The Bad Mother’s Book Club by Keris Stainton

the bad mothers book clubTitle: The Bad Mother’s Book Club

Author: Keris Stainton

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Trapeze/Hachette

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 266

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: This book club only reads wine labels – the laugh-out-loud novel from ebook bestseller Keris Stainton

Since moving to the Liverpudlian seaside after her husband’s career change, Emma Chance’s life consists of the following: long walks on the beach (with the dog), early nights (with the kids) and Netflix (no chill).

Bored and lonely, when Emma is cordially invited to the exclusive cool school-mums’ book club, hosted by Head of PTA and footballer’s wife, Jools Jackson, she thinks her luck may finally be about to change. She soon realises she may have made a grave mistake when she realises it’s all about books, and less about wine and gossip – but it’s always better to stick things out, isn’t it?

Or not.

After a few months and a few awkward moments involving a red wine on white carpet accident and a swear-word incident involving Jools’s daughter, Emma is ungraciously kicked out of the book club. Exhausted and exiled, she decides it’s about time she fights back against the shame and humiliation. Enlisting the help of some similar-thinking mums, Emma sets up her own book club – no cleaners, polite conversation or reading required: this is the BAD MOTHER’S BOOK CLUB.

 

~*~

 

Living near Liverpool after moving for her husband’s new job as a football manager, Emma Chance finds herself in a new environment to navigate – school parking politics, the PTA and managing to be herself whilst at the same time, putting a good face forward for her husband as he works with the footballer husband of Jools Jackson, who invites Emma to her exclusive book club. However, this book club turns out to be more than what Emma bargained for, and an incident involving Jool’s daughter sees her kicked out. So with fellow mum’s – Beth and Hanan – they start their own book club – The Bad Mother’s Book Club as they all try to navigate school, being a mum and the delicate politics of the PTA and surviving Jools – that is, until something Jools has been trying to hide comes out and she finds that letting Emma in is only going to help her.

In a refreshing story about female friendship, this novel combines light-hearted elements and humour with the struggles that we don’t always want others to see, but that we can’t always hide and eventually, need to ask for help with. It is not depressing, though has a few moments of gravitas that hit home that anyone can be vulnerable and imperfect – but it shows that these moments are okay because whoever we are, we all have them.

It is a great read for anytime – for sitting at home, a holiday or just a touch of light reading – there are many layers in this book to be enjoyed and it is nice to see imperfect characters of all types who acknowledge their flaws and where characters are allowed to be themselves and have concerns, and talk them out without being dismissed. Between mystery appointments and school, the women of the book club, Emma Beth and Hanan must also manage to find a way to raise their children and ensure each child is not ignored. For Emma, this means doing whatever she can to help her son settle in at school, ad watching him struggle, whilst her daughter, Ruby, pushes herself with more work and stress than Emma first realises until each family joins together for a trip for a school project and barriers are broken down and they come together to help each other – another element of the book I enjoyed, showing that everyone is different and has a different path, but no matter what these differences in race, gender or sexuality, friendships can be formed through common bonds of parenthood and hobbies – in the case of this novel.

I enjoyed taking a break from my usual hefty reading in historical fiction, fantasy and literary fiction to explore this world, where friendship is the key to the story, and it is something that we need more of for all readers – whatever their age or gender, and wherever they are at their stage of life.

The Honeyman and the Hunter by Neil Grant

9781760631871Title: The Honeyman and the Hunter

Author: Neil Grant

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Rudra is an Indian-Australian boy at a crossroads, poised to step into the world of adulthood and to discover his cultural heritage and how that might truly define him. A wonderful exploration of dual heritage, cultural identity, family and the power of storytelling.

The sea is inside his blood. Cursed, or blessed, on both sides.

When sixteen-year-old Rudra Solace dredges up a long-hidden secret in his father’s trawl net, his life in the sleepy fishing village of Patonga shifts dramatically. It is not long before Rudra is leaving Australia behind, bound for India on a journey of discovery and danger.

A wonderfully compelling tale of belonging and loss, of saltwater and mangroves, of migration and accepting change; a story of decisions that, once made, break through family histories like a cyclone swell.

~*~

Rudra Solace is sixteen, and about to start year eleven at school on the Central Coast of New South Wales when two things happen: his didima, his grandmother, arrives for a visit from India, and whilst on his father’s fishing boat, Rudra finds a tiger skull, and this sets forth a series of dreams and events that lead him and his mother on a journey back to India, and the village Nayna grew up in on a quest he never thought he would ever have to go on, let alone think about. What culminates is a family story crossing countries, cultures and continents, where the intersection is Rudra himself, and he is the anchor for all these stories.

I read a lot of Australian literature, and there is always something familiar about it, even if it is set in a place I have never been – perhaps this is because there are many versions of Australia we see in our media, and movies and television, so even if one has never been to a country town, if you’ve watched Blue Heelers orDoctor Doctor, you still understand the feel. Yet there is nothing like reading something set somewhere you have been or live and recognising the places and names. Not many books are set on the Central Coast of New South Wales, so when this one arrived and I saw that it was, I was very interested to see how the region would be used in the story.

Recognising the names and picturing the locations made the experience of reading the first half enjoyable and immersive, but the section set in India was just as immersive and felt just as real to me. It is a story driven by family and culture, by heritage and stories, where beliefs come into conflict with each other as Rudra works through what he knows, what he is taught and what those around him believe – and how to make sense of these things for himself in his own mind. Incorporating migration and how family histories affect us, The Honeyman and the Hunter does a good job of bringing all these themes together.

Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

best foot forward.jpgTitle: Best Foot Forward

Author: Adam Hills

Genre: Non-Fiction/Comedy

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 31st July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 355

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: One of Australia’s biggest comic personalities, much-loved host of Spicks and Specks and the hit UK TV show The Last Leg, Adam Hills’ charming and witty memoir is a lesson in following your heart, being positive and discovering that what makes you different also makes you unique.

Adam Hills was a quiet primary school kid with a prosthetic foot who did all his homework and only spoke when spoken to. His dad sparked in him a love of comedy, and together they’d spend hours watching and listening to the likes of Peter Sellers and Mel Brooks. So when it was Adam’s turn to speak, he made sure he was funny.

Once he hit high school, comedy was Adam’s obsession (along with a deep love for the South Sydney Rabbitohs). While his mates were listening to Iron Maiden and AC/DC, he was listening to Kenny Everett and Billy Connolly. And when a report card came home with a comment praising his sense of humour, he was far prouder of that than his grades (his mum not so much).

Adam’s shyness and his missing foot never held him back, though wearing thongs was tricky. While other teens snuck off to meet girls and drink cheap booze, Adam snuck off to see a young Jim Carrey perform. After that, a steady diet of Rodney Rude, Vince Sorrenti and Robin Williams led this sheltered, virginal university student from The Shire to his first stand-up open mic night on his 19th birthday.

In Best Foot Forward, Adam describes his early years on the Australian comedy scene sharing gigs with Steady Eddy and Jimeoin, how he coped the first time he died on stage, his early-morning apprenticeship in radio, touring the world’s comedy festivals, the magic of Spicks and Specks and his hosting gig for the 2008 Paralympics that led to his hit UK TV show The Last Leg. Kermit the Frog, Whoopi Goldberg, Barry Humphries, Billy Connolly – Adam’s learned from the best. In this charming and witty memoir Adam Hills shows how hard work, talent and being proudly different can see you find your feet.

~*~

Growing up in the Sutherland Shire, Adam Hills ‘ love of comedy was sparked by his dad – watching and listening to Mel Brooks, and Peter Sellers on family trips to the South Coast for holidays in the car, which led to him listening to Billy Connolly in place of the popular music his high school friends were listening to at the time. And having a prosthetic foot was normal for him – it just was, in the way that many disabled people who have grown up with their disability know it’s part of them and their identity – an everyday, normal part of life that they live with and adapt to.

Adam Hills is one of my favourite comedians in Australia – and I adored and still adore watching Spicks and Specks on TV. Best Foot Forward is Adam’s journey from growing up in the Sutherland Shire to entering the comedy scene in various clubs and festivals across Australia and Europe, to the making of Spicks and Specks. In it, Adam talks candidly about family life, his missing foot, and the people he meets and interacts with, all with the uniqueness that makes him wonderful to watch and listen to. From early morning radio to comedy tours, Adam is completely himself in this book, and he seamlessly integrates all his experiences with his sense of humour throughout the book.

What I liked about this book was Adam’s honesty and openness – it was like having an extended chat with a very good friend, and the kind of conversation that engages everyone wholly and takes you along for the ride, laughs and all. Much of the book is focussed on Adam’s journey to comedy, and through radio, though when he was asked to help co-host a show for the Paralympics in 2008, this was where Adam found a community of disabled people. People like him, his age, and younger, who had missing limbs, or no limbs. Adam had previously mentioned that he had never really thought of his prosthetic as a barrier because there were many things he could do that people who had what he saw as more restrictive disabilities couldn’t do – but the Paralympics changed his mind – and this is a very important part of the book. Many disabled people will and might be able to identify with the way Adam felt. The feeling that because you can do many things, you’re not as worse off as some, despite there being some limitations. Adam articulates this really well, and in a really relatable and understandable way for readers. Adam’s eloquence when discussing his disability and the way he dealt with it, the use of humour to cope, and as an ice breaker, and how the Paralympians made him feel was the most powerful aspect of the book for me. Adam is truly one of my favourite people in the entertainment industry.

Fans of Adam Hills will enjoy this candid and entertaining book, and yes, I had a go at his Substitute test in the chapter on Spicks and Specks. Throughout, I heard Adam’s voice clearly – which made it a genuine and exciting experience. I hope others who enjoy Adam’s comedy and Spicks and Specks will enjoy this as much as I did.

Best Foot Forward will be filling next week’s Book Bingo Square for Comedy – thank you Adam!

Booktopia

A Very Murderous Christmas by Cecily Gayford (editor), Various

murderous christmas.jpgTitle: A Very Murderous Christmas

Author: Cecily Gayford (editor), Various

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Profile Books/Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th November 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: We wish you a very murderous Christmas…

The Christmas season is one of comfort and joy, sparkling lights and steam rising from cups of mulled wine at frosty carol services. A season of goodwill to all men, as families and friends come together to forget their differences and celebrate the year together.

Unless, of course, you happen to be harbouring a grudge. Or hiding a guilty secret. Or you want something so much you just have to have it – whatever the cost. In A Very Murderous Christmas, ten of the best classic crime writers come together to unleash festive havoc, with murder, mayhem and twists aplenty.

Following Murder on Christmas Eve and Murder under the Christmas Tree, this is the perfect accompaniment to a mince pie. Just make sure you’re really, truly alone …

~*~

Christmas is usually a time for merriment and cheer, family and friends. The last thing one might associate with Christmas, and Christmas stories, is murder. Yet here we have ten short stories by some of Britain’s most well-known crime writers throughout the years. Instead of the ghosts visiting Scrooge, or magical stories about Santa Claus and his reindeer, here are ten stories about murder and crime that take place during the festive season, delving into the darker side of the holiday, whilst trying to keep it a little light, and with references to the well-known stories we read and watch every year.

From Margery Allingham, to Anthony Horowitz, and Arthur Conan Doyle, the stories utilise well-known characters in shorter stories than the novels the characters appear in, or as in the case of Sherlock, a snippet from one of the longer stories written in the nineteenth century. The stories traverse town, city and countryside, and various decades, but all have one thing in common: they all take place at Christmas, or near Christmas, and revolve around a murder – which doesn’t always have a link to Christmas, though some feel like they might, others are more based around the human fallacies and reasons that lead to murder — they are more about thy how, and who than the why in these stories – and they lead to all kinds of conclusions and methods of finding out whodunnit – one story even delivers the clues to the reader to work out who is guilty, and then provides the explanation at the end – handy if you didn’t realise this was the aim of the writer – A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake. This was a very clever way of telling the story, and I wish I had realised when I started the story – it would have been fun to solve the crime as I read.

Part of a series of Christmas mystery anthologies, A Very Murderous Christmas is an exciting and intriguing series of stories exploring a darker side of the festive season in cosy mysteries that also celebrate the festive season in a different way to we have come to expect from the many Christmas stories and movies that are available to us to read and watch during the festive season.

Booktopia

Hogwarts: A Movie Scrapbook

hogwarts movie scrapbook.jpgTitle: Hogwarts: A Movie Scrapbook

Author: Judy Revenson

Genre: Movie scrapbook, fantasy, popular culture

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Published: 1st December 2018

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 48

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:Every year, students clamber aboard the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 3/4 and make their way back to Hogwarts for the start of another school year. In the atmospheric castle and its vast grounds, they learn how to brew potions and cast spells, how to tend magical creatures and defend themselves from dark magic.

This magical scrapbook takes young readers behind the scenes at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, covering everything from how students arrive at the school and are sorted into their houses to the many magical subjects they study while there. Detailed profiles of each class feature information about the professors, classrooms, and key lessons seen in the films and are heavily illustrated with dazzling concept art, behind-the-scenes photographs, and fascinating reflections from the actors and filmmakers, giving readers a spellbinding tour of Hogwarts life.

Destined to be a must-have collectible for fans of Harry Potter, Hogwarts: A Movie Scrapbook also comes packed with interactive inserts.

~*~

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter keeps growing, The current books exploring the wider world of Hogwarts, and how the movies brought the settings, characters, spells, the Dark Arts and everything else to life, going through prop hunting, and snippets of behind the scenes interviews with cast and crew. In the most recent scrapbook from Warner Brothers and Bloomsbury, the world of Hogwarts, and how it was brought together is explored, from classes to letters, to teachers, ghosts and getting to the school each year.

The details present in the books reflect the intricate efforts that the set designers took when collecting props and designing the sets for each classroom and aspect of Hogwarts across the films shows how much thought was put into recreating the world from page to screen, and each stage had to be just right, to create a feeling of magic and wonder, but also a sense of familiarity in the lives and look of the characters and their world.

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Included in the book are brief profiles on the key Hogwarts classes and professors, and information about houses, sorting and house points, contributing to what is already known from the books and films, and adding to the knowledge of those who may not know all of this, and be discovering new secrets as these books come out and as they explore the world that has existed for over twenty years for many fans over and over through the books and the movies. It is an intriguing book, that brings the world further to life for new and old fans, and gives deeper insight into exactly how the movies were created from the books, and the time and effort that went into them to make sure the books were translated seamlessly to film.

The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

turn of midnight.jpgTitle:  The Turn of Midnight

Author: Minette Walters

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th October 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 472

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:For all those who love Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, and Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders comes the worldwide-bestselling Minette Walters’ compelling and fascinating historical novel of the Plague years.

As the year 1349 approaches, the Black Death continues its devastating course across England. In Dorseteshire, the quarantined people of Develish question whether they are the only survivors.

Guided by their beloved young mistress, Lady Anne, they wait, knowing that when their dwindling stores are finally gone they will have no choice but to leave. But where will they find safety in the desolate wasteland outside?

One man has the courage to find out.

Thaddeus Thurkell, a free-thinking, educated serf, strikes out in search of supplies and news. A compelling leader, he and his companions quickly throw off the shackles of serfdom and set their minds to ensuring Develish’s future – and freedom for its people.

But what use is freedom that cannot be gained lawfully? When Lady Anne and Thaddeus conceive an audacious plan to secure her people’s independence, neither foresees the life-threatening struggle over power, money and religion that follows …

~*~

Picking up soon after the end of The Last Hours, which came out last year, The Turn of Midnight begins in 1348, and ends in 1349, during the dark days of the plague coming to England, and devouring the land and people, except for those sheltering in the demesne of Develish, overseen by Lady Anne after the death of her husband, Sir Richard. Out on a journey to find survivors and information are serfs led by Thaddeus Thurkell, whom she trusts on this quest, and eventually will head out on a quest of her own to help him. Back at home, her daughter Eleanor is ill, and needs care and help to survive in the absence of her mother. As the novel progresses, truths and scandals threaten to come out about Thaddeus, Eleanor, and religious leaders continue their plot against Lady Anne, threatened by her knowledge and authority as a woman who oversees Develish. The Turn of Midnight is the epic conclusion to The Last Hours and wraps up the threads that began in that book and leads to a conclusion that is satisfying and enjoyable, ensuring that the characters all get their stories wrapped up and resolved nicely.

This duology explores a time in history – medieval history and the plague, known as the pestilence throughout the novel, and the dynamics of power between the classes – the nobles and the serfs, and the religious figureheads, and their roles in the demesne, as well as gender and the ways the religious figures try to use claims of heresy, and other accusations against Lady Anne to take over – will they succeed, or will the demesne remain in Lady Anne’s control?

Allied with Lady Anne are the household staff she leaves in charge of Eleanor and the household, much to the chagrin of the religious factions. In the fourteenth century, religion played an important role, and despite being religious, Lady Anne’s skills and desires to teach Eleanor and Isabella were frowned upon by the church. It is also a novel of humanity at its best and worst. At its best, Lady Anne’s decision to bring in the healthy people of all classes and ages, saving her demesne from the plague. It is a novel filled with history, and intrigue, and mysteries that are woven in and out, throughout each perspective that is told, back and forth between the quest and the demesne and what is happening, ensuring that story is given a full body and dense, yet amazingly intricate threads and characters that revolve around a variety of issues around gender, class and religion that are still in play today, and that still affect people all around the world today in a variety of ways.

Like other historical fiction, the themes are universal, ideas around humanity and destruction, but placed in a different setting, and testing people in different ways and with different societal implications and challenges that change and evolve over time. It is one of those novels which is dense and intense, yet at the same time, summons you and begs you to read on, because there is so much to know, so many unanswered questions that need to be resolved. It does this nicely, and in a satisfying way that shows the expectations of people are not always right, and that people who try to undermine those they wish to will not always succeed.

Booktopia

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

the clockmakers daughter.jpgTitle: The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Author: Kate Morton

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 12th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 592

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:Kate Morton’s highly acclaimed novels have sold over 11 million copies worldwide and are number one bestsellers around the world.

‘A truly hypnotic tale that is bound to please both fans and newcomers, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is another wonderful read from one of Australia’s most beloved authors.’ – Booktopia

‘Morton explores the tangled history of people and place in her outstanding, bittersweet sixth novel.’ – US Publisher’s Weekly

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

~*~

Opening with an unnamed voice, reflecting on a distant past, there is an element of mystery and intrigue that crosses time and space, and envelopes several people into the mystery, all of whom have some kind of connection to Birchwood Manor. The story moves between the 1860s parallel to the Pre-Raphaelites, into World War One and Two, and 2017 and various years in between as Elodie, Ada, Lucy and other narrators with a link to Birchwood Manor tell their part of the story as the Clockmaker’s Daughter, Birdie Bell, narrates in interspersed sections that flow with the narration of the other characters as she bears witness to the years from 1862 to 2017, as people come in and out of Birchwood Manor, uncovering the past, attending school and unfurling the history that drew Elodie, and her mother, to the house that inspired a family story Elodie has never forgotten.

AWW-2018-badge-roseEach narrator tells their story, though the house, Birchwood Manor, and Birdie are the stars. Elodie’s story is woven throughout, and the ending to her story is hinted at quite cleverly. Not all stories are wound up as neatly as Birdie’s – as neatly as can be, given the plot, or Lucy’s, or indeed I suppose Elodie’s, where we find out little bits about the end or presumed ending to these stories, but I think this works and adds to the mystery and what the manor bore witness to over the years and decades. This adds to the mystery, and develops the history of the house in a unique ay, where all its secrets are not revealed at once, but gradually, each clue leading to another as the novel progresses.

As each time period is woven in and out of Birdie’s story, the four or five different stories are seen through Birdie’s eyes, and the other characters, each living their own story, contributing to the mystery and intrigue, and history of the house, leaving it with an ongoing sense of self and mystery as Birdie’s spirit lingers within the walls and grounds.

The sense of mystery, the various stories that trailed off once the connections had been made at first feel strange but then fall into place when I realised the star of the novel was truly the manor, and Birdie’s connection to the manor – a connection that slowly became clear as the novel went on, invoking a mystery that was unforeseen at first, and very intriguing.

Where Kate’s previous novels have been focussed very much on the mystery of people, and identity, here she has intersected people and place, and woven it across a span of over 150 years to create a mystery that is seemingly never solved completely solved, yet at the same time, there is a sense that someone knows what happened – is it Elodie, Lucy, Ada or one of the many other people with a link to the manor who discovers the secret that manor is hiding?

The intricacies and complexities of this novel are what make it work, and that allow the wispy strands of some plotlines to float away yet still have a feeling of completion in relation to Birchwood Manor. A stunning read that I really enjoyed.