Review: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Title: Long Bright River

Author: Liz Moore

Published: January 9th 2020, Hutchinson

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Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Penguin Books Australia


My Thoughts:

Long Bright River is a compelling literary novel of family drama and suspense from Liz Moore.

“There’s a body on the Gurney Street tracks. Female, age unclear, probable overdose, says the dispatcher. Kacey, I think. This is a twitch, a reflex, something sharp and subconscious that lives inside me and sends the same message racing to the same base part of my brain every time a female is reported.”

Set in a depressed neighbourhood of Philadelphia where the opioid crisis is taking an increasing toll on its residents, police officer Mickey (Michaela) Fitzgerald patrols the decaying streets of Kensington, always keeping a look out, among the prostitutes on the sidewalks and the drug addicts slumped in doorways, for her younger sister, Kacey. When it becomes clear that a serial killer targeting sex workers is stalking the ‘Ave’, Mickey begins a frantic search for both her missing sister, and the perpetrator, risking the job she loves, and even her own life.

I’m not always keen on a first person narrative but I found Mickey’s voice to be compelling as the novel moves between the story of the sisters’ difficult childhood (Then), and their present circumstances (Now). Moore’s characterisation of the sisters, and their complex dynamic, is nuanced and gripping. Raised by their resentful grandmother after the overdose death of their mother, the sisters were once close, but no longer speak. Nevertheless, Mickey tries to keep tabs on Kasey, who is lost in her addiction, driven by a potent mix of guilt, regret, and love, while barely holding together her own life.

Though the plot with regards to the serial murders is a little vague at times, it serves more as a backdrop to the multi-layered narrative that explores the devastating impact of opioid addiction on individuals, families, and communities, the dehumanisation of vulnerable persons, childhood neglect, sexual abuse, police corruption, and a myriad of other issues that define life’s struggles.

A thought-provoking, poignant story of loss, addiction, forgiveness, and healing, told with compassion and authenticity, Long Bright River is a powerful and absorbing novel.

“All of them children, all of them gone. People with promise, people dependent and depended upon, people loving and beloved, one after another, in a line, in a river, no fount and no outlet, a long bright river of departed souls.”


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Review: A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh



Title: A Madness of Sunshine

Author: Nalini Singh

Published: December 3rd 2019, Hachette Au

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Hachette Au

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My Thoughts:

Best known for her popular paranormal romance series, Guild Hunters (of which I’ve read a few), A Madness of Sunshine is Nalini Singh’s first published foray into the genre of contemporary thriller/suspense.

In need of familiarity after heartbreaking loss, Anahera Rawiri returns from London to Golden Cove, the close-knit community on New Zealand’s West coast where she grew up. It seems to have changed little during her near decade long absence, but the town’s equilibrium is shattered when a beloved young local woman disappears while out jogging.

Will Gallagher, the sole police officer stationed in Golden Cove, is quick to launch a search for the missing teen, and when it proves fruitless, must consider that a local is responsible for Miriama’s disappearance. As an outsider, Will finds himself relying on Anahera to help unearth the secrets that may reveal a killer hiding in their midst.

A Madness of Sunshine offers more than one intriguing mystery, Miriama is not the first young woman to vanish in Golden Cove, around fifteen years previously three female hikers also disappeared, their bodies never found. Will is compelled to explore the possibility of a link, though Singh provides several red herrings to distract the reader as Will investigates, shedding light on the darkness of the past, and the present.

Anahera and Will are both complex, well developed characters, with interesting backgrounds. They share scars from life changing trauma, and have an attraction that is almost instinctual. I liked the relationship that developed between them, though it has only a minor role in the story.

The residents of Golden Cove are representative of a small town, with long-standing, often complicated, relationships. The author deftly includes elements of Maori culture within the story, communicating a sense of place without any awkwardness. Singh’s description of the isolated town and its wild environs are also wonderfully evocative, underscoring the vaguely disquieting atmosphere that intensifies as the plot unfolds.

A well crafted novel offering a compelling mystery and engaging characters, I really enjoyed A Madness of Sunshine.


Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Cry of the Firebird by T.M. Clark


Title: Cry of the Firebird

Author: T.M. Clark

Published: November 18th 2019, Harlequin MIRA

Status: Read November 2019


My Thoughts:

When World Health Organisation consultant Dr Lily Winters is asked to evaluate a murdered colleague’s unfinished project in South Africa, she jumps at the chance to return to the country of her birth. Supported by her husband Quintin, a world renowned violinist, Lily is eager to investigate the inexplicable clusters of illnesses and deaths recorded by her colleague, but as she grows closer to the source, she finds herself caught up web of corruption, greed, and revenge, and the unwitting target of a ruthless cabal who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets.

Offering a multilayered plot that includes more than one thread of intrigue, Cry of the Firebird, is a fast paced and exciting thriller in which Clark explores several issues, among them drug tampering, profiteering, police corruption, AIDS, early onset Alzheimer’s, wildlife conservation (particularly with regards to flamingos), and displacement.

If I’m honest, the central intrigue of the book bothered me a little because it feeds the narrative of ‘big pharma’ conspiracists, and by extension anti-vaxxer’s. However after I finished the book I did a little research and I was horrified to discover that WHO estimates 1 in 10 medical products in developing countries are substandard or falsified.

I found the main characters of Lily, her husband Quintin, and San police officer Piet Kleinman, to be appealing and well developed. Lily is smart, dedicated and thoughtful, with a stubborn streak that ensures she won’t give up easily, even when threatened. I adored the relationship between Lily and Quintin, there is such a strong, supportive bond between them that I really delighted in. Piet is an interesting character, as a displaced Kalahari bushman (San) he has a fascinating background and unique skills that he uses as both a police officer and as a medicine man to help others, especially in the San settlement of Platfontein.

Somewhat curiously for a fiction novel, along with a glossary, Clark includes some notes she titles Fact vs Fiction in the books last pages. Here she comments on where her novel is based in fact, and where she has used creative licence for the purposes of her story.

A compelling story which offers adventure, suspense, and heart, Cry of the Firebird is a terrific read I’m happy to recommend.


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Review: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic


Title: Resurrection Bay {Caleb Zelic #1}

Author: Emma Viskic

Published: September 1st 2015, Echo Publishing

Status: Read November 2019


My Thoughts:

Resurrection Bay is the first book in a thrilling Australian crime fiction series by Emma Viskic featuring Caleb Zelic.

After Caleb Zelic receives a panicked text from his best mate, Senior Constable Gary Marsden, he is horrified to discover his friend has been savagely murdered. The police first seem eager to place the blame at Caleb’s feet, suggesting that the side work Gary has been doing for the security and investigation company Caleb operates with his partner, ex-cop Frankie Reynolds, is dodgy, and when that fails to pan out, instead insinuate that Gary was a bent cop who got in over his head. Caleb is determined to prove the police wrong and find whomever is responsible for the brutal crime, but in the attempt he, and the woman he loves, becomes the target of a dangerous criminal conspiracy.

Moving between urban and regional Victoria, Resurrection Bay is fast paced with plenty of action. Caleb suspects a link between Gary’s death and a recent warehouse theft, but before he can make much headway in his investigation his business partner goes missing, and Caleb is attacked, barely escaping with his life. A game of cat and mouse ensues, with the mysterious cabal seemingly always one step ahead, and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure Caleb doesn’t uncover their secrets. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the story, which is tightly plotted, and includes a touch of dry humour, and even subtle romance.

Caleb Zelic is a compelling protagonist, in large part because he is deaf, having lost his hearing after a bout of meningitis as a young child. While Caleb is fiercely independent, skilled at lip-reading, interpreting body language, and seems to have an impressive memory, his impairment has both its benefits and challenges which I think Viskic portrays sensitively and realistically. Like any well developed character though, Caleb is a mass of contradictions, with strengths and flaws that makes him believable and relatable.

The book has quite a diverse cast of characters who vary in age, social status and race. Unsure who he can trust as he pursues the truth about his friend’s death, Caleb relies on his business partner, Frankie, and his ex-wife Kat. Though he trusts Frankie, a recovering alcoholic in her fifties, to have his back, it’s clear he harbours some concerns about her continued sobriety from the outset. Caleb is still in love with Kat, a Koori artist, and their marriage breakdown seems fairly recent, he is devastated when Kat is targeted to get to him.

Gritty, edgy and original, Resurrection Bay is an exciting read and I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series, And Fire Came Down and Darkness for Light


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Review: You Don’t Know Me by Sara Foster


Title: You Don’t Know Me

Author: Sara Foster

Published: November 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster Au


My Thoughts:

“The search parties move through the forest shortly after dawn, flashes of neon jackets among the trees, the slumbering air stirring towards an early morning chill. They call her name again and again, then wait, hoping for something in return.”

For just a moment, when Noah glimpses a woman with long red hair on a ferry while holidaying In Thailand escaping the pressures of work and family, he thinks it could be his brother’s missing girlfriend, Lizzie, more than a decade later and thousands of kilometres from where she was last seen. Of course it’s not, but he is drawn to the beautiful redheaded stranger, and when he sees her next, he learns her name.

Alice is almost half way through her six month contract teaching English in Thailand, having fled Australia in search of anonymity. She’s not looking for anything that might complicate her attempt at building a new life for herself, but she finds Noah irresistible.

Though Noah has to return to Sydney in a few days, and Alice can’t leave Thailand, they embark on a passionate affair, and vow to find a way to make their relationship work, but the truth is, sometimes love just isn’t enough.

Unfolding from the perspectives of Noah, and Alice, You Don’t Know Me is an absorbing story of family drama, mystery, and romance from Sara Foster.

Foster deftly explores the complicated dynamics that has both shaped and ultimately twisted the members of the Carruso family. Meeting Alice causes Noah to question the path he has taken in life stirring up lots of family drama that is exacerbated by the return of Noah’s older brother, Tom, after an eleven year absence. With no love lost between the two brothers stemming from childhood rivalry and the uncertainty surrounding Lizzie’s disappearance, the tension ratchets, and then explodes, just as a coronial inquiry to determine Lizzie’s fate forces Noah to confront the guilt, shame, and anger he has been repressing for years.

I was intrigued by the mystery surrounding Lizzie’s disappearance, the details of which are communicated through the transcript of a podcast. Foster presents several suspects, and creates some stunning twists as the coronial inquiry plays out. I was left guessing about what happened to Lizzie, and who was responsible, until very nearly the end.

While Noah struggles with his conscience, Alice unexpectedly returns to Australia when her father is badly injured and must face her own demons. The combined drama and its emotional toll leaves its mark on Noah and Alice’s fledgling relationship, which Foster explores thoughtfully as they try to support one another through all the turmoil, and desperately attempt to hold on to the joy they find in each other.

I found You Don’t Know Me to be gripping novel with a dramatic story and captivating romance.


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Also by Sara Foster reviewed at Book’d Out


Review: The House of Brides by Jane Cockram


Title: The House of Brides

Author: Jane Cockram

Published: October 21st 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

“Everyone seemed to be hiding something. There were things that seemed not quite right, parts of the story that didn’t quite ring true. Things only another storyteller would notice.”

After her social media career implodes in a rather spectacular manner, Miranda Courtenay is left reviled and broke. Though her wealthy father has arranged a fresh start for her, a letter from a young cousin she has never met sees Miranda flee Australia to her late mother’s ancestral home, Barnsley House, on England’s west coast.

As the setting of a best selling biography, ‘The House of Brides’ written by Miranda’s mother, Tessa Courtenay née Summers, Miranda has always wanted to visit Barnsley House to meet her estranged relatives, and learn more about the mother she never really knew, but she soon discovers the house is a maelstrom of secrets, resentments, tragedy, and scandal.

I’d describe The House of Brides as contemporary gothic, with what I thought were obvious echoes of genre classics such as Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, with perhaps even a nod to the works of V.C Andrews.

Cockram certainly creates an eerie atmosphere in The House of Brides. Barnsley House is an isolated rambling stone mansion on a cliff’s edge, half shuttered due to the temporary closure of the hotel and restaurant operated by Max Summer, and his bride, Daphne, inhabited by a group of reticent residents. As documented in Tessa’s book, it has also been the site of both triumph and tragedy, especially for the women of the Summers family, and is rumoured to have the ghost of a ‘House’ bride lurking in the East wing.

Unfortunately I really didn’t care much for Miranda. I may have been more forgiving of her character if she was aged closer to 16, rather than 26, as it was I found her to be painfully immature, self centred, and occasionally wilfully obtuse. At times I didn’t understand her behaviour at all, and that made it difficult to connect with her. As for the rest of the characters, they are suitably enigmatic for a gothic novel, most of whom have an edge of menace, or madness, or both.

While overall I thought The House of Brides had a decent premise, I did find it was a little messy and disjointed in places. Some of that, I think, had to do with the poor formatting of the e-arc. With plenty of intrigue, and atmosphere I do think most of the elements were there for a great story, but it didn’t quite all come together for me.


Available from HarperCollins AU I HarperCollins US

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US Cover

Review: Takes One To Know One by Susan Isaacs


Title: Takes One To Know One

Author: Susan Isaacs

Published: October 1st 2019, Grove Atlantic

Status: Read September 2019, courtesy Grove Atlantic/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

I was excited by the premise of Susan Isaacs Takes One To Know One and I’d really been looking forward to it reaching the top of my pile.

“Just a few years ago, Corie Geller was busting terrorists as an agent for the FBI. But at thirty-five, she traded in her badge for the stability of marriage and motherhood. Now Corie is married to the brilliant and remarkably handsome Judge Josh Geller and is the adoptive mother of his lovely 14-year-old daughter. Between cooking meals and playing chauffeur, Corie scouts Arabic fiction for a few literary agencies and, on Wednesdays, has lunch with her fellow Shorehaven freelancers at a so-so French restaurant. Life is, as they say, fine.

But at her weekly lunches, Corie senses that something’s off. Pete Delaney, a milquetoast package designer, always shows up early, sits in the same spot (often with a different phone in hand), and keeps one eye on the Jeep he parks in the lot across the street. Corie intuitively feels that Pete is hiding something–and as someone who is accustomed to keeping her FBI past from her new neighbors, she should know. But does Pete really have a shady alternate life, or is Corie just imagining things, desperate to add some spark to her humdrum suburban existence? She decides that the only way to find out is to dust off her FBI toolkit and take a deep dive into Pete Delaney’s affairs.”

So when I was considering giving up on it, just a little more than a quarter of the way through, I opted instead to put it aside for twenty four hours, and then try again. Honestly I picked it back up reluctantly and I have to admit the next quarter or so was still a slog, then at about the halfway point, the pace picked up and I suddenly couldn’t put it down.

I’m not exactly sure why I found the first half of Takes One To Know One so laborious. Told through Corie Geller’s first person perspective, the narrative felt, at times, closer to a stream of consciousness, bogged down in the details of Corie’s life. To be fair I think the poor formatting of the e-arc may have contributed to that impression, as there is no spacing between paragraphs, or even chapters, resulting in an uncomfortable run-on effect. That I didn’t really warm to Corie’s angst regarding the changes her marriage had wrought, probably didn’t help either.

For me the story finally got interesting when Corie began seriously investigating Pete Delaney and the narrative became more interactive (if that makes sense). As Corie considers and discards potential criminal scenarios that Pete Delaney could be involved in, she calls on ex colleagues for information, uses her best friend, Wynne, as a sounding board, and involves her dad, a retired police detective, in her investigation. It all eventually leads to a tense confrontation that I found unexpectedly thrilling.

I’m not sure that I can say the last half of the book was enough to redeem Takes One To Know One for me, but it’s entirely possible that you may not find the first half as problematic as I did, it may be worth a try if the premise appeals.


Available from Grove Atlantic

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Review: Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay


Title: Elevator Pitch

Author: Linwood Barclay

Published: September 17th 2019, William Morrow

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss


My Thoughts:

You might find yourself hesitating before stepping into an elevator in a multi-storey building after reading Linwood Barclay’s latest thriller, Elevator Pitch.

When four people are killed after what is assumed to be an accident where an elevator plummeted twenty nine floors, the Mayor of New York City is quick to express his condolences. When barely a day later another elevator falls, decapitating a Russian scientist, the Mayor is quick to publicly dismiss the incident as a coincidence. When less than twenty four hours later a third elevator crushes two people, the Mayor is forced to order that all elevator’s in the country’s most ‘vertical city’ be shut down. As New York reels, Detectives Bourque and Delgado, and journalist Barbara Matheson search for answers, hoping to find the culprit before the city falls.

The story unfolds at a good pace, however the plot is fairly predictable, though the author throws in a number of red herrings. Barbara develops a theory that the Mayor considers absurd, while the detectives run down leads until they have a suspect in sight.

Barclay does build tension as events escalate, and the finale is taut and exciting, but it’s the plausibility of the elevator incidents that really provokes anxiety. Personally I’m now kind of glad the only two public elevators in my town (at the local shopping centre) are just two storey’s high.

I enjoyed Elevator Pitch, it was an entertaining and easy read, I just don’t seem to have a lot to say about it.


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Review: The Woman In the Window by A.J. Finn


Title: The Woman in the Window

Author: A.J. Finn

Published: January 15th 2018, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy HarperCollins Australia


My Thoughts:

I picked The Woman in the Window off my stack of unread ARC’s at random for the week’s reading, vaguely recalling that it was released to great acclaim while I was on hiatus. I read it over two days, and quite enjoyed it, but something nagged at me. When I finished, and marked it ‘Read’ on Goodreads, I briefly scrolled down the page and a comment regarding some author controversy caught my eye. I clicked through to an article published in The New Yorker, and as I read, I remembered, there was a reason I’d put The Woman in the Window aside … so what now?

I thought The Woman in the Window was a suspenseful, atmospheric psychological thriller with a compelling unreliable narrator, an intriguing mystery, unfolding at a good pace.

The thing is, I have serious doubts about how much of The Woman In the Window can be credited to the author. I read not only The New Yorker article, but a dozen or so others as well (because I never accept just one news source), and quite apart from my distaste for Mallory’s sociopathic behaviour (which includes faking serious medical issues, lying about his academic achievements, and lots of other shady behaviour), on balance I think it’s entirely possible that The Woman in the Window is more than just mildly derivative.

I won’t judge if you decide to read the book, there are worse ways to spend your time, and The Woman In the Window is an entertaining thriller. I won’t be reading anything else by A.J. Finn though.


Available from HarperCollins Australia

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Review: Missing Person by Sarah Lotz


Title: Missing Person

Author: Sarah Lotz

Published: September 3rd 2019, Mulholland Books

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy Mulholland Books/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

‘Looking for my uncle Edward Shaun Ryan. Goes by Teddy. He left Wicklow County in Ireland in 1995 and might be in NYC. To my knowledge he hasn’t contacted the family since then. His current age would be 42. Irish, slender, five foot five (approximately), gay. If you have any information please contact…”

Irish bookseller Shaun Ryan is stunned when he learns that his late mother’s favourite brother, Teddy may still be alive and well. While Shaun had been told his Uncle was killed in a car accident before he was born, it seems Teddy had instead been banished to the United States in part because, like Shaun, he was gay. Despite the vehement objections of his remaining family members, Shaun decides to search for him, posting messages online, hoping to reconnect with Teddy.

Shaun is shaken when he is contacted by a woman who runs a forum called for amateur websleuths that specialises in identifying the remains of missing people, suggesting that Teddy could be a match for an unidentified murder victim, known as ‘The Boy in the Dress’. The possibility galvanises the members of the site and with this new information the group redoubles their efforts to unravel the mystery. However among the eager websleuths lurks Teddy’s killer, and he is is determined that this is one case that will remain unsolved.

Missing Person offers an original, modern premise that is utterly believable. I was engrossed in this story, which explores the world of websleuthing, the online investigation of crime by individuals. It is an intriguing hobby that attracts a wide spectrum of people from bored housewives, to retired law enforcement officers, to IT specialists, and everything in between. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to one day learn that a killer has infiltrated a websleuth forum, of which there are many, in order to keep tabs on, or even derail, an inquiry that threatens to expose him/her. Murderer’s are known for attempting to get close to law enforcement investigations, for example, often participating in community searches for their victims, or volunteering false information to canvassing detectives. It would be relatively simple for a killer to anonymously involve themselves in this arena, something Lotz’s story acknowledges, along with the other possible pitfalls associated with online sleuthing, especially when social media is utilised.

Divided into four parts, and told from multiple perspectives, using a combination of a third person narrative and exchanged messages, texts, and forum posts, Missing Person is not just about the mystery surrounding Teddy’s murder, it examines the interesting characters that involve themselves in the case; Shaun (aka WicklowBoy22), Teddy’s nephew; forum owner, Chris (RatKing1), whose own mother has been missing since she was a teen; ‘Rainbowbrite’ (aka Ellie) a stay at home wife and mother; and the man who uses the online handle ‘BobbieCowell’, whose fascination with the case isn’t at all benign. I really enjoyed the author’s approach to telling this story, with its focus on the motives of her main characters, rather than on the crime itself.

Clever, engaging, and suspenseful, with the recent uptick of interest in true crime, evidenced by popular podcasts such as My Favorite Murder, and various Netflix specials, the publication of Sarah Lotz’s novel, Missing Person, is a timely and entertaining novel.


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