Review: Pretty Ugly by Kirker Butler

Title: Pretty Ugly

Author: Kirker Butler

Published: Thomas Dunne March 2015

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Status: Read from March 27 to 29, 2015  – I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Review to come

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Review: The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

 

Title: The Shut Eye

Author: Belinda Bauer

Published: Bantam Press UK March 2015

Status: Read from March 16 to 18, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Belinda Bauer’s backlist, including Rubbernecker, has been on my ‘must read’ list for quite some time but as it happens The Shut Eye is the first of her six published books I have read.

DCI John Marvel is haunted by the case of missing schoolgirl, Edie Evans, and resents being distracted from his investigation when he is tasked by his boss to find his wife’s poodle. Marvel couldn’t care less about the fate of Mitzi but when he is approached by Anna Buck, a young mother grieving for her own missing son, with information that seems to link Mitzi, Edie and Richard Latham, a local self-proclaimed psychic, his interest in the case is assured.

The Shut Eye is solid crime fiction with unexpected flashes of dark humour, unfolding from the perspectives of Marvel, Anna, and her husband James.

DCI John Marvel is a dogged and driven detective, but not a particularly nice man. He is brutally dismissive of his colleagues, his de facto partner, and suspicious of humanity in general. He is also a skeptic, and detests Latham’s ‘psychic’ claims, so he is challenged by the inexplicable elements of the case even though he is willing to do anything to solve it.

James is shamed by the depth of his wife’s grief, and feels guilty for the role he plays in it, but is at a loss as to how to help her. A mechanic, he works in the garage next door to their flat with a motley assortment of illegal colleagues, doing little else than putting one foot in front of the other every day.

Five months after her four year old son slipped out of the front door of their home, accidentally left ajar by her husband, and vanished without a trace, Anna Buck is still crazed with grief. Bauer’s portrayal of Anna’s emotional agony is raw and affecting, she is teetering on the edge of a complete breakdown when she reaches out to Latham.

The paranormal element of the story comes into play when Anna visits Latham’s ‘church’ in search of answers. Though he refuses to help her, soon after Anna believes she is either experiencing visions, or has finally gone mad.

The Shut Eye is a good read, but I thought the characters were more convincing than the plot. I enjoyed the uncertainty Bauer created by blurring the line between proof and visions, and offering multiple suspects. The ending didn’t quite sit right for me though, feeling a little rushed and aspects of it unlikely.

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Review: Resistance by John Birmingham

 

Title: Resistance {Dave Hooper #2}

Author: John Birmingham

Published: Pan Macmillan AU March 2015

Status: Read from March 12 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The second novel to feature rig engineer turned superhero monster slayer Dave Cooper, Resistance is another darkly funny, action packed fantasy adventure from Australian author John Birmingham.

Dave is enjoying his celebrity, in a typical Dave-like manner, after the defeat of the Hunn but the breach in New Orleans was just the start and now the Hunn are boiling up from the underworld realm all over the globe, eager to reclaim their dominion.

There is no getting away from the fact that Dave is a dick, and his basic nature is unchanged despite becoming a superhero. In Resistance he is confronted with his new responsibilities as the only man able to translate the intentions of the Hunn but he manages to alienate almost everyone when he makes the wrong choices.

Like Emergence, Resistance is a fast paced, entertaining read, hilarious, action – packed and unfailingly politically incorrect.

I’m looking forward to Dave’s final adventure in Ascendance

 

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Also available: Book 1

Review: Nothing Sacred by David Thorne

 

Title: Nothing Sacred {Daniel Connell #2}

Author: David Thorne

Published: Corvus : Allen & Unwin March 2015

Status: Read from March 01 to 02, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

A gritty crime thriller Nothing Sacred is the second book from David Thorne to feature disgraced lawyer, Daniel Connell, following East of Innocence.

In Nothing Sacred, Daniel is reluctantly drawn into the underworld of Essex by the tearful pleas of his ex girlfriend Victoria who is being tormented by an unseen force and has lost custody of her young children. Meanwhile, Daniel’s childhood best friend Gabe, a veteran whose military career was cut short when he lost his leg, is mixed up in something deadly that has followed him from the battlefield of Afghanistan.

Nothing Sacred was a little too brutal and bleak for my tastes, but the action is fast-paced and the plot is well thought out. There are several twists and Thorne brings it all together well.
The characters are convincing, if somewhat stereotypical for the genre. Daniel’s sense of justice overrides his confidence in the law and he has no problem crossing the line when he feels justified in doing so.

A quick, solid read with a noir-ish feel, Nothing Sacred should appeal to crime fiction fans with a hard edge.

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Review: Witch Upon a Star by Jennifer Harlow

 

Title: Witch Upon a Star {A Midnight Magic Mystery #3}

Author: Jennifer Harlow

Published: Midnight Ink March 2015

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Status: Read from March 05 to 07, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

The events in Witch Upon a Star take place twenty years before Mind Over Monsters and twenty one years before the events in What’s a Witch to Do?.

Anna Olmstead is just nine when she meets Asher, a dashing, centuries old vampire who rescues her from her father pimping both his daughter’s magical talent and more to any one with a few dollars. Asher is her saviour, he provides her a life of wealth and privilege, love and protection and as Anna grows she is determined to always be at his side. At fourteen she becomes Asher’s legal consort and later his lover, believing all of her dreams have come true. Eventually however the relationship begins to sour as Asher’s true nature asserts itself, and things begin to spiral out of control. Still she can’t let go, and Asher refuses to free her, until one murderous, bloody night.
Almost a decade later Anna is happily married and the mother of two young sons, her life with Asher behind her, when an attempt is made to kidnap her and Anna has no choice except to confront the man she once loved with all her heart.

Witch Upon a Star is not what I expected, it has none of the lightness found in What’s a Witch to Do? and is much darker than Werewolf Sings the Blues though is still billed as A Midnight Magic Mystery.

Witch Upon a Star is actually a story of corrupted innocence and dark obsession. There is little humour, and the themes are confronting touching on child abuse, drug addiction and exploitation. Don’t get me wrong, the novel is well written and the story is quite affecting but I was thrown by the unexpected seriousness.

To be fair the synopsis hints at the seriousness of the story but the whimsical title, cutesy cover and the reputation of the author for snarky humour, contradicts it. As long as the reader is aware of what they are getting into, Witch Upon A Star is a good read.

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  Also by Jennifer Harlow

Blog Tour Review: Rose River by Margareta Osborn

 

Title: Rose River

Author: Margareta Osborn

Published: Random House March 2015

Status: Read from March 04 to 05, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Rose River is a lighthearted contemporary rural romance from Margareta Osborn, expanded from her 2012 novella, A Bush Christmas.

Jamie Hanrahan can’t see any reason to celebrate Christmas, a year ago her beloved father suddenly passed away and now she has been unceremoniously retrenched from her high-paying executive PR job. Eager to escape the festive season in Melbourne, Jamie impulsively accepts an offer to housesit in Burdekin’s Gap, high up in the East Gippsland Mountains. Jamie is looking forward to peace and quiet, but then Polly Plains House manager, Stirling McEvoy roars into her life on his gleaming Yamaha and suddenly Jamie may be able to find a few reasons to celebrate the season after all.

It took me a little while to warm up to Jamie but she surprised me when she willingly helped Stirling draft cattle, despite being clueless, and quickly, if a touch reluctantly, involved herself in the Burdekin’s Gap community. Emotionally Jamie is a bit of a mess, still grieving for her father and angry at her mother for her quick remarriage, but Burdekin’s Gap, and the friends she makes, reveals a strength she never knew she had.

Stirling isn’t terribly happy to make Jamie’s acquaintance, he had been expecting a housesitter who could help around the station, not a Sass and Bide, Jimmy Choo wearing city slicker ‘Princess’. I liked Stirling, whom Jamie nicknames ‘Marble Man’ due in part to his impressive physique, though I felt there were some inconsistencies in what I expected of his character in the second half of the novel, after his ex girlfriend shows up.

Complications between Stirling and Jamie arise in the form of Stirling’s bitchy ex-girlfriend, Tiffany, who is reluctant to let go, and Jamie’s stepfather’s nephew, Marty, who seems determined to win Jamie’s affection despite her oft repeated disinterest. With their relationship so new and undefined, neither Stirling nor Jamie are willing to declare themselves and misunderstandings abound.

I really enjoyed Osborn’s portrayal of the Burdekin’s Gap community, from Stirling’s immediate family to pub owners Bluey and Jean, and the fundraising events, including Buck (naked) Cricket, and Cow (poo) Lotto, that unites the residents. The setting is also wonderfully drawn from the town itself, to the surrounding country landscape.

Those that read A Bush Christmas should enjoy the continuation of Jamie and Stirling’s romance, though it should be noted that novella is reproduced almost verbatim within the story. I found Rose River to be a straight forward, high spirited romance, that should appeal to fans of the genre.

Rose River is available to purchase from

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Also by Margareta Osborn


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Review: Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbøl

 

Title: Doctor Death {A Madeleine Karno Mystery #1}

Author: Lene Kaaberbøl

Published: Atria Books February 2015

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Status: Read from February 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Set in provincial France during the late 1800’s, Doctor Death is the first book in a new historical mystery series from Lene Kaaberbøl, featuring Madeleine Karno.

“My father was reluctant to let me assist when he examined the dead. He said it could only hurt my reputation and my future – by which he meant my chances of marriage. For the most part, my father was a man of progress, absorbed by the newest ideas and the latest technology. But he was incomprehensibly old-fashioned on this particular point.”

The daughter of a widowed surgeon/coroner, Madeleine dreams of one day following in his footsteps but for now must be content with those rare times when her father allows her to assist him. Intelligent, rational and ambitious, Madeleine is an admirable character who chafes at the expectations of the era though rarely in an overt way. When her father is injured she seizes the opportunity to become more involved in his current case that begins with a dead girl, scarred with human bites, found on her snow covered doorstep.

Solving the complex mystery involves a combination of common investigation techniques led by Madeleine’s father’s colleague, the Commisioner, and the fledgling science of forensics utilised by Madeleine and her father. It is a strange case that involves an unidentified parasite, a missing boy, a pack of wolves, a murdered priest and it becomes increasingly unsettling as Madeleine gets closer to unmasking a killer. There are red herrings and twists that keep the reader guessing as Kaaberbøl explores the conflicts of human and beast, science and faith.

“Illness is not necessarily a punishment from God…. Sometimes it just comes to us. If we are lucky, it is a trial from which we can learn. Other times, we must just accept that we humans do not understand everything.”

The tone is quite dark overall and there are elements of the story which readers may find disturbing. There is a touch of unconventional romance which will be interesting to see develop in further installments. The pace is good but the narrative does feel a little dry and formal at times, perhaps a consequence of the translation as much as a reflection of the period.

I did enjoy Doctor Death, the mystery was intriguing and Madeleine is an interesting lead but I have to admit I wasn’t as engaged as I hoped to have been. I do hope to continue with the series though to see how it develops.

Available to Purchase From

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Review: Intensive Care by Nicki Edwards

 

Title: Intensive Care

Author: Nicki Edwards

Published: Momentum February 2015

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Status: Read from February 15 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Crushed when she discovers her live in boyfriend of three years has been having an affair, ICU nurse Kate Kennedy packs up her belongings and desperate to move on, impulsively accepts a position at a hospital in the small country town of Birrangulla, five hours west of Sydney. Everything seems to be falling into place, she’s found the perfect job, the perfect home, and in search of the the perfect cup of coffee, may just have found the perfect man, but

Intensive Care is a contemporary rural medical romance in which the author, Nicki Edwards, draws on her love of country Australia and her personal nursing experience.

I found Kate to be a bit of a passive-aggressive character. There is a lot of emphasis on her dislike of confrontation but I thought she was often over sensitive, snappish and impatient. I understood her avoidance of her cheating boyfriend Marcus, especially as more details about their relationship were revealed, and sympathised with her feelings of hurt and betrayal. And while I admired Kate’s professional compassion for her patients, her reaction to Joel’s sister’s concerns bothered me, she didn’t demonstrate a lot of understanding for the younger woman’s fears.

Taking place over the period of about a year the romance between Kate and Joel develops slowly. Though they both have good reasons to be wary of beginning a new relationship, I found their chemistry a bit lacking. Joel in particularly seems disinterested much of the time while Kate tries to force the issue, which was slightly discomfiting.

Joel, with his Irish accent, coffee making genius, and handyman skills, is an appealing hero, made more so by his tragic past. Though perhaps a little passive for my taste, I found him sweet and charming.

A blend of medical drama, and rural romance, Intensive Care is a pleasant novel which should appeal to fans of both genres.

 

Please click here to learn more about Nicki Edwards and her writing journey.

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Review: Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

Title: Before I Go

Author: Colleen Oakley

Published: Allen & Unwin February 2015

Status: Read from February 12 to 13, 2015  – I own a copy { Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Daisy Richmond is twenty seven, happily married, working towards her Master’s degree and about to celebrate three years cancer-free, when her doctor delivers the news that her body is riddled with tumours, and it’s likely she won’t live beyond six months. Daisy is devastated but her overwhelming concern is for her husband, Jack. How will her wonderful but disorganised and absent minded husband cope without her? Who will scratch his back when he can’t reach, make sure he eats regular meals, or save him from drowning in a sea of dirty socks?

Before I Go is a poignant, tender debut novel authored by Colleen Oakley that tugged on my heart strings as I read it. However, on reflection, I don’t have much to say about it.

It doesn’t offer a particularly unique premise though the idea of finding a replacement for yourself is thought provoking. The characters are engaging, evoking an appropriate mixture of sympathy, admiration, and frustration, but none of them surprised me.

I did feel that the book was well written, and I appreciated the way Oakley tempered the inevitable seriousness with flashes of humour. The underlying message, about savouring and living in the present, is sincerely and simply presented.

Before I Go is an emotional, bittersweet story about love, loss, life and death. A lovely read, just not really memorable for me.

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Review: The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

 

Title: The Fire Sermon { The Fire Sermon #1}

Author: Francesca Haig

Published: Gallery Books February 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from February 05 to 07, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A dystopian blend of fantasy, sci-fi and adventure with a touch of romance, The Fire Sermon is the first book in a planned trilogy from Australian author, and award winning poet, Francesca Haig.

In the world four hundred years after The Blast, every person is born with a twin. One is always healthy and whole, while the other suffers from some abnormality. Identified as the Alpha and Omega, the twins are separated in early childhood, the Alpha is given the privileges of education and power, while the Omega, whose life only has value because their fate is entwined with the Alphas, is branded and banished to a life of poverty.
Cass and Zach have been raised together much longer than most twins while waiting for the Omega trait to surface. They are thirteen when Zach, eager to embrace his birthright of entitlement, finally betrays Cass as a seer and she is cast out.
Seven years later, Zach has risen to a position of power on the Alpha Council and to protect himself from his rivals, imprisons Cass in an Alpha facility where she is confined to a cell, her only regular visitor The Confessor, an Alpha colleague of her brother, determined to exploit Cass’s ability as a seer. It’s another four years before Cass has an opportunity to escape and she sets out to find the Omega Resistance, hoping to change the world.

The idea of Alpha and Omega twins is interesting though the general concept of a society, where one faction is privileged and another oppressed in a post apocalyptic setting, isn’t a new one. Haig doesn’t offer any explanation for the ‘twinning’, but I like the way it allows her to exploit the ‘greys’ of the premise. The physical link between the twins raises some philosophical and ethical questions that relates to issues in our own society.

AU Cover

I’m in two minds about Cass. I admired her determination to escape and search for something better but she is more pious and naive than I was comfortable with, with her compassion, and her eagerness to find excuses for her brother’s behaviour, verging on being a weakness of character rather than a virtue of idealism. Neither did I find Cass particularly brave or heroic and overall I didn’t feel her character demonstrated much growth over the course of the novel.

The pacing is somewhat uneven, Cass and Kip’s road trip in particular drags on a bit and I felt that Haig waited a bit too long to introduce the Resistance, but the writing is strong enough to encourage momentum. The tension is there when needed and there are a couple of twists designed to surprise the reader.

Marketed at a crossover adult/YA audience I’m sure the Fire Sermon will find readers among fans of dystopian fiction. Though the Fire Sermon didn’t wow me, I do think the trilogy has potential and I’m interested to see how the story develops.

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