Review: Yours, Mine, Ours by Sinead Moriarty

 

Title: Yours, Mine, Ours

Author: Sinead Moriarty

Published: 7th July 2022, Sandycove

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Penguin UK/NetgalleyUK

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My Thoughts:

Unfolding from multiple perspectives Yours, Mine, Ours by Sinead Moriarty explores the complications of blending families, especially when navigating step-parenting, and co-parenting.

There aren’t really any surprises in this book. Having fallen deeply in love, Anna and James are excited to be starting a new life together, and are sure that their respective children, 15 year-old Grace, 9 year-old Jack, and 14 year-old Bella will quickly embrace the merging of their lives. Neither are prepared when their dream of a happy family rapidly becomes a nightmare.

There’s plenty of drama as the children make life hard for Anna and James, putting a dent in their bubble of bliss. While Grace, a science geek, is willing to give the situation a chance, James’s spoilt daughter Bella doesn’t like sharing her father, and refuses to give Anna an inch. Jack, egged on by his immature father, Conor, is absolutely awful to James, and because of her guilt, Anna excuses his bad behaviour, which becomes a wedge between the couple.

I wasn’t very fond of Anna, though I had some sympathy for her, I found her lack of self awareness in several situations is irritating. James, a university professor, is a fairly bland character, though I admired his patience with Jack, and Anna. Conor, Anna’s ex, is an absolute douche who embraced every stereotype of toxic masculinity, while Bella’s mother, an ambitious career woman remarried to a wealthy hotelier, is focused on the wrong things when it comes to her daughter.

As you would predict, after tantrums, tears, break-ups and make-ups, it all works out in the end.

Moriarty writes well, there is genuine warmth, angst and humour in the story, but there was just not anything unique or particularly memorable about it for me.

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Review: Five Bush Weddings by Clare Fletcher

 

Title: Five Bush Weddings

Author: Clare Fletcher

Published: 2nd August 2022, Penguin Random House Australia

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Penguin Random House Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

Five Bush Weddings is a charming Australian romantic comedy debut from Clare Fletcher.

Wedding photographer Stevie-Jean Harrison loves being part of a couple’s special day, but, single at 31, she’s starting to think she may never have her own. Everyone she knows seems to found ‘the one’ – her ex has just announced his engagement, and his gorgeous, young bride-to-be wants Stevie as their photographer; Jen, her best friend and roommate, seems committed to the Most Boring Man Alive; even Stevie’s sexagenarian mother has started dating, – why can’t she?

Johnno West has been in love with Stevie-Jean since he was nineteen. Recently returned to rural Queensland to fulfil his parents expectations and take over the family farm, he is hopeful his best friend’s ex might finally be ready to give him a chance. After all, she once made him promise that if they were both single at 32, they would get married, and he intends to hold her to it.

The friends-to-lovers romance trope has always been my favourite, and it underpins the story of Five Bush Weddings. Stevie and Johnno have known each other for over a decade, but her relationship with Tom (Johnno’s best mate), and his later move to London, stunted their mutual attraction. Fletcher cleverly utilises the wedding ceremonies that Stevie is hired for to create a framework that ensures the two characters are reunited. I enjoyed the chemistry between the pair, and their teasing banter. There are several obstacles to their relationship as the story progresses including a reluctance to risk their friendship, Stevie’s poor self-awareness, and the introduction of romantic rivals, and while you know it’s going to work out, the author does generate some tension. The heat level in this novel is quite chaste, though remarkably Fletcher is able to communicate passion with a dropped meat pie.

I did grow impatient with Stevie at times as she leant into her self-pity a little too often, and behaved badly as a result, particularly with Jen. I liked her relationship with her mum though, and no one deserves to have an affair implode so publicly. Funny, thoughtful and easy-going, Johnno is a less complicated character. I liked the dynamic with his family, and his support of his sister.

I really enjoyed the distinctive Australian details in this novel. Though Stevie is based in Brisbane, the book is set largely in rural Queensland where the various weddings she photographs take place. Fletcher ably evokes the vastness of the outback and its landscape, but more importantly she captures the sense of community and tradition that unites small towns, and the characters that populate them. The ‘Bush Telegraph’ posts are a fun touch, and I appreciated that Fletcher also touches on some important issues that impact rural life.

Told with heart and humour, Five Bush Weddings is an entertaining read with a satisfying happily ever after.

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Review: The Angry Womens Choir by Meg Bignell

 

Title: The Angry Womens Choir

Author: Meg Bignell

Published: 5th July 2022, PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

“I’m all for stirring things up but the West Moonah Womens Choir manages perfectly well in its steady, peaceful way. The Angry Womens Choir would burn down the world.”

I knew by page three I was going to adore Meg Bignell’s new release, The Angry Womens Choir, as much as I did The Sparkle Pages and Welcome To Nowhere River.

A story of friendship, community and empowerment, it begins when busy wife and mother Freycinet Barnes distractedly steps in front of a moving car. The driver, Kyrie and her passenger Rosanna, are members of the West Moonah Womens Choir, and Freycinet (who dislikes being called Frey) finds herself welcomed into their supportive fold.

The award-winning West Moonah Womens Choir is made up of nine women of different ages and stages of life. They are well known for their traditional repertoire performed at various events in Tasmania, but in private the women transform into The Angry Womens Choir, belting out their large, and small, frustrations and ‘furies’ in song.

“So we have a rebel princess, the actual Liniment Girl, a hero lawyer, a badly behaved genius, a dementing woman, a rising star, a dying woman and a murderess.”

The choir is more than just a group of singers, they are a family who choose to love, support, and celebrate one another, even if they occasionally squabble like siblings. Bignell has created a delightful cast of unique women, some with quite extraordinary histories, all of whom I came to care for, from the formidable choir director Bizzy, to the brave and tragic Rosanna. Despite appearances, and her own doubts, Freycinet, it transpires, fits right in. I enjoyed getting to know her and cheered her on as she struggled to reclaim herself.

Freycinet joins the choir just as they have announced they are going to host their own rally in a few months to protest oppression in all its forms. Naturally there is a strong feminist angle to this theme, but it’s intended as an inclusionary term to encourage empathy and everyday activism. Bignell captures the passion, energy and courage of these women and their campaign to make a difference that will not only better the community, but themselves as well.

Other subplots are weaved neatly into the story including the threat to the choir’s practice space, a shabby historical building which a local councillor is determined to demolish and Freycinet’s daughter’s struggle with an eating disorder. Most of the choir members also have an arc of sorts from an unexpected pregnancy, to a reunion with a lost love.

Though there is plenty of humour, and even moments of sheer absurdity, to be found in The Angry Womens Choir, which are sure to make you laugh out loud, there is real emotional depth to this novel as Bignell explores loss, grief, regret, forgiveness, and rage.

The Angry Womens Choir is witty, impassioned, poignant. A joy to read, I encourage you to #JointheChorus

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Title: Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

 

Title: Wrong Place Wrong Time

Author: Gillian McAllister

Published: 12th May 2022, Michael Joseph

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Penguin UK/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

Jen’s relief at her teenage son’s return home late one October Friday night, turns to horror as she witnesses him stab a man just meters from their front door. Todd is promptly arrested, and Jen, along with her husband, Kelly, are left stunned, unable to speak with him until the next morning when they can return with a solicitor. The last thing Jen remembers of that night is dozing on the sofa, but when she wakes she is in bed, Todd is in his bedroom, Kelly is at work, and it’s Friday morning …again.

Jen is confused, her son and husband are bemused by her story, and Jen allows herself to be convinced she dreamed the whole thing, but nevertheless insists Todd stays home, and as she’s falling asleep she is confident she’s avoided a nightmare scenario. So why, when she next wakes, is it the day before the day before?

Every time Jen wakes, she finds herself further back in the past, sometimes days, weeks and even years, eventually realising that to change the future, and save her son, she has to determine where everything went wrong. I felt sympathy for Jen as her whole life slowly began to unravel, her past revealing crushing secrets, and admired her determination to find the answers.

The plot is intricate, though not unfathomably so, once you become comfortable with the time slips. While I’m not a fan of time travel generally, I found I was quickly absorbed in this high concept story. The novel unfolds at a compelling pace, despite moving backwards from the crime to its cause, and offers plenty of surprising twists. The epilogue too is quite the stunner.

Intriguing and clever, Gillian McAllister presents an original premise executed with impressive skill in Wrong Place Wrong Time.

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Review: The Emma Project by Somali Dev

 

Title: The Emma Project {The Rajes #4}

Author: Sonali Dev

Published: 17th May 2022, Avon Books

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Avon Books/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

 

The Emma Project is the fourth (and last) book in Sonali Dev’s popular Jane Austen inspired rom com series, The Rajes, though if, like me, you haven’t read any of the earlier books it is a successful stand-alone read.

The story’s connections to the original ‘Emma’ are generally quite subtle, but still recognisable. Vansh Raje is the youngest of the Raje’s siblings. Handsome, successful and single, he is effortlessly charming, and somewhat spoilt. Knightlina (Naina) Kohli is the aloof ‘Knightly’ to Vansh’s ‘Emma’, a long term, close friend of the family, who had previously been involved in a fake relationship with Vansh’s older brother, Yash.

I liked both characters, who are portrayed with a complexity I wasn’t expecting from a romcom. Naina and Vansh both have rich back stories that are coherent motivator’s for their attitudes and actions.

The pair’s history is an obvious impediment to their relationship, with Naina having been Yash’s (fake) girlfriend for nearly a decade, both have trouble seeing each other as a potential romantic partner, as does the entire Raje family. Vansh is also twelve years younger than Naina, and her (horrible) father, clearly the root cause of her distrust of love and marriage, in particular is disparaging of the age difference.

Much of the couple’s conflict however stems from Naina being forced to share a multimillion-dollar endowment from Jignesh Mehta, the sixth-richest entrepreneur in the world, to her charitable foundation that supports sustainable economic security for women in remote and neglected regions. Naina has a plan for every dollar, so she is appalled when Mehta insists she share his largess with Vansh on the basis of a cocktail conversation.

I liked the development of their romance, it’s not quite an enemies-to-lovers trope but  fairly close. There are the inevitable misunderstandings and miscommunications, tantrums and tears. I liked the heat level of the romance, but I was a bit surprised to find it here.

A secondary romance plot involves another Raje family member, cousin Esha who has an unusual story of her own, and Sid, a photojournalist. To be honest, I felt this thread was shoehorned in, and elements of it, out of place, though there is a loose parallel to the romance in ‘Emma’ between Jane Fairfax and Churchill.

Dev also touches on a number of surprisingly serious issues including domestic violence, homelessness, dyslexia, and (what I thought was) an odd reference to to the BLM movement.

Others will be better judges than I on how satisfying The Emma Project was as a series finale. I was entertained by the story and its characters, though I don’t feel compelled to read the earlier instalments.

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Review: The Change by Kirsten Miller

 

Title: The Change

Author: Kirsten Miller

Published: 3rd May 2022, William Morrow

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

 

“Why do you think women are designed to outlive men? Why do we keep going for thirty years after our bodies can no longer reproduce? Do you think nature meant for those years to be useless? No, of course not. Our lives our designed to have three parts. The first is education. The second, creation. And in part three, we put our experience to use to protect those who are weaker. This third stage, which you have entered, can be one of incredible power.”

The Change is a wildly entertaining modern feminist revenge thriller with a supernatural edge from Kirsten Miller.

In the Long Island oceanfront community of Mattauk, three women embrace their destiny to avenge a murdered teenage girl discarded in a garbage bag amongst the dunes. It’s the recently widowed nurse Nessa who hears her ghostly cries, a talent inherited from her grandmother; gym owner Jo, who identifies the targets for their rage, while Harriet, whose stunning transformation from successful advertising executive to ‘wild’ woman, leads and inspires them.

As a woman very close to turning 50, suffering from the chaotic symptoms of peri menopause, uncomfortably close to becoming an empty nester, and angered by renewed attempts to subjugate women, I found something to relate to in all three of these characters. I enjoyed the fantasy of gaining power that defies western society’s general expectations for ageing women, particularly admiring Harriet’s metamorphosis and her new affinity for nature.

I was engaged by the mystery and its twists. With the Mattauk law enforcement seemingly dismissive of the victim found near the beach, the three women unite to determine the identity of her killer, eventually learning of more victims, and a shocking conspiracy perpetrated by the towns’ richest residents. I was fairly cheering as Nessa, Jo and Harriet wreaked their vengeance on the guilty.

With plenty of action and suspense, I thought the pacing was very good, and despite its length (480 pages) read the book almost in one sitting. I enjoyed the writer’s use of dark humour, and insightful, often blunt, commentary.

Compelling, witty and provocative, I found The Change to be a captivating, and even cathartic read, and recommend it without reservation.

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Review: Overboard by Sara Paretsky

 

Title: Overboard {V.I. Warshawski #21}

Author: Sara Paretsky

Published: 10th May 2022, William Morrow

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

 

Overboard is the 21st novel featuring iconic Chicago private detective, V.I. (Vic) Warshawski. The series, credited with transforming the role and image of women in crime fiction, written by award winning author Sara Paretsky made its debut 40 years ago, in 1982.

Vic is focused on three cases in this novel. The first involves a favour for her long term friend, Dr Lottie, who has asked her to investigate the harassment of a local synagogue. The second Vic stumbles into when, while walking her dogs along the foreshore, she discovers a badly beaten girl hidden amongst its rocky banks, who later vanishes from her hospital room under suspicious circumstances, and the third, a plea for help from a teenage boy who suspects his mother, whom Vic knew in highschool, is having an affair.

Readers who are familiar with series will know what to expect from Overboard. Vic is a methodical and dogged investigator who never backs down and is willing to take risks to defend the vulnerable and innocent. As adept at sifting through paperwork and databases, as she is committing the odd break-in, and fighting off attackers, Vic employs all her skills to resolve the mysteries she is faced with. I enjoy the complexity of concurrent cases, and the entertaining mix of tense action and intelligent investigation. Somewhat improbably, though not troublesomely so, VIc’s three cases also spawn loose links to, and between, a mobbed up developer, a corrupt cop, and elder care abuse.

I like that Paretsky references contemporary events within her storylines to ground them in time and place, and in Overboard she highlights several issues of the post-pandemic lockdown period, namely police violence and corruption, the rise of hate groups, and the societal changes wrought by CoVid, like the challenges of financial recovery and the use of masks.

Though Overboard can be read as a stand-alone as the plot is self contained, the story is definitely enhanced by familiarity with the characters and their world. I’d expect long time fans, like me, will enjoy and be satisfied with this new instalment.

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Review: One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold

 

Title: One Foot in the Fade {Fetch Philips Archives #3}

Author: Luke Arnold

Published: 26th April 2022, Orbit

Status: Read May 2022 courtesy Hachette/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“An Angel had fallen in Sunder City: bloody, broken, and the best thing to happen in seven long years.”

One Foot in the Fade, the third instalment of the Fetch Philips Archives fantasy series, from Luke Arnold, picks up about a year after Dead Man in a Ditch ended.

‘Man for Hire’ Fetch is as determined as ever to bring magic back to Sunder City, and rescue it from the grasp of industrialist, Niles. When an angel plummets to the ground at his feet, Fetch dares to hope that redemption may finally be within reach.

While mostly retaining the same noir tone of previous books, One Foot in the Fade leans more into adventure as Fetch, after catching a jewellery thief, sets out on a cross-country quest to claim a magical artifact, and save the world he broke. Accompanied by a librarian, a genie, a werewolf, and a young college student, Fetch encounters dragons, amalgams, crazed wizards, golems, and a Minotaur in pursuit of a crown hidden in a castle in Incava.

Convinced he has a real chance of rectifying his past mistake, Fetch seems to lose what little good sense he had. Already an anti-hero, Fetch steps closer to villainy, ignoring the means in favour of his ends. I was initially disappointed to see him lose ground made in previous novels, as Fetch, impulsive and abrasive at the best of times, becomes careless and sometimes cruel. Too caught up in his dream of magic returning, Fetch brushes over the harm he is doing until he’s forced to tally the cost of his actions.

This isn’t a series I’d recommend picking up midway as Arnold expands his world with each book, but more importantly, each story relies heavily on the character growth of Fetch.

With its entertaining mix of adventure, drama and dark humour, I enjoyed One Foot in the Fade. Though Arnold may have originally planned the Fetch Phillips Archives as a trilogy, I don’t think this is necessarily the last we will see of Fetch, a possibility hinted at in the last few pages.

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Review: Remember Me by Charity Norman

 

Title: Remember Me

Author: Charity Norman

Published: 3rd March 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

Charity Norman blends family drama with mystery in her compelling novel, Remember Me.

When a phone call from a neighbour informs Emily Kirkland that her ageing father is in need of help, she reluctantly leaves her life in London and returns to her hometown, Tawanui on New Zealand’s North Island. Diagnosed with Alzheimers more than year earlier, Dr Felix Kirkland is no longer able to hide his deteriorating condition and Emily plans to stay just a few weeks to arrange for his ongoing care.

Emily’s return coincides with the upcoming 25th anniversary of the disappearance of her neighbour and friend, Dr. Leah Parata. Leah, an environmental scientist, headed into the Ruahine ranges on the edge of town for a two night hike when she was 26 years old and vanished, with no trace of her ever been found.

A committed physician and reserved man, too busy with his patients to have ever paid much attention to his children, Emily and Felix have never been close. She expects to swiftly move Felix into a local nursing home, as her elder twin siblings suggest, and begins the job of sorting out the house. The task, and Felix’s increasing candour as a result of his dementia, promotes a new intimacy between father and daughter, but when Emily finds a beanie in the bottom of a cupboard, which looks just like the one Leah was wearing when Emily last saw her on the day she disappeared, she’s suddenly afraid of what Felix may reveal.

I really liked the plot of Remember Me, and the way in which Norman skilfully weaved her two story threads together.

Norman thoughtfully explores the dynamic between father and daughter, and the changes wrought by Felix’s illness. His dementia-induced disinhibition reveals vulnerabilities that tempers some of Emily’s childhood resentments about their relationship, and there is a real sense of poignancy as Emily simultaneously finds, and loses, their connection as he declines.

When public interest in the mystery of Leah’s disappearance is renewed, Emily is at first puzzled and then anxious about her father’s reaction. I was caught up in the suspense as Emily, discovering evidence that suggests her dad could have been involved, is torn between her loyalty to her father, and to Leah’s family, who are still hoping for answers. I thought the bittersweet resolution worked well, and found it quite moving.

Norman’s writing is engaging and thoughtful, and though the pace of the novel is measured, Remember Me is an absorbing read.

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Review: Mad About You by Mhairi McFarlane

 

Title: Mad About You

Author: Mhairi McFarlane

Published: 14th April 2022, HarperCollins UK

Read: April 2022 courtesy HarperCollins UK/ Netgalley UK

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My Thoughts:

 

Mhairi McFarlane’s publisher seems determined to market her books as romantic comedy’s, even when they are not. Sure, Mad About You includes humour and romance, but I feel this is a disingenuous description of the book.

In fact the romance, that comes about after thirty-four year old Harriet Hatley ends a relationship with her boyfriend of two years, Jon, and needs somewhere else to live in Mad About You, feels almost incidental. The meat of the plot revolves around Harriet’s toxic history with a previous long term boyfriend, Scott.

During their four years together, Harriet was a victim of psychological and emotional abuse, Scott’s charming public veneer belying a pattern of coercive control within their relationship. She’s forced to confront that legacy, firstly when she realises, with some help from her best friend Lorna, that Jon also employed manipulative tactics during their liaison, and secondly when Harriet learns through a chance encounter that Scott is getting married, and she reaches out to his fiancée.

As part of that journey, Harriet must also come to terms with the loss of her parents as a child, a friend’s betrayal, and the sabotage of her business, so there is a lot of strong emotion in play which I think McFarlane handles sensitively. There are realistic consequences for decisions, and Harriet’s self reflections feel honest.

Though I didn’t find the romance to be as convincing as I’ve come to expect from the author, it’s enough to satisfy the conventions of the genre with its mild ‘enemies to lovers’ trope. Harriet gets her happy ending, but more importantly she is finally happy within herself, having come to terms with her past.

If you are looking for a light, breezy romcom, you won’t find it with Mad About You, but you will discover a thoughtful and engaging read.

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