Saturday, 4 April 2020

Book Review: THE SILENCE by Susan Allott

Title: THE SILENCE
Author: Susan Allott
Publisher: Harper Collins Australia
Read: March 2020
Expected publication: 1 May 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


“I realised my life was going to be shaped by my husband. His choices, his decisions. Anything was possible, but only for him.”


Book Description:


It is 1997, and in a basement flat in Hackney, Isla Green is awakened by a call in the middle of the night: her father phoning from Sydney. Thirty years ago, in the suffocating heat of summer 1967, the Green's next-door neighbor Mandy disappeared. At the time, it was thought she fled a broken marriage and gone to start a new life; but now Mandy's family is trying to reconnect, and there is no trace of her. Isla's father Joe was allegedly the last person to see her alive, and now he's under suspicion of murder.

Isla unwillingly plans to go back to Australia for the first time in a decade to support her father. The return to Sydney will plunge Isla deep into the past, to a quiet street by the sea where two couples live side by side. Isla's parents, Louisa and Joe, have recently emigrated from England - a move that has left Louisa miserably homesick while Joe embraces his new life. Next door, Steve and Mandy are equally troubled. Mandy doesn't want a baby, even though Steve - a cop trying to hold it together under the pressures of the job - is desperate to become a father.

The more Isla asks about the past, the more she learns: about both young couples and the secrets each marriage bore. Could her father be capable of doing something terrible? How much does her mother know? What will happen to their family if Isla's worst fears are realized? And is there another secret in this community, one which goes deeper into Australia's colonial past, which has held them in a conspiracy of silence?

What attracted me to this book:


Family loyalties.

The legacy of secrets.

The legacy of shame.


It was the cover of THE SILENCE which first attracted my attention, but Erin Kelly’s description was the thing that sealed the deal for me: a book that “excavates dark, decades-old secrets buried in human hearts, in families and in nations.” I can never resist a book about dark family secrets, and was looking forward to some virtual time travel to the 1960’s, one of the timelines in this story.


My musings:



What can I say? THE SILENCE was five stars all the way for me! I filled four pages of my reading journal with quotes, and devoured the book over the course of a day because I just couldn’t tear myself away. Straight from the start, we get to know the three compelling, flawed female characters that are driving the story. Mandy and Louisa, who are two unhappy Australian women trapped in their boring housewife lives in suburbia during the 1960’s. And Isla, Louisa’s adult daughter, who will discover some dark family secrets when the police opens the case of Mandy’s mysterious disappearance.

Set against the backdrop of the terrible events that marked the era of the “Stolen Generation”, THE SILENCE gives a chilling account of a woman’s life in Australia in the 1960’s. Both Mandy and Louisa, bright and vivacious young women, are soon stifled by marriage. They are dependent on their husbands for everything, and have none of the liberties we now take for granted, for example being able to have our own bank account, or being allowed to work, drive a car, travel without the husband’s permission. Steve, Mandy’s husband, may be loving and kind most of the time, but suffers from bouts of depression and guilt from his role in removing indigenous children from their families. Joe, Louisa’s husband, has a dark violent side his daughter still does not want to acknowledge, but which prompted his young wife to flee back home to England with her small child during the summer Mandy went missing.


“There were happy times, weren’t there? Louisa says.
You’re never happy, Isla thinks [...] “Of course there were”, she says. “But the bad times were really bad.”


THE SILENCE was raw and gut-wrenching and got under my skin as only few books can. Each character appeared vividly in my mind, their thoughts, actions and emotions leaving their scars on my psyche. Overall, it was a sad, tragic story, but so well written and so observant that I was utterly captivated all the way. Allott’s insights into the dynamics of an unhappy marriage and the effects on the whole family left a lasting impression, as was her presentation of a woman’s life in Australia during the 1960’s. It’s the era my mother would have experienced as a young wife, and I could see an echo of her among the pages – a bright, independent woman stifled by the restrictions of her time, and by the person who she loved, her husband. It was sobering and yet very compelling. I couldn’t put the book down!


And if the personal portrayal of womanhood and marriage isn’t enough to lure you in, then be assured that there is also a very decent mystery buried in these pages. The historical background, especially the events related to Steve, also delivered a sobering message and one that may present a trigger for readers with indigenous backgrounds, where many generations have been affected by the events portrayed. 

Summary:


In summary, THE SILENCE was a brilliant book, the type that comes around rarely, containing all the elements of a dark family drama cum mystery that make for an unputdownable read. I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys a multi-layered mystery with compelling characters and a historical context that stays with you long after you have turned the last page. I can’t wait to read more from this author in future!



Thank you to Netgalley and Harper Collins Australia  for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Image result for 5 stars


Monday, 30 March 2020

Mini Review: THE SURPRISING POWER OF A GOOD DUMPLING by Wai Chim

Author: Wai Chim
Read: March 2020


I got this gorgeous copy of THE SURPRISING POWER OF A GOOD DUMPLING in the #authorsforfireys auction back in January (how long ago this seems now!). Author Wai Chim had generously donated hand painted copies to raise money for victims of the terrible bushfires in NSW and Victoria. .

With a title like this, I was hoping for a feel good book that would take me on a journey. Who doesn't love a good dumpling? And I was right: the story is fresh and warm and life affirming, whilst still tackling important issues like mental health and culture. Anna, the main protagonist, is a sixteen year old girl from a Chinese immigrant family who is trying to look after her siblings and hold her family together as her mother stays in bed most days, afflicted by an undiagnosed mental illness.

I loved Anna, who is warm and caring whilst trying to navigate her way in the world like any other teenager. Her voice was fresh and authentic and easy to relate to, even though I don’t often read YA. I really appreciate books that can balance a feel good vibe with an important message, and this one did just that. The book got me out of a terrible reading slump and I am so happy I read it!

Book Review: THE HOUSE GUEST by Mark Edwards

Author: Mark Edwards
Publisher: Amazon Publishing UK
Read: March 2020
Expected publication: 3 June 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2



“There is usually a simple explanation for everything.” (except in Mark Edwards’ books there isn’t)


Book Description:


When British twenty-somethings Ruth and Adam are offered the chance to spend the summer housesitting in New York, they can’t say no. Young, in love and on the cusp of professional success, they feel as if luck is finally on their side.

So the moment that Eden turns up on the doorstep, drenched from a summer storm, it seems only right to share a bit of that good fortune. Beautiful and charismatic, Eden claims to be a friend of the homeowners, who told her she could stay whenever she was in New York.

They know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers—let alone invite them into your home—but after all, Eden’s only a stranger until they get to know her.

As suspicions creep in that Eden may not be who she claims to be, they begin to wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake…



What attracted me to this book:


I have long since come to appreciate Mark Edwards’ books as good entertainment – he comes up with the best premises where (in his own words) “scary things happen to ordinary people”. Last time, the houseguests refused to leave. This time, the houseguest poses a different threat altogether!


My musings:


THE HOUSE GUEST delivered on its promise of being a fast, entertaining read that had me frantically turn the pages wanting to find out how this latest disaster would end. It is fortuitous that we are in quarantine at the moment, because after reading Edwards’ last two books, I would be too scared to have any houseguests anyway!

Here, our two hapless main protagonists are Brits Ruth and Adam, who are house-sitting in Manhattan for a couple they met on a cruise. One night, a young woman turns up on the doorstep, claiming to be a friend of the owners. Being trusty and openhearted people, they let her in. Do you hear the alarm bells ringing yet?


Yes, from here on in the two Brits are marching towards their own doom. The how and when you will have to find out yourself. In typical Mark Edwards’ style, the premise is all the more terrifying because the couple are so relatable, so ordinary, so much like you and I. Could this happen to us? Perhaps some parts of the book were just a bit farfetched, but then again, maybe not. Living in my rural Australian bubble, I don’t profess to know how things are done in NYC. In any case, THE HOUSE GUEST made for another fun read. It’s the type of book you want to pick up when you don’t feel like anything too deep but want a type of bookish Netflix binge that will sweep you away in a tidal wave of entertainment (and terror). I’m not giving anything else away!


Summary:



In summary, I recommend you pick up THE HOUSE GUEST when in the mood for a fast, entertaining read with ordinary, everyday characters who stumble headlong into misadventure in the fashion Mark Edwards is famous for. There are plenty of elements to this thriller that will satisfy lovers of the genre who are looking for a bit of intrigue, a few bad guys, some fast paced action and a rising body count. I really enjoyed it and it provided a welcome distraction.


Thank you to Netgalley and Amazon Publishing UK for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Book Review: THE MISSING ONE by Lucy Atkins


Author: Lucy Atkins
Publisher: Quercus Books
Read: March 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


The loss of her mother has left Kali McKenzie with too many unanswered questions. But while clearing out Elena’s art studio, she finds a drawer packed with postcards, each bearing an identical one-line message a Canadian gallery owner called Susannah Gillespie: thinking of you. Who is this woman and what does she know about Elena’s hidden past?

Desperate to find out, Kali travels with her toddler, Finn, to Susannah’s isolated home on a remote British Columbian island, a place of killer whales and storms. But as bad weather closes in, Kali quickly realises she has made a big mistake. The handsome and enigmatic Susannah refuses to talk about the past, and as Kali struggles to piece together what happened back in the 1970s, Susannah’s behaviour grows more and more erratic. Most worrying of all, Susannah is becoming increasingly preoccupied with little Finn . . .

A tense, thrilling novel about a family divided by secrets, and the lengths a mother will go to protect her child.

What attracted me to this book:


I absolutely adored Lucy Atkins’ latest book MAGPIE LANE, so it was a no-brainer that I wanted to devour more of her writing. With a premise of family secrets and an atmospheric coastal Canadian setting, this one sounded very much up my alley!

My musings:


I am happy to say that THE MISSING ONE was a winner for me from beginning to end. I immediately connected to the main character Kali, a young mum whose own mother Elena has just died of breast cancer. Kali and her mother had a distant, trouble relationship, so when Kali clears out some of Elena’s things and comes across some mysterious postcards and letters from a woman she has never heard of, she realises how little she knows about Elena’s life before marriage and children. Kali’s father is no help, so Kali travels to Canada to track down one of her mother’s old friends in the hope of getting an answer to some of her questions.

This all rang so true for me! My mother died as a child, so I could relate to Kali’s frustration of not ever knowing her mother as a person, her hopes, her dreams, her history. I also related to Kali’s travels with a small toddler, and some of the scenes made me laugh and cringe in turn. Her misadventures, her fears, her anxieties – it read like my own story in parts. I too have relied on the kindness of strangers to take me in when I missed public transport and found myself stranded in a foreign country with a toddler. I was LIVING this story!

Even thought the middle of book was a bit slow in parts and perhaps bogged down with detail, the last 1/3 of the story really picked up pace and was quite nerve-wrecking. Suzanne, the woman Kali is staying with in British Columbia, was such a mysterious, fascinating and disturbed character that I literally had to hold my breath as the full extent of past secrets unfolded.


Apart from the mystery, the armchair travel component of this story was exquisite. I now simply HAVE TO go to Vancouver Island to see the rugged coastline and perhaps also the orcas, about which I learned so much by reading this story. As far as armchair travel goes, it doesn’t get much better than this, so if you are a fan of wild and remote settings this should definitely be on your list.

Summary:



In summary, THE MISSING ONE ticked all the right boxes for me. With a main character who seemed to share so much emotional baggage with me and an atmospheric setting, the heart-pounding finale to the mystery capped off an all-around good story. I want to read more from this author!



Book Review: THE PATRON SAINT OF PREGNANT GIRLS by Ursula Hegi

Author: Ursula Hegi
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Read: January 2020
Expected publication: 9 June 2020
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:


In the summer of 1878, the Ludwig Zirkus has come to the island Nordstrand in Germany. Big-bellied girls rush from St. Margaret's Home for Pregnant Girls, thrilled to see the parade and the show, followed by the Sisters who care for them. The Old Women and Men, competing to be crowned as the island’s Oldest Person, watch, thinking they have seen it all. But after the show, a Hundred-Year Wave roars from the Nordsee and claims three young children. Three mothers are on the beach when it happens: Lotte, whose children are lost; Sabine, a Zirkus seamstress with her grown daughter; and Tilli, still just a child herself, who will give birth later that day at St. Margaret’s. And all three will end up helping each other more than they ever could have anticipated.

As full of joy and beauty as it is of pain, and told with the luminous power that has made Ursula Hegi a beloved bestselling author for decades, The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls is a shattering portrait of marriage and motherhood, and of the ways in which women hold each other up in the face of heartbreak. 

What attracted me to this book:


I’m often curious to see why certain books attract me, and there were several reasons why I couldn’t pass up a chance to read this one: a) the Nordsee setting in the mid 1800s, which promised an interesting background to an unusual story; b) Comparison of the book to WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, which I loved (even though I am always wary of comparisons to popular books); c) it had a circus in it! d) I wanted something character driven, quirky and unusual, and this one certainly fit the bill.


My musings:


I am happy to say that Hegi’s book with the unusual title THE PATRON SAINT OF PREGNANT GIRLS lived up to all my expectations. Set in the mid 1800s, it centres around the stories of four different women who are loosely connected by the setting and the terrible accident that happens right at the beginning of the book: the tragic drowning of three children when a freak wave rips them out of their mother’s arms. Whilst this event forms the a big part of the story, it is only one thread among many others, musing about pregnancy, motherhood, female friendship, marriage, loss, grief and womanhood in general in Germany in the mid 1800s. Hegi’s writing is lyrical and descriptive and vividly painted the characters and the setting for me right from the start.


What I love most about historical fiction – apart from learning about different eras in history – is trying to put myself in the character’s position and reflect on how I would act, how different my life would be. Being a woman in the 1800s was no picnic: childbirth was hazardous for mother and child, and many infants didn’t survive long, claimed by illnesses and complications that are easily treated today. And if you were unlucky enough to be young and pregnant outside of marriage, an even grimmer fate would await you: death at the hands of some backyard abortionist or escape to homes for unwed mothers, where the child would be taken from you straight after birth. And yet womanhood held some of the same joys, hopes and dreams as we experience today.


Summary:



THE PATRON SAINT OF PREGNANT GIRLS was a slow, reflective read that gently took me on its journey. I won’t be a good fit for readers who want action, or a definite progression of the journey towards a finale, or even a central plot, because this story isn’t like that. Instead, it flowed gently, like a gurgling brook, not reaching any destination. I was in the mood for such a story and appreciated the emotions the story awakened in me whilst reading, and the reflections it prompted. I can see that it will not appeal to everyone, but if you like that kind of story that rolls out in dreamlike pictures and landscapes, then I would urge you to give it a go.


Thank you to Edelweiss and Flatiron Books for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.