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Saturday, April 23, 2022

'The No-Show' by Beth O'Leary

 

From the BLURB:

Three women. Three dates. One missing man... 

8.52 a.m. Siobhan is looking forward to her breakfast date with Joseph. She was surprised when he suggested it - she normally sees him late at night in her hotel room. Breakfast on Valentine's Day surely means something ... so where is he? 

2.43 p.m. Miranda's hoping that a Valentine's Day lunch with Carter will be the perfect way to celebrate her new job. It's a fresh start and a sign that her life is falling into place: she's been dating Carter for five months now and things are getting serious. But why hasn't he shown up? 

6.30 p.m. Joseph Carter agreed to be Jane's fake boyfriend at an engagement party. They've not known each other long but their friendship is fast becoming the brightest part of her new life in Winchester. Joseph promised to save Jane tonight. But he's not here... 

Meet Joseph Carter. That is, if you can find him.

‘The No-Show’ is the new and fourth stand-alone novel from UK-author, Beth O'Leary.

Since the release of her bestselling, break-out debut novel ‘The Flatshare’ in 2019, Beth O'Leary has released one-book-a-year. Which is no easy feat, and very savvy marketing to her primarily romance-reading audience who are more used to that fast turn-around in their favourite genre. I will say that nothing O’Leary has written since quite reaches the giddy heights of ‘The Flatshare’ for me – but to be fair, that was a remarkably clever concept executed beautifully and I’m also not surprised that it’s the one of her books currently in-production as a six-part series (I do believe ‘The Switch’ has also been optioned, but is not yet filming.) So all of this is to say … I didn’t love ‘The No-Show’ as much as ‘The Flatshare,’ but also take that with a grain of salt because it was her first and (in my opinion) strongest.

The thing with Beth O’Leary books now also, is that in ‘The Flatshare’ she established a ‘trick’ to the narrative. Admittedly it’s one that readers were “in” on from the get-go (that her two protagonists – destined to be love-interests – were renting a flat together, but due to their work-schedules hadn’t actually encountered each other face-to-face, and the ‘trick’ was the build-up to that moment.) So that’s what Beth O’Leary established as a kind of subversive slice of romantic trope playing and something of a ‘trick’ has been present in all her books since (I say ‘trick’ to avoid ‘gimmick,’ which doesn’t seem at all fair). To varying degrees and magic. It’s the same in ‘The No-Show’ and if you (like me) pick up on ‘the trick’ pretty early on (I blame being a devotee of ‘This is Us’ TV series) then it won’t wreck the story for you by any means, but you may feel yourself getting slightly fed-up with the build-up. 

The premise being; three different women, stood-up for a Valentine’s Day date by the same guy. One of these women is Joseph Carter’s London hook-up (Siobhan), one is his committed girlfriend (Miranda) and one is just a friend (Jane). The story switches between each POV of these women as they navigate their increasingly tricky relationships with Carter. And herein lies one slight problem that’s quite usual when you get multi-person POV books … I really only liked, and was interested in, one of these women’s stories. Miranda. 

Miranda is an arboriculturists (or, ‘tree lopper’) – she climbs into a harness and climbs trees to lop off branches for a living. She’s very cool, and has just started a steady job with a new tree-lopping crew. She’s also been in a relationship with Joseph Carter for a few months now, and is happy, even if she often feels like Carter is compartmentalising parts of himself and she doesn’t really know him … When Miranda starts her new job; she also encounters ladies-man and tattooed lumberjack-type, AJ, who makes very clear early on that he’s taken a fancy to Miranda. 

Now – I far preferred Miranda’s chapters to Siobhan and Jane’s. So much more. Partly because I imagined her as Rose Matafeo because Rose Matafeo was in this great New Zealand rom-com movie called ‘Baby Done’ about a tree-lopper who is so good at her job that she also competes in tree-lopping at a professional level, but her future is derailed when she falls pregnant and suddenly her and her devoted partner (Matthew Lewis, otherwise known as Neville Longbottom!) have to make very grown-up life decisions, and it’s just great. But from the moment that Miranda locks eyes with AJ on the page, I was way more invested – these two have *chemistry* and each time I had to be waylaid by Siobhan and Jane’s chapters and taken away from what was building between Miranda and AJ, I got frustrated. Now – could Miranda’s story have maintained an entire book? Unlikely. While reading, would I have liked Beth O’Leary to try? Absolutely. 

Like I said – it’s just an oft-encountered problem when you write multi-person POV books that readers will want to spend the most time with one in particular, but have to share page-time with others. 

So between that and guessing the ‘trick’ probably too early, this book just stumbled a couple times for me, personally. Very much about my taste and where my head was at when reading. I did also realise that Beth O’Leary’s romance writing isn’t quite on-par with favourite author Mhairi McFarlane for me, I actually think O’Leary is more up there alongside Jojo Moyes. Take away the fact that Moyes mostly writes historical-fiction; I posit that she and Beth O’Leary both similarly write ‘tricks’ in their romantic fiction, and they both tend to prefer the sweet-bitter stuff. 

All up … I enjoyed my time with ‘The No-Show’ especially because I do love Beth O’Leary’s world-building and writing generally. Miranda and AJ were MVP’s for me however, and given that that was only one-third of the story meant this was an unbalanced read for me. But still good. Just not as good as ‘The Flatshare.’ 

3.5/5


Tuesday, March 8, 2022

'This Side Of Murder' Verity Kent #1 by Anna Lee Huber

 

From the BLURB:

The Great War is over, but in this captivating new series from award-winning author Anna Lee Huber, one young widow discovers the real intrigue has only just begun . . .

An Unpardonable Sin?

England, 1919. Verity Kent’s grief over the loss of her husband pierces anew when she receives a cryptic letter, suggesting her beloved Sidney may have committed treason before his untimely death. Determined to dull her pain with revelry, Verity’s first impulse is to dismiss the derogatory claim. But the mystery sender knows too much—including the fact that during the war, Verity worked for the Secret Service, something not even Sidney knew.

Lured to Umbersea Island to attend the engagement party of one of Sidney’s fellow officers, Verity mingles among the men her husband once fought beside, and discovers dark secrets—along with a murder clearly meant to conceal them. Relying on little more than a coded letter, the help of a dashing stranger, and her own sharp instincts, Verity is forced down a path she never imagined—and comes face to face with the shattering possibility that her husband may not have been the man she thought he was. It’s a truth that could set her free—or draw her ever deeper into his deception . . .

'This Side of Murder' is the first book in American author Anna Lee Huber's 'Verity Kent' series, which currently stands at five books, with a sixth due out this year.

The series kicks off in England 1919 - the end of the Great War and following war-widow Verity, whose rich husband has left her an enormous fortune she cares not two wits about, since losing him in the Battle of the Somme some 15-months ago. Verity has been drowning her sorrows in hard-drinking, occasional flirtations, and brushes with opium and cocaine (though she doesn't like the way those made her feel). 'This Side of Murder' has us meeting Verity on her way to a house-party on the remote Umbersea Island where an assortment of her late husband - Sidney's - surviving regiment are congregating for a weekend away. Some of them have spouses and partners, and they've seemingly invited Verity along out of respect for Sidney's memory and to let her know she still has friends amongst his old Battalion. The renovated manor house on Umbersea is owned by one of these old servicemen and friend's of Sidney, and Verity is intrigued enough by this random assortment of people congregating in one place post-war to go along.

Ah, but Verity has ulterior motives for attending - she's also received cryptic messages from a stranger, alluding to Sidney's part in espionage that may have been the reason he was killed in battle at the Somme. Not the over-the-trenches tragedy and enemy-fire she always assumed.

This turns the island party into a fantastic potential murder-mystery, that gets even better when wild weather traps the party on the Island ... it becomes a real Agatha Chrisite-esque mystery, tied to its location and the various players involved. Verity has to go gently picking amongst the guests to both establish their connections to each other during the war and post, what they felt about Sidney, and what could also have lured them to this party.

This was exactly the kind of book I'd been craving; a quaint murder-mystery just the right side of cozy, but not too twee. Indeed; nothing gets too grotesque or morbid, but there are hard-hitting discussions had about shell-chock, PTSD, grief, suicidal ideation and so much more. It's a thoroughly fascinating time-period for such a mystery series to unfold; post-war, and with Verity having tentative tendrils to the upper-echelons of a struggling British aristocracy.

I will say; the twist halfway through took me by (delighted) surprise. And it ensured I'd be coming back for more in this fantastic series ...

5/5

Sunday, February 13, 2022

'Good Girl Complex' by Elle Kennedy

 

From the BLURB: 

She does everything right. So what could go wrong?

Mackenzie “Mac” Cabot is a people pleaser. Her demanding parents. Her prep school friends. Her long-time boyfriend. It’s exhausting, really, always following the rules. All she wants to do is focus on growing her internet business, but first she must get a college degree at her parents’ insistence. That means moving to the beachside town of Avalon Bay, a community made up of locals and the wealthy students of Garnet College.

Twenty-year-old Mac has had plenty of practice suppressing her wilder impulses, but when she meets local bad boy Cooper Hartley, that ability is suddenly tested. Cooper is rough around the edges. Raw. Candid. A threat to her ordered existence. Their friendship soon becomes the realest thing in her life.

Despite his disdain for the trust-fund kids he sees coming and going from his town, Cooper soon realizes Mac isn’t just another rich clone and falls for her. Hard. But as Mac finally starts feeling accepted by Cooper and his friends, the secret he’s been keeping from her threatens the only place she’s ever felt at home.

'Good Girl Complex' is the new book and first in a contemporary romance series by author Elle Kennedy.

So this was solidly "fine."

Elle Kennedy is a hybrid-author who had 42 of her early works 'traditionally published' before finding breakout success as an indie, self-published author with her New Adult 'Off-Campus' series that really blew up and led the charge for that new-wave of evolving NA and pushed it more solidly into a romance realm (VS. its original intention of being a "stepping stone" readership out of YA for ageing teen readers)

With 'Good Girl Complex', Kennedy is back in the traditionally published fold with St. Martin's Griffin press; and from the plot to the book-cover, you can kinda tell that she's chasing this new-new wave of new adult gentler romances and kind of re-introducing herself to a whole new crop of readers who have been welcomed into the romance fold, but maybe haven't been as genre-cluey to go digging through the grassroots indie wave that helped to largely shape current trends - and which Kennedy was very much apart of. The illustrated-cover is very on-trend with Emily Henry, Lyssa Kay Adams, Abby Jimenez, Tessa Bailey, Talia Hibbert and so many more - and that's clearly the market Kennedy is ingratiating herself with here.

And that also extends to the series set-up and first story overall. Rich girl attending stuffy university with requisite awful rich-boy boyfriend, journeys into the college town and through a rather convoluted back-story of revenge-dating, ends up getting cozy with the townie bad-boy from the wrong side of the tracks.

It's very Anna Todd 'After', 'The Longest Ride' by Nicholas Sparks (which is also a more modern 'The Notebook' take) and even *gulp* 'Beautiful Disaster' by Jamie McGuire. It's a story that also feels very much in that mid-00s mix, like it could have come out alongside McGuire's in 2011 or Todd's in 2014 when that New Adult college-set romance was taking off ... because of course, Elle Kennedy *was* releasing books like this then too, with self-published title 'The Deal' coming out in 2015. That's why it feels like a rehash, for people familiar with Kennedy's work it feels like we're getting a slightly watered-down remix, more aimed at a new crop of romance readers. Except this series is a little more sanitised too, for the 'traditionally published' crowd. There's head-nods to more diverse and inclusive characters, but they're periphery at the moment - rather than an understanding that one of them could take the reins and headline their own instalment in this new series.

Because 'Good Girl Complex' is indeed the first book in what will be a new contemporary series from Kennedy, 'Avalon Bay' - with second book 'Bad Girl Reputation' coming in October of this year and continuing to expand on the townie friendship group introduced in 'Complex'. Which is ... fine.

It's all fine. It will no doubt be a crowd-pleaser for people looking for exactly this kind of story, maybe after the algorithm has sent them here by way of 'The Love Hypothesis' by Ali Hazelwood ... because it does read a bit like chasing the romance/BookTok trends. Which is again - fine. Commendable. Elle Kennedy is a damn good writer, and deserves more mainstream recognition and the way to do that is probably by writing a book directly aimed at mainstream audiences in the traditionally published romance realms.

BUT. If you're a long-time fan of hers, then I can't say that this series looks to match 'Off-Campus' or 'Briar U' or the series by her friend and sometimes co-author, Sarina Bowen ('Ivy Years' is *amazing*). I hope that people like 'Good Girl Complex' enough to go through Kennedy's backlist and push those earlier series onto the BookTok algorithm too ... but for me, personally? Eh. It was all fine. Nothing to write home about. I'll see if the mood takes me to pick up Book 2.

3/5

Monday, February 7, 2022

'The Locked Room' Ruth Galloway Mysteries #14 by Elly Griffiths

 


From the BLURB; 

Ruth Galloway and DCI Nelson are on the hunt for a murderer when Covid rears its ugly head. But can they find the killer despite lockdown? 

Ruth is in London clearing out her mother's belongings when she makes a surprising discovery: a photograph of her Norfolk cottage taken before Ruth lived there. Her mother always hated the cottage, so why does she have a picture of the place? The only clue is written on the back of the photo: Dawn, 1963.

 Ruth returns to Norfolk determined to solve the mystery, but then Covid rears its ugly head. Ruth and her daughter are locked down in their cottage, attempting to continue with work and home-schooling. Happily, the house next door is rented by a nice woman called Zoe, who they become friendly with while standing on their doorsteps clapping for carers. 

Nelson, meanwhile, is investigating a series of deaths of women that may or may not be suicide. When he links the deaths to an archaeological discovery, he breaks curfew to visit the cottage where he finds Ruth chatting to her neighbour whom he remembers as a carer who was once tried for murdering her employer.

'The Locked Room' is the 14th book in the 'Ruth Galloway Mystery Series' by Elly Griffiths 

Oh my gosh, I was so looking forward to this book and it did not disappoint!

First of all - and because I finished Book #13 in April 2021, after bingeing the whole series - I've got to say that I think Elly Griffiths made a BANG ON right decision, setting this in 2020 and during the UK pandemic (first) lockdown. I guess she knew she would - because the 'Ruth Galloway' series is generally very sequential with books coming within a few weeks or months of each other (every so often a book will leap ahead by a couple years, but that's generally been to get child-characters out of diapers and more active in the story, is my reading of it!). And in 'The Night Hawks' Griffiths did very cleverly end that book with Ruth's university mentioning a newfangled teaching tool called Zoom ... but I do credit Griffiths with leaning into the pandemic of it all and staying true to how these characters have been evolving in real-time (there's previously been mention of Brexit, so it is very much within the bounds of reason that we'd see how the pandemic affected higher-education, policing, crime, etc.) For me, personally, I wasn't put off or unable to read this book because of the pandemic. Honestly, it was interesting to read the slow unravel of how things happened in the UK ...

'The Locked Room' is still a frustrating book in other ways, for fans of the Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson pairing. Of course it is. That's a theme of this series in which the characters live in a literal liminal space between water and land in Norfolk - and have been making decisions that see them similarly trapped between rocks and hard places. For Ruth it's falling for a married man and having a baby with him, knowing he'll never entirely choose or be there for them. For Harry it's finding himself with two families he loves (in different ways) and knowing that any decision he makes will hurt one of them.

Well it's more of that ... even as this 14th book sees Harry's wife Michelle locked-down in Blackpool for the duration of the novel, so Ruth and Harry are coming back together in their affair - even, for the first time since holiday-set 10th book 'The Dark Angel' where they get to be together day-on-day and glimpse another world in which they live together as a whole family, with Kate.

The illusion however, is quickly shattered by Harry's daughter Laura coming home for lockdown and a perplexing run of suicides that might have more sinister underpinnings. Not to mention talk of uncovered 'plague pits' in Norfolk, and a 'Grey Lady' haunting the town square.

I found this to be a very satisfying murder-mystery, even if the personal aspects of the character and their evolution dragged feet again. ALTHOUGH - I will say - I think this book will end up being a little reprieve for big waves coming (I say this every book, and then nothing much overly changes between Ruth and Harry but I am forever hopeful).

My prediction is that Michelle will have come home with an ultimatum for Harry - either she's started seeing someone (unlikely, since Griffiths did and wrapped that with the Tim storyline) more likely I think Michelle will be insisting that Harry retire and/or they move away from Norfolk. A couple times Harry alluded to Superintendent Jo wanting him to retire, and that Judy - his second in charge - really should be a DCI, but to do that Harry would need to step aside and retire or leave. Ruth previously moved away to Cambridge with her American lover Frank, so now it feels like Harry's turn ... also that Ruth's worst nightmare should come to pass (Harry not choosing her and Kate) and maybe Harry should get a taste of what actually making a decision feels like (the kicker being; he'll miss Ruth more than he wants to keep calm-waters with Michelle). If that's all the case then I'll be really emotionally wrought and excited.

Overall; another fab instalment and I once again can't believe I've got to wait until Feb 2023 for more! GAAAAH!

The pandemic worked especially well - allusions to the struggles of international uni students, lack of PPE gear, Ruth disbelieving that she's going through a once-in-a-lifetime event with a leader called Boris, domestic violence prevalence in lockdown, murmurings of Oxford university searching for a vaccine ... it's all still so close to the surface and used to great effect here by the masterful Griffiths, to keep readers and these characters grounded in the here and now - even as we still grasp at the more liminal love story that's forever just out of reach.

4/5

Thursday, January 27, 2022

'Happiness For Beginners' by Katherine Center

 



From the BLURB: 

Helen Carpenter can’t quite seem to bounce back. Newly divorced at thirty-two, her life has fallen apart beyond her ability to put it together again. So when her annoying younger brother, Duncan, convinces her to sign up for a hardcore wilderness survival course in the backwoods of Wyoming—she hopes it’ll be exactly what she needs. 

Instead, it’s a disaster. It’s nothing like she wants, or expects, or anticipates. She doesn’t anticipate the surprise summer blizzard, for example—or the blisters, or the rutting elk, or the mean pack of sorority girls. And she especially doesn’t anticipate that her annoying brother’s even-more-annoying best friend, Jake, will show up for the exact same course—and distract her, derail her, and . . . kiss her. 

But it turns out sometimes disaster can teach you exactly the things you need to learn. Like how to keep going, even when you think you can’t. How being scared can make you brave. And how sometimes getting really, really lost is your only hope of getting found. 

Happiness for Beginners is Katherine Center at her most heart-warming, captivating best—a nourishing, page-turning, up-all-night read about how to get back up. It’s a story that looks at how our struggles lead us to our strengths. How love is always worth it. And how the more good things we look for, the more we find.

‘Happiness for Beginners’ was the 2015 women’s fiction novel by American author Katherine Center. 

It has been a rocky, rocky start to 2022. Omicron got me. Australian summer has been unrelenting. Everything has been thrown off kilter and the last thing I felt like doing with a foggy head and post-Covid chest infection (oh yeah, severe asthmatic triple-boosted still felt that rona bite!) – the last thing I was even capable of doing was reading, for pleasure. It’s been an uphill battle to get back into the swing … enter; Katherine Center. A new-to-me author I discovered in 2020 and instantly appreciated that she had a backlist I could drip-feed to myself when the slumps got deep. Which I finally did this week, and with ‘Happiness for Beginners.’

Now – before I give you the lowdown, just know that yes indeed, this book is undoubtedly a by-product of the 2012 bookish fever for ‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail’ by Cheryl Strayed. It’s the story of Helen Carpenter who decides that a year after her divorce was finalised, she’s going to finally regain control of her life by doing a wilderness survival course that’s so far outside her comfort zone, she’s going to be in a new stratosphere of self-improvement. The only thing is; her younger brother’s annoying best friend Jake is tagging along – not only for a lift to the camp, but on the wilderness trek itself. Helen has never thought twice about Jake in all the years she’s known him; but suddenly this ten-years-younger than her upstart is clouding her head and ruining her very much solo mission of self-discovery 

What follows is the 3-week long trek, its trials and tribulations (made worse by the fact that Helen is the oldest person on the hike, everyone else is a 20-something college student doing this for credit) and the fact that Jake has revealed how long he’s been in love with his best friend’s sister, but also that he can’t pursue her. Much as he’d like to, and – to Helen’s surprise – she’d like him to. 

Okay. I loved this book! It is like ‘Wild’ but without the unrelenting sombreness of it all (and while – yes – Helen’s divorce is the catalyst for her adventure, she also has familial grief she’s unknowingly working through.) Something I love about Center’s books is that you know she’s put the work in; I thought it with 'Things You Save in a Fire' (unsurprised to learn that her husband is a volunteer firefighter), and it comes through here too. She does actually walk us in Helen’s heavy, blister-busting boots as she experiences a wilderness adventure and the practicalities and hurdles thereof. She doesn’t go overly mushy with the self-discovery and being one with nature stuff; instead she predicates Helen’s slow transformation on her ability to recognise her own limitations and patterns, and being willing to connect with people and trust in herself. I loved it! 

But let’s not pretend I don’t drool over Katherine Center’s beautiful books for anything as much as the romances. And the one in ‘Happiness’ is a doozy! Jake is the young, fresh as a penny popular college guy - Helen is his best friend’s older sister, and she feels every one of the years she’s got on Jake. But they have such spark, and the unrequited, slow-burn of it all is intoxicating! I think I also loved this romance because it did remind me of the one in my favourite Center book thus far, 'Things You Save in a Fire' – which also had a kind of “himbo” love interest (except Center’s male characters are not unintelligent; they’re actually more emotionally intelligent and very much have Labrador-qualities of good guys loving on jaded and hurt women, giving them patience, space, and understanding that makes everything so much more delicious!)

Yes this is a head-tip to ‘Wild’ and probably capitalising on the Strayed-mania of it all (it kinda more reminds me of that ‘Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life’ episode when Lorelai wants to have the book-experience… along with hundreds of other fans.) I don’t care, I think Center did a smashing job of taking a band wagon and making it her own. 

5/5 

P.S. - Helen's brother Duncan in 'Happiness' is the hero of 'What You Wish For' which I have also read and really liked, but didn't review because it was kinda just okay (3/3.5) but now knowing that Duncan from his book is the Duncan in that book ... and that Center's books all exist in a connected-universe? Ummm, I think I have to go back and re-read all of them and in order one day! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

'Stone Fruit' by Lee Lai


 

From the BLURB:

An exhilarating and tender debut graphic novel that is an ode to the love and connection shared among three women and the child they all adore. 

Bron and Ray are a queer couple who enjoy their role as the fun weirdo aunties to Ray's niece, six-year-old Nessie. Their playdates are little oases of wildness, joy, and ease in all three of their lives, which ping-pong between familial tensions and deep-seated personal stumbling blocks. As their emotional intimacy erodes, Ray and Bron isolate from each other and attempt to repair their broken family ties — Ray with her overworked, resentful single-mother sister and Bron with her religious teenage sister who doesn't fully grasp the complexities of gender identity. Taking a leap of faith, each opens up and learns they have more in common with their siblings than they ever knew. 

At turns joyful and heartbreaking, Stone Fruit reveals through intimately naturalistic dialog and blue-hued watercolor how painful it can be to truly become vulnerable to your loved ones — and how fulfilling it is to be finally understood for who you are. Lee Lai is one of the most exciting new voices to break into the comics medium and she has created one of the truly sophisticated graphic novel debuts in recent memory.

‘Stone Fruit’ is a 2021 Fantagraphics graphic novel by Australia creator Lee Lai, who is based in Quebec. 

I think I’ve had a reading-hangover since finishing ‘Stone Fruit’ a few days ago. A novel of such singular brilliance and tender truth that managed to not overwhelm me as I crawl towards the end of 2021, but still pierced something in my conscience and clung so that I’ve been thinking about it ever since … 

The book is about Ray and Bron – a queer couple who a couple days a week mind Ray’s little niece, Nessie for her sister Amanda who is still juggling the messiness of life since her partner walked out on her and her daughter. Bron is struggling with their long-term mental health and the pressures of trying to exist in their own head while still trying to navigate life with Ray. When it all becomes too much, they move home to their conservative Christian parents and both Ray, Bron, Nessie and Amanda have to learn to cope in the aftermath of the complicated relationship fallout.  

This book is stunning. On every level, it’s a knockout. Bron, Ray and Nessie when they hang out together – in treasured moments of elaborate imaginary play – Lai depicts them as serpentine, monster-esque creatures with a face full of fangs, large eyes and shifting skin and talons … the mask drops however, when Nessie’s mother and Ray’s sister Amanda enters the scene and they’re snapped back to reality and have to put their public personas back on. But these mythological-looking creatures that they are together feel like their true souls on the page, and the book is largely about them trying to get back to that state of play and openness that comes crashing down when Bron’s depressive state overwhelms their relationship with Ray and they return home for some time and space.

As both Bron and Ray navigate the slow breaking down of their relationship, they each find solace in extending olive-branches with their respective sisters – Bron’s whom they abandoned when they unceremoniously left home and cut ties with their family, and Ray’s Amanda who is still dealing with the aftermath of her partner abandoning her, and feelings of inadequacy as a mother to Nessie who witnessed Amanda’s own fragile mental state. 

Something I love in Lee Lai’s writing is the slow parcelling out of information … there’s no info-dumping here, and details of these character’s lives are revealed very naturally amongst characters, deep into the novel and when trust is starting to be established again, honest conversations had. Readers are never left in the dark, but rather we take on a child-like bystander quality similar to Nessie, where we can feel and sense that something is wrong or left unsaid – but it takes a while for these truths to come; but when they do, they’re all the more precious and important for being hard-won and entrusted to us. It’s a very beautiful and tender mode of storytelling here, still waters running deep … and when the current comes, it did take my breath away. Little revelations feel like tremors on the page for their build-up. 

I really loved this. I read a Publishers Weekly article where Lee Lai spoke about being a trans Asian-Australian cartoonist, and the Australian “creative comics scene is strong but the industry is still emerging,” and that’s very true. I loved the small hints of Australia in here (mentions of ‘Play School’ and Henny Penny) but I can see that something very special was able to be created via the wonderful Fantagraphics publisher, and I’m just so grateful for it.

‘Stone Fruit’ is undoubtedly in my Top 5 Favourite Reads of 2021. It’s one of those beautiful books that I didn’t realise I needed until I was deep into it, and then I was just so grateful for everyone who’d raved about it all year and paved the way for me to scoop it up. I will hold it very dear indeed. 

5/5 


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

'Lore Olympus: Volume One' by Rachel Smythe



From the BLURB:

Scandalous gossip, wild parties, and forbidden love - witness what the gods do after dark in this stylish and contemporary reimagining of one of mythology's best-known stories.

Persephone, young goddess of spring, is new to Olympus. Her mother, Demeter, has raised her in the mortal realm, but after Persephone promises to train as a sacred virgin, she's allowed to live in the fast-moving, glamorous world of the gods. 

When her roommate, Artemis, takes her to a party, her entire life changes: she ends up meeting Hades and feels an immediate spark with the charming yet misunderstood ruler of the Underworld. 

Now Persephone must navigate the confusing politics and relationships that rule Olympus, while also figuring out her own place - and her own power. 

***

‘Lore Olympus: Volume One’ collects episodes 1-25 of the #1 WEBTOON comic Lore Olympus, by Rachel Symthe.

So apparently Smythe started creating this web comic in 2018, and it is currently the most popular comic on Webtoon; as of January 2020 it had 299 million views. Confession though; I’d never heard of it. I just stumbled across the cover for Volume One on Goodreads and thought it sounded cool (I’m a sucker for Greek Mythology updates). 

If you’re unfamiliar with the Hades and Persephone myth, a really good refresher is provided by YouTuber Lindsay Ellis – it’s one of the first ‘Beauty & The Beast’-esque stories and depending on who is telling and when, it’s either romanticised or given the villain edit. In Smythe’s ‘Lore Olympus’ it’s most definitely on the romantic side, though that does not mean it’s all squeaky clean retellings here … in fact, at the very beginning of Volume One there’s a content-note trigger-warning for sexual coercion and manipulation (though probably not from who you think). 

Smythe’s Greek Mythology retelling has the feel and hedonism of a J. C. Leyendecker illustration, but with an almost ‘Fantasia’-like illustrative style … all solid hues, women with Betty Boop-curves and men sporting illustrated six-packs. It’s lush and also a little unformed … but that’s kind of true of the story too. It’s a ‘Gossip Girl’ meets ‘Suits’ and ‘American Psycho’ version of Olympus, the Greek Gods wearing nicely cut suits as they attend nymphe strip-clubs, Zeus and Hera conduct public spats and Goddesses walk around in tight mini-skirts and platform-heels with Ariana Grande high-ponytails. 

Is it revolutionary and cutting-edge with a new twist and spin on the ‘Hades and Persephone’? … I mean, no. Not really. It’s just very lush and a bit of a lightly hedonistic romp through the Greek Myths, nice enough but if I want to know more I think I’ll read the rest online. 

2.5/5


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