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

++++++

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

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

 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

++++++

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

+++++++

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

Or purchase from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

 

Title: A Lifetime of Impossible Days

Author: Tabitha Bird

Published: June 4th 2019, Viking

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

A Lifetime of Impossible Days is an impossibly enchanting debut from Tabitha Bird.

Silver Willa is 93 when she insists that her carer takes her into town on the first of June 2050 to post two Very Important Boxes.

Middle Willa is 33 years old when she receives a collection slip from the post office that she has every intention of ignoring.

Super Gumboots Willa is 8 years old when she finds a battered box, inside is a jar of water, accompanied by a note that says: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’, which she does, while wishing for the impossible.

“Here’s what I know about impossible things. We can’t command them, but we can allow space for them in our minds.”

When the impossible happens, Super Gumboot Willa hopes it is an opportunity to save herself, and her younger sister, Lottie. Middle Willa refuses to acknowledge that the impossible offers any chance of change. Silver Willa remembers only that the impossible is her only hope.

This is a compassionate, emotional journey of tragedy, trauma, loss, love, forgiveness, and hope. I was moved to tears more than once by A Lifetime of Impossible Days. Though sensitively handled, the pain of Willa’s experiences are at times overwhelming as Bird explores the experience of family violence and abuse, and it’s lasting repercussions. Yet those tears also came when the Willa’s achieved the seemingly impossible, for their courage, and strength.

“Because I know one thing, Willa. We are all the ages we have ever been. We carry around our trauma. And if we have unfinished business at one of those ages we can’t move on to have a healthy adult life.”

Beautifully crafted, the past, present and future are deftly woven together, a strand at a time, ensuring the impossible makes sense. It requires an extraordinary imagination to write such a complex story, though thankfully only an ordinary one to appreciate it.

“We’re all stories, Willa. How else do you tell a story if you don’t make it all up? Sometimes, when everything seems lost, you just have to keep making stuff up”

A whimsical, heart-rending, and insightful novel, i was captivated by Willa’s journey.

Amaze-a-loo, Tabitha Bird.

 

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Penguin Au

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Review: Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a **** by Gill Sims

 

Title: Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a ****

Author: Gill Sims

Published: April 15th 2019, HarperCollins

Status: Read May 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

I’d been awake for 30 odd hours and was looking for something light to read as I waited for the sleeping tablet to take effect when I spotted Gill Sims latest and thought it would be perfect, having read and enjoyed Why Mummy Drinks and Why Mummy Swears sometime last year.

A spin off of her successful mummy blog/Facebook page ‘Peter and Jane’, described as an ‘honest, sweary, tongue-in-cheek account of a pretty normal, middle-class Scottish family’, Sims’ books are an exaggeration of the mundanity of family life. The books are best read in order, as the family ‘grows’ through each book.

In Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a ****, Ellen’s marriage has collapsed after Simon confessed to sleeping with another woman on a business trip, and Ellen has moved into the cottage of her dreams (except for the damp, the single bathroom, and brambles rather than roses by the door) with their teenagers, Peter who is 13 and Jane who is 15.

I found Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a **** mostly hilarious, even though it doesn’t really bear much relation to my own life.

Ok, so I do have a houseful of teens (2 girls, 2 boys) so I’m familiar with the drama of teenage girls, and the ability of teenage boys to inhale the contents of the fridge within hours of it being filled, and I might have turned of the wifi once or twice in order to get their attention, but I’d never tolerate Jane’s behaviour, or her drinking habits (my kids will want to be much more subtle).

And ok, I may have a piece of furniture or two deliberately placed to hide a stain in the carpet (and a teeny hole in the wall) but I don’t have any dogs, or chickens, I rarely drink, and I still have a husband, so I don’t have to brave the horrors of online dating as a newly single woman in my mid 40’s.

Fair warning, the language is crude (those asterisks in the title barely mask the F-word which is used liberally through the novel), there’s an awkward sex scene, a passing mention of crusty socks, and a lot of drinking, but there are some brief moments of seriousness related to divorce and loss.

Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a **** , like Gill Sims previous novels, was an easy, quick and fun read.

 

++++++

Available from HarperCollins UK, or HarperCollins AU

Or your preferred retailer via Booko

 

Review: The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

 

Title: The Lost Letters of William Woolf

Author: Helen Cullen

Published: June 4th 2019, Graydon House

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Graydon House/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

William Woolf works in the Dead Letter Depot in East London. He, along with his colleagues, is tasked with reuniting letters and parcels undelivered, due to missing addresses, illegible handwriting, smudged ink and torn packaging, with their intended recipient.

“He now was convinced that some letters found him because only he, with his particular personal collection of experiences and insights, could crack their code. Other letters depended upon different detectives, of that he was sure, but some were searching specifically for him.”

While William generally finds his job eminently satisfying, it’s a point of contention between him and his wife, Clare. A couple since meeting at university, Clare and William were happy for many years, but for some time now their marriage has been faltering, and it’s this struggling relationship which is the focus of Cullen’s novel.

I had, to be honest, been expecting a lighthearted, whimsical novel from Cullen a la The Lost Letter Mysteries aired on the Hallmark channel, but The Lost Letters of William Woolf is a more thoughtful and sober story that questions if love is lost, can it be found again?

Cullen sensitively portrays the inner conflict of both William and Clare as they contemplate the state of their marriage, and wonder if it can be, or even should be, salvaged. The author explores issues faced by those in many long term relationships such as domestic drudgery, family planning, unmet expectations, and differing ambitions. The Dead Letter Office is in part a metaphor for the breakdown of communication, and connection, between William and Clare.

“Was it a million little incremental changes over a long period of time? Or something obvious he had missed? If their essential selves were still the same, couldn’t they find each other again?”

Though I found the pacing to perhaps be a little slow, it does befit the meditative tone of the novel. The writing is lovely, and there is a nostalgic quality that reaches beyond the ‘old fashioned’ charm of letter writing.

A poignant, ruminative novel The Lost Letters of William Woolf is an engaging debut from Helen Cullen.

Read a Free Preview

++++++

Available from Harlequin US

or purchase from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Booko

Alternate covers UK/Australia

Review: Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaac

 

Title: Messy, Wonderful Us

Author: Catherine Isaac

Published: June 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

Unfolding from the viewpoints of Allie, Ed and an unnamed girl, (whose chapters are italicised) that is speaking of the past, as the present, Messy, Wonderful Us is a touching tale of friendship, love, regret, and second chances.

Allie and Ed have been friends since adolescence, and remain so in their early thirties, despite periods of both physical and emotional distance.

Allie, an academic research scientist, who lost her mother as a young girl to cancer, is devastated when she finds a photograph that seems to suggest her beloved Dad, Joe, may not be her father. When Allie’s grandmother refuses to assuage her suspicions, Allie decides to find answers for herself, arranging a trip to Italy in search of the man who shares the gap between her front teeth.

Ed, a successful business owner, shocks everyone when he leaves his wife of two years, offering nothing but the vaguest of explanations. Julia, unwilling to accept her husband’s decision, begs Allie for her help, and so Allie allows Ed to join her on her quest.

As Allie, urged on by Ed, crisscrosses Italy in search of answers about her past, the pair are forced to face some uncomfortable truths and make some difficult decisions.

Ed and Julia’s supposedly blissful marriage is not what it seems, exactly why, he is reluctant to admit. Isaac treats the secret with sensitivity, and I thought the reversal of perspective of an oft used trope was examined in a thought-provoking manner.

Allie is rocked by the answer to her questions, but it’s the time spent with Ed that has the greatest effect on her life. To be honest, I found Allie a little insipid, she’s generally not very decisive and I have to admit I was disappointed somewhat by one element of the ending. Perhaps it’s petty of me, but I didn’t feel Allie, and therefore Isaac, made the right decision.

That said, I do like Ed and Allie together, though their situation is messy, Issac hits the right notes with their relationship, making it seem genuine. I also really appreciated the epilogue of sorts.

Messy, Wonderful Us is a likeable novel, and though I wasn’t wowed by it, I did find aspects of it thought provoking and engaging.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU or Simon & Schuster UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko

Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

 

Title: Ask Again, Yes

Author: Mary Beth Keane

Published: May 28th 2019, Scribner

Status: Read May – courtesy Scribner/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

For a brief period during the summer of 1973, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope were rookie partners on the force, several years later they are neighbours in the suburbs, married and raising young children. While the adults, Frankie and Lena, Brian and Anne, are never more than acquaintances, and barely that, their youngest children, Peter and Kate are the best of friends, until tragedy tears them apart.

Despite the enforced separation, Peter and Kate eventually find their way back to one another, determined to build a future together. Yet no one truly escapes their past.

Ask Again, Yes is a thoughtful and powerful exploration of family, marriage and relationships. A story of mental illness, addiction, loyalty, dysfunction, redemption and hope, told with nuance and realism. Keane examines the consequences of inaction, action and reaction, of decisions small and large, and the way in which they reverberate into the future.

The characters are complex and dynamic. The Stanhope’s grappling with dysfunction, matters of conscience, and regrets, the Gleeson’s with loss, forgiveness and acceptance. Peter, abandoned and aimless, and Kate never quite feeling whole, until they are reunited, both of them certain that together they have the strength to overcome all obstacles. A resolve that is tested as the past exerts it’s influence on the present.

A sensitive, poignant, and pensive novel, Ask Again, Yes inspires introspection, compassion and hope.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster US

Purchase from your preferred retailer via Indiebound or Booko

Also by May Beth Keane reviewed at Book’d Out

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