Tag Archives: australian authors

Book Review: The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

As with many of Sally Hepworth’s books this is a  page turning novel full of intrigue and suspicion.

The book opens at a wedding and while out the back during the signing, someone is injured. Then we meet Stephen Aston, a highly respected heart surgeon and his daughters, Tilly and Rachel. It seems a happy family but we soon realise that not all is quite right with Tilly, whose middle-class lifestyle is falling apart, when her husband loses the family fortune and she turns to shoplifting to cope. Her sister, Rachel is a baker-extraordinaire who hasn’t been with a man since she was sixteen.

Sound interesting? Well then, there’s more when we meet Stephen’s new young fiancé, Heather, an interior designer whom he met while she was designing Stephen’s house for him and his wife.  How’s that for a bit of drama as the reader is taken on a guessing game of intrigue. What happened to the wife?

The story flicks in and out of Tilly, Rachel and Heather’s point of view and their characters are well drawn as we see their perspective about each other as well as their growing awareness of who their father really is. Not to mention that we are sporadically taken back to the church by an unknown character.

There were a lot of clues along the way and I could see what was coming fairly easily which merely pushed me to see if the three women could work it out too. I quite like that technique of letting the reader know first, yet teasing us along as well.

Overall, a quick and easy read – very enjoyable.

Book Review: Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey

A powerful story of love and guilt, this novel won the Miles Franklin prize in 2021.

Erica’s son is in jail and she relocates to Tasmania to live near the jail to be near him.  She is used to strange people and strange places because she was brought in a mental asylum where her father was the head psychiatrist. It’s at the asylum where she used to play in a labyrinth and so she tries to recreate one in her garden at the seaside hamlet in Tasmania where she now lives.

The story of her life unfolds as does her obsession to recreate the labyrinth of her childhood searching for strength, will or perhaps happiness. She befriends a stone mason, an illegal immigrant who understands her vision and after doing menial jobs is happy to help her build the labyrinth.

‘I am the prisoner of an idea with no path to its realisation. Were it not for the dream I would not persist, but for now I remain its captive.’

Lohrey explores the relationship between mother and son which begins with little to no communication and is slightly reminiscent of We Need to talk about Kevin. But it’s not so much a reflection of their relationship but rather a journey of introspection into Erica’s life and the relationships which holds dear. But the one with her son is the most painful – ‘the hatred of the mother who is not enough, who is not the longed-for father.” Just that sentence conveys such pain.

It’s a beautifully written novel, descriptive as it is evocative.

“I light a fire in the living room fireplace, which is shallow and smokes; it spits embers onto the rug and the first billow of smoke stings my eyes.’

Erica’s house on the beach, is rundown yet holds a charm and she soon becomes immersed into the community and eventually acquires a sense of belonging and peace. And now I know what a labyrinth is.

It’s a wonderful read.

Book Review: Loveland by Robert Lukins

Photo of a woman reclining in a rowboat on a lake- courtesy of Goodreads

‘Two women stand in the shallows, a man dead at their feet, while around them buildings burn.’

This dual timeline story centres around Casey and her granddaughter May. When May inherits her grandmother’s house in Nebraska, she leaves Australia to sell the house which has sat vacant since 1958. The house is part of an estate set up by the Love family who envisaged a resort on the banks of a lake. May, escaping a controlling and violent husband and a remote teenage son, wonders when she arrives whether her grandmother has given her the opportunity to escape.

The run-down house fronts a stagnant poisoned lake and as May works to put the house on the market, she learns why her grandmother abandoned it for a life with her small daughter in Australia and discovers how their lives interconnect.

This is a beautifully written book and my first by Australian author, Robert Lukins.  He does a superb job drawing out the characters as well as the sinister relationships they deal with. The treatment of abuse by controlling men was sensitively as well as brilliantly portrayed.

I enjoyed the description of the town, the people and the lake. Underneath the welcoming and friendly veneer lies economic and environmental issues which create a running tension pushing us to urge May to stay strong. A trip to the countryside provides a tour guide to the state which although interesting seemed a little out of place.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read full of tension and great pace. Highly recommend this one.

Book Review: All That He Is by Jill Staunton

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Daniel O’Callaghan, ex-combat dog handler, is a man trying to come to terms with his tragic past. Travelling on his motor bike, he almost knocks Finneen (Neen) Murphy over in an outback town of Greenvale, northern Queensland. Neen is absorbed with her own problems and lets her fiery temper get the better of her. But sparks seem to fly. Daniel and Neen encounter each other again when they rescue abused dog Bess, an action which brings unexpected repercussions, hurling Daniel back to Afghanistan.

This was an interesting novel. Listed as a romance novel it’s not a genre I normally read so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised. The dynamics between Daniel and Neen is charged and the growth of their relationship unfolds throughout the story as we’re given both points of view.

This novel is much more than just a romance novel. Themes of environment particularly wildlife poaching, animal care and post traumatic stress were sensitively explored and threaded through the narrative, creating interest as well as some drama. The sexual tension between Neen and Daniel was well done and I enjoyed the dynamics between these two and their backstories. Is there anything that Daniel can’t do? He’s a man who’s almost too good to be true. He meets his match with Neen, an academic, strong and feisty with a strong sense of justice.

The real star of the show is the dog, Bess whose own story is fascinating. And of course the Australian bush landscape. Staunton certainly knows her setting and I could visualise the heat, the dirt, scrub, cattle, pale-headed rosellas and those black cockatoos.

If you like a great story, easy to read, then this one might be one to put on your list.

Thank you to the publisher, Boolarong Press for an advanced copy.

My Book Anniversary

They say time flies but I had no idea how much until I began to look back to 10 March 2016 when I published my debut novel, Climbing the Coconut Tree.

My writing journey began two years earlier when I was inspired to write a fictionalised account of a double murder which occurred on a little-known place called Ocean Island. You can read more about how it started here.

What is Climbing the Coconut Tree about?

Set in 1948, eighteen-year-old Bluey Guthrie leaves his family in Australia to take the job of a lifetime on a remote island in the Central Pacific. Bill and Isobel, seasoned ex-pats help Bluey fit in to a privileged world of parties, dances and sport.

However, the underbelly of island life soon draws him in. Bluey struggles to understand the horrors left behind after the Japanese occupation, the rising fear of communism, and the appalling conditions of the Native and Chinese workers. All this is overseen by the white colonial power brutalising the land for Phosphate: the new gold.

Isobel has her own demons and watches as Bill battles to keep growing unrest at bay. Drinking and gambling are rife. As racial tensions spill over causing a trail of violence, bloodshed and murder, Bluey is forced to face the most difficult choices of his life.

I’m proud of my debut and in the years since, I’ve written and published three more books.

Out of Nowhere: A collection of short stories published in 2017

A quirky and delightful mix of short stories taking the reader into unexpected territory.

A Perfect Stone published in 2018

A sweeping tale of love and loss, an old man’s suppressed memories resurface after a stroke. He finally confronts what happened when, as a ten-year-old, he was forced at gunpoint to leave his family and trek barefoot through the mountains to escape the Greek Civil War in 1948.

The Good Child published in 2021

Rich in detail and epic in scope, The Good Child is a powerful novel of emotional and financial resilience, loss and unexpected friendship between two women.

So yeah, I guess I’ve been a little busy. No wonder time has flown.

Book Review: Child of Fear and Fire by G.R.Thomas

I don’t think I’ve ever really read a dark gothic fantasy novel before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the first page though I was taken on a ride and kept turning the pages of this short novel until I was done.

It’s about a young maid, Eliza who works for the Norlane family. Her life is miserable, taunted as she is by three sisters who are particularly horrible and nasty. The parents are little better and Eliza lives in constant fear and with nowhere else to go she must endure the harsh life of cruelty. Her only ally is the cook who dotes on Eliza treating her like a daughter. But even she can’t protect Eliza.

The story builds as we are drawn into the darkness entering Eliza’s mind as she senses something else is watching her. Her fear is palpable and the dark forces surrounding her and the house builds the tension right until the gruesome end.

I’ll admit it was a tough one to read not because it’s not well written, it is, but because of the subject matter. It’s disturbing and dark. But the author does a great job to immerse us into the dark world. The world building is exceptional and despite the hot summer day when I was reading, I felt the cold, dank and wet setting. The forest is particularly eerie and I wanted to stop Eliza from going into it.

“The wind whipped harder, its whistle more a song in her ear. She could have sworn upon the bible itself she heard a voice in it.”

Yes, I’m still recovering but then I am a bit of a scaredy cat. If you like dark fantasy then this one might appeal.

Book Review: Smokehouse by Melissa Manning

Smokehouse is a book of linked stories set in southern Tasmania, more particularly, the region around Kettering and Bruny Island.

I visited this region only a few years ago and it’s a stunning landscape of rugged beauty. And Melissa Manning not only paints the landscape but she fully immerses the reader right into it.

“She walked down to the beach, sat in the sand throwing shells into the frothy swash of waves, and considered whether all of this might be a sign that it was a time to move on.”

The book begins with the title story Smokehouse Part 1 which is almost a novella about Joy, who with her husband builds a mud-brick home, a dream home away from the bustle of Hobart. Her new life begins to fracture and the consequences of her actions resonate not only on her family but within the small community around her.

“She had never expected to feel so absent, as though her identity had bled out into the fabric of their family. She longed to feel the margins of herself.”

The last story Smokehouse Part Two, set in Joy’s future, gives us a glimpse into her life as an older woman. In between are short stories whose characters link with the community or Joy’s life.

There was a lot I enjoyed. There is a tenderness in the tragedy and trauma. The reference to food brings joy and pain. “… she dished field mushrooms onto her side plate and ate them with her fingers, let the juices run own her chin and into her lap and tried not to think about the night to come. “

Each story is beautifully written and evocative. The characters are rich in detail and drawn so fully, you feel you know them, their pain, their joy and the problems they encounter. Manning treats the characters and the themes of grief, sorrow, health decline and loss with empathy and dignity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and am not surprised it was shortlisted in 2021 for Queensland Literary Awards as well as Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. It’s a stunning debut by an extraordinary author. Highly recommend this one.