Review: The Fallout by Rebecca Thornton

 

Title: The Fallout

Author: Rebecca Thornton

Published: December 5th 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

In The Fallout, Rebecca Thornton’s third fiction novel, minutes after Sarah witnesses her best friend’s young son climbing a pole in a playground, and distracted, says nothing, the boy falls. Four year old Jack is badly injured, and Sarah is horrified, but can’t bring herself to admit to Liza that she may have been able to prevent the tragedy. Desperate to redeem herself for failing to tell the truth, Sarah vows to do everything she can to make up for her mistake, but lies have consequences, and there are some things can’t be forgiven.

Thornton explores several themes in The Fallout, including friendship, parenting, postpartum depression/psychosis, loss, and post traumatic stress. The story unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Sarah and Liza as they struggle with the fallout from Jack’s accident. Thornton also makes use of WhatsApp chat and interview transcripts in the novel to good effect. Amongst other things, they reveal the petty dynamic too often present among groups of mothers, and illustrate the varying social attitudes to parenting in general, as speculation about the fall, and who is to blame, runs riot.

Sarah is an exhausting character, and though I felt sympathetic towards her, I also found her frustrating, and irritating. Her frenzied anxiety, fed by residual feelings of guilt and grief, leads to impulsive, and sometimes irrational decisions, that worsens every situation exponentially, despite usually having the best of intentions. I did feel that the story got a little bogged down in Sarah’s spiral of panic, occasionally teetering on the edge of absurd, and slowing the pace.

Liza is also wound a little tight, not only because of the uncertainty surrounding Jack’s injury, and the complicated state of her marriage, but also due to a past event, which Thornton delays revealing until the very end of the novel. I’d guessed the circumstances that Liza was struggling with early on, so I found the reveal to be anti-climatic, but I liked the way in which the author acknowledged the impact of events on Liza’s husband’s.

The Fallout is a engaging read, I found the premise to be relatable, and I empathised with the characters.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Read an Extract

Review: The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale

 

 

Title: The Strangers We Know

Author: Pip Drysdale

Published: December 1sr 2019, Simon & Schuster Australia

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

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Nothing is ever as it seems, is it?”

When Charlie Carter catches a glimpse of a man who looks like her husband on a dating app, she desperately wants to believe she is mistaken. Since their marriage eighteen months previously, Oliver has been the perfect husband…hardworking, attentive and loving, and she wants his unequivocal denial to be enough.

“You see, that’s the problem with trust issues: eventually you find you can’t trust yourself either.”

But it isn’t. To allay her lingering suspicions, Charlie sets a trap and is devastated when her worst fear is realised. Her marriage is over.

“And that should have been it: rock bottom. A cheating husband and broken dreams. Fair is fair. But no. Life was just getting warmed up.”

Fast-paced with some surprising twists, The Strangers We Know is an entertaining contemporary thriller from Pip Drysdale.

I really enjoyed the plot, and I’m loathe to spoil the surprises it offers. There is an unpredictability that is compelling, if not entirely credible, and I easily read it straight through.

Unfolding from Charlie’s first person perspective, Drysdale exploits the character’s profession as an actress in the structure of the novel, it’s easy to imagine this novel being adapted for the screen. It has a modern sensibility which will appeal to a younger audience, and a classic whodunnit twist to satisfy mystery fans.

Caught in a web of deceit and betrayal, and unsure who to trust, Charlie doesn’t always make smart decisions, which can be frustrating, but her naivety is also relatable, which makes her an appealing character. She is indubitably the star of this novel.

“But here’s the thing with life: You have to get through it. There’s no choice. Eventually, even in real life, the heroine has to win out in the end.”

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Also available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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

++++++

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.

++++++

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

++++++

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.

++++++

Read an Extract

Available from PenguinRandomHouse

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Review: The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

 

Title: The Giver of Stars

Author: JoJo Moyes

Published: October 1st 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Penguin Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

“So, what the Sam Hill is a travelling library, anyway?”

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes is historical fiction inspired by the remarkable women who worked for the WPA Packhorse Library in rural Kentucky from the mid 1930’s to the mid 1940’s. For around $28 a month, these travelling librarians rode into the Appalachian Mountain through difficult terrain and all types of weather delivering books to homes and schools.

“It’s women doing the riding. Delivering the books.’

‘Women?’

‘By themselves?’ came a man’s voice.

‘Last time I looked, God gave ’em two arms and two legs, just like the men.”

Moyes sets her novel in the fictional small mining town of Baileyville in southern Appalachia, where the newly founded Packhorse Library attracts a group of diverse women into its employ. Though nominally headed by Mrs. Brady, it’s Margery O’Hare, a fiercely independent Mountain woman who takes charge of the library. She is joined by Alice Van Cleeve, the new English bride of the mine owner’s son, who is regretting the whirlwind courtship that brought her half way across the world, Beth, the daughter of a local farmer, who dreams of one day escaping Kentucky, Mrs. Brady’s reluctant daughter, Izzy, new widow Kathleen, and Sophia, a young black woman who becomes the library’s clerk.

“I believe sending young women out by themselves is a recipe for disaster. And I can see nothing but the foment of ungodly thoughts and bad behaviour from this ill-conceived idea”

Moyes portrays the community and its residents in a believable manner, highlighting the hard scrabble life of its poorest, and the arrogance of its richest. She explores common prejudices of the era, especially against women, and the environmental and social impact of unregulated mining, but most importantly the author shows how access to books and reading can change the lives of people for the better.

“The Baileyville WPA packhorse librarians were a team, yes, and a team stuck together.”

Of course, the focus of The Giver of Stars is really on the women of the Packhorse Library, the trials they face, and the friendship, support, and strength they offer one another. The characters are well developed, each strong, admirable women who earn the gratitude and trust of those they serve as they often go above and beyond their job description.

“She loved it here. She loved the mountains and the people and the never-ending sky. She loved feeling as if she was doing a job that meant something, testing herself each day, changing people’s lives word by word.”

A captivating story of friendship, love, identity, and justice, The Giver of Stars is a wonderful read.

++++++

Read an Extract

Available from Penguin Australia

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

Also by JoJo Moyes reviewed at Book’d Out 

Children’s Books from Allen & Unwin

 

 

A surprise arrived in the mail this past week from Allen & Unwin, four delightful children’s books I’m happy to share with you.

 

 

I See, I See by R. Henderson is a playful, rhyming, large square hardcover book. It has an unusual format that encourages a call-and-answer conversation between two readers, each of whom view the page from a different perspective when seated opposite from one another. I think this book would be particularly ideal for storytelling in a childcare, preschool, or school setting, but will also be a lot of fun for young children to explore alone, or with a friend.

 

 

Alison Lester is a well loved Australian children’s author, and The Painted Ponies is her latest picture book. A grandmother tells her granddaughter the story behind her favourite toy, a carved wagon that houses six painted horses, “The gold palomino, the chestnut, the bay, the pinto, the brown and the dappley grey.” It’s a sweet story about freedom and friendship, beautifully illustrated by Lester, suitable for 4-7 year olds.

 

 

Little Nic’s Big Day is authored by Nic Naitanui, a well-known and widely respected ruckman of the West Coast Eagles AFL team. In rhyming verse, it tells the story of a young boy worried about making friends on his first day of school. With bright full page illustrations from Fatima Anaya, this is a delightful book that celebrates friendship and diversity, suitable for 4-7 year olds.

 

 

Paddy T and the Time Travelling Trampoline by Adam France is suitable for independent readers, aged 7 to 11. It contains seven short stories featuring Paddy T and his friends, whose ordinary days develop into fantastical exploits. I think this book will particularly appeal to boys who will relate to, and enjoy the action, humour and adventure, and the cartoon-like illustrations from Zahra Zainal.

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

++++++

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: The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

 

Title: The World That We Knew

Author: Alice Hoffman

Published: October 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster AU

Status: Read October 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

“It was protection, it was love, it was a secret, it was the beginning, it was the end.”

The World That We Knew is a lyrical, evocative and poignant tale set during World War II from Alice Hoffman.

“I beg you for one thing. Love her as if she were your own.”

As the Nazi’s purge Germany of its Jewish population, a mother desperately seeks a way to save her twelve year old daughter, Lea. Turning to her faith for a miracle she finds help from a Rabbi’s daughter, Ettiene, who, in exchange for train tickets to make her own escape with her sister, creates a Golem, a creature made from magic and clay, compelled to deliver Lea safe from the war.

“Hers was a wish that could never be granted. It was too late, it was over; there was no home to go back to.”

While Lea grieves for all she has left behind, Ava, learning to walk within the world, ensures they safely reach Paris. There they find refuge with the Levi family, distant cousins, and Lea a friendship with Julien Levi that eases her heartache, but once again the darkness closes in, and Ava and Lea must flee.

“It was a dark dream,… it was nothing like the world we knew.”

A story of family, love, grief, faith, sacrifice, survival, duty, good and evil, The World That We Knew is a spellbinding fairytale, grounded in the horrific reality of the Holocaust. It contrasts the very worst of humanity with its best during one of history’s darkest periods, and celebrates the astonishing ability of love to thrive even in the bleakest of circumstances.

“People said love was the antidote to hate, that it could mend what was most broken, and give hope in the most hopeless of times.”

Lea and Ava’s path is fraught with danger, yet illuminated with love, as it also is for those with whom they connect on their journey. Ettie seeks out the resistance after her sister is gunned down during their escape from Berlin; Marianne returns home to her father’s farm in the Ardèche Mountains, and discovers all that she left to find; Julien Levi narrowly escapes being shipped off to Auschwitz during ‘Operation Spring Breeze’, doing all he can to keep his one promise to Lea – to stay alive.

“If you survive, I survive inside of you.”

Powerful and poetic, The World That We Knew is a stunning novel and a compelling read.

“Once upon a time something happened that you never could have imagined, a spell was broken, a girl was saved, a rose grew out of a tooth buried deep in the ground, love was everywhere, and people who had been taken away continued to walk with you, in dreams and in the waking world.”

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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

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

++++++

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

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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

xxxxxx

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

Previous Older Entries