Monday, March 30, 2020

Review: The Good Turn

Title: The Good Turn (Cormac Reilly #3)
Author: Dervla McTiernan
Publisher: 24th February 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, crime, fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups


The unputdownable new novel from the bestselling author of The Ruin and The Scholar. Police corruption, an investigation that ends in tragedy and the mystery of a little girl's silence - three unconnected events that will prove to be linked by one small town.
While Detective Cormac Reilly faces enemies at work and trouble in his personal life, Garda Peter Fisher is relocated out of Galway with the threat of prosecution hanging over his head. But even that is not as terrible as having to work for his overbearing father, the local copper for the pretty seaside town of Roundstone.
For some, like Anna and her young daughter Tilly, Roundstone is a refuge from trauma. But even this village on the edge of the sea isn't far enough to escape from the shadows of evil men.
My Thoughts

Following up her most successful debut ‘The Ruin’, author Dervla McTiernan delivered a sensational second story in the Cormac Reilly series ‘The Scholar’ (HERE) which I just loved. Now, the third (and possible final for this series momentarily) comes, ‘The Good Turn’. Dervla (who you simply must listen to via podcast interviews - she is wonderful) truly cements herself in crime fiction writing. 

If you are a crime/police procedural fan then you are in for a real treat with these books. They are brilliant. Do you need to read them in order? It helps, however, it is not essential as in some series of books. This book set in wintry Ireland delves into things such as a missing girl, police corruption and an individual's role in the larger picture: 

"I think some part of me thought that that part of my life was ahead of me. But then one day I woke up and I was forty-two and the day still hadn’t arrived. I’m still not sure ... but it would give it all some meaning, wouldn’t it? If I moved here so we could be together, maybe I wouldn’t mind working a job I didn’t care about if there was something else, something bigger to focus on.’  

Dervla has two real strengths - characterisation and plotting. Main and secondary characters are so well fleshed out and engaging, the reader relates to them on many levels (I hear Dervla is in talks with actor Colin Farrell and his sister looking to produce the series - how fabulous would that be!) Then there is Dervla’s plot twists and turns that keep you completely enraptured to the very climactic end. Dervla knows her stuff when it comes to police procedures do’s and don’ts.  The difference with this book was attention given to more than one case which was well done. 

I highly recommend that if this is your type of reading, do yourself a favour and read this sensational Irish crime mystery - it will not disappoint. 

"‘It’s always easy, looking back, to see how things might have been different. But you did what you did for the right reasons. It’s the nature of your job to put you in situations where you have to make life and death decisions, sometimes with not enough sleep and no food and fuck all     support. It’s not the same, exactly, but trust me when I say that I know what it’s like. You have to learn to make a call in the moment, and then live with it, moving forward without destroying yourself without regrets. "

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Review: Phosphorescence

Title: Phosphorescence
Author: Julia Baird
Publisher: 23rd March 2020 by Harper Collins Australia
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: biography, memoir, nonfiction
My Rating: 5 cups

A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness - the 'light within' that Julia Baird calls 'phosphorescence' - which will sustain us even through the darkest times.
Over the last decade, we have become better at knowing what brings us contentment, well-being and joy. We know, for example, that there are a few core truths to science of happiness. We know that being kind and altruistic makes us happy, that turning off devices, talking to people, forging relationships, living with meaning and delving into the concerns of others offer our best chance at achieving happiness. But how do we retain happiness? It often slips out of our hands as quickly as we find it. So, when we are exposed to, or learn, good things, how do we continue to burn with them?
And more than that, when our world goes dark, when we're overwhelmed by illness or heartbreak, loss or pain, how do we survive, stay alive or even bloom? In the muck and grit of a daily existence full of disappointments and a disturbing lack of control over many of the things that matter most - finite relationships, fragile health, fraying economies, a planet in peril - how do we find, nurture and carry our own inner, living light - a light to ward off the darkness?
Absorbing, achingly beautiful, inspiring and deeply moving, Julia Baird has written exactly the book we need for these times.
My Thoughts

The release of this book could not be more well timed with all that is currently going on in the world. Here author Julia Baird sheds light on seeking enjoyment through the little things in life,  purposefully recognising moments of awe that will assist in providing a move to mindfulness and acknowledgment of our place in the universe. She claims this book to be a ‘salve’ by finding the small things that keep one afloat in times of hardship, by seeking the comforts that keep you going.

‘... the answers to the question that inspired this book —how do we endure when suffering becomes unbearable and our obstacles seem monstrous? How do we continue to glow when the lights turn out? —are there, right in front of us, all the time. All we can do really is keep placing one foot on the earth, then the other, to seek out ancient paths and forests, certain in the knowledge that others have endured before us.’

Ask the right questions: 
instead of how do we stay happy, should we ask how do we survive, stay alive or even bloom when the world goes dark’

Take note of those special moments:
‘... we need to reach for those tiny drops of stillness. And they can fall throughout our day, in snatched or carved-out moments, even in the midst of working, commuting, loving.’

This book is a timely reminder to stay grounded even in uncertainty, positivity within brings a calm without. Take stock, take note, be reassured in the fact that little things can bring a lasting and positive impact to one’s life. Things to sustain you in moments of darkness.

‘... we have the ability to find, nurture and carry our own inner, living light —a light to ward off the darkness. This is not about burning brightly, but yielding simple phosphorescence —being luminous at temperatures below incandescence, quietly glowing without combusting.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Review:The Paris Model

Title: The Paris Model
Author: Alexandra Joel
Publisher: 20th January 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, romance
My Rating: 4.5 cups


Sometimes you have to lose everything to find yourself ... A stunning novel of love, betrayal and family secrets for all fans of Fiona McIntosh and Natasha Lester.
After a shocking discovery, Grace Woods leaves her vast Australian sheep station and travels to tumultuous post-war Paris in order to find her true identity.
While working as a mannequin for Christian Dior, the world's newly acclaimed emperor of fashion, Grace mixes with counts and princesses, authors and artists, diplomats and politicians.
But when Grace falls for handsome Philippe Boyer she doesn't know that he is leading a double life, nor that his past might inflict devastating consequences upon her. As she is drawn into Philippe's dangerous world of international espionage, Grace discovers both the shattering truth of her origins - and that her life is in peril.
Inspired by an astonishing true story, The Paris Model is a tale of glamour, family secrets and heartbreak that takes you from the rolling plains of country Australia to the elegant salons of Paris.
My Thoughts

‘She had learnt harder lessons: about the complexities of identity; the truths that hid behind secrets and lies; the challenges of making heartbreaking decisions in a world of elusive certainties and infinite grey shades.’

Alexandra Joel, a former magazine editor, has turned her hand to historical fiction and what a fabulous job she has done! The Paris Model is based on a true story with Alexandra even keeping the original names for authenticity. It is a work of fiction, however, based around events of the time.  In this story the reader will travel from rural New South Wales Australia to the fashion houses of Paris France in the 1950s. This is a tale of family secrets with a wonderful window into the fashion of the time. On a deeper level, it is also an examination of several themes including the role of women in a time of great change. 

The story is set in post WWII and begins in outback Australia. It is a wonderful tale in itself: Grace was in a difficult marriage with a returned airman and then was plucked from a Sydney showing and selected to be a ‘mannequin’ for the famed fashion house of Christian Dior! There is a book right there especially with the people Grace mixes with including one, Jacqueline Bouiver. I was happy with this story - old life, new life and love and a great tale of family secrets etc. What was then thrown in the mix was espionage - this I was not too sure about. 

To me it seemed unnecessary that Grace become a part of conspiracies and secret missions - all a bit too much in my opinion. This is where the tale launched into full roller coaster mode of people, politics, even shootings and car chases! Was this needed in an already complete story ... I’m not too sure. 

Overall, however, this only detracted half a star for me as I found the story as a whole very compelling. Historical fiction (based on fact) with locations of Aussie outback to the City of Lights, a great story of heritage and family ties all sprinkled with a bit of romance. As Alexandra cited at the end of her story:

‘The epigraph at the front of The Paris Model quotes Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, published in Paris in that landmark year, 1949. In it, the author exhorted women to challenge the myth that their modest and compliant ‘essence’ was immutable, and to instead throw themselves into lives that were not defined by gender.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Review: The Other Bennet Sister

Title: The Other Bennet Sister
Author: Janice Hadlow
Publisher: 28th January 2020 by Pan Macmillan Australia
Pages: 480 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, retellings, romance, Jane Austen spin off
My Rating: 4 cups


It is a sad fact of life that if a young woman is unlucky enough to come into the world without expectations, she had better do all she can to ensure she is born beautiful. To be handsome and poor is misfortune enough; but to be both plain and penniless is a hard fate indeed.
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the middle of the five Bennet girls and the plainest of them all, so what hope does she have? Prim and pious, with no redeeming features, she is unloved and seemingly unlovable.
The Other Bennet Sister, though, shows another side to Mary. An introvert in a family of extroverts; a constant disappointment to her mother who values beauty above all else; fearful of her father’s sharp tongue; with little in common with her siblings – is it any wonder she turns to books for both company and guidance? And, if she finds her life lonely or lacking, that she determines to try harder at the one thing she can be: right.
One by one, her sisters marry – Jane and Lizzy for love; Lydia for some semblance of respectability – but Mary, it seems, is destined to remain single and live out her life at Longbourn, at least until her father dies and the house is bequeathed to the reviled Mr Collins.
But when that fateful day finally comes, she slowly discovers that perhaps there is hope for her, after all.
Simultaneously a wonderfully warm homage to Jane Austen and a delightful new story in its own right, Janice Hadlow's The Other Bennet Sister is, at its heart, a life-affirming tale of a young woman finding her place in the world. Witty and uplifting, it will make you feel – and cheer – for Mary as you never have before.

My Thoughts

The Other Bennet Sister is an interesting tale of the often overlooked sister from Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet. The bookish and supposedly boring Mary, comes under the microscope and we see events from her point of view. 

‘I will only say it seems plain to me that you long for happiness and freedom. But I’m afraid the first is only to be had by embracing the second, and it takes a great deal of courage to do that. Especially for a woman.’ He rose, brushing the dust from his coat. ‘For you, I think it would be a risk worth taking. You weren’t made to live a dull, ordinary, little life. You deserve more than that.’

The first third of the book goes over familiar territory for fans of Jane Austen’s original tale, only this time seen through the eyes of Mary. For example, when she was pulled from the piano at Netherfield by her father. Interestingly, you see how Mary felt so ostracized being in the middle with the two older and two younger sisters pairing up. Her upbringing most certainly impacted upon her self perception and flowing on from that, her interactions outside the family. 

What sets this tale apart from the many reimaginings is how Hadlow brought to life many of the minor characters. For example, I particularly enjoyed Mary’s interactions with Mr Collins later on in the novel, where an increase in empathy occurs and it was interesting to see the lives of both Charlotte and Mr Collins after their move to Longbourn and how life turned out for them. Another great insight is provided into the Gardiner’s who featured so little in the original tale. 

Hadlow also delivers solid social commentary on the lives of women at this time. The conversations Mary has with Charlotte - both prior to and after her marriage - could be considered fairly typical for females in the older age bracket at that time. Even how Mary’s words were interpreted by Mr Ryder and his initial proposal are insightful. The other interesting aspect to consider is how Hadlow has sought to infuse a range of Jane Austen themes - pride and prejudice, sense and sensibility - are clear to see. Some may claim maybe a little too stereotypical, even Mary’s personal evolvement from start to finish is somewhat cliched. The one definite drawback (and loss of star) concerned what I consider the unnecessary length of the book - it’s just too long in places.

‘Our lives are so brief and yet we spend so much of them obeying rules we did not make. The spirit of this place can’t help but make me imagine what it would be like to be truly free. To speak and behave not as we thought was proper, but as we really wished to do, if we were honest enough to confess it.’

All up The Other Bennet Sister is a charming reimagining. For Austen fans, it will prove a wonderful trip back to familiar times with the charming addition of how life unfolded for the not so boring and bookish Mary Bennet. 

‘And above all, don’t long for what you cannot have, but learn to recognise what is possible, and when it presents itself, seize upon it with both hands. It seems to me this is the only route to happiness for those of us born with neither beauty, riches, nor charm.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Review: The River Home

Title: The River Home
Author: Hannah Richell
Publisher: 25th February 2020 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 357 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 5 cups


The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under... The new novel from bestselling author Hannah Richell. A wise and emotionally powerful story of a broken family and the courage it takes to heal.
The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under...
'It's something she learned years ago - the hard way - and that she knows she will never forget: even the sweetest fruit will fall and rot into the earth, eventually. No matter how deep you bury the pain, the bones of it will rise up to haunt you ... like the echoes of a summer's night, like the river flowing relentlessly on its course.'
Margot Sorrell didn't want to go home. She had spent all her adult life trying not to look behind. But a text from her sister Lucy brought her back to Somerset. 'I need you.'
As Margot, Lucy and their eldest sister, Eve, reunite in the house they grew up in beside the river, the secrets they keep from each other, and from themselves, refuse to stay hidden. A wedding brings them together but long-simmering resentments threaten to tear the family apart. No one could imagine the way this gathering would change them all forever. And through the sorrow they are forced to confront, there is a chance that healing will also come. But only if the truth is told.

My Thoughts

“The memory brings an ache - nostalgia for the past, when everything felt so simple and uncomplicated, for a time when they didn’t have to let go of anything more weighty than dandelion seeds.”

I have been eagerly anticipating my first book of Hannah’s and I was not disappointed. The River Home is a story about family secrets, past and present, and the impact it has on the various members. With a strong focus on the three sisters, events slowly unravel over the course of the novel with far reaching ramifications. 

The story moves between past and present with Hannah masterfully moving all the puzzle pieces, slowly revealing the fallout from each of the various characters' interactions over the years. Can this dysfunctional family, broken apart through miscommunication and failure to be honest, heal itself? A story of several characters is easy to follow thanks to Hannah’s skill in writing - each being so real and their individual tale, as part of the whole, is seamlessly presented. Overall themes of tragedy and heartbreak make you wonder if they will each find their closure and be able to move on. The plot lines speak to the heart and you will reflect and ponder how you may have reacted when in such dire circumstances. 

What is so appealing about this novel when there are a plethora of books out there on dysfunctional families? It all comes down to how engaging Hannah's writing is. Her eloquent prose is engaging with its imagery and nuances to make it feel as if you are sitting at the kitchen table as events unfold - a spectator to both the joy and grief. Featured throughout is the river ... symbolic as it too winds its way through events with a role of its own to play.

“She would never, ever utter a word about what happened that night, down by the river.”

The River Home by Hannah Richell is an emotional mystery, filled with family drama -  from the long felt bitterness and resentment to the hope of a brighter future. 

“You’re not empty. You’re afraid. Let yourself feel. Let yourself feel it all. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I’m afraid I will crack”.
“If you crack, perhaps you might start to heal?”
“What if I don’t? What if I break?”
``Then I will be here to hold the pieces.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.