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april + may reading

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Grace is a Victorian orphan dreaming of the mysterious African father she will never meet. Winsome is a young Windrush bride, recently arrived from Barbados. Amma is the fierce queen of her 1980s squatters’ palace. Morgan, who used to be Megan, is blowing up on social media, the newest activist-influencer on the block.

Twelve very different people, mostly black and female, more than a hundred years of change, and one sweeping, vibrant, glorious portrait of contemporary Britain. Bernardine Evaristo presents a gloriously new kind of history for this old country: ever-dynamic, ever-expanding and utterly irresistible.

Absolutely one of the best books I have ever read. The style of the writing is like reading a really long poem, but I think it only adds to the story and the way you read it (perhaps it helps that I love poetry). Each character is so complex and fascinating, and they are all connected in different ways (you can google Girl, Woman, Other character map if you get lost like I did). It gives an expansive history of the Black British experience, the insight into the characters’ lives and emotions, the structure of the story, the connectedness of the human experience even over 100 years; it is beautiful, touching, and truly one of the best books I have ever come across.

Come by Rita Therese

Two selves intertwine and it leaves you, in the dance room, making a decision that winged liner is just for work. Because you don’t know which self you are looking at right now, which person you are. The song stops and you break out of your trance and ask if he’d like to extend…

Rita is an escort, one of the best in Australia. It all began on a whim at 18, after she rang the number on a sign looking for nude models. Always the outsider, she quickly learns the sex industry is comprised of many other people just like her and she becomes immersed in this world: the drugs, the late nights, the glamour, being an outcast, the attention and validation from men. Mostly she thrives on how taboo her life has become. Following significant personal tragedy and trauma, the line between Rita’s sex worker persona Gia and her real self begins to blur in a seemingly endless loop of grief, work, sex, love and heartbreak.

In this achingly honest memoir, Rita learns that death and trauma do not always bring grand transformative experiences. Sometimes, in order to go forward, we have to write our own stories and choose to keep living. With its unflinching, compelling and darkly funny narrative, Come announces a fearless new talent in Australian writing.

!!!!!!. I always want to be careful in a review of an author’s first novel, because I’d prefer to be given the same courtesy when it’s my time. The world doesn’t work like that anyway, and with this, it doesn’t matter. I loved it. My only issue was the jumping around of the timeline, but Rita addressed this & said it was the main point of contention with readers. I think it’s enough to move past, though, because she jumps about with reason as her story is broken down into parts (sex, love, death). I shed angry tears multiple times throughout, annoyed at the way people demonise sex work only on behalf of the sex worker, never toward the ones who use it. At the sheer audacity and entitlement from some of the men she encountered, and the way life tried to pull down someone with so much vigour and intelligence; purely because she is a sex worker.

She wrote so eloquently about grief and PTSD. And then there was hope, for her as a human, for the future, for even the option to read such a tell-all about her life; and there was even a bit of sensual fun. I highly recommend this book to everyone. 

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

This was, at times, really hard to get through. In saying that, it was also hard to put down. I can’t quite say that I enjoyed it, per se, but it was fascinating and gruelling. Some of the scenes throughout the book can be quite triggering; some genuinely made me feel ill, some made me angry cry, and others made me feel an annoyance that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps at the audacity of an old white male, taking advantage of a young woman? Probably. I think you need to go into this book knowing that it touches on some really heavy issues, particularly as the main character (Vanessa) has been manipulated and coerced by this man, that she even doesn’t see anything wrong with the situation when she is an adult (also, obviously, shining light on the trauma that can work it’s way into you and stay with you for a long time).

Mia Culpa by Mia Freedman

Sometimes, when I meet someone new and I tell them I’m a writer, they ask  ‘What do you write about?’ Tricky question. It’s a lot like asking a woman who’s just come home from a girls’ dinner ‘What did you talk about?’  The short answer? 
Everything!
When Mia Freedman talks, people listen. Perhaps not her husband. Or her children. But other people. Women. Mia has a knack for putting into words the dilemmas, delights and dramas of women everywhere. The new rules for dating in the internet-romance age? Yep, tricky stuff. Things are not what they used to be. And sex talk at the dinner table? Appropriate or not? Perhaps not, unless in an educational capacity and even then some things are best left unsaid . . .
With intrepid curiosity and a delicious sense of humour, Mia navigates her way through the topics – great and small – of modern life.

I don’t know how I felt about this? Like, I’m not sure it’s something I would generally recommend to people, but there were definitely some good points throughout it. Some parts made me laugh and nod in agreement, others haven’t aged quite well and it’s only nine years old. It’s a light read, but also reads more like a bunch of articles put together to make a book, rather than a cohesive book in itself. I picked it up at the Lifeline Book Fair, and probably will drop it off there again next year… 

 

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do the work

It is not enough to be nonracist, we must be anti-racist. — Angela Davis

Every time you feel uncomfortable, question it. Dig deep into it. Delve into your feelings. Every time you want to step back because you feel like it’s not your problem, push yourself further into it. And do not make it about you. Ask yourself why you feel personally victimised in a situation that is not to do with you? In a time we need to be doing our part in action and change.

Check in. Donate, and do the active work behind the scenes even when this all calms down… Because this will happen again. And we cannot continue to act shocked any time something like this happens, when it is a reality for BIPOC every. single. day. It’s not enough to just share a post on Instagram to let everyone know that you also find it appalling. It’s not enough to say ‘we’re all in this together’… and then not do anything.

Accept that you will never reach a full level of understanding; it is constant work, all the time, and it is having to accept that you will get things wrong – but you must be willing to learn. Talk to your friends (particularly your white ones), your family, challenge them and yourself. Call people out.

DON’T go to BIPOC to educate you. Do not go to them to ask questions and for resources for your education; google, research, ask your anti-racist white friends. Read articles, watch videos and listen to podcasts about white supremacy and racial injustice. Send the BIPOC people on social media cash for what they’re doing to educate you!!! And keep educating yourself!

If you are neutral in times of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. – Desmond Tutu

DONATE

Directly to Black Lives Matter
The Bail Project
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Australian Indigenous Causes:
Healing Foundation
Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation

READ

Lauren Lately has a great blog post recently on doing the work to become anti-racist with many different resources to get yourself involved in doing the work. A few of our article and book recommendations double up, but I have found her list comprehensive and useful & will be educating myself with the ones I haven’t yet used.

Choose from any of the books/articles listed in this article; books on anti-racism

They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, And A New Era In America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery

Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Australia Day by Stan Grant

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Becoming Kirrali Lewis by Jane Harrison

Because a White Man’ll Never Do It by Kevin Gilbert

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

List of 10 Important Books on Indigenous Cultures, Histories and Politics

75 things white people can do for racial justice by Corinne Shutack

It’s time to put an end to the gaslighting that occurs every day in Australia by Joshua Waters

Deaths Inside: Indigenous Australian deaths in custody by The Guardian

The 147 dead: terrible toll of Indigenous deaths in custody spurs calls for reform

WATCH

Rabbit Proof Fence

The Hate U Give

13th (Documentary)

When They See Us

The Watson’s Go to Birmingham

Freedom Riders

Malcolm X

Walkabout


This is only the beginning. These resources only just begin to scrape the surface of unlearning bias, of changing the way we think, and of enacting change. Take the time to research and educate yourself, and share your findings with the people around you. Be better. And don’t stop learning.

 

 

 

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afraid to fail

Are you not acting on what you want because you’re afraid to fail?

For a long time, I have been pulling myself back from growing and succeeding because I am terribly afraid to fail. A voice in my head saying I won’t deliver to other peoples’ expectations, so I wouldn’t even try at all. The times I would work on extensive & exciting projects – I would put my all into it, until one day, I would stop.

I would block myself from getting any further, and generally I’d cocoon into my bed and hide from the world. It would be so close to finished, but I avoid it until I either forget about it, or eventually pick it up and work slowly at it until completion… Then, it’s a different story whether I actually put it out into the world.

Some people call it imposter syndrome, others say it’s a lack mentality or not enough self-belief, which is what I have always found so confusing. I don’t think of myself to lack self-belief, because I truly believe in my message and my ability to be successful. Perhaps I hinder myself without even realising, and there is underlying issues that have yet to surface. Who knows? All I know is that I stop myself from moving forward, often involuntarily.

I studied Meditation Teaching for over 18 months, but I still worried that I wasn’t good enough, that people wouldn’t come to me because I’m not overtly spiritual all the time, or I would compare myself to the multitude of coaches and people already in the field… the influx of people on Instagram who provide services similar to mine. I shied away from sharing my genuine expertise because I was afraid.

I have been writing for much of my life, even went so far as to study it at University, and I still didn’t know if my voice was worth hearing. I know my stories are good, I trust in my imagination. I even trust in my writing… But again, there are so many writers out there, there are so many books people would prefer to read, and the voice would slowly fill my head… what were my stories worth?

It seeped into my art, to my jewellery, to all of my making & creating… So many lost art projects, so many ideas floated into nether. You can’t fail if you don’t try, right? The self-doubt bled into the podcasting, putting off speaking into the microphone because yet again – why would people care about what I have to say? And every day, it got easier to ignore it. Every day, it got easier to pretend like I didn’t care.

I told myself it was just so much easier to not even try.

Curled up in my doona, escaping through endless books or shows, hiding from the potential of what I could be. I never considered myself afraid to fail, but wading through the half-finished projects sitting beside my half-drunk mugs of tea, I came to accept that perhaps I was limiting myself. I was hiding and pretending not to care, because it felt easier than allowing people to understand how completely in love I am with what I can do. My default mode – false apathy – would switch on the minute I felt that I was starting to invest in myself.

Perhaps throwing out into the world that I don’t want to sit back anymore, will aid me in changing. Into filling my own cup back up and fighting back with the voice that says I’m not good enough; with a louder one, that says I am, and so much more.

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romanticised ideas

There is a romanticised idea of what writing a book is like; of what being a writer is. Early mornings basked by bitter air and fresh sunlight, your hands moving fast between pencilling an idea down & moving across the keyboard, ideas falling out gracefully. Half-empty mugs of tea, week getaways in isolated places to focus. Listening only to the birdsong.

But it’s disjointed. Messy. Cloaked in self-doubt and often dislike towards your own writing, your own ideas. It’s going in circles, days worth of shit writing that you know you will discard at the end, but going ahead with it because you need some sort of idea to flow. It’s a loneliness, sometimes only living within your head to get the idea into paper. Not knowing whether this story will actually get shared with the world, or move aside with your other tattered manuscripts.

It’s when you’re on the brink of sleep and the perfect prose floats through your head; the inner battle of deciding to write it down or convincing yourself you will remember it in the morning. You never remember it in the morning.

Outsiders’ perspectives that get thrown at you, oh what a blissful life being a writer must be, all the way to I could write a book if I sat down and focused. You are not worth celebrating until you have the words in other peoples’ hands; until your story is praised by other people. Otherwise, what are you doing? Are you wasting your life for only a dream?

Not shown is how terribly hard it is, the discipline, the tearful nights, the awful sleeping patterns, the ideas coming at the most inopportune times. The hard work, the redrafts, the chapters completely disregarded. The utter determination it is to finish, to share, to be rejected (over and over); all it takes is wafting through the many no’s, to the one yes. Because all you need is one yes. It doesn’t end when it’s written, because then you wait until it lands in others’ hands, to hear the criticism and the praise, to know that your story is no longer just your own.

Most of all it is being compelled to tell a story; whether that’s folklore or your very own, a magic world or retelling the lives of others. That there is a pull toward the pen and the paper — with simply nothing else to do but write what is floating around inside your head. The words you write have a purpose. Your story is meant to be read.

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at an arm’s length

It’s funny that every year, you forget what it feels like. The second Sunday of May is ingrained in my head as Mother’s Day. It’s something most of us remember from when we were young and made cards with shitty glitter and flimsy cardboard in school; but those were the cards our mum’s would treasure. So, of course I always know the day is coming.

And every year, I wake up like any normal Sunday and I start to scroll through social media. Every second post and almost every single story is about mum’s. And rightly so. But you forget, every year, the pang you feel. That each year, these people get to celebrate their mum, get an updated photo to share, and get to tell them just how much they love them.

The thing is, over the years it feels like you should feel used to it. Knowing full well that you no longer get to make new memories with your mum, or do little things for her to remind her you love her. You grow older and know this day is hard for many people, from the ones who have lost their mum’s like you, or those who have strained or absent relationships with their own. So you remind yourself you’re not alone, but there’s still pain when all you have is a memory.

It’s the last drop of a discontinued perfume that I’ll never use. I don’t want to lose it. I soak in the smell when I need the comfort of her. It’s the closest thing to remembering what she smelt like. It’s a bottle I know I will keep with me forever and I’m terrified of the day it’s gone. Whether I drop it and it smashes, the smell wafting into the air and escaping. If I have a partner who good-naturedly thinks he’s throwing an old perfume bottle away, and you can’t get mad at him because he was trying to be nice; likely not understanding that that’s one of the few things you have left of her. Because you can have old clothes, photos & memories, but it’s the smell that’s distinct because that’s one of the senses that goes first when losing someone. Maybe one day it will just get lost within moving boxes, or it will simply be misplaced and lost forever.

And these are all hypothetical, but ones that wander through my head often, because I no longer get to make new memories with her. They are stuck where they were then, and even seven years on, it’s hard to know that there won’t be anymore. So I hold on to the ones I have; the clothes, the cards, the messages. The same photos because there will never be anymore; creating art out of those photos in a bid to relive and recreate the same memories we hold on to. The moments I think I hear her laugh in someone else, the nights she visits in my dreams.

She visits my dreams often, but she is always at an arm’s length. My subconscious reminds me, every time, that she’s no longer here so the dream is not real. Not allowing me to immerse in the feeling because I am trying to protect myself from being hurt when I wake up and remember. Time flows freely and suddenly you’re years down the track, but she is still and always will be as young as she was the day she grew her wings. Always a distant but distinct memory. Always at an arm’s length.

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a haze

It’s the trickle of the warm tea down your throat. One you used to love so much, but you’ve lost the taste for it. But you still drink it, out of habit. You wandered so far into the forest of your own comfort, you lost the path to get out along the way.

It’s not that the words have been sucked dry. It’s that you run out of ways to craft the same sentiment. That living is exhausting and dying is fascinating and terrifying. That being in limbo, floating in the in-between, is somehow easier because it doesn’t require much effort either way.

You wake up every day, because you’re supposed to. The motions are always the same. Suddenly you’re washing your face in front of the mirror and you can’t even remember the steps it took to get you there. But you still do it, out of habit. You’re not sure you even recognise the reflection looking back at you.

The kettle is boiling, you look down and you’ve already heaped sugar in your mug. You leave it in there, even though you don’t really like having sugar in your tea anymore. Another old habit, dying hard.

The day moves slowly and quickly all at once. It feels sedate, yet you’re surprised when you notice the sun setting on the horizon. The colours that blend within each other across the sky. You feel an inkling of appreciation, but not enough to soak it all in. So you walk back inside, and wrap your cardigan a little tighter around your chest. Close the curtains and flick the lamp on, leaving an ominous glow about the room. It used to feel romantic, but it lost its fervour along with everything else.

Time folds in on itself and you blend into the haze.

 

 

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your feelings are valid

The phrase ‘your feelings are valid’ may sometimes feel tone-deaf or boring, because why would they not be valid? Isn’t that intrinsically what the human experience is based upon? Why would your feelings not be valid? But in many ways, we may minimise our own feelings in the way we talk to ourselves, or others use language that makes them seem unjustified.

Life, the world and your place in it can be often be more than confusing. You can easily squash what you are feeling down to a pulp, because you’re trying to overcrowd your mind with the idea of gratefulness. That what you’re feeling doesn’t matter so much because you could be feeling much worse. You’re being irrational, over-reactive, paranoid. You may convince yourself that it’s your mental illness talking, or that you don’t even have grounds to feel the way you feel at all without working through the why and trying to understand where it is coming from. Everything you are feeling is worth giving your attention to, because it has grown from somewhere and is worthy of being felt, and being worked through.

Your feelings can often seem invalidated by what someone says to you in response to you sharing what you feel — even if they didn’t mean to do so — (ie. ‘don’t worry, it’s not that bad), or filter into your subconscious from posts floating about on social media about finding the good in everything.

Feelings are not able to be right or wrong. Feelings just are. They are natural sources of information for your brain, and should be treated as so. If you ignore them, try to suppress them, or try to replace them with something else as an easy fix, they will only work their way back in a different way and often in a more intense way.

If you do not allow yourself to feel your feelings, to validate them or to allow yourself to work through them, the stitching on your old wounds may come undone unexpectedly. The pain feels fresh, almost new, as if you had not healed at all. And the process of healing begins all over again.

It’s okay to feel angry at the state of the world, at other people’s opinions. You are completely justified in feeling upset, confused, anxious and unsure. The most important thing to remember is that your feeling, though, is not a reflection on the situation itself; it’s a reflection of what’s going on inside of you as a result of the environment and the state of your mind. Work with yourself in understanding them, rather than against yourself. Allow yourself to feel whatever comes your way; your feelings are valid.

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march reading

I read significantly less this month than last, due to a busy start to the work month which, luckily, set me up enough for this current crazy time we’re living in. I found myself gravitating more towards watching Stan to drown out the thoughts and everything going on in the world – almost to numb my brain – but it felt good to get more into the groove within the last week of the month and read a few books – two of which were un-put-downable. Make sure to take care of yourself in a time like this, whether that’s with a good book (perhaps one of these or january + february reading!), walks, streaming shows, creativity or talking to a pal.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway

The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.

When Charlie proposes instead to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her–until she attends a salon hosted in her brother’s writer friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.

Just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, though, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realize how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.

I am still unsure how I felt about this book. I loved it first because of its title; I mean, New York and artists? My whole dream. I got even further sucked in through the blurb, because I love me a bit of historical fiction. I think the issue was it was such a slow burn; the beginning of the book felt tiresome as all she did was pine after the man who wasn’t going to marry her, and the second half was a surprising sort of thriller-esque take. It touched upon different socioeconomic standings and the importance that held, particularly back then, but you could also parallel it to now and how the wealthy show in different ways; it also shone an interesting light on how often women were looked over, even in the art scene, because they were mostly considered nothing more than house wives.

I do think, though, if you are into historical fiction and are after a relatively light read, this is your go. The second half of the book makes it far more compelling.

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

What happens when your best friend becomes your worst nightmare…

Having reached a dead end in Boston, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs a change. When she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who is moving to rural Pennsylvania, Leah decides to join her. But their fresh start is quickly threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah helps Detective Kyle Donovan to investigate her friend’s life for clues. But with no friends, family or digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Forced to question her version of reality and to save herself, Leah must uncover the truth – no matter how dark or terrible it may be…

The PROSE!!! Megan Miranda is a beautiful writer, and had me admiring her words even in the midst of a thriller. I stopped myself many times throughout the book because she crafted such riveting prose. Honestly, for that alone, this book is worth the read.

The premise of the story was well worth it, too. I had convinced myself I knew what was going on in the first few chapters, and then I was thrown off; only to be thrown off yet again. You truly did not know who to trust. The back stories gave more light into what was happening in that moment, and in the end, all the threads were woven together. Definitely, highly recommend.

The Boy Who Fell to Earth by Kathy Lette

Meet Merlin. He’s Lucy’s bright, beautiful son – who just happens to be autistic.

Since Merlin’s father left them in the lurch, Lucy has made Merlin the centre of her world. Struggling with the joys and tribulations of raising her adorable yet challenging child (if only Merlin came with operating instructions), Lucy doesn’t have room for any other man in her life.

By the time Merlin turns ten, Lucy is seriously worried that the Pope might start ringing her up for tips on celibacy, so resolves to dip a toe back into the world of dating. Thanks to Merlin’s candour and quirkiness, things don’t go quite to plan… Then, just when Lucy’s resigned to singledom once more, Archie – the most imperfectly perfect man for her and her son – lands on her doorstep. But then, so does Merlin’s father, begging for a second chance. Does Lucy need a real father for Merlin – or a real partner for herself?

I only semi-liked this book. I wasn’t sure if it was because I haven’t experienced a life like hers; single parenting a child on the spectrum, let alone parenting at all. Of course I have no idea how much of a bitter taste I would have in my mouth if my husband left me because of our child. This being said, though, none of that has ever hindered my enjoyment of a book before. Much of the fiction I have enjoyed reading is about women in their 30s and 40s, navigating life, love and their careers.

I ended up disliking too many of the characters, except for Merlin (her son), and Archie – though I disliked Archie for much of it because she made sure to paint him as ultra bogan to a point of disbelief. The protagonist, Lucy, is constantly bitter and angry at the world but never seems to want to take advice to help herself.

I think there were just too many metaphors and bitter one-liners throughout; like, no one is even that witty all of the time, so you could tell the author was banking them up over time and wanted to lay them all out for a laugh. That’s the thing – many were funny, but there were just too many lined up in a row.

In saying this, I cried at the end and felt there was some sort of justice, so perhaps it was just a bumpy ride to get to a lovely destination. I would be interested to know the opinion of this book from anyone who has dealt with divorce, single parenting and parenting a child on the spectrum.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

EVERYONE’S INVITED.
EVERYONE’S A SUSPECT.
AND EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT IT.

In a remote hunting lodge, deep in the Scottish wilderness, old friends gather for New Year.

The beautiful one
The golden couple
The volatile one
The new parents
The quiet one
The city boy
The outsider

The victim.

Not an accident – a murder among friends.

!!!! This was truly one of the best suspense/mystery/thrillers I have ever read. I bought it because it was only $0.99 as an ebook – I wasn’t particularly intrigued by the blurb, but it was so worth it and I would pay more just because I enjoyed it that much. I read it all within a day because I didn’t want to put it down. It had me jumping conclusions, playing guessing games to see if I could figure out the ending before I got there, convincing me I had it figured out well before – then throwing another spanner in the works, starting again and doing that tenfold. It even has you assuming it could have been the least suspected person, because there are no limits to the secrets among them.

A PSA: probably don’t eat much while reading if you have a weak stomach; my peanut butter toast was not as thoroughly enjoyed after reading one of the paragraphs about hunting animals.

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january + february reading

I feel like I have been catching up on all the reading that fell on the wayside last year. I was prioritising work over literally everything for a long time, and fell behind in everything else; so I made a vow to myself to take time to do what I love to do most: read.

Biographies

Happy Never After by Jill Stark

Jill Stark was living the dream. She had a coveted job as a senior journalist, she was dating a sports star, and her first book had just become a bestseller. After years of chasing the fairytale ending, she’d finally found it. And then it all fell apart.

You know those books that come to you at a point in your life where you’re like holy shit, I needed that. Almost like it was destined. Happy Never After was one of those for me. The reviews for this book aren’t stellar, but I think it almost perfectly shows how the anxious mind will jump from thought to thought with seemingly no connection. Stark wrote of continuing to feel distant, lost and didn’t beat her anxiety and depression purely because she achieved a lot and ticked many career boxes; she also spoke to a few experts about the rise of the wellness industry and getting caught up in the world of comparison, social media, filtered life & distractions.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

This is the story of Bri’s journey through the Australian legal system; first as the daughter of a policeman, then as a law student, and finally as a judge’s associate in both metropolitan and regional Queensland-where justice can look very different, especially for women. The injustice Bri witnessed, mourned and raged over every day finally forced her to confront her own personal history, one she’d vowed never to tell. And this is how, after years of struggle, she found herself on the other side of the courtroom, telling her story.

Quite a harrowing read, and honestly can be quite triggering in some parts for those who have experienced sexual assault. But I definitely think it’s a must read. I cried many times throughout this book and even after I had put it down. Strength in the face of adversity, while also being informative on the shortfalls of the justice system in our country. It didn’t just give an insight into working in the justice system, but the emotional turmoil that comes with it while working through personal trauma.

Gulpilil by Derek Reilly

It’s been almost fifty years since a teenage David Gulpilil illuminated screens worldwide with his breakout role in Walkabout. It was one of the first times we’d seen an Aboriginal person cast in a significant role and only four years after Holt’s referendum to alter the constitution and give Indigenous people citizenship and, subsequently, the right to vote.

Gulpilil quickly became the face of the Indigenous world to white Australian audiences. Charisma. Good looks. A competent, strong, mysterious man starring in films ranging from Crocodile Dundee to Rabbit-Proof Fence.

But what has marked Gulpilil, despite his fame and popularity, is the feeling that he’s been forever stuck between two worlds: a Yolngu man, a hunter, a tracker, who grew up in the bush in Arnhem Land outside any white influence; and a movie star flitting from movie sets to festivals.

Able to exist in both worlds, but never truly home.

I first remember seeing David Gulpilil in Crocodile Dundee where he played the charming and playful Neville; but he has played many more nuanced and interesting characters in stories worth telling about Indigenous Australians. This biography dove into his complicated life and what it was like to be in the spotlight and living in a certain privilege from his career among white people, compared to his place at home with his tribe – and the feeling of not really belonging in either one. We still have a long way to go in understanding the culture of Indigenous Australians, and I find the insight into Gulpilil’s life – after being in both worlds – a perfect opening.

Historical Fiction/War

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, code name Alice, the “queen of spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

When I first read about this book a while ago, I found it intriguing (fascinated by War stories), but the moment I read about spies I was slightly turned off. Every time I hear the word spy, I think of things like Mission Impossible and that’s just not ma thang. I was so off. It was slightly based off a War Hero, dubbed the Queen of Spies, Louise de Bettignies and her network – The Alice Network. It followed two women, one during the World War I who is within the network, and another just after World War II who is in search of her cousin. They come together and the story weaves around their two lives and intertwines them in a way you don’t expect. It was beautiful, it was heart-wrenching, and it was one of the best war books I have ever read. You need to read it.

Thriller/Mystery

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story—until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

I read this because I saw agirlandgrey was reading it, too, in one of her gorgeous Instagram posts and I know she has great taste in mystery/thrillers. It was set in New York, so I was instantly sold, but I spent the entire time while I was reading it (all in pretty much one sitting) guessing what was going to happen next, then thrown completely off course. It was an interesting take on classism, as well, and Sager expertly wove it into the story without making it obvious.

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

Thursday’s husband, Seth, has two other wives. She’s never met them, and she doesn’t know anything about them. She agreed to this unusual arrangement because she’s so crazy about him.

But one day, she finds something. Something that tells a very different—and horrifying—story about the man she married.

This came up as a suggestion to read right after I finished Lock Every Door, and I think I was even more enthralled with this than the former. This was a WILD ride. Twists and turns every which way and yet, STILL managed to surprise you with the ending. I bought this book (for only $1.99!) at 12:30pm and finished it by 8pm. My favourite thing about this genre is that (when written well), they are easy enough to read and the plot twists make you want to continue reading. I can’t say I was entirely happy with the ending, but Fisher surprised me with it, so props for that.

The Man She Married by Alison James

Since Alice’s fiancé walked out on her, she never thought she’d meet ‘The One’. But all that changes when she meets Dominic. Handsome, charming and kind, Alice can’t believe her luck when he proposes a few months later and moves into her West London home.

Three years on, Alice’s catering business is thriving and she is married to a man she adores. So when she sees that little blue line, it should be the happiest moment of her life: they’re going to have a baby. But then the police knock on her door and Alice’s whole world is turned upside down… Dominic is dead.

Distraught, Alice goes to identify the body. There’s no doubt that it’s her husband. Yet when his estranged brother comes to view the coffin, he insists the man lying there is not Dominic. Alice refuses to believe it at first, but when confronted with irrefutable proof, she finally has to face the truth: The man she married is not the person he said he was. And if he lied about that, what else was he hiding from her?

I found this one as I was still trolling for mystery/thriller after still reeling from Lock Every Door and The Wives. The plot is given away pretty early on, but James still writes in a way that makes you want to keep reading, because you need the answers on how they got there in the first place. It starts with the protagonist having to identify the body of her husband; and while, yes it is Dominic Gill, she has another man claiming to be Dominic Gill’s brother… and the dead man is not him. The book takes you on a ride through past and present getting answers, and you put the story together by part in the telling of Alice (protagonist), and Dominic (dead guy). It was good, not fabulous, but an interesting and easy read nonetheless.

The Strangers Wife by Anna Lou Weatherley

Beth and Cath are leaving their husbands.
This is a story about two very different women.
One is wealthy and having an affair with a man who gives her the kind of love that her cold, detached husband does not.
One is living hand to mouth, suffering at the hands of a violent partner who would rather see her dead than leave him.
You may think you know these women already and how their lives will unfold.
Beth will live happily ever after with her little girl and her soulmate.
Cath will go back to her abusive husband.
And these two women will never cross paths.
But you will be wrong.
On the 3.15pm train from London to Bristol, Beth and Cath are about to meet and discover they share one shocking thing in common.

This was a fascinating look at how abuse can be perpetrated in extremely different ways by very different people. Beth and Cath come from incredibly contrasting worlds, but both needed to escape their respective worlds. As they meet by chance, they weave their lives together and work on ways to get out of the situations they are in. There are quite a few plot twists thrown in, and the story is told well as you are constantly wondering who will get caught and what will happen next. The detective is set on getting answers no matter what. I quite enjoyed this one, another one I finished within 48 hours.

All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell

In Richmond, Virginia, young lovers are dying. So far, four couples in the area have disappeared, only to be found months later as mutilated corpses. When the daughter of the president’s newest drug czar vanishes along with her boyfriend, Dr. Kay Scarpetta knows time is short. Following a macabre trail of evidence that ties the present homicides to a grisly crime in the past, Kay must draw upon her own personal resources to track down a murderer who is as skilled at eliminating clues as Kay is at finding them.

This was a really interesting and really well done mystery. Patricia Cornwell is well established in the mystery/thriller genre and this is the first I have read of her. The protagonist – Kay Scarpetta – is a forensic medical examiner, but takes much of this murder mystery into her own hands as she realises the people around her were willing to brush it under the rug to avoid scrutiny. The end shit me, to be perfectly honest, but Cornwell is definitely an author to read if you want some thrillers with a little more gore and explanation of the crime, rather than the typical whodunit of just following clues.

Love/family + friendship

Postscript by Cecelia Ahern

It’s been seven years since Holly Kennedy’s husband died – six since she read his final letter, urging Holly to find the courage to forge a new life.
She’s proud of all the ways in which she has grown and evolved. But when a group inspired by Gerry’s letters, calling themselves the PS, I Love You Club, approaches Holly asking for help, she finds herself drawn back into a world that she worked so hard to leave behind.
Reluctantly, Holly begins a relationship with the club, even as their friendship threatens to destroy the peace she believes she has achieved. As each of these people calls upon Holly to help them leave something meaningful behind for their loved ones, Holly will embark on a remarkable journey – one that will challenge her to ask whether embracing the future means betraying the past, and what it means to love someone forever…

Have you seen all over the interwebs that there is likely to be a sequel to the movie PS: I Love You? Well, this is that. The actual book version. Naturally, I cried a lot. Cecelia Ahern is probably my absolute favourite author. Her writing is imaginative and immersive, and if you haven’t before, you need to read If You Could See Me Now. But Postscript is beautiful yet again in the way Ahern deals with grief (although, sometimes her writing in this book seems a little too pretty and easy for my liking, because grief is the furthest thing from pretty), and what it’s like for people who want to leave the world ensuring the people around them feel their love.

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It’s the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she’s become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won’t open.

Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love…

This story is told from the perspective of someone who has just passed away, and the things she needs to settle before she ‘moves on’. It was a really sweet read, at times hard to get through because of the unrealistic set within the realism. If you are able to let yourself get lost in magical realism, it is a beautiful story about souls getting reconnected. While the idea is lovely, it’s quite simple writing and honestly, executed quite poorly – I still think it’s a nice one if you are looking for an easy, romantic read.

The Return of Norah Wells by Virginia MacGregor

One ordinary morning, Norah walked out of her house on Willoughby Street and never looked back. Six years later, she returns to the home she walked away from only to find another woman in her place. Fay held Norah’s family together after she disappeared, she shares a bed with Norah’s husband and Norah’s youngest daughter calls Fay ‘Mummy’.

Now that Norah has returned, everyone has questions. Where has she been? Why did she leave? And why is she back? As each member of the family tries to find the answers they each need, they must also face up to the most pressing question of all – what happens to The Mother Who Stayed when The Mother Who Left comes back?

What does family mean? This novel is a touching look into what makes a family – and whether someone can fit back in after walking away. It’s told through different characters’ voices and their respective feelings when it comes to welcoming Norah back, or wishing for her to go away again. I found this compelling and finished it over two days – literally did nothing else because it’s a huge ass book – but it was written so well that it made you not want to put it down. Though, I should warn you, there is a death – and you’re going to be shitty about it.

The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns

Little secrets grow up to be big lies…
They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought.

But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness. Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss. And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son.

When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other.

Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept.

I am still SO torn about where I sit with this book. I enjoyed reading it, and liked some characters more than others, but there was one storyline that really. fucking. annoyed me. Without giving too much away, this novel touches on an adult – who has been married for years – who is transgender and is ready to transition. I understand the point for the partner, who feels betrayed, because this part was kept from them for all their years of marriage. But it felt so selfish that I just wanted to yell at her; not once did she even try to think about how her husband felt all those years, trying to squash the real part of him. Then I would swing back and try to see it from her view, because yes it would hurt to feel as if your partner didn’t trust you for such a long time to tell you what he was feeling. AH. Knowing all of this, though, perhaps the author did a good job because it made you think and wonder what you would do if you were in that situation – for each one – as they were all keeping secrets and dealing with hard battles.

The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

Four friends . . .
Joni, Deb, Eden, and Trina have been best friends since high school, sharing a bond that has seen them through their teenage years and into adulthood. But now, time and circumstance is starting to pull them apart as careers, husbands, and babies get in the way. As their yearly vacation becomes less of a priority—at least for three of the women—how can Joni find a way to draw the four of them back together?

Four secrets . . .
During a laughter and wine-filled night, the women dare one another to write anonymous letters, spilling their deepest, darkest secrets. But the fun game turns devastating, exposing cracks in their lives and the friendships they share. Each letter is a dark confession revealing shocking information. A troubled marriage? A substance abuse problem? A secret pregnancy? A heartbreaking diagnosis?

Five letters . . .
Late on one of their last nights together, after the other three have gone to bed, Joni notices something in the fireplace—a burnt, crumpled, nearly destroyed, sheet of paper that holds the most shattering revelation of all. It is a fifth letter—a hate-filled rant that exposes a vicious, deeply hidden grudge that has festered for decades. But who wrote it? Which one of them has seethed with resentment all these years? What should Joni do?

The Moriarty sisters definitely have the same type of tone and writing style. Reading Nicola’s work reminded me a lot of Liane’s, but the ending felt a little forced and rushed, since we spent the whole book wondering who bloody wrote the fifth letter. It was a surprise, though, so I’ll give it that – I wasn’t expecting the end, and I think it portrayed well how little things in childhood can affect someone for their entire life, and perhaps not all young friendships are made to withstand adulthood.

Fantasy-ish

Elixir by Hilary Duff

Clea Raymond has felt the glare of the spotlight her entire life. The daughter of a renowned surgeon and a prominent Washington DC politician, she has grown to be a talented photojournalist who takes refuge in a career that allows her to travel to the most exotic parts of the world. But after Clea’s father disappears while on a humanitarian mission, Clea’s photos begin to feature eerie, shadowy images of a strange and beautiful man—a man she has never seen before.

When fate brings Clea and this man together, she is stunned by the immediate and powerful connection she feels with him. As they grow closer, they are drawn deep into the mystery behind her father’s disappearance, and they discover the centuries old truth behind their intense bond. Torn by a dangerous love triangle and haunted by a powerful secret that holds their fates, together they race against time to unravel their pasts in order to save their lives—and their futures.

Did YOU know that Hilary Duff had written a novel?! I consider myself a rather big fan of Hilary; most of you know by now the anecdote of my scrapbook filled entirely of Hilary when I was young… so you can imagine my surprise when I stumble across a book written by Hilary Duff in 2010. Noting, however, that it was written with Elise Allen, so we won’t know how much of the writing pull Duff really had. It’s marketed as Young Adult fantasy-ish, which is pretty much my jam. I’ll admit, getting into it I struggled; I mean, there was this 17 year old with prominent parents, who was home-schooled and had this bestie who worked for her and he was a 20 year old with a doctorate? But, also, remembering the idea is coming from a celebrity who wouldn’t have ever really had a semblance of normal, and also worked on projects like Cadet Kelly and Agent Cody Banks. In saying this, after the second chapter, I was hooked. It was a really creative story and I finished it all in one sitting; there are two more books to the story and I may read them soon, but it didn’t reel me in enough to care. The idea was there, the execution maybe not so much.

Categories
Rackers

homemade cashew milk

*buy these rings through the shop

I have been on the search for an alternative milk for my coffee for probably about three years. I enjoy almond when I go out, but I have never quite managed to master making a good almond coffee at home; also it is impossible to make almond milk creamy???

In walks — the wonderful cashew milk. An incredibly simple recipe to follow for all of your creamy nutty milky needs.

  1. Soak 4 cups of cashews in the fridge overnight (12-24 hours)
  2. Drain cashews & rinse all the way through
  3. Put in your blender:
    your cashews
    3 cups of water*
    2 tsps vanilla extract
    2 tbsps honey
    pinch of sea salt
    optional: 3 dates or dash of cinnamon
  4. Blend for 3 minutes on high or until all mixed together!

Magic! Voila! Creamy cashew milk!
*blend with more water if you prefer it less creamy

This should keep for at least four days and makes quite a bit to cover your coffee & cereal for a few days ☕️