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
The Midnight Watch by David Dyer $32.99rrp
ADULT DEBUT FICTION
This Aussie debut from Sydney author David Dyer will appeal to those who are fascinated with historical stories, and especially Titanic lore. The premise of the novel is not so much what happened aboard the fated great ship, but more the why the nearby SS Californian failed to offer assistance when they knew the luxury liner was in trouble, as well as the reactions and investigations on land in New York and Boston directly afterwards. Chapters deftly switch narrative focus from John Steadman; a journalist obsessed with telling the stories of the dead and keen to find out the truth behind the shipping disaster as well as illuminating the public’s reactions at the time in a time when news at that time came slowly through telegrams and morse code correspondence. The other narratives exposes several crew members of the SS Californian, namely the midnight watchman Herbert Stone, who collude to cover up their inactions each for their own reasons. By taking us straight to the scene of the crime as it were, we see from close up the almost tragic circumstances and selfish attitudes of the SS Californian Captain and sailors like Herbert Stone whose deceitful, bullying and self serving behaviour creates so much grief and suffering.
The fascinating aspect of this story is you know the result; 1500 perished in the North Atlantic as the great ship sank, and more alarmingly how many more could have been saved. But it as the story evolves that you really admire the craftmanship of Dyer who has framed this incident more as a literary thriller where we know the WHAT but not the WHY (like Adiga’s The White Tiger), and thus successfully drawing readers into the tension of the whole scenario and be compelled to see the mystery to its end and cheer for Steadman’s attempts to expose the truth. Based on truth but with its own creative license, this is a clever, evocative and suspenseful book to read and enjoy about one of the great tragedies of seafaring history in the 20th century.
The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas Home $32.99rrp
(book 2 – Woman who walked into the sea is out in March)
Being an avid crime reader it is always satisfying to read a thriller that has a different sort of protagonist, in this case Cal McGill, a Scottish oceanographer. When body parts are washed ashore he tries to work out from the tides its origins and the motivation for such a horrendous killing. His life becomes under threat as he gets drawn into a world of secrets, danger, violence and the realisation that the origin of India has forced impoverished families to sell their children for a better life but unfortunately they are sold into sex syndicates and often lead to murder.
What I loved most was how difficult this case was to solve because of the lack of immediate clues, the global nature of the crime and the whole case being solved by an environmental investigator who has his own personal motivations for solving difficult crimes at sea. This crime writing is much more literary than the standard formulaic offerings and much more directed towards a thinking crime reading audience who like intricate and clever details. The revelations at the end were realistic and a nice added twist. This January release was the first book in this series by Scottish writer Mark Douglas-Home and the second book “The Woman who walked into the Sea” is out in March.
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes $32.99rrp
I have got to say that I was first drawn to The Noise of Time because it was by far the coolest looking book that I pulled out of the box that day. A great, eye-catching cover and a nifty little hardback, then I opened the cover to read the blurb; ‘…1937… Leningrad…man waits for a lift…collision of art and power… true master’. Mr Barnes, you had me at Leningrad.
Real life Soviet composer, Shostakovich is our narrator during three of the most defining points of his life, firstly in 1937, after his opera is denounced by Stalin, then in 1948, after representing the USSR in the USA, and finally in 1960, dealing with his legacy. Shostakovich and his music are controlled by politics, by the people in charge. Not art for art sake, it must be for the masses. Liked by all. The Noise of Time is presented as historical literary fiction, and it works in that genre. But I think it offers more than that. I go back to the blurb ‘…collision of art and power…’ . Barnes presents a creatively told history, that questions how art and power work, together and against each other.
I have never read Julian Barnes before. I know, I know. Shame on me. I see now what I have been missing. The Noise of Time is concise in its use of phrase. Not a word is wasted, no excess. The story is tight, controlled in a way that almost mirrors the story. Direct, useful and no nonsense on the one hand and in other places our narrator is allowed to consider himself, his fears and his loves. You find yourself reading in a constant state of fearful anticipation. You expect the worst, but you don’t know exactly what is coming, or when. This atmosphere places you right beside Shostakovich. He lived his whole life in this state, on edge, fearful, suspicious. That was life in Soviet Russia. While being full of well researched historical fact, putting you on edge and posing questions about art and life, The Noise of Time remains an easily accessible, making you think without breaking your brain.
The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis $19.99rrp
Will Kostakis, the winner of the 2014 Gold Inky Award for The First Third, returns this year with The Sidekicks, a tale of three different boys — Ryan, the Swimmer; Harley, the Rebel; and Miles, the Nerd — whose mutual friend Isaac suddenly dies, and the ramifications Isaac’s death has on each of them at school, at home, and on who they were when he was there and who they then become without him. Where The First Third was about the loss of a grandmother who held a cultural family together, The Sidekicks is about the loss of a best friend who firmly held others’ secrets guarded, a friend who was trusted and respected.
Upon reading The Sidekicks, I expected the book to be told through alternating chapters, as is usually done in YA with more than one POV; however, to my pleasure, the book is in fact three novellas that wonderfully overlap to give the reader a stronger insight into the personal and individualistic inner workings of Ryan, Harley, and Miles over the course of an extensive timeline, and the over-arching development of no longer being separate sidekicks to Isaac but becoming a group of friends to continue their friend’s legacy. It is a touching novel about mateship and strength in times of struggle and the bonds they will not be forgotten.
Glass Sword (Book 2 in the Red Queen series) by Victoria Aveyard Hachette $19.99rrp
Glass Sword is very fast-paced and picks up right where Red Queen ended, with Mare and Cal running for their lives from Maven’s clutches. Mare Barrow is one of the common folk – her blood is Red. And yet, her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, makes her a very valuable asset that the crown wants to control. This story is full of twists, betrayal, revenge and heartache. Couple this with Aveyard’s ability to cause both terrible and wonderful things to happen to the main characters and you have quite the emotional rollercoaster read on your hands.
One of my favourite things about this book is the moral ambiguity of many of the main characters. No one in this book is purely good or evil, all of them have varying degrees of both. Mare, for example, is quite a flawed heroine. She loves her people fiercely, and will do anything to help them live a better life – even if it means betraying her friends. She can be heroic and wise, but also cunning, ruthless and cruel. Everyone betrays everyone in this world, and this is the perfect recipe for some very messy, yet entertaining and intriguing, relationships. Glass Sword has proven to be a strong sequel to a series that I initially found just a little disappointing.
Countdown to Danger: Bullet train Disaster– Jack Heath $12.99rrp
This book allows you to choose the path, not only do you get to decide the ending but you also get decided who you are as a character (both name and gender), as well as the events that lead to surviving the bullet train disaster. The journey and story questions your morality, and makes you decide between what is right and what can help you survive. The disaster within the book is the derailing of the new bullet train, were you (a winner of a contest) and your best friend are one of the first people to try it out. If surviving this disaster isn’t tricky enough; more and more troubles come your way as you navigate through this story.
There are an unlimited amount of deaths for you and your character to discover, but only ten ways for you to survive. It takes intelligence and courage to navigate throughout the book, making the big decisions between helping out a complete stranger or allowing them to become completely irrelevant to your story.
Thankfully there is absolutely no need to bookmark which page you deterred from, this is because if you come to a gruesome death the book leads you back to the page where you can reverse your initial decision that lead to your end: almost like a rewind button.
This book is absolutely fantastic, it becomes difficult and exciting as you attempt to survive all the dangerous adventures that are thrown your way. A way to describe this book is a book for children who don’t like reading; not only does this unconventional style allows them to make their own decisions in how the book ends but also it is so full of adventure and danger that it is almost impossible to put down.
Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters – Alisa Wild $12.99rrp
Squishy Taylor is a new children’s series by Alisa Wild that is set to release four great titles over the next few months. The Bonus Sisters focuses on the challenges Squishy faces when living with her new family after her parents divorce. At first, Squishy doesn’t get along with her stepsisters, but eventually they bond over a secret. This book is filled with many interesting and funny characters, that only add to the great storyline, and a few black adn white illustrations to break up the text from Ben Wood. Addressing issues regarding change, and growing up, plus with a Fijian lead narrator, Squishy Taylor: Bonus Sisters is a great read for younger children.