All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Valley Of Lost Stories by Vanessa McCausland

The Valley Of Lost Stories 
Vanessa McCausland
Harper Collins AUS
2020, 406p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Beautiful, beguiling and treacherous … Big Little Lies meets Picnic at Hanging Rock in a secluded valley over the Blue Mountains.

Four women and their children are invited to the beautiful but remote Capertee Valley for a much-needed holiday.

Once home to a burgeoning mining industry, now all that remains are ruins slowly being swallowed by the bush and the jewel of the valley, a stunning, renovated Art Deco hotel. This is a place haunted by secrets. In 1948 Clara Black walked into the night, never to be seen again.

As the valley beguiles these four friends, and haunts them in equal measure, each has to confront secrets of her own: Nathalie with a damaged marriage; Emmie yearning for another child; Pen struggling as a single parent; and Alexandra hiding in the shadow of her famous husband.

But as the mystery of what happened seventy years earlier unravels, one of the women also vanishes into this bewitching but wild place, forcing devastating truths to the surface.

Recently this book arrived in a cute little package, wrapped up like a present with a card that said after 2020, it’d be nice to have a bookish escape. To be honest, after reading a lot through my lockdowns (which totalled, I think, almost 20 weeks) I haven’t read much at all in December. But I feel like my reading mojo might be slowly returning and I picked this book up just intending to read a few chapters and see how I went but I ended up reading about three quarters of it and then finished it the next day.

The book focuses around four women: Emmie, Nathalie, Alexandra and Pen, who all have children at the same school. At an event, Emmie finds herself sitting with the beautiful, well known Nathalie and her friend Alexandra, two of the mothers that everyone is in awe of and probably wants to be friends with. They make a pact to take each other if they win the raffle prize of a week at another mother’s beach house and Emmie is surprisingly the winner. She also includes her friend Pen, a single mother who struggles with her youngest child Will. When the beach house falls through, Alexandra knows someone who offers them a place where they can still take their holiday, with enough room for the women and their kids: a hotel in a remote part of NSW past the Blue Mountains. At first it seems idyllic – beautiful, empty with grounds for the children to play and a pool and stream to swim in during the sweltering summer heat. But then things take a bit of a sinister turn and the Valley is more eerie, than beautiful. And there’s definitely more to their mysterious host than meets the eye.

I really enjoyed this. It’s a dual timeline, the book also takes us back to 1948, when the area was used for shale mining. There’s a great divide in the local community – those in charge of the mine, the engineers and the like, reside in the grand hotel with balls and parties and luxuries. The workers are often relegated to fibre shacks and there’s never enough money to go around. One night, Clara Black vanishes and Jean was the last person to see her alive. In the present day, it seems that there are many secrets from that time to still be discovered.

Each of the women have children the same age and all except Emmie have more than one child. Pen has a teenage daughter, who also struggles with the fact that Will is different and that Pen cannot provide the luxuries her friend’s parents can. Alexandra has two boys and is married to a television personality and from the outside, her life looks idyllic. Nathalie has three children including two under five and she is sinking. A lot of the women are struggling with many issues: parental guilt, feeling inadequate, a bit too much reliance on wine to get through the day, sexuality, secondary infertility, inadequacy. In one of the first scenes, Emmie is at the school, wondering how she has been doing drop offs and pick ups for four years and still hasn’t found her “group”, women to stand with and chat to, to share secrets with. She meets Nathalie by accident really and falls into accidental friendship created by the pact to share the prize should any of them win it. They are not long term friends when they go on the holiday (with the exception of Nathalie and Alexandra). All of the women are relatable in some way or another, whether it’s the struggle of adding another child, the feeling of not being the mother you should be, marital struggles, money issues, there was a lot of realism in some of their interactions, thoughts and actions. I felt interested by Pen’s story in particular and her blunt thoughts about her son were interesting to me. Will was a challenge, a surprise, one that turned her life upside down and there’s always a lot of pressure on women in particular, to have this magical, immediate love for a child the second you find out you’re carrying it or if not then, definitely the second you’ve delivered it. For a lot of women, it doesn’t go that way and there can be a real fear to talk about it because of this “motherhood bond” that is so revered. One of the women is also really, really struggling with an alcohol problem which it seems everyone is ready to ignore – is it because some of them don’t know her very well? Or is drinking so ingrained in the culture that it takes a while for people to notice that she has a very big problem. Even her own husband doesn’t notice. And I think sometimes, the “Mummy wine time” is quite glamorised on social media, places like instagram. For some, that one glass turns into two….turns into a bottle….turns into every night…..turns into mid afternoon…..

I enjoyed the historical mystery aspect of the story as well as the atmosphere of the hotel and the valley itself. It takes up much less page space than the present day story but still feels well researched, constructed and portrayed with some acknowledgement of the history in the area where this book is set. The book went in several different directions that I did not expect and I thought the twists and turns were deftly written. The ending wasn’t neat either, which reflects life and the way that people’s relationships work.

8/10

Book #240 of 2020

The Valley Of Lost Stories is book #87 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: The Godmothers by Monica McInerney

The Godmothers
Monica McInerney
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 448p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘I don’t want two wishy-washy godmothers,’ Jeannie had said that afternoon in the country hospital when Eliza was only a day old. ‘No dolls. No pink dresses. Just lots of adventures. Lots of spoiling. The pair of you like two mighty warriors protecting her at every step.’

Eliza Miller grew up in Australia as the only daughter of a troubled young mother, but with the constant support of two watchful godmothers, Olivia and Maxie. Despite her tricky childhood, she always felt loved and secure. Until, just before her eighteenth birthday, a tragic event changed her life.

Thirteen years on, Eliza is deliberately living as safely as possible, avoiding close relationships and devoting herself to her job. Out of the blue, an enticing invitation from one of her godmothers prompts a leap into the unknown.

Within a fortnight, Eliza finds herself in the middle of a complicated family in Edinburgh. There’s no such thing as an ordinary day any more. Yet, amidst the chaos, Eliza begins to blossom. She finds herself not only hopeful about the future, but ready to explore her past, including the biggest mystery of all – who is her father?

Set in Australia, Scotland, Ireland and England, THE GODMOTHERS is a great big hug of a book that will fill your heart to bursting. It is a moving and perceptive story about love, lies, hope and sorrow, about the families we are born into and the families we make for ourselves. 

I’ve been reading Monica McInerney for a very long time. I think my Nan has been buying her books since the late 90s or early 2000s. I haven’t read all her books but I have read quite a few and I think I’ve really enjoyed most of them. A new book by her is always something to look forward to. This was the December choice for my online book club and it’s a bit unfortunate to say that I personally, did not love it.

I think Monica McInerney does an amazing job writing complex and flawed families, ones that you find believable and ones that in some ways, remind you of bits and pieces of your own family. This book is another indication of that. Eliza grew up the only child of a single mother, never knowing even who her father is. Her mother was volatile – prone to fancies and stories and moving around frequently. For Eliza though, no one could’ve loved her more or provided a better upbringing. It was them two against the world, although Eliza did also have the benefit of her two godmothers Olivia and Maxie, her mother’s best friends from the Catholic boarding school they all attended. When Jeannie, Eliza’s mother goes through one of her phases, Olivia and Maxie make a pact to give her a break each year, alternating with each other taking Eliza on a holiday. This works well until tragedy strikes when Eliza is 17 and her life is shattered.

When Eliza is 30, she finds herself without a job and without an apartment and so she heads to Edinburgh for the wedding of one of her godmothers and decides to go on a quest to find the father she has never known. I don’t know what it’s like to have such important part of your life missing – to not know who a parent is, to not even have a name, is definitely something that would really make a mark on a person. And Jeannie promised to tell Eliza everything when she turned 18, however that was never able to happen. Olivia and Maxie don’t even know, Jeannie didn’t even confide in them.

Parts of this book I enjoyed, I didn’t mind Eliza’s quest to discover things about herself but a lot of the plot just felt like it meant nothing and went nowhere. Characters are introduced and take up relatively large parts of the page only for it to fizzle out towards the end and not really bring any meaning to the story. There were several characters that I thought would have a marked impact on Eliza, but to be honest it never really panned out that way. Some felt remarkably bland (Laurence) and some are incredibly over the top (Celine) for little in the way of relevance.

I think my biggest issue was that I felt like Eliza had been frustratingly let down by almost, if not everyone, in her life but this was something that never really changed. Her mother Jeannie was obviously mentally unwell. She also resorted to a lot of heavy drinking, even though it was obviously something that made Eliza very uncomfortable. She needed a lot of help but was reluctant to get it. She told Eliza a lot of lies about her life and this could’ve been a part of her mental illness processing the things that had happened to her but it was actually quite damaging to Eliza and it made it very difficult to sort the truth – I’m honestly not sure if Jeannie was lying about the theft she talked about or not. Even her godmothers, who were adults with a better grasp of what they were seeing in Jeannie’s behaviour were never honest with her about the extent of her mother’s issues, even well into Eliza’s adulthood. I think a lot of Jeannie’s teenage years as being somewhat “wild” meant that some of her behaviour was overlooked, as she was a free spirit or something. Eliza had her mother on a pedestal, refusing to see that she was actually quite a damaged and damaging woman. She may have loved Eliza fiercely but she definitely did not always do the best thing for her or by her and she kept secrets, hid things and misdirected constantly. It felt to me like Eliza needed a lot of therapy. She does mention going to see a therapist at one point but I think it’s phrased in a way that suggests she hasn’t been there in a while.

Also I’m not really sure about the end. I didn’t like it, the way it was structured and although it posed an interesting moral dilemma, it further cemented the issue I had above.

6/10

Book #239 of 2020

The Godmothers is book #86 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

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Review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

The Good Sister
Sally Hepworth
St Martin’s Press
2021, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

From the outside, everyone might think Fern and Rose are as close as twin sisters can be: Rose is the responsible one, with a home and a husband and a fierce desire to become a mother. Fern is the quirky one, the free spirit, the librarian who avoids social interaction and whom the world might just describe as truly odd. But the sisters are devoted to one another and Rose has always been Fern’s protector from the time they were small.

Fern needed protecting because their mother was a true sociopath who hid her true nature from the world, and only Rose could see it. Fern always saw the good in everyone. Years ago, Fern did something very, very bad. And Rose has never told a soul. When Fern decides to help her sister achieve her heart’s desire of having a baby, Rose realizes with growing horror that Fern might make choices that can only have a terrible outcome. What Rose doesn’t realize is that Fern is growing more and more aware of the secrets Rose, herself, is keeping. And that their mother might have the last word after all.

Spine tingling, creepy, utterly compelling and unpredictable, The Good Sister is about the ties that bind sisters together…and about the madness that lurks where you least expect it.

Sally Hepworth always writes compelling stories and this one is no exception. It’s told as a dual narrative – Rose tells hers in the form of diary entries whereas we get Fern’s inner thoughts and daily life as she’s living it. The two are twins (not identical) and from the beginning, it’s quite obvious that Rose protects Fern, has always protected Fern, from when they were children to even now, as adults. Fern processes things a different way to most people – she’s very literal, she often has difficulty picking up certain cues. For example, she won’t answer someone if the person doesn’t phrase their speech in the form of a question. For Fern, questions require answers but statements do not. So when her boss often says something that for her requires Fern to respond, Fern often doesn’t see the need to.

Rose looks like she has her whole life together. Lovely house, wonderful husband although at the moment he’s working abroad. And now she and her husband are trying for a baby and when Fern discovers that it may not be that easy for Rose, she’s willing to help out. After all, Rose helped Fern years ago, many years ago and Fern has felt like she’s owed her ever since. This might be her chance to help Fern the way Fern once helped her….

I don’t have a sister. So I don’t know what that sort of relationship is like – I’ve witnessed a lot of sister relationships, some more toxic than others. I think it’s a very complex relationship, some I’ve seen where the sisters are so close they’re almost one person. Others where they can’t even be in the same room and almost everything in-between. I don’t really know any sets of twins but I’d imagine that adds a whole new layer to that dynamic.

The book builds well in the beginning, describing the life of the twins growing up, dividing up the story between Fern and Rose, dripping it out to the reader. For a while, you’re pretty convinced that you have the story and I did wonder if the book actually tipped its hand a bit too early. Recently I read another book about twins, where there are some complications of a pregnancy (in this case, for an inheritance) and although it was structured in a very different way, it was, in some ways, similar in vibe. However, this book was more subtle, more realistic I’d say, in terms of the characters and the situation. But I don’t think this one really kept me guessing for as long as I would’ve liked. Instead, things shifted sideways and then it became about who would triumph I think, the so-called long game of which story you chose to believe and who would be believed in the end. There were a lot of complications and the twins were fleshed out well, with added depth as the story went on but I do think that for me, some of the tension (not all, but some) went out of the plot a bit early.

I really enjoyed the setting, especially the fact that a large portion of Fern’s part of the story takes place at the library where she works. Fern avoids anything to do with helping people use the photocopier or the computers but she has such an excellent knowledge of books and also takes part in the story times that the library runs as well. It reminded me quite a lot of my own library (which is still closed) and I liked how Fern came into her own when she was there. I also liked the dynamic between her and the man she meets there, whom she assumes is homeless. I actually didn’t realise until covid hit and a lot of libraries closed, just how much of a resource they were for people in insecure accommodation. I read an article about it actually, how many people come in and use the bathrooms, showers if the library has them, read the papers or use the computers to apply for jobs or places to stay. They are a huge resource for people who are vulnerable and even though the character in the story isn’t actually homeless, it does showcase that in the community, a library is much more than just a place to borrow a book.

This was a good, solid read with some twists and turns.

7/10

Book #230 of 2020

The Good Sister is the 85th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

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Review: The Champagne War by Fiona McIntosh

The Champagne War
Fiona McIntosh
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 413p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘Make these little vines count. Love them as I love you.’

In the summer of 1914, vigneron Jerome Mea heads off to war, certain he’ll be home by Christmas. His new bride Sophie Delancré, a fifth generation champenoise, is determined to ensure the forthcoming vintages will be testament to their love and the power of the people of Épernay, especially its strong women who have elevated champagne to favourite beverage of the rich and royal worldwide. But as the years drag on, authorities advise that Jerome is missing, considered dead.

When poison gas is first used in Belgium by the Germans, British chemist Charles Nash jumps to enlist, refusing to be part of the scientific team that retaliates. A brilliant marksman, Charlie is seen by his men as a hero, but soon comes to feel that he’d rather die himself than take another life. When he is injured, he is brought to the champagne cellars in Reims, where Sophie has set up an underground hospital, and later to her mansion house in Épernay, now a retreat for the wounded.

As Sophie struggles with strong feelings for her patient, she also battles to procure the sugar she needs for her 1918 vintage and attracts sinister advances from her brother-in-law. However, nothing can prepare her for the ultimate battle of the heart, when Jerome’s bloodstained jacket and identification papers are found in Belgium, and her hopes of ever seeing her husband alive again are reignited.

From the killing fields of Ypres to the sun-kissed vineyards of southern France, The Champagne War is a heart-stopping adventure about the true power of love and hope to light the way during war.

This is a meticulously researched novel that takes the reader deep into the vineyards of France, during WWI. Sophie is the only remaining member of her family – for five generations they have made champagne. She carries on the tradition with love and care, always looking for ways to improve the vintage. A meeting with Louis Méa, who offers a reluctant Sophie a partnership in business and life leads to his younger brother Jerome, who captures Sophie’s heart from first glance. The two families are joined, but not in the way Louis wanted, although the whole area rejoices in their marriage. Unfortunately the declaration of war interrupts the young lovers almost immediately and Jerome signs up and is then reported as missing, feared dead.

Sophie is determined to have a definitive answer about her husband and she’s willing to do almost anything to get it, even play her brother-in-law’s games. She needs to know. She doesn’t feel like Jerome is dead and their love was so strong, she thinks she’d feel it if he were. She continues to hound the Red Cross for information of him, even as Louis uses her grief and determination to manipulate her. When Sophie is out of sugar to make the vintage she wants to bottle more than any other, she may be forced to rely on Louis after all, despite what it will cost her. Perhaps the intervention of Captain Charlie Nash, a British chemist recuperating from war injuries at Sophie’s country family home, can offer a solution.

I have read a lot more books centred around WWII than I have around WWI and so this contained elements in the story that I haven’t read before. I really enjoyed Sophie as a character – she’s wealthy and very privileged but she’s also down to earth and practical and is willing to do anything to help with causes in the war. She donates her time, her home, her assets to helping the wounded and protecting the town. For a large portion of this, parts of the town she lives in dwell underground and they have a whole community there, including a school for the children. Although this does have health complications for some, it’s better than the alternative and it gives them a place to retreat from the German bombing that has destroyed large parts of the town.

Sophie loses her husband to war – he signs up immediately and is then reported missing, believed dead after a chemical gas attack. For years, she searches for proof of his death, refusing to accept it until she knows for sure, even though there will be thousands of families who never receive that proof they are searching for. Sophie loves Jerome, her husband but she does find herself growing closer to Captain Nash and wondering what she truly wants. Sophie is still a young woman, it’s not too hard to understand that she might want a future with someone else, if her husband truly is lost to her. Louis, her brother-in-law has been trying to use the situation to his advantage. He’s desperate to get her to marry him and Sophie is equally desperate to avoid such a fate. Although I feel she gives Louis far too much credit as a reasonable person – the vibe I got was rotten to the core, but she seemed determined to believed that he was capable of being a reasonable and good human being, even after everything he tried to do to her, especially not allowing her to purchase the sugar he was able to obtain and only offering it to her if she would agree to marry him.

If you enjoy champagne then I think you’ll appreciate the amount of information this book provides on the intricate process of making it. I don’t drink but the process was fascinating to read about and Sophie’s dedication to her craft as well as creating a special vintage for her husband, was admirable. The only thing I might’ve liked was a bit more actual showing of Sophie and Jerome, we didn’t really get a lot of them as a couple before he went off to war. Although I appreciated Sophie’s determination to find him and know for sure, a large portion of the book was devoted to her interactions with Captain Nash and then her internal struggle over having feelings for two men: the one right in front of her and the one who might never come home. I needed a bit more Jerome in the beginning!

An engrossing novel of a traumatic time in history and the ways in which the human strength of spirit was able to persevere. I enjoyed this.

8/10

Book #227 of 2020

The Champagne War is book #84 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: How To Talk About Climate Change In A Way That Makes A Difference by Rebecca Huntley

How To Talk About Climate Change In A Way That Makes A Difference
Rebecca Huntley
Murdoch Books
2020, 304p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Why is it so hard to talk about climate change?

While scientists double down on the shocking figures, we still find ourselves unable to discuss climate change meaningfully among friends and neighbours – or even to grapple with it ourselves.

The key to progress on climate change is in the psychology of human attitudes and our ability to change. Whether you’re already alarmed and engaged with the issue, concerned but disengaged, a passive skeptic or an active denier, understanding our emotional reactions to climate change – why it makes us anxious, fearful, angry or detached – is critical to coping on an individual level and convincing each other to act.

This book is about understanding why people who aren’t like you feel the way they do and learning to talk to them effectively. What we need are thousands – millions – of everyday conversations about the climate to enlarge the ranks of the concerned, engage the disengaged and persuade the cautious of the need for action.

Originally my plan was to read this book for the science prompt in the 2020 Non-Fiction Reader Challenge. I had scrolled through my library’s eBook app, looking for books that would work for the prompts that I have left so that I can have a hope of finishing this challenge! However, the author herself even states specifically that this book isn’t about the science. It’s not about the data or the information – instead it’s about the social science of climate change. The psychology of getting humans to become invested in it, to understand it and be concerned. It’s about the different ways to get messages across, how those messages are being received by different types of demographics. So I switched it to the social science category – still fits for the challenge and that category was proving to be a bit of a menace anyway, I hadn’t found anything that I found interesting for it.

So, as mentioned this is about the message of climate change, how to effectively reach different people. There’s a lot of study into climate change and who the people are that are concerned about it versus who the people are that aren’t. Obviously this doesn’t cover everyone but it’s more likely that older, white, rural men will be skeptical or dismissive. Younger people are more concerned than older people. Women are more effective at communicating to others the concern of climate change and mostly left-leaning people will rank it as a priority over those that favour right-sided politics.

Rebecca Huntley was inspired by the teenagers that went on strike from school (oh the time before global pandemics, when we could casually gather in the tens of thousands and protest things, hey) and how passionate they were about getting their message across, the rebuttals they had for the Prime Minister of Australia who thought they should be in school: what is the point of being educated if the politicians won’t listen to the educated? It was a sharp jab at the top of the political tree in this country (and others) who disbelieve the science, who reject the experts’ advice and recommendations, who constantly choose to reinvest in finite resources like coal, rather than taking advantage of our vast empty spaces and warm climates to boost solar and wind powered energy. In fact our previous prime minister described wind turbines as “dark Satanic mills of the modern era” (what the heck does that even mean?) as well as “visually awful”. Because open cut mines are so pretty in the landscape, right?

This book deals with a lot of the struggle in getting the message across, not to people who are already concerned and wanting action, but with those who are fatigued, disinterested, skeptical, fearful or just plain hostile about the focus on climate. The author works conducting research with focus groups and one thing she specifically mentioned was that after the bushfires that devastated NSW last year and early this year, she conducted work to see if that had changed people’s mind but instead it almost had the reverse effect, making them resentful and angry. I think there’s a strong feeling that people had to believe that these fires were some sort of traumatic once off event, not something that could be recurring, something that we could face each and every year. People don’t want to think about that. It’s far easier to put everything into a neat box of “once in 100 year event” and then not worry about it anymore. The next time it happens, the people who lost their homes or loved ones, won’t be here anymore. And won’t have to worry about it. And people were angry at what they saw as “greenies and lefties” politicising the event of the fires and being all too willing to blame arsonists or the lack of back burning, both things that were debunked as causes of most of the fires. I saw that with my own parents, as we were in NSW at the time – they were all too ready to blame the Greens party for apparently “banning” back burning, despite the Green Party not actually being in power or people for protesting back burning (like five people with a placard. Not sure how effective that’d be). Those things can be dealt with – Greens can be shouted down or voted out, publicly blamed and shamed. Arsonists can be caught and punished. But to believe in a manmade climate emergency which is going to take a lot of cooperation and change to fix? That’s a lot harder for many people.

I found this really interesting. It breaks down a lot of the responses towards the idea of climate change as well as the types of people who are most likely (but not always) to have that sort of response and why. As well as ways people feel about the message itself, something that is even more relevant in a post COVID-19 life, where anxiety and negative thoughts about things we seemingly can’t control, are at an all time high. There’s interviews, not just with scientists but teenagers, religious leaders, people from all walks of life with all different ways of wanting to spread the message. I found a lot of the conversations really engaging.

The message here is, you need to find out what people love. What they care about. How this will affect those they love and things they care about. If it’s birds….there’s a whole bit in here about a bird group in the US that are using the danger to the bird as a way to raise awareness and even reframe ways people think about it. The science is out there – 99% of scientists agree on it. If people aren’t convinced by it by now, they won’t ever be. It’s a different sort of tactic that’s required, not bombarding them with information and numbers but with emotion and feelings and showing the devastating impacts of unchecked climate change.

7/10

Book #213 of 2020

This is book #79 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

As I mentioned above, I’m also counting this towards my 2020 Non-Fiction Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. It’s the 9th book read for the challenge and I’m using it to check off the category of social science. 

1. Memoir

2. Disaster Event

3. Social Science

4. Related to an Occupation

5. History

6. Feminism

7. Psychology

8. Medical Issue

9. Nature

10. True Crime

11. Science

12. Published in 2020

 

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Review: The Shearer’s Wife by Fleur McDonald

The Shearer’s Wife
Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin
2020, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

2020: When the Australian Federal Police swoop unheralded into Barker and make a shocking arrest for possession of narcotics, Detective Dave Burrows is certain there is more to the story than meets the eye. But the Feds insist that Dave is too invested in the town and its people to see the truth of what is happening there.

1980: Rose and Ian Kelly arrive in Barker for supplies before they begin shearing at Jacksonville Station, a couple of hundred kilometres out of town. Rose, heavily pregnant with their first babies, worries that despite Ian’s impending fatherhood he remains a drifter who dreams of the open road.

The twins arrive early and while Rose recuperates in town after a complicated birth, Ian stays at the Station to finish the shearing. When Ian turns up at job’s end ready to collect them all and move on, Rose is adamant that she and the twins need the support of the community in Barker. Impatiently, Ian sets off alone, leaving Rose and the children behind.

2020: After many months of grief over her brother’s illness and death, journalist Zara Ellison is finally ready to begin a new chapter of her life and make a commitment to her boyfriend, Senior Constable Jack Higgins. But when she’s assigned to investigating the Barker arrest, Jack begins to believe that Zara is working against him.

It takes a series of unconnected incidents in Zara’s digging to reveal an almost forgotten thread of mystery as to how these two events, forty years apart, could be connected.

I’ve read a few of Fleur McDonald’s books, including a couple with Detective Dave Burrows but I have to admit, I have missed the ones revolving around him as a more central character. I thought I’d missed 2-3 but it turns out it’s more like 6! Anyway, after reading this one I have to go back and rectify that as soon as possible because this was an incredibly gripping read. I really enjoyed it!

In 1980, Rose is a young woman who fell in love and escaped her parents’ quite strict rules and her small town living and went on the road with Ian, a shearer who worked his way around the country. For Rose, life on the road was exciting at first, until she fell pregnant and then they discovered it was twins. The bigger she gets, the more having a home and settling down seems like a really nice idea. But Ian loves the nomadic life, the road and he’s got plenty of lads around him at every station to keep him busy. It’s not the same for Rose, who wishes he was around more.

How this is connected to 2020 and Detective Dave Burrows’ life as a country policeman in Barker, South Australia is a mystery at first. Dave is out of sorts when the Australian Federal Police turn up on his patch and start muscling him out of a bust surrounding a local woman. Dave knows that whatever it looks like, there’s got to be more to the story but the Feds aren’t interested and even go so far as to insinuate that Dave is past it, no idea what’s happening on his own patch. Barred from investigating, Dave decides to talk to local journalist Zara – give her something to sink her teeth into and he knows she’ll get the job done.

I really felt for Rose, she was very young and it seemed like she’d lived a bit of a sheltered life, not explored much. She latched onto Ian and the chance to leave as quick as she could but in her desire to escape kind of ended up the one thing that she was actually trying to escape. And as fun and carefree as life on the road is for two young adults, add in a pregnancy, especially a pregnancy of twins and things change very quickly. Growing up in a car, driving 12 hours a day isn’t an ideal place for young babies and it doesn’t take Rose long to realise it’s not the life she wants anymore. But Ian isn’t willing to listen to any of her concerns. He spends too much time listening to the old bachelor shearers about not being told what to do by the “old ball and chain” than he does his wife, even when Rose is desperately unwell and has an incredibly complicated birth. Ian was a dill.

In the modern day story, Dave Burrows knows there’s more than meets the eye after the arrest and I really appreciated getting to know the characters in this small town. I especially enjoy Dave and his wife Kim, who is a strong character who provides a lot of support for her husband but she isn’t afraid to rock the boat a little in order to do what she feels is right. Because I have missed a few books, I wasn’t up to speed on Zara and Jack (although there is enough information here that it doesn’t really affect the reading experience, I just like to know more, which is why I’m definitely going to go back and catch up on the books that I’ve missed!) but I found them incredibly interesting, as a journalist and a police officer in a relationship. Obviously there are times that’s going to cause conflict (this is kind of one of them in a way) when Zara is trying to find out things and Jack can’t tell her what’s happening. Zara is also having some trouble dealing with some issues that have happened in her past and it’s really beginning to affect her in this book, she’s not sleeping very well, she’s snappy and quick to anger (especially at Dave and Jack) and she’s putting herself in situations that could’ve ended badly. But despite all that she’s determined to find out what is happening, especially when Dave gives her a few tidbits of information and sends her on her way. Zara has a good “nose” for a story and she has to convince her editor that there’s something in it but it does pay off.

The two stories in this meld together beautifully and each kept me riveted. I picked up this to read in bed on Sunday morning while I had a cup of tea, thinking I’d maybe read for 50p or so…..instead I read 200p before I could bear to put it down and that was just so I could have a shower and then I had to pick it up again. I enjoyed everything about this and I’m ready to go and binge the books I’ve missed – hopefully they’re all just as good as this one.

9/10

Book #220 of 2020

The Shearer’s Wife is book #83 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: Life After Truth by Ceridwen Dovey

Life After Truth
Ceridwen Dovey
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Fifteen years after graduating from Harvard, five close friends on the cusp of middle age are still pursuing an elusive happiness and wondering if they’ve wasted their youthful opportunities. 

Jules, already a famous actor when she arrived on campus, is changing in mysterious ways but won’t share what is haunting her. Mariam and Rowan, who married young, are struggling with the demands of family life and starting to regret prioritising meaning over wealth in their careers. Eloise, now a professor who studies the psychology of happiness, is troubled by her younger wife’s radical politics. And Jomo, founder of a luxury jewellery company, has been carrying an engagement ring around for months, unsure of whether his girlfriend is the one. 

The soul searching begins in earnest at their much-anticipated college reunion weekend on the Harvard campus, when the most infamous member of their class, Frederick – senior advisor and son of the recently elected and loathed US president – turns up dead. 

Old friends often think they know everything about one another, but time has a way of making us strangers to those we love – and to ourselves….

This was interesting but it’s also a rather difficult book to review.

It takes place mostly over a weekend – the fifteen year reunion of Harvard graduates Eloise, Mariam, Rowan, Jules and Jomo. The five of them became firm friends during their time there and even lived together for a time in the dorms. Rowan and Mariam became a couple almost right away and married the day after graduation. Jules and Jomo became best friends and it’s a friendship that has stayed true ever since, even as Jules travels the world for her career. Eloise hasn’t left Harvard, now she’s a professor there and married one of her students (afterwards). They’re all back on campus for the weekend reunion, even staying in the place they lived during their senior year. For each of them, the reunion brings about mixed feelings – for Jules and Jomo it might be facing up to what they have long denied. For Eloise, it’s confronting the differences in age and personality between her and her wife and for Rowan and Mariam, it’s the choices they’ve made regarding family and career that mean they’re struggling so much more than their friends are, financially.

I have always been slightly envious of the American college experience in the way that people are so passionate about their alma mater and how lifelong those bonds seem to be. Here, no one really cares where you went to university and although I have lived in a dorm during my first two years at a university in Sydney, it didn’t really seem to have the same sort of glamour about it. But then again, university in America is incredibly expensive – I’m not even sure what the cost would be for a full ride to Harvard, including dorms and the like but I get the feeling it would make my eyes water. Some of them are wealthy – Jules obviously, was a well known teen actress and since graduating, has starred in many a big budget and successful film. But Mariam and Rowan seem firmly entrenched in the more middle class. Rowan is a principal at a public school and Mariam currently works one day a week and is a stay at home mother the rest of the time. They still have student loans and are renting in New York. When it comes to this anniversary weekend, they have budgeted every $, from the train ride to get there to the meals out to each thing they expect to attend. They are also bringing their two children with them and will tag team at events plus make use of some undergraduates as babysitters whilst they are there.

The characters are all about the same age as I am, or a couple years younger – it’s their fifteenth anniversary so they’re all about 36 or so. This seems to be a Harvard thing, there are also other anniversaries taking place on the weekend – 5, 10, I assume 20 and beyond as well. Eloise’s wife Binx is attending her 5 year anniversary and even though there’s only 10 years between them, with Binx in her mid-20s, this is often seen or portrayed as a much larger gap, or at least it felt that way to me. Eloise sometimes seems overly indulgent of Binx, almost like she’s a child. And perhaps because of the way Binx is (trust fund baby, has money to indulge her passions and hobbies of some sort of AI project that was honestly, a bit creepy) it’s not entirely unwarranted. I wasn’t all that interested in Eloise and Binx, most of my interest was in Jules and Jomo and Rowan and Mariam. Rowan and Mariam because they were the only ones in the group with children and how they were balancing that with their careers and goals and struggle as well as the actual weekend itself. Plenty of children were there, and there were also things to entertain them but they were the only people in their particular friends group with children and sometimes, it was quite clear that the others didn’t understand (or maybe even want to, who knows) what it was like to balance socialising and parenting.

Jules and Jomo were interesting for lots of different ways but in the end, I don’t really feel the book went deep enough into either of their lives. Jules especially and maybe that was deliberate, to keep her as this mysterious, ethereal famous actress where it seems that she’s a bit troubled or conflicted, around the time of the reunion but because she’s a mysterious, ethereal actress who is very private about her life, no one seems willing to ask her what’s wrong and if she’s okay.

The book starts with the death of the President’s son Frederick, who was in the class at Harvard with them. He’s the son of a much hated President, an arrogant man, a wheeler and dealer who provided jobs for his offspring (does any of this sound familiar?) but then it’s basically forgotten as the book goes back in time to the beginning of the weekend and throws in a few flashbacks before finally arriving at how the President’s son came to die. I honestly thought he’d be a bigger part of the book, given his death is included in the blurb and is the opener in a way, of the book. So I expected a lot more about that and was kind of disappointed that it did not.

I enjoyed a lot about this writing, particularly the struggle between parenting and career and parenting and friendship as well. When you’re the only ones with children in a friendship group, it does bring about more challenges, especially if you’re also the lowest income earners and are both watching every penny and juggling socialising with hands on parenting. I would definitely read more by Ceridwen Dovey in the future.

7/10

Book #219 of 2020

Life After Truth is book #82 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020. I’d really like to get to 100 I think for this challenge!

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(Extremely) Mini Reviews {11} – What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I realised there’s a few books sitting there in my reads that I haven’t actually written anything for and I thought I’d just whip up another of these posts to try and include a few of them. A lot of them were actually read a little while ago so my recollections are probably a little vague now!

Actress
Anne Enright
Vintage Digital
2020, 269p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and London’s West End. Katherine’s life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings.

But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s damage. As Norah uncovers her mother’s secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Then, fame turns to infamy when Katherine decides to commit a bizarre crime.

Actress is about a daughter’s search for the truth: the dark secret in the bright star, and what drove Katherine finally mad.

Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd.

I was curious about this because Enright had won a Man Booker or whatever it’s called these days and this book was also long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. She was also taking part in the Melbourne Writers Festival and this happened to be available through my local library at the right time. I was able to read this before her MWF session, which was my preference just in case the sessions talked a lot about things best left unspoiled.

This was okay. It was interesting in the way it was told, from the perspective of the daughter of an actress, who was kind of this person on the outside looking in. I enjoyed a lot of the narration of Katherine’s early life coming into acting, especially around London and Dublin and found her an interesting character in many ways. But I also felt that for me, it kind of lost its way a bit the further I got into it. However there was enough in the writing that I would read more of Anne Enright.

6/10

Book #150 of 2020

Readhead By The Side Of The Road
Anne Tyler
Vintage Digital
2020, 192p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work – his TECH HERMIT sign cheerily displayed on the roof of his car – maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs (7:15, every morning). He is content with the steady balance of his life.

But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction because of a cat. And when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle.

Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.

I had never read Anne Tyler before but I had heard some amazing things about her writing. I’m not sure this one was the best one to start with, but it was the only one available through my local library so I decided to try it. Like Actress above, this was just okay for me. It started off quite promising, I was sort of interested in Michah and his somewhat very compartmentalised life but the arrival of the past actually ended up making me lose interest. And it wasn’t long enough for me, I found it a bit unsatisfying – like the previous one, perhaps not the best choice for starting, maybe there are others out there by Tyler that I will like more.

6/10

Book #157 of 2020

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing
Jessie Tu
Allen & Unwin
2020, 293p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Growing up is always hard, but especially when so many think you’re a washed-up has-been at twenty-two.

Jena Chung plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and is now addicted to sex. She’s struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing family demands, those of her creative friends, and lots of sex. Jena is selfish, impulsive and often behaves badly, though mostly only to her own detriment. And then she meets Mark – much older and worldly-wise – who bewitches her. Could this be love?

When Jena wins an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. Is the dream over? With echoes of Frances Ha, Jena’s favourite film, truths are gradually revealed to her. Jena comes to learn that there are many different ways to live and love and that no one has the how-to guide for any of it – not even her indomitable mother.

This was another book I read before the Melbourne Writers Festival as Jessie Tu was also the focus of one of the sessions that I’d booked into. This book sounded really interesting – and her session at the Festival was amazing, I really enjoyed it. But….even though the book was well written, I have to admit, the subject matter wasn’t always particularly for me.

There’s a lot in here about loneliness, about grief and longing and unfulfilled or untapped potential. The main character is incredibly destructive – addicted to sex, constantly searching for the high I think she gets from being with someone, and she’s willing to put herself into some pretty dangerous situations in order to achieve it. She’s also for a large part of the book, involved with an older man in what seems to be a borderline abusive relationship that seems to cause her a lot of grief but that she seems to struggle to break away from, but it was never really made clear why she was so enamoured with this person. I enjoyed Jena a lot more as a character when the action moved to New York and I felt like I got the focus of her music, of her playing ability, of her actually wanting something and achieving something.

There’s some very strong racial representation here which was fantastic and I felt like the complexities of being the offspring of migrants was explored well, as was Jena’s prodigious talent but a lot of the more gratuitous stuff left me cold.

6/10

Book #161 of 2020

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing is book #57 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Loner
Georgina Young
Text Publishing
2020, 247p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Set in Melbourne, Loner is a humorous and heartfelt exploration of new adulthood. Lona kills her days by sneaking into the dark room at her old art school to develop photographs. She kills her nights DJ-ing the roller disco at Planet Skate. She is in inexplicably, debilitatingly love with a bespectacled Doctor Who-obsessed former classmate, and in comfortable, platonic love with her best friend Tab. Lona works hard to portray a permanent attitude of cynicism and ennui but will her carefully constructed persona be enough to protect her from the inevitable sorrows and unexpected joys of adult life? Loner re-examines notions of social isolation experienced by young people, suggesting sometimes our own company can be a choice and not a failing. 

I really enjoyed this – I thought it was something I could really relate to, even though I’m now much older than Lona. I loved the setting in Melbourne and the little touches like Lona’s job working as a DJ in a roller disco. For many people, leaving school and beginning that next phase of your life is really difficult and Lona is navigating that – things aren’t working out, she’s stopped going to her university. She is also stretching her wings by moving out, finding a job that will help pay the bills, that sort of thing. She’s met someone she likes. The chapters are very short, which gives it a quick feel and there’s a lot in here that reminded me of my own first forays out of my parent’s home.

7/10

Book #162 of 2020

Loner is book #58 in The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

Dreams They Forgot
Emma Ashmere
Wakefield Press
2020, 228p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Two sisters await the tidal wave predicted for 1970s Adelaide after Premier Don Dunstan decriminalises homosexuality. An interstate family drive is complicated by the father’s memory of sighting UFOs. Two women drive from Melbourne to Sydney to see the Harbour Bridge before it’s finished. An isolated family tries to weather climate change as the Doomsday Clock ticks.

Emma Ashmere’s stories explore illusion, deception and acts of quiet rebellion. Diverse characters travel high and low roads through time and place — from a grand 1860s Adelaide music hall to a dilapidated London squat, from a modern Melbourne hospital to the 1950s Maralinga test site, to the 1990s diamond mines of Borneo.

Undercut with longing and unbelonging, absurdity and tragedy, thwarted plans and fortuitous serendipity, each story offers glimpses into the dreams, limitations, gains and losses of fragmented families, loners and lovers, survivors and misfits, as they piece together a place for themselves in the imperfect mosaic of the natural and unnatural world.

Unfortunately, short stories are just really not for me. I’ve almost never found one that I like but I keep being tempted by them. These are in many ways, written very well but they just don’t speak to me. I am always left wanting more or wondering what happened next and in some cases, wondering what on earth actually happened. Sometimes they’ve very ethereal and mysterious. Perhaps the way I read as well, doesn’t particularly suit this mode of storytelling – I’m very much a read in one sitting type of person, I like to begin and finish. These might be much better dipped in and out of, really taking the time between each one to mull the prose over and sink into the ins and outs of what’s being told.

Book #180 of 2020

This was book #69 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

The Lying Life Of Adults
Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
Europa Editions
2020, 336p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Is she turning into her Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise? Surely there is a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is.

Giovanna is searching for her reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves from one to the other in search of the truth, but neither city seems to offer answers or escape.

Named one of 2016’s most influential people by TIME Magazine and frequently touted as a future Nobel Prize-winner, Elena Ferrante has become one of the world’s most read and beloved writers. With this new novel about the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, Ferrante proves once again that she deserves her many accolades. In The Lying Life of Adults, readers will discover another gripping, highly addictive, and totally unforgettable Neapolitan story. 

I loved the Neapolitan Quartet and I was really excited for this, Elena Ferrante’s next book. However – I didn’t love this at all. In fact I struggled my way through it, constantly bored with the plot and the characters. A couple of times I considered DNF’ing it but in the end I persevered until I got to the finish. Honestly I just didn’t care about anything that was happening here.

3/10

Book #197 of 2020

Binti (Binti #1)
Nnedi Okorafor
Tor
2015, 96p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive. 

Going to be honest here – I chose this book to read because I’m pretty behind in my Reading Women Challenge and I also didn’t have anything that qualified as Afrofuturism/Africanfuturism, which was one of the prompts, so I had to buy something. A few people recommended this in the Goodreads group and it’s really short – only 96p. It’s the first in a trilogy and so in order to make a bit of progress, I decided to read this.

It was really good – despite the lack of length in the story, it felt incredibly well rounded and the characterisation and description of setting were very well done. Binti is the first of her people to be offered a place at a very prestigious university and she has to basically turn her back on everything she knows in order to accept it, almost running away in the middle of the night. On the way there, the ship is attacked by these alien creatures – and Binti is one of only two left alive. She can communicate with them and so she makes a sort of bargain, in order to preserve her life.

I’m really tempted to go on with the other 2 instalments, they’re probably quite short too and I’m keen to know what happens next for Binti.

8/10

Book #209 of 2020

Binti counts towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. It’s the 18th book I’ve read and ticks off prompt #7 – Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism. This leaves me with 8 books to go for this challenge, which is definitely going to be a real struggle!

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Review: Flying The Nest by Rachael Johns

Flying The Nest 
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

They say a change is as good as a holiday…but what if you don’t want either?

Is her family’s happiness more important than her own?

The first time Ashling Wood realises her marriage is on the rocks is when her husband, Adrian, suggests they try nest parenting. Heartbroken, Ash suddenly finds herself living a double life – one week with her children, the next cohabiting with her happily single sister-in-law. Her friends think the modern custody solution is an exciting opportunity for her to spread her wings, but all Ash wants is her family back together.

An offer to renovate a seaside cottage seems like the perfect distraction for Ash while waiting for Adrian to come to his senses. She’s determined to fix her marriage as well as the cottage, but life gets even more complicated when she meets local fisherman Dan Emerson.

Soon, each home-stay becomes more dysfunctional, while for the other week Ash enjoys the peaceful life of the beachside community. The more time Ash spends in Ragged Point, the more she questions what she really wants. Is a sea-change the fresh start she needs to move on?

When tragedy calls Ash back to the city, she’s torn between the needs of her family and her future. Can her family life fit in with a permanent move to the beach or could Ash’s new-found independence attract Adrian back to the nest? 

I am the Queen of imagining hypothetical scenarios. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of what I would do if my husband and I divorced. I don’t want to divorce and he doesn’t either (or at least I assume he doesn’t!), but I’ve spent many hours wondering where I would live, how we would split time with the children and many other things. It’s just how my brain works – I’ve also thought about what I’d do if I were widowed, what he would do in the same situation, what we’d do if we won the lottery and a million other scenarios. One of the things I did wonder about was nest parenting, but I concluded that as wonderful as the idea sounds in terms of stability for the children, giving them a home they don’t have to leave and keeping all their things in one place, I knew it wasn’t something that we’d be able to make fit in any situation. Because as wonderful as it is for the children, it does sound like it has the potential to end up becoming problematic for the parents.

In this book, Ashling is surprised when out of the blue, her husband asks her if they can try nest parenting: each having one week “on” in the family home and then one week “off” where the other parent takes over. They’ve been together since they were teenagers and now, at almost 40, he wants to separate. It completely rips the bottom out of her world. Even though their marriage isn’t what it was in the beginning, for Ashling, she still thought they’d built a good and happy life with a successful business and two children. As primarily a stay at home parent doing a lot of the “mental” load, she really struggles with the idea of limited contact with her children for the week that she is out of the home and her husband Adrian has custody.

For Ashling, this is a chance to really rediscover (or actually, perhaps even discover) herself. She’s been Adrian’s wife and mother to her children for the last decade and a half of her life and it actually doesn’t seem like she does a lot independently of those two things. On her “off weeks” she is given an opportunity to help clean up the cabin of someone her sister-in-law knows in a coastal town a couple hours away from Perth. Ashling loves cleaning and organising and has renovated the family home almost single handedly so it’s something she has experience and skill in. At first the loneliness and sheer mammoth size of her task daunt her and she nearly runs back to Perth. But she makes friends in the community, she makes headway with the cottage. Although she works towards repairing her marriage, Adrian seems reluctant and Ashling has to fight not to make his life easier when he requests help during “his” weeks – after all he initiated and wanted this, so it seems unfair that he gets to lean on her when he has conflicting responsibilities!

I loved Ashling’s time in Ragged Point – the local community is showcased really well and I enjoyed her adventures in renovating and sprucing up the cabin. Among the locals, she meets her neighbour Dan and also single mother Jedda who both runs the local cafe and also produces the local newspaper. Meeting Jedda in particular gives Ashling the chance to discover what she can offer as a person, not as a wife or mother and gives her a bit of an idea about the sorts of things she might be able to do in the future, moving forward. At first, all Ashling wants is to repair her marriage and to go back to living the way things were but the longer she spends on her own, finding herself as an individual, I think the more she realises that perhaps returning to that marriage as it was isn’t the best thing for her. She’s been a massive support to Adrian, helping him build the business, taking care of everything to do with the kids and home but Adrian doesn’t seem to provide Ashling with the same emotional support and encouragement.

Even though I’m not separated, I found so much of this relatable, especially the challenges of parenting, in particular, around devices and changing attitudes as children get older. That’s something I’ve really found relevant as I have a 12yo son (a couple of years younger than Ashling’s son in the book) but with some of the same sorts of issues. I found Ashling easy to both connect with and relate to, even though we had some differences. We are the same age and there are certain similarities in her internal questioning and my own. This was an excellent, insightful exploration of navigating a difficult time and how someone can find strength from having to stand alone.

9/10

Book #215 of 2020

Flying The Nest is book #80 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

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Review: The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

The Mother Fault
Kate Mildenhall
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 336p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Mim’s husband is missing. No one knows where Ben is, but everyone wants to find him – especially The Department. And they should know, the all-seeing government body has fitted the entire population with a universal tracking chip to keep them ‘safe’.

But suddenly Ben can’t be tracked. And Mim is questioned, made to surrender her passport and threatened with the unthinkable – her two children being taken into care at the notorious BestLife.

Cornered, Mim risks everything to go on the run to find her husband – and a part of herself, long gone, that is brave enough to tackle the journey ahead.

From the stark backroads of the Australian outback to a terrifying sea voyage, Mim is forced to shuck off who she was – mother, daughter, wife, sister – and become the woman she needs to be to save her family and herself.

Welcome to a future that doesn’t seem as farfetched as it probably should.

This is a dystopian Australia, where a large portion of the country has fallen victim to rising seas or stripped of everything from creeping drought, overfarming or fracking. Water is piped in from the north, the places that still experience the wet season, down to the south, to a lucky few where genetically modified crops are grown. After the two main parties imploded, a new one rose and at first, everything seemed ideal – people were looked after. But then after a few incidents, the governing body clamped down on its citizens. Everyone is chipped, their every moves tracked and observed. No one gets out without them knowing about it. And anyone who doesn’t fall into line is taken to something called “BestLife” a sort of rehabilitation centre that feels more like brainwashing.

Mim’s husband Ben works a FIFO job in “Indo” (Indonesia) at a gold mine. It’s the sort of job where Ben believes that despite it, he can still do good, keep the company held accountable. Mim is a geologist but is now a stay at home mother, although she’s looking at returning to work soon. They have two children and Ben is on one of his stretches away when she’s contacted about him. It seems he’s missing – something that probably shouldn’t be possible in this age of being basically microchipped and tracked. She’s warned to stay put, has to surrender their passports. Mim knows that no good can come of this. If Ben has done something, they’ll be used as leverage to bring him to heel and if they think they’re complicit, it’ll be BestLife for them all. She makes the decision to run in order to protect her children and decides to find Ben herself and discover exactly what is going on.

This starts with a bang – a brief summary of how things ended up this way and then Mim discovering that her husband was missing and that those you don’t want looking for you, are definitely looking for him. And making sure that Mim understands the seriousness of the situation.  There’s a lot of suspense and built tension from the very beginning that only increases when Mim decides to go on the run. It’s almost a spur of the moment thing, with no real preparation and her plan is something that evolves over time. She originally flees to her family farm, driving from Victoria into New South Wales but this earns her the ire of the all-seeing government body, who told her to stay at her residence while they searched for her husband. Mim decides the danger is too present and so she takes some drastic steps to go “off grid”. It involves also driving from where she is now in NSW to Darwin so that she might be able to get a boat to Indonesia, as flying is out of the question due to surveillance and also the fact that her and the children’s passports have been confiscated.

There’s a lot in this that is really amazing – the evolving climate, the damage done environmentally by rising seas (there are what’s called climate refugees, presumably those that used to live along the coasts), the dangers of fracking and what’s been done to the land, how they’ve had to divert huge amounts of water from the north down to the south. There’s not a lot about global politics but what there is, is enough to give you a picture of the world, who has risen in terms of power and who has faded. The thing that is most unnerving about this book is how much you can see something like this unfolding. That it’s not that farfetched, that it’s not that unbelievable, that even though it was probably written before the events of 2020, there’s something in it that gives you a sense of foreboding about what we could become.

However, there were a few things in the plot here that I felt pinned too much on coincidence and luck rather than anything that Mim planned or any skills that she had. And I don’t say that she should have skills to evade the government, it just honestly felt like she wanted things to happen and then miraculously, they did. She just happened to know someone that could do Thing A for her and then she just happened to know someone that could do Thing B for her. And these people did it, even though one hadn’t seen her in over a decade and it might’ve gotten them killed, incarcerated by BestLife, who knows what else. Also, for me, after the high tension of most of the book, the ending felt somewhat….flat. Don’t get me wrong, there was a reason for Ben’s disappearance but it sort of felt a bit rushed and glossed over in a way….well yeah, of course it was something like that *shrug* It didn’t feel as impactful as I thought it would and there were a few moments where I really questioned Mim’s choices and decisions (she seems to think very little of putting others in danger due to her actions, nor does she seems to really care that much when the inevitable happens. She thinks about it for a few minutes and then sets it aside and the way she treats Nick is gross) and also her ability to extract herself from the situation towards the end of the book.

For me this was very clever writing, that hooked you in but there were just times when I felt like the details of the plot were a bit lacklustre.

7/10

Book #216 of 2020

The Mother Fault is book #81 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

I’m also counting this towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’m going to use it to check off prompt #19 – Frequently recommended to you. I’ve had quite a few people ask me if I’d read this and urged me to, when I said I hadn’t, more than I’ve had recommend other books to me of late. This is the 19th book read for the challenge which means 7 to go! I can see a light at the end of the tunnel!

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