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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Review: If I Tell You…I’ll Have to Kill You Edited by Michael Robotham

Title: If I Tell You…I’ll Have to Kill You: Australia’s Leading Crime Writers Reveal Their Secrets

Author: Edited by Michael Robotham

Published: Allen & Unwin July 2013

Status: Read from July 26 to 27, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Crime fiction is one of my favourite genres and I am not too choosy about the type – police procedurals, cozies, detective fiction, psychological thrillers – as long as there is a crime involved, I am willing to pick it up. My bookshelves were once dominated by authors such as Ed McBain, Jonathon Kellerman, Patricia Cornwall, Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton but slowly they are being edged out by the homegrown talent it has taken me a shamefully long time to discover.

If I Tell You…I’ll Have To Kill You is a fabulous collection of essays from some of Australia’s best crime writers. I was pleased discover I was unfamiliar with only one of the contributors and thrilled to learn more about some of my favourite authors like Malla Nunn, Adrian Hyland, Katherine Howell, Kerry Greenwood and of course, editor Michael Robotham.

If I Tell You… is undoubtedly a valuable resource for aspiring crime authors, offering a plethora of advice about plotting, character and more, followed by the author’s own list of self imposed ‘Rules’. Shane Maloney’s rules are pretty simple and includes ‘Read some f**ing books’, Lenny Bartulin recommends you ‘Do not drink more than one bottle of red wine per day – Unless you Can’, Angela Savage, more sensibly suggests, ‘Carry something to write on at all times…’ and Gabrielle Lord bluntly advises ‘Make writing your first priority. It comes before everything else.’

Even if you are simply a fan of crime fiction, like me, you will find these author’s stories fascinating. I was surprised to discover Peter Corris has never accepted an advance for any of his 30+ Hardy novels because he dislikes the pressure of deadlines, and I was also amused by Leigh Redhead’s account of her first foray into the seedy world of peepshows and strip clubs.

Each author has also been asked to nominate five Must-Reads which will grow your wishlist exponentially. The book mentioned most often is Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, though surprisingly The Lord of the Rings is also listed more than once.

If I Tell You…I’ll Have To Kill You is a great collection, both informative and entertaining and I think it is a must have for Australian crime fiction fans. In addition, the royalties from the sale of this book are going towards the Australian Crime Writers Association which runs the annual Ned Kelly Awards. Show your support for our talented Aussie crime writers and purchase a copy today.

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Review: Terminated by Rachel Caine

 

Title: Terminated {Revivalist #3}

Author: Rachel Caine

Published: Penguin AU July 2013

Status: Read from July 22 to 23, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I am sad to learn that Terminated concludes Rachel Caine’s Revivalist series. This has a been a fabulous trilogy that overrided my aversion to all things zombie with great characters and an exciting mix of action, conspiracy with the lightest touch of romance. I enjoyed Working Stiff and Two Weeks’ Notice immensely and I hoped that Terminated would provide the conclusion the series deserved.

Picking up where Two Weeks’ Notice left off, Terminated begins as Bryn and her allies flee the compound where Bryn and Riley have been held prisoner and tortured by Patrick’s psychopathic ex wife, Jane. Eluding capture by Jane and her cohorts will not be easy, and what follows includes pitched fire fights, ambushes and explosions where the action is fast paced, the tension high and the body count mounts. Bryn herself is shot point blank in the head, hit by a truck, blown up, shot again (again and again), severely burnt in a brush fire and forced to burrow into her own stomach.

Complicating everything is the secret Bryn and Riley are keeping. During their time in the base they were infected with a new mutation of the Returne. This new strain is self replicating and requires feeding with protein – raw steak, human flesh – the nanites don’t discriminate and now Bryn has to worry about turning on her people.

The end game for Bryn and her allies, Joe, Patrick, Manny, Pansy, Annalie and Liam, is finding the cure for Returne and thwarting the plans of those who are determined to build a new world order. It’s a hell of a wild ride to get there and the resolution is the perfect payoff.

With the story complete, I have no hesitation in recommending The Revivalist trilogy. The combination of urban fantasy, page turning action and kickass characters is irresistible, don’t even try.

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Review: Traces of Absence by Susan Holoubek

Title: Traces of Absence

Author: Susan Holoubek

Published: Pan Macmillan Au July 2013

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Status: Read from July 21 to 22, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Pan Macmillan}

My Thoughts:

Traces of Absence is a moving and poignant story of a mother’s search for her lost daughter. Beautifully written, it is an emotionally harrowing tale of grief, loss, guilt and hope.

In 2005, Dee encouraged her nineteen year old daughter, Corrie, to put her university studies on hold and spend some time with their former exchange student, Marco, in Argentina. Corrie had been struggling since the sudden death of her father the year before and Dee thought the break would help Corrie deal with her grief. It is not until she receives a call from Marco, concerned that Corrie has not returned from a scheduled sight seeing trip a week previously, that she begins to regret encouraging her daughter to leave. Anxious, but hopeful Corrie has simply thoughtlessly forgotten to apprise Marco and his family of a change of plans, Dee makes arrangements for the care of her fourteen year old twin sons and flies to Argentina to speak with a representative of the Australian Consul.
Four years later, Dee is preparing for her annual pilgrimage from Australia to Buenos Aires. There has been no word from Corrie since she disappeared and Dee wonders if it is time to accept she may never know what happened to her daughter, but when she comes across a photo at an exhibition with a young woman in the background who reminds her of her daughter, hope flares and Dee is willing to give this last search her all.

I had expectations, given South America’s reputation for violence, corruption and criminality, of the way in which the plot of Traces of Absence would unfold and conclude, but you know what they say about assumptions. It is never certain if Dee, and therefore the reader, will discover Corrie’s fate and that well paced, intriguing mystery, as much as my identification with Dee, kept me turning the pages.

My sympathies were immediately aligned with Dee in Traces of Absence, I can only imagine her devastation upon finding out her daughter had vanished in South America, and the years of heartbreak that follow with no word. Though it is Corrie that is missing and Dee’s search for her provides the momentum for this novel, the focus is more on Dee’s emotional journey as she reflects on her relationship with her daughter before her disappearance and considers her perceived failings as a mother. As the primary wage earner in the family with a busy job, her relationship with her sensitive daughter, who often claimed to feel ignored and unloved by her mother, was difficult and the strain worsened after Dee’s husband died of a heart attack while Corrie was the only one at home with him. With her daughter gone, Dee has no way to resolve their past, to explain, or ask for forgiveness or forge a closer connection with Corrie. As a mother to a seventeen year old girl who is on the verge of beginning her own life, Dee’s fears and failings resonated with me (and make me thankful my daughter has no desire to travel overseas).

I found Traces of Absence to be a superb read, both for its compelling mystery and emotional intensity and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this thought provoking and intriguing novel.

 

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