Review: The Boy in the Photo by Nicole Trope

 

Title: The Boy in the Photo

Author: Nicole Trope

Published: June 18th 2019, Bookoutre

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Bookoutre/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

The premise of The Boy in the Photo, Nicole Trope’s ninth domestic thriller, is topical and heartbreaking.

As the school playground empties, Megan begins to wonder where her six year old son, Daniel, is. Learning he has been collected earlier by his father, her heart sinks, and it quickly becomes clear that in an act of extraordinary spite, her abusive ex-husband has taken Daniel and vanished.

Six years later, having recently married the Detective initially assigned to Daniel’s case, and given birth to a daughter, Megan receives the call she feared would never come. Her son has been found.

The Boy in the Photo unfolds from the perspectives of Megan and Daniel, revealing events that occurred during their period of separation, and the story of their reunion. It’s a heart wrenching situation, sensitively explored by the author. While Megan searches for her missing son, struggling with her enormous loss, Daniel is living an itinerant, isolated lifestyle with his father. His homecoming should be the happy ending they both deserve, but Daniel is not the loving, happy little boy Megan remembers, instead he is an angry, sullen teen, mourning his father, and contemptuous of Megan. The inevitable twist is somewhat predictable, but still thrilling.

Megan and Daniel immediately invite sympathy. Trope’s characterisation of an anguished mother yearning for her missing child, and a traumatised boy confused by his father’s unpredictable behaviour, is skilful and sensitive. I found Daniel’s attitudes and behaviours on his return to be believably rendered. I’m afraid I didn’t think the same of Megan’s however, which was a big sticking point for me. Every time Daniel acted out, and Megan was at a loss, I wondered why the two of them weren’t in intensive counselling. In no way would one hour a week with a therapist, whom Megan didn’t even trust, be responsible in these circumstances. To be fair, that probably would have been a difficult plotting obstacle for the author, but it bugged me, and honestly affected my response to the story.

Having read five of Nicole Trope’s backlist novels, all of which I’d enthusiastically recommend, I do think this story is slightly weaker. Nevertheless, I did find The Boy In the Photo to be an emotionally charged and affecting read.

++++++

Available in digital format from your preferred retailer

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Also by Nicole Trope reviewed on Book’d Out

 

Review: While You Were Reading by Ali Berg & Michelle Kalus

 

Title: While You Were Reading

Author: Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus

Published: July 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

After accidentally ruining her lifelong best friend’s marriage, a mere hour or so after the wedding, Beatrix Babbage moves from Perth to Melbourne looking for a fresh start, but it’s more difficult than she envisioned. The only respite from her loneliness is provided by The Nook, where barista/slam poet Grover ‘Dino’ Dinopoli, scribbles book quotes on her coffee cup, and pastry chef, Sunday, occasionally lets her lick the spoon.

Until, one evening while exploring the city, Bea, a self confessed bibliophile, wonders into a bookstore where she discovers a second-hand book. While the blurb piques her interest, it’s the handwritten notations in it’s margins that captures her imagination, and Bea grows increasingly convinced that finding the ‘Mystery Writer’ will be the catalyst that will change her life.

While You Were Reading is a likeable, modern contemporary romance, the second book from co-writer’s Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus, who are also cofounders of the fabulous Books on the Rail project.

Instagram posts (complete with photo’s, follower comments and likes), texts, instant messages, email’s and notes (left for her cleaner) helps tell Bea’s story as her obsession with the ‘Mystery Writer’ leads her in surprising directions.

I mostly liked Bea, and had some sympathy for the awkward situations she found herself in. Her level of self esteem is awfully low though, and she makes some immature assumptions, and decisions. It takes her quite some time for her to find her feet, but I was glad she did.

I did enjoy the romantic plot developed by the authors. I like a friends to lovers trope, and though the obstacles were mostly predictable, there were some interesting elements, particularly surrounding the identity of the ‘Mystery Writer’. I also enjoyed the mini romance plot that played out through Bea’s Instagram comments.

Supporting characters, Ruth, with her pet ferret, and Bea’s sister, Ex-bachelorette star, with her Instagram obsession, add a touch of absurdity. I liked the odd start to Bea’s friendship with Martha, and the supportive relationships Bea formed with them.

I would love to attend a literary pub crawl like that which Bea attends, and the event she organises, Next Chapter: speed dating for books. There are dozens of references to classic and modern books, from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott to The Sunday Girl by Pip Drysdale, including a cheeky mention of the authors’ first novel The Book Ninja, throughout While You Were Reading. It’s a fun addition to the story for book lovers, and handily the authors provide a list of every title at the end of the book, which I appreciated (quite a few I’ve either read, or are on my TBR).

When You Were Reading is an engaging romance, particularly if you are a bibliophile. I do feel I need to add however, that despite Bea’s age (she turns 30 early on in the story), While You Were Reading, overall feels like it’s probably more suited to a younger barely ‘adulting’ demographic.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Boxed by Richard Anderson

 

Title: Boxed

Author: Robert Anderson

Published: May 7th 2019, Scribe Publications

Status: Read June 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

“I check the name and address: Dave Martin, Five Trees. It is mine. It has been sent to me. This makes no sense.”

Dave Martin is baffled when he finds a box, addressed to him, stuffed with hundred dollar bills by his farm’s mailbox. Even more so when first, nearby property owners Elaine Slade, an attractive widow, and then “self-serving, hard as nails” Ben Ruder drop by, looking for a misdelivered parcel they claim is theirs. Turning the box over would be the right thing to do, but In the wake of a soul crushing tragedy, and a lot of booze, Dave isn’t thinking clearly. The mystery deepens as more boxes with odd contents arrive, yet even as Elaine is assaulted, his own home is ransacked by thugs, and the police start asking questions, and Dave finds himself well out of his depth, he is determined to find answers.

“All my life I have been anchored here. I have known where I fitted. Wherever I went, people who didn’t know me could always place me: because of where I lived, because I was someone’s son, grandson, friend, then husband, and then father. Now it is all gone, and I am untethered, unplaceable. If I met myself in the supermarket, I wouldn’t know who I was. I never imagined I could be so totally isolated. The farm is the only thing that defines me.”

In Dave, Anderson has skilfully crafted an unlikely hero. A farmer in rural Australia, who is weighed down by grief after experiencing a series of personal losses, Dave feels hopeless, seeking nightly oblivion in a bottle, neglecting the farm, and rebuffing the efforts of friends who reach out with offers of support. The mystery of the box full of cash pierces his shroud of self-pity, and, with nothing much to lose, Dave welcomes the subsequent drama, despite the dangers.

“I had been lying to myself about taking the box back to the mailbox. I want to see this to the end. I want to solve the mystery. I want the money — all of it.”

Boxed unfolds at a measured pace, driven by Dave’s artless, if well-intentioned, efforts. Elaine is evasive, Ben is vaguely menacing, stalking the mailman proves unhelpful, and the thug’s taking regular potshots at him aren’t interested in talking. As Dave tries to determine who is the rightful owner of the boxes he has hidden in his laundry, the situations in which he finds himself escalate into an almost farcical escapade. The plot is well constructed with red herrings, surprise twists and a dramatic climax.

“If I knew then … maybe none of this would have happened. When those boxes… arrived, I would have taken them straight to the police. There’d be no story to tell. No one would have been shot at, threatened, bashed, knocked out, or hurt…”

An engaging character driven mystery, with a sardonic wit that enlivens the plot, and a compelling sense of place, and community, I really enjoyed Boxed. I hope to read more by Robert Anderson soon.

++++++

Available from Scribe Publications

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The One by Kaneana May

 

Title: The One

Author: Kaneana May

Published: June 17th 2019, Mira AU

Status: Read June 2019 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

I’ve met Kaneana May a few times at local library events, and I was excited to learn she had realised her dream to publish. Her debut, The One, is an engaging and emotional contemporary novel.

Using her experience in the television industry, May connects her characters by their participation in ‘The One’, a (fictional) reality television show in the style of the worldwide phenomenon, The Bachelor. To be honest, I abhor reality shows like The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, Married at First Sight, Love Island etc, so this aspect of the novel wasn’t particularly a draw for me, however I imagine fans of those shows will enjoy the idea of peeking behind the scenes of The One.

The One unfolds from multiple perspectives. Darcy is the ambitious producer who works long hours to ensure the success of the show, to the detriment of her decade long relationship with her high school sweetheart. Bonnie is a reluctant contestant, trying to put distance between herself and the man she believes to her ‘one’, who is about to marry someone else. Penelope is dealing with an unspecified heartbreak, of which ‘The One’ seems to be a painful reminder. And then there is Ty, the ‘bachelor’, a last minute replacement on the show, whose heart is not really in it.

Through her characters, May explores the the complexities of relationships. There is passion, anxiety, romance, regret, desire and heartbreak, as they all grapple with their questions about love. I had some empathy for Darcy and her situation, though honestly I would have preferred a different ‘ending’ for her. I was less sympathetic with regards to Bonnie and her relationship with Ollie.

Well written, combining drama, humour, pathos and romance, I really enjoyed The One, congratulations on a great debut Kaneana.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Devil’s Lair

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: June 17th 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Harlequin Australia

+++++

My Thoughts:

Two years after Callie’s life is devastated by a shocking incident she flees relentless scrutiny to find sanctuary in a rural cottage in the Central Highlands of Tasmania. Changing her name, and her look, Callie hopes to make a fresh start, and when she is unexpectedly offered a job at nearby tourist retreat, Calico Lodge, she decides it’s an opportunity too good to pass up. Made to feel welcome by the owners, particularly Connor Atherton, and slowly winning over her gruff landlord at Waldron House, Callie begins to believe she can escape her past…until a psychotic killer revives a long held grudge.

Blurring gothic sensibilities with psychological suspense, The Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie is a gripping thriller that kept me compulsively turning the pages until the early hours of the morning. I experienced an almost visceral reaction to the sense of unease that builds as the story unfolds, finding myself startling at every unexpected noise outside my darkened window.

Barrie establishes the disquieting presence of Waldron House with descriptions of ‘shabby green walls and scarred wooden floors’, dim rooms crowded with boxes and dusty antique furniture, and the overgrown, wild gardens. Strange symbols are carved or drawn on door frames, the cellar door sports a large padlock, and chunks of black tormaline are placed on window sills. Add to that the odd noises and other strange occurrences that begin to plague Callie, as well as the disturbing rumours that persist regarding the property’s history, and the grandeur of Waldron House begins to lose its charm.

Callie is a sympathetic character, the tragedy that caused her to flee the Hunter Valley is horrifying to contemplate, and then, just as she begins to find her feet in Tasmania, members of the community are targeted by unspeakable violence, and Callie experiences a cascade of unsettling events that causes her to question not only her safety, but her sanity.

Contrivances were easy to dismiss as I got caught up in the story, and as the truth about the past and present unravels, Barrie stuns with plot twists that reveal shameful secrets, dangerous obsessions, and horrifying acts of revenge.

A compelling and darkly atmospheric tale, Devil’s Lair is a riveting thriller. I enjoyed it so much I’ve ordered Blood Tree River, also by Sarah Barrie, which shares the novel’s location and some of the characters though it is not directly related.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins AU

Or purchase from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Beekeeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon

 

Title: The Beekeepers Secret

Author: Josephine Moon

Published: April 1st 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Beekeeper’s Secret is a thoughtful and engaging story of family, secrets, guilt and redemption.

“Now it seemed that what they said was true, that the past would indeed always catch up with you—especially if you had something to hide.”

Though Maria Lindsey has spent decades attempting to atone for her mistakes, first as a nun, and now as the manager, and beekeeper, of Honeybee Haven, whose activities support a Cambodian orphanage, she has always known that the time would come when she would have to confess her sins. She just didn’t expect that the daughter of her estranged sister, Tansy, would be the first to hear the whole sordid tale.

Maria’s decades old secret is a shocking one, related to a topical issue that the author deals with sensitively. It’s a confronting subject, involving misconduct within the Catholic Church, which may be a trigger for some readers, and though the reader may make a guess at Maria’s experience, the truth is likely to be a surprise.

Maria may be ready to break her silence, but there is someone who is determined that she not say a word.

Tansy Butterfield has always wondered what caused the estrangement between her mother, Enid, aunt Florrie, and their eldest sister. With her thirtieth birthday coming up, she’s tracked down Maria, delighted to learn she has been living barely an hours drive away in the Noosa Hinterland, hoping to arrange a surprise reunion.

It is through Tansy, and her relationship with her husband, and her family, that Moon thoughtfully explores the complicated dynamics that unites, and divide, families. While Tansy is getting to know her aunt, she keeps the secret of Maria from her family, something that her mother in particular, is deeply hurt by, when the truth comes out at a family gathering.

Another large part of this novel is devoted to Maria’s role as a beekeeper, and though I’m vaguely aware of the importance of bees to the health of our environment, I found the tidbits of information Moon shared about their habits and behaviour interesting.

A heartfelt contemporary fiction novel with surprising complexity, given the colourful cover, I liked The Beekeeper’s Secret. As the tagline suggests, this is a story with a sting in its tale.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko or Book Depository 

Also by Josephine Moon posted at Book’d Out 

 

Review: The Ex by Nicola Moriarty

 

Title: The Ex

Author: Nicola Moriarty

Published: June 17th 2019, HarperCollins

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

I have to be honest, I’ve been agonising over this review for days, worried that no matter how carefully I word it, that I’d inadvertently reveal something that could spoil The Ex for the reader. Something I definitely don’t want to do. I’ve drafted paragraph after paragraph, and deleted them all, so I’m going to make this short and sweet.

Having finally found her feet after a difficult few years, Georgia Fitzpatrick thinks she now may have also met ‘the One’. Luke is handsome, charming, and most importantly, makes her feel safe.

Georgia can understand then why Luke’s ex-girlfriend is reluctant to let go, but as Cadence’s behaviour escalates from nuisance texts to increasingly threatening notes, Georgia is worried about just how far she will go. Despite Luke’s assurances that he will take care of it, when Cadence’s latest stunt affects the job she loves, Georgia is determined to confront the ex, and put an end to the harassment, once and for all.

A compelling story of love, betrayal, and revenge, The Ex, offers enthralling twists and turns, even though I found, in part, I was able to predict the path the story would take. The pace was just about perfect, and I finished it very quickly, even for me. The characters are intriguing, and Moriarty deals sensitively with issues raised concerning Georgia’s mental health. That I’m familiar with the setting (Castle Hill, NSW) was a bonus for me.

The Ex, Nicola Moriarty’s fifth novel, is a gripping domestic thriller I’m happy to recommend.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Nicola Moriarty reviewed at Book’d Out 

Review: A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

 

Title: A Lifetime of Impossible Days

Author: Tabitha Bird

Published: June 4th 2019, Viking

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

A Lifetime of Impossible Days is an impossibly enchanting debut from Tabitha Bird.

Silver Willa is 93 when she insists that her carer takes her into town on the first of June 2050 to post two Very Important Boxes.

Middle Willa is 33 years old when she receives a collection slip from the post office that she has every intention of ignoring.

Super Gumboots Willa is 8 years old when she finds a battered box, inside is a jar of water, accompanied by a note that says: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’, which she does, while wishing for the impossible.

“Here’s what I know about impossible things. We can’t command them, but we can allow space for them in our minds.”

When the impossible happens, Super Gumboot Willa hopes it is an opportunity to save herself, and her younger sister, Lottie. Middle Willa refuses to acknowledge that the impossible offers any chance of change. Silver Willa remembers only that the impossible is her only hope.

This is a compassionate, emotional journey of tragedy, trauma, loss, love, forgiveness, and hope. I was moved to tears more than once by A Lifetime of Impossible Days. Though sensitively handled, the pain of Willa’s experiences are at times overwhelming as Bird explores the experience of family violence and abuse, and it’s lasting repercussions. Yet those tears also came when the Willa’s achieved the seemingly impossible, for their courage, and strength.

“Because I know one thing, Willa. We are all the ages we have ever been. We carry around our trauma. And if we have unfinished business at one of those ages we can’t move on to have a healthy adult life.”

Beautifully crafted, the past, present and future are deftly woven together, a strand at a time, ensuring the impossible makes sense. It requires an extraordinary imagination to write such a complex story, though thankfully only an ordinary one to appreciate it.

“We’re all stories, Willa. How else do you tell a story if you don’t make it all up? Sometimes, when everything seems lost, you just have to keep making stuff up”

A whimsical, heart-rending, and insightful novel, i was captivated by Willa’s journey.

Amaze-a-loo, Tabitha Bird.

 

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Penguin Au

Or purchase from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht

 

Title: The Passengers

Author: Eleanor Limprecht

Published: March 1st 2018, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2019- courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

In Eleanor Limprecht’s captivating novel, The Passengers, a young woman is accompanying her grandmother from America to Australia after an absence of 68 years.

The narrative shifts smoothly between the present day, as the women journey on the cruise ship, and the past, as Sarah reminisces about her life.

“But Sydney isn’t home, love. Never was. Home is the farm we lost when I was sixteen.”

Hannah is fascinated by Sarah’s candid stories of her childhood on a dairy farm, her move to Sydney, her whirlwind romance with an American soldier during World War II, her journey in 1945 as a nineteen year old war bride on the USS Mariposa, and then her life in the US. Sarah shares her experiences both good and bad, of love and loss, and long held secrets. I was very invested in Sarah’s story which is beautifully told by Limprecht, and I was particularly interested in her experiences as a war bride, which I haven’t read a lot about.

“I wanted you close. I guess I hoped you’d want to talk about it, one day. I suppose it’s why I wanted to tell you about Roy. About the secrets I kept.”

While Hannah is ostensibly accompanying her 87 year old grandmother as a helpmate, Sarah hopes that by revealing her secrets on the journey that Hannah might do the same. I thought some of Hannah’s issues contrasted well with Sarah’s experiences, though her primary affliction was not one I found particularly effective in the context of this story.

Though it has its flaws, I thought The Passengers was a moving tale of joy, heartbreak, loss and adventure. I read it without pausing, and I will be looking for more by Eleanor Limprecht.

++++++

 

Available from Allen & Unwin

or from your preferred retailer via Booko

Also by Eleanor Limprecht reviewed at Book’d Out

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Review: Running Against the Tide by Amanda Ortlepp

 

Title: Running Against the Tide

Author: Amanda Ortlepp

Published: March 1st 2016, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read March 2016 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

Running Against the Tides is a story of suspense in which Amana Ortlepp explores themes such as displacement, addiction, bias, obsession, and betrayal.

Needing to make a fresh start after the breakdown of her marriage, Erin Travers is drawn to Mallee Bay on the Eyre Peninsula. She has fond childhood memories of the small coastal town, and hopes it will be a place that she and her two teenage sons, Mike and Ryan, can make a home.

It’s not the most auspicious of starts, their rental home is poky and unloved, but while Erin and nineteen year old Mike are determined to make the best of the situation, and soon begin to find their feet, fifteen year old Ryan refuses to make any effort, becoming increasingly antisocial.

Told from the perspectives of Erin, Ryan and Jono, the family’s new neighbour, Ortlepp builds the tension as things at home, and in the town begin to go awry. Erin is annoyed when a cheque goes missing, disturbed when her home is vandalised, and increasingly frightened as she receives a series of anonymous threatening notes. Meanwhile, a spate of thefts from the local oyster farms, including that which belongs to neighbour, and Mike’s new employer, has the locals frustrated and on edge.

Though I found the pace a little slow, I did appreciate the way in which Ortlepp crafted the story to build suspicion around several characters, and eventually both situations come to head with a dramatic, and somewhat surprising, conclusion.

++++++

Available to purchase from Simon & Schuster

Or your preferred retailer via Booko

Also by Amanda Ortlepp reviewed at Book’d Out

 

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