Tag Archives: Goodreads

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.

Book Review: Hello Beautiful by Hannie Rayson

I have to confess that I’d never heard of Australian playwright, Hannie Rayson. Yet I knew of her plays. When my book club chose this book I was extremely curious.

In Hello Beautiful, Hannie Rayson detours from plays to a memoir of revealing snapshots from her own life.

It’s a highly relatable book especially for those who lived in Melbourne during the eighties. Hannie grew up in East Brighton as the daughter of a real-estate agent who made and lost money. He was a ‘Melbourne bitter man. Anything else was cat’s piss.’ 

Nothing seems to be off limits in this memoir from ‘women’s problems’, and vagina moles to childbirth, together with blended families and dead bodies.

It’s a humorous collection of anecdotes as well as insights into inner suburban living, feminism, sex, being a mum, wife and friend, and becoming a writer.

‘One weekend my neighbours Suzie and Dave demolished their house. But the most significant impact on our household was that (they)… decided to move. Into our place. It seemed to me then that the nuclear family was a ludicrous idea – conceived not by nature, nor by God, but by people who wanted to sell us stuff.’

Hannie Rayson writes very well with charm and humour. If you don’t know Melbourne you might not fully appreciate the nuances but if you want an amusing insight, then give this one a go.

Book Review: Happy Hour by Jacquie Byron

A glass of bubbly in hand, a character of a certain age who does what she wants, and a couple of cute dogs. This book held a lot of promise and certainly did not fail to deliver.

Franny Calderwood keeps to herself with only her two dogs, Whisky and Soda as her companions. She likes her own company enjoying the chance to paint, walk along the beach and drink when she feels like it. When a family moves in next door, she’s wary of the single mother who juggles a grumpy teenage daughter, Dee and an exuberant eight-year-old boy, Josh. It doesn’t take long before Franny is reluctantly drawn into their lives.

Little by little we learn what’s behind Franny’s bravado and independence when we discover the loss of her beloved husband from a road accident some years earlier. The family next door draws Franny out of her self-imposed isolation little by little not without some disasters along the way.

The themes of grief and loss are beautifully handled as the story slowly unfolds taking the reader into Franny and the family’s world, one ordered and the other chaotic.

Franny is quite a character, talking to the photos of her dead husband, cooking gourmet meals, painting masterpieces and of course drinking a lot more than she should. You can’t help but love her as well as feel her loss and what she is doing to herself. The dogs are charmers as is Josh who is truly a star in his own right. The child’s innocence and energy is infectious causing the reader to love him as we watch Franny fall for this small boy.

This novel is sad, funny as well as moving. With an additional bonus that it’s set in Melbourne and the places Franny visits are almost my backyard – what more could I wish for?

Get this one and lie on the beach with a gin and tonic and you’ll be happily transported.

Book Review: The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

The Morbids is a story about Caitlin, a young woman, convinced that she’s going to die. She joins a support group of people each of whom have their own issues about death and name themselves The Morbids. What has happened to Caitlin unravels slowly and painfully as we take the road with her towards healing and a better life.  

It’s a sad story yet an uplifting one too. Caitlin has suppressed her feelings after an accident where she blames herself for the death of someone. She copes as best as she can, throwing in her high-power job for a waitressing role, moving to a sordid neighbourhood and turning her back on her friends and family. She believes she is coping with the help of the support group but slowly she begins to unravel bit by bit.  Ever fearful, she avoids rather than confronts.

The impact of mental illness particularly trauma, anxiety and depression are important issues and the author does a superb navigating the reader through it in a very sensitive and touching way. There is no sugar coating so it is quite confronting. Not to say that it is all doom and gloom. There are shades of humour, love and joy. And then there are the moments of kindness, random and otherwise from people in Caitlin’s life. This character is very well drawn, complicated and multi-dimensional.

I also enjoyed the side characters from those in the help group to the ones in Caitlin’s work life. Along the way we meet caring Nic, her boss at the bar where she works; concerned Lina the best friend she’s avoided since the accident two years ago and the gorgeous Tom, the emergency doctor. They all played their part superbly.

The second half is quite intense and I wasn’t sure where it would go but I hoped that Caitlin would be okay. Take a look and see for yourself.

Book Review: Bowl the Maidens Over by Louise Zedda-Sampson

It’s often been said by friends and family that I don’t have a sporting bone in my body. There is, however nothing wrong with my appreciation of history particularly when it comes to women’s place in it. And I was delighted to pick up a book about the first female cricketers in Australia and more specifically in my home state of Victoria.

Bowl the Maidens Over helps us understand how women came to play what was originally known as a man’s game. Yet as a man’s game there’s no physical barrier for a woman to play. I have been known to play the game with men and although I have no real talent, I can bowl, bat and throw the ball, well perhaps not terribly well. I can also appreciate the strategy and of course the thrill of being on a winning side.

In fact, whenever women have made the initial attempts to play a man’s game there has always been opposition and derision. Who can forget that not long ago— read within the last ten years —when women’s football in Australia was greeted with great uncertainty? Indeed, the first sold-out match with a crowd outside the stadium floored the male dominated organisers. The innuendo and vitriolic comments on social media platforms could only be described in the sea of positive comments as vile and nasty.

Not much has changed since a group of women in 1874 played an exhibition cricket match to raise funds for charity. Where did they play? In the town of Sandhurst, now known as Bendigo. It was a match attended by thousands and soon after the initial praise, some media whipped up a storm about how unladylike these women were, describing their attire rather than their skill. Oh goodness, what a shock it must have been when ‘they paraded their ankles to the public gaze’ or engaged in ‘an unwomanly game.’

This small delightful volume packs a punch of history giving us a brilliant snapshot of an unknown group of pioneering women who dared to take on a sport with skill and talent. Zedda-Simpson does a fantastic job of weaving the narrative around the media’s debate about the match. Although we don’t really know how the women felt about the attention, the author gives us an insight by revealing the flurry of forthright and entertaining letters to the editor.

A really good read even if it does make you feel indignant about how far we have still yet to go.

Check it out. Bowl the Maidens Over

Book Review: Wimmera by Mark Brandi

I was totally unprepared for this unexpected story.

The blurb, (which I rarely check before diving in) is about two young boys, Ben and Fab, who in 1989 do all the things youngsters do; play cricket, go yabbying and camping. They talk about all sorts of things except for how Fab’s dad hits him or what happened to the girl next door. When a new neighbour moves in, their imagination soars wondering if he’s a secret agent. The opening scene is the discovery of a drum in the local river.

It’s a moody book and the first half is pretty much about the boys’ everyday lives from Ben’s point of view with a slow build of tension and foreboding when they meet Ben’s far too friendly neighbour.  Half way through the novel, Ben’s voice disappears and we’re propelled into the future almost twenty years later into Fab’s point of view. Fab still lives in the same country town, lost and alone working in a supermarket and we’re left to wonder what happened to Ben.

The second half takes on a sense of urgency and the story unfolds in a very unsettling way.  I appreciated the second half far more than the first. There was much left to the readers imagination and for the reader to piece together and I liked that. The last couple of chapters was dramatic and a page turner.

The subject matter isn’t for the faint-hearted and there’s no trigger warning about child abuse. But if you can see your way through the dark subject, it’s a very decent debut.

Book Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey

A masterful tale of what it is to be different, down and out yet surrounded with hope and the goodness of the human spirit.

Honeybee comes from the author of the much-acclaimed Jasper Jones and is not a disappointing read. It’s uncomfortable at times and heart-wrenching, yet has a soul. Its spotlight has no doubt raised incredible awareness into a little-known community who is still finding its voice.

Sam Watson the main character, is a fourteen-year-old who meets Vic, on a bridge. They’re both there for the same reason and an unlikely friendship ensues brought about by a shared bond of their individual suffering. Through Vic, Sam learns acceptance and sets him on a path toward a better life. But Sam also gives something to Vic.

It’s a coming-of-age novel full of petty thefts, extortion plots, botched bank robberies, drag shows and Julia Child’s inspired cooking. But more importantly, it’s a novel of wonderful characters.

Firstly, there’s the sensitive, naïve but heart of gold, Sam. His journey to find himself and learning to live with who he truly is, is beautifully done. Then there’s Vic, who with the help of Sam finds redemption for something he’s lived with his entire life. His love for his wife Edie is touching and the care Sam shows Vic and Edie is very moving. Next, there’s Aggie, a full of life teenager who doesn’t give a damn about what Sam looks like. She sees him for who he really is, knowing him more than Sam himself. There’s Peter, the drag queen who helps pick up the pieces, who extends a hand and role models how life could be for Sam. His mother Sarah, is a difficult character to warm to yet drawn out enough to allow us to understand her much difficult path in life and the choices she made.

It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion, dark and light, despairing yet hopeful and a great read against the backdrop of beautiful Perth. Put this one on your list.