Review: A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Title: A Marvellous Light {The Binding #1}

Author: Freya Marske

Published: 26th October 2021, Tor UK

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia 

+++++++

My Thoughts:

Blending fantasy, romance and mystery A Marvellous Light is a delightfully entertaining novel, the first in a new series, from Freya Marske.

As Mr. Edwin Courcey conjures a snowflake from glowing string above his office desk, it’s clear to Sir Robert (Robin) Blythe that his assignation to His Majesty’s Civil Service as Assistant in the Office of Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints has been a mistake, even more so when he is cursed by a group of faceless men in search of a document his missing office predecessor, Reggie Gatling, hid. It’s a rather harrowing introduction to a world of magic concealed from most of ordinary society, an unbusheling Robin would prefer to forget, but in order to have the painful curse devouring him lifted, Reggie, or the secreted contract, must be found.

When Edwin and Robin are unable to locate Reggie quickly, Edwin, who has a talent for understanding magic but is a weak practitioner, attempts to devise a way to lift the curse himself. Meanwhile the pair continue to seek more information about the magical artefacts demanded by the shadowy thugs, despite being assaulted by vicious swans, and a murderous maze.

Set in Edwardian England, Marske captures the period credibly, from the behaviour and attitudes of the characters to her descriptions of London and country manor estates. The magic system sits well within the world Marske has created, and I thought the basics were adequately explained. I really liked some of the more unique elements, such as using the movements of a Cat’s Cradle to cast spells, and the sentient nature of the magic that imbues family estates.

A Marvellous Light unfolds from the alternating perspectives of Edwin and Robin. Edwin presents as aloof, cautious and fastidious, while Robin is easy-going, and charming. Both men are from dysfunctional aristocratic family’s, though only Edwin is part of the magical community.

I really liked the dynamic between Edwin and Robin. While neither is particularly impressed with one another initially, they slowly become friends. Given the illegal status of homosexuality during the period, both men are wary of expressing their growing sexual attraction though. I thought Marske built the romantic tension between Edwin and Robin very well, and the mix of tenderness and heat in their relationship was appealing, though I wasn’t expecting the sex to be quite so explicit.

A Marvellous Light isn’t perfect but I fell into the story so easily, it’s charming, witty and fun and I’m already looking forward to the next.

+++++++

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Review: Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath

 

Title: Kill Your Brother

Author: Jack Heath

Published: 30th November 2021, Allen & Unwin

Read: December 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A twisted tale of revenge and redemption, Kill Your Brother is a thrilling novel from Jack Heath.

When Elise Glyk’s brother, Callum, disappears, no one will believe her, a proven liar and cheat, when she tells them something is very wrong. As days turns into weeks, Elise refuses to give up, changing her appearance and masquerading as a private investigator in the hopes that people will answer her questions if they don’t recognise her. It’s while tracing an unusual purchase of her brother’s that Elise realises she is being followed, and tracks the stalker to an isolated farmhouse, where she finds Callum being held in an underground tank. Before she can raise the alarm she finds herself a captive too, but Stephanie Hartnell is willing to give Elise her freedom, as long she agrees to kill her brother.

This edition of Kill Your Brother is a novel length expansion of an Audible original novella of the same name, but there doesn’t seem to be any padding. The story is well-written with a tight, cleverly crafted plot and developed characterisation.

Heath is skilled at turning the tables on his characters, and by extension the reader, with twists that surprise and shock. There is a lot of convincing, well paced tension as Elise tries to understand why Stephanie, a seemingly ordinary women in her late 40’s, has tortured her brother for weeks, and now wants him dead. Callum claims to be baffled by the woman’s vendetta, and Elise has no reason not to trust the only person who has been on her side through scandal and scorn. As long as Stephanie thinks Elise is just a PI, Elise hopes she can convince her to let them both go. When that fails, there are some gripping action scenes as Elise and Callum fight to save themselves from a determined assailant.

Provocative, entertaining and exciting, Kill Your Brother is a great read.

+++++++++

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Review: Canticle Creek by Adrian Hyland

 

Title: Canticle Creek

Author: Adrian Hyland

Published: 1st December 2021, Ultimo Press

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Ultimo Press

+++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

It’s been a decade since I have read Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road and Diamond Dove yet both Australian crime novels remain favourites, so I jumped at the opportunity to read Canticle Creek.

When Kulara police officer Jesse Redpath learns about the death of Adam Lawson, a young man from her Northern Territory community, the circumstances don’t make sense to her. Serendipitously, an invitation for her artist father to an exhibition in Melbourne, gives Jesse the opportunity to visit Canticle Creek and do a little investigating of her own.

Canticle Creek is a gripping murder mystery, just a brief examination of the crime scene is enough to convince Jesse that the police, who believe Adam killed his girlfriend, Daisy, and died when his car left the road as he attempted to flee, are wrong. Looking for an alternative narrative, Jesse puts several of the locals, and a Melbourne mobster, offside as she noses around the small community.

Hyland’s deft plotting has several suspects in the frame for the murder, and it took me a while to eliminate all but one. There’s plenty of well paced action as Jesse gets closer to the truth and becomes a target of a killer determined to stop her asking questions. A bushfire that rips through the drought stricken town also adds enormous tension in a thrilling climax.

Jesse’s an appealing protagonist, a thoughtful and capable and police officer, with investigative skills learnt from Danny Jakamarra, the Aboriginal Community Police Officer, whom she works with in Kulara. I liked the character of Possum, the teenage friend of the murdered woman, and the surprise of Nadia’s character. There’s an authenticity to Hyland’s characters generally, both in the way they talk and act, that gives them substance.

The writing is polished and engaging, and the dialogue has a familiar rhythm. The setting is recognisably Australian, Hyland’s prose effortlessly evokes the baking hot weather, and varied landscape of rural Victoria.

A well-crafted, absorbing mystery with strong characterisation, Canticle Creek is gripping crime fiction, and I hope Hyland has plans for more.

+++++++

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Review: Wild Place by Christian White

 

Title: Wild Place

Author: Christian White

Published: 26th October 2021, Affirm Press

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Affirm Press

++++++++

My Thoughts:

I’ve been eager for the chance to read Christian White, whose debut novel, The Nowhere Child, and his sophomore offering, The Wife and the Widow, hit the bestsellers lists.

Wild Place is set in the heart of Australian suburbia during the summer of 1989. When seventeen year old Tracie Reed is reported missing, the police dismiss her as a runaway, despite her mother’s insistent denials. The teen’s disappearance bothers Tom Witter, Tracie’s high school English teacher and a neighbour of a sorts. Worried about the vulnerability of his own two boys, he involves himself in a search for the missing girl, and finds a suspect in the teenage son of a neighbour, Sean Fryman, whose sullen manner, black clothing, and love of heavy metal music marks him as a possible threat.

The titular wild place is a strip of dense bushland that is commonly found in the midst of Australian suburbs. Generally considered innocuous, hosting children’s homemade forts and games of pretend adventure, perhaps the odd amorous couple or rebellious group of teens, these areas provide a token connection to nature, and respite from suburban crowding. To the residents of Camp Hill in the wake of Tracie’s disappearance however the bush becomes sinister, a wild place that may hide strangers intent on doing harm.

The danger doesn’t lurk in the woods at all of course. White slowly strips away the veneer of suburban respectability as he exposes that the threats who stalk the community openly walk its streets. Secrets, lies and deceptions unravel to reveal unexpected events and hidden connections in surprising ways. While Sean is the obvious target of suspicion for those convinced Tracie has fallen victim to a predator, White continually nudges the frame, raising alternative possibilities. Skilful plotting with clever misdirects ensures it’s difficult to guess at the denouement, but it was the epilogue that left me gasping.

Firmly grounded in period and setting, Wild Place evokes some nostalgia for my suburban childhood. Coincidently, this is the second newly published book I’ve read in as many weeks that draws on the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the Eighties and early Nineties as an element of the crime.

With its intriguing characters and brilliant plot, Wild Place is suspenseful and gripping crime fiction, destined to be another bestseller.

+++++++++

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Review: Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer

 

Title: Treasure & Dirt

Author: Chris Hammer

Published: 28th September 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Though there are loose links to his bestselling Martin Scarsdale series (Scrublands, Silver, Trust) Treasure & Dirt is a standalone crime procedural from Australian author Chris Hammer.

“Maybe this is it. The sky is too big, the land is too big. Too many places for secrets.”

When the body of Jonas McGee is found crucified at the bottom of his opal mine in Finnegan’s Gap, Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic is sent to the remote town in north western New South Wales to investigate. Paired with Detective Constable Narelle Buchanan, who served the town in uniform, it seems prudent to first consider the rule of proximity placing a handful of suspects in the frame, but it’s not long before the suspect pool widens as their investigation exposes old grudges, new rivalries, and buried secrets.

“The body is stinking, leaking, a horrible parody of Christ.”

Taking place over a period of about a week, Hammer develops an intricate but coherent plot in Treasure & Dirt. Lucic’s murder investigation starts with McGee’s neighbouring claim owner and his son with whom McGee shares a tragic past, the dead miner’s former offsider, and an unidentified team of ‘ratters’, men who steal opals from unattended mines, as suspects, but rapidly expands to assess if a desperate daughter, members of a local religious cult, or a pair of warring billionaires, may have played a part in the man’s demise. The story twists and turns as Lucic and Nell try to reconcile the past with the present to solve the murder, and make sense of the additional crimes they uncover.

“This isn’t an opportunity, he realises, this is a test.”

Lucic is a methodical investigator, inclined to follow every possible lead to its end. He presents as an introvert, self contained and thoughtful, but also determined and dependable. With his partner, Detective Inspector Morris Montifore, under investigation by Professional Standards, and his own vulnerabilities due to a gambling habit, Lucic feels the weight of the case, and its implications for his own career.

Similarly Nell, an inexperienced but ambitious investigator, is determined to prove her worth, a goal that may be made difficult by her history in Finnegan’s Gap. I liked Nell a lot, as a police officer she is smart with good instincts, though her personal life would suggest otherwise.

“It’s not your average town. Too many men, not enough women. Too much grog, too many crims, too much opal lust. Too bloody hot.”

Hammer deftly captures the starkness of the outback landscape, scarred and barren, seared by the relentless heat, beset by flies. Finnegan’s Gap is a hardscrabble town, slowly dying as opal finds become rarer, its population increasingly made up of an antisocial element. We are introduced to a handful of rough country old-timers and some eccentric characters, however I noticed a lack of racial diversity amongst the cast.

“Time we went to town. Time we started to set things right.”

Skilfully evoking a sense of place, offering realistic characters, and an intriguing storyline, Treasure & Dirt is a brilliant, engrossing read.

++++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

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Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Title: The Last Graduate {Scholomance #2}

Author: Naomi Novik

Published: 28th September 2021, Del Rey Books

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Penguin /Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

A cross between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, The Last Graduate is an imaginative, exciting and darkly funny fantasy, full of magic and monsters.

The Last Graduate picks up where A Deadly Education left off with Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins now a senior. In just a few months she and her fellow classmates will leave Scholomance, a sentient school built in the void to educate the children of the magical community, forever – assuming they survive the traditional attrition of graduation day.

I was delighted to rejoin El, her allies, and enemies, at Scholomance, where navigating every activity, from bathroom visits to classroom assignments, is a matter of life and death. As a member of the graduating class, El’s focus should be on passing finals, building manna, and shoring up her alliances in preparation for graduation, but Scholomance seems determined to make her life difficult, throwing mals (monsters), and hapless freshmen, in her path. It’s some time before El recognises the school’s motive for what it is – not a curse, but a plea.

While there is plenty of action as the students prepare for the graduation day gauntlet, the lulls allow for character development. El, once friendless, now has a strong pact with Liu and Aadhya, and the support of the New York enclave, thanks in part to her somewhat complicated relationship with Orion Lake, but is still reluctant to trust others, or her self. I really like El, but I was glad to see some character growth. She remains a pessimist with a quick temper and a sarcastic wit, but also proves resourceful, determined, loyal, and a little less guarded.

I felt there was more emphasis on the themes of privilege, inequality and competition vs cooperation in this novel. The latter is of particular importance as the events in The Last Graduate suggest a twist to the prophecy that warns El, with her prodigious magical strength, will be responsible for the destruction of the enclaves.

There is no denying that the cliffhanger ending is hugely frustrating, and as it will likely be another year until the third book is released, it’s going to be a long wait, so I hope the pay off will be worth it!

++++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Review: Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

 

Title: Apples Never Fall

Author : Liane Moriarty

Published: 14th September 2021, Macmillan

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

Unfolding from multiple viewpoints, Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty is an engrossing, intimate domestic drama.

Sixty-nine year old Joy Delaney hasn’t been seen or heard from for a week before her four adult children, Amy, Troy, Logan and Brooke, notice. Their father, Stan, has no good explanation for her absence, or the scratches on his face, and the siblings, aware things have been tense between their parents for some time, struggle to defend him when the police suspect he has murdered her.

As the timeline moves between the present and the past, Moriarty unravels the complex dynamics of the Delaney’s, it’s disruption by a mysterious interloper, and the puzzle of Joy’s absence.

Though the intrigue regarding Joy’s disappearance is central to the story, Apples Never Fall is a very much a character driven novel. I always appreciate how authentic and grounded Moriarty’s characters are, each with distinct and nuanced personalities. I found Joy’s frustrations, worries and hopes to be relatable, while Stan is more of a traditional patriarch. Their children, despite a rather extraordinary childhood, are fairly ordinary adults, with an interesting mix of strengths and flaws, accomplishments and regrets.

As with most family’s, the Delaney’s relationships are a mix of love and rivalry, secrets and lies, resentments and guilt. I really liked the way in which Moriarty shows how each member has differing perspectives on the same incidents, and how that plays into how they define themselves, and each other. It’s with keen insight that Moriarty also explores a wide range of issues from empty-nest syndrome and domestic violence, to the pressures of elite sport, and the weight of family expectations.

This is not a fast paced story, but there are plenty of surprises in Apples Never Fall. I’ve read more than a few complaints about the ending(s) of the novel (especially with its reference to the pandemic) but I thought there was a subtle and clever implication in it.

Offering compelling characters, authentic emotion, and sharp wit, I found Apples Never Fall to be an entertaining, incisive and absorbing novel.

++++++++

Available from Macmillan Australia

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Review: The Whale in the Living Room by John Ruthven

 

Title: The Whale in the Living Room

Author: John Ruthven

Published: 14th September 2021, Robinson

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

+++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“The ocean is by far the largest liveable space on Earth, and hugely exceeds our conception of life’s abundance. It’s average depth is about 3.5km, or 2 miles, and, as is often mentioned, the ocean covers nearly three-quarters of the world.”

It’s unlikely that you’d recognise the author of Whale in the Living Room by name, but you, and millions of others, have likely seen his work. A television producer, John Ruthven is in part responsible for the extraordinary footage seen in almost fifty ocean  life documentaries, including the groundbreaking series’, Blue Planet and Blue Planet II narrated by David Attenborough.

The Whale in the Living Room provides the reader with a behind-the-scenes look at how documentaries like the Blue Planet series is filmed. Ruthven shares his journey’s all over the world to gather footage for what may only be a minute long sequence of television. It takes a huge amount of hard work, risk, money, luck and patience to bring ‘whales into our living rooms’, exposing the amazing variety of life to be found in the ocean, from the enormous to the microscopic, the sublime to the ridiculous, we would otherwise likely never see.

I found Ruthven’s stories to be fascinating, related in a personable tone with flashes of humour. He provides insights not only into the complex logistics of a shoot, but also the subjects themselves, from cuttlefish to blue whales. The only producer to have worked on both Blue Planet I & II, he also touches on the changes he, and others, have witnessed, due to issues such as global warming and plastic pollution.

As I’ve been reading The Whale in the Living Room I’ve been re-watching the Blue Planet documentaries with new appreciation. Available on a multitude of streaming services, if you haven’t watched these, you really should. The images are particularly stunning on a large screen, with the room darkened (though I find Attenborough’s voice can have a somewhat soporific effect). The author also has a YouTube channel (search for Indoona) where you can view some short clips he has captured.

A well-written, informative book, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in marine life and ecology, travel, environmental issues, ocean diving, wildlife photography/videography, or television production. The Whale in the Living Room is fascinating, compelling reading.

+++++++

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Review: The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans

 

Title: The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer

Author: Ilsa Evans

Published: 1st September 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Harlequin Australia

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer is a heartfelt, thoughtful and witty novel from Ilsa Evans.

Shirley Conifer has given her youngest son Daniel the benefit of the doubt as he struggles with single parenthood, but on discovering deep bruises on her four year granddaughter’s body she makes the snap decision not to return Avery to her father until he commits to making some changes. Worried that she won’t have the fortitude to follow through, Shirley seeks the support of Beth Patterson, Avery’s maternal grandmother, knowing that even though they agree on little, Beth will be similarly motivated to protect Avery.

Beth thinks Shirley should call the police, but with Avery’s mother, Cleo, serving a three month sentence in prison as a result of the couple’s tumultuous marriage, neither want to run the risk of Avery being placed in foster care.  Shirley is confident Daniel will do the right thing but to prove they are serious, the women, with Avery, Shirley’s 89 year old mother, Winnie, and Beth’s beloved schnauzer, Harthacnut, in tow, decide to leave the city for the week.

Daniel is furious when he learns of his mother’s actions, and refusing to accept any blame for the situation, demands Avery be returned or he will report them for child abduction. Determined to protect Avery no matter the cost to themselves, Shirley and Beth reconsider their plan, and go on the run, intending to stay ahead of Daniel, and the police, until Cleo is released from jail.

Unfolding from multiple perspectives, The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer, is a complex family drama that primarily explores issues around parenting, mother guilt, domestic violence, relationships, family dynamics, and ageing. Evan’s writing is sensitive and thoughtful, but there is plenty of humour too.

Though the police are confident the women will be found quickly, Beth, Shirley and Winnie prove to be craftier than anyone expects. While Beth lays careful plans to keep them all off the grid, Winnie reveals a surprisingly useful grasp of tech and social media, and Shirley ensures Avery is entertained. I enjoyed the dynamics at play, it’s not easy for the three very different women to spend 24/7 confined in the same space however, and the mood is often tense between them given Beth’s judgemental attitude, Shirley’s love of wine, and Winnie’s bluntness, but they also have the opportunity to learn from each other as they progress from reluctant allies to friends.

While the Grandmothers keep a low profile, Shirley’s very pregnant daughter tries to manage the situation at home, and Cleo is forced to face her mistakes. We’re also given some insight into the lives of the two female police investigators on the case, and a behind scenes look at a tv panel show following the abduction story. While personally I didn’t think the latter two perspectives added much value to the story, they do work within the themes of the novel.

As a fan of Ilsa Evan’s Nell Forrest Mystery series, I was especially delighted that the women ultimately took refuge in Majic, and that a character I had the fortune to win naming rights to in Forbidden Fruit (Grace June Rae) made a cameo appearance!

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer is a thought-provoking, emotive and entertaining novel offering a wonderful mix of drama, adventure and comedy.

+++++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

 

Title: The Man Who Died Twice {The Thursday Murder Club #2}

Author: Richard Osman

Published: 16th September 2021, Viking UK

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Penguin UK/Netgalley

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Richard Osman’s debut, The Thursday Murder Club, was an absolute delight, as is this sequel, The Man Who Died Twice.

Set in a luxury retirement village in the south-east region of England, the septuagenarian members of the Thursday Murder Club, – Elizabeth, a former MI5 intelligence operative; Ibrahim, a mostly retired psychiatrist; Ron, once a union boss, who enjoys playing devil’s advocate; and Joyce, a former nurse; find themselves in the midst of another caper when Elizabeth is contacted by an ex-colleague, pleading for her help.

Osman gives us a more complex mystery in The Man Who Died Twice which includes £20 million pounds worth of stolen diamonds, a double cross, a drug dealer, an international money launderer, and a teenage thug. Unfolding at a lively pace, I really enjoyed how the main mystery plot developed, finding it exciting and entertaining. I also appreciated the skillful way in which the various threads of the story are drawn together to create a very satisfying conclusion.

I was again charmed by the personalities of the Thursday Murder Club foursome as they inveigled, manipulated, coerced, and traded favours in their race to find the missing diamonds, solve two murders, and avenge Ibrahim. I particularly enjoyed the role Joyce played in this novel, Elizabeth may be the brains of the group, but underestimating Joyce is a mistake, even if she can’t knit. I was also happy to see local police officers, PC Donna de Freitas, and DCI Chris Hudson (who is now dating Donna’s Mum) as well as the enigmatic Bogdan, return.

Witty, clever and lively, The Man Who Died Twice is an entertaining read. I’m cheered to know a third instalment is in the works.

+++++++

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