The Saddler Boys by Fiona Palmer

Published:  23rd September 2015 (print)/11th August 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
  Penguin Australia/Wavesound
Pages: 371/9 discs
Narrator: Danielle Baynes
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Rural Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Schoolteacher Natalie has always been a city girl. She has a handsome boyfriend and a family who give her only the best. But she craves her own space, and her own classroom, before settling down into the life she is expected to lead.

 When Nat takes up a posting at a tiny school in remote Western Australia, it proves quite the culture shock, but she is soon welcomed by the swarm of inquisitive locals, particularly young student Billy and his intriguing single father, Drew. 

 As Nat’s school comes under threat of closure, and Billy’s estranged mother turns up out of the blue, Nat finds herself fighting for the township and battling with her heart. Torn between her life in Perth and the new community that needs her, Nat must risk losing it all to find out what she’s really made of – and where she truly belongs. 

A big reason why I had a hard time enjoying this was the narrator of the audiobook; she made Natalie sound like a constantly cheery childish girl which was annoying. I know she was meant to be 22, but it changed my perspective of her when she sounded so innocent and naive all the time even when she wasn’t meant to. I had read the first few chapters in a physical book and was really engaged, I think switching to audio changed my enjoyment in part.

There were good parts that I enjoyed, Palmer portrays the country lifestyle well and the characters were interesting. Some parts were predictable but I was surprised by other parts. It was a nice wholesome story that touched on some more serious topics. Even when it did that it didn’t feel as serious though, maybe that was because of how it was read too, I don’t know.

Palmer includes a few different dramas, a few I felt had to be there because it gave Natalie more justification for her decisions rather than a believable character choice. I think a different approach would have been better. But for the most part, I enjoyed the different dynamics, young single father, a child with a few special needs, interesting supporting characters. It worked well on that front.

I was surprised by the ending, I was waiting for a sudden change but Palmer followed through which was impressive. Overall it’s not the best rural story I have read, but it wasn’t too bad either. I’m almost tempted to reread it as a book just to see if I enjoy it more…almost.

You can purchase The Saddler Boys via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Book Depository | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust

BookWorldQBD

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The Muse by Jessie Burton

Published: 26th July 2016 (print)/26th July 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Picador/HarperAudio
Pages: 445/1 disc – 12hrs (MP3)
Narrator: Cathy Tyson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

A picture hides a thousand words…

On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn’t know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences. 

I actually read this before I read The Miniaturist and since I didn’t like that, I wonder if I would have picked this up. But since I read it before I eagerly took it up and actually rather enjoyed it. It was steady, not obviously exciting or adventurous, but it was interesting and dramatic in its own way. There was a lot of focus on the characters and their interactions with others to create the drama rather than needing too much outside influence, despite the civil war looming in the background in the 30s, which I must say did add its own tension and a wonderful historical reality.

The story has a dual timeline which switches between 1960s London and 1930’s Spain, a connection between the two we’re not sure of until a painting arrives at the gallery where Odelle Bastien has begun working. Burton switches between the 1960s and the 1930s beautifully, mixing the stories together and revealing what needs to be told at the right times, holding back when needed.

I liked that Burton gave us a few intriguing mysteries to ponder. I had theories about them and changed and altered them based on what happened in the story. Of course, some were predictable in hindsight, but there was always a slight chance that I was wrong, and I guess when I had a bet on either side I was going to right either way. I loved Odelle as narrator. I listened to the audiobook so Tyson did a beautiful accent which brought Odelle to life. But even without that, Odelle is a great character, she is a smart, sensible woman, she has pride and respect for herself and while she is a bit timid at times, she is also loyal and curious. This curiosity gets her involved with her employer and starts her on her own investigation into why there are so many unanswered questions and mysteries surrounding not only her employer but also this new, important painting.

There are many intriguing characters in this story. Isaac Robles and Olive Schloss are complicated in their own ways, as is Teresa. The pressure of their era and the secrets that they must keep haunt them and Burton brings this out in their words and their actions, making each one complex and full. The tone changes between each era are subtle but make a huge difference. Burton doesn’t just tell us we’re in the different decade, her writing has a different tone to it that feels freer or more confined, depending what is needed.

I enjoyed where this story went, I became more invested as it went along in both Odelle and Olive’s storylines. I wanted to know the answers as much as Odelle did and I was curious how Burton would approach their reveal. What resulted was a captivating story with twists and turns that actually did surprise me at times. I loved the chaos of the characters and the human motives behind decisions that alter paths completely.

I found myself wanting to keep going, I looked forward to getting back into the story, and with a curiosity of my own I wanted to see how it ended. Burton has created a story that will delight and surprise you in a multitude of ways. It has great a great historical presence across two defining eras of the 20th century, which has been coupled with fascinating characters that bring their own dramas to the page. Even if you weren’t a fan of Burton’s other work (as I wasn’t), give this story a go because it might just surprise you.

You can purchase The Muse via the following

QBD | Booktopia
Amazon | Wordery
Book Depository | Dymocks

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Published: 3rd July 2014 (print)/26th August 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Ecco/HarperAudio
Pages: 416/1 disc
Narrator: Jessie Burton
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Magical Realism
★   ★  – 2 Stars

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s life changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways…

Johannes’s gift helps Nella pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation…or the architect of their destruction?

I’ve given it two stars, but by the end of it I wanted to give it 1.5. I was told this was a brilliant read, I did not find this. I persevered and hoped for something to come of it. And not only did I get no real answers, the ending was unsatisfactory and I feel a bit cheated. I don’t know whether this has to do with the magical realism side of the story, but I wasn’t a fan.

The beginning started out ok, after a prologue from an unknown voice we’re introduced to Nella and her arrival at her new life. We’re thrust into Amsterdam in the 1600s and all its glory. Burton makes it easy to understand while still having the gravitas it needed and the seriousness to understand Nella’s predicament, and her style of writing feels like it suits the era and is easy to comprehend.

I settled into the story and got used to Nella and the other characters. I was intrigued, I was curious. It does start to go a bit stale and as part two hit I was weary but something finally seemed to be happening. This didn’t last though and the story dragged on. I think Burton tried to include too much. There’s the historical story happening with sugar, plus a lot of religious elements and political components. On top of that is Nella’s place and the mystery of the miniaturist. It makes for a heavy story and one that takes a lot of pages to tell.

Some parts were predictable and it was a case of waiting for the book to catch up with what you already suspected. Other times it felt like every second chapter had a typical twist of some kind and it got to the point it was just “Oh, another twist, sure, why not’. I will give Burton some credit, she actually followed through on a few things I thought she wouldn’t, that impressed me. But in doing that she also added to the unsatisfactory feeling and the sense that while some things appeared to be resolved, nothing felt like it was. We’re left hanging, not even with a sense that we understand how things would keep going, an abrupt finish that doesn’t answer anything.

I found that I wanted to get to the end without reading the middle. I figured I could ignore this middle part and just see what happens and get the answers to the big questions that Burton keeps raising. I wanted to get to the end to find out what the whole point of it was and found nothing but disappointment. It was anticlimactic after the [supposed] build up and it felt flat.

I’d been looking forward to reading this for months and had it praised and recommended to me by a few people so I was eager to see what it was like. Not to mention the beautiful cover. To come out the other end with meagre enthusiasm is a sorry state to be in.

You can purchase The Miniaturist via the following

QBD | Booktopia

Amazon | Wordery

Book Depository | Dymocks

Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

Published: 9th January 2007 (print)/2008  (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Delacorte Press/Bolinda audiobooks
Pages: 384 pages/7 discs
Narrator: Angela Goethals
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

With unravelled embroidery and fraying hems, the Traveling Pants are back for one last, glorious summer.
Lena: Immerses herself in her painting and an intoxicating summer fling, fearing that the moment she forgets about Kostos will be the moment she sees him again.
Carmen: Falls under the spell of a sophisticated college friend for whom a theatrical role means everything and the heritage of the Pants means nothing.
Bridget: Joins a dig for an ancient city on the coast of Turkey and discovers that her archaeology professor is available in every way except one.
Tibby: Leaves behind someone she loves, wrongly believing he will stay where she has left him.
It’s a summer that will forever change the lives of Lena, Carmen, Bee, and Tibby, here and now, past and future, together and apart.

The first year of university for the girls and with it comes all sorts of drama and life lessons. Brashares did a good job bringing us into this world of separated friends who are trying to find their place in the big wide world and still struggling to hold onto their former lives. The distance of college and being forced to grow up and be independent challenges the girls and makes them assess who they are and what they want from life.

And, again, Pants that still fit and don’t smell and apparently still look wearable after having pond water, dirt, sweat, and who knows what else on them make the rounds. At least this time doesn’t seem to be focused as much on the Pants. They make their appearance and are shown to be worn a few times, but they mainly just sit nearby, so much so I had moments forgetting they were even in the story until they were mentioned. They have definitely become more of a symbol than requiring any real wear from them.

After seeing some improvement in Bee after the first two summers, her storyline is strange and annoying. I’ve figured out I’m just not going to like her character. I will accept her for who she is and just not like her that much. Why Brashares needs Bee to have these older guy relationships, 15 and 19, now 19 and 30. Can’t she stop falling for older guys who are now not only married but also her teacher? The fact she’s even on a dig in Turkey is a complete surprise, has she been harbouring this archaeological love for three books without us knowing? This plotline came from out of the blue as far as I know. Full credit to her though, she treats her family storyline with care and brings to light the struggle she has had over the years.

One thing Brashares doesn’t seem to have realised that book four means the girls are practically 20, and while they do 20 year old things, they still act like they’re children at times. Her language is telling us these adult things are happening, but the petulance and childishness still remain from her characters.

Having said that, some of the girls are better than others. Carmen, who also has picked up a theatre hobby from nowhere, was much less spoilt than before. I actually sympathised with her a lot in this, Brashares develops her like a proper person and makes us understand her emotional neglect and absence from her friends. Lena also is a bit more focused and adult, she is being the 19 year old she is meant to be, working out who she is and what she wants in her life.

I will admit, while I have been a fan of Tibby’s for the series, I think Brashares drew out her storyline for a lot more drama and length than needed. I liked the drama, but I disliked the overdramatic reactions. Though four books deep into this I really so think it’s the writing that keeps bugging me. I think Brashares just needed to tell the same story better and it wouldn’t feel as melodramatic and sickly sweet and charming sometimes. She writes really well sometimes and then other times it just doesn’t work.

Where Brashares shines is in the final chapters. The summation of this story and these girls’ journey is the best part. It is about friendship, about memories, about love and good times. I remembered why I enjoyed reading these stories in the beginning; it highlights the growth of the friendship over the years and gives you a sense of satisfaction as it ends. It remains the sweet and charming book it’s always been, but Brashares ends the fourth book with respect and a promise for the girls’ futures.

You can purchase Forever in Blue via the following

Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Fishpond

BookWorldAmazon Aust

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

Published: December 2004 (print)/14th May 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Delacorte Books/Bolinda audiobooks
Pages: 373 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Angela Goethals
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

With a bit of last summer’s sand in the pockets, the Traveling Pants and the Sisterhood that wears them embark on their 16th summer.
Bridget: Impulsively sets off for Alabama, wanting to both confront her demons about her family and avoid them all at once.
Lena: Spends a blissful week with Kostos, making the unexplainable silence that follows his visit even more painful.
Carmen: Is concerned that her mother is making a fool of herself over a man. When she discovers that her mother borrowed the Pants to wear on a date, she’s certain of it.
Tibby: Not about to spend another summer working at Wallman’s, she takes a film course only to find it’s what happens off-camera that teaches her the most.

The second summer, the second adventure of the girls and their magic pants. The jeans are out doing their thing and the girls are having adventures. This time around they aren’t as separated, Bridgette does go to Alabama, but the other three stay close by for most of the summer. Now that the Pants have been established, this book was more a continuation of their own journeys, not so much about keeping them together and close. They do all have their own problems in their lives so the Pants do act as a connection, and each girl still uses its magic for guidance.

I liked this one a little bit better than the first one. Bridgette still annoyed me at times, but she seems to have subdued and maybe growing up emotionally. She finds peace of sorts away from her suffocatingly absent family and goes on an emotional discovery which I think she needed.

Carmen is an absolute brat in this book. I can see Brashares was going for the only child/single mum whole world combo and I get it, but my goodness she was intolerable. When her world is disrupted and she is put out in the smallest way she overreacts. I feel like Carmen was meant to have learnt from the events in book one, but she hasn’t seemed to learnt anything. She mistreats people and sabotages things and for someone meant to be almost 17 it was a bit ridiculous.

The other girls had minor improvements. Tibby tries to continue her film career and seems to gain some understanding of herself and her family. Lena too has some hard lessons to face. I feel Brashares cheated with some of Lena’s story, it fell into predictability. Actually, a lot of the book felt predictable. That’s why I was surprised that Bee’s storyline was actually probably the better of the three.

It was a good story, it wasn’t amazing, it was just four little adventures that kind of overlapped at times. The format is there, the jeans, the letters, the drama. As I say, some ridiculous moments and silly things, but I’ve come to expect that from these books.

You can purchase The Second Summer of the Sisterhood via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Publisher | Wordery

Booktopia | Amazon Aust

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