The Meaning of Grace by Deborah Forster

The Meaning of Grace by Deborah Forster is a story of betrayals – real and perceived, small and large. It’s also a story of siblings and of mothers and daughters.

“How did it come to this? I thought I tried to be fair to them both and to Ted. It seems that nothing is ever good enough now. My mother was such a mother to me, but I never understood brothers and sisters. I just thought they’d be the best thing.”

At the centre of the story is Grace Fisher, a somewhat detached mother of three. Grace does her best in the circumstances – she leaves her depressed husband and Melbourne behind and moves to Yarrabeen, a seaside town in Victoria. There she makes do – a job in a bakery, a new relationship and raising the kids.

Each child is left to find meaning on their own. Edie, the eldest, feels perpetually unloved and short-changed. The middle child, Juliet, careens through life, pretty and manipulative, her steely resolve revealed in a couple of surprising plot twists.  Ted, the baby of the family is largely immune to what life is dishing up to the Fishers, sheltered by the women around him. When Grace is diagnosed with terminal cancer, the siblings are forced to deal with family relationships.

“Her hard eyes are not really Grace’s at all, though the anonymity is something she recognises from childhood. But she sees it’s just a reference to the mother who scared them, who wanted them not to bother her, at least not all the time, and whose fury was well worth avoiding. That mother is lost and so is her kindness. Growing old has revealed all the mothers she once was.” Continue reading

Pursuing Love and Death by Heather Taylor Johnson

Weddings, like Christmas Day, bring out the ‘best’ in families, right?

Heather Taylor Johnson’s debut novel, Pursuing Love and Death, is the story of one family, brought together as they prepare for the wedding of daughter, Luna. Amongst the cast is Luna’s father, Graham, who is struggling to write his own obituary; mother, Velma, who is experiencing a mid-life crisis (and trying to manage a lover seventeen years her junior); and brother Ginsberg, who’s openly gay but is married to a woman named Kate.

“It was good to be on holiday before the holiday began. To have one day to themselves before the shit hit the wedding-white fan. Ginsberg predicted insanity. Someone in the family would lose their mind and for all he knew it might be him.” Continue reading

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine.”

And so begins Hannah Kent’s extraordinarily beautiful story, Burial Rites.

Based on true events, Burial Rites is set in northern Iceland in 1829 and tells the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a woman condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men. Agnes is sent to wait out the months leading up to her execution (by be-heading) on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters.

“I could flee to the heath. Show them that they cannot keep me locked up, that I am a thief of time and will steal the hours denied to me!…. I would only be trading one death sentence for another. Up in the highlands blizzards howl like like the widows of fishermen and the wind blisters the skin off your face. Winter comes like a punch in the dark. The uninhabited places are as cruel as any executioner.”

Initially, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed her spiritual guardian, will listen to Agnes, her history and her account of events leading to the murder. Yet as the year progresses and winter approaches, the hardships of rural life force everyone to share the work, the roof and meals and gradually the family’s attitude to Agnes begins to change, culminating on the day of her execution.

I do not have the words nor the skill to do justice to this incredible book however I can share what I loved most about Burial Rites. Continue reading

‘The Whole of My World’ by Nicole Hayes

It’s interesting that I had two books at the top of my reading stack about women and footy. One was Anna Krein’s Night Games and the other, The Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes. I picked up Hayes first, partly because I committed to reading some of the ARCs that I had been kindly given access to but also because I suspected the Krein would be confronting reading (and I wasn’t in the mood for that at the time).

It’s worth noting that although this book is aimed at the young-adult market, the issues that it covers are anything but light. Instead, expect characters dealing with grief; the difficulties of finding your place in a group (regardless of age); the lure of celebrity fame; and that tightrope between being a kid and an adult.

The Whole of My World is the story of Shelley, a teenage girl obsessed with Australian Rules football. Despite being robbed of the opportunity to play, Shelley lives and breathes footy, analysing every part of Glenthorn’s game, watching the replay with her dad, clipping newspaper articles about Glenthorn and going along to local games to watch her childhood friend, Josh, play. Continue reading

‘Welcome to Your New Life’ by Anna Goldsworthy

I went through a stage where I was addicted to ‘mummy memoirs’. Because being up at 2am feeding a baby wasn’t enough – I had to read about it too.

By and large, I’ve moved on from mummy memoirs but a copy of  Welcome to Your New Life by Anna Goldsworthy came my way and I read the first chapter. And then I read the whole book in one sitting. I enjoyed this book immensely from the very first page when a newly pregnant Goldsworthy, having been a vegetarian for 14 years, suddenly craves a sausage. And eats one.

“I do not just crave any old sausage, I crave this sausage: a stocky turd-like cevapi. Years of abstinence vanish, as my mouth remembers, my tongue remembers. The sausage’s loud clang against the tastebuds, of spice and flesh and fat.”

And then she tells her family she’s pregnant. I obviously don’t know Goldsworthy’s sister, Sash, but if I had a sister I’d like one like Sash. Sash gets a few scenes in the book but her opener, on hearing about Anna’s pregnancy is “Fuck off!” (presumably said with a “Get outta here” spin).

Continue reading

‘Into My Arms’ by Kylie Ladd

I recently reviewed Dawn Barker’s Fractured. I went to great lengths not to reveal the critical plot point (and hoped other reviewers would do the same). I’m exercising the same careful approach in this review of Kylie Ladd’s latest novel, Into My Arms.

For that reason, it may not seem much of a ‘review’ however I think when an author and a publisher have gone to great pains to write a jacket blurb that is enticing yet not too revealing, that should be respected. The blurb of Into My Arms reads –

When Skye meets Ben their attraction is instantaneous and intense. Neither of them has ever felt more in synch – or in love – with anyone in their lives. What happens next will tear them both apart.

And I’m not going to tell you much more about the story other than that. And that what happens next is shocking. And a relevant issue in modern society. And your worst nightmare. I hope you are suitably intrigued because Into My Arms is a gripping read. Continue reading

First Chapter, First Paragraph – ‘How to be a Good Wife’ by Emma Chapman

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First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea – it’s is a weekly meme where you share the first paragraph (or two) from a book you are considering reading.

I have no shortage of books on my Australian Women Writers reading challenge list but can’t help seeking more. These first few paragraphs are from How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman are enough to hook me.

“Today, somehow, I am a smoker.

I did not know this about myself. As far as I remember, I have never smoked before.

It feels unnatural, ill-fitting, for a woman of my age: a wife, a mother with a grown-up son, to sit in the middle of the day with a cigarette between her fingers. Hector hates smoking. He always coughs sharply when we walk behind someone smoking on the street, and I imagine his vocal cords rubbing together, moist and pink like chicken flesh.”

I like unreliable narrators and apparently the main character in this story, Marta, is as wobbly as they come. So, buy it or bin it?

‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ by Joan Lindsay

Last week I went to the ‘concert-of-a-lifetime’ – Bruce Springsteen. What does this have to do with Picnic at Hanging Rock, a story about a group of Australian schoolgirls written by Joan Lindsay in 1967?

Hanging Rock is the common element. The stage at the Springsteen concert (first image from here and the other I snapped on my phone) was set against the backdrop of the spectacular Hanging Rock. Given that it is also Australian Literature Month (hosted by Reading Matters), I thought it fitting to revisit one of my favourite stories.

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It’s been more than a decade since I last read Picnic at Hanging Rock. The story is simple – on Valentine’s Day in 1900, a party of schoolgirls from Appleyard College for Young Ladies went on a picnic to Hanging Rock. After their lunch, a group of girls decided to climb the Rock. Some of them never returned. Continue reading

‘Fractured’ by Dawn Barker

I’ve read a handful of books in the past year about mothers under immense mental strain (notably I Came to Say Goodbye, Ten Days and The Mother’s Group).

Fractured, the debut novel by Dawn Barker adds to this list. And I have to ask myself why, why do I keep torturing myself with these grim stories? I spent the last forty-odd pages of this book in tears!

Fractured is the story of Tony and Anna, a young married couple with a new baby, Jack. As you may have guessed by the title, it’s not all happy families. Tony is worried. Anna doesn’t seem to be coping with newborn Jack.  One moment she’s crying, the next she seems almost too positive. What happens next is heart-breaking. Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday – My Autumn TBR List

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I almost feel ill when I think about my TBR stack. It’s towering. And it just keeps getting bigger. It’s a good/bad ill feeling – kind of like what I call ‘airport stomach’ – that special nervous excitement you get when you’re about to jet off on a holiday but have to get up very, very early to be at the airport on time. Maybe I need a new kind of ill called ‘TBR stack fever’ – identified by a feeling of overwhelming anticipation.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is ‘Books On My Spring 2013 TBR list’ – it’s supposed to be autumn in Melbourne. You wouldn’t know it. It’s only rained three times this year and we’ve had weeks of 30+ degrees. It’s hard to think about bunkering down with serious books when it’s sweltering (I tend to read more seriously when it’s cold and read more trash in summer – tell me that’s normal!). Continue reading