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BOOK REVIEW: Jarulan by the River by Lily Woodhouse

Friday, August 04, 2017



Jarulan by the River – Lily Woodhouse


The Blurb (from GoodReads):

A failing estate, a fractured family, a turn of fortune and a story of love stretching across generations and connecting a family from all corners of the globe. For readers of Elianne, The Thorn Birds and Oscar and Lucinda

Matthew Fenchurch, patriarch and landowner of the northern NSW property Jarulan, lives in a grand, decaying folly, invaded by ghosts and the local fauna. His wife is dead, one son has fallen on a battlefield in France, and another lives as a remittance man on a marae in New Zealand. With his daughters married and elsewhere, his only company is the farmhands and an old family servant.

When Matthew builds a memorial above the river for his brave lost son – and all the boys of the district who have died fighting for King and Country – his daughters and their families return for the unveiling. They bring with them someone who will change life at Jarulan forever, who will fight the ghosts of the past and the claimants of the present, and ensure a dynasty, though not as anyone expected.

Erotic, haunting, brimming with wildlife, love, beauty, babies, ill deeds, revenge and unions – illicit and condoned –JARULAN BY THE RIVER is an epic tale of passion and redemption.


My Thoughts:
The ‘Jarulan’ of the title is a grand house on a river in northern New South Wales. Once flourishing, it is now in decline. Matthew Fenchurch, a man in his late fifties, is grieving the deaths of his wife and his eldest son, who was a casualty of the First World War. Matthew decides to build a memorial to the fallen, and asks his housekeeper to write to his scattered children and ask them to return to the estate for its commemoration. There is his other son, the drifter Eddie, and his daughters Louise and Jean. Eddie fails to respond, but the two sisters obey. Their arrival sets in train a scandalous love affair that will change the future of Jarulan forever.

A sprawling and surprising tale of love, grief, loss and change that crosses generations and continents, Jarulan by the River is poised, challenging and, at times, poetic in its descriptions of the Australian landscape. I could feel the heat and dryness and hear the constant rasp of the cicadas. The narrative moves from multiple points-of-view – Matthew himself, Evie the Irish maid who dreams of love, Nan the old housekeeper who has seen the family fracture and fall apart, Rufina the German nanny, Eddie who has fallen on hard times, and his half-Maori son Irving. At the centre of the tale, however, is the house and the ghosts and memories it contains. 

BOOK REVIEW: A Letter from Italy by Pamela Hart

Thursday, August 03, 2017


A Letter from Italy – Pamela Hart

Blurb (from GoodReads):

Inspired by the life of the world's first woman war correspondent, Australia's Louise Mack, the most sweeping love story yet by Pamela Hart

1917, Italy. Australian journalist Rebecca Quinn is an unconventional woman. At the height of World War I, she has given up the safety of her Sydney home for the bloody battlefields of Europe, following her journalist husband to the frontline as a war correspondent in Italy.

Reporting the horrors of the Italian campaign, Rebecca finds herself thrown together with American-born Italian photographer Alessandro Panucci, and soon discovers another battleground every bit as dangerous and unpredictable: the human heart.


My Thoughts:
A passionate and poignant love story set on the beautiful Italian coast by the bestselling author of The Soldier's Wife and The War Bride. Pamela Hart has been making a name for herself by writing vivid, compelling and gorgeously romantic historical fiction novels about the lives of Australian women during the First World War. Her first two – The Soldier’s Wife and The War Bride – were set in Sydney during and just after the war years. Her latest, however, is set in Italy, and was inspired by the true story of Louise Mack, an Australian journalist who became the world’s first female war correspondent. 


The heroine is a strong-willed Australian journalist named Rebecca Quinn who has followed Jack, her war correspondent husband, to the frontline of the war in Italy. He goes undercover in Albania, leaving Rebecca alone in Brindisi, an Italian port town about halfway down Italy’s boot-heel. She is determined not to be sent home, but women journalists are not welcome and so she must prove herself even while struggling to stay safe. She begins to work with a talented Italian-American photographer named Sandro, racing to get scoops before any other journalist and finding herself in the heart of the action. Meanwhile, Jack goes missing and Rebecca finds her emotions in turmoil


The pages seemed to turn themselves, and I found myself sneaking off to read when I was meant to be working. A really thoughtful and subtle historical romance with lots of brains and lots of heart. 

BOOK REVIEW: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Wednesday, July 05, 2017



An Isolated Incident – Emily Maguire


The Blurb (from GoodReads)

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella's beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring.

As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation - anything - that could make even the smallest sense of Bella's death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris's suspicion of those around her grows.

An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media's obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.

PRAISE FOR EMILY MAGUIRE

"At the heart of ... Emily Maguire's work lies an urgent need to pull away at the interconnecting threads of morality, society and human relationships." Sydney Morning Herald

"What you get, along with a sharp mind and a keenness to investigate cultural confusions, is an engaging ability to put the vitality of the story first." Weekend Australian 


My Thoughts:

An Isolated Incident by Australian author Emily Maguire is a contemporary psychological suspense novel set in a small Australian town, with a particular emphasis on the traumatic effects of suspicion, grief and the voyeuristic curiosity of the public.

Bella Michaels is only twenty-five when she is found brutally raped and murdered on the side of the highway. Her sister Chris must find some way to deal with the intense scrutiny that the police and the media bring to every aspect of her and her sister’s lives. Chris works at the local pub, and sometimes takes a truckie home in return for a little extra cash. She has a broken marriage behind her, and drinks too much. She is haunted by her sister’s last moments, and paralysed by her own bleak future. 

Intense, powerful and raw, An Isolated Incident is an all-too-real look at the terrible cost of sexual violence in our society, and a profoundly intimate portrait of anguish and rage. It has justly been shortlisted for the Stella award. 


I also really enjoyed The Dry by Jane Harper, a very different but also very readable novel about murder in a small Australian country town - read my review here. 

BOOK REVIEW: Molly & Pim & the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

BLURB:

All Molly wants is to be normal like her friend Ellen Palmer. Ellen, with her neat braids and a tidy house and a mother and father who are home for dinner every night. But Molly's mom spends her mornings tramping through the woods, looking for ingredients for her potions. 

Their house is not neat, and their rooster, the Gentleman, runs wild in their yard. And it is the Gentleman that angers their grumpy neighbors, the Grimshaws. So Molly's mom makes a potion that will grow a tree between their houses. 

When Molly's mom accidentally drinks the potion and turns into the tree, Molly is determined to get her back. But with the Grimshaws planning to cut down the tree branches that reach onto their property, time is of the essence. With the help of her mysterious classmate Pim Wilder, Molly sets out to save her mother and discovers the wonder that lies in the ordinary. 

MY THOUGHTS:

This is a small but enchanting book about a girl named Molly whose mother accidentally changes herself into a tree. Molly is left alone to fend for herself, but discovers that she has more friends than she realised. 

I loved the character of Molly, who thought she just wanted to be ordinary but discovers that being herself is better. I also loved her fey and eccentric mother, who wanders the garden and woods looking for ingredients for magical potions, and Molly’s two friends, Ellen (whose normal life with a normal family is envied by Molly) and Pim (who is anything but normal). Each character is deftly and vividly drawn, and there is a charming mix of humour, whimsy and poignancy. Glorious.


BOOK REVIEW: Do You Love Me or What? by Sue Woolfe

Monday, May 29, 2017




BLURB:


A brilliant collection of short stories by the bestselling, award-winning author of Leaning Towards Infinity, Painted Woman and The Secret Cure


Do You Love Me or What? is a collection of eight sparkling, nuanced short stories from one of Australia’s most celebrated and loved writers. Written in elegant, shimmering prose, Sue’s stories are woven with themes encompassing love, loss and yearning, memory and identity, the desert and water, and people who live on the periphery of society. Her sentences are spare and evocative, yet paint fully realised pictures that speak of the poignant, shared experiences of the nature of relationships, past and present.


MY THOUGHTS:


A collection of eight elegant and poignant short stories, Do You Love Me or Not? is concerned with the (often failed) search for connection and love between humans. Each story introduces a new character, yet there are connections between the stories in setting, theme and language. 


Some of the stories are achingly sad, others frightening, and some tender and heart-warming. ‘Small Talk’ was my favourite. It tells the story of a woman who goes to the desert  and wants to connect with the local Indigenous people, but finds that the silence between them is more difficult to bridge than she had imagined. It is not until she listens to the silences that she begins to understand. The story is gorgeously written and vibrant with colour and sensual detail.


‘By early evening of that day, she’d travelled beyond the mountain range and was in country so flat, with trees so low, that when she turned on her heel, she saw the entire circle of the horizon spinning by. She didn’t put up her tent but lay under the dome of stars, watching the trajectory of the Southern Cross move directly above her toes, then above her stomach, above her chest, above her head. Until dawn, the black sky was spangled all the way down to the ground, all around her.


She felt herself become braver.’ 


I also loved ‘The Dancer Talks’, told from the point of view of a tango dancer who fears she is going blind. The story is full of the intensity and anguish of dancing: ‘Magdalena … had never ceased to marvel at the way dancers considered their bodies rather like the way her carpenter father considered a tool, something that, with enough skill, could create a heaven on earth.’


Just wonderful. 




BOOK REVIEW: 'The Dashing Widows' series by Anna Campbell

Thursday, April 13, 2017




The Seduction of Lord Stone – Anna Campbell

Tempting Mr Townsend – Anna Campbell

Winning Lord West – Anna Campbell

Pursuing Lord Pascal – Anna Campbell


MY THOUGHTS:

Australian author Anna Campbell is well-known for her sultry Regency romances, and these four books connect together to make a series called ‘The Dashing Widows’. Each book follows the amorous adventures of a beautiful widow and her entanglements with various rakes, dukes, and wicked uncles. The books are really just love bites – I read each one in a couple of hours – and often the action of one overlaps with the action of another. They are very sexy! Perfect holiday reading.

BOOK REVIEW: Sisters of the Fire by Kim Wilkins

Thursday, April 06, 2017

BLURB:

An action-packed, compelling historical fantasy, from the pen of an award-winning author

The battle-scarred warrior princess Bluebell, heir to her father’s throne, is rumoured to be unkillable. So when she learns of a sword wrought specifically to slay her by the fearsome raven king, Hakon, she sets out on a journey to find it before it finds her. The sword is rumoured to be in the possession of one of her four younger sisters. But which one? Scattered as they are across the kingdoms, she sets out on a journey to find them.

MY THOUGHTS:

Sisters of the Fire is the second in a new fantasy series by one of my favourite Australian writers, Kim Wilkins, following on from Daughters of the Storm. The story follows the adventures and misadventures of five sisters in a world very much like ancient Britain. There is Bluebell the warrior, Ash who is tormented by her ability to see the future, Rose who gambled all for love, Ivy who was sold into marriage for her father’s power, and Willow who plots against them all. The writing is elegant and lucid, and the story unspools swiftly and strongly. Filled with action, intrigue and a little bit of romance, this is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in a long while. 

BOOK REVIEW: Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

BLURB:

When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would begin to threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. Born into a world where woman were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

MY THOUGHTS:

I have spent the last two years deeply immersed in Victorian Britain. I have watched dozens of documentaries, and read more than a hundred biographies, memoirs, and histories of the time. Queen Victoria was a constant looming presence, sometimes revered, sometimes reviled. 

I was just finishing the final edit on Beauty in Thorns, my novel set in the mid 19th century, when Julia Baird’s immensely thick biography was published. It seemed a fitting way to finish my investigation of the period and so I paid the hefty $50 purchase price and lugged it home. I expected it to take me a while to finish, but the book is so warmly and engagingly written, and so fascinating, I whizzed through it in a couple of days. 

Described as ‘An intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire,’ Victoria the Queen busts open many of the myths about both the woman and the era. Victoria was tiny, forthright, and loved sex. She refused to be a mere figurehead, and used her position to promote profound changes in the society in which she lived. For example, she hated cruelty to animals and was instrumental in bringing about anti-vivisectionist laws. Even though she famously said women who marched for female suffrage should be whipped, Queen Victoria was a great example to many women and supported education and job training for girls. And she condemned those around her for their snobbery and racism, and was actively engaged in trying to break down such societal barriers.

It is clear Julia Baird’s research has been impeccable, and there is much in this biography that is fresh and new. However, it is her storytelling skills that really shine.  The crowded streets of London, the stifling atmosphere of the court, the pure air of the lonely Highlands, are all brought vividly to life, as are the people in Victoria’s life – her austere and brilliant husband, Prince Albert, the rough yet tender gilly John Brown, and the many different Prime Ministers who served her. By far, the best biography of Queen Victoria I’ve yet read.

BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer

Tuesday, March 21, 2017




Beyond the Orchard – Anna Romer 


BLURB (from GoodReads)


A haunting story of yearning, love and betrayal from the bestselling author of Thornwood House


Lucy Briar has arrived home in turmoil after years overseas. She’s met her fiancé in London and has her life mapped out, but something is holding her back.

Hoping to ground herself and find answers, Lucy settles into once familiar routines. But old tortured feelings flood Lucy’s existence when her beloved father, Ron, is hospitalised and Morgan – the man who drove her away all those years ago – seeks her out.

Worse, Ron implores Lucy to visit Bitterwood Estate, the crumbling historic family guesthouse now left to him. He needs Lucy to find something– an old photograph album, the very thing that drove Ron and his father apart.

Lucy has her own painful memories of Bitterwood, darkness that has plagued her dreams since she was young. But as Lucy searches for the album, the house begins to give up its ghosts and she is driven to put them to rest.

And there, held tightly between the house, the orchard and the soaring cliffs, Lucy uncovers a long-hidden secret that shattered a family’s bond and kept a frightened young girl in its thrall ... and Lucy discovers just how fierce the lonely heart can be.


MY THOUGHTS:

A story that moves between the past and the present, with intrigue, passion, betrayal and the metafictive use of a dark fairy-taleit’ll be no surprise to anyone that I loved Beyond the Orchard, the first novel of Anna Romer’s that I have read.
 

I loved the name of the heroine – ‘Lucy Briar’ - and the name of the house – ‘Bitterwood’. Names are always very important to me, and I love it when an author takes care in crafting their names. I also loved the setting – an old house set on cliffs with a creepy ice house in the gardens. The scenes set in the 1930s were particularly powerful, and I loved the us evocation of the Australian landscape.

The story is a complex one, with a great many characters and numerous different time periods, but I thought the numerous narrative threads were woven together with a light hand, and I never got confused about who was who and when was when. 

The mysteries hidden in the past were truly suspenseful, and I found myself turning the pages faster and faster, really wanting the secrets to be revealed

All in all, Beyond the Orchard is a tantalising mix of mystery and romance – Anna Romer weaves together the past and the present with a deft hand, creating a compelling page-turner with a shadowy fairy-tale-like atmosphere.

Love parallel narratives? Lots more reviewed here!


ANY RECOMMENDATIONS OF SIMILAR BOOKS FOR ME? Leave them in the Comments below :)

BOOK REVIEW: Kumiko & the Dragon By Briony Stewart

Sunday, March 19, 2017




Kumiko and the Dragon
– Briony Stewart
Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret – Briony Stewart
Kumiko and the Shadow-catchers – Briony Stewart


BLURB of Book 1 (from GoodReads)


Kumiko doesn't like going to bed. She can't sleep, and the reason she can't sleep is because of the giant dragon that sits outside her bedroom window, every single night.

So one night she plucks up the courage to ask the dragon to leave, not knowing that the truth she is about to discover is more thrilling than anything she could ever have imagined.


MY THOUGHTS:

This delightful story will take the young readers on a soaring dragon adventure, as Kumiko discovers a strength she never even knew she had.

A trilogy of charming fantasy books for very young readers, inspired by the tales that Briony Stewart’s Japanese grandmother used to tell her. Kumiko is frightened of going to bed because a dragon spends each night perched outside her bedroom window. One day she plucks up the courage to write the dragon a note … and so begins her adventures with the many different dragons who live in the clouds above our world. 

Some really beautiful writing.



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