Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Book Review: The Heaven I Swallowed by Rachel Hennessy

In postwar Sydney, Grace Smith takes Mary, a young Aboriginal girl, into her home. She believes she will be able to save the child by giving her all the benefits of white society. But Mary's arrival has unexpected consequences as Grace's past comes back to haunt, and condemn her.

I read Rachel Hennessy's historical novel The Heaven I Swallowed as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge. Set in Sydney after the Second World War, this is Grace's story - a devout Catholic woman who sees it as her charitable duty to help Aboriginal girl Mary release the 'shackles' of her race. As it turns out, Grace and her community do more to shackle Mary than the white person's perception of a so-called 'savage' Aboriginal life ever could.

Grace is a complex character. I felt for her because of her own unhappy childhood, and I could easily see that she was nothing more than a product of her time. The Stolen Generations were taken from their homes under the misguided belief that it was the best thing for them. The way in which Grace refers to herself as saving Mary is a perfect illustration of what most white people must have felt at this time.

While this novel is part commentary on the Stolen Generations, it is more about Grace herself. I found this to be an interesting way of examining this sad time in Australian history. To tell the story from the perspective of the woman who 'adopted' the child, Hennessy was able to show the reader a different side to the events. Grace longs for a child to replace the one she miscarried. And as she is alone now her husband Fred hasn't returned from the war, she is also searching for purpose and a way to fill the void in her life. But there is more to Grace than simple lonliness. She also acts out of a desire to appear holy.

Grace craves affection and connection, but does not understand how to go about receiving them. Her dedication to the church and to God turns out to be a poor substitute for the love she really longs for. It's a sad story to read because Grace's desperate longing and rigid way of living is both devastating and infuriating all at once. I found myself liking Grace one moment and disliking her the next. Hennessy has created a flawed, yet relatable, character and for that very reason I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Heaven I Swallowed

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Book Review: The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott

Archaeologist Nina Wilde believes she has found the location of the lost city of Atlantis and now she wants the opportunity to prove her theory. Someone else though wants her dead!

With the help of ex-SAS bodyguard Eddie Chase and beautiful heiress Kari Frost, Nina faces a breakneck race against time around the world, pursued at every step by agents of the mysterious - and murderous - Brotherhood of Selasphoros. From the jungles of Brazil to the mountains of Tibet, from the streets of Manhattan to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, the hunt for Atlantis leads to a secret hidden for 11,000 years - which in the wrong hands could destroy civilization as we know it... 

For the Eclectic Reader Challenge I needed to read an action adventure novel. Having never read this genre before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Luckily I was pleasantly surprised. The book I chose - Andy McDermott's The Hunt for Atlantis - was a thoroughly good read.

I've always been fascinated by the myth of Atlantis so I was intrigued to read a novel that involved a quest to discover the resting place of that extraordinary civilization. The Hunt for Atlantis follows Dr Nina Wilde and her bodyguard Eddie Chase as they travel the world and fight the many enemies who threaten them at every turn. Reading this novel was like watching a Hollywood blockbuster. The plot flies along at a rapid pace and the action sequences are similar to those in any James Bond or Indiana Jones film. Being a huge movie fan myself I found this style very enjoyable to read.

McDermott writes straightforward prose - he is definitely not trying to be literary here. But it doesn't matter. The writing is perfect for the kind of adventure the characters find themselves on. McDermott excels when he is writing the action scenes - he makes it easy for the reader to imagine every fight, every crash, every explosion. And McDermott has obviously done his research when it comes to Atlantis because as far as I could tell all the archaeological and historical aspects of the novel seemed plausible.

Something that also gives the prose an edge is its humour. Not only are the characters themselves full of witty remarks (especially Eddie Chase), but McDermott has also written a story that doesn't take itself too seriously. The whole adventure is preposterous - just like all the far-fetched scenes in a film such as The Mummy for example - and yet this is what makes it such a fun read. McDermott knows, just as moviemakers do, that the best action occurs when the audience can suspend disbelief and just go along for the ride.

The story gripped me. I read this book in just a few days as I couldn't put it down. I was desperate to find out how Nina and Eddie would fare against their enemies. McDermott succeeded in grabbing my attention and I really was lost in the adventure. When it all came to an end I found myself wondering what I'd do next. Lucky for me this is only the first novel in a series. I might just have to move on to number two!

The Hunt for Atlantis is a fun novel to read. It is full of action, humour, danger and explosions. McDermott writes like a screenwriter so each action scene is visually spectacular. I enjoyed the crazy ride and I can recommend this book to anyone searching for a dose of escapism.