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.

 

#FridayFreebie: Other Peoples Houses – Kelli Hawkins

Other People’s Houses

Kelli Hawkins

Harper Collins Australia

ISBN: 9781460759226

 

Description:

A stunningly tense, page-turning debut for all fans of The Woman in the Window and The Girl on the Train The perfect house. The perfect family. Too good to be true.

 

Kate Webb still grieves for her young son, ten years after his loss. She spends her weekends hungover, attending open houses on Sydney’s wealthy north shore and imagining the lives of the people who live there.

 

Then Kate visits the Harding house – the perfect house with, it seems, the perfect family. A photograph captures a kind-looking man, a beautiful woman she once knew from university days, and a boy – a boy that for one heartbreaking moment she believes is her own son.

 

When her curiosity turns to obsession, she uncovers the cracks that lie beneath a glossy facade of perfection, sordid truths she could never have imagined.

 

** Thanks to the wonderful people at Harper Collins Australia, I have one copy of this stunning debut to offer you as a giveaway. Simply state the city this book is set in, in the comments. Open to Australian residents only. Winner randomly selected on 19th March 2021.**

 

 

Review: Other Peoples Houses – Kelli Hawkins

Other People’s Houses

Kelli Hawkins

Harper Collins Australia

ISBN: 9781460759226

 

Description:

A stunningly tense, page-turning debut for all fans of The Woman in the Window and The Girl on the Train The perfect house. The perfect family. Too good to be true.

 

Kate Webb still grieves for her young son, ten years after his loss. She spends her weekends hungover, attending open houses on Sydney’s wealthy north shore and imagining the lives of the people who live there.

 

Then Kate visits the Harding house – the perfect house with, it seems, the perfect family. A photograph captures a kind-looking man, a beautiful woman she once knew from university days, and a boy – a boy that for one heartbreaking moment she believes is her own son.

 

When her curiosity turns to obsession, she uncovers the cracks that lie beneath a glossy facade of perfection, sordid truths she could never have imagined.

 

 

My View:

I don’t think I have come across such a unique narrator and unique plot; a mostly functioning alcoholic whose life is coloured with the raw grief of loss. Kate Webb is the most unreliable narrator I have come across yet her world is credible, the self-destructive behaviours understandable as her grief transcends her weak desire to function and exist in the world.

 

But this is not just a book about alcoholism and grief. Without giving away too much, this is a book about domestic violence in its worse form, its is about murders and psychopaths, about control, about relationships, about the glimmer of hope that just might sustain; it is a read where the nothing is as it seems.

 

And it is a read that will keep you up all night until you have discovered the truths. This is a compelling read and I will admit to shedding a silent tear as I finished this.

 

 

Review: Something Like This – Karly Lane

Something Like This

Karly Lane

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781760529253

RRP $29.99

 

Description:

A spellbinding new rural romance from the bestselling author of the Callahans of Stringybark Creek trilogy and Fool Me Once.

 

 

Jason Weaver just wants to be left alone. It was a tough transition from his army days to civilian life, and he’s looking forward to settling into a solitary life.

 

Tilly Hollis is working two jobs to save for her dream career: running an equine therapy program. Tilly loves her horses more than anything, and after losing her husband and business partner just a few years earlier, she’s determined to make it work on her own.

 

When Jason walks into the cafe where Tilly works, they’re immediately drawn to one another. But can they overcome their pasts to find a future together?

 

 

My View:

I have had a few very restless/sleepless nights recently and so the last time I found myself still awake past midnight a pick up my copy of Something Like This and settled in to read for an hour or so before I went back to bed and sleep, I hoped. This was a major mistake. 173 pages later I did not want to put this book down!  I looked at the clock – gone 3 (well to be honest – it was a bit later than that but I am not admitting to that) 😊  I sighed and decided I really had to try and get some sleep, so reluctantly I left the book on the table and went back to bed, yes I did get a few hours sleep.

 

I loved this read!  The main characters were so engaging, their back stories poignant and heartbreaking yet not melodramatic, their everyday life relatable with an appeal that connects to the reader – this is a fabulous character driven narrative. There is more to this narrative than rural romance; this is a multi-faceted exploration of loss, grief, families, second chances and courage, the everyday courage of getting up and facing each new day when you least feel like it. It’s about cancer, about the aftermath of war, about hope, faith and building trust…and therapy horses, set in the back drop of small rural town life.

 

 

PS – I am even quoted on the back of this book 🙂

 

Review: The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida – Clarissa Goenawan

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida

Clarissa Goenawan

Scribe Publications

ISBN: 9781922310286

 

Description:

A bewitching novel set in contemporary Japan about the mysterious suicide of a young woman.

Miwako Sumida is dead.

Now those closest to her try to piece together the fragments of her life. Ryusei, who has always loved her, follows Miwako’s trail to a remote Japanese village. Chie, Miwako’s best friend, was the only person to know her true identity — but is now the time to reveal it? Meanwhile, Fumi, Ryusei’s sister, is harbouring her own haunting secret.

Together, they realise that the young woman they thought they knew had more going on behind her seemingly perfect façade than they could ever have dreamed.

 

 

FROM THE AUTHOR

Hi, I’m Clarissa.

Thank you for picking up The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida.

I’m fascinated with the idea that often, we thought that we know a person really well, but actually, we don’t. How far would you go to uncover the truth? And what if the truth is more painful than the lies?

Those questions eventually led me to write The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida. It’s a story of how a young woman’s unexplained suicide shapes and transforms the lives of those she left behind. I usually describe the book as a literary mystery with elements of magical realism set in Japan, and a coming-of-age story masquerading as a murder mystery.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida is my second novel. The book has been five years in the making and I couldn’t be more proud. Just like my debut novel, Rainbirds, this book features a collection of my favourite things. You’ll find a second-hand bookstore with no signage, beloved classic books, a whimsical cat that resembles maneki-neko, delicious Japanese comfort food, convenience stores, melancholic rainy days, and amidst them, small, everyday moments that dazzle me. In a way, I’m turning them into words with the hope of capturing these precious memories forever.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. And if you do, I’d be grateful if you could share it with others.

 

Warm regards,

Clarissa Goenawan.

 

 

My View:

A compelling read.

At the heart this is book about secrets and friendships.  There is something about an unexpected death that leaves those in the circle of friends and relations seeking to understand, seeking answers, seeking clues as to the “why?”.  Goenawan tackles this subject delicately and quietly – I like the voice in this narrative. It is a sad story yet not morose. The back story is one …well that’s another secret and I won’t reveal that😊 But I will say it is very contemporary social issue that is sensitively illuminated and discussed.

 

To me this is a book in two parts. The before the trip the friends take to the village and the after. The “after” is a little mystical, or perhaps spiritual…depending on your outlook. Traditions and culture form the strength of the second part of the narrative and help resolve some areas of the story arc.

 

There is something about the quiet voice in this narrative that is so powerful and compelling. I did enjoy this read and hope you will too.

#FridayFreebie – Bluebird – Malcolm Knox

Bluebird

Malcolm Knox

Allen & Unwin Australia

ISBN: 9781760877422

RRP $32.99

 

 

Description:

‘If Winton is an aria, Knox is early Rolling Stones.’ The Guardian

A stunning new novel about longing, regret, redemption and the terrible legacy of decades of secrets buried in an Australian beachside suburb.

A house perched impossibly on a cliff overlooking the stunning, iconic Bluebird Beach. Prime real estate, yet somehow not real estate at all, The Lodge is, like those who live in it, falling apart.

Gordon Grimes has become the accidental keeper of this last relic of an endangered world. He lives in The Lodge with his wife Kelly who is trying to leave him, their son Ben who will do anything to save him, his goddaughter Lou who is hiding from her own troubles, and Leonie, the family matriarch who has trapped them here for their own good.

But Gordon has no money and is running out of time to conserve his homeland. His love for this way of life will drive him, and everyone around him, to increasingly desperate risks. In the end, what will it cost them to hang onto their past?

Acclaimed writer Malcolm Knox has written a classic Australian novel about the myths that come to define families and communities, and the lies that uphold them. It’s about a certain kind of Australia that we all recognise, and a certain kind of Australian whose currency is running out. Change is coming to Bluebird, whether they like it or not. And the secrets they’ve been keeping and the lies they’ve been telling can’t save them now.

Savage, funny, revelatory and brilliant, Bluebird exposes the hollowness of the stories told to glorify a dying culture and shows how those who seek to preserve these myths end up being crushed by them.

 

**If you would like to win a copy of Bluebird  by Malcolm Knox, in the comments tell me the title of any other book Knox has written https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/Bluebird-Malcolm-Knox-9781760877422   
entries open to Australian residents , I will conduct a random draw to select 3 winners on 11/9/020   thank you Allen & Unwin**

Review: Summerwater – Sarah Moss

I am going to go out on a limb here and say I have recently read THE  TWO BEST LITERARY/CONTEMPORARY READS OF THE YEAR…with a caveat that I can add more to this short list if I come across anything super exciting. 🙂

Covid 19 has certainly impacted on my reading habits and mood. I find myself shying away  (but not given up on) my favourite genre – crime fiction, in favour of more contemporary reads – dont ask me why?

In the last couple of weeks I have read Summerwater by Sarah Moss: and Betty by Tiffany McDaniels.

 

Summerwater

Sarah Moss

Picador

Pan Macmillan Australia

ISBN: 9781529035452

RRP $32.99

Description:

Set in an isolated Scottish cabin park over the course of one rainy summer’s day, A DAY LIKE TODAY follows a group of holidaymakers and their growing curiosity about a disruptive foreign family staying at the site. As the residents become more closely entwined tension mounts between them, but no one can know what lies ahead as night falls. Sharp and devastating, Sarah Moss’s newest novel is the perfect follow up to her Women’s Prize longlisted GHOST WALL

 

My view:

SUPERB!       SUBLIME!!!    READ THIS BOOK.