IT’S been terribly remiss of me to forget to put up the kind words I’ve received from those who’ve read Feral Bells (originally titled Wedding Etiquette For Ferals). Feel free to add your comments below. Here are the reviews:

Marion Lawie from QUT’s MC Reviews posted this review on their website on Friday, November 18, 2011. Read below or click here for their site:

“Lydia Vermont is the quintessential country girl made good, living an enviable yuppy lifestyle in Brisbane. But is she as successful and happy as she wants the folks back home to think she is? Perhaps not, if an uncharacteristic one night stand is anything to go by. Regrettable as the drunken incident was, Lydia’s life turns around from that point – managing to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Wedding Etiquette For Ferals is a fun story with real depth and an authentic local flavour.

At the start of the book I had a horrible feeling I could have been reading my own or a mate’s diaries. I had a similar feeling when I started reading John Birmingham’s He Died With a Falafel in his Hand, a classic I never finished.

Through terms such as ‘BrisVegas’ and the liberal use of mobile phones however, Wedding Etiquette quickly reveals itself to belong to a different generation from mine and Birmingham’s.  It’s nice to know that some things don’t change though, such as share houses where someone’s bedroom is the sleep out.

On that note, readers who aren’t familiar with English, especially as it is spoken in Queensland, may like to buddy up with someone who can explain some curiosities as the book unfolds. For locals, the use of the vernacular is a bonus.

Peta Jo has a great feel for dialogue but risks writing in accent for some characters and it doesn’t always come off. Her scene setting is great though, and her characters are thoroughly three dimensional.

‘Three Weddings and a Miscarriage’ would be a possible alternative title for this book. The three weddings in question are very different from one another, with a fair bit of local colour provided by the ‘ferals’ of the title, as we head home to Townsville and the Towers. It’s not a spoiler to mention the miscarriage, as the back cover will tell you that proceeds from book sales go to SANDS, helping families through such tragedies.

The depiction of miscarriage and its aftermath in this novel is movingly genuine. Like  the rest of the book, it’s thoroughly believable.  As the grieving woman considers her empty body she feels that ‘promise has been stolen from her’ (p273). This subject is no doubt close to the author’s heart and perhaps her own experience. If not, her gift for empathy is outstanding.

Each chapter kicks off with a tip on etiquette by Emily Post, setting the chapter up nicely as the story unfolds with modern Queensland interpretations on themes such as correct conduct for young women, family, mourning and honour.

Wedding Etiquette is self-published, which is surprising as it’s a far better story than many books released by major publishers. Good on Peta Jo for having the faith in herself to go it alone. Unfortunately, the book reads as though it hasn’t had the benefit of decent editing. There were many times as I read that I thought the author had used words from a thesaurus without a true understanding of them – an accurate word is far preferable to a big or interesting word when you’re reading fiction. If they can be both, great – such as someone who ‘brandishes’ a smile that looks like he once practised it in the mirror but then got stuck with. But not all are as successful and some are just awkward, like ‘Lydia’s perplexity screwed up her face’ (p320).

Then there are the careless errors, such as writing that something ‘hardly bared thinking about’ (p240) and continuity problems where a child changes gender halfway through the book and something that happens in the morning is referred to as ‘that night’.

These are quibbles, however, and while they do detract from the reading experience it is, overall, delightful. The book finishes on a high note, with one last surprise, an absolute ripper, to ensure you put it down smiling and thinking fondly of it. I look forward to Peta Jo’s next outing, with hopes it will be even better.” – Marion Lawie

Sue Gammon, ABC Wide Bay’s book reviewer, shared her thoughts on the book on Thursday, August 4, 2011: Click here to hear the full thing (please excuse the James Bond impressions at the start!)

The following are Sue’s comments for the Bundaberg Regional Library website:

“Queensland writer Peta Jo has produced a rather nice combination of romance, humour and drama in her first self-published novel. Not unlike well-known Brit comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral, this story follows a group of twenty somethings as they stumble through life, love and one night stands in their quest for happy ever after. Central character Lydia has turned her back on her small town childhood and friends who never made it to the city, and is pursuing the life she thinks she wants – a great job, smart wardrobe and an impressive title on a business card. Enter her younger sister – pregnant and getting married to a man Lydia can’t stand, and therein lies the tale as we compare and contrast the two sisters. This story is an exploration of dreams versus reality, and what price we put on success. The author touches on a lot of issues, but doesn’t ever make the mistake of turning this into a kitchen sink drama. Humour rescues the more somber moments, and the reader just knows there’s going to be a happy ending. Great to see a new Queensland author emerge in the light fiction genre. I look forward to the next book. Three out of five stars.” – Sue Gammon.

“Lydia Vermont is an interior designer, trying to keep her head above a floating sea of taffeta and baby rattles – as the world conspires to remind her that she’s living her life in a holding pattern. She certainly wasn’t planning on falling in love – but as she attempts to quietly leave the room of her awkward one-night stand, events are set in motion that will lead her on a journey that will push her boundaries in more ways than one. Reading Wedding Etiquette For Ferals by Peta Jo – is like eating a dark chocolate Tim-Tam biscuit over a hot cup of coffee. Anyone who’s not biting the corners off said biscuit and sucking the coffee through the middle, is doing it wrong by the way ;) Reading Peta Jo’s book – is like sitting on a beach with your best friend, listening to the waves croon sandy covers of top-ten 80′s songs. It’s like taking a road-trip with your whole family, to a high-school reunion you weren’t quite prepared for. In other words, it’s well written, warm, funny and filled with characters that you’re sure must be based on someone you know – ‘cos they’re just a little too real. And then buy seven more copies to hand out to friends and family when you discover just how much you love it. 8 out of 10.” – Jen Payne of Grecian Urn.

“Wedding Etiquette for Ferals is like stepping onto an old Queenslander verandah and dodging the broken floorboards. The title screams of chick lit but this is a rambling bush story that captures the Australian spirit, especially the spirit of family, despite the distraction of careers, alcohol and blinking i-phones. Peta-Jo’s characters are not superheroes. They are as real and ordinary as our farming soil and, beneath the surface, as fragile as their childhoods. Her entourage stumbles through Etiquette (with some quirky romance on the side) until they grasp the Truth. This story is at times humorous but will also make you cry, because it speaks of every girl’s hopes and every woman’s fears…” – Cheryse Durrant, author of the Shahkara series

“I bought your book at the Queensland Bridal Expo and OMG I could not put the book down – I read it in 2 days! It was so funny – looking forward to your next one :-) Best book I’ve ever read!” – Rachel Kelland.

“What a different novel!  To begin with Peta-Jo deserves an award for the name!  I had comments on twitter which read – “Would buy this book for the title alone!” I agree!  I went to her book launch (a buzz for me!  my first official Australian Writers Rock invite to a booklaunch!)  and even the MC at the Queensland Brides Expo made the same comment! Honestly, how many weddings have we been to where the Bride turns into Bridezilla or the groom goofs up or someone gets horrifically drunk and falls over dancing! Okay, without giving too much away, try broken heels, broken legs and a bride that realises too late that her fiance has been unfaithfull!  The story grabs you within the first couple of pages as Lydia wakes up confused and feeling a little sheepish after that classic “one night stand I wish I never had” occassion.  Lydia is an upwardly mobile, moderately successful interior designer who originates from country Queensland and now lives in the big smoke Brisbane. While she is coming to grips with this quietly tragic experience, we also meet the one-night stands room mate.  This was the challenge to me with the book.  The main male character is written in first person and the main female character is writen in third person.  Once I got used it, it was great!  I’d just never seen it before. The victim of the tragic wedding is Elsie, Lydia’s sweet little sister.  The wedding takes place in Townsville in North Queensland where Lydia grew up.  The relationship between the two sisters and its development is as important to the story as the feral wedding, the scary one night stand and the birth of the romance Lydia is not looking for! The novel has some very important messages about the strength of family (even if you think it’s disfunctional), about allowing yourself to grow as a person, about being true to yourself and about the differences between city and country Australia. I love it!  This is Peta Jo’s first novel and I sincerely hope I see more of her talent!” – Kelly McLean of Australian Writers Rock


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