Review: Moonlight Plains by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: Moonlight Plains

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin August 2014

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Status: Read from August 24 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Continuing her loosely linked series featuring the Fairburn family, Barbara Hannay presents Moonlight Plains, an engaging romance which blends a contemporary and historical narrative.

In 1942, as the Japanese threaten the coast of North Queensland, nineteen year old Kitty Martin is sent to Moonlight Plains, the home of her widowed great uncle, far west of Townsville. Kitty, frustrated to be thwarted in her desire to assist in the war effort, is only in residence for a few weeks when two US airmen, blown off course, are forced to ditch their planes at the isolated property, and she finds herself facing tragedy… and heartbreak.
Nearly seventy years later, Kitty is glad her grandson is restoring the faded grandeur of the homestead at Moonlight Plains and quietly pleased that her young friend Sally Piper, a journalist, has taken an interest both in the project, and Luke Fairburn. Kitty only hopes that with the restoration of the past, she can keep hidden her own long held secret that could ruin everything.

Kitty’s wartime narrative reveals a bittersweet love story, of risks taken and hearts broken. Kitty’s 70 year old secret is easily guessed but I really liked her storyline which is sweet and poignant and I felt for Kitty confronted with a difficult choice in a difficult time.

The development of Sally and Luke’s contemporary relationship follows a familiar path, their physical attraction eventually leads to deeper feelings though neither are willing to admit it. I could understand Sally’s hesitance, though I thought the specific reason for her feelings of guilt was an odd aside.

I didn’t think Luke’s reaction to his grandmother’s secret was entirely in keeping with his character. A moment of pique I could understand but his hurt feelings, even in light of his relationship with Sally, seemed excessive. Laura’s reaction to the cache of secret letters written by her father to Kitty was more believable given she lacked the context of the relationship and was still grieving both her father’s passing and bitter over her recent marital breakdown.

I often forget that WW2 was also fought on our shores (I’ve complained before about the failure of the Australian curriculum to focus on the conflicts that occurred on our own soil when I was at school) and so I appreciated the brief glimpse from Hannay of its effects on Townsville and its residents. I also found it easy to visualise the restored grandeur of the old Queenslander at Moonlight Plains, nestled within its bush setting.

A winsome novel, Moonlight Plains seamlessly weaves together a lovely story of love lost and gained. This is another delightful rural romance from Barbara Hannay, following on from Zoe’s Muster and Home Before Sundown.

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Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

 

Title:  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Author: Haruki Murakami

Published: Harvill Secker: Random House August 2014

Status: Read from August 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Haruki Murakami in a Japanese author best known in western culture for the 2011 success of his epic dystopian novel,1Q84. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is his highly anticipated newest title.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the story of a man who has never really recovered from being inexplicably exiled by a group of close friends he met in high school. Drifting through his life, engineer Tsukuru is now in his mid thirties, single and largely friendless, until he meets a woman who encourages him to confront his painful past.

Throughout Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Murukami explores the themes of identity, friendship, alienation and mental health. Tsukuru views himself as having; “…no personality, no defined color. [With] nothing to offer to others…like an empty vessel”, and as such feels disconnected from other people and destined to be alone. This feeling can be traced back to the brutal abandonment of his friends and to redefine himself Tsukuru must resolve the lingering hurts and resentments.

I thought the symbolism in the novel was fairly heavy handed and the dream slips didn’t always make sense to me. I didn’t find the writing particularly special though I found it more accessible and grounded than I was expecting.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, not having read Murakami previously though I have read plenty of opinions about several of his earlier works, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t quite it. Essentially this seems to me to be lad lit (think Nick Hornby), perhaps given gravitas primarily because the protagonist, and the author, is Japanese. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story of Tsukuru’s journey to make peace with his past and redefine his sense of self, but I was largely underwhelmed by the whole thing.

 

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***

 

 

Review: Hindsight by Melanie Casey

 

Title: Hindsight {Cass Lehman and Detective Ed Dyson #1}

Author: Melanie Casey

Published: Pantera Press May 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 17 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Melanie Casey’s debut novel, Hindsight, has been on my wishlist since its release. It is the first book in a series to feature Cass Lehman, a woman with the psychic gift of retrocognition, and South Australian police detective, Ed Dyson.

For almost a decade, Cass Lehman has lived more or less like a recluse in the home she shares with her mother and grandmother. Travel is difficult when her gift of retrocognition means that when she passes over a place where someone has died in a violent or traumatic manner, Cass experiences their final horrifying moments. Now twenty eight and tired of her self imposed exile, Cass decides it is time to confront her demons and takes a huge risk by offering her services to the local police department after a woman is found murdered in an alleyway. The lead detective on the case, Ed Dyson, is scornful until Cass makes the connection between a handful of missing person cases and murders that has eluded Dyson for years, and the pair find themselves on the trail of a serial killer.

Cass’s ability is intriguing, and can be viewed as both a gift and a curse. She pays a high price for her ‘gift’, since she not only sees and hears what the victims experienced but also feels the physical pain and emotional trauma they suffered. I really like that Cass’s talent isn’t always useful, since Cass can only see what the victim saw in their last moments when the killer strikes from behind, for example, she isn’t able to offer much to a investigation.

The initial partnership between Cass and Ed is not an easy one. Ed is still struggling with the unsolved disappearance of his pregnant wife two years previously and doesn’t have the patience to humour Cass given his skepticism. Cass resents Ed’s easy dismissal of her, both because she believes she can help and because she is attracted to the detective.

Casey alternates between the first person perspective of Cass and third person perspectives from Ed, and the killer the pair are hunting. It’s an unusual narrative split but works well and I barely noticed the transitions. The plot is well crafted, and crucially Casey doesn’t allow the paranormal element to overwhelm the structure of a good crime novel. The pacing of the story is good with a tense, and somewhat gruesome, climatic ending that threatens the lives of both the protagonists.

Combining crime fiction with an interesting paranormal element and a touch of romance, I really enjoyed reading Hindsight. I’d particularly recommend it those who find the genre mix appealing and who might have liked Charlaine Harris’s Harper Connelly series. I’m looking forward to following Hindsight up with Casey’s second book, Craven.

 

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Review: Heartbreak Hotel by Debbie Moggach

 

Title: Heartbreak Hotel

Author: Debbie Moggach

Published: Vintage Digital: Random House UK August 2014

Status: Read from August 13 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

When aging actor Russell ‘Buffy’ Buffery inherits a B&B in rural Wales he stuns his family and friends by abandoning London to run it. Buffy finds he enjoys his role as host, but the crumbling manor is in desperate need of maintenance, and a steady occupancy rate, and he needs to find a way to fix it before it all falls down around him.

The premise of Heartbreak Hotel, and the reputation of author Debbie Moggach, is what drew me to select this novel for review, unfortunately I was disappointed by the novel’s structure. The drawn out stories of some of the individuals who eventually wind up at Heartbreak Hotel seemed disconnected to the narrative and the idea of the ‘Courses for Divorces’ was terrific but never fully exploited. The last half of the book, when the characters are brought together, is much stronger than the first.

I did like the Moggach’s characters, most of them find themselves at the B&B after a disappointment of some sort or another. Buffy is an interesting man, he had a successful career as an actor but now aged 70 he is reinventing himself as well as grappling with the missteps he made as a husband and father. For many the guests of Myrtle House their stay at the B&B has surprising consequences including new love and the kindling of new dreams.

Heartbreak Hotel is often amusing and has some charm, but ultimately it was just an OK read for me.

 

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Review: Nest by Inga Simpson

 

Title: Nest

Author: Inga Simpson

Published: Hachette July 2014

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Status: Read from July 26 to 27, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

After a relationship breakdown and the death of her mother, artist Jen Vogel has taken refuge in her childhood hometown. Here she is content to sketch and paint the birds that visit her garden, care for the land that embraces her property and tutor a talented local teen to supplement her income, but unpleasant memories are revived when a young girl goes missing on her way home from school. Nearly four decades earlier, Jen’s best friend Michael, and then her father, disappeared without a trace within days of each other and still there are no answers to what became of them.

Nest is a gentle book, sharing the quiet rhythms of Jen’s days and the turbulent memories of her past. It explores the themes of loss, grief, healing and growth, a cycle echoed in the environment in which Jen lives.

The mystery of the missing children, and Jen’s father’s whereabouts, adds interest and a frisson of tension to what is otherwise a fairly introspective narrative.

The language is evocative, with vivid observations of the flora and fauna that surrounds Jen’s bush haven. Jen has a particular fascination with birds, with robins being her favourite.

“The robins arrived last, splashing and fluffing, sending the other birds off. Their golden yellow was luminous at dusk, as if carrying the last gleams of the sun. Only now did they sing, with their sweet, piping whistle, and first thing in the morning. Their song was best suited to dusk and dawn – the in-between.”

Nest is a self possessed, thoughtful novel from Inga Simpson, author of Mr Wigg.

 

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Review: Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

9781402281839

 

Title: Sweetshop of Dreams

Author: Jenny Colgan

Published: Sourcebooks Casablanca August 2014

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Status: Read from August 08 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

From Jenny Colgan comes another delicious tale of family, love and romance in her newest release, Sweetshop of Dreams.

If pressed, Rosie Hopkins will admit that she is in a bit of a rut, her career has stalled, and so it seems, has her relationship of seven years, but she can’t imagine how spending six weeks in rural Derbyshire will help matters any. However her elderly Great Aunt Lilian needs help and Rosie, an auxiliary nurse, is best placed to do so. Reluctantly Rosie travels to the small village of Lipton, determined to sort out her aunts affairs and return to London, and Gerard, as quickly as possible, but as she experiences the charms of country life, changeable weather and grumpy dentists notwithstanding, Rosie slowly discovers just how sweet life could be.

On her first day in Lipton, Rosie gets lost in the country side during a rainstorm, on her second she discovers her aunts sweetshop, which needs to be sold as a going concern to fund Lilian’s move into a nursing home, has been abandoned, and on her third she careens out of control on Lilian’s old bicycle, destroying a farmer’s vegetable patch and humiliating herself in front of a hunky farmhand and the handsome local doctor. Country life, Rosie is convinced, is not for her but as she begins to restore the sweetshop to its former glory and make friends with the locals, she begins to consider the choices she has made and reevaluate what would make her happy.

Entwined with Rosie’s adventures in Lipton are glimpses into Lillian’s past as a young woman and the regrets, disappointments and tragedies that shaped her life. This goes a long way to explaining Lilian’s sharp tongue, and gives the story a little more depth, emphasising the novel’s major theme of regret over the risks not taken.

Most readers of a certain age will fondly remember the sweets of their youth, my preference was for cobbers (caramel squares covered in milk chocolate) and lurid pink musk sticks, so Rosie’s refurbishment of Lilian’s sweetshop holds a great deal of nostalgic appeal. Colgan’s recipe additions for treats such as Coconut Ice, Peanut Brittle and Tablet (aka Scottish Fudge- which Jenny Colgan kindly shared with Book’d Out readers) are a welcome inclusion, and perfect to enjoy along with the book.

An engaging and charming story with few sour notes, Sweetshop of Dreams is an enjoyable novel and a sweet treat to savour.

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Click on the image for Jenny Colgan’s recipe for Tablet (aka Scottish Fudge)

Tablet The Fudge House

Review: Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

 

Title: Are You Seeing Me?

Author: Darren Groth

Published: Woolshed Press: Random House Au August 2014

Status: Read from July 29 to 31, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A heartwarming and touching novel from Darren Groth, Are You Seeing Me? is a story about siblings, family, love and understanding.

After losing their father to cancer just weeks shy of their eighteenth birthdays, nineteen year old twins, Justine and Perry, are heading to Canada for a holiday of a lifetime. Perry is hoping to find proof of the Ogopogo’s existence and visit the area where his favourite Jackie Chan movie, Rumble in the Bronx, was filmed. Justine, anxious about their impending separation, is determined this will be an adventure Perry won’t forget. Neither are fully prepared for the seismic events that will rock their world.

Are you Seeing Me? is told, with compassion and insight, from the alternating first person viewpoints of Justine and Perry. Justine, older than Perry by three minutes, is ‘neurotypical’, Perry, as Justine is often forced to explain, “…has a brain condition that can cause him to feel anxious or upset in different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviours”. Since the death of their father, Justine has been Perry’s sole carer, their mother having abandoned the family when the twins were only four.

The unusual sibling dynamic is wonderfully portrayed, ‘Just Jeans’ and ‘Pez’ have a loving bond. Shortly before his death, the twins father made arrangements for Perry to move to an assisted living community, but Justine is struggling to accept the decision despite acknowledging Perry’s right to independence and Perry is determined to hide his reluctance to leave his sister in the belief that doing so will free her to live the life she put on hold to care for him.

I thought the twins were realistically depicted, and very likeable, characters. Justine is mature and capable but not perfect. Perry’s perspective is believable, though occasionally confusing given his occasional slip into an imaginary narrative.

There aren’t any real surprises in the plot of Are You Seeing Me?, but the story is well paced and believable. It is well written with natural dialogue and I particularly enjoyed the author’s dry sense of humour.

Are You Seeing Me? is an engaging read, appropriate for both mature YA readers and adults.

FYI: Groth dedicates this novel to his own daughter who, like Justine, is neurotypical while her twin brother, like Perry, has been diagnosed with autism (whom he honoured in Kindling)

 

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Review: Deeper Water by Jessie Cole

 

Title: Deeper Water

Author: Jessie Cole

Published: Harper Collins Au August 2014

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Status: Read from August 03 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Jessie Cole’s second novel, Deeper Water, is a graceful, captivating novel introducing Mema, a young woman who lives a simple life with her mother in a remote valley in Northern New South Wales.

Mema is twenty two but, having spent most of her life isolated from wider society, has an innocence more befitting a young teenager, happiest running barefoot in the rain with her only friend, Anja, or watching the sky lighten at dawn. She is not uneducated but is unworldly, with little curiosity about what lies beyond the boundary of the family property. She is naive but not unknowing, aware of her mother’s reputation for promiscuity, but uninterested in men or relationships. But everything begins to change for Mema when rescues a stranger, Hamish, from the flooded creek and slowly her ‘unknowns become knowns’.

They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I’m yet to know”

Deeper Water beautifully explores Mema’s belated coming-of-age, her growing awareness of herself, of her desires, and of what the outside world may have to offer her. Mema is a richly drawn character struggling with the emotional changes Hamish’s presence awakens, and the way they affect her relationships, with her family, Anja and a neighbour, Billy, in particular.

Deeper Water is also about connection, or the lack there of. Mema is intimately connected to the landscape in which she lives, and the family she loves, but divorced from the wider world. Hamish, despite being horrified by Mema’s lack of internet and mobile access, can claim no real anchor, and despite his environmental credentials, has little connection to the land.

The landscape in which Deeper Water is set has character of its own and is brought to life by Cole’s evocative descriptions.

“At dusk the creek takes on a certain colour. velvety brown. Without the dapples sunshine, its depths are muted and mysterious and all the creatures seem to come to the surface. The catfish linger on their nests and the eels float by like black ribbons. The turtles perch on the flats of exposed rocks and the kingfishers fly past like the brightest of tailsmans.”

With its simple yet elegant prose, and quiet yet deeply felt emotion, Deeper Water is a mesmerising story about a young woman’s awakening to the possibilities of love and life.

 

Learn more about Jessie Cole and Deeper Water in this guest post, published earlier today

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Deeper Water Trailer from HarperCollins Australia on Vimeo.

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AWW Feature: Jessie Cole and Deeper Water

JessieColeportrait2 cropped

 

I’m thrilled to welcome back Australian author Jessie Cole to Book’d Out today.

Jessie Cole grew up in an isolated valley in Northern NSW, and lived a bush childhood of creek swimming and barefoot free-range adventuring. In 2009 she was awarded a HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development, leading to the publication of her first novel Darkness on the Edge of Town, which has been shortlisted for the 2013 ALS Gold Medal and longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award. Her work has also appeared in Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Island Magazine, Big Issue, Daily Life and the Guardian.

Today we are celebrating the publication of  her second novel, Deeper Water.

Innocent and unworldly, Mema is still living at home with her mother on a remote, lush hinterland property. It is a small, confined, simple sort of life, and Mema is content with it.
One day, during a heavy downpour, Mema saves a stranger from a flooded creek. She takes him into her family home, where, marooned by floods, he has to stay until the waters recede. And without either of them realising it, he opens the door to a new world of possibilities that threaten to sweep Mema into the deep.

My review of this compelling and evocative novel can be viewed by clicking HERE but first learn how Deeper Water came to be…

 

In the Beginning

Sometimes thinking back on how a novel is created is like looking through fog at a faraway land. The whole process seems shrouded in mystery. I imagine myself—tapping away at the keys—creating a fictional world for what must have been months and months—stretching into years—but somehow the image doesn’t stick. The whole thing seems a blur. It is—at least partly—that when you sit down to write you are simultaneously in two places at once. You are gazing into a computer screen and you are totally immersed in the world you are creating. For me, because the act of writing is so immersive, it’s hard to think about the hows and whys of the finished product. I end up shaking my head to try to clear it, and thinking—quite simply—it is what it is.

When writing, I like to keep beginnings small. Tapping out the first words is like humming a few notes. It’s possible the notes could turn into a song, but, equally, they could just disperse into the air. My brother is a musician by trade, and I have noticed the language of song-writing seems to encompass the smallness of creative beginnings. When writing new songs my brother always says—I’ve been working on a few tunes. ‘Tunes’ is a humble word. A few notes strung together—the fragile wisp of a burgeoning story. It could be nothing. It could be something. But in any case it starts out small. When I started Deeper Water, I started right at the beginning. They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I’m yet to know. Mema’s voice was strong—clear and unhindered. Somehow unsullied. I waited to see if her story would unfold. Slowly the tune became a song. Even more gradually it became a novel.

And then there’s the tricky bit. Deciding (or decoding) what it is—in the midst of this immersion in a fictional world—you were actually trying to say. Once I’d finished writing the book I thought about this a lot, and I got it down to this:
On the surface, I think Deeper Water is a story about awakening. Mema’s awakening to the world outside, but also her sexual awakening—her belated initiation into womanhood and all that entails. But on a deeper level, the book it is an examination of modern life, of all the ways we’ve invented to disconnect us from nature. Living the way I do, encased in forest on the periphery of modern existence, raises a number of questions. Primarily—how is it that we humans have come to see ourselves as so separate from the natural world? What do we gain by this, and what is the cost?

That’s a tidy bunch of thematic preoccupations, but it doesn’t really go anywhere near explaining why Mema’s voice should come to me, why Hamish would crash into her world, and why—after all—she would fall so hard for him. My only explanation is that the subconscious is a mysterious beast, throwing up characters and stories—initially, at least—outside our comprehension or control. Some people seem to write as though they are puppeteers controlling all the strings, but this has never been the case for me. I’m a listener. I get into a place of stillness and listen to the voice who speaks. And I try not to ask my characters too many questions, to fuss around with them about who they are. I attempt—most simply—to get out of the way. And they are wily, taking all sorts of strange turns. But they seem to know where they are going, so I let them have the reins.

And then afterwards, when the book is finished and my characters are gone, I’m left standing there—all alone—trying to explain to readers what just happened, when I don’t even know myself. I went along for the ride—I long to say, I just went along for the ride. So, if you read Deeper Water—as I hope you might—try to imagine it as it started. A few hummed notes. Some scattered words.The sound of a voice on the wind. And then think of where it came to—a book, a novel, a whole fictional world. Something coherent, with a beginning, middle and end. The story Mema shared with us, in all her honest glory.

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Review: A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier

 

Title: A Year After Henry

Author: Cathie Pelletier

Published: Sourcebooks Landmark August 2014

Status:  Read from June 02 to 03, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

It has been a year since forty one year old Henry Munroe unexpectedly passed away. While his mother arranges a a memorial service for her ‘golden boy’, Henry’s wife, Jeanie, is stalking his ex mistress, Evie, his teenage son Chad is drinking and smoking pot, and Henry’s brother, newly divorced and unemployed, is sleeping in the room they shared as children. A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier explores the process of grief, loss and letting go.

Each of Pelletier’s characters are struggling to come to terms with the emotional aftermath of Henry’s demise, as well as the changes it has has wrought in the direction of their lives. As the memorial service approaches they are forced to confront their angst and reconcile both their love and ambivalence for the son, husband, father, brother and lover they have lost.

Jeanie is the most conflicted character as her husband’s death occurred just as she had mustered the courage to confront him about his history of adultery. This complicates her mourning process and she develops a mild obsession with one his last lovers, Evie.

I was surprised by the paranormal aspect that Evie brings to this story. It is not really a significant element, but allows Pelletier to explore another facet of grief. Evie is a local bartender and Spiritual Portraitist whose brief fling with Henry haunts her, especially as she realises she is falling in love with his brother Larry.

Larry misses his brother despite having always lived in Henry’s shadow. Henry’s status as the family golden boy is only elevated by his sudden death, particularly in contrast to Larry’s messy personal crisis which includes being forced to move back in with his parents after his recent divorce, and being fired from job as a school teacher.

A low-key character driven novel, there are flashes of humor and pathos in this poignant story of grief, loss and letting go. A Year After Henry is Cathie Pelletier’s 11th book.

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