Can You Tolerate This?: Essays by Ashleigh Young

tolerateIt is a long time since I read a book of essays, reading this made me realise that I have been missing out and that I should do far more reading of shorter forms of writing. Ashleigh Young writes the most beautiful sentences, they are deceptively simple. She draws you in and had me reading story after story, although they aren’t really stories they are musings and wonderings and reflections. She examines her family and her past. Musings on her childhood anxieties and siblings are so personal and thoughtful that I became very invested in her life, I think because there was a lot of familiarity there. I recognised places but also the feelings she has as life in her household is described.

My favourite though was her musing on yoga. Her descriptions of the feelings of examining the feelings of the stretches and the introspection that yoga brings. Bikram yoga is extreme, I think. The idea of choosing to exercise in unbelievable heat is something I just couldn’t contemplate yet to have Ashleigh Young describe it and almost meditate upon it, makes it close to appealing.

I’ve been trying to describe this book to friends and I have difficulty putting my finger on what exactly it is about it that I loved so much. I think it is connection. I was right in there with her throughout all the situations she describes. I was cheering her on in times of insecurity as she worried about her hairy arms and while her family was being terrified flying over my hometown in a storm. I adored the story of her mum learning to glide with it’s really terrible ending.

This is a treasure of a book. Ashleigh Young I’ll read all your books in the future.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishers for giving me access to this book.


Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

ghostThe beginning of this book is so thoroughly creepy I was hooked from the first lines. A young girl tied to a stake about to be burned to death, everyone is watching and nobody is helping her. The tone changes immediately and you realise that you have been reading the ending and now you spend your time wondering how those horrific scenes will come about. Creeping menace, lots and lots of it, abound in this book!

Sil’s family are spending the summer in an experimental archeology exercise in Northumberland close to the moors and near to the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. They are living life as it was in the bronze age. Wearing tunics, living in a primitive tent together, cooking over a fire and foraging for everything they eat. It is not fun at all. Sil’s dad is a domineering, bully of a man. Her mum is meek and mouselike. She is beaten and submissive to her husband. Sil has become used to doing exactly what her dad requires because it is easier and she is less likely to end up with bruises. The way that Sarah Moss has written him is so good, you really feel his simmering anger! Along with Sil and her family, there are 3 university students and their professor who are living the ancient lifestyle with them as part of their studies. One of the students is a young woman who becomes close to Sil and who, partly inadvertently, leads Sil astray and into danger.

This is a small book with a great big story. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a book which would appeal to reluctant readers due to the instant entry into the action and the easy vocabulary. It is very well written and I’m going to be buying copies for school. I would recommend it for junior high school age students. Although it is set in Britain near the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall I think that young people anywhere would relate to it.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this book.

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

ladderOne of the things I think John Boyne gifts to the world with his books is that they are all so different in storyline, but one of the themes that holds the books together is injustice. The victims of the protagonist in this novel, the odious Maurice Swift are treated so unjustly that it is heartbreaking.

Maurice is without moral fibre, you could call him a cold fish, he has no concept that furthering his own life, feathering his next with the ill gotten gains of others is a bad thing. His attitude is one of self serving, graspyness. Maurice is a talentless writer, that is a problem, he has no ideas for stories and therefore must steal them from those he meets, beginning as a young man and carrying on until middle age. He is completely ruthless and leaves the bodies of those who get in the way behind him. Maurice desperately wants a son and when he gets one he is heartless towards him, this seems to be the thing with Maurice, he wants so badly but it is never enough when he gets what he wants.

The structure of this novel is interesting. It is told in part by Maurice’s poor wife, a woman so talented but having to deal with his petty jealousies, his social ineptitudes and the dreadful way he treats her and those people who are admiring of her. Maurice just cannot bear to be out of the limelight. He was shortlisted for The Prize, which we assume is code for the Man Booker, and that was his peak, but even this story is stolen because he is completely without original thought, other than finding crafty ways to steal stories from others. We travel the world with Maurice to Berlin, New York, the Amalfi Coast, various locations in England. Some of the scenes are written so well, I was blown away. The scenes on The Amalfi at Gore Videl’s house were just perfect.

It is hard to read characters so unlikeable yet at the same time you want them to fail, but Maurice is just so dastardly I was completely caught up waiting for his game to be up. The way he does eventually get his comeuppance, as indeed he must, is so well done I was blown away with the cleverness of it.

This is a big sprawley wonderful book, I wait anxiously for a John Boyne to come along and this was in no way disappointing.

Thanks so much to the publisher and to Netgalley for giving me access.

I Had Such Friends by Meg Gatland-Veness

friendsThis one is right up there for me. It is the kind of voice I love and I’d personally call this a cross-over novel, one that works for adults and YA. It is set in a small Australian town where people play footy, surf and the culture of bloke is at it’s peak. It is tough to stand out in this place. You fit or you don’t. If you don’t you’ll be picked on and persecuted and made to pay. Hamish is a poor, skinny kid who has nothing cool about him. The story takes place over Hamish’s last year of high school. His only friend, Martin, whom he really doesn’t like but you’ve got to talk to someone, is even more hideously uncool. Hamish has been stuck with him by default even though he can’t stand him.

At the start we are told that Charlie one of the schools most popular guys has been killed in a car crash which also involved the utterly gorgeous Annie, the school sweetheart, most beautiful creature who ever walked the earth. Annie has survived and emerged sad and lonely. Hamish has worshiped her from afar but always known that he has no chance with her. She and Charlie are the school elite, but now Charlie is dead and everything is different. Change is on the way, one day Peter the school bad kid, gives Hamish a ride home from school and everything starts to happen. Peter and Hamish become the kind of friends who don’t talk about anything but spend time together and gradually gradually they begin to build a relationship. At the same time Hamish and Annie are becoming girlfriend and boyfriend and Hamish has gone from untouchable to being in demand. But all is not what it seems.

This book is about relationships, attitudes, sexual tension and racism. You have so much in here! I loved Peter, I loved him so much more than Hamish and what happens to him is horrific. I loved so much about this book but I admit that it isn’t perfect. There are some problems with the writing in places. And I really had a problem with Annie, she seems to be almost unnecessary to the story other than a bit player. I loved the relationship with Hamish and his parents and could totally see that playing out. I thought the sex was really well written too. There are problems but overall I thoroughly loved the story and the way that the scenes felt so realistic. I loved Hamish struggling to keep up with Peter at the beach with the way he pondered lying to his parents.

I’d love to see this book in lots of small town libraries, it is shocking and I think quite realistic in the way the casual homophobia is visited upon teenagers. It is certainly not a hopeful book. The actions of the teenagers and their rage against Peter and Hamish is horrific to read. It makes you understand why country Australians race to the big cities to reinvent themselves as gay people. I know this happens in every country! I read this at the time that I watched Hannah Gadsby and her Nannette show and possibly that is why is resonated so strongly with me.

I’m going to be buying and recommending this book. Possibly with a tighter review than this, as I’ve got a bit statementy here!

If you are a fan of Jasper Jones and books by Scot Gardner then this book is going to work for you.

Thanks to Netgalley for access to this book.

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

anchorHave you ever seen a more beautiful cover on a book? (It is far more beautiful in person than it looks in the image on here.) The cover is what attracted me to this in the first place, but it is a tale of medieval times and I really like reading about that period of history. I’m so pleased I picked it up. Inside that lush cover is a story of sacrifice. Sarah, a young girl reeling from the grief of her sister’s death and the lascivious advances of the son of the local Lord, decides to become The Anchoress and devote her life to God. The Anchoress lives in a tiny room attached to the church, nobody can see her and her meals, such as they are, are passed through a tiny window to her by her serving maid. She is completely alone in her tiny stone hewn room. Her only contact with the outside is with the visiting priest who is responsible for her and her servants and the occasional visit from a woman or child from the village.

Sarah spends her time praying and doing devotions, her life is quiet and serene but even within the confines of her tiny space there is much to think about and ponder. Sarah has removed herself from the world, yet worldly concerns encroach upon the space. Concerns she discusses with her priest, Father Ranaulf, a serious man who is employed at the priory to write manuscripts. His conversations with Sarah worry him, her concerns for things beyond her walls bother him, he is not a worldly man and he finds her confessions troublesome.

Sarah is tormented by Thomas, who inherits the Manor, he cannot let her go and he instructs Father Ranaulf to make a manuscript on the life of St Margaret. This becomes the rubbing point for her life, her fascination with the life of Margaret, she meditates upon her life and finds so many things disturbing prompting her to have thoughts which challenge her ideas of purity and provoking more questions to the uncomfortable Father Ranaulf.

The book has a meditative feel. As Sarah thinks and prays and gradually comes to terms with her existence, she becomes braver and more able to defend her views while at the same time being so very vulnerable to the whim of the Lord of the Manor. Life progresses very slowly and the outside world intrudes into her world in many ways. This is beautifully written and so beautifully drawn. It is a lovely book.(less)


Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif

redbirdsThis book, with it’s flashes of brilliance and thorough weirdness is hard for me to rate. It is the kind of book that Booker judges love. Clever, ridiculously funny in parts while it’s utter grimness makes it not amusing in the slightest. There is no doubt that the author is a master of metaphor and the writing is engaging, particularly in the beginning and end but I found myself having to re-read parts to figure out whose voice I was reading.

Ellie is a pilot whose plane has come down in the desert while he is on a bombing run. He is starving, dying of thirst and reflecting on his relationship with Cath his wife while he slowly runs out of life. Mutt is a dog, fed up with the treatment he receives, he has headed out into the desert to die and comes across Ellie much to his annoyance. Next up is Momo, a teenage boy who arrives to collect Mutt and who is convinced that Ellie is stealing his dog. Ellie eventually convinces Momo to give him a ride to his village which turns out to the be the refugee camp that he was supposed to be bombing in the first place. So far so funny! But it is the kind of funny which is tinged with tragedy, threat and sorrow. The characters you meet will each have so many sadnesses as they deal with the realities of life under threat by the very armed force that supposedly keeps them safe. It is lies upon lies and weirdness galore.

I loved the final chapters of this book but the middle section was like a metaphysical journey where I was never quite sure what I was reading. I guess that was intentional, this book takes you on a journey into a world seldom seen, these people are forgotten in so many ways.

I didn’t love this book but I think it is clever and interesting and I’m glad I chose it. It is a reminder that war is much bigger than the battle at the frontline.

Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for giving me access to this book.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

jupiterThis is an absolute gem of a book. I loved the characters from page 1, I shed tears at the terrible things that had happened to Joseph in his young life, I desperately wanted things to be ok for him. This tiny and completely perfectly formed novel is one I meant to read ages ago but didn’t quite get to, I’m so pleased I’ve read it now. It is the story of Joseph who has been removed from his abusive father, sent to prison due to something terrible that he did to a teacher because a kid gave him drugs and he went crazy. He loved a girl and fathered a child and now he is being fostered by the kindest family you could ever meet. But Joseph is so damaged it seems like he might never thaw from the angry, het up, damaged young man he has become. His foster brother desperately wants to melt him and over time you see the relationship between the two boys develop over a shared love of cows and the trials of going to school in the most miserable climate you can imagine.

Gary D. Schmidt does place so well, you feel so much for these people living in this miserable cold, you feel the skin on their fingers freezing and their breath turning to ice crystals. You feel the warmth of the animals and your emotions are tugged and pulled at the beautiful sparse writing. Crikey this is good!

If you are a high school librarian and you haven’t read this and don’t have it in your collection you are missing a gem. Buy 3 copies and share this with your reluctant readers, your country kids and your teachers.

And look!  Molly made a book trailer for it.