Review: Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

 

Title: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Author: Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Published: Scribner: Simon and Schuster August 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 07 to 08, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“Don’t jaywalk. Wear your seat belt when you drive. Better yet, stay out of the car, and get some exercise. Watch your weight. If you’re a smoker stop right now. If you aren’t, don’t start. Guns put holes in people. Drugs are bad. You know that yellow line on the subway platform? It’s there for a reason. Staying alive, as it turns out, is mostly common sense.”

This is the advice of Judy Melinek, the author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, gleaned from her experience as an assistant medical examiner in New York City. From 2001 to 2003 Melinek performed hundreds of autopsies on the victims of homicides, suicides, accidents, natural diseases, therapeutic complications, and undetermined causes, that crossed her table.

Melinek’s very first post mortem involved the death of a young man, a heroin addict diagnosed with sickle-cell trait who died in hospital, her second an elderly man who sustained severe burns in a house fire, the third a pregnant woman, the victim of a hit and run. In general, each chapter of Working Stiff groups together cases by manner of death, detailing Melinek’s examination of patients young and old, male and female, destitute and wealthy, and everything in between. The final chapters focus on the medical examiners office’s role in the wake of the Twin Towers collapse on September 11, and the crash of American Airlines flight 587.

The narrative is very readable, almost conversational in tone, and mostly free of the medical jargon one might expect. Melinek is at all times respectful but not humourless, sharing both professional perspective and personal observations. I do feel compelled to warn the unwary reader that this isn’t a book for the squeamish with its graphic record of gruesome injury and detailed descriptions of the forensic autopsy process.

What shines through is Melinek’s passion and commitment to her job as she works to investigate and determine the cause and manner of death, comfort the bereaved, provide assistance to the justice system and “speak for the dead”.

Informative, entertaining and engaging Working Stiff is a fascinating account of the work of a medical examiner, well told by Judy Melinek and her husband T.J. Mitchell.

* I gave the book an extra 1/2 star for Judy’s admission she wears “sensible shoes and a Medical Examiner windbreaker” during her rare visits to crime scenes – not six inch stiletto’s and Armani suits.

 

Working Stiff is available to purchase from

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Review: Deeper Water by Jessie Cole

 

Title: Deeper Water

Author: Jessie Cole

Published: Harper Collins Au August 2014

Read an extract

Status: Read from August 03 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Jessie Cole’s second novel, Deeper Water, is a graceful, captivating novel introducing Mema, a young woman who lives a simple life with her mother in a remote valley in Northern New South Wales.

Mema is twenty two but, having spent most of her life isolated from wider society, has an innocence more befitting a young teenager, happiest running barefoot in the rain with her only friend, Anja, or watching the sky lighten at dawn. She is not uneducated but is unworldly, with little curiosity about what lies beyond the boundary of the family property. She is naive but not unknowing, aware of her mother’s reputation for promiscuity, but uninterested in men or relationships. But everything begins to change for Mema when rescues a stranger, Hamish, from the flooded creek and slowly her ‘unknowns become knowns’.

They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I’m yet to know”

Deeper Water beautifully explores Mema’s belated coming-of-age, her growing awareness of herself, of her desires, and of what the outside world may have to offer her. Mema is a richly drawn character struggling with the emotional changes Hamish’s presence awakens, and the way they affect her relationships, with her family, Anja and a neighbour, Billy, in particular.

Deeper Water is also about connection, or the lack there of. Mema is intimately connected to the landscape in which she lives, and the family she loves, but divorced from the wider world. Hamish, despite being horrified by Mema’s lack of internet and mobile access, can claim no real anchor, and despite his environmental credentials, has little connection to the land.

The landscape in which Deeper Water is set has character of its own and is brought to life by Cole’s evocative descriptions.

“At dusk the creek takes on a certain colour. velvety brown. Without the dapples sunshine, its depths are muted and mysterious and all the creatures seem to come to the surface. The catfish linger on their nests and the eels float by like black ribbons. The turtles perch on the flats of exposed rocks and the kingfishers fly past like the brightest of tailsmans.”

With its simple yet elegant prose, and quiet yet deeply felt emotion, Deeper Water is a mesmerising story about a young woman’s awakening to the possibilities of love and life.

 

Learn more about Jessie Cole and Deeper Water in this guest post, published earlier today

Deeper Water is available to purchase from

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Deeper Water Trailer from HarperCollins Australia on Vimeo.

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AWW Feature: Jessie Cole and Deeper Water

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I’m thrilled to welcome back Australian author Jessie Cole to Book’d Out today.

Jessie Cole grew up in an isolated valley in Northern NSW, and lived a bush childhood of creek swimming and barefoot free-range adventuring. In 2009 she was awarded a HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development, leading to the publication of her first novel Darkness on the Edge of Town, which has been shortlisted for the 2013 ALS Gold Medal and longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award. Her work has also appeared in Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Island Magazine, Big Issue, Daily Life and the Guardian.

Today we are celebrating the publication of  her second novel, Deeper Water.

Innocent and unworldly, Mema is still living at home with her mother on a remote, lush hinterland property. It is a small, confined, simple sort of life, and Mema is content with it.
One day, during a heavy downpour, Mema saves a stranger from a flooded creek. She takes him into her family home, where, marooned by floods, he has to stay until the waters recede. And without either of them realising it, he opens the door to a new world of possibilities that threaten to sweep Mema into the deep.

My review of this compelling and evocative novel can be viewed by clicking HERE but first learn how Deeper Water came to be…

 

In the Beginning

Sometimes thinking back on how a novel is created is like looking through fog at a faraway land. The whole process seems shrouded in mystery. I imagine myself—tapping away at the keys—creating a fictional world for what must have been months and months—stretching into years—but somehow the image doesn’t stick. The whole thing seems a blur. It is—at least partly—that when you sit down to write you are simultaneously in two places at once. You are gazing into a computer screen and you are totally immersed in the world you are creating. For me, because the act of writing is so immersive, it’s hard to think about the hows and whys of the finished product. I end up shaking my head to try to clear it, and thinking—quite simply—it is what it is.

When writing, I like to keep beginnings small. Tapping out the first words is like humming a few notes. It’s possible the notes could turn into a song, but, equally, they could just disperse into the air. My brother is a musician by trade, and I have noticed the language of song-writing seems to encompass the smallness of creative beginnings. When writing new songs my brother always says—I’ve been working on a few tunes. ‘Tunes’ is a humble word. A few notes strung together—the fragile wisp of a burgeoning story. It could be nothing. It could be something. But in any case it starts out small. When I started Deeper Water, I started right at the beginning. They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I’m yet to know. Mema’s voice was strong—clear and unhindered. Somehow unsullied. I waited to see if her story would unfold. Slowly the tune became a song. Even more gradually it became a novel.

And then there’s the tricky bit. Deciding (or decoding) what it is—in the midst of this immersion in a fictional world—you were actually trying to say. Once I’d finished writing the book I thought about this a lot, and I got it down to this:
On the surface, I think Deeper Water is a story about awakening. Mema’s awakening to the world outside, but also her sexual awakening—her belated initiation into womanhood and all that entails. But on a deeper level, the book it is an examination of modern life, of all the ways we’ve invented to disconnect us from nature. Living the way I do, encased in forest on the periphery of modern existence, raises a number of questions. Primarily—how is it that we humans have come to see ourselves as so separate from the natural world? What do we gain by this, and what is the cost?

That’s a tidy bunch of thematic preoccupations, but it doesn’t really go anywhere near explaining why Mema’s voice should come to me, why Hamish would crash into her world, and why—after all—she would fall so hard for him. My only explanation is that the subconscious is a mysterious beast, throwing up characters and stories—initially, at least—outside our comprehension or control. Some people seem to write as though they are puppeteers controlling all the strings, but this has never been the case for me. I’m a listener. I get into a place of stillness and listen to the voice who speaks. And I try not to ask my characters too many questions, to fuss around with them about who they are. I attempt—most simply—to get out of the way. And they are wily, taking all sorts of strange turns. But they seem to know where they are going, so I let them have the reins.

And then afterwards, when the book is finished and my characters are gone, I’m left standing there—all alone—trying to explain to readers what just happened, when I don’t even know myself. I went along for the ride—I long to say, I just went along for the ride. So, if you read Deeper Water—as I hope you might—try to imagine it as it started. A few hummed notes. Some scattered words.The sound of a voice on the wind. And then think of where it came to—a book, a novel, a whole fictional world. Something coherent, with a beginning, middle and end. The story Mema shared with us, in all her honest glory.

Deeper Water is available to purchase from

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Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriaty

 

Title: Big Little Lies

Author: Liane Moriarty

Published: Amy Einhorn Books: Putnam July 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 27 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“Oh, we’re such a caring school,” the principal told me. Blah, blah. blah. Let me tell you the first thing I thought when I walked into that playground on that kindergarten orientation day was cliquey. Cliquey, cliquey, cliquey. I’m not surprised someone ended up dead. Oh, all right. I guess that’s overstating it. I was a little surprised.”

Big Little Lies begins with a death at Pirriwee Public School during a Trivia Night fundraiser, but the details are concealed as the narrative shifts to a period six months previously to introduce Madeline, Celeste and Jane, along with their offspring, at the Kindy orientation day.

It is at this inauspicious event that Jane’s son, Ziggy, is accused of bullying a classmate, Amabella, triggering a sustained campaign of hysteria by her high powered mother, Renata, to punish Ziggy for denying being at fault. Madeline, a veteran of schoolyard politics and never one to shy away from controversy, chooses to side with Jane, supported by her best friend, the beautiful and wealthy mother of twin boys, Celeste and as such declares war.

While the school drama escalates in the lead up to the Trivia Night, the three main protagonists have other important concerns to deal with. Madeleine’s teenage daughter from her first marriage wants to go and live with her father and his new wife, Celeste is barely holding together her veneer of perfection, and Jane is hiding a shocking secret regarding the paternity of her son. These complex characters are so perfectly formed it seems likely I could meet them at the school gate. This is unfortunately true too of the ‘blonde bob’ brigade, whom I am all too familiar with having endured 11 years of primary school politics (with four more still to go).

There is plenty of humour in this sharply observed novel of playground alliances, ‘mummy wars’ and domestic crises but as Moriarty slowly strips away the social veneer to explore truths about bullying, domestic violence, betrayal and infidelity its darker heart is exposed. As the tension builds, gossip swirls, secrets are revealed, alliances shift, and lies are found out. Ultimately of course the truth prevails, and the mysteries are resolved in the stunning climax.

Part noir suburban mystery, part domestic drama, Big Little Lies is compulsive reading. Thought provoking, clever, witty and wonderful, this is another wickedly brilliant novel from best selling Australian author Liane Moriarty.

Big Little Lies is available to purchase from

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In Australia from

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Also by Liane Moriarty

{click to see my reviews}


 

Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Title: A Man Called Ove

Author: Fredrik Backman

Published: Atria Books July 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 15 to 16, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A wonderful debut novel by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove had me laughing out loud, and blinking back tears.

“He was a man of black and white…. Ove wanted what was right to be right, and what was wrong to be wrong.”

Ove is a man who believes in order, routine and rules, he has worked hard all of his life, paid his taxes, taken care of his beloved wife and his house but now, forced into retirement and alone at 59, he no longer has any wish to continue on. He has made his peace, planned carefully for his departure, but is wholly unprepared for what follows after his new neighbours accidentally flatten his mailbox.

Undaunted by Ove’s inflexible opinions, gruff manner and short temper, Parveneh and her family make demands of Ove that he cannot resist. And then comes a mangy cat, a homeless teen and a man in a white shirt, and slowly, despite his best intentions, Ove begins to live again.

Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, this is a story about love, grief, life, death and Saab’s. Told with heartfelt emotion, wry insight and a sense of humour, Backman has created an endearing character, few will be able to dismiss.

“It isn’t what a man says that matters, it is what he does.”

For all that it made me feel, I’m declaring A Man Called Ove my favourite book of the year so far.

A Man Called Ove is available to purchase from

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Review: Swimming In The Dark by Paddy Richardson

 

Title: Swimming in the Dark

Author: Paddy Richardson

Published: Macmillan July 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on July 02, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

An atmospheric psychological drama, Swimming in the Dark, the fourth novel by award-winning New Zealand writer Paddy Richardson, explores the themes of family, oppression, fear and the strength it takes to rise above them.

Set in New Zealand, this contemporary, haunting tale unites four women, Serena and her sister Lynette, and school teacher Ilse Klein and her mother, Gerda, struggling against a legacy of fear, shame and guilt.
Fifteen year old Serena Freeman is the youngest child of a family with a reputation for wildness and petty criminal behaviour in the suburbs of Otago. Studious and quiet, she has tried hard to avoid being tarred with the same brush, hoping to one day escape and create a new life, as her eldest sister, Lynnie, did seven years before. When Serena disappears no one seems to care but Lynette returns to Alexandra to search for her, determined to uncover the secrets her younger sister has been hiding.
Their worlds collide when Ilsa inadvertently learns Serena’s secret, a secret that revives terrible memories for Gerda of her time in Stasi Germany.

Beautifully written, this is a complex and gripping novel which I couldn’t put down. I’m loathe to reveal this story’s secrets, and at a loss to articulate its power other than to say I was held captive by the undercurrent of suspense, moved by the character’s struggles, and stunned by the novel’s conclusion.

Swimming in the Dark is available to purchase from

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Review: Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

Title: Present Darkness {Detective Emmanuel Cooper #4}

Author: Malla Nunn

Published: Atria/Emily Bestler Books June 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on June 07, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy Netgalley/Atria}

My Thoughts:

Present Darkness is the fourth superb instalment in Malla Nunn’s Detective Emmanuel Cooper series. This unique crime series, set during the 1950’s in apartheid ruled South Africa, has become one of my favourites, and Present Darkness is Nunn’s best yet.

It is a few days before Christmas, 1953 and Cooper is fast losing patience with his colleagues in the Johannesburg major crimes squad. While the temporary transfer from Durban allows him to see Davida and their baby daughter Rebekah every day, he is wary of his boss, Lieutenant Walter Mason who seems far to interested in what Cooper does in his off time. Called to a vicious beating of a white couple, a high school principal and a secretary at the office of land management, Cooper is surprised when their teenage daughter blames Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of his best friend and Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, for the brutal attack. From the first things don’t seem to add up, but Mason isn’t interested in Cooper’s doubts and insists the girls identification closes the case. Cooper, who owes Shabalala his life, can’t let it rest though and with the help of Dr. Daniel Zweigman, he begins an investigation of his own.

Cooper’s inquiry leads him from the violent slum in which he was raised to a dusty farm on the outskirts of Pretoria. He encounters thieves, corrupt cops, pimps, murderers and an abducted prostitute in his drive to prove Aaron Shabalala’s innocence. Full of twists and turns, complicated by Cooper’s need to avoid alerting Mason to his unsanctioned investigation and his desire to protect his family, the plot is fast-paced and tension filled. Cooper, as always, follows the evidence wherever it leads him, no matter the threat or danger, ably assisted by Shabalala and Zweigman.

As I’ve written before, the cultural framework of the novel is what really sets this series apart from other crime fiction I have read. Apartheid affects every facet of life for South Africans, and Nunn doesn’t shy away from exposing the appalling inequalities of the period. Having experienced life on both sides of the colour line, Cooper is more aware of the arbitrary injustice based on skin colour than most and refuses to let apartheid compromise his job or his personal life. In 1953, Cooper’s relationship with Davida, a mixed race woman, is illegal and he is conscious that she, and their daughter, is a vulnerability his enemies could easily exploit.

As with Nunn’s last book, Silent Valley (published in the US as Blessed Are the Dead), I read Present Darkness in single sitting. Skilfully crafted with an intriguing plot and superb characterisation, Malla Nunn’s Detective Emmanuel Cooper series should be on everybody’s reading list.

 

Available to Purchase from

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Review: The Secrets in Silence by Nicole Trope

 

Title: The Secrets in Silence

Author: Nicole Trope

Published: Allen & Unwin June 2014

Status: Read from June 04 to 05, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Secrets in Silence, Nicole Trope’s third book, is an emotionally charged and gripping novel.

As Minnie stands in a bathroom stall, swaddling a mewling newborn infant in her scarf before placing her gently in the shopping bag she is carrying, Tara lies in a hospital bed, her head turned away from the concerned gaze of the doctor, the worried eyes of her father and stepmother and the frown of the policeman hovering in the doorway. ‘Where is the baby?’ they ask again and again, but Tara can’t tell them anything… and Minnie, cradling a miracle, won’t tell anyone.

From the dramatic opening scene of this story I was hooked and couldn’t put this intense, moving novel aside. With compassion, tenderness, and searing honesty, Trope exposes a young girl’s anguish, a lonely woman’s joy and the two shocking incidents that bind them.

Each of the characters that help to tell this story take refuge in silence. While Tara feels she is literally unable to communicate, others elect to remain silent, Minnie to protect her love of baby Kate, Alicia to avoid confronting some uncomfortable truths, and Liam to avoid revealing his weakness. Eventually though, they must all find their voice in order to save each other, and themselves.

There is a constant undercurrent of anticipation throughout the novel and this tension compensates for some of the minor plot contrivances which connect Tara and Minnie in the aftermath of Kate’s birth. The brutality of the conclusion is unexpected and a happy ending is not assured for any of Trope’s characters, speaking out will be just the first step.

Like Nicole Trope’s previous novels, The Boy Under the Table and Three Hours Late, The Secrets in Silence is an engrossing, affecting and poignant story I devoured in one sitting, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

The Secrets of Silence is available to purchase from

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Review: Being Jade by Kate Belle

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Title: Being Jade

Author: Kate Belle

Published: Simon & Schuster Au June 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on May 29, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

After twenty-five years of marriage, Banjo Murphy finally walks out on his wife, Jade, unable to forgive her for what seems to be yet another betrayal. Hours later his broken body is discovered by the side of the road, the victim of a hit and run, and his family is shattered by the unexpected loss. As Jade withdraws into silence, seeking solace in chemical oblivion, his youngest daughter, Melissa, seeks answers to the mystery surrounding her father’s death…and the truth about his life.

“Who was the Jade these lovers knew? What did her mother need to live beyond the confines of their family? What did she gain from all those other men? How much had her father known? Why had he stayed and what made him leave the night he died?”

With death, Banjo is finally in possession of the perspective that eluded him in life. Drifting in the ether he comes to understand his wife’s behaviour and to forgive her the failings that tortured him during their marriage.

“I realise now it was as difficult for Jade to be who she was as it was for the rest of us to live with her”

But for his youngest daughter, Melissa, there is too much unsaid and unknown. With Jade refusing to talk, Lissy tries to find answers in her mother’s sketchbook which chronicles the affairs Jade indulged in over the course of her parents marriage.

I have conflicting feelings about Jade that are never fully resolved. I admire the way in which she is unapologetically true to her self, to her own needs and desires, regardless of the judgement of others. Yet Jade’s demand for freedom comes at a steep emotional cost to those that love her best, namely Banjo and their daughters.

In exposing a woman who defies what is expected of her, Being Jade raises provocative questions about how authentic we truly are in our relationships with others, and with ourselves. The author challenges the notion of unconditional love, exploring the ways in which we narrow the definition to suit our own purposes, and how this family comes to understand and accept love isn’t as simple and everyone wants it to be.

A searing portrait of the complexities of love, intimacy and truth Being Jade is an eloquent and powerful piece of storytelling from author Kate Belle.

 

Click here to read a guest post from Kate Belle – Being Jade: Born of myth and dreams

Being Jade is available to purchase from

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Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Firky by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Firky

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Published:  Algonquin Books April 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on May 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy Netgalley/publisher}

My Thoughts:

Few booklovers could resist this charming and quirky tale of a bookseller on a small island in the north east of America. A.J. Fikry is the surly and opinionated proprietor of Island Books, an independent bookstore he opened with his wife, who was killed in a tragic car accident, whose grieving is rudely interrupted when he wakes from a drinking binge to find a rare book stolen, and a toddler abandoned in his store.

I’m loathe to share too much, not wanting to risk spoiling the pleasure of reading this heart warming and poignant tale of a broken man rediscovering the pleasures of life and love for those yet to experience it. It is funny, moving and yes, sometimes saccharine, story which embraces quirky individuals, the comfort of community and the enjoyment of a good book.

A beautifully crafted novel about the power of love, and literature, to transform and redeem us, The Storied Life of A.J. Firky is a captivating read.

 

The Storied Life of A.J. Firky is available to purchase from

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