Review: Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

 

 

Title: Tidelands {Fairmile #1}

Author: Philippa Gregory

Published: August 20th 2019, Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster

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My Thoughts:

Tidelands introduces a new series, Fairmile, from bestselling historical author Philippa Gregory.

“These are the tidelands: half tide, half land, good for nothing, all the way west to the New Forest, all the way east till the white cliffs.”

Set in the mid 1600’s, as the Parlimentarians/Anglicists and Royalists/Papists wrestle for control of England, Tidelands centres on Sealsea Island, off the coast of Sussex. It’s here in a small fishing hut that Alinor Reekie, ‘neither widow nor wife’, lives, earning just enough to keep body and soul together as a midwife, herbalist and healer. Her most fervent wish is to secure a better future for her children, twelve year old Rob, and thirteen year old Alys, a simple desire that seems improbable, but Alinor’s chance encounter with James, a young Catholic priest, seeking sanctuary could turn the tide for them all.

Unfolding from the shifting third person perspectives of Alinor and James, Tidelands is a bewitching story of love, desire, danger and betrayal.

It’s fair to say that though rich in description and detail, the story progresses little during the first third or more of the novel. Gregory relies somewhat heavily on foreshadowing to sustain the reader’s interest which means there are few surprises as the plot unfolds, yet I found the story engrossing, caught up in the vivid portrayal of a life and time unfamiliar to me.

“I did not know that there could be a woman like you, in a place like this.”

Key to this tale is the forbidden romance that develops between Alinor, and (Father) James Summers, the priest who also serves as a Royalist spy. James is intrigued by Alinor’s beauty and grace, qualities he never expected to find in an impoverished wisewoman, and Alinor unwisely allows herself to get swept away by the handsome young man’s sincere, if naive, interest. It’s not unsurprising, given the period and circumstances, that the relationship will end badly for at least one, and perhaps both of them.

“It’s a crime to be poor in this county; it’s a sin to be old. It’s never good to be a woman.”

Of course, Alinor will always be the one with the most to lose. Already, as a woman abandoned by her husband, envied for her beauty, and regarded warily for her skill as a wisewoman, which some equate with witchery, she is regularly the subject of suspicion, rumour and innuendo in her small community. Any failing, or error in judgement, could cost her not only her reputation, but also her life. Gregory does a wonderful job of exploring the vulnerability of women during this time period, especially a woman like Alinor who wants more than society believes she has a right too.

“It matters to me. I matter: in this, I matter.”

Beautifully written, well researched, atmospheric and interesting, Tidelands is a captivating novel I enjoyed much more than I expected to.

Read an Excerpt

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Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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

Review: Meet Me In Venice by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: Meet Me in Venice

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: August 6th 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

 

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My Thoughts:

Meet Me in Venice is a lovely, heartfelt story from multi-award-winning author, Barbara Hannay.

A year after the sudden death of her beloved husband, Daisy Benetto can think of no better place for a family reunion than Venice, the place of Leo’s birth. While Daisy and her youngest daughter, nineteen year old Ellie, will fly in from their home in Queensland, Australia, oldest son Marc, and his wife, will be traveling from California’s Silicon Valley, and Anna from London, where she has been trying to launch her career as an actress.

Hannay has created a loving, ordinary family in Meet Me in Venice with whom most readers will relate. Daisy is a warm, caring mother who is proud of her children, and her children clearly adore her in return. I thought the dynamics of the sibling relationships rang true, with the rivalries and role playing that often carry into adulthood.

Daisy’s children all want her to have a wonderful time in Venice and so are determined not to worry her with their own problems, but that’s not easy in such close quarters when tensions sit so close to the surface. The strain only increases when the family learns that Leo kept a secret from them all which threatens to undermine what they thought they knew of the husband and father they admired. I really liked the way in which Hannay dealt with all of these varied issues and the way in which they were resolved.

Hannay‘s novels are usually set in rural Australia but this is set almost wholly in Venice. It’s such an appealing city and the descriptions of its historic architecture, delicious cuisine and rich culture enhance the enjoyment of the story.

A captivating story about family, love and life’s journey, Meet Me in Venice is an engaging and enjoyable read.

Read an Extract

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Also by Barbara Hannay reviewed at Book’d Out 

(click the cover to learn more)

 

 

Review: White Horses by Rachael Treasure

 

Title: White Horses

Author: Rachael Treasure

Published: August 17th 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

When I started making notes to write this review of White Horses by Rachael Treasure, I was disheartened to realise that on balance, the negatives for me outweighed the positives. This has nothing to do with the quality of writing as such, and everything to do with specific elements of the story that I personally didn’t care for.

Treasure’s passion for regenerative agriculture, and ethical animal husbandry, something she herself practices on her farm in Tasmania, is admirable and is clearly communicated in White Horses. It’s evident, even to a lay person, that the agricultural industry needs to embrace more sustainable, holistic methods of farming and Treasure doesn’t hesitate to drive this point this point home at every opportunity. ‘The Planet’ does sound inspirational, but there is no denying it has a cultish vibe, especially with the talk of the ‘Waking World’ vs the ‘Sleeping World’.

I really wasn’t too keen on the spiritual overtones of the story overall. While I’m all for love and light, compassion and cooperation, I personally found the endless philosophising a bit grating, and I thought the idea of the ‘ghost girl’ was cheesy.

I liked Drift (aka Melody Wood) well enough, she is smart, capable, idealistic, and feisty but also insecure and a bit naive. Her unusual upbringing, spent droving with her father, certainly seemed to have had some benefits, especially when it came to her connection with the land and the environment, but I was a little bothered that the author seemed to consider her isolation from her peers and unfamiliarity with technology somehow laudable.

The romance between Drift and ‘the stockman’ was okay, and obviously it all turns out fine. I would have preferred we had the opportunity to ‘see’ them spend more time together, instead we really only witness them at two crisis points.

*spoiler* One point I feel compelled to make is that the likelihood of ‘the stockman’ being legally allowed to re-enter the country, which leads to the HEA, would be almost nil, and it bugged me.

My biggest issue with the book however was the lack of repercussions for the men who assaulted Drift. It appeared that in both instances there were no formal charges laid against any of the men for the attacks on her (though it was hinted that they eventually faced consequences for other crimes). Perhaps I’m mistaken in my interpretation, but it seemed to me that the author implied that Drift was too ‘spiritual’ to require that the men answer for their crimes against her, and I was uncomfortable with that idea.

White Horses has received several glowing reviews from readers who were delighted with it, unfortunately I just wasn’t one of them.

Read a Sample

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Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen

 

Title: Chase Darkness With Me: How One True Crime Writer Started Solving Murders

Author: Billy Jensen

Published: August 16th 2029, Sourcebooks

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Choose Darkness With Me is a fascinating account of Billy Jensen’s passion for investigating unsolved crimes, and developing new strategies with which to solve them.

“Whenever people ask me why I only write about unsolved murders, I always say the same thing: because I hate the guy who got away with it.”

Jensen’s obsession with true crime began in childhood, inspired in part by his dad’s rather inappropriate bedtime stories. After earning a degree in Religion, and forays into a range of diverse professions including house painting, web marketing, and professional roller hockey, Jensen became a journalist. Landing a job as a stringer he was on course to be a crime beat reporter but quickly realised that he wasn’t comfortable just writing about the awful things that happened to people. He wanted to help, and turned his focus to the hundreds of thousands of missing persons, and unsolved murders mainstream media deemed ‘low profile’, eventually leading to the development of the website ‘True Crime Daily’, and a desire to reinvent the way true crime stories are told, and solved, through the use of television, mobile and web.

The potential of crowdsourcing crime solving is something Jensen often discussed with the late Michelle McNamara while she was in pursuit of identifying The Golden State Killer. After her untimely death, Jensen helped to complete her book, I’ll Be Gone In the Dark, and was motivated to take more direct action.

“I’m not chasing people. I’m chasing shadows, phantoms that flit in and out of a surveillance video. That’s on a good night. On the other nights, I’m chasing darkness.”

Of course online armchair detectives have been active for years, Websleuths was launched in 1999, and they recognised the potential of social media as a source for solving crime early on. Jensen however claims to be one of the first to recognise the value geotargeted social media campaigns could have to help solve crime and set out to prove his theory. In Chase Darkness With Me he documents several intriguing cases in which geotargeting, primarily using Facebook’s and Twitter’s ‘boost’ tools (funded from his own pocket), in combination with other methods, has assisted in generating new leads, and even arrests, in cases deemed ‘cold’ by the police. This, Jensen believes, is something anyone can do, and to that end he also provides tips and advice for anyone interested in becoming a ‘Citizen Detective’.

“We are at the precipice of being able to solve more cold cases than ever before…. we need to get loud. Start fund-raisers. Recruit volunteers. You reading this book are deputized. Go get a megaphone.”

I found Chase Darkness With Me to be absolutely compelling reading. I’m certain those interested in true crime, law enforcement or related topics, will also find it entertaining and informative.

++++++

Available from Sourcebooks

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

Review: The Day the Lies Began by Kylie Kaden

 

Title: The Day The Lies Began

Author: Kylie Kaden

Published: August 13th 2019, Pantera Press

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy Pantera Press/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Kylie Kaden’s third novel, The Day The Lies Began, is an absorbing contemporary story of secrets, lies, love and loyalty.

“Doing the wrong thing had felt entirely right at the time.”

It begins for Abbi Adams with a lie told with the best of intentions – to protect her husband, and her five year old daughter, Eadie – but she is soon struggling under the burden of her deception. As is Blake, Abbi’s (foster) brother and loyal co-conspirator, who has everything to lose, including his career as a police officer, if their duplicity is revealed. The dark secret Abbi and Blake share is central to the plot, but even they are not in possession of all the facts, and as the story unfolds, so too does the truth, which results in some stunning surprises for the characters, and the reader.

“And in every choice since; in every betrayal covering the one before, it lingered. She could never quite escape the stench.“

Kaden has created provocative, complex characters who are burdened by secrets which threaten to undermine the stability of not only their own lives, but the lives of those they love. The Day The Lies Began focuses on five characters, Abbi and her husband, Will; Blake, Abbi’s (foster) brother, and his on/off girlfriend Hannah; and teenage Molly. The truth for each of them is complicated by guilt and regret, loyalty and love.

“…now you know the truth, it’s your truth to do what you want with.”

While the first half of the novel is important in establishing character, relationships, and motives, it dragged on about fifty pages too long with a repetitive cycle of Abbi’s panic. Persistence is rewarded however, and the last half of the book is compelling after the shocking incident that sparked Abbi’s lie is finally revealed.

“She’d have to stay a killer. It was simpler.”

The Day The Lies Began is an enjoyable and provocative novel of domestic suspense.

++++++

Available from Pantera Press

or from your preferred retailer via Booko I BookDepository

 

Also  by Kylie Kaden reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

 

 

Title: The Burnt Country (Woolgrowers Companion #2)

Author: Joy Rhoades

Published: August 6th 2019, Bantam

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

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My Thoughts:

The Burnt Country is the second novel from Joy Rhoades, a stand alone sequel to her debut novel, The Woolgrower’s Companion.

Set in rural NSW in 1946, Kate Dowd is making a success of Amiens, the sheep station she inherited after the death of her father three years previously. Few admire her for it though, especially neighbouring grazier, John Fleming, and his cronies, who take every opportunity to undermine Kate’s management. Already under siege from her estranged husband, the Aboriginal Welfare Board, and the unexpected return of Luca Canali, Kate is feeling the strain, which only worsens when a bushfire rages through Longhope, a man is killed, and the community seems determined to lay the blame at Kate’s feet.

Rhoades skilfully captures the setting and period in which The Burnt Country is set. Her descriptions of the environs are evocative, and I could easily visualise Amiens. The characters of The Burnt Country were fully realised, and their attitudes and behaviour felt true to the time period.

“Kate knew: the same rules didn’t apply to her as to other graziers, to the men. If she did anything that was disapproved of the town felt, without exception, that she needed to be taught a lesson, as if she were a child.”

If I’m honest I spent most of the book frustrated by Kate, even with the knowledge of the very real societal constraints a woman of her time, and in her position would face. She was very rarely the agent of her own fate, it was really only through the actions of others that she, and Amiens, were saved.

I adored Harry, Kate’s Informal teenage ward, though. Clever, cheeky and curious, he provided some levity in tense moments. I also had a great deal of sympathy for Daisy, and her daughter, Pearl. The policies of the Aboriginal Welfare Board were (and remain) shameful.

Perhaps because I hadn’t read The Woolgrower’s Companion, I wasn’t particularly invested in Kate’s relationship with Luca, though his adoration of her was clear. I was definitely glad Kate was finally able to rid herself of her awful husband.

”For the woolgrower, the turn of the seasons and the array of assaults upon his endeavours require both constancy and seal.”

Well written and engaging, The Burnt Country is a lovely novel, one I’d happily recommend to readers who enjoy quality Australian historical fiction. As a bonus, The Burnt Country also includes period recipes from the author’s family collection, and thoughtful discussion questions for the benefit of Book Clubs.

Read an extract

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Review: Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams

 

Title: Our Stop

Author: Laura Jane Williams

Published: August 8th 2019, Avon UK

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Avon/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Our Stop is a light hearted romantic comedy from UK columnist and Instagram influencer, Laura Jane Williams.

“To the devastatingly cute blonde girl on the Northern line with the black designer handbag and coffee stains on her dress–you get on at Angel, on the 7.30, always at the end nearest the escalator, and always in a hurry. I’m the guy who’s standing near the doors of your carriage, hoping today’s a day you haven’t overslept. Drink some time?”

Not quite sure how to introduce himself to the ‘devastatingly cute blonde girl’ who regularly shares his train carriage during his morning commute, Daniel Weissman opts to place a message in ‘Missed Connections’. Nadia Fielding is not entirely convinced the message is meant for her but she is willing to take a chance of finding true love, and replies. A flirtation ensues through the column, but when their first planned meeting goes awry it seems it will all come to nothing…unless fate steps in.

Generally the tone of the Our Stop is a light and witty romance with a very millennial vibe, though Williams touches on some serious issues such as emotional abuse, consent, depression, and UK politics.

The story unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Nadia and Daniel as their relationship is impeded by a series of missed opportunities. Nadia is likeable enough, a fairly typical heroine for the genre, except that her work has something to do with artificial intelligence, which does make a nice change from the usual professions (PR/PA) pursued by romcom heroines. Daniel is perhaps a little too perfect – embodying the ideal ‘millennial’ male, but appealing nonetheless, and I particularly liked the portrayal of his relationships with his friends, and parents.

It’s not easy to develop romantic tension over the length of a book between two people who never meet, nor given the need for a string of contrived near-misses, to sustain interest in the potential of the relationship, but I thought Williams did so reasonably well. While I did feel it was all dragged out a bit too long overall, I wanted to see how Williams would finally bring Nadia and Daniel together, and I was satisfied when they finally got their happy ever after.

Ultimately Our Stop was an okay read for me, not quite as engaging as I was hoping for, but not bad either.

++++++

Available from Avon UK

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Indiebound

Review: The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin

 

Title: The Accidentals

Author: Minrose Gwin

Published: August 13th 2019, William Morrow

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

It was the blurb of The Accidentals that caught my attention, promising a generational story focused primarily on two sisters, June and Grace McAlister, beginning in the 1950’s with the death of their mother, Olivia, from a botched backyard abortion.

I liked the first quarter of this novel, which concentrated on the sisters’ child and teen years after the loss of their mother, and feel that had Gwin kept this her focus, I would have been quite satisfied. Unfortunately I soon began to feel that the characters became passengers, rather than agents, of the story.

The author seemed determined to make reference to every topical social issue possible, including but not limited to, homosexuality, abortion, teen pregnancy, racism, ‘passing’, mental illness, gender inequality, Alzheimers, cancer, the rights of felons to vote, as well as touching on major cultural events such as WWII, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Challenger Disaster, and Obama’s Inaugural Presidential Run. As such, much like the birds – the ‘accidental’s’ that lose their way = so too does this story.

Which is a shame, because it’s clear that Gwin can write, and there was a lot of good here. It’s an emotionally charged novel, perhaps bleaker than I was expecting, but also often moving and sincere.

I didn’t dislike The Accidental’s, it just didn’t quite work for me, but it may well work for you.

Read a sample

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Available from HarperCollins US

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository

Review: Snake Island by Ben Hobson

 

Title: Snake Island

Author: Ben Hobson

Published: August 5th 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Snake Island by Ben Hobson is powerful tale of patrimony, regret, vengeance, and tragedy.

For two years Vernon Moore, and his wife, have refused to acknowledge their son, Caleb, who is serving time in a nearby minimum security prison, firm in their belief that he should serve his sentence for a vicious domestic assault without clemency. Yet when Vernon learns that his son is being victimised by a local thug, Brendan Cahill, given free rein to regularly bash Caleb by a corrupt prison warden, he realises his error and is determined to put an end to the attacks. Vernon knows that appealing to the local police for help would be futile, the Cahills’s pay Sargeant Sharon Wornkin well to ignore their transgressions, which includes a large scale operation growing and selling marijuana, but he hopes that an appeal to Cahill patriarch Ernie, one father to another, will save his boy. Instead, Moore unwittingly ignites a feud that threatens to destroy them all.

Unfolding primarily from the perspectives of Vernon, Sharon, and the youngest Cahill son, Sidney, I was riveted by this low key, gritty rural thriller as events spiralled out of control.

“A cornered rat used what teeth it had.”

The characters, and their relationships, are realistically crafted with a skilful complexity. Few are likeable, all are deeply flawed, but none (well almost) are entirely irredeemable. I had sympathy for Vernon and Sidney, despite the mistakes they made, but I had very little for Sharon, whose lack of integrity I found difficult to forgive.

“You keep giving up parts of yourself, you end up as far down the track as it’ll take you.”

Hobson explores several themes in Snake Island. I thought one of the most important was the notion of loyalty, to whom it may be owed, and where it’s limit may lie, and each of the characters wrestle with these questions. Another is the legacy of violence, whether from the experience of domestic abuse or war, and how it affects who someone becomes, as a father, as a son, as a wife, as a person. Also thoughtfully examined are themes of family, justice, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

“Vernon looked at his son. Understood deeply now what he had given up. Knew, too, he wasn’t willing to give up anymore.”

A vivid and thought provoking novel, I was gripped by Snake Island from the first line, to the last word.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: State of Fear by Tim Ayliffe

 

 

Title: State of Fear

Author: Tim Ayliffe

Published: August 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster

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My Thoughts:

State of Fear is an entertaining contemporary thriller from Tim Ayliffe, his second novel featuring journalist, John Bailey.

Moments after Australian the veteran war correspondent concludes his speech for an audience in London’s Chatham House about his experience at the hands of a Islamic terrorist organisation, Bailey witnesses a radicalised jihadi youth slit the throat of an innocent woman in St James Square. Less than 48 hours later, back home in Sydney, Bailey learns that the spectacle was orchestrated in part for his benefit by Mustafa al-Baghdadi, the leader of ‘Islamic Nation’, and the man responsible for Bailey’s kidnap and torture a decade ago in Fallujah. Mustafa, has an axe to grind with John, and he is promising more bloodshed to come.

Capitalising on the current threat the Islamic radicalisation of youth poses to Western society, State of Fear has a frighteningly credible plot. Determined to make Bailey pay for a perceived betrayal, Mustafa has planned attacks that will not only spread terror among the population, but will also affect John personally. He begins by radicalising the Australian born child of Bailey’s former Iraqi driver/fixer to get his attention, and then has his believers target Bailey, and those closest to him.

Moving between the inner suburbs of Sydney and London, the fast pace ensures that tension and interest remain high as Bailey joins in the search for the martyrs, attempts to stop further attacks, and locate Mustafa.

John Bailey is an engaging hero, though he certainly has his flaws, struggling daily with his sobriety and suffering PTSD from the months he spent at the mercy of ‘Islamic Nation’. I really liked the strength of his friendship with his editor, Gerald Summers, and CIA agent, Ronnie Johnson (though the latter says ‘Bubba’ way too much). His romantic relationship with Sharon Dexter is complicated, not the least by her new job as the head of the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team.

State of Fear also includes some interesting social commentary from Bailey’s perspective about the state of modern journalism, the failure of the government to address the alienation of the Australian Islamic community, and the indiscriminate filming and social media sharing of tragedy.

I really enjoyed State of Fear, and I’d happily recommend it to fans of authors such as Michael Robotham and Greg Barron.

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Available from Simon & Schuster

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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