Review: Who We Were by B.M. Carroll

Title: Who We Were

Author: B.M. Carroll

Published: April 28th 2020, Viper

Status: Read May 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Who We Were is an entertaining, fast paced contemporary suspense novel from Irish born Australian author B.M.Carroll, (who pens womens fiction as Ber Carroll).

In organising their twenty year high school reunion, Katy Barclay invites her former school mates of Macquarie High to answer a few questions to create an update of their yearbook. Annabel is the first to receive a spiteful email with her questions completed by someone else, Grace is next. In both instances the mystery writer knows details about their lives that no stranger should. Katy initially dismisses it as a thoughtless prank but soon more of her classmates, notably members of a particular clique, are targeted.

Who We Were unfolds from multiple viewpoints giving each character the opportunity to share their current lives, and their perspectives on their shared past. Katy, as the reunion organiser, acts as the story’s anchor. Along with Annabel (and by extension her husband Jarrod) and Grace, whom have remained friends over the years, we also meet Melissa, Luke, Zach and Robbie. I found the characters recognisable, and even relatable, both as teenagers, (as it happens my highschool ‘Queen Bee’ was also named Annabel), and as adults (like Grace I’m a SAHM of four).

Most of the group harbour regrets from their high school days (I think there are few of us who don’t), and any one of them could have reason to be holding a grudge. Carroll carefully lays misdirects and red herrings as the threats escalate, which left me guessing as to the identity of the guilty party for most of the novel.

With a dramatic conclusion, a well crafted plot and interesting characters, I really enjoyed Who We Were, and I’m happy to recommend it.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Amazon US I Amazon UK

Review: Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

Title: Little Disasters

Author: Sarah Vaughan

Published: May 1st 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read May 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

Little Disasters is a compelling domestic drama by Sarah Vaughan.

“…but did you ever imagine killing your baby? Did you check and double-check you hadn’t overdosed her on Calpol; that you hadn’t poured bleach into her bottle; that she wasn’t being suffocated by soft toys in her crib? That you hadn’t inadvertently smothered her?”

When Liz is called to the ER to assess a ten month old child with a fractured skull, she’s surprised to find that her patient is Betsey, the daughter of a friend. Jess is the most attentive mother Liz knows so her friend’s vague explanation for her daughters injury troubles her, and she reluctantly agrees when her supervisor insists that social services be notified.

As the authorities begin to investigate, the story unfolds largely from the viewpoints of Liz, Jess, and Jess’s husband, Ed. Liz and Ed are baffled by the implication that Jess could have deliberately hurt Betsey, as a mother of three Jess has never demonstrated anything but devotion towards her children, but it’s clear to them both she is hiding something.

“The first time Jess imagines hurting Betsey, she has been home from hospital for three days.”

And she is. Vaughn captures Jess’s distress, guilt, and confusion very well. Many new mothers will be familiar with Jess’s anxiety on some level, I remember being frightened I would somehow slip and fall going down the three stairs to my backyard with my newborn in my arms. Jess though is consumed with the idea that harm will come to Betsey, not just accidentally, but deliberately and by her own hand.

“They all doubt her:….

And maybe they are right to do so.

Because she did something terrible, didn’t she?”

The well crafted plot offers more than one twist as the shocking truth of what happened the evening Betsey was injured is slowly revealed. Vaughn thoughtfully examines the complexities of motherhood, and in particular its impact on mental health. Along with Jess’s struggle with PND, the story also explores Liz’s traumatic relationship with her own mother, and touches on issues such as infertility and marital breakdown. The themes of friendship and connection are also important to the novel.

I found Little Disasters to be a gripping and insightful novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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

Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

Title: The Satapur Moonstone {Purveen Mistry #2}

Author: Sujata Massey

Published: April 28th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

As the only female solicitor in India, Purveen Mistry is uniquely placed to arbitrate a dispute between the mother and grandmother of the Satapur crown prince in The Satapur Moonstone, the second book in Sujata Massey’s engaging historical mystery series.

Temporarily acting as an agent of the British Raj, Purveen is tasked with traveling to the remote Satara mountains, southeast of Bombay, to make recommendations for the maharaja-to-be’s educational future. Purveen hopes to broker peace between the Dowager Maharani who insists that her grandson is to be educated within the palace as his brother and father were before him, and the prince’s mother who wants him to be educated in England, but the situation becomes more complicated when Maharani Mirabai confides she is concerned for her son’s safety.

Purveen has a knack for finding herself in the middle of intrigue, and in The Satapur Moonstone she quickly comes to agree that the life of the crown prince is at risk from someone in the palace. The mystery itself works well, and while it does build to an intense conclusion where Purveen finds her own life is at risk, I felt the pacing was off, with a very slow start.

Purveen is definitely out of her comfort zone – in the middle of the jungle, in the company of the local agent, Colin Sandringham, and among the acrimonious atmosphere of the palace – though she generally proves to be as dutiful and capable as ever, and I did think that perhaps at times she made some decisions that weren’t really in character. I found her unexpected connection with Colin to be quite intriguing and I’ll be interested to see if Massey builds on that in subsequent books.

As in A Murder at Malabar Hill, I found the social, political and cultural details of life in 1920’s India fascinating. The setting is a major strength of the novel, with the Satapur palace, made up of old and new and divided between the Maharini’s, reflecting the struggle of India between tradition and modernity, under British rule.

I enjoyed The Satapur Moonstone as much as I did Massey’s first book. Purveen is an appealing character, and the unique period and culture enrich the well-crafted storytelling. I hope the series continues.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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

 

Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Sujata Massey

 

Review: Confessions of a Forty-Something by Alexandra Potter

Title: Confessions of a Forty-Something

Author: Alexandra Potter

Published: April 28th 2020, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read May 2020, courtesy Macmillan Australia

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My Thoughts:

“Hi and welcome to Confessions of a Forty-Something F##k-Up, the podcast for any woman who wonders how the hell she got here, and why life isn’t quite how she imagined it was going to be.”

After the end of her engagement and the collapse of her business, Penelope ‘Nell’ Stevens has returned home from LA to London, single, broke and feeling like a f##k-up on the wrong side of forty. Her friends seem to have it all – the loving husband, adorable children and beautiful home – while she’s forced to rent a room from a stranger and start over.

I loved Nell, who despite feeling stuck on ‘Planet What The F##k Am I Going To Do With My Life’ is determined to move forward and learn to be grateful for what she has. It’s not easy for Nell as she struggles with feeling as if she is a failure, and I think Potter captures her cycles between pessimism and optimism well.

Unexpected inspiration and support for Nell comes from Cricket, an eighty-something year who as a recent widow is in a similar position to Nell. Cricket is a wonderful character, feisty and honest, and even threatens to upstage Nell at times.

The themes of the story focus on relationships between lovers and friends, and family. Of most significance though is the reminder that no one’s life is perfect, and that’s OK. As a forty-something year old myself I can relate to the issues that Potter explores, though I have more in common with Nell’s friends than Nell herself.

Confessions of a Forty-Something could have been cheesy and shallow, but instead I found it to be charming and insightful. Witty, engaging and relevant for any one who feels like life hasn’t quite worked out as planned, I found Confessions of a Forty-Something to be an enjoyable read, and am happy to recommend it.

“For all of us, it seems, life isn’t always easy, and the lesson I’ve learned is that you’re not f##cking up if life hasn’t worked out how you expected. Because real life is messy and complicated. Shit happens. One size doesn’t fit all. Remove the filters and the hashtags and the motivational messages and we’re all just as scared and confused as the next person. We’re all just living our life, and it might not tick all the boxes or look Insta-perfect, but that’s OK.”

++++++

Available from Macmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Prey by L.A. Larkin

Title: Prey {Olivia Wolfe #2}

Author: L.A. Larkin

Published: April 22nd 2020, Clan Destine Press

Read: April 2020

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Investigative journalist Olivia Wolfe is back in L.A. Larkin’s latest exciting action thriller, Prey.

When the source that alerted her to a corrupt British Cabinet Minister dies in suspicious circumstances, Olivia ignores the warning from Global Threat Taskforce agent Casburn to drop the story, and instead chases it all the way to South Africa. With the help of friend and local police officer, Thusago, Olivia links the Minister’s tax haven account to a school principal in Soweto, and from there hunts down the powerful cabal who are playing a very dangerous and deadly game.

Short chapters and breathtaking moments of tension ensures Prey is a fast-paced read. Olivia’s investigation takes her across Africa as she tracks the clues that will lead to the mysterious head of the syndicate behind murder, money laundering and illegal poaching. And as Olivia attempts to avoid corrupt locals, and Casburn, with whom she has a complicated relationship stemming from the events in Devour, she’s unaware she has drawn the attention of a sadistic assassin sent to silence her.

The assassin is a horrifying character who takes delight in his macabre work, and streams it live over the Dark Web. Sensitive readers may want to skim a few descriptive paragraphs here and there, but his final confrontation with Olivia is a nerve-wracking encounter not to be missed.

While Olivia is not always sure who to trust, she does have allies in London, her mentor Butcher and his associate Ponnappa, helping her with investigation, and in South Africa, Vitaly Yushkov, Olivia’s former lover, steps in twice to save her life. I love that Olivia refuses to give up no matter the obstacles, she’s a kickass character who follows her conscience and the truth no matter the consequences.

While Prey is a sequel to Devour, which introduces Olivia in a similarly high intensity thriller, it’s not necessary to have read it to enjoy this (though I recommend you do).

An action packed story with a plot of intrigue and a dynamic lead character, Prey is a gripping and exciting read.

++++++

Available from Clan Destine Press

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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Review: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

 

Title: The Switch

Author: Beth O’Leary

Published: 28th April 2020, Quercus

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Hachette/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Beth O’Leary’s debut novel The Flatshare garnered the author international popularity and readers have been anxiously awaiting her next book. I can’t compare the two, but I can say that The Switch is a delightful read. In fact I finished it with a tear in my eye because The Switch has the sort of heartwarming ending that we all crave at times.

When Leena Cotton experiences a panic attack in the middle of an important meeting she expects she will be fired, instead her employer insists she takes two months leave. Lost without work as a buffer for her grief over her sister’s recent death from cancer, Leena decides to visit her beloved grandmother in the Yorkshire countryside.

Seventy-nine year old Eileen is ready to welcome her granddaughter with open arms. Truth be told the house has seemed empty since her husband ran away with a dance instructor, and candidates for overnight ‘company’ are thin on the ground in Hamleigh-in-Harksdale.

It takes just a few days for Leena to recognise that her grandmother also needs a change of scenery and so Leena impulsively proposes a switch. Leena will stay at Clearwater Cottage and take on Eileen’s tasks that includes organising the village May Day Festival, attending Neighbourhood Watch meetings, ferrying Bingo players, and watching over her mother, while Eileen will stay in Leena’s London share flat, explore the city and take advantage of the wider dating pool.

Unfolding from the alternating perspectives of Leena and Eileen, the two women initially struggle to find their feet in their new environments but the Cotton women are willing to take a few risks. I delighted in Eileen’s online dating adventures, her ability to befriend strangers, and her determination to establish the The Silver Shoreditchers Social Club. Eileen is smart, sassy and no-nonsense, and the kind of granny we all need. Leena is a little more fragile than her grandmother, still deeply grieving her sister’s death, her anger and guilt has been directed at her mother, and herself. Throwing herself into community affairs is a distraction but eventually she’s forced to face her anxiety, and some difficult truths about her life.

I loved the humour in The Switch which came from both the Cotton women and the supporting cast. Perhaps the elderly characters are a little stereotypical but they are thoroughly entertaining. The Switch doesn’t just offer laughs though, O’Leary touches on some sensitive issues including stress, grief, infidelity, loneliness and domestic violence. There is also a romance (or three) and Leena and Eileen ultimately prove to be strong and resilient women.

Charming, entertaining and uplifting I really enjoyed reading The Switch, Ihope you do too.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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

Review: Something To Talk About by Rachael Johns

Title: Something To Talk About {Rose Hill #2}

Author: Rachael Johns

Published: April 20th 2020, MIRA Australia

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Harlequin Au/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Something To Talk About is Rachael John’s second rural romance in the Rose Hill series, which began with Talk of the Town featuring the relationship between widowed dairy farmer Lawson Cooper-Jones and new storekeeper Meg, but reads well as a stand-alone.

In Something To Talk About, Tabitha Cooper-Jones, Lawson’s younger sister, has created a life she is proud of. She’s refused to let the loss of her arm to cancer hold her back, developing a thriving gourmet ice cream business, operating a successful cafe, and volunteering as a St John’s emergency assistant, but what she wants most is a family of her own, and despairing of ever finding a partner in the small town of Walsh, she’s chosen to become pregnant via donor insemination.

Fergus McWilliams is looking to escape the fallout from a broken engagement when he accepts a short term teaching position at Walsh Primary School, but he’s unprepared for the attention a single man in a small town attracts. Not looking for another relationship so soon, a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement with Tabitha, despite her unusual circumstances, is a convenience for them both, but their plan to keep it casual goes awry when their hearts become involved.

I loved the chemistry between Tabitha and Fergus. Sparks fly at their very first meeting and as the story develops their growing affection for one another feels organic. Johns’s characters, both main and supporting, always feel genuine and elements of their situations relatable. The obstacles between Tab and Fergus are not insignificant, but I thought they were resolved convincingly.

The residents of Walsh add texture to the story from the members of Stitch & Bitch, to the children of Fergus’s class. The Western Australian setting is always a thrill for me, having been born there. I’ve holidayed in Bunbury and I’m familiar with the tiny farming towns in the southwest where community really matters.

Readers should be aware that several of the characters in Something To Talk About are affected by cancer, but the story really centers around the themes of independence, resilience, forgiveness, and trust.

Without fail, I finish each book by Rachael Johns with a sigh of satisfaction and contentment for a story well told, and it’s no different here. This is a book I am happy to talk about.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository


Also by Rachael Johns reviews at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen

Title: Please See Us

Author: Caitlin Mullen

Published: April 1st 2020, Gallery

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen is a haunting, heartbreaking psychological thriller.

“There is something bad in the air and in the water now, something rotten and wrong. A moral disease.”

Set in Atlantic City, once a popular tourist destination, crowded with vacationers, the famous boardwalk is now lined with boarded up store fronts, half empty casino’s, and strolling prostitutes. Mullen effortlessly evokes a once thriving town gone to seed, broiling in the July sun, edged by the boggy marshes where the bodies of a serial killer’s victims lie.

“There is a sisterhood among them, these women in the marsh. Each time he brings another one, they understand what she has seen.”

And though the unidentified victims, referred to as ‘Janes’ have a voice, Please See Us primarily unfolds from the perspectives of Ava aka Clara Voyant, a sixteen year old thief, grifter and boardwalk psychic experiencing fragmented visions she doesn’t understand, Lily Louten, who has reluctantly returned to Atlantic City to live with her mother after a devastating betrayal by her partner that also decimated her career, and Luis, a friendless deaf and mute janitor who sees, but cannot speak of the horrors he sees.

“He doesn’t know what it is about this city, the way it swallows up anything kind and good.”

The story is slow-burning but suspense laden with a layered plot as Clara and Lily are drawn into the orbit of a serial killer. The writing is evocative, even lyrical, though what it describes are bleak scenes of desperation, poverty, addiction, and violence. Please See Us focuses on the vulnerability of women, particularly to men who seek to exploit and control them.

“We talked about what it meant to be a woman, to be looked at all the time, judged and measured and punished in a thousand different ways every day…”

Gritty, dark and compelling Please See Us is an assured debut novel.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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

Review: The Beautiful Mother by Katherine Scholes

Title: The Beautiful Mother

Author: Katherine Scholes

Published: March 31st 2020, Viking

Read: April 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Set in Tanzania during the 1970’s The Beautiful Mother by Katherine Scholes centre’s around archaeologist Essie, who has lived at the Magadi Research Camp since her marriage to fellow archaeologist Ian Lawrence, five years earlier. The Camp, first founded by Ian’s father, and still home to his mother, Julia, has been the source of a number of valuable finds, but with no recent significant discoveries, funds are beginning to dry up. The situation is already tense as the Lawrence’s attempt to secure a new patron to continue their search for Homo Erectus, so when Essie inexplicably returns from a scouting trip with an orphaned Hadza infant whom she is to take care of for four months, the future of the Camp is threatened.

Scholes explores a number of themes in The Beautiful Mother. One of the most significant examines universal questions about motherhood as Essie cares for the baby girl she names Mara. It’s a joy to be part of her journey as she opens her heart to Mara, and gains new perspective about who she is and what she wants.

Essie’s relationship with Mara also allows the author to delve into the dynamics of marriage and family as the infant’s presence drives a wedge between Essie, Ian, and Julia. The baby stirs up repressed feelings about the loss of Julia’s youngest son who disappeared as a toddler at Magadi, and Ian resents the changes Mara effects in his previously pliant wife.

Also of importance in the novel is the author’s exploration of home and belonging. This is particularly shown through the character of Essie’s assistant, Simon, who is torn between his perception of himself as a ‘modern’ Tanzanian, and his birthright as as a member of the Hadza.

Scholes descriptions of the Tanzanian landscape are breathtakingly vivid from the red rocky desert plains of Magadi to the majesty of Ol Doinyo Lengai, an ever grumbling volcano, and the lake, a nesting ground for a flock of flamingos. I found it easy to visualise the layout of the Camp, it’s work tables cluttered with tools and specimens, and the careful grids of the nearby the dig sites. The people too are easy to imagine from Mara’s bright eyes, to the African Camp workers, and the women of the nearby Maasai village.

A well told, evocative novel The Beautiful Mother is sure to engage both interest and emotion.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Banksia Bay Beach Shack by Sandie Docker

 

Title: The Banksia Bay Beach Shack

Author: Sandie Docker

Published: March 17th 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

Sandie Docker’s third novel, The Banksia Bay Beach Shack, is a heartwarming yet bittersweet tale offering a touch of romance and intrigue.

After the loss of her beloved grandmother, investigative journalist Laura Prescott finds a photograph that hints at a secret in Lillian’s past. Eager to learn more, Laura travels to the small coastal town of Banksia Bay where a story of friendship, love, regret, and heartbreak is waiting to be told.

The contemporary plot line introduces us to the residents of Banksia Bay, among them Virginia aka ‘Gigi’, the owner of the Banksia Bay Beach Cafe, locals Charlotte and Heath, and Gigi’s closest friend Yvonne. Laura opts to explain her presence in the town by claiming she is writing a travel piece, but Gigi, who immediately see’s the resemblance between Laura and her childhood best friend Lily, is wary of her motives. I liked Laura well enough, I empathised with her curiosity about her grandmother’s life, and I enjoyed the development of her character, but it was Gigi’s past that intrigued me.

Flashbacks reveal the devastating events of the past that severed the friendship between ‘summer sisters’ Lily and Gigi. Set during the 1960’s, the author captures both the innocence and darkness of the period, exposing issues such as anti-migrant sentiment, and social class prejudice. Docker builds the tension skilfully as history unfolds to climax in an unexpected and shocking double tragedy which explains Gigi’s present distress at Laura’s arrival in Banksia Bay.

I delighted in Docker’s depiction of Banksia Bay, I was reminded of the many summer holidays I spent in beachside caravan parks along both the west and east coast of Australia growing up, and the fleeting but intense friendships formed with fellow holiday-makers.

Sweet yet poignant, The Banksia Bay Beach Shack is a lovely read.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Sandie Docker reviewed at Book’d Out

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