Review: I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

 

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

Author: Gina Sheridan

Published: Adams Media July 2014

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: New Orleans Requiem by Don J. Donaldson

 

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

Author: Don J. Donaldson

Published: Astor+Blue February 2013

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Nest by Inga Simpson

 

Title: Nest

Author: Inga Simpson

Published: Hachette July 2014

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Status: Read from July 26 to 27, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

After a relationship breakdown and the death of her mother, artist Jen Vogel has taken refuge in her childhood hometown. Here she is content to sketch and paint the birds that visit her garden, care for the land that embraces her property and tutor a talented local teen to supplement her income, but unpleasant memories are revived when a young girl goes missing on her way home from school. Nearly four decades earlier, Jen’s best friend Michael, and then her father, disappeared without a trace within days of each other and still there are no answers to what became of them.

Nest is a gentle book, sharing the quiet rhythms of Jen’s days and the turbulent memories of her past. It explores the themes of loss, grief, healing and growth, a cycle echoed in the environment in which Jen lives.

The mystery of the missing children, and Jen’s father’s whereabouts, adds interest and a frisson of tension to what is otherwise a fairly introspective narrative.

The language is evocative, with vivid observations of the flora and fauna that surrounds Jen’s bush haven. Jen has a particular fascination with birds, with robins being her favourite.

“The robins arrived last, splashing and fluffing, sending the other birds off. Their golden yellow was luminous at dusk, as if carrying the last gleams of the sun. Only now did they sing, with their sweet, piping whistle, and first thing in the morning. Their song was best suited to dusk and dawn – the in-between.”

Nest is a self possessed, thoughtful novel from Inga Simpson, author of Mr Wigg.

 

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Review: Deadly Obsession by Karen M Davis

 

Title: Deadly Obsession {Detective Lexi Rogers #2}

Author: Karen M Davis

Published: Simon & Schuster August 2014

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

My Thoughts:

Deadly Obsession is the second crime novel from Karen M Davis to feature Detective Lexie Rogers.

In the early hours of the morning a woman’s body, clutching a long stemmed red rose, is discovered on Clovelly Beach. The empty packet of OxyContine in her pocket suggests a drug overdose as the cause of death but Lexie is sure the scene is staged. When the initial stages of the investigation implicates her ex-husband in the woman’s murder, Lexie is shocked, but as she and her partner, Brad Sommers, continue to dig they unearth a worrying chain of connections that for Lexie are too close to home.

Deadly Obsession is, in part, a police procedural, exposing Lexie and Brad’s investigation as they chase leads and search for evidence to identify the elusive killer, but also includes elements of psychological suspense, action and a touch of romance. The story is tightly plotted, though I thought the links between Lexie and the key characters were just a little too neat and convenient. My early suspicions regarding the murderer were proved right but I was swayed by the red herrings laid down by Davis at times and surprised by some of the connections that were eventually revealed.

sinister-intent-davisI am glad that Lexie seems less anxious in Deadly Obsession. Though still at risk from panic attacks related to previous events, and distressed by her recent break up with Josh (Detective Josh Harrison) who fled to Bali to bury himself in the bottle after the death of his sister, Jenna, Lexie is stronger and more focused. She works the case with attention to detail and stands up for herself against Brad’s doubts. I didn’t agree with all of her decisions though, some of which, like not reporting the threats made against her, seemed a bit disingenuous for a police officer.

While it isn’t strictly necessary to have read Sinister Intent before embarking on this sequel, I think it would be worth your time. A solid example of Australian crime fiction, Deadly Obsession is an enjoyable and engaging read and I look forward to seeing how Davis continues to develop the series.

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Review: The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre

 

 

Title: The Girl in 6E

Author: A.R. Torre

Published: Orion: Hachette July 2014

Status: Read on July 28, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Girl in 6E by A.R. Torre caught my attention with its provocative premise. As ‘Jessica Reilly’, a 19 year old college coed, 21 year old Deanna Madden earns $6.99 a minute meeting the virtual sexual fantasies of the men and women willing to pay for her time. This allows her to support herself, utilising online shopping to organise regular deliveries of supplies ensuring Deanna never has to leave her apartment. For to do so could be dangerous… not for Deanna, but for anyone who might cross her path.

Torre’s unusual protagonist, Deanna, has an obsessive desire to commit murder (Torre uses the term ‘cruorimania’), and believes she is a threat to anyone whom she might come into contact with. She has already killed once, the details of which remain concealed for much of the novel, and fantasises about doing so again. This explains her self imposed imprisonment and her shunning of human interaction.

Deanna is content with the arrangements she has made to isolate herself but her carefully constructed haven begins to destabilise firstly when her regular delivery guy, Jeremy, becomes too curious about the girl in 6E, and then when the sexual obsessions of a client she knows as Ralph begins to concern her. Ralph seems fixated on a single fantasy featuring a young girl called Annie, and when Deanna learns a 7 year old girl of the same name has been abducted, she is convinced Ralph is responsible and comes up with a plan to allow her to rescue the child and slake her blood lust at the same time.

It really isn’t until almost half way through that either of the main plot line’s, Jeremy’s intrusion and Annie’s abduction, gain momentum. Much of the first half of the book involves Deanna introducing us, in the first person, to her narrow world, and providing an explicit glimpse into the professional world of ‘camming’.

I have to admit I’m left feeling a little unsure about The Girl in 6E overall. I found it interesting in many ways, and was never tempted to put it aside, but I can’t say I enjoyed it exactly, and I doubt I will bother with the sequel.

FYI: The Girl in 6 E was originally self published as “On Me, In Me, Dead Beneath Me”, though the story has since been heavily revised for traditional publication.

 

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Review: Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper

 

Title: Better Homes and Hauntings

Author: Molly Harper

Published: Pocket Books July 2014

Read an excerpt

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

My Thoughts:

I’ve enjoyed Molly Harper’s sense of fun and humour in her Jane Jameson series and Naked Werewolf series so I leapt at the opportunity to read this new stand alone novel.

Better Homes and Hauntings is a paranormal romance/mystery that is set in a dilapidated haunted mansion on a private island off the coast of Newport. Crane’s Nest is the ancestral home of young software billionaire Deacon Whitney and despite a history of tragedy and hauntings he decides to renovate the mansion, hiring a team of professionals including his best friend and architect, Jake, Nina, a landscaper, and professional cleaner and organiser, Cindy. The project requires them all to remain on the island during the renovation and ignore the weird vibes and frightening dreams the house seems to provoke but that grows increasingly difficult as a malevolent spirit begins to make its presence known. Deacon’s cousin, Dotty is convinced that solving the mystery surrounding the death of her great-great grandmother, Catherine Whitney, will put the spirit to rest but they need to do so quickly, before history repeats itself.

Harper finds a good balance between creepy ghost story and lighthearted romance in Better Homes and Hauntings. There were moments when my skin prickled with goosebumps and times when I was smiling broadly at the snarky banter between her characters.

The mystery is well thought out, with missing diaries, stolen jewels and a ghostly murderer to find. Harper also integrates a real world element in the form of Nina’s vengeful ex-boyfriend, intent on sabotaging her success.

I though the mix of personalities worked well, the enforced isolation creating a quick and tight bond between the main characters. Two romances develop over the course of the novel, Deacon falls for Nina, while Jake is infatuated with Cindy. Both pairings are well suited and it is sweet to see them work things out.

A quick, light and engaging read, fans of Harper are sure to enjoy Better Homes and Hauntings and as a rare stand alone it’s a great way to test her appeal without committing to a series.

Better Homes and Hauntings is available to purchase from

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Review: The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

 

Title: The Queen of Tearling {The Queen of Tearling #1}

Author: Erika Johansen

Published:  Bantam Press: Random House July 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 18 to 20, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Erika Johansen’s debut novel, The Queen of the Tearling, attracted notice months before its publication date. The film rights have already been bought by Warner Bros and Harry Potter actress Emma Watson has signed on as both executive producer, and its star.

The Queen of the Tearling is the first book in a trilogy featuring nineteen year old Kelsea Glynn, the newly revealed heir to the throne of Tearling. After a lifetime in hiding she must claim her birthright and defend her rule against her debauched uncle, corrupt officials and The Red Queen, a depraved sorceress who reigns the neighbouring land of Mortmesme.

In terms of plot there isn’t really much to distinguish this fantasy novel from those with similar tropes, but there is plenty of action with a surprisingly dark and gritty edge. Kelsea’s fight for her throne results in a wealth of political intrigue, involving spies at court, assassination attempts and attempts to circumvent Kelsea’s orders, which leads to multiple sword clashing confrontations. Magic shimmers in the air, but affords only a few its privileges, and there are also seeds of romance for Kelsea with a handsome rogue named Fetch.

Tearling is a realm rife with corruption, heavy with bureaucracy which favours the rich and exploits the poor. Initially I was puzzled by the setting but eventually figured out that despite the medieval detail, it is set not in the past, or an alternate universe, but the distant post-apocalyptic future of our own world. This creates an unusual landscape that blends a feudal society with reminders of modern life, which also embraces magic, but exactly how, and why, it came about is only hinted at.

I liked Kelsea well enough, she is a mixture of teenage insecurity, often naive and headstrong, but also compassionate, determined and well intentioned. She faces a myriad of ethical challenges with both the idealism and pragmatism of youth. I was a little disappointed at the emphasis both the author, and her character, place on appearance though.

The Queen of Tearling is an entertaining read and though it is not without its flaws as a novel, I can see its cinematic potential, and I’ll be interested to read its sequel.

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Review: Family Secrets by Liz Byrski

Title: Family Secrets

Author: Liz Byrski

Published: Pan Macmillan Au July 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 12 to 15, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When Liz Byrski turned fifty she keenly felt the lack of literature that reflected the lives of women in mid life, and drawing on her experience as a journalist and freelance writer, set out to change that by writing the sort of books that she wanted to read.

Family Secrets is Liz Byrski’s eighth fiction novel, a story about love, regrets, forgiveness and redemption.

After a long, debilitating illness, Gerald Hawkins passing is both a cause for sadness and relief for his wife Connie, and his adult children Kerry and Andrew. For decades they have lived their lives as Gerald, a dominant man, had wished them too and now that he is gone they are all forced to find their own way forward.

Connie chooses to revisit her past, announcing her plans to go to England for an extended holiday, hoping to reconnect with the woman she was before she married Gerald and gave up her dreams to become a dutiful wife and mother in Tasmania, and to rekindle her relationship with her childhood best friend, and Gerald’s sister, Flora, who has been estranged from the family for many years. Connie’s journey is not what she imagined it would be however, especially when she is confronted with some home truths about the choices she made and the person she has become.

Meanwhile her children are grappling with their changing futures. Andrew, disillusioned with his career and his marriage, is unsurprised to discover his wife’s affair but determined to protect his teenage daughter, Brooke, from the fall-out. Kerry, harbouring long held resentment and guilt about her father is at a loss when he dies, and is left struggling with the symptoms of clinical depression.

Byrski explores the way in which it is often difficult to be honest with ourselves, and others, and the corrosive nature of failing to accept the truth. Each main character in Family Secrets is challenged to reconcile their past and escape the shadow of Gerald’s legacy by taking responsibility for the people whom they have become, and making changes that allow them to reconnect with the people they love.

I thought Family Secrets was an engaging read, not especially gripping but a thoughtful and well told story of realistic domestic drama.

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Review: The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw

 

Title: The Bookshop That Floated Away

Author: Sarah Henshaw

Published: Constable: Allen & Unwin July 2014

Status: Read from July 01 to 02, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 2009, Sarah Henshaw had a brilliant idea – to transform a narrow boat, named Joseph, into a bookshop, called The Book Barge, but by 2011, battered by the recession, the growth in digital book sales and Henshaw’s self-confessed terrible book-selling skills the store, moored in the Midlands, was on the verge of closing. Desperate to keep the business afloat, Sarah came up with the idea to traverse the canals of England for six months to raise awareness of the plight of independent booksellers and, of course, sell books.

The Bookshop That Floated Away is the story of Henshaw’s adventures through the waterways of Britain, negotiating its hundreds of locks, mooring where able, and selling the odd book, supplementing the costs of her journey, largely financed by her parents and an extraordinarily generous ex boyfriend, by bartering stock for essentials like meals, alcohol, haircuts and bathroom privileges along the way. Passionate about books and literature but lacking business savvy, and at times common sense, the journey was not an easy one, hampered by break-downs, break-ins and break-outs.

I expected to love this book, but unfortunately I finished it feeling rather disappointed. I’m not sure if it was the author or her writing style, that I had trouble connecting with, but I think it was probably a mixture of both. I found Henshaw’s attitude irritating at times, and there is a weird section written from the perspective of Joseph, the boat. Still, I love the whole idea of The Book Barge and I did find Sarah’s adventures interesting, so I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it.

The Book Barge is now moored permanently in the Barton Marina, open weekends and holidays (at Henshaw’s whim). Check The Book Barge Facebook page for details about opening hours and special events.

 

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Review: The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

 

Title: The Awakening of Miss Prim

Author: Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera Translated by Sonia Soto

Published: Hachette June 2014

Status: Read from June 12 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“Wanted: a feminine spirit quite undaunted by the world to work as a librarian for a gentleman and his books. Able to live with dogs and children. Preferably without work experience. Graduates and postgraduates need not apply.”

Miss Prudencia Prim, quite undaunted by her lack of experience with dogs and children, and in possession of a number of degrees, presents herself to the gentleman advertiser looking for someone to organise his extensive private library, secure in the knowledge that she is the right person for the job. It isn’t until Miss Prim begins work for the eccentric Man in the Wing Chair, and spends time in the unusual village of San Ireneo de Arnois, that she begins to have doubts, not only about the job, but also all she thought she knew of the world.

The Awakening of Miss Prim is a charming, contemporary tale with an old-worlde feel.

The setting is a small Spanish village named San Ireneo de Arnois, home to those who have chosen to eschew modern life and dedicate themselves to building a self sufficient, close knit society which values intellectual debate, old-fashioned values and community. For the independent Miss Prim, village life is a challenge. Though she agrees with its principles in theory, she finds the inclusiveness almost claustrophobic.

In The Man in the Wing Chair’s employ, Miss Prim finds herself struggling with the continual challenges to those things she has always held as certainties, such as her disbelief that a ten year old child could accurately paint Rublev’s icon from memory, to her disdain for the mystical tenets of religion. This is the awakening that the title of the book refers to, Miss Prim’s discovery that no one has all the answers, least of all her.

There is rather a lot of philosophical discourse, which will surely delight those who can recognise a Latin text by a single quote or enjoy obscure literary and cultural references. Usually I would dismiss this sort of thing as pretentious but in a village where the children visit the Tretyakov Gallery in Russia to study art and can quote Virgil’s Aenaid, it somehow doesn’t seem out of place.

Yet for all Miss Prim’s, and The Man in the Wing Chair’s knowledge and education there are things neither of them really understand, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. The low key not-quite romance is strongly reminiscent of Jane Austen’s Emma, a text referred to several times throughout the novel. Prim is of course Emma, too sure of herself and her world view, and The Man in the Winged Chair, the wise yet emotionally unavailable Mr Darcy.

Though I didn’t find The Awakening of Miss Prim to be a particularly easy or fast read, it has a undeniable grace and charm. I’d recommend it to lovers of literary classics, philosophy and learning.

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