Review: The Rose Daughter by Maria Lewis

 

Title: The Rose Daughter {Supernatural Sisters #7}

Author: Maria Lewis

Published: 13th April 2021, Piatkus

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

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My Thoughts:

The Rose Daughter is the seventh book in the Supernatural Sisters urban fantasy series from award-winning Australian author, Maria Lewis, but don’t be afraid to jump right in, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone. Just be prepared as you’ll want to add the rest of the series on your TBR list as I did.

The daughter of a forbidden union between an earth elemental and a selkie, Dreckly Jones was born the prisoner of the Trieze, raised by her father in a cell buried under a hill in Scotland. Since her escape she has largely heeded her father’s advice -to be careful; to hide who she is; to not be a hero. For the last eight years or so, she has made her home on a boat in Sydney Harbour, shucking oysters at the Fish Markets when she’s not putting her artistic skills to work forging identification papers for those in need.

Though she looks as if she is in her early 40’s, Dreckly is more than a century older, and the narrative alternates between her past and present. Dreckly is an appealing, well-crafted character. I liked her wit, and found her to be smart and resourceful, though not without her flaws. As a sprite, her ability gives her powerful control over air which she wields in unusual ways.

I was intrigued by her backstory, which has Dreckly travelling the world from Scotland to Hollywood, from behind enemy lines in wartime France to Africa, where she finds family, adventure and love. The ‘past’ narrative skilfully builds Dreckly’s character so that the decisions she makes in the present, make sense.

In the present, there are rumours that the Trieze, who govern the supernatural world, are abducting other supernaturals. Mindful of her past experiences, and her promises to her father, Dreckly battles with her conscience when she is asked for her help. Lewis builds the tension as the Trieze’s nefarious plans are revealed, and provides exciting action when the supernaturals take a stand.

I liked the world in which the story is set with an interesting mix of supernaturals who live alongside, but hidden, from most of humanity. Lewis succinctly explains the history and politics, and while it’s obvious there are links to story and characters from previous books, they don’t have any notable impact on this story.

Offering interesting characters, exciting action, and romance, I found The Rose Daughter to be an entertaining read. I’m delighted to have discovered Maria Lewis and I hope to be introduced to the other ‘sisters’ before the next book in the series is released.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

 


Title: Second First Impressions

Author: Sally Thorne

Published: 13th April 2021, William Morrow Paperbacks

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy William Morrow/Edelweiss

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My Thoughts:

Second First Impressions is a charming romantic comedy from USA Today bestselling, Australian author, Sally Thorne.

Ruthie Midona is twenty-five years old but is more at ease among her fellow residents at the Providence Luxury Retirement Village, where she has lived and worked for six years, than among her peers. When her boss takes a vacation, leaving Ruthie in charge, she is determined to prove herself worthy of the responsibility. She doesn’t have the wherewithal to indulge the too-personal questions of the young and pretty temp, Melanie, or the attentions of the property owner’s vainglorious son, Teddy, who on their first meeting mistook her for an elderly woman, but both are determined to impress Ruthie with the need to lighten up and live a little.

It’s a case of opposites attract for the staid, straight-laced Ruthie and the carefree, charismatic Teddy. I enjoyed the chemistry between them as their inevitable romantic relationship developed, providing moments of both tenderness and passion. Their connection sparks change in one another, but I like that Thorne is clear that the changes they want to make are in pursuit of their own life goals, not about pleasing the other.

Ruthie has been stuck in a rut ever since a shadowy incident in her past. Encouraged by Melanie and her Sasaki Method* (*patent pending), Ruthie recognises she needs to step out of her comfort zone. The friendship that forms between the two women is lovely, and important to Ruthie’s personal growth.

Teddy has his own issues that he needs to deal with, including a rocky relationship with his father and older-half sister. His goal is to earn enough money to buy into a tattoo business, but commitment is something he’s been avoiding for much of his life.

The cheeky, imperious Parloni ‘sisters’ are a wonderful addition to the story. Aged 91 and 89 respectively, Renata and Agatha are enjoying growing old disgracefully, and delight in tormenting Teddy (in a very un-PC manner) in his role as their personal assistant.

Old age residences seem to have become a popular setting in fiction recently. I liked how Thorne linked it to both Ruthie’s past and Teddy’s future. And the turtles that roam the grounds are a cute additional element.

With appealing characters, a sweet romance, and plenty of well-timed humour, I found Second First Impressions to be a delightful, feel-good read.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins 

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

 

Review: Something to Hide by Fleur McDonald

Something to Hide by Fleur McDonald

 


Title: Something to Hide {Detective Dave Burrows}

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: 30th March 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Something to Hide is the fourth engrossing rural suspense novel to feature Detective Dave Burrows, though the seventh in which he appears, by bestselling Australian writer Fleur McDonald.

Something to Hide brings closure to the undercover assignment investigating a stock theft ring that resulted in Dave being shot and the escape of the ringleaders,  brothers Bulldust and Scotty, in Without A Doubt. Set a few months after the events of Red Dirt Country, Dave’s relationship with his wife, Melinda, is just getting back on track when, while grocery shopping, she’s confronted by a stranger with a message for her husband.

Dave’s been expecting the ruthless brothers to seek their revenge ever since the judge carelessly revealed his identity during his testimony in the case, and now that they’ve finally made their first move, Dave is keen to end the threat. McDonald develops a tense, fast-paced plot as the inevitable confrontation between Dave and Bulldust edges ever closer. Not knowing when, or where it will take place, but assuming it will be deadly, ensures suspense remains high throughout the story, particularly as both men grow more reckless in their pursuit of each other.

Stonewalled by the Major Crimes squad tracking Bulldust and his brother, Dave’s partner, Bob, tries to distract him with another case involving stock theft, moving the action from Perth back to Barrabine, adding a further layer of interest to the novel. It also reunites Dave with his mentor and handler on the undercover case, Spencer, who, in a shocking twist, gets caught up in Bulldust’s vendetta.

The entire situation is the last straw for Mel who issues Dave an ultimatum, insisting he choose between her and the job. McDonald explores Dave’s struggle to make such a choice, and the fears that drive the spouse of a police officer to demand one. Though I do not find Mel to be a likeable character, McDonald’s skill with creating authentic characters ensures I do sympathise with her concerns. Unsurprisingly, Dave remains hopeful that he can still have it all, until tragedy ensures the decision is made for him.

Though Something to Hide could be read as a stand-alone, I wouldn’t recommend it given it provides closure to two major threads developed in the previous books, plus you’d be missing out on what is an excellent series. Well crafted, with exciting action, Something to Hide is a stellar instalment, and I can’t wait to discover how Dave moves forward from here.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

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If you’ve enjoyed this review, (and even if you haven’t) please consider donating to the charity Fleur McDonald founded, DV assist, which offers information, resources and practical support for those experiencing or concerned about others who may be experiencing domestic and family violence in regional, rural or remote Western Australia experiencing family and domestic violence.

Click here to learn more about DVAssist.org.au

Review: Welcome to Nowhere River by Meg Bignell


Title: Welcome To Nowhere River

Author: Meg Bignell

Published: 2nd March 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

Centred on the small (fictional) town of Nowhere River in the Tasmanian Highlands, Welcome to Nowhere River is a charming novel from Meg Bignell about family, friendship and community.

In a bid to revive the standards of the Nowhere River township, affected by drought and a dwindling population, the imperious president of the St Margery’s Ladies’ Club announces a contest. The member who conceives of, and develops the most effective idea to revitalise the riverside village (while upholding a standard of decorum) will be crowned Miss Fresh & Lovely, and win $100,000. With such high stakes, the competition has no shortage of entrants and soon the community is a hive of activity as plans are put into action.

“Everyone knows everyone, but no one knows anyone at all.”

Among the residents vying for the crown are three women who are central to the novel – Carra, her mother-in-law Lucie, and local farmer, Josie. Each have their own reasons for entering the competition, but all are distracted by personal issues. Carra, married to Nowhere River’s local golden boy, Duncan, and the mother of infant twins, is overwhelmed and unhappy. Lucie’s grief for her young daughter who went missing in Nowhere River decades before, resurfaces; and the viability of Josie’s family farm, already struggling due to drought, is further threatened. I enjoyed getting to know these well crafted characters, I empathised with their challenges, and wished the best for them all.

Welcome To Nowhere River also has a lively raft of supporting characters, including eccentrics like the elderly Cliffity, who collects gnomes and ferrets, and the grumpy grocery store owners, the Pfaff’s. I delighted in getting to know the members of this community, aided by snippets from Lucie’s Miss Fresh & Lovely project interviews with a dozen or so residents. Fair warning, there a few with a mouth on them, but mostly they should make you laugh with their very Australian turn of phrases. Living in a country town myself (beside a river no less) I found the dynamics of the community familiar, especially in regards to the importance of the Show to the town, and in what is a rather extraordinary coincidence, (MINOR SPOILER) this week (March 2021) my town was ravaged by flood, just as Nowhere River is.

“It always amazes me…how there are no secrets in this town, but so many mysteries.”

While Welcome To Nowhere River is largely a character-driven story, there is a thread of poignant mystery in relation to the fate of Lucie’s missing daughter. There are also some twists as the story unfolds, and some surprises in the epilogue.

Written with warmth and humour, celebrating character and community spirit, I found Welcome to Nowhere River to be a delightful read, much as I did Meg Bignell’s debut novel, The Sparkle Pages. I’m already looking forward to her next.

+++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia 

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Tipping by Anna George

Title: Tipping

Author: Anna George

Published: 3rd March 2021, Viking

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

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My Thoughts:

When her fourteen year old son, Jai, is suspended for his part in creating a ‘hot or not’ Insta-story it proves to be a tipping point for both Liv Winsome, and the exclusive grammar school her sons attend.

“Twenty five years ago she was a high-achieving student, and today she was a high achieving mother (and wife). A super-doer. Or so she’d thought.”

Liv, a legal investigator, mother to twins, Jai and Oscar, and nine-year-old Cody, and wife to Duncan whom she describes as a “A pleasant, human stocking filler.”, is stressed and tired of being all things to all people. To the horror of her family, Liv decides to divide the overwhelming physical and emotional burden she carries amongst them. It’s a rare mother who has not dreamed of doing the same, I laughed out loud in recognition when Liv’s family presented their lists of responsibilities, which amounted to a fraction of her own nine and a half pages.

Liv has good intentions – to stop her hair falling out by the handful, to teach her sons responsibility, to encourage her husband to develop his emotional range, to make just a few tweaks to ensure a better life for them all. And she’s not going to stop there, she’s determined to hold her sons conservative school to account for what she considers are their subtle, and not so subtle, misogynistic practices. Liv is excited as real change begins to happen, but things soon begin to go awry on the home front, particularly when Duncan has his own epiphany on work/life balance, and Carmichael Grammar is none too receptive to the idea of permanently disrupting the status quo either.

George’s characters are well-drawn, realistic and relatable. Liv is pretty intense, but there are aspects of her character, and her family’s dynamic I found familiar. So too with Jess Charters, whose 14 year old daughter’s sexy selfie was one of those shared, though she is quite a different character from Liv. I didn’t particularly care for Duncan, but I thought his perspective was a valuable addition to the story. Children and teens are notoriously difficult to portray authentically but I thought George did it well.

Elements of the story related to institutional gender bias/ sexual harassment are very timely given current events in Australia (this week was the #March4Justice). George explores a wide range of responses to the issues raised among both sexes, and several age groups. I found the focus on calling out the subtle signs of sexism throughout the school’s physical environment particularly thought-provoking, as it happens parent/teacher night is next week and I’ll be looking at my children’s school with a new perspective.

The story moves at a good pace, but I do think Tipping was a little long, with a few minor threads and characters that didn’t add anything of substance to the narrative.

A story of family, change, activism and the search for equilibrium, Tipping is witty and fun, but it is also a thought-provoking, and even inspiring novel. I also believe it would provide excellent material for a book group discussion, especially one with a mixed membership.

+++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: You’ve Got To Be Kidding by Todd Alexander

Title: You’ve Got to Be Kidding: A shed load of wine & a farm full of goats

Author: Todd Alexander

Published: 3rd February 2021, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read March 2021 courtesy HarperCollins Australia

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My Thoughts:

In 2019, Todd Alexander published the story of his and his partner’s mid life tree change where they abandoned inner city living and their highly paid careers, and purchased a hundred acre farm in the Hunter Valley, to grow grapes, olives, and run a five star B&B. Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Named Helga was longlisted for both the 2020 Indie Non-fiction Book Award and 2020 Booksellers’ Choice Adult Non-Fiction Book of the Year, and captured the imagination of a public who dream of escaping to the country.

It’s been seven years since Todd and Jeff took possession of Block Eight and they have created a successful business, but it has not been an easy process and in You’ve Got to Be Kidding: A shed load of wine & a farm full of goats, Todd again attempts to answer his own rhetorical question…how hard can it be?

It turns out, it can be very hard at times. If the men aren’t battling with broken machinery, sick or dead animals, or predatory business practices, then they are contending with drought, heatwaves, bushfires, and the pandemic. Todd and Jeff are forced to reinvent their plans several times to stay afloat, including culling vines, purchasing a tour bus, and altering their marketing strategy.

But then there are the moments when the couple can’t imagine being anywhere else as they share a glass of their own wine on their deck, or take a stroll around the property with their ever-growing menagerie of rescued farm animals which still includes (the now teenage) Helga the pig, as well as several more goats, sheep, peafowl, and ducks, each with distinct personalities that keeps them both amused and exasperated.

Related with honesty and self-deprecating humour, You’ve Got To Be Kidding is a sincere, funny, warts-and-all expose of country living, a sequel, of sorts, though it’s not necessary to have read Thirty Thousand Bottles before picking this up. I again enjoyed Todd’s anecdotes about both the highs and lows of farm life, and his relationship with his partner, the nominated snake wrangler and cushion obsessed, Jeff. I liked that this time photographs have been included in the book, though most feature their goats. Todd, a self identified ‘foodie’, also provides some more of his favourite vegan recipes, which sound tasty.

While Todd and Jeff remain convinced they did the right thing in following their dream, and are deservedly proud of all they have achieved with Block Eight, the book ends with them deciding it’s time to move on, and it seems they soon will be, since the property is now listed as sold. I look forward to Todd regaling us with the stories of their next adventure.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Sargasso by Kathy George

Title: Sargasso

Author: Kathy George

Published: 3rd February 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read February 2021 courtesy Harlequin/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

“The last thing I remember is the screaming. I remember that because I wasn’t the one doing it…. It was the house. Sargasso. The house was screaming,….”

Inspired by her love of classic gothic fiction, Sargasso is an entrancing, eerie tale of mystery and passion from debut Australian novelist, Kathy George.

Upon her grandmother’s death, Hannah Prendergast inherits Sargasso, the impressive house of glass and stone designed by her late father, built on a headland just outside Shepherd Cove, a holiday town two hours’ drive down the west coast of Melbourne. It’s been twenty years since Helen last crossed the threshold of her childhood home, the family having abandoned it when she was twelve after her father’s body washed up on the beach below.

The narrative shifts smoothly between the past and the present. ‘Then’ Hannah is a bright and imaginative child who delights in the eccentric aspects of Sargasso, one of which is the inscrutable boy who becomes her best and only friend, Flint. ‘Now’, Hannah plans to rejuvenate the house while she decides what to do with it, and is stunned when Flint reappears, a grown man, as enigmatic as ever.

It is the relationship between Hannah and Flint that is at the heart of this story, an obsessive, possessive, all consuming love forged in childhood and reignited with their reunion as adults. Hannah barely hesitates before ending her three year relationship when Flint demands it, and grows ever more reluctant to even leave his side, as Flint has a habit of disappearing for hours, days, even weeks, particularly when she displeases him. The sense of uncertainty and dread steadily escalates as the secrets of Sargasso, both past and present, begins to unravel.

George develops an extraordinary atmosphere that blurs the line between what may be real and what may be imagined. The initial impression of Sargasso is one of light and strength, but slowly, particularly in the present timeline, the atmosphere of the house becomes oppressive and sinister. Rather than protect Hannah, it seems to trap her in a space between waking and sleeping.

The influence of novels such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca are obvious in terms of both plot and character but I think George provides her own modern Australian twist. Sargasso is an enthralling, haunting, gothic tale.

++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: Relics, Wrecks and Ruins by Aiki Flinthart (Ed)

 

 


Title: Relics, Wrecks and Ruins

Author: Aiki Flinthart (Editor}

Published: 31st January 2021

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy the editor

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My Thoughts:

It’s not often that I respond to a Twitter call out but Relics, Wrecks and Ruins caught my attention for several reasons. Of course I’m always eager to support Australian authors, several of whom are contributors to this anthology, and I’m trying to include more fantasy and science fiction in my reading, but I was also moved upon learning that this was to be the final project for Australian Sci-Fi novelist and the editor of this anthology, Aiki Flinthart, who has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, and that the profits from sales will fund a mentorship program for emerging writers in her name.

Relics, Wrecks and Ruins is an impressive collection of 24 short stories penned by a stellar range of authors including Australian writers Garth Nix, Kate Forsyth, Kylie Chan and international authors, Juliet Marrilier, Jasper Fforde, and Neil Gamain, among others who generously donated their work to the publication. The tales are loosely connected by the titular themes, exploring the relics, wrecks and ruins of the past and future, in this world and others. The stories cover almost every sub-genre of speculative fiction including horror, sci-fi fantasy, and dystopian.

As such, I think Relics, Wrecks and Ruins has something for everyone. There were several story’s that particularly appealed to me from both familiar and unfamiliar authors. Juliet Marrilier’s ‘Washing the Plaid’ is a charming, whimsical introduction to the anthology about a book lover discovering magic. A unique punishment devised by a future society features in 16 Minutes by Jasper Fforde. Fans of Julie Kagawa will enjoy Mary Robinette Kowai’s story, American Changeling where a human/faerie teenager is called upon to save the Seelie Queen. Lee Murray’s The Wreck of the Tartarus sees a submarine full of US sailors caught under a rockfall waiting for rescue. Readers familiar with Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor Trilogy will appreciate a Red Sister Story featuring Nona, Rulin and Clera called Thaw, and horror fans won’t want to miss Six Stringed Demon, where a rock band fights to exorcise a young boy in a hell of a battle by Sebastian de Castell. Aiki Flinthart has the honour of finishing the collection with a poignant story about birth, death, and humanity’s legacy.

Aiki Flinthart has successfully put together an exciting and powerful anthology with Relics, Wrecks and Ruins. A legacy to be proud of, it has my enthusiastic endorsement.

+++++++

Available worldwide in ebook via books2read

Or in paperback direct from Aiki Flinthart

Review: The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic

Title: The Schoolgirl Strangler

Author: Katherine Kovacic

Published: 3rd January 2020, Bonnier Echo

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy BFredriksPR

++++++

My Thoughts:

When the body of a young girl, lured from the park by a stranger during the summer of 1930, is found bound, gagged and strangled in an abandoned house, Melbourne is stunned. The police quickly focus in on a suspect, but as they move ahead with the prosecution, another young girl is found bound, gagged and strangled in a vacant block. Twelve year old Mena Griffiths, and sixteen year old Hazel Wilson were the first two of four victims of a serial killer, given the media moniker of ‘The Schoolgirl Strangler’ that eluded the police for five years.

Drawing on newspaper reports, police records and court documents, author Katherine Kovacic lays out the particulars of each murder and the investigation into each crime in chronological order. I liked the structure Kovacic chose for this narrative though this is really only possible because of the unique path the investigation took, primarily as a result of several serious errors by the police. In the crimes against Mena Griffiths, Hazel Wilson, and twelve year old Ethel Belshaw, a different suspect was identified each time, leading to an arrest, and in one case even a false conviction. I found myself intrigued by the way in which the cases unfolded, which Kovacic reveals in detail. In the absence of modern crime scene techniques, and understanding (the term ‘serial killer’ would not be coined for decades), the charges were based on little else than flimsy circumstantial evidence and eventually fell apart, with the real killer having escaped notice. It wasn’t until the discovery of the tiny body of six year old June Rushmer in December 1935, who was also bound, gagged and strangled, that the man responsible for all four crimes was captured. With his prompt confession under questioning, the links between each case became clear.

The identity of the murderer finally revealed, Kovacic then leads us through his trial. What I found most interesting with regards to the prosecution of the perpetrator was the debate about his sanity. The killer blamed his actions on drink, claiming he lost his senses when under the influence and didn’t remember the actual commission of his crimes so could not therefore be held accountable. The defence ran with this, pleading insanity, combining it with the general assumption that a person who would strangle young girls for no discernible reason must suffer from a mental disease.

Kovacic presents a meticulous and astute account of a fascinating historical crime in The Schoolgirl Strangler, and I think readers of both the true crime, and crime fiction genres will find the narrative approach accessible and interesting.

++++++

Available from Echo Publishing Australia and Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon