Review: Letters To My Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe


Title: Letters to My Daughter’s Killer

Author: Cath Staincliffe

Published: C&R Crime: Allen & Unwin July 2014

Status: Read from July 05 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“I hate you. My first letter, and that is all I want to say. I hate you. But those three words can barely convey the depth, the breadth, the soaring height of this hatred.”

Letters To My Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe is a story of grief, anger and heartbreak, beginning with the brutal murder of a young wife and mother and exploring the consequences for those that loved her.

It unfolds in a series of letters written by Ruth Sutton to the man who bludgeoned her precious daughter, Lizzie, to death, four years earlier. In a desperate bid to recover some equilibrium, Ruth hopes that by writing to the killer, and asking him for answers to the questions that haunt her, she can purge herself of the fury that threatens to destroy her soul.

As Ruth relives the horror that began with a phone call, Staincliffe portrays the raw reactions of a grieving mother to her daughter’s violent murder with skill and compassion, exposing the shock and bewilderment which slowly gives way to anger and heartache as Ruth is forced to deal with the strain of the aftermath, including caring for her young grand daughter, and the police investigation, the killer’s capture, and the trial that follows.

Intense, shocking and poignant, Letters to My Daughter’s Killer is an emotionally taxing read.


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Review: Reservoir Dad by Clint Greagen


Title: Reservoir Dad

Author: Clint Greagen

Published: Bantam: Random House July 2014

Status: Read from July 07 to 09, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 2008, Clint Greagen resigned from his job as a youth worker to care for his first born child. Nine years later Clint is a stay at home dad of four young boys, Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki, and the author of Reservoir Dad, about his adventures in full-time parenting, first chronicled on his popular blog of the same name.

Written with humour, honesty and love, Reservoir Dad shares the exhausting challenges and unadulterated joys of raising four sons, from the seemingly endless sleepless nights, and a bathroom floor covered in wee, to the smell of a newborn head and wrestling matches in the lounge room. What I admire most is Greagen’s obvious dedication to his sons, and his relationship with his wife, the ever-patient Reservoir Mum (aka Tania), with whom he still shares a weekly date night, on a mattress in front of the TV.

As a stay at home mother, also to four children (three of whom were born in three years), I could certainly relate to Greagen’s experiences of parenting. I found myself giggling in recognition of the moments of crazy and wincing in well remembered sympathy at toddler tantrums and the lego induced injuries, which happens less often now that my youngest son is 8.

Divided into six parts with short chapters variously named with titles like ‘Hang Like A Man’; ‘Syncing Hormonally’; ‘The Grand Old Duke of…Puke?’ and ‘A Jim Carrey-Inspired Sex Education’ Reservoir Dad is a quick, easy read.

Funny, moving and insightful, Reservoir Dad would be the perfect gift for new parents, both as a warning of what is to come, and an assurance they are not alone.

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Want more? Visit This Charming Mum for her review


Review: What Came Before by Anna George


Title: What Came Before

Author: Anna George

Published: Viking: Penguin Australia June 2014

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Status: Read from June 26 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

“My name is David James Forrester. I’m a solicitor. Tonight, at 6.10, I killed my wife.
This is my statement.”

In her remarkable debut novel, Anna George begins with the end in order to explore what came before. As David Forrester sits slumped in his car, and Elle Nolan floats over her broken body, George takes us back to the beginning of their relationship, witness first to the heady rush of attraction and then the slow, painful corruption of love.

With keen insight and deft characterisation, George exposes the dynamic of domestic violence from the perspective of both abuser and victim.

David frames love in terms of power and control. His rare concessions are manipulative, his few apologies calculated, his affection conditional.

“You cannot kill your wife because you have lost control of her.”

Elle frames love in terms of surrender, gradually conceding her wants and needs to David, desperate to recapture the limerence of their initial connection.

“If only she had held onto herself”

But of all the truths in narrative it is this that resonates the strongest with me…

“Looking back she wonders at his mastery. He’d said so little yet she had heard so much.

What Came Before is a finely crafted, provocative novel told with a powerful intensity.

“It’s only once the damage has been done that anyone bothers about what came before.”

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Review: Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf


Title: Little Mercies

Author: Heather Gudenkauf

Published: Harlequin MIRA June 2014

Status: Read from June 25 to 27, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Focused solely on the faces of the young, frightened children creeping from their home into the waiting arms of a police officer, the sweat dripping into her eyes from the fierce summer sun, social worker Ellen Moore ignores the shouting from the street behind her. Until she hears the sound of shattering glass and turns to see a stranger emerging from the minivan parked at the curb, cradling Ellen’s eleven month old daughter in her arms.

A harrowing tale highlighting the vulnerability of children and the heartbreaking consequences they are at risk of for the choices and mistakes parents make, Little Mercies is a gripping story that tugs violently at the heart strings.

Ellen Moore is a loving, wife and mother, doing her best to balance her family’s needs with her commitment to her career as a social worker, who makes a horrible mistake, one we would prefer not to acknowledge we are capable of, but which Gudenkauf demonstrates is all too possible. As her daughter’s life hangs in the balance we are witness to the self recriminations, the crushing guilt and distress which tortures Ellen as she faces the terrifying consequences for her daughter, her family and her self.

Entwined with Ellen’s first person narrative, is a second, written in the third person, involving a vulnerable ten year old girl named Jenny Briard. Desperate to avoid the foster care system, when Jenny’s alcoholic father is arrested she evades the police and heads for the only possible sanctuary she can think of – her grandmother’s home in Cedar City. It is here she crosses paths with Ellen’s mother, Maudene, and Gudenkauf slowly reveals the shocking tragedy that links Jenny and Ellen amidst the chaos of crisis.

Well written, Little Mercies has a driving emotional intensity that urges the reader to keep turning the pages. The plot is well thought out, if necessarily a little contrived in parts. I thought the characters to be well developed and the issues surrounding events to be portrayed in a believable manner.

A poignant reminder of the need to practice compassion, and the vulnerability of innocent children, Little Mercies is a compelling, emotionally affecting story. Heather Gudenkauf continues to impress.


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Review: Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

Title: Lost & Found

Author: Brooke Davis

Published: Hachette June 2014

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Status: Read from June 24 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Three months after her dad became A Dead Thing, Millie Bird’s mother takes her to a department store and asks her to wait for her. Clutching her backpack stuffed with frozen juice boxes, texta’s, tea light candles, a Just In Case glass jar and her Book of Dead Things, Millie waits, huddled under a rack of Ginormous Women’s Underwear, for her mother’s gold shoes to come click clacking back.
Karl the Touch Typist, an 87 year old escapee from a nursing home still mourning the loss of his beloved wife, Evie, is looking for one last grand adventure and he finds it when a little girl, who has been abandoned by her mother, takes his hand.
Agatha Pantha has not left her home in seven years. She spends her days staring at her aging self in the mirror, listening to the static of the TV, and shouting insults at the people and things she can see from her living room window. Until the day a little girl with the red gumboots to match her curly red hair, knocks on her door.
These three unusual characters, lost souls who have somehow found each other, embark on a wild cross country quest to reunite Millie with her mother.

A quirky tale of loss, grief and love, Lost and Found is a touching debut from Brooke Davis. It confronts the taboo’s of death and aging with sharp observations and an unique sense of humour incorporating a madcap road trip, a one legged mannequin and stolen keyboard letters.

The characters eccentricities are delightful. Seven year old Millie is endearing in all her precocious innocence, struggling to understand where people go when they leave. Karl, whose fingers never tire of typing love letters to his deceased wife, searching for his lost youth and vitality, and Agatha, whose shouty abrasiveness prevents her from feeling lonely and unloved.

Charming and whimsical, poignant and wise, Lost & Found is a bittersweet reminder that though all things die, life is to be lived.

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Review: Red Sand Sunrise by Fiona McArthur


Title: Red Sand Sunrise

Author: Fiona McArthur

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin June 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from June 23 to 24, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Red Sand Sunrise is an engaging novel combining drama and romance in an outback setting written by accomplished author Fiona McArthur.

On the same day that her husband admits his affair with a neighbour and asks for a divorce, Dr Callie Wilson receives the news that her beloved father has passed away. Home in Red Sand, a remote township in far west Queensland, for the funeral, Callie is blindsided by yet more bad news and, with no pressing reason to return to Sydney, resolves to stay indefinitely. Fortunately she is offered the opportunity to oversee the establishment of the area’s first medical clinic, and with it the chance to get to know her half sister, Eve.
Eve Wilson, a Brisbane midwife, isn’t sure of the reception she will receive from her father’s widow and the half sister she has never met, but she feels certain that attending his funeral is the right thing to do. Their warm welcome is a surprise, as is Callie’s invitation to remain in Red Sand to staff the new clinic, and her attraction to local station owner, Lex McKay.
Dr Sienna Wilson, an ambitious Melbourne obstetrician, doesn’t understand her sister’s decision to attend their estranged father’s funeral, nor why Eve would choose to remain in the middle of nowhere. She is horrified when her hospital, encouraged by a substantial donation from the the Red Sand clinic’s benefactor, insists she spends three months in the town to investigate the cause of a series of premature births and stillbirths in the region.

The story of Red Sand Sunrise unfolds as these three women, Callie, Eve and Sienna, face various personal and professional challenges, ranging from Callie’s fear of providing maternity care after her own tragic loss, to Eve’s search to find somewhere she ‘fits’, and to Sienna’s realisation she doesn’t have all the answers. McArthur ably crafts distinct individual personalities for the sisters and I found them each to be appealing characters.

There is quite a lot of emotional drama in Red Sand Sunrise, Callie especially is forced to cope with several distressing events in a relatively short period of time. I was surprised to find myself tearing up (just a little) during two pivotal scenes, but also wondered if perhaps it was a little too much.
There are also some moments of high tension which involve a few of the medical emergencies Callie, Eve and Sienna have to manage. McArthur, who has years of experience as a rural midwife, draws on her own experience and expertise to illustrate the challenges of accessing and providing medical assistance, and in particular antenatal care, in remote regions of Australia.

I enjoyed the romantic elements in the novel, Callie reconnects with her teenage sweetheart, Eve is smitten by Lex McKay and Sienna sets her sights on local police officer, Sergeant McCabe. Somewhat surprisingly, the developing relationships don’t overwhelm the story, which I appreciated.

Red Sand Sunrise is an engaging story of three sisters challenged by family, grief, romance and tragedy, set within the remote landscape of the Australian outback. I would happily recommend this heartfelt novel to fans of contemporary rural or medical romance.

Learn more about Fiona McArthur  and what she is reading in her guest post by clicking here

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Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott


Title: The Fever

Author: Megan Abbott

Published: Little Brown & Co June 2014

Status: Read from June 16 to 17, 2014 – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Megan Abbott has created an unsettling thriller with The Fever.

Set in an ordinary small town idyll, The Fever begins when Deenie witnesses her best friend, Lise, suffering a frightening convulsion in class. Less than twenty four hours later, Lise is in a coma and, with the health authorities unable to determine a cause, when a second, and then a third girl, fall ill the community begins to panic. As the unidentified contagion spreads, rumours swell, blame is apportioned, and still there are no answers…

While the community, growing ever more hysterical, looks for something, or someone, to blame, it slowly becomes apparent that the cause of the affliction is infinitely more simple, and complex, than a toxic lake or contaminated vaccine.

Best friends, Deenie, Lise and Gabby are the teenage girls at the center of The Fever. When the illness strikes the three are in the throes of renegotiating their friendship which has become a tangle of love, possessiveness, loyalty and envy as they grapple with the complications of adolescence.

Of the three girls, it is only Deenie who has a narrative voice, which has a hazy, almost dream like quality, playing perfectly into the uncertainties of the plot. Obsessed with her own fears and concerns, Deenie is not the reliable narrator she first presents as.

There is not a lot of overt action in The Fever, much of the truth of this story lies just under the surface of what is happening. I thought the pacing was superb, nurturing an increasing sense of unease as the story unfolds.

The ‘fever’, we eventually learn, is a symptom – of the confusion and angst of female adolescence, of damaged families, and cultural fears – masterfully explored by Megan Abbott. A darkly compelling novel, The Fever is an intriguing mystery and mesmerising psychological study.

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Review: Skinjob By Bruce McCabe


Title: Skinjob

Author: Bruce McCabe

Published: Bantam Press June 2014

Status: Read from June 15 to 16, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Skinjob is an entertaining techno-action thriller written by Australian author Bruce McCabe. Initially a self published work, Skinjob found its way into the hands of one of London’s most prestigious literary agents and has since been picked up by Bantam Press (Random House).

In Skinjob, Daniel Madsen, one of only a handful of FBI agents trained to use hand held lie detector units, is tasked to assist in the investigation of the bombing of a ‘Dollhouse’, a brothel offering the services of life like automatons, known as ‘skinjobs’ in San Francisco. With twelve dead, including two police officers, and fears of another attack, Madsen is under pressure to identify whoever is responsible and make an arrest. The obvious suspects are among the country’s fastest growing church, the New Christian Church of America, who have been vocal in their public damnation of skinjobs and their creator, DreamCon, but as Madsen digs deep into the case, with the help of SFPD video surveillance operative, Shahida Sanayei (Shari), he uncovers a twisted collision of exploitation, corporate greed and corruption.

Madsen, an agent with a strong belief in justice and a dry sense of humour, is an appealing protagonist. His job as a ‘plotter’ isn’t popular with his colleagues and his investigation is hampered by their mistrust. Madsen however is relentless in his pursuit of truth and when alerted to an anomaly in the case by Shari, he is determined to follow it up, no matter the consequences.

Short chapters, cinematic writing and a tight plot create a fast paced story. The action takes place over six days and includes exciting twists and turns as the investigation plays out.

Skinjob is not just a mindless action thriller though, McCabe touches on themes such as privacy and integrity by making the technology utilised by Madsen and the police a feature of the investigation. The technology is not too far ahead of our own – super surveillance provided by a huge network of public and private cameras, intelligent facial/body recognition software and hand held polygraph machines.
McCabe also explores issues surrounding the sex industry and corporate religion and the ways in which both exploit their clients vulnerabilities for financial gain, and use their huge profits to manipulate political decisions.

I enjoyed Skinjob, finding it to be an engaging thriller exploring a provocative near future reality. With this impressive debut, I look forward to McCabe’s next novel.

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Review: The Blue Mile by Kim Kelly

Title: The Blue Mile

Author: Kim Kelly

Published: Pan Macmillan May 2014

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Status: Read from May 29 to June 01, 2014 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The expanse of the glittering Sydney Harbour, known as The Blue Mile, is not all that separates Eoghan (Yo) O’Keenan and Olivia Greene. An unskilled Irish labourer escaping a poverty stricken, abusive home with his young sister in tow and the daughter of a Viscount and talented costumière making her name in Sydney society, seem an unlikely couple but a chance encounter in the Royal Botanical Gardens forges an unconventional and turbulent romance. Set against a period of great celebration and Depression, Kim Kelly’s The Blue Mile is an engaging story of life and love.

Beginning in late 1929, the story of The Blue Mile unfolds through the alternate first person perspectives of Eoghan and Olivia.

Though The Blue Mile is definitely a love story, it is very low key. Olivia and Eoghan’s attraction to each other is immediate and mutual, but the couple spend hardly any time alone together over the course of the novel. With the lack of emotional intimacy between the pair I found didn’t really feel their connection even though I believed in the issues that divided them, including their differences in class, wealth and faith.

What I really loved about this story was the historical background to the novel, which is well integrated into the story. Set during the latter construction period of the Sydney Harbour Bridge I was fascinated by Yo’s experience as a rivet catcher. The building of the ‘Coathanger’ was an extraordinary feat, taking 1,400 men, six million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel to build the the world’s largest steel arch bridge over a period of eight years (1924-1932).
The period was also a time of social unrest in New South Wales due to high levels of unemployment as a result of Britain calling in war loans, and political scandal, when the Premier, Jack Lang, was dismissed from government by the governor-general for his ‘socialist’ leanings. The economic and political fluctuations of the state have an impact on both Olivia and Yo, though in different ways.

Just days before I read this novel I actually had dinner at The Rag and and Famish, a North Sydney pub mentioned several times in the story, with some fellow book bloggers, and that connection gave me a little thrill each time. Though I liked the protagonists of The Blue Mile, it was the period detail and the physical setting that appealed to me the most.


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Review: The Caller by Juliet Marillier


Title: The Caller {Shadowfell #3}

Author: Juliet Marillier

Published: Pan Macmillan Au June 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from June 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The Caller is the rewarding conclusion to Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell trilogy, in which Neryn and her allies finally confront King Keldec in a battle to reclaim Alban from his despotic rule.

Picking up where Raven Flight left off, Neryn is continuing her quest to complete her training with the Guardians before the planned Midsummer rebellion. As winter approaches Neryn joins the the Guardian of the Air, but the White Lady is fading and when her haven is destroyed, Neryn is forced to move on. Though Neryn still needs to seek the wisdom of the Master of Shadows, time is running out and when she learns of the horrifying new threat to the rebellion, Neryn has no choice but to enter Keldec’s court.

One of the strengths of this series has been Marillier’s characterisation of the principles, Neryn and Flint and their struggle to reconcile their own conscience and behaviour with their need to serve the greater good. Never is the conflict more clear than when Neryn is forced to witness the King and Queen’s cruelty in Keldec’s stronghold, and remain silent. Despite the personal cost, Neryn has be hold strong, trust in herself and her allies, in order to defeat the King and his dark forces.
Flint is near his breaking point in The Caller, struggling with the deeds he has had to commit as an Enforcer in order to provide the rebellion with what they need. Marillier explores his conflict with authenticity and compassion.

Though there is never any doubt that Neryn and her allies will prevail, the final confrontation is as stirring as to be expected with impassioned speeches by Flint, Tali and Neryn, and a violent conflict that leaves several of the characters the reader has come to know and love dead on the battlefield. It is a rousing conclusion though if I have any criticism… ***minor spoiler*** it is the way in which Kedrec and his cronies escape any immediate punishment for their crimes – surely the Queen could have been snatched bald or something!

Overall, the Shadowfell Trilogy is an enjoyable young adult series and The Caller provides a fine conclusion to Juliet Marillier’s tale of fantasy and adventure.

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