Review: The Garden of Hopes and Dreams by Barbara Hannay

 

Title: The Garden of Hopes and Dreams

Author: Barbara Hannay

Published: 3rd August 2021, Michael Joseph

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

 

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My Thoughts:

 

Barbara Hannay’s The Garden of Hopes and Dreams is a delightful, uplifting story of love, friendship, connection and community.

Centering around an apartment block in central Brisbane, neighbours become friends as the residents of Riverview bond over the creation of a rooftop garden.

 

(More to come…)

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Review: The Deep by Kyle Perry

 

Title: The Deep

Author: Kyle Perry

Published: 2nd July 2021, Penguin Books Australia

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Penguin Australia

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

“Black wind at morning, sailors take warning. Black wind at night, death is in sight.”

On the southern coast of Tasmania, the Dempsey family empire in Shacktown has been built not only on their monopoly of abalone fishing licenses but on their illicit drug importation business. Davy Dempsey has been the head of the family operations since his older brother, Jesse and his wife and son, vanished seven years ago, but when Jesse’s son, Forest, washes up on the beach, exhibiting signs of physical and emotional trauma, the Dempsey’s are thrown into crisis. Sensing vulnerability, a fearsome rival makes a move while family loyalties are tested and unraveling secrets threaten to swamp them all.

Kyle Perry’s second novel, The Deep, plunges readers into a turbulent, gritty, atmospheric story of betrayal, corruption, loyalty and redemption. It offers more than one mystery and several stunning twists as the members of the Dempsey family take sides in a battle for the business, and their lives. Issues such as morality, masculinity, family violence, the drug trade, and addiction are explored through a fairly large cast of characters.

The tale unfolds primarily from the perspectives of Mackerel (Mackenzie) Dempsey, the younger brother of Jesse and Davy, and the black sheep of the family; the Dempsey brothers uncle, Ahab Dempsey, who despises the drug business; and the now teenage Forest Dempsey. The Dempsey family speak of a curse that plagues their men – great success will be followed by a spectacular fall – but it’s hardly a surprise given the dangerous businesses the Dempsey’s are in, not to mention their disturbingly dysfunctional family dynamic. Perry’s characters are complex, and mostly deeply flawed, some irredeemably so, such as the Dempsey matriarch Ivy, and her two eldest sons.

I didn’t find The Deep to be as compelling as The Bluffs if I am honest, it was a little slow to start and I was probably close to halfway through the novel before I was fully invested, but from that point on, I was reluctant to put it down.

++++++

Available from Penguin Books Australia 

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Review: The Long Game by Simon Rowell

 

Title: The Long Game

Author: Simon Rowell

Published: 3rd August 2021, Text Publishing

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Text Publishing/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts: 

 

After racing through The Long Game, I’m hoping it is the start of a new crime fiction series from South Australian author Simon Rowell.

The first homicide Detective Sergeant Zoe Mayer is assigned on her return to work seems to be open and shut with the evidence clearly pointing towards Dwayne Harley stabbing his best friend, Ray Carlson, after discovering he was sleeping with his wife. Zoe’s partner, Charlie, is happy with the easy solve but something doesn’t sit right with Zoe. With her colleagues wary of her instincts given her recent extended absence, she has no choice but to investigate with only her service dog, Harry as back up.

I found myself totally invested in the fast paced, suspenseful plot of The Long Game. The motivation for the crimes are believable, and their execution is clever and original. I could easily believe that the murderer could have got away with it if Zoe hadn’t been so observant, and determined. I appreciated the procedural details that leant the police investigation authenticity, and enjoyed the action of confrontations and near misses.

The mystery behind Zoe’s extended leave adds further interest to the story. It’s obvious that she experienced something traumatic, and she’s still vulnerable to particular triggers, which is where Harry, a golden retriever, comes in. As a service dog, Harry provides support when Zoe experiences vivid flashbacks that cause her to lose awareness, but his emotional intuition also proves to be a useful investigative tool.

Zoe seems to be a determined investigator, with great instincts. I like that she is willing to back herself, though I’m not overly fond of protagonists that go it alone, I understood her need to prove herself. I thought Zoe’s partner, Charlie, was a little bland, but I liked the analyst, Anjali. Zoe has a romantic relationship with a lawyer, which seems to be fairly stable but there a sense of underlying tension which may be explored if there is a sequel.

The Long Game played just right for me with its smart plot, appealing characters and compelling pace.

++++++

Available from Text Publishing

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Review: The Enemy Within by Tim Ayliffe

 

Title: The Enemy Within (John Bailey #3)

Author: Tim Ayliffe

Published: 28th July 2021, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Enemy Within is Tim Ayliffe’s third exciting thriller to feature investigative journalist John Bailey.

After a young Sudanese man is beaten into a coma only streets away from where a white supremacists rally was held just hours earlier, Bailey, writing a piece on the rise of right wing extremism for the launch issue of a new independent magazine, finds himself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy determined to start a race war.

Fast paced and offering plenty of action, elements of the plot are recognisable from headline events including the emboldening of various hate groups (supported by political, media and law enforcement leaders), the cull of experienced investigative media, and the AFP raid on a journalist. I really like the way that Ayliffe (a former journalist himself) grounds his stories so that events seem plausible, and are relevant to Australian society. I found it easy to guess who was behind the direct actions of the extremists, but the identity of other players came as a surprise.

Up against a well resourced and connected enemy, Bailey gets some help in The Enemy Within from his former newspaper colleagues, Gerald Summers, and Marjorie,  plus ex-CIA agent (among other things) Ronnie Johnson. Unable to trust the police, when they learn of the supremacists end game Bailey and Ronnie physically take on the threat in a tense showdown.

Bailey is in a fairly good place in this third novel,. He remains sober, he has grown closer to his daughter, he has adopted a dog, and his PTSD from his time as a captive in Iraq is rarely close to the surface. Though he is still mourning the death of his girlfriend (in State of Fear), there is a hint of possibility of a new romance in forthcoming books when Bailey reunites with a former lover, TV journalist Annie Brooks.

The bushfires raging along the coast of NSW, which creates a pall of smoke over Sydney, and a throwaway line that refers to the incipient pandemic dates the timeline at January 2020. Set in Sydney, readers familiar with the city will recognise locations such as the Lindt Cafe and Bondi Beach.

The Enemy Within is a gripping, tense and entertaining read. It’s not strictly necessary to have read the previous novels, The Greater Good and State of Fear, to enjoy this novel but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

+++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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Review: The Last of the Apple Blossom by Mary-Lou Stephens

 

Title: The Last of the Apple Blossom

Author: Mary-Lou Stephens

Published: 28th July 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read August 2021 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

The Last of the Apple Blossom by Mary-Lou Stephens is a sweeping Australian tale that begins in 1967 as bushfires ravage southern Tasmania. Braving smoke and flames, school teacher Catherine Turner rushes from Hobart to her family’s apple orchard in the Huon Valley, devastated to find her younger brother has been killed and their crop razed. Despite her father’s objections to women working the land, Catherine is determined to contribute to reestablishing the orchard.

The dramatic start to The Last of the Apple Blossom immediately captured my attention, and it held as Catherine fought for the future she wanted in an era where women were allowed few options. All Catherine has ever wanted is to work alongside her father in the orchard, and eventually take over the running of it. That her dad denies her the opportunity is a continual source of frustration and sadness for Catherine which Stephens portrays well. I admired Catherine’s determination and resilience.

Stephens also gives voice to two other characters. Annie, Catherine’s neighbour and closest friend, is a loving wife and busy mother. After five boys, she finally has the daughter she’s always longed for but she harbours a secret she is terrified will tear her family apart. I guessed what Annie was hiding easily, but there was suspense involved in waiting for it to be discovered. Mark, and his young son Charlie, are guests of Annie’s husband. Mark has an interesting background, which throws up challenges when he and Catherine develop a romantic relationship.

I found the history, and operation, of the apple growing industry in Tasmania to be surprisingly interesting. Stephens deftly integrates fact gleaned from her meticulous research into the story, and honours the contribution of the industry to Australia.

Well-written, I felt the author captured the setting beautifully, vivid description led me through a landscape scarred by fire, and under shady trees laden with apples. Much of the story takes place during the 1960’s and 1970’s and the attitudes of the era are accurately represented.

A story of family, love, tragedy, and resilience, The Last of the Apple Blossom is an engaging, accomplished debut novel.

+++++++

Available from Harlequin Australia

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Review: The Last Guests by J.P. Pomare

 

Title: The Last Guests

Author: J.P. Pomare

Published: 30th July 2021, Hachette Australia

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Hachette

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My Thoughts:

Hugely impressed by In The Clearing, I’ve been looking forward to reading J.P. Pomare’s newest release, The Last Guests.

Set in New Zealand, The Last Guests is told primarily from the perspective of Lina, a paramedic married to Cain, an ex-SAS soldier turned personal trainer. Though their five year marriage has had its up and downs, stressed by PTSD, a gambling addiction, infertility and the resulting debt, the couple remain committed to each other, and their plan for a family. When friends of the pair, who aware of their financial struggle, suggest Lina rent out the home she inherited from her grandparents at Lake Tarawera through the short-stay accomodation site WeStay, Cain is enthusiastic about the idea. Lina is less so, the house is to eventually be their family home and she’s uncomfortable with the risks of opening it up to strangers, but let’s herself be persuaded. She relaxes when the first few guests come and go without incident, but Lina is about to discover the real threat to their future comes from closer to home.

The Last Guests is probably one of the more unpredictable thrillers I’ve read in a while. Though not quite flawless, convincingly led in one direction, I almost developed whiplash as the plot twisted and turned offering more than one surprise as Pomare unraveled the secrets held by his characters.

Lina is particularly vulnerable as her secret threatens to surface, and her anxiety is palpable as she attempts to stop it from happening. I liked the complexity of her character, Lina may initially be judged harshly and she doesn’t make the wisest of choices, but there isn’t any malice in her, so I was invested in her fate.

One of the elements I think Pomare excels at is creating an atmosphere of anticipation that ebbs and flows from uncertainty and unease to dread and shock. In part this stems from the way he turns the intimate and ordinary into provocation and a threat.

This novel is certainly guaranteed to make you think twice about booking a short-stay rental in a private home. There are known risks in using services like AirBNB, Stayz and FlipKey, most often they are fairly benign -the accommodation may not live up to its description, or the host may try to extort extra charges, but there have been incidences where guests have learned of hidden cameras, not just in spaces like the living room and kitchen, but also in private areas, such as bedrooms and bathrooms. In The Last Guests Lina discovers not only have such camera’s been secreted into her lake house without her knowledge, which is creepy enough, but the feed is one of thousands being live streamed to a site that offers paying subscribers a voyeuristic window into the lives of unsuspecting people.

Tense, thrilling and compelling, The Last Guests is another stunning novel from Pomare.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Gun To The Head by Keith Banks

 

Title: Gun To The Head: My life as a tactical cop. The impact. The aftermath.

Author: Keith Banks

Published: 20th July 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

 

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Gun To The Head follows on from Drugs, Guns and Lies by former Queensland police officer, Keith Banks, detailing his years of service in the Queensland Police Force during the 1980’s.

Banks offers readers personal insight into policing during a period that can probably be best described as transitional. In the 1980’s the Queensland police force was exposed as a hotbed of corruption, which had little tolerance for officers who played it straight. After several years serving as an undercover operative in the Drug Squad, Banks was forced out when he declined an invitation to participate in a corrupt enterprise.

Transferring to the Criminal Investigation Branch as a Detective Senior Constable, Banks enjoyed the work but found himself missing the adrenaline rush of his former position and leapt at the chance to become a member of the part-time  Emergency Squad, which eventually morphed into the full-time Tactical Response Group.

Keith Banks (left) and Steve Grant at Cunungra Training Camp 1986 (courtesy Allen & Unwin)

 

Banks played a role in some of Queensland’s most high-profile operations, including the hunt for notorious bank robber, Russell ‘Maddog’ Cox, and the MLC Siege, where Banks personally convinced the would-be bomber to surrender, but everyday he and his team put their lives on the line to apprehend violent criminals. Banks insights into the groups daily operations are fascinating, it’s often intense, thankless work that requires a huge commitment and courage. The public generally only hear of such incidents when something goes wrong, as it did when Senior Constable Peter Kidd was shot to death by an armed robber who had escaped from prison, during a raid to recapture him. I knew vaguely of the case but it was very impactful to hear it from Banks first hand viewpoint and I was horrified to learn of the role bureaucratic interference had in the tragedy.

Emergency Squad training exercise at Cunungra 1986 (Keith Banks is on the left). Courtesy Allen & Unwin


Banks, who was a team leader in the raid, was dogged by undiagnosed PTSD after the death of Kidd. Banks is honest about his increasing struggles with alcohol, anxiety, guilt and anger in its wake. I really felt for him, and was appalled by the lack of support available from the force not just after a tragic incident like this, but also in other instances, such as re-entry from undercover work. I certainly hope the situation is much improved now. Sadly it cost Banks his first marriage, his police career, and very nearly his life.

Raw, thrilling and often dark but not humourless, Banks presents as personable and truthful. Gun to the Head is a compelling memoir exposing life behind the blue line.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: The Wattle Seed Inn by Leonie Kelsall

 

Title: The Wattle Seed Inn

Author: Leonie Kelsall

Published: 5th July 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

To prove a point to her ex-fiancé, whom is also her business partner, Gabrielle Moreau decides that transforming the pub they bought as an investment in the tiny community of Wurruldi into an upmarket B&B would be an ideal project. She plans to be hands on but the building is in worse shape than she expected, and Gabby has no real idea where to start.

Hayden Paech dismisses Gabby as a stuck-up city girl from the moment she walks into the pub at Settlers Bridge, not that it matters given he believes he is no longer has anything to offer to any woman. But the more time he spends in Gabby’s company, particularly as he begins work on the Wurruldi Hotel, the more he wonders if the future he thought he had lost is possible after all.

The Wattle Seed Inn is the second heartwarming contemporary rural fiction novel from Leonie Kelsall set in the Murray River region of South Australia.

Kelsall explores familiar themes such as love, friendship, forgiveness and loss in The Wattle Seed Inn, and also issues such as self acceptance, trust and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Romance is still the key element of the story though, and I enjoyed the way in which the author developed the relationship between Gabby and Hayden.

Gabby and Hayden are drawn together in part because they have experienced the tragic loss of a loved one for which they have held themselves responsible, and recognise that wound in each other, even without knowing the details. The pain is much fresher for Hayden, who also carries physical scars as a daily reminder, and experiences panic attacks. I thought Kelsall’s portrayal of his PTSD was sympathetic and believable, and the inclusion of Hayden’s service dog, Trigger, and his role in supporting him was illuminating. Gabby seems to have it all -wealth, privilege and beauty- but she too carries emotional scars, and harbours hidden insecurities that make her wary of relationships.

The addition of a third perspective in the novel was somewhat of a surprise. Ilse can’t clearly recall how the Wurruldi Hotel, that has been owned by her family for generations, came to be so run down, but she is happy that her home is finally getting the attention it needs, and is eager to offer Gabby advice on how to restore it to its former glory. She drifts around the hotel recalling happier times when her husband was alive, but is also haunted by a sense of something being badly wrong.

I enjoyed the connections Kelsall makes to her debut novel, The Farm at Peppertree Crossing, with the main characters playing a small role in this story. Matt and Roni are two of Hayden’s group of friends which also includes Sharni, who is the first to welcome Gabby to the area, secretly hoping that Gabby could be her ticket off the dairy farm.

Written with warmth, humour and sincerity, offering appealing characters and an engaging story, The Wattle Seed Inn is a lovely read, sure to satisfy fans of the genre.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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Review: The Newcomer by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

 

Title: The Newcomer

Author: Laura Elizabeth Woollett

Published: 2nd July 2021, Scribe Publications

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Scribe Publications

 

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My Thoughts:

 

Loosely inspired by the 2002 murder of a woman on Norfolk Island, The Newcomer is a provocative literary crime novel by Laura Elizabeth Woollett.

Paulina Novak, even at 28, is a wild child. Reckless, self absorbed and brazen, with an eating disorder and a drinking problem, she ditched her life in Sydney for a fresh start on the tiny island of Fairfolk, off the eastern coast of Australia. Fairfolk doesn’t take kindly to ‘mainie’s’, especially to someone like Paulina who is wilfully disruptive and openly contemptuous of the insular community, so when two years later, on the day before Paulina’s thirtieth birthday, her body is found under a sheet of black plastic in a field, few are surprised.

Her mother, Judy, waiting in a hotel room to share lunch with her daughter, however is heartbroken, and determined that Paulina’s killer be bought to justice. Given the size of the island community, despite the plethora of possible suspects, Judy expects that the case will be solved quickly, but she it’s two long years before she gets answers.

Moving between Paulina’s past and Judy’s present, the narrative is as much a character study as it is a novel about a crime. Woollett explores interesting questions about mental health, trauma, misogyny, belonging, and victimhood.

Woollett doesn’t present a flattering portrayal of the victim. Paulina is a character that really doesn’t invite sympathy, and I found myself in the uncomfortable position of thinking to myself that her murder seemed almost inevitable given her behaviours. I think that in large part this is the point of The Newcomer, to have the reader confront their unconscious bias with regards to victimhood, because of course it’s not Paulina’s behaviour that is responsible for her death, it is the behaviour of her killer.

Judy too is a complex character, with her own history of trauma, though she is far more sympathetic. A caring mother who has done her best to support her mercurial adult daughter, she’s devastated by Paulina’s death. Woollett portrays her grief in what I felt was a realistic, if sometimes uncomfortable, manner.

Challenging, bold, and poignant, The Newcomer is not an easy read, but it is definitely thought-provoking.

+++++++

Available from Scribe Publications

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Review: When You Are Mine By Michael Robotham

 

Title: When You Are Mine

Author: Michael Robotham

Published: 1st July 2021, Hachette Australia

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

Michael Robotham draws from recent news headlines to create a timely, gripping crime fiction novel dealing with domestic violence, toxic relationships, obsession, and police corruption in When You Are Mine.

Called to a complaint of domestic violence, London police constable Philomena (Phil) McCarthy is unimpressed when the abuser, who claims he is detective, threatens her career will be finished, and then takes a swing at her. Though his mistress, who Phil is surprised to recognise, refuses to press charges, she follows protocol and arrests him, only to be reprimanded by her superiors for her poor judgement in arresting a decorated officer, and then suspended. Phil is both disappointed and angered by the cover-up, and despite being ordered to leave it alone, she digs a little deeper into the Detective Goodall’s history, and learns that Tempe is not his only victim.

I’m always impressed that Robotham demonstrates such astute insight into his female characters. Determined and principled, with a touch of youthful righteous idealism and naivety, Phil sincerely wants to do good as a police officer, and has worked hard for the right to do so. Unfortunately her motives will always be considered suspect because her father, from whom she is estranged, is linked to organised crime. This means she is especially vulnerable when she refuses to accept the official line.

In refusing to back down, Phil risks not only her career, but her safety, especially when she offers support to both Tempe and Goodall’s family. As recently as last month, a Former Scotland Yard Deputy Assistant Commissioner stated that domestic abuse perpetrated by police officers was at epidemic levels, and victims report a culture of minimisation and coverups. I thought Robotham very effectively showed how intensely vulnerable women, and children, in that position can be. Goodall is not about to simply let go, but then neither is Phil.

There’s a twist in the tale as Tempe, grateful to Phil for her help, tries to repay her. She offers to help with Phil’s impending wedding to her firefighter husband, Henry, then she begins to take care of the everyday tasks Phil, intent on helping Alison Goodall, doesn’t have time for. I really liked how Robotham subtly developed this thread which presents some of the biggest surprises.

Robotham is an accomplished author who knows how to hook his readers and keep them interested not only with a fast pace and the twists expected of the genre, but also characters that are dynamic and interesting. When You Are Mine is a exciting and satisfying read.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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