Review: Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

 

Title: Church of Marvels

Author: Leslie Parry

Published: Hachette Australia May 2015

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Status: Read from May 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Church of Marvels is an atmospheric and haunting tale set in New York during the late 1800’s that unfolds from the perspectives of four compelling characters, whose lives eventually converge.

Leaving behind her twin sister, Isabelle Church fled to Manhattan in the wake of the Coney Island fire that killed her mother and destroyed the Church of Marvels, the carny show in which Isabelle starred. No one knows why she left, where she is, or what secrets she keeps.

“I haven’t been able to speak since I was seventeen years old. Some people believed that because of this I’d be able to keep a secret. They believed I could hear all manners of tales and confessions and repeat nothing. Perhaps they believe that if I cannot speak, I cannot listen or remember or even think for myself – that I am, in essence, invisible. That I will stay silent forever. I’m afraid they are mistaken.”

With her mother dead, and her twin sister gone, only Odile Church remains at Coney Island, the spinning girl on the Wheel of Death. When a letter from her sister finally arrives she heads to Manhattan, determined to find her.

“At first glance the twins looked alike – they were both freckled and hazel eyed, with thick blonde hair and the snub nose of a second-rate chorus girl. But that was where the similarities ended, Unlike Belle, with her lithe and pliant acrobat’s body, Odile had a permanent crook in her neck and a slight curve to her spine.”

Sylvan Threadgill is nineteen, abandoned as a young child, he makes his living as a night-soiler, and boxes for a few extra pennies. One night he finds a baby girl half drowned in the effluent and rescues her.

“Under their breaths they called him Dogboy. He’d been puzzled over and picked apart all of his life – the skin of a Gypsy, the hair of a Negro, the build of a German, the nose of a Jew. he didn’t belong to anyone. They started at him with a kind of terrified wonder, as though he was a curiosity in a dime museum. One of his eyes was brown, so dark it nearly swallowed the pupil, and the other pale, aqueous blue.”

When Alphie Leonetti, once a ‘penny rembrandt’, is first introduced she is waiting for her husband, Anthony, to rescue her from the notorious Blackwell’s Asylum in the East River, the last thing she remembers is an argument with her disapproving mother in law. Desperate to escape she befriends a mute inmate with startling skills.

“Alphie curled up and covered her face with her hair, then cried her voice away. She couldn’t bear it; she’d come so far from her days a s a girl on the street, a bony runaway with shoes made from paper, waiting there on the corner with her paint stand and jars. And here she was, through some cruel reversal, sent back to the anonymous hive, trapped in a room full of women who were not missed and not wanted, who would wear the same dress every day until it disintegrated on their hungry frames-a dress she too wore, formless and smelling of some previous disease…”

With evocative phrasing Parry creates memorable characters and vivid settings, from the seedy shores of Coney Island to the dark, narrow streets of inner Manhattan, and the bleak horror of the asylum marooned in the middle of the East River.

A novel that demands attention, the lyrical prose of Church of Marvels tells a complex, suspenseful mystery that sometimes appears scattered, but is eventually brought to a stunning resolution.

“We can be a weary, cynical lot – we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by. A kitchen knife. A bulb of glass. A human body. That something so common should be so surprising – why, we forget it. We take it for granted. We assume that our sight is reliable, that our deeds are straightforward, that our words have one meaning. But life is uncommon and strange; it is full of intricacies and odd, confounding turns.”

 

Church of Marvels is available to purchase from

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Review: Gallipoli Street by Mary-Anne O’Connor

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia, a time to remember and honour those who have served in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations in defense of Australia and New Zealand. The date, April 25th, specifically  references the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915, a doomed campaign that nevertheless birthed the legend of the ANZAC spirit.

My daughter has been accorded the honour of leading today’s ANZAC march in my country town, on the 100th anniversary of the landings, bearing the Australian flag. My oldest son will wear his grandfather’s service medals as he and his brother march with their cub troop. We will remember them. Lest we forget.

******************

Title: Gallipoli Street

Author: Mary-Anne O’Connor

Published: MIRA: Harlequin AU March 2015

Status: Read from April 23 to 24, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A sweeping saga of romance, friendship, family and war, Gallipoli Street is Mary-Anne O’Connor’s debut novel.

Its 1913 and the declaration of war is about to shatter the rural idyll of Beecroft, home to the close knit O’Shay, Murphy and Dwyer families, who will discover their fates are intertwined by tragedy and love.

The romance of Gallipoli Street begins with the passionate love story between childhood friends, Veronica O’Shay and Jack Murphy. It is an epic tale that sees the couple overcome a scheming femme fatale, the perils of their service in the Great War, and Jack’s struggle to reconcile his experiences on his return home.
Twenty years later their son finds love in a New Guinea field hospital ward with orphaned nurse Theresa, but their relationship is shattered when shocking secrets from her past are exposed.

The story takes us from the trenches of Gallipoli, to the deserts of Egypt, from the muddy battlefield of The Somme, to the dense jungle of the Kokoda Trail. No matter the period or arena, war proves to be a universally horrifying and heartbreaking experience which the author relates with truth and compassion.

An appealing and poignant tale, O’Connor has drawn inspiration for both the story of Gallipoli Street and its characters from the lives of her maternal grandparents lending it authenticity and heart.

Gallipoli Street is available to purchase from

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Review: A Time of Secrets by Deborah Burrows

 

Title: A Time of Secrets

Author: Deborah Burrows

Published: Pan Macmillan March 2015

Status: Read from March 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A Time of Secrets is Deborah Burrows’ third wonderful novel blending Australia’s wartime history with mystery and romance.

While Burrows previous novels take place in Perth, A Time of Secrets is set in Melbourne in 1943. Australian Women’s Army sergeant Stella Aldridge is out shopping with her roommate and colleague, Dolly, when she overhears a whispered conversation in Malay between a group of Australian soldiers. Concerned with the implications she alerts her boss at the APLO, The Australian Pacific Liason Office, only to be drawn into a covert investigation headed by her superior officer, Lieutenant Nick Ross.

As Stella and her colleagues work to uncover the identity of the traitor sabotaging the Australian war effort they have to negotiate the politics of the APLO. I enjoyed the intrigue of the storyline and learning a little more about the war effort. In this, as in both of Burrows previous novels, A Stranger in My Street and Taking a Chance, Burrows’ brings to life the experiences and contribution of women during wartime in Australia.

A minor subplot focuses on Stella’s roommate Dolly, and the secrets she is keeping both from her fiance and Stella, while a second involves an axe wielding murderer stalking women in Melbourne. The theme of domestic violence is prominent in the novel. as is violence on the home front in general.

There is romance for Stella with the enigmatic soldier Staff Sergeant Eric Lund. A special operative, his life is at risk if the rumours of a traitor imbedded within the APLO are true. Stella’s attraction to Lund is complicated by his capability for violence, her first husband who was killed in action physically abused her, and she is wary. A sort of love triangle also develops as Ross, an unapologetic ladies man, makes his interest in Stella clear.

Burrow’s is a talented storyteller who brings wartime Australia to life. Offering an interesting mystery combined with strong characterisation and a well crafted plot, A Time of Secrets is an engaging historical fiction novel.

Available to purchase from

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Review: Razorhurst by Justine Larbalaestier

 

Title: Razorhurst

Author: Justine Larbalaestier

Published: Soho Teen March 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from March 07 to 9, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Justine Larbalaestier’s Razorhurst is gritty, intriguing novel blending history and the paranormal to create an interesting and exciting story with crossover appeal for both young adult and adult audiences.

It’s 1932 and the tentative truce between Sydney’s rival underworld gangs, headed by Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson, is on the verge of collapse when Gloriana’s right hand man, Jimmy Palmer is murdered in his bed.
For Dymphna, Gloria’s ‘best girl’ and Jimmy’s girlfriend, Jimmy’s death is a problem. Was he murdered by Mr Davidson in a calculated move against Glory, or was he killed because Glory learned of his and Dymphna’s plans to oust her?
Climbing into the Surrey Hills dosshouse housing Gloriana’s men in search of food, street urchin Kelpie is shocked to find Dymphna standing over the body of her murdered lover.
Both are forced to flee as the police close in, with Dymphna insisting Kelpie remains with her for protection, but safety is hard to come by on the streets of ‘Razorhurst’.

Razorhurst is told from the alternating perspectives of Kelpie and Dymphna, interspersed with brief omniscient vignettes. Both girls are feisty, brave, and smart, but most importantly they are survivors.
Kelpie is an appealing character. When her mother died in childbirth, she was taken in by ‘Old Ma’ who raised her as best she could. Upon Old Ma’s death, desperate to escape the Welfare, Kelpie took to the streets, surviving with the occasional kindness of local hard man, Snowy, and the ghosts that she can both see and hear that haunt the streets.
Dymphna was born to privilege but tragedy left her orphaned twice and she was forced to find a way to survive. As Glory’s ‘best girl’, she has earned status among the underworld, but she wants more. She too can see and hear ghosts but hiding her ability has become second nature.

Larbalaestier’s gangland characters are inspired by infamous Sydney identities (most notably Tilly Divine and Kate Leigh), and the author’s research into the ‘razor’ gangs of Sydney, so named because straight edge razors were the weapon of choice during the 1930’s.
I loved the historical elements that evoke inner city Sydney during the period. Grounded firmly in fact, the setting is fascinating and vividly drawn, from the slum of Frog Hollow to the seedy streets of Surry ‘Sorrow’ Hills lined with bordello’s, opium dens and gambling houses.

Unfolding over the course of a single day the pacing of the novel is well managed, the action is non stop as Dymphna and Kelpie scramble to survive. There are explicit, though not gratuitous, references to violence and the occasional use of language. A touch of humour and romance tempers the ever present sense of menace and danger.

Entertaining, thrilling and original, Razorhurst is a great read I’d widely recommend and I’m really hoping Larbalestier has plans for a sequel.

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International Women’s Day: Cranky Ladies of History by Tehani Wessley (Ed.)

iwd_long

In honour of International Womens Day 2015, I am pleased to introduce Cranky Ladies of History, an anthology launched today from Fablecroft Publishing.

Title: Cranky Ladies of History

Author: Tehani Wessley (Editor)

Published: Fablecroft Publishing March 2015

Status: Read from March 07 to 08, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtsey the publisher)

My Thoughts:

Cranky Ladies of History is an anthology conceived and developed by Tehani Wessley of Fablecroft Publishing and author, Tansy Rayner Roberts. Crowdfunded through Pozible during Womens History Month in 2014, the concept attracted many supporters eager to be a part of project.

Twenty two authors have contributed to Cranky Ladies of History, including award winner’s Thoraiya Dyer, Juliet Marillier, Jane Yolen and Garth Nix.

Each short story in Cranky Ladies of History features a real female historical figure. I’m not familiar enough with history to separate fact from fiction in these pieces but these strong, often fierce women are those who challenged society’s rules and ideas about how women should behave, though not always in heroic or noble ways. While Garth Nix honours Lady Godiva in ‘The Company of Women’, ‘Look How Cold My Hands Are’ by Deborah Biancotti features Countess Bathory, an insane serial killer.

The women featured include an Ancient Egyptian ruler (‘Neter Nefer’ by Amanda Pillar), a Chinese Empress (‘Charmed Life’ by Joyce Chng), a British women’s rights campaigner (“Mary, Mary” by Kirstyn McDermott) and an Australia doctor (‘Due Care And Attention’ by Sylvia Kelso. Some of the protagonists represent well known figures such as Queen Elizabeth 1 (‘Glorious’ by Faith Mudge) while others feature woman whose lives have all but been forgotten, such as the Icelandic Viking warrior, Hallgerðr Höskuldsdóttir (‘For So Great A Misdeed’ by Lisa L. Hannett)

An entertaining and interesting anthology, Cranky Ladies of History is an important collection of fiction that gives voice to an extraordinary selection of women from a broad range of backgrounds, era’s and cultures. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

 

Cranky Ladies of History is available to purchase from

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Review: The Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman

 

Title: The Reluctant Midwife { A Hope River Novel #2}

Author: Patricia Harman

Published: William Morrow: HarperCollins March 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from March 02 to 04, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelwiess}

My Thoughts:

The Reluctant Midwife is a heartwarming and engaging novel by Patricia Harman, set in the same location and era as her fiction debut, The Midwife of Hope River.

Penniless, homeless and the sole carer of her inexplicably catatonic ex-employer, Dr Isaac Blum, nurse Becky Myers is in desperate straits by the time she arrives in Hope River, rural West Virgina. It is the 1930’s, times are tough for everyone, and with few options, Becky is forced to figure out a way to support herself and Blum.

Harman effortlessly evokes the era in which The Reluctant Midwife is set. The focus is on the challenges of the Great Depression, in rural areas unemployment rose to around 80% leaving hundreds of thousands of people struggling to survive.

With a little luck and hard work, Becky finds a way to eke out a living as the Depression ravages the country. Though initially forced to rely on the generosity of friends and neighbours, she delivers groceries, reluctantly assists the local midwife Patience Murphy, and becomes a part time staff nurse at a nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Characterisation is a real strength of Harman’s writing. Becky is not a saint, she can be uptight and prideful, she is often frustrated by Blum’s non responsiveness and resents having to work as a midwife when the whole notion of childbirth horrifies her, however it is difficult to fault her drive to better her circumstances. I really enjoyed the way her hard edges softened over the course of the novel.
Readers familiar with The Midwife of Hope River may remember Dr Blum as an arrogant and cold man. His unexplained catatonia was precipitated by the death of his wife, and he is now a pitiful man but his silence also hides a secret.
I loved reconnecting with Patience Murphy, Hope River’s sole midwife, now married to the ‘new’ vet, Daniel Hester and the mother of a young son, but even more minor characters, like Nico and Captain Wolfe are well drawn and believable.

The Reluctant Midwife is a captivating story of hardship, loss, friendship, and hope. Though its not necessary to have read The Midwife of Hope River to enjoy The Reluctant Midwife, I would recommend it, simply because it too is a wonderful story.

 

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbøl

 

Title: Doctor Death {A Madeleine Karno Mystery #1}

Author: Lene Kaaberbøl

Published: Atria Books February 2015

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Status: Read from February 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Set in provincial France during the late 1800’s, Doctor Death is the first book in a new historical mystery series from Lene Kaaberbøl, featuring Madeleine Karno.

“My father was reluctant to let me assist when he examined the dead. He said it could only hurt my reputation and my future – by which he meant my chances of marriage. For the most part, my father was a man of progress, absorbed by the newest ideas and the latest technology. But he was incomprehensibly old-fashioned on this particular point.”

The daughter of a widowed surgeon/coroner, Madeleine dreams of one day following in his footsteps but for now must be content with those rare times when her father allows her to assist him. Intelligent, rational and ambitious, Madeleine is an admirable character who chafes at the expectations of the era though rarely in an overt way. When her father is injured she seizes the opportunity to become more involved in his current case that begins with a dead girl, scarred with human bites, found on her snow covered doorstep.

Solving the complex mystery involves a combination of common investigation techniques led by Madeleine’s father’s colleague, the Commisioner, and the fledgling science of forensics utilised by Madeleine and her father. It is a strange case that involves an unidentified parasite, a missing boy, a pack of wolves, a murdered priest and it becomes increasingly unsettling as Madeleine gets closer to unmasking a killer. There are red herrings and twists that keep the reader guessing as Kaaberbøl explores the conflicts of human and beast, science and faith.

“Illness is not necessarily a punishment from God…. Sometimes it just comes to us. If we are lucky, it is a trial from which we can learn. Other times, we must just accept that we humans do not understand everything.”

The tone is quite dark overall and there are elements of the story which readers may find disturbing. There is a touch of unconventional romance which will be interesting to see develop in further installments. The pace is good but the narrative does feel a little dry and formal at times, perhaps a consequence of the translation as much as a reflection of the period.

I did enjoy Doctor Death, the mystery was intriguing and Madeleine is an interesting lead but I have to admit I wasn’t as engaged as I hoped to have been. I do hope to continue with the series though to see how it develops.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

Title: Things Half in Shadow

Author: Alan Finn

Published: Gallery Books December 2014

Status: Read from December 28 to 30, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Things Half in Shadow is an entertaining mystery thriller with a paranormal twist, set in postbellum Philadelphia, in which author Alan Finn (the pen name of Todd Ritter) introduces an unusual crime solving duo – independently wealthy crime reporter, Edward Clark and brazen confidence trickster, Lucy Collins, who become unlikely allies when they are present at the death of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city’s most highly regarded medium.

Edward tells the tale of Things Half in Shadow as an old man sharing the story with his granddaughter. The two lead characters are wonderfully drawn, interesting and believable with intriguing secrets.
Edward is a gentleman, a veteran of the civil war, independently wealthy and engaged to a young lady of society. Tasked by his editor to expose Philadelphia’s psychic fraudsters preying on the grieving families of those lost in the war, he is reluctant to do so, though he has a secret that makes him uniquely qualified for the feature.
Mrs. Lucy Collins claims to be a ‘spiritually gifted’ young widow, offering her services as a medium to the bereaved of Philadelphia and is Edward’s first target for his newspaper expose. In truth she is a ‘fallen’ woman, successfully scamming Philadelphia society with simple sleight of hand.

The plot sees Edward and Lucy forced to cooperate in the wake of Pastor’s murder to clear their names, despite their mutual antipathy. There are several suspects including the other man and women who were in attendance at the seance, Leonora’s husband and a mysterious man in black who seems to be shadowing Edward. The suspense is well crafted, and the mystery behind Leonora’s unusual death is much more complex than it seems, eventually exposing a startling conspiracy that stretches back into Edward’s past.

Historically atmospheric, with a surprise cameo from PT Barnum, Things Half in Shadow is a great mystery tale, and one of my favourite books for 2014. Finn hints that Edward and Lucy may return soon, I can’t wait.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

 

Title: The Zig Zag Girl

Author: Elly Griffiths

Published: Quercus November 2014

Status: Read from December 13 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Elly Griffiths popular Ruth Galloway series has been on my to-read list for sometime but I’ve been loathe to start a new series given my current reading commitments. I pounced then on the opportunity to read her first stand alone, The Zig Zag Girl.

When the head and legs of a young woman are discovered in two black cases at Brighton train station, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens doesn’t have to wait long to discover the whereabouts of her torso when a third box is delivered to him at work. Curiously the box is addressed using his military rank, Captain, and the state of the woman’s body reminds Edgar of a magician’s trick, known as the Zig Zag Girl, performed by an old army buddy, Max Mephisto. Assuming the coincidence is unlikely, especially when the girl is identified as Max’s pre-war stage assistant, Edgar tracks down Max, a popular theater magician and then the rest of the men he served with, a group known as the ‘Magic Men’ – recruited for a top secret special assignment during World War II. After another death, another gruesome magic trick gone awry, Edgar realises that the Magic Men are being targeted and he must race to unmask the killer before they perform their final deadly trick.

The Zig Zag Girl is set largely in Brighton, England during the 1950’s and Griffiths skilfully evokes the post war era and the shabbiness of the neglected seaside town. Griffiths is said to have drawn on her own family history – her grandfather was a music hall comedian and her mother grew up ‘backstage’ – to authentically recreate the variety theater scene of the time.

Edgar is a likeable character, a little reserved and weary but thoughtful and steadfast. Max is more flamboyant, befitting a magician, and the two make a good team. The world of the theater allows Griffiths to introduce some additional colourful characters, and the ‘Magic Men’ are a quirky lot too.

The mystery is well thought out, using several red herrings to distract the reader from identifying the murderer too quickly. A little humour and a touch of romance lighten the more gruesome criminal elements of the story, and the background of the Magic Men provides added interest.

A clever, entertaining mystery, I really enjoyed The Zig Zag Girl, I think I need to make room in my schedule for The Crossing Places sooner, rather than later.

 

Available to Purchase From

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Giveaway: The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien

 

 

Title: The King’s Sister

Author: Anne O’Brien

Published: Harlequin MIRA Australia Jan 2015

 

 

Elizabeth of Lancaster
Sister. Wife. Traitor.

One betrayal is all it takes to change history…

June, 1380: Elizabeth Plantagenet – seventeen years old, spoilt, headstrong, fun-loving and intelligent — is about to be married. The Earl of Pembroke is an advantageous choice for all concerned, except Elizabeth, as the Earl is only eight years old.

June, 1386: Scandalously pregnant by Sir John Holland, Duke of Exeter, whilst still married to the Earl, Elizabeth is hastily married again. As half-brother to King Richard II, Sir John is a man known to all for both his charm and self-interested scheming.

Soon Elizabeth is drawn into the heart of a dangerous rebellion with her brother, King Henry IV, on one side, and her husband on the other. As tensions become a matter of life or death, Elizabeth is presented with an impossible choice of where to give her loyalty…”

 

Courtesy of Harlequin Books, I have

3 print editions of

The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien

to giveaway

to three lucky Australian residents.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER

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