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April 2015 book reviews

The Tiger Queens, Stephanie Thornton

This historical fiction novel follows four women in the court of Genghis Khan and his sons. The brutality and fragility of life for women is clear but each of them comes to wield a degree of influence. This is not merely imagination on the part of the author; it is thought that the women of the Khans were shrewd politicians and in many cases held the empire together as the men failed. The story is in four parts, each told by a different woman and their varied backgrounds bring a cross-cultural dimension. Are the Mongols wild barbarians or spiritual warriors? Are horses majestic or filthy? Are walled towns beautiful emblems of civilisation or confines stinking of human waste? I loved each of these women with their different perspectives and gifts and found this a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable read. tiger queens

Holy Bible, Vanessa Russell

This Aussie author grew up in the Christadelphians though she’s left it now, and her novel follows the Bloom family who are part of a warped, cult-ish Christadelphianism. The three female members of the Bloom family – mother Violet, daughter Tranquillity, and daughter-in-law Amy – all have something of a rebellious streak in them and the novel explores the different ways they handle this, and the different ways they are handled by others. A couple of reviews described this book as humorous but I didn’t get that at all. As a mainline Christian, this is a pretty uncomfortable read because it’s quoting parts of the Bible and there are recognisable Christian traditions in there, but these are used for sinister purposes. There was lots in this book that made me sad for the characters or angry on their behalf because this is a ‘Christianity’ without grace or freedom.

Delirium Trilogy, Lauren Oliver

Joining the swathes of young adult dystopian fiction with female protagonists, the premise of this trilogy is that love is a disease that people need to be cured from. Around their 18th birthday, young people receive a kind of immunisation so they marry by arrangement and have children as is responsible, but all without love. The catch, of course, is that many people experience their first love – become ‘infected’ – before they have the procedure, so will they go willingly to have it and be cured, or will the thrill of love so blind them that they resist? I found the writing a bit pedestrian and the plot twists predictable so I probably wouldn’t have read on to the second and then the third except that each one ends on a cliffhanger. Reflecting on the trilogy as a whole, the most compelling aspect of it for me was the varied relationships between the many women characters: best friends who become enemies, mothers and daughters, rivals for a man’s affection, allies in a cause, etc. I wish more attention had been given to these.

John Stott’s Right Hand: The Untold Story of Frances Whitehead, JEM Cameron

This book is aptly named, for great parts of it read like, ‘Here are several paragraphs about the things John Stott was doing at this time. Frances did lots of the organisation.’ The style is quite dry, more reporting than storytelling, high on facts and dates and low on anecdotes or stories. That made it hard to feel like I got to know Frances and what made her tick. Moreover, the book itself presents two competing versions of Frances Whitehead: one is of her ‘service to John Stott’, and the other is of ‘a ministry team’. Perhaps to a British readership the notion of being ‘in the service of someone’ grates less than it does for this Aussie, and Frances was happy to describe herself that way, and yet if she was so indispensable as it seems she was, it seems appropriate to acknowledge that her service was indeed to God, just as John’s was.

The Swan Book, Alexis Wright

Two unrelated women, one old and one young end up together, traumatised by the way the world is. Set in Australia, Aboriginal people are weathering the global changes brought by climate change better than most which gives them a degree of power. It’s an intriguing premise but I couldn’t get into it because of the writing style. Lots of words are used to paint a picture of I’m not sure what. I wanted to like this book but I don’t have the patience for this kind of obtuseness and abandoned it only 10% of the way through. I thought perhaps it was more Arthur’s cup of tea, but he’d started Carpentaria by the same author and put it down too.

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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