Valentine’s Day romance stack

My Valentine’s Day romance stack

Hello and wishing everybody a happy Valentine’s Day. Or a happy Sunday if celebrating VDay isn’t really your thing.

In any case, it’s a gloomy Sunday here in Melbourne and we’re in the middle of another (hopefully) short lockdown, so I feel like it’s a great day to curl up on the couch with a romance novel. I’ve prepared a nice stack of some of my favourite romance reads over the years, plus a couple of bonus books amongst the shelves in the background.

There’s a little bit of something for everyone, so I hope you all have a great weekend and happy reading!

With her tousled blond hair and upturned nose, dark glasses and chic black dresses, Holly Golightly is top notch in style and a sensation wherever she goes. Her brownstone apartment vibrates with martini-soaked parties as she plays hostess to millionaires and gangsters alike. Yet Holly never loses sight of her ultimate goal.

Truman Capote’s BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S is very different from the movie. It’s much darker and Holly Golightly is even wilder than the movie version. This is an interesting book to read and a great choice if you are a bit sick of all the Valentine’s Day gushy stuff. I think this might be one of the rare times that I prefer the movie to the book.

GOODREADS

It’s tough to beat Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly

‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

Jane Austen is another great romance author for anyone feeling a little bit cynical about love. Austen’s dry wit and astute observations about love and human nature will draw you into her world every time.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

‘Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?’

Set on the bleak moors of Yorkshire, Lockwood is forced to seek shelter at Wuthering Heights, the home of his new landlord, Heathcliff. The intense and wildly passionate Heathcliff tells the story of his life, his all-consuming love for Catherine Earnshaw and the doomed outcome of that relationship, leading to his revenge.

Poetic, complex and grand in its scope, Emily Brontë’s masterpiece is considered one of the most unique gothic novels of its time.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS is probably the darkest book on this list and perfect if you’re feeling a bit anti-love this weekend. Almost all of the characters are terrible and there aren’t many happy endings here, but it’s also one of the most beautiful Gothic novels and I’m looking forward to re-reading this book shortly.

GOODREADS

A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it.

When aristocrat Clifford returns from the war, paralysed from the waist down, his wife Connie Chatterley becomes isolated and despairs of the post-war years, yearning for human connection among the emotionally dead intellectuals that surround her. When the aloof, but noble, Oliver Mellors returns to the estate as gamekeeper, Connie begings an affair, feeling that she has connected in a sensual, primordial way for the first time.

Hugely controversial at the time of its publication, Lawrence’s exploration of class differences and love and his celebration of sexuality resonates against his view of the repressed modern condition.

LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER has a long reputation as one of the most scandalous classics, often read in secret by teenagers, but I found it underwhelming when I read it for the first time a couple of years ago. There’s plenty of sex and swearing but it wasn’t as confronting or titillating as I was expecting. It’s still a great read with some fascinating social commentary.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

Birth. Death. Wonder … One woman’s journey to the edge of love and loyalty from the bestselling author of The Lace Weaver

London, 1702. When her husband is lost at sea, Mary Burton Gulliver, midwife and herbalist, is forced to rebuild her life without him. But three years later when Lemuel Gulliver is brought home, fevered and communicating only in riddles, her ordered world is turned upside down.

In a climate of desperate poverty and violence, Mary is caught in a crossfire of suspicion and fear driven by her husband’s outlandish claims, and it is up to her to navigate a passage to safety for herself and her daughter, and the vulnerable women in her care.

When a fellow sailor, a dangerous man with nothing to lose, appears to hold sway over her husband, Mary’s world descends deeper into chaos, and she must set out on her own journey to discover the truth of Gulliver’s travels . . . and the landscape of her own heart.

I’m still reading GULLIVER’S WIFE and it’s a wonderful retelling of the classic Gulliver’s Travels from the perspective of his wife and daughter. This book is perfect for the historical fiction fan who loves strong feminist characters with witchy midwife vibes. It features more action than romance and it’s beautifully written. Stay tuned for my review coming soon.

GOODREADS

1948. The world is struggling to regain a sense of balance after the devastation of World War II, and the sugar cane-growing community of Piri River in northern Queensland is no exception.

As returned servicemen endeavour to adjust to their pre-war lives, women who had worked for the war effort are expected to embrace traditional roles once more.

Rosie Stanton finds it difficult to return to the family farm after years working for the Australian Women’s Army Service. Reminders are everywhere of the brothers she lost in the war and she is unable to understand her father’s contempt for Italians, especially the Conti family next door. When her father takes ill, Rosie challenges tradition by managing the farm, but outside influences are determined to see her fail.

Desperate to leave his turbulent history behind, Tomas Conti has left Italy to join his family in Piri River. Tomas struggles to adapt in Australia—until he meets Rosie. Her easy-going nature and positive outlook help him forget the life he’s escaped. But as their relationship grows, so do tensions between the two families until the situation becomes explosive.

When a long-hidden family secret is discovered and Tomas’s mysterious past is revealed, everything Rosie believes is shattered. Will she risk all to rebuild her family or will she lose the only man she’s ever loved?

BURNING FIELDS is a sweet Australian Historical Romance set in Northern Queensland, 1948. It’s an epic love story with family secrets set in an interesting era and I fell in love with the leading man from the first page. This is a great read for all of the true romantics out there.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

An enthralling story of one woman’s determined grab for freedom after WW2 from a talented new Australian voice.

‘PART CABARET, PART BURLESQUE, AND LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE! GENTLEMEN, AND LADIES IF YOU’VE DARED TO COME, WELCOME TO …

THE VICTORY!’

1945: After the thrill and danger of volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment protecting Londoners from German bombers overhead, Evelyn Bell is secretly dismayed to be sent back to her rigid domestic life when the war is over. But then she comes across a secret night-time show, hidden from the law on a boat in the middle of the Thames. Entranced by the risqu� and lively performance, she grabs the opportunity to join the misfit crew and escape her dreary future.

At first the Victory travels from port to port to raucous applause, but as the shows get bigger and bigger, so too do the risks the performers are driven to take, as well as the growing emotional complications among the crew. Until one desperate night …

1963: Lucy, an unloved and unwanted little girl, is rescued by a mysterious stranger who says he knows her mother. On the Isle of Wight, Lucy is welcomed into an eclectic family of ex-performers. She is showered with kindness and love, but gradually it becomes clear that there are secrets they refuse to share. Who is Evelyn Bell?

THE DAUGHTER OF VICTORY LIGHTS is another Historical Romance set post WW2 but in London this time. Evelyn Bell is a fascinating and adventurous woman struggling to readjust to civilian life after volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment. Then she discovers the part burlesque, part cabaret ship floating along the Thames. This book isn’t overly romantic and is a little bit sad, but the ending is wonderfully uplifting.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

One crumbling grand manor house, a family in decline, five generations of women, and an attic full of beautiful clothes with secrets and lies hidden in their folds.

Kelly Doust, author of Precious Things, spins another warm, glamorous and romantic mystery of secrets, love, fashion, families – and how we have to trust in ourselves, even in our darkest of days. One for lovers of Kate Morton, Belinda Alexandra, Fiona McIntosh and Lucy Foley.

Failed fashion designer Sylvie Dearlove is coming home to England – broke, ashamed and in disgrace – only to be told her parents are finally selling their once-grand, now crumbling country house, Bledesford, the ancestral home of the Dearlove family for countless generations. Sylvie has spent her whole life trying to escape being a Dearlove, and the pressure of belonging to a family of such headstrong, charismatic and successful women.

Beset by self-doubt, she starts helping her parents prepare Bledesford for sale, when she finds in a forgotten attic a thrilling cache of old steamer trunks and tea chests full of elaborate dresses and accessories acquired from across the globe by five generations of fashionable Dearlove women.

Sifting through the past, she also stumbles across a secret which has been hidden – in plain sight – for decades, a secret that will change the way she thinks about herself, her family, and her future.

Romantic, warm, and glamorous, moving from Edwardian England to the London Blitz to present day London, Dressing the Dearloves is a story of corrosiveness of family secrets, the insecurities that can sabotage our best efforts, and the seductive power of dressing up

DRESSING THE DEARLOVES is a delicious family saga full of romance, fashion, and mysterious family secrets. While there is a lovely romantic storyline, the love between the endearing and sometimes formidable Dearlove women is the real draw of this book for me. Lovers of vintage fashion will adore this book.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

Set, like Maeve Binchy’s early bestsellers, in late 1950s Ireland and New York, this is the story of three women and the charismatic man with whom their lives are interwoven.

Patrick Murphy has charm to burn and a singing voice to die for. Many people will recognise his talent. Many women will love him. Rose, the sweetheart he leaves behind in Ireland, can never forget him and will move heaven and earth to find him again, long after he has married another woman. Ava, the heiress with no self-confidence except on the dance floor, falls under his spell. And tough Sheila Klein, orphaned by the Holocaust and hungry for success as a music manager, she will be ruthless in her determination to unlock his extraordinary star quality.

But in the end, Patrick Murphy’s heart belongs to only one of them. Which one will it be?

IT WAS ONLY EVER YOU is a sweet love story featuring three fascinating, but very different, women who love one charismatic Irish singer. I loved the backdrops of 1950s Ireland and New York, the rock and roll New York scene, and the lovely Irish Maeve Binchy feel of this book. Perfect for everyone who likes a good love triangle, or square perhaps in this case. All the characters had their flaws in this story, particularly Patrick, but he got it right in the end.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

What if you met the love of your life and he wasn’t your husband? An AusRom Today People’s Choice Award winner that will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty, viewers of Offspring, The Good Wife and movies like Up in the Air.

Mel is living the dream. She’s a successful GP, married to a charming anaesthetist and raising a beautiful family in their plush home in Perth. But when she boards a flight to Melbourne, her picture-perfect life unravels. Seated on the plane she meets Matt, and for the first time ever she falls in love.

What begins as a flirty conversation quickly develops into a hot and obsessive affair with consequences that neither Mel nor Matt seems capable of facing. As the fallout touches friends and family, Mel’s dream romance turns into a nightmare. She learns that there are some wounds that never heal and some scars that you wouldn’t do without.

LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT will take everything you believe about what true love is and spin it on its head.

LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT is not a typical love story. It takes a confronting look at adultery told with compassion and a thought-provoking perspective. This is a great fit for anybody dreaming of travel at the moment.

GOODREADS

MY REVIEW

Book review: The Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Kovacic

I’ve been obsessed with books set in the 1930s lately, so I was instantly intrigued by The Portrait of Molly Dean when I discovered that it’s a true murder mystery set against the background of Melbourne’s bustling art scene in 1930.

Goodreads Blurb

An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years…

In 1999, art dealer Alex Clayton stumbles across a lost portrait of Molly Dean, an artist’s muse brutally slain in Melbourne in 1930. Alex buys the painting and sets out to uncover more details, but finds there are strange inconsistencies: Molly’s mother seemed unconcerned by her daughter’s violent death, the main suspect was never brought to trial despite compelling evidence, and vital records are missing. Alex enlists the help of her close friend, art conservator John Porter, and together they sift through the clues and deceptions that swirl around the last days of Molly Dean. 

Review

The Portrait of Molly Dean is based on a real unsolved murder. Molly Dean was brutally murdered in Melbourne in 1930. She was a beautiful and popular artist’s muse who was determined to break out of her complicated home life and make a name for herself as a writer but her murder was never solved and she was almost forgotten.

This novel imagines what might have happened in Molly’s last days via the fictional investigations of an astute Melbourne art dealer who snaps up Molly’s portrait in 1999 for a bargain. As Alex and her art conservator friend investigate the painting and the mystery surrounding the death of Molly Dean, they discover that there were many inconsistencies surrounding the investigation and that there are still people out there who will do whatever it takes to make sure that the truth remained hidden.

There really isn’t anything that I didn’t love about this book! Both the 1930 and 1999 timelines were full of distinctly timely and Melbourne features and I also found the art history fascinating. Molly was such an interesting character that I found myself invested in finding out what happened to her. I feel like I could have been great friends with her. And I loved Alex Clayton the sassy art dealer and will be adding the rest of the Alex Clayton art mystery series to my TBR list!

Details

Published: March 1st 2018 by Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, January – February 2021

Pages: 271 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Amazon AU

Amazon UK

Amazon US

About the author

Katherine Kovacic was a veterinarian but preferred training and having fun with dogs to taking their temperatures. She seized the chance to return to study and earned an MA, followed by a PhD in Art History. Katherine spends her spare time writing, dancing and teaching other people’s dogs to ride skateboards.

A research geek, Katherine is currently fired up by the history of human relationships with animals, particularly as they appear in art. Her first book, The Portrait of Molly Dean, was shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award for best first fiction.

Katherine lives in suburban Melbourne with a Borzoi, a Scottish Deerhound and a legion of dog-fur dust bunnies.

January 2021. True Crime.

Available in all good bookshops and online (paperback, ebook, audio) including:

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Booktopia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon US)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon Australia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Kobo)

Book Review: The Yield by Tara June Winch

The Yield by Tara June Winch

My Review

“The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.” 

Even though The Yield is my first book review of 2021 I’m quite certain that it will be the most profound and meaningful book that I will read this year. It’s a story about the Wiradjuri people’s culture, language, family, and the intergenerational trauma of colonisation in Australia. 

When Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi finds out that he will die soon, he decides to record the language and everything that was ever remembered by his people, the Wiradjuri people from the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. He knows that if he doesn’t write everything down it will be forgotten, and he’s determined to pass it down the words of his ancestors. Through Poppy’s dictionary, we are shown an extraordinarily moving and personal insight into the customs and language of the Wiradjuri People as a whole group, as well as Poppy’s immediate Gondiwindi family. 

When Albert’s granddaughter, August, returns for his funeral after living on the other side of the world for ten years she discovers that their family home is about to be repossessed by a mining company. She is determined to make amends for the past events that led her to leave the country all those years ago by saving her family’s land. August’s story about returning to her family and rediscovering her connection to the land and their language and culture was also incredibly insightful, as well as being a gripping David versus Goliath story. 

Interspersed throughout the novel is also the story of a 1915 missionary at Massacre Plains told in the form of a serialised letter. It tells the story of Poppy and August’s ancestors who lived on the mission at that time. While I felt like this was the driest and most tedious section of the novel, it also makes a lot of sense to have this generation of the Gondiwindi family story being told by white colonisers. The voices of so many generations of First Nations Peoples have been lost because they were unable to tell their own stories and many were prevented from passing down their stories and their culture to younger generations. 

I know that I will be thinking about this book for a long time and I look forward to reading it again over the coming years. A once in a lifetime book that will change the way you think and a powerful reclamation of the Wiradjuri language. This is so important because, as the author’s note explains, Australian languages are rapidly dying out and so many essential aspects of culture are inherently tied to language.

My cat Zeus with my copy of The Yield by Tara June Winch

Blurb

Winner Miles Franklin Literary Award 2020
Winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2020 – for Fiction, People’s Choice and Book of the Year.
Winner Booksellers Choice Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2020
Shortlisted The Stella Prize 2020
Shortlisted Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction 2020
Shortlisted ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2020
Shortlisted Queensland Literary Awards for Fiction 2020

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.

August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity. 

Details

Published: July 2nd 2019 by Penguin Random House

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, January 2021

Pages: 343

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Book review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

scrublands cover
Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Blurb

In an isolated country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself. A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage. Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal. Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town’s secrets stay buried. A compulsive thriller that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page.

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Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Review

Scrublands opens with a tense scene that pulls you straight into the mystery at the heart of the novel. We are shown how the young dedicated priest of the drought-plagued town of Riversend methodically shoots five of his parishioners before turning the gun on himself, but we aren’t told why he would do that.

One year after the tragedy troubled journalist Martin Scarsdale arrives in Riversend to write a feature on how the town is coping now. It seems as though the reasoning behind the priest’s crime had already been revealed by one of Marin’s colleagues but as he gets to know the town and its inhabitants Martin discovers that there is far more to this story than he ever could have imagined.

The further Martin digs into this story, the more entangled he becomes with the weird and wonderful townsfolk of Riversend, including a romance. He eventually breaks the cardinal rule of journalism and becomes the story himself and this puts his job, his budding relationship, and even his life in danger but he is in so deep by then that he feels as though he has no choice but to see things through to the bitter end.

I loved the drought-stricken bush setting of this book and you can almost feel the heat radiating off the book while you hold it. The author has accurately conveyed the dry heavy heat of the Australian bush during droughts, as well as all the weird ways that it can affect the people who live there. I read this book over the cold winter months of lockdown in Melbourne and the way that the heat was described had me dreaming of long road trips I’ve been on in the past through towns just like Riversend.

I also found the why-dunnit mysteries and plot twists fascinating, but like other reviewers, felt that it was perhaps a little bit too convoluted at times and this meant that there was a lot of catching up and explaining to do towards the end.

Scrublands is a must-read for crime fiction fans and one of the stand out additions to the bush noir subgenre of books set in drought-stricken Australian country towns. Hammer has skilfully connected the scorching heat of the Australian bush with dark and desperate characters and I will definitely be adding his latest books to my never-ending TBR pile.

Details

Published: Published July 25th 2018 by Allen & Unwin

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, September 2020

Pages: 496

Rating: 4 stars

Goodreads

About the author

chris hammer
Chris Hammer

Chris Hammer is a leading Australian crime fiction novelist, author of international bestsellers Scrublands and Silver.

His new book, Trust, will be published in Australia and New Zealand in October 2020 and internationally from early 2021.

Scrublands was an instant bestseller upon publication in 2018, topping the Australian fiction charts.

In Australia, it was shortlisted for the 2019 ABIA, Indies and NSW Premier’s awards ; in the UK it was named the Sunday Times Crime Novel of the Year 2019 and won the prestigious UK Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award; in the US it is shortlisted for both the Barry and the Strand Magazine awards for debut crime fiction.

Silver, also featuring journalist Martin Scarsden and his partner Mandalay Blonde, was shortlisted for the ABIA and Booksellers Choice Awards and longlisted for the UK CWA Gold Dagger.

Before turning to fiction, Chris was a journalist for more than thirty years. He reported from more than 30 countries on six continents for SBS TV. In Canberra, roles included chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, senior writer for The Age and Online Political Editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Chris has written two non-fiction books The River (2010) and The Coast (2012), published by Melbourne University Press.

He has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master’s degree in International Relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra, Australia.

Comfort Reads with Sonya Bates: Outlander

Thank you very much to Sonya Bates for this week’s comfort read. I’m a big fan of the Outlander TV series but I haven’t read the books yet … I think I need to do something about that soon!

Comfort Reads with Sonya Bates Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

A comfort read means different things to different people. Nostalgia perhaps, humour or a happy ending. Classics, memoirs, books from your childhood, romance. For me, it means escape.

When I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed (like when a pandemic sweeps the globe), I don’t want to have to work too hard. My brain is already in overdrive, thinking about other things – worrying. It doesn’t need another workout. What I want and need is something soothing, something I don’t have to concentrate on. The book has to pull me in right from the start and hold my attention. I need to be able to gloss over paragraphs if my mind gets distracted and not lose the thread of the story. And I need to be able to put it down and pick it up on a whim, even if days or weeks have passed.

I have several books that fit the bill, so it was hard to choose just one. In the end I chose Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – a book I’ve read several times but never seems to disappoint. On the first read, it might not qualify as there’s a lot going on, but escapism doesn’t come any greater than this. A young woman travelling through time via a stone circle and ending up in the 1700’s? It takes you away from the troubles of the 21st century in a heartbeat. It’s adventure, it’s time travel, it’s a love story. The characters are larger than life and encounter (and survive) almost insurmountable situations – even try to change history. It suspends belief at times, but hey, the premise itself suspends belief. It’s the kind of story that can help you forget about pandemics and isolation and second waves, if only for a little while.

It’s a familiar read for me, so perhaps somewhat nostalgic, and I know the characters and the story well enough that I can put it down and pick it up again without a hiccup. It is one of my go-to comfort reads, the only caveat being that the first in the series is followed by seven very large sequels. It can be hard to stop at just one, so I need to be prepared to be immersed in the land of Outlander for quite some time if I start that first chapter.

outlander

 

About the Author 

sonya-bates-author-photo1w

Sonya Spreen Bates  is a writer of adult and children’s fiction living in Adelaide, South Australia. She was shortlisted for the inaugural Banjo Prize in 2018 for the unpublished manuscript for Inheritance of Secrets, and several of her children’s books have been commended by CCBC Best Books, Resource Links, or the Junior Library Guild in the USA.

Born in Iowa City, USA, Sonya grew up in Victoria, Canada. She studied Linguistics at the University of Victoria before moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia to study Speech-Language Pathology at Dalhousie University. She worked in paediatric Speech Pathology for 25 years, first in rural British Columbia, and then in Adelaide, South Australia when she moved there in 1997, and currently works as a casual academic in clinical education.

Sonya’s first children’s book was published in 2003. Her short stories and novels have been published in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and foreign rights to her chapter book, Wildcat Run, were sold to a Chinese publisher. She started writing for adults in 2015 and her debut adult novel Inheritance of Secrets was published by HarperCollins Australia in April 2020.

Read my review of Inheritance of Secrets

secrets

Book Review: The Nancys by R.W.R McDonald

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The Nancys book cover

Blurb

The Nancys is adult crime fiction in the tradition of a whodunit murder mystery, except all the characters are completely out of control and pay no attention to any rules.

TIPPY CHAN is eleven and lives in Riverstone, a two pub town in South Otago, New Zealand. The same town her UNCLE PIKE escaped from when he was a teenager. Tippy loves her uncle’s old Nancy Drew books, especially the early versions where Nancy was sixteen and did whatever she wanted. She wants to be Nancy and is desperate to solve a real mystery.

Tippy’s chance comes when her mum goes on holiday, leaving Uncle Pike and his new boyfriend, DEVON, in charge. When her teacher turns up dead beside the small town’s only traffic light Tippy teams up with her babysitters to form The Nancys, a secret amateur detective club.

But what starts as a bonding and sightseeing adventure quickly morphs in to a risky investigation. A wrongful arrest, a close call with the killer, and an intervention from Tippy’s Mum all conspire against The Nancys. While the town grieves everyone believes the police have caught the killer, including Tippy’s mum. It is up to The Nancys to go against the flow, as well as questionable interior design and fashion choices, to solve the mystery before anyone else dies.

The Nancys is a book for anyone who’s ever felt outside looking in. At its heart it is about the family we make and the courage required to tell the truth, no matter what the cost.

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The Nancys by R.W.R. McDonald

My Review

The Nancys is an adult murder mystery inspired by the classic Nancy Drew books, but it’s so much more than that. It also explores complex themes about outsiders, the family we choose, courage and the importance of telling the truth.

Eleven-year-old Tippy Chan is still grieving for her father when her Uncle Pike and his fashion designer boyfriend Devon arrive from Sydney to care for her while she goes on a cruise. Tippy and her mother still live in the same house in the small two pub town of Riverstone New Zealand that Pike escaped from as a teenager, so his return inevitably brings up ghosts from his past. I grew up in small-town myself, so I could definitely relate to Pike’s uncomfortable experiences bumping into ex-boyfriends and old nemeses and all of the weird feelings that can bring up!

When Tippy’s friend falls off a bridge in mysterious circumstances and then her teacher is gruesomely murdered Pike, Devon and Tippy form a club inspired by Nancy Drew to investigate. Using Pike’s network of old contacts, Tippy’s keen sense of observation, and Devon’s fashion sense, The Nancys seem to be getting close to cracking the case. The only problem is making sure they discover who did it before anybody else gets hurt … or Tippy’s mum puts a stop to their investigation.

I loved this book! It’s in a similar format to a classic Nancy Drew mystery, but it also has so much warmth and heart. I was a huge fan of the Nancy Drew books too when I was around Tippy’s age, and I think The Nancys absolutely did them justice. Nancy Drew really is a bit of style icon and I agree that the older books are the best.

I loved the close relationship between Pike and Tippy and the way he helped her and her mother deal with the death of Tippy’s father. Pike and Devon’s relationship was full of crude humour and in-jokes but I have a good feeling that their relationship will last longer than Pike’s previous relationship record of three months … I will hopefully find out the answer to that in the sequel coming out soon!

About the Author

 

RWR-McDonald
R.W.R. McDonald author photo

Rob McDonald is a Kiwi living in Melbourne with his two daughters and an extended rainbow family including HarryCat and Stevie Nicks the chicken. Rob realised while studying journalism that writing fiction, rather than reporting facts, was his true bent.

The Nancys is being published by Allen and Unwin with a release date June 2019. This is his first novel.

Rob is a 2016 alumnus of Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel Stage 1 and 2 where he worked on his manuscript The Nancys. In 2017 The Nancys was Highly Commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for an Unpublished Manuscript.

Outside of writing Rob works in international education.

Details

Published:  June 3rd 2019 by Allen & Unwin

Source: Own copy

Read: Kindle Edition, July 2020

Pages: 316

Rating: 5 stars

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Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XiwMi4

Apple: https://apple.co/2KMQh0D

Google: http://bit.ly/2GkccXG

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New Release: Animals Make Us Human Edited By Leah Kaminsky and Meg Keneally

animals make us human
Animals Make Us Human Edited by Leah Kaminsky and Meg Keneally

 

A fundraiser for our wildlife, from land, sea and sky. Proceeds go to the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

A response to the devastating 2019–20 bushfires, Animals Make Us Human both celebrates Australia’s unique wildlife and highlights its vulnerability. Through words and images, writers, photographers and researchers reflect on their connection with animals and nature. They share moments of wonder and revelation from encounters in the natural world: seeing a wild platypus at play, an echidna dawdling across a bush track, or the inexplicable leap of a thresher shark; watching bats take flight at dusk, or birds making a home in the backyard; or following possums, gliders and owls into the dark.

Hopeful, uplifting and deeply moving, this collection is also an urgent call to action, a powerful reminder that we only have one world in which to coexist and thrive with our fellow creatures. By highlighting the beauty and fragility of our unique fauna, Australia’s favourite writers, renowned researchers and acclaimed photographers encourage readers to consider it in a new light.

Featuring: Barbara Allen, Robbie Arnott, Tony Birch, James Bradley, Mark Brandi, Geraldine Brooks, Anne Buist, Melanie Cheng, Claire G. Coleman, Ceridwen Dovey, Chris Flynn, Nayuka Gorrie, Dan Harley, Ashley Hay, Toni Jordan, Leah Kaminsky, Paul Kelly, Meg Keneally, Tom Keneally, Cate Kennedy, David Lindenmayer, Ella Loeffler, Maia Loeffler, Jen Martin, Angela Meyer, Sonia Orchard, Favel Parrett, Marissa Parrott, Bruce Pascoe, Jack Pascoe, Sue Pillans, Nick Porch, Holly Ringland, Euan Ritchie, Antoinette Roe, Kirli Saunders, Graeme Simsion, Tracy Sorensen, Shaun Tan, Lucy Treloar, Karen Viggers, Emma Viskic, John Woinarski, Clare Wright.

And photographers: Tim Bawden, Kristian Bell, Rohan Bilney, Justin Bruhn, Andrew Buckle, Matt Clancy, Amy Coetsee, Craig Coverdale, Angus Emmott, Jayne Jenkins, Vivien Jones, Sue Liu, Michael Livingston, Caleb McElrea, Nick Monaghan, Richard Pillans, Gillian Rayment, Linda Rogan, David Maurice Smith, Steve Smith, Colin Southwell, Georgina Steytler, Wayne Suffield, Heather Sutton, Peter Taylor, William Terry, Patrick Tomkins, Matt Wright.

  • Published: 3 November 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760899813
  • Imprint: Penguin Life
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $29.99

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Lockdown Viewing

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“tv” is licensed under CC0 1.0

I’ve been watching a lot more television lately than I usually do and I’ve had a lot of conversations with people looking for something good to watch, so I thought it was a good idea to write a couple of short reviews of my lockdown viewing.

There is a mix of new releases and classics, and I watch on Stan, Netflix Australia, and Australian free to air television stations.

A year after a devastating flood has killed five locals in an idyllic country town, a mysterious new plant appears. The plant’s phenomenal ability to restore youth is so formidable that attempting to harness it means re-evaluating values.

Creator: Glen Dolman

Stars: Bryan BrownPhoebe TonkinGenevieve Morris, Jacki Weaver

2019 – 2020

Viewed on Stan Australia

 

My Review

Bloom is an unusual Australian drama. In a small country town recovering from a fatal flood, people discover a plant that makes them young again. As people become desperate to harness this apparent fountain of youth they are forced to re-evaluate their priorities.

My household enjoyed the first season of Bloom but thought that the second season felt a little bit forced or overdone. Top-notch performances by Aussie stalwarts such as Bryan Brown and Jacki Weaver and lots of exciting up and coming Aussie actors too.

3/5 stars.

The Bold Type

“The Bold Type” is inspired by the life of “Cosmopolitan” editor in chief, Joanna Coles. The show is a glimpse into the outrageous lives and loves of those responsible for a global women’s magazine. Their struggles are about finding your identity, managing friendships and getting your heart broken, all while wearing the perfect jeans to flatter any body type.

Creator:

 Sarah Watson

2017 – ?
Viewed on Stan Australia

 

 

My Review

I bloody love this silly show! The Bold Type focuses on three best friends – Jane, Sutton and Kat – who work at New York’s best women’s magazine. With the help of their fabulous editor in chief they are figuring out their lives and careers, all while looking fabulous.

This is definitely classified as a ‘girls’ show in my household, so it’s my duvet day treat any time I need a pick me up. It’s refreshing to watch a show about women where they are all so god damned supportive of each other and it never fails to put a smile on my face.

5/5 stars.

Cold Justice

Cold Justice is a unique and thrilling Indigenous crime series – the first of its kind in Australia. The series is a raw and unfiltered look at the injustice Indigenous Australians face when it comes to unsolved deaths.

The award-winning first series investigated the 1988 death of Aboriginal teenager Mark Haines who was found dead on railway tracks in Tamworth, NSW.

Allan’s reporting on the unsolved death of Mark Haines lead to the Oxley LAC reopening their investigation into the case after 29 years. This year, on the 30th anniversary of Mark’s death, the NSW Police announced a $500,000 reward for any information that could solve the case.

Over four weeks, the second season of Cold Justice will investigate the unsolved deaths of Stephen Smith, Theresa Binge and Lois Roberts. The new season will give these Indigenous victims and their families a voice while holding the police and authorities to account of their investigations.

Presenter for Cold Justice, Allan Clarke said the families shared their most harrowing and traumatic moments of their lives which still remain raw today.

“Their trauma compounded by frustration with a justice system that has failed to deliver them closure. The question is does the justice system view Aboriginal victims differently?” he said.

2017
Viewed on SBS On Demand
My Review

Cold Justice is presented by award-winning journalist Allan Clarke. It is clear that Clarke is a skilled and empathetic journalist. He has done an outstanding job of researching these cases and developing warm and genuine relationships with their families.

These stories are heartbreaking and the lack of justice is cruel and unfair. It is unconscionable that this is the first documentary to ever investigate Indigenous cold cases in Australia and I hope that this series is a step in the right direction towards achieving justice for these families and many more.

5/5 stars.

Ozark

The Byrdes and their teenage kids, Charlotte and Jonah, are, for all intents and purposes, an ordinary family with ordinary lives. Except for the job of Marty, a Chicago financial advisor who also serves as the top money launderer for the second largest drug cartel in Mexico. When things go awry, Marty must uproot his family from the skyscrapers of Chicago and relocate to the lazy lake region of the Missouri Ozarks.

Creators:

 Bill DubuqueMark Williams

2017 – ?

Viewed on Netflix Australia

 

My Review

I suspect a lot of people are already up to date with Ozark as it’s so popular, so I won’t make this review too long. This series has been a big hit for both of us in my household, which is a huge achievement. There’s a thrill a minute and I feel like all three seasons are quite equal. I don’t think I’ve ever not enjoyed a Jason Bateman performance and the rest of the cast is fantastic. A truly excellent thriller with just the right amount of drama.

5/5 stars.

 

Book Review: The Single Ladies of the Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell

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The Single Ladies of the Jacaranda Retirement Village

Blurb

A moving, funny, heartwarming tale of love and friendship, for anyone who loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Keeper of Lost Things and Three Things about Elsie.

It’s never too late to grow old disgracefully …

The life of 79-year-old pensioner Peggy Smart is as beige as the décor in her retirement village. Her week revolves around aqua aerobics and appointments with her doctor. The highlight of Peggy’s day is watching her neighbour Brian head out for his morning swim.

Peggy dreams of inviting the handsome widower – treasurer of the Residents’ Committee and one of the few eligible men in the village – to an intimate dinner. But why would an educated man like Brian, a chartered accountant no less, look twice at Peggy? As a woman of a certain age, she fears she has become invisible, even to men in their eighties.

But a chance encounter with an old school friend she hasn’t seen in five decades – the glamorous fashionista Angie Valentine – sets Peggy on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. Can she channel her ‘inner Helen Mirren’ and find love and friendship in her twilight years?

My Review

The Single Ladies of the Jacaranda Retirement Village is a warm and uplifting book about love, friendship and the importance of growing old disgracefully.

79 year old Peggy Smart lives a beige and boring life at her retirement village. She is grieving for her late husband and growing increasingly frustrated with the way that her children and doctor are treating her as a frail old lady. She doesn’t want to be shipped off to a scary nursing home, and rightly so if you pay attention to what actually happens in those places! The only excitement in her life comes from her secret crush on an eligible bachelor until her old school friend Angie shows up at the Jacaranda Retirement Village and sets Peggy on a journey of self-discovery.

I enjoyed the ways that Peggy and the other elderly characters were portrayed as real people who were much more complex than almost any other elderly character I’ve come across before. Many of their issues and character arcs were related to their age, but they were so much more complex than that. It’s refreshing to see elderly characters depicted in this way and I commend Nell for the way she has crafted these realistic and lovable characters. I particularly enjoyed Peggy’s humorous Freudian slips and the politics that went on between the residents of the retirement village.

About the Author

joanna nell
Joanna Nell

Joanna Nell is a Sydney-based writer and GP. Her bestselling debut novel The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village was published in 2018 with rights sold internationally. Her second novel The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker was published 24th September 2019.

Joanna’s award winning short fiction has been published in a number of magazines, journals and short story anthologies including Award Winning Australian Writing. She has also written for The Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum and Sunday Life magazines.

Joanna’s third novel ‘The Great Escape From Woodlands Nursing Home’ will be in stores October 27th 2020!

Details

Published: September 25th 2018 by Hachette Australia

Source: Library

Read: Paperback

Pages: 400

RRP: $29.99

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Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

 

Blurb

A novel about a young woman determined to make her way in the wilds of North Carolina, and the two men that will break her isolation open.

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. She’s barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark.

But Kya is not what they say. Abandoned at age ten, she has survived on her own in the marsh that she calls home. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life lessons from the land, learning from the false signals of fireflies the real way of this world. But while she could have lived in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

My Review

Where the Crawdads Sing is one of those rare books that I would recommend to almost anybody. Beautifully written and evocative, it is an incredibly unique coming of age story wrapped up inside a compelling murder mystery.
 
The book is set in North Carolina in the 1950s-1970s. By he age of seven, Kya is abandoned by her entire family and left to live alone in a broken down shack on an isolated marsh. She manages to survive and to evade the school truancy officers by imitating the animals around her and with a little bit of help from the kind-hearted owner of a local gas dock and bait shop.
 
Kya opens up when two young men take an interest in her as she develops into a beautiful teenager, until, something unthinkable happens. This is where the murder mystery comes into play, so I don’t want to spoil that part for anybody.
 
Even though the townspeople view Kya as a wild “Marsh Girl” we learn that she is actually sensitive and intelligent young woman. Learning how to read and write as a teenager seems to be very easy for her (perhaps a little bit too easy?) and she spends her entire life observing and collecting incredibly detailed information about the marsh.
 
The accurate and beautifully written descriptions of the marsh and the animals that lived in it were the strongest and most evocative part of the novel. Delia Owens has spent years writing non-fiction about nature and that is evident throughout. The author has also done a brilliant job of weaving in the Southern feeling and accents. “Magnolia mouth” as one of the characters aptly describes it.
 
The ending of the book left me feeling so very sad for Kya and angry about all the people in her life who let her down. It’s heartbreaking to imagine such a young and vulnerable child/young woman being abandoned and let down by almost every single person in her life. I was furious when her mother’s story was revealed and I found many of the actions of many of the townspeople to be unforgivable.
Where the Crawdads Sing is one of those stories that I know will stick with me for a long time. The wild and ferocious beauty of the North Carolina marsh where Kya spent her time, the almost unbearable loneliness she experienced, and the questions it raises about the way our society treats our most vulnerable people are all rolled up inside a mystery that will keep you turning the pages way past your bedtime.

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Where the Crawdads Sing with Zeus Cat

About the Author

Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa including Cry of the Kalahari.

She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in NatureThe African Journal of Ecology, and many others.

She currently lives in Idaho. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel

delia owens
Author Delia Owens