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Review: The Art Of Friendship by Lisa Ireland

The Art Of Friendship 
Lisa Ireland
Pan Macmillan AUS
2018, 387p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

We all expect our friendships from childhood to last forever…

Libby and Kit have been best friends ever since the day 11-year-old Kit bounded up to Libby’s bedroom window. They’ve seen each other through first kisses, bad break-ups and everything in-between. It’s almost 20 years since Libby moved to Sydney, but they’ve remained close, despite the distance and the different paths their lives have taken.

So when Libby announces she’s moving back to Melbourne, Kit is overjoyed. They’re best friends – practically family – so it doesn’t matter that she and Libby now have different …well, different everything, actually, or so it seems when they’re finally living in the same city again.

Or does it?

As an adult, friendship feels like such a tricky thing. Far more so than when I was a child. I’m not really sure what it is – perhaps it’s moving interstate as an adult without knowing anyone. I still have friends from my high school years but we are spread out all over the globe now, contact restricted to liking each other’s photos on facebook. I would imagine that were some of them to suddenly move close to me, it would be almost like getting to know them all over again. And I’d imagine that there’d probably be a few teething problems, much like Libby and Kit experience.

Libby and Kit became close friends through proximity, which is often how you meet and become friends with someone as kids. Their friendship survives attending different high schools and Libby’s moving away to Sydney during the university years. Although they do get to see each other in person each year during a Boxing Day tradition, the majority of their interactions have been by phone, letters, emails. They are also leading quite different lives – Libby is married with a son and Kit is quite determinedly single with a job she devotes herself to. Libby has never really carved out a career niche for herself and has no regrets leaving her job behind to move to Melbourne.

I loved so much about this book – firstly, it’s set pretty close to where I live! Libby moves to an area not far from where I am now when she’s a child and when she moves back as an adult to an exclusive new development ‘community’ it’s not unlike where I live, in a way, which is in a newly developed area of what used to be market gardens and farmland. A lot of what Libby sees around her is familiar to me and like Libby, I’ve never really known what I’ve wanted to do with my life in terms of a career. And although I don’t think I’m quite as involved a parent as Libby, I understand that reaction to protect your child, to perhaps look for the excuses and to automatically assume that they’re the victim. I think that’s only natural, to a certain extent. But Libby definitely goes a lot further with this than I believe that I would! I really liked the way Libby’s issues with her son played out, especially as it bled into her friendship with Kit – entrusting her with his care but then being very upset with the way Kit had handled things, which angers Kit.

I think both Libby and Kit feel as though it will be easy to pick up this friendship when Libby moves back to Victoria but the reality is very different. Libby is living in a rather exclusive area, a gated community with its own golf course, country club and it comes with the wives of her husband’s work colleagues, who demand her social inclusion in events and planning. Kit has moved, she’s still in the western suburbs but not this new version. She has little time for Libby’s new friends and the lives they lead and seems confused about Libby’s lack of focus and desire to find a job. One of the incidents I felt best demonstrated a divide in their personal lives was when Kit suggested they return to Paris for their 40th birthdays. Libby immediately says she needs to discuss it with her husband and think about the implications of leaving their son and Kit can’t believe this, derisively wondering why she needs to ask her husband’s permission. She doesn’t, but I was curious that was the conclusion she jumped to. If my husband made a snap decision to go overseas without consulting me to work out logistics (even if money wasn’t an issue at all) I would be really annoyed. Likewise I wouldn’t do the same to him. We discuss everything, even if it’s just me going to the football with a friend or him needing to go to a work dinner. Kit seems to see Libby’s husband as quite controlling or demanding from the outside looking in. Which to me, was interesting – is that what marriage looks like to people that aren’t and don’t really do relationships? Who don’t have to….not answer to someone else, but at least think about them and consult them or use them as a sounding board for decisions and opinions.

I think this was a really strong, believable look at the world of adult friendships – not only negotiating that entire world of them but also making them, keeping them and trying to hold onto those ones that have been important to us for years. The characters are sharply realistic – down to earth but also flawed. This book is mired in the day to day routines of busy people and the juggling that involves as well as the various domestic issues that come into play. And it’s also not a neat and tidy finish either….there’s no magic solution for the fact that these two people are very different to how they were as children, nor for the fact that some horrible things get said. Instead I would describe the ending as ‘cautiously optimistic’ and I feel as though that’s a really good choice, in keeping with the story that has been constructed. Life isn’t neat and tidy, it’s messy and full of awkward moments, broken connections and tough times. Lisa Ireland’s last two books have absolutely excelled at portraying that uncertainty and I’ve loved them both.

9/10

Book #86 of 2018

 

 

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Review: The Shape Of Us by Lisa Ireland

The Shape Of Us
Lisa Ireland
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Four different women. The same big problem. One magical solution?

Mezz is overweight and overworked: she’s convinced it’s only a matter of time until her husband starts to stray.

Jewels is fat and fabulous, but if she wants the baby she craves, the Tim Tams have to go.

Ellie’s life looks perfect to her London friends on facebook: she keeps her waistline out of the photos and her loneliness to herself. 

Kat will do anything to keep her daughter Ami happy and safe. If she can just lose that baby weight, she’s usre Ami’s dad will stick around. 

In this heartwarming, heartbreaking story, four women who meet online in a weight loss forum learn that losing weight might not be the key to happiness, but believing in the ones you love -and yourself- just might be. 

It’s hard to know where to start with this amazing book. I’ve read Lisa Ireland before, she’s an author of several rural romance novels but this is a step into the women’s fiction or “life lit” genre that has become one of my absolute faves to read. It’s the story of four women who have little in common other than joining a weigh loss initiative (called WON or Weight Off Now!) and coming together in the section on the forum for those who have 30+ kg to lose. After a condescending couple of posts from a WON-veteran who is at her “goal weight” after losing far less than any of the four women have to lose, they take their burgeoning friendship off the official forums to a private blog where they can talk freely.

The way in which these four women develop a friendship really spoke to me. I have been an internet addict since around 1998, when we first got dial up (oh the days) in my parent’s house. Over the years I have made so many great friends online – some of whom I’ve been friends with for over a decade and a half and we’ve still never met physically. Others I’ve met in person as well and catch up with or hang out with on a regular basis. I enjoyed the way several of the women didn’t really intend to “get personal” with the others but the blog becomes an outlet for them to spill out things from their personal lives which they perhaps cannot share with anyone else. Mezz has insecurities about her fit husband straying with one of the Lycra-clad “Pony-tails” at school drop off, Jewels has insecurity issues against her seemingly perfect sister, Ellie finds herself alone in a country not her own with a partner she may never be able to truly be a family with and Kat just wants to give her beautiful daughter the dream childhood she never had after the Bosnian war, with a home of her own. All of their lives kind of start to come apart in different ways even as the women are knitting together this strong, honest friendship which isn’t without its imperfections as they all try different things in order to lose those kilos.

I’ve read books tackling weight loss issues before and so many of them involve characters finding the “magic” combination that works for them but this book serves up some grim realities when it comes to the statistics for losing weight and keeping it off. I felt that each of them had reasons for wanting to lose weight that revolved around another person – Mezz wanted to feel as though her husband would find her attractive again, having no idea that it wasn’t her size that was keeping him distant from her, Jewels has been told to lose weight in order to get pregnant so it’s her desire for a child that fuels her but her love of baking makes it quite difficult for her to even get started, Kat wants to keep her boyfriend and Ellie likewise is determined to look better for her fit other half. What I enjoyed was the realism that sees them struggle, fail, backslide, try radical things etc. It felt genuine, including the usage of one of those fad shakes/cleanse things where you consume only a certain brand of liquids and it can only be bought through a consultant that feels almost like some sort of cult. What the underlying message is for these women is that they need to come to terms with themselves, the problems in their lives and ‘love the skin they’re in’ before they will ever be happy. Losing weight isn’t going to magically make the other problems they have go away. Mezz will still feel as though people look sideways at her and ask what her husband sees in her, Jewels will still feel as though her sister steals the spotlight….unless they have that self confidence to stand in their own spotlight.

I was forewarned about the darker turn the book takes in the final quarter or so as it’s a topic I often struggle with but I felt as though it was very well handled and really did help to not only cement the way in which the women had built this friendship but also explore the different ways in which they dealt with such a serious topic. It was really heartbreaking and it’s something that I think about a lot, it’s probably my greatest fear. I had a lot of admiration for the character it concerned – actually she was probably my favourite of the four although I loved them all to be honest.

This is a superbly written, very powerful book that I think will find a home on many people’s favourites shelf. I know it definitely has on mine. It’s the sort of book where I’m still thinking about the characters days later, mulling things over in my head and reflecting on different parts of the story. Definitely one that will stick with me.

9/10

Book #74 of 2017

The Shape Of Us is book #23 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Breaking The Drought – Lisa Ireland

Breaking The DroughtBreaking The Drought
Lisa Ireland
Harlequin Escape Publishing
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Melbourne magazine editor Jenna McLean is a city girl, no doubt about that. So when she gets roped into attending a matchmaking ball in a small country town by her best friend, it’s very reluctantly. Having just learned that her ex is engaged, Jenna could do with some distraction. However she knows she won’t meet the man of her dreams in the country. Jenna is not really cut out for farm life. And cowboys and farmers definitely don’t gain a good score on her Marriage Material scoresheet.

Luke Tanner is hosting Jenna and her best friend for the weekend and although he finds her attractive, he’s met city girls like her before and it never ends well. They can’t wait to get back to their apartments and lattes and aren’t interested in the land or the problems surrounding working it. Luke is helping out with the ball and willing to do whatever it takes to make it a success to help their dying local community. And also, he owes it to someone very close to him to make sure that everything goes smoothly from here on in.

But the attraction between Jenna and Luke becomes more powerful each time they are together. Despite the fact that Jenna can’t see herself trading in her city lifestyle for the farm and Luke has an obligation to his property, they can’t deny that they both feel it. But with bushfire season on the way and many other obstacles hindering their path, can two people living totally different lifestyles find a happily ever after?

Breaking The Drought is a fun novel that takes a city girl totally out of her comfort zone and places her in a small country farming town that is slowly dying for a multitude of reasons. Local woman Maggie Tanner has been instrumental in planning the matchmaking ball and trying to get women into the town to hopefully bring business and maybe even make a connection with one of the local men. Jenna is talked into attending by her friend Brooke, even though Jenna knows that none of the men she meets will be for her. She has a strict set of criteria that designates men husband material. Although to be honest, that didn’t work out so well with her previous boyfriend, who scored excellently on her Marriage Material sheet but turned out to be a prize jerk.

I really enjoyed the chemistry between Luke and Jenna which is almost immediate although it is complicated by an amusing misconception that Jenna makes – kind of an understandable one. I do enjoy the whole opposites attract thing even though deep down, this novel isn’t quite about that as it appears at first glance. Jenna is a very stereotypical city girl though, I find – all about Jimmy Choos and an inner-city lifestyle and she does display a pretty high degree of ignorance about country life. Given so much of Australia is rural, I did find this a bit unusual. I found Jenna’s best friend much more down to earth and aware. Her enthusiasm for the weekend in the country was really fun and she embraced it obviously in the way in which it was intended. I liked Brooke, at times she was a much more palatable character than Jenna who started off the novel whining about basically everything in the country town. However thankfully Jenna at some stage, did sort of “suck it up” and begin to appreciate what was around her and she really did dig in and help when a dangerous situation occurred.

I do have to say that there is quite a lot of drama packed into this book – there are several life threatening situations and nothing is straightforward at all. It did get a bit much as the second half of the book does feel quite crammed full with so many things happening and it’s almost like a race to the finish line after a much more sedate first half. There’s only so much drama and unexpected events I can take in so much time! But I did like the way that Jenna pulled herself together and really did kind of stand up and be counted when the time came. I think it served to show her the uncertainty of living in the bush, the sort of thing that these people can face everyday, threats which you don’t really have to worry about living in the inner-city. I liked Jenna’s evolution as a character and the way in which she came to realise what was important – without that arc of growth I’m not sure she would’ve been deserving of Luke. I really liked his character, he was very protective and caring and he had sacrificed much in order to right a wrong that he felt he had committed. He had to come to terms with his past and let it go in order to be able to embrace his future.

7/10

Book #131 of 2014

AWWW2014

Breaking The Drought is book #49 of the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge

 

 

 

 

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