All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Blog Tour Review: Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly

Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls #3)
Martha Hall Kelly
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 518p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Lilac Girls, the 1.7-million-copy bestselling novel by Martha Hall Kelly, introduced readers to Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist who helped young girls released from Ravensbruck concentration camp. Now, in Sunflower Sisters, Kelly tells the story of her ancestor Georgeanna Woolsey, a Union nurse who joins the war effort during the Civil War, and how her calling leads her to cross paths with Jemma, a young enslaved girl who is sold off and conscripted into the army, and Ann-May Wilson, a southern plantation mistress whose husband enlists.

Georgeanne “Georgey” Woolsey isn’t meant for the world of lavish parties and demure attitudes of women of her stature. So when the war ignites the nation, Georgey follows her passion for nursing during a time when doctors considered women a bother on the battlefront. In proving them wrong, she and her sister Eliza venture from New York to Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg and witness the unparalleled horrors of slavery as they become involved in the war effort.

In the South, Jemma is enslaved on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, where she lives with her mother and father. Her sister, Patience, is enslaved on the plantation next door and both live in fear of LeBaron, an abusive overseer who tracks their every move. When Jemma is sold by the cruel plantation mistress Anne-May at the same time the Union army comes through, she sees a chance to finally escape–but only by abandoning the family she loves.

Anne-May is left behind to run Peeler Planation when her husband joins the Union Army and her cherished brother enlists with the Confederates. In charge of the household, she uses the opportunity to follow her own ambitions and is drawn into a secret Southern network of spies, finally exposing herself to the fate she deserves.

Inspired by true accounts, Sunflower Sisters provides a vivid, detailed look at the Civil War experience, from the barbaric and inhumane plantations, to a war-torn New York City to the horrors of the battlefield. It’s a sweeping story of women caught in a country on the brink of collapse, in a society grappling with nationalism and unthinkable racial cruelty, a story still so relevant today. 

I read a lot of historical fiction, but it’s very rarely American historical fiction and I’m the first to admit that my American history knowledge is patchy. I know the bare basics of the Civil War background, why it came about and how it still plays into the current landscape of America. This is the third in a series about a remarkable family but each volume can be read standalone as they feature different characters and take place in different timelines.

In this book we have three main protagonists: Georgy Woolsey of a quite well to do New York family who longs for more than just making a good match and having babies. She joins the war effort as a nurse and faces tough situations not just because of the horrific injuries she witnesses but also the attitudes of the male doctors and nurses she works alongside. Anne-May is from Louisiana but inherited a tobacco plantation in Maryland from her deceased aunt and she intends to make sure that she keeps to the Southern way. She treats her slaves abominably, beating and starving them, expecting long days of work. Jemma is a teenager, owned by Anne-May and her life is not an easy one. LaBaron is ever lurking and everyone knows about his more dangerous proclivities. For Jemma and her family, escape and freedom is a longing inside of them but it will take cunning and sacrifice.

This is not easy reading – Jemma’s sections in particular are wrought with violence, dehumanisation and an overall impending feeling of doom centred around LaBaron, the vicious overseer charged with keeping the slaves in line. It’s hard to read about people being whipped senseless, about women barely into their 20s pregnant with their fifth baby, having had all the ones before taken immediately and sold. The violence is one thing, the inner dialogue of people like Anne-May might be worse. The way they view their slaves, the possession they guard so close, the willingness of them to die on the hill of owning others. Despite Jemma’s sections often being the hardest to read, I enjoyed her immensely as a character, her stoic nature, love of her parents and sister Patience, her strength and determination. Jemma’s story was one I was incredibly invested in.

The author’s note at the end of this one provides a lot of interesting information on the real family upon which this is based. The story mimics their real life movements and a lot of the correspondence comes from letters that have survived from this time. It adds another element of interest, to think of these characters as real people, taking part in nursing during the war or raising money or collecting donations. This was a war that I think people expected to be over quite quickly but it dragged out for four years and ended up collecting a huge amount of casualties. Some of the battle scenes in this are quite brutal, as doctors have to determine which men are “worth” saving and for many, there’s simply no resources. The estimation is somewhere between 1,000,000 dead overall in the four years and given the population of America was around 32 million at the time, they are massive numbers. So much infrastructure was destroyed as well and then of course, the President Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated by a Southern sympathiser. This book is obviously researched so well and does an amazing job at showcasing this tumultuous time, even finding time to weave in stories of compassion during the most ugly of conflicts.

As I mentioned, there’s a lot of ways in which this was not an easy read but it was definitely an engrossing one. I found both Jemma and Georgy wonderful to read and Anne-May disturbing. It’s crazy to me, that there were (probably are) people who think like that, who treated people like that, who didn’t even believe that their slaves were people. She’s quite a disturbing portrayal of wealthy, white Louisiana 1800s.

I haven’t read the two other books by this author as yet but after finishing this, they’re going straight to the top of my wishlist.

9/10

Book #55 of 2021

Sunflower Sisters is the 11th book read for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

This post is part of the Sunflower Sisters blog tour! Be sure to check out some of the other stops on the tour and find out what they thought of this novel.

1 Comment »

Blog Tour Review: The Moroccan Daughter by Deborah Rodriguez

The Moroccan Daughter 
Deborah Rodriguez
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 336p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Morocco: a captivating country of honor and tradition. And, for these four women, a land of secrets and revelations.

Amina Bennis has returned to her childhood home in Morocco to attend her sister’s wedding. The time has come for her to confront her strict, traditionalist father with the secret she has kept for more than a year – her American husband, Max.

Amina’s best friend, Charlie, and Charlie’s feisty grandmother, Bea, have come along for moral support, staying with Amina and her family in their palatial riad in Fès and enjoying all that the city has to offer. But Charlie is also hiding someone from her past – a mystery man from Casablanca.

And then there’s Samira, the Bennises’ devoted housekeeper for many decades. Hers is the biggest secret of all – one that strikes at the very heart of the family.

As things begin to unravel behind the ancient walls of the medina, the four women are soon caught in a web of lies, clandestine deals and shocking confessions . . . 

From the twisted alleyways of the ancient medina of Fès to a marriage festival high in the Atlas Mountains, Deborah Rodriguez’s entrancing new bestseller is a modern story of forbidden love set in the sensual landscape of North Africa. Author of The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul and The Zanzibar Wife.

I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this blog tour because I love exploring new places through reading and I have not read many books set in Morocco before! I actually realised a little way into this that it is connected to one of Deborah Rodriguez’s other books, which I have not read, but it didn’t matter and it didn’t affect my enjoyment. I was able to piece together things that had happened prior to this book pretty easily.

Amina has been living abroad for a while – studying first in Paris and then moving to America where she married Max. Her family doesn’t know about her husband and Amina has been terrified to tell them, knowing her strict, traditionalist father will not approve. A marriage to Max would not be seen as beneficial in his eyes. Max isn’t from a prominent family who will bring pride and honour to her family. Amina has been putting it off for as long as possible but now that she’s returning to Morocco for her sister’s wedding, she knows that she has to finally confess. Max is getting impatient as well, tired of being kept a secret. He wants Amina to just tell her father, not understanding how difficult that is for her and the fact that things in Morocco are done very differently to what Max is used to in America.

Amina’s best friend Charlie and Charlie’s grandmother Bea are accompanying Amina on the trip. Bea is almost blind but loves an adventure and is ready to embrace everything that Morocco has to offer, especially the markets and apothecaries and even the more mysterious side. Charlie on the other hand, has quite a secret from her past involving a man from Morocco and she seeks to reconnect with him.

I really loved the descriptions of Morocco – Fès, the Medina, Amina’s father’s riad. It was all so noisy and busy and colourful – all of that came through on the page. I also really loved the character of Bea, who was throwing herself into everything about Morocco, even though she cannot really see any longer. She uses her other heightened senses – her hearing, sense of smell etc – to experience everything in a slightly different way. I found that really interesting – Bea was highly entertaining. Pretty much everything rolled over her and her developing friendship with Samira, who worked for Amina’s father helped some of the secrets Samira had come out.

This book definitely went in some unexpected directions with those secrets! Samira was holding onto a lot of some very serious pieces of information, things that definitely helped some issues and interactions make more sense as I got further into the book. I couldn’t help but sympathise with Amina – it’s easy for someone like me to say hey, just tell your father that you’re married! But she’s had a very different upbringing and the rules in Morocco for women vs men are quite different. Amina’s quite spoiled younger brother Tarik makes that quite clear with his behaviour and it’s no wonder that he’s often resented a little for the freedom he has. Marriages are viewed differently too. Amina knows that her father is going to feel betrayed and angry when she confesses her secret and her fear of disappointing him runs deep. She needed to just finally confess though as the stress of keeping the secret was doing such damage to her – especially as her father was using the fact that Amina had returned home to think about perhaps setting up a marriage for her, blissfully unaware that she’d been married for a year! You can see everything kind of heading towards a big confrontation: Max and his impatience and frustration, Amina and her stress, her father and his determination that she come home and settle into the life he would have mapped out for her. It takes a few earth-shaking secrets coming to light to change things dramatically.

Sidenote: Moroccan weddings sound incredible. Amina’s sister’s wedding is a huge celebration that sounds amazing.

I enjoyed this! I’ve read a couple of other Deborah Rodriguez books before but I think I definitely need to catch up on the ones that I’ve missed.

8/10

Book #16 of 2021

This review is part of the blog tour for The Moroccan Daughter, organised by Penguin Random House Australia. Be sure to visit the other stops and see what they had to say about this book.

3 Comments »

Blog Tour Review: Letters From Berlin by Tania Blanchard

Letters From Berlin
Tania Blanchard
Simon & Schuster AUS
2020, 415p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Berlin, 1943

As the Allied forces edge closer, the Third Reich tightens its grip on its people. For eighteen-year-old Susanna Göttmann, this means her adopted family including the man she loves, Leo, are at risk.

Desperate to protect her loved ones any way she can, Susie accepts the help of an influential Nazi officer. But it comes at a terrible cost – she must abandon any hope of a future with Leo and enter the frightening world of the Nazi elite. 

Yet all is not lost as her newfound position offers more than she could have hoped for … With critical intelligence at her fingertips, Susie seizes a dangerous opportunity to help the Resistance.

The decisions she makes could change the course of the war, but what will they mean for her family and her future? 

Susanna Göttmann’s parents and brother were killed in a car accident but she was unharmed. She was taken in and raised by friends of her parents, her Onkel George, an aristocratic German and his wife Tante Elya, a Russian Jewish woman who had fled her homeland. There’s also their son Leo, who is a friend to Susanna during the hardest time in her life. The family live on a large property that provides well and when WWII breaks out, the fat contracts they have supplying things like timber, meat and produce keep them relatively removed from the harshness of war and protect Elya and Leo from being persecuted as a Jewish person and a mischling, a sort of slur used against what Germans call “half-breeds”, offspring of a German who is married to someone of the Jewish faith. Susanna’s parents were both well-to-do Germans and as such she is protected from the dangers of work or prison camps but she’s incredibly concerned about her aunt, a woman who was a mother to her and also Leo, who has become the great love of her life. He returns her feelings but to protect her, says nothing can come of it because of his status and the fact that things could change and he could be placed in a camp at any time. Instead, Susie accepts the help of a family friend who promises to protect her and her family if she agrees they are seen as “courting” – he’s quite high ranking with some power and influence and Susie sees this decision as a necessary evil to protect those she loves and who gave her a warm, loving home and upbringing after the loss of her parents and brother.

I’ve read quite a few books set during World War II, it’s a period in time which is incredibly popular in fiction but I haven’t read a lot that focuses on Berlin itself, where a lot of people were still going about their lives. They’re removed from the fighting and although there are air raids, people are still doing things like going to the opera. Susanna is at college, something that many people don’t approve of as women should be looking to make good marriages and any women working will stop once Germany win the war anyway and all the men come home. For a large part, Susanna’s life is not particularly touched by the ins and outs of the war and probably if her aunt was not a Russian person of Jewish faith, there would’ve been even less impact. But although Elya’s protected by her status as someone married to a German, there’s always the chance this could be changed and more and more Jewish people are removed from the country. Susanna has such fear that something will happen to Elya and Leo and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to protect them, even though it means she’ll sacrifice the one thing she desires the most. I think because of this determination she has to do whatever she can to help protect them, it does mean that she overlooks some things or doesn’t want to see how potentially she has tied herself to someone who has ulterior motives in their offering of protection.

I started this intending to read just 100p because I knew my tour date was coming up soon and I wanted to get it started. I ended up reading the entire book in an afternoon/evening, because I couldn’t put it down. It really sucked me into the story and Susanna’s decisions kept me invested. You know from the prologue that a certain thing happens but not the how/why etc of it happening. Although Nazi politics are always horrifying to read about, the casual way they condemned people to dire conditions and fates, I find it really interesting how they managed to accomplish what they did. There’s quite a bit in this on the changing views of some in the village where Elya lives. She’s someone who has always been kind to the others, considered many of them friends and their property employed or benefited many as well but when Elya is ordered to wear the Star of David, marking her as Jewish, a lot of whispers begin about her life of privilege and how she should be deported with all the rest of them. It escalates to outright hostility and this is indicative I think, of how people turned on former friends and neighbours, maybe even reported them or dobbed them in out of fear or jealousy. No one wanted to be seen as consorting with Jewish people, lest it fall back negatively on them.  George and Elya were wealthy and even during the war for a large portion of time, didn’t particularly seem to be feeling much in the way of hardship which would definitely make some people feel angry. By dividing people, creating a clear us and them, you could change the way people thought about others who had previously been people they liked or admired, or at least stoke their fear enough for them to push those feelings aside. Of course there are people who didn’t agree with Nazi politics and this book has a strong resistance vibe to it, where people become involved with trying to help prisoners of war escape, or with plots to assassinate Hitler. But it’s scary when you realise how many people probably did support it, either enthusiastically or because they feared what would happen if they didn’t.

I really enjoyed this story, I found it incredibly gripping, the sort of book that has you hooked from the first page. It’s got a little bit of everything – danger, mystery, romance (including a sort of forbidden one), strong family relationships and loyalties set against the backdrop of a city and country going through a time of upheaval. I definitely need to read this author’s other books.

8/10

Book #205 of 2020

Letters to Berlin is book #78 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

 

3 Comments »

Blog Tour Review: The Bush Telegraph by Fiona McArthur

The Bush Telegraph
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 360p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘Small towns and gossip go together like trees and birds.’

It’s been more than ten years since Maddy Locke left Spinifex, the small outback town where she gave birth to her daughter, Bridget. Now she’s back to prove she’s got what it takes to run the medical centre and face the memories of that challenging time in her life. But everything’s changed – the old pub is gone, her new colleagues aren’t pleased to see her, and it’s drier and hotter than ever.

Station owner, Connor Fairhall, thought he’d left the drama behind in Sydney, but moving back to Spinifex with his rebellious son, Jayden, hasn’t been the fresh start he’d envisioned. His brother, Kyle, is drinking too much and the only bright spot on the horizon is meeting Nurse Maddy, who’s breathing new life into the weary town up the road, little by little.

Can Maddy ignore the rumours about Connor and risk her heart again? Or will the bush telegraph spread along the wire fences and stand in the way of trust?

From Australia’s renowned midwife and bestselling author of The Desert Midwife, The Bush Telegraph is a romantic drama about love, friendship, community and the joys and challenges of life in the outback.

If you’ve read Fiona McArthur’s The Baby Doctor then you may recognise Maddy here. Over 10 years ago, Maddy left Spinifex in outback Queensland and has raised her daughter Bridget mostly between Lord Howe Island, off the coast of New South Wales, and Sydney. However opportunity sees Maddy return to Spinifex as a way to almost redeem herself after everything that went wrong the first time she was living there. Now she’ll be running the medical centre but already things are not looking as positive as she might’ve hoped – her daughter Bridget has not fallen in love with the changed landscape. She’s used to the lush tropical beauty and sea breezes of Lord Howe and Spinifex, with its lack of trees and red, dusty land as far as the eye can see, is not an adequate substitute. Also Maddy’s new coworkers were hoping for one thing but getting Maddy was definitely not it and one of them in particular is quite combative to her presence.

I enjoyed every single thing about this book. I really enjoyed Maddy’s journey back to Spinifex, a place that doesn’t hold a lot of positive memories for her and one that she feels she needs to revisit. As a nurse, she wants to work in remote communities and Spinifex is the first step in that. It’s many hours from pretty much everywhere (five or six to Mount Isa I think) and she’s taking her 11yo daughter along for the ride, who isn’t really all that enthusiastic about it. On her first day she meets single dad Connor, who has a son similar in age to Maddy’s daughter Bridget. Connor and his son have also only been in the area a short amount of time – Connor grew up there but his son Jayden has spent very little time there and deeply resents being there. To Connor’s dismay, he’s spending far too much time with Connor’s brother Kyle, who is hitting the bottle way too hard these days.

Both Maddy and Connor have similar single parent issues that they can bond over, although Connor’s are more serious than Maddy’s. Jayden is definitely being influenced by his uncle in some very negative ways and Maddy provides not only a sounding board but also a fresh voice, some suggestions of ways to maybe help strengthen and repair his bond with Jayden. Connor and Maddy build a really nice friendship (with the simmer of something more just under the surface) but given her history, Maddy is very wary. And there are some rumours circling about Connor that definitely make her feel as though she needs to tread carefully, lest she make the same mistake a second time.

Fiona McArthur is a nurse by profession (midwife) and she always incorporates a lot of medical procedures, routines and information into her books and this one is no exception. Maddy deals with a lot of different things at the clinic from the seriousness of a cardiac arrest to prenatal check ups to the standard assessment and treatment of suspected broken limbs. Everything is woven into the story in such seamless ways, a natural progression of the character’s medical qualifications combined with the reality of rural living. Maddy faces several dangerous scenarios here and for the most part she’s a calm, steady professional but it’s the last medical emergency that tested her in every single way possible and for me, it was that part of the story that pushed this book from very enjoyable into absolutely amazing. The way in which the tension escalated and the danger was described, the urgency of the situation was all so excellently conveyed and it had me totally gripped.

I loved this book, it was so perfect for the sort of reads I’m just craving at the moment. It’s feel good but with a seriousness throughout the plot that means you’re invested in the characters and their outcomes. I enjoyed revisiting the town of Spinifex and appreciated some of the complexities of living in such a small, outback town with quite punishing weather. I really also enjoyed the exploration of Bridget and Jayden, their feelings about their separate moves to Spinifex and in particular, Jayden’s complex and mixed up feelings about his dad and how and why Connor is a single parent. I found the situation with Kyle and Belle intriguing as well – Kyle had his problems and had made a lot of very wrong choices but he had redeeming features.

Highly recommend this.

9/10

Book #173 of 2020

The Bush Telegraph is the 64th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

This review is part of the blog tour for The Bush Telegraph organised by Penguin Random House Australia. Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour and see their thoughts on this lovely book!

2 Comments »

Blog Tour Review: Sticks And Stones by Katherine Firkin

Sticks And Stones
Katherine Firkin
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s winter in Melbourne and Detective Emmett Corban is starting to regret his promotion to head of the Missing Persons Unit, as the routine reports pile up on his desk.

So when Natale Gibson goes missing, he’s convinced this is the big case he’s been waiting for – the woman’s husband and parents insist the devoted mother would never abandon her children, and her personal accounts remain untouched.

But things aren’t all they seem. The close-knit Italian family is keeping secrets – none bigger than the one Natale has been hiding.

Just as the net seems to be tightening, the investigation is turned on its head. The body of a woman is found . . . then another.

What had seemed like a standard missing person’s case has turned into a frightening hunt for a serial killer, and time is running out.

But to really understand these shocking crimes, Emmett and his team will need to delve back through decades of neglect – back to a squalid inner-city flat, where a young boy is left huddling over his mother’s body . . .

This is a debut novel from Australian Katherine Firkin, who as a crime reporter, has covered some of Australia’s most high profile and gruesome crimes. It introduces us to Detective Emmett Corban, a Melbourne police officer who has been promoted to the head of the Missing Persons Unit. It’s not exactly the Homicide Squad and Emmett does seem a little reluctant and unenthusiastic about his new post, especially when it’s cases like free spirited traveller Rosemary Norman who has been reported missing by her brother Daniel after failing to attend their other brother Tom’s birthday party, apparently the one date the family never misses. Emmett isn’t too concerned, she probably has just set off on another adventure. But when Melbourne mother Natale Gibson fails to pick her children up from a holiday program, alarm bells start ringing. At first glance, the women don’t appear to have anything in common….is it possible that Rosemary didn’t disappear to travel again after all? Does Melbourne potentially have a serial killer of women at work? And if so….how is he finding his victims? Emmett needs to establish a connection.

I really enjoyed this. There are a lot of characters and at times the perspective changes which allows the plot to twist and turn and throw the reader some clues, some of which will most certainly be red herrings. Along with Emmett, we also get inside the head of his wife Cindy, a disenchanted mother who is excited to be returning to work after taking time off to raise their son, who is now in school. Emmett works long hours. Presumably this promotion has only exacerbated that and then there’s this case, which soon takes up all his time and his wife is left to pick up all of the “mental load” of not only doing the day to day caring for their son but also remembering things like football practice, school concerts, parent teacher interviews, things which Emmett will miss probably a significant portion of, due to his work. Through her return to work, she’s looking to reclaim her identity as something other than a wife and mother, to fulfil herself in ways that motherhood simply doesn’t.

One thing I found interesting in this was the different way Emmett reacted to the disappearances of Rosemary and Natale. Rosemary is unmarried, only held down temporary or casual jobs, spent a lot of her life travelling overseas, visiting amazing places. She’s bohemian-looking, and Emmett basically dismisses her brother’s concerns at first with the belief that she’s probably just taken off again on another holiday/adventure. But when Natale is reported missing, a married mother of two children, it’s quite different. It’s ‘out-of-character’ for Natale to not pick up her children and even though Rosemary’s brother asserts that it’s definitely out of character for his sister to miss their brother Tom’s birthday, it’s not treated the same way. Because she liked to travel and didn’t particularly have a career or what one would determine as a traditional family life, it was deemed unlikely at first, that harm had been done to her. I understand that police have limited resources and probably occasionally have to prioritise and make judgement calls, especially in the early hours and days of a missing report of a grown woman.

As well as Emmett and Cindy and the perspective of another young woman, we also get snippets from the killer’s childhood, which lay his traumatic background bare. It made me think a lot about nature and nurture and the impact of abuse, grief, drugs, the system, etc on very young children. Which is not to say I think that it’s an excuse for heinous acts – definitely not. But it makes me wonder how hard it is to break a cycle, especially when you are not given the tools to process and cope with the trauma that life has dealt you, when you slip through the cracks of a flawed system.

This was a gripping read – everything weaves together really well and meshes together in a clever and cohesive story. I hope that it might be the first in a series and it doesn’t seem like I’m alone there! I think the character of Emmett has a lot more to offer and I’d be curious to see what other stories the author could use her background to create.

8/10

Book #107 of 2020

Sticks And Stones is the 35th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

Leave a comment »

Blog Tour Review: All That Impossible Space by Anna Morgan

All That Impossible Space 
Anna Morgan
Hachette AUS
2019, 276p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Amelia Westlake meets My Favorite Murder in this debut from a terrific new voice in Australian YA. Combines a realistic story about high school drama and toxic friendship with true crime – the endlessly fascinating Somerton Man or Taman Shud mystery. 

15-year-old Lara Laylor feels like supporting character in her own life. She’s Ashley’s best friend, she’s Hannah’s sister-she’s never just Lara.

When new history teacher Mr. Grant gives her an unusual assignment: investigating the mystery of the Somerton Man. Found dead in on an Adelaide beach in 1948, a half-smoked cigarette still in his mouth and the labels cut out of his clothes, the Somerton Man has intrigued people for years. Was he a spy? A criminal? Year 10 has plenty of mysteries of its own: boys, drama queen friends, and enigmatic new students. When they seem just as unsolvable as a 60-year-old cold case, Lara finds herself spending more and more time on the assignment. But Mr Grant himself may be the biggest mystery of all…

Interspersed with fictionalised snapshots of the Somerton Man investigation, ALL THAT IMPOSSIBLE SPACE is a coming of age novel exploring toxic friendships and the balance of power between teacher and student, perfect for fans of Cath Crowley and Fiona Wood.

This book took me back!

High school is far behind me now but it’s amazing how things can transport you back in time and everything feels as though it is still happening. When I was in high school, I had a friend very much like Lara’s friend Ashley. A girl who, when she was happy, was the best sort of friend to have around. We had a huge amount of fun, we were super close and spent all our time together. But she was also the sort of friend that would, on occasion, build herself up by tearing others down. By making people feel awkward or inferior. There could be silent treatment as well, for slights or even perceived slights. It was a volatile friendship, finally dying a death in grade 12 when I removed myself voluntarily from her circle. I learned a lot from that friendship because it was full of ups and downs. Sometimes I still look back on it as some of the better times in my teen years but it was also responsible for some of my most miserable times in my teen years as well. It was by forming other close friendships and nurturing those that I was able to recognise that it was time to move on and this is something that I think Lara experiences here too.

Lara and Ashley have always been a pair, with Ashley the more dominant friend. The arrival of Kate, who befriends Lara, upsets the delicate balance. With Kate, it seems as though Lara can more be herself, rather than reshaping herself the way she does around Ashley. Lara is a bit of a follower – Ashley wants to do the school musical with the local boys school and so Lara must try out as well, even though the rehearsals clash with Lara’s preferred activity of running/cross country. Lara has a few things in her life putting her off balance I think – the disappearance of her older sister Hannah overseas on a gap year, who keeps contact determinedly one sided, the arrival of a new history teacher, Mr Grant and the assignment he gives Lara investigating the death of the Somerton Man, one of Australia’s greatest unsolved mysteries. And then there’s Jos, from the boys school who is also taking part in the play their two schools are putting on together.

Going to out myself here and say I didn’t know much about the Somerton Man case before this, I’m not really sure how. I didn’t do much history at school and every now and then I’m really reminded of that when I come across something that I should know about, but don’t. I did a bit of reading whilst completing this book and after as well. The Somerton Man was found dead on a South Australian beach and his identity or what happened to him, has never been truly answered. There are some theories, revolving around the possibility of spies and the Cold War but the fact that he had no identification, the labels were removed from his clothing, there was a likelihood that he was perhaps poisoned, all served up a big mystery that has never come to a satisfying conclusion. Lara is given the task of investigating it, to come up with theories and possibilities for the Somerton Man, which leads to some extra attention from her teacher.

I really enjoyed a lot about this, the portrayal of high school and the navigation of friendships, particularly a toxic one and those early overtures into a relationship were spot on for me. I really liked Lara as a character and thought she was well written. Her relationship with her absent sister forms a big part of the novel – Lara is very much in Hannah’s shadow, always feels like she’s just “Hannah’s sister” rather than her own person, her teachers and school authority figures don’t seem to see her as a separate person, rather just comparing her to her sister and the behaviour she would or wouldn’t display. Lara seems to be almost an invisible member in her own family, her parents seemingly concerned about Hannah and what she is or isn’t doing. Lara seems to be the child that always does as is expected and doesn’t demand that extra mental energy. I found her interactions with Jos really cute and liked the two of them….and the remarks of Ashley also felt familiar, trying to downplay someone else’s happenings because it isn’t happening to them, stamping out any happiness they might be feeling. Where I felt I wanted a bit more, was the story that developed with Lara’s history teacher. I’m not sure that for me, there was enough there for Lara to act in the way that she did and the ending was a bit unsatisfactory. I know there’s not going to be an answer for Lara’s project but I think there were a few other aspects of the story that I would’ve liked dealt with a little more, to really round out Lara’s character development and her actions.

A really solid debut and I’ll be definitely adding Anna Morgan to my watch list to keep an eye out for her future releases.

7/10

Book #93 of 2019

All That Impossible Space is book #42 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

This review is part of a blog tour for this book presented by Hachette Australia and Aus YA Bloggers. Make sure you check out the rest of the spots, posting every day this week!

Author Links
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/amorgs/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/annalauramorgan
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18991287.Anna_Morgan
4 Comments »

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

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/10

Book #33 of 2019

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

The House Of Second Chances is available now!

 

 

1 Comment »

Blog Tour Review: Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Emergency Contact
Mary H.K. Choi
Simon & Schuster AUS
2019, 394p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

For Penny Lee, high school was a nonevent. She got decent grades, had a few friends, and even a boyfriend by senior year but basically she was invisible. Having just graduated from high school, she’s heading off to college in Austin, Texas, and she’s ready for it.

Sam has had a rougher time over the last few years. He grew up in a trailer park and had to bail when he caught his addict mom taking out credit cards in his name to buy more crap from the Home Shopping Network. He gets a job at a café whose owner is kind enough to let him crash on a mattress in a spare room upstairs. He wants to go to film school and become a great director but at the moment he has $17 in his checking account and his laptop is dying.

When Penny and Sam cross paths it’s not exactly a Hollywood meet cute: they’re both too socially awkward for that. But they exchange numbers and stay in touch—almost entirely by text message, a form that allows them to get to know each other while being witty and snarky and intimate without the uncomfortable weirdness of, you know, actually having to see each other in person.

For Penny Lee, high school was excruciating. Her one friend moved away to another school and she has been basically invisible ever since. College is the chance for a fresh start, to move away from this town and the people in it. To even move away from her mother, who is the sort of parent that makes Penny feel like it’s her that’s the parent and her mother that’s the child. Penny’s father disappeared many a year ago and it’s been the two of them all her life. For a while, Penny and her mother were best friends. But as she got older, Penny suddenly stopped seeing her mother’s quirky ways as something to admire in a friend and instead they became something to despair of in a parent. Moving away, even just 90 minutes, gives her the sort of freedom she craves to start over.

She meets Sam, a barista and pastry cook in a coffee shop, through her room mate. Sam is reeling from the break up of his volatile relationship with an instagram star and spends most of his nights not sleeping and his days making pastry creations to help keep him distracted. When Penny discovers Sam in a vulnerable position, they strike up a friendship through texting, becoming each other’s emotional support person.

I really like YA books that deal with the main character going off to college and experiencing that freedom from being at home for the first time. It’s such an interesting time – legally in most places, you’re an ‘adult’ but really there’s very little to differentiate from the previous few months. It’s that time to start making decisions for the future and to start enjoying some independence. For Penny, college is escape. She wants to get away from the mother she finds inappropriate, the boyfriend that she was inexplicably with. It’s a chance to reinvent herself but that’s easier said than done. Penny doesn’t seem to really warm to overtures of friendliness – she makes it pretty clear she thinks that Mallory, her room mate’s friend is ridiculous and half the time she shuns people. Penny seems to make friends by accident rather than design – like the boy from her writing class who she doesn’t really speak to until she runs into him somewhere else.

Sam is the only person that Penny seems to make a real effort with and perhaps that’s because most of that is done over the phone and not face to face. Their conversations are flowing and casual yet intimate and they find themselves confessing a lot of things to each other. Things that they don’t tell other people. I liked the time that was spent with them getting to know each other over these text messages (which progress to phone calls). They do develop a very strong connection which was nice to see, although Sam is still pretty messed up with his ex and being jerked around by her. He needs to learn how to start placing some distance between them and extract himself from that whole situation. I liked the attention to detail with Sam’s background and how it had shaped him as well.

I really enjoyed quite a lot about this but I do admit that Penny is a difficult character. She is quite judgemental and really abrasive and at times, it’s pretty easy to dislike her. There’s an abruptness to her at times and she reacts negatively almost immediately to pretty much everything. The scene for me where she goes to visit her mother because she thinks something has happened to her, but then doesn’t stay once she finds out it was a bit of a childish mishap, really stands out for me. I think that probably Penny’s life wasn’t easy in those teenage years – her mother seems quite vulnerable and a bit naive, she doesn’t seem to really understand that she’s also Penny’s parent as well as her friend, but there’s no doubt that she loves Penny quite a lot and I think Penny really is hurting her feelings quite badly after moving to the college. And here we are, we have reached the stage in my life where I identify with the parent, rather than the teen! Because teenagers suck sometimes (and I was one, I’m sure I was pretty damn awful to my parents for a few years there) and Penny is highly critical and judgemental of her mother for things that I think other people have put onto her. I understand that Penny probably doesn’t want to think of her (quite young) mother as a sexual being but shaming her, even internally, for the clothes she wears, her make up and her occasional flirting is a bit rough.

People are shitty and this book kind of encompasses the many ways in which people can be shitty. I think I wanted a bit more personal growth throughout the story for both Penny and Sam. Both of them needed a bit more time to mature and develop as individual adults and as a potential couple. The ending did feel a bit abrupt to me, like several steps were skipped.

7/10

Book #7 of 2019

This review is part of the Emergency Contact blog tour. Make sure you stop by here and check out the other blogs participating in the tour thanks to AusYABloggers & Simon & Schuster Australia.

 

 

 

Leave a comment »

Blog Tour Review: The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

The Botanist’s Daughter 
Kayte Nunn
Hachette AUS
2018, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

I really love dual narrative historical and contemporary stories and this one was unputdownable from the start. Elizabeth, technically a ‘spinster’ in Victorian England, is begged by her ailing father to continue his work in botany and find a miracle plant with believed healing properties. He desperately wants it found before his rival and nemesis does, who will surely sell it to the highest bidder. Although a somewhat privileged and cosseted woman, Elizabeth undertakes a long voyage by sea to South America with just her maid Daisy. Once there, she must keep her identity and mission a secret so as not to attract the attention of her father’s rival, who it seems, will do anything to make the discovery before anyone else does.

I really enjoyed the historical aspect of this novel. It seems that in this time the study of botany and foreign plants was quite a thing and Elizabeth’s father undertakes many voyages to bring back and cultivate foreign species. He has no sons so rather than risk his rival discovering this secret, incredible plant first, he begs his younger daughter to do it for him after his death, sending her on an amazing adventure in a very different place to what she is used to. Elizabeth will find true courage and strength of character on her journey as she endures many different hardships but she will also find great love and happiness as well.

Elizabeth is not without her flaws and she’s secretive and impetuous and singleminded in her task. She certainly doesn’t make things easy for herself and her dangerous expedition places people in danger other than just herself. I liked her but at times I just wanted her to be honest about herself and her task and take people into her confidence and give herself I don’t know, some back up? A bit of assistance? She’s got guts though – to travel such a way with only a maid to a place she’s unfamiliar with and doesn’t know much about is amazing. I love that she was a botanical artist too and very talented at it.

Anna inherits a house from her grandmother in the present day and finds a mysterious box within the wall behind a bookcase that will send her on another incredible journey to discover the identity and truth of the person behind it. Anna is also incredibly interested in botany and has studied at university although perhaps hasn’t truly developed her career due to tragedy. A lot of the time, Anna feels like going through the motions of existing – she works, she goes to the gym every Saturday, she meets her sister and mother for dinner. She doesn’t actually really seem to embrace life and still seems very stuck on something terrible that happened. Finding the box gives Anna a purpose and it’s also a vehicle for her to overcome her fears and do something she should’ve done a long time ago.

This book definitely took me places I did not expect when I picked it up. I was surprised how dark it got during some parts, which added a whole new depth to the story. It’s told with obvious passion and I found myself really into the evocative descriptions of life in both Victorian England and South America. Kayte Nunn paints lush portrait of the landscape, the social life and the people – even the voyage from England is vividly rendered, with poor Elizabeth suffering nearly the whole way. This was the sort of story that you could just sink right into and not come up for air until you were finished. I found both timelines really fascinating and was invested in both Elizabeth and Anna. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know…..and the more I found out, the better the story became.

This is a truly beautiful story that meshes two very different timelines together admirably and takes the reader on a journey around the world from inner city Sydney to the beauty of Cornwall and the intriguing forests of Chile. Even though it focuses very much on botanical matters, you don’t have to have an interest in these to enjoy it and it weaves the information in perfectly. It’s definitely a must-read for all fans of historical fiction and I would happily recommend it to anyone.

9/10

Book #133 of 2018

5 Comments »

Blog Tour Review: A Month Of Sundays by Liz Byrski

A Month Of Sundays
Liz Byrski
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

For over ten years, Ros, Adele, Judy and Simone have been in an online book club, but they have never met face to face. Until now…

Determined to enjoy her imminent retirement, Adele invites her fellow bibliophiles to help her house-sit in the Blue Mountains. It’s a tantalising opportunity to spend a month walking in the fresh air, napping by the fire and, of course, reading and talking about books.

But these aren’t just any books: each member has been asked to choose a book which will teach the others more about her. And with each woman facing a crossroads in her life, it turns out there’s a lot for them to learn, not just about their fellow book-clubbers, but also about themselves.

Liz Byrski has written a beautiful novel about the joy and comfort reading a good book can bring to us all.

It’s hard to find something more appealing than a book that celebrates books and that was a large part of the reason I jumped to read A Month Of Sundays, the 10th fiction novel from Australian writer Liz Byrski. It centres around four women who have been part of an online book club for over a decade, meeting regularly via Skype regularly to discuss their chosen book. They have always kept those conversations focused on the books and know relatively little about each other’s day to day lives. That changes when Adele invites the three other women to spend several weeks with her in the Blue Mountains while she house sits. A very organised person, Adele also requests they each bring a book special to them that will help the other women understand the person they are better.

All of the women are in their sixties or early seventies and they’re also all experiencing periods of change in their lives. Some of those changes are health related and the downsides of getting older, some are to do with transitioning to the next period of their lives and some are due to events of the past that are still haunting them. These are not things that they’ve ever discussed with members of the book club before but with their staying together in the same house, slowly they begin to confide their stories.

I haven’t been to the Blue Mountains for many years but it’s a beautiful setting for such a retreat. There are long walks to take, lookouts to see and the surroundings are full of beauty and the local shops quirky and interesting to explore. But what I really loved about this story was the talk of the books the women had chosen and the way in which their discussions explored the character of the women and their issues, fears and traits. I haven’t read any of the books that the women chose to bring and share as saying something about them but I found myself adding them to my Wishlist and looking them up, to learn more about them. It also made me think about what book I would take in that sort of situation. I think that for someone who reads as much as I do, it’s hard to narrow it down like that. It’s not a favourite book (although that would actually be just as difficult probably) but a book that also helps the others reading it understand something fundamental about the person who has chosen to share it. It would have to be a book that I identified with strongly as exploring something relative to me or that was deeply a part of my personality. It’s not an easy decision and to be honest, I still haven’t decided! I had such fun thinking about it though, books that I’ve read at various parts of my life. I love a book that references other books (and there’s plenty of that in here, not just the four books the women chose) and one that pays homage to a love of literature and how it can bring people together, engage spirited debate and build a strong friendship between four women.

I’m a lot younger than the women in the story and quite a lot of their concerns and issues are not mine but it didn’t mean that I couldn’t connect with them and all of their stories. They are all quite different and their budding friendships are not without their troubles as they get to know each other but as their little holidays rolls on they share so much about their lives, both past and present and they confide their fears for the future. I felt for each of them in their various situations – I think of them all I probably related to a combination of Judy and Adele. Their ways of dealing with things are quite similar to my ways and I can see myself possibly becoming something like Judy, quite isolated.

All in all this was a charming and thought provoking read that I enjoyed a lot. It’s written with warmth and humour but with an exploration of quite serious issues facing women who are at this stage in their lives.

8/10

Book #112 of 2018

Thanks to Pan Macmillan AUS for inviting me to be part of this blog tour! A Month Of Sundays is out now, RRR $32.99. You can check out Liz Byrski’s website here

 

1 Comment »