Category Archives: novel

King Rich–by Joe Bennett

Review by Heather Sylvawood

A daughter aches to find her missing father – a father whom her mother has blamed and bad-mouthed most of her remembered childhood.

The trigger for the search?

The 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Annie returns from Britain and begins her search under first the guidance of her cynical nursing friend, Jess, and later her father’s old friend Vince, uncovering along the way the underbelly of a powerful family intent on protecting the family business.

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Alongside this story Bennett reveals a man, beset by demons of his own making. Apparently not a likeable character, yet as the story progresses we gain a sneaking regard for the broken alcoholic.

Familiar streets and events

Readers who know Christchurch will recognise familiar streets, familiar sites, familiar people and events. In fact, I found some of his characters so close to known people that I wondered if they might have been speed-dialling their lawyers. But then, would they bother objecting to such fiction?

Bennett’s writing is clean and crisp, and his observation of human reactions is succinct. He resists the Hollywood ending, while tying the ends comfortably together. A good read especially for those for whom the memory of the broken city of Christchurch touches the heart as much as it does mine.

Book: King Rich, by Joe Bennett, published by Fourth Estate, www.harpercollins.co.nz

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Welcome to the Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

The Fairvale Ladies … by Sophie Green

Don’t be put off by this extraordinarily long title  – there is much to recommend it for its glimpse of the authentic lives of women in the outback of Australia.

This novel, set in the late 1970s, weaves together the lives of five outback women through the unlikely excuse of meeting to discuss various books. As they discuss well-known novels their lives unfold and friendships develop between these dissimilar women.

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

It’s an interesting tale of life in the Australian outback, where the wet and dry seasons weave circumstances that impact on each of the women through the four years over the duration of the novel. If I was to pinpoint my lasting impression from this book it would be the skilful portrayal of the environment of the Northern Territory.

Characters are a bit too nice

I felt few of the characters developed into three-dimensional beings and that their beliefs and outlook was ‘’’told’ rather than demonstrated by their actions. The character of Della, in particular for me, did not develop any roundness or believability as a young, diffident Texan who falls in love with an Aboriginal stockman. They were all such ‘nice’ people, even the emotionally abusive husband reforms near the end of the tale.

The book’s saving grace is the brilliant portrayal of the harsh realities of outback life. So if you’re looking for a novel with an unusual setting, then join the Fairvale ladies as they handle what life throws them in their outback corral.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: Mother’s Milk

A few pages into Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn, and I was well aware that this is a challenging novel. St Aubyn juxtaposes child characters on the edge of believability with adults who struggle with the realities of relationship changes. It demands that you “suspend your critical eye” until you reveal the gems within.

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Edmund White from the Guardian is quoted as saying in a review: “Mother’s Milk is a dazzling exploration of the troubled allegiances between parents and children, husbands and wives …” and that sums up the novel for me. Despite the child characters who seemed far too perceptive for their ages, the novel exposes the rocky landscape of relationships in moments of brilliant truism.

It begins with laugh out loud caustic wit such this example of the father commenting on situations and dialogue related to parenthood.

The nanny instructs the new parents: “Give him plenty of water, dear. It’s the  only way to cool them down. They can’t sweat at that age.”

“Another amazing oversight,” said his father. “Can’t sweat, can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t read, can’t drive, can’t sign a cheque. Foals are standing a few hours after they’re born. If horses went in for banking, they’d have a credit line by the end of the week.”

As the book progresses through the realities of the characters’ experiences this humour disappointingly ebbs. It’s as if the strains of fatherhood wear the father, Patrick, down and smother his light-heartedness.

Told through the eyes of first-born Robert, and later his father Patrick, we’re introduced to Robert’s feelings about his mother’s absorption in second son, Thomas, his eccentric grandmothers, and the relationship between his parents. At times his perception feels too old for his years.

Yet there are gems of dialogue throughout, including this in the last pages of the novel:

“Am I being childish?” asked Thomas, approaching his father.

“No,” said Patrick. “You’re being a child. Only grown-ups can be childish, and my God, we take advantage of the fact.”

I can see why Mother’s Milk was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2006. What I didn’t realise was that it was Book 4 in a series about the Melrose family. That aside, I suggest you read it and be prepared to feel a sense of personal déjà vu from St Aubyn’s clever pen/computer/writing.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: The Ninth Hour

by Alice McDermott

If you’ve watched the TV series “Call the Midwife”, then you’ll feel right at home reading “The Ninth Hour” by Alice McDermott. In fact I had to remind myself that this story of selfless nuns was taking place in Brooklyn, New York, not the south end of London after the war. McDermott’s novel portrays many universal themes of women’s oppression around that era, and the consequences of being poor and sick.

A rather bleak story, the novel offers insights into the lives of these religious women and illustrates the self-motivation required to give your life to God. With their focus on finding workable solutions for the unfortunate people they work for, occasionally they have to bend the rules. For Annie, an Irish immigrant who came to America and was widowed early, life was extremely bleak until the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor stepped in to give pregnant Annie a job in the convent’s laundry.

Annie and her daughter Sally live a cloistered life, eventually leading teenage Sally to believe that her calling is to join their religious order. The outcome of this decision demonstrates the internal struggles of boundless love for one’s fellow humans, and how challenging this can be for women in religious orders.

McDermott shows rather than tells her story, challenging the reader to read between the lines and understand the true meaning of sacrifice for these women as they struggle to improve the lives of those they serve in their community.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

How Do Authors Become Known?

 

This morning I continued my research into how authors manage to promote their writing. First destination was Goodreads, which I registered for as a reader several years ago and rarely visit.

How do authors use Goodreads?

I got there after looking up about Auckland author Tina Clough, after seeing her comments about her favourite books in the Press (Saturday, August 5, 2017, p17). She is featured on Goodreads after the publication of her newest book: The Chinese Proverb.

This is Tina’s third novel posted on Goodreads. She has been a member since August 2013 about the time she published her first novel: The Girl Who Lived Twice. Her novels have been reviewed/commented on by 9 reviewers, but I was unable to read the reviews (there must be a way, but this technically challenged author (me) couldn’t find the right link).

What I discovered about Goodreads, thanks to Tina, was that authors have a number of ways to promote themselves on Goodreads:

  • You can blog
  • You can publicise your website
  • You can list your own book (books) as ones you are reading so it appear on lists
  • And you can add events (book launches/interviews/podcasts etc)

5000-strong support group

I was sure there were other ways to advance yourself as an author. So I went looking at other authors who wanted to ‘connect’ with me (I told you it was a long time since I’d visited).

I found out that Goodreads has a ‘group’ that is a Showcase for Readers and Writers. Within this community authors can bring a little hype about who they are and what they have recently published. It may be talking amongst yourselves, but who knows who might be reading!

Goodreads also sponsor a Support For Indie Authors website: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/154447-support-for-indie-authors

This is already in the 5000 plus membership range, but for $US12 per year shares a mass of information.

New Zealand support

In New Zealand author support comes in bucket-loads from the New Zealand Society of Authors (linked to the international organisation PEN). This organisation will publish a a supplied review of your work and share it with members on the month it is selected. The lists are accessed here:  http://authors.org.nz/writers/new-books/

Writers who belong to NZSA can be searched and I found a long time friend and children’s author, Helen McKinley, whose ‘Grandma’ series has been delighting children for a decade.

The NZSA now supports authors who are self-published and /or are eBook authors. In doing a search for my own name I discovered that I have not entered any information and I’m missing a huge opportunity. That will be rectified promptly.

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Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author