Review: House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland


Title: House of Hollow

Author: Krystal Sutherland

Published: 30th March 2021, Penguin

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

“Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters.”

 

House of Hollow is a beguiling story of sisters, secrets, and shadows by Krystal Sutherland.

Iris Hollow has no memory of what happened during the month after she and her sisters disappeared from a suburban street in Scotland as children, but there is no doubt that they were changed by their experience. Not only did their brown hair turn white, their blue eyes darken to black, and each bear a half moon scar at the base of their necks, they also possessed an inexplicable sway over anyone who gets too close.

Ten years after they were found, 21 year old Grey is a celebrity supermodel turned fashion designer, and nineteen year old Vivi tours European cities with her punk band, while 17 year old Iris remains at home with their mother, finishing her last year at school, and dreaming of attending a University where no one recognises her. With the anniversary of their abduction nearing, the three sisters arrange to meet but Grey never shows.

Drawing on faerie folklore enhanced by her own creative twists, Sutherland weaves a haunting tale of mystery and magic as Vivi and Iris search for their missing sister. Following a strange trail of destruction and death flowers with a dangerous man in a horned mask stalking their every move, it’s a quest that will eventually expose the terrible truth of what happened to them as children.

I loved the grim, urban fairytale quality of this novel. Sutherland invites us to slip beneath a veneer of beauty, exposing a dark heart of rot. It’s a tale of contrasts – love and loyalty countered by lust and deception. It explores tragedy, grief, the base instinct for survival, and the spaces between life and death.

The writing is lyrical, with a rhythm that leaves you slightly off-balance as you’re drawn deeper into the story. Sutherland’s vivid imagery appeals to all the senses, evoking a visceral reaction of unease that occasionally tips into horror. There is a touch of humour too, flaring briefly in the dark.

Imaginative, atmospheric and intense, House of Hollow is a compelling read.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia 

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Review: The Jam Queens by Josephine Moon


Title: The Jam Queens

Author: Josephine Moon

Published: 13th April 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A sweet novel to savour, The Jam Queens is the seventh charming contemporary fiction novel from Australian author Josephine Moon.

A year after the collapse of her marriage following a devastating loss, Agatha has decided to focus on growing her business, a cafe in the Barossa Valley which features the prizewinning jams Aggie, and the women in her family, are known for. The news that her Great Aunt Myrtle has sold Agatha the building in which Strawberry Sonnets operates is likely to upset Aggie’s mother, Valeria, and in order to both soften the blow, and celebrate Valeria’s seventieth birthday in the wake of a health scare, Myrtle has decided that the three women, along with Aggie’s adult daughter Holly, home on vacation from the US where she works as a teacher, and Myrtle’s best friend and erstwhile traveling companion, Dolce, will take a trip on The Ghan.

Unfolding primarily from the perspectives of Aggie, Myrtle and Valeria, Moon tells a story of family, regret, friendship, loss, and love as the group of women travel from Darwin to Adelaide aboard the famous overland train.

Aggie serves as the central character of the story. She has had a very difficult year and she’s hoping the trip will give her clarity on how to move forward with her life. She’s a very likeable character, who exhibits fortitude and kindness in the face of very trying circumstances. Myrtle is a delight, spirited and generous, if a little bit meddlesome. Both Aggie and her Great Aunt Myrtle hope the journey will help heal their fraught relationship with the uncompromising Valeria, but the complicated history between the trio is not easy to reconcile.

The story is quite busy, as in addition to the secrets and burdens the individual characters carry, and the fraught dynamics of their old, and new, relationships, there are also other important elements. One naturally involves the actual journey on The Ghan and the side excursions enjoyed by the group to places like Uluru and Katherine (Nitmiluk) George, all well described by Moon. Another centres around the role of jam-making in the family, and Aggie’s hopes of winning first place at the Adelaide Royal Show. Foodies will love the delicious recipes contained in the book, including one for Moon’s own blue ribbon winning strawberry jam.

Ripe with drama, romance, travel and food, The Jam Queens is a treat not to be missed.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Review: Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke


Title: Girl, 11

Author: Amy Suiter Clarke

Published: 20th April 2021, HMH Books

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy HMH/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“The cases have gone cold. The perpetrators think they’re safe. But with your help, I’ll make sure that even though justice has been delayed, it will no longer be denied. I’m Elle Castillo, and this is Justice Delayed.”

A former children’s social worker, Elle Castillo now hosts a popular podcast focusing on cold cases involving missing or murdered children. After four successful seasons where Elle proved instrumental in solving several crimes, she has opted to take on her most challenging case – identifying the elusive ‘Countdown Killer’, responsible for the ritualistic abduction and deaths of at least nine women and girls, each a year younger than the other, before disappearing when his 11 year old quarry escaped.

Girl, 11 unfolds through transcripts of Elle’s podcast, and a third person narrative. It’s an effective presentation, because it allows Clarke to share details from multiple perspectives, and both the past and present, in an organic way. It also supports an immediacy that contributes to the momentum of the narrative and the build up of suspense.

Elle is a few episodes into her examination of TCK when she is contacted by a man claiming to have information and evidence that will expose the serial killer, but before they can meet, he is shot dead in his apartment. Shortly after an eleven year old girl is brazenly abducted, and as details emerge and suspects are discounted, Elle begins to suspect that the Countdown Killer has returned.

Clarke’s portrayal of Elle, as her crusade tips into obsession, is done well. While her drive to close the case is admirable, Elle can be quite alienating at times, especially as her decisions grow more reckless and it’s not clear if she’s motivated by altruistic or selfish reasons. It’s hinted at early on that Elle has a personal connection to the case, but when her secret is revealed, it invites both sympathy and pity, simultaneously weakening, and strengthening her credibility.

There’s also some interesting commentary on society’s obsession with serial killers and they way in which their victims are overshadowed, as well as how that interest may play into the behaviour of a budding, or active murderer, who craves similar notoriety.

The Countdown Killer is a chilling adversary, and I think Clarke crafts a clever game of cat and mouse. I had some inkling of what to expect as the story unfolded, and correctly guessed the two big reveals, but I was surprised by other twists. And as the stakes rose personally for Elle, the tension had me in its thrall.

An impressive debut novel, Girl, 11 is a gripping psychological thriller with a premise that I think will particularly appeal to the many fans of true crime podcasts.

++++++

Available from HMH Books

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Review: The Chase by Candice Fox


Title: The Chase

Author: Candice Fox

Published: April 2021, Bantam Press

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

It’s clear from its opening pages that The Chase by Candice Fox, is going to be a tense, fast paced, exciting thriller as a sniper threatens the lives of a bus load of innocent civilians unless the warden of the Pronghorn Correctional Facility releases not just one inmate, but all 653.

Captain Celine Osbourne is horrified as her colleagues, some of whom have family on the bus, open the cells and prisoners stream from the facility into the Nevada desert, including the men under her supervision on Death Row -every one a monster. Celine is more than willing to help track them down, but her focus is on recapturing John Kradle, a man whose crime haunts her.

In the five years since his incarceration, John Kradle has made preparations just in case a chance at escape presented itself. He doesn’t plan to live it up in Vegas nor flee to Mexico though, John just wants to stay ahead of law enforcement long enough to be able to prove himself innocent of the murders of his wife, son and sister-in-law.

As Kradle makes his way to his hometown of Mesquite, trailed by a terrifying psychopath, Celine teams up with an ex-inmate in her desperation to find him. Both of the main characters grew on me as the story unfolded. Fox uses flashbacks to provide information about them, and illustrate their shocking connection. Celine is a sympathetic character despite her flaws, and some foolish decisions. Kradle too earns sympathy as he endeavours to find whomever is really culpable for the deaths of his family, while trying to avoid capture by the law, a serial killer, a reward hunter, and Celine.

While many of the escapees are quickly recaptured, Fox highlights the adventures of a handful of prisoners on the loose,  including Kradles’s unwanted shadow, Homer, a serial killer known as The North Nevada Strangler; the elderly Raymond ‘The Axe’ Ackerman; and white supremacist Burke David Schmitz, as they make their bids for freedom. The actions of each men contribute to the tensions in the novel, though in very different, and disturbing, ways.

For the agent in charge of the extraordinary fugitive hunt, the largely unlikeable, bad-ass Marshall Trinity Parker, the priority is finding the man for whom the breakout was orchestrated, before he enacts whatever deadly event she is sure he has planned. She makes no apologies for her agenda, ruthlessly leveraging the inside man, Celine, and whomever else she deems necessary to identify her quarry, and track him down.

There are obviously a lot of moving parts to The Chase given the multiple characters and story threads, but Fox deftly integrates them into a compelling whole. The story unfurls at a fast pace, offering plenty of action, suspense and drama. The author’s quirky sense of humour is evident throughout, helping to balance the the impact of the violence.

Gripping, exciting and entertaining, I recommend you pursue a copy of The Chase at your earliest convenience.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Review: The Rose Daughter by Maria Lewis

 

Title: The Rose Daughter {Supernatural Sisters #7}

Author: Maria Lewis

Published: 13th April 2021, Piatkus

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

+++++++

My Thoughts:

The Rose Daughter is the seventh book in the Supernatural Sisters urban fantasy series from award-winning Australian author, Maria Lewis, but don’t be afraid to jump right in, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone. Just be prepared as you’ll want to add the rest of the series on your TBR list as I did.

The daughter of a forbidden union between an earth elemental and a selkie, Dreckly Jones was born the prisoner of the Trieze, raised by her father in a cell buried under a hill in Scotland. Since her escape she has largely heeded her father’s advice -to be careful; to hide who she is; to not be a hero. For the last eight years or so, she has made her home on a boat in Sydney Harbour, shucking oysters at the Fish Markets when she’s not putting her artistic skills to work forging identification papers for those in need.

Though she looks as if she is in her early 40’s, Dreckly is more than a century older, and the narrative alternates between her past and present. Dreckly is an appealing, well-crafted character. I liked her wit, and found her to be smart and resourceful, though not without her flaws. As a sprite, her ability gives her powerful control over air which she wields in unusual ways.

I was intrigued by her backstory, which has Dreckly travelling the world from Scotland to Hollywood, from behind enemy lines in wartime France to Africa, where she finds family, adventure and love. The ‘past’ narrative skilfully builds Dreckly’s character so that the decisions she makes in the present, make sense.

In the present, there are rumours that the Trieze, who govern the supernatural world, are abducting other supernaturals. Mindful of her past experiences, and her promises to her father, Dreckly battles with her conscience when she is asked for her help. Lewis builds the tension as the Trieze’s nefarious plans are revealed, and provides exciting action when the supernaturals take a stand.

I liked the world in which the story is set with an interesting mix of supernaturals who live alongside, but hidden, from most of humanity. Lewis succinctly explains the history and politics, and while it’s obvious there are links to story and characters from previous books, they don’t have any notable impact on this story.

Offering interesting characters, exciting action, and romance, I found The Rose Daughter to be an entertaining read. I’m delighted to have discovered Maria Lewis and I hope to be introduced to the other ‘sisters’ before the next book in the series is released.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

 


Title: Second First Impressions

Author: Sally Thorne

Published: 13th April 2021, William Morrow Paperbacks

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

++++++

My Thoughts:

Second First Impressions is a charming romantic comedy from USA Today bestselling, Australian author, Sally Thorne.

Ruthie Midona is twenty-five years old but is more at ease among her fellow residents at the Providence Luxury Retirement Village, where she has lived and worked for six years, than among her peers. When her boss takes a vacation, leaving Ruthie in charge, she is determined to prove herself worthy of the responsibility. She doesn’t have the wherewithal to indulge the too-personal questions of the young and pretty temp, Melanie, or the attentions of the property owner’s vainglorious son, Teddy, who on their first meeting mistook her for an elderly woman, but both are determined to impress Ruthie with the need to lighten up and live a little.

It’s a case of opposites attract for the staid, straight-laced Ruthie and the carefree, charismatic Teddy. I enjoyed the chemistry between them as their inevitable romantic relationship developed, providing moments of both tenderness and passion. Their connection sparks change in one another, but I like that Thorne is clear that the changes they want to make are in pursuit of their own life goals, not about pleasing the other.

Ruthie has been stuck in a rut ever since a shadowy incident in her past. Encouraged by Melanie and her Sasaki Method* (*patent pending), Ruthie recognises she needs to step out of her comfort zone. The friendship that forms between the two women is lovely, and important to Ruthie’s personal growth.

Teddy has his own issues that he needs to deal with, including a rocky relationship with his father and older-half sister. His goal is to earn enough money to buy into a tattoo business, but commitment is something he’s been avoiding for much of his life.

The cheeky, imperious Parloni ‘sisters’ are a wonderful addition to the story. Aged 91 and 89 respectively, Renata and Agatha are enjoying growing old disgracefully, and delight in tormenting Teddy (in a very un-PC manner) in his role as their personal assistant.

Old age residences seem to have become a popular setting in fiction recently. I liked how Thorne linked it to both Ruthie’s past and Teddy’s future. And the turtles that roam the grounds are a cute additional element.

With appealing characters, a sweet romance, and plenty of well-timed humour, I found Second First Impressions to be a delightful, feel-good read.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins 

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Review: All We Have Is Now by Kaneana May

 


Title: All We Have Is Now

Author: Kaneana May

Published: 7th April 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy HarperCollins

++++++

My Thoughts:

All We Have Is Now is Kaneana May’s second novel following her well-received debut, The One in 2019.

All We Have Is Now unfolds from the perspectives of Bree, Elsie and Olive, colleagues and best friends who run a wellness centre, ‘Healing Hands’. The success of their business has allowed them to relocate to larger premises where Bree, the life of any party, is a Pilates instructor; Elsie, happily married and newly pregnant, provides counselling services; and pragmatic Olive, a dietician, runs cooking classes.

While the centre is thriving, Bree, Elsie and Olive come under increasing personal stress and I quickly found myself invested in their stories. May skilfully develops complex, distinct characters whose behaviours and attitudes feel authentic. With her concealed past, I found Olive to be the most intriguing figure, while Elsie was the most sympathetic given her circumstances. It took me a little longer to warm to Bree, but I loved the depiction of the close, but not uncomplicated, friendship between the three.

May addresses a number of themes in the novel, such as friendship, family, love and romance, but it’s her exploration of grief that is especially thoughtful and sensitive. Each of her main characters are forced to find the courage to confront some difficult realities about loss in order to move forward with their lives. Though bereavement is not something that can be, nor should be, compared, Elsie’s is particularly heartrending given its immediacy.

There is a special sort of thrill in being familiar with the setting of a story. All We Have Is Now is primarily set in Wingham, which adjoins my own town of Taree, so I could easily envisage both the house in which the centre operates and the characters movements around their environs (the author herself is a local).

Thoughtfully crafted, heartfelt and poignant, All We Have Is Now is a pleasure to read.

++++++

Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins Australia

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Review: You Need To Know by Nicola Moriarty

 


Title: You Need To Know

Author: Nicola Moriarty

Published: 7th April 2021, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy HarperCollins Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Nicola Moriarty’s newest title, You Need To Know, is a gripping domestic drama centred around the members of a single family, Jill, her three sons – Pete, Tony and Darren; her two daughter in-laws – Mimi and Andrea; and her grandchildren – Callie, Tara, and infant twins, Elliot and James.

There’s more than one smashing twist in this dramatic story of a family on a collision course with secrets that threaten to shatter their bonds forever. The main action takes place over a period of about a month in the lead up to Christmas, interspersed with flashes which hint at the tragedy to come. Moriarty builds the tension slowly, with various dramatic plot elements that are both self contained, and play into the larger crisis, several of which unfold in unexpected ways.

Told from the perspectives of Jill, Mimi, Andrea, and Darren, Moriarty slowly reveals the varied stressors the family are experiencing, and secrets they are keeping, some of which are fairly mundane, others more explosive. I thought the author captured the dynamics of both the individual family groupings, and between the extended family very well. Despite the large cast, each character is distinctive, and there is no confusion as the narrative moves between them. I quickly became invested in the family members, eager to learn their fate.

You Need to Know offers a tense, well-crafted storyline, interesting, multifaceted characters, and a sensational climax. I think Nicola Moriarty has found her niche in the Aussie domestic thriller genre.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

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Review: Something to Hide by Fleur McDonald

Something to Hide by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Something to Hide {Detective Dave Burrows}

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: 30th March 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Something to Hide is the fourth engrossing rural suspense novel to feature Detective Dave Burrows, though the seventh in which he appears, by bestselling Australian writer Fleur McDonald.

Something to Hide brings closure to the undercover assignment investigating a stock theft ring that resulted in Dave being shot and the escape of the ringleaders,  brothers Bulldust and Scotty, in Without A Doubt. Set a few months after the events of Red Dirt Country, Dave’s relationship with his wife, Melinda, is just getting back on track when, while grocery shopping, she’s confronted by a stranger with a message for her husband.

Dave’s been expecting the ruthless brothers to seek their revenge ever since the judge carelessly revealed his identity during his testimony in the case, and now that they’ve finally made their first move, Dave is keen to end the threat. McDonald develops a tense, fast-paced plot as the inevitable confrontation between Dave and Bulldust edges ever closer. Not knowing when, or where it will take place, but assuming it will be deadly, ensures suspense remains high throughout the story, particularly as both men grow more reckless in their pursuit of each other.

Stonewalled by the Major Crimes squad tracking Bulldust and his brother, Dave’s partner, Bob, tries to distract him with another case involving stock theft, moving the action from Perth back to Barrabine, adding a further layer of interest to the novel. It also reunites Dave with his mentor and handler on the undercover case, Spencer, who, in a shocking twist, gets caught up in Bulldust’s vendetta.

The entire situation is the last straw for Mel who issues Dave an ultimatum, insisting he choose between her and the job. McDonald explores Dave’s struggle to make such a choice, and the fears that drive the spouse of a police officer to demand one. Though I do not find Mel to be a likeable character, McDonald’s skill with creating authentic characters ensures I do sympathise with her concerns. Unsurprisingly, Dave remains hopeful that he can still have it all, until tragedy ensures the decision is made for him.

Though Something to Hide could be read as a stand-alone, I wouldn’t recommend it given it provides closure to two major threads developed in the previous books, plus you’d be missing out on what is an excellent series. Well crafted, with exciting action, Something to Hide is a stellar instalment, and I can’t wait to discover how Dave moves forward from here.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

******

If you’ve enjoyed this review, (and even if you haven’t) please consider donating to the charity Fleur McDonald founded, DV assist, which offers information, resources and practical support for those experiencing or concerned about others who may be experiencing domestic and family violence in regional, rural or remote Western Australia experiencing family and domestic violence.

Click here to learn more about DVAssist.org.au

Review: How To Fake Being Tidy by Fenella Souter


Title: How To Fake Being Tidy: and other things my mother never taught me.

Author: Fenella Souter

Published: 30th March 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:

How To Fake Being Tidy: and other things my mother never taught me from feature writer, Fenella Souter (who also uses the non de plume Dusty Miller), is an essay collection primarily comprised of columns first published in the Australian newspapers, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Housework definitely not being my thing (I admit I prefer Erma Bombeck’s advice to Marie Kondo’s), I was lured by the title of this book, but was disappointed to discover that Souter doesn’t actually offer tips to fake being tidy.

This is not a how-to guide, it’s a collection of genteel, undemanding stories that centres around the domestic. Souter does offer some simple household management tips, like how to remove labels from jars, wine stains from fabric, and how to organise your linen cupboard, but the essays are generally less prescriptive and more ruminative, reflecting on the pleasure of crisp bedsheets, the trials of holding your own against a tradie, or relocating a beehive, for example.

A number of the essays also focus on food. Souter appears to be an accomplished cook, with sophisticated tastes and a generous budget. She includes a variety of recipes offered within the context of the essay’s, including those for Orange Marmalade, Broccomole, Hummus with Spiced Lamb, and Passionfruit Creams, to name a few.

There were a handful of essays that resonated with me, but as a whole, I feel the collection is rather bland, reflecting a rather white, upper middle class perspective, and would likely have more appeal for the ‘boomer’ generation than mine. 

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

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