Review: The Road To Hope by Rachael Johns

 

Title: The Road to Hope

Author: Rachael Johns

Published: Harlequin MIRA AU March 2015

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Status: Read on March 31, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In The Road to Hope, Rachael Johns revisits the small Western Australian town of Hope Springs featured in her debut novel, Jilted.

The Road to Hope opens at Flynn and Ellie’s marriage ceremony with Lauren Simpson watching jealously from the pews. Still bitter about losing the love of her life, and tired of being fodder for the town gossips, Lauren decides it’s time to start afresh, but the temptation of the locum doctor, Dr Tom Lewis, may be just too good for a bad girl to resist.

Lauren was cast as somewhat of a villain in Jilted, painted as petty and promiscuous, but Johns does an admirable job of redeeming her in The Road To Hope. We learn that Lauren’s behaviour in large part stemmed from her unrequited crush on Flynn, and her promiscuity has been driven by a real desire for true love. As a nurse, Lauren proves she is also kind, capable and dedicated and it’s these qualities that Johns draws out so that we find Lauren both a sympathetic and likeable heroine.

Tom Lewis is easy to like – a hot, surfing doctor traveling Australia in a vintage ute as a locum – but he has a devastating secret that complicates his life. He’s attracted to Lauren, but he feels he can’t consider anything more serious than a fling given his situation. Johns handles Lewis’s dilemma well without minimising the reality of the situation.

I really enjoyed the chemistry and slow burn romance between Lauren and Tom. Despite their immediate sexual attraction, both have good reasons for refusing to acknowledge it. They develop a friendship which is really sweet, even with the undercurrent of heat and I was delighted by the way their relationship worked itself out.

It’s not necessary to have read Jilted to read The Road to Hope but I enjoyed revisiting the town and people of Hope Springs. I read this in a matter of hours, enjoying the warmth, humour and romance of a this well written story.

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Also by Rachael Johns

@ Goodreads

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Review: Life or Death by Michael Robotham

 

Title: Life or Death

Author: Michael Robotham

Published: Mulholland Books March 2015

Status: Read on March 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Life or Death is Michael Robotham’s tenth novel, a rare stand alone from one of Australia’s favourite crime fiction author’s, best known for his O’Loughlin/Ruiz series.

Inspired by a real life news report, Robotham has built his story around the character of Audie Palmer who, after serving ten years in prison, escapes the day before his scheduled release. No one understands why Audie would run when he risks an extended sentence if caught, but it’s assumed that it has something to do with the unrecovered $7 million dollars stolen during the robbery he was convicted of committing.

It soon becomes obvious however that Audie isn’t motivated by money, hunted by the authorities and criminals alike, he is on a mission to save a life. Despite what Audie stands accused of, he quickly becomes such a likeable character, a victim of bad luck and worse luck, he demonstrates an enviable strength of character to rise above it all. He is the ultimate underdog, battling to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds.

Flashbacks provide the details of Audie’s back story, explaining his present predicament. The twists and turns of the plot are well executed, even if a touch predictable. I read Life or Death in a matter of hours, Robotham’s fluid writing, and tight pacing ensures this is a page turner.

An entertaining read with a great premise, appealing characters and a strong and satisfying ending, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Life or Death.

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Review: The Secret Life of Luke Livingston by Charity Norman

 

Title: The Secret Life of Luke Livingston

Author: Charity Norman

Published: Allen and Unwin March 2015

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Status: Read from March 15 to 17, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

The Secret Life of Luke Livingstone is an emotionally powerful story of a family in crisis from Charity Norman.

A respected solicitor and beloved husband, father and grandfather, Luke Livingston seems to have it all, but he has a secret with the potential to destroy it all.

With thought provoking insight and sensitivity, Norman tells the story from four different points of view – Luke’s, his wife’s Eilish’s, and their children’s Simon’s and Kate’s.

I couldn’t help but admire Luke for his courage in finally following his heart. His despair and heartbreak is very affecting as he struggles with the realities of his situation. I rejoiced in each tentative step he took towards reconciling with his own truth.

“Because I’ve come to the end of the road, Eilish. The very end. I can’t go on, I was facing a choice last night: to end my life, or to accept what I’ve always really been.”

I sympathised with Eilish’s shock and feelings of betrayal, and the initial reactions of Luke’s adult children, Kate and Simon, when Luke’s secret is revealed. Norman portrays their confusion, anger and grief with believability as their comfortable world is turned upside down. I was furious with Simon’s extreme reaction, tempered only slightly when Norman revealed the awful memories Luke’s announcement stirred in him.

“Perhaps we never really understand our families at all, any of us. Perhaps those we love the most are really a bunch of strangers, with secret thoughts and inner lives.”

I was hugely angered by the bigotry displayed by many of the characters. It appalls me that such a level of ignorance and hatred still exists in today’s society. The author does a wonderful job of educating the reader about gender and sexual identity without lecturing.

The novel is well written, drawing the reader into the characters lives, but I did feel as if the story stalled somewhat in the middle and its progression was somewhat predictable.

A sensitive and thought-provoking story The Secret Life of Luke Livingstone is a wonderful novel and deserves to be read widely.

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Review: Razorhurst by Justine Larbalaestier

 

Title: Razorhurst

Author: Justine Larbalaestier

Published: Soho Teen March 2015

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Status: Read from March 07 to 9, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Justine Larbalaestier’s Razorhurst is gritty, intriguing novel blending history and the paranormal to create an interesting and exciting story with crossover appeal for both young adult and adult audiences.

It’s 1932 and the tentative truce between Sydney’s rival underworld gangs, headed by Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson, is on the verge of collapse when Gloriana’s right hand man, Jimmy Palmer is murdered in his bed.
For Dymphna, Gloria’s ‘best girl’ and Jimmy’s girlfriend, Jimmy’s death is a problem. Was he murdered by Mr Davidson in a calculated move against Glory, or was he killed because Glory learned of his and Dymphna’s plans to oust her?
Climbing into the Surrey Hills dosshouse housing Gloriana’s men in search of food, street urchin Kelpie is shocked to find Dymphna standing over the body of her murdered lover.
Both are forced to flee as the police close in, with Dymphna insisting Kelpie remains with her for protection, but safety is hard to come by on the streets of ‘Razorhurst’.

Razorhurst is told from the alternating perspectives of Kelpie and Dymphna, interspersed with brief omniscient vignettes. Both girls are feisty, brave, and smart, but most importantly they are survivors.
Kelpie is an appealing character. When her mother died in childbirth, she was taken in by ‘Old Ma’ who raised her as best she could. Upon Old Ma’s death, desperate to escape the Welfare, Kelpie took to the streets, surviving with the occasional kindness of local hard man, Snowy, and the ghosts that she can both see and hear that haunt the streets.
Dymphna was born to privilege but tragedy left her orphaned twice and she was forced to find a way to survive. As Glory’s ‘best girl’, she has earned status among the underworld, but she wants more. She too can see and hear ghosts but hiding her ability has become second nature.

Larbalaestier’s gangland characters are inspired by infamous Sydney identities (most notably Tilly Divine and Kate Leigh), and the author’s research into the ‘razor’ gangs of Sydney, so named because straight edge razors were the weapon of choice during the 1930’s.
I loved the historical elements that evoke inner city Sydney during the period. Grounded firmly in fact, the setting is fascinating and vividly drawn, from the slum of Frog Hollow to the seedy streets of Surry ‘Sorrow’ Hills lined with bordello’s, opium dens and gambling houses.

Unfolding over the course of a single day the pacing of the novel is well managed, the action is non stop as Dymphna and Kelpie scramble to survive. There are explicit, though not gratuitous, references to violence and the occasional use of language. A touch of humour and romance tempers the ever present sense of menace and danger.

Entertaining, thrilling and original, Razorhurst is a great read I’d widely recommend and I’m really hoping Larbalestier has plans for a sequel.

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Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Title: First Frost { Waverley Family #2}

Author: Sarah Addison Allen

Published: St Martins Press  January 2015

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Status: Read from January 19 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I adored Garden Spells and was delighted to renew my acquaintance with the Waverley family in First Frost.

As the first frost approaches, the Waverly women are growing increasingly restless. Claire, who is running a successful candy business, is starting to doubt herself, Sydney is yearning for a baby as her hair gets redder every day, her daughter, fifteen year old Bay, is struggling with unrequited love, and all the while a silver haired stranger is lurking about town.

The plot is a little predictable yet it doesn’t seem to matter. I enjoyed the hint of mystery, the family drama and the light touch of romance. And of course the story is enhanced by the magical whimsy of the Waverley gifts. Claire’s candy evokes happiness and contentment, Sydney’s haircuts give people luck, and Bay simply knows where things, and people, belong.

Written with warmth and heart, First Frost is an enchanting story of family, forgiveness, acceptance and love. It can be read as a stand alone but I recommend reading Garden Spells first.

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Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Published: Transworld Jan 2015

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Status: Read from January 15 to 17, 2015 — I own a copy   {courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A tense and twisty thriller, The Girl on the Train is garnering plenty of well deserved attention for debut author, Paula Hawkins.

After a slightly bewildering start I was gripped by this chilling, tangled tale of love, hate and betrayal. Revealing much more than the back cover hints at risks spoilers that will ruin the surprises in store for the reader. I think it’s important to unravel the secrets and lies as the author intended and to allow yourself to become caught up in the twists and turns of the plot.

Astute readers may solve the mystery before the final pages but its unraveling is compelling. The conclusion may be a little neat but should also satisfy.

Clever and disturbing in equal measure The Girl on the Train is an engrossing read, don’t be fooled by the brevity of this review – I just don’t want to spoil anything for you!

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Review: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah by Stephen Seager

 

Title: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah: Life inside of one of America’s largest hospitals for the criminally insane.

Author: Stephen Seager

Published: Allen & Unwin January 2015

Status: Read from January 07 to 08, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Behind the Gates of Gomorrah is a fascinating insider’s view of life inside the Napa State Psychiatric Hospital in California by physician/psychiatrist, Dr Stephen Seager.

Napa State is a low to moderate security facility, housing around 1300 men and women committed to the hospital by both civil and forensic (court mandated) referral. The patients suffer from a range of serious mental health problems including mood, personality and anxiety disorders, a proportion of whom have been declared criminally insane.

Dr Seager spent a year working in ‘Unit C’ amongst some of the state’s most frightening men convicted of serious crimes including multiple murders and violent rapes of both women and children. This is the eye opening account of his time at the facility, the people he met and the lessons he learned.

“You can’t be a hospital and a prison at he same time.”

Treated like hospital patients instead of prison inmates, these violent criminals have frightening freedoms. The ‘Patients Right’s Charter’ means they cannot be compelled to take medication to treat their illness, they are free to roam the ward, and there are no guards on the unit despite the fact that serious assaults between patients occur on a regular basis. On his first day Seager witnessed a patient almost beat another man to death with a chair and received 10 stitches to his head when he tried to intervene. The offender, a high functioning sociopath with a tattoo reading HELL across his forehead, was never charged with either assault.

“I realized that the sickness of Gomorrah was violence but the symptom was denial.”

I have nothing but admiration for the staff who work in Unit C. Despite the high level of stress and very real risks to their safety – staff have been brutally injured, and even killed by patients- Seager portrays them as being committed to the care and well being of their charges. I share Seager’s contempt for the administration and bureaucracy that fails to protect them, I don’t understand how they can ignore the realities of dealing with violent offenders, essentially fostering an environment of “…overwhelming impotence”.

“And then nothing. Nothing ever changes.”

Seager wrote Behind the Gates of Gomorrah not only to expose the flaws of the facility, and the other 200 like it, but also as a plea for something to be done. His suggestions for dealing with forensic patients are sensible and practical – implementing mandated treatment, creating a housing environment that maintains safety and order, providing a law enforcement security presence on every ward/unit and encouraging staff to assert their right to safe working conditions. Something has to change.

Written with compassion, humour and purpose, Behind the Gates of Gomorrah is a compelling read of mental illness, monsters and madness.

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Review: The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

 

Title: The Zig Zag Girl

Author: Elly Griffiths

Published: Quercus November 2014

Status: Read from December 13 to 14, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Elly Griffiths popular Ruth Galloway series has been on my to-read list for sometime but I’ve been loathe to start a new series given my current reading commitments. I pounced then on the opportunity to read her first stand alone, The Zig Zag Girl.

When the head and legs of a young woman are discovered in two black cases at Brighton train station, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens doesn’t have to wait long to discover the whereabouts of her torso when a third box is delivered to him at work. Curiously the box is addressed using his military rank, Captain, and the state of the woman’s body reminds Edgar of a magician’s trick, known as the Zig Zag Girl, performed by an old army buddy, Max Mephisto. Assuming the coincidence is unlikely, especially when the girl is identified as Max’s pre-war stage assistant, Edgar tracks down Max, a popular theater magician and then the rest of the men he served with, a group known as the ‘Magic Men’ – recruited for a top secret special assignment during World War II. After another death, another gruesome magic trick gone awry, Edgar realises that the Magic Men are being targeted and he must race to unmask the killer before they perform their final deadly trick.

The Zig Zag Girl is set largely in Brighton, England during the 1950’s and Griffiths skilfully evokes the post war era and the shabbiness of the neglected seaside town. Griffiths is said to have drawn on her own family history – her grandfather was a music hall comedian and her mother grew up ‘backstage’ – to authentically recreate the variety theater scene of the time.

Edgar is a likeable character, a little reserved and weary but thoughtful and steadfast. Max is more flamboyant, befitting a magician, and the two make a good team. The world of the theater allows Griffiths to introduce some additional colourful characters, and the ‘Magic Men’ are a quirky lot too.

The mystery is well thought out, using several red herrings to distract the reader from identifying the murderer too quickly. A little humour and a touch of romance lighten the more gruesome criminal elements of the story, and the background of the Magic Men provides added interest.

A clever, entertaining mystery, I really enjoyed The Zig Zag Girl, I think I need to make room in my schedule for The Crossing Places sooner, rather than later.

 

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Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Title: Still Alice

Author: Lisa Genova

Published: Simon & Schuster AU: December 2014 (Reprint)

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Status: Read from November 27 to 29, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A poignant and moving novel, Still Alice is the story of a Alice Howland, a fifty year old wife, mother and renowned linguistics professor at Harvard University. She is gratified by her professional success, content in her marriage and while she has some doubts about the ambitions of her youngest daughter, Alice is proud of her three children. When Alice begins to experience memory lapses she feels they are readily explained by the combined effects of her busy, often stressful, lifestyle and the approach of menopause, until one morning when she becomes disorientated during her daily run. Diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, Alice’s professional and personal life begins to unravel as her mind deteriorates.

What ensures that Still Alice is so affecting is that it is told from Alice’s perspective. As the story unfolds, Alice desperately tries to hold on to her sense of self. Her occasional memory lapses slowly become more frequent, at times Alice is heartbreakingly aware of her deterioration, at others she is blissfully ignorant. The shifts between lucidity and disorientation are skilfully written illustrating the terrible toll the disease takes.

“I often fear tomorrow. What if I wake up and don’t know who my husband is? What if I don’t know where I am or recognize myself in the mirror? When will I no longer be me? Is the part of my brain that’s responsible for my unique ‘meness’ vulnerable to this disease? Or is my identity something that transcends neurons, proteins, and defective molecules of DNA? Is my soul and spirit immune to the ravages of Alzheimer’s? I believe it is.”

I have never given much thought to the idea that I could be risk at developing Alzheimer’s. My grandfather was in the disease’s early stages when he passed. In the moments when his mind slipped away he forgot that his wife of 63 years, my grandmother, had died two years earlier and it was heartbreaking to witness his fresh grief each time we had to remind him. As far as I know there was never any genetic testing done while he was alive but the possibilities are terrifying.

Still Alice was originally self published by Lisa Genova, a Harvard trained Neuroscientist, and Meisner-trained actress. It was eventually bought at auction by Simon & Schuster US and has since won numerous awards, been translated into more than 25 languages and has been adapted for film, due for release in January 2015 (starring Julianne Moore, Kirsten Stewart, Alec Baldwin and Kate Bosworth).

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****

 

 

Review: Believe No One by A.D. Garrett

Title: Believe No One { DCI Kate Simms and Professor Nick Fennimore #2}

Author: A.D. Garrett

Published: Corsair: Constable & Robinson UK November 2014

Status: Read from November 23 to 24, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Authored by A.D. Garrett, the collaborative pseudonym of award winning author Margaret Murphy and renowned forensics expert Professor Dave Barclay, Believe No One is the second gripping crime fiction installment to feature DCI Kate Simms and Professor Nick Fennimore.

UK Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms is on a six month ‘method’ exchange with the St Louis PD when her cold case team uncovers evidence of a serial killer dumping bodies along a 600 mile stretch of the I-44. For Professor Nick Fennimore, touring the Midwest promoting his latest book, it is a convenient coincidence that a case he has been invited to consult on in Oklahoma, concerning a murdered woman and her missing child, links with Kate’s investigation.
As the ad hoc task force involving Simms and the St Louis PD, Fennimore and the Williams County Sheriff’s Office, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and an FBI Behavioural Analyst get closer to identifying the killer, they discover a link to a crime that happened more than two decades before, and a world away. Fennimore is stunned by the possibilities given his own tragic loss, and with another body of a young mother and her child missing, he isn’t about to let this killer get away.

Part police procedural, part thriller, the third person narrative exposes the perspectives of the investigators, the killer and a young boy running scared.

I really enjoyed seeing the case come together through the hard work and persistence of the officers despite political maneuvering from a boorish local sheriff and the occasional inter-agency skirmish. I felt Kate got a little lost within the cast though I did like her colleagues, particularly the gruff Ellis. Abigail Hicks was an interesting character as well, and I was surprised to learn that deputy sheriffs receive so little training or support for their role.

The killer is suitably creepy with an interesting pathology and surprising motive. Some of the scenes involving the torture of his victims are disturbing, but thankfully are mostly light on details.

‘Red’ is the nine year old son of one of the victims who escapes the killer but is too afraid to go to the police. I felt both sad and afraid for him and I’m still not sure how I feel about the unusual situation he winds up in.

The personal lives of the feature protagonists, Kate and Nick, matter within the context of the story too, though it is Fennimore’s history that is more relevant. Five years ago Nick’s wife and daughter were abducted and while his wife’s body was recovered in a marsh, his daughter has never been found. Fennimore is convinced she is still alive and the similarities between this case and his own tragedy has him on edge. Meanwhile Simms accepted the exchange in part to escape Nick and their complicated dynamic so she isn’t thrilled when he involves himself in the investigation.

With a complex plot and interesting, well developed characters, Believe No One is an entertaining and exciting novel. Though it conceivably works as a stand alone I would recommend reading Everyone Lies first.

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