Review: The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

Title: The Lost Jewels

Author: Kirsty Manning

Published : March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

In The Lost Jewels, author Kirsty Manning weaves a fictional narrative around the mystery of the ‘Cheapside Hoard’, a large cache of expensive jewellery unearthed during construction in a London street in 1912.

The ‘present day’ timeline introduces Kate Kirby, an American historian who specialises in investigating the provenance of jewellery. Offered a rare opportunity to view the jewels discovered in Cheapside, the story follows Kate from the United States to England, India, France and then back as she attempts to trace the origins of a handful of pieces of the collection, during which she discovers a link between one of the pieces and her own family history.

Entwined with Kate’s journey, are two historical timelines, one of which reveals the story of Kate’s great grandmother, Essie Murphy, and her connection to the found jewellery set during the early 1900’s, and another set at two different points in the 1600’s which reveals the origin of one particular piece of a jewellery, a diamond champlevé enamel ring.

I found I appreciated the story of The Lost Jewels more after I googled the ‘Cheapside Hoard’ and was better able to understand what a remarkable find the jewels were. Manning’s speculations about the origin of the Hoard through her fiction read as credible and interesting, though to this date the truth remains a mystery, and likely always will.

Essie’s story as a young woman struggling to survive and raise her siblings was of the most interesting to me. I thought the author’s portrayal of daily life in urban London for its poorest citizens was accurate, and I had empathy for the Murphy family, particularly Essie, and her sister Gertie, who experienced such hardship and tragedy so young.

I liked Kate well enough. I thought Manning communicated her passion for her work well, I don’t particularly care for jewellery but this novel did prompt me to think about the story’s custom pieces could reveal. There is a touch of romance that is developed between Kate and Australian photographer, Marcus, but it was kept fairly low key.

Well written and researched, I found the The Lost Jewels to be a pleasantly engaging read, of family, secrets, love, loss, and new beginnings.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin. RRP AUD $32.99

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

 

Review: Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Red Dirt Country

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Red Dirt Country is Fleur McDonald’s third book to feature Detective Dave Burrows, and the sixth in which he appears, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

Several months after his undercover assignment chasing cattle thieves in North Queensland led to him being shot, Dave is relieved that he has finally been given the go ahead to return to work, gaining his dream job with the Perth Livestock Squad. His very pregnant wife, Mel, is not. Torn between his love for his family, and his passion for his job, Dave may be forced to make some difficult choices.

Dave’s first case in Western Australia partners him with his new chief, Bob Holden. Livestock is being stolen from an Aboriginal owned station, and the thefts are stirring up long held rivalries, spilling out across the community. While the identity of the culprits are easy to guess, I enjoyed the way in which the investigation unfolded. Bob and Dave work well as partners, with the senior proving to be a capable and canny, if not wholly traditional, mentor.

The case allows McDonald to explore the historical and current issues related to Aboriginal managed stations. I felt for Kevin, torn between his Elder’s warnings, and his own judgement. It’s disheartening that prejudice and resentment persist along racial lines, and the author captures that well.

McDonald also alludes to the continuing drought which places pressure on farmers, along with other common stressors like inheritance, and stock sale prices. Her knowledge and experience of farming ensures the authenticity of the setting, and her characters.

Ramping up the tension in the novel is Dave’s impending appearance at the trial of the crooked cop unmasked during the undercover North Queensland investigation. Bulldust, the mastermind behind the theft ring who has yet to be apprehended, is determined to avenge his destruction, and the threat he poses to Dave, and his family, is edging closer.

If you have read McDonald’s contemporary novels in which Dave has a role but does not feature, you will know how the relationship between Dave and Melinda pans out. In Red Dirt Country, Mel, heavily pregnant and suffering bouts of high blood pressure, is worried about Dave’s safety, and resentful of his return to work. Dave loves his wife, and children, but knows he wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I felt that McDonald portrayed the feelings of both Dave and Mel sympathetically, there is no easy solution to the issue that divides them.

With its engaging mystery and authentic rural setting, I enjoyed Red Dirt Country, and the (sort of) cliff hanger has me anticipating the next instalment.

++++++

 

Available from Allen & Unwin *RRP AUD $29.99 Read the first chapter

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Fiona MCDonald reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

Title: Code Name Hélène

Author: Ariel Lawhon

Published: March 31st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Read: March 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon is an exciting and absorbing novel of historical fiction based on the extraordinary wartime experiences of Nancy Wake.

The story unfolds from Nancy’s first person perspective over two timelines. The first, beginning in 1936, focuses on her life in Paris as a journalist, as a newlywed, and as a people and document smuggler known as Lucienne Carlier, which earns her the moniker of ‘The White Mouse’ with a bounty of five million francs in her head. The second timeline reveals her incredible role with the Maquis in southern France as a British Special Operations Executive where she is known as Madam André, code name Hélène, and leads a Resistance force of thousands during the last months of World War II.

Lawhon takes only minor liberties with the facts to tell Nancy’s amazing story whose courageous actions earned her a dozen wartime medals from four countries. Nancy, who died in 2011 aged 98, was an intelligent, attractive, and feisty woman who wore Victory Red lipstick as armour and a cyanide pill on her cuff. She could drink like a fish, and swear like a sailor, or sip cocktails and make polite conversation in a spine revealing cocktail dress. She was a friend, a smuggler, a wife, a spy, a fighter, a leader, she was, and remains, a hero.

All but one of the major characters in Code Name Hélène were real people, from Nancy’s contacts in the Resistance, to her beloved husband. She married wealthy industrialist Henri Fiocca just before Germany invaded France but they were soon separated when he was sent to the border to fight and again, when shortly after his return, Nancy’s actions attracted the attention of the Gestapo and she was forced to flee Paris. Their relationship is a significant and moving element of the novel.

I was completely caught up in Code Name Hélène from its first pages. I thought it very well paced as it moved between timelines, both of which built a sense of anticipatory tension, though there is more outright action during Nancy’s tenure with the Maquis.

Code Name Hélène is not just a story of adventure and romance, but also one of friendship, courage, tragedy, and hope. Until now I’ve known nothing of Nancy Wake, but I have every intention of tracking down a copy of her autobiography to learn more. Nancy Wake was an extraordinary woman, and Lawhon has written an extraordinary story which honours her.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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

Review: The Salt Madonna by Catherine Noske

Title: The Salt Madonna

Author: Catherine Noske

Published: February 25th 2020, Picador Australia

Status: DNF March 2020

++++++

 

“This is the story of a crime.

This is the story of a miracle.

There are two stories here.

Hannah Mulvey left her island home as a teenager. But her stubborn, defiant mother is dying, and now Hannah has returned to Chesil, taking up a teaching post at the tiny schoolhouse, doing what she can in the long days of this final year.

But though Hannah cannot pinpoint exactly when it begins, something threatens her small community. A girl disappears entirely from class. Odd reports and rumours reach her through her young charges. People mutter on street corners, the church bell tolls through the night and the island’s women gather at strange hours…And then the miracles begin.

A page-turning, thought-provoking portrayal of a remote community caught up in a collective moment of madness, of good intentions turned terribly awry. A blistering examination of truth and power, and how we might tell one from the other.”

Read an Excerpt

 

++++++

My Thoughts:

Unfortunately I’ve read about a third of this but it’s not holding my interest. The pace is slow and I’m finding the writing overblown rather than evocative. With my ability to focus marred by current circumstances I’m choosing to put this aside for now.

I recommend you visit Theresa Smith Writes and Jess Just Reads for their considered reviews of the novel.

++++++

Available from PanMacmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Sheerwater by Leah Swann

 

Title: Sheerwater

Author: Leah Swann

Published: March 20th 2020, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

When a light plane crashes by the side of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, Ava, a former emergency rescue worker, feels compelled to stop and render assistance. Leaving her two young sons, Max and Teddy, safely locked in the car with strict instructions to remain, she and and another passerby bravely pull the pilot and two frightened children from the wreckage moments before it explodes. When emergency services arrives Ava makes her way back to the car only to find it empty.

Alternating primarily between the perspectives of Ava, her estranged husband Laurence, and their oldest son, 9 year old Max, Sheerwater is a harrowing tale, skillfully executed by Leah Swann.

Ava’s fear for her missing sons is visceral, her confusion and anxiety building as the police question her every word. Laurence’s attempts to reframe the narrative are infuriating, and an all too familiar reflection of recent current events. Max’s courage is heartbreaking as he tries to care for and protect his four year old brother, Teddy.

The prose is lyrical and evocative, portraying nuanced character and emotion. Vivid imagery conjures a sense of place, no matter the setting.

Though there are a few elements I felt were perhaps out of place, they didn’t detract from my interest. Unfolding over a period of three days, the pace is intense, and the increasing tension utterly gripping. I was left shattered by the ending.

Both beautiful and brutal, Sheerwater is a compelling read.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

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

Review: The Origin of Me by Bernard Gallate

 

Title: The Origin of Me

Author: Bernard Gallate

Published: March 17th 2020, Vintage

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Origin of Me is a contemporary, quirky coming of age tale from debut Australian novelist Bernard Gallate.

Fifteen year old Lincoln Locke has a nub. It began as a tiny dark spot above the crease of his buttocks, but it seems to be growing as quickly as his list of problems. Looking for answers, Lincoln stumbles across a memoir by the one-time star of Melinkoff’s Astonishing Assembly of Freaks, Edward Stroud, and as Lincoln slowly reads ‘My One Redeeming Affliction’ he discovers solutions for questions he never even thought to ask, and a past he never knew.

With a large cast of characters, both eccentric and genuine, Gallate explores several themes, among them family, change, friendship, and self acceptance. Lincoln is struggling with a number of issues including the loss of his grandfather, his parents separation, a new school, and of course the growing nub.

Quite a chunkster at 400 pages, the novel is well paced but I think the length will deter a young/new adult audience from picking it up, which is a shame because though it’s ostensibly marketed at adults, I think young men in particular would find Lincoln relatable and enjoy his journey of self discovery.

Told with humour, heart and imagination The Origin of Me is an enjoyable read.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Book Bounty

Every third Sunday of the month I share my Bookshelf Bounty – what’s been added to my TBR tile recently for review from publishers, purchases or gifts.

This month I’m linking up with Mailbox Monday

Click on the cover images to view at Goodreads

For Review (print)
(My thanks to the respective publishers)

 

 

For Review (ebook)

 

 

 

Review: The Banksia Bay Beach Shack by Sandie Docker

 

Title: The Banksia Bay Beach Shack

Author: Sandie Docker

Published: March 17th 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Sandie Docker’s third novel, The Banksia Bay Beach Shack, is a heartwarming yet bittersweet tale offering a touch of romance and intrigue.

After the loss of her beloved grandmother, investigative journalist Laura Prescott finds a photograph that hints at a secret in Lillian’s past. Eager to learn more, Laura travels to the small coastal town of Banksia Bay where a story of friendship, love, regret, and heartbreak is waiting to be told.

The contemporary plot line introduces us to the residents of Banksia Bay, among them Virginia aka ‘Gigi’, the owner of the Banksia Bay Beach Cafe, locals Charlotte and Heath, and Gigi’s closest friend Yvonne. Laura opts to explain her presence in the town by claiming she is writing a travel piece, but Gigi, who immediately see’s the resemblance between Laura and her childhood best friend Lily, is wary of her motives. I liked Laura well enough, I empathised with her curiosity about her grandmother’s life, and I enjoyed the development of her character, but it was Gigi’s past that intrigued me.

Flashbacks reveal the devastating events of the past that severed the friendship between ‘summer sisters’ Lily and Gigi. Set during the 1960’s, the author captures both the innocence and darkness of the period, exposing issues such as anti-migrant sentiment, and social class prejudice. Docker builds the tension skilfully as history unfolds to climax in an unexpected and shocking double tragedy which explains Gigi’s present distress at Laura’s arrival in Banksia Bay.

I delighted in Docker’s depiction of Banksia Bay, I was reminded of the many summer holidays I spent in beachside caravan parks along both the west and east coast of Australia growing up, and the fleeting but intense friendships formed with fellow holiday-makers.

Sweet yet poignant, The Banksia Bay Beach Shack is a lovely read.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Sandie Docker reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: Keeper by Jessica Moor

Title: Keeper

Author: Jessica Moor

Published: March 19th 2020, Viking

Status: March 2020 courtesy Penguin UK/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

When a young woman’s drowned body is discovered, a lack of markings leads the police to believe their investigation will show she died by suicide. However Detective Whitworth’s curiosity is piqued when he first learns Katie Straw worked at a women’s refuge, and then that her name is an alias.

Keeper unfolds over two timelines, ‘Now’ – which follows the police investigation and in doing so explores the lives of the women in the refuge, and ‘Then’ – which reveals Katie’s history. The latter is an emotionally harrowing tale of a young woman drawn into a relationship with a frighteningly manipulative man.

Keeper centers around a very important topic – that of domestic/intimate partner violence in its many forms. I thought Moor’s portrayal of the issue’s complexity was nuanced and thought-provoking, and her diverse characters, including the detective, represent a spectrum of related perspectives and experiences.

Unfortunately though I didn’t find the execution compelling. The pace is slow, the tension is slight, and I really wasn’t surprised by the final twist designed to shock (though I think it’s likely I’ll be in the minority there). It’s also bleak, which is probably how it earned the literary tag.

In the end I’m a little torn, while I think Keeper is a socially valuable, and even interesting read, I just didn’t find entertaining.

++++++

Available from Penguin Books UK

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

Review: Little Wonders by Kate Rorick

Title: Little Wonders

Author: Kate Rorick

Published: March 17th 2020, William Morrow

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++++

My Thoughts:

“In dark moments, when Quinn Barrett looked back and analyzed what caused the destruction of her entire life, she should have known that it would happen at the Little Wonders Preschool Happy Halloween Costume Parade (and Dance Party).”

After a long, trying day, Little Wonders Preschool Parent Association President, Quinn Barrett loses her temper when her three year old refuses to wear the Halloween costume she’d spent hours making. When her tantrum is caught on camera by another parent and inadvertently goes viral, Quinn’s perfect life begins to spiral out of control.

Little Wonders is an entertaining novel exploring the pressure on mothers to present a facade of perfection.

Honestly Quinn is the type of woman many of us both envy and resent, she seems to have it all and manage it without any visible effort. Her fall from grace is somewhat satisfying as the viral meltdown exposes her tenuous control over the various areas of her life, including her career and her marriage. But forced to consider what it is she really wants, Quinn earns her redemption, and in the end I found her to be a very sympathetic character.

New to Little Wonders and Boston, Daisy is struggling to fit in. Her electric blue hair, tattooed arms and love of Star Wars marks her as obviously different amongst the traditional moneyed class of Boston society. She’s unwittingly the reason for Quinn’s viral infamy as the ‘Halloween Mom’, and has her own lessons to learn about how far she will go to fit in. I identified more with Daisy than Quinn, or Shanna (Quinn’s sort-of nemesis), and I’d love to play a game of D&D with her.

In this Instagram age, where appearance is often more prized than truth, Little Wonders is relevant and often relatable, even if predictable. I loved the snarky preschool newsletters, (having written a few of those in my lifetime, the truth is definitely in what you leave out), and I enjoyed the geeky fandom/rpg references too.

Witty and winsome I enjoyed Little Wonders finding it an easy, engaging read.

++++++

Available from William Morrow: HarperCollins

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

Previous Older Entries