Walker, Wendy (2019) The Night Before. St Martin’s Press. Rosie has spent most of her life worrying about her younger sister Laura. Laura is emotionally fragile, her life haunted by tragedy, but with an abiding desire for love and happiness. Rosie’s peaceful family life is turned upside down when broken-hearted Laura returns to live with her. Laura is determined to take another chance on love and arranges an internet date. When Laura does not return home from her date Rosie fears the worst. She not only fears what the date may have done to Laura, but also what Laura may have done to him. Fast-paced thriller. Rating: 7.5/10.
Haywood, Sarah (2018) The Cactus. Two Roads. Forty-five year old Susan Green lives her best life – she has everything she wants, the way she wants it. There is no room in her life for messy or intimate relationships. When her mother dies and she finds herself pregnant her life becomes a whole lot messier. As we watch her bloom we are reminded of The Rosie Project and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. An uncompromising tale of an independent woman whose emotionally cloistered life is lovingly and humorously disrupted. Loved it. Rating: 8.5/10.
Marchetta, Melina (2019) The Place on Dalhousie. Viking. Rosie first meets Jimmy, ‘who looks like Jesus in Orange SES overalls,’ in a flood ravaged small Queensland town. Rosie has escaped grief-stricken from Sydney and the family home on Dalhousie. As the story unfolds Rosie is back home living with her estranged step-mother, Martha, in a house they both lay claim to, and is now the mother of Toto. Then Jimmy renters her life. This is a tale of loss and bitterness, and of the healing power of friends and family. A warm big-hearted read with a large cast of characters. Rating: 8/10.
Mina, Denise (2019) Conviction. Harvill Secker. Anna is obsessed by true-crime podcasts. On the morning her husband leaves her she is distracted by the mystery of multiple murders and a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean. She thinks she knows what happened. As she throws herself into investigating this dark crime her past and present lives collide. This book has received accolades, but I could not engage in its confused and messy storyline. I persevered through to the end though. Rating: 7/10.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell (2016) Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning of the American Right. The New Press. Written on the cusp of the Trump era. Hochschild journeys deep into arch-conservative Louisiana bayou country to ‘deeply’ listen to the ardent defenders of free market capitalism amidst a degraded environment. She finds resentment, betrayal, and fear of liberals and the federal government; a sense of ‘waiting in line’ for the American Dream. Every story is personal. An important book to understand the deep paradoxes and divides in the American democracy. Brilliantly thought-provoking narrative, explored with compassion and empathy. Rating: 9.5/10.
Doshi, Tishani (2019) Small Days and Nights. Bloomsbury. On her mother’s death Grace finds herself the heir to an unexpected inheritance – a blue shuttered pink house by the sea in Tamil Nadu, and Lucia, her Downs Syndrome sister, who has spent her life in a residential facility. Grace sets up house in isolated Paramankeni with Lucia, a housekeeper, and an ever increasing number of dogs. As chaos descends Grace struggles with disaffection, belonging and the sacrifices she has made. A lyrical and unnerving tale of modern India. Rating: 9/10.
Bailey, Sarah (2019) Where the Dead Go. Allen & Unwin. In the Australian coastal town of Fairhaven a fifteen-year girl goes missing, and the following morning her boyfriend is found murdered. DS Gemma Woodstock, in her third outing, volunteers to head the investigation following a personal tragedy. As she tries to manage her son’s grief and her own demons Gemma doggedly searches for answers. Who would want two teenagers dead? A multi-layered police procedural. Bailey is fast becoming one of the genre’s best. Riveting. Rating: 9/10.
Gilbert, Elizabeth (2019) City of Girls. Bloomsbury. Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris drops out of her Ivy League college and is banished to New York by her despairing parents. Her talents with a needle soon give her a job transforming trash into costumes for showgirls at her aunt’s run-down revue theatre. In the glamorous theatre world of World War II-era Manhattan Vivian wildly casts off the moral constraints of her upbringing. When the fall comes she finally discovers self-knowledge and self-sufficiency. This is a big but unrewarding story of a shallow woman who is “neither important nor interesting”. Needed staying power to complete. Rating: 7/10.
Cheng. Melanie (2019) Room for a Stranger. Text Publishing. Seventy-five year old Meg lives alone with her African grey parrot, Atticus. Meg craves company after her house is broken into by an intruder. She signs up for a homestay. Andy Chan, a second-year biomedical student from Hong Kong, is grappling with study and financial pressures, parental expectations, and isolation. This tale of alienation alternates between the perspectives of the two main characters. A gentle and touching story of two awkward, and very different, people who find unexpected friendship. Rating: 8/10.