Author Talks with Meg Gatland-Veness

Meg Gatland-Veness 📸 by Dane Howell via Pantera Press

Meg Gatland-Veness is a powerhouse of a modern woman. She not only inspires and teaches children in her day to day life, but she also produces works of fiction, targeted to youth and inquisitive adults, that have such feeling, motivation and passion. Meg is the author of two published novels, ‘I Had Such Friends’ & ‘When Only One’.

Welcome Meg, to Mel Reviews Her Books 🌸🎙

Meg, I’ve found the experience of reading your novel extremely compelling, funny and moving. At what point did you decide to write such a prevalent, timely and frightening topic in an Australian setting? 

When I teach creative writing to my students I give them two pieces of advice. One, write what you know and two, write about the things that make you mad. And When Only One is a combination of these two things for me. My novels are all set in an Australian context because it is where I live and where I grew up and I think we need more fiction, especially YA fiction, set in Australia, especially regional and rural Australia. And secondly, it makes me so mad that in places like America, someone can buy a gun, take it into a school and shoot a bunch of children. And maybe that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Australia, but violence still does, every single day. Women are killed by their husbands, children are abused by the people who are supposed to protect them and teenagers are still taking their own lives. So, I’m not under the misconception that this novel will end violence, but if even one person who picks up this book thinks twice before enacting violence on another human being, then it will have been worth it.

How did you take care of yourself while writing on such a topic?

I actually wrote this book during lockdown, which I know was a tough time for a lot of people, but I actually really enjoyed it! I went for walks or kayaks everyday, I spent a lot of time with my partner and my three cats, I read lots of books, I got really into gardening. So, I was in a really good place mentally while I was writing the novel which helped a lot, I was able to do some writing in the morning and then spend the afternoon in the garden or out on the water.

Seeing Australian teenage life through Samson’s eyes was a perfect, well-rounded perspective. What was it about Samson that made him stand out as your main voice and lens? When did he come to you?

My first draft pages of the book were actually from the point of view of a third person omniscient narrator, but it wasn’t personal enough and it was too removed from the tragedy, so I rewrote from Sam’s perspective. I think one of the nice things about Sam as a narrator is that he is such an optimist and even though a lot of terrible things happen during the novel, his positive outlook on life helps to make the future not seem so bleak. I also wanted to buck that typical Aussie, surfer stereotype by making him quite sensitive and empathetic. Sam is a very loving person, he really cares deeply about his family and friends which I think is also something that is important to show some of our male readers that it’s okay to show affection.

Samson’s relationship with Emily is brotherly, deeply emotional, loving and romantic in ways. Did you always plan and foresee the events that would happen in Emily’s life, or did they unfold as your writing progressed? 

The first idea I had for this story was the relationship between Sam and Emily, before there was ever a school shooting or anything else. The very first scene I wrote was Emily and Sam at the front door handing over the shoe to Emily’s mother and the idea of them making paper boats to send down the gutters was another initial idea I had. Emily was always going to come from a family that was struggling to keep things together and Sam was always going to be the opposite, having a classic loving family, loads of brothers running around, a mother who cooks all his meals and washes his clothes and a father who works hard to pay the bills. Their relationship is really at the heart of this novel and everything else that happens is grounded by them.

What’s next on your agenda Meg? You’re an accomplished writer, dedicated high school drama teacher, and a woman who holds a large passion for advocating and creating topical conversations about the adversities faced by young Australians. Where can you see this all leading you?

Well, When Only One and I Had Such Friends are actually just two books in a set of ten that I plan to write in the same universe which span from about 1965 to 2018. I am currently working on another novel set in between the first two, but there are lots more that I have planned out as well. I also want to learn to sail!

Thank you Meg for your time, thoughts and responses on the blog! I look forward to seeing the next novel 😊💫🌸

Book Review: ‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell

My, oh my, oh my! Now you all know how much I ADORED and have RAVED about ‘Devotion’ by Hannah Kent (CLICK HERE to read my review). If you have met me in the bookstore, I can guarantee I have put any and all of Hannah Kent’s books in your hands. For me to say that THIS BOOK – ‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell, comes in as a close contender as one of my favourite books of 2022 is big. It’s BIG people!

‘The Marriage Portrait’ by Maggie O’Farrell is well paced novel curated to intrigue and explore the devastatingly controlled life of Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara. By the age of 15 she was married to a Duke for the purposes of political and land gain. By 16 she was dead.

Set in the mid 1500’s, our opening scene introduces us to Lucrezia and her husband Alfonzo, as they dine for the very last time together before he supposedly, *as history believes* poisons her. This scene is chilling as we’re in the mind of a 16 year old girl who is contemplating what her life has come to and what to expect will come next. We then flash back in time to Lucrezia’s birth and the disconnected relationship she has growing up within her Medici family.

Lucrezia is the somewhat middle child Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Eleanor of Toledo. If you know your Italian history, you’d know that the Medici lineage is one of the most infamous and long ruling families/Italian royalty. The marriage of Cosimo and Eleanor was a loving one, yet Eleanor’s expression of love towards Lucrezia was never the same compared to her other children.

Lucrezia had a milk mother (or wet nurse as the role is more commonly known), of whom was lower class. Lucrezia’s early life was spent in the cook room, playing with her milk mother’s daughter and not learning the skills of her royal family. This resulted in her being somewhat of an outcast with her siblings and also when it came to linear education. Her art was how she expressed herself from a very young age and it followed throughout her short life. She also has an unusually calm connection to animals.

Lucé’s connection to animals comes to the forefront of the novel when there is a piercing scene with herself, her siblings and her father, Cosimo. It was hard to remove this picture from my mind throughout the rest of the story. Maggie O’Farrell brings so much truth to Lucé’s story and it was actually rumoured that in real life, Cosmio held a collection of exotic animals in the basement of the Palazzo Vecchio. The fictional scene follows Lucrezia as she witnesses the arrival of a new animal, a tiger. She is possessed by its beauty, power and its inability to fit in with the other animals. She feel connection and comfort with this animal. They speak the same emotional and mental language. As she falls behind the group, she reached her hand in the tiger’s cage and awaits its presence. Slowly, the animal comes to her and connecting with her hand is the animals fur. It sees Lucé, it feels her, it knows her. They are two creatures but their feelings are that of one. Her Father, terrified to turn and see this animal near his daughter, seeks to destroy the animal immediately. This is ultimately a turning point in the novel.

I believe this pivotal scene mimics Lucé’s future courtship and marriage with Alfonso. He sees her as beautiful, powerful and caged. He takes advantage of this young, innocent and disconnected creature. His pure use for her is to produce heirs, yet down the line we learn that this is something that does not come easily for him.

I was seized by this story immediately and I believe you will be too. I wanted to learn about how this young girl had experienced a life completely out of her control. The 1500’s time period is one I have not explored a great deal before and Italian history is always something I will jump to read considering my own heritage. I am now adding all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books to my TBR because her writing was just spectacular. I don’t think any other author I’ve read before has made me feel the way she has. Perhaps Hannah Kent would truly be the closest. The ending of this novel was also the perfect way to close the fictional story of the beautiful Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara. I am still thinking of this novel months after reading a prerelease copy – I am glad to finally place it in book lovers hands this September.

Lucé’s love for art is her saviour at different times throughout the novel. Yet, when it comes to her famous marriage portrait arranged by Alfonso, she is taken with how the different forms of art can depict a scene or moment of a person. Her own portrait is created by a collection of specialsed artists, one of whom is selective mute – or so we think. His name is Jacopo. Jacopo will go on to play an important role in Lucé life, whether that be fictional or true – I do not know.

💫 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? 

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 💬🎙

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 📚

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: ‘A Place Near Eden’ by Nell Pierce

Wow. Wow. Wow. Nell Pierce coming through with the award winning literary fiction. Nell is the prestigious winner of the 2022 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award. Okay cool Mel, but what does this actually mean? My fellow reading friends, it means that Nell had worked dang hard on her book like all authors, was selected out of a HUGE bunch of unpublished manuscripts, fit the bill of being under the age of 35 AND has now had this manuscript published, promoted and sold with Allen & Unwin. So let me tell you, this book is a no brainer for you to pick up in 2022.

A Place Near Eden follows three main characters; Tilly (Matilda); Sem; and Celeste. Their intricate, manipulative and submissive relationships with one another creates the whirlwind of events and downward spirals in this novel. The overall theme that has really kept me thinking and pondering long after I finished, is manipulation. A Place Near Eden shows the different types of manipulation a person can face in real life. This novel shows strong instances of verbal manipulation, tv and film consumption that had been manipulated to make you believe a persons’ innocence, and manipulation through the streams of social media. There has been a tragic ‘accident’ near Eden and we begin to slowing unfold who was involved by back tracking Tilly’s story, but is Tilly’s story real and honest? Or has it been created through the manipulation and impression of those around her, who are aiming to save themselves by throwing Tilly in the firing line.

At the beginning it is brought to the reader’s attention that teenage Tilly is facing a change in home environment. Her new foster brother Sem, has moved in and her parents are at odds over Sem’s behaviour and his influence on her. Tilly idolises Sem and begins to develop romantic feelings towards him. Now bring Celeste into the mix – she is Sem’s ‘girlfriend’ and next door neighbour. Celeste is older than Tilly and has a teenage strength about her. She wears her midriff tops without the worry of wandering eyes, lies and boasts about going all the way with Sem. Celeste creates arguments with her Mum and Sem for no good reason other then wanting to have a fight, she talks Tilly into drinking a lot, she criticises and makes fun of Tilly for getting a job and then goes and gets one herself, she also convinces Tilly to not keep any other friends. Celeste is clever, manipulative and calculating. She can also strongly influence and convince Tilly’s change in mindset, mood and memory.

For me, quite early in, Tilly reads as an unreliable narrator and this kept me flipping the pages. Tilly talks in the past of her coming and going relationships with Sem and Celeste, moving out with Celeste, drinking a lot, counselling sessions arranged by her Dad to draw out information on Sem, her unusual relationship with her near absent mother, and the place of spiritual awakening that Sem and her mother would visit way out bush. Tilly is talking to someone in the present, someone who will be learning about Tilly, Sem and Celeste’s story through a documentary. This documentary has been created, aired and viewed to expose the possible scenarios leading up to the accident near Eden and who is responsible. Due to Tilly being an unreliable narrator, for a long time she is convincing you, as the reader, that she is responsible. She is telling you she has destroyed someone’s life and should be punished – yet as Celeste and Tilly’s relationship begins to unravel, we can’t be so sure as to who’s the guilty one.

This novel is challenging for me to write about without giving too much away. I really enjoyed the not knowingness of jumping in with just the blurb for reference. I want you to experience that unknown feeling too! Therefore, I will finish this review with one of my favourite lines in the book. This stood out to me the moment I read it, as I felt it can sum up Celeste’s mind games, Tilly’s influenced inability to make choices and Sem’s unreliable nature. It can also sum up young adulthood, pivots in life paths and personal growth;

“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy,” Sem said. “It’s okay if you don’t see things the way I do. It’s just important to me that I make my own choices, that’s all.”

One big cheer and shout out to Allen & Unwin, as well as Nell Pierce for generously sending me this (now well read, tagged and already passed around) copy of ‘A Place Near Eden’. I am so SO very grateful for the experience 💖

4 June book releases I’m ecstatic about

‘The Woman in The Library’ by Sulari Gentill

Crime Fiction. A murderous scream. One dead woman. Everyone in the reading room is a suspect.

Excitingly, Sulari is a close friend of ours at the bookstore, so we celebrated the book launch of ‘The Woman in the Library’ in style! She is adored by our local book community, our staff and our readers. For the month of June, ‘The Woman in the Library’ is the centre of our events, our discussions and our bookclubs. I am privileged enough to be organising an enlarged book club meeting with Sulari and three of our Collins Book Clubs. This will take place in a calm and relaxed setting, with myself and Sulari facilitating the conversations.

The Woman in The Library is about Hannah and Hannah is writing a crime fiction novel. The main character in Hannah’s crime fiction novel is Winifred, or Winnie. Winnie is also writing a novel, therefore the physical book in your hands has another book and ANOTHER BOOK inside of it. Trust me, it is harder to explain than it is to actually read this fantastic book 🤣 In Hannah’s world, there is a scream in the Boston Library Reading Room and of the people surrounding her in this Reading Room, one of them is the killer – but who is it …

I, for one, could not put this down! I will have a full review coming in the next few weeks as I re-read ‘The Woman in The Library’ ready for our book club event.

‘Paperbark Hill’ by Maya Linnell

Maya is such a kind, caring and honest soul and this comes through in her novels. She writes country romance with all the drama, love and addictiveness that we all need in our lives!

This series of Maya’s follows a family of sisters, with each individual novel showing each different sisters’ stories and perspectives. Paperbark Hill surrounds Diana and her four sons after a tough eighteen months. Diana is trying to get her family back into the routines of normal life when locum pharmacist, Ned Gardiner comes to town and creates a whole lot of change. Change in feelings, change in life plans, change in family structures. I am excited to feel all the feels and fall right into Maya’s comforting writing.

‘The Blood Traitor’ by Lynette Noni

AHHHHHHHH!!!!! This is a finale I have been waiting all YEAR FOR!!

You guys know from my reviews, suggestions and recommendations – how much I adore Lynette Noni’s ‘Prison Healer’ series. I first discussed them in my ‘5 Reasons to read YA Fantasy’. I have raved about them in the shop and also listed the second novel in the series, ‘The Gilded Cage’ as one of my top books of 2021! Big call folks, big call ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This story will be the end of Kiva’s story and reading her as our main character. Kiva has been a prisoner in Zalindov for more than half her life. She practices as the inmate prison healer and learnt all her skills from her Father. Life is dull, dangerous and blood thirsty in Zalindov, until the Rebel Queen enters the prison unconscious and Kiva is tasked with healing her. An additional secret message finds Kiva; “Don’t let her die”. Being the Rebel Queen, many want her dead, so when she is sentenced to the Trial by Ordeal – a series of elemental trails and tasks that with the Queen being so sickly, she will surely die within the first minute of entering. Kiva bravely and cohesively takes her place – this is where her action packed story begins! This series is so fast-paced, full of heart dropping chapter endings and beautifully woven connections. The Blood Traitor is the third and final instalment. I am sure it will not disappoint!

‘You made a Fool of Death with your Beauty’ by Akwaeke Emezi

Now this book, I have to admit honestly – captured my eye with its bright cover 😍 How spectacular is it! Additionally, there were a number of limited independent bookstore copies brought out especially with the BookBar in London, UK. I LOVEEE following this bookstore online!! Luckily, this bookstore is set to host Akwaeke for a signing and special book event which will include a number of funky giveaways.

The brightness and eclectiveness of this cover represents a romance novel at its core. Described as a decadent and delightful new age novel, our main character Feyi is about to be given the opportunity of a lifetime. Feyi has the chance to escape the City’s blistering heat for a dream island holiday: poolside cocktails, beach sunsets, and elaborate meals. As Feyi opens her heart to new experiences, new friendships and new romance, there is only one problem – she’s falling for the one man she absolutely cannot have. dun dun daaaaa… not to be dramatic but doesn’t this sound like a nice, fun read! When I’m needing my next “get me out of a book slump read” this will be it!

Will you be adding any of these books to your TBR? Are there any other new releases you’re excited about this month? Share them with me in the comments 💬

Book Review: ‘The Girls of Lake Evelyn’ by Averil Kenny

Before I jump into this book review, I would love to give one big hug and cheer out to Allen & Unwin, Echo Publishing and Averil Kenny for sending me this beautiful copy of ‘The Girls of Lake Evelyn’.

‘The Girls of Lake Evelyn’ is a story about a curse, a playwright and a runaway bride. It is a story that wraps you in hopes and dreams, and allows you as the reader to escape into a world where the essence of small community care, love and support trumps all adversity and challenge.

💬 Let’s talk main characters:

Vivienne Brinsley is a high society young women living in Sydney at the beginning of the novel. It is the night before her wedding to Sydney’s biggest catch and high market man – yet she’s torn with feelings of dread and despair at signing up to a life she doesn’t truely want. Her mother cannot stand to listen to her discontent, so Vivienne turns to her Uncle Felix. Uncle Felix helps Viv escape her loveless relationship and expected life. He sets her travelling on a path to a small town in tropical North Queensland. Here Viv will find her confidence again, explore new friendships and possibly even fall in love with a rugged, handsome and hilarious dairy farmer, Owen.

Josie Monash is a small town gem! Even as a young woman, she has grown up to be a pivotal part of her community. Side stepping her dreams of city starlight and broadway, Josie has remained on her family dairy farm to take care of her Father and two brothers after her mother passed away. Josies’ Grandmother plays a big role in guiding her life choices and has always been a headstrong woman (maybe this is where Josie gets it from). Her Grandmother is determined to see Josie’s theatre directing skills have hit reviews in Sydney’s biggest newspaper. Her Grandmother can see such potential and how tirelessly she works to help others – now it’s Josie’s turn to bloom. So when Vivienne arrives to town and starts swimming in the cursed Lake Evelyn, Josie’s hit play seemingly comes to life.

✏️ Let’s talk plot:

Not so many years ago, a beautiful movie actress, Celeste Starr, tragically died in the lake and it spawned a curse that has plagued the town ever since. Josie’s play is set to uncover the true story behind the life of Celeste, yet it will not come without some adversity and unsettlement from community members. Lake Evelyn has been barricaded off for years now because of community fear. Josie is up against a number of people who do not trust Lake Evelyn and its ghosts.

As Josie persists with the play, people will begin to show their true colours. A number of characters are not who they seem and their small, unsettling parts in the novel, eventually surface what true motives lie beneath. Long kept secrets slowly reveal themselves in the most well paced and slow burning way!

⭐️ Final thoughts:

I loved that this novel, much like Those Hamilton Sisters by Averil Kenny (click on the title to read my Author Talks with Averil). ‘The Girls of Lake Evelyn’ has all the good things you’re looking for in a time period novel. Drama ✅ Mystery ✅ Romance ✅ Perfectly paced reveals ✅ Escapism ✅

I’m not lying to you when I say we have had to restock this novel in the book shop over 5 times now! Averil is a hit!! Her writing is DEvine and captures the reader with such lyricism that it becomes hard to put her novels down. I am so incredibly grateful to see, hold and enjoy another novel from her and can only predict that Averil is set to continue creating beautiful stories in the future. She is an instant purchase for me and I will be recommending her until the cows come home (🐮 I hope this was an Owen approved pun!).