Review: Love and Other Puzzles by Kimberley Allsopp

 

Title: Love and Other Puzzles

Author: Kimberley Allsopp

Published: 2nd February 2022, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy HarperCollins Au/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

In the delightful romcom, Love and Other Puzzles from debut Australian novelist Kimberley Allsopp, Rory Byrnes impulsively turns to the New York Times crossword puzzle for inspiration to change her life.

‘7A A bovine Baskin treat = icecream’

With her career stalled and her relationship failing, Rory, who has always relied on order and routine, decides that three times a day for the next week she’ll let the answers to The New York Times crossword puzzle guide her decisions.

‘34A What do you do before you speak in class = raise your hand’

To revitalise her journalistic career at ‘The Connect’ Rory, raises her hand, and volunteers to arrange an interview with elusive newsreader, Elle Chambers, who is rumoured to be launching a bid for a political seat. The only problem is Rory has no idea how to deliver on it.

‘12D A 2010 Steve Martin novel = An Object of Beauty’

The first step Rory takes to reconnect with her live in boyfriend, artist Lucas, is to agree to attend a gallery opening, despite generally avoiding such events, where she ends up spending most of her time talking with the bartender, Harry, and goes home alone.

As the week progresses, the crossword inspires a little more chaos than Rory expects but she’s determined to follow through.

Allsopp’s protagonist is easy to like. Rory is sweet and warm-hearted, just a little lost amid her quarter-life crisis. Her need for order is mostly a form of self defence, the result of a somewhat chaotic upbringing with her free spirited single mother, which her grandparents did their best to ameliorate.

I was also a fan of Rory’s loyal and funny best friend, Kitt, and charmed by several of the other characters, including Rory’s mentor Dave, and bus driver, Ted. Rory’s boyfriend, on the other hand, is a jerk, but this is a romcom so there is a worthy man waiting in the wings.

The writing is witty and sharp. I loved the many pop culture references, most of which relate to Hollywood romcoms.

Love and Other Puzzles is a captivating uplifting read, sure to satisfy any hopeless romantic.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

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Review: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Title: A Marvellous Light {The Binding #1}

Author: Freya Marske

Published: 26th October 2021, Tor UK

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia 

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Blending fantasy, romance and mystery A Marvellous Light is a delightfully entertaining novel, the first in a new series, from Freya Marske.

As Mr. Edwin Courcey conjures a snowflake from glowing string above his office desk, it’s clear to Sir Robert (Robin) Blythe that his assignation to His Majesty’s Civil Service as Assistant in the Office of Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints has been a mistake, even more so when he is cursed by a group of faceless men in search of a document his missing office predecessor, Reggie Gatling, hid. It’s a rather harrowing introduction to a world of magic concealed from most of ordinary society, an unbusheling Robin would prefer to forget, but in order to have the painful curse devouring him lifted, Reggie, or the secreted contract, must be found.

When Edwin and Robin are unable to locate Reggie quickly, Edwin, who has a talent for understanding magic but is a weak practitioner, attempts to devise a way to lift the curse himself. Meanwhile the pair continue to seek more information about the magical artefacts demanded by the shadowy thugs, despite being assaulted by vicious swans, and a murderous maze.

Set in Edwardian England, Marske captures the period credibly, from the behaviour and attitudes of the characters to her descriptions of London and country manor estates. The magic system sits well within the world Marske has created, and I thought the basics were adequately explained. I really liked some of the more unique elements, such as using the movements of a Cat’s Cradle to cast spells, and the sentient nature of the magic that imbues family estates.

A Marvellous Light unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Edwin and Robin. Edwin presents as aloof, cautious and fastidious, while Robin is easy-going, and charming. Both men are from dysfunctional aristocratic family’s, though only Edwin is part of the magical community.

I really liked the dynamic between Edwin and Robin. While neither is particularly impressed with one another initially, they slowly become friends. Given the illegal status of homosexuality during the period, both men are wary of expressing their growing sexual attraction though. I thought Marske built the romantic tension between Edwin and Robin very well, and the mix of tenderness and heat in their relationship was appealing, though I wasn’t expecting the sex to be quite so explicit.

A Marvellous Light isn’t perfect but I fell into the story so easily, it’s charming, witty and fun and I’m already looking forward to the next.

+++++++

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Review: A Little Bird by Wendy James

 

Title: A Little Bird

Author: Wendy James

Published: 30th November 2021, Lake Union Publishing

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy Lake Union Publishing/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

A Little Bird is an intriguing, character-driven mystery from Australian author Wendy James.

When the end of her relationship coincides with learning her father is ill, journalist Jo Sharpe reluctantly returns to her home town of Arthurville in western New South Wales to take up a position at the town’s local newspaper. Her father, a grumpy alcoholic, bitter about his wife’s desertion over twenty years ago, hasn’t changed much but the town, in the grip of drought, is in obvious decline.

One of Jo’s first assignments for the Arthurville Chronicle, which is really not more than a community newsletter, takes her to Pembroke, her wealthy grandmothers estate on the outskirts of town. The Beaufort’s are little more than strangers to Jo, given they disowned her mother, Miranda aka Merry when she married Jo’s working class father, and failed to reach out even after Merry vanished, taking Jo’s baby sister Amy with her, in 1995.

Confronted with her past, Jo is motivated to re-examine her mother’s disappearance, and makes a shocking discovery that changes everything.

Shifting between the past and present, as Merry’s history unfolds, exposing her frame of mind prior to her disappearance, Jo’s narrative, set in 2018, is related in the first person.

Jo is a well-developed, likeable character. She presents as resilient, smart and determined, though her vulnerabilities, stemming from her mother’s abandonment, her father’s neglect, and the collapse of her long term romantic relationship, are evident.

The small community of Arthurville is realistically portrayed, a conservative rural town affected by drought and the subsequent economic downturn. Of its residents I was fond of local vicar Shep, with whom Jo rekindles a relationship, as well as the teens he is mentoring.

Jo’s investigation begins as she reconnects with the people from her past, most notably her mother’s friend, Kirsty, who provides Jo with some information that prompts her to look at Merry’s disappearance differently. While I felt the pacing was a little slow through the first half of the novel, there is a gradual increase of tension during the second half. I really liked the way the mystery played out, I thought James’ plotting was clever, and I was anxious to understand Merry and Amy’s fate.

A slow-burning, but gripping domestic thriller, I enjoyed A Little Bird.

++++++++

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Challenging Myself in 2022…


These are the challenges I’m participating in during 2022. Each image links to where each challenge has its own page (under the Challenges menu at top) where I’ll track my progress. I’ve also linked to the host of each challenge so you can learn more if you are interested.

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Goodreads Challenge

GOAL: 200 books

Hosted at Goodreads

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2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge 

GOAL: 12 books

The aim of the Nonfiction Reader Challenge is to encourage you to make nonfiction part of your reading experience during the year.

GOAL: Nonfiction Nosher (12 books)

Hosted at Book’d Out

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2022 Aussie Author Challenge

The objective of this reading challenge is to showcase the quality and diversity of the books being produced by Australian authors.

GOAL: Emu (24 books)

Hosted at Booklover Book Reviews

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2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Read Historical Fiction, any sub-genre of historical fiction is accepted (Historical Romance, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Young Adult, History/Non-Fiction, etc.)

GOAL: Ancient History (25 books)

Hosted at The Intrepid Reader

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2022 Cloak and Dagger Challenge

You can read any book that is from the mystery/suspense/thriller/crime genres. Any sub-genres are welcome as long as they incorporate one of these genres.

GOAL: Special Agent (36-55 books)

Hosted at Carol’s Notebook

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2022 Pick Your Poison Challenge 

GOAL: Fortnightly I 26 books

One category from each topic-you can choose 1 wildcard

Hosted by Take a Walk Down Gregory Road

***

Looking for challenges?
Check out Reading Challenge Addict and/or GirlXOXO

Review: Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Unforgiven

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: 1st December 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Harlequin Aus/Netgalley

 

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My Thoughts:

 

Unforgiven is a compelling, gritty thriller from Australian bestselling author, Sarah Barrie.

When the body of a young girl dressed in a mermaid costume is discovered among bushland on the central coast of NSW, doubt is thrown on the conviction and imprisonment of serial killer and paedophile, Thomas Biddle aka The Spider. Lexi Winter has no such doubts, as a victim of Biddle and his paedophile network which included her own parents, she has never forgotten the man who orchestrated her abuse. Determined to prove the latest murder is the work of a copycat, Lexi is reluctantly reunited with Detective Inspector Rachael Langley, who arrested Biddle 18 years ago.

Offering plenty of tense moments, Unforgiven offers a well crafted, fast paced plot. I was caught up in the hunt for the murderous ‘copycat’ as Rachael and Lexi, along with Lexi’s younger sister Bailee, and the members of the task force, work together to expose the truth and prevent the death of any more innocent children.

I liked Lexi a lot, she’s a complex character, essentially a functional alcoholic, who makes her living as an escort. Hardened by her life experiences she is a survivor, tough, resourceful, and sometimes reckless, but also not without her vulnerabilities. It’s brave of Lexi to become involved in the ‘copycat’ case, given both her past, and present (which includes a dead man in her boot), and her general antipathy for authority.

There’s an interesting backstory between Lexi and Rachael which results in tension between the two women that also spills over into Lexi’s relationship another detective on the case who happens to be Rachael’s nephew, Finn Carson. I found both Rachael and Finn to be appealing characters, and I really liked their dynamic with Lexi.

Though Unforgiven deals with the grim subject of child abuse, there is unexpected levity to be found in Lexi’s sarcastic wit, and the behaviour of her remarkably helpful neighbour, Dawny.

Unforgiven is a terrific, riveting read, I’m left with the impression that there will be more books featuring Lexi and her role as a police consultant in the future, and I really hope there will be.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss (Ed.)

 

Title: Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

Author: Anita Heiss (Ed)

Published: 16th April 2021, Black Inc

Status: Read November 2021

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My Thoughts:

 

There is no single or simple way to define what it means to grow up Aboriginal in Australia….”

I’m having such a hard time putting together a response to reading Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia. I have such a mix of emotions – I am angered, ashamed, sad, enlightened, inspired and hopeful.

Fifty contributors share their diverse experiences of growing up Aboriginal in Australia. They come from all over country, and are of varied ages, genders, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic class.

Yet there are commonalities in their stories -the weight of intergenerational trauma, the burden of stereotypes and racism, the struggle with identity, the desire to understand and embrace their culture, kin and country.

Though the quality of the writing can be uneven, the honesty of the authors stories are affecting and powerful. They are a generous invitation to learn and gain some understanding of what it is like to be a First Nations person growing up in Australia, both then and now.

“….it’s so obvious that underneath the invisible barriers and expectations we have constructed and placed on each other, we are all brothers and sisters; we are all just pink flesh and bone.”

An informative, thought-provoking, and moving anthology Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia is essential reading in the journey to create a new dialogue with and about Aboriginal Australians.

+++++++++

Available from Black Inc

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Review: Women to the Front by Heather Sheard & Ruth Lee

 

Title: Women to the Front: Australian Women Doctors of the First World War

Author: Heather Sheard & Ruth Lee

Published: 2nd April 2021, Ebury Press

Status: Read November 2021

+++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

After the Great War broke out in 1914, Melbourne doctor Helen Sexton was just one of what was to be at least 28 Australian female medical practitioners, aged between 27 and 56 years olds trained primarily in general medicine but also in specialties from pathology to anaesthesiology to surgery, who attempted to enlist as a doctor with the Medical Armed Forces in Australia or Britain. Their offers rebuffed, the Australian women, eager to aid in the war effort, instead reached out to international medical organisations and soon found roles that allowed them to serve in several settings, including within mobile medical units stationed along both the Eastern and Western fronts.

In Women to the Front, authors Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee, draw on available official documents, personal letters, diaries and other material to ensure that these intrepid Australian women doctors are acknowledged, and lauded for their contributions to the war effort. The book is organised in five parts, with a narrative divided by year and then location, detailing the women’s movements across the Allied fronts. There are a lot of names, acronyms and dates which can be difficult to keep track of, but helpfully the authors also include a glossary, individual biographies of each doctor, and a comprehensive index.

Though Sheard and Lee state they had limited information to work from, they have put together compelling accounts of the women’s experiences as wartime doctors. The Australian doctors served in at least twelve countries, working under a wide range of conditions in a variety of roles from 1914 to 1918. Doctors Laura Forster (NSW), and Ethel Baker (QLD), joined the BHF (British Field Hospital for Belgium) which established a 150-bed field hospital in Antwerp in September of 1914. The facility was quickly flooded with wounded soldiers, the women often required to operate through the night. Barely a month later they were forced to evacuate as the German Army advanced. Pathologist Dr Elsie Dalyell (NSW), the first Australian woman to win a Beit Fellowship, offered her skills to the War Office, but when refused joined Lady Cornelia Wimborne’s Serbian Relief Fund field hospital, and headed to Serbian Macedonia on the Eastern Front where she was responsible for the collection and analyse of specimens to detect and diagnose everything from wound infections, to diseases such as Typhus. Dr Agnes Bennett (NSW) volunteered with the French Red Cross and treated the wounded soldiers from the battlefields of Gallipoli who were shipped to Cairo. Sydney (NSW) doctor Marjory Little took charge of the 46th Stationary Hospital’s laboratory. The 46th, in Étaples, France, was an isolation hospital in the largest army base camp ever established overseas by the British, and contained one of the army’s most important laboratories.

It’s humbling to think of the strength, courage and will these Australian women doctors, and the others noted in this book, possessed. At a time when women had so little agency, and were barely tolerated in the medical profession, they fearlessly entered the theatre of war and proved themselves more than capable. Infuriatingly they were afforded very little official respect from the Australian or British military, either during or after the war. Though sometimes awarded a nominal rank they were denied full military pay rates and benefits. A handful of the women were awarded minor British medals, none received recognition from Australia. Other countries were more generous, Dr Lilian Cooper (QLD), for example, was awarded the Serbian Order of St Sava, the Russian Cross of St George, and the French Red Cross Medal for her services. Astonishingly, when World War II began, the Australian military again refused the enlistment of Australian women doctors despite their outstanding record of service.

Inspiring and informative, Women to the Front is an important book acknowledging the invaluable contributions made by the extraordinary Australian women who selflessly served the Allied Forces as doctors during World War I.

++++++++

Available from Penguin Books Australia or your preferred retailer

Review: Wild Place by Christian White

 

Title: Wild Place

Author: Christian White

Published: 26th October 2021, Affirm Press

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Affirm Press

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My Thoughts:

I’ve been eager for the chance to read Christian White, whose debut novel, The Nowhere Child, and his sophomore offering, The Wife and the Widow, hit the bestsellers lists.

Wild Place is set in the heart of Australian suburbia during the summer of 1989. When seventeen year old Tracie Reed is reported missing, the police dismiss her as a runaway, despite her mother’s insistent denials. The teen’s disappearance bothers Tom Witter, Tracie’s high school English teacher and a neighbour of a sorts. Worried about the vulnerability of his own two boys, he involves himself in a search for the missing girl, and finds a suspect in the teenage son of a neighbour, Sean Fryman, whose sullen manner, black clothing, and love of heavy metal music marks him as a possible threat.

The titular wild place is a strip of dense bushland that is commonly found in the midst of Australian suburbs. Generally considered innocuous, hosting children’s homemade forts and games of pretend adventure, perhaps the odd amorous couple or rebellious group of teens, these areas provide a token connection to nature, and respite from suburban crowding. To the residents of Camp Hill in the wake of Tracie’s disappearance however the bush becomes sinister, a wild place that may hide strangers intent on doing harm.

The danger doesn’t lurk in the woods at all of course. White slowly strips away the veneer of suburban respectability as he exposes that the threats who stalk the community openly walk its streets. Secrets, lies and deceptions unravel to reveal unexpected events and hidden connections in surprising ways. While Sean is the obvious target of suspicion for those convinced Tracie has fallen victim to a predator, White continually nudges the frame, raising alternative possibilities. Skilful plotting with clever misdirects ensures it’s difficult to guess at the denouement, but it was the epilogue that left me gasping.

Firmly grounded in period and setting, Wild Place evokes some nostalgia for my suburban childhood. Coincidently, this is the second newly published book I’ve read in as many weeks that draws on the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the Eighties and early Nineties as an element of the crime.

With its intriguing characters and brilliant plot, Wild Place is suspenseful and gripping crime fiction, destined to be another bestseller.

+++++++++

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Review: Who Sleuthed it? Edited by Lindy Cameron

 

Title: Who Sleuthed It?

Author: Lindy Cameron (Editor)

Published: 1st September 2021, Clandestine Press

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Clandestine Press

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My Thoughts:

Who Sleuthed It? is an engaging anthology of nineteen short stories where pampered pets and animated animals help each other, or their human sidekicks, solve crimes.

There are fact-finding felines and clever canines including British Shorthairs, Sherlock and Watson, in Fin J Ross’s ‘A Rascal in Academia’, and a ‘smiley, loyal, obedient Golden Retriever’ in ‘When the Chips Are Down’ by Louisa Bennett (aka LA Larkin). Scotland Yard’s finest, Reggie Starling, flies into action when the Crown Jewels are stolen in a tale by Kat Klay; CJ McGumbleberry (a non de plume) writes of a Great Horned Owl who is bamboozled by a clever chipmunk; and a motivated magpie helps a policewoman to solve both a murder and a massacre in ‘The Tidings’ by Tor Roxborough.

I’m familiar with the work of several of the contributing authors, including Kerry Greenwood who offers a tale of theft featuring the indomitable Phryne Fisher and her pets, Ember and Molly, in ‘La Gazza Ladra’; Meg Keneally’s ‘The Flotilla’ is set at the turn of the 20th century in and around the quarantine station on Sydney Harbour, near a colony of Little Penguins; and a retired police dog is a protective watchman in ‘The Tiger Mothers of Bethlehem Maternity’ by Vikki Petraitis.

Most of the authors contributing to the anthology are Australian, while a few are from the UK or USA. The settings vary in period and place, including Victorian London and modern day Melbourne. Humour is common to most of the stories, while a few have a supernatural element.

Whimsical, inventive and canny, Who Sleuthed It? offers an eclectic collection of mystery tales that are sure to delight animal lovers.

++++++++

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Review: Sweet Jimmy by Bryan Brown

 

Title: Sweet Jimmy

Author: Bryan Brown

Published: 31st August 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

You’ve probably seen Australian actor Bryan Brown on the big screen, perhaps in Hollywood blockbusters like F/X, Cocktail, Gorillas in the Mist, Breaker Morant, or in any of the other dozen movies he has made an appearance in, particularly if you are of a certain age. Sweet Jimmy, an entertaining collection of crime fiction short stories, is his first foray into publishing.

Primarily set within the streets of suburban Sydney, Brown’s stories combine humour, violence, and pathos. There are seven in all, and include an angry father seeking the man responsible for his daughter’s death, a thief who steals more than he bargains for, a cop investigating a serial killer, and a man hunting for the woman that betrayed him. Vengeance, betrayal, redemption, and survival are common themes, exposing men pushed to their limits. There was actually not a single tale I didn’t find engaging.

I’m not sure Sweet Jimmy would translate well to an international audience, but for me there was a definite sense of cultural familiarity. I feel Brown captures an aspect of the elusive essence of the Australian character particularly well, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn some of the characters and events are inspired by real people Brown has known.

The writing strongly reminds me of the late Robert G Barrett’s work, it’s spare but still expressive, and perhaps more importantly, honest. The audio version of of the book is narrated by Brown himself, which I think would be a real treat with his distinctive voice.

Sweet Jimmy is colourful, bold, and cheeky collection of suburban Aussie noir stories.

++++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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