January books

11. Beyond Belief – Jenna Miscavige Hill
Story – The true story of Jenna and how she was raised in the church of Scientology, and then how she ultimately drew away from the Church and left.
Thoughts – This book was crazy. I mean, it was about crazy people in a crazy organisation that I cannot believe exists and functions as it does. Jenna was raised almost completely separated from her parents, being forced to function as a miniature adult from very young childhood. Even when he parents left Jenna clung to the security of the church, but as she discovered when she began to rebel, that security came at a pretty heavy price. This book goes in depth into Scientology beliefs and practices, and it’s fascinating to try and comprehend how people really believe it.

10. Maybe Baby – Tenaya Darlington
Story – A couple (whose name I can’t remember) are shocked when their daughter announces not only that she is pregnant, but that she and her partner plan to raise the baby as genderless, with no one but them knowing the biological sex.
Thoughts – I really thought this book would be good, because I find the whole idea of the ‘genderless baby’ so fascinating. So, I was pretty disappointed with this, which was just about a completely dysfunctional family and really didn’t seem to address the issues in any way that made me think, or even want to keep reading. I finished it because I kept hoping that something interesting would happen, but it really came up with nothing.

9. Hindsight – Melanie Casey
Story – Cas Lehman has a gift. A terrifying gift whereby she experiences the moments leading up to someone’s death. After having been a recluse for many years in an effort to avoid the distressing phenomenon, Cas ventures out one day only to find herself caught up in assisting a murder investigation.
Thoughts – This wasn’t bad. It was Australian, which was a refreshing change and both Cas and Ed (the policeman) were good characters beyond the murder mystery. It’s the start of a series though, and although I’ll try any other books from it that I come across I’m not sure if the psychic angle is going to make them all too similar.

8. The Martian – Andy Weir
Story – A freak accident, and Mark Watney finds himself alone on Mars, stranded without enough food or water, and only a tiny chance of rescue.
Thoughts – I ended up liking this a lot. Mark was a great character caught in crazy circumstances – I cannot imagine the sheer isolation. There were lots of science bits in this book that I didn’t really understand, so I have no idea if a more science savvy person would find it ridiculous, but it all seemed quite plausible and made for easy suspension of disbelief.

7. Ten Thousand Truths – Susan White
Story – Rachel is a foster child, moved from home to home since the death of her mother and brother in a car accident. At thirteen Rachel is sent to a last resort home, a house kept by a woman named Amelia who has her own problems but still manages to be just what Rachel needs.
Thoughts – This was a nice book. That’s really about all that can be said about it – it was a nice book with nice characters. I liked the premise, but I found the actual execution of it to be a little boring. There just wasn’t enough emotion or action in it. Basically Rachel moved to the island and everything just got gradually better.

6. Stillwater Rising – Steena Holmes
Story – Stillwater Bay is a town still reeling after a deadly school shooting incident. Jenn is a mother who has lost her son, Charlotte is the mayor of the town and married to the school principal, and Julia is also a mother to a dead boy, but her boy was the one who carried the gun.
Thoughts – I was disappointed in this one. School shootings are such an emotive topic, and I really thought that the different perspectives of the women would make for an emotional, gripping read. But it didn’t. It was, quite frankly, pretty boring and I didn’t particularly feel for any of the women involved. Not to mention that I discovered at the end of the book that it was the first one in a series, so the boredom is going to be spread out over more books.

5. Warm Bodies – Isaac Marion
Story – R is a zombie. He spends most of his time hanging out at an airport with his fellow undead, occasionally going in to town in search of some food. It’s on one of these journeys that R finds Julie and, for whatever reason, brings her back to his aeroplane home. Now he has to find a way to keep her alive, even as he eats the brains and memories of her boyfriend Perry.
Thoughts – I don’t know what’s with all the zombies. I would not have thought it was a genre I would get in to, but here I am with at least a bit of interest in it. I really liked the start of this one, R was a great character and the zombie point of view was interesting, but by the end of it I was a little less enamoured. I found the ending just too vague and airy fairy, but overall it was still an okay book.

4. Maternity Leave – Julie Halpern
Story – Annie is a middle school teacher who just had a baby, Sam. This is the story of her maternity leave, from the day she gave birth until the day she has to leave him at daycare and return to work.
Thoughts– This was pretty good. Annie had a really clear voice and it very accurately described the insane way a first baby takes over your life. Brought back some memories! I found the supporting cast of friends really one-dimensional, and I couldn’t believe how much money she spent on takeaway and television shopping. Which doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, but it made me twitchy!

3. It’s Nice Outside – Jim Kokoris
Story – A dysfunctional family on a roadtrip – what could be better? The story begins with Jim taking his nineteen year old son Ethan on a roadtrip to go to his oldest daughter’s wedding, and things just get more complicated from there.
Thoughts – I liked this book. I liked Jim, and the portrayal of Ethan, an autistic adult with a genetic disorder. The other characters were good, and I really felt for the tough decisions that the family faced and loved the way the story explored that.

2. Golden Boys – Sonya Hartnett
Story – The new family in the suburb seems perfect. Friendly and welcoming to the neighbourhood kids, the house seems like the perfect playground. But a seam of darkness runs underneath the golden summer.
Thoughts – I love the way Sonya Harnett writes. “Disquieting” was a word used on a review, and that really sums it up. She is wonderfully capable of creating an atmosphere of crawling dread, where you know the bad thing is coming and you wish it wasn’t but there’s no way to avoid that. Having said that, I didn’t really get much out of the plot of this book. It was depressing, and in the end I found it unsatisfying.

1. The Way we Were – Sinead Moriarty
Story – Ben and Alice are both doctors, married and living a comfortable life with their two daughters. But Ben was restless, and unexpectedly takes a temporary job in Eritrea. While he was there he was caught up in a landmine explosion and killed. Alice and her two daughters endure the unimaginable grief off his loss and the excruciating climb to put their lives back together, only to have Ben turn up alive three years later…
Thoughts – I thought the plot of this one was interesting, but it just didn’t work in execution. I think it’s the writing style – I’ve read some of this author’s work before and it just doesn’t resonate with me. I didn’t get emotionally involved. In fact Alice was just dreary (okay, her husband was dead, but still), and her daughter Jools was a brat – who lets their kid talk like that to their little sister? Although I do have to say that I found the relationship between Ben and Declan (who was with him in Eritrea) to be a compelling part of the book, and that was done well. Not a great start to my reading year though!