Review: A Month of Sunday’s by Liz Byrski

 

Title: A Month of Sunday’s

Author: Liz Byrski

Published: July 10th 2018, Pan Macmillan Australia

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy Pan Macmillan

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My Thoughts:

A Month of Sunday’s, Liz Byrski’s tenth novel, is told with warmth, humour and wisdom.

When Adele is offered an opportunity to housesit a cottage in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales for a month, she nervously decides to invite the other three members of her online book club, whom have known each other for a decade, but whom have never met in person, to join her. Simone, from Tasmania, is excited by the prospect, while Judy, from Western Australia, is uncertain, but in desperate need of a break from her business. Usually Ros, who lives in Sydney, would never agree to spending weeks with women who are essentially strangers, but bad news has left her with a need to escape. At a crossroads in their lives, the retreat becomes an opportunity for the women to not only get to know one another better, but also themselves.

Thoughtfully exploring the themes of ageing, memory, personal growth, and friendship, A Month of Sunday’s by Liz Byrski is an engaging character driven novel. I love that this book features women in their late 60’s to 70’s, I was moved by the author’s examination of the issues facing these particular mature women, such as retirement, illness and grief, and the support and strength they find within each other.

“We’re all single and we’re all getting older; each of us has had to face something serious since we’ve been here. That’s a bond. This is no longer just a book club. It can be much more; it can have a life long after we leave here.”

This is also a novel that celebrates the ways in which literature can enrich our lives. So that the women get to know one another during the retreat, Adele suggests that each chooses a book of personal significance to share each week. The resulting lively discussions allow the women to communicate and explore who they were, who they are, and what they want moving forward.

“This is us, this is what we do. We talk about books, we make them work in our own lives: walk through the doors they open for us, cross the bridges they lay out for us, and pick and choose what we need to take away from them.”

While I think A Month of Sunday’s is particularly suited to a mature aged readership, who are more likely to identify with the characters and their issues, I also think it would be an excellent bookclub choice, and any bibliophile can relate to the author’s observations about the value of books.

++++++

Read a Sample

Available from Pan Macmillan

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Also by Liz Byrski reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: Going Under by Sonia Henry

 

Title: Going Under

Author: Sonia Henry

Published: September 2nd 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

In January of 2017, Dr. Sonia Henry anonymously submitted an article to KevinMD regarding the recent suicides of two junior doctors, and how the culture of medical training likely contributed to their deaths. After going viral, the article sparked a long overdue conversation about the problems within the current system.

Hilarious, shocking, sexy and thought-provoking, Going Under is a novel that explores the issues Henry raised in her article through the experiences of Dr. Katarina (Kitty) Holliday, during her first year as an intern in a Sydney public hospital.

Having completed her medical degree, Kitty is excited to begin her first rotation in neurosurgery but within days she is rethinking her choice of career. While the low pay, long hours and intense pressure is expected, the general lack of guidance, and outright bullying from her immediate supervisors is not.

Told in the first person, I had to keep reminding myself that Going Under is not a memoir, but If even half of what Kitty endures, especially from the ‘Joker’ and the ‘Smiling Assassin’ , accurately reflects the workplace conditions in Australian hospitals, it’s clear that change is essential. Being a junior doctor is a challenging, tiring, and often thankless job, and Kitty and her colleagues, are too often pushed to the edge, some over it.

Kitty is brutally honest about her experiences, both in her professional and personal life. There is the satisfaction of saving a patient, the fear of failing one, her inappropriate crush on a senior doctor, and a missed connection with the man with whom she may be in love. Her character is so authentic and relatable in detailing both her thoughts and emotions, I’m really curious as to just how much of Kitty is Henry herself.

To stay sane, Kitty relies on her best friends, two of who are exhausted junior doctors like her, the third a lawyer. They all certainly live up to the ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos, and there is a fair amount of drinking, drug taking, and the occasional unwise decision. But their friendship makes all the difference in their struggle to stop from going under.

A provocative and insightful novel, I thought Going Under was a great read, and an important story that needs telling.

“Doctors worry constantly about patients surviving. We fear death and suffering and blame. Our own survival seems unimportant by comparison. The doctor saves the baby, or doesn’t. Who saves the doctor?”

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

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Review: Meet Me In Venice by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: Meet Me in Venice

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: August 6th 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

 

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My Thoughts:

Meet Me in Venice is a lovely, heartfelt story from multi-award-winning author, Barbara Hannay.

A year after the sudden death of her beloved husband, Daisy Benetto can think of no better place for a family reunion than Venice, the place of Leo’s birth. While Daisy and her youngest daughter, nineteen year old Ellie, will fly in from their home in Queensland, Australia, oldest son Marc, and his wife, will be traveling from California’s Silicon Valley, and Anna from London, where she has been trying to launch her career as an actress.

Hannay has created a loving, ordinary family in Meet Me in Venice with whom most readers will relate. Daisy is a warm, caring mother who is proud of her children, and her children clearly adore her in return. I thought the dynamics of the sibling relationships rang true, with the rivalries and role playing that often carry into adulthood.

Daisy’s children all want her to have a wonderful time in Venice and so are determined not to worry her with their own problems, but that’s not easy in such close quarters when tensions sit so close to the surface. The strain only increases when the family learns that Leo kept a secret from them all which threatens to undermine what they thought they knew of the husband and father they admired. I really liked the way in which Hannay dealt with all of these varied issues and the way in which they were resolved.

Hannay‘s novels are usually set in rural Australia but this is set almost wholly in Venice. It’s such an appealing city and the descriptions of its historic architecture, delicious cuisine and rich culture enhance the enjoyment of the story.

A captivating story about family, love and life’s journey, Meet Me in Venice is an engaging and enjoyable read.

Read an Extract

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Also by Barbara Hannay reviewed at Book’d Out 

(click the cover to learn more)

 

 

Review: The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl

 

Title: The Heart Keeper

Author: Alex Dahl

Published: July 11th 2019, Head of Zeus

Status: July 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

“Hearts are wild creatures, that’s why our ribs are cages.”

The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl is an intensely emotional story of grief, loss and hope.

Devastated by the accidental drowning death of her beloved six year old daughter, Alison reels brokenly between crippling emotional agony and a drug and alcohol induced stupor, unable to accept her loss. When her stepson raises the theory of cellular memory, which suggests that a transplanted organ retains some of the memories or personality traits of the donor that manifest in the recipient, Alison becomes obsessed with the idea that somewhere Amalie lives on…and she wants her back.

“I envision her heart beating in this moment, sutured in place in a little stranger’s chest. I see fresh, clean blood pumped out and around a young body, carrying miniscule particles of my own child. I stand up and press my face to the window. Out there, somewhere, her heart is beating.”

The narrative of The Heart Keeper moves between the first person perspectives of Alison, and Iselin, whose paths cross when Alison seeks out the recipient of her daughters heart, seven year old Kaia. At first Alison believes just a glimpse of her child’s ‘heart keeper’ will ease the ache, but it’s not enough, and she arranges a meeting with Iselin, ostensibly to commission some artwork, which simply feeds her obsession.

“I couldn’t have grasped, then, that it would grow bigger and sharper every day, that it would rot my heart, that it would devour everything that was once good,…”

Alison’s pain is so viscerally described by Dahl, the intensity is difficult to cope with at times. Her slow unraveling is utterly compelling, and though it’s known from the outset the direction the plot will take, Alison’s journey, her longing for her daughter, is what drives the story.

“You and her, you’re one and the same. I can’t believe I didn’t realize this before, that all of this time, you were right there.”

With richly drawn characters and raw emotive writing The Heart Keeper is an engrossing, poignant and heartrending story about death, and life.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review and Giveaway: All That Impossible Space by Anna Morgan

 

 

Title: All That Impossible Space

Author: Anna Morgan Twitter I Instagram I Goodreads

Published: June 25th 2019, Lothian Children’s Books

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Hachette AU

Blurb:

Amelia Westlake meets My Favorite Murder in this debut from a terrific new voice in Australian YA. Combines a realistic story about high school drama and toxic friendship with true crime – the endlessly fascinating Somerton Man or Taman Shud mystery.

15-year-old Lara Laylor feels like supporting character in her own life. She’s Ashley’s best friend, she’s Hannah’s sister-she’s never just Lara.

When new history teacher Mr. Grant gives her an unusual assignment: investigating the mystery of the Somerton Man. Found dead in on an Adelaide beach in 1948, a half-smoked cigarette still in his mouth and the labels cut out of his clothes, the Somerton Man has intrigued people for years. Was he a spy? A criminal? Year 10 has plenty of mysteries of its own: boys, drama queen friends, and enigmatic new students. When they seem just as unsolvable as a 60-year-old cold case, Lara finds herself spending more and more time on the assignment. But Mr Grant himself may be the biggest mystery of all…

Interspersed with fictionalised snapshots of the Somerton Man investigation, ALL THAT IMPOSSIBLE SPACE is a coming of age novel exploring toxic friendships and the balance of power between teacher and student, perfect for fans of Cath Crowley and Fiona Wood.

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My Thoughts:

 

Anna Morgan’s contemporary young adult novel, All That Impossible Space, is an engaging debut exploring the themes of identity, friendship, family, and coming-of-age, framed by the enigmatic mystery of Somerton Man.

I was vaguely aware of the Somerton Man case before reading All That Impossible Space, and it was one of the main reasons that I was persuaded to read the novel. Given the current popularity of true crime, evidenced by podcasts such as My Favorite Murder (which I personally enjoy), and the plethora of documentaries on streaming services such as Netflix, it’s a savvy inclusion from the author. The Somerton Man case cleverly reflects Lara’s search for her own identity, as someone other than Hannah’s sister, and Ashley’s best friend. This in part explains her attachment to Mr Grant, who as a new teacher has no knowledge of Hannah’s accomplishments, and acknowledges Lara as an individual, rather than part of ‘AshleyandLara’.

I appreciated Morgan’s realistic portrayal of her characters. My teenagers are all of a similar age and I feel Lara, Ashley, Kate and Jos demonstrated appropriate attitudes and behaviours for their age group, which isn’t always the case in young adult fiction.

There would be few among us who wouldn’t be familiar with a ‘friend’ like Ashley, and Morgan skilfully portrays the codependent dynamic of their toxic relationship. I really liked that the author showed how difficult it was for Lara to extricate herself from the situation, struggling with her sense of loyalty to Ashley, and not wanting to hurt her feelings. The author underscores how destructive the friendship is by contrasting it with Lara’s interactions with Kate, the new girl, and Jos, the love interest.

Lara’s issues with her family are relatively benign for the genre, but I liked that Morgan showed that family problems don’t have to be dramatic (eg abuse, drugs, neglect etc) to have an effect on a teen’s sense of self. Lara’s parents are loving but have in a way lost sight of her, focused on her sister’s drama, even in Hannah’s absence. It’s clear Lara misses her sister, who is travelling on a gap year, but is also hurt by Hannah’s lack of communication.

I enjoyed All That Impossible Space, particularly the thoughtful examination of teen friendships and the intriguing study of Somerton Man (be prepared to fall down that rabbithole when you are done reading).

“Tamám Shud”

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Available from Hachette in Paperback and Ebook

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko , or internationally from Book Depository

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GIVEAWAY

Courtesy of Hachette Austalia , I have

1 print edition of

All That Impossible Space by Anna Morgan

to giveaway to one lucky Australian resident.

Please leave a comment on this post and then

Closed

Congratulations Claire Louisa 

*PLEASE NOTE: Only Australian residents are eligible to enter*

Entries close July 5th, 2019

The giveaway will be random drawing on July 6th, 2019 and the winner will be notified by email within 48 hours

Review: The One by Kaneana May

 

Title: The One

Author: Kaneana May

Published: June 17th 2019, Mira AU

Status: Read June 2019 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I’ve met Kaneana May a few times at local library events, and I was excited to learn she had realised her dream to publish. Her debut, The One, is an engaging and emotional contemporary novel.

Using her experience in the television industry, May connects her characters by their participation in ‘The One’, a (fictional) reality television show in the style of the worldwide phenomenon, The Bachelor. To be honest, I abhor reality shows like The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, Married at First Sight, Love Island etc, so this aspect of the novel wasn’t particularly a draw for me, however I imagine fans of those shows will enjoy the idea of peeking behind the scenes of The One.

The One unfolds from multiple perspectives. Darcy is the ambitious producer who works long hours to ensure the success of the show, to the detriment of her decade long relationship with her high school sweetheart. Bonnie is a reluctant contestant, trying to put distance between herself and the man she believes to her ‘one’, who is about to marry someone else. Penelope is dealing with an unspecified heartbreak, of which ‘The One’ seems to be a painful reminder. And then there is Ty, the ‘bachelor’, a last minute replacement on the show, whose heart is not really in it.

Through her characters, May explores the the complexities of relationships. There is passion, anxiety, romance, regret, desire and heartbreak, as they all grapple with their questions about love. I had some empathy for Darcy and her situation, though honestly I would have preferred a different ‘ending’ for her. I was less sympathetic with regards to Bonnie and her relationship with Ollie.

Well written, combining drama, humour, pathos and romance, I really enjoyed The One, congratulations on a great debut Kaneana.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Big Sky {Jackson Brodie #5} by Kate Atkinson

 

Title: Big Sky {Jackson Brodie #5}

Author: Kate Atkinson

Published: June 18th 2019, Doubleday

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

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My Thoughts:

Big Sky is Kate Atkinson’s fifth book featuring ex soldier, ex policeman, turned private investigator, Jackson Brodie, and though it follows Case Studies, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News?, and Started Early, Took My Dog, Big Sky can be read as a stand-alone.

Having temporarily relocated to a seaside village in Yorkshire to spend time with his teenage son, Brodie’s current investigations, involving background checks, employment theft, cheating spouses and missing pets, don’t pose much of a challenge. When he is hired by a trophy wife who believes she is being followed, he expects the answer will be simple, but instead Brodie stumbles into a tangled web of exploitation, greed, and death.

Big Sky unfolds through multiple perspectives. The cast is large, though I wouldn’t say unwieldy, but it does take a surprising amount of time before the connections between the characters become apparent. Persevere, it’s well worth the reward.

Brodie’s role through most of the actual mystery is surprisingly low key, though he inadvertently becomes enmeshed on several fronts – through a missing teenager, his client – Crystal Holroyd, a suicidal Vincent Ives, an occasional employer, Stephen Mellors, and an old friend, DC Reggie Chase.

“Finding Jackson Brodie at the heart of this melee seemed par for the course somehow. He was a friend to anarchy.”

The ‘melee’, which takes time to coalesce, refers to a human trafficking and sex slavery ring that has been operating with impunity for decades and such a ‘business’ necessarily involves other crimes, notably money laundering, drugs, and violence. Atkinson skilfully weaves the threads together that unravel not only the cabal, but also a historic case involving a pedophile ring.

I admire Atkinson’s style of writing which is so well grounded and flows with such ease. I enjoyed the dry, sardonic humour (particularly those witty inner thoughts shared in parentheses) which contributes to the humanity that Atkinson infuses in her characters thoughts and behaviour.

A smart, entertaining, and absorbing novel, Big Sky is a terrific read, sure to satisfy fans who have been waiting eight years for this latest instalment, and hook new readers.

++++++

Available from Penguin AU

or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository 

Also by Kate Atkinson reviewed on Book’d Out

Review: Those People by Louise Candlish

 

Title: Those People

Author: Louise Candlish

Published: June 27th 2019, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster AU/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Lowland Way is a desirable suburban address in the south of London. The homes are well maintained, the gardens manicured, the school district is favoured, the street even closes to traffic on a Sunday to allow the children to play freely. So when Darren Booth, and his girlfriend Jodie, move into Number 1, the residents are shocked by the new neighbours disdain for the status quo. They are loud, uncouth, and crude, and everyone wants them gone, but is someone on Lowland Way willing to kill to accomplish it?

Taking place over a period of a few months, we learn immediately that someone is dead. The story moves back and forth between the events unfolding on the street, and statements taken by the police in the aftermath of the death. Curiosity should keep your attention through the first third of the novel, and though the pace lags a little in the middle, it picks up and wallops you with quite a twist when you least expect it.

What I most enjoyed about Those People was the way in which Candlish’s ‘respectable’ characters fall apart in the presence of this interloper. Their veneer of civility slips, bit by bit, as their frustration and outrage grows. Only a handful of neighbours are directly affected by Darren’s behaviour, and while they try to do the right thing to start with, lodging complaints with the police and council, bureaucracy moves slowly, too slowly for some.

Those People is a provocative psychosocial drama, which offers some interesting twists. I found it a quick and entertaining read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU I Simon & Schuster UK I PenguinRandomHouse US

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 US Cover

Review: The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon

 

Title: The Beekeepers Secret

Author: Josephine Moon

Published: April 1st 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

The Beekeeper’s Secret is a thoughtful and engaging story of family, secrets, guilt and redemption.

“Now it seemed that what they said was true, that the past would indeed always catch up with you—especially if you had something to hide.”

Though Maria Lindsey has spent decades attempting to atone for her mistakes, first as a nun, and now as the manager, and beekeeper, of Honeybee Haven, whose activities support a Cambodian orphanage, she has always known that the time would come when she would have to confess her sins. She just didn’t expect that the daughter of her estranged sister, Tansy, would be the first to hear the whole sordid tale.

Maria’s decades old secret is a shocking one, related to a topical issue that the author deals with sensitively. It’s a confronting subject, involving misconduct within the Catholic Church, which may be a trigger for some readers, and though the reader may make a guess at Maria’s experience, the truth is likely to be a surprise.

Maria may be ready to break her silence, but there is someone who is determined that she not say a word.

Tansy Butterfield has always wondered what caused the estrangement between her mother, Enid, aunt Florrie, and their eldest sister. With her thirtieth birthday coming up, she’s tracked down Maria, delighted to learn she has been living barely an hours drive away in the Noosa Hinterland, hoping to arrange a surprise reunion.

It is through Tansy, and her relationship with her husband, and her family, that Moon thoughtfully explores the complicated dynamics that unites, and divide, families. While Tansy is getting to know her aunt, she keeps the secret of Maria from her family, something that her mother in particular, is deeply hurt by, when the truth comes out at a family gathering.

Another large part of this novel is devoted to Maria’s role as a beekeeper, and though I’m vaguely aware of the importance of bees to the health of our environment, I found the tidbits of information Moon shared about their habits and behaviour interesting.

A heartfelt contemporary fiction novel with surprising complexity, given the colourful cover, I liked The Beekeeper’s Secret. As the tagline suggests, this is a story with a sting in its tale.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko or Book Depository 

Also by Josephine Moon posted at Book’d Out 

 

Review: The Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka

 

Title: The Lubetkin Legacy

Author: Marina Lewycka

Published: May 16th 2016, FigTree

Status: Read May 2019- courtesy Penguin/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I can’t remember why I requested The Lubetkin Legacy for review, I have a feeling it was to satisfy a challenge. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did, mostly.

The Lubetkin Legacy is a quirky, rather rambling novel which centres on two characters who live in a social housing block of flats in North London named Mandelay Court.

Berthold Sidebottom has lived in the top floor apartment with his mother, for most of his life. Named after the building’s architect, Berthold Lubetkin, with whom his mother claimed to have an affair, he is In his mid fifties, bald, divorced, and an unemployed actor. When his mother, Lily Lukashenko, dies unexpectedly, Berthold is worried that the council will repossess the flat, and so he invites the elderly Ukrainian widow who shared his mother’s hospital room to live with him and pretend to be his mother, until he can arrange for the transfer of possession.

Violet, Kenyan-born, but mostly raised in England, moves into the apartment next door to Berthold. Barely into her twenties, she is excited to start her first job in a city firm, having recently graduated university, but it quickly begins to lose its shine when she learns of her employers shady financial dealings.

The two characters are only loosely connected, Berthold spends a disturbing amount of time lusting after Violet, who is half his age and barely aware of his existence. In fact the connection is so limited, and Violet’s story so disparate, I don’t think it had a place in this novel at all. Berthold, and his mother substitute, Inna, would have been enough to carry the story.

Though to be honest I struggled with Berthold’s character. He is a bit of a sad sack, fairly useless with the practical, prone to randomly spouting Shakespeare, insulting George Clooney, and often behaves like a sex-starved creep. He is a pitiable figure of a man really, but does occasionally provoke some sympathy. I loved Inna though, her eccentric use of the English language (it’s her fourth, maybe fifth, language) is hilarious.

Despite the farcical presentation of this novel, the main themes of the novel are socio-political, taking aim at the UK’s policy of austerity, privatisation of social housing, the introduction of the bedroom tax, the consequences of the employment scheme, the disintegration of community, and on a larger scale, the misuse of tax havens, greed, exploitation, and corruption.

I liked this, mostly. Despite its many flaws, The Lubetkin Legacy is oddly entertaining, and has some important points to make about the failures of social policy.

++++++

Available from Penguin UK I Penguin AU I

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