Guest Review: Invisible Boys – Holden Shepherd

This must be the standout book of the year – everyone is talking about this. Read what guest viewer Andy Macleod thought of this award winning debut novel.

Invisible Boys

Holden Shepherd

Fremantle Press

ISBN: 9781925815566 

 

Description:

In a small town, everyone thinks they know you: Charlie is a hardcore rocker, who’s not as tough as he looks. Hammer is a footy jock with big AFL dreams, and an even bigger ego. Zeke is a shy over-achiever, never macho enough for his family. But all three boys hide who they really are. When the truth is revealed, will it set them free or blow them apart?

Invisible Boys is a raw, confronting YA novel, tackling homosexuality, masculinity, anger and suicide with a nuanced and unique perspective. Set in regional Western Australia, the novel follows three sixteen-year-old boys in the throes of coming to terms with their homosexuality in a town where it is invisible – and so are they. Invisible Boys depicts the complexities and trauma of rural gay identity with painful honesty, devastating consequence and, ultimately, hope.

 

Invisible Boys – A review by Andy Macleod

Up until two days ago, I had only once before sobbed uncontrollably while reading a novel. It was Skallagrig, by William Horwood. It was the 1980s and I was in my twenties.

I’m now in my late fifties, and I’ve just finished Holden Sheppard‘s award-winning debut novel, Invisible Boys.

Set in Geraldton in WA’s Midwest, Invisible Boys follows three very different teenagers, Charlie, Hammer and Zeke, as they grapple with being gay in a very straight town.

This novel spoke directly to me like no other. The characters and I, although separated by nearly a generation, have a lot in common.

We share not only a hometown, but the fear, rejection, taunts and loneliness that came with being gay in it.

Finally, someone has put into words the trauma of my own experience growing up gay when I couldn’t.

When I finished Invisible Boys, I felt something crack, crumble and fall away deep inside. I’m still unpacking what that may have been. Possibly shame, maybe silence. I’ll need to work on it.

Is Invisible Boys only a book for gay men? Absolutely not. If nothing else, it’s also a great story, and I hope it becomes required reading in the high school curriculum.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but whatever you do, you won’t regret reading Invisible Boys.

My favourite laugh-out loud-moment would have to be the ‘onion rings’ reference.

 

 

Review: Starting From Now – Fleur MacDonald

Starting From Now

Fleur McDonald

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781760529284

 

Description:

A suspenseful novel of rural life and real country issues from our genuine Voice of the Outback, author of the bestselling Where the River Runs

 

When twenty-five-year-old journalist, Zara Ellison receives her mother’s ominous text message, Call me when you can, Zara knows it’s not good news.

 

Two weeks later, Zara has left her much-loved city life to relocate to Barker, the sleepy country town in which she grew up. For Zara, family comes first.

 

But she needs to work too, and the town’s police force is a rural journalist’s best source of information. Meeting Detective Dave Burrows and Dave’s second-in-charge, Senior Constable Jack Higgins, is a priority.

 

Amid her family’s troubles, and reporting on farming accidents and violently clashing activists, Zara is shocked to witness Jack Higgins in a role she’d never have believed. How could he possibly justify this? And what was she going to do about it?

 

Wrapped in the love of family, friendship, crime and mystery, Starting From Now is another compelling novel from the authentic voice of Fleur McDonald.

 

 

My View:

Fleur McDonald has an authentic country voice that she uses to share her experiences and knowledge of life in small country towns, farming and life in general. This narrative had a couple of standout plot threads – activism and social media – looking deeper, reflecting on “snapshots” on social media and media manipulation and the family in crisis.

 

I was particularly touched by the family scenes that dealt with family crisis (no spoilers here); the scenes were realistic, emotive and evocated memoires that transported me to a difficult period in our lives. This was unexpected but very well written. I felt part of this family, dealing with their issues.

 

 

This book packs a mighty punch, cleverly weaving many plot threads together to bring about an informative, insightful and satisfying read.

 

 

 

Guest Review: The Life She Deserves – Maggie Christensen

The Life She Deserves

Maggie Christensen

Cala Publishing

ISBN: 9780648522423

Description:

Two old friends. A new relationship. What could possibly go wrong?

Growing up in the small Australian country town of Granite Springs, Jo and Col have been lifelong friends.

Following Jo’s divorce and the death of Col’s wife, the pair find comfort in their common grief. But as they tentatively explore their new relationship, they have little idea of the challenges that lie ahead.

What they haven’t bargained for is Jo’s interfering ex, along with their three children, all of whom have their own agendas.

Can Jo ride out the storm? Will she be granted the life she deserves?

 

Brenda’s Review:

When Alice died, her husband Col and best friend Jo were devastated. She had suffered a long time – she was now at peace. The three of them had been friends for a lifetime, now Col and Jo comforted each other with dinner out twice a week, always at ease in each other’s company. Gradually the respect and friendship they shared grew to more, and with it being a year since Alice had died and five years since Jo’s divorce, they were happy to explore their new relationship.

But Eve, Jo’s daughter and Danny, her son, were determined Jo should live her life the way they saw fit. It was only Rob, her youngest son, who was on Jo’s side, completely understanding her need for companionship and love. And it was Gordon, Jo’s ex, who was the biggest thorn in her side. What was she going to do? Would she go along with her children’s plans for her, letting them ride roughshod over her own needs and wants? Or would she rebel and have the life she deserved?

The Life She Deserves is the 1st in the Granite Springs series for Aussie author Maggie Christensen and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The author depicts older characters extremely well and with both Jo and Col turning 60 in this story, Jo with adult children and grandchildren, the complexities of family and relationships shines through. A wonderful story, The Life She Deserves is one I highly recommend and I’m looking forward to book two already. 5 stars.

With thanks to the author for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Great Divide – L J M Owen

The Great Divide

L M J Owen

Echo Publishing $29.99

ISBN: 9781760685829

 

Description:

In the rural Tasmanian town of Dunton, the body of a former headmistress of a children’s home is discovered, revealing a tortured life and death.

 

Detective Jake Hunter, newly-arrived, searches for her killer among past residents of the home. He unearths pain, secrets and broken adults. Pushing aside memories of his own treacherous past, Jake focuses all his energy on the investigation.

 

Why are some of the children untraceable? What caused such damage among the survivors?

 

The identity of the murderer seems hidden from Jake by Dunton’s fog of prejudice and lies, until he is forced to confront not only the town’s history but his own nature…

 

 

My View:

The start of an interesting series perhaps?

 

The beginning was a little slow for me, it took me a while to enter into this quiet secret filled landscape but then BOOM! L JM Owen does not hold back – there are deaths and mayhem and a twist that may surprise you.  The item in the office (no spoilers here) must be the most sinister, gruesome trophy I have come across in all my reading of crime fiction.

 

Detective Jake Hunter is an interesting character and I feel there is more to him than has so far been revealed.

 

When you have finished reading this pay attention to the final pages. For me the most powerful part of this narrative is in the acknowledgements (p295); “This work is, in many ways, an acknowledgment of the experiences of children deemed by their adults as unworthy – of respect, of nurturing, of protection.

To you, I say: I see you.  Hear you. You matter. And I am sorry; you deserved better.”

 

Thank you L J M Owen.

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Review: Cross my Heart – Pamela Cook

Cross My Heart

Pamela Cook

Wildwords Publishing

ISBN: 9780648523505

 

Description:

When a promise kept means a life is broken…a haunting story of guilt, redemption and friendship that will have you turning pages well past bed-time.

When a promise kept means a life is broken …

Tessa De Santis’s child-free marriage in inner-city Sydney is ordered and comfortable, and she likes it that way.

When tragedy strikes and her childhood friend Skye Whittaker dies, Tess is bound to honour a promise to become foster-mother to Skye’s ten-year-old daughter, Grace, throwing her life upside down.

Leaving her husband and work-driven life behind, Tess travels to an isolated property where the realities of her friend’s life – and death – hit hard. The idyllic landscape and an unexpected form of therapy ease her fears, and her relationship with Grace begins to blossom.

But a secret from her earlier life with Skye refuses to remain hidden, and Tess is forced into a decision that will either right the wrongs of the past, or completely destroy her future.

Cross My Heart is a haunting story of guilt, redemption and friendship set in the beautiful central west of New South Wales.

 

Brenda’s Review:

Exceptional; outstanding! Cross My Heart by Aussie author Pamela Cook goes straight onto my favourites list for 2019!

Tess and Josh had been married for five years and lived the high life in Sydney, both career oriented and working long days. Tess had arrived home from Los Angeles where she’d been for work when she found the letter which would change her life forever. Tess’ best friend from school days was dead, her ten-year-old daughter Grace an orphan. But it was the promise that Tess had made to Skye when Grace had been born that was sending chills down her spine. Tess was Grace’s legal guardian; Tess who had no children; Tess and Josh who didn’t want children to disturb the lives they lived…

With the advice from a psychologist friend ringing in Tess’ ears, she and Grace left Sydney and headed for the only home Grace had known. Leaving her business in the reliable hands of her 2IC and a disgruntled Josh to head for his overseas commitment, Tess’ jitters and uncertainty accompanied them the whole way, through the Blue Mountains and on to the small town of Weerilla, where they found the isolated cottage that had been Skye and Grace’s home. But would returning home help Grace through her grief? Would it enable Tess and Grace to bond; to form a friendship – a relationship of sorts?

Cross My Heart is an emotional, heart wrenching but uplifting novel on grief, friendship, love, secrets and commitment that I dare anyone to read and not have a lump in their throat and tears in their eyes! Pamela Cook’s first 4 books (which I’ve loved) were in the rural category and Cross My Heart is a contemporary novel which she has mastered with ease. A fabulous read which I have no hesitation in recommending highly. 5 stars.

With thanks to the author for my signed ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Other Half of Augusta Hope – Joanna Glen

The Other Half of Augusta Hope

Joanna Glen

Harper Collins Publishers Australia

The Borough Press

ISBN: 9780008314163

RRP $32.99

 

Description:

Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in.

At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi.

 

And now that she’s an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia.

 

When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta’s life, she’s propelled headfirst into the unknown. She’s determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?

 

 

My View:

Intelligent, poignant, insightful, lyrical…this is a remarkable read.

 

This is a story, well actually two stories, that are the same but oh so different; modern England family life juxtaposed against lives in a war torn refugee camp.  A story of isolation, of family, of identity, of violence, of death and coming home….Beautifully imagined and executed, heartbreakingly poignant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Confession – Jessie Burton

The Confession

Jessie Burton

Pan Macmillan Australia

Picador

ISBN: 9781509886159

RRP $29.99

Description:

The sensational new novel from the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist and The Muse.

 

One winter’s afternoon on Hampstead Heath in 1980, Elise Morceau meets Constance Holden and quickly falls under her spell. Connie is bold and alluring, a successful writer whose novel is being turned into a major Hollywood film. Elise follows Connie to LA, a city of strange dreams and swimming pools and late-night gatherings of glamorous people. But whilst Connie thrives on the heat and electricity of this new world where everyone is reaching for the stars and no one is telling the truth, Elise finds herself floundering. When she overhears a conversation at a party that turns everything on its head, Elise makes an impulsive decision that will change her life forever.

 

Three decades later, Rose Simmons is seeking answers about her mother, who disappeared when she was a baby. Having learned that the last person to see her was Constance Holden, a reclusive novelist who withdrew from public life at the peak of her fame, Rose is drawn to the door of Connie’s imposing house in search of a confession …

 

From the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist and The Muse, this is a luminous, powerful and deeply moving novel about secrets and storytelling, motherhood and friendship, and how we lose and find ourselves.

 

PRAISE FOR THE CONFESSION

‘Dazzlingly good. The Confession is that rare thing: an utterly engrossing novel which asks big questions without ever once losing sight of the storyteller’s need to entertain and move. I turned the final pages in tears and I know already I shall return to it again and again. Without doubt one of the best novels of recent years.’

Elizabeth Day, author of The Party and How To Fail

‘I haven’t enjoyed a book so much in a long time . . . I lost myself in the story, not wanting to come up for air. A bold, intelligent, wonderful novel’ Sarah Winman, author of Tin Man

‘Burton is asking important questions in The Confession – questions about motherhood, art and creativity, love, friendship – and in doing this, she has created three utterly fascinating characters. Connie, Elise, and Rose are complicated; complex in ways that women are so rarely allowed to be in literature, demanding that their stories be heard. This is a beautiful novel and one that will stay with me for a very long time’ Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours

‘an absorbing, intelligent piece of storytelling’ Guardian

 AUTHOR INFORMATION

Jessie Burton is the author of the Sunday Times number one and New York Times bestsellers The Miniaturist and The Muse, and the children’s book The Restless Girls. In its year of publication The Miniaturist sold over a million copies, and in 2017 it was adapted into a major TV series for BBC One. Her novels have been translated into thirty-eight languages, and she is a regular essay writer for newspapers and magazines. She lives in London.

 

My View:

I finished reading this last night – OMG!!!

 

This is such a sublime read full of emotional intelligence and elegant prose – I just wanted to highlight paragraphs and paragraphs – because of the skilled use of language AND because of the many astute revelations about life’s journey.

 

The narrative is engaging; a bit of mystery, a lot of coming of age, of learning to love oneself and live in the moment not the future, about acceptance, family, identity… this book has so much to offer.  READ IT! 10 stars!!!