Book Review: The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

“1930s Melbourne. In sunny suburban streets, a serial killer lies in wait…”

The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

November, 1930. One sunny Saturday afternoon, 12-year-old Mena Griffiths was playing in the park when she was lured away by an unknown man. Hours later, her strangled body was found, mouth gagged and hands crossed over her chest, in an abandoned house. Only months later, another girl was murdered; the similarities between the cases undeniable. Crime in Melbourne had taken a shocking new turn: this was the work of a serial killer, a homicidal maniac.

My Review

The Schoolgirl Strangler is a fascinating true crime account of Melbourne’s earliest recorded serial killer. In the 1930s, a sick and twisted killer terrorised the suburbs of Melbourne and country Victoria, luring young girls to their deaths and strangling them with their own underwear. The police were under pressure for years to solve this chilling murder spree, interviewing thousands of people. Even prosecuting the wrong man at one point.

Katherine Kovacic has methodically researched the hunt for the Schoolgirl Strangler, often under difficult circumstances during Covid restrictions, and she has done a brilliant job of weaving the facts into a story that had me turning the page like a thriller. I found it interesting that she uncovered The Schoolgirl Strangler while she was researching her novel The Portrait of Molly Dean. It seems likely that Molly’s killer was a copycat of the Strangler.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and Katherine Kovacic’s in-person talks that I’ve been lucky enough to attend to listen to her speak about her research and writing processes.

Title: The Schoolgirl Strangler

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: January 3, 2021 by Bonnier Echo

Format: 320 pages, paperback

RRP: $32.99 AUD

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads: The Schoolgirl Strangler

The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

Book Review: The School by Brendan James Murray

The ups and downs of one year in the classroom

One teacher. One school. One year.

Brendan James Murray has been a high school teacher for more than ten years. In that time he has seen hundreds of kids move through the same hallways and classrooms – boisterous, angry, shy, big-hearted, awkward – all of them on the journey to adulthood.

In The School, he paints an astonishingly vivid portrait of a single school year, perfectly capturing the highs and lows of being a teenager, as well as the fire, passion and occasional heartbreak of being their teacher. Hilarious, heartfelt and true, it is a timeless story of a teacher and his classes, a must-read for any parent, and a tribute to the art of teaching.

My Review

The School is such a powerful read about the ups and downs of a year in a high school classroom told through the eyes of an English and Literature teacher. The names and events have been fictionalised and span many years and schools, but the school of this story is set in a public school on the Victorian coastline.

Over the course of the story, we progress through the school year with Mr Murray and his students, learning more about them and their lives as the school year progresses. The warmth, love, and care between Mr Murray and his students is evident throughout the book and I grew to care about all of the students almost as much as their teacher so thoughtfully does.

I also appreciated the way that the author highlighted the issues and the injustices that public school students so often face. It’s an important issue that needs to be addressed and Murray goes into great detail on this with his characteristic grace and humour. It must be so difficult and heartbreaking from a teacher’s perspective, but he remains focused on his students and their needs.

This is a wonderful story and a tribute to all teachers and the students that they care for. It’s beautifully and sensitively written and I think Mr Murray’s students are very lucky to have landed in his classroom. Just as I was lucky to attend high school with him in our own small coastal school. Highly recommended reading!

Details

Title: The School

Author: Brendan James Murray

Published: Pan MacMillan Australia

RRP: $34.99 AUD

Source: Publisher

Goodreads: The School

Zeus with our copy of The School by Brendan James Murray

Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

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Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

My Review

“A truer history”

A truer history of Australian agriculture. Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe should be essential reading for all Australians!

Pascoe argues that what we learned in school about what Aboriginal Australians were like before the First Fleet arrived in Australia is wrong. He presents robust evidence from early settler accounts and archaeological evidence which strongly suggest that many Aboriginal people all over Australia were engaging in farming, building, storing, irrigating, governing, and making activities that mean that they were not hunter-gatherers at all.

Pascoe also argues that evidence of pre-colonial Aboriginal societies and structure was deliberately erased by early settlers. I suspect this may be the case as history is always written by the victor!

I found the evidence in Dark Emu to be very well and modestly presented. Pascoe meticulously cites many diaries and original sources from early settler first hand accounts, including some accounts from very familiar names such as Charles Sturt and Thomas Mitchell.    These citations are all listed within the book and have been independently checked by Rick Morton for the Saturday Paper.

The evidence Pascoe has unearthed about the ways Aboriginal Australians managed the land through controlled fire burns and the way the soil was then compared to how it is now after more than 200 years of Western farming practices are more important than ever now. I am also very curious about the native plants that were used to make flour because they sound delicious and I suspect they might be beneficial for people with wheat or gluten intolerances.

I strongly urge all Australians to read Dark Emu. It will certainly make you think differently about things. It has made me think differently about what I was taught about colonial times and even more determined to be a better ally. I have also heard great things about Young Dark Emu, the adaptation of Dark Emu designed for children.

Synopsis

Dark Emu puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for precolonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag. Gerritsen and Gammage in their latest books support this premise but Pascoe takes this further and challenges the hunter-gatherer tag as a convenient lie. Almost all the evidence comes from the records and diaries of the Australian explorers, impeccable sources

Details 

Author: Bruce Pascoe

Published: 2014 by Magabala Books

Source: Own Copy

Read: Paperback, 176 pages, January-February 2020

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Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s taken me ages to be able to sit down and write a review for this book. I just couldn’t eatpraylovedecide whether I loved it or hated it! I’ve decided to meet myself halfway and am rating Eat Pray Love 3 stars, because there were parts I enjoyed and parts that I really hated.

Elizabeth Gilbert is in her 30s and having a bit of a breakdown. She appears to be living the dream New York lifestyle with a successful career, nice house and marriage, but she finds herself depressed and searching for God on the bathroom floor. This seems to be the catalysis for her quest, but it’s difficult to relate to her here, because she refuses to discuss the issues with her marriage at all.

So, she decides to take off for 12 months to find either God or herself. I’m still not really sure which one! Her itinerary includes Italy (to eat), India (to pray), and Indonesia (to love).

In Italy she learns Italian and eats a lot. This was my favourite section!

In India she prays at her guru’s ashram. This was the most boring section for me. The concept of a ‘guru’ who she never even meets is a bit far-fetched! Plus there was far too much navel-gazing and discussion of all the totally crazy thoughts that went through her mind here. I’ve got too much going on in my own mind to worry about anybody else’s! Although I did practice a little bit more yoga and meditation while I was reading this section, so that’s a bonus.

In Indonesia she apparently learns about love from a medicine man, raises money for an Indonesian woman to buy a house, and falls in love. I enjoyed Indonesia until Gilbert met her now husband. I feel like it took away from the empowering message the novel was attempting to convey by ending it with the author seemingly happy now because she’s found a man.

What I enjoyed most about Eat Pray Love was the writing style. Gilbert is a good writer and quite funny and endearing in parts. Although some parts really did tend towards narcissism, I don’t think that was the intent. I felt as though the novel was written with good intentions.

The biggest issue for me is that Gilbert’s lifestyle is so unattainable for the majority of the millions of people who have read Eat Pray Love. I’m sure everybody suffering from depression would love to take a 12 month paid vacation to travel around the world and then make millions of dollars by writing about their trip, but that’s just not going to happen for everyone. I would also like to point out that you really don’t need to go to so much effort to do similar things for yourself. You can treat yourself right where you are. Take a class at your local community centre, read a good book, listen to your favourite music, eat good food etc. You learn more about religion, yoga, meditation etc in your own city. And love the people you’re with right now. You also do not need a partner to be able to love yourself!!

Description

In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want–husband, country home, successful career–but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she felt consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place. Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.

Details

Title: Eat Pray Love

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Published: Riverhead Books, 2006

ISBN: 0143038419 (ISBN13: 9780143038412)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Travel, Spirituality

Pages: 334

Source: Own Copy

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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Book Review: Artificial Culture: Identity, Technology, and Bodies by Tama Leaver

Title:  Artificial Culture:  Identity, Technology, and Bodies                      artificial culture

Author: Tama Leaver

ISBN: 1283458829

Published: Published May 10th 2014 by Routledge (first published January 1st 2011)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Academic

Pages: 221

Source: I received a paperback copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Description:

Artificial Culture is an examination of the articulation, construction, and representation of the artificial in contemporary popular cultural texts, especially science fiction films and novels. The book argues that today we live in an artificial culture due to the deep and inextricable relationship between people, our bodies, and technology at large. While the artificial is often imagined as outside of the natural order and thus also beyond the realm of humanity, paradoxically, artificial concepts are simultaneously produced and constructed by human ideas and labor. The artificial can thus act as a boundary point against which we as a culture can measure what it means to be human. Science fiction feature films and novels, and other related media, frequently and provocatively deploy ideas of the artificial in ways which the lines between people, our bodies, spaces and culture more broadly blur and, at times, dissolve. Building on the rich foundational work on the figures of the cyborg and posthuman, this book situates the artificial in similar terms, but from a nevertheless distinctly different viewpoint. After examining ideas of the artificial as deployed in film, novels and other digital contexts, this study concludes that we are now part of an artificial culture entailing a matrix which, rather than separating minds and bodies, or humanity and the digital, reinforces the symbiotic connection between identities, bodies, and technologies.

My Thoughts:

Although Artificial Culture:Identity, Technology, and Bodies explores some rather heavy and complex concepts but it was written very well and raised some really interesting concepts so it didn’t feel like I was reading a dry old textbook at all. Tama Leaver examined several popular science fiction texts such as Avatar, 2001:A Space Odyssey, Terminator, Neuromancer, Marvel’s Spiderman and The Matrix to illustrate the ways in which science fiction popular culture frequently and provocatively deploys ideas of the artificial in ways which the lines between people, our bodies, spaces and culture more broadly blur and, at times, dissolve.

The author argues that technology has become so entrenched in our everyday lives that today we live in an artificial culture due to the deep and inextricable relationship between people, our bodies, and technology at large. It’s an interesting idea to ponder and something I’d like to hear your thoughts on.

I highly recommend Artificial Culture:Identity, Technology, and Bodies to anybody who is interested in digital and contemporary culture. Tama Leaver is a senior lecturer in the department of Internet Studies at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. He researches digital identity, social media, and the changing landscapes of media distribution. You can check out Tama’s recent work on his blog at http://www.tamaleaver.net/

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