Book Reviews

The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku

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Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you.

Eddie Jaku always considered himself a German first, a Jew second. He was proud of his country. But all of that changed in November 1938, when he was beaten, arrested and taken to a concentration camp.

Over the next seven years, Eddie faced unimaginable horrors every day, first in Buchenwald, then in Auschwitz, then on a Nazi death march. He lost family, friends, his country.

Because he survived, Eddie made the vow to smile every day. He pays tribute to those who were lost by telling his story, sharing his wisdom and living his best possible life. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’.

Published as Eddie turns 100, this is a powerful, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful memoir of how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times.

When a person who has lived for 100 years on this earth offers you life advice, you should listen. When this same person has also not only witnessed but experienced first-hand one of the greatest atrocities this world has ever seen, you not only listen, but you prepare to have your outlook on life completely changed.

Eddie takes us through his time as a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II, and his life after the war. Each chapter contains a sliver of wisdom that Eddie lives his life by, and by the end of the book you will find your perception of the world and your own life have been changed. The writing in this book is simple and to the point; there is no flowery language or grandiose metaphors here. This only serves to further emphasise Eddie’s message of respect, kindness and love. He is a man who, despite all the horrors he has experienced, has such a positive outlook on life and on humanity.

My new friend Eddie’s message of happiness, love and, above all, hope, is a timely one, and one that we should all be paying attention to.

Rating: 5/5

Australian Publication Date: 1st August 2020

Book Reviews

Top Ten Reads of 2019

40275288._SY475_The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

At over 800 pages long, this is the big epic fantasy book I have always dreamed of. It has everything including kick-ass female characters, magic, epic battles and most importantly, dragons! The writing was beautiful to read, the world building was well thought out and researched, and the story was gripping. This is what Game of Thrones should have been.

What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume

The perfect summer beach read. This summer romance is typically Australian (family

9781760559120Christmas holiday) and features some very relatable elements (at 30, I still get my Dad to peel my prawns for me). One of the biggest points is that this book looks at body image positivity and promotes loving yourself and who you are at any size or shape. Written in diary format it is humourous and emotional and chock full of pop culture references. This is the book I wish had been around when I was sixteen years old.

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Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I listened to this book as an audiobook, and I think that was the ideal format for this story. Told through a series of interviews with band members looking back on their time when they were one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, this book charts the rise and fall of the band with often-conflicting views on what happened. You leave the book wishing the songs and albums talked about were real. There is a small twist at the end, which is both heart breaking and surprising, but ultimately adds an extra layer to the story you didn’t even know was there. The audiobook features a full voice cast and that made it such a joy to listen to.

Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff9780008180089

The Nevernight saga is one of my favourite book trilogies’ and the final book did not disappoint. So much is packed in to this book that you feel like you need to read every word and every line just to take it all in. Getting attached to characters in a Kristoff book is always fraught with danger, and Darkdawn is no exception, and no matter how hard you try not to, you will get attached to them. The body count is high in this final book, and many reader tears will be shed, but ‘byss and blood, is it ever worth it!

the-toll-9781481497060_lgThe Toll by Neal Shusterman

Another fabulous last book in another brilliant trilogy. The Toll rounds off the Arc of a Scythe series and answers all of those questions the reader has been dying to have answered. The moral and ethical dilemmas faced in the first two books are still very much a part of this final chapter. These books are dystopian fiction at its finest. Prepare for tears but ultimately triumph.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

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I absolutely loved The Hate U Give, and it was always going to be a hard act to follow on from such a brilliant and successful debut. But On The Come Up is just as amazing as Thomas’ first book, cementing her as one of my auto-buy authors. This book is also set in Garden Heights and the main character Bri holds her own just as much as Starr did. The rap battles and lyrics were my favourite parts of this book, and I can’t wait to see what Angie Thomas writes next!

9780143793533The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

I have a confession. The only Melina Marchetta book I ever read as a teen was Looking for Alibrandi, and I only ever read it once. So I was a bit nervous to read her latest offering, as it re-introduces many characters that have appeared in some of her other novels. I needn’t have worried because this book was a beautiful and emotional standalone read which carries just as much impact for readers who may not be familiar with Marchetta’s backlist. The writing is lyrical and the characters, always the strongest part of a Melina Marchetta novel, were real and flawed and relatable.

The Nancys by RWR McDonald9781760527334

I have never read a book quite like this one. The best way to describe it is, if Taika Waititi were to pen a mystery novel, it would look a lot like The Nancys. Although the main character of Tippy is eleven years old, this is definitely NOT a kid’s book. This book made me laugh many times over, with my favourite element being the cast of weird, wonderful and kooky supporting characters that we meet along the way. This is a wonderful mystery novel that will make you nostalgic for Nancy Drew books.

9781760295738Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

The Illuminae files by Kaufman and Kristoff was the trilogy that really got me into sci-fi stories, so I was very excited when I heard they would be co-writing another sci-fi trilogy together. As is typical of a Kaufman/Kristoff novel, there is so much more going on than the main storyline we are initially presented with. The characters are brilliant and relatable, the action sequences are heart stopping and the stakes are as high as ever. And if none of that has sold you on this book, then maybe the promise of a sexy space elf will.

Troll Hunting by Ginger Gormantroll-229x350

I’m not a big non-fiction reader, so for a non-fiction title to make it into my top ten list is a pretty big deal. This book documents Gorman’s investigation into online trolling is so well researched, to the point of it personally impacting Gorman and her life and well being. The facts presented are mind-boggling and the stories of some of the victims of trolling are harrowing. No matter how much or how little you know about online trolling, this book is absolutely eye opening as to how harmful it can be, little law enforcement does about it, and how crucial it is for our legal system to play catch up with it. This book should be required reading for anyone who has any kind of an online presence (so, everyone).

Book Reviews

Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

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In Mao’s Last Dancer Li Cunxin tells us the story of his life in China under the Communist regime of Chairman Mao. At a young age he is taken from his poor village and relocated to Beijing in order to study ballet as part of the Mao Cultural Revolution. As part of a cultural exchange trip, Li visits America in the late 1970s and begins to realise that the anti-American propaganda fed to them by the Chinese Communist Party may not in fact be true. He eventually defects to America – although not without drama – and later moves to and settles in Australia.

Much like Forty Autumns, one of the things that I think makes this a must-read is the fact that we don’t really know what life was like under these cruel regimes until you hear about it from a person who lived through it. We all know about these periods in history, and often study them in school, but you never really comprehend how it was until you read books like this one.

One of the themes that really struck a chord with me in this book was the struggle between individuality and conformity that Li experiences throughout his life. Often times, these struggles are illustrated through confronting scenes that Li witnesses, such as the public executions of counter–revolutionaries by firing squad. The turning point for Li is when he is initially denied permission to return to America to further improve his ballet training. He says “My beliefs were now completely altered after my experience with the ministry of culture and after having time to think about what I had seen in the West. Now I knew with absolute certainty, that I had been manipulated by Chairman Mao’s communist propaganda for many years.”

Having visited China myself, this book has had a particular impact on me. Even though things in China have vastly improved since Chairman Mao’s reign, there is still an element of terror, control and conformity imposed by the current Chinese Communist Party leaders. For example, when we visited Tiananmen Square, we were told not to mention anything about the 1989 Massacre when we were in the square because the government has cameras and microphones installed in order to deter any potential repeat of 1989. We were also told that if we mentioned it and were caught, we would likely be arrested, as the Chinese government still publicly maintain that the 1989 massacre never happened.

The book is emotional, heart-breaking, eye opening and inspiring. To have lived the life Li has, and to have ended up where he did is absolutely astounding. There were many times through my reading of the book where I got so angry at the treatment of the Chinese people by their leaders, and many more where I got goose bumps. This is one of the most evocative books I have ever read.

Rating: 5/5

Book Reviews

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner

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In this memoir, Nina Willner tells the true story of her family who were separated from each other by the Iron Curtain for over forty years, and who were reunited upon the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Hanna, the author’s mother, left her parents and seven (later, eight) siblings and escaped from East Germany into the West at the age of twenty. Eventually Hanna married and moved to America, where she had her own children, including Nina. Nina joined the intelligence services and, in a twist of fate, was posted to West Berlin as the first female Army Intelligence officer to lead intelligence operations into East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.

I am not a big reader of non-fiction or biographical books. I may read one or two a year, and often I find them average at best. But I found this story a captivating read. I know it’s only early January, but I feel like it may make it to my Top 5 Books Read in 2017.

The story would be heartbreaking as a work of fiction, but is absolutely devastating as a recount of fact. The depth of description of the events and horrors that were experienced by the author’s East German family during the Cold War was absolutely chilling to read about. The black and white family photographs that appear throughout the book also make the story that much more real, and that much more enthralling. The author gives us the big picture world events that were happening both in the West and in the Eastern Bloc throughout the decades of the Cold War.

I felt every single emotion this family felt. I felt like I had lived it with them. And in a rather roundabout way, I have.

My own grandparents, my Oma and Opa, along with my aunt and uncle (then in their early teens), fled East Germany in the mid 1950s before eventually emigrating to Australia. Through Nina Willner’s recounting of her family’s struggle living in the East and her mother’s frightening escape to the West, I feel like I now better understand my grandparents and their experiences in East Germany at that time, as well as the reasons for their terrifying escape into the West. I think this emotional connection to the story definitely enhanced my reading of the book. However, regardless, I still think this is a book that is a must-read. I haven’t before come across this level of factual detail and first hand account of life in East Germany during this time. This is an excellent novel that really hits home as to how things really were for the people who lived through this period of history.

Rating: 5/5