Review: Til Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part by Kathy Lette

 

Title: Till Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part

Author: Kathy Lette

Published: 29th March 2022, Vintage

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

The reported death of Jason Riley triggers a madcap revenge caper in Till Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part by Kathy Lette.

As sixty year old schoolteacher Gwen Brookes stares grief-stricken at all that remains of her handsome, loving husband of two years, Jason Riley, – a swimming cap and a piece of torn, blood-stained wetsuit – after he was reportedly taken by a shark while training for an Ironman competition, a woman in a bejewelled bustier and leather jacket barrels through the crowd calling her husband’s name. To Gwen’s horror, jazz singer Tish also claims to be Jason’s wife, and though she is loathe to believe it, Tish has their wedding certificate issued a year earlier, as proof. More shocks are to come when the women sit across from Jason’s lawyer and learn that his entire estate, and much of theirs, had been transferred to a female business partner in Egypt just days before his death.

Despite the antipathy between the two Mrs Riley’s, and Gwen’s fear of flying, the women fly to Cairo in the hope of recovering their money only to discover Jason, alive and well, in the arms of a younger woman. As Jason flees through the streets of the city, Gwen learns that Skye, a geologist, is not just Jason’s business partner but also his wife of less than a year, and though Skye is sceptical of the women’s claims, when she logs on to her banking account she finds both their business, and her personal account have been emptied.

Now three very hurt, angry and near broke Mrs Riley’s are on the trail of the conman they had the misfortune to marry, and Jason may well wish he was dead if they manage to catch him.

Sure the plot is absurd, but it’s also fun as the reader is led all over the globe while the women give chase, from Cairo to the Maldives, from Tanzania and through Europe, with Jason just barely eluding their grasp several times. Though it’s a whirlwind world tour, geography teacher Gwen insists on visiting at least some cultural sites as the women pursue their quarry by plane, train, ship and even bicycle, uncovering more victims of Jason’s as they go.

Tish’s bold personality and raunchy sense of humour contrasts sharply with Gwen’s sensible, timid manner, and Skye’s crystal loving spirituality. A descending decade or so apart in age (Gwen is the oldest) the women have almost nothing in common so there is plenty of conflict between them, but the bond that slowly develops between Gwen and Tish in particular is warming.

The dialogue consists mostly of wisecracks, innuendo and quips. Though Lette made me laugh more than once, the humour tends to be obvious and get a little one-note after a while.

For all its inanity however, the story does address issues such as the vulnerability of women of all ages and social groups to so called ‘love rats’, and explores the idea that women can choose to embrace the post menopausal period as an opportunity to redefine their lives.

Till Death, or a little light maiming, Do Us Part is a funny, raunchy, fast-paced adventure that you’ll likely either love or hate.

++++++++

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Review: The Tricky Art of Forgiveness by Meredith Jaffe

 

Title: The Tricky Art of Forgiveness

Author: Meredith Jaffe

Published: March 2022, HarperCollins Australia 

Stats: Read April 2022 courtesy HarperCollins Australia

+++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A novel about love, marriage and redemption, The Tricky Art of Forgiveness is the fourth novel from Australian author, Meredith Jaffé.

While her husband, Will, is overseas on business, Diana Forsyth is left to unpack their possessions in their new seaside apartment. It’s a bittersweet task for Diana who has had to say goodbye to the beloved family home in which they raised their children, and nostalgia strikes as their belongings pass through her hands. When she finds a hand written note among her husbands clothes that says, ‘I forgive you’, Diana is stunned, the phrase dredging up a past she thought was settled between them.

Shifting between the past, and the present, the story represents the truism that marriage is a choice that is not made just once, but every day. The highs and lows of Diana and Will’s relationship are laid bare from the heady days of their first meeting, to the difficult moments that have at times divided them. The timing of their latest marital crisis couldn’t be worse given they expect to host family and friends to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and Will’s 60th birthday in a week.

To be honest I came very close to putting The Tricky Art of Forgiveness aside more than once, as I felt there had been so little advancement in terms of story. I hadn’t really warmed to Diana either, and Will had yet to even make an appearance, but I pushed through and I was relieved to find the last third of the novel more satisfying.

On reflection I think Jaffe presents a thoughtful exploration of the changes in a long term relationship, examining the impact of common challenges such as autonomy, parenting, work/lifestyle balance, and ageing, as well as specific issues like infidelity, loss and individual sacrifice. There were some observations that struck me as insightful, and moments I found tender and poignant, I just wasn’t particularly invested until the couple’s secrets were revealed, curious as to how they would resolve the issues between them.

Though not a story that resonated strongly with me, I’ve no doubt The Tricky Art of Forgiveness will find its audience. And I must mention that the bonus Spotify playlist Jaffe links to that reflects her characters musical interest was an unexpected joy.

+++++++++

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Review: The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich

 

Title: The Recovery Agent {Gabriela Rose #1}

Author: Janet Evanovich

Published: 22nd March 2022, Atria Books

Status: Read March 2022, Atria/Edelweiss

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

As a long time fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to read The Recovery Agent, the first book in a new series featuring Insurance Fraud Investigator Gabriela Rose.

Gabriela Rose, who made her debut in Fortune and Glory (book #27 of the Stephanie Plum series) makes a living by recovering assets and items for individuals or companies, but her latest case is personal. With her hometown of Scoon on the verge of collapse after damage wreaked by Category 4 storm, Gabriela’s grandmother Fanny believes that all their problems can be solved if Gabriela finds the lost Treasure of Lima, or more specifically The Seal of Solomon.

I wanted to love The Recovery Agent, but unfortunately I didn’t. I’m not exactly sure where the failure lies though.

There is plenty of entertaining adventure and action as Gabriela follows a trail into the South American jungle to the territory of the God of Death, guided by a drug dealer, and in the company of her ex-husband. Her search pits her against El Dragon,  a drug dealer and a fanatical disciple of Supay, the God of Death, who also wants the Seal of Solomon, which is purported to allow the bearer to raise and enslave the dead. There are stand-offs and gun battles, explosions and collisions. Gabriela is variously nearly drowned, tasered, shot and drugged but refuses to give up.

I’d describe Gabriela as a less sophisticated version of Lara Croft. She’s definitely tough, smart and resourceful, an expert in martial arts and weapons, I just can’t quite imagine how a girl from a fishing village who married her childhood sweetheart became such a bad-ass though. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the chemistry between Gabriela and her ex-husband, Rafer either. Lust, sure, there are regular references to how ‘hot’ Rafer is, and the pair have a long history, but i didn’t really feel the tension between them.

There is plenty of humour in The Recovery Agent. Gabriela and Rafer banter their entire way through the book, and Evanovich, as always, has a great sense of comic timing.

While all the elements of a story I enjoy seem to be there, I still feel there is something lacking overall, it’s like an itch I can’t quite reach. I’d be willing to give the sequel a shot though, in the hopes of recovery.

++++++++

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Review: The Dinner Lady Detectives by Hannah Hendy

 

Title: The Dinner Lady Detectives

Author: Hannah Hendy

Published: 18th November 2021, Canelo

Status: Read January 2022 courtesy Canelo/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

When the body of Caroline Hughes is discovered in the walk-in freezer of the Summerview secondary school kitchen, her colleagues are stunned. The police are quick to reassure the dinner ladies that their elderly kitchen manager’s death was simply a tragic accident, but when long time employees Clementine Butcher and Margery Baker, espy the coolroom’s bloodied innards, they disagree. With little more than a hunch and a stray earring to go on, Clementine and Margery begin their own investigation, determined that whoever is responsible will get their just desserts.

Having enjoyed a number of cozy mysteries featuring elderly amateur sleuths recently I had quite high expectations for The Dinner Lady Detectives, but unfortunately I felt its potential was unrealised.

I thought the basic premise for the story was appealing, and I enjoyed several scenes, but I found the way in which the mystery played out was disappointing. It almost seemed as if several of the mystery plot elements were an afterthought, and the clues felt disjointed. The plot was also hampered by slow pacing and there was a lack of suspense generally expected in a mystery.

I did like Clementine and Margery, a couple of some thirty years living quietly in the tiny village of Dewstow, South Wales, but I sometimes had difficulty distinguishing between them. The rest of the cast was problematic in that few held much appeal, including the victim who had a fondness for mean-spirited pranks.

While I wouldn’t consider The Dinner Lady Detectives to be a terrible read, I’m afraid I did find it lackluster at best.

+++++++

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Review: This is Your Captain Speaking by Doug Morris

 

Title: This is Your Captain Speaking: Stories from the Flight Deck

Author: Doug Morris

Published: 19th October 2021, ECW Press

Status: Read November 2021 courtesy ECW Press

+++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Doug Morris draws on his twenty years experience as an airline pilot for a large Canadian airline to address the mysteries of commercial flight In This is Your Captain Speaking: Stories from the Flight Deck.

Written in a personable tone Morris attempts to answer every question you might have about the career of a pilot and the operation of a commercial aircraft -including what they carry in their flight bag, how routes are planned, fuel tolerances, and the universal usefulness of duct tape; as well as queries about the notorious mile-high club, difficult passengers and shrinking seat sizes. As a certified meteorologist Morris also confidently address concerns related to weather such as turbulence, icing and the phenomenon of St Elmo’s Fire. The author’s explanations are concise and detailed but appropriate for a lay audience, with a glossary provided for further edification. Morris also includes good humoured asides and anecdotes throughout the book which are generally entertaining and offsets the technical minutiae.

While not the gossipy industry exposé I was hoping for, This is Your Captain Speaking did prove to be educational. I believe it would particularly be a good choice of reading for a nervous flyer, a young aspiring pilot, or someone with specific interest in commercial aircraft operations.

++++++++

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Review: How To Fake Being Tidy by Fenella Souter


Title: How To Fake Being Tidy: and other things my mother never taught me.

Author: Fenella Souter

Published: 30th March 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:

How To Fake Being Tidy: and other things my mother never taught me from feature writer, Fenella Souter (who also uses the non de plume Dusty Miller), is an essay collection primarily comprised of columns first published in the Australian newspapers, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Housework definitely not being my thing (I admit I prefer Erma Bombeck’s advice to Marie Kondo’s), I was lured by the title of this book, but was disappointed to discover that Souter doesn’t actually offer tips to fake being tidy.

This is not a how-to guide, it’s a collection of genteel, undemanding stories that centres around the domestic. Souter does offer some simple household management tips, like how to remove labels from jars, wine stains from fabric, and how to organise your linen cupboard, but the essays are generally less prescriptive and more ruminative, reflecting on the pleasure of crisp bedsheets, the trials of holding your own against a tradie, or relocating a beehive, for example.

A number of the essays also focus on food. Souter appears to be an accomplished cook, with sophisticated tastes and a generous budget. She includes a variety of recipes offered within the context of the essay’s, including those for Orange Marmalade, Broccomole, Hummus with Spiced Lamb, and Passionfruit Creams, to name a few.

There were a handful of essays that resonated with me, but as a whole, I feel the collection is rather bland, reflecting a rather white, upper middle class perspective, and would likely have more appeal for the ‘boomer’ generation than mine. 

++++++

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Review: The Plague Letters by V.L. Valentine


Title: The Plague Letters

Author: V.L. Valentine

Published: 1st April 2021, Viper

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Viper/Netgalley

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Plague Letters is a debut historical mystery from V.L. Valentine set in 1665 as the Bubonic Plague sweeps through London.

I came perilously close to DNF-ing The Plague Letters at about the 10% mark, though I can’t really articulate why, however since I make a point of reading at least 100 pages before giving up on a book, I persevered. It’s wasn’t a decision I regretted exactly but in the end I thought the story as a whole was lacking.

The premise of the mystery is strong. Among the victims bought to Reverend Symon Patrick’s churchyard for mass burial as the Plague spreads through his parish, is a young girl whose body is marked by more than the weeping buboes characteristic of the Black Death. Fresh bruises, cuts, inked lines, and strange circular burns mar her skin, while twine is wound tightly around her wrists and ankles. The Reverend notes the horror, but it’s not until more similarly violated body’s are discovered, that something is considered seriously amiss.

Suspicion falls on the members of the Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague with which the Reverend is associated – physician Dr Alexander Burnett, surgeon Lodowick Mincy, apothecary William Boghurst, and Valentine Greatrakes, a mystic healer. Any of the men seems capable of the crime, every one a buffoon, occasionally a source for horrifying hilarity, they are uniformly arrogant, ambitious, and essentially amoral, all of whom display the casual indifference to human life common to medical men of the 17th century, (except where it may reflect on their status within society). This, however, is where the issue lies with the plot for me, though there are at least five suspects proved capable of committing these crimes, I believe there is an absence of specific clues that suggests a single guilty party. It’s certainly possible I overlooked something, but I experienced no feeling of vindication or surprise when the guilty party was revealed, one or the other of which I personally find necessary for a mystery novel.

Sadly few of the characters did little to engage me either. Symon seems to have very little agency in the novel. He is a weak man, who spends most of his time trying to be invisible, largely ignoring the plague and his parishioners, distracted by daydreams about the attentions of a married woman. Having little inner strength or courage, Symon is easily led, which is just as well for Penelope, who has rather more than you’d expect from a 17th century, young, orphaned, homeless girl.

Penelope is really the catalyst and driving force for the development of the plot. Though she’s rather an improbable character for the times, her remarkable intelligence, determination, and bravery ensures that the dead girls aren’t ignored. She wedges herself into Symon’s life, refusing to allow him to shirk his responsibility, and relentlessly pushes for someone to be held account. With her brazen attitude and surprise gifts, I found Penelope to be the strongest and most appealing character.

Where I think the author excels in The Plague Letters is in their vivid descriptions of London under siege from the plague. The imagery is at times disturbing, though accurate, of victims tormented by the deadly progression of the disease, and the desperate acts of the medical men to stop it, of bodies piled in ‘dead carts’ chased by hungry dogs down the street, of pits dug in churchyards, tended to by young boys, filling with layers of the dead sprinkled with caustic lime as the overburdened ground begins to rise. Between each chapter a map shows the spread of the disease through the city and the mounting death toll. All of this also invites comparisons to the current pandemic, which may be uncomfortable for some.

In the end, I’m not sure the strengths and weaknesses of The Plague Letters quite balance each other out, as historical fiction I might recommend it, as a mystery I’d not, so overall sadly, somewhat disappointing.

++++++

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Review: The Ministry of Bodies by Seamus O’Mahony

Title: The Ministry of Bodies: A Year of Life and Death in a Modern Hospital

Author: Seamus O’Mahony

Published: 4th March 2021, Apollo

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy Head of Zeus/Netgalley

++++++++

My Thoughts:

“We have disappointed each other, the ministry and me, watching each other grow from the breezy optimism of youth into crabbed middle age.”

Curiosity about the state of hospital services in countries other than the US, UK, and Australia is what prompted me to read The Ministry of Bodies by retired doctor Seamus O’Mahony, who writes of his final year of his career at what what he semi-affectionately calls the ministry, more formally known as Cork University Hospital.

“The management narrative – a cynically clever one – was that the ‘trolley’ [bed] crisis was due to ‘low number of discharges over the weekend’, not an inadequate number of beds.”

It’s depressing, though not surprising, to discover that Ireland is no more immune to the woes that affect modern hospitals the world over. The record of O’Mahony’s last year exposes yet another under-resourced hospital system, where the need for services is greater than bureaucracy provides.

“A round could not last longer than three hours….Assuming thirty patients over three hours (I had very often seen more than fifty), that gave an average of six minutes per patient.”

O’Mahony operates as a gastroenterologist consultant, practicing his specialty in his out-patient hospital clinic, and has a regular surgical list, but he spends much of his time in the hospital as a physician on the general medicine service. On the wards he sees patients whom other services refuse to claim, -alcoholics, the elderly, and somatic syndrome sufferers among them, documenting a daily litany of fear, frustration, courage, and crisis.

“I retired on 7 February 2020, the day before my sixtieth birthday.”

While there is some humour here in the absurdities, overall I found The Ministry of Bodies to be a disheartening read. At fifty-nine, O’Mahony finds he is tired of the expectation that he is to do more with less, by long hours, by management double-speak, and petty professional turf-wars, and really, who could blame him?

++++++

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Review: Lana’s War by Anita Abriel

Title: Lana’s War

Author: Anita Abriel

Published: 2nd December 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster

++++++

My Thoughts:

Lana’s War is Anita Abriel’s second historical fiction novel set during World War II.

Discovering she is pregnant, Lana Hartmann (née Antanova) hurries through the streets of occupied Paris, anxious to share the happy news with her husband, a music teacher. She is horrified when she finds her husband being questioned by the gestapo and devastated when she witnesses his callous execution while trying to protect a young Jewish girl. Miscarrying their child that same day, Lana staves off despair by volunteering at a convent where she is offered an opportunity to join the resistance. Eager to honour her husband’s sacrifice and save Jews from the Gestapo, Lana accepts and is sent to the Riviera region of France. There Lana is asked to trade on her Russian heritage and, as Countess Lana Antanova, help Swiss resistance member, Guy Pascal, with his efforts to smuggle Jews out of the country.

I like that Abriel has chosen a setting for her novel in an area of France usually overlooked in WWII historical fiction, which tends to favour Paris or the French countryside. Nice, and its neighbours including Cannes, St. Tropez, and Monaco, are part of the French Riviera, on the south east coast of France. Just 30km from the Italian border, Nice was occupied first by the Italians, and then the Germans before being liberated in 1944.

When Lana arrives in November, 1943, she is surprised that the city seems largely unaffected by the war. Unlike in Paris, stores are open and well stocked, and the casino’s, hotels and cafe’s are well patronised, though the place is overrun with German soldiers. Abriel ties the plot of her novel in with the escalation against Jews in the area, where Lana is tasked to learn the timing of upcoming raids, giving them an opportunity to evade being sent to Drancy Internment Camp. I liked the premise which promised adventure, tension and romance, unfortunately the execution fell short for me.

I liked Lana well enough but I didn’t find her to be a particularly consistent or convincing character. While her motivation for her choice to work with resistance is strong, and she’s obviously intelligent, given her education, she doesn’t seem wise enough to be so adept at espionage. It’s also a bit of a stretch that within days of her arrival she has four men essentially in love with her. I did like the romantic attachment Lana formed, but I wasn’t keen on how it played out. Lana’s relationship with Odette, a young Jewish girl, however was lovely.

Unfortunately, despite finding the broad strokes of the the story to be engaging, I thought the prose itself was rather flat, and a touch repetitive. Though I dislike the phrase, I also thought there was far more ‘telling than showing’ and as such, tension rarely eventuated, or fizzled out.

A story of war, vengeance, courage and love, Lana’s War was a quick read, but for me, not a particularly satisfying one.

++++++

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Also by Anita Abriel reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce

Title: The Lies You Told

Author: Harriet Tyce

Published: 1st December, 2020, Grand Central Publishing

Status: Read December 2020 courtesy Grand Central Publishing/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Lies You Told is Harriet Tyce’s second domestic psychological thriller.

Frightened by the recent uncharacteristic behaviour of her husband, Sadie Roper does the one thing she swore she never would and returns to London to take up residence in her late mother’s home. The terms of her mother’s will insists that for Sadie to take occupancy, her daughter, eleven year old Robin, must attend the same elite girl’s school, Ascham, that Sadie did. Sadie has very few good memories of her alma mater, and the events of the first few weeks do nothing to change her mind. The mothers are judgemental and hyper-competitive, and Robin is ostracised and miserable, but until Sadie can relaunch her career as a criminal barrister, mother and daughter have no other options. Just as Sadie can bear no more, the worst school-gate offender, Julia, unexpectedly apologises, and suddenly Sadie, and Robin, find themselves in the inner circle. It’s a relief for Sadie when both Julia, and Nicola, extend their friendship and offer to look after Robin while she is working, but are these really women she can trust?

The main plot of The Lies You Told is focused on the relationship Sadie develops with two Ascham mothers, Julia and Nicola, which begins, and ends, in extremis. There are several dramatic events that play out between the women, and their daughters, and though I felt the motivations were greatly exaggerated, there is a kernel of plausibility at the heart of the tale. Exclusionary ‘school-gate’ mothers are all too real, particularly in a privileged setting, and there are plenty of mothers willing to do almost anything to ensure the success of their children, though thankfully few who are willing to go as far as Julia and Nicola.

The secondary plot is a loose variation on the theme, with Sadie hired on as an assistant to defend a young, white teacher from a ‘good’, wealthy family who is accused of seducing his teenage student. His overbearing mother insists on micromanaging the case and is venomous towards anyone who suggests her son is anything but perfectly blameless. Rather improbably the accused’s father was responsible for a sexual assault against Sadie when she was a law student, adding another layer to the plot, and this, is in addition to the mystery surrounding Sadie’s relationship with her mother, and her husband, feel forced.

Despite all this, the pace of the first two thirds of the book was fairly slow, though to her credit, Tyce does establish, and grow, a tense, foreboding atmosphere, and I was furiously flipping the pages during the final third of the novel, caught up in Sadie’s frenzied behaviour.

Unfortunately though I never really warmed to Sadie. Though she’s obviously under quite a lot of stress from the opening pages of the novel, she makes some unforced gaffes that make her seem like a flake. All I could think, as Julia screamed at her without cause, was that Sadie’s unwillingness to defend herself didn’t bode well for her skills as a barrister. Sadie then goes on to get over involved in the court case she in a part of, and seems to forget her role as a member of the defence. She also makes some decisions with regards to her daughter that didn’t sit well with me, and can’t wholly be blamed on her distress at the time.

While The Lies You Told has some strong and thrilling elements, I have mixed feelings about the story as a whole. Another reader may feel differently.

++++++

Available from Grand Central Publishing

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