Review: I’m Staying At Richard’s – Bernadette Agius

I’m Staying at Richard’s: Raising the Exceptional Son I Never Expected
Bernadette Agius
Atria Books
ISBN: 9781501174568

 

Description:
This inspiring, heartfelt, and powerful memoir by a mother of a child with Down syndrome explores the incredible blessings and challenges of raising a child with disabilities.

When Bernadette Agius—an ambitious career-focused woman—became pregnant, she imagined her unborn child attending the best schools and dazzling everyone with his impressive wit, charm, and intelligence. But when the doctors placed her baby boy in her arms and told Bernadette he had Down syndrome, those dreams instantly disappeared.

While her first impulse was to fight against this new reality, she soon found the strength to become the champion her son, Richard, would need and deserved. With the help of her husband and a newfound village of professionals, Bernadette forged a new life, discovering along the way that everyone has a different version of normal. Ultimately Richard, now thirty, was able to defy expectation and become an independent adult.

Grounded in love, offering a message of hope, and told with humor and honesty, I’m Staying at Richard’s shines a light on the fierce, unwavering love of a mother for her son.

 

My View:
This is a very powerful story of unconditional love. Reading this memoir felt a lot like stepping into somebody else’s shoes and for that insight I am grateful.

If you want a powerful, heartening, optimistic and joyful (mostly) story about finding your path and yourself when life throws the totally unexpected at you, read this poignant story.

Review: Small Mercies – Richard Anderson

Small Mercies
Richard Anderson
Scribe
ISBN: 9781925849707

Description:
A husband and wife living on a severely drought-afflicted property take a brief break, only to find that their relationship is parched, too.

After enduring months of extreme drought on their modest freehold, farming couple Dimple and Ruthie face uncertain times on more than one front. Ruthie receives the news every woman dreads. Meanwhile, a wealthy landowner, Wally Oliver, appears on the local radio station, warning small farmers like Dimple and Ruthie that they are doomed, that the sooner they leave the land to large operators like him, the better. Bracing for a fight on all fronts, the couple decide to take a road trip to confront Oliver. Along the way, not only is their resolve tested, but their relationship as well.

Desperate not to dwell on the past but to face up to the future, Dimple and Ruthie make a crucial decision they soon regret. And when the storm clouds finally roll in across the land they love, there’s more than the rain to contend with.

Told with enormous heart, Small Mercies is a tender love story. It is a story of a couple who feel they must change to endure, and of the land that is as important as their presence on it.

My View:
Richard Anderson does not disappoint! What a versatile writer able to easily cross the divide of mystery /suspense (Retribution, Boxed) to evocative small-town drama set in realistic physical, economical, moral and political landscapes. This was an engaging and thought provoking read, storytelling at its best, nuanced and credible.

Anderson writes Australian outback with a clarity that comes from personal experience. “Richard Anderson is a second-generation farmer from northern New South Wales. He has been running a beef-cattle farm for twenty-five years, but has also worked as a miner and had a stint on the local council.” (GoodReads author page). The narrative feels biographical, I am sure there are elements of Richard’s own experience of life events, big and small, of farming and local politics that inform his writing. It is in the subtleties of these details of everyday life that Anderson’s writing soars. You can easily place yourself in the setting, in the emotions, in the relationships.

Against this backdrop of hardship and drought a finely drawn story of enduing love is exposed. We are privy to the self-talk and the situations, good and difficult, that all relationships face in varying degrees and we hang in there with them as they struggle to move forward in very difficult circumstances. I really like that this narrative is about mature age, long term married, likable characters, complete with wrinkles and a good dose of humanness. Anderson has taken such care in his portrayal of this couple that we feel privileged to know them and want them to thrive.

This is a timely written narrative with many contemporary social, economic, and personal issues that could be playing out live in a country or regional town near you. This is great reading. I loved it.

Some Very Personal Insights – Fleur McDonald

Recently I read the new release from author Fleur McDonald – Red Dirt Country (review to follow soon) – if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading this author before you are in for a real treat. This series is The Voice in Australian Outback Crime Fiction; wonderful characters, settings to transport you to “other” worlds, crimes to be solved, all peppered with a subtle insights of the society her characters live in.

 

Fleur writes with authenticity. After reading this, her third book in the Detective Dave Burrows series I was motivated to look up Fleur’s website https://www.fleurmcdonald.com/  to learn a little more about her motivation for her writing. Her bio states: “Fleur McDonald has lived and worked on farms for much of her life. After growing up in the small town of Orroroo in South Australia, she became a jillaroo before spending twenty years farming 8000 acres, east of Esperance, WA. Fleur likes to write about strong women overcoming adversity, drawing inspiration from her own experiences in rural Australia… Fleur McDonald is a highly sought after guest speaker. Fleur not only is available to present on the topic of writing, but also across areas she is most passionate about. This includes country life, autism, domestic violence and her non for profit organisation “Breaking the Silence” which tailors Domestic Violence services across Australia.”

I reached out to Fleur and asked her about her interest in Domestic Violence ( a theme that recurs in her novels – sometimes subtly, sometimes loudly).

I was surprised by the honesty of Fleur’s response. Speaking up, speaking out is, in my opinion, essential to breaking the silence of Domestic Violence.  Please listen to Fleur’s response and check out her website.

https://www.fleurmcdonald.com/tag/domestic-violence/

Fleur’s Response:

My involvement in domestic violence came from having lived experience. I understand the fear, shame and self-hatred that comes from living in a house where this occurs. As I understand what it does to the children who are under the same roof.

Domestic and Family violence is very different in country areas, which is something I wanted to highlight, along with the fact that all DFV isn’t physical. There are many parts (emotional, financial, mental and so on) which leave bruises on your soul, rather than your body. That’s where Breaking the Silence got its name.

Breaking the Silence is a not for Profit organisation and website which acts as a directory of all DFV services involved in your town. At the moment, we are only in Esperance and Albany, but by June 2020 we will have another eight towns in Western Australia. By October 2020, we will be offering counselling services either online or by phone.

I started this organisation with my own money and later, as I wanted to expand into other towns, lobbied the federal Government for funding. Minister Hunt saw the benefit in Breaking the Silence and gave an grant which will enable us to get all of Western Australia online and start the counselling services. We intend to branch out into other states in during this time.

The current COVIS-19 crisis will see a rise in DFV rates, there can be no doubt. I wish we were further down the track with the counselling services, than we are, but we are working as quickly as we can to get these services up and running.

 

Thank you Fleur. 

 

Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline – Western Australia
The Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline is a state wide 24 hour service. This service provides support and counselling for women experiencing family and domestic violence. This includes phone counselling, information and advice, referral to local advocacy and support services, liaison with police if necessary and support in escaping situations of family and domestic violence. The service can refer women to safe accommodation if required. A telephone based interpreting service is available if required.
Telephone (08) 9223 1188   Free call 1800 007 339
In an emergency – if someone is in immediate danger – call the police on 000 now.

Review: Phosphorescence – Julia Baird

Phosphorescence
Julia Baird
Harper Collins Australia
Fourth Estate
ISBN: 9781460710890

Description:
A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ that Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – which will sustain us even through the darkest times.

Over the last decade, we have become better at knowing what brings us contentment, well-being and joy. We know, for example, that there are a few core truths to science of happiness. We know that being kind and altruistic makes us happy, that turning off devices, talking to people, forging relationships, living with meaning and delving into the concerns of others offer our best chance at achieving happiness. But how do we retain happiness? It often slips out of our hands as quickly as we find it. So, when we are exposed to, or learn, good things, how do we continue to burn with them?

And more than that, when our world goes dark, when we’re overwhelmed by illness or heartbreak, loss or pain, how do we survive, stay alive or even bloom? In the muck and grit of a daily existence full of disappointments and a disturbing lack of control over many of the things that matter most – finite relationships, fragile health, fraying economies, a planet in peril – how do we find, nurture and carry our own inner, living light – a light to ward off the darkness?

Absorbing, achingly beautiful, inspiring and deeply moving, Julia Baird has written exactly the book we need for these times.

My View:

A deeply personal yet universal message of optimism and self-reflection on what is important in our busy modern lives. Trauma is something that the author has experienced first-hand – loss, and her recent health issues have awakened a desire to reconnect with her community and nature; the beach, swimming, the comradery of her fellow swimmers, those enjoying a coffee together afterwards, chatting…the connection of a shared experience and her personal mission to explore what brings her awe and joy.

Awe and joy – what a wonderful state to be in and what sublime timing – in this world of Corona Virus pandemic never has the power of awe been more necessary. Julia Baird is in awe of the natural phenomena, phosphorescence. Have you ever experienced/observed it it? “Living Light…glow worms, ghost mushrooms, fireflies, flashlight fish, vampire squid…glowing missionaries of wonder, emissaries of awe.”
(prelude) What do you find awe inspiring?

Phosphorescence, discover this read and reignite your own passion and joy of life.

 

PS I love the cover art.

 

 

Review: Fifty Fifty – Steve Cavanagh

Fifty Fifty
Steve Cavanagh
Orion Books
Hachette Australia
ISBN: 9781409185857
RRP $32.99

 

Description:
Two sisters on trial for murder. Both accuse each other.

Who do YOU believe?

Alexandra Avellino has just found her father’s mutilated body, and needs the police right away. She believes her sister killed him, and that she is still in the house with a knife.

Sofia Avellino has just found her father’s mutilated body and needs the police right away. She believes her sister, Alexandra did it, and that she is still in the house, locked in the bathroom.

Both women are to go on trial at the same time. A joint trial in front of one jury.

But one of these women is lying. One of them is a murderer. Sitting in a jail cell, about to go on trial with her sister for murder, you might think that this is the last place she expected to be.

You’d be wrong.

My View:
This read left me gobsmacked! What a perfect read.

This is Steve Cavanagh at his very best – and his best is GREAT! This was an unbelievably good read: it will astound you, confuse you and mesmerise you. This read will have you on the edge of your chair, holding your breath, jaws locked as you try and decipher the dual stories of pain and tragedy that end in revenge and bloodshed- so much blood.

Sharp, clever and tension packed. This really was a thrilling read. And no, I didn’t guess/work out who the killer was. I doubt you will either.

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.