Book Review Mary’s Last Dance

Mary’s Last Dance by Mary Li

Summary

Mary’s Last Dance is a powerful and uplifting memoir about chasing an impossible dream, and sacrificing one’s own ambition for the love of a child. It is a moving and unforgettable story of passion, dedication and devotion – and the highly anticipated sequel to one of the world’s most beloved books.

Mary Li is an international ballet star and a mother like no other. She became a household name when her husband Li Cunxin published his bestselling memoir, Mao’s Last Dancer – but that book told only half the story.

Growing up in a rambunctious family in Rockhampton, Mary discovered an extraordinary early passion for ballet. It saw her move to London at age sixteen, to study at the Royal Ballet School and dance at the London Festival Ballet with the likes of Nureyev, and later to Houston Ballet, where as Principal Dancer she fell in love with the acclaimed dancer Li Cunxin. The couple became the darlings of the dance world, and were happier than they could have imagined at the arrival of their firstborn daughter, Sophie.

Then right at the height of her international career, Mary seemingly disappeared from view. What could have happened to cause a woman so committed, so talented, to give it all away in a heartbeat? Now, almost twenty years on, we learn what happened next to this inspiring family, and why it is Mary’s turn to tell a truly remarkable tale.

Comments

Mary’s Last Dance is the memoir of Mary Li. She is an acclaimed Australian ballet dancer and wife of Li Cunxin. Her story is a window into life in Rockhampton in the 1960s and 1970s, the world of international ballet and the sacrifice and journey Mary made in leaving ballet when her daughter was found to be profoundly deaf. While the writing might lack flair and the story a little repetitive, it tells about a high achieving family, love, deference, determination and acceptance. It was historically informative and opened our eyes to the conflict between the hearing and non-hearing communities. An enjoyable read.

Read by the MJ Readers

Book Review A Man Called Ove

Summary

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

Comments

Absolutely adored this book! A Man Called Ove is the story of Ove, a man in his late-50s recently widowed, and made redundant at work. Struggling to cope with life after losing his beautiful wife. His neighbours think he’s a little cantankerous, but his life is about to be changed by the family moving in next door after they quite comically, take out Ove’s letterbox. 

A beautifully written story with wonderful characters we could all relate to.. From Ove to Parineh, the pregnant Iranian neighbour to Adrian, the young man who needs help mending his bicycle to the cat, that keeps coming back.  An array of colourful characters that help bring this story to life.  It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. The language flowed as much as our emotions did. Definitely recommend this book!

8.5/10 Read by Cultcha Club

Book Club Book Reviews April 2022

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Summary

From the outside, the Delaneys appear to be an enviably contented family. Even after all these years, former tennis coaches Joy and Stan are still winning tournaments, and now that they’ve sold the family business they have all the time in the world to learn how to ‘relax’. Their four adult children are busy living their own lives, and while it could be argued they never quite achieved their destinies, no-one ever says that out loud.

But now Joy Delaney has disappeared and her children are re-examining their parents’ marriage and their family history with fresh, frightened eyes. Is her disappearance related to their mysterious house guest from last year? Or were things never as rosy as they seemed in the Delaney household?

Comments

We enjoyed reading Apples Never Fall and those members who have read other Liane Moriarty novels commented that it was a “more engaging read” than her last novel Nine Perfect Strangers.

The writer competently, and very often humorously, delved into the complexities of family dynamics between siblings, between children and parents and between couples.

The character development not only dealt with each sibling and adults interpersonal tensions but also their individual personal self doubts and life expectations.

The storyline is typical of this author’s storytelling ability to move easily between “past event” lead ups and the “now” to develop a very suspenseful novel. Some members found the plot “captivating” and did not expect the ending. 

The Delaney family were found by the group to be an identifiable family group with their work and life histories engaging. 

The character of Savannah was a slowly developing menacing presence throughout the story. She was the catalyst for much arguing and self reflection in the Delany family unit but her presence, actions and comments was also the cause of the family reuniting with more caring and understanding toward each other. 

Savannah’s family life and her upbringing, as we slowly and deftly learn, was a sad and damaging contrast to that of the Delaneys. 

There was much intrigue among readers with the ending of the book about the next chapter in Savannah’s life.

The writing was annoying to some readers in places with descriptions like “ancient old lady” but overall was a well written enjoyable story.

Read by MJ Readers

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Summary

1944: After a high-society New Year’s Eve party, at which Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, disgrace themselves, they are cut off financially by his father who already is ashamed of a son not in uniform. In a misguided effort to regain the Colonel’s favour, Ellis and his best friend, Hank, convince Maddie to follow them across the Atlantic on a wild scheme, with little thought of the devastation of World War II raging in Europe.

The trio arrive amid tragedy and privation in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie, left on her own for much of the time, gradually builds friendships with the villagers who show her a larger world than she knew existed. As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of the beauty and surprising possibilities of life.

Comments

Three obnoxious, rich Americans cross the Atlantic by ship, despite the second World War raging around them, to search for evidence of the Loch Ness monster. On their arrival in inverness the only accommodation is a small Inn. The two male friends, Henk and Ellis, set out most days on their quest leaving poor naive Maddie, Ellis’s wife, at the Inn. Before too long she realises that her marriage is over. When one of the female staff has an altercation with her boyfriend in the bar of the Inn and he beats her almost to death, Maddie is drawn into the drama and rises to the occasion by taking up some of the caring role and other duties.

As all romantic novels end, the gruff Innkeeper, Angus, turns from frog into Prince when he announces that he is actually the Laird of the nearby Manor and in love with Maddie, the hard done by little rich girl. Rather conveniently, Ellis drowns on the shore of the lake leaving Maddie free to marry her prince.

There were differing opinions amongst our group about this novel, but we all agreed that it is a perfectly acceptable light read.

Read by Dundas Readers

Book Review An Isolated Incident

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Summary

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella’s beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring.

As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation – anything – that could make even the smallest sense of Bella’s death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris’s suspicion of those around her grows.

Comments

This book was not quite the psychological thriller we thought it was. It was more about the friends and family left behind after a loved one is murdered, violently. The love/hate relationship they have with the media. While we understand what the book was trying to get across, we felt it didn’t quite hit the mark. For the most part, the book was well written, and engaging despite the grim subject. The main characters we are little hard to connect with.  We sympathised with Chris, and felt her pain, but some of her actions were questionable.  We found ourselves reading to the end, wanting to know who did it, why they did it, and how many managed to get the victim in their own car in such a public space without being noticed.  

Rating 7.5/10

Book Review Breath by Tim Winton

Breath by Tim Winton

Tim Winton’s Breath, winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, is a story about the wildness of youth and learning to live with its passing.

When paramedic Bruce Pike is called out to deal with another teenage adventure gone wrong, he knows better than his colleague, better than the kid’s parents, what happened and how. Thirty years before, that dead boy could have been him.

A relentlessly gripping and deeply moving novel about the damage you do to yourself when you’re young and think you’re immortal.

Comments

We were unanimous in our assessment of this wonderful book by Tim Winton. A vivid depiction of a beautiful and largely unspoilt area of the south-western Australian coastline is the setting for this coming of age story. At first glance this is a novel about two bored young teenage boys in a small town seeking adventure and a hero to emulate. However, their relationship with Sando and Eva, a couple of outsiders new to the town, and the underlying problems in all their lives are the basis for a much darker scenario.

The boys, Pikelet and Loonie, and Sando are all dare devil surfers entranced by the wild danger of this area of the coast. Throughout the book the fear, exhilaration and challenge of surfing in ever more dangerous conditions is ever-present as one of the death-defying activities which induce an adrenaline rush. Other far darker exploits such as auto-erotic asphixiation, Sandos power over the very impressionable boys and Pikelet’s sexual encounters with the emotionally unstable Eva, all contribute to serious problems in later life.

A book which we agreed deserves a second reading just to admire again the wisdom and depth of this wonderful Australian novelist.

Read by Dundas Readers