The Art of Preserving Love by Ada Langton

‘Edie had a plan. She’d written it in her notebook and once something was written in her notebook, Edie knew it would happen.’

This novel opens in Ballarat, on Sunday 5 November 1905. Edie Cottingham is 19 years old, living with her parents. While some of the local gossips consider Edie too outspoken, too modern and too stubborn to get a husband, Edie’s plan is to marry Theo Hooley. Theo plays the organ at the church Edie and her family attend. He’s a quiet man, a veteran of the Boer War. Edie and Theo form an understanding, and Theo will visit the Cottingham home to ask Paul Cottingham for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Theo’s mother, Lilly, is delighted.

But Edie’s mother dies, leaving Paul with a new daughter, Gracie, and Edie with a new set of responsibilities. How can Edie marry Theo, and leave?

Theo is patient. He’s prepared to wait for Edie. Every Sunday at three, he calls on Edie, with a rose. Every Sunday, Edie refuse to walk around the lake with him. Every Sunday, Theo decides to wait longer. Many in the town are fascinated. How long will Theo wait? Will Edie change her mind as Gracie becomes older? It seems like Theo is prepared to wait for ever. But Theo and Edie are not the only characters in this novel and theirs are not the only stories to be told. Lives are about to be changed, first by an unexpected event and then by the onset of the Great War.

This novel spans the period from 1905 to 1924, and the story will take some unexpected turns. Beth, the Cottingham’s maidservant will make several critical decisions, and Gracie will continue to charm everyone with her delightful smile. Theo will leave Australia to fight in the Great War, other characters will enter the story.

This is not a typical romance, although there are certainly romantic elements. Patience is a central theme, as is a sense of duty and family obligation. The world changes in many ways during and after the Great War and people change as well.

‘A week could be a very long time. It could take from one Sunday afternoon to the following Saturday and a whole life could be lived in the middle.’

There are so many components to this story, so many pieces that fit together. I’m finding it difficult to assemble the right words to do the novel justice. At times I was frustrated by decisions made, by inaction (so often followed by dutiful reaction) that I thought I’d stop reading. Then an image would take and hold my attention, or there’d be a reminder of life in regional centres when two of my grandparents were of a similar age to Edie. And once again I’d be swept up in the novel. Just when I thought I’d worked it out, there’s be another twist to negotiate.

This is by no means a straightforward romance, but it is an interesting (if at times frustrating) and ultimately rewarding read.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2018

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Escape to Paradise Island by Trish Ollman

‘Come to Paradise Island and leave your cares behind .’

Anna, Sue, Bianca and Rachael each see an advertisement for Paradise Island, a luxury resort in tropical North Queensland. Each of the women has a different reason for seeing a holiday on Paradise Island as attractive. Anna, in her early 60s, sees an opportunity to rekindle romance in her marriage to Ken. Sue, about to turn 50, is single after a failed marriage and wonders if she’ll ever experience romantic love. Bianca, just married, hopes that a romantic holiday will help her husband Joel overcome problems with intimacy. Rachael and her husband Harry have not had a holiday alone in ten years of marriage: an opportunity for a holiday without their three children would be marvellous!

Will they all find what they are seeking on Paradise Island? Will a week of sand, sex and sun change their lives?

There’s a lot to like in Ms Ollman’s novel and while certain aspects are predictable, that’s part of the comfort of an escapist read. It’s a quick, easy read, even though it’s over 400 pages. But, like many self-published novels, it really needs editing. It is one thing to substitute ‘ridicules’ for ‘ridiculous’, to have a ‘fibular’ instead of a ‘fibula’, to have ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ but when occasionally ‘Harry’ becomes ‘Jack’, ‘Lily’ becomes ‘Ruby’ and ‘’Bianca’ is referred to as ‘Rachael’ it becomes annoying. I chuckled at ‘ante depressants’ but I’m fairly sure that it was really ‘anti depressants’. And while ‘making love to venerable women’ could be a worthy objective, making love to vulnerable women wouldn’t be. What do you think?

Does editing matter if the story is good? It does to me, and if it does to you, then you may also find aspects of this novel irritating. Consider this sentence, quoted as written:

‘She’d see a load of different area’s Yellow Pages in Reception and decided she would go there after lunch and look up a Specialist, if they had a Sydney copy.’ (pages 223-224)

The problem for me is that once I start focussing on poor editing, it jerks me out of the story and reduces my enjoyment of it. Not very romantic. But I am keen to find ‘Thingwall Beach’ near Wollongong (although I wonder if it’s really ‘Thirroul’). Ms Ollman has set the book up nicely for another romantic instalment and, yes, I will probably read it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2018

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

‘The journalists arrived before the coffin did.’

Clad in black, Chancellor Corvus Crow reads a statement to the journalists. He advises that his daughter Morrigan is dead and now there is ‘nothing to fear’. Poor Morrigan: one of the cursed children, born on Eventide, doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. That’s when all the cursed children die.

And, having remarked Morrigan’s death, the story opens three days earlier:

‘The kitchen cat was dead, and Morrigan was to blame.’

Morrigan is blamed for all local misfortunes: it’s the fate of the cursed children. But worse than that, at least from Morrigan’s perspective, is the knowledge that she will die on her eleventh birthday, just three days away.

Just before midnight on her eleventh birthday, as Morrigan awaits her fate, the enigmatic Jupiter North appears. Jupiter, with his fiery red hair and clad in a brightly coloured suit, has come to take Morrigan to safety. Jupiter is hotly pursued by black-smoke hounds and hunters on horseback, but manages to transport Morrigan to the secret, magical city of Nevermoor. Her family believe that she is dead.

Morrigan discovers that she can only stay in Nevermoor if she wins a place in the Wundrous Society. Five hundred children are competing for the nine places available, and the competition will involve four difficult trials. Morrigan is the first child Jupiter North has ever sponsored in these trials, and everyone is interested in why. Morrigan is sure that she doesn’t have the extraordinary talent required, but if she can’t stay in Nevermoor then she will be sent home where she will die.

I loved this novel. I’m recommending it to all of my friends and family members with children, or with an inner child who’d enjoy Morrigan’s journey. Morrigan is a special hero: a cursed and unwanted child, facing both a dangerous competition and at least one secret enemy. But she finds friends as well, in the Hotel Deucalion, so brilliantly managed by Fenestra the Magnificat. Meet Frank the dwarf vampire (the only one in Nevermoor) as well as some of the other children (both nice and awful) with whom Morrigan is competing. There’s so much to like about this novel: the world is nicely imagined – ‘Step Boldly!’ indeed. I’m looking forward to reading the second instalment later this year.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2018

Good Money by J.M. Green

‘My bedroom. Population: one. I was horizontal under the covers imitating sleep, when my mobile buzzed .’

Meet Stella Hardy, a social worker in her forties, working in the western suburbs of Melbourne. Stella works with the Western Outer-Region Migrant Support Unit (WORMS) which is short of funds, but not of clients. A familiar story. Stella was in a relationship with a married man. But now the relationship is over, and Stella is finding some solace in wine and whisky. Another familiar story.

But back to the 4 am phone call. It’s Mrs Chol, one of Stella’s clients. Her son has been murdered. Stella heads over to Mrs Chol’s housing commission flat (which she notes is bigger than hers and has better views of the city) to offer solace. While there, Stella makes a discovery which worries her.

Back home, Stella discovers that her neighbour Tania has disappeared. Tania’s disappearance is out of character, but as Stella quickly discovers, there’s a lot that she didn’t know about Tania. Others are looking for Tania as well.

As she tries to both find Tania and make sense of the Chol boy’s murder, Stella seeks the assistance of her friend Senior Constable Phuong Nguyen. From this stage on, there’s plenty of action.
I enjoyed the humour in this novel: who else would have a corrupt police minister launching a new initiative named ‘Justice Uniting Neighbourhood Knowledge with Inter-Agency Expertise’ (JUNKIE) and have a really bad guy known as ‘Mr Funsail’? And, just if Stella’s life isn’t complicated enough, her brother (fresh from gaol) comes to stay.

This is a very busy story, and while I questioned some of Stella’s choices and wondered about how various aspects tied together, I enjoyed the read. Stella Hardy is an intriguing protagonist, and I’m looking forward to reading the second book in this series.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2018

The Naturalist’s Daughter by Téa Cooper

‘We must always record our evidence.  It’s the only way.’

In 1808 at Agnes Banks in NSW, a young Rose Winton is fascinated by her father’s work.  Charles Winton is a naturalist, studying the platypus (or mallangong, as it is known by the local indigenous people).  Charles Winton has been corresponding with Sir Joseph Banks, then President of the Royal Society, about the mysterious animal.  Charles Winton’s ground-breaking research, accompanied by sketches, provides much more information about the platypus than anyone else has yet documented.  Charles Winton is invited to present his findings to the Royal Society but becomes ill and is unable to sail to London.  He sends Rose in his place: there are family connections Rose can turn to.

‘‘Ask all the questions you can think of and remember the Royal Society motto—Nullius in Verba.’

Take no one’s word for it.’’

In 1908 in Sydney, NSW, Tamsin Alleyn is a young woman working at the Public Library.  She’s sent to Wollombi in the Hunter Valley to retrieve an old sketch book which has been gifted to the Library by an elderly woman.    The journal is said to belong to Charles Winton, and if it’s genuine, it may be of great significance.

Two stories, separated by a century.  Two young women, much more independent than is usual for the times.  Two mysteries to be explained.  While the reader will quickly understand where the sketchbook came from, the question of ownership needs to be resolved, as does how the sketchbook ended up in Wollombi.  For part of the story, the reader has more information than Tamsin.  I was engrossed by this stage: I wanted to know how Tamsin would trace the history of the sketchbook.  I wanted to find the links between 1808 and 1908: what happened to Rose, and what about the presentation to the Royal Society?

To write more about the story could spoil it. There is more than one mystery in this novel (in both 1808 and 1908) as well as an occasional melodramatic flourish to hold the reader’s attention.  I really enjoyed the characters of both Rose and Tamsin, and the way in which Ms Cooper presented this story.

This is the first of Ms Cooper’s novels I have read, but it certainly won’t be the last!

 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

 

#AWW2018

The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle

‘We will not live long enough to live forever .’

In a post-energy-crisis world, hovering on the brink of collapse, Pitcairn Island is sinking into the Pacific Ocean. In this world, where catastrophe is reality, it is also our most popular form of entertainment. Meet Max Galleon. Married with two children, Max is not just a filmmaker, but the world’s foremost director of immersive virtual-reality catastrophe blockbusters: an auteur. But for all this, Max lives a life he cannot remember. And, if you can’t remember your life, then how can you tell what is real? Every experience is new, or is it?

EcoLaw is enforced, through its avatars such as Pow-Pow the Power-Saving Panda, assisted by armies of children just like Max’s daughter Lilly. This is close enough to our reality to be uncomfortably recognisable, just far enough away for the edges to be blurred. Max’s son Jonas, spends much of his time playing a simulation game set on Pitcairn Island with a friend online. And what about Max’s wife Eloise?

‘Goodbye, Max Galleon,’ farewells the elevator. ‘Always remember, sustainability is the key. You are a man who can make a difference.’

‘I leave no footprints as I step out into the world .’

Don’t expect every aspect of this novel to make sense: it doesn’t. But keep reading, because the absence of sense is a little like Max’s memory: apparently unnecessary. Especially when you are as networked as Max is.

‘It’s always much easier to measure complexity than it is to understand it .’

The story shifts between present and past, real and imagined. It’s complicated by what Max thinks he knows, by the film he is trying to make with Jean, his attempts to engage with his wife and children. And, in the meantime, while Max is trying to help his brother who is in a coma, obsessing about the state of his marriage and editing his out-sourced memories, the water level continues to rise.

Jonas is concerned:

‘We’ve lost another 0.00012,’ he says. ‘The world is ending and all you want to do is watch movies .’

How will it end? You’ll need to read it for yourself to find out. It’s a dystopian comedy of sorts, a look at a world where actual reality is so dire that escapism into imagined catastrophe is somehow better. How ironic. Or is it?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2018

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong

‘The end of a life was a disappointingly small moment that hung on the final exhalation of a breath.’

Halina Shore and her mother emigrated to Australia from Poland in the late 1940s, after World War II.  Halina knows that she was born in 1939 but knows little else of her background.  Her mother, Zosia, has never spoken about Halina’s father, about her family or life in Poland.    And when her mother dies, she leaves little behind.

Halina is a forensic dentist, living in Sydney with her cat Puccini, when she is approached to be part of a forensic team investigating the site of a Jewish massacre in Poland.  While relatively comfortable in Sydney, Halina seems restless and unsettled.  Perhaps a visit to her country of birth might enable her to reconnect with her past?

Halina travels to Nowa Kalwaria in Poland, and finds a community divided over the investigation into the massacre. Many believe (or want to) that the Jews were killed by the Germans after the Russians left Poland.  What would be the purpose in exhuming them?  But what of the suspicion that the Jews were killed by the local villagers?

‘Halina glanced around the site.  Somewhere in this dark soil, among the skulls and skeletons, criminology intersected with history, religion, sociology and psychology.’

Ms Armstrong approaches the investigation from two intertwined timelines.  There are the events of 1941 leading to the massacre, and the present-day investigation.  There are those in the present who think that the past can remain hidden, and there are those who’ve waited a long time to tell what they know.  Learning the truth will not be easy for either the investigators or the villagers?

And for Halina?

I found this novel utterly absorbing.  I also found the novel unbearably sad at times, with it’s reminders of unspeakable cruelty.  But there are uplifting moments as well: courageous individuals who did their best against overwhelming odds.  This novel, inspired by an event in Poland, is part history, part mystery and part forensic investigation.  It explores both the rational objectivity of science and the irrational (at times) subjectivity of human behaviour.

This is a novel worth reading.  Yes, it’s uncomfortable and confronting to be reminded of atrocity whether fact or fiction.  But ignoring atrocity or pretending it hasn’t happened is far worse.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2018