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: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

 

Title:  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Author: Haruki Murakami

Published: Harvill Secker: Random House August 2014

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

My Thoughts:

Haruki Murakami in a Japanese author best known in western culture for the 2011 success of his epic dystopian novel,1Q84. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is his highly anticipated newest title.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the story of a man who has never really recovered from being inexplicably exiled by a group of close friends he met in high school. Drifting through his life, engineer Tsukuru is now in his mid thirties, single and largely friendless, until he meets a woman who encourages him to confront his painful past.

Throughout Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Murukami explores the themes of identity, friendship, alienation and mental health. Tsukuru views himself as having; “…no personality, no defined color. [With] nothing to offer to others…like an empty vessel”, and as such feels disconnected from other people and destined to be alone. This feeling can be traced back to the brutal abandonment of his friends and to redefine himself Tsukuru must resolve the lingering hurts and resentments.

I thought the symbolism in the novel was fairly heavy handed and the dream slips didn’t always make sense to me. I didn’t find the writing particularly special though I found it more accessible and grounded than I was expecting.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, not having read Murakami previously though I have read plenty of opinions about several of his earlier works, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t quite it. Essentially this seems to me to be lad lit (think Nick Hornby), perhaps given gravitas primarily because the protagonist, and the author, is Japanese. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story of Tsukuru’s journey to make peace with his past and redefine his sense of self, but I was largely underwhelmed by the whole thing.

 

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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: The Catch by Taylor Stevens

 

Title: The Catch { Vanessa Michael Munroe #4}

Author: Taylor Stevens

Published: Crown Publishing: Random House July 2014

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Status: Read from August 18 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Catch by Taylor Stevens is the fourth book to feature the unusual character of Vanessa Michael Munroe.

Regrouping after the events of The Doll, Munroe has been biding her time in Djibouti, Africa, working as an interpreter for a small private security company as ‘Michael’. When Munroe’s boss accepts a job on a freighter bound for Kenya, Leo, jealous of Michael’s closeness with his wife Amber and oblivious to Michael’s real gender and talents, insists she accompanies the team. Part way through the voyage, the ship is attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia but Munroe escapes with the injured freighter captain in tow. It quickly becomes obvious that the pirate’s target was not the cargo, which included a secret cache of weapons, but the captain, and to save the crew Munroe must negotiate the shadowy world of piracy, Hawala and corruption.

Munroe is such an intriguing character, a borderline sociopath capable of lethal violence with finely honed instincts, she is also highly intelligent, resourceful and has a prodigious talent for languages, skills which she makes good use of in The Catch.

The story of The Catch is perhaps more cerebral than in previous installments. Gathering information and planning strategy is more important than Munroe’s physical prowess as she scrambles to understand the motives of the pirates while nursing debilitating injuries inflicted by a vicious group of hired thugs.

The weakness for me in this story is in the motive Taylor ascribes to Munroe for saving the ship and its crew. I just wasn’t convinced Munroe’s attachment to Amber was strong enough to risk so much for her, even given Munroe’s unique sense of justice and loyalty.

Though The Catch could be read as a standalone, familiarity with the unique character of Munroe lends a richness that enhances the story. As someone familiar with the series I was satisfied with this installment and I am eager to discover what Munroe’s next move will be.

The Catch  is available to purchase from

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Also reviewed on Book’d Out


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Review: Heartbreak Hotel by Debbie Moggach

 

Title: Heartbreak Hotel

Author: Debbie Moggach

Published: Vintage Digital: Random House UK August 2014

Status: Read from August 13 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

When aging actor Russell ‘Buffy’ Buffery inherits a B&B in rural Wales he stuns his family and friends by abandoning London to run it. Buffy finds he enjoys his role as host, but the crumbling manor is in desperate need of maintenance, and a steady occupancy rate, and he needs to find a way to fix it before it all falls down around him.

The premise of Heartbreak Hotel, and the reputation of author Debbie Moggach, is what drew me to select this novel for review, unfortunately I was disappointed by the novel’s structure. The drawn out stories of some of the individuals who eventually wind up at Heartbreak Hotel seemed disconnected to the narrative and the idea of the ‘Courses for Divorces’ was terrific but never fully exploited. The last half of the book, when the characters are brought together, is much stronger than the first.

I did like the Moggach’s characters, most of them find themselves at the B&B after a disappointment of some sort or another. Buffy is an interesting man, he had a successful career as an actor but now aged 70 he is reinventing himself as well as grappling with the missteps he made as a husband and father. For many the guests of Myrtle House their stay at the B&B has surprising consequences including new love and the kindling of new dreams.

Heartbreak Hotel is often amusing and has some charm, but ultimately it was just an OK read for me.

 

Heartbreak Hotel  is available to purchase from

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Review: I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

 

Title: I Work at a Public Library: a collection of crazy stories from the stacks

Author: Gina Sheridan

Published: Adams Media July 2014

Status: Read on August 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

I Work at a Public Library is, as subtitled, a collection of crazy stories from the stacks, written and curated by librarian Gina Sheridan, based on her blog http://iworkatapubliclibrary.com/.

With chapters organised using the Dewey Decimal system, Gina Sheridan shares the amusing, touching and just plain weird experiences she, and others, have encountered in their work as a librarian.

The anecdotes are gleaned from overheard conversations, patron questions, observations and encounters with the people of all ages who visit the library for all sorts of reasons, sometimes not meaning to be there at all.

This short book is sure to raise a smile and a little consternation, from any one who has spent anytime in a library.

“Adult patron to librarian: “I was told to read three books. I think one is small and blue. Can you tell me which ones they are?”

I Work at a Public Library is available to purchase from

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Review: New Orleans Requiem by Don J. Donaldson

 

Title: New Orleans Requiem {Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn #4}

Author: Don J. Donaldson

Published: Astor+Blue February 2013

Status: Read from August 15 to 16, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

New Orleans Requiem is the fourth book in Don J. Donaldon’s mystery series featuring chief medical examiner Andy Broussard and Kit Franklyn, a consultant psychologist for both the ME’s office and the NOPD.

The story opens with Andy and Kit being called to a crime scene in the New Orleans French Quarter. The body of a man has been discovered in a locker in Jackson Square, stabbed through the heart, with an eyelid removed and a newspaper propped on his chest with four scrabble letters taped to it. When a second body is found two days later with identical wounds, a newspaper and three scrabble letters, Andy and Kit fear a serial killer is stalking the town. Broussard and Kit are taken aback when what little evidence they have points to the killer being a colleague with a grudge, but with hundreds of forensic specialists in town attending the Annual American Academy of Forensic Science conference, narrowing the field of suspects isn’t going to be easy.

An interesting blend of police procedural and medical thriller, New Orleans Requiem is an enjoyable novel. The case at the heart of this mystery is well plotted and believable and the identity of the murderer came as a surprise. The pacing is good, with the duration of the conference providing a natural time frame in which to solve the mystery.

Broussard and Franklyn are well developed characters. An affable man with a large appetite, Broussard is an experienced and well regarded ME. Kit considers Andy both a colleague and a mentor. She has good instincts and is both resourceful and intelligent. Their professional skills complement each other and they make a good team.

First published in the early 1990’s the absence of ‘Google’ and cell phones are evident in some aspects of the novel but the story doesn’t feel dated. I’d recommend New Orleans Requiem to readers who enjoy procedural mysteries, especially those with a forensic focus (think Quincy, ME or CSI).

New Orleans Requiem  is available to purchase from

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Learn more about Don J. Donaldson and the Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn series in a  Q&A with the author posted on Book’d Out earlier today

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