The Gatecrasher

Written by none other than my favourite author, Sophie Kinsella, The Gatecrasher is a light, involving tale of ‘the gatecrasher’ and the people she involves herself with. Written in Sophie Kinsella’s usual style, I found this book to be a can’t-put-down. The magic of SK’s books are such that even as the plot thickens slowly, the description of characters, surroundings and situations is so delightful that the reader has no time to get bored.

Beautiful, ageless Fleur is the gatecrasher. No one knows her age or where she comes from; whether she is a divorcee or widow. All they know is that you succumb to her charm without knowing it. Fleur’s profession? Gate crashing into funerals / memorial services and charming rich, heartbroken, lonely, grieving fresh widowers, winning their trust and enjoying life with their money before taking off to the next nest. Not for Fleur, but Richard Favour and his family’s life changes when Fleur enters their life with the impious intentions not known to them. Richard, mourning over a wife he barely ‘knew’, is a rich and a good human. Disposition, past, secrets, intentions and dreams of each character are revealed as the story moves ahead, not only surprising the reader, but also sucking him into the Favour family’s life. While the Favour family is savouring the changes happening within and around them, Fleur is getting more desperate to extort money or move out to a better option.

Villains are thrown out. Old painful shackles are broken. Walls are brought down. People are changed – all by Fleur’s magic. Secrets are revealed, including Fleur’s. Does she do to Richard what she did to the haughty, rough, Greek Saki? Does Richard discover her dark past and cruel intentions? Does Fleur change? What are her secrets?

The brilliance of Sophie Kinsella’s writing lies in the simplicity. Simple words woven beautifully into melodious sentences. Her simple stories involve the reader without coming across as casual, half hearted or boring. SK has the ability to etch humour into sentences with great ease (like the Shopaholic series) and does equally good at sentimental, touchy stuff (like, Remember Me?).

I was disappointed that I had finished all of Sophie Kinsella’s novels. I am glad I caught hold of The Gatecrasher. Madeline Wickham is equally charming!

I would give this book a generous rating of 3 / 5.

Matilda is missing

…by Caroline Overington.

Barry Harrison has been left with a box of files and tapes by his friend Frank Brooks. Frank was a judge in the Family Court who passed away from terminal cancer. And he manages to tell Barry that he stuffed up and hopes Barry can help him make things right. Problem is Barry doesn’t know what Frank wants from him. All he has are court documents and transcripts of a couple who went through the Family Law Court and their counselling session tapes. Amidst all this, he is also dealing with his own son’s divorce and his wife’s reaction over-reaction to not being able to have access to her grandchildren. Barry then listens to the tapes at hand. They are of Softie Monaghan and Garry Hartshorn. The couple fighting for the custody of their daughter Matilda. The couple had nothing in common when they got together. Softie was a sophisticated career-woman while Garry was in his own words, a bogan, with several jobs under his belt. It appears that the only thing that made Softie continue with the relationship was that his adoptive mother Jean and her second husband Rick Hartshorn, a well-known car dealer were sophisticated enough leading her to believe she could change Garry. Plus there was her ticking body clock at the age of thirty-nine. While both parents believe they have Matilda’s best interest at heart and are hence entitled to her custody, it is little Matilda who gets lost in the process.

This is now the third book I’ve read by the author Caroline Overington and she reminds me a bit of an Aussie Jodi Picoult in that she deals with issues that are probably on everyone’s minds but which no one likes to talk about. Add to that a bit of mystery to keep the reader intrigued. In this book, Overington tackles the issue of Family Courts and how ridiculous the laws have become where in the end, the child loses. While the child may not lose their parents, being dragged through the process is hard on some kids. She also appears to make comments on how women give so much importance to the whole ticking of their body clocks that they are willing to have a child with just about anyone. Without thinking about the consequences. Add to that the idea that you can change your partner and just how wrong that can be! Neither Garry nor Softie are particularly likeable but I think that was the point…so as a reader, you really wouldn’t side with one over the other. All in all, it has been yet another book I thoroughly enjoyed. I am definitely going to be looking forward to her books in the future.

My rating would be a 5.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This has been cross-posted on my personal blog

Ghost Child

…by Caroline Overington.

When 5 year old Jacob Cashman is found unconscious by police and paramedics in a housing commission estate in Melbourne, his single mother and her partner are the suspects. The police don’t believe the mother’s story that a stranger bashed her son when he and his younger brother Harley went to buy her cigarettes. While she and her partner are eventually convicted, rumours still swirl in the neighbourhood about Lauren Cashman, the 6 year old sister, possibly being responsible for Jake’s death. The story narrated by Lauren, Harley, Hayley (another sister, just 18 months at Jake’s death) and other individuals who become part of their lives and the investigation explore the past and the present. The three surviving children are sent to different foster homes through the Department of Community Services and each has their own struggle. Currently, 27 year old Lauren is being hounded by the media in Sydney. Why? What is it that they have found? And did she really have a part to play in the death of her brother?

This is Overington’s debut novel and looks at the child welfare system in the country. The manner in which cases are dealt with in order to tick boxes is very interesting to read, especially for someone who has had their gripes about the same system. Moreover, she looks at issues such as class and the paths we choose. I guess in some way she shows that not everyone who goes through the foster care system ends up being a junkie or a no-good. All of this mixed with some mystery makes an interesting read and one that you could possibly finish in one sitting.

I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This has been cross-posted on my personal blog.

I came to say goodbye

…by Caroline Overington.

The book begins with a young woman walking into Sydney Children’s Hospital and taking a baby girl from a ward. That is the prologue. It then moves on to a letter by Med Atley to a judge. He recounts his life in Forster, New South Wales up to the moment where the young woman in the prologue, his daughter, takes the baby. Med recounts how he met and married his ex-wife Pat and had two children, Karen aka Kat and son, Blue. And ten years later, another child. Donna-Faye. A.k.a. Fat. Pat walks out on Med when Fat is merely two years old and consequently, Med raises her on his own. At the same time, Kat, who is intellectually gifted, gets a scholarship to study at a private girls’ school in Sydney for her high school. As Fat becomes a teenager, Med realises how difficult things can get. For one thing, Fat starts to get interested in boys. And worse, she takes up Paul Haines at the age of 15. Ten years her senior. Known for criminal behaviour, drug use and violence since the age of 10, he is nothing short of bad news. At 16 Fat moves in with him and things get worse for Med as she is unable to see the flaws in her partner. It all comes to a head when their first child, Seth is taken away from them due to child protection concerns. Concerns that Fat claims she has no knowledge about.

How does her life spiral to the point in the prologue? 

To know that, you have to read the book. Because if I continue, I could give it all away.

While I was a bit sceptical about the book at the beginning due to the writing style, I realised how wrong I was once the plot and the issues grabbed me. It was one of those books I was unable to put down. You could understand Med’s confusion around his teenage daughter’s rebellion when neither of his older kids had behaved in this manner. You could also understand why Fat would stay in a relationship (if it could be called that) with a man like Haines. There are also comments about how the child protection authorities work in NSW as well as the health system. And for someone who works in the public health system and has to deal with child protection workers, I could totally feel the anger and the angst at the political correctness madness the system can get into. I loved how the story built up…from the present to the past and rejoining the present…all in the form of letters. And it kept you gripped wanting to know more. More about Fat’s past. More about what led her to kidnap this baby. More about who this baby was. It was heart-breaking in some instances as well and will make the reader question the system we live in. For someone who works as part of the system though, it comes as no surprise. Another thing I really enjoyed about the book was the local knowledge. While a lot of the past is set in Forster, the present is in Sydney. And knowing the landmarks and the suburbs has a connected feel to the whole thing. It almost makes the story feel real.

I give it a rating of 5. And I’m heading off to the library to get more of her books.

Trip of a lifetime

…by Liz Byrski.

Heather Delaney is a local Member of Parliament in Newcastle. Her life is thrown off balance when she gets shot at and injured. Problem is, she doesn’t know who did it or why they would target her. This attack doesn’t just affect Heather. Her older brother Adam and his second wife Jill who are already struggling fine that their marriage is even more stressful with Adam withdrawing into his shell with his music leaving Jill to question things. Then there is Shaun who works for Heather and who was also present at the time of the shooting. He battles with his responsibilities and his relationship. Diane, a woman volunteering in Heather’s office, can’t seem to get past her divorce two years ago and is bitter about everything. Heather’s aunt Barbara who is enjoying her rural retirement, is about to have things disrupted as well following the shooting. And finally, there is Ellis. Heather’s ex-flame. Who turns up on reading what has happened to her trying to be her knight in shining armour. And is determined to make the relationship work his way. Only to have Adam ruffled because of how he treated Heather in the past. But this is a secret no one is talking about.

I picked this book up on a whim at the library. I’d never heard of the author but thought I’d give it a shot. While the story line was gripping in some parts, there were several sections that dragged on for me and some which I found just completely unrealistic. Like how some people managed to change their personalities completely with some sort of epiphany. This, after being a certain way for almost 50 years. I also couldn’t identify with most of the characters…most of them being 50 plus years of age. In some ways you could say it is a book for older women but not necessarily in the chick-lit category. It also looks into families and the struggles of trying to keep up in society. The book did redeem itself with the ending I must admit but all in all, it wasn’t really a book that I just had to get to or had to read.

I give it a rating of 2.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

***Note: This review has been cross-posted on my personal blog***

The Riders

…by Tim Winton.

Scully is setting up a life in Ireland while waiting for his wife Jennifer and 7 year old daughter, Billie to join him from Australia after settling things such as selling their home and bringing over everything else they own. Scully loves his wife, his daughter and Australia. But he decides to leave Australia for his wife’s sake…as she wants a change in their lives. On the day of their arrival, Scully goes to welcome them at the airport. Only to have the shock of his life. Billie arrives in Ireland but there is no sign of Jennifer. Jennifer who is pregnant, has not left any note with Billie or any message. Nothing. And Scully’s life falls apart. Thus ensues a search for Jennifer through countries they have previously visited as a family including Greece, France and the Netherlands.

This is a story about love and loss and a man’s search for a person he thought he knew. It is about the love of a man for his daughter and the love of a daughter for her imperfect father. There are some heart-wrenching moments especially when Billie is selectively mute possibly following the shock of her mother leaving. The pain Scully feels is real. On the downside though, a lot is left unanswered. For instance, the woman they meet on a boat who follows them around. Her motives are unclear. Her history is unclear. And finally, why has Jennifer left? Where has she gone to?

It is an interesting read if you are prepared for a number of things to be left open to the reader and not being answered completely. I guess in my mind, I was comparing it to Cloudstreet which I enjoyed a lot more and this did not live up to his other book. I give it a rating of 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

***This has been cross-posted on my personal blog***

The Man who loved Children

… by Christina Stead.

First and foremost, don’t let the title put you off. This isn’t a story about paedophilia. Rather, it is about an American family — the Pollits. The head of the family is Sam Pollit — a chauvinist, a narcissist, who loves his children, enjoys his work as a public servant and believes his morals and his way of living is the right way of living. Then there is his wife. His second wife, Henny Pollit. With physical and possibly, mental health issues of her own. And a brood of children — Louise (aka Louie) from his dead first wife, Rachel, Ernest, Evelyn (aka Evie), Sam and Saul (twins) and Tommy. The children are unaware of their mother’s misery and together with Sam take it in their stride. However, Louie seems to be able to see through her father at times. Not always though. Sam basically can’t provide for his huge family and Henny is snobbish enough to not be able to budget despite borrowing from others.

During this period, Sam gets sent to Singapore for a period of 10 months on work. Upon his return, he is faced with crises. His wife gives birth again. To a son named Charles. His rich father-in-law dies leaving them nothing. And he has to move his family from their home as his late father-in-law didn’t leave it to them. And finally, he loses his job thanks to negative reviews from Singapore. As he loses his job, Sam ends up staying home and being a father to his children as well as other kids from the neighbourhood. He talks about eccentric views and ideas while at the same time treating his wife like shit. His behaviour towards Louie sways from one end to the next. He is sweet at times and viciously mean at others. Unfortunately, he seems to think it is all in jest and the other children get their laughs too. All in all, it tells the story of a highly dysfunctional and unhappy family.

This is a massive book spanning about 500 plus pages. But the story woven by Stead is remarkable. It appears to be so realistic that you cringe and you worry with the characters. Despite the fact that it was set back in the 1940s or so, you could readily believe a story like this to be set in the current day. There are still such dysfunctional families. There are still such unhappy families. There are men like Sam who continue to believe where a woman’s place is supposed to be. It was probably worse back then  but it exists even now. His brutality and violence towards Henny, both physically and emotionally make you loathe him. The manner in which he treats his children is also written beautifully. He truly believes he loves them. He has nicknames for the entire lot. But at the same time, should they think contrary to him, they face his wrath in the form of words. The book leads up beautifully to a climactic ending which isn’t necessarily a happy one.

Apparently, the book was first based in Sydney but in a re-issue edition in 1965 (which I ended up reading), it was changed to an American family based in Washington. It’s a bit disappointing because I would have preferred to read the original version. However, it looks like the American one is the only one in print.

To sum up, this book is a brilliant look into dysfunctional families. How unhappy life can get when adults in the family don’t act their role and remain idealistic and self-involved. Some of the reading might be a bit difficult due to Sam’s eccentricities and the manner in which he says things but the reader can definitely get past that. I give it a rating of 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

***This has been cross-posted on my personal blog***