Review: With Love From Wish & Co by Minnie Darke


Title: With Love From Wish & Co

Author: Minnie Darke

Published: 2nd August 2022, Penguin Books Australia

Status: Read September 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse


My Thoughts:


With Love From Wish & Co is an engaging novel from bestselling author Minnie Darke.

Marnie Fairchild has worked hard to establish and build her business, Wish & Co, a gift boutique that also offers unique services to its clients including a bespoke gift-buying service. She dreams of relocating the store to the heritage listed building that her grandfather once owned, but her uncle has always refused to sell, until now. Raising the money needed will be a challenge, her uncle makes no allowances for family, especially given Marnie’s late father was the black sheep of the Fairchild clan, but business is good and she thinks she can just about swing it. And then she makes a mistake.

Brian Charlesworth is one of Marnie’s best clients, for the last five years she has carefully been selecting gifts for every occasion for the wealthy businessman’s family, and most recently for his mistress too. Marnie has two presents prepared on Brian’s behalf for events that fall on the same day, a 40th wedding anniversary gift for his wife Suzanne, and a monogrammed birthday gift for his mistress, Leona, which are inadvertently switched, and sent to the wrong woman. When Brian threatens to ruin her, Marnie comes up with a plan she hopes will save Brian’s marriage and her dream.

Exploring themes of ambition, family, love and sacrifice, Wish & Co is light fiction delivering a good balance of drama and romance.

The story unfolds from the perspectives of multiple characters, namely Marnie, Brian, Suzanne and their son Luke, and briefly, Leona. I liked Marnie as the lead character, she’s worked hard for her success, though has perhaps become a little obsessive with regards to her grandfathers store. How far she’s willing to go becomes something she must ask herself, especially when she gets involved with Luke. Suzanne easily earned my sympathy, I think I gasped out loud when she opened the anniversary gift clearly meant for Leona. Unsurprisingly I didn’t care much for Brian. I found it interesting that Darke decided to end the book with Leona’s point of view (and a recipe for her Passionfruit Sponge).

Marnie’s profession is a fun element of the novel. I can see how it would fill a need, and I could use a workshop on how to wrap presents. Luke’s objection to the gift buying service initially struck me as silly, but it did make me think about the real value of a gift.

A pleasant and entertaining read, perhaps With Love From Wish & Co would make a thoughtful gift for someone you know.


Available from Penguin Books

Or help support* Book’d Out

*Purchase from Booktopia*

*As an affiliate of Booktopia I may earn a small commission on your purchase at no additional cost to you.*

Review: The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane

Title: The Sun Walks Down

Author: Fiona McFarlane

Published: 5th October 2022, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 2022 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

“This is bloody country for those who aren’t prepared—the weak, the nervous. The true pioneers, true children of the bush, are always masters of themselves.”

After a dust storm passes over the tiny South Australian town of Fairly, six year old Denny Wallace, who was last seen collecting kindling in a dry creek bed behind the family homestead, cannot be found. While Denny’s mother and sisters fret, Denny’s father, Matthew, returns from a long day of sowing turnips in the field, to then set out in to the desert with his hired hand, Billy Rough, to search for his only son. When they fail to find him by first light, word spreads quickly across the region, and the community begins to rally.

Set in 1883, The Sun Walks Down unfolds over a week in September. As each long day passes, McFarlane dips in and out of the lives of those touched, some only peripherally, by Denny’s disappearance exposing anxieties and ambitions, rivalries and friendships, superstitions and secrets, accomplishments and failures. Meanwhile Denny, a sensitive child, wanders across the Flinders Ranges, lost and afraid of the blood red Sun.

Objectively I recognise and appreciate the elements of this story from the evocative imagery, to its thoughtful exploration of themes such as colonisation and dispossession. The characters are portrayed with an unexpected richness given the large cast, and their relationships to one another, and the land, acknowledges the distinctiveness of culture, experience and purpose.

Yet I was unmoved by it all, even the possibilities of poor Denny’s fate. I can’t articulate why I didn’t connect emotionally to the story, because nothing is lacking per se, it just didn’t resonate with me.

Despite my own experience, I do feel The Sun Walks Down has a lot to recommend it so if it appeals, don’t hesitate to pick it up.


Available from Allen & Unwin

RRP AUD$32.99

Or help support* Book’d Out

*Purchase from Booktopia*

*As an affiliate of Booktopia I may earn a small commission on your purchase at no additional cost to you.*

Review: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake


Title: The Atlas Six {The Atlas Book #1}

Author: Olivie Blake

Published: 8th March 2022, Tor Books

Status: Read October 2022 courtesy PanMacmillan Australia


My Thoughts:


In Olivie Black’s fantasy series debut, The Atlas Six, six extraordinarily gifted magic wielders are invited to compete for initiation into the exclusive Alexandrian Society, whose members care for the legendary Library of Alexandria. Under the supervision of Society Caretaker, Atlas Blakely, the candidates must spend a year housed in the library together where they are expected study to hone their abilities, however only five of the recruits will be offered membership, assuring them a future of wealth, power, and prestige, while the sixth will be eliminated.

The story primarily unfolds from the alternating perspectives of the ‘Six’ who accept the invitation, each for their own reasons. I think Black ably established the characters personalities and ambitions. They vary in background, temperament and ability, however they are all competitive and determined to be the best. Libby Rhodes and Nicolás Ferrer de Varona, both capable of telekinetic manipulation on a molecular level, have been rivals for years; Tristan Caine can see through illusions to the fabric of the universe; Parisa Kamali can read minds, and Callum Nova wields disturbing powers of influence; while Reina Mori is a naturalist with the power of life and death. Conflict is inevitable, of course, which is heightened when Atlas reveals a deadly twist.

There’s a lot I like about the premise of Atlas Six, but the execution of the story is flawed in places. The magic system is interesting but there are gaps I felt needed explanation. In terms of action and pacing, I felt the story was a little uneven. The first third necessarily introduces the characters, to the reader and each other, and establishes the basic structure of Blake’s fantasy world. Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like much happens in the middle third of the novel, even though a large chunk of time passes. The last third, which leads to a not unexpected cliffhanger, offers some surprising twists and increasing tension but there are also elements/events for which necessary groundwork has not been laid.

I did enjoy Atlas Six, though it didn’t live up to the hype for me. I’m hoping The Atlas Paradox will realise the potential this one didn’t.


Available from Pan Macmillan Australia

Or help support* Book’d Out

*Purchase from Booktopia*

*As an affiliate of Booktopia I may earn a small commission on your purchase at no additional cost to you.*

Review: Madwoman by Louise Treger


Title: Madwoman

Author: Louise Treger

Published: 9th June 2022, Bloomsbury Publishing UK

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Bloomsbury/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

“‘Welcome to Blackwell’s island,’ one of them said. he cleared his throat and spat. ‘once you get in here, you’ll never get out.’”

I fairly leapt at the chance to read Louise Treger’s fictionalised narrative of Elizabeth Cochran who wrote under the pseudonym of Nellie Bly, having always been fascinated by her remarkable story.

Credited as being the world’s first female investigative journalist, in 1887, Nellie had her self committed to the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island in New York City in order to expose the alleged abuses occurring there.

Treger begins her story in 1870 when Elizabeth is a child living a comfortable life in rural Pennsylvania. The daughter of a judge, ‘Pink’ as she was nicknamed by her family, was encouraged to be curious and learn about a range of subjects, including those generally thought to be unsuitable for women at the time. Inspired by her father  Pink plans to eschew marriage and pursue a career in law, but his untimely death when she is fourteen curtails her ambition.

Sux years later, working in service to help support her family, an editorial in the Pittsburgh Dispatch revives her aspirations, and she convinces the paper to publish a series of articles, adopting the nom de plume, Nellie Bly. The articles are popular but attract controversy from advertisers, and when she is relegated to writing about the arts, Nellie decides to move to New York.

The New York newspapers are uninterested in Nellie’s previous success, women journalists are not welcome on Park Row. Nellie however refuses to accept no for an answer and somewhat recklessly promises Colonel Cockerill, managing editor of The World, an insider’s story on life inside the notorious insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

Though I’m quite familiar with Nellie’s stint on Blackwell’s Island, much of Nellie’s past was unknown to me, so I appreciated learning more about her family life and what led her to her career in journalism during a period when women were actively dissuaded from higher education and white collar work. Nellie’s tenacity was admirable, all the more so for the obstacles she faced.

Blackwell’s Island Asylum was a vile institution. While the asylum housed women with genuine mental illnesses, it also served as a convenient way for men to rid themselves of problematic wives, sisters, and mothers.  Once declared insane it was nearly impossible to be declared cured and released. Patients were ill-fed, regularly subjected to torture by the untrained staff, and received very little, if any therapeutic care. Treger ably exposes the cruel treatment and the bleak lives led by the inmates, and the challenges facing Nellie.

Unfortunately, though I find Nellie’s story fascinating and Treger’s details appear accurate, I felt the narrative of Madwoman was simplistic and flat, failing to evoke atmosphere or strong emotion. The third person viewpoint removes the reader from events, I wanted to walk with Nellie, not observing her as a reporter might.

Nellie Bly was a remarkable woman, smart, brave and resourceful, her exposé of Blackwell’s Island Asylum led to important reforms, though the institution was closed seven years later. Madwoman is an avenue to learn more about Nellie Bly and her accomplishments, but lacks Nellie’s passionate spirit.


Available from Bloomsbury UK

Or help support* Book’d Out

*Purchase from Booktopia*

*As an affiliate of Booktopia I may earn a small commission on your purchase at no additional cost to you.*

Review: The Surgeon’s Daughter by Audrey Blake


Title: The Surgeons Daughter

Author: Audrey Blake

Published: 10th May 2022, Sourcebooks Landmark

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

The sequel to The Girl in His Shadow, The Surgeon’s Daughter by Audrey Blake (a nom de plume used by the writing team of Regina Sirius and Jaima Fixsen) follows Eleanora Beady’s move to Italy to study medicine at the University of Bologna, having been refused the opportunity in England.

As the only woman in the class, Nora has few allies among her classmates and professors, but is determined to prove herself in an accelerated program and return to England with her medical license so that she can practice alongside her guardian, Dr Horace Croft, and her paramour, Dr Daniel Gibson. Nora is excited when she finds a mentor in Dr. Magdalena Morenco, whose study of caesarean birth procedures dovetails neatly with Nora’s interest in anaesthesia, though her goal is nearly thwarted by a jealous professor.

Though Nora ultimately returns to London triumphant, she discovers Croft and Gibson are under pressure due to the actions of a vindictive colleague, ill-health, and financial stress. With the viability of their Great Queen Street clinic in question, when Nora is asked by a heavily pregnant Lady Woodbine to perform a caesarean, she is all too aware that failure to save both mother and baby could end not only her own fledgling career, and the careers of those she loves, but also the future of women in medicine.

The Surgeon’s Daughter is a reminder of how primitive surgical treatment was in the mid 19th century, with the survival of patients often due more to good luck than good management. Drawing on medical case studies from the era, Blake offers vivid descriptions of injuries and illnesses, and the often barbaric processes used to treat them. It was difficult to read about children suffocating from Diphtheria, and as someone who gave birth via an emergency caesarean section, the thought of enduring the surgery, and recovery, without anaesthetic and pain management is horrifying, and the only alternatives then available to save mother or child (rarely both), no less so.

Naturally, Blake explores the barriers women faced in pursuit of higher learning in a period when their role in society was very narrowly defined by marriage, and motherhood. Only a handful of European institutions would accept women who wanted to study medicine, and even then they were rarely welcome. Nora’s experience of exclusion, sexism and misogyny was common (and barely improved for a century), and England’s first female doctors all gained their licence to practice from overseas institutions, as they were refused entry in England.

I wanted to understand more about Nora’s student experience though, other than just being a target of misogyny, and perhaps see some character change, or growth. I thought the pace of Nora’s narrative was uneven, and some crucial elements, particularly the period where she was under the tutelage of Moreno, felt underdeveloped. Though I was engaged by the action and tension in Croft and Gibson’s chapters, I also felt that it pulled too much focus from Nora’s story.

As a well researched piece of historical fiction, I found The Surgeon’s Daughter to be interesting and enjoyable.


Available from Sourcebooks

Or help support* Book’d Out

*Purchase from Booktopia*

*As an affiliate of Booktopia I may earn a small commission on your purchase at no additional cost to you.*


Review: The Emma Project by Somali Dev


Title: The Emma Project {The Rajes #4}

Author: Sonali Dev

Published: 17th May 2022, Avon Books

Status: Read June 2022 courtesy Avon Books/Edelweiss


My Thoughts:


The Emma Project is the fourth (and last) book in Sonali Dev’s popular Jane Austen inspired rom com series, The Rajes, though if, like me, you haven’t read any of the earlier books it is a successful stand-alone read.

The story’s connections to the original ‘Emma’ are generally quite subtle, but still recognisable. Vansh Raje is the youngest of the Raje’s siblings. Handsome, successful and single, he is effortlessly charming, and somewhat spoilt. Knightlina (Naina) Kohli is the aloof ‘Knightly’ to Vansh’s ‘Emma’, a long term, close friend of the family, who had previously been involved in a fake relationship with Vansh’s older brother, Yash.

I liked both characters, who are portrayed with a complexity I wasn’t expecting from a romcom. Naina and Vansh both have rich back stories that are coherent motivator’s for their attitudes and actions.

The pair’s history is an obvious impediment to their relationship, with Naina having been Yash’s (fake) girlfriend for nearly a decade, both have trouble seeing each other as a potential romantic partner, as does the entire Raje family. Vansh is also twelve years younger than Naina, and her (horrible) father, clearly the root cause of her distrust of love and marriage, in particular is disparaging of the age difference.

Much of the couple’s conflict however stems from Naina being forced to share a multimillion-dollar endowment from Jignesh Mehta, the sixth-richest entrepreneur in the world, to her charitable foundation that supports sustainable economic security for women in remote and neglected regions. Naina has a plan for every dollar, so she is appalled when Mehta insists she share his largess with Vansh on the basis of a cocktail conversation.

I liked the development of their romance, it’s not quite an enemies-to-lovers trope but  fairly close. There are the inevitable misunderstandings and miscommunications, tantrums and tears. I liked the heat level of the romance, but I was a bit surprised to find it here.

A secondary romance plot involves another Raje family member, cousin Esha who has an unusual story of her own, and Sid, a photojournalist. To be honest, I felt this thread was shoehorned in, and elements of it, out of place, though there is a loose parallel to the romance in ‘Emma’ between Jane Fairfax and Churchill.

Dev also touches on a number of surprisingly serious issues including domestic violence, homelessness, dyslexia, and (what I thought was) an odd reference to to the BLM movement.

Others will be better judges than I on how satisfying The Emma Project was as a series finale. I was entertained by the story and its characters, though I don’t feel compelled to read the earlier instalments.


Available from HarperCollins 

Or help support* Book’d Out

*Purchase from Booktopia*

*As an affiliate of Booktopia I may earn a small commission on your purchase at no additional cost to you.*

Review: The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan


Title: The Kitchen Front

Author: Jennifer Ryan

Published: 3rd March 2022, Pan Macmillan UK

Status: Read March 2022 courtesy Pan Macmillan/Netgalley 



My Thoughts:


Loosely inspired by true events, The Kitchen Front is an enjoyable historical novel from Jennifer Ryan set in England during WWll.

Two years into WWII, food shortages have hit England hard and with rationing imposed, women are urged to make do with what they have when it comes to feeding their families. Advice comes from all quarters, including cooking demonstrations sponsored by the Ministry for Food, and weekly radio shows like the BBC’s ‘The Kitchen Front’, which is hosted by Ambrose Hart, a former travel writer obviously a little out of his depth. To increase their appeal to the housewives of Britain, the BBC asks Hart to hold a wartime cooking contest in his local village of Fenley, on London’s outskirts. Open to ‘professional’ cooks, three rounds over three months-Starter, Main and Dessert- scored out of ten will decide a winner who will become Hart’s cohost on the ‘The Kitchen Front’.

Five women join the competition-estranged sisters Lady Gwendoline Strickland and and war widowed mother of three boys, Audrey Langdon; manor house cook, Mrs Quince and her young assistant Nell Brown; and displaced Cordon Bleu trained chef, Zelda DuPont. All are determined to win, the prize offering each of them something they need.

Predictably, though not disappointingly so, the contest and its reward comes to matter less as the women are pushed together due to a series of circumstances, some convenient, others dramatic. Emphasising the themes of integrity, friendship and community, the women find the goals they hope to achieve through winning the competition-purpose, money, independence, and career ambition-are best met with the support of each other.

Along with the challenges of wartime on the home front, Ryan touches on many issues such as grief, domestic violence, patriotism and corruption. There’s romance for Nell too when she meets a handsome Italian prisoner of war billeted to Fenley Hall. I thought the pace was good and the story elements well balanced.

I found the details about rationing and wartime menus to be fascinating. Recent grocery store shortages and price rises due to CoVid and other disasters have been a struggle to cope with, I can’t imagine their struggle, or that I’d have any luck convincing my family to eat sheep head stew or whale meat pie (recipes for both, and more, are included in the book).

Celebrating women and friendship, The Kitchen Front is a pleasant, heartwarming read.


Available from Pan Macmillan UK

Or your preferred retailer

Review: Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter by Lizzie Pook


Title: Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter

Author: Lizzie Pook

Published: 1st February 2022, Penguin Australia

Status: Read February 2022 courtesy Penguin Australia


My Thoughts:


Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is an atmospheric historical fiction debut from Lizzie Pook.

Set on the northern coast of Western Australia, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter takes place during 1886. It’s in the fictional town of Bannin Bay that 20 year-old Eliza Brightwell awaits the return of her father and brother aboard their pearling lugger, the White Starling, after nine weeks at sea. When the ship finally sails in near dusk, its flag fluttering at half-mast, Eliza is told her beloved father disappeared overboard sometime during the previous night and is presumed dead. Eliza is devastated, and when the local constabulary immediately places blame upon one of her father’s most loyal divers, Eliza sets out to prove the man’s innocence, and learn the truth about her father’s fate.

With the early history of Australia’s pearling industry as a backdrop, Pook presents a story of mystery and adventure with a touch romance. It’s the disappearance of Charles Brightwell that dominates the plot as Eliza searches for information that will explain it, joined by Axel, a young German dry-sheller who offers Eliza his company. The quest leads the pair into a number of dangerous situations, including a harrowing sea journey on a lugger called Moonlight through shark and crocodile infested waters, providing some tense action and excitement. I’d guessed where the blame would ultimately fall, though not some of the reactions to it.

Eliza’s devotion to her family, despite the many flaws of Charles and Thomas, explains why she refuses to give up. An appealing heroine, it’s a little unlikely Eliza would be quite as capable as she seems to be in a couple of scenes for a young woman of her status during the time period, but her determination and daring is admirable.

It’s not exactly clear why Axel volunteers to accompany Eliza, other than he is a decent young man who seems to have admired Eliza from afar. Pook provides his character with an interesting background, but he felt somewhat underdeveloped.

Where the author excels with her vivid descriptions of the dry Kimberly landscape, the community’s streets and residents, and the changing conditions of the sea, effortlessly evoking harsh heat, salt air and crashing waves. Though I could clearly visualise Eliza’s environment, I would have liked to learn more about the daily operations of a pearling fleet. Pook does provide some general insight into the industry, and thoughtfully acknowledges the appalling treatment of First Nations people by the white settlers of the area.

Though I wasn’t wholly captivated by Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, it is a solid debut, with a lot to recommend it.


Available from Penguin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via

Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: The Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard


Title: The Good Son

Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard

Published: 19th January 2022, HQ Fiction

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Harlequin Australia/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


“I was picking my son up at the prison gates when I spotted the mother of the girl he had murdered.”


Nearly three years after being convicted for beating his girlfriend, Belinda McCormack, to death while high on a cocktail of drugs, 20 year old Stefan Christiansen is released from prison. Despite everything, his mother, university professor Thea, is determined to support Stefan and encourage him to rebuild his life. She knows it won’t be easy, though Stefan remembers nothing of the crime he confessed to he is tormented by remorse and self-loathing, and the family is subject to sustained harassment, not only from supporters of a campaign spearheaded by Belinda’s devastated mother, Jill, but also a hooded figure and an anonymous caller.

Unfolding from Thea’s perspective, Jacqueline Mitchard presents a provocative narrative that explores the themes of guilt, redemption and unconditional love in The Good Son.

Thea is an sympathetic character, contemplating myself and my ‘good son’ in such a situation is unnerving. I thought Thea’s inner conflict was well articulated as she struggled to reconcile her love for her son with the crime he committed. While I didn’t always agree with her actions, I felt her character behaved consistently. I liked that Mitchard explored the stigma Thea faced as the mother of a murderer, though I wondered if she went quite far enough.

In the main I felt Mitchard’s portrayal of Stefan’s character was believable, his mercurial attitude in the weeks after his release seemed genuine and appropriate to his age. His struggles to rejoin society were thoughtfully represented, raising issues I’d given little thought to. I found myself torn between sympathy for, and a kind of impatience with, Stefan, a dynamic which I think was skilfully exploited by the author to illustrate the maxim that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.

While I think the premise of the story is powerful, the execution was quite uneven. The pacing was an issue for me, the middle third dragged, and it definitely affected the suspense related to the identity and motivations of the family’s stalker. I’m conflicted with regards to the ending too. I think the novel would have been stronger had Mitchard chosen another, less melodramatic and arguably more authentic, path.

Though not without its flaws, I did find The Good Son to be a thought-provoking read, and I do believe it would be a rewarding choice for a book club, as it explores issues sure to stimulate a lively discussion.


Available from Harlequin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via

Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews

Review: The Santa Suit

Author: Mary Kay Andrews

Published: 28th September 2021, St Martin’s Press

Status: Read December 2021


My Thoughts:

Celebrating second chances, community and love, The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews is exactly what you want from a Christmas novella – short, simple and sweet.

Looking for a fresh start, newly divorced Ivy Perkins buys an old farmhouse, sight unseen, in the tiny town of Tarburton in North Carolina. Full of abandoned furniture and flotsam, The Four Roses farm needs a little more work than the online advertising seemed to suggest, though the handsome real estate broker, Ezra Wheeler, is happy to offer his help. As Ivy begins clearing the house, she finds a finely tailored Santa Claus suit in a box at the top of a wardrobe, in the pocket is a child’s letter asking Santa to bring her father safely home from the war for Christmas. Moved by the wish, Ivy decides to find out what became of the little girl and her family, a search that will forge friendships, families and festive cheer.

I don’t have a lot to say about The Santa Suit. There are a couple of threads that Andrews brings together in a neat and satisfying way. The small town feel is charming, and the characters are appealing, though the brevity of the story doesn’t allow for much more than broad strokes.

Ultimately The Santa Suit was a quick, uplifting Christmas Eve read, combining a little mystery, romance & touch of seasonal magic.


Available from Pan Macmillan Australia 

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

Previous Older Entries