The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green

fairvale

Title: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

Author: Sophie Green

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 8th August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 427

Price: Paperback – $29.99, Ebook – $12.99, Audiobook – $44.99

Synopsis: In 1978 the Northern Territory has begun to self-govern. Cyclone Tracy is a recent memory and telephones not yet a fixture on the cattle stations dominating the rugged outback. Life is hard and people are isolated. But they find ways to connect. Sybil is the matriarch of Fairvale Station, run by her husband, Joe. Their eldest son, Lachlan, was Joe’s designated successor but he has left the Territory – for good. It is up to their second son, Ben, to take his brother’s place. But that doesn’t stop Sybil grieving the absence of her child. With her oldest friend, Rita, now living in Alice Springs and working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and Ben’s English wife, Kate, finding it difficult to adjust to life at Fairvale, Sybil comes up with a way to give them all companionship and purpose: they all love to read, and she forms a book club. Mother-of-three Sallyanne is invited to join them. Sallyanne dreams of a life far removed from the dusty town of Katherine where she lives with her difficult husband, Mick. Completing the group is Della, who left Texas for Australia looking for adventure and work on the land.

If you loved THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, THE LITTLE COFFEE SHOP OF KABUL and THE THORN BIRDS you will devour this story of five different women united by one need: to overcome the vast distances of Australia’s Top End with friendship, tears, laughter, books and love.

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Bookc Club begins in 1978 and ends in 1981, each year beginning with a list of significant national and international events in each year. The novel first introduces the reader to the five women that will make up the book club: Sybil Baxter, her good friend, Rita, daughter-in-law, Kate, Della, who works as a stock hand on a neighbouring property, Ghost River, and who has moved over from Texas for adventure, and mother of three, Sallyanne, looking for a way to connect with people and struggling with her husband at home. Sybil’s idea for the book club springs from a desire to talk and connect, and her desire to find Kate friends in this new and harsh environment the young English woman finds herself in. And so, the idea for the book club is formed, and she goes in search of other members besides her, Kate and Rita. A chance meeting at the local CWA meeting in Katherine with Sallyanne, mother of three, and looking for connections, brings the women together to form the book club, and with the addition of Della from Ghost River, they embark on a journey of friendship, forming relationships and connections that give them the strength to face the challenges that life and living in the Territory throw at them. From the death to love found, love lost and even just finding your own strength, this book is about the bonds of family and friendship, and how these can be tested, and how far someone will go before they find themselves having to make what feels like an impossible choice.

Each character’s sense of self and individuality sings through the pages, especially in the chapters told from their perspective. Sybil, the Fairvale matriarch, challenged by the farm and the son who ran away and wants nothing to do with his family, soldiers on through the wet and dry seasons, pushing onwards through tragedy and always at hand to listen to her friends and family, with a cup of tea and keen ear. Rita, her friend and nurse with the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service is unmarried, without children and dedicated to her career – aspects of her character that suit her, the time but also, are in stark contrast to the way the women in the book club have been brought up in their respective families – the expectation of marriage and family has not been something that Rita has aimed for. In this way, she contrasts with Sybil, who is married with grown children, but who is also a woman of the land, who can hold her own in many ways, but must learn how to run Fairvale following a tragedy.

The trio of younger women couldn’t be more different: Della from Texas, who dreams of adventure, and isn’t expecting an invitation to join a book club, nor does she expect to fall in love with Stan, who works on Fairvale. Kate, Ben’s wife from England, wasn’t prepared for the harsh life of the Northern Territory, but longs for a child, and company, and the book club brings her closer to a few of the women around whose friendship will never die. Finally, mother of three, Sallyanne, stuck in a world of children and a difficult husband, is welcomed into the book club. A romantic at heart, longing for the type of love that they read about, begins to come out of her shell and finds her own strength with the help of Rita and the others.

Each character faces a tragedy of sorts in the book that tests their strength and passion, and the crux of who they are. Whatever these tragedies are, the Fairvale women come out stronger and closer than they were before. Through reading the books, a variety of Australian classics and one or two from America and England, that were readily available at the time, and the discussion of these books is what eventually leads to the bonds the women form that can never be broken. The books Sophie Green’s characters read are:

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye

The Harp in the South by Ruth Parks

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Sophie Green’s novel gives these women a voice – each very different, but reading it, I could hear Della’s voice just as clearly as the Australian ones, and Sophie uses dialect and language that each character would use to ensure the strength of these characters. Within Fairvale, there are Aboriginal workers, and their struggles against racism and falling in love with a white girl are shown, and dealt with eloquently – highlighting that just because racial and gender equality laws were brought into being during these years and the years that preceded them and followed, issues of racism, for example, have not completely vanished from our world. Stan and Ruby, who work in the kitchen, are wonderful characters, whom I came to adore and wish I knew. Like the book club women, they had such big hearts that they opened up to Della and Kate, and the other women. I think this was all done well, and written to suit the attitudes of the time that still prevailed, and at times, even today, still do. But these weren’t the focus of the book, and at least gave some context to the setting and characters. It allowed the Territory to become a character through the wet and dry seasons, and the people who lived on the land and shared it, working together for their families. I think the ending was realistic – with each member finding their own path and new life, where some aspects were left open ended, so it was probably more of a hopeful ending than a happy one.

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It is a book I enjoyed reading, and one I would like to revisit. The power in this is the way gender and race expectations are turned on their head, and the few that act superior based on race or gender, or both, are called out, but the hurt is still there, the scars are still there. It gives, I think, a realistic approach to the relationships the characters are in, whether it is family, friends or love, and through reading the books, which is the focus and backbone of the novel, and therefore is something that I think many readers who enjoy this kind of book will be able to relate to.

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A Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls – Book Review and Launch Write Up

A-Reluctant-Warrior-Kelly-Brooke-Nicholls-1-265x400Title: A Reluctant Warrior

Author: Kelly Brooke Nicholls

Genre: Fiction, Political Thriller

Publisher: The Author People

Published: 28th of June, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 232

Price: $26.99

Synopsis:
When Luzma’s brother Jair unwittingly uncovers the plan by Colombia’s most notorious drug cartel to smuggle an unprecedented cocaine shipment into the US, it puts their family in grave danger.

Jair’s kidnapping by the cartel, forces Luzma to go face to face with vicious paramilitary leader, El Cubano, and General Ordonez, ruthless head of the military – men who will stop at nothing to protect their empires. But for Luzma, nothing is more important than saving her family – not even her own life.

While the story and characters in A Reluctant Warrior are fictitious, they are based on events Kelly Brooke Nicholls witnessed first-hand while living and working in Colombia. During this time, she interviewed thousands of victims of paramilitaries, guerrilla and drug cartels. She knows Buenaventura, where the novel is set, intimately, including the most notorious neighborhoods where foreigners rarely venture. She worked closely with the former Andean Director of the Drug Enforcement Administration to help her realistically map the events in this novel.

Now her gripping novel of one young woman’s terrifying encounter with Colombia’s most notorious drug cartel gives readers a rare glimpse into Colombia’s drug wars and their impact on ordinary citizens.

~*~

aww2017-badgeA Reluctant Warrior by Kelly Brooke Nicholls is, at its heart, a story about people, and a story worth telling. It is Luzma’s (Luz-Marina Cuesto) of standing up to the cartels, paramilitary and guerrillas in Colombia after her brother, Jair, is kidnapped after inadvertently getting caught up with them and seeing and hearing things he shouldn’t, and the entire plot covers about two weeks of searching for him, and trying to face up to the cartels that ravage the nation and city of Buenaventura. Luzma is yanked unwillingly into the war against drugs and the cartels after Jair disappears and her family is threatened. Working with an American, Rafa, and his contacts in the DEA to find Jair, and capture El Cubano, Luzma also hopes to prevent a shipment of drugs reaching the United States, and will put her life and humanity on the line to do so.

Luzma’s story is a powerful one, and one that needs to be told, because we do not hear enough about what goes in in Colombia, and the drug trade, and related human rights abuses, where people like El Cubano think, feel and say that they can do what they want, when they want, how they want and to whoever they want – because who is going to stop them? This attitude strikes right to the heart of the novel and reveals what ordinary people have to deal with, or turn a blind eye to the goings on if they want to stay alive. It was Luzma’s stubborn drive that kept her going, something that at times, could be frustrating, yet at the same time, showed her determination and strength, and her ability to fight back and fight for what mattered: her family.

Stories like this need to be told – even in a fictional format, because doing so reveals a world that many probably don’t realise exists, or maybe they do and they feel powerless. Luzma’s story gives the people in the situation she finds herself in a voice, and Kelly constructed this voice through interviews with Afro-Colombians like Luzma caught up in the conflict, caught up in trafficking and human rights abuses, and through these very real people, both in Colombia and the DEA, has written an authentic story that is both moving and terrifying in equal parts. It is a story that highlights the inequalities in the world, and the inequalities and abuses throughout history that have brought the characters to where they are in the story, and why they are the way they are. Why some fight, and some turn a blind eye. Why some feel they can take what they want without consequences, and why some are caught in between, scared of the cartels, and wanting to keep their heads down, but at the same time, when push comes to shove, showing their loyalty and willingness to put themselves in dangerous positions.

Though the DEA and other federal agencies become involved. Luzma, and the man who starts helping her at the start, Rafael, are the driving force behind the fight. Luzma is strong, stubborn and determined, but when it comes to her brother, Jair, shows a vulnerability that she winds up using to her benefit to find Jair and towards the end of the novel. Throughout the novel, the human cost of this hidden, not often spoken about war is shown in a myriad of ways.

I can see why this took Kelly almost a decade to write. The amount of research, through interviews and reading, and travel that she did would have taken a considerable amount of time, and constructing the story into what it became certainly would have taken a decent amount of time to achieve the emotional impact that it has on the reader.

A fantastically written novel about issues not often spoken about, but that need to be. I now know a lot more about Colombia and the cartels than I did, and the story is enhanced by Kelly’s own experiences in Colombia that were the impetus and trigger for this story.

ABOUT KELLY

Kelly Brooke Nicholls’ fascination with other cultures was instilled in her early years growing up on a boat in the south pacific islands. She’s been passionate about human rights from an early age and following a stint as a journalist at Australian Associated Press she moved to Latin America when she was 23. From there she was compelled to make a difference and help people affected by conflict, abuse and extreme poverty. She has over 15 years’ senior leadership experience working for NGOs ranging from Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders to a small indigenous-led organisation in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Her extensive time living and working in Colombia has left an indelible mark. She has travelled extensively to places few foreigners have been, researching and documenting the impact of the ongoing war on ordinary citizens and the horrendous human rights abuses inflicted on them.

Kelly wrote her novel A Reluctant Warrior to help shine a light on the way ordinary Colombian citizens have suffered and continue to suffer, despite the advancement in the Peace Agreement. But more than that, she wrote this book to celebrate, support and amplify the message of the brave people who risk their lives to protect and make a difference to others.

Kelly strongly believes that everyone has the ability to make a difference in the world and bring about positive change, and has spent her life helping people achieve that.

Kelly lives on the Northern Beaches of Sydney with her Colombian husband and two sons.

A Reluctant Warrior Book Launch: Gleebooks, 30th June, 2017

 

Just over a month ago, I attended the book launch of A Reluctant Warrior by special invitation of Kelly herself, and was able to arrive earlier to chat with her publisher, Lou Johnson from The Author People. At the beginning of the year, I responded to a job advertisement from Kelly, seeking a Publishing Intern who could work from home to research various places to feature reviews of the book, interviews with Kelly and general websites of interest in relation to Colombia and Latin America for potential readers. It was because of this work that I received the invitation, and so, headed down to Gleebooks at the end of June to attend the launch.

At the launch, Kelly and Lou sat up the front of the function area and chatted about the book, and the inspiration behind the book – in their words, a unique read, and one that Kelly was inspired, and compelled to write after her work in Colombia. She was overwhelmed by the violence she saw – and found herself asking: how do people get to that level of violence? In contrast, she saw those who stood up to the violence – human rights defenders, ordinary people, risking their lives – it was these people that inspired the character of Luzma, and that helped to make the story as accurate and authentic as possible.

For Kelly, the story came before the compulsion to tell it, and in doing so, she feels she has given a voice to the voiceless and the human rights defenders and victims of the fifty-two year conflict that we hear so little about in Australia. At the launch, Kelly said writing this story was about getting people to care, and she wrote it so that anyone could pick it up and read it, leaving it open at the end to ask questions about what might happen next.

Kelly’s discussion about what Colombia, and the port city where the story is set is like cemented the image in the story – from the ramshackle houses that were slapped together, to the constant disappearances and recruitment of young children, to the inability of people to escape, all came together in A Reluctant Warrior and provided a background to the story, and allowed for immersion – all depicted in the novel as it was when Kelly was in Colombia.

This talk at the launch gave greater insight into the book, and as I was reading it over the past few days, doing so after attending the launch made making the connections with Kelly’s personal story and the fictional story more powerful, and allowed me to appreciate it more, even though Kelly and I had previously met and discussed the book and her experiences, hearing more about them gave more strength to the story I have just read.

Following Kelly’s talk with Lou about the book, I was able to chat with Lou about writing and publishing, and it was a fairly busy even – about fifty people were in attendance for the talk and to get their books signed. It was the first book launch I have ever really attended and was a little nervous about meeting Lou, who is such a lovely and generous person who has been helping me to make contacts in the industry I want to work in. People came and went after Kelly and Lou had had their chat, so I didn’t stay for the entire launch as Dad and I had to get back to the Central Coast, but it was a lovely evening and Gleebooks has a fantastic space for a book launches and author events upstairs, with a divine selection of books to choose from.

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The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins

the night visitor

Title: The Night Visitor

Author: Lucy Atkins

Genre: Fiction, Crime and Mystery

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 30th May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: How far would you go to save your reputation? The stunning new noir thriller from the author of the bestselling THE MISSING ONE and THE OTHER CHILD. Perfect for fans of I LET YOU GO and THE ICE TWINS.

Professor Olivia Sweetman has worked hard to achieve the life she loves, with a high-flying career as a TV presenter and historian, three children and a talented husband. But as she stands before a crowd at the launch of her new bestseller she can barely pretend to smile. Her life has spiralled into deceit and if the truth comes out, she will lose everything.

Only one person knows what Olivia has done. Vivian Tester is the socially awkward sixty-year-old housekeeper of a Sussex manor who found the Victorian diary on which Olivia’s book is based. She has now become Olivia’s unofficial research assistant. And Vivian has secrets of her own.

As events move between London, Sussex and the idyllic South of France, the relationship between these two women grows more entangled and complex. Then a bizarre act of violence changes everything.

THE NIGHT VISITOR is a compelling exploration of ambition, morality and deception that asks the question: how far would you go to save your reputation?

~*~

The Night Visitor opens with a book launch, with Olivia Sweetman introducing the book she has just written to the world. As she speaks to the swelling crowd, she spies her research assistant within, the woman who has been on her mind on and off for months, researching the book and in other areas, Vivian Tester. Vivian has turned up to the book launch, whether out of spite or curiosity it isn’t certain, but she has been privy to the recent spiralling deceit that has taken hold of Olivia’s life.

Moving between third person perspective for Olivia, and first person for Vivian, the seeds of deceit are planted and slowly, the worlds that Olivia has worked so hard to keep separate begin to collide, forcing secrets to come out and people to fall apart. Between London, Sussex and France, each event leads up to a conclusion that leaves itself open for interpretation, without a fair or complete wrapping up to each of the fraying threads of the story. However, this did work for the story, as Vivian and Olivia were both trying to keep secrets and both trying to keep the threads of their lives from inevitably unravelling.

Both women were flawed – they weren’t perfect, although I got the impression that Vivian thought she was perfect and the way she acted towards Olivia, the way the story played out when the truth about the stalker was revealed and the hints to Vivian’s past were slowly released, and in the end, allowed some understanding of her motives and the goal she had to discredit someone she thought had wronged her. Though it did feel as though Vivian was the type of person who simply could not let something go, even when faced with apologies and evidence that she needed to back off.

The surprises at the end answered a few questions that came up early in the book, and I found the first few chapters a little slow, but they built up nicely to the France section and the events that occurred there that further unravelled the perfect threads of Olivia’s life and questioned everything she knew. In the end, it was an intriguing book, one for readers of psychological thrillers, and an interesting yet somewhat strange ending, as it was the sort of scene I would expect to open a crime novel, but perhaps that is what makes it such a strange yet incredulous and readable novel – that the reader doesn’t know what will happen or what is driving Vivian and Olivia, what connections they have, if any, beyond the research assistant task Vivian has taken on. In creating less than perfect characters, Lucy Atkins has created a work that shows the flaws of human nature and desire and asks the question of just how far some people will go to maintain their reputation.

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Blog Tour: Girl In Between by Anna Daniels

Title: Girl In Betweenimage004

Author: Anna Daniels

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 314

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Life can be tricky when you’re a girl in between relationships, careers and cities… and sometimes you have to face some uncomfortable truths. The sparkling debut from comic TV and radio presenter, Anna Daniels.

Lucy Crighton has just moved in with some gregarious housemates called Brian and Denise… who are her parents. She’s also the proud mother of Glenda, her beloved 10-year-old… kelpie. And she has absolutely no interest in the dashing son of her parents’ new next-door neighbour… well, maybe just a little.

When you’re the girl in between relationships, careers and cities, you sometimes have to face some uncomfortable truths… like your Mum’s obsession with Cher, your father’s unsolicited advice, and the fact there’s probably more cash on the floor of your parents’ car than in your own bank account.

Thank goodness Lucy’s crazy but wonderful best friend, Rosie, is around to cushion reality, with wild nights at the local Whipcrack hotel, escapades in Japanese mud baths, and double dating under the Christmas lights in London.

But will Lucy work out what she really wants to do in life and who she wants to share it with?

Anna Daniels is a natural-born comedian. She originally set out to write a screenplay that was part Muriel’s Wedding, part The Castle. Instead, she wrote Girl In Between, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Vogel’s Award. She says ‘I’ve always loved comedy which not only makes you laugh but also pulls at your heartstrings. I think a lot of people may be able to relate to Lucy’s story!’

Girl in Between is a warm, upbeat and often hilarious story about life at the crossroads. Featuring an endearing and irrepressible cast of characters, it will have you chuckling from start to finish.

~*~

aww2017-badgeSet in Rockhampton, and London, Girl in Between is a story about the cross roads of life that Lucy Crighton, in her early thirties, is faced with. At her age, stuck between jobs, and living at home while she works towards her dream of becoming published, and recovering from a relationship that ended recently, and that she would rather forget, Lucy is in a rut. On one side, she has her parents nagging about the real world and real jobs, and at times, their slightly embarrassing jokes. On the other, her best friend Rosie, working part time, chummy with her parents, and pushing Lucy into the arms of the son of a new neighbour, and conspiring with her mother, Denise. Combine that with the re-emergence of her ex, and Lucy has become the Girl n Between: in between relationships, in between careers, in between life.

Lucy Crighton lives with her parents – Brian and Denise, a ten-year-old kelpie called Glenda, and her mother’s obsession with Cher, and a variety of hobbies that come in and out of the house all the time. Her best friend, Rosie, makes herself at home. And the people who drift in and out of their lives in Rockhampton are just as quirky and interesting, and they all ensure a story full of fun and laughs, where big mouths get people into trouble and reveal things that shouldn’t be revealed. Through a series of mistakes that anyone can make, each character is shown to be not so perfect – a refreshing change in a novel with a hint of romance, as having characters in a romance who aren’t flawed and who are perfect and where finding their path isn’t complicated can be boring. Lucy’s journey to where she finally ends up certainly isn’t boring.

There is romance in this novel, however, I quite liked that it took a while to develop and that Lucy didn’t jump into it head first, rather she floundered, and travelled and tried different things. The London chapters were perhaps my favourite, as I felt like I was there, and working with Lucy in Scribe. As an aspiring author and book lover, and someone in their thirties, I could identify with Lucy, and hopefully others will too. She’s not perfect – she has her flaws, and like characters such as Bridget Jones and Nina Proudman, she makes mistakes, and at times, seems to fumble her way around life – but we all do. That is what makes characters like Lucy so relatable.

In a story about life and the choices we make, and the people in our lives, Girl in Between is fun and contemporary, with a creatively driven character who is unwilling to settle for things but at the same time, is faced with choices that must be made, and a character who has her ups and downs. In a story where these are embraced and not swept away under the carpet, Girl in Between by Anna Daniels gives readers after something a little more in their romance novels, where romance occurs but isn’t necessarily the goal a book to enjoy. It is a story about cross roads and discovering yourself, and how things work out – and where you end up in life. The eventual romance bubbled and simmered as the story went along, which made if more enjoyable for me, as I got to experience Lucy as she found her way in life without worrying about falling in love: it was something that just happened.

Girl in Between is a delightful and funny story about finding yourself at a point in your life were not everything is working out, and finding a way to make it work.

 

Girl in Between by Anna Daniels is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, available now.

Find Anna here on social media:

• Twitter: @annadtweets
• Insta: @annamdanielsAnna Daniels
• Website: http://www.annamdaniels.com

 

Disappearing off the Face of the Earth by David Cohen

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Title: Disappearing Off The Face of The Earth

Author: David Cohen

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Transit Lounge

Published: 1st May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Hideaway Self Storage, located just off Brisbane’s M1, is in decline. But manager Ken Guy and his assistant Bruce carry on with their daily rituals even as the facility falls apart around them. Lately, however, certain tenants have been disappearing off the face of the earth, leaving behind units full of valuable items. Ken has no idea where these rent defaulters have gone but he thinks he might be able to turn their abandoned ‘things’ into a nice little earner that could help save his business. But the disappearances are accompanied by strange occurrences such as Bruce’s inexplicable late-night excursions, Ken’s intensifying aversion to fluorescent lights, and Ken’s girlfriend’s intensifying aversion to Ken. While  further along the motorway, construction of a rival facility – Pharoah’s Tomb Self Storage, part of a nationwide franchise – hints at a  mysterious past and a precarious future.

A surprisingly funny study of physical and mental deterioration, David Cohen’s second novel is never quite what it seems. Sharply attuned to the absurdities of contemporary urban life, it is that rare literary beast, a comic drama that is at once intelligent and suspenseful, humorous and deep.

~*~

Dropping Off The Face of the Earth begins with the main character, Ken, working at his business, Hideaway Self Storage near Brisbane, with his assistant, Bruce, whom he has worked with before, yet, until Bruce started working at Hideaway, had not seen him for years. As the story progresses, Ken’s relationship with Ellen begins to deteriorate, and the people renting out storage spaces begin to go missing. And so begins a mystery that has elements of being disturbing and mixes it with a warped sense of humour to look at the day to day working life of an individual. And also, into how the relationships they have deteriorate or area affected by the strain on the body and the mind of the job Ken is in, interrogating the way the mind can begin to play tricks on you, and shake your sense of what is real.

As the story was told in first person narration, the world of the story was seen purely from Ken’s point of view. For what the author was trying to achieve, this worked but still had it’s flaws: the other characters didn’t feel fully thought out, and only seeing them through Ken’s eyes gave a warped view of his world that didn’t always make sense. As the novel flicked back and forth, I started to wonder if there was more to Ken, and when Bruce disappeared, and Ken went in search of him and recognised some places and names but couldn’t recall being there, I wondered if the author was examining how one’s mental health can begin to deteriorate and affect our perceptions of the world.

At times, the comedy shone through but at other times it was a little obscure for me – I may not be the right audience for this book. David Cohen has taken a usually dry and boring subject and injected humour, and wit into it. I felt that the story looked at the fragility of human life and mental health, and as the story progressed, Ken’s telling felt like it flickered all over the place, making him and the reader question a sense of what was real and what wasn’t by the end. I read the last few pages a few times, but the ending was obscure and offered little in a satisfying conclusion in either direction for me.

Whilst this book wasn’t for me, and I am unlikely to read it again because at times I found it confusing, and simply didn’t enjoy the story or connect with the characters, there will be an audience out there for this book.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

this-is-how-it-always-is

Title: This Is How It Always Is

Author: Laurie Frankel

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31 January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 332

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: All happy families are alike. But happy can be complicated…

Laurie Frankel’s THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS – is a warm, touching and bittersweet novel about a family that’s just like any other – until it’s not. For readers of WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES and THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY.

Rosie and Penn always wanted a daughter. Four sons later, they decide to try one last time – and their beautiful little boy Claude is born. Life continues happily for this big, loving family until the day when Claude says that, when he grows up, he wants to be a girl.

As far as Rosie and Penn are concerned, bright, funny and wonderful Claude can be whoever he or she wants. But as problems begin at school and in the community, the family faces a seemingly impossible dilemma: should Claude change, or should they and Claude try to change the world?

Warm, touching and bittersweet, THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS is a novel about families, love and how we choose to define ourselves. It will make you laugh and cry – and see the world differently.

~*~

This Is How It Always Is tells the story of a family coming to terms with their youngest child having Gender Dysphoria – where the assigned sex and gender at birth do not match with the gender identity someone is – and is transgender. Claude was born a boy, but inside, he senses he is a girl. And so begins the journey of his family – mother Rose, father Penn, and brothers Roo, Ben, Rigel and Orion, and Claude’s own journey – to becoming Poppy. All is going well in Wisconsin, until an incident threatens their lives, and they move to Seattle to start over. With the help of Mr Togo, and understanding that develops over time, Penn and Rosie and their family will come to accept Poppy for who she is, and who she wants to be.

The first novel I’ve encountered that deals with a transgender character, Laurie Frankel told the story with a sensitivity and understanding that comes from her experiences with a transgender child. She has captured the reality of what this could mean for an entire family – not just one person within the novel, and I think this makes it powerful – everyone is working, albeit not together and maybe not always in the best ways – to find a way for this family to be who they are. As with any family, there are conflicts, and confusion – how do we deal with Claude becoming Poppy, what do we tell people, and what decisions will have to be made. I found he flaws in the characters and what they said and did to be realistic – being faced with any challenges in life can be awkward and confusing. Rosie, Penn and their children aren’t perfect characters or people – each has their own biases and preconceptions to work through when they discover Claude/Poppy is transgender, and each works through this in their own way, unsure of what will happen when the secret they’ve kept – at first at the advice of Mr Togo – and how they will eventually let people know what has been going on – is unleashed.

I enjoyed this novel – because it started to teach me about transgender individuals and the challenges they face and that the people around them face in an accessible way – it was confronting at first – only because it was unfamiliar territory – but after a few chapters, I kept wanting to know how each family member was adjusting, what it meant for their daily lives. As an introduction to what this can mean for transgender people, this is a great novel. It deals with the prejudice and acceptance they face from other people – and what it means when people just accept you for who you are, rather than who society expects you to be,

Laurie Frankel has written this extremely well. A great introduction to the issue of transgendered people and the challenges they, and those around them, might face.

Booktopia

Frostblood by Elly Blake

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Title: Frostblood

Author: Elly Blake

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 10th January 2017

Format: paperback

Pages: 376

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The first in a page-turning young adult series in a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies.

In a land governed by the cruel Frostblood ruling class, seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has spent most of her life hiding her ability to manipulate heat and light – until the day the soldiers come to raid her village and kill her mother. Ruby vows revenge on the tyrannous Frost King responsible for the massacre of her people.

But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable…and so are the feelings she has for Arcus, the scarred, mysterious Frostblood warrior who shares her goal to kill the Frost King, albeit for his own reasons. When Ruby is captured by the Frost King’s men, she’s taken right into the heart of the enemy. Now she only has one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who took everything from her – and in doing so, she must unleash the powers she’s spent her whole life withholding.

FROSTBLOOD is set in world where flame and ice are mortal enemies – but together create a power that could change everything.

~*~
Ruby’s life is one of peace and quiet, but also fear. She must hide her Fireblood talent from the world because of a ruthless King, determined to continue the war that the country has been in, and who is also determined to enforce Frostblood rule over everyone. After her unpredictable powers lead to betrayal, death and imprisonment, Ruby must train to destroy the ruler everyone fears, whilst learning to control her powers. She is rescued by an order of monks and a young man, Arcus, who hides secrets as well – secrets that cannot be revealed, much like the plan the monks have devised to destroy the Frost King, King Rasmus, with the Ruby’s help. Yet there is a darkness that Ruby must fight to gain control of, and with the help of the monks, Arcus, Marella and a few other unlikely Frostblood allies, she is destined, to overcome this darkness.

Ruby’s character overcomes several obstacles on her journey that make her into a flawed and believable character, one who has the potential for good or evil, depending on the perspective of the people she is with. Her reasons for revenge against the Frost King differ to those of Arcus, however, they will find that if they combine these reasons, they will be stronger together, and be able to fight together effectively.

Elly Blake’s debut novel introduces the reader to a world where fire and ice are enemies, where prejudice is built into a class system where abilities that haven’t been asked for are either valued, or hunted down and feared. In a way this mirrors our own world, where certain characteristics and features that people have no control over are valued more than others, or denigrated in the favour of others – whether consciously or subconsciously. In Ruby’s world – Tempesia – these prejudices are ingrained and conscious – for many characters, they fear the repercussions of speaking out, or not going against the ruling class – perhaps another real world parallel that can be found in history. Old stories and rumours are used to justify actions in Blake’s world – and she has effectively shown the spectrum of the prejudice, and how people can learn to trust those whom they’ve been taught to hate, and how hate can only take a person so far – that loyalty and friendship is stronger.

I only wished we found out more about Marella, another intriguing character with shades of grey. A member of the Frostblood court, befriending a Fireblood at great risk to her life, yet still withholding some information can make for an interesting character when done right – and the set up by Elly Blake seems to have started something with great potential.

I enjoyed this debut novel and introduction to a new series – I hope that book two is not far behind, and that the adventures of Ruby and Arcus continue. In a world ruled by frost, can frost and fire ever work together? We shall have to see what the following books have in store.

A great read for fantasy lovers and readers of YA fiction. A novel with a touch of Frozen magic about it, yet a little more complex, Frostblood will hopefully become a much loved series to sit alongside Narnia and Harry Potter.