Review: Chasing the Ace by Nicholas J. Johnson

Title: Chasing the Ace

Author: Nicholas J. Johnson

Published: Simon and Schuster Au

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 16 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Nicholas J. Johnson, who works as a performer, writer and consultant, exposing the world of con artists to the public to better protect themselves, has drawn on his knowledge and experience to author Chasing the Ace, his entertaining debut novel.

Told from dual first person narratives, Chasing The Ace introduces Richard, an ageing, world-weary con ‘artiste’ and Joel, a young, wannabe grifter who meet on the streets of Melbourne. Richard, contemplating retirement, decides to take Joel under his wing and the pair form a profitable alliance. Joel is eager to learn all he can, and is thrilled when the money starts rolling in, but when they accidentally scam an off duty cop, neither man is sure if they will be able to con their way out of trouble.

The novel is fast paced, with enough excitement and a few surprising turns to maintain suspense. I have to admit I didn’t predict the final twist, but found it a satisfying ending to the story, which also provides potential for a sequel.

I thought the main protagonists were well developed, with interesting backgrounds and distinct voices. Richard is jaded and cynical, Joel is initially enthusiastic and idealistic though slowly becomes increasingly disillusioned by the realities of the lifestyle, having fed his expectations with a diet of classic con movies like ‘The Sting’ and ‘Rounders’.

I might have been more impressed overall had I not just finished binge watching the entire series of Leverage, an American TV program about a crew who pull off sophisticated and complex cons in each episode. By contrast, the cons run in Chasing the Ace seem inelegant and somewhat distasteful, even if far more realistic.

A quick and entertaining read, I enjoyed Chasing the Ace…honestly.

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Review: Expecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton

 

 

Title: Expecting

Author: Ann Lewis Hamilton

Published: Sourcebooks July 2014

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Status: Read from July 02 to 03, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

After two early term miscarriages, happily married couple Laurie and Alan seek fertility advice and agree to try Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). They are delighted, if somewhat wary, when they discover Laurie is expecting but as the pregnancy progresses past the point of their earlier losses, they allow themselves to dream of their future as a family. Until a phone call from the fertility clinic changes everything.

Told from the third person perspectives of Laurie, the expectant mother, Alan, her husband, and college student Jack, also known as Donor #296, Expecting, by Ann Hamilton, explores an unique situation where Laurie learns that the father of her baby is not her husband but instead Donor #296, thanks to the actions of a disgruntled clinic employee.

I felt for each of the protagonists in this story. As Alan struggles to accept the shocking news, Laurie has already formed a connection with the child growing within her, and feels compelled to find out more about Donor #296, leading her to contact Jack, whom she discovers is a college student of Asian Indian heritage.

For the most part I believed in the motivations and thoughts of the characters caught in such a complicated situation and I liked the way in which the author considered the issues from multiple perspectives.

I understood Laurie’s refusal to consider a termination and her curiosity about the donor. I too would want to meet him, though I would probably be far more reluctant to embrace him in the way Laurie does. In several ways I think it is admirable, especially as it means ‘Buddy’ will be able to have a relationship with his/her biological parent and family, but Laurie doesn’t really consider the impact on her husband, even though she professes too.

I was surprised at how much I sympathised with Alan’s feelings of jealousy, anxiety and anger and his concerns about his ability to love a child, especially one that won’t look like him, that is not his. His reaction, to distract himself with the fantasy of a relationship with his ex girlfriend, may have been inappropriate, but is somewhat understandable.

Jack is a fairly typical college student confronted by a decidedly atypical situation. Laid back and easy going he is just as indecisive about deciding what role he will play in the baby’s life as he is in choosing a major, or a girlfriend.

Hamilton’s tone is deceptively lighthearted, finding humour amongst the angst of the situation. The story is well paced with the shifts between perspectives, and short chapters, making it a quick and easy read.

I enjoyed Expecting, I found it to be both an entertaining and surprisingly thought provoking novel with an interesting perspective on an unusual issue. Ann Lewis Hamilton is a debut author with promise.

Expecting is available to purchase from

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Review: All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

Title: All Fall Down

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Published: Simon and Schuster AU July 2014/ Atria Books US June 2014

Listen to an Excerpt

Status: Read from June 22 to 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publishers}

My Thoughts:

“The day had stretched endlessly before me – weepy daughter, angry husband, piles of laundry, messy bedroom, a blog post to write, and probably dozens of angry commenters lined up to tell me I was a no-talent hack and a fat, stupid whore. I need this, I thought, letting the bitterness dissolve on my tongue.”

Allison Weiss is a busy working wife and mother who finds that the painkillers she was prescribed for an injury helps relieve some of the stress that threatens to overwhelm her daily. With a pill, she worries less about the financial burden of the mortgage, has more patience with her beautiful but sensitive daughter’s tantrums, is less distressed by her father’s cognitive decline, and has the energy she needs to meet her work deadlines. But soon one pill a day isn’t enough to take the edge off, nor is three, nor five, nor ten or even twenty…

In All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner confronts the stereotype of an addict. Allison is reasonably representative of the modern, suburban, middle class woman juggling not only marriage, motherhood and career but also a myriad of other demands, such as the care of aging parents and financial concerns. Despite her increasing reliance on pills (Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin) sourced both from legitimate prescriptions, and later supplemented by purchases from clandestine internet based businesses, Allison dismisses the notion of herself as an addict, even as her life begins to fall down around her.

With realism, compassion and a touch of humour, Weiner charts how easily Allison slides into addiction – her retreat into denial, her growing desperation for her next pill and the damage her it begins to inflict on her family and her career. It all seems frighteningly possible, though opiates have never done much for me (I was once prescribed Oxycontin for an injury and they made me so violently ill I strained my vocal cords and damaged my inner ear, leaving me with laryngitis and vertigo for a week), I found I could relate to her desire to soothe the pressure, and the relief the pills must have offered.

While the first half of the book focuses on Allison’s downward spiral the second focuses on her struggle to recovery. Eventually forced into rehab, Allison still refuses to accept her status as an addict, she doesn’t relate to the women with whom she shares a room or group therapy and so continues to take refuge in denial, until she is finally confronted with the truth and begins to rebuild her life, day by day.

All Fall Down is a well written and thought provoking novel, gently confronting the issue of prescription addiction in an accessible manner sure to resonate with her audience.

All Fall Down is Available to Purchase

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Review: Marble Bar by Robert Schofield

 

 

Title: Marble Bar

Author: Robert Schofield

Published: Allen & Unwin June 2014

Status: Read from June 17 to 19, 2014 — I own a copy (courtesy the publisher)

My Thoughts:

Marble Bar is the sequel to Robert Schofield’s debut novel, Heist, featuring mining engineer, Gareth Ford.

It has been a year since Ford was framed for the multi million dollar robbery of the Gwardar Gold Mine and narrowly escaped the murderous attentions of the real thieves, corrupt Gold Squad officers, vicious bikies and his ex-wife, Dianne. Now working at an iron ore mine in Newman while caring for his six year old daughter, Ford assumes the worst is behind them until he realises he is being tailed by two dangerous looking men, his lodger is murdered and he receives a desperate call from his ex-wife begging him to meet her. Gareth needs to get out of town, his daughter wants to see her mum and Kavanaugh wants to find the gold so they head to Marble Bar …… and straight into trouble.

There are glimpses of the sharp humour, and exaggerated action I enjoyed in Heist, but Marble Bar has a more serious tone and less energy than its predecessor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just not quite what I was expecting. Marble Bar is closer to a traditional crime/action novel with a more realistic storyline and less flamboyant characterisation.

Ford seems subdued during much of this instalment. I think that this is mainly attributable to his emotional turmoil with regard to his ex wife, and while I did admire Ford’s determination to preserve the relationship between Dianne and their daughter, I thought his angst got in the way of the story somewhat.

With Ford unsure of his feelings, and worried about Dianne’s safety, Kavanaugh is forced to take the lead in most situations the pair face in Marble Bar. Kavanaugh is willing to humour Dianne for the chance to recover the gold, but she is utterly unimpressed with Ford’s angst regarding his wife’s behaviour, and convinced Dianne’s plea for help is just another con. This causes considerable tension between Ford and Kavanaugh, complicated by their mutual attraction and the twists of the plot.

I especially liked setting of this story. Marble Bar is a tiny West Australian Pilbara town with a population of about 200 people which regularly experiences some of the highest temperatures in the country. It seems an unlikely setting for a crime novel, but Schofield makes it work.

Marble Bar is well paced with a solidly developed storyline and I enjoyed reconnecting with familiar characters. I enjoyed Marble Bar, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected based on reading Heist, and I am looking forward to the third title to tie up some of the remaining loose ends.

 Learn more about Marble Bar and Robert Schofield in the Q&A posted earlier here at Book’d Out.

 

Marble Bar is available to purchase from June 25th

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Review: Currawong Manor by Josephine Pennicott

 

Title: Currawong Manor

Author: Josephine Pennicott

Read an exclusive excerpt posted earlier at Book’d Out

Published: Pan Macmillan June 2014

Status: Read from June 09 to 11, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

An atmospheric novel of mystery, drama and tragedy, Currawong Manor has a similar tone and premise to author Josephine Pennicott’s previous novel, Poet’s Cottage.

Photographer Elizabeth Thorrington has always been eager to learn more about her grandfather, Rupert Partridge, a well known, controversial artist who mysteriously vanished in 1945 on the same day his beloved daughter, Shalimar, and wife Doris, met their tragic deaths. Invited by the current owners of Currawong Manor, the Partridge’s former estate, to collaborate on a book about her grandfather’s life and art, Elizabeth is excited by the opportunity to meet with one of Rupert’s notorious muses, Ginger Flower, and Dolly Shaw, the daughter of the Partridge’s housekeeper, once Shalimar’s playmate. Elizabeth is convinced these women know what happened on that fateful day and hopes they will share the secrets they have kept for more than half a century… but perhaps some mysteries are best left unsolved.

The narrative moves between the past and the present as Elizabeth, along with true crime writer, and former muso, Nick Cash begin to piece together the history of the manor and its former residents, aided by Ginger’s recall of her time at Currawong Manor as one of Rupert’s three life models, known as the ‘Flowers’. Slowly Pennicott unravels an intriguing story of love, art, scandal and betrayal that reveals the truth of the tragedy that befell the Partridge family.

The writing is evocative, with lyrical phrasing creating a haunting, oppressive atmosphere. Set in Mt Bellbird, a small village in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, there are definite gothic overtones to this novel. The grand, partially restored Currawong Manor looms from the bush, surrounded by barely tamed gardens and bordered by the forbidding Owlbone Woods, in which something unseen lurks.

An impressively crafted literary story, Currawong Manor is an absorbing and dramatic tale.

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Review: The Skeleton Cupboard by Tanya Byron

 

Title: The Skeleton Cupboard: The making of a clinical psychologist

Author: Tanya Byron

Published: Pan Macmillan June 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read on June 11, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Tanya Byron was just twenty two when, after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of York, she moved to London to begin training as a clinical psychologist. For three years, Byron divided her time between studying at the University College London while completing a series of six month clinical placements in various settings within the National Health Service. The Skeleton Cupboard, subtitled ‘The making of a clinical psychologist’, is a fascinating account of the challenges and triumphs Byron faced during that period.

The narrative of The Skeleton Cupboard combines Tanya Byron’s experience of clinical training with her personal and professional development.

Byron notes that the case narratives have been created to show ‘real people, real lives’, and explore the complex, challenging and ‘bloody sad’ reality of mental illness and its treatment, but it is important to note that the cases she shares in The Skeleton Cupboard are composites, based not on individual patients but instead constructed from a range of clinical experiences. It is easy to forget that as each patient is utterly believable from the sociopathic Ray who threatens Byron with a knife in her office during her first placement, to twelve year old Imogen, suicidal after the drowning death of her younger sister, to Auschwitz survivor Harold suffering from the beginning stages of dementia.

The Skeleton Cupboard is much more than just a collection of case studies though. As Byron recounts her interactions with patients she also reveals her personal struggles as a somewhat naive and inexperienced young woman expected to treat patients presenting with a wide range of mental health issues. Byron admits that she often felt out of her depth, anxious about her treatment plans and her ability to help those in her care. Her own ‘stuff’, including the murder of her grandmother, occasionally interfered with her judgement and Byron sometimes found it difficult to let go of a patient when it was time to move on. I really liked Byron’s honest revelations of her own failings and the difficulties she had in developing the skills needed to become a practitioner.

I found The Skeleton Cupboard to be a fascinating read, sharing valuable insight into the difficult role of a clinical psychologist, and the lives of those people in need of their help. Though I would particularly recommend The Skeleton Cupboard to someone considering studying psychology, I think anyone with a layman’s interest in the field would enjoy this well written account.

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Review: A Place of Her Own by Deborah O’Brien

 

Title: A Place of Her Own {Millbrooke Trilogy #3}

Author: Deborah O’Brien

Published: Random House May 2014

Status: Read from May 21 to 24, 2014  – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Review to come

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Review: Chasing Shadows by Leila Yusaf Chung

 

Title: Chasing Shadows

Author: Leila Yusaf Chung

Published: Vintage: Random House May 2014

Status: Read from May 16 to 21, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Moving from post-war Poland to the birth of the State of Israel, through the years of Beirut’s civil war and the first days of Iran’s revolution, Chasing Shadows shares the tumultuous fates of Abu Fadi, his wife Keira and their children, Taheya, Fadi, Ajamia and Miriam in this uncommon debut by Leila Yusaf Chung.

The narrative is largely divided between the third person viewpoint of Abu Fadi, and Ajamia’s, written in the first, with brief chapters exposing the perceptions of the other family members, shifting in time and place.

Abu Fadi’s story begins with his desertion of his identity, and barren wife, in Poland to make a new life in Palestine. After converting to Islam he takes a bride, teenage beauty Keira, who bears him four living children as the family is shunted from Palestine to Syria and finally re-settled in a Lebanon refuge camp.
Ajamia is six when her mother disappears, presumed by Ajamia to be dead, and she and her siblings are farmed out to an orphanage, rejoining their father only once their primary education has finished. After high school she attends nursing college, but soon after her graduation the Lebanese civil war erupts and Ajamia escapes to France. Her time in the country is brief, after she is misled by a persistent suitor and finds herself in the midst of the Iranian revolution, she is returned to Beirut only to find her family has disappeared in the chaos. Twenty years later, Ajamia is the single mother of a daughter Marianne, longing to find her missing family, and solve the mystery of her mother’s fate.

Loss is the major theme of this novel – loss of homeland, of family, of culture, and of identity. However for Ajamia it is the loss of her mother, Keira, that defines her. Though the Middle East conflicts disrupt and displace Abu Fadi’s family they are still forced to face the ordinary moments of living.

I didn’t always find it easy to follow the narrative of Chasing Shadows but I found it to be an interesting and thought provoking examination of history, culture and family.

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Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

 

Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Published: Penguin Press June 2014

Status: Read from May 24 to 25, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy Penguin/Edleweiss}

My Thoughts:

A debut novel from Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You explores the themes of belonging, identity and family. When sixteen year old Lydia Lee disappears one night, her parents and siblings are at a loss to explain her absence. Days later, her body is discovered in a neighborhood lake and her family is mired in grief as they try to make sense of Lydia’s fate.

Everything I Never Told You is not a mystery so much as a domestic drama that exposes the frailties of the Lee family unit in the aftermath of tragedy. Ng reveals the dysfunctional family dynamic from the perspectives of each member, exploring the complexities of the relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, and siblings.
Tracing the history of the family from James’s and Marilyn’s respective childhoods, to their courtship and marriage provides the context for the manner in which they relate to their three children. Nath is the eldest, about to graduate and leave home to study at Harvard, eight year old Hannah observes her world quietly, largely ignored by all, while Lydia, the favoured child, is the repository of her parents thwarted ambitions. Her bewildering absence from the family is the catalyst for outing the secret resentments, yearnings and guilt each hold.

Racial and gender issues are strong themes within the story. The Lee family is multiracial, James is first generation Chinese-American, while Marilyn is a blonde, blue eyed Caucasian, which highlights issues such as identity and belonging. Being set prior to the 1970’s, Marilyn struggles with domesticity versus ambition, affecting the way in which she relates to her children, especially Lydia.

Everything I Never Told You is a poignant portrait of a family in crisis, beautifully observed and well told. I found it an interesting read but not as compelling I hoped.

 

Available to Purchase from

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Review: Charlotte’s Creek by Therese Creed

 

Title: Charlotte’s Creek

Author: Therese Creed

Published: Allen & Unwin May 2014

Status: Read from May 13 to 15, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Feeling stifled and restless in her teaching position at a privileged private school, Lucia Francis quits and impulsively accepts a position as a governess on a remote property in North Queensland. Arriving at Charlotte’s Creek, Lucy is met by the brusque Dennis, sharp tongued Melissa and four rambunctious children more interested in being seated on a horse than in a classroom. Though feeling overwhelmed, Lucy is nevertheless determined to rise to the challenge and slowly earns the respect of the West Family and their enigmatic ringer, Ted, as she wrangles the kids and pitches in around the house and farm. Despite the hard work and isolation, Lucy begins to fall in love with Charlotte’s Creek, and its residents, but when tragedy strikes and Lucy is forced to return to the city, she wonders is she will ever be able to call it home again.

Therese Creed writes from experience. She married a farmer and lives and works on the family’s 17,000 acre cattle station in central Queensland. I appreciate that the author doesn’t romanticise the hard work it takes to run a property, Dennis and Ted spend long days mustering, mending fences, caring for livestock and performing general maintenance. Mel, despite being pregnant for much of the novel, has not only the household chores, cooking and the children to attend to, but is also responsible for managing the finances and farm resources, and is required to pitch as and where needed on the property. The children, even four year old twins Molly and Wade, are also expected to help out with tasks city kids couldn’t imagine.

I really admired Lucy’s have-a-go attitude, despite her lack of experience and knowledge she is eager to learn and help where needed even if it means facing down White Trash to collect the eggs, learning to drive a manual car from 11 year old Connor and taking riding instruction on a Clydesdale. Lucy also proves to be a patient teacher and loyal friend. I did feel she was perhaps a touch too naive at times, even given her coddled city background, not only in relation to the realities of farm life but also in her interactions with Adam and Ted.

Creed briefly explores some relevant and topical concerns related to farming in Charlotte’s Creek including coal seam mining, foreign investment, and natural hazards like fire and drought. Succession though is the major issue in Charlotte’s Creek, despite the hard work Dennis and Mel have put into the property, it belongs to Dennis’s parents and they are reluctant to relinquish control. I thought this subject was explored very well.

I do think the book is a little over long, though the daily activity on the station is interesting, it does become somewhat repetitive. One major story arc which I was interested in ends without much fanfare midway through the book, and the chaste relationship between Lucy and Ted doesn’t seem to be going anywhere until the last few chapters.

Charlotte’s Creek is the second novel by Therese Creed, and as in Redstone Station, I thought it well written with natural dialogue. The characters are particularly appealing and well developed, the setting is vividly drawn, and despite weaknesses in the plot, overall it is an enjoyable read.

 

 

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