All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Trouble Is My Business by Lisa Walker

Trouble Is My Business (An Olivia Grace Mystery #2)
Lisa Walker
Wakefield Press
2021, 258p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Olivia Grace, recently retired teen PI, has her priorities sorted. Pass first-year law, look after her little sister, and persuade her parents to come back from a Nepali monastery to resume … well, parenting. But after Olivia’s friend Abbey goes missing in Byron Bay, she can’t sit back and study Torts. It’s time to go undercover as hippie-chick Nansea, in hippie-chic Byron Bay: hub of influencers and international tourism, and home of yoga, surfing and wellness culture, against a breathtaking backdrop, a short drive from Olivia’s Gold Coast home.

Olivia’s looking for answers, with the help of her stash of disguises, the PI skills her irresistible ex-boss Rosco taught her … and a nose for trouble. Her suspects include a hard-core surfer who often argued with Abbey in the surf, a charismatic cult leader and an acrobatic botany student. And then there’s Rosco, officially assigned to the case, and proving impossible to avoid.

I enjoyed the first book in this series so I was quite happy to see that there would be another book featuring Gold Coast teen PI wanna be Olivia Grace. When this book kicks off, Olivia was expecting her parents to come home so she could relinquish a lot of the care of her younger sister Jacq and talk to them about her reluctance to start law and move into PI. That hasn’t happened though so Olivia has left her PI job and started her law degree but it’s all a bit overwhelming, especially taking care of her younger sister. When she hears that her friend is missing, she can’t help but get involved, assuming an alter ego and heading to Byron Bay to investigate what Abbey was up to. She can’t see Abbey, who has disappeared during a night surf, doing this deliberately – there’s definitely some foul play somewhere.

Olivia is stretched pretty thin in this book – she’s undertaking a lot of the general care for Jacq, her younger sister as her Nan, who is sort of supposed to be in charge, is enjoying a resurgence in her love life and social life. Olivia is also studying law at university, which she’s not particularly enamoured with, nor does she feel she really fits in there. She’s behind in the readings already and she’s even further distracted by the disappearance of Abbey, her old school friend. They had a falling out the last time they caught up and now Olivia is desperate to find out what happened to her. She doesn’t believe that Abbey would’ve ever done this deliberately and she’s wracked with guilt too, over their last interaction. She’s also struggling with the disappearance of Rosco from her life – after she told him she would have to leave the PI business, he hasn’t responded to her, which has left her confused and hurt and mourning the loss of him.

Byron Bay is a bit of an enigma I think, to those that might have never visited. It’s a very different kind of town. I grew up a few hours south of there, in a town that is pretty similar (although bigger) but one that has not experienced the sort of metamorphosis that Byron has as money from the capital cities moved in and evolved it into a place that’s almost as expensive to buy in as Sydney. It attracts a lot of alternative types as well as laid back surfers and lots of tourists and Olivia runs the gauntlet of pretty much all of these as she pokes around looking for Abbey, who was living there, studying journalism and getting involved and environmental activism. In order to fit in around Byron (and perhaps give herself a shot of confidence) Olivia adapts an alter ego to do her questioning and she hears this alter ego’s voice constantly, encouraging her to keep going even when it seems like she’s not getting anywhere in finding out what happened to Abbey. Olivia is pretty good at stumbling into things, she noses out a lot of relevant information – she has a ‘knack’ for this sort of work.

I really enjoyed the interactions between Olivia and Rosco in this book – in the beginning he’s basically absent but they have this weird way of communicating which is quite funny and then he has a habit of popping up quite often. There’s a lot of confusion about their status and I enjoyed the way everything played out. Olivia got to experiment a bit with who and what she wants and the confusion of their lack of contact is cleared up in a satisfying way.

It’s funny but as I grow older, I often end up identifying with the parents sometimes, in YA novels. I’m obviously not the target market for YA anymore, although I do still really enjoy reading it as there wasn’t a lot of variation in YA when I was that age. However in this novel – firmly in Olivia’s camp. I felt it was quite unfair what her parents did and even though there were reasons, they left far too much on her shoulders. She’s only eighteen and if it had been just her, I think her parents’ choices might’ve been more understandable but Jacq is only seven and it’s neither their grandmother’s job (who has already raised her child/ren and is loving her current stage in life) nor Olivia’s job to devote so much time to raising Jacq, who at that age, really needs stability and her parents around. This is made even more clear when Jacq reveals her actions at the end of the book and you can see why she did it and how much she must be struggling with the current arrangement and how frightened she was.

I thought this was a great second instalment in what looks to be a really promising YA mystery series with a very believable protagonist.

8/10

Book #137 of 2021

Trouble Is My Business is book #57 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

Leave a comment »

Review: The Girl In The Gold Bikini by Lisa Walker

The Girl In The Gold Bikini 
Lisa Walker
Wakefield Press
2020, 254p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Whenever I see a girl with a gold bikini, I think of Princess Leia. Here on the Gold Coast, gold bikinis are common, so I think of Princess Leia a lot.”

Eighteen-year-old Olivia Grace has deferred her law degree and ducked out of her friends’ gap-year tour of Asia. Instead, she’s fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a private investigator, following in the footsteps of Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars – who taught her everything she knows, including a solid line in quick-quipping repartee, the importance of a handbag full of disguises, and a way of mixing business with inconvenient chemistry.

Playing Watson to the Sherlock of her childhood friend, detective agency owner Rosco (once the Han Solo to her Princess Leia), Olivia pursues a routine cheating husband case from the glitzy Gold Coast to Insta-perfect Byron Bay, where she faces yoga wars, dirty whale activism, and a guru who’s kind of a creep.

Olivia Grace is a teenage screwball heroine for the #metoo era, and The Girl with the Gold Bikini is a body-positive detective romp, rich with pop-culture pleasures.

The Girl In The Gold Bikini is a fun new contemporary Australian young adult release from Lisa Walker, split between Surfers Paradise on Queensland’s Gold Coast, and Byron Bay in northern NSW.

Olivia Grace has just finished school and although she has an offer from a university waiting for her, she has avoided a gap year in Asia and instead has taken a job as an assistant in a private detective agency. It’s the opportunity to live those childhood dreams out – Olivia is an avid Nancy Drew fan and she wants to be in the thick of investigations, rather than completing background checks and doing paperwork. She’s working for Rosco, a childhood friend that she used to play with…..but as they got older they drifted apart. Now, back together, it’s a bit of a different vibe now that they’re adults, which Olivia occasionally finds a bit confusing.

A big new case gives Olivia to try her hand at some new things – speed dating in disguise, yoga, stakeouts and more. But it also involves returning to Byron Bay, a place that for Olivia, has been the source of bad memories for several years. She’s never told anyone except her best friend why but this case gives her a chance to confront those past demons and make some new memories in Byron Bay.

This was a huge amount of fun to read! I love reading Aussie YA (well all sorts of YA but Aussie in particular) that revolves around that period of life between school and what comes next – university, if that’s your choice hasn’t started yet, future plans are not concrete. Olivia has taken a job working at a detective agency, which sounds amazingly glamorous and interesting but often involves periods of not much happening. Olivia’s life get a lot more interesting however, investigating a yoga guru and a sushi chain as well as a surfing prodigy who has vanished. I enjoyed both of the main settings – Olivia lives and works on the Gold Coast, the detective office being in Surfers Paradise, the kind of tourist hub of the Goldy. It’s full of shops selling cheesy souvenirs to appeal to tourists and the famous ‘meter maids’ in their tiny gold bikinis are ever present. And then there’s Byron Bay, a hippy haven and now the playground of the wealthy. I grew up a few hours south of Byron Bay, in a town with a similar vibe (less alternative, but that same laid back beach life) and I’ve also been there recently and seen how it’s changed as well, as it’s become more popular and those with more money have moved in for the peace and tranquility. For Olivia, it’s also the source of a terrifying event which continues to haunt her.

I think a lot of people will relate to Olivia and her experiences – the limbo between school and what comes after, not knowing how to feel about the university offer and whether that’s really what she wants to do with her life. And also her experience in Byron as a 15 year old and how she dealt with it. I think a lot of people will have similar stories unfortunately and will have dealt with it the same way. I enjoyed her relationship with both her youthful Nan, who enjoys a colourful outfit and wants Olivia to get out a bit more and live a little, and also her relationship with her much younger sister. Olivia ends up having quite a lot on in this book, she’s forever back and forth to Byron Bay, she’s going speed dating, she’s ending up at theme parks, she’s drawn into activist groups, she’s taking her younger sister to her sporting commitments, she’s pushing herself out of her comfort zone, trying new things etc. The case itself (or several cases, they kind of become intertwined after a while) are deceptive – they don’t look like much at first but the deeper Olivia gets into it, the more twisted and interesting it becomes. There’s also a dash of romance, which I was quite into as well! And there are times when Olivia has a vulnerability, a bit of childishness to her that still makes you remember that she’s only just finished school and although she’s legally an adult, she’s still growing and maturing and working her way through life and her feelings. It made her very relatable.

I always enjoy Lisa Walker’s books and this one is no exception.

8/10

Book #15 of 2020

The Girl In The Gold Bikini is book #5 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

2 Comments »

Review: Paris Syndrome by Lisa Walker

Paris Syndrome 
Lisa Walker
Harper Collins AUS
2018, 310p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Can romance only be found in Paris, the city of love?

Happiness (Happy) Glass has been a loner since moving to Brisbane and yet still dreams about living in Paris with her best friend Rosie after they finish Year Twelve. But Rosie hasn’t been terribly reliable lately.

When Happy wins a French essay competition, her social life starts looking up. She meets the eccentric Professor Tanaka and her girl-gardener Alex who recruit Happy in their fight against Paris Syndrome – an ailment that afflicts some visitors to Paris. Their quest for a cure gives Happy an excellent excuse to pursue a good-looking French tourism intern also called Alex. To save confusion she names the boy Alex One and the girl Alex Two.

As Happy pursues her love of all things French, Alex Two introduces Happy to her xylophone-playing chickens whose languishing Facebook page Happy sponsors.

But then sex messes things up when, confusingly, Happy ends up kissing both of the Alex’s. Soon neither of them is speaking to her and she has gone from two Alex’s to none …

I had honestly never heard of Paris Syndrome until I read this book. And when I first started it, I didn’t actually know it was a real thing until I finished the book and did a little bit of research online. But apparently it’s a thing – a feeling of let down or shock that Paris in reality is not the romanticised city of their thoughts. It’s classed as a mental disorder.

Happiness (aka Happy) Glass dreams about going to Paris. She and her best friend Rosie have always planned to go. Happy recently moved from Sydney to Brisbane with her mother and she’s feeling a bit lonely and isolated over the summer holidays before school starts. It’s a bit hard to immerse yourself in all things Paris in Brisbane, but Happy gives it her best shot, winning a French essay competition, dressing in her Amelie outfits and getting a job at a cinema playing French films. Winning the essay introduces the two Alexes into Happy’s life and also a Japanese professor who identifies Happy as having a significant risk of Paris Syndrome.

I have to admit, the Paris thing passes me by. I’m not particularly enamoured by it, I don’t seek it out, even in books. But that’s mostly because unlike most people, I don’t really have a strong desire to travel (which is good, because I’m unlikely to ever really get the chance to do extensive overseas travel). There are no real cities I feel a connection with, no places that I long to visit. But I do know that Paris has that certain something for many people and it’s certainly up there as a top destination. And I know people that have been to France and Paris in particular and had mixed reviews of the city. Paris is certainly a very romanticised location, in literature and film. It seems that everyone there is effortlessly cool, wearing haute couture to go pick up their croissants and macarons, wandering along with the Eiffel Tower in the background at night. But nothing can be like that all of the time, so I can understand that the reality might be quite different. And that it might be a let down to people who have really strong feelings about the Paris lifestyle.

This is a really sweet coming of age novel but with several quite serious undertones. Happy is a strong and likeable character, but she does seem at a bit of a loss, struggling up in Brisbane, removed from her best friend Rosie. There are also some family issues that weigh upon her as well. It’s quite fun watching her interacting with the two Alexes, both the male French one who finds her intriguing and also the female gardener Alex who raises chickens and has a far more interesting backstory then was apparent at their first meeting. Also her relationship with her boss Kevin and its evolution over the course of the book is a highlight, it is really enjoyable. The deeper I got into the story the more I realised just how much Happy was going through. Seventeen is such a strange age – not quite an adult but in that place where you’re starting to make decisions about your future, about what you want to do as you move into adulthood. Happy has had several very big things happen to her in quite a short amount of time and it takes a while for all of these things to be revealed which makes the impact felt all the more. Lisa Walker examines not only that cusp of adulthood, but how someone at that stage processes grief and deals with devastating events as well as issues of sexuality. Happy ends up kissing both Alexes and then has to decide what she really wants and how to go about getting it.

I really enjoyed this book – I found the Paris Syndrome stuff quite interesting but I enjoyed the friendships and relationships so much. Happy is just such a lovely character that you want the best for her, that she sort through these things in her head and find the things that make her truly ‘happy’. This has a lot to offer – for lovers of Paris and even those that aren’t beholden to the City of Light. The strength of the character relationships and interactions and the deft way in which Lisa Walker balances the different issues make this the sort of read that will leave a mark.

8/10

Book #87 of 2018

 

1 Comment »

Review: Melt by Lisa Walker

Melt 
Lisa Walker
Lacuna
2018, 278p
Copy courtesy of the author/publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Antarctica is getting hotter …

Summer Wright, hippie turned TV production assistant, organises her life down to the minute. And when her project-management-guru boyfriend, Adrian, proposes marriage — right on schedule — she will reach the peak of The Cone of Certainty.

At least, that’s the plan – until adventure-show queen Cougar Gale intervenes. Suddenly Summer is impersonating Cougar in Antarctica: learning glaciology and climate science on the fly, building a secret igloo, improvising scripts based on Dynasty, and above all trying not to be revealed as an impostor.

I cannot resist a book about Antarctica. It’s an area that fascinates me and I love reading books set there (not a huge amount in fiction, giving the limited population living on Antarctica at any given time) or watching documentaries about it. Also penguins are my favourite animal and look how adorable this cover is!

Summer Wright is a production assistant for a TV company and since meeting her boyfriend Adrian, has desperately tried to be the sort of girl that she thinks he wants her to be. She tries to be relentlessly organised but it almost never seems to work out. The TV company she works for are gearing up to produce a series of an outdoor adventure show in Antarctica when the host Cougar Gale has a fall and breaks her ankle. Apparently with a hair colour, some make up and if you squint a bit, Summer can pass as Cougar Gale…so the idea is to send her in Cougar’s place to host so that they don’t lose their slot filming. The only problem? Summer doesn’t know anything about Antarctica and her love of TV soap operas has her going hopelessly off script.

I absolutely loved this. It was so funny and cute. I see quite a bit of myself in Summer, although I wasn’t raised in the same sort of hippy, free-range style that she was, I’m the sort of person who tries to be organised but then messes up my whole planned out day because thirty minutes more sleep was way more appealing that getting up and doing some exercise. It really seems that Summer is trying to push herself to be this super organised, dedicated person mostly to please her boyfriend Adrian, a project manager who spouts a lot of jargon. Summer thinks Adrian might propose, thereby cementing her new life but instead he breaks up with her, leaving Summer reeling and then on her way to Antarctica before she can blink.

Summer is supposed to be pretending to be Cougar Gale, who kind of sounds like a female type of Bear Grylls maybe without eating bugs, but Cougar is also a glaciologist and Summer barely knows what a glacier is. So there are quite a few really funny scenes where Summer has to pretend she knows what she’s talking about or deflect before anyone can suspect. Cougar is also apparently a bit of a diva who takes no prisoners so Summer has to basically act like a huge bitch and demand all sorts of things. Every time she slips out of character, her cameraman has to remind her that she’s not down here as herself, but as someone else, even though Summer is hugely uncomfortable with putting people offside. Summer also has her own ways about how she wants this TV series to go and she wants to put her own spin on it. Complicating matters in several ways for Summer is climate scientist Lucas Nilsson, who is responsible for the crew during the time that they’re in Antarctica. It’s pretty obvious Lucas knows his stuff and Summer isn’t sure she’s fooling him at all. And then there’s noted climate change skeptic, Federal Minister for Science, Nathan Hornby and his ‘manager’ – who just so happens to be Adrian, Summer’s now ex-boyfriend. They’ve hopped on the Antarctica flight so that the Minister can really “get a feel” for what’s happening down there and how it might affect Australia’s agreement treaty to protect Antarctica. Summer is being pulled in an awful lot of directions at once and underneath that is the struggle for who she really wants to be. Summer has a dream inside of her that she is passionate about but she is putting a lid on it, in favour of who it seems that other people think she should be. Going the safe route.

This book also addresses a lot about climate change, structured around the TV show that Summer is down there to film so it’s information and debate woven into the story in a humorous way and it really works. Not only are there significant changes in Antarctica but there’s also been much documented information coming from the Arctic as well and it’s something that reflects real life. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to support climate change, but people still seem fixed on the small things. Like how one unseasonably cool day in summer negates the entire ‘global warming’ argument. Our former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, is a noted climate skeptic.  As Lucas points out in this book, ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ are very different things.

For me, Melt is a fabulous little melting pot itself, of humour, science, topical debate, an amazing location, the idea of being true to yourself and finding out what you really want, and of course a little pinch of romance. I wish I could find more books just like this one!

9/10

Book #64 of 2018

Leave a comment »

Blog Tour Review: Arkie’s Pilgrimage To The Next Big Thing by Lisa Walker

Arkie's Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing - cover imageArkie’s Pilgrimage To The Next Big Thing
Lisa Walker
Random House AUS
2015, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

It’s been a year since Arkie Douglas’s husband left her and her business crumbled. She fled Sydney for Byron Bay and now she’s waiting for the train to go through with the intention of throwing herself under it. For a while she’s alone but then a young Japanese girl named Haruko turns up. After some time there together, they discover that the trains stopped going through Byron Bay well over ten years ago. By then Arkie no longer wants to throw herself beneath one and she hires Haruko almost immediately. Arkie used to be a trendspotter and forecaster and she seems something very special in Haruko. Having lost her mojo, maybe Haruko is the way in which she can get it back.

Listening to Haruko talk about pilgrimages in Japan to visit the temples gives Arkie and idea. She doesn’t have the money to go to Japan but instead she’s going to do her very own Australian pilgrimage and what’s more Australian than visiting all of the Big Things? Australians have long had a fascination for building Big Things – they’re everywhere. The Big Pineapple. The Big Banana. Everyone knows those. But there are so many more and Arkie is going to visit them all. With Haruko as her guide, she’s sure she can find her way back to the path of enlightenment.

Arkie’s small budget isn’t the only thing complicating her pilgrimage. She’s being chased by a lawyer determined to serve her with the divorce papers that Arkie doesn’t want to accept. That makes her think of her husband Adam and how it all came to fall apart. If Arkie can get her mojo back then maybe she might be able to get that other area of her life back on track too.

I’ve read both of Lisa Walker’s previous books and really enjoyed them so I was excited to read this, her third novel especially when I read about the premise. Arkie is always looking for the ‘next big thing’ and that combined with the idea of the Japanese pilgrimage was awesome. I love the Big Things – who doesn’t?! For me they’re such a quintessential part of the Australian holiday experience and what better to be the ‘next big thing’ than actual Big Things. I’ve seen a few in my life – I grew up a couple hours south of the Big Banana which is one of the more famous ones and I’ve also seen the Big Oyster, Big Prawn, the now closed Big Bull and my family holidayed in Queensland a fair bit which ticked off the Big Pineapple. It was just last year that I stopped for fuel at the Big Merino at 3am in Goulbourn but it was still proudly visible. The idea of visiting some 88 Big Things sounded like so much fun! I wanted to learn more about the Big Things I didn’t know that much about and I love road trip books a lot.

I had sympathy for Arkie in the beginning even though I thought she might not be very bright – I knew the trains had stopped in Byron Bay long ago and they’re unlikely at this stage to ever resume. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt as I grew up on the North Coast line but anyone who’d been there more than probably a day would be able to to recognise the station wasn’t in use. Two people turning up to catch a train that hadn’t stopped in ten years seemed a bit far fetched. My sympathy for Arkie also quickly waned when I learned the true reason for her marriage breakdown. I find that a really difficult topic to read about and I also find it really difficult to feel sorry for people who indulge in it and then wonder how it all came crashing down. It’s obvious how it all came crashing down and Arkie was too selfish and self-absorbed to really focus on the person that she had wronged and hurt. She was instead caught up in her own little world. Despite her mistakes I did end up liking Arkie and her journey sounded like such fun. I wanted her to start to sort her life out, to get back to doing what she did best and forget about the reason for her marriage ending. It seemed it was too much on her mind, even though it had already been over a year. The story with the lawyer chasing Arkie was hilarious, she does incredible things to avoid being served with the papers and that part of the story really did keep me giggling.

I also enjoyed the Big Things that Arkie and Haruko went to visit (well mostly Arkie). There weren’t as many as I thought there’d be but it would be difficult to include a lot in a book without the reader probably getting bored of the them. There were quite a few I didn’t know anything about and some it seems are unfortunately not as well maintained as they used to be or have been pulled down completely. I actually didn’t know until the time came to write this review that the Big Bull at Wauchope, which was the closest Big Thing to where I grew up, was pulled down almost eight years ago (you can find a list of all of Australia’s Big Things here). However, I found Haruko’s storyline also a bit far fetched – actually I think I found the entire character of Haruko a bit hard to really identify with. That overly quirky, fashion forward, trend-setting Japanese girl with the slightly broken English didn’t really gel with me. She’s in a foreign country alone and she immediately also starts travelling with Arkie after knowing her about a day. I found both of their behaviour unusual at times. At some stages Haruko seemed way to good to be true and half the book I was expecting her to turn out some sort of figment of Arkie’s imagination or something. In terms of a real flesh and blood character, there wasn’t much to her and I didn’t feel as though the end of the book really gave much depth to her or her story, instead it made me sort of incredulous in a ‘is this really happening’ sort of way.

For me the strength in this story is Arkie and her pilgrimage to the ‘Big Things’. I enjoyed her slow unveiling of the story of how her life had come to be how it was and although I didn’t agree with her actions or feel pity for her because of the consequences, I did admire her blunt honesty and how up front she was about everything. It’s not often you read a book with a protagonist that has made such a colossal mistake as Arkie has. I think I’d have liked a bit more at the end, maybe seen the book go on just a fraction longer but I guess this way the reader gets to make up their mind which direction Arkie’s future goes in.

7/10

Book #27 of 2015

aww-badge-2015

Arkie’s Pilgrimage To The Next Big Thing is book #8 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

This review is part of a blog tour organised by Random House Australia. You can see the full schedule here

1 Comment »

Blog Tour: Author Guest Post – Lisa Walker

Today I am happy to welcome Australian author Lisa Walker to the blog.

Lisa Walker

Lisa is the author of Liar Bird and Sex, Lies & Bonsai and her third novel, Arkie’s Pilgrimage To The Next Big Thing has just been released from Random House Australia.

‘Magic In The Everyday’

by Lisa Walker

I come from a scientific background, so I’m basically a pragmatist. But on the other hand, I tend to think that there’s more going on in the world than meets the eye. I think every writer has moments when life imitates art in a way which raises hairs on the back of your neck. Coincidences multiply until you start to feel that the act of writing is almost magical.

I had a couple of funny experiences when writing ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage’. I wrote the scene at the Big Redback where Arkie and Haruko find a garden gnome that looks like one of the Seven Lucky Gods early on, before I’d been to any of the Big Things. Eventually I decided I’d better go to the Big Redback and check it out. And lo and behold when I got there I saw this gnome nestled among the bushes exactly as I had already described it in the story.

Another strange thing happened one day when I was struggling with the story and decided to go down to the beach for a swim. I threw down my towel and noticed an abandoned dog collar next to it. The rusty old tag on the collar read ‘mojo.’ Just like Arkie, I had found my mojo! The mojo dog tag immediately joined my little shrine of lucky objects next to my computer.

I don’t really think that there’s anything magical about these events, but it is so interesting the way that once you tune in to something you start to see it everywhere. I expect that’s because you’re so hyper-alert to your story you start to feel like you’re inside it.

I do enjoy this hyper-alert state that I get when I am writing because it makes every day an adventure. It’s like living inside a novel. At the moment I am writing a novel whose protagonist is totally obsessed with all things Parisian, especially the movie Amelie. The other day I went down to our local market and was delighted to find an accordion player there, playing what sounded like a French tune. I was even more delighted when a girl next to me, who would have been about the same age as my protagonist, exclaimed, ‘Oh, that’s the theme song from Amelie. That makes me so happy.’ Life imitates art! I bought a baguette and went home feeling revitalised for my story.

I suppose one of the things that characterises my writing is the idea that we don’t need to look elsewhere to find what we seek. As Haruku says in my book, ‘Everything you need, you already have.’

???????????????????????????????

Thank you Lisa for contributing to my blog! My review of Arkie’s Pilgrimage To The Next Big Thing will be up later today so make sure you check back!

Arkie's Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing - cover image

This post is part of the Arkie’s Pilgrimage blog tour, created by Random House Australia. Make sure you visit the other blogs on the tour – yesterday Marcia from Book Muster Down Under had another fabulous guest post and tomorrow Culture Street will have a post on Five Books of Influence. More information and the rest of the tour stops can be found blog tour page at Random House Australia here.

aww-badge-2015

 

1 Comment »

Sex, Lies & Bonsai – Lisa Walker + GIVEAWAY

Sex Lies & BonsaiSex, Lies & Bonsai
Lisa Walker
Harper Collins AU
2013, 374p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/author

Edie has had to deal with being a disappointment her whole life. The daughter of a famous Australian surfer, a world champion, Edie has never excelled out on the waves. Despite the fact that she hasn’t been in the ocean since she was 12, her father always tries to encourage her to grab a board and hit the surf. He’s sure that one day, she’ll get back out there. Edie isn’t.

Dumped via a text message, Edie has fled Sydney back to her father’s house in Darling Head in northern NSW to heal, taking only a small and wilting bonsai that seems to view her with some disdain. Her best friend and life coach Sally is convinced that she can help Edie overcome her crippling shyness and awkwardness by putting her in a series of situations that help her take initiative and force her to maintain contact with people. Edie has never had the ability to converse easily with strangers – as a string of humiliating situations prove. A poet, Edie finds herself harbouring a newfound talent for erotic writing, her unrequited lust for her boss at her boring day job of drawing crab larvae fueling her passionate offerings. When they suddenly ‘go viral’ around her small town, Edie is horrified. But the erotic writings are bringing forth a lot of surprises, and not all of them are bad. Sometimes what you’re looking for turns out to be much closer to home than you ever realised.

Sex, Lies & Bonsai is a charming second novel from Australian author Lisa Walker. I read Walker’s first novel, Liar Bird last year and enjoyed it hugely so when she contacted me and asked if I’d like to review this one, I jumped at the chance. A few Australia Post glitches later and finally a copy landed on my doorstep (two actually, see the bottom of this post for more on that) and I bumped it straight to the top of my reading pile. Walker lives on the north coast of NSW herself, only a small distance from where I myself grew up so I always feel that the settings in her books feel like home for me.  I started this one in the evening and ended up reading until I’d finished it at 1am. It’s a rare occurrence that I stay up reading that late these days.

It’s hard not to like Edie. She’s just been dumped and by a text message no less. She’s still grieving the loss of her boyfriend and she’s holed up in her family bedroom trying to avoid talking about surfing with her father and his girlfriend, who naturally, also surfs. It’s a small town and everyone knows who she is. People who newly meet her always ask for her father’s autograph, or assume that like him, she’s a surfing pro and ask who her sponsors are. Edie lacks the natural self-confidence of her best friend Sally and she spends most days at work drawing pictures of crab larvae and daydreaming about her older boss, who is very much married.

When her father’s girlfriend announces that her younger brother is coming to stay for a while, Edie feels a little resentment. Even though she herself is doing the same thing that he is coming here to do, she doesn’t really want him here. And that feeling only intensifies when she realises that he was the stranger she tried to have a conversation with on the beach that morning. But there’s more to Jay than meets the eye – he’s recovering from something too and Edie finds him understanding her crippling awkwardness in his own way, especially when it turns out that he knows exactly what it’s like to have a very well known father.

This book is a perfect blend of humour and tenderness. While Edie’s foray into erotica and her attempts to be brave had me chuckling and also cringing for her, there are some truly beautiful moments in this book. Edie has a lot of baggage that she’s dealing with – being in her father’s shadow, people always assuming things about her, feeling as though she is a disappointment to him. She’s also dealing with what happened to her mother and her own actions revolving around that, searching for someone that she hopes can give her the answers that she seeks. Although I’m not quite as shy as Edie, I lack the ability to make conversation with strangers too without sounding incredibly contrived and awkward and ending up embarrassed. I’ve also been dumped in the 1990’s version of a text message so I found that I related to her a lot. Sometimes I just wanted to tell Sally to leave her be, because that sort of interaction with strangers is a very difficult thing to learn if it doesn’t come naturally and Edie didn’t have a lot of trouble relating to Sally, or interacting with her boss, even if she was harbouring a little crush on him. And once she got to know Jay, she also was able to talk to him as well, and share things with him. Reading them becoming closer and getting to know each other felt very genuine. It wasn’t a smooth ride, for either of them and at times it’s cover-your-eyes embarrassing to read as they try and negotiate their new feelings. But it reads so real, rather than all smoldering good looks and sexually charged encounters that pepper books these days. And the ending pleased me – Edie didn’t change her plans because she’d come to an understanding. She still undertook something new and scary and I enjoyed seeing her doing that and come into her own a little bit.

Sex, Lies & Bonsai is a very enjoyable novel, refreshingly real and distinctly Australian in voice and setting with quirky characters that you’ll end up coming to care about. Makes me want to re-read Liar Bird now.

8/10

Book #36 of 2013

AWW2013

Sex, Lies & Bonsai is the 17th novel read & reviewed for AWW2013

And now, thanks to the very generous author, I have one copy of this one to give away to one of my Australian readers. Because Australia Post oddly decided to hoard the first copy at their local depot for a whopping 2.5 months without telling me, the author graciously sent me a second copy. And when I went to collect that one, I also was given the first copy as well, that had been lost in limbo. Simply fill in the form to enter.

5 Comments »

Liar Bird – Lisa Walker

Liar Bird
Lisa Walker
Harper Collins AU
2012, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Cassandra was the hottest thing in PR in Sydney. It had bought her a beautiful apartment in Manly overlooking the water, a Ferrari and a reputation as being the best. She had a handsome if slightly boring male hairdresser boyfriend and the hottest wardrobe and appointment book in town. Everyone wanted to book her to manage their events.

And then it all came crashing down. A scandal involving a potoroo means that Cassandra’s name and reputation are mud. Her boss is forced to let her go to distance himself from the scandal and she’s humiliatingly advised to stay away from any public events. Cassandra knows that she just needs to lay low for a while, maybe 6-12 months and then she’ll be back. There’ll be another scandal, people have short memories and she can come back and resume her glittering career.

She interviews for a job as a PR for the tiny town of Beechville in far northern NSW close to the border. Barely more than a dot on the map, Cassandra shudders at the thought of living there but she knows that they probably don’t read the newspaper that brought her down so therefore they don’t know of her disgrace. Surely enough they can’t wait to offer her the job and Cassandra trades her apartment for a tiny cabin in the rainforest with a frog in the toilet and cockroaches that run across the floor.

Cassandra has always been able to get what she wants, especially with men. There’s no one she can’t bring around to her way of thinking with a smile, a flick of her hair and a twitch of her hips. So when the local ranger Mac shows no signs of falling for her charms, Cassandra is both piqued and intrigued. The more he makes out he actively dislikes her, the more determined she is to make him like her. She senses he’s attracted to her but he’s steadfast in his refusal to warm to her, making life difficult for her in the small town and waging what Cassandra sees as a small one-man campaign to get her to leave.

But Cassandra’s from Sydney and she’s made of sterner stuff than that! There might be different challenges here in this small town but she’s not the type to let anyone get the better of her. Until she starts to wonder just what is going on in this town and what people, especially the taciturn Mac, might be hiding from her.

Liar Bird is the first novel from Australian author Lisa Walker and I have to say, I quite enjoyed it. We’re introduced to the not-very-likable Cassandra in her preferred environment, which is being a PR genius in the city of Sin, Sydney, admiring her lovely northern beaches apartment and her pretty-but-not-very-substantial boyfriend. Cassandra isn’t at all a sympathetic character at first and it’s almost kind of satisfying to see her brought down for lying, the scandal forcing her to reassess her priorities. She needs to lay low for a while, so she picks a tiny dot town on the map of far northern NSW to hide out in until the terrible scandal dies down. She dislikes everything about it at first – it consists of a pub, information office, supermarket and little else and her home is a supplied cabin that comes with an assortment of wildlife flatmates, none of which Cassandra has much love for.

Despite the Manly polish, Cassandra (Cassie) is really just a girl from Blacktown, in the Western Suburbs of Sydney and I love how this novel slowly strips away the facade she has established, the persona she has developed. She starts to care for other people and for the town of Beechville itself and especially for Mac, the rather standoffish ranger who first draws Cassandra’s attention with his lack of regard for her. I really liked their interactions, Cassandra trying to get his attention and him desperately trying to avoid her knowing that he was aware of her. Mac knows that she’s not the sort of girl he should be attracted to but it’s a losing battle he’s fighting.

The other thing I really enjoyed about this book was the frog in the toilet situation. When I was at my first university in Western Sydney, in our second year we had to be moved out of our dorms due to an OH&S issue and placed in some of the houses around campus that were generally for international/guest lecturers. Myself and three other students were placed in this huge gothic-style house on the second floor, which was really only four bedrooms, a sunroom and a bathroom. We shared a kitchen with the downstairs residents, a lecturing couple from America. In our upstairs bathroom we would frequently lift the lid and find a tiny frog swimming around in there. Usually he’d disappear at the lift of the lid but occasionally he didn’t seem bothered and we’d have to scare him back down as it’s not nice to pee on frogs! He stayed there for the entire length of our stay (about ten weeks) and we gave him a name and treated him like a house member. Cassandra’s situation with the frog in the toilet of her cabin reminded me a lot of the time I spent in that house!

I felt the characterisation was well done here – I grew up in an area not too far from where Beechville is supposed to be and am familiar with a lot of the small towns in the area and the people within them. The “countryfication” was well done without the locals seeming like hick stereotypes and having also lived in Sydney, I’ve met a few people like Cassandra as well! I admired the way Cassandra became a character I really felt for by the end – I was nearly crying for her when she discovers a deception towards the end of the book! I always enjoy a writer who can make me feel a myriad of emotions for a character and Lisa Walker certainly achieved that in this book.

7/10

Book #11 of 2012

Liar Bird is the third novel read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. It’s set in Manly, Sydney briefly and then in a remote part of NSW right up near the border with QLD. The setting is crucial to the story and actually helps really enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the book. The descriptions of the small town are fantastic, the restricted facilities, Cassandra’s run-down cabin and wildlife friends, the rainforest surrounds all help paint a picture. The two settings also seem to reflect Cassandra’s image or personality changes – in Manly certain things are very important to her, she projects a certain image and she rates material possessions, such as her apartment and her car, highly. As she settles in to Beechville and becomes a part of the town, she cares less about material things and a perfect, well groomed look.

11 Comments »