Virago

All posts tagged Virago

The Woolgrower’s Companion – Joy Rhoades

Published September 18, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Kate Dowd’s mother raised her to be a lady but she must put away her white gloves and pearls to help save her family’s sheep farm in New South Wales.

It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and his wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.

With their own scars and their defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid. But danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself more drawn to Luca than afraid of him.

Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but over the course of a dry, desperate year she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.

The Woolgrower’s Companion is the gripping story of one woman’s fight to save her home and a passionate tribute to Australia’s landscape and its people.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author, Joy Rhoades for getting in touch and asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing her novel and to Virago UK for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review. I had already seen some very positive reviews of this book from my fellow bloggers and was really looking forward to getting stuck in. I’m a big fan of historical fiction, especially when based around the Second World War period and even more so when we get to hear about a country aside from Germany, France, Holland or Britain that was based so far away from the immediate troubles but you could still see the devastating effects that the war had on the communities. I particularly love reading about countries that I’ve never visited before and the landscape and culture were so vividly drawn in The Woolgrower’s Companion that I could almost imagine I was right there experiencing everything our characters are going through at that point in their lives.

Joy Rhoades, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion.

Our female lead for the novel is Kate Dowds who lives on an estate, Amiens that farms primarily sheep, with her father in New South Wales. The year is 1945 and Kate soon finds out that the family are in dire financial straits with the terrifying possibility that Amiens will be re-claimed by the bank and that her and her father will be forced to leave and find a new home and livelihood. Kate’s father hasn’t been the same since he returned from the Great War, his memory decidedly unreliable and his moods changeable, prone to uncharacteristic outbursts. Additionally, two Italian prisoners of war have recently arrived at Amiens in order to help with the daily work, Luca and Vittorio but instead of being put at ease and relieved by their presence, Kate feels increasingly threatened and confused. Brought up as a lady and not accustomed to the hard work of running a farm, Kate must not only step up and take on more responsibility for running Amiens due to her fathers ill-health but she must also find a way to raise the money to save the family from an increasingly dire situation. However, as the money continues to trickle away, her father slowly deteriorates, the bank closes in and the tension between workers heightens on the estate, Kate begins to realise how desperate her life has really become and must draw on all her abilities to rescue them all.

New South Wales, Australia where The Woolgrower’s Companion is set.

Although it took me a little while to become fully invested in this story, by about halfway through I had become enraptured with both the plot and the characters, particularly our female lead, Kate, the struggles she goes through and the patience, strength and determination she displays to try and get herself and her father out of a very sticky situation. I’ve had personal experience with witnessing a person I know with PTSD and I fully understand how frightening, heart-breaking and frustrating it can be not only for the individual going through it but for the people around that it also affects and so my heart broke a little bit for Kate each time we saw a scene with her and her father. His reactions to his daughter were so familiar and reminiscent of my own experiences that at times, it was difficult to read but at the same time, highly rewarding as I felt even more connected to Kate than when I first began the novel.

Finally, I appreciated that the author didn’t make this novel a typical love story which it could quite easily have been. Perhaps the reader might realise where the narrative is heading eventually but I was delighted that it wasn’t all about the romance. It was much more about Kate as a character, her struggles and triumphs, the difficult relationship with her father, the treatment of the Aboriginal people and in effect, it was more a love story to Australia itself as the description of the land and the creatures within it was nothing short of magnificent and so visceral in the details. I would definitely be interested in reading more from Joy Rhoades in the future and was mesmerised by a truly captivating story.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Advertisements

Blog Tour – The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

Published September 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A powerful, darkly glittering novel of violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Time, Parade, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, PBS, Vulture, Buzzfeed, BookRiot, PopSugar, Refinery29, Bustle, The Rumpus, Paste, and BBC.

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group—a secretive extremist cult—founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe’s Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.

The Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Grace Vincent for getting in touch via email and asking me if I’d like to take part in the blog tour for this stunning and powerful debut novel and to Virago for sending a copy my way in exchange for an honest review. To be frank, I’m a sucker for an eye-catching cover and this one certainly does the trick but when I read the synopsis above and realised the themes of religion, the loss of faith and extremism that it would explore, I couldn’t reply fast enough to Grace’s email, enthusiastically registering my interest in reading it. On receiving the book, I have to say, I was surprised at the length – it was a mere 210 pages long and yes, I was kind of nervous. I think if you have a novel that brief, the writing has to be so immaculate that it should pull you in quickly whilst leaving you fairly satisfied at the end. In other words, the author has so much to do in such a short space of time but I was hopeful that a novel named one of the most anticipated books of 2018 by publications like The New York Times could do exactly that.

R.O. Kwon, author of debut novel The Incendiaries.

I don’t want to re-hash the blurb for you right here, Goodreads does a tremendous job of that in the synopsis above so I’d just like to go straight into my thoughts and feelings about The Incendiaries, which in fact the more time I have away from it, the more I find I’m ruminating on the story and admiring the writing. This is *almost* a “read in one sitting,” kind of narrative and in hindsight, I wish I had had the opportunity to do just that but unfortunately work commitments got in the way and I read it in two separate sittings. I fell in love straight away with the writing which is assured, grandiose, thought-provoking and at times, filled with the most vivid imagery that I can’t bear to give it away, it’s definitely something to discover for yourself. All I’ll say on that score is that I connected very personally to a certain point in the text where our narrator, Will is hallucinating and various images related to the situation he finds himself in pop into his visual field. These images are so striking and graphically written I felt as if I was there with Will seeing exactly what he sees and feeling exactly what he feels at that moment in time.

The Incendiaries is incredibly literary in its tone and style and as a result, you have to be prepared for not necessarily getting all the answers you might crave. Phoebe and the leader of the cult she becomes enmeshed in, John Leal are much more enigmatic, mysterious characters that you don’t really find out a whole lot about and whilst that might frustrate certain readers, I enjoyed the vague, almost secretive air of what has happened to these characters in their past and what may have led to them to having the views they now possess or indeed, why they carry out the extreme actions that they choose to do. Our main focus for the narrative is on Will, whom I really felt sympathetic to as he struggled to understand Phoebe and attempted to connect with her on a deeper level but who seemed to always remain rather aloof, almost like mist slipping through your fingers.

I think one of the most fascinating things about this novel was its exploration of faith. Will has previously had faith and lost it and now doesn’t know where he stands on the whole “God” question. Phoebe has been through intense personal struggles of her own and has now found something new to put her faith in but as you can tell from the synopsis, she is incredibly vulnerable and as a result, her faith may be extremely misguided. The author gave an interesting and beautifully frank interview HERE about how she was raised in a very religious household and how she too, has become somewhat disconnected and disillusioned with Christianity which reminded me very much of my own upbringing in Catholicism compared to the confusion I now find myself feeling with religion which started during my teenage years.

The Incendiaries has a quiet, wonderfully confident quality to the writing and although it has moments which are almost like streams of consciousness and an ending which doesn’t necessarily wrap everything up in a neat bow, I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience and will be watching out for whatever this supremely talented author does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

R.O. Kwon’s first novel, The Incendiaries, is published by Riverhead (U.S.) and forthcoming from Virago (U.K.) in September 2018. She is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Vice, BuzzFeed, Time, Noon, Electric Literature, Playboy, San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. She has received awards and fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Omi International, and the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony. Born in South Korea, she’s mostly lived in the United States.

Find R.O. Kwon on her Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16556776.R_O_Kwon

on her website at: http://ro-kwon.com/

on Twitter at: @rokwon

Thank you so much once again to Grace Vincent and Virago for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. The Incendiaries is published on the 6th September 2018 and is available as a hardback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to The Incendiaries on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36679056-the-incendiaries?ac=1&from_search=true

Link to The Incendiaries on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Incendiaries-R-Kwon/dp/0349011877/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535818983&sr=8-1&keywords=the+incendiaries