Review: The Wattle Island Book Club

The Wattle Island Book Club
Sandie Docker
Penguin Random House

My View:

Outstanding!!!

Add this author to your must read list. Do it.

Written with finesse, with gentle words, with kindness, gratitude and positivity, this book brought a few tears to my eye – and that was a good thing.

From the outset I knew this was going to be a read that would take me to uncomfortable places, I was expecting some of the scenarios presented here – but not all of them. Although tinged with sadness, a bitter sweet ending, I am so pleased the author wasn’t tempted to make this a (unrealistic) happy ever after.

It was indeed sad. It was indeed thought provoking. I did shed a (few) tears. But it was a stronger read for the realistic, poignant, ending. Bravo!!

Synopsis:

Guest Review: At The End of the Day – Liz Byrski

At the End of the Day

Liz Byrski

Macmillan Australia

ISBN: 9781760987893

Pam’s View:

I’ve been a fan of Liz Byrski’s work for many years and her 11th fiction book At The End Of The Day doesn’t disappoint. Her ability to create believable and relatable characters shines through once again.

The main characters are of an age rarely highlighted in fiction, if seen at all this older age group is generally in a minor role, offering sage advice or in place as a warning about the ravages of time. Liz Byrski puts them centre stage with their imperfections, realistic concerns and ever present worry of irrelevance.

This character driven, insightful story deals with the nuances of ageing, the gradual physical changes and the mental challenges of self-worth, loneliness and decision-making that accompanies the years.

The wonderful main characters are balanced by a supporting cast of different ages dealing with realistic challenges of their own that are topical and thought provoking.

I found this book thoroughly enjoyable and relatable, and I felt connected in a way that rarely happens through fiction. These people could have been my neighbours.

Review: In Moonland – Miles Allinson

In Moonland

Miles Allinson

Scribe

ISBN: 9781925322927

Description:

‘A parent’s love for a child, you probably know this yourself, it’s pretty bottomless. It goes down into the guts of the world. But a child’s love for a parent is different. It goes up. It’s more ethereal. It’s not quite present on the earth.’

In present-day Melbourne, a man attempts to piece together the mystery of his father’s apparent suicide, as his young family slowly implodes. At the ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, in 1976, a man searching for salvation must confront his capacity for violence and darkness. And in a not-too-distant future, a woman with a life-altering decision to make travels through a climate-ravaged landscape to visit her estranged father.

In Moonland is a portrait of three generations, each grappling with their own mortality. Spanning the wild idealism of the 70s through to the fragile hope of the future, it is a novel about the struggle for transcendence and the reverberating effects of family bonds. This long-awaited second outing from Miles Allinson, the multi-award-winning author of Fever of Animals, will affirm his reputation as one of Australia’s most interesting contemporary fiction writers, and urge us to see our own political and environmental reality in a new light.

My View:

A book that is literally in four parts.

And perhaps that makes reviewing this the hardest thing; the parts. I found the first section mildly intriguing, yes there is sadness, a mystery, a family experiencing relationship issues. I liked the writing in the first person – it felt a little like reading the protagonists diary – I enjoyed this style and the quirky characters encountered.

For me part two was the most interesting. The trip to India (fathers), the life in the cult, the “fly on the wall” experiences the author shares with you and that mystery, the shocking revelation … and others of family violence, abuse…. which leads us to part 3 – more of the discoveries of events in India told by bystanders or others involved. Memory is an interesting thing.” We’d made up our minds a long time ago, hadn’t we?  That was the agreement. You were my brother and that’s what you wanted. So I knew the script pretty well. I half believed it anyway, after all those years. I said my lines. I wasn’t bad…” p 198.

For me the first three sections were enough to convey the story, to expose some incredible secrets and to discuss generational violence, sins and secrets. The “hippy era” was very interesting. The reflections on those times illuminating. Section four didn’t really add much for me – either it could have been longer or not there at all…

All in all an interesting read with lots of surprises, a trip or two down a distant memory lane, a reflection of the 70’s  in Australia and India, a look at culture, religion, cults and families and all that dirty linen.

Guest Post by Kim Lock

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Kim’s new book The Other Side of Beautiful, it was outstanding. I am a fan of Kim’s writing and storytelling and when I finished this particular read I asked myself, and then asked Kim, how does she write each book so differently, each as standalones, each a unique story? When I read her response I had a big AHA moment. Thanks so much Kim for enlightening me.

Carol: How do you write each book so uniquely?
Kim Lock: Good question. Let me think.

When I get up in the morning, here’s what happens: I shuffle into the kitchen, squinting. I put the kettle on; I sit and drink a cup of tea and wait for my brain to catch up with the phenomenon of daylight and being vertical. Once that has happened, there’s another cup over a book, or perhaps my emails. This – the squinting, the tea, the brain catch-up – happens without fail every morning. Of an evening, there’s the couch and chips or chocolate and an hour or two of Netflix. These are the comforting rituals that bookend my day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Between those morning and evening rituals? It varies. I’ve recently released a new novel, The Other Side of Beautiful, so lately there’s been publicity work to attend to. If I’m writing or editing, I’ll make that a priority for most of the day. Sometimes I’ll head into the garden, or drag myself to the shops for groceries or errands. Go for a run. Oh, and I have two home-educated preteens so there’s that.

This quiet unpredictability? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Although I must be clear: while I don’t love schedules, I also don’t especially enjoy dramatic surprises. Sometimes shock feels too much like fear. While I relish the ebb and flow of an unscheduled day, I also like to know, at least loosely, what to expect. (Call me contrary, but what human isn’t?)

So, I write fiction, returning again and again to the subjects I’m fascinated by, but with the steering wheel in front of me. (Or so I tell myself, until the characters have other plans.)

I’ve found my books shelved under contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, Australian fiction, historical fiction, thriller and noir, romance, humour and adventure. I’m told I write ‘genre-straddling’, ‘commercial-literary hybrid’, writing that perhaps ‘isn’t easy to categorise.’

But like most writers, I just write to try and understand the human experience. I write to try and make some sense of this nonsensical world, to explore the what-ifs that fascinate, frighten or engage me.

The funny thing is, as much as my novels are all different, I also know I am always writing about the same thing: women’s experiences of reproduction and motherhood in patriarchy. Becoming a mother upended everything I thought I knew, and became the bedrock of my feminism – and the obsessions that fuel my writing. But because I’m driven by novelty, I’ve also written about the army, adoption, psychological abuse, domestic ménage a trois, 1960s Australia, politics, mental illness and health, loneliness, happiness. I’ve written about the quiet joy to be found in solitude, in company, in the present moment. I like to include humour into my work; if it makes me laugh, it keeps me going.

What I love most especially is a new idea. I get delighted by small, bright changes. (You should see me when the bulbs in my garden sprout!) I love learning something new or having my stale old beliefs knocked about or eliminated entirely. (I admit this is sometimes challenging – hello motherhood – but it always works out to be a good thing, even if I complain about it at the time.) And I love it – love it – when people act in a surprising way, or do something out of what I had perceived to be their character.

In The Other Side of Beautiful, Mercy Blain has been stuck in her house for two years. To Mercy, newness and novelty are anathema. In order for my character to find herself – to dig into those same questions with which I as the writer am obsessed – I had to shove her out into the world. So, in the opening scene, I set her house on fire. Then I asked myself, Alrightnow what’s she gonna do?

Now what? I suspect it’s a question I’ll keep asking.

Review: The Other Side of Beautiful – Kim Lock

The Other Side of Beautiful

Kim Lock

HQ Fiction

ISBN: 9781867214915

Description:

Lost & Found meets The Rosie Project in a stunning break-out novel where a vulnerable misfit is forced to re-engage with the world, despite her best efforts.

Meet Mercy Blain, whose house has just burnt down. Unfortunately for Mercy, this goes beyond the disaster it would be for most people: she hasn’t been outside that house for two years now.

Flung out into the world she’s been studiously ignoring, Mercy goes to the only place she can. Her not-quite-ex-husband Eugene’s house. But it turns out she can’t stay there, either.

And so begins Mercy’s unwilling journey. After the chance purchase of a cult classic campervan (read tiny, old and smelly), with the company of her sausage dog, Wasabi, and a mysterious box of cremated remains, Mercy heads north from Adelaide to Darwin.

On the road, through badly timed breakdowns, gregarious troupes of grey nomads, and run-ins with a rogue adversary, Mercy’s carefully constructed walls start crumbling. But what was Mercy hiding from in her house? And why is Eugene desperate to have her back in the city? They say you can’t run forever…

Exquisite, tender and wry, this is a break-out novel about facing anxiety and embracing life from an extraordinary new talent.

My View:

This is a fabulous read- moving, engaging, authentic in setting and characters (particularly the caravanning community) and written with a vulnerability that is captivating. This book is such a delight to read.

Do you read a book and go – yes so and so will enjoy this? Or my sister-in-law/daughter /family/friend will love this? This is one such book. I loved it, and have recommended to so many. Now I am recommending it to you.

Review: Winter in Sokcho – Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins

Winter in Sokcho (Hiver à Sokcho)

Elisa Shua Dusapin

 Aneesa Abbas Higgins (Translator)

Scribe

ISBN: 9781922585011

RRP $22.99

Description:

As if Marguerite Duras wrote Convenience Store Woman — a beautiful, unexpected novel from a debut French-Korean author.

It’s winter in Sokcho, a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea. The cold slows everything down. Bodies are red and raw, the fish turn venomous, beyond the beach guns point out from the North’s watchtowers. A young French Korean woman works as a receptionist in a tired guesthouse. One evening, an unexpected guest arrives: a French cartoonist determined to find inspiration in this desolate landscape. The two form an uneasy relationship. When she agrees to accompany him on trips to discover an “authentic” Korea, they visit snowy mountaintops and dramatic waterfalls, and cross into North Korea. But he takes no interest in the Sokcho she knows — the gaudy neon lights, the scars of war, the fish market where her mother works. As she’s pulled into his vision and taken in by his drawings, she strikes upon a way to finally be seen.

An exquisitely-crafted debut, which won the Prix Robert Walser, Winter in Sokcho is a novel about shared identities and divided selves, vision and blindness, intimacy and alienation. Elisa Shua Dusapin’s voice is distinctive and unmistakable.

My View:

This quietly spoken little book is quite remarkable! I loved the voice, I loved its style – minimalist yet full of poignant, expressive moments captured succinctly and in an unassuming manner.

This is a book that demands much fanfare!! This is a read I will be recommending to all I see. It is exquisite reading and perfectly translated.  I don’t think my words can do this book justice, all I can do is suggest you pick this book up and start reading…you will find time disappears as you enter the protagonist’s world.

We all wish to be seen.

Perfect. Memorable. The best read in many years.

Review – The Emporium of the Imagination – Tabitha Bird

The Emporium of Imagination

Tabitha Bird

Penguin Random House Australia

ISBN: 139781760895914

Description:

From the author of A Lifetime of Impossible Days (winner of the Courier-Mail People’s Choice QLD Book of the Year Award) comes this beautiful and uplifting story, that will make you laugh and make you cry.

Welcome to The Emporium of Imagination, a most unusual shop that travels the world offering vintage gifts to repair broken dreams and extraordinary phones to contact lost loved ones.

But, on arrival in the tiny township of Boonah, the store’s long-time custodian, Earlatidge Hubert Umbray, makes a shocking realisation. He is dying . . .

The clock is now ticking to find his replacement, because the people of Boonah are clearly in need of some restorative magic.

Like Enoch Rayne – a heartbroken ten-year-old boy mourning the loss of his father, while nurturing a guilty secret.

Like Ann Harlow, who has come to the town to be close to her dying grandmother. Though it’s Enoch’s father who dominates her thoughts – and regrets . . .

Even Earlatidge in his final days will experience the store as never before – and have the chance to face up to his own tragedy . . .

‘Prepare to immerse yourself in wonder, childish delight and dark, dark trauma in this unique novel from a new and important Australian literary voice.’ Australian Women’s Weekly on A Lifetime of Impossible Days.

My View:

Over the past few weeks, I have read 3 books that I am prepared to say are the best reads of 2021. Each are in different categories, each is memorable, remarkable, enjoyable, well written and coincidentally written by Australian authors. Each is an immersive read – you will not want to put these 3 books down; you will not want the stories to end.

This is the first of those 3.

This is the second book written by Tabitha Bird and sadly I missed the first but this read has convinced me to hunt down and read “A Lifetime of Impossible Days”. THIS book is remarkable; evocative, magical, heart breaking, encouraging, community building…life affirming…glorious! Fabulous! Poignant – you will tear up a little at times. It has so many themes woven into this magical narrative – the biggest takeaway for me is about missed opportunities and righting mistakes, about misdirection’s and false starts and getting back on track, about doing what you are passionate about, loving who you love, caring for the community – you never know what someone else’s life looks like inside the façade they present to the world.   It is never too late to mend, heal, follow your dreams.  

And it is about grief – all consuming, overwhelming, life changing, grief.  Grief in all its forms, grief that is intense, grief that changes how we live, and the intimate, personal grief for oneself, the for the child within that has been pigeonholed, held back, controlled…this book cuts those chains and releases the soul to be what it is destined to be.

A superb read!!!

Review: Tipping – Anna George

Tipping

Anna George

Viking

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9781760897789

Description:

An Instagram scandal at a grammar school sparks outrage in an exclusive bayside suburb and upends the lives of the families involved. However, it might also prove to be the tipping point required to change the school, and the wider community, for the better.

 

Liv Winsome, working mother of three sons, wife to decent if distracted Duncan, is overwhelmed. And losing her hair. Her doctor has told her she needs to slow down, do less. Focus on what’s important.

 

After Jai, one of her fourteen-year-old twins, is involved in a sexting scandal, Liv realises things need to change, and fast. Inspired by the pop-psychology books she devours, she writes a nine-page list of everything she does to keep the family afloat, and she delegates. She lets her boys’ conservative school know it has some work to do, too – partly, Liv suspects, because its leadership has a ‘woman problem’ (or, rather, a too-many-men problem).

 

Jai’s girlfriend, Grace, is at the heart of the sexting scandal and her mum, Jess Charters, up in arms as well, goes to the media. The women’s combined focus forces Carmichael Grammar to take action. To everyone’s surprise, and Liv’s delight, things actually start to improve.

 

Inspired by his wife’s efforts, Duncan rethinks the way he lives and works, too, despite the workaholic culture of his law firm and its scary managing partner, who’s also Duncan’s older brother. In unexpected ways, Liv and Duncan’s marriage and family life undergo their own transformations. Some new developments, though, aren’t entirely welcome.

 

Light-hearted and optimistic, Tipping is a novel for our times. It’s a story of domestic activism. Mum and dad activism. Because real change is possible. Sometimes all it takes is a tweak. And the will. And a bit of fun.

 

My View:

I did so want to love this. I have mixed feelings about this read. The premise is interesting but…I did not connect with any of the characters, I actually didn’t like most of them. I liked the ideas on how to make academic learning inclusive, on how to remove gender bias, on how to “fix” the broken school but it all seemed a little too simple to me, a little unrealistic in its execution. I did get some great ideas here that made me wonder if our local schools use any of these techniques?

 

However the read felt a little like a parable…a lesson being given wrapped up in contemporary narrative.

 

I think you will find this a great read for the train or the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing: As Swallow’s Fly- L P McMahon

As Swallows Fly

L P McMahon

Ventura Press

ISBN: 9781920727574

 

Description:

When Malika, a young orphan in rural Pakistan, is savagely attacked, her face is left disfigured and her self-esteem destroyed. Haunted by the assault, she hides from the world, finding solace in her mathematical theories. A few years later, her intellectual brilliance is discovered and she leaves conflict-stricken Pakistan for a better education in Melbourne, where she finds herself placed with Kate—a successful plastic surgeon facing emotional insecurities of her own.

Malika and Kate’s lives slowly intertwine as they find within each other what each has lacked alone. At first, Kate’s skills appear to offer a simple solution to Malika’s anguish, but when tragedy strikes, the price of beauty is found to be much higher than either of them could have known.

As Swallows Fly is a poignant portrayal of survival, identity and empowerment in a culture dominated by the pursuit of perfection. In a captivating and unforgettable debut, McMahon asks what might be possible if we have the courage to be flawed.

 

My View:

This is an amazing 5 star read! This character driven narrative will win your heart and have you staying up way too late to discover how the protagonists, Kate and Malika, resolve their dilemmas and continue their respective lives.

This is a spellbinding read.  Captivating and compelling; the story arcs deftly woven together taking the reader to unfamiliar places and at times harrowing events.  I found it unusual and refreshing that a work of contemporary fiction could be so compelling.

I highly recommend this read.

*****

Let me introduce you to Lawrie McMahon as he discusses A Doctor and writer, a disfigured girl from Pakistan. What’s the story?

My work in Pakistan was in a voluntary capacity, helping out in a small mission hospital in a small town north of Lahore (Gujrat). People of all faiths were always welcome and it was chastening to see the way the villagers lived, what mattered to them, how they dealt with loss (often of their children), and the strictness of the culture. I saw their lives devastated by loss but, in a way beyond my capacity, they were able to continue and even rebuild.  These experiences were all key aspects influencing Malika’s character development. I realise now how the experience and memories have influenced my life too. The memories of that time remain crystal clear. I still find myself wondering what happened to the people I met there – young and old – and how life has changed for them. It remains an ambition to return.”

 

The progression from short stories to this debut….

The difference between short story writing and writing the novel could not have been more different.  I expect it to be the same for most writers. Complexity in both characters and plot were the main practical differences. My short stories focus on defined situations and experiences—the character is etched clearly and quickly, and the narrative progresses in its limited arc to the finish. It must be contained. The novel depends on the characters changing as the novel progresses. We see a much richer version of the humanity and flaws within the person. As a writer, I hope the difference is clear. In addition, the novel raised a whole series of challenges: subplots, subtleties of character and motive as they developed and were given their due. It remains a continued learning experience. A journey, as they say.

 

Thanks so much to Dr Lawrie McMahon and Ventura Press for these insights.