Tag Archives: australian authors

Book Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

 

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It’s an ordinary day for Lucy. The kids are arguing over a television program, her husband Ollie is cooking burgers on the barbecue, and the house is a mess. When police knock on the door, Lucy knows what it will be about.

“I close my eyes because I already know what she is going to say. My mother-in-law, (Diana) is dead.”

A suicide note is found next to Diana but things don’t add up. She was an upstanding member of the community with high standards. She also happens to be very wealthy and questions begin piling up. When Ollie and his sister, Nettie both desperate for money, find out that the will was changed only weeks earlier, things really begin to get interesting.

The story is told mostly from two points of view, Lucy and Diana. We get inside the heads of both women, feeling their pain as their secrets unfold. When Lucy met Diana, she hoped for a  mother figure to replace her own long dead mother but is disappointed by her mother-in-law’s coldness.

I liked the intricacies of the relationships between every member of the family and secrets are revealed nicely so that the reader understands why they behave the way they do. Diana’s harsh upbringing and the way she treats her children makes sense when you find out what happened to her as a teenager. Her husband Tom is a saint keeping the peace between his children and his wife.

It’s an intricate story weaving back and forth between the main characters. In fact, each character is well drawn and the changing relationship particularly between Lucy and Diana is very well done.

This is another great book by a Melbourne author who also happens to be a New York Times best seller.  If you’re looking for something fantastic to read during the holiday season or a great gift, then grab this one.

Book Review: Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

I’ve been reading some amazing books lately and here is another.

Stone Girl is Eleni Hale’s debut novel set in Melbourne, Australia during the nineties. It opens with twelve-year-old Sophie at the police station with blood on her clothes holding a backpack full of her treasures. She’s been found in a flat with her dead mother and is clearly traumatised. With her father living in Greece and no other relatives, she becomes a ward of the state shunted from one place to another, living in despair without hope and learning the ways of the world from other children who’ve been removed from parents. When she meets Gwen, Matty, and Spiral, she finally feels she belongs.

To say this is an eye-opener is an understatement. Nothing is held back as the reader is taken on a ride with Sophie. We hope that someone will care enough about her and then despair when it doesn’t. We follow her journey through her teenage years which is dictated by a system that can’t give her what she needs, let alone what she and any other child in her situation deserve.

The fact that the author knows firsthand about what it’s like to be a ward of state gives this book more of a punch. Although it’s a work of fiction, it’s not make-believe. Children in the system aren’t vote-catchers so resources aren’t a priority. They’re akin to refugees within our own society and that’s horrific. That’s not to say that youth workers, social workers and the like aren’t doing their job, they are, but in stretched circumstances. Is it really acceptable to house half a dozen broken children in one place with an adult who is on shift, without time and energy to develop relationships with those in their care? Is it any wonder that most of these children end up on the streets, on drugs with a pathway to jail or even worse a short life span? Surely there is nothing worse than to lose your home and your loved ones. Yet this happens with children who are the most vulnerable, time and time again.

I felt so much for Sophie and was annoyed at the uselessness of the adults around her who let her down, time and again. To watch her spiral out of control was heartbreaking. The climax had me reading until the end and closing the last page left me thinking about every kid who ever needed a home, love and respect and those who aren’t lucky enough to get it.

This is classified as Young Adult and has begun winning awards. The writing is authentic and rich. The characters are like no-one you probably know if you live in a middle-class world. It’s a powerful book that needs to read by adults of all walks of life especially by those who make policy as well as those who allow children to slip from their grasp.

Read this one. It’s important.

https://www.penguin.com.au/books/stone-girl-9780143785613

Book Review: Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar

This is a masterful book delivering long after the end.

Kitty Hawke lives alone with her wolfdog on Wolfe Island somewhere in the American region of Chesapeake Bay. All other inhabitants have fled due to rising sea levels. Kitty is a sculptor whose work is driven by what she finds on the island, a place that has strong links to her mother and grandmother.

Estranged from her own family, Kitty is surprised one day by a visit from her granddaughter, teenage Cat, and refugee friends Luis and his seven-year-old sister Alejandra. Despite their intrusion, Kitty becomes involved in the plight of Luis and Alejandra who are both clearly traumatised. We don’t know the details of their lives before but with some snippets of information about their parents we get enough of an idea and it’s not pretty. The world beyond the island is bleak where people smugglers known as runners take on refugees like Luis and Alejandra who are fleeing persecution from their own country somewhere in the South.

We learn about Kitty’s past but she’s also forced to confront the ugly present day of a world where no-one can be trusted when she leaves the island to help Cat get Luis and Alejandra to the safety of the North during the winter. It’s a difficult journey for them all and Kitty carries the responsibility of their safety on her shoulders.

Treloar writes with confidence, her language beautiful and rich with colour. It reminded me a little of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Written in first-person narrative from Kitty’s point of view, we are with her the whole way feeling her desolation, her hope, her drive to do what it takes to get those kids to safety. It’s as much about the journey Kitty takes in her mind as it is on the road.

The seasons and the landscape are beautifully described and the tension builds slowly. A world with vigilantes who decide whether people look like they should belong or not is terrifyingly close to the bone in today’s world. There’s a lot to love and think about in this book. Every page is masterful and compels you not to put it down.

Book Review: The Fragments by Toni Jordan

The FragmentsPic courtesy of Goodreads

Oh, how I adored this book!

Inga Karlson a phenomenally successful novelist in the late 1930’s died in a New York fire which also destroys all evidence of her latest and highly anticipated book. An exhibition of her life in the form of photos and fragments of burned manuscript comes to Brisbane. While strolling through the exhibition Caddie Walker, a bookseller and Inga fan, crosses paths with an elderly woman named Rachel who recites;

“And in the end, all we have are the hours and the days, the minutes and the way we bear them, the seconds spent on this earth and the number of them that truly mattered.”

Caddie is astounded when she realises the fragment of a burned page that survived ended the above sentence at ‘we bear them.’

The fact that Rachel can recite the next line leads her to believe the lost book may actually have survived or that this woman has somehow read it or knows something.  So ensues a chase through history to investigate and discover what really happened to Inga and what was so important in her last book. For Caddie the possibilities of her own book and Ph.D. about Inga are in her grasp.

This literary whodunit story is beautifully written and evocative of 1980’s Brisbane and 1930’s New York. Told in a dual time-line narrative the characters of Rachel and Caddie evolve wonderfully and then come together in a very satisfactory end. Rachel’s love story was gentle and beautifully told contrasting nicely with Caddie’s own difficult love life. But it’s not a love story, it’s a mystery portraying the ends people will go to destroy another person’s life. In Inga’s case, it was her work and her life while in Caddie’s case it was academic theft of her work by her ex-lover Professor.

The politics of academia is explored as is the politics of pre-WW2 German activity in America. It’s a fascinating examination and the novel is well-paced with unsettling tension. If you are after a page-turner, then grab this one.

A Perfect Stone: Special Offer For 5 Days Only

 

How quickly a year passes. It’s the first anniversary since the launch of A Perfect Stone. So what’s happened in the last twelve months?

The cover received a Gold Star Award in the E-book Cover Design Awards for December 2018.

It was shortlisted for Book of the Month in July 2019 by Discovering Diamonds in England.

The reviews have been wonderful:

‘the author wastes not a word in evoking sympathy for those most vulnerable members of society,’ Helen

‘I loved the writing and the fastidious research and simply couldn’t put it down.‘ Meredith

‘This is a wonderful book. It is informative, wrenching and hopeful. A must-read.‘ Sara

‘ a vivid and engaging novel that brims with believable characters and a great deal of observational wisdom.’ Clare

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41543705-a-perfect-stone

 

We’d like to celebrate by heavily discounting the ebook for the next five days only from Amazon.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

 

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I was keen to read this Stella Prize-Winning memoir by debut author Vicki Laveau-Harvie. The opening sentences hooked me and I knew I’d be in for a roller-coaster ride with this one.

My mother is not in the bed. My sister takes her pen, which is always to hand… and, with the air of entitlement of a medical professional, writes MMA in large letters at the bottom of the chart.
MMA.
Mad as a meat-axe.

So what’s it about? The author and her sister are called to their mother’s bedside after she’s had a hip operation. The daughters have been estranged from their parents for years and their mother has an undiagnosed mental illness, The mother exudes charm and deception and her facade unravels the longer she is kept in care. The author with her sister visits their father and is shocked by the decline of his health and fears for his life if their mother is allowed to go home. The sisters engage in tactics to save their father and keep their mother in permanent care.

It might seem harsh on the surface but as we are led deep into the dynamics of the family, their upbringing and the delusional and unpredictable behaviour by the mother our sympathy grows. Grappling with the care of elderly parents is a hot topic as the number of elderly in care increases and the burden of deciding what’s best is placed on offspring who have little or no clue other than to be guided by the health professionals who have cost and resources for care as a driving force. We also trust that our parents are capable of looking after one another but in this case, the author’s father is being systematically starved and abused by their mother.

That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom. It’s quite humorous in parts with the sisters freeing their father from his isolation and their mother’s control. The author paints a dark atmosphere of a cold, windswept landscape that is Canada in the winter and her feelings of a home and place she once knew as a child is far removed from her life as an adult in Australia. She poses the questions we all face when dealing with an aged parent, the turmoil of decisions and the fretting for a past gone. She is also wearing the guilt of leaving her sister who lives in Canada to handle the bulk of the care.

We don’t, however, get a full understanding of what happened in their childhood and the cause of their estrangement and I would have liked to know more about the fractious relationship. But we can imagine from the little glimpses of the mother’s behaviour what it might have been like and the next paragraph sent a chill through me.

One of the few coherent messages my mother repeated to me and to my sister as we grew up, a message she sometimes delivered with deceptive gentleness and a touch of sadness that we weren’t more worthy prey, was this one, and I quote: I’ll get you and you won’t even know I’m doing it.

It’s heart-warming, wrenching and beautifully written with a lot packed into one hundred and seventy-seven pages. Give this one a go.

Book Review: Reunion by Andrea Goldsmith

This novel was first published in 2009 and I’d heard about this Melbourne author who has written several novels and decided to give her writing a go.

In Reunion, there are four main characters, Ava, Helen, Conrad, and Jack. They’re friends from university days and after more than twenty years in various parts of the world, have reunited in Melbourne and over the course of the novel, we learn about each of them and their relationship with each other.

Jack’s career has stalled but his deep unrequited love for Ava has never waned. Ava, a writer has married Harry whom the rest of her friends despise. Conrad is a successful academic who likes younger women and it’s not a surprise to learn that he has a couple of failed marriages behind him. Helen is a brilliant scientist and her research into molecular biology is being subverted for evil rather than good putting her in a difficult position.

I enjoyed the setting of my home town of Melbourne and the descriptions and could relate to the character’s university days. I found the backstory hijacked the current day too much with an information dump where the showing was minimal and the telling dominant. The characters were not terribly likable and I just couldn’t warm to them enough to care. It was a pedestrian read particularly the first three-quarters of the novel and when one of them becomes ill it stepped up a notch. However, the friendships seemed contrived and I couldn’t warm to them.

Unfortunately, this one was not for me.