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.

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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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Review: Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting

Title: Walking on Trampolines

Author: Frances Whiting

Published: Pan Macmillan Au October 2013

Status: Read from October 11 to 13, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Tallulah de Longland and Annabelle Andrews were the best of friends from the day they met at St Rita’s in Grade Seven. For the next six years they were inseparable, finding in each other an ally against Sister Scholastica, The Piranha Sisters and the eccentricities of their respective families. And then on the day of their high school graduation, Lulu discovers Annabelle in the arms of Joshua Keaton, and her future lays in tatters.

In part a coming of age tale, Walking on Trampolines is a delightfully engaging story about the joys and sorrows of friendship, first love and family.

Most of us, at least briefly, have had a best friend like Annabelle or at least recognise the dynamic. Lulu and Annabelle’s relationship is a reminder of the all consuming nature of teenage friendship, and the devastation of the inevitable betrayal that destroyed it. Since I spent hours on the trampoline with my childhood best friend, the title, with the tagline ‘It’s not how far you fall but how high you bounce.’, resonates with me particularly, conjuring memories of promises made on a mat of blue elastic weave, to be ‘best friends forever’.

Oh and first love, the thrill, the excitement and passion and then the crushing pain when dreams of forever collapse. For Lulu the simultaneous loss of her boyfriend and her best friend paralyses her so that while Annabelle lives the life with Joshua that she had imagined, she is stuck, keeping the books for her father’s plumbing business, until her father forces her to take a risk.

Family is an important theme in Walking On Trampolines but it is the complex relationship between mothers and daughters that Whiting captures particularly well. Lulu’s mother names her dresses, ‘Grace’ is “…buttercup yellow with a Peter Pan collar and a row of pearl buttons down the front to the waist…” but when the shapeless ‘Doris’ makes an appearance, Lulu knows to tread lightly. Annabelle’s artistic mother doesn’t make lunches, or do birthday cakes and abandons her husband and daughter for a fling with her brother in law.

Further populated by a charmingly flawed cast of characters from Annabelle’s eccentric father, Frank to Lulu’s crass, yet wise mentor, Duncan, and the rabidly Catholic Stella, Walking on Trampolines offers heart, humor and drama as Lulu learns that she too is capable of the extraordinary.

Funny, tender and bitter sweet, Walking in Trampolines is a wonderful debut fiction novel from Australian columnist, Frances Whiting. I adored this story and I am looking forward to her next already.

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Review & Giveaway: Ill-Gotten Gains by Ilsa Evans

Title: Ill-Gotten Gains {A Nell Forest Mystery #2}

Author: Ilsa Evans

Published: Momentum September 2013

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Status: Read on September 16, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I so enjoyed the first Nell Forest Mystery, Nefarious Doings that I was delighted to be able to move on so quickly to the second, Ill-Gotten Gains.

Picking up just a few months after the end of Nefarious Doings, the town of Majic is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary when Nell’s youngest daughter, Quinn, uncovers a surprising anomaly at the crypt of the town founder. Nell dutifully shares the information with the local Historical Society unaware that the discovery will rewrite the history of the town and make her the target of a killer desperate to keep the past a secret.

I think the plot is stronger in Ill-Gotten Gains (than in Nefarious Doings), the mystery is less predictable and, just when you think you might have figured it all out, it twists nicely. Evan’s teases out the secret, which stretches back into the town’s history, without compromising the drama of present. The tension is also more immediate with Nell targeted by the killer, leading to a spectacular confrontation at the height of the town’s celebrations.

As with the first book, I adored the characters, I’d love to share a coffee with Nell (even though I can’t stand the stuff). I love the little asides shared from her column, ‘Middle Age Spread’, and her sense of humour makes me laugh. Nell’s familial relationships are so realistically drawn, I can empathise with the chaos her daughters introduce into her life and the love, and concern, she feels for all of them.
The supporting characters within the community of Majic are part of the appeal of the series, often quirky, sometimes completely insane, they add colour to the story. I’ve mentioned it previously but look out for Grace June Rae, a character I won naming rights to.
Oh and the dashing Detective Sergeant Ashley Armistead returns to charm Nell in Ill-Gotten Gains, even while he despairs of her habit of finding dead bodies and attracting trouble.

Ill-Gotten Gains is a delightful blend of mystery, humour and domestic drama with a touch of romance. I adore this new cosy mystery series – Ilsa, you can expect I’ll be harassing you on Words With Friends until the next installment is in my hands!

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Review: The Turning by Tim Winton

Title: The Turning

Author: Tim Winton

Published: Penguin Australia September 2013

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Status: Read from September 21 to 22, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In a series of compelling short stories variously connected by time, place and character, Tim Winton’s The Turning explores the trajectory of ordinary lives irrevocably altered by disappointment, tragedy, struggle and the yearning for something different…something more.

Set in Western Australia, the stories feature residents with ties to the fictional coastal town of Angelus. Though Winton shifts back and forth during the lifetime of of one man, Vic, who appears in nine of the seventeen stories, the stories begin in the 1970′s.

The stories in The Turning focus on moments of change for the characters, sometimes as a result of a significant event or deliberate decision but more often simply as a result of circumstance, a chance meeting, or a seemingly trivial act. There is a strong thread of fatalism through the stories, the idea that a persons journey is predestined. Winston’s characters are largely resigned to their past and their future, any hope for escape, for change, glimmering just out of reach.

I found Winton’s child and teenage characters the most affecting, empathising with their confusion at changes thrust upon them, pitying the erosion of their innocence and dreams. The adult male characters are generally grimly working class, from fishermen to abattoir workers. The women are often mothers, though not always housewives. The Turning is often bleak and depressing as Winton exposes domestic violence, addiction and corruption.

Though nominally a collection of short stories, I feel The Turning is essentially an unusually structured novel and as such it is best to consider the individual stories as chapters, though they are capable of standing on their own. The connections are sometimes subtle but they are there for the discerning reader to discover, ensuring continuity and flow. The writing is effortless, eloquent and emotive, capturing the essence of place and people without unnecessary flourish.

Though first published in 2005, The Turning has been republished in e-format to coincide with this month’s (September 2013) movie adaption release in Australian cinema’s starring Rose Byrne, Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Miranda Otto and Hugo Weaving among others. The Turning is moving and compelling reading and I will be interested to see how it translates to the big screen.

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Review: Sunset Ridge by Nicole Alexander

Title: Sunset Ridge

Author: Nicole Alexander

Published: Random House Au September 2013

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Status: Read from September 09 to 11, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Moving between South East Queensland and the First World War battlefields of France, Sunset Ridge is an epic tale of family, love and war. Nominated as one of ’50 Book’s You Can’t Put Down’ by Australia’s nationwide Get Reading program for 2013, it is a compelling novel, well deserving of the recognition.

At the urging of her mother, Jude, art historian Madeleine Harrow-Boyne has agreed to consider the feasibility of a retrospective art exhibition to feature her grandfather’s landscapes, but to tempt a gallery to sponsor the project Madeleine needs to learn more about David Harrow, who died before she was born. Hoping to discover something of interest, Madeleine returns to the family property, Sunset Ridge, in South East Queensland, currently managed by her brother, where her grandfather was born and raised. It is there that Madeleine stumbles upon the remarkable legacy David Harrow left behind, one that extends beyond his art, and the boundary of Sunset Ridge.

I was fortunate to meet Nicole Alexander at an author event recently and learnt that Sunset Creek was inspired by her own grandfather’s life. Alexander is a fourth generation grazier in north west NSW where her fami

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ly farm cattle, sheep and crops. Sunset Creek is, at least in part, modeled on her family property and the author has drawn on her family’s stories to lend authenticity to her setting and characters.

David Harrow is the youngest of three brothers, heirs to Sunset Ridge. It is 1916 and Thaddeus and Luther are growing restless under the thumb of their tyrannical father. When G.W. pushes his sons too far they escape, enlist in the army and are sent to France to fight in the Great War.

For details of life at the Front, Alexander had access to wartime correspondence and news clippings kept by her family, supplemented by meticulous research. Alexander’s descriptions of life in the trenches in Verdun and Somme are harrowing and vivid. She beautifully captures the experiences of David and his comrades, the poignant mix of heroic spirit and abject terror found on the battlefields, tales of bravery, sacrifice and tragedy.

In France, Alexander forges the link between David and the Chessy family. Madame Marie has reluctantly seen her twin sons, Antoine and Francois, accompanied by their pet dog, Roland, off to fight, having already lost her husband to the war. Her small farm is often used by allied forces to provide respite to its soldiers and it is here, Madeleine will eventually learn, part of David’s legacy rests.

A stunning Australian saga told by a consummate storyteller, Sunset Ridge is an absorbing read and one I won’t hesitate to recommended.

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Review: The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

Title: The Cry

Author: Helen Fitzgerald

Published: Faber and Faber September 2013

Status: Read from September 04 to 05, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Netgalley/the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald is a dark, disturbing tale of guilt, innocence, truth and lies which held me in thrall from start to finish.

This thrilling psychological drama delves into every parent’s worst nightmare, nine week old Jonah is gone and nothing his mother, Joanne, can do will bring him back to her. She wonders is she is being punished for her affair with Noah’s father, Alistair, who was still married when she began seeing him, or for her impatience and anger with Noah’s endless crying on the plane journey from London to Australia, but no matter the ‘why’, Joanna blames herself.

I am loathe to give away any hint of the gripping twists and turns that awaits the reader in this engrossing novel. The plot is skillfully crafted to both reveal and conceal the truth and lies that surround baby Noah’s fate. Nothing is ever quite as it seems and I couldn’t help but race through the pages until The Cry reached its stunning conclusion.

The characters are complex, real but deeply flawed in the way we all are. How you feel about these people, Joanna, Alistair and Alexandra changes facades begin to crack under the strain of uncertainty and secrets revealed.

Heartbreaking, shocking and utterly gripping The Cry has been added to my list of favourite novels for 2013.

 

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Review: If You Could See What I See by Cathy Lamb

Title: If You Could See What I See

Author: Cathy Lamb

Published: Kensington Books July 2013

Status: Read from July 25 to 26, 2013 — I own a copy [Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

This isn’t the first novel I have read by Cathy Lamb, in 2011 I borrowed Henry’s Sisters from the library and though I never wrote a full review I gave the book five stars and wrote “I would give it more if I could.” When I finished If You Could See What I See, the first thing I did was make a note that read “I laughed, I cried, I loved!” and the second thing I did was to order the author’s entire back list.

Articulating why I so adored this novel is difficult because I can’t isolate one particular element that I can identify as extraordinary. There is just something about the way in which Lamb writes that works for me.

In simplistic terms, the story of If You Could See What I See begins when Meggie O’Rourke, still struggling with the fall out from her disastrous marriage, returns home to Oregon to rescue her beloved grandmother’s failing lingerie company from financial ruin. Buffeted by her grandmother’s indomitable will and her sisters rivalry, Meggie has to find a way to secure both herself, and Lace, Satin and Baubles, a future.

But If You Could See What I See offers so much more than this neat summary reveals. The shocking truth of Meggie’s marriage, the complex dynamics of her family and their relationships, the foundation on which the company was built and the lives of the people who work for it, all create a story that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Similarly, the characters will shock and surprise you, from Brianna O’Rourke’s frank discussions about sexual satisfaction on national TV to Hayden’s revelation that he is a girl stuck in a boy’s body.

There is grief, pain and tragedy, deeply felt and sensitively explored, but all tempered by heart, humour and even romance. A story about love, family and courage, I laughed, I cried, I loved!

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