AWW Feature: Susan Johnson on Landing an Idea

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I’m happy to welcome Susan Johnson to Book’d Out today to celebrate the release of The Landing.

Susan is the author of ten books; eight novels; a memoir, A Better Woman; and a non-fiction book, an essay, On Beauty.  Several of my books have been published in the UK, the US, and in European translation (French, Polish) as well as in Australia. She has also written for newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Times, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and Q Magazine of The Courier-Mail).

She has lived in the UK, France and Greece but returned to Brisbane, Australia, to live with her two sons in 2010.

The Landing is a funny, delightful and poignant novel that lays out the human condition – looking for love in all of its many forms with secrets, polite lies, desperation, compromise and joy.

“Jonathan Lott is confused. His wife has left him for a woman and he doesn’t like living alone. Is it true that an about-to-be-divorced man in possession of a good fortune is in need of a new wife? Would Penny Collins do, divorced herself, school teacher and frustrated artist? What about beautiful Anna, blown in from who knows where, trailing broken marriages behind her? There’s a lot happening at The Landing, where Jonathan has his beach house, and he’s about to find out how much love matters.”

Please read on to learn how Susan got the idea for The Landing…

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

by Susan Johnson

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ is one of the most common questions asked of writers. I always say, well, it’s like dreaming: how do you get your dreams? How is my dream so different from yours and why is your dream yours alone?

The answer to the question is really that a book – or an idea – comes from everything that makes a writer up, where he or she was born, who they love, what his or her mother was like. In other words, a book represents the sum of the whole, a kind of outcrop of personality.
The idea for The Landing came to me in a rush, following a visit to a friend’s beach house on the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland, Australia. Driving into this little hamlet near a lake, he started pointing out who lived in which house, and all the scandals of the town, how so-and-so had run off with so-and-so and how that guy had gone broke and how that woman was a drunk.
I got home and immediately wrote a scene in which a heartbroken man drives into a little hamlet. Suddenly it was as if the little hamlet was as if on a brightly lit stage, with all the action happening, like a play. It gave me a perfect framing, if you like, a nice fence around the yard: I just had to find out exactly what to put in it!
I’ve lived away from Australia for a long time now – in London for ten years, France and Hong Kong for a couple years more – and returning to Queensland, to Brisbane, the city where I started my young adult life was fascinating to me in lots of ways. I was born in Brisbane, but grew up in Sydney, returning to Queensland to finish my last years of school and to start uni and work as a cadet reporter on the local newspaper, The Courier-Mail. I came back to Brisbane to live in 2010.
There’s been lots of changes since I last lived here in the 80s, and as a writer I was keenly observant of those changes. Soon my little idea started fanning out into a comedy of manners about contemporary Brisbane life – everyone in Brisbane asks where you went to school, for example. I love small English novels – Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor, Penelope Fitzgerald – that take a slice of existence and examine it for its griefs and foibles – while also managing to be funny.
I’m also interested in the idea of shame, and its many impacts. In one of my earlier books, The Broken Book (2004) inspired by the life of the late Australian writer Charmian Clift, I did a lot of research into unmarried mothers, and the shame and grief those women experienced. I wanted to write a bit more about that and, over time, a French character developed, a woman who has effectively re-invented herself, powered by a deep shame.
I guess everything I am goes into a book: my own knowledge of exile, my personal history, and yet a book is never just an autobiographical expression. The act of writing is above all an act of empathy, and so I believe a woman writer can write a male character, or a male writer a woman, a straight writer can write a gay character or else a writer in the present moment can write about a character from the imagined past or the imagined future.
The books I love best tell me something of the great mystery of existence. I want that – something of the pain and grief and joy and wonder of being alive – but I also want to make my dream as recognizable and truthful as your dream. It won’t ever be the same dream, but in the end I hope it resembles yours just a little.

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Review: The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky

 

Title: The Waiting Room

Author: Leah Kaminsky

Published: Vintage: Random House Au September 2015

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Status: Read on September 01, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Waiting Room is the debut fiction novel from Leah Kaminsky, a physician and best selling non fiction author.

Dina is a family doctor living in contemporary Israel with her husband and young son. Haifa is a world away from the Melbourne suburbs where Dina grew up, the only daughter of holocaust survivors. Eight months pregnant with her second child, Dina is exhausted and increasingly anxious. Her marriage is strained, she is tired of her patients needs, and she is terrified by an escalated terrorist threat in the city.

As Dina struggles to simply get through a single day, overwhelmed by traffic, a broken heel, demanding patients, and a promise to procure apples for her son, her behaviour becomes increasingly irrational. She finds no comfort in the casual assurances of her husband, nor the ghostly opinion of her long dead mother, who berates, cajoles and nags her daughter for her failings.

The sentiment of The Waiting Room is haunting and moving, relieved only by a rare glimpse of dark humour. The prose and dialogue is sharp and articulate. The pace builds until Dina’s day reaches an explosive conclusion.

The Waiting Room is a short but powerful novel about survival, terror, love and death.

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Seasoned Traveller 2015

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Review: X By Sue Grafton

 

Title: X

Author: Sue Grafton

Published: Macmillan Au September 2015

Status: Read from August 30 to September 01, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

X is the 24th book in Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series featuring private investigator, Kinsey Millhone. I’ve read all but three, and now there are just two more books remaining.

X begins with Kinsey at a bit of a loose end, business is slow but she nevertheless soon finds herself caught up in three disparate mysteries.

The first involves finding the current address of a young man recently released from prison for his wealthy birth mother. The simple task complete, Kinsey doesn’t give it a second thought until a local police detective alerts her that the hundred dollar notes she was paid with were registered as part of a blackmail case. Annoyed, Kinsey investigates, unraveling her clients lies.

The second relates to a pair of elderly new neighbours that raise Kinsey’s hackles when they start to impose on Henry’s generosity.

Meanwhile, Pete Wolinsky’s widow asks Kinsey for her help in finding old financial documents requested by an IRS auditor. In amongst a box overflowing with paperwork, Kinsey discovers a padded mailer addressed to a priest and a coded list. Curious, Kinsey finds herself following up on the case, unprepared for the horrors she discovers.

W is for Wasted was a bit of a disappointment due to a rather lacklustre and longwinded plot, but X is much improved and more reminiscent of earlier books in the series. While there aren’t any great surprises, the cases are interesting, and well thought out. I found the investigation relating to Pete the most compelling, there is real danger involved for both Kinsey and others.

The pace of X is measured, as all the books tend to be in this series. Set in the 1980’s Kinsey’s investigations are all about legwork in the pre internet, pre mobile phone era. Kinsey spends a lot of time browsing library archives, making phone calls and on stakeout.

Kinsey herself is not an excitable character, but she is a thoughtful and determined investigator that focuses on detail. I’ve always liked her but I was hoping for more personal development as the series approaches the end. Essentially Kinsey is a loner, Vera makes a brief appearance which I enjoyed and former romantic interests Dietz and Chaney rate a mention. But Henry and Rosie are really the only people she interacts with.

As a longtime fan of the series I was mostly satisfied by this installment and I’m eager to see how Grafton brings it to a close.

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Review: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

 

Title: Pretty Girls

Author: Karin Slaughter

Published: Cornerstone Digital July 2015

Status: Read from August 27 to 30, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Best known for her Grant County and Will Trent crime fiction series, Pretty Girls is Karin Slaughter’s second stand alone novel.

After nineteen year old Julia disappeared without a trace, the Carroll family fell apart in a spectacular fashion. Twenty four years later, sisters Lydia and Claire are little more than strangers, until they are reunited at the graveside of Claire’s murdered husband, Paul. When Claire discovers some obscene videos that depict the torture, rape and murder of teenage girls on her husband’s computer she is horrified. Though a local detective assures Claire the movies are fake, one of the victims looks eerily like a girl recently reported missing and Claire finds she can’t ignore her instincts, and reaches out to the only person she feels she can trust, her sister, for help.

Pretty Girls is primarily a psychological thriller but includes plenty of action and graphic violence. The fast moving plot twists and turns as Lydia and Claire are caught up in a nightmarish conspiracy and become the targets of a psychopath. Their shared narrative is full of tension as they renegotiate their relationship and heal old wounds, while working together to uncover the truth about Paul, and their missing sister’s fate.

A third perspective weaves its way through the novel. Sam is the girls’ father who was obsessed with searching for Julia until he committed suicide on the sixth anniversary of her disappearance. His narrative underscores the emotional agony experienced by the shattered families of the missing who find it difficult to move on without closure.

I’m really not sure why I didn’t find Pretty Girls as compelling as many readers seem to do. It is a dark, gritty and often page turning thriller, well written with plenty to recommend it, but it didn’t grip me as fully as I hoped.

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Review: Woman of the Dead by Bernard Aichner

 

Title: Woman of The Dead {Blum #1}

Author: Bernard Aichner (translated by Anthea Bell)

Published: Scribner August 2015

Status: Read on August 25, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A dark and disturbing tale of vengeance and violence, Woman of the Dead is the first novel by Bernhard Aichner to feature Blum, mother, mortician and murderer.

When Blum’s beloved husband is killed in a hit and run she is nearly destroyed until she learns that he was deliberately targeted. The photographer, the cook, the priest, the huntsman, and the clown – these are the men responsible, and Blum is going to make them pay.

Woman Of the Dead has one of the most memorable character introductions I’ve ever read. The story opens with a during a defining moment in Blum’s life before leaping forward eight years to place us in the present. Blum is the devoted wife of Mark, a police detective, the doting mother of their two young daughters, and the owner of a successful funeral business. She is both hero and anti-hero in this story, grieving widow and ruthless killer.

There is raw and visceral emotion in The Woman of the Dead. The pain and numbness of Blum’s grief and the horror of the abuse Danya experienced at the hands of the mysterious cabal. There is also grisly and often explicit violence, this isn’t a story for the squeamish.

The plot is quite straight forward, perhaps stretched a little thin at times. It’s a fast paced story that builds suspense, though astute readers shouldn’t have any problems guessing the identity of the last man standing.

Woman of the Dead is an unusual story, with a rather extraordinary protagonist. I’m curious to see how the series develops.

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Review: The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: The Secret Years

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin  August 2015

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Status: Read from August 23 to 25, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Secret Years is Barbara Hannay’s 49th book, in which she blends a contemporary and historical narrative to present an engaging novel about family, heroism, heartbreak and love.

Army logistics officer Lucy Hunter is relieved to be home in Townsville after her six month deployment in Afghanistan but she isn’t prepared for the changes in store for her. Her mother has exchanged her childhood home for a sterile condo apartment she is sharing with a new man, her grandfather’s health is failing, and her fiance, Sam, has cold feet. With several weeks of leave ahead of her, Lucy is at a loose end until she discovers a box of wartime memorabilia that contains clues to her family’s history that neither her mother or grandfather are willing to talk about. Hoping to understand the secrets of the past, Lucy travels to Cornwall, a place where she just might find her future.

Moving between the past and present, the narrative shifts between Lucy’s journey to unravel her family’s secrets, and the story of the relationship between Lucy’s cattleman grandfather, Harry, and his aristocratic bride, Georgina. Emotions run high in both timelines through scenes of wartime drama, desperate passion and captivating romance.

I liked Lucy and I sympathised with her desire to understand the past. The mystery stems from the discord between Lucy’s mother, Ro and Lucy’s grandfather, Harry, which Lucy learns is related to her mother’s brief time in England. I also enjoyed Lucy’s romance with the dashing Nick.

But it was the story of Harry and George’s courtship and marriage that I found particularly entrancing. Their love is touching, and their wartime experiences are exciting, if also sobering.

The story takes us from Australia’s coastline and outback, to London during the Blitz, from the wild bluffs of Cornwall to the jungles of Papua New Guinea as the Japanese invade. Both the contemporary and wartime settings are vividly described, as are the characters experiences of them.

The Secret Years is well written with appealing characters and a moving story. Another winning romance.

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Also by Barbara Hannay

 


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Review: We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

 

Title: We Never Asked for Wings

Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Published: Ballantine Books August 2015

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Status: Read from August 21 to 22, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel, The Language of Flowers, was an impressive debut that captured my heart. We Never Asked For Wings is a similarly poignant and touching story.

We Never Asked for Wings is a story of redemption as Letty Epinosa picks up the mantle of motherhood when her parents decide to move back to Mexico. After years of benign neglect, she has to learn what it means to be a parent who is emotionally present in her children’s lives while providing for them as best she can. Letty makes a lot of mistakes as she negotiates her new responsibilities but slowly she begins to find her feet, wanting the best life that she can possibly provide for her fifteen year old son, Alex, and her six year old daughter, Luna.

Meanwhile Alex is falling in love for the first time and Letty is terrified he will repeat her mistakes, sabotaging his dreams with a teenage pregnancy. Alex however is far more responsible than his mother gives him credit for, but in trying to help Ysenia, an undocumented immigrant, escape the bullying she experiences at school, he unwittingly puts both their futures in jeopardy.

We Never Asked For Wings explores social issues including single parenthood, educational inequality, poverty and immigration, and themes such as family, love, regrets and redemption. Birds and feathers are symbols of migration, patterns, hopes and dreams.

Sensitively and beautifully written, Diffenbaugh paints a vivid picture of a family struggling to overcome adversity and forge a stronger, united future in We Never Asked For Wings. This is a wonderfully engaging and affecting novel that tugs at the heartstrings.

 

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Review: The Crushing Season by Peta Jo

 

 

Title: The Crushing Season

Author: Peta Jo

Published: August 2015

Status: Read from August 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Peta Jo’s second novel, The Crushing Season, is an engaging story about friendship, family, love and loss.

Leah, May, Tate, Alex and Benny are the best of friends. They met in high school and more than fifteen years later, despite the separation wrought by their busy lives, remain close. When May is hit by a double crisis, her friends rally to support her, but none of them realise how badly she has been affected, until she does the unthinkable.

I became quite attached to all of the Crushing Season’s protagonists, who are wonderfully developed characters. Tate is a feisty news editor, struggling to balance her commitment to her work and new motherhood. Leah runs her own successful restaurant, but is plagued with a history of bad relationships. Benny is a frustrated writer on the verge of giving up on his dreams. Laid back Alex is suddenly anxious about his future. May is the linchpin of the group, whose gentle and caring nature never hints at the dark secrets she holds close.

The dynamic between the friends is skilfully rendered. I enjoyed their rowdy reunion, their affectionate ribbing and bickering, and of course the way they supported each other in times of crisis. Even when their bond is complicated and strained, the connection is clear. In many ways, they remind me of my own close circle of friends whom I don’t see as often as I would like.

Peta Jo’s exploration of the books somber issues such as abuse, depression, suicide and guilt, are thoughtful and compassionate. Most importantly, the characters emotions are sincere, and their behaviour genuine. Though there is real sadness in The Crushing Season, there is also plenty of heart and humour, which often made me smile.

Well paced, with excellent characterisation and a strong plot, The Crushing Season is an affecting tale, both achingly poignant and truly heartwarming.

Please CLICK HERE to learn more about Peta Jo and The Crushing Season

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AWW Feature: Peta Jo and The Crushing Season

I’m happy to welcome back Peta Jo to Book’d Out today to celebrate the publication of The Crushing Season, her second novel.

Peta Jo is a seasoned journalist and subeditor who shamelessly embraces the side of her that writes fiction. Her first book, Feral Bells, was released in 2011 under the original title of Wedding Etiquette For Ferals at the Queensland Brides’ Wedding and Honeymoon Expo before being picked up for distribution by Bermingham Books in 2012. She currently works from home as a subeditor for regional Queensland newspapers whilst simultaneously feeding, entertaining, educating and, above all, loving her two children (and husband, though he requires far less educating).

About The Crushing Season

In the smoky haze of a small town’s cane harvesting season, May grew up as the silent bearer of her father’s vicious beatings. But four schoolmates save her with the simple act of their friendship.
Now in their thirties and busy with their own lives, the four friends are unaware how important they still are to May: Tate, a ballsy newspaper subeditor is struggling with her new role as mother; Alex, a bohemian soul has let his anxiety get in the way of his future happiness; Leah, the “boy mad” gal is one French backpacker away from her next heartbreak; and Benny, a die-hard romantic is about to give up his dreams and surrender the fantasy of being with the one girl he’s ever loved… Leah.

But it’s May that holds their friendship together and she is up to something that will change their lives forever. “

****

My review of The Crushing Season can be viewed HERE, in the meantime please read on as Peta Jo shares her personal connection with her story…

Seven People by Peta Jo

It had been a bad year for us. Two family members had attempted suicide.
It got so that, when the phone rang, I braced myself for more bad news.
The first call was like a blow to the side of the head. He was en route to the nearest ICU, hours away. It wasn’t looking good, and I rang another town’s hospital, desperate for information to disseminate amongst our shocked family.
He survived.
The second call, one month later, was like stomach pain. Miraculously, they found her in time (she’d driven away and hidden herself, to spare her family the pain of finding her).
She, too, survived.
But that’s not the case for many. Lifeline studies showed there are almost seven deaths by suicide in Australia each day. That rate more than doubles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
My second book, which dealt with suicide, languished as we focused on family and tried to even our keel.
What was to be a short sabbatical from writing stretched out though, as my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died soon after.
We slipped quietly into mourning. I’m kind of still there two years later.
In fact, I can barely fathom the masses of families and friends of SEVEN people each day, suffering in such a way.
How the world continues to function at all, with so many people grieving, confounds me.
But there is nothing to be served by pretending these things don’t happen. There’s nothing weak about someone’s struggle with poor mental health.
So while this was written before our own experiences with suicide, I hope The Crushing Season opens up a supportive dialogue for everyone, helps those dealing with the fallout to feel less alone.

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The Crushing Season is available to purchase via

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Review: Private Sydney by James Patterson & Kathryn Fox

 

Title: Private Sydney {Private #10}

Author: James Patterson and Kathryn Fox

Published: Random House Australia August 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 17 to 18, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:
In the latest addition to the Private series, James Patterson teams with Aussie crime author Kathryn Fox, introducing the reader to Craig Gisto, and his staff, in the Private Sydney agency who have two cases to investigate in this crime thriller novel.

The first involves a surrogacy scam, a murdered woman and a missing baby. Gisto’s agency is accused of negligence when a couple hires Private to run a background check on a woman who has volunteered to be their surrogate. Within hours of turning over the report, the woman is murdered, an 8 week old baby in her care abducted, and the identities of the couple prove to be false. Gisto and his team have few leads and work hard to unravel the scam, determined to find the missing infant.

The second case involves the missing CEO of a billion dollar company. Stonewalled by the man’s business partner, Gisto begins to suspect large scale fraud is the issue. However it soon becomes clear that whatever Eric Moss has done, he has made some dangerous enemies. Despite attempts at intimidation, Gisto refuses to back off, especially when threats are made against the missing man’s daughter.

Short chapters, an economy of words, and a sense of immediacy keeps the pace moving quickly. The plot is well crafted and not entirely predictable, with some smaller subplots that fill out the pages. Studded with action, there is also a touch of romance. You don’t get much more than a general sense of the characters, but it is enough to satisfy.

The Australian setting, which moves from Sydney city to the Blue Mountains, should appeal to Patterson’s international and local fans.

Private Sydney was exactly what I expected, a quick, easy, entertaining read.

Private Sydney is available to purchase from

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