The Understudy by Julie Bennett book review

The Understudy by Julie Bennett

Immersed in the underbelly of the theatre world in the gritty streets of Sydney in 1973, this addictive debut will have you wondering just how dangerous ambition – and love – can be.

It’s opening night. The stage is set, the houselights have dimmed and the handsome male lead is waiting. This is your time. Your chance to prove you are so much more than the understudy.

You have worked so hard and would have done almost anything to get here. But not what they are accusing you of – never that. It’s simply bad luck that Australia’s darling of opera has gone missing, throwing the spotlight on you just as the whole world is watching history in the making.

But the show must go on and it’s all down to you. Take a deep breath and get ready to perform the role of your life.

My Review

The Understudy is a thrilling story of mystery and intrigue in the world of professional opera singers set against the iconic background of the Sydney Opera House in the 1970s and rural Australia in the 1950s.

When understudy Sophie gets the chance to star as the lead role in Madama Butterfly with handsome Italian tenor Armando Cecchi, her excitement is tempered by the mysterious disappearance of leading lady Margaret Gardiner. Not only is Margaret gone but everyone thinks that Sophie must know what happened to her and her relationship with Armando is all over the papers.

The 1950s timeline tells us more about how Margaret became the overbearing leading lady and provides clues about what happened to make her disappear in the 1970s.

I particularly enjoyed the 1970s setting of Sydney and the Opera House, which was inspired by the author’s own experiences performing there for its opening performance. The power plays between the performers was brilliantly executed and I thoroughly recommend this debut novel.

Details

Title: The Understudy

Author: Julie Bennett

Published: Simon & Schuster Australia (March 2, 2022)

Format: Ebook, 464 pages

Source: Netgalley

Goodreads Reviews: The Understudy

Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.

New York Times Notable Book (2020), Best Book of 2020: GuardianFinancial TimesLiterary Hub, and NPR.

My Review:

Hamnet is a fascinating story about William Shakespeare, his wife, and the tragic death of their 11 year old son. Based upon the few historical facts known about Shakespeare and his family, O’Farrell has weaved a beautifully written dreamy story about how he met his wife Agnes and what happened when their much loved son Hamnet died of the plague. Shakespeare went on to name one of his most famous tragedies after his son, although the reasoning behind it isn’t revealed until the very end in an epic final scene.

I loved the dream-like quality of this story, especially about Agnes’s history. It’s a beautifully written story and I highly recommend it to all historical fictions readers.

Details:

Title: Hamnet

Author: Maggie O’Farrell

Published: March 31, 2020 by Tinder Press

Format: 372 pages, Paperback

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads reviews: Hamnet

Book Review: Ten Thousand Aftershocks by Michelle Tom

“Family.

Faultlines.

Fallout:

A memoir”

Ten Thousand Aftershocks by Michelle Tom

A powerful, poetic and moving memoir of family, violence and estrangement, from a stunning new literary voice.

After Michelle Tom’s house was damaged by a deadly magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011, she and her young family suffered through another 10,000 aftershocks before finally relocating to the stability of Melbourne, Australia. But soon after arriving, Michelle received the news that her estranged sister was dying. Determined to reconnect before her sister died, Michelle flew home to visit, and memories of childhood flooded back.

Through remembered fragments, and told through the five stages of an earthquake, Michelle Tom explores the similarities between seismic upheaval and her own family’s tragedies: her sister’s terminal illness, her brother’s struggle with schizophrenia and ultimate suicide, the sudden death of her father, her own panic disorder and through it all, one overarching battle – her lifelong struggle to form a healthy connection with her mother.

A powerful, poetic and moving memoir of family, violence and estrangement, Ten Thousand Aftershocks weaves together seismic upheaval and one family’s trauma and tragedies in a series of ever-widening and far-reaching emotional aftershocks, in a beautifully written and compelling account of a dark family drama. For readers of The Erratics and One Hundred Years of Dirt.

My Review

In 2011, Michelle Tom lived through the Christchurch Earthquake and then ten thousand aftershocks before they pack up their lives and escaped to Melbourne. Soon afterwards, she is brought back to New Zealand to deal with an emergency in her dysfunctional family and the memories that are so often associated with that.

Ten Thousand Aftershocks is told in fragments through the five stages of an earthquake. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story as bits and pieces of the earthquake are interspersed with childhood memories and what was happening in the present. Not unlike how we trauma is experienced.

The prose is hauntingly poetic and the fragmented nature worked incredibly well for this shocking true story about trauma, tragedies, and dysfunctional family drama. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.

Details

Title: Ten Thousand Aftershocks

Author: Michelle Tom

Published: September 1, 2021 by 4th Estate AU/HarperCollins

Format: Paperback 369 pages

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads Reviews: Ten Thousand Aftershocks

Ten Thousand Aftershocks and Zeus

Book Review: The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

“Heart-wrenching, heartwarming and ultimately uplifting–a story about the power of a little kindness.”

The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

A story of friendship, love and what it means to truly live when, sometimes, it may seem easier not to.

Caitlin is convinced she’s going to die.

Two years ago she was a normal twenty-something with a blossoming career and a plan to go travelling with her best friend, until a car accident left her with a deep, unshakable understanding that she’s only alive by mistake.

Caitlin deals with these thoughts by throwing herself into work, self-medicating with alcohol, and attending a support group for people with death-related anxiety, informally known as the Morbids.

But when her best friend announces she’s getting married in Bali, and she meets a handsome doctor named Tom, Caitlin must overcome her fear of death and learn to start living again.

Beautiful, funny, and universally relatable this story of hidden loneliness and the power of compassion and companionship reminds us that life is an adventure truly worth living.

‘Mental illness captured with remarkable nuance and skill: The Morbids is a lively and often very funny book, and one that is hopeful and heartfelt. It is an assured debut, and a book that will mean a great deal to many people.’ – The Guardian

My Review:

Caitlin is struggling after a car crash convinced her that she was going to die. She thinks that she’s coping with things with her new waitressing job and her support group the Morbids, but she realises that she needs more help than she thought when she meets an attractive doctor and her best friend announces that she’s getting married in Bali.

I felt that the topics of depression and anxiety surrounding death in this novel were depicted accurately and sensitively. It’s not always an easy read, but I was drawn in by Caitlin and the people in her life and found the ending heart-warming and uplifting. The characters of the self-help group the Morbids often added a humorous touch, despite the difficult issues that they all faced around death anxiety. It was a bit like those kind of what if scenarios that I think everyone imagines sometimes times 1000.

Caitlin often walks around the streets of Sydney and I found the immersive description a wonderful touch. The ending was a lovely reminder of the importance of allowing the people in our lives to help us when we need it like we all do sometimes.

A touching and heart-warming read relatable for most people who experience depression and anxiety.

Details

Title: The Morbids

Author: Ewa Ramsey

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2020

Format: Paperback 368 pages

RRP: $29.99

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads reviews: The Morbids

The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

Book Review: The Orange Grove by Kate Murdoch

When status is survival, every choice has its consequence.

Blois, 1705. The chateau of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue. 

Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the chateau with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies.

The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in domestic politics and love strive for supremacy.

In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.

My Review

The Orange Grove tells a story of rivalry and intrigue set in Blois, France in the 1705 chateau of Duc Hugo d’Amboise through the eyes of one of his five mistresses, Henriette. A new young and beautiful mistress sets already high tensions between the mistresses and the Duc’s wife even higher, then a charming tarot reader adds himself headfirst into the mix.

I enjoy reading tarot cards and found the readings and explanations to be fascinating and cleverly added to the building tensions. Murdoch has thoroughly researched the history of France has and I enjoyed the way that she painted a picture of what it would have been like to live as a mistress of a French nobleman. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it very much, but it certainly makes for fascinating reading!

Details

Title: The Orange Grove

Author: Kate Murdoch

Published:  November 1, 2019, Regal House Publishing

Format: Paperback, 253 pages

RRP: $16.95 USD

Source: Author

Goodreads: The Orange Grove

The Orange Grove by Kate Murdoch

Book Review: The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

“1930s Melbourne. In sunny suburban streets, a serial killer lies in wait…”

The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

November, 1930. One sunny Saturday afternoon, 12-year-old Mena Griffiths was playing in the park when she was lured away by an unknown man. Hours later, her strangled body was found, mouth gagged and hands crossed over her chest, in an abandoned house. Only months later, another girl was murdered; the similarities between the cases undeniable. Crime in Melbourne had taken a shocking new turn: this was the work of a serial killer, a homicidal maniac.

My Review

The Schoolgirl Strangler is a fascinating true crime account of Melbourne’s earliest recorded serial killer. In the 1930s, a sick and twisted killer terrorised the suburbs of Melbourne and country Victoria, luring young girls to their deaths and strangling them with their own underwear. The police were under pressure for years to solve this chilling murder spree, interviewing thousands of people. Even prosecuting the wrong man at one point.

Katherine Kovacic has methodically researched the hunt for the Schoolgirl Strangler, often under difficult circumstances during Covid restrictions, and she has done a brilliant job of weaving the facts into a story that had me turning the page like a thriller. I found it interesting that she uncovered The Schoolgirl Strangler while she was researching her novel The Portrait of Molly Dean. It seems likely that Molly’s killer was a copycat of the Strangler.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and Katherine Kovacic’s in-person talks that I’ve been lucky enough to attend to listen to her speak about her research and writing processes.

Title: The Schoolgirl Strangler

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: January 3, 2021 by Bonnier Echo

Format: 320 pages, paperback

RRP: $32.99 AUD

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads: The Schoolgirl Strangler

The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

Book Review: The School by Brendan James Murray

The ups and downs of one year in the classroom

One teacher. One school. One year.

Brendan James Murray has been a high school teacher for more than ten years. In that time he has seen hundreds of kids move through the same hallways and classrooms – boisterous, angry, shy, big-hearted, awkward – all of them on the journey to adulthood.

In The School, he paints an astonishingly vivid portrait of a single school year, perfectly capturing the highs and lows of being a teenager, as well as the fire, passion and occasional heartbreak of being their teacher. Hilarious, heartfelt and true, it is a timeless story of a teacher and his classes, a must-read for any parent, and a tribute to the art of teaching.

My Review

The School is such a powerful read about the ups and downs of a year in a high school classroom told through the eyes of an English and Literature teacher. The names and events have been fictionalised and span many years and schools, but the school of this story is set in a public school on the Victorian coastline.

Over the course of the story, we progress through the school year with Mr Murray and his students, learning more about them and their lives as the school year progresses. The warmth, love, and care between Mr Murray and his students is evident throughout the book and I grew to care about all of the students almost as much as their teacher so thoughtfully does.

I also appreciated the way that the author highlighted the issues and the injustices that public school students so often face. It’s an important issue that needs to be addressed and Murray goes into great detail on this with his characteristic grace and humour. It must be so difficult and heartbreaking from a teacher’s perspective, but he remains focused on his students and their needs.

This is a wonderful story and a tribute to all teachers and the students that they care for. It’s beautifully and sensitively written and I think Mr Murray’s students are very lucky to have landed in his classroom. Just as I was lucky to attend high school with him in our own small coastal school. Highly recommended reading!

Details

Title: The School

Author: Brendan James Murray

Published: Pan MacMillan Australia

RRP: $34.99 AUD

Source: Publisher

Goodreads: The School

Zeus with our copy of The School by Brendan James Murray

Book Review: Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald

 The Nancys are back in another quirky and hilarious cosy mystery set in Riverstone, New Zealand

Nancy Business by R.W.R. McDonald and my cats.

Details:

Title: Nancy Business

Author: R.W.R. McDonald

Published: June 1, 2021

Pages: 360 pages, paperback

Genre: Cosy Mystery, Mystery, Crime, Contemporary

Source: Author

Goodreads

The Nancys are back again to solve another cosy mystery that has rocked the small town of Riverstone, New Zealand. It’s been four months since eleven year old Tippy and her wonderfully camp and risqué Uncle Pike and his partner Devon teamed up to solve a murder mystery and a lot has changed. Tippy is growing up and processing the events that occurred over Christmas, as well as her father’s death a year earlier. Uncle Pike and Devon have purchased the murder house near Tippy but can’t seem to agree on anything. In fact, it looks like they might even break up.

When an explosion kills three people and destroys the Riverstone town hall, the Nancys decide to go against the police who have already fingered a suspect who Tippy believes may have been framed — and Tippy’s mother — to get to the bottom of who was really responsible. Despite Uncle Pike’s and Devon’s rocky relationship and shocking revelations about the past that has Tippy wondering if she can ever trust anybody again, the Nancys stick together to solve the mystery and save Riverstone.

I loved hanging out with the Nancys again and really enjoy this contemporary adult’s version of the Nancy Drew mysteries. Despite their relationship troubles, Uncle Pike and Devon’s camp humour that mostly goes over Tippy’s head had me in stitches. I also really enjoyed the ways that Tippy is growing older and wiser as the series progresses. The ending and the resolution of the mystery were excellent, and I was pleased to see that the seeds have been sown for another instalment of this quirky cosy mystery series. I don’t think that it’s necessary to read The Nancys first, but you should anyway since it is brilliant and you will get to know the characters and their history before diving in.

About the Author

R.W.R. McDonald (Rob) is an award-winning author, a kiwi living in Melbourne with his two daughters and one HarryCat. His debut novel, The Nancys, won Best First Novel in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards, as well as being a finalist in the Best Novel category. It was shortlisted for Best First Novel in the 2020 Ned Kelly Awards, and Highly Commended for an Unpublished Manuscript in the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. 

Nancy Business, his second novel was published 1st June 21. 

Me and R.W.R. McDonald at the launch for Nancy Business at Brunswick Bound in between lockdown numbers 5 and 6

The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall Book Review

THE MOTHER FAULT BY KATE MILDENHALL

Set in a dystopian Australia in the not too distant future, THE MOTHER FAULT is a cleverly crafted eco-thriller that had me on the edge of my seat all the way through.

Mim is a geologist turned stay at home mum with two children Essie (11) and Sammy (6) in a Victoria that is ruled by ‘The Department’. Her husband Ben is an environmental engineer at an Australian/Chinese mine in Indonesia. Climate change has begun to cause catastrophic damage, all citizens are microchipped ‘for their safety, and anybody who doesn’t comply with ‘The Department’ are shipped off to a place called ‘Best Life’.

When Mim receives a phone call to let her know that Ben has gone missing from the mine she packs up Essie and Sammy and sets of across the country, and then across the ocean, to find a way to get to Indonesia and find her husband. Even though she must put her family and her friends in serious danger, Mim is determined to get to Ben.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE MOTHER FAULT and found the dystopian Australia that had been ravaged by climate change to be frighteningly plausible. The vivid characters and fast-paced action make it a compelling reading experience.

Details

Title: The Mother Fault

Author: Kate Mildenhall

Published: September 2, 2020 by Simon & Schuster

Pages: 366 pages, paperback

Genre: Dystopian, Thriller, Eco-Thriller, Speculative Fiction

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads

Narrative Structure in Creative Nonfiction

Find Your Creative Muse

What is narrative structure? In creative nonfiction, the narrative structure is the sequence of events and the way in which the writer tells the story. The narrative structure can also refer to how the ideas are presented to the reader.

The writer has many ways to tell his true story. For instance, the writer can tell the story from beginning to end. He can use flashbacks. Or the writer can contrast two different stories.

This article discusses the various types of narrative structures that a writer can use to write a personal essay, memoir, autobiography, and so forth.

Frames

In the Art of Creative Nonfiction, author Lee Gutkind discusses the “frame”, which is a way of ordering and controlling the writer’s narrative so that the story is presented in an orderly and interesting way.

The writer can use any of the following frames:

  • Chronological frame. The writer narrates…

View original post 441 more words