Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: New Releases (page 1 of 48)

Pheasants Nest – Louise Milligan

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Buy Pheasants Nest here.
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Louise Milligan one of Australia’s bravest, most committed journalists, and somehow – in between uncovering the lies and crimes of Cardinal George Pell, and exposing the horrendous secondary trauma experienced by victims coming forward – she’s found the time to write her first ever work of fiction, Pheasants Nest. The wonderful team at Allen & Unwin were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Firstly, and most importantly: the absence of an apostrophe in the title is not an error. It’s deliberate, and addressed in the first chapter.

Now, on to the story: Milligan doesn’t stray too far from the old maxim of writing what you know. Pheasants Nest is “a stunning and surprising thriller” about a journalist who is kidnapped, and finds herself living out the worst-case-scenarios she reports on the news.

If you didn’t already know that Milligan is a journalist, you would from the prose in Pheasants Nest. It reads a lot like an extra long-form narrative report, in tone and style. A lot of the story is revealed through memories and flash-backs, but Milligan does an excellent job at keeping the story pacy and not drawing it out unnecessarily.

While I can’t speak to the accuracy of its depiction of the work of journalists or the experiences of kidnapping victims, I can confirm that Pheasants Nest gets the ‘small town’ feel of Australia exactly right. Everyone knows someone who knows someone, and in this story it feels very natural and relatable, rather than conveniently coincidental or contrived.

As much as the world needs Milligan’s investigative journalism, I selfishly hope she keeps writing fiction. Pheasants Nest portends great things to come.

Buy Pheasants Nest on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read Pheasants Nest on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

Go Lightly – Brydie Lee-Kennedy

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The allusion to Breakfast At Tiffany’s in the title of Go Lightly is no accident. Ada is a 21st century Holly Golightly: young and beautiful, scraping by and falling in love and making it all up as she goes. I was thrilled that Bloomsbury Publishing sent me a copy for a review, because knowing that was enough to know I’d love it.

From the blurb: “Ada’s answer to most questions is: yes. Every night is an opportunity to be thrilled and every morning a chance to recount it to her friends, so when she falls for Sadie and Stuart at the same time, she sees no reason not to pursue them both… Go Lightly is a tribute to party girls who’d rather enjoy the present than fear the future or regret the past, and a love letter to the community you find when you’re far from home.”

Go Lightly is everything I hoped each of Sally Rooney’s novels would be, a millennial novel that actually captures the realities of millennial life. It’s wry and self-deprecating and insightful without holding your head under its water – like if Rooney had a sense of humour and used quotation marks for speech.

I’m pretty sure the ending of Go Lightly is going to be super-divisive among readers, so let me plant my flag now and say that I loved it. A too-neat resolution wouldn’t ring true in a novel about the messiness of contemporary early adulthood.

Get Go Lightly on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read Go Lightly on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

Servo – David Goodwin

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You ever hear the conceit of a new book and think, “I can’t believe no one’s written that yet”? That’s what happened for me with Servo (subtitle: “Tales From The Graveyard Shift”), a memoir by David Goodwin. The team at Hachette Australia were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Goodwin offers the reader “a six-year voyage of sex, drugs, and sausage rolls”. He recounts his time working the graveyard shift at a suburban Melbourne service station: the good, the bad, and the very, very weird.

So, of course, Servo offers many, many literal lols. All the crazies come out at night, and some of the ones Goodwin encounters had me wheezing. He seems to attract lunatics in his personal life as well as at work, so his friends (like the Hungarian champion shitter Stevo) are good for plenty of laughs, too.

Goodwin’s wide eyed optimism about his line of work is knocked out of him quick-smart, and his enthusiasm for the job waxes and wanes. By the end of Servo, he gets pretty bitter (though I guess that’s understandable) and also a little woo-y with spiritual journeys and meditation and what not (which, to me, is less forgivable).

What I appreciated most about Servo was the new perspective Goodwin offers on the humble service station, a utilitarian venue frequented by people from all walks of life at some point or another. You’ll come to this book for the freaks and the weirdos, but you’ll stay for the window into the world at night and the stories of the comrades who staff it.

Buy Servo on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Get Servo on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

The Pulling – Adele Dumont

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Buy The Pulling here.
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Adele Dumont has a secret, one that she’s been hiding in plain sight since her late teens. In her memoir, The Pulling, she generously shares it to help us understand how ritual can descend into obsession. The wonderful team at Scribe Publications were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Dumont lives with trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling. What began as a strange quirk, a self-soothing mechanism to help her teenage self deal with an emotionally turbulent household, became a life-long condition that consumed most of her waking hours. In The Pulling, she explains the nature of her disorder, how it manifests and how she has built a life around her secret struggle with and against her compulsive behaviour.

The Pulling is a confronting read in many ways, not just the physical reality of Dumont’s symptoms (which is what you’d might expect for a memoir about an apparently self-injurious compulsion). The lengths that Dumont must go to keep her secret, even from those closest to her, heartbreaking, along with her feelings of isolation. To this day, she says she hasn’t met another person who pulls, and for many years she believed she was the only one in the world. In reality, the prevalence of trichotillomania is estimated around 2% of the population (more than schizophrenia), so it’s far more common than she or we might have ever known.

Most upsetting of all, for me, is learning that there is no known treatment with any demonstrable long-term success. Dumont doesn’t linger on this point, though, focusing in The Pulling on her day-to-day life and philosophical reckoning with her lived reality. She has an admirable self-awareness, and shows remarkable openness to vulnerability in sharing her secret. This memoir is a stark reminder of the secret battles fought by those around us.

Buy The Pulling on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

The Catch – Amy Lea

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Buy The Catch here.
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When a floundering fashion influencer discovers that her all-expenses-paid vacation at a Canadian resort isn’t booked for the week she arrived, she has no choice but to take up residence at the only AirBNB available in a small fishing village nearby. Who could’ve guessed that in that ramshackle inn, she’d find the man she’d be calling her fiance just a few days later? Well, anyone who’s read one of Amy Lea’s novels, that’s who. The Catch is the latest, the third in her Influencer series, and Penguin Books Australia were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Melanie Karlsen is the kind of gal who’s determined to make the best of a bad situation. She hopes to at least get some good Insta content on a whale watching cruise with the inn’s proprietor, the gruff and grumpy Evan Whaler (yes, naming the fisherman character Whaler is a bit heavy handed, but it’s a romance novel so we can forgive that).

The cruise goes south when Evan falls overboard, though, and Melanie has to tell a small white lie to gain access to his ICU bedside. She never actually intended for his family to find out she and Evan were “engaged”. Now, they’re both caught up in the lie, and they need to keep it going to solve a long-running family feud.

It might sound like The Catch has a lot of moving parts, but it’s actually very smooth reading. As a romance, it’s both swoony and spicy, though a rather slow burn (by my standards, anyway). It’s well-written and heartfelt without being cloying or annoying, which is a tricky balance to maintain. The Catch is the perfect escapist romance that won’t insult your intelligence.

Read my review of Amy Lea’s previous novel, Exes and O’s, here.

Buy The Catch on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read The Catch on audiobook via here. (affiliate link)

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