All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Elsa’s Stand by Cathryn Hein

Elsa’s Stand (Outback Brides #3)
Cathryn Hein
Tule Publishing
2018, 260p
Free on Amazon for kindle

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When the sudden death of his mother forces outback opal miner Jack Hargreaves home to Wirralong, his plan is simple: mourn his mother, sort out the family farm, and get the hell out of the town that has always hated him. But Elsa O’Donoghue, the beautiful hairdresser with a big heart and even brighter smile, has other plans.

From the moment Jack strides into her salon and helps himself to her clippers, Elsa is in lust. He might be a poster boy for the strong silent type, but she senses there’s a good man behind that stoic facade. With her business taking off, Elsa is finally ready for a relationship and Jack is just her kind of man. Not to mention, she’s never said no to a challenge.

Worried their association will harm Elsa’s business, Jack tries to avoid her, but Elsa is irresistible. Soon, she has him believing and hoping for a future with her in Wirralong, but another family tragedy shatters Jack’s fragile dream. Jack knows he must leave Elsa to protect her, no matter the cost to himself. 

Recently I read Serenity’s Song which was Cathryn Hein’s contribution to the most recent quartet surrounding Wirralong, a town in country Australia. In that book, the main character runs her beauty business out of Elsa O’Donoghue’s hair salon, so Elsa is a steady presence throughout the book. Through reading that, I picked up on enough of Elsa’s story to know that hers was a book I really wanted to read. Before the quartet I read, there’d been two previous quartets and I intend to catch up on all of them but this one was free on all Amazon platforms, so it was like a sign.

Elsa grew up local – her mother was a teacher at the primary school and it seems like she’s firmly entrenched in the community. She runs the hair salon and thanks to a friend turning her property into a boutique wedding venue, Elsa has plenty of brides and bridesmaids to keep her busy as well as the locals. She’s well liked and respected, the locals don’t raise an eyebrow at her family, which is different to what Jack Hargreaves has experienced. His parents had an unusual situation and his father is a rather notorious figure often connected to the shady Melbourne underworld. Jack has always been closer to his mother, the two of them bonded over a shared passion for prospecting. Kate, Jack’s mother always believed in the truth of the “Strathmore sapphires” and she has searched tirelessly for them on her family property. On the day she died, she called Jack when he was on his Lightning Ridge opal mining claim and left a message telling him she’d found them. Unfortunately she passed away the same day, leaving their location a mystery. It was some weeks before Jack picked up the message, not having service on the claim and he has to drive non-stop to make it back to Wirralong for her funeral.

Jack and Elsa have such an interesting first meeting and I really enjoyed all of their interactions. Elsa is a fun personality, she’s really friendly and forthright and she’s happy to chatter away to Jack and draw him out when he visits the salon. Jack is definitely a very quiet person, he doesn’t talk much and he’s well aware that people look at him suspiciously in Wirralong, sure he’s tarred with the same dubious brush as his notorious father. Jack has never liked the scrutiny and even though he’s inherited his mother’s property, he’s not sure he can see himself making his life in the area, not with the way that people look at him and what they’re thinking but don’t have the courage to say.

Elsa takes Jack exactly as she finds him – she’s not interested in rumours about his father, about his family or people’s opinions on him or them. She likes Jack. She likes the look of him and she even likes his rather silent manner and enjoys pampering him a little by offering him the full luxury shave package, which definitely helps to advance the simmering attraction between them. Elsa and her mother are movie buffs who enjoy a lot of classic movies, movies that Jack hasn’t seen and she uses that as an opportunity to get to know him more by inviting him to watch movies with her in the name of broadening his education. Elsa enjoys gently teasing Jack, who is quite serious and she’s one of the few people it seems, who can definitely get a strong positive reaction out of Jack.

I found this really fun and I loved both Elsa and Jack. They had contrasting personalities that worked really well together and their interactions are really enjoyable. I understood Jack’s reservations about getting involved with someone that the town had such a high opinion of, that he felt that he might ‘taint’ her given the way some people felt about him. But it’s Elsa (despite Jack’s intimidating size) who is the brasher, more aggressive of the two, who makes it super clear that she doesn’t care what other people think and neither should he, she isn’t bothered by rumours and innuendo and she accepts him as he presents himself to her and nothing else matters.

Really need to read the rest of these, they’re such perfect reads for me at the moment.

9/10

Book #178 of 2020

Elsa’s Stand is book #67 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

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Review: The Death Of Noah Glass by Gail Jones

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/10

Book #42 of 2019

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

 

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Review: Hope Farm by Peggy Frew

Hope FarmHope Farm
Peggy Frew
Scribe Publishing
2015, 343p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘They were inescapable, the tensions of the adult world — the fraught and febrile aura that surrounded Ishtar and those in her orbit, that whined and creaked like a wire pulled too tight.’

It is the winter of 1985. Hope Farm sticks out of the ragged landscape like a decaying tooth, its weatherboard walls sagging into the undergrowth. Silver’s mother, Ishtar, has fallen for the charismatic Miller, and the three of them have moved to the rural hippie commune to make a new start.

At Hope, Silver finds unexpected friendship and, at last, a place to call home. But it is also here that, at just thirteen, she is thrust into an unrelenting adult world — and the walls begin to come tumbling down, with deadly consequences.

Hope Farm is the masterful second novel from award-winning author Peggy Frew, and is a devastatingly beautiful story about the broken bonds of childhood, and the enduring cost of holding back the truth.

This year I made a commitment to read the six books shortlisted for the Stella Prize, which recognises writing by Australian female authors. I’d already read one last year (The Natural Way Of Things by Charlotte Wood) so that left me five to read. To help motivate me for this I signed up for the Stella bookclub where participants read one book a week to complete the shortlist before the winner is announced. There’s a Twitter chat each Monday night between 8-9pm where those who have read the book can join a hosted/led discussion. Hope Farm is the second of the five books I need to read to complete the shortlist and my favourite so far.

It’s the story of Silver, who at 13 is moving yet again with her single mother Ishtar. Silver’s life seems to be have been a kaleidoscope of sharehouses and commune-type things but they never seem to stay in one place for long. Ishtar meets Miller, a man with ideals to live sustainably and self-sufficiently on Hope Farm, located somewhere in Victoria’s Gippsland area. Silver and her mother travel two days by train to get there, arriving before Miller to a place that doesn’t particularly look like a utopia. There are several inhabitants, most of whom work at a nearby powdered milk factory in order to support the farm.

In theory, Hope Farm sounds awesome. I have to admit, there’s something so very attractive about the idea of being mostly self-sufficient – growing your own food, having a few animals to use for protein or barter. But the reality of these places is nearly always very different – it’s poverty, drugs, people who don’t know what they’re doing and blurred lines. Silver sees a lot, experiences a lot, things that she should probably be protected from. The narrative is almost all Silver’s which at first made me devote my sympathies and loyalties almost exclusively to her. But interspersed are diary entries, which after a couple become obvious that they’re written by Ishtar. They shed some light on her early decisions, what she sacrificed and the choices she made in order to be able to gain what she wanted. Whilst I didn’t always agree with Ishtar, the choices she made and how she was raising Silver, I did find myself coming to slowly admire her for her strength and determination. I think that she made a lot of those choices for the right reasons, she was searching for something but every time it looked like she found it, really what she’d found was just another form of oppression and the feeling of being stuck.

This book is set in the 1980’s, not that long ago in broad terms but there are attitudes and beliefs that have evolved significantly in many ways since then. Ishtar was only a teenager when she fell pregnant and in Queensland in the 1980’s with a religious mother, there were very few options that were open to her and the desperation that she felt was really quite heartbreaking. The more diary entries I read from Ishtar, the more of them I wanted to read – I felt as though her story was really only just touched on, those sparse entries just giving the reader enough to flesh out the rest in their imaginations. It’s impossible for that youthful idealism Ishtar had to remain untainted as she moves on again and again. It definitely affects her relationship with Silver and as the pattern continues, it also clearly affects the way that Silver sees her mother.

I have a bad record with prize winners – I almost never love the winner and sometimes I don’t even like or get any of the books chosen for a shortlist! I still keep trying though because reading shortlists helps me broaden my reading and get me out of my comfort zone a bit. I am happy to say that the two I’ve read so far from the shortlist for the bookclub have both been enjoyable, but this one is my favourite. I connected really strongly with Silver and the landscape as well. It’s set in a different part of Victoria to where I live but I could imagine what it would be like those cold winter nights with no heating, wearing pretty much every piece of clothing you own to stay warm. I lived rurally when I was younger too and my brother and I often explored the local area the way that Silver and her neighbour Ian explore the bush and the abandoned mineshafts. The novel built very well towards the climax, constructing a simmering atmosphere on the farm that was bound to boil over.

Hope Farm is beautifully written – I enjoyed it before we discussed it but that conversation only helped me appreciate it more. I think were it to win, it’d be a worthy choice.

8/10

Book #53 of 2016

AWWC2016

Hope Farm is the 21st book read as part of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

 

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All The Birds Singing – Evie Wyld

All The BirdsAll The Birds Singing
Evie Wyld
Random House AU
2013, 240p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Jake White lives on an island, alone with only 50 head of sheep for company. She bought the property from older farmer Don and although tries to convince Jake to socialise among the small, tight-knit community, maybe come down to the pub occasionally, Jake refuses. She keeps to herself, doing all the jobs around the farm with only the occasional assistance from Don.

Then Jake begins losing sheep – finding just the shredded remains. The predator could be anything but what’s left of the carcasses doesn’t seem like anything Jake’s ever seen before. And she feels like something is out there in the woods beyond the paddock, watching her. With only Dog for company, Jake is surprised to find a man in her barn one night, bedding down to sleep. She intends to move him on but the night is cold and the weather bad and so she allows him to stay. After that she intends to take him in to town but events conspire against her and eventually Lloyd stays, becoming a part of life on the farm even though he knows nothing about farming.

Interspersed with the story of Jake farming her sheep alone are events from her past, living and working on various sheep stations in outback hot, dusty Australia, shaping her decision to live a solitary life in the present.

This is a really difficult book for me to review. I knew as soon as I finished it that I would really struggle. It’s a difficult story to really articulate because there are several threads, none of which really marry up and there are numerous things that are never resolved by the end of the book. In fact, very little is resolved by the end of the book.

Jake grew up in Australia and spent time working on remote sheep stations around the Port Hedland area. She’s had some terrible things happen to her in her life, she’s worked as a prostitute, she was offered a “better life” by a former client which turned into a nightmare hostage situation and then there was her time working as a shearer where she was involved in a relationship with a man named Greg, but facing difficulty from another shearer who knew secrets from her past. And in the present she lives alone on a small farm tending to 50 sheep. She’s a very tough character, particularly physically. She’s honed her physique by working out and by shearing – tough, hard labour, keeping up with men. She’s closed off, remote – she’s shut all her emotions down and she doesn’t want to connect with people or know how to do it. Don makes repeated offers that she socialise, make herself known to the other farmers in the district because she never knows when she might need a bit of help – it’s a hard life and almost impossible to do on your own.

I think the problem I had with this book was the back and forth narrative. There was nothing to indicate which time period we were in a lot of the time and I’d have to stumble my way through each section, trying to figure out where this memory was from and when it had taken place. There was no indication of time, nothing to really anchor my thoughts in helping map out some sort of timeline for Jake’s life. All the memories were just fragments and they didn’t satisfy me – I was always left wanting to know more about Jake’s life in Australia, what had happened to force her into several situations and in the end, how she had come to be on the unnamed island. The premise was so very exciting but the execution of the plotline of what is attacking the sheep just felt really lacking for me. I was always feeling like I had more questions that answers and that’s not something that I enjoy.

All of the fragments of this story were potentially great – Jake was a character I wanted to know more about, I wanted to get to know her. I could sympathise with her and I could understand the way in which she’d chosen to live. The writing will no doubt appeal to many – it’s a very stripped back and bare narrative. But for me, I’d have liked it to be more wordy – this is a pretty slim book, only 240p. I’d have loved more depth to this story. Unfortunately the simple bareness of it didn’t really work for me. However I am really in the minority for this book because it seems that almost all of the other reviews are incredibly positive.

5/10

Book #184 of 2013

AWW2013

All The Birds Singing is the 73rd novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

 

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The Danger Game – Caitlyn Nicholas

Danger Game2The Danger Game
Caitlyn Nicholas
Harlequin Escape
2012, eBook
Bought for my Kindle

Flick has always been good with computers. She knows how to make them work and they respond to her commands and she has made this her work, employed by the University of Sydney. She has won the university prestigious grants, recognition and admiration with the development of a certain program named ……?

Then the program, which could be extremely dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands, is stolen and her mentor is brutally murdered. Flick suddenly knows why the program she created had code she didn’t understand when she last opened it. Her mentor suspected that something like this might happen and he could be double crossed. He’s placed a ‘time bomb’ within the program and only Flick can defuse it and also, stop the program from doing the sinister things it’s capable of if instructed.

But Flick’s life is also in danger, in more ways than one. The police think she might have had something to do with her mentor’s murderer and they’re looking for her. It won’t be too long before the thief discovers the altering in the program and then they’ll come looking for her too. It seems that the only person Flick might be able to trust is Ben, a security guard on campus who isn’t exactly what he seems.

Flick knows it’s going to be up to her – she created the program and she’s the one who needs to do what has to be done. She bribes her way in to the headquarters of the mogul responsible for its theft and scores herself a job, presumably working with the program to do what her boss wants. What he doesn’t know is that Flick is working for herself to destroy what she created, no matter what it costs her, even if the price is her life.

The Danger Game is one of the December titles from Australian digital first imprint Harlequin Escape. The titles this month sound very promising – I’ve already downloaded three to my kindle and I enjoyed this one enormously. Technical espionage is so fun!

Flick is a computer geek, a programmer who has been plastered in front of a computer since she was 10. Although she could’ve travelled far and wide to work, going into the private sector or staying working for universities, she’s stayed close to home due to the fact that her mother suffers from a debilitating and incurable illness. She’s only quite young and has created a program mostly for fun but one that could be very dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands and was put to use in government or military circles. Unfortunately for Flick, the program has fallen into the wrong hands with a billionaire man of dubious means and activities the short odds for being behind the theft of the program and also the murder of Flick’s mentor. The billionaire recently offered Flick a job which she declined due to her suspicions of his activities but when it seems most likely like he is the one in possession of her program, she begins to reconsider.

At Flick’s side is Ben, who is a spy posing as a campus security guard. Part of the reason he was even on the university campus was Flick’s program and what they suspected its creation would bring out of the woodwork. He sticks to Flick like glue right away, making sure that she knows that he can keep her safe but without locking her up and throwing away the key. As a ‘spook’, Ben is used to being in the field and he sees the validity in Flick’s plan that she infiltrate the thief’s workplace and use her position to destroy the program. The danger of this is extreme, because this person has already proved that they are willing to kill for the program and what it can do and it’s obvious that someone destroying it will infuriate.

This story was expertly paced and full of action. A lot of the technical stuff went over my head, although there isn’t a huge amount of jargon and information, it isn’t overwhelming. I do love this sort of story, there’s something so exciting about espionage and high technology and clever programming. I wish I understood computers better, it always seems such an interesting thing to be involved in. Flick was so clever and brave putting herself in the firing line. Even though she’s petrified, she tries to keep a cool head and her wits about her when she ends up in a bad situation.

This novel was a great read – there’s only one thing I wish and that was the chemistry between Ben and Flick was a little more explored. I love a good spicy scene to really drive the relationship along and although this one was fun, I’d have liked a little more exploration of their attraction and a love scene that was part of the story and not left up to the reader in a fade-to-black scene!

8/10

Book #270 of 2012

awwc20121

The Danger Game is book #88 read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

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The Brotherhood – Y.A. Erskine

The Brotherhood
Y.A. Erskine
Random House AU
2011, 379p
Read from my local library

It’s a routine call out for a rookie probationary constable and a sergeant – a reported break and enter in progress. But that routine call out turns tragic when Sergeant John White, all-round good guy and respected copper is murdered, fatally stabbed. One of the suspects is apprehended at the scene but the other escapes. And it proves to be a political hotpot when the suspects are revealed as a pair of brothers who identify as Aboriginal.

Although well known to police and having been in and out of trouble for most of their young lives, the two teenagers embraced heritage means that everything has to be done by the book, even more so than usual. And the local media looks set to do their part too, stirring up a controversy by painting the youthful offender as the victim, betrayed and spat out by a useless system and a cycle of abuse.

The Brotherhood is told from a myriad of perspectives: the probationary constable on the call out, the state Commissioner, the detective in charge of investigating the case, the journalist looking for the perfect angle that will get him out of here and off to the big smoke, the victim’s ex-lover, the suspect’s lawyer, the victim’s wife, a constable working the same shift as the victim, the suspect himself and a friend of the victim who is also a cop. It paints a grim picture of the policing system, the legal system and the so-called justice system where criminals get off on technicalities and crying racist or foul treatment, anyone has the potential to be corrupt and everyone has something to hide.

When I constructed a rough list of books I wanted to read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge this year, I realised that although I had intended to read as widely as possible, I lacked in crime fiction. Fortunately Bernadette, a fellow Australian blogger who focuses on just that, pitched in with several recommendations, one of which was this novel. She had highly enjoyed it and wrote a very positive review of it that had me immediately keen to read it, for many different reasons. Firstly, it helped add to a genre that I do enjoy but perhaps don’t own a lot of, secondly it was set in Tasmania which made a lovely refreshing change from procedurals set in either Sydney or Melbourne and lastly, because it touched on a very sensitive topic, that of Aboriginal offenders and the law. It took my library some time to have it available and I requested it as soon as it was added to the catalogue.

As mentioned above, the narrative takes turns and I thought that was a perfect way in which to construct this novel. There’s a large cast of characters and by giving them their own chapter/section where the focus is on them it perfectly establishes relationships for the reader without the confusing of characters wandering in and out and viewpoints changing. Each of the characters are starkly believable, incredibly well written from the young, green probationary constable that opens the book right through to the end. They are secretive, they have faults -glaring ones- and mostly, they’re all not very nice people. There are some exceptions but mostly this little cast of characters are not people you’d want to befriend. And with the power some of them wield in society, it’s a little alarming with the things some of them are up to.

There’s no denying that this book is gritty, harsh and raw. The author, Yvette Erskine spent 11 years in the Tasmanian police force according to her bio, in both front line and detective policing so there’s no doubt a lot of what occurs in this novel is grounded in realism. There’s a surety in the writing, an authenticity. It’s rough – if you’re offended by language or prefer it not to pepper your novels, don’t pick up this one. I read widely but I do think this one might just take the cake for language… I certainly can’t recall any other book I’ve read which is so free with ‘the worst’ word in society today! It did prove a little distracting at times as it littered every page repeatedly, but I could overlook it in the terms of reality because I do think that the sort of people populating this novel talk quite similarly to this. If I thought it was gratuitous for simply shock’s sake, it would have really bothered me.

This book does address a very hot issue, that of an Aboriginal offender playing the race card. Whilst the book plays on emotions vying against each other by portraying Sergeant White as an extremely good, kind and generous police officer, it also seeks to assert the fact that some people just don’t have much of a chance in life and that there are some flaws in the systems that should protect and encourage. But it doesn’t preach, or choose a side at all, it simply…is. And I really liked that. I felt it gave the freedom to form my own opinion and beliefs without feeling manipulated into it.

The Betrayal is a fantastic novel from a debut author, rich and complex with amazingly believable characters. I have to admit to finishing the book and feeling a bit “What? Is that it?!” but then I realised that Erskine’s second novel, entitled The Betrayal, published less than two weeks ago, seems to deal with the same characters, which pleased me a lot. Even though I didn’t like a lot of them, there’s a little unfinished business with several and I’m very much looking forward to revisiting this world and seeing what comes about next.

8/10

Book #81 of 2012

The Brotherhood is the 29th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

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Raw Blue – Kirsty Eagar

Raw Blue
Kirsty Eagar
Penguin AU
2009, 274p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Carly lives for one thing – surfing. She has dropped out of her university degree to take a job as a cook in a Manly cafe, working night shifts so that the days are for surfing. She has no interest in learning front of house, learning to work the coffee machine. She has no interest in being anywhere other than out in the kitchen, cooking the food. That way she doesn’t have to deal with people. Dealing with people isn’t something Carly is very good at now.

She lives a fairly solitary life these days and that’s the way she liked it. Kicked out of home after she quit Uni, Carly has made her own way. She has few friends, only Hannah, her upstairs neighbour who encroaches into her life in her friendly way, but it is not something Carly reciprocates much. When she meets Ryan, a fellow surfer who has ‘been away’ for a few months, down at the beach, there’s something about him that draws Carly, even if she can’t label it. She doesn’t seek friends, even in the surf. There’s a complicated system of rules in place down at the local spot and Carly respects them all. She doesn’t know what to do when people seek her and her interactions are laced with awkwardness and tension.

Carly is carrying around a terrible and debilitating secret, something that fuels her solitary existence and impacts on the way she deals with people. She’s been ignoring it, forcing it down into the bottom of her conscious but still it forces its way up to linger right there. When Ryan persists with her, despite all the awkwardness and her running away and inability to interact, she has a choice to make. She can wallow in her secret, in her misery and shame and push away those that want to be close to her. Or she can let it go, bit by bit and learn to live again.

Not too long ago I started seeing Raw Blue reviewed quite a bit on a few YA blogs I read. It was creating a lot of interest and praise in mostly US readers. I’d never gotten around to reading it, mostly because I thought it was just about surfing. When I went to a Penguin Between The Lines event about a month ago, they kindly gave us some complimentary copies of some of their books and this was one of the ones I picked up. And I wanted to read it specifically for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, especially after a few people at the Penguin event (Danielle!) sang its praises to me.

This book! Sometimes those reviews where you loved the book are harder to write because there’s so much you want to say, so much you want to talk about but it’s hard to get it all out without sounding like a thirteen year old girl at a Justin Timberlake concert. Or is it Justin Bieber these days? Anyway, this book? It utterly slayed me.

Carly is so real I felt like her pain leapt off the page and hit me in the face. There’s something about the shy, awkward way in which she carries herself around people and the painful interactions she has with them (particularly Ryan) are so embarrassing that you actually cringe for her. They’re so accurately humiliating that they’re almost difficult to read. And yet they’re so heartbreakingly amazing because this is how I imagine that someone with Carly’s past would interact with people. There’s an authenticity to it.

Raw Blue will make you feel so much – I’m not sure there’s an emotion I didn’t experience whilst reading this book. Carly, despite her stand-offishness and brusque manner is so easy to like. She was raised by a family with a passive aggressive, domineering father and a 50s style mother who didn’t interfere with what the mens said and pretended all was fine. All she needed was someone she could trust and things might’ve been a lot different for her early on. She might not have experienced such a great amount of pain for such a long time. What happened to her was horrific and she dealt with it by never speaking of it to anyone and after dropping out of uni and being kicked out by her father, closing herself off from the rest of the world. Surfing is basically a solo sport, even though it can be done in groups, and Carly picks a job that not only allows her to surf all she wants, but that basically means she has little to no day to day interaction with people. Her peace is found through surfing and passages of the book are devoted to describing this in extraordinarily vivid detail. The venues, the waves, the colour of the ocean, the weather, the other surfers, what’s happening on the beach… it all paints an incredibly detailed image for the reader until you can smell the salt, feel the sand and almost gain a bit of Carly’s peace.

Carly is an older protagonist than is typical in YA, being 19 and out of school for several years and Ryan isn’t the stereotypical love interest either. He’s mid-2o’s, has recently been in jail and isn’t the smooth, good-looking popular boy that crops up often. He’s a surfer, just like Carly and the way in which he gently persists with her, even when she’s almost rude or unfathomably odd, is told in such a believable way because he voices his frustration and the fact that he really doesn’t know what he’s doing or why he’s doing it or why he’s interested in her.

This book is a perfect example of why I read YA and love it at 30 years of age (next month anyway). It’s emotional, gritty, beautifully told and real. Carly’s narrative chokes you up. You feel for her, she has your sympathy almost from the beginning because it’s easy for the reader to decipher what happened to her long before she feels the need to stumble through explaining it. You feel for her when she’s interested in Ryan because we all remember those painfully embarrassing moments where we can’t get out what we want to say and just want to run away – Carly takes that one step further and actually runs away and you cringe for her but at the same time you’re so hopeful for her. Hopeful that she will let go and relax around Ryan, hopeful that she will one day confide in him and that he will understand her terrible shyness and fear. And Kirsty Eagar will keep you guessing about Carly’s future happiness right until the end.

Amazing.

9/10

Book #6 of 2012

Raw Blue is the second novel read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. It’s set in and around Manly, on Sydney’s northern beaches and the location is a large part of the story. It’s all about the swell, the beaches and surfing conditions are mentioned in every chapter and Carly’s favourite surfing locations are lovingly described. Surfing culture is also a big part of the book with the rules and regulations of the career surfers versus the casual drop ins laid out for the reader. Carly’s love of the ocean is a huge part of her, both her regular personality and also her personal therapy in coping with what happened to her. Raw Blue is Kirsty Eagar’s first novel. Her third novel, Night Beach is due out in April.

 

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The Hypnotist’s Love Story – Liane Moriarty

The Hypnotist’s Love Story
Liane Moriarty
Pan MacMillan AU
2011, 456p
Read from my local library

Ellen O’Farrell is a hypnotherapist who helps her various clients deal with things like losing weight, quitting smoking, dealing with a fear of public speaking. She’s had several long-term relationships but they’ve all petered out and when she meets Patrick, Ellen feels the flutters of what might be. She likes him, and just when things are about to get a bit more serious, Patrick confesses that he has something to tell her.

As Ellen’s mind races with all the things he could possibly be going to tell her, she doesn’t even get close to the truth. Patrick has a stalker, a woman named Saskia who he used to date (and live with). They broke up three years ago and ever since Saskia has been following Patrick, writing him letters, sending him text messages. In fact she was at the very restaurant they have this conversation at, watching from a corner. She’s gone by the time Ellen starts to look for her but the fact of the matter is, she’s always there, somewhere. Watching, noticing, leaving messages.

As someone who studies and helps with human behaviour, Ellen isn’t frightened by this. Instead, she’s sort of interested. Fascinated, actually. Saskia has a good job, she’s smart, she isn’t exactly what someone would think would be the stereotypical woman to do this. Ellen thinks she’d love to meet her, maybe ask her why she does this to Patrick, help her understand that it isn’t right and move on. But talk of Saskia only tends to make Patrick frustrated and furious so she keeps these views to herself, all the while secretly almost enjoying the drama of dating a man who has a stalker looking out for her everywhere and thinking about meeting her.

What Ellen doesn’t know is that she’s already met Saskia. In fact, she’s been treating her for several sessions now, with Saskia using a different name. Ellen has no clue that Saskia has made contact in this way and by the time she does figure it out, Saskia has witnessed a very personal moment that drives her over the edge and has her crossing the last line, resulting in some serious consequences.

I’ve read a previous book of Liane Moriarty’s, What Alice Forgot and I also own her two prior to that. When this one was released I thought it sounded a bit quirky, but fun. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did! It sucked me right in and I read it in an afternoon on a day where the temperature soared to 40 degrees (104 for you Fahrenheit people) and the only thing to do was flake out on the couch.

The novel alternates points of view, between Ellen and Saskia in a move that I think is brilliant. Although there’s never any doubt that what Saskia is doing is horribly wrong (and she knows this, but cannot stop), Moriarty somehow manages to make Saskia seem sympathetic, a pitiable character rather than a reviled one. As Patrick is predictably frustrated and rendered helpless by Saskia’s harassment, with the novel touching expertly on what it must be like to be a man being followed by a woman and trying to get people such as the police, to take you seriously, he doesn’t talk about the circumstances involving his relationship and eventual break up with Saskia. It’s up to Saskia to fill the readers in on the blanks and it is the story Liane Moriarty has chosen, and the touching way she tells it that lends the reader’s understanding to why Saskia might be compelled to do this, and unable to stop herself from doing it. In doing this, the slightest shadow of doubt hangs over Patrick as a character throughout most of the book – what did he do to her to make her act this way? Why won’t he talk about it? After three years, why hasn’t he sought an AVO? There are questions that provoke the reader to think, that sway their mind back and forth, and that adds a glorious depth to both Saskia and Patrick and also their story line.

The Hynotist’s Love Story was full of surprises. Although the tone isn’t dark, or depressing, it’s not exactly light and fluffy either and there are some real issues being explored here, apart from just Saskia’s stalking. Patrick was a widower with a very young son when he met Saskia and Saskia basically raised him, stepping in as his stepmother (for want of a better term) during the length of their relationship, which included a lengthy time of living together. When it ended, Saskia found herself totally removed from the little boy’s life which begs the question – did Patrick have a right to do this? Did Saskia deserve some access to the child after they split, given she fulfilled the role of main caretaker for a big period in his life? While this isn’t an excuse for Saskia’s behaviour it certainly does help the reader sympathize with her and understand her and feel for her and how she must have felt. Saskia is more than just the ex-girlfriend that can’t let go. She’s grieving the loss of much more than just a relationship.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story was one of those lovely surprises sort of like a chocolate with an unexpected filling inside. You think you’re just getting one thing but you end up getting so much more! It was so much more than just a novel about Ellen and her hypnotherapy, it touched on so many relationships – romantic, parental, varying friendships and all were drawn with a real deft skill.

A really enjoyable way to kick off reading for 2012!

8/10

Book #1 of 2012

The Hypnotist’s Love Story is the first novel completed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. It’s set in Sydney (Ellen lives on the Northern Beaches) but the setting doesn’t particularly contribute to the story. You can find out more about Liane Moriarty by visiting her website.

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