STAFF REVIEW OF THE TRAUMA CLEANER BY SARAH KRASNOSTEIN BY OWNER NATASHA (Text Publishing) Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner has been widely acclaimed and nominated / awarded. I missed getting around to it last year during the hype but was so glad when one of our bookclubs selected it as their June read. And it is definitely deserving of all the accolades! It is an excellent portrayal of an ordinary local person and her extraordinary life. I loved how it went beyond the simple trauma cleaning story which I had thought would just be the focus, and instead cleverly wove these stories in amongst the real story - the life of Sandra Pankhurst. As a Melbourne person, I loved the connection to local areas, but was horrified by the early family abuse and then marvelled at how many roads and careers Sandra took when she left home such as working at a funeral home, in a hardware store and even for a time as a prostitute. The honesty and candor and her helpfulness at all times was a real highlight.
All of these roads were during Sandra's own sexual identity and orientation awareness and leading her to embark on transgender surgery at a time when it was still quite new, and done at great risk to the individual and also by the doctors putting their careers on the line. It was amazing to read how Sandra was married both as a man and as a woman and the impact on those around her. The final section dealing with the issue of disconnection was important in explaining Sandra's inability to see the impact on her ex wife and kids. I definitely felt sad for her abandoned children and found it understandable that one of them had not wanted to reconnect.
Sarah's investigation into the many varied trauma cleaning jobs (hoarding, death, murder, etc) and Sandra's workers was fascinating and I liked how they were dispersed throughout without judgement by Sandra or Sarah. It makes you feel empathy for people in these situations, and a little heartbroken to think there are such neglected / pained people in our own community. And also how these kinds of situations don't discriminate and can affect learned or wealthy people, not just the poor or uneducated.
It was appreciated that Sarah admitted to the limitations of recording ALL the facts as reliant on Sandra's unreliable memory, and also how Sarah pursued interviewing other key people from Sandra's past to fill in some of these gaps. Her commitment to researching thoroughly this process indicates it become more than just a story but a deep interest in the life of Sandra and those around her. And in this way it reminded me at times of the writing of Helen Garner.
What really made this book stand out, was not only the interwoven structure and the subject matter but also the beautiful and evocative writing. And even though I loved it on audiobook which was excellently read by Rachael Tidd (complete with deep gravelly voice for Sandra just as you'd imagine it would be), I would have loved to have underlined so many beautiful phrases because they so accurately pinpointed so many wonderful moments, and vignettes from a remarkable life. Highly recommended 9/10 #SarahKrasnostein #TheTraumaCleaner #staffbookreview #staffpick #truestory #aussieauthor #aussielife #transgender #traumacleaning #books #bookreview
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan O’Dell – $32.99 paperback – OUT NOW
I read the advanced proof of this over the New Year summer break and instantly fell in love. Totally reminiscent of The Help but with enough originality to offer something fresh, this 1950s Mississippi set novel deals with the typical black / white woman relations of the South. However, the heartfelt writing and the tapestry of strongly drawn characters (and loosely based on the author’s own mother and black housemaid) is what really drives this novel’s strength. Newly married, Hazel is a wrong side of the tracks gal newly married to an ambitious car salesman and looking to change her life and be accepted amongst the genteel white society. However, after the death of one of her sons and dangerous dabbling with alcohol and driving, Hazel’s husband calls in the formidable black housemaid Vida to assist with running the household. But Vida has her own secrets and grief, not to mention a racist sheriff to contend with and an aging ex preacher father.
As the novel progresses, these seemingly different women grow closer and combine forces to help them not only with familial concerns but also important political grassroots issues driven by female workers (not just famous black men!). Dealing with friendship, racial and gender prejudice, grief and faith this insightful and visual novel transports you back to a compelling time in history, encouraging smiles and empathy with the role of women of that time. Make sure you read the afterword for some riveting insight into the real escapades of women back then.
Who Was Here by Mia Posada – $22.95 hardback – OUT NOW
Ever since my honeymoon in Africa in 2007, books about animals in the wild have strongly appealed. This picture book by Mia Posada is perfect for young inquiring minds, getting them to figure our from written clues and animal tracks, what animal was here? When you turn the page you find out all about animals from around the world.The mystery solving aspect of this book makes this so appealing for kids to investigate on their own or with a parent.
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson – $27.99 paperback – OUT NOW
Lily and Ted are strangers who meet at an airport lounge while waiting for a flight back to Boston. They end up sitting together on the plane, and an obvious chemistry exists between the two. Ted reveals that his wife is cheating on him and the two discuss what to do. A hypothetical plan is hatched, and then further solidified when the pair meet again back on home soil. Ted’s wife Miranda is definitely the kind worth killing, but will this plan ever see the light of day?
A real page-turner geared directly at those who devouredGone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. At one point early, on I thought this book was well written but a little predictable, but I was quickly proved wrong. The plot twists and twists again. Just as you start to feel you have a grasp on it, there the story goes, twisting again. At times incredibly unsettling, I, much like the characters, didn’t know who to trust, I couldn’t trust what I was reading, because the next paragraph turned everything upside down. Swanson creates real atmosphere, with locations and scenes that would not be out of place in a Hitchcock film.
If you are after a read that you wont be able to put down, giveThe Kind Worth Killing a go. You’ll actually gasp out loud in parts!
The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade by Davina Bell, ill. Alison Colpoys – $19.99 hardback – OUT NOW
The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade, written by Davina Bell with gorgeous illustrations by Alison Colpoys, is a beautiful picture book about Alfie, a young boy who hides from situations that make him get that feeling – the feeling of worry, of anxiety, of not being good or strong or brave enough, of feeling the weight of the world and unable to make that heaviness disappear. Until he visits the aquarium.
This is a book that young worriers will be engrossed in — if not for the resounding message, then for the bright and blue and innocent illustrations that capture Alfie’s struggles and emotions exceptionally well.
The Flywheel by Erin Gough – $19.95 paperback – OUT NOW
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
The Flywheel by Erin Gough is a Young Adult novel with a lot of heart. After convincing her dad to take a break for a long-overdue international holiday, Delilah is responsible for overseeing her dad’s cafe, the Flywheel, while completing year 11. A few spots of bad luck later leaves Del without a manager to run the cafe while she’s at school.
With her dad’s beloved cafe and livelihood on the line and competition increasing from the fat cat franchise coffee shop down the street, Del decides to escape the homophobic bullying at school by staying home to run the cafe instead. Accompanied by Charlie, her charming several-times-expelled friend, Del sets out to save the Flywheel, save Charlie from prison after a lovestruck escapade gone wrong, save a public library, and maybe get a date with Rosa, the beautiful Flamenco dancer from the restaurant across the road.
The Flywheel showcases fantastically diverse, relatable and real teenage characters dealing with bullying, family relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, sexuality, and the consequences of their actions and mistakes. The Flywheel is heartwarming and meaningful, and utterly charming.
Frostfire (Kanin Chronicles #1) by Amanda Hocking – $16.99 paperback – OUT NOW
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Amanda Hocking throws us back into the world of the Trylle with Frostfire, the first book in Hocking’s newest series, The Kanin Chronicles. Bryn Aven is an outcast among the Kanin, the most powerful of the troll tribes. Set apart by her heritage and her past, Bryn is a tracker who’s determined to become a respected part of her world. She has just one goal: become a member of the elite King’s Guard to protect the royalty. She’s not going to let anything stand in her way, not even a forbidden romance with her boss Ridley Dresden. But all her plans for the future are put on hold when Konstantin– a fallen hero who she once loved – appears to be up to something dangerous. Bryn is sent in to help stop him, but will she lose her heart in the process?
In a time when this genre has had a tendency, at times, to become formulaic with the strong-female-character-falls-
Spot’s Favourite Shapes by Eric Hill – $14.99 boardbook – OUT NOW
Spot is a timeless favorite that continues to excite and entertain children everywhere. The colourful illustrations and chunky tabs of this board book is sure to capture their attention and their curiosity. My 1 year old daughter loves spot and can’t get enough of this book!
The Iron Necklace by Giles Waterfield – $29.99 paperback – OUT NOW
HISTORICAL ADULT FICTION
The Iron Necklace is my first encounter with historical fiction. At the beginning I was not completely hooked, but as the book continued, I found it more and more interesting. Waterfield switches between characters offering a range of perspectives and challenges faced. He explores many themes including politics, social class, homosexuality, love, death and change. The novel focuses in on the period prior to and during WWI, whilst occasionally looking forward to the future.
Irene, an English artist and Thomas, a German architect get married prior to WWI, uniting the Benson and Curtius families. However, with the outbreak of war in Europe, relationships are tested as both families attempt to carry on with suffering on all fronts. Sophia Benson- Irene’s sister was definitely one of my favourite characters. She strived for success and self worth outside of her so called ‘societal duties’ as a woman. Studying at university and then working as a nurse on the Western Front, Sophia broke through many gender boundaries. I admired her independence and determination.
Overall, I think this book makes for a nice and easy read, especially for those who haven’t encountered historical fiction before.