Review: $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J Edin & Luke Shaeffer

 

Title: $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Author: Kathryn J Edin and Luke Shaeffer

Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt September 2015

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Status: Read on August 30, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In October 2014, ACOSS released a new report revealing that poverty is growing in Australia with an estimated 2.5 million people or 13.9% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line. Of those, 603,000 or 17.7%, are children.

And as politicians whine about the increasing costs of the welfare system (from the suite of their tax payer funded five star hotel room) and the media whips middle class society into a frenzy by highlighting the worst examples of the minority who abuse the system, the Australian government is considering implementing a program similar to America’s model of SnAP.

What $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America shows is that the American welfare system, and specifically the reliance on the SnAP program, fails to provide for or protect its most vulnerable citizens. It looks generous on paper but in practice, but it leaves families without access to cash, vital for everyday life. Without cash they are unable to use public transport, pay bills, buy underwear, or school supplies, without having to resort to trading SnAP for half its worth on the dollar, selling blood, collecting cans, or illegal activities, such as prostitution, all for a few dollars.

Statistics show that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to 1.5 million American households, including about 3 million children, and the authors introduce the reader to eight families who are struggling to survive on incomes of $2.00 per person, per day or less.

The causes of such extreme poverty are complicated. ‘Get a job’ cries the middle classes, but with scarce unskilled work opportunities and exploitative employers, the answer is not that simple. Modonna worked as a cashier in one store for eight years but when her register came up $10 short after a shift she was fired, and even though the store later found the money, she received no apology nor an invitation to return to work. Unable to keep up with her rent she was evicted and she and her teenage daughter were forced into a homeless shelter, and despite applying for hundreds of jobs, Modonna remains unemployed.

And what of the children? Tabitha is one of thirteen children. She grew up with one set of clothes, sharing a mattress with seven of her siblings in a three bedroom apartment. They often went without food especially when their mother found it necessary to trade some of the SnAP she received, at almost half its value, for cash in order to pay the electricity or water bill. In tenth grade a desperate Tabitha agreed to sleep with one of her teachers who offered her food in exchange in for regular sex. In her junior year she was forced to leave home when she intervened in a fight between her mother and her abusive partner and the man issued Tabitha’s mother an ultimatum. Now eighteen she is finishing high school and has a place to live thanks to a boarding school scholarship, but she will graduate in a matter of months and though she’d like to go to college, there is no money to do so.

There are no easy solutions to the kind of poverty experienced by Modonna and her daughter, or Tabitha and her family, but its clear the current welfare system is failing. Without cash, many families have no hope of escaping the cycle of poverty, or surviving the experience without deep physical and emotional wounds. The authors argue for sensible reforms that would go some way to alleviating the plight of those living on $2.00 per person, per day.

This is an eyeopening and important book that will challenge your preconceptions of poverty, welfare and the poor. It is much harder to blame or condemn the homeless or unemployed (or dole bludgers in the Australian vernacular) for their circumstances when you understand the challenges they face.

“…the question we have to ask ourselves is, Whose side are we on? can our desire for, and sense of, community induce those of us with resources to come alongside the extremely poor among us in a more supportive, and ultimately more effective, way?”

 

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Review: The Simple Act of Reading Edited by Debra Adelaide

 

Title: The Simple Act of Reading

Author: Edited by Debra Adelaide

Published: Random House June 2015

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Status: Read from August 25 to 27, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“The idea for this book was simple, as simple as the act of reading itself: how compelling it is when authors write about books, other authors or just moments in their reading lives that have been significant for them.”

Edited by Debra Adelaide, The Simple Act of Reading is a collection of short personal essays from twenty one of Australia’s celebrated writers.

Luke Davies writes of childhood correspondence with Herge, the author of TinTin. Joan London praises The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower, while David Malouf recalls the first time he read Jane Eyre. Catherine Keenan shares the joy of her young daughter cracking the code of the written word, and Anita Heiss writes of discovering her love for reading when studying for her doctorate in her late twenties.

I recognised myself in several of the essays, I was just like Kate Forsyth describes herself, in ‘Books are Dangerous’;

“When I was a child, I was such a bookworm that I troubled and bewildered even my very bookish parents. I would borrow six books at a time from the local library, and have read them all by the following day. I used to walk home from school reading. I would become so absorbed in the book that I would walk past my turn-off, and some considerable time later look up, finding myself blocks away from home. I’d miss my stop on train journeys. I would not hear my name being called in class. I would read so late at night that I could hear the kookaburras’ weird cackle as I reluctantly turned the last pages.”

In fact little has changed :)

The Simple Act of Reading is an engaging collection that will appeal to book lovers everywhere.

And this, from Sunil Budami in ‘In Your Deams’ is the perfect retort for the question oft asked of bookworms;

” So, if you can recall the question: if we forget most of what we read, then why do we read? You might as well ask why we dream, or live at all, given how much we forget of our dreams and lives. Yet just as I cannot imagine being alive without dreams, I couldn’t dream of living without reading.”

All profits from The Simple Act of Reading will be donated to The Sydney Story Factory

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Review: Woman of the Dead by Bernard Aichner

 

Title: Woman of The Dead {Blum #1}

Author: Bernard Aichner (translated by Anthea Bell)

Published: Scribner August 2015

Status: Read on August 25, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A dark and disturbing tale of vengeance and violence, Woman of the Dead is the first novel by Bernhard Aichner to feature Blum, mother, mortician and murderer.

When Blum’s beloved husband is killed in a hit and run she is nearly destroyed until she learns that he was deliberately targeted. The photographer, the cook, the priest, the huntsman, and the clown – these are the men responsible, and Blum is going to make them pay.

Woman Of the Dead has one of the most memorable character introductions I’ve ever read. The story opens with a during a defining moment in Blum’s life before leaping forward eight years to place us in the present. Blum is the devoted wife of Mark, a police detective, the doting mother of their two young daughters, and the owner of a successful funeral business. She is both hero and anti-hero in this story, grieving widow and ruthless killer.

There is raw and visceral emotion in The Woman of the Dead. The pain and numbness of Blum’s grief and the horror of the abuse Danya experienced at the hands of the mysterious cabal. There is also grisly and often explicit violence, this isn’t a story for the squeamish.

The plot is quite straight forward, perhaps stretched a little thin at times. It’s a fast paced story that builds suspense, though astute readers shouldn’t have any problems guessing the identity of the last man standing.

Woman of the Dead is an unusual story, with a rather extraordinary protagonist. I’m curious to see how the series develops.

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Review: The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: The Secret Years

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin  August 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 23 to 25, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Secret Years is Barbara Hannay’s 49th book, in which she blends a contemporary and historical narrative to present an engaging novel about family, heroism, heartbreak and love.

Army logistics officer Lucy Hunter is relieved to be home in Townsville after her six month deployment in Afghanistan but she isn’t prepared for the changes in store for her. Her mother has exchanged her childhood home for a sterile condo apartment she is sharing with a new man, her grandfather’s health is failing, and her fiance, Sam, has cold feet. With several weeks of leave ahead of her, Lucy is at a loose end until she discovers a box of wartime memorabilia that contains clues to her family’s history that neither her mother or grandfather are willing to talk about. Hoping to understand the secrets of the past, Lucy travels to Cornwall, a place where she just might find her future.

Moving between the past and present, the narrative shifts between Lucy’s journey to unravel her family’s secrets, and the story of the relationship between Lucy’s cattleman grandfather, Harry, and his aristocratic bride, Georgina. Emotions run high in both timelines through scenes of wartime drama, desperate passion and captivating romance.

I liked Lucy and I sympathised with her desire to understand the past. The mystery stems from the discord between Lucy’s mother, Ro and Lucy’s grandfather, Harry, which Lucy learns is related to her mother’s brief time in England. I also enjoyed Lucy’s romance with the dashing Nick.

But it was the story of Harry and George’s courtship and marriage that I found particularly entrancing. Their love is touching, and their wartime experiences are exciting, if also sobering.

The story takes us from Australia’s coastline and outback, to London during the Blitz, from the wild bluffs of Cornwall to the jungles of Papua New Guinea as the Japanese invade. Both the contemporary and wartime settings are vividly described, as are the characters experiences of them.

The Secret Years is well written with appealing characters and a moving story. Another winning romance.

Available to purchase from

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Also by Barbara Hannay

 


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Review: We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

 

Title: We Never Asked for Wings

Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Published: Ballantine Books August 2015

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Status: Read from August 21 to 22, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel, The Language of Flowers, was an impressive debut that captured my heart. We Never Asked For Wings is a similarly poignant and touching story.

We Never Asked for Wings is a story of redemption as Letty Epinosa picks up the mantle of motherhood when her parents decide to move back to Mexico. After years of benign neglect, she has to learn what it means to be a parent who is emotionally present in her children’s lives while providing for them as best she can. Letty makes a lot of mistakes as she negotiates her new responsibilities but slowly she begins to find her feet, wanting the best life that she can possibly provide for her fifteen year old son, Alex, and her six year old daughter, Luna.

Meanwhile Alex is falling in love for the first time and Letty is terrified he will repeat her mistakes, sabotaging his dreams with a teenage pregnancy. Alex however is far more responsible than his mother gives him credit for, but in trying to help Ysenia, an undocumented immigrant, escape the bullying she experiences at school, he unwittingly puts both their futures in jeopardy.

We Never Asked For Wings explores social issues including single parenthood, educational inequality, poverty and immigration, and themes such as family, love, regrets and redemption. Birds and feathers are symbols of migration, patterns, hopes and dreams.

Sensitively and beautifully written, Diffenbaugh paints a vivid picture of a family struggling to overcome adversity and forge a stronger, united future in We Never Asked For Wings. This is a wonderfully engaging and affecting novel that tugs at the heartstrings.

 

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Review: No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg

 

Title: No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions

Author: Ryan Berg

Published: Nation Books August 2015

Status: Read on August 20, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I recently binge watched America’s ABC Family series The Fosters, a one-hour drama about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological teenaged kids being raised by two moms. In one of the later seasons, a main character is remanded to a residential foster home and one of the teenage residents in the home is transgender. Though his story is told quite broadly over one or two episodes, it stuck with me, and so my interest was piqued when No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg came up for review.

No House to Call My Home is a book that illustrates the struggles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth of colour in America’s foster system. While the challenges for youth in foster care are numerous, the problems LGBTQ youth face are often compounded by their struggle with gender, sexual, racial and cultural identity. Berg states that 70% of LGBTQ youth in group homes reported experiencing violence based on their LGBTQ status, 100% reported verbal harassment, and 78% of youth were removed or ran away from placement because of hostility towards their LGBTQ status.

The stories in this book offer readers a glimpse into the lives of the LGBTQ youth of colour Berg worked with in two residential units serving the LGBTQ foster youth in New York City. Focusing on a handful of characters, Berg shares their uniformly harrowing stories, often involving histories of childhood physical and sexual abuse, neglect, poverty and victimisation. Now aged between 14 and 21 (21 being the age at which foster children are released from the system) Berg and his colleagues battle to help these youths manage a myriad of issues, including addictions to drugs and high risk behaviours, to improve their chances at living healthy and fulfilling lives.

The stories are affecting, the children’s mixture of bravado, naivete, hurt and hope are difficult to read, but I think as a result I am better informed and more understanding of their circumstances. Sadly, most of the young people that we are introduced to in No House To Call Home will age out without the means, skills or opportunity to find stable housing or get a job with a livable wage.

No House to Call My Home is an accessible read for an audience curious about the issue of LGBTQ youth in foster care. I imagine it also would have value for social workers, school counselors, foster carers and LGBTQ youth advocates.

 

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Review: Good Mourning by Elizabeth Meyer & Caitlin Moscatello

 

Title: Good Mourning

Author: Elizabeth Meyer and Caitlin Moscatello

Published: Gallery Books August 2015

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Status: Read from August 19 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“When I was twenty-one and most of my friends were Daddy-do-you-know-someone?-ing their way into fancy banks and PR firms, I was grieving the loss of my father, who had just died of cancer. That’s how I found myself in the lobby of Crawford Funeral Home, one of several premier funeral homes in Manhattan, begging for a job one day.”

After finding satisfaction in taking charge of her beloved father’s funeral arrangements, young New York socialite Elizabeth Meyer joins the staff at Crawford Funeral Home despite the objections of family and friends. Though hired as a receptionist, Elizabeth’s curiosity about all aspects of the business, including the mortuary room, and her ability to relate to Crawford’s upscale clientele, soon sees her appointed as the Family Services Coordinator.

Unlike Caitlin Doughty’s memoir Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, published earlier this year, Meyer’s memoir has no real agenda, though she is sincere in her belief that mourners should have the opportunity to create a meaningful funeral experience that honours their loved one.

Good Mourning has a largely lighthearted tone as Meyer shares her experiences at Crawford. From body fluids leaking all over her Gucci shoes, to missing brains, to making arrangements for dozens of Lamborghini’s to line Madison Avenue. She is discrete as she describes the excesses of unnamed celebrity and society funerals, respectful as she tells of families grief, and is matter of fact about the more confronting aspects of the funeral industry.

Eventually tiring of the infighting and corporate ethos plaguing Crawford, Meyer left after a few years, and after further study started her own private consulting firm, helping people to navigate the funeral industry.

Authored with the assistance of freelance writer Caitlin Moscatello, Good Mourning is written in a conversational style. Elizabeth comes across charmingly enthusiastic, and genuinely passionate about her chosen career. Meyer’s instinct for dealing with grieving families is remarkably mature, but her youth is apparent in what she shares of personal life. She has a difficult relationship with her mother, doesn’t understand the hostility directed at her by her colleagues, and takes her wealth and privilege for granted.

Good Mourning is a quick, interesting and entertaining read, and Elizabeth Meyer shares her story with honesty, humour, and compassion.

Available to purchase via

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Review: The Crushing Season by Peta Jo

 

 

Title: The Crushing Season

Author: Peta Jo

Published: August 2015

Status: Read from August 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Peta Jo’s second novel, The Crushing Season, is an engaging story about friendship, family, love and loss.

Leah, May, Tate, Alex and Benny are the best of friends. They met in high school and more than fifteen years later, despite the separation wrought by their busy lives, remain close. When May is hit by a double crisis, her friends rally to support her, but none of them realise how badly she has been affected, until she does the unthinkable.

I became quite attached to all of the Crushing Season’s protagonists, who are wonderfully developed characters. Tate is a feisty news editor, struggling to balance her commitment to her work and new motherhood. Leah runs her own successful restaurant, but is plagued with a history of bad relationships. Benny is a frustrated writer on the verge of giving up on his dreams. Laid back Alex is suddenly anxious about his future. May is the linchpin of the group, whose gentle and caring nature never hints at the dark secrets she holds close.

The dynamic between the friends is skilfully rendered. I enjoyed their rowdy reunion, their affectionate ribbing and bickering, and of course the way they supported each other in times of crisis. Even when their bond is complicated and strained, the connection is clear. In many ways, they remind me of my own close circle of friends whom I don’t see as often as I would like.

Peta Jo’s exploration of the books somber issues such as abuse, depression, suicide and guilt, are thoughtful and compassionate. Most importantly, the characters emotions are sincere, and their behaviour genuine. Though there is real sadness in The Crushing Season, there is also plenty of heart and humour, which often made me smile.

Well paced, with excellent characterisation and a strong plot, The Crushing Season is an affecting tale, both achingly poignant and truly heartwarming.

Please CLICK HERE to learn more about Peta Jo and The Crushing Season

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AWW Feature: Peta Jo and The Crushing Season

I’m happy to welcome back Peta Jo to Book’d Out today to celebrate the publication of The Crushing Season, her second novel.

Peta Jo is a seasoned journalist and subeditor who shamelessly embraces the side of her that writes fiction. Her first book, Feral Bells, was released in 2011 under the original title of Wedding Etiquette For Ferals at the Queensland Brides’ Wedding and Honeymoon Expo before being picked up for distribution by Bermingham Books in 2012. She currently works from home as a subeditor for regional Queensland newspapers whilst simultaneously feeding, entertaining, educating and, above all, loving her two children (and husband, though he requires far less educating).

About The Crushing Season

In the smoky haze of a small town’s cane harvesting season, May grew up as the silent bearer of her father’s vicious beatings. But four schoolmates save her with the simple act of their friendship.
Now in their thirties and busy with their own lives, the four friends are unaware how important they still are to May: Tate, a ballsy newspaper subeditor is struggling with her new role as mother; Alex, a bohemian soul has let his anxiety get in the way of his future happiness; Leah, the “boy mad” gal is one French backpacker away from her next heartbreak; and Benny, a die-hard romantic is about to give up his dreams and surrender the fantasy of being with the one girl he’s ever loved… Leah.

But it’s May that holds their friendship together and she is up to something that will change their lives forever. “

****

My review of The Crushing Season can be viewed HERE, in the meantime please read on as Peta Jo shares her personal connection with her story…

Seven People by Peta Jo

It had been a bad year for us. Two family members had attempted suicide.
It got so that, when the phone rang, I braced myself for more bad news.
The first call was like a blow to the side of the head. He was en route to the nearest ICU, hours away. It wasn’t looking good, and I rang another town’s hospital, desperate for information to disseminate amongst our shocked family.
He survived.
The second call, one month later, was like stomach pain. Miraculously, they found her in time (she’d driven away and hidden herself, to spare her family the pain of finding her).
She, too, survived.
But that’s not the case for many. Lifeline studies showed there are almost seven deaths by suicide in Australia each day. That rate more than doubles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
My second book, which dealt with suicide, languished as we focused on family and tried to even our keel.
What was to be a short sabbatical from writing stretched out though, as my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died soon after.
We slipped quietly into mourning. I’m kind of still there two years later.
In fact, I can barely fathom the masses of families and friends of SEVEN people each day, suffering in such a way.
How the world continues to function at all, with so many people grieving, confounds me.
But there is nothing to be served by pretending these things don’t happen. There’s nothing weak about someone’s struggle with poor mental health.
So while this was written before our own experiences with suicide, I hope The Crushing Season opens up a supportive dialogue for everyone, helps those dealing with the fallout to feel less alone.

****

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Review: Private Sydney by James Patterson & Kathryn Fox

 

Title: Private Sydney {Private #10}

Author: James Patterson and Kathryn Fox

Published: Random House Australia August 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 17 to 18, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:
In the latest addition to the Private series, James Patterson teams with Aussie crime author Kathryn Fox, introducing the reader to Craig Gisto, and his staff, in the Private Sydney agency who have two cases to investigate in this crime thriller novel.

The first involves a surrogacy scam, a murdered woman and a missing baby. Gisto’s agency is accused of negligence when a couple hires Private to run a background check on a woman who has volunteered to be their surrogate. Within hours of turning over the report, the woman is murdered, an 8 week old baby in her care abducted, and the identities of the couple prove to be false. Gisto and his team have few leads and work hard to unravel the scam, determined to find the missing infant.

The second case involves the missing CEO of a billion dollar company. Stonewalled by the man’s business partner, Gisto begins to suspect large scale fraud is the issue. However it soon becomes clear that whatever Eric Moss has done, he has made some dangerous enemies. Despite attempts at intimidation, Gisto refuses to back off, especially when threats are made against the missing man’s daughter.

Short chapters, an economy of words, and a sense of immediacy keeps the pace moving quickly. The plot is well crafted and not entirely predictable, with some smaller subplots that fill out the pages. Studded with action, there is also a touch of romance. You don’t get much more than a general sense of the characters, but it is enough to satisfy.

The Australian setting, which moves from Sydney city to the Blue Mountains, should appeal to Patterson’s international and local fans.

Private Sydney was exactly what I expected, a quick, easy, entertaining read.

Private Sydney is available to purchase from

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