Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Book Review: Olive by Emma Gannon

I hope you are doing well in your part of the world.
Currently, we are in stage 4 of lock down here in Melbourne due to COVID-19, and it is a trying time for many.
My reading style has certainly changed this year - many books that I would usually go for don't seem right at the moment, and I am tending to read stories that don't require too much of me other than to just enjoy. I'm pleased to say that Olive fit the bill. 

This debut novel is told from the perspective of Olive Stone, a woman in her 30's with a great writing job for a feminist-focused magazine.
She has a long-term boyfriend named Jacob, and a close group of friends she's known for years - Bea, Cecily, and Isla.

Olive is an independent woman who lives alone, and she knows what she wants, but that's not to say that life is easy for her. 
Olive doesn't want to have children of her own, and this leads to her break up with Jacob, as he wants to have a family.
Although she has always had a really tight bond with her friends, Olive  is reluctant to tell them about her split from Jacob, as the women all have issues in their personal lives, including problems relating to marriage and motherhood.

The story goes back and forth in time from the present day to Olive's younger years in college, and as it unfolds, we gain a deeper sense of who each of the four women are and what each woman wants in life. 

I really liked Olive's character, and although there were some aspects of her personality that seemed to not quite match her childless by choice decision, she is a real and believable character.
I also adored her elderly neighbour Dorothy, and her quirky work colleague Colin. 

It was interesting to read about a woman like Olive who has to deal with the pressures and questions often faced in society regarding women who choose to be child free. 
As a mother, it made me gain a deeper understanding, and Emma Gannon has done a great job of exploring the complexities surrounding both motherhood and choosing not to have children.
She also captures the heart and soul of female friendships, with all of the ups and downs analysed in depth.

I would definitely recommend Olive. 
It is available now through Harper Collins Australia, RRP $29.99. 
For further information on this title head here 

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Book Review: We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker 

I have been making my way through my TBR pile this month, and when We Begin At The End got to the top, I didn't know just quite what I was in store for. I had read a brief description of what it was about, and it seemed pretty interesting, so I was excited to get reading.
Well! This book blew me away. It's so different from anything I have ever read. I fell right into the story and didn't want to leave.
I've struggled with putting a review up for this book as I'm not sure if I'll do it justice. 
To me, it felt like it was more than just reading a story. It was a moving experience, and a real joy to read such brilliant story-telling.

I could go on about how much I enjoyed it but for now, onto the review.

The story begins with a man named Vincent King. 
Vincent has been locked up in prison for the past 30 years for the killing of 7 year-old Sissy Radley, who was the younger sister of his girlfriend at the time, Star. 
Vincent was just 15 years old when he committed the crime.
Now, he has been released from prison and heading back to live in the small town of Cape Haven in California where he was born and raised. 
His best friend is police chief 'Walk' Walker, who has always supported Vincent. 

The townsfolk haven't forgotten Vincent or the case, including Star, who is now a single mum to 13 year-old Duchess and 6 year-old Robin.
Star struggles to be a good parent (or any sort of parent really) to her children as she is consumed by the demons of her past and spends her days drinking away the pain.
As a result, Duchess takes on the role of carer to both Star and also to her younger brother. She has had to grow up way before her time and her lack of regular childhood has hardened her.
She uses her ferocity as a protective mechanism, adapting the title of 'outlaw' to her persona. 

When Duchess tries to protect her mother from property developer Dickie Darke, she unknowingly sets of a chain of events that result in tragic circumstances and see her and Robin being sent to live with their estranged grandfather in Montana.

There is so much more to this story but I'm not going to detail what else happens as I don't want to spoil the experience for others. 
Quite simply, Chris Whitaker has written an exquisite novel. The characters have immense depth which allows the reader to become very attached emotionally (and I was so attached!) 
Duchess Day Radley is brilliant and she was my favourite character, but Walk also stole my heart.
 I read We Begin At The End  in a few of days, and it only took me that long as I was torn between wanting to know where the story would go and not wanting the story to end.
When I did finish it, I was so taken by it that I couldn't even pick up another novel. 
I then re-read it, and was glad that I did as I loved it even more the second time round!
I am looking forward to reading Chris's other novels as he has well and truly won me over with this one.

We Begin At The End is available through Allen & Unwin RRP $29.99 

Friday, 22 May 2020

Book Review: Sheer Water by Leah Swann

I've seen this book popping up all across social media with high praise, and was fortunate to read it recently.
I didn't know what the story was about, but those that had read it were using words like "tragic" and "heart-breaking" to describe it.
After finishing it within a couple of days, it is evident why those descriptions were used.
This was a very emotional, tender and devastating novel, written beautifully.

The story begins with a woman named Ava and her two sons, 9 year-old Max, and 4 year-old Teddy, driving to a new residence in the fictional coastal town of Sheerwater.
Ava is hoping to put the past behind her, which includes her abusive husband Lawrence, but she is nervous that she hasn't made the correct choice.
Nevertheless, she is determined to make a fresh start for herself and the boys.
About half an hour away from their destination, they witness a tragic accident involving a light plane crashing into  vacant grassland near the side of the road.
Ava makes the snap decision to get out of the car and assist, leaving her sons in the car.
Once paramedics and other passersby arrive to the scene, Ava heads back to the vehicle but makes the shocking discovery that her boys have gone missing and nowhere to be seen.
Who has taken the boys? Or did they wonder off on their own?

The story unfolds over three days and I felt that the beginning and ending were the best parts, although having said that, I would've liked to have an ending with more closure. An epilogue would've been helpful to provide that resolution. 
Sheer Water is told in alternating chapters from Ava's, Lawrence's, and Max's perspectives, and I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative of Max.
In fact, if the entire book was from his perspective, I would've given this 5 stars.

As mentioned, this is a highly emotional novel with an element of mystery, and one that will leave you thinking even after you have finished reading it. 

Sheer Water is available now through Harper Collins Australia, RRP $32.99 

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Book Review: Fool Me Once by Karly Lane

I don't mind reading the occasional rural romance, particularly with the vast range of talented female Australian authors available, including Karly Lane.
Her latest novel, Fool Me Once, is her fifteenth book, and I had the opportunity to read it recently.

Georgie Henderson is a cattle manager on a farm called Stoney Creek in the New England region of New South Wales. 
Farming has always been in her blood, with her family once owning a property named Tamban.
Sadly, Tamban was sold off to a large corporation after her father turned alcoholic following the death of Georgie's beloved mum years ago.
She's been managing Stoney Creek since the elderly owner Harry had a stroke and had to move closer to his family in Melbourne.
It is a job that  she loves, and although it can be difficult, she feels at home on the farm, and dreams of one day saving enough money to buy back Tamban.
Shannon is Georgie's outgoing life-long best friend and it is her idea for the two to attend a B& S Ball. 
Georgie decides to go along reluctantly, and it is there that she meets handsome businessman Michael Delacourt.
The two have an instant connection and end up doing something that neither of them would usually would do - spending the night together.
The following morning after making a hasty exit, Georgie thinks that they will never see each other again, but Michael has other plans and it isn't long before he tracks her down and the two fall head over heels.
A whirlwind trip to Hawaii where they decide to get secretly married follows, but sadly, the honeymoon period quickly vanishes when Georgie uncovers a terrible secret that Michael has been keeping. 
She feels as though she can never trust him again, but he wants to try and work things out.

This was an enjoyable read for me, I like how the story highlights the importance of women in farming.
Georgie is a strong, determined and passionate character, and those qualities shine through during the story.

Fool Me Once is available now through Allen & Unwin Australia, RRP $29.99

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Book Review: Who We Were by B.M Carroll

I have just finished reading Who We Were by B.M Carroll and thought it was excellent!
It really had me turning the pages and I read it in a couple of days as I simply had to know how it was going to end. It's a great book, I highly recommend!

The story centers around a group of men and women in their late 30's who all attended the same secondary school.
Katy, who used to be the shy and kind type, is organising a twenty-year school reunion for the past students, and the group of friends (and enemies) are planning on getting together at a venue in Sydney. 
For Katy, it is an opportunity to show the others that she is now a confident and capable woman.
As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the group chapter by chapter, and gain an in-depth understanding of who they are now, and as the book title suggests, who they were back then in their teenage years.
Annabel was once the most popular girl in school but found that changed after a fall from grace; she is now mother to three children and married to her high school sweetheart, Jarrod.
Grace is mother of four young children and has remained friends with Annabel after all this time.
Zach was once Mr Popular and known to make fun of others, but now claims to be a changed man with a family of his own, and helps others for a living.
Melissa has always been the high achiever, and her determination has made her a success, but her love life isn't all it appears to be.
And Robbie, who was always the victim of classroom jeers.

As the reunion date nears, Katy puts together an updated version of the high school year book, showing off their current-day lives as a bit of fun before they all get together.

But they begin to receive anonymous threats bearing some of their deepest and darkest secrets, and nobody knows who or where the threats are coming from. 
It is difficult to say more without spoiling it for others, but I really enjoyed this fast-paced, thrilling and mysterious novel.
I did find the ending was a little underwhelming but still very entertaining.
I think the author has done an amazing job telling the story from 7 different character's perspectives. 

Who We Were is available from 28th April 2020 through Viper Books, and has an RRP of $29.99

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Book Review: The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat

Firstly, I hope that you are all doing well in these uncertain and challenging times.
It hasn't been easy but I am hoping that it won't be too long before things return to the way they once were. I have been busy helping my three daughters with their distance education, but I have tried to make sure that I make a little bit of time for myself each day to read, even if it is just a few pages here and there.

I have just finished reading The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat, which is released today through Allen & Unwin.
It is based on the true story of a woman named Hedy Bercu.
The story begins with Hedy, who is of Jewish background and originally from Vienna, fleeing to what she believes to be the safety and isolation of Jersey in order to escape the Nazis in 1940.
She only has one friend in Jersey, a young man named Anton.
All of Hedy's family were left behind and she is unsure if they escaped or are still alive.
As the story progresses in time, Anton begins dating a young woman named Dorothea. Anton and Dorothea quickly fall in love and marry, however, Anton is forced to join the army and leave a heartbroken Dorothea behind.
Although Hedy has initial reservations about Dorothea, it isn't long before the two become firm friends.

Meanwhile, as desperate times call for desperate measures, Hedy hides her racial status and takes a job that is run by German authorities. It is there that she meets German lieutenant Kurt Neumann and the two soon fall for each other. But they both know that their relationship is a dangerous one, and the consequences of being caught together are a matter of life and death.
It is a risk that they are both prepared to take, but at what cost?

This was a quick and easy read, with a beautiful message of hope and love intertwined. Both Hedy and Dorothea were admirable, strong, brave and determined female characters, and this was captured beautifully by author Jenny Lecoat, who was born in Jersey herself.

The Viennese Girl is available through Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99. 

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Cook Book Review: Now For Something Sweet - Monday Morning Cooking Club

In 2006, a group of four women got together to form the Monday Morning Cooking Club to collect recipes and stories from some of Sydney's best Jewish cooks. 
Since then, the women have culminated three cook books, and Now For Something Sweet is the fourth that the group has put together.

This book features a number of cakes, biscuits, bars, tarts, and some savoury recipes also.
The recipes all have a little story about their origin, which I adored reading about, and the recipes themselves are delicious and simple to follow.
I absolutely love the photos in this cook book; they are so appealing and totally drool worthy!!

Interspersed throughout the book are special step by step instructions on how to perfect certain things such as making custard and chiffons, how to dissolve sugar, and how to work with yeast. 

I have been poring over this book for the past couple of weeks, reading the women's stories and admiring the recipes.
It is a beautiful book that celebrates family, food and friendships.
I have already made one recipe from this cookbook (Salty Sticks), and look forward to making many more, including the Romany Creams pictured below (with complete recipe).

Romany Creams

3 teaspoons unsweetened Dutch
cocoa powder
60 ml (¼ cup/2 fl oz) boiling water
250 g (9 oz) unsalted butter, at room
temperature, chopped
230 g (1 cup/8 oz) caster
(superfine) sugar
185 g (2¼ cups/6½ oz) desiccated
300 g (2 cups/10½ oz) plain
(all-purpose) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
150 g (5⅓ oz) milk chocolate,
roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). Line 2 large baking trays.
Combine the cocoa powder and boiling water and set aside. Beat the
butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the cocoa mixture and beat
to combine. Fold in the coconut, then sift together the flour and baking
powder, and fold into the mixture until well combined.
Roll large teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and arrange on the prepared
trays. You should end up with around 60 biscuits. Lightly press the tines
of a fork on to the top of each ball. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden, then
allow to cool.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler until just melted
and still thick. Use the melted chocolate to sandwich the flat sides of the
cookies together.
Makes 30

Recipes extracted from Now For Something Sweet by Monday Morning Cooking Club (Harper Collins Australia) RRP $49.99, out now.