Review: Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

 

Title: Little Black Lies

Author: Sharon Bolton

Published: Transworld UK July 2015

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Status: Read from July 07 to 09, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Little Black Lies is a taut, twisty thriller from Sharon Bolton. It begins when a child goes missing, the third in three years from the sparsely populated Falkland Islands.

The narrative is divided into thirds, unfolding from the perspectives of three unique and complex characters. For Catrin the disappearance is an inconvenience. She has a schedule to keep, plans for the woman she blames for the tragic death of her young sons as an anniversary approaches. Callum, an ex-soldier with PTSD, has a theory about the abducted children that the local police are choosing to ignore. Rachel, who spends most of her days in bed, is largely oblivious until her youngest son goes missing.

The well crafted plot, which I don’t wish to elaborate on, reveals the links between these characters, whose lives have been tainted by grief and tragedy, and their connection to the missing children over a period of five days. Though the pace is measured, the story is propelled by cinching tension and breath taking twists.

The setting is atmospheric, the isolated island itself has great presence in the novel from its rugged coastline to its rocky terrain, and its history, as the site of the bloody if short lived war for sovereignty between Britain and Argentina in the early 1980’s, also plays into the story.

Fans of poetry should enjoy the references throughout the novel to ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Bolton skilfully utilises the imagery the verses evoke.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

Little Black Lies is a tense, dark and disturbing story about revenge and redemption, that leads to a stunning conclusion. I could hardly put it down.

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Seasoned Traveller 2015

Review: The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White

 

Title: The Perfect Son

Author: Barbara Claypole White

Published: Lake Union Publishing July 2015

Status: Read from July 05 to 07, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

When Ella Fitzwilliam is hospitalised after a life threatening heart attack her workaholic husband, Felix, is forced to assume the daily care of his teenage son, Harry. Harry is a bright, handsome sixteen year old, with Tourette Syndrome, ADHD and anxiety, and father and son struggle to cope in Ella’s absence.

Told from the perspectives of White’s three main characters, Harry, Ella and Felix, The Perfect Son is a heart warming and poignant story about family, acceptance, trust and love. The changing dynamic of the Fitzwilliam family is beautifully crafted and White writes with insight and compassion for the complexities of a family in crisis.

Ella has always been her son’s advocate and his strongest supporter. She doesn’t regret devoting her life to ensure Harry’s well being but hovering between life and death she is forced to let go and trust her husband and son will find their way.

As a perfectionist who is uncomfortable with both physical and emotional disorder, Felix struggles to negotiate both the everyday and extraordinary challenges involved in parenting Harry. Initially Felix is largely an unsympathetic character, while devoted to his wife, his attitude towards his son is cold and critical, however as White reveals his painful back story I began to understand his inability to relate to his son, and I really enjoyed the way in which the author developed him.

Harry is a wonderful character and I was impressed with White’s well rounded portrayal of him. Harry’s neurobiological issues are a part of who he is, but that isn’t all he is. Like any other teen Harry is contemplating his options for college, falling in love, learning to drive and testing parental limits. He deals admirably with the extra pressure of his mother’s illness and his father’s cluelessness and is a special and genuine young man.

White’s secondary characters are also a delight. Ella’s closest friend, Katherine, the family’s feisty elderly neighbour, Eudora, and in particular Harry’s best friend, Max, add humour and sentiment to the plot.

Tender, funny, sad and sweet, The Perfect Son is a wonderful story that pulls at the heart strings and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

Available to purchase from

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Review: Forensics by Val McDermid

 

Title: Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime

Author: Val McDermid

Published: Grove Press July 2015

Status: Read from June 18 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“The story of forensic science, of that road from crime scene to courtroom, is the stuff of thousands of crime novels.”

Val McDermid is the bestselling crime fiction author of more than thirty novels, including her popular series featuring criminal profiler Tony Hill and Detective Inspector Carol Jordan. In Forensics, Val McDermid pays homage to the science that informs her work.

Drawing on interviews with leading forensic scientists about the history, practice and future of their varied disciplines, the latest research, and her own experiences, McDermid delves into the grimly fascinating anatomy of crime.

In exploring a wide range of forensic disciplines; fire scene investigation, entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood spatter, DNA, anthropology, facial reconstruction, digital forensics, and forensic psychology, McDermid illustrates the science with both historical and modern day landmark cases, from the fire that razed London in 1666, to the dozens of serial murders committed by Doctor Harold Shipman.

The factual and scientific detail presented is easily accessible, clear, concise and not overly complex. I was fascinated to learn about the advances in DNA profiling for example, and the development of the science of entomology, first documented more than 750 years ago in a Chinese handbook for coroners called The Washing Away of Wrongs.

McDermid also takes the time to dispel some popular myths given life by television shows such as CSI and Law and Order. Despite her admiration for the usefulness of forensic sciences, she is careful to explain that no forensic discipline is infallible, DNA can be contaminated, fingerprints can be misinterpreted, crime scenes can be manipulated. Solving crimes, and perhaps more importantly ensuring convictions, relies on thorough investigation along with a combination of forensic disciplines.

Informative and entertaining, Forensics is an utterly engrossing read that should interest crime fiction readers, writers and anyone with interest in the field of forensics or law.

UK/AUS Cover

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Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

 

Title: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

Author: Fredrik Backman

Published: Atria Books June 2015

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Status: Read from June 14 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

For all it made me feel, I declared Fredrik Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove my favourite book of 2014 and My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry is now my favourite of 2015.

Elsa is an improbably precocious but utterly adorable seven year old girl who loves her grandmother, Harry Potter and Wikipedia, in that order. Bullied at school, Granny is Elsa’s best and only friend, her guide to the Land-of-Almost-Awake, a dreamscape of fairy tales, magic and adventure that comforts them both when life is difficult, and her very own superhero.

She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different – look at superheroes.”

Just before Granny dies she presses an envelope into Elsa’s hand, and asks her granddaughter to deliver a letter.

“Give the letter to him who’s waiting. He won’t want to accept it, but tell him it’s from me. Tell him your granny sends her regards and says she’s sorry”

And so begins Elsa’s adventure, part quest, part treasure hunt, part superhero mission, Granny’s letter leads Elsa first to the door of a wurse, and then The Monster (also known as Wolfheart), another letter leads her to the Sea-Witch and yet another much later to the Princess of Miploris. With each letter, offering apologies and regrets, Elsa unravels the truth about the fairy tales that form the foundation of the Land-of-Almost-Awake, and the secrets of her grandmother’s exceptional life.

“Elsa doesn’t know if this means that Granny took all her stories from the real world and placed them in Miamas, or if the stories from Miamas became so real that the creatures came across to the real world. But the Land-of-Almost-Awake and her house are obviously merging.”

In My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Backman weaves a creative tapestry of the ordinary together with the extraordinary. Characters that are real, flawed yet magnificent, or as Granny puts it,

“no one is entirely a sh*t and almost no one is entirely not a sh*t”.

It tells a story that is both wise and insightful, absurd and wondrous as it explores the themes of grief, love, difference, connection, regrets and forgiveness.

Funny, moving, heartfelt and inspiring, it made me laugh and cry.
Not five stars but ten… at least!

 

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Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Published: Crown Publishing Jan 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from January 29 to 31, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

“So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.
So yeah. I’m fucked.”

I wasn’t expecting The Martian to be funny but I found myself chuckling surprisingly often. Watney’s logs are full of witty wisecracks and good humour, even if it is occasionally juvenile and crude. Mark Watney is an optimist – perhaps the ultimate optimist. No matter the challenges thrown at him – lack of food, an exploding tent, a smashed faceplate, disco music, he just keeps going, solving one problem at a time. Watney’s MacGyver-like skill may be a little hard to swallow but I was willing to go with it and believe in him.

“Also, I have duct tape. Ordinary duct tape, like you buy at a hardware store. Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape.”

The amount of tension was also a surprise, with each setback on Mars, and back on Earth as the rescue effort gets underway, I found myself more and more anxious for Watney. I really wasn’t sure if he would or would not survive, but I desperately wanted him to find a way off of the planet and get back home.

“Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me.”

I have no idea if the science in The Martian is accurate, but I believed Weir anyway, plus this is science fiction so he is allowed plenty of leeway. While I admit that on occasion I found some of the technical detail tedious, I appreciated the sense of authenticity it lent to the story, and I feel like I learnt stuff – always a bonus.

“The chemistry is on my side. the question now is how do I actually make this reaction happen slowly, and how do I collect the hydrogen? The answer is: I don’t know.
I suppose I’ll think of something. Or die.”

Witty, clever and thrilling The Martian is a terrific read. Science fiction is far from my favourite genre but this book may well be one of my favourites of the year.

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SciFi set in space

Review: Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

Title: Things Half in Shadow

Author: Alan Finn

Published: Gallery Books December 2014

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin

 

Title: The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

Author: Anna McPartlin

Published: Black Swan: Transworld UK December 2014

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Status: Read from December 20 to 21, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, wildly funny and emotionally devastating, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes is a superb novel from Anna McPartlin.

Forty year old, single mother Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes has bravely fought the ravages of cancer for four years, but now she and her family are forced to face the truth…she has just days left to live. As Rabbit drifts in and out of consciousness in her hospice bed, recalling the most important moments of her youth, her family and friends struggle to accept their impending loss.

A story of heartbreak, joy, love and loss, a novel with heart and soul… I was smiling broadly through it all, despite the tears running down my face.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Eden by Candice Fox

 

Title: Eden {Hades #2}

Author: Candice Fox

Published: Random House December 2014

Status: Read from December 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The sequel to Candice Fox’s stunning debut, Hades, Eden is a story about monsters, not the type that hide under the bed or in your closet, but those that walk amongst us, wearing the face of humanity. Murderers, rapists, pedophiles and cannibals shrouded in the guise of well dressed gentlemen, respected police officers, and restless children.

The narrative is a bit of a surprise, I was expecting, given the novel’s title, that the story would unfold more fully from Eden’s perspective, instead it is the first person voice of Frank, and a series of flashbacks illuminating Hades’ past that dominate.

Frank is still reeling from the events that occurred in Hades and is drowning in booze, pills and sorrow, resisting Eden’s attempts to get him back to work. But Eden doesn’t take no for an answer and she forces his hand, first when she asks him to do some work for her father, Hades, and then when she accepts an undercover assignment in pursuit of a serial killer.

While Eden searches for the murderer on an isolated farm housing runaways and petty criminals, Frank divides his time between watching over Eden and searching for clues to decipher the fate of a girl Hades once knew, in order to shake the attentions of her nephew who is convinced Hades killed her.

Flashbacks of Hades early years introduce the girl, Sunday, and provide insight into the formation of the man and underworld legend. Fox has developed a dark and twisted past for Hades, stained with violence and loss which is not always easy to stomach.

As dark and gritty as its predecessor, Eden is a riveting story, rippling with tension and barely leashed savagery. This is compelling reading.

 

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****

Click the cover to learn about Hades

 

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Review: Laurinda by Alice Pung

 

Title: Laurinda

Author: Alice Pung

Published: Black Inc Books November 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from November 15 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Alice Pung has received critical acclaim for her memoirs, Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter which explore her experience as an Asian-Australian.

Laurinda is Alice Pung’s first fiction novel and features a teenage girl, Lucy Lam, who is awarded the inaugural ‘Equal Access’ scholarship to the exclusive Laurinda Ladies College.

Lucy is the daughter of Chinese/Vietnamese ‘boat’ immigrants who live in a ‘povvo’ area of suburban Australia. Her father is a shift worker in a carpet factory while her mother, who speaks almost no English, sews in their garage under sweatshop conditions while caring for Lucy’s baby brother. As an Asian-Australian scholarship student without a background of wealth and privilege, Lucy is an outsider at Laurinda in more ways than one, but wants to fit in and take advantage of the opportunities the school affords her.

Initially Lucy feels confident she will be able to hold her own at Laurinda but she soon realises that there is a cultural and social divide she is at a loss as to how best negotiate. In particular, Lucy is both fascinated with and horrified by the dynamics at the school which contrast sharply with her experience at Christ Our Saviour College. Laurinda is in thrall to three young women known as the Cabinet who wield a frightening amount of influence within the school with the tacit approval of the headmistress, Mrs Grey. Amber, Chelsea and Brodie are manipulative and cruel yet have cultivated an aura of power that none of their peers, and few of their teachers, are willing to challenge. As Lucy is absorbed into the school’s insular environment she is caught up in the ethos of Laurinda, and nearly loses herself, but eventually finds a way to forge her own path.

The narrative is presented in the form of a series of letters addressed to ‘Linh’ whom we assume is a friend of Lucy’s from her previous school. The author’s portrayal of Lucy is compassionate, sensitive and achingly real. Lucy is smart, capable and strong, but she is also a teenager and as such is beset by bouts of insecurity and vulnerability. Though I do not share the same ethnicity nor background as Lucy, I found her, and several of her experiences, easy to relate to.

Part satire, magnifying the pretensions of private school and the aspirations of immigrant families, part poignant coming of age tale, Pung draws on her own experiences which gives the story a sense of authenticity. Privilege, racism, class, identity and integrity are all themes explores in the novel. Pung also skilfully captures the almost universal experience for teenage girls negotiating high school where a small number of students often have an inexplicable cache of power and wield it without mercy. While Lucy is not the only victim of the Cabinet’s bullying, she also has to negotiate the additional stress of cultural discord and the expectations of Laurinda’s principal who demands Lucy is suitably grateful for, and repays, the privilege she has been given.

The writing is sharp and witty with characters and scenes that are vividly portrayed. The pace is good and the structure works well to deliver an interesting surprise. Laurinda is a clever, entertaining and insightful novel, suitable for both a young adult and adult audience and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to either.

 

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*****

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Weekend Cooking: Mug Cakes by Mima Sinclair

wkendcooking

I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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

Title: Mug Cakes

Author: Mima Sinclair

Published: Kyle Books: Simon & Schuster Au November 2014

My Thoughts:

It takes just a handful of ingredients and a few minutes in a microwave to make one of the 40 cakes in Mima Sinclair’s Mug Cakes. These single serve treats are ideal for a quick sugar fix or delicious dessert.

Mug Cakes is presented in a small format hardcover book with full colour photographs accompanying most recipes. The ingredients and method for each recipe are well set out, with additional tips highlighted. Both of my daughters (18 and 10 years old) easily followed the instructions to make their own mug cakes without any supervision.

Sinclair begins Mug Cakes with some useful tips about choosing ingredients, how to check a mug is appropriate for use, and some essential advice on how best to prep, cook and enjoy the recipes. One tip we can pass on is to heed Sinclair’s advice about the size of the eggs. We only had extra large eggs to prepare one of the recipes (Sinclair recommends medium sized eggs only) and there was a distinctly ‘eggy’ taste to it.

The cookbook is divided into four sections: Classics, Occasions, Happy Hour and Treats and Puds. You need little else other than a spoon, mug and microwave and ingredients you likely already have in your pantry or refrigerator. From Carrot Cake to a Chocolate Brownie, Black Forest to Mojito, Rocky Road to Lemon Curd Cheesecake, the recipes are varied and most take less than five minutes to prepare and bake.
Included also are recipes for a Gluten-Free and Egg-Free cake which can be tweaked with flavour and topping to suit.

My daughters enjoyed the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cake (the recipe can be found HERE), the Triple Chocolate Cake and the Red Velvet Cake. I liked the Apple & Cinnamon Cake with caramel sauce. My best friend tried both the Mocha and Baileys on the Rocks recipes and was delighted with the results.

Offering quick, easy and delicious recipes Mug Cakes is a treat of a book. I know it will be used often in my household and I think it would also make a wonderful gift, accompanied by a mug cake of course!

mugcakes

Vanilla with choc chips & Mocha

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