Book Review: The Quiet Spectacular, by Laurence Fearnley

Available from Monday 27 June in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_quiet_spectacularThe lives of three females come together in a small hut in a wetland reserve. They each bring their struggles, their quirks and their sense of longing for change. But this is not a novel of angst and pain. Instead it is a celebration of the possibilities all women carry deep inside. Loretta, the librarian, who wants to celebrate the women of the world who have achieved so much, allows us to glimpse the spectacular in life. Chance, a schoolgirl, who was accidentally named Porsche, has to establish herself as a person separate from her literary Mum, and Riva, the woman who came back to New Zealand to create and nurture a wetland area.

You know you are reading a good book when you find that the author seems to be inside your own head, and knows your secret thoughts. While the story itself twists and turns between the main characters, it is the inner thoughts which are so clearly expressed that resonate with me. Men do feature but they are like footnotes, and it is the strength of the women which gives energy to the story. There is a strong storyline and purpose in the telling, as each character has to resolve their own problems. The writing is beautiful and captures the place as well as the emotions in this corner of the South Island.

Laurence Fearnley continues to write about the struggles we have to be ourselves in a world which wants us to conform. The Hut Builder (2011) did this so well, and she has continued to explore such relationships in The Quiet Spectacular. The title, the cover and the chapter illustrations add an extra layer of beauty to the story with detailed plant sketches. Truly spectacular.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Quiet Spectacular
by Laurence Fearnley
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9780143574156

Book Review: Absence, by Joanna King

cv_absenceAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

I was reluctant to face the four of us being together, and for a long as two weeks. It felt too close to what had been destroyed eighteen years ago.

Four sisters are getting together in beautiful Cinque Terre at Rose’s instigation. It is to be a holiday of relaxing and discovering the delights off the tourist track in some modest Italian villages. When Rose does not appear for dinner one night, she sets in motion an unveiling of the past and a dissection of present relationships. Each sister’s personality is displayed by their reaction to the alarming news and, in turn, the dynamics of the sibling relationships are also revealed.

Initially fearing what may have befallen her sister, the narrator and youngest sister, is greatly relieved to finally hear from her, particularly as she had been the last one to talk to Rose. The reason for Rose’s absence brings an unpleasant history back to the fore. The parents’ divorce eighteen years ago is still keenly felt, if not acknowledged, by each sister and has shaped how their own relationships are played out. Over the course of a few days, following Rose’s disappearance and shocking news, the narrator is forced to look closely at her own current relationship with Adrian – a man she cannot claim as her own. A keen-eyed observer of her sisters’ lives, she closely examines her own expectations of love, and reaches a conclusion she feels necessary.

As the story unfolds, so too does some of the family’s history, particularly that of Rose and the narrator; these two are the closest and share a secret that goes a long way to offer an explanation for Rose’s actions.’Laugh, laugh. I didn’t join the mirth. Where they saw subservience, I saw Rose seeking shelter from the storm of herself.’

Joanna King’s wonderful prose is at times full of imagery:
Along the stretch of beach below, the waves hardly appeared to make an effort to shrug their shoulders before they subsided in tranquillity.

At other times, it is lyrical stream of consciousness:
Breathe the night.
Oh, yes.
It’s not often I’m this light.
It’s not often the past has so little hold. I possess the present. That’s all I can live.
That’s all that possesses me…
… Light brain, sly brain, light head, I hardly know what to do.

This makes for vivid and thought-provoking, if somewhat challenging, reading and it pulls you into the lives of these sisters, compelling you to immerse yourself in the intrigues and dynamics of the family, making you hope that they all find contentment and happiness.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Absence
by Joanna King
Published by Black Swan (Penguin Random House NZ)
ISBN: 9781775538653

Book Review: Storms over Blackpeak, by Holly Ford

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_storms_over_blackpeak

Holly Ford is a New Zealand author. She was raised in the southern part of New Zealand on sheep farms of varying sizes. As a frequent visitor to the beautiful mountains and countryside in the South Island, I can understand Holly’s attachment to this part of the country and her admiration for the people who work the land.

Storms over Blackpeak is the third book in this series, after bestsellers Blackpeak Vines (2014) and Blackpeak Station (2014). Not having read the other two books, I thought perhaps I would have difficulty with the characters and events leading up to this particular book. Reading through the synopsis of the other two books, it would have definitely helped to understand some of the characters and topics raised in this book. I will be going back to my local library and ordering the previous two in this series.

Cally Jones is in desperate need of a change of scenery. She has a Masters Degree in Mathematics – a straight A student, yet she hasn’t been able to find anything to do since finishing her Masters. She is currently scrubbing the rooms in the Pinehurst Motels.
Carr Fergusson owns and runs Glencarin Station and is in desperate in need of a housekeeper. His son Ash is returning home from Argentina and is going to take over as stockman. One of their neighbours Hannah, suggests her cousin Cally might be interested in the job as housekeeper.

Cally duly arrives but soon finds herself out of her depth. Her experiences with cooking meals of a reasonable standard are fairly limited. Carr’s partner/girlfriend Lizzie who lives on a neighbouring vineyard is Cally’s saviour, teaching her simple dishes. Lizzie has the ability to turn few ingredients into amazing meals.

Lizzie’s daughter Ella and her financial advisor boyfriend Luke visit Glencarin, leading to alpha male tension brewing between Ash and Luke. Luke is a financial advisor in a family-owned company which gave advice to neighbours of Carr’s that backfired, and with the area being a close knit community, rumours have spread. Ella works as a photographic assistant for a well-known photographer, Damian Priest. She travels a lot with Damian all over the world, often with very little notice. This doesn’t bode will with her relationship with Luke. Ella and Luke try very hard at making their relationship work, but will Luke walk away in frustration?

Cally meeting Ash, Carr’s son for the first time is instantly attracted to him, but is he interested in her? They dance around each other for a good part of the book with the reader wondering how this was going to end – badly, or in each other’s arms?

The characters and their stories interweave to produce a great story. It’s quite raunchy in places, but regardless of this I rather enjoyed it, especially after having had grandchildren staying for the first part of the school holidays. I was more than ready for a good read, and will be definitely reading the other two books in this series.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Storms over BlackpeakGiveaway ad_BLACK
by Holly Ford
Published by Bantam

ISBN 9781775537731

  • Booksellers NZ has all three books in the Blackpeak series so far up for grabs this week. Enter by emailing info@booksellers.co.nz with ‘black peak’ and telling us what your favourite part of the NZ countryside, and your physical address.