Review: The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

 

Review: The Girls in the Garden

Author: Lisa Jewell

Published: June 7th 2016, Atria Books

Status: Read April 2019 – courtesy Atria/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

In need of refuge after a family tragedy, Clare and her two pre-teen daughters, Pip and Grace, move into a central London flat that backs onto a walled communal park. It’s not long before the girls make friends with some of the other children in the community, notably homeschooled sisters Catkin, Willow and Fern, neglected wild child Taylor, and the handsome Dylan, but the girls presence unwittingly upsets the delicate balance of the insular group.

The narrative of The Girls in The Garden is divided into four sections. It begins with a shocking incident on midsummers eve, then leaps back several months to relate earlier events in ‘Before’, leading to the immediate aftermath in ‘After’, with an additional epilogue set ten months later. It’s an effective format that piques the reader’s interest from the outset, however though we learn how, and why, Grace was attacked, to me the story ultimately felt unresolved. I think this is due to what I felt was a lack of consequences for all those involved.

Themes Jewell explores in the story includes mental illness, contrasting parenting styles, the illusion of safety, and the dynamics of group behaviour. The setting of the private community was an inspired choice, providing the ideal backdrop for the author to delve into these issues.

It’s commonly accepted to be difficult to authentically portray children in novels. To be fair they are often contradictory creatures, and ‘tweenagers’ are particularly mercurial. I thought Jewell captured the personalities of the quite adolescents well in The Girls in the Garden, however the contradictions in Pip’s character didn’t quite work for me. I just didn’t believe she had the sophistication necessary to interpret the undercurrents of motive and emotion in the story in the manner in which she did.

Though it has its flaws, I did quite enjoy The Girls in the Garden. It was a quick read, that I found thought provoking and suspenseful.

++++++

 

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Review: The Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham

 

Title: The Year of the Farmer

Author: Rosalie Ham

Published: September 25th 2018, Picador Australia

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Pan Macmillan Au

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

“The smell of sheep permeated the car and all around the plains were brown and grey. The air was perishingly dry and it was only eight in the bloody morning. And always, the stalking ravens on electricity wires and prehistoric eagles hanging overhead. Nothing was as it was supposed to be. Nothing exciting ever happened. The stupid drought came and everyone went broke or left town; those who remained succumbed to the drought and it just continued on and on…”

The Year of the Farmer could probably be best described as a tragicomedy. It’s set in a small Australian farming community caught in the stranglehold of drought, and is centred on a small group of the towns residents.

Mitch Bishop’s crops are failing, and his stock is half starved, but he refuses to give up on the land he loves. This could be his year- if Neralie comes back, if it rains. Mitch’s wife, Mandy, doesn’t share his optimism. She’s had it with the farm, with her business, and with the town that refuses to accept her, but she’s not quite done with her husband-yet.

“‘The farmers are appreciated and all water authorities aim to celebrate and support the farmers and the vital role they play in feeding, clothing and sheltering us all.”

So says the Water Authority, while their local representatives plot to line their own pockets at the farmers expense. Mitch isn’t fooled by the hard sell and empty promises, but the towns options, like its water supply, are dwindling fast. Ham does a commendable job of illustrating the flaws in the government scheme and its effects on a farming town at its mercy.

Neighbours bicker over land management, feral dogs run wild, sides are chosen, the sun shines and Mandy, well Mandy is just getting started.

The Year of the Farmer is a slow paced novel with a sly wit, which exaggerates and encapsulates, everyday life in a struggling farming town.

++++++

 

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Review: After The Party by Cassie Hamer

 

 

Title: After the Party

Author: Cassie Hamer

Published: March 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read April 2019

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Dear Lisa,

I’m sorry. Please know this, above all else. I am truly sorry to put this responsibility on you but I have been left with little choice.”

After an exhausting morning hosting 32 kindergarten children for her daughter’s fifth birthday, Lisa Wheeldon is stunned to learn that one tiny guest won’t be collected any time soon. In amongst the gifts, is a heartfelt plea for Lisa to look after six year old Ellie for a few weeks while her mother, a complete stranger, deals with some unspecified crisis. Lisa knows she should notify the relevant authorities, but having experienced the perils of the foster system first hand, decides she will care for Ellie, at least temporarily, while making every effort to track down the absent mother.

Child abandonment seems an unlikely theme in which to find humour, but Hamer somehow does as Lisa enlists the help of her sister, Jamie, and an odd selection of school mum’s she barely knows, in an effort to find Ellie’s missing mother. Lisa’s attempts are well intentioned, but she doesn’t have the cunning, or know how, to deal with the situation she finds herself in, so she does what she can do well, which is care for Ellie.

As a mother, I could relate to several of Lisa’s experiences in the book – the chaos of children’s birthday parties, and the gossipy and competitive nature of primary school mum’s particularly, though Lisa’s naivety is a bit of a stretch.

I think the story could included less of Jamie’s relationship troubles, they were a distraction. I think the plot would have been better served by focusing more on ‘Missy’, Ellie’s mum’s, past and present.

I think Hamer just tried to include too much, not an unusual error in a debut novel, so the focus was split and in the end, the novel was a bit messy. However, I did enjoy the humour, and overall found After the Party to be a quick, easy read.

++++++

 

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Review: First Watch by Dale Lucas

Title: First Watch {The Fifth Ward #1}

Author: Dale Lucas

Published: Orbit, July 2017

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Status: Read April 4th-6th 2018

My Thoughts:

First Watch is not something I would generally pick up, however my fourteen year old son is an a fan of Fantasy fiction, and an ardent Dungeons and Dragons player, so I bought this for him. Like me, my son is a ‘reader’, he is part of a book club at school, and for school sport does ‘Reading by the River’ – where the only physical activity involves the 15 minute walk to, and from, the riverbank. He also likes to discuss what he reads, so I thought I’d give this a go.

First Watch is the start of Dale Lucas’s series, The Fifth Ward. It’s essentially a murder mystery set in a medieval fantasy world populated by “drug dealing orcs, mind-controlling elves, uncooperative mages, and humans being typical humans”, amongst others.

Our heroes are Torval, “a dwarf who’s handy with a maul and known for hitting first and asking questions later”, and Remeck, a runaway nobleman from the North.

When Torvals’s Watch Warden partner, Freygaf is murdered, he and Rem team up to trawl the underbelly of Yenara, a largely iniquitous port city, to find his killer. The pairs’ investigation leads them through the city’s Wards, exposing all manner of vice and corruption, including a vile human trafficking ring.

Our heroes are Torval, “a dwarf who’s handy with a maul and known for hitting first and asking questions later”, and Remeck, a runaway nobleman from the North.

Torval is the cynical, grumpy elder, and Rem the wide eyed ingenu, resulting in moments of humour in the vein of ‘mismatched cop buddy’ stories everywhere. I liked both characters, though neither were particularly surprising, nor unique.

While the main plot involves Torval and Rem’s search for Freygaf’s killer, they are often sidetracked by their work as Watch Wardens, the complicated politics of the city, and the occasional bar brawl and street fights. I thought Lucas did a decent job of bringing all the threads together to create a cohesive story.

I found the pace a little uneven in First Watch though, partly I suspect because of Lucas’s need to establish the world and its rules. At times the exposition got in the way of the story’s rhythm, and I found myself skimming on occasion.

Unsurprisingly, my son enjoyed this more than I did. He especially liked it’s D&D flavour. I thought it was okay.

Review: This Was Not The Plan by Cristina Alger

 

Title: This Was Not The Plan

Author: Cristina Alger

Published: Touchstone Feb 2016

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Status: Read from February 06 to 07, 2016 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

I’ve delayed writing this review because I don’t really have a lot to say about This Was Not The Plan by Cristina Alger.

It’s a quick, light read populated by charming characters (especially young Caleb), but there isn’t anything particularly unique or memorable about it. Perhaps it is because it features a single father in a role more often relegated to a single mother, struggling with the work/life balance and difficult relationships, that it is receiving rave reviews online, or perhaps I have missed some profundity.

Not a bad read, just not a particularly special one.

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Review: Slim Pickins’ in Fat Chance, Texas by Celia Bonaduce

Title: Slim Pickins’ in Fat Chance, Texas

Author: Celia Bonaduce

Published: Lyrical Press January 2016

Status: Read from January 08 to 10, 2016 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Slim Pickins’ in Fat Chance, Texas is the sequel to Celia Bonaduce’s Welcome To Fat Chance, Texas which saw a disparate group of people each forced to make something of a sun-blasted ghost town in the Texas hill country within six months to earn a cash bequest.

By the time pastry chef Fernando Cruz arrives a year later looking for a new challenge, only a handful of the group, those with no where else to go, remain in the broken down town. Despite the improbability of success, Fernando decides to open a BBQ restaurant to cater for nearby ranchers and the residents hope it will mean a second chance for their town.

Romance, drama and a touch of suspense combine to create an enjoyable novel.

Fat Chance is full of quirky characters including the grizzled Pappy, carpenter Powderkeg and farmer Dymphna as well as a menagerie of animals, including a bloodhound named Thud, a mule called Elvis and a buzzard named Fancy.

Each resident contributes to the town and the mission to revive it in unique ways, occasionally sidetracked by their own romantic mini dramas, disasters and a wayward prize longhorn named Rocket.

Slim Pickins’ in Fat Chance offers southern charm and an eccentric Texan flavour. A quick, fun read.

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Review: Things We Won’t Say by Sarah Pekkanen

 

Title: Things We Won’t Say

Author: Sarah Pekkanen

Published: Simon & Schuster AU December 2015

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Status: Read from January 12 to 13, 2016 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

As the wife of a police officer, Jamie Anderson uncomfortably lives with the risk that Mike may be hurt or killed while performing his duty and isn’t sure how to best comfort her husband after his partner, and best friend, is shot and badly wounded. Just a few short weeks later Mike, stoic but still obviously distressed, is paired with a new hire, and finds himself in a situation that results in him shooting and killing a gun-wielding teenage boy. When the boy’s weapon is not found at the scene, Mike’s mental fitness given recent events is questioned, leading to an indictment for manslaughter, and sending Jamie into a panic as her cherished family unravels under the strain.

Pekkanen begins with a strong and provocative premise in The Things You Won’t Say, exploring the personal consequences for Jamie and her family in the wake of the shootings. In particular she focuses on the breakdown of communication between Jamie and Mike, both of whom are under enormous stress, and afraid to open up to one another about their fears for the future.

I felt badly for both Jamie and Mike who are quickly overwhelmed by circumstances that can’t control, and I was sympathetic to the issues that arose between them. I think the author captured the high emotions involved in the situation, however I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of nuanced characterisation, Jamie is hysterical much of the time, while Mike is withdrawn.

I also thought the core of the story was weakened by the addition of the perspectives of Christie, Mike’s self absorbed ex girlfriend, and mother to their son Henry; and Lou, Jamie’s younger sister, a zookeeper. While I liked both characters, who are very different, they are merely distractions, offering little support to the main plot.

Things You Can’t Say isn’t a bad read, but I felt it never really lived up to its potential. For me it lacked depth and focus.

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Review: The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

 

Title: The Little Red Chairs

Author: Edna O’Brien

Published: Faber & Faber December 2015

Status: Read from December 22 to 26, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

A woman discovers that the foreigner she thinks will redeem her life is a notorious war criminal.
Vlad, a stranger from Eastern Europe masquerading as a healer, settles in a small Irish village where the locals fall under his spell. One woman, Fidelma McBride, becomes so enamored that she begs him for a child. All that world is shattered when Vlad is arrested, and his identity as a war criminal is revealed.
Fidelma, disgraced, flees to England and seeks work among the other migrants displaced by wars and persecution. But it is not until she confronts him-her nemesis-at the tribunal in The Hague, that her physical and emotional journey reaches its breathtaking climax.
THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS is a book about love, and the endless search for it. It is also a book about mankind’s fascination with evil, and how long, how crooked, is the road towards Home.”

My Thoughts:

Review to come

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Review: The Golem of Paris by Jonathon and Jesse Kellerman

 

Title: The Golem of Paris {The Golem #2}

Authors: Jonathon Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman

Published: GP Putnam November 2015

Status: Read from November 08 to 09, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Perhaps if I had read The Golem of Hollywood I would have found The Golem of Paris a more interesting read. As it happened I found it difficult to connect with the characters and a little lost at times when it came to the story.

The Kellerman’s (father and son) combine mystery and Jewish mysticism in this novel that sees LAPD detective Jacob Levy intrigued by a cold case double murder of a young mother and her son. And when Jacob’s catatonic mother reacts violently to a glimpse of his case file, he is determined to investigate further, leading him to Paris, where his present and past collide.

Dark and twisty, The Golem of Paris is a complex read, and at over 500 pages I found it a little long, but there were times when I was caught up in the mystery.

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Review: Starcrossed by Carla Caruso

Starcrossed

 

 

Title: Starcrossed

Author: Carla Caruso

Published: HarperCollins August 2015

Status: Read from September 14 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Starcrossed, by Carlo Caruso, is a contemporary romance novel mixed with suspense and magical realism.

Newly divorced and struggling with writer’s block, romance author Simona Gemella agrees to accompany her best friend, Nessie, to an astrological health and wellness retreat on Kangaroo Island. Simona is hoping to relax and find inspiration for her next book, but she is unsettled by the presence of handsome marine biologist Denham Cobalt, and a series of odd, and increasingly sinister, events that begin to plague the guests at the Sea Star Manor.

Written in the third person, most of the story is related through Simona, however the narrative is also shared by fellow guests at the Manor; Nessie, Raquel and Jordana, and a fifth perspective identified only as ‘Him’.

Caruso gradually introduces the idea something is not quite right at the Manor, building the suspense slowly, advancing towards the showdown on the night of the ‘Blood Moon’. But while the author neatly links the fantastical elements to the retreat’s focus on astrology, I thought each of the women had a little too much going on externally, which is a distraction to the main thrust of the plot.

Nessie is hiding a secret while flirting with the Yoga instructor, heavily pregnant Raquel is worried about her partner’s fidelity, and Jordana, accompanied by her husband, with his own drama, is struggling with infertility. Simona, on top of being newly divorced, suffering from writers block, and stressing over the release of her debut novel, also has to contend with the anticipation of meeting her writing ‘idol’, Astrid’s revelations, and of course, her attraction to Denham.

Overall I thought Starcrossed was a quick and engaging read, but needed a little more focus.

Click HERE to learn more about Carla Caruso and Starcrossed

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