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BOOK REVIEW: Love & Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food by Charlotte Wood –

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The award-winning author of The Children and Animal People, explores the solitary and shared pleasures of cooking and eating in an ode to good food, prepared and presented with minimum fuss and maximum love.

'What's important is the fact of eating together - the gathering at the table, the conviviality.'

Love & Hunger is a distillation of everything Charlotte Wood has learned over more than twenty years about cooking and the pleasures of simple food well made. In this age of gastro-porn and the fetishisation of food, the pressure to be as expert as the chefs we've turned into celebrities can feel overwhelming.

An instant antidote to such madness is this wise and practical book - an ode to good food, prepared and presented with minimum fuss and maximum love.

Cooking represents 'creativity in its purest form'. It is meditation and stimulation, celebration and solace, a gift both offered and received. It can nourish the soul - and the mind - as well as the body. Love & Hunger will make you long to get into the kitchen to try the surprising tips and delicious recipes, and will leave you feeling freshly inspired to cook with joy for the people you love. Love & Hunger is a gift for all who value the solitary and shared pleasures of cooking and eating. Like a simple but glorious meal, this feast of a book is infused with warmth and generosity.

Acclaimed and award-winning novelist Charlotte Wood also writes the popular cookery blog How to Shuck an Oyster and is a brilliant home cook and food enthusiast. An invitation to dinner at Charlotte's house is always cause for celebration.


My Thoughts:

Charlotte Wood is best known as the Stella-award-winning author of The Natural Way of Things, but she is also a brilliant cook and food writer. For quite a few years, she wrote a food blog called ‘How to Shuck an Oyster’ in which philosophical musings on the importance of food and eating were mixed with helpful tips on how to be a better cook.

Love & Hunger grew out of this blog, and is a warm, wise, personal and practical collection of essays, recipes and cooking advice. Charlotte shares her own discovery of the art of cooking, gives guidance on how to be a good host, offers shrewd insights into the causes of picky eating, mediates on the fear of death in the disgust of offal, and brings me to tears discussing the best way to cook for people who are ill and dying.

I love to cook myself, and relish reading books about food and cooking. It is rare, however, to find one written with such intelligence, sensitivity, and skill. There is not a sentence in the whole book that is not beautifully constructed, and not an essay which does not enlighten and inspire. Love & Hunger is a book to be read in a single gulp, and then returned to again and again for savouring.

For another great food-inspired read, check out my review of Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.



BOOK REVIEW: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross

Saturday, June 09, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast's side of the story at long last.


I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.

My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.

And now I might lose her forever.


My Thoughts:

The Beast's Heart by debut Australian author Leife Shallcross is a retelling of the classic French fairy-tale ‘La Belle et la Bête’, told from the perspective of the Beast. Like many lovers of fairy-tales, it is one of my own personal favourites and I have drawn upon its symbols and structures in my own novel, The Beast’s Garden, which is set in Nazi Germany.

Leife Shallcross’s novel is a much more conventional fairy-tale retelling, set in a magical world of castles and forests and curses. I do not call it conventional as a perjorative: I love this type of story. Authors such as Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier, Helen Lowe, Shannon Hale and Edith Pattou have all enchanted me with their reimaginings of old tales, and The Beast’s Heart deserves to take its place amongst the best of them.

The original tale was written by the French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. It was then greatly reduced and simplified by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and re-published in 1756, just thirty-three years before the French Revolution. It is Mme Beaumont’s version which is best known, and which Leife Shallcross has drawn upon rather than the 1991 Disney animated film.

One key difference is that Belle has sisters in the original tale, and their challenges and love affairs add action and humour to Leife Shallcross’s tale, as the Beast watches them through his magic mirror.

Leife Shallcross writes beautifully, and there is a great deal of charm in the depiction of the Beast and his longing for friendship and love. The Beauty of the tale is also brought to life with depth and complexity. She is called Isabeau, which is a name I love (I called the heroine of my own debut novel Isabeau too!)

I also loved the depiction of the Fairy and the unexpected reasons for her casting the curse.

There has been a fashion in recent years for depicting fairy-tales as dark, violent, and sexually charged fantasies, but I prefer this more lyrical and romantic style. The action of the plot unfolds slowly and sensitively, and time is taken to bring the magical world vividly to life.

A compelling and surprising retelling of ‘Beauty & the Beast’, this debut offering from an Australian author is filled with peril, darkness, romance and beauty. Utterly enchanting!

You might also be interested to read my post about my favourite fairy tale retellings.

I was lucky enough to interview Leife Shallcross for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Struggling detective Alisha Barba is trying to get her life back on track after almost being crippled by a murder suspect. Now on her feet again she receives a desperate plea from an old school friend, who is eight months pregnant and in trouble. On the night they arrange to meet, her friend is run down and killed by a car and Alisha discovers the first in a series of haunting and tragic deceptions.

Determined to uncover the truth, she embarks upon a dangerous journey that will take her from the East End of London’s to Amsterdam’s murky red light district and into a violent underworld of sex trafficking, slavery and exploitation.


My Thoughts:

I can always rely on Michael Robotham to deliver an intelligent, fast-paced and psychologically indepth crime thiller, and The Night Ferry is no exception.

At the end of his earlier novel, Lost, young Alisha Barba has her back broken by a murder suspect. She is now trying to get her life back together again, but no-one wants her on their team. One day she receives a plea for help from an old school friend:

Dear Ali, I’m in trouble. I must see you. Please come to the reunion. Love, Cate.

Alisha has not spoken to her onetime best friend in more than eight years. Reluctantly she goes to the reunion, only to discover Cate is eight months pregnant. Her friend only has time to whisper to her, ‘They want to take my baby. You have to stop them’ before she disappears into the crowd. Moments later, she and her husband are both dead in what appears to be a tragic car accident.

Alisha suspects foul play, and begins to dig. It is not long before she uncovers an intricate web of lies and secrets. Each new discovery leads to danger and death. Alisha follows the clues to Amsterdam’s red-light district and hints of baby trafficking.

Ex-cop Vincent Ruiz (the hero of Lost) makes a welcome appearance, in a fast-paced and brilliantly plotted story that changes Alisha’s life forever.


You can read my review of another Michael Robotham book, The Suspect, here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!




BOOK REVIEW: And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

 

The Blurn (From Goodreads):

Deaf since early childhood, Caleb Zelic is used to meeting life head-on. Now, he’s struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.

But when a young woman is killed, after pleading for his help in sign language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. The trail leads Caleb back to his hometown, Resurrection Bay. The town is on bushfire alert, and simmering with racial tensions. As Caleb delves deeper, he uncovers secrets that could ruin any chance of reuniting with Kat, and even threaten his life. Driven by his own demons, he pushes on. But who is he willing to sacrifice along the way?


My Thoughts:

A contemporary crime novel set in Australia, and featuring a hearing-impaired private investigator, And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic is bold, fresh, original, and achingly real.

I bought her book after putting out a call on Facebook for some great crime recommendations. Emma Viksic’s name was mentioned several times and so, seeing this novel while browsing in a bookstore, I grabbed it.

It’s the second in a series, with the first book Resurrection Bay winning a swathe of awards including the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction. I do wish I’d bought Book 1 first, as there are inevitable references to what happened previously, and some of the characters are introduced only briefly, the reader obviously meant to recognise them from earlier encounters.

Nonetheless, I was hooked in from the very first page, in which a mysterious young woman asks the hero Caleb for help in sign language … and then dies. Written in taut, pared-back language, with moments of dark wit and humour and high-octane action, And Fire Came Down is a compulsive page-turner.

The setting is vivid and memorable too – a small Australian country town baking in the summer heat with drug-fuelled violence and racial tensions simmering just below the surface. I could feel the sweat sliding down Caleb’s back and smell the dangerous hint of bushfire smoke in the scorchingly hot air. Just brilliant.

You might also be interested in my review of another great Australian crime novel, The Dry by Jane Harper.

I was lucky enough to interview Emma Viskic for the blog this week, you can read it here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The most enchanting debut novel of 2018, this is an irresistible, deeply moving and romantic story of a young girl, daughter of an abusive father, who has to learn the hard way that she can break the patterns of the past, live on her own terms and find her own strength.

After her family suffers a tragedy when she is nine years old, Alice Hart is forced to leave her idyllic seaside home. She is taken in by her estranged grandmother, June, a flower farmer who raises Alice on the language of Australian native flowers, a way to say the things that are too hard to speak. But Alice also learns that there are secrets within secrets about her past. Under the watchful eye of June and The Flowers, women who run the farm, Alice grows up. But an unexpected betrayal sends her reeling, and she flees to the dramatically beautiful central Australian desert. Alice thinks she has found solace, until she falls in love with Dylan, a charismatic and ultimately dangerous man.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story about stories: those we inherit, those we select to define us, and those we decide to hide. It is a novel about the secrets we keep and how they haunt us, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. Spanning twenty years, set between the lush sugar cane fields by the sea, a native Australian flower farm, and a celestial crater in the central desert, Alice must go on a journey to discover that the most powerful story she will ever possess is her own.


My Thoughts:

An astonishingly assured debut, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a story of love, loss, betrayal and the redemptive power of storytelling. It is both heart-breaking and life-affirming.

A coming-of-age story with a vividly evocative Australian setting, this novel follows the story of Alice Hart who must learn to escape the shadows of an abusive father in order to build a life for herself.

At the age of nine, Alice suffers the tragic loss of her mother and baby brother. She is taken from her seaside home to live with her grandmother, June, who grows bush flowers and takes in battered and abused women so they can heal in peace. June has developed a secret language of Australian native flowers, to help say the things that are too hard to speak aloud.

Mute and damaged, Alice slowly begins to recover from the wounds of her past, but there are too many secrets, too many shadows. Hurt and betrayed, Alice flees the flower farm and heads into the hot red heart of the Australian desert. She begins to rebuild her life once again, and falls recklessly and dangerously in love.

Sensitive, sympathetic, and vulnerable, Alice is like so many young women, struggling to make sense of their life, wanting to love and be loved but hurt by the danger of feeling so deeply, and needing to find their own voice so they can finally speak up and tell their story. Her journey is one that feels so familiar, and yet is uniquely and powerfully her own.

The Australian landscape, and its strange and beautiful flora, also has a potent presence in the novel. I absolutely loved the use of the secret language of flowers, and how it helped those inarticulate with pain and grief find a way to speak out, tell their story and so find release and healing. The sparkling waters and deep dragging undertow of the seashore, the dull green-grey of the bush with its hidden beauties only visible to those who take the time to see, and the extraordinary fierce grandeur of the red heart of Australia were evoked with such clarity and intimacy, I could feel the heat on my skin, taste the dust on my tongue, smell the tang of eucalyptus and salt in the air.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is beautiful, powerful, intense, and tender, a book to shake your heart and bring a lump to your throat.

You might also be interested in my review of Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder.

I was lucky enough to interview Holly for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Friday, April 06, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.


My Thoughts:

I am a big fan of Liane Moriarty’s books, and was eager to read her latest exploration of the dark side of suburbia. She always has razor-sharp insights into contemporary life, cleverly wrought and suspenseful plots, and enough warmth to balance out the dark undertones. Truly Madly Guilty has a BBQ at its heart, with three couples torn apart by what happened that sunny afternoon. There is Clementine and Adam, a cellist and a marketing executive who have two gorgeous little girls. Erika went to school with Clementine and has to deal with a difficult mother who refuses to ever throw anything out. She and her husband Oliver cannot have children but lavish love on Clementine’s daughters. Their neighbours, Tiffany and Vid, are rich, flamboyant and colourful, and their ten-year-old daughter Dakota has her nose in a book all the time. Something happens that day that shakes all their worlds … but Liane Moriarty skirts around the cataclysmic event, keeping the reader guessing. Love, sex, hurt, betrayal, unkindness, and misunderstandings abound. A great holiday read.

You might also enjoy my 2015 interview with Liane Moriarty.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: Sixty Seconds by Jesse Blackadder

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Inspired by the author's own family experience. The Brennans - parents Finn and Bridget, and their sons, Jarrah and Toby - have made a sea change, shifting from chilly Hobart to a sprawling purple weatherboard in subtropical Murwillumbah. Feeling like foreigners in this land of sun and surf, they are only just starting to settle when, one morning, tragedy strikes - changing their lives forever.

Determined to protect his wife, Finn finds himself under the police and media spotlight. Guilty and enraged, Bridget spends her nights hunting answers in the last place imaginable. Jarrah - his innocence lost - is propelled suddenly from his teens into frightening adulthood. As all three are pushed to the limit, questions fly: Who is to blame? And what does it take to forgive?

A haunting and ultimately redemptive story about what it takes to forgive.


My Thoughts:

A few years ago I bought a novel called The Raven’s Heart by a writer I had never heard of, Jesse Blackadder. I was partly seduced by the cover and partly by the subtitle, ‘The Story of A Quest, a Castle, and Mary, Queen of Scots.’ It sounded just like my kind of book! And it was. I adored it so much I wrote to the author and told her so. Jesse wrote back to say thank you and to ask me if I would be willing to launch her next book for her. Chasing the Light was inspired by the story of the first women to travel to Antarctica. I was intrigued enough by the premise to agree to read the book, and then – once I had read it and loved it – to launch it. So Jesse and I met for the first time at Chasing the Light’s book launch in 2013 and we’ve been fast friends ever since.

We’ve attended festivals together in both Australia and the UK, and last year spent a close-bonding week together as part of the Byron Writers Festival ‘Five Writers Road Trip’ around far northern New South Wales. Jesse told me that she was working on a novel inspired by a family tragedy that had had a powerful shaping force upon her life and her imagination. When Jesse was twelve, her two-year-old sister had drowned in their backyard pool. Jesse had tried to grapple with this catastrophe in her fiction before, but it had always been too raw, too close to home. As the 40th anniversary of her sister’s birth approached, however, Jesse had experienced a moment of epiphany. The story of Sixty Seconds had sprung into her imagination, demanding to be told.

Although it is inspired by true life, Sixty Seconds is a work of fiction. It begins: ‘The boy steps into this day like he owns it – like he is, in fact, God and has conjured this up with a sweep of his hand before breakfast: this achingly blue sky, this currawong sending out a ringing call from the verandah post, this water dragon sunning on a warm rock to loosen her scales, cocking her head and blinking a yellow eye in his direction.’

It’s a moment of easy joy and summery beauty, made heartbreakingly poignant by the tragedy we know is about to happen.

Sixty Seconds articulates what must be every parent’s greatest dread. The death of a beloved child, the grief and horror and guilt, ‘the seismic shift’, as Jesse calls it, which changes everyone’s life. Told in alternating chapters between the points-of-view of the boy’s father Finn, his mother Bridget, and his elder brother, Jarrah, the book moves forward from this point of shock, and shows how the ripples affect the whole community. Each voice is distinctively different. Jarrah speaks in first person, Finn in third person, and Bridget – most interestingly - in second person (and present tense). It’s a bold and unconventional narrative choice, but it works. Each chapter is very short, and so the fractured narrative structure of the book reflects the shattered family unit. As Bridget reflects, ‘the three of you – Finn, you, Jarrah – clinging to each other, rain-slicked, like shipwreck survivors. All looking in different directions.’

There is always a danger of melodrama and sentimentality when writing of tragedy, but Jesse never veers anywhere close. Her language is simple, direct and powerful. The story has tremendous pace, as the ramifications of the boy’s death reverberate through the grief-stricken family. Secrets are revealed, choices and mistakes made. At the heart of the novel is the question: can anyone recover from such a loss? If so, how?

The final chapters of this beautiful novel gave me chills all over my body, and such a lump in my throat I could not breathe. Both haunting and heart-rending, Sixty Seconds is as much a story about the redemptive power of love as it is about the terrible power of grief. I know some people will be afraid of reading it, afraid of how close it may cut to the bone. I can only urge you to read it anyway. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece. 


You might also like to read my 2013 interview with Jesse Blackadder


Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts!

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: 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. 


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