Review: A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

 

 

Title: A Madness of Sunshine

Author: Nalini Singh

Published: December 3rd 2019, Hachette Au

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Hachette Au

Read an Excerpt

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My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Now You See Them by Elly Griffiths

 

Title: Now You See Them {Magic Men #5}

Author: Elly Griffiths

Published: December 3rd 2019, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy Netgalley/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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My Thoughts:

I was delighted for the opportunity to continue with Elly Griffiths’s mystery series featuring police detective Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto In Now You See Them, the fifth book of the Magic Men (or Stephens & Mephisto) series.

Unexpectedly, eleven years have passed since the events of The Vanishing Box. In the interim, Edgar Stephens has been promoted to Superintendent, and is happily married to (former Sergeant) Emma, with three young children, while Max Mephisto has become an American movie star and married a Hollywood starlet, with whom he has two young children. The pair are reunited in Brighton at the funeral of Stan Parks, aka The Great Diablo, but the separation has put some strain on their friendship, and both are too busy with their own interests to properly reconnect. Max is negotiating a role in a movie to be filmed in England with the country’s hottest teen idol, Bobby Hambro, while attempting to spend time with his grown daughter, Ruby, who is now the star of a popular television series, and Edgar is overseeing a search for the runaway teenage daughter of a local MP, and preparing for the May Bank Holiday, during which large groups of warring Mods and Rockers are expected to clash on the Brighton foreshore.

Suspecting that the missing teen is simply skiving to stalk Bobby Hambro at his London hotel with all the other young ‘Bobby Soxers’, DI Bob Willis, and WPC Meg Connolly are tasked with making inquiries, but Samantha Collins, a reporter at the local paper, thinks otherwise. She believes that Rhonda Miles is the third of three teenage girls who may have been abducted, and approaches Emma with her suspicions.

Emma, who has become increasingly restless in her role as only a housewife and mother, sees merit in the theory, and eagerly presents it to her husband, hoping she can perhaps be of help in the investigation. She’s hurt when Edgar barely acknowledges it, and so with the support of Sam, somewhat naively does some investigating of her own, children in tow.

The questions surrounding the fate of the missing girls is the core mystery in Now You See Them. The police have few leads and no real evidence of the connection, and Griffiths makes the most of the uncertainty, but it’s not until Ruby goes missing that any real urgency is introduced into the plot.

Now You See Them is far more about the characters than the plot though, Max and Emma in particular are at a crossroads of a type. I felt that Edgar was sidelined somewhat, but as a Superintendent he is no longer a hands on detective, so that makes sense. I enjoyed the time leap in character growth much more than I expected, and I also liked the introduction of the new WPC.

One of the strengths of this series remains its sense of time and place, the jump from the mid 50’s to the mid 60’s is deftly accomplished with Griffiths illustrating the cultural shifts in various ways.

Now You See Them can probably be read as a stand-alone but the experience will be much richer if the reader is familiar with the series. I enjoyed both the story, and reconnecting with the characters. Interestingly Griffiths seems to have ended with a hint of a new direction for this series that may see Emma and Sam in the forefront.

++++++

Available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Also by Elly Griffiths reviewed at Book’d Out

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

 

Title: Cry of the Firebird

Author: T.M. Clark

Published: November 18th 2019, Harlequin MIRA

Status: Read November 2019

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My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++

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Available from HarperCollins Au

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Review: Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

 

Title: Resurrection Bay {Caleb Zelic #1}

Author: Emma Viskic

Published: September 1st 2015, Echo Publishing

Status: Read November 2019

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My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++

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Available from Echo Publishing

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#NonFicNov Review: The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton

 

Title: The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective: Secrets & Lies in the Golden Age of Crime

Author: Susannah Stapleton

Published: June 13th 2019, Picador

Status: Read November 2019

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My Thoughts:

I have Cleopatra Loves Books to thank for putting this fascinating title on my radar.

While reading a novel set in the ‘Golden Age of Crime Fiction’ featuring a female sleuth, Susannah Stapleton, a former bookseller, archeologist, and historical researcher, began to wonder if there really were lady detectives working during the early 20th century. An online search eventually revealed the name of one, Maud West.

Maud West, Stapleton was to learn, was a lady detective in London who established her agency in about 1905. She claimed in advertisements published in 1909 to be the principal of a high-class firm with both male and female staff, offering services to those in need of private enquiries into delicate matters. A little more research yielded several articles not only in the British press but also in international newspapers from countries as far afield as America, Australia and India, which provided further details about Maud, and her sensational career. Intrigued by the stories, Stapleton continued to dig deeper, however she soon found that Maud West was an astonishingly complex woman, and the truth about her perhaps more elusive than the most slippery private detective’s quarry.

Between chapters that illustrate Stapleton’s painstaking research process and her incredible findings, the author includes reprints of articles written by Maud West for a tabloid broadsheet detailing her supposed exploits as a lady detective. It is a rather unconventional narrative, but it results in an entertaining and easy read. The book is further enhanced by the inclusion of photographs and newspaper excerpts, and Stapleton also provides some social history for context.

I really enjoyed The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective. The woman herself is a fascinating figure, and Stapleton’s pursuit of her life story makes for compelling reading.

++++++

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Available from Pan Macmillan Australia

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#NonficNov Review: Unmentionable by Therese O’Neill

 

Title: Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage and Manners

Author: Therese Oneill

Published: October 25th 2016, Little, Brown & Company

Status: Read November 2019

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My Thoughts:

With an irreverent presentation, journalist slash humourist Therese Oneill invites the reader to accompany her as she peels back the romanticised veneer of of a middle to upper class lady’s life in the 19th century in Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners.

Next time you imagine yourself dancing prettily around a grand ballroom in an elaborate gown, know this…your underwear is crotchless (even at that time of the month), your never washed dress is marked by soot and sweat, your face powder is poisoning you, and the room reeks of mixed floral scents which only just barely cover the smells of rarely washed bodies.

The supper feast laid out on the table has been made from poorly preserved fruits and vegetables, and badly cooked, unrefrigerated meats, all prepared and served by unwashed hands, so it’s likely you will spend several hours later in the evening on the chamber pot, or close stool.

And that handsome gentleman across the room who you hope will invite you to dance…if he picks up your dropped handkerchief he may ask for your hand in marriage, after which he will none too gently insist you bear him a son, and visit prostitutes while you are indisposed, eventually infecting you with gonorrhoea or syphilis, which your doctor will refuse to diagnose to protect your delicate sensibilities. And should you have the temerity to complain about any of this, you will be declared hysterical and institutionalised.

The truth, quite frankly, is grim but Oneill imparts this information in a manner that, laden with snark, is hilarious. I found Unmentionable fascinating and absolutely entertaining, however I recommend you give this a miss if you are a fan of Victorian era romance novels or movies, you will never feel quite the same way about them again.

Oh, and I will never be eating Kellogg’s Cornflakes again.

++++++

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Review: The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

 

Title: The Giver of Stars

Author: JoJo Moyes

Published: October 1st 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Penguin Australia

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My Thoughts:

“So, what the Sam Hill is a travelling library, anyway?”

The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes is historical fiction inspired by the remarkable women who worked for the WPA Packhorse Library in rural Kentucky from the mid 1930’s to the mid 1940’s. For around $28 a month, these travelling librarians rode into the Appalachian Mountain through difficult terrain and all types of weather delivering books to homes and schools.

“It’s women doing the riding. Delivering the books.’

‘Women?’

‘By themselves?’ came a man’s voice.

‘Last time I looked, God gave ’em two arms and two legs, just like the men.”

Moyes sets her novel in the fictional small mining town of Baileyville in southern Appalachia, where the newly founded Packhorse Library attracts a group of diverse women into its employ. Though nominally headed by Mrs. Brady, it’s Margery O’Hare, a fiercely independent Mountain woman who takes charge of the library. She is joined by Alice Van Cleeve, the new English bride of the mine owner’s son, who is regretting the whirlwind courtship that brought her half way across the world, Beth, the daughter of a local farmer, who dreams of one day escaping Kentucky, Mrs. Brady’s reluctant daughter, Izzy, new widow Kathleen, and Sophia, a young black woman who becomes the library’s clerk.

“I believe sending young women out by themselves is a recipe for disaster. And I can see nothing but the foment of ungodly thoughts and bad behaviour from this ill-conceived idea”

Moyes portrays the community and its residents in a believable manner, highlighting the hard scrabble life of its poorest, and the arrogance of its richest. She explores common prejudices of the era, especially against women, and the environmental and social impact of unregulated mining, but most importantly the author shows how access to books and reading can change the lives of people for the better.

“The Baileyville WPA packhorse librarians were a team, yes, and a team stuck together.”

Of course, the focus of The Giver of Stars is really on the women of the Packhorse Library, the trials they face, and the friendship, support, and strength they offer one another. The characters are well developed, each strong, admirable women who earn the gratitude and trust of those they serve as they often go above and beyond their job description.

“She loved it here. She loved the mountains and the people and the never-ending sky. She loved feeling as if she was doing a job that meant something, testing herself each day, changing people’s lives word by word.”

A captivating story of friendship, love, identity, and justice, The Giver of Stars is a wonderful read.

++++++

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Available from Penguin Australia

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Also by JoJo Moyes reviewed at Book’d Out 

Review: The Great Divide by L.J.M. Owen

 

Title: The Great Divide

Author: L.J.M. Owen

Published: November 4th 2019, Echo Publishing

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy Echo Publishing

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My Thoughts:

The Great Divide is a gritty Australian crime novel from L.J.M. Owen introducing Detective Jake Hunter.

Set in Tasmania, this is an atmospheric story portraying a small insular community, blanketed in the fog of winter, and shrouded in lies. It begins when the body of an old woman is found dumped in the overgrown grounds of a vineyard. While investigating her murder, Jake, a recent transfer to Dunton, learns some odd facts, and as the case progresses he begins to uncover links between both the current and historical crimes. While I did find it fairly easy to determine who was culpable early on, I thought the case was complex and interesting, though the details are quite grim and disturbing,

Finding The Great Divide well paced and compelling, I read it in a single sitting. I look forward to a sequel, and in the meantime plan to look up her previous works.

Read an Extract

++++++

Available from Echo Publishing

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Review: You Don’t Know Me by Sara Foster

 

Title: You Don’t Know Me

Author: Sara Foster

Published: November 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

+++++

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Also by Sara Foster reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

 

Title: The Poppy Wife

Author: Caroline Scott

Published: November 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read October 2019, Simon & Schuster AU

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My Thoughts:

A story of love, loss, guilt, and hope, The Poppy Wife is a moving and poignant debut from Caroline Scott.

Three years after the end of the Great War, Edie receives a photograph of her husband in the mail. There is no note with the photo, in which Edie thinks Francis looks much older than when she saw him last just months before he was declared missing in action, and only a blurred French postmark provides any clues as to its origin. Unable to ignore the possibility her husband somehow survived the war, Edie travels to France in search of answers.

Harry has never doubted his older brother died that day in the mud of Ypres, he saw the bullets rip through his body on the battlefield. So, as Harry travels the French countryside photographing graves for mourning relatives in England, he searches for his brother’s resting place. Yet as long as Francis remains listed as MIA, neither officially dead or alive, perhaps he, and Edie, have cause to hope.

The Poppy Wife is a stunning story moving between two timelines. The first during the final years of WWI primarily explores Harry’s experience of war, fighting alongside his brothers along the Front. The second takes place in 1921, where the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Edie and Harry as they travel independently, and together, searching for any sign of Francis.

Scott highlights a devastating aspect of the WWI’s aftermath in The Poppy Wife. During the war hundreds of thousands of fallen soldiers were buried without proper records, and after its end, the final resting place of almost as many remained unidentified. This left some families in limbo, never absolutely certain about the fate of their loved one. For many years after the war, the loved ones of the ‘lost’ journeyed to countries such as France and Belgium in the hopes of either finding their father or son, brother or husband alive, or proof of their death.

It is an emotionally harrowing journey for both Edie and Harry, and Scott skilfully communicates their struggle with their warring feelings of hope, guilt, and despair. Harry also finds himself constantly confronted by memories of the trauma he experienced on the battlefield, and the loss of both his brothers, and friends.

Beautifully written, with description that evokes the horror of war, the battle scarred lands of France, and the fraught emotions of the characters, The Poppy Wife is a stirring and thoughtful story.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Au

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