Review: This Is Not A Book About Benedict Cumberbatch- Tabitha Carvan

This is Not A Book About Benedict Cumberbatch

Tabitha Carvan

Fourth Estate

Harper Collins

ISBN:  9781460760659

RRP $32.99

Description:

If you feel that sense that there is something missing from your life, some gap between who you are on the inside and who you are on the outside – then this is the book for you.

This is, as the title says, not actually a book about Benedict Cumberbatch.

In fact, it’s a book about women and what we love, about what happens to women’s passions after we leave adolescence and how the space for joy in our lives is squeezed ever smaller as we age, and why. More importantly, it’s about what happens if you subvert that narrative and simply love something like you used to.

Drawing upon her personal experience of unexpectedly falling for the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch while stuck at home with two young children, Carvan challenges the reader to stop instinctively resisting the possibility of experiencing pleasure. Hers is clarion rallying cry: find your thing, whatever it may be, and love it like your life depends on it.

Funny, intelligent, transporting and liberating, this book is a total joy.

Witty, erudite and fierce in its message – that women should seek joy and find fun. Happily, this book provides both in abundance. I loved it.‘ Jacqueline Maley

You know when you bite into a chocolate, and unexpectedly discover it’s filled with delectable cherry kirsch that explodes into your mouth and oozes everywhere? That’s this book. Original, highly entertaining, fast-paced, personal read that contains unexpected revelations at every corner. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s compelling. But most of all, it’s a battle cry: sit up, pay attention and follow your heart and find joy. After all, our time on this earth is short. C’mon. The clock is ticking.‘ Ginger Gorman

‘Intimate, self-deprecating … like an Australian Caitlin Moran or Dolly Alderton … an easy, lighthearted read about serious subject matter: feminism, passion, relationships and creativity, and owning the strength of the passions felt in childhood and adolescence.’ Books+Publishing

My View:

Let’s start with 5 star read. Wonderful cover art. A surprising, evocative, provocative and thoroughly enjoyable read. In fact I might even read this again and again. And that says something.

I picked up this booked – for two reasons- I do love the cover art and I am a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch since I discovered this video. I love his voice. Check this out. He “reads” poetry, letters….I would listen to him read a shopping receipt. 🙂

But I digress. 🙂

The book, though it does rave and gush about the wonders of the man Benedict Cumberbatch (to illustrate a point 🙂 ) it is actually a book about finding passion, finding yourself, acceptance and love. It is about discovering or rediscovering feelings, rediscovering self, honoring your self.

It is a fun, witty, intelligent and thought provoking read.

I loved this book.

Review: Notes on an Execution, Danya Kukafka

Notes on an Execution

Danya Kukaefka

Hachette Australia

Phoenix

ISBN:9781474625968

Description:

In the tradition of Long Bright River and The Mars Room, a gripping and atmospheric work of literary suspense that deconstructs the story of a serial killer on death row, told primarily through the eyes of the women in his life—from the bestselling author of Girl in Snow.

Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. He hoped it wouldn’t end like this, not for him.

Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the homicide detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake.

Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes on an Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it simultaneously unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.

My View:

I finished reading this book last night and it is still siting with me, nudging me to think, reminding me of the subtleties exposed, the many “what if’s”, the many ways violence is perpetrated against women.

One of the most interesting questions this book raises is why do we continually look for excuses for bad behavior and then accept the behaviour? I love how this question has been woven into the text; the excuse of bad parenting/poor role models, nature versus nurture, low socio economic influences, a hint of a head injury, needing a chance, “it’s not his fault”… the list goes on.

This book begins with a horrific story of domestic abuse; the grooming, the social isolation, the financial control, control of resources – including food… this in itself is a shocking but accurate portrait of abuse. Into this situation a serial killer is born. Once this part of the narrative is unlocked, we then see the world mostly through the eyes of the women in the orbit of this killer, who is now on death row.

This is an intelligently written discourse on violence against women, the excuses we make to ourselves, the excuses society seems keen to seek out, and a serial killer narrative all at the same time – what a feat to capture so much in one book! Taught, at times ugly, very sad, thought provoking, engaging…

5 Stars.

Guest Review: The Way It is Now – Garry Disher

The Way It Is Now

Garry Disher

Text Publishing

ISBN:9781922458162

Description:

Set in a beach-shack town an hour from Melbourne, The Way It Is Now tells the story of a burnt-out cop named Charlie Deravin.

Charlie is living in his family’s holiday house, on forced leave since he made a mess of things at work.

Things have never been easy for Charlie. Twenty years earlier his mother went missing in the area, believed murdered. His father has always been the main suspect, though her body was never found.

Until now: the foundations are being dug for a new house on a vacant block. The skeletal remains of a child and an adult are found—and Charlie’s past comes crashing in on him.

The Way It Is Now is the enthralling new novel by Garry Disher, one of Australia’s most loved and celebrated crime writers.

Brenda’s View:

Twenty years prior, Charlie Deravin’s mother, Rose, went missing. She and his father were in the middle of a divorce and Charlie and his brother Liam had just evicted a tenant from their mother’s home. But when Rose disappeared, the police blamed Rhys, Charlie’s father. Rhys was an ex-cop and Charlie was a cop on suspension – Charlie had moved back to the little seaside town and was living in the shack his parents had called home before it all went pear-shaped. Charlie had spent a lot of the last twenty years interviewing people and trying to find his mother, ruining his own marriage in the process…

When the news hit the town of the skeletal remains of a child being found on a vacant block, and then underneath the child, the remains of an adult, Charlie was sure it would be his mother. He was positive he knew the identity of the child as well. The police homicide department was soon on the scene, opening the case once again and interviewing all those who were interviewed twenty years prior. Rhys and his second wife, Fay, were overseas cruising and wouldn’t be home any time soon. But still Rhys was a suspect. What would be the outcome for Charlie and his family as this cold case once again came to life?

The Way it is Now is a standalone novel by Australia’s master crime writer Garry Disher, and it was outstanding. A relaxed but twisty, tension filled story of a family and their ongoing grief, the divisions throughout the family and the grievances which were the result of what happened, made for an excellent crime novel which I highly recommend.

With thanks to Text Publishing for my ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Post by Kim Lock

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Kim’s new book The Other Side of Beautiful, it was outstanding. I am a fan of Kim’s writing and storytelling and when I finished this particular read I asked myself, and then asked Kim, how does she write each book so differently, each as standalones, each a unique story? When I read her response I had a big AHA moment. Thanks so much Kim for enlightening me.

Carol: How do you write each book so uniquely?
Kim Lock: Good question. Let me think.

When I get up in the morning, here’s what happens: I shuffle into the kitchen, squinting. I put the kettle on; I sit and drink a cup of tea and wait for my brain to catch up with the phenomenon of daylight and being vertical. Once that has happened, there’s another cup over a book, or perhaps my emails. This – the squinting, the tea, the brain catch-up – happens without fail every morning. Of an evening, there’s the couch and chips or chocolate and an hour or two of Netflix. These are the comforting rituals that bookend my day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Between those morning and evening rituals? It varies. I’ve recently released a new novel, The Other Side of Beautiful, so lately there’s been publicity work to attend to. If I’m writing or editing, I’ll make that a priority for most of the day. Sometimes I’ll head into the garden, or drag myself to the shops for groceries or errands. Go for a run. Oh, and I have two home-educated preteens so there’s that.

This quiet unpredictability? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Although I must be clear: while I don’t love schedules, I also don’t especially enjoy dramatic surprises. Sometimes shock feels too much like fear. While I relish the ebb and flow of an unscheduled day, I also like to know, at least loosely, what to expect. (Call me contrary, but what human isn’t?)

So, I write fiction, returning again and again to the subjects I’m fascinated by, but with the steering wheel in front of me. (Or so I tell myself, until the characters have other plans.)

I’ve found my books shelved under contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, Australian fiction, historical fiction, thriller and noir, romance, humour and adventure. I’m told I write ‘genre-straddling’, ‘commercial-literary hybrid’, writing that perhaps ‘isn’t easy to categorise.’

But like most writers, I just write to try and understand the human experience. I write to try and make some sense of this nonsensical world, to explore the what-ifs that fascinate, frighten or engage me.

The funny thing is, as much as my novels are all different, I also know I am always writing about the same thing: women’s experiences of reproduction and motherhood in patriarchy. Becoming a mother upended everything I thought I knew, and became the bedrock of my feminism – and the obsessions that fuel my writing. But because I’m driven by novelty, I’ve also written about the army, adoption, psychological abuse, domestic ménage a trois, 1960s Australia, politics, mental illness and health, loneliness, happiness. I’ve written about the quiet joy to be found in solitude, in company, in the present moment. I like to include humour into my work; if it makes me laugh, it keeps me going.

What I love most especially is a new idea. I get delighted by small, bright changes. (You should see me when the bulbs in my garden sprout!) I love learning something new or having my stale old beliefs knocked about or eliminated entirely. (I admit this is sometimes challenging – hello motherhood – but it always works out to be a good thing, even if I complain about it at the time.) And I love it – love it – when people act in a surprising way, or do something out of what I had perceived to be their character.

In The Other Side of Beautiful, Mercy Blain has been stuck in her house for two years. To Mercy, newness and novelty are anathema. In order for my character to find herself – to dig into those same questions with which I as the writer am obsessed – I had to shove her out into the world. So, in the opening scene, I set her house on fire. Then I asked myself, Alrightnow what’s she gonna do?

Now what? I suspect it’s a question I’ll keep asking.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.