Review: The Falls by Cathryn Hein

 

Title: The Falls

Author: Cathryn Hein

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin April 2015

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Status: Read from April 22 to 23, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Falls is Cathryn Hein’s sixth novel, loosely linked to Rocking Horse Hill.

Teagan Bliss is devastated when her father gambles away the family property, Pinehaven, and with it her future hopes and dreams. Betrayed and heartbroken, she seeks sanctuary at the home of her Aunt Vanessa in the Falls Valley, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. It takes time but slowly the idyllic surrounds of Falls Farm, the loving concern of her aunt, a new job, and the attentions of local farrier, Lucas Knight, encourage Teagan to see beyond what she has lost, but how can she trust in the vision of a new future, when she can’t trust in herself?

Teagan is not an easy character, though she engenders sympathy for the losses she has endured, her spiraling depression means she is closed off, prickly, and with her self esteem at rock bottom, always expecting the worst. Hein ably explores Teagan’s experience as she tries to fight off the ‘blackness’ that threatens to overtake her.

The romance between Teagan and Lucas is fairly low key given Teagan’s fragile emotional state. Though their attraction is mutual, Teagan is unable to believe Lucas could be interested in her and it takes Lucas a while to convince her otherwise. I liked Lucas, he proves to be kind and responsible, though perhaps a little naive in dealing with Teagan’s depression.

The chemistry between Vanessa and Domenic add interest to the plot along with Vanessa’s reservations about Domenic’s motives, and Domenic’s relationship with Lucas. So to does the complicated relationship between local vet, Bunny, and Duncan.

As always, Hein supports her protagonists with a community of colourful people and animals, from local busybody Colin, to Merlin the ram, and Falls Valley is vividly depicted from the rolling rural landscape to the main street of town. While cricket unites the Valley, plans for the expansion of a nearby exclusive ‘wellness’ center threatens to tear it apart and the tension affects Teagan who gets caught in the middle.

A little more ambitious in scope than her previous novels, The Falls is an engaging contemporary story about family, love, romance, belonging and healing, blending heartfelt romance with impassioned drama in rural Australia.

 

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Also by Cathryn Hein

Review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

 

Title: Claiming Noah

Author: Amanda Ortlepp

Published: Simon & Schuster AU March 2015

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Status: Read from March 01 to 02, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Claiming Noah, from debut author Amanda Ortlepp, tugs on the heartstrings, exploring a modern day dilemma raised by fertility treatments which challenges society’s ideas of motherhood and family.

Unable to conceive naturally, Catriona and James turn to IVF to create their family but after the failure of two cycles, Catriona, already ambivalent about motherhood, agrees to just one last attempt and when her pregnancy is confirmed, insists the remaining embryo be donated. After a difficult pregnancy and long labour she delivers a son but from the moment Sebastian is placed in her arms she feels a nameless dread, and begins to spiral into postnatal psychosis.
Diana and Liam are excited when they are told a donor embryo is available and thrilled when it takes. Nine months later, Diana gives birth to Noah, and despite the exhaustion that comes with a newborn and Liam’s casual indifference, Diana adores her beautiful son and then her world is turned upside down when he is abducted during a moment’s inattention.
Almost two years later, while Diana still clings to the hope Noah will be returned to her, Catriona, is happily preparing to celebrate Sebastian’s and James’ birthday with family and friends… and then comes a knock on the door.

Claiming Noah is a heartrending story that eventually sees the lives of Catriona and Diana intersect. Though I found some parts of the plot to be a little melodramatic, the situation Catriona and Diana find themselves is thought provoking and confronting.

At its core, Claiming Noah is an examination of the legal, moral and ethical issues related to embryo donation and adoption. Ortlepp admits she became fascinated with the topic when she stumbled across it and her research shows. Claiming Noah explores a kind of ‘worst case’ scenario which develops into an untenable crisis when tragedy strikes.

By choosing to present the alternating viewpoints of Catriona and Diana, the author encourages the reader to explore the complexities of their individual situations. Both women are sympathetic characters, and there are no easy answers to the dilemma Ortlepp has created. As a mother, the heartache of both Catriona and Diana when faced with the loss of their sons is touching.

A story about motherhood, loss, betrayal and love, Claiming Noah is an emotionally charged novel.

 

Learn more about Amanda Ortlepp and Claiming Noah in the guest post published earlier here on Book’d Out.

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Review: Runaway Lies by Shannon Curtis

 

Title: Runaway Lies

Author: Shannon Curtis

Read an Extract

Published: Harlequin MIRA February 2015

Status: Read from February 01 to 03, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Runaway Lies is an engaging novel of romantic suspense from Shannon Curtis. The plot is fast moving, offering some exciting and dramatic moments, and the romantic tension sizzles.

Darcy Montgomery has managed to elude her former boss for four months but when she rescues the children of wealthy business tycoon Dominic St. James from his ex wife’s sinking car, her anonymity is at risk of being compromised. Despite her injuries, Darcy is determined to slip away before anybody discovers the dangerous truth about her.
Dominic is grateful to Darcy for saving the lives of his four-year-old twins, and feels responsible for her injury when it’s determined that the accident was engineered. He’s puzzled though by her reluctance to accept his offer of help, even when she has lost everything.
Despite Darcy’s hesitation, Dom convinces her to spend at least a few weeks recuperating with him and his family and, after months on the run, she finally begins to let down her guard. But just as Darcy decides to trust Dom with her secret, her carefully constructed facade collapses and Darcy has no other choice but to run to protect her life…and her heart.

I wasn’t sure what to think of Darcy at first. Curtis presents her as a guilty woman on the run and I made the assumption that she had somehow bought her troubles on herself. I was relieved to discover as the story unfolded that Darcy had simply found herself in an awful position and was doing her best to do what was right, even though it meant she had to lie.

I have to admit my least favourite character trope in romance is the ‘billionaire boyfriend’, it is usually relied upon as a plot convenience allowing the author to circumvent issues that would trouble someone without a Platinum credit card, but Dom’s wealth doesn’t interfere in the story. I liked him a lot, he proved to be a great guy and a caring father.

I really liked the way Curtis involved the children in the story. It’s notoriously difficult to do so in a way that is realistic but the author manages to integrate them neatly into the plot and keep their behaviour and actions age appropriate.

An entertaining tale of intrigue, action and romance, set in NSW, I really enjoyed Runaway Lies and would recommend it to fans of Helene Young and Bronwyn Parry.

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Review: Useful by Debra Oswald

 

Title: Useful

Author: Debra Oswald

Published: Viking: Penguin Jan 2015

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Status: Read from January 25 to 27, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Sullivan stepped up onto the low wall and peered over the edge. The job of obliterating himself shouldn’t be a huge effort, considering he’d made so little meaningful impact on the world.”

Sullivan Moss is useless, once a handsome and charming young man with the world at his feet he is now a puffy faced, unemployed, near forty year old, divorced alcoholic. Wracked with guilt and regret after the death of one of his best friends, he decides to commit suicide by jumping from a building only to fall the wrong way. Waking up in hospital with bruises and concussion, a casual comment from a nurse gives Sully an idea, he can do one useful thing before his next suicide attempt, he can donate a kidney to a stranger.

To everyone’s surprise, including his own, Sully begins to turn his life around, determined to honour his commitment. He sobers up and gets a job removing hazardous asbestos. He makes an attempt to repair some of the bridges he burned and makes a friend of his reluctant landlady Natalie, and her son Louis. Redemption isn’t going to be easy though.

With a blend of black humour and soap opera like drama, Oswald explores the regrets for the life not lived. It’s not just Sully who is struggling with the disappointments of middle age, his best mate Tim is bewildered by his unhappy marriage, and Natalie is beginning to wonder if she will spend the rest of her life alone, living in her mother’s spare bedroom.

The narrative is sharp, funny and insightful. I enjoyed the writing though some may be offended by instances of crude language. The mix of slightly surreal and familiar scenario’s works well and the story is well paced.

A story about finding meaning and purpose in life, about changing the things you can, and accepting those you can’t, Useful is an entertaining read from Australian playwright, author and television scriptwriter (most notably for Offspring), Debra Oswald.

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Review: Absolution Creek by Nicole Alexander

@ Goodreads

Title: Absolution Creek

Author: Nicole Alexander

Published: Random House Australia September 2012

Synopsis: In 1923 nineteen-year-old Jack Manning watches the construction of the mighty Harbour Bridge and dreams of being more than just a grocer’s son. So when he’s offered the chance to manage Absolution Creek, a sheep property 800 miles from Sydney, he seizes the opportunity. But outback life is tough, particularly if you’re young, inexperienced and have only a few textbooks to guide you. Then a thirteen-year-old girl, Squib Hamilton, quite literally washes up on his doorstep – setting in motion a devastating chain of events… Forty years later and Cora Hamilton is waging a constant battle to keep Absolution Creek in business. She’s ostracized by the local community and hindered by her inability to move on from the terrible events of her past, which haunt her both physically and emotionally. Only one man knows what really happened in 1923. A dying man who is riding towards Absolution Creek, seeking his own salvation… From the gleaming foreshores of Sydney Harbour to the vast Australian outback, this is a story of betrayal and redemption and of an enduring love which defies even death. Read an excerpt

Status: Read from November 25 to 27, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy TheReadingRoom/ Random House Australia}

My Thoughts:

As a fourth generation grazier, Nicole Alexander writes what she knows, sweeping sagas set in Australia’s rural farming land. Absolution Creek is her third novel, with dual narratives set in 1923 and 1965.

Jack Manning is eager to escape the family run grocery store in Sydney’s grimy city streets and make his fortune so when a kindly neighbour offers him the opportunity to make a living on the land he jumps at the chance. Promising to send for his sweetheart, Olive, in a few months, Jack sets off to Absolution Creek determined to establish New South Wales finest station. With only a few books to guide him he purchases sheep and begins the arduous task of taming the bush.
More than forty years later, as an old man begins his journey from southern Queensland in search of redemption, Cora chases a wild pig from the banks of Absolution Creek in the predawn light and considers the imminent arrival of the niece she has never met, and her plan for revenge against the step sister who destroyed her family.

Initially the shift between timelines is quite disorientating as the characters seem entirely unrelated but as the narrative unfolds revealing the past and present, the stunning connections between Jack, Scrubber, Cora slowly begins to emerge. Three quarters of the way through the lengthy book I was tempted to complain about the sheer crowd of characters but as the book concludes each finds a path that adds to the depth of the plot. It was Squib’s, and later Cora’s, story I found most intriguing though, as the epicenter for novel’s story.

The historical details in the novel are fascinating, beginning with the forced acquisition of homes and businesses to make way for the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I can barely imagine the city without the iconic structure in place. I was also unfamiliar with the story of the ram featured on our fifty cent piece, (I am sure I have mentioned it before but Australian history was completely neglected when I was at school and I am constantly amazed at what I am finally learning through fiction) which I found interesting. At least I know a little about the hard work it took (and still takes) to farm in rural Australia and I felt Alexander’s portrayal of the life authentic.

Absolution Creek is a complex tale of love, betrayal, jealousy, murder and revenge. I found it to be an absorbing read and I’d recommend Absolution Creek to fans of both historical fiction and the rural lit/romance genres. I am only sorry it took it’s time making it’s way to the top of my reading list.

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