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

++++++

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

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko 

 

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

++++++

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

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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

 

++++++

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

++++++

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: White Horses by Rachael Treasure

 

Title: White Horses

Author: Rachael Treasure

Published: August 17th 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

When I started making notes to write this review of White Horses by Rachael Treasure, I was disheartened to realise that on balance, the negatives for me outweighed the positives. This has nothing to do with the quality of writing as such, and everything to do with specific elements of the story that I personally didn’t care for.

Treasure’s passion for regenerative agriculture, and ethical animal husbandry, something she herself practices on her farm in Tasmania, is admirable and is clearly communicated in White Horses. It’s evident, even to a lay person, that the agricultural industry needs to embrace more sustainable, holistic methods of farming and Treasure doesn’t hesitate to drive this point this point home at every opportunity. ‘The Planet’ does sound inspirational, but there is no denying it has a cultish vibe, especially with the talk of the ‘Waking World’ vs the ‘Sleeping World’.

I really wasn’t too keen on the spiritual overtones of the story overall. While I’m all for love and light, compassion and cooperation, I personally found the endless philosophising a bit grating, and I thought the idea of the ‘ghost girl’ was cheesy.

I liked Drift (aka Melody Wood) well enough, she is smart, capable, idealistic, and feisty but also insecure and a bit naive. Her unusual upbringing, spent droving with her father, certainly seemed to have had some benefits, especially when it came to her connection with the land and the environment, but I was a little bothered that the author seemed to consider her isolation from her peers and unfamiliarity with technology somehow laudable.

The romance between Drift and ‘the stockman’ was okay, and obviously it all turns out fine. I would have preferred we had the opportunity to ‘see’ them spend more time together, instead we really only witness them at two crisis points.

*spoiler* One point I feel compelled to make is that the likelihood of ‘the stockman’ being legally allowed to re-enter the country, which leads to the HEA, would be almost nil, and it bugged me.

My biggest issue with the book however was the lack of repercussions for the men who assaulted Drift. It appeared that in both instances there were no formal charges laid against any of the men for the attacks on her (though it was hinted that they eventually faced consequences for other crimes). Perhaps I’m mistaken in my interpretation, but it seemed to me that the author implied that Drift was too ‘spiritual’ to require that the men answer for their crimes against her, and I was uncomfortable with that idea.

White Horses has received several glowing reviews from readers who were delighted with it, unfortunately I just wasn’t one of them.

Read a Sample

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin

 

Title: The Accidentals

Author: Minrose Gwin

Published: August 13th 2019, William Morrow

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

It was the blurb of The Accidentals that caught my attention, promising a generational story focused primarily on two sisters, June and Grace McAlister, beginning in the 1950’s with the death of their mother, Olivia, from a botched backyard abortion.

I liked the first quarter of this novel, which concentrated on the sisters’ child and teen years after the loss of their mother, and feel that had Gwin kept this her focus, I would have been quite satisfied. Unfortunately I soon began to feel that the characters became passengers, rather than agents, of the story.

The author seemed determined to make reference to every topical social issue possible, including but not limited to, homosexuality, abortion, teen pregnancy, racism, ‘passing’, mental illness, gender inequality, Alzheimers, cancer, the rights of felons to vote, as well as touching on major cultural events such as WWII, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Challenger Disaster, and Obama’s Inaugural Presidential Run. As such, much like the birds – the ‘accidental’s’ that lose their way = so too does this story.

Which is a shame, because it’s clear that Gwin can write, and there was a lot of good here. It’s an emotionally charged novel, perhaps bleaker than I was expecting, but also often moving and sincere.

I didn’t dislike The Accidental’s, it just didn’t quite work for me, but it may well work for you.

Read a sample

++++++

Available from HarperCollins US

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository

Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

 

Title: Sorcery of Thorns

Author: Margaret Rogerson

Published: June 4th 2019, Margaret K. Elderly Books

Status: Read July 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Ink and parchment flowed through her veins. The magic of the Great Libraries lived in her very bones. They were a part of her, and she a part of them.”

Raised in the Great Library of Summershall, foundling Elisabeth Scrivener has grown up with no other desire than to become a Warden in service to the Collegium, to wield an iron sword, and protect the kingdom from the powerful grimoires that line the shelves of the six Great Library’s of Austemeer.

“For these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voice. They sang when starlight streamed through the library’s windows. They felt pain and suffered heartbreak. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque—but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth fighting for, because wherever there was darkness, there was also so much light.”

But Elisabeth’s dream is shattered when she is accused of a deadly act of sabotage that results in the death of her mentor, the Summershall Director. Ordered to stand trial in the Capital, she is escorted by Nathaniel Thorn, a young Magister with a fearsome reputation, and his demon servant, Silas. Raised to believe the worst of sorcery, and those who wield it, Elisabeth doesn’t expect to even survive the journey, but she will face a far greater danger at her destination, where the real saboteur waits.

“She saw no way out of the trap he had built for her. Escape wasn’t an option. If she attempted to run, he would know that she suspected him, and the game would come to an end. She would lose any chance she had left to expose him, however small.”

Sorcery of Thorns is an enchanting young adult fantasy novel offering adventure, suspense, humour, and romance.

I thought Rogerson did a great job of character development.

Elisabeth quickly sheds the innocence of her sheltered background, but not her idealism. She proves to be intelligent, resourceful and courageous, and is determined to end the threat to Austemeer, no matter the cost to herself.

Nathaniel is a bit of a tortured hero, with a tragic backstory. I particularly enjoyed his sense of humour.

The romance between Elisabeth and Nathaniel is not too rushed, and I found it sweet.

Silas, with his impeccable manners and yellow eyes, almost steals the show.

I loved the world building, the settings are easily imagined, from the home of Nathaniel to the halls, and secret passages, of the Great Library. And what reader can resist the idea of a library where books grumble, and sigh, and sing, and whisper? A book provoked, becomes a Malefict, a terrifying monster that has the potential to maim and kill. Iron and salt are weapons that keep them bound.

“Knowledge always has the potential to be dangerous. It is a more powerful weapon than any sword or spell.”

I was enthralled by the Sorcery of Thorns, though near 500 pages long, I found it a quick read. Charming, exciting and entertaining, the novel is written as a stand alone, but I’d love to return to this world.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green

 

 

Title: The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle

Author: Sophie Green

Published: July 23rd 2019, Hachette

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Hachette/

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green is an inspirational and heartwarming testament to female friendship.

In need of some time for herself, busy wife and mother Theresa Howard opts for a daily dawn swim at Shelly Bay Beach. It’s there that she meets the widowed Marie, who has swum from Shelly Bay to Little Beach, and back again, almost every morning of her long life. The two women are soon joined by Elaine Schaeffer, the British wife of an Australian heart surgeon, who is struggling with homesickness, and somewhat reluctantly, Leeane, a young pediatric nurse with a painful past. Little more than strangers to one another, these four women soon become the closest of friends.

Beginning in the summer of 1982, the companionship that Theresa, Marie, Elaine and Leeane find in the water, slowly moves beyond the shore of Shelley Bay Beach, and as each woman encounters a myriad of life changes over the next two years, they reach out to one another in friendship. Getting to know these four authentically written characters is gratifying journey as we share their journeys through happiness and sorrow.

While Green sensitively explores difficult, but not uncommon, challenges faced by women such as infidelity, divorce, grief, loneliness, ageing, alcoholism, family estrangement, sexual assault and illness, her characters share moments of joy and laughter too. They find within themselves, and each other, the strength and courage, to love, and live, their lives fully.

“They’re all women she loves, and she knows they love her in return. It’s been enough to get her through some days, and she knows what Marie would say: it never ends. Love is eternal…”

Written with heart, humour and compassion, The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle is a wonderful read.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

Title: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Author: Robert Hillman

Published: July 11th 2019, Faber & Faber

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Faber & Faber/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is a literary novel from award winning Australian author, Robert Hillman.

In the Spring of 1968, as Tom Hope toils away on his farm, lonely after his wife has deserted him and taken her son with her, Hannah Babel arrives in rural Victoria intending to open a bookshop, and offer piano and flute lessons.

The farming community of Hometown seems an unlikely place for a woman like Hannah, a Jew who barely survived the horrors of Auschwitz and it’s aftermath, to settle, and in which to establish a bookshop with a goal to sell twenty five thousand books,in honour of her father, who died in an internment camp.

“She took an oblong of stiff paper, craft paper, the colour of parchment, sat at the counter and wrote a single line of neat Hebrew script with black ink and a steel-nibbed pen….And so Hannah’s first choice of a name for her business remained known only to her: Bookshop of the broken hearted.”

Hannah, and Tom, who responds to Hannah’s request for help hang a sign, become an unlikely couple. Hannah’s effusive persona contrasts with Tom’s taciturn nature, and the age difference (Hannah is more than a decade older) worries some of the townsfolk, especially those who know how much Tom misses his wife’s son, Peter. Tom however finds Hannah beguiling, if a bit mad, and is quietly thrilled that such an interesting woman seems to be so interested in him.

“He felt like a great block of stone talking to her, but she was interested in him, that’s what it felt like. He had never before in his life been made to feel interesting.”

This is much more than a love story though, one of the major themes Hillman explores is that of suffering. Hannah’s suffering during the Holocaust, including the loss of her husband and son; Tom’s suffering after the loss of Peter; and Peter’s suffering at the hands of his mother and the leaders of the ‘Jesus Camp’.

“Tom didn’t think of himself as observant, astute. He didn’t notice things. He more failed to notice. But when he pictured Mrs Babel’s—sorry, Hannah’s—face, as he did now, her eyes, her green eyes, he grasped that she was suffering. That huge smile, all of her teeth on show, one at the side a bit discoloured; but she was suffering. He had suffered. In the same way? He didn’t know.”

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is a languid, poignant story about loss, heartbreak, survival, hope and redemption.

++++++

Available from Faber & Faber

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar

 

Title: The Flight Girls

Author: Noelle Salazar

Published: July 2nd 2019, Mira Books

Status: June 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Flight Girls by Noelle Salazar is a fascinating, fictionalised account of the role female pilots played on the home front during World War II.

With dreams of one day owning her own small airfield in her home town, Audrey Coltrane is one of a handful of female civilian flight instructors assisting in the training of airforce recruits in Hawaii as World War II rages in Europe. She’s content spending her days in the air, and her nights in the company of her roommates, determined to avoid any romantic entanglements which could jeopardise her future plans.

And then, on an ordinary day in December during a training flight with a new recruit, Audrey encounters a squadron of Japanese planes on their way to devastate Pearl Harbor. While Audrey narrowly escapes with her life, thousands, including a close friend and colleague, are not so lucky.

In the wake of the attack, Audrey returns home to Texas but soon grows restless and accepts an invitation to join the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Audrey Coltrane is a well developed character, the story unfolds from her first person perspective and I found her to be relatable, admiring her passion, courage and strength. The character of Audrey seems to have been in part inspired by Cornelia Fort, Like Cornelia, Audrey comes from a well off family, and graduated from Sarah-Lawrence College. Fort was the first aviator to encounter a Japanese pilot during a training flight on the day of the Pearl Harbour attack, and was one of the first women to join the WASP program, though tragically, Fort was killed during a mission in 1943, attributable to another (male) pilot’s error.

I was fascinated by the activities of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which were later combined and became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), though this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered it in fiction. Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion also tells the story of this group of female aviators. These women were incredible, coming from a variety of backgrounds, volunteering to serve their country. They risked their lives flying aircraft cross-country, testing both new and repaired aircraft, and towing targets for live artillery practice. They were required to complete intensive military training, but the government took little responsibility for their well-being. They did not qualify for any military benefits, and the women were required to pay for their own room and board, transportation, uniforms, and flight gear, and if they were killed (a total of 38 women died), all funeral expenses, including the return of their loved one, was at the family’s cost.

The women with whom Audrey served, and the bonds that formed between them, is definitely a strength of the novel. The supporting characters are well crafted with distinct personalities, and I think representative of the varied women who joined the WASP. Salazar creates a genuine sense of camaraderie between these women, who both live and work together. Their support of one another is heartwarming, and Audrey’s friendship with Carol Ann is particularly delightful.

There is a strong romantic storyline through the book. Though Audrey believes there is no room in her life for love, marriage or children if she is to achieve her dreams, her relationship with airman Lieutenant James Hart, whom she first meets in Hawaii, causes her to question her convictions. After the attack in Pearl Harbor, James is deployed to Europe and while the two write to each other, Audrey is unwilling to admit the depth of her feelings for him until she receives word that he is missing in action, presumed dead or captured by the Germans.

What dulled my enthusiasm for the story slightly was the imbalance between ‘showing and telling’, with a single first person perspective, at times the narrative dragged. In her enthusiasm, I also think Salazar occasionally got carried away with including too many details that didn’t necessarily advance the story, and glossed over more important issues. There is the odd anachronism too, but I think overall Salazar managed to accurately portray the sense of time and place.

The Flight Girls is entertaining, touching, and interesting. I think it tells an important story that recognises and appreciates the contribution these women made to the war effort.

++++++

Available from Mira Books or Harlequin

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository

Note: One of the reasons I requested The Flight Girls is because my grandmother served in the Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF) during World War II. Unfortunately there is no mention of women having any role during that period as a pilot in either a military or a civilian organisation in Australia that I’ve been able to find, though the woman instrumental in the establishment of the WAAAF, Mary Bell, did have a pilot’s licence. WAAAF recruits worked in technical positions such as flight mechanics, electricians, fitters, instrument makers, meteorologists, and as signal and radar operatives, as well as in roles in administration, and the medical field.

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

++++++

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

Previous Older Entries