Review: The Desert Midwife by Fiona McArthur

Title: The Desert Midwife

Author: Fiona McArthur

Published: July 16th 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Penguin

++++++

My Thoughts:

There’s a lot to like about Fiona McArthur’s newest rural romance novel, The Desert Midwife.

Sparks fly when Outback midwife Ava May, and locum emergency doctor, Zac Logan meet on a flight to Alice Springs, and within the week both are considering the possibility of a shared future. Then a shocking accident robs Zac of his memory and with it perhaps, their dreams of happy ever after.

The Desert Midwife is set in The Northern Territory, moving between Alice Springs, Kata Tjuta, and Ava’s family cattle station, Setabilly, situated around 70km from Uluru.

While the romance is central to the novel, McArthur explores several social important issues in The Desert Midwife, from the difficulties associated with maternity care in remote areas, to the emotional and financial stress experienced by station owners affected by the extended drought, and the importance of Uluru to the Anangu, the Pitjantjatjara people.

Unfortunately it was the initial romance that I found largely unconvincing. While I’m willing to believe in the possibility of love at first sight, I found it hard to believe a man of Zac’s background, and circumstance, would really be willing to propose within a week, especially given the practical obstacles to the relationship.

I did like the characters of Ava and Zac though, and enjoyed the attraction between them. Ava’s mother, Stella, and grandmother Mim, are wonderful characters, both strong, interesting women. Jock, Ava’s brother, is sympathetic, struggling as he is with depression.

A story of strength, struggle, family and the miracle of love, The Desert Midwife is an engaging read.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Penguin Au

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

#lovebetweenthepages

Also by Fiona McArthur reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

 

Title: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: A Definitive How To Guide

Author: Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Published: May 28th 2019, Forge Books

Status: Read July 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

I’m a recent ‘Murderino’, which marks me as an avid listener of Karen and Georgia’s true crime/comedy podcast, My Favorite Murder. If you are not familiar with this weekly broadcast, Kilgariff and Hardstark each select a single murder, true crime story, or survivor story to recount and discuss in an empathetic but humorous manner. More recently the podcast has also featured Minisodes – which consist of audience write-ins detailing their near misses, or tangential relationships to murder cases; and broadcasts of their live shows. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is their signature show sign off.

I probably shouldn’t have bought Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered without reading the description (though I likely would have got it anyway), because it wasn’t what I was expecting.

I wanted something more closely related to the podcast, a mix of true crime stories with reference to their patented advice such as ‘F*ck Politeness’ and ‘You’re in a Cult, Call your Dad’.

Instead this is largely a memoir/selfhelp book detailing the hosts’ dysfunctional childhood/adolescence/young adult years including their issues with addiction, eating disorders, mental health, and relationships.

It’s not that these stories aren’t interesting, or funny, and occasionally relatable (I was a latchkey kid like Karen, and I had a brief flirtation with kleptomania at thirteen like Georgia- a single Mars Bar I still feel guilty about), but stories like Georgia’s ‘red flag’ encounter, and the essay in ‘Stay Out of the Forest’, which includes some information about the murder of Michele Wallace, were probably closest to what I wanted.

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is really a book for fans of the personalities of Karen and Georgia, those more interested in the true crime aspect of their podcast may be slightly disappointed. I did enjoy it, I just would have appreciated a different approach more.

Read an Extract

++++++

 

Review: Wild Horses of the Summer Sun by Tory Bilski

Title: Wild Horses of the Summer Sun

Author: Tory Bilski

Published: July 1st, Murdoch Books

Status: Read June, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

“My first connection was finding a picture of an Icelandic horse on Google. I looked at it everyday and I couldn’t think of anything else.”

Tory Bilski is In her early 40’s when she becomes obsessed with the idea of riding an Icelandic horse in it’s native setting. An Equitour whets her appetite but it’s not until she meets Eve, the owner of a horse farm in the Berkshires, that she is able to return to Iceland for the experience she has been yearning for.

Over a period of about ten years, for a week every summer, Tory accompanies Eve, and a group of up to eight women to Thingeyrar, an Icelandic horse farm owned by breeder and trainer Helga. It’s an opportunity for Tory to leave behind the stresses of ordinary life and connect with the wild horses under the midnight sun. Not every trip is blissful, some are marred by the weather, others by personality clashes, but Bilski is always eager to return, and this travelogue/memoir shares a little of her personal life, her friendship with the women with whom she travels, her experiences in Iceland, and her soul deep connection to the Icelandic horses.

“These were our tales, these were the times, these were the women, and this was the place.”

Icelandic horses are a special breed, its pedigree is mixed but unique to Iceland, which has not permitted the import of other horses for centuries. Though I have no particular love for horses, I do think the Icelandic breed is appealing, and they look wonderful galloping across the gorgeous Icelandic plains, long manes flying, despite their short and stocky stature.

Bilski writes well, and I found Wild Horses of the Summer Sun to be both an engaging and interesting read.

++++++

Available from Murdoch Books 

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

Weekend Cooking: Cake at Midnight by Jessie L. Star

 

Title: Cake at Midnight

Author: Jessie L. Star

Published: January 15th 2018, Simon & Schuster AU

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

An engaging novel of contemporary romance, Cake at Midnight is a story of friendship and love from Australian author, Jessie L. Star.

Giovanna, Zoë and Declan – the baker, the beauty, and the brains- have been best friends since childhood. Now in their early twenties, they have celebrated one another’s successes, and commiserated with one another during times of heartbreak. For years Gio has nursed a crush on Declan who doesn’t mind taking advantage of her slavish devotion when it suits him, much to the growing disgust of Zoe. And after a disastrous not-a-date Gio realises she has let the situation get out of control, and in order to preserve their friendships, decides to cut Declan out of her life for 30 days. It’s not an easy step for Gio to take, not even cake is enough to dull the hurt, but her new neighbour, the enigmatic Theo, might just be exactly what she needs.

I enjoyed the romance in Cake at Midnight, it develops slowly from an odd sort of companionship, to a ‘friends with benefits’ situation, to the beginnings of a real relationship. Despite their very obvious differences, Gio and Theo complement each other well, though of course their path to true love has obstacles to overcome.

But romance is not all Cake at Midnight is about. It’s also about the friendship between Gio, Zoe and Declan and how it has changed over time as they have matured. There is a layer of emotional complexity relating to the family dynamics of Theo, and Declan. It’s also about being true to oneself.

The foodie element of the novel comes from Gio’s love of baking. She works at Pickle, Peach and Plum, an artisanal bakery, as an apprentice pastry chef.

“You’d perhaps think that, working at a bakery, the last thing I’d want to do upon returning home from a gruelling, every-last-swirl-of-ganache-critiqued, constantly-on-my-feet, nine-hour day, was more baking. You’d be wrong. It was like the difference between reading for school and reading for pleasure. I’d certainly always found during my years of education that the chance to chuck aside a textbook and pick up a recipe book had been a welcome one. That was what home baking was like for me.”

The first cake she bakes for Theo, to both apologise and thank him for rescuing her the night her not-a-date with Declan goes badly, is a Dark Chocolate and Rum Cake. She serves him a two-layer Lemon and Cardamom Cake the first time they kiss. The foodie references and metaphors added to the sweetness of Cake at Midnight.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU

or from your preferred retailer via Amazon AU I Amazon US 

 

Review: The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon

 

Title: The Beekeepers Secret

Author: Josephine Moon

Published: April 1st 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Beekeeper’s Secret is a thoughtful and engaging story of family, secrets, guilt and redemption.

“Now it seemed that what they said was true, that the past would indeed always catch up with you—especially if you had something to hide.”

Though Maria Lindsey has spent decades attempting to atone for her mistakes, first as a nun, and now as the manager, and beekeeper, of Honeybee Haven, whose activities support a Cambodian orphanage, she has always known that the time would come when she would have to confess her sins. She just didn’t expect that the daughter of her estranged sister, Tansy, would be the first to hear the whole sordid tale.

Maria’s decades old secret is a shocking one, related to a topical issue that the author deals with sensitively. It’s a confronting subject, involving misconduct within the Catholic Church, which may be a trigger for some readers, and though the reader may make a guess at Maria’s experience, the truth is likely to be a surprise.

Maria may be ready to break her silence, but there is someone who is determined that she not say a word.

Tansy Butterfield has always wondered what caused the estrangement between her mother, Enid, aunt Florrie, and their eldest sister. With her thirtieth birthday coming up, she’s tracked down Maria, delighted to learn she has been living barely an hours drive away in the Noosa Hinterland, hoping to arrange a surprise reunion.

It is through Tansy, and her relationship with her husband, and her family, that Moon thoughtfully explores the complicated dynamics that unites, and divide, families. While Tansy is getting to know her aunt, she keeps the secret of Maria from her family, something that her mother in particular, is deeply hurt by, when the truth comes out at a family gathering.

Another large part of this novel is devoted to Maria’s role as a beekeeper, and though I’m vaguely aware of the importance of bees to the health of our environment, I found the tidbits of information Moon shared about their habits and behaviour interesting.

A heartfelt contemporary fiction novel with surprising complexity, given the colourful cover, I liked The Beekeeper’s Secret. As the tagline suggests, this is a story with a sting in its tale.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko or Book Depository 

Also by Josephine Moon posted at Book’d Out 

 

Review: The Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka

 

Title: The Lubetkin Legacy

Author: Marina Lewycka

Published: May 16th 2016, FigTree

Status: Read May 2019- courtesy Penguin/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

I can’t remember why I requested The Lubetkin Legacy for review, I have a feeling it was to satisfy a challenge. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did, mostly.

The Lubetkin Legacy is a quirky, rather rambling novel which centres on two characters who live in a social housing block of flats in North London named Mandelay Court.

Berthold Sidebottom has lived in the top floor apartment with his mother, for most of his life. Named after the building’s architect, Berthold Lubetkin, with whom his mother claimed to have an affair, he is In his mid fifties, bald, divorced, and an unemployed actor. When his mother, Lily Lukashenko, dies unexpectedly, Berthold is worried that the council will repossess the flat, and so he invites the elderly Ukrainian widow who shared his mother’s hospital room to live with him and pretend to be his mother, until he can arrange for the transfer of possession.

Violet, Kenyan-born, but mostly raised in England, moves into the apartment next door to Berthold. Barely into her twenties, she is excited to start her first job in a city firm, having recently graduated university, but it quickly begins to lose its shine when she learns of her employers shady financial dealings.

The two characters are only loosely connected, Berthold spends a disturbing amount of time lusting after Violet, who is half his age and barely aware of his existence. In fact the connection is so limited, and Violet’s story so disparate, I don’t think it had a place in this novel at all. Berthold, and his mother substitute, Inna, would have been enough to carry the story.

Though to be honest I struggled with Berthold’s character. He is a bit of a sad sack, fairly useless with the practical, prone to randomly spouting Shakespeare, insulting George Clooney, and often behaves like a sex-starved creep. He is a pitiable figure of a man really, but does occasionally provoke some sympathy. I loved Inna though, her eccentric use of the English language (it’s her fourth, maybe fifth, language) is hilarious.

Despite the farcical presentation of this novel, the main themes of the novel are socio-political, taking aim at the UK’s policy of austerity, privatisation of social housing, the introduction of the bedroom tax, the consequences of the employment scheme, the disintegration of community, and on a larger scale, the misuse of tax havens, greed, exploitation, and corruption.

I liked this, mostly. Despite its many flaws, The Lubetkin Legacy is oddly entertaining, and has some important points to make about the failures of social policy.

++++++

Available from Penguin UK I Penguin AU I

Or purchase from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a **** by Gill Sims

 

Title: Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a ****

Author: Gill Sims

Published: April 15th 2019, HarperCollins

Status: Read May 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

I’d been awake for 30 odd hours and was looking for something light to read as I waited for the sleeping tablet to take effect when I spotted Gill Sims latest and thought it would be perfect, having read and enjoyed Why Mummy Drinks and Why Mummy Swears sometime last year.

A spin off of her successful mummy blog/Facebook page ‘Peter and Jane’, described as an ‘honest, sweary, tongue-in-cheek account of a pretty normal, middle-class Scottish family’, Sims’ books are an exaggeration of the mundanity of family life. The books are best read in order, as the family ‘grows’ through each book.

In Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a ****, Ellen’s marriage has collapsed after Simon confessed to sleeping with another woman on a business trip, and Ellen has moved into the cottage of her dreams (except for the damp, the single bathroom, and brambles rather than roses by the door) with their teenagers, Peter who is 13 and Jane who is 15.

I found Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a **** mostly hilarious, even though it doesn’t really bear much relation to my own life.

Ok, so I do have a houseful of teens (2 girls, 2 boys) so I’m familiar with the drama of teenage girls, and the ability of teenage boys to inhale the contents of the fridge within hours of it being filled, and I might have turned of the wifi once or twice in order to get their attention, but I’d never tolerate Jane’s behaviour, or her drinking habits (my kids will want to be much more subtle).

And ok, I may have a piece of furniture or two deliberately placed to hide a stain in the carpet (and a teeny hole in the wall) but I don’t have any dogs, or chickens, I rarely drink, and I still have a husband, so I don’t have to brave the horrors of online dating as a newly single woman in my mid 40’s.

Fair warning, the language is crude (those asterisks in the title barely mask the F-word which is used liberally through the novel), there’s an awkward sex scene, a passing mention of crusty socks, and a lot of drinking, but there are some brief moments of seriousness related to divorce and loss.

Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a **** , like Gill Sims previous novels, was an easy, quick and fun read.

 

++++++

Available from HarperCollins UK, or HarperCollins AU

Or your preferred retailer via Booko

 

Review: Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaac

 

Title: Messy, Wonderful Us

Author: Catherine Isaac

Published: June 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

Unfolding from the viewpoints of Allie, Ed and an unnamed girl, (whose chapters are italicised) that is speaking of the past, as the present, Messy, Wonderful Us is a touching tale of friendship, love, regret, and second chances.

Allie and Ed have been friends since adolescence, and remain so in their early thirties, despite periods of both physical and emotional distance.

Allie, an academic research scientist, who lost her mother as a young girl to cancer, is devastated when she finds a photograph that seems to suggest her beloved Dad, Joe, may not be her father. When Allie’s grandmother refuses to assuage her suspicions, Allie decides to find answers for herself, arranging a trip to Italy in search of the man who shares the gap between her front teeth.

Ed, a successful business owner, shocks everyone when he leaves his wife of two years, offering nothing but the vaguest of explanations. Julia, unwilling to accept her husband’s decision, begs Allie for her help, and so Allie allows Ed to join her on her quest.

As Allie, urged on by Ed, crisscrosses Italy in search of answers about her past, the pair are forced to face some uncomfortable truths and make some difficult decisions.

Ed and Julia’s supposedly blissful marriage is not what it seems, exactly why, he is reluctant to admit. Isaac treats the secret with sensitivity, and I thought the reversal of perspective of an oft used trope was examined in a thought-provoking manner.

Allie is rocked by the answer to her questions, but it’s the time spent with Ed that has the greatest effect on her life. To be honest, I found Allie a little insipid, she’s generally not very decisive and I have to admit I was disappointed somewhat by one element of the ending. Perhaps it’s petty of me, but I didn’t feel Allie, and therefore Isaac, made the right decision.

That said, I do like Ed and Allie together, though their situation is messy, Issac hits the right notes with their relationship, making it seem genuine. I also really appreciated the epilogue of sorts.

Messy, Wonderful Us is a likeable novel, and though I wasn’t wowed by it, I did find aspects of it thought provoking and engaging.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU or Simon & Schuster UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko

Review: Running Against the Tide by Amanda Ortlepp

 

Title: Running Against the Tide

Author: Amanda Ortlepp

Published: March 1st 2016, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read March 2016 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

Running Against the Tides is a story of suspense in which Amana Ortlepp explores themes such as displacement, addiction, bias, obsession, and betrayal.

Needing to make a fresh start after the breakdown of her marriage, Erin Travers is drawn to Mallee Bay on the Eyre Peninsula. She has fond childhood memories of the small coastal town, and hopes it will be a place that she and her two teenage sons, Mike and Ryan, can make a home.

It’s not the most auspicious of starts, their rental home is poky and unloved, but while Erin and nineteen year old Mike are determined to make the best of the situation, and soon begin to find their feet, fifteen year old Ryan refuses to make any effort, becoming increasingly antisocial.

Told from the perspectives of Erin, Ryan and Jono, the family’s new neighbour, Ortlepp builds the tension as things at home, and in the town begin to go awry. Erin is annoyed when a cheque goes missing, disturbed when her home is vandalised, and increasingly frightened as she receives a series of anonymous threatening notes. Meanwhile, a spate of thefts from the local oyster farms, including that which belongs to neighbour, and Mike’s new employer, has the locals frustrated and on edge.

Though I found the pace a little slow, I did appreciate the way in which Ortlepp crafted the story to build suspicion around several characters, and eventually both situations come to head with a dramatic, and somewhat surprising, conclusion.

++++++

Available to purchase from Simon & Schuster

Or your preferred retailer via Booko

Also by Amanda Ortlepp reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga by Todd Alexander

 

Title: Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga

Author: Todd Alexander

Published: February 23rd 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read May 2019, won via BetterReading.com.au

++++++

My Thoughts:

I was delighted to win a signed copy of Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga to gift to my mother for Mother’s Day thanks to BetterReading.com.au. However I couldn’t pass it on without reading it first.

Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga is the story of Todd Alexander’s mid life tree change with his partner, Jeff, abandoning inner city living and highly paid careers, for a hundred acre farm in the Hunter Valley, to grow grapes, olives, and run a five star B&B.

Todd has dreams of channeling his inner Maggie Beer…cooking delicious meals from their own produce, sipping their own labeled wine, enjoying the spectacular views over their property, with Jeff by his side. After all, Todd is wont to say, how hard can it be?

It’s certainly not any where near as easy as Todd hopes. What do two gay city boys know about slashing acres of grass, empty water tanks, broken irrigation systems, eggbound chickens, and desuckering 12,000 grapevines? Not a lot as it turns out, but they are willing to learn, and determined to succeed.

There are failures and successes, mistakes and lucky breaks, all of which Todd shares with honesty and humour. I don’t envy them the years of renovation and building (though the results are stunning), or the back breaking work required to both maintain and grow a farm. But I enjoyed his anecdotes about both the joys and challenges of farm life, and particularly the affectionate descriptions of the couples beloved pets, like the titular Helga the pig.

Todd also shares information of a more personal nature, touching on his relationship with his children who are regular visitors to the farm, and I was moved by his support of his mother as she battled bowel cancer. He also discusses how his experiences as a farmer have resulted in him becoming vegan, and provides a dozen or so of his favourite recipes.

Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga is an entertaining and charming memoir, and might just inspire your own dreams for a new life, or at least for a nice glass of Semillon.

++++++

Available to purchase from Simon & Schuster

Or to purchase via Booko

 

Linking to #NonFictionFriday @ DoingDeweyDecimal

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