1974, rural Queensland. Charlie Campbell and his sister Abby are driving to their father’s farm. Charlie, who has fallen asleep at the wheel, forces another car of the narrow, unlit road. They stop. When they realise that the heavily pregnant woman is dead, they drive away. They leave her on the ground, as heavy rain falls. They tell no-one.
The next day, they arrive at their father’s farm and learn that the dead woman, Skye, was their father’s fiancée. Charlie and Abby decide to tell no-one what has happened.
‘It will make my life worse, and possibly destroy the lives of everyone around me if I tell the truth.’
The narrative alternates between Charlie and Abby. Charlie, temporarily in Australia, usually lives in Bali. Abby is married to an investigative journalist and is a stay-at-home mother of three. Can they hide their involvement in Skye’s death? Charlie learns, from his father, that Skye had a five-year-old son who is on a commune with her abusive ex-partner. His father wants to rescue the boy and wants Abby to bring him up.
It’s a complicated story, set in the corrupt Queensland of the Bjelke-Petersen era. The characters are well-developed, and I kept turning the pages hoping for an outcome I could applaud. While I didn’t get that outcome and I ended up feeling no sympathy for any of the adult characters, I was completely caught up in the story. Unsettling and uncomfortable.
‘For every action there’s a reaction. Nothing and no one escapes that fact.’
Although alcohol initially helps us relax, after drinking, you can feel even more anxious. Alcohol releases chemicals in the brain that block anxiety. But our brain likes to be in balance. So after drinking, it reduces the amount of these chemicals to try to get back into pre-drinking balance, increasing feelings of anxiety.
People may also be drinking more alcohol to relieve the boredom that may come with staying at home without much to do.
Although the coronavirus is too new for us to know its exact interaction with alcohol, we know from other virus outbreaks drinking affects how your immune system works, making us more susceptible to virus infection.
So, if you have the coronavirus, or are at risk of contracting it, you should limit your alcohol intake to give your immune system the best chance of fighting it off. The same applies if you have influenza or the common cold this winter.
Alcohol affects your mood
Drinking can affect your mood, making you prone to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
This is because alcohol has a depressant effect on your central nervous system. But when you stop drinking and the level of alcohol in your blood returns to zero, your nervous system becomes overactive. That can leave you feeling agitated.
Once we start drinking, it’s hard to know when we’re relaxed enough. After one or two drinks, it’s easy to think “another won’t hurt”, “I deserve it”, or “I’ve had a huge day managing the kids and working from home, so why not?”.
But by increasing alcohol consumption over time, eventually it takes more alcohol to get to the same point of relaxation. Developing this kind of tolerance to alcohol can lead to dependence.
Monitor your thinking. It’s easy to think “What does it matter if I have an extra one or two?”. Any changes to your drinking habits now can become a pattern in the future.
How to manage stress without alcohol
If you are feeling anxious, stressed, down or bored, you’re not alone. But there are other healthier ways to manage those feelings.
If you catch yourself worrying, try to remind yourself this is a temporary situation. Do some mindfulness meditation or slow your breathing, distract yourself with something enjoyable, or practise gratitude.
Get as much exercise as you can. Exercise releases brain chemicals that make you feel good. Even if you can’t get into your normal exercise routine, go outside for a walk or run. Walk to your local shops to pick up supplies instead of driving.
Build in pleasant activities to your day. Even if you can’t do the usual activities that bring a smile to your face, think about some new things you might enjoy and make sure you do one of those things every day.
Remember, change doesn’t have to be negative. Novelty activates the dopamine system, our pleasure centre, so it’s a great time to try something new.
So enjoy a drink or two, but try not to go overboard and monitor your stress levels to give you the best chance to stay healthy.
If you are trying to manage your drinking, Hello Sunday Morning offers a free online community of more than 100,000 like-minded people. You can connect and chat with others actively managing their alcohol consumption.
‘He has not made a good death and I am in terror for his soul.’
England 1349. The Black Death is raging across the land. Martin Collyer, whose last memory was receiving the last rites, wakes up to find his father dead beside him. Martin is clutching a small statue of his family’s patron saint: Saint Cynryth. His father’s body, half sewn into his shroud, shows no sign of the plague. Martin decides that he must seek salvation for his father’s unconfessed soul: he will undertake a pilgrimage to Salster, which is where he understands Saint Cynryth’s shrine to be.
Martin sets off on his pilgrimage, accompanied by an opportunistic young man called Hob.
‘Not every corpse put in a pit has died of the plague.’
The story unfolds slowly, as befits a dangerous journey. Martin and Hob meet others, the statue of Saint Cynryth inviting attention along the way. Martin is both naïve and devout: which Hob seeks to take advantage of.
‘Nothing is as it was.’
This is a novel best read slowly, without spoilers. It’s easy, during the current COVID-19 pandemic afflicting much of the world, to imagine the fear endemic in the setting. It’s easy to appreciate that Martin wants to do what is right, even if it isn’t clear exactly what that might be.
This is the second of Ms Hawkins’s novels I have read, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
Cuthbert Close. The sort of neighbourhood where street parties are held each year. Where friendships are formed, and children play in the street. Three very different women have become close friends: Cara is a food stylist; Alex is a corporate lawyer and Beth is a stay-at-home mum. They are having their annual end of summer street party when a removalist’s truck drives into the close. The truck is headed to the vacant house at the end of the close: Charlie Devine and her teenage daughter Talia are moving in. And then there’s a storm, but that’s just the beginning…
Things start going wrong in Cuthbert Close: Beth is worried about her husband Max, Cara and her daughter Poppy are concerned about the future and Alex is finding it ever more challenging to juggle her responsibilities as the mother of twins with being a corporate lawyer.
‘Yesterday, I held a funeral for a guinea pig. I will not judge you.’
Beth, Cara and Alex establish a new business, but someone seems determined to sabotage them. Alex is offered her dream position, but there are domestic issues to consider. Beth is worried about her marriage, and Cara has parental expectations to meet (or avoid).
What does the future hold for these women in Cuthbert Close?
Contemporary issues (with an occasional twist) in middle class suburbia: issues that many of Ms Hamer’s readers will be able to relate to. I enjoyed this novel, the relationships between the main characters and the challenges they were trying to meet. There’s a wry humour in the storytelling which I really enjoyed.
‘The past is who we are, for better or worse.’
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin HQ Fiction for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
‘But we have to remember, it’s not up to us to change anyone’s lives, unless they ask.’
Babs has been cursed, and sometimes she’s invisible. Teachers and classmates often don’t see her. Iris grew from a seed in the ground and identifies as non-binary. One day, Iris can see Babs. Iris and Babs have a lot in common: they are both connected to the magic in the world around them.
This is a beautiful story of acceptance, identity and magic. Iris wants to help Babs have her curse removed. And while they are working out how, they meet a boy. The Boy hasn’t yet worked out who he is and doesn’t initially have his real name.
The three of them work together, exploring a magical world. Each of them has a parent or parents. Respectful, kind parents who care.
This is a wonderful YA book: Babs, Iris and The Boy look out for each other. Especially as Babs is drawn into The Realm, a magical dark place which they’ve been warned to stay away from. Can Babs find the witch who cursed her, and have the curse removed? Will The Boy find himself? Can Iris hang onto their friends?
Ms Evans writes:
‘I want people to know about gender euphoria. I want them to learn about it before gender dysphoria. I want young trans kids that will read this book to be proud of who they are, and imagine wonderful magic lives for themselves.’