All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan

The Christmas Secret 
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan
2017, 478p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

They say that behind every great man, there’s a great woman, and behind London’s most powerful leaders, there stands only one—Alex Hyde, business coach par excellence. She’s the woman they turn to for advice and strategy when the pressure gets too much. So when Alex gets a call offering an unbelievable sum to discreetly manage a family member on the board of an esteemed Scottish whisky company, it’s business as usual. She can do this in her sleep.

Only, she’s never met anyone like Lochlan Farqhuar before. CEO of Kentallen Distilleries, he’s also the son and heir of the company’s founder, and a man for whom there is no “no.” He’s a maverick, and Alex needs to get inside his head before he brings the company to its knees. But as she tasks herself with finding a way in, she finds that for once, she’s not the one in control. And when she stumbles across a chance discovery that changes everything, she’s suddenly not so sure she should be.

My next book in the reading Karen Swan’s backlist project and I chose a winter title. The last couple were summer titles so thought I’d head back to something that felt a bit more in step with what I’m experiencing right now….although this is a more extreme version. The Christmas Secret is set on the Isle of Islay, an island off the coast of Scotland, well known for whiskey distilleries.

Alex is a business coach, which means she helps manage people in high pressure jobs through strategies to make them more efficient and less stressed. She can also be called in to manage situations where working relationships are breaking down and smooth the way back to formality and civility. In this circumstance, she has been approached to ‘manage’ a difficult CEO of a whiskey distillery, a family company where it’s the CEO on one side and several other family members and perhaps the rest of the board on the other.

For Alex, Lochlan Farqhuar is the most difficult person she’s ever worked with. For a start, she was called in by someone else, so he’s completely against even working with her at all. He’s belligerent, combative, obstructive and everything else that hinders progress. He won’t even listen to Alex, who is armed with information like Lochlan punching another board member, punching walls, throwing computer monitors, the list goes on. Alex has been briefed that his actions are causing the company harm and he needs to be reined in so that decisions might be made. As the highest shareholder and direct descendant of the founder, Lachlan holds a majority vote that basically can overrule pretty much everyone else.

Alex’s job is interesting and her adventure to Islay is a bit of a shock for her. She’s used to designer brand names, luxury and the high life, having built her business up to be one of the most prestigious and sought after of its type. But accomodations on Islay are not what she’s used to – she’s staying in like a family-run B&B with shared bathroom facilities, no wi-fi and basically no cell service. Also her luggage didn’t make the ferry so for the first few days, she must ‘make do’ with what her 80yo landlady rustles up from her daughter’s long-forgotten clothes. It’s a far cry from the carefully curated businesswoman Alex presents to the world!

Despite Lochlan’s obvious disdain of her and her job, Alex does manage to surprise him several times with skills and knowledge that she has about other things. She always does her homework before arriving for a new job and she has educated herself thoroughly on whiskey production and is also already well versed in other activities that people on boards and CEOs of companies might like to do or talk about in their spare time. Alex’s job is about people – reading them, understanding them, relating to them. At first Lochlan is difficult but Alex does learn how to provoke him into responding. However it does seem that Alex is oblivious to the thing that might make Lochlan respond most of all….

I enjoyed this a lot more than I enjoyed the previous Karen Swan book I read, which made me feel that the main characters were basically toxic toward each other. At first glance Lochlan doesn’t seem a good prospect – he has that brooding nature going on but he also seems like he might be a bit dangerous. Alex goes in only armed with part of the information and it’s quite a while before she finds out what Lochlan has been facing and how he’s been provoked from many corners. Lochlan really shot himself in the foot by being so difficult because if Alex had been given a full picture earlier, there are certain things that would’ve been a lot different….but then it wouldn’t have been such a rollercoaster ride!

I loved the setting here – the island has a personality all of its own and is described wonderfully. I also appreciated the information about making whiskey as well as the twists and turns in the plot, especially centred around Alex and her job. There are some things that make the reader wonder about her, about her decisions and career path and it takes a long time for a full picture of her, her life and why these choices were made, to be formed. I also ended up liking Lochlan – I am a sucker for a brooding man, and even though I found him frustrating in the beginning there was a lot that came to light later on that made everything make much more sense. I also really liked how the two were brought together at the end.

(Just realised I forgot to mention the historical component of the story – it seemed to take up much less page time in this one than the last one I read and it laid some groundwork nicely without being distracting).

7/10

Book #136 of 2020

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Review: The Farm At Peppertree Crossing By Lèonie Kelsall

The Farm At Peppertree Crossing
Lèonie Kelsall
Allen & Unwin
2020, 4332p
Read via my local library/RB Digital

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

An unexpected inheritance, a traumatic past and a family whose secrets are kept by the town

After a fractured childhood spent in foster homes, city-girl Roni has convinced herself that she has no need of anyone – other than her not-as-tough-as-he-looks rescued street cat, Scritches, and her unborn baby, who she’s determined will feel all the love she’s been denied.

Despite facing a bleak future, Roni distrusts the news of a bequest from an unknown aunt, Marian Nelson. But, out of options, she and Scritches leave Sydney behind, bound for the 800-acre property on the edge of the wheat fields of South Australia.

However, this is no simple inheritance: Marian seeks to control her legacy from beyond the grave by setting tasks that Roni must complete before she can claim the property and a life that could change her future. With everything at stake, Roni must learn to trust in the truth of Marian’s most important lesson: everyone deserves love.

Recently I added another app my local library uses for eBooks and noticed that this one is a bit different to the other. The other one I use, books are checked out by someone like a regular print book and you have to wait for them to be ‘returned’ so you can borrow them. This app however, has books that are always available, and you can check them out any time. This book was one of them – it’s a recent release that I’ve seen a couple of reviews for and it felt like something that I would enjoy.

Roni lives in Sydney – she was raised in a string of foster homes and for the last 10 years has worked in a cafe near Circular Quay. She makes just enough to get by, barely. But her rent will soon be increasing and she knows that she won’t be able to afford the new amount, she’ll need to find somewhere else to live. Sydney is an expensive city and it’ll be difficult. A strange phone call leads to a meeting with a lawyer and Roni learns that an aunt has left her a house. Well, property really, in South Australia, as well as the means to visit it. In order to inherit, Roni must undertake a series of tasks set by her late aunt, the first of which is visiting the family homestead. Her aunt has left her letters to read at various points, including with other people, whom she has tasked to help integrate Roni into the community. Roni goes to see the property with firm intentions of doing whatever she has to do to inherit it clear, and then selling it and going back to Sydney. After all, she was raised entirely in the city, she doesn’t know anything about farming or country life. But as she and her cat Scritches settle in, the place – and some of its residents – begin to get under her skin.

I really enjoyed this book – loved it actually. I thought that Lèonie Kelsall did an amazing job at showcasing what Roni’s life in foster care must’ve been like, but without going into extensive detail about it. It’s clear that she carries some deep, deep scars from that time, specifically related to an event as well as just the general instability of it. Roni has also lived a mostly solitary life since aging out of care – she seems to have no real friends, although a decent working relationship with her boss. She works long hours and then hurries home, often in the dark, to her apartment where she also helps elderly occupants occasionally get their medications or drops in groceries to them. She’s about to face a significantly troubling situation when she receives the news that she has what could be a substantial inheritance. All Roni seems to really have in her life is her cat Scritches, whom she rescued from behind a dumpster years ago after boys were coaxing him out and then pelting him with rocks. The bond between Scritches and Roni is seriously adorable – he has huge swathes of personality and is a massive part of the story. And there is a part in this book that made me cry and it was all because of Scritches.

Roni is a fish out of water on the farm and resentful of the ‘challenges’ her aunt has left her – things like make a loaf of bread from a sourdough starter, feed the poultry and care for them, integrate herself into the local community. Despite working in a cafe, Roni doesn’t seem to have ever really cooked herself meals and is clear about her distrust of vegetables. She makes a lot of mistakes, ones that you would expect people raised in the city to make and her lack of self confidence is quite an issue as well. Roni has had very little in the way of genuine care and affection in her life, which makes her vulnerable and also shapes her personality. She’s determined….but also tentative, which is an interesting combination. I enjoyed the way she slowly evolved, the longer she spent time at the farm. When she arrives she’s paranoid – locks herself in when the sun goes down, completely thrown by the silence of the country, freaked out by the lack of traffic noise etc. She carries with her a lot of scars from her city life and it takes her a while to relax, to settle into rural life, to even begin to embrace it. I understood her finding some of the challenges annoying – it felt like a lot of hoops to jump through by someone who had known of her existence and yet had done little to make her life more comfortable and seemingly nothing to be involved in her upbringing and life. It takes time for things to be explained and there were times when I thought Roni’s vulnerability was a bit frustrating, because it’s obvious to me what is happening, that she’s in danger of being exploited. But for someone who had grown up like Roni did, it was completely understandable that she’d want to find a happy ending, a reason for her being in care, for being abandoned. It’s idealistic and she has lessons to learn about how she can go about making her life fulfilling and rich herself, rather than relying on a relationship with one person to do that.

There’s a love interest in this book as well for Roni and I thought that played out perfectly. Roni requires a deep understanding and Matt gets that, without needing to be told. He himself has his vulnerabilities as well and they compliment each other very well, especially with the knowledge and help he is willing to impart to her. I loved them together.

9/10

Book #141 of 2020

The Farm At Peppertree Crossing is book #46 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 

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Thoughts On: “They Can’t Kill Us All” by Wesley Lowery

“They Can’t Kill Us All”
Wesley Lowery
Penguin
2017, 256p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In over a year of on-the-ground reportage, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled across the US to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.

In an effort to grasp the scale of the response to Michael Brown’s death and understand the magnitude of the problem police violence represents, Lowery conducted hundreds of interviews with the families of victims of police brutality, as well as with local activists working to stop it. Lowery investigates the cumulative effect of decades of racially biased policing in segregated neighborhoods with constant discrimination, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and too few jobs.

Offering a historically informed look at the standoff between the police and those they are sworn to protect, They Can’t Kill Us All demonstrates that civil unrest is just one tool of resistance in the broader struggle for justice. And at the end of President Obama’s tenure, it grapples with a worrying and largely unexamined aspect of his legacy: the failure to deliver tangible security and opportunity to the marginalised Americans most in need of it.

Literally the day after I finished this book, President Trump was asked by a reporter why black people continue to be killed by police. This was his response:

“So are white people. So are white people. What a terrible question to ask. So are white people,” Mr. Trump told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge at the White House. “More white people, by the way. More white people.”

Whilst what Trump says is technically true (more white people are killed by police) it ignores the bigger issue. Black people make up about 13% of the population of the United States and are 2.5x more likely to be killed by police than a white person. If you’re a black man, it’s 3.5x more likely. If you’re looking at the overall picture, they are disproportionately being killed by police, often after things like routine traffic stops or simple chases. In contrast, white people who commit even serious crimes are often taken into custody unharmed. Also, police are not required to compile comprehensive data on police killings and most of the statistics and information come from private researchers such as journalists – ones like Wesley Lowery, who with several of his Washington Post colleagues decided to build a database of every police shooting for the period of a year.

The stats in this book are somewhat mindboggling, particularly to someone from Australia where lethal force is rarely used in this way. Thats not to say we don’t have our own issues with police and terms of race – we absolutely do. There have been 437 Aboriginal deaths in custody since a royal commission in the early 90s, with zero resulting in a conviction. But in America, according to this book, on average, a black person is shot and killed by the police about every 10 days. Between 2004-14, there were more than 10,000 fatal police shootings. Of those, only 54 resulted in officers being charged and less than a handful resulted in any sort of conviction. In 2015 alone, 990 police shootings were ruled as “justified”.

The names keep coming – there are the ones that everyone knows: Philandro Castile, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and now, George Floyd. Not all of these are shootings – Garner and Floyd were not. But they were still interactions, seemingly innocuous interactions with police, that resulted in black men dying. And each time it happens, the streets erupt with protests because nothing is changing. Over and over again, shootings or force are ruled as justified, despite in the case of Eric Garner, chokeholds having been banned in New York since 1993. In the case of George Floyd, the knee to the back of the neck is not appropriate behaviour. And in the case of people like Breonna Taylor, how on earth you can have a ‘no knock search warrant’ and barge into an apartment after midnight and not expect retaliation in a country where guns and self defense has become such a core part of its make up, is beyond belief. Now in the case of George Floyd, the explosion has at least, resulted in the officers being charged, but they’re still a long way from a conviction. And history suggests that’ll be hard to achieve. In all the rest, there have been no arrests and/or rulings of that word again – “justified”.

This book starts with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. The author, Wesley Lowery, was sent to cover it by his employer and he ended up part of the story when he was arrested in a McDonalds for trying to do his job. He found himself getting involved with the organisers of the protests, looking for different angles and ways in, new ways to make these stories try and resonate with people. He became a part of the movement in a way, but on the outside, reporting on it. As ‘Black Lives Matter’ gained traction, Lowery was sent from Missouri to Ohio, and from there to somewhere else, as each new death occurred. I found all the information really interesting, because there’s a lot I didn’t know about each case. As part of the media wheel, Lowery does also comment on their role in something like this – what is reported, how it is reported. There’s a huge push where, the actual shooting often makes little in the way of news (this was the case with Mike Brown) but it’s the community reaction to it that pushes it to the forefront of newspapers and news bulletins. In the case of Black Lives Matter, the actual message is often ignored in favour of covering the rioting, looting, etc that often springs out of protests borne out of rage and despair. It’s centuries of frustration and impotency, that no matter what, this keeps happening. That black people do not feel like they have equality, like they are treated the same way, like their lives do matter. So much of the narrative is also – well what was the person shot/killed doing? Were they running? Talking back to police? Did they commit a crime? If they hadn’t done this then the response wouldn’t have been that – and so on and so forth. And how is that helpful? Passing a fake $20 bill or having your brake light out, even committing a crime such as robbery or whatever, doesn’t mean that you should be shot and killed and left in the street for hours (such as Mike Brown was) or have a policeman put his knee into the back of your neck like George Floyd. Some people say it’s disrespect of the police, a lot of others say that for black people, it’s fear. They know what happens when they get pulled over and it isn’t pretty. The fight or flight response can be very strong. But in the age of social media these days, police actions can no longer be covered up. Everyone has a smart phone to record interactions and sadly, eventual deaths of people. Watching the 8 minutes of George Floyd is incredibly uncomfortable viewing. But how else can people see and know what is happening, if things like this are not shown?

This book is just a small snapshot of several deaths – it does name check others, but without going into details. It also details the fatigue of Lowery himself from spending so much time reporting on such things, on the ways that it effects communities. The author is a black man himself, who also includes snapshots of growing up, talking to his father about recognising their own blackness and his friends as well, about ‘the talk’ that all black children (particularly boys) receive from their parents, about how to conduct themselves in regards to police officers and even just in general. So that they aren’t killed. It’s a sobering thought, that young children of 10 or 12 are told ‘use sir or ma’am, push your hoodie back, pull your pants up, don’t reach for anything quickly’ etc. And if you think 10 or 12 is too young for such talk…..Tamir Rice.

This was informative and confronting and helped me grasp more of what drives the BLM movement (although I know that I can never fully understand those feelings).

8/10

Book #137 of 2020

 

 

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 28th July

Welcome back to another edition of Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created by The Broke & The Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday is now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It features a different bookish/literary theme each week and this week it’s………a freebie! I wasn’t sure what to do for this one but finally I decided to do something that I hope will in some way, hold me to account. I have a bunch of series’ that I’ve never finished….sometimes it’s because I forget about them, sometimes it’s because I have the books and everything, but I have trouble letting go. So if I lay them all out here, I’ll be shamed into finishing them, right? Isn’t that the way it works?!

Top 10 Series’/Trilogies/Duologies I Have Not Yet Finished.

1. The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff.

I bought Obsidio when it first came out, having read Illumine Gemina just beforehand, for a challenge I was taking part in. I absolutely loved both of those books and I was so keen for Obsidio and yet I bought it and it has sat on my shelf, unread, ever since. I must’ve added it to a bunch of my TBR piles and yet still never gotten to it. Even though I’ve read both the others, I think it is partially the size that’s daunting – I always have a lot of books to read each month and sometimes it’s easier to choose the ones that will take less time.

2. Six Of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

There’s literally 2 books. You’d think I could finish this, right? Well I’ve read Six Of Crows and I loved it! I have Crooked Kingdom already, I think I actually bought them together. But I’ve not got around to picking this up and now it’s been so long that I’m going to have to read the first one again because I forget literally everything that happened in it and who everyone is.

3. The Wrath & The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh.

Like the Leigh Bardugo one above, this is also just a duology. I also bought them together. I love the covers, they are so amazing! And I read the first book and really enjoyed it but…..I did not pick this up afterwards and I really have no idea why. And I’m also going to have to read the first book again, because although I remember the vague story, I don’t recall any of the actual details.

4. Elemental by Brigid Kemmerer.

I read the first two in this series and thought they were great. However somewhere along the way I got distracted or forgot about this series. This is book 3 and there’s also 4 and 5. And it’s been many years since I read the first two so again, I’d probably have to read the ones I’ve already read again, in order to re-familiarise myself with the series. I do really like Brigid Kemmerer though so one day I would definitely like to finish this series.

5. Department Q by Jussi Adler-Olsen

This is a Danish crime series that I discovered when the Australian publisher sent me a review copy the second book. I hunted down the first via my local library. I did end up also receiving a copy of the 3rd, but then a bunch of stuff happened and all of a sudden I realised that the series was up to #6 (I think it’s now 8) and I’d missed a bunch of them. I definitely need to get back into these, there was a lot of interesting stuff happening. It deals with a kind of cold case squad and I’m really keen to find out more about Assad, a Syrian refugee who worked with the main character, who is really the only member of “Department Q” in the earlier novels. But I suspect Assad plays more of a role now. I really need to hunt the rest of these down.

6. Frieda Klein by Nicci French.

I’ve read the first 5 books in this series, all named after days of the week and focusing around Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist. So I have this one, Sunday Silence and then also an 8th book, called The Day Of The Dead. Like the above series, I was sent a lot of these for review – but when they stopped, it took me a while to notice that I’d missed a few instalments. I’ll have to finish this series too, one day!

7. Shades Of Magic by V.E. Schwab.

I’ve read the first one in this trilogy and I own the second one, pictured here. I don’t have the third book yet so perhaps I will get that first and then attempt to finish this one!

8. The Dark Artifices by Cassandra Clare.

Although this is technically a “new series” I sort of include everything under the Shadowhunters umbrella and this is where I’m up to. I own this and the second although I don’t have a copy of the third yet. I’ve enjoyed her previous books to varying degrees – ones that aren’t about Jace and Clary I actually enjoy a lot, although I do like Alec and Magnus from the J&C books. I really liked The Mortal Instruments.

9. Healer by Maria V. Snyder.

Earlier this year (in lockdown v1.0 actually) I went on a massive Maria V. Snyder binge. I read all 9 in the Chronicles of Ixia, I read the first in this Healer series, the first in the Eyes of Tamburah series and also the first in the Sentinels of the Galaxy series. This trilogy is complete and I have the second novel (although not the third) so I really need to get on finishing it. I will finish Sentinels when the third book comes out later this year as well.

10. London Celebrities by Lucy Parker.

This one pictured here is book #4 in a series that currently has 5 books published in it. I accidentally skipped it after reading the first 3 and then finding 5 on NetGalley. I need to go back and finish this one because I did get a little bit of an idea about it from the 5th book and it definitely seems like it’s my sort of thing and for the most part, I have loved the other books in this series. Especially the first one. Richard and Lainie are the best.

And there we go! Ten series’ that I am behind on – either they’re finished and I just need to sort myself out and complete them or I’ve allowed myself to fall behind somehow but I still want to catch up. There really is too many books and too little time!

 

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Review: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend Of Molly Johnson
Leah Purcell
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 288p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Deep in the heart of Australia’s high country, along an ancient, hidden track, lives Molly Johnson and her four surviving children, another on the way. Husband Joe is away months at a time droving livestock up north, leaving his family in the bush to fend for itself. Molly’s children are her world, and life is hard and precarious with only their dog, Alligator, and a shotgun for protection – but it can be harder when Joe’s around.

At just twelve years of age Molly’s eldest son Danny is the true man of the house, determined to see his mother and siblings safe – from raging floodwaters, hunger and intruders, man and reptile. Danny is mature beyond his years, but there are some things no child should see. He knows more than most just what it takes to be a drover’s wife.

One night under the moon’s watch, Molly has a visitor of a different kind – a black ‘story keeper’, Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities in the nearby town, and exchanges kindness for shelter. Both know that justice in this nation caught between two worlds can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path.

This is a reimagining of a Henry Lawson short story – I’ve never read Henry Lawson so I wasn’t really familiar with it. But Leah Purcell has adapted it into a play, this novel and also a movie which was supposed to be released this year, although I’d imagine a lot of things will have been put on hold due to the recent events of the world.

Molly Johnson is a woman about 40, a “drover’s wife” – her husband Joe Johnson spends a large portion of the year away, moving livestock around. Molly doesn’t mind that – life is easier when Joe isn’t around. He returns bringing supplies and often leaves her pregnant. For Molly, her four children (and now one almost arrived) are everything. Her mother died giving birth to her so she grew up without that maternal love and now Molly lavishes her children with it, whilst also making sure that they grow up smart and savvy to the dangers around them. Danny is her eldest at 12, almost a man now (in the time). Given my child is 12 in about a month, this is hard to reconcile, that a child of this age would be considered old enough to go out droving or earn a living some other way. Danny is a smart and thoughtful boy, good with his younger siblings and helpful to Molly. She’s told him she’ll need him when the baby comes – she’s getting older and this one may not be so easy.

When I started this, I didn’t expect the story to skew off in several different directions. As well as Molly, we also get the story of Nate and Louisa, a married couple coming from England to Australia to live. Nate was injured in South Africa and was relegated to desk duty after that but in Australia he will be in charge of the town of Everton, which is the closest town to where Molly Johnson’s shack is located. There’s also some history of the establishment of the town, such as information on prominent families who settled the area (wealthy Brits) and some of their interactions with the local Indigenous people.

This book shows a harsh life, for most of the characters. Molly just barely gets by, there are times when she and the children go hungry, when the supplies have dwindled to nothing. She lives very isolated, although was brought up by her father to know how to take care of herself. Her life revolves around her children – her father made the match with Joe when he was dying even though Molly was just 16 and Joe in his 30s. He’s not kind – he drinks and gets violent when he’s had too much. But Molly endures all he dishes out and protects her children as best she can from his temper. She lives for the day he takes off north, droving again and leaves her alone with her children, at peace.

For Nate and Louisa, Australia is also harsher than they expected and it’s a trek from Melbourne, to the town of Everton where Nate will be overseeing everything as the new man in charge. Chance leads them to Molly Johnson’s door and they beg some kindness from her, although something about the area raises Nate’s suspicions. He’s thrown into the deep end at work too when a prominent family are murdered, a black man accused. There’s a manhunt and Nate is pulled in many different directions: his wife and child’s safety and wellbeing, the local men brawling at the sales, the murders, the manhunt, searching out Joe Johnson. There’s a lot going on.

This book took a lot of unexpected turns, particularly after the character of Yadaka shows up at Molly’s cottage. Yadaka challenges a lot of Molly’s beliefs – her beliefs about Indigenous people and then, even her beliefs about herself. He is well spoken and gentle even though he’s wanted for violent murders. On her own and about to give birth, Molly is forced to rely on him and she knows she cannot defend herself against him, should the need arrive. But Yadaka never gives her need of that, he is helpful and just wants a place to heal. In Molly, he gets answers to questions he’s always known and gives Molly information that  eventually, once she has processed it, helps her make sense of many things.

I found the ending quite moving……and not disappointing, but deflating I suppose, that it had to be that way. But Molly’s love for her children stood out above all else and there was nothing she wouldn’t do, to protect them and help them but her helplessness in all other aspects of her life, as a woman, was highlighted and cost her dearly. Even though she was a capable, strong, independent woman, at this time in history, that didn’t matter. Everything was stacked against her.

I’ll be interested in seeing the movie of this when it is released.

7/10

Book #135 of 2020

The Drover’s Wife is book #45 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Mini Reviews {10} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Thought I’d do another round up of mini-reviews, books that I’ve read lately that haven’t really warranted a longer review or are similar or were read a while ago (and in some cases here, read before). So here are a few books I’ve read lately that I wanted to have some thoughts on.

Obernewtyn & The Farseekers (Chronicles of Obernewyn 1&2)
Isobelle Carmody (narrated by Isobelle Carmody)
Bolinda Audio
2016
Personal purchased copies via Audible

So recently I’ve discovered the success for audiobooks, in terms of me enjoying them and it’s listening to books I’ve already read. I really enjoyed the version of Pride & Prejudice that I read, narrated by Rosamund Pike and when I finished that, I went looking for something else to read and came across the Obernewtyn books.

I have loved this series for forever and also, the audiobooks are narrated by the author, so this is how she intended them to be read. I’ve discovered a bunch of things I’ve been pronouncing wrong in my head for 20+ years (starting with Innle!). I have listened to the first 2, which are relatively slim books – the first was just under 7 hours, the second was over 8. I’m also well into the third book, which is 14+ hours.

I have really enjoyed revisiting the series in a different way and just being able to determine tone and intent behind the words. Isobelle Carmody does have a great speaking voice and she lends a large variety of accents to the characters as well, which also helps connect those from similar areas, who speak in the same ways. The books after 3 are significantly larger and will take a long time to listen to, so I may take a break and listen to something else first, before going back to them. I’ve also only read the last book once so it’ll be an interesting experience to listen to that too. These first 3 books at least, I know inside out as I started reading them in 1996 and read them a lot. I’m sure a lot of info has left me over the years from the later books, which I am not as intimately familiar with.

These were both excellent!

9/10

Books #125 & #128 of 2020

488 Rules For Life 
Kitty Flanagan
Allen & Unwin
2019, 302p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

488 Rules for Life is Kitty Flanagan’s way of making the world a more pleasant place to live. Providing you with the antidote to every annoying little thing, these rules are not made to be broken.

488 Rules for Life is not a self-help book, because it’s not you who needs help, it’s other people. Whether they’re walking and texting, asphyxiating you on public transport with their noxious perfume cloud, or leaving one useless square of toilet paper on the roll, a lot of people just don’t know the rules.

But thanks to Kitty Flanagan’s comprehensive guide to modern behaviour, our world will soon be a much better place. A place where people don’t ruin the fruit salad by putting banana in it … where your co-workers respect your olfactory system and don’t reheat their fish curry in the office microwave … where middle aged men don’t have ponytails …

I love Kitty Flanagan, I think she’s hilarious. I first remember coming across her in Full Frontal, an Australian sketch comedy show that aired in the mid 1990s that I used to watch. She’s very funny, and is a regular on Have You Been Paying Attention which is a show my husband and I both watch together.

This is a funny clever book that is pretty much just as it says – her rules for life, starting with #1 which is if you don’t agree with the rule, forget about it and move on. There are plenty of rules here that you’ll find yourself nodding along to, and it’s broken down into fun sections. At the back there’s a section for you to add your own rules (mine was an electronic copy, so I couldn’t do this).

The sort of book easily read in snatches, perhaps on public transport (whilst people around you break all the rules maybe!)

6/10

Book #113 of 2020

488 Rules For Life was book #39 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

Artistic License
Elle Pierson
Self-published
2014 (originally 2013), 178p
Personally purchased copy

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}:

When of the world’s prestigious art collections comes to the resort town of Queenstown, New Zealand, shy art student Sophy James is immediately drawn to the pieces on display – and to the massive, silent, sexy presence keeping watch over them. She’s completely fascinated and attracted by the striking planes and angles of his unusual face, and can’t resist sneaking out her pencil when he’s not looking.

Security consultant Mick Hollister is used to women looking at his ugly mug – but not with the genuine pleasure he sees in the face of the girl with the charcoal-smudged fingers and terrible skills at covert surveillance. A security breach brings the two into fast and furious collision, and an unlikely friendship begins to blossom. And an even more unlikely – and very reluctant – love.

Introvert Sophy is content with her independence and solitude. She’s never looked for a long-term relationship, and isn’t sure she wants one now. Mick, apparently born with a face that not even a mother could love, has given up all hope of having one.

They have nothing in common. They shouldn’t even like each other. And they can’t stay away from one another.

I saw this recommended on the romance reddit when someone wanted a recommendation where the people weren’t perfect looking. Apparently, Mick, the hero in this, is considered ugly by most but Sophy is an artist and she doesn’t perceive him that way. To her, his face is fascinating! She sketches him trying to be subtle at the museum where Mick works security (although Sophy is not exactly inconspicuous, so Mick does notice her).

I loved the setting in this – Queenstown in NZ is high on my visit list, in fact my husband and I had been considering NZ as a trip for my milestone birthday and it was the frontrunner….before all of this *gestures vaguely* So that was a big tick and I liked that Mick, although son of a wealthy family, had gone his own way and worked a job that isn’t often typical in romance books. There’s a bit more to it than just security guard, but it was something different. This was a perfectly fine romance, a bit different although there were a few things that I felt were just there to try and create conflict, like Sophy’s freaking out about being in a relationship meaning she’d lose her sense of self. It wasn’t very well explained.

6/10

Book #132 of 2020

Talking To My Country
Stan Grant
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 240p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In July 2015, as the debate over Adam Goodes being booed at AFL games raged and got ever more heated and ugly, Stan Grant wrote a short but powerful piece for The Guardian that went viral, not only in Australia but right around the world, shared over 100,000 times on social media. His was a personal, passionate and powerful response to racism in Australia and the sorrow, shame, anger and hardship of being an indigenous man. ‘We are the detritus of the brutality of the Australian frontier’, he wrote, ‘We remained a reminder of what was lost, what was taken, what was destroyed to scaffold the building of this nation’s prosperity.’

Stan Grant was lucky enough to find an escape route, making his way through education to become one of our leading journalists. He also spent many years outside Australia, working in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, a time that liberated him and gave him a unique perspective on Australia. This is his very personal meditation on what it means to be Australian, what it means to be indigenous, and what racism really means in this country.

Talking to My Country is that rare and special book that talks to every Australian about their country – what it is, and what it could be. It is not just about race, or about indigenous people but all of us, our shared identity. Direct, honest and forthright, Stan is talking to us all. He might not have all the answers but he wants us to keep on asking the question: how can we be better?

I bought this recently. Stan Grant is an Indigenous Australian journalist. He wrote and is featured in a doco/movie called The Australian Dream which is currently sitting on my satellite tv box until I’m in the mindset to watch it, along with The Final Quarter. Both revolve around the booing of Indigenous AFL footballer Adam Goodes (who is my favourite player of all time and played 17 seasons with my team, the Sydney Swans). This book also touches on that issue, towards the end.

But this book also details a lot of Grant’s life and that of his family, incidents over the years that have reflected the treatment of them as Indigenous people. Grant outlines times like when he was 15 or 16 – the government was paying his family for every term he stayed in school, in an attempt to keep kids of Indigenous heritage enrolled, getting educated. “Bridging the gap” in education between Indigenous kids and others has long been an issue. However, Grant says that the principal of his school pulled him and several other Indigenous kids into his office and basically told them they were done at school, it wasn’t for them obviously, it was time to go and get a job. Which was in direct contrast to the message the government was trying to send, of keeping children in school. And what must that have been like, for teenagers? To be told that. That you weren’t wanted, shouldn’t be there. You can pretty it up any way you like but Grant and others like him were specifically singled out for their heritage and told to leave.

There’s a lot about identity in this, what it was like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia. There’s a lot about family and history, interesting stories about some of Grant’s relatives, like a white grandmother who chose a life with an Indigenous man and was turned away from a hospital when time came to give birth to her child. It seems inconceivable that a place responsible for help and caregiving, would refuse entry to a woman because she carried a child that would be Aboriginal. But it happened. I mean, this is a country that basically stole an entire generation away to “better them” by placing them with white families so it shouldn’t really be that shocking but yet it still is, every time you read one of these stories and connect it to a real person who endured it.

Grant has an appealing way of writing, very conversational but also informative and this does a fantastic job highlighting a lot of the inequality and systemic racism faced by Aboriginal Australians. He talks of places stained with the blood of his ancestors and their fellow tribespeople, places where brutal massacres took place. He also takes his son to some of these places, to share stories and history so that it is not forgotten, that each member of his family is privy to the path that has led them to where they are. He is passionate and informative but also measured and thoughtful. He’s not afraid to lay himself bare either and talks extensively of his struggle with identity and also his depression, later in life.

I feel as though this is an important book, one all Australians should read. And that anything I really have to say on it is inadequate.

Book #131 of 2020

 

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Review: Water Under The Bridge by Lily Malone

Water Under The Bridge (Chalk Hill #1)
Lily Malone
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2018, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Ella Davenport hasn’t been in a swimming pool since a bad decision ruined her chance of Olympic gold. So when Ella decides on a new career selling property, she chooses Chalk Hill. The country town is a long way from the water, with no pool in sight. Perfect!

Jake Honeychurch doesn’t want to sell his Nanna’s house, but circumstances force his hand. Listing the property with the rookie real estate agent in town, and asking a hefty price means it shouldn’t find a buyer. Perfect!

But determination and persistence are traits Jake admires, and Ella has them in spades. After all, no one ever made an Olympic team by being a quitter.

When news breaks of a proposed waterski park, a local developer starts sniffing around Honeychurch House. Ella’s first sale is so close she can taste it, until a sharp-eyed local recognises her.

Between sale negotiations with Jake that keep getting sidetracked, and a swimming pool committee hellbent on making a splash, Ella has more to contend with than kisses and chlorine.

Can she throw off the failures of the past and take the chance of a new start? Or will her dreams of a new life be washed away again?

Recently I decided to try and add in books I had from NetGalley and not gotten around to, into my current reading. I have in the past, occasionally “bitten off more than I can chew” in regards to NetGalley, particularly as bunches of books go up at once. It’s super easy to click on a lot of them and then quite often, the eBooks languish neglected while I turn to the physical books I have. Given that I picked up the third in this series recently in a sale and I knew I had this one, I thought it would be a good place to start!

Ella has moved to the small town of Chalk Hill in south-west Western Australia for a fresh start. She’s working as a real estate agent and has one listing – an overpriced house that has seen better days. She’s doing her best to spruce it up but the owner is reluctant to sell and Ella suspects that her rival real estate agent might be attempting to sabotage her by giving her false advice.

Ella is a single mother of a 10yo and my oldest son is almost 12. When I read some of this, it was like reading about my own child. My firstborn is at times, a challenge to parent. He has an attitude that started to develop at about 9 or so where he resented anything asked of him, even the tiniest of things and in Sam’s sullen reluctance, I saw a lot of my own child. And in Ella’s frustration to connect with Sam, to make him understand about why she’s asking him to do this or that, I saw myself. I’m not a single parent, I have someone else to ‘back me up’ if required, share the discipline and reasoning. But I’ve had the phone calls from school about incidents in the playground, backchatting the teacher. I know the weariness of it, the feelings that it evokes. And so I sympathised with Ella. In her case though, it’s obvious why Sam is resentful and acting out (not that that makes dealing with it any easier).

Jake Honeychurch is the executor of his grandmother’s will and therefore he has final say over the sale of the house. He’s not actually interested in selling it, but he’s using the fact that it is for sale as leverage against someone, to get information that he wants. Things get complicated when he and Ella start to connect and all of a sudden Ella isn’t just the new, anonymous real estate agent but someone that he gets to know. He starts to see the desperation of her situation, her determination to change her life to do something, to succeed. And that brings conflict and awkwardness, as Jake doesn’t intend to sell the house. Ella is doing the best she can, bringing him good, reasonable offers and Jake has to keep rejecting them each time. I thought that Jake should’ve explained his situation to Ella a bit earlier than he did, this was her livelihood. She had a small retainer from her boss but real estate agents need to sell houses to make money. The effort Ella was expending was never going to be rewarded and I felt that was quite cruel of Jake, especially after they become friends (with obvious potential for more).

I really enjoyed Ella’s background in this – she was an Olympic level swimmer, who had done all the hard work and had big things ahead. One moment ripped it all away but it also gave her something precious. Her relationship with Erik was interesting and added a depth to the backstory. I understood why Ella had kept her secret all these years, even from Sam – how does someone confess something like that positively, talk about it? After what she had been through, it was easier to protect herself, to keep both of them safe from prying eyes, a hungry media, and who knows what else. Ella was very young and probably not the most mature emotionally, given the insular life of a swimmer attempting to make an Olympics.

I also really liked the small town of Chalk Hill and the residents we got to know through Ella. The three books in this series will be based around the Honeychurch brothers, and we met the brother who will take centre stage in the second book, in this one. His story was very interesting (not something you’d expect actually) and so I’m quite looking forward to reading the second book very soon!

8/10

Book #134 of 2020

Water Under The Bridge is book #44 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: The Goldminer’s Sister by Alison Stuart

The Goldminer’s Sister
Alison Stuart
Harlequin Mira AUS
2020, 381p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘There are people in this town with the gleam of gold in their eyes and cold steel in their hearts.’

1873. Eliza Penrose arrives in the gold mining town of Maiden’s Creek in search of her brother, planning to make a new life for herself. Instead she finds a tragic mystery – and hints of betrayals by those closest to her.

Mining engineer Alec McLeod left Scotland to escape the memory of his dead wife and child. Despite the best efforts of the eligible ladies of Maiden’s Creek, Alec is determined never to give his heart again.

As lies and deceit threaten Eliza’s life, Alec steps in – although he has problems of his own, as he risks his livelihood and those he holds dear to oppose the dangerous work practices at the Maiden’s Creek Mine.

When disaster draws the pieces of the puzzle together, Eliza and Alec must save each other – but is it too late?

I read and really enjoyed The Postmistress last year by Alison Stuart and this is a connected book, set in the same town and featuring characters that appeared in that previous book. In The Goldminer’s Sister, Eliza Penrose arrives deep into country Victoria where her brother William has been establishing a mine. In communication with Eliza, he has indicated that he believes it will turn the family’s unfortunate finances around and that she should come and join him when she can. However when she arrives, Eliza is met with heartbreak – and mystery.

Despite her uncle’s attempts for her to remove herself to Melbourne as soon as possible, or maybe even Sydney, locations that he feels would be more fitting for a lady like her, Eliza is determined to stay in Maiden’s Creek and find out exactly what happened and the more she digs, the more mystery she finds. She meets Scotsman Alec McLeod, who manages her uncle’s mine and as the two of them become somewhat acquainted, he brings information to her that definitely suggests deception and the possibility of extreme danger. Eliza must be careful for it seems that there are people who will not care what the law says and will stop at nothing to get what they want.

I found this an intriguing story, deepening the circumstances surrounding the Shenandoah mine that began in The Postmistress. Eliza has travelled a long way to join her brother and she’s anticipating a warm and happy reunion. What she gets however, is nothing like that. Eliza makes up her mind to stay in Maiden’s Creek to puzzle out some things that concern her and it doesn’t take her long to become immersed in the local town, teaching at the small school, making friends (and enemies) of the locals and also, forming a friendship with Alec McLeod.

Alec has known loss. He’s known helplessness. And now he’s half a world away from the pain and heartbreak and with his brother Ian, is trying to make a new life, managing a mine. He’s a conscientious person, who values his workers and doesn’t approve of cost cutting over health and safety. When Eliza arrives, Alec knows he has something that belongs to her, despite his sort-of reluctance to give it up. He also knows that it might be dangerous and because of that, he wants to see her protected.

I loved the relationship that formed between Alec and Eliza. Their first meeting doesn’t lend either of them to favour the other but they do manage to put that aside and develop a mutual trust that leads them both to confide the suspicions they have in the other and Alec vows to help her in any way he can. It leads to both of them developing deeper feelings, although Alec is in a bit of denial in some ways. He’s still grieving his terrible loss and it takes him a while to accept that he might be in a place where he can choose happiness for himself.

The mystery in this isn’t unknown – it’s pretty obvious who is doing what and why, it’s being able to get the proof required, dodge the dangers and actually make it public that occupies a lot of the novel. The last third or so, is really fast paced but well done with so much happening, not just to Eliza as she tries to fight for her rights but also with the mine and Alec’s role within it. It’s really unputdownable and I was racing through it, willing everything to come out into the open so that everyone would know what was really happening and who was really responsible.

There are side stories here, characters that the author introduces as seemingly not that important but later on they prove vital for one reason or another or take up a much larger part of the narrative than was anticipated and it makes me wonder if there are future books planned that will also be set in this area. There seemed like several options for future books and I’d definitely be interested in returning.

For those who have read The Postmistress there’s several characters who reappear in this one as well as a fun cameo with Caleb and Adelaide at the end that gives a bit of an indication how they are going. Getting a glimpse of characters I’ve read about before is always one of my favourite things, so I really enjoyed that.

This is an intriguing story well told with characters that are easy to connect with and hope for.

8/10

Book #133 of 2020

The Goldminer’s Sister is book #43 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 

 

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Top 10 Tuesday 21st July

Hello and welcome back to another Top 10 Tuesday! Originally created by The Broke & the Bookish, Top 10 Tuesday is now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. It features a different bookish/literary themed category each week. And this week our topic is….

Top 10 Bookish Festivals/Events I’d Like To Go To

Australia has quite a lot of bookish/reader/writer type festivals. I generally go to the Melbourne Writers Festival every year which is held in August however this year, if it goes ahead at all, I expect it to be a virtual event with author talks and workshops etc held online due to the COVID issue. There are plenty of others that I wish to attend at some stage in my life, starting with…..

  1. Clunes Booktown Festival. This is a 2-day festival held in the country town of Clunes in Victoria, about 30km outside of Ballarat. I’d probably be an hour and a half drive for me, which isn’t too bad. I’ve heard great things about it. Unfortunately it takes place in May so it was cancelled this year – perhaps 2021 might be an option.
  2. Newcastle Writers Festival. Held in April each year (and actually, this was one I had been planning to attend this year). I used to live in Newcastle, it’s about 2.5hrs away from the town I grew up in and I went to university there. I absolutely love Newcastle – it’s a beautiful beachside city with loads to do. It’s an easy distance to Sydney as well as the vineyards of the Hunter Valley, if wine is your thing. There are lots of cafes, shops and restaurants and it has some stunningly pretty beaches. Newcastle is perfect for a little break and they get good names for this festival.
  3. Sydney Writers Festival. Sydney is one of my favourite cities. It’s where I was born, although I didn’t live there very long. I’ve returned there many times but it’s been about 8 years since I was last there, which was for an event for my husband’s work. I’d love to take my kids to Sydney as they’ve never been so maybe I will be able to combine these two things in the future.
  4. NT Writers Festival. This is a four day festival that alternates between Darwin and Alice Springs as its host city. It focuses on the linguistic diversity of Australia and the chance to visit either of the host cities would be a huge bonus. I’ve never been to the Northern Territory (yet another trip that was planned!) and to attend something like this would be different to a lot of other festivals.
  5. Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival. Never been to Western Australia either, which is where the Margaret River region is. It’s supposed to be amazing though and this always seems like a pretty good festival, I know a couple of authors that have appeared at it.
  6. Byron Bay Writers Festival. I know Byron relatively well – in some ways it’s similar to the place I grew up, although they’ve both evolved in different ways. A lot of people know Byron because famous people like to live there (Chris Hemsworth comes to mind, as someone that everyone will know) but I’m not a huge fan of the town itself. However the writers festival there always seems like a fabulous line up.
  7. Brisbane Writers Festival. I’ve been to Queensland loads of times but I’ve never spent any time in Brisbane itself. So this would be yet again an opportunity to combine a festival with exploring a new city.
  8. International Literature Festival Berlin. Okay the previous 7 are all pretty achievable given they’re in the country I live in (although some are thousands of kilometres away). However we’re going a bit further afield now and choosing a couple from overseas. Germany is a good place to hop to others in Europe so why not try this Berlin festival?
  9. The Portland Book Festival. Portland is one of the places I have high on my list of US places I’d like to visit, so why not choose a time when there’s also a book festival on?!
  10. The Edinburgh International Book Festival. A lot of my distant ancestors are from Scotland and it’s a place that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time as well. This lasts for 16 days in August (so summer, although their summers are a lot like our winters……yikes) and attracts up to 200,000 visitors and features around 900 events.
  11. Book Expo America. What book blogger hasn’t seen/heard the adventures of those who have attended BEA in the past? I actually know a few Aussie book bloggers who even made the trip over there to attend one! It seems like an awesome event to be able to check out up & coming books and get an idea of literature trends and what is happening. Plus it’s a place where you can meet loads of likeminded people.

Oops, ended up with 11. Probably could’ve actually had many more! There are so many festivals, both home and abroad.

What’s high on your list?

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Review: Blood by Tony Birch

Blood
Tony Birch
University of Queensland Press
2012, 264p
Personal purchased copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

From the moment he saw Rachel wrapped in a blanket at the hospital, Jesse knew that he’d be the one to look after his little sister. When their mother’s appetite for destruction leads the little family into the arms of Ray Crow, Jesse sees the brooding violence and knows that, this time, the trouble is real.

But Jesse is just a kid and even as he tries to save his sister, he makes a fatal error that exposes them to the kind of danger from which he has sworn to protect them. As their world is torn to pieces, the children learn that when you are lost and alone, the only thing you can trust is what’s in your blood.

Young Jesse is only 5 when his sister Rachel is born. Before her, it was just him and his mother Gwen, living from hand to mouth, moving from one place to another. When Rachel arrives, Jesse, although young, already knows that he will be responsible for much of her care. Gwen……Gwen isn’t good at things like nurturing and taking care of people. She’s always on the lookout for the next place to go, someone she knows that they might be able to crash with for a while…the next man that might take care of them. Unfortunately, Gwen’s taste in men often runs to the type that are too free with their fists.

Sometimes, things work out. A man Gwen brings home seems scary at first, with his prison tattoos and anger when he can’t get a job. But he treats Jesse and Rachel with kindness, cooking them meals, walking Rachel to school, teaching Jesse about things. For the first time in his life, Jesse feels like he has a father-figure (Jesse is half-Aboriginal through his father, although his mother makes no secret of the fact that’s a no good thing, just as his father was no good and from a young age he learns about slurs toward his heritage) as he and Rachel bond with the man. But it doesn’t last – it never does. And one morning he’s gone and Gwen is forcing them to pack a suitcase again, moving on. And then there’s Pop, Gwen’s father, who takes Jesse and Rachel in when Gwen is out of options. He’s a man of few words, who has faced demons and won, and been estranged from his daughter for a long time. Jesse and Rachel worm their way into Pop’s heart and he to theirs but all too soon Gwen is back, demanding her kids, saying it’s time to go. But when she drives them to Adelaide after yet another thing goes wrong, it puts them in the path of Ray Crow…..and this time, the danger is real.

The book opens with Jesse separated from his sister Rachel, at a police station but gives no indication of why he is there. It establishes the bond he has with his younger sister and his desire to protect her at all costs by saying nothing. It then takes you back in time, firstly to before Rachel and then the arrival of Rachel and then how their lives evolve as the two grow up. At the time of the police station, Jesse is around 13 and Rachel about 8 and the journey from Adelaide, fleeing their mother’s latest violent boyfriend, to the police station is long, traumatic and dangerous every step of the way. Despite his youth, Jesse is incredibly resourceful and he’s very protective of his younger sister. He has a goal of keeping her safe (in many ways, including from Ray when they were still in Adelaide) but he’s also just a kid and sometimes things go wrong and he has to make a new plan.

From their birth, Jesse and Rachel had very few times of stability in their lives. Briefly, when the ex-prisoner moved in, provided a father figure and also the time she sent them to her father. The way in which the two children bonded with their Pop, who was a man of few words and not seemingly at ease with the caretaker role thrust upon him, was incredibly tender and well done. It’s subtle and it goes both ways. Pop becomes attached to the children too and although he seems to have little, he does things to make occasions special for them, to the best of his ability. He sees them fed and clothed and cared for in ways that they have not experienced and it’s almost like they have a home for the first time in their lives. Perhaps the kindest thing Gwen could’ve done for them was leave them there but she’s back all too soon, dragging them away, hurting everyone and not seeing what she’s doing. She is their mother but she’s also incapable of making decisions that put them first or take them into consideration at all. She bounces from one man to the next, most of them trouble and the time with Pop gives a bit of an indication how and why she ended up in that life and that once, long ago, she’d been a very different person.

This is extreme poverty and desperation, leading to neglect and danger. Gwen makes a lot of her choices based on the fact that she doesn’t have a lot of choice but she does also seem to sabotage some of the few good scenarios she finds herself in, so it does make me wonder how much she would choose a stable life, should one be an option. The children have had little in the way of schooling which she’s incredibly unconcerned about and she seems to always fall back on the journey of moving from one place to another and rarely settling down. She’s clinging to a her that no longer exists: a younger, prettier, thinner version before drinking, babies, an unsustainable lifestyle and bad choices took their toll. And her children are paying the price.

This was a powerful and gripping read and I’d definitely like to try some of Tony Birch’s other books.

8/10

Book #130 of 2020

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