably) but is also a coward and hangs around with a group of boys and girls who bully and belittle their classmates. However, life forces the two together, along with Min’s best friend Tack.

It’s a fast-paced journey to the truth, full of shocking moments and heart pounding pages. The fate of humanity is at stake and soon, it is revealed that all life is doomed, the face of the Earth is destroyed and the remaining humans are upgraded into a computer system, awaiting further instructions which I hope will be in a follow up novel. The only problem I had with the book is the author’s use of descriptions when it came to characters of colour.

Using the word “dark” to describe someone of colour is something that I have a problem with. As a person of colour, if someone calls me dark skinned, objectifying my skin colour, I would find that incredibly offensive. I even read “different coloured” as a term Brenden Reichs used to describe characters. I was taken aback and honestly, shocked that an editor or agent didn’t pick up on that. The problem is not having characters of colour, that is a great thing and something we need. Representation is so important. But there is a way to do it that is not offensive or objectifying.

Therefore, though the plot and premise of the novel was great, the issues surrounding race and character description was a big problem for me and stopped me from enjoying the novel as much as I wanted to.

The Snow Child: A Book Review.

The Snow Child was an emotive and compelling story about a couple who had seen their fair share of life’s horrible qualities. Set in the depths of a snowy landscape, the couple try to navigate their way through each summer and winter, hoping to push their past away, locking it down in the whispers of their minds. Except, it’s not as simple as that.

One winter, a young girl appears to Mabel. She does not speak and has a fox by her side. Based on a Russian folk-tale, where a young girl made of snow comes to life, the novel proves to be beautifully written and plotted wonderfully. Though it was a retelling, the novel used elements of realism and magical twists, to create a wonderful story, that unfolds as a twist of familial love with a dash of snowy magic. Of all the characters in this novel, Mabel was my favourite.

A woman who had a tragic past, having been unable to have children, after a miscarriage and the loss of purpose, Mabel tried to commit suicide. Suffering terribly from depression, she withdraws in on herself and is unable to forgive her husband, Jack for being emotionally distant. He continues to be this way, even when she needs him and I came to resent him as a person, until the little girl shows.

Faina, the little girl, brings Mabel and Jack together, even though Jack at first doesn’t want to believe in Mabel’s stories of the little girl. He believes that she is lying or seeing things. Yet another reason why I didn’t like Jack as a character. I found Mabel far more sympathetic and sweet in nature, she was more accessible and understanding in comparison to the other characters in the novel.

As the snow melts and the summer arrives, Faina begins to spend more and more time with Mabel and Jack. Soon, months turn to years and she grows up to be a young woman. Beautiful and cold and warm, she allows Jack and Mabel to be her adoptive parents, she falls in love with Garrett, the son of a nearby family and they marry. She bares a child and gives birth.

But just as the snow child Mabel and Jack created out of snow, she melts away. She leaves and does not return and though it is debatable what happens, it would be symbolic of her nature, if she melted away like the snow she came from. Maybe, she returns when it snows again, maybe not.

Either way, she becomes one with nature, as it beings to snow again at the end of the novel.

All The Light We Cannot See: A Book Review.

All The Light We Cannot See has been called ‘sublime’, ‘magnificent’ and ‘bittersweet’. A tale that follows a deeply harrowing and beautiful story that centres around a young blind girl, Marie-Laure and Werner, a German orphan, thrust into a dark world, full of death and pain.

The two of them navigate through their worlds, proving how a young boy, forced into the Hitler Youth, having had no other option, can in the end, reject the propaganda and in his last moments, save someone, who had been, all along, actually saving him. Proving how it is possible to see light, to see stories and great adventures, without having the power of sight.

Proving that in a world that is so bleak and corrupt, there is a light, some will overcome the darkness and some will not, but in the end, the truly kindhearted will be able to refuse the temptations of power and hostility, of myth and legend, and instead, save someone who needs it, to remember the boy who refused to do as his commander says and to find the girl who reads stories to him at night, the last connection to his hazy past.

The novel focuses on two unsuspecting, young people. A girl who lives in France and a boy who is expected to join Hitler’s Youth and fight for what the Nazis believe is the new order. He himself, is not so sure. He witnesses things he cannot let go of, haunted by the crimes his own comrades have committed and the horrible acts he has done nothing to stop, out of fear. It is difficult to remember, but Werner is just a child, forced into an unknowing world, that expects too much of him and renders him helpless. He has no choice but the follow the tide, until he meets his friend, Frederick, who opens his eyes. For up until this point, he has been blind, while seeing.

He has joined the war, despite knowing what he is doing is wrong, but also knowing that to refuse would be to die. He is not proud of his actions and chooses to save a young girl, chooses to allow the French Resistance messages on the radio to continue. He chooses to allow freedom. And in his freedom, he turns his back on life, preferring to embrace the warmth of death. Of something he had feared.

Marie-Laure chooses to act in whichever way she can. Her powers might appear to be limited to an outsider’s perspective, but it is her perseverance and thirst for knowledge and goodness, that keeps her alive. Doerr proves that the mind of a child, is far more resilient that we give them credit.

The novel draws upon the strength of resistance.

For example, in Frederick, who refuses to pour ice cold water on a prisoner, who stands as “the night steams, the stars burn, the prisoner sways, the boys watch, the commandant tilts his head” and will not subject the prisoner to more pain. Throughout it all, throughout the bullies and the torture he endures, he stays resilient. Marie-Laure loses her eyesight, but sees the world for what it is and what it could be. Werner has his choices twisted and stripped, who in the end, follows the stories told by a Frenchman and a young girl, to decide what he wants.

Marie-Laure decides to “open [her] eyes and see what [she] can with them before they close forever.” And then she sees without them. Werner decides to “be alive before [he] dies.” And together, they prove how the brain, “which lives without a spark of light” builds a “world full of light” and that is by playing a part in the resistance.

The atrocities committed during World War Two, by both the Allies and Axis, are told in this book; harrowing images of war and bombs, cities turned to dust and rubble, women abused and subjected to the cruelty of soldiers, young men sent to war in place of politicians who sat in their ivory towers, the torture of Jewish people, of the civilians on both sides of the war, of the innocent, of those who did not agree with the rule of the Nazis and were blamed for things that were not their doing (namely, seen through Jutta). 

And in the current time we are in, it is important to remember that though a tyrant is in power, not everyone agrees with him.

It is important to remember there is light when all is shrouded in darkness.

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: A Book Review.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a moving and wonderful read.

Split into six sections, it tells the tale of two young boys, Aristotle and Dante, who meet on the summer before they turn sixteen. Aristotle can’t swim, he suffers with the lies of his family, the impending doom of adult-hood and the memory that his brother is no longer mentioned in the house, or by anyone for that matter. Dante on the other hand, is self-assured and confident, he knows who he is and loves poetry, art and things to do with the literary world. Seemingly opposites they form a special bond, first over swimming and to Aristotle who doesn’t have many friends, he thinks Dante will forget about him.

But he doesn’t.

Over the summer, they form a friendship and Ari, as he prefers to be called, learns what it is liked to be wanted and appreciated from someone of his own age. Both of them come from Mexican families and while they try to navigate through this thing called life, they also discover who they are as people. Dante discovers that he is gay, that he wants to explore the unknown – parties, girls, boys, alcohol, drugs – but once he has, he finds it isolating and lonely. On his year, away from Ari and their home town, he enjoys the lifestyle of other American teenagers, only to come home when he has turned sixteen, and being around Ari is far better. Despite the appeal of rebelling, he prefers the natural, the grounded, the poetic and safe, away from a life of craziness.

And that is Ari.

Through his ups and downs, Ari comes to terms with who he is too. He saves Dante’s life and cannot allow himself to accept why. Their friendship is more than that. It is something intangible, so much so that it withstands the distance of time, place and youth. In saving Dante’s life, Ari lands himself in hospital and their friendship is strained. Ari is angry at everything – at his family who do not speak about the past, at himself for the way he felt, at Dante because of how grounded he is and how good he was.

A year passes and Ari is back to normal, at least physically. He grows up. He works out, he gets a job, he goes to a party, he makes friends, he learns to drive and he gets a truck. He sends letters to Dante when he can, though it’s not much. Dante tells him that he’s gay, that he has kissed girls and while, that was nice, he’d much rather be kissing boys. They’re both sixteen now, nearly at that point of being men and yet Ari is still overshadowed by his father’s silence and his mother’s need for him to be perfect. The pressure is too much.

He is tense and vulnerable. Unlike Dante who is able to use his words, Ari was brought up in a household where nothing was said and if it was, it was through signs or gestures. He feels the pressure of his mother’s success and his father’s time in the war, the stories he won’t tell and the shadow that his brother has left in the household. Everything comes to a head after Dante comes back and they share a kiss, which Ari says ‘did nothing’ for him. At a funeral, Ari discovers that his late aunt lived with a woman for many years, they were lovers. He learns the truth about his aunt, about the wonderful person she was and how much his parents loved her. He learns that as a child he spent a lot of time with her, while his brother was sentenced and his mother had a breakdown.

Finally, after years of not talking, he discovers the secrets of his universe, of his past, of his father’s time at war, of his mother’s struggles with Bernardo, his older brother. And finally, while he finds himself, Dante tries to move on from Ari, who he is falling in love with. Ari promises to always stay by Dante no matter what, unlike his boyfriend, Daniel, who left him for dead as some punks beat him up because he was gay.

That is point where everything comes out and Dante’s parents, both of them, loving, find out that their son is gay. His parents are welcoming and baffled as to why Dante wouldn’t tell them, they love him unconditionally and find nothing wrong with their son’s sexuality. Relieved, he and Ari, though having now known the secrets of their family, grow apart. Dante is still with Daniel, Ari is jealous or at least it seems that way. He is about to turn seventeen and he still feels as though he was barely holding on, despite knowing what he had always wanted to know – what happened to his brother and what his father did in the war.

His problem, is that he hasn’t let out the very thing that he felt when he first saw Dante. Love. And in the end, he finally does. In the end, Ari and Dante share their first proper kiss, under the stars, both with open, willing hearts.

The Mortal Instruments: A Collection of Book Reviews.

When I was at school, I had a friend who suggested a book to me. It was called City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, a book about angels, vampires, warlocks, witches and magic. A tale that told the story of a young girl, named Clary, who would soon discover that her history is far more fantastical and dark than she had originally perceived. Together, my friend and I were lost in a world of Shadowhunters, part angel human beings, with the ability to cast runes and defeat demons, where there were tales of love, hope, betrayal and family.

But once we both finished the second novel, City of Ashes and then the third, City of Glass, I felt my connection to the series slipping away. After years of being avid fans and discussing ships we liked and theories we had, I lost my friend. We drifted apart and I never saw her again. And my love for Clary’s world went with her. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the fourth book in the series, City of Fallen Angels, stored away in my room amongst a pile of books that I needed to sort through, did I feel an immense wave of nostalgia float over me. I knew then, that I had to return to the world I had once ventured in as a teenager.

And I was not let down.

Through the remaining three books, I discovered the friendships I had once loved, the couples that I wanted to be together forever, my love for Jace and also, the need to hit him in the head for being too good and self-sacrificing and the happiness I felt while reading and watching as Clary grew into a Shadowhunter. A skilled fighter and rune drawer, who created portals and plans to catch Sebastian, who loved fiercely and protected her loved ones with all her strength. Once more, I was in a world where magic was real.

In City of Fallen Angels, I followed Simon’s journey and growth, as he tried to deal with being a vampire and his relationships with two girls, Isabelle and Maia. And while Clary grew stronger and stronger in her training, Jace grew weaker, troubled and haunted by horrific nightmares. It is a tale that delves deeper into cult magic and demons, the use of demon blood on children, all with the terrible sense of dread that Sebastian was soon to return. Which he does.

In City of Lost Souls, we watched as Simon is shunned from his house and Clary escapes Magnus’ home to find Jace, who is now under the control of Sebastian. She keeps her connection to Simon through Faerie rings, ones that belonged to the Seelie Queen, in the hopes of bringing Jace back and destroying Sebastian’s plan. In a novel that has Jace lost and confused, trapped behind the dark blood that now runs through his veins and controls him, making him into a darker, stranger version of himself, we watch as Clary fights demons and plays up to wanting to join Sebastian. She discovers what Sebastian plans to do and when Jace regains control of his mind for a moment, he tells her that he is going to turn himself in for the things he has committed by Sebastian’s request. He later goes to the Seventh Site, once more under Sebastian’s control.

The novel ends with Clary fighting off her brother, Sebastian, or what could’ve been her brother, if not for Valentine. Sebastian is obsessed with Clary and tries to force himself upon her and in a scene where we fear for Clary’s safety and burn with hatred for Sebastian, she manages to overthrow him and escape his horrid hands. In the end, they end up at the Seventh Site with Jace, where Sebastian’s followers drink from his Infernal Cup to turn their angelic blood, demonic. Clary stabs Jace with Raziel’s sword, which Simon gets after summoning the angel, and with the heavenly fire in the sword, the bad that Sebastian put in Jace is stripped away.

In City of Heavenly Fire, we are introduced to new characters and greet old ones. Alec is broken hearted over his break up with Magnus in the previous novel, Isabelle and Simon have reconciled as have Maia and Jordan Kyle, her ex-boyfriend as revealed previously. It is in Alicante where meetings take place due to attacks on several institutes and we meet Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn, both of whom are major characters in The Dark Artificies. During a meeting with the Faerie’s representative, Luke, Magnus, Raphael, Jocelyn are captured and taken to Edom, where Sebastian is now reigning. In order to, save them and destroy Sebastian, Jace, Clary, Isabelle, Simon and Alec travel there, where they are met with great challenges and in the end, the fight with Sebastian. Stabbing him with her sword, Heosphoros, which she had earlier used to save Jace and so the heavenly fire was transferred to her sword, effectively killing Sebastian. He reverts back to who he would have been, Jonathan, and tells them how to destroy the cup and all its followers. He dies, feeling lighter than ever, free at last from the demon blood.

We are given a hopeful ending by Clare, where Clary mourns the loss of her best friend, only to be surprised at the end at her mother’s wedding, Alec and Magnus reconcile, Jace and Clary are still very much in love and Isabelle takes comfort in the fact that Simon remembers her – and will remember all when he becomes a Shadowhunter.

It is the ending we needed. A bright, hopeful and happier one.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: A Book Review.


Note: Spoilers ahead!


The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton was an enthralling and captivating story to read. At first, the book sets out as though it will be a coming of age tale, of a young woman finding her feet and strength in a place away from home, and while in some ways, it is, it is so much more than that.

Rooted in the strength of a woman and the power women have beating in their hearts, the tale revolves around an eighteen-year-old woman, who has just married a merchant, Johannes Brandt. Her name is Petronella, or otherwise known as Nella who has never known the comfort of wealth and luxury, but the warmth of family and home, before moving from the Dutch countryside to the Golden Bend in Amsterdam.

At first, her time in her new home is awful and cold, Johannes barely speaks to her, though when he does, he is kind but always hurried and disappears quite quickly. His sister, Marin who runs the household, is a headstrong and determined woman, and she advises her brother on many of his enquiries, helping him find sellers and buyers for their business.

Clearly, the women in this household are not kept back from the world of business, despite this novel being set in the 1600’s. In her new home, she meets Cornelia and Otto, both of them, servants, who come from poor backgrounds and form a friendship that Nella immediately takes note of. Otto, is a black man, living in a time where he would have been treated like an animal, or worse, but with the Brandt family, he is never looked down upon, never hurt, never bullied. Instead, he is a close friend of Johannes. Nella does not have a great relationship with any of them to begin with, especially when they make her keep her parakeet, Peebo, in the kitchen, away from her.

However, as time moves on, Nella finds her footing and shines, her intelligence and strength is evident to all of those around her, especially Johannes, who looks upon her with pride and equality. The book notes on the social status of the wealthy and poor, between men and women in this time period, and while Nella faces the restrictions and constrains of her society, she is never locked under key by her husband.

The book’s story really picks up when she receives a gift from her husband, a dollhouse. What is striking about it, is that it looks like her own and soon enough, she begins receiving pieces to go with the house, by the ever-elusive miniaturist. The furnishings are so incredibly life like, that is worries Nella, not only that, but that they are of all the people she knows and lives with, down to her pet and to their facial features.

Life like, but smaller in size, Nella keeps them in her dollhouse, unnerved and enchanted by their beauty, she reluctantly accepts more of the miniaturist’s gifts. She never meets her mysterious miniaturist and though she does find out her name and who her father was, in the old, rickety house she once lived in, her strange gift giver never shows after the very sad ending of Nella’s tale.  

In turn, the dolls begin to reveal hidden things to Nella, secrets that aren’t spoken of. Tales and lies that become clear to Nella as she grows into herself. She discovers her husband’s secret, why he is so distant from her. He loves her, but as a friend as she comes to see him as, holding his withered hand in the last place he is seen alive. Marin becomes a friend, somewhat to Nella, until her unfortunate end, bloody, messy and terribly sad. Cornelia opens up to Nella as does Otto before and after his disappearance, and the house that was once divided and tense, comes together, when the worst happens.

Plagued with the events that have happened in the house, Nella destroys the dollhouse. The beautiful Jack Phillips who turned out to be a villain and broken soul in his own right, the man who delivered her parcels was not only an actor, he was cruel and harsh, he lied and caused the untimely death of his once, powerful, generous lover. And as Nella watches her husband return to the sea, a block of stone on his back, she is hardened by life and death itself.

In a society that would not accept a woman’s word or a gay man’s love, she turns away and promises to do her best by the small infant Otto holds in his hands at the end of the tale.

For the Brandts are loyal and protective, if nothing else.