Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

 

Title: The Lying Room

Author: Nicci French

Published: October 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read September 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Lying Room is the first stand alone mystery thriller from Nicci French (the husband and wife writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) since the conclusion of the Frieda Klein series.

When Neve Connolly discovers her married lover murdered in his pied-à-terre she takes a deep breath and then works methodically to remove any trace of herself from the crime scene, before returning home to her husband and three children.

“He was dead. he had been murdered. But it wasn’t about her or them. That was irrelevant to whatever it was that had happened here.”

The Lying Room is a taut character driven mystery with its focus on Neve’s desperate attempts to protect her family, and herself, from the consequences of her lover’s murder.

“There was no getting away from it. She would have to get on with her life and behave the way an innocent person would behave. The fact that she was innocent–innocent at least of the murder–was no help at all.”

The author’s characterisation is generally strong and believable. A busy wife, mother, employee and friend, Neve is an ordinary woman caught up in extraordinary circumstances, and I could empathise with her impulse to protect her family, despite her obviously shaky relationship with her husband, and daughter. Her stress and fear Is palpable as Neve frantically strives to project a sense of normalcy, even while chaos descends on her home, in the form of a parade of unwanted houseguests, and surprise visits from DI Hitching.

“Even the truth felt like a lie now.”

There are plenty of red herrings in The Lying Room to keep any armchair detective guessing. Aware that DI Hitching strongly suspects she is somehow involved, Neve eventually becomes determined to identify the killer herself, and finds herself clumsily investigating her family, and friends. I didn’t guess the identity of the killer, or their motivation, until quite late in the story, though subtle clues are present earlier.

“Almost every part of the police investigation was wrong or misleading, the crucial evidence had been removed or destroyed. Their narrative of events was entirely false. But after all of that, the conclusions were correct.”

A well written, clever, and gripping novel, The Lying Room is an entertaining mystery.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Also by Nicci French reviewed at Book’d Out 

 

 

Review: The Model Wife by Tricia Stringer

 

Title: The Model Wife

Author: Tricia Stringer

Published: 24th September 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read September 2019, courtesy HQ Fiction

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Model Wife is a wise, warm, and wonderful story of a woman in search of herself from Australian author, Tricia Stringer.

“The model wife spends her time taking care of her family and putting them before her own needs.” – The Model Wife by Mrs Gladys Norman, London, 1928

When Natalie King is confronted with a potentially life threatening health crisis, the busy 58 year old wife, mother and teacher, is left reeling. Reflecting on her past, and contemplating the direction of her future, she finds she desperately needs a break and, ignoring the century old wisdom of ‘The Model Wife’, flees north to Broome, leaving her family to fend for themselves.

“Everyone had a piece of Natalie and somehow she’d lost herself in the process. She’d never done anything outside anyone else’s expectations of her.”

Stringer’s portrayal of Natalie’s ‘paradigm shift’ is thoughtful and realistic, and likely one every wife and mother can relate to. After years of tirelessly working to ensure the needs of her family and community are met, Natalie realises that she has largely ignored her own. Away from the constant demands on her time and energy she has the space to consider what she wants moving forward.

“Don’t let anyone should you.”

Natalie’s timing couldn’t be worse though, it’s tailing season on the farm keeping her husband, Milt and middle daughter, Bree, busy; both her youngest and eldest daughter’s, Laura and Kate who seem to have something on their mind, are visiting; and her sister-in-law is demanding an increased share of the farm’s income. Stringer thoughtfully explores the individual issues at hand, as well as the change Natalie’s absence makes to the family dynamics. I appreciated the authenticity with which the author both portrayed and developed the multi-generational characters. I also liked the way in which issues specific to a farming lifestyle, like property succession, are explored.

“Natalie had simply had to lose herself to find her way home.”

A well written, engaging story of the everyday challenges of life and love, I enjoyed The Model Wife, and am happy to recommend it.

xxxxxx

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Also by Tricia Stringer reviewed at Book’d Out 

Review: The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

 

Title: The Gilded Hour {The Waverly Place Series #1}

Author: Sara Donati

Published: August 29th 2016, Bantam

Status: Read September 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to read The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati (aka Rosini Lippa). if I hadn’t accepted Where The Light Enters for review, unaware it was a sequel (thanks for the heads up Theresa). I’m glad I did however as I found myself immersed in the novel, reading it in a single day.

The Gilded Hour is largely a character driven novel. Beginning in 1883, set in New York City, the story features Dr. Lilianne ‘Anna’ Savard, a physician and surgeon, and her biracial cousin Dr. Sophie Savard, an obstetrician, supported by a large ensemble cast of family and friends, moving between their personal and professional lives.

The theme of family Is an important element of the novel. Anna and Sophie are part of an unconventional upper class household, presided over by ‘Aunt’ Quinlan, which also includes Quinlan’s widowed adult stepdaughter, long term staff, and which later adds three orphaned children, and a former nun. Anna can’t imagine having a family of her own, so to speak, until she meets, and falls in love with, Detective Sergeant Giancarlo (Jack) Mezzanotte, himself a member of an unconventional and large family. I really liked the romance in The Gilded Hour, there is chemistry from the moment Anna and Jake meet, and they complement each other well.

Donati explores several aspects of social history in The Gilded Hour, such as child welfare, immigration, domestic violence, religion, discrimination, and poverty against a vivid portrayal of New York City. In particular focus are issues related to women rights, or rather the lack thereof, in the late 1880’s. Anna and Sophie are two of a handful of female doctors, generally viewed with suspicion or dislike, by not only their male colleagues, but by society at large. They are both passionate about women’s health, especially reproductive rights (access to contraception and abortion), a huge risk in the era of Comstock’s vociferous ‘moral’ crusade, and in opposition to the socially accepted notion that women are of little value, other than as obedient wives and mothers.

Together Anna and Jack become involved in a investigation when they suspect that a doctor covertly offering abortions to wealthy married women is deliberately causing their painful deaths. I probably would have rated The Gilded Hour five stars except that this one major story thread was left unresolved. I felt it was unnecessary, and frustrating, to not conclude the case within the 700+ pages available.

Nevertheless, beautifully written, rich in historical detail and setting, with appealing characters, I enjoyed The Gilded Hour, and I’m looking forward to reading Where The Light Enters.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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

Review: The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

 

Title: The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

Author: Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Published: 18th May 2017, Pan Macmillan Australia

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy Pan Macmillan

++++++

My Thoughts:

“As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened. It is about a murder, it is about my family, it is about other families whose lives were touched by the murder. But more than that, much more than that, it is about how we understand our lives, the past, and each other. To do this, we all make stories.”

The Fact of a Body is the unusual combination of a memoir, an unrelated true crime tale, and creative fiction.

Where the line is drawn between the three is sometimes blurry as the author attempts to understand her experience of sexual abuse as a child, the life of a child molester and murderer, and the death of an innocent young boy.

The concept of truth, within the framework of memory and law, is explored in a thoughtful manner. What is clear is that the truth is never as simple, nor as fixed as we wish it to be.

Complex, poetic, challenging, and haunting, I found The Fact of a Body compelling reading.

++++++

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Available from Pan Macmillan Australia

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Review: A Question of Us by Mary Jayne Baker

 

Title: The Question of Us

Author: Mary Jayne Baker

Published: September 5th 2019, Aria Fiction

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy Aria Fiction/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

A Question of Us is a charming and funny contemporary romance from British author, Mary Jayne Baker.

The friends to lovers trope in romance has always been my favourite, and it’s the focus of A Question of Us. Clarrie and Simon have been best friends for over twenty years (since they were four) and both have harboured unacknowledged romantic feelings for each other since their late teens. Now in their mid twenties, Simon is ready for Clarrie to to take him seriously, but Clarrie, desperately worried that giving in to her attraction to Simon will eventually spell the end of their friendship, prefers to deflect and deny. Clarrie’s concerns are understandable, and relatable for anyone who has been in a similar position. Her fears are also magnified by what seems to be mild social anxiety.

In the attempt to convince Clarrie to give him a shot, Simon offers her a bet – if their team wins the trivia league she agrees to a date, and if the The Mighty Morphin’ Flower Arrangers lose, he will never ask her out again. The weekly trivia competition is a great framework for the story, allowing the author to bring her characters together naturally (and it’s fun to answer the questions).

Probably my favourite element of the novel is the dynamic between the group, which includes Clarrie, Simon, Sonny, Gemma and and Davy, who have all been close friends since high school. A lot of the banter involves the pushing of each other’s buttons in only the way people who have known each other forever can, and while much of it is hilarious, if juvenile (and un-PC), the affection between them reads as totally genuine. Each of the characters also have their own story, and unusually, so do their parents.

I also really enjoyed the ‘Britishness’ of A Question of Us, Baker freely makes use of British ‘slang’ and the story largely takes place in a variety of quintessential English pubs, resulting in the downing of several pints of Guinness, lager, and cheap wine. I’ve noticed some (American) reviewers complaining it’s ‘too British’ but as an Australian, with plenty of exposure to British culture and TV, it felt familiar, and honestly refreshing.

Witty, fun and engaging, I was delighted with A Question of Us.

++++++

Available from Aria Fiction

Or from your preferred e-retailer

Review: Missing Person by Sarah Lotz

 

Title: Missing Person

Author: Sarah Lotz

Published: September 3rd 2019, Mulholland Books

Status: Read September 2019 courtesy Mulholland Books/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

‘Looking for my uncle Edward Shaun Ryan. Goes by Teddy. He left Wicklow County in Ireland in 1995 and might be in NYC. To my knowledge he hasn’t contacted the family since then. His current age would be 42. Irish, slender, five foot five (approximately), gay. If you have any information please contact…”

Irish bookseller Shaun Ryan is stunned when he learns that his late mother’s favourite brother, Teddy may still be alive and well. While Shaun had been told his Uncle was killed in a car accident before he was born, it seems Teddy had instead been banished to the United States in part because, like Shaun, he was gay. Despite the vehement objections of his remaining family members, Shaun decides to search for him, posting messages online, hoping to reconnect with Teddy.

Shaun is shaken when he is contacted by a woman who runs a forum called MissingLinc.com for amateur websleuths that specialises in identifying the remains of missing people, suggesting that Teddy could be a match for an unidentified murder victim, known as ‘The Boy in the Dress’. The possibility galvanises the members of the site and with this new information the group redoubles their efforts to unravel the mystery. However among the eager websleuths lurks Teddy’s killer, and he is is determined that this is one case that will remain unsolved.

Missing Person offers an original, modern premise that is utterly believable. I was engrossed in this story, which explores the world of websleuthing, the online investigation of crime by individuals. It is an intriguing hobby that attracts a wide spectrum of people from bored housewives, to retired law enforcement officers, to IT specialists, and everything in between. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to one day learn that a killer has infiltrated a websleuth forum, of which there are many, in order to keep tabs on, or even derail, an inquiry that threatens to expose him/her. Murderer’s are known for attempting to get close to law enforcement investigations, for example, often participating in community searches for their victims, or volunteering false information to canvassing detectives. It would be relatively simple for a killer to anonymously involve themselves in this arena, something Lotz’s story acknowledges, along with the other possible pitfalls associated with online sleuthing, especially when social media is utilised.

Divided into four parts, and told from multiple perspectives, using a combination of a third person narrative and exchanged messages, texts, and forum posts, Missing Person is not just about the mystery surrounding Teddy’s murder, it examines the interesting characters that involve themselves in the case; Shaun (aka WicklowBoy22), Teddy’s nephew; forum owner, Chris (RatKing1), whose own mother has been missing since she was a teen; ‘Rainbowbrite’ (aka Ellie) a stay at home wife and mother; and the man who uses the online handle ‘BobbieCowell’, whose fascination with the case isn’t at all benign. I really enjoyed the author’s approach to telling this story, with its focus on the motives of her main characters, rather than on the crime itself.

Clever, engaging, and suspenseful, with the recent uptick of interest in true crime, evidenced by popular podcasts such as My Favorite Murder, and various Netflix specials, the publication of Sarah Lotz’s novel, Missing Person, is a timely and entertaining novel.

++++++

Available from Mulholland Books

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Review: Things You Save In A Fire by Katherine Center

 

Title: Things You Save In a Fire

Author: Katherine Center

Published: August 13th 2019, St Martins Press

Status: Read August 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

I’d seen so much praise for Things You Save In a Fire by Katherine Center on various blogs well in advance of its publication date that I was eager to get my hands on a copy.

Cassie Hanwell is a firefighter in Austin, Texas who loves her job, and has worked hard to earn the respect of her crew. When a run in with a local councillor puts her career in jeopardy, Cassie reluctantly decides to move to small town Massachusetts, where she takes a position in a firehouse, and moves in with her estranged, ailing mother.

Things You Save In a Fire is a contemporary romance that also explores the themes of family, courage, forgiveness, and redemption. Center does an impressive job of balancing the romance and humour with the more serious elements of the story.

There is an emphasis on the complexities of relationships in Things You Save In a Fire, not only in the romance that develops between Cassie, and ‘rookie’ Owen, but also Cassie’s difficult relationship with her mother, and the relationships she needs to forge with her new colleagues in order to safely do her job.

I enjoyed the romance between Cassie and Owen, it’s inevitable from the moment they meet, but there are good reasons for Cassie to be wary of their attraction. Owen is perhaps a little too good to be true, but I was willing to embrace the fantasy.

Cassie’s resentment of her mother is tangled up with a traumatic incident she experienced on the same night her mother left the family, their relationship therefore is a complicated one. That her mother is ill adds another layer of strain to their interaction, and I liked the way the author navigated the issues between them.

Not unexpectedly, Cassie has to prove herself to her fellow firefighters who aren’t really sure that a woman is capable of the job. For the most part, the crew are welcoming if somewhat bemused, and it was very entertaining to see her repeatedly exceed their expectations, but it soon becomes clear that at least one of them deeply resents her presence.

Perhaps the most important relationship in Things You Save In a Fire is the one Cassie has with herself. She shut down emotionally at sixteen, fought to become hard, tough and strong, and struggles to relax the control she clings to. I appreciated the growth shown by her character as the story unfolded.

“Choosing to love—despite all the ways that people let you down, and disappear, and break your heart. Knowing everything we know about how hard life is and choosing to love anyway … That’s not weakness. That’s courage.”

Warm, witty, and casually subversive I really enjoyed Things You Save In a Fire, and ?I hope to read more of her work.

++++++

Available from St. Martins Press

Also available via Indiebound I via Booko I via Book Depository

Review: The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

 

Title: The Ruin (Cormac Reilly #1)

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Published: February 18th 2018, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read August 2019

 

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel has become a bestseller in Australia and Ireland, and was named an Amazon book of the year in the USA. The Ruin is a police procedural, Introducing Cormac Reilly, a detective in the An Garda Síochána.

Having spent most of his career with Ireland’s elite Garda units in Dublin, Cormac Reilly is finding his new appointment at a Garda Station in Galway disappointing, his new colleagues are unwelcoming, and his boss has assigned him nothing but cold cases since he has arrived. Cormac is puzzled when one of those cases involves the first call he ever attended as a rookie twenty years before, the overdose of a young mother, who left behind two neglected children, fifteen year old Maude and five year old Jake.

Aisling is devastated when two Garda officers arrive at her door and inform her that her partner is dead, an anonymous caller reported that Jack jumped from O’Brien’s Bridge and his body has been discovered downstream. In shock and feeling guilty about a recent disagreement, Aisling doesn’t question the verdict of suicide, but his sister Maude refuses to accept the possibility, and is determined to prove it despite the gardai’s refusal to investigate.

The Ruin unfolds from the perspectives of a Cormac and Aisling as the past and present collide. McTiernan develops an intelligent, layered plot that delves into issues such as child abuse, addiction, abortion and corruption. The questions surrounding Jack’s death are intriguing and I enjoyed the twists and turns the case took.

Cormac is almost unique in crime fiction – a male detective who isn’t a single, alcoholic, depressive. McTiernan only seems to provide a general sense of who Reilly is though, as a detective he is hardworking, ethical, and impatient with office politics, as a man, he is generally amiable and thoughtful , and there are hints of an interesting backstory related to his partner, for whom he relocated to Galway.

I expect as the series progresses we will learn more about Reilly’s new colleagues, many of whom seem to be hiding secrets. The characters specifically relating to the plot are well rounded and believable. Aisling and Maude are sympathetic, and the neighbour, Mrs. Keane, gave me the creeps.

McTiernan strikes just the right balance between description and detail, creating vivid settings. The pace is great, with each chapter moving the story forward, culminating in an tense conclusion.

The Ruin is a gritty, compelling, atmospheric novel, deserving of the praise it has received. The Ruin’s sequel, The Scholar was released in February 2019, and the third novel in the series, No Good Turn is Due for publication in 2020.

++++++

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Review: Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

 

 

Title: Tidelands {Fairmile #1}

Author: Philippa Gregory

Published: August 20th 2019, Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

Tidelands introduces a new series, Fairmile, from bestselling historical author Philippa Gregory.

“These are the tidelands: half tide, half land, good for nothing, all the way west to the New Forest, all the way east till the white cliffs.”

Set in the mid 1600’s, as the Parlimentarians/Anglicists and Royalists/Papists wrestle for control of England, Tidelands centres on Sealsea Island, off the coast of Sussex. It’s here in a small fishing hut that Alinor Reekie, ‘neither widow nor wife’, lives, earning just enough to keep body and soul together as a midwife, herbalist and healer. Her most fervent wish is to secure a better future for her children, twelve year old Rob, and thirteen year old Alys, a simple desire that seems improbable, but Alinor’s chance encounter with James, a young Catholic priest, seeking sanctuary could turn the tide for them all.

Unfolding from the shifting third person perspectives of Alinor and James, Tidelands is a bewitching story of love, desire, danger and betrayal.

It’s fair to say that though rich in description and detail, the story progresses little during the first third or more of the novel. Gregory relies somewhat heavily on foreshadowing to sustain the reader’s interest which means there are few surprises as the plot unfolds, yet I found the story engrossing, caught up in the vivid portrayal of a life and time unfamiliar to me.

“I did not know that there could be a woman like you, in a place like this.”

Key to this tale is the forbidden romance that develops between Alinor, and (Father) James Summers, the priest who also serves as a Royalist spy. James is intrigued by Alinor’s beauty and grace, qualities he never expected to find in an impoverished wisewoman, and Alinor unwisely allows herself to get swept away by the handsome young man’s sincere, if naive, interest. It’s not unsurprising, given the period and circumstances, that the relationship will end badly for at least one, and perhaps both of them.

“It’s a crime to be poor in this county; it’s a sin to be old. It’s never good to be a woman.”

Of course, Alinor will always be the one with the most to lose. Already, as a woman abandoned by her husband, envied for her beauty, and regarded warily for her skill as a wisewoman, which some equate with witchery, she is regularly the subject of suspicion, rumour and innuendo in her small community. Any failing, or error in judgement, could cost her not only her reputation, but also her life. Gregory does a wonderful job of exploring the vulnerability of women during this time period, especially a woman like Alinor who wants more than society believes she has a right too.

“It matters to me. I matter: in this, I matter.”

Beautifully written, well researched, atmospheric and interesting, Tidelands is a captivating novel I enjoyed much more than I expected to.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Review: Meet Me In Venice by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: Meet Me in Venice

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: August 6th 2019, Michael Joseph

Status: Read August 2019, courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

 

++++++

My Thoughts:

Meet Me in Venice is a lovely, heartfelt story from multi-award-winning author, Barbara Hannay.

A year after the sudden death of her beloved husband, Daisy Benetto can think of no better place for a family reunion than Venice, the place of Leo’s birth. While Daisy and her youngest daughter, nineteen year old Ellie, will fly in from their home in Queensland, Australia, oldest son Marc, and his wife, will be traveling from California’s Silicon Valley, and Anna from London, where she has been trying to launch her career as an actress.

Hannay has created a loving, ordinary family in Meet Me in Venice with whom most readers will relate. Daisy is a warm, caring mother who is proud of her children, and her children clearly adore her in return. I thought the dynamics of the sibling relationships rang true, with the rivalries and role playing that often carry into adulthood.

Daisy’s children all want her to have a wonderful time in Venice and so are determined not to worry her with their own problems, but that’s not easy in such close quarters when tensions sit so close to the surface. The strain only increases when the family learns that Leo kept a secret from them all which threatens to undermine what they thought they knew of the husband and father they admired. I really liked the way in which Hannay dealt with all of these varied issues and the way in which they were resolved.

Hannay‘s novels are usually set in rural Australia but this is set almost wholly in Venice. It’s such an appealing city and the descriptions of its historic architecture, delicious cuisine and rich culture enhance the enjoyment of the story.

A captivating story about family, love and life’s journey, Meet Me in Venice is an engaging and enjoyable read.

Read an Extract

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Also by Barbara Hannay reviewed at Book’d Out 

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