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

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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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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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Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Published: 18th September 2018 (print)/18th September 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Macmillan Australia/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 464/19 hrs and 9 mins
Narrator: Caroline Lee
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★ – 1 Stars

Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? Nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

The LONGEST, most TEDIOUS 19 hours of MY LIFE. I swear somewhere around chapter thirty it never progressed no matter how many hours I listened to it. It felt like I was trapped in the thirties forever and with a book of eighty chapters this was a nightmare scenario. I am quite convinced time stopped because I listened to it almost every day and I never seemed to get anywhere. Just when I thought I think I’d listened to it for another 3 or 4 hours I was only one of two chapters ahead. In the end, I had to bring it in from the car and put it on the computer so I could get it to play at double speed. Even then it dragged on. It’s an amazing feat that a book this long could have nothing happen in it.

I am not convinced it was only the fault of the audio either. I have generally enjoyed Lee’s narration, she has done every single other Moriarty book I have listened to. But from the initial chapters I knew this one felt different. It was slower, much slower than her other ones, and I couldn’t understand her decision with some of the voices she chose for the characters. Francis is one of the main characters who gets most of the perspective and I could not stand her from the very beginning. I did not like her portrayal but retrospectively I appreciate her character. She was bubbly and naïve, she was idealistic and at least she felt like a real person. It’s just that from the start I was on the wrong foot with the narration and these characters and unfortunately it never managed to recover. For having a dozen key characters I felt that maybe only a few were really fleshed out. Even if some got fewer chapters for us to get to know them, I was still able to grasp who they were as people. Some of the others who had multiple chapters gave me so little I have no real idea who they are.

But I also didn’t care enough to care.

I did not care about their personal journeys and while Moriarty deserves credit for the variety of characters she has included, the execution was lacking.

I am trying not to just dump on this book, but after hour upon hour of waiting for something to happen I feel let down as a reader and I am disappointed because this isn’t the writing I have come to expect from Moriarty. With no plot except listening to these people and their boring lives I was desperate to grasp onto any real story at all. Where was the Moriarty’s Reveal™ that she is renowned for? Where was the intrigue and the suspense? How can such a diverse range of characters hold so little intrigue?

There is a moment that Moriarty breaks the fourth wall later in the book through Francis and not only does it read like she is venting her own frustrations at her career and the writing process, it jars the flow of the narrative and it took me out of the story because it doesn’t sit right. And to be honest, by that point I was using all my effort to keep myself in the narrative.

The ending was stranger and even more ridiculous than the rest of the book. I had heard the ending was amazing and while it might be the only time it got actually close to something happening, it still failed to hit the low bar I had placed on it after listening to the other 18 hours.

I understand from talking to other people that this is a book that divides people. They either love it or they thought it was boring and terrible. I know people in both categories and with my history of Moriarty books I went in with an open mind. It seems though that this book is yet another of Moriarty’s that didn’t quite hit the mark with me. There aren’t enjoyable moments, there are simply moments that aren’t terrible.

You can purchase Nine Perfect Strangers via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

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AWW 2019 Challenge

Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

January has arrived which means the Australia Women Writer’s Challenge has begun once more. I am feeling confident on my Aussie women this year, I’ve picked up a few new names last year so I have a great starting point to get going. If I start strong I can secure a good chunk and I learnt last year that reviewing can always come later, there’s no harm in reading in February and reviewing in December.

Based on my success last year I am starting my goal at Reading 30, Reviewing 20. From there I will either meet it or exceed it. If I hit it early I can always bump it up. I admire those who have their starting points at 50 or beyond. I think that would stress me out too much, I’d rather be pleasantly surprised when I exceed my original goal. Give myself a confidence booster.

If you want to take part in this challenge you can sign up via the website and you can set your own goals, higher or much lower than I’ve chosen. The challenge runs from 1st January to 31st December so there is plenty of time to complete your goal whatever number you pick, and you can sign up at any time during the year until the end of November.