Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Book Review | The Ties That Bind | Lexi Landsman

“The Ties That Bind is an emotionally riveting debut novel about the power of a mother's love and the bonds among family that, though severed, can never be fully broken.

On opposite sides of the world, two lives are changed forever. One by the smallest bruise. The other by a devastating bushfire. And both by a shocking secret . . .

Miami art curator Courtney Hamilton and her husband David live the perfect life until their ten-year-old son Matthew is diagnosed with leukaemia. He needs a bone-marrow transplant but, with Courtney being adopted, the chances of finding a match within his family are slim. 

Desperate to find a donor, Courtney tracks the scattered details of her birth 15,000 kilometres away, to the remote town of Somerset in the Victorian bush. 

Meanwhile Jade Taylor wakes up in hospital in Somerset having survived the deadly bushfire that destroyed the family home and their beloved olive groves. Gone too are the landmarks that remind her of her mother, Asha, a woman whose repeated absences scarred her childhood.

As Jade rallies her fractured family to rebuild their lives, Courtney arrives in the burnt countryside to search for her lost parents - but discovers far more . . .”

The Ties That Bind is an impressive debut novel that opens with a somewhat tormenting prologue in which a mother turns around and can’t find her child. From this point, it segues into the life of Jade Taylor who finds herself, her father and her grandmother facing a bushfire that threatens not only a home and olive grove but their livelihood as well as the memories Jade holds so dear, leading us into the story of Courtney and David Hamilton who find themselves faced with one of the most awful predicaments any parent could find themselves in – discovering that their child is terminally ill.

Torn between staying in Miami to support and comfort her son during his treatment versus travelling to Australia on a flimsy lead to uncover the truth about her heritage, Courtney will need to make one of the hardest decisions of her life while discovering one of the harshest secrets a parent can keep from their child.

Hope permeates this novel and, in both Courtney and Jade’s search for meaning amongst the fractured fragments of their lives and families, a number of people will need to overcome (and perhaps forgive) frailties of the human flesh in order to move on and try to save a life.

I find it a bit hard to believe that this is Lexi Landsman’s first novel because she writes with the dexterity of a seasoned writer, engaging us with a style that alternates her characters’ points of view chapter by chapter while exploring her subject matter and adding a few shocking twists to the mix. 

While the prologue sets the reader up for what is to be revealed later in the novel, Lexi very deftly constructs the novel around this pivotal event, keeping it well hidden until she is ready for the big reveal and I found myself driven to get to that point .

Presenting all sides with honesty and compassion, there is an underlying sense of hope that strengthens and motivates her characters as she deepens the story by treading into territory that includes child abduction, adoption as well as an extreme example of an ambivalent mother.

Whilst each of her characters has their own personal journey to traverse, Matthew’s, seen through 
the eyes of Courtney and David, is the one that struck a chord with me as I became privy to not only the agony experienced by his parents after diagnosis but also the long road filled with uncertainty and despair as he begins his treatment. Lexi’s presentation of stem-cell treatment is quite obviously testament to the amount of research that she must have done and is both insightful and plausible.

Asha, however, is a different kettle of fish – she’s an extremely complicated character with flaws galore and I struggled to connect with her, finding her to be too selfish and self-absorbed for my liking. But isn’t that a sign of a good character?

Ultimately, this is a story about motherhood and I have no doubt that most mothers (and daughters) will relate on many different levels with this novel’s complex mix of familial love, resentment, desperation, deceit, conflict and identity which Lexi uses to explore the dynamics between her characters.

With richly drawn characters and emotions that readers can relate to, Lexi Landsman shows great promise and is an author I’d like to see more of. She has crafted a powerful and moving debut which isn’t overly sentimental and could possibly give Jodi Picoult a run for her money (without the courtroom drama).

I can see this one making it onto many favourites lists for 2016, while book clubs will have a field day picking its very topical aspects apart.

I wish to thank Random House Australia for providing me with a hard copy ARC for review.

About the Author

Lexi Landsman is an Australian television producer and journalist. She has worked on a range of award-winning documentary series that have aired in Australia and internationally. 

Prior to working in commercial television, she was a newspaper editor of arts, books and lifestyle. She has degrees in Media Arts and Production, Drama Teaching and a Masters in Journalism. During her undergraduate degree, she spent time studying abroad at the University of Miami. 

She lives in Sydney with her husband and their dog. This is her first book.

Title:  The Ties That Bind
Publication Date: 30 May 2016
Publisher:  Random House Australia
RRP:  Paperback - $32.99

Book Review | A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald | Natasha Lester

“If you loved The Paris Wife and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, you will devour this deliciously evocative love story of a small-town girl with big ambitions in 1920s New York

It's the roaring twenties in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so for Evelyn Lockhart, who is forbidden from pursuing her passion to become one of the first female doctors. Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on her family: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie.

In a desperate attempt to support herself through Columbia University's medical school, Evie auditions for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. But if she gets the part, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman - a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous . . .

Captivating, romantic and tragic, A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD follows a young woman ahead of her time amid the fragile hearts and glamour of Jazz Age New York.”

Some of the world’s most famous women (movie stars, celebrities, writers and intellectuals) were born out of the upheaval of the women’s rights movement in the 1920’s – women such as Coco Chanel, Zelda Fitzgerald, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Wharton, Amelia Earhart and Florence Sabin. In A Kiss for Mr Fitzgerald, author Natasha Lester introduces us to yet another – Evelyn Lockhart who is about to prove that she’s not your average 1920’s young woman.

Although only a figment of Natasha’s imagination, Evelyn Lockhart rises up to capture the reader’s attention and convey the struggles with which the women of that time were faced and, in doing so, gives us one of the most powerful female characters I’ve ever had the chance to “meet” – so much so that I found myself living vicariously through her struggles, finding bits and pieces of myself in her character along the way.

Evie’s passion for obstetrics is fuelled after she witnesses a woman die during childbirth under some rather strange circumstances. Unfortunately for Evie, times have not yet changed and her world is still very much Victorian and one in which women are expected to merely marry, make a home and have children.

In her pursuit for freedom, it is her tenacity and ability to let nobody (including her family) steer her from the course that she has set for herself that stands her in good stead as she zealously challenges traditional values, flouting convention by abandoning the constraints of her era and becoming an object of popular adoration by joining the illustrious Ziegfield Follies while trying to finance her university studies and win the heart of one man.

It is in this quest to become an independent and liberated woman that she unexpectedly finds both a friend and an ally within the wealthy Whitman family.

I do believe I’ve found one of my favourite books for 2016 so far!

Through the incredibly well developed character of Evie, with whom we are able to both empathise and sympathise, Natasha Lester offers the reader a fascinating insight into life during the Roaring Twenties, from the hazy and sultry atmosphere of Manhattan’s speakeasies to the vibrancy of the follies on Broadway and on to the politics of the time where women had just been given the right to vote but were still deemed unsuitable for obtaining a degree in medicine, particularly gynaecology.

It’s a novel that far exceeded my expectations and it’s truly difficult to describe how well Natasha captures her setting and characters without actually reading the book. Through her deft and assured writing and impeccable eye for detail, all of her characters practically leap off the page to draw her audience into the vivid world that inhabits the elegant cover of this novel, never resorting to the clichés that are so often found amongst the genre.

Touching on the jazz age, prohibition and the many economic and social changes taking place during the period, Natasha’s third novel is historically detailed and nuanced, capturing the world of speakeasies, glamour, exuberance and glitz of the 1920’s with beauty and elegance.

I wish to thank Hachette Australia for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Natasha Lester worked as a marketing executive for ten years, including stints at cosmetic company L'Oreal, managing the Maybelline brand, before returning to university to study creative writing.

She completed a Master of Creative Arts as well as her first novel, What Is Left Over, After, which won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award for Fiction.

Her second novel, If I Should Lose You, was published by Fremantle Press.

The Age newspaper described Natasha as "a remarkable Australian talent", and her work has appeared in The Review of Australian Fiction and Overland, and the anthologies Australian Love Stories, The Kid on the Karaoke Stage and Purple Prose.

Title:  A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald
Publication Date: 26 April 2016
Publisher:  Hachette Australia
RRP:  Paperback - $29.99