All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Mini Reviews {5} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

So every so often I cheat a little and package a few mini reviews up into one post. Sometimes it is because the books don’t really lend themselves to being a full review – I’ve just got a few things here and there to say. Sometimes it’s because life gets in the way and all of a sudden it’s been quite a while since I read them and that’s why I’m bundling these together. I read all of these before a lot of personal stuff happened, including travelling interstate to my grandmother’s funeral and frankly, I’m not sure that my brain has retained the details vividly enough for my usual style of review.

The War Artist
Simon Cleary
UQP Books
2019, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Brigadier James Phelan returns from Afghanistan with the body of a young soldier killed under his command, he is traumatised by the tragedy. An encounter with young Sydney tattoo artist Kira leaves him with a permanent tribute to the soldier, but it is a meeting that will change the course of his life.

What he isn’t expecting is a campaign of retribution from the soldiers who blame him for the ambush and threaten his career. With his marriage also on the brink, his life spirals out of control. Years later, Phelan is surprised when Kira re-enters his life seeking refuge from her own troubles and with a young son in tow. She finds a way to help him make peace with his past, but she is still on the run from her own. The War Artist is a timely and compelling novel about the legacy of war, the power of art and the possibility of redemption.

This started off quite promising, even though I’m not particularly into books about veterans of war. I just don’t really connect with them – I don’t really know anyone that’s been to war and although it’s a very important issue, with PTSD and the changing views of veterans etc, I just don’t particularly enjoy reading them. However I was interested in James Phelan and what had happened to him in Afghanistan and how it came to be that he was being blamed for it…and how it was impacting on him emotionally. His marriage was interesting too.

Unfortunately, the further I got into it, the less I really enjoyed it. I didn’t like the dalliance with the tattoo artist and I found that I could predict most of what happened, before it occurred, including the truth about the child and the ending, which lessened the impact for me and I just…..didn’t enjoy the twists of the story. Some of them made me feel pretty awkward reading it. I think my sympathies lay a lot with Phelan’s wife and all she’d been subjected to and how well she seemed to accept the situation.

6/10

Book #47 of 2019

The Glad Shout
Alice Robinson
Affirm Press
2019, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

After a catastrophic storm destroys Melbourne, Isobel flees to higher ground with her husband and young daughter. Food and supplies run low, panic sets in and still no help arrives. To protect her daughter, Isobel must take drastic action.

The Glad Shout is an extraordinary novel of rare depth and texture. Told in a starkly visual and compelling narrative, this is a deeply moving homage to motherhood and the struggles faced by women in difficult times.

This was interesting – and timely. Climate change is a real concern at the moment, even if certain people currently in charge of this country (and others?) don’t seem to really think so. Given Australia has such a large coastline and something like 90% of us live along that coast, rising sea levels are an issue that will impact us greatly in the coming years. And then there are violent storms and changing weather patterns, which is something that this book addresses. A catastrophic storm/flood has destroyed Melbourne (and presumably, other parts of Australia but communication seems to be gone) and those residents that can have fled to a “local sports stadium built on a hill” that seems to be the MCG as a refuge point. It’s basically chaos – food is rationed, hygiene is questionable. The location wasn’t built to house that amount of people permanently. There’s no sign of the floodwaters abating and slowly society starts to disintegrate. Main character Isobel knows she needs to get out with her 3yo daughter. Interestingly, Tasmania has become a place of desirability, due to it’s mountainous interior and they’ve closed their borders. It becomes the reverse of now – boat people come from the mainland of Australia, seeking shelter elsewhere.

I feel as though this book could almost be a warning for the not-so-distant future. It’s not too much of a stretch to believe that we could be decimated by something in this way and the way in which Robinson portrays a crumbling society is really interesting. We are all built to survive – in any way we see fit. In the absence of the usual societal structure and clear rules and laws, it takes little time for things to descend into violent anarchy. And I couldn’t imagine how much more difficult having a young toddler would make things in such a situation. I didn’t always like Isobel (and her family situation was a complete mess that got irritating after a while, when we went back in time to her childhood) but I really liked the story. And I’ve never been a doomsday prepper but I see the value in it now!

8/10

Book #48 of 2019

The Glad Shout is book #21 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone
Felicity McLean
Harper Collins AUS
2019, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’

Tikka Molloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long hot summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth vanished during the night of the school’s Showstopper concert at the amphitheatre by the river, surrounded by encroaching bushland.

Now, years later, Tikka has returned home to try and make sense of the summer that shaped her, and the girls that she never forgot.

Of all the books here, this one is probably the hardest to review. You know how sometimes there is a book that everyone else really seems to enjoy and find deep and meaningful, and when you read it, you just don’t have that reaction to it? For me, that was this book. It’s filled with half-truths and vague recollections and things that change as different people discuss them and a kind of lackadaisical attitude towards what the heck happened to two of the girls. Tikka’s older sister knows something really quite shocking about one of them but even as an adult, doesn’t seem to find this at all concerning. She seems to think it’s just best forgotten, whereas for Tikka, it has basically dominated her entire life. She sees the Van Apfel girls everywhere, even when she’s working in America. There’s a neighbour that witnesses something really freaking disturbing but does nothing about it. This is described as “blackly comic” but I did not find it to be at all so. It’s very The Virgin Suicides but without that book’s nuance.

I think for me, if I read 304p, I want something at the end. This just left me with too many things left hanging and I read all this background to get zero closure and sure, life is like that sometimes. But there’s enough mysteries out there in real life (William Tyrrell, Madeleine McCann etc) that I need some answers, not to finish the book feeling more clueless than when I started it. Unfortunately, this was not something I enjoyed. I just had too many issues with the complacency of the locals and the lack of resolution was something I personally found frustrating.

4/10

Book #50 of 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is book #23 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

The Aunts’ House 
Elizabeth Stead
UQP Books
2019, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Sydney, 1942.

Recently orphaned, Angel Martin moves into a boarding house populated by an assortment of eccentric and colourful characters. She’s befriended by the gregarious Winifred Varnham – a vision in exotic fabrics – and the numerically gifted Barnaby Grange. But not everyone is kind and her scrimping landlady, Missus Potts, is only the beginning of Angel’s troubles. Angel refuses to accept her fate. She is determined to forge a sense of belonging despite rejection from her two maiden aunts, Clara and Elsa, who blame Angel’s mother for their brother’s death. Her Sunday visits to the aunts house by the Bay expand her world in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

Elizabeth Stead brings her classic subversive wit and personal insight to this nostalgic portrait of wartime Sydney. In Angel Martin, she has created a singular and irrepressible character. A true original.

This was the quirky story of a young orphan named Angel who is sent to live in a boarding house after the death of her mother in a sanitarium. It’s set in the 1940’s, so probably not the most sympathetic of times to the mentally ill. Angel is regarded as a nuisance by the battleaxe that runs the boarding house but is befriended by several of its more permanent residents. She spends her free time away from chores going to visit two of her aunts, who make it clear that they don’t want her there but Angel is determined to be loved by them.

This is a sad life wrapped in humour. Angel has very little (and wants for nothing, to be honest, she is not bothered by material possessions) but at such a young age she’s lost her father, her mother, her home and experiences very little human kindness. There are several alluded to (and one described) incidences of childhood sexual abuse and Angel, who is 10 (the same age as my eldest child) knows way too much and her cavalier attitude toward it is a coping mechanism I think. The book ends up being quite (very) dark in places with villains at every turn – although an attempt to balance this is made with people that genuinely care for Angel and her welfare but who aren’t really in a position to do much about it.

I think people will either love Angel’s originality or not. I found her unique and irrepressible but I think I found myself more focused on the what that is happening to her and her travelling around Sydney on her own. I enjoyed this read without actually loving it or deeply connecting with it.

6/10

Book #53 of 2019

The Aunts’ House is book #25 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

This has helped clear my backlog a little – books that had been sitting on a pile on my desk for a few weeks, waiting for me to get to them. I’m still no where near up to date. I am probably still half a dozen or so books behind but at least now I have reduced the pile and the ones left are ones I’ve read since my return home and are much more fresh in my mind so that I can begin planning them out and getting the scheduled. It takes very little time for things to spiral a bit but hopefully I’m back on track now!

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Review: The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth

The Mother-in-Law 
Sally Hepworth
St Martin’s Press
2019, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Someone once told me that you have two families in your life – the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don’t choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.”

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm’s length. Diana is exquisitely polite, but Lucy knows, even after marrying Oliver, that they’ll never have the closeness she’d been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something…

I love the quote at the beginning of the blurb here – you can choose your partner, but you don’t get to choose the family they come with. And yeah, it’s true, you only marry the person. But when you marry someone, a whole bunch of other stuff comes along with it. Their family dramas and dynamics become a minefield to navigate and it’s so easy for misunderstandings and conflicts to arise.

Which is what Sally Hepworth tackles so admirably in this novel. Lucy meets Oliver through work and she hopes that when they become engaged, she can develop a real relationship with his mother Diana. Lucy lost her mother as a teenager and she longs for that maternal bond. Diana however, is a difficult woman to get to know. Oliver comes from a wealthy, privileged background and Diana is every inch the formidable matriarch. Not warm, she holds Lucy at arms length and the two of them never really hit it off. Over the years as the grandchildren appear, things ebb and flow, fleeting moments of understanding contrasting with aggression that even once becomes physical.

Now police officers have arrived at Oliver and Lucy’s house to tell them that Diana has been found dead in the family home and a suicide note discovered as well. Diana has struggled since losing Oliver’s father to illness and although she retains passion for her work helping refugees, she hasn’t been the same. It soon becomes apparent though that everyone in the family seems to be hiding something – whether it be their last known interaction with Diana or something else. Maybe Diana didn’t commit suicide after all…..but with everyone seemingly having motive and opportunity, if someone did help her on her way, which one of them was it?

This book was a ride. It’s told in a back-and-forth kind of way, beginning in the present and then taking the reader back in time to Lucy meeting Diana, when she and Oliver get engaged, the birth of their children and various other moments over the years. It also includes both Lucy and Diana’s points of view, including several of the same incidents told from both perspectives. So at first you get Lucy’s impression of Diana and her feelings on various incidents that happen over the course of her marriage to Oliver and then later on you get Diana’s life story and also her side of the same incidents. I found that really interesting and it really served to highlight how two people can experience the same moment and see it completely differently. I really appreciated that because so often a book will present to you one side of the story and doesn’t always delve into the other side and it’s the same in life. You have your side and how you perceive the other side is feeling but……chances are, you’re probably wrong. This book demonstrates admirably I think, how both Lucy and Diana tried to have the relationships they wanted with each other respectively and how each felt that they were constrained by certain rules or societal customs and the fact that they were just different people with different ideas that prevented them from really developing things more intimately.

I found this such an intriguing mystery – more and more layers unfolded with the plot. Did Diana really commit suicide? I enjoyed the portrayal of her marriage and how it came about and also, how things at first glance were not really accurate! Then you factor in her personal wealth, the way in which she chose to view that wealth and her work and disgruntled family members and all of a sudden, there are a myriad of possibilities for what happened to Diana. This is not a particularly long book, but there’s not a word wasted and I find that this is quite regular in Sally Hepworth’s novels. She is able to tell a really detailed and involved story with intricate plot points and multiple points of view, without getting bogged down in extra details and dragging it out. Everything that happens, happens for a reason and ends up being relevant. It’s the sort of sharp, observant novel that I absolutely adore. Excellent portrayal of realistic family relationships and dynamics and all the complications that come along with them. This ended up being so much more than just the story of a woman whose mother-in-law dies in what perhaps are suspicious circumstances. I found a lot to mull over in this, especially the conditions of Diana’s will and how that would make people feel. I also really liked the inclusion of her work with refugees and how that evolved to become such a key part of the story, particularly looking to the future.

All in all, this was a brilliant story and I loved it. Sally Hepworth’s books always have me hooked from beginning to end and I just admire her storytelling abilities. I always look forward to a new book of hers and they never disappoint!

9/10

Book #54 of 2019

The Mother-In-Law is the 26th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Review: The Gift Of Life by Josephine Moon

The Gift Of Life 
Josephine Moon
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

You’ve been given the gift of life, now go live it.

Gabby McPhee is the owner of The Tin Man, a chic new cafe and coffee roasting house in Melbourne. The struggles of her recent heart transplant are behind her and life is looking up – until a mysterious customer appears in the cafe, convinced that Gabby has her deceased husband’s heart beating inside her chest.

Krystal Arthur is a bereaved widow, struggling to hold herself and her two young boys together since Evan’s death, and plagued by unanswered questions. Why was her husband in another city the night he died? And why won’t his spirit rest?

Krystal is convinced that Gabby holds the clues she needs to move towards a brighter future. Gabby needs Krystal to help her let go of her troubled past. The two women must come together to try to unlock the secrets in Evan’s heart in order to set free their own.

I was intrigued by the premise of this book when I read the blurb because I think it presents an interesting ethical question as well as tapping into the heightened emotions of organ donation. And there were elements of this book that I enjoyed, however I think that your mileage may vary depending on just how much you are willing to delve into something that presents organ donation as much more than just a physical transaction.

Gabby received a heart transplant 2 years ago and all has gone well. She’s opened a new business, a coffee shop in Melbourne and one of the things I did really enjoy about this book was Gabby’s devotion to coffee and her shop, to the point where she employs a roaster to roast all their blends and offerings on site. I love coffee but I’m not what you’d call a coffee snob – I can’t pick notes and flavours and I don’t know my single origin Peruvian from my Kenyan and Ethiopian blends. I just know what I like and there are plenty of great cafes where I live out here on the outskirts of Melbourne to get my fix. Melbourne really is truly devoted to its coffee and I think that definitely came through – to the point where Gabby’s kids were becoming aficionados, her oldest learning latte art and even the younger ones indulging in weak, milky coffees.

Gabby’s world is turned upside down when she accidentally gives away a bit more than she should in an interview which leads Krystal Arthur to her shop, convinced that the heart that now beats inside Gabby is from her husband, who was killed in an accident in Sydney. Apparently there are protocols around revealing the exact time a transplant is received, presumably to prevent families of the bereaved being sure who received their loved one’s organ and I can honestly see the wisdom in that. It’s a part of someone people knew and loved, that now keeps someone else alive. It would be tempting to befriend them to keep close to that piece…..or perhaps even air grievances that the recipient is alive but the donor is no longer. And Gabby and Krystal’s interactions are tested when Gabby realises Krystal’s true feelings about the donation. The decision to donate organs can be made by the next of kin if the person isn’t a stated organ donor and it’s very difficult to be in the right state of mind to make that decision for someone, because it means that they’re basically brain dead and being kept alive by machines. It’s the sort of decision that you can make and regret, either way and there are probably a lot of complicated feelings revolving around it. It’s not a decision I’d feel comfortable making for someone if I wasn’t 100% on their feelings on it either.

I’m a more practical than spiritual person so for me, this book was kind of a step too far in what a donor can share with the recipient. I know there are plenty of stories – people who wake up after receiving an organ transplant to realise they crave hamburgers when they were vegan before the operation or things similar to that. I think that probably some weird and unexplainable things do happen – but being able to witness whole scenes from the donor’s life was kind of too big a leap for me and Gabby basically becomes this detective using the memories she’s unlocking through the heart transplant (which seem to be mostly triggered by the arrival of Krystal in her life, because apparently her heart can hear her or sense she’s there, or however it’s explained) to solve just precisely how and why Krystal’s husband was killed. It suddenly became this big mystery about Krystal’s husband’s death and his family and it felt a bit of a swerve, like this was not what I was expecting and to be honest, I wasn’t particularly engaged with that part of it. I was more interested in what was going on with Gabby’s husband, who she co-parents with, but who has become increasingly disinterested in sharing the load. I felt as though that was quite an interesting situation and it could’ve been much more in depth than it was and the reveal was a bit lacklustre and lacking in the sort of impact. Perhaps because he’d spent most of the book doing as little as possible and was a character that inspired more irritation than sympathy until an abrupt about face that I felt needed a lot more exploration.

There were some interesting ideas here and some things that I enjoyed seeing explored but ultimately I felt that the direction things went in, just wasn’t for me personally and I found it a bit distracting from the things I was enjoying. There were a few elements that I felt could’ve benefited from more time spent on them (and some, probably, with less). Ultimately it was okay, but I didn’t love it.

6/10

Book #52 of 2019


The Gift Of Life is the 24th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

 

 

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Review: Deadly Politics by LynDee Walker

Deadly Politics (Nichelle Clarke #7)
LynDee Walker
Severn River Publishing
2019, 382p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Reporter Nichelle Clarke’s dream of covering a presidential speech is dashed when she finds herself intertwined in a high-profile murder investigation. While Nichelle is no stranger to facing dangerous situations in pursuit of the truth, the stakes in this story are higher than ever before.

Unsure of who she can trust, Nichelle must unravel a web of secrets behind an elaborate murder plot and dodge legal traps set by corrupt politicians. For if Nichelle can’t uncover the conspiracy in time, an unthinkable disaster will strike the nation.

Okay, I knew it’d been a while, but apparently it’s been 2.5 years since the previous Nichelle Clarke book (then titled the Headlines in High Heels Mysteries). Since then, the author has acquired a new publisher for the series, the series has a new look and also a new name – they’re now the Nichelle Clarke Crime Thrillers. The new covers are edgier and definitely darker than the previous ones, which reflected a much more cosy feel. I binged the previous books over a period of about six months, I think. The first four or five had been released and then I picked up the others. I’ve checked back periodically since reading the 6th, hoping it would continue and the 7th is finally here.

No sooner does Nichelle get the amazing news that she’s being pulled in by the political reporter to help cover a Presidential visit to Richmond, when she gets an interesting tidbit of information – a dead body has been found in the Mayor’s office. Kyle, ATF agent and Nichelle’s long-ago boyfriend, sends a cryptic message hinting at the identity of the victim but then vanishes, giving her the standard ‘no comment’ line.

That doesn’t wash with Nichelle – he can’t just offer up some information and then vanish after begging her not to print it. Nichelle is determined to get to the bottom of what happened, especially as it seems like the possible victim (apparently identification is an issue) is someone that she knows from an earlier case she investigated and reported on. Nichelle is also confused when she confides in Joey, her boyfriend of dubious employment and it seems he’s much more affected by this death than she expected. What exactly is going on? Joey has also warned her off the Presidential coverage but is vague about the why – just that he doesn’t want her anywhere near it. Nichelle doesn’t really do what she’s told, especially if he’s not going to give her a reason but she’s curious about what Joey knows that she doesn’t. And that’s a whole can of worms right there, given Joey’s line of work and the difficulties of being a crime reporter when your boyfriend is probably in the business of producing it. The deeper Nichelle gets, the more intriguing and dangerous this becomes – and when she takes a gamble, she might not just have blown up her career but she could also have signed her own death warrant.

This was an explosive ride from start to finish, in lots of ways. I feel as though this is a bit of a new direction for Nichelle, perhaps to match the new look. The fundamentals are still the same – Nichelle is still amazing at her job, she still has a great ‘nose’ for trouble and she’s still smart enough to puzzle things through, although this book does lead to her getting it wrong at one stage, but she figures out so quickly why and how. Nichelle has been struggling in her job for a while – it’s not a qualifications issue. It’s more the owner of the newspaper doesn’t really like her and has wanted to replace her for quite a while now. Nichelle’s boss Bob has always been able to back her up and keep her in the crime position but the way that things play out here suggest a very new direction for both Bob and Nichelle and I think I like it. I think it gives her a lot more scope and it might allow her to branch out into some more diverse and complex topics and features. I think the dynamics of the new situation will be really interesting in future books.

Something else that will be interesting is the situation with Joey. I really like Joey and have ever since he appeared in Nichelle’s living room in the first book. I’ve always been curious as to how Walker would progress with Nichelle and Joey given their different….situations and it seems she’s decided in this book. I’m not sure I like one of the complications of this but I hope it’s short term pain for some long term gain. I think the thing I like the most about Joey is that deep down, he knows that Nichelle is always going to do what she’s going to do – and it’s get on board or get out of the way. And he tends to just get on board. He might occasionally try to warn her off (like with the Presidential visit) but ultimately, he knows that it isn’t going to work. Nichelle simply isn’t like that. And he better just roll his sleeves up and try and keep her from getting dead, but in this book it’s kind of Nichelle who keeps Joey from getting dead. They work together so well, I’d really enjoy seeing them in that capacity more in the future.

I think this is probably my favourite in the series.

9/10

Book #50 of 2019

 

 

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Review: A Life Of Her Own by Fiona McCallum

A Life Of Her Own 
Fiona McCallum
Harlequin AUS
2019, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/AM Publicity

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When knowledge gives you the power to change your life …

Alice Hamilton loved being a mature-age student, but now she’s finished her university degree she needs to find herself a career. But the job market is tough and it doesn’t help that her partner David keeps reminding her about their sizeable mortgage. When she’s offered a role in a major real estate agency, she jumps at the opportunity. David is excited by her prospects in the thriving Melbourne housing market, and Alice is pleased that she’ll be utilising her exceptional people skills.

But Alice quickly realises all is not as it seems. What is she doing wrong to be so out of sync with her energetic boss, Carmel Gold, agent extraordinaire? Alice is determined to make it work, but how much will it affect her values?

As everything starts to fall apart, a sudden visit home to the country town Alice escaped years ago provides an unexpected opportunity to get some perspective. Surrounded by people who aren’t what they seem, or have their own agendas, can Alice learn to ask for what she really wants … on her own terms?

In her latest novel, Australian author Fiona McCallum tackles something I can relate to – a woman in her thirties who isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life. After the breakdown of her first marriage in her small hometown, a chance meeting led Alice Hamilton to undertake the university degree she’d never gotten the chance to do when she was younger. She discovered that she really loved study and now armed with her bachelor, she is interested in going further. But partner David has ambitions and he needs Alice in the workforce to pay down the large mortgage they’ve just undertaken, buying a house in Melbourne.

Alice struggles with really finding something that she’s greatly passionate about. She applies for jobs but nothing about them really excite her, although when she secures one as an assistant to a mover and shaker real estate agent, she’s determined to do her best at it. But I can relate to Alice’s struggle to find that thing that speaks to her. When I was in high school (forever ago now) I thought I’d have that magic moment where I’d come across the career I was ‘meant’ to do. A couple of university experiences later, I still haven’t found it and probably never will. I don’t think it works like that for a lot of people – work is necessary to pay the bills and sometimes you don’t have the luxury of waiting for that dream opportunity to come along. You take what is on offer and under pressure from David to contribute to the household, Alice does just that. She lands what sounds like a great job – but the red flags present early and it isn’t long before the job is stripping any confidence she had in her abilities and leaving her dreading it.

I enjoyed the story of this book but I think there were a couple of things that threw it off for me – the first is the pacing. It’s a bit uneven, the situation at Alice’s new job seems to escalate really quickly in a way that I think would’ve been much more impactful if it’d been over a longer period and really showed the gaslighting that can take place by people in positions of money and influence who are enabled in their bad behaviour. Also David is quite obviously a dill from the first page but Alice either cannot or does not see it for far too long and then when things do happen, it’s again, at a really rapid pace and things fall into place in this magical way that does not really seem to reflect how difficult it can be to start over on your own and uproot and change your entire life. Basically, Alice experiences a lot of horrible people doing horrible things to her, from her mother and sister in childhood, to her first husband, to her best friend, to her partner, to her boss, and she tolerates this for a long time and honestly, it got a bit wearying at times, like here is another person making things difficult for her.

But this is a journey – and Alice I suppose, has to learn how to stand up for herself and put herself and her self worth first. Firstly with her professional life, figuring out what she wants to do and also facing her fears and the terrible experiences she had and learning from them, addressing them and being able to move on from them so that she can basically be ‘at peace’. And also in her personal life, not tolerating being unhappy because someone else is pressuring her about something she isn’t particularly invested in. It’s quite obvious that Alice isn’t happy for quite a long time and that her and her partner have two very different outlooks on life and desires for their future but it can still be quite difficult to make that break. So in that case, everything Alice experiences here becomes part of who she is and how she decides to shape her future. She’s lucky in that she has a supportive friend, who actually turns out to be rather helpful in more than one way but apart from that and a kind stepfather who does his best, Alice does not have the largest circle, which I think she needs to perhaps work on (there’s evidence of this at the end of the book, so I think she’s on the right track). I appreciated the overall arc of Alice’s journey and I feel as though I could definitely relate to her because of that search for who she is and what she wants to do.

I had the feeling on finishing this, that it was set up for a sequel. Alice has made some decisions, but she hasn’t really begun living them yet and there’s obviously plenty left for her to do and experience. I’m actually quite curious about what happens next and how she gets to where she has decided she wants to be.

7/10

Book #49 of 2019

A Life Of Her Own is the 22nd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

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Review: Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Gingerbread
Helen Oyeyemi
Picador
2019, 291p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories–equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel” to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can–beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.

Perdita Lee may appear to be your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make. Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far-away (and, according to Wikipedia, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. In fact, the world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend, Gretel Kercheval–a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.

Decades later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value. Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, it is a true feast for the reader.

Haha, what even is this book about?

I don’t know. I like a dash of magical realism – I’m a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen. But I have to admit, this I think, was perhaps a bridge too far for my personal tastes? I hadn’t heard of Helen Oyeyemi before receiving this but I was really quite intrigued by the premise and the cover. The cover of this book is stunning. The gold is foil and it contrasts so nicely with the more subdued background.

Perdita is a 17yo girl living in England with her mother, an apparent expat from the country of Druhástrana, a country that no one really knows where it is and only three countries every acknowledge its existence and now two of those countries have revoked that. Apparently it’s maybe somewhere near Czechia or maybe Hungary or whatever but it has entirely closed borders and you can’t get in or out without some truly drastic measures being taken. Perdita’s grandmother escaped with her daughter (Perdita’s mother) Harriet. Now Perdita has taken the chance to visit her mother’s homeland.

I think I quite enjoyed the set up for this, the story of Harriet and Perdita in London and what Perdita does in order to visit her mother’s homeland……then it delved into Harriet’s past as a child/teen in this mysterious place of Druhástrana and somewhere in that section I think, is when I felt that this book and I kind of started to part ways. Things just started to get a bit too strange and I couldn’t really figure out where it was going…..or why. My knowledge of Hansel and Gretel, which people are saying this is retelling of, is a bit vague but there is a lot that just simply doesn’t seem to fit. I try not to read reviews of books I’ve read until after I’ve written my own review but I did glance at reviews on Goodreads and it seems a 50/50 split of people praising its brilliance and amazing writing and people who like me, were a bit confused what was going on and felt the story was a bit over their heads.

Reading is always your milage may vary and I think for me this was a good indication of how much magical realism I enjoy – more a pinch than the whole dumped in amount. There were too many things here that I felt weren’t particularly adequately explained and just ignored away because it was magical realism and didn’t require an explanation. Which okay, fine for some probably but it made it too difficult for me to really sink into the story because I was always wondering about things. And the story kind of petered out about halfway through and went from heading somewhere to just…..not. I didn’t understand why Perdita did what she did and what it achieved, or didn’t achieve. The writing was good, excellent even but the story was just lacking for me. It was super quick, which was in its favour (especially as I read this during a break from slogging through an 830p book) and it was difficult…..but I did find that I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck was going on and why something was either happening or not happening.

Safe to say, this isn’t my sort of story. But it seems that Helen Oyeyemi has a lot of fans and her books are widely praised so I might be tempted to try something again and see if perhaps I enjoy her style more on further exploration. And if not, well then I’ve given something a go.

5/10

Book #44 of 2019

I discovered upon finishing this that I can use it towards my Reading Women Challenge. Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria so I’m ticking off category #3. It’s the 7th book completed for the challenge out of 26.

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Review: Hunter by Jack Heath

Hunter (Timothy Blake #2)
Jack Heath
Allen & Unwin
2019, 424p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Timothy Blake, ex-consultant for the FBI, now works in body-disposal for a local crime lord. One night he stumbles across a body he wasn’t supposed to find and is forced to hide it. When the FBI calls Blake in to investigate a missing university professor, Blake recognises him as the dead man in his freezer.

Then another man goes missing. And another.

There’s a serial killer in Houston, Texas, and Blake is running out of time to solve the case. His investigation takes him to a sex doll factory, a sprawling landfill in Louisiana and a secret cabin in the woods.

As they hunt the killer together, FBI agent Reese Thistle starts to warm to Blake – but she also gets closer and closer to discovering his terrible secret.

Can Blake uncover the killer, without being exposed himself?

A confounding, intriguing and wildly suspenseful thriller from the bestselling and acclaimed author of Hangman

As is my way, I didn’t realise this was the second in a series when I picked it up. To be honest it didn’t really matter – this probably reads pretty fine for not having the background knowledge, it’s all explained pretty well. And I actually got the shock of exactly what Timothy does with dead bodies in his ‘disposal’ job for one of Houston’s most ruthless crime lords. This was clearly revealed in the first novel and the reader is supposed to go into this book already knowing what Timothy does…..but I didn’t know so yeah, that was pretty much a shock. It’s definitely unusual!

Timothy lives a very solitary life – the only time he seems to venture outside is when he gets called to come and pick up another body. All that changes when his former partner from the FBI gets in contact with him, asking for his help consulting on a case. This complicates Timothy’s life a lot – part of the reason he retreated from the FBI was to keep FBI agent Reed Thistle safe (from him). The two have known each other a long time, since they were both children in a flawed foster care system and Timothy is torn between his desire to keep Thistle safe and also his curiosity in solving the crime and his desire to spend more time with her. Even though he’s been warned off by his own crime boss (probably warranted, given the body that Thistle is searching for is actually in his freezer and there’s an entire FBI task force dedicated to the goings on of the crime lord) Timothy seems unable to let it go. Only the further into it he gets the more danger he’s in. Especially as things seem to be warming up between him and Thistle and she keeps coming to his house. One day, she’s going to look in the freezer. And then what is he going to do?

Timothy is unusual. Of course he’s unusual. And it’s not just because of what he’s doing with the bodies either. He’s weird in other ways. He’s incredibly socially introverted and he seems to really have trouble in day to day casual interactions. Look, part of that might be his paranoia about his ongoing activities and the fact that he’s frightened of being discovered so he keeps interactions to a minimum. But even in the course of his investigations working with Thistle as a consultant, he really struggles to interact with people. It’s not that he doesn’t get results – maybe putting people off is all a part of his strategy, because getting them awkwardly off side definitely seems to result in him picking up information that they might otherwise not have been able to. He also doesn’t really seem to care for rules or laws either (duh, I guess) and kind of does whatever he wants in the moment, not worrying about little things like warrants and proper procedure.

I enjoyed this a lot – I found it sufficiently creepy to make me glad I read it during the day time and not at night when I’m home alone. I really liked the development of the investigation and how they started off looking at one thing and then it completely morphed into something else. There’s also the complications with Timothy’s crime lord boss, who doesn’t really like being disobeyed and his growing relationship with Agent Thistle, which has a million and one complications.

Despite Timothy’s…..job, I found him kind of sympathetic. I actually felt quite sorry for him in a lot of ways and I liked him. He’s intelligent and amusing, although awkward and I like the way his mind works. I think it seemed like he’d had a pretty awful childhood. I’m not sure exactly why he does what he does, for that I probably need to go back and read the first book and fill in the gaps, but for the sake of being able to read this without feeling too confused, it was perfectly fine. It ended in the most interesting of ways – Timothy is in a world of trouble in probably two ways but it’s also possible he’s not the only one and maybe he’s the predator rather than the prey? It could go either way. I definitely do want to read the first book and I’m really quite interested to see where it goes after this too.

The only thing – can we get a solution for Timothy’s riddles? He makes a bit of pocket money on the side solving people’s riddles that they send him and there’s one at the beginning of each chapter. I’m a bit of a dope or something because there were a few in here that I had no idea what the answer was and I really would’ve liked to know. I don’t have a cryptic, analytical brain and I’d be staring at the page of each new chapter for five minutes wondering what the heck the answer was. In the end I had to stop reading them and finish the book first and then go back and read them all. I’ve no idea if they were relevant to what was actually happening or not or just completely random.

8/10

Book #41 of 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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