The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers

orchardists daughter.jpgTitle: The Orchardist’s Daughter

Author: Karen Viggers

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A story of freedom, forgiveness and finding the strength to break free. International bestselling writer Karen Viggers returns to remote Tasmania, the setting of her most popular novel The Lightkeeper’s Wife.

Sixteen-year-old Mikaela has grown up isolated and home-schooled on an apple orchard in south-eastern Tasmania, until an unexpected event shatters her family. Eighteen months later, she and her older brother Kurt are running a small business in a timber town. Miki longs to make connections and spend more time in her beloved forest, but she is kept a virtual prisoner by Kurt, who leads a secret life of his own.

When Miki meets Leon, another outsider, things slowly begin to change. But the power to stand up for yourself must come from within. And Miki has to fight to uncover the truth of her past and discover her strength and spirit.

Set in the old-growth eucalypt forests and vast rugged mountains of southern Tasmania, The Orchardist’s Daughter is an uplifting story about friendship, resilience and finding the courage to break free.

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Miki’s world has been one of isolation her whole life. She was home-schooled on a Tasmanian apple orchard, in the forests and mountains. When her life is altered by the ravages of a bushfire, she is forced into an even more isolated life by her brother Kurt. Kurt keeps many secrets from Miki – and ensures she never ventures out of the takeaway shop he owns and forces her to work in until the arrival of the new resident, Leon, a Parks Ranger whose presence starts to link Miki with other people in the town: Geraldine, and a family whose young son – Max – befriends Leon. Max’s father and friends are loggers, and Leon’s presence rubs Shane and his friends the wrong way.

2019 BadgeThe new guy in town, Leon finds he has few allies: Miki, Max, Geraldine, and Wendy – Max’s mother. They are the first people to welcome him and stick up for him in the face of hatred from the loggers, Shane and Kurt – and the story traverses several weeks and encounters between the characters, as Geraldine and Leon encourage Miki to leave the confines of her prison when Kurt is gone. Max faces a bully at school, and Wendy, like Miki, faces her own kind of isolation, and both face things that will eventually come to a head with a series of events that sees the coming together of a community.

In this story, the mountains and forest of Tasmania are as much characters as Miki, Leon and the others. It is a living, breathing, and natural character in this story. The human characters lives revolve around the forest and become connected by it – through the good and the bad, and what the forest can provide and take from them.  It is a love story of sorts – an ode to the forests and mountains of Tasmania and nature as a whole. It reveals the flaws in the people Miki and Wendy thought they loved and knew. The flaws and cracks in the small town are revealed slowly – through alternating chapters from the perspectives of Max, Miki and Leon, and the bonds that grow between them.

In this story, the focus is on personal growth, as well as community connection, and what isolation can do to someone and how it makes them feel – and the final chapters are filled with heart stopping moments that make you want to read on and find out what happens and how it all turns out. The rest, I enjoyed meandering about, and taking in the story slowly, but not too slowly, of course. It is the kind of book that can be savoured and devoured in equal amounts. Some sections need to be gobbled up, but some need time spent on them, and Karen Viggers has done this well – when you’re in each character’s life, you are wholly in their life, but at the same time, wanting to know how the others are doing. Seeing how they came together was very satisfying and I liked that the story focussed on friendships between Leon, Geraldine, Miki and Max, and used their backstories to build what it was that drew them to each other, and the flaws in humanity that can lead us to do the unexpected, and why.

I really enjoyed this novel  – it was complex and intriguing with a cast of characters who reflected a diverse selection of human nature, and showed what pressure can do to us – and the ways people respond differently to the same situation they might find themselves in.

The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble

the dof runner.jpgTitle: The Dog Runner

Author: Bren MacDibble

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages:

Price:

Synopsis: From the author of the multi-award-winning and bestselling How To Bee comes an intense and thrilling new adventure.

‘We’re gonna starve if we stay here,’ Emery said. ‘If we’re gonna go, best go now.’ 
And he said it like going was something easy. Like all we have to do is walk away.

Ella and her brother Emery are alone in a city that’s starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, upcountry, to find Emery’s mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren, and dangerous landscape? Well, when you’ve got five big doggos and a dry-land dogsled, the answer is you go mushing. But when Emery is injured, Ella must find a way to navigate them through rough terrain, and even rougher encounters with desperate people…

~*~

Emery and Ella – a brother and sister – have been left by their father and Ella’s mum, alone in their house in the closed off city. Everything has fallen apart since a red fungus swept across the country, and world, and decimated the food supply. Around Australia, people are desperate, and without Ella’s parents around, Emery and Ella set off in search of Emery’s mother – where they hope to find shelter and food with people they can trust. To do so, they must hitch up five big dogs to a dry-land dogsled, and traverse dangerous country, dodging people who would harm them if they had the chance.

As the novel progresses, Emery and Ella face dangers they had hoped not to face and see just how badly affected the country beyond the city they’ve been living in is – and this furthers their quest to find safety and security. Told through Ella’s perspective, The Dog Runner looks at the consequences of climate change, and how a single even can affect the world’s food supply – and what can be done to change things. For Ella and Emery, the world is big and dangerous – and during their journey, they are faced with dangers and obstacles they didn’t think they’d ever see.

Emery’s mother is Aboriginal, and Ella and Emery hope she will be able to use the knowledge of her ancestors to help them, and still have some of the seeds and crops Emery’s grandfather saved to help replenish the land. In a clever and accessible way, the novel looks at the connection to country and landscape, family, and the diversity of Australia and humanity. The climate is affected drastically, and the landscape has been altered so distinctly that it is unrecognisable, yet at the same time, it could be something that happens in the near future and could drastically affect and alter how we live our lives.

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In a world where we take food supply for granted, this takes an interesting look at how the land reacts to a fungus or virus, or even climate change. In doing so, it posits how we might deal with in the world, who might get assistance first, and how older traditions can end up helping revitalise the land – and the revealing of knowledge that some people might not have had previously, as well as the importance of family, whoever they are, whatever colour they are – and the acceptance of family in dire times. In the end, it is family that is important – and the lengths they go to in order to help each other and the world they live in. It is a world we all have to live in, and like Emery and Ella’s family, working together is what will help us survive.

The story gives us an idea of where to look in the future and how we can seek to survive – through communication, shared knowledge and looking to the past to see what others have done, and how the Indigenous people cultivated and took care of the land before 1788. Which is why this was an interesting – because it shows through tragedy, how millennia old techniques can be used to help save the food supply, and the possibilities of bringing new and old together. In a world where climate change is a constant threat, maybe, like Emery and Ella and their family, we need to start looking at alternatives and preparing for a future that might devastate the landscape.


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Pre-release review: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson

What-Lies-Beneath-Us-Cover-sample-copy-197x300.jpgTitle: What Lies Beneath Us

Author: Kirsty Ferguson

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Elephant Tree Publishing

Published: 22nd February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 286

Price: $20.00

Synopsis: Jessica James had the perfect life. She had a good job, supportive friends, and her husband Geoff and her son Jack both adored her. Everything changed the moment she found out she was having another child.

Now she’s a stay-at-home mum, they have barely enough money coming in, Jack is a troubled ten-year-old and she feels there’s an insurmountable divide between her and her husband. Worse still, her feelings towards her youngest son are just wrong. Does her recent diagnosis of post-partum depression explain those feelings or is something more sinister going on?

The unthinkable occurs when baby Jason is found dead in his cot. At the time of his death, Geoff is away on a camping trip. Now Jessica finds herself accused of murder and is vilified by all those who once claimed to love her. As the evidence mounts against her, Jessica must come to terms with the fact that she may well have had something to do with her baby’s death.

When a second tragedy rocks the James family, Jessica’s world quickly unravels, and she spirals into darkness. Meanwhile, Victorian Detectives Hunter and Cooper investigate the infant’s homicide, but are quickly left with more questions than answers.

By the time they get to the bottom of this mystery, will there be anyone left of the James family to save?

~*~

This is one of the books I copy-edited for Elephant Tree Publishing, and it was a real pleasure to see how my editing has helped the story and been considered. When I started reading this, I had to switch off my editor’s brain, and switch on my reading and reviewing brain, and focus on the story itself rather than the technicalities that mould it into what is a thrilling and compelling mystery.

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The author contacted me after I edited it, to ask me to review it as well, and the publisher sent me an ARC copy – the copies that are the final stage prior to publishing, where final touches are put on it, and gave me permission to post this review prior to review date for the paperback to generate a buzz for it.

What Lies Beneath Us is a tightly plotted mystery, revolving around a family touched by tragedy in a most unspeakable way. First, her youngest son, Jason is found dead in his cot. This incident begins a mystery that feels like it won’t ever be solved, and the hints dropped in the chapters that lead up to the crucial events and climax of the novel are subversive and cleverly written to make the reader think twice about what has really happened, and question what they know about Jessica and her family.

The detectives – Hunter and Cooper – fulfil the investigative roles wonderfully, and I liked the divide between the two of them in terms of Jessica’s guilt. Hunter is convinced there is more to the situation than what they, Jessica’s family and friends, and everyone else who knows about the case can see. He’s the character convinced these cases aren’t always straightforward and that there are shades of grey in some areas. In comparison, his partner, Cooper, is very black and white, and convinced that nobody else could be involved – until some of the things Jessica says, and some things he hears don’t quite fit with his preconceptions. It is these aspects that make the novel engrossing and intriguing, and lead to events and a conclusion that I never saw coming.

What Lies Beneath Us is the kind of novel that makes us question what we know and who we know, and what people are capable of. It shows that we are all human and infallible. It shows that what we see on the surface isn’t necessarily what is happening underneath – that assumptions will be made on the visible, and the invisible will be ignored. It is the unseen that Hunter makes more of an effort to understand, and this is what makes him a really good character. It is also what makes the novel powerful – recognising that the visible isn’t a person’s entire character – that it is what lies beneath us that contributes to who we are in many different ways.

I hope to read more from Kirsty soon, and hopefully there will be more to this story as well.

Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch (Zelda Stitch #2) by Nicki Greenberg

zelda stitch 2Title: Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch (Zelda Stitch #2)

Author: Nicki Greenberg

Genre: Fantasy/Children’s

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Zelda Stitch is back in the classroom and ready to start Term Two. Will teaching be easier now everyone know she’s a witch? Or will there be more mischief than one witch can manage?

Goals for Term Two:
1. Be the best teacher I can be.
2. Keep my spells to myself.
3. DO NOT UPSET MELODY MARTIN.

What’s a witch to do? Zelda is likely to end up in a truckload of trouble if she can’t even follow the rules she sets herself. Especially when there’s an impressionable young witchling in the class, and the vice principal is on the warpath.

Soon both Zelda and the secret witchling are battling unruly magic, peer pressure and a seriously mean PE teacher. And then there’s the weird smell…

With the school camp coming up fast, Zelda has her work cut out for her. And as usual, Barnaby is only making things worse.

Will Zelda get to have her hero moment – or will she cause everything she cares about to disappear?

More magic, mischief and mayhem from Zelda Stitch, the wayward witch.

~*~

The new school term isn’t off to the best start. Zelda has a broken arm, her magic isn’t working as well as she’d like, and her cat, Barnaby, is being snarkier than ever. He seems to take great pleasure in watching her struggle with magic and everyday things, unlike Melvin, Briony’s cat, who is always kind and helpful. At school, Zelda has to contend with Principal Melody Martin, and her niece, Phoebe. Melody and Phoebe are also witches, and Zelda needs to follow her own rules to ensure the rest of the class doesn’t find out.

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On top of this, she has a snarky PE teacher to deal with, an upcoming school camp and Barnaby doesn’t seem to be making things easier for her – nor does her mother. Can Zelda help Phoebe and keep her own magic under wraps? Or will Zelda’s self-imposed rules shatter under increased pressure to be as normal as possible?

The second book in the Zelda Stitch series follows the same diary style format as the first one – a style that shows the world through Zelda’s eyes, and the story is told just as effectively and as enjoyably as if it were a straight narrative style. It engages the reader, and makes for quick, engrossing reading, as many books in this style do when they are written effectively by the author. Nicki Greenberg has done an excellent job using this style, as she captures Zelda’s voice, humour, observations and those of the other characters wonderfully.

As Zelda goes through her second term teaching, she faces more trials and triumphs while trying to balance teaching and being a witch. As her unpredictable magic seeps out, Zelda must find a way to work out which magic is coming from her, which magic is coming from Phoebe and if any is coming from Melody – before the school camp and before something goes really wrong. I’m really enjoying these books – yes, they are a quick read, especially for me, but they are also filled with fun, and whimsy. Zelda is a very entertaining character, and also very caring. She wants what is best for her class, especially Phoebe, and does whatever she can to follow her own rules and stay out of trouble. The plot follows this struggle very well, and captures the challenges of peer pressure and school – which even if you’re not a witch, can be very tough things to deal with. Showing how children cope with these issues in fiction, and through the lens of a young witchling shows children that it’s oaky to be scared, in an entertaining and accessible way using humour and sensitivity.

This is a great series for anyone who loves a good read or for younger readers who are just starting to branch out and read books on their own, or with a family member. I hope readers out there enjoy it.

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Book Bingo Three – Double Bingo: Crime and Non-Fiction About a Non-Famous Person

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Book Bingo Saturday with Theresa Smith and Amanda Barrett has rolled around again, and week three has provided me with my first opportunity to tick off two squares, as per our arrangement to make sure we fill out all thirty across the year. Both of these books are new releases from January this year. Of course, no reading challenge would be complete without a book by Sulari Gentill, and her new book, All the Tears in China, fits this square. My second square is the Non-Fiction About a Non-Famous Person, filled with a book about someone i had never known about before.

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3D-Cover_C-format_ATTICIn his ninth outing, artist Rowland Sinclair his friends, fellow artist, Clyde Watson Jones, sculptress Edna Higgins, and poet, Jew and Communist, Milton Isaacs have headed to China to help Rowland’s brother, Wilfred, with a business deal involving the family business. However, as it is Rowly, not everything will or can go smoothly. From beatings to a murdered Russian in his suite, arrests and people from all sides looking to harm Rowly or wrongly accuse him of nefarious crimes. As the series moves further towards the outbreak of World War Two, the threats of fascism, nationalism, jingoism and violence against any perceived as being the wrong sort are growing. Hitler’s shadow keeps rising as the books go on as well – and politics are becoming ever more cemented in narcissistic and devious, evil themes and extremes, mirroring our world today. Reading the series, Rowly and his friends are caught between sides, and being pulled in different directions with demands for support. Set in 1935, the world is teetering between two wars: The War to End all Wars and the war that nobody thought they would have to face. It has been eighteen years since the Russian Revolution, and rumours abound about the survival of the youngest daughter. In this world, and story, who is telling the truth, and who is trying to hurt Rowly and his reputation?

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The second book this week is Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams, the story of Mary Maguire, a young woman who moved from Australia to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, and the ups and downs of the world of Hollywood, and the expectations and pressures she was under during this time to fit in and fulfil the desires of people she didn’t even know. Her life was much more than this though, and Michael begins from her early days as a child growing up in her parent’s hotel, to dance classes, small films in Australia and the eventual Hollywood siren call. From here, to England, and marriage sickness and motherhood – a fraught time where her husband was arrested for being a Nazi sympathiser, and she was watched by MI5. Finally, her life took her into a new marriage, and away from the darkness of the war years. The full story is fascinating, and too full to recount it all here. I chose this for this square because Mary is a forgotten star and figure in Australia – she’s not as well-known as others from history – so I think this was a perfect fit for this square.

Look out next week for my next square!

Saving You by Charlotte Nash

saving you.jpgTitle: Saving You

Author: Charlotte Nash

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 370

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Three escaped pensioners. One single mother. A road trip to rescue her son. The new emotionally compelling page-turner by Australia’s Charlotte Nash

In their tiny pale green cottage under the trees, Mallory Cook and her five-year-old son, Harry, are a little family unit who weather the storms of life together. Money is tight after Harry’s father, Duncan, abandoned them to expand his business in New York. So when Duncan fails to return Harry after a visit, Mallory boards a plane to bring her son home any way she can.

During the journey, a chance encounter with three retirees on the run from their care home leads Mallory on an unlikely group road trip across the United States. Zadie, Ernie and Jock each have their own reasons for making the journey and along the way the four of them will learn the lengths they will travel to save each other – and themselves.

Saving You is the beautiful, emotionally compelling page-turner by Charlotte Nash, bestselling Australian author of The Horseman and The Paris Wedding. If you love the stories of Jojo Moyes and Fiona McCallum you will devour this book.

~*~

Saving You is the first Charlotte Nash book I have read – I had heard of her before, but her books had never really crossed my path until this one. Saving You is the story of Mallory Cook, a single mother living in a small Queensland town in Australia, by the coast, and her son, Harry. Mallory has been waiting for her son to return from a visit to America to see his estranged father, who left them a year ago to start his company in New York. When Harry’s father refuses to bring Harry home, Mallory sets off to America, and a long road trip across America to find her son and take him home. What she doesn’t expect is to take this trip with three escaped pensioners from the care facility she works at, each with their own goals and desires.

They are on a journey for themselves, each other and those that they love – so the romance in this story is more about family than anything, and in particular, a mother’s love for her son. Desperate to get him back, Mallory embarks on the journey, with unforeseen endings and events that reveal more about the lives of her residents than she previously knew. In writing this review, I did some research on Charlotte Nash, and found this story appeared to be quite different from her rural romances I haven’t read before, and I think it was the basic premise of a mother fighting for her son and a road trip that sparked my interest in this story, because it was so different from what my research suggested Charlotte wrote.

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I enjoyed that the love story that predominated this novel was familial love and struggles, as well as support from friends and support that comes from the most unlikely places and the journey that is taken to do whatever it takes to get there.  Even so, there is still a little romantic subplot with AJ, an ex-Marine on a road trip, who pops up every now and then when Mallory needs him, and slowly, they get to know each other. Because this wasn’t an insta-love was why I enjoyed it – it allowed them to grow and get to know each other. This was a very effective way to tell the story.

It was a quick read for me – let’s face it, many things are. It can be devoured or savoured, depending on how you read and want to experience this book, and I hope Charlotte’s fans enjoy this new book.

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Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

seven little australians.jpgTitle: Seven Little Australians

Author: Ethel Turner

Genre: Historical Fiction/Children’s literature

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 1st October 2003 (1894 originally)

Format: Paperback

Pages: 192

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Without doubt Judy was the worst of the seven, probably because she was the cleverest.’Her father, Captain Woolcot, found his vivacious, cheeky daughter impossible – but seven children were really too much for him and most of the time they ran wild at their rambling riverside home, Misrule.Step inside and meet them all – dreamy Meg, and Pip, daring Judy, naughty Bunty, Nell, Baby and the youngest, ‘the General’. Come and share in their lives, their laughter and their tears.

~*~

Amongst Australian literature, and especially children’s literature, women were amongst the first to publish it. Charlotte Waring Atkinson, great-great-great-great grandmother to my favourite author, Kate Forsyth, wrote the first children’s book published in Australia in 1841 – “A Mother’s Offering to Her Children” by a Lady Long Resident in New South Wales. And fifty-three years later, one of the best-loved children’s books to come out of Australia was published – Seven Little Australiansby Ethel Turner, published in 1894. The first time we meet the Woolcot children – seven of them – at nursery tea whilst their father, and step-mother feast downstairs with guests on food the children would never see in their wildest dreams. The children – Meg, Pip, Judy, Nell, Bunty, Baby and the General – are not quite what one would expect of Victorian children, and as the author says, they are not the paragons of good that their English cousins appear to be. Rather, they are filled with mischief and delighting in disrupting their father. Of the seven, Judy is the naughtiest and the cleverest – she is the one who comes up with the plans and whose clever actions are met with anger and astonishment. Their home is aptly called Misrule, for nobody – not the household staff, not their stepmother, Esther (and mother to the youngest, The General), nor their father, can tame the seven and their wild, and frantic ways. It is Meg, the eldest, who displays the most decorum but still cannot corral her younger siblings and falls under the influence of what other girls her age deem as proper.

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Each of them will laugh and cry, and learn harsh, life lessons that will stay with them long after the final page turns. Even as Judy is forced off to boarding school near Katoomba, the rest of the children do not relent in their mischief, and indeed, drive their parents spare with concern, worry and exasperation – but the story is not about the parents, it is about the children, and an idea of what a nineteenth century Australian child growing up on an estate would have, or might have, been like.

It is a uniquely Australian story about the life and lives of the pre-federation days of the New South Wales colony. They are lives filled with ups and downs, with tragedy and with love. It is a book that will warm your heart, and shatter it to pieces, and will stay with you long after turning the final page.

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