Review: Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McIerney

 

Title: Hello from the Gillespies

Author: Monica McIerney

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin AU September 2014

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Status: Read from September 25 to 27, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Australian-born but Dublin-based Monica McInerney is an internationally best selling author of novels that explore the joys and challenges of family and relationships. Hello from the Gillespies is her tenth novel, following on from her most recent successes, The House of Memories and Lola’s Secret.

For thirty three years, Angela Gillespie has sent a lighthearted letter on December 1st, updating family and friends on the lives of the Gillespies, who live on a large sheep station in outback South Australia, but this time when she sits down to write her annual missive she forgoes the usual niceties and vents her doubts about her marriage, her concerns about their financial affairs, her worries about her children, her frustrations with an interfering aunt and wonders, what could have been. The letter was never meant to be sent but Angela is interrupted by an emergency (her youngest son accidentally amputating the tip of a finger) and her husband, who hasn’t bothered to read the letters in years, thinks he is being helpful when he presses send.

Hello from the Gillespies offers a warm hearted, funny and sometimes poignant glimpse into family life. When Angela’s letter makes all their secrets public, the fall out for the family, which includes her husband Nick, their adult daughters Genevieve, Victoria and Lindy and ten year old son Ig, is mixed. As they struggle to come to grips with the truths laid bare, an unexpected twist in the tale challenges the very foundation of the Gillespie family.

McIereny’s characters are appealing and believable. As a wife and mother, I identified with Angela’s frustrations and concerns. It is a rare woman I suspect who hasn’t at least once wondered ‘what if?’ Perhaps my only niggle is that I felt the adult daughters behaved in ways more appropriate for twenty something rather than thirty something year old’s (I don’t have a lot of patience for the adultescent trend). However, the situations the characters find themselves in ring true, albeit slightly exaggerated, as do the dynamics between the family members.

Despite its length, the story had no trouble keeping my attention with several twists to the plot keeping it interesting, though the conclusion was predictable. The writing is accessible with natural dialogue. The settings, which includes the Gillespie station and brief glimpses of Ireland, London, New York and Adelaide, are authentically portrayed.

A heartfelt, witty and perceptive story about family, friendship and love, Hello from the Gillespies is an entertaining and charming read.

 

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Review: Rain Dance by Karen Wood

 

Title: Rain Dance

Author: Karen Wood

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2014

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

My Thoughts:

Rain Dance is an enjoyable Australian rural romance for an young adult audience from accomplished author, Karen Wood.

When the Harvey family loses their house to the bank, they are forced to relocate from their coastal home to an isolated property in Gunnedah to fulfil a temporary building contract. Fifteen year old Holly, along with her two older brothers, Brandon and Jake, and younger sister, Eva, have no option but to make the best of the situation but she can’t imagine ever considering the arid land home.

Seventeen year old Kaydon Armstrong is shocked when he returns home from boarding school for the holidays to learn his father has made a deal with an investor to expand their cattle farm. Given the current drought conditions, Kaydon is suspicious of the investor’s motives but his father isn’t interested in his doubts and is determined for the deal to go through.

Rain Dance is an engaging story set in Gunnedah, a regional area in New South Wales. There is a sweet romance that develops between teenagers Holly, a vegetarian, and Kaydon, a fifth generation cattle farmer, action packed scenes when an accidental fire sparks and threatens Holly and her family, and a touch of intrigue when it becomes obvious the investor willing to bankroll the Armstrong’s plans for expansion has his own agenda.

While Rain Dance is aimed at a young adult audience Wood doesn’t shy away from illustrating the realities of life. She explores the affect of the financial crisis through the Harvey family’s losses, the emotional and financial strain drought has placed on regional farmers and raises the environmental risks of mining. Wood also examines some difficult themes through some of the minor characters. Kaydon’s best friend Dan has been struggling since the death of his father in a farming accident. Dan’s mother has been unable to maintain the farm and, with the family on the verge of losing everything while the insurance company delays payment, Dan is growing increasingly desperate. Jake, Holly’s brother, has admitted to being gay and is feeling lonely, and Holly’s mother has just been diagnosed with cancer, with the only treatment available hundreds of kilometers away.

With appealing characters, a strong sense of place and a well crafted plot, Rain Dance is a lovely read. I’d recommend it for adult fans of the rural romance genre to share with the teens (age 12 and up) in their life.

 

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Review: Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer

 

Title: Lyrebird Hill

Author: Anna Romer

Published: Simon & Schuster Au September 2014

Listen to an excerpt

Status: Read from September 18 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

As in Romer’s debut novel, Thornwood House, the past casts deep shadows over the present in Lyrebird Hill, a haunting story of family secrets, mystery and murder.

Ruby Cardel can’t remember the events surrounding the tragic death of her sister, Jamie. She knows only what she has been told, that Jamie died in an accident when they were children, slipping and falling into the river that bordered their property, Lyrebird Hill and that Ruby was found nearby, bruised and disorientated, her memory of the past year gone. Though Ruby has built a life for herself, opening a bookstore in Coffs Harbour and is in a relationship with handsome self help guru, Rob, her sister’s death continues to haunt her, and she is stunned when her mother is forced to confess that Jamie’s death was no accident. Despite a persistent feeling of dread, Ruby decides it is time to uncover the truth about that fateful day and returns to Lyrebird Hill in the hope of finding the answers she seeks.

As Ruby tries to unravel the mystery of Jamie’s death, a second narrative emerges telling the tale of Brenna Magavin. In 1898, nineteen year old Brenna was the carefree young mistress of Lyrebird Hill, owned by her father. When financial ruin threatened to force the sale of the property, Brenna agreed to marry a family friend, a peer of her father’s, in exchange for the clearance of the debt, only to discover she made a deal with the devil. When Ruby discovers a tin full of letters written by Brenna buried at Lyrebird Hill she learns her family’s history is blighted with tragedy, betrayal and murder and fears it is a legacy she has unwittingly perpetuated.

The dual narratives of Lyrebird Hill weave a captivating and complex tale as the mysteries surrounding Jamie’s and Brenna’s fate unravel. The atmosphere darkens as secrets are revealed and danger lurks. There is unspeakable violence, bitter regrets and shocking treachery but also a thread of redemption, of truth and even triumph.

The prose is lush and lyrical evoking both the landscape of Lyrebird Hill and the fraught emotions of Romer’s characters. There are distinct modern gothic undertones to the story, with a hint of fairytale morality. I did find the pacing a little slow, more so in the contemporary timeline, but the stunning twists presented in the conclusion of both narratives easily compensate for the small lag.

An absorbing and atmospheric tale, beautifully told, I enjoyed Lyrebird Hill and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

 

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Review: The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer

 

Title: The Sunnyvale Girls

Author: Fiona Palmer

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin September 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from September 22 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Sunnyvale Girls, Fiona Palmer’s sixth novel, is an engaging story about family, self discovery, and romance.

‘Sunnyvale’, a sheep and wheat farm in regional Western Australia, is home to three generations of women, matriarch Maggie, her daughter Antonia (Toni) and granddaughter, twenty year old Felicity (Flick).

A dual narrative featuring a contemporary and historical timeline has become a popular element in recent rural romance novels. In The Sunnyvale Girls, Felicity discovers a hidden cache of unopened letters addressed to Maggie, and unearths a secret Maggie has kept for over 50 years. Through Maggie’s memories, we learn the origins of that secret – a forbidden wartime romance between Maggie and a young, handsome Italian POW billeted to Sunnyvale during the last years of World War Two. Toni is shocked by Maggie’s revelation, but Felicity reacts to the news with excitement and convinces Toni to accompany her to Italy to try and find Maggie’s lost love.

Both timelines feature family drama, romance and a hint of mystery. Palmer explores the individual journey’s of the three women with a deft hand by challenging her characters emotionally.
Maggie’s story reveals a bittersweet tale of first love, thwarted by prejudice and circumstance. Her secret is easily guessed, but the storyline is sweet, the historical details are interesting and I was eager to find out why Rocco never returned for Maggie as promised.
Toni, already simmering with long held resentments and low self esteem, is furious with her mother when Maggie’s secret is revealed. It makes her question the choices she has made in the past and forces her to confront the decisions she needs to make about her future, especially where Jimmy, Sunnyvale’s farm hand, is concerned.
Felicity is simply curious about Maggie’s past and excited at the prospect of reuniting her grandmother with her lost love. Having fought her mother’s attempts to get Felicity to explore the world beyond the boundaries of Sunnyvale, Italy is a revelation for Felicity, especially when she meets a handsome Italian waiter.

Palmer has always had success with creating a strong sense of place in her novels, drawing on her familiarity with the Australian rural landscape. The author’s descriptions of Italy, particularly of the village of Montone in which Maggie and Flick stay, are similarly evocative. (Check out Fiona’s guest post at Book’d Out to learn about her research trip to Italy.)

A lovely rural romance, with appealing characters, a strong storyline, and a historical twist, The Sunnyvale Girls is another enjoyable novel from Fiona Palmer.

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Review: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

 

Title: One Kick {Kick Lannigan #1}

Author: Chelsea Cain

Published: Simon and Schuster UK/AU September 2014

Read an Excerpt

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

My Thoughts:

One Kick is the start of a new action packed series for suspense/thriller writer Chelsea Cain who is best known for her popular Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell series.

When the FBI raided an isolated farmhouse they were shocked to discover twelve year old Kathleen Lannigan, abducted six years earlier from outside her home, who destroyed their case against her abusers with a push of a button. Ten years later, ‘Kick’ as she insists she be called, is still struggling with the legacy of fear, shame and emotional trauma inflicted by her captors, and is desperate to find a way to redeem herself. Despite mastering skills in martial arts and marksmanship, amongst other things, to ensure she will never again be a victim, Kick feels useless, until a stranger breaks into her apartment and asks for her help. Bishop is hunting the pedophiles behind the recent abduction of two children and believes she is his best chance at finding them. Kick can’t refuse, but saving them may cost her everything.

With plenty of tension, convincing emotion and harrowing scenes, One Kick is a page turning thriller from the first page. The plot is fairly simple, but holds together well, anchored by Cain’s strong protagonist, Kick.

Kick is a survivor, and to be admired for all she has endured and battled to overcome, but she is damaged. She is all but estranged from her family, resists authority and is obsessed with abduction cases, though at a loss as to how to make a difference. She has never fully resolved her relationship with her abductor, Mel, and is overly attached to her aging dog, Monster. The story places Kick in circumstances that challenge her psychologically, forcing her to confront her dark past and it is impossible not to feel for her and hope that she will triumph. My only niggle with her character is that much emphasis is placed on her finely honed physical skills but when she needs to use them, they all but fail her.

Bishop is a fairly stereotypical character for the thriller genre – tough, enigmatic and ruggedly handsome, though not entirely infallible. His motivations for the hunt are revealed gradually, though his benefactor, who provides the money and resources needed to follow the clues from Seattle to San Diego, remains a shadowy figure.

Kick’s experiences as ‘Beth’ are never really articulated but what is implied is horribly confronting, and may be a trigger for some readers. Cain also exposes some of the sickening details of pedophile rings who rely on a network of safe houses, false identification and anonymous computer networks to procure and trade children while protecting their dirty secret. It makes for disturbing reading.

One Kick is a solid thriller with a strong protagonist and a storyline that is both confronting and exciting. I’m eager to see how the series and its characters will develop.

 

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Weekend Cooking: Tacolicious by Sara Deseran, Joe Hargrave, Antelmo Faria and Mike Barrow

 

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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Title: Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails, and More

A collection of recipes for fun, accessible taqueria fare–including colorful salsas, tasty snacks, irresistible cocktails, and of course tacos galore–from the wildly popular San Francisco restaurants and acclaimed Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market food stand, Tacolicious.
Tacos may be the most universally loved, happy-making food on earth. After all, who can say no to a juicy, spicy Chile verde taco; a decadently deep-fried Baja-style fish taco; or a gloriously porky Carnitas taco? At Tacolicious, the San Francisco Bay Area’s most popular Mexican restaurant, tacos are a way of life. And now, in this hotly anticipated cookbook, co-owner Sara Deseran shares all of the restaurant’s tortilla-wrapped secrets. Whether you’re seeking quick and easy weeknight meals or inspiration for a fabulous fiesta, Tacolicious has you covered. With recipes for showstopping salsas, crave-worthy snacks, cocktails and mocktails, and, of course, tacos galore, this festive collection is chock-full of real Mexican flavor—with a delicious California twist.

Author: Sara Deseran, Joe Hargrave, Antelmo Faria and Mike Barrow

Published: Ten Speed Press: Random House September 2014

Status: Read on August 25, 2014   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Growing up, simple beef tacos and nachos were exotic meals, Mexico is after all a long way from Australian shores. Now these dishes, along with steak and chicken fajita’s, burrito’s, enchilada’s and quesadilla’s appear regularly in my family’s menu. I was curious about Tacolicious because I have never used anything except sachets of Old El Paso packaged seasoning to prepare any Mexican dishes and I know that flavour is probably sacrificed as a result.

The recipes aren’t complicated but some ingredients wouldn’t be easy to source except online, especially in my small country town. I can get chilies at the supermarket but they only come in red, green or in a jar, Velveeta cheese isn’t sold in Australia, nor is Monterey Jack. However with a few tweaks here and there almost all of the the recipes which include a range of Salsas, Snacks, Sides, Tacos, and more, seem doable.  I was a little disappointed there was no recipe for making tortilla’s though they do discuss where they source them from and compare store bought options for the home cook.

If you enjoy a drink or two there are a few dozen easy concoctions to choose from. Unsurprisingly tequila features heavily but non alcoholic options are offered also.

The overall tone of the cookbook is friendly and encouraging. There are some good hints and tips for preparation, cooking methods and presentation and the recipe steps are clearly described. Bright full page photo’s are a nice feature. The glossary and index are both useful inclusions as well.

You can view a few sample pages from the book and get recipes for Melon, mango and cucumber with chile, salt and lime and Old School Taco at the Tacolicious website. Random House shares a recipe for Roasted tomato–mint salsa along with the introductory pages in its Look Inside feature.

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Review: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

 

Title: The Children Act

Author: Ian McEwan

Published: Nan A. Talese: Random House September 2014

Status: Read from September 03 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

Ian McEwan has been on my ‘must read someday’ author list for a while so I couldn’t pass up the chance to read The Children Act.

Fiona Maye is a well respected High Court judge presiding over family-related matters. Few of her cases are simple in that she must consider the matter of law with reference to the complexities of humanity, especially in circumstances where children are involved, but Fiona prides herself on presenting impartial and sensitive rulings. The case of a teenage boy, Adam, just months shy of his eighteenth birthday, in desperate need of a blood transfusion that has been refused by his parents on the grounds of religious belief, should be no more or less challenging than any Fiona has faced, yet it arises on the same day that her husband of thirty years demands the right to have an affair. Fiona, while struggling with her private betrayal and shaken confidence, hears Adam’s case but decides to visit his bedside before making a ruling and unwittingly forms a bond with the vulnerable young man.

In the Children Act, McEwan poses interesting questions about the separation, and relationship, between law and religious belief and how they apply to the welfare of a child. Fiona’s court is faced with devout Catholic parents refusing surgery to separate their co-joined twins, a woman seeking an order to prevent her Muslim husband from taking their daughter to a country from where he won’t be compelled to return, a Jewish couple in a custody dispute and the defining case, that of seventeen year old leukemia sufferer Adam whose parents are refusing a life saving blood transfusion due to their Jehovah’s Witnesses faith.

Also at issue are questions about personal freedom and responsibility which arise in both Fiona’s professional and personal lives. Who is responsible for the decisions Adam makes? Does he truly have the freedom to make a decision for himself? How responsible is Fiona for rulings she makes, and for what comes after? What responsibility does Fiona bear for the problems in her marriage? Does she have the right to deny her husband the freedom he requests?

McEwan’s style of prose is succinct yet surprisingly lyrical. There is impressive nuance within the narrative that communicates emotion without explicit description, like the offer of a cup of coffee as a truce. In terms of pacing however I felt as if the story would perhaps have better suited to the length of a novella, as the second half of the novel loses some momentum.

The Children Act is an interesting and provocative novel though not as compelling as I had perhaps hoped, however I can see how McEwan has earned his stellar reputation in the literary community.

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Review: Mothers and Daughters by Kylie Ladd

 

Title: Mothers and Daughters

Author: Kylie Ladd

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2014

Status: Read from September 01 to 02, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

A thought provoking and provocative story, Mothers and Daughters is Kylie Ladd’s fourth novel.

Caro, Fiona and Morag, joined by daughters Janey, Bronte and Macy, are looking forward to a weeks holiday near Broome to catch up with close friend Amira, and her daughter Tess. It should be a week of relaxation and recreation, but as the days pass, tension between mothers and daughters, and between the girls, rises, testing the bonds of family and friendships.

A novel driven by theme and character rather than plot, Kylie Ladd explores the complicated dynamics between mothers and their teenage daughters and the many issues that divide and unite them.

The relationship between Fiona and Bronte is one of the most interesting, I think. Fiona, hyper critical of her daughter, often laments that Bronte is nothing like her but in fact it is the similarities between them that provokes her. Bronte’s meekness reflects the powerlessness Fiona feels in her life and her marriage in particular and she directs her anger and resentment about the situation at her daughter. Despite Fiona’s blunt and often crass demeanor, exacerbated by her fondness for a drink, I developed some sympathy for her, and was happy to see the seeds of change.

Janey is the least likeable of the group, typifying the worst traits of teen ‘mean’ girls- vain, thoughtless, and self involved. Whereas Fiona is hyper critical of Bronte, Janey’s mother, Caro, eventually admits to willfully overlooking her daughters faults.

“I’ve been too soft on her. I’ve always told her how beautiful and clever she is, and now she believes it….I wanted her to be perfect, because it made me look good, so I acted as if she was.”

Ladd also explores the way that we often reflect our own experience of being mothered in our relationships with our daughters. Caro is anxious about being a perfect mother because hers never had the chance, Fiona essentially estranged from her own mother, has no idea how to close the gap between herself and Bronte.

Mothers and Daughters also comments on the way in which modern city/suburban life has encroached on our relationships with our children, underscored by the contrast between the relationship between Amira and Tess and the relationships between the mothers and daughters that remained in Melbourne.

Through the differing perspectives of Ladd’s characters, other issues raised in the novel include friendship, step-parenting, sex, marriage, home, and social issues such as cyber-bullying. Inspired by the setting, Ladd also explores racism and indigenous culture and community.

I glimpse elements of my own relationship with my mother, and my teenage daughter, in this story of these women and girls, and pieces of mothers and daughters I have known in the characters.

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Review: Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

 

Title: Golden Boys

Author: Sonya Hartnett

Published: Hamish Hamilton: Penguin Au August 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 26 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

When the affluent Jenson family move in to the neighborhood they quickly attract the attention of the local children. Colt and Bastian have a playroom full of toys, a swimming pool and a charismatic father, all of which they seem prepared to share. The Jenson home quickly becomes a haven for twelve year old Freya and the neighborhood boys, Avery, Garrick and brothers Syd and Declan, eager to escape their working class homes marred by violence, poverty and neglect, but before long the boys sense something is not quite right, and the golden aura of the Jensons begins to tarnish.

Golden Boys is set in the early to mid 1970’s, in an outer suburban locale, a landscape familiar to readers who freely roamed their neighborhood during long summer days. It explores the complex dynamics of family, childhood and friendship, and the disquieting undercurrent of violence and abuse seething beneath their ordinary facade.

Freya Kiley, struggling to understand her large family’s dynamic, sees Rex Jenson as a possible saviour, but her brother’s, Declan and Syd, begin to sense Rex is not quite what he seems. Colt is all too aware of his father’s failings but at a loss as to how to admit, or cope with them. Garrick has no such hesitation, the neighborhood bully, he, like most children, is simply certain that someone has to pay for doing wrong by him.

With finely crafted characters and evocative storytelling threaded with subtle tension, Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys is an artful novel.

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Review: When The Night Comes by Favel Parrett

 

Title: When The Night Comes

Author: Favel Parrett

Published: Hachette August 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from August 25 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Favel Parrett’s debut, Past the Shallows, caught the imagination of the Australian literary community in 2011. When the Night Comes is her highly anticipated second novel, in which Parrett tells the story of Isla and Bo whose lives are briefly entwined during the late 1980’s.

Twelve year old Isla has recently arrived in Hobart with her newly divorced mother and younger brother. A quiet and thoughtful girl she isn’t finding it easy to adjust, feeling dislocated and lonely.
Bo is a Danish galley chef on the ‘Nella Dan’, a supply ship sailing regularly between Tasmania and Antarctica. He loves the rhythm of life at sea, is awed by the majesty of Antarctica, and takes pride in following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Bo and Isla meet when Bo becomes Isla’s mother’s lover over a period of 18 months or so during his periods ashore and When The Night Comes explores their brief connection, in amongst a series of life changing events.

Parrett is skilled at creating vivid scenes for the reader that also reverberate with emotion,

“…when I reach the top the view hits me with full force. the whole of the rich blue bay, still. Perfect. Nella Dan there in her spot, reflecting red off the water. the Sky cloudless. Giant white cliffs running on and on, then out to the horizon, icebergs for as far as you can see. Icebergs lined up for all of time, blue and brilliant white taking up the whole scene. Every blue that there is – that exists. One million shades of blue – and white. The scale of it all measured against me, one man standing here. Just one man, small and breathless.”

I have to admit at about a quarter of the way through the novel I actually wondered if I could finish the book, finding the often disjointed prose and repetitive phrasing irritating. However by the half way mark I’d finally settled into the dreamlike rhythm of the narrative and gained as appreciation for its unique tempo. I eliminated all distractions (i.e. sent the kids to bed) and began again, reading it straight through this time absorbed by the bitter chill, the moving water and the growing light.

When the Night Comes is a quietly powerful novel that demands all of the reader’s attention, and rewards those that give it willingly.

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