The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson

When you’ve been happily married for twenty-four years, you don’t expect to find yourself lying in bed alone just before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Polly didn’t even know where her husband was. She hadn’t seen him for over a week. It had been so strange having Christmas without him, and now this.
She pulled the duvet up over her head and then straight back down again. It was no good, she couldn’t sleep through it.

Polly’s life is seemingly wonderful. Her children are both away at uni, her yoga classes are popular and her perfume blog has taken off. Her mother, a glamorous ex-model, is happily settled in an upmarket retirement village. The only problem is her disappearing husband who, out of the blue, has announced (via a letter) that he needs some space and is going away travelling for six months. There is to be no contact, no questions, no explanations.

As Polly struggles to make sens of this unsettling, monumental change, it is a trio of new friends who proves to be most helpful: Shirlee, a loudmouthed student at her yoga classes, who seems to have taken over Polly’s kitchen, and thinks nothing of being woken in the middle of the night for first aid help; Guy, a new, mysterious perfumer, who is fascinated by Polly’s work and wants to impress her; and Edward, a friend from university who unexpectedly reappears in her life. As she muddles through the increasing uncertainty of her husband’s absence, these friends help Polly make sense of it, and build a new life.

The Scent of You is a tale of romance, self-discovery and friendship against the mystery and upset of an absentee husband, peppered with the scents of the main character’s world. As well as her perfume blog, entries from which pepper the book, the scents of her different experiences are entwined so evocatively into the action that the reader can smell them, and becomes a little more aware of the smells of the real world, too.

Issues of ageing, secrets and psychological illness are explored in a story which is heart warming and absorbing.

The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson
Harper Collines, 2017
ISBN 9781460751213

Girl In Between, by Anna Daniels

‘The new guy next door. That smile! His teeth are superb! And did you see his eyes? Who has eyes that blue?’ gushes Rosie…
‘You should go for him, Rosie,’ I say.
‘No, you should go for him! You’re the one who’s been mpoing around for a year,’ says Rosie. ‘I’ve got Trent the Tradie, remember?’
‘I haven’t been moping,’ I prtoest feebly.
Rosie and Mum exchange glances, then simultaneously pull identical hangdog faces at me. I scowl back at them.

Lucy is a girl in between – between jobs, between relationships, between cities. Now she’s moved in with her parents, and her ten year old dog, Glenda, and doing not much of anything, while she recovers from the break up her relationship. Her parents might be happy to have her, but they’re not happy with her sulking. Even her best friend Rosie – who makes everything fun – is getting sick of her mooching around. It’s time to get her life back in order – but that definitely doesn’t involve hooking up with the gorgeous son of her new neighbor, who has a girlfriend already.

Girl In Between is a funny, warm story about young thirty somethings figuring out who and where they want to be in their life. Lucy and Rosie are both still single, and although they are not racing to settle down, both know they want something more than they have. Adventures and escapades in their home town of Rockhamtpon, as well as in Japan and England could help them find clarity – and, if they don’t, they’ll have fun trying.

Girl In Between, by Anna Daniels
Arena Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760295301

Troubadour, by Isolde Martyn

God ha’ mercy! Shoulder throbbing with pain, Adela stumbled to her feet. Already she could hear the shouting in the upper bailey. She took a pace forward and braced herself to be set upon; the workmen stood inert. There was a gap in this uneven horseshoe of witnesses. She recognised one of them.
‘Are ‘e daft?’ he growled. ‘Run!’

When Adela, hairbraider to the queen, finds herself the unwilling subject of King John’s attention, she flees the English court and, after stowing away on a ship, finds herself in France. Eventually she is employed as a laundry maid in the entourage of Lady Alys, an English woman on her way to marry the Lord of Mircason to forge an alliance with King John. Adela is startled to see that she and Alys have very similar appearances. When the entourage is ambushed, it is this resemblance which sees Adela, the sole survivor of the ambush, mistaken for Lady ALys, and delivered to Richart, the Lord of Mircason. Adlea knows she will not be able to maintain the deception for ever, but events seem to be overtaking her, with teh wedding looming, and her attraction for Richart growing. In the meantime, Richart’s fiefdom, and those around him, are being targeted by a crusade, coming to topple any people who harbour or befriend heretics.

Troubadour is a romantic saga set in medieval France and England, against a background of real events. Martyn brings to life the political machinations and court life of the times with colour and detail, and the action moves at a satisfying pace.

With an intriguing cast of characters, and a satisfying romantic plot, Troubadour is highly recommended.

Troubadour , by Isolde Martyn
Harlequin, 2017
ISBN 9781489220370

The Shape of Us, by Lisa Ireland

This time it would work. She would lose the weight in tome for her birthday. And maybe she’d say yes yo that holiday in Thailand Sean was always nagging her about. Tomorrow she would start on the readiness tasks she was supposed to do before Monday when the program kicked off. But tonight she may as well finish off the rest of these chocolates. After all, the first task was to rid the house of any tempting foods.

Four women who have never met in person connect through an online forum. They are all very different: one is a young mother, with a rocky relationship and no family support. Another is happily married and a successful businesswoman, but longs for a child. A third has it all – career, children and a happy marriage. The fourth has moved backwards in her career to be closer to her lover. What connects these very different women is that they are all very overweight, and have joined the forum in a desperate attempt to lose weight. At first online and, later, in person, they  become friends and support each other through times much harder any of them could have imagined.

The Shape of Us is a story  about friendship. Though weight loss (or the desire to lose weight) is what brings the friends together, they connect and support each other in many different ways, and weight becomes almost a background issue.  The use of a blend of third person narrative and blog entries from the perspectives of all four women is an unusual and effective means of getting inside each character’s lives and emotions.

Although weight loss ceases to be the overriding issue of the book, the differing weight loss experiences of the characters, as well as their experiences surrounding being overweight, is an intriguing premise for a book. Issues of family support, body image, infertility, surgical intervention and more are explored.

At heart, though, this is about the bonds which bring women together and the ways they support each other.

The Shape of Us, by Lisa Ireland
Macmillan, 2017
ISBN 9781760550875

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning

It was an odd engagement present. Heirloom or not, such gifts were not usually covered in grime and dust. Pip sneezed as she started unpacking four boxes of antique French pots: copper boilers, streaked and mottled with watermarks, so when the soft morning light reflected off the pots and hit the white walls of the tiny worker’s cottage, they rippled with rainbows. Some of the pots were so large Pip had to brace herself to lift them out of the boxes. When she pulled off the lids, their blackened insides were etched and lined with age.

When she moves in to a tiny workers cottage with her fiance, Jack, Pip really doesn’t have room for the set of large copper pots her parents send as an engagement gift, but she is determined to have them on display. They bear memories of her childhood and a deeper connection Pip doesn’t completely understand. but the warmth of the copper pots might not be enough to keep Pip’s plans on track. She wants to get her PhD project finished before she and Jack get married and travel, but Jack is impatient, and wants everything to happen now.

In 1427, Artemisia, the cook at the Chateau de Boschaud also has copper pots. she is busy preparing the dishes, the settings, even the special bathing waters for the Lord and his bride. It is tough work, but it is made easier by Artemisia’s secret. this will be her last day at the chateau: soon she will be free and ready to build a new life.

The stories of Pip and Artemisia are separate, yet there are connections across the many centuries between their lives, and Artemisia’s vast knowledge of herbs cooking are not only reflected in Pip’s interests, but are even shared through treasured finds. Readers will want to trace the adventures of each, o find out whether happiness is possible for either, or for both.

The Midsummer Garden is a satisfying blend of contemporary and historical fiction, with each story compelling and well wrought, and the links between the two intriguing. Themes of happiness, of family lore, relationships and self fulfillment are explored and food lovers will enjoy the culinary detail.

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294748

From the Wreck, by Jane Rawson

He felt it first when the horses shifted and cried. they had been muttering among themselves all day, but this was different, a note of panic in it. The horses aren’t yours to care about, George, he reminded himself. He went from cabin to cabin and collected the crockery and cutlery smeared and encrusted with an early dinner, the passengers getting ready for bed.

Aboard the steamship Admella, George Hills is counting his blessings. he has nearly earned enough from his shipboard life to marry his sweetheart. but ti strip is different. the horses are restless and George sees a strange figure lurking among them. When the ship hits a reef and is wrecked, this strange figure, in the shape of a woman, is marooned with George, and somehow their lives become intertwined.

From the Wreck is an oddly compelling tale, with an intriguing premise of a historical event intertwined with the life of an alien being, seeking both a place to belong and an understanding of earth and of life. Spanning the years following the wreck of the Admella in 1859, the story blends what is known of George Hills, the author’s great-great grandfather, with the speculative fiction exploration of existential loneliness.

Hard to classify, but that is what makes the story so intriguing.

From the Wreck, by Jane Rawson
Transit Lounge, 2017
ISBN 9780995359451

Daughter of Mine, by Fiona Lowe

It was a family to be proud of, and throughout the one hundred and seventy-five years since the Mannering brothers had crossed the Moorabool River, there’d always been at least one branch of the family living in Billaware. It gave Harriet a reassuring sense of tradition and a great deal of family pride.

Harriet Chirnwell’s life is perfect – which is how she always planned it to be. Descended from the Mannering family, who pioneered the farming district,  with a successful career as a surgeon, an equally successful husband and a daughter who will follow in her footsteps, life could hardly be better. Her sister Xara  has a more chaotic life, married to a farmer, and with a severely disabled daughter and twin sons. A third sister, Georgie, lives in Melbourne, where her busy teaching job leaves her little time to mourn the loss of her still born baby.

But life for all three gets a whole lot more complicated when their mother, a year after their father’s sudden death, turns up to a birthday party with a strange man on her arm. Edwina has always been reserved and very very proper. Now she is glowing with happiness, and happy to cause scandal. But soon, her scandal is overshadowed by an even bigger one.  the lives of the Chirnwell sisters are thrown into turmoil as revelation after revelation shakes their lives.

Daughter of Mine  is a story of family secrets, mothers, daughters and sisters set in rural Victoria and crossing generations.  With complex issues explored, there are many highs and lows, but ultimately this a moving story of the bonds between sisters.

Daughter of Mine , by Fiona Lowe
Harlequin, 2017
ISBN 9781489220349

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian Mckinty

The wood is an ancient one, a relic of the vast Holocene forest that once covered all of Ireland but which now has almost completely gone. Huge oaks half a millennium old; tangled, many-limbed  hawthorns; red-barked horse chestnuts.
“i don’t like it,” the man behind the man with the gun says.
“Just put up with it, my feet are getting wet too,” the man with the gun replies.
“It’s not just that. It’s those bloody trees. I can hardly see any-thing. i don’t like it. It’s spooky,
so it is.”
“Ach, ya great girl ya, pull yourself together.”

It’s 1988 and Belfast is besieged by troubles. So on one is surprised when a drug dealer is murdered, and once the initial interest has passed, no one would be surprised if it was never solved. But Detective Inspector Sean Duffy isn’t one to give up. There is something about this case that means he just can’t let it go – even when he finds his career, his marriage and, finally, his life threatened.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is the seventh title featuring Sean Duffy, a stubborn detective who works hard, but also drinks before lunchtime, smokes at every opportunity, and isn’t afraid to break the rules in the quest for right. The setting of the stories – in a Belfast in the midst of ‘the troubles‘ – is both interesting and increases the drama, with physical threat an ever-present reality for a policeman, especially a Catholic one such as Duffy.

Acton packed, with a touch of humour.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian McKinty
Serpent’s Tail, 2017
ISBN 9781781256923

The Pretty Delicious Café by Danielle Hawkins

One Wednesday in October I spoilt a perfectly good spring evening by going to bed with a book called Run, Bobby, Run. Hugh at the deli had lent it to me that afternoon when I dropped in for twenty kilos of coffee beans, promising a gripping, fiendishly clever read, and after a solid fortnight of my late Great-Aunty Sheila’s Anne Hepple novels I thought that sounded like just the thing.
It wasn’t.

The Pretty Delicious Café’ is set in a small town on the coast in New Zealand. Lia and her friend Anna run a café that gets very busy in tourist season. Sounds idyllic. And it is. Or would be, if life hadn’t also introduced pre-wedding nerves in your business partner … who is about to marry your twin brother … and an ex-boyfriend who won’t take no for an answer … and two differently challenging parents who live (luckily) in different places … and a business that’s not yet on firm footing. Lia has it all, and then some. On the night ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ begins, she also has a prowler.

Lia is just trying to make a go of life. She has loving but eccentric family and friends around her and she’s doing her best to make a go of the café she co-owns. But it’s hard to keep your focus when an old romance is over, a new one may just have appeared, your partner is behaving strangely and you feel you are parenting your parents. ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ is full of love and laughter, drama and excitement. An entertaining peek into small town world, jam-packed with character and charm. Recommended for readers who like their stories fast-paced and with a happy ending.

The Pretty Delicious Café, Danielle Hawkins
HarperCollins 2016 ISBN: 9781460752586

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Storm and Grace, by Kathryn Heyman

…she is screaming, the way he wanted,
the way he promised she would…

Grace Cain loves diving, and is in Sydney completing her degree so she can make a career beneath the ocean. But when she meets Storm Hisray, world-famous freediver, her world is rocked. She has never met anyone like him. He convinces Grace to follow him back to his home on an idyllic Pacific island. There life seems perfect, and soon Storm is teaching Grace to dive like him, alongside him. They will be a freediving couple.

But as Storm pushes Grace to dive deeper, push herself further, cracks start to appear. Is it Grace who matters to Storm, or being the best, being noticed?  Grace becomes increasingly aware that she is deeper water than she could have ever imagined.

Storm and Grace is a haunting novel. The reader is drawn into the beauty and the terror of freediving – and of life with a charismatic man who will stop at nothing to manipulate those around him. The voices of other women, other victims, of Storm and men like him, narrate parts of the novel, so that the reader sees the danger  long before Grace, an unusual technique which keeps pages turning.

Beautiful yet terrifying, this is a remarkable novel.

Storm and Grace, by Kathryn Hayman
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781743313633

 

Available from good bookstores and online.