Review: Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

 

Title: Golden Boys

Author: Sonya Hartnett

Published: Hamish Hamilton: Penguin Au August 2014

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Status: Read from August 26 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

When the affluent Jenson family move in to the neighborhood they quickly attract the attention of the local children. Colt and Bastian have a playroom full of toys, a swimming pool and a charismatic father, all of which they seem prepared to share. The Jenson home quickly becomes a haven for twelve year old Freya and the neighborhood boys, Avery, Garrick and brothers Syd and Declan, eager to escape their working class homes marred by violence, poverty and neglect, but before long the boys sense something is not quite right, and the golden aura of the Jensons begins to tarnish.

Golden Boys is set in the early to mid 1970’s, in an outer suburban locale, a landscape familiar to readers who freely roamed their neighborhood during long summer days. It explores the complex dynamics of family, childhood and friendship, and the disquieting undercurrent of violence and abuse seething beneath their ordinary facade.

Freya Kiley, struggling to understand her large family’s dynamic, sees Rex Jenson as a possible saviour, but her brother’s, Declan and Syd, begin to sense Rex is not quite what he seems. Colt is all too aware of his father’s failings but at a loss as to how to admit, or cope with them. Garrick has no such hesitation, the neighborhood bully, he, like most children, is simply certain that someone has to pay for doing wrong by him.

With finely crafted characters and evocative storytelling threaded with subtle tension, Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys is an artful novel.

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Review: When The Night Comes by Favel Parrett

 

Title: When The Night Comes

Author: Favel Parrett

Published: Hachette August 2014

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Status: Read from August 25 to 26, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Favel Parrett’s debut, Past the Shallows, caught the imagination of the Australian literary community in 2011. When the Night Comes is her highly anticipated second novel, in which Parrett tells the story of Isla and Bo whose lives are briefly entwined during the late 1980’s.

Twelve year old Isla has recently arrived in Hobart with her newly divorced mother and younger brother. A quiet and thoughtful girl she isn’t finding it easy to adjust, feeling dislocated and lonely.
Bo is a Danish galley chef on the ‘Nella Dan’, a supply ship sailing regularly between Tasmania and Antarctica. He loves the rhythm of life at sea, is awed by the majesty of Antarctica, and takes pride in following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
Bo and Isla meet when Bo becomes Isla’s mother’s lover over a period of 18 months or so during his periods ashore and When The Night Comes explores their brief connection, in amongst a series of life changing events.

Parrett is skilled at creating vivid scenes for the reader that also reverberate with emotion,

“…when I reach the top the view hits me with full force. the whole of the rich blue bay, still. Perfect. Nella Dan there in her spot, reflecting red off the water. the Sky cloudless. Giant white cliffs running on and on, then out to the horizon, icebergs for as far as you can see. Icebergs lined up for all of time, blue and brilliant white taking up the whole scene. Every blue that there is – that exists. One million shades of blue – and white. The scale of it all measured against me, one man standing here. Just one man, small and breathless.”

I have to admit at about a quarter of the way through the novel I actually wondered if I could finish the book, finding the often disjointed prose and repetitive phrasing irritating. However by the half way mark I’d finally settled into the dreamlike rhythm of the narrative and gained as appreciation for its unique tempo. I eliminated all distractions (i.e. sent the kids to bed) and began again, reading it straight through this time absorbed by the bitter chill, the moving water and the growing light.

When the Night Comes is a quietly powerful novel that demands all of the reader’s attention, and rewards those that give it willingly.

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Review: Moonlight Plains by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: Moonlight Plains

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin August 2014

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Status: Read from August 24 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Continuing her loosely linked series featuring the Fairburn family, Barbara Hannay presents Moonlight Plains, an engaging romance which blends a contemporary and historical narrative.

In 1942, as the Japanese threaten the coast of North Queensland, nineteen year old Kitty Martin is sent to Moonlight Plains, the home of her widowed great uncle, far west of Townsville. Kitty, frustrated to be thwarted in her desire to assist in the war effort, is only in residence for a few weeks when two US airmen, blown off course, are forced to ditch their planes at the isolated property, and she finds herself facing tragedy… and heartbreak.
Nearly seventy years later, Kitty is glad her grandson is restoring the faded grandeur of the homestead at Moonlight Plains and quietly pleased that her young friend Sally Piper, a journalist, has taken an interest both in the project, and Luke Fairburn. Kitty only hopes that with the restoration of the past, she can keep hidden her own long held secret that could ruin everything.

Kitty’s wartime narrative reveals a bittersweet love story, of risks taken and hearts broken. Kitty’s 70 year old secret is easily guessed but I really liked her storyline which is sweet and poignant and I felt for Kitty confronted with a difficult choice in a difficult time.

The development of Sally and Luke’s contemporary relationship follows a familiar path, their physical attraction eventually leads to deeper feelings though neither are willing to admit it. I could understand Sally’s hesitance, though I thought the specific reason for her feelings of guilt was an odd aside.

I didn’t think Luke’s reaction to his grandmother’s secret was entirely in keeping with his character. A moment of pique I could understand but his hurt feelings, even in light of his relationship with Sally, seemed excessive. Laura’s reaction to the cache of secret letters written by her father to Kitty was more believable given she lacked the context of the relationship and was still grieving both her father’s passing and bitter over her recent marital breakdown.

I often forget that WW2 was also fought on our shores (I’ve complained before about the failure of the Australian curriculum to focus on the conflicts that occurred on our own soil when I was at school) and so I appreciated the brief glimpse from Hannay of its effects on Townsville and its residents. I also found it easy to visualise the restored grandeur of the old Queenslander at Moonlight Plains, nestled within its bush setting.

A winsome novel, Moonlight Plains seamlessly weaves together a lovely story of love lost and gained. This is another delightful rural romance from Barbara Hannay, following on from Zoe’s Muster and Home Before Sundown.

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Review & Giveaway: Quick by Steve Worland

 

Title: Quick

Author: Steve Worland

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin August 2014

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Status: Read from August 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Steve Worland’s newest novel, Quick, is a fast paced, octane fueled thrill ride set in the exciting world of international motor sport.

After a spectacular career ending crash, former V8 Supercar driver Billy Hotchkiss joined the police force hoping for opportunities to sate his craving for the adrenalin rush racing once gave him and when he stumbles across a diamond heist in action, he doesn’t hesitate to jump into the fray. Billy’s heroics captures the attention of Interpol who think he is the ideal candidate to track down the diamond thieves, convinced the Melbourne heist is connected to a series of diamond thefts by a crew associated with the Formula 1 World Championship. Billy, along with his reluctant partner, Claude, is sent in undercover, joining the ‘Iron Rhino’ racing team, and they begin closing in on the criminals, only to uncover an explosive secret. Suddenly, Billy and Claude find themselves racing along the streets of Monte Carlo to save thousands of spectators before everything crashes and burns.

Though I am not generally a fan of motor sport, I was caught up in the fast paced excitement from the opening pages of Quick. From Billy’s spectacular crash on Mount Panorama to his surfing an armoured truck being dragged down Melbourne’s busy streets and later sliding down the roof of the Mall of Emirates while being chased by a Uzi wielding diamond thief, the action is non stop both on and off the track. There are explosions, gunfights, car chases and car races, plus a black panther and a damsel in distress.

Worland’s fearless hero, Billy, is a likeable protagonist, forthright with a dry Aussie sense of humour. He misses the adrenaline rush of racing and, having survived a near fatal accident, isn’t afraid to take risks as he tries to stop ‘The Three Champions’ in their tracks. Billy is teamed with veteran Interpol agent Claude, a dour Frenchman who is initially unhappy with the assignment and his reckless new partner, but eventually see’s things Billy’s way.

I compared Worland’s Velocity to Con Air and Combustion to Die Hard 4, Quick could perhaps be described as a cross between The Fast and the Furious and Speed Racer, but there really isn’t anything quite like this on the big screen and there probably should be.

Quick is the perfect Father’s Day gift for race fans or anyone who appreciates a rip-roaring and racy adventure thriller. Take Quick for a spin, and enjoy!

 

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Review: Hindsight by Melanie Casey

 

Title: Hindsight {Cass Lehman and Detective Ed Dyson #1}

Author: Melanie Casey

Published: Pantera Press May 2014

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Status: Read from August 17 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Melanie Casey’s debut novel, Hindsight, has been on my wishlist since its release. It is the first book in a series to feature Cass Lehman, a woman with the psychic gift of retrocognition, and South Australian police detective, Ed Dyson.

For almost a decade, Cass Lehman has lived more or less like a recluse in the home she shares with her mother and grandmother. Travel is difficult when her gift of retrocognition means that when she passes over a place where someone has died in a violent or traumatic manner, Cass experiences their final horrifying moments. Now twenty eight and tired of her self imposed exile, Cass decides it is time to confront her demons and takes a huge risk by offering her services to the local police department after a woman is found murdered in an alleyway. The lead detective on the case, Ed Dyson, is scornful until Cass makes the connection between a handful of missing person cases and murders that has eluded Dyson for years, and the pair find themselves on the trail of a serial killer.

Cass’s ability is intriguing, and can be viewed as both a gift and a curse. She pays a high price for her ‘gift’, since she not only sees and hears what the victims experienced but also feels the physical pain and emotional trauma they suffered. I really like that Cass’s talent isn’t always useful, since Cass can only see what the victim saw in their last moments when the killer strikes from behind, for example, she isn’t able to offer much to a investigation.

The initial partnership between Cass and Ed is not an easy one. Ed is still struggling with the unsolved disappearance of his pregnant wife two years previously and doesn’t have the patience to humour Cass given his skepticism. Cass resents Ed’s easy dismissal of her, both because she believes she can help and because she is attracted to the detective.

Casey alternates between the first person perspective of Cass and third person perspectives from Ed, and the killer the pair are hunting. It’s an unusual narrative split but works well and I barely noticed the transitions. The plot is well crafted, and crucially Casey doesn’t allow the paranormal element to overwhelm the structure of a good crime novel. The pacing of the story is good with a tense, and somewhat gruesome, climatic ending that threatens the lives of both the protagonists.

Combining crime fiction with an interesting paranormal element and a touch of romance, I really enjoyed reading Hindsight. I’d particularly recommend it those who find the genre mix appealing and who might have liked Charlaine Harris’s Harper Connelly series. I’m looking forward to following Hindsight up with Casey’s second book, Craven.

 

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Review: Nest by Inga Simpson

 

Title: Nest

Author: Inga Simpson

Published: Hachette July 2014

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Status: Read from July 26 to 27, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

After a relationship breakdown and the death of her mother, artist Jen Vogel has taken refuge in her childhood hometown. Here she is content to sketch and paint the birds that visit her garden, care for the land that embraces her property and tutor a talented local teen to supplement her income, but unpleasant memories are revived when a young girl goes missing on her way home from school. Nearly four decades earlier, Jen’s best friend Michael, and then her father, disappeared without a trace within days of each other and still there are no answers to what became of them.

Nest is a gentle book, sharing the quiet rhythms of Jen’s days and the turbulent memories of her past. It explores the themes of loss, grief, healing and growth, a cycle echoed in the environment in which Jen lives.

The mystery of the missing children, and Jen’s father’s whereabouts, adds interest and a frisson of tension to what is otherwise a fairly introspective narrative.

The language is evocative, with vivid observations of the flora and fauna that surrounds Jen’s bush haven. Jen has a particular fascination with birds, with robins being her favourite.

“The robins arrived last, splashing and fluffing, sending the other birds off. Their golden yellow was luminous at dusk, as if carrying the last gleams of the sun. Only now did they sing, with their sweet, piping whistle, and first thing in the morning. Their song was best suited to dusk and dawn – the in-between.”

Nest is a self possessed, thoughtful novel from Inga Simpson, author of Mr Wigg.

 

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Review: Deadly Obsession by Karen M Davis

 

Title: Deadly Obsession {Detective Lexi Rogers #2}

Author: Karen M Davis

Published: Simon & Schuster August 2014

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Status: Read from August 05 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Deadly Obsession is the second crime novel from Karen M Davis to feature Detective Lexie Rogers.

In the early hours of the morning a woman’s body, clutching a long stemmed red rose, is discovered on Clovelly Beach. The empty packet of OxyContine in her pocket suggests a drug overdose as the cause of death but Lexie is sure the scene is staged. When the initial stages of the investigation implicates her ex-husband in the woman’s murder, Lexie is shocked, but as she and her partner, Brad Sommers, continue to dig they unearth a worrying chain of connections that for Lexie are too close to home.

Deadly Obsession is, in part, a police procedural, exposing Lexie and Brad’s investigation as they chase leads and search for evidence to identify the elusive killer, but also includes elements of psychological suspense, action and a touch of romance. The story is tightly plotted, though I thought the links between Lexie and the key characters were just a little too neat and convenient. My early suspicions regarding the murderer were proved right but I was swayed by the red herrings laid down by Davis at times and surprised by some of the connections that were eventually revealed.

sinister-intent-davisI am glad that Lexie seems less anxious in Deadly Obsession. Though still at risk from panic attacks related to previous events, and distressed by her recent break up with Josh (Detective Josh Harrison) who fled to Bali to bury himself in the bottle after the death of his sister, Jenna, Lexie is stronger and more focused. She works the case with attention to detail and stands up for herself against Brad’s doubts. I didn’t agree with all of her decisions though, some of which, like not reporting the threats made against her, seemed a bit disingenuous for a police officer.

While it isn’t strictly necessary to have read Sinister Intent before embarking on this sequel, I think it would be worth your time. A solid example of Australian crime fiction, Deadly Obsession is an enjoyable and engaging read and I look forward to seeing how Davis continues to develop the series.

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Review: Hamlet’s Ghost by Jane Tara

Title: Hamlet’s Ghost { Shakespeare Sisters #3}

Author: Jane Tara

Published: Momentum July 2014

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Status: Read from July 31 to August 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Another enchanting romance by Australian author Jane Tara, Hamlet’s Ghost, though ostensibly the third book in a series featuring the magical Shakespeare family (the first is Forecast and the second Trouble Brewing), works well as a stand-alone.

Frustrated by an acting career going no where, and heartbroken after finding her boyfriend in bed (well on a coffee table to be more accurate) with her best friend, when Rhiannon Dee discovers an abandoned, rundown theater in the small town of Hamlet she decides to reopen it. The Hamlet Majestic has stood empty for almost thirty years, after a ceiling collapse resulted in the tragic death of the former owner, Kip Daniels, during the opening night performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. His son, Tad, who inherited the property seems to have mixed feelings about the project but Rhi, despite Tad’s weirdness, and the objections of her witch of a mother, is determined to restore the Majestic to its former glory and breathe new life into Hamlet’s theater.

Hamlet’s Ghost is a lighthearted contemporary romance with a hint of mystery, and a paranormal twist.

Rhi is a witch, and though she is determined to disown her heritage in order to disassociate herself from her teenage role as ‘Witchlet’ and escape her mother’s overbearing influence, she learns there is no escaping who you are. I liked Rhi a lot, she refuses to wallow in self pity despite recent events and is determined to make a success of the theater. To do so she has to figure out how to help the former owner, Kip, who haunts the premises, move on.

But there is more than simply unfinished business keeping Kip earthbound, additional drama stems from the surprising links between Rhi’s mother, local cafe owner/tarot card reader Crystal, and the ghost. A major theme of the book is the need to make peace with the past, applicable not only to Kip but also several other of the main characters, including Rhi and Tad.

The misunderstandings that keep Rhi and Tad apart during much of the novel stem from an unusual situation. I don’t want to give too much away so lets just say a case of mistaken identity plays havoc with their developing attraction. While secondary love-match plots also play out for two of the characters in this story, Annie is torn between two men and Tye is waiting for the man of her dreams, surprisingly I didn’t feel the romance, though an important element, overwhelmed the story.

A bewitching read, Hamlet’s Ghost is charming and often funny story with appealing characters and a feel-good ending.

 

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Review: Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

 

Title: Are You Seeing Me?

Author: Darren Groth

Published: Woolshed Press: Random House Au August 2014

Status: Read from July 29 to 31, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A heartwarming and touching novel from Darren Groth, Are You Seeing Me? is a story about siblings, family, love and understanding.

After losing their father to cancer just weeks shy of their eighteenth birthdays, nineteen year old twins, Justine and Perry, are heading to Canada for a holiday of a lifetime. Perry is hoping to find proof of the Ogopogo’s existence and visit the area where his favourite Jackie Chan movie, Rumble in the Bronx, was filmed. Justine, anxious about their impending separation, is determined this will be an adventure Perry won’t forget. Neither are fully prepared for the seismic events that will rock their world.

Are you Seeing Me? is told, with compassion and insight, from the alternating first person viewpoints of Justine and Perry. Justine, older than Perry by three minutes, is ‘neurotypical’, Perry, as Justine is often forced to explain, “…has a brain condition that can cause him to feel anxious or upset in different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviours”. Since the death of their father, Justine has been Perry’s sole carer, their mother having abandoned the family when the twins were only four.

The unusual sibling dynamic is wonderfully portrayed, ‘Just Jeans’ and ‘Pez’ have a loving bond. Shortly before his death, the twins father made arrangements for Perry to move to an assisted living community, but Justine is struggling to accept the decision despite acknowledging Perry’s right to independence and Perry is determined to hide his reluctance to leave his sister in the belief that doing so will free her to live the life she put on hold to care for him.

I thought the twins were realistically depicted, and very likeable, characters. Justine is mature and capable but not perfect. Perry’s perspective is believable, though occasionally confusing given his occasional slip into an imaginary narrative.

There aren’t any real surprises in the plot of Are You Seeing Me?, but the story is well paced and believable. It is well written with natural dialogue and I particularly enjoyed the author’s dry sense of humour.

Are You Seeing Me? is an engaging read, appropriate for both mature YA readers and adults.

FYI: Groth dedicates this novel to his own daughter who, like Justine, is neurotypical while her twin brother, like Perry, has been diagnosed with autism (whom he honoured in Kindling)

 

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Review: Deeper Water by Jessie Cole

 

Title: Deeper Water

Author: Jessie Cole

Published: Harper Collins Au August 2014

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Status: Read from August 03 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Jessie Cole’s second novel, Deeper Water, is a graceful, captivating novel introducing Mema, a young woman who lives a simple life with her mother in a remote valley in Northern New South Wales.

Mema is twenty two but, having spent most of her life isolated from wider society, has an innocence more befitting a young teenager, happiest running barefoot in the rain with her only friend, Anja, or watching the sky lighten at dawn. She is not uneducated but is unworldly, with little curiosity about what lies beyond the boundary of the family property. She is naive but not unknowing, aware of her mother’s reputation for promiscuity, but uninterested in men or relationships. But everything begins to change for Mema when rescues a stranger, Hamish, from the flooded creek and slowly her ‘unknowns become knowns’.

They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I’m yet to know”

Deeper Water beautifully explores Mema’s belated coming-of-age, her growing awareness of herself, of her desires, and of what the outside world may have to offer her. Mema is a richly drawn character struggling with the emotional changes Hamish’s presence awakens, and the way they affect her relationships, with her family, Anja and a neighbour, Billy, in particular.

Deeper Water is also about connection, or the lack there of. Mema is intimately connected to the landscape in which she lives, and the family she loves, but divorced from the wider world. Hamish, despite being horrified by Mema’s lack of internet and mobile access, can claim no real anchor, and despite his environmental credentials, has little connection to the land.

The landscape in which Deeper Water is set has character of its own and is brought to life by Cole’s evocative descriptions.

“At dusk the creek takes on a certain colour. velvety brown. Without the dapples sunshine, its depths are muted and mysterious and all the creatures seem to come to the surface. The catfish linger on their nests and the eels float by like black ribbons. The turtles perch on the flats of exposed rocks and the kingfishers fly past like the brightest of tailsmans.”

With its simple yet elegant prose, and quiet yet deeply felt emotion, Deeper Water is a mesmerising story about a young woman’s awakening to the possibilities of love and life.

 

Learn more about Jessie Cole and Deeper Water in this guest post, published earlier today

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