Review: A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier

 

Title: A Year After Henry

Author: Cathie Pelletier

Published: Sourcebooks Landmark August 2014

Status:  Read from June 02 to 03, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

It has been a year since forty one year old Henry Munroe unexpectedly passed away. While his mother arranges a a memorial service for her ‘golden boy’, Henry’s wife, Jeanie, is stalking his ex mistress, Evie, his teenage son Chad is drinking and smoking pot, and Henry’s brother, newly divorced and unemployed, is sleeping in the room they shared as children. A Year After Henry by Cathie Pelletier explores the process of grief, loss and letting go.

Each of Pelletier’s characters are struggling to come to terms with the emotional aftermath of Henry’s demise, as well as the changes it has has wrought in the direction of their lives. As the memorial service approaches they are forced to confront their angst and reconcile both their love and ambivalence for the son, husband, father, brother and lover they have lost.

Jeanie is the most conflicted character as her husband’s death occurred just as she had mustered the courage to confront him about his history of adultery. This complicates her mourning process and she develops a mild obsession with one his last lovers, Evie.

I was surprised by the paranormal aspect that Evie brings to this story. It is not really a significant element, but allows Pelletier to explore another facet of grief. Evie is a local bartender and Spiritual Portraitist whose brief fling with Henry haunts her, especially as she realises she is falling in love with his brother Larry.

Larry misses his brother despite having always lived in Henry’s shadow. Henry’s status as the family golden boy is only elevated by his sudden death, particularly in contrast to Larry’s messy personal crisis which includes being forced to move back in with his parents after his recent divorce, and being fired from job as a school teacher.

A low-key character driven novel, there are flashes of humor and pathos in this poignant story of grief, loss and letting go. A Year After Henry is Cathie Pelletier’s 11th book.

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Review: What Would Mary Berry Do? by Claire Sandy

 

Title: What Would Mary Berry Do?

Author: Claire Sandy

Published: Pan Macmillan UK

Status: Read from July 28 to 29, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Once again having failed to produce a showstopper cake for the school fair, Marie Dunwoody, wife, mother and dentist, vows that next year she will deliver a masterpiece that her children can be proud of. With Mary Berry’s Baking Bible in hand, and spurred on by an imagined rivalry with neighbour Lucy Gray, Marie is determined to work her way through the recipe book for the next year and return triumphant.

Despite first impressions, What Would Mary Berry Do? by Claire Sandy is about much more than baking the perfect Victoria Sponge or Doboz Torte, it is a warm and witty story about family, friendship and love.

Marie’s nine year old mischievous twin daughter’s, Rose and Iris, are happy to support their mother’s baking dreams but fifteen year old Angus is preoccupied with other matters including a secretive penpal, an attack of the ‘Clones’ and the attentions of a lovesick neighbour. Husband Robert is initially bemused by his wife’s new passion but when his position at work becomes tenuous he decides to turn to Paul Hollywood for consolation turning out perfect buns and muffins with which to impress his boss. Domestic goddess Lucy, Marie’s self proclaimed nemesis, is desperately trying to ignore the cracks in her marriage and make peace with her stepdaughter Chloe.

With appealing characters, snappy dialogue and lighthearted domestic drama, What Would Mary Berry Do? is a delicious treat for every reader.

PS. For those unaware, Mary Berry, along with Paul Hollywood, are real chefs and are the co-judges of The Great British Bake Off, a reality baking show on BBC

 

What Would Mary Berry Do?  is available to purchase from

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Review: The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre

 

 

Title: The Girl in 6E

Author: A.R. Torre

Published: Orion: Hachette July 2014

Status: Read on July 28, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre caught my attention with its provocative premise. As ‘Jessica Reilly’, a 19 year old college coed, 21 year old Deanna Madden earns $6.99 a minute meeting the virtual sexual fantasies of the men and women willing to pay for her time. This allows her to support herself, utilising online shopping to organise regular deliveries of supplies ensuring Deanna never has to leave her apartment. For to do so could be dangerous… not for Deanna, but for anyone who might cross her path.

Torre’s unusual protagonist, Deanna, has an obsessive desire to commit murder (Torre uses the term ‘cruorimania’), and believes she is a threat to anyone whom she might come into contact with. She has already killed once, the details of which remain concealed for much of the novel, and fantasises about doing so again. This explains her self imposed imprisonment and her shunning of human interaction.

Deanna is content with the arrangements she has made to isolate herself but her carefully constructed haven begins to destabilise firstly when her regular delivery guy, Jeremy, becomes too curious about the girl in 6E, and then when the sexual obsessions of a client she knows as Ralph begins to concern her. Ralph seems fixated on a single fantasy featuring a young girl called Annie, and when Deanna learns a 7 year old girl of the same name has been abducted, she is convinced Ralph is responsible and comes up with a plan to allow her to rescue the child and slake her blood lust at the same time.

It really isn’t until almost half way through that either of the main plot line’s, Jeremy’s intrusion and Annie’s abduction, gain momentum. Much of the first half of the book involves Deanna introducing us, in the first person, to her narrow world, and providing an explicit glimpse into the professional world of ‘camming’.

I have to admit I’m left feeling a little unsure about The Girl in 6E overall. I found it interesting in many ways, and was never tempted to put it aside, but I can’t say I enjoyed it exactly, and I doubt I will bother with the sequel.

FYI: The Girl in 6 E was originally self published as “On Me, In Me, Dead Beneath Me”, though the story has since been heavily revised for traditional publication.

 

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Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriaty

 

Title: Big Little Lies

Author: Liane Moriarty

Published: Amy Einhorn Books: Putnam July 2014

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Status: Read from July 27 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“Oh, we’re such a caring school,” the principal told me. Blah, blah. blah. Let me tell you the first thing I thought when I walked into that playground on that kindergarten orientation day was cliquey. Cliquey, cliquey, cliquey. I’m not surprised someone ended up dead. Oh, all right. I guess that’s overstating it. I was a little surprised.”

Big Little Lies begins with a death at Pirriwee Public School during a Trivia Night fundraiser, but the details are concealed as the narrative shifts to a period six months previously to introduce Madeline, Celeste and Jane, along with their offspring, at the Kindy orientation day.

It is at this inauspicious event that Jane’s son, Ziggy, is accused of bullying a classmate, Amabella, triggering a sustained campaign of hysteria by her high powered mother, Renata, to punish Ziggy for denying being at fault. Madeline, a veteran of schoolyard politics and never one to shy away from controversy, chooses to side with Jane, supported by her best friend, the beautiful and wealthy mother of twin boys, Celeste and as such declares war.

While the school drama escalates in the lead up to the Trivia Night, the three main protagonists have other important concerns to deal with. Madeleine’s teenage daughter from her first marriage wants to go and live with her father and his new wife, Celeste is barely holding together her veneer of perfection, and Jane is hiding a shocking secret regarding the paternity of her son. These complex characters are so perfectly formed it seems likely I could meet them at the school gate. This is unfortunately true too of the ‘blonde bob’ brigade, whom I am all too familiar with having endured 11 years of primary school politics (with four more still to go).

There is plenty of humour in this sharply observed novel of playground alliances, ‘mummy wars’ and domestic crises but as Moriarty slowly strips away the social veneer to explore truths about bullying, domestic violence, betrayal and infidelity its darker heart is exposed. As the tension builds, gossip swirls, secrets are revealed, alliances shift, and lies are found out. Ultimately of course the truth prevails, and the mysteries are resolved in the stunning climax.

Part noir suburban mystery, part domestic drama, Big Little Lies is compulsive reading. Thought provoking, clever, witty and wonderful, this is another wickedly brilliant novel from best selling Australian author Liane Moriarty.

Big Little Lies is available to purchase from

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Also by Liane Moriarty

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Review: A Fatal Tide by Steve Sailah

 

Title: A Fatal Tide

Author: Steve Sailah

Published: Bantam: Random House July 2014

Status:  Read from July 22 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

An intriguing mystery set amongst the trenches of Gallipoli, A Fatal Tide is an impressive novel from debut author, Steve Sailah.

Thomas Clare is just sixteen when he discovers his father’s decapitated body under a tree in the paddock behind their home. The investigating Sergeant insists Constable First Class Jack Clare, a Boer war veteran, committed suicide, miscalculating the length of rope needed to hang himself, but it is obvious to Tubbie Terrier, an aboriginal tracker and family friend, that Jack was not alone when he died. A soldier’s boot print on his father’s face, and a hidden wartime document with a handwritten notation, are the only clues Thomas has to identify his father’s killer and so with the idealism and optimism of youth, Thomas and his best friend Snow, enlist in the raging first World War to find Jack’s murderer.

” Oh, what an adventure it would be.”

A Fatal Tide tales place in perhaps one of the most unusual settings I have encountered in a mystery novel. Though it begins in the Queensland bush, the majority of the story is set in the trenches of Gallipoli barely a month after the historic ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Corps) landing in 1915.

Sailah vividly illustrates what Thomas experiences after his arrival in Gallipoli. Like many of the men, and boys, who enlisted, Thomas and Snow had no real understanding of the horror of war, expecting adventure and easy victories, only to find themselves ankle deep in mud, corpses and gore, eating flyblown food, battling dysentery and under near constant enemy fire.

It is only then that Thomas appreciates his naivete in going to war to search for the men who murdered his father, not that he is deterred, especially when it becomes obvious that the enemy lies not only across the wasteland of ‘no man’s land’ but also somewhere amongst the trenches forged to protect him. Someone is desperate to recover the document in Thomas’s possession which reveals the shocking truth about the events that led to the execution of ‘Breaker’ Morant thirteen years earlier in Africa.

Despite the grim realities of circumstance, Sailah lightens the tone of the novel with a focus on the bonds formed between the men who fight side by side with Thomas and Snow, and the eccentricities of their characters – Teach, who spouts philosophy, and quick witted and loud mouth, Kingy. Humour also comes from Thomas and Snow’s adulation of Sherlock Holmes and his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whom Sailah references often during the novel.

Exploring the themes of duty, honour, mateship and humanity, Sailah weaves together a compelling story of war, friendship and murder in A Fatal Tide. It offers both an interesting mystery, and fascinating insight into the experiences of our Australian diggers in Gallipoli’s trenches.

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Review: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

 

Title: Elizabeth is Missing

Author: Emma Healey

Published: Viking: Penguin Australia July 2014

Read an extract

Status: Read on July 22, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Elizabeth is Missing by debut author Emma Healey is a poignant and gripping mystery about loss, memory and murder.

The narrative unfolds from the unique perspective of Maud Horsham, an eighty two year old mother and grandmother, suffering from progressive dementia. Maud relies on carefully written notes, and daily visits from a carer and her daughter Helen, to remember the things she forgets, but increasingly Maud’s concerns have narrowed to the lack of contact from her closest friend, Elizabeth. While Helen, and others, dismiss her fears as a senile obsession, Maud is convinced something awful has happened and embarks on an investigation to find her missing friend.

Told with extraordinary insight into the complexities of a failing mind I was effortlessly drawn into Maud’s muddled world. It is not an easy space to inhabit, especially if you have witnessed a similar decline in a loved one as I have, or fear a similar fate, as I do. Fleeting instances of lucidity add to the poignancy of the narrative as Maud slips between the past and the present, between remembering and forgetting.

Entwined with Maud’s search for Elizabeth, and her everyday struggle with her failing memory, is a second narrative that reveals in 1946 Maud’s married older sister, Sukey, vanished without a trace. It soon becomes clear that Maud’s fears for her missing friend, Elizabeth, are tangled with the memories of Maud’s sister’s disappearance, and to solve one mystery, will be to solve the other.

The suspense of both mysteries are well maintained through out the novel and the past and present narratives flow seamlessly into each other. Despite the distressing nature of Maud’s illness there are also moments of humour which helps to temper the bleak realities.

A clever and compelling novel, I thought Elizabeth is Missing was an engrossing read with an unforgettable protagonist. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

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Review: Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper

 

Title: Better Homes and Hauntings

Author: Molly Harper

Published: Pocket Books July 2014

Read an excerpt

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

Read an Excerpt

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

Read an Excerpt

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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