The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns

Published: 23rd October 2017 (print)/26 September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
October 23rd 2017 by Harlequin Enterprises/Wavesound Audio
Pages: 416/14 hrs and 30 mins
Narrator: Ulli Birve
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Mother: female parent of a child

Mum: the woman who nurtures, raises and loves a child

Radio host Harper Drummond lives for her career. Every day she meets fascinating people doing extraordinary things, but has begun to wonder whether there could be something more for her out there. She’s financially secure, happily married to Samuel and has a great group of friends — what more could she want? It’s only when she interviews one special couple that she starts to think about whether she could make a different kind of contribution.

Claire and Jasper Lombard are passionate about their thriving hot air balloon business and know they’re lucky to find such joy in their work and in each other. But while Jasper has accepted that he will never be a father, Claire has found it hard to come to terms with her infertility. She doesn’t want Jasper to regret choosing her over a child in the years to come. Is there a way to give themselves a real chance at being a happy family? Can they find someone who will give them the greatest gift? Or will it come at a greater cost?

From interesting and engaging beginnings there was promise in this story. The dual perspectives caught my attention and I was intrigued by the time jumps and seeing how Johns would being these separate lives together. But it is in bringing these two stories together when everything sweetens a bit too much. There is already a sweet romance, sickly sweet at times and a heartfelt story which Johns pushes even further.

For a subject this complicated, it sits oddly in your mind that there are no complications, no issues, everyone is lovely and likes each other instantly. As the story settles in and progresses I found it a tad predictable but it brought conflict and drama which had been lacking and a few unexpected surprises. I was curious how it would play out, eager to see if my own theories came into play. Unfortunately I was left disappointed as the second half sank back into the same plain tone it had before. The narrative was banal and there were longwinded conversations that seemed to draw out as characters covered every major theme and issue in full detail.

The further on I went I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was too nice, which seems strange to complain about. But it is. Too nice, too perfect. Too many things fall perfectly into place and while I understand it is a heart-warming and emotional story, it doesn’t actually have any engaging emotional complexity beyond the obvious. Even the few twists appear to only cause a mild ripple. For each surprising moment there were two predictable ones, making the balance a strange reading experience.

There are a lot of explanations provided through character thoughts and conversations. The process of egg donation and hospital procedures are recounted in full detail, something which isn’t uninteresting, but I felt like it took up too much time to outline every little part when it could easily have been summarised or stated in a sentence not a few paragraphs. As a subject not a lot of people probably know about I can see why John’s included it, but a more refined approach and less info dump might be have been better, even if she did try to weave it into dialogue.

The writing itself is repetitive in a few phrases and emotions. Despite the emotional conflictions present, they are rehashed over and over to the point it doesn’t feel like real indecision or emotion. It loses the poignancy when the same things are repeated because we’ve already been told these facts and telling us again, often in the same way with the same phrasing doesn’t reinforce the emotional components, it chip away at your patience.

If you are looking for a novel that is full of twists and strong drama this may not be the novel for you. There is an emotional draw-card, one I cannot personally connect to, but that didn’t engage me enough to look past the slow story and the circumstances that made everything fall happily into place.

The epilogue was the final nail in the coffin. From the first words I actually groaned and the longer it went on the more picturesque it became. I can see what Johns was trying to do; it just wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted after dealing with the rest of the book. It upholds the clichés (something Johns points out a lot actually in this book so she knows they are there), and concludes this book on the idyllic tone it started with. I hope this book is enjoyable to some people, I hope it is inspirational, comforting, or just interesting. But I’m a little saddened that I didn’t enjoy this as much as I hoped I would.

You can purchase The Greatest Gift via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Naughty Kitty by Adam Stower

 

Published: 1st July 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Templar Books
Illustrator: Adam Stower
Pages: 33
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Star

Lily’s mum finally agrees to buy her a new pet – but it’s not a doggy, it’s a kitten. When things start to go wrong around the house, Lily is quick to blame her new furry friend.

One. Kitty is the cutest kitten ever. Stower’s illustrations are the best. I love how he has managed to convey a confused kitty, a perplexed kitty, and a kitty looking innocent in the face of accusation.

Two. The actual story is wonderful as well.  Reading this story is fun on numerous levels, not only are the pictures fun to look at, but each page gives us a chance to see what “Kitty” actually did, and seeing poor Lily become exasperated at her poor disobedient cat is delightful.

Genuinely I could stare at the illustrations all day. Combined with Lily’s desire to punish her kitten, the cat itself looks bewildered and the true culprit lurking adds to the humour and certainly my delight.

Stower’s captured the tone and voice of a small child and I could hear Lily’s voice as she scolded her kitten and I pictured this child berating her cat as she tried to stop its destructive behaviours. The story is adorable, especially when the dramatic irony comes into play. Who doesn’t love it when picture books contain dramatic irony?

This would be a great book to read aloud because with such wonderful and detailed illustrations, there is a lot to unpack as you read and it becomes interactive as kids see who really caused the messes.

I discovered this is a sequel when I’d finished, I may have to track down the first one because if it’s anything as good as this, I’ll be quite happy.

You can purchase Naughty Kitty via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon

The Good Girl Stripped Bare by Tracey Spicer

Published: 24th April 2017 (print)/24th May 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 ABC Books AU/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 352/10 hrs and 20 mins
Narrator: Tracey Spicer
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Memoir
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

From bogan to boned and beyond – a full-frontal ‘femoir’ by one of Australia’s best-loved journalists

Tracey Spicer was always the good girl. Inspired by Jana Wendt, this bogan from the Brisbane backwaters waded through the ‘cruel and shallow money trench’ of television to land a dream role: national news anchor for a commercial network. But the journalist found that, for women, TV was less about news and more about helmet hair, masses of makeup and fatuous fashion, in an era when bosses told you to ‘stick your tits out’, ‘lose two inches off your arse’, and ‘quit before you’re too long in the tooth’. Still, Tracey plastered on a smile and did what she was told. But when she was sacked by email after having a baby, this good girl turned ‘bad’, taking legal action against the network for pregnancy discrimination. In this frank and funny ‘femoir’ – part memoir, part manifesto – Tracey ‘sheconstructs’ the structural barriers facing women in the workplace and encourages us all to shake off the shackles of the good girl. 

I am a couple years behind the hype with this book but I am glad I finally got to read it. I picked this up because I was intrigued by the controversy Spicer apparently caused and I wanted to see what happens when the good girl said no more. It wasn’t quite the burn down the establishment that I had hoped, but it was an interesting read all the same.

The beginning has a lot of clunky jokes which probably flow better when read to yourself instead of read aloud, but you get through them and it settles into more of a story. Having Spicer read it herself means she gets to include her own inflections and express her humour as she intended which is good because as slightly jarring as it was to hear, I fear it would have been worse having someone else try and do it.

From Spicer’s early life growing up you see the sexism and the abuse that many girls experienced at that age and how overt it was at the time. Spicer’s “bogan” beginnings was a surprise to me and it certainly explains a few things and how she’s written this memoir.

One thing I noticed early on is that Spicer doesn’t seem to know who her audience is. She makes jokes about using encyclopaedias before the internet and explains obvious references in a slightly condescending manner like she is addressing children or teenagers, ignorant teenagers at that, whom I doubt are her main readership. I don’t doubt most of her readership are people over 30 who have enough sense to know that people used encyclopaedias before the internet without needing the patronising explanation. This happens a fair bit as she explains things that while even at my age I might not have been alive to experience, I still understand.

There are themes much like Fight Like A Girl as Spicer takes us on a journey through the decades as a women, a teenager and a girl, exposed to sexism, abuse, and disrespect in her life and workplace. Her own sarcasm and opinions adding some nice flare as she mocks the industry and those in it with humour and disdain.

I waited through the first half of the book, which was not uninteresting, but not entirely engaging either waiting for The Moment. There is a chance this was overhyped in my own head, but I thought that suing for discrimination was going to be a more defining moment, the “good girl turns bad” moment. In the end it comes and goes a little lacklustre and after I was expecting it to be the climax that shifted this story into a fight for equality and the moment Tracey said “no more!”, it kind of wasn’t.

Seeing women take down the patriarchy is my thing and I enjoyed Spicer’s stories, amazed but not shocked at her early life experiences. I waited the whole book though while she kept her temper, held her tongue, but the Event I wanted for is glossed over, wrapped up into barely nothing. I think we got more about her moving house then we did about her confrontation with her network. I understand non-disclosure agreements and terms of settlements, but I still think this could have been explored a little more, considering it was such a huge event, something I had been expecting to be a climax of this book based on the blurb.

After that it becomes a list of events about what happens after the settlement and what Spicer is doing now. This is after all an autobiography of Tracey Spicer, not a call to arms. But Spicer herself seems to build up your expectations as you read, constantly referencing the Good Girl and when she finally changes sides, it falls flat on the page, no matter how monumental it was in reality.

However, if you set aside that my expectations were skewed or I read too much into it, the book is still interesting and not unimportant. There is feminism and anger at the patriarchy but no real solutions. Unlike Clementine Ford who tells us how to burn down the establishment, Spicer keeps pointing out the inequality but doesn’t help us find a solution.

As a look at her life and her career it is interesting and shows you the behind the scenes and bones of her career. She strips away the flare and the lights of the television industry and she shows off her amazing achievements. I think this should be what is taken from the book, a great career from a great woman.

You can purchase The Good Girl Stripped Bare via the following

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Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Published: 23rd October 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Macmillan Australia
Pages: 362
Format: Paperback
Genre: Crime
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

This is definitely my new favourite Jane Harper book. From the start I was immediately pulled in, the voice and tone drew me in and I wanted to stay in this story and keep reading.

Nathan doesn’t set out the solve the mystery of his brother’s death, but a few things don’t sit right with him and little by little he tries to fill in the gaps. This is not a police procedural story however, the focus is on trying to come to terms with his brother’s death and while the family wonder about what happened to him, it is also about getting through the grief together.

Harper hints at secrets and events, baits us into keep reading and honestly it works. Not quite so much to get answers, the anomalies are not followed up like a detective would, but the tone feels so comfortable that you want to keep following this narrative. She lays down clues and hints that you don’t even realise long before but at the same time once she has planted a seed the tone shifts and a whole other component is explored. It never felt out of place, or unconnected, and I couldn’t help but marvel at how she mixed everything together so seamlessly, never breaking from the flow of the story. She doesn’t focus constantly on speaking in riddles, she gets on with the story while making well placed and relevant hints about characters throughout which could easily mean nothing as they could everything.

Harper captures the outback environment brilliantly without resorting to long details and descriptions. She uses the characters and the story itself to reflect the harshness of the land and the dangers it holds. One great surprise was the blink and you miss it reference to some familiar faces from Harper’s debut novel, The Dry. I enjoyed the connection to the two stories but Harper also uses it to add an entire new layer to the characters as well.

I loved being in this story and I loved everything about this story. I loved these characters and their honesty and their secrets. I loved Nathan and his fractured, broken self but still with a strong family commitment buried deep inside. His character is one of honesty but also one of damaged resilience. Harper could have gone so many different ways with his personality but she dances on the edge of the line skilfully instead of making him cross it which I adored.

People are right when they say this is Harper’s best book to date because there is a comfortableness about this book, but it is one that still contains mystery and heartache, and complications that don’t overwhelm one another but coexist side by side remarkably, balanced back and forth as the story progresses.

You can purchase The Lost Man via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

It’s A Book by Lane Smith

Published: 10th August 2010Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Roaring Brook Press
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Star

A delightful and original work in the midst of the ongoing debate of print versus digital through humorous and silly questions from an IT-savvy donkey and a book lover monkey’s simple answers, the monkey sees the value of a printed book. Playful and lighthearted with a subversive twist that is signature Lane Smith, It’s a Book is a delightful manifesto on behalf of print in the digital age. This satisfying, perfectly executed picture book has something to say to readers of all stripes and all ages.

While I’m not always the biggest fan of talking to kids and young people about books like they’ve never seen one in their life, this is a cute little book for kids that simply tells them what a book is. With Mouse and Monkey’s help, Jackass – yes, that’s his name – learns what a book is. It’s actually quite clever at the end with something for the adult mind to enjoy.

Smith’s illustrations are unique in design, I loved the size difference between Monkey and Jackass. The colour tones are subdued but not bland, and the lack of complicate backgrounds leaves you to focus on the pair sitting in their chairs.

There are few words and it’s a dialogue type of story, but even with so few words Smith manages to tell a great story about the magic of a book and how it differs from technology.

This could be a good book if you have got a kid who is learning to read and discovering books for themselves or is used to only using digital mediums, either way it was clever.

You can purchase It’s A Book via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Wordery | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon

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