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

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Long Lost Review: Breath by Tim Winton

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 27th May 2008Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin Australia
Pages: 265
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★ – 2 Stars

On the wild, lonely coast of Western Australia, two thrillseeking and barely adolescent boys fall into the enigmatic thrall of veteran big-wave surfer Sando. Together they form an odd but elite trio. The grown man initiates the boys into a kind of Spartan ethos, a regimen of risk and challenge, where they test themselves in storm swells on remote and shark-infested reefs, pushing each other to the edges of endurance, courage, and sanity. But where is all this heading? Why is their mentor’s past such forbidden territory? And what can explain his American wife’s peculiar behavior? Venturing beyond all limits—in relationships, in physical challenge, and in sexual behavior—there is a point where oblivion is the only outcome.

I was discussing this book yesterday so I decided to make this my Long Lost Review this month. I read this in 2008 for uni and it wasn’t that great; the only things I remember was that it was about surfing and it was not that interesting. I guess I can add forgettable as well. The thing with Tim Winton is if people don’t tell you they like to read Tim Winton it’s hard to recommend him. He has such a style of his own, and he’s so very much obsessed with writing about WA and in such lyrical metaphorical words that it’s not always to everyone’s taste. Though, to his credit, he can write a “literary” style book with a restraint so many others lack. You don’t quite feel like clawing your eyes out but you get bogged down in his detailed description of the dirt and the landscape and his Big Ideas.

But back to the actual book. I remember it having surfing and…that’s it. Even reading the blurb has not sparked any recognition about what this is about. Again though, if you like the lyrical language and the literary tone of Winton then go for it because this has a lot of that in there. Cloudstreet was great so I am not anti any Winton, but so often most of his books are forgettable to me so it makes it a hard sell. But, the people do love him so who am I to judge?

Long Lost Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 2nd July 1998Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Vintage
Pages: 189
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic/Mystery
★   ★  – 2 Stars

It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred.

Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared.

They never returned.

Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves.

I read this last year and while most of the actual plot has been forgotten, I still recall my disdain and unenjoyment. This terrible “classic” has managed to be one that has the rare privilege of having a much better and more enjoyable movie. With the knowledge that movies only take a small percentage of the true depth and meaning of books, I figured the film version of Picnic at Hanging Rock had done the same. What I discovered instead, was that the first 13 pages of the book is the entirety of the movie.

I was confused and intrigued when I started to read, how can this book fill all these pages when the picnic is right at the start? But it is such a small part that propels the rest of this story into the strange and dull thing it becomes. I loved the mystery, I loved the eerie feeling and I loved how unexplained it was. But after it happens, it was hard to find the same enjoyment from the remaining book. The confusion remained, but the intrigue was replaced by boredom.

After the famous picnic the narrative becomes a longwinded story about guilt and nightmares, boring descriptions of boarding school, and page after page of nothing. There is probably meant to be a mystery in there, detective questions, curiosity and fear about the missing girls was mentioned after all. And yet eventually I found myself dreading each page, dragging myself through this book for the desire to finish it, to hope it got better. I hated this book so much in the end I couldn’t even finish it, I think the final ten pages remain unread because I was interrupted reading it and genuinely had no desire to pick it back up again. They could have found them in those ten pages but I find that highly unlikely.

I think I’d like to have my memory remain where I thought that the book itself was just the trip to the rock, that it ended with the unanswered questions and mystery about what happened without the stuff afterwards. That is much better than the other 176 pages where I wanted to claw my eyes out.

 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Published: 15th April 2014 (print)/15th April 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Recorded Books
Pages: 355/8 hours 22 minutes
Narrator:  Laura Knight Keating
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

I didn’t really like this book but I am not going to tear it apart because I was more confused than anything. Confused why it’s so loved, confused why people love Peter, and confused because it was a strange book where nothing happens.

The premise is reasonable, but the execution was unsatisfactory. I understood the sister dynamic that Han was aiming for, the loss of a big sister when she moves, the little sister relationship and the adoration of the cute boy next door, but something was missing. There was family charm and Han explains the relationship well, I just never felt it.

The narrative was boring and I struggled to make myself finish it. The fact I was on a 17 hour flight with little else to do is the only reason I kept going. With the only plot point this forced romance and a small mystery about the letters, it wasn’t much to hold onto into terms of depth and interest.

I am seriously going to have to watch this movie now because I did not get the adorable Peter vibe from this book. I got the Peter is a tool and he is annoying and cannot fathom why people think he is a sweet, charming person? This relationship between them is fake, and even when Lara Jean convinces herself she likes him for real, it still felt fake. I did not believe for a minute they actually liked each other like that. They may have become friends, may have got to know each other better and like who they were, but there was no romance. The triangle was unrealistic and the whole thing felt unbelievable. And Peter remained unlikable.

With no character growth I felt nobody learnt anything, and I seriously cannot mention the anticlimactic ending enough because the point of this novel is that ending and it fails. It doesn’t even sit like an open ended, audience decides thing, it just ends.

I actually had an ending in mind based on how Han had constructed this which would have been a great ending to a lacklustre book, but it never happened. I actually felt betrayed that this perfect ending was practically laid out before us which never eventuates. It would have made everything worthwhile if that had happened, but alas, it ended on a strange cliff-hanger (if that’s what we can call it), for book number two. I don’t really think I will be running out to read it, but if I find myself on another 17 hour flight with nothing to do I might pick it up.

You can purchase To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

Published: 30th March 2009 (print)/10 September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Text Publishing/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 233/5 hours 56 minutes
Narrator: Deidre Rubenstein
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Sydney in the late 1950s. On the second floor of the famous F.G. Goode department store, in Ladies’ Cocktail Frocks, the women in black are girding themselves for the Christmas rush. Lisa is the new Sales Assistant (Temporary). Across the floor and beyond the arch, she is about to meet the glamorous Continental refugee, Magda, guardian of the rose-pink cave of Model Gowns. With the lightest touch and the most tender of comic instincts, Madeleine St John conjures a vanished summer of innocence. The Women in Black is a classic.

This is a curious book. It was a decent read, the characters were all unique in their own way and yet have the wonderful conformity of the 1950s, and the era comes to life with St John’s words. I am caught between liking it and thinking it was just ok. Somewhere in the 2.5 star field because somehow I couldn’t give it a three.

If I stopped listening I found myself forgetting I was reading it at all. There was nothing in the story to get me back into it, and yet I didn’t hate it while I read it. I wasn’t bored per se, it’s just that nothing happens. I think it was the final third or even further when something happened that I finally got into it, and even then it’s not much. I think that was more the ending coming to a head so it felt conclusive.

This is a novel that is character driven, certainly more so than plot. I certainly have nothing against character driven novels, I think though that enjoyment comes from having characters that interest you so you want to read about their lives. I enjoyed Magda, and Lisa was endearing, but so few others piqued my interest. I felt two or three of these women took centre stage and felt more real than others which may have had something to do with it.

I did love the writing style. St John’s words are elegant and natural without being formal or unnecessarily complicated. The language puts you into this era and it separates the characters from one another with ease, almost so you don’t even notice it. This is emphasised by Rubenstein’s narration. Her use of voices and tone brought this story to life and highlighted St John’s beautiful words. There is slight humour but not enough to be a distraction, and the conversations are often humorous simply for their stark contrasts to modern times. This language was also why I enjoyed the ending. St John concludes this novel with style and it was a seamless ending that suited the characters she had created. There was a heartfelt sentimentality that gave extra meaning to all that had come before it, all through the characters she uses to bring this story together.

Oddly enough, I also found the obituary at the end of my audiobook quite enjoyable. I enjoyed listening about St John and her life from someone who knew her. It was interesting too because I learnt that the book was actually published in 1993. I was impressed because St John captures the language and the feel of the 50s remarkably well. It didn’t feel forced or over the top and there was class and charm in her words that she managed to recreate the era remarkably well.

I will be interested in the movie now (retitled Ladies in Black) because I would like to see how they portray this, if not for the story, but to see these wonderful cocktail frocks for myself.

You can purchase The Women in Black via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

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