Review: Fiona McCallum – Her Time to Shine

Her Time to Shine
Fiona

Erica is traumatised and ready for a change of scene. Little does she know that her new job in the funeral home is going to bring back other repressed memories – including her brother’s death. Intertwined with her varied grief, Erica must find her new place in the world.

The novel alludes to the financial ‘disaster’ that Stuart has left Erica in, but don’t really discuss it. I honestly couldn’t understand why she didn’t just sell the Adelaide house where she had been so traumatised. She wouldn’t even need to set foot in it again! That’s what real estate agents are for! There’s a lot of ‘woe is me’ and ‘belt-tightening’ which I didn’t understand. Get it together woman! You’re still well-off if you can survive picking up and going to a new place.

It was also unclear to me how the two girls had any income, and how they managed to not get a lodger if it was such a big deal that they were short on funds. Had they not heard of Gumtree? Or FB Marketplace? It’s not THAT hard to find a tenant if you genuinely need one. Or maybe it is in Adelaide? But of course they keep saying it’s such a tightknit community in SA that it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t already have a place?

It seems like half way through the novel, the author realised that there was such a thing as a rescue animal that also worked as a service animal. Let’s have a random dog that is magically able to cure everyone’s PTSD. I think it’s unfair and unclear what Bruce’s future is. A life as a star isn’t easy for anyone!

The dialogue was often cringe-worthy and didn’t flow well. I felt like the plot stuttered also, and made huge issues of minor things. It also seemed to try to fit too much in, and so then failed to grab my attention with any of the ‘problem’s the main characters faced. Honestly, Erica’s best friends sounded like they were going to get a spin-off novel for themselves in future – and they weren’t that unique.

This novel is likely not aimed at me – instead it’s a living vicariously novel that people with a mid-life crisis are going to enjoy. I did find it refreshing that menopause was openly talked about by all the characters (male and female) but that was about it. I was hoping for a few more career details about the funeral home, but I also missed out on that. If I had my reading time again I wouldn’t have bothered reading it. I know there’s an audience for this sort of novel, so I won’t demote it to 2 stars.

Harper Collins | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Kassandra Montag – Those Who Return

Those Who Return
Kassandra Montag

Lore is taking time out after her traumatic exit from the FBI. There is no better place than the Hatchery House – an isolated, live-in psychiatric facility for mentally ill children and teens. Lore has her own demons to exorcise with her fellow resident psychiatrist – but everyone is keeping secrets. After a death, Lore finds herself questioning everything she’s learnt about her practice so far.

I loved the way the author seamlessly incorporated elements of an unreliable narrator into the main character. I think this novel could have been even better if – wait for it – it had multiple perspectives. The protagonist being a psychiatrist was pretty illuminating, but I think that a little more insight into the twisted psyche of the killer could have been interesting.

This book’s ending felt a little unfinished. It was very unclear where Lore ended up. I wasn’t ready to leave the story! I detested the narrative framing because I didn’t really care about that character. I was desperate to find out what Lore did next!

I’m giving this book 3 stars, because it was decent to read and did keep me reading – but the ending disappointed me. I’d recommend it for anyone who has an interest in psychology/psychiatry as a light read that nevertheless has a powerful message to share with the reader.

Hachette | 12th April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Dolen Perkins-Valdez – Take My Hand

Take My Hand
Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Civil Townsend becomes a nurse because she knows that nurses have a more caring role than doctors. She wants to change the world, and she thinks that her first job working at the Montgomery (AL) Family Planning Clinic in 1973 is the right place to start. Little does she know that there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes.

I almost immediately connected with Civil as the protagonist, even though I already knew the future. It was an interesting look into history (again!) I found myself doing a lot of detailed reading after finishing it, because I wanted to know how much was truth – which was actually quite a lot. The story is interesting enough to keep reading, but there’s nothing mind-blowing in the telling.

I think I am going to have an unpopular opinion here. I don’t understand why people insist on having biological offspring. World fertility is decreasing, and although women are less likely to be sterilized (it seems that this practice is still happening in some countries), the decrease in fertility (particularly in Western countries) means that IVF is becoming the norm, rather than an exception. Thus this is still happening – those with money can afford biological or adoptive children, while others have ‘nothing’. I don’t have a right answer.

Again, I didn’t really have anything against this novel, but I also wasn’t astounded by it. While I did vaguely want to keep reading it, it was easy to put down – because the ending seemed foretold. I actually felt pretty irritated by the apology tour that set the frame for the novel – I would have found it more powerful if I didn’t know the future. 3 stars.

Hachette | 12 April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Zach Jones – Growing Up in Flames

Growing Up in Flames
Zach Jones

After Kenna’s mother Ava dies, Kenna must live in the tiny town that Ava grew up in. Kenna struggles with guilt and PTSD from the bushfire that took her mother’s life. Noah lives with the trauma of his childhood and the call of flames. When the two collide, their paths cross for better or for worse.

Growing Up in Flames is theoretically a great young adult novel about the impact of potential bushfires on teenagers growing up in remote and regional areas of Australia. Unfortunately, although the main characters seemed to fear fire, it seemed to be used as a plot point that didn’t actually have a reasonable or even legally appropriate ending.

I found the jumps forwards and backwards in time quite confusing and I was frankly quite disgusted at the behaviour of some of the characters. I felt like there were quite a lot of legal guidelines crossed – particularly the psychologist that is theoretically treating the two main characters who just happened to become friends. And also that the psychologist gives tacit approval for Noah dosing his mother.

I’m sure that things were very different back then (1970s?) but the fact that Kenna’s mom and boyfriend basically blame someone/anyone else for their problems is reprehensible. Not to mention that they then let someone else end up in a wheelchair and show no signs of remorse.

I knocked this over in about 2 hours sitting outside in the sun with a good drink in hand but I don’t think there’s any way to actually enjoy this novel. I’m going to give it three stars but again I don’t really know who it’s aimed at. You could give it to teenagers but only really if you want them to set things on fire – so it’s probably not a great idea for summer reading.

Text Publishing | 1 March 2022 | AU$ | paperback

Review: Jo Browning Wroe – A Terrible Kindness

A Terrible Kindness
Jo Browning Wroe

William Lavery comes from a long history of embalmers and is proud of the work he does. Little does he know that the first professional job he does will bring his history, his present, and his future crashing together. While William tries to make sense of his life, the others who care about him are thrown aside and expected to cope.

A Terrible Kindness was a bit of an odd book in the way that it jumped forwards and backwards through time. What I was expecting was a book that had a bit more about the intricacies of embalming and looking after body after it has died. From the back cover, I thought that I was going to learn about different techniques that could be particularly used in an example where the bodies were quite degraded. Also, a direct discussion of about how traumatic it can be to embalm a child.

Unfortunately, this book seemed to be more about mental turmoil of the main character and how his background as a choirboy impacted his life choice to become an embalmer. I found myself very frustrated at times at the undercurrents of, not sexual tension, but hints of homosexuality that affected his wife and his friendships. It was weird to me that this was a thing that needed to be discussed. The music could have been a marvelous distraction and addition, but instead it seemed largely gratuitous and offensive.

In the end I wasn’t really sure what I got out of reading the book. I wouldn’t read it again because I already know what happens in “the big reveal” of what went wrong. What happened when he was a teenager isn’t as exciting as you think it will be, and the ending left me unsatisfied. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to end it like that! How did William just walk away!? I don’t understand how any man could think that it’s a good idea to walk away from your life and make your wife try to choose someone else. If his life was soo terrible, why was suicide not an option? It was an option for others in similarly dire straights, why not William?

I finished the novel out of a sense of duty. I wouldn’t have bothered finishing it if I knew the ending. 3 stars from me. I’m not sure who to recommend this novel to.

Allen & Unwin | 1 February 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Jack Delosa – Unwritten (S)

Unwritten
Jack Delosa

“Unwritten presents a startling, revisionist approach to our understanding of entrepreneurship and living a life that aligns with your purpose. Through personal reflection and stories of unconventional wisdom, adversity and success, Jack examines what it means to be great, how we can achieve our life’s best work, shape the world around us for good and leave a legacy far more valuable than wealth alone.”

I read this book as an audio book. Some parts I thoroughly enjoyed, and other parts I completely tuned out of. Although I normally enjoy hearing real life stories, some of them were not that great or I have heard them many times before – for example: Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr “I have a dream speech” and Richard Branson. Some stories, particularly the case study examples, were good though and had me listening for more.

I don’t think the author told their own life story very well and he often either came across as bragging or the story wasn’t really relevant. Most stories in general didn’t really link to any points that the author was making or the point just got lost along the way.

The author’s points were basically follow your vision, do what you want to do and disregard the status quo. I liked the OPRs (other people’s rules), but the message seemed to get lost and it was just thrown in again every now and then in between a lot of stories.

It’s just another inspiration or motivation book and nothing special. It is  a good reminder to follow your vision and mission. 3 stars.

Review: Lucinda Riley – The Seven Sisters: Maya’s Story

The Seven Sisters: Maya’s Story
Lucinda Riley

Maya’s Pa Salt has passed away unexpectedly, and Maya finds herself lost without him and his solidity in their Genevan home. Not even her five sisters can console her – Maya was the first and most beautiful of them all. Challenged to find out her true history, Maya embarks to Rio where her story somehow began.

I slogged through this one for you all – it was an almost 20 hours behemoth of a talking book, and I only got through it because I couldn’t be bothered finding a different audiobook to listen to while painting. It was that bad that I sometimes considered silence a better option. It was repetitive in parts, and it was obvious what the ending/outcome of Maya’s search would be.

The level of detail is stifling – we know exactly what they eat, but it’s lacking the visceral responses that must be there. Wooh! We are in France, we must once again eat olives, cheese and bread. Oh no, she’s sad she doesn’t have her one-true-love.

I thought I had previously read one of this series, and found it to be The Storm Sister. It looks like I didn’t really enjoy that one either. The only reason I borrowed this was because I recently saw some hype about ‘The Missing Sister’, which will be the concluding novel of the sequence. I shouldn’t have bothered. I’m giving it three stars because I finished it, but honestly you shouldn’t waste your time on it. Tighter editing and word-count limits could have massively improved this novel.

Chris d’Lacey – The Last Dragon Chronicles Series (A)

The Last Dragon Chronicles Series
Chris d’Lacey

“When David moves in with Elizabeth Pennykettle and her eleven-year-old daughter, Lucy, he discovers a collection of clay dragons that come to life. David’s own special dragon inspires him to write a story, which reveals the secrets behind a mystery. In order to solve the mystery and save his dragon, David must master the magic of the fire within – not only with his hands but also with his heart.”

This is a review of all five books in the initial series, written by a 12-year old reader who was promised a trip to the library if she wrote one! Who am I kidding, we would have gone anyway… I’ve had to reword slightly so that it isn’t filled with spoilers.

I really enjoyed these novels up until the last book. The other four were compulsive and absorbing reading, but the ending of the fifth ruined the series for me. There was a lot of death and it didn’t seem like a good ending.

My favourite parts were the clay dragons and the short stories, anything with a dragon would be good enough for me. My favourite character was Liz because she was good at making clay dragons. I could have done without Dr Bergstrom’s character. He didn’t do anything and disappeared with no explanation.

I’d recommend it to anyone who likes characters dying. It’s aimed at my age or slightly older. It’s for dragon lovers because they are awesome dragons. 3.5 stars for the series because the ending was terrible.

Review: Jessica Miller – The Republic of Birds

The Republic of Birds
Jessica Miller

Olga isn’t pretty or graceful like her sister Mira. Olga likes reading about maps and cartography and somewhat dreams of going to the unmapped blank to be the first female cartographer. Exiled from a comfortable life inthe capital, perhaps the icey wasteland holds something new for Olga.

I read this novel as a pdf on my laptop, and it’s unsurprising that I didn’t enjoy it perhaps as much as I might have. I’d received back in 2020 to review, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. I sped through it pretty quickly as it had very little substance and was quite predictable to boot.

I’m going to pop this book firmly into middle grade or very young teen fiction. The characters aren’t particularly nauanced, and despite getting some backstory on the parents, and an attempt at looking more into Olga’s powers, there’s not much substance to them. Far more could have been done with the magic/folk-lore side of things – I still feel uncertain what the main story was (besides the traditional gimmic that the siblings have to save oneanother).

And hey! It’s possible that you will learn something from it. For example, did you know that the side of the rocks that the moss grows on is dependent on where the sun rises? I feel like that’s something that might change with climate change.

I didn’t love the ending. It was pretty satisfying, but at the same time, it would have been pretty cool to be a yaga! Even just the tiniest hint that Olga would be able to overcome the restrictions of her gender would have been amazing. That perhaps could have pushed the book to 4 stars from me, but it wasn’t to be.

Text Publishing | March 2020 | AU$16.99 | eBook

Review: Toni Jordan – The Fragments

The Fragments
Toni Jordan

Caddie is a placid bookseller by day, and an avid Inga Karlson fan all the time. Named for a character in Karlson’s first novel, Caddie obsesses over the second book that was never published – The Fragments. After Caddie attends a Gallery showing of The Fragments, she meets a woman who gives her another line of the novel. Caddie is thrown into the path of academia once again and maybe romance too.

I didn’t read this when it was first released because it arrived as a PDF. Thus it’s taken me two years to read it! While it was a nice enough story, and had some important implications for writing, I found myself mainly frustrated and left unfulfilled by the novel.

If Inga was so filled with the need to write a story, why didn’t she write another? A while lifetime might be enough for that. This is something that you won’t fully understand until you read the novel yourself. The twist at the end seems believeable, but it makes the flashbacks in time a little confusing – if she’s not alive, why are we able to ‘hear’ these memories? It’s intriguing, and apart from the fact that I found Caddie a complete derp, quite enjoyable to read.

Caddie, what is wrong with you? Do you have no brain in your head? How can you possibly obsess over two men like that at once? Caddie’s relationships seemed to spiral out of control very quickly, and I found it unbelievable that someone who is smart enough to do a PhD and do research could be so clueless!

I felt quite on the fence about this novel – 3 stars from me. I wouldn’t reread it, and I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it to someone to rush out and buy it.

Text Publishing | March 2020 | AU$22.99 | eBook