Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Search results: "christos tsiolkas" (page 1 of 3)

7 1/2 – Christos Tsiolkas

7 1/2 - Christos Tsiolkas - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Ready to feel bad about how little you achieved during quarantine? Christos Tsiolkas committed to writing 800 words a day, and the result is 7 1/2. It’s “a novel about beauty”, or – more accurately – a novel about a novelist on retreat, trying to write a novel about beauty. My friends at Allen & Unwin were kind enough to send me a copy for review, and it came highly recommended, with blurbs from Helen Garner and Charlotte Wood.

I’m quite skeptical of writers writing about writers, and I must say Tsiolkas’s latest hasn’t done much to change my mind. He goes the full Martin Amis with his main character: a mid-50s gay Greek writer named Christos Tsiolkas who is “tired” of writing about politics and religion and sex, and hates how often he checks his phone.

I perked up a bit in the sections where the Christos character was writing a novel about a retired porn star, but most of the novel was Christos being amazed by nature, bemoaning technology, and sniffing armpits (seriously, the guy is obsessed with sweat, I could’ve made a drinking game out of it).

I really wanted to be generous in my reading, and Tsiolkas is undeniably a talented writer, but 7 1/2 at its heart is one long lament about The Modern World. It’s more masterfully written than a forwarded chain email that’s been scanned by Norton Anti-Virus, but the vibe is the same.

Damascus – Christos Tsiolkas

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Buy Damascus here.
(affiliate link)

I loved Christos Tsiolkas’s 2008 novel The Slap (so much so that I included it on this list of must-read books by Aussie authors). Still, I knew just looking at the blurb of Damascus that it was going to be very different: “a work of immense power and epic scope, taking as its subject nothing less than the events surrounding the birth and establishment of the Christian church”. Allen & Unwin sent me a copy for review, and I was happy to take a giant leap out of my comfort zone.

I’m a big ol’ heathen, so I didn’t have a lot of religious context for what was happening in this story. To me, it almost read like a historic dystopia. But I think that made it all the better, for me to appreciate the poetic language and visceral imagery and raw emotion that Tsiolkas used to depict this ancient world so far removed from my own.

What I’m saying is you don’t need to be a Christian, or familiar with the historical aspects of Christianity, to read Damascus (and it might actually be better if you aren’t).

Buy Damascus on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

One Of Those Mothers – Megan Nicol Reed

I love it when a book takes me by surprise. The latest is One Of Those Mothers by Megan Nicol Reed. I hadn’t heard a thing about it before receiving a copy from Allen & Unwin for review (thank you!). The blurb brought to mind Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and the cover was graced with a recommendation from Charity Norman, so I figured I was getting into a stock-standard domestic noir.

I wasn’t reckoning on just how dark, or just how compelling, One Of Those Mothers could be.

The tight-knit middle class community of Point Heed, Aotearoa, unravels when a local father (name suppressed) is convicted of possessing child exploitation materials. The story is told through a close-third person perspective focused on Bridget, and her husband, Greg. The cast is rounded out by their friends, Roz and Lucy, and respective husbands. All of the couples have kids around the same age, and they have barbecues and nights out and holidays.

Or, at least, they did. There’s some bad blood between Bridget and Lucy, unrelated to the news blurb about the local man’s conviction… or is it?

I was skeptical at first, especially because One Of Those Mothers was told in two timelines (alternating between present day and nine months earlier). I had to eat my skepticism, though, because before a hundred pages had passed, I was hooked. Dual mysteries play out and entwine around each other: who’s the perv? What happened between Bridget and Lucy to destroy their lifelong friendship? It’s all unveiled tantalisingly slowly, and Reed tells the story masterfully.

It barely needs to be said, but you might want to avoid One Of Those Mothers if you’re particularly sensitive to issues around child exploitation and abuse. But otherwise, I highly recommend this fantastic new read!

Buy One Of Those Mothers on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

12 Best Books Of 2023

Another year, done and dusted! In 2023, I had the pleasure of reading a bunch of great new releases, as well as older titles plucked from my trusty TBR jar. And now, as is tradition, I’m rounding up the best of what I read this year. Here are the best books of 2023.

12 Best Books Of 2023 - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
You’ll be one of the best READERS of 2023 if you support this site by making a purchase through one of the affiliate links on this page.

Search History by Amy Taylor

Search History - Amy Taylor - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Search History is “a sharply funny debut novel about identity, obsession, and desire in the internet age”. But, unlike most books about relationships in tHe DiGiTaL eRa, this one actually rings true – in the way the characters think and behave, and the way their use of technology shapes their perceptions. If you’ve ever accidentally deep-liked a new love interest’s Instagram post, this is the book for you. It’s brilliant and relatable, and the heroine is both self-destructive and self-aware. The tagline promises that it’s Rebecca meets Fleabag in a Melbourne setting, which sums it up perfectly! Read my full review of Search History here.

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

The Nothing Man - Catherine Ryan Howard - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Nothing Man is a very creepy, very detailed crime novel, so you should really check the trigger warnings before you pick it up. That said, it’s so well-written and propulsive, it’s difficult to put down – even when it turns your stomach. Howard masterfully balances the perspectives, giving the “victim” just as strong a voice and an active role in what unfolds as the perpetrator (something all-too-often missing from crime thrillers, with passive dead girls left voiceless in the narrative). Plus, it culminates in a satisfying ending that seems, granted, a little unrealistic – but not overwrought or overdone. It’s the perfect pick for fans of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. Read my full review of The Nothing Man here.

Becky by Sarah May

Becky - Sarah May - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Ambitious and determined, Becky Sharp is going to scheme her way into high society. She slips unnoticed through the ranks, weaponising the secrets she uncovers about the movers and shakers, until she gets what she wants. Is it Vanity Fair, or the latest novel by Sarah May, Becky? Believe it or not, it’s both. This contemporary adaptation like if a British Ottessa Moshfegh told the story of the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal, using Thackeray’s classic novel as a template. May touches on everything – gender inequality, colonialism, celebrity culture, corruption in politics, the wealth gap – without overegging the pudding. Read my full review of Becky here.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Fleishman Is In Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

At first glance, Fleishman Is In Trouble looks like your stock-standard New York divorce novel. A privileged couple – he’s a doctor, she’s a talent agent/manager – sniping at each other and using their kids like battering rams in the dissolution of their marriage. But by the end of the first chapter, you’ll realise that this is something different, something special. I might be the last person in the world to read it, but I’m very glad I got around to it! As well as living up to the prodigious hype, it ended up being one of my best books of 2023. Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

One Of Those Mothers

One Of Those Mothers - Megan Nicol Reed - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I love it when a book takes me by surprise, and one of the most notable examples of 2023 was One Of Those Mothers. I hadn’t heard a thing about it before receiving a copy for review. The blurb brought to mind Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and the cover had a recommendation from Charity Norman, so I figured I was getting into a stock-standard domestic noir. I wasn’t reckoning on just how dark, or just how compelling, it could be. You might want to steer clear of this one if you’re sensitive to issues around child abuse and exploitation, but I was absolutely gripped by it and highly recommend it otherwise. Read my full review of One Of Those Mothers here.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rodham - Curtis Sittenfeld - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Rodham offers fascinating insight into Hillary Clinton’s mind – or, at least, Sittenfeld’s informed best-guess about it. The choice to relay the story from a first-person point of view doubles the effect. It’s shockingly intimate, even quite horny at times. I found it difficult to force myself to forget that it’s about a real person. I’m dying to know what Real Hillary thought of it, but if I never find out, I’ll satisfy myself with recommending it to everyone and forcing them to tell me what they think about it. It’s masterfully written, fascinating and shocking (at times), a pleasure to read and fuel for a lot of post-read musing. Read my full review of Rodham here.

Naked Ambition by Robert Gott

Naked Ambition - Robert Gott - Keeping Up With The Penguins

C’mon, you know it wouldn’t be a list of my best books of 2023 without a genuinely hilarious knee-slapper or two! Naked Ambition is a hilarious satire of Australian politics, skewering the egos of the privileged career politicians making decisions about our lives (while making messes of their own). It had me howling with laughter. I can’t promise everyone will find it as funny as I do – but it’s surely worth a try. With lines like “Australians don’t like their politicians with their clothes on, taking them off isn’t going to win you any votes,” (page 14), and “The scrotum is not a vote winner” (page 22), how could you not find the funny? Read my full review of Naked Ambition here.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Well Met - Jen DeLuca - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“All is faire in love and war.” That’s the slogan of Well Met, an enemies-to-lovers romance novel that takes place in the unlikely setting of a small-town Renaissance Faire. I’m a sucker for a kooky premise like that, so of course, I had to read it. It’s a wonderfully fun feel-good summer romance. The heroine’s sunny nature makes for delightful narration (without ever becoming grating), and the plot is perfectly paced. Sure, the characters get a bit Extra at points, but it’s a romance novel. That’s expected. Jen DeLuca has won herself a fan, and I’ll be checking out her other books in this series ASAP. Read my full review of Well Met here.

Business Or Pleasure by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Business Or Pleasure - Rachel Lynn Solomon - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I was desperate to read more Rachel Lynn Solomon as soon as I turned the final page of her last book, Weather Girl. Even going in with those high expectations, Business Or Pleasure knocked it out of the park. It’s a steamy read, with a bonus “oh no, there’s only one bed!” incident that had me giggling with delight. It’s not all smut, though; there’s a lot of interesting insights into the world of comic book conventions and fantasy fandom, and both main characters have anxiety disorders (OCD and GAD) that play significant roles without defining them. Solomon remains a must-read romance author for me, and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next. Read my full review of Business Or Pleasure here.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five - Hallie Rubenhold - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Five is a book about challenging long-held assumptions. Rubenhold encourages us to think critically about what we accept as historical fact. What we “know” about the past is inevitably shaped and coloured by the values of the time, and the hangover of those values on our perspective today. It’s a fascinating and insightful read, one I really wish I’d got to sooner. If you’re on the fence about picking this one up, let me be the one to tip you over to the side of “yes”. True crime readers will likely find it dry and scant on grisly details, but hopefully will recognise the reason for that and understand its importance in the broader context. Read my full review of The Five here.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History - Donna Tartt - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I found myself gripped by The Secret History. There’s something going on in this story, and I was determined to get to the bottom of it! Tartt’s prose is exquisitely detailed, with startling revelations and intriguing mysteries. By about a third of the way through, I was pretty sure I could see where it was all going, but she still managed to weave in a couple of surprises. In the hands of a lesser writer, the plot would have been beyond the pale. But Tartt is convincing, too convincing, and you’ll find yourself drawn in unquestioningly as the story unfolds. I’m sorry to say that it is every bit as good as everyone always says it is. Read my full review of The Secret History here.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

Eggshell Skull - Bri Lee - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Eggshell Skull is one of the rare books when the quality of the writing (very, very high) makes it difficult to read. I had visceral, physical reactions to Bri Lee’s story. At various points, my stomach churned and my heart rate skyrocketed. In the final chapters, I unwittingly gave myself a headache because I didn’t realise I’d been clenching my teeth. It falls into the category of an incredibly good book that it’s incredibly difficult to recommend to anyone. It will be a five-star read for anyone who enjoyed Roxane Gay’s Hunger. It will be a rude shock for anyone who’s ever asked why a victim would “wait so long” to come forward. Read my full review of Eggshell Skull here.

30+ Books With Numerical Titles

One of my local book stores runs a book club based on theme. Rather than assigning a specific book, they suggest a theme and members gather to discuss which book they chose on that theme, and what they thought of it. It’s the perfect set-up for mood readers, or people who are pretty particular in what they like to read. One of their recent themes caught my eye: books with numerical titles. Glancing over my own shelves, I noticed just how many of my books would’ve fit (if I’d gotten my shit together and actually participated). So, just in case you ever find yourself needing books with numerical titles for your own book club (or any other reason), here’s a list!

30+ Books With Numerical Titles - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Naturally, for a list of books with numerical titles, I’ve put them in numerical order. If any of these titles intrigue you, click through to read my full review – and consider purchasing it using an affiliate link to support this page 🙂

The One And Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa Ireland

One Day by David Nicholls

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Of Those Mothers by Megan Nicol Reed

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Allegra In Three Parts by Suzanne Daniel

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade

Daisy Jones And The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

A Brief History Of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (or The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, depending on where you’re reading)

The Seven Year Slip by Ashley Poston

7 1/2 by Christos Tsiolkas

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

When I Was Ten by Fiona Cummins

The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

12 Steps To A Long And Fulfilling Death by Sarah Smith

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Th1rt3en by Steve Cavanagh

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

The One Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

100 Nasty Women Of History by Hannah Jewell

138 Dates by Rebekah Campbell

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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