Review: Chosen {Slayer #2} by Kiersten White

 


Title: Chosen {Slayer #2}

Author: Kiersten White

Published: January 7th 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Chosen begins a few weeks after the finale of Slayer, in which Nina successfully averted an apocalypse, but accidentally killed her (sort of) boyfriend/watcher, Leo, and was deserted by her twin sister, Artemis.

With the castle they call home being repurposed as a Sanctuary for Slayers and demons in need, Nina should be focused on their new mission, instead she’s distracted by grief, and the dark edge she feels to her newly restored powers. But with a new ‘big bad’ rising, Nina hasn’t got time to wallow if she’s going to save the world – again.

The storyline feels as if it would fit well within the Buffyverse. It’s nicely paced with a good dose of action and humour. I was delighted by the cameo’s from Clem and Oz, Buffy and Faith make an appearance in Nina’s dreams, and there are references to other characters such as Harmony, Angel and Spike, as well as events from Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. As a fan, I love these canonical moments.

Unfortunately Nina is no less whiny in Chosen than she was in Slayer, and while she has good reason to be upset, I found the angst a touch too repetitive. Meanwhile Artemis has completely lost the plot as she schemes with Honora, and Nina is about to be blindsided by another betrayal. Cillian, Rhys’s boyfriend, has a larger role in Chosen, as does Coldplay fan demon Doug. There are a handful of new characters introduced too, including a teleporting demon child named Tsip, and refugee Slayer, Maricruz.

I’m a little thrown by the Epilogue which could indicate White has decided not to continue the series, I hope that’s not the case though as I’m enjoying it. Chosen is a quick and an entertaining read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

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Also by Kiersten White reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: Cedar Valley by Holly Throsby

 

Title: Cedar Valley

Author: Holly Throsby

Published: January 7th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Cedar Valley, Holly Throsby’s second novel, is a contemporary mystery firmly rooted in a small town Australian setting.

On the first day of December 1993, a man in a brown suit seats himself on the pavement in front of Cedar Valley Curios & Old Wares. When store owner Cora Franks eventually finds time to confront him, she is shocked to discover he has died. Amongst the crowd that gathers to witness the spectacle of a dead man, stands Benny Miller. Having only arrived in Cedar Valley that morning, Benny is both fascinated and disturbed by the incident, but she is too distracted by her need to learn more about her recently deceased mother, Vivian Moon, to give the dead stranger much more than a passing thought.

While Benny is settling in to the town, developing a relationship with Odette, her mother’s one time best friend, in the hopes of understanding why Vivian abandoned her as an infant, the police begin to investigate how a dead man came to be sitting on a footpath in Cedar Valley. Wearing a vintage brown suit, and shiny black shoes, the man has no identification and the coroner can’t determine a cause of death.

Some readers will recognise the parallels between the enigma of the dead man in Cedar Valley, and that of ‘The Somerton Man’, the subject of one of Australia’s most enduring mystery’s. The local police are baffled by the strange similarities between the two cases and struggle to make sense of it.

Various residents of Cedar Valley play a role in the story, from the local chemist, to the towns ‘womaniser’, and Detective Sergeant Simmons ailing mother, Elsie, who many not remember what she was told yesterday, but can recall events from decades before. I enjoyed the setting, the people, the town and its environs are easy to visualise.

Though the pace is a little slow and meandering for my taste, Throsby moves the story forward and eventually reveals a surprising connection between Benny, the mystery man, and the town of Cedar Valley. The conclusion is a little vague, but fits the theme of unanswerable questions that runs through the novel.

A warm, engaging read, I liked Cedar Valley, it’s the sort of novel to fill a lazy afternoon picnicking in the country.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP: AUD $19.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

 

Title: Such a Fun Age

Author: Kylie Reid

Published: January 7th 2020, Bloomsbury ANZ

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy Bloomsbury ANZ/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid has been on my schedule for months, and I thought that, as such, it deserved to be my first read of 2020. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but it had its moments.

Having graduated college with no clear idea of what she wants to do with her life, twenty-five year old Emira Tucker has since taken on a series of part time jobs, her favourite of which is babysitting Briar Chamberlain. Briar is a precocious three year old, and a little too tiring for her career focused mother, Alix, to handle while trying to build her ‘brand’ and also care for a newborn. Alix, and her husband, TV anchorman Peter, are vaguely grateful for the care Emira provides, and both are horrified when late one night they call on Emira for help and the young woman is detained by an over-reaching security guard at a local store who believes she may have kidnapped Briar, not only because Emira is dressed for the party she was attending when the Chamberlain’s called, but because Emira is black, and Briar is white.

While underscoring the major themes of race, class, and privilege, this incident is not actually the focus of the novel, but it is a catalyst for change in the relationship between Alix and Emira. Feeling vaguely guilty about the incident, and worried that Emira will leave their employ, Alix becomes fixated on befriending her. Emira would prefer to forget the whole thing, she has other things on her mind, like her lack of career, and a new beau, Kelley Copeland, whom she met the night of the confrontation in the store.

While low key conflict related to race and class simmers in the background, Reid doesn’t pit the white and black/ rich and poor characters against each other, instead she thoughtfully explores the varying experiences, understandings, and motives that affect their viewpoints about themselves and each other. As the story unfolds from the perspectives of the two women, Reid also examines additional themes such as identity, motherhood, friendship, and career.

Not being American I can’t pretend to understand the cultural dynamics which underpin Such A Fun Age, but I did find it well written, nuanced and thought provoking.

++++++

Available from Bloomsbury ANZ

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Review: Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

 

Title: Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Author: Dani Shapiro

Published: January 15th 2019, Alfred A. Knopf

Status: Read November 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

In the Spring of 2016, fifty-four year old bestselling author and teacher Dani Shapiro, casually agreed to submit her DNA for testing through Ancestry.com, in support of her husband’s new found interest in genealogy. Dani is shocked when the results arrive and she learns that her late beloved father, could not possibly have been her biological father.

For Dani this is a particularly stunning blow, her identity has always been very closely tied to her paternal Ashkenazi Jew heritage (a subject she has explored extensively in her previous memoirs). As both her parents are deceased, her father as a result of a car accident when Dani was in her early twenties, and her mother in about 2001, Dani can’t ask them to explain.

Inheritance relates Dani’s journey as she pieces together fragments of information to determine why it is that her father is not her biological father, and who it may be. It’s a difficult process, both emotionally, as she struggles to come to terms with all of what she learns, and what it means to her, and practically, given so much time had passed.

I found Dani’s story to be compelling, her situation may not be unique, but her experience is intensely personal, and she is honest about its impact on her. I did find the lack of objectivity frustrating at times, though it’s not my place to judge her particular issues.

A thought provoking and emotional memoir, Inheritance is an interesting exploration of identity, and belonging.

++++++

Available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I via Indiebound

Review: The Fallout by Rebecca Thornton

 

Title: The Fallout

Author: Rebecca Thornton

Published: December 5th 2019, HarperCollins Au

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

In The Fallout, Rebecca Thornton’s third fiction novel, minutes after Sarah witnesses her best friend’s young son climbing a pole in a playground, and distracted, says nothing, the boy falls. Four year old Jack is badly injured, and Sarah is horrified, but can’t bring herself to admit to Liza that she may have been able to prevent the tragedy. Desperate to redeem herself for failing to tell the truth, Sarah vows to do everything she can to make up for her mistake, but lies have consequences, and there are some things can’t be forgiven.

Thornton explores several themes in The Fallout, including friendship, parenting, postpartum depression/psychosis, loss, and post traumatic stress. The story unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Sarah and Liza as they struggle with the fallout from Jack’s accident. Thornton also makes use of WhatsApp chat and interview transcripts in the novel to good effect. Amongst other things, they reveal the petty dynamic too often present among groups of mothers, and illustrate the varying social attitudes to parenting in general, as speculation about the fall, and who is to blame, runs riot.

Sarah is an exhausting character, and though I felt sympathetic towards her, I also found her frustrating, and irritating. Her frenzied anxiety, fed by residual feelings of guilt and grief, leads to impulsive, and sometimes irrational decisions, that worsens every situation exponentially, despite usually having the best of intentions. I did feel that the story got a little bogged down in Sarah’s spiral of panic, occasionally teetering on the edge of absurd, and slowing the pace.

Liza is also wound a little tight, not only because of the uncertainty surrounding Jack’s injury, and the complicated state of her marriage, but also due to a past event, which Thornton delays revealing until the very end of the novel. I’d guessed the circumstances that Liza was struggling with early on, so I found the reveal to be anti-climatic, but I liked the way in which the author acknowledged the impact of events on Liza’s husband’s.

The Fallout is a engaging read, I found the premise to be relatable, and I empathised with the characters.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Read an Extract

#NonFicNov Review: Killer Instinct: Having a Mind for Murder by Donald Grant

 

Title: Killer Instinct: Having a Mind for Murder

Author: Donald Grant

Published: May 28th 2018, University of Melbourne Press

Status: Read November 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

“The killer instinct is therefore alive and well—dormant and out of conscious awareness for the most part, but nevertheless exerting some influence over our attitudes and behaviour. At some deep level we are aware of our potential for violence.”

As a forensic psychiatrist, Donald Grant’s role is to assess the motives of an alleged offender and provide a report to the court on any relevant clinical issues that may affect trial, sentencing or parole. In Killer Instinct: Having A Mind for Murder, he presents ten murder cases in which he was involved, providing details of the crime/s, and his assessment of the alleged perpetrators state of mind based on case evidence and interviews.

All ten of the cases chosen for this book occurred during the last thirty years, and were tried in Queensland where Grant’s medico-legal practice is based. Given that in Australia the incidence of murder—the number of new cases per year—is relatively low (around one murder per 100 000 people) all of these cases have attracted media attention, so the reader may be familiar with the generalities, if not the details, though several were unknown to me.

Grant begins with arguably the most sensationalised case involving Tracey Wigginton, whom the media dubbed “The Lesbian Vampire Killer”. In 1989, Tracey stabbed Edward Baldock to death on the bank of Brisbane River, and claimed to have ‘fed’ on his blood. Identified and charged within days, questions quickly arose regarding Tracey’s mental health. Some months after her arrest, Grant was asked to provide his independent medico-legal opinion to the court, and shares his process as he determines if Tracey is entitled to a psychiatric defence relevant to the murder charge.

The other nine cases are presented in a similar fashion. Though the perpetrators in this book are all determined in a court of law to be responsible for the death of another, they are not all found guilty of murder. Some are ultimately convicted of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, or are placed on a forensic order (ie. detained in a Secure Inpatient Psychiatric Service under the purview of The Mental Health Review Tribunal) due to a finding of unsoundness of mind. Grant has selected complex cases that illustrate murder committed for varying motives including Grant Meredith, who murdered at least one young woman to satisfy his sadistic sexual urges; Colin Wilson who ‘snapped’ and murdered his ailing mother before attempting suicide; and Melissa Englart who was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness when she killed her husband.

Written in a straightforward and dispassionate manner, the author uses little in the way of jargon, though includes a glossary in case the need arises. Grant also includes some general chapters on the reasons why the public finds the details of crime entertaining (due to our suppressed killer instinct) and some information about the medico-legal distinctions of diminished responsibility and unsoundness of mind. I found these a little awkward, in both tone and placement.

However I found the cases, and Grant’s assessments, sufficiently detailed and interesting, providing intriguing insight into the actions of these killers. This book should satisfy those of us with a killer instinct, fans of the true crime genre, or those curious about the psychological motives of murder

++++++

Available from University of Melbourne Press

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Up On Horseshoe Hill by Penelope Janu

 

Title: Up On Horseshoe Hill

Author: Penelope Janu

Published: November 18th 2019, MIRA

Status: Read November 2019, courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

A rural romance with a hint of suspense, Up On Horseshoe Hill is Penelope Janu’s third novel.

Set in the general area of Dubbo, NSW, Up On Horseshoe Hill features farrier Jemima Kincaid, known as Jet. I love that Jet is a farrier, my late father in law was a farrier/blacksmith and it’s a profession rarely credited even though it is a quintessential rural occupation.

There is often something very childlike about Jet, which is not unexpected given her background. One of the main themes Janu explores in Up On Horseshoe Hill is the tyranny of grief, and the struggle to move on from loss. Having lost her entire family in a series of tragedies by her late teens, and then being further traumatised by another incident, Jet is emotionally fragile. In conjunction with her severe dyslexia, and the well meaning support from a few key friends in the close knit community, Jet has been able to avoid confronting her issues and never really moved on with her life.

I’m in two minds about the relationship that develops between Jet and Finn. I liked Finn mostly, his unusual occupation as a jet setting veterinary geneticist adds interest to the story, and though he is almost the complete opposite of Jet I could understand why she would find him so attractive. Finn is generally patient and thoughtful with Jet’s vulnerabilities, and the couple share some nice moments together, but Jet’s emotional immaturity in some of their interactions occasionally made me uncomfortable.

The specifics of the element of suspense in Up On Horseshoe Hill is somewhat unusual for this genre, linking as it does from a local crime to an international issue. I was quite intrigued by what I learnt about the matter.

I enjoyed Up On Horseshoe Hill, it’s a well written and engaging story.

++++++

Read an Excerpt

Available from Harlequin AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

#NonficNov Review: They Walk Among Us by Benjamin and Rosanna Fitton

 

Title: They Walk Among Us

Author: Benjamin and Rosanna Fitton

Published: May 30th 2019, Virgin Digital

Status: Read November 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

They Walk Among Us is a collection of ten British true crime stories from the podcast hosts of They Walk Among Us, Benjamin and Rosanna Fitton.

Given that the genre is dominated by American crime, it’s likely these cases from the UK will be new to many readers. The cases here are not presented in exhaustive detail, but certainly with enough to provide a clear understanding of events, and the aftermath. They include the murder of intimate partners, a very unusual instance of deception, and financial dishonesty on a grand scale.

I thought They Walk Among Us offered an appealing mix of well told and interesting cases. Regular listeners of the podcast will be delighted to learn that these cases have not been covered in previous episodes and while to be honest the podcast is a little over scripted for my tastes, I’d certainly be interested in reading more from this duo.

++++++

Available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

#NonficNov Review: Bush Doctors by Annabelle Brayley

 

Title: Bush Doctors

Author: Annabelle Brayley

Published: August 28th 2017, Michael Joseph

Status: Read November 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Rural medicine was, and still is, a job for life. You grow with your patients; your life is intertwined with the twists and turns of country life” – Dr Ewen McPhee, President, Rural Doctors Association of Australia

Bush Doctors is a fascinating collection of sixteen stories that celebrates the doctors upon whom the residents of rural and remote areas of Australia rely for everyday and emergency medical care.

I live in regional Australia, some 350km from a capital city, so I have experienced some of the challenges related to accessing health care. The doctors featured in this book work in area’s that are far more isolated, like Yulara in the Northern Territory (1,950 km south of Darwin), Mallacoota in Victoria (500km west of Melbourne), and Fitzroy Valley in Western Australia (1800 km north east of Perth).

Providing health care to the rural and remote areas of Australia poses unique challenges and it takes resourceful, determined, brave and committed people to do so. These stories provide a glimpse into the life of bush doctors, and the invaluable work they do every day. These general practitioners often almost single handedly service a community of a thousand or more, spread over a large geographical area, with limited resources. They find themselves responsible for a diverse population, treating a wide array of illnesses and injuries, working incredibly long hours to meet their patients needs.

Not only should a general audience find this book engaging, I think it should be required reading for those involved in making decisions about rural health services, especially those “who think they have a gilt-edged right to make decisions about people they’ve never met, who live in places they’ve never heard of, in circumstances they make no effort to understand.”

Read an Extract

++++++

Available from Penguin Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Annabelle Brayley reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

 

Title: Sarong Party Girls

Author: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Published: September 3rd 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

Sarong Party Girls is the first fiction novel by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a New York City-based food and fashion writer who was born and raised in Singapore.

The term ‘Sarong Party Girl’ is a largely derogatory reference in Singapore to women who exclusively pursue Caucasian men as romantic partners, spurning ah bengs (Chinese/Singaporean men), whom they generally hold in low regard. Tan’s protagonist is 26 year old Jazelin (aka Lin Boon Huag) who is on the hunt for the ultimate Singaporean status symbol, an ang moh husband, but competition is fierce, and Jazzy isn’t getting any younger. She, along with her closest friends Imo and Fann, spend almost every night in Singapore’s exclusive clubs and bars hoping to meet the man of their dreams. Provocatively dressed, they dance, flirt, drink, and sometimes sleep, with any western man who looks sideways at them. But as Jazzy steps up her campaign to win the affection of a suitable ang mah, she is slowly forced to reconsider the lifestyle she has chosen.

Not being familiar with the Singaporean culture I appreciated reading a book set in the country. I have heard a few stories from people who have spent time in Singapore that seems to confirm at least some elements of Tan’s portrayal of the city’s nightlife, including the behaviour of Sarong Party Girls, and the exploitation of women in both personal and professional arena’s. I was surprised to learn of the apparent social acceptance of girlfriends, mistresses, and even second families, for married Chinese/Singaporean men.

I really don’t see any similarities between Jane Austen’s Emma, and Sarong Party Girls as suggested by the publisher, other than the general desire of the women for an advantageous match in marriage. If there is an Austen character whom Jazzy resembles at all, it’s probably Lydia in Pride and Prejudice who is so focused on the idea of gaining status and wealth via marriage, she ignores the reality of the choices she makes in pursuit of her goal.

The element I probably most enjoyed about Sarong Party Girls was the Singlish patios used, which I found easy to decipher with context. The rhythm seemed natural and helped to illustrate both character and setting.

A glimpse into a culture quite different from my experience, I liked Sarong Party Girls well enough, it’s well written, and entertaining.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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