Review: The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffe


Title: The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison

Author: Meredith Jaffe

Published: 5th May 2021, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy HarperCollins Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is a thoughtful and engaging contemporary novel by Meredith Jaffe.

Derek Brown is five years into a seven year sentence for embezzlement when he learns his daughter is getting married. Though he hasn’t seen nor heard from Debbie during his incarceration, despite writing her weekly letters, Derek wants to give her a gift that reminds her how much she is loved. Unable to afford any extravagance, Derek decides to use the skills he has learnt at Backtackers, the weekly sewing group  he attends run by a volunteer, to make his daughter something meaningful, but has to be convinced when the inmates suggest he makes her a wedding dress.

Told with warmth and humour, The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is a story that explores the themes of, among others, estrangement, addiction, connection and redemption. It centers around Derek, but expands to involve a number of other characters, both from within and outside of the prisons walls, and includes a touch of romance, and a side of politics.

I’m familiar with the book club programs that operate in prisons, but I was surprised to learn sewing groups exist, activities like tapestry and quilting are not pastimes I’d associate with male inmates. Jaffe’s inspiration for the Yarrandarrah Prison sewing group came from the charity organisation, Fine Cell Work, which runs programs in British prisons. Designed to not only teach incarcerated men needlework and sewing skills which could be used to improve employment opportunities on release, the program has also proven valuable in strengthening mental health, building self esteem and promoting positive connections.

Derek arguably stands to gain the most from the completion of the wedding dress, but each of the Backtackers also benefit in both tangible and intangible ways from the project. Jaffe’s inmate characters are a diverse group whom she writes about with empathy, flawed though they may be. She challenges the shallow perceptions of incarcerated criminals by creating well rounded, authentic characters, from the irrepressible young Maloney, to the manipulative lifer, Doc. I found the dynamics of the relationships within the prison, and the BackTackers, to be interesting.

I also appreciated the insight into the modern Australian prison system Jaffe provides. She doesn’t shy away from the realities of the system, and makes some thought-provoking observations about the competing philosophies of incarceration as a means of punishment versus rehabilitation.

With its unusual setting, well crafted plot and interesting characters, I enjoyed reading The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison. To learn more about the book, and its author, please read Reading, Rioting and Libraries, an exclusive guest post by Meredith Jaffe published here at Book’d Out earlier.

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Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Guest Post: Reading, Rioting and Libraries {The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison} by Meredith Jaffé

I’m delighted to be hosting this special post by Meredith Jaffé today which introduces her thoughtful and entertaining new novel, The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison.

You can click here to read my thoughts, but first, read on to learn more…

 

Reading, Rioting and Libraries

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison is about a bloke named Derek Brown who is in prison because he embezzled the takings from the golf club to fund his gambling addiction. His modus operandi is to keep a low profile, it’s safer that way. He looks down his nose at the junkies, thinks he is better than the murderers. His job as an orderly in the prison hospital and his weekly sewing group keep him sane. He has the occasional grumble to his mate Parker about the quality of the food but other than that, Derek is getting through his sentence the best way he knows how.

The catalyst for the story is Derek’s sister-in-law, Sharon. She makes her first ever visit to Yarrandarrah in order to impart important news. Derek’s one and only daughter, the light of his life, is getting married. It’s fair to say this comes as a bit of a shock to him. Last time Derek saw Debbie was at his sentencing hearing with him in the dock and her in the school uniform. Five years ago, she was sixteen, how could she possibly be getting married?

So unfolds the drama of the wedding dress and the harebrained scheme that the men in Derek’s sewing group will make the dress. Egged on by the sewing teacher and cocky young crim called Joey Maloney, the Backtackers, as they are known, embark on a journey of discovery that is about a lot more than just figuring out how to make a wedding dress.

The setting for this novel is the fictitious Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre. There is a whole other direction I could go on here about world building and creating an authentic environment. How I did mountains of research to understand the structured environment and the kinds of issues that arise when men live cheek by jowl. Instead, I want to talk about how, in my internet travels, I followed a trail that led to a particular sub plot that fascinates me on many levels. The prison library.

Derek has an uneasy relationship with a fellow inmate called the Doc who is serving life for murder. Yet somehow, murder is no obstacle to the Doc scoring the cushy job of prisoner librarian. Being the keeper of the books affords a man a certain status because the library is about a lot more than borrowing something to read. It’s where men go to escape the jail talk and violence. It’s a place to research your appeal or spend time lingering over the crossword or the sports pages. The Doc runs a book club and a journal writing course. The guys who attend the literacy program in the education unit next door receive an extra half day’s access to the library each week. They are always asking the Doc to keep a book aside or placing requests for a particular title, especially the guys doing the Open University courses. Then there are those who want to read the same book as their loved ones on the outside so they have something to talk about in their weekly phone call. All in all, the Doc is a popular man.

The local town library is fundamental to the success of the prison library. Each week, it supplies additional books, periodicals and specialist magazines on woodwork, stamp collecting, gardening and model trains. It delivers the newspapers so the men who care to can keep up with the outside world. Together, the town library and the prison library provide a lifeline for men who have too many hours to fill and not enough to do with them. In essence, it provides connection. Unlike the members of the town library though, in prison, reading is a privilege. Take that away and you might end up with a riot on your hands.

The Doc’s overriding belief is that reading sets you free. As prisoner librarian, he has the power to transform lives, to influence and encourage the men he shares C Wing with to find a meaningful way to connect with the outside world and family. Maybe even leave this place a better man than when they entered.

No wonder Derek hates the Doc. Bloody know-it-all strutting around like he owns the joint, forgetting he’s in here for the same reason as the rest of them. Doing time for the crime. Poor Derek, unable to see that whether it be the men in his sewing circle, or the Doc and his precious library, each are seeking the same thing; to find meaning and purpose. To escape the tedium of their existence. To find a way to make amends for past transgressions. To make a connection. And, in a way, that’s no different to anyone else, inside or out.

 

The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison by Meredith Jaffe ($32.99), published by HarperCollins.

Meredith Jaffé is the author of three novels for adults – The Dressmakers of Yarrandarrah Prison (May 2021), The Making of Christina (2017) and The Fence (2016.) Horse Warrior, the first in a children’s series, was published in 2019. She also contributed a short story, Emergency Undies, to the 2019 Funny Bones anthology.

She is the Festival Director of StoryFest, held on the NSW South Coast, and regularly facilitates at other writers’ festivals and author events. Previously, she wrote the weekly literary column for online magazine The Hoopla. Her feature articles, reviews, and opinion pieces have also appeared in The Guardian Australia, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia.

Click the image to read my review

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon

Linking to: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? at BookDate; Sunday Post @ Caffeinated Reviewer; and the Sunday Salon @ ReaderBuzz

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Life…

Honestly, this past week seems to have evaporated.

We celebrated my son’s 17th birthday. I made him a ‘castle keep’ to take to his regular D&D game but I should have just gone with a cave 🙂 It had four tiers of chocolate cake, and I cut a hole in the top layer that I filled with coloured chocolate pieces to represent the jewel hoard the dragon is protecting. It was a bit of a disaster because apparently half of the ‘stonework’ – honeycomb chocolate squares – fell off during transport, though I’m assured it still tasted good. I added a happy birthday banner to the front too but forgot to take a photo with it on.

Mother’s Day was uneventful in the end because we made plans for a family lunch at a local tavern this coming Saturday to combine celebrations instead (we don’t have any COVID restrictions except for check in’s because our region doesn’t have any local cases and hasn’t for over a year).

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What I’ve Read Since I last Posted…

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Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss

How To Mend A Broken Heart by Rachael Johns

China Blonde by Nicole Webb

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New Posts…

 

Review: House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

Review: Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss

Review: How To Mend a Broken Heart by Rachael Johns

Motherhood in Fiction

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What I’m Reading This Week…

 

Can a wedding dress save a bunch of hardened crims? The Full Monty meets Orange is the New Black in a poignantly comic story about a men’s prison sewing circle.

Derek’s daughter Debbie is getting married. He’s desperate to be there, but he’s banged up in Yarrandarrah Correctional Centre for embezzling funds from the golf club, and, thanks to his ex-wife, Lorraine, he hasn’t spoken to Debbie in years. He wants to make a grand gesture – to show her how much he loves her. But what?

Inspiration strikes while he’s embroidering a cushion at his weekly prison sewing circle – he’ll make her a wedding dress. His fellow stitchers rally around and soon this motley gang of crims is immersed in a joyous whirl of silks, satins and covered buttons.

But as time runs out and tensions rise both inside and outside the prison, the wedding dress project takes on greater significance. With lives at stake, Derek feels his chance to reconcile with Debbie is slipping through his fingers …

A funny, dark and moving novel about finding humanity, friendship and redemption in unexpected places.

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Lorcan and Naiyana are desperate to move their young family far away from the hustle and bustle of modern city life.

The abandoned town of Kallayee seems like the perfect getaway: no one has lived there for decades. It will be peaceful. Quiet. Secure.

But life in Kallayee isn’t quite as straightforward as they hope. Lights flicker at night. Car tracks appear in the dust even when the family hasn’t driven anywhere. And six-year-old Dylan is certain he can hear strange sounds.

Lorcan and Naiyana refuse to leave. No one can talk sense into them.

And now, no one can talk to them at all.

They’ve simply vanished.

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Dot Watson has lost her way.

Twelve years ago her life veered off course, and the guilt over what happened still haunts her. Before then she was living in Paris, forging an exciting career; now her time is spent visiting her mother’s care home, fielding interfering calls from her sister and working at the London Transport Lost Property office, diligently cataloguing items as misplaced as herself.

But when elderly Mr Appleby arrives in search of his late wife’s purse, his grief stirs something in Dot. Determined to help, she sets off on a mission – one that could start to heal Dot’s own loss and let her find where she belongs once more…

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A chilling police thriller set in a small coastal town on the Mornington Peninsula, where the discovery of human bones on an isolated beach has reawakened a twenty-year-old cold case…

On the evening of September 22, 1998, three teenage girls venture out for a night of mischief in the coastal town of Blairgowrie. But only two return . . .

For over twenty years the disappearance of fifteen-year-old Cecilia May remains a baffling cold case – until human bones are discovered on an isolated beach.

Now it’s up to Detective Emmett Corban and his team to dig up decades of trauma, and find the missing piece of an investigation that’s as complex as it is tragic.

Does the answer lie with the only suspect, a registered sex offender who confessed, then immediately provided a rock-solid alibi? Or with the two teen survivors – neither of whom can keep their story straight?

But the police aren’t the only ones hunting for the truth: someone else has arrived in the seaside town. And she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to find her own version of justice…

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Thanks for stopping by!

 

Motherhood in Fiction

Happy Mother’s Day!

To celebrate, here is a list of ten recently published fiction titles featuring the diverse experience of motherhood

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Two couples. One baby. An unimaginable choice.

Grace and Dan Arden are in their forties and have been on the IVF treadmill since the day they got married. Six attempts have yielded no results and with each failure a little piece of their hope dies.

Indian-Australian Priya Laghari and her husband Nick Archer are being treated at the same fertility clinic and while the younger couple doesn’t face the same time pressure as the Ardens, the Archers have their own problems. Priya suspects Nick is cheating and when she discovers a dating app on his phone her worst fears are confirmed.?

Priya leaves Nick and goes through an IVF cycle with donor sperm. On the day of her appointment, Grace and Dan also go in for their final, last-chance embryo transfer. Two weeks later the women both get their results: Grace is pregnant. Priya is not?

A year later, angry and heart-broken, Priya learns her embryo was implanted in another woman’s uterus and must make a choice: live a childless life knowing her son is being raised by strangers or seek custody of a baby that has been nurtured and loved by another couple.

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Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.

But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.

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I just wanted them to stop wittering at me, eat vegetables without complaining, let me go to the loo in peace and learn to make a decent gin and tonic.

It genuinely never occurred to me when they were little that this would ever end – an eternity of Teletubbies and Duplo and In The Night Bastarding Garden and screaming, never an end in sight. But now there is. And despite the busybody old women who used to pop up whenever I was having a bad day and tell me I would miss these days when they were over, I don’t miss those days at all.

I have literally never stood wistfully in the supermarket and thought ‘Oh, how I wish someone was trailing behind me constantly whining ‘Mummy, can I have, Mummy can I have?’ while another precious moppet tries to climb out the trolley so they land on their head and we end up in A

Again.

Mummy has been a wife and mother for so long that she’s a little bit lost. And despite her best efforts, her precious moppets still don’t know the location of the laundry basket, the difference between being bored and being hungry, or that saying ‘I can’t find it Mummy’ is not the same as actually looking for it.

Amidst the chaos of A-Levels and driving tests, she’s doing her best to keep her family afloat, even if everybody is set on drifting off in different directions, and that one of those directions is to make yet another bloody snack. She’s feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated, and the only thing that Mummy knows for sure is that the bigger the kids, the bigger the drink.

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A new thought-provoking novel exploring the complexity of motherhood and all that connects and disconnects us.

You think you know her…but look a little closer.

She is a stay-at-home mother-of-three with boundless reserves of patience, energy, and love. After being friends for a decade, this is how Liz sees Jess.

Then one moment changes everything.

Dark thoughts and carefully guarded secrets surface—and Liz is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her friend, and about herself. The truth can’t come soon enough.

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Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help.

Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it’s the truth.

Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband. Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn’t this be the start of the amazing life she’d always hoped for?

With white-hot wit and a big, tender heart, Kevin Wilson has written his best book yet—a most unusual story of parental love.

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Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock . . . midnight.

The old millennium turns into the new.

In the same hospital, two very different women give birth to two very similar daughters.

Hope leaves with a beautiful baby girl.

Anna leaves with empty arms.

Seventeen years later, the gods who keep watch over broken-hearted mothers wreak mighty revenge, and the truth starts rolling, terrible and deep, toward them all.

The power of mother-love will be tested to its limits.

Perhaps beyond . . .

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Three women. Three daughters. And a promise that they’ll each get what they deserve.

College admissions season at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Academy is marked by glowing acceptances from top-tier institutions, and students as impressive as their parents are ambitious. But when Stanford alerts the school it’s allotting only one spot to EBA for their incoming class, three mothers discover the competition is more cutthroat than they could have imagined.

Tech giant Alicia turns to her fortune and status to fight for her reluctant daughter’s place at the top. Kelly, a Stanford alum, leverages her PTA influence and insider knowledge to bulldoze the path for her high-strung daughter. And Maren makes three: single, broke, and ill-equipped to battle the elite school community aligning to bring her superstar daughter down.

That’s when, days before applications are due, one of the girls suffers a near-fatal accident, one that doesn’t appear to be an accident at all.

As the community spirals out of control, three women will have to decide what lines they’re willing to cross to secure their daughters’ futures…and keep buried the secrets that threaten to destroy far more than just college dreams.

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This novel is about a woman called Martha. She knows there is something wrong with her but she doesn’t know what it is. Her husband Patrick thinks she is fine. He says everyone has something, the thing is just to keep going.

Martha told Patrick before they got married that she didn’t want to have children. He said he didn’t mind either way because he has loved her since he was fourteen and making her happy is all that matters, although he does not seem able to do it.

By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn’t really matter anymore. It is too late to get the only thing she has ever wanted. Or maybe it will turn out that you can stop loving someone and start again from nothing – if you can find something else to want.

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Glamorous, beautiful Mummy has everything a woman could want… except for a daughter of her very own. So when she sees Kim—heavily pregnant, glued to her phone and ignoring her eldest child in a busy shop—she does what anyone would do. She takes her. But little foul-mouthed Tonya is not the daughter that Mummy was hoping for.

Meanwhile Kim is demonised by the media as a ‘scummy mummy’, who deserved to lose Tonya and ought to have her other children taken too. Haunted by memories of her own childhood and refusing to play by the media’s rules, she begins to spiral, turning on those who love her.

Though they are worlds apart, Mummy and Kim have more in common than they could possibly imagine. But it is five-year-old Tonya who is caught in the middle…

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Followed by Millions, Watched by One

To her adoring fans, Emmy Jackson, aka @the_mamabare, is the honest “Instamum” who always tells it like it is. 

To her skeptical husband, a washed-up novelist who knows just how creative Emmy can be with the truth, she is a breadwinning powerhouse chillingly brilliant at monetizing the intimate details of their family life.

To one of Emmy’s dangerously obsessive followers, she’s the woman that has everything—but deserves none of it.  

As Emmy’s marriage begins to crack under the strain of her growing success and her moral compass veers wildly off course, the more vulnerable she becomes to a very real danger circling ever closer to her family.

In this deeply addictive tale of psychological suspense, Ellery Lloyd raises important questions about technology, social media celebrity, and the way we live today. Probing the dark side of influencer culture and the perils of parenting online, People Like Her explores our desperate need to be seen and the lengths we’ll go to be liked by strangers. It asks what—and who—we sacrifice when make our private lives public, and ultimately lose control of who we let in. . . .

Review: Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss


Title: Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray

Author: Anita Heiss

Published: 5th May 2021, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

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My Thoughts:

The first Australian novel to be released with a title in Wiradyuri language, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, which translates to River of Dreams, is a novel of historical fiction based on true events from Anita Heiss.

When the Murrumbidgee River breaks its banks in 1852 it devastates the fledgling town of Gundagai, built too close to the water’s edge despite the warnings of the local Wiradyuri tribe. Only two members of the Bradley family survive and in the wake of the flood, they decide to start again in Wagga Wagga. Wagadhaany (Wog-a-dine), who has been in the service of the Bradley’s for four years, assumes this means she can return to her family, especially when the eldest brother takes a new bride, but instead she is forced to leave her country, and her miyagan to accompany them.

While Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray explores the universal themes of family, loss, love and belonging, it does so from the unique viewpoint of Wagadhaany, a young Wiradyuri woman. With courage and resilience Wagadhaany endures the cruel separation from her family, and her country, and the dehumanising policies of British colonisation towards First Nations people, finding love with a young Aboriginal stockman, but always yearning to return home.

Herself a proud member of the Wiradjuri Nation of central New South Wales, Heiss writes beautifully of Wagadhaany’s connection to country and family, of her respect for tradition and her pride in her people. I appreciated the insight into the traditional way of life for the First Nations people, and I particularly liked being introduced to the Wiradyuri language, which is easily decipherable through context (though there is a glossary in back if needed).

Through the characters of the Bradley family, Heiss illustrates the ignorant and arrogant treatment of the colonialists toward both the land and the aboriginal people. Their folly is laid bare by the floods, and their insistence on shaping the land to fit their needs. Heiss shows how even those who considered themselves well-intentioned, like James Bradley’s Quaker bride, Louise, advocated paternalism rather than genuine self-determinism.

If I’m honest I feel the writing is a little repetitive at times. Though it’s understandable Wagadhaany’s thoughts dwell on what she has lost and her unhappiness, the middle third of the book doesn’t really have much momentum. I found the love story between Wagadhaany and Yindyamarra engaging, and Wagadhaany’s journey home moving and poignant.

Stirring and edifying, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray is a book that will speak to the hearts and minds of readers.

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Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon 

Review: House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland


Title: House of Hollow

Author: Krystal Sutherland

Published: 30th March 2021, Penguin

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

“Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters.”

 

House of Hollow is a beguiling story of sisters, secrets, and shadows by Krystal Sutherland.

Iris Hollow has no memory of what happened during the month after she and her sisters disappeared from a suburban street in Scotland as children, but there is no doubt that they were changed by their experience. Not only did their brown hair turn white, their blue eyes darken to black, and each bear a half moon scar at the base of their necks, they also possessed an inexplicable sway over anyone who gets too close.

Ten years after they were found, 21 year old Grey is a celebrity supermodel turned fashion designer, and nineteen year old Vivi tours European cities with her punk band, while 17 year old Iris remains at home with their mother, finishing her last year at school, and dreaming of attending a University where no one recognises her. With the anniversary of their abduction nearing, the three sisters arrange to meet but Grey never shows.

Drawing on faerie folklore enhanced by her own creative twists, Sutherland weaves a haunting tale of mystery and magic as Vivi and Iris search for their missing sister. Following a strange trail of destruction and death flowers with a dangerous man in a horned mask stalking their every move, it’s a quest that will eventually expose the terrible truth of what happened to them as children.

I loved the grim, urban fairytale quality of this novel. Sutherland invites us to slip beneath a veneer of beauty, exposing a dark heart of rot. It’s a tale of contrasts – love and loyalty countered by lust and deception. It explores tragedy, grief, the base instinct for survival, and the spaces between life and death.

The writing is lyrical, with a rhythm that leaves you slightly off-balance as you’re drawn deeper into the story. Sutherland’s vivid imagery appeals to all the senses, evoking a visceral reaction of unease that occasionally tips into horror. There is a touch of humour too, flaring briefly in the dark.

Imaginative, atmospheric and intense, House of Hollow is a compelling read.

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia 

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon

Linking to: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? at BookDate; Sunday Post @ Caffeinated Reviewer; and the Sunday Salon @ ReaderBuzz

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Life Update…

My youngest daughter has gone back to university, it was no easier to say goodbye this time than the last. It’s now a long four months til she’ll be home again for the mid year break.

My youngest son is delighted to be going back to work this week, the restaurant where he has a part time job is finally reopening after the floods.

My husband was also glad to return to Archery this past week. The club is in the middle of a state forest which has been closed since the floods, but they’ve just been given an exemption to operate. Thankfully they didn’t experience any flood damage, given they are still rebuilding after the fires destroyed it last year.

It’s my eldest son’s 17th birthday this week, I’m going to attempt to make him a medieval stronghold tower cake to take to his Dungeons & Dragons game.

My eldest daughter is keeping herself busy with work and friends. She’ll be turning 25  in two weeks.

It’s Mother’s Day this coming weekend but we haven’t made any plans yet. To be honest I’d sort of forgotten about it (sorry Mum), but I expect we’ll have lunch or something with my parents. Do you have plans?

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What I’ve Read Since I last Posted…

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Learning To Talk To Plants by Maria Orriols

Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

House of Hollows by Krystal Sutherland

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New Posts…

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Review: Learning To Talk To Plants by Maria Orriols

Review: Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #4

Review: The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

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What I’m Reading This Week…


Gundagai, 1852

The powerful Murrumbidgee River surges through town leaving death and destruction in its wake. It is a stark reminder that while the river can give life, it can just as easily take it away.

Wagadhaany is one of the lucky ones. She survives. But is her life now better than the fate she escaped? Forced to move away from her miyagan, she walks through each day with no trace of dance in her step, her broken heart forever calling her back home to Gundagai.

When she meets Wiradyuri stockman Yindyamarra, Wagadhaany’s heart slowly begins to heal. But still, she dreams of a better life, away from the degradation of being owned. She longs to set out along the river of her ancestors, in search of lost family and country. Can she find the courage to defy the White man’s law? And if she does, will it bring hope … or heartache?

Set on timeless Wiradyuri country, where the life-giving waters of the rivers can make or break dreams, and based on devastating true events, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) is an epic story of love, loss and belonging.

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Summer in New Orleans means hot days, long nights, spooky stories and surprising new beginnings.

Felicity Bell has struggled to move on after her marriage broke down. Her ex has found love again, her children have their own lives, and it’s beginning to feel like her only comfort comes from her dog and her job as a taxidermist. So when Flick gets an offer to work in New Orleans for a few months, she’s drawn to the chance to make a fresh start.

Zoe is ready to start a family with her husband, but when he betrays her, she’s left shattered and desperate for a change of scenery. Joining her mother on the other side of the world to drown her sorrows seems the perfect solution.

Although both mother and daughter are wary of risking their hearts to love again, Theo, a jazz bar owner, and Jack, a local ghost hunter, offer fun, friendship and distraction. But all is not as it seems in New Orleans…

A chance meeting with Aurelia, a reclusive artist who surprises them with lessons from her life, prompts Flick and Zoe to reassess what they want too. Can all three women learn from the past in order to embrace their future?

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When Elle Kinnaird takes the plunge and travels from her rural small-town life to the misty legends of her ancestors in the Scottish highlands, she finds that it’s a big world after all. A heartwarming novel about new beginnings, from the bestselling author of Fool Me Once.

It was a straightforward request. Take her gran home to her beloved Scotland.

In the space of a few days, Elle loses her job and her home and faces moving back in with her parents-where she knows she’ll hear a lot about how she is wasting her life, unlike her three siblings . . .

Then Gran’s will is read and everything changes.

It seems simple: a road trip across Scotland, a country Gran loved, to locate the family castle; meet some long lost cousins; oh, and work out what she wants to do with the rest of her life before returning home. Not a problem.

That is unless the family castle is a ruin that has pretty much been lost in time; the family Elle has never met seem to be hiding a mysterious secret; her over-achieving parents are breathing down her neck, and she’s running out of time to make a decision about her future.

Take Me Home is a glorious lesson in life, love and finding your true destiny.

xxxxxx

This is not just another novel about a dead girl.

When she arrived in New York on her 18th birthday carrying nothing but $600 cash and a stolen camera, Alice Lee was looking for a fresh start. Now, just one month later, she is the city’s latest Jane Doe, an unidentified murder victim.

Ruby Jones is also trying to start over; she travelled halfway around the world only to find herself lonelier than ever. Until she finds Alice’s body by the Hudson River.

From this first, devastating encounter, the two women form an unbreakable bond. Alice is sure that Ruby is the key to solving the mystery of her life – and death. And Ruby – struggling to forget what she saw that morning – finds herself unable to let Alice go. Not until she is given the ending she deserves.

Before You Knew My Name doesn’t ask whodunnit. Instead, this powerful, hopeful novel asks: Who was she? And what did she leave behind? The answers might surprise you.

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Thanks for stopping by!

Review: The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary


Title: The Road Trip

Author: Beth O’Leary

Published: 29th April 2021, Quercus

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

The Road Trip is Beth O’Leary’s third entertaining romcom novel, following her success with The Flatshare and The Switch.

Addie, her sister Deb and rideshare passenger, Rodney, have just begun the eight hour drive from Chichester to Scotland to attend a close friend’s wedding when they are rear ended by a Mercedes. The driver is Addie’s ex-boyfriend, Dylan, accompanied by his best friend, Marcus, heading to the same event. With the Mercedes out of action, Addie reluctantly offers the pair a ride in Deb’s Mini Cooper.

Unfolding from the alternating perspectives of Addie and Dylan in the ‘Now’ and the ‘Then’, the physically uncomfortable conditions created by five adults crammed into Deb’s car are almost secondary to the emotionally fraught atmosphere caused by the tumultuous history between Addie and Dylan in particular. I thought the narrative structure worked well to reveal to what happened between them in the past, and their current status with one another.

The road trip itself is beset by a chain of mishaps, from endless traffic (it’s a Bank Holiday weekend) to a breakdown, punctuated by Deb’s need to pump breastmilk, country music singalongs, and Marcus’s less obnoxious tantrums, providing plenty of humour. There’s always an edge of tension though as Addie and Dylan try to navigate their unexpected reunion, complicated by the presence of Marcus who played a significant role in their breakup.

O’Leary’s characters are interesting, all with their own lighthearted quirks, but many of them also struggle with serious issues such as clinical depression, alcoholism, addiction, sexual assault, and difficult family dynamics, making this story a little darker than her previous novels. And while there is a happy ever after for Addie and Dylan, as befitting the romance genre, it’s more mature than a fairytale ending.

Funny and engaging with a bit of edge, I enjoyed The Road Trip.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I HiveUK

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #4


Welcome to the fourth Monthly Spotlight for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge!

Each month I’ll be highlighting some of the reviews shared for the challenge in the linky

Don’t forget to link each book you read as you read during the year!

I encourage you to support all participants who have shared what they are reading for the challenge. Give them a like, leave them a comment, share their posts on Facebook, twitter, or instagram #2021ReadNonFic

===================

In April…

[BIOGRAPHY]

Rennie at What’s NonFiction?  enjoyed Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz by Gail Crowther about poet’s Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, “Crowther impressively shows how these women defied (or sometimes struggled with) the standards and expectations of their time while making art from pain, art that has been so meaningful to so many people. But it’s more of a compare and contrast exercise than about their personal relationship.”

xxxxxxx

[FOOD]

Of The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield, Tina at Turn The Page wrote “There were so many, “Oh I didn’t know that, how interesting” moments that I would stop and call out to [my husband], “Listen to this” and proceed to share parts of this book.”

Xxxxxxx

[BIOGRAPHY]

Outback Legends by Evan McHugh, “gives a quick overall view of some outback heroes; people who have been stalwarts in their community and made such a big contribution that they deserve any honours they’ve received….This book makes me want to travel around Australia and visit some of the places mentioned.” says Suz of Suz’s Space

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[HOBBIES]

“I highly recommend this for armchair explorers who want a glimpse of a world that few humans will ever see.” writes Jen of the Introverted Reader of Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver by Jill Heinerth

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[SELF HELP]

Lifeofabookwormdoc thought Complete Guide To Self Care by Kiki Ely was excellent. “This is a beautifully photographed and laid out book which has good suggestions in each category of self care.”

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What will you be reading in May?

In case you missed it…

Join the challenge!

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #3

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Inspiration Part #4

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #1

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #2

2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Monthly Spotlight #3

Review: Cunning Women by Elizabeth Lee

Title: Cunning Women

Author: Elizabeth Lee

Published: 22nd April 2021, Windmill Books

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Windmill Books/ Netgalley UK

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Observe your womenfolk for wantonness above their usual failing, watch for the meeting of covens without a man to give spiritual strength. You must keep an attentive eye for secret knowledge of herbuse, the mark of the Devil upon the skin, for these are the signs of Wickedness”

Set in Lancashire, England during the 1620’s, Cunning Women is a debut historical fiction novel of love, loss, superstition and fate from Elizabeth Lee.

Sarah Haworth remembers a time before her father was swallowed by the sea, when her mother was looked upon kindly by her neighbours, and sought out for her healing tinctures and potions, but now, each morning, Sarah wakes and frantically searches her younger sister’s body for a sign that the devil has marked her as a witch during the night, as she and her mother are marked by the red stains on their skin. Sarah’s greatest wish is that Annie be spared her own inevitable fate, and one day escape their tiny, derelict home on Plague hill to lead a normal life, like the villagers below who shun them.

During the reign of King James, a cunning woman, one with knowledge of cures and medicines, as well as charms and curses, was condemned as a witch, though in small villages, they were still often secretly called upon for aid. Lee sets her story amongst this climate of fear and superstition, in which Ruth Haworth, left destitute and vulnerable by her husband’s death, attempts to eke out a living for herself and her three children.

When she was twelve, Sarah learnt from her mother that she too is a cunning woman and as such an ordinary life as a wife and a mother is not hers to have. It’s a destiny Sarah does not want, actively rejecting her mother’s lessons, focusing on the wellbeing of Annie, the sister gifted to them by the woods. Sarah is a sympathetic character, barely fourteen her life is one of deprivation and humiliation, yet she clings tightly to a slender thread of hope that things can change.

Lee introduces romance into the story when Sarah encounters the local farmers son. Daniel is inexplicably drawn to Sarah despite the Haworth’s reputation, and the grudge held against her family by his father. I think Lee develops the relationship quite well within the demands of the story. As love blooms between the couple, Sarah begins to imagine that a new life is with her grasp, until tragedy threatens to rip it away.

It takes a little while for the narrative to gain momentum, but suspense is woven into several threads, and when one snaps it increases the tension among the others. There were a few elements in the plot that I didn’t expect, and the ending was somewhat of a surprise too.

I’ve read a few books set in this period with similar themes recently, and I think this story compares well. Cunning Women is a bewitching and atmospheric tale.

++++++

Available from Windmill Books

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko

 

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