Leaving Ocean Road by Esther Campion

leaving ocean roadTitle: Leaving Ocean Road

Author: Esther Campion

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 356

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: From the coast of Australia to Santorini and Ireland, a slice of warm, character-driven fiction in the tradition of Maeve Binchy and Monica McInerney

God damn it, Gerry Clancy, couldn’t you have left well enough alone and stayed in Cork?

Twenty years ago, Ellen O’Shea left her beloved Ireland to make a new life in Australia. Now a popular local in a small coastal town, but struggling to cope with the death of her much-loved Greek husband, Nick, Ellen finds her world turned upside down when an unexpected visitor lands on her doorstep. The arrival of Gerry Clancy, her first love from Ireland, may just be the catalyst that pulls Ellen out of her pit of grief, but it will also trigger a whole new set of complications for her and those she holds dear.

Home is where the heart is – but where exactly is home? Can Ellen and Gerry’s rekindled romance withstand the passage of time, family, young adult children with their own lives, and the shock disclosure of a long-held secret that will put all their closest relationships at risk?

Set in Ireland, Greece and small-town coastal Australia, Leaving Ocean Road is a warm-hearted, poignant story about treasuring our memories while celebrating our new beginnings.

~*~

aww2017-badgeEllen O’Shea’s life has been turned upside down more than once. First, as a young woman in love, first in Ireland and then in Australia, and finding herself pregnant, and abandoned by everyone but the man who would come to be her husband, and other friends she made along the way, and her brother, and her daughter, Louise. Almost twenty years later, now living in Port Lincoln in South Australia, Ellen is cut off from the world following the death of her beloved Greek husband, Nick, and Louise’s departure to university in Adelaide. She feels lost, unable to carry on after losing Nick so suddenly and so awfully. The arrival of a wad of post brings a letter from former lover, Gerry Clancy, whose unannounced arrival on her doorstep throws Ellen into a state of confusion. Faced with a guest, she is pulled out of her funk and slowly begins to remerge into the world and her life. Yet when secrets of the past come out at a dinner party, Ellen’s relationships with Louise and Gerry are left in tatters for the evening, and her life almost turned upside down again, until she is able to work through it and venture to Greece and Ireland and make attempts to patch things up with her husband’s family, her family and Gerry.

Leaving Ocean Road is part romance, but also about family and friendships, and what these mean to us, and the ways these can be taken from us – willingly by one party, or unwillingly, where nobody expects it and the events the follow, that can culminate in tragedy, misunderstandings, and losing out on time spent with family. I found this aspect to be the most powerful in the story, with the romance plots for Ellen and Louise a nice side story for me, although still not my favourite aspect, showing that they could find happiness after the tragic events that had led them to where they were at the start of the novel. I think because the book has love of friends, of family, and romantic love, it can offer something for anyone who reads it, and would be a nice novel for fans of Maeve Binchy or Monica McInerny to read. I do enjoy some romantic subplots; sometimes the less subtle ones are a more powerful too. However, what Esther Campion has done is get a nice balance, where the characters aren’t just there to fall in love, but to discover themselves and reconnect with people they had left behind and thought they may never see again. The Irish setting in the second half of the book held the characters just as naturally as the Australian setting throughout the rest of the book. The characters felt at home in both. The trepidation they felt in Greece soon dissipated as they were welcomed into the family, despite past feelings and assumptions – in the end, the families coming together were what I felt mattered the most in this book.

Nothing was perfect, each character had flaws which is perhaps what made this work more for me than having them all perfect and everything working out perfectly instantly. They had struggles – some were resolved within a few chapters, some took a little longer. The varying impacts of this showed the human side of the characters, and what their various relationships meant to them, and how they went about navigating the murky waters of life.

In the end, though there were things I enjoyed about this book, it was one that I found myself in the middle of the road about – I didn’t hate it and want to put it aside immediately, but I didn’t love it, and will pass it onto someone who will. Like any book and author, Esther Campion will find an audience out there, and even though that doesn’t necessarily include me, I hope she does well in her career.

I would recommend this for fans of Maeve Binchy and Monica McInerny.

Sky by Ondine Sherman

SKY-final-257PX-194x300.pngTitle: Sky

Author: Ondine Sherman

Genre: YA

Publisher: The Author People

Published: 28th June, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 166

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: Sometimes you have to lose everything to find yourself.

After her mother’s death, Sky leaves her city life to move in with her aunt and uncle in a small Australian town. But the city isn’t all that she leaves behind. Trying to fit in with her new friends means doing things she never dreamt she’d do.

Just as she thinks everything is starting to feel normal, Sky stumbles on a case of animal cruelty that forces her to make some tough decisions.

Will Sky risk everything to stand up for what she believes in?

~*~

After the death of her mother, and removal to a small country town from the city, Sky is left with an empty, desolate feeling, a sense of disconnect from everyone and everything, including her aunt and uncle who have taken her in as guardians, and the sensation that she is losing her identity, and who she is, as well as her convictions about animal rights, and being vegan. Terrified of the isolation that comes with being a teenager and the new girl in school, Sky hides what she is passionate about in an attempt to fit in, and get in with the popular crowd – something that many teenagers feel during the turbulent years where they can sacrifice any part of themselves – interests, convictions, beliefs – in an attempt to fit in. Sky is torn between doing the right thing – staying true to herself and befriending Lucy, a less popular girl, but one who shares Sky’s passions – and joining in with the popular crowd, which means becoming a hypocrite.

aww2017-badgeAs well as this, Sky has been interacting online with a fellow vegan, and a boy at school who is also a devoted animal lover – could they be the same? This love story evolves as the story goes on, and does not dominate Sky’s thoughts – she is in mourning and the evolution of the story reflects this, and the reader’s ability to pause and think about these issues, but also, gives them the freedom to make their own choices as well.

Ondine Sherman has written a novel that reflects her beliefs but also reflects the nature of humans and the contradictions and challenges they face after death and in new places, and within themselves. Whilst Sky does speak a lot about being vegan and animal cruelty, rather than trying to convert the reader, Sherman shows one aspect of the fight for animal rights, and she does it well. With an open ending, leaving much to the imagination of the reader, I found that this worked for Sky and her story, and left off in a place where, like many people, she was left in a state of indecision.

Starting this novel, I wasn’t sure if I would connect with it or enjoy it, but found that like any novel, it had good points and bad points, and it is a powerful story about finding out who you are, and staying true to yourself, finding a family and finding friends who will always stand by you. At times I did find Sky annoying, but the popular girls were more annoying, and I did like that Sky stood up for what she believed in but at the same time, I also felt that she accepted that not everyone would agree with her all the time.

The power of this novel lies in its ability to communicate a message about what the author believes but also, a general message about being who you are. It may not be one I will revisit right away, but it was an unexpected and interesting read that had a story behind the story, and that fits in with the philosophy of The Author People and Lou Johnson.

Booktopia – Free Shipping!

Booktopia

Once Upon A Time – Fairy Tales and The Pre-Raphaelites with Kate Forsyth

Kate_ForsythIt is very rare that I get to meet my favourite authors, or in fact, any authors, even though we interact over social media, so when I heard that Kate Forsyth would be at an author event at Kincumber Library, I booked to go before the tickets were all gone. It was a lengthy month waiting to go, but finally the day came to go and listen to Kate talk about her writing and fairy tales – creating a very interesting evening for all. Last night, Tuesday the 4th of July, was a magical evening and it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had.

The night began with Kate telling us about her writing journey. Like me, she has always wanted to be a writer and has always loved reading, and at age 7, wrote her first novel, followed by her second and third at ages 9 and 11 – around the same ages I began writing and dreaming up stories, and at age sixteen, she sent off her first manuscript – something I would not have dreamed of doing at that age, as I had only just started thinking of writing novels then. But it has since been a goal of mine to achieve publication, and Kate had many words of encouragement about writing and publishing – to keep writing and trying, and rewriting and getting your work out there, so I am going to try entering a local short story competition, using her words as my inspiration and drive to do so.

IMG_0341At age 25, Kate’s boyfriend, and now husband, gave her five years to get published – five years, where she could polish her work and query it, and learn her craft through study and writing and rewriting. As Kate tells it, the story came, as several of her stories have, from a dream. Using this as a launchpad, she set out to write what would become her first book, with the contract signed two days before she turned thirty, and that book is turning twenty years old this year. I still have my original copy of this book that Kate signed for me after the talk on last night. This book was the beginning of a six-book saga that introduced me to the world of fantasy, and led me into reading Kate’s books for life. This book was Dragonclaw, first book in the Witches of Eileanan series, which is followed by the Rhiannon’s Ride Trilogy. Kate has written forty books, and has had them published into 17 languages across the world, and has cemented her as an extraordinary storyteller, with a broad audience across ages and genres, as evidenced by the gathering at the event at Kincumber Library.dragonclaw

Fun fact: Dragonclaw was published a month before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, and both just turned twenty this year!

B_bitter-greensDragonclaw’s publication then led to Kate’s career as a full time writer, resulting in that series, and the trilogy that followed, her children’s books which include The Puzzle Ring in 2009, The Starthorn Tree, The Wildkin’s Curse and The Starkin Crown, as well as recent kids series The Impossible Quest and Chain of Charms, as well as picture books and the adult books: Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, Dancing on Knives, The Beast’s Garden and Beauty in Thorns, all fairy tale infused historical fiction, apart from Dancing on Knives, which has a more contemporary setting – a distinction Kate and I discussed last night – that tell powerful stories of humanity and love against all odds and set against the back drops of very different time periods within each novel, resulting in powerful stories and characters that seep into your subconscious and dreams as you read.

Kate and her siblings have a literary lineage that can be traced back to at least colonial Australia, and Charlotte Waring-Atkinson, who wrote the first children’s book in BeautyinThorns_CoverAustralia: A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales in 1841, the mother of four children, fighting to keep them safe, and loved in a harsh world that tried to separate them, and this book is a testament not only to the literary blood in Kate’s family but to the love, sacrifices, triumphs and moments of grief that Charlotte went through to keep her family safe.

KnivesHearing about Kate’s writing process and literary family was fascinating and she had the audience captured with her words, and very interested to hear about her writing journey, and the moments in her life that affected her and her writing, and introduced her to a love of fairy tales, a love that I share with her, just as we both enjoy reading and watching different fairy tale retellings to see how someone else interprets a fairy tale. The fascination of fairy tales has as much to do with their history and where they came from as what we know them as today – from the oral traditions to the many interpretations that have come about since they were first recorded the early 1800s by Jacob and Wihelm Grimm, whose stories mostly came from Dortchen Wild, their neighbour. During the talk, Kate recounted the childhood incident and subsequent hospital stays that had sparked her interest in fairy tales and desire to write, specifically the fairy tale of Rapunzel. puzzle_ring_med

Most people would associate Rapunzel with the version recorded by the Grimm Brothers, and this is the version Kate began focussing on in her Doctoral research. During this research, she found out more about the fairy tale, and that the first versions pre-dated the Grimm Brothers by about two hundred years, dating back to the 1600s and Giambiattista Basile, and soon came to the story of Charlotte Rose de la Force in the seventeenth century, and her imprisonment in a convent, while she was writing the story. There are three threads, the other two, the witch, and the third, Rapunzel’s perspective, and together, they form an intricate and surprising story, much like Kate’s other books.

aww2017-badge
Moving on from Bitter Greens, Kate discussed her latest novel, Beauty in Thorns and the Pre-Raphaelites. Beauty in Thorns, and Kate’s journey in writing it, had been the first time I had heard about the Pre-Raphaelites talked about collectively. The art and poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites was inspired by myth and fairy tale, and a longing to be awakened from the dreariness of accepted art in Victorian times, to bring colour back into the world.

Before Beauty in Thorns and Kate Forsyth’s talk, I had heard the wild girlof individual names such as William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and had read some poetry by Dante’s sister, Christina – my favourite of hers was Goblin Market and re-reading it, I wondered if the characters of Lizzie and Laura in her poem had been inspired by Sleeping Beauty as well, and those in the Pre-Raphaelite circles, though perhaps not as obsessively as the series of paintings of her done by Dante Gabriel had been – an obsession that led him to running back to her after affairs, and burying his only copy of his poetry with her, and seven years later, digging her up to retrieve his poetry. Beauty in Thorns tells the stories of Lizzie Siddal, Georgie MacDonald, who married Edward Burne-Jones and Janey Burden, and the various affairs and love triangles that happened with each other and the models that the men longed to paint. But the main story became the story of Margot Burne-Jones, daughter of Georgie and Edward, whose father longed to keep her from growing up and falling in love an experiencing the pain of adult life, and the contrast in her longing to be awakened like Sleeping Beauty, an obsession that Edward had had for many years, since childhood. Together with Georgie’s story of being the faithful wife, Margot’s story shows how obsessions ate away at these artists, and what their passions did to their families and their great loves, how their obsessions became what finally consumed them in the end. Kate said she structured this story along the lines of Sleeping Beauty, with Margot representing Sleeping Beauty, and Georgie as the Queen, and the paintings were Edward’s way of awakening the world, as the Pre-Raphaelites were trying to do through their involvement in the suffrage movement, for example. I was lucky enough to be an early reader and reviewer for Beauty in Thorns, and it was full of hope, love, tragedy and despair, and everything else that makes Kate’s novels so good. Like her written word, Kate’s spoken word is powerful and weaves a spell on her audience, capturing their attention wholly and completely across the room, not even a gasp at times flying forth from the crowd. And like her books, the talk was over all too soon. It was a lovely evening for all, and Kate was so generous with her time afterwards as well.

 

IMG_4195

After the talk, she signed books for us all, and spent time answering our questions, and when I approached the signing table, she gave me a huge hug, and we talked about her books, the book launch I had just attended, and my reviewing. Hearing how supportive she was, and getting advice on writing and reading and reviewing – to only review what I like, and not to worry about not reading something I get sent that isn’t my thing, so I am going to try this method, as well as being more honest i my reviews about things I don’t like or am unsure about. I appreciated this talk with Kate, and all the interaction she has with me and her other fans on social media, and hope to attend more events with her soon.

Booktopia – Free Shipping!

Booktopia

The Pacific Room by Michael Fitzgerald

The-Pacific-Room-cover-for-publicity-600x913.jpg

Title: The Pacific Room

Author: Michael Fitzgerald

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: ‘A wonderfully stylistic novel, dreamlike and mesmeric. It moves with ekphrastic cadences, from painting to writing and back again, between the present and the past, both muted and full of nuance, like a watercolour of archived time. Fitzgerald skilfully employs a controlled language of concealment and careful observation through which character is translated. All the while, there are subliminal disturbances below, indicating fatal and fateful meetings between culture and history.’

—Brian Castro, Winner of  the Patrick White Award for Literature

This remarkable debut novel tells of the last days of Tusitala, ‘the teller of tales’, as Robert Louis Stevenson became known in Samoa where he chose to die. In 1892 Girolamo Nerli travels from Sydney by steamer to Apia, with the intention of capturing something of Jekyll and Hyde in his portrait of the famous author. Nerli’s presence sets in train a disturbing sequence of events. More than a century later, art historian Lewis Wakefield comes to Samoa to research the painting of Tusitala’s portrait by the long-forgotten Italian artist. On hiatus from his bipolar medication, Lewis is freed to confront the powerful reality of all the desires and demons that R. L. Stevenson couldn’t control. Lewis’s personal journey is shadowed by the story of the lovable Teuila, a so-called fa‘afafine (‘in the manner of a woman’), and the spirit of Stevenson’s servant boy, Sosimo. Set in an evocative tropical landscape haunted by the lives and spirits which drift across it, The Pacific Room is both a love letter to Samoa and a lush and tender exploration of artistic creation, of secret passions and merging dualities.

‘Absolutely fascinating. The Pacific Room stays true to the Treasure Island life of Robert Louis Stevenson, yet frames it within a meta-narrative that moves seamlessly between contemporary Australia and nineteenth-century Samoa – with hauntingly curious twists in the tale.’

—Peter Hill, award-winning author of Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper

~*~

The Pacific Room cleverly weaves past and present together in a dual yet seamless story that tells the story of Robert Louis Stevenson, and his time in Samoa, where he was known as Tusitala, the teller of tales, in the place where he chose to live out his final days. Crossing between Stevenson and the people who make up his life, and the modern day art historian, Lewis Wakefield, and a woman, Teuila, as well as the sprit of Stevenson’s servant boy, Sosimo, the story slowly unfolds as the characters and their stories begin quite separately but eventually start to weave together, and form a story that has an interesting premise written in an intriguing style.

Throughout, Stevenson is referred to as “the Scottish writer” in prose, and when he is spoken to or about in his times, as Tusitala, and this suits the mysterious mood of the novel, and thought it took some getting used to, as well as double checking the back a few times, it is an effective way of giving the well-known author a new identity – a descriptive one, and one that I had not known about until this book, and possibly one that not many people may know about. The Pacific Room deals with the fall out of Lewis’s bi-polar and the aftermath of an episode, and how he dealt with losing his entire family in one go, and how that has affected the rest of his life. However, I did not feel that this defined Lewis wholly – it is a part of who he is, and the flashbacks that slowly emerged throughout the novel, and finally answered the questions that had been lingering since page one. Though i found not all my questions where answered – if Lewis and his brother were twins, I wondered why they’d both not stayed for their final exams, or why only one had gone on holiday with their parents?

I would classify this as a literary novel, more about character than plot, and Samoa was a character in itself, ensuring that the nation had a voice as much as the other characters did, and as a character, Samoa shines through the past and present, and acts as a soothing antidote to the stresses that Lewis and Stevenson go through in their respective lives and times, and it became clear to me why they chose Samoa as their respective resting places and convalescence places. It is a relaxed place, where life isn’t rushed – unlike the opening scene in The Mitchell Library of the University of Sydney, where I could feel the pressure and anxiety Lewis felt as things didn’t go the way he wanted them to.

Overall, it is a book that has an interesting premise, told in a way that I had not quite expected when I received it. It was a book I was not sure what to think or write about at first, and may not have been something I would have picked myself in a bookstore. It shows a new side to Robert Louis Stevenson and what people see in the world, and what they come to expect from people when they have prior knowledge of what they have been through. It is a story about growth and change for Lewis, and how a new place can help heal or find your way back to yourself.

I would recommend this book for fans of literary fiction and storylines that have a few secrets that will be held back, even at the ending. An insightful read into an aspect of the human condition and psyche, and the way we choose our identity amongst some people, but also who we choose to share things with.

Booktopia

Death at Victoria Dock By Kerry Greenwood

death at victoria dock.jpg

Title: Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher #4)

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: First published 1992, this edition published March 2005.

Format: Paperback

Pages: 186

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: Phryne Fisher returns in her fourth magical mystery amidst bullets, sexy ex-anarchists, furs, tattooists and silken lingerie.

The devastating Phryne Fisher is under fire again in her fourth mystery.

A very young man with muddied hair, a pierced ear and a blue tattoo lies cradled in Phryne’s arms. But sadly it’s not another scene of glorious seduction – this time it’s death.

The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, beautifully dressed in loose trousers, a cream silk shirt and a red-fox fur has just had her windscreen shot out inches in front of her divine nose. But worse is the fate of the pale young man lying on the road, his body hit by bullets, who draws his final blood-filled breath with Phryne at his side.

Outraged by this brutal slaughter, Phryne promises to find out who is responsible. But Phryne doesn’t yet know how deeply into the mire she’ll have to go – bank robbery, tattoo parlours, pubs, spiritualist halls and the Anarchists.

Along this path, Phryne meets Peter, a battle-scarred, sexy Slav, who offers much more to her than just information. But all thoughts of these delights flee from Phryne’s mind when her beloved maid, Dot, disappears. There’s nothing Phryne won’t do to get her back safely.

~*~

aww2017-badgeKerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher is back, and solving another mystery. This time, she must work with ex-anarchists to uncover who killed the young man who died in her silk clad arms, and find out what has happened to a young girl, Alicia Waddington-Forsythe, who attends the same school as her adopted daughters, Jane and Ruth, and why she has gone missing. Managing both cases, she goes from adoring hostess and mother to undercover anarchist with a change of clothes, and finds that there is one named Peter, who catches her eye in more ways than one, and her style certainly catches his attention, and devotion. He becomes her go between in the anarchist world, and assists her in the case, eager to help, keen to see justice done, whoever the killer is. As usual, the Butlers are there, keeping the secrets that come through the house, as is Dot, who is becoming more and more adventurous with each story, but still maintains her innocence despite Phryne’s influence, and Bert and Cec are always on hand when she needs them.

Throughout the series, Kerry Greenwood’s titular character straddles the divide between what is expected of a woman of the 1920s in Australia and of her class station, yet at the same time, steps away from this as often as possible, feeling comfortable in both skins, knowing a world of poverty and war, and a world of wealth and comfort. Neither world escapes death or disappearance and scandal, though, and this is why she is able to engage so fluidly in both and understand how both worlds work, and the struggles and privileges she herself has been through drive her sense of self and dogged sense of justice, even if she is a tad unorthodox in how she solves crimes, worrying Constable Collins and Detective Inspector Robinson, yet at the same time, they watch in awe as she gets results and access that they can only dream of as they have to work within the confines of the law. Phryne, as a private detective, is not as constrained.

Book four does not disappoint. It has everything from murder to mayhem, order and intrigue, mystery and how society views outsiders and the consequences to people’s indiscretions, crimes and assumptions. Not only does Kerry Greenwood turn gender roles and expectations on their head, and show the spectrum of what women did in the late 1920s, but also turns society on it’s head, showing the flaws in class divisions and how class and status don’t make you better or worse than someone in a class below: in fact, having a character who has experienced both ends of the spectrum allows for the flaws, and the good and the bad for each level in the social structure to be revealed for what they are. The characters are also very Australian, ensuring that the Aussie flavour of literature is well served in bookstores and libraries for Australian readers keen to see their world in books.

Phryne excels in Death at Victoria Dock with the dual mystery to solve, and sets out to achieve results in both cases and in furthering her personal relationships in true Phryne Fisher style, often much to the horror of her maid Dot, who still goes along with whatever Phryne has planned, though makes her concerns known. What i enjoy about this series is that the characters are not merely stereotypes but that their layers and personalities shine through and each book reveals more about them, and shows their growth. It is an engaging series that I am working my way through, and hope to have finished by the end of this year as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.

Booktopia