Category Archives: Book Reviews

#3 One Red Paperclip

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As a child Kyle MacDonald heard about an almost magical game called bigger or better. The idea was you started with some small object, like a toothpick, and traded it for bigger or better things until you had something really good, like a car. Out of work and tired of renting he decided to give bigger and better a go, beginning with one red paperclip attempting to trade up to a house.

Armed with his paperclip and craigslist he set out! After a few trades his website One Red Paperclip received hundreds of thousands of hits, despite his self admitted poor web design skills, and he became a global media sensation.

He realised, a few trades in, that he needed to not only trade for bigger and better things, but things with a high intrinsic value, such as recording contracts, to create a higher appeal and to prevent working up to things that were unshippable.

Did he eventually get a get a house? Well he wrote a book about his success so that probably gives you a clue…

Overall this book was ok. It chronicles the one year it took Kyle to make his trades including his movements to make the trades, a bit of backstory, personal relationships with his family and what it was like being in the centre of a media circus.

Its not the best written book in the world, owing probably to the fact that parts of the book are taken from his original log posts, however there are some interesting/funny emails he received. He also includes his little life lessons/motivational pieces at the end of each chapter which I’m sure some people really like, but I wasn’t really interested.

Overall this was an interesting book about a slightly quirky idea executed well.

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#2 Mao’s Last Dancer

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Li Cunxin grew up as part of a peasant family in communist China. His mother was known locally as ‘the lucky woman with seven sons’; Cunxin was son number six.

Growing up in extreme poverty, his family would play the ‘game’ of pass the once piece of meat in the dish to the other, who deserved it more, he spent time searching for overlooked vegetables in fields and half burned coal and and ate horrible dried yams, but one day all that changed.

Cunxin was selected for the Beijing Dance Academy which radically changed his life. After years of harsh training, he was selected to travel to the United States and perform with the Houston Ballet. He became a smash hit, but most of all was blown away with the sheer opulence and freedom available in the West. This caused him to defect from China, causing an international incident.

Cunxin went on to improve his ballet skills and further his career, becoming an international success before settling down and having a family with Australian ballerina Mary McKendry.

This book blew me away with the descriptions of Cunxin’s upbringing and life in communist China under the rule of Chairman Mao. His descriptions of his and the country’s extreme love for Chairman Mao despite the extreme poverty experience by most of the country. This is explored much more thoroughly than in the film, which I have seen and isn’t as good.

This love is something that is challenged and ultimately destroyed when he visits the US and realises that almost everything he was told about America was a lie. Cunxin’s reasons for wanting to remain in America and the international incident surrounding his defection are again better covered than in the film and create a much better understanding of the situation and emotions involved.

Overall it is a well written and compelling book which offers an insight into a world which was mostly shut off from the rest of the world and is very different from the one found western countries and indeed the Modern China. It is an uplifting story of determination and triumph despite circumstance.

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#1 Call the Midwife

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Jennifer Worth (nee Lee) left her relatively privileged life to work as a midwife in the East End of London during the 1950s. Although she had worked as a nurse, she was unprepared for the challenges she would face, including extreme poverty of patients, long work hours and living with nuns.

Although initially out of her depth, she soon adapted to life in the East End. While there she learned much about the life of the people, both uplifting and depressing; From a woman with 25 children and the survival of a premature baby to people losing their homes and the horrors of prostitution.

Throughout the book Worth comes across many endearing characters, including Sister Monica Joan, a woman whose dementia leads her to say many amusing things, and ‘Chummy’ who, through her upper-class upbringing can ride a horse but not a bike.

Worth’s book is beautifully written. Humorous, intriguing and engaging, it was good to the last page. Her comprehensive knowledge of midwifery practice and history is evident in the book and is integrated in a way that informs the reader without becoming jargony or incomprehensible to the lay person. The book also features a glossary of terms and notes on the cockney dialect to further aid the reader.

Funny, uplifting and occasionally heartbreaking, Call the Midwife is a truly great and unique book and a great start to the hundred.

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100 books about 100 people

After reading Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, her memoir about working as a midwife in London’s east end in the 1950s, I am inspired to read more books about interesting people. So begins a journey of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs of 100 interesting people, some famous, some unknown. I hope to gain wider perspective and deeper understanding of different times, people and places.

If you have any suggestions of great books that fit the bill, feel free to comment.

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Review: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

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I’ve just finished reading The Slap and, despite the numerous glowing reviews, it didn’t really grab me. I read another review which stated ‘you’ll either love it or hate it’ but in truth I didn’t really feel either. It was an ok book, I didn’t hate it, but I did have to make a concerted effort to pus through it too the end. It wasn’t a gripping page turner.

Tsiolkas’ attempt at writing a novel which Progresses the plot through the lenses of different characters, while a good attempt, was not as well executed as by some other authors, for example Jodi Picoult.

I also found some of the characters either 2 dimensional or stereotypical, for example the racist, Aussie, bogan, drunk or the hot headed Greek, and some of the less run of the mill characters, such as Bilal/Terry the Aboriginal who has found the Muslim faith, don’t really get much of a look in. They seem to have been created and sprinkled in in an attempt to add some diversity, however it is clear Tsiolkas is most comfortable writing about characters which come from his sphere of experience, namely those which are Greek.

Having not watched the TV adaptation, I don’t really know, but I feel as though it would be better on TV than as a book. I know some others have said this, but I agree, it was a bit like sitting down and watching an Aussie soap opera, such as Home and Away. The characters and their radical reactions/behaviours seemed more suited to the small screen.

With its constant use of course language and gratuitous sex and drug taking scenes, I can see how it would appeal to a segment of the population, but it wasn’t really for me.

Overall conclusion: Ok, but wouldn’t read again. Wouldn’t recommend widely, just to specific people.

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The best book about Sturt’s Desert Peas!

If you only buy one book about Sturt’s Desert Peas in your life make it this one!

Sturt’s Pea: A most Splendid Plant is a fantastically informative book with heaps of full colour pictures, historical information, biology of the plant, its influence in art and more. It caught my eye while walking through the library and I had to borrow it. I’m becoming slightly suspicious that the librarians eavesdrop on people’s conversations around the school and then prominently display books that match their interests having also seen a crochet encyclopaedia displayed on the same day…but anyway.

This book is great. If you have an interest in the plant I suggest you borrow it from your local library if it is available. Alternatively it is available from the Friends of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide. Their website is

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