Review: Bad Habits by Sarah Evans

 

Title: Bad Habits {DI Eve Rock #2}

Author: Sarah Evans

Published: 1st September 2021, Clan Destine Press

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Clan Destine Press

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My Thoughts:

Bad Habits by Sarah Evans is an entertaining romantic mystery featuring Detective Inspector Eve Rock.

With both her house and her car nothing more than ashes after being blown up by a drug baron, Eve has temporarily moved in to the exclusive St Immaculata’s School for Girls in Perth with her mother, former prostitute turned schoolmistress nun, Sister Immaculata, and her 16 year old daughter, Chastity. It’s Christmas, and Eve is desperate for some distance from her disapproving mother, her volatile daughter, the father, Henry Talbot, she was only introduced to a fortnight ago, and colleagues and romantic rivals, Quinn Fox and his son Adam, so it’s fortunate that the festive season gifts Eve a series of gas fires in the CBD, a multi-million dollar jewellery and art heist, a murdered man in a skip bin, and body parts in a freezer to keep her busy.

Bad Habits the same energy as Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, with its mix of faintly ridiculous comedy, crime and romance. Eve isn’t as hapless as Stephanie, but she’s definitely a magnet for trouble, hard on vehicles, and torn between the men in her life.

There is plenty of drama, both professionally and personally for Eve as she tracks tattoo artists selling inked flesh as artwork, brazen jewellery thieves, and discovers suspicious behaviour in the school basement, all while attempting to dodge a sociopath bent on revenge. Eve is also preoccupied with uncooperative insurance agents, getting to know her father, a flirtatious lawyer, and finding the right time to tell Chastity that Quinn is her dad, not to mention her attraction to Quinn, and his son. There is rarely a dull moment as Eve is shot at, abducted, framed for a murder, and drugged (twice).

The story is busy, but well crafted and moves at a good pace. Evans has a keen sense of comedic timing and I enjoyed the snark and banter of the dialogue. Though Bad Habits is a sequel to Operation Paradise, it works well as a stand alone.

An engaging read, I found Bad Habits to be a fun crime caper, and I’d be happy to read more.

++++++

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Review: The Prodigal Sister by Darry Fraser

 

Title: The Prodigal Sister

Author: Darry Fraser

Published: 1st December 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Harlequin Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

The Prodigal Sister is a story of betrayal, intrigue, loyalty, and love set in Australia at the turn of the 20th century from Darry Fraser.

Though she was hoping to further study the new science of forensic investigation after completing her Master of Arts in Scotland, Prudence North heeds her father’s request to return home to Melbourne. With the health of both her mother, and younger sister, Valerie, worsening due to Huntingtons Chorea, Prudence is needed to manage the household and support her father, a busy doctor. When family friend, and high ranking police officer Everard Bankston requests an interview with her just a few weeks after her return, Prudence is hopeful of a career opportunity, instead Bankston tells her that her father has been accused of providing illegal abortions, and if Bankston is to stop him from being charged, Prudence must make the acquaintance of a Mr. Jasper Darke, and report on his activities.

There are several intrigues in The Prodigal Sister, including what truth, if any, there is in the accusations levelled at Prudence’s father, who murdered the man found in his clinic, and what Bankston’s interest is in Jasper Darke, but in general the plot is quite busy with secrets, deceptions, and betrayals. Prudence, caught in the middle, struggles to make sense of everything, drawing on the little she knows of forensic investigation, and finding support from an unexpected quarter.

In addition to the mysteries, there is the development of a romance for Prudence, which is complicated by a number of issues, including her belief that she too will develop Huntington’s, of which little is known at the time, except that it runs in families and is always fatal.

Prudence is an appealing heroine, bright, strong and resourceful, though still constrained by the societal expectations of her time. In mourning, subject to blackmail from Bankston, concerned about the health of her sister and her self, and fighting her attraction to Jasper, she is under an extraordinary amount of pressure.

There really is a lot of drama in The Prodigal Sister, and I think overall perhaps a little too much. While Fraser manages it all well, and the various threads converge neatly, the pacing was a little off, and the author’s twists, though clever, didn’t have the impact they could have.

Nevertheless, The Prodigal Sister is an entertaining and engaging work of historical fiction.

+++++++++

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Review: The Long Weekend by Fiona Palmer

 

Title: The Long Weekend

Author: Fiona Palmer

Published: 1st December 2021, Hachette Australia

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

In the contemporary new release from Fiona Palmer, The Long Weekend, four strangers attend a writing workshop retreat in southern Western Australia run by a bestselling author.

Wife and mother Alice, wants advice on crafting a memoir she hopes will reach women who share her experience of motherhood.

Simone, an Instagram influencer, has been contracted to write a book about her inspirational weight loss journey.

Buff gym owner Jamie, the only male, is coy about his aspirations.

Single mother Beth has come to the retreat at the urging of her sister Poppy, but what she wants to learn from their facilitator, Jan Goldstein, is not something that can be taught.

A largely character driven story, The Long Weekend explores several themes including trauma, loss, forgiveness, redemption, and self discovery. Prompted by a writing exercise, the five protagonists confront and let go of the secrets, mistakes and insecurities that haunt them. There is a lot of emotion in their individual stories, touching on a range of contemporary social issues, which Palmer handles sensitively.

There’s some drama between the characters. Alice and Jamie aren’t strangers after all, though they haven’t seen each other for years, Simone oversteps with her Instagram obsession, and Beth can barely hide her contempt for Jan. Even though it’s not terribly realistic, I liked the romance that flared between two of the protagonists. The connection that forms between all of the characters was more convincing, and I particularly enjoyed the epilogue.

The Long Weekend is an engaging and ultimately uplifting novel, an easy afternoon’s read.

+++++++

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Review: The Waterhole by Lily Malone

 

Title: The Waterhole

Author: Lily Malone

Published: 21st November 2021, Lily Malone Publishing

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy the author

Read an excerpt

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My Thoughts:

 

Australian author Lily Malone, best known for her rural romance series, ‘The Chalk Hill’, dips into the crime genre with The Waterhole.

When human bones are discovered in what once was waterhole on the edge of a suburban development, Detective Marley West and Constable Brigit Winger, are tasked with unraveling a complicated cold case that opens old wounds in the community of Cowaramup, Western Australia.

Three timelines reveal a feud between brothers, Jack and Bill Ross, stretching back almost half a century, the predatory instincts of a itinerant traveller, and the legacy of Marley’s late grandfather, a corrupt cop. To learn the identities of the bodies buried in the waterhole, Marley needs to overcome the distrust of the locals, and the concerns of his colleagues, to expose the secrets others tried to bury. Malone skilfully manages the multiple threads that weave their way through the story and connect many of the characters in the past and present.

Though there’s quite a large cast, the characters are well drawn, from the warring brothers and the woman they both love, to young troubled teen, Jay. Marley’s personal life is a bit of a disaster but he presents as a decent man, and cop, and I imagine his and Brigit’s partnership could carry further novels.

With its cleverly crafted mysteries, and appealing characters, I thought The Waterhole was an excellent police procedural and I hope there will be more.

+++++++++

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Review: The Spy’s Wife by Fiona McIntosh

 

Title: The Spy’s Wife

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: 2nd November 2021, PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

Set in 1936 in England and Germany as rumours of a second world war begin to surge, The Spy’s Wife is an engaging historical novel from consummate storyteller Fiona McIntosh.

Young widow Evie Armstrong is running a small cafe at the Levisham railway station in northern England where her father serves as station master when a handsome traveller attracts her interest. Within weeks Evie and Roger, a widowed engineer from London, profess their love for one another, but when Roger (aka Max) reveals a secret he has been keeping from her, and then is arrested, accused of being a spy for Germany, Evie will be forced to make a dangerous decision to save his life.

Shifting from a rural hamlet in the Yorkshire Dales to the bustling city of Munich, McIntosh merges historical fact with fiction to present an absorbing story of love, betrayal, espionage and sacrifice.

The Spy’s Wife capitalises on the recent interest in the role of women as spies during WWII, but McIntosh cleverly approaches it from a new angle. Having convinced MI6 to release Max and allow them both to travel to Germany as spies for England, Evie needs to muster courage, cunning and resourcefulness as she pretends to be Max’s empty headed new bride while gathering the intelligence that will free them. It’s not only their own lives at stake, Max’s young son by his late Jewish wife is essentially being held as a hostage by one of Hitler’s true believers, and she wants Max for herself. There are plenty of tense moments as Evie and Max, viewed with some suspicion by friends and colleagues, take big risks to gather information about Hitler’s plans for war.

Evie is an appealing heroine, naive and vulnerable but also brave and determined. Trusting Max, with both her heart and her life, is a gamble few would voluntarily take. Once in Germany, with no real experience of subterfuge Evie finds her position increasingly stressful and I really felt for her as she realised just how grim a fate she would meet if she was caught.

Despite the limitations placed on McIntosh’s usual research strategies due to the global pandemic lockdown, the details of the era, and the settings feel authentic. Though I was vaguely aware the VW beetle was designed to meet Hitler’s demand for a ‘people’s car’, I wasn’t aware Porsche was responsible for its production. I found the information about the company’s involvement in the war to be an interesting element of the novel.

Written to McIntosh’s usual high standard, The Spy’s Wife is a captivating read with a stunning conclusion.

+++++++

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Review: Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Unforgiven

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: 1st December 2021, HQ Fiction

Status: Read December 2021 courtesy Harlequin Aus/Netgalley

 

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My Thoughts:

 

Unforgiven is a compelling, gritty thriller from Australian bestselling author, Sarah Barrie.

When the body of a young girl dressed in a mermaid costume is discovered among bushland on the central coast of NSW, doubt is thrown on the conviction and imprisonment of serial killer and paedophile, Thomas Biddle aka The Spider. Lexi Winter has no such doubts, as a victim of Biddle and his paedophile network which included her own parents, she has never forgotten the man who orchestrated her abuse. Determined to prove the latest murder is the work of a copycat, Lexi is reluctantly reunited with Detective Inspector Rachael Langley, who arrested Biddle 18 years ago.

Offering plenty of tense moments, Unforgiven offers a well crafted, fast paced plot. I was caught up in the hunt for the murderous ‘copycat’ as Rachael and Lexi, along with Lexi’s younger sister Bailee, and the members of the task force, work together to expose the truth and prevent the death of any more innocent children.

I liked Lexi a lot, she’s a complex character, essentially a functional alcoholic, who makes her living as an escort. Hardened by her life experiences she is a survivor, tough, resourceful, and sometimes reckless, but also not without her vulnerabilities. It’s brave of Lexi to become involved in the ‘copycat’ case, given both her past, and present (which includes a dead man in her boot), and her general antipathy for authority.

There’s an interesting backstory between Lexi and Rachael which results in tension between the two women that also spills over into Lexi’s relationship another detective on the case who happens to be Rachael’s nephew, Finn Carson. I found both Rachael and Finn to be appealing characters, and I really liked their dynamic with Lexi.

Though Unforgiven deals with the grim subject of child abuse, there is unexpected levity to be found in Lexi’s sarcastic wit, and the behaviour of her remarkably helpful neighbour, Dawny.

Unforgiven is a terrific, riveting read, I’m left with the impression that there will be more books featuring Lexi and her role as a police consultant in the future, and I really hope there will be.

++++++

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Review: Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss (Ed.)

 

Title: Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

Author: Anita Heiss (Ed)

Published: 16th April 2021, Black Inc

Status: Read November 2021

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My Thoughts:

 

There is no single or simple way to define what it means to grow up Aboriginal in Australia….”

I’m having such a hard time putting together a response to reading Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia. I have such a mix of emotions – I am angered, ashamed, sad, enlightened, inspired and hopeful.

Fifty contributors share their diverse experiences of growing up Aboriginal in Australia. They come from all over country, and are of varied ages, genders, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic class.

Yet there are commonalities in their stories -the weight of intergenerational trauma, the burden of stereotypes and racism, the struggle with identity, the desire to understand and embrace their culture, kin and country.

Though the quality of the writing can be uneven, the honesty of the authors stories are affecting and powerful. They are a generous invitation to learn and gain some understanding of what it is like to be a First Nations person growing up in Australia, both then and now.

“….it’s so obvious that underneath the invisible barriers and expectations we have constructed and placed on each other, we are all brothers and sisters; we are all just pink flesh and bone.”

An informative, thought-provoking, and moving anthology Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia is essential reading in the journey to create a new dialogue with and about Aboriginal Australians.

+++++++++

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Review: The Safe Place by L.A. Larkin

 

Title: The Safe Place

Author: L.A. Larkin

Published: 9th November 2021, Bookouture

Status: Read November 2021 courtesy Bookoutre/Netgalley

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

A year after finally gathering the courage to report her boyfriend and boss, hero fire captain Marcus Harstead, for domestic violence, Jessie Lewis is a pariah in her home town of Eagle Falls. Branded an unstable, vindictive liar by her charismatic ex and his supporters, including Sheriff John Cuffy, when first a local family with whom Jessie had a public spat is killed in an arson attack on their home, and then Jessie is linked to the scene of a second fatal fire, she is quickly labeled the prime suspect. With only a retired FBI agent willing to believe her innocent, Jessie realises she has no choice but to expose the arsonist before her life turns to ashes.

The Safe Place by L.A. Larkin is a fast-paced, action packed thriller that involves domestic violence, PTSD, conspiracy, arson and murder. The author has crafted an intriguing and dramatic plot as Jessie, victimised, threatened and hunted, repeatedly finds herself in incredibly tense confrontations in a desperate effort to clear her name. Jessie is certain she knows who is framing her for the arson, and why, but her ex is not the only person in Eagle Falls with secrets they’d kill to keep, and there are some gripping twists as Larkin reveals hidden motives.

However I found Jessie to be a frustrating character. She’s a bit of a mess, understandably so given her past and current situation. I wasn’t unsympathetic, and I was always rooting for her survival, but I really struggled with the way in which she consistently made the worst possible choice in almost every situation.

Nevertheless The Safe Place is a page-turner, a tense and exciting story that had had me enthralled.

++++++++

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Review: Deception Creek by Fleur McDonald

 

Review: Deception Creek {Detective Dave Burrows}

Author: Fleur McDonald

Published: 1st November 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read November 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

Two seemingly unrelated story threads eventually overlap in Deception Creek, the fifth Australian rural mystery novel by Fleur McDonald to feature Detective Dave Burrows in the town of Barker, though the ninth in which he appears.

When Joel Hammond returns to Barker after serving a nine year jail sentence, Dave is surprised by the venom directed at him by a handful of locals. Their anger, Dave learns, is unrelated to the financial crimes that Joel claims he is innocent of. When Joel was a teenager his girlfriend, Maggie, died after a fall from a water tower, and though he was cleared of any involvement, her family have always believed him responsible.

Though Emma Cameron’s marriage has ended in divorce, she’s proud that all her hard work means the farm she inherited from her parents in Deception Creek is almost debt free. She doesn’t want to be alone forever though and when Kyle Pengilly, with whom she shares a tragic memory, comes to town, she finds his obvious interest flattering.

McDonald’s plot is skilfully crafted, well paced, and offers a truly unexpected ending. While Dave, and his partner Senior Constable Jack Higgins try to keep peace in town as Maggie’s brother, Steve, becomes increasingly confrontational with Joel, their partners, Kim Burrows and journalist Zara Ellison, grow curious not only about Joel’s insistence that he was not guilty of fraud, but also what really happened the night Maggie died. I was caught up in the drama and suspense as their questions unravel shocking truths that have been hidden for decades.

I’ve grown familiar with the core characters, who share a strong sense of community and justice, over previous instalments and find them to be an appealing foursome. I liked Emma, an independent, capable farmer, and Joel who, despite the accusations levelled against him, is sympathetic. Interestingly, both these characters give McDonald another opportunity to explore facets of PTSD, as she has done in several previous novels.

Though it can be read as a stand alone, Deception Creek is another great read is what is an engaging series that combines suspense and romance in an authentic rural Australian setting.

+++++++++

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Review: Women to the Front by Heather Sheard & Ruth Lee

 

Title: Women to the Front: Australian Women Doctors of the First World War

Author: Heather Sheard & Ruth Lee

Published: 2nd April 2021, Ebury Press

Status: Read November 2021

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My Thoughts:

 

After the Great War broke out in 1914, Melbourne doctor Helen Sexton was just one of what was to be at least 28 Australian female medical practitioners, aged between 27 and 56 years olds trained primarily in general medicine but also in specialties from pathology to anaesthesiology to surgery, who attempted to enlist as a doctor with the Medical Armed Forces in Australia or Britain. Their offers rebuffed, the Australian women, eager to aid in the war effort, instead reached out to international medical organisations and soon found roles that allowed them to serve in several settings, including within mobile medical units stationed along both the Eastern and Western fronts.

In Women to the Front, authors Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee, draw on available official documents, personal letters, diaries and other material to ensure that these intrepid Australian women doctors are acknowledged, and lauded for their contributions to the war effort. The book is organised in five parts, with a narrative divided by year and then location, detailing the women’s movements across the Allied fronts. There are a lot of names, acronyms and dates which can be difficult to keep track of, but helpfully the authors also include a glossary, individual biographies of each doctor, and a comprehensive index.

Though Sheard and Lee state they had limited information to work from, they have put together compelling accounts of the women’s experiences as wartime doctors. The Australian doctors served in at least twelve countries, working under a wide range of conditions in a variety of roles from 1914 to 1918. Doctors Laura Forster (NSW), and Ethel Baker (QLD), joined the BHF (British Field Hospital for Belgium) which established a 150-bed field hospital in Antwerp in September of 1914. The facility was quickly flooded with wounded soldiers, the women often required to operate through the night. Barely a month later they were forced to evacuate as the German Army advanced. Pathologist Dr Elsie Dalyell (NSW), the first Australian woman to win a Beit Fellowship, offered her skills to the War Office, but when refused joined Lady Cornelia Wimborne’s Serbian Relief Fund field hospital, and headed to Serbian Macedonia on the Eastern Front where she was responsible for the collection and analyse of specimens to detect and diagnose everything from wound infections, to diseases such as Typhus. Dr Agnes Bennett (NSW) volunteered with the French Red Cross and treated the wounded soldiers from the battlefields of Gallipoli who were shipped to Cairo. Sydney (NSW) doctor Marjory Little took charge of the 46th Stationary Hospital’s laboratory. The 46th, in Étaples, France, was an isolation hospital in the largest army base camp ever established overseas by the British, and contained one of the army’s most important laboratories.

It’s humbling to think of the strength, courage and will these Australian women doctors, and the others noted in this book, possessed. At a time when women had so little agency, and were barely tolerated in the medical profession, they fearlessly entered the theatre of war and proved themselves more than capable. Infuriatingly they were afforded very little official respect from the Australian or British military, either during or after the war. Though sometimes awarded a nominal rank they were denied full military pay rates and benefits. A handful of the women were awarded minor British medals, none received recognition from Australia. Other countries were more generous, Dr Lilian Cooper (QLD), for example, was awarded the Serbian Order of St Sava, the Russian Cross of St George, and the French Red Cross Medal for her services. Astonishingly, when World War II began, the Australian military again refused the enlistment of Australian women doctors despite their outstanding record of service.

Inspiring and informative, Women to the Front is an important book acknowledging the invaluable contributions made by the extraordinary Australian women who selflessly served the Allied Forces as doctors during World War I.

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