Tag Archives: books by women

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: Beautiful World, where are you? By Sally Rooney

This is an angst-ridden novel about four people, two couples actually, in their late twenties, still trying to work through what they want out of life and love.

 Alice, a well-known novelist meets Felix, a storeman in a warehouse in a small beachside town. She invites him to come along on her book tour in Italy and a relationship form between these two unlikely people. Her best friend Eileen has just come out of a relationship and is flirting with their mutual friend Simon. 

This is the third Sally Rooney novel I’ve read and I picked this one up because I primarily like her writing. The writing, however, in this novel left me a little cold as I found it quite monotone and mechanical.

‘At twenty past twelve on a Wednesday afternoon, a woman sat behind a desk in a shared office in Dublin city centre, scrolling through a text document… At one o’clock she told her colleagues she was going to lunch, and they smiled and waved to her from behind their monitors.’

Large sections of the novel were relentlessly like this, sometimes with one-page paragraphs and no dialogue tags. I don’t mind that so much but it was what was in those paragraphs which turned me off.  The only relief was the dialogue and email exchanges in first person between Alice and Eileen.

Eileen is unhappy and has loved Simon since she was a teenager. He loves her too but there is a lot of heartache as we wonder why these two just can’t seem to get together.

Felix is a curious character often inadequate in the company of the other three but difficult to get a handle on. I found myself wondering why Alice was with him and the relationship between them just didn’t ring quite true as we never seemed to get right into remote and wooden character of Alice.

I wasn’t actually compelled by Alice and Felix’s characters and would have put this one down yet somehow, I plodded on hoping for some resolution or character development or even plot, perhaps. The sex scenes became repetitive serving little purpose in driving the relationships forward. The philosophical and opinionated discussions on the world, climate change, the bronze age and so on offered up little to make me feel anything for the characters.  I was curious about Alice’s mental health but it skirted the discussions.

 I just couldn’t connect with this one.

Book Review: The Kiss by Santa Montefiore

I picked this eBook up from my local library as a new release. Downloading it I realised it was only just over one hundred pages long and is linked to Quick Reads which is ‘part of the Reading Agency, a national charity tackling life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading.’  

As the name suggest, Quick Reads are short books written by authors, some of whom are best-selling authors such as Graham Norton, Jojo Moyes etc and are designed to entice more people to discover reading, particularly in the UK. A great concept indeed. Additionally a quick read can also be an ideal way to deal with your Goodreads challenge.

The Kiss by Santa Montefiore would be an ideal book to entice someone into reading. It’s short but also hooks the reader in very quickly – it has to, as it’s so short. So what is it about?

Maddison turns eighteen and her mother finally tells her that her birth father is Robert, a wealthy television producer. When Robert, who is happily married with three sons all in their twenties, receives a letter from Maddison, his world is rocked. His secret one night tryst is about to destroy his family. What happens next is not what you expect.

This is a light read with a couple of twists which are fairly predictable. But having said that, it does get into some uncomfortable territory and to say more would reveal a major spoiler. It’s a not literary masterpiece but is fast paced and well written partly set in Tuscany. What more could you want?

For those of you want to read but just can’t stomach a thick novel, then try this one out. It won’t take you to long and who knows, it might inspire to read more.

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: Devotion by Hannah Kent

I’m a huge fan of Hannah Kent having read Burial Rites and The Good People. Devotion is a totally unexpected book.

This is Hanne Nussbaum’s story tracing her life with her twin brother and parents in the Lutheran village of Kay in 1836 Prussia. Hanne is a loner enjoying the company of birds and trees rather than people, until she meets Thea who with her parents moves to the town. Theirs is a frugal life filled with religious teachings until it becomes impossible to worship freely and they with most of the village begin the arduous voyage to freedom in South Australia in 1838.

Essentially this is an obsessional fantasy story of love between Hanne and her friend Thea. They connect on every level to the exclusion almost of everyone else. I was shocked by the twist in the middle of the book which jarred me a little until, like Hanne, I learnt to accept. It was extremely clever as Kent makes the reader feel the emotion and disbelief just as the character would. The reader is just as bewildered and as lost as Hanne is as we come to grips with what has happened. We spend a lot of time inside her head trying to make sense of the changes she faces.

From that point, I felt it began to disintegrate a little. The love for Thea was one sided leaving the rest of her family, in particular, her twin brother behind. I struggled to buy it and the second half of the book just didn’t work in quite the same way as the first half. Hanne’s woe became repetitious and the religious component failed to fully enlighten me about the Lutheran religion. The tension around the suspicions of witchcraft by Thea’s also seemed anticlimactic.

Yet, the writing is sublime as is the description of place.  The reader is brought into the belly of the overcrowded ship, smelling the stifling air, like Hanne does. The South Australian landscape is vivid as are the people. The beginnings of the Hahndorf settlement was also enlightening.

“I found a whaling station that smelled of death and disruption, white men missing teeth, their faces greased mean with hunger for sea pelt, and even through the coastline there was a deep love song of granite submitting to time and weather, I felt uneasy.”

It’s hard not to give away the twist but I wondered why the story couldn’t have continued without it. Perhaps that might have worked a little better to develop the forbidden relationships entwined with the expectation of women of that time. The end was wrapped up neatly yet I was a little bewildered by the where the story took us.  This one didn’t quite work as for me but I am glad I read it and will always read more of Hannah Kent.

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.