Call Me Elizabeth Lark by Melissa Colasanti

EXCERPT: Herb says Myra has drowned herself with Charlotte, where the beach is rocky and the tide tinged gray-yellow, its crest effervescent.

At the inn, wind batters the wooden shingles like the ocean thrumming the shore at high tide. The squall sends sand whipping through the air. The pier empties of people, except for the lone fishermen who wear rubber boots and heavy yellow raincoats, casting their lines in turbid water.

Myra and Herb are ensconced in the inn, wrapped in sweaters and crocheted afghan blankets. Occasional guests trickle in, but not often. People visit the Oregon coast in summer.

Myra doesn’t take vacations during the off-season, no matter how many empty winters pass. Charlotte knows her mother is waiting. She lived for the scent of the ocean, for the lacquer of salt on her skin. The crabs hidden under mounds of sand and the starfish in the tide pools enchanted Myra’s youngest child. Myra supposes this is why Charlotte was so attracted to the mystery of the deep dark sea. The waves sweep away an entire pool of living things, but with the next tide, they begin again.

And so, Myra is not particularly surprised when her dead daughter walks in the door.

ABOUT ‘CALL ME ELIZABETH LARK’: Twenty years ago, Myra Barkley’s daughter disappeared from the rocky beach across from the family inn, off the Oregon coast. Ever since, Myra has waited at the front desk for her child to come home. One rainy afternoon, the miracle happens–her missing daughter, now twenty-eight years old with a child of her own, walks in the door.

Elizabeth Lark is on the run with her son. She’s just killed her abusive husband and needs a place to hide. Against her better judgment, she heads to her hometown and stops at the Barkley Inn. When the innkeeper insists that Elizabeth is her long lost daughter, the opportunity for a new life, and more importantly, the safety of her child, is too much for Elizabeth to pass up. But she knows that she isn’t the Barkleys’s daughter, and the more deeply intertwined she becomes with the family, the harder it becomes to confess the truth.

Except the Barkley girl didn’t just disappear on her own. As the news spreads across the small town that the Barkley girl has returned, Elizabeth suddenly comes into the limelight in a dangerous way, and the culprit behind the disappearance those twenty years ago is back to finish the job.

MY THOUGHTS: Don’t go into Call Me Elizabeth Lark expecting a thriller. Yes, there is gunfire and a car chase. But this is not a thriller. A character driven mystery is, to my mind, a more apt description.

Myra has bi-polar. She is a mother who has become untethered by grief and, although she has two other children, her life centres around the missing, presumed dead (by everyone but Myra) Charlotte. Several times in the past she has believed that she has found Charlotte, only to be disappointed. But this time…

Gwen is Charlotte’s older sister. She was ‘looking after’ Charlotte when she disappeared. She believes her mother blames her for Charlotte’s disappearance, and mother and daughter don’t seem to connect at all. She overcompensates by being the ‘perfect mother’ to her daughters, and she is rigidly in control of her life as if that will make up for her mother’s flakiness. Jimi, the youngest, and only son, never knew Charlotte. He was born after she disappeared, but he has lived his life in her shadow.

Into their lives arrives Elizabeth and her five year old son Theo.

There are a lot of things I liked about Call Me Elizabeth Lark. The first is the cover, which is absolutely beautiful, but has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. I love the way Elizabeth is torn between wanting to give her son a wonderful home with the Barkley family, and not wanting to cause them any more pain than they have already endured. Similarly I love the way the author has depicted motherhood, the pressures to do it better than anyone else, the uncertainties, the doubts, the insecurities. I also love the way she has portrayed the intricacies of marriage, the give and take, the compromises, the flare-ups, the betrayals, the forgiveness, the stand-offs.

The mystery carried me along beautifully until almost the end of the book, when everything became overly dramatic and, dare I say it? – faintly ridiculous. The ‘white room’ in which several of the characters are held, the confrontation when he could have just ‘disappeared’ his captives, and the gunfight at the Okay Corral. All a bit OTT and unnecessary.

Yes, it does get a bit messy in places, but mostly I liked this read. The author has a great talent for getting to the essence of her characters. I will definitely be putting my name down to read whatever she comes up with next.

Also available as an audiobook.

⭐⭐⭐.5

‘Life is messy. Decisions are complicated. And dammit, you can’t change the past.’

#CallMeElizabethLark #NetGalley #melissacolasanti #crookedlanebooks

@mmcolasanti @crookedlanebks

#contemporaryfiction #crime #familydrama #mentalhealth #mystery

THE AUTHOR: Melissa Colasanti is a mother and an author. She has a BFA in fiction from Boise State University. Her writing has appeared in Lithub, Memoir Magazine, The Coffin Bell Journal and others. She is the Stephen R. Kustra scholar in creative writing for 2019, and was awarded the Glenn Balch Award for fiction in 2020. (Amazon)

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Crooked Lane Books via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Call Me Elizabeth Lark by Melissa Colasanti for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

An Ordinary Life by Amanda Prowse

EXCERPT: . . . the memory of her lover’s palm running over her back beneath the winter sunshine on a stolen afternoon, as they lay close together on a tartan blanket among the ruins of war was, even now, enough to make her weep like the willow beneath which they had sought shelter. His face, captured in her mind like a picture, a particular smile, lips closed, one side of his mouth raised more than the other, his hair flopping forward, his eyes mid-laugh…It had always been him.

And now, here she was. Lying alone on a trolley in a corridor, unable to imagine whatever might come next, able to think only about what had gone before: each step, each breath and each day that had led up to that point in time. Her body quite useless now, but oh! The miraculous thing it had done: bearing a child, a boy! A beautiful son . . .

She cursed her inability to finish the note she had started, wishing nothing more than to place it in the hand of the boy who had shaped her whole life. She needed to tell him of her history. Her story, her ordinary life, and thus his story, the full truth he’d never known but that she’d promised, finally, to tell him. The truth that now he might never know.

ABOUT ‘AN ORDINARY LIFE’: Christmas Eve, 2019. Ninety-four-year-old Molly lies in her hospital bed. A stroke and a fall may have broken her body—but her mind is alive with memories.

London, 1940s. Molly is a bright young woman, determined to help the war effort and keep her head up despite it all. Life becomes brighter when she meets and falls in love with a man who makes her forget everything with one dance. But then war forces her to make an unforgettable sacrifice, and when she’s brought to her knees by a daring undercover mission with the French Resistance, only her sister knows the secret weighing heavily on Molly’s heart.

Now, lying in her hospital bed, Molly can’t escape the memories of what she lost all those years ago. But she is not as alone as she thinks.

Will she be able to find peace—and finally understand that what seemed to be an ordinary life was anything but?

MY THOUGHTS: This is a steady-paced but extremely emotional family drama that had me in tears several times during the read. Amanda Prowse is very adept at that.

I adored and admired Molly. She was an extremely strong and courageous woman, but that strength was also her undoing. No matter what befell her, she picked herself up and kept going, until she could go no further.

I didn’t think that I would enjoy An Ordinary Life when I first began it. It felt like it was going to be a ‘soppy romance.’ But I should have known better. Amanda Prowse has never let me down yet, and she certainly didn’t this time either. A few twists, and the book went off in an entirely different and unexpected direction.

I enjoyed An Ordinary Life. Molly wormed her way into my heart as I celebrated her successes, cried with her at her heartbreak, held my breath when she was in danger, and took pleasure in her joy.

An Ordinary Life is proof that Prowse can turn her hand to any genre, successfully. Every book she writes is different, yet every book stirs my emotions.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.3

#AnOrdinaryLife #NetGalley @MrsAmandaProwse

#familydrama #historicalfiction #mentalhealth #romance #WWII

THE AUTHOR: Amanda Prowse was a management consultant for ten years before realising that she was born to write. Amanda lives in the West Country with her husband and their two teenage sons.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Amazon Publishing UK, Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of An Ordinary Life by Amanda Prowse for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

House of Correction by Nicci French

EXCERPT: … now the person who had abused her was dead. Mr Rees the maths teacher. Stuart Rees her neighbour. The pillar of his little community. His body in her shed, his car parked outside, his blood all over her.

She bit her lip so hard that she tasted iron in her mouth. She put her hands over her eyes to make the darkness darker. She couldn’t remember that day, or only a few snatches. It had been a day of wild weather and of a crouching fear. The kind of day that she had to crawl blindly through, just to get to the end.

What had happened? Why had he come to her house and why had he died and what had she been doing?

Her solicitor believed she had murdered him. What did she, Tabitha Hardy, believe? She didn’t know. She didn’t know, and not knowing tipped dread through her like poison.

She didn’t know what to do. She had no idea. She had no one to turn to and the night went on and on and on and when morning came she still didn’t know.

ABOUT ‘HOUSE OF CORRECTION’: ‘So,’ said Mora Piozzi, her lawyer, looking down at her laptop. ‘In brief: you are charged with the murder of Stuart Robert Rees, on December 21st, between the hours of ten-forty in the morning and half-past three o’clock in the afternoon.’

Tabitha is accused of murder. She is in prison awaiting trial.
There is a strong case against her, and she can’t remember what happened on December 21st.

She is alone, frightened and confused.

But somehow, from the confines of her cell, she needs to prove everyone wrong.

MY THOUGHTS: Tabitha is a difficult character to like. She is depressed, angry – sometimes to the point of violence – and quite hostile towards the people in her village. She doesn’t have friends. But then she has been through a lot – seduced/raped at the age of fifteen by the man she is accused of murdering, she never told anyone at the time. She has had spells in psychiatric hospitals. She is medicated. She struggles to live any semblance of a ‘normal’ life.

All the evidence seems to point to her, even the CCTV footage. Tabitha at times doubts her own innocence. She doesn’t think she did it, killed Stuart, doesn’t think she is capable of it, but can’t be certain…

Nicci French has written a ‘locked room’ mystery set in a small coastal English village. There is only one road in and out which, on the day of the murder, was blocked by a fallen tree. So we have a limited pool of suspects, none of whom, other than Tabitha, appear to be in the right place at the right time.

I became absorbed by her case. She has fired her brief, who believes her to be guilty, and elects to defend herself against all advice. Her defence is haphazard and stumbling. She constantly erupts in the courtroom, doing herself no favours. She has the feeling that she is missing something, something important that dances around the periphery of her mind but that she can’t quite grasp…

There are plenty of twists in this story, none of which I saw coming. At the beginning, I wasn’t entirely convinced that Tabitha hadn’t murdered Stuart, yet I was busy trying to work out who else could have killed him right through to the end. Believe me, I suspected almost everyone in the village at some point.

House of Correction is a read that will set your ‘little grey cells’ humming. While I can’t say that I liked Tabitha by the end, I had certainly grown to admire her.

An interesting and absorbing read with a cast of interesting characters. Definitely recommended.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.2

#HouseofCorrection #NetGalley @niccifrenchauthor
#contemporaryfiction #crime #legalthriller #mentalhealth #murdermystery #psychologicalthriller

THE AUTHOR: Nicci French is the pseudonym of English husband-and-wife team Nicci Gerrard (born 10 June 1958) and Sean French (born 28 May 1959), who write psychological thrillers together.

DISCLOSURE: Thanks to Simon and Schuster via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of House of Correction by Nicci French for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW BY A.J. FINN

EXCERPT: With a tumbler in one hand and the Nikon in the other, I settle down in the corner of my study, cupped between the south and west windows, and survey the neighbourhood – inventory check, Ed likes to say. There’s Rita Miller, returning from yoga, bright with sweat, a cell phone stuck to one ear. I adjust the lens and zoom in: she’s smiling. I wonder if it’s her contractor on the other end. Or her husband. Or neither.

Next door, outside 214, Mrs Wasserman and her Henry pick their way down the front steps. Off to spread sweetness and light.

I swing my camera west: two pedestrians loiter outside the double-wide, one of them pointing at the shutters. ‘Good bones,’ I imagine him saying.

God. I’m inventing conversations now.

Cautiously, as though I don’t want to be caught – and indeed I don’t – I slide my sights across the park, over to the Russells’. The kitchen is dim and vacant, its blinds partly down, like half-shut eyes; but one floor up, in the parlour, captured neatly within the window, I spot Jane and Ethan on a candy-striped loveseat. She wears a butter yellow sweater that exposes a terse slit of cleavage; her locket dangles there, a mountaineer above a gorge.

I twist the lens; the image sharpens. She’s speaking quickly, teeth bared in a grin, her hands in a flurry. His eyes are on his lap,but that shy smile skews his lips.

I haven’t mentioned the Russells to Dr Fielding. I know what he’ll say; I can analyse myself: I’ve located in this nuclear unit – this mother, this father, their only child – an echo of my own. One house away, one door down, there’s the family I had, the life that was mine – a life thought lost, irretrievably, except there it is, right across the park. ‘So what?’ I think. Maybe I say it; these days I’m not sure. I sip my wine, wipe my lip, raise the Nikon again. Look through the lens.

She’s looking back at me.

I drop the camera in my lap.

No mistake: even with my naked eye, I can clearly see her level gaze, her parted lips.

She raises a hand, waves it.

I want to hide.

ABOUT ‘THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW’: Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

MY THOUGHTS: The Woman in the Window is everything a psychological thriller should be. It is gripping. It is unpredictable. Amazing. Riveting. Twisty. Compelling. Dark. Exciting. Creepy. This is my new benchmark for psychological thrillers. Every one I read from now on will be measured against The Woman in the Window.

I danced around the room more than once because I was just so excited at how good this book is. I found myself holding my breath, more than once. The writing is so good that I felt like I was in that house with Anna, her shadow, watching her as she watched everyone else. I loved the characters, every damned one of them. And the ending is brilliant!

If you haven’t read this yet, and I am only three years and twenty odd days behind the eight ball with this, read it. It lives up to all the hype. In fact, it far exceeded all my expectations.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (I need more stars!)

THE AUTHOR: A.J. Finn, pseudonym for Daniel Mallory, has written for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement (UK). A native of New York, Finn lived in England for ten years as a book editor before returning to New York City.

DISCLOSURE: I own my copy of The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, published by Harper Collins. This is the second book I have read this year that is going on my ‘keep forever/save from fire’ shelf. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Weekend Pass by Paul Cavanagh

Published 19 January 2021

EXCERPT: ‘So here I am,’ Tasha says. ‘Back in the real world.’

‘How does it feel,’ Milt asks.

‘The truth?’

Milt nods.

‘Terrifying,’ she says.

ABOUT ‘WEEKEND PASS’: Who can forgive a mother who poisons her eight-year-old son? Even if it was an accident.

Tasha thought she had everything under control – her family life, her career as a nurse – until her son got into her stash of painkillers. Now, during her first weekend home from drug treatment, she must come to grips with the damage she’s done and somehow pick up the pieces. Told from the points of view of four different family members, Weekend Pass is a story about the lies we tell ourselves and the people we love. And it’s about struggling to rise above the mistakes that threaten to define us.

MY THOUGHTS: The excerpt I have quoted from Weekend Pass comes from the end of the first chapter. Milt, Tasha’s father, has collected her from the treatment centre for her first weekend pass since being admitted. I have worked with alcohol and drug addicts during my psychiatric nursing career, and this was a common emotion; the fear that being back in the same place with the same triggers will lead to a relapse. It is a perfectly justified fear. I thought I was in for an emotional roller coaster of a read.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that this author’s style of writing gets the full potential from this story. At the half way point I made this comment: ‘Meh. I hope this improves soon. I am not enjoying being ‘told’ what is happening. I feel quite removed from the characters, and not really interested in them with the exception of Jake. Really only reading on to see what happens to him. Have started skimming as this is failing to hold my attention.’

There was plenty of potential here to play with. There are complex family relationships dealing with death, addiction, betrayal, guilt, denial, abandonment issues, and infidelity. There is drama when Jake goes missing (that piqued my interest and earned an extra half star). Yet the majority of the story is narrated in a plodding manner that left me bored and restless.

I admire what the author was trying to do. It didn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean it isn’t going to work for you. Reading is a personal and subjective experience, and what appeals to one may not please another. So if you enjoyed the excerpt from The Ocean House, and the plot outline appeals, please do go ahead and read it. Many other people have read and enjoyed Weekend Pass and rated it higher than I have. Please also check out their reviews.

I do love the cover.

⭐⭐.5

#WeekendPass #NetGalley

THE AUTHOR: Paul Cavanagh burst onto the international literary scene when he was crowned the world’s first Lit Idol at the London International Book Fair in the UK. The novel that won him the title, After Helen, was published by HarperCollinsCanada to glowing reviews. His deft touch for creating compelling characters comes in no small part from working for some 30 years in health care. He developed his literary talents at the Humber School for Writers and Western University. He currently lives in London, Ontario, Canada. (Goodreads.com)

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Not That London Writer, IBPA, via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Weekend Pass by Paul Cavanagh for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

I read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell for the Goodreads.com Mystery, Crime and Thriller group read.

EXCERPT: The volumes are enormous and weighty. Iris has to stand up to read them. A thick epidermis of dust has grown over the spine and the top edges of the pages. She opens one at random and the pages, yellowed and brittle fall open at May 1941. A woman called Amy is admitted by a Dr Wallis. Amy is a war widow and has suspected puerperal fever. She is brought in by her brother. He says she won’t stop cleaning the house. There is no mention of the baby and Iris wonders what happened to it. Did it live? Did the brother look after it? Did the brother’s wife? Did the brother have a wife? Did Amy get out again?

Iris flicks over a few more pages. A woman who was convinced that the wireless was somehow killing them all. A girl who kept wandering away from the house at night. A Lady somebody who kept attacking a particular servant. A Cockenzie fishwife who showed signs of libidinous and uncontrolled behaviour. A youngest daughter who eloped to Ireland with a legal clerk. Iris is just reading about a Jane who had the temerity to take long, solitary walks and refuse offers of marriage, when she is overtaken by a violent sneeze once, twice, three, four times.

She sniffs and searches her pockets for a tissue. The records room seems to be oddly silent after her sneezes. She glances around. It is empty apart from the man behind the desk and another man peering closely at something on a blue-lit microfiche screen. It seems strange that all these women were once here, in this building, that they spent days and weeks and months under this vast roof. As Iris turns out her pockets, it occurs to her that perhaps some of them are still here, like Esme. Is Jane of the long walks somewhere within these walls? Or the eloping youngest daughter?

ABOUT ‘THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX’: In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend’s attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital – where she has been locked away for over sixty years. Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her dead father in Esme’s face. Esme has been labeled harmless – sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world. But Esme’s still basically a stranger, a family member never mentioned by the family, and one who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit?

MY THOUGHTS: It is many years since I first read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell. While I may have forgotten the plot, I had not forgotten how bittersweet, sad, touching, yet absolutely magnificent this book was.

There are three narrators to this story: Esme, who has been incarcerated in Cauldstone, euphemistically called a psychiatric hospital where she has been incarcerated for more than sixty years; her older sister Kitty who now suffers from Alzheimer’s and is in a care home; and finally Iris, Kitty’s granddaughter, Iris’s great-neice who inherits her great-aunt when Cauldstone is closed down. The story is told over two timelines, from Kitty and Iris’s childhood through their womanhood, and the current day.

Each of the narrator’s stories is spellbinding. We learn a lot of Kitty’s story through her rambling and mostly disjointed thoughts. One thought will lead her to another without the first having been completed. You would think that this would be extremely annoying, but it’s not. It is a glimpse into the mind of someone with a form of dementia, where the past becomes the present. She does not recognize Iris, expecting her to still be a small child in a pretty dress, not a confident young woman.

Kitty was the ‘good’ child, the peacekeeper. Esme was enquiring, inventive, fiesty, independent. Rules were made to be broken. Iris didn’t want the responsibility of her chronically insane great-aunt. She has enough on her plate with her vintage clothing business, a grandmother with Alzheimer’s, a married lover, and her step-brother Alex. She doesn’t have room in her life for any more complications.

This is a complex and compelling story. It combines a historical exposè of mental health treatment with the modern dilemma of what happens to those people who were confined for the majority of their lives when there was nothing wrong with them other than they were an embarrassment to their families.

The characters are incredibly interesting and believable. There are historic family secrets, and modern dilemmas. O’Farrell has written beautifully, capturing both the emotions of the characters and the atmosphere and social mores of the time with both accuracy and occasional flashes of humor.

There are books that stay with us for a long time. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is one such book for me.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

THE AUTHOR: Born in Northern Ireland in 1972, MAGGIE O’FARRELL grew up in Wales and Scotland and now lives in London. She has worked as a waitress, chambermaid, bike messenger, teacher, arts administrator, and journalist in Hong Kong and London, and as the deputy literary editor of The Independent on Sunday.

DISCLOSURE: I own my copy of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, written by Maggie O’Farrell, published by Headline Review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.com

Wearing Paper Dresses by Anne Brinsden

EXCERPT: Marjorie started to rise, her chair scraping along the lino. ‘I suppose I better do the vegies.’

‘No,’ said Pa. ‘There will be no tea here tonight.’

Marjorie stood. The two girls watched their grandfather.

‘Your father called on the telephone. The doctor said your mother has to go away – to a bloody city hospital. She needs treatment. We don’t have it here in the Mallee,’ said Pa. And his tapping fingers could have said, That is because us Mallee folk don’t generally need that sort of treatment.

‘What do you mean? What sort of treatment?’ Marjorie glared at Pa.

‘You know what I mean,’ growled Pa. ‘Your mother’s not right for this place. I said the Mallee would kill her in the end. And it’s having a pretty damn good go at it right now.’

‘No, we don’t know.’ And Marjorie was shouting again. ‘We don’t know anything! We’re never told anything!’

‘Yes you do. You bloody do know!’ shouted Pa. ‘You know as well as I do. We all bloody do.’

‘Where is she going, Pa?’ Ruby asked quietly, and her look stopped the pair of them short in their shouting.

‘A damn fool mental hospital in the city. Your mother’s gone stark raving mad.’ His hands slapped down on the table. ‘Now gorn and pack a case. When your father gets back, we have to drive to the city.’

But what about school? What about the chooks? What about the dogs? Who’s going to milk the cow? Who’s going to check the windmill? Who’s going to go round the sheep? What am I going to say to everyone at school? These were all things Marjorie wanted to ask but she didn’t have time because she only had time to pack a suitcase.

ABOUT ‘WEARING PAPER DRESSES’: You can talk about living in the Mallee. And you can talk about a Mallee tree. And you can talk about the Mallee itself: a land and a place full of red sand and short stubby trees. Silent skies. The undulating scorch of summer plains. Quiet, on the surface of things.

But Elise wasn’t from the Mallee, and she knew nothing of its ways.

Discover the world of a small homestead perched on the sunburnt farmland of northern Victoria. Meet Elise, whose urbane 1950s glamour is rudely transplanted to the pragmatic red soil of the Mallee when her husband returns to work the family farm. But you cannot uproot a plant and expect it to thrive. And so it is with Elise. Her meringues don’t impress the shearers, the locals scoff at her Paris fashions, her husband works all day in the back paddock, and the drought kills everything but the geraniums she despises.

As their mother withdraws more and more into herself, her spirited, tearaway daughters, Marjorie and Ruby, wild as weeds, are left to raise themselves as best they can. Until tragedy strikes, and Marjorie flees to the city determined to leave her family behind. And there she stays, leading a very different life, until the boy she loves draws her back to the land she can’t forget…

MY THOUGHTS: Wearing Paper Dresses is a harsh but beautiful book. 1950s rural Victoria is a place where if it can’t be fixed by a length of twine or a piece of wire, they don’t know what to do with it. Such is Elise, a cultured city woman, non-Catholic, who tries to plant a rose garden in a place where it seldom rains and where, in the summer, the temperature is often over 100°F. She doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t understand the Mallee people any more than they understand her. She is isolated, alone, out there in the red dust with a father-in-law who resents the fragile creature his son has brought home, a woman who can’t cook proper tucker, who can’t even manage to make a decent smoko for the shearers. The townsfolk treat her with disdain and ridicule her. Her daughters watch her, and protect her when they can but, after all, they are only children. There is only so much they can do.

This was, in places, a hard book for me to read, and I shed a few tears; for Elise, for Ruby and Marjorie, for my mother, and for myself. I was nine years old when my mother had her first ‘nervous breakdown’ and was carted off to the psychiatric hospital, also far away in a big city, Auckland in this case.

Anne Brinsden has accurately captured the thoughts and emotions of all involved. The bewilderment, the misery, the fear, the uncertainty, are all felt and reflected upon, as is the watchfulness when Elise returns home, the girls always on the lookout for signs that she is slipping again.

I felt for Elise, I felt her desperation. I felt for her family, Bill who loved but didn’t understand her, Jimmy Waghorn who lived in a hut on the farm and probably understood Elise better than anyone, even Pa who had never wanted her there in the first place, and the girls, Ruby who coped by never upsetting her mother and who tried to shield Marjorie as best she could, and Marjorie who was perpetually angry at everyone. But my favourite character was Jesse Mitchell, a boy from an abusive home, friend of Jimmy Waghorn, and who strikes up a secret and improbable friendship with Marjorie.

Interspersed occasionally in the narrative are extracts and adverts from journals, newspapers and other publications of the time: The Land, the Australian Woman’s Weekly, the Weekly Times, as well as frequent references to the outback woman’s bible, the Country Woman’s Association Cookbook. No meringues in there!

Wearing Paper Dresses is an outstanding novel of relationships, prejudice and the harshness of outback life. Written in a unique style, Wearing Paper Dresses is not an easy or quick read, but it is a read that will make you think and stretch your emotional resources.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.2

THE AUTHOR: As far back as Anne can remember she has loved stories. Mostly, she would read them. But if there were no stories to read, she would make up her own. She lives in the western suburbs of Melbourne now with a couple of nice humans, an unbalanced but mostly nice cat and a family of magpies. But she lived all of her childhood in the Mallee in northern Victoria before heading for the city and a career as a teacher.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Waitomo District Library Book Club for their recommendation of Wearing Paper Dresses by Anne Brinsden, published by Pan Macmillan, Australia. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Suspicious Minds by David Mark

EXCERPT: It didn’t matter that this was where his last real lover had died.

It was their place now.

Theirs

She saw a tartan blanket, a thermos of tea; triangular sandwiches packed in opaque Tupperware, all plucked from a wicker hamper. She’d visualized him, leaning against the old beech tree, both arms around her like lengths of tarred rope, telling her the names of the plants and plucking stray twigs and silvery catkins from her hair. She saw herself barefoot; dirty-kneed in a ragamuffin dress, a tartan shawl pinned with a sprig of holly. Fantasy, of course, but one of her best…

‘Sweet chestnut,’ he’d said, slapping a random tree trunk. ‘This one’s ash. The brambles have bound their branches. They’re holding hands, look. And up there; that bracket of mushrooms – they can cure sore throats. Taste OK too. Nice in a stir-fry. They tend to explode if you let the fat get too hot, but I like a meal that offers an element of danger . . . ‘

Come back, Liz. Liz! Oh for God’s sake . . . Betsy!’

The words come from within her: a chorus of voices, each gasping as if running out of air. She registers pain, suddenly. Pain and loss and fear.

ABOUT ‘SUSPICIOUS MINDS’: Liz Zahavi is desperate. Desperate for her controlling partner, Jay, to stay with her, to actually love her. Desperate to be well again, after a recent diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Desperate to be understood.

Private therapy seems like the answer to her prayers, but Liz doesn’t even make it to her first appointment. Lost in a maze of country roads, she crashes her car, only to be rescued by a brooding local farmer . . . who just keeps on rescuing her. Attractive and intense, Jude is a dream, and Liz doesn’t want to wake up.

But four years ago, Jude’s perfect, pretty wife died alone in the woods near their house. And as Jude’s past boils into the present, threatening to destroy their new happiness, Liz begins to wonder what exactly her new man is capable of . . . and how far he’s willing to go.

MY THOUGHTS: David Mark’s writing style is both raw and brutal, and almost poetic. He certainly has a way with words and an innate ability to draw the reader into the scene he has created. His characters are larger than life – they seem to explode from the page and wedge themselves firmly into the reader’s mind.

Liz Zahavi, legally Elizabeth, but Betsy in her heart, has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. This is a disorder of mood and how a person interacts with others. It is characterized by emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking, impulsive behaviour and the tendency to form intense but unstable relationships. Her partner, Jay, is controlling, domineering, almost OCD. Liz, not Betsy, thinks that if she ran past him in flames, his major concern would be that the curtains didn’t catch alight. He threatens her, often, telling her that no one else would put up with her,that she cannot survive without him. He erodes her confidence, stamps out any small spark of independence. But she has a good relationship with his young daughter Anya, who sees her as a free spirit, a welcome antidote to her rigid, work obsessed parents. Her family is a nightmare. Her mother was abusive. Her sister thinks she is lucky to have Jay to look after her.

Lost and alone she meets Jude, who rescues her from an encounter with Campion, local landowner, bully and worse. I thought of Hitler. And then he just keeps on rescuing her, dismissing her concerns about her BPD, saying that he loves the fire in her, that it should never be dampened or extinguished. And Betsy (not Liz, though Liz will come to visit from time to time) senses something timeless in Jude. He is nurturing and gentle, but there is a sense of darkness and violence lurking beneath.

Suspicious Minds is a book that crosses a lot of boundaries. There is a fair bit of darkness and violence in this story. But it is not gratuitous. It fits. It is a story of greed and dominance, of people who use violence and threats as a means to an end, interwoven with a beautiful story of two lost people finding themselves and each other. It is also tempered with a dry wit that had me snorting with laughter at times. I was impressed and will be seeking out other books this author has written.

Oh, and just for the record, the cover doesn’t do this book justice.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.3

#SuspiciousMinds #NetGalley

‘She finds herself furious that she smell of freshly baked scones cannot be trapped in an aerosol and sold as a room deodoriser.’

‘Don’t overthink it. Don’t analyse it to death. Don’t deconstruct it, because it might not fit back together again.’

‘Long before social media, the world was full of wankers.’

THE AUTHOR: David Mark spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post—walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy novels. He lives in Yorkshire, England.

DISCLOSURE Thank you to Severn House via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Suspicious Minds for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and my webpage

My Name is Anton by Catherine Ryan-Hyde

EXCERPT: . . . he centred himself over the telescope, and prepared to do a better job setting it in place.

Before he could, an image caught his eye: a white wall with a mantelpiece, and an abstract painting on the wall above it. It was captured in the eyepiece of the telescope, which was now pointing downward at the building across the street. Anthony’s eye had accidentally hovered at just the right distance above the eyepiece. The scene was in perfect focus.

Realizing he was looking through somebody else’s window, and uncomfortable with the idea, he moved to correct the angle of the scope quickly. Or, more accurately, he prepared to move. He gave his various limbs and their muscles a signal to move. But, before they could, something happened.

A figure streaked into the scene, clearly captured by Anthony’s new telescope.

It appeared to be a woman, though it all happened very fast. She was running. Scrambling. Her body was bent forward, as if to accelerate getting out of the way of something. Something behind her. Her head was bent slightly forward, her arms raised, hands hovering behind her head as if to protect it.

Then, just as quickly, a male hand and arm entered the view. It was a bare arm, save for the short sleeve of a white undershirt. It was noticeably hairy. In a disconnected and more or less inadvertent thought, it struck Anthony that he owned a very good telescope, because it could reveal hair on the arm of a man across the street.

The man’s hand grabbed the woman by her hair.

Anthony sucked in air with an audible gasp as he watched the woman’s head jerked backward. It was a breathtakingly violent gesture.

Then the woman disappeared from his view. Backward. Pulled back out of the scene. By her hair.

ABOUT ‘MY NAME IS ANTON’: It’s 1965, and life has taken a turn for eighteen-year-old Anton Addison-Rice. Nearly a year after his brother died in a tragic accident, Anton is still wounded—physically and emotionally. Alone for the holidays, he catches a glimpse of his neighbor Edith across the street one evening and realizes that she’s in danger.

Anton is determined to help Edith leave her abusive marriage. Frightened and fifteen years Anton’s senior, Edith is slow to trust. But when she needs a safe place to stay, she lets down her guard, and over the course of ten days an unlikely friendship grows. As Anton falls hopelessly and selflessly in love, Edith fears both her husband finding her and Anton getting hurt. She must disappear without telling anyone where she’s going—even Anton.

If keeping Edith safe means letting her go, Anton will say goodbye forever. Or so he believes. What would happen, though, if one day their paths should cross again?

MY THOUGHTS: Okay, so now I know what all the fuss is about. I read a book by this author a few months back, and it was okay, nothing special, and couldn’t really understand why everyone was raving about her writing. Now I do.

My Name is Anton is a deeply emotional read. Anton is grieving. In a short space of time he has lost his beloved grandfather, his brother and his right hand. Then into his life comes Edith. Anton couldn’t save his brother, but he can, he hopes, save her.

The story spans fifty-five years, starting in 1965 when Anton is eighteen, and Edith thirty-three. This is a story of great personal strength, of grief, love, loss, sacrifice, moral dilemmas and doing what is right. Not what is right for yourself, but what is right.

There is a wonderful mix of characters in this book. Anton’s grandmother Marion, and his Uncle Gregor, a psychiatrist, are towers of strength and fonts of wisdom. At the other end of the spectrum are Anton’s parents, Abel and Vera, who are horrible, self-obsessed people, more concerned with ‘what would people think!’ than about the welfare of their only surviving child.

Ryan-Hyde touches on a lot of subject matter – suicide, mental illness, alcoholism, domestic abuse, disability, child welfare and adoption – but weaves them all together seamlessly to produce a compelling narrative that I devoured in one sitting.

I will definitely be reading more from this author.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.4

#MyNameisAnton #NetGalley

‘Looking directly at a painful truth hurts less than being stalked by it.’

THE AUTHOR: Catherine Ryan Hyde is an American author born in 1955. Hyde has found success both as a novelist and short story writer in the U.S and the U.K, winning numerous honors and awards in the process.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of My Name is Anton by Catherine Ryan-Hyde for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Tiny White Lies by Fiona Palmer

52493107._sy475_

EXCERPT: ‘This is amazing,’ said Ash, her head turning to watch the bushes that went past her window. Hard waxy leaves of all shapes and sizes, made to endure the coastal winds and Aussie summers.

They started to climb up, bouncing through large holes in the track until they finally hit the summit. Micky pulled up next to Luke where the track had widened for a small passing lane or a parking spot.

‘Oh, wow.’

Ash gaped and so did Nikki even though she had seen this view a long time ago. In front of them the green shades of vegetation fell away until it hit the ocean edge and then for miles all nothing but the dark blue of water to the horizon.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Ashley has recently lost her husband. Daughter Emily is being bullied online.

Best friend Nikki is holding a huge secret. And why is husband, Chris, receiving so many text messages lately?

Their teenage children are glued to technology, be it PlayStation, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat . . .

The two women hatch a plan: for three weeks, both families will stay in a rustic, remote coastal camp with no phone reception. While the teenagers struggle to embrace this new world of self-entertaining in the rugged bushland, the adults are trying to maintain a certain facade. Soon, around the flames of the camp fire, their tiny white lies might just begin to be exposed.

MY THOUGHTS: Tiny White Lies delivered so much more than I expected. Palmer paints a portrait of deep friendship between two women. Yet, despite this bond, there are things, secrets and fears, that they are keeping to themselves. Things that they paper over with tiny white lies…

Palmer doesn’t back away from the difficulties of ordinary life, she tackles her subjects head on, but with great empathy. Ash’s husband committed suicide and, because of this, his insurance policy won’t pay out. She is struggling to make ends meet with a mortgage, a teenage daughter, and an unfulfilling job. Then, on a random check of her daughter’s social media, she discovers Em is being bullied….’If you died, no one would care.’, and ‘Just kill yourself already u know u want to just like your daddy!!!’ And then Ash is told that she is being made redundant. How much can one woman take?

Best friend Nikki has problems that she is not about to share with anyone. What she will share though is that she believes her husband, Chris, is having an affair. Her teenage children are glued to technology. Chloe has no ambition in life other than to be an ‘influencer.’ Josh will play video games all night. Desperate for some time to think, and to give their children some new and real experiences, the two families head to a wilderness retreat at Bremer Bay in southwestern Australia. No internet, no phones, no pressure.

What they are about to learn is that you can’t run away from your problems. Wherever you go, they come along with you. And those secrets and tiny white lies might not be quite so easy to conceal at close quarters.

I picked Tiny White Lies for two reasons. One, I was in need of a little Australiana. I got it in spades. From the beautifully depicted landscapes, to the dialect and slang, the food, right down to my favourite Australian movie ‘Red Dog,’ it was there. I think the only thing I missed was prawns on the barbie – my absolute favourite! And the movie Red Dog? If you ever get the chance, watch it. Tissues mandatory. Even my husband cries at this one. The second reason was the astonishing amount of excellent fiction currently coming from Australian authors, and Palmer definitely doesn’t disappoint there either. I will be reading more from this author.

The storyline is honest and emotional, the characters realistic and engaging. Tiny White Lies is a wonderful domestic drama/romance that I read in one sitting in between naps.

😍😍😍😍.4 Highly recommended.

‘I don’t like it. It’s like having a night sky with no stars.’

THE ARMCHAIR TRAVELLER: Perth, Western Australia https://www.australia.com/en/places/p…
and Bremer Bay https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Attract…

Fiona Palmer mentions several of the features and attractions of both Perth and Bremer Bay in Tiny White Lies.

THE AUTHOR: Before becoming an author, Fiona Palmer was a speedway driver for seven years and now spends her days writing both women’s and young adult fiction, working as a farmhand and caring for her two children in the tiny rural community of Pingaring, 350 km from Perth, Western Australia.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Hachette Australia via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Tiny White Lies for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com