Song of the BellBirds by Anne McCullagh Rennie

Penguin Books Australia

Published March 27 2013.

2.5/5 stars

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the copy of this novel I received in exchange for an honest review.

All young Lizzy wants to do is sing, ride the boundaries of her family’s Queensland property and dream of one day performing on stage. But when a freak storm hits the area, wreaking havoc and bringing tragedy, she swears never to sing another note.

Lizzy, however, has a voice as uplifting as the pure beauty of the song of the bellbirds, and others are not quite so willing to let her remarkable talent go to waste. There is the loving but ambitious Sister Angelica, a natural teacher; the vibrant and dangerously attractive Maestro Leonard Rominski, whose charms Lizzy finds irresistible; and the irrepressible Gran, whose love sustains Lizzy through thrilling highs and crushing lows.

But it is Lizzy alone who will ultimately decide if the price she must pay to sing is too high....

Blurb taken from Goodreads

Songs of the Bellbirds is centred around the life of Lizzy. In keeping with its main character’s occupation, the narrative itself unfolds in the same way an Opera would and is thus told in three parts.  It took me a great deal of the book (in fact until well and truly in the third part) to realise this, and even now after having let the novel sit for awhile I find myself questioning that particular choice. I wanted to love this book, and while there are a few well written passages and ideas in the narrative, there were just too many issues for me  as a reader to really get involved with the story both within the writing and story itself.

The first being that the opening is somewhat slow. A point not (personally) helped by the numerous references to ‘God’  early on in the novel. In many ways I think it made it difficult for myself as a reader to connect with the characters and thus immersed within the story itself. This is of course a personal point, and many people may not be affected by this at all. Likewise, Lizzy was a flat, naive character who never really undertook any character development throughout the course of the novel. Because of this she finds herself making the same mistakes over and over again and her predictability began to bore me as a reader. What’s more she lacks depth as a character. The blame here can not be heaped solely on Lizzy’s character however, as the supporting characters in the book are nothing flashy or even that fleshed out really. The various male protagonists are bland and too similar for the story to progress far and further more each are superficial, falling in love too quickly with only mentions of Lizzy’s beauty captivating them. This in turns leads to pacing issues within the story as everything is brief and quickly forgotten, except by Lizzy who is a naive and bitter character unable to forget or forgive. Thus the relationships were forced and nothing felt real.

The major stumbling block here however is that the narrative is cold. We are not shown, but rather  told how everyone feels and what happens.  Nothing appeals real and everything is forced. Pacing is virtually non-existent, leaving the story to drag at times. By turning down the mentions of god early on in the book, Rennie may not alienate a fair chunk of her readers by overdoing the religion. That said, I do understand that it is vital to the story, and I can’t fault the inclusion of it, it just needs to be dealt with better, more fluidly and less obviously.

That is not to say that there are not redeeming qualities of the book. I did find myself enjoying at times the music quality of the book and there are aspects of the story that are fascinating, they are just not developed enough. More time could have been spent on the emotional turmoil around the Met performance rather than simply having it done and dusted. That part of the novel itself was something that interested me greatly and I would have liked to have seen more of the conflicts it presented.

While it very much seems that I am bagging out this novel, it is not my intention of the review. For weeks now I have sat on this review and thought about whether I should post it or not because I didn’t want to be the bad and mean reviewer. While this review does highlight some of the more negative aspects of this book, it is not without its good points as well. It’s just that this book is going to sit more nicely within its niche and intended audience than those of a broader audience and there are some things within it that will frustrate the reader at times if they do not share the same view (i.e the personal position of the reader with the Religion references). Despite all that I have said here, I do intend to keep reading this authors work and in fact I have purchased her latest release Ride With the Wind (prior to finishing this novel), and I do intend to read it soon. Having read more on that book while sitting on this review, I do believe it will be a better fit for me as a reader and I look forward to reading something a bit different by this author.

This novel was read as part of my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013 (AWW2013)


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