Book Review: The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater

The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater

Two women separated by centuries but connected by one beautiful silk dress. A captivating novel based on a real-life shipwreck discovered off Texel Island by the bestselling author of Gulliver’s Wife, Lauren Chater.

Jo Baaker, a textiles historian and Dutch ex-pat is drawn back to the island where she was born to investigate the provenance of a 17th century silk dress. Retrieved by local divers from a sunken shipwreck, the dress offers tantalising clues about the way people lived and died during Holland’s famous Golden Age.

Jo’s research leads her to Anna Tesseltje, a poor Amsterdam laundress turned ladies’ companion who served the enigmatic artist Catharina van Shurman. The two women were said to share a powerful bond, so why did Anna abandon Catharina at the height of her misfortune?

Jo is convinced the truth lies hidden between the folds of this extraordinary dress. But as she delves deeper into Anna’s history, troubling details about her own past begin to emerge.

On the small Dutch island of Texel where fortunes are lost and secrets lie buried for centuries, Jo will finally discover the truth about herself and the woman who wore the Winter Dress.

The Winter Dress by Lauren Chater

My Review

The Winter Dress is a captivating dual timeline story about love and secrets, written in Lauren Chater’s signature evocative prose style.

A 17th Century dress was discovered in remarkably good condition in a shipwreck off the coast of the small Dutch island of Texel in 2014. Chater had woven the small threads of factual information about the dress to create a fascinating story.

In the contemporary timeline, textiles historian Jo Baaker returns home to Texel from Australia to investigate the origins of the dress and help preserve it. As well a working with a difficult male colleague, Jo is also forced to come to terms with her past in Texel and the tragic death of her parents.

 The 17th-century timeline focuses on the owner of the dress. Anna comes from a formerly wealthy family and now works as a companion to artist Catharina van Shurman who has secrets of her own.  The dress becomes Anna’s talisman as she navigates the seedy side of the high society of the Hague.

The enormous amount of research that has gone into The Winter Dress is impressive. Not only has Lauren Chater meticulously researched the dress and the historical period, but there is also a great deal of information about current day diving practices and life in Texel.

Even more impressive is the way that Chater has woven the facts in with the fiction in a way that had me turning the pages for more.

Details

Title: The Winter Dress

Author: Lauren Chater

Published: Simon & Schuster Australia (March 30, 2022)

Format: Paperback, 368 pages

Source: Own Copy

Goodreads Reviews: The Winter Dress

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 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

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

GULLIVER’S WIFE by Lauren Chater

GULLIVER’S WIFE by Lauren Chater

GULLIVER’S WIFE is an imaginative and rich retelling of Jonathan Swift’s classic Gulliver’s Travels from his long-suffering wife’s perspective with a strong feminist flavour.

In London 1702 Mary Burton Gulliver is forced to raise her son and daughter alone while her husband is at sea. He is often gone for years, rarely keeping in contact, and each time he returns his stories become increasingly fanciful. Mary has no choice but to work as a midwife to make ends meet, even though that she is judged harshly for having to work as a married woman.

When her husband returns home from his long stint at sea feverish and making the most ridiculous claims yet, Mary has no choice but to take him in and to care for him. Even though it was difficult to survive while her husband was at sea, in many ways Mary found it easier to manage her household on her own. Her life without Lemuel was spent managing her household, working in her garden, and caring for the local women in her role as a midwife was mostly calm and orderly. Even before his outlandish ravings began Lemuel brought chaos and deception wherever he went, and his light fingers meant that Mary needed to try to hide whatever meagre money and valuables she possessed.

I particularly liked the character of Bess, Mary’s daughter. Bess is 14 years old and infatuated with her father. She believes his tall tales and false promises that he will take her sailing with him one day until his selfish behaviour puts her in danger this time. Mary hopes that she will train to become a midwife like herself and her mother before her. I think that the relationship between Mary and Bess perfectly captured the difficulties often found in the mother/daughter relationship during the tumultuous teen years when the daughter is trying to figure things out for herself and is desperate for her independence.

I thoroughly enjoyed GULLIVER’S WIFE and would highly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction with a strong feminist bent and touches of magic and wonder. The story is engrossing and skilfully weaved together.

Details

Published: April 1st 2020 by Simon & Schuster

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, February 2021

Pages: 416 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Amazon AU

About the author

Lauren Chater is the author of the historical novels The Lace Weaver and Gulliver’s Wife, as well as the baking compendium Well Read Cookies – Beautiful Biscuits Inspired by Great Literature.

In 2018 she was awarded a grant by the Neilma Sidney Literary Fund to travel to the Netherlands to research her third novel The Winter Dress, inspired by a real 17th century gown found off the Dutch coast in 2014. She has made appearances at the Brisbane Writers Festival, Storyfest, the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival and the Tamar Valley Writers’ Festival, as well as many others. She is currently completing her Masters of Cultural Heritage through Deakin University.

For all rights enquiries, please contact Tara Wynne at Curtis Brown Literary Agency.

For all media enquiries, please contact the Marketing and Publicity department at Simon & Schuster Australia.

You can also connect with Lauren via Facebook and Instagram.

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 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.