Review: In the Clearing by J.P. Pomare

 

Title: In the Clearing

Author: J.P Pomare

Published: July 23rd 2020, Hodder & Staughton

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Hodder & Staughton/NetgalleyUK

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My Thoughts:

In the Clearing is an intense and unnerving read from J.P. Pomare, whose debut novel, Call Me Evie, won the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for best first novel.

Divided into six parts and unfolding from two shifting perspectives we are introduced to Amy, a young teenage girl who knows only life in The Clearing, a tiny isolated community led by the charismatic ‘Queen’, ‘Mother’ and ‘Deity’ Adrienne; and single mother Freya, who is determined to provide love and security for her young son, Billy, in their riverside home on the outskirts of Melbourne, but is haunted by her past mistakes.

Examining the role of nature vs nurture in a manner that suggests we may never truly escape our past, Pomare draws inspiration from the doomsday cult known as ‘The Family’, active in Australia for roughly twenty years in the 70’s and 80’s. In the Clearing he presents a complex and unpredictable plot that is skillfully crafted and insidiously compulsive. From the novel’s first pages the author grows a sense of unease which intensifies as the story progresses. Though the pace is measured, Pomare builds to shocking twists, and yet never quite allays our anxiety.

I’m loathe to spoil the experience for readers, but it seems responsible to warn that In the Clearing has its dark moments, alluding to the abhorrent abuse of children, and the occasional explicit, but not gratuitous, description of violence.

Provocative, clever, and powerful, In the Clearing is a stunning and devastating novel which will be difficult to forget.

++++++

Available from Hodder & Staughton UK

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

Review: Deadman’s Track by Sarah Barrie

Title: Deadman’s Track

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: July 8th 2020, HQ Fiction

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

Evoking both the beauty and danger of Tasmania’s mountains and rugged coastline, with the capricious winter weather often mirroring the tension of the storyline, Deadman’s Track is a riveting romantic thriller from Sarah Barrie.

The story opens with a breathtaking scene as wilderness guide Tess Atherton clings to the side of Tasmania’s Federation Peak attempting to save the life of a careless client, and it’s not the last time in Deadman’s Track that she will find herself trapped in a precarious position. The nail biting plot offers plenty of fast paced, tense action that sees Tess caught in the middle of a violent robbery, stalked by an ex-boyfriend, and targeted by a psychotic killer as she leads five teenagers through the Tasmanian bush.

The youngest of the Atherton siblings who own and run Calico Lodge, (with her brothers, Logan and Connor, featured in Bloodtree River and Devil’s Lair respectively), I thought Tess was an appealing character, who In the face of both physical and emotional challenges, proved to be courageous and resilient. She is confronted with two notable antagonists in Deadman’s Track, Aaron, who doesn’t it take it well when Tess tries to end their relationship, and ex-con Paxton. The behaviour of both men serves to push her closer to Jared, a local police detective with whom Tess has some history. A likeable character, thoughtful and straightforward both personally and professionally, Jared is a good match for Tess, and I enjoyed the development of their relationship, despite the somewhat awkward timing.

It may be considered ambitious of Barrie to include intrigue, action, romance and some thoughtful social commentary in Deadman’s Track, but she does so effortlessly, creating a credible and compelling story. Exciting, atmospheric and gripping, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

++++++

Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Sarah Barrie reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: Croc Country by Kerry McGinnis

Title: Croc Country

Author: Kerry McGinnis

Published: July 2nd 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read July 2020, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Croc Country is an engaging novel blending romance and suspense from Kerry McGinnis.

After the tragic drowning of her husband and toddler daughter, Tilly left Queensland to become the house manager for the rangers of Binboona Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Northern Territory’s Gulf country. She finds solace in her routine, but when two policeman arrive and suggest not only that her husband may still be alive but possibly near by, Tilly is stunned. While refusing to believe such a betrayal possible, when Tilly and ranger Luke discover evidence of wildlife smuggling, and visiting botanist Connor makes a confession, she is forced to face the ghosts of her past.

McGinnis develops a strong and interesting plot of intrigue in Croc Country involving smuggling, corruption and murder. I thought the intersection of various agencies was quite unique and the the action was well paced, tense, and exciting. While honestly Tilly’s husbands involvement is a bit of a stretch, it’s a minor flaw.

I liked the mix of characters, particularly non nonsense Sophie and enthusiastic ranger, and twitcher, Luke. The romance that develops between Tilly and Connor is a pleasant, low key element of the story. As they are quite a young couple, I found the old fashioned endearments between them a little awkward though.

Though Binboona Wildlife Sanctuary is fictional, McGinnis places it in the east of the Gulf, near The Lost City, the site of ancient sandstone pillars. While vivid description from the author brings the beautiful landscape to life, she also details the work of the rangers in preserving it. They are kept busy with numerous tasks including land maintenance, wildlife protection, and hosting a seasonal influx of tourists, which I liked learning more about.

I was waiting for a crocodile to make an appearance in truth, but instead we meet a canny butcherbird, an injured brolga, a trio of orphaned joey’s, a sweet sugar glider, and a rare bat, along with the odd snake which slithers by.

Croc Country is my favourite of McGinnis’s bestselling novels so far

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Kerry McGinnis reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham

Title: Finding Eadie

Author: Caroline Beecham

Published: July 2nd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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Finding Eadie is Caroline Beecham’s third engaging historical fiction novel set during the period of World War II in England.

It’s 1943 and much of London’s publishing industry is struggling as the war effort’s strain on resources takes its toll. The staff of Partridge Press however are determined to stay afloat, and are hoping an exciting new book suggested by assistant editor Alice Cotton will prove lucrative, but are shocked when she declines the opportunity to oversee the project and instead tenders her resignation, claiming a pressing family emergency.

Alice can’t reveal her real reason for leaving, she is pregnant, and her devout mother insists Alice give birth in secret elsewhere, returning to London with the child only under the pretence of it belonging to a relative. Eager to raise the baby herself, Alice agrees, but within hours of her daughter’s birth her mother betrays her by handing Eadie over to strangers.

Finding Eadie is largely the story of Alice’s search for her daughter among the city’s unscrupulous baby farmers who sell unwanted infants and toddlers with virtual impunity. Beecham shares the darker side of the trade, which flourished particularly during wartime until the Adoption of Children’ Act was passed in late 1943, though I would have liked for the author to explore this intriguing subject in greater depth.

Alice’s anguish over the fate of her daughter is palpable and I could help but empathise with her. Reluctant to admit to the situation due to the circumstances of the child’s conception, and the general disapproval of unwed mothers, Alice has few persons with which to share her heartbreak, or her mission, though two women prove supportive. Rejoining the staff of Partridge Press is a way for Alice to gain access to information about the baby farmers she would otherwise be unable to, the book project she abandoned offering her some cover.

I enjoyed learning something about the publishing industry in wartime. It was a period during which books were in high demand, but a scarcity of resources made operations difficult, especially for smaller presses. The arrival of Theo Bloom, an employee of Partridge Press’s New York office charged with increasing the profitability of the business, allows Beecham to explore the status of publishing in both the UK and USA during the period.

Theo Bloom also serves to introduce a romantic element into the story when he finds himself attracted to Alice’s sharp mind. The development of the relationship is handled quite sensitively, considering the somewhat awkward circumstances.

Finding Eadie is the sort of light historical fiction, with likeable characters and a pleasing blend of drama and romance, sure to have broad appeal.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Bluffs by Kyle Perry

 

Title: The Bluffs

Author: Kyle Perry

Published: July 2nd 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read July 2020, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

When a teacher is attacked and four teenage girls go missing in the dense wilderness of Tasmania’s Great Western Tiers during a school excursion, the residents of Limestone Creek, angry and frightened, are quick to assign blame. Some suspect a local drug dealer is responsible, others speculate one of the girls has a guilty lover, while it suits the sister of a missing girl to reanimate the legend of ‘The Hungry Man’, a killer said to stalk the Tiers.

Unfolding largely from the perspectives of three characters, teacher Eliza Ellis, the father of a missing girl, Jordan Murphy, and the investigating detective, Con Badenhorst, the fast paced narrative builds tension and intrigue from the very first, hinting at deception, betrayal, corruption, and explosive secrets.

The insinuation of the supernatural plays perfectly against the contemporary elements, with recognisable inspiration drawn from Picnic at Hanging Rock, the legend of Slenderman, and the case of Michelle Carter, tied in with Aboriginal legend.

Perry effortlessly evokes a visceral response to the dense bushland of the bluffs in which the girls go missing, and the small town it shadows. The area’s erratic weather reflects the mood of the insular community, and the development of the investigation.

Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. A stunning debut from Kyle Perry, The Bluffs is an atmospheric, and compelling tale with twists and turns that will keep you wondering about the fate of the girls to the very last pages.

++++++

 

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Farm at Peppertree Crossing by Leonie Kelsall

Title: The Farm at Peppertree Crossing

Author: Leonie Kelsall

Published: July 2nd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Told with heart, humour and candour, The Farm at Peppertree Crossing is Leonie Kelsall’s first contemporary rural romance novel.

When Veronica is told she is to inherit an 800-acre farm in South Australia she is at first convinced it is a scam, and then certain it’s a mistake. Growing up within the foster care system she learnt the hard way to trust no one, and believing in the generosity of an aunt she never knew is difficult, so Roni is not surprised when she learns there is a catch. In a series of letters, her late aunt explains that to freely inherit the Peppertree Crossing Roni must complete a number of tasks. Single, pregnant and with few other options, Roni, with her beloved cat Scritches in tow, decides to accept the challenge, and perhaps find the home she’s always yearned for.

Kelsall explores familiar themes such as family, friendship, and love in The Farm at Peppertree Crossing. The themes of forgiveness and redemption are also strongly represented in a way I particularly appreciated. Several sensitive issues are also raised in the novel, among them sexual assault, addiction, suicide, and pregnancy loss, in a manner that feels genuine rather than contrived. These subjects add depth to the story, pushing it a little beyond the borders of the genre.

Romance is still a key element in The Farm at Peppertree Crossing though, with a twist on the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope between Roni and share-farmer, Matt. Roni’s first instinct, particularly around men, is to be wary and defensive and she misconstrues Matt’s genuine offer of advice, help and friendship as manipulative and devious. I appreciated that Matt is not cast as her saviour, Roni must reach the conclusion that she is worthy of love on her own before their relationship can progress.

Roni is a prickly character to begin with, nursing a deep hurt she is closed off, mistrustful, and stubborn. I really liked Kelsall’s development of her character, which is somewhat slow, but authentic. She’s destined to learn lessons the hard way it seems, but she does learn and grow. Her journey is supported by several charming characters, most notably her late aunt’s dearest friend/partner, Tracey, and Matt, but also of the four-legged variety which includes her cat, a sheep named Goat, and a calf named Baby.

Well written, thoughtful and engaging with an ideal balance of romance and drama, I am impressed by The Farm at Peppertree Crossing and look forward to more from the author.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

Title: The Silk House

Author: Kayte Nunn

Published: June 30th 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

The Silk House is an entrancing novel from Kayte Nunn, unfolding over two timelines from the perspectives of three women.

The novel begins in the present as Thea Rust reports for work at her father’s alma mater, Oxleigh College. The exclusive English boarding school has accepted its first ever class of girls, and Thea, a history teacher, is to live in with them at their campus residence, known as Silk House.

In 1768, Rowan Caswell is an orphan employed as a maid-of-all-work by the owners of Silk House, silk merchant Patrick, and his wife Caroline Hollander. The home is not a happy one, for the master’s moods are mercurial and the mistress longs for a child.

Mary-Louise Stephenson is a spinster facing penury with her widowed sister. She believes she is capable of creating unique silk designs that will assure her a fortune, but the male dominated industry is uninterested until silk merchant Patrick Hollander offers her a commission.

Nunn weaves links between the past and present as Thea bears witness to the echoes of tragedy. Troubled by her experience of mysterious occurrences in Silk House, Thea investigates the building’s history discovering it’s reputation for being haunted due to a series of deaths, beginning with that of Caroline Hollander.

The story of Caroline’s haunting demise is revealed primarily through Rowan, who is an unwitting contributor to her mistress’s fate when her knowledge of herbal medicines, passed down to her by her late mother, is ill-used. A suggestion of witchcraft, an omen of bad luck, and a doomed love affair all contribute to the inevitable tragedy that stains Silk House.

To be honest I felt the third perspective of Mary-Louise introduced by Nunn was the only real flaw in the novel, as I thought it superfluous, even though Mary-Louise’s silk fabric design is of some significance in the story. Thea and Rowan are definitely the more compelling characters.

Nevertheless, part ghost story, part mystery the pacing is excellent as the story unravels. Nunn skilfully develops a sense of foreboding and unease as she weaves in and out of the past and present. The story is enriched by historical detail, enhanced by its feminist themes, and enlivened by interesting characters.

Atmospheric and intriguing, with gothic sensibilities, The Silk House is a finely written, spellbinding tale.

++++++

 

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The First Time He Hit Her by Heidi Lemon

Title: The First Time He Hit Her: The shocking true story of the murder of Tara Costigan, the woman next door.

Author: Heidi Lemon

Published: June 30th 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

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My Thoughts:

Twenty-eight-year-old Tara Costigan was one of 103 women who died violently as a result of family violence–related homicide* in Australia during 2015. The hardworking, loving, mother was holding her newborn daughter in her arms when her ex-partner swung an axe at her neck, her two young sons looking on in horror.

Author Heidi Lemon was shocked by the bare details of the murder reported in the news and made contact with Tara’s uncle, Michael Costigan, a few months later. She spent two and a half years writing The First Time He Hit Her in the hope of understanding the tragedy, and bringing awareness to the relationship between verbal abuse and intimate partner homicide.

“He’ll go ballistic,” [Tara] conceded, “but he won’t hurt me. He’s never hit me.”

Marcus Rappel had never posed a physical threat to Tara until that fateful day. In recent months Marcus had become paranoid, most likely due to anabolic steroid and Ice use, and grown increasingly emotionally and verbally abusive, berating her for hours over imagined infidelities and slights. Tara held on to the hope that the man she fell in love with would reappear until at eight months pregnant she could no longer endure Marcus’s behaviour and asked him to leave. Despite already being embroiled in a new relationship with an ex-girlfriend (the mother of his first child who was also now pregnant), Marcus continued to harass Tara. A few days after Tara gave birth to Ayla she successfully applied for a DVO, and on the day it was served Marcus used an axe to break down Tara’s front door.

During her own experience in a verbally abusive relationship, Lemon failed to recognise it as a form of domestic violence, because she never felt that she was physically at risk. She was shocked to learn during her research for this book that in an estimated quarter of cases of intimate partner homicide there had been no physical violence before the murder. It’s a startling find that contradicts our misconceptions about the danger emotional and verbal abusers pose to their victim.

“Control, then, is the link between all forms of abuse, including murder. The very same appetite for control lies beneath the invisible forms of violence and the single act of violence that will result in someone’s death.”

The First Time He Hit Her is a thought-provoking examination of domestic violence in Australia, a devastating tale of murder, and a moving portrait of a life taken too soon.

If you or someone you know (in Australia) has experienced any kind of abuse, sexual assault, domestic or family violence, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit their website to chat online.

If you’re concerned about your own behaviour and would like support or information (in Australia), please call MensLine on 1300 78 99 78 or visit their website.

* https://www.saferresource.org.au/the_evidence

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Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

Title: The Weekend

Author: Charlotte Wood

Published: June 25th 2020, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Orion/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“Adele and Wendy and Jude did not fit properly anymore, without Sylvie.”

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood is a searing and insightful portrait of friendship, ageing and grief.

“Because what was friendship, after forty years? What would it be after fifty, or sixty? It was a mystery. It was immutable, a force as deep and inevitable as the vibration of the ocean coming to her through the sand. Wasn’t it?”

Less than a year after the death of Sylvie, her lifelong closest friends -Jude, Wendy and Adele, are spending Christmas weekend emptying her holiday home in Bittoes on the NSW Central Coast. It’s a chore each of them have been dreading, and in the sweltering summer heat, the task threatens to tear them apart.

“‘This was something nobody talked about: how death could make you petty. And how you had to find a new arrangement among your friends, shuffling around the gap of the lost one, all of you suddenly mystified by how to be with one another.’”

Shifting perspectives reveal the complex inner lives of these women as they grieve, and bicker and reminisce. Wood explores the fragility and resilience of their friendship as old hurts resurface, resentments simmer, and secrets are laid bare.

“It was true that time had gradually taken on a different cast. It didn’t seem to go forwards or backwards now, but up and down. The past was striated through you, through your body, leaching into the present and the future. The striations were evident, these streaky layers of memory, of experience— but you were one being, you contained all of it. If you looked behind or ahead of you, all was emptiness.”

Aged in their seventies, the women keenly feel the passage of time, reflecting on their pasts, and contemplating their futures as they attend to their tasks. Having enjoyed successful careers, and relationships, they struggle with their losses, and what they have yet to lose. Ageing is an uncomfortable process for them all, though in different ways for different reasons. Wendy’s old and feeble dog, Finn, is a clear metaphor for its indignities.

“And each of the three let go, plunged down and felt herself carried, lifted up in the great sweep of the water’s force, and then—astonishingly gently—set down on her feet again. They breathed, and wiped their eyes, reached for each other again, waited for the next wave.”

Yet there is plenty of life left in these women, none are quite ready to submit to mortality. Told with wit, tenderness and brutal honesty, The Weekend explores the mundane to expose the extraordinary.

++++++

Available from Orion Books UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository i Hive UK I Indiebound

 

Also by Charlotte Wood featured at Book’d Out 

 

Review: The Cake Maker’s Wish by Josephine Moon

 

Title: The Cake Maker’s Wish

Author: Josephine Moon

Published: June 2nd 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

The Cake Maker’s Wish is a delicious treat from bestselling author Josephine Moon.

After the loss of her beloved Ma, Olivia Kent’s curiousity about her grandmother’s early life leads her to successfully apply for a project offering the descendants of Stoneden villagers in England’s Cotswold region a subsidised opportunity to relocate. Leaving Tasmania behind, Olivia is excited to launch her business, Rambling Rose Fine Cakes on the village High Street, and give her young son, Darcy, a fresh start, as well as the chance to finally meet his Norwegian father in person.

The Renaissance Project is a fantastic concept and a wonderful element of the story, which also provides a backdrop for some minor intrigue. The initiative is designed to revitalise the community of Stoneden but unfortunately not everyone is happy about it with at least one resident actively trying to sabotage the scheme (and I was surprised to finally learn who, and why).

Nevertheless Olivia and Darcy quickly begin to feel at home in the village, befriending both other ‘imports’ and locals alike. As the story unfolds, Olivia is able to learn more about her grandmother’s past, which leads to a surprise revelation. There is also romance for Olivia with local dairyman Grayson, and Darcy’s visiting father, who is newly separated from his wife, and eager to build a relationship with both his son and Olivia, both vying for her affection. Olivia’s business thrives, particularly after a celebrity couple voice their support. Foodies will appreciate Moon’s delicious descriptions of Olivia’s creations, and delight in the included recipe for her Persian Love Cake.

With a serve of appealing characters, a sprinkle of mystery and a generous dollop of heart, The Cake Maker’s Wish is a delectable story about community, friendship, family and food.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Also by Josephine Moon reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

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