Book Review: The Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

This book is a fascinating look at history spanning fifty years of Victor Dalmau’s life. He was a young doctor in the Spanish Civil War who fled to a concentration camp in France. Together with Roser his brother’s pregnant wife, they take a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda and sail to Chile where they settle.

Although fiction, it is written in a non-fictional style and is rich in true historical events surrounding the main characters of Victor and Roser. The horror of the Spanish Civil War is played out from Victor’s point of view from the brutal conditions of the war zone to the struggle for survival and escape. I knew little of this war and was fascinated to learn more.

‘Hundreds of thousands of terrified refugees were escaping to France, where a campaign of fear and hatred awaited them. Nobody wanted these foreigners – Reds, filthy, deserters, delinquents, as the French press labeled them… No-one imagined that within a few days there would be almost half a million Spaniards, in the last stages of confusion, terror and misery, clamouring for the border.”

The skill of Allende is that she is able to transport us through history, teaching and enlightening us about Spain, Chile and also Venezuela, putting us into the lives of the characters so that we know their fear, their pain and their anxiety. Yet despite the tragedies, there is love. And the love which grows between Victor and Roser is beautifully done.

Other characters such as the Del Solar family reflect the class divide between rich and poor in Chile, a legacy still felt today in this troubled country. Characters such as Ofelia Del Solar who tries to escape her domineering father, Victor’s friend Aitor who helps Roser, Victor’s mother Carme, Juana the nanny; each have their own stories weaved throughout the narrative of Victor and Roser’s life.

Some might be put off by the expositional style of writing but it didn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s easy to read, highly enlightening and sweeps you along. Give it a go.

Book Review: The Silent Listener by Lyn Yeowart

I turned the last page a few days ago and this book hasn’t left me alone to think about anything else other than the characters and the page turning story.

The first line “the moment he dies, the room explodes with life”, pulls you in and propels you through three time zones, 1940’s, 1960’s and 1983. Each chapter highlights which character it’s about and when, so it’s not difficult to follow.

The main character Joy returns after a long absence in 1983 to nurse her dying father, George, a highly respected and upstanding citizen of the rural community of Blackhunt. Alex Shepard, the local policeman, suspects foul play when George is found with a belt pulled tight around his neck and we’re left wondering if Joy has done it.

We’re then propelled back in time to George’s marriage to Joy’s mother Gwen, their whirlwind courtship, the run-down dairy farm she lives in and how she survives her new life.  It’s through eleven-year-old Joy’s eyes in December 1960 that we learn about her fixation with words, about her religious father and his abusive consequences on Joy and her siblings. In particular, Joy’s special relationship with her older sister Ruth is fascinating as it is revealing.

“Joy knew she should feel sorry for Ruth, but the truth was she felt a familiar white tremor of jealousy.”

Beyond that we get a strong sense of the community and the era particularly when nine-year-old friend, Wendy who lives on a neighbouring farm disappears and is never found which haunts the same investigating policeman, Alex Shepard twenty years later.

The novel is divided into four parts and the first half slowly but intricately unveils the many secrets of Joy’s family sucking the reader into a web of intrigue. A few twists and turns threw me into an unexpected direction culminating in an ending I had no idea was coming.

“His room smells like the orange blankets have licked up the dying odours from his body and are slowly releasing them into the air, and the semi-darkness reminds me of the day I hid in here and saw a snake on the bed, about to attack me.”

There are so many elements to this story and to say too much would be to give away spoilers however, it should be noted that there is a strong theme of domestic violence and child abuse. And although not explicit, it is nerve-wracking and somewhat harrowing. Nevertheless, Ms. Yeowart holds nothing back, taking us on a journey where nothing is as it might seem, where neighbours turn a blind eye and where families hide what really goes on behind closed doors.

It’s disturbing and tense, gripping and complex yet beautifully crafted by debut novelist, Lyn Yeowart. Definitely worth checking out.

Book Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips.

The novel opens with two young sisters enticed into a car by a man from the beach on the Kamchatka Peninsula on the north eastern part of Russia.  That first chapter was incredibly difficult to read as I implored the girls over and over in my head, not to get into the car.

Subsequent chapters thereafter, take the reader into the lives of various characters who have each been affected in some way by the disappearance and have some small connection with each other. Like a series of short stories, the central characters are women of various ages, ethnicity, wealth and background. They each have their own struggles, hope and dreams.

Each chapter moves along in the subsequent month since the disappearance through a harsh winter to emerge at the end a year later with no leads by the police. It’s very cleverly structured so that the reader immerses themselves in each character’s story revealing the cultural divide between white and native Russians, the Kamchatka Peninsula and its isolation from mainland Russia. More fascinating was the glimpse of the new Russia compared to the old and the yearning from some of the older generations for a time where there was no crime and children didn’t disappear. And where attitudes can still be provincial filled with conservatism, racism and misogyny.

The unwed mother fleeing from her boyfriend only to live with her disapproving parents. The twice widowed woman left in a state of grief, and the new mother suffocating at home. The college student with a controlling boyfriend, the young girl who is rejected by her best friend, the mother of another missing girl who disappearance was never taken seriously.

And then there’s the young woman who tells her friend that she’s broken up with her girlfriend. She didn’t understand what happened these days to girls as innocent as she and Lada had been. They were destroyed for it. Any girl would be. The Golosovskaysa sisters, who, walking alone made themselves vulnerable – that one mistake cost them their lives.

If you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to, if you let your guard down, they will come for you.

And the mother of the girls, Marina, “tallied the results of this last year; her girls abducted. Her home empty. Her simple job, chosen for the ease with which she could care for her family around it, now pointless, and her top desk drawer stocked with tranquilising tablets.

Disappearing Earth is structured like a puzzle where the reader works to tie the characters together, remembering where and how they fit in. Fortunately, there is a page outlining all the principal characters, although I forgot to refer to it until the end but it’s useful although not essential. What ties all the characters together is the disappearance of the world they live in.

And then there is the last two chapters which propel the reader, heart racing to a climactic ending. This is quite a remarkable book beautifully written and entirely atmospheric, cast in a backdrop of a thrilling mystery.

Book Review: The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy


The Last Migration is an incredibly moving novel.

The world’s animal species have plummeted dramatically and Franny, a young woman is intent on tracking the last of the Artic Terns from the Arctic to the Antarctica, possibly the last of the birds’ harrowing migration. Along the way, Franny convinces a gnarly fishing Captain with promises of fish if he takes her along to follow the bird. Fishing has all but died and fishermen will do anything to keep their livelihood going despite the fact that most of the sea has been fished out. The journey is tough and Franny’s own search for a missing mother and the unfolding story of her life is emotional and touching.

The journey of the Artic tern said to be the longest migration of any species in the world was made the more fascinating when I took a trip myself. Imagine my surprise when I visited a wildlife reserve on Phillip Island, an hour and half south of Melbourne and saw a sign telling me about the breeding grounds of Artic Terns. There were none there when I visited so I guess, they’re still on the homeward stretch although there were plenty of other birds. And somehow this book seemed extra special to me after seeing where their journey will end.



I’m not sure when I first started dreaming of the passage, or when it became as much a part of me as the instinct for breath. I haven’t cultivated it myself; it swallowed me whole. At first an impossible, foolish fantasy: the notion of securing a place on a fishing vessel and having its captain carry me as far south as he is able; the idea of following the migration of a bird, the longest natural migration of any living creature. But a will is a powerful thing, and mine has been called terrible.

And while the bird’s migration and the world which the author has foreseen is fascinating, the story of Franny, her mother, her loss, her husband and how she dealt with trauma was so incredibly well done. The water, the cold, the desolation was beautifully depicted. Each character, including each crew member of the boat was well drawn but Franny a complex character was the one who I was with the whole way.

I asked Niall once what he thought happened to us after we die, and he said nothing, only decomposition, only evaporation. I asked him what he thought it meant for our lives, for how we spend them, for what they mean. He said our lives mean nothing except as a cycle of regeneration, that we are incomprehensively brief sparks, just as the animals are, that we are no more important that they are, no more worthy of life than any living creature. That in our self-importance, in our search for meaning, we have forgotten how to share the planet that gave us life.

Themes of love, loss, survival and hope are compelling and bit by bit a moving yet gripping story slowly emerges to climax with an incredible ending.

Yes! This one I really, really loved. I think you might too.

Book Review: The Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey

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Cat Jordan inherits an apartment in Paris from someone she doesn’t know. She leaves New York to find out why. When she arrives and visits the apartment, she’s shocked to find it has been untouched since 1940. What happened to the owner, who is the person who left her the apartment? And so, the novel uncovers the mystery of what happened and why?

Complicating things is a handsome Frenchman, Loic who has a possible claim to the apartment and Cat’s controlling merchant banker fiancé, Christian who wants her to come home to New York for her engagement party. The inheritance forces Cat to review what she wants for herself rather than what others want for her.

This is an intriguing story and was inspired by the real-life story of a woman who fled her apartment as the Nazi’s marched into Paris. She never returned. It wasn’t until her death in 2010 that the untouched apartment was discovered.

What a wonderful premise for a story and I was very quickly hooked, impatient to find out why Cat had inherited the apartment and the owners history. I was drawn into the French countryside and the history of Paris in the 1930’s which was fascinating and well described.

However, there were times where the story slowed down, when Cat was distracted by Loic and his family or by a bit of sightseeing or her fiancé who was not particularly likeable. Cat was bewildered and Loic was – well he’s a Frenchman – what more can I say. The twists and turns in the story made me so impatient for answers I read this one very quickly.

It’s an easy read and despite my impatience, I was very satisfied with the end. Give this one a go for a light, holiday read.

Book Review: Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko



This is an incredible book written with confidence, opening up many confronting themes for the reader to think about and to be challenged by.

Kerry Salter is a mouthy woman living on the edge avoiding prison and her family. On her stolen Harley, she heads home because her Pa is dying and she figures all she needs is twenty-four hours and then she can leave. She soon finds that her family and sense of country aren’t easy to escape. Old wounds burst open and when a developer tries to take their river, she’s drawn into the fight.

The trauma of living as an indigenous woman is not sugar coated and the commentary of what the consequences of white settlement in Australia have been for indigenous families covers many things including racism, land rights, the stolen generation and corruption. The author puts us deep into Kerry’s family, the dynamics, the struggles and we see clearly what intergenerational trauma can do.

It might seem that it’s heavy handed but it’s not. The story is sad, and tragic while poking fun in a good-natured way and that’s the talent of the writing by Lucashenko. No wonder she’s won a raft of awards.

The scene around the imagined discussion by the crows is hilarious. And the animals in the story are their own characters. ‘The noise of the Harley didn’t worry Elvis one bit. A small cunning mutt of no discernible heritage, he raged at the bike from the top of the stairs, finding it a worthy adversary. When he recognised Kerry, Elvis leaped off the veranda and beat his half-a-tail wildly in greeting, all the while conspiring to get past her and piss on the bike’s front wheel.

The language is at times brutal, yet powerful as it can be in dialogue with her family. This is a very well written book where the language is evocative describing the landscape, the heat and the mood of a fictional Australian country town. There are words which will throw you but after a while you’ll get their meaning as you immerse yourself into the book.

The characters are well drawn and just their nicknames will make you smile, from Pretty Mary, Kerry’s mother, Black Superman, her younger brother, Dr No, one of her nephews. Yet there is also menace and an undercurrent from Kenny, her older brother ‘who had long held the monopoly on anger in the Salter family. Kerry didn’t give a rat’s. She couldn’t see Ken busting her up today.’ The family, immediate and extended become important to Kerry as the secrets of past and present unfold to give her new understanding of them and herself.

It’s a very clever story told with gusto giving us an insight and respect for our First Nation’s people. This one is a must read.

Book Review: The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

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A dystopian Australia affected by climate change, where everyone is microchipped for their own safety is the setting and is not as farfetched as you might think.

Mim, a geologist with two young children is advised by The Department that her engineer husband Ben who works at a mine on an Indonesian island has gone missing. Is he actually missing or is that he can’t be tracked? The Department controls everything and tells her to remain at her house asking her to surrender the family’s passports. She passively agrees at first until her own attempts to get hold of Ben by phone fail, she begins to question what’s happened. She’s insecure and vulnerable without Ben. With no answers and struggling to cope with her two young children, Mim heads off on a ten-hour drive to her mother’s house where she realises the growing danger. This then sets her on a perilous path to find Ben no matter the cost.

This is a gripping read. More than once I winced at what Mim was about to do wishing she wouldn’t but cheering her on nonetheless. The role as a mother was beautifully done with all the anxieties and insecurities attached. It’s a difficult choice to drag your kids out of their environment on what is anything other than a wild goose chase across a hostile environment of land and sea in a search for the man she loves and depends on. Yet with the threat that her children could be taken from her by The Department, the choice is obvious.

I wondered about her family. Her brother has the controlling interest in the family farm and his hostile reaction to Mim wasn’t clear as earlier family conflict is only a hint. What we do know is that Mim is reacting to the perceived threat, doesn’t have time to think through what she has to do, makes mistakes along the way and puts herself and her children in danger. Yet she faces it with a bravery she has barely time to consider in her single-minded pursuit to protect her children and get to Ben.

As the journey progresses, her love for Ben is thrown into question when she meets Nick, her first love and even more so when she discovers what Ben has actually done. I wasn’t entirely convinced about Nick’s motivations and her relationship with him – was it more than the money she offered?

The Motherfault is a satisfying and thrilling story well written. Is Ben a hero or not? Does Mim manage to protect her children and survive? You’ll have to read it and find out.