💫 Mini Review 💫

‘The It Girl’ by Ruth Ware

This was a quick read, with cliff hangers at the end of every chapter. The chapters themselves were also short and immersive which I really enjoyed. I would highly recommend for those who have enjoyed ‘Behind Her Eyes’ and ‘Pieces of Her’ on Netflix 📺💥🌪

April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah met at Oxford. She was decked out in her luxury branded clothing, exclusive haircut and performative posture. She had a particular air about her, as some may say. April is clearly the kind of girl that makes herself known. She’s the ‘it girl’.

Hannah and April are in shared uni accommodation, therefore they begin to learn the ins and outs of each other’s life. Their friendship is magnetic, twisted and dangerous. April is a dominant personality, not only within their immediate friendship, but also within their outer circle of friends, with lecturers and classmates. This power allows her to manipulate those around her for the benefit of her own desires. April likes to plays pranks on her friends to induce the feeling of confusion and control. Her pranks initially start as a way of getting back at someone for not complimenting her – but her tactics, twists and stories start becoming expert level. They’re cruel and calculated, almost like she’s a whole other person.

Then it all goes wrong. 

On the closing night of April’s theatre performance on Oxford campus, she is all glamour and shine. Until Hannah discovers April’s body in her room later on that night. April is dead … or so Hannah thinks. April has been murdered … or so Hannah thinks. 

Fast forward to the present and we have Hannah happily married to April’s then boyfriend, Will. They are expecting their first child. Hannah and Will escaped to Scotland to free themselves of the ongoing press, court case and mystery motive surrounding April’s death. The trauma causes Hannah a lot of grief, especially with her being one of the focal witnesses in the ‘so-called’ attack.

We see Hannah start to retrace her memory on the lead up, and on the night of April’s death due to the ‘convicted’ murderer presently dying in prison. Hannah starts to remember and piece together the how’s, when’s and why’s of her friendship with April. She also begins to dig deeper into her repressed memories, which then leads to the questioning of her closest and most trustworthy friends at the time of their living at Oxford. Was someone close to Hannah more involved with April than she ever knew? Was someone out to get April? Who is in danger? Is April alive? 

Author Talks with Maya Linnell

📸 Maya Linnell w/ Allen & Unwin

Maya Linnell is a bestselling Australian rural fiction author. Her writing career launched into the lime light in 2019 with the successful publication of her first novel ‘Wildflower Ridge’ with Allen & Unwin. From that year on, Maya’s has written 3 more books, she’s been backed by huge recommendation platforms such as Better Reading, and launched a fantastic blog, digital newsletter and reading community.

Welcome Maya and thank you so much for being a part of my Author Talks space online! It is an absolute pleasure to be hosting one of my favourite Australian rural fiction writers on the blog 💖

Maya, when did you fall in love with country romance writing? And what was your turning moment that influenced you to write your own novels?
In my 20s I was lucky enough to score a cadetship at a rural newspaper, which provided the perfect base for my love of words and country stories. I covered everything from school news and netball reports to front stories and advertising features, but the longer feature pieces, where I was allocated 3000 words to tell the amazing tales of local residents, quickly became my favourites.
This enthusiasm for long-form writing put me in good stead for fiction, although it wasn’t until mid-2016, following a late-night conversation with my husband, that I decided to write a novel. I’d been a stay-at-home mum for eight years at that stage, we’d almost finished owner building our home and our youngest child was about to start kindy. It was the first time I’d shared my dream of writing a novel and from that moment on, I did everything in my power to make it happen!

Taking a step back to ‘Wildflower Ridge’ your first novel published with Allen & Unwin, how would you have described that time in your life? Debut novelist, book deal and expectations?
It was a whirlwind of excitement, and I celebrated so many momentous steps along the way; finishing my first draft, making finals in writing competitions with Romance Writers Australia and sending my manuscript out into the world. I was thrilled to score a two-book deal with
Allen & Unwin a few months after I’d started pitching my novel. The contract offer burst into my inbox when I was grocery shopping with the kids on a midwinter’s afternoon, July 2018 (cue cries of delight in the fruit and veg aisle). We threw an impromptu party with our neighbours
that night. Champagne never tasted sweeter!
In terms of expectations, as a debut author, I just hoped that someone other than my school pals, family and former colleagues would buy Wildflower Ridge and enjoy it! Seeing the novel in bestseller lists and award finals was phenomenal the first time, and to experience that success again with the following three books completely exceeded my expectations. I’m so grateful for the generous support from readers, booksellers, bloggers and fellow authors, plus my fabulous publishers, Allen & Unwin.

Describe your life now for me and those reading, 4 years on from the publication of ‘Wildflower Ridge’
Nowadays, I write full time and juggle my author life with family commitments, book blogging and our small property in rural Victoria. Letters from readers are one of my favourite things and it’s a joy to share snippets of our country life on social media @maya.linnell.writes, in my
monthly newsletter and with occasional podcast takeovers. I’m also an advocate for authors and libraries and host a free online show called ‘Library Lovers’ on the third Wednesday of every month. We talk all things books, baking and gardening during the show, and I’ve just
locked in Jane Harper for October. I couldn’t be happier!

‘Paperbark Hill’ is the final story in the sister quartet you’ve created, written and published with Allen & Unwin. Has it been hard bringing the McIntyre sisters’ stories’ to an end?
The McIntyre sisters have been wonderful company these last four years, and after such a warm response from readers, it is hard to farewell them. I’ve had plenty of requests for future stories using minor characters from this series, so perhaps one day I’ll revisit Bridgefield and
check in on them. But for now, I’ve got a whole new series to write!

Maya, you are a powerhouse of a woman and I have been honoured to meet you in person, therefore I can easily say you’re a loving mother, incredibly humble and kind being. You’re also a flower enthusiast, poddy lamb mumma and skilled baker. Among all of these jobs, what is next on the agenda for your successful writing career? 
That’s very kind of you, Mel, it was lovely meeting you when we passed through Wagga Wagga and it’s clear you share that same passion for books! My main focus this month is redrafting my 2023 manuscript – A Place in the Vines – before submitting it to my publisher, Annette Barlow, in August. Then once that’s done, I’ll dive straight into writing my 2024 manuscript. And of course, there’s always plenty to be done around the property with three busy kids, rambling gardens and bottle feeding our latest intake of orphaned lambs!

(Images below are courtesy of Maya’s Instagram page @maya.linnell.writes 📸🌸)


Thank you Maya for your time, generosity and well, your novel! It’s an absolute joy to have shared our interview on melreviewsherbooks.com 💖📚💫 One big thank you to you, Maya, and Allen & Unwin for sending me this copy of ‘Paperbark Hill’ for review.  
Thank you for having me, Mel! And on behalf of the Aussie writing community, a big thanks for all your enthusiasm and good work getting our books into the hands of readers.

Book Review: ‘ When Only One’ by Meg Gatland-Veness

How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?

I need to be explicitly upfront about this novel and its raw topics before I feel dive into this review. This book surrounds the tragic event of a fictional high school shooting in Australia. It provided insight into grief and loss, poverty, domestic abuse, neglect and suicide. These are heavy topics but if you are up to it, do not let that deter you. ‘When Only One’ is one of THE BEST books I’ve read this year and I have absolutely no doubt, in all fibres of my body, that this book will be winning awards in the Australian contemporary young adult category.

Let’s jump into talking about this special novel shall we?

Samson is a teenager, the eldest of five boys and belongs to an average income earning household. His father works a desk job while his mother is unfaltering in her Catholic faith, stability and routine at home with five boys. Sam’s home structure is just that – stable. However his reemerged best friend, Emily, comes from a household that is anything but stable. Her father works when he wants too, drinks too much and is abusive toward her mother. Cynthia, Emily’s mum, suffers from mental illness which becomes quite evident early on in the book. Her mother collects shoes and requires a ‘shoe-toll’ before Emily or Sam can enter the house. She hoards these shoes and gathers them around her for a sense of comfort. The shoe collecting is quite humorous at times with Emily and Sam searching all over town for shoes, to Emily missing her shoes within the floor to ceiling shoe garage, to Sam giving up his good runners for a desperate chance to speak with Emily. Until one afternoon when Emily’s dad snaps – the humour is gone.

Emily’s household is violent, neglectful and poverty-stricken. The local town, school and teenagers know this but nobody believes they can or should do anything to help, as they themselves would rather turn a blind eye and continue on with their safe and comfortable lives. Emily finds her solace and safety in sneaking through Sam’s bedroom window and sleeping on top of his clean bed. Sam lets her, while he takes the bean bag. Emily sometimes stays for meals, plays with Sam’s brothers and gets driven around by Sam’s mum if they both need to go somewhere. However, there is always this divide and ‘frowned-upon’ nature that Sam’s mother holds towards Emily. She will never quite let her be a part of their family, even though it is clearly obvious that she needs help. Emily is also adamant on refusing help, claiming she can handle the cards life has dealt her, but she’s only a teenager. She shouldn’t have to handle these challenges on her own, let alone suffer the consequences of them.

Sam and his close group of guy friends are all training for the Ironman Championship and sporting scholarship. They all want to be fit, athletic and well trained sportsmen, like on the Nutri-grain cereal box. His closest friends consist of; Daniel – a flirtatious Italian; Jeff – quiet and hardworking; Patrick – from a well off family but doesn’t like to admit it; and Milo – who grew up on a dairy farm, his mother committed suicide from postnatal depression, leaving Milo, his under 1 year old sister and their father falling apart. There is a piercing passage on pg. 218 that throws the social divisions of Australian high school and small town communities in your face. It reads;

“At our school, there are three main factions. First, there’s the rich kids from town. They mostly have two working parents and a swimming pool. Then there’s us, mid-grounders. We live in town but the wrong side of the main road. We mostly have stay-at-home mums or single parents. We have clean clothes and brushed hair, but our uniforms are clearly from the faded second-hand box and not shiny and bright from the uniform shop. Jeff, Daniel and I fall into that category. Patrick likes to pretend he does, but he’s secretly a rich kid. Then there’s the third faction: the farm kids and derros who live on the outskirts. The Emilys and Milos of the school. The ones with foetal alcohol syndrome, or mums with no teeth, or brothers in jail, or dads with restraining orders against them. They are the ones who hardly ever last to the end of Year 10.”

Meg’s ability to put social hierarchy in such plain words created real feeling for me. I believe it rang true in its bluntness and clear vision through the teenage eyes of Sam, who is discovering the awareness of adversity and privilege all around him. From this, Sam is learning the unwavering power and influence that adversity and privilege have over a persons life. One teenager in this story who was aware of their privilege was Rei. Rei has recently moved to Sam’s school and it was love at first sight for him. Her Asian background and unidentified faith plagued Sam’s mother at times, but he does truly love Rei. Rei advocates for social justice, wins schooling debates and cries over inequalities. Meg does a great job of still painting Rei as a young teenager, with emotion led decision making, self-confidence issues and the feelings of grief and loss surrounding migrating to a new country.

Ultimately, the adversities, disadvantages and addictions faced by the characters in this story, create the demise for severe loss of mental control and physical actions. The escalation is chilling, sickening and unexplainable, but arguably explainable from the perspective of the one character committing the action. I have to say that the novel does not keep you in this heaviness. It gives the reader a clear feeling of immediate grief and how that looks in the realistic lives of teenagers, yet we also see and feel the ongoing cycle of grief. We learn its moving sensation and how it becomes a part of who you are, then you keep growing, then growing, then growing. To say this novel touched me is an understatement. Even now writing this review, I am flipping open pages and thinking gosh I want to write about this, and this, but I can only give you so much book lovers. I need to leave the rest up to you 💖

The Monthly Wrap: July

Well, well, well – that’s a stack and a half of books! I had a bit of a slumpy July to begin with and have now rediscovered my reading pace in the last week … so let’s get straight into it shall we 🤣📚

After finishing ‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell, released in August and my second favourite literary novel of 2022 – closely tailing ‘Devotion’ by Hannah Kent (click here for review), I needed something to get me out of a gnarly book slump! I will be posting a book review of ‘The Marriage Portrait’ on its release day, that being the 30th of August. Yes, yes, I’m making you wait – but it’s for good reason 😍

I picked up ‘Salt and Skin’ by Eliza Henry-Jones thinking I will counteract my literary book slump with another EPIC literary fiction. Sadly, this did not go as planned. Salt and Skin covers heavy topics of grief, denial and continental travel. At this point in time, these were not topics I felt in the mood for reading (and as we know, I’m very much a mood reader). The bones of this book are fantastic and I have been pining for a pre-release copy of this to land in my hands for months now, therefore I will not give up! I am determined to read this in August and without fail, I will provide you with a review.

Mixing up my genres, I decided to dip my toes into a Fantasy – I thought this may help. Our Other Worlds Book Club had recently read and throughly enjoyed ‘Atlas Six’ by Olivie Blake and I had multiple members encourage me to pick it up. I found it available at my local library and decided now was the time. I really like the witchiness, the changing perspectives and learning each characters’ powers. The mystery behind their training and schooling is really interesting to follow and kept me gripped. However, a quarter of the way through this book, I went on holidays and it just wasn’t fitting the bill for a light, funny, holiday read – you know? Enter, ‘Today Tonight Tomorrow’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon.

Extract from 💫 Mini Review 💫:

“Ahh, this was just cute. It was cute and feel good and made me smile and made me laugh. It had all the feels and was the perfect enemies to lovers plot. Rowan Roth is a determined young woman and hard working right up to the very end of high school but her witty drive is pushed along by the likes of Neil McNair. The two have been in hefty competition with each other since the time they met. Their schooling has been a constant battle of who will be in first place and who will come in second. Rowan is set on not placing second best in their last bid for victory … winning valedictorian.

Yet as graduation looms and their end of Senior Year celebrations of a Seattle scavenger hunt kicks off, Rowan and Neil begin to realise that rather than opposing each other, they are smarter, swifter and more aligned working together than they ever realised. Slowly, they learn about one another’s lives outside of the small portion of school they experience with one another. Outside hobbies, passions and home lives come into play, furthering even more of their connection.”

I actually picked up my copy of ‘Today Tonight Tomorrow’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon while on holiday in Melbourne. I purchased it at Dymocks Melbourne, located on Collins Street. At the time, I also purchased ‘The Mars Room’ by Rachel Kushner (a literary fiction listed for the Booker Prize in 2018), ‘Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe’ by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (of which I read the first book last year and adored its Japanese morals, whimsical thinking and translation) & ‘The Soulmate Equation’ by Christina Lauren (recommended by an avid reader friend who also loved ‘The Unhoneymooners’ by Christina Lauren, as much as I did).

I then visited Canberra, in which I tracked down a Harry Hartog Bookseller. I purchased my copy of ‘Last Time We Met’ by Emily Houghton (contemporary romance) on that adventure! As you can tell from this stack of 5 book purchases, I was feeling the “easy reading’ vibes, with only one literary fiction thrown in there for good measure.

Back to what I actually read! Gosh Mel, way to get side tracked with book buying 😉 Presently, at home with Covid, I have had the time to finish a crime fiction novel, ‘The It Girl’ by Ruth Ware. This was suspenseful, twisty and great at developing characters into the kind of people you suspect and cannot stop following their motives. April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah Jones met at Oxford. Decked out in her luxury branded clothing, exclusive haircut and performative posture, April is clearly the kind of girl that makes herself known. She’s the ‘it girl’. April is clever, manipulative and powerful, until she ends up murdered on the closing night of her theatre performance … and Hannah is the one to find her. Moving back and forth, past to present, we now learn that Hannah is married and expecting her first child to April’s then boyfriend. Suspicious – yes ✅. Hannah also totally isolated herself from a number of their friends at the time after the murder. Suspicious – yes ✅. Hannah also gave evidence against a security footman in court to convict him of April’s murder, yet he has always plead innocent. Suspicious – yes ✅. Lot’s of things don’t add up and it made for a very interesting story. Full review coming soon 👀

Last but not least, I am currently reading and endeavour to have finished in a few days (iso and all), ‘When Only One’ by Meg Gatland-Veness. This young adult fiction opens on a school shooting in an Australian high school. The book is giving feelings of being set around the 70’s or 80’s time era with reference to things such as old Nintendos and Catholic ideologies. The heaviness and seriousness of this novel hits you immediately and I felt gripped straight away. Meg then takes us back in time through the lens of a teenage boy and his life a year prior to the tragic event. We learn of him, his life goals, his friends and who is struggling within the community – letting the reader peel back slow layers of who may have committed this horrific crime. The writing style is perfect, captivating and feeling.

So that folks, is the STACK! What have you book lovers been reading for the month of July? Have you been book buying? Share below 💬🎙

Which Australian bookstores did I visit recently?

Name: Dymocks Melbourne

Location: Lower Ground Floor, 234 Collins St, Melbourne VIC

Size: BIG but not huge (would have loved to explore another level … but maybe there was and I didn’t notice – Melbourne locals please let me know in the comments)

Thoughts: This bookshops fiction section filled my soul 💖 There was such a variety to pick from and I loved the eclectic variety they stocked. I found their crime fiction section exuberant and fantastic! They had all Agatha Christies, all Lee Child, all Michael Robotham, all of my lovely friend Sulari Gentill in stock. There was no designated Literary section which I always gravitate to in a bookstore, however it was pretty clearly all was mixed in fiction and easy enough to find. The cooking section was extensive and gave me a few ideas for my own local. Their non-fiction section was also full and fresh. I found it helpful and effective just seeing a ‘service/enquiries’ desk. The practicality of that service was great in a space of such size. The one section I felt lacked was their Young Adult, there was almost only half a bays worth of books. YA is such a huge market in our bookstore, therefore I was stunned to see its smallness in a nationals capital. All in all, worth the trip! I came out with four books which you will see in my July Wrap Up very soon.

Happy 💖: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4/5)


Name: Harry Hartog Bookseller

Location: Shop 111/112 South Point Shopping Centre, Anketell St & Reed St N., Greenway, ACT 

Size: Average, nice and open

Thoughts: The feeling in a Harry Hartog is moody, mysterious and comforting. I can easily say this chain is kicking goals with its interior design, decor and ascetic. Book wise, I didn’t find much out of the ordinary that our local store doesn’t have. I mostly enjoyed perusing the giftware and book associated items that wrap up and encourage a more calm, enjoyable and relaxed reading experience. For example, there were candles, heat packs, journals and different types of tea which were all available for purchase. I really liked this element of coming away from a bookstore kitted out for your next R&R session. One book was purchased in this visit to Harry Hartog and a lovely print that has made itself onto a wall in my home!

Happy 💖: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3/5)

(Note: This picture is not my own)


Name: Robinsons Bookshop

Location: Canberra Centre, Shop DF24, 148 Bunda St, Canberra ACT 

Size: Small in size, big in feeling

Thoughts: My heart felt immediately happy in this Robinsons Bookshop! I was greeted by the most lovely bookseller, her and I connecting over the usual bookseller things; books (obviously 🤣), unboxing books, enquiries, ordering books, etc. I also learnt that this Canberra Robinsons Bookshop is the only one outside of Victoria, where their brand and first stores originated. The experience was warm and homey. I proceeded to browse the bookstore’s fiction section, classics and cooking. I found a lot of cook books that have inspired a restock in my own local. The dark timber shelves create a moody space yet the store is lit with the most gorgeous periodic light fixtures. For me, it felt like stepping into another time that was generous and captivating. It proved to me even more that the size of a bookstore does not determine the quality of books, service and feeling – as a booksellers, bookstores are what you make them. I left with one new cookbook in hand!

Happy 💖: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 (3.5/5)

(Note: This picture is of a Melbourne Robinson Bookshop, so imagine Canberra on a smaller scale. This picture is not my own)

Did you enjoy this travelling bookstore blog post? Describe your favourite bookshop to me in the comments 💬🎙

Bagged & Borrowed

My July local library borrow ✅

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake was a must! I have already picked this up and have immediately been drawn into the witchy world. We’re following six young adult magicians as they are each hand selected for the opportunity of a lifetime. Six go in, only five come out. I love that we actually see and hear from everyone’s perspectives. It is something fresh and new to my reading habits in fantasy.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell was my second borrow. Maggie is an author that’s been around for a while, however she is new to me. I recently finished her new literary fiction landing in August, called ‘A Marriage Portrait’, which was SPECtacular!! It has snuck up behind ‘Devotion’ by Hannah Kent – my 2022 favourite thus far (read my review here). It is set in Italy … LOVE THIS, in the Medici era… LOVE THIS and centres around the marriage of Duchess Lucrezia of Ferrera, at the age of 15 and a 30 year old Alfonzo II, Duke of Ferrera. This was a marriage of convince, yet by the time Lucé turned 16, she was dead – presumed murdered by her husband. I could not put this book down! I was addicted to Maggie’s writing from the get go and look forward to following Hamnet in the same way, all while learning about Shakespeare’s son through an accurate yet fictional lens.

Have you visited your local Library this month? They’re a place of such knowledge, care and warmth 📚

Book Addict on tour

Happy FriYAY book lovers! I’m taking a trip and that means more time explore bookstores!

Sometimes my friends and family get a giggle out of how much time I love spending in bookstores – especially when I manage one full time. My answer is always the same, “They’re all so different!”. And it’s true! Every single bookstore has a different feel, they hold different stock and have staff with different book knowledge and opinions. That is something I just love exploring. There is also the fact that bookstores make me feel safe, comfortable and that I belong. Their familiarity is homey to me.

My shelves are overflowing, as I confessed to you all in my ‘That growing TBR pile … ‘ post, however there is no time like the present to find new books I didn’t know existed, get newly inspired by different environments and cultures, as well as just enjoying some time in a new place! All in all, every bookstore visit brings me back to my local feeling inspired and motivated 🤩

Author Talks with Nell Pierce

Nell Pierce is the prestigious winner of the 2022 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award. This award is presented to an unpublished author and their manuscript, in the hopes of finding Australia’s next BIG literary author and launching their writing career. Nell Pierce was this year’s winner. Nell is already topping charts and our very own Literary Lovers Book Club is very excited to read Nell’s ‘A Place Near Eden’ for the month of July.

Welcome Nell and thank you so much for being a part of my Author Talks space online! It is an absolute privilege and pleasure to be discussing your debut novel and writing experience with you 😊

Nell, how does it feel to be a debut novelist and award winner all wrapped up in one? Congratulations 🥳

Thank you! It feels pretty great!!

I wrote a lot of A PLACE NEAR EDEN when I was living in New York. I was working as a literary agent, which was fun and fast paced (and also sometimes quite stressful) and before work I’d go to a Pret near the office to do a little writing. My job involved working with authors and helping them get published, so it was very inspiring but also sometimes a reminder of how hard publishing can be. I made my peace with the fact that my novel might end up only being read by my mum and dad. I just enjoyed the process of writing and having that part of the morning that I dedicated to myself. It was nice to have a project to work on that was just for me. I’d sit down with a coffee and sometimes some oatmeal or a yogurt and get out my laptop and that half hour was a little luxury.

When I found out I’d won the Vogel I was pregnant with my daughter, who was born around the same time the book published. It was funny timing, because I’d kept my pregnancy a secret for the first trimester, and had just started telling people, and was feeling really relieved not to have the burden of a secret anymore. I’m a terrible secret keeper, especially with happy secrets, like having a baby, I just want to tell everyone. So then, just when I thought my secret keeping was over, I got another happy secret when I found out I’d won the Vogel. I found out in September but I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone until the announcement was made in May of the next year. In the meantime, I worked with Allen and Unwin to edit the book, which was a fantastic experience.

I guess in summary I’m feeling really lucky!

What was your turning moment that made you click “submit” on your manuscript for The Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award?

It was my partner, Mark, who convinced me to submit to the Vogel. I’d been working on the manuscript for so many years, I think I could have kept working on it forever! The Vogel’s Literary Award was a great deadline to help me stop working on the manuscript and start thinking about moving onto something new. And then when I won, I got to go back into the manuscript and start editing. It was very hard to part with the pages when it was time to finally turn them in. Even now, I’ll be in the shower, and I’ll think of a paragraph or passage that I wish I’d included.

Have Tilly, Sam and Celeste’s story always been with you? How did they come about and then their written stories come to fruition?

I really love the area around Eden on the south coast of NSW. I used to visit there a lot as a kid, and I love the ocean, the contrast between the calm inlet waters and the surf beaches, the gum trees and bush, and the sense of wildness in the rugged landscape. When I was living in New York I really missed that landscape, and so I started writing something set there so that I could mentally visit even though I was physically so far away. So I started with the setting even before the characters. Maybe because I spent a lot of time around Eden when I was a teenager, I started to think about a coming of age story in that setting. And, I think, the landscape around there is beautiful but also, especially in the context of ocean rips, sometimes dangerous, and so I think that gave rise to some of the darker themes in the novel.

After I had the setting, the characters of Tilly, Sem and Celeste came next. When I was coming up with their characters I was thinking a lot about the ways that we’re responsible for other people, especially the people we love, and also about the ways we can fail in that responsibility. I think Michael Ondaatje’s THE ENGLISH PATIENT touches on this in a way. Ondaatje’s characters claim that they are not ‘beholden’ to each other, despite their romantic relationships. I think about that a lot, perhaps because I struggle to understand it. I’m not able to have cool and detached relationships like that. So in my novel I wanted to explore the ways that we are all beholden to each other, and what it looks like to fail in those obligations.

From your experiences of working in Family Law Court of Australia, do you feel this has influenced your writing, depictions of characters and behaviours?

One thing that struck me when I was working at the Family Court was the way the parties to a relationship can have such different understandings of shared events. And I see it all the time in my own life as well. My partner and I have fought because he thought I was giving him unsolicited advice about his career when I thought he’d directly asked me for my input. Or there was the period he didn’t cook me mushrooms because he thought I’d said I don’t like them when in fact I love mushrooms and have no memory of saying anything to the contrary. And there’s nothing more frustrating and lonely than getting to the place where you just have to kind of ‘agree to disagree’ when you both just remember things differently. Those are small examples, but miscommunication and misremembering can easily turn into something much bigger. There can be a kind of horror in not knowing what the truth is, or having your idea of the truth disputed or disregarded, or not knowing who to trust.

I was captivated from the moment I started ‘A Place Near Eden’, until the moment I put it down. My favourite quote came from Sem and it surrounded his desperate need to make his own choices in a world where before the age of 18, jumping around homes and changing environments – he didn’t hold a lot of autonomy. My question to you is, where are you choosing to take your writing career from here? Are you a planner or choosing to let your creativity lead the way?

I am a planner! Some people can sit down and write a novel in a burst of passionate inspiration, but unfortunately I’m not one of those people. I like to take my time getting to know my characters and the setting and themes for the novel before I start writing. And I keep the first draft in handwritten form to remind myself that it’s just a draft and won’t be turned in or shown to anyone. That way I feel like I have the freedom to experiment and take risks. So that’s what I’m doing at the moment for my next novel. I’m experimenting with a few characters who knew each other in high school but are now in their thirties, and thinking about Melbourne, Amsterdam (where my family lives) and New York City. It can be tricky because sometimes I have ideas that I struggle to fit into my idea of the novel I’m working on. Like yesterday I had a vision of one of my new characters in her sixties, but I’m not sure if there’s room for that period of her life in the book. I try to hold all those ideas loosely and just see where it goes.

Thank you Nell for your time, care in response and well, your novel! It’s an absolute joy to have shared our interview on melreviewsherbooks.com 💖🎙 Another big cheer for Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of ‘A Place Near Eden’ for review and recommendation 🥳 To check out my review of Nell’s book, click here!

Book Review: ‘Paperbark Hill’ by Maya Linnell

If you’re looking to fall in love with a new country romance writer, Maya Linnell is your gal! She just gets it – the challenges of falling in love in rural areas, small town community feelings of support and shared business, opinions and expectations. She also holds a firm grip of what the dynamics of inside a family look like. Her writing makes you feel as if you’re sitting around a dining room table, in a country home, having realistic conversations about farming, family and children.

Paperbark Hill is the conclusion to Maya’s four book series following the McIntyre sisters. All books can be read individually but have overlapping characters, environmental settings and storylines. Believe me when I say, Paperbark Hill has set me up well for devouring the rest of Maya’s books!

Paperbark Hill follows Diana McIntyre and her 4 boys as they learn to navigate and continue on their lives after the death of their stronghold, their husband and father. Diana is surrounded by her loving sisters and father, who encourage her dreams of cut flower farming, selling locally and creating a name for herself in the industry. Flower farming and raising her 4 boys is the highest priority. This remains so throughout the novel. Her thoughts and feelings do however increase when Ned Gardiner, an ex-local comes back to town after the unexpected loss of his father.

Ned is a locaum pharmacist and a bit of a gypsy. His flexible job allows him and his two beautiful, sweet and worldly children to move around. This is bit of a relief for Ned after his wife and mother to his two children, just up and left. Ned’s routines and travelling is thrown out the window when the loss of his father brings him back to his home town. His father was a keen chicken egg farmer and flower gardener. It also turns out, his father was Diana’s sidekick in maintaining and starting her flower farming. Both Diana and Ned are feeling the heavy loss of Ned’s father, which ultimately brings them together.

The warm buzz between Ned and Diana grows. Their time spent together in the flower fields, bringing their children together for play dates, stopping for afternoon tea together and chatting over salty scones, are just some of my favourite subtle ways of their relationship growing. I really could appreciate that their relationship was about stability, trust and respect. They’ve both been hurt in the past, they both have children who are the centre of their world, and they are both trying to navigate new found love at 40+. It’s slow, romantic and the development of love grows through gesture.

I think Maya was clever to include some challenges to new found love at 40. She wove the protests of children surrounding new parental relationships and the questions they ask. Diana’s teenage boy found the adjusts hard and was defiant in letting a new person into Diana’s life. He felt as if Diana would forget about his father and not acknowledge significant past birthdays or anniversaries. However, he grows to realise that it is about a balance of blending the two together and recognising that Ned is never going to stop Diana from loving, thinking of, or celebrating her late husband. Ultimately Ned and Diana show harmony within their two families individually, therefore when they bring the two together, it is just a big group of love and happiness!

Reading Diana and Ned’s story had me swept away in a matter of 48 hours – I couldn’t step away from their story for too long!! I am incredibly grateful and humbled to have received this copy of Paperbark Hill from Allen & Unwin and Maya Linnell to personally read and review 💖 This copy of Maya’s book has already been loaned a friend to read and also love 💫

That growing TBR pile …

I am guilty of taking books home from work because they sound FANtastic! They sound up my ally. They sound like the kind of books I will (one day) read. And I’m sure I will one day read them …

I type these words as I glance over to my overflowing bookshelf and the pile sitting next to the bookshelf. And the two piles of books sitting next to my tv. And the pile of books in my tv shelf. And if I move my head to the side a touch, I can see the growing pile of books on my bedside … AHHHH

Okay okay, so my immediate TBR right now consists of:

Kinda wanna read a fantasy tho .. aye aye aye – the struggle 🤣 What does your TBR pile look like right now?

📸 @shamelesspod