Friday, 26 April 2013

Aussie Book Review: Mine to Avenge by Kerry Letheby

As part of Kerry Letheby's Blog Tour for her novel Mine to Avenge, I have the pleasure of being chosen as her "swan song" post.

Born at Loxton in South Australia's Riverland region, most of Kerry's childhood friends were found within the pages of books in the school library where she spent most of her time.  She developed a particular love for historical fiction, in which the origins of her writing are deeply rooted in this time, and loved stories in which the characters demonstrated inspirational courage.

When she left school, she wanted to be an artist or writer, but her well-meaning father told her that neither of those would pay the rent and encouraged her to be a teacher instead.  She did teach for some years in both the public and private sectors, giving birth to three sons along the way and moving from teacher to home-schooling mother for a few years, thereafter going into full-time pastoral care.

Her next career shift was working as a rehabilitation worker in the Mental Health sector, followed by a short stint in aged care in the respite sector.  Kerry currently works as a Case Manager in a "Parenting After Separation" program, a job she loves and is very passionate about.

Now living in Mt Gambier in South Australia's Limestone Coast region, Kerry spends her spare time pursuing her writing and other creative outlets, such as calligraphy, which have been on the back-burner for many years.

Yesterday, Kerry was a guest over at Rebecca Berto's a Novel Girl Blog, discussing the subject of "Building Fictional Characters and Making Them Real".  Please feel free to head on over to hear what Kerry had to say by clicking here.

A full schedule of Mine to Avenge's April 2013 book tour is here.

Mine to AvengeThe Blurb

“When Alcandor is blamed for the tragic death of his friend’s sister in Greece in 1940, little does he know of the repercussions this will have for him and his family for the next seventy years.  Unable to forgive himself, and wanting to give his young family a new start, Alcandor leaves Greece and brings his family to settle in the Riverland of South Australia in 1948.  Although Greece and his past are far behind him, Alcandor harbours a terrible secret and he remains a fearful man.

Alcandor subdues his fear, and he and his family adapt to an idyllic life of freedom and opportunity.  However, eighteen years after leaving Greece, Alcandor learns that his past has caught up with him.  His family needs to know the truth, but circumstances tragically intervene before he can warn them.

Years later, Alcandor's sons show signs of odd behaviour hinting at possible mental instability, before disappearing without a trace.  And in the next generation, Alcandor's grandson exhibits the same strange behaviour not long before he is killed in the tragedy of September 11, 2001.  It is not until 2010 that Alcandor's great-granddaughter, Alethea, discovers that there is far more behind her family's tragic history than mental illness, and little does she know that the threat against her family is much closer than she realises, and very far from over."

Summary and Thoughts

When one woman discovers a decades old family secret, leading to a vendetta of epic proportions, she will need all the help she can get to uncover the truth, but the power to end it rests in one man!

Two-thousand, nine hundred and ninety six people died on 11 September 2001 as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the United States of America.

Whilst this novel doesn’t weigh us down with much detail on the events of that fateful day twelve years ago, it does play an integral part in the tragedy surrounding the mysterious disappearance of a son, brother, husband and father who begins to exhibit the same peculiar symptoms of mental illness which befell his grandfather, father and uncles, symptoms which manifest themselves in the form of extreme protectiveness bordering on paranoia with regard to the safety of their wives and children, resulting in unexplained disappearances.

While we are introduced to all members of the Galanos family, only some of these members share their version of events, shifting easily between past and present and giving us glimpses into their lives and memories.

The story begins to unravel when Nicholas, Alcandor’s grandson, husband of Nina and father of young Alethea and Mila begins exhibiting the same peculiar signs of mental illness which caused the disappearances of both Stepan and Dymas, his uncle and father.  In order to try and cheer him up and in the hope that a holiday will relax him, the family arrange a visit to New York to visit his brother Theodore.   Unfortunately, it is in New York while visiting Theo that the tragic events of 11 September 2001 come into play.

Theodore, Alethea’s uncle is the first to offer her a glimpse into the family’s past, with her grandmother, Catarina, the ninety-two year old matriarch of the Galanos family continuing the tale of her childhood in their little Greek village giving us insight into how Alcandor was “the first person she knew outside of her family”; the death of Alcandor’s best friend Constantine’s sister, Helena, and the rift caused between the two friends by the circumstances surrounding the tragedy, after which they flee from Greece to begin their new lives in Australia.

When a decades-old letter comes to light at a family get-together, a deep, dark secret is uncovered, one which Alcandor appeared to have kept to himself and Alethea, determined to solve the mystery surrounding the mental illness, with only the words in that letter to go on, begins her sleuthing with shocking truths finally being revealed.

I must admit that it took me a while to write this review and structure it in such a manner that I didn’t reveal too much.  The intricately woven relationships are startling and Kerry keeps the pages turning by containing the final elements of suspense to the very end.  There is a well-known idiom “the chickens eventually come home to roost” and that most certainly is the gist of this story.

While I did feel a flutter of annoyance at the constant repetition of events leading up to the final revelations, I soon realised that this was necessary in order to progress the story of the entangled lives of this Greek family through its numerous characters whilst covering several generations.  Coming from a half-Portuguese family myself, I am well aware of how vast these European families can appear to others and the family tree which Kerry provides at the beginning is a bonus, going a long way to assisting with any confusion.

Told from multiple points of view, Mine to Avenge, like most Greek families, is large and resonates with an extremely strong sense of family.  The balance between past and present is finely judged with a well-thought out and sustainable plot.  Showcasing the events leading up to their exile for a sin they didn't commit, Kerry Letheby has woven a complex tale of grief, bitterness, vengeance, the fine line which exists between friends and foes, but ultimately, redemption!

Mine to Avenge has earned 4 / 5 stars from me and my thanks goes to Kerry for providing me with a signed paperback copy of her novel.

Please use the following links if you would like to know more about Kerry and her writing:

Kerry's Website
Kerry's Blog - Mine to Avenge
Facebook Page
Twitter - @kletheby

To purchase a copy of Mine to Avenge:

Kobo Books
Barnes & Noble

And, for a sneak peek, check out the book trailer:

Yet another book towards two of my Challenges for 2013:

Thursday, 25 April 2013

ANZAC Day Blog Post - Lest we Forget ...

For those of you who are not aware, ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and the ANZAC Day public holiday represents one of the most important occasions in Australian history.

Being a South African, and having lived in Australia for the last four years, I am still overcome  by this wonderful pulling together of a nation in preparation for this day, and the solidarity shown to these brave war heroes.

So, please either take a moment to bow your head in remembrance or join me in reciting this poem by Laurence Binyon, the fourth stanza of which is the most popular and easily recognised - lest we forget ...

For the Fallen - Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Aussie Book Review: Heartland by Cathryn Hein

Book Cover:  Heartland 

My rating:               5 / 5
Format:                  Paperback courtesy of Penguin Australia
Publication date:    24 April 2013
Category:               Rural Romance
ISBN:                      9781921901331
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
Extent:                    344 pages
RRP:                      AU$29.99

Earlier today I had great pleasure in hosting Cathryn Hein on my Blog in celebration of the release of Heartland and for a bit of "get to know you better", along with my first ever give-away.

I am now pleased to present you with my review of this fine rural romance.  Enjoy!

The Blurb (taken from Penguin Australia’s website)

“A moving love story from the bestselling author of Promises and Heart of the Valley.

When Callie Reynolds arrives at Glenmore, the property she's recently inherited, the last thing she wants is to be saddled with a warty horse, an injured neighbour and a mad goose. Haunted by her sister's death and her fractured family, all she wants is freedom.

But Callie hasn't counted on falling for Matt Hawkins, an ex-soldier determined to fulfil his own dream of land and family.  Nor could she predict the way the land, animals and people of Glenmore will capture her heart.

Callie is faced with impossible choices.  But she must find the courage to decide where her future lies, even if it costs her everything she holds dear.

Praise for Cathryn Hein
`Not since my introduction to Nora Roberts has an author had me so completely and utterly spellbound.' Mission: Romance

`A moving love story about passionate, strong characters who are vulnerable in their own ways.  A lovely addition to the rural romance genre.' The Australian Bookshelf

`Books like this one, written by an author with genuine rural pedigree, are authentic and full of hope.' The West Australian

`Hein has joined my ever growing list of must-read Australian women writers.' Book'd Out

Summary and Thoughts

Cathryn Hein’s Heartland takes you on a bucolic journey to far western Victoria in this heart-warming tale of love, loss and new beginnings.

At 26, Callie thinks she’s living the life she was meant to in Airlie Beach, along with her two house mates and not much to concern her besides earning enough to pay her share of the rent.  With her life seemingly planned out for her, it comes as a shock when she receives a distressing letter in the mail informing her that her beloved Nan has passed away, adding to the guilt which already consumes her because she never got a chance to say goodbye, thanks to her self-imposed exile after the death of her sister, Hope, and the subsequent rift between her and her parents.

Arriving at Glenmore with the intention of cleaning up, putting it on the market and getting away just as fast, Callie doesn’t count on her Nan and Pop’s former pride and joy being in such a state of disrepair, nor the onslaught of emotions for the loss of happier times which threaten to overwhelm her and, after her own melancholic re-acquaintance with what was, she’s hardly ready for a reunion with the inimitable, rather cranky and most vociferous “Honk”, the goose, whose longevity astounds her and had me laughing out loud at his antics, calling to mind some of my own encounters with the geese we once owned.

Her “joy” is short-lived when dour old Wal Graney arrives with a surprise delivery announcing in no uncertain terms that “he” belongs to her but shortly after making his announcement has an accident which has her reeling in shock.  Eagerly awaiting news in the hospital waiting-room, an old acquaintance makes his appearance in the form of Matt Hawkins, Wal’s great-nephew.

Battle-scarred Matt, after doing several tours in Afghanistan, is back on his great-uncle Wal’s farm with the intention of saving and learning as much as he can from the cranky old coot so that he can one day purchase his own farmland and settle down.  With his own rather complicated family dynamics, he, too has some raw memories of his childhood and, while not quite as fractured as Callie, holds a closely guarded secret which he must keep at all costs.

With thoughts of selling Glenmore still foremost in her mind, Callie enlists the assistance of the local real estate agent, Anthony, who just happens to be Matt’s cousin, but hesitates when he gleefully advises her of the possibilities for Glenmore’s future.  Promising to contact him when she's ready, Callie forlornly begins assessing the amount of work which needs to be done before Glenmore can be placed on the market, and realises that her idea of  a fast getaway is not on the cards.  Still adamant that her happiness doesn't count, and after applying for a few jobs, she takes up employment with the local pub as a means of earning some extra cash for the task ahead of her instead of dipping into Nan’s cash reserve – after all, there’s a foundation which requires every penny of her inheritance which is essential to absolving the guilt she carries for the part she played in the tragedy surrounding Hope – or is it!

While Wal lays in a hospital bed, Callie feels responsible for the surly old codger and her time is filled up with visits to him, working at the local pub, renovations on the property, fitting in her favourite pastime of fishing and tracing the original owner of “Warty-Morty” who reminds her all too painfully of the “Phantom” she abandoned.

Still battling with the resurrection and analysis of extremely painful memories and trying to exorcise the ghosts from her past, her own war of “wrongness” wages in her heart, and as she tries to fight off her growing feelings for Matt, she attempts to deflect his attentions from her by reminding him that she won’t be around much longer and for that reason isn’t prepared to get into any kind of relationship with him.  What she doesn’t realise is that Matt is just as determined as her, and the soldier in him loves a challenge!

Let it be shown, however, that, along with human intervention, spiritual (and animal) forces appear to be at play and it seems likely that there’s a conspiracy from beyond the grave when Callie suddenly finds herself helplessly drawn into her old life, experiencing unadulterated love for the animals who surround her and investing in a young girl’s fear of horses, all while encountering some steamy moments with the sexy Matt.

The first thing that struck me when I began reading this novel was the awesome sense of place which immediately transported me into Callie’s world.  Cathryn so skilfully combines atmosphere with location, creating a world which offers authenticity and a full range of sensory stimuli.  As I felt the sun stinging my shoulders, the red dust settling on my tongue and licked the saltwater from my lips, I was immediately pulled in by her fluid and easy writing style and a narrative which has a well thought-out pace, enabling this reviewer to live vicariously through her well rounded human (and animal) characters.

The aggravating factors, family dynamics and sexual tension are real and brilliantly devised and if you have a look at the Author Q & A which I posted earlier, I’m sure, after you’ve read this novel, what Cathryn found to be one of the most distracting parts of writing Callie and Matt’s story, will come as no surprise!

By no means “just another love story”, Heartland has a lot more to offer in a genre which is fast becoming popular.  With lots of laugh-out-loud and heart-warming moments, issues of drug-addiction, themes of fear and courage apparent, this is a story that will leave you pondering the power of love, the heartache of loss, the courage to overcome it and the new beginnings which can be created if we release ourselves from self-inflicted guilt, enabling us to close one door, and open another thereby finding our heartland.

My thanks goes to the publisher, Penguin Australia, for providing me with a paperback copy of another fine Rural Romance.

If you've enjoyed this review, feel free to read an extract of Heartland here, courtesy of Penguin Australia and don't forget to go to the give-away post, here, for a chance to win 1 of 3 copies of this meaningful rural romance.

Ooooh, and another one for my growing list toward the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013:

Cathryn Hein - Author Q and A & Giveaway

Today I wish to extend a very warm welcome to Cathryn Hein and congratulate her on the publication of Heartland, her latest novel, which was released yesterday, 24th April 2013.

Cathryn is the author of two previous novels, Promises and Heart of the Valley which were finalists in the 2011 and 2012 Australian Romance Readers Awards.  Born in South Australia's rural South-East, and with three generations of jockeys in the family, it's no wonder she grew up horse mad.  When she finally obtained her first horse at the age of ten, her many years of pony club, eventing, dressage and show-jumping began, until Uni beckoned.  Armed with a shiny Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) from Roseworthy College, she moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry.  Her partner's posting to France took Cathryn overseas for three years in Provence where she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write.

Please feel free to tag along and, at the end of the Q & A, you will stand a chance to win one of three copies of Heartland, another fabulous addition to the Australian Rural Romance genre.  The winners will be drawn via

First things first though, I wish to thank Penguin Australia, especially Heidi from their publicity department, without whom this interview and giveaway would not have been possible.

So, without further ado, let us indulge in getting to know Heartland and Cathryn much better.

Welcome to Book Muster Down Under Cathryn, it's an absolute pleasure to have you here and I am so looking forward to getting to know you a bit better.  As a brief introduction, would you mind sharing a bit bit about yourself and how you came to write?

Well, I’m a country girl at heart, orginally from Mt Gambier in the south east of SA but now living in NSW.  I’m completely horse mad and spent most of my childhood indulging my passion for them, but sadly had to give my horses up when I started work.  I studied agriculture at university and worked for several years in the pasture seed industry, in Victoria and NSW.

I’ve always wanted to write and dreamed I would end up doing exactly what I’m doing now, albeit in a more glamorous, Barbara Cartland-y way!  I started with short stories and the usual over-hormoned teenage poetry but by the time I hit my twenties I knew it was novels I wanted to write. Great fat bonkbusters like Jilly Cooper’s but with an Australian setting. It left me rather astounded when I found I wrote nothing like her.

Like many authors it took me a while to find my way.  Work and life in general offered lots of distractions plus I kept getting stuck with my stories.  Then we moved overseas and I decided that it was now or never.  So I parked my bum and wrote, determined this time to finish a book.  Three months later I did and I loved every second.  After that there was no stopping me.

What can you tell us about Heartland?

Heartland is the story of Callie Reynolds, a young woman who, since the death of her sister, has been running from those who care for her.  When her grandmother dies and leaves her Glenmore, a property Callie has always loved, she’s torn between what her heart aches for and the powerful need to honour her sister’s memory.  All she wants is to sell up and move on, but the world keeps conspiring against her.  The farm is full of memories and longing, then there are the animals she’s been saddled with and an injured elderly neighbour she feels responsible for.  All solvable problems, until a sexy and determined ex-soldier comes along and really complicates things...

It’s a story of forgiveness, family and passion, with a few laughs and tears, and an insane goose for added spice.  I had a ball writing it.

This is the first novel I have read by you and I was so amazed to find that the animals in your story have such personality, especially Honk, who had me in fits of laughter when Callie encountered him on her return.  Are their characters based on animals you have known and loved in your life?

I love writing about animals and I adore it when readers tell me how much they enjoy them, so thank you!

As a general rule the animals are based on ones I’ve owned or known but I usually tweak them quite a bit so their personalities shine.  I know it’s anthropomorphising but I can’t help myself, it just makes them such fun.

Honk is actually based on a goose that roamed a golf course where I was a member (yes, I’m one of those strange people).  He’d been there for years and yet always squabbled madly whenever a golfer came within range.  I thought he was hilarious and decided to put him in a book.

In Heartland, your hero has a disfigurement - not that I’m complaining, because he certainly is yummy and I’m a sucker for a bit of “bad boy” in my male characters.  How did you come to incorporate this into his character?

Good question! It was important for Matt’s development as a man; one who lacked a proper father figure growing up but who still managed to discover himself, albeit in an emotionally and physically scarring way.

In the same way Callie’s tattoo acts as a reminder of her world, Matt’s scars act as a permanent reminder of what really matters in his.  Both their ‘marks’ symbolise the deep emotional changes they’ve experienced.

Callie’s life revolves around the tragedy surrounding Hope.  Was there anything in particular that inspired you to write about this serious issue which affects society on a daily basis, and is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

The idea for Heartland was partly triggered by a newspaper report about the tragic drug overdose death of a teenager.  It made me reflect on how many times I’d read similar reports (too many, sadly), which then led to more musing about what impact such a calamity would have on a family, in particular the siblings. Would they blame themselves?  Would they try to replace their missing sister or brother, and how would that affect their own developing identity?  How would they cope with their parents’ grief?  How would their parents cope with theirs?

The message is forgiveness - not just between loved ones, but self-forgiveness.  That’s what Callie must discover.  Without it, she will never find her own happiness.

What was the hardest part of writing Heartland?

Stopping Matt and Callie from having sex all the time.  Well, not really, but they were rather distracting!

The hardest part was getting the family dynamics right for both Callie and Matt, but Callie’s mostly.  The reader experiences Callie’s parents only from her point of view, so I had to take special care with how I showed their emotions.  Children can view their parents through clouded lenses.

You have such a fluid and easy writing style.  Which authors do you believe have been the most influential on this?

Thank you!  That’s a really nice and much appreciated comment.

I’m a huge fan of Katherine Scholes, Kate Morton and Susanna Kearsley.  I love the cadence of their writing, it’s almost like music.  That’s how I hear my own writing - like music - and I try very hard to eliminate every bung note!

Do you have a favourite place to write?

Yes, at the super-special workstation I bought after my first book Promises was contracted.  It’s a lovely big commercial quality corner desk setup where I can prop my whiteboards and spread all my notes, research material, dictionary, thesaurus, diary and various other paraphernalia I can’t do without.  I have a nice big window on my right, the sill of which comes in very handy for plastering stickynotes, and a proper office chair that looks a little freaky but is a godsend for my back.

I’ve also been known to write great wads on long car journeys.  There’s something about the rhythm of the road and the way my mind drifts into imagination...

Can we expect another great novel soon?  If so, would you be willing to give us a hint as to what we can expect?

Don’t worry, I’m working on hard on another!  A lovers reunited story, and I’m completely besotted with it too.  I tend to develop terrible crushes on my heroes, and I say it every book, but this new hero is THE ONE.  Actually, I love everything about this book - the setting, the characters, the animals (the dog is based on my beloved old collie), and the whole complexity of the story.

And now, for a bit of fun:

Favourite film?

Not fair! I have more than one.  Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indiana Jones, I love you!), Love Actually (I cry EVERY time), Thor (better known as Phwoar thanks to Chris Hemsworth), The Godfather Part I and II (Brando is awesome, as is Pacino), Across The Universe (soooo love a sing-a-long), National Velvet (The Pie!)...

Pizza or Pasta?

Both.  Although only proper pizza, the authentic Italian way.  I’m a snob like that.

Favourite singer?

Oh, far out.  That’s as hard as choosing my favourite film or book!  Right, I have conducted an iPod assessment and it appears that I own more Robbie Williams albums than any other artist.  I do love a bit of Robbie, especially his French version of Supreme.  Try it.  It’s verra sexy!

If you had a book club, what would it be reading, and why?

The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears.  I love this book.  It covers three fascinating but dangerous periods in history - the fall of the Roman Empire, the Black Death and World War II - and focuses on deep ethical conflicts (among other things).  It’s the sort of book a book club could talk about for hours.... well, I could. And it’s set in Provence, where I was lucky enough to live for three years.

Give us three, good to know facts about you – be creative!

My family is extraordinarily long-lived, especially on the maternal side.  My grandmother is 97 and just gave her nursing home staff (and us) a hell of a fright by cheekily staging an escape.  Her mother was the same age when she passed, her aunts were also well into their nineties.  My great-great grandmother was close to 100 when she died.  Fingers crossed I have these marvellous genes too!

I love to cook and collect cookbooks.  I just can’t help it.  They tease me with all their beautiful photographs and delicious sounding recipes.  But I do use them.  Some with more success than others.  My current favourite is Two Greedy Italians Eat Italy.  That book is worth buying just for Antonio Carluccio’s Peach and Ricotta Crumble recipe.

My favourite author when I was a child was Walter Farley.  The Black Stallion series was pure fantasy for a horse-mad girl.  I spent hours dreaming I was with Alec and the Black, galloping across the desert, winning races...  The deep sighs were endless.  No wonder my stories are romantic!

Cathryn, it has been an absolute blast getting to know you and Heartland a little more.  Thanks again for coming along.

Thanks so much for having me on Book Muster Down Under. It’s been great fun.

And now, for that much anticipated giveaway.

Apologies, but postage costs mean that I am limited to accepting entries from Australian residents only.

Penguin Australia, are offering 3 paperback copies of Heartland for giveaway and my gratitude goes out to them for allowing me the opportunity to host my first ever giveaway.

What do you need to do to have your entries accepted?

+1 entry : Leave a comment below

+1 entry : Follow My Blog

Entries close at midnight on Sunday, 28th April 2013 (Qld time), with the winners being drawn via and announced on my Blog, Twitter and my Facebook Page on Wednesday, 1st May 2013.

Good luck everyone.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Announcement: Author Q & A & Giveaway - Heartland by Cathryn Hein

I am pleased to announce that I will be having an Author Q & A with Cathryn Hein on Anzac Day, 25th April 2013 along with the publication of my review.

To help celebrate the release of her latest novel, Heartland, and in conjunction with Penguin Australia, you will stand a chance of winning one of three copies of this fine novel.  Apologies, Australian residents only.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Book Review: Fever by Mary Beth Keane

FeverMy rating:              4 / 5
Format:                 Paperback courtesy of Simon & Schuster Australia
                             and The Reading Room
Publication:           March 2013
Extent:                  320 pages
ISBN:                    9781471112973
RRP:                    AU$24.99

The Blurb
“Mary Beth Keane, named one of the 5 Under 35 by the National Book Foundation, has written a spectacularly bold and intriguing novel about the woman known as “Typhoid Mary,” the first person in America identified as a healthy carrier of Typhoid Fever. On the eve of the twentieth century, Mary Mallon emigrated from Ireland at age fifteen to make her way in New York City. Brave, headstrong, and dreaming of being a cook, she fought to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic-service ladder. Canny and enterprising, she worked her way to the kitchen, and discovered in herself the true talent of a chef. Sought after by New York aristocracy, and with an independence rare for a woman of the time, she seemed to have achieved the life she’d aimed for when she arrived in Castle Garden. Then one determined “medical engineer” noticed that she left a trail of disease wherever she cooked, and identified her as an “asymptomatic carrier” of Typhoid Fever. With this seemingly preposterous theory, he made Mallon a hunted woman.

The Department of Health sent Mallon to North Brother Island, where she was kept in isolation from 1907 to 1910, then released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary—proud of her former status and passionate about cooking—the alternatives were abhorrent. She defied the edict.

Bringing early-twentieth-century New York alive - the neighborhoods, the bars, the park carved out of upper Manhattan, the boat traffic, the mansions and sweatshops and emerging skyscrapers - Fever is an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life.  In the imagination of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes a fiercely compelling, dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising and unforgettable heroine."

Summary and Thoughts

Having heard of the disease Typhoid, but possibly because I am not an avid follower of American history, I was astounded to learn that the disease had a face – Mary Mallon - which leads me to that all-important question, do you wash your hands before preparing food?

Born in September 1869, Mary Mallon was the first known person in the United States to be identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the bacilli associated with Typhoid Fever. This novel, albeit fictional, is based on historical fact, and gives a plausible account focusing mainly on the Mary’s life before her first incarceration until her voluntary re-institutionalisation which continued until her death.

Through her work as a cook for a host of wealthy families, Irish immigrant Mary was arrested in 1907 at the age of forty after being accused of spreading this dangerous disease which then, had a high incidence of mortality and morbidity. Enter Dr George Soper, the sanitary engineer who played a large role in the arrest of Mary. Whilst not much was known about the disease at the turn of the century, Dr Soper played an integral part in researching this disease and while I found his singling out of Mary to be a bit unfair and unjust, which had me seething at times (after all, there were other carriers out there), I guess it was a necessary evil for further research to be carried out, even though not much regard was had to her rights but rather that of the larger community.

On incarceration at North Brother Island, Mary was subjected to sharing quarters with Tuberculosis patients and, coming from South Africa, a country which has an extremely high incidence of TB, I am most surprised that she, too, didn’t contract this debilitating communicable disease which, even by today’s medical standards, is sometimes fatal. She was eventually moved to a little cottage on the island which was built especially for her and, whilst enjoying the solitude of her own quarters, befriends one of the minor characters, the institution’s gardener.

Not forgetting her long-time partner, Alfred, a man who loves her intensely but who is a hopeless drunk frequently adding to his status of unemployment, Mary engages in correspondence to him but the intervals between letters become longer and the writing less. With the Government unjustly enforcing her exile, as well as constantly being hounded to undergo an operation to remove her gall bladder, Mary, quite rightly, begins to feeling victimised and seeks the advice of various lawyers through postal communication, without much success. She finally receives a letter from one who is prepared to take on her case, with no expectation of payment, and so begins a campaign to prove her innocence. After garnering quite a bit of sympathy with the public and as a result of her lawyer’s brilliance and her court appearance, Mary is finally released on condition that she never again cook for anyone.

Of course, with the success in one aspect of her life, there must surely come a price and that price appears to emanate in the form of Alfred, whom I felt to be extremely weak in character. Nonetheless, they did appear to love one another and after not having seen him for many months, they resume their relationship and Mary goes out of her way to support him, even though she sometimes treats him like a child. For reasons which become apparent to the reader in the dialogue, whilst Mary had been incarcerated, Alfred had endeavoured to overcome his dependence on alcohol by beginning a new medical treatment for his disease – a treatment which led to more serious problems and ultimately debilitated, then consumed him.  With Mary not bringing in much in the form of earnings as a laundress, and knowing of no other way to counter their dire financial circumstances, she felt there was no other option but to take up her previous profession as a cook. The consequences, however, see Alfred becoming a shell of the man he once was and Mary, after a tragic turn of events, volunteering for re-incarceration at North Brother Island where she lived out the remainder of her life.

There is a distinct air of melancholy throughout the novel amid the vivid descriptions of life in turn of the century New York, before the luxuries of running water, waterborne sewerage and motor vehicles which I couldn’t help but feel ultimately added to the unhygienic food preparation conditions, which were exacerbated by the contamination of flies.

With sub-characters that illuminate Mary’s character, particularly the little boy she often has flash-backs about, while it is a remarkable portrayal of a strong-willed woman held captive by her times and one in which the author touches on social issues which continue to plague society today, it is also a brief lesson in both medical and American history, sure to hold lovers of this genre in its grip.

I wish to thank both Simon & Schuster and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy of this novel.

A Little About the Author (adapted from her website)
Mary Beth Keane is also the author of The Walking People (2009).  She attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA in Fiction.

In 2011 she was named of the National Book Foundation's 5 under 35.  She lives just outside New York City with her husband and their two sons.

View all my reviews

Aussie Book Review: Fractured by Dawn Barker

My rating:              5 / 5
Format:                 Bound Proof courtesy Hachette Australia and
                             The Reading Room
Publication:           March 2013
Extent:                   352 Pages
ISBN:                     9780733629853
RRP:                     AU$29.99

The Blurb

“A compelling, emotional knockout debut from a brilliant new Australian author.  An unforgettable novel that brings to life a new mother's worst fears.

Tony is worried. His wife, Anna, isn't coping with their newborn. Anna had wanted a child so badly and, when Jack was born, they were both so happy. They'd come home from the hospital a family. Was it really only six weeks ago?
But Anna hasn't been herself since. One moment she's crying, the next she seems almost too positive. It must be normal with a baby, Tony thought; she's just adjusting. He had been busy at work. It would sort itself out. But now Anna and Jack are missing. And Tony realises that something is really wrong...
What happens to this family will break your heart and leave you breathless.”

Summary and Thoughts

There are many reported examples of post-natal (puerperal) psychosis and the consequences suffered by the affected mother, but none brings them closer to home than Dr Dawn Barker in this, her debut novel, in which she has written a bold account of one couple’s tragic journey into parenthood and the complex realms of the mind.

Tony is certain that there is something wrong with Anna, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. So, the house is a mess with washing hardly being done, clothing not being ironed and Anna not cleaning as much as she used to, not to mention cooked meals which are few and far between and Anna not being able to sleep because of the demands of breast-feeding which have her up every two hours. And then there are the few days where she seems almost normal, washing windows, tidying up and cooking a meal. But that’s normal with a new baby … isn’t it?

At work one morning he receives an anxious call from his mother letting him know that Anna and Jack aren’t home. Anna knew her mother-in-law was on her way over, Tony reminded her before he left for work to attend a high-powered meeting, so why is she not home!

Frantic, and with his mind offering flash-backs of the past six weeks, he rushes out of his meeting. Hours later, after a lot of searching and calling friends to find out whether they’ve seen Anna and Jack and receiving no positive answers, he does the only other thing he can think of and calls the police to lodge a missing person’s report.

He finally receives a call from the police, but all is not as it should be. Informing him that they have found Anna, alive, albeit a bit bruised and battered, there’s just one problem … Jack is not with her. Seemingly catatonic, Anna is rushed to hospital appearing to have lost all contact with reality which means that no-one is able to get any useful information out of her. Fearing the worst, Tony doesn’t quite realise the impact this phone call and Anna’s diagnosis is going to have on their lives and, unfortunately, Anna can’t remember any details. What follows is an anguished account of this couple’s struggle to come to terms with a tragedy that no parent should have to experience.

Whilst the ravages of this terrible disorder and the tragic consequences which followed didn’t only affect Tony and Anna, but their parents too, I couldn’t help but not be invested in Ursula, Tony’s mother. The total opposite of Anna’s mother Wendy, Ursula invoked in me an extreme dislike for her in the way she attempted to manipulate Tony in decisions he should have been making on his own, and had me thinking to myself that she should have been offering unbiased support instead of creating a divide.

All too vivid a reminder of my first birth not going at all the way I had planned along with the determination to try and do everything myself, my coping mechanisms slowly crumbling around me along with the obstinacy of not having the problems addressed, this novel invoked my own painful memories at my experience with full-blown post-natal depression after the birth of my first child, for which I was only diagnosed after the birth of my second child, two years and ten months later – this only after being subtly prompted by both my mother and mother-in-law to seek medical advice.

On diagnosis, my GP in South Africa promptly prescribed medication and put me back onto birth control with strict instructions that I shouldn’t have any more children, and while I didn’t suffer psychosis, the all too real rawness of Anna’s emotions and state-of-mind had me vacillating between continuing to read or put it down. Fortunately, Tony and Anna won, and their story had me in its grips until the last page.

Complex and psychologically-charged with intense themes of guilt, grief, helplessness and infanticide, Dawn Barker, in drawing on her psychiatry background and structuring the novel with two alternating timelines, has mixed clinically sound fact with fiction and adeptly approached this subject with the sensitivity and respect it deserves, not only offering insight into the sufferer’s world, but that of her extended family too, thereby giving the reader a realistic portrayal of this rare mental illness which affects approximately one to two women in one-thousand.

I certainly look forward to Dr Barker’s next compelling addition to the fiction genre and would highly recommend this novel to both men and women embarking on that wonderful thing called parenthood (as well as any prospective grand-parents) in order to gain an understanding of the extreme complexities of the mind in the hope that, though rare, future tragedies like this can be averted.

My thanks goes to the publisher, Hachette Books and The Reading Room for providing me with a bound proof of this novel.

A Little About the Author
Dr Dawn Barker is a Child Psychiatrist who works with families affected by mental illness.  She grew up in Scotland, and studied medicine at Aberdeen University.  In 2001 she moved to Australia, completed her psychiatric training and began writing.  She has published articles on parenting and child psychology for various websites and magazines.
Fractured was discovered during the 2010 Hachette Australia/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development program.

And, yet another one is added to my endless list of books for the 2013 Australian Women Writers’ Challenge.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Our Google Hangout with Jenn J McLeod in association with

It truly was a great pleasure to finally meet this wonderful debut author Jenn J McLeod to speak about her novel, House for All Seasons.

Special mention must surely go to Anna at and Leticia at Google+ for arranging and co-ordinating the Hangout - you both did a fabulous job.

Thanks too, to one of my fellow book bloggers, Shelleyrae@Book'd Out for being a great co-interviewer.

Aussie Book Review: The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's SecretMy rating:       4 / 5
Format:           Paperback courtesy of:
                       Pan MacMillan & The Reading Room
Publication:   1 April 2013
Extent:             416
ISBN:               9781742612010
Imprint:            Macmillan Australia
RRP:                AU$32.99

The Blurb

The Husband's Secret is a funny, heartbreaking novel of marriage, grief, love and secrets. When her husband announces he's in love with her best friend, painfully shy Tess picks up her young son and returns to her mother's house. There she begins an unexpected affair with an old flame. Rachel is a woman in her sixties consumed by grief and anger at the loss of her daughter twenty years earlier. When her son announces he is taking her beloved grandson overseas, Rachel begins a descent into deeper bitterness and pain. Cecilia is the quintessential "I don't know how she does it" woman. A devoted mother to three daughters, she runs her household like clockwork, is President of the P&C, owns an extremely successful Tupperware business and is happy in her fifteen-year marriage. Until she discovers a letter in their attic labelled:

‘To my wife Cecilia, to be opened in the event of my death’

With one swift, vicious movement, she sliced the envelope open, and pulled out a handwritten letter.

love you and the girls...
so sorry to leave you with this...
cannot bear
Her husband's secret is a bombshell beyond all imagining with repercussions across the lives of all three women.”

Summary and Thoughts

“None of us ever know all the possible courses our lives could have, and maybe should have, taken. It’s probably just as well. Some secrets are meant to stay secret forever. Just ask Pandora.”

Imagine discovering a secret so dark that it threatens not only your carefully built life, but your sanity too!

I thought the timing of me reading this novel was quite apt in that the story takes place over an Easter weekend and I had the pleasure of actually reading it during the week leading up to Easter and finishing it off over a very relaxing Easter weekend.

What would you do if your partner announced he was in love with your best friend? Tess finds herself in this situation after her husband and best friend sit her down and announce that they are in love with one another. Absolutely heartbroken and trying to re-assess her life and the hurt these two important people have just inflicted on her, she decides to remove her son from the inevitable conflict and tension by taking him to Sydney to spend time with her mother who is recuperating with a broken ankle. Deciding that it would perhaps be best to remove themselves from the situation permanently, she enrols him in the school where she went as a young girl and tries to get her life back on track. Only problem is, a former love interest has reappeared amidst her soul-searching! What will she do?

What would you do if your child was taken from you and you never knew why? Rachel has never quite come to terms with the death of Janie twenty years before. After all, she was murdered, and with no evidence at the crime scene and DNA testing not yet available, no formal charges were ever made. But she has her suspicions, and as the eve of the anniversary of her daughter’s death approaches and she learns that her son and his wife will be taking her two-year-old grandson with them to live in the United States, she descends into a state of melancholy and grief and a case of mistaken identity along with irrational thoughts of revenge lead her to make a split-second decision with devastating consequences and which quite pertinently takes place on Good Friday. What will she do?

What would you do if you discovered your husband had a secret so dark it could destroy your family? Let’s face it, we’ve all had those days when, as busy mothers and wives (a lot of whom also hold down full-time jobs), we feel like we are just existing, wishing that something different would happen … So, when cool, calm, collected and extremely organised Tupperware consultant, Cecilia Fitzpatrick, finds herself living that life rutted with seeming ordinariness, she certainly doesn’t expect the Berlin Wall to be a catalyst for the events which take place during the week leading up to Easter Sunday!

In the attic, on a quest for one of her daughters, she accidentally topples a pile of boxes and discovers a sealed envelope with the words “To my wife Cecilia, to be opened in the event of my death”. With John-Paul away on a business trip, she tries to put thoughts of the letter out of her mind, rationalising that it couldn’t be all that important if it was tucked away with old paperwork and attempts to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, when he telephones that evening, curiosity gets the better of her and when she asks him about it she is met with … silence. Attempting to go about her life as normal, but with ‘Jerry Springer’ moments running riot through her head as she thinks back on John-Paul’s uncharacteristic behaviour of the past few months as well as a conversation which takes place between two of her daughters, Cecilia thrusts the reader into a tumultuous journey of possibilities and, as we try to make sense of it all in our own minds, when the truth is finally revealed, we are blown away … her perfect marriage to the perfect husband is not so perfect after all and her perfectly well-ordered, mundane life threatens to tumble down around her. Be careful what you wish for!

When I received this book for review, I was quite intrigued by the premise and inspiration which I thought to be quite original and immediately called to mind one of my favourite authors, Jodi Picoult. Not having had the pleasure of reading a Liane Moriarty novel before, I didn’t know what to expect and, to be honest, had some difficulty getting into the novel, possibly due to her writing style. I am pleased to say that I persevered and have found yet another Aussie author who surreptitiously pulled me in, enthralling me with her solid characters and involving me so deeply in their lives that I found it hard not to keep the pages turning and, while the first half of the book had me wondering how these three characters’ lives would intersect, once the scenario had established itself, I was left with some questions of my own, wondering if Cecilia’s ingrained morals would win the day, whether Tess would be able to find it in herself to forgive both her husband and best friend and, if Rachel would finally overcome her deep-seated bitterness, anger and pain thereby allowing her to experience forgiveness.

Well-written, perfectly structured and told from the perspective of all three women, the narratives collide with thought-provoking issues, realistic characters and complex moral choices with the resolution coming to pass on Easter Sunday, ultimately leading you to an epilogue with some stunning disclosures that will leave you pondering not only your moral beliefs, but the universal principle and power of fate!

I wish to thank the publisher, Pan MacMillan and The Reading Room for providing me with an ARC of this novel.

A Little About the Author

Liane Moriarty is the author of Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist's Love Story.  All of her novels have been published successfully around the world and translated into seven languages. Writing as L.M. Moriarty, she is also the author of the Space Brigade series for children. Liane lives in Sydney with her husband, son and daughter.

Yet another addition to my list for the Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2013.