Review: The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

Title: The Mother Fault

Author: Kate Mildenhall

Published: 2nd September 2020, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

In The Mother Fault, Kate Mildenhall imagines a dystopian future for Australia. Parts of the country have been devastated by the effects of climate change, with coastal areas flooded by rising seas. Much of the land is barren, dry, and damaged from fracking. The populace is surveilled and controlled by The Department, who insist citizens be chipped from birth, ‘for their own protection and convenience’, and who relocate ‘citizens in need’ to gated communities known as ‘BestLife’.

So when Mim’s husband, Ben, who works for an mining conglomerate and regularly spends time in Indonesia, fails to return from his latest work trip, and no one can tell her where he is, Mim begins to panic. Then The Department shows up asking questions, intimating Mim and her children, 11 year-old Essie and 6 year-old Sam, should perhaps be transferred to BestLife until her husband is found. For Mim, whose eldest brother entered BestLife and died shortly after, the veiled threat prompts her to flee with her children with the idea of making their way to Indonesia, and to Ben.

The journey from suburban Victoria, through outback NSW, to the coast of Northern Territory, and then by sea to Indonesia, is fraught with risk. Mildenhall sets an urgent pace, maintaining tension and building further suspense as Mim attempts to evade The Department and cautiously reaches out for help.

Mim is a complex character, she’s not particularly confident in her decision to flee, nor really prepared to do so. She rarely thinks things through very well, and makes some reckless decisions, yet she doesn’t give up and her grit is admirable.

Like any mother in such a precarious position, Mim is particularly anxious about the safety of her children, heightened because of a history of postnatal depression which seems to have left her hypercritical of her own mothering skills. I thought Mildenhall’s portrayal of the family dynamic was relatable and interesting, and the children well drawn characters in their own right, particularly Essie.

Part dystopian, exploring a plausible future of environmental ruin and Owellian surveillance; part mystery thriller, with a dramatic and unexpected ending; all while exploring themes related to motherhood, marriage, and mental health, The Mother Fault is an intelligent and absorbing novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

Also available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Over My Dead Body by Dave Warner

Title: Over My Dead Body

Author: Dave Warner

Published: 1st October 2020, Fremantle Press

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy BetterReading

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Sherlock Holmes is resurrected by a descendent of his faithful friend, Watson, in Over My Dead Body, an entertaining and inventive crime fiction novel from Australian author, Dave Warner.

As a teenager, Georgette Watson was revived after drowning in a frozen lake, inspiring a career in the field of cryonic’s. She believes she’s perfected the process of resurrection, but to advance her research further she needs a human subject. Unexpectedly, a distant relative’s diary provides her with the perfect specimen, and when Georgette successfully reanimates the century-old man she finds herself in the company of the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Warner gives us two well plotted and creative mysteries to solve in Over My Dead Body. Conveniently, Georgette acts as a consultant for the NYPD to supplement her grant income, and to help orientate Sherlock to 2020 New York, he joins her when she is called to determine time of death for a murdered woman. Holmes, being …well, Holmes, immediately sees what the police detectives have not, and he and Georgette find themselves hunting a serial killer whose motives echo a case from Sherlock’s now distant past.

The second mystery endangers the lives of Georgette and her sister, Simone, as they are targeted by a killer driven by an all consuming desire for revenge. Suspense builds as, distracted by the chase of the serial killer and Georgette’s growing fear for Holme’s health, neither are aware they are a target until it is almost too late. It’s Holmes unique detecting skills that save the day, of course, but at a cost.

There are some lighthearted moments in Over My Dead Body as Sherlock marvels at mobile phones, refrigerators and the internet, beats a shell game conman at his own game, and takes down a subway pick-pocket. His horror at discovering cocaine can’t be brought from the neighbourhood chemist is amusing, as is the thought of Sherlock Holmes wearing short pajamas and a Slayer tee-shirt. There is also a touch of romance in the story, which is quite sweet, and not intrusive.

I found Over My Dead Body well-written and enjoyable. Not just for fans of Sherlock Holmes, the original premise and interesting mystery should appeal a range of crime readers.

++++++++

Available from Fremantle Press

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline


Title: The Exiles

Author: Christina Baker Kline

Published: 15th September 2020, Custom House

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy HarperCollins/Edelweiss

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Inspired by true events, The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline is historical fiction set in the 1840’s, and follows the fortunes of three very different women.

When Evangeline is found in possession of a family heirloom gifted to her by her employer’s absent son, the naive young governess is arrested and imprisoned in Newgate to await trial. She bears the deplorable conditions only because she expects to be rescued when her lover returns and learns she is pregnant, but she is convicted and sentenced to fourteen years transportation on Van Diemen’s Land.

During the journey to Australia, Evangeline meets Hazel, a Scottish teenager sentenced to seven years for stealing a silver spoon. The daughter of an alcoholic midwife and healer, Hazel offers Evangeline some ginger to combat her nausea, and the two develop a friendship of sorts, supporting and protecting each other during the long and unpleasant journey.

As the ‘Medea’ makes its way across the ocean, nine year old Aboriginal orphan Mathinna is taken from the only home she has ever known among her people on Flinder’s Island at the whim at the Van Diemen’s Land Governor’s wife. Installed in Government House, Mathinna is expected to embrace the English way of life, learning French, and ‘perform’ on command for the Governor’s guests.

I can’t fault Kline’s research in The Exiles, I’m not unfamiliar with the historical details of women’s experience of transportation, colonisation, and convict life, and I believe the author’s representation is accurate, from her descriptions of the squalid overcrowding in Newgate Prison, to the perils of the convict ship journey, and life inside a ‘female factory’ within the colony. Women and girls were subjected to excessive punishment for the pettiest of crimes, condemned without empathy or concession, their transportation to Australia was essentially a life sentence, if they survived the journey.

For me however the characters of Evangeline and Hazel seemed to be lost within the historical framework. There is nothing particularly unique about them, or their experiences, that I haven’t read in a textbook, or a novel on a similar subject. While I was interested in learning their fates, I didn’t really form much of an emotional connection to either of them.

Mathinna’s story illustrates the attitudes towards, and the treatment of, Australia’s First Nation’s population during British colonisation. Considered no more than ‘ignorant savage’s’, they were either cruelly slaughtered, or corralled and exiled from Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania) to smaller, poorly resourced islands, or camps, and forced to adopt a ‘civilised’ lifestyle. By the mid 1840’s less than 50 full-blooded aborigines remained alive, and by the turn of the century there were none.

The Franklin’s, who take Mathinna from the camp on Flinders Island, barely treat Mathinna better than a pet, and abandon her the moment they lose interest in their ‘experiment’ to tame a ‘savage’. While Mathinna’s story is significant in and of itself, and in general reflects the experience of her real-life counterpart, it doesn’t really integrate into the story as a whole. Mathinna only briefly crosses paths with Hazel while she is living at Government House when Hazel is assigned there to serve as a maid, and as such there is a disconnect in all but theme.

It’s not that I didn’t find The Exiles interesting or agreeable, it just didn’t quite engage my imagination or emotions in the way other similar novels have, though I do think it’s likely someone less familiar with the history will be affected differently.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins US

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Review: Either Side of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson


Title: Either Side of Midnight

Author: Benjamin Stevenson

Published: 1st September 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read September 2020, PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

“How can it be murder when the victim pulled the trigger?”

I somehow overlooked Benjamin Stevenson’s debut novel, Greenlight, shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction in 2018, which introduces true crime documentary producer, Jack Quick, but i was intrigued by the premise of Either Side of Midnight, and assured it could stand on its own.

It seems events in Greenlight didn’t go particularly well for Jack Quick. When he is introduced in Either Side of Midnight, Jack is in prison on multiple charges related to perverting the course of justice. Just before his release, he is visited by the identical twin brother of a TV presenter who had recently shot himself live on air. Despite the suicide being witnessed by millions of viewers, Harry Midford is convinced his brother was murdered, and offers Jack a substantial sum to prove it. Jack, who has his issues with his own brother, reluctantly agrees to investigate and begins by poking around the studio where ‘Mr Midnight’ was filmed and Sam killed himself. What he learns piques his interest, and as he digs deeper, Harry’s claim doesn’t seem so outlandish after all.

Inspired in part by a recent-ish landmark case in the US involving the use, or rather misuse, of technology, Stevenson presents a creative and intriguing plot, with an original twist on the ‘locked room’ mystery. I thought the storyline of Either Side of Midnight was very clever, I generally had no idea how the plot would unravel until the moment Stevenson intended it, with red herrings deftly distracting from the culprit and their motive. The action ramps up as Jack grows closer to understanding why Sam died, culminating in a exciting confrontation.

I do feel that in not having reading Greenlight, I may have missed some of the nuances of Jack’s character. He is certainly an interesting protagonist, with a unique vice. Traditionally male crime solvers tend to be alcoholics, or womanisers, or handy with their fists, or all three, Jack is bulimic. In Jack’s case the eating disorder was triggered in early adolescence by his brother’s accident, and I think the author’s representation of his illness, and his relationship with his brother, is portrayed sensitively.

Though Either Side of Midnight is set on Australia’s east coast, I didn’t think there was really a strong sense of place, which was a tiny bit disappointing.

An entertaining thriller with a complex lead and an original plot, I enjoyed Either Side of Midnight and I’ve added Greenlight to my WTR list.

+++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman


Title: Anxious People

Author: Fredrik Backman (Translated by Neil Smith)

Published: 8th September 2020, Atria Books

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Atria Books/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

I don’t know how it is that Fredrik Backman can write such wildly divergent stories with unique characters that nevertheless have all managed to make me both laugh and cry. Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove was a favourite book in 2014, and My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry in 2015. Anxious People may well be a favourite of 2020.

“This is a story about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But even more it’s a story about idiots. But perhaps not only that.”

Definitely not ‘only that’. Backman later adds this is also a story about bridges, rabbits, and love, about all of us doing the best we can, but really, truly, Anxious People is a story about humanity.

Life is messy, sometimes we make mistakes. In Anxious People, the bank robber’s first mistake is trying to rob a bank, and the second is (unintentionally) taking a bunch of people in an apartment hostage, though perhaps, as things go, that was not a mistake as such.

“The bank robber looked at each of them in turn for a long time. Then… whispered gratefully: “Worst hostages ever.”

The hostages are a motley, quirky collection of characters that initially perhaps present as irritating idiots but whom, by the time they are released, are endearing idiots, much as our first impression of the bank robber is of a dangerous idiot, but in the end is simply an overwhelmed idiot.

“They may not have had much in common, but they all knew what it was like to make a mistake.”

Anxious People is both wise and insightful, absurd and poignant. It explores a variety of themes including desperation, grief, compassion, relationships, capitalism, regret, connection and hope. It raises issues like divorce, parenting, religion, and suicide.

“We do our best. We save those we can.”

Anxious People is a comedy, a tragedy, a mystery and a wonderfully told story.

“The truth? The truth about all this? The truth is that this was a story about many different things…”

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster US

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I HiveUK

 

Also by Fredrik Backman reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

 

 

 

Review: Her Last Words by Kim Kelly

Title: Her Last Words

Author: Kim Kelly

Published: 7th July 2020, JazzMonkey Publications

Read: September 2020 courtesy the author

++++++

My Thoughts:

Her Last Words is a stunning contemporary novel from Australian author Kim Kelly, best known for her works of historical fiction.

Seven years after young aspiring writer Thisbe Chisholm stormed out of her boyfriend’s Bondi flat after a petty argument in the early hours of the morning, the coroner’s inquest into her murder decisively exonerates John, but does little else. Stuck firmly in the grip of guilt and depression, John’s bright future as an actor has long since dimmed, and even Penny, Thisbe’s best friend and his stalwart supporter, seems to have reached her limit. Perhaps it’s time to let go…

Kelly was inspired by personal events to create this literary gem. Her Last Words is a heartfelt, poignant story, which explores the themes of love, grief, release and redemption.

While unfolding from multiple perspectives, John and Penny are the central protagonists of the story. Since Thisbe’s tragic death the two have never quite been able to let go, of her, or each other. The coronial inquest serves as a catalyst as John contemplates ending everything, and Penny considers finally moving on.

Fate gives Penny, a book editor, a push when a local bookstore owner discovers Thisbe’s long missing bag and manuscript, prompting the unraveling of not one, but two crimes, and placing Penny on a deserved new path.

John comes very close to getting his wish, just as he realises it’s not really what he wants. Kelly’s insight into John’s depression is thoughtful and empathetic as he struggles both mentally and physically, haunted by his last moments with Thisbe.

With exceptional characterisation, eloquent prose, and raw emotion, Her Last Words is a compelling read this review can’t begin to do justice.

++++++

Available from all major online retailers worldwide, in print, ebook and audio.

 

Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Kim Kelly

 

Blog Tour Review: The Bush Telegraph by Fiona McArthur

Title: The Bush Telegraph

Author: Fiona McArthur

Published: 1st September 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read September 2920, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Reader’s familiar with The Baby Doctor, will be delighted to discover Fiona McArthur’s The Bush Telegraph features Maddy Locke, the young woman who gave birth in an abandoned storefront while hiding from her abusive boyfriend, in this lively, heartwarming and absorbing rural romance novel.

Set eleven years later, Maddy and her daughter, Bridget, have returned to the small outback town of Spinifex where Maddy, who has since earned a host of nursing qualifications, is to manage the local medical centre. Hoping to banish the ghosts of her past, and make a life for herself and Bridget among the wide open spaces, Maddy is determined to rise to the challenge of providing quality health care to the region and support the revitalisation of the struggling remote community in the memory of her late adopted mother, and former town publican, Alma.

Romance is the last thing on Maddy’s mind, her trust in men having been eroded by her disastrous relationship with Bridget’s father, but meeting attractive station owner Connor Fairhall challenges that. Though wary of the single father who seems to be the subject of disturbing rumours, and whose son, Jayden, appears set on causing trouble, Connor proves to be an unexpected temptation for Maddy. I really liked the way in which McArthur developed the relationship between the two protagonists, particularly with respect to their backgrounds, and I thought their friendship blossomed into romance, with convincing chemistry, nicely.

While the romance is integral to the plot of The Bush Telegraph, McArthur explores several important themes and issues within the story. There are characters facing various problems including alcohol addiction, financial pressures, abandonment, domestic abuse, betrayal and grief. The community itself is showing signs of neglect, with struggling businesses, vacant storefronts, and a dwindling population.

The challenges of providing medical care in a remote location like Spinifex are made clear by McArthur as she details Maddy’s varied nursing tasks in the clinic, which include providing emergency treatment to a walk-in heart attack patient and a child in diabetic crisis, setting broken bones and stitching cuts, and caring for a woman in pre-term labour. Drawing on her own experience working in remote regions as a midwife, McArthur highlights the need for remote health workers to be well resourced and capable of handling a range of situations, the importance of back-up being available in an emergency, and most dramatically, what it means when the life in your hands is your own child’s. I was so affected by one incident involving Maddy providing life-saving treatment, I found myself wiping away a tear or two.

With its engaging characters, captivating drama, and heartfelt emotion, The Bush Telegraph is a wonderful read, sure to appeal to fans of the contemporary rural genre. I think it’s her best yet.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Also by Fiona McArthur reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Gathering Dark by Candice Fox

Title: Gathering Dark

Author: Candice Fox

Published: 3rd August 2020, Arrow

Status: Read August 2020 courtesy Random House UK/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

I’ve been delighted by the international success of author, Candice Fox, whose novels I have generally found to be creative, compelling and uniquely Australian. Unfortunately I can’t say the same of Gathering Dark which reads like it was written for the lowest common denominator of the US crime/action market.

Actually that sounds a lot harsher than I intend it, in and of itself Gathering Dark offers a fast paced, action packed, entertaining story, but it was so far from what I expecting, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed

Set in L.A., newly paroled felon, Blair Harbour, is doing her best to live quietly in the hope of increasing access to her young son, when ex-cellmate ‘Sneak’ begs her to help find her missing daughter, Dayly. Despite the risk to her liberty, and life, Blair soon finds herself, with a gopher in a shoebox, careening around town in dubious company, and turning to the very detective who put her away for help when she realises she is in over her head.

The story unfolds from the perspectives of Blair, and Detective Jessica Sanchez, which run parallel until about halfway through the book. As Blair is riffling through Dayly’s few belongings, bribing a probation officer who threatens to violate her on a petty charge, and foolishly extracting a favour owed from gangster Ada Maverick; Jessica, a dedicated investigator, is dealing with jealous, venal colleagues after inheriting a multi-million dollar house from the father of a murder victim. Jessica really isn’t interested in having anything to do with Blair at all, except Blair’s son is her new neighbour, which prompts her to take a second look at Blair’s murder conviction, and what she learns, with the assistance of eccentric pathologist Diggy, suggests Jessica has a debt to repay. The situation soon goes from bad to worse in the search for Dayly, and Fox leads us on a madcap and dangerous adventure that pits the group against a mass murderer, corrupt cops, would be thieves, and each other.

Variously tense, funny, violent, poignant and outrageous, Gathering Dark is obviously best approached without preconceptions. If you can manage that then you’ll find this to be an enjoyable crime thriller.

++++++

Available from Random House UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Also by Candice Fox reviewed at Book’d Out

 

  

Review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Title: The Thursday Murder Club

Author: Richard Osman

Published: 3rd September 2020, Viking UK

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy PenguinUK/Netgalley}

++++++

My Thoughts:

“A few glasses of wine and a mystery. Very social, but also gory. It is good fun.”

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is a delightful mystery debut from UK TV host, Richard Osman.

Set in a luxury retirement village in the south-east region of England, new resident Joyce is quietly thrilled when Elizabeth asks for her professional opinion about a knife wound, and then extends an invitation to join The Thursday Murder Club. The club, so named because it meets on Thursday’s, studies cold cases from the files of a retired Detective Inspector (who is now too ill to participate), and includes Elizabeth, a former intelligence operative; Ibrahim, a mostly retired psychiatrist; and Ron, once a union boss, who enjoys playing devil’s advocate. The group enjoy the intellectual challenge of their investigations, but when the part owner/builder of The Coopers Chase Retirement Village, is found bludgeoned to death, the foursome are determined to have a hand in solving the case.

The Thursday Murder Club is a cosy mystery, rather than a thriller, but if one death isn’t enough to satisfy your lust for murder, you are in luck, because Curran is only the first to die. The builder is barely in his grave, when his pompous partner, Ian, keels over dead, and then the bones of another murder victim are found in a graveyard. Osman offers an engaging plot that provides plenty of red herrings as the Club members, and police, try to determine what, if any, connection exists between the three deaths, searching for motive, piecing together clues and chasing leads, even all the way to Greece. I thought the story was well paced, and just unpredictable enough to keep me guessing.

Honestly though it’s the quirky, shrewd and lively protagonists of this novel, who despite their advanced age, or perhaps because of it, aren’t shy about insinuating themselves into the case, much to the exasperation and eventual grudging respect of local police officers, PC Donna de Freitas, and DCI Chris Hudson, that are the winning ingredient. I was absolutely charmed by the personalities of the foursome as they inveigled, manipulated, coerced, and traded favours in their race to solve the murders. Joyce, Elizabeth and Donna in particular are spirited characters who tend to steal the limelight.

Though there is plenty of humour to be found in The Thursday Murder Club, much of it dry in the way that only British humour can be, there are some poignant moments too, which gives the story some depth. Osman touches on some of the disadvantages of ageing, such as failing physical and cognitive abilities, the illness and loss of a spouse, and loneliness, but also reminds us that old age doesn’t have to mean giving up on passion or excitement.

Charming, witty and entertaining, I sincerely hope that we’ll be enjoying the antics of the The Thursday Murder Club again soon.

++++++

Available from Penguin UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Review: The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman

Title: The Women’s Pages

Author: Victoria Purman

Published: 2nd September 2020, HQ Fiction

Status Read August 2020 courtesy Harlequin Australia

+++++++

My Thoughts:

The Women’s Pages is another captivating novel of historical fiction from best-selling author, Victoria Purman.

Set in Sydney, Australia as World War II draws to a close, Tilly Galloway is an official Women’s War Correspondent for The Daily Herald, and though she has found it frustrating that as a woman she has been restricted to reporting from the home front, she loves her job. While the end of the war is cause for celebration, for Tilly the occasion is bittersweet when her boss insists she returns to writing for the women’s pages to make way for returning serviceman, and prepare for her own husband’s homecoming.

Seamlessly merging historical facts with fiction, Purman’s focus is on exploring the post war experiences of women in this enjoyable, moving, and interesting novel. Though the end of the war brings relief, it also creates new challenges for Australian women.

Many women suddenly find their working life abruptly altered or terminated to benefit returned serviceman, and struggle with the loss of their independence. Tilly acknowledges she is lucky to still be employed, but disappointed to be reassigned to cover gossip and social events, especially when she feels strongly that there are issues women are facing which are more urgent and meaningful to report on.

Other women expect to settle back into a life of domesticity with their demobbed husbands only to discover, as does Tilly’s best friend, Mary, that their men are virtual strangers, struggling with physical injuries or mental health issues from their wartime experiences. Few men returned unchanged from the war, and women bore the brunt of the aftermath with no, or little guidance, and Purman portrays these challenges with clear-eyed compassion.

Some women, like Tilly, and her sister, Martha, discover after years of waiting, that that their husbands may not be returning at all. Tilly is increasingly anxious as there is no word of her husband, who is a Japanese prisoner of war. Martha’s husband survived the war, but has deserted her, leaving her to raise their three sons on her own without any financial support.

These are just a few of the issues for women Purman explores in The Women’s Pages, she also touches on the government’s failure to adequately provide for war widows and their now fatherless children, the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the divide between the experiences of working class and upper class women. Through the members of Tilly’s family, Purman also highlights the postwar Union struggle for fair wages and working conditions, particularly on the waterfront, and its effect on women, like Tilly’s mum.

Heartfelt and poignant, with appealing characters, The Women’s Pages is an excellent read which presents an engaging story that also illuminates the real history of post-war Australian women.

++++++

Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Victoria Purman reviewed at Book’d Out

 

  

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