Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine

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Title: Beyond the Wild River

Author: Sarah Maine

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26/4/17

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spellbinding and beautiful novel from a major new voice in fiction, perfect for fans of Kate Morton, Santa Montefiore and Rachel Hore.

From the author of THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES, comes an atmospheric and stunningly evocative historical novel. Perfect for fans of Eowyn Ivey’s TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD, Stef Penney’s UNDER A POLE STAR, and Sarah Perry’s THE ESSEX SERPENT.

‘Maine skilfully balances a Daphne du Maurier atmosphere with a mystery… compelling’ Kirkus Reviews Scotland, 1893. Nineteen-year-old Evelyn Ballantyre, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, has rarely strayed from her family’s estate in the Scottish Borders. She was once close to her philanthropist father, but his silence over what really happened on the day a poacher was shot on estate land has come between them.

An invitation to accompany her father to Canada is a chance for Evelyn to escape her limited existence. But once there, on the wild and turbulent Nipigon river, she is shocked to discover that their guide is James Douglas, Ballantyre’s former stable hand, and once her friend. He disappeared the night of the murder, charged with the shooting.

Evelyn never believed that James was guilty – and her father’s role in the killing has always been mysterious. What does he have to hide? In the wild landscape of a new world, far from the constraints of polite society, the secrets and lies surrounding that night are finally stripped away, with dramatic consequences.

~*~

Evelyn Ballantyre has rarely left her family estate in the Scottish Borders, but a mystery from five years ago has put a strain on their relationship. In 1888 , there was a murder on the estate, and Evelyn knows the wrong man was accused, and so does her father, but he refuses to reveal the truth. They encounter the wrongly accused young man, James, on their trek in Canada as they travel across the country, taking in the wilderness and encountering the Native Americans living there at the time, faced with emerging memories of the murder, and the cover up that has led them to where they are. Through these scenes, a mystery emerges, and Evelyn is determined to prove to her father that James isn’t the killer and force him to tell the truth and reveal what he knows.

The wilderness of nineteenth century Canada is as much a character in the novel as the Ballantyres, James and their travelling companions. Evelyn and those she is travelling with are as intrigued by the mystery of the murder back in Scotland, yet they seem more fascinated by the Canadian wilderness, and the unknown culture they are faced with – though attitudes of the time and the approach they took in showing their fascination affect the actions and words of the characters. Yet Sarah Maine has managed to show these attitudes sensitively and with care, illustrating the different attitudes, but not resorting to using derogatory terms of the time, but still maintaining the fascination of the Other and the unknown prevalent at a time when contact between cultures wasn’t as instantaneous as it is today.

The character and setting of the Canadian adds another layer: it is the mystery of a new land, a physical place, contrasted against the mystery of the murder – leading to Evelyn wondering if the murderer is actually with them, given that James didn’t do it. In making the setting a character, Sarah Maine has used it to show the flaws in the other characters, as well as showing this through their interactions with each other, eventually bringing the truth out into the open.

I enjoyed the pacing – it was slow at times, but only when it needed to be, and wasn’t too quick. It fitted the genre and plot nicely, and ensured a delightful read with an unexpected ending that I wasn’t sure would happen, but was a pleasant surprise when it happened.

An enjoyable novel for fans of literary fiction, historical fiction, mystery and Kate Morton.

Booktopia

Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

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Title: Carnivalesque

Author: Neil Jordan

Genre: Magical Realism, Fiction, Fantasy

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: It looked like any other carnival, but of course it wasn’t…

 

It had its own little backstreets, its alleyways of hanging bulbs and ghost trains and Punch and Judy stands …

And at the end of one he saw the Hall of Mirrors. There were looping strings of carnival lights leading towards it, and a large sign in mirrored glass reading ‘Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors’ and the sign reflected the lights in all sorts of magically distorted ways.

To Andy and his parents, it looks like any other carnival: creaking ghost train, rusty rollercoaster and circus performers. But of course it isn’t.

Drawn to the hall of mirrors, Andy enters and is hypnotised by the many selves staring back at him. Sometime later, one of those selves walks out rejoins his parents – leaving Andy trapped inside the glass, snatched from the tensions of his suburban home and transported to a world where the laws of gravity are meaningless and time performs acrobatic tricks.

And now an identical stranger inhabits Andy’s life, unsettling his mother with a curious blankness, as mysterious events start unfolding in their Irish coastal town…

~*~

Andy’s story begins quite innocuously, with a detour to a carnival that catches his eye on the way to a shopping centre with his parents. They enter, and soon, Andy’s world is turned upside down in the Hall or Mirrors, where he is left behind at the carnival, and someone who looks like him, but is not quite him, leaves with his parents. Andy, now Dany in the carnie world, must come to terms with the life of travelling around and setting up the carnival, discovering it’s secrets with Mona and the others, adjusting to a new life, whilst the Andy impersonator resides with his parents, calls them mother and father, and casts shadows into the family that worry his mother, Eileen, and do not bode well for their futures.

The story is told in alternating chapters, through the eyes of Eileen and Andy/Dany, and sometimes with a couple dedicated to one character. As Dany adjusts to his new life, the new Andy and his unusual ways of speaking, and acting worry Eileen. The dual storyline shows the complexity of the story, and allows the reader to follow the intriguing mystery of how the real Andy’s (Dany) disappearance affects his family, and hints that tragedy may soon befall them.

As Dany journeys with the carnival, he becomes a part of it, though he still remembers his home and longs to return, the carnival offers him a different life, one that he could never have imagined.

Written by Oscar-winning film director (The Crying Game, The Company of Wolves) and novelist, Carnivalesque is his latest creation, and I quite enjoyed it. It has a feel of intrigue and mystery about it, with questions that won’t necessarily be answered, nor some things resolved properly. It fits in nicely with Neil Gaiman’s works in the magical realism and fantasy worlds. A great read for fans of Jordan’s previous work, Gaiman fans or anyone who enjoys fantasy and magical realism.

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A Letter from Italy by Pamela Hart

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Title: A Letter from Italy

Author: Pamela Hart

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 14th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 353

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Inspired by the life of the world’s first woman war correspondent, Australia’s Louise Mack, the most gorgeous love story yet by Pamela Hart.

1917, Italy. Australian journalist Rebecca Quinn is an unconventional woman. At the height of World War I, she has given up the safety of her Sydney home for the bloody battlefields of Europe, following her journalist husband to the frontline as a war correspondent in Italy.

Reporting the horrors of the Italian campaign, Rebecca finds herself thrown together with American-born Italian photographer Alessandro Panucci, and soon discovers another battleground every bit as dangerous and unpredictable: the human heart.

~*~

aww2017-badgeA Letter From Italy opens with Rebecca bidding a fond farewell to her husband Jack before he departs on a journalistic assignment, leaving her in Italy, where she must wait for him to return, whilst working on her journalistic career, and finding stories that will see her departure from the Women’s Pages of the newspaper she works for to the serious, hard hitting journalism that at the time, was seen as the domain of the male journalist, as was the role of war correspondent, reporting on all aspects of the war, whereas Rebecca was encouraged to report on what affected the home front and women, rather than the battles and bombings that destroyed lives. Using her knowledge of the area and a kind hearted American photographer with Italian heritage, Sandro to help her, Rebecca starts writing stories that matter, and sends them to the newspapers, whilst hoping her husband is still alive, and showing the male journalists that she can cope. Her feminist views come out when young Italian girls are surprised at how many rights she has as a woman, that she can vote – and that she doesn’t need to do what her husband says.

A revelation of just how supportive Jack has been of her career comes later in the novel – and pushes Rebecca to confront the editors and work on more articles to get herself – and Sandro, her photographer noticed, especially after a small village is bombed during the course of the war, and tragedy seeps into every corner.

During this time, one of the journalists Rebecca thought she could trust begins to act suspiciously, the results of which were surprising – and led to events that I could not have expected.

The budding romance between Rebecca and Sandro is slotted in nicely – I liked that it was hinted at here and there, through their thoughts, and that their ambitions in photography and journalism were given a lot more attention, creating well-rounded characters whose relationship was one of respect, and friendship, as well as love, in a time of war.

A Letter from Italy is a fascinating historical novel that explores gender expectations and assumptions, and how at first glance, not everyone is who they seem to be. It shows how tragedies like war can show people for who they really are.

It is a novel that incorporates history, and the tragedy of war, with expectations of gender and the traditions of one country that have been around for generations, and the contrast of these with a young country, women’s rights and the freedom Rebecca has. This contrast also illustrates that though Rebecca has the freedoms to vote and be a journalist, she is in some ways hampered by gender expectations and assumptions.

The first Pamela Hart novel I have read, and one of the better romance novels I have read where the characters are more than just the love story, and have goals of their own that they set out to achieve before a bittersweet happily ever after.

Booktopia

 

Announcement: Cover Reveal for Illustrated Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

hp20_230.jpgSince 2015, one of my favourite series has had illustrated editions released for each book, and this year not only marks the twentieth anniversary, already discussed in a previous post, but aphilosophers illustrated.jpeg new addition to the already released illustrated editions:

To coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter, the third title in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, will be released in an illustrated edition on the third of October 2017. Like the previous two chamber illustratedillustrated editions, Jim Kay has illustrated the story, and brought iconic aspects of the novel, such as the Knight Bus, seen here on the cover, to life. This hardback edition will have a ribbon marker, head and tail bands, illustrated end papers, and has over 115 colour images. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite of the series, and I can’t wait to see the illustrations to accompany the Dementors and the Boggart scenes.Azkaban cover

Like the rest of the illustrated series, it will be published in 21 languages. The illustrated editions began coming out in October 2015, when the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone came out, with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2016. Jim Kay’s reimagining of JK Rowling’s work has sold over one million copies worldwide of the first book.

The entire series has now sold over 450 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 79 languages. It was voted as the nation’s (United Kingdom) favourite book in 2013 in a Booktrust poll.

Jim Kay is a Kate Greenaway Medal winner. The front cover depicted here shows the Knight Bus as it picks up Harry when he runs away from Privet Drive at the beginning of book three.

Expect a darker tone and mood to the images as they reflect the change in tone of the writing and story as the series begins to enter darker territory and the threat of Voldemort begins to rise.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Illustrated edition by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay

Published in hardback on 3rd October 2017

AU$59.99

336pp

Order Harry Potter here:


Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

bone-gapTitle: Bone Gap

Author: Laura Ruby

Genre: Magical Realism, Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Published: 22nd February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A masterful and seductive tale of love, magic, regret and forgiveness. Winner of the 2016 Michael L. Printz Award.

He’d been drawn here by the grass and the bees and the strange sensation that this was a magical place, that the bones of the world were a little looser here, double- jointed, twisting back on themselves, leaving spaces one could slip into and hide…

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps – gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza goes missing, the people of Bone Gap aren’t surprised. After all, it isn’t the first time someone’s slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was taken, ripped from the cornfields by a man whose face he can’t remember. But no one believes him anymore. Well, almost no one. Petey Willis, the beekeeper’s daughter, suspects that lurking behind Finn’s fearful shyness is a story worth uncovering. But as we, like Petey, follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap – their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures – the truth about what happened to Roza is slowly revealed. And it is stranger than you can possibly imagine.

~*~

Bone Gap is a small town in America, where strange things occur to ordinary people. Roza appears in Bone Gap, in the barn of Finn and Sean O’Sullivan, two boys abandoned by their mother, and with a dead father, they fend for themselves, finding a way to work together. Sean drives the ambulance, and Finn is finishing school, but can’t recognise faces: it is a quirk that people in Bone Gap find odd, that they don’t know how to respond to for much of the novel. Especially when Roza disappears and Finn knows who did it – the man who moves like a cornstalk – but can’t describe his face. It is Petey, the beekeeper’s daughter, who starts to believe him and befriend him, and their relationship grows over the summer. It reaches a climax where Finn is determined to set things right, and it swept me along, longing to finish it and find out what had happened.

There is romance in this novel – Roza and Sean, Finn and Petey, but it’s something that lingers as the mystery of Roza’s disappearance and Bone Gap emerge. A different person, usually Roza and Finn, tells each chapter with the occasional side character such as Petey and Charlie Valentine, the old man who keeps chickens and hides secrets. Who is Charlie and what role does he play? Is he dangerous, or simply a lonely old man who longs to be a part of something? And who is there to believe Finn about the man who moved like a cornstalk, but whose face he couldn’t describe – a face, that to Finn, looked fairly average and indistinct? It’s Petey who does, whose kind words push him into action. She is as much a friend as a girlfriend to him. Their relationship works as either, and it was the friendship they shared at the beginning that I enjoyed the most, and this aspect continued to come through, even in moments of doubt from each character.

Both romances were almost secondary to the character development. The arrival of the black horse brings the magic into it, and shows Finn that the world isn’t what it always seems to be. I enjoyed Bone Gap – it was different to many things I have read but it had a sense of mystery and magic that were hard to resist, flawed characters who didn’t have all their secrets revealed at once or at all, so reading on was the only option. And a relationship between brothers and how it healed that became more important than the romance – refreshing to see different kinds of love and relationships represented in Young Adult literature.

Booktopia

RebusFest: Thirty Years of Ian Rankin and John Rebus – 1987-2017

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2017 marks the thirtieth anniversary of John Rebus in print. Rebus’s first outing, Knots and Crosses, came out in 1987, and his thirtieth adventure, Rather Be The Devil, came out on the third of November 2016, so keep an eye out for my review of this soon. To celebrate this anniversary, Edinburgh, Rebus’s hometown, will be hosting RebusFest – all things Rebus. It will be a festival of literature, music, art and film, and will be on between the 30th of June and the 2nd of July.

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Rather Be The Devil, published in November 2016 – thirtieth Rebus title

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This festival will give fans – old and new – the chance to explore the town Rebus lives in, and discover the story behind this iconic character of crime fiction in the modern world. When I read Rather Be The Devil, this will be my first Rankin novel, and my first outing with Rebus. Edinburgh is a great place to set a detective series – the old and new combine to create a world shrouded in mystery, set in the historic town, where shadows and mist hide crimes that a detective like Rebus can uncover.

Ian Rankin has curated the festival of music, talks about the historic and contemporary influences on Rebus – I am looking forward to discovering these as I read. Other activities at the festival include walking tours, screenings, food and drink, and experts, performers and artists, who will give more insight into the character of Rebus with Ian Rankin.

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Knots and Crosses, first published 1987

I look forward to reading my first Rebus novel, and hopefully will read more from there. The upcoming festival sounds like it will be exciting and a fabulous experience for readers of this series.

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The full festival line-up will be announced on the seventeenth of March, in just over a month’s time, so keep an eye out for that too if you are interested in going.

As well as RebusFest in Edinburgh, Ian Rankin will be touring Europe, North America, the Antipodes (Australia and New Zealand) and South East Asia.

Use one of these links to purchase the titles in Ian Rankin’s John Rebus series:

or

Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017

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Six years ago, in an attempt to read and review more books by Australian Women Writers, the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge came about to encourage readers to read and review more books, and it runs from the first of January to the 31st of December each year.

Within the challenge, there are four challenge levels. The first three are named after prominent Australian Women Writers who have had an impact on Australian writing. They are:

  • Stella: read 4 – if reviewing, review at least 3
  • Miles: read 6 – if reviewing, review at least 4
  • Franklin: read 10 – if reviewing, review at least 6
  • Create your own challenge: nominate your own goal e.g. “Classics Challenge”.

As this is my first year, I have decided to go with the Miles level, and read six, and review at least four of those – with any luck, I will have some nice options in the coming months from review books and purchases by some favourite authors such as Lynette Noni, Kate Forsyth and Sulari Gentill. Most of my books are likely to be fiction, and I may do a few re-reads if I need to.

In general, I read and review books by women writers not just in Australia, but from other countries too. As the books I intend to read are not out yet, I do not have covers for them yet, and these will be included in my reviews when I post them. I am aiming for mainly new releases but just in case, here are the other options I will go to if I necessary.

The Good People by Hannah Kent

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The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman

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The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

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There may be others but these are the ones that I am the most keen to read, alongside any new releases that come my way from publishers for reviewing purposes.

Best of luck to everyone participating in the challenge.