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review 2018-11-13 20:16
A powerful and poignant drama recommended to book clubs
The Swooping Magpie - Liza Perrat

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and was provided with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is the fifth of Liza Perrat’s novels I read, so you won’t be surprised to hear that I am a fan. I have read her historical novels in The Bone Angel Series, and also The Silent Kookaburra, set, like this novel, in the 1970s. It seems that the author intends to write a new series of independent novels, set in Australia in the 1970s, reflecting the everyday lives and realities of women in the period, and this is the second one. All of the author’s novels have female protagonists and closely explore their subjectivities and how they adapt to their social circumstances in the different historical periods. They might be fictional but the pay close attention to details and are the result of careful research.

Here, the main character is Lindsay Townsend, who narrates the story in the first person, in three different time periods, the early 1970s, the early 1990s, and the final fragment, set in 2013. The first part, and the longest shows us, Lindsay, when she is about to become 16. She is (at least on the surface), a very confident girl, clever, pretty, with plenty of money, from a good family, although not all is at it seems. She seems to lead a charmed life, but her home life is rather sad, with a violent father more interested in keeping up appearances than in looking after his wife and daughter, and a mother hooked on pills and spending as much time as possible out of the house on her charity work. Despite all that, Lindsay is not a particularly sympathetic character, and I know that might be a problem for readers who are not that keen on first-person narratives, as placing you in the skin of a character you don’t like might make for an uncomfortable reading experience, even if it is for a very good reason. She is a typical teenager, overconfident, and a bit of a bully, showing no sympathy for anybody’s circumstances at the beginning of the book. She dismisses her peers, feeling superior to all of them, and, as usual at that age, she believes she knows better than anybody and is invincible. That lands her in a lot of trouble, as she falls for one of the teachers, with consequences that readers might guess but that, at the time, don’t cross her mind. At a time when society was far less tolerant of alternative families, and women’s liberation had not taken hold, Lindsay is faced with an impossible decision and is suddenly confronted with a reality miles away from her everyday life. Her intelligence (unfortunately not accompanied by common sense) and her stubbornness don’t provide her with any answers when confronted with a teenage pregnancy. Faced with hard work, and thrown in the middle of a group of girls from different walks of life and social classes, she discovers what she is really made off and learns a very bitter lesson.

Although Lindsay herself is not likeable, especially at the beginning of the story, when she goes to St. Mary’s we learn about the varied experiences of other girls in her same circumstances and it is impossible not to feel touched and care for them. We have girls from the rural outback, abused by relatives, others who are the children of immigrant families who have no means to look after their babies, and with Downey, the little aboriginal girl whose story is, perhaps, the most heart-wrenching because she is a child herself, we get a representation of the scale of the problem (and a pointed reminder of the aboriginal experience in Australia). This was not something that only happened to girls of a certain social class or ethnic origin. It happened to everybody.  Through the different timelines, we get to follow the historic and social changes that took place, how laws affected adopted children and their biological parents, and we also get a picture of the ongoing effect those events had on those women, the children, and their families. We have women who never want to learn what happened to their babies, others who try but cannot get any information, others who get reunited with their children many years later, some who suffer ongoing negative consequences from their experiences, whilst others manage to create new lives for themselves. But the wound of the loss is always present.

The author deals with the tragic topic skilfully. If at times some of the scenes seem to have come out of a horrific version of a fairy tale (there are characters who are like evil witches, and Lindsay and her friends confront tasks that would put Cinderella to shame), and the degree of corruption and conspiracy stretches the imagination, we only need to read the news and listen to personal accounts of women who have been in such situation to realise that, whatever the concessions to fiction, the writer has done her research and has managed to capture the thoughts and feelings of the many women affected by this issue.

The action is set in Australia, mostly in Wollongong, New South Wales, with some events taking place in Sidney and other areas of the country. I have always admired the author’s talent for recreating the locations of her stories and for making us experience them with all of our senses, submerging us in the smells, the sounds, the tastes (I don’t know some of the foods and labels included, but they do add to the feel of authenticity), the flora and fauna, the clothing, the music, and the language of the time. Although forced adoptions are a widespread problem and it has affected a number of other countries (we might not know its full scale yet), the realistic location (and the family connection and research the author refers to in the author’s note at the back of the book) makes it more immediate and real still.

The story is extremely well-written, with enough description, both of the place and of the period, to ground the action without making it drag, but although it manages to combine action and surprises with reflective passages, the strongest point of the novel is its exploration of the psychological effects of losing a child, especially in those circumstances. The author manages to capture the thoughts and feelings of the character and through her conversations; we also get some insight into the experiences of others. In the first part of the book we have a young girl, and we get to share her thought process, her hesitations, doubts, and we feel trapped with her by a situation she is not in control of, and even though we might not have much in common with her, we do empathise and get to see things from her point of view. We do suffer with her and her friends, and although we might not like everything she says or does, we appreciate her kindness and the way she gets to bond with the other girls at St. Mary’s. Lindsay lives through much heartache, and grows and changes as a result, but people reading this book need to be aware that there are disturbing scenes and the topic of adoptions and depression might hit close home for many.

This is another great novel and although it can be read simply as fiction, I would recommend it in particular to readers interested in adoptions, particularly forced adoptions, and the perspectives of the families involved. I think it would make for a great book club choice, as the subject is one that will interest many readers, and it will bring much discussion, and the author includes a detailed list of some of the resources she has used to research the topic, providing extra material for those interested. Personally, I felt more empathy for other characters than for Lindsay, but no matter how much or how little we like each individual who went through such experiences, this novel will give readers pause and make them reflect upon the horrors that have been enforced in the recent past in the name of morality and decency. A powerful and poignant novel, to add to the catalogue of an accomplished and talented writer.

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review 2018-11-11 19:31
Book Meanders, Though Ends on a Hopeful Note
An Irish Country Cottage - Patrick Taylor

Well this is another Christmas book though I didn't realize it at the time. I think I just skimmed over the synopsis and started reading right away.

 

I will say that this may be a major change for many who have been reading the Irish Country books. Though Taylor invites some history into his books, he has mostly stayed away from the Troubles in Ireland. Now though, he takes on the first signs of this when he showcases the fights between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.

 

I am not surprised he finally showed it in his books, Barry's now wife Sue, is a member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and has often talked about Dr. Martin Luther King, and one man, one vote. I think Taylor did a good job of incorporating that into his book, but I still find it unrealistic that the town of Ballybucklebo would not have any issues with things going on. Though that part was okay, I thought the rest of the book was a wash. Too many plots were going on and we didn't get to spend much time before rushing off to read about something else. 

 

"An Irish Country Village" takes 18 months after the events in the last book. FYI, I am still salty we didn't get a wedding scene in the last book and instead had Kinky describing it before Taylor gets into his usual recipes.

 

We have Barry and Sue returning home from the Christmas holidays when they stop due to fire trucks rushing past. They follow and realize that Donal's family's cottage is up in flames. Barry and Sue of course take the whole family back to number one (O'Reilly's home) and soon the whole village pitches in to help out Donal and his family. Donal and his family are able to move temporarily, but the village does what it can to help him rebuild his old cottage. 

 

We still have O'Reilly still wishing that Kitty would retire to spend more time with him (eyeroll city) and that's about it. He and Kitty are happy, and O'Reilly does what he does best, sits around and meddles with things. 

 

We have a new doctor in this one that I didn't feel anything about her. She was just there, and boring in my eyes. We have reference to the doctor in the last book who takes over Fitzpatrick's practice and that's about it. It's so weird how Taylor will just ignore characters and go on and on about those I would happily take a break from (like Bertie and Flo). Fitzpatrick does appear in this one, and we get another romance on the horizon. 

 

As I said above the book talks about the Troubles for the first time. I have never read about the march that took place on January 1, 1969. The People's Democracy began a four-day march from Belfast to Derry, which got harassed and attacked by loyalists. We even have Sue and Barry go and march in the book and I think the incident that is referenced in this book, is about Burntollet Bridge. We have Barry witnessed people getting attacked and doing what he can to help a young woman who is hit repeatedly over the head. I am not going to lie, I was sick of Sue's attitude in this one. She wants to continue marching even though people are being beaten all around them and doesn't get why Barry (who is a doctor) refused to continue on and stays and tends to the woman he got attacked. I read a bit more about this incident and it sound pretty bad. The book ends in March, but reading further, there are several more incidents that will be occurring that it seems Taylor will incorporate into this book. 

 

We have major plots also dealing with Barry and Sue's fertility problems, Bertie's health issues, etc. It just reads like same old same old in this one. 

 

There is an interesting ending though with the talk of someone who has been in this series from the beginning, who may emigrate due to the fights between the Catholics and Protestants. And it seems to be setting up possibly Barry's exit from this series. 

 

I forgot to mention this book is $15 and is not worth the price at all. 

 

New Year's Eve (December 31): Read a book about endings, new starts, or books where things go BOOM!

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text 2018-11-08 19:32
Reading progress update: I've read 174 out of 512 pages.
The Night Watch - Sarah Waters

I´m still not sure what this book is actually about. There isn´t much of a plot. But I actually don´t mind because of the great characters in this novel.

I have to admit, though, that Helen´s jealousy makes me mad. I wonder what made her become such a jealous lunatic.

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text 2018-11-07 21:12
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 512 pages.
The Night Watch - Sarah Waters

My second to last Sarah Waters novel. I´m reading this for door 24 (Epiphany - January 6th), a book with the word "twelve" or "night" in the title.

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review 2018-11-07 19:06
MonkĀ“s-hood
Monk's Hood - Ellis Peters

The Brother Cadfael series slowly becomes my favorite comfort read series. It´s so cozy and heartwarming and I love Brother Cadfael as a character. He is a genuinely good person and and he loves to help people when they are in dire need of help. And the fact that he is Welsh makes him even more sympathetic. Don´t ask me why that is, it just adds a lot to his character.

 

I have to say, though, that Monk´s-hood, the third book in the series, has been my least favorite so far. The mystery hasn´t been the most interesting one and the story dragged a bit in the middle of the novel. And the people Cadfael meets in this novel were bland and this book didn’t leave me with a feeling of perfect content upon finishing it.

 

Monk´s-Hood isn´t by any means a bad book and as with the other Cadfael books it gave me that cozy feeling, but it´s definitely not the best book in the series.

 

Monk´s-hood is part of a finished (dead) series.

 

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