Tag Archives: new release

Book Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

 

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It’s an ordinary day for Lucy. The kids are arguing over a television program, her husband Ollie is cooking burgers on the barbecue, and the house is a mess. When police knock on the door, Lucy knows what it will be about.

“I close my eyes because I already know what she is going to say. My mother-in-law, (Diana) is dead.”

A suicide note is found next to Diana but things don’t add up. She was an upstanding member of the community with high standards. She also happens to be very wealthy and questions begin piling up. When Ollie and his sister, Nettie both desperate for money, find out that the will was changed only weeks earlier, things really begin to get interesting.

The story is told mostly from two points of view, Lucy and Diana. We get inside the heads of both women, feeling their pain as their secrets unfold. When Lucy met Diana, she hoped for a  mother figure to replace her own long dead mother but is disappointed by her mother-in-law’s coldness.

I liked the intricacies of the relationships between every member of the family and secrets are revealed nicely so that the reader understands why they behave the way they do. Diana’s harsh upbringing and the way she treats her children makes sense when you find out what happened to her as a teenager. Her husband Tom is a saint keeping the peace between his children and his wife.

It’s an intricate story weaving back and forth between the main characters. In fact, each character is well drawn and the changing relationship particularly between Lucy and Diana is very well done.

This is another great book by a Melbourne author who also happens to be a New York Times best seller.  If you’re looking for something fantastic to read during the holiday season or a great gift, then grab this one.

Book Review: Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

I’ve been reading some amazing books lately and here is another.

Stone Girl is Eleni Hale’s debut novel set in Melbourne, Australia during the nineties. It opens with twelve-year-old Sophie at the police station with blood on her clothes holding a backpack full of her treasures. She’s been found in a flat with her dead mother and is clearly traumatised. With her father living in Greece and no other relatives, she becomes a ward of the state shunted from one place to another, living in despair without hope and learning the ways of the world from other children who’ve been removed from parents. When she meets Gwen, Matty, and Spiral, she finally feels she belongs.

To say this is an eye-opener is an understatement. Nothing is held back as the reader is taken on a ride with Sophie. We hope that someone will care enough about her and then despair when it doesn’t. We follow her journey through her teenage years which is dictated by a system that can’t give her what she needs, let alone what she and any other child in her situation deserve.

The fact that the author knows firsthand about what it’s like to be a ward of state gives this book more of a punch. Although it’s a work of fiction, it’s not make-believe. Children in the system aren’t vote-catchers so resources aren’t a priority. They’re akin to refugees within our own society and that’s horrific. That’s not to say that youth workers, social workers and the like aren’t doing their job, they are, but in stretched circumstances. Is it really acceptable to house half a dozen broken children in one place with an adult who is on shift, without time and energy to develop relationships with those in their care? Is it any wonder that most of these children end up on the streets, on drugs with a pathway to jail or even worse a short life span? Surely there is nothing worse than to lose your home and your loved ones. Yet this happens with children who are the most vulnerable, time and time again.

I felt so much for Sophie and was annoyed at the uselessness of the adults around her who let her down, time and again. To watch her spiral out of control was heartbreaking. The climax had me reading until the end and closing the last page left me thinking about every kid who ever needed a home, love and respect and those who aren’t lucky enough to get it.

This is classified as Young Adult and has begun winning awards. The writing is authentic and rich. The characters are like no-one you probably know if you live in a middle-class world. It’s a powerful book that needs to read by adults of all walks of life especially by those who make policy as well as those who allow children to slip from their grasp.

Read this one. It’s important.

https://www.penguin.com.au/books/stone-girl-9780143785613

Book Review: Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar

This is a masterful book delivering long after the end.

Kitty Hawke lives alone with her wolfdog on Wolfe Island somewhere in the American region of Chesapeake Bay. All other inhabitants have fled due to rising sea levels. Kitty is a sculptor whose work is driven by what she finds on the island, a place that has strong links to her mother and grandmother.

Estranged from her own family, Kitty is surprised one day by a visit from her granddaughter, teenage Cat, and refugee friends Luis and his seven-year-old sister Alejandra. Despite their intrusion, Kitty becomes involved in the plight of Luis and Alejandra who are both clearly traumatised. We don’t know the details of their lives before but with some snippets of information about their parents we get enough of an idea and it’s not pretty. The world beyond the island is bleak where people smugglers known as runners take on refugees like Luis and Alejandra who are fleeing persecution from their own country somewhere in the South.

We learn about Kitty’s past but she’s also forced to confront the ugly present day of a world where no-one can be trusted when she leaves the island to help Cat get Luis and Alejandra to the safety of the North during the winter. It’s a difficult journey for them all and Kitty carries the responsibility of their safety on her shoulders.

Treloar writes with confidence, her language beautiful and rich with colour. It reminded me a little of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Written in first-person narrative from Kitty’s point of view, we are with her the whole way feeling her desolation, her hope, her drive to do what it takes to get those kids to safety. It’s as much about the journey Kitty takes in her mind as it is on the road.

The seasons and the landscape are beautifully described and the tension builds slowly. A world with vigilantes who decide whether people look like they should belong or not is terrifyingly close to the bone in today’s world. There’s a lot to love and think about in this book. Every page is masterful and compels you not to put it down.

Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

 

As I was coming out of this film, I heard the woman in front of me say, “What the fuck was that about?” You would think that after sitting in a movie theatre for two hours and forty-five minutes, the woman would know. She didn’t and neither did I.

Sadly, the latest Tarantino film failed to deliver much of a storyline. Set in 1969, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a washed-up actor, who begins to realise his stardom is waning in a changing world. Yet he seems to be very much in demand and working – what more does an actor want? Stunt man turned personal assistant, protector and long-time friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is at Rick’s beck and call. Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) happens to live next door to Rick. And that is about it. We watch a series of vignettes. Rick’s day to day struggles and his interactions with other stars. We spend an inordinate amount of time watching him making a B-grade Western. Cliff makes friends with a girl who lives on a ranch where Charles Manson lives who we glimpse now and then. When we think the story is finally going to head somewhere, we’re let down because it doesn’t lead anywhere.

The scenes with Sharon Tate had promise but mostly we got a long tedious look at her walking down a street in a mini-skirt; riding in a convertible; in a movie theatre watching a movie of herself. Margot Robbie really gets little dialogue and not a lot to do. Yet she still manages to light up the screen. It’s a pity that the Sharon Tate story wasn’t used to full effect because, in my opinion, this should have been the story.

Cliff as a character doesn’t seem to develop in any direction. There is a fight scene between Cliff and Bruce Lee. Why? If the scene had remained on the cutting room floor, it would have made no difference. And Bruce is not painted in a good light. Does Tarantino have something against him?

You could spend your time in the theatre spotting where Tarantino pays homage to Hollywood of old as well as the large numbers of cameo appearances from various actors. Every scene goes for too long and I wonder why the editing wasn’t more vigilant. That’s not to say that cutting scenes would have overly saved this movie. If you’re looking for the classic Tarantino violence, there are some brief moments but you will mostly have to wait until the end for this anticipated over-choreographed scene. The music is good as you’d expect and the acting strong. But there’s no tension, just a flat series of scenes with uninteresting people. The highlight for me was the little girl and the dog who stole the show. Hippies are given a bad rap and history is subverted.

Why this movie has got the acclaim it has escapes me. Perhaps Tarantino’s star has also waned or perhaps I just expected so much more to keep me interested.

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 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: 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.