Review: Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

 


Title: Mix Tape

Author: Jane Sanderson

Published: January 23rd 2020, Bantam Press UK

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Bantam Press/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I had been looking forward to reading Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson for a while before it finally came up in my schedule. I am of an age when mix tapes were common. I’d be listening to the radio on my boom box on a Sunday evening, a blank tape in the cassette deck, waiting for the Top 40 to start, with my fingers on the ‘play’ and ‘record’ buttons, poised to catch the opening bars of the whatever song I was hoping to record. We played mix tapes at parties, traded them among friends, and shyly gifted them to our boyfriend/girlfriend. I still have two or three of those tapes, though I no longer have anything to play them on.

Moving between the past and the present, this is the story of Daniel and Alison, who meet as teens in Sheffield, England in 1978. Their romantic relationship is brief, but intense, ending abruptly when Alison is compelled to flee her harrowing home life. Alison’s journey eventually leads her to Australia, and in 2012 she is a bestselling novelist, married with two near-adult daughters, when Dan, a music journalist whose home base is in Scotland with his wife and college bound son, receives a tweet from an old friend directing him to the profile of @AliConnorWriter. When Dan finally reaches out to the woman who has haunted his dreams for decades, he does so with a music video that speaks to a seminal moment in their relationship, ‘Pump It Up’ – Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1978.

“No words, no message. Only the song, speaking for itself.”

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, a tale of soulmates forcibly parted, and then reunited after a separation of thirty years.

Sanderson wonderfully captures the intensity of Daniel and Alison’s connection as teenagers. Dan, sweet and steady, is infatuated with the beautiful and enigmatic Alison. Alison, whose home life is chaotic and neglectful, basks in Dan’s admiration and returns his desire. When she leaves they are both devastated, aware they have lost something special.

When Dan and Ali reconnect decades later, they initially communicate only by trading songs via Twitter that remind them of their relationship, and then songs whose lyrics speak to their growing desires. I’m in my mid forties so I wasn’t particularly familiar with a fair amount of the music referenced in Mix Tape, and I found myself having to stop and search through YouTube on occasion to listen to the song to understand its significance. It’s a delightful idea though, a modern take on those not so subtle cassette mix tapes declaring love

Without sharing a word, despite all the time that has passed, the physical distance between them, and being married to other people, Dan and Alison rekindle the flame. Here is where Sanderson lost me a little, because while the idea of a love that cannot be denied is romantic, that it comes at the expense of others, even if neither of their spouses are particularly likeable, is uncomfortable for me. Still the inevitable reunion is epic, and to the author’s credit I wanted it to happen.

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, but it’s also about heartache, nostalgia, loss, forgiveness, and the music. While my feelings about it remain a little mixed, it has its charms.

++++++

Available from Bantam Press UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Mothers by Genevieve Gannon

Title: The Mothers

Author: Genevieve Gannon

Published: January 7th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++

My Thoughts:

Poignant and provocative, The Mothers is Genevieve Gannon’s fourth novel.

Shattered to learn her husband, Nick, has been unfaithful, Priya Archer (née Laghari) decides giving up on her marriage doesn’t mean she has to give up on her dream of becoming a mother and impulsively decides to move ahead with a planned IVF procedure, opting to use a sperm donor. Priya is upset when the procedure fails, but decides against a second attempt, choosing to focus on rebuilding her life on her own.

After a half dozen failed IVF procedures, Grace Arden, and her husband Dan, are thrilled when they learn their final attempt with their one remaining embryo has taken, and Grace is finally pregnant. As Grace cradles their son, Sam, for the first time all the heartache seems worth it, but as the days pass it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right.

Told in three parts, The Mothers focuses on the lives of the two couples during the period before conception, after the arrival of baby Sam, and during the court case that develops when Priya learns the Arden’s son is genetically her own. It’s an emotional exploration of themes such as infertility, marriage, and family, but ultimately this is a book about motherhood.

Gannon examines some challenging dilemmas when Priya discovers Grace has given birth as a result of an error at the IVF clinic, exploring a myriad of questions about how motherhood is defined by genetics, biology and socialisation. Sam is the genetic product of Priya and the sperm donor, but Grace ‘grew’ him during her pregnancy and gave birth to him. The question of who has the right to custody is further complicated by the circumstances of the conception and wider cultural issues, presenting a unique ethical quandary. With empathy and respect, the author skilfully explores both sides of the situation and the very difficult circumstances Priya and Grace and Dan, are forced to confront in their desire to raise Sam.

The Mothers is a thought-provoking and emotive novel, and I imagine it will be particularly engaging as the focus for discussion in a bookclub.

+++++++

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP: $29.99

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Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Genevieve Gannon

Review: The Girl In the Painting by Tea Cooper

 

Title: The Girl In the Painting

Author: Tea Cooper

Published: December 16th 2019, HQ Fiction Australia

Read: December 2019, courtesy HarperCollins

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My Thoughts:

The Girl In the Painting is an engaging historical fiction novel, with an element of mystery, from Tea Cooper.

Set largely in New South Wales during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the narrative of The Girl In the Painting moves between two timelines which connects siblings Elizabeth and Michael Ó’Cuinn with Jane Piper, a bright young orphan, who becomes their ward.

As the story unfolds we learn of the circumstances that brought Michael and Elizabeth to New South Wales from Liverpool, England in 1863 as children, and the life they make for themselves in Hills End, and later Maitland Town. It’s 1906 when the siblings offer Jane, a math prodigy, a home, a role in their business, and the chance to further her education, but the crux of the story isn’t revealed until 1913 when Elizabeth uncharacteristically experiences a panic attack at an art exhibition, prompting Jane to investigate the cause, and a startling confession from Michael. I liked the thread of intrigue that the author developed, though the resolution was a little contrived.

I really enjoyed the setting of the novel. Cooper uses real, though unconnected, historical events as a framework, from the fire in an orphanage in Liverpool, to the attempted assassination of Prince Alfred, and the flooding of Maitland Town in 1913. The social and cultural details of the period, and the landscape of early Australia from the crowded streets of Sydney, to the goldfields of Hill End, and the nascent town of Maitland, are interesting and feel authentic.

Well crafted, with appealing characters, and rich in Australian historical detail, The Girl In the Painting is a novel that is sure to please.

++++++

Available from Harlequin/ HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale

 

 

Title: The Strangers We Know

Author: Pip Drysdale

Published: December 1sr 2019, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“Nothing is ever as it seems, is it?”

When Charlie Carter catches a glimpse of a man who looks like her husband on a dating app, she desperately wants to believe she is mistaken. Since their marriage eighteen months previously, Oliver has been the perfect husband…hardworking, attentive and loving, and she wants his unequivocal denial to be enough.

“You see, that’s the problem with trust issues: eventually you find you can’t trust yourself either.”

But it isn’t. To allay her lingering suspicions, Charlie sets a trap and is devastated when her worst fear is realised. Her marriage is over.

“And that should have been it: rock bottom. A cheating husband and broken dreams. Fair is fair. But no. Life was just getting warmed up.”

Fast-paced with some surprising twists, The Strangers We Know is an entertaining contemporary thriller from Pip Drysdale.

I really enjoyed the plot, and I’m loathe to spoil the surprises it offers. There is an unpredictability that is compelling, if not entirely credible, and I easily read it straight through.

Unfolding from Charlie’s first person perspective, Drysdale exploits the character’s profession as an actress in the structure of the novel, it’s easy to imagine this novel being adapted for the screen. It has a modern sensibility which will appeal to a younger audience, and a classic whodunnit twist to satisfy mystery fans.

Caught in a web of deceit and betrayal, and unsure who to trust, Charlie doesn’t always make smart decisions, which can be frustrating, but her naivety is also relatable, which makes her an appealing character. She is indubitably the star of this novel.

“But here’s the thing with life: You have to get through it. There’s no choice. Eventually, even in real life, the heroine has to win out in the end.”

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Also available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

#NonficNov Review: Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman

Title: Life Moves Pretty Fast: The lessons we learned from eighties movies (and why we don’t learn them from movies any more)

Author: Hadley Freeman

Published: May 7th 2015, 4th Estate

Status: Read November 2019

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My Thoughts:

“When you grow up your heart dies.” – The Breakfast Club (John Hughes)

I am a 80’s tragic.. the music, the fashion, the movies… (just joking about the fashion). If asked, The Breakfast Club and Dirty Dancing are my two all time favourite movies, so when I saw Life Moves Pretty Fast by Hadley Freeman mentioned on booksaremyfavouriteandbest, I added it to my TBR list.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from Life Moves Pretty Fast, apart from an entertaining stroll through my adolescent memories, but I found it much more thought provoking than I was anticipating. Part personal reminisce, part analysis, Hadley enthusiastically examines many of the 1980’s movies (English speaking) Gen Xers will remember fondly from their youth.

While Freeman’s obsession with Ghostbusters and Bill Murray eludes me, as does the inevitable, and in my opinion inexplicable, (American) preoccupation with The Princess Bride, a variety of movies rate in depth discussion from Freeman like Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Back to the Future, When Harry Met Sally, Beverly Hills Cop, and my aforementioned favourites, The Breakfast Cub and Dirty Dancing, others rate only a few lines, like Mannequin, Blue’s Brothers, and Cant Buy Me Love. It should be noted that the author’s attention is heavily skewed in favour of teen movies and ‘chick flicks’, so there is little mention of whole swathes of cinematic genres like action blockbusters.

There is a strong feminist slant to Freeman’s analysis, and I think she, and several of the people whom she interviewed, like Melissa Silverstein, made some excellent points about movies then, and movies now, that I’d never given much thought to, especially in relation to Dirty Dancing and Pretty in Pink. However, I also thought that at times her position was a little thin, and contradictory.

Surprisingly I actually enjoyed Freeman’s footnotes, which I’d usually dismiss, and I loved Freeman’s dozen or so ‘Top’ lists, including ‘The Top Five Movie Montages’ and ‘The Ten Best Rock Songs on an Eighties Movie Soundtrack’. Though I didn’t always agree with her opinion, I very much enjoyed the nostalgia they evoked.

I believe you need to have seen, and enjoyed, a good number of 80’s movies to enjoy Life Moves Pretty Fast, which shouldn’t be a problem if you are aged between say forty and fifty. I’ve tried to introduce (ie. force) my teen daughters to more than one but haven’t been terribly successful. Honestly, several of them don’t hold up well, but they will all nethertheless have a place in my heart.

++++++

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

Blog Tour Review: The Island On the Edge of the World by Deborah Rodriguez

 

Title: The Island On the Edge of the World

Author: Deborah Rodriguez

Published: November 5th 2019, Bantam Australia

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

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My Thoughts:

The Island On the Edge of the World is an engaging and thought provoking contemporary fiction novel from Deborah Rodriguez.

At her beloved grandmother’s insistence that her estranged mother is in trouble, Charlie reluctantly agrees to a trip to Haiti to find her, though she doubts April has any need of them since it’s been more than a decade since they last heard from her. On their journey to Port-au-Prince, Charlie and Bea meet Lizbeth, a Texan widow in search of her late son’s girlfriend, Senzey and their child. Together the women make their way through the colourful, confronting, and chaotic streets of Haiti, finding friendship, family, and forgiveness.

Unfolding primarily from the perspectives of Charlie, Bea, and Lizbeth, Rodriguez’s characters are interesting women with strong motives for undertaking the challenging journey to Haiti. Bea feels strongly that Charlie needs to reconnect with her mother if she is going ever to move past the consequences of her difficult childhood, and while deep down Charlie recognises she has a need for some sort of closure, she believes she is simply humouring her grandmother’s ‘visions’ when she agrees to the task. Meanwhile Lizbeth is still grieving after tragically losing both her husband and son in quick succession. When she learned that her son fathered a child with a local girl while working in Haiti with a NGO, she impulsively decided to search for them, but far from her comfort zone Lizbeth is quickly overwhelmed by the task in a country that lacks familiar infrastructure.

Rodriguez’s depiction of Haiti and its vibrant yet disordered culture is vivid and thoughtful. The country has yet to recover from the devastating physical damage caused by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, nor of the well meaning assistance that followed, much of which has done more harm than good, perverted by ignorance, corruption, and the clash of Christian dogma with the nation’s Vodoun beliefs. The author touches on a number of sensitive subjects that plague the country including human trafficking, child slavery (Restavek), labour exploitation, and prejudice. Yet the people of Haiti fight to survive, and thrive, against all odds, and the Haitian characters of Senzey and Mackenson, the women’s translator/driver, illustrate this admirable spirit of strength and bravery.

Despite the serious elements within the novel, there is also humour and plenty of heart in The Island On the Edge of the World. This is a charming and thoughtful read with a social conscience.

++++++

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse

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Review: The Changing Room by Christine Sykes

 

Title: The Changing Room

Author: Christine Sykes

Published: November 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

The Changing Room focuses on three very different women who are brought together by by their involvement in ‘Suitability’, a program the author models on Dress For Success, a worldwide non profit organisation launched in 1987 whose broadest aim is to empower and support women in need by providing them with professional attire, with whom Christine Sykes herself has been a volunteer for several years.

Conscious of her privilege as a wealthy, successful businesswoman married to a surgeon, Claire is the driving force behind the founding of Suitability.

Anna, in her late 50’s, becomes a volunteer with Suitability when she is abruptly fired from her position as an Executive Assistant and at a loose end.

Molly becomes a client of Suitability when she is in need of appropriate clothing to attend court while trying to regain custody of her four young children.

Exploring a myriad of themes women might confront at various stages of life Including relationship breakdown, unemployment, domestic violence, ill health, new love, and loss, I enjoyed the individual stories of these women. Despite their disparate circumstances and experience, Claire, Anna and Molly develop a friendship and provide support for one another when in need as their participation in Suitability proves to be a catalyst for change, occasionally in unexpected ways.

Generally I thought The Changing Room was well written, however I wasn’t keen on the over-broad speech denoting Molly’s disadvantaged social status. Not that it could be considered inaccurate as such, but it’s awkward to read and could have been toned down without compromising the character.

Still this is a strong debut from a new Australian author, and I thought The Changing Room was an engaging and ultimately uplifting contemporary women’s fiction novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Au

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Review: Riverstone Ridge by Mandy Magro

 

Title: Riverstone Ridge

Author: Mandy Magro

Published: October 21st 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy HQ Fiction/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Set in North Queensland, Riverstone Ridge is a rural romance with an element of suspense from bestselling author, Mandy Magro.

“I do think it’s high time you knew the truth, about me, about your past, and perhaps it will open doors to a future you never imagined possible.”

Nearly twenty years after Nina Jones left her hometown, certain that she’d never be able to return, the last wish of her beloved adoptive mother, Bea, draws her back to Riverstone Ridge to face the secrets she left behind.

Bea has arranged that Nina will receive a letter each week, hoping that the missives will allow Nina reconnect with her love of Riverstone Ridge, and perhaps the boy next door she never forgot.

Riverstone Ridge explores a number of themes including love, romance, family, truth, and loss. I thought the author’s examination of grief and the ways in which people react differently was particularly thoughtful and tender.

The ‘second chance’ romance between Nina and Logan Steele, now the town’s police officer who has experienced his own devastating loss, is emotional and passionate. The narrative occasionally shifts between their perspectives so their intense attraction to, and feelings about, one another are crystal clear, and I found their connection appealing and believable.

There are two main secrets that create suspense in Riverstone Ridge, both of which take almost the whole length of the book to be revealed. One is quite sinister, placing Nina unknowingly in the path of a man seeking revenge. I thought these threads were well paced and enhanced the story, surprising me with the twists they offered.

Magro’s writing is very descriptive, be it of people, emotions, places, or things. I again loved Magro’s distinctly Australian settings which draws on her own experience and knowledge of the land. Her depiction of the landscape is especially evocative, and I found it easy to visualise Riverstone Ridge and it’s surrounds.

An emotive and enjoyable novel, Riverstone Ridge is an engaging story of love and suspense.

Read a Sample

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Available from Harlequin via HarperCollins

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Also by Mandy Magro reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown

Title: The Forest City Killer: A Serial Murderer, a Cold-Case Sleuth, and a Search for Justice

Author: Vanessa Brown

Published: October 4th 2019, ECW Press

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy ECW Press/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

London, Ontario earned its nickname ‘The Forest City’ during its establishment in 1826, when it was little more than a village among the trees. Today, London is a mid size city with a population of about 400,000 that spreads out along the River Thames. London is a community much like any other, but from 1959 to 1984, the town was said to have had more active serial killers than any other locale in the world. It was reported by criminologist, Michael Arntfield in his book Murder City, that there were at least six serial killers active in London during this era, including Russell Maurice Johnson known as ‘The Bedroom Strangler’, Gerald Thomas Archer known as ‘The London Chambermaid Slayer, and Christian Magee known as ‘The Mad Slasher’.

The Forest City Killer explores the murders of several young women and children, linked by location and manner of death, whose killer/s were never officially identified. Amateur historian, writer, and antiquarian bookseller Vanessa Brown presents Information about several of the cases that remain unsolved from the late 1960’s drawn not only from public record but also her own interviews with relevant persons, and from the personal files of a (now deceased) detective who played an active role in the investigation of these crimes.

Brown begins with the murder of fifteen year old Jackie English, who disappeared on her way home from work one evening in 1969. Her nude body was found under a bridge a few days later, she had been beaten, raped and strangled. Her unidentified killer, is who Brown calls ‘The Forest City Killer’, and it is this case that she finds the most compelling.

Brown’s personal theory links the murder of Jackie English with the murders of at least two other teenage girls, Jacqueline Dunleavy, and Soraya O’Connell, as well as a woman in her mid-thirties, Helga Beer, and three young boys, eleven-year-old Bruce Stapylton, nine-year old Frankie Jensen, and sixteen year old Scott Leishman. I’m not sure I agree that all the murders, and at least one other disappearance, are the work of a single killer, but Brown does suggest points of comparison that could be of significance.

Unfortunately the investigation of the cases were cases were uneven, largely a byproduct of the times. The police chief was uninterested in the disappearance of young women in particular, quick to suggest they were off partying, or were simply runaway’s, so official searches were delayed. The London police force also generally lacked experience, and an understanding, of sexually motivated crimes, evident by some shocking statements of victim shaming. While blood, fluids, and other evidence were collected from many of the scenes, forensic investigative techniques at the time were primitive, and it is unclear if any of it still exists.

Brown’s material on these unsolved cases is interesting and readable, though at times the narrative feels a little cluttered with extraneous personal detail. I do think the book would benefit from summary’s of each case’s details, and perhaps a comparison table, or something similar.

Brown states that her main purpose in writing The Forest City Killer is “…to renew interest in these unsolved cases and to urge the Ontario Provincial Police to re-investigate these crimes vigorously, using all DNA and other evidence in their possession.” I hope that her aim is achieved and the family’s may finally get the answers they have long hoped for.

++++++

Available from ECW Press

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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

++++++

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

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