All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Death Of Noah Glass by Gail Jones

The Death Of Noah Glass
Gail Jones
Text Publishing
2018, 320p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The art historian Noah Glass, having just returned from a trip to Sicily, is discovered floating face down in the swimming pool at his Sydney apartment block. His adult children, Martin and Evie, must come to terms with the shock of their father’s death. But a sculpture has gone missing from a museum in Palermo, and Noah is a suspect. The police are investigating.

None of it makes any sense. Martin sets off to Palermo in search of answers about his father’s activities, while Evie moves into Noah’s apartment, waiting to learn where her life might take her. Retracing their father’s steps in their own way, neither of his children can see the path ahead.

Gail Jones’s mesmerising new novel tells a story about parents and children, and explores the overlapping patterns that life makes. The Death of Noah Glass is about love and art, about grief and happiness, about memory and the mystery of time.

Today is International Women’s Day and also the day where the Stella Prize Shortlist will be announced. Checking in, I’ve read six of the longlist with another 2 in my possession to read. Another is on request at my library but I have to wait my turn and the other 3 I can’t seem to access. Watch those 3 make the shortlist this afternoon!

To be honest I probably wouldn’t have been interested in reading this if it hadn’t made the longlist and I’d made the decision to try and read as much of the longlist as I could. It’s not something I’d probably be interested in but sometimes you have to take the plunge and try something new. There’s plenty of times where that works out and you find something new to love and things that you like that you didn’t know existed.

I won’t say that precisely happened for me with this book. I started it when I really just wanted to get back to reading something else and I gave it 100p to grab me. I got to the 100p and it was just okay. I didn’t hate it but I wasn’t loving it however it was enough for me to keep pushing through to finish it.

The book begins with the funeral of Noah Glass, who was found facedown in the pool of his apartment complex, having suffered a heart attack. The coroner has ruled it natural causes and now his two children, Martin and Evie, attend his funeral in Sydney. Martin lives in the city but Evie has made the trip from Melbourne. The two siblings are surprised when Martin receives a phone call from a local detective, asking them to pop in. Apparently during a trip to Sicily that Noah made just prior to his death, he’s somehow managed to get caught up in some sort of art heist and is a potential suspect. Martin finds himself travelling to Sicily himself, looking for answers to half-there questions.

Some aspects of this I enjoyed. To be honest I wasn’t at all into the art theft (or whether or not there was an art theft and if so why and what happened) but I did like Martin’s trip to Sicily and his attempts to find out what had happened. It’s not the easiest of investigations and Martin really has no idea what he’s doing and seems to be getting played at every turn. I also really enjoyed the story of Noah’s upbringing (his father was a doctor in a leprosy community in Western Australia) and his marriage to Martin and Evie’s mother and the children’s upbringing. Martin and Evie also had quite a complex sibling relationship and this was well portrayed.

But I think because I wasn’t particularly interested in Noah’s movements in Italy and what had happened there, nor was I particularly interested in the job Evie gets in Sydney, I didn’t love this book. I didn’t really connect with the story and it seemed like just when I was feeling a flicker of interest in a thread, it was gone and we’d moved onto something else. I don’t know anything about art and I really don’t care to know anything about art to be honest. I’m not interested in painters or sculptors and what techniques they used or how this defines this particular art movement or style or whatever. I felt the most interesting part of the novel was Martin and Evie’s sibling relationship but they were wrenched apart when Martin decided to travel to Italy and Evie chose to remain behind. They are reunited later in the novel but it all felt a bit too late for anything else to really happen. Also….the ending really left me feeling a bit disappointed. It felt anticlimactic and a bit slapdash and I found myself thinking ‘is that it’? Which is never really a positive. I think I was expecting a bit more of a mystery thread/storyline. It’s such a quiet book that I often found my attention drifting a bit.

Some lovely writing (particularly about Martin and Evie) but unfortunately that wasn’t really enough for me. It was just okay.

5/10

Book #42 of 2019

The Death Of Noah Glass is book #20 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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Review: Islands by Peggy Frew

Islands
Peggy Frew
Allen & Unwin
2019, 307p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

There was a house on a hill in the city and it was full of us, our family, but then it began to empty. We fell out. We made a mess. We draped ourselves in blame and disappointment and lurched around, bumping into each other. Some of us wailed and shouted; some of us barely made a sound. None of us was listening, or paying attention. And in the middle of it all you, very quietly, were gone.

Helen and John are too preoccupied with making a mess of their marriage to notice the quiet ways in which their daughters are suffering. Junie grows up brittle and defensive, Anna difficult and rebellious.

When fifteen-year-old Anna fails to come home one night, her mother’s not too worried; Anna’s taken off before but always returned. Helen waits three days to report her disappearance.

But this time Anna doesn’t come back …

A spellbinding novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Charlotte Wood and Georgia Blain, Islands is a riveting and brilliant portrait of a family in crisis by the breathtakingly talented author of House of Sticks and Hope Farm.

A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, which ended up being shortlisted for the Stella Prize. I was attempting to read the shortlist that year and I think of all of them I read, Hope Farm was probably my favourite. So I was quite excited to see a new book from her and I was quite interested by the premise.

This is the breakdown of a marriage and how it affects not only the two people within the marriage, but also their children. Joh and Helen met at university, married and had two daughters, Junie and Anna. They spend a bit of time at what they refer to as ‘the island’, where John’s mother lives. I’m assuming it’s Phillip Island, down in the south east of Victoria (somewhere I have never been despite having wanted to go since I moved to Victoria 13 years ago. I’m finally going next month!). The couple separate after Helen has an affair, after long periods of obvious discord and it has a severe impact on not only John but also the two girls.

John does not cope well with the marriage breakdown and that is incredibly evident to the two girls. Anna isn’t able to visit John because she doesn’t deal well with his inevitable breakdowns. Junie moves out of her mother’s house and in with her father because she can’t deal with Anna. As Anna delves into her teen years, she becomes more and more rebellious with skipping school, smoking dope and spending time hanging around people in the city. One day, Anna goes out and doesn’t go home again. Helen is somewhat used to this, it seems Anna has disappeared a couple times before for a day or two and come home. But this time, she doesn’t. And those crucial early hours are lost, as she isn’t reported missing until several days later. By then, it’s like she just vanished.

Like the breakdown, John doesn’t take Anna’s disappearance lightly either. He’s consumed not just with grief, but with the search for answers, undertaking his own investigation. He tracks people down that Anna may have had even just the most brief interaction with in passing and questions them, getting names of dubious characters and takes off to follow up vague suggestions and sightings like ‘she went to Geelong’ or ‘caught a bus to Sydney’. For John, it is an obsession, to the point where it’s possible he may come to some harm – if not at his own hand, at the hands of someone who may tire of his questions.

John feels so representative of a man with a missing child, for me. He’s unhinged in his desperation and it felt so real, that non stop search for answers. The more time that ticks by, the less likely you are to get a positive outcome and it seems like John is racing against time, trying to find that crucial clue he needs to solve the mystery and find his daughter. It takes over his whole life to the point where he needs help in order to deal with things, I think. It’s possible that John has needed help for quite a long time. I think I actually felt the most sort of connection to John, which was not something I expected. I had a lot of sympathy for him – his mother is a domineering personality who made it clear she didn’t like his wife. His marriage didn’t last and he was devastated by that and by Helen’s boyfriends after their split. He had trouble relating to his daughters at times, unable to keep himself from spilling out his unhappiness and grief and then Anna disappeared. I found things like Helen moving out of the family home and John moving in a year or two after Anna’s disappearance, so that someone would be there if she came home, very sad. You could imagine him living there, waiting for that door to open and Anna to reappear.

This is mostly a story about women, so it’s sort of odd that I feel I related to and sympathised most with John. I found Junie difficult to get to know although the descriptions on her art and how she ended up back on the island as an adult were very good. I found Helen a bit flighty and not particularly interesting, nor did I get much of a handle on her thoughts and emotions after Anna’s disappearance. I do feel as though the narrative of this was cluttered up a bit with the points of view from a few other people connected only briefly or in passing with the family and I’m not sure it added a whole amount to it, for me personally.

I did enjoy this but I think I was looking for a little more resolution at the end. I know life doesn’t often work that way but I did fee a bit unsatisfied at the finish.

7/10

Book #40 of 2019

Islands is the 19th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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Review: Home Fires by Fiona Lowe

Home Fires
Fiona Lowe
Harlequin AUS
2019, 487p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/AM Publicity

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

From the bestselling Australian author of Daughter of Mine and Birthright. When a lethal bushfire tore through Myrtle, nestled in Victoria’s breathtaking Otway Ranges, the town’s buildings – and the lives of its residents – were left as smouldering ash. For three women in particular, the fire fractured their lives and their relationships.

Eighteen months later, with the flurry of national attention long past, Myrtle stands restored, shiny and new. But is the outside polish just a veneer? Community stalwart Julie thinks tourism could bring back some financial stability to their little corner of the world and soon prods Claire, Bec and Sophie into joining her group. But the scar tissue of trauma runs deep, and as each woman exposes her secrets and faces the damage that day wrought, a shocking truth will emerge that will shake the town to its newly rebuilt foundations…

With her sharp eye for human foibles, bestselling author Fiona Lowe writes an evocative tale of everyday people fighting for themselves, their families and their town – as only this distinctively Australian storyteller can.

Summer has just come to an end (not that the weather thinks so, as we just finished a stretch of 37-40*C days that extended into March) and there are currently bushfires burning down in the south east of Victoria. Bushfires are an inescapable part of life here and the threat and fear of them is something most people can relate to, even when they have no personal experience.

Eighteen months ago, the lives of many populating the small town of Myrtle were changed when a bushfire took lives, houses and businesses. Those left behind are still struggling to recover. Claire lost several of the people dearest to her and now feels the pressure in her relationship with Matt, who just wants to pretend everything is fine. Josh and Sophie lost their dream forever home and insurance laws mean they don’t have the cash to rebuild. Bec and her husband are doing just fine financially, given he’s busy rebuilding everyone’s lost homes and developing land but the state of their marriage is a dark secret. Community leader Julie sees an opportunity to bring the women of the next generation together and strengthen friendships and the town.

There is a lot going on in this story – each of the characters have been affected by the fire and it’s still playing a role in their lives all these months later. Claire and Julie both lost people they love. Claire was supposed to be getting married on the day the bushfire tore through the town and she now bears a large burden of guilt about that. She hasn’t been able to reschedule the wedding and now Matt, her fiance, is pressuring her to have a baby, like they’d planned in the ‘before’. Matt is a tough character to really feel sympathetic to here. The two of them got together in somewhat dubious circumstances, Claire has experienced the backlash of that with Matt’s family, she doesn’t have a support structure of her own and so she’s vulnerable and finds it difficult to express herself for fear of losing what she still has. Matt has what seems like an overly controlling streak, taking it upon himself to track Claire’s cycle, run his mouth about things best kept private between a couple and just generally be completely oblivious to what is troubling Claire. The thing is, it’s not at all a stretch of the imagination to understand what makes Claire reluctant to do some of these things but Matt is the quintessential ostrich. If he cannot see it, it isn’t happening. He doesn’t support Claire in the face of his family, he talks at her rather than to her. That’s not to say Claire is without fault either. She’s super busy in her job but she uses this to avoid her other commitments or chooses it over them. She also cannot talk to Matt about what she wants but this is borne out of fear. Matt says some truly awful things to Claire in this novel, which I do not believe he ever seriously and genuinely apologised for, nor were they dealt with to the level of which they deserved. I appreciated the counselling angle but Matt went into it with completely the wrong attitude and it takes quite a while for him to begin listening and understanding. Claire is pretty quick to forgive hime actually.

Bec wasn’t a character I warmed to in the beginning but I think she probably ended up being my favourite one. Bec is the sort of person who presents one way and it’s a bit pretentious but then you realise just why and how she comes across this way and that part of the novel was very well done. This is insidious and not the sort of way that it’s often portrayed and Fiona Lowe does a great job escalating it throughout the story until Bec is in such danger and the things that are happening to her are so horrific. The tension builds alarmingly well and Lowe chooses a ‘town hero’, someone where it wouldn’t be easy for Bec to be heard because he’s got that ‘good bloke’ wrap that people are so fond of labelling men with, even when they do the most awful things.

I quite enjoyed the rest of the characters – Josh and Sophie were very interesting and that was another great look at how the strain of the fire had continued to have financial and emotional impacts well after it had burned out. Josh and Sophie are struggling – Sophie has had to go back to work, something moving to Myrtle was supposed to avoid so she could devote herself to their two small children. She’s finding it very hard because Josh does things in a different way to her – not wrong, just different. And that’s a really good thing to explore I think, because I know of couples who argue over how things get done, depending on who is the ‘at home’ parent because they have different standards of cleanliness and what they expect the non working parent to be able to achieve in a day. Sophie also doesn’t realise what is truly happening with Josh, because he’s never told her and that is well done too. Sophie and Josh’s situation also explores just how difficult it can be to rebuild after such a devastating incident – it’s not just a simple matter of the insurance company going oh yes, here’s the value of your house, good luck. Bushfires often mean changing classifications, changing standards and building and industry codes. And that means rebuilds cost more money.

I do feel as though this book, which comes in at close to 500p, is a fraction too long and some of the back and forth jumps in time felt a bit all over the place and I actually think I would’ve preferred a linear narrative. Apart from that and the character of Matt, who just wasn’t at all my sort of thing (nor were his family, who were also thoughtlessly insensitive and could be quite rude), the rest of this book was a satisfying read with a very realistic experience to what I think it must be like, rebuilding and recovering after a fire. It’s not easy, it leaves lasting effects and this reflects that in many ways.

8/10

Book #39 of 2019


Home Fires is the 18th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Review: The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber

The Glovemaker 
Ann Weisgarber
Mantle
2019, 287p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In the inhospitable lands of the Utah Territory, during the winter of 1888, thirty-seven-year-old Deborah Tyler waits for her husband, Samuel, to return home from his travels as a wheelwright. It is now the depths of winter, Samuel is weeks overdue, and Deborah is getting worried.

Deborah lives in Junction, a tiny town of seven Mormon families scattered along the floor of a canyon, and she earns her living by tending orchards and making work gloves. Isolated by the red-rock cliffs that surround the town, she and her neighbors live apart from the outside world, even regarded with suspicion by the Mormon faithful who question the depth of their belief.

When a desperate stranger who is pursued by a Federal Marshal shows up on her doorstep seeking refuge, it sets in motion a chain of events that will turn her life upside down. The man, a devout Mormon, is on the run from the US government, which has ruled the practice of polygamy to be a felony. Although Deborah is not devout and doesn’t subscribe to polygamy, she is distrustful of non-Mormons with their long tradition of persecuting believers of her wider faith.

But all is not what it seems, and when the Marshal is critically injured, Deborah and her husband’s best friend, Nels Anderson, are faced with life and death decisions that question their faith, humanity, and both of their futures.

I knew nothing about this book before I received a copy but the cover intrigued me from the first glance and as I’ve mentioned quite a few times before, I’m really fascinated with the polygamist lifestyle so this was always going to be up high on my list.

Deborah was raised in a polygamist family, with her father having two wives. However she and her husband Samuel are not practicing themselves, having moved to a remote location occupied by only a handful of other families, who are all Mormons. Apart from one family (who are questioning their decision) the town families do not practice polygamy. In fact they’re not particularly devout in the ways of the church at all, which has resulted in the church sending Deborah’s sister and her husband to the town with the intent of bringing them all back into the flock.

Junction is a very remote town and they often get travellers through in the kinder months, generally men who are fleeing the law and seeking an even more remote location which is a safe haven for those practicing polygamy. Deborah is surprised when she receives a traveller to her door in January, one of the harshest months. With Samuel still not home, Deborah is nervous but not enough to turn the man away. She gives him shelter for the night and then puts him the way of her brother-in-law, Samuel’s brother who will help him reach the place he seeks. The man lets slip that he’s being pursued, which means he brings trouble to their small town from those who won’t understand that although they’re Mormon, they’re a different type of Mormon.

Deborah and Samuel have been married a long time but they’ve never been blessed with children (something that I think a lot of the more devout people of their faith find a little suspicious). Samuel’s job often takes him far from home in the warmer months so Deborah does seem to spend a lot of time on her own. She has her brother-in-law and the more recent arrival of her sister and her family in the town has given Deborah some more company – and also responsibility, as her sister is expecting her third child in five years and Deborah provides a lot of practical assistance. When Samuel is late, Deborah doesn’t worry at first, but as the days tick on, she cannot help but be concerned. Samuel is knowledgeable and can take care of himself but she also hasn’t heard from him at all and as the weather worsens, the dangers increase.

So Samuel is no where to be found when the stranger knocks on Deborah’s door and brings trouble. Even though she knows he is more than likely being pursued, Deborah doesn’t turn him away. But even she could not have predicted just how much trouble this stranger would bring to their tiny town, when the Marshall arrives along behind him. They are a tiny town, only a handful of families, all of whom have seemingly moved there to find peace and a more temperate version of their religion (apart from Deborah’s sister and her husband, tasked with bringing them back into the more devout fold). I really liked the idea of the small, mostly self sufficient community, who rely on Samuel’s trips to places far and wide to bring back supplies for them a lot of the time. It was obviously a very inhospitable place in winter – my knowledge of Utah isn’t great, but I know there’s mountains that have snow on them probably year round and it looks like it has the potential to be seriously cold. As an Aussie, my idea of cold is probably pretty lame. But the author does a good job of making me feel like I was there with Deborah, trying to erase any signs of the stranger from the snow in her yard and trudging to her sister’s place, or to her brother-in-law’s place.

Deborah and her brother-in-law Nels have to make some very difficult decisions in order to protect themselves, the stranger and their way of life. Deborah is then burdened with an extremely difficult task and this is something else that Ann Weisgarber really showcases well – the story of the stranger, why he is running and from who, the threat the Marshall brings to the town and their way of life and the prejudice he holds about them, as well as how the decisions they make affect them and what they must do in order to live with the choices they’ve made and be comfortable with them.

The narrative is mostly Deborah’s, with a few chapters from Nels’ perspective and also some letters that Samuel has written Deborah from the road. The book goes back and explains how Deborah and Samuel met and came to be married and I really liked the little glimpses of their relationship. I found myself hoping that Samuel had just been inexplicably delayed and would stroll into town at the end to much fanfare and full of stories.

I am really interested in polygamy and all the opinions about it and reasons for it. It has a lot of darkness in its past, relating to abuse and oppression of women and children and marrying pretty young teens off to old blokes to be their 15th wife or whatever, which is pretty terrible. But I find it really interesting in a modern setting – mention the word and I’ll read any book, watch any tv show. I honestly don’t get the hate for it that some people have today, and the way they regard the people who practice it as second class citizens. As long as there is no abuse and all the adults are consenting, I’m more of a live and let live type of person. It’s not my choice, but that’s not to say it can’t work for some. I find the mental and social aspects of it really interesting, particularly the relationships between sister wives, rather than the relationship between the husband and all his wives. I think in this book, I would’ve liked a bit more about Samuel and Deborah’s decisions to move away, not practice polygamy, to lessen the grip the church has on them. But overall, I really enjoyed this – I liked the characters and the way they interacted, I liked the low-key threat to their lifestyle and what they’d chosen and eked out for themselves and I liked the setting. It was a very interesting novel and it’s definitely put Ann Wesigarber (who has previously been Orange Prize Longlisted) on my radar.

8/10

Book #38 of 2019

Going to count this one towards my Reading Women Challenge 2019 for the 20th category, a historical fiction book. It’s set in 1888. It’s the 6th book completed for the challenge.

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Review: Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Four Dead Queens
Astrid Scholte
Allen & Unwin
2019, 418p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Four Queens. A divided nation. A ruthless pickpocket. A noble messenger. And the murders that unite them.

Keralie Corrington is a talented pickpocket. She steals for the black market in her quadrant. Her nation is divided into four regions, each strictly separated from the other. Four queens, one from each quadrant, rule as one.

When Keralie steals a particularly valuable item from a messenger, she discovers she’s intercepted instructions to murder the queens. Hoping to find the culprit, Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt. But with Keralie and Varin each keeping secrets – and the lives of the queens hanging in the balance – everything is at stake. And no one can be trusted in a world full of ruthless thieves, black markets, a golden palace, daring heists, royal intrigue, noble messengers, forbidden love, four queens – each with a secret, and, of course, murder.

An enthralling fast-paced murder mystery where competing agendas collide with deadly consequences, Four Dead Queens heralds the arrival of an exciting new YA talent.

I had been hearing a lot about this book for what seemed like months in the build up to its release. It had a lot of buzz generated about it and it was enough to have me putting it on a list of books I was anticipating greatly in the first half of 2019. A stand alone fantasy title, Four Dead Queens has everything going for it – an eye catching cover, an intriguing premise and a release into multiple markets.

Keralie is a pickpocket, working for a notorious figure in her quadrant. She thieves items to be sold and when her boss challenges her to steal from a messenger, Keralie realises that there’s much more going on here than just a simple theft. When she realises what she’s stolen, Keralie teams up with the messenger she stole the item from, Varin Bollt, who is from another of the quadrants. She’s determined to prevent what she saw from happening….but sometimes, when things have been set in motion, it’s hard to stop a runaway train. And Keralie is going to realise just how much she’s being used in this scenario.

So I found the world building in this really interesting. The realm is divided into four quadrants and each quadrant focuses on a particular thing – and only that particular thing. So one grows food and shuns technology and provides all the food for the entire population. Another sector focuses on technology etc. Each sector is ruled by a Queen and all the Queens remain in the capital. The throne for each sector is passed down through the female line and as long as this system has been in place, there have always been daughters to inherit upon the death of a Queen. However when Keralie foresees the deaths of the four Queens it’s widely believed that all four are without heirs, which would thrown the entire realm into complete chaos.

Keralie is from Toria, the quadrant that values commerce and Varin is from Eonia, the quadrant that values medicine, technology and harmony. They are two very different quadrants and Keralie and Varin are two very different people. Keralie grew up in a fishing family but had zero interest in taking over from her father. Instead she learned to become a thief, working for a man who runs like a black market auction house. Childhood is very different in Eonia than in the other quadrants and Varin has had everything in his life mapped out for him. The two of them learn a lot about each other and life in other quadrants and perhaps how keeping everything so separate has had its negatives.

I really enjoyed Keralie, who is a complex character filled with mixed emotions about her upbringing and her time as thief and her ties to her childhood friend. I also appreciated her conflicted thoughts on her realisation of just how much she’d been manipulated and what exactly she had witnessed. I felt as though this was really quite well done and it was definitely a direction in the story that I had not been expecting. I liked her interactions with Varin and what they learn from each other and the pros and cons from the other’s way of life. It opens up a lot of dialogue about the dissection into quadrants and what that has resulted in.

We also get the perspective of each of the Queens and how each of them have their own secrets and thoughts on the way in which they must rule. I actually would’ve liked to know a bit more about the more day to day lives of the people living in the quadrants – we visit two of them in Toria and Eonia but the other two, Archia and Ludia are only described and we don’t actually get to experience them as such. We get a good example of life in Toria from Keralie and Varin gives a bit of an insight into life in Eonia and the Queens themselves kind of provide information on the other two, but it might’ve been nice to see properly I think.

Although this was enjoyable, there were times it felt a bit like it was attempting to do a bit too much and therefore, some of the aspects suffered a bit. There was sort of a semi-romance blossoming but its not given the time and attention it needs to allow the reader to really connect with it and the ending is a bit ambiguous and left a bit up in the air. Also there’s not really enough detail in the creation of the plot to kill the Queens, I don’t think. The culprit is easy enough to guess but the methods were a nice surprise, although once again it’s neatly tied up in ‘vague technology no one knows anything about’ which means that they can do things that really don’t require proper explanation which felt a tiny bit lazy.

On the whole, this was a very interesting read that I liked a lot with maybe a few tiny nitpicks here and there that detracted from the overall story (but nothing major). I would be very interested to see what Astrid Scholte comes out with next.

7/10

Book #37 of 2019

Four Dead Queens is the 17th book read and reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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February Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 17
Fiction: 15
Non-Fiction: 2
Library Books: 4
Books On My TBR List: 3
Books in a Series: 5
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 13
Male/Female Authors: 1/16
Kindle Books: 0
Books I Owned or Bought: 2
Favourite Book(s): The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence, No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume, The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan, Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee, Vardaesia by Lynette Noni.
Least Favourite Books: Man Out Of Time by Stephanie Bishop
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 14

February was another good reading month for me – both in terms of numbers and also how much I enjoyed the books I read. I rated my 2nd and 3rd book 10/10 for the year (No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani & Vardaesia by Lynette Noni) and 4 others I rated 9/10. Which honestly might be a record for me! It’s not often I would have 3 books rated 10/10 in the second month of the year!

In February the Stella Prize Longlist was announced and I decided that I would try and read as many of the titles as I possibly could. I’ve attempted to read the shortlist before a couple of years ago but this is the first time I’ve tried to tackle the longlist. I’d already read one before it was announced – The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, which I really liked. With the help of my local library I was able to access another five titles really quickly, of which I’ve read 4 – Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee, The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo, Man Out Of Time by Stephanie Bishop and Bluebottle by Belinda Castles. I have Too Much Lip by Melissa Lushenko on my TBR bookcase and another 2 books, Little Gods by Jenny Ackland and The Erratics by Vickie Laveau-Harvie on request through my library. That leaves 3 others I think, which my local library system doesn’t appear to have. Watch all those 3 make the shortlist, haha.

After getting off to a bit of a slow start in my Australian Women Writers Challenge in January, I bounced back in February by reading a whopping 13 books that qualify towards the challenge. I actually read 14 by Australian women in February but one was a re-read that I reviewed for the challenge years ago. Considering I put it upon myself to read 80 books for this challenge this year, I’m going to have to keep up the pace! March so far does not have too many books by Australian women authors on it but I’ll have more Stella books to read and there’s always a few late arrivals and last minute additions, so it’ll be one of those months where I just see where the pile takes me.

Here’s the March TBR pile………

I’ve already read 2 – Four Dead Queens and The Glovemaker, reviews of which will be up next week. I really enjoyed Peggy Frew’s last book, Hope Farm (which I actually read in a previous attempt to read a Stella shortlist) so I’m looking forward to Islands. There’s a few I don’t know too much about, that were surprises – Gingerbread has a beautiful gold foil cover and sounds interesting. And The Glad Shout is a hardback, which you don’t see too many of these days. My eldest got a kick out of seeing Hunter arrive in the mail, because that’s his name. Fiona Lowe’s new novel will count towards my AWWC. I don’t know much (ie anything) about The Artist but it’s another one with a cool cover.

So, this is somewhat of a small pile. I thought there was a lot more, but quite a few of the books I received for review during February were actually April titles, so they get to hang around and wait for the next TBR. So that gives me some room to add in a few things, like another couple of Stella books, and also this:

This is a mother of a book, at 830p in large paperback form. That cover though! I couldn’t resist buying this at the bookstore yesterday. I’m hopelessly behind with Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season series and the fact that this is almost a thousand freaking pages is intimidating and makes it hard to squeeze in but look, we’ll see how we go. I really want to read it – that cover is absolutely stunning (the photo does not do it justice) and I’ve been hearing lots of good things.

What’s on your pile for March? Let me know!

 

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Review: What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume

What I Like About Me
Jenna Guillaume
Pan Macmillan AUS
2019, 256p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

You know all those movies where teenagers have, like, THE SUMMER OF THEIR LIVES?

This summer is probably not going to be that.

Source: Everything that’s happened since yesterday …

The last thing sixteen-year-old Maisie Martin thought she’d be doing this summer is entering a beauty pageant.

Not when she’s spent most of her life hiding her body from everyone.

Not when her Dad is AWOL for Christmas and her gorgeous older sister has returned to rock Maisie’s shaky confidence. And her best friend starts going out with the boy she’s always loved.

But Maisie’s got something to prove.

As she writes down all the ways this summer is going from bad to worse in her school-assignment journal, what starts as a homework torture-device might just end up being an account of how Maisie didn’t let anything, or anyone, hold her back…

Argh, my heart after this book.

I’m 37 years old (holy crap, how did that happen) and I wish this was the sort of book I’d had around to read 20 years ago when I was roughly the same age as Maisie. This is everything I remember about my summer holidays and then some. It’s so refreshing to read a book set over the Australian summer, with one school year finishing and that seemingly endless 6 week stretch ahead of you before the next one begins. I grew up in a beachside town (it’s Australia, something like 90% of us live on the coast!) and this is so representative in lots of ways for me.

Maisie Martin spends every Christmas at the beach with her family and the family of Sebastian Lee, who in recent years, has become Maisie’s crush. Sebastian’s family live interstate so that window at the beach is really the only time they see each other. This year Maisie is missing her father (too busy with work to join them) and not speaking to her older sister after an argument so she brings her friend Anna along, fresh from a break up and needing some time away to heal.

Maisie is fantastic. She is contradiction in lots of ways – insecure yet not feeling like she needs to change. Too scared to wear a swimsuit to the beach but finds herself entering a beauty pageant where she’ll be on stage in various outfits in front of everyone. At the same time I was identifying with Maisie (for different reasons, I also didn’t like wearing bathers to the beach. I didn’t wear jeans but look, it was a close call) I was also admiring her for her determination to carry through after her impulsive blurting out that she would enter the pageant. I just absolutely adored Maisie – getting to know her through the diary entries she has to do over the holidays is such fun. Her style is so intimate, it feels like you’re the best friend she’s confiding in.

I have such praise for all of the relationships in this book. A lot of YA has missing or overly lax parental units but Maisie’s are a present part of this story and the dynamics are realistic and interesting. Maisie can sense that something isn’t right with her parents, they’re barely speaking to each other and yet she can’t seem to get anything out of her dad. Likewise her relationship with her sister is full of layers. Maisie is an unapologetically fat girl and her sister seems somewhat the opposite and has in the past, been very suggestive that perhaps Maisie…..do something about that. When her sister rolls up with a new girlfriend, Maisie experiences a lot of emotions about that. And it’s also a way for Maisie to see the path to acceptance.

Because that’s what this is. Maisie’s happiness with herself. Yep, there’s a super cute boy and he is attracted to her for who she is, in every single way and it’s totally swoon worthy and I loved it. The whole way it evolves is so organic and I loved how Maisie is unable to see what the reader can see. But Maisie is the star of this story and her journey towards accepting herself and even more than that, loving herself. The ARC of this book came with a postcard which invites the reader to detail 10 things they like about themselves on the back (making a list of things she likes about herself is something Maisie does multiple times in the story). Goddamn, it is hard. I think it’s this ingrained thing that we have sometimes, not to praise ourselves, or parts of ourselves. Clearly this is something, I still need to work on!

I just loved this book. It gave me such happy feels – but it also reminded me of those feelings of insecurity and inadequacy and the difficulties of navigating teen life. Friendships can be hard – Maisie’s friendship with Anna is complex and filled with bumps in the road. I really liked the friendship she develops with Leila and her crew and I think sometimes it really highlighted how her friendship with Anna was at times, not easy at all. But they are best friends and if two people want to work at something, then it can be fixed most of the time. Teenage friendships are a navigational minefield and it was nice to see that although there was discord, no one was a complete villain who only existed to cause problems for Maisie. Even now, as an adult, friendships are hard.

Sometimes, life throws you something where it’s hard to focus. Reading has always been my escape from that but lately there’s been a lot of depressing stuff popping up in my reading too. This is the sort of book I need to refuel and reenergise myself. There are complex things and genuine emotions but at the same time, it’s inherently good and pure and funny and makes me happy. More please!

9/10

Book #25 of 2019


What I Like About Me is the 7th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

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Review: The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo

The Bridge
Enza Gandolfo
Scribe Publications
2018, 384p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Did the dead exist? Were they watching? Were they ghosts? Not the kind he’d imagined as a child, draped with white sheets, with the ability to walk through walls, but the kind that lodged themselves in your heart, in your memories, the kind that came to you in dreams, that you could see when you closed your eyes and sometimes even when your eyes were opened.

In 1970s Melbourne, 22-year-old Italian migrant Antonello is newly married and working as a rigger on the West Gate Bridge, a gleaming monument to a modern city. When the bridge collapses one October morning, killing 35 of his workmates, his world crashes down on him.

In 2009, Jo and her best friend, Ashleigh, are on the verge of finishing high school and flush with the possibilities for their future. But one terrible mistake sets Jo’s life on a radically different course.

Drawing on true events of Australia’s worst industrial accident — a tragedy that still scars the city — The Bridge is a profoundly moving novel that examines class, guilt, and moral culpability. Yet it shows that even the most harrowing of situations can give way to forgiveness and redemption. Ultimately, it is a testament to survival and the resilience of the human spirit.

My quest to read as much of the Stella Prize Longlist as I can rolls on with this one, The Bridge, based around the real life construction of the West Gate Bridge. I live on the western side of Melbourne, so the bridge is a big part of our weekly life. It’s a dominant part of the landscape of this part of the city and many suburbs sit in its shadow. I’m not from Melbourne and it was constructed before I was born so I only know vague details about the collapse of part of the bridge during construction that killed 35 workers and injured and traumatised many others.

We begin with Antonello, a young Italian migrant who works on the bridge, high up in the air. He’s supposed to be working the morning the bridge collapses but he has swapped shifts with another worker in order to attend a bank appointment and is only just arriving for work when disaster strikes. Although he wasn’t directly involved in the collapse, it affects Antonello in huge ways – survivors guilt, what would now be termed post traumatic stress disorder, he has it all. He lost his boss and one of his closest friends in the collapse and it’s something that affects him for the rest of his life. He’s not able to go back to work on the bridge when it resumes, he can barely function. It affects his friendships, his marriage, even his relationship with his children (who aren’t even born when the bridge collapses). The grief never leaves him and even though he never leaves the suburbs under the bridge, he never travels over it and remains firmly convinced that it’ll collapse again, this time due to the sheer weight of the traffic it now carries each and every day.

In 2009, Antonella’s granddaughter Ashleigh and her best friend Jo are finishing year 12 and navigating that tough space between school and adulthood. They’ve been friends for years but lately Jo has been feeling the distance with Ashleigh and she’s desperate not to be left behind. One night out at a friend’s party and coming home disaster strikes – right under the bridge. For Antonello, the bridge takes from him again. Ashleigh’s family are left devastated and Jo’s mother finds herself struggling with her feelings and reactions as well.

I found the 2009 portion of the story really interesting. Jo is 19, she’s slightly older than most other girls in her year due to a delayed start at school, so she’s the only one of her friends with their license. She’s been raised by a single mother in Yarraville and lately, they’ve had that tough teenage daughter/mother relationship where it seems like they’re constantly at each other’s throats. Jo’s mother remembers when they were close but it seems like those days are forever ago now. When Jo’s life chances forever, it puts an immense strain on their already fragile relationship. There was a brutal honesty to this – I feel like often Jo’s mother really did not hold back about her feelings and I found them to be quite reasonable, her struggle was something that felt genuine, like this is how someone should feel when someone they love has made a horrible, preventable mistake that ended in tragedy. She also examines her own role in it, her complacency and how her ‘giving up’ fighting with Jo or bringing up things that lead to arguments may have led to what happened, simply because she’s tired, she’s exhausted of everything being a battle.

Jo was a frustrating character. I’m honestly not sure how much of her reaction was just an extreme shock….and a denial? But I found a lot of her attitude really off putting and her inability to accept her role and try and shift focus to everyone, to them all as a whole, juvenile and irresponsible and honestly? Pathetic. She commits an offence that everyone knows is an offence. There are no shades of grey, it’s all black and white. No middle ground. There are no excuses for it. At all. She gets careless, blasé about things and she ends up paying almost the ultimate price. I’d say there’s one person that pays for it more than her though, unfortunately. However, it’s not something she does on purpose, with the intent of harm. And she has to live with the consequences for the rest of her life. But that’s not enough…..there will also be a court case.

If you want cheering up, this is not the book for you. This is disaster, people dying in horrific ways and people messing up their lives and others, in numerous ways basically the whole way through. I found it a very draining read, even though I think it was incredibly well written and told a very good story that I became very involved in. But when I finished it, I had to admit, I was feeling quite…..down, I suppose. So many people in the book suffer in a lot of ways, there’s a huge amount of grief and loss and pain. But I loved the story it was telling and I think it’s probably a testament to how well it was done, in how it made me feel. I really enjoyed the portrayal of Yarraville and Footscray and the like, suburbs I know well and have spent quite a bit of time in. It’s good to see the west highlighted, from the working class of the 70s to the cafe culture and changing dynamics and vibes of 2009.

8/10

Book #34 of 2019

The Bridge is book #16 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019 and also my 5th book read from the Stella Prize Longlist.

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Blog Tour Review: The House Of Second Chances by Esther Campion

The House Of Second Chances
Esther Campion
Hachette AUS
2019, 389p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Can a house heal heartache? From coastal Australia to the rugged beauty of Ireland, an enchanting novel of starting over, in the tradition of Maeve Binchy and Monica McInerney.

Their grandmother’s stone cottage was always a welcome retreat in the childhood summers of Ellen and Aidan O’Shea. After a trip home from Australia, Ellen is keen to bring the neglected home back to its former glory and enlists the help of her dear friend and one of Ireland’s top interior designers, Colette Barry.

Aidan is already begrudging the work on the house he has avoided for nearly twenty years. The last thing the builder needs is an interior designer who seems to do nothing but complicate his life. With their own personal heartaches to overcome, will Aidan and Colette find the courage to give the house and themselves a second chance?

I didn’t actually realise that this book is connected to Esther Campion’s first book, Leaving Ocean Road. I haven’t read that and for the first little bit as I settled into this story, it was a bit confusing working out who was who and how everyone was connected. Once I had that sorted, it was easier to sink into the story and figure out what was happening.

Siblings Ellen and Aidan O’Shea are undertaking a renovation of a cottage left to them by their grandmother. As Ellen lives in Australia now, Aidan will be undertaking the bulk of the renovation, as he’s also a builder by trade. But Ellen has enlisted the help of her best friend, interior designer Colette to assist, much to Aidan’s chagrin. Although the two have known each other for a long time, given the friendship between Ellen and Colette, they’ve had little to do with each other since Ellen went to live in Australia. And when they are thrown back into close proximity to work on the house, it doesn’t exactly go smoothly. Aidan is skeptical of an interior designer’s role but he finds himself outnumbered and outvoted by Ellen and his father, which means that Colette’s role will be a prominent one.

Colette is six years out from a painful divorce and although she’s highly successful in her chosen career, moving from teaching into interior design, she hasn’t moved forward in her personal life in some time. She’s still living with her mother, where she went after her marriage ended and perhaps Aidan will provide an opportunity for something new…..if they can stop bickering.

I really like renovation stories – I watch quite a few renovation shows on television and I always enjoy their inclusion in books. However there wasn’t a huge amount of focus on the renovation, just enough to provide a bit of conflict between a skeptical Aidan and Colette, who didn’t understand Aidan’s somewhat hostile attitude. Aidan is not a particularly endearing character at first – he’s a bit rude, he makes no secret of the fact he thinks Colette’s inclusion is at best, a waste of time and at worst, something that will end up ripping them off. In fact there were a few instances where I may have put the book down and thought, “Aidan, what on earth is your problem mate?”

But he grew on me. It’s like he learned to swallow his pride, take a step back and stop being judgemental and actually look at what Colette was contributing and what her accomplishments were. Aidan also realises he needs to do something about his health – he’s pushing 40 or just over it, he’s getting a bit of that spread. So he changes his diet, takes up some exercise. This seems to help focus him as well, or mellow out his disposition somewhat! He becomes much more palatable and he and Colette actually find a way to have a conversation that doesn’t end in an argument which helps steadily build an attraction between them.

Meanwhile Ellen is in Australia, waiting for her partner’s visa to come through so that he can join her there permanently. She’s still dealing with some fallout that was addressed in the previous novel and learning to muddle through going from agreeing to be in a relationship with someone she was very involved with twenty years ago, to actually being in that relationship and learning the day to day sort of routine of it.

I enjoyed the snapshot of Irish life and also the snippets back in South Australia with Ellen as well. Aidan and Colette grew on me and I did find myself quite invested in them towards the end, even though there wasn’t really much in the way of actual romance in the story. The thing that did feel a bit left field for me was the case of a missing child, which comes up without warning and then dominates the plot in the latter parts of the book. It just felt like a bit of an abrupt change in tone and subject and I wasn’t expecting it to go in that direction at all, or have the effect that it did on numerous characters. One part that I did really think contributed to the story was that of Shane, the troubled nephew of Colette’s business partner who comes to work for them. He’s incredibly surly and reluctant at first but slowly he thaws and opens up and establishes a real bond with both Colette and his uncle. That was really great to read.

This was an appealing story that swept me away to Ireland and made me really want a little cottage in Cork. I’d happily revise this world.

7/10

Book #33 of 2019

Although born in Ireland, Esther Campion now lives in Tasmania, so I’m counting this title towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge. It’s book #15

The House Of Second Chances is available now!

 

 

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Review: Man Out Of Time by Stephanie Bishop

Man Out Of Time
Stephanie Bishop
Hachette AUS
2018, 291p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Stella’s father, Leon, disappears in September 2001, the police knock at her door. She baulks at their questions, not sure how to answer. ‘What if I just write it down for you.’

One summer, a long time ago, Stella sat watching her father cry while the sky clouded over. He had tried to make amends: for his failures, for forgetting to buy the doll she once hoped for, for the terrible things he had done.

The first time Stella sensed that something was wrong was on her ninth birthday. There was an accident, and when she opened her eyes there was the tang of blood in her mouth. Leon was beside her. But not quite there. In the winter, when her father finally came home from hospital, he looked different. Looked at her differently.

Now he was missing, and Stella held the key to his discovery. But did he want to be found? And after all that has passed, could Stella bring herself to help him?

Stella’s whole life has been stained by her father’s very struggle to exist. Would this be her inheritance too? Could she choose the steady minutes of an ordinary day? Or would she follow the path of a man out of time?

A masterful and deeply moving novel about inheritance and self-destruction, and of how the memories we carry and the blood we share discolour our view of the world … and ourselves.

This is quite a hard review to write. In fact, probably one of the hardest I’ve had to tackle in a while. Every book has its challenges when it comes to writing reviews, some are much more challenging than others. This is another of the titles long listed for the Stella Prize and I’m not going to lie – at the time, I picked this one up to read because it was the slimmest of the ones I had in my possession and I was looking for something I could get read in the time that I had that day. However this was no quick, easy read at all. It’s a complex, detailed in some ways, vague in others type of story about mental illness and the effects that has on a family.

Stella is nine when there’s an ‘accident’ and after that her father goes away. Leon is treated for his condition, often with electroconvulsive therapy and when he returns, Stella is 14 and a typical teenager, at odds with her mother and in trouble for things like not going to school and smoking. Leon has trouble with this new Stella, who isn’t the child he remembers. It seems that while he was away, although his wife visited him, Stella did not. The two of them are almost like strangers when he returns and they have to reestablish their relationship, which is full of bumps in the road. There’s a scene that made me quite uncomfortable to read because I honestly thought it was going in a much more sinister direction than it did…..and I think that perhaps Stella was quite unnerved by it also.

Leon’s a character that’s hard to get a read on because of his illness. His actions are frequently frustrating and also sometimes, quite scary. His wife, Stella’s mother seems long resigned to managing this (and him) the best way she can and she soldiers on through her years of single parenting, after Leon is hospitalised and treated for his condition. When he’s ready for release, she takes him back, for where else does he have to go? Even though after five years of separation, it must feel like they’re not even really married anymore. It seems a sad and unfulfilling life for everyone at times and yet they are all trapped in it.

There were times when I really struggled through some parts of this book. The writing is very good but it’s not really my sort of style and sometimes the way in which the story was being told, things washed over me without me really absorbing them. I found myself having to go back and reread passages to make sure that I was actually taking in what was happening (going to be honest, sometimes that didn’t necessarily help!). It’s a very multi-layered read which drifts in and out of different time frames at different points and often we are presented with just a character’s viewpoint of what’s happening which doesn’t give the entire picture. Some character’s thoughts remain a mystery to the reader – I think I would’ve liked to know a lot more about Frances, Leon’s wife and Stella’s mother.

This is one of those books where I can see why it’s made the list – it’s tackling a very difficult topic and I think it addresses it in a unique and compassionate way and also a way that leaves much room for interpretation. But I didn’t love it, I found that my attention drifted a lot while reading it and it’s one of those books that kind of made me feel like I was missing things when I was reading it. It’s one of those things that’s hard to put a finger on but the story just didn’t touch me personally or affect me in the ways that it probably should have. The way it was told wasn’t particularly a way I enjoyed, even though I can see how beautiful the writing is in many places. Stephanie Bishop says a lot with few words and yet somehow I found myself wanting there to be more. And that’s just on me, personally. Although this wasn’t for me, I honestly won’t be surprised if it makes the shortlist.

Book #32 of 2019

Man Out Of Time is book #14 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019 and the 4th book read from the Stella Prize Longlist.

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