Review by KLafser -- Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane

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KLafser
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Review by KLafser -- Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane

Post by KLafser » 08 Apr 2018, 14:56

[Following is a volunteer review of "Ironbark Hill" by Jennie Linnane.]
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4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane is a smartly written “memoir” that is related by Natalie Chapman; Natalie is a middle-aged, Australian woman reflecting on the trials and successes of her life-altering sixteenth year. Natalie and her older brother, Joey, are the half-aboriginal children of Irma and Johnny Chapman. Joey is simple-minded, affectionate, and large for his age. Their father, Johnny, was killed in an accident when Natalie was young, and Irma has remarried a man named Alex Townsend. Irma and Alex had three children, Davey, Shirley, and Robyn; Davey has died in a tragic accident before the opening of the story, however his death drives alcoholism, abuse, and irrational blame that are foundational issues for the family. Additionally, the family is very poor and not having much success running Grandpa’s farm on Ironbark Hill. With these elements as a backdrop, Ironbark Hill is the story of Natalie’s emotional journey into womanhood while issues including racial discrimination, socioeconomic inequality, and mental health.

I thought the story was an excellent depiction of a defiant young woman making her way through tough circumstances. It effectively portrayed the naive decision-making common to a 16-year-old; it was what I would expect from Natalie as she faced adult situations. The adults around her were somewhat inconsistent in their own behaviors, which was the one item that rubbed me the wrong way: As from Grandpa, Natalie is portrayed as the only one who seems to be level-headed. Although it sat wrong with me, it was the correct perspective for the story since the book written from point of view of Natalie looking back over her life and examining her impactful 16th year. We’d like to think that when people examine the course of their lives, it includes some level of objective self-examination. The reality, however, is that everyone sees their life from their own point of view and is the champion of their own story.

Ms. Linnane expertly portrays the family and social issues that impact this story. I appreciated how she leveraged their interrelated nature to express how a single action or event can trigger a multitude of responses. Although not called out as such, I found alcohol to be a key factor in opening up discussions in each of the other areas. For example, the despair associated with the loss of his only biological son causes Alex to turn to the bottle for “comfort”; this results in an inability to run his farm as well as making him unemployable outside the farm. Alcohol also drove Alex’s explosive temper as illustrated by his willingness to physically abuse his wife and stepchildren as well as attack them with racial slurs and mockery of Joey’s mental handicap. Alcohol is also a factor in Bruce's judgment, which triggers the event that launches the Bruce-and-Natalie storyline.

Ironbark Hill is the first novel I’ve read by an Australian author. This certainly lent to the authenticity of the book since the setting is an Australian farm town; I also found there were elements in the writing style that differed as well. There were several words and phrases that I had to look up either because they were new to me or because they were colloquial in nature. I didn’t find this distracting because it wasn’t pervasive, and instead, appreciated the opportunity to learn something new. I’ve always been fascinated by the etymology and evolution of words, especially when those words “grow up” in a distant or removed environment. I didn’t find it dissimilar to reading a British author with their own slang and vocabulary. It was simply new to me and I enjoyed the experience.

This book earns a 4 out of 4 stars from me because it was an excellent story that was very well written with no noticeable errors. I thoroughly enjoyed the complex layers and thought-provoking situations. It had me examining all sides of the story and the factors that contributed to the situation at hand.

I would recommend Ironbark Hill to those who enjoy a strong female character in a coming of age novel. I would also recommend it to those who seek out books from other countries or cultures. There are a couple graphic abuse scenes and an extra-marital affair storyline that some readers would find morally objectionable. I did think these were in context for the story and had a purpose within the story, but others might be turned off by these elements of the book.

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Ironbark Hill
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Post by CatInTheHat » 09 Apr 2018, 15:37

I know this is the book of the month, but I still haven't read. I thought I might skip this month's but your review has made me reconsider. It sounds like there is quite a bit of depth in this story.
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Post by KLafser » 09 Apr 2018, 18:22

CatInTheHat wrote:
09 Apr 2018, 15:37
I know this is the book of the month, but I still haven't read. I thought I might skip this month's but your review has made me reconsider. It sounds like there is quite a bit of depth in this story.
I wasn't going to read it, but the questions in the forum piqued my interest. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it - would love to hear your perspective if you do decide to pick it up!

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Post by jennifermacneill1 » 09 Apr 2018, 18:51

I was set to read this book and may still but I have my own issues with some of the abuse you mentioned. If I can get passed them then I may be able to read this book.

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Post by KLafser » 10 Apr 2018, 04:20

jennifermacneill1 wrote:
09 Apr 2018, 18:51
I was set to read this book and may still but I have my own issues with some of the abuse you mentioned. If I can get passed them then I may be able to read this book.
It was ever looming but the physical abuse was not pervasive. PM me if you have specific questions and I’d be happy to share a bit more to give you a better sense before making a decision.

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Post by kfwilson6 » 10 Apr 2018, 16:04

I really enjoyed the sample of this book and haven't downloaded it yet because it wasn't offered in any format for free. I may come back to it. I have a love/hate relationship with extramarital affairs. I find them a fascinating aspect of a book, but also morally repulsive. As long as it stays in the context of a book, I can handle it!

In regards to Nathalie's perception of other's, even as adults looking back on our childhood and teen years, we can't always eliminate that haze of inexperience and lack of wisdom. Our past will forever be tainted by the perspective we had at that time. We may be able to see it in a different light, but those preconceptions linger to some extent, for some more than others depending on the lessons we have learned since.

Nice review. I enjoy reading your insights.

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Post by KLafser » 10 Apr 2018, 16:22

kfwilson6 wrote:
10 Apr 2018, 16:04
I really enjoyed the sample of this book and haven't downloaded it yet because it wasn't offered in any format for free. I may come back to it. I have a love/hate relationship with extramarital affairs. I find them a fascinating aspect of a book, but also morally repulsive. As long as it stays in the context of a book, I can handle it!

In regards to Nathalie's perception of other's, even as adults looking back on our childhood and teen years, we can't always eliminate that haze of inexperience and lack of wisdom. Our past will forever be tainted by the perspective we had at that time. We may be able to see it in a different light, but those preconceptions linger to some extent, for some more than others depending on the lessons we have learned since.

Nice review. I enjoy reading your insights.
Fair point on looking back, and it's probably even more exaggerated when it's a recollection from our formative years.

I have to say, I never thought of it as an extramarital affair. I know by definition, that's what it is, but I felt the author handled it well. I don't want to say too much and ruin it if you're going to read it. There is, to me, a layer that added another perspective to that story arc. If you decide to read it, I'd love to come back to the discussion but I don't want to give it away.

As always, appreciate the dialog with you!

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Post by stacie k » 10 Apr 2018, 17:05

KLafser wrote:
08 Apr 2018, 14:56

Ironbark Hill is the first novel I’ve read by an Australian author. This certainly lent to the authenticity of the book since the setting is an Australian farm town; I also found there were elements in the writing style that differed as well. There were several words and phrases that I had to look up either because they were new to me or because they were colloquial in nature. I didn’t find this distracting because it wasn’t pervasive, and instead, appreciated the opportunity to learn something new. I’ve always been fascinated by the etymology and evolution of words, especially when those words “grow up” in a distant or removed environment. I didn’t find it dissimilar to reading a British author with their own slang and vocabulary. It was simply new to me and I enjoyed the experience.
I am currently reading Ironbark Hill and identify with your experience of regularly looking up words and phrases outside of my usual experience or vocabulary. I am also enjoying it! You've done an admirable job of summing up the storyline and evaluating it. Thanks for a great review!
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Post by Libs_Books » 11 Apr 2018, 02:49

KLafser wrote:
08 Apr 2018, 14:56
[Following is a volunteer review of "Ironbark Hill" by Jennie Linnane.]
We’d like to think that when people examine the course of their lives, it includes some level of objective self-examination. The reality, however, is that everyone sees their life from their own point of view and is the champion of their own story.
Very true - and very wise.
There were several words and phrases that I had to look up either because they were new to me or because they were colloquial in nature. I didn’t find this distracting because it wasn’t pervasive, and instead, appreciated the opportunity to learn something new.
Yes, that added an extra layer of value for me, too. I was able to guess most of them, perhaps because I've seen quite a few Australian films, but some I had to check. I also enjoyed using an image search to find out what ironbark trees actually look like.

All in all, a great review - it's tough reviewing something that is (or has been) a Book of the Month. When I did it (for Strong Heart) I drafted the review in full first, then checked out the BotM threads before the final polish. Just curious as to how you tackled it.

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Post by KLafser » 11 Apr 2018, 07:38

Libs_Books wrote:
11 Apr 2018, 02:49
All in all, a great review - it's tough reviewing something that is (or has been) a Book of the Month. When I did it (for Strong Heart) I drafted the review in full first, then checked out the BotM threads before the final polish. Just curious as to how you tackled it.
Thanks so much for the observations and feedback!

I'm still defining my review process since I'm fairly new to this. That said, this was my first time knowingly reviewing a BOTM (I joined after Strong Heart and didn't realize it had been when I wrote mine); I did engage in the BOTM forum while I was reading Ironbark Hill, but after about halfway through the book, moved away from those as well.

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Post by PaigeA » 11 Apr 2018, 11:07

This seems like quite an intense read. I also like books with strong female lead characters. Thank you for the review.

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Post by Bianka Walter » 12 Apr 2018, 03:41

I really enjoyed this review! It brings to light unique aspects of the book that could have been easily overlooked by another reader. I loved that you were able to learn new phrases and words from a different country, and enjoy doing so. Thanks for your awesome review! :)
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Post by Essumai Kenneth » 12 Apr 2018, 07:49

The review of this book has just told me all about the book...
I have not read the book but I know it will be a good book... Thumbs up

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Post by kandscreeley » 12 Apr 2018, 08:22

This does sound like a very interesting story, and I definitely appreciate your review. I haven't read this one yet, but it is on my to read list. I like the fact that it's set in Australia, as I don't read many stories that are.
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Post by KLafser » 22 Apr 2018, 11:36

Bianka Walter wrote:
12 Apr 2018, 03:41
I really enjoyed this review! It brings to light unique aspects of the book that could have been easily overlooked by another reader. I loved that you were able to learn new phrases and words from a different country, and enjoy doing so. Thanks for your awesome review! :)
Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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