narelle connell

Gifted Liar? Rachael’s Gift

I had a chat to Narelle Connell about this novel before she wrote her review, and I think it’s fair to say she was quite conflicted. She told me that this book had really challenged her, presenting some really interesting questions regarding truth, trust, childhood and parenthood. We always have to believe our kid, don’t we? Her review today sums up the conundrum that Rachael’s Gift presents to the reader, a conundrum that you’ll keep turning over in your head long after you’ve put this book down. Here’s Narelle’s thoughts…

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 What would you do if you suspected your child was a gifted liar?

Rachael's GiftThis is the premise of Rachael’s Gift, the debut novel by Alexandra Cameron (Pan MacMillan). Rachael is fourteen years old, beautiful and a talented artist creating work well beyond her years. Her mother, Camille, is focused on securing her daughter a place at a prestigious Parisian art school so as to nurture and develop her gift. But, her carefully planned future is thrown into a tailspin when Rachael accuses one of her teachers of sexual misconduct.

Camille is horrified and leaps to the defense of her daughter.  However, questions within the school community, especially those regarding the whereabouts of a rival student’s painting, call the reliability of Racheal’s testimony into question. Unlike her mother, Rachael’s father, Wolfe is far more wary. He has his own questions about what the truth might be and, in turn, what his daughter may be capable of.

 

“She inhaled sharply and then reached out, touching my arm.

“Wolfey”, she said, her voice softer. “Honey, please. Please. There’s something else….” 

I looked away. Another bloody excuse. I was not budging. Not this time. I shook her hand off me. “I’m scared there’s something wrong with her, Cam, and I’m sick of dicking around.’ 

She shook her head in disbelief. ‘You’re going to ruin her. Don’t you realise? I can’t let you do it.’ 

Her chest heaved and then some kind of realisation dawned in her face. ‘Oh my god, you don’t love her. You wouldn’t do this if you did.’ 

It felt as if my veins were bursting. ‘Of course I love her’, I shouted. ‘Its because I love her!’ 

‘This is not love.’ 

I stabbed my finger in her face. ‘You love her too much.’ 

Her expression transformed, a light went on in her eyes and her breath evened out. ‘You’re a fucking traitor’, she hissed. ‘I won’t let you do that to her’ 

We’ll see about that, I thought as I walked away from her. ” 

 

The novel alternates narration from Camille and Wolfe, as they navigate their way to finding the truth of Rachael’s story. From the surf beaches of Australia to French art galleries steeped in history, Rachael’s Gift unfolds into a compelling story of the webs we all weave ourselves into and how our past can impact on our present no matter how far we think we’ve left it behind.

I found the storytelling a little clunky in the beginning; it took me a little while to settle into moving between the two very different voices of Camille and Wolfe. Interestingly, while the story revolves around Rachael I found myself particularly drawn to Camille’s voice, I watched her story deepen as she confronted her past and Rachael’s future. Inhabiting a world where her aunts and grandparents have Degas adorning the walls of their Parisian homes, she watches with a mixture of pride and trepidation as Rachael embraces long-lost family wholeheartedly in a ruthless bid to achieve her goals.

Towards the end I was racing to the denouement, watching the threads come together and worlds collide. Now that I’ve finish the book, it’s a novel I’m itching for others to read so I can chat about it with them. An excellent book club pick and one to share with friends who love a story they can sink their teeth into and contemplate long after finishing.

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Find out more about Rachael’s Gift, by Alexandra Cameron here…

 

Getting Crafty: Pretty Funny Tea Cosies

TBYL Reviewer Narelle is one of the craftiest people I know, so it was only fitting that I had her take a look at Pretty Funny Tea Cosies by Loani Prior (Murdoch). I loved the designs in this book, but not being a knitter, knew little what to do with these gorgeous patterns. Just quietly, I was hoping that Narelle might get inspired and have a go at some of these gorgeous tea cosies. Here’s what she thought of Loani’s book…

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On a dull and dreary winter’s afternoon, a Sunday in Melbourne, I was fortunate enough to pick up Pretty Funny Tea Cosies (& other beautiful knitted things) to review. What a beautiful burst of colour, as I flicked through this book! As an avid crafter with moderate knitting experience, I was very keen to read through and find a project that might suit my abilities.

pretty funny tea cosiesFloral and fruity, stripy and checkered; there are tea cosies to suit every pot and every taste. In addition, Loani has included patterns for delicate knitted gift bags, vibrant pot holders, colourful knitted coat hangers and a simply divine neck warmer that I’ve earmarked as my pet project.

Loani’s use of carefully dyed yarn is evident throughout her creations and they leap from the page, begging to be replicated.

Loani is generous in her assertion that “knitting is easy. If you know how to knit a stitch, purl a stitch, cast on and off, you can do anything.” Such faith could inspire a simple knitter to attempt any of her many patterns. Instructions for methods used throughout the book are carefully detailed and photographed to assist in beginning and completing the projects. Each project is explained thoroughly with helpful tips and beautiful stories of how the project came to life.

tea cosies 2

Pretty Funny Tea Cosies is a warm, cosy read ideal for both novice and experienced knitters. I’m sure it could inspire a non-knitter to pick up some needles. I’m looking forward to stretching my skills further and making my teapot warmer in the process!

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So Narelle, just in case you’re wondering, I’ve got a four-cup Donna Hay teapot in need of a lovely bright cosy. If you feel so inclined…

You can find out more about Pretty Funny Tea Cosies by Loani Prior here…

To Inspire: The Priority List

I wasn’t brave enough to read today’s book, David Menasche’s The Priority List (Allen and Unwin), I thought I might struggle with the subject matter a little, and so I passed it on to TBYL Reviewer Narelle. She’s made me wish I’d read it, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way too. Here’s her thoughts…

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I picked up David Menasche’s The Priority List and immediately warmed to the premise outlined on the cover: “A teachers final quest to discover life’s greatest lessons.” With an endorsement from Elizabeth Gilbert and the back cover questioning “What truly matters in life?” I had mentally slotted this in somewhere alongside Tuesdays with Morrie and Life’s Golden Ticket, as an uplifting, moving read that would warm my heart. What I read was altogether more intriguing and absorbing than first glance suggested.

the priority listWith two retired school teachers as parents, the teaching world that Menasche inhabits is a familiar one, I’ve seen first-hand a similar dedication and passion for teaching. As Menasche begins his story though, life throws a huge boulder in front of him – a diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumour. It’s his response though, that shows his strength and courage, telling family, friends and beloved students “Don’t worry – I’ve got this.”

Menasche weaves his story back and forth, telling stories of students and his encounters with them alongside a history of his teaching career. His passion for learning and for igniting a similar passion in his students is evident throughout his story. He tells of his excitement of having a classroom and students to call his own at Coral Reef Senior High.

“But as much as I wanted to make a good impression on my coworkers, what mattered to me most were the kids. I couldn’t wait to meet them. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”, the author and scholar William Arthur Ward wrote. I wanted to be great teacher. The best they’d ever had.” 

David candidly shares the terror of his diagnosis and the at times brutal toll his cancer treatment takes on his body. Throughout his illness, his unwavering passion for teaching and inspiring his students keeps him afloat, and indeed he credits them with giving him the will to continue. As his health deteriorates, he reaches a crushing realization – that he can no longer continues his classroom teaching. His body and eyesight failing, but his determination firm, he begins a new quest – to visit his former students and find out where life has taken them.

And in this modern age, how best to connect with his now scattered flock? Why, through Facebook of course! With a swift response from all over the US, David sets out to meet and learn about the many students he inspired in his classroom. Along the way, he faces physical and personal challenges that will alter his life forever.

Ultimately I found The Priority List many things – inspiring and moving, deeply sad at moments and joy-filled in others. Menasche’s love of teaching, learning, and life shine through, reflected through the testimony of many students that experienced first hand his passion for learning. A quirky mixture of John Keating (Dead Poets Society) with a dash of rebellious Walter White (Breaking Bad), David Menasche’s story is unique, and one that deserves to be shared.

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You can find out more about David Menasche’s The Priority List, 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…

Breaking Point: Ambition

At our last reviewer get together, TBYL Reviewer Narelle grabbed today’s book the first chance she got, sure that she’d seen it some place before. And indeed she had…

Originally published in the 80s Julie Burchill’s Ambition has been recently re-released by Allen and Unwin in order, I can only assume, to attempt to satisfy the appetites of a new generation of readers who, in 2013 discovered an insatiable desire for erotic adventure.

No taboo is left unbroken, no fantasy left unfulfilled in this shocking expose of the lengths to which one woman will go become editor of the UK’s bestselling tabloid.

It’s a saucy adult read, but as you’ll see below, Narelle was most definitely of the opinion that this novel is also a compelling story, in retrospect almost a period piece, over and above the raunch…

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“I’m sick of breaking bimbos – it’s no fun, no challenge. Strong, hard career girls – they’re the new filet mignon of females. Girls like you. Oh, I’m going to have fun breaking you, Susan.”

ambition

Tobias Pope ruled his communications empire with fear and loathing – his employees feared him and he loathed them. But he may have met his match in Susan Street, the young, beautiful and nakedly ambitious deputy of his latest newspaper acquisition. As they fight, shop and orgy from Soho to Rio and from Sun City to New York City, getting what she wants – the top job – seems so simple. If she doesn’t break first.

Susan Street has the editorship of the Sunday Best, a London tabloid with rising readership, firmly in her sights.

Having done time in the deputy chair, she’s more than ready to take over – until the sudden death of her boss. With a new and fearsome owner in Tobias Pope, Susan suddenly has to prove her fierce ambition and willingness to do anything to secure the covered role.

Susan makes a Rumpelstiltskin-like bargain with Tobias, agreeing to perform 6 unnamed tasks. If she can complete them, the job she wants so desperately will be hers. Tobias sets out to “break” Susan and make her question just what she will or won’t do in the name of Ambition.

Though Julie Burchill’s novel is set and was written in the late 80’s, her sharply drawn portrait of modern workplaces, relationships and dilemmas is as relevant now as it was over 20 years ago. Reminiscent of Lee Tulloch and Candace Bushnell, Ambition is a rollicking read that offers both rampant escapism and biting social commentary.

If you’re looking for a read to take on holiday, on the train or even just to take you away from the world for while, go along for the ride with Susan Street – it’s a highly enjoyable one, fabulously adult – in the author’s own words, “…even now, it makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like Anne of Green Gables.”

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You can find out more about Ambition here…

 

Hide and Seek: The Shadow Tracer

Today I’m pleased to be able to welcome a brand new TBYL Reviewer to the team, Narelle Connell.  Narelle is a fellow book worm, and I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of the many books I’m going to send her way. Today she’s reviewing Meg Gardiner’s The Shadow Tracer (Penguin) a thriller, penned by ‘the next suspense superstar’ according to Stephen King (quite an endorsement, yes?)

Here’s what Narelle thought of this wild ride of a novel…

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shadow tracerWhen someone wants to find you badly enough, vanishing is no longer an option.

Sarah Keller is a young single mother living in Oklahoma with her five year-old daughter, Zoe. Her day job is to hunt out people on the run and bring them to justice. So imagine how it looks when a school bus accident sends Zoe to the ER and tests reveal Sarah can’t be Zoe’s mother.

Sarah has been living a lie for years and finally the truth is coming out. Who is she? Who were Zoe’s parents? And why does Zoe’s identity bring the FBI down on Sarah’s tail in mere minutes?

The FBI is the least of her worries, though. Sarah needs to keep Zoe off the grid, but with a sinister religious cult also preparing to attack, where on earth can they hide?

Something deadly lurks in Sarah’s past and its resurrection brings terror to all it touches.

Straight away, I was hooked by the premise of The Shadow Tracer, a fast-paced and intricately crafted thriller that focuses on Sarah Keller, a woman on the run with five year Zoe in tow. Sarah has spent the last five years raising Zoe on her own, making a living as a skip tracer tracking down people who don’t want to be found. Over time, Sarah has learned to lead a quiet life that draws no unwanted attention to herself and Zoe.

But, all this is shattered when Zoe’s involvement in an accident leads to information that threatens to reveal both their true identities and sets in motion a chain of events involving the FBI and a religious cult that is hell bent on finding Zoe and destroying anyone who gets in their way.

From the beginning I was both empathetic to and intrigued by Sarah’s character, wanting to find out more about the events that led Zoe to her and sent her into hiding. Gardiner takes the reader along on a rollicking ride through Texas and New Mexico as Sarah and Zoe become fugitives. Along the way, they encounter an FBI agent with his own reasons for wanting vengeance, a nun with some unusual skill sets and a US Marshal prepared to flout the rules.

The action and plot move almost as quickly as Sarah does across the desert, making this book a page-turner I was eager to keep reading until the end. I was especially intrigued by Sarah’s efforts to leave no trace behind and the methods she uses, contrasted with the underhand efforts of those on her tail to track her and Zoe down. Although the novel’s main focus is on the action, through her relationship with and fierce protection of Zoe we see a softer side to Sarah that keeps the reader hoping she can stay one step ahead.

texas“When Beth died, Sarah had thought nothing could be worse. How wrong she’d been. 

The sun glared white in the windshield. The highway arrowed to the vanishing point on a horizon of wind-bent grass. She wiped away tears with the heel of her hand.

Disappearing was possible. Look at the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Those posters of sullen criminals showed men and women who had vanished. Some of them had been on the run for twenty years. If they could do it, so could she. 

That’s what he’d told her. Get out of here. Run. Hide. 

Five years earlier she’d done exactly that. Now she was doing it again. She blew past a road sign. WELCOME TO TEXAS, THE LONE STAR STATE. ” 

With surprising plot twists, well crafted characters and a heart-racing showdown, I thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow Tracer and definitely recommend it.

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Find out more about Meg Gardiner’s The Shadow Tracer here…