Review: The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks by Shauna Robinson


Title: The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks

Author: Shauna Robinson

Published: 1st November 2022, Sourcebooks Landmark

Status: Read October 2022 courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


Unemployed and living at home, twenty eight year old Maggie Banks isn’t sure what she’s looking for but she knows she hasn’t found it yet. When her heavily pregnant best friend, Rochelle, suggests Maggie comes to Bell River to help out at her bookstore for a few months, Maggie leaps at the opportunity for a change of scenery.

Though she hasn’t read a book in years Maggie is confident she can handle managing Cobblestones Books, but she isn’t prepared for the strict rules the store operates under. Like most businesses in Bell River, the shop plays a role in promoting the literary legacy of the late Edward Bell, which draws a steady stream of tourists to the town. The store hosts Bell’s writing desk, where he wrote his most celebrated novel, features his oeuvre, and is only permitted to stock classics written before the authors death in the late 1960’s. Adherence to the guidelines of the Bell Society, run by Bell’s descendant, Ralph, who has financial interest in several of the towns businesses including the bookstore, are rigorously enforced and it doesn’t take long for Maggie to run afoul of them.

Maggie is a likeable character, she’s a people person, warm and friendly but also a little impulsive and even reckless. I love her subversive solutions to the store’s financial issues, which include launching a clandestine book club with its own unique twist, but it’s a risky move. Maggie means well but she has nothing to lose, whereas her co-conspirators, and Rochelle, who knows nothing of Maggie’s machinations, do.

Malcolm, Ralph Bell’s assistant, is pretty clear he won’t risk his job for Maggie, even though he is clearly attracted to her. Their romance is a case of opposites attract, and I liked the way Robinson developed their relationship, though I think Maggie does take advantage.

There’s some exploration in the story about the value of classic literature vs genre fiction, an age old debate. I also liked the small thread of mystery involving the authorship of Edward Bell’s famous book. There are some glaring holes in the plot overall though which some might find hard to overlook, but the conclusion is quite satisfying.

A light and engaging read, The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks has elements that will appeal to book lovers, and readers who appreciate a happy ending.


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Review: When Life Gives You Vampires by Gloria Duke


Title: When Life Gives You Vampires

Author: Gloria Duke

Published: 4th October 2022, Sourcebooks Casablanca

Status: Read October 2022 courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


“My name is Lily Baines. I’m twenty-five years old. I live on Bleecker Street in the West Village. I work as an overnight web editor… And apparently, I’m a f*cking vampire.”

When Life Gives You Vampires is a fun paranormal romantic comedy debut from Gloria Duke.

When Lily wakes up with little memory of the night before, she’s stunned to find she has fangs and no reflection. It takes prompting, and a bag of blood, from her best friend, Cat, to remember the gorgeous guy, Tristan, she went home with from their local bar, and biting his earlobe in retaliation when he unexpectedly sank his teeth into her neck. As far as Lily can see, they’re aren’t any upsides to becoming a vampire -she can’t go out in the sun, she’ll outlive her friends and family, will have to scrounge for blood, and she will forever have a plus size body.

Lily is likeable enough, smart and funny, but with a negative self image due to being overweight. The promise of a body acceptance journey was what drew me to this novel because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female vampire that was anything but svelte. I appreciated Duke’s attempt at that goal, and felt Lily did take some steps towards changing her negative view of herself and recognising how it affected her relationships.

The romance between Lily and Tristan is a not particularly convincing, though Lily’s  lust felt sincere at least. I think mainly because they don’t spend a lot of time together so there isn’t the opportunity for chemistry to develop, and though we get some background on Tristan, including that he is a bestselling romance novelist which I loved, I didn’t feel his personality was well defined.

Conflict between Lily, Tristan and the leader of the Vampire Council with a grudge that threatens both their lives provides some suspense and action. As does Lily being stalked by a newbie vampire hunter she feels kind of responsible for.

I did enjoy the author’s blunt, sarcastic and sometimes sweary sense of humour, and Duke’s experience as a sitcom writer shows in her dynamic dialogue. However, one thing that struck me as odd was the reference to Tristan looking like ‘Clint Eastwood and Indiana Jones had a superhot baby’. I doubt that’s a reference anyone younger than Gen X would be able to visualise, and it fits uncomfortably with mentions of Twilight, and the use of terms like ‘obvi’.

I enjoyed the distraction When Life Gives You Vampires offered. With the loose ends remaining at the end of the book Duke obviously has hopes for a continuing series. Light and funny, I think the potential is there.


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Review: Yours, Mine, Ours by Sinead Moriarty


Title: Yours, Mine, Ours

Author: Sinead Moriarty

Published: 7th July 2022, Sandycove

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Penguin UK/NetgalleyUK


My Thoughts:

Unfolding from multiple perspectives Yours, Mine, Ours by Sinead Moriarty explores the complications of blending families, especially when navigating step-parenting, and co-parenting.

There aren’t really any surprises in this book. Having fallen deeply in love, Anna and James are excited to be starting a new life together, and are sure that their respective children, 15 year-old Grace, 9 year-old Jack, and 14 year-old Bella will quickly embrace the merging of their lives. Neither are prepared when their dream of a happy family rapidly becomes a nightmare.

There’s plenty of drama as the children make life hard for Anna and James, putting a dent in their bubble of bliss. While Grace, a science geek, is willing to give the situation a chance, James’s spoilt daughter Bella doesn’t like sharing her father, and refuses to give Anna an inch. Jack, egged on by his immature father, Conor, is absolutely awful to James, and because of her guilt, Anna excuses his bad behaviour, which becomes a wedge between the couple.

I wasn’t very fond of Anna, though I had some sympathy for her, I found her lack of self awareness in several situations is irritating. James, a university professor, is a fairly bland character, though I admired his patience with Jack, and Anna. Conor, Anna’s ex, is an absolute douche who embraced every stereotype of toxic masculinity, while Bella’s mother, an ambitious career woman remarried to a wealthy hotelier, is focused on the wrong things when it comes to her daughter.

As you would predict, after tantrums, tears, break-ups and make-ups, it all works out in the end.

Moriarty writes well, there is genuine warmth, angst and humour in the story, but there was just not anything unique or particularly memorable about it for me.


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Review: Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby


Title: Godmersham Park

Author: Gill Hornby

Published: 23rd June 2022, Century UK

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy Penguin UK/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


The premise of Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby appealed to me in part because of the main character’s connection with Jane Austen. Though little detail is known about their relationship, Anne Sharp and Jane first met during the period that Anne was engaged as a governess at Godmersham Park for Fanny Austen Knight, Jane’s niece, and remained close friends until Jane’s death.

Anne Sharp is 31 years old when she arrives at Godmersham Park, the Kent country estate of Edward and Elizabeth Austen, employed to educate their 12 year old daughter Fanny, the eldest of eight children. Though she has no experience in the position of governess, having until recently been raised in comfort, she is determined to do her best, and serve the Austen family well.

Hornby seamlessly blends history with imagination to tell the story of Anne’s time at Godmersham Park. The people Anne meets, close family and friends of the Austen’s, are real figures, whom the author lists at the beginning of the novel. Many of the events that take place in the story were drawn from Fanny’s preserved childhood diaries or correspondence between family members. The estate itself, said to be the inspiration for Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park, still stands today and is depicted on the 2017 Bank of England £10 note.

A refined and intelligent woman, educating Fanny poses no real difficulties for Anne but finding her place within the household proves to be more of a challenge. Anne is often lonely, and though she becomes friendly with regular houseguests Hariott Bridges, the younger sister of Elizabeth, Henry Austen, Edward’s younger brother with whom Anne forms an unwise attachment, and later Jane Austen herself, there is a distance dictated by her position. A sympathetic character given her circumstances and ill-health, I liked Anne well enough, but I didn’t really grow fond of her.

The story moves at a sedate pace as life unfolds at Godmersham Park. It’s a reasonably busy household with so many children, visiting houseguests, and family events, but not a particularly active one, and I felt the story lacked energy. While there are occasional instances of open conflict, most of the drama centres on Anne’s inner emotional turmoil, which I sometimes found overwrought.

Godmersham Park is a pleasant enough novel but I felt the story sacrificed dynamism for historical accuracy. It’s probably best suited for fans interested in its connections to Jane.


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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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