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.

 

 

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.

Guest Review: There Was Still Love – Favel Parrett

 

There Was Still Love

Favel Parrett

Hachette AU

ISBN: 9780733630682

Description:

The profoundly moving new novel from the critically acclaimed and Miles Franklin shortlisted author of PAST THE SHALLOWS and WHEN THE NIGHT COMES. A tender and masterfully told story of memory, family and love.

Prague, 1938: Eva flies down the street from her sister. Suddenly a man steps out, a man wearing a hat. Eva runs into him, hits the pavement hard. His hat is in the gutter. His anger slaps Eva, but his hate will change everything, as war forces so many lives into small, brown suitcases.

Prague, 1980: No one sees Ludek. A young boy can slip right under the heavy blanket that covers this city – the fear cannot touch him. Ludek is free. And he sees everything. The world can do what it likes. The world can go to hell for all he cares because Babi is waiting for him in the warm flat. His whole world.

Melbourne, 1980: Mala Li ka’s grandma holds her hand as they climb the stairs to their third floor flat. Inside, the smell of warm pipe tobacco and homemade cakes. Here, Mana and Bill have made a life for themselves and their granddaughter. A life imbued with the spirit of Prague and the loved ones left behind.

Favel Parrett’s deep emotional insight and stellar literary talent shine through in this love letter to the strong women who bind families together, despite dislocation and distance. It is a tender and beautifully told story of memory, family and love. Because there is still love. No matter what.

Brenda’s Review:

What an utterly divine, beautifully written novel There Was Still Love is by Aussie author Favel Parrett. Moving, profound, I’m blown away by this book. I loved the author’s previous novels, and this one is exceptional.

Set in Prague in 1938 and 1980, and Melbourne in 1980, it tells Eva and Mana’s stories and that of their grandchildren. Ludek lives in Prague with his Babi while his mother is a long way away working, and Mala Li ka lives in the tiny Melbourne flat with her grandma and grandpa. Love; the past; the present – all link together as there was still love; always.

Although There Was Still Love is a work of fiction, the author has drawn from the lives of her grandparents, showing the kindness and love which was always present. A very memorable book which is told mostly in the voices of the two children, and which I have no hesitation in recommending highly. The cover is beautiful, with the fox having special meaning. 5 stars

With thanks to Hachette AU for my ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

 

Guest Review: Trouble on Teral (The Portal Adventures #1) – Andrew J. Harvey

Trouble on Teral

Andrew J. Harvey

Peasantry Press

ISBN: 9781988276328

 

Description:

Perhaps running away from home had not been one of Mark’s brightest ideas. But after his mom canceled his visit to her archaeological dig on Teral Four, he felt he had no choice. Now he wasn’t so sure – when his dad, a Colonel in the UN Peacekeepers, found out he was going to go ballistic. If he could just speak to his mom perhaps he could still smooth things over. Unfortunately for Mark, the Llarst, violent aliens who have already fought one war with Earth, have taken his mom and the other archaeologists hostage. And if the Llarst find what they’re looking for, all of Earth will be in danger. Now, with just the assistance of Windracer, a young saurian on her first vision quest, and her elephant- sized groundhog, he must rescue his mother and her friends, stop the Llarst, and face his dad. Piece of cake …

Brenda’s Review:

Mark’s rebellion kicked in when the anticipation of his visit to Teral Four where his mum was working on the archeology dig was dashed. He immediately decided to go anyway and surprise his mum. But as usual, he hadn’t thought things through – namely what his dad would do when he found out.

His arrival was fraught with trouble – the Llarst, who were terrifying aliens, had invaded and kidnapped Mark’s mother and the rest of the archaeologist team, locking them up a long way underground. Mark met up with a young saurian, Windracer and her gigantic groundhog, Matak, and they decided to attempt a rescue of Mark’s mum and everyone else. But as Mark was about to find out, there was a lot more involved; and a lot of danger as well. Could they do it? What would happen if the Llarst did what they threatened?

Trouble on Teral is the 1st in The Portal Adventures series by Aussie author Andrew Harvey and it was an exciting, adventure filled race against time for the two unlikely friends. I loved Windracer’s character, and Mark was a typical youngster, not thinking before acting. I’m really looking forward to the second in the series – “Crisis at Calista Station” – and recommend Trouble on Teral for young and old alike 😊 5 stars

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

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.

Guest Review: Cradle to Grave – Rachel Amphlett

Cradle to Grave

Detective Kay Hunter #8

Rachel Amphlett

Saxon Publishing

ISBN: 9781916098817

 

Description:

When a faceless body is found floating in the river on a summer’s morning, Detective Kay Hunter and her team are tasked with finding out the man’s identity – and where he came from.

The investigation takes a sinister turn when an abandoned boat is found, covered in blood stains and containing a child’s belongings.

Under mounting pressure from a distraught family and an unforgiving media, the police are in a race against time – but they have no leads, and no motive for the events that have taken place.

Will Kay be able to find a ruthless killer and a missing child before it’s too late?

Brenda’s Review:

The discovery of a body floating in the river was only the beginning of the case. When the team located an abandoned, blood stained boat which had children’s toys in the cabin, the immediate concern that a child had been kidnapped was foremost in the minds of the investigators. Detective Kay Hunter along with her senior officer, Detective Ian Barnes kept the team moving with their different tasks, but their frustration was mounting. Working around the clock, Kay wondered if they would get a break in the case soon; and whether Alice was still alive…

Cradle to Grave is the 8th in the Kay Hunter series by Aussie author Rachel Amphlett and it was brilliant once again! This series is going from strength to strength, and it’s always great to catch up with Kay and her team. The author makes me feel fully involved in the story; the different emotions come across well and the descriptions are such that I can visualize it all. Cradle to Grave is one I highly recommend, but I strongly suggest reading the series from the beginning. 5 stars.

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

Guest Review: Cilka’s Journey – Heather Morris

Cilka’s Journey
(The Tattooist of Auschwitz #2)
Heather Morris
Bonnier
Echo
ISBN: 9781760686048

 

Description:

From the author of the multi-million copy bestseller, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, comes the new novel based on an incredible true story of love and resilience.

Her beauty saved her life – and condemned her.

Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, in 1942. The Commandant at Birkenau, Schwarzhuber, notices her long beautiful hair, and forces her separation from the other women prisoners. Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly given, equals survival.

After liberation, Cilka is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to Siberia. But what choice did she have? And where did the lines of morality lie for Cilka, who was sent to Auschwitz when still a child?

In a Siberian prison camp, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, including the unwanted attention of the guards. But when she makes an impression on a woman doctor, Cilka is taken under her wing. Cilka begins to tend to the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions.

Cilka finds endless resources within herself as she daily confronts death and faces terror. And when she nurses a man called Ivan, Cilka finds that despite everything that has happened to her, there is room in her heart for love.

 

Brenda’s View:

Sixteen-year-old Cilka’s arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau was followed by three years of heartbreak, torture and loss. It was also where she lost her innocence; where she met Gita, who was to be her best friend, and Lale the tattooist who marked her, and everyone else, with the number that identified her. At the time of liberation, in 1945, Cilka was interrogated and charged as a collaborator. Her punishment was to be 15 years in the notorious Vorkuta Gulag in the icy wastes of Siberia. Cilka’s life would change once more…

The hut that the women were housed in, where Cilka eventually formed friendships, was cold and miserable. Working in the mines was debilitating, exhausting work, but when Cilka met a compassionate woman doctor at the hospital and was asked to work there as her caring nature would be an asset, Cilka was grateful. Conditions were a little better but each night she returned to her hut after being confronted with death and shocking injuries. The fortitude and strength that Cilka held inside rarely faltered, but more was to come to test her. What was to be the outcome of this horror for Cilka? Would she ever know peace?

Cilka’s Journey by Aussie author Heather Morris is the sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz where we met Lale as he told his story. Once again, the author has based her new story on fact, with Cilka being a real person, set in history; the settings are horribly authentic; the bravery and courage of Cilka mentioned to the author by Lale when she interviewed him. The artistry of the author as she blended fact with fiction shows a great amount of research – her mention of that research and how much time was devoted to it, is at the end of the book. Cilka’s Journey takes us back to a shocking time in history, a time I hope is never repeated. It is also a historical novel I highly recommend.

With thanks to Bonnier/Echo and associated publishers for my ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.