On The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

A few weeks ago I went to Canberra for a conference. While I was there I stopped in at the Paperchain Bookshop in Manuka. Manuka is lovely, full of cafes selling on-trend smashed avocado and extreme milkshakes. Paperchain fits in well among them, and as always, I sought relief in there after a couple days of information overload at the conference.

What is it about bookshops that have such a calming influence? A part of me wonders why I don’t get overwhelmed by all those books I haven’t read yet (so many books, so little time!), but instead the sight of all those possible reads lined up to greet me just makes me sigh with happiness. Hopefully I don’t sound crazy writing this; there must be others who get such joy out of fresh new books, right? Right?

Anyway, I spent a little time browsing and picked up a copy of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. I thought about reading this when it was released here in 2014, but I didn’t have such a penchant for slow-burning, psychological crime back then (I’m still not  quite sure why I’ve developed such an interest lately). I know many, many people enjoyed it though and I will quite happily get right on the bandwagon.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a multi-layered tale about Marcus Goldman, a young author whose fame reached epic heights when he released his first book. He is now trying to write his second, and suffering horribly from that cursed disease, writer’s block. The pressure and expectation is getting to him, to say the least. When his old-friend and mentor Harry Quebert is arrested for the murder of a 15 year old girl who had disappeared more than 30 years earlier, he sets out to Harry’s town – Somerset, New England – in search of answers. He begins to write, recording interviews with the towns-people, retracing the events of the night, and clue by tiny clue, the story slowly unfurls.

The book was certainly entertaining, although it was hard to like Marcus – he seemed so arrogant that much head-shaking and eye-rolling on my part ensued, and Harry Quebert wasn’t much better! I’m also always a little bit amazed when it is so easy for a character to follow the police force around and write about it in real-time. It seems unlikely to me (and a bit of an easy device to keep the plot moving), but I could be wrong. Maybe there are thousands of police out there with wannabe writers hanging onto their every word?

Despite this, Harry Quebert was a great novel. I wanted to know what happened, and I was turning the pages late into the night to find out how all the pieces fit together. It’s an easy, utterly readable book that deserves its success.

Amanda x  

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On long weekend reads and optimism

We’re just at the start of a long weekend here in Australia and, as always, the most important thing to have sorted for such an event is our TBR pile. We’ve been scouring the bookshops for weeks to get ready for four days off work and some serious reading time (you need to be optimistic about these things!).

We always have many, many, books lined up for these mini-breaks because we just don’t know what we will be in the mood for. Do you find this? It’s like going to the supermarket the day before they close for public holidays. You have to stock up just to make sure that you have plenty to pick from! That could just be us though…we’re probably a bit odd. But maybe you feel the same? It’s always nice to feel we’re among friends.

So, we know we won’t get through all of these, but this is what we’ve got ready to go this long weekend:

Jody

The Midnight Watch – David Dyer: When I found out this book was about the Titanic, I  wanted to read it straight away. I know we all know what happened to the Titanic, but I have never read about about it (or watched the movie) so I am really looking forward to this one.

Wild Light – Robyn Mundy: I picked this one up simply because it is a new book by an Australian author and I love to support as many Australian authors as I can.

The Light on the Water – Olga Lorenzo: I can’t actually remember where I came across this book all I knew is that after reading the blurb I really wanted to read it.

The Edge of Lost – Kristina McMorris: I loved the cover on this one! Then I read the recommendation on the front cover and I was even more intrigued.

The Life of Elves – Muriel Barbery: This one is by the same author who wrote ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ which I haven’t read but I know was very popular. So I decided to pick it up and give it a go.

 Amanda

The Mitford Girls – Mary S. Lovell: I’ve been listening to ‘Chat 10, Looks 3’ with Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales and they recommend this book. It’s a little outside my comfort zone, but I’m ready to give it a try!

Small Acts of Disappearance – Fiona Wright: Essays on hunger which sound fascinating, albeit a bit confronting. One from the Stella Prize Short List, although I first saw it on Kate Forsyth’s blog and have been meaning to dip into it for ages!

The Lyre Thief – Jennifer Fallon: My wonderful mum bought this one for me from her local bookshop, and I’m always keen for a new fantasy series. Hopefully it’s as good as it sounds.

The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante: I enjoyed My Brilliant Friend and I’ve heard the second title title in the series is even better so fingers crossed.

Emperor of the Eight Islands – Lian Hearn: I actually never read Hearn’s well-known Tales of the Otori series, but I have loved her other fiction titles so I picked this one up out of curiosity. Maybe I will love it so much I will have to go back and read the others!

What do you have on your TBR pile at the moment? Any recommendations?

 Jody & Amanda x

On Hope Farm by Peggy Frew

A couple of weeks ago Amanda and I thought it would be a good idea to pick a book to read from the Stella Prize long list (before the shortlist was announced). But as usual, whenever I feel like I have to read something, I never can. In the end, I didn’t even look at the long list and I read a couple other great books.

Then last week, just before the shortlist was announced, I finally decided to have a look and see if I could find something I wanted to read. I picked Hope Farm by Peggy Frew. Why did I pick this particular book? Well I liked the cover and then after reading the blurb I thought it was a book I would really enjoy; I like books that are told from a child’s perspective.

Hope Farm tells the story of 13 year old Silver growing up and surviving in a world where adults (even her mother Ishtar) seem to forget Silver is a child and needs love and attention.

Even before I finished the book I couldn’t stop talking about it. I was tweeting madly letting everyone know how much I was enjoying it. Now, the question I ask myself is why? Is it enough just to say it had a good story with believable characters? No it’s not, because that wouldn’t be doing the book justice.

Hope Farm was an amazing book that grabbed me right from the start. I was a bit worried the literary style (lots of descriptive words) would be a bit over the top, but it wasn’t. It only intensified the emotions I was feeling reading Silver and Ishtar’s story. I could so very clearly see their lives and share their feelings. Throughout the story there were times when I had knots in my stomach and had so many thoughts and emotions running through my head that I had to stop and take a break from reading. I think Peggy Frew is a great writer to be able to describe characters and emotions the way she did in Silver and Ishtar. I loved the way both Silver and Ishtar got to tell their own stories, it helped create a better understanding of how they got to where they were.

Hope Farm is the book I am going to make everyone read this year and it will go in my special pile of books – the ones I keep and re-read.

Thank you Peggy Frew for writing a wonderful story that is still occupying my thoughts well after finishing it. I am even sitting here looking at the cover while I write thinking, should I just read a few chapters?

As you may have already guessed I am going to give this book a 5/5 rating.

Jody

On Diane Chamberlain and finding and falling for established authors

You’re not going to believe this, but I have read four Diane Chamberlain books since the start of the year (and that doesn’t even include the two novellas I also read). Don’t you find that sometimes you just suddenly find an author and want to keep reading everything he or she has ever written? It’s so exciting when you discover they have a huge backlist you can go through.

Here’s a summary of what I’ve read:

The Silent Sister

This was the first Diane Chamberlain title I picked up. It had everything a good story needs; an interesting story line, likeable characters and a mystery. The main character, Riley, had always believed her sister committed suicide as a teenager, but suddenly it becomes clear that isn’t the case. Where is she? Why did she run? The story was actually entirely predictable – it was clear what was going to happen very early on. For me though, this didn’t detract from the enjoyment. I became emotionally invested in the characters and wanted to know more!

I didn’t want come to the end of this book, so I read it slowly to enjoy every bit.  As soon as I finished, I went straight to the library shelves and borrowed as many Diane Chamberlain books as I could find.

Reflection

After reading The Silent Sister and the blurb for Reflection, I thought I wasn’t going to like this one so much, but I was pleasantly surprised. Reflection is set in Pennsylvania Dutch country and is the story of Rachel, who is returning home after 20 years away. She is the one person most of the town blames for a tragedy that happened before she left.

I loved the descriptions of the surrounding countryside and the small-town way of life. Even the minor characters were well thought out, even though you only get to meet them briefly.

Reflection deals with some heavier issues – particularly those of returning war veterans – which added some real depth to the story.

Pretending to Dance

Pretending to Dance is really interesting, a story that switches between the main character as an adult, and her perspective when she was a child. I found you could really sense the child that she had been in the adult text, if that makes sense, and I loved that we were given the child’s perspective.

This one is a family saga about a couple living in San Diego. They are trying to adopt a baby and the process they must go through is fascinating. The book asked that interesting question – would you want your adopted child to be able to contact their birth parent and vice versa?

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes

I thought I wouldn’t be able to read this one. The main character, CeeCee is young and gullible, easily convinced by her older partner that she should participate in a kidnapping. The story felt a bit typical, and predictable. It didn’t matter though because I already felt a vested interest in CeeCee and I liked the character so much I had to keep going. It was worth it!

I read two novellas as well! The Broken String – a prequel to The Silent Sister and The Dance Begins – a prequel to Pretending to Dance. Even though I’d read the books, I loved them so much I just had to know more, so I was happy to find these forerunners online.

So, why do I like Diane Chamberlain so much? I’ve read some Lesley Pearce books and other authors who write in a similar style, and they’re okay. I think what makes Chamberlain stand out though is that she has developed her characters so well and you just have to find out what happens to them.

Amanda asked me which was my favourite, and it’s so hard to choose, but I think it was Pretending to Dance. They were all really good though!

Diane isn’t a literary author, so don’t go into her books thinking it will be like that, they’re very light and easy to read. Great if you just want a quick escape!

Jody

On a Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

Okay. So I should say straight out that I picked up this book expecting not to like it very much. For some reason the cover appealed to me (and yes, I regularly judge books by their covers – why not, I say? A lot of thought and effort has gone into them), but I haven’t enjoyed crime novels much in the past. I will also admit I have been a tad obsessed with the TV series Broadchurch lately. It turns out I love slowly simmering, drawn-out story development (which was a bit of a revelation), not to mention all those moody camera shots of the Devonshire coast. Of course, being me, I went looking for the book equivalent in order to fuel this current obsession. I thought A Banquet of Consequences might be it, and for the most part I was right.

A Banquet of Consequences is definitely a slow burn. I’m used to those hectic-paced, blockbuster crime books like Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and Before I Go to Sleep, so this kind of gradually unfolding psychological plot was a really new format for me.

The novel is about a suicide and later a poisoning, and the way in which they impact the families central to the story. You know the events are connected somehow, and the miniscule links unfurl slowly, oh so slowly, before reaching an end that is somewhat anticlimactic after all that context. It doesn’t really matter though because the enjoyment is in the beauty of the writing. Elizabeth George’s depictions of the English countryside left me doing a little happy dance in my head, and trying to find an excuse to fly and visit these richly-portrayed areas as soon as possible.

I have to admit though, I really struggled to keep track of all the characters. There were just so many and it greatly affected my ability to keep on top of the plot. Caroline, Clare, Rory, Charlie, India, Barbara, Lily, Alastair, Tommy, Sumalee, Francis, Isabelle, Sharon, they just kept coming and coming and coming, and each time there was a change in voice I would be thrown off, thinking ‘what is this person’s story again?’

However, I realised (somewhat embarrassingly) about half way through that this is Elizabeth George’s nineteenth book in a series about the two featured detectives Barbara Havers and Thomas Lynley. Which explains a lot. Loyal George readers would be entirely familiar with some of these characters and so be used to them popping in and out of the story. But I had no idea. I felt like a bit of a dingbat (wait, does anyone even say that anymore?) to tell you the truth.

So, I plan to redeem myself by reading other titles in the series, because there are many implied story lines in this one that could be more fully appreciated through a better understanding of the characters involved. Any suggestions?

Amanda x

On the Baileys Prize and women who rock

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist was announced on Tuesday this week, International Women’s Day. You can see the full list here.

Like the Stella Prize, the Baileys Prize celebrates outstanding female fiction writers. However the Stella focuses on Australian writers, whereas the Baileys Prize is an international award. This year, over half the list are debut authors and the judges were “delighted with the quality, the imaginative scope and the ambition of our chosen books…”

I am definitely adding some of these to my TBR pile, but I wanted to write a little about four books on the list that had an enormous impact on me last year.

Kate Atkinson: A God in Ruins

Like so many people, I read Life After Life when it was released in 2013 and thought, like so many people, it was spectacular. When A God in Ruins was released last year I was waiting impatiently for it to hit the shelves at my local bookstore.

It’s a different book to Life After Life, so don’t go into it expecting it to be anything like that book. But you can go into it expecting the same well-researched, well-crafted story and that lovely, descriptive writing style. The book made me think so deeply about that period in history and I while I have read many books about World War II, seeing it from the perspective of a RAF Bomber pilot was a new experience for me.

A God of Ruins is one of the very few books I have ever read the acknowledgements of (I know, slack really, but that’s how much I didn’t want it to end), and I am so glad I did because it added an extra layer of depth to the story. But seriously, how does she manage to write even her acknowledgements so beautifully?

Sara Novic: Girl at War

I was only a small child when civil war broke out across Yugoslavia, so this book was an eye-opener for me. We didn’t study this war at school, in fact, I had hardly heard anything about it at all until I started working with an ex-Yugoslavian who came out to Australia after the war. It seems strange to me now that so little mention of it was made when it was a war that was still being fought when I was in primary school.

Girl at War looks at the influence of the conflict on one girl, Ana, who is ten years old when war breaks out. Through her lens we are given insight into what it was like for children, at a time when air-raid drills and sniper fire were a part of daily life. When Ana suddenly finds herself alone, she must fight or die and of course, she choses to fight.

Novic writes this book simply, without lengthy descriptions or drawn-out dialogue. It’s a page-turner, certainly, and like all books that I love, it taught me something, and gave me insight into a time I knew so little about. I am grateful for that.

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life

What can I say about this book? I think Marieke Hardy put it best when it was chosen as one of the ABC Book Club’s top 5 reads for the year. She said that A Little Life was more than just a book for her, it was a profound life experience. It was the same for me. When I was reading this book, I could think of nothing else. It was on the desk next to me at work, just so I could glance at it through the day. After I finished it I was left with a deep feeling of loss, and it was many days before I could pick up another book – which is absolutely unheard of for me.

It is a divisive book. I have friends who just couldn’t read it, some because the subject matter is so intense, others because it is a story about four men and any female characters are largely on the periphery. But for me it was an absolute standout for 2015. Read it, if you dare.

Geraldine Brooks: A Secret Chord

I always love Geraldine Brooks books, and I often recommend them to friends who just want a great, engrossing read. Her journalistic background gives her this amazing ability to fill in the gaps between historical facts and weave a story that is so detailed and so well-imagined, you want it to be real.

The Secret Chord isn’t my favourite Brooks book, but that’s more to do with the subject matter than anything else. I found it harder to be drawn into the story of King David, and harder to follow than her other books. Despite this, her writing is engaging enough to keep you on track, and I enjoyed the unusual narrative (through his biographer) because it allowed for some questioning of King David’s character, rather than just a chronology of his life.

So, I really just wanted to take a moment to appreciate the incredible talent of these four women, and the others on the list whose writing has made an impact on many lives (not just mine), and who deserve every accolade that comes their way. They open a window for us to lives and times we will never experience, and for that we can only be thankful.

Look out for the shortlist announcement on Monday 11 April, I just can’t fathom how they will choose!

Amanda x 

On Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

So, Amanda and I decided that we would try and read something from the Stella Prize long list. The shortlist will be released on the 10 of March and we wanted to write a post about it. Neither of us are too into ‘award-winning’ books because we like to read what we’re in the mood for and not necessarily what is ‘popular’, but there were some really interesting titles so we were pretty determined this time.

However, I may have gotten a little side-tracked by a book I picked up a few days ago called Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell. It is so captivating, and now I feel bad because I’m not sure I will be able to read a Stella Prize title before the shortlist is announced and Amanda has read two!

To be honest, I’ve already read a book about Emma of Normandy called The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick and I loved it. I kept it for years actually, even though it got dusty and I’m allergic to dust! I definitely read it multiple times. So I did have doubts about picking up another book on the same subject, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Shadow on the Crown has real depth. I’m not so into historical fiction that brushes over the detail and focuses on the romance so I was really glad that the detail and historical content was so well presented. You can tell she has definitely done her research and it pays off because it makes the characters real.

So, sorry Amanda, but I really need to finish this book so the Stella long list is all on you. I promise I will read one eventually!

Jody