Book Reviews

Book Review: Big Little Lies

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2 ½ stars

If depression is the new accessory, this book has just turned domestic violence into a fashionable handbag.

The stars are given purely for the fast pace and suspense of the book. To be fair it kept me wanting to know more about each character as Liane Moriarty unpeels their stories. The ending is largely disappointing – too tidy, convenient and way more satisfying than the reality that usually prevails for the true casualties of domestic violence. This is a novel to read on a holiday by the beach, for an intellect wannabe hoping to utilise down time reading something informative.

The flavour of the year on Australian telly is men learning to respect women. To be more specific, white Australian suburban men learning to respect white Australian suburban women. Like the numerous government campaigns, Liane Moriarty probably thinks she is doing society a favour by exploring a serious subject in a light-hearted manner. I am all for that style of propaganda. However, it isn’t the message that she tries to deliver; it is what that is glaringly lacking in the message that I find disturbing. In this novel, only Caucasians exist in Australia as no other ethnic group was represented in the public school of suburbia Sydney. So often it is the marginalised women, the minority, the migrants or refugees with no family support that struggle to break out of the cycle of domestic violence. There is a complete absence of non Anglo-Saxons, not even a hint of colour in the homogenous cast of ‘Big Little Lies’.

There are constant referrals to the challenges in leaving a violent home, but none of the ‘victims’ seems to need to endure any hardship before the community magically comes together and pull them out of their fix. Everyone comes to terms with their flaws eventually and tries to seek amends and forgiveness. I live in Australia, but alas Ms Moriarty and I must live in very different countries indeed.

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Book Reviews Mental Health

Book Review: The Sinner

The SinnerThe Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wish I can offer a higher rating. The book captivated me from the start. It discussed at great lengths two subjects that I am very interested in – Adverse Childhood Experiences and Brain Injury.

In my opinion Petra Hammesfahr did an excellent job in illustrating little by little, how a dysfunctional family albeit one with no physical or overt sexual violence can ruin a child’s life. Cora Bender struggles through her childhood with no pragmatic concept of social values or self worth. There are fragments of this book that reminds me of Stephen King’s Carrie, when a religious fanatic mother causes severe destruction to the life of her child in her bizarre endeavours to lead her offspring to a grossly misinformed path. I feel Cora Bender is reasonably convincing as a brain injury survivor. Her sporadic mood swings, random ramblings and her altered sense of reality compounds the already complex circumstances surrounding the story.

What infuriates me to no end is realism, or the lack of in Hammersfahr’s depiction of the police work and subsequent ‘happy ending’. Police Commissioner Rudolf Grovian is utterly unsold by an open and shut case; he rejects an otherwise straight forward case and delve deeply into the psychiatric condition of Cora Bender. When the DA, defence attorney even the state appointed (well-reputed) psychiatrist appears indifferent about the truth pertaining to Cora Bender’s mental condition, a police officer takes matter into his own hands and dedicates most of his resources to prove the innocence of a mentally ill woman who killed a man in front of dozens of witness. The only attempt by Hammesfahr to explain Grovian’s unnatural interest in Bender is the brief and flimsy description of Grovian’s relationship with his estranged daughter.

Overall, I feel like Hammesfahr is writing a Hollywood or Disney story about killers with mental health issues. These days when one randomly pins a psychiatric condition to the instigator of every inexplicable murder or mass killing, I resent greatly how this book simplifies and glorifies the real world treatment of many less attractive, older, angrier and hairier versions of Cora Bender.

So a man saves an otherwise helpless damsel in distress. She gets a chances to live happier ever after. I want my money back please.

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Mental Health


I’m finally forty, thank fuck
The way I toyed with death, I’ve been an absolute schmuck
Neurosis, psychosis, paralysis, I could have been hit by a truck
I did not succumb, I managed to triumph, that was just dumb luck

No fanfare, no frills
All I hear is the devil’s trill
Reminding me of them formative years
The feuds that led to four decades of tears

I’m finally forty, I’ve been furiously feeding the fear
That nobody can love me, no one’s been near
I was feigning my fervour, really, life’s worn me to a frazzle
There is little left that can truly dazzle

I could fabricate a fantasy
Image there’d be no further fury
Stop chasing a life that pursues fatality
I’ve made it this far despite all animosity
Diss me if you like, this is indeed my reality

I’m finally forty, it’s all gone by like a flash
Please no more pain, not of the mind nor of the flesh
Anyhow I can always count on time being finite
Come what may, at least now I have some insight
(Even with my fading eyesight)

Book Reviews Mental Health

Book Review: Matilda by Roald Dahl

MatildaMatilda by Roald Dahl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been 30 years since ‘Matilda’ was published. This is a noteworthy fact as the novel highlights the tremendous foresight of Roald Dahl. In my opinion ‘Matilda’ is well ahead of its time; it identifies numerous Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and depicts them in a light-hearted manner, palatable for the most innocent of minds.

Matilda Wormwood is a 5-½ year old girl with extraordinary talents. Whilst she is not abuse by her parents, her presence in the family was largely ignored while her talentless brother is constantly praised and nurtured. This is unfortunately a not-too-unfamiliar scenario in many families whereby boys are prepped to be successful while girls are expected to look good, have no ideas of their own and not focus too much on books. The lack of appreciation from her family results in Matilda misbehaving, starting from pranks on her father to the telekinetic gift she subsequently develops.

Over the decades, society has gradually sobered up to the consequence of abusive childhood but remains lukewarm about the effects of emotional neglect. I experienced a similar childhood as Matilda and when I read the novel as a child I felt a great sense of relieve to learn that I was not the only one feeling dissed by the relentless conditioning of the adults in my life, wishing I was less intelligent and more docile. In reading Matilda as an adult, I feel profoundly disturbed by the reality of how little has changed in the past 3 decades.

In addition, the novel touches gently on other serious subjects such as child abuse at school, the bonding of young children when an adult that is meant to look after them constantly mistreats them. Eventually when Matilda finds a more constructive use for her exceptional mind, she loses her desire and gift to play sophisticated pranks on the lessor adults.

The father of Matilda Wormwood is based on a real-life person from Mr Dahl’s hometown. I suspect Mr Dahl, like many great authors did not conjure this plot from nothing. Tragically, the reason for the lasting popularity of this novel is likely due to how relatable it is. After all, every reader was once a 5-½ year old child.

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Book Reviews General Affairs

Book Review: An Innocent Man

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small TownThe Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When television series such as Law and Order and Crime Scene Investigation runs for decades, it is evident that the general public enjoys the belief that law enforcement are a force for good, that they never give up until the truth is uncovered.

Unfortunately, the reality is too far from our imagination of such dedicated workers. In the end, everyone who works in the legal system are not only subjected to the human flaws of err, but also of denial, laziness and self interest.

“The Innocent Man” is misleading in the sense that the book wasn’t about a singular disaster but describes a series of catastrophic errors of the judicial system that resulted in not only wrongful convictions but often the execution of innocent people. I have been an ardent fan of John Grisham yet it is hard to believe that this non-fiction book of his is more surreal than most of his imagined stories. I applaud him not simply for his immense talent in turning a long and complex story into a page turner – I finished the book in 24 hours – Mr Grisham is clearly endeavouring to provide a complete picture of the good and bad side of law. In his other novel, “The Rogue Lawyer”, I noticed how he describes an over zealous group of trigger happy police, anxious to march into the home of a suspect with guns and cannons blazing. This was possibly inspired from an incident in “The Innocent Man” where a SWAT team returns from duty dejected as they missed an opportunity to showcase their prowess in the arrest of a high school science teacher with no violent history.

The Innocent Man is a terrible tale where no happy ending is possible. While no one likes to read about the lives wasted due to the inadequacy of a system we are expected to have faith in, I hope John Grisham will continue to deliver such powerful messages to anyone who cares to listen. The world is imperfect and no amount of disguise from Hollywood can change that.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall this is a great read – recommended. The idea is clever, the book is well researched – or at least for someone like me, a general reader with some scientific background but not quite a rocket scientist, I am sufficiently sold by the quality of the plot.

What I am most impressed is how thorough Weir’s research was. When he described the several Chinese characters in the book, he made sure that their names were written in the correct order – i.e. family name followed by given name. Many writers of European heritage, in my experience, seem to struggle to grasp that simple logic that deviates from the European norm. He even aptly named the Chinese probe to the sun Taiyang Shen (which means Sun God). I was however, perplexed when he seemed to have made a mistake in chapter 19 – the character Su Bin Bao was correctly addressed as Mr Su, yet he was also subsequently written as Su Bin. That is not common practise for a Chinese name to decidedly omit the last character of a 2-character given name.

Weir clearly tried hard to create a diverse environment for his plot. The Chinese, portrayed in a balanced of good and bad (more good) were not enemies of the state for a change. A woman commands the space mission and a Hindu man holds a high position in both NASA and the plot line of this novel. In saying that, he did suffer an occasional lapse, for example, he described Mark Watney ‘screaming like a little girl’. I’m sure when under server duress and pain, little boys scream pretty pathetically too. So why couldn’t Mark Watney who is of the male sex, scream like a little boy when he was terrified?

The rational, logical dissection of Watney’s various problems and how he overcame them was very interesting for the better part of the book. However, reading the detailed technical breakdown of each situation became a little dry towards the end, when all I want to know is how the plot moves on.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: Carrie

CarrieCarrie by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished this novel nearly 44 years to the day it was released, the first published novel of one of the most prolific and brilliant writer of the modern world. Stephen King was in his mid twenties when he wrote this novel, but he captivates immediately in the opening scene describing a 16 year old high school student in the midst of her menstruation. As usual, King’s power of observation is simply mesmerising.

Like many of his other books, Carrie is gripping because Stephen King captures human nature with such frightening accuracy. The most devastating aspect for me in this case, was how Carrie White stood no chance in society following a inhuman upbringing by a fanatic mother. Through the inner thoughts of many participants to the disasters Stephen King ingeniously reveals how a calamity of an epic proportion is not the deed of one enormous villain, but rather, a result of the actions of numerous individuals.

The book is short and straight to the point, written in a creative, non-traditional manner of criss crossing between reports and personal accounts. For a novel that is conceived nearly half a century ago, Stephen King styled this novel creatively with courage and confidence.

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General Affairs

Justice for Justine but not for Eric nor Tamir

Justice for the Australian Justine Damond

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation flashes repeatedly a mug shot of Mohamed Noor in an orange jumpsuit, reporting an African American man being charged for the murder of an Australian woman of European descent. The public is horrified, it seems like a senseless crime. Numerous images of Justine Damond’s perfect life and beautiful smile is televised to highlight the tragedy, the waste of an otherwise joyous and productive life. Few words were written to remind the public that Noor was a police officer on duty at time of shooting.

Same Shit, not the Same Bucket

Several years ago, a 12 year old boy was seen playing with a toy gun. Hardly anything newsworthy, a kid playing with fake firearm in a park. He was shot dead. The police officers who shot him was not prosecuted. No justice for this boy. Whilst Australian Broadcasting Corporation published the news, there were emphasis on the boy’s race. Words like ‘replica gun’ instead of ‘toy gun’ were used, claiming a 12-year-old playing with fake firearms outside a city recreation centre was perceived as a threat. An image of him with the toy gun was published. Two armed police officers in car, driving by a park seeing a black boy holding a fake gun decided to shoot him twice when they are within 1.5 metres from the boy. That decision was considered a ‘reasonable one’.

Same Bucket, not the Same Shit

There is not easy way to say this. An unarmed obese man clearly incapable of running a mile without running a risk of death by heart attack was held down by chokehold then face pinned to the ground by not one but four trained and armed police officer.

The same news corporation – Australian Broadcasting Corporation, described in detail how a suspicious Eric Garner was put in that position of being a suspect. It was made clear that the four officers who treated him in an unnecessarily violent manner were in fact on duty carrying out their roles as police officers.


As I watched the televised report of Mohamed Noor entering court, here in Australia, I had an inkling the manner in which the news is broadcast here is heavily bias. I searched Google for any commentary from the ABC (both Australian and American Broadcasting Corporation), then the BBC for comparison between White Cop shooting Black Civilian vs. Black Cop Shooting White Civilian. I came up with next to nothing. Then I searched Twitter and lo and behold, the chatter about Justine’s death vs Tamir vs. Eric is candid and lively. The Europeans are aware of the discrepancy and how grossly unjust the situation is. The Americans are coming to terms with it. The Australians? They don’t give a toss.

Now that is the tragedy.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Madame Bovary

Madame BovaryMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a novel well ahead of its time, or perhaps, it was a novel that captured a theme that transcends time.

Every now and then it is truly nourishing for an avid reader/ author to delve into the classics. In Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert captures vividly the essence of ennui expressed predominantly through the action of a 19th century housewife Emma Bovary. I found the fragments of her thoughts, her fantasies and her irresponsible ideals far too familiar in modern men and women.

It is well worth noting how Flaubert, in his debut novel expertly details the life of a woman; a protagonist of the opposite sex. He also uses Emma to test the boundaries of feminine/ masculine position in society. “…he was becoming her mistress, far more than she was his…” This was no mean feat in a time where male/female roles are clearly defined and overlaps are rare.

Like all true masterpieces, every character is well developed, multi-dimensional and flawed. There are no simplistic hero/heroine; the demise of all not caused by a single villain. One could easily re-cast the story in modern day society and the plot would be equally convincing.

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Book Reviews Mental Health Neuroscience

Review of the book The Boy Who Could See Demons (3.5*)

The Boy Who Could See DemonsThe Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars – Recommended. I found this novel creative, engaging and fast paced. Through the eyes of a 10 year old boy, and a 43 year old psychiatrist analysing him, the author brought about two very contrasting viewpoints of a brain disorder. The story is written against the backdrop of the aftermath of years of chaos in Northern Ireland, which brings to light the long-lasting destructive effects of political instability on the general population. This not only highlights the challenges faced by present day Northern Irish men and women, but it also suggest to the readers how other societies can suffer for generations after enduring war and comparable devastation.

**Warning Spoiler**
When I finished the book I pleased with the novel overall and was prepared to present a 5 star review. However, once I digested the ending, I was reminded of how infrequent it was for a disadvantaged child suffering from a serious mental condition to experience an ending as neat and as optimistic as the one presented in the book. My personal experience of public mental health system is far from the idealistic manner described by the author. In general social workers and doctors are overworked and do not have the luxury of dedicating this much time and energy to one patient. When a child loses their primary caregiver, it would be extremely lucky that he/she could have a guardian as good as the one in this story swooping in and making life all so much better. There is a sense of a ‘Hollywood’ or ‘Disney’ style ‘Happily Ever After’, which is disappointing because aside from the ending the book had presented a very realistic yet lighthearted view of an otherwise dark subject.

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