One of the things I love about the end of the year is the break from work, which allows me to soak up even more books than usual. I’m trying to think of all the books I’ve read but I’m having a brain freeze moment here.
So, here are some of the books I’ve read and chose to review.
First up is a book I read in preparation for the upcoming Perth Festival Writers Week. I’ve been invited to chair two sessions – more on that in another post – and one of them will feature Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal.
I must admit to a little trepidation when I started this book as erotica is not my preferred genre of choice. But Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, while undeniably erotic in parts, was not erotica. Rather, it was a thought-provoking story of community, love, sex and intimacy that swept me to the Punjabi community in Southall, London, and into the lives of a group of ageing widows who want to learn to write. Young teacher Nikki soon learns that most of the women can’t actually write a word, so she starts at the very beginning with the ABCs. What she finds is that the women are more interested in telling and sharing erotic stories from deep in their imagination (perhaps …). The stories made me laugh out loud (particularly a conversation about which vegetable best described a certain body part), they made me smile, they made me gasp (these women have amazing imaginations) … and I could not stop reading.
The lightness of the erotic storytelling is counterbalanced by multiple themes – secrets, culture, tradition, arranged marriage pros and cons, mystery, education, mother-daughter relationships, and the ongoing clashes between modern and traditional worlds. It’s vulnerable, it’s funny, it’s warm … and it makes you think. Film rights have been sold, so I’m keeping my eyes out for further news.
Another book that delivered a smile to my face was The Café by the Bridge by Lily Malone. It’s no secret that I love Lily’s wry humour – she has an entertaining way of writing that makes me smile and then wham! smacks me in the face with a reality bite so I have to catch my breath. In this, the second book in the Chalk Hill series, she delivers the goods – the smiles, the laughs, the warm and fuzzies, the tension, and of course, the chemistry. There’s no denying the sparks between Taylor and Abe as they tap-dance their way through a gruff first encounter to the bedroom and beyond.
I particularly enjoyed the setting – Chalk Hill is fictional, but the surrounding Porongurup National Park is not. Reading a book set in a place I know and love always draws me in deep (I totally got Taylor’s pain as she huffed and puffed up to the spectacular Granite Skywalk at Castle Rock, but trust me, the view is worth it). Also, Lily has a knack of highlighting contemporary and relevant issues such as male depression, ageing parents, generational conflict, and financial stress without bringing down the mood. But mostly, I love the way Lily weaves the conflict of past baggage and bad decisions into a sassy romance, keeping me turning the pages to see if Abe and Taylor get their acts together.
If you’re a lover of contemporary rural romance, and you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of Lily’s work, add her to your must-read list. She’s one to watch.
Can’t wait for book 3, Lily!
Speaking of not being able to wait to read a book, I’ve been following with interest the updates on Cassie Hamer’s debut novel After the Party. Thanks to Netgalley, I was able to read an advance copy and I’ll say now, add this to your reading lists if you are a fan of Liane Moriarty and her sister Nicola Moriarty. You’ll get a story that mixes the joys and challenges of throwing a children’s birthday party with intrigue, tension, likeable characters, and plenty of party-popping humour.
I don’t want to give too much away here, but let’s say that the whole-class party itself is a challenge, especially since the well-to-do parents are of the drop-and-run variety, but what happens next is more challenging yet. One child is not picked up and further investigation shows she wasn’t even in the birthday girl’s class. Who is she and where is her mum? That’s what Lisa and her sister have to figure out. Add in a private investigator, a Russian mobster, a possible move to Dubai, a love triangle, and chaos all round, and you get the picture.
I was thoroughly entertained by After the Party – it’s refreshingly light but warm to its core.
Moving on to more gritty reads now. Force of Nature by Jane Harper delivered compelling suspense, tight writing, an evocative landscape, and complicated (mostly unlikeable) characters. The immediate past gradually merges with the present as Det. Aaron Falk investigates the disappearance of whistleblower, Alice. She was one in a group of five women taking part (reluctantly) on a corporate retreat, and when she disappears in the bush, it emerges that each of the women had reason to despise her. The tension between the women is cleverly underscored by the menacing bush (my favourite “character”), which evokes the lost child narrative of Australian lore with brooding brilliance.
Force of Nature is a cracking read that almost lives up to its predecessor, The Dry. It maintains a solid pace throughout and the two timelines connect seamlessly. Recommended!
Other books I’ve read have included A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (loved it – so many philosophical gems to think about), Anne of Green Gables (delightful as ever), and A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski (entertaining and thoughtful – plus it gave me some more books for my to-read list).
Which book do you want to read? What are you reading now?