Review: House of Wishes by Jenn J. McLeod

 

Title: House of Wishes

Author: Jenn J. McLeod

Published: November 19th 2019, Wild Myrtle Press

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy the author

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My Thoughts:

House of Wishes by Jenn J. McLeod is a captivating stand-alone novel with loose links to two of her previous five novels, House For All Seasons and Simmering Season.

Moving between two timelines, set forty years apart, House of Wishes offers an enjoyable and poignant exploration of grief, love, belonging and redemption.

The narrative shifts between Beth’s journey to understand her late mother’s wish to have her ashes scattered over an unmarked grave in the rural town of Calingarry Crossing in 2014, and farmer/stonemason/handyman Don Dawson’s connection to Dandelion House, a home for unwed mothers on the outskirts of town, and the two young women confined there in 1974, Lissy and Irene.

McLeod’s characters are vivid and appealing. An actress and dancer, mourning the loss of her marriage, a pregnancy, and her mother in quick succession, forty year old Beth is at a crossroads in life when she arrives in Calingarry Crossing, unprepared to discover a legacy of life-changing secrets, and find romance with local farmer, Tom.

Don is a sweetheart, a hard working young man who grows besotted with Lissy and is desperate to build a future with her and her baby. When tragedy strikes he does his best to hold on to that dream, but it eventually falls apart, and Don somehow has to find the will to go on.

The plot touches on several sensitive issues, such as the historical stigma of unwed motherhood, pregnancy loss, sexual abuse, suicide, and addiction, but at its heart I feel this is a story about family. Through the experiences of her characters, McLeod thoughtfully explores the strengths and failings of the family we are born into, and the family we choose, or who chooses us.

Well crafted with engaging characters, a strong sense of place and a thoughtful plot, House of Wishes is sure to delight both fans and new readers alike.

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Learn more about House of Wishes by reading this guest post from Jenn J. McLeod

House of Wishes is available from 19th November.

For more information and special pre-release prices on both print and ebook, visit www.jennjmcleod.com

Also by Jenn J. McLeod reviewed at Book’d Out 

Blog Tour Review: The Island On the Edge of the World by Deborah Rodriguez

 

Title: The Island On the Edge of the World

Author: Deborah Rodriguez

Published: November 5th 2019, Bantam Australia

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

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My Thoughts:

The Island On the Edge of the World is an engaging and thought provoking contemporary fiction novel from Deborah Rodriguez.

At her beloved grandmother’s insistence that her estranged mother is in trouble, Charlie reluctantly agrees to a trip to Haiti to find her, though she doubts April has any need of them since it’s been more than a decade since they last heard from her. On their journey to Port-au-Prince, Charlie and Bea meet Lizbeth, a Texan widow in search of her late son’s girlfriend, Senzey and their child. Together the women make their way through the colourful, confronting, and chaotic streets of Haiti, finding friendship, family, and forgiveness.

Unfolding primarily from the perspectives of Charlie, Bea, and Lizbeth, Rodriguez’s characters are interesting women with strong motives for undertaking the challenging journey to Haiti. Bea feels strongly that Charlie needs to reconnect with her mother if she is going ever to move past the consequences of her difficult childhood, and while deep down Charlie recognises she has a need for some sort of closure, she believes she is simply humouring her grandmother’s ‘visions’ when she agrees to the task. Meanwhile Lizbeth is still grieving after tragically losing both her husband and son in quick succession. When she learned that her son fathered a child with a local girl while working in Haiti with a NGO, she impulsively decided to search for them, but far from her comfort zone Lizbeth is quickly overwhelmed by the task in a country that lacks familiar infrastructure.

Rodriguez’s depiction of Haiti and its vibrant yet disordered culture is vivid and thoughtful. The country has yet to recover from the devastating physical damage caused by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, nor of the well meaning assistance that followed, much of which has done more harm than good, perverted by ignorance, corruption, and the clash of Christian dogma with the nation’s Vodoun beliefs. The author touches on a number of sensitive subjects that plague the country including human trafficking, child slavery (Restavek), labour exploitation, and prejudice. Yet the people of Haiti fight to survive, and thrive, against all odds, and the Haitian characters of Senzey and Mackenson, the women’s translator/driver, illustrate this admirable spirit of strength and bravery.

Despite the serious elements within the novel, there is also humour and plenty of heart in The Island On the Edge of the World. This is a charming and thoughtful read with a social conscience.

++++++

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse

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Review: The Changing Room by Christine Sykes

 

Title: The Changing Room

Author: Christine Sykes

Published: November 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

The Changing Room focuses on three very different women who are brought together by by their involvement in ‘Suitability’, a program the author models on Dress For Success, a worldwide non profit organisation launched in 1987 whose broadest aim is to empower and support women in need by providing them with professional attire, with whom Christine Sykes herself has been a volunteer for several years.

Conscious of her privilege as a wealthy, successful businesswoman married to a surgeon, Claire is the driving force behind the founding of Suitability.

Anna, in her late 50’s, becomes a volunteer with Suitability when she is abruptly fired from her position as an Executive Assistant and at a loose end.

Molly becomes a client of Suitability when she is in need of appropriate clothing to attend court while trying to regain custody of her four young children.

Exploring a myriad of themes women might confront at various stages of life Including relationship breakdown, unemployment, domestic violence, ill health, new love, and loss, I enjoyed the individual stories of these women. Despite their disparate circumstances and experience, Claire, Anna and Molly develop a friendship and provide support for one another when in need as their participation in Suitability proves to be a catalyst for change, occasionally in unexpected ways.

Generally I thought The Changing Room was well written, however I wasn’t keen on the over-broad speech denoting Molly’s disadvantaged social status. Not that it could be considered inaccurate as such, but it’s awkward to read and could have been toned down without compromising the character.

Still this is a strong debut from a new Australian author, and I thought The Changing Room was an engaging and ultimately uplifting contemporary women’s fiction novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Au

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Review: The House of Brides by Jane Cockram

 

Title: The House of Brides

Author: Jane Cockram

Published: October 21st 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“Everyone seemed to be hiding something. There were things that seemed not quite right, parts of the story that didn’t quite ring true. Things only another storyteller would notice.”

After her social media career implodes in a rather spectacular manner, Miranda Courtenay is left reviled and broke. Though her wealthy father has arranged a fresh start for her, a letter from a young cousin she has never met sees Miranda flee Australia to her late mother’s ancestral home, Barnsley House, on England’s west coast.

As the setting of a best selling biography, ‘The House of Brides’ written by Miranda’s mother, Tessa Courtenay née Summers, Miranda has always wanted to visit Barnsley House to meet her estranged relatives, and learn more about the mother she never really knew, but she soon discovers the house is a maelstrom of secrets, resentments, tragedy, and scandal.

I’d describe The House of Brides as contemporary gothic, with what I thought were obvious echoes of genre classics such as Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, with perhaps even a nod to the works of V.C Andrews.

Cockram certainly creates an eerie atmosphere in The House of Brides. Barnsley House is an isolated rambling stone mansion on a cliff’s edge, half shuttered due to the temporary closure of the hotel and restaurant operated by Max Summer, and his bride, Daphne, inhabited by a group of reticent residents. As documented in Tessa’s book, it has also been the site of both triumph and tragedy, especially for the women of the Summers family, and is rumoured to have the ghost of a ‘House’ bride lurking in the East wing.

Unfortunately I really didn’t care much for Miranda. I may have been more forgiving of her character if she was aged closer to 16, rather than 26, as it was I found her to be painfully immature, self centred, and occasionally wilfully obtuse. At times I didn’t understand her behaviour at all, and that made it difficult to connect with her. As for the rest of the characters, they are suitably enigmatic for a gothic novel, most of whom have an edge of menace, or madness, or both.

While overall I thought The House of Brides had a decent premise, I did find it was a little messy and disjointed in places. Some of that, I think, had to do with the poor formatting of the e-arc. With plenty of intrigue, and atmosphere I do think most of the elements were there for a great story, but it didn’t quite all come together for me.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU I HarperCollins US

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US Cover

Review: Cross My Heart by Pamela Cook

 

Title: Cross My Heart

Author: Pamela Cook

Published: September 26th 2019, Wildwords Publishing

Status: Read October 2019 courtesy the author

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My Thoughts:

Cross My Heart is a moving story of friendship, grief, and redemption set largely in a small country town, west of The Blue Mountains in the middle of NSW, from Australian author, Pamela Cook.

When Tessa De Santis learns of the death of her childhood best friend, she is reminded of the long ago vow she made to care for Skye’s daughter, Grace, should anything ever happen to her. Tessa, whose lifestyle with her husband is not conducive to motherhood, is reluctant to take custody of the ten year old, but feels compelled to honour her promise. Grace is traumatised by the loss of her mother, and overwhelmed by her new circumstances refuses to speak, so on the advice of a child psychologist, Tessa takes Grace back home in hopes that the familiar will be of comfort.

Cook’s characterisation in Cross My Heart is thoughtful and authentic. Tess is a woman who has unexpectedly found herself caring for a troubled child, and flounders somewhat under the weight of the sudden responsibly. Grace is grieving the loss of her mother, and wary of Tess who is a virtual stranger. The development of their relationship is realistic and moving as they both struggle with their new circumstances.

As Grace confronts her turbulent emotions in an equine therapy program, Tessa’s own emotional equilibrium is tested by a series of flashbacks. Nearly twenty years previously Tess and Skye were victims of a predator, and between Skye’s death, a suspected suicide, and living among her things, memories Tess thought she had buried are resurfacing. Cook’s treatment of this issue is sensitive and honest, and the author uses it to add an unexpected element of suspense to the story.

A heartfelt, thoughtful, and ultimately uplifting story, Cross My Heart is beautifully written, and I’m pleased to recommend it to readers of contemporary women’s fiction.

++++++

Available directly from the author at pamelacook.com.au

Or from your preferred retailer @ Amazon AU I Amazon US I Kobo I iBooks

 

Also by Pamela Cook reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

 

Title: Sarong Party Girls

Author: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Published: September 3rd 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Sarong Party Girls is the first fiction novel by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a New York City-based food and fashion writer who was born and raised in Singapore.

The term ‘Sarong Party Girl’ is a largely derogatory reference in Singapore to women who exclusively pursue Caucasian men as romantic partners, spurning ah bengs (Chinese/Singaporean men), whom they generally hold in low regard. Tan’s protagonist is 26 year old Jazelin (aka Lin Boon Huag) who is on the hunt for the ultimate Singaporean status symbol, an ang moh husband, but competition is fierce, and Jazzy isn’t getting any younger. She, along with her closest friends Imo and Fann, spend almost every night in Singapore’s exclusive clubs and bars hoping to meet the man of their dreams. Provocatively dressed, they dance, flirt, drink, and sometimes sleep, with any western man who looks sideways at them. But as Jazzy steps up her campaign to win the affection of a suitable ang mah, she is slowly forced to reconsider the lifestyle she has chosen.

Not being familiar with the Singaporean culture I appreciated reading a book set in the country. I have heard a few stories from people who have spent time in Singapore that seems to confirm at least some elements of Tan’s portrayal of the city’s nightlife, including the behaviour of Sarong Party Girls, and the exploitation of women in both personal and professional arena’s. I was surprised to learn of the apparent social acceptance of girlfriends, mistresses, and even second families, for married Chinese/Singaporean men.

I really don’t see any similarities between Jane Austen’s Emma, and Sarong Party Girls as suggested by the publisher, other than the general desire of the women for an advantageous match in marriage. If there is an Austen character whom Jazzy resembles at all, it’s probably Lydia in Pride and Prejudice who is so focused on the idea of gaining status and wealth via marriage, she ignores the reality of the choices she makes in pursuit of her goal.

The element I probably most enjoyed about Sarong Party Girls was the Singlish patios used, which I found easy to decipher with context. The rhythm seemed natural and helped to illustrate both character and setting.

A glimpse into a culture quite different from my experience, I liked Sarong Party Girls well enough, it’s well written, and entertaining.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

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Review: Silver by Chris Hammer

 

Title: Silver {Martin Scarsden #2}

Author: Chris Hammer

Published: October 1st 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 1st 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Silver is the sequel to Chris Hammer’s superb debut Scrublands, featuring journalist Martin Scarsden.

“Port Silver, it’s ghosts sheltering from the iridescent sun, but awaiting him nevertheless. Port Silver. For pity’s sake, why had Mandy chosen this town, of all towns, his hometown, to restart their lives?”

With the shocking events in Riversend behind them, Martin and his girlfriend, Mandalay Blonde, have chosen to make a fresh start together in Port Silver, where Mandy has inherited a house and property. Delayed in joining her, Martin finally arrives in the small coastal town only to discover a dead man in the hallway of their rented townhouse, and Mandalay covered in blood. Martin is stunned when he recognises the victim, once a close childhood friend, and with Mandy a prime suspect in the murder, must use all of his investigative skill to unmask the real killer.

Silver offers a compelling and complex mystery. In order to prove Mandalay innocent of involvement in Jasper Speight’s death, Martin begins searching for a motive for his murder. It seems most likely that Jasper was targeted due to an ongoing battle over a multi-million dollar land development deal, but Martin is frustrated by his failure to put all the pieces together. Stymied by the possible significance of a postcard Jasper was clutching when he died, the decade old disappearance of a factory owner, and a backpacking Visa scam, it’s not until a second shocking crime, which leaves seven dead, that the secrets of Port Silver begin to unravel. Hammer skilfully manages the various threads, eventually drawing them together to reveal a stunning conspiracy of greed, corruption, and revenge.

Taking place over a period of week, the deaths draws familiar Scrublands characters to Port Silver, including Detective Inspector Morris Montifore, and later Martin’s former newspaper colleagues, Bethanie and Buzz, and television journalist Doug Thunkleton.

The events of Riversend still play on Martin’s mind, but in focus are the ghosts of his childhood spent in Port Silver. Haunted by the tragic death of his mother and sisters, and the descent of his father into an alcoholic depression, he’d left the town at eighteen for university and never planned to return. Hammer continues to develop Martin’s character as Martin confronts the traumatic memories, and while examining his past, he is forced to reconsider his future.

Masterfully evoking a sense of place, while providing the reader with a compelling drama, an intriguing mystery, and interesting characters, Silver is another brilliant crime novel from Chris Hammer. Despite its size I read it in one sitting, unwilling to put it down.

+++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Chris Hammer reviews at Book’d Out

Review: The Model Wife by Tricia Stringer

 

Title: The Model Wife

Author: Tricia Stringer

Published: 24th September 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read September 2019, courtesy HQ Fiction

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My Thoughts:

The Model Wife is a wise, warm, and wonderful story of a woman in search of herself from Australian author, Tricia Stringer.

“The model wife spends her time taking care of her family and putting them before her own needs.” – The Model Wife by Mrs Gladys Norman, London, 1928

When Natalie King is confronted with a potentially life threatening health crisis, the busy 58 year old wife, mother and teacher, is left reeling. Reflecting on her past, and contemplating the direction of her future, she finds she desperately needs a break and, ignoring the century old wisdom of ‘The Model Wife’, flees north to Broome, leaving her family to fend for themselves.

“Everyone had a piece of Natalie and somehow she’d lost herself in the process. She’d never done anything outside anyone else’s expectations of her.”

Stringer’s portrayal of Natalie’s ‘paradigm shift’ is thoughtful and realistic, and likely one every wife and mother can relate to. After years of tirelessly working to ensure the needs of her family and community are met, Natalie realises that she has largely ignored her own. Away from the constant demands on her time and energy she has the space to consider what she wants moving forward.

“Don’t let anyone should you.”

Natalie’s timing couldn’t be worse though, it’s tailing season on the farm keeping her husband, Milt and middle daughter, Bree, busy; both her youngest and eldest daughter’s, Laura and Kate who seem to have something on their mind, are visiting; and her sister-in-law is demanding an increased share of the farm’s income. Stringer thoughtfully explores the individual issues at hand, as well as the change Natalie’s absence makes to the family dynamics. I appreciated the authenticity with which the author both portrayed and developed the multi-generational characters. I also liked the way in which issues specific to a farming lifestyle, like property succession, are explored.

“Natalie had simply had to lose herself to find her way home.”

A well written, engaging story of the everyday challenges of life and love, I enjoyed The Model Wife, and am happy to recommend it.

xxxxxx

Read a Sample

Available to purchase from HarperCollins

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Also by Tricia Stringer reviewed at Book’d Out 

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.

++++++

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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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