I adore Fannie Flagg's southern fiction, and was thrilled to learn of a new release. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion is a heartwarming tal...more I adore Fannie Flagg's southern fiction, and was thrilled to learn of a new release. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion is a heartwarming tale of family, idenity and flying.
Sookie (Sarah Jane) Poole is a timid fifty nine year old wife and mother in Pt Clear, Alabama. She has never doubted who she is, despite being a continual disappointment to her mother, the imperious Southern matriarch Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, until she accidentally learns her mothers darkest secret.
The dual narrative alternates between the fallout of Sookie's discovery as she struggles to reconcile what she has always believed to be true with what her mothers secret reveals, and the fascinating story of the Jurdabralinski sisters of Wisconsin, to whom Sookie learns she is connected.
Sookie's identity crisis has her questioning the issue of nature versus nurture, wondering what might have been, had things been different. Though I thought perhaps her angst dragged on a bit too long, there is also a lot of humour and warmth in Sookie's journey, and of course in the sharing of the eccentricities of her Southern Belle mother and the benefits and pitfalls of small town living.
I was, however, always most eager to get back to the story of the Jurdabralinski's, a hardworking, Polish immigrant family of four daughters and one son. Fritzi, the most adventurous and unconventional of the girls, forges an extraordinary career as an aerial wing walker after being swept off her feet by a handsome but roguish stunt flyer. Unfortunately the war interrupts her career and she returns home where she is faced with the challenge of rescuing her family's gas station business while their father is recovering from TB and her brother in serving in the military. At Fritzi's suggestion, the four daughters of the family take over and manage to keep it profitable by exploiting the novelty of the girls being in charge...hence the title of the novel. As the war drags on, Fritzi is finally given the chance to fly again when, due to the lack of manpower available, women were reluctantly recruited by the military to assist in the war effort, transporting goods, including the planes themselves around the country. Eventually three of the Jurdabralinski sisters become fly girls, I was fascinated by this element of the novel, the WASP's, despite skepticism, and sometimes outright opposition, proved they were more than capable of providing crucial assistance to their country, but were never given official recognition by the powers that be and were summarily dismissed when the war finally ended. I love that Flagg has given recognition to this group of unsung heroines.
The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion is a charming story combining southern humour and eccentricity with a fascinating tale of adventure and heroism. Flagg is a wonderful storyteller and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this delightful novel.(less)
Tallulah de Longland and Annabelle Andrews were the best of friends from the day they met at St Rita's in Grade Seven. For the next six years they wer...more Tallulah de Longland and Annabelle Andrews were the best of friends from the day they met at St Rita's in Grade Seven. For the next six years they were inseparable, finding in each other an ally against Sister Scholastica, The Piranha Sisters and the eccentricities of their respective families. And then on the day of their high school graduation, Lulu discovers Annabelle in the arms of Joshua Keaton, and her future lays in tatters.
In part a coming of age tale, Walking on Trampolines is a delightfully engaging story about the joys and sorrows of friendship, first love and family.
Most of us, at least briefly, have had a best friend like Annabelle or at least recognise the dynamic. Lulu and Annabelle's relationship is a reminder of the all consuming nature of teenage friendship, and the devastation of the inevitable betrayal that destroyed it. Since I spent hours on the trampoline with my childhood best friend, the title, with the tagline 'It's not how far you fall but how high you bounce.', resonates with me particularly, conjuring memories of promises made on a mat of blue elastic weave, to be 'best friends forever'.
Oh and first love, the thrill, the excitement and passion and then the crushing pain when dreams of forever collapse. For Lulu the simultaneous loss of her boyfriend and her best friend paralyses her so that while Annabelle lives the life with Joshua that she had imagined, she is stuck, keeping the books for her father's plumbing business, until her father forces her to take a risk.
Family is an important theme in Walking On Trampolines but it is the complex relationship between mothers and daughters that Whiting captures particularly well. Lulu's mother names her dresses, 'Grace' is "...buttercup yellow with a Peter Pan collar and a row of pearl buttons down the front to the waist..." but when the shapeless 'Doris' makes an appearance, Lulu knows to tread lightly. Annabelle's artistic mother doesn't make lunches, or do birthday cakes and abandons her husband and daughter for a fling with her brother in law.
Further populated by a charmingly flawed cast of characters from Annabelle's eccentric father, Frank to Lulu's crass, yet wise mentor, Duncan, and the rabidly Catholic Stella, Walking on Trampolines offers heart, humor and drama as Lulu learns that she too is capable of the extraordinary.
Funny, tender and bitter sweet, Walking in Trampolines is a wonderful debut fiction novel from Australian columnist, Frances Whiting. I adored this story and I am looking forward to her next already.
Picking up just a few months after the end of Nefarious Doings, the town of Majic is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary when Nell's youngest daughter, Quinn, uncovers a surprising anomaly at the crypt of the town founder. Nell dutifully shares the information with the local Historical Society unaware that the discovery will rewrite the history of the town and make her the target of a killer desperate to keep the past a secret.
I think the plot is stronger in Ill-Gotten Gains (than in Nefarious Doings), the mystery is less predictable and, just when you think you might have figured it all out, it twists nicely. Evan's teases out the secret, which stretches back into the town's history, without compromising the drama of present. The tension is also more immediate with Nell targeted by the killer, leading to a spectacular confrontation at the height of the town's celebrations.
As with the first book, I adored the characters, I'd love to share a coffee with Nell (even though I can't stand the stuff). I love the little asides shared from her column, 'Middle Age Spread', and her sense of humour makes me laugh. Nell's familial relationships are so realistically drawn, I can empathise with the chaos her daughters introduce into her life and the love, and concern, she feels for all of them. The supporting characters within the community of Majic are part of the appeal of the series, often quirky, sometimes completely insane, they add colour to the story. I've mentioned it previously but look out for Grace June Rae, a character I won naming rights to. Oh and the dashing Detective Sergeant Ashley Armistead returns to charm Nell in Ill-Gotten Gains, even while he despairs of her habit of finding dead bodies and attracting trouble.
Ill-Gotten Gains is a delightful blend of mystery, humour and domestic drama with a touch of romance. I adore this new cosy mystery series - Ilsa, you can expect I'll be harassing you on Words With Friends until the next installment is in my hands! (less)
In a series of compelling short stories variously connected by time, place and character, Tim Winton's The Turning explores the trajectory of ordinary...more In a series of compelling short stories variously connected by time, place and character, Tim Winton's The Turning explores the trajectory of ordinary lives irrevocably altered by disappointment, tragedy, struggle and the yearning for something different...something more.
Set in Western Australia, the stories feature residents with ties to the fictional coastal town of Angelus. Though Winton shifts back and forth during the lifetime of of one man, Vic, who appears in nine of the seventeen stories, the stories begin in the 1970's.
The stories in The Turning focus on moments of change for the characters, sometimes as a result of a significant event or deliberate decision but more often simply as a result of circumstance, a chance meeting, or a seemingly trivial act. There is a strong thread of fatalism through the stories, the idea that a persons journey is predestined. Winston's characters are largely resigned to their past and their future, any hope for escape, for change, glimmering just out of reach.
I found Winton's child and teenage characters the most affecting, empathising with their confusion at changes thrust upon them, pitying the erosion of their innocence and dreams. The adult male characters are generally grimly working class, from fishermen to abattoir workers. The women are often mothers, though not always housewives. The Turning is often bleak and depressing as Winton exposes domestic violence, addiction and corruption.
Though nominally a collection of short stories, I feel The Turning is essentially an unusually structured novel and as such it is best to consider the individual stories as chapters, though they are capable of standing on their own. The connections are sometimes subtle but they are there for the discerning reader to discover, ensuring continuity and flow. The writing is effortless, eloquent and emotive, capturing the essence of place and people without unnecessary flourish.
Though first published in 2005, The Turning has been republished to coincide with this month's (September 2013) movie adaption release in Australian cinema's starring Rose Byrne, Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Miranda Otto and Hugo Weaving among others. The Turning is moving and compelling reading and I will be interested to see how it translates to the big screen.
Having instigated a Royal Commission into police corruption in Line of Sight, Detective Superintendent Frank Swann is now out on his own. Forced to re...more Having instigated a Royal Commission into police corruption in Line of Sight, Detective Superintendent Frank Swann is now out on his own. Forced to resign, accused of corruption by the men who he attempted to expose, he works as a private investigator while trying to avoid the retribution of his former colleagues. When Swann is hired to investigate the suicide of a renowned geologist, he discovers the man was about to strike it rich in Western Australian's gold fields. A little more digging reveals the dead man had partnered with Perth's underworld elite - corrupt cops, mafia bosses, bookies and politicians, all intent on cashing in on the state's mining boom - and now Swann is in their way.
Zero at the Bone has the tone of a hard-boiled detective novel with a distinctly Australian twist. It is a provocative story of corruption, greed and fraud in 1970's Perth. There is plenty of action, violence is ever present in the city's underground with the corruption amongst officials simply adding to it. The pace is fast, the narrative is sharp and the dialogue authentic.
Swann has more enemies than friends and his investigation is hampered by his need to avoid the manipulations of those who view him as an inconvenience. For his part Swann shows little fear despite the ever present threat of danger, previous events have obviously affected Swann deeply and he is willing to risk his life to take down the men corrupting his city. His motive is not entirely altruistic though, he has a personal axe to grind with the Head of the Fraud Squad, Ben Hogan and his corrupt supporters. Swann is a likeable character driven by a personal set of ethics which means he does not always keep to the right side of the law himself yet he evokes sympathy and admiration.
I particularly enjoyed Whish-Wilson's depiction of time and place, though I am too young to be familiar with his vision of my hometown. The details feel authentic though and I do vaguely remember the sesquicentennial celebrations - I even still have a souvenir mug!
Entertaining, gritty and provocative, Zero at the Bone is an impressive crime fiction novel. I'm sure Fran Swann will be back, and I am looking forward to it. (less)
Jaye Ford follows the success of Beyond Fear and Scared Yet? with her third exciting psychological thriller, Blood Secret.
Rennie Carter never expecte...more Jaye Ford follows the success of Beyond Fear and Scared Yet? with her third exciting psychological thriller, Blood Secret.
Rennie Carter never expected to stay long in the sleepy Australian coastal community of Haven Bay, but then she met Max Tully, and after a lifetime of running she dared to hope she finally found somewhere she could stay, somewhere she could be safe. And then one night Max disappears without a trace and Rennie is terrified her past has finally caught up with her - but Rennie is not the only one with secrets.
Tension is introduced in the first pages of this novel and Ford continues to build the suspense until the books final frenzied moments. I was never completely sure who to hold responsible for Max's disappearance, which is testament to Ford's skillful and subtle plotting. The road rager, the father, the brother-in-law, the cafe owner, and even Max himself, are all credible suspects in his disappearance, though ultimately my first instinct proved correct.
One of the things I particularly admire about Ford's characters is the way they make reasonable decisions based on the information and skills they have, instead of throwing themselves into the path of danger by making inane choices. Rennie, for example, reports Max's disappearance to the police, and when she suspects her father's involvement she reaches out to confirm or discredit her theory. Trust is not easy for Rennie, whose past is littered with tragedy, but Rennie doesn't dismiss her instincts about situations and people and it is that which ultimately saves her...and Max.
Fast paced and thrilling, Blood Secret is a story of lies and betrayal, trust and love. Once you pick it up you won't be able to put it down. (less)
The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald is a dark, disturbing tale of guilt, innocence, truth and lies which held me in thrall from start to finish.
This thrillin...more The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald is a dark, disturbing tale of guilt, innocence, truth and lies which held me in thrall from start to finish.
This thrilling psychological drama delves into every parent's worst nightmare, nine week old Jonah is gone and nothing his mother, Joanne, can do will bring him back to her. She wonders is she is being punished for her affair with Noah's father, Alistair, who was still married when she began seeing him, or for her impatience and anger with Noah's endless crying on the plane journey from London to Australia, but no matter the 'why', Joanna blames herself.
I am loathe to give away any hint of the gripping twists and turns that awaits the reader in this engrossing novel. The plot is skillfully crafted to both reveal and conceal the truth and lies that surround baby Noah's fate. Nothing is ever quite as it seems and I couldn't help but race through the pages until The Cry reached its stunning conclusion.
The characters are complex, real but deeply flawed in the way we all are. How you feel about these people, Joanna, Alistair and Alexandra changes facades begin to crack under the strain of uncertainty and secrets revealed.
Heartbreaking, shocking and utterly gripping The Cry has been added to my list of favourite novels for 2013. (less)
"The lies you wanted to hear were the easiest ones to tell" pg384
Lies you Wanted to Hear is a compelling story of love and betrayal, of a marriage des...more "The lies you wanted to hear were the easiest ones to tell" pg384
Lies you Wanted to Hear is a compelling story of love and betrayal, of a marriage destroyed by the secrets we keep from one another and the lies we tell ourselves.
When Matt meets Lucy on a blind date he knows she is the 'one', she is beautiful, bright and sexy, "everything a guy could want", but Lucy is wary, Matt, a strait laced police officer, is completely different from her on again-off again lover Griffin who she can't seem to let go of, no matter who badly he treats her. But Griffin has gone and when Lucy falls pregnant she allows Matt to convince her that she can be what he needs, that he is what she wants.
Told from the alternating first person viewpoints of Matt and Lucy we witness the evolution of their relationship, from their first date, to marriage, to parenthood, and its eventual, inevitable devolution. The relationship is compromised before it even begins, marred by secrets and dishonesty, which only become more divisive as time passes. The Lies You wanted to Hear explores the the ambiguity of guilt, blame, and fault and forces the reader to consider if right and wrong is always easy to determine.
The characterisation in Lies You Wanted To Hear is superb, Lucy and Matt are realistically complex and change through the novel. I found it difficult to like Lucy who is arrogant and self centered and I wasn't able to muster much sympathy for her despite a troubled family background or even the losses she suffers later in the novel. Matt is easier to like, loyal, loving and eager to please, but he has his faults and eventually he loses the moral high ground that seemed his right. Thomson skilfully exposes the choices each character makes and the consequences for their marriage and their family.
An impressive debut I wouldn't hesitate to recommend, Lies You Wanted to Hear is provocative, gritty and poignant. A gripping family drama. (less)
A story of secrets, lies, ugly truths and the ways in which the past haunts the present, The Vale Girl is a stunning debut by Nelika McDonald. When fo...more A story of secrets, lies, ugly truths and the ways in which the past haunts the present, The Vale Girl is a stunning debut by Nelika McDonald. When fourteen year old Sarah Vale, the illegitimate daughter of an alcoholic prostitute, goes missing, the residents of Banville are indifferent. In the absence of the small town's compassion, teenage Tommy Johns, determined not lose another person whom he loves, pushes Sergent Henson to investigate.
The narrative shifts between the first person voice of Sarah and the third person viewpoints of Tommy, Sergent Henson and Graham Knight. We learn of Sarah's mother's tragic past, Tommy's absent father and Graham's thwarted love. As the days pass with no sighting of Sarah the investigation reveals the secrets of Banville belied by the gaiety of the impending annual Grevillea Festival.
"The main street of Banville was very pretty, and it was easy to see how visitors could be seduced by her. But it still surprised Henson how few people ever drifted off the tourist trail and into the back streets, where the true heart of Banville was....Where the locals actually lived and ate and fought and played and slept, it was just an ordinary town, plain and dull. And in ordinary towns, there were broken things, ugly things, desolate and deserted things, and people who were all those things too." p59
Tension builds as the fate of Sarah remains unclear. While Henson speculates she may be the victim of a local bully who has seemingly fled town, Tommy comes to suspect Graham, with whom Sarah has never felt comfortable. McDonald has us wavering between our suspicions of these men, questioning their motivations and desperate to find the missing girl we have come to care about.
McDonald's observations of the town and its residents are sharp and insightful, burrowing beneath the appearance of respectability and responsibility. The writing is evocative and the atmosphere unsettling, emphasising the intrigue.
The Vale Girl is a thought provoking study of a community and its outsiders, of parents and their children, of ruined dreams and the desperate grasp of hope. A compelling and impressive debut I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.
Crime fiction is one of my favourite genres and I am not too choosy about the type - police procedurals, cozies, detective fiction, psychological thri...more Crime fiction is one of my favourite genres and I am not too choosy about the type - police procedurals, cozies, detective fiction, psychological thrillers - as long as there is a crime involved, I am willing to pick it up. My bookshelves were once dominated by authors such as Ed McBain, Jonathon Kellerman, Patricia Cornwall, Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton but slowly they are being edged out by the homegrown talent it has taken me a shamefully long time to discover.
If I Tell You...I'll Have To Kill You is a fabulous collection of essays from some of Australia's best crime writers. I was pleased discover I was unfamiliar with only one of the contributors and thrilled to learn more about some of my favourite authors like Malla Nunn, Adrian Hyland, Katherine Howell, Leigh Redhead and of course, editor Michael Robotham.
If I tell You... is undoubtedly a valuable resource for aspiring crime authors, offering a plethora of advice about plotting, character and more, followed by the author's own list of self imposed 'Rules'. Shane Maloney's rules are pretty simple and includes 'Read some f**ing books', Lenny Bartulin recommends you 'Do not drink more than one bottle of red wine per day - Unless you Can', Angela Savage, more sensibly suggests, 'Carry something to write on at all times...' and Gabrielle Lord bluntly advises 'Make writing your first priority. It comes before everything else.'
Even if you are simply a fan of crime fiction, like me, you will find these author's stories fascinating. I was surprised to discover Peter Corris has never accepted an advance for any of his 30+ Hardy novels because he dislikes the pressure of deadlines, and I was also amused by Leigh Redhead's account of her first foray into the seedy world of peepshows and strip clubs.
Each author has also been asked to nominate five Must-Reads which will grow your wishlist exponentially. The book mentioned most often is Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, though surprisingly The Lord of the Rings is also listed more than once.
If I Tell You...I'll Have To Kill You is a great collection, both informative and entertaining and I think it is a must have for Australian crime fiction fans. In addition, the royalties from the sale of this book are going towards the Australian Crime Writers Association which runs the annual Ned Kelly Awards. Show your support for our talented Aussie crime writers and purchase a copy today. (less)
The Dying Beach is the third crime fiction novel by Angela Savage to feature PI Jayne Keeney. I haven't read the first two, something I am now plannin...more The Dying Beach is the third crime fiction novel by Angela Savage to feature PI Jayne Keeney. I haven't read the first two, something I am now planning to rectify as I was really impressed with this novel.
Thirty something year old Jayne is an Australian expat who has been living in Thailand for some time. Her career as an unofficial private investigator began when she did a favour for one of her students and discovered it was far more exciting and lucrative than teaching English to middle class Thai children. Word of mouth and Jayne's ability to speak fluent Thai, French and English has seen her business thrive, and now in partnership with Rajiv Patel, she is on the brink of formalising the agency.
As a farang (foreigner) Jayne enjoys the freedom of not having to fit in. She cares little for what people think of her but respects the culture of the Thai people. She drinks, smokes and is outspoken. She doesn't mind bending a few rules and though at times she is impulsive, her heart is always in the right place. Jayne can't let injustice slide.
The intrigue in Dying Beach is prompted by the death of a young tour guide, Pla, while Jayne and Rajiv are holidaying in Krabi on the Thai coast. To Jayne the circumstances seem extraordinary and she is determined to do a some digging despite Rajiv's reluctance. It seems Jayne's suspicions are founded when first Pla's roommate is brutally slain and then an Australian tourist resembling Jayne is also murdered. Jayne discovers Pla was involved in some local environmental projects and the killer seems intent on retrieving the Thai girl's notebook, which Jayne is now in possession of. The story is well paced, with steady tension and bursts of action. There are also some clever twists to the case.
I know very little about Thailand so for me the setting was particularly exotic. A prevalent theme in the story is the environment and, in particular, the damage being caused to Thailand's coast and mangroves due to commercial shrimping operations. I also really liked the way Savage illustrates the Thai culture, both the good and the bad, without stepping outside of the story.
I really enjoyed The Dying Beach, it is a stylish, intriguing and entertaining novel featuring an appealing protagonist and makes the most of its exotic setting. I'd happily recommend The Dying Beach, which works well as a standalone. I am not only looking forward to the next book but I intend to hunt down and read the first two books in the series.(less)
Moving between South East Queensland and the First World War battlefields of France, Sunset Ridge is an epic tale of family, love and war. Nominated a...more Moving between South East Queensland and the First World War battlefields of France, Sunset Ridge is an epic tale of family, love and war. Nominated as one of '50 Book's You Can't Put Down' by Australia's nationwide Get Reading program for 2013, it is a compelling novel, well deserving of the recognition.
At the urging of her mother, Jude, art historian Madeleine Harrow-Boyne has agreed to consider the feasibility of a retrospective art exhibition to feature her grandfather's landscapes, but to tempt a gallery to sponsor the project Madeleine needs to learn more about David Harrow, who died before she was born. Hoping to discover something of interest, Madeleine returns to the family property, Sunset Ridge, in South East Queensland, currently managed by her brother, where her grandfather was born and raised. It is there that Madeleine stumbles upon the remarkable legacy David Harrow left behind, one that extends beyond his art, and the boundary of Sunset Ridge.
I was fortunate to meet Nicole Alexander at an author event recently and learnt that Sunset Creek was inspired by her own grandfather's life. Alexander is a fourth generation grazier in north west NSW where her family farm cattle, sheep and crops. Sunset Creek is, at least in part, modeled on her family property and the author has drawn on her family's stories to lend authenticity to her setting and characters.
David Harrow is the youngest of three brothers, heirs to Sunset Ridge. It is 1916 and Thaddeus and Luther are growing restless under the thumb of their tyrannical father. When G.W. pushes his sons too far they escape, enlist in the army and are sent to France to fight in the Great War.
For details of life at the Front, Alexander had access to wartime correspondence and news clippings kept by her family, supplemented by meticulous research. Alexander's descriptions of life in the trenches in Verdun and Somme are harrowing and vivid. She beautifully captures the experiences of David and his comrades, the poignant mix of heroic spirit and abject terror found on the battlefields, tales of bravery, sacrifice and tragedy.
In France, Alexander forges the link between David and the Chessy family. Madame Marie has reluctantly seen her twin sons, Antoine and Francois, accompanied by their pet dog, Roland, off to fight, having already lost her husband to the war. Her small farm is often used by allied forces to provide respite to its soldiers and it is here, Madeleine will eventually learn, part of David's legacy rests.
A stunning Australian saga told by a consummate storyteller, Sunset Ridge is an absorbing read and one I won't hesitate to recommended. (less)
I was surprised to discover The Heaven I Swallowed, a runner up in the 2008 Australian/Vogel awards, to be such a compelling read for me. While the pr...more I was surprised to discover The Heaven I Swallowed, a runner up in the 2008 Australian/Vogel awards, to be such a compelling read for me. While the premise was of interest I had no real expectations of it, yet I found it utterly absorbing within the first few pages.
Set in Australia not long after the end of the second world war, middle age widow Grace Smith takes charge of a half-cast twelve year old orphaned aboriginal girl, named Mary.
"She was just a young child and I had the entire world to give her" p11
While there is some truth in Grace's stated intent to help Mary, though framed in terms of 'rescue' from the heathen and ignorant influence of her nature, Grace's reasons for accepting Mary into her home are far more complex than she will admit to herself and have very little to do with what she can give the child.
In part Grace hoped that she would gain the esteem of her community for her her selfless act of charity. A woman who believes in rules, Grace lives in fear of breaking those she doesn't understand and unfortunately the expected praise is not forthcoming.
"It should have occurred to me...that their idea of the proper way to make a difference was to simply give more, to increase the weekly donation dropped into the padded green velvet of the church collection plate or continue with their afternoons at various charity shops. No one really wanted to see Mary there..." p37
Lonely, the widow also hopes that in some manner Mary will be a substitute for the child she miscarried years before but Grace is flustered by Mary being both older and darker than she expected. Additionally Grace is torn between ensuring Mary learns discipline, manners and a good work ethic and wanting to share affection with the girl. Raised in a strict orphanage by largely punitive nuns Grace has no real idea how to create or nurture an attachment and appearance of kindness is a double edged sword for Mary.
Strangely though, it is difficult to dislike Grace as much as you might expect to. I found her utterly intriguing though I am not so sure she would be so to everyone. In me she inspired pity for her desolate background, her ignorance, her awkwardness and lack of self awareness. Not that it excuses her poor behaviour in any way, nor is it a reason to forgive it. There is no small sense of satisfaction that in the end Mary extracts a kind of noble revenge.
While The Heaven I Swallowed is in part a commentary on the Stolen Generation, it was the complexity of the character of Grace Smith which held me enthralled, I put it down only once, and resented even that.
This isn't the first novel I have read by Cathy Lamb, in 2011 I borrowed Henry's Sisters from the library and though I never wrote a full review I gav...more
This isn't the first novel I have read by Cathy Lamb, in 2011 I borrowed Henry's Sisters from the library and though I never wrote a full review I gave the book five stars and wrote "I would give it more if I could." When I finished If You Could See What I See, the first thing I did was make a note that read "I laughed, I cried, I loved!" and the second thing I did was to order the author's entire back list.
Articulating why I so adored this novel is difficult because I can't isolate one particular element that I can identify as extraordinary. There is just something about the way in which Lamb writes that works for me.
In simplistic terms, the story of If You Could See What I See begins when Meggie O'Rourke, still struggling with the fall out from her disastrous marriage, returns home to Oregon to rescue her beloved grandmother's failing lingerie company from financial ruin. Buffeted by her grandmother's indomitable will and her sisters rivalry, Meggie has to find a way to secure both herself, and Lace, Satin and Baubles, a future.
But If You Could See What I See offers so much more than this neat summary reveals. The shocking truth of Meggie's marriage, the complex dynamics of her family and their relationships, the foundation on which the company was built and the lives of the people who work for it, all create a story that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Similarly, the characters will shock and surprise you, from Brianna O'Rourke's frank discussions about sexual satisfaction on national TV to Hayden's revelation that he is a girl stuck in a boy's body.
There is grief, pain and tragedy, deeply felt and sensitively explored, but all tempered by heart, humour and even romance. A story about love, family and courage, I laughed, I cried, I loved! (less)
In the heat of the moment, Joseph Scott lashes out at his wife, Zoe, and unwittingly destroys everything he loves. Three years later Joseph is release...more In the heat of the moment, Joseph Scott lashes out at his wife, Zoe, and unwittingly destroys everything he loves. Three years later Joseph is released from prison and his first priority is to re-establish contact with his children, thirteen year old Scarlett, ten year old Theo and four year old Ben. The children have been in the care of their maternal grandparents, Hannah and Frederick, who blame Joseph for their daughters death and fight to deny him access. Compelling and thought provoking, The Son-In-Law is a moving story of forgiveness and redemption.
The Son-In-Law is told from the alternating perspectives of Joseph, Hannah and Scarlett, unveiling a tale of tragedy and domestic drama. Zoe's death left her family reeling and three years on they are still struggling to come to terms with her absence. With remarkable insight and compassion, Norman explores the intense emotions of her protagonists- Hannah's righteous bitterness and anger, Scarlett's vulnerability and confusion and Joseph's sadness and fierce love for his children. My support was constantly shifting as the author revealed the complexities of the issues involved in decided what was best for the children. On balance, it was the children who engendered most of my sympathy, caught as they were between the adults whose good intentions were compromised by their own desires.
The only way for this shattered family to heal is to find forgiveness from one another but it is a journey fraught with hurt, anger and confusion. Their conflicts seem irreconcilable but slowly Norman's characters edge towards an understanding of each other and their needs. Norman challenges the reader to negotiate this emotional and moral minefield and our notions of what is best, and what is right.
Beautifully written, The Son-In-Law is a harrowing and powerful story. I was utterly engrossed by the realistic characters, their precarious relationships and the heartwrenching circumstances of this family tragedy, and I think you will be too. (less)
I first learned about The Returned when I attended the Harlequin Summit in February and I have been waiting impatiently for its release ever since. Ja...more I first learned about The Returned when I attended the Harlequin Summit in February and I have been waiting impatiently for its release ever since. Jason Mott's debut novel poses explores a compelling premise, what if the people you once loved, and lost, come back?
Nearly fifty years after Harold and Lucille's son drowned tragically on his eighth birthday, Jacob is Returned to them having been found alongside a river bank in China. Their son is just one of many who have returned from the dead, as bewildered by their resurrection as are the 'True Living', with no memory of their passing or their absence.
The world is torn, are the Returned a miracle or a sign of 'the end of days'? An infection or a blessing? People or monsters? While some welcome the reunion with their loved ones, others shun them. Fear, jealousy, even resentment and regret amongst some of the 'True Living' engenders outbreaks of protests and violence. The American government, unable to explain the phenomena, eventually responds by segregating The Returned, housing them in increasingly overcrowded guarded camps.
The Hargraves' story of Jacob's Return is intertwined with tales from other Returned individuals including an artist whose fame came only posthumously, a cluster of Nazi soldiers, a family man and a girl murdered in war torn Sierra Leone. These snippets provide additional perspective and mystery.
For some readers the lack of explanation about the how's and the why's of the Returned may be a source of frustration but I was pleased that Mott didn't attempt to make sense of it. There are more important questions to be asked and answered about 'faith and morality, love and responsibility', about humanity and the meaning of life. I was impressed by the way in which Mott navigated issues like religion and more prosaic concerns like the strain on resources resulting from a population explosion.
The Returned is a remarkable, captivating read and its questions will haunt you long after you have turned the last page. If your loved one was Returned to you, what would you do? (less)
Traces of Absence is a moving and poignant story of a mother's search for her lost daughter. Beautifully written, it is an emotionally harrowing tale...more Traces of Absence is a moving and poignant story of a mother's search for her lost daughter. Beautifully written, it is an emotionally harrowing tale of grief, loss, guilt and hope.
In 2005, Dee encouraged her nineteen year old daughter, Corrie, to put her university studies on hold and spend some time with their former exchange student, Marco, in Argentina. Corrie had been struggling since the sudden death of her father the year before and Dee thought the break would help Corrie deal with her grief. It is not until she receives a call from Marco, concerned that Corrie has not returned from a scheduled sight seeing trip a week previously, that she begins to regret encouraging her daughter to leave. Anxious, but hopeful Corrie has simply thoughtlessly forgotten to apprise Marco and his family of a change of plans, Dee makes arrangements for the care of her fourteen year old twin sons and flies to Argentina to speak with a representative of the Australian Consul. Four years later, Dee is preparing for her annual pilgrimage from Australia to Buenos Aires. There has been no word from Corrie since she disappeared and Dee wonders if it is time to accept she may never know what happened to her daughter, but when she comes across a photo at an exhibition with a young woman in the background who reminds her of her daughter, hope flares and Dee is willing to give this last search her all.
I had expectations, given South America's reputation for violence, corruption and criminality, of the way in which the plot of Traces of Absence would unfold and conclude, but you know what they say about assumptions. It is never certain if Dee, and therefore the reader, will discover Corrie's fate and that well paced, intriguing mystery, as much as my identification with Dee, kept me turning the pages.
My sympathies were immediately aligned with Dee in Traces of Absence, I can only imagine her devastation upon finding out her daughter had vanished in South America, and the years of heartbreak that follow with no word. Though it is Corrie that is missing and Dee's search for her provides the momentum for this novel, the focus is more on Dee's emotional journey as she reflects on her relationship with her daughter before her disappearance and considers her perceived failings as a mother. As the primary wage earner in the family with a busy job, her relationship with her sensitive daughter, who often claimed to feel ignored and unloved by her mother, was difficult and the strain worsened after Dee's husband died of a heart attack while Corrie was the only one at home with him. With her daughter gone, Dee has no way to resolve their past, to explain, or ask for forgiveness or forge a closer connection with Corrie. As a mother to a seventeen year old girl who is on the verge of beginning her own life, Dee's fears and failings resonated with me (and make me thankful my daughter has no desire to travel overseas).
I found Traces of Absence to be a superb read, both for its compelling mystery and emotional intensity and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this thought provoking and intriguing novel. (less)
I really liked Throne of Glass and I have been looking forward to this sequel, Crown of Midnight. I was a little worried that the novel might succumb...more I really liked Throne of Glass and I have been looking forward to this sequel, Crown of Midnight. I was a little worried that the novel might succumb to the dreaded second book syndrome but all for nought, Crown of Midnight is a terrific read which I enjoyed even more than the first.
Picking up a few months after Celaena was named King's Champion in Throne of Glass, the book opens as Celaena drops the rotting head of one of Ardalan's enemies at his feet. As the King's personal assassin, indentured for four years, she is expected to follow his orders or risk the lives of those she loves, but Celeana walks a fine line between obedience and rebellion.
There is much tragedy for Celaena in Crown of Midnight, the death of a close friend, a betrayal she doesn't think she can ever forgive and separation from those she cares for. Celaena's prodigious talents are called upon often but the most deadly action takes place as Celaena seeks revenge and absolution. Bloody, fast paced and Celaena's adventures left me breathless.
While magic is largely assumed to be extinct in Erilea it begins to make its presence felt in Crown of Midnight. A hooded figure radiating evil lurks in the castle's library, the spirit of Queen Elena makes another appeal for Celaena's assistance and an animated doorknocker helps her to solve the mystery of King Ardalan's power base. Blood outs Celaena, and the Prince, revealing stunning truths in an exciting plot that twists and turns.
Romantically, Celaena makes her choice but betrayal soon tears them apart. *Sigh* I could fall in love with Kings Guard, Captain Chaol Westerfield and their romance is joyful and heartbreaking. However I liked seeing Prince Dorian begin to come into his own in this installment, his loyalty to Celaena and Chaol is admirable given his feelings for them both.
Though ostensibly written for a mature young adult audience I think this fantasy series has plenty to offer to adults of both genders. Crown of Midnight is fast paced, action packed, with great characters and an entertaining story. It is going to seem like a longgg wait for the next book (due out in 2014)! (less)
I'm not sure how old I was when I stumbled across one of Erma Bombeck's books, The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, in a second hand book...more I'm not sure how old I was when I stumbled across one of Erma Bombeck's books, The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, in a second hand bookstore though I think I was maybe in my mid teens. I hadn't really read anything by a humourist before and I wasn't expecting to find much in a book written by an old (from my perspective), American housewife amusing but I did. In fact I think it was probably the first book that actually made me laugh out loud. After that I kept an eye out for anything else by Erma, at that stage (in the late 1980's) she had published 8 books but they were difficult to find in Australia. Over the years I have managed to collect five of her books, and read 2 others (courtesy the library).
The Erma Bombeck Collection includes two of the books I already own - The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, and If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? and a third I hadn't managed to get a hold of Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession.
It's delightful to discover just how timeless Erma Bombeck's sense of humour is. Despite the generation gap and the seismic changes in society, her domestic commentary is still as relevant as it was 40 years ago. My children regularly ambush me with the need for a costume/cake/working model of a rocket ship the night before it is needed, my husband can never find anything on a shelf in the pantry or fridge without my help and I haven't seen the floor in my teenage daughter's room for years. No matter if you are the mother of toddlers or teenagers, and regardless of whether you are a stay at home mum or work full time, it is easy to relate to Erma's light-hearted diatribes.
Hilarious, heartwarming and at times poignant, this is a wonderful collection of three of Erma Bombeck's best, and a thoroughly entertaining read. (less)
I am sad to learn that Terminated concludes Rachel Caine's Revivalist series. This has a been a fabulous trilogy that overrided my aversion to all thi...more I am sad to learn that Terminated concludes Rachel Caine's Revivalist series. This has a been a fabulous trilogy that overrided my aversion to all things zombie with great characters and an exciting mix of action, conspiracy with the lightest touch of romance. I enjoyed Working Stiff and Two Weeks' Notice immensely and I hoped that Terminated would provide the conclusion the series deserved.
Picking up where Two Weeks' Notice left off, Terminated begins as Bryn and her allies flee the compound where Bryn and Riley have been held prisoner and tortured by Patrick's psychopathic ex wife, Jane. Eluding capture by Jane and her cohorts will not be easy, and what follows includes pitched fire fights, ambushes and explosions where the action is fast paced, the tension high and the body count mounts. Bryn herself is shot point blank in the head, hit by a truck, blown up, shot again (again and again), severely burnt in a brush fire and forced to burrow into her own stomach.
Complicating everything is the secret Bryn and Riley are keeping. During their time in the base they were infected with a new mutation of the Returne. This new strain is self replicating and requires feeding with protein - raw steak, human flesh - the nanites don't discriminate and now Bryn has to worry about turning on her people.
The end game for Bryn and her allies, Joe, Patrick, Manny, Pansy, Annalie and Liam, is finding the cure for Returne and thwarting the plans of those who are determined to build a new world order. It's a hell of a wild ride to get there and the resolution is the perfect payoff.
With the story complete, I have no hesitation in recommending The Revivalist trilogy. The combination of urban fantasy, page turning action and kickass characters is irresistible, don't even try. (less)
I wouldn't advise beginning The Bone Season with the intention of reading just a few chapters before bedtime or you may find yourself still turning th...more I wouldn't advise beginning The Bone Season with the intention of reading just a few chapters before bedtime or you may find yourself still turning the pages at dawn as I did. With all the hype surrounding this novel written by twenty one year old debut author, Samantha Shannon I have to admit I was a little wary going in but The Bone Season, though not perfect, is an impressive and engrossing fantasy novel.
Set in future London following a timeline that splits from ours in the early 1900's, The Bone Season introduces nineteen year old Paige Mahoney. Paige is a dreamwalker, fighting to survive in a world where possessing any clairvoyant ability is considered high treason. Forced underground, London's clairvoyant's have formed criminal enclaves and Paige has given her allegiance to Jaxon Hall, who collects those 'voyants' with the rarest and most useful talents. During a rare journey to visit her father in London's suburbs, the train Paige is traveling on is boarded by Scion Underguards searching for voyants and Paige is forced to flee but quickly caught, drugged and taken to the Tower. Paige expects to be executed, for no one that has been taken by the Scion has ever returned but is horrified to learn that captured voyants are handed over to a enigmatic otherworldly race that call themselves the Rephaite, to serve them as slaves or food or soldiers. Paige's unique ability results in her being assigned to the Blood-Consort, Arcturus Warden, whom she is expected to obey unquestioningly. Paige though is not the type to meekly accept the strictures of her new life in Oxford, she wants to go home and she is determined to take as many other voyants as she can with her.
The plot of The Bone Season is actually quite straightforward and though there aren't a lot of surprises, I still found it compelling. There is plenty of tension and a good mix of action and intrigue with just a touch of romance (thankfully left nearly to the end of the novel).
I liked Paige as the heroine - she is smart, resourceful, feisty and both her talent and her personality is interesting. Despite the inherent contradiction she has a core of incorruptible humanity, she cares even when it is in her best interest not to. We learn only a little about her employer, Jax, and her colleagues given that she spends most of the book separated from them, but I am looking forward to getting to know more about them. Paige's allies and enemies in Sheol I are reasonably well drawn but obviously temporary. Warden is necessarily enigmatic, his allegiances unclear and his motives suspect. The issue of trust between Paige and Warden is a crucial element of the story and I think Shannon develops this very well.
The world building of The Bone Season is creative and interesting, though at times a little dense. I found it took a little while to get it all straight but I was intrigued by the variety of clairvoyant talents introduced ranging from Cartomancers to Binders and the ways in which the voyants are linked to the aether - the plane of existence where spirits dwell. The introduction of the enigmatic Rephaite, hidden in Oxford, adds another layer of interest especially as exactly what they are is shrouded in secrecy.
Despite it's length, The Bone Season is well paced without much of the the forced compression most stories are hostage to. I think the writing is impressive, especially given Shannon's age and experience. She is a natural storyteller and though a little more polish wouldn't hurt, the flaws in the narrative are minor. I would think it would be harder for Americans than readers from the Commonwealth to understand some of the slang used in The Bone Season, though a glossary is available to be made use of.
The Bone Season is easily one of the most enjoyable paranormal/distopyian novels I have read, though admittedly I have read few - distopyia is not usually my thing. I'm excited about the development of the series and hope that Samantha Shannon can live up to its potential. I will definitely be picking up the next book.
A compelling and provocative tale, author Kate Manning blends history and imagination to create a wonderfully rich portrait of an extraordinary charac...more A compelling and provocative tale, author Kate Manning blends history and imagination to create a wonderfully rich portrait of an extraordinary character. My Notorious Life is loosely based on the history of 19th-century New York midwife and abortionist Ann Trow Lohman, better known as Madame Restell.
The narrative of this tale is in the first person point of view and takes the form of a journal, chronicling the life of Axie (Ann) Muldoon. It begins with thirteen year old Axie begging with her younger siblings, sister Dutchie and brother Joe, on the streets of New York and follows her rising and falling fortunes after being separated from her family and eventually apprenticed to Mrs Evans, a Manhattan midwife who also treats 'womens troubles'. Reunited with fellow street urchin turned print setter and aspiring journalist, Charlie G Jones, whom she marries, the death of Mrs Evans and the couple's poverty inspires Axie to manufacture and sell medicinal aids for female complaints, a business that soon expands to include advising women on matters such as contraception, and offering both midwifery care and early term abortions for those desperate enough to seek them.
Axie is a character who will get under your skin. Feisty, loyal, compassionate and brave, she is an uncommon woman for the times. Manning develops her beautifully from an orphaned 13 year old street rat to a wealthy wife, mother and midwife. Her journey from 'rags to riches' is remarkable but the fine clothes and fancy decor doesn't changes who she is, despite the veneer of wealth.
For Axie, whose own mother died from childbirth fever, abortion was a practice that she honoured despite its unpleasantness. I found Axie's initial ambivalence interesting, while she understood the desperation of women worn out by childbirth, girls taken advantage of by their 'guardians', women seduced by the sweet nothings whispered by those they loved, it took her some time to recognise the value of the service she provided.
The social portrait of 18th century America is brilliantly drawn. The disparity in class, economic and educational opportunities, the lack of social welfare and the unfettered misogyny of religion, politics and government. Central to My Notorious Life however are the issues that women faced as marginalised members of society with few rights.
With the distinct lack of contraceptive options in the late 19th century women had little control over their fertility. For wives who were unable to refuse sex with their husbands, multiple pregnancies increased the already high risk of death in childbirth or other crippling complications. Women were also particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and assault, and as men abdicated any responsibility with impunity, once impregnated they were ostracised by society. As such, women relied on abortion to terminate unwanted pregnancies and at the time it was a accepted practice, though not openly discussed. Home remedies such as gin and hot bath, concoctions with dubious medicinal qualities such as the type Axie sells after leaving the Evans were tried while others sought out a sympathetic midwife for a abortion. The procedure, as long as it was performed before the 'quickening' was not made illegal until Comstock began his moral crusade, backed by (male) doctors who were determined to wrest control of obstetric practices away from midwives.
While My Notorious Life explores the history of social and health issues it is foremost a remarkable and compelling story that I could not put down. I found it fascinating, thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining and I offer it my highest recommendation.
Wildlife is Fiona Wood's companion novel to her popular young adult contemporary debut, Six Impossible Things.
Sibylla is used to people looking past...more Wildlife is Fiona Wood's companion novel to her popular young adult contemporary debut, Six Impossible Things.
Sibylla is used to people looking past her, around her, through her even, but that all changes the day her face appears on a 20-metre billboard and Ben Capaldi, the most popular boy in year 10, kisses her.
"So the Earth must be spinning of it's axis by now, plummeting headlong towards a new universe, oceans sloshing and spilling, icecaps sliding, trees uprooted. Because somehow I've stepped over the line to stand with the popular girls. Only I haven't. The line must have moved without me realising."
Coping with her shift in status is disorientating for Sibylla, despite her best friend's coaching, especially as year 10 have to spend the next nine weeks camping together at their Grammar school's outdoor education camp in the highlands of Victoria.
"Now all I have to do is blend in, zone out and start crossing off the days on my cell wall"
Lou (from Six Impossible Things), new to Crowthorne Grammar, couldn't care less about Sibylla, Ben or the whole social milieu. Still grieving the accidental death of her boyfriend, Fred, she aims only to endure the term bunking with five strange girls.
Contrasting Sibylla's tentative negotiation of love, sexuality and friendship with Lou's grief and hard earned self awareness, Wildlife is a thoughtful coming of age story.
It explores the dynamics of self image and self esteem, highlighting how vulnerable teens can be to the perceptions of others. Sibylla in particular struggles with her desire to fit in and be considered as worthy of Ben's interest. Woods captures Sib's conflicted thoughts and behaviour wonderfully and it is this insightful comment from Lou that articulates the lesson Sib needs to learn.
“Sometimes I think I see you, Sibylla, but then you get all blurry about what people think about you, how you should act, what everyone expects of you, who you are pleasing, or not... The only person you should be is yourself. You can’t control perception. All you can control is how you treat someone else.”
The complexities of teen relationships also comes under scrutiny in Wildlife. Holly's fickle friendship and Michael's devotion highlights the extremes of loyalty. Again it is Lou's wisdom that helps Sibylla recognise the value of friendship.
"A friend brave enough to be truthful-very different from Holly's "honesty"."
The budding relationship between Sibylla and Ben is treated with refreshing candour. While Sib agonises over boyfriend/girlfriend etiquette and tries to reconcile lust with love, Ben maintains a casual attitude to the relationship which is realistic (and frighteningly familiar). I like that Wood chooses to recognise this common dynamic with equanimity and confronts desire and sex with candid honesty.
While Sibylla is experiencing a slew of firsts, Lou is mourning the memory of hers. Wood lays bare Lou's grief, anger and fears in poignant diary entries as Lou tries to reconcile her loss with the ordinary task of living. Though she tries to hold herself apart from everyone, sheer proximity eventually forces Lou to engage with her fellow students. Her strongest connection is with Michael, Sib's genius childhood friend, whose complete lack of artifice suits her, but she also becomes embroiled in the relationships between Sibylla, Holly, Michael and Ben despite herself. Unexpectedly, the muddled situation leads Lou to discover she can move forward with her life, without leaving Fred behind.
"You will always be a part of me, and how I see the world."
Wildlife is wonderful and easily one of the best contemporary young adult novels I have read. It's authentic, honest and teens will be able to relate to the characters and their circumstances. (less)
" I need your eyes to see, your hands to touch, your spirit to acknowledge that which I hold most deeply and secretly in my heart. My yearning for you...more " I need your eyes to see, your hands to touch, your spirit to acknowledge that which I hold most deeply and secretly in my heart. My yearning for you."
A shy teenage girl writes scented letters of longing to her new high school English teacher and neighbour, the handsome and charming, Solomon Andrews. From her bedroom window she watches and hopes for him to notice her. Solomon is flattered by his young student's attention, and though wary of another scandal, he finds himself unable to resist her passionate adoration. While Solomon justifies their affair as his "ultimate and ecstatic gift" to her, the girl believes he is her soul mate, her one and only true love. When they are discovered and separated she clings to the to the idea that she and Solomon are destined to be together. It is a belief that she cannot relinquish, and well into adulthood the yearning for him remains.
The plot of The Yearning extends beyond the scandalous affair between a teacher and a student, even beyond the a sensual coming of age story of an unnamed teenage girl in love with with a twenty something year old man. It is a compelling exploration of the nature of love, of lust, of longing and desire and how our early experiences with these emotions affect the way in which we resolve them as adults.
For the girl - now a woman, the affair leaves her endlessly searching for a lover able to stir the same feelings within her. It's an obsession that sabotages her relationships with other men, and even when she submits to Solomon's absence and marries Max, she is not free of their decades old connection. If she can't find some way to relinquish her teenage fantasy happiness will always elude her. For Solomon, whose introduction to sex was divorced from love or even affection, the craving for attention, physical satisfaction and control of his emotions has him at the mercy of his libido. The value of an emotional connection, love if you will, escapes him not only in his relationship with the girl but in all his relationships to follow.
Belle's lyrical prose ensures The Yearning avoids becoming a tawdry, sensationalist tale of sexual exploitation. Both Eve and Solomon are able to give voice to the motivation behind their feelings and desires. The author captures the excitement and confusion of lust and love with raw honesty. Eve's letters and diary entries are the romantic, sensual ravings of a young girl in the throes of intense infatuation. Solomon's musings, though indisputably self serving, are thoughtfully revealing. It is important to know that the descriptions of various sexual unions are at times explicit but not without purpose.
Beautifully crafted, The Yearning is an evocative, sensual novel exploring the connection between love and desire. (less)
In Heartland, Callie Reynolds has spent eight years avoiding her family but her grandmother's death necessitates her return to Glenmore, the property...more In Heartland, Callie Reynolds has spent eight years avoiding her family but her grandmother's death necessitates her return to Glenmore, the property that was once Callie's childhood refuge, and which now belongs to her. Intending to simply sell up and move on, Callie's plans are quickly sabotaged by a warty horse, a mad goose, a frightened girl and her handsome neighbour, Matt Hawkins. But Callie is determined to do what she is sure is the right thing by her sister's memory, even if it breaks her heart. A delightful novel, Heartland is Cathryn Hein's third heart warming rural romance.
The tragic death of Callie's sister, Hope, has been a burden Callie has carried for almost a decade. She has avoided anything that could give her more than a fleeting moment of contentment, punishing herself due to misplaced guilt. Focused on her goal of selling the property and donating the proceeds to the foundation established in her sister's name as some kind of restitution, Callie is surprised to find herself reluctant to let go of Glenmore. I sympathised with Callie who was struggling under the weight of so much pain and self recrimination. Though fragile and vulnerable, Callie is not weak or helpless and I loved that Hein allowed Callie to find her way forward at a natural pace.
Callie's journey towards forgiving herself is supported by the relationship she develops with Matt. The romance between the emotionally crippled Callie and physically scarred Matt is written beautifully. Matt is kind and patient with an emotional strength earned from overcoming a difficult childhood and his experiences in Afghanistan. He is just the type of hero that appeals to me and I was half in love with him myself. Though their relationship is sweet and tender, there is also a delicious simmering of desire, and more importantly they are what each other needs and there is a genuine sense of respect between them.
The animals featured in Heartland have their own personalities and play an vital role in the story. Honk, the recalcitrant goose, adds hilarity to temper the more sober themes. Phantom, aka 'Warty-Morty', helps Callie overcome her fear of attachment and is instrumental in curing Lyndall's fear of horses. Patch, the puppy Callie begrudgingly accepts as a gift, assists Callie to process her guilt over the death of her sister.
With Heartland, Cathryn Hein has written a wonderful, moving story exploring the themes of grief, guilt, family and love. It will definitely be on my favourites list for 2013 and I am happy to recommend it.
Three Hours Late is the second heart wrenching novel by author Nicole Trope. Having been blown away by her debut, The Boy Under the Table, I had high...more Three Hours Late is the second heart wrenching novel by author Nicole Trope. Having been blown away by her debut, The Boy Under the Table, I had high expectations for this follow up and I wasn't disappointed.
After Liz hugs her toddler son goodbye and watches him leave with her estranged husband for an access visit, she leans against the door and berates herself for her weaknesses. Despite finding the courage to leave her volatile husband, Liz is still reluctant to let go of the man he can be when not hurling demands, insults and punches at her. Standing there, she resolves to be stronger, when Alex returns Luke at 2 o'clock they will talk and Liz will make sure he understands their marriage is over. But Alex is late and as Liz frantically watches the time pass she begins to wonder just how far Alex will go to punish her.
I read Three Hours Late with a breathless sense of anticipation. From the moment Alex fails to return with Luke on time, the tension is unbearable as the minutes tick by.
It's with keen insight and compassion that Trope unravels the thought process of an abused woman, laying bare Liz's battered psyche to reveal the history of her marriage and her confusion and shame about its collapse. Though it may be politically incorrect, I have to admit my sympathy for Liz was tempered by my frustration with many of the choices she makes. Intellectually I understand how the dynamic of domestic violence develops but at the same time it is incomprehensible to me that women allow the cycle to repeat ad nauseum.
Incredibly, I actually developed some sense of empathy for Alex. His background reveals his actions perpetuate the cycle of misogyny and domestic violence that destroyed his own parents marriage. Yet Alex's breathtaking lack of self awareness is both pitiable and infuriating. I think Trope is brave to give Alex a voice that brings some balance the horror of the situation, it is more comfortable to believe Alex is a monster than simply a troubled man drowning in emotional pain.
The narrative is also shared by members of Liz's family, members of her domestic violence support group and the police who provide different perspectives on the issues that contribute to and perpetuate domestic violence, and its distressing consequences.
Three Hours Late is a compelling and confronting novel, probing an emotive issue with sensitivity. Though a novel skewed towards an adult audience, I think this should be compulsory reading for mature teens who could benefit enormously from Liz's hindsight. I found Three Hours Late impossible to put down and I recommend it without hesitation. (less)