Review: The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan

 

Title: The Weight of Him

Author: Ethel Rohan

Published: June 1st 2017, Atlantic Books

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

“I thought I had time. I was always going to stop bingeing and get fit the next Monday, and the next Monday, and the next. Then Michael, and … and, I don’t know … I couldn’t let it be for nothing. I had to make some kind of sense, some good, come of it. He died and I couldn’t save him, so I wanted to save myself, save what remained of this family. Then I realized I could save others, too, while I was at it.”

Billy Brennan is reeling after the suicide of his oldest son, Michael, even in hindsight he finds it impossible to make sense of his son’s death. Determined that no other family should experience such a tragedy, Billy decides to raise funds in support of suicide awareness and prevention programs, by losing half of his formidable 400lb body weight.

Billy’s crusade is all consuming, but neither his wife and remaining children, nor his parents, are supportive. Rohan tenderly explores grief and the ways in which individuals, and society as whole, experience it, particularly in relation to suicide. For Billy his plans for sponsored weight loss, a march, and a documentary, are ways in which he can honour Michael, while his family feels that they draw unwelcome attention, suspicion, and shame.

Also at issue in the novel is Billy’s struggle with obesity, with which I can empathise. Billy’s main motivation for weight loss is because he recognises that the health risks associated with his condition further threatens the instability of his family. Billy is terrified he will fail them, though none of them have any faith that he will be able to succeed. Rohan’s portrayal of Billy’s experience as an obese person feels authentic, as does her understanding of the struggle to lose weight.

Rohan draws parallels between the void that some obese people are trying to fill when they overeat, and the void that some suicidal people feel trapped in.

Though perhaps lacking in nuance, The Weight of Him is a heartfelt and eloquent novel about the challenges of grief, love and living.

++++++

 

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Review: Fall by Candice Fox

 

Title: Fall {Archer & Bennett #3}

Author: Candice Fox

Published: Random House AU December 2015

Status: Read from December 21 to 21, 2015   – I own a copy

 

My Thoughts:

As the third book in Candice Fox’s debut trilogy, Fall offers a riveting finale to the partnership of detectives Eden Archer and Frank Bennett.

Picking up a few months after Eden, Bennett and Archer, the latter of whom is still recovering from her injuries, are back on the job. A female jogger has been found brutally murdered in a park in Sydney, and she won’t be the last. The case is interesting, with the focus on the killer’s twisted motives.

The relationship between Eden and Bennett is no less complicated in Fall, despite Frank having saved her life in Eden. Bennett’s concern for his partner’s physical and psychological wellbeing is always tempered by the threat she poses. Bennett finally learns the truth about Eden in Fall, though it’s hardly a comfort.

“It’s always very present between us, the fact that Eden could at any time, and rightfully so, decide that killing me is the best thing for her future.”

Frank is less aware of the threat his girlfriend, police psychologist Imogen Stone, poses. Imogen, who solves cold cases in her spare time with less than altruistic motives, is investigating the twenty year old abduction of the Tanner children, an inquiry that will pit her against Eden, who will do anything to protect her secrets.

And then there is Amy ‘Hooky’ Hooku, a seventeen year old computer genius, who first came to Frank’s attention when her younger sister murdered their parents. As her father was a Detective, Amy enjoys a special relationship with the police department and is now a consultant of sorts, despite her tender age. Amy is an intriguing character who has an unexpected role to play in Fall.

“And if he couldn’t save her, he’d do the best he could to patch her up. The way he did with everything that came to him in the tip. She’d be crooked. She’d be hollow. But she’d be alive again.”

Fall is a gritty, compelling novel and provides a stunning climax to an outstanding trilogy. Candice Fox has proved herself to be a writer of remarkable talent and skill.

 

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Also reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: The Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham

 

Title: The Year of the Farmer

Author: Rosalie Ham

Published: September 25th 2018, Picador Australia

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Pan Macmillan Au

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

“The smell of sheep permeated the car and all around the plains were brown and grey. The air was perishingly dry and it was only eight in the bloody morning. And always, the stalking ravens on electricity wires and prehistoric eagles hanging overhead. Nothing was as it was supposed to be. Nothing exciting ever happened. The stupid drought came and everyone went broke or left town; those who remained succumbed to the drought and it just continued on and on…”

The Year of the Farmer could probably be best described as a tragicomedy. It’s set in a small Australian farming community caught in the stranglehold of drought, and is centred on a small group of the towns residents.

Mitch Bishop’s crops are failing, and his stock is half starved, but he refuses to give up on the land he loves. This could be his year- if Neralie comes back, if it rains. Mitch’s wife, Mandy, doesn’t share his optimism. She’s had it with the farm, with her business, and with the town that refuses to accept her, but she’s not quite done with her husband-yet.

“‘The farmers are appreciated and all water authorities aim to celebrate and support the farmers and the vital role they play in feeding, clothing and sheltering us all.”

So says the Water Authority, while their local representatives plot to line their own pockets at the farmers expense. Mitch isn’t fooled by the hard sell and empty promises, but the towns options, like its water supply, are dwindling fast. Ham does a commendable job of illustrating the flaws in the government scheme and its effects on a farming town at its mercy.

Neighbours bicker over land management, feral dogs run wild, sides are chosen, the sun shines and Mandy, well Mandy is just getting started.

The Year of the Farmer is a slow paced novel with a sly wit, which exaggerates and encapsulates, everyday life in a struggling farming town.

++++++

 

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Review: The Book of Dreams by Nina George

Title: The Book of Dreams

Author: Nina George

Published: April 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Henri Malo Skinner is on his way to meet his son for the first time when he dives from a bridge to save a life, and nearly loses his own. Now he lies in a coma, caught in the Between, as his son, Sam, and the estranged love of his life, Eddie, will him to return to them.

Told from the perspectives of Henri, Samuel, and Eddie, The Book of Dreams is a study of lost chances, grief, love and letting go. It’s a heartfelt novel, in the Postscript the author explains it’s connection to the death of her father.

Samuel Noam Valentiner , a precocious 13 year old, waits for the father he desperately wants to know, to wake. Wandering the corridors, he stumbles across twelve year old Madelyn, a similarly vegetative patient, whose entire family was killed in the accident that injured her. Sam soon becomes a regular visitor, forming an inexplicable bond with the unresponsive girl. It is a poignant and moving connection, enhanced by Sam’s synesthesia, that is beautifully rendered by George.

“I can hear her breath and then, with my soul snuggling against her heart, I hear her breath become a note. The note becomes a tune, a breeze, but it’s not like Madelyn’s piano music. This wind has been scouring the earth for a long time and is now slowly rising, growing brighter, as it continues its quest over the cool, silvery, frost-rimmed, icy coating of a long, broad, frozen river. It is changing into a warming ray of sunlight, which captures the sparkling silence and then alights on a motionless ice sculpture, inside which a heart is beating. My heart.”

Eddie last saw Henri two years ago, when he cruelly broke her heart by disregarding her declaration of love and devotion. Nevertheless she is devastated by his current circumstances, and having been named as his Power of Attorney, she finds she can’t shirk the responsibility for his care. She is stunned to learn of Sam’s existence, but takes it her stride, I loved the relationship she developed with him, but mostly I admired her strength and heart.

“I sit on the floor and don my courage like a mask. I dissect my competing, struggling, mutually obstructive instincts until only three essential ones remain. I focus entirely on keeping them in my mind and preventing any other emotions from approaching them…..I breathe in and out and think: Affection. I take a deeper breathe and pray: Courage. I breathe in and beg: Be like Sam.”

As Henri lies in his coma, fighting hard to return to the world of the living, he experiences alternate versions of his past and future.

“I have searched and searched for the right life – and never found it. None of the lives was perfect, no matter what I did, or didn’t do.”

While the poetic prose and evocative imagery is often beautiful, it can also become somewhat tiring. I struggled too, with the pace of the novel, it drags in parts, particularly through the middle. However I liked The Book of Dreams for it’s powerful characterisations, and the thoughtful exploration of life, death, and what may lie Between.

And while it’s something I rarely comment on, I think the (Australian) cover of The Book of Dreams is gorgeous.

 

++++++

 

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Review: The Map of Bones by Francesca Haig

 

Title: The Map of Bones {The Fire Sermon #2}

Author: Francesca Haig

Published: Harper Voyager March 2016

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Status: Read from May 29 to June 01, 2016 — I own a copy courtesy HarperCollins

My Thoughts:

The Map of Bones picks up from where Francesca Haig’s debut novel, The Fire Sermon, left off. Cass, Piper and Zoe are on the run following the deadly confrontation at the Silo between the Confessor and Kip, with the knowledge of the Alpha Council’s horrifying plan for the Omega’s.

Despite the dramatic ending of The Fire Sermon, the narrative in The Map of Bones is slow to start. We’re almost a quarter of the way into the book before Haig introduces a new element to the story that finally prompts the characters to take action. From there the pace begins to pick up as Cass and her allies recognise the need to actively stand against the Council and pursue a new possibility for salvation despite the odds that are stacked again them.

I wasn’t really a fan of Cass in the first novel and I found her to be no less frustrating here. Drowning in guilt and struggling with her visions, her thoughts are often repetitive and circular. Piper and Zoe serve as good companions but I found neither character to be particularly compelling.

What I did admire was Haig’s descriptive writing and continued world building. She provides further detail about the cataclysmic events that destroyed the world and the twinning phenomenon.

Though I found The Map of Bones to be a somewhat dreary read, the story ends on a hopeful note and I am curious to learn how the trilogy will resolve in book three.

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Review: The Light on The Water by Olga Lorenzo

 

Title: The Light on the Water

Author: Olga Lorenzo

Published: Allen & Unwin March 2016

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Status: Read from May 28 to 29, 2016 — I own a copy  courtesy of Allen & Unwin

My Thoughts:

The Light on the Water by Olga Lorenzo is a thoughtful novel exploring a myriad of the themes, most notably motherhood, grief, guilt and love.

Two long years after her young autistic daughter disappeared during an overnight hike, Anne Baxter is on the precipice of being charged with Aida’s murder. Shunned by her neighbours and vilified by the media, Anne waits…and hopes.

This is a story that focuses on character rather than action. Anne is a hugely sympathetic character, trapped in a hellish kind of limbo. The main figures of The Light on the Water are complex, and Lorenzo avoids many of the typical stereotypes of the genre, even with the dysfunction that plagues the members of Anne’s family.

Of particular note is the manner in which Lorenzo explores the response of the wider community to Anne’s plight. From almost the moment Aida is reported missing, Anne must endure the suspicion of strangers, all too ready to condemn her for any real, perceived, or even imagined action that has led to her daughter’s disappearance. No matter the truth of Aida’s fate, Anne is judged to be at fault.

The Light on the Water is a quietly compelling story. Simply written, it nevertheless evokes a wealth of emotion. The tension builds nicely as the story unfolds at a measured pace, though I felt the subplot involving the refuge was an unnecessary distraction.

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Review: This Was Not The Plan by Cristina Alger

 

Title: This Was Not The Plan

Author: Cristina Alger

Published: Touchstone Feb 2016

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Status: Read from February 06 to 07, 2016 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

I’ve delayed writing this review because I don’t really have a lot to say about This Was Not The Plan by Cristina Alger.

It’s a quick, light read populated by charming characters (especially young Caleb), but there isn’t anything particularly unique or memorable about it. Perhaps it is because it features a single father in a role more often relegated to a single mother, struggling with the work/life balance and difficult relationships, that it is receiving rave reviews online, or perhaps I have missed some profundity.

Not a bad read, just not a particularly special one.

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Review: The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield

 

Title: The Flood Girls

Author: Richard Fifield

Published: Gallery Books Feb 2016

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Status: Read from February 09 to 11, 2016 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield is an engaging story of regrets and redemption set in small-town America.

After almost a decade’s absence, Rachel Flood is back in Quinn, Montana (Population:956) to make amends for the devastation she wrought as a wild teen to an openly hostile collection of family, (ex) friends and enemies. After a week of scathing silence, pointed glares and outright threats, Rachel is on the verge of admitting defeat when her mother, Laverna Flood, the proprietor of one of Quinn’s two taverns ‘The Dirty Shame’, is targeted in a robbery and her injuries require Rachel to take her mother’s place behind the bar, and on the local women’s softball team.

This is a story full of family dysfunction, addiction, friendship, failure and forgiveness. Rachel’s search for redemption is complicated, and no-one is inclined to make it easy on her, least of all her self.

Fifield has created an eccentric and often outlandish cast, including the uncompromising Laverna, the frightening Red and Black Mabel’s (distinguished by a rotten smile), Rachel’s no nonsense sponsor, Athena, and the members of the softball team. The town’s three rookie firefighter volunteers are all named Jim, the Police Chief runs the local AA meetings, and Reverend Foote is determined to convert the town’s sinners.

Of all the characters however is Rachel’s neighbour, twelve year old Jake, who is the most endearing. A devotee of Madonna and Jackie Collins, with an individual sense of style and fashion, he is mature beyond his years, but his effeminate manner infuriates his brutal stepfather. Jake is one of the few residents of Quinn willing to give Rachel a chance, and a delightful bond develops between them.

Though the humour is a little uneven and the plot not particularly original, The Flood Girls is written with heart and a genuine feel for small town life. A strong debut.

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Review: Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R Lansdale

 

Title: Honky Tonk Samurai {Hap and Leonard #11}

Author: Joe R Lansdale

Published: Mulholland Books Feb 2016

Status: Read from February 07 to 09, 2016 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Honky Tonk Samurai is the 11th book by Joe R Lansdale to feature the entertaining adventures of best friends Hap ‘a former 60s activist and self-proclaimed white trash rebel’ and Leonard ‘a black, gay Vietnam vet and Republican with an addiction to Dr. Pepper and vanilla cookies’.

Their language may be crude, their banter often tasteless but it’s impossible not be charmed by these redneck tough guys whose hearts are usually in the right place. Hap and Leonard may have casual regard for the law, but they share a strong sense of justice, they fiercely defend each other, those they love, and those who need their help.

“I don’t think we ask for trouble, me and Leonard. It just finds us. It often starts casually, and then something comes loose and starts to rattle, like an unscrewed bolt on a carnival ride. No big thing at first, just a loose, rattling bolt, then the bolt slips completely free and flies out of place, the carnival ride groans and screeches, and it sags and tumbles into a messy mass of jagged parts and twisted metal and wads of bleeding human flesh. I’m starting this at the point in the carnival ride when the bolt has started to come loose.”

In Honky Tonk Samurai, Brett, Hap’s live in lady, purchases Marvin Hanson’s private detective agency now that he has been rehired as police chief. The new agency’s first client is an elderly woman who blackmails Hap and Leonard into searching for her granddaughter, who has been missing for five years. Their investigation leads them to an upscale dealership selling much more than just cars, and puts a target on their back.

The plot is fairly simple and a bit of a stretch, but its all in good fun. There is plenty of action and violence on offer as Hap and Leonard, with a little help, take on a biker gang, the Dixie Mafia and a psychotic brotherhood of assassins. The humour is cheeky, often coarse, but the rapid fire banter is laugh out loud funny.

Readers familiar with the series will welcome appearances from characters such as Vanilla Ice, Cason and Jim Bob Luke. Lansdale’s descriptions of the characters that populate his novel are as colourful and vivid as ever.

“That’s when the door opened and a lady came in who was older than dirt but cleaner. She had a cane, which explained the cricket, but the elephant walk was a little more confusing, as she wasn’t much bigger than a minute. She had more dyed red hair than she had the head for. That hair seemed to be an entity unto itself, mounded and teased and red as blood. You could have shaved her like a sheep and knitted a sweater with all that hair, maybe have enough left over for at least one sock or, if not that, a change purse. Her face was dry-looking. She had a lot of makeup on it, as if she were trying to fill a ditch, or several. Her clothes were a little too young for her age, which was somewhere near to that of a mastodon that had survived major climate change but was wounded by it. She had on bright red tight jeans and a sleeveless blue shirt that showed hanging flesh like water wings under her arms. Her breasts were too big, or maybe they were too exposed; the tops of them stuck out of her push-up bra. They looked like aging melons with rot spots, which I supposed were moles or early cancer. “

The last few pages came as a shock but I breathed a sigh of relief when I learned that another Hap and Leonard book (Rusty Puppy) is on its way, and I’m looking forward to the premiere of Hap and Leonard on Sundance TV in March 2016.

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Review: Darkest Place by Jaye Ford

 

Title: Darkest Place

Author: Jaye Ford

Published: Random House Feb 2016

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Status: Read on February 08, 2016 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I should have known better, being familiar with Jaye Ford’s previous novels. I picked up Darkest Place at 2am to read a few pages before bed and didn’t put it down til I finished the last page, just minutes before my husband’s alarm woke him for work at 5am.

After enduring years of guilt, heartbreak, and regret, Charlotte Townsend has finally found the strength to leave her past behind. In a new town, with a new apartment, and a new name, Carly has enrolled in college and is looking towards her future, but three days into her new life she wakes to find a stranger in her bedroom. When the police answer Carly’s call for help, they find no sign of the man and assure her it was likely a crime of opportunity. Though shaken by the intrusion Carly refuses to let the incident destroy her fledgling confidence…until then it happens again, and then again.

Darkest Place is an absorbing tale of psychological suspense. The tension builds slowly, gathering momentum until you realise you are holding your breath in anxious anticipation.

“She wants to scream. It’s building in her chest. Trapped there, scratching at her lungs as though her ribs are the bars holding it back. She hears breathing. Not her own. Deep and unhurried. It whispers across her face like a warm cloth. It turns her skin to ice. She lashes out. Hits, twists, kicks. She sees it in her mind, feels it in her muscles. But it doesn’t happen. She doesn’t move. Neither does he. She sees him now. A shape in the darkness. Above her, black and motionless. He is watching. She watches back. Fear roaring through her bones, pulse thumping in her ears. Her voice is wedged in her throat now and choking her. No. Something else is squeezing, pushing down, making blood pound in her face. Warm hand, hard fingers. She doesn’t want to see. Doesn’t want to feel. She shuts her eyes. Waits. “

Carly is a complex character, and given her emotionally fragility, I was never quite sure if I could trust her perception of events as the story progressed. The police certainly have their doubts about the reliability of her reports, and Carly’s psychiatrist offers a rational opinion that could explain her experiences, but I was sympathetic to her distress.

“She caught sight of herself in the mirror. Hair a mess, face tear-stained. Dark-ringed, pale, wild-eyed. And she spun away, the image burned onto her retinas. Distraught, panicked, confused. She looked like Charlotte. No, worse than that. She looked crazy.”

I have to admit I was ambivalent about the ending, though it works within the context of character and story, I didn’t find it wholly satisfying, though I can’t really reveal why I feel that way without the risk of spoilers. Nevertheless, there is closure and a sense of triumph and hope.

Darkest Place is Ford’s fifth novel and I would say her best to date. Clever, thrilling and gripping.

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Also by Jaye Ford reviewed at Book’d Out


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