book reviews

Goodbye and Hello: Safe with Me

The opening of Amy Hatvany’s newest novel Safe with Me (Allen and Unwin) could have lost me. It could only be described as traumatic, hitting hard with details of an accident involving the loss of a child, a child about the same age as one of my own sons.

At first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to push through the scene, but I thought – why would a writer be doing this to me, the reader, unless for a good reason?

The book’s ‘teaser’ promised me more than just the heartbreak found in the first few pages of the text and so, as is the way with good storytelling, at the same time as being horrified, I was hooked…

safe with meWith the horrific screech of tyres, Hannah Scott’s world as she knew it is brought to a devastating end.

One year after the accident, Hannah is still discouraging all attempts by family and friends to help her resume her normal life. But when her path crosses with Olivia Bell and her daughter Maddie who is finally on the way to recovery after a serious illness, Hannah develops a surprisingly close friendship with Olivia in a short time.

The Bells, however, have problems of their own. Many times on the verge of leaving her wealthy but abusive husband, Olivia now finds herself bound to him as never before in the wake of Maddie’s illness.

Meanwhile Maddie, tired of the limits her poor health puts upon her and fearful of her father’s increasing rage, regularly escapes into the one place where she can be anyone she wants: the internet. But when she is finally healthy enough to live her life in the way she’s longed to do, the real world proves to be just as complicated as the isolated bubble she had been so eager to escape.

I persevered, and I found within this book a touching and inspiring story. In a similar way to the storytelling of Jodi Picoult, Hatvany introduced me to a cast of conflicted, flawed and endearingly human characters – Hannah still deep in her grief, building her business whilst hiding behind it; Olivia living in fear, her perfectly manicured appearance and measured emotions working to protect herself from a vicious husband, and to shield her daughter from his cruel volatility; and Maddie, a young girl finding her way through the fog of serious illness and teen angst, learning to deal with the fact that she is only alive due to the sacrifice of another.

Although it’s a little coincidental that Hannah, Olivia and Maddie happen to meet, it is of course pivitol to story being told and so I forgave the stretch. Essentially I was glad that they meet, as it gave grounds for an exploration into the emotions and experiences of these woman. Though a difficult process, all three women help each other face their demons (in some cases, quite literally) and essentially come through the other side, stronger and freer.

Safe with Me, is a good, clean narrative, a story-based novel that will have you drawn in. There were a few occasions where I thought the pace could do with a little work, but I think that’s mainly because of my own reading preferences, not so much the novel itself. If you like a good story, a solid plot and well developed characters, this novel is for you. I can say pretty confidently that if you’re a fan of Picoult, you’ll enjoy Amy Hatvany’s work equally.

You can find out more about Amy Hatvany’s Safe with Me at the Allen and Unwin website here…

Oh Emily: Time Will Tell

TBYL Reviewer Tam Jenkin was very excited when this book came her way…

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This beautiful story, Time Will Tell by Fiona McCallum (Harlequin) is the second instalment in The Button Jar series by Fiona McCallum. I read the first story, Saving Grace last year and loved it and after eagerly awaiting the second book, I was not disappointed.

time will tell

Emily Oliphant has made some drastic changes in her life. She’s ditched her abusive husband and embarked on her own adventure, renovating a dilapidated property and starting up her own business. Against all odds, she’s found a sense of place and purpose, but is still too scarred by her past to form any romantic attachments, regardless of who’s vying for her attention.

Now she’s received an offer from the elderly owners of her beloved rented home to buy the property, land and all. Hopeful and tentative, Emily feels she is taking a step in the right direction, although is unsure how she will raise the money.  Except Emily holds a button jar – a gift from her recently deceased Granny Mayfair – which, unbeknownst to her, could contain the solution to all her problems…

But just when Emily thought things were beginning to go her way, everything takes a turn. Soon, she’s involved in a romance she thought she had no time for and dealing with the shock of two unexpected deaths, forcing her to make some difficult decisions. With her finances, her property, her friendships and her budding relationship now hanging in limbo, Emily is once again drawing on her inner strength to overcome a new set of challenges.

I was extremely impressed that this book picked up at exactly the place that Saving Grace finished, meaning that I didn’t feel that I had missed out on any of the journey, and I was quickly drawn back into the story. Again, Emily is our leading lady and her story is filled with tragedy, tough decisions, and a further journey of self discovery.

Emily has to decide whether she should take up the offer to buy the old house she is living in and possibly make her dreams of running a Bed & Breakfast a reality. She just can’t work out how she will afford it. Emily’s mother is still making her undermine her own abilities, but with the help of her Dad, her best friend Barbara and the handsome Jake who comes visiting again from Melbourne, she begins to learn how to stand up to her mother and stop listening so closely to all whispering voices of self-doubt.

Just as she thinks decisions have been made tragedy strikes, leaving Emily in shock and also with the possibility of a farm to care for. Emily finds she is a topic of town gossip again and this has her making some decisions which leave her lonely and questioning everything all over again!

While reading, I did feel that sometimes Emily needed a good shake to get her to see clearly – I really didn’t want to mess up her budding new relationship with Jake. I felt slightly anxious about all the issues that Emily had to deal with and wanted to tell her ‘just one thing at a time, Em’. Fiona McCallum writes beautifully and again she swept me away with her descriptions of country living. I wanted to take early morning walks on the farm with Emily, and I wanted to sit down and have a cuppa with her and Barbara. This book very nearly had me packing my bags to make the country move myself!

We get answers about Emily’s Gran’s button jar and the mystery of “seven of Golconda’s finest”. Jake continues to take a stronger role in Emily’s life and in the story. I enjoyed watching this character develop. I also enjoyed the way Fiona McCallum tells a love story without it all being pages of description about what happens in the bedroom. A beautiful novel filled with romance, inner strength and above all, friendship.

Meant To Be is the third instalment of The Button Jar series, and is due for release in November 2014…and I can’t wait!!!

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If you’d like to find out more about Time Will Tell by Fiona McCallum check it out at Harlequin Books today.

 

Pardon Me for Mentioning

Sometimes it’s time to take a little break from novels. After a  few novels in a row (particularly if they’re a little on the serious side) it’s good to be able to break it up a little with a good compilation/non-fiction/novelty title.

pardon meI read today’s book over the Christmas period last year, while there were lots of demands on my time. I was time-poor and needed something that I could dip in and out of easily. Pardon Me for Mentioning… Unpublished Letters to the Age and The Sydney Morning Herald by Alex Kaplan, Julie Lewis and Catharine Munro (Allen and Unwin) was exactly the compilation in order.

It’s a fascinating collection of Letters to the Editor on topics as varied as gender wars, illustrious Canberra and, umm,  body odor. Some letters are earnest…

“Ulf Ewaldsson from Ericsson must be really happy that global mobile penetration will read 100 per cent by 2016. The headline claims ‘Everyone who want to make a phone call over a mobile can.’ Maybe the starving millions in the horn of Africa will soon be able to simply dial a pizza. Angus McLeod, Cremorne”

Some are funny…

“Each page of my school report was for a different subject and had three headings – effort, progress and comment. I recall my father being distinctly unimpressed when my French teacher place a ‘no’ in front of each heading. Warwick Harty, Maroubra”

 And some just plan absurd…

“If I get good service in a restaurant I usually tip 10 per cent of the bill. If the service is poor, the tip I leave to the waiter is: ‘Don’t overwater your bromliads in winter.’ John Byrne, Randwick.”

All of them hark back to a time (in the not-that-distant past) of papers in print and a community of voices making themselves heard. The most fun of all is that most of the writers of the letters have their tongues placed firmly in their cheeks. Even those letters of a serious nature have delightful smart-arsery about them, one that will have you giggling wryly. They make their point lightly, yet completely clearly.

I really enjoyed this collection and it has make me read the Letters section of the paper differently. I now see it as a community, a set of voice saying their piece, calling others to account, and sometime just trying to entertain the rest of us a little. 

If you’d like to find out more about  Pardon Me for Mentioning… Unpublished Letters to the Age and The Sydney Morning Herald you can visit the Allen and Unwin website here…

Growing Up: The Best Feeling of All

Today’s novel had TBYL Reviewer Narelle, tripping down memory lane…

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The Best Feeling of All by Jack Ellis (Arcadia) tells the story of two girls, best friends Mols and Jaz, growing up in present day Sydney’s Northern Beaches…

the best feeling of allLife doesn’t happen, you make it.

Mols and Jaz can’t wait for life to begin. In the meantime, they’ll make sure they get their share of excitement and fun. When they’re not seeking out the next ecstatic thrill, they’re making big plans for the future while exploring the sand dunes, headlands and storm drains of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. They happily race along the ridge between possibility and reality until they slam into the shocks, heartaches and impossible choices of adulthood.

Much like real life adolescence, the story meanders through the girls’ lives, loves and friendships from age fourteen to twenty six.

The sense of both feeling and finding independence and a frustrating lack of control that mark this part of life run true throughout  the story. Friends are pivotal in the girls lives as they move from teenage parties and hookups, clubbing and drinking to adult life with jobs, babies and all the challenges these things bring.

The girls rescue of an abandoned puppy early in the story bonds them and becomes an anchor for their relationship. They are there for each other as they are also both forced into decisions that shape their family makeup and to deal with changes they’d never expected.

I found Ellis at his best depicting the girls friendships and the rush of discovered mutual attraction. While my own adolescence might have been a while ago now, I could relate to the intensity of feeling and freedom portrayed.

“Now, sitting by herself in a scruffy park in the middle of a work day, drinking beer and eating battered fish, made her feel as if she had somehow just re boarded a psychic train that she had climbed off sometime back then. She felt again the powerful sense of possibility that had permeated every thought when she and Jaz were still dreaming of the clear air of adulthood.
Quit my job – tick. “
Jack Ellis’ novel really did capture the best, and worst of the feelings so many of us associate with growing up.

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You can find out more about Jack’s novel The Best Feeling of All here…

Back on Board, and His Stupid Boyhood

You may have noticed that it’s been a little quieter at That Book You Like… of late. I’ve been popping up weekly, but not daily (as I’d like). In short, moving house, relocating TBYL HQ and an increase in my ‘day-job hours’ have, as you might expect, interrupted my writing time somewhat. In saying that, I’ve still been reading like a fiend and I’ve got the most incredible pile of books that I’ve read over the last couple of months but haven’t had a chance to write about yet.

And that’s where the fun starts…

TBYL HQI’m pleased to say that I’ve now settled into my new, wonderful home and TBYL has a brand new HQ. I’ve rejigged my timetable to account for the extra hours in the city, and scheduled lots and lots of great reviews.

Some of these write-ups will feature books that have been out for a few months, other books that are brand new. In the near future, I’ll be introducing a few new friends, and I’ll give you a chance to pick up some bargain-basement bookish gifts. And of course, there will be give-aways, lots of chances to win.

I hope you’ll join us for another year of That Book You Like, and as promised, here’s a nice shiny new review for you…

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A disclaimer before I start today’s review – I’ve not read anything by Peter Goldsworthy, and I read his memoir His Stupid Boyhood (Penguin) because it was sent to me to take a look at, and it sounded interesting…

his stupid boyhoodFew Australian writers have delved as deeply as Peter Goldsworthy into the mysterious state of being that is childhood. 

In this memoir he applies his fascination with that state to his own boyhood, from his bizarre first memories to the embarrassments of adolescence. For all his working life Goldsworthy has been both doctor and writer – Australia’s Chekhov – and here he reveals a mind charmed equally by science and literature, by the rational and the imagined.

And you know what? I’m so glad that I read this book! It has introduced me to a fascinating Australian author (and poet, and composer, and doctor) and it has also revealed to me a new kind of memoir, one all-together more skilfully complied than your average autobiography.

For me, reading memoirs can be a little challenging. I find the revelations and details interesting, mostly entertaining, but I also find it hard to get past the quiet, almost unavoidable egotism that goes hand-in-hand with writing ones own story.

Interestingly, I can honestly say Peter Goldsworthy’s book seems to have quite successfully moved away from this. The self-deprication, the humility and absurdity of some of Peter’s tales lighten the tone, making it easier to believe that Goldsworthy has written this memoir as a kind of revelation of his foolishness as a child…

“In my final year of high school I took to wearing a cravat and smoking a pipe when heading out for a night on the town. This would have been a major style disaster for a pimple-pocked sixteen-year-old string bean in any bush town, but in tropical Darwin the effect of a cravat worn with the formal Territory rig of short-sleeved shirt, shorts, long socks and suede Hush Puppies was beyond parody. I wore this ensemble to parties, to the drive-in, to the Parap open-air picture theatre; I wore it to the Mecca coffee lounge round midnight before heading home.

On Friday nights, fishing with my best friend Iggy from the Darwin wharf, I wore the cravat with shorts and thongs.

What was I thinking? I think I was thinking that I looked like an intellectual, although I spent far more time thinking about being one than being one, thinking…

…What was everyone else thinking? That I looked like a skinny, pimple-pocked, would-be Hugh Hefner, stranded in the great outdoors with not a single Bunny in sight.”

It’s this focus on childhood that makes His Stupid Boyhood really readable. The scope of the tale is very manageable, spanning only about eighteen years, a coming-of-age story. I was grabbed by the writer’s humour, but also by his dedication to detail and to learning (both then and now.) I was taken in by his name dropping; Corso, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and frequent mention of Penguin Modern Poets 5 made my ears prick up – I’ve a much-treasured copy of that book on my own bookshelf. Further, I was impressed by the inviting, entertaining and literary writing style of this unique boys-own-adventure.

Whether you’re a fan or not, I’d have to recommend this memoir as a good read. It’s a great snap-shot of Australia, of how one grows up writing and of what makes a multi-talented, slightly eccentric gentleman tick.

You can find out more about Peter Goldsworthy’s His Stupid Boyhood here…

 

Anna Gare’s new cookbook ‘Eat In’

I don’t know about you, but I hate having to decide what to cook for dinner. I don’t mind the cooking, it’s the decision-making that drives me a bit batty… is that weird?

Coming up with new ideas for meals, that aren’t going to have me in the kitchen for hours in the evening (which, let me assure you, is never going to happen) can be quite challenging and that’s why I’m always on the look out for books like today’s title.

anna gareAnna Gare’s new cookbook Eat In (Murdoch Books) had me at page one, as it offered up a smorgasbord of great meal ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Anna’s introduction told me I was in the right place…

This book is about making simple yummy food with fresh ingredients. I really believe you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to make spectacular food. I get more excited when I cook something delicious with little effort, that I do when I make something fiddly and complicated.

Cooking, like love, does not have to be rocket science. It is a way of thinking, tasting and feeling that allows you to draw pleasure out of what could otherwise be ordinary. It turns a chore into a little party, or, sometimes, a big one. 

The best food is made at home, so Eat In and use some of my favourite recipes to indulge your cravings and treat the people you love.

And as I started flicking through the pages, I found myself tagging every second page. I’ll try that, I’ll try that, I’ll try that.

There’s an amazing smoked trout omelette, which I’m planning on trying this weekend…

omelette

and this delicious ‘pretty frittata’, ready for lunch (or dinner, or supper, or snack)…

pretty frittatta

If I’m not full from that yummy lunch, I’ll give either one of these a try – a semolina gnocchi with blue castello and spinach sauce or a really special beef burrito with green sauce and salsa. I think the kids will be happy with either of these, as long as I didn’t mention the spinach…

gnochi

Lastly, if I can fit even a tiny bit more in, I’d definitely like to try these lemon lime puddings. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll just start with these…

lemon lime pies

As you can see, Anna’s book is beautifully shot and the food lovingly prepared. The dishes look impressive but won’t do your head in with complicated instructions or too many tricky ingredients (just the odd special item here and there).

Cookbooks always make great gifts, and I’d think Eat In would be a particular hit with friends or family who are fans of the Master Chef franchise. Anna’s appearance on Junior Master Chef in 2010 introduced us to her love of cooking and won her many fans, and this book is a wonderful continuation of her work.

You can find out more about Anna Gare’s Eat In at the Allen and Unwin website, where you can also pick up a copy for yourself.

In the meantime, stay tuned, I might post photos of my attempts at the dishes above, if I don’t scoff them first!

 

Secrets: The Good House

If you’re looking for a book to gift to a bookish friend this Christmas, it sounds like Ann Leary’s The Good House (Allen and Unwin) might be just the ticket! Thanks to Jennie for this great review, wonderful teaser for a intriguing story…

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Ann Leary is the author of a memoir & two novels, The Good House (Allen and Unwin) being the second. I was unfamiliar with her work until now, but will be seeking out her previous books.

the good houseThe Good House is written in the first person, the voice of our protagonist Hildy Good. Hildy is a woman in her 60’s, a divorcé, a mother of two daughters, a grandmother, a realtor & an alcoholic.

She lives in the small town, Wendover Crossing, where she was born & raised. Her family indeed trace back eight generations in the town, with her eighth great-grandmother one of the accused witches tried & hanged in Salem. Due to this piece of history it is generally rumoured by locals that Hildy herself has psychic powers, a rumour she likes to play with.

Hildy makes it her business to know everyone else’s business. She shares an office building with the town Psychiatrist, Peter Newbold. She confidently  tells him that she can learn more about a person by walking through their house than he can in a session with a patient.

We enter Hildy’s life two years following an intervention by her daughters regarding her alcoholism. This is, of course, not a reality that Hildy accepts! She’s not an alcoholic! She enjoys a drink or two at social events like everyone else. Well, there may have been a DUI, but that was just one! And phonecalls to people late at night – she just likes to chat with her friends after a few drinks, she’s a gregarious person, it’s lonely in her house when she gets home!

Despite her very rational, heartfelt arguments, her family talk her into a 28 day Rehabilitation session at Hazelden Clinic.

The entire town of Wendover Crossing know that a 28 day disappearance from town means that Hildy was in rehab. So, at every public function thereafter, Hildy is a cheerful teetotaller, knowing that every eye in town is upon her!

This is where our book of secrecy begins. A labyrinth of secrets involving several people in this close knit town.

Very early on we learn that Hildy has, as many alcoholics do, two lives. She is a veritable puritan at social events. She is funny, occasionally does her psychic tricks at dinner parties & “reads minds”, she is the perfect guest.

When she gets home to her two dogs however, she indulges in her ritual visit to her cellar & her secret supply of wine where she imbibes in “1 or 2” glasses. It is more like one or two bottles & she happily walks with her dogs to the nearby lake, strips off & plunges nude into the water. It is her beautiful escape.

Hildy feels she is putting on a pretty charade but is happily maintaining her alcoholic lifestyle.

The serious secrets start leaping from the pages from this point. As Hildy knows everybody in Wendover Crossing, she knows the details of very many family lives. She detects any changes very quickly. She also becomes friends with a new couple in town & a confidante to the wife.

The beauty of The Good House is in the descriptions of the town & the people through the eyes of Hildy who knows both intimately. It’s a colourful cast of characters in this small town & Hildy brings them all beautifully to life in exquisite detail.

There is Frankie, briefly Hildy’s High School beau, who tells it like it is and plays a large role in the town; Callie & Patch with their autistic son Jake who desperately want to sell their house (which is severely damaged by Jake’s outbursts); Peter Newbold, who she also knows from school & Rebecca McAllister, new to town but quickly close to Hildy.

The strength of the developing secrets in the book lie in the fact that we are strongly invested in these people. The Good House is gripping, wonderfully detailed & funny. Sometimes laugh out loud funny (which I did!). I wanted to turn the pages as fast as I possibly could by halfway through the book as secrets became exposed. I eagerly read to find out how each piece of the puzzle fitted together.

The ending has profound implosive impact as it all comes together. Unbelievably a massive surprise awaits us at the very end.

I highly recommend The Good House. It’s a lovely light read, gripping & funny. A good stocking-filler for the readers in your life.

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You can find out more about The Good House, by Ann Leary here…

 

Three eBooks, sure to please

Over the last 6 months I’ve been sent a number of eBooks to read and review. Interestingly, they seem to be the sort of books that I dip in and out of, typically while I’m on the move, and as such they get a bit stuck on my Reading Pile. They get read, but not reviewed, and that’s no good!

So, I thought tonight I might do a group review of a few of the great books that I have on my eReader at the moment, in the hope that it might give you some good ideas for what to read next.


Wicked Wind, by Sharon Kay

The first thing that I noticed about this fun paranormal action-story is that it kicks off with a fantastic fight scene, featuring two tough women ready to save the day. A brilliant start, followed up by a really nice premise – it’s lead protagonist’s unique special ability – the ability to command the wind…

wicked windSHE GREW UP THINKING SHE WAS HUMAN
Born with the ability to command the wind, Nicole Bonham spends her life hiding her gift. Deciding to take control of her power, she dispenses her own brand of vigilante justice in Chicago’s worst neighborhoods. Stealth and surprise are always on her side.

UNTIL A CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH A WARRIOR DEMON
Lash demon Gunnar prowls Earth and several supernatural realms to help maintain peace among the immortal species. His chance encounter with Nicole creates a hurricane of sparks between them, and he can’t let her out of his sight until he discovers her true identity. In his two hundred years, he has never seen a creature like her.

PLUNGES THEM BOTH INTO A FIGHT FOR HER LIFE
Nicole and Gunnar race to discover who – or what – is stabbing the city’s most destitute residents and stealing their blood. The fire that forged their bond explodes into white-hot passion, their erotic dance weaving their souls together on an unexpected level. Haunted by the past, Gunnar’s fiercely protective instincts battle with her need to defeat the creatures she was born to fight. As they track the mastermind behind the attacks, will Nicole’s unique talent unwittingly send her straight into his lair?

Wicked Wind is packed full of special powers, feisty women, demons and romance. It’s really original, which makes it a very entertaining story and it’s a quick read, great for reading on the go, especially if you’re a fan of paranormal fiction. You can pick up a copy here, and follow Sharon on Facebook here…


Distance, by Nene Davies
This novel is very different to our first. A frank and intimate tale of new beginnings, Distance is the story a Welsh family, in particular wife and mother Isobel Richardson.  After her husband’s reluctancy, relocation to Australia becomes possible which in turns goes someways to satisfying her inexplicably itchy feet.  This story unpacks the adventures, challenges and wonders of relocating a family, moving from one side of the world to another.

distanceEssentially, Isobel is an impatient and curious character, anxious to explore new options and push the boundries…

“One of the saddest things in the world must be to get to the end of your life and wish you’d done things differently. ‘I wish I’d got married; I wish I’d never got married; I wish I’d got married to somebody else; I wish I’d taken this course, or tried that job, built a career, had children (or not); I wish I’d been kinder, thinner, richer; less selfish, more generous.’ Imagine lying on your deathbed and thinking ‘Damn! I didn’t do it after all.’ Isobel thought she’d rather die now than face that.”

Her drive to experience as much as possible is a sentiment I can certainly identify with, and although Davies assures us that Distance is not an autobiography, her novel has a wonderful authenticity about it. You can pick up a copy here, and take a look at Nene’s lovely website, it’s a beautiful accompaniment to her novel.


Peace, Love and Khaki Socks, by Kim Lock
I’ve got to be honest, it was back in May that I read this book, and haven’t put pen to paper to write about it until now. This is problem, as some of my impressions of the story are a little blurry. To solve this problem, I thought I’d share with you fellow blogger Monique’s take on the book…

peace, love and khaki socksAmy is 24 years old, living in the married quarters at the Darwin RAAF base; her boyfriend, Dylan, is a digger in the army. She’s a reluctant Army Wife – not reluctant to be attached to Dylan, who she’s been with since high school, but reluctant to play along with the rules of the Army Wife Mob. She’s also a pacifist, so she’s living a life of contradiction as the partner of a gun-toting soldier. When Amy discovers she’s pregnant, she’s completely shocked – this wasn’t what she planned.

Peace, Love and Khaki Socks is written with a relaxed, easy style with some wryly funny moments – like hearing a birth story from a friend. It will especially hold appeal for those who are pregnant and/or considering home birth options. I did enjoy reading it, especially for the trip down memory lane – it’s the novel’s biggest strength – and the insight to life in Darwin, a setting that was well drawn. 

I’d love for you to read her full review over at Write Note Reviews! She also recently posted an interview with the author, Kim Lock which you can read here. This article offers up real insight into the writing of this really touching book.

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Three really different books, all fantastically entertaining stories. I’ve three more to share with you too, but I might save them until the same time next week.

Do any of these books tickle your fancy?

 

Apple Tree Yard

Today’s review from Kate had me intrigued… what kind of book could have you wondering on your own decision-making, and not just that of characters in the book?

Here’s what she thought of Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (Allen and Unwin)…

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I always love getting new books to review from Mandi, as I never know what I am in for when I begin reading. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty was no exception, and it actually got me thinking about what makes us make the decisions we do….

apple tree yardWhat makes one woman who has a seemingly perfect life make one rash decision that changes her life forever?

Yvonne Carmichael is a geneticist, highly respected and regarded in her field who, one day , for no apparent reason other that a look from a stranger makes one very rash decision that leads to diabolical consequences.

He kept looking at me as he rose to his feet, if we had met before, the look might have said, ‘oh, it’s you’. But we hadn’t met before and so it said something entirely other – but still with an element of recognition, I looked right back, and all was decided in that instant, although I didn’t understand that for a very long time.

And so begins a torrid, unconventional love affair with a man as mysterious as he is captivating. Yvonne seems to lose all sense of herself and the life that she has built with her husband and becomes blind to the inconsistencies and elusive behaviours of her lover. Her actions spin out of control and lead to a vicious assault and unexpected violence that sees her facing murder charges along with her increasingly mysterious lover.

Part psychological thriller, part exploration of human nature and morality Louise Doughty has written a true page turner. From the streets of London to murder the trial in the Old Bailey the story is gripping.  As the story unfolds you can’t help but wonder why the main character is doing what she is doing and how it can all turn so horribly wrong. It made me what to shake her and say ‘can’t you see what he is doing’!!

This is the seventh novel by Louise Doughty, her last Whatever You Love, being short-listed for the Costa Novel Award and long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She has won awards for radio drama and short stories and is a cultural commentator for UK and international newspapers and broadcasts regularly on the BBC.

I’d definitely recommend this as a fast-paced, sometime perplexing read which would suit lovers of thrillers and crime fiction alike.

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You can find out more about  Apple Tree Yard on the Allen and Unwin website, and more about the accomplished author, Louise Doughty here.

With a Can of JD: Snake Bite

With so many books on my Reading Pile, I’m really starting to appreciate a book that I can power through in a day or two. I especially like it when I can move quickly through a novel because I’ve been completely caught up in the rush of the story.

snake biteChristie Thompson’s Snake Bite (Allen and Unwin) pulled me forward, through a smoke-filled, booze fuelled suburban landscape towards, with equal likelihood, oblivion or redemption.

Jez is seventeen and lives with her alcoholic single mum in a government rental in Canberra’s outer-suburbs, with little money or future prospects. As well as suffering from terminal boredom, Jez has got epic First World Problems: where is her next pill coming from, what will her first tattoo be, and how will she ever lose her virginity?

Recently Jez has been having weird feelings about her best friend, emo kid Lukey – is she just bored or does she really want him? And if she makes a move on him (how to make a move on him?), will that endanger their friendship? So when effervescent hipster Melbournite Laura moves to town and starts macking on with Lukey, what is Jez to do but seek guidance from sexually experienced next-door-neighbour stripper, Casey? At the same time, Jez’s mum hooks up with a local bartender, placing a strain on their already fragile relationship.

Over the course of one blazing summer, Jez runs a gauntlet of new experiences and discovers the real meaning of home.

As the story begins, the temptation is to dislike Jez. She’s pierced, snarky and often high. Her cynicism and detachment from her family and peers is fairly common teenage fare, and I wondered whether I was going to be bored by little more than a tale of typical teen angst.

I needn’t have worried – I wasn’t bored, not at all. A little appalled at times maybe, but never bored.

Fairly quickly, Jez reveals herself to be an beautifully written, endearing character. She’s not likeable because you feel sorry for her, although of course you might…

The front door was wide open, so was the flyscreen, but there were no lights on in the house. I whipped around quickly to check to see if Mum had driven home; her white Toyota hatchback was parked in the driveway. I took a few steps until I was standing just outside the front door.

‘Mum?’ I called. ‘MUUUUM?’

I hooked one arm around the doorframe and ran my hand along the wall inside the house, searching for the light switch, and turned on the front hall light.

‘Mum?’ I pushed the front door open a little wider; I was half shaking and I was aware of my full bladder.

‘JESUS!’

The first thing I saw was Mum’s strappy sandals, strewed half a metre apart in the front hall. The next thing I saw was Mum’s bare feet, at angles, underneath the archway that separated the front hall and the living room. My heart leapt into my mouth.

‘Mum!’

Frantic, I kneeled at her side. She was fully clothed, belly down on the carpet, her arms at her sides. I leaned close to her face. I could hear her breathing. And I could smell the alcohol on her breath. Bundy and Coke.

…but because it’s pretty obvious that she’s asking questions, considering the logic of her ‘friends’ and in her very low-key, introverted way, challenging some of the expectations that her group have of her and of other girls of her age. I was cheering for her, desperately hoping that she’d pull back from the brink and take advantage of the opportunities that would seem to be being presented themselves to her.

Snake Bite is set in Canberra, but I think the depiction of the outer suburbs could be transferred into on pretty much any state. It’s not pretty, has more than a hint of bogan about it and is clearly somewhere that Jez and Lukey want to escape from. The story is set in summer, and I could almost feel the heat coming out of the pages. The weather, the summer clothing, the music and hot nights set up a most immersive reading experience.

Somewhat predictably Christie Thompson’s Snake Bite has been compared to Kathy Lette’s Puberty Blues. It did remind me of Kathy’s book, and it’s hard not to compare Jez and Debbie and the often reckless behaviour of their peers. Still, I actually like Christie’s novel much more than I liked Puberty Blues. I think Snake Bite is essentially much more positive, a more hopeful story.

It’s a gritty, sweary and sweaty coming-of-age novel, that leaves you feeling, basically, kind of good…

If you’d like to find out more about Christie Thompson’s Snake Bite visit the A&U site here.