THE GOOD PEOPLE by Hannah Kent

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thegoodpeopleSimply brilliant. That’s how I’d describe this book. Evocative and touching with simmering darkness, Hannah Kent’s The Good People is a fabulous piece of historical fiction inspired by true events.

I’ve heard many good things about Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, which I haven’t yet read, and so I came to read The Good People as a first time reader of Kent’s work. I have to say, the rave reviews touting her writing style are totally justified.

The year is 1825 and in a small village near Killarney, in Ireland, Nance Roche is the village “handy women” or “keener”, a healing woman who aside from being the town midwife also works with natural remedies to heal all manner of ailments.

She was the gatekeeper at the edge of the world. The final human hymn before all fell to wind and shadow and the strange creaking of starts. She was a pagan chorus. An older song.

Nora has unexpectedly lost her husband and, after the death of her daughter a year previously, is forced to raise her four-year-old grandson alone. Only Micheal isn’t like other children; he is weak, he cannot walk, he does not speak and he cries all the time. Nora is certain that something, a changeling, has taken over her grandson’s health and that with the right remedy he can be restored to his former health. She enlists Nance’s help to heal the boy. Nance is convinced that Micheal has been taken by the fairies, and she conceives of ways to “put the fairy out of him”. The path the Nora and Nance embark upon is fraught with peril and ultimately they must pay a price for their actions.

Through this engrossing tale, Kent explores 19th century Irish fairy lore and how folk lore formed a deep part of village life belief systems as did the use of herbal medicines. Kent has the ability to draw the reader into the world that she has created and keep you there until the very last page. Her characters are well crafted and although I could sense that tragedy was coming, I still felt compassion for Nance, who believed she was doing the right thing to dispel the fairy that had taken over Micheal’s body. She has the gift of healing and her intentions are pure. Nora, consumed by grief at the loss of her husband and daughter, and afraid of village gossip, will do anything to have her grandson returned to her. Therein lies the conflict between belief and madness and how far someone will go to be with the ones they love.

A truly touching, evocative story written by a truly talented author. I highly recommend you put this book on your reading list. The Good People has been short-listed for the Indie Book Awards 2017.

Rating: 5/5

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The Good People by Hannah Kent (Pan Macmillan Australia 2016)

EPUB format: 9781925483789

To find out more about Hannah Kent’s new title, or her previous titles, visit her website.

Other ways to connect with Hannah Kent:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HannahKentAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahfkent

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THE MISSING WIFE by Sheila O’Flanagan

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Under the pretext of going to France for a business trip, Imogen plans her disappearance. She needs to vanish without a leaving a trail, otherwise he’ll find her. Vince, the devoted husband, is distraught at Imogen’s disappearance. Or so it seems. Underneath his calm but concerned demeanour, Vince is seething. He is determined to find his wife and bring her back home where she belongs. With him. Imogen is his. And so begins the search for Imogen.

Meanwhile, Imogen has planted some misdirects in Paris, in the hopes that, should Vince come to France, he will end up far from her actual destination. She’s hiding out in her childhood seaside town, a time and place she never told Vince about. There are good and bad memories in Hendaye and Imogen confronts the ghosts of her past while the devil of her present stalks her.

The missing wife delves into the territory of bad marriages and controlling spouses. It’s not an easy topic to cover and O’Flanagan portrays well the subtle destruction of self confidence and resulting fear, and the shift to confidence once out of her husband’s reach. Imogen’s character is well developed, and there is a good sense of connecting with her. I thought Vince was a bit wooden at the start, but he becomes more menacing as the story unfolds. At times I felt there was too much telling of emotions and feelings through internal dialogue. A certain amount is needed to convey the turmoil that Imogen feels, but I wondered if perhaps some of her fear and insecurities could be shown rather than told. Overall, a good solid read, and perfect if you’re planning some lazy holiday lounging.

Rating:           3.5/5

 

The missing wife by Sheila O’Flanagan (Hatchette Australia, 2016)

ISBN: 9781472210777

NOTE: I received my copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

To find out more about Sheila O’Flanagan’s new title, or her previous titles, visit her website www.sheilaoflanagan.com

Facebook.com/sheilabooks

Twitter @sheilaoflanagan

LILY AND THE OCTOPUS by Steven Rowley

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This book took me by surprise. Who knew that a story about a man and his dog could be so good? Not me, that’s for sure. It was funny, endearing, heartfelt and filled with lots of special moments that all pet owners will no doubt relate to. Lily and the Octopus was a genuinely delightful read.

Ted’s best friend is Lily, a rambunctious dachshund now in her older years. Ted and Lily do everything together – they have movie nights, eat pizza, talk about guys, play Monopoly, take walks around the neighbourhood, go for drives and eat ice-cream. After his break up with his boyfriend, Ted spends more and more time with Lily, and then one night he notices something odd: Lily has an octopus on her head. Perched over one eye, it clings to her, and refuses to leave, despite Ted’s numerous threats and pleading.

Ted’s friend, therapist and vet all join in calling the new arrival an octopus, and are duly sympathetic to the octopus’s grip on Lily and its vindictive attack on her health – she has seizures, and once the octopus inks her, she can no longer see. Ted, enraged by the the octopus and its refusal to leave, resorts to drastic measures in a bid to chase it away: he brings home another octopus and dismembers it, feeding chunks to the excited Lily. The octopus flees, but Ted isn’t satisfied. He knows in his heart that if he doesn’t track down the octopus and destroy it that it will return and take his beloved Lily from him. Ted simply won’t let that happen. He’s going to take a stand and fight for her life. And so the adventure begins, with Ted and Lily on the high seas in a fishing trawler, hunting the evil octopus. It’s an epic adventure that pushes them to the edge, and bonds them in new ways.

There is a magic to this book that slips in and surrounds you as you read. Lily is perfectly portrayed – she’s stubborn, has a big personality for a dog with short little legs, and enjoys life to the fullest. I had a dachshund when I was a kid, and he was just as excitable and cheeky as Lily. What I really enjoyed about this book was the relationship between Ted and Lily, the humanising of that bond and the depth of the emotions that tie them together. Highly recommend you put it on your reading list.

Rating:           5/5

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (Simon & Schuster 2016)

Web link: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Lily-and-the-Octopus/Steven-Rowley/9781501126222

NOTE: I received my copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Author website: Steven Rowley – Lily and the Octopus

BLACK-EYED SUSANS by Julia Heaberlin

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There’s nothing better than jumping into a chilling psychological thriller when engulfed by a sweltering week-long summer heatwave. With the air-con blasting on high, I was quickly engrossed in Julia Heaberlin’s Black-Eyed Susans.

The tension kicks in from the start and from there it escalates relentlessly with clever plot twists and minimal clues. Sixteen-year-old Tessie Cartwright is missing 32 hours of her life after having been kidnapped and left for dead in a shallow grave with another dead body and an assortment of bones from earlier victims. Tessie’s makeshift grave was covered with yellow flowers, Black-Eyed Susans, and the girls in the grave are soon nicknamed after the flowers, by the press.

Fast-forward 20 years and Tessa (as she’s known in adulthood) is a single mother and artist who has attempted to move on from her traumatic abduction, but someone won’t let her rest. She wakes one winter morning to a patch of freshly planted Black-Eyed Susans underneath her window. Someone is toying with her, taunting her, but it can’t be the perpetrator because he was convicted and sent to jail. Or was he? Is the wrong man in jail, now on death row? Tessa is terrified that the real killer is stalking her, worse, stalking her daughter. The walls that she built to protect herself from her abduction and attempted murder begin to crumble; her sanity and her life are on the line. Again. There is a race against time – to save an innocent man from being killed for a murder he didn’t commit, and to save Tessa’s daughter from the twisted serial killer who haunts and taunts her.

This is a gem of a book and the story is multi-layered, complex and compelling. Told by both Tessie and Tessa, alternating from past to present, there is a slow revealing of events – the teenager who struggles to cope and her subsequent sessions with a therapist, and the woman who has moved on to make a new life for herself, despite her fragile mental state. There’s a good peppering of suspicious characters to keep you guessing who the nasty serial killer is, and the motivations behind it all.

The story is driven by facts and misplaced leads, and Julia Heaberlin shows exemplary skill in knowing just where and when to place a crumb of evidence, to lead the story onwards, and when to create a diversion or false lead that goes nowhere. Black-Eyed Susans is an exhilarating thriller built on masterful writing and expertly handled plot development. If you’re a thriller fan, then you simply must add for this book to your reading list.

Rating:   4/5

 

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin (Penguin 2015)

ISBN: 9781405921299

Julia Heaberlin is the author of three thrillers and you can find out more about her other titles at her website: juliaheaberlin.com

THE PASSENGER by Lisa Lutz

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The Passenger is a fast-paced thriller that will most certainly leave you breathless. The plot is well crafted with good twists and turns, populated with strong characters, and short clipped sentences provide good momentum driving narrative forward, capturing the constant sense of urgency.

Tanya has been living a secret life for almost a decade, but she’s not a skilled perpetrator on the run and there’s an innocence to her, a naivety that rounds out her character nicely. Her husband’s death triggers panic and she’s quickly on the run, trying to stay ahead of her past. She soon meets Blue, a barmaid with icy eyes and a questionable background. Blue offers Tanya a place to stay and a solution to both their problems – swap identities as a means of escaping their personal demons. On the surface it looks like a good idea and Tanya agrees, but it soon becomes clear that Blue is cold-hearted and in looking after her own interests has set Tanya up.

Tanya changes identities faster than costume change at a fashion show. She changes her hair and looks, and quickly becomes adept at pick pocketing women’s purses in pursuit of a new identity and cash to keep her on the run and off the radar. Lisa Lutz has handled these multiple changes well with credible circumstances surrounding each new reason to ditch the old name and find a new one.

Some parts could have been better addressed, such as when Blue’s husband tracks Tanya down in a remote town and beats her up to find out where his wife is, she escapes but there’s no reference to her injuries or any pain that she’s feeling, which might have slowed her down.

What was great about this novel is that women were the main characters holding the story together. Men feature as support characters, or love interests, or as back stabbing bastards, but the women are the power component, and they aren’t reliant on men to save them. These women are gutsy, smart and resourceful and not some simpering female sidekick to a male character. Blue is cold and calculating, and will kill at will for her own moral reasons, or less, while Tanya still has a soul and feels remorse for her actions, however, events ultimately take her to a place of no return and she soon feels her humanity slipping away as she leaves a trail of bodies in her wake.

Rating:          4/5

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster 2016)

NOTE: I received my copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Author website: Lisa Lutz – The Passenger

 

THE RIVER HOUSE by Janita Cunnington

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I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that struck such a deep note of nostalgia in me. The River House stirred awake in me long-forgotten teenage memories of days spent at the beach swimming in a teal blue ocean, of that same ocean turbulent with steely grey waves capped with white froth that skittered up the beach during an approaching storm, of the vibrantly alive bushland that made up the areas surrounding Maroochydore and Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast.

Perhaps I’m not looking hard enough, but I find it rare to find a book of this calibre that brings Queensland coastal areas to life in such a rich and fervent way. (Readers, if you have suggestions for other titles about Queensland that I should read, post your ideas in the comments section below).

But, it’s not just my personal nostalgia that makes this a good book. Janita Cunnington has crafted a richly evocative novel about growing up, about life spent on the river and near the ocean, about the passing of time and how just as the river’s path changes, meanders, sandbars appear and disappear, and deep channels are cut by the flow of the ocean and currents, so too life changes, there are bumps in the road, and at times all we take for granted is swept away.

The story begins in the late 1940s with four-year-old Laurie Carlyle immersed in an endless summer at the family’s river house, on the banks of the Broody River, near the small holiday town of Baroodibah. For young Laurie, the river house is a place of enjoyment, a wonderland of sights and smells, plants, animals and sea creatures.

“The wind made the tents across the river flap gaily. Sometimes it blew so strongly they all clapped their canvas sides as if they were an audience and they liked the show. Laurie liked it too: the river patched with lime and mauve; the boats bucking at their anchors; the white frill of the surf on the bar; the she-oaks sighing; the sea howling distantly; the pelicans getting up above the wind as high as small aeroplanes, up into the blue.”

But something happens at the river house that summer that changes things in the family. A crack in the family unit slowly grows longer and deeper as the years pass by. During this time the Carlyle families live in Brisbane but holiday on the Sunshine Coast, at the fictional Baroodibah, which involves long road trips from the city up through the Glasshouse Mountains, and to Nambour, past sugar cane fields and bushland. The one constant in Laurie’s life, through her teen years, young adulthood and then motherhood is the river house and all the nostalgic memories it holds for her. When her brother, Tony, deeply in debt, threatens to sell it, Laurie is devastated. She’s not ready to let go of the river house; she always imagined it would be there forever. But, nothing lasts forever, and ultimately she is faced with losing that which she loves most dearly.

The River House spans from Laurie’s early childhood through to 2005, when she is a grandmother. This timeframe is handled well, with fragments of Laurie and her family’s lives swelling to the fore and then receding again. Throughout is an underlying tension of dreams lost, of desires never quite fulfilled, which are balanced by achievements, trips back to the river house, reconnection with the river, and of love lost and renewed. The narration ebbs and flows, and meanders, much like the flow of the river or the tide of the ocean, and this makes for captivating reading.

There is one section that drags on a bit, when Laurie and Tony are in university and Tony develops strong political ideals and these ideals are discussed in detail with much fervour. But then, perhaps that’s the point? To highlight the depths of passion that politics can trigger in people, and for some it becomes their life mission. It also sets up Tony’s character for who he becomes later in life, and so while the political detail was a little much for me, it serves a valid purpose. The one area that baffled me a bit was that Laurie’s son, Vit, gets very little airtime compared to his younger sister, Cora. But then, he’s a bit of a disappointment and so perhaps his absence is purposefully constructed to this end. For me, these observations are mere trifles, and certainly do no detract from the power and beauty of the overall story.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed The River House, its charm, its vivid descriptions and the compelling story of Laurie’s life as seen through her eyes.

Rating:          4/5

The River House by Janita Cunnington (Bantam 2016)

ISBN: 9780143780182

NOTE: I received my copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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HAUSFRAU by Jill Alexander Essbaum

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There’s nothing like a cracking opening line to hook you into a book. Hausfrau is one of those books.

Anna was a good wife, mostly.

 There is so much contained within that one little sentence. It’s weighted with intrigue. It tells so much about the main character. I love it.

Anna married Bruno Benz because she was in a ‘version of love’ with him, and subsequently moved to Switzerland and started a family with him. After nine years of marriage and living in Dietlikon, a suburb of Zurich, she still feels isolated and estranged from everyone. She hasn’t learned the language, has very few friends and doesn’t even have a bank account. Her banker husband takes care of everything – the finances, any necessary paperwork and major life decisions.

Passive by nature, Anna struggles to make decisions for herself, instead allowing herself to go with the flow of events that she is presented with. She struggles to connect with her own emotions and deflects deep introspection when challenged by her therapist.

“A lonely woman is a dangerous woman.” Doktor Messerli spoke with a grave sincerity.

To compensate for her boredom and listlessness, Anna indulges in fleeting affairs, which are one of the few ways that she can feel anything. One of her affairs is intense, she falls in love, but her passivity prevents her from acting on her feelings, and so when he leaves she is devastated. Haunted by deep loneliness and sadness, Anna attracts more and more men, which leads to a web of deceit in which she ultimately becomes stuck and then undone by a trajectory of events that she could never have anticipated. She tries to right her wrongs, but some things cannot be undone, and she pays a terrible price for her actions.

“Love’s a sentence, Anna thought. A death sentence.”

Anna takes German classes at a language school and Jill Alexander Essbaum has woven in some wonderful parallels between the structure of learning German and Anna’s outlook on life. I admire Essbaum’s ability to apply the rules of grammar to life. It’s clever, witty and unexpected.

Hausfrau is beautifully written with a complexity that slowly unravels, just as Anna’s life unravels. Her loneliness is an ache that reaches off the page and ensnares you. Her desperation for comfort and human contact is tangible. She has a deep unfulfilled yearning for something that she can’t quite identify.

She may be a bit of an adulteress, but reserve your judgements for a moment, or until you’ve read the book. Bruno may bring home the bacon but he hasn’t bothered to set up a bank account for her. Pfft, passive or not, it doesn’t mean he can’t give her some independence. Not only that, he shuns her English-speaking friends making it clear that they are outsiders, are not and never will be a part of the local crowd. Throw in a haughty, unaccepting mother in-law and you start to get a clearer idea of Anna’s life.

Anyone who has spent an extended amount of time living in another country will be able to identify with Anna’s feelings of being adrift, not quite being able to fully connect with others, or the culture, and the chasm that exists through simply not being native to that place. How does one bridge those gaps? By the time Anna gains clarity on this and realises how much she had, she has lost everything.

I finished Hausfrau a few days ago and have moved on to another book, yet still it haunts me, fragments of it interrupt my current reading. It was such a good book that I fear it may taint my opinion of my next read!

Rating: 4.5/5

 

My kindle copy of Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum (Mantle 2015)

ISBN: 9781447280828

Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/Jill-Alexander-Essbaum-26042908691/