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.

My Lovely Frankie by Judith Clarke

my lovely frankie

Title: My Lovely Frankie

Author: Judith Clarke

Genre: YA Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 224

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A masterful, moving story about a teenage boy caught between faith and love, by one of Australia’s finest YA writers.

‘Frankie believed in Heaven quite literally, as if it was another lovely world out past the stars. And when he spoke the word “love”, it seemed to spring free and fly into the air like a beautiful balloon you wanted to run after. But I couldn’t tell my parents about Frankie, not properly. I told them I’d made friends with the boy in the room next to mine, and how he’d come from this little town out west. I couldn’t tell them how he was becoming the best thing in my world. I couldn’t tell anyone, I hardly admitted it to myself.’

In the 1950s, ‘entering’ the seminary was forever, and young boys were gathered into the priesthood before they were old enough to know what they would lose. Tom went to St Finbar’s because he was looking for something more than the ordinary happiness of his home and school.

But then he discovered that being able to love another person was the most important thing of all. For Tom, loving Frankie made him part of the world. Even when Frankie was gone…

~*~

aww2017-badgeSet during a time when entering the seminary was for life, with some boys sent there from a very young age, unable to know or discover what they would be giving up, and a time when homosexuality was something that wasn’t spoken about , or accepted, and given different names, or described differently, being able to talk about how you felt was hard. What My Lovely Frankie does is take a young boy, just realising he is gay, and entering St Finbar’s with a desire to join the seminary, on his journey of the conflict he finds between the love he feels for someone that society tells him he shouldn’t, and the faith he has followed in his heart, into a priesthood. Tom tells the story as he is nearing the end of his life to his cousin Miri, who has always known, and accepts him for who he is. In the world they grew up in, the gay couple Tom’s parents knew are accepted by Tom and his family, and his father always says “Love is love.” Clarke moves easily from Tom’s narration as an elderly man into the voice of a sixteen year old boy, discovering what love and faith mean, and finding a way to accept who he is.

Entering St FInbar’s later than most of the boys. Tom is befriended by Frankie, sent there by his father for something he shouldn’t have done with a girl – had sex – as a punishment, yet to Frankie, it is almost a sanctuary. He is friendly and bubbly, and takes Tom on as a friend almost immediately upon meeting him. As Tom tells the reader, Frankie always did things his way: arriving at the school, caring for the younger kids such as Hay, who might need food or a handkerchief, or even just reaching out for Tom, who escorts him to a dentist and then keeps his secrets about his feelings for one of the St Brigid’s girls. Frankie is not gay, but still loves Tom, still loves those who care for him, but in a different way to how Tom does. Tom uses his love to try and protect Frankie from Etta, the bully who spies on everyone and reports to the Rector to get those he feels need punishing in trouble. Together, Tom and Frankie work – the love they share, though different for each boy, is written beautifully and with great care and sensitivity.

Though heartbreaking in the knowledge that Tom will never be able to tell Frankie how he feels, telling the story of an LGBTQ+ character in the 1950s, where it is not accepted and fear can prevent people from revealing their true selves, as it did with Tom – he always knew but also knew he would not be accepted, and the fear that Frankie would think less of him – My Lovely Frankie reveals that the love of a friendship can be just as powerful as romantic love, and examines how faith and love are at times, in conflict with each other and how this affected someone like Tom.

I fell in love with Frankie and his exuberance and kindness towards just about everyone, and the way he just accepted Tom as a friend the first time they met. Reading and watching their friendship grow, I hoped that things would work out nicely for Tom and Frankie, that maybe they would fall in love – and perhaps they did, but in different ways for each of them. I felt it celebrated the differences in love, and highlighted the importance of accepting yourself for who you are, and not what others expect you to be, or to see yourself as a mirror of another who might share your feelings. I felt though there was tragedy and heartbreak, this made it more realistic for me, the unrequited love, the unspoken love, because it is probably something quite relatable for many people, whoever they love from afar.

It is a great book for any YA readers and fans, and Judith Clarke has tackled this subject matter sensitively and in an accessible way that does not present too much darkness, yet at the same time, is telling readers that it is okay to be who you are.

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Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

letters to the lost.jpg

Title: Letters to the Lost

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

~*~

When Declan Murphy finds a letter on a grave during community service in the graveyard, he is compelled by an invisible force to read it, and respond to the person who wrote the letter.

When Juliet Young finds Delcan’s response to the letter she placed on her mother’s grave, she s incensed that someone has dared to read the words and respond to them as if they know her, as though they had the right to intrude. To Juliet, her privacy has been violated.

And yet, Juliet and Declan find a connection through this anonymous communication. They tell each other things they’ve never told anyone else, and reveal their true selves and feelings throughout the letters and later anonymous emails and messages that they move to. As they grow fond of each other through this method of communication, real life begins to throw them together: at school, at Homecoming, one the dark road with a broken down car, and they begin to form a friendship separate from the letters, not knowing that they are corresponding anonymously online when they face off in person.

Soon, they are thrown together more and more as real life and the letters start to blur together, and a fateful discussion threatens to throw them apart, and secrets are uncovered that Juliet is fearful to share with anyone – except those who helped her find the courage to look at her mother’s cameras, and find out what really happened the day she died.

Letters to the Lost is more than a love story. It is a story of loss, and how everyone deals with it differently, and a story of how the most unlikely friendships can develop in unusual places and come from a similar place and understanding, and slowly, develops into something more. Declan and Juliet have people they can talk to, teachers, friends, but not parents, and those who do try are not always able to understand them the way they understand each other.

I enjoyed Declan and Juliet’s story. It was heartbreaking in many ways, and illustrated the frustrations people feel that come with grief and change, and the shock of truths that lead to what happened, and the burdens that children shouldn’t have to shoulder. They are two people from different walks of life who find a way to understand the world, and the letters and emails interspersed with the prose and the dual perspective – where Declan’s chapters are indicated by him reading Juliet’s letters, and vice versa for Juliet – works well and establishes the characters for the reader, giving them both sides to the story, not just one.

Another interesting read from Bloomsbury for the Young Adult audience.

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Stay with Me by Ayòbámi Adébàyò

stay with me.jpg

 

Title: Stay With Me
Author: Ayòbámi Adébàyò
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Canongate
Published: 29th March, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 304
Price: $27.99
Synopsis: This Nigerian debut is the heart-breaking tale of what wanting a child can do to a person, a marriage and a family; a powerful and vivid story of what it means to love not wisely but too well.
‘There are things even love can’t do…If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love…’

Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair. Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all- consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.

~*~

Yejide and Akinyele’s story begins in 2008, where Yejide is travelling to her old home to attend a funeral of a family member, and the novel begins to flashback to 1980s Nigeria, where the world of the twentieth century that Yejide and Akinyele have grown up in begins to rub shoulders with the traditional world of the Yoruba people in Nigeria. Amidst political unrest, and societal expectations of the Yoruba traditions, Yejide and Akinyele begin to live their lives as a married couple, hoping for children to enter the world and bring them joy.

Yejide’s world however, is turned upside down by the addition of a second wife to the family, and the phantom pregnancy that sets a plan in motion – where everyone is deceived, and Yejide and Akinyele find their relationship crumbling slowly with each tragedy, and with everyone they know, their friends, their family – at least on Akinyele’s side, trying to persuade them things will get better, and putting the onus of keeping a child on Yejide – they struggle to find a way to stay together.

Set against the backdrop of a politically turbulent Nigeria straddling the traditional world with the modern world, Stay With Me is a story about family, about a husband and wife trying to work through obstacles that keep them from building the family they desire. It shows that what they so desperately want – for their children to stay with them, can drive them apart for many years, and it also shows the power of love in all its forms coming together, and the power of forgiveness and understanding in times of crisis where rash decisions can be made. It evokes an image of Africa that shows the beauty but also, the cracks that come into society at ties and how these cracks slowly seep into families and personal lives.

It was an enjoyable read that tugs at the heart strings, and demands to be read all at once but at the same time, savoured, with a lyrical voice lingering on each word, and the songs ringing out long after you have finished.

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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.

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Love, Lies and Linguine

 

 

love lies linguine.jpgTitle: Love, Lies and Linguine

Author: Hilary Spiers

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: February 2017/25 January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: When two widowed sisters embark on a holiday to Italy, they have no idea that the trip will upend their comfortable lives forever. From the author of Hester and Harriet.

‘This is a great read. The sisters are wonderful characters filled with life, and the story has lots of quirky village characters. Hester and Harriet would be a perfect addition to your summer reading list.’ Good Reading, 4-star review of Hester & Harriet

Hester and Harriet lead comfortable lives in a pretty cottage in an English village. Having opened their minds, home and hearts to Daria, a mysterious migrant, and her baby son Milo, the widowed sisters decide to further expand their own horizons by venturing forth to Italy for their annual holiday.

Back in England, Daria and Milo are celebrating – they’ve received official refugee status with papers to confirm they can make England their home. Meanwhile nephew Ben, who knows only too well how much he owes his aunts, is hurtling towards a different sort of celebration – one he’s trying to backpedal out of as fast as he possibly can.

With a huge secret hanging between the sisters, an unlikely new love on the landscape for Hester and new beginnings also beckoning for Harriet, Italy provides more opportunities for adventure than either of them could ever have imagined. But which ones will Hester and Harriet choose?

As Hester and Harriet throw all their cards on the table in Italy, and potential catastrophe threatens Ben in England, it’s anyone’s guess how chaos will be kept at bay.

~*~

Love, Lies and Linguine picks up from 2015’s Hester and Harriet, where we left off with Daria, her son Milo, and brother Artem applying for refugee status in Britain from Belarus, and Hester and Harriet’s nephew, Ben, finding out what he wanted to do after school. In this lovely, and amusing follow up to the 2015 novel, Hester and Harriet take a holiday to Italy for a birthday – Harriet takes part in an art class, whilst Hester enjoys a cooking class with a well-known chef, and the company of Lionel Parchment, an elderly gentleman also there that week.

While they’re away, their nephew, Ben, is convinced by some school acquaintances, to throw a party at the empty house his aunts live in, The Laurels. Ben’s defiant no is ignored, and he is soon embroiled in a world of secrecy, trying to hide the party from his parents. However, Ben is not the only one with secrets to keep from people, especially post-party. Harriet is faced with something she thought she’d never have to face, and Hester’s secret about her and Lionel will almost rip the usually close sisters apart.

I first stumbled across Hester and Harriet about a year ago, and found the different style intriguing. Using phrases such as Hester says, or Harriet finds Ben made the story interesting and inviting – it allowed the reader to see into their lives, and it worked when the story had to change perspective between the sisters, or Ben – in both novels. In Love, Lies and Linguine, the story goes between England – Ben, and Italy – Hester or Harriet – over the course of a week. Each section is a day of the week – structuring it in a way that shows and tells with a balance that I rarely find – and it works to tell the story. Every event or conversation – big or small – has an impact on the outcome of the story, Harriet faces her past, Ben faces up to his mistakes, and finds a way to fix things for his aunts before they find out, and Hester faces a new love.

Full of laughs throughout, and a sense of mystery about a few plot points that fit the plot nicely, Love, Lies and Linguine is a wonderful summer read, or any time read. I particularly enjoyed the very last lines, having a little chuckle to myself. It is a charming read, about normal people and the extraordinary things that happen to them at times, but also about life, and confronting things you don’t necessarily want to confront. They tied in nicely with the rest of the plot, and the characters of Hester and Harriet.

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Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay by Jill Mansell

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Title: Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay

Author: Jill Mansell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia, Headline Review

Published: January 10, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 405

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Love is in the air in St Carys, but you’d never know it – the people of this seaside town are very good at keeping secrets…

The man Clemency loves belongs to someone else. She has to hide her true feelings – but when she ropes in an unsuspecting friend to help, wires start to get crossed.

For the first time in Ronan’s life his charm has failed him in winning over the woman he wants. Loving her from afar appears to be his only option.

Belle seems to have the perfect boyfriend, but something isn’t quite right. And now a long-buried secret is slowly rising to the surface.

The truth has a funny way of revealing itself, and when it does St Carys will be a very different place indeed…

~*~

Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay was a book that took me a little longer than usual to get into. It is a genre I don’t really read out of choice, because I often find romance novels  have characters that are too perfect. In this one, there was a decent mix of characters with their own flaws and individual backgrounds. Set in the small town of St Cary’s the story revolves around a group of people who come to find themselves interlinked through each other for various reasons. Everyone has a secret to keep from someone else, some that they are unaware of until the final chapters of the novel.

Stepsisters Belle and Clemency are always at odds: this is no secret in St Cary – they have been since they were teenagers. Yet in a small town where gossip is rife, anything that they try and hide from each other, themselves or anyone else is sure to come out sooner rather than later. It is this gossip that leads to secrets that have been hidden for years to come to the surface, culminating in an all too convenient ending for each character and what they desire – whether it is love, friendship or family.

Marina, the artist is harbouring a secret of her own, and one she has not been able to share at all. Ronan is adopted, and happy, but always wondering about the woman he loves but cannot have, and his birth parents. Kate, the post carrier, has a secret that not even she knows about. And Clemency is in love with the man her sister is with – but does Belle really like Sam?

Each chapter is generally told from a different perspective at first, at least until everyone becomes linked and eventually, they are all consistently thrown together in one way or another, or at least with one or more people at a time. This technique allows the secrets to unfold slowly and to evolve as the characters come together.

Given that this is marketed as romance, or chick lit, the clean and convenient tying up of plots and characters is possibly expected, and the conflicts that lead to that point work. I would have liked a little more conflict though, rather than just everyone happily getting along. Though this isn’t what would happen in the genre, and even though it did not work for me, there are others who will enjoy it. I managed to make it to the end though, and in the end, did find aspects I enjoyed – The friendship between Ronan and Clemency was perhaps my favourite relationship in the book, and Ronan was my favourite character. His story was indeed the most intriguing, and I would have liked to have it explored a little more.

One thing I did like was that not every character got what they wanted immediately – even if it is inevitable that they will in the end – they had to go on their own journeys to get there. Ronan and Kate’s is perhaps the most interesting too – maybe because it is shrouded in more secrecy than the others, and the result come out quite suddenly – a shock that begins each relationship changing and the convenience of everything working out, and leading to a surprise ending for two characters that aren’t as prominent as Ronan, but just as important.

A great beach read, an easy read f you’re in the mood for something light, and the perfect read for people who, unlike me, enjoy this genre all the time.