Aussie Book Review: Flame Tree Hill – Mandy Magro

flame-tree-hill-by-mandy-magro

Flame Tree Hill, written by Mandy Magro, is the story of 25-year old Kirsty: her love for teenage-crush Aden – who happens to be her big brothers best friend, her passion for the country life, her personal battle with breast-cancer and her soul-crushing guilt over an accident from long ago.

That’s a lot to cover.

It’s no secret that I am an aspiring writer, and I take a lot from the books I read, sometimes I can be quite critical while I am analysing every fibre of the book, looking for ways to learn. As such I always review books with the element included of how I read the book from this perspective. So with that in mind…

I noticed a bit of backstory in the opening pages, something that I have been warned against in many blogs and books about writing. I feel like I am being told the background and relevant pieces of history; despite the fact they help me to understand what is happening right this moment, they are almost dumped in the beginning, rather than being revealed to me.

I noticed there are some very minor inconsistencies with the tense. I found some sentences were prevented from flowing freely due to the confusion. However I found this seemed only be in the earlier parts of the book, the rest flowing freely, allowing me to let go of the analytical reading style I usually adopt and lose myself in the story – which is the best part. When I lose myself, I know I am enjoying both the writers style AND the story.

There were a few scenes that I felt kind of skipped the moment. What I mean is, a scene would end and I would expect it to unfold further in the next scene, instead it would skip ahead and only refer back to the incident I wish I had read about, almost as an afterthought. Especially near the end there was one scene in particular I wish had been written. I know this is vague but I can’t go into more detail without some spoilers. As I said in the beginning though: there is a lot to cover. Perhaps if any of these scenes had been expanded the novel would have run way too long.

At times I found the dialogue to carry very heavy Australian accents, “Australian-ness” (or “sounding ‘occa'”) if you will, which is not a bad thing, I just found myself wondering if it was a bit too much. HAVING SAID THAT – I’m a coastal city girl, and I find in these areas the “australian-ness” of an accent is slightly less pronounced than in other areas. Sometimes when I thought to myself that I found the dialogue to be quite full-on, I realised I was reading it with my “coast” voice. I grew up in a town, and still sometimes utter a well-rounded “bloody oath!” I have worked with many different people all over Australia, and have in a fair few pubs, so once I adjusted my tone a touch, I could see the voices are genuine to the characters, and that made me fall for them even more. Side note: do you find you read books in your own voice or in the voice the book is set in? Eg: Old english, American, outback Australian?

There is a very serious topic that is dealt with in reference to Kirty’s past. I had read a review that said they didn’t see the twist coming, whereas I did see it coming, it was only a matter of when and how it was to unfold. Some reviewers also felt that this twist changed their whole outlook on the novel and its characters. From a technical point I can say it was revealed perfectly, the timing worked for me. Personally? It is a heavy topic. Magro has guts for bringing it into her story. I could feel the anguish and guilt Kirsty felt over her past, it was real to me. I imagine I would likewise be overwhelmed by the same feelings were I in her shoes. But I felt the resolution was slightly glossed over. For something so…dark, Kirty managed to get off quite easily.

I liked the technical / medical knowledge and emotional depth to the battle with cancer. So many things were revealed that I didn’t understand myself before hand. The account was painfully real, and I felt so much for Kirsty. I felt I was being able to peer through a looking glass at something I couldn’t fathom, glimpsing a world so real it almost hurt.

Mandy Magro has a talent for describing scenery in vivid and delightfully prosed detail. At times the words had a rhythm and melody of their own, it was like a lyrical scene from fantasia, with graceful movement and delicate colour. I found myself stopping and being somewhat awed at Magro’s skill, wishing I could one day write such poetry, woven so deliciously into the story.

I loved the characters. All of them felt so well-rounded. They had personality, voice, colour all of their own. The characters reflecting this the most were the leading loves – Kirsty and Aden, and also Kulsoom, who I found to be a beautiful soul indeed.

I liked the photography element. This gave Mandy opportunity to display the aforementioned ability to bring the country to glorious life, while building Kirsty’s personality and giving her motivation throughout her battle.

When reviewing I like to find out what I learned from reading the novel, from both a writing sense, and on a personal level. It’s clear to see I have learned I still have a ways to go in developing my scene-setting descriptive abilities. On a personal level I feel I have learned more about a disease that has affected members of my extended family, and some friends families, but never myself directly (praise be). I have always had compassion for people who have been through it, and seeing the affects breaks my heart, but I have a new-found understanding of how the treatment affects it’s sufferer’s – mentally, physically and emotionally, and a new-found respect for their courage to fight it.

Thank-you Mandy Magro, for bringing this story of courage, suffering, heart-break and unconditional love to life.

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