Review: Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

 


Title: Mix Tape

Author: Jane Sanderson

Published: January 23rd 2020, Bantam Press UK

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Bantam Press/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

I had been looking forward to reading Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson for a while before it finally came up in my schedule. I am of an age when mix tapes were common. I’d be listening to the radio on my boom box on a Sunday evening, a blank tape in the cassette deck, waiting for the Top 40 to start, with my fingers on the ‘play’ and ‘record’ buttons, poised to catch the opening bars of the whatever song I was hoping to record. We played mix tapes at parties, traded them among friends, and shyly gifted them to our boyfriend/girlfriend. I still have two or three of those tapes, though I no longer have anything to play them on.

Moving between the past and the present, this is the story of Daniel and Alison, who meet as teens in Sheffield, England in 1978. Their romantic relationship is brief, but intense, ending abruptly when Alison is compelled to flee her harrowing home life. Alison’s journey eventually leads her to Australia, and in 2012 she is a bestselling novelist, married with two near-adult daughters, when Dan, a music journalist whose home base is in Scotland with his wife and college bound son, receives a tweet from an old friend directing him to the profile of @AliConnorWriter. When Dan finally reaches out to the woman who has haunted his dreams for decades, he does so with a music video that speaks to a seminal moment in their relationship, ‘Pump It Up’ – Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1978.

“No words, no message. Only the song, speaking for itself.”

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, a tale of soulmates forcibly parted, and then reunited after a separation of thirty years.

Sanderson wonderfully captures the intensity of Daniel and Alison’s connection as teenagers. Dan, sweet and steady, is infatuated with the beautiful and enigmatic Alison. Alison, whose home life is chaotic and neglectful, basks in Dan’s admiration and returns his desire. When she leaves they are both devastated, aware they have lost something special.

When Dan and Ali reconnect decades later, they initially communicate only by trading songs via Twitter that remind them of their relationship, and then songs whose lyrics speak to their growing desires. I’m in my mid forties so I wasn’t particularly familiar with a fair amount of the music referenced in Mix Tape, and I found myself having to stop and search through YouTube on occasion to listen to the song to understand its significance. It’s a delightful idea though, a modern take on those not so subtle cassette mix tapes declaring love

Without sharing a word, despite all the time that has passed, the physical distance between them, and being married to other people, Dan and Alison rekindle the flame. Here is where Sanderson lost me a little, because while the idea of a love that cannot be denied is romantic, that it comes at the expense of others, even if neither of their spouses are particularly likeable, is uncomfortable for me. Still the inevitable reunion is epic, and to the author’s credit I wanted it to happen.

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, but it’s also about heartache, nostalgia, loss, forgiveness, and the music. While my feelings about it remain a little mixed, it has its charms.

++++++

Available from Bantam Press UK

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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.”

++++++

Available from Penguin Australia

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

 

Review: Chosen {Slayer #2} by Kiersten White

 


Title: Chosen {Slayer #2}

Author: Kiersten White

Published: January 7th 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Chosen begins a few weeks after the finale of Slayer, in which Nina successfully averted an apocalypse, but accidentally killed her (sort of) boyfriend/watcher, Leo, and was deserted by her twin sister, Artemis.

With the castle they call home being repurposed as a Sanctuary for Slayers and demons in need, Nina should be focused on their new mission, instead she’s distracted by grief, and the dark edge she feels to her newly restored powers. But with a new ‘big bad’ rising, Nina hasn’t got time to wallow if she’s going to save the world – again.

The storyline feels as if it would fit well within the Buffyverse. It’s nicely paced with a good dose of action and humour. I was delighted by the cameo’s from Clem and Oz, Buffy and Faith make an appearance in Nina’s dreams, and there are references to other characters such as Harmony, Angel and Spike, as well as events from Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. As a fan, I love these canonical moments.

Unfortunately Nina is no less whiny in Chosen than she was in Slayer, and while she has good reason to be upset, I found the angst a touch too repetitive. Meanwhile Artemis has completely lost the plot as she schemes with Honora, and Nina is about to be blindsided by another betrayal. Cillian, Rhys’s boyfriend, has a larger role in Chosen, as does Coldplay fan demon Doug. There are a handful of new characters introduced too, including a teleporting demon child named Tsip, and refugee Slayer, Maricruz.

I’m a little thrown by the Epilogue which could indicate White has decided not to continue the series, I hope that’s not the case though as I’m enjoying it. Chosen is a quick and an entertaining read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Also by Kiersten White reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: A Murder at Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

 

Title: A Murder on Malabar Hill {Perveen Mistry #1}

Author: Sujata Massey

Published: January 7th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

A Murder on Malabar Hill is an engaging historical mystery novel, the first in a new series from Sujata Massey, which has won several awards, most notably the Mary Higgins Clarke Award (2019), and the Agatha Award for the Best Historical Novel (2018) (under the title of The Widows of Malabar Hill).

The series features Perveen Massey, a young woman in her mid twenties who is India’s first female solicitor, working alongside her father, a respected lawyer. Massey draws inspiration for her lead character from two ‘real life’ women, Cornelia Sorabji of Poona who was the first woman to read law at Oxford and sit the British law exam in 1892, and Mithan Tata Lam of Bombay, who was the first woman admitted to the Bombay Bar in 1923.

The story shifts between two timelines, one of which fleshes out Perveen’s personal history, from her family background, to her experiences at Oxford University, to her short-lived marriage.

The second timeline focuses on the murder at Malabar Hill, an upscale neighbourhood in Bombay, in the household of three Purdahnashin widows. When their wealthy husband, Omar Farid, dies, his wives, Razia, Sakina, and Mumtaz, and their children who choose to live a secluded life (known as Purdah), are at the mercy of their household agent, Mr. Mukri. While finalising Farid’s estate Perveen notices some discrepancies and as a female solicitor she is uniquely placed to speak to the widows directly to discover what they understand of their rights. Immediately following her first visit, which infuriates Mukri, the agent is murdered, and Perveen fears the women could be next. I enjoyed the mystery, which has a cozy feel and a ‘locked room’ aspect, though it wasn’t terribly difficult to solve.

The physical setting of A Murder in Malabar Hill – primarily the wealthy neighbourhoods of Bombay in the 1920’s – is interesting, but it was what I learned about the city’s social, political and cultural milieu I found fascinating. Massey touches on a number of issues such as the varied religious beliefs within Indian society, including Parsi (Zoroastrianism), Muslim, and Hindi; the rights, or lack thereof, of women; and the conflict surrounding English rule, as well as specific cultural practices such as arranged marriages, dowry contracts, and Purdah. The details seem authentic and are woven neatly into the plot.

Well crafted and appealing, highlighting an interesting historical period and an exotic (to me) culture, A Murder at Malabar Hill is an enjoyable mystery novel, and I look forward to reading the next.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD $29.99

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

 

US Cover

Review: Maggie’s Going Nowhere by Rose Hartley

Title: Maggie’s Going Nowhere

Author: Rose Hartley

Published: 7th January 2020, Michael Joseph

Read an Extract

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Penguin Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Maggie’s Going Nowhere is a charming and hilarious debut from Rose Hartley.

Devoted to avoiding hard work and responsibility, twenty-nine year old Maggie Cotton may finally have to grow up when she is dumped by her boyfriend, loses her place at University, disinherited by her mother, and slapped with an outrageous debt by Centerlink.

Forced to take her first steps towards independence, Maggie moves into a shabby 1960’s caravan with no running water, electricity, or toilet facilities, that she parks out the front of her best friend’s house, and grudgingly takes a volunteer position at a charity in order to keep her Newstart payments.

Maggie’s Going Nowhere feels like a coming-of-age tale for the millennial generation, some of whom seem determined to extend adolescence by a decade.

In truth, Maggie is the sort of character that I would despair of in real life, and that I usually find frustrating in fiction. She’s entitled, irresponsible, insensitive, and unapologetic, so it’s to Hartley’s credit that I actually found her likeable, and even somewhat endearing. Maggie’s confidence is appealing, her lack of tact is refreshing, and her loyalty to her best friend Jen is sincere.

Jen has the patience of a saint, not only with Maggie, but also with her own fiancé Johnno, whom Maggie refers to as ‘The King of Arseholes’. I liked the author’s depiction of these relationships, and the acknowledgement that even having it all- a home of your own, a steady job, and committed relationship – is no guarantee of a happy ever after.

Given her history of sabotaging her romantic relationships, (in the worst way possible), Maggie’s crush on fellow volunteer Rueben, a sexy ex-con focused on taking responsibility for himself, seems destined for failure, but convincing him otherwise proves to be surprising motivation for her, and I couldn’t help but hope that Maggie would finally get everything she wants, even if it’s nothing she perhaps deserves.

Fast paced and thoroughly entertaining, I really enjoyed Maggie’s Going Nowhere, and I’m happy to recommend it.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Cedar Valley by Holly Throsby

 

Title: Cedar Valley

Author: Holly Throsby

Published: January 7th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Cedar Valley, Holly Throsby’s second novel, is a contemporary mystery firmly rooted in a small town Australian setting.

On the first day of December 1993, a man in a brown suit seats himself on the pavement in front of Cedar Valley Curios & Old Wares. When store owner Cora Franks eventually finds time to confront him, she is shocked to discover he has died. Amongst the crowd that gathers to witness the spectacle of a dead man, stands Benny Miller. Having only arrived in Cedar Valley that morning, Benny is both fascinated and disturbed by the incident, but she is too distracted by her need to learn more about her recently deceased mother, Vivian Moon, to give the dead stranger much more than a passing thought.

While Benny is settling in to the town, developing a relationship with Odette, her mother’s one time best friend, in the hopes of understanding why Vivian abandoned her as an infant, the police begin to investigate how a dead man came to be sitting on a footpath in Cedar Valley. Wearing a vintage brown suit, and shiny black shoes, the man has no identification and the coroner can’t determine a cause of death.

Some readers will recognise the parallels between the enigma of the dead man in Cedar Valley, and that of ‘The Somerton Man’, the subject of one of Australia’s most enduring mystery’s. The local police are baffled by the strange similarities between the two cases and struggle to make sense of it.

Various residents of Cedar Valley play a role in the story, from the local chemist, to the towns ‘womaniser’, and Detective Sergeant Simmons ailing mother, Elsie, who many not remember what she was told yesterday, but can recall events from decades before. I enjoyed the setting, the people, the town and its environs are easy to visualise.

Though the pace is a little slow and meandering for my taste, Throsby moves the story forward and eventually reveals a surprising connection between Benny, the mystery man, and the town of Cedar Valley. The conclusion is a little vague, but fits the theme of unanswerable questions that runs through the novel.

A warm, engaging read, I liked Cedar Valley, it’s the sort of novel to fill a lazy afternoon picnicking in the country.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP: AUD $19.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Mothers by Genevieve Gannon

Title: The Mothers

Author: Genevieve Gannon

Published: January 7th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++

My Thoughts:

Poignant and provocative, The Mothers is Genevieve Gannon’s fourth novel.

Shattered to learn her husband, Nick, has been unfaithful, Priya Archer (née Laghari) decides giving up on her marriage doesn’t mean she has to give up on her dream of becoming a mother and impulsively decides to move ahead with a planned IVF procedure, opting to use a sperm donor. Priya is upset when the procedure fails, but decides against a second attempt, choosing to focus on rebuilding her life on her own.

After a half dozen failed IVF procedures, Grace Arden, and her husband Dan, are thrilled when they learn their final attempt with their one remaining embryo has taken, and Grace is finally pregnant. As Grace cradles their son, Sam, for the first time all the heartache seems worth it, but as the days pass it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right.

Told in three parts, The Mothers focuses on the lives of the two couples during the period before conception, after the arrival of baby Sam, and during the court case that develops when Priya learns the Arden’s son is genetically her own. It’s an emotional exploration of themes such as infertility, marriage, and family, but ultimately this is a book about motherhood.

Gannon examines some challenging dilemmas when Priya discovers Grace has given birth as a result of an error at the IVF clinic, exploring a myriad of questions about how motherhood is defined by genetics, biology and socialisation. Sam is the genetic product of Priya and the sperm donor, but Grace ‘grew’ him during her pregnancy and gave birth to him. The question of who has the right to custody is further complicated by the circumstances of the conception and wider cultural issues, presenting a unique ethical quandary. With empathy and respect, the author skilfully explores both sides of the situation and the very difficult circumstances Priya and Grace and Dan, are forced to confront in their desire to raise Sam.

The Mothers is a thought-provoking and emotive novel, and I imagine it will be particularly engaging as the focus for discussion in a bookclub.

+++++++

Read an Extract

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP: $29.99

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Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Genevieve Gannon

Review: Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

 

Title: Such a Fun Age

Author: Kylie Reid

Published: January 7th 2020, Bloomsbury ANZ

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Bloomsbury ANZ/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid has been on my schedule for months, and I thought that, as such, it deserved to be my first read of 2020. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but it had its moments.

Having graduated college with no clear idea of what she wants to do with her life, twenty-five year old Emira Tucker has since taken on a series of part time jobs, her favourite of which is babysitting Briar Chamberlain. Briar is a precocious three year old, and a little too tiring for her career focused mother, Alix, to handle while trying to build her ‘brand’ and also care for a newborn. Alix, and her husband, TV anchorman Peter, are vaguely grateful for the care Emira provides, and both are horrified when late one night they call on Emira for help and the young woman is detained by an over-reaching security guard at a local store who believes she may have kidnapped Briar, not only because Emira is dressed for the party she was attending when the Chamberlain’s called, but because Emira is black, and Briar is white.

While underscoring the major themes of race, class, and privilege, this incident is not actually the focus of the novel, but it is a catalyst for change in the relationship between Alix and Emira. Feeling vaguely guilty about the incident, and worried that Emira will leave their employ, Alix becomes fixated on befriending her. Emira would prefer to forget the whole thing, she has other things on her mind, like her lack of career, and a new beau, Kelley Copeland, whom she met the night of the confrontation in the store.

While low key conflict related to race and class simmers in the background, Reid doesn’t pit the white and black/ rich and poor characters against each other, instead she thoughtfully explores the varying experiences, understandings, and motives that affect their viewpoints about themselves and each other. As the story unfolds from the perspectives of the two women, Reid also examines additional themes such as identity, motherhood, friendship, and career.

Not being American I can’t pretend to understand the cultural dynamics which underpin Such A Fun Age, but I did find it well written, nuanced and thought provoking.

++++++

Available from Bloomsbury ANZ

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Review: Corrupt Bodies by Peter Everett

Title: Corrupt Bodies: Death and Dirty Dealing in a London Morgue

Author: Peter Everett

Published: November 1st 2019, Icon Books

Status: Read December 2019 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Corrupt Bodies is a fascinating memoir of Peter Everett’s time as Superintendent of Southwark Mortuary, one of the UK’s busiest morgue’s, during the 1980’s.

Peter had always been fascinated by death but he was in his early thirties before landing a job as an intern at a hospital mortuary. Just six years later he was both honoured, and surprised, to be offered the position at Southwark but within days of his appointment he understood why the role had been so difficult to staff.

It wasn’t just that the mortuary more closely resembled a Victorian era ‘dead house’ than a modern medical facility with its rusting fixtures, grimy floors and poor ventilation. Nor that the workload was heavy and he was on call practically 24/7. Peter quickly discovered that many of the staff were corrupt, exploiting not only financial arrangements with coffin suppliers and hearse drivers, but also profiting from money, property and body parts stolen from the dead.

Exposing the corruption took Peter months, and earnt him enemies among his colleagues and the police (who served as coroners officers). The stress of these events, plus the steady increase in cases both banal and gruesome,several of which are outlined in the book, eventually took a toll, and Peter suffered a nervous breakdown.

Gripping, Intriguing, and disturbing I found Corrupt Bodies to be a compelling read about death, and life.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin *Recommended retail price $29.99AUD

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Girl In the Painting by Tea Cooper

 

Title: The Girl In the Painting

Author: Tea Cooper

Published: December 16th 2019, HQ Fiction Australia

Read: December 2019, courtesy HarperCollins

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Girl In the Painting is an engaging historical fiction novel, with an element of mystery, from Tea Cooper.

Set largely in New South Wales during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the narrative of The Girl In the Painting moves between two timelines which connects siblings Elizabeth and Michael Ó’Cuinn with Jane Piper, a bright young orphan, who becomes their ward.

As the story unfolds we learn of the circumstances that brought Michael and Elizabeth to New South Wales from Liverpool, England in 1863 as children, and the life they make for themselves in Hills End, and later Maitland Town. It’s 1906 when the siblings offer Jane, a math prodigy, a home, a role in their business, and the chance to further her education, but the crux of the story isn’t revealed until 1913 when Elizabeth uncharacteristically experiences a panic attack at an art exhibition, prompting Jane to investigate the cause, and a startling confession from Michael. I liked the thread of intrigue that the author developed, though the resolution was a little contrived.

I really enjoyed the setting of the novel. Cooper uses real, though unconnected, historical events as a framework, from the fire in an orphanage in Liverpool, to the attempted assassination of Prince Alfred, and the flooding of Maitland Town in 1913. The social and cultural details of the period, and the landscape of early Australia from the crowded streets of Sydney, to the goldfields of Hill End, and the nascent town of Maitland, are interesting and feel authentic.

Well crafted, with appealing characters, and rich in Australian historical detail, The Girl In the Painting is a novel that is sure to please.

++++++

Available from Harlequin/ HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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