Review: The Banksia Bay Beach Shack – Sandie Docker

The Banksia Bay Beach Shack
Sandie Docker
Penguin Random House
Michael Joseph
ISBN: 9781760890353
RRP $32.99

Description:
A year is a long time in the memory of a small town. Stories get twisted, truths become warped, history is rewritten.

MYSTERIES

When Laura discovers an old photo of her grandmother, Lillian, with an intriguing inscription on the back, she heads to the sleepy seaside town of Banksia Bay to learn the truth of Lillian’s past. But when she arrives, Laura finds a community where everyone seems to be hiding something.

SECRETS

Virginia, owner of the iconic Beach Shack café, has kept her past buried for sixty years. As Laura slowly uncovers the tragic fragments of that summer so long ago, Virginia must decide whether to hold on to her secrets or set the truth free.

LIES

Young Gigi and Lily come from different worlds but forge an unbreakable bond – the ‘Sisters of Summer’. But in 1961 a chain of events is set off that reaches far into the future. One lie told. One lie to set someone free. One lie that changes the course of so many lives.

Welcome to the Banksia Bay Beach Shack, where first love is found and last chances are taken.

A moving and heartfelt story by the bestselling author of The Kookaburra Creek Café and The Cottage At Rosella Cove.

Praise for Sandie Docker:
‘Docker soars from the absolute heart’ Australian Women’s Weekly

‘The best of the best of heart-wrenching yarns.’ Woman’s Day

 

My View:
A tender, bittersweet dual time lined narrative that is a big chunk of mystery with a dash romance, that subtlety puts the spotlight on sexism, misogyny and racism in the 60’s whilst it considers if some secrets really are worth revealing.

It is interesting to step back in time to the small coastal town of Banksia Bay and examine the lifestyles and life choices of some of its inhabitants and the impact those choices made in their lives sixty years later from this distance. Have we progressed? Have we changed very much? I think some of the issues spotlighted have just been dressed in contemporary clothes.

Sandie Docker paints with a vibrant palette; her small-town settings are warm, inviting and picturesque, I could clearly envisage the beach, the surf, the scent of Australian summer. Her characters are finely drawn; you will recognise features and mannerisms of people you may know. The way this small community supports each other is times of adversity will warm your heart.

A delightful, bittersweet read.

Guest Review: Cotter – Richard Begbie

Cotter

Richard Begbie

Longhand Press

ISBN: 9780975232958

 

Description:

Early in 1822 an illiterate nineteen year-old peasant in County Cork took part in a ‘Whiteboy’ action in the hope of fairer rent and more land for his struggling family. Instead, he was transported to NSW for life.

The story that follows will subvert popular notions of the convict experience. Cotter’s alliance with a fierce Aboriginal leader conspired with his second ‘crime’ to introduce him to a world understood by few Europeans.

The novel points to a haunting moment in Australia’s story, when white humility and aboriginal knowledge might have combined to produce a kinder stewardship across the ancient land. Few invaders experienced that fleeting possibility as intimately as Garrett Cotter.

This is a story of power and exploitation, of betrayal and uncertain redemption. It offers a vivid reimagining of real events in the far wilds of a high country ‘beyond the limits’.

 

Brenda’s Review:

Irishman Garrett Cotter was only nineteen years old in 1822 when he was caught with a group of “Whiteboy” rebels (so called because of the white shirts they all wore when protesting) and although initially sentenced to hanging, it was changed to transportation to New South Wales for the duration of his natural life. His journey with other male prisoners on the “Mangles” was long and arduous, but because of a kindly doctor who oversaw the men, they were reasonably healthy on their arrival in Sydney Cove.

After a period of a few years with a farmer near Parramatta, Cotter was then moved to new land on Weereewa (Lake George) where the land was lush with plenty of feed for the cattle. It was there that Cotter proved himself a hard worker and a dab hand with animals, especially horses. And it was also where he had his first encounter with the Aboriginal leader Onyong. Cotter and Onyong formed an alliance – at first uneasy – that would last many, many years, with Onyong helping Cotter find fertile land for cattle; their friendship meant he also met Onyong’s family and learned many Aboriginal ways.

Cotter received his ticket of leave, which was then revoked after an incident. His days with the darkness inside fortunately were less than the contented and happy days. His life wasn’t easy, but he was a well respected and liked man – by most. His use of land which Onyong referred to as “my country” was a privilege that Cotter appreciated; the men who didn’t understand the Aboriginal people were many and it saddened Cotter.

Cotter by Aussie author Richard Begbie is outstanding – up there with my favourite books for 2019. Although a fictional recounting, it’s heavily based on fact and with the Cotter Dam and Cotter River in Canberra, and many places mentioned in the book – Queanbeyan, Murrumbidgee River (the lifeblood of the country), Yass, Goulburn and many others – it felt familiar and was easy to visualize. The harshness of those early days in the colony was well told; the hatred by some whites of the Aboriginals; the exploitation and betrayal by many – Cotter was a likeable Irishman, smart and compassionate (he loved his dog Jimmy), and Cotter is a book well worth reading. And I wouldn’t have found it, let alone read it, if I hadn’t needed one for a challenge, which was set in Australia’s capital. A great win for me! Highly recommended. 5 stars.

Guest Review: The Stationmaster’s Cottage – Phillipa Nefri Clark

The Stationmaster’s Cottage

Phillipa Nefri Clark

Self Published

ISBN: 9780648013815

Description:

“There are secrets in that cottage. Questions needing answers.”

Those words gave Christie Ryan a reason to stay in River’s End, when she should have gone home after Gran’s funeral.

Inheriting a rundown cottage, far from her jet-setting life, she is drawn into a fifty-year-old mystery.

Who wrote the letters hidden in the attic, an outpouring of love to a woman Christie suspects she is related to? What is the significance of a damaged painting kept by Gran but clearly painted in this seaside town?

Local artist Martin Blake may have the answers she seeks, but refuses to help. His dog adores Christie, but Martin keeps his feelings locked away.

As Christie faces difficult decisions about her own future, will the consequences of righting old wrongs be too high a price to pay?

 

Brenda’s Review:

The death of Christie Ryan’s grandmother was the beginning of a profound change in her life. As she headed to the small country town of River’s End to meet Angus, Gran’s long-time employee, it was much against her fiancé Derek’s wishes. He was scornful of her need to go to the funeral, and Christie’s heart broke a little at his words. But she needed to do this; Derek would have to wait.

River’s End was only a few hours from Melbourne, but Christie had never heard of the place. She and her Gran had never been close; a seemingly hard-hearted woman, Christie was about to learn a lot of things about secrets from her Gran’s past – about her family’s past. The stationmaster’s cottage in River’s End was now hers, having been left to Christie. It was run down and in a bad way, but it had a certain charm and Christie knew almost immediately that she wouldn’t sell it. The ocean was near, the peace and tranquility perfect.

But as Christie cleaned the cottage, she came across letters in the attic, a painting, a diary and more. Who were the people involved? Was it a long lost relative or a total stranger? Written fifty years prior, Christie could feel the need to solve the puzzle; to help if she could. Her own life was up in the air; should she investigate the past, or sort out what was happening here and now?

And I have just discovered another author to love! The Stationmaster’s Cottage is my first by Aussie author Phillipa Nefri Clark; it’s also her debut, plus first in the Christie Ryan series. Wow what a debut! I loved the story of Christie, her Gran, Martha and Thomas, Martin and of course Randall. The Stationmaster’s Cottage is filled with rich characters, even the side players; the scenery overlooking the ocean; the small country town and the friendliness of the locals – all makes this a heartwarming and heartbreaking historical fiction novel which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. 5 stars.

Guest Review: The Girl in the Painting – Tea Cooper

The Girl in the Painting

Tea Cooper

HarperCollins Publishers AU

ISBN: 9781489270726

Description:

Maitland 1913. Miss Elizabeth Quinn is something of an institution in Maitland Town. For longer than anyone could remember she and her brother, businessman Michael, have lived in the impressive two-storey stone house next to the church. When she is discovered cowering in the corner of the exhibition gallery at the Technical College the entire town knows something strange has come to pass.

Was it the prehistoric remains or perhaps the taxidermy exhibition that had reduced the whale-boned encased pillar of society to a quivering mess? Or is there something odd about a striking painting on loan from the National Gallery?

Mathematical savant Jane Piper is determined to find out. Deposited on the doorstep of the local orphanage as a baby, she owes her life and education to the Quinn’s philanthropic ventures and Elizabeth has no one else to turn to.

As the past and the present converge, Elizabeth’s grip on reality loosens. Can Jane, with her logical brain and penchant for puzzles, unravel Elizabeth’s story before it is too late?

Ranging from the gritty reality of the Australian goldfields to the grand institutions of Sydney, the bucolic English countryside to the charm of Maitland Town, this compelling historical mystery in the company of an eccentric and original heroine is rich with atmosphere and detail.

 

Brenda’s Review:

It was 1863 when Michael Ó’Cuinn and his little sister Elizabeth left London bound for Australia. Their Mam and Da had gone earlier, leaving the two children with an aunt, but her death meant the journey to join their parents took place sooner than originally planned. Leaving Elizabeth with the Camerons in Sydney while Michael searched for their parents, the shock he faced meant he had to do some rapid growing up.

Fifty years later in 1913, Michael and Elizabeth lived in Maitland, NSW. They were well known and liked in the town; Michael was an astute businessman while Elizabeth controlled the accounting. They had rescued Jane from the orphanage when she was young, her mathematical genius something they wanted to cultivate. Jane called them Aunt and Uncle; she wasn’t adopted but was part of the family.

It was when Elizabeth was affected by an exhibition at the Technical College that things began to change. Elizabeth felt herself fading in and out of reality; her dizziness and fear was overwhelming. The doctor couldn’t find anything physically wrong with her – so what was happening? Jane was determined to find the answers; she owed everything to Michael and Elizabeth. She had to help. But was it a puzzle she could solve?

The Girl in the Painting by Aussie author Tea Cooper would have to be her best yet in my opinion! An exceptional plot, interesting, intriguing and poignant. I couldn’t put this one down; loved Jane’s character, especially when she first went to the Quinn household. I laughed out loud many times at her antics; she was forthright and didn’t hold back. The Girl in the Painting is a thoroughly enjoyable historical mystery novel which I highly recommend. 5 stars.

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

 

Guest Review: Damascus – Chris Tsiolkas

Damascus

Chris Tsiolkas

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781760875091

 

Josh’s View: 

I don’t read to escape. I read to learn. To come to a new understanding or insight. I want to be a better person because of what I read.

That’s why, when I heard Christos Tsiolkas being interviewed on the ABC about his new novel Damascus, I knew I had to read it.

In the interview Tsiolkas talked about grappling with his sexuality in his early teens, and how St. Paul’s first letter to Corinthians regarding condemning homosexuality was the catalyst for him moving away from Christianity. But in his late 20s a personal crisis saw him in a church where he discovered St. Paul’s writing once again, but in a different light, a more compassionate one. That was the early spark that lead him to write Damascus.

Being gay myself, I have an aversion to most organised religions, so wanted to know what happened to Tsiolkas and how could he reconcile those letters to the Corinthians? Would reading Damascus give me the same inner conversion that Tsiolkas had reading St. Paul? Could I learn to accept people who didn’t accept me? Could I be a better person after reading it?

Firstly, Damascus is not for the weak of stomach. I have a high tolerance for most things, but even I had to turn away at times. This is what I loved about the book. Tsiolkas doesn’t give you today’s highly polished sanitised version of Christianity, he strips you bare, and leads you deep into the filth, muck, shit, piss and blood that lined the streets of Jerusalem and the Middle East almost 2000 years ago. And he doesn’t let up. His extensive research about what life and conditions were really like, only sharpens the contrast of today’s idea of the Christianity.

Thankfully, Damascus has given me a much deeper understanding of how radical Jesus’ message was back then. In a time of entrenched class systems, where you couldn’t move left, right up or down, where if you were born a slave you were always a slave – to say something like, ‘everyone is equal in the eyes of God’, was punishable by death. To have a group of people opening their doors, feeding and caring for you, and saying that you are loved regardless of who you are, was a radical act.

And that’s what the early followers of Yeshua (Jesus) did.

Familiar phrases that have become religious wallpaper today, like, ‘Turn the other cheek’, are given real context. Characters in Damascus breathe life into them, and show what they really mean, even if they struggle to do so themselves.

Tsiolkas gives the early Christian message critically important social and historical context and shows how real people dared to live it, all whilst grappling with their human frailties and ingrained cultural prejudices and biases.

I couldn’t help compare today’s evangelical Hillsong Church, and it’s million dollar stadium churches, with the people of 2000 years ago. The people who risked death to live the teachings of a man who said to give away everything, love your neighbour and that God loves everyone, no matter who they are.

For me, it felt like Tsiolkas was trying to strip away all the religiosity, and two millennia of multiple interpretations of Christ’s message, to find what was at the heart of it, especially what St. Paul was really trying to say.

Damascus is a big book, a brave book and it’s hard reading. I had to put it down often and will myself to get back into the headspace to keep going. But I’m glad I did.

When I write my kids books, I want children to be changed by what they read, and I know Christos Tsiolkas wanted me to be changed by what he wrote. And he has done just that.

Am I a better person for reading Damascus? I really think so.

 

Josh Langley

Award winning author, illustrator and daydreamer

 

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.

 

#FridayFeebie : Dead Man Switch – Tara Moss

Description:

Bestselling author Tara Moss returns to crime fiction with a stunning new series, and a stunning new heroine. Meet PI Billie Walker – smart and sexy, with a dash of Mae West humour, she’s a hard-boiled detective with a twist.

She’s a woman in a man’s world …

Sydney, 1946. Billie Walker is living life on her own terms. World War II has left her bereaved, her photojournalist husband missing and presumed dead. Determined not to rely on any man for her future, she re-opens her late father’s detective agency.

Billie’s bread and butter is tailing cheating spouses – it’s easy, pays the bills and she has a knack for it. But her latest case, the disappearance of a young man, is not proving straightforward …

Soon Billie is up to her stylish collar in bad men, and not just the unfaithful kind – these are the murdering kind. Smugglers. Players. Gangsters. Billie and her loyal assistant must pit their wits against Sydney’s ruthless underworld and find the young man before it’s too late.

Tara Moss head shot_thanks to Berndt Sellheim

Giveaway:

If you like your protagonists to be smart, assertive and female then Tara’ Moss’ s new series with the PI Billie Walker written in a modern ‘hard boiled’ style is for you.

For your chance to win pop over to Harper Collins website and tell me  in the comments in this blog post, who said this about the author  “‘A brilliant writer‘ ”

 

**Entries limited to Australian residents only and winners will be selected by a random draw on  the 31st of October 2019.**