Review: A Month of Sunday’s by Liz Byrski

 

Title: A Month of Sunday’s

Author: Liz Byrski

Published: July 10th 2018, Pan Macmillan Australia

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy Pan Macmillan

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My Thoughts:

A Month of Sunday’s, Liz Byrski’s tenth novel, is told with warmth, humour and wisdom.

When Adele is offered an opportunity to housesit a cottage in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales for a month, she nervously decides to invite the other three members of her online book club, whom have known each other for a decade, but whom have never met in person, to join her. Simone, from Tasmania, is excited by the prospect, while Judy, from Western Australia, is uncertain, but in desperate need of a break from her business. Usually Ros, who lives in Sydney, would never agree to spending weeks with women who are essentially strangers, but bad news has left her with a need to escape. At a crossroads in their lives, the retreat becomes an opportunity for the women to not only get to know one another better, but also themselves.

Thoughtfully exploring the themes of ageing, memory, personal growth, and friendship, A Month of Sunday’s by Liz Byrski is an engaging character driven novel. I love that this book features women in their late 60’s to 70’s, I was moved by the author’s examination of the issues facing these particular mature women, such as retirement, illness and grief, and the support and strength they find within each other.

“We’re all single and we’re all getting older; each of us has had to face something serious since we’ve been here. That’s a bond. This is no longer just a book club. It can be much more; it can have a life long after we leave here.”

This is also a novel that celebrates the ways in which literature can enrich our lives. So that the women get to know one another during the retreat, Adele suggests that each chooses a book of personal significance to share each week. The resulting lively discussions allow the women to communicate and explore who they were, who they are, and what they want moving forward.

“This is us, this is what we do. We talk about books, we make them work in our own lives: walk through the doors they open for us, cross the bridges they lay out for us, and pick and choose what we need to take away from them.”

While I think A Month of Sunday’s is particularly suited to a mature aged readership, who are more likely to identify with the characters and their issues, I also think it would be an excellent bookclub choice, and any bibliophile can relate to the author’s observations about the value of books.

++++++

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Also by Liz Byrski reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

 

 

Title: Don’t You Forget About Me

Author: Mhairi McFarlane

Published: September 10th 2019, William Morrow

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

This is probably the first time I’ve chosen to read a book because I can’t read the title without wanting to burst into song. The Breakfast Club was my favourite movie as a teen, and ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ by Simple Minds plays during the film’s closing moments, as John Bender (ie. Judd Nelson) punches the air.

Mhairi McFarlane’s book doesn’t really have any connection to the movie, though the story does begin in highschool as Georgina falls in love with her classmate, Lucas, only for the relationship to end abruptly. Nearly twelve years later Georgina is having a tough week. First she is fired from her waitressing job, and next finds her boyfriend in bed with his personal assistant, then when she is offered a great new job, she discovers that the co-owner of the business is none other than Lucas, who seems not to recognise her.

While marketed as a romcom, and I don’t dispute that Don’t You Forget About Me is both romantic and funny, the term doesn’t give McFarlane the credit she deserves for the serious issues she explores in this novel. I really enjoyed the humour that moves between the dry and somewhat slapstick, but the story also packs quite an emotional wallop that I didn’t expect. Key is McFarlane’s examination of Georgina’s experiences at the hands of men behaving badly.

I really liked Georgina and found her to be authentic and relatable. She is funny, though she often uses humour as a defence, and strong, even if she doesn’t recognise it. While she doesn’t get much emotional support from her family, (gotta love her Nan though), her friends are wonderful. But there is no denying that Georgina is stuck, and needs to find a way to move forward.

Witty, heartfelt, and moving, I enjoyed Don’t You Forget About Me. Don’t ‘walk on by’ this one.

++++++

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And because I can’t resist- enjoy

 

 

Review: What Happens Now? By Sophia Money-Coutts

 

Title: What Happens Now?

Author: Sophia Money-Coutts

Published: August 22nd 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Harlequin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

What Happens Now? is a light, funny, thoroughly contemporary romance novel from Sophia Money-Coutts.

Thirty one year old private school teacher Lil is still raw from the end of an eight year relationship when her best friend, Jess, convinces her to use a dating app. Lil chooses mountaineer Max, who likes like ‘a cross between a Jane Austen hero, and Jack Sparrow’. and the evening goes well, so well in fact that Lil goes home with him. But Max is gone when Lil wakes up the next morning, preparing to mountain climb in Pakistan, and fails to respond to her carefully worded texts. Six weeks later Lil realises thrush isn’t the only souvenir from her one night stand with Max, she’s pregnant. Letting Max know is the right thing to do, but he is missing somewhere on Muchu Chhish, so what happens now?

Max obviously isn’t the greatest of communicators which continues to be issue throughout the book, but Money-Coutts ensures he’s not short on charm. I thought his reaction to the news of the pregnancy was pretty realistic, and once he commits to fatherhood, he is kind and generous with Lil.

I liked Lil, her apprehension on finding out she was pregnant felt natural, and I admired her general equanimity once she’d made the decision keep the baby, with or without Max. I really enjoyed her interactions at the school where she teaches, especially with her small charges.

I enjoyed the friendships too. Lil’s bestie Jess, and her twin brother Clem are amusing, and the glimpses of Lil’s flatmates and work colleagues are fun. I also liked how sweet and supportive Lil’s parents are.

I appreciated the honesty with which the author described several scenes in the story, particularly how awkward it is to pee on a pregnancy test stick, and the delicate answers needed to satisfy the curiosity of five year olds (I fielded similar questions when I was pregnant and teaching). I could have done with a few less details about a particular act in the sex scene though.

I’m too old fashioned to not to be at least a little uncomfortable about the failure of Max and Lil to use a condom, especially during a casual encounter (with the knowledge that two of my children were conceived while I was on the pill and STD’s are still a thing people!).

That point aside, I was engaged by the wit and warmth of What Happens Now? An entertaining read.

++++++

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Review: The Day the Lies Began by Kylie Kaden

 

Title: The Day The Lies Began

Author: Kylie Kaden

Published: August 13th 2019, Pantera Press

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy Pantera Press/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Kylie Kaden’s third novel, The Day The Lies Began, is an absorbing contemporary story of secrets, lies, love and loyalty.

“Doing the wrong thing had felt entirely right at the time.”

It begins for Abbi Adams with a lie told with the best of intentions – to protect her husband, and her five year old daughter, Eadie – but she is soon struggling under the burden of her deception. As is Blake, Abbi’s (foster) brother and loyal co-conspirator, who has everything to lose, including his career as a police officer, if their duplicity is revealed. The dark secret Abbi and Blake share is central to the plot, but even they are not in possession of all the facts, and as the story unfolds, so too does the truth, which results in some stunning surprises for the characters, and the reader.

“And in every choice since; in every betrayal covering the one before, it lingered. She could never quite escape the stench.“

Kaden has created provocative, complex characters who are burdened by secrets which threaten to undermine the stability of not only their own lives, but the lives of those they love. The Day The Lies Began focuses on five characters, Abbi and her husband, Will; Blake, Abbi’s (foster) brother, and his on/off girlfriend Hannah; and teenage Molly. The truth for each of them is complicated by guilt and regret, loyalty and love.

“…now you know the truth, it’s your truth to do what you want with.”

While the first half of the novel is important in establishing character, relationships, and motives, it dragged on about fifty pages too long with a repetitive cycle of Abbi’s panic. Persistence is rewarded however, and the last half of the book is compelling after the shocking incident that sparked Abbi’s lie is finally revealed.

“She’d have to stay a killer. It was simpler.”

The Day The Lies Began is an enjoyable and provocative novel of domestic suspense.

++++++

Available from Pantera Press

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Also  by Kylie Kaden reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

 

 

Title: The Burnt Country (Woolgrowers Companion #2)

Author: Joy Rhoades

Published: August 6th 2019, Bantam

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

The Burnt Country is the second novel from Joy Rhoades, a stand alone sequel to her debut novel, The Woolgrower’s Companion.

Set in rural NSW in 1946, Kate Dowd is making a success of Amiens, the sheep station she inherited after the death of her father three years previously. Few admire her for it though, especially neighbouring grazier, John Fleming, and his cronies, who take every opportunity to undermine Kate’s management. Already under siege from her estranged husband, the Aboriginal Welfare Board, and the unexpected return of Luca Canali, Kate is feeling the strain, which only worsens when a bushfire rages through Longhope, a man is killed, and the community seems determined to lay the blame at Kate’s feet.

Rhoades skilfully captures the setting and period in which The Burnt Country is set. Her descriptions of the environs are evocative, and I could easily visualise Amiens. The characters of The Burnt Country were fully realised, and their attitudes and behaviour felt true to the time period.

“Kate knew: the same rules didn’t apply to her as to other graziers, to the men. If she did anything that was disapproved of the town felt, without exception, that she needed to be taught a lesson, as if she were a child.”

If I’m honest I spent most of the book frustrated by Kate, even with the knowledge of the very real societal constraints a woman of her time, and in her position would face. She was very rarely the agent of her own fate, it was really only through the actions of others that she, and Amiens, were saved.

I adored Harry, Kate’s Informal teenage ward, though. Clever, cheeky and curious, he provided some levity in tense moments. I also had a great deal of sympathy for Daisy, and her daughter, Pearl. The policies of the Aboriginal Welfare Board were (and remain) shameful.

Perhaps because I hadn’t read The Woolgrower’s Companion, I wasn’t particularly invested in Kate’s relationship with Luca, though his adoration of her was clear. I was definitely glad Kate was finally able to rid herself of her awful husband.

”For the woolgrower, the turn of the seasons and the array of assaults upon his endeavours require both constancy and seal.”

Well written and engaging, The Burnt Country is a lovely novel, one I’d happily recommend to readers who enjoy quality Australian historical fiction. As a bonus, The Burnt Country also includes period recipes from the author’s family collection, and thoughtful discussion questions for the benefit of Book Clubs.

Read an extract

++++++

 

Available from PenguinRandomHouse AU

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Review: State of Fear by Tim Ayliffe

 

 

Title: State of Fear

Author: Tim Ayliffe

Published: August 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster

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My Thoughts:

State of Fear is an entertaining contemporary thriller from Tim Ayliffe, his second novel featuring journalist, John Bailey.

Moments after Australian the veteran war correspondent concludes his speech for an audience in London’s Chatham House about his experience at the hands of a Islamic terrorist organisation, Bailey witnesses a radicalised jihadi youth slit the throat of an innocent woman in St James Square. Less than 48 hours later, back home in Sydney, Bailey learns that the spectacle was orchestrated in part for his benefit by Mustafa al-Baghdadi, the leader of ‘Islamic Nation’, and the man responsible for Bailey’s kidnap and torture a decade ago in Fallujah. Mustafa, has an axe to grind with John, and he is promising more bloodshed to come.

Capitalising on the current threat the Islamic radicalisation of youth poses to Western society, State of Fear has a frighteningly credible plot. Determined to make Bailey pay for a perceived betrayal, Mustafa has planned attacks that will not only spread terror among the population, but will also affect John personally. He begins by radicalising the Australian born child of Bailey’s former Iraqi driver/fixer to get his attention, and then has his believers target Bailey, and those closest to him.

Moving between the inner suburbs of Sydney and London, the fast pace ensures that tension and interest remain high as Bailey joins in the search for the martyrs, attempts to stop further attacks, and locate Mustafa.

John Bailey is an engaging hero, though he certainly has his flaws, struggling daily with his sobriety and suffering PTSD from the months he spent at the mercy of ‘Islamic Nation’. I really liked the strength of his friendship with his editor, Gerald Summers, and CIA agent, Ronnie Johnson (though the latter says ‘Bubba’ way too much). His romantic relationship with Sharon Dexter is complicated, not the least by her new job as the head of the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team.

State of Fear also includes some interesting social commentary from Bailey’s perspective about the state of modern journalism, the failure of the government to address the alienation of the Australian Islamic community, and the indiscriminate filming and social media sharing of tragedy.

I really enjoyed State of Fear, and I’d happily recommend it to fans of authors such as Michael Robotham and Greg Barron.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Review: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

Title: The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Author: Robert Hillman

Published: July 11th 2019, Faber & Faber

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Faber & Faber/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is a literary novel from award winning Australian author, Robert Hillman.

In the Spring of 1968, as Tom Hope toils away on his farm, lonely after his wife has deserted him and taken her son with her, Hannah Babel arrives in rural Victoria intending to open a bookshop, and offer piano and flute lessons.

The farming community of Hometown seems an unlikely place for a woman like Hannah, a Jew who barely survived the horrors of Auschwitz and it’s aftermath, to settle, and in which to establish a bookshop with a goal to sell twenty five thousand books,in honour of her father, who died in an internment camp.

“She took an oblong of stiff paper, craft paper, the colour of parchment, sat at the counter and wrote a single line of neat Hebrew script with black ink and a steel-nibbed pen….And so Hannah’s first choice of a name for her business remained known only to her: Bookshop of the broken hearted.”

Hannah, and Tom, who responds to Hannah’s request for help hang a sign, become an unlikely couple. Hannah’s effusive persona contrasts with Tom’s taciturn nature, and the age difference (Hannah is more than a decade older) worries some of the townsfolk, especially those who know how much Tom misses his wife’s son, Peter. Tom however finds Hannah beguiling, if a bit mad, and is quietly thrilled that such an interesting woman seems to be so interested in him.

“He felt like a great block of stone talking to her, but she was interested in him, that’s what it felt like. He had never before in his life been made to feel interesting.”

This is much more than a love story though, one of the major themes Hillman explores is that of suffering. Hannah’s suffering during the Holocaust, including the loss of her husband and son; Tom’s suffering after the loss of Peter; and Peter’s suffering at the hands of his mother and the leaders of the ‘Jesus Camp’.

“Tom didn’t think of himself as observant, astute. He didn’t notice things. He more failed to notice. But when he pictured Mrs Babel’s—sorry, Hannah’s—face, as he did now, her eyes, her green eyes, he grasped that she was suffering. That huge smile, all of her teeth on show, one at the side a bit discoloured; but she was suffering. He had suffered. In the same way? He didn’t know.”

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is a languid, poignant story about loss, heartbreak, survival, hope and redemption.

++++++

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Review: The Roadhouse by Kerry McGinnis

Title: The Roadhouse

Author: Kerry McGinnis

Published: July 2nd 2019, Michael Joseph: Penguin

Status: Read July 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Roadhouse is an engaging story of romantic suspense, the eleventh novel set in the Australian Outback region from author Kerry McGinnis.

When Charlie Carver learns of her cousin’s suicide, she decides to leave behind her life in Melbourne, making her way to the remote roadhouse, east of Alice Springs, that she calls home. Little seems to have changed during her five year absence, except her mother appears to be struggling, and within days of Charlie’s return, Molly has a heart attack is is airlifted to Adelaide for life saving surgery.

Charlie willingly steps up to run the roadhouse with the assistance of long time handyman, Bob, and a new cook, Polish backpacker Ute, and is also tasked with taking care of the details related to her cousin’s death. Though she disliked Annabelle, whose beauty barely masked her selfishness, and is beginning to suspect that the suicide could have been faked, Charlie is as shocked and puzzled as everyone else when the body of a murdered woman is found at a nearby abandoned mine site, and is identified as Annabelle.

When Charlie’s family home is ransacked shortly afterwards, she believes the incident is somehow connected to a visit Annabelle made shortly before her death, and danger could be closer to home than anyone expects.

I really enjoyed the mystery element of The Roadhouse, which firstly focuses on the possible motives for Annabelle’s suicide. Charlie is suspicious of the verdict from the outset, believing that even if Annabelle killed herself, she would never choose that particular manner in which to die. After the discovery of Annabelle’s body proves her right, Charlie speculates as to the meaning of a recent visit Annabelle made to the Roadhouse with a strange man in tow, and after the break in at her home, rashly follows a hunch and finds herself in a fight for her life in a tense and thrilling confrontation.

Unfortunately I did feel that the relationship between Charlie and Mike, a stockman she meets from a nearby station, was underdeveloped. The seeds of attraction were sown, but the couple spent very little time together, even less time alone together, and their relationship was unusually chaste for two twenty somethings in this day and age, all of which made Charlie’s ‘proposal’ awkwardly presumptuous, rather than romantic, in my opinion.

The Roadhouse is also a story about family. Molly was not a demonstrative mother, and Charlie’s feckless late father favoured Annabelle, who came to live with Charlie’s family as a young girl after the death of her own parents. Charlie felt overshadowed by her beautiful cousin whose spiteful behaviour towards her often went unnoticed. Charlie hopes to forge a closer relationship with her mother on her return home, and

over the course of the novel comes to understand more about her family’s dynamics.

Ute, with her unique grasp of English, was probably my favourite character in The Roadhouse, I enjoyed the humour she brought to the story and her practical approach to every facet of her life. I also liked the curmudgeonly Bob, whose gruff exterior fails to hide his soft spot for Charlie and Molly.

With a dramatic suspense plot, and likeable characters, in an uniquely Australian setting, I enjoyed The Roadhouse.

Read an Extract

++++++

Available from Penguin Australia

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#lovebetweenthepages

Review: The Bride Test {The Kiss Quotient #2} by Helen Hoang

 

 

Title: The Bride Test

Author: Helen Hoang

Published: July 1st 2019, Corvus

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

I loved The Kiss Quotient, it was such an unexpected delight that I was very much looking forward to reading The Bride Test. Hoang’s second contemporary romance novel, which can be read as a stand-alone, features Khai Diep, who was introduced briefly in The Kiss Quotient as Michael’s cousin.

Khai, a successful business owner in his mid twenties, is content to focus all his energy on his work, convinced that he is incapable of ‘normal’ emotions, and therefore destined to be alone. His mother however is determined that Khai will marry, and travels to Vietnam to find a him a bride whom she will present to her son as a fait accompli.

Mỹ Ngoc ‘Esmeralda’ Tran is a a young woman of mixed Vietnamese/American parentage who works as a hotel maid to support her daughter, mother and grandmother. Though surprised by Cô Nga’s unexpected invitation to spend time with her son in California with a view to marriage, Esme realises that it’s an opportunity too good to pass up. She has the summer, she is told, to convince Khai to make her his bride, or she will be returned to Vietnam.

It’s an inauspicious start to a love story. Esme’s motives can be construed as mercenary, she wants the chance of a better future for both herself and her daughter, and is willing to seduce Khai to secure it. It’s to Hoang’s credit that she manages to evoke sympathy for Esme, but I wasn’t keen that Esme kept so many secrets from Khai, it meant that there was a lack of honesty in their emotional connection which I did find disappointing.

However I wanted the relationship to work, in large part because Khai deserves to find the love and intimacy he believes he is incapable of reciprocating. Though Khai knows he is on the autistic spectrum, it’s clear he doesn’t quite understand what that means in terms of how he experiences emotion, and his response to a tragic incident as a teenager meant he formed an erroneous belief of himself. Khai’s perspective feels authentic and his struggle is actually very moving, even more so I think because his concern is not for himself.

My favourite scene in The Bride Test involved Esme giving Khai a haircut, it was both intimate and very sweet. I loved how Khai found the courage to explain about his needs, and Esme responded in a manner that was matter of fact. This occurs not long before their first kiss, almost halfway through the book.

I didn’t particularly care for the epilogue though which I thought was over the top. Given that we know a third book (most likely to feature Quan) is coming, Hoang could have given us a more subtle update, as she did here when Esme and Khai attended Michael and Stella’s wedding.

I did enjoy The Bride Test, and it has some funny, sweet and sexy moments, but I have to admit that the relationship between Khai and Esme felt uneven to me in a way that Stella and Michael’s did not.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

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Click the cover to read my review of The Kiss Quotient

Review: The Baby Doctor by Fiona McArthur

 

Title: The Baby Doctor

Author: Fiona McArthur

Published: October 2nd 2017, Michael Joseph: Penguin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Readers familiar with Fiona McArthur’s Red Sand Sunrise will be delighted to reacquaint themselves with obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr. Sienna Wilson. While Sienna’s sister, Callie, and half sister, Eve, are settled in the Queensland outback, Sienna was always adamant the heat, dust and isolation was not for her, and at the beginning of The Baby Doctor, she is the Director of Obstetrics at a Sydney hospital, enjoying the benefits of her success.

Sienna is exasperated when outback matriarch, Blanche McKay, overrides her objections and insists that she personally investigate the cause of three newborns affected by microcephaly in a remote outback town, only marginally less so when she learns Sargeant Douglas McCabe, with whom she has enjoyed the occasional dalliance, is based there. Left with no choice, Sienna reluctantly heads to Spinifex, population 300, determined to solve the medical mystery, and return to her life in the city within the week.

Housed in the local pub, The Desert Rose owned by the indomitable Alma Toms, at Blanche’s expense, Sienna is eager to begin her investigation. While McCabe refuses to let Sienna stay in his police residence, concerned at least in part about propriety, he does allow her to set up an office in his spare room, and she hires Maddy, a young woman who works at the pub to assist her with administrative tasks for an hour or so a day.

Alma and Maddy become important characters in the story. Alma who is nearly 70, is a bit of a cliche, the tough publican with a heart of gold, but delightful all the same. Maddy is barely 21, and keeping a desperate secret from everyone she knows. Maddy proves to be an incredibly resourceful young woman despite the situation she is in, and her story, sensitively told by McArthur, sheds light on an important issue.

Sienna’s relationship with McCabe is complicated. Despite their strong attraction to one another (and McArthur nails the chemistry between them), they are such polar opposites and there seems no way for them to reconcile their differences. I do like the compromise they eventually reached though (and I hope McArthur might explore this new setting further).

Microcephaly is a rare birth disorder, but there are several possible causes which Sienna needs to eliminate. I found her sleuthing interesting, especially considering the challenges she faces due to factors such as distance. I also appreciate that McArthur brings to light issues in rural medicine. The actual cause, when Sienna solves the mystery, seemed a little melodramatic to me, though it’s clear McArthur did her research and the scenario is plausible, if not very likely.

A story of resilience, friendship, and love, The Baby Doctor is an appealing rural romance with an edge of drama and suspense.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

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