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.

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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.

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Review: Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

Title: Present Darkness {Detective Emmanuel Cooper #4}

Author: Malla Nunn

Published: Atria/Emily Bestler Books June 2014

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Status: Read on June 07, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy Netgalley/Atria}

My Thoughts:

Present Darkness is the fourth superb instalment in Malla Nunn’s Detective Emmanuel Cooper series. This unique crime series, set during the 1950′s in apartheid ruled South Africa, has become one of my favourites, and Present Darkness is Nunn’s best yet.

It is a few days before Christmas, 1953 and Cooper is fast losing patience with his colleagues in the Johannesburg major crimes squad. While the temporary transfer from Durban allows him to see Davida and their baby daughter Rebekah every day, he is wary of his boss, Lieutenant Walter Mason who seems far to interested in what Cooper does in his off time. Called to a vicious beating of a white couple, a high school principal and a secretary at the office of land management, Cooper is surprised when their teenage daughter blames Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of his best friend and Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, for the brutal attack. From the first things don’t seem to add up, but Mason isn’t interested in Cooper’s doubts and insists the girls identification closes the case. Cooper, who owes Shabalala his life, can’t let it rest though and with the help of Dr. Daniel Zweigman, he begins an investigation of his own.

Cooper’s inquiry leads him from the violent slum in which he was raised to a dusty farm on the outskirts of Pretoria. He encounters thieves, corrupt cops, pimps, murderers and an abducted prostitute in his drive to prove Aaron Shabalala’s innocence. Full of twists and turns, complicated by Cooper’s need to avoid alerting Mason to his unsanctioned investigation and his desire to protect his family, the plot is fast-paced and tension filled. Cooper, as always, follows the evidence wherever it leads him, no matter the threat or danger, ably assisted by Shabalala and Zweigman.

As I’ve written before, the cultural framework of the novel is what really sets this series apart from other crime fiction I have read. Apartheid affects every facet of life for South Africans, and Nunn doesn’t shy away from exposing the appalling inequalities of the period. Having experienced life on both sides of the colour line, Cooper is more aware of the arbitrary injustice based on skin colour than most and refuses to let apartheid compromise his job or his personal life. In 1953, Cooper’s relationship with Davida, a mixed race woman, is illegal and he is conscious that she, and their daughter, is a vulnerability his enemies could easily exploit.

As with Nunn’s last book, Silent Valley (published in the US as Blessed Are the Dead), I read Present Darkness in single sitting. Skilfully crafted with an intriguing plot and superb characterisation, Malla Nunn’s Detective Emmanuel Cooper series should be on everybody’s reading list.


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Review: The Secrets in Silence by Nicole Trope


Title: The Secrets in Silence

Author: Nicole Trope

Published: Allen & Unwin June 2014

Status: Read from June 04 to 05, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Secrets in Silence, Nicole Trope’s third book, is an emotionally charged and gripping novel.

As Minnie stands in a bathroom stall, swaddling a mewling newborn infant in her scarf before placing her gently in the shopping bag she is carrying, Tara lies in a hospital bed, her head turned away from the concerned gaze of the doctor, the worried eyes of her father and stepmother and the frown of the policeman hovering in the doorway. ‘Where is the baby?’ they ask again and again, but Tara can’t tell them anything… and Minnie, cradling a miracle, won’t tell anyone.

From the dramatic opening scene of this story I was hooked and couldn’t put this intense, moving novel aside. With compassion, tenderness, and searing honesty, Trope exposes a young girl’s anguish, a lonely woman’s joy and the two shocking incidents that bind them.

Each of the characters that help to tell this story take refuge in silence. While Tara feels she is literally unable to communicate, others elect to remain silent, Minnie to protect her love of baby Kate, Alicia to avoid confronting some uncomfortable truths, and Liam to avoid revealing his weakness. Eventually though, they must all find their voice in order to save each other, and themselves.

There is a constant undercurrent of anticipation throughout the novel and this tension compensates for some of the minor plot contrivances which connect Tara and Minnie in the aftermath of Kate’s birth. The brutality of the conclusion is unexpected and a happy ending is not assured for any of Trope’s characters, speaking out will be just the first step.

Like Nicole Trope’s previous novels, The Boy Under the Table and Three Hours Late, The Secrets in Silence is an engrossing, affecting and poignant story I devoured in one sitting, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

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Review: Being Jade by Kate Belle

being_jade_COVER_HI_res small


Title: Being Jade

Author: Kate Belle

Published: Simon & Schuster Au June 2014

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Status: Read on May 29, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

After twenty-five years of marriage, Banjo Murphy finally walks out on his wife, Jade, unable to forgive her for what seems to be yet another betrayal. Hours later his broken body is discovered by the side of the road, the victim of a hit and run, and his family is shattered by the unexpected loss. As Jade withdraws into silence, seeking solace in chemical oblivion, his youngest daughter, Melissa, seeks answers to the mystery surrounding her father’s death…and the truth about his life.

“Who was the Jade these lovers knew? What did her mother need to live beyond the confines of their family? What did she gain from all those other men? How much had her father known? Why had he stayed and what made him leave the night he died?”

With death, Banjo is finally in possession of the perspective that eluded him in life. Drifting in the ether he comes to understand his wife’s behaviour and to forgive her the failings that tortured him during their marriage.

“I realise now it was as difficult for Jade to be who she was as it was for the rest of us to live with her”

But for his youngest daughter, Melissa, there is too much unsaid and unknown. With Jade refusing to talk, Lissy tries to find answers in her mother’s sketchbook which chronicles the affairs Jade indulged in over the course of her parents marriage.

I have conflicting feelings about Jade that are never fully resolved. I admire the way in which she is unapologetically true to her self, to her own needs and desires, regardless of the judgement of others. Yet Jade’s demand for freedom comes at a steep emotional cost to those that love her best, namely Banjo and their daughters.

In exposing a woman who defies what is expected of her, Being Jade raises provocative questions about how authentic we truly are in our relationships with others, and with ourselves. The author challenges the notion of unconditional love, exploring the ways in which we narrow the definition to suit our own purposes, and how this family comes to understand and accept love isn’t as simple and everyone wants it to be.

A searing portrait of the complexities of love, intimacy and truth Being Jade is an eloquent and powerful piece of storytelling from author Kate Belle.


Click here to read a guest post from Kate Belle – Being Jade: Born of myth and dreams

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Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Firky by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Firky

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Published:  Algonquin Books April 2014

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Status: Read on May 01, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy Netgalley/publisher}

My Thoughts:

Few booklovers could resist this charming and quirky tale of a bookseller on a small island in the north east of America. A.J. Fikry is the surly and opinionated proprietor of Island Books, an independent bookstore he opened with his wife, who was killed in a tragic car accident, whose grieving is rudely interrupted when he wakes from a drinking binge to find a rare book stolen, and a toddler abandoned in his store.

I’m loathe to share too much, not wanting to risk spoiling the pleasure of reading this heart warming and poignant tale of a broken man rediscovering the pleasures of life and love for those yet to experience it. It is funny, moving and yes, sometimes saccharine, story which embraces quirky individuals, the comfort of community and the enjoyment of a good book.

A beautifully crafted novel about the power of love, and literature, to transform and redeem us, The Storied Life of A.J. Firky is a captivating read.


The Storied Life of A.J. Firky is available to purchase from

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Review: Beams Falling by P.M. Newton


Title: Beams Falling

Author: P.M. Newton

Published: Penguin Au March 2014

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

My Thoughts:

Beams Falling by Pamela Newton follows her lauded 2010 debut, The Old School, featuring Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly.

Following the shooting that left Kelly wounded and a corrupt police officer dead (in The Old School ), she is shunted from her Bankstown unit to Taskforce Acorn in Cabramatta, the token Asian officer on a team investigating the area’s criminal activity. Though officially restricted to light duties, Ned is drawn into the investigation of a brazen shooting of a schoolboy, which leads the team into the world of the ‘ra choi’ – teen hitmen, drug mules, dealers and thieves, corrupted by easy money and the illusion of power.

The gritty plot reveals a confronting mire of crime, including murder, drugs and prostitution, tainting the Sydney suburb. Newton doesn’t pull any punches, twelve year old boys are assassinated in broad daylight and fourteen year old girls are raped in front of their fathers as object lessons. The violence is brutal and dispiriting and the solution an enigma.
The investigating police are hindered in their brief by language and cultural barriers, part of which Ned is supposed to address based on her half Vietnamese ethnicity. Frustration with their lack of progress pushes some to manipulate circumstances in the hope that the means will justify the end, despite the threat of ICAC.

Newton’s exploration of trauma is as compelling as the police investigation. Though her physical wounds are healing, Kelly is struggling with the psychological impact of being shot and Newton’s portrayal of Ned’s distress is raw and affecting. Kelly is hyper-alert, fearful and barraged by flashbacks of both past and recent trauma yet determined to deny her PTDS, until she is forced into group therapy after a humiliating incident.

Though this novel can be read as a stand-alone, I regret I didn’t have the opportunity to read The Old School before the release of Beams Falling. I found Beams Falling to be powerful, gripping and authentic crime fiction offering complex plot and characters. I really hope we won’t have to wait another four years for the next installment.

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Review: Safe Harbour by Helene Young


Title: Safe Harbour

Author: Helene Young

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin Au March 2014

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Status: Read from March 21 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

From the first pages of her fifth novel, Safe Harbour, award-winning Australian author Helene Young draws the reader into an exciting tale of action, intrigue and romance.

When Darcy Fletcher and Noah Moreton are called upon to rescue a man from his stricken yacht in wild seas, they are not prepared for the tsunami of danger that swamps Banksia Cove in his wake. The stranger’s presence exposes long held secrets and lies, sparking betrayal and violence that threatens to destroy them, and everyone, they love.

Fast paced and gripping, the suspense plot of Safe Harbour delves into family secrets, financial conspiracy and organised crime. The stranger, eventually identified as accountant Conor Stein, proves to be an unexpected link between Darcy’s estranged father, ex-football star turned club manager, Stirling, and the Russian mafia. With evidence of their joint criminal practices, Conor is a target and in helping him, Darcy too is hunted by the ruthless men sent to quiet him at any cost.

Having saved Conor’s life, Darcy feels some responsibility towards him, especially as in the immediate aftermath of the accident he is suffering from amnesia. Darcy’s motivation for helping Conor is altruistic, though tangled with residual guilt involving a tragic event in her past, but quickly becomes personal when her friends are targeted and her father’s involvement in the situation is revealed. The author has created a capable and likeable protagonist in Darcy, whose vulnerabilities – Grant’s death, her father’s abandonment, her mother’s illness and the loss of her restaurant – are also a source of strength.

Darcy also draws strength from Noah, Banksia Cove’s community police officer and childhood friend. Young develops a romance between the two that has been simmering for a decade or more, but is complicated by both the secrets of the past and the present.

Safe Harbour is a first-rate, absorbing romantic suspense novel, balancing a dramatic story with strong characters and an engaging romance. I expect that Helene will adding another ARRA trophy to her case in 2015, I know I will be voting for Safe Harbour to win.

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Review: Making Soapies in Kabul by Trudi-Ann Tierney

Title: Making Soapies in Kabul : Hot days, crazy nights and dangerous liaisons in a war zone

Author: Trudi-Ann Tierney

Published: Allen & Unwin March 2014

Status: Read from March 12 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Intrigued by her friend’s appointment as the head of production for Afghanistan’s largest and most successful television broadcaster, Sydney based producer and actress Trudi-Ann Tierney promised to join him if the opportunity ever arose. Barely six months later, in early 2009, Trudi-Ann found herself navigating the heavily armed guards at the airport and IDE strewn roads to Kabul for a four week stint managing ‘The Den’, a bar catering to ‘Knuckle Draggers’ (western private security contractors) in the hope that once in-country she could pick up some work with the Moby Media Group.

Making Soapies in Kabul is Trudi-Ann Tierney’s fascinating account of her three and a half years in Afghanistan producing local television. Working long hours with few resources, inexperienced staff and hampered by language and cultural barriers she nevertheless produced the country’s most popular television soapies, Salam and Secrets of This House as well as a police drama, Eagle Four.

Established in 2003 after the fall of the Taliban, Moby Media’s programming was a mix of self-devised television funded by advertising and ‘projects’ financed by interested parties. Nominated the head of drama Trudi-Ann was also required to facilitate PSYOPS, ‘Psychological Operations’ which targeted Afghani viewers with messages designed to influence behaviour and attitudes, ranging from promoting trust in police to informing on the Taliban.

Filming largely on location, Trudi-Ann shares the trials of producing television as a foreigner in an Islamic war-zone, smuggling actresses in from Pakistan, negotiating with the military and local law enforcement, and bribing the cast to last the day of filming. Often twice the age of her young staff, Trudi-Ann’s goal is to teach them all she knows so that they can carry on when the time comes for her to leave.

Despite being trailed by personal security guards 24/7 and the backdrop of military activity, gunfire and explosions Trudi-Ann rarely thinks of the risks she takes by living in a war-zone aside from devising a hiding place and escape strategy from the various compounds in which she lives. Yet the intensity of the setting fosters a sense of recklessness that expresses itself in drug-taking, excessive drinking and promiscuity.

Written in a conversational tone with honesty, humour and heart, Making Soapies in Kabul is a compelling read offering personal insight into Afghanistan and its people, the thriving ex-pat community and Trudi-Ann’s experiences producing television drama in the midst of real conflict.

Making Soapies in Kabul is available to purchase from

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Review: Hades by Candice Fox

Title: Hades

Author: Candice Fox

Published: Random House Australia January 2014

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Status: Read from December 18 to 20, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy TheReadingRoom}

My Thoughts:

There is more than just the city’s refuse buried in Hades Archer junkyard and when a stranger appears at his door muttering about an accident, carrying two small bundles, he considers the land around his yard, trying to determine the best place to lay the tiny bodies to rest. Until he notices the clenched toes of a pearly white foot.
Twenty years later, Frank Bennett joins the homicide team at Bondi and is partnered with the enigmatic Eden Archer. Their first case, following up an druggie’s outlandish story, uncovers a serial murderer’s killing fields on the floor of Sydney Harbour but it is Eden and her brother, fellow detective Eric, that piques Frank’s curiousity.

Hades is a dark, gritty and challenging debut novel from Candice Fox that I laid down only under protest. Broadly crime fiction, but also combining elements of a police procedural and psychological thriller, it delves into the seething mind of a serial killer and the lives of the detectives, Frank and Eden, who are pursuing him. The plot is reasonably linear as the investigation unfolds, but also explores the nuances of right and wrong, of justice and vengeance. There is explicit violence and language, thought not gratuitous, but it is the tension that causes chills to run down your spine.

The narrative is divided between a third person perspective that reveals the past of Eden and Eric Archer and a first person point of view from Frank Bennett. The characters, much like the plot, are dark and twisted. Eden and Eric share a shocking secret, a childhood marred by an unspeakable act of violence that changed them irrevocably. The siblings are intriguing, with dark secrets that are slowly revealed as the novel unfolds. Frank is also flawed though in ways more ordinary than his new partner and while I didn’t find him particularly likeable, I did find him interesting.

The pace is compelling, the writing tight and concise and the tension high from the novel’s first pages. It builds to a stunning climax that left me breathless and eager for more.

Hades is is a gripping and exciting read journeying into a atmospheric underworld of Sydney. It may be the first book I have reviewed for 2014, but it may also prove to be my favourite for the year.

I got to chat with Candice in a Reading Room Hangout, watch it below.

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