Tag Archives: Goodreads

Book Review: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

This story is loosely based on Henry Lawson’s 1892 poem, The Drovers Wife. The author, Leah Purcell has reimagined it and focused on the bleak harshness for women and indigenous people during that time.

Molly Johnson lives in the high country in a shanty with her four children. The oldest, Danny is only twelve. Her husband, Joe never appears in the story as he is away droving. It’s just as well because when he is home, he’s drunk and violent. Molly is pregnant and isolated having only her children around her. Her life although harsh and unforgiving is challenged by the people who visit. The new policeman arrives with his wife and child having survived drowning in a flooded river. Next is Yakuda, an aboriginal man, in shackles who is wanted for allegedly killing a family.

The story plunges the reader into anxiety for Molly, her children and her survival as well as for Yakuda. But you can’t help but admire their gutsy determination for a better life as their relationship grows.

But this is not a story with a happy ending, so prepare yourself. The switch on occasion from third person to first person can be off putting but the story is a powerful one giving the reader a very unromanticised version of early Australia, a place of violence where women and the indigenous are little more than indentured slaves with few rights or voice or place.

The story has been made into a play where it first was brought to life and is now also a movie released in 2021 starring Purcell herself. I must now find it and watch it. And if you can check this one out.

Book Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Oh, what a read this one was. I could not put it down.

Set in the late 1950’s, this novel is a delightful and empowering story exploring the world of science, love, and motherhood. The main character, Elizabeth Zott, is a brilliant and ambitious young chemist who is determined to make a name for herself in the male-dominated field of science. But when she meets and falls in love with her soulmate, Calvin Evans a brilliant, Nobel Prize nominated chemist, she finds herself torn between her career goals and her heart.

The novel highlights the challenges that women faced in the scientific, television and rowing communities, and the struggle to balance personal and professional aspirations when social mores forced women into conformity. When Elizabeth finds herself a single mother, she fails to see the problems that others see and her character is so engaging that I felt for her the whole way, cheering her along as she inspired others on her journey.

And it is an inspiring story of a woman facing calamitous obstacles but who pushes through regardless.

The characters are endearing from her daughter Madeline to the feisty Harriet who builds up the courage to leave her husband. And of course, who could forget the dog, Six-thirty through whose eyes we were given the privilege of seeing a different world.

The author’s writing style is engaging and fluid, making it easy to get lost in the story and the characters.

The chemistry between Elizabeth and Calvin is endearing and heartfelt as they ignore the social mores of the time.  It’s a perfect blend of science and fiction, providing a unique and captivating reading experience.

There are a few twists, many of which I did not see coming. But this one is also full of hope that the world is changing for women now and into the future. Sigh, if only it was that simple.

Book Review: Wildflowers by Peggy Frew

I have really loved Frew’s last two books, Hope Farm and Islands so I knew I just had to get Wildflowers.

Like the others, Wildflowers is  a story of family and in this case, the relationship and challenges of three sisters. Meg is the oldest, followed a year later by Nina and then four years after is Amber.

The story is largely centred around Nina and the affect on her by Amber, with her addiction and Meg who has an overwhelming need to fix and nurture Amber. When Meg decides that she and Nina need to perform an intervention on Amber, they whisk her younger sister away to a remote far north Queensland house. It’s here that good intentions slide and their relationship is tested.

Told from Nina’s point of view, its her gaze at her sisters and her largely ineffectual parents that gives us perspective.  From the opening, it’s clear that Nina who has packed up her belongings in boxes, not showering, or eating properly, is in the one who is really in trouble.

Nina reflects on her own life, her sexual life of disappointments, her inability to voice her thoughts  or even her ability to function. As her state of mind deteriorates before and after the intervention she slides into a space where no-one notices her crisis.

The sisters all perform and live in their assigned roles from childhood. “Meg, ten, is the Good One, and Nina, nine is the Forgetful One, and Amber, little Bam, only five is the Wild One, a puppy, a seal cub.” Often labelling children with their designated role means they wear it for life. Frew explores the roles of the sisters each fractured within the family.

Nina is a dislocated observer trying to make some meaning of her life as well as of her her family and her sisters as she reflects on what happened in QLD five years earlier. She is struck with an inertia and apathy yet unable to vocalise and stop Meg who is hellbent on fixing Amber. Nina struggles with the morals of what is going on but her weakness paralyses her from taking any action. She comes face to face with understanding who her sisters actually are. As is so often the case, Frew explores the question of how well we really know our siblings and our actions dependant on our designated role. It’s an interesting idea and one that is explored well.

Beyond the family, Nina reflects on her list of sexual partners, none of whom create a meaningful relationship. Tarnished by her experiences she slowly realises that it is not what she wants and without any real action she drifts away from these men.

But we never truly get a deep understanding of Nina and her motivations, nor do we learn much more about Amber or Meg. Yet the relationships between them change and evolve as they weave in and out of each other’s lives as siblings do.

It’s not a happy novel and reminds me a little of Sorrow and Bliss without the wit. But the writing is descriptive, the rainforest, the party house and the landmarks in Melbourne to name a few. It’s also emotive and confronting and in the end hopeful.

Wildflowers is unsettling and at times, confronting. From the first few pages, I was invested but this may not be a novel for everyone.

Book Review: The Tilt by Chris Hammer

I was unaware that this novel is the second in a series, but it mattered little. It really was suitable as a standalone.

The tension begins from the first page when a woman plans to blow up a regulator wall, while a man runs frantically through a forest dodging shooters. Three months later a skeleton belonging to a man missing since 1943 is found. Detective Constable Nell Buchanan is assigned to investigate, returning to her home town where her family still lives. She’s has a difficult relationship with her family which peaks our curiosity. Then another body turns up.

This is not your classical rural crime novel as it has many layers flipping back and forwards in timeline, often without warning. There are also many characters to keep you on your toes as you, the reader try to piece the family and community ties both past and present.

The writing is brilliant, descriptive as it is beautiful, placing us in the Australian landscape of forest, river and small country town. ‘The lack of wind meant there was nothing to mitigate the oppression that enveloped the weatherboard house on the plain above the Cadell Tilt. It baked and it sweated and it cowered, its iron roof shimmering like a skillet.’

The locals are cringe-worthy. ‘He has a face like a slab of marble, white and veined with pink, topped with a strawberry-blond mullet so thickly woven it could be a doormat.’ And they are suspicious, curious and not always friendly.

Tension grows from the shadowy presence of preppers, cookers and twitchers as we’re never really sure who they are.  Nell becomes embroiled in an old family feud as things get personal and old grudges emerge the more she digs deeper into the mystery.

Nell herself gives little away and at times I wondered if she really had grown up in the area as she seemed quite disconnected. She certainly didn’t head down memory lane to give us much insight into anything more than her family background. But then that was the point as the family tree came together like a piece out of ancestory.com. As I read I was kind of wishing I had the chart to refer to but when I saw it mapped out at the end, I realised that advanced knowledge would give away some of the twists. And there are a lot of twists much like the Murray River so well featured in the family saga.

I really loved this novel, the first I’ve read by Hammer and I’ll be searching for the rest.

Book Review: Exiles by Jane Harper

I always look forward to Jane Harper’s books and have read them all. Exiles is also the third and last in the Aaron Falk series, so I was keen to read this one.

 A baby is found lying peacefully in her pram at a rural festival but there is no sign of the mother.  Yes, this hooked me immediately.

It’s a year later when we meet Aaron who arrives in the deep wine country of South Australia to attend the christening of his godchild. It also happens to be the twelve-month anniversary since the baby’s mother, Kim Gillespie disappeared and Aaron is drawn into the appeal for information at the very same food and wine festival where she disappeared. Kim Gillespie’s shoe was found in a reservoir and there is speculation about whether it’s suicide, murder or a merely an accident. Aaron becomes engrossed in her close-knit family and friends and he begins to wonder what secrets they’re hiding.

I loved the setting, the wine, the vines and could well envisage the landscape. Harper certainly knows how to paint a picture.

However, I did find the first half quite slow because it was an information dump of backstory and for the life of me, I wondered why she started the story twelve months later. After all, Falk was actually at the festival when Kim disappeared. The time gap added no value that I could see. I really wanted to be in the action from the start not hear about it.

By the time the novel ramped up half way through I was losing interest. There I’ve said it. There was a lot of characters to keep track of and care or not care about. But I persisted to the very satisfactory end. The police work seemed to plod and Falk appeared to be more of a bystander along for the ride. The side plot of his romance dominated more than his interest in the case. But then he’s on leave and why should he care about something that happened a year earlier? His motivation to investigate laboured until finally we got to see his internal musings and questioning of people and events. On the plus side, his romantic life showed more of his vulnerability and his own internal conflicts which I enjoyed.

Not her best but for many, it will be enough.

Book Review: Clarke by Holly Throsby

This is about the mysterious disappearance of a woman. Or is it?

Set in 1991, police arrive at Barney’s rental house to dig up the backyard looking for Ginny Lawson who has been missing for six years. Next door lives Leonie who was a close friend of Ginny’s and who eagerly awaits justice for her friend. She’d never liked Ginny’s brute of a husband who has already sold up and moved away and is married to someone else in QLD. Barney and Leonie as well as a number of neighbours are keenly watching proceedings hoping for a resolution.

This novel is much more than about the disappearance of Ginny. It’s also a study of people, their relationships and central to that is loss and grief.

Alternating between Barney’s and Leonie’s point of view, Throsby gently draws out their characters revealing who these two people are. Leonie cares for four-year old Joe who keeps asking for his mother. Barney parks outside of McDonalds to glimpse his estranged son who works there. Leonie was a good friend to Ginny lamenting how the police had ignored her initial concerns about her friend’s disappearance and Ginny’s brutish husband.

Throsby goads us into making assumptions about these two characters nudging us to think one thing then slowly revealing their backstories. I did however guess the connection quite early between the two.

It’s a slow-moving story, gently threading the everyday mundane of surviving loss, dealing with grief and attempting to move on. Much like unwrapping a many layered parcel wrapped, each one makes you love and feel for the characters understanding them until we are left with nothing but hope at the end.

“Leonie rinsed her tea mug and set it on the drying rack. She went back to the table and collected Joe’s milky bowl, ‘Uptown Girl’ was coming softly out of the radio.

‘I want to see my mum.’

‘Sweetheart,’ said Leonie, holding the bowl.”

The town of Clarke, populated with 13000 people is just big enough to have all the usual amenities, even a shopping plaza, the description of which is so well portrayed that I could visualise the bleakness of the 1991 recession.

The end is very neatly tied together, perhaps a little too coincidental, but this one is an engaging read and I loved the characters more than anything else. Beautifully written, it’s a very compelling read. Pick this one up when you can.

2022 Reading Wrap and Book of the Year

As I say goodbye to 2022, I’ve reflected on all the books I’ve read. Thank goodness for Goodreads which helps me track what I’ve read and when. I swear the books I read last year were read years ago which goes to show that a year actually is a long time.

Check out my reading list below. Perhaps you’ve read some of them too. But it is hard to pick a favourite as I had a few five stars in there. But I couldn’t go past Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey as winning my book of the year. Beautifully written, a tale told well, I really enjoyed it.

What’s your book of the year?

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Lucky by Marissa Stapley
The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters
Child of Fear and Fire by G.R. Thomas
All That He Is by Jill Staunton
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
Shuggie Bain by Douglas   Stuart
Devotion by Hannah Kent
Loveland by Robert Lukins
The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey

it was amazing

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks
The Kiss by Santa Montefiore
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth
The Good Mother by Rae Cairns
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
French Braid by Anne Tyler
Still Life by Sarah Winman
Band-Aid for a Broken Leg by Damien Brown
The Mother by Jane Caro
Penny Wong, Passion and Principle by Margaret Simons
Denizen by James McKenzie Watson

it was amazing

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy
Cold Enough For Snow by Jessica Au
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down
Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna
The Promise by Damon Galgut
Stone Town by Margaret Hickey
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Clarke by Holly Throsby

The Promise by Damon Galgut