Review: The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

Title: The Lost Jewels

Author: Kirsty Manning

Published : March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

In The Lost Jewels, author Kirsty Manning weaves a fictional narrative around the mystery of the ‘Cheapside Hoard’, a large cache of expensive jewellery unearthed during construction in a London street in 1912.

The ‘present day’ timeline introduces Kate Kirby, an American historian who specialises in investigating the provenance of jewellery. Offered a rare opportunity to view the jewels discovered in Cheapside, the story follows Kate from the United States to England, India, France and then back as she attempts to trace the origins of a handful of pieces of the collection, during which she discovers a link between one of the pieces and her own family history.

Entwined with Kate’s journey, are two historical timelines, one of which reveals the story of Kate’s great grandmother, Essie Murphy, and her connection to the found jewellery set during the early 1900’s, and another set at two different points in the 1600’s which reveals the origin of one particular piece of a jewellery, a diamond champlevé enamel ring.

I found I appreciated the story of The Lost Jewels more after I googled the ‘Cheapside Hoard’ and was better able to understand what a remarkable find the jewels were. Manning’s speculations about the origin of the Hoard through her fiction read as credible and interesting, though to this date the truth remains a mystery, and likely always will.

Essie’s story as a young woman struggling to survive and raise her siblings was of the most interesting to me. I thought the author’s portrayal of daily life in urban London for its poorest citizens was accurate, and I had empathy for the Murphy family, particularly Essie, and her sister Gertie, who experienced such hardship and tragedy so young.

I liked Kate well enough. I thought Manning communicated her passion for her work well, I don’t particularly care for jewellery but this novel did prompt me to think about the story’s custom pieces could reveal. There is a touch of romance that is developed between Kate and Australian photographer, Marcus, but it was kept fairly low key.

Well written and researched, I found the The Lost Jewels to be a pleasantly engaging read, of family, secrets, love, loss, and new beginnings.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin. RRP AUD $32.99

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

 

Review: Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Red Dirt Country

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Red Dirt Country is Fleur McDonald’s third book to feature Detective Dave Burrows, and the sixth in which he appears, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

Several months after his undercover assignment chasing cattle thieves in North Queensland led to him being shot, Dave is relieved that he has finally been given the go ahead to return to work, gaining his dream job with the Perth Livestock Squad. His very pregnant wife, Mel, is not. Torn between his love for his family, and his passion for his job, Dave may be forced to make some difficult choices.

Dave’s first case in Western Australia partners him with his new chief, Bob Holden. Livestock is being stolen from an Aboriginal owned station, and the thefts are stirring up long held rivalries, spilling out across the community. While the identity of the culprits are easy to guess, I enjoyed the way in which the investigation unfolded. Bob and Dave work well as partners, with the senior proving to be a capable and canny, if not wholly traditional, mentor.

The case allows McDonald to explore the historical and current issues related to Aboriginal managed stations. I felt for Kevin, torn between his Elder’s warnings, and his own judgement. It’s disheartening that prejudice and resentment persist along racial lines, and the author captures that well.

McDonald also alludes to the continuing drought which places pressure on farmers, along with other common stressors like inheritance, and stock sale prices. Her knowledge and experience of farming ensures the authenticity of the setting, and her characters.

Ramping up the tension in the novel is Dave’s impending appearance at the trial of the crooked cop unmasked during the undercover North Queensland investigation. Bulldust, the mastermind behind the theft ring who has yet to be apprehended, is determined to avenge his destruction, and the threat he poses to Dave, and his family, is edging closer.

If you have read McDonald’s contemporary novels in which Dave has a role but does not feature, you will know how the relationship between Dave and Melinda pans out. In Red Dirt Country, Mel, heavily pregnant and suffering bouts of high blood pressure, is worried about Dave’s safety, and resentful of his return to work. Dave loves his wife, and children, but knows he wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I felt that McDonald portrayed the feelings of both Dave and Mel sympathetically, there is no easy solution to the issue that divides them.

With its engaging mystery and authentic rural setting, I enjoyed Red Dirt Country, and the (sort of) cliff hanger has me anticipating the next instalment.

++++++

 

Available from Allen & Unwin *RRP AUD $29.99 Read the first chapter

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Fiona MCDonald reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: The Salt Madonna by Catherine Noske

Title: The Salt Madonna

Author: Catherine Noske

Published: February 25th 2020, Picador Australia

Status: DNF March 2020

++++++

 

“This is the story of a crime.

This is the story of a miracle.

There are two stories here.

Hannah Mulvey left her island home as a teenager. But her stubborn, defiant mother is dying, and now Hannah has returned to Chesil, taking up a teaching post at the tiny schoolhouse, doing what she can in the long days of this final year.

But though Hannah cannot pinpoint exactly when it begins, something threatens her small community. A girl disappears entirely from class. Odd reports and rumours reach her through her young charges. People mutter on street corners, the church bell tolls through the night and the island’s women gather at strange hours…And then the miracles begin.

A page-turning, thought-provoking portrayal of a remote community caught up in a collective moment of madness, of good intentions turned terribly awry. A blistering examination of truth and power, and how we might tell one from the other.”

Read an Excerpt

 

++++++

My Thoughts:

Unfortunately I’ve read about a third of this but it’s not holding my interest. The pace is slow and I’m finding the writing overblown rather than evocative. With my ability to focus marred by current circumstances I’m choosing to put this aside for now.

I recommend you visit Theresa Smith Writes and Jess Just Reads for their considered reviews of the novel.

++++++

Available from PanMacmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Sheerwater by Leah Swann

 

Title: Sheerwater

Author: Leah Swann

Published: March 20th 2020, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

When a light plane crashes by the side of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, Ava, a former emergency rescue worker, feels compelled to stop and render assistance. Leaving her two young sons, Max and Teddy, safely locked in the car with strict instructions to remain, she and and another passerby bravely pull the pilot and two frightened children from the wreckage moments before it explodes. When emergency services arrives Ava makes her way back to the car only to find it empty.

Alternating primarily between the perspectives of Ava, her estranged husband Laurence, and their oldest son, 9 year old Max, Sheerwater is a harrowing tale, skillfully executed by Leah Swann.

Ava’s fear for her missing sons is visceral, her confusion and anxiety building as the police question her every word. Laurence’s attempts to reframe the narrative are infuriating, and an all too familiar reflection of recent current events. Max’s courage is heartbreaking as he tries to care for and protect his four year old brother, Teddy.

The prose is lyrical and evocative, portraying nuanced character and emotion. Vivid imagery conjures a sense of place, no matter the setting.

Though there are a few elements I felt were perhaps out of place, they didn’t detract from my interest. Unfolding over a period of three days, the pace is intense, and the increasing tension utterly gripping. I was left shattered by the ending.

Both beautiful and brutal, Sheerwater is a compelling read.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

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Review: The Banksia Bay Beach Shack by Sandie Docker

 

Title: The Banksia Bay Beach Shack

Author: Sandie Docker

Published: March 17th 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Sandie Docker’s third novel, The Banksia Bay Beach Shack, is a heartwarming yet bittersweet tale offering a touch of romance and intrigue.

After the loss of her beloved grandmother, investigative journalist Laura Prescott finds a photograph that hints at a secret in Lillian’s past. Eager to learn more, Laura travels to the small coastal town of Banksia Bay where a story of friendship, love, regret, and heartbreak is waiting to be told.

The contemporary plot line introduces us to the residents of Banksia Bay, among them Virginia aka ‘Gigi’, the owner of the Banksia Bay Beach Cafe, locals Charlotte and Heath, and Gigi’s closest friend Yvonne. Laura opts to explain her presence in the town by claiming she is writing a travel piece, but Gigi, who immediately see’s the resemblance between Laura and her childhood best friend Lily, is wary of her motives. I liked Laura well enough, I empathised with her curiosity about her grandmother’s life, and I enjoyed the development of her character, but it was Gigi’s past that intrigued me.

Flashbacks reveal the devastating events of the past that severed the friendship between ‘summer sisters’ Lily and Gigi. Set during the 1960’s, the author captures both the innocence and darkness of the period, exposing issues such as anti-migrant sentiment, and social class prejudice. Docker builds the tension skilfully as history unfolds to climax in an unexpected and shocking double tragedy which explains Gigi’s present distress at Laura’s arrival in Banksia Bay.

I delighted in Docker’s depiction of Banksia Bay, I was reminded of the many summer holidays I spent in beachside caravan parks along both the west and east coast of Australia growing up, and the fleeting but intense friendships formed with fellow holiday-makers.

Sweet yet poignant, The Banksia Bay Beach Shack is a lovely read.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Sandie Docker reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Cedar Tree by Nicole Alexander

Title: The Cedar Tree

Author: Nicole Alexander

Published: March 2020, Bantam

Read: March 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Cedar Tree is a compelling generational saga by Nicole Alexander.

“She supposed that all of them were branded, in some way. By parents and lovers, siblings and friends, even husbands and wives. And some cuts went far deeper than others.”

In 1864 cousins, Brandon and Sean O’Riain, are accused of murder and, forced to flee Ireland or be hanged, they emigrate to Australia. There they find work as cedar cutters in Richmond Valley, northern NSW, but while Brandon looks towards the future, Sean can’t let go of the past.

In 1949, Stella O’Riain, recently widowed, arrives at her brother-in- law’s cane sugar farm in the Richmond Valley where she has agreed to care for his injured wife in return for bed and board. Here, Stella hopes to find answers that will explain her husband’s obsession with their former home, Kirooma Station in the far west of NSW, that ultimately lead to his death.

Exploring the themes of family, duty, faith, and freedom, the narrative of The Cedar Tree unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Brandon O’Riain and Stella O’Riain, alternating between timelines until it reaches the point the two characters intersect.

I was quickly caught up in the conflicts between the O’Riain cousins as Brandon’s repeated attempts to protect his cousin from Sean’s own selfish and reckless behaviour backfires, eventually leading to an accident that results in a deep rift between them. Unwilling to accept responsibility for his own actions, Sean nurtures a grudge so strong it blights the lives of his sons, Harry and Joe.

I found Stella to be a sympathetic character as a naive young woman who finds herself out of her depth on an isolated property with an inattentive husband. His death, and the death of her child, leaves her desperate to understand the choices Joe O’Riain made, but for which his estranged brother, Harry, purports to have no answers. As the two timelines converge however Stella finally learns some of the secrets that provides her with explanation she craves, and reveals her own.

With a strong sense of place, interesting historical detail, and compelling characterisation, The Cedar Tree is a well-written, absorbing tale sure to engage and entertain.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Read an Extract

Also by Nicole Alexander on Book’d Out

Review: Truganini by Cassandra Pybus

Title: Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse

Author: Cassandra Pybus

Published: March 3rd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Inspired by her ancestors connection to the woman known as the ‘last Tasmanian Aborigine’, Truganini by Cassandra Pybus, is a stunning historical biography.

Born around 1812 on Bruny Island, Truganini survived the capture, forced relocation, attempted assimilation and sanctioned extermination of the First Nations population of Tasmania, before dying in 1876. Drawing on a number of historical sources, including personal journals, oral histories, government records, and newspaper archives, Pybus pieces together the story of Truganini’s extraordinary life.

Placed under the ‘protection’ of Christian missionary George Robinson as a teenager she was induced to behave as his emissary/guide aiding in his self-appointed task to ‘save’ the indigenous peoples, by leading them Into exile. She was to spend more than a decade with Robinson, accompanying him to ‘New Holland’, before fleeing his patronage, only to be accused of murder and be sent into exile on Flinders Island, and later Oyster Cove. Even in death she was denied self-determination, her wish to be cremated and her ashes spread over the D’Entrecasteaux Channel ignored for over a hundred years.

Honestly I have no words to communicate the deep sorrow I feel for the fate of Truganini and all of the indigenous peoples. This harrowing narrative reveals a spirited and courageous woman who suffered unimaginable losses – the annihilation of her country, her culture, her kin, and her identity. Pybus’s account is rendered with honesty and empathy, shedding light on the shameful history Australia is yet to reconcile.

Profound, poignant, and perceptive, Truganini should be required reading for all Australian’s to aid in our understanding of, and acknowledgement of, our past.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin. RRP AUD $32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Just An Ordinary Family by Fiona Lowe

Title: Just An Ordinary Family

Author: Fiona Lowe

Published: March 3rd 2020, HQ Fiction

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Harlequin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Just An Ordinary Family is a fantastic contemporary drama from Fiona Lowe.

Life in Kurnai Bay may not be perfect for sisters, Alice – who is nursing a broken heart, and Libby = mourning a recent loss, but neither are prepared for the shocking secrets that are about to tear their worlds apart.

Exploring several sensitive issues including, stillbirth, infertility, adultery and child abuse, as well as broader themes including friendship, loss, love, betrayal, and forgiveness, this a compelling family drama.

I found myself totally caught up in this character driven story that focuses on the relationships of four women, twins Alice and Libby, their mother Karen, and Libby’s best friend, Jess. Portrayed with complexity and authenticity, even after I turned the last page, I found myself thinking about the characters, the decisions they were faced with, and the choices they made.

For me, Just An Ordinary Family was an excellent read, stirring and thought-provoking.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Read an Excerpt

Review: The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

 


Title: The Good Turn (Cormac Reilly #3)

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Published: 24th February 2020, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read February 2020 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

One of the significant plot lines of the series so far is brought to a close in The Good Turn, the third book to feature Irish Garda Detective Cormac Reilly in Dervla McTiernan’s brilliant police procedural series, though not before Reilly nearly loses everything.

It begins when a young girl is abducted from a suburban street and Murphy’s refusal of resources to properly investigate leads Garda Peter Fisher to make a fatal error in judgement. As his supervising officer, Cormac is held responsible for Peter’s actions and suspended, while Peter, threatened with criminal charges, is banished to the small village station his estranged father runs on the Irish coast. Cormac is less worried about his own fate than restoring Peter’s reputation but it soon becomes clear the only way to do so is to take a stand against the corruption that infests not only his station, but the entire Galway police force.

McTiernan skilfully builds the tension as Cormac’s attempts to expose the conspiracy are repeatedly thwarted. A lesser man might simply walk away, as Emma, his girlfriend, encourages him to do, but Reilly simply can’t allow Murphy and his cronies to operate unchecked. The twists and turns of his struggle to bring his corrupt colleagues down, even when it seems inevitable that his twenty year career will end in ignominy, are thrilling.

Meanwhile Peter, resentful in exile, ignores his father’s advice to leave well enough alone when the details in a case of a double murder on the village outskirts don’t quite add up. I really enjoyed Peter’s character development as he is forced to make some difficult choices, and consider what type of police officer he wants to be.

McTiernan’s pacing of the concurrent story threads, of which there are several, is perfect, and the icy setting of a freezing Irish winter artfully reinforces the notion that both Cormac and Peter are ‘out in the cold’.

With it’s stellar characterisation, intricate plotting and vivid description, The Good Turn, like its predecessors, The Ruin and The Scholar, are a must read. I can’t wait for the next.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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Review: Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer

 

Title: Truths I Never Told You

Author: Kelly Rimmer

Published:February 25th 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read February 2020 Courtesy Hachette Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Truths I Never Told You is a moving, poignant novel of family secrets from Kelly Rimmer.

When the Walsh siblings agree it has become necessary to admit their terminally ill father to a hospice, Beth, the youngest of the four, volunteers to clean out the family home. The process is time-consuming, though straightforward until, behind a padlocked attic door, Beth finds a series of paintings, and pinned to one, a devastating note written by her late mother, Grace.

The missive in her mother’s elegant script reads like a suicide note, and the date doesn’t line up with what Beth had been told about her mother’s death. Desperate to understand the discrepancy, Beth throws her self into the search for more notes amongst the detritus cluttering the attic, and unearths a shocking secret that will challenge everything she believed to be true.

Beth’s contemporary timeline, as she cleans out her family home while avoiding her own emotional difficulties, alternates first with a series of letters written by Grace nearly forty years earlier, revealing a young mother overwhelmed by the demands of caring for four children under the age of four, and later, the perspective of Grace’s elder sister, Maryanne.

I was absorbed in this well paced story as Beth and her siblings faced the loss of their beloved father, the truth of Grace’s tragic death, and the unraveling of their childhood memories.

Most emphasis of the story however is placed on the issue linking Beth and Grace – Post Natal Depression. In the late 1950’s Grace’s distress in the aftermath of her pregnancies is dismissed by her doctor, whose advice amounts to ‘pull yourself together’, and is ignored by her husband. In 1996, Beth is unwilling to admit she is not coping with caring for her infant son, and it’s only through the intervention of her husband and sister that she seeks medical help, whose response is immediate and practical.

While I fortunately never developed PND after the births of my four children, many women I know have done so, experiencing a range of symptoms from mild anxiety to the extreme of post natal psychosis. Rimmer’s depiction of Grace and Beth’s struggle is sensitive and realistic, I felt deeply sympathetic towards both women who battled with their feelings of shame and confusion as the illness threatened to overwhelm them.

Rimmer also raises a number of other related issues, including the importance of access to inexpensive contraception, and safe, legal abortion to protect women’s emotional and physical health.

Written with heart and compassion, Truths I Never Told You is a thought-provoking and engaging novel.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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

Read an Extract

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