Review: Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

 


Title: Second First Impressions

Author: Sally Thorne

Published: 13th April 2021, William Morrow Paperbacks

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

Second First Impressions is a charming romantic comedy from USA Today bestselling, Australian author, Sally Thorne.

Ruthie Midona is twenty-five years old but is more at ease among her fellow residents at the Providence Luxury Retirement Village, where she has lived and worked for six years, than among her peers. When her boss takes a vacation, leaving Ruthie in charge, she is determined to prove herself worthy of the responsibility. She doesn’t have the wherewithal to indulge the too-personal questions of the young and pretty temp, Melanie, or the attentions of the property owner’s vainglorious son, Teddy, who on their first meeting mistook her for an elderly woman, but both are determined to impress Ruthie with the need to lighten up and live a little.

It’s a case of opposites attract for the staid, straight-laced Ruthie and the carefree, charismatic Teddy. I enjoyed the chemistry between them as their inevitable romantic relationship developed, providing moments of both tenderness and passion. Their connection sparks change in one another, but I like that Thorne is clear that the changes they want to make are in pursuit of their own life goals, not about pleasing the other.

Ruthie has been stuck in a rut ever since a shadowy incident in her past. Encouraged by Melanie and her Sasaki Method* (*patent pending), Ruthie recognises she needs to step out of her comfort zone. The friendship that forms between the two women is lovely, and important to Ruthie’s personal growth.

Teddy has his own issues that he needs to deal with, including a rocky relationship with his father and older-half sister. His goal is to earn enough money to buy into a tattoo business, but commitment is something he’s been avoiding for much of his life.

The cheeky, imperious Parloni ‘sisters’ are a wonderful addition to the story. Aged 91 and 89 respectively, Renata and Agatha are enjoying growing old disgracefully, and delight in tormenting Teddy (in a very un-PC manner) in his role as their personal assistant.

Old age residences seem to have become a popular setting in fiction recently. I liked how Thorne linked it to both Ruthie’s past and Teddy’s future. And the turtles that roam the grounds are a cute additional element.

With appealing characters, a sweet romance, and plenty of well-timed humour, I found Second First Impressions to be a delightful, feel-good read.

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Available from HarperCollins 

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Review: Autopsy by Ryan Blumenthal


Title: Autopsy:  Life In The Trenches With A Forensic Pathologist In Africa

Author: Dr. Ryan Blumenthal

Published: 13th April 2021, Jonathan Ball Publishers

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Jonathan Ball Publishers/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“These stories were gleaned from the trenches, amidst the blood and the guts of it all. I offer stories from my life and my ‘case book’.

I’ve read a number of memoirs written by forensic pathologists/coroners/medical examiners and the like who practice in the UK, USA and Australia, and I was curious as to how the experience might differ in a country like Africa. Ryan Blumenthal has been a forensic pathologist, working primarily in South Africa, for over twenty years. There are approximately 70,000 unnatural deaths per year in South Africa, and as one of only 56 certified forensic pathologists in the country, Blumenthal performs up to 500 autopsies a year, but the role of the profession extends beyond the physical act of completing an autopsy, forensic pathologists are also crime scene investigators, and legal witnesses who are required to give testimony in court. It is a job that requires physical and mental stamina to withstand the long hours of work, the constant exposure to death, and the need to adapt to scientific, technological and sociocultural changes.

“[Forensic medicine is] The application of medical knowledge and methodology for the resolution of legal questions and problems for individuals and societies.”

The general philosophy and practice of a forensic pathologist in South Africa is not too far removed from that of his (or her) colleagues in other countries, however they do face challenges unique to the country’s status as a developing nation, which means basic resources such as labour, electricity, running water and insect spray (vital due to the prevalence of flies) can be limited, or even absent, particularly in rural areas of the country, and in other third world areas of the African continent. Blumenthal describes what a typical autopsy and investigation entails for him, and while he is pragmatic about the lack of television’s CSI ‘fancyshmancy’ equipment, certain that the knowledge and ability of the forensic pathologist matters more, he does emphasise the importance of proper resourcing as a benefit society.

“As the Latin expression goes, ex Africa semper aliquid novi – always something new out of Africa.”

Forensic pathologists in Africa also face trauma that is unique to the culture and environment. This not only includes deaths caused by native wildlife like hippopotami, lions, elephants and kudu, as well as poisonings related to the misuse of traditional medicines, but also methods of murder such as ‘necklacing’, where a person’s torso and arms are trapped in a rubber tyre filled with gasoline and set alight. Deaths related to lightning strikes are more common in Africa than almost anywhere else. Blumenthal relates his experiences with these type of cases, as well as those from more common causes of unnatural death, such as car accidents, drug overdoses, gunshots and stabbing. I found both Blumenthal’s general observations and the details of the individual cases he shared to be fascinating.

“My wish is that this book will help to make you more aware and more mindful.”

Blumenthal’s writing is accessible with a minimal use of jargon but I do think the material could have been better organised as there is some repetition in both the information and prose. I wasn’t particularly keen on the moralising either, even though his observations and advice were generally reasonable, there were a few statements that belied Blumenthal’s claim of impartiality to the deceased.

“We close the eyes of the dead, but the dead open the eyes of the living.”

Elucidating the unique experiences and challenges faced by forensic pathologists, particularly in South Africa, overall I found Autopsy to be an interesting, informative and satisfying read.

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Available from Jonathan Ball Publishers

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Review: We Are Watching Eliza Bright by A.E. Osworth

 


Title: We Are Watching Eliza Bright

Author: A.E. Osworth

Published: 13th April 2021, Grand Central Publishing

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Grand Central Publising/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“‘But like–games. They’re never just games. Just like they’re never just memes or just a joke. It’s all the culture, you know? Like all this, it’s the fabric of our lives. It’s all a reflection of everything we do, everything we believe. It’s how we communicate what we value to other people. It’s the way we socialize, the things we talk about. You know it’s not just games.'”

We Are Watching Eliza Bright explores a tech industry scandal that begins when Eliza Bright is promoted to a small coding team at Fancy Dog Games. Her new colleagues are unimpressed, not only by her lack of formal credentials,  but also the fact she is a woman. Eliza isn’t sure how to respond to their first incident of sabotage, it’s a juvenile effort easily rectified, but eventually decides to complain, only to be indulged with a performative response. Eliza’s annoyed, but one of her colleagues in particular is reassured by the lack of consequences, and after Eliza speaks to a journalist about his venomous rant, she is fired, doxxed, and suddenly the target of a maelstrom of misogyny online, and in real life.

“He is emboldened now that he understands what we have always understood: there is protection in the brotherhood of gaming…”

We Are Watching Eliza Bright is clearly inspired by #gamergate, as well as the #metoo movement, exploring the experience of sexism and harassment in a male dominated workspace that escalates into an online furore that then has terrifying real life consequences. It is both a frightening exposé of cultural misogyny and the increasing overlap between online and the real world, and a celebration of resilience, friendship and community.

“It almost doesn’t matter what she says; it almost doesn’t matter what we think of her. What we want is to put our eyes on her, to possess her, to be involved. We want to know everything.”

I have to admit the narrative perspective threw me and I never grew comfortable with it, even though I think is was a clever technique on the part of the author, emphasising the anonymous, voyeuristic way we consume similar real life scandals, while providing opposing viewpoints and insight. Much of the story unfolds from the perspective of the men in the novel, from the anonymous gamer mob who offer opinion, rumour and lies, fuelling outrage, to the seething toxicity of Lewis and the anonymous Inspectre, to the ‘good guys’ like Preston and Devonte, who don’t understand why their silence isn’t enough of an expression of their solidarity. Occasionally their voices are interrupted by a group known as the Sixsterhood, who protest the mob narrative and endeavour to defend Eliza. Transcripts of IM’s and texts highlight individual thought and opinion.

“They’ll see he’s not a monster; his only crime is being smarter than everyone, needing the challenge. And as long as she confesses her sins, says she won’t try to ruin the world for his brothers again,…. He thinks perhaps he’ll confront her—give her the opportunity to compliment his prowess. He imagines she’ll admit her own inferiority.”

The suspense lies largely in the escalating behaviour of an anonymous gamer determined to make sure Eliza, and all women, understand she is wrong – for speaking out, for invading his culture, for laughing at him. He has no doubt about the righteousness of his ‘mission’, and the outcome of such conviction is inevitable, but no less shocking for it.

“This—this is a feeling deeper than love. It is an obsession. A second life.”

With its unusual structure and provocative content, We Are Watching Eliza Bright isn’t an easy read, but it is a penetrating, thought-provoking and powerful exploration of modern culture.

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Available from Grand Central Publishing

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