Due to other happenings in my life this year I don't think I will be able to review any books for the Australian Women Writer's Challenge. I will still be reading though and I encourage you to do so also. Just click on the link on the right and it will take you to their website which features thousands of reviews of Australian fiction. And please continue to check out my reviews, which are arranged either by year or title on the sidebar. Although I am not actively reviewing at the moment, I do hope to get back to it at some point and I hope this website continues to serve as a place where you can find Australian fiction to enjoy.
Although I did not meet my reviewing challenge for this years AWW challenge, I did manage to review five titles which you can access through either the Reviews by Year of Reviews by Title links in the sidebar. I did manage to read thirteen titles for the challenge, which you can check out on Goodreads below. As always I thank the organisers of the AWW challenge for highlighting Australian women writers.
Having read The Beach House, I was excited to hear that Third Offence was a sequel story for one of the characters, Jack. I was very interested to see what direction the author would take the character in several years on and also in a different setting. Sequels can be a double edged sword, but I was very happy to see that I enjoyed Jack's character just as much in Third Offence as I did in The Beach House, in fact I think I got to like him more as his story continued.
Since their meeting several years before, Jack has never hesitated to help his young friend, Danny, whether it be financial or practical support. But he'd never envisaged helping Danny's father, Russell, a man he holds little respect for, due to his lack of involvement in his son's life. Jack is a lawyer and he is Russell's last hope in escaping jail time for a crime he has apparently been framed for. Despite his reluctance in defending Russell, Jack throws himself into the task. To his surprise, the case is not as cut and dried as he thinks and the further he goes, the more complicated things become.
Two-year-old Toby is a late addition to the Brennan family. His parents Finn and Bridget had given up hope of having another child when he arrived, fourteen years after his brother Jarrah. Adored by his parents and brother alike, Toby is a whirlwind, a force of nature who attacks life head on each day. While the rest of the family is still coming to terms with their move from chilly Hobart to balmy Murwillumbah, Toby loves his new surrounds, especially the pool in the backyard. It is Toby who keeps the rest of the family smiling as they deal with their own individual issues. So when the unthinkable happens, when Toby is taken from them in the most tragic circumstances, the Brennan's are literally shattered, a family unit with no centre and no idea of how to move forward.
When girls finish school, they always think they will be friends forever, but as time moves on many find that maintaining teenage bonds can be a challenge. Joni, Debs, Trina and Eden haven't had that issue in the past, but now they are in their thirties and there are husbands and children in the mix, getting together for their annual get together is becoming more of a challenge. Concerned that they might be drifting apart, Joni, (the only childless one of the group) insists that they get together as usual. Refusing to take no for an answer, she arranges their holiday as usual and despite the obstacles involved all four women show up.
Despite Joni's best efforts, things aren't quite the same as usual and in an effort to shake things up, she suggests each friend write an anonymous letter revealing a deep secret or problem that can be discussed, and, hopefully resolved by the others. This exercise doesn't go quite as Joni hoped, but things only get more intense when Joni discovers a fifth letter, one that reveals a shocking secret that could shatter their little group. Although the letter writer had attempted to destroy the evidence, Joni cannot unsee what was written and thus the mystery of who wrote it and why begins.
Jack Adams is a good guy - a firefighter in Melbourne and a true and loyal friend. The only time he's shown a lack of judgement was in the choice of a wife. Beautiful, flighty Stephanie is everything Jack is not and now her shady double life has come back to haunt her in the worst possible way - she has been murdered in her bed. And just to make sure she is dead the killer has set fire to Jack and Stephanie's apartment.
For Jack, Stephanie's death is devastating from every angle. Not only is the woman he loved gone in the most horrible way, but he has to live with the reality that she was living a very colourful double life of which he had no idea. Unable to cope despite offers of support from all who care about him, Jack takes off with just his dog for company and keeps driving until he arrives in the tiny Victorian town of Hill Cross. While Jack drops out of life for a while, his mates and firefighting colleagues want answers and start following their own leads. And that's when things start getting complex.
There is so much information about cyber bullying and the evils of social media out there at the moment that it is almost tempting to pass on reading a book about it. Not that it isn't an important topic that should be discussed and strategised about to try and control the damage - it just didn't feel like there was anything new that could be said about it. Yet Wendy James has done it again, she has taken a topic and put a completely unique spin on it and in the process has created a compelling, gripping novel that I simply couldn't put down.
Lizzy seems to have it all - a successful husband who has taken her around the world with his high flying career and two gorgeous daughters. Although not officially allowed to work while living in the US she has created a successful blog that anonymously documents her family life. When the opportunity arises to return home to Australia Lizzy is torn. On the one hand its always been their plan, but on the other their return is to Newcastle, not Sydney like she assumed. Still Lizzy is determined the move will be a good thing for their family, even if her beautiful, clever older daughter makes it clear that she is devastated by the decision. Surely things will be okay once they get settled in, right?
In what has become an integral part of my reading life, I am excited to sign up for the 2017 Australian Women Writer's Challenge for 2017. As I have mentioned in previous years, there are so many great books out there, you just have to look for them and the AWW challenge puts all the information you need on their website for readers to discover. Having not quite met my reading targets for the past couple of years, I will attempt 20 read and 15 reviews for this year. You can follow my reviews right here on this blog.
Anyone is able to sign up for the AWW challenge, you can just be a reader or a reviewer and you can read as few or as many books as you like. Check out the Australian Women Writer's Challenge for for details: www.australianwomenwriters.com
Although I did not quite meet my target of 25 books read for the AWW 2016 challenge, I am happy that I managed to review my target of 15 books. The AWW challenge is an integral part of my reading every year now and I am looking forward to reading more books by Australian Women Writers in 2017.
You can check out my reviews for 2016 by clicking HERE or the Goodreads link below.
Sally Faulkner is famous for reasons that no parent would ever wish for. Last year she attempted to snatch back her two children Noah and Laelah, who were unlawfully in the custody of their father Ali in Lebanon. Sally had allowed them to visit him, trusting that he would return them as per their custody agreement. Sadly he broke that agreement, leaving her heartbroken in Brisbane and absolutely desperate to get them back any way she could.
As most people know, the attempt to retrieve her children using a company that specialises in this process went terribly wrong. Somehow Ali knew of her plans and as a result Sally's reunion with her children was brief. Trapped in a "safe" house in Lebanon, Sally realised the police were coming for her and the only thing to do was to hand the children back for all their safety. It's not a simple process, however, as not only Sally, but the 60 Minutes crew documenting the story, are arrested and jailed in Beirut on charges of kidnapping.
All For My Children is Sally's story - from the moment she met the alluring Ali while working as an international flight attendant to the rollercoaster ride of her relationship with him. It is easy to be judgemental with hindsight and criticise Sally's choices, but ultimately her love and devotion to her children is the absolute heart of this story and as is reality that love can make even the most rational of us make unwise choices.
As with Anna's previous novels, Beyond The Orchard drew me in immediately and kept me captivated throughout. Told in her trademark beautiful flowing prose, we follow the dual timeline story of Lucy in the 1990s and Orah, an orphaned shipwreck survivor, almost a century before. Lucy has returned home to Melbourne after living in London for several years, intrigued by a letter from her grandfather, Edwin. Sadly he dies before she arrives, but having piqued her curiosity, Lucy is determined the unravel the mystery Edwin hinted at. Added to this is Lucy's father Ron, who has been estranged form Edwin for many years. He also has a request for Lucy - to retrieve an old photo album from Edwin's home, Bitterwood.
The treacherous southern coast of Victoria comes alive under Anna Romer's skillful hand - through both Orah and Lucy's eyes as they inhabit the same space so many decades apart. Bitterwood, the old family estate has fallen into disrepair and Lucy realises it is up to her to sort through her grandfather's effects, given her father wants no part of the job. Adding to Lucy's turmoil is a recurring memory from the old estate that has traumatised her over the years. As much as she wants to know the truth, she is fearful of what that reality means. Frustrated to not know what her grandfather wanted to tell her, Lucy sets about trying to untangle the many layers of secrets Bitterwood is hiding.
It's always great when an author you really enjoy produces a book a year - it means you never have to wait too long for their next instalment. As for the past few years, Jenn's latest book was on my "must read" list for the year and, like the last three, The Other Side Of The Season did not disappoint. Given the "Season" in the title I thought it might tie in with Jenn's previous three books, but it is actually a complete stand alone with no connection to her other books. I didn't mind that, in fact I was intrigued in which direction Jenn's new book would take me. It turned out to be the Coff's Harbour region, a bit of a sea change after the more inland country town settings of Jenn's previous novels.
The dual timeline of The Other Side Of The Season switches between siblings Sidney and Jake - who are travelling to Byron Bay in Northern New South Wales - and brothers David and Matthew and their neighbours Tilly and Albie. Unbeknownst to Jake, their unscheduled stop in the small hamlet of Watercolour Cove has been engineered by Sidney in a effort to find out more about their family history - as their mother refuses to discuss the subject. The other storyline then merges in, with the same setting thirty five years before. Back then the Greenhill's family banana plantation was the biggest concern in what was then known as Dinghy Bay and brothers David and Matthew are making their way in the world with very different plans for their futures.
Like any Liane Moriarty book in Truly, Madly, Guilty there are a collection of memorable characters and a seemingly normal event that has somehow gone very wrong. In this case it is Sam and Clementine, a seemingly normal married couple living in a nice suburban home in Sydney with their two adorable daughters. One day they accepted an invitation to a neighbourhood BBQ on a Sunday afternoon and their lives have not been the same since.
As other reviewers have mentioned this story takes a while to get going. As much as I enjoy Liane Moriarty it was probably just a little bit too drawn out. There's suspense and there's just getting annoyed because you want to get to the point of the story. However when you get there Truly, Madly, Guilty delivers what it promises - a tangled story of three couples and the impact of a careless moment. As always Moriarty delivers well developed, three dimensional characters and tells the story in her trademark witty yet occasionally dark style. Perhaps Truly, Madly, Guilty's best trait is it's plausibility - anyone who reads the story will no doubt recognise how easily the incident at the BBQ could happen.
All in all this was an enjoyable read that kept me entertained from start to finish. As mentioned the lead up to the reveal of the incident could have been condensed a little but if you are a Liane Moriarty fan, you will be satisfied by her latest offering.
Warning: Remainder of reviewer contains a spoiler
There is probably no greater heartache in this life than having the desire to have your own child/children but not being able to do so. Whether this is because of your own infertility, some kind of physical affliction or because you are part of a same sex couple, the reality is that beyond adoption or fostering (both of which are not without their own challenges) the only hope to fulfil that dream is through surrogacy.
When surrogacy is paid, there is some understanding of why a woman would put her body through a pregnancy that will not result in a child of her own. However when it is altruistic (as surrogacy in Australia must be), it is incredibly hard to fathom the level of generosity required to give another couple such a gift. Yet when reading Shannon Garner's account of being a surrogate for same sex couple Jon and Justin, you come to understand that such people do exist and that the choice she and her family made was one based on a genuine desire to help fellow humans in need.
When Robin gives up her daughter for adoption in 1965, the law at the time guarantees that there will never be any contact between them. Although slightly older than many teenage single parents in that era, Robin does not feel ready for the responsibility of motherhood and believes the decision is the best one for both her and her child. In a lucky stroke of fate, her daughter Susannah is adopted by a loving family who give her a wonderful childhood and home life. Although aware she is adopted, Susannah has no desire to have any kind of contact with her biological parents.
Twenty four years later the laws have changed, allowing Robin to make contact with Susannah via letter in 1989. Having undergone a significant lifestyle change from a "free love" mindset to becoming a committed Christian, Robin yearns to reconnect with her oldest child, although she is understanding when Susannah sends her a polite but direct letter, declining any further contact.
Having only recently discovered Kimberley Freeman, I am enjoying moving through her list of novels. Although they are very much a common theme with the dual timeline and old letters revealing unsolved mysteries from yesteryear, it is a genre I very much enjoy and as always Kimberley delivered with the beautiful Blue Mountains setting of Evergreen Falls.
Lauren may be 30, but her extremely sheltered life has left her with little life experience and a burning desire to get out and be a part of the real world. Breaking away from the prison of her mothers emotional neediness, she has taken a job at a cafe near the historic Evergreen Falls Hotel. Currently in the throes of a major renovation, Lauren happens across a key to the hotel and it is when she goes exploring inside that she discovers a series of love letters that almost beg her to unravel their secrets.
I first saw Aminah's story on Australian story and was captivated by what a nice outcome it had. How I Met Your Father, however, is a much more in-depth account of Aminah's long and sometimes sad road to motherhood and the happy family she always desired.
Raised in Melbourne by a single mother and adoring grandparents, Aminah had a happy home life, although her childhood was marred by racism at her primary school. Although she didn't lack love from her mother and grandparents, Aminah always yearned to know her West Indian father and sought to find him when she moved to London on a working holiday. Sadly she learned he had died not long before, however she did discover a half sister and other extended family who welcomed her with open arms.
This book grabbed me right from the first page. I think it was the Antarctic setting that really got me invested. My previous visual of Antarctica was a bleak, frozen landscape with only sparse, functional buildings. I had never thought of it in terms of actual settlements with real houses and whole communities of people living and working together in one of the furtherest outposts on earth. For the first time ever I could actually understand why people might choose to visit Antarctica or even to work there for a time.
Laura is an environmental scientist who has spent many seasons in the Antarctic wilderness. Chosen to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment on the abandoned and protected Fredelighavn Whaling Station, she looks forward to the task despite getting bad vibes from almost everyone she encounters at Alliance Station, the British outpost settlement she must work from. Her first visit to Fredelighavn does little to dispel her paranoia. Despite it being classed as an environmentally sensitive "exclusion" area there is clear evidence that people have been then much more recently than she has been told. The odd behaviour of the penguins at the nearby colony confirms her suspicions that they have recently been exposed to human interaction. Yet upon making further enquiries Laura is stonewalled and told she is imagining things.
I must admit this book was not what I expected. I thought it would probably be about Magda's career as a comedienne, her public battle with her weight and her recent revelation that she is gay - but it was much more than that. Reckoning is Magda's family story, starting with the line "if you knew my father you would never have guessed he was an assassin."
Born to a Polish father and a Scottish mother, Magda was actually born in England and spent her first years there. It was heartbreaking to read of her separation from her maternal grandmother when her parents made the decision to migrate to far away Australia and certainly opened my eyes to the difficulties so called "new" Australians faced upon landing in the outer suburbs of out largest cities back in the 1960s and 1970s.
I loved the premise of this book. The description of a family holiday house in a small town on the Queensland coast reached out to me immediately and I was quickly drawn into Laurie's story as she described visiting the River House at the age of four. It is the 1940s and life is simpler, although as we know humans have always experienced drama and tragedy - as well as happiness - within their lives throughout history. All these emotions are played out as Laurie's life and that of her family moves forward. The book traces Laurie's life for the next sixty years, always with The River House at it's centre.
Janita Cunnington's expressive prose is the standout feature of The River House. Small town Queensland comes to life in vivid colour through the pages of the book - the sticky heat of summer, the sounds of the river and beach in the background, the call of the wildlife and the whistling of the wind through the weatherboard cottage. The holiday town of Baroodibah was easy to picture as was Australian society at that time. I was easily transported to The River House through the vivid descriptions and loved that particular journey.
We love to review Australian fiction and have taken part in the Australian Women Writer's Challenge for the past several years. Check the links below for our reviews and be inspired to try a new author or two.
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