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

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

Review: The Origin of Me by Bernard Gallate

 

Title: The Origin of Me

Author: Bernard Gallate

Published: March 17th 2020, Vintage

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Origin of Me is a contemporary, quirky coming of age tale from debut Australian novelist Bernard Gallate.

Fifteen year old Lincoln Locke has a nub. It began as a tiny dark spot above the crease of his buttocks, but it seems to be growing as quickly as his list of problems. Looking for answers, Lincoln stumbles across a memoir by the one-time star of Melinkoff’s Astonishing Assembly of Freaks, Edward Stroud, and as Lincoln slowly reads ‘My One Redeeming Affliction’ he discovers solutions for questions he never even thought to ask, and a past he never knew.

With a large cast of characters, both eccentric and genuine, Gallate explores several themes, among them family, change, friendship, and self acceptance. Lincoln is struggling with a number of issues including the loss of his grandfather, his parents separation, a new school, and of course the growing nub.

Quite a chunkster at 400 pages, the novel is well paced but I think the length will deter a young/new adult audience from picking it up, which is a shame because though it’s ostensibly marketed at adults, I think young men in particular would find Lincoln relatable and enjoy his journey of self discovery.

Told with humour, heart and imagination The Origin of Me is an enjoyable read.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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: Little Wonders by Kate Rorick

Title: Little Wonders

Author: Kate Rorick

Published: March 17th 2020, William Morrow

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++++

My Thoughts:

“In dark moments, when Quinn Barrett looked back and analyzed what caused the destruction of her entire life, she should have known that it would happen at the Little Wonders Preschool Happy Halloween Costume Parade (and Dance Party).”

After a long, trying day, Little Wonders Preschool Parent Association President, Quinn Barrett loses her temper when her three year old refuses to wear the Halloween costume she’d spent hours making. When her tantrum is caught on camera by another parent and inadvertently goes viral, Quinn’s perfect life begins to spiral out of control.

Little Wonders is an entertaining novel exploring the pressure on mothers to present a facade of perfection.

Honestly Quinn is the type of woman many of us both envy and resent, she seems to have it all and manage it without any visible effort. Her fall from grace is somewhat satisfying as the viral meltdown exposes her tenuous control over the various areas of her life, including her career and her marriage. But forced to consider what it is she really wants, Quinn earns her redemption, and in the end I found her to be a very sympathetic character.

New to Little Wonders and Boston, Daisy is struggling to fit in. Her electric blue hair, tattooed arms and love of Star Wars marks her as obviously different amongst the traditional moneyed class of Boston society. She’s unwittingly the reason for Quinn’s viral infamy as the ‘Halloween Mom’, and has her own lessons to learn about how far she will go to fit in. I identified more with Daisy than Quinn, or Shanna (Quinn’s sort-of nemesis), and I’d love to play a game of D&D with her.

In this Instagram age, where appearance is often more prized than truth, Little Wonders is relevant and often relatable, even if predictable. I loved the snarky preschool newsletters, (having written a few of those in my lifetime, the truth is definitely in what you leave out), and I enjoyed the geeky fandom/rpg references too.

Witty and winsome I enjoyed Little Wonders finding it an easy, engaging read.

++++++

Available from William Morrow: HarperCollins

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

Review: Away With the Penguins by Hazel Prior

 


Title: Away With the Penguins

Author: Hazel Prior

Published: March 19th Bantam Press

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Bantam/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Away With the Penguins is a charming tale of family, second chances, and well…penguins, from Hazel Prior.

“I must try to do something before it’s too late. Not just something with my money but something with my life, whatever dregs are left of it.”

Veronica McCreedy is a brusque, eccentric, and wealthy old woman who lives alone in a large house on the south west coast of Scotland, with only her ‘daily’, Eileen, and a part-time gardener for company. One evening her favourite television programme is replaced with a documentary about penguins, and inspired, Veronica makes an extraordinary decision that will change her life.

The story primarily unfolds from the point of view of Veronica, and her estranged grandson Patrick. Prior’s character development is skilful crafted, initially neither of the protagonists are particularly likeable, but as their pasts are revealed, and the story progresses, they become much more appealing characters.

Veronica’s adventures in Antarctica are delightful and poignant. The scientific team of Locket Island are rather horrified to have an octogenarian in their midst, but Veronica is unconcerned, and is determined to rise to the challenge, handbag on her arm.

Patrick is a bit of a loser, essentially unemployed and recently single, his first (second and third) contact with ‘Granny V’ does not go well, but he eventually redeems himself.

Unsurprising, Away With the Penguins includes strong messages about environmental issues, such as pollution, wildlife conversation and climate change, and of course, the importance of penguin research. I delighted in learning more about penguins, and the Adelie penguins in particular. Pip, the penguin chick that Veronica adopts, is an adorable element of the story.

An entertaining and uplifting story, Away With the Penguins is a lovely read, I finished the last page with a smile on my face, and hope in my heart.

++++++

Available from Bantam Press

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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Review: The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

 

Title: The Secrets of Strangers

Author: Charity Norman

Published: March 3rd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

On an ordinary weekday morning, an irate young man storms into a London cafe, raises a shotgun and fires twice at the proprietor. Staff and patrons scatter in fear, but an unlucky few find themselves trapped with the gunman.

In the hours that follow, as the police negotiator attempts to broker an end to the standoff, the remaining hostages – a nurse, a barrister, and a homeless man – form an extraordinary bond as they try to make sense of the situation they are in, and prevent an escalation of the violence.

Tense, provocative, and emotionally charged, this well-written character driven novel unfolds from multiple perspectives as the author slowly reveals the circumstances that has led to this shocking crisis. I’m loathe to reveal any details of The Secrets of Strangers that make this such an engrossing read as Norman takes an unexpected path to shed light on the motivation of the hostage-taker, and the lives of those caught up in his crazed action.

As with Charity Norman’s previous novels that I’ve read – Second Chances, The Son In Law, and The Secret Life of Luke Livingston – The Secrets of Strangers explores humanity’s weaknesses and strengths in the face of tragedy.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD $29.99

or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Charity Norman reviewed at Book’d Out

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

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Review: This Won’t End Well by Camille Pagan

 


Title: This Won’t End Well

Author: Camille Pagán

Published: February 26th 2020, Lake Union Publishing

Status: Read February 2020 courtesy Lake Union/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

This Won’t End Well by Camille Pagan is a charming tale of love, friendship, endings, and new beginnings.

“Why would I open myself up to new problems? By problems, of course, I mean people.”

Things aren’t going well for twenty-seven year old, research chemist, Annie Mercer. A little more than a week after she is forced to resign from her workplace after being betrayed by her lecherous boss, her fiancé, Jon, calls her from the airport to announce he needs some ‘me’ time and is on his way to spend a month incommunicado in France. With her best friend, Leesa, too busy with her new career as a LiteWeight™ Brand Evangelist, and her mother, with whom Annie lives, too emotionally fragile, to lean on, Annie decides to avoid further complications in her life by keeping people out of it.

“I wanted to tell him that I already knew it would end badly—there’s really no other kind of ending, if you think about it.”

Told in an epistolary format through a series journal entries, texts, and emails, This Won’t End Well is a well written and pacy read.

Annie is a delightful character, she has her quirks (her thinking and behaviour suggests she is on the autism spectrum) but she’s honest, loyal and sweet. Quite sensible and serious, Annie is bewildered by the rapid changes in her life but faces them with a quiet dignity. I really enjoyed her character development, which I thought was both realistic and relatable.

Annie’s resolve to avoid new relationships makes perfect sense to her, but is soon tested when Harper, a glamorous but seemingly vulnerable young woman moves in across the street, and Mo, a charming P.I., asks for her help. Her burgeoning friendships with these two very different characters, and some well timed advice from her dear friend Violet, and her mother, prompts Annie to re-envision her plans for her future.

It’s not all fun and froth though, Pagan briefly raises the issues of workplace sexual harassment, racism, grief, and PTSD. These subjects are effortlessly worked into the story however and don’t pull focus away from Annie’s personal journey.

“If you’re willing to look for joy and open yourself to new possibilities, the end is not an ending at all. It’s a beginning.”

Witty, warm, and winsome I enjoyed This Won’t End Well, and I would like to read more of the author’s backlist.

++++++

Available from Lake Union Publishing / Amazon

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

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

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Review: Losing You by Nicci French

Title: Losing You

Author: Nicci French

Published: January 28th 2020, William Morrow

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

On the morning of Nina Landry’s fortieth birthday, just hours before she and her children are due to fly out to Florida for a vacation, fifteen year old Charlie disappears. At first Nina is simply irritated that her daughter is nowhere to be found on the tiny island off the coast of England on which they live, but as time runs on she becomes increasingly convinced that something has happened to Charlie …something terrible.

While the story takes place over less than a day, I devoured Losing You by Nicci French in about two hours, breathlessly accompanying Nina in her search for her missing teenage daughter. What begins as an ordinary, if chaotic, day as Nina’s car plays up, as she’s trying to finish packing for their trip, as her depressed cousin/dog sitter arrives, as she unexpectedly hosts a few dozen people for a surprise party organised by her daughter, as she fields calls from her belligerent ex-husband, turns surreal when Nina realises Charlie is not simply late, but missing.

One of the most difficult things I have found about being a mother to teens is that they have areas of their lives that no longer include me, and even those that they deliberately exclude me from. I’m not always confident that I have taught them enough to independently make good choices and to protect themselves from situations, or people, that could threaten their well-being. Charlie, who Nina describes as ‘recalcitrant, volatile, emotional, romantic and intense’, seems more likely than most teenagers to keep secrets, especially when you factor in the issues with her father, who has recently abandoned the family, and her mother’s new relationship. As it happens, none of what Charlie has kept hidden is particularly earth shattering, but her secrets, and the secrets of others, do play a part in unraveling the mystery.

I empathised with Nina’s frustration with the police who are initially content to dismiss Charlie as a runaway, and are incredibly patronising as they do so. Objectively I understand the need of the police to gather the facts and plan the investigation, but in Nina’s shoes I think I too would disregard their orders and do what I could to unearth anything that could provide answers.

Losing You is not perfect, there was for example, the odd character I thought was superfluous, but Nina is relatable and convincing as a panicked mother, and the pacing is superb. A quick thrilling, read.

++++++

Available from William Morrow

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

Also by Nicci French at Book’d Out

 

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