Review: Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper

 

Title: Better Homes and Hauntings

Author: Molly Harper

Published: Pocket Books July 2014

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Status: Read from July 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I’ve enjoyed Molly Harper’s sense of fun and humour in her Jane Jameson series and Naked Werewolf series so I leapt at the opportunity to read this new stand alone novel.

Better Homes and Hauntings is a paranormal romance/mystery that is set in a dilapidated haunted mansion on a private island off the coast of Newport. Crane’s Nest is the ancestral home of young software billionaire Deacon Whitney and despite a history of tragedy and hauntings he decides to renovate the mansion, hiring a team of professionals including his best friend and architect, Jake, Nina, a landscaper, and professional cleaner and organiser, Cindy. The project requires them all to remain on the island during the renovation and ignore the weird vibes and frightening dreams the house seems to provoke but that grows increasingly difficult as a malevolent spirit begins to make its presence known. Deacon’s cousin, Dotty is convinced that solving the mystery surrounding the death of her great-great grandmother, Catherine Whitney, will put the spirit to rest but they need to do so quickly, before history repeats itself.

Harper finds a good balance between creepy ghost story and lighthearted romance in Better Homes and Hauntings. There were moments when my skin prickled with goosebumps and times when I was smiling broadly at the snarky banter between her characters.

The mystery is well thought out, with missing diaries, stolen jewels and a ghostly murderer to find. Harper also integrates a real world element in the form of Nina’s vengeful ex-boyfriend, intent on sabotaging her success.

I though the mix of personalities worked well, the enforced isolation creating a quick and tight bond between the main characters. Two romances develop over the course of the novel, Deacon falls for Nina, while Jake is infatuated with Cindy. Both pairings are well suited and it is sweet to see them work things out.

A quick, light and engaging read, fans of Harper are sure to enjoy Better Homes and Hauntings and as a rare stand alone it’s a great way to test her appeal without committing to a series.

Better Homes and Hauntings is available to purchase from

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Review: The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

 

Title: The Queen of Tearling {The Queen of Tearling #1}

Author: Erika Johansen

Published:  Bantam Press: Random House July 2014

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Status: Read from July 18 to 20, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Erika Johansen’s debut novel, The Queen of the Tearling, attracted notice months before its publication date. The film rights have already been bought by Warner Bros and Harry Potter actress Emma Watson has signed on as both executive producer, and its star.

The Queen of the Tearling is the first book in a trilogy featuring nineteen year old Kelsea Glynn, the newly revealed heir to the throne of Tearling. After a lifetime in hiding she must claim her birthright and defend her rule against her debauched uncle, corrupt officials and The Red Queen, a depraved sorceress who reigns the neighbouring land of Mortmesme.

In terms of plot there isn’t really much to distinguish this fantasy novel from those with similar tropes, but there is plenty of action with a surprisingly dark and gritty edge. Kelsea’s fight for her throne results in a wealth of political intrigue, involving spies at court, assassination attempts and attempts to circumvent Kelsea’s orders, which leads to multiple sword clashing confrontations. Magic shimmers in the air, but affords only a few its privileges, and there are also seeds of romance for Kelsea with a handsome rogue named Fetch.

Tearling is a realm rife with corruption, heavy with bureaucracy which favours the rich and exploits the poor. Initially I was puzzled by the setting but eventually figured out that despite the medieval detail, it is set not in the past, or an alternate universe, but the distant post-apocalyptic future of our own world. This creates an unusual landscape that blends a feudal society with reminders of modern life, which also embraces magic, but exactly how, and why, it came about is only hinted at.

I liked Kelsea well enough, she is a mixture of teenage insecurity, often naive and headstrong, but also compassionate, determined and well intentioned. She faces a myriad of ethical challenges with both the idealism and pragmatism of youth. I was a little disappointed at the emphasis both the author, and her character, place on appearance though.

The Queen of Tearling is an entertaining read and though it is not without its flaws as a novel, I can see its cinematic potential, and I’ll be interested to read its sequel.

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Review: Chasing the Ace by Nicholas J. Johnson

Title: Chasing the Ace

Author: Nicholas J. Johnson

Published: Simon and Schuster Au

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Status: Read from July 16 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Nicholas J. Johnson, who works as a performer, writer and consultant, exposing the world of con artists to the public to better protect themselves, has drawn on his knowledge and experience to author Chasing the Ace, his entertaining debut novel.

Told from dual first person narratives, Chasing The Ace introduces Richard, an ageing, world-weary con ‘artiste’ and Joel, a young, wannabe grifter who meet on the streets of Melbourne. Richard, contemplating retirement, decides to take Joel under his wing and the pair form a profitable alliance. Joel is eager to learn all he can, and is thrilled when the money starts rolling in, but when they accidentally scam an off duty cop, neither man is sure if they will be able to con their way out of trouble.

The novel is fast paced, with enough excitement and a few surprising turns to maintain suspense. I have to admit I didn’t predict the final twist, but found it a satisfying ending to the story, which also provides potential for a sequel.

I thought the main protagonists were well developed, with interesting backgrounds and distinct voices. Richard is jaded and cynical, Joel is initially enthusiastic and idealistic though slowly becomes increasingly disillusioned by the realities of the lifestyle, having fed his expectations with a diet of classic con movies like ‘The Sting’ and ‘Rounders’.

I might have been more impressed overall had I not just finished binge watching the entire series of Leverage, an American TV program about a crew who pull off sophisticated and complex cons in each episode. By contrast, the cons run in Chasing the Ace seem inelegant and somewhat distasteful, even if far more realistic.

A quick and entertaining read, I enjoyed Chasing the Ace…honestly.

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Review: Letters To My Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe

 

Title: Letters to My Daughter’s Killer

Author: Cath Staincliffe

Published: C&R Crime: Allen & Unwin July 2014

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

My Thoughts:

“I hate you. My first letter, and that is all I want to say. I hate you. But those three words can barely convey the depth, the breadth, the soaring height of this hatred.”

Letters To My Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe is a story of grief, anger and heartbreak, beginning with the brutal murder of a young wife and mother and exploring the consequences for those that loved her.

It unfolds in a series of letters written by Ruth Sutton to the man who bludgeoned her precious daughter, Lizzie, to death, four years earlier. In a desperate bid to recover some equilibrium, Ruth hopes that by writing to the killer, and asking him for answers to the questions that haunt her, she can purge herself of the fury that threatens to destroy her soul.

As Ruth relives the horror that began with a phone call, Staincliffe portrays the raw reactions of a grieving mother to her daughter’s violent murder with skill and compassion, exposing the shock and bewilderment which slowly gives way to anger and heartache as Ruth is forced to deal with the strain of the aftermath, including caring for her young grand daughter, and the police investigation, the killer’s capture, and the trial that follows.

Intense, shocking and poignant, Letters to My Daughter’s Killer is an emotionally taxing read.

 

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Review: Family Secrets by Liz Byrski

Title: Family Secrets

Author: Liz Byrski

Published: Pan Macmillan Au July 2014

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Status: Read from July 12 to 15, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When Liz Byrski turned fifty she keenly felt the lack of literature that reflected the lives of women in mid life, and drawing on her experience as a journalist and freelance writer, set out to change that by writing the sort of books that she wanted to read.

Family Secrets is Liz Byrski’s eighth fiction novel, a story about love, regrets, forgiveness and redemption.

After a long, debilitating illness, Gerald Hawkins passing is both a cause for sadness and relief for his wife Connie, and his adult children Kerry and Andrew. For decades they have lived their lives as Gerald, a dominant man, had wished them too and now that he is gone they are all forced to find their own way forward.

Connie chooses to revisit her past, announcing her plans to go to England for an extended holiday, hoping to reconnect with the woman she was before she married Gerald and gave up her dreams to become a dutiful wife and mother in Tasmania, and to rekindle her relationship with her childhood best friend, and Gerald’s sister, Flora, who has been estranged from the family for many years. Connie’s journey is not what she imagined it would be however, especially when she is confronted with some home truths about the choices she made and the person she has become.

Meanwhile her children are grappling with their changing futures. Andrew, disillusioned with his career and his marriage, is unsurprised to discover his wife’s affair but determined to protect his teenage daughter, Brooke, from the fall-out. Kerry, harbouring long held resentment and guilt about her father is at a loss when he dies, and is left struggling with the symptoms of clinical depression.

Byrski explores the way in which it is often difficult to be honest with ourselves, and others, and the corrosive nature of failing to accept the truth. Each main character in Family Secrets is challenged to reconcile their past and escape the shadow of Gerald’s legacy by taking responsibility for the people whom they have become, and making changes that allow them to reconnect with the people they love.

I thought Family Secrets was an engaging read, not especially gripping but a thoughtful and well told story of realistic domestic drama.

Family Secrets is available to purchase from

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Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Title: A Man Called Ove

Author: Fredrik Backman

Published: Atria Books July 2014

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Status: Read from July 15 to 16, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A wonderful debut novel by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove had me laughing out loud, and blinking back tears.

“He was a man of black and white…. Ove wanted what was right to be right, and what was wrong to be wrong.”

Ove is a man who believes in order, routine and rules, he has worked hard all of his life, paid his taxes, taken care of his beloved wife and his house but now, forced into retirement and alone at 59, he no longer has any wish to continue on. He has made his peace, planned carefully for his departure, but is wholly unprepared for what follows after his new neighbours accidentally flatten his mailbox.

Undaunted by Ove’s inflexible opinions, gruff manner and short temper, Parveneh and her family make demands of Ove that he cannot resist. And then comes a mangy cat, a homeless teen and a man in a white shirt, and slowly, despite his best intentions, Ove begins to live again.

Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, this is a story about love, grief, life, death and Saab’s. Told with heartfelt emotion, wry insight and a sense of humour, Backman has created an endearing character, few will be able to dismiss.

“It isn’t what a man says that matters, it is what he does.”

For all that it made me feel, I’m declaring A Man Called Ove my favourite book of the year so far.

A Man Called Ove is available to purchase from

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***

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Australian Cover

 

Review: Swimming In The Dark by Paddy Richardson

 

Title: Swimming in the Dark

Author: Paddy Richardson

Published: Macmillan July 2014

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Status: Read on July 02, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

An atmospheric psychological drama, Swimming in the Dark, the fourth novel by award-winning New Zealand writer Paddy Richardson, explores the themes of family, oppression, fear and the strength it takes to rise above them.

Set in New Zealand, this contemporary, haunting tale unites four women, Serena and her sister Lynette, and school teacher Ilse Klein and her mother, Gerda, struggling against a legacy of fear, shame and guilt.
Fifteen year old Serena Freeman is the youngest child of a family with a reputation for wildness and petty criminal behaviour in the suburbs of Otago. Studious and quiet, she has tried hard to avoid being tarred with the same brush, hoping to one day escape and create a new life, as her eldest sister, Lynnie, did seven years before. When Serena disappears no one seems to care but Lynette returns to Alexandra to search for her, determined to uncover the secrets her younger sister has been hiding.
Their worlds collide when Ilsa inadvertently learns Serena’s secret, a secret that revives terrible memories for Gerda of her time in Stasi Germany.

Beautifully written, this is a complex and gripping novel which I couldn’t put down. I’m loathe to reveal this story’s secrets, and at a loss to articulate its power other than to say I was held captive by the undercurrent of suspense, moved by the character’s struggles, and stunned by the novel’s conclusion.

Swimming in the Dark is available to purchase from

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Weekend Cooking: Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves by Dave Lowry

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

**********************

Title: Chinese Cooking For Diamond Thieves

Author: Dave Lowry

Published:  Mariner Books: Haughton Mifflin Harcourt July 2014

Status: Read from July 09 to 10, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I’m not sure exactly why I decided to take a chance on this novel but I am so glad I did. Funny, clever and fresh, Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves by Dave Lowry is a fabulously entertaining blend of mystery, action, a touch of awkward romance, and Chinese cooking.

Having been kicked out of college just before graduation, Tucker is heading home to Missouri in his aging Toyota when he crosses paths with the attractive and enigmatic Corrine Chang, making her way from Canada to Buffalo, NY, at a deserted rest stop. In the absence of any real goal, Tucker offers Corrine a ride, surprising her with his ability to speak Mandarin, and being surprised in turn when he intercepts a threatening phone call. Corrine, it seems, is on the run from a Chinese gang convinced she has $15 million dollars worth of diamonds missing from her employer’s store. Despite her protestations of innocence, the gang follows them all the way to St Louis, as intent on capturing Corinne, as Tucker, with a little help from the FBI, is at stopping them.

Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves is fast paced with plenty of action and intrigue, and just enough exaggeration to entertain. Snappy dialogue, liberally laced with sarcasm, is delivered with expert timing.

Lowry’s protagonist is an unusual guy. The son of white upper middle class parents (his father a retired agent of some description), Tucker practices xing-i, speaks Mandarin (and a little Cantonese) and cooks Chinese food, real Chinese food, with the skill of a native. He is simultaneously a tough guy capable of crippling an enemy with an economy of movement, and achingly vulnerable and self deprecating. The contradiction works perfectly to create a charming, quirky hero, who is supported by an equally appealing cast.

For foodies, there are plenty of tips for cooking authentic Chinese food, and a glimpse into the inner workings of a Chinese restaurant kitchen.

Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves is probably best described as a crime caper given the elements of humour, adventure and the offbeat characters. I thought it was witty, clever and interesting and recommend it without hesitation.

Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves is available to purchase from

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****

The few Chinese dishes I cook are unapologetically westernised versions and fairly simple ones at that. Today I thought I’d share one of my favourites, with apologies to Tucker, and Dave Lowry.

Oven Baked Chicken Spring Rolls

 

Ingredients

1 kg barbecued or roast chicken, finely shredded
1 large can of corn kernels
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp finely grated ginger
2 tsp sesame oil
5 tbs soy sauce
1 pkt frozen spring roll wrappers
1/4 cup (60ml) peanut oil

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 200°C.

In a bowl combine shredded chicken, corn kernels, onions, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce

Lay out a spring roll wrapper with a point facing towards you. Place 2 tablespoonfuls of chicken mixture on pastry then fold pastry over filling once. Fold in side corners. Brush far corner with water then roll up tightly. Repeat with remaining filling and pastry.

Place spring rolls on an oven tray. Brush with peanut oil then bake for 20-25 minutes or until crisp and golden.

Serve with fried rice and/or a dipping sauce of your choice

spring rolls

Review: The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw

 

Title: The Bookshop That Floated Away

Author: Sarah Henshaw

Published: Constable: Allen & Unwin July 2014

Status: Read from July 01 to 02, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 2009, Sarah Henshaw had a brilliant idea – to transform a narrow boat, named Joseph, into a bookshop, called The Book Barge, but by 2011, battered by the recession, the growth in digital book sales and Henshaw’s self-confessed terrible book-selling skills the store, moored in the Midlands, was on the verge of closing. Desperate to keep the business afloat, Sarah came up with the idea to traverse the canals of England for six months to raise awareness of the plight of independent booksellers and, of course, sell books.

The Bookshop That Floated Away is the story of Henshaw’s adventures through the waterways of Britain, negotiating its hundreds of locks, mooring where able, and selling the odd book, supplementing the costs of her journey, largely financed by her parents and an extraordinarily generous ex boyfriend, by bartering stock for essentials like meals, alcohol, haircuts and bathroom privileges along the way. Passionate about books and literature but lacking business savvy, and at times common sense, the journey was not an easy one, hampered by break-downs, break-ins and break-outs.

I expected to love this book, but unfortunately I finished it feeling rather disappointed. I’m not sure if it was the author or her writing style, that I had trouble connecting with, but I think it was probably a mixture of both. I found Henshaw’s attitude irritating at times, and there is a weird section written from the perspective of Joseph, the boat. Still, I love the whole idea of The Book Barge and I did find Sarah’s adventures interesting, so I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it.

The Book Barge is now moored permanently in the Barton Marina, open weekends and holidays (at Henshaw’s whim). Check The Book Barge Facebook page for details about opening hours and special events.

 

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Review: Reservoir Dad by Clint Greagen

 

Title: Reservoir Dad

Author: Clint Greagen

Published: Bantam: Random House July 2014

Status: Read from July 07 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 2008, Clint Greagen resigned from his job as a youth worker to care for his first born child. Nine years later Clint is a stay at home dad of four young boys, Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki, and the author of Reservoir Dad, about his adventures in full-time parenting, first chronicled on his popular blog of the same name.

Written with humour, honesty and love, Reservoir Dad shares the exhausting challenges and unadulterated joys of raising four sons, from the seemingly endless sleepless nights, and a bathroom floor covered in wee, to the smell of a newborn head and wrestling matches in the lounge room. What I admire most is Greagen’s obvious dedication to his sons, and his relationship with his wife, the ever-patient Reservoir Mum (aka Tania), with whom he still shares a weekly date night, on a mattress in front of the TV.

As a stay at home mother, also to four children (three of whom were born in three years), I could certainly relate to Greagen’s experiences of parenting. I found myself giggling in recognition of the moments of crazy and wincing in well remembered sympathy at toddler tantrums and the lego induced injuries, which happens less often now that my youngest son is 8.

Divided into six parts with short chapters variously named with titles like ‘Hang Like A Man’; ‘Syncing Hormonally’; ‘The Grand Old Duke of…Puke?’ and ‘A Jim Carrey-Inspired Sex Education’ Reservoir Dad is a quick, easy read.

Funny, moving and insightful, Reservoir Dad would be the perfect gift for new parents, both as a warning of what is to come, and an assurance they are not alone.

Available to purchase from

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Want more? Visit This Charming Mum for her review

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