Review: Woman of the Dead by Bernard Aichner

 

Title: Woman of The Dead {Blum #1}

Author: Bernard Aichner (translated by Anthea Bell)

Published: Scribner August 2015

Status: Read on August 25, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A dark and disturbing tale of vengeance and violence, Woman of the Dead is the first novel by Bernhard Aichner to feature Blum, mother, mortician and murderer.

When Blum’s beloved husband is killed in a hit and run she is nearly destroyed until she learns that he was deliberately targeted. The photographer, the cook, the priest, the huntsman, and the clown – these are the men responsible, and Blum is going to make them pay.

Woman Of the Dead has one of the most memorable character introductions I’ve ever read. The story opens with a during a defining moment in Blum’s life before leaping forward eight years to place us in the present. Blum is the devoted wife of Mark, a police detective, the doting mother of their two young daughters, and the owner of a successful funeral business. She is both hero and anti-hero in this story, grieving widow and ruthless killer.

There is raw and visceral emotion in The Woman of the Dead. The pain and numbness of Blum’s grief and the horror of the abuse Danya experienced at the hands of the mysterious cabal. There is also grisly and often explicit violence, this isn’t a story for the squeamish.

The plot is quite straight forward, perhaps stretched a little thin at times. It’s a fast paced story that builds suspense, though astute readers shouldn’t have any problems guessing the identity of the last man standing.

Woman of the Dead is an unusual story, with a rather extraordinary protagonist. I’m curious to see how the series develops.

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Review: The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: The Secret Years

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin  August 2015

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Status: Read from August 23 to 25, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The Secret Years is Barbara Hannay’s 49th book, in which she blends a contemporary and historical narrative to present an engaging novel about family, heroism, heartbreak and love.

Army logistics officer Lucy Hunter is relieved to be home in Townsville after her six month deployment in Afghanistan but she isn’t prepared for the changes in store for her. Her mother has exchanged her childhood home for a sterile condo apartment she is sharing with a new man, her grandfather’s health is failing, and her fiance, Sam, has cold feet. With several weeks of leave ahead of her, Lucy is at a loose end until she discovers a box of wartime memorabilia that contains clues to her family’s history that neither her mother or grandfather are willing to talk about. Hoping to understand the secrets of the past, Lucy travels to Cornwall, a place where she just might find her future.

Moving between the past and present, the narrative shifts between Lucy’s journey to unravel her family’s secrets, and the story of the relationship between Lucy’s cattleman grandfather, Harry, and his aristocratic bride, Georgina. Emotions run high in both timelines through scenes of wartime drama, desperate passion and captivating romance.

I liked Lucy and I sympathised with her desire to understand the past. The mystery stems from the discord between Lucy’s mother, Ro and Lucy’s grandfather, Harry, which Lucy learns is related to her mother’s brief time in England. I also enjoyed Lucy’s romance with the dashing Nick.

But it was the story of Harry and George’s courtship and marriage that I found particularly entrancing. Their love is touching, and their wartime experiences are exciting, if also sobering.

The story takes us from Australia’s coastline and outback, to London during the Blitz, from the wild bluffs of Cornwall to the jungles of Papua New Guinea as the Japanese invade. Both the contemporary and wartime settings are vividly described, as are the characters experiences of them.

The Secret Years is well written with appealing characters and a moving story. Another winning romance.

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Also by Barbara Hannay

 


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Review: We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

 

Title: We Never Asked for Wings

Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Published: Ballantine Books August 2015

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Status: Read from August 21 to 22, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s debut novel, The Language of Flowers, was an impressive debut that captured my heart. We Never Asked For Wings is a similarly poignant and touching story.

We Never Asked for Wings is a story of redemption as Letty Epinosa picks up the mantle of motherhood when her parents decide to move back to Mexico. After years of benign neglect, she has to learn what it means to be a parent who is emotionally present in her children’s lives while providing for them as best she can. Letty makes a lot of mistakes as she negotiates her new responsibilities but slowly she begins to find her feet, wanting the best life that she can possibly provide for her fifteen year old son, Alex, and her six year old daughter, Luna.

Meanwhile Alex is falling in love for the first time and Letty is terrified he will repeat her mistakes, sabotaging his dreams with a teenage pregnancy. Alex however is far more responsible than his mother gives him credit for, but in trying to help Ysenia, an undocumented immigrant, escape the bullying she experiences at school, he unwittingly puts both their futures in jeopardy.

We Never Asked For Wings explores social issues including single parenthood, educational inequality, poverty and immigration, and themes such as family, love, regrets and redemption. Birds and feathers are symbols of migration, patterns, hopes and dreams.

Sensitively and beautifully written, Diffenbaugh paints a vivid picture of a family struggling to overcome adversity and forge a stronger, united future in We Never Asked For Wings. This is a wonderfully engaging and affecting novel that tugs at the heartstrings.

 

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Review: No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg

 

Title: No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions

Author: Ryan Berg

Published: Nation Books August 2015

Status: Read on August 20, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I recently binge watched America’s ABC Family series The Fosters, a one-hour drama about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological teenaged kids being raised by two moms. In one of the later seasons, a main character is remanded to a residential foster home and one of the teenage residents in the home is transgender. Though his story is told quite broadly over one or two episodes, it stuck with me, and so my interest was piqued when No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg came up for review.

No House to Call My Home is a book that illustrates the struggles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth of colour in America’s foster system. While the challenges for youth in foster care are numerous, the problems LGBTQ youth face are often compounded by their struggle with gender, sexual, racial and cultural identity. Berg states that 70% of LGBTQ youth in group homes reported experiencing violence based on their LGBTQ status, 100% reported verbal harassment, and 78% of youth were removed or ran away from placement because of hostility towards their LGBTQ status.

The stories in this book offer readers a glimpse into the lives of the LGBTQ youth of colour Berg worked with in two residential units serving the LGBTQ foster youth in New York City. Focusing on a handful of characters, Berg shares their uniformly harrowing stories, often involving histories of childhood physical and sexual abuse, neglect, poverty and victimisation. Now aged between 14 and 21 (21 being the age at which foster children are released from the system) Berg and his colleagues battle to help these youths manage a myriad of issues, including addictions to drugs and high risk behaviours, to improve their chances at living healthy and fulfilling lives.

The stories are affecting, the children’s mixture of bravado, naivete, hurt and hope are difficult to read, but I think as a result I am better informed and more understanding of their circumstances. Sadly, most of the young people that we are introduced to in No House To Call Home will age out without the means, skills or opportunity to find stable housing or get a job with a livable wage.

No House to Call My Home is an accessible read for an audience curious about the issue of LGBTQ youth in foster care. I imagine it also would have value for social workers, school counselors, foster carers and LGBTQ youth advocates.

 

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Review: Good Mourning by Elizabeth Meyer & Caitlin Moscatello

 

Title: Good Mourning

Author: Elizabeth Meyer and Caitlin Moscatello

Published: Gallery Books August 2015

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Status: Read from August 19 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“When I was twenty-one and most of my friends were Daddy-do-you-know-someone?-ing their way into fancy banks and PR firms, I was grieving the loss of my father, who had just died of cancer. That’s how I found myself in the lobby of Crawford Funeral Home, one of several premier funeral homes in Manhattan, begging for a job one day.”

After finding satisfaction in taking charge of her beloved father’s funeral arrangements, young New York socialite Elizabeth Meyer joins the staff at Crawford Funeral Home despite the objections of family and friends. Though hired as a receptionist, Elizabeth’s curiosity about all aspects of the business, including the mortuary room, and her ability to relate to Crawford’s upscale clientele, soon sees her appointed as the Family Services Coordinator.

Unlike Caitlin Doughty’s memoir Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, published earlier this year, Meyer’s memoir has no real agenda, though she is sincere in her belief that mourners should have the opportunity to create a meaningful funeral experience that honours their loved one.

Good Mourning has a largely lighthearted tone as Meyer shares her experiences at Crawford. From body fluids leaking all over her Gucci shoes, to missing brains, to making arrangements for dozens of Lamborghini’s to line Madison Avenue. She is discrete as she describes the excesses of unnamed celebrity and society funerals, respectful as she tells of families grief, and is matter of fact about the more confronting aspects of the funeral industry.

Eventually tiring of the infighting and corporate ethos plaguing Crawford, Meyer left after a few years, and after further study started her own private consulting firm, helping people to navigate the funeral industry.

Authored with the assistance of freelance writer Caitlin Moscatello, Good Mourning is written in a conversational style. Elizabeth comes across charmingly enthusiastic, and genuinely passionate about her chosen career. Meyer’s instinct for dealing with grieving families is remarkably mature, but her youth is apparent in what she shares of personal life. She has a difficult relationship with her mother, doesn’t understand the hostility directed at her by her colleagues, and takes her wealth and privilege for granted.

Good Mourning is a quick, interesting and entertaining read, and Elizabeth Meyer shares her story with honesty, humour, and compassion.

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Review: The Crushing Season by Peta Jo

 

 

Title: The Crushing Season

Author: Peta Jo

Published: August 2015

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

My Thoughts:

Peta Jo’s second novel, The Crushing Season, is an engaging story about friendship, family, love and loss.

Leah, May, Tate, Alex and Benny are the best of friends. They met in high school and more than fifteen years later, despite the separation wrought by their busy lives, remain close. When May is hit by a double crisis, her friends rally to support her, but none of them realise how badly she has been affected, until she does the unthinkable.

I became quite attached to all of the Crushing Season’s protagonists, who are wonderfully developed characters. Tate is a feisty news editor, struggling to balance her commitment to her work and new motherhood. Leah runs her own successful restaurant, but is plagued with a history of bad relationships. Benny is a frustrated writer on the verge of giving up on his dreams. Laid back Alex is suddenly anxious about his future. May is the linchpin of the group, whose gentle and caring nature never hints at the dark secrets she holds close.

The dynamic between the friends is skilfully rendered. I enjoyed their rowdy reunion, their affectionate ribbing and bickering, and of course the way they supported each other in times of crisis. Even when their bond is complicated and strained, the connection is clear. In many ways, they remind me of my own close circle of friends whom I don’t see as often as I would like.

Peta Jo’s exploration of the books somber issues such as abuse, depression, suicide and guilt, are thoughtful and compassionate. Most importantly, the characters emotions are sincere, and their behaviour genuine. Though there is real sadness in The Crushing Season, there is also plenty of heart and humour, which often made me smile.

Well paced, with excellent characterisation and a strong plot, The Crushing Season is an affecting tale, both achingly poignant and truly heartwarming.

Please CLICK HERE to learn more about Peta Jo and The Crushing Season

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Review: Private Sydney by James Patterson & Kathryn Fox

 

Title: Private Sydney {Private #10}

Author: James Patterson and Kathryn Fox

Published: Random House Australia August 2015

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Status: Read from August 17 to 18, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:
In the latest addition to the Private series, James Patterson teams with Aussie crime author Kathryn Fox, introducing the reader to Craig Gisto, and his staff, in the Private Sydney agency who have two cases to investigate in this crime thriller novel.

The first involves a surrogacy scam, a murdered woman and a missing baby. Gisto’s agency is accused of negligence when a couple hires Private to run a background check on a woman who has volunteered to be their surrogate. Within hours of turning over the report, the woman is murdered, an 8 week old baby in her care abducted, and the identities of the couple prove to be false. Gisto and his team have few leads and work hard to unravel the scam, determined to find the missing infant.

The second case involves the missing CEO of a billion dollar company. Stonewalled by the man’s business partner, Gisto begins to suspect large scale fraud is the issue. However it soon becomes clear that whatever Eric Moss has done, he has made some dangerous enemies. Despite attempts at intimidation, Gisto refuses to back off, especially when threats are made against the missing man’s daughter.

Short chapters, an economy of words, and a sense of immediacy keeps the pace moving quickly. The plot is well crafted and not entirely predictable, with some smaller subplots that fill out the pages. Studded with action, there is also a touch of romance. You don’t get much more than a general sense of the characters, but it is enough to satisfy.

The Australian setting, which moves from Sydney city to the Blue Mountains, should appeal to Patterson’s international and local fans.

Private Sydney was exactly what I expected, a quick, easy, entertaining read.

Private Sydney is available to purchase from

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Review: The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

 

Title: The Murderer’s Daughter

Author: Jonathan Kellerman

Published: Ballantine Books August 2015

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Status: Read from August 16 to 17, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

A rare standalone from an author best known for his long running series featuring child psychologist Alex Delaware, Johnathon Kellerman doesn’t stray far from the familiar in The Murderer’s Daughter.

Grace Blades is a respected psychotherapist who specialises in treating patients that have experienced extreme trauma. It isn’t uncommon for new patients to abandon a session, but Grace is curious when the body of Andrew Toner is found the morning after their first meeting. Tracing his last movements, Grace unwittingly puts herself in the cross-hairs of a ruthless killer.

Andrew Toner, Grace soon discovers, was born Typhon Dagon Roi, the orphaned son of a cult leader, who along with his siblings, Samael and Lilith, spent a brief period in the same foster home as Grace. Targeted by Andrew/Typhon’s killer, Grace, intelligent and resourceful, conducts her own investigation, while evading the men targeting her, leading her into a harrowing confrontation with pitiless evil.

The narrative alternates between the present, as Grace searches for for the killer, and the harrowing details of Grace’s troubled past.

Grace is an intriguing character. She was five when she witnessed her mother kill her father and then commit suicide, eleven when her foster mother, Ramona, collapsed and died in front of her. An incredibly bright child, she captured the interest of Ramona’s brother-in-law, psychology professor Malcolm Bluestone, and his wife Sophia, who later adopted her. Now in her mid thirties, she is independently wealthy, and successful in her field, but she has a dark side that comes to the fore when threatened.

The mystery runs a fairly predictable course, but Grace is a memorable character. Part fast paced thriller, part complex character study, The Murderer’s Daughter is a great read for Kellerman fans, and new readers alike.

 

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Review & Giveaway: Long Bay by Eleanor Limprecht

 

Title: Long Bay

Author: Eleanor Limprecht

Published: Sleepers Publishing August 2015

Status: Read from August 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

Drawing on official documents and extensive general research into the period, author Eleanor Limprecht blends fact and imagination to create a convincing narrative that tells the story of a woman forgotten by history in her novel, ‘Long Bay’.

Born in Paddington, New South Wales in 1885, Rebecca Sinclair was the fourth of six children, raised by her mother who was widowed when Rebecca was two. She married at nineteen, birthed a daughter, and four years later, alongside her husband, was convicted of manslaughter for the death of a mother of three who died after an abortion procedure performed by Rebecca went wrong. Rebecca was sentenced to three years hard labour in Long Bay and while imprisoned, Rebecca birthed her second daughter.

Limprecht builds on these known details of Rebecca’s life with her imagination, informed by research, creating a story that depicts a childhood of poverty, a marriage marred by bigamy and violence and the events that led up to the tragic event that resulted in her being jailed. Long Bay illustrates an era where women had limited control over their lives and often struggled under the weight of deprivation and hardship.

There is no doubt that Rebecca’s story is fascinating and I was intrigued by the details of her life, but the writing is often quite dry and unsentimental, lacking the emotion that could have breathed more vitality into the narrative. Yet the story is rich in period detail, evoking the city landscape and era well.

A thoughtful and readable novel, I did enjoy Long Bay. I feel it is a story that will interest readers of both historical fiction and non fiction, especially those curious about women’s lives and issues at the turn of the century.

GIVEAWAY

Courtesy of the author, I have 1 print edition of Long Bay to giveaway to an Australian resident

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Review: The Callahan Split by Lisa Heidke

Title: The Callahan Split

Author: Lisa Heidke

Published: August 2015

Status: Read from August 14 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

The Callahan Split is Australian author Lisa Heidke’s sixth novel but her first foray into the world of self publishing, supplementing her successful career in traditional publishing.

Professional doubles tennis champions, sisters Samantha and Annie Callahan, have each others backs both on and off the court. Riding high after winning a gold medal at the Olympics they are favourites to win the Australian Open, until Annie’s new boyfriend drops a bombshell just before their first match, and the girls relationship begins to falter. Samantha, ambitious and driven, is irate as a love-struck Annie loses interest in their childhood goal, and is completely devastated when her sister severs their partnership to pursue a singles career. Without Annie by her side, Samantha is lost and is forced to wonder if winning is really everything.

The Callahan Split is a story about sisters, Samantha and Annie share a close personal and professional bond which is severely tested when their goals in life no longer coincide. The main theme takes Heidke’s protagonists on a journey of self discovery, but it also explores serious issues such as depression, anxiety, and abandonment.

I didn’t relate particularly well to either sister initially. I found Samantha’s single-minded focus and emotional immaturity draining, and Annie’s desertion selfish. To be fair, the sisters have their reasons, not the least being their mother’s abandonment, which had a significant impact on them both, and I wasn’t entirely unsympathetic to the pressure they were both under as elite athletes trying to stay on top. Most of the story unfolds from Sam’s perspective, and I grew to appreciate the hard earned growth her character experienced. I felt her relationship with Violet and her family, and her romance with her coach, Bear, also softened her sharper edges somewhat.

I have to admit, I’m not that interested in tennis, though I spent several sleepless nights watching the Australian Open in 2003 as Andre Agassi and Serena Williams claimed the title, while nursing my newborn daughter, however I did enjoy the behind the scenes look this elite level sport, including the gossip about the on and off court antics of the players.

A tale of personal and professional adversity and triumph, The Callahan Split is an engaging story, another winner for Lisa Heidke.

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Also by Lisa Heidke

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