Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

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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

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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

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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.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

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Title: The Little Paris Bookshop

Author: Nina George

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Abacus/Hachette

Published: 22nd December, 2015

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.

~*~

The Little Paris Bookshop takes place along the rivers of Paris and France, where Jean Perdu’s barge acts as a floating library, a literary apothecary where people come in search of words to heal their afflictions of the soul. Jean is unable to heal his own wounds though, and a letter sets him forth on a journey of healing, where he meets several people along the way who help him, including an author who starts to help him heal. It is whilst on this journey that Jean finds the courage to read the letter and seek out those that his beloved knew to find out what he wishes to know.

With a touch of romance, Nina George tells a story that utilises the physical journey of getting from Paris to the French countryside, with the emotional journey of healing after years of pain and wondering. It is a story that utilises the words of authors known and created to help the characters, and even brings a few characters together. As books become a sort of currency for a while, Perdu and his friend, Max Jordan, the author, find their way in the world they are in.

As they hit land, their journey takes them to the home of Perdu’s former lover and her family, where secrets are uncovered, and wounds begin to heal. It takes time, but Perdu hopes he will find his place and accept what he has left.

Initially, Nina George does not name Perdu’s former lover from twenty years ago, at least for a couple of chapters. In doing this, it adds to the sense of mystery about Perdu’s past, and what has led to him working on his barge, supplying his literary apothecary to people along the Seine. I enjoyed travelling to Paris, along the Seine and to Perdu’s final destination of Toulon, and the French countryside and coast. It is a well written book with a lovely story line and wonderfully round characters who have their own flaws and imperfections, which allows the reader to identify with them. Nobody is wholly good or bad, they have shades of grey, and all do and say things that may or may not be liked.

Again, a great read, not too heavy and not too light.

The Eye of the Reindeer by Eva Weaver

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Title: The Eye of the Reindeer

Author: Eva Weaver

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: W&N/Hachette Australia

Published: 8/11/2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $32.99/$16.99 for the eBook

Synopsis: Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Ritva is sent away to Seili, an island to the south of Finland. A former leper colony, Seili is now home to ‘hopeless cases’ – to women the doctors call mad. But Ritva knows she doesn’t belong there. As biting winter follows biting winter, she longs to be near to her sister, and wonders why her father ever allowed her to be taken to this desolate place.

 

 

Hope arrives in the form of Martta, a headstrong girl who becomes Ritva’s only friend. Martta is a Sami, from the north. All through her childhood, Ritva’s mother told her wonderful Sami legends and tales – of Vaja the reindeer, the stolen sealskin, of a sacred drum hidden long ago. When Ritva and Martta decide to make their escape, this is where they will head.

 

 

So begins an odyssey over frozen sea and land towards a place where healing and forgiveness can grow. This is a story about friendship, about seeing the world through a different perspective, and the stories and tales that can make up a life.

 

~*~

 

Ritva’s journey of isolation and finding a way home, and to a place where she can be happy and find her place in the world begins when she is sent away to Seili in the far north of Finland. Once a leper’s colony, it is now a home to women whom the doctors deem mad, and whom they claim that cannot help anymore. Here, Ritva becomes isolated, knowing she doesn’t belong at Seili, but with no way out. Until she befriends Marta, a Sami woman, with whom she hatches a plan for escape from the nurses, Matron and Petta, the man who escorts the women over to Seili, and expects many things from them that they are not always willing to give.

 

As time passes, Martta and Ritva escape, and spend months and years trying to outrun Petta as he hunts for them, finally crossing over into Sweden and the Sami lands of Finland and Norway in search of a place of their own with the Sami people. As they journey on, they collect a young boy, a wolf and confront unknown feelings that surface, and question these feelings for each other. Weaver has dealt with these issues respectfully within the context of the setting of the novel and for the contemporary reader, illuminating the prejudices that women like Martta and Ritva faced, and the prejudices faced by the Sami, an indigenous group of northern Finland and Europe.

 

Throughout the novel, the stories of the Sami are referred to, through Martta and Ritva’s recollections of her mother, and the revelations that come out during Ritva and Martta’s escape from Seili and later on in the novel, resulting in a conclusion to the story that is shocking and at the same time, a relief because it allows the story to complete the themes it has explored and bring the people who Ritva has loved for so long back together.

 

The Eye of the Reindeer weaves the themes of love, family and betrayal together in many ways, through family, friends and the people that the characters choose to spend their lives with. It allows for a variety of themes and issues to be explored. It is a fascinating read, and allows voices of a silenced group to be heard.

 

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