Review: Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

 

Title: Church of Marvels

Author: Leslie Parry

Published: Hachette Australia May 2015

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Status: Read from May 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Church of Marvels is an atmospheric and haunting tale set in New York during the late 1800’s that unfolds from the perspectives of four compelling characters, whose lives eventually converge.

Leaving behind her twin sister, Isabelle Church fled to Manhattan in the wake of the Coney Island fire that killed her mother and destroyed the Church of Marvels, the carny show in which Isabelle starred. No one knows why she left, where she is, or what secrets she keeps.

“I haven’t been able to speak since I was seventeen years old. Some people believed that because of this I’d be able to keep a secret. They believed I could hear all manners of tales and confessions and repeat nothing. Perhaps they believe that if I cannot speak, I cannot listen or remember or even think for myself – that I am, in essence, invisible. That I will stay silent forever. I’m afraid they are mistaken.”

With her mother dead, and her twin sister gone, only Odile Church remains at Coney Island, the spinning girl on the Wheel of Death. When a letter from her sister finally arrives she heads to Manhattan, determined to find her.

“At first glance the twins looked alike – they were both freckled and hazel eyed, with thick blonde hair and the snub nose of a second-rate chorus girl. But that was where the similarities ended, Unlike Belle, with her lithe and pliant acrobat’s body, Odile had a permanent crook in her neck and a slight curve to her spine.”

Sylvan Threadgill is nineteen, abandoned as a young child, he makes his living as a night-soiler, and boxes for a few extra pennies. One night he finds a baby girl half drowned in the effluent and rescues her.

“Under their breaths they called him Dogboy. He’d been puzzled over and picked apart all of his life – the skin of a Gypsy, the hair of a Negro, the build of a German, the nose of a Jew. he didn’t belong to anyone. They started at him with a kind of terrified wonder, as though he was a curiosity in a dime museum. One of his eyes was brown, so dark it nearly swallowed the pupil, and the other pale, aqueous blue.”

When Alphie Leonetti, once a ‘penny rembrandt’, is first introduced she is waiting for her husband, Anthony, to rescue her from the notorious Blackwell’s Asylum in the East River, the last thing she remembers is an argument with her disapproving mother in law. Desperate to escape she befriends a mute inmate with startling skills.

“Alphie curled up and covered her face with her hair, then cried her voice away. She couldn’t bear it; she’d come so far from her days a s a girl on the street, a bony runaway with shoes made from paper, waiting there on the corner with her paint stand and jars. And here she was, through some cruel reversal, sent back to the anonymous hive, trapped in a room full of women who were not missed and not wanted, who would wear the same dress every day until it disintegrated on their hungry frames-a dress she too wore, formless and smelling of some previous disease…”

With evocative phrasing Parry creates memorable characters and vivid settings, from the seedy shores of Coney Island to the dark, narrow streets of inner Manhattan, and the bleak horror of the asylum marooned in the middle of the East River.

A novel that demands attention, the lyrical prose of Church of Marvels tells a complex, suspenseful mystery that sometimes appears scattered, but is eventually brought to a stunning resolution.

“We can be a weary, cynical lot – we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by. A kitchen knife. A bulb of glass. A human body. That something so common should be so surprising – why, we forget it. We take it for granted. We assume that our sight is reliable, that our deeds are straightforward, that our words have one meaning. But life is uncommon and strange; it is full of intricacies and odd, confounding turns.”

 

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Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

 

Title: Saint Anything

Author: Sarah Dessen

Published: PenguinTeen Australia May 2015

Status: Read from May 16 to 18, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“I was used to being invisible. People rarely saw me, and if they did, they never looked close. I wasn’t shiny and charming like my brother, stunning and graceful like my mother, or smart and dynamic like my friends. That’s the thing though. You always think you want to be noticed. Until you are.”

Saint Anything is a thoughtful contemporary tale exploring the themes of family, self discovery, belonging, and change.

Sydney Stanford is used to living in the shadow of her charismatic, if rebellious, older brother Peyton, but when he is convicted and imprisoned for a drink driving offense that left a fifteen year old paralysed, she struggles under the burden of his reflected guilt.
Hoping to escape the gossip, and ease her parents financial burden, Sydney opts to transfer from her exclusive private school to a local public high school, where she befriends Layla Chatham and her brother Mac, after a chance meeting in the pizza parlour their parents own. Welcomed by the Chatham’s, and their friends, Sydney’s burden lightens but escaping her brother’s legacy will not be that simple.

Sydney feels as if she is the only one that carries the burden of Peyton’s actions. She is angry and frustrated by her mother’s seeming failure to acknowledge her brother’s guilt, or Sydney’s feeling about the situation, but can’t discuss the matter with her, as her mother is focused only on supporting Peyton.

“When she spoke again her voice had an hard edge to it. “It’s very scary. Especially for your brother, who is locked away, alone, with no support system other than us, his family….If he can deal with that for seventeen months,” she continues, “I think you can handle being slightly uncomfortable for a few hours. Don’t you agree?”

With her parents distracted, and Sydney unwilling to make demands on them, she finds freedom to be herself in her friendship with Layla, and her burgeoning romance with Mac. I really liked the way Dessen developed these relationships, which are warm and realistic and equally as important to Sydney.

But with a single mistake everything begins to fall apart. I was itching for Sydney to stand up for herself, both with her parents and Ames, but I think Dessen stays true to her character. Sydney has to develop the confidence and a surer sense of self before she can stand her ground.

“Why are you being like this?” I asked her. “I’m not a bad kid, and you know it, This was one night, one thing. One mistake. And I’m sorry. But you can’t-”
“Your brother started with one mistake as well, she replied. “Which led to another. And another.”
“I’m not Peyton” I said. It seemed crazy I’d have to say this, as all my life they’d made it clear it was the one thing they knew for sure.

Sydney’s story is one that would often be overlooked in favour of Peyton’s drama or his victim’s tragedy, but Dessen ensures it is just as important and affecting. Saint Anything is a quiet but emotionally powerful novel, thoughtful and beautifully written.

Saint Anything is available to purchase from

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Review: Only We Know by Victoria Purman

 

Title: Only We Know

Author: Victoria Purman

Published: Harlequin MIRA Aus May 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 08 to 10, 2015   – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Full review to come

A rugged island. Two people. Family secrets.
When Calla Maloney steps on the boat to Kangaroo Island, she’s filled with dread. Part of it is simple seasickness but the other part is pure trepidation. She’s not on a holiday but a mission: to track down her estranged brother, who she hasn’t seen since her family splintered two years before.
Firefighter Sam Hunter left the island twenty years ago and has made a habit out of staying as far away as he can get. But when his father’s illness forces him home, he finds himself playing bad cop to his dad and reluctant tour guide to a redhead with no sense of direction.
As Sam and Calla dig deeper into their long-buried family secrets, they discover that no one is an island and that opening up their hearts to love again might be the most dangerous thing they will ever do.

Only We Know is available to purchase from

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Also by Victoria Purman on Book’d Out

 

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Review: Stay With Me by Maureen McCarthy

 

Title: Stay with Me

Author: Maureen McCarthy

Published: Allen and Unwin May 2015

Status: Read from April 30 to May 01, 2015  – I won a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Stay With Me is a powerful novel about family dysfunction, mental illness and domestic violence.

Full review to come

Tess is in trouble. Stuck on a farm outside Byron Bay, cut off from family and friends, Tess knows she must find a way to escape her violent partner to save her life and the life of her child …
A chance meeting offers a way out – but can she ever trust again? Tess embarks on a desperate road trip back to the heart of her past. But what will be waiting for her at home? Will her family forgive her – and can she forgive them?

Stay With Me is available to purchase from

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Review: The Nurses by Alexandra Robbins

Title: The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital

Author: Alexandra Robbins

Published: Workman Publishing May 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 05 to 07, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“At 3.5 million strong in the United States and more than 20 million worldwide, nurses are the largest group of healthcare providers. The women who comprise 90 percent of the workforce are a unique sisterhood whose bonds are forged through the most dramatic miracles and traumas as well as the tedious, routine tasks necessary to keep human bodies functioning. Nursing, for brave men and women, is “like a secret club that holds immense emotional joy and fulfillment in spite of shared tragedies,” a Michigan nurse practitioner told me. Nurses call the profession a secret club because their experiences are so novel, their jobs so intimate and occasionally horrifying, their combination of compassion and desensitization so peculiar, that they imagine nobody else could understand what it is like to work in their once-white shoes.”

Nurses is an insightful and thought provoking expose of the health care profession, the result of more than a year of research, undercover investigation, and interviews by best selling author and journalist Alexandra Robbins.

Interspersed with facts and figures, Robbins narrative shares the experience of four ER nurses, Molly, Juliette, Lara and Sam, to explore the major challenges nurses face in the workplace including sexual harassment, bullying, drug addiction, violence, and stress. As these women try to uphold the tenants of their profession, they struggle with uncooperative colleagues, dismissive doctors and uncaring administrators.

With profit clearly prioritised over providing quality health care, Robbins also reveals disturbing details about unheeded policies, poor standards of cleanliness and deliberate under staffing in many hospitals. It is a frightening glimpse into an institution that is responsible for our health and safety at a time when we are most vulnerable.

Written with heart, detail and honesty, Nurses is an eye opening look at the frustrations and joys of this undervalued profession. A must read not only for any one contemplating joining the field but also for those already embedded within it, and anyone interested in what really goes on behind the scenes.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Season of Shadow and Light by Jenn J McLeod

 

Title: Season of Shadow and Light

Author: Jenn J McLeod

Published: Simon & Schuster May 2015

Status: Read from April 28 to 30, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

“Light can illuminate truth, let us see things we might otherwise unknowingly pass by in the dark. It can also illuminate the signs that will allow each of us to find the road to forgiveness, to trust, to hope, to belief and to the future.”

An engaging story of secrets and lies, of trust and betrayal, of family, friendship and forgiveness, Season of Shadow and Light is Jenn J McLeod’s third novel of contemporary fiction set in rural New South Wales.

Unhappy and frustrated after a difficult few years, Paige Turner decides to take her six year old daughter, Matilda, and mother, Alice, and spend two weeks in country New South Wales. Their destination, Saddleton, is determined by signage visible in an old photograph of Paige’s mother in her youth, but rising floodwater results in the trio becoming stranded in the tiny town of Coolabah Tree Gully. Though Paige is content to enjoy the hospitality of the generous locals who offer the family a place to stay, Alice is increasingly anxious. Coolabah Tree Gully is home to a secret Alice has kept for decades and, should it come to light, has the potential to destroy everything she holds dear.

The story of Season of Shadow and Light unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Paige and Alice, two richly drawn, complex characters confronted with a legacy of secrets.

Paige has had an extraordinarily difficult time recently. A late term miscarriage was followed by a postpartum stroke, leaving her with physical deficits and destroying her career as a food critic. Learning of her husband’s infidelity pushes Paige to the breaking point, motivating her to escape to the country with her daughter and Alice. Paige choose Saddleton as a destination with the vague notion of tracing the origins of a photo of her mother, Nancy, unwittingly ending up in the town her mother fled in the dead of night almost forty years earlier. Paige of course has no idea about her mother’s past, but nevertheless feels incomplete.

“I lost the things that made me who I am, the things that made me feel complete as a person. You know that jigsaw puzzle Mati has – the one with the missing pieces we searched high and low for that day? That puzzle is me. There are pieces missing, and I don’t mean my sense of smell and taste. The fact I can’t explain what I feel frustrates the hell out of me.'”

Alice has been Paige’s sole parent since the death of Nancy, her partner and lover, when Paige was ten. Aware of Nancy’s hidden past, Alice had promised never to reveal the truth of it to Paige, but stranded in Coolabah Tree Gully it becomes harder for her to determine exactly who she is protecting, especially when she is confronted with the consequences of keeping it to herself. Alice really struggles with the thought of not only betraying Nancy, but being held accountable by Paige.

“An improbable set of circumstances.
An impossible situation.
How long could she hold on to the truth? Should she hold on?….Was she obligated to protect the deceptions of the dead when the truth might somehow help the living?”

A low key element of romance is introduced by Aiden, a local man recently returned from Sydney, ‘cheffing’ in the local pub, his own future in tatters after being betrayed by his ex-girlfriend. He is attracted to Paige, who appreciates the attention given the state of her shaky marriage, and eventually proves to be a link between Paige and her mother’s secret but to be honest I thought Aiden’s point of view, shared in brief chapters throughout the novel, wasn’t really necessary.

Through her characters McLeod explores issues such as miscarriage, stroke recovery, infidelity, identity, same sex partnerships, and organ transplantation. The larger themes of the novel examine the nature of loyalty, trust, deception and betrayal. Suspense stems from the nature of the secret that Alice is keeping and the anticipation of Paige learning it. McLeod skillfully teases out the details of Nancy’s hidden past but I did feel there were times when the narrative stalled briefly, repeating Alice’s angst and Aiden’s upset a little too often.

“Love is about connection.” says Alice, and Season of Shadow and Light is a story about connections – between partners and lovers, between parents and their children, and between siblings – tested, sometimes frayed and weakened, but strengthened by forgiveness, trust and love.

Learn more about Season of Shadow Light by reading Jenn J McLeod’s guest post, Fiction with an Order of Food

Season of Shadow and Light is available to purchase from

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Weekend Cooking: Season of Salt and Honey by Hannah Tunnicliffe

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads a semi-regular post at Book’d Out.

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Title: Season of Salt and Honey

Author: Hannah Tunnicliffe

Published: Pan Macmillan April 2015

Status: Read from April 19 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Season of Salt and Honey is a bittersweet story of grief, love, family and food from forkandfiction.com blogger and author, Hannah Tunnicliffe.

Overwhelmed by grief after the death of her fiance, Francesca Caputo flees the sympathies of her well meaning family, seeking refuge in an abandoned cabin owned by Alex’s parents in a forested area of Washington. All Frankie wants is time alone to mourn the loss of forever, but her solitude is repeatedly interrupted, forcing her to reassess everything she thought she knew about her relationship, her family and herself.

“We were high-school sweethearts, just like everyone dreams about but no one actually has, because that kind of thing only happens in the movies. I knew right in my bones just how lucky I was. I knew everything was perfect, and did all the right things to keep it that way. Until now.”

Frankie’s grief at the loss of Alex is raw and biting, I felt for her and could understand her wish to be alone. She is craving peace and quiet, and the time to wallow in her happiest memories, but eventually Frankie is forced to confront some painful truths about her relationship with Alex when an offhand comment shakes her to the core.

“A loss that had started long before the ocean took him for good.”

Despite her desire for solitude, Frankie is befriended by caretaker, Jack, and his impish daughter, Huia, as well as the generous spirited Merriem, who all provide unexpected comfort as Frankie struggles to comes to terms with the changes Alex’s death has wrought. I liked these charming, enigmatic characters who offer kindness without expectation.

Frankie’s family is delightful, stereotypically Italian there is no escaping their loving, if somewhat suffocating, concern. While her Papa is a solid, comforting presence, Frankie’s aunts, Zia Rosa and Zia Connie, fuss and worry, cousin Vinnie makes mischief, and her estranged sister, Isabella, camps on her doorstep, reminding her of things she would rather forget.

Frankie’s family equates food with love, and Season of Salt and Honey includes the recipes for a handful of Italian dishes served and shared within its pages, including Pitta Mpigliata (Sweetbread rosettes with fruit and nuts); Lingua de Suocera (Marmalade filled pastries); Spring Risotto; and Pasta alla Norma (Pasta with eggplant, tomato and salted ricotta).

“The smells of the forest — the damp dark of the soil, the bleeding sap of the trees, the lemony cedar smell — all vanish in the company of the Sicilian food: the pungent garlic in Zio Mario’s salami, the vinegar pickling the vegetables, olives bobbing in brine, roasted peppers, the ubiquitous, sunshine-coloured olive oil.”

With lovely writing and a measured, almost lyrical, tempo, Season of Salt and Honey is a poignant novel embracing both the sourness and sweetness of love.

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Review: His Other House by Sarah Armstrong

 

Title: His Other House

Author: Sarah Armstrong

Published: Pan Macmillan March 2015

Status: Read from March 26 to 27, 2015  -I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Review to come

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Weekend Cooking: The Umbrian Supper Club by Marlena de Blasi

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to participating.

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Title: The Umbrian Supper Club

Author: Marlena de Blasi

Published: Allen & Unwin March 2015

Status: Read from March 20 to 21, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“A good supper…restores to us the small delights that the day ransacks. Through crisis and catastrophe, and rare moments of uninterrupted joy, it’s the round, clean and imperishable wisdom that sustains them: cook well, eat well and talk well with people who are significant to your life.”

Every Thursday night for decades a small group of Umbrian women, occasionally accompanied by the their husbands or lovers, have met in an old stone house belonging to Miranda to share their supper. Under sheaves of dried olive branches, seated on plank benches, they have laughed, cried, cooked and eaten together.

Befriended by Miranda, Marlena De Blasi, an American chef, journalist and food critic who has made her home in rural Orvieto, was invited to join the women, taking a place at the table every Thursday, delighting in both the food, and the stories each woman has to tell.

In The Umbrian Supper Club, Marlena shares what she learned of the lives of the four women members – Miranda, Ninuccia, Paolina and Gilda, as she joined with each in preparing Thursday night suppers over a period of four years.

The women’s stories are moving and fascinating, aged between 52 and 80 something, they have lived full lives. They have variously been wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and lovers, they have endured heartache, loss, poverty and celebrated love, friends, and food. They speak, as the gather, prepare and cook their supper of childhood, family, aging, sexuality, of the evil eye, the Mafia, religion, of life and death.

“‘I wish life could end all even, like a supper when there’s that last little roasted potato with a single needle of rosemary clinging to its crust and the end of a sausage, charred to a crunch, a heel of bread, the last long pull of wine. Even. Everything in harmony. I have always preferred that last bit of my supper to the first, the beginning being fraught with hunger, the last with serenity. As life should be. Every supper can be a whole life'”

Full of mouthwatering descriptions of food preparation and feasting, The Umbrian Supper Club will delight any foodie. Crusty bread freshly baked in a woodfire oven is dipped in oil pressed by a donkey driven mill, pasta is simmered in litres of local red wine, thyme leaves are stripped from their branches to flavour scored duck breasts.
Several full recipes of traditional Umbrian dishes, such as Zucca Arrostita and La Crostata di Pere e Pecorino adapted for the modern cook, are included, but plenty of cooking advice is informally dispensed through the pages.

“In a basket on the worktable there are perhaps a dozen heads of garlic, the purple colour of the cloves bright beneath papery skins. Slapping head after head with the flat of the cleaver, she scrapes the smashed, unpeeled cloves into a five-litre jug of new oil in which she’s earlier stuffed leaves of wild sage, wild fennel flowers, rosemary,a fistful of crushed, very hot chillies. She is building one of her famous potions. Violence, she calls it. She uses it to gloss vegetables before tumbling them into the roasting pan, to massage into loins of pork and the breasts and thighs of her own fat chickens, to drizzle over burning hot charcoaled beef and veal.”

The Umbrian Supper Club is a delightful true story of family, friendship and food.

Available to purchase from

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Review: A Time of Secrets by Deborah Burrows

 

Title: A Time of Secrets

Author: Deborah Burrows

Published: Pan Macmillan March 2015

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

My Thoughts:

A Time of Secrets is Deborah Burrows’ third wonderful novel blending Australia’s wartime history with mystery and romance.

While Burrows previous novels take place in Perth, A Time of Secrets is set in Melbourne in 1943. Australian Women’s Army sergeant Stella Aldridge is out shopping with her roommate and colleague, Dolly, when she overhears a whispered conversation in Malay between a group of Australian soldiers. Concerned with the implications she alerts her boss at the APLO, The Australian Pacific Liason Office, only to be drawn into a covert investigation headed by her superior officer, Lieutenant Nick Ross.

As Stella and her colleagues work to uncover the identity of the traitor sabotaging the Australian war effort they have to negotiate the politics of the APLO. I enjoyed the intrigue of the storyline and learning a little more about the war effort. In this, as in both of Burrows previous novels, A Stranger in My Street and Taking a Chance, Burrows’ brings to life the experiences and contribution of women during wartime in Australia.

A minor subplot focuses on Stella’s roommate Dolly, and the secrets she is keeping both from her fiance and Stella, while a second involves an axe wielding murderer stalking women in Melbourne. The theme of domestic violence is prominent in the novel. as is violence on the home front in general.

There is romance for Stella with the enigmatic soldier Staff Sergeant Eric Lund. A special operative, his life is at risk if the rumours of a traitor imbedded within the APLO are true. Stella’s attraction to Lund is complicated by his capability for violence, her first husband who was killed in action physically abused her, and she is wary. A sort of love triangle also develops as Ross, an unapologetic ladies man, makes his interest in Stella clear.

Burrow’s is a talented storyteller who brings wartime Australia to life. Offering an interesting mystery combined with strong characterisation and a well crafted plot, A Time of Secrets is an engaging historical fiction novel.

Available to purchase from

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