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Saturday, August 27, 2016

River Run by Nicole Alexander

Title: River Run
Author: Nicole Alexander
Publisher: 29 August 2016 by Random House Australia
Pages: 387 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, Australia
My Rating: 4 crowns

Synopsis:

Taking place over just one week, River Run is an unputdownable rural drama from the bestselling author of The Bark Cutters and Wild Lands.

It is January 1951, and after a year away Eleanor Webber has returned home to River Run, her family's sprawling sheep property in western New South Wales. Fleeing a failed love affair back in Sydney, she hopes for some time and space to heal. But with shearing of over 25,000 sheep about to commence, and the infamous and moneyed Margaret Winslow and her husband Keith staying in the main house as her mother's guests, that dream is quickly dashed.

More worryingly, her half-brother Robbie is increasingly running wild, playing tricks on his governess, antagonising the jackeroos and obsessing about a communist invasion. Though only eleven, Robbie has appointed himself guardian of the property and, in his treehouse by the river, he readies for an imminent attack. Armed with a gun.

Then, with a storm looming and tensions rising in the shearing shed, a mysterious stranger appears on the horizon. 

And in one disastrous moment young Robbie entangles Eleanor in a situation that will have serious repercussions for every member of the Webber family.

My Thoughts

I am fast becoming a fan of Aussie author Nicole Alexander and 'River Run' provides another compelling historical tale which had me engaged throughout. Her last book, 'Wild Lands' was outstanding and this follow up, whilst not as captivating did not disappoint. There is intrigue, an interesting twist, a little romance and loads of 'Aussie-ness'.

"Across a country marked by fire and drought, rootless drovers and torrential rain, war-made swagmen and blacks on walkabout. This was a big land."

Alexander provides great Australian drama inspired by her own upbringing and family history. This particular tale is set on a family's sheep station in the middle of the Australian Outback. I loved that this book was placed in the 1950s - an era I am not particularly familiar with. It's a time when not only is Australia 'riding on the sheep's back', but when the glorious rich squatter days are under threat from possible strikes in the height of the shearing season. The side story of 'invading communists' sheds light on what, at the time, was seen as a real threat. 

"No, the bush makes a man think too much. If he's a loner and a dreamer, well, a man can get messed up in his own thoughts."

With Alexander's eloquent prose, 'River Run' paints a picture of Australia during this period of time. The fall out from the second World War was still being felt, especially with  the complete physical and emotional baggage returning soldiers carried. Alexander also undertakes a reflection on the changing status for the women and their role both in society and in the home. Then there is the harshness of the great Australian outback,  once again powerfully portrayed by Alexander and the havoc Mother Nature brings - everything from heatwaves to punishing storms. No stone is left unturned as a range of issues are touched upon - class wars and a touch of the indigenous. I loved reading how the author drew on her own family historical experiences to bring a real authenticity to the story that is' River Run'. 

Once again Alexander reminds us of how she is cementing herself at the heart of Australian literature with characters and a narrative that will take you back to one exceptional week in the 1950s.




This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

Title: The House Between Tides
Author: Sarah Maine
Publisher: 2 August 2016 by Atria Books
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, mystery
My Rating: 4 crowns

Synopsis:

Fans of Kate Morton will love this atmospheric and immersive debut novel of a woman who returns to her ancestral home in Scotland and discovers a century-old secret buried in the basement.

Following the deaths of her last living relatives, Hetty Deveraux leaves her strained marriage behind in London and returns to her ancestral home, a crumbling estate in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, with the intention of renovating and reselling it as a hotel, much to the dismay of the locals. As she dives headfirst into the repairs, she discovers human remains beneath a rotting floorboard in the basement, with few physical clues to identify the body. Who was this person? And why the makeshift grave?

Hungry for answers, Hetty sets out to unravel the estate’s secret—and those of its former inhabitants, including Beatrice Blake, a woman who moved there a century ago with her husband Theo, a famous painter who seemed to be more interested in Cameron, a young local man, than his own wife.
Following whispered rumors and a handful of leads, Hetty soon discovers that no one knows exactly what happened to Beatrice, only that her actions have reverberated throughout history, affecting Hetty’s present in startling ways.

My Thoughts

This sounded like the kind of story I adore -  alternating tales between different time periods: 2010, when Hetty inherits the house, and at the turn of  last century, when artist Theo Blake lived there with his wife, Beatrice. Blake was portrayed as the tormented one:

"Blake was himself a tragic figure. From a meteoric rise which seemed set to place him amongst the greats of British art, he had fallen hard ... somewhere in that broken life, another life had ended. But when? And why?"

Overall it was good, but I did have reservations. At times I really struggled with the book being so very slow in places. I found myself yawning through passages that went for too long - too many walks along those wild, windy beaches. However, I was glad I persevered. I also struggled with the author revealing a clue and then going back to explain. Good tension was built but I didn't like the retrospective explanation:

"Something happened, and whatever it was, it was catastrophic and it stopped him in his tracks."

The mysterious outcome was also fairly predictable, so there were no real big surprises by the end. Still, as a debut, Maine should feel encouraged. Putting her in the same ball park as Kate Morton was rather daunting, but I can see how she may develop over time as this ended up being a promising first book. 

So whilst I would not describe this as a riveting read, it did contain enough intrigue to see me over the line. I enjoyed some secondary aspects to the tale such as, creating preservation areas versus promoting development; and, local livelihoods versus the life of the privileged.  The real winner was perhaps the location itself - wonderful descriptions of the Hebrides. A great sense of atmosphere and beauty was portrayed. Add to that vivid descriptions of Muirlan House itself, and it was captivating. 

"It was his refuge .... a place of wild beauty,... with endless stretches of bone-white sand, vast skies, and the sea - an ever-changing palette."

Despite struggling through some sections, I ultimately enjoyed the journey this book took me on. The dual timelines slowly unravel to a satisfying conclusion with the author using the landscape and wild weather to her advantage.

"a precious place, wild and unspoiled, a sanctuary for more than just the birds."



This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release