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Review: Emerald Springs by Fleur McDonald

Emerald SpringsEmerald Springs
Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin
2015, 362p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Amelia Bennett has finished university and returned to her small home town. She’s living on her parents farm and working doing the books for them and for other local farmers. She’s also become involved with the rodeo committee and was surprised and thrilled to be elected treasurer. The rest of the committee have been serving for a very long time and Amelia has lots of fresh and new ideas to broadcast the event far and wide, particularly by utilising social media.

After the resounding success, it’s Amelia’s job to get the takings to the bank. It’s a lot of money and Amelia is nervous, especially when she can’t get the amount of escorts that she’d really prefer. On the way, she’s the victim of a terrifying carjack, assaulted and the money stolen. Amelia is left tasered on the side of the road and she’s devastated when she realises that the money is gone. As a teenager, Amelia had a bit of reputation as being careless, or a bit bubble-headed and she’s determined to prove herself. There were people who didn’t approve of her appointment and now Amelia feels as though she’s just confirmed their reservations and let a lot of people down. She’s even more upset when she realises that she’s even considered a suspect by some, masterminding the attack on herself to throw people off the scent.

Although she knows that she’s innocent, Amelia can’t help wondering if someone that she knows might be guilty. Local thefts have people concerned and it has to be someone with local knowledge. Amelia guiltily even finds herself suspecting people close to her. There’s a detective in town to investigate all of the thefts but it might just be up to Amelia to find the evidence needed to discover the culprit.

Emerald Springs is Fleur McDonald’s sixth book and is set in country South Australia. Amelia is a young graduate who is determined to prove herself as a new, responsible adult back in her home town. She’s on the verge of being engaged to a young man named Paul who is doing his absolute best to turn his family farm around which his father ran into the ground. Amelia is excited to move forward with Paul, for them to be together properly but Paul desperately wants things to be right before Amelia can move in with him. Amelia also faces the obstacle of her mother’s disapproval, who clearly seems to think Paul will turn out like his father.

The beginning of Amelia’s stint as treasurer of the rodeo committee doesn’t go well when the car she is driving is forced to stop and thieves both assault her and steal all of the money. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Amelia – people change and she was desperate to shed the image she’d acquired as a teenager and prove herself as worthy and responsible now. The way in which some people were critical of her reeked of both small-town judgement and also sexism, from some of the older farmers/workers. Amelia is a big vague – she forgets meetings sometimes because she’s caught up dreaming for her future and she could’ve taken more safety precautions when transporting the money but at the same time, she could never have really foreseen what would happen and chances are, it wouldn’t have prevented it anyway. It’s possible that more people would’ve ended up injured. After the accident she finds herself suspecting lots of different people, including even very fleetingly, the idea that perhaps her fiance Paul was involved. Amelia knows there was something about one of them, she just can’t remember what and it’s causing her to look at everyone suspiciously from Paul to her own brother to people she’s known forever.

I have to admit, I kind of like when authors fool me and Fleur McDonald managed that nicely here, because I thought I had it all figured out and turned out I didn’t! I really appreciated that because I didn’t see it coming but then when it was revealed, it was something that I didn’t have too much trouble believing and it just seemed to fit. I also really liked the way that the story touched on the roles of gender particularly within Amelia’s family. It’s clear that if not for her father, Amelia wouldn’t actually have a role on the farm at all and that everything is going to go to her brother, an idea that is really outdated in this day and age and yet still seems prevalent in farming circles. At times Amelia’s mother’s attitude towards her seemed really hostile and I found her quite frustrating. I think an attempt was made to justify this but I would’ve liked another scene between Amelia and her mother at the end.

I really enjoyed this book – it kept me engaged from the very first page and I was twisting my mind in knots trying to work everything out. I really appreciated the little side plot too of Dave, the detective who gets sent to investigate the local thefts and educate the community on how they can help prevent them in the future and his past with Amelia’s aunt who was a really fantastic character. Fleur McDonald obviously knows small country farming towns and I really felt the community as a whole, the good and the bad. Amelia is a fun character but with a thread of determination and grit underneath and I loved her core group of friends. Would love to see her cousin Chelle get a book at some stage! This was a fabulous story from an author whose books I’ve really come to love and I always appreciate the depth to them and the way that they attempt to showcase rural life, warts and all.

8/10

Book #60 of 2015

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Emerald Springs is book #21 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: The Faithful Couple by A.D. Miller

Faithful CoupleThe Faithful Couple
A.D. Miller
Hachette AUS
2015, 280p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/TheReadingRoom.com

In 1993, Neil Collins and Adam Tayler meet in California. Both are English. Neil has just left his first job as a travelling salesman and is having a holiday before he goes to find something new. Adam has just finished his degree and is taking a holiday before he too, goes to find something new. Although from rather different backgrounds, both of them are alone and it’s suggested that they might do a bit of travelling together, getting a car and driving up the west coast. Before that though, they’re going to visit Yosemite.

It’s Yosemite where things get a bit complicated. Their harmless competition and attempts to one up each other turns a bit serious, leading an an incident that both of them will come to regret. They return to England but maintain the friendship through various girlfriends, wives and differing jobs. Originally from a wealthy family, Adam’s stock falls whilst Neil’s begins to rise as London rides a wave of success in the nineties before the dot com bust of the new millennium. All the while there is the secret they both keep at the back of their minds but it isn’t until Adam and his wife welcome a newborn daughter that it begins to rear its ugly head and drive a wedge between the two friends that may not be able to be repaired.

So this book, I don’t know. Sometimes you get those books where you finish them and you’re like ‘what on Earth am I even going to say about this?’ to yourself. This for me, is one of those books. I’ve never read A.D Miller before but I have heard of the novel that he had shortlisted for the Man-Booker, Snowdrops. This seemed rather interesting because it was about friendship rather than a romantic relationship. It’s different to the books I’d usually read but fits in with my attempts to read more male authors and also try to step out of my comfort zone more often. I’m not entirely sure this was a successful attempt.

Neil and Adam are both at a party at a hostel in San Diego when they strike up a conversation. Neil is about 28ish, he’s left his job and is taking a holiday before returning home. He’ll work in his father’s stationery store until he finds something else. Adam has just finished his degree, from a very different background. He and several friends will rent a London flat for beginning their careers and Adam will have the family coffers at his back until he becomes gainfully employed. Their friendship begins oddly and it’s suggested very quickly that they might travel together for some time. They begin a subtle game of one-upmanship, creating elaborate stories of who they are and how they met for others that they converse with. It’s a game that both of them fall into easily without even speaking of it, which is perhaps the base for how they begin spending time together. When they go camping with a group at Yosemite, they meet a young girl and both are seemingly interested when she shows signs of being so but I couldn’t figure out if they were actually interested in their own right or simply because to ‘score’ with her would be yet another way for one of them to one-up the other. I suspect the latter.

That girl in a way, bonds them together in a friendship that stands the test of time. Twenty years later and Adam and Neil are still mates – Adam works in public policy but Neil has risen to new and wealthy (and perhaps dubious) heights. He no longer needs Adam’s help for a loan or a good word. Adam has married and has a son and then his wife gives birth to a daughter. It is this event that makes Adam question their actions and behaviour twenty years ago in Yosemite and in a way he becomes obsessed with it. He wants to talk about it but to Neil it was one moment in time twenty years ago that he just wants to forget. Adam needs to talk about it and Neil won’t which leads to perhaps their first ever falling out, especially when Neil finds out that Adam held information twenty years ago and never gave it to him. That information would’ve changed Neil’s actions I think but at the same time he never seemed all that concerned about what happened. I think people’s opinions on this will differ, whether or not they see it as something Neil should or could go to jail for.

Ultimately I was disappointed with this book because I felt it glossed over too much. It glossed over Neil and Adam returning to England, their lives in the twenty years or so before Adam has a daughter and it even really glossed over their falling out and how that subsequently affected both of them. I found the scene between Neil and Adam’s wife contrived and cliched and at times I couldn’t even really comprehend how this event had continued to plague Adam so. I know when he had a daughter his view changed and he realised how he’d feel but at the same time when he started to attempt to track down the girl and wouldn’t let it go, I wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to achieve. He seemed to have no end game other than to dwell on it obsessively. I don’t understand why Adam didn’t confide in Neil the information that he’d chosen to withhold and I feel as though, given he was the one in the know, he was equally to blame although he didn’t seem to want to accept this? I finished it and it wasn’t a difficult read, I just couldn’t engage with either the story or the characters.

5/10

Book #58 of 2015

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Review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

Claiming NoahClaiming Noah
Amanda Ortlepp
Simon & Schuster AUS
2015, 374p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Catriona and James are preparing to start a family and will be using IVF to help them. They have four viable embryos for transfer. The third round is successful and adamant she will not go through that again no matter what, Catriona and James agree to donate their fourth embryo to a childless couple so that they might have the chance to also be parents.

After a hard pregnancy and difficult labour, Catriona gives birth to a son that she and James name Sebastian. Motherhood it seems, doesn’t come any easier to Catriona than the pregnancy did and she finds herself believing that the baby already dislikes her. She begins to show some signs of post natal psychosis which leads her to attempt to do something terrible. For her own protection and that of her son, Catriona receives psychiatric care for a while before being prepared to resume life at home.

Meanwhile Liam and Diana desperately want a baby of their own and are thrilled when they are able to adopt an embryo. Diana will carry the baby to term and it will be legally theirs but genetically it will have been donated by someone else. When baby Noah is just two months old, he disappears. Snatched in a shopping centre.

The lives of Diana and Catriona are going to collide.

Claiming Noah is such an interesting read and in some ways, quite a scary read too. Medical assistance or intervention, call it what you like it’s come a long way. Many couples who couldn’t conceive children naturally are now able to with help in many ways. There’s IVF, surrogacy, different roads a couple can go down. I had heard of donating embryos and until reading this book, I hadn’t thought of all of the possible problems it might cause. It makes me wonder how strict the regulations are because I would consider something like geography very important. It certainly proves to be so in this story.

Catriona and James, Diana and Liam. Two couples that both wish to start a family and both need a little help. When Catriona and James decide to donate their final viable embryo it is Diana and Liam who are on the receiving end which leads to their children being born only a month apart. They also live quite close to each other, in the suburbs of Sydney. Catriona isn’t particularly enthusiastic about being a mother, this seems to be more James’s dream than it is hers but she’s agreed nonetheless. Her pregnancy isn’t an easy one and the labour long, painful and resulting in an emergency C-section, very much against the plan of a natural birth Catriona had chosen for herself. From the moment her child is placed in her arms, Catriona experiences difficulty connecting with him. She doesn’t feel that rush of love, instead she feels threatened, frightened, even resentful. She struggles over the next three months and despite confiding in a doctor that she feels down, she doesn’t confess the true extent of her thoughts and fears. She’s prescribed a mild anti-depressant as the doctor believes she may have post-natal depression but what Catriona actually has post-natal psychosis. She hears voices, sees things. The voices tell her what the solution to her problem is and Catriona attempts to carry it out.

This story is a look at the various systems and organisations and the ethical and moral obligations of both becoming a parent, however the way and also of embryo adoptions. There seems to be a special sort of disdain and hatred for mothers who harm their babies and this is a thoughtful exploration of post-natal psychosis and how it can lead to something that could result in tragedy. I think as a society there’s still quite a long way to go before people really understand various forms of mental illness, especially those that result after childbirth. My great aunt had PND before it even had a name and when my uncle took her to doctors all but one of them had the same advice for him: commit her to an asylum because she’ll never get better. Only one doctor, who was probably ahead of his time, connected her depression, attempts at suicide, difficulty bonding with their daughter back to the birth itself. He prescribed different treatment and although my aunt has no memories of her daughter before she was 2, she did get better. And she was able to continue her life at home, not be locked up for the rest of her life. Makes me wonder how many women were like her who were not so lucky.

I feel as though the process of the embryo donation helped set in motion the events that occurred, in a way. I’ve thought of donating my eggs before, but not an embryo. However if I did, I think I would prefer that it be given to a donor couple that did not live in close proximity to myself and my husband. The thought of potentially running into a child of our genetic make up would be odd. The two children that result are barely a month apart in age, because there was supposedly a cooling off period after the embryo donation that was not observed. I have two boys, 6 and 3 and they are very genetically similar, even with that gap. If they’d been born just a month apart, there’s no way people could come across them and not think they weren’t related. What if those children had attended the same school? Whilst I do support the idea of embryo donation, I think it raises a lot of concerns that could potentially become difficult in ways that the doctors hadn’t thought of. What if boy/girl siblings meet and date? Couples adopting an embryo may choose not to reveal to their child that their embryo came from other people, because they still carried and delivered and those people are that child’s parents. That’s why the court case in the latter part of the book was a no brainer for me, personally. The legal parents are the parents and whatever happened in between was irrelevant. But there would be people who would see it differently, that the baby belonged with genetic parents, rather than adoptive ones. This book carries out very much a “worst” case scenario that’s rife with the sort of illegal activity most wouldn’t stoop to. But there’s also the strong possibility that this book could happen in real life!

I enjoyed this book – I did find some parts of the story a bit far-fetched and the explanations in the latter part a bit offhand but I definitely enjoyed the thought processes I went through whilst reading it.

7/10

Book #56 of 2015

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Claiming Noah is book #19 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

WildWild
Cheryl Strayed
Atlantic Books
2012, 311p
Read from my local library

When Cheryl was just 22, she lost her mother Bobbi to lung cancer after a very short battle. This had a profound impact on her and over the next few years, her life would slowly implode. She ruined her marriage, divorcing a man she loved and who loved her after straying repeatedly. She made bad choices, culminating in heroin, something that her then ex-husband attempted to rescue her from. On a whim, she decided to walk the Pacific Crest trail, hiking eleven hundred miles from southern California, through Oregon and into Washington State. She also was going to do it on her own.

In Wild, her memoir, Stayed documents her time on the trail – the people she met along the way, the conditions, the trials and tribulations she faced hiking such a long distance alone and at a young age without much in the way of support. She would rely on boxes of supplies mailed to certain check points by a friend of hers and had to align her progress with the time that the packages would arrive. Each package would also contain $20, all the money she would have until she reached the next checkpoint. In her time on the trail, Cheryl would finally be able to take the time she needed to grieve for her mother and heal the self-destructive tendencies she’d taken on since her death.

I have to admit, I had no interest in reading this until I read that Reese Witherspoon was going to be starring in the film adaptation. I love her – she’s one of my favourites and anything she’s in, I like to watch. She was nominated for a slew of awards (lost out all of them I think, to Julianne Moore in yet another adaptation, Still Alice which I’ve read) and so before seeing the movie, I thought I should probably read the book.

It kind of reminded me why I don’t read memoirs much – so many of them seem self-indulgent and this one is at times, no exception. I haven’t lost a parent so I can’t really understand how Cheryl might have felt about the loss of her mother. It clearly had a significant and devastating impact on her and I guess there’s no telling how people might react to that sort of tragedy. However I honestly found Cheryl mostly irritating during this time frame – she’s married to a (seemingly) amazing man, who is understanding, tolerant, kind, caring and must love her. And she basically shits all over that, sleeping with a string of random guys whilst staying with a friend. Even after she confesses her infidelities and they separate, her now ex-husband continues to be a friend and pillar of support for her, even driving halfway across the country to Oregon to pull her out of a cycle of heroin use. If he really is as good as he’s portrayed in this, the guy is an absolute saint – and probably far better off after they divorced.

What I was really keen to read was the trail itself and I did find that part of the book pretty interesting. She seems pretty unprepared for the hike – she does no training beforehand, her pack weighs more than she does and her progress is much slower than she expects. However she does keep at it. Even after her toenails begin to fall off, after the skin on her hips rubs away so much it grows back thicker, like a lizard skin, after a few frightening situations on the trail, she keeps on at it. I didn’t like her much, but I found that admirable. It’s not something I’d do. I’m woman enough to admit that I’d be way too scared to attempt something like that alone even if I was the sort who didn’t mind camping. I’m not a camping person and the idea of not having running hot water and a flushing toilet for basically months, gives me the cold shivers. But even if I could cope with all that, I wouldn’t want to be out there alone for months at a time, basically in the forest.

Strayed does meet other hikers and plenty of them and she enjoys her rendezvous with them at various “break” spots along the way where they regroup and relax before tackling the next stage. However she almost always chooses to hike the stages alone, instead of teaming up with others and will sometimes delay her departure or deliberately hang back in order to be alone. She does seem to have a bit of a preoccupation with sex, even whilst on the hike. She takes a box of condoms with her in her pack which, at the first rest spot a fellow camper tosses when he streamlines her pack. Despite not showering for probably weeks at a time, or being able to wash her clothes, hiking for up to 19 miles a day for weeks on feet that can barely walk, there seems plenty of time to think about sex and who she might use the one condom she pilfered back with. Her attitudes and mine didn’t really align – I abhor cheating and find it inexcusable and it seemed as though the hike was supposed to be healing her of her want to indulge in destructive behaviour but it seemed as though she had a hard time letting some of the bad habits go.

I really enjoyed the book when I was reading about Cheryl’s time on the trail – thankfully that’s quite a portion of it- but I have to admit, my interest waned a lot when she was talking about her time before undergoing the hike, apart from the time during which her mother was dying. I’d have also liked a little more after her completion of the hike. The book does seem to end pretty abruptly when she finishes her journey and I know it was about completing it but I would’ve liked a bigger and more detailed exploration of what she came to realise and how it affected her mental outlook on life.

7/10

Book #55 of 2015

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Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

MartianThe Martian
Andy Weir
Del Ray
2014, 369p
Read from my local library

Mark Watney is a NASA astronaut currently on a mission to Mars. Whilst he and the rest of the crew are on the planet, a freak dust storm separates Mark from the rest of the crew. A number of things combined lead the crew to believe that Mark has been killed and they escape the dangerous situation, leaving him behind.

But Mark didn’t die. And now he’s stranded alone on the red planet. There’s any number of things that could go wrong. The Oxygenator could break down, leaving him to suffocate. The Water Reclaimer could break down, leaving him to die of thirst. The Habitat could be breached in which case that’ll just make him explode. If none of those things happen….well Mark only has enough food to last him a certain amount of time. The next mission to Mars won’t arrive for years, well past the time Mark’s food will have run out.

But then there’s the really fun part…..no one on Earth knows that he’s alive. And he has no way to tell them.

I’d been hearing a lot about this book lately. Science fiction isn’t usually my thing but this sounded really interesting and in a way, quite plausible. There was something about the horror of it that appealed to me. The idea of being the only person on another planet, unable to contact Earth and with everyone thinking that you were dead…..it was just going to make for a good story.

Mark is smart. There’s no way around that – he does work for NASA after all, so he has to be a brain. And luckily for Mark, he happens to be the perfect combination of things that lends him the best chance of surviving on Mars. In order to streamline the mission and the weight of the crafts that take them to the planet, each of the team members play multiple roles. Mark is the team’s engineer and also a botanist so…within days he’s figured out how to grow potatoes on Mars – a lot of potatoes. He knows that the meal packs he has left aren’t going to be anywhere near enough to last him until the next mission to Mars arrives in something like four years time. And so he grows potatoes to supplement his diet, adding carbs to the vitamins he’ll already have in the form of pills of which he has plenty. He has enough water, so long as the Water Reclaimer doesn’t break down and if he can keep the Habitat (the “Hab”) secure, he’ll be fine. The only problem is, no one knows that he’s alive, the Hab has no communication equipment and when the next mission to Mars lands on the planet it’ll be 3000kms away.

Originally the author had trouble selling this manuscript and so he posted it online for free, for people to read. By request, he also made a Kindle version and sold it for 0.99c, the minimum price you can set. It became a hit and publishers obviously realised what they had missed, snapping it up and it’s become a worldwide bestseller. The film rights have also been sold and the movie, with Matt Damon playing Mark Watney will be out in the later half of this year. You can tell reading it that it really does have the potential to make a great movie, if well done. A lot of it focuses on Mark being alone, figuring things out and the book seems to work in a bit of a pattern: Mark stuffs something up or something goes wrong and he needs to figure out how to fix it/get out of it/etc. The first thing that goes wrong obviously is Mark being left behind, for reasons that are really no one’s fault, just a bad combination of events. He begins to keep a diary, presumably in the beginning, for whoever is able to rescue his body, years in the future. But then he decides that he might as well make the best go of it, begins growing potatoes and trying to figure out other ways in which he might be able to survive. He’s incredibly good at problem solving and it helps that he has the skills to make things, fix things, alter things, etc. All of the things Mark has to do he usually accomplishes with almost ridiculous ease and even though there are often setbacks, I never really felt like there was a chance that Mark wouldn’t be able to fix it.

The science in this book is obviously heavily researched and it’s incredibly detailed. I don’t have a science brain so some of it went over my head (ok more than some) but I appreciated the effort that the author had obviously gone to in order to make his story as authentic as possible. For some people the pages about making water or calculating whatever might get a bit dry but they’re broken up and balanced by Mark’s humour, which is kind of teenage nerd boy.

As well as Mark’s point of view, we also get the points of view of various people who work at NASA as they realise what has unfolded via satellite photos. Weir does a great job of building the tension as he teases to the reader the various ways Mark could perhaps be rescued before smashing them to pieces and starting over again. This is a clever and enjoyable story and I’m looking forward to seeing the movie and how they adapt it to the big screen.

8/10

Book #52 of 2015

eclecticreader15

The Martian is my 3rd book for the Eclectic Reading Challenge, ticking off the category Science fiction set in space

  1. Retellings (of fairytale, legends or myth)
  2. A book set in a country starting with the letter S (eg. Sweden, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Slovakia)
  3. PI Crime (fiction featuring a private investigator)
  4. A novel published before you were born
  5. Contemporary romance
  6. Fiction for foodies (fiction featuring food/food related business)
  7. Microhistory (Non Fiction)
  8. Science Fiction set in space
  9. Sports (Fiction or Non fiction)
  10. Featuring diversity
  11. Epistolary Fiction (fiction written in the format of letters/emails/diary entries)
  12. Middle Grade/YA Adventure
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Review: The Wednesday Group by Sylvia True

Wednesday GroupThe Wednesday Group
Sylvia True
St Martin’s Press
2015, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Gail, Hannah, Bridget, Lizzie and Flavia are from very different walks of life but they all have something in common. Gail is a judge who must keep her identity a secret. Recently she’s begun receiving letters from a graduate student claiming Gail’s perfect husband is in love with her but too scared to tell Gail. Lizzie discovered that her husband is addicted to porn and she wants to work through it but he refuses to meet her halfway. Bridget has just discovered that her husband is addicted to match making websites and porn as well. In her revenge, she may have done something that will bind them together forever. Flavia was ignorant of her husband’s arrest for groping a student on the T until someone at her work brought her a newspaper clipping. And Hannah knew her husband’s secret when she married him but she thought he would stop. He hasn’t.

Kathryn is a young psychologist who brings these women together in a support group. They meet every Wednesday night to talk about their feelings and experiences, knowing that the other women in the group are at least able to understand. Or so they think. However each of them are at very different stages of where they are with their journey dealing with their husband’s behaviours and secrets and at first, it doesn’t look like the Wednesday group will even make it to a second meeting. But slowly they come to trust and confide in each other as their worlds intertwine more and more each week.

I was super intrigued when I read the description of this book. I feel as though the rise of the internet has probably been the downfall of a lot of relationships. Porn is readily available and in plentiful supply. You don’t need to leave the house to access it and there’s both free and paid versions. There are sites where you can sign up to meet someone to date, to sleep with. You can sign up to places that allow you to watch girls on webcam. It’s pretty easy to become obsessed with the internet and with porn. There’s a pretty lethal combination.

Our female characters are all dealing with partners who have betrayed them. In some cases, the betrayal is a physical one, they’ve been intimate with other people even though they claim it doesn’t mean anything. In other cases the betrayal is an emotional one. They’ve been spending all their time and energy, time and energy that should be spent on connecting with their partner, connecting with strangers again. All of the women feel angry, hurt and humiliated and for most, if not all of them, it’s not something they can confide in to their friends over a morning coffee. And so the support group for these women is born, with young psychologist Kathryn in the role as group facilitator. She guides the sessions and asks key questions about their feelings but it’s not her job to play a very intrusive role.

The women were all very different. Gail was older, with a very public and prominent career. Hannah is married with two primary school aged children, the eldest of which is being increasingly affected by the tense atmosphere at home. Lizzie, Flavia and Bridget are also married but without children so far. At first they tend to regard each other with a mix of suspicion, pity and disdain. Bridget and Gail are openly hostile toward each other but despite most vowing not to return at some point or other, they find themselves coming back week after week. Knowing that they can talk within that room and be supported by others that understand what they’re going through must be quite a powerful drawcard. That’s not to say there’s not judgement at times. There is. But they come to rely on each other, to travel towards a very unusual sort of friendship. I really enjoyed that evolution.

This could be a book that is about the details of sexual infidelity but it’s not. It’s really about the women and the betrayal that they face by their partners and how that makes them feel. The actual infidelity is what brings them together but the core of the story is these women and how they find the strength in their Wednesday group to carry on, to keep working through their differences with their partner or as the case may be, to not do that and forge a different path. Their stories were all really interesting to me with the possible exception of Flavia as I don’t really felt she was a large enough part of the story to really matter. I think she maybe just served as the character who runs away from the problem, hoping that will fix it. We will never know if it did or not.

The only thing I feel is a downside of this book is that I wanted more. I felt that there was a lot left unsaid at the end of the story which was no doubt deliberate but drives me mad because I’m the sort of person that needs closure. I think the story between Hannah and her husband was the one most left hanging and I found that I wanted to know so much more about his betrayal. It cuts her so deep that she can’t even bring herself to tell the other members of the group for the longest time – because in a list of humiliations I think Hannah feels hers far surpasses what the other women are going through. She also has children and the impact on them, especially their daughter is becoming extremely significant. Hannah doesn’t seem to realise that the careful politeness between her and her husband plus an extremely rigid schedule that she’s worked out, is making matters worse. There’s a huge amount of anger in Hannah and I wasn’t actually sure why she continued to stay with her husband. It didn’t seem like something she’d ever really be able to get past – or that he would ever give up. I really wished there was a lot more to their story.

9/10

Book #50 of 2015

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Review: The Secret Life Of Luke Livingstone by Charity Norman

Luke LivingstoneThe Secret Life Of Luke Livingstone
Charity Norman
Allen & Unwin
2015, 373p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher/TheReadingRoom.com

Luke and Eilish have been happily married for thirty years. Luke is a lawyer and Eilish a teacher. They have two children – Simon who is a vet and is now embarking on a family of his own and Kate, an archeologist who is a free spirit and feminist. Eilish thought she knew everything there was to know about her husband and never for a second did she think he was keeping a secret from her.

A huge secret.

Luke Livingstone has gone on for long enough and knows that he cannot keep going as he has been anymore. As far as he sees it, he has a choice. He was going to take a nice, clean way out. That way he didn’t have to blow up his marriage, embarrass his wife and scar his children. He didn’t have to face their probably rejection of him. But at the last moment, Luke cannot go through with it. He decides that he must choose the other option. The option that involves him coming clean to everyone and beginning a new life.

This is a super hard review to write because I don’t want to spoil anything but at the same time there’s so much I could talk about. What I would like to do is applaud Charity Norman and the incredibly sensitive and thoughtful way she handled the subject. It’s something I can honestly say I haven’t read about before and I found it really interesting. The book is split into different viewpoints, including Luke’s which I found really helpful for getting a clear picture of what was happening and everyone’s individual reactions to it.

It was surprisingly easy to put myself into the positions of various characters in this story even though I have little, if anything in common with any of them. Luke and Eilish could be my parents – married for thirty years, very happily. Or as Eilish assumes, very happily. When Luke drops his bombshell she’s astounded. Disbelieving. Maybe even sickened. It’s not something that would’ve ever crossed her mind. Not something that would cross most people’s minds I would imagine. She wants to sweep it under the carpet, pretend it never happened and they just go back to the way they were before Luke brought this topic up. Luke and Eilish’s two children are told and they react in very different ways. Simon is horrified, disgusted. He can’t bear the thought of it and it stirs up some very humiliating and painful memories from a time in his past, when he was at university. He goes so far as to cut off all contact with his father, branding him horrible names, refusing to allow Luke to see his grandson and then newborn baby granddaughter. Simon begins spiraling downward in hate and fear and loathing and doesn’t seem to realise how much he’s affecting his own family until it’s almost too late. Kate tries to be cool with it. She’s less rigid than Simon. But at the same time, she struggles as well, because this is her father.

But it’s Luke where this story shines. His bravery and courage and determination give this story its backbone because it’s done in such a believable way. He knows what he could be giving up but at the same time, he has to make a change for himself. This is the first Charity Norman novel I have read and it’s made me a big fan. There’s such a gentle and sympathetic touch, a real thoughtful exploration of what someone in Luke’s situation might feel like and might want to do. There are varied reactions and Norman has pulled no punches with some intolerance and even abuse, both physical and mental. But it’s a slow and careful process towards understanding and maybe even acceptance with some love and support. And I enjoyed the process very much.

9/10

Book #49 of 2015

 

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Review: Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

Pomegranate SoupPomegranate Soup (Babylon Cafe #1)
Marsha Mehran
Harper Collins AUS
2006, 258p
Read from my local library

It has been seven years since Marjan Aminpour fled Iran with her two younger sisters, just before the revolution broke out. They at first made their home in London but now they’ve come to Ballinacroagh in County Mayo, Ireland to start all over again. They take over the lease of a long abandoned pastry shop and open a Persian restaurant. Soon the exotic smells are wafting through the tiny village. The Babylon Cafe is open for business.

But the three sisters are not immediately welcomed by everyone. They’re used to much plainer food and at first the new cafe is regarded with suspicion. Slowly however, the enticing smells invite people past the door to sample the wares. There’s a notable exception – Ballinacroagh’s property mogul Thomas McGuire. He already owns the pubs and isn’t too pleased about a new eating establishment opening up right next door to one of his businesses, especially as he’s had plans for that old pastry shop for years. He makes it no secret that he doesn’t want the Aminpour sisters in the town and wants to drive the foreigners out.

Despite the hostility that comes from Thomas McGuire, the sisters do find a band of support to welcome them and frequent their cafe, giving them hope for the future. However it isn’t long before one of them believes her dreadful past is catching up to her. They’ve already had to run twice. All they want is the chance to have a safe and happy home in Ireland.

A couple of months ago I came across an article that lamented the death of author Marsha Mehran. I hadn’t heard of her but I was intrigued so I clicked on it and read through about her life. Her family fled Iran and lived in several places including South America, the United States, Australia and later on Mehran herself lived in Ireland. Her books seemed well received and interesting so I checked my local library and this one, the first of two Babylon Cafe books, was available so I put in a request.

When I first started reading, I think I forgot when it was set and I found myself being surprised at the immediate hostility from a lot of the local residents, just upon smelling the food and the spices as Marjan began to set up her kitchen for the first day of service. Then I remembered – this is probably in the mid 80s (the sisters fled Iran just prior to the revolution so 1978 or 79) and it’s seven years before they come to Ireland. Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country and Mayo is on the west coast, far removed from Dublin. It’s probably likely that there wasn’t a lot of diversity that had made it’s way to the tiny villages in that particular area. Persian cuisine probably would’ve been a very alien idea and time was probably required for people to decide to try it. On the first day, the sisters get no customers to their cafe.

In a way, this book is like a Persian-influenced Sarah Addison Allen. I’ve read all of Addison Allen’s books and there are several which revolve around characters that can inject power and emotions into food. Marjan seems to possess a similar sort of quality and she applies cultural inspiration and tradition into her dishes, using certain ingredients and spices for mood. As the oldest sister, she is practical and level-headed. I think she’s had to be, in order to get them this far. It was Marjan that arranged their escape and then supported the family by working in restaurants and then orchestrated their move to Ireland when they felt their safety was threatened living in London. Middle sister Bahar is nervy and frightened, not particularly positive about this move. A former nurse, she will be working in the cafe as well now and the reactions of some of the local people seem to hit Bahar the hardest. She’s very timid, for reasons which are revealed quite late in the story and I feel as though Bahar has perhaps a lot of pent up guilt and sadness still within her as well. Youngest sister Layla is still in high school and when she sets eyes on Malachy McGuire she becomes smitten immediately. Malachy is the younger son of Thomas McGuire and he’s furious when he finds out that his son is equally smitten by Layla.

Although I did really enjoy reading about the three women and their journey, I did find the magical realism stuff a touch heavy handed. It just felt a little bit too overdone, like it was trying a little too hard to inject something special into each of the three women. I really appreciated having a recipe to kick off each chapter though, something that Marjan would be cooking during that part of the book. I don’t know much about Persian food so it was wonderful to have that included and be better able to picture what the dish might look, smell and taste like. I was really interested in their past in Iran and appreciated the way in which it was told, in little trickles without too much grisly detail. In this case, less was definitely more and the author painted a very good picture of the fear that gripped Marjan and how she knew they had to get out.

Despite the magical realism being a bit too magical for me a times I still enjoyed this book a lot and I would definitely like to read the second book, Rosewater & Soda Bread and see what happens next to the 3 sisters.

7/10

Book #47 of 2015

eclecticreader15

Pomegranate Soup is the second book of my Eclectic Reader Challenge ticking off the fiction for foodies category

  1. Retellings (of fairytale, legends or myth)
  2. A book set in a country starting with the letter S (eg. Sweden, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Slovakia)
  3. PI Crime (fiction featuring a private investigator)
  4. A novel published before you were born
  5. Contemporary romance
  6. Fiction for foodies (fiction featuring food/food related business)
  7. Microhistory (Non Fiction)
  8. Science Fiction set in space
  9. Sports (Fiction or Non fiction)
  10. Featuring diversity
  11. Epistolary Fiction (fiction written in the format of letters/emails/diary entries)
  12. Middle Grade/YA Adventure
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Review & Author Guest Post: Snowy River Man by Lizzy Chandler

Snowy River ManSnowy River Man
Lizzy Chandler
Harlequin Escape Publishing
2015, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When Katrina Delaney hears news of a missing boy she knows immediately that it’s connected to the dream she had. This has happened to her before and she’s worked with police to find missing children in the past. This situation will be different for Katrina though. This time she knows the missing boy’s father.

Seven years ago Katrina and Jack Fairley had a one night stand before she discovered that he was engaged to be married. She hasn’t seen him since. Even though seeing him now will be difficult she knows that she has to help. She could never stand by passively when she might be able to provide any piece of information, no matter how small, that might help find this missing child.

Jack Fairley is a busy single father, frantic with worry for his missing son Nick. He’s willing to try anything, even the psychic that someone has told him might have information. When the psychic arrives, Jack is stunned. And suspicious. He has reason to doubt that her motives are pure and Katrina’s arrival could put all Jack holds dear in danger. But even though he’s skeptical and disbelieving that she’s here purely to help him, he can’t held but feel that old attraction simmering inside again. And he isn’t the only one. Both Jack and Katrina have unfinished business but they have a lot of faith and trust to gain first before they can try for their second chance.

Snowy River Man is the debut novel of Lizzy Chandler and offers up a multi-layered story of mystery and betrayal to flesh out the romance. Katrina has had special gifts and occasionally experiences dreams which in the past, has connected her with missing children and allowed her to offer up information to enable them to be found. She cannot really explain her gift, but she’s learned not to ignore it and when she dreams of a boy and then hears on the news that a child has gone missing, she knows that she has to help and so she heads out to the location, hoping to be able to better connect and offer some more information. There’s just the slight problem of her now being in close proximity to Jack Fairley, a former lover whom she discovered was actually engaged.

Jack and Katrina do have some amazing chemistry that’s brilliantly complex, for reasons that become clearer to the reader the further they get into the story. From their one night stand, Jack did see Katrina once afterward although it’s not something she has a clear memory of and because of that he develops a misunderstanding about her. He believes that Katrina may be a threat to him and his child but he’s not willing to send her away just in case she really does provide the information that may help them find his son. The more I got into this story the more I was surprised by several of the twists and turns and the ways in which Katrina’s connections to other characters developed. This isn’t a long book but Chandler has made the most of her words and really been able to not only flesh out her characters and their motives but also a lovely and engaging setting in the Snowy Mountains. I found Katrina a very sympathetic character who had not had an easy time of it, especially recently. Her dedication to using her gift for as much good as she can was admirable and she was willing to put herself through uncomfortable and emotionally painful and difficult situations in order to help.

I’m quite honestly a bit of a skeptic when it comes to psychic mediums and the like although I know police in real life have used clairvoyants and psychics to help locate missing children and solve crimes with some success. However despite my tendency towards disbelief in such things I did not find that this at all affected my enjoyment of this story and it was easy to accept that part of the plot because it really did help to enhance the mystery and some of the secrets. It was skilfully done.

Snowy River Man is a very enjoyable story populated with believable characters that possess a real chemistry, even when they’re at loggerheads. I felt as though their evolving relationship throughout the story was perfect as both of them had to overcome some preconceived ideas and share some secrets and also, accept things about the other and how it changed their relationship. My only quibble is that it probably was a bit short – there were aspects that could’ve been developed even further and would definitely have carried the story for longer. But it’s never a bad thing to want more of a story!

8/10

Book #37 of 2015

aww-badge-2015

Snowy River Man is book #13 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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I’m very happy to welcome the author of Snowy River Man, Lizzy Chandler to my blog with a piece on the inspiration behind the setting of her first novel.

portrait thumbnail LC

 

When I was a born, there was a record heatwave. Mum and Dad packed us kids into a bus and we all headed south to Jindabyne where it was cooler. Along the way, we stopped at Lake Eucumbene on the northern reaches of the Snowy River Shire.

To make way for the lake as part of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, the old town of Adaminaby was flooded. As residents moved to higher ground, they left pubs, churches, shops and houses to the rising tide. My family must have talked about that town for years afterwards. Or maybe I read about it for a school project. I don’t know. But the idea of a ghost town hidden underwater haunted me.

Years later as an adult when I visited the site, and saw the skeletal remains of gum trees reaching out of the water, I had the weirdest sense. It was as if I could see through the depths to the old town – to a time of bullock carts, prospectors and settlers, and before that, to the indigenous tribes who had inhabited the area. I knew I had to use that setting in a story. Eventually, the story became Snowy River Man, which features a child who is fascinated with the lake and what lies beneath

Snowy River Man starts with a country rodeo and grazier Jack Fairley riding a brumby stallion. By the time he finishes his ride and looks around, his six-year-old son Nick has disappeared…

***

Thanks so much for your post Lizzy. Congratulations on a wonderful debut and I look forward to your next novel.

 

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Review: Shoulda Been A Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Shoulda Been A CowboyShoulda Been A Cowboy (Copper Ridge 0.5)
Maisey Yates
Harlequin HQN
2015, 111p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Cassie Ventimiglia doesn’t have much. She’s been through a divorce and come out with nothing but she’s managed to build a small business and she’s proud of it. Cassie rents shop space for her cafe and an apartment above but when her landlord dies, that brings his estranged son, Jake Caldwell back to town.

Jake was the resident high school bad boy – tattoos and a reputation. Cassie tutored him in maths and although she had a huge crush she never did anything about it. Jake left not long after and Cassie hasn’t seen him in about fifteen years. But now Jake is back to settle his father’s estate – and that includes selling the building Cassie rents.

Jake has stayed away from the tiny town he grew up in for a long time. It held nothing but bad memories of a sad childhood and a past he couldn’t wait to forget. Forced back by his father’s death Jake is surprised to run into one of the only people who really seemed to see him in high school, Cassie Ventimiglia. All those years ago Jake did the right thing and kept his hands off Cassie, who had good girl written all over her. But second time around it’s proving to be difficult, especially when Cassie makes it pretty clear she wants his hands on her.

But Jake’s back in town only briefly and his visit could take away everything Cassie has built for herself. What’s meant to be a quick arrangement suddenly looks much more attractive for the long term…if Jake can ever lay the ghosts of his childhood to rest.

This novella is a prequel to Maisey Yates’ new series Copper Ridge, the first of which, Part Time Cowboy is due out later this month. This one is a short but quite sweet story that introduces readers to the town and a couple of its residents. We meet Cassie who is thirty-two and divorced, rebuilding her life. She has her own business, a cafe although for her mother, the most important thing is finding a man and getting married. For Cassie though, she’s missed out on many things because she’s lived her life to please other people. Getting out on her own and starting the business is just the first way in which she does things for herself. The second could be Jake Caldwell.

Cassie seems a bit stuck in her life, she’s looking to break out in a way and she figures that the perfect way might be a dalliance with Jake, the former bad boy of her high school years. Jake is an interesting character, he’s done a few things that he’s not proud of but he got out and made something of himself. Jake has a plan, something that will prove that he’s successful, to other people but more importantly, to himself I think. He is very focused on this plan and to achieve it he needs capital, which means selling the building that Cassie lives and works in. This fires Cassie up pretty good as she knows that she probably wouldn’t be able to afford to lease another premises. The two of them have some really good chemistry that’s not just sexual. Both of them seem to have something the other needs – Jake encourages Cassie to break out of the mold she’s kind of been forced into for most of her life and Cassie provides Jake with a kind of supportive influence. Someone who believes that he’s more than the badboy who did things wrong when he was younger. It’s easy to see that both of them complement each other.

I really enjoyed this story although it’s super short and because of that it does seem a bit rushed to the whole falling in love thing. I’d have liked a little bit more time to see Jake and Cassie becoming reacquainted. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series though – have to admit I have a soft spot for those romance series’ set in a small town and I love the idea of Oregon as the setting for this one.

7/10

Book #46 of 2015

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