Review: Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

 

Title: Inside the O’Briens

Author: Lisa Genova

Published: Simon & Schuster April 2015

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Status: Read on April 11, 2015   {I own a copy – Courtesy Simon & Schuster}

My Thoughts:

A moving story exposing a family’s struggle when patriarch Joe O’Brien, a police officer in his mid forties, is diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, an incurable and untreatable condition , and his four children must decide if they will be tested and face their fate.

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Also by Lisa Genova on Book’d Out

 

Review: Whiskey and Charlie by Annabel Smith

 

Title: Whiskey and Charlie

Author: Annabel Smith

Published: Sourcebooks Landmark April 2015

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Status: Read on April 02, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley)

My Thoughts:

First published in Australia as ‘Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot’ in 2012, Whiskey and Charlie is a moving and poignant novel, the story of identical twin brothers, Charlie and William (aka Whiskey) Ferns. Inseparable as children, rivals as teenagers and estranged as adults, their relationship is unresolved when William is badly injured in a freak accident. As Whiskey lies comatose, Charlie struggles to deal with all the things that remain unsaid between them.

“He must not die.He must not die because he, Charlie, needs more time….He had always thought there would be time”

The narrative shifts between present events and Charlie’s memories of the past, gradually unraveling the reasons for the discord between the brothers. Each chapter is headed with a call sign from the International Phonetic Alphabet, with the designation woven cleverly into the story.

WHISKEY5Charlie is both a sympathetic and frustrating character. Having always felt inferior to his much more outgoing and confident twin, Charlie has allowed his envy and resentment to sour many aspects of his life. It isn’t until Whiskey’s accident that Charlie examines his own conscience and is forced to confront the ways in which he has failed not only his brother, but himself.

“Charlie had spent all those months trying to find evidence that Whiskey was to blame for their estrangement, looking for justifications for his refusal to forgive Whiskey, excavating the last twentyfive years of their lives in order to come to some sort of definitive conclusion – which of the them was guilty, which of them was not. At last he saw the truth was somewhere between those things, that it wasn’t all Whiskey’s fault or all his own, that at times they had both done the right thing by each other, and at other times the wrong thing, that they’d both made mistakes and both come come good in their own ways…”

Smith’s observations of the complicated relationships in her novel are astute and honest. her characters are believable, complex and vividly drawn. Emotion runs high as the characters sit vigil by Whiskey’s bedside, with the author capturing the dizzying eddy of hope, grief, guilt and fear.

A heartfelt, compelling story about love, redemption and family, the last pages brought a tear to my eye.

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Review: Normal by Graeme Cameron

Title: Normal

Author: Graeme Cameron

Published: Harlequin MIRA March 2015

Status: Read from March 31 to April 01, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Normal by Graeme Cameron is told in the first person, by an unnamed man who lives in a lovely English farmhouse with a separate garage, drives a white Transit van, and enjoys cooking.

The novel opens as our mystery man is cleaning up after the murder and dismemberment of his latest victim, and is interrupted by an unsuspecting young woman whom he abducts. With Erica safely caged in his purpose built, underground games room our protagonist goes grocery shopping.

“I know exactly when it all started to go wrong for me. It was April 5 at 19:23:17, and it started with a pair of eyes.”

It is there that he meets Rachel and his life begins to unravel.

Cameron has created a rather startling antihero, a serial killer who falls in love with a checkout girl. For years he has happily stalked, kidnapped, murdered and even eaten young women, but meeting Rachel throws him off his game.

“I stared down at my feeble prey lying cock-eagled on the floor, and I felt all of the craving, all of the desperate, clawing need simply evaporate. Abruptly, everything in my head was Rachael, everything in my gust was regret and everything at my feet was a ridiculous, unfathomable error of judgement.”

The question is what to do with his most recent captive, who turns out to be quite an unusual young woman, and the police detectives who are persistently curious about his house guest. The killer is clever and resourceful but slowly he begins to lose control of his carefully constructed, ‘normal’ life, and shockingly elicits some sympathy for his predicament.

The best surprise is in the black humour, which is often sly and offbeat. Ordinary scenes are injected with a dark twist that provoke a startled snicker.

“In Fruit & Veg I selected a peach. Small, rosy and perfectly rounded, she set my mouth watering the moment she caught my eye. Her burly, bruised companion, however, swiftly killed my appetite.”

Disturbing and whimsical in equal measure, Normal has its flaws, but overall is an entertaining, provocative and sharply written novel.

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Available in Australia  July 2015

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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

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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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