Review: Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

 


Title: Mix Tape

Author: Jane Sanderson

Published: January 23rd 2020, Bantam Press UK

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Bantam Press/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

I had been looking forward to reading Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson for a while before it finally came up in my schedule. I am of an age when mix tapes were common. I’d be listening to the radio on my boom box on a Sunday evening, a blank tape in the cassette deck, waiting for the Top 40 to start, with my fingers on the ‘play’ and ‘record’ buttons, poised to catch the opening bars of the whatever song I was hoping to record. We played mix tapes at parties, traded them among friends, and shyly gifted them to our boyfriend/girlfriend. I still have two or three of those tapes, though I no longer have anything to play them on.

Moving between the past and the present, this is the story of Daniel and Alison, who meet as teens in Sheffield, England in 1978. Their romantic relationship is brief, but intense, ending abruptly when Alison is compelled to flee her harrowing home life. Alison’s journey eventually leads her to Australia, and in 2012 she is a bestselling novelist, married with two near-adult daughters, when Dan, a music journalist whose home base is in Scotland with his wife and college bound son, receives a tweet from an old friend directing him to the profile of @AliConnorWriter. When Dan finally reaches out to the woman who has haunted his dreams for decades, he does so with a music video that speaks to a seminal moment in their relationship, ‘Pump It Up’ – Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1978.

“No words, no message. Only the song, speaking for itself.”

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, a tale of soulmates forcibly parted, and then reunited after a separation of thirty years.

Sanderson wonderfully captures the intensity of Daniel and Alison’s connection as teenagers. Dan, sweet and steady, is infatuated with the beautiful and enigmatic Alison. Alison, whose home life is chaotic and neglectful, basks in Dan’s admiration and returns his desire. When she leaves they are both devastated, aware they have lost something special.

When Dan and Ali reconnect decades later, they initially communicate only by trading songs via Twitter that remind them of their relationship, and then songs whose lyrics speak to their growing desires. I’m in my mid forties so I wasn’t particularly familiar with a fair amount of the music referenced in Mix Tape, and I found myself having to stop and search through YouTube on occasion to listen to the song to understand its significance. It’s a delightful idea though, a modern take on those not so subtle cassette mix tapes declaring love

Without sharing a word, despite all the time that has passed, the physical distance between them, and being married to other people, Dan and Alison rekindle the flame. Here is where Sanderson lost me a little, because while the idea of a love that cannot be denied is romantic, that it comes at the expense of others, even if neither of their spouses are particularly likeable, is uncomfortable for me. Still the inevitable reunion is epic, and to the author’s credit I wanted it to happen.

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, but it’s also about heartache, nostalgia, loss, forgiveness, and the music. While my feelings about it remain a little mixed, it has its charms.

++++++

Available from Bantam Press UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Title: Long Bright River

Author: Liz Moore

Published: January 9th 2020, Hutchinson

Read an Extract

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Penguin Books Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Long Bright River is a compelling literary novel of family drama and suspense from Liz Moore.

“There’s a body on the Gurney Street tracks. Female, age unclear, probable overdose, says the dispatcher. Kacey, I think. This is a twitch, a reflex, something sharp and subconscious that lives inside me and sends the same message racing to the same base part of my brain every time a female is reported.”

Set in a depressed neighbourhood of Philadelphia where the opioid crisis is taking an increasing toll on its residents, police officer Mickey (Michaela) Fitzgerald patrols the decaying streets of Kensington, always keeping a look out, among the prostitutes on the sidewalks and the drug addicts slumped in doorways, for her younger sister, Kacey. When it becomes clear that a serial killer targeting sex workers is stalking the ‘Ave’, Mickey begins a frantic search for both her missing sister, and the perpetrator, risking the job she loves, and even her own life.

I’m not always keen on a first person narrative but I found Mickey’s voice to be compelling as the novel moves between the story of the sisters’ difficult childhood (Then), and their present circumstances (Now). Moore’s characterisation of the sisters, and their complex dynamic, is nuanced and gripping. Raised by their resentful grandmother after the overdose death of their mother, the sisters were once close, but no longer speak. Nevertheless, Mickey tries to keep tabs on Kasey, who is lost in her addiction, driven by a potent mix of guilt, regret, and love, while barely holding together her own life.

Though the plot with regards to the serial murders is a little vague at times, it serves more as a backdrop to the multi-layered narrative that explores the devastating impact of opioid addiction on individuals, families, and communities, the dehumanisation of vulnerable persons, childhood neglect, sexual abuse, police corruption, and a myriad of other issues that define life’s struggles.

A thought-provoking, poignant story of loss, addiction, forgiveness, and healing, told with compassion and authenticity, Long Bright River is a powerful and absorbing novel.

“All of them children, all of them gone. People with promise, people dependent and depended upon, people loving and beloved, one after another, in a line, in a river, no fount and no outlet, a long bright river of departed souls.”

++++++

Available from Penguin Australia

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

 

Review: Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

 

Title: Such a Fun Age

Author: Kylie Reid

Published: January 7th 2020, Bloomsbury ANZ

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Bloomsbury ANZ/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid has been on my schedule for months, and I thought that, as such, it deserved to be my first read of 2020. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but it had its moments.

Having graduated college with no clear idea of what she wants to do with her life, twenty-five year old Emira Tucker has since taken on a series of part time jobs, her favourite of which is babysitting Briar Chamberlain. Briar is a precocious three year old, and a little too tiring for her career focused mother, Alix, to handle while trying to build her ‘brand’ and also care for a newborn. Alix, and her husband, TV anchorman Peter, are vaguely grateful for the care Emira provides, and both are horrified when late one night they call on Emira for help and the young woman is detained by an over-reaching security guard at a local store who believes she may have kidnapped Briar, not only because Emira is dressed for the party she was attending when the Chamberlain’s called, but because Emira is black, and Briar is white.

While underscoring the major themes of race, class, and privilege, this incident is not actually the focus of the novel, but it is a catalyst for change in the relationship between Alix and Emira. Feeling vaguely guilty about the incident, and worried that Emira will leave their employ, Alix becomes fixated on befriending her. Emira would prefer to forget the whole thing, she has other things on her mind, like her lack of career, and a new beau, Kelley Copeland, whom she met the night of the confrontation in the store.

While low key conflict related to race and class simmers in the background, Reid doesn’t pit the white and black/ rich and poor characters against each other, instead she thoughtfully explores the varying experiences, understandings, and motives that affect their viewpoints about themselves and each other. As the story unfolds from the perspectives of the two women, Reid also examines additional themes such as identity, motherhood, friendship, and career.

Not being American I can’t pretend to understand the cultural dynamics which underpin Such A Fun Age, but I did find it well written, nuanced and thought provoking.

++++++

Available from Bloomsbury ANZ

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

Review: One Summer Between Friends by Trish Morey

 

Title: One Summer Between Friends

Author: Trish Morey

Published: December 16th 2010, MIRA

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

An engaging contemporary novel about friendship, and forgiveness, One Summer Between Friends is the latest offering from bestselling Australian author, Trish Morey.

“Best friends in the world. Best friends in the universe. Best friends forever.”

One Summer Between Friends unfolds from the perspectives of Sarah, Floss, and Jules, three women in their thirties, who have not spoken to one another in more than five years, their friendship since childhood having imploded in a rather spectacular manner. When Sarah reluctantly returns to Lord Howe Island, the three women realise they can’t avoid the past forever.

The major themes of the novel are those of friendship and forgiveness as Sarah, Floss, and Jules struggle to accept and atone for the betrayals that divided them. I thought Morey’s exploration of the issues between the women were realistic and thoughtful.

As Morey explores the women’s individual lives she also touches on a myriad of other themes including infertility, infidelity, unplanned pregnancy, breast cancer, alcoholism, and grief. I empathised with Sarah’s pain, Floss’s insecurities, and even Jules’s regret. There is a touch of romance too which I thought was lovely.

The primary setting for One Summer Between Friends is Lord Howe Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, 700km northeast of Sydney in the Tasman Sea. The tiny crescent shaped island, about 10km long and 2km wide with a population of less than 400, is a wonderful setting for the novel. Morey describes the delights of the area, from Ned’s Beach to the spectacular views, with affection that suggests she has spent some time there.

Moving and enjoyable I thought One Summer Between Friends was a wonderful read.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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.

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