Review: Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart

Title: Digging Up Dirt {Poppy McGowan Mysteries #1}

Author: Pamela Hart

Published: 2nd June 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley



My Thoughts:


There’s a real dearth of Australian cosy mysteries so I’m delighted by the publication of Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart, introducing television researcher, and amateur sleuth, Poppy McGowan.

Poppy McGowan is nearing the end of renovations of her terrace house in inner Sydney when her builder discovers bones buried in the dirt under her living room floor. To determine if the are animal or human, the Museum of NSW sends Dr. Julieanne Weaver, with whom Poppy has an antagonistic relationship, who arrives with her boyfriend- the handsome visiting archaeologist Bartholomew ‘Tol’ Lang. Weaver quickly agrees the bones aren’t human, but she won’t release the site, declaring the bones may belong to a rare breed of sheep that arrived with the First Fleet. Poppy is frustrated but decides to make the best of the situation, as a researcher for an educational television show on the ABC, at least footage of the dig can be used for a upcoming program. Two days later, Poppy finds herself in front of the camera after the body of Julieanne is discovered in the hole in her house. The police consider Poppy to be a prime suspect so using her research skills and media contacts, Poppy sets out to prove her innocence.

Poppy digs up no shortage of suspects, Julieanne wasn’t well liked among her colleagues at the Museum, and then there is her surprising involvement with the right-wing Australian Family Party and the Pentecostal Radiant Joy Church. Hart provides plenty of red herrings for Poppy to be sidetracked by, creating an interesting ‘whodunnit’ plot.

I wasn’t keen on the involvement of religion and politics in the story, simply because both subjects tend to distress me. That said, it allows Hart to raise some topical issues including feminism, domestic violence, the status of LBTQIA+, Aboriginal heritage, and obliquely comments on Australia’s current political climate. Poppy uses the media credentials bestowed upon her by the ABC news desk desperate for an exclusive, to involve herself in the two conservative groups, suspecting one of their leaders may be responsible for her death.

Smart, resourceful and quick-witted Poppy is a likeable, well rounded character. As she is living with her staunchly Catholic parents while her home is being renovated we are briefly introduced to her family giving us a sense of her background. I found her work as a researcher to be interesting and think it lends itself well to the practicality of amateur sleuthing.

There’s a touch of romance in the novel, though Poppy is involved with an accountant named Stuart, and Tol is dating Julieanne, the attraction between the pair is obvious from their first meeting. As it turns out Stuart is a prat, and well Julieanne dies, so the situation is not quite as awkward as it could be. I liked the will they/won’t they nature of the relationship, however given that Tol is expected to leave for a long term position in Jordan in a few weeks, there is no guarantee he will become a series regular.

Offering well crafted intrigue, appealing characters and a uniquely Australian setting, I found Digging Up Dirt to be entertaining and engaging cosy mystery. I hope there will be more.


Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: Mirror Man by Fiona McIntosh


Title: Mirror Man {DCI Jack Hawkesworth #3}

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: 1st June 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia



My Thoughts:


It’s been more than a decade since I read the first two books to feature DCI Jack Hawkesworth, Bye Bye Baby and Beautiful Death, so I picked up Mirror Man with only a vague memory of the storyline, however it’s not necessary to have read either to enjoy this third instalment of the series.

Mirror Man begins when DCI Jack Hawkesworth is reassigned from his role as a Counter Terrorism International Liaison by Martin Sharpe, the Acting Chief Superintendent of the Homicide and Serious Crime Branch at Scotland Yard, to investigate a possible link between three bizarre murders. Given a promotion to Detective Superintendent and a small team to command which allows him to reunite with DI Kate Carter, DI Malek Khan and analyst DS Sara Jones, Jack is tasked to figure out if there is a serial killer loose in London targeting recently paroled criminals.

The reader knows who is responsible for the deadly string of crimes from the outset of the novel but Jack and his team have to find evidence to first prove they are linked before they even begin to search for a suspect. As a police procedural, Mirror Man works well. The murders offer little in the way of forensic evidence, the killer has been careful to leave no trace of themselves behind, so the taskforce must painstakingly investigate every possible piece of information. The killer’s goal is more obvious, a vigilante seeking his own form of justice, though his exact motivation is not known to the team.

It’s rare to be ambivalent about the capture of a serial killer, but when his victims include an unrepentant, violent rapist; an abuser who beat his wife to death; and the drunk driver who annihilated the man’s wife, daughter and granddaughters you can’t help but feel a little conflicted. I liked that McIntosh explores this morally grey area, as well as issues surrounding sentencing, rehabilitation, early parole and how they impact on the victims of crime.

Once again Jack finds himself blurting the line between his professional and personal life when journalist Lauren Starling gets wind of Operation: Mirror Man. Much is made in this series of Jack’s good looks which leaves women swooning in his wake, including Kate whose crush on her boss is still as florid as ever.  At Kate’s suggestion, Jack also seeks advice from Anne McEvoy, his former lover, and serial killer, who is serving several life sentences after Jack exposed her in Bye Bye Baby. A psychologist and criminologist, she provides a profile that offers some insight into the case.

Though the reader is led to believe they have all the answers the police are searching for, there are several well placed surprises in Mirror Man. The pace and tension accelerates as Jack grows closer to identifying his quarry, and the lives of several characters are at risk.

With its provocative theme and well crafted plot, Mirror Man is a gripping police procedural, sure to entertain crime fiction readers.


Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Review: Magpie’s Bend by Maya Linnell


Title: Magpie’s Bend

Author: Maya Linnell

Published: 1st June 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

Magpie’s Bend is Maya Linnell’s third engaging contemporary romance novel featuring the McIntyre sisters in rural Victoria.

When Bridgefield’s only general store owner is injured and decides to sell up, local nurse, and single mother, Lara McIntyre reluctantly finds herself leading a campaign to ensure it’s services aren’t lost to the community. She doesn’t want the distraction of handsome newcomer, journalist Toby Paxton, even if he’s the first man since the public collapse of her disastrous marriage to pique her interest, she just needs his help to save the store.

The second eldest of the McIntyre sisters, Lara is a lovely character. A dedicated community nurse, she enjoys running, baking and managing her small holding. She is the mother of thirteen year old Evie, who has recently enrolled in boarding school and  Lara is struggling somewhat with her absence. The victim of domestic abuse by her ex-husband whom she only managed to escape when he was jailed for financial crimes, Lara is still wary of men and reluctant to trust her heart.

Toby is also a single father whose teen daughter, Holly, lives with her mother in Ballarat, visiting every other weekend. His move to Bridgefield is calculated to advance his career at a city paper, though he is finding he enjoys the lifestyle the town affords him as a keen runner, and the opportunity to indulge in his passion for photography.

I enjoyed the romance between Lara and Toby which Linnell develops slowly but organically, respecting Lara’s past trauma. Lara’s family can’t help but meddle a little wanting the best for their sister. Toby is very patient as Lara stubbornly refuses to admit her interest in him, but just as it seems he has found his way past her defences, Lara learns something that seems to confirm her worst fears.

There are lots of delightful elements to this story. I love the focus on community in Magpie’s Bend as the townspeople rally to save their general store. The shop is much more than a convenience for Bridgefield locals, and they fight hard to save it. There are some charming animal ‘characters’, including a dog named Basil and a baby magpie named Vegemite, and a range of delicious homemade pies.

Magpie’s Bend is a heartfelt, winsome and satisfying rural romance, a delightful read I enjoyed over a long weekend.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD $29.99

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Review: Love, In Theory by Elodie Cheesman


Title: Love, In Theory

Author: Elodie Cheesman

Published: 25th May 2021, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia



My Thoughts:


Love, In Theory by debut author Elodie Cheesman is a sweet, if rather predictable, romcom that explores the age old debate of whether to place more trust in your heart or your head when it comes to love.

Cheesman introduces Romy, a single, twenty four year old junior lawyer who works and lives in Sydney. When Romy learns that, according to the theory of the ‘optimal stopping point’, she has only a few months to find her best chance at ‘happy ever after’ she decides it’s time to make a concerted effort to find ‘the one’. Unwilling to trust her own instincts, which have led her into previous disastrous relationships, Romy decides to eschew passion and rely on science to find a match.

Drawing on advice from family, friends, a book or three, and a workshop on Intelligent Dating, Romy starts her search for her perfect partner on Tinder. There are the expected bad dates – a bore, and a sleaze; before she meets Hans, who embodies her three most desirable traits – risk averse, emotionally stable, and agreeable,- even if he doesn’t make her heart flutter in quite the way that James, a graphic designer who doesn’t seem to be any of those things, does.

Life would probably be simpler if the question of love could be reduced to a neat algorithm, but a solution seems determined to remain elusive. Though the outcome is inevitable, I enjoyed Romy’s journey well enough. I did find her a little frustrating at times, particularly given she’s probably a bit young these days to be so worried about being alone for the rest of her life.

I did like the subplot related to Romy’s ambivalence towards her job working in employment law, including issues around #metoo, bad bosses, and work/life balance which provides more depth to the story.

Love, In Theory is a wholesome contemporary romance that will likely appeal to a twenty-something readership looking to be reassured ‘the one’ is still out there.


Available from PanMacmillan Australia

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Review: The Girl Remains by Katherine Firkin


Title: The Girl Remains {Detective Emmett Corban #2}

Author: Katherine Firkin

Published: 4th May 2021, Bantam Australia

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia


My Thoughts:

The Girl Remains is the second crime fiction novel to feature Detective Emmett Corban from Katherine Firkin, following her debut novel Stick’s and Stones (2020).

When human bones are discovered on a beach in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular, hopes are raised that they will reveal the fate of fifteen year old Cecilia May who vanished from the small coastal town of Blairgowrie two decades earlier after she’d become separated from her two best friends during a late night walk. Detective Leading Senior Constable Emmett Corban is tasked with re-investigating the crime, sifting through old evidence while searching for new leads. The local community are certain the girl’s killer has already been identified – a neighbour with a previous charge of child sexual assault, but Emmett soon suspects that Cecilia’s friend’s have yet to tell the whole truth about the night Cecilia missing.

Firkin creates an intriguing, complex plot with this cold case murder of a teenage girl at its centre. Though Emmett agrees Warren Turton is the main suspect, and is under some pressure to wrap up the case quickly, he and his team must still do their due diligence. As the police begin to discover new information the focus of Emmett’s investigation subtly begins to shift and more potential suspects enter the frame. I thought the murder mystery was well crafted and comfortably challenging to piece together.

While the investigation moves forward, the reader is given insight into the thoughts and behaviours of some of the case’s key players including Cecelia’s friends, Scarlett and Gina aka Gypsy, Scarlett’s father, the wife of the local priest, and an enigmatic young drifter whose interest in the town, and Cecilia’s case in particular, seems oddly intense. Firkin manages the large cast quite well,  and the additional perspectives provide tantalising pieces of information, adding depth to the storyline.

Emmett’s wife, Cindy, also becomes tangentially involved in the case as she continues to pursue photography as a career. There is still some tension between the couple after the events in Firkin’s debut, and it spikes again when her desire for an exclusive threatens to interfere with Emmett’s investigation.

A confident sequel to Sticks and Stones, though it can be read as a stand alone, The Girl Remains is a clever and absorbing crime novel.


Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Review: You Had It Coming by B.M. Carroll


Title: You Had It Coming

Author: B.M. Carroll

Published: 13th May 2021, Viper

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Viper/Netgalley UK


My Thoughts:


“Someone else must hate him as much as we do.”

As paramedic Megan Lowe loads a patient suffering gunshot wounds into her ambulance she is stunned to realise she recognises the man. Twelve years previously William Newson was the barrister who successfully gained the acquittal of the two men who raped her, by labelling her and her best friend Jess as liars. Homicide Squad detective Bridget Kennedy is suspicious of the coincidence, but she quickly learns that plenty of people thought he had coming, defending sexual predators has won the dead man few fans, including among his family.

You Had It Coming unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Megan, Jess and Bridget. Instinctively on learning of Newson’s death, both Megan and Jess feel that he deserves his fate, still angry about his role in their trial. While the women were victims of the same crime, their reactions in the aftermath have been quite different. Jess has arguably coped better in the intervening years, but then the fall out could be said to have been more dramatic for Megan, regardless both are living quite different lives from what they had planned at 17. I admired Carroll’s portrayal of both women, who come across as complex, authentic characters.

Carroll offers us a glimpse into Bridget’s personal life, and the effect her work as a detective has on her family. With a teenage daughter and son of her own, Bridget can’t help but be affected by Megan and Jess’s experiences.

I also appreciated the authenticity of Bridget’s investigation. She and her colleagues follow up on all the information that comes their way, sifting through evidence, leads and suspects. Carroll provides the reader with a number of potential suspects, and does well to keep many of them in play ensuring suspense is maintained, the stakes rising when the body of another man related to Megan and Jess’s case is discovered in suspicious circumstances.

Carroll explores a number of themes such as trauma, justice, shame, guilt and revenge. She also exposes the flaws of the justice system, particularly when it involves sexual assault, and illustrates how the consequences of the crime is rarely confined to just the perpetrators and victims. I felt her portrayal of all the issues was sensitive and respectful.

A blend of domestic thriller and police procedural, I found You Had It Coming to be a suspenseful and thought-provoking novel.


Available from Serpents Tail

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and Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Review: Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

Title: Before You Knew My Name

Author: Jacqueline Bublitz

Published: 5th May 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

On the same day that eighteen year old Alice Lee stepped off a bus from Wisconsin into the hustle of New York City hoping for a fresh start, thirty six year old Ruby Jones flew into New York from Melbourne seeking the same. Barely four weeks later, Ruby finds the battered half naked body of a nameless young girl while jogging along the Hudson River. Her name is Alice Lee.

“Her body was found by a jogger. Such a famous line. Two anonymous women connected by just seven words. Just how close had they come to each other that morning? Close enough to change roles, play each other’s parts?”

Before You Knew My Name is narrated by Alice, whose spirit still lingers after her death. She tells both her own story and that of Ruby, two women who find each other by chance, or perhaps it’s fate. Alice’s voice is achingly poignant as she asks to be heard, to be known.

“…maybe you’ll wish this for every dead girl from now on. The chance to speak for herself, to be known for more than her ending. Wouldn’t that be something. After everything we’ve lost.”

Bublitz deliberately centers Alice in the story, not her murder, nor her murderer. Everyone can name a serial killer, probably a dozen, but few will remember their victims names, or anything but the barest details about them, except for how they died. Here Bublitz ensures we know Alice, a bright, curious young woman who, despite experiencing hardship and tragedy, has hopes and dreams for her future.

“She does not know how to be this other person. How to be someone who discovered a body.”

Ruby, already lost, is further disoriented by discovering the body. She finds herself reevaluating her own sense of safety. She relives her own shock and fear, and dwells on the horror of what she imagines of Alice’s last moments. She thinks about what sort of man could beat, strangle and rape a girl. And then, finally she begins to wonder about the girl. Helping to identify Alice, learning about her, gives Ruby the purpose, and connection she came to New York to find.

“There is no name to be spoken, but I am recognised by each of the women present, clasped around their lifted hands, heavy on their hearts. I am their fears, and their lucky escapes, their anger, and their wariness. I am their caution and their yesterdays, the shadow version of themselves all those nights they have spent looking over shoulders, or twining keys between fingers.”

Much of the novel speaks to women’s experience, particularly of men. Not just how we are reduced by them, as Alice is by her killer, or how we choose to reduce ourselves, like Ruby does for her lover, but also how society reduces female victims of violence, designating some worthy, and others not. Both Alice and Ruby are women we recognise, in ourselves, and in others.

“I wanted to start over. I wanted to disappear. But that’s not the same as being forgotten. To be clear, I never, ever wanted that.”

An impressive debut, this is ultimately a story of a life, not a death. I found Before You Knew My Name to be eloquent, deeply moving, and insightful.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: China Blonde by Nicole Webb

Title: China Blonde

Author: Nicole Webb

Published: 1st October 2020, Broadcast Books

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy the author


My Thoughts:

When Nicole Webb contacted me with a request to read her memoir about her experience of living in the city of Xī’ān situated in Central China I agreed because of a general interest in the country. When I graduated university, my first position was as a director/teacher in a long day care centre run by the Australian Chinese and Descendants Mutual Association, where the entire staff and the 40 children in attendance, except for me, were new immigrants or first generation Australian Chinese. It was quite a challenge to negotiate the demands of the job, cultural differences, and several languages (mainly Mandarin and Cantonese) of which I knew not a word when I started. I really enjoyed being immersed in such a unique environment, but I don’t think I’d be brave enough to leave behind all that is familiar to relocate to the Middle Kingdom.

However, former Sky News Australia journalist Nicole, her British husband James, a hotelier, and their young daughter Ava, did just that, moving to one of the oldest cities in China with a population of around nine million people.

Despite spending the previous four years in Hong Kong, the move to Xī’ān proves more disorientating than Nicole expects. Though she has many advantages, including being supplied with high quality accommodation, a chauffeur, and room service, it proves difficult to feel at home in a country where you don’t understand the language, and know no one.

Written in a confiding, personable tone, Nicole shares her expat experiences during the nearly three years they spent in Xī’ān. It’s the little things that tend to throw Nicole in the early months, like not being able to find her favourite coffee, Mint Mocha, and the scarcity of white wine. She’s overwhelmed by the attention she and her ‘small person’, both blonde, attract when out in public, and intimidated by the busy traffic and crowds. With her husband working long hours, Nicole struggles with feelings of isolation, though when Ava begins to attend a nearby international school she is finally able to connect with the city’s surprisingly small ex-pat community, and soon finds ‘her people’.

The book is peppered with fascinating insights into Chinese culture, explaining why for example, toddlers wear pants split at the crotch, and why the Chinese consider thanks rude. As a journalist, Nicole also feels compelled to investigate the Chinese perspective on topics such as feminism, marriage, politics and government.

Nicole’s descriptions of the city are sensory and immersive, from the cacophony of streets crowded with cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and bicycles, to the majesty of city’s ancient pagoda’s, from lavishly decorated hotels and restaurants, to shabby street stalls, all often overlaid with a thick pall of pollution. I highly recommend you follow the link provided at the end of the book to view the author’s photo album.

With its humour and honesty, China Blonde is an enjoyable and interesting read, allowing the reader to vicariously experience expat life in China.


Signed copies available from the author at NicoleWebbOnline

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Review: Take Me Home by Karly Lane

Title: Take Me Home

Author: Karly Lane

Published: 4th May 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

Karly Lane travels from the heat and dust of rural Australia to the cool, green hills of Scotland in her newest novel, Take Me Home.

When Elspeth Kinnaird first hears her grandmother talking to her in the bathroom of Jessup’s Creek supermarket she thinks she must be going crazy given her beloved Gran died more than a week earlier. Iona may have passed on but she hasn’t quite yet let go. She wants her granddaughter to take her home to Scotland, and she’s left Elle the money in her will to do it. Despite her parents objections, Elle is determined to fulfil her Gran’s wishes to spread her ashes on the grounds of the family ancestral castle.

Touring Scotland with Elle, and her Gran, is a delight, it’s a country I’d love to visit and I enjoyed the vicarious experience of walking Edinburgh’s cobbled streets, exploring castle ruins, and visiting the locations used in television’s, Outlander. Lane’s rich descriptions of the country, and tidbits of history, are a wonderful element of the story.

A major theme of the novel is self-discovery. While Elles’s parents and three siblings are all high achievers, Elle has always been drawn to artistic pursuits. Introducing herself to what remains of her Gran’s family in Portsoy, Elle is welcomed with open arms and it’s among her cousins, who are artistic and red-haired like her, that Elle finds the confidence to make decisions about her future.

The story also includes a thread of mystery as Elle endeavours to learn why Iona emigrated to Australia at fifteen and had so little contact with her siblings. The only one with answers seems to be Iona’s older sister, but she is suffering from dementia.

Romance is the last thing on Elle’s mind until she meets lawyer turned farmer Stuart Buchannan in her search for Stormeil Castle on the Isle of Skye, where her grandmother wants her ashes to be scattered. I like that the attraction flares into a passionate fling between the two, but with Elle due to return to Australia, she can’t see a way for their relationship to move forward.

Take Me Home is a delight to read, I loved the change of scenery while still enjoying Karly Lane’s wonderful, familiar storytelling.


Available from Allen & Unwin

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Review: How To Mend a Broken Heart by Rachael Johns


Title: How To Mend a Broken Heart

Author: Rachael Johns

Published: 5th May 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

“Sometimes what you think is going to be the most painful time of your life, simply turns out to be the storm before the rainbow.”

Readers familiar with The Art of Keeping Secrets will recognise How To Mend a Broken Heart’s main protagonist, Felicity Bell. It’s been four years since her divorce after Felicity found she couldn’t reconcile the changes in their relationship wrought by her husband’s gender transition. Though the two have remained friends, and Flick is supportive of Sofia, she struggles with the continual reminders of the life she has lost. When an unexpected opportunity arises for taxidermist Felicity to take three month position at Bourbon Street Taxidermy Art, a small store in the heart of the French Quarter of New Orleans, she seizes the chance, hoping to spend some time focusing on herself.

How To Mend A Broken Heart explores the themes of heartbreak, self discovery and moving on as Felicity learns to let go of the past and explore new possibilities. I thought Johns portrayal of the complicated relationship Flick has with her ex to be sensitive and honest. Johns portrayal of Flick’s struggle to trust in love again is sincere and poignant as the protagonist’s romantic relationship blooms with Theo, the handsome owner of the bar that neighbours the taxidermy store.

Felicity is just beginning to find her feet in New Orleans when her daughter unexpectedly appears on her doorstep. Zoe’s husband of four years has left her after confessing to an affair and, and she is devastated by her childhood sweetheart’s betrayal. Zoe too is now confronted with the challenge of recovering from heartbreak and forging a new life for herself. It’s easy to sympathise with Zoe whose faith in love, and herself, is shattered. She makes a mistake or two in her effort to forget the anguish, taking advantage of the French Quarter’s nightlife, but at least one turns out to be quite serendipitous.

Johns introduces the elderly Aurelia Harranibar, a cantankerous, reclusive local artist whose own life has been marred by her inability to move on from the loss of her sweetheart. Modelled on the Charles Dickens character Miss Havisham, Miss H lives alone in a decaying mansion in the New Orleans Garden District. When she is accidentally injured during a visit to the taxidermy store, Zoe, an aspiring artist herself, volunteers to assist Miss H at home and forges a sweet relationship with the eccentric old woman. Miss H becomes a key figure in the story, not only serving as an  example of what failing to accept the demise of a relationship and move on could look like, but her past also introduces a thread of mystery as Zoe tries to determine what really happened to the artist’s lover.

It’s New Orleans, arguably America’s most haunted locale, so there is no surprise that Johns includes a tiny hint of the supernatural in the story. Zoe believes Miss H’s house is haunted by more than the artist’s sadness. I enjoyed accompanying the characters on a ghost tour of the city, and learning of the tragedy of ‘The Casket Girls’. Felicity’s unusual occupation also plays well into the mystique of the city, which the author describes vividly, and with obvious affection for all of its atmosphere and eccentricities, despite its darker side.

How To Mend a Broken Heart is a heartfelt and entertaining novel set in a vibrant location, sure to have wide appeal.


Available from Harlequin Australia

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