Review: The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

Title: The Lost Jewels

Author: Kirsty Manning

Published : March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++++

My Thoughts:

In The Lost Jewels, author Kirsty Manning weaves a fictional narrative around the mystery of the ‘Cheapside Hoard’, a large cache of expensive jewellery unearthed during construction in a London street in 1912.

The ‘present day’ timeline introduces Kate Kirby, an American historian who specialises in investigating the provenance of jewellery. Offered a rare opportunity to view the jewels discovered in Cheapside, the story follows Kate from the United States to England, India, France and then back as she attempts to trace the origins of a handful of pieces of the collection, during which she discovers a link between one of the pieces and her own family history.

Entwined with Kate’s journey, are two historical timelines, one of which reveals the story of Kate’s great grandmother, Essie Murphy, and her connection to the found jewellery set during the early 1900’s, and another set at two different points in the 1600’s which reveals the origin of one particular piece of a jewellery, a diamond champlevé enamel ring.

I found I appreciated the story of The Lost Jewels more after I googled the ‘Cheapside Hoard’ and was better able to understand what a remarkable find the jewels were. Manning’s speculations about the origin of the Hoard through her fiction read as credible and interesting, though to this date the truth remains a mystery, and likely always will.

Essie’s story as a young woman struggling to survive and raise her siblings was of the most interesting to me. I thought the author’s portrayal of daily life in urban London for its poorest citizens was accurate, and I had empathy for the Murphy family, particularly Essie, and her sister Gertie, who experienced such hardship and tragedy so young.

I liked Kate well enough. I thought Manning communicated her passion for her work well, I don’t particularly care for jewellery but this novel did prompt me to think about the story’s custom pieces could reveal. There is a touch of romance that is developed between Kate and Australian photographer, Marcus, but it was kept fairly low key.

Well written and researched, I found the The Lost Jewels to be a pleasantly engaging read, of family, secrets, love, loss, and new beginnings.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin. RRP AUD $32.99

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

 

Review: Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Red Dirt Country

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: March 31st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Red Dirt Country is Fleur McDonald’s third book to feature Detective Dave Burrows, and the sixth in which he appears, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

Several months after his undercover assignment chasing cattle thieves in North Queensland led to him being shot, Dave is relieved that he has finally been given the go ahead to return to work, gaining his dream job with the Perth Livestock Squad. His very pregnant wife, Mel, is not. Torn between his love for his family, and his passion for his job, Dave may be forced to make some difficult choices.

Dave’s first case in Western Australia partners him with his new chief, Bob Holden. Livestock is being stolen from an Aboriginal owned station, and the thefts are stirring up long held rivalries, spilling out across the community. While the identity of the culprits are easy to guess, I enjoyed the way in which the investigation unfolded. Bob and Dave work well as partners, with the senior proving to be a capable and canny, if not wholly traditional, mentor.

The case allows McDonald to explore the historical and current issues related to Aboriginal managed stations. I felt for Kevin, torn between his Elder’s warnings, and his own judgement. It’s disheartening that prejudice and resentment persist along racial lines, and the author captures that well.

McDonald also alludes to the continuing drought which places pressure on farmers, along with other common stressors like inheritance, and stock sale prices. Her knowledge and experience of farming ensures the authenticity of the setting, and her characters.

Ramping up the tension in the novel is Dave’s impending appearance at the trial of the crooked cop unmasked during the undercover North Queensland investigation. Bulldust, the mastermind behind the theft ring who has yet to be apprehended, is determined to avenge his destruction, and the threat he poses to Dave, and his family, is edging closer.

If you have read McDonald’s contemporary novels in which Dave has a role but does not feature, you will know how the relationship between Dave and Melinda pans out. In Red Dirt Country, Mel, heavily pregnant and suffering bouts of high blood pressure, is worried about Dave’s safety, and resentful of his return to work. Dave loves his wife, and children, but knows he wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I felt that McDonald portrayed the feelings of both Dave and Mel sympathetically, there is no easy solution to the issue that divides them.

With its engaging mystery and authentic rural setting, I enjoyed Red Dirt Country, and the (sort of) cliff hanger has me anticipating the next instalment.

++++++

 

Available from Allen & Unwin *RRP AUD $29.99 Read the first chapter

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Also by Fiona MCDonald reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club by Julian Leatherdale

Title: Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Published: March 3rd 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read March 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

“…she had sat at her typewriter, happily composing a murder scene for her novel. And now here she was thrust without warning into the middle of a real one, the unspeakably gruesome death of someone she knew.”

By day, Joan Linderman is a subeditor for a leading womens magazine, while at night she works on a crime novel she hopes to one day have published. But when her downstairs neighbour is discovered with her throat slashed, the line between fiction and fact becomes blurred, and Joan finds herself caught up in a tale of murder, blackmail, violence, and betrayal.

“Crime’s not a woman’s business, Joanie. It’s not some bloody game.”

The murdered woman, a prostitute, is more acquaintance than friend, so Joan is shocked when she finds a note that suggests a connection between Ellie and her rich, estranged uncle and aunt, former Major now lawyer, Gordon Fielding-Jones, and his wife Olympia. Leatherdale provides a complex mystery as Joan’s amateur investigation into the link takes surprising twists and turns through the stratum of society.

“It was a frightening, chaotic time for those who lived in the cross and its environs, but Joan felt an indescribable thrill to be living on the edge of this vortex of violence.”

What I particularly enjoyed about the novel was Leatherdale’s depiction of the social and political schism in Australia during the 1930’s. In the post World War I period, as the Great Depression steadily widened the gap between the haves and have nots, Sydney was the epicentre of unrest as the New Guard railed against Lang’s progressive government, the communist party tried to rally the masses against the upper class, razor gangs ruled the streets, and the bohemian community expressed its disdain for it all. The author brilliantly captures the divisions and overlap of these groups from the double agents amongst the political parties, to the criminal supply of drugs to the upper classes. The ceremonies of the Ladies Bacchus (aka Goddess) Club, are an elitist version of the uninhibited bohemian parties, without any recognition of the irony. The author also touches on issues such as the struggle of injured returned soldiers from the Great War, womens rights, and the marvel that was the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“For now she was heartily sick of this world of men’s making, of so much cruelty and suffering.”

An engaging historical mystery with a noir-ish feel, I enjoyed Death in the Ladies Goddess Club by Julian Leatherdale.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD $29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Julian Leatherdale reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: This Won’t End Well by Camille Pagan

 


Title: This Won’t End Well

Author: Camille Pagán

Published: February 26th 2020, Lake Union Publishing

Status: Read February 2020 courtesy Lake Union/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

This Won’t End Well by Camille Pagan is a charming tale of love, friendship, endings, and new beginnings.

“Why would I open myself up to new problems? By problems, of course, I mean people.”

Things aren’t going well for twenty-seven year old, research chemist, Annie Mercer. A little more than a week after she is forced to resign from her workplace after being betrayed by her lecherous boss, her fiancé, Jon, calls her from the airport to announce he needs some ‘me’ time and is on his way to spend a month incommunicado in France. With her best friend, Leesa, too busy with her new career as a LiteWeight™ Brand Evangelist, and her mother, with whom Annie lives, too emotionally fragile, to lean on, Annie decides to avoid further complications in her life by keeping people out of it.

“I wanted to tell him that I already knew it would end badly—there’s really no other kind of ending, if you think about it.”

Told in an epistolary format through a series journal entries, texts, and emails, This Won’t End Well is a well written and pacy read.

Annie is a delightful character, she has her quirks (her thinking and behaviour suggests she is on the autism spectrum) but she’s honest, loyal and sweet. Quite sensible and serious, Annie is bewildered by the rapid changes in her life but faces them with a quiet dignity. I really enjoyed her character development, which I thought was both realistic and relatable.

Annie’s resolve to avoid new relationships makes perfect sense to her, but is soon tested when Harper, a glamorous but seemingly vulnerable young woman moves in across the street, and Mo, a charming P.I., asks for her help. Her burgeoning friendships with these two very different characters, and some well timed advice from her dear friend Violet, and her mother, prompts Annie to re-envision her plans for her future.

It’s not all fun and froth though, Pagan briefly raises the issues of workplace sexual harassment, racism, grief, and PTSD. These subjects are effortlessly worked into the story however and don’t pull focus away from Annie’s personal journey.

“If you’re willing to look for joy and open yourself to new possibilities, the end is not an ending at all. It’s a beginning.”

Witty, warm, and winsome I enjoyed This Won’t End Well, and I would like to read more of the author’s backlist.

++++++

Available from Lake Union Publishing / Amazon

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

Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Title: The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1}

Author: Luke Arnold

Published: January 28 2020, Orbit

Status: Read February 2020, courtesy Hachette Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Imaginative and entertaining, The Last Smile in Sunder City is the first book in an urban fantasy series from debut novelist Luke Arnold.

“The magic had vanished and the world that magic had built was tearing itself apart…”

Six years ago, a war between The Humanitarian Army (representing the humans) and The Opus (representing the world’s magic creatures) destroyed magic. Known as The Coda, the event resulted in catastrophe in Sunder City. Without magic to sustain them, Elves rapidly aged and died, Were’s were left as half-transformed freaks, Vampires withered as they starved, while other creatures shed scales, or fur, or skin, and to the disadvantage of all, machinery and technology, once infused or forged with magic, stopped working. Arnold has created a bleak, gritty and imaginative world, with ‘Man For Hire’ Fletch Phillips at its center.

Fletch Phillips embodies the traits of a traditional noir P.I. in that he is a morose, down-on-his-luck, functional alcoholic who sleeps on a fold down bed in his dingy office. An orphan who lost his parents in horrific circumstances, Fletch once lived in a caring but closed community which he fled at eighteen to explore the wider world he half-remembered. He is terribly flawed, but not quite yet irredeemably, and I found him quite likeable. His journey from curious runaway teen, to guilt-ridden Man For Hire sporting three significant tattoo’s on his arm, is the subject of several flashbacks through the novel, which also eventually explains his role in the death of magic.

It’s not (metaphorically speaking) a blonde bombshell that walks into Fletch’s office to launch the story, it’s the headmaster of a local school searching for his friend and colleague – a centuries old, and ailing vampire. Fletch’s search leads him through the seedy streets of Sunder City, occasionally getting in they way of the police, (whom mostly despise him), and generally making more enemies than friends. I thought the mystery was fairly well plotted, though not particularly complex, and I would have preferred Fletch investigate more actively than he seemed to. I was also perhaps a little disappointed with the lack of action in the plot overall, but am prepared to forgive that given the need for Arnold to create the foundation of both the setting and character.

The Last Smile In Sunder City is a robust beginning to what I believe has the potential to be a popular fantasy series. I found it to be an easy and engaging read.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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

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Review: Saving Missy by Beth Morrey

 

Title: Saving Missy

Author: Beth Morrey

Published: January 20th 2020, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read January 2020 courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Saving Missy is a poignant and heartwarming debut novel from Beth Morrey about ageing, loss, friendship, and forgiveness.

Seventy-nine year old Millicent ‘Missy’ Carmichael lives in a large, spartan home in central London. Her husband, Leo, is gone, her son, Alistair, his wife and her beloved grandson, Arthur, have emigrated to Australia, and she hasn’t spoken to her daughter, Melanie, in almost a year. Having devoted her life to her family, she now finds herself alone, and lonely, dwelling on the mistakes of her past, relieved only by a ‘sip’ of sherry.

“Sometimes the loneliness was overpowering. Not just the immediate loneliness of living in a huge house on my own, loved ones far away, but a more abstract, galactic isolation, like a leaking boat bobbing in open water, no anchor or land in sight.“

It’s an awkward encounter at the local park with a warm and friendly women named Sylvie, and Angela, a young, extroverted and opinionated woman with a young son, Otis, that begins to coax a reluctant Missy into the world, and a dog named Bob in need of a home who yanks her into it.

“So here we are: the old biddy, the single mother, the superhero and the adopted mongrel…”

Morrey’s portrait of Missy is well crafted and developed. Initially, Missy comes across as an unpleasant, judgemental, ‘fuddy-duddy’, but it becomes clear that her attitude is a result of her own insecurities, a touch of anxiety and depression, and a guilty secret that has festered for decades. Her reminisces appear to confirm that this has been a life long issue for her, and matters have only worsened as she has aged, and finally left with only her own thoughts for company.

“Perhaps I’d said something at the lunch that she objected to? She was very left-wing. Or perhaps it was something I hadn’t said? I had no witty anecdotes, knew none of the mutual acquaintances they’d discussed, and most of all I was so old, so jaundiced – who would want to be friends with me?”

The author successfully evokes a range of emotions for Missy, from dislike to pity to admiration as Missy begins to confront her past, and her future. Sylvia and Angela are both delightful in their own way, but it’s Bob that comes close to stealing the ‘show’.

“My Bobby, the dog I didn’t want, didn’t own, but who was truly mine in a way that no one else ever had been.”

Though I thought the pace was a little slow during the first half of the novel, and the storyline didn’t really offer any surprises, Saving Missy definitely has its charms.

An uplifting reminder of how vital connection and acceptance are to us all, the benefits of unconditional companionship and love from a pet, and that age is no barrier to enjoying either, Saving Missy is an engaging and thoughtful novel.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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Review: Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

 


Title: Mix Tape

Author: Jane Sanderson

Published: January 23rd 2020, Bantam Press UK

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Bantam Press/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

I had been looking forward to reading Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson for a while before it finally came up in my schedule. I am of an age when mix tapes were common. I’d be listening to the radio on my boom box on a Sunday evening, a blank tape in the cassette deck, waiting for the Top 40 to start, with my fingers on the ‘play’ and ‘record’ buttons, poised to catch the opening bars of the whatever song I was hoping to record. We played mix tapes at parties, traded them among friends, and shyly gifted them to our boyfriend/girlfriend. I still have two or three of those tapes, though I no longer have anything to play them on.

Moving between the past and the present, this is the story of Daniel and Alison, who meet as teens in Sheffield, England in 1978. Their romantic relationship is brief, but intense, ending abruptly when Alison is compelled to flee her harrowing home life. Alison’s journey eventually leads her to Australia, and in 2012 she is a bestselling novelist, married with two near-adult daughters, when Dan, a music journalist whose home base is in Scotland with his wife and college bound son, receives a tweet from an old friend directing him to the profile of @AliConnorWriter. When Dan finally reaches out to the woman who has haunted his dreams for decades, he does so with a music video that speaks to a seminal moment in their relationship, ‘Pump It Up’ – Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1978.

“No words, no message. Only the song, speaking for itself.”

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, a tale of soulmates forcibly parted, and then reunited after a separation of thirty years.

Sanderson wonderfully captures the intensity of Daniel and Alison’s connection as teenagers. Dan, sweet and steady, is infatuated with the beautiful and enigmatic Alison. Alison, whose home life is chaotic and neglectful, basks in Dan’s admiration and returns his desire. When she leaves they are both devastated, aware they have lost something special.

When Dan and Ali reconnect decades later, they initially communicate only by trading songs via Twitter that remind them of their relationship, and then songs whose lyrics speak to their growing desires. I’m in my mid forties so I wasn’t particularly familiar with a fair amount of the music referenced in Mix Tape, and I found myself having to stop and search through YouTube on occasion to listen to the song to understand its significance. It’s a delightful idea though, a modern take on those not so subtle cassette mix tapes declaring love

Without sharing a word, despite all the time that has passed, the physical distance between them, and being married to other people, Dan and Alison rekindle the flame. Here is where Sanderson lost me a little, because while the idea of a love that cannot be denied is romantic, that it comes at the expense of others, even if neither of their spouses are particularly likeable, is uncomfortable for me. Still the inevitable reunion is epic, and to the author’s credit I wanted it to happen.

Mix Tape is unapologetically a love story, but it’s also about heartache, nostalgia, loss, forgiveness, and the music. While my feelings about it remain a little mixed, it has its charms.

++++++

Available from Bantam Press UK

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: The Mothers by Genevieve Gannon

Title: The Mothers

Author: Genevieve Gannon

Published: January 7th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Allen & Unwin

+++++

My Thoughts:

Poignant and provocative, The Mothers is Genevieve Gannon’s fourth novel.

Shattered to learn her husband, Nick, has been unfaithful, Priya Archer (née Laghari) decides giving up on her marriage doesn’t mean she has to give up on her dream of becoming a mother and impulsively decides to move ahead with a planned IVF procedure, opting to use a sperm donor. Priya is upset when the procedure fails, but decides against a second attempt, choosing to focus on rebuilding her life on her own.

After a half dozen failed IVF procedures, Grace Arden, and her husband Dan, are thrilled when they learn their final attempt with their one remaining embryo has taken, and Grace is finally pregnant. As Grace cradles their son, Sam, for the first time all the heartache seems worth it, but as the days pass it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right.

Told in three parts, The Mothers focuses on the lives of the two couples during the period before conception, after the arrival of baby Sam, and during the court case that develops when Priya learns the Arden’s son is genetically her own. It’s an emotional exploration of themes such as infertility, marriage, and family, but ultimately this is a book about motherhood.

Gannon examines some challenging dilemmas when Priya discovers Grace has given birth as a result of an error at the IVF clinic, exploring a myriad of questions about how motherhood is defined by genetics, biology and socialisation. Sam is the genetic product of Priya and the sperm donor, but Grace ‘grew’ him during her pregnancy and gave birth to him. The question of who has the right to custody is further complicated by the circumstances of the conception and wider cultural issues, presenting a unique ethical quandary. With empathy and respect, the author skilfully explores both sides of the situation and the very difficult circumstances Priya and Grace and Dan, are forced to confront in their desire to raise Sam.

The Mothers is a thought-provoking and emotive novel, and I imagine it will be particularly engaging as the focus for discussion in a bookclub.

+++++++

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP: $29.99

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Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Genevieve Gannon

Review: The Girl In the Painting by Tea Cooper

 

Title: The Girl In the Painting

Author: Tea Cooper

Published: December 16th 2019, HQ Fiction Australia

Read: December 2019, courtesy HarperCollins

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Girl In the Painting is an engaging historical fiction novel, with an element of mystery, from Tea Cooper.

Set largely in New South Wales during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the narrative of The Girl In the Painting moves between two timelines which connects siblings Elizabeth and Michael Ó’Cuinn with Jane Piper, a bright young orphan, who becomes their ward.

As the story unfolds we learn of the circumstances that brought Michael and Elizabeth to New South Wales from Liverpool, England in 1863 as children, and the life they make for themselves in Hills End, and later Maitland Town. It’s 1906 when the siblings offer Jane, a math prodigy, a home, a role in their business, and the chance to further her education, but the crux of the story isn’t revealed until 1913 when Elizabeth uncharacteristically experiences a panic attack at an art exhibition, prompting Jane to investigate the cause, and a startling confession from Michael. I liked the thread of intrigue that the author developed, though the resolution was a little contrived.

I really enjoyed the setting of the novel. Cooper uses real, though unconnected, historical events as a framework, from the fire in an orphanage in Liverpool, to the attempted assassination of Prince Alfred, and the flooding of Maitland Town in 1913. The social and cultural details of the period, and the landscape of early Australia from the crowded streets of Sydney, to the goldfields of Hill End, and the nascent town of Maitland, are interesting and feel authentic.

Well crafted, with appealing characters, and rich in Australian historical detail, The Girl In the Painting is a novel that is sure to please.

++++++

Available from Harlequin/ HarperCollins Australia

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Review: The Strangers We Know by Pip Drysdale

 

 

Title: The Strangers We Know

Author: Pip Drysdale

Published: December 1sr 2019, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read December 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Nothing is ever as it seems, is it?”

When Charlie Carter catches a glimpse of a man who looks like her husband on a dating app, she desperately wants to believe she is mistaken. Since their marriage eighteen months previously, Oliver has been the perfect husband…hardworking, attentive and loving, and she wants his unequivocal denial to be enough.

“You see, that’s the problem with trust issues: eventually you find you can’t trust yourself either.”

But it isn’t. To allay her lingering suspicions, Charlie sets a trap and is devastated when her worst fear is realised. Her marriage is over.

“And that should have been it: rock bottom. A cheating husband and broken dreams. Fair is fair. But no. Life was just getting warmed up.”

Fast-paced with some surprising twists, The Strangers We Know is an entertaining contemporary thriller from Pip Drysdale.

I really enjoyed the plot, and I’m loathe to spoil the surprises it offers. There is an unpredictability that is compelling, if not entirely credible, and I easily read it straight through.

Unfolding from Charlie’s first person perspective, Drysdale exploits the character’s profession as an actress in the structure of the novel, it’s easy to imagine this novel being adapted for the screen. It has a modern sensibility which will appeal to a younger audience, and a classic whodunnit twist to satisfy mystery fans.

Caught in a web of deceit and betrayal, and unsure who to trust, Charlie doesn’t always make smart decisions, which can be frustrating, but her naivety is also relatable, which makes her an appealing character. She is indubitably the star of this novel.

“But here’s the thing with life: You have to get through it. There’s no choice. Eventually, even in real life, the heroine has to win out in the end.”

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

Also available from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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