BOOK REVIEW: Red Dirt Talking (Jacqueline Wright, Fremantle Press)

Red Dirt TalkingJacqueline Wright won the TAG Hungerford Award for most promising unpublished manuscript in 2010 and Red Dirt Talking is the result. The main protagonist, Annie, is a 40-year-old woman embarking on a new career as an anthropology graduate. She is given the opportunity to live in the small town of Ransom, meet the Indigenous locals and record their histories before making a major presentation at a UN conference. Except Annie encounters roadblocks at every turn as she tries to gather information about the locals. Soon she is drawn into the small town and becomes embroiled in the case of an eight-year-old girl who has gone missing during a bitter custody battle. Gossip and secrets permeate the town as she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. At times Annie is overbearing as a character, too full of earnestness without enough light and shade. But where the author excels is in her male characters, particularly Mick, the silent Aussie bloke who becomes Annie’s love interest, and Maggot, the town garbo who finds trouble wherever he goes. This is a contemporary drama inhabited by a motley crew of characters, crackling with dialogue and shot through with a wry sense of humour.

Sarina Gale is a freelance writer and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared in the October 2012 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here. This book was longlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award.

BOOK REVIEW: Twitcher (Cherise Saywell, Vintage)

TwitcherTwitcher is Cherise Saywell’s second novel after her impressive debut, Desert Fish. Sixteen-year-old Kenno lives with his parents and sister in a popular coastal town in Scotland. Real estate is booming as developers are buying up, subdividing and selling off land packages to tourists and wealthy townsfolk. But for Kenno and his family, life is tough as they struggle to make ends meet following a tragedy many years ago. Kenno works at the local supermarket and helps out at his father’s cleaning business, but when he learns of the family’s imminent eviction from their rental property, he comes up with a plan to help them out. Convinced his fail-safe scheme will not only bring financial security but also heal the rifts in the family, Kenno is soon drawn into a complicated web of half-truths, deception and misunderstandings. Saywell has captured beautifully the nuances of sibling relationships as well as the psychological complexity of adolescence, as Kenno negotiates his morality, loyalty and sexuality. The portrayal of a broken family still trying to function is extremely well done. This is intelligent, powerful fiction about family and the burden of guilt, loss and grief.

Sarina Gale is a freelance writer and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in February. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Fractured (Dawn Barker, Hachette)

FracturedTony and Anna Patton seem to be the perfect couple: good-looking, hard-working, happily married and new parents to gorgeous baby Jack. Six weeks after Jack is born, however, something goes terribly wrong. Anna and Jack disappear from the family home, where everything still looks normal—food in the fridge, baby bottles of milk still warm. As Tony frantically tries to work out where they’ve gone, the reader is swept into the horror of what has actually happened. In a cleverly devised structure that divides between before and after the disappearance, it is slowly revealed that Anna is sinking into a depression that will lead her to unspeakable actions. As Tony tries to piece together the tragedy, he starts to question everything about his wife’s behaviour leading up to that day. Moving at a cracking pace, Fractured is part psychological thriller, part family drama. The two main characters are somewhat emotionally opaque, however, it is the terrific supporting cast of Tony and Anna’s mothers that hold the moral centre of this book. As the two mothers try to understand what has happened to their grown-up children, they begin to say what no one else is willing to. This novel will be a great book club read as it ends with more questions than answers.

Sarina Gale is a freelance writer and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared in the Summer 2012/13 issue of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Blackwattle Lake (Pamela Cook, Hachette)

When Eve Nicholls inherits her mother’s property after storming out many years earlier, she is not prepared for the flood of memories and how her past catches up with her the minute she returns. Eve’s plan all along is to sell fast, take the cash and start a new life, but soon old friends, neighbours and love interests quickly find Eve back in the small town of Yarrabee. When an accident derails her plans to leave, she has to reach out to all the people she left behind and hurt, including her childhood best friend, her first love and the memory of her mother. As Eve is forced to face deeply held resentments and guilt about her past, she also discovers the gregarious, spirited young woman she once was.  The author has captured the delights and nuances of small towns with evocative descriptions of the landscape and environment. This is an entertaining read, if a little clichéd at times, but a lot of fun. This will please readers of rural romances, and Eve is a whip-smart character who should have a wide appeal. This fits neatly into the commercial women’s fiction genre and is an easy holiday read.

Sarina Gale is a freelance writer and bookseller at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared on the Bookseller+Publisher website in October. View more pre-publication reviews here.