The Regulars by Georgia Clark

In brief: Evie, Krista and Willow are three girls in their twenties in New York, each with their own issues. But when Krista receives a vial of Pretty, which has the ability to turn them into the most gorgeous versions of themselves, will it turn their fortunes around?

The good: Raw, honest and quirky – this is life how it is.

The not-so-good: Would have loved to find out exactly how Pretty worked for the scientist in me.

Why I chose it: The description of Girls meets Bridget Jones had me super excited– thanks Simon & Schuster for the ARC.

Year: 2016

Pages: 394

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: New York City

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

The Regulars is a story about young women in New York –just that information alone usually has me ready to read a book. But it add a hint of fable, some OMG! moments, some painful feelings and a little purple vial that can change you into the most beautiful version of you. It’s Girls, gritty and no holds barred meets magic. It’s raw, yet sweet. The Regulars contains fantastical elements, but tells it exactly how it is to be young and female. That feeling of not quite being there yet, of having your dream life just out of your grasp.

The Regulars revolves around three girls, Evie, Krista and Willow who are…well, regular. None of supermodel gorgeous and Krista and Evie are far from their dream jobs. Willow has the seemingly perfect boyfriend, but feels she falls under the shadow of her famous father. When Krista meets a gorgeous girl in a bar after really stuffing up an audition, she’s given a vial of Pretty. One drop her acquaintance tells her, will make her gorgeous for one week. Evie thinks it’s a load of rubbish, Krista’s interested and Willow doesn’t say much until she goes to try it. Becoming pretty with Pretty certainly is not a pretty event (avoid eating during this scene). All of a sudden, Willow is transformed into a beautiful woman who even her friends don’t recognise. It doesn’t take long for Krista to follow and Evie is determined to resist. Until her dream job becomes available, where she can make the world of women’s magazines more powerful…then one drop of Pretty is practically a necessity.

The girls revel in their new found beauty – suddenly everyone wants them. Krista skyrockets into her first movie role. Evie gets her dream job. And Willow is producing powerful work. But there’s a downside too. Willow begins to test her boyfriend’s fidelity. Evie realises that she can’t change the world. Krista is getting in even more trouble than before. But what happens when people fall in love with the Pretty versions of themselves?

I loved how The Regulars examined how ordinary characters’ lives changed just by making them beautiful. I’m normally not too big on fantastical elements in a story, but Pretty worked well for me. (I would have loved the story behind how it all worked, why it was constructed etc. but I can’t have everything, just like the girls). Georgia Clark writes some incredibly funny scenes and some tender moments too. I found that I got to know Evie and Krista very well, but not so much Willow. Evie is a strong feminist, a passionate believer that she can do anything and I really warmed to her. I felt that Krista was a bit of an airhead initially, but as her feelings were revealed and she got caught in a number of crazily hilarious scrapes, I really looked forward to her scenes. Willow was more of an enigma. I didn’t feel like I knew what she really wanted (actually, I don’t think Willow knew either). She was more wispy, a mystery as to her actions.

The theme of beauty and the way society tends to look only skin deep was very well done. It’s also got very strong feminist tones, but never did it feel preachy. It’s simply part of a great story that asks you to suspend your disbelief but gives you a clear mirror of many of society’s aspects. This is definitely worth a read!

Mailbox Monday and What I’m Reading 13/6/16

Happy Monday, especially if you’re in one of those Australian states having a public holiday today. (I know ours was last week, but I can’t help but feel envious). Once again, I was deliciously spoiled in the mailbox department. I really need to buy my parcel postie a gift to say thank you for delivering all of these safely and quickly!

The very kind folk at Allen & Unwin sent me a surprise box of goodies – 4 books, all released on 22nd June. The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine sounds like it has a hint of Gothic with a crumbling estate in Scotland and a secret from the past that Hetty finds affects the present.
The Memory Code by Dr Lynne Kelly
is non-fiction, looking at the techniques used by indigenous people to retain the information needed to survive. Better still, she shows us how to train our memories too. I think I need this! Nicole Trope’s Blame is about a friendship destroyed after a car accident. In the aftermath, they reveal truths and secrets neither have shared before. But who’s to blame? Black Water by Louise Doughty is about John, who knows he’s in danger but there are bigger things from his past to worry about. But will he let new flame Rita be at risk too?

The Twisted Knot by J.M. Peace
is for a blog tour run by Pan Macmillan on its release next month (drop by to see my review on July 8). Constable Sammi Willis is back at work when she hear rumours about a man. But on investigation, it seems like it’s not guilt but based on vengeance, family secrets and an unsolved crime…

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley was a surprise from Simon & Schuster. Lily’s a dog. Ted’s the man who has found a special someone in Lily. What will happen? Better read and find out- it’s available now.

I also succumbed to a mystery box at my local Dymocks store – kind of like a super (heavy) book lucky dip. Here’s what I found in mine, so thrilled!

If you want to check other bookshelves, do drop by the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies. Overseen by Vicki (I’d Rather Be at the Beach), Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) and Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit), I’m sure you’ll find many books for the wish list!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? hosted by Book Date and formerly by Book Journey and J Kaye. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:


What I’m Reading at the Moment:

Print:

Up Next:

Likely to be one of the above!

Monday 22/2/16: In the Mailbox & What I’m Reading

Last week was a good week – I read a couple of great books and it was only stinking hot one day of the week. I think this week will shape up to be busy though so I’ve planned to read some favourite authors next. My March reading plans hope to revolve around the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist – I can’t wait to find out which books are on it!

But on to the mailbox – just one book this week, but what a cracker! Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes is the follow up to You. Creepy Joe is back, this time in Los Angeles and he’s found true love. But will it stay that way? With Joe, you never know – he has to be one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read (but definitely don’t want to meet). The book is out in May, but if you like eBooks, I suggest looking at your favourite retailer very soon…

I do love a sale and managed to buy these books in a 3 for 2 sale. Jojo Moyes’ After You
continues on with the characters from Me Before You. This time, Lou has a stranger on her doorstep – if she invites them in, she risks everything. Close the door and she forgoes the promise she once made…

Tasmina Perry’s The Last Kiss Goodbye is a dual narrative between 1961 and 2014. Rosamund finds the love of her life, only for fate to change everything. Later, Abby finds the goodbye picture in a museum and wants to know more about the story.

Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey is another story dealing with history, but this time it’s Dan and Stella, 70 years apart. A wartime romance has never left Dan, so he writes to Stella but the letter is opened by Jess. Can she help Dan find Stella?

If you want to check out more exciting bookshelves, do drop by the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies. Overseen by Vicki (I’d Rather Be at the Beach), Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) and Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit), I’m sure you’ll find many books for the wish list!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? hosted by Book Date and formerly by Book Journey and J Kaye. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:

What I’m Reading at the Moment:

Audio:


Print:

Up Next:

Monday 8/2/16: In the Mailbox & What I’m Reading

Happy lunar New Year – this is the year of the monkey, so I’m guessing it’s mean to be fun…we had a lot of fun reading Chinese horoscopes last week. I’m just pleased that my lucky colours match those of my Aussie Rules football team (the mighty West Coast Eagles)!

It’s going to be scorching over the next week or so with temperatures in excess of 40˚C (104˚F). I might be up late doing some reading!

I received two books in the mail. The first was a prize from Black Inc books, a copy of The Family Law by Benjamin Law. This memoir about a Chinese-Australian family in Queensland is hilarious, and so is the TV show that is now showing on SBS. Ben’s mum, Jenny, has the best one liners (think ‘no ring, no ding ding!’). Best of all, it’s signed by Benjamin Law (I am such a fangirl, I squealed when he liked my tweet)!

The second book, Our Song, by Dani Atkins was a lovely surprise from Simon & Schuster. I’ve been seeing it everywhere on the internet this week. It’s about two couples, whose lives are very interwoven until one day…many plot twists are promised!

I’ve continued with my fascination with Detroit in buying two more books on the topic. The Last Days of Detroit by Mark Binelli looks at modern Detroit – the downfall of Motor City and the uprising of new initiatives. Detroit A Biography by Scott Martelle is about the evolution of Detroit from its beginnings, the glory days and the collapse. I also bought a copy of Ukraine Diaries Dispatches from Kiev by Andrey Kurkov which looks at the events in the country over the last 18 months, from the Euromaidan to the separatist movement in the east of the country.

If you want to check out more exciting bookshelves, do drop by the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies. Overseen by Vicki (I’d Rather Be at the Beach), Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) and Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit), I’m sure you’ll find many books for the wish list!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? hosted by Book Date and formerly by Book Journey and J Kaye. Click on the pictures to read more about the books.

What I Read Last Week:

What I’m Reading at the Moment:

Audio:


Print:

Up Next:

Mailbox Monday 21/9/15

Busy week this week! I’ve been working six days a week for a while, and it doesn’t look like ending soon! Reading before bedtime has become my saviour, as it’s the main time to relax! I haven’t had too much time for shopping, so I’m grateful for these books that appeared on my doorstep. Thank you!

I received two new releases from Scribe Publications. Hope Farm by Peggy Frew
(23/9/15) is set in the 1980s in a commune. Silver finds friends there, but she also finds herself in the adult world, with deadly consequences. Good Money by J.M. Green (shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Aware for an Unpublished Manuscript, which is a great guide to new talent) is about a social worker who loves laksa and alcohol. Stella finds herself in the middle of a murder and disappearing neighbour – can she find the killer before he finds her? (Released 26/10/15).

Hester & Harriet by Hilary Spiers (November release) was from Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room. The ladies of the title live happily in an English village until they take home a young girl and her baby. Then things start to get busy as strangers and family appear on their doorstep. What happened to quiet?

Tennison by Lynda La Plante was a surprise from Simon & Schuster. Set in 1973, it’s about young WPC Jane Tennison and a violent murder that shows us the start of her story.

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz is the latest James Bond book, set in 1957. Familiar names such as SMERSH and Pussy Galore return but there are new foes and friends to explore. Thanks Hachette Australia and The Reading Room!

What did you receive or purchase this week? Do drop by the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies. Overseen by Vicki (I’d Rather Be at the Beach), Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) and Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit), I’m sure you’ll find many books for the wish list!

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

In brief: The story of Rachel Pomie, the mother of impressionist painter Camille Pissarro growing up on the small island of St Thomas.

The good: It’s real and not only is it incredibly interesting, it’s emotional and beautiful.

The not-so-good: Took me a little while to get engrossed in the story.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the ARC.

Year: 2015

Pages: 371 (ARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: St Thomas and Paris

My rating: 8 out of 10

Alice Hoffman is an author I’ve always been meaning to read, but even though I have at least one of her books on my bookshelf, I’ve never quite gotten around to reading her books. For shame! But I was intrigued by the interesting cover of The Marriage of Opposites and when I was kindly sent an ARC, so I thought it was time to seize the day. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a wonderful reading experience.

The Marriage of Opposites is a story about real people, where a story is spun around what is known of them. It’s about Camille Pissarro, a famous impressionist painter and his mother Rachel Pomie. I find that idea very cool – a famous person and their mother, who is not so famous. The first half of the book is about Rachel, following her from her teenage years to being a teen bride. She then finds herself stepmother and later mother to a number of children, before falling in love with Frederic, her nephew by marriage. Their union is marred by opposition from the community of St Thomas. She is defiant, living with Frederic before having his children and ultimately marrying. As Camille grows up, he has a talent for painting, but his mother is adamant that it is a waste of a career. Camille is just as stubborn and undertakes a number of journeys to establish himself as a painter, eventually finding love in France.

The fictional characters in the story are just as fascinating. Jestine is Rachel’s best friend and the daughter of her parents’ housekeeper. Jestine is deeply in love with Rachel’s cousin and he is sent to France when it’s discovered that she’s pregnant. He later returns with his wife and the couple decide to take his and Jestine’s daughter, Lyddie, back to France. It’s only when Lydia grows up that she finds out she is not her mother’s daughter, but part African. The ramifications in 1800s Paris are great and she and her family are shunned. This was a shocking part of the narrative for me, revealing how important the ‘right’ religion and race were to so many people. Thank goodness for the Pissarros, who were much more tolerant. (Although Rachel is shocked when Camille marries her maid – it’s something she just cannot get over. One of the funnier and strangely sad moments of the book is when she and Justine devise a plan to see Rachel’s granddaughter while her parents are out).

The interactions between characters are also brilliantly done. I cringed every time Rachel and her mother had a conversation because you just knew it would end up in an argument. Similarly, Camille and Rachel would also spark off each other, then Rachel would ruminate that she was turning into her mother. Knowing Rachel as she grew up, where she was so careful to honour the spirit of her first husband’s late wife, it was in contrast to the gentle girl of before. It made me wonder about how the bitterness between the Jewish community and her and Frederic changed her.

I wasn’t familiar with St Thomas before reading this book, but Alice Hoffman has brought this tropical island to vivid, colourful life on the page. You can almost feel the humidity and warmth radiating off as you read about tropical fruit and plants. The way the characters integrate with the setting is also brilliantly done. Rachel longs to see Paris (she’s even studied her father’s maps) but it’s clear she’s also in love with the island too. She lives and breathes it, delighting in business in what was her father’s store. Jestine is the same – she takes plants to dye cloth for wonderful dresses for the rich ladies of St Thomas.

This book did take me a little to get into – I found the story of Rachel’s early life quite separate from what came next. I wasn’t sure where it was going, but I persevered and was rewarded with an interesting story about family relationships intertwined with history.

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

In brief: When Lane is sent away to a special boarding school for sick teenagers, he thinks his life is over. But Latham House opens up many new avenues for him, but mainly how to live and how to love.

The good: It’s interesting, heartfelt and a lovely read for any age.

The not-so-good: Sad at times!

Why I chose it: I was interested the premise and I’ve always loved boarding school stories. Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the eARC.

Year: 2015

Pages: 352 (eARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: USA

My rating: 9.5 out of 10

I’m kind of envious of the young adults of today. They get so many good books! So even though I don’t look much like a student any more, I’ve joined the ranks of adults reading young adult fiction. I love the hope and feeling that anything is possible with YA fiction as well as facing up to the big topics – life, love and death. Extraordinary Means covers all these things, wrapped up in a ‘what-if’ scenario that really, could be all too true.

I was first attracted to the cover of Extraordinary Means – hey, I thought, that upside down tree looks like a pair of lungs. Is this a book about CF (cystic fibrosis)? Then I read the blurb and I was enticed. The story is about a group of teenagers, who have ‘total-drug resistant’ tuberculosis (TB) and are whisked away to an old boarding school in the country where they can’t infect anyone. The hope is that they get better…but the reality is that some will (and do) die. Modern medicine has failed these young adults and their treatment is a healthy diet, gentle exercise and rest. As TB is spread by droplets (such as coughing), their teachers set them a task and leave the room. There isn’t even any homework. Sounds like fun in a way, right?

Lane doesn’t think so. Before he got TB he was a super student, ticking all the boxes to attend a top college and then move onto Wall Street. He’s super focused and incredibly studious. TB wasn’t part of his life plan and he’s appalled that studies don’t seem to be a big focus at Latham House. But he’s also intrigued by Sadie, a girl he met at camp many years ago, who doesn’t give a toss for the rules (in fact, she runs a black market for candy and alcohol). But what’s more, Sadie appears to be having fun. Against his better nature, Lane becomes involved in Sadie’s circle of friends and finds out that living isn’t simply being on one track to success.

I loved this book. I adored boarding school stories growing up and Extraordinary Means ticks those boxes. I also liked the way it combined medicine with the realities that these teens faced. It’s scary enough to be a teenager, let alone one wearing a monitor 24/7 (there’s a horrifying, yet amusing scene showing what can happen when your heart rate gets a little too high and the nurses have to intervene). These characters are also separated from the families and everything they know – there’s no cars, no internet, no mobile phones. It’s kind of like a retreat into history in multiple ways – lack of technology and lack of ability of medicine to cure. Robyn Schneider is a bioethicist by trade and this shows in the way she handles the medical issues in this book. It’s brilliant and I couldn’t fault it. Everything is plausible and just that little bit scary because in 2015, we’re freakishly close to the bottom of the box when it comes to treating infectious conditions.

The feelings in this book are intense too – perhaps because the characters are facing a life or death situation and nothing is off limits. It’s refreshing in its honesty. I think the yin and yang between Sadie and Lane helps to highlight that. Lane comes to Latham House, seeing it as merely an inconvenience to his studies, determined to keep on the same track. Sadie has reflected on her condition and that it might spell death and is determined to live life to the full in whatever time is left at Latham House. The other characters all have something to help them in their fight – music, video games, friendship or religion but Lane finds that studying doesn’t offer succour. The story is almost about how Lane came to life thanks to Sadie. It’s a story that doesn’t sugar-coat life’s tragedies, but it does celebrate the joys. This is a book to be savoured and enjoyed by all age groups.

 

 

 

Mailbox Monday 8/6/15

It’s cold! It’s beginning to get to that time of the year where I contemplate gloves, socks and beanies. Fortunately, I have some good excuses to read thanks to the parcel post man this week, but more below…

I did buy a new book this week – The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner intrigued me with its shiny silver blue cover. It’s about Rebecca, whose husband is having an affair. She decides to try to win him back during a Europe trip but there’s one problem – Stephen disappears. Who will help and who will deceive her?

I was very lucky to win a competition run by Hachette and receive four lovely new books as my prize. Even better was that I haven’t read any of them! Mr Mercedes by Stephen King will be familiar to many of you, but I’m looking forward to this suspenseful thriller about a retired detective and a case that’s haunted him. Now the killer is active again and this time, he’s planning to hurt many more people… Two Fridays in April by Roisin Meaney is a story of a broken family, lost in a world of grief. But one Friday, daughter Una tries to take matters into her own hands and teach the other Darling women about life and happiness. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (translated by Simon Pare) is another book that needs no introduction. Jean Perdu cures his customers’ ills in his literary apothecary (this is what I want to be when I grow up). However, Jean has a broken heart and it takes a neighbour to encourage him to search for his own happiness. Forged From Silver Dollar by Li Feng looks back at four generations of women from Sydney, Australia to China and the love, loss and strength these women have had throughout their lives. Thanks Hachette!

I also received another book for review from Hachette, The Long, Hot Summer by Kathleen MacMahon. I’m hoping some of the warmth will come through the pages of the story of the MacEntees, a different Irish family. They’ve always wanted to stand out, but not in the violent way that occurs. Surprises and media storms rage around the family as secrets are revealed.

Last but not least, The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman will be released in August by Simon & Schuster. This story is about the mother of painter Camille Pissarro. Rachel is a difficult child who won’t live constrained by rules but she is then married to a widower to save her family. It takes his death to set her free, but in turn causes a giant scandal.

What did you receive or purchase this week? Do drop by the Mailbox Monday blog for links to everyone’s mailbox goodies. Overseen by Vicki (I’d Rather Be at the Beach), Leslie (Under My Apple Tree) and Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit), I’m sure you’ll find many books for the wish list!

 

Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

In brief: The O’Briens are your normal, loving Boston family. Patrick is looking forward to retirement in ten years or so, but his dreams are cut short when he is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. What does this mean for his wife and their four adult children?

The good: Emotive and powerful, this book is full of tears, laughter and the shock of a deadly disease.

The not-so-good: Some might say the ending, I say that it ended.

Why I chose it: Thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for the ARC and the introduction to a new-to-me author.

Year: 2015

Pages: 343 (ARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: Boston, USA

My rating: 10 out of 10

I haven’t read (or seen) Still Alice, so I was completely in the dark when this ARC arrived from Simon & Schuster. Mentioning it to friends and family evoked a kind of reaction that I thought was generally reserved for One Direction/Backstreet Boys/Robbie Williams (depending on your generation), so I had an inkling that Inside the O’Briens
was going to be good. What I didn’t realise was how gripping this book was. It’s so real, it feels like the O’Briens have come to life and you’re in their living room watching their lives unfold in a way that none of them expected. Lisa Genova has done an incredible job bringing the human face of Huntington’s disease to the fore beyond the chorea and the psychiatric effects. I feel kind of ashamed now that when I’ve met people with this disease, I haven’t stopped to consider and appreciate that beyond the symptoms there’s a normal, loving human inside.

But let me get back to the story. The O’Briens are a normal Charlestown, Boston family. (They’re Townies, not Toonies – i.e. the originals before the neighbourhood became super cool). Joe and Rosie married young and had four children. Now JJ is married, Meghan is a ballet dancer, Katie teaches yoga and Patrick…well, nobody really knows what he does between bar work and fights. Joe is a police officer and is looking forward to retirement in about 10 years, hoping to enjoy life with the grandkids while he’s still young. But in his early 40s, Joe begins to change. There’s the weird, violent mood swings. He can’t sit still or stop twitching. He occasionally slurs his words. Rumours fly that he’s on drugs or an alcoholic. No way would Joe go there after his alcoholic mother died a horrible, lonely death in the state hospital. Reluctantly, he goes to the doctor and is later diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. Not only will the incurable disease kill him in about 10 years, but it’s genetic. Each of his children has a 50% chance of developing Huntington’s. They can find out with a blood test – but what will each of them do?

The O’Brien children find themselves in a quandary, particularly as they all have loves and careers that depend on their ability to move. Each respond in a different way to the decision to get tested or not, but the narrative focuses on Katie. She has a new lover. Is it fair to bring Felix into a life that could come crashing down? Is her dream of her own yoga studio doomed? Does she even want to know? Through each of the children, Genova explores the different reactions to finding out you might have a deadly disease. She also keeps the thinking reader on their toes – does Meghan’s wobble en pointe mean something? Does Patrick dropping a beer mean drugs or juvenile Huntington’s? Or is it all a tortuous coincidence? Genova also keeps things interesting for the scientist in me by describing symptoms, gene testing and results in an easy to understand fashion that is interesting. (Really, if she didn’t write such great novels she should write textbooks. There are not enough interesting neurology texts in this world). I didn’t know the limitations of the tests and the potential grey areas before reading Inside the O’Briens. As I love books that teach while they entertain, I’ve recommended this to some of my colleagues because this reminds us that under the disease is a person who deserves our respect.

The emotional pull of Inside the O’Briens is great, but it’s also balanced with warm and funny family moments. It brings the adult children back together as a unit as they decide what to do in regards to testing and the effects on their father. Joe’s pain at losing his job in a humiliating fashion is palpable and what makes it worse is the love he has for it. Watching this lively, devoted man lose the things he loves is like pulling a Band-Aid off slowly. It hurts, but you can’t stop doing it. The characters are what make this book such a gripping read – it’s a sad story, but one that offers hope amongst the questions.

Season of Shadow and Light by Jenn J McLeod

In brief: Paige needs to escape the city and come to terms with the major changes in her life – the loss of her job, a marriage falling apart and a daughter asking questions about a grandmother even Paige doesn’t know the truth about. A chance stop in a small country town will unravel everything Paige thought she knew…

The good: The mystery was interesting and sense of community in the in country was palpable.

The not-so-good: A little slow to warm up for me.

Why I chose it: Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC, this review is part of a blog tour for Season of Shadow and Light.i

Year: 2015

Pages: 469 (ARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: New South Wales, Australia

My rating: 8 out of 10

Even though I have Jenn J McLeod’s debut novel on my shelves, I still haven’t read it! (So many good books, so little time). I’m ashamed to say this is my first taste of Jenn’s writing, her third novel to date. Season of Shadow and Light is right up my alley, combining my loves of Australian rural fiction with a family mystery. It does have romantic elements too, but they are quite minor. The book celebrates the community spirit that is felt in small towns and the power and love of family.

As the book opens, Paige Turner (yes, that’s her name) and her life in heading a downward spiral. Some time ago, she lost a son and had a post-partum stroke, robbing her of her sense of smell and taste. To top it off, she’s a food reviewer, which meant her career was effectively ended. She’s having problems in her marriage after she found out her husband had an affair and when daughter Mati wants to do a Pinterest page on Paige’s deceased mother, it’s the last straw. There’s so much Paige doesn’t know about her mum, particularly about her youth. So Paige, Mati and Alice (Paige’s mother’s partner) decide to get out of the city and head to the country with a nice stay at an old boatshed in the town that happens to be a link to Paige’s mother. But fate intervenes in the form of a summer flood and the trio find themselves marooned in Coolabah Tree Gully. The locals take them in with open arms and Paige is beginning to feel alive again as she makes friends with locals Aiden and Sharni. But Alice is worried – there are far too many coincidences here about Nancy (Paige’s mother) and her life as a young woman. Will Alice break her promise to Nancy and tell Paige the truth, or should some secrets stay buried?

I must admit that when I read the blurb I thought this book was more about Paige’s life immediately post-stroke. But it’s something that’s more in the background and pops up every now and again. Paige’s main concern is trying to work out where she is in the world – should she leave her marriage? What job can she do now? In Coolabah Creek, she finds herself relaxing and becoming more accepting. The family ties were a bit of a puzzle at first – I thought there might be something more between Paige and Aiden, but once another character appears, you’ll understand what the hints meant from earlier in the book.

I found the story a bit slow to start, as I didn’t really understand which direction the book was heading in but once Alice appeared, describing more of her and Nancy’s history, I was engrossed. (Each chapter is told from a different point of view – mainly Paige and Alice, but with inputs from Aiden and a couple of others). I loved the way Jenn entwined the past and present into the mystery of Nancy’s youth. Once the secret was revealed, the story didn’t lose momentum – if anything it cranked it up a few notches! The hurt and anguish turns into a race against time as Paige must work out where and with whom her loyalty lies. There are a few co-incidences that are very timely, but hey, that’s the magic of fiction.

I raced through the last 150 pages of this book – the story is that compelling. Persevere with the first 50 pages and you’ll find you are reading a winner that is not only well-written but captures the heart of family and friendship.