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Book Review: Islands by Peggy Frew

I loved Islands. There’s a rhythm of sadness in this beautifully written book as we are led into the lives of various characters and their points of view told in a mix of timelines. The style may not be to everyone’s taste. But my advice is to be patient and perhaps take time to read it to remember everyone.

There was a house on a hill in the city, and it was full, of us, our family, but then it began to empty. We fell out. We made a mess.
We draped ourselves in blame and disappointment and lurched around, bumping into each other. Some of us wailed and shouted; some of us barely made a sound. None of us was listening, or paying attention. And in the middle of it all you, very quietly, were gone.

The Worth family of John and Helen and their young two daughters Junie and Anna could be like any family until Helen has an affair and leaves John. The family begins to splinter slowly in the aftermath of divorce, then completely disintegrates when fifteen-year-old Anna, a troubled and rebellious teen, goes missing. Not knowing how to deal with Anna, Helen decides to give her daughter space, after all, she has taken off before. Blame and tensions arise when Helen fails to report her missing daughter for three days. The unresolved grief about Anna overhangs their lives for years to come.

The landscape is Phillip Island and the imagery is evocative. The house where John’s parents holidayed then retired to is ever-present in the memories of each of the main characters. This imagery is spot on. I know, because I spent my own late teens in a coastal town nearby where my parents owned a holiday house.


“The bald hills crowd in and let go again, and he sails down the last stretch, the flat water below reflecting a half-moon. Past the clustered darkness of the San Remo shops and over the bridge with its tall lights, empty of their daytime perching gulls.”

There are other characters, some of whom you wonder about until the end of their chapter when the connection is revealed.

It’s a remarkable book not just because of the writing but the raw emotion is so moving it stays with you for a long time. Frew’s talent is incredible and I’ll be checking out the rest of her books.

Book Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

 

Anna Kerrigan is twelve when she meets Dexter Styles, a man with a shady history in the underworld but with a respectable façade. A couple of years later, Anna’s father disappears. Anna, along with her mother and disabled sister, is devastated.

At nineteen Anna meets Dexter Styles again and is convinced he knows what happened to her father and proceeds to find out. This book is so much more than the intrigue of Anna’s father. Set in New York during the Second World war, Anna pushes boundaries as a woman to become a deep sea diver repairing warships.

The book is thoroughly researched and very detailed. For some, the intricate detail around what was happening in the Brooklyn Naval Yard might hold a lot more fascination than it did for me.

But I did enjoy Anna’s story. The description of her being encased in a two-hundred-pound dress and metal helmet was incredible and had me taking deep gulps of air.

“Then she was inside, encased in a humid metallic smell that was almost a taste. They screwed the base of the helmet into the breastplate like a lightbulb fitting a socket. A crushing weight bore down upon Anna through the collar’s sharp edges. She writhed under it, trying to move away or unseat it. There were two raps on top of the helmet, and the round front window popped open, admitting a shock of cool air.”

The battle Anna had with authorities to allow her to participate in a male-oriented world was compelling as was the love and care she had for her sister Lydia. We were given glimpses of her relationships with other women too but for the most part, it was her relationships with her father and Dexter which dominated the plot.

However, it almost seemed as if the research needed to find a home no matter what and I think when the narrative changed to the points of view of these two men I found this part jarring. The two male characters weren’t likable enough to hold me and I would have preferred the story to have stuck to Anna.

All in all, the book was good enough to hold my attention but not enough to rave about in glowing terms for me.

Book Review: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

The Ruin is McTiernan’s debut novel and what a novel it is. It’s a cracking read, fast-paced which hooks the reader in and never lets her go until the climactic end.

It begins in 1993 in Galway, Ireland when as a new recruit, Reilly is sent to a scene in a lonely broken down old house to find two abused and starved children, Maude and Jack alone with their dead mother. Twenty years later, Jack is found dead, supposedly suicide… or is it? Reilly uncovers secrets, lies, and corruption and struggles to trust anyone, most of all his own colleagues.

I confess to reading this crime series featuring Cormac Reilly a little out of sequence. The second novel The Scholar was enthralling and I scratched my head about the inclusion of Carrie O’Halloran’s character but now having read this novel, it all makes perfect sense. You can check out my review here. (https://sckarakaltsas.com/2019/05/29/book-review-the-scholar-by-dervla-mc-tiernan/)

Don’t get me wrong. The two novels are strong enough to stand on their own. But if you do read them in sequence, the nuances of the common characters become clearer.
There are two points of view, Reilly and Jack’s girlfriend, Aisling. I enjoyed all the characters which I thought were drawn well. Aisling, an ambitious doctor struggles with her grief and her scenes were particularly heartfelt. Reilly, at times, floundered and the reader felt as much on the outer as he did. I also enjoyed the inner workings and politics of the police department too. I did wonder about Reilly’s method of investigation; why didn’t he go to Maude immediately and ask her questions first, instead of going to the old next door neighbour? But what do I know? I’m not a detective.

Yes, this one is very difficult to put down and there’s lots in it. I’d definitely read another of McTiernan’s books. Check it out.

Book Launch: The Book of Dave by Peter Lingard and Colours of Death by Robert New

Last night I had the honour of saying a few words and launching two books of short stories for two wonderful writers, Peter Lingard and Robert New at Readings Book Store in Hawthorn.

I met Peter Lingard five years ago when I joined the Phoenix Park Writers Group and admire his writing. Peter has written more than three hundred short stories published in various publications around the world. He’s also written a full-length novel Boswell’s Fairies. (see my earlier review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2017/10/27/book-review-boswells-fairies-by-peter-lingard/) Last night, The Book of Dave was released to the world.

Peter with writers from Phoenix Park Writers Group

A bit about The Book of Dave by Peter Lingard
Dave Wilson is a London barman who, in late December, sifts through telephone numbers accumulated during the year. Each chapter tells the story behind the number.
He joins a band of people who wear pink underwear every Friday, goes to sea in a collier, helps a client sell his invention, takes a sick woman to hospital. Dave becomes friendly with a less than honest policeman, and flies to New York where he falls for an unobtainable woman.

If you ever wanted to get a bird’s eye view at what happens to a barman, this is the book for you. The fact that Peter once worked behind the bar gives some authenticity and he tells each story with humour.

I  also met Robert New five years when I joined Monash Writers Group. He was preparing his second novel, Incite Insight for release and I was writing Climbing the Coconut Tree. We both launched our books three years ago and have supported each other ever since.

Working full time and raising a young family, I asked Robert how he’s been able to write so prolifically and he told me that he simply tries to write at least two hundred and fifty words per day. That’s fewer words than this blog post but over a year adds up. Of course, there are days when he has the time to do more. That’s how he was able to put together Colours of Death. His passion for science shows through in each story as he finds unusual and sometimes bizarre ways people can be murdered.

A bit about Colours of Death: Sergeant Thomas’ Casebook by Robert New
What colour death would you fear the most? This is a collection of nine detective stories where colour plays a role in the mystery.
A high school awards ceremony turns to tragedy when the audience turns blue as they die.
A serial killer’s hair colour could be the key to their capture. An arsonist is trapping people in burning buildings, just to write a story about the rescuers. After a body is dumped in public, working out how the victim died is harder than decoding the intended message.
An incident with the Red Man haunts Detective Thomas, but may also be the key to solving a new case.

There is quite a bit of science behind the stories and you’ll definitely learn something.

It was a privilege to help launch these two books by two wonderful writers and I wish them every success.

Copies are available for sale now. Check them out. Links below:

The Book of Dave by Peter Lingard

 

https://www.amazon.com/Book-Dave-Peter-Lingard-ebook/dp/B07RG8MH9N/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=The+Book+of+Dave+by+peter+lingard&qid=1561687101&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Colours of Death Sergeant Thomas Casebook by Robert New

https://www.amazon.com/Colours-Death-Sergeant-Thomas-Casebook-ebook/dp/B07RBJR1VJ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Colours+of+Death+Sergeant+Thomas%27+Casebook+by+Robert+New&qid=1561687511&s=gateway&sr=8-

 

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I’d heard a lot about this book and was keen to see what the hype was about.

It opens with a dead man found lying in a marsh in 1969. A young woman, Kya Clark, always known as the ‘Marsh girl’ by the local community becomes a suspect. The story takes us back in time to 1952 when her mother struggling with a dirt poor life on a marsh with an abusive husband leaves Kya and her older siblings. One by one, the siblings also leave so that Kya is the only one left with her father. On a bender, he too disappears leaving Kya to fend for herself. She knows only one thing and that is the ways of the marsh. Its wildlife her only friend, she struggles to survive through her childhood and teenage years on her own.

Owens writes beautifully and as an acclaimed nature writer, she takes us on a journey through the marsh. We feel as if we are right in the thick of the environment and that’s the power of it.

“Maybe it was mean country, but not an inch was lean. Layers of life –squiggly sand crabs, mud-waddling crayfish, waterfowl, fish, shrimp, oysters, fatted deer, and plump geese – were piled on the land or in the water.”

Kya grows up yearning to belong, to love and be loved never losing hope that someone from her family will come back to her. Her few interactions with people make her conscious of the whispers about her nickname but she is powerless to know what to do than stay where she is. As she grows up she connects with Tate, a young man who helps her to learn to read and write and who loves the marsh as much as she does and with whom she falls in love. But like many before, he too soon leaves her. And she battles once again with abandonment and rejection.

“…the colors, the light, the species, the life; weaving a masterpiece of knowledge and beauty that filled every corner of her shack. Her world. She grew with them – the trunk of the vine – alone, but holding all the wonders together. But just as her collection grew, so did her loneliness. A pain as large as her heart lived in her chest. Nothing eased it. Not the gulls, not the splendid sunset, not the rarest of shells.”

This is a dual timeline novel where the reader’s attention is switched back and forward between the police investigation of the dead man and Kya’s life. The two stories connect when we find out that Kya knew the man and because of the community’s demands to find a scapegoat, she is targeted.

This novel tugs at the heartstrings with a rollercoaster of emotions. It touches on a number of issues including the environment, prejudice, loss, and discrimination. But it is also about beauty, love, resilience, and strength. I wasn’t disappointed.

Book Review: The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper

Pic Courtesy of Goodreads

February 7,2009 is etched on my mind forever as it would be for most Victorians. That was the day when our state burned and many people’s lives changed forever. The tenth anniversary just passed, reminded us of the loss and the recovery. We all remember what we did that day. For me, I attended a wedding and the 47-degree Celsius heat and ferocity of the wind felt sinister as smoke blanketed our city and state. Within the next few days, we would learn that 179 people and countless animals had died, numerous property destroyed and for some, an experience too horrible to ever fully recover from.

“Soon it would be known as Black Saturday: four hundred separate fires had burned Victoria, giving off the equivalent of 80000 kilowatts of heat, or 500 atomic bombs.”

Chloe Hooper writes about one of those fires – the one near Churchill deliberately lit which killed forty people. Hooper takes us inside the police investigation and the capture of the man responsible for the fire’s beginning.

In particular, she gives us some insight into the man himself who is autistic and how he, his family and the local community deals with the consequences of his actions. The legal process is explored and at times you can’t help but feel sorry for everyone involved having to relive what happened. The man was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen years in jail.

But this story prompted me to wonder about the other fires; the ones where the Royal Commission identified electricity lines as the cause of sparks and subsequent loss of life. Surely you would think those responsible would also be in jail. Sadly, they are not. A Royal Commission, lawsuits and class actions are what’s left of accountability. And although Hooper doesn’t mention it, what hits home for me in stark contrast is this: that this one man is an easier target to punish than a corporation whose negligence is responsible for even more deaths and destruction. Yes, there was a bucket of money paid out but money doesn’t exonerate or replace lives lost.

It’s sad and it’s tragic but it has now become part of our history and Hooper has done a magnificent job to pull it all together. It’s tight and fast paced and if you didn’t know that it happened, you could almost think it was all fiction. But it’s not. Try and read it if you can.

Book Review: The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

 

I’d heard a lot about this author and was interested to read her work.

This is the second book in the series about Detective Sergeant Cormac Reilly. His girlfriend Emma, a brilliant scientist stumbles upon a girl who has been the victim of a hit and run. It turns out the girl has been murdered and the only thing she has on her is the swipe card of another girl, Carline Darcy. Carline happens to be the granddaughter of a wealthy man who owns the largest pharmaceutical company in Ireland. The company has many tentacles including funding research and employing Emma. When a second murder occurs, the investigation takes a twist and Emma herself becomes a chief suspect.

Although this was a second in a series, it didn’t seem to matter as it stood on its own quite nicely. I enjoyed the complexities and twists in the plot. The character development was well done and I appreciated the relationships particularly within the police investigation team.

I wondered about the inclusion of Detective O’Halloran and her personal life. Her story, unless it’s set up for the next book didn’t really add much value. The other thing that jarred a little was the repetitive nature of the information. It revealed itself in several different ways and for the reader I felt it was overdone. For example, Cormac at the end explains the case to Emma and apart from a titbit of new information, there was nothing new for the reader. The interesting part for me was Emma’s reaction and perhaps that should have had more focus.

Overall, an easy to read, well written novel. Now, I’m interested to read the first one, The Ruin.