Book review: The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans

cv_the_island_houseThis book is in bookstores now.

An Australian archaeology student inherits a deserted Scottish island from her estranged archaeologist father. She travels to the wild, wind-swept island and tries to learn more about the ancient artifacts her father had begun uncovering. Meanwhile, on the same island, 1200 years ago, a Pictish girl comes into the care of a group of nuns and monks after her family is killed in a Viking raid. It’s a story of love and loss in two time zones, with a time-travelling ghost thrown in. Think Cross Stitch meets Clan of the Cave Bear and you’d be close.

There was a lot about this book to like. The descriptions of the fictional island of Findnar and life in a Christian commune in 800AD were evocative and educational. It is not a period of history I know much about and I found it interesting enough to have to head off to the internet after I finished to learn more about the fascinating Picts of northern Scotland.

The book began promisingly with two budding relationships. In the present day, Australian Freya Dane (and she’s almost always called “Freya Dane” or “Miss Dane” by the characters in the story; these people do not go in for informalities) and local Dan Boyne meet, hate each other on sight, argue passionately, and then, typically, fall head over cliché heels for each other.

The parallel story takes place a thousand years ago and sees Signy and Bear fall madly in love, despite circumstances conspiring to keep them apart.

However, every avid sitcom watcher and chick-lit reader knows that you can’t bring a blossoming romance to resolution too quickly; you need to heighten the anticipation by teasing the audience with “will they, won’t they” plot twists. It was therefore frustrating that both the fledgling romances in this book were resolved by two-thirds of the way through the story (one ridiculously and unrealistically quickly and one unhappily). That left the remainder of the story centred on the political machinations of the various clan leaders as they jostled for supremacy. I confess I lost interest and resorted to skimming my way to the end of the book.

This book ticked all my boxes for a promising holiday read – history, romance, culture, and gorgeous scenery. And I did enjoy it. But I didn’t love it. I suspect a large part of that was due to the annoyingly negative Freya Dane and her abandonment issues. At times, I just wanted to shake her – “You’ve just inherited an island, woman! And an island full of archaeological mysteries and hidden treasures at that. Your PhD thesis is writing itself. You’ve just met not one but two attractive and charming Scottish blokes. Surely you can crack a smile occasionally!”

If you can get beyond Miss Dane’s sulkiness and some of the “yeah right” implausibility of the archaeology, then this could be an enjoyable summer holiday read.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

The Island House
by Posie Graeme-Evans
Published by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
ISBN 9780340920411

Book review: Hope Street, Jerusalem by Irris Makler

This book is in bookstores now.

The Jerusalem Irris Makler describes in her entertaining memoir Hope Street, Jerusalem sounds incredible. It’s got good weather, cafes and farmers markets galore, gorgeous sandstone architecture, and cultures and languages that have been percolating in a historical stew for thousands of years. It’s where Makler first fell in love, with her Israeli boyfriend Raphael; where Makler found her ratbag of a dog Mia; and where she did some of her most significant work in her job as an international news correspondent.

Jerusalem sounds fantastic. If it wasn’t for all those suicide bombings.

In this way Makler describes her years in Jerusalem in Hope Street, Jerusalem, her troubled love song to the ancient Biblical city. While a good deal of the book is given over to her romance with Raphael and her trials with Mia, it’s nevertheless the shadow of the Israeli-Palestine conflict that looms over all.

It’s jolting to read of Makler’s horror at Raphael taking the bus—a perfectly innocuous thing to do unless you live in a city where buses are frequently the target of terrorists’ bombs. In Jerusalem, the political and the personal live dangerously cheek by jowl, and one of this book’s great strengths is Makler’s ability to navigate between the two to find the personal story within the big political picture.

Again and again, Makler finds just the right human story to bring major political events close to home. To her credit, though, the string of tragedies she inevitably ends up describing never feel maudlin, sentimental or trivialised.

Makler also bares all about her bittersweet relationship with Raphael and her difficulties with Mia in this book. While her romantic life makes good reading (who doesn’t love a good romance?), the number of pages devoted to shenanigans with Mia was rather excessive. But my sense of doggy excess is surely coloured by the fact that I don’t own (and have never owned) a dog, and dog lovers may well adore this book.

Moreover, the drama of the book’s opening (during which Makler’s jaw is smashed by a stone thrown by a protester) is not adequately paid off by the ending, and the attempts at constructing a book-wide theme (namely, fate versus free will) come off sounding exactly that—constructed.

While these large-scale structural aspects fall flat, Makler’s skills at shaping the miniature are undeniable. Makler has a razor sharp eye for detail and for human (and doggy) behaviour, an ear well tuned to Jerusalem’s different speech patterns and accents (from Haim the fishmonger: “Yes, I know they’re different colours, this one is orange and that one is grey, but they are the same fish. What do you think—that I don’t know my fish?”), and a journalist’s well-honed ability to vividly and concisely tell a story well.

These skills bring Jerusalem, in all its dangerous, chaotic, multicultural madness, to life. Hope Street, Jerusalem is part armchair travel memoir, part diary-of-a-dog-owner, part pocket history of the Middle East, part romance, and all in all a perfect beach read.
Reviewed by Feby Idrus

Hope Street, Jerusalem
By Irris Makler
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780732294168

Book review: The Selection: By Keira Cass

This book is in bookstores now.

I was very hesitant about reading The Selection after sifting threw some overseas reviews prior to getting the book myself. I went in head first expecting to be disappointed with yet another over the top teen romance book, but to my surprise I was totally captivated and you would have struggled to tear the book from my grasp. There was never a right time to take a break and put the book down, constantly wanting to know what was beyond the next page and what was about to unfold in the country of Illea; I was on the edge of my seat shushing those talking amongst themselves in the same room, and managed to finish the book within five or six hours.

The Selection is a story set after World War 4 where Illea has changed immensely and is divided into castes, the “ones” being those of royalty and the “eights” being the homeless and less fortunate. The story follows the life of America Singer a “five” who is secretly dating Aspen from a lower caste then herself.

When the monarchy decides to hold a selection in order to find prince Maxon a bride, America is pushed by her mother and Aspen to apply for one of the thirty-five spaces, for a chance to become princess and a better life for her and her family. After thinking she would never be selected she is surprised to hear her name announced on TV as one of the chosen few, and is moved into the palace to compete against the other girls for Prince Maxon’s heart.

Thinking she could never fall in love with the prince, America is surprised to find herself wound up in the centre of a love triangle when Aspen becomes a palace guard and is stationed at her bedroom door for safety. What had me on the edge of my seat was when the rebels were introduced into the book. There are two lots of rebels – the Northerners and Southerners  – who try to invade the palace endangering the monarchy, the girls and everyone else residing there.

A very addictive book, that you just won’t be able to put down or stop visualising in your head. It constantly drags you in, making you want to read more and to know what happens next. This novel is packed with enough romance,drama and suspense without being over top, a great spin on Cinderella meets The Bachelor, I would be very excited to read any of the other books Kiera Cass has planned for the future.

I must add that the only disappointing part for me was the final page that lead me to realise this was the first installment of three books and I would have to wait until book two was released to once again sit on the edge of my seat in anticipation of whats to come next.

Reviewed by Jessica Moore.

The Selection
By Keira Cass
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780007466696