Last Shot- Jock Zonfrillo

OMG this book.  Honestly, I don’t know what else to say.  This will absolutely be one of my favourite reads for the year.  I read the whole thing cover to cover in just over a day, I couldn’t put it down.

It was engaging, it was funny, it was heartbreaking, it was raw, it was emotional, it was real. 

I’m a huge fan of Masterchef, always have been, right from when the original UK version started all those years ago, and I’ve also been a massive fan of the Aussie version so I was seriously keen to read Last Shot.

Whether you are fan of cooking and food or not, this book will resonate with anyone that loves a good autobiography.  Jock shares his story from his troubled childhood growing up in Scotland right through to how he and his family have been affected by the current COVID pandemic and the closure of his beloved restaurant in Adelaide as a result.

It’s also a frightening look into the world of elite Michelin star restaurants and the cutthroat industry that seems to break so many.

Jock is open and honest about his serious heroin addiction from his teens through his adult life until becoming clean approx. 20 years ago.

As an Aussie I was fascinated to read about his passion for our indigenous culture and the amazingly tireless work he has done to bring that culture to the mainstream and into our kitchens.  It’s was also so frustrating and maddening to see how the Australian media has done its best to tear all that good work down with the click of a button and their fake news stories simply for shock value.

But like so much of his life Jock’s resilience shines through and his unwavering passion for what he believes in is forefront in everything he does.

A passionate family man that is clearly devoted to his kids and his family I honestly can’t recommend this inspiring 5 star read enough.

And I promise…..from now on…..I won’t put any f*@^ing cream in my carbonara!!

Olympus, Texas – Stacey Swann

This was so much fun!! One of those books that is almost a guilty pleasure, a jam-packed read just for the thrill of it.

Unlikeable characters, families behaving badly, affairs, marriage breakdowns, a suspicious death…..it’s too good to put down.

March decides to return home to Olympus Texas, 2 years after being caught having an affair with his brother’s wife.  In a family that is larger than life, in a town that’s full of small-town gossip it’s anything but a warm welcome for March.

Not that he expected to be welcomed back with open arms, but what he didn’t expect was to set off a chain of events that for some would ultimately have devastating consequences.

With his father Peter as a role model, who seems to leave a brood of children around the town with women he can’t help himself from falling into bed with, and his long suffering mother June who does her best to pick up the pieces around them, it’s really no wonder March’s life and that of his siblings is a disaster waiting to happen.

They are truly a dysfunctional family and what makes it even more interesting is that Stacey Swann has done a fabulous job of weaving Greek mythology into the story, with each character mirrored on one of the Greek Gods, and I love all things mythology.

Even if you don’t, it’s like watching an old episode of Dallas and watching the train-wreck of their lives unfold in all its bold and brassy glory!!!

Circus of Wonders – Elizabeth Macneal

Such a beautiful book.  It was both magical and lyrical and I was totally mesmerised the entire way through.

For me, a wonderful read, a read that I will recommend to anyone and everyone is one that holds my attention.  A read that pulls me in and has me reading every single word on the page, never feeling the need to skip ahead for fear of missing something or reaching the end too soon.  It’s being invested in the characters and feeling a part of their life.

Circus of Wonders captured all those feelings. 

Set in 1866 amidst the backdrop of circus life, when those that were different were paraded around as “freaks”, spectacles to be gawked at, laughed at, and profited off, all for their differences to what the world deemed as “normal”.

Born with birthmarks that give her skin a mottled, speckled appearance, Nell lives a quiet life in a coastal village in southern England.  Although often dreaming of something better, she is content to lead a relatively isolated life, tending her flowers and spending time with her brother.

When Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in her village Nell’s father sees a way to make some quick money, as well as way to rid himself of the girl he sees as a blight on his family, a bad omen for the village.

Now finding herself sold to the circus, ripped away from everything she has known, to be treated as an object on display each and every night, Nell’s life will never be the same.  Yet what starts as heartbreak for Nell, soon turns into a life full of wonder and joy, and as she starts to fall for Toby, the Circus ringmaster’s brother, can she for the first time experience what true love is?

A truly magical book that shows the worth of someone is not how they look on the outside but how they feel about themselves on the inside.

What Could Be Saved – Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

5 Fabulous Stars for this stunning book.

I loved this book so much, it honestly feels like there is a gaping hole in my heart where it used to sit.

Described as rich with mystery and family drama, this compelling novel delves into the extraordinary power of sibling love, rivalry and loyalty. 

The story begins with Laura, an artist struggling to find her rhythm again.  Out of the blue she receives a call from a complete stranger claiming to be her brother.  Laura and her sister Bea, now a mum to teenage boys, have not seen their brother Philip for over 40 years, since he vanished one day as a child when they were living in Thailand. 

Laura is instantly convinced it is him and insists on jumping on the first flight back to Thailand to bring him home.  No amount of push back from her sister and her partner will stop her.  From here we are thrown into a roller coaster of emotion.

Alternating between 1972, and the present day we learn the truth about this family tragedy all those years ago as the two timelines mesh together perfectly.

It is the time of the Vietnam War when their father Robert is offered the opportunity to move from the US to Bangkok with his wife Genevieve and three young children and after one year turns into three, there are inklings that Robert’s job “building a dam” may not be all that it seems.

Yet they have made a good life for themselves in Thailand and Genevieve has become renowned as the wonderful hostess who throws beautiful parties.  The children have also adapted to their new life, ferried around to one activity after another relishing their time in Bangkok, until suddenly their worlds are turned upside down. It is every parent’s worst nightmare when suddenly 8 year old Philip simply disappears and all the pieces this family have kept hidden from each other come tumbling out.

Forty years later, could it really be Philip on the phone?  After so much pain and false hopes could he really just walk back into their lives? 

This book is alive, it is vibrant, it is utterly mesmerising.  The writing is captivating and completely draws you into this family’s world.  It is also tragic and heartbreaking and for all these reasons, even at 450 pages I just couldn’t put it down.

I know it is only the beginning of the year but this is definitely going to be one of my absolute favourite books of the year, it is truly phenomenal!!  An absolute must-read!!

Thank you so much to Allen and Unwin for the opportunity to read this truly outstanding book.

*****

Dead Letters – Michael Brissenden

A dead politician, a mother’s letters from the grave, a daughter’s quest for answers.

OMG I freaking loved this book!!!!  Corrupt politicians, dirty cops, mafia links, gangs, counter terrorism………..seriously, what’s not to love.

I was a little nervous going into this one, it’s not the usual type of book I’m drawn to but honestly, once I started reading I couldn’t stop.  It was so compelling and so intriguing it had me hooked from the very first page.

When a politician is shot in the early hours of the morning, veteran officer Sid Allen, with his own closet full of skeletons, is called to the scene to investigate.  It’s not every day a politician is murdered.  What does it mean?  Is it terrorist related?  Is it gang related? 

Also poking around the death is journalist Zephyr Wilde who was only ten when her mother Shirley was murdered twenty years earlier.  Shirley was the owner of a local brothel and had contacts in high places, so why after all these years had the case of her mother’s death still not been solved?  Did someone want it to stay buried, no matter what the cost?

It’s not long before Sid and Zephyr’s worlds come crashing into each other and as the body count rises so does the tension.  The chapters were fact paced in this political thriller and the author has done a fantastic job of holding the reader’s attention right through to the nail biting ending.

As an added bonus, set across the fabulous city of Sydney, it was so good to read a book where I actually knew the name of the streets and the suburbs.

Thank you sooooo much Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this 5 star book.  I highly recommend running out to the bookshop now to grab a copy.

*****

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V.E Schwab

What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said?  What can I say about this book that would even begin to do it justice?  Nothing, okay, end of review.

Seriously, this is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read.  I finished it a few days ago now and it actually feels like there is a great big empty space where Addie should be. 

Desperate to be free to live her own life, make her own choices and set her own path, it’s 1714 and Addie makes a deal that will change her life forever.  As is so often the case, this freedom comes at a price.  Whilst she may now be beholden to nobody, she is now also remembered by nobody.  Seen, and yet instantly forgotten.  No memories left, no footprints behind her, nothing.  She is nothing. 

Until she meets Henry.  The unassuming man who runs the local bookshop in New York City.  It’s 2014 and after nearly 300 years, Addie is finally remembered.  After 300 years meandering through the world, through wars, through celebrations, through unforgettable moments in history, he remembers her.  Why?  Who is he?  What does it mean?  Addie will push all these questions away to savour these feelings as long as she can.

Lyrical, magical, simply stunning.  There is honestly nothing I can say that will do this book justice.  If you haven’t read it yet, pick it up, find somewhere comfy and dive right in.  This book will stay with you forever.

5 bright beautiful stars for this one.

*****

Review – A Lifetime of Impossible Days

A Lifetime of Impossible Days – Tabitha Bird

I laughed, I cried, I felt every emotion reading this amazing story.  It is whimsical, it is fantastical (is that a word) but at the heart it is a story of trauma and grief and how dealing with the past can have drastic effects on our future.

Tabitha Bird has truly written a masterpiece.  It’s strange, it’s unusual, and it’s hard to put into words how to even describe it but is a truly stunning book.  You really need to let yourself go when reading this, think Alice in Wonderland disappearing down a rabbit hole.  Don’t expect things to make sense.

We meet Willa in 1965 at age 8, in 1990 at age 33 and in 2050 at age 93 when on one impossible day, 93 year old Willa mails two parcels with a note “One ocean; plant in the backyard” setting off a magical time slip that allows Willa to visit her future and past selves. 

Willa at all 3 stages of her life is so full of depth and emotion.  I adored Willa at 93, she was my absolute favourite.  Her sense of humour had me laughing out loud, her strength had me full of admiration for her and her confusion and her fear had me in tears.  I hope at that age I am running around in brightly coloured gumboots or moonboots and possibly ordering a cow for the backyard off a talk-back radio show.

Willa at 8 is the most heartbreaking.  No child should have to know such trauma in their young life.  Feeling responsible for her younger sister, trying to help her mother who has become unable to be there for her daughters both physically and emotionally, all the while living with the terror of a violent father. The abuse was handled with care and was mostly inferred which I also appreciated.  As a reader I could take it as far as I was comfortable with and it was just as impactful without making the whole book disturbing.

33 year old Willa is possibly the most important of all.  The adult who is now a mother herself, who has never dealt with the pain of her past but needs to in order to be able to have a future for herself and her own family.  “I’m not sad or happy…….I’m nothing.  I’ve forgotten how to feel.  I’ve stuffed everything that happened in the past so far inside me.  I’ve stuffed myself inside, too, and now I’m not even me.”

This was one of the very few books I’ve read that after I finished the last page and closed the cover, I put the book down and just sat there.  I really had to process it all.  I still can’t believe it’s a debut. 

To quote 8 year old Willa “amaze-a-loo” I really wish everyone could read this one.  Thank you so much to the author for sending me a copy of her book in exchange for this review.

*****

Review – The Patient

The Patient – Jasper DeWitt

This book is freaking insane!!!!  Written as a series of blog posts in a reddit-style medical forum this is a whole package of craziness and I absolutely loved it!!!

Set in a psychiatric hospital in New England, Parker is a new young psychiatrist who becomes intrigued by Patient Joe.  Admitted at the age of 6 years old, Joe is now a fully grown adult, still in the hospital and undiagnosed by his many previous doctors, “every person who has attempted to treat him has been driven to madness or suicide”.  He is so dangerous it’s as if they want to keep him locked up forever and throw away the key, yet Parker feels he can be the one to help him.

The story is dark and disturbing but you can’t look away.  Although I am a huge fan of thrillers I don’t tend to read a lot of horror, and whilst there is certainly a horror element to this book it’s relatively light and I was sucked in right from the start.

It’s a short read, at only 209 pages but wow, does it pack a punch in those 209 pages.  Yes, the ending is wrapped up quite quickly which would normally bother me but it made sense and worked with the theme of blog posts and patient notes.

Uniquely written, accept the fact that this is totally different to anything you’ve probably read before, a different style where the story won’t be neatly wrapped up in with a bow that you can explain.  It is open to your own interpretation and your own imagination and that is what I loved about it.

Thank you so much to Harper Collins for the opportunity to read this awesome debut novel in exchange for my honest review.

*****