Review: Taken by Dinuka McKenzie

 

Title: Taken {Detective Kate Miles #2}

Author: Dinuka McKenzie

Published: 1st February 2023, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read 2023 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Taken is the second thrilling book to feature Detective Sergeant Kathryn Miles who was introduced in Dinuka McKenzie’s bestselling debut, Torrent.

Picking up several months after the dramatic final scenes of the previous book, Kate has just returned to work following maternity leave and is eager to return to active duty. A domestic disturbance call gives Kate the opportunity she needs to prove herself ready, and results in her being assigned as co-lead detective in an infant abduction.

Four month old Sienna Ricci, her mother, Ellisa reports, was taken from her home while she showered. As the team investigates, Kate’s partner becomes convinced the baby’s father, Aaron Ricci, is responsible for the abduction and she is taken off the case, even though Kate believes she has a viable alternative suspect in Jason Veliu, a violent man Kate recently had cause to arrest.

With a child’s well-being at stake, the tension is high in Taken. The plot is well thought out with several red herrings, though I found it relatively easy to discern who was responsible early on. The story has good momentum and there is action too as Kate finds herself risking her life in two separate confrontations with desperate people. Sensitive readers should be aware that domestic violence, adultery and postnatal depression are among the issues that are raised in the crimes Kate is investigating.

Kate is under a lot of personal pressure in Taken. While struggling with the effects of PTSD, she is also trying to find a balance between the needs of her husband and children, and the demands of her career. On top of this, the media have picked up on a story involving her father’s late partner’s business activity which could implicate them both in a corruption scandal, amplifying her concerns about the family’s finances. Determined not to be seen as lacking, Kate doesn’t always make sensible decisions, but she acts for the right reason.

Suspenseful, fast paced and gripping, Taken is an excellent read, perfect for fans of Australian crime fiction from authors such as Jane Harper, Chris Hammer and Emma Viskic.

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Review: Love to Loathe You by Ali Hazelwood

 

Title: Love to Loathe You {The STEMinist novellas #1-3}

Author: Ali Hazelwood

Published: 10th January 2023, Sphere

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Hachette Australia

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My Thoughts:

Having read great things about Ali Hazelwood’s debut, The Love Hypothesis, and her sophomore novel, Love on the Brain, I couldn’t resist the lure of Love to Loathe You, a collection of three novella’s, which have previously been published separately. Each novella works as a standalone, however they are linked in that they each feature one of three best friends, Mara, Sadie and Hannah, who are in regular contact across all of the story’s .

In Under One Roof, Mara, an environmental engineer who has just landed her dream job at the Environmental Protective Agency, inherits half ownership in a Washington DC house from her late mentor, and learns she’ll be sharing it with her mentor’s great nephew, a lawyer for an oil company. Liam isn’t pleased to be sharing his space with a stranger, and the two try to stay out of each other’s way, but their forced proximity soon breaks down the walls between them. Probably my favourite of the three novellas, I particularly enjoyed the well-paced build up of romantic tension between Mara and Liam.

Miscommunication is at the root of the conflict between civil engineer Sadie, and Erik, a partner in a large rival firm, in Stuck With You. The couple meet at a nearby cafe and enjoy a long night together, leaving Sadie excited for future possibilities, until she is told Erik’s firm has poached the important client she had high hopes of signing. Three weeks later the two are trapped in an elevator together and Sadie is ready to tell him exactly what she thinks of him. I liked the dual timeline structure of this story, and the respect Erik showed for Sadie, though I think a steamy elevator scene would have been the icing on the cake.

Below Zero is a second-chance romance featuring Hannah, an ambitious aerospace engineer, and Ian, her boss at NASA. When Hannah learns that her proposed project has been rejected by Ian, despite widespread support from her colleagues, Hannah suspects Ian’s motive is revenge, but when she is left stranded in a crevasse in the Arctic it’s Ian who rescues her, despite the dangers. By sheer coincidence, Bonnie Tyler’s song ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ started playing as I was reading this, and it’s the perfect anthem for this novella (especially the last verse). Hannah, whose cynicism hides her poor self esteem, is the prickliest of the three friends, and I couldn’t help but root for her to take a chance.

Though each novella has its own epilogue, the Bonus Chapter included in Love to Loathe You, which contains a few pages from each of the men’s point of view at a future date, is just that, a charming bonus that I appreciated.

Witty, fun and heated (the sex is reasonably explicit), Love to Loathe You proved to be an excellent escapist read for me, Hazelwood has a new fan and I’m looking forward to reading Love, Theoretically which will be released later this year.

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Review: Headland by John Byrnes

 

Title: Headland

Author: John Byrnes

Published: 10th January 2023, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Is pulp rural noir fiction a thing? If not perhaps Headland by Australian author John Byrnes is the first of its kind. Dark, lurid, gritty and violent, this debut novel includes elements of both crime fiction subgenres, if you don’t know what to expect, Headland is likely to shock.

Detective Senior Constable Craig Watson is the novel’s compromised protagonist, a drug addict whose poor performance has seen him exiled to a small coastal town hours from Sydney, to relieve a colleague. He’s not a character that endears himself to anyone, seemingly corrupted by his habit, and the slow revelation of a twisted relationship that haunts him, even a shred of redemption seems impossible, at least at the outset.

It’s already been raining for days when Craig arrives in Gloster, but he isn’t given any time to settle in. The town is on flood watch, there’s a missing teenage girl who could be a runaway or the victim of a kidnapping, a recent fatal accident that’s declared not to be an accident, and an assault on a councillor. Even high, Craig quickly recognises that something is off in Gloster, including the behaviour of his station boss, Sergeant Thomas Philby, and begins to unravel a conspiracy of corruption, fraud, sexual exploitation and murder.

The action in the story really gets underway after the river breaks it banks, and Craig, along with his colleagues Constables Ellie Cameron and Larissa Brookes, find they have been left behind in the evacuation. They think they are alone until Ellie vanishes leaving behind a trail of blood, and it becomes clear they are trapped with a desperate killer. The momentum then rarely lets up with daring rescues, furious gun battles, and brutal confrontations fraught with tension. The driving rain creates a close atmosphere, the town Byrnes describes is laid out much like my own, and I almost expected to look up from the book’s pages to see the streets flooding (as they do once or twice a year).

Be aware however, there are several confronting, and even affronting, characters and scenes in Headland. Few in the cast come off well, particularly those who we are usually predisposed to trust, and there are quite graphic descriptions of misogyny, abuse, violence, sex, and sexual assault, all of which is expected from the pulp genre.

Headland may not appeal to everyone but I found it aggressive, fast paced and gripping, I couldn’t put it down.

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Review: The One and Only Dolly Jamieson by Lisa Ireland

Title: The One and Only Dolly Jamieson

Author: Lisa Ireland

Published: 10th January 2023, Michael Joseph

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy Penguin Books Australia

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My Thoughts:

The One and Only Dolly Jamieson is a charming and uplifting novel from Australian author Lisa Ireland.

Once a sought after Broadway/West End performer and television star, seventy-eight year old Dolly Jamieson spends her days in a London library, and her nights in a stranger’s rarely used shed. There’s little danger of her being recognised as no one wishes to look too closely at the homeless, in fact most people choose to ignore her. Dolly tries not to take offence, she knows she doesn’t look, or smell, her best but she misses being seen.

When Jane Leveson stumbles into the library, looking lost and on the verge of tears, Dolly feels compelled to reach out and offer the woman comfort. Jane sees past Dolly’s worn coat and unkempt hair and their conversation sparks a connection that grows as Jane offers to help Dolly turn her scribbled notes into a memoir.

With a dual timeline that shifts smoothly between the past and present, we learn how Dolly, born Margie Ferguson in Geelong, Victoria, overcame hardship and tragedy in her determination to become a star, and the subsequent trajectory of her life. Despite the ills that have befallen her, and the mistakes she has made, Dolly is a delightful character, and admire her optimism.

As she and Jane work together to tell Dolly’s story Ireland reveals more about what is troubling Jane. Dolly’s gentle sympathy and nonjudgmental attitude is a balm to Jane who is struggling under the weight of her own regrets. Ireland stunned me with the reveal of Jane’s whole story, it a was very unexpected and hit hard.

Ireland addresses a number of sensitive issues in the novel including adoption and suicide, but particularly highlights the shocking increase in homelessness amongst women aged 65 and over, and includes a note that outlines the extent of the problem.

Written with warmth, tenderness and humour, The One and Only Dolly Jamieson is a really lovely read.

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Review: The Drift by C.J. Tudor

 

Title: The Drift

Author: C.J. Tudor

Published: 19th January 2023, Michael Joseph

Status: Read January 2023 courtesy PenguinUK/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

I read The Drift by C.J. Tudor on a 30 degree day – that’s 30° Celsius, so around 86F, but I was quickly chilled to the core.

“At the start, there is simply relief at being alive.”

Hannah slowly regains consciousness to discover the bus she was travelling in, carrying a dozen or so students from Invicta Academy heading to The Retreat, has careered off the road and rolled part way down a mountainside in the middle of a blizzard. Hannah is trapped in the mangled bus with a handful of survivors, the bus driver is missing, and one of the dead shows signs of a deadly infection.

“As ever in this life, if you wanted to be saved, you had to do it yourself.”

The last thing Meg, an ex police officer and recovering drug addict, remembers is having breakfast in her hotel room, so she’s disoriented when she wakes in a stalled cable car as a snow storm rages outside. She’s not alone, there are four others stirring, all volunteers headed for The Retreat, and the body of a man she once knew.

“You’re either a good guy or you’re a survivor, someone had once told him. The earth is full of dead good guys.”

It’s Carter’s turn to ski down the mountain to stock up on provisions for the residents of The Retreat, a chore he hates given the threat of what lurks in the woods outside of the electric wire fence. On his return he finds the chalet is dark, Julia is dead and Nate is badly injured, but worse, the basement locks have been released.

In a post apocalyptic setting amid falling snow, three storylines eventually converge in an unexpected way in The Drift, telling a story of loss and hope, betrayal and compassion, death and survival.

Suspense wars with horror as each claustrophobic situation poses obvious and hidden dangers to the characters. The dynamics of each group are tense, confused and fascinating. Everyone is suspect, and has an agenda of some kind, assumptions are a mistake. The body count is high.

The complexity of the overarching plot is impressive. Each story thread exposes a new piece of information that often answers the questions others raise, and adds to our understanding of their world, one ravaged by a deadly uncontrollable virus, killing millions. One mystery will appear to resolve, only for another to be triggered. There is a cascade of surprises and shocks with the pacing well balanced between all three storylines.

With a compelling blend of horror and mystery, The Drift is an atmospheric, frightening, and clever novel.

++++++++

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Review: Just Murdered by Katherine Kovacic

 

Title: Just Murdered {Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries #1}

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: 10th January, Poisoned Pen Press

Status: Read January courtesy Poisoned Pen Press/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

A screen to book adaption by Katherine Kovacic of the first episode of the Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries television series (written by Deb Cox and created by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger), which itself was inspired by Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the TV series, which is based on the Phryne Fisher mystery books by Kerry Greenwood, Just Murdered is a delightful murder mystery set during the 1960’s in Victoria Australia introducing Ms Peregrine Fisher, the niece of Miss Phryne Fisher.

“She had never been one to play by the rules—at least, not unless they suited her.”

When Peregrine Fisher discovers an oft forwarded letter addressed to her late mother that requests a meeting with regards to an inheritance, her first instinct is to dismiss it as a joke, but at a loose end, having been fired that same day from her position in a hairdressing salon, Peregrine decides to accept the invitation. Upon her rather dramatic arrival at The Adventuresses’ Club of the Antipodes, Peregrine is informed that her mother’s estranged half sister, Phryne Fisher, is missing in Papua New Guinea, presumed dead, and Peregrine is her heir.

“I’ve tried hard all my life to be someone or belong somewhere…”

The murder of a young model at Blair’s Emporium, for which one of the Adventuresses is under suspicion, is just the opportunity Peregrine needs to prove herself to The Adventuresses’ Club of the Antipodes. She has big shoes to fill but it’s soon evident that though Peregrine may lack the sophistication of her aunt, she is just as bold, clever and resourceful. A genuine delight, I love her sassy attitude. Much like her aunt Peregrine refuses to be told who she is and what she is capable of, especially by men.

“Now I just have to convince Birdie and the rest of the Adventuresses that I can do my aunt’s old job. I mean, it’s not really that hard, is it?”

I enjoyed the well plotted mystery for which there several suspects. Another murder increases the stakes, especially for Peregrine, who then goes undercover to expose to the truth, despite being forcefully warned off by Chief Inspector Sparrow and Detective James Steed of Central Police.

The writing is a great reflection of the television episode, and I thought Kovacic translated the characters and events well to the page. She captures the entertaining balance of humour and tension that is the appeal of this series. The settings are well rendered, and the sense of time and place are distinct.

I expect fans of the original Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries will enjoy this spin off as I have. You can stream Seasons 1 and 2 of Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries on Acorn TV in several countries, but I would welcome continuing print instalments of this series.

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Review: The Nocturnal Brain by Dr. Guy Leschziner

 

Title: The Nocturnal Brain: Nightmares, Neuroscience, and the Secret World of Sleep

Author: Dr. Guy Leschziner

Published: 23rd July 2019, St Martin’s Press

Status: Read November 2022

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My Thoughts:

“You can survive longer without food than without sleep. The fact that sleep is fundamental to life is unarguable, but in modern society, at least until recently, we have taken for granted that sleep simply happens, and is a necessary evil to allow us to live our waking lives.”

I’ve been plagued by insomnia since I was a teenager, and nothing has ever really resolved the issue, though I’ve tried everything from hypnotherapy to sleeping tablets. It’s something I’ve always just managed, but I am finding as I get older that its having increasingly negative effects. So I was curious as to what I might learn about disordered sleep in The Nocturnal Brain, from neurologist and sleep specialist Dr. Guy Leschziner.

In each chapter of The Nocturnal Brain, Leschziner introduces a patient with a particular sleep issue. He provides a case history, presented with commentary from the patient, and explains the diagnosis, causes and subsequent treatment. From snoring to sleep-walking, narcolepsy to night terrors, the disorders examined range from the common to the bizarre, and I found them all quite fascinating.

Leschziner has made a good attempt at making the science accessible for a lay person though at times it can become a little dense. What is clear is that for many people sleep is a complicated process. It can be affected by a combination of biological and psychological factors, and as such sleep medicine often requires a multidisciplinary approach.

I found The Nocturnal Brain to be an interesting and engaging read, and Leschziner has convinced me to look into arranging a consultation with a sleep specialist.

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Review: Cut by Susan White

 

Title: Cut

Author: Susan White

Published: 30th August 2022, Affirm Press

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy Affirm Press

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Carla is a young doctor striving to become the first female surgeon at a prestigious Melbourne hospital. When a consultant post opens up, she competes with her lover for the job and thinks she can be judged on merit. But an assault after a boozy workplace dinner leaves her traumatised and struggling to cope with the misogyny coming from every corner of her workplace. Recovering her fragmented memories from that night, Carla begins a fight for justice that will shake the foundations of the hospital she loves.

My Thoughts:

A compelling fiction debut, Cut by (Doctor) Susan White exposes the misogyny and sexism that hinders the ambitions of young female surgeons in Australian medical institutions.

The story centres on Carla, a talented surgeon, whose aspiration is to become a consultant at a prestigious Melbourne hospital. When she, and a fellow doctor, are assaulted by a senior surgeon she realises she has underestimated the determination of the male-dominated system to exclude women from its ranks.

Cut is not an easy read, Carla’s experiences are harrowing, and all too real. I was impressed that White also shows how Carla struggles with the compromises she makes to protect her career ambitions. Carla’s complicity is confronting, but I found it easy to empathise with her. The treatment she receives from the hierarchy is frustrating and infuriating.

Having read Scrubbed, a memoir by Australian surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp earlier this year, Carla’s experience reads authentically.

Sharp, insightful and provocative, Cut is a great read.

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Review: How To Kill Men and Get Away With It by Katy Brent

 

Title: How To Kill Men and Get Away With It

Author: Katy Brent

Published: 12th October 2022, HQ Digital UK

Status: Read October 2022 courtesy HQ Digital/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

How To Kill Men and Get Away With It is an entertaining, satirical thriller from debut novelist Katy Brent.

“Before all this started, I’d thought that squeezing the life out of someone would be easy. The right amount of pressure on their windpipe and they’d just go limp, like when a kitten suddenly falls asleep. It’s actually nothing like that.”

The first victim of trust fund baby and popular social media influencer, Kitty Collins’s killing spree, was an accident. She’d simply shoved the drunken sleaze who followed her from a bar away from her and he fell on the broken wine bottle he’d been threatening her with. The next took more planning. Kitty’s targets are cheaters, liars and predators, men who leave ruined women in their wake without a backward glance, like her ex, Adam, and her father. It’s a much more noble calling than posting photos of herself online. Conveniently, as the heiress to Collins Cuts (even if she is vegan and refuses her share of the profits), she has the perfect disposal method available. There are rules, of course, the most important is to not get caught, but Kitty also has a stalker who seems to know every move she makes.

“I want to live in a world where I don’t have to keep my keys between my fingers in case I’m attacked walking home. Not that I do that. I find a serrated hunting knife and a syringe of GHB much more reassuring.”

In case it’s not clear, this is a satirical revenge fantasy so the the plot has a tenuous basis in reality, and the characters, including Kitty, are more properly caricatures. That said, Brent’s commentary about violence against women in society is on point. I honestly think they’d be few women who weren’t at least a little gratified by the way Kitty turns the table on badly behaved men.

“Red eyes, blue lips, a pale yellowing skin. Oh, and some gorgeous shades of purple later as the blood pools in the lowest parts of the body. The colour palette of death is really rather pretty.”

Full of dark humour, I really like the tone Brent strikes with Kitty’s voice. The sardonic descriptions of mayhem and murder contrasts effectively with our perception of a gushing influencer. Kitty is not particularly likeable, nor is she reliable, but she is amusing and pretty bad ass.

“I look like a walking wet dream. I’m hideous.”

There’s a twist or three to the tale, because no woman is perfect. All are fairly easy to predict but they are fun and generally satisfying anyway.

A delightfully wicked story, I enjoyed How To Kill Men and Get Away With It, perhaps a teeny bit more than I should of.

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Review: Australia’s Great Depression by Joan Beaumont

 

Title: Australia’s Great Depression: How a Nation Shattered by the Great War Survived the Worst Economic Crisis It Has Ever Faced

Author: Joan Beaumont

Published: 1st March 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read November 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

I don’t remember The Great Depression ever being a topic of discussion among my family. My maternal and paternal grandparents were born in the mid to late 1920’s so they would have been young children at the time, and my great great grandparents had all passed away by the time I was six. All I really know of its impact comes from American novels set during the period that I studied in high school like Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. Though I don’t care much for economics as a subject I am increasingly interested in learning more about Australian history.

Australia’s Great Depression by Jean Beaumont is a comprehensive examination of the global crisis’s impact on the nation, particularly between the years of 1929 and 1932. Australia was amongst the hardest hit nations, with the economic crash triggered by a combination of wartime and repatriation spending, the collapse of export markets like wheat and wool, the rising price of imports, and high overseas debts.

I have to admit that I found some of the economic and political detail to be tedious, but I do feel it was explained clearly.

Of more interest to me was the impact on the population. Unemployment in Australia ranged between 25 and 30 per cent, and was at its highest in 1932. Beaumont shows that not all sectors of the economy equally affected, and hence the impact of the Great Depression varied according to location, age, marital status, gender, ethnicity, class and former military service. I found the specifics of the variables to be intriguing , though none were too surprising.

I also found the brief discussion of the parallels between the behaviour of political parties and politicians around the Depression and the current economic downturn post-CoVid to be of interest. It was also interesting to note, given current woefully low unemployment payments, that the ‘susso’ payment introduced during the Great Depression, was similarly set at a meagre rate, and for almost the same reasons that the government uses to justify it today.

There is a collection of photographs and other images included at the end of the book. So too are Beaumont’s extensive lists of References and Notes for anyone interested in further reading.

At nearly 600 pages I wouldn’t recommend Australia’s Great Depression.  to a casual reader unless the topic is of specific interest, but I feel I learnt a lot about the nation’s socioeconomic history and the complexity of the Great Depression experience by reading it.

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