The Dangers of Truffle Hunting – Sunni Overend

The Dangers of Truffle Hunting was very different from my usual read, which is the beauty of my Sensei Subscription. I get to sample books that I generally would not have picked for myself, although, if anything is a cover buy, it is this. The cover is beautiful and alluring. Despite this being far from my usual genre I very much enjoyed the story. In fact I read this in one day. Kit Gossard is your typical young woman in Australia, she has her life together. Her finance, Scott, is an up and coming furniture designer, she just secured a full-time job in her chosen field of food photography and she spends extra time home on the family winery. All is well and running to plan. Until she finds herself feeling bored, constrained, not sure this path is for her. This all comes about when she meets the mysterious Raph (seriously, for the first half of this book I read his name as Ralph until a certain point where it blew my mind and I realised I had been reading it wrong the entire time). And then it all goes wrong.

 

This book is a romance/finding yourself type story with the narrator at the end of her twenties. As someone of a similar age I found this quite relatable. You think by this age you would have your life together, perfectly sorted, however, that is not necessarily the case and isn’t for most of my peers. I found this aspect quite realistic and something that many people could identify with. I also loved that it was set around a winery, this appeals to all my fantasies and in case you didn’t know, I love wine and visiting wineries. In fact, even little old Adelaide and the Barossa are scenes within the novel. Although, I knew I didn’t like Scott after his comments about my home (haha).

 

I did find myself incredibly frustrated with Kit for the whole middle portion of the novel. Of course the reader can see all her flaws and what the right path or her is (well, what the wrong path is at the very least). Of course it takes her a good part of the novel to figure that out, I guess there wouldn’t be much of a novel if she did figure it out. That didn’t stop me face-palming when she continually refuses to see what is in front of her face. What Overhand captures perfectly and what makes this better than your average romance is the way she describes the passion with food and wine. Love, like good food and wine can be messy, artful, hungry and passionate. All of that is captured within the pages and shows a true understanding of the underbelly of life. Lets all be honest, safe and clean is boring and restrictive.

 

I also appreciated that Overhand threw in some greats twists that I didn’t see coming. From early on you have a good idea of how the book will end so keeping the reader on their toes and removing much of the predictability in the core of the novel ket it interesting. This novel was insightful and intriguing and I would most definitely recommend picking it up. I give the Dangers of Truffle Hunting three glasses of wine.

 

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Eyrie – Tim Winton

Tim Winton is one of my favourite Australian authors and Eyrie is another of his works that I am slowly making my way through. Eyrie tells the story of Tom Keely. His life is a shambles. Divorced, broken, jobless and living off cask wine and prescription medication. His current state is not ideal and he floats through life in a hole his mother and sister try to pull him out of. Everything is turned upside down as he discovers his neighbour is a blast from his past. His past has a young grandson, Kai, and the two develop an unusual relationship that moves towards an urgent climax that affects them all.

 

A Tim Winton novel that I did not love? I was a little sad that this novel turned out that way for me. As always the prose is hauntingly accurate and his writing is masterful. Passages of this text are jolty and confusing leaving the reader almost with a headache, Winton perfectly putting the reader in the same state as the protagonist, Tom, Not many writers are capable of this but Winton does so perfectly. It certainly isn’t fun or necessarily enjoyable but the reader cannot doubt his skill. This was about the only saving grace in this novel for me.

 

My issue lies with characters. Tom and Gemma are two of the three focus characters in this novel an I just did not like them. There was not anything particularly redeeming about them. I didn’t actively dislike them as people but their actions were incredibly frustrating. Both of these characters made poor decisions and refused to help themselves, effectively creating their own problems that affected other, more helpless characters within the story. Their lack of grown up actions left me feeling quite frustrated for the duration of the novel. Unfortunately, in a story driven by the intricacies of the characters and not the plot this overtook any other thoughts about this novel. I found it difficult to immerse myself within the novel and enjoy the story.

 

Winton is still a favourite author of mine and I will continue to make my way through all his novels but this is definitely my least favourite so far. I would recommend this novel if you can look past characters and enjoy a good piece of prose. I can see how others really enjoy this novel, unfortunately for me it just is not my thing. I give Eyrie three of Kai’s birds, the masterful writing does save it somewhat for me.

 

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The Suburbs of Hell – Randolph Snow

The Suburbs of Hell is one of many old Australian classic novels that Text Publishing have rereleased. The final novel by Randolph Snow, The Suburbs of Hell tells the story of a small English seaside town in the thralls of a serial killer. The killer appears to pick his victims at random and with no one safe the residents start turning their suspicions on each other to disastrous consequences.

 

At first I was a little disappointed with this novel, it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I had imagined it was more of a psychological thriller, a calculated killer stalking his victims in turn instilling fear in the reader as we follow his bloody trail and with this novel having been inspired by the stalking and killing of the Redlands monster I was surprised with what it really was. My disappointment didn’t linger upon finishing this short novel when I realised that, instead, this was a much more intelligent novel. Something different and much more striking. The Suburbs of Hells is more about the psychological terror of what it is like living in a town stalked by a silent killer. The way gossip can turn anyone into a murderous soul. The paranoia and constant living in fear and how that can wear down a soul. How despite the law looking into this terror, ultimately, they are powerless until the killer becomes careless. Yes, this novel was nothing what I expected but so much more.

 

The prose is beautiful, understated and aims true. I found the accent of the characters a little difficult to follow at first but in time did not notice it. I loved the way the chapters were set out, each ending in the same way: a creepy little window into the most terrifying moments. Without spoiling anything I will also say the ending was memorable and I though the way it was ended was perfect. It completely fit the tone of the novel and leaves the reader much to ponder. There is so much more I want to say to describe the atmosphere and quiet contemplativeness of this novel, yet, to do so would spoil aspects of the story.

 

I will leave you with this: read this book if you want a novel that is psychologically demanding in an unusual way, read this is you want a different take on a crime novel. Just do not go into The Suburbs of Hell expecting your typical psychological thriller because you may be disappointed (or pleasantly surprised in my case). This was a great read and I’m glad that Text Publishing have brought this gem back. I give The Suburbs of Hell three rifles, the killers weapon of choice.

 

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The Piper’s Son – Melina Marchetta

A companion book to Saving Francesca the reader finds themselves reunited with some familiar faces and a few new ones in the Piper’s Son. Tom is grieving his uncle who died in an explosion on the London Tube. He dropped out of uni, walked away from his music and turned his back on his friends, including the one he can’t forget, he one who can’t stand him after the “one and a half night stand”. Living with his single, pregnant aunt he tries to piece back his life together while trying to accept his alcoholic father back into his life.

 

This novel is like a walk down memory lane, or as a good friend put like “putting on a pair of comfy old pants”. We are welcomed back into the lives of Tom, Francesa, Justine and the gang. What is interesting is seeing where they all are five years down the track. Is it where you thought they would be? This answer will be different for everyone but it is fascinating nonetheless. With the switch and focus in perspective on Tom you see the old characters in a new light but with plenty of references back to the familiar old days that will have the reader grinning along at all the in-jokes. For all you die-hard Marchetta fans there is a easter egg hidden within the novel. One I congratulated myself on picking up with a subtle reference until the following pages made it a lot clearer. All I will say is when you find it, it will make a little too much sense and leave you feeling a little lighter.

 

Despite all my references to the past this is a complete stand alone novel that anyone can read and enjoy. I myself found it quite difficult to get into initially because of my previous ideas about the characters and didn’t really settle into it until about halfway through. I did find myself falling back in love with these characters who have grown and matured in so many ways. I also fell in love with some of the newer characters, Tom’s family in particular. His aunt Georgie was a gorgeous character to follow through her highs and lows of pregnancy as a single woman with a complex history. Ned was another highlight, the poetic chef who hates rhyming.

 

This novel deals with themes of grief that manifest in different ways. We watch how Tom and the rest of his family move through the the different stages of accepting the death of a family member. A death that occurred on the other side of the world. A death that left not even a body to bury. Marchetta understands the complexities of family relationships strained by years of smaller tensions, stretched in these circumstances.

 

Once again I found myself caught up in Marchetta’s words and her characters. There is something about her writing that gets under my skin and I find myself enjoying her novels every single time. I do recommend the Piper’s Son, particularly if you are aquatinted with her earlier YA novels but also a snapshot of grief and how it can consume you. How it can set fire to the pages of your life while you watch it turn to smoke. This is an unflinching, yet heartwarming novel with the buoyancy of youth. I give the Piper’s Son three of Tom’s guitars.

 

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Norse Mythology – Neil Gaimen

Before the beginning there was nothing – no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky: only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.

Norse Mythology is Gaimen’s most recent release. Simply put this book is a retelling of the Norse myths of old with the unique flair of fantasy king Gaimen. In all honesty there really isn’t much to this review as it is such a simple concept. Thanks to Marvel we are all familiar with the Norse gods Thor and Loki, what many of us don’t know are the origins of these characters and the stories surrounding them. Gaiman provides colour and flesh to these stories taking the reader on a journey from the creation of the world until the end of it. I would definitely recommend this book, particularly if you have an interest in the mythology of old world gods. Growing up I always loved ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology so loved immersing myself in the stories of the Norse gods.

 

These myths do keep to the stories of old so as much as Gaimen fleshes these stories out, he does not deviate from them. The reader can tell he has a genuine love and affinity for these myths in the way he crafts his words. Personally I much prefer the flair that comes from true fiction and would probably recommend American Gods over this novel first. Gaiman takes these mythological characters and places them in a fictional story where he can manipulate the storyline as he chooses, while keeping true to the characters. This particular novel is masterful and consuming, one I know I will read again and again. That being said this is an easy and enjoyable read that teaches you about the history of the Norse gods. I give Norse Mythology three of Thor’s hammers.

 

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Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a tale of revolutionary China. Spanning from Chairman Mao’s ascent to power, right through to the aftermath of Tiananmen Square. At the centre of the novel, holding the multiple threads together is ten-year-old Marie living with her mother in Canada. Ai-ming is a student running from the fallout of Tiananmen Square who comes into their lives bringing back memories of Marie’s father. Slowly the novel explores China’s bloody revolutions with themes of family, music and love.

 

Thien provides great insight into the history of China, something I had basically no knowledge of prior to reading this novel. It astounds me that this history is not discussed more widely. Everyone knows about WWII and the Holocaust, but China’s revolutions have killed more people in just as brutal ways. Detention camps, denunciations, friends turning on friends. It is all there in abundance coming slowly to the brutal climax that is the Tiananmen Square massacre. Even more disturbing is how in China “officially” this did not occur. There is no reference to this event in the media, the internet, according to the Chinese government it never happened. This novel made me realise just how lucky we are here in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, there is much we can do to improve our country, however, we can protest our government all we want and we will not see repercussions for speaking our mind, we can choose our own paths of study and work and our government does not filter the internet. I realised I could have it much worse and that I should be grateful in my freedoms. In fact, this book despite being most set in China is not available over there because of the references it makes. Scary thought, huh?

 

An absolute strength of this novel lies in the characters. Zhuli, Sparrow and Kai are a once inseparable trio, all magnificently talented musically. Idealistic Kai, naive and beautiful Zhuli and Sparrow who lived in his own little bubble. I fell in love with this trio, in particular with Zhuli’s spirit and it breaks your heart knowing that their moments of peace in each other’s company and music cannot last. Beyond this Big Mother, Swirl and Wen the Dreamer are all highlights within the pages. Ai-ming is a mystery that you want more and more of but are left wondering with Marie, pondering what her fate might be.

 

The use of music and written records add a romantic element into the brutal plot. These little moments of happiness are beautiful and the reader sympathises with how the simple things are what keeps people going in times of hardship and is what can tie people together across generations and continents. Thien weaves a captivating story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, impatient to know what happens next, although you are a little scared to find out the truth. This is a memorable novel that tells an important piece of history that we should all be aware of. More than deserving of the Man Booker nomination I do recommend giving this one a read. I give Do Not Say We Have Nothing three of Zhuli’s violins.

 

 

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A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J. Maas

Finally, with a week to go until the third book is released, I am on the ACOTAR bandwagon. I read this book in little over 24 hours and have already requested the second instalment at the library. If you have been living under a rock the past year or so and don’t know what this book is about ACOTAR follows Feyre, a poor girl trying to provide for her family by hunting. One day hunting in the woods bordering the wall into the fae realm, Feyre kills a giant wolf in order to protect her own kill. It turns out this wolf was a fae and as punishment for her actions Feyre must decide by forfeiting her life or living out her days in the fae realms.

 

Maas very much has a niche  and she fills it perfectly. Her fans have a level of dedication to her novels and characters that you rarely see and demonstrates just how well she writes fantasy and builds worlds that readers can immerse themselves in. I found myself invested in the story early on and found it difficult to put down. I didn’t predict all the twists and turns of the novel  and found myself racing along with the plot. Maas writes intriguing and likeable characters, even the malevolent ones are appealing in their own way.

 

I enjoyed the loose links to Beauty and the Beast. This is effectively an adult version of that story. Much more complex and layered, I loved the feeling of escaping into an adult fairytale. I feel this might be a good starting point for those that are new to fantasy and want to pick something up to try. While the story is high fantasy and very immersive, it still has a familiar concept that might help the transition.

 

This was an easy read that I didn’t want to put down. Maas has done it again and I do plan to follow the series through. i give A Court of Thorns and Roses three roses. I know this may feel a little harsh despite my positive review and if I had of read this five years about I quite possibly would have rated it a full five, but young adult fantasy is not my preferred genre these days. I find I usually only pick these books up occasionally for an easy read. If this is your favourite genre, I guarantee you will love these books.

 

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