Friday, 8 November 2019

Book Review: DEAD MAN SWITCH by Tara Moss

Author: Tara Moss
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Sydney, 1946. Billie Walker is living life on her own terms. World War II has left her bereaved, her photojournalist husband missing and presumed dead. Determined not to rely on any man for her future, she re-opens her late father's detective agency.

Billie's bread and butter is tailing cheating spouses - it's easy, pays the bills and she has a knack for it. But her latest case, the disappearance of a young man, is not proving straightforward ...

Soon Billie is up to her stylish collar in bad men, and not just the unfaithful kind - these are the murdering kind. Smugglers. Players. Gangsters. Billie and her loyal assistant must pit their wits against Sydney's ruthless underworld and find the young man before it's too late.


My musings:


Every now and then, I really love a good PI story, and the combination of plucky female protagonist and historical setting in post-war Sydney made this one an irresistible temptation for me! As we got introduced to Billie Walker, I got definite Kinsey Millhone vibes here (from Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series) – an independent smart woman protagonist in a man’s world, investigating the “old fashioned” way, without the help of internet or databases and the like.

I’ve read a few of Moss’ novels and like her writing style, which beautifully brought post-war Sydney to life for me. That I couldn’t fully connect to Billie is probably a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”, and seeing that this is the first of the series, a bond may yet develop later. At times I just felt that Billie’s role as independent PI did not quite gel with the general role of women at the time, a struggle that she may well have overcome but which did not really shine through for me. Perhaps I would have found it more credible had we learnt more about her humble beginnings working for her father (or someone else), than emerging as a fully fledged emancipated woman who just didn’t quite match my impression of the post-war era woman for me. As it was, I found it difficult to get into her head and to understand what motivated her to act the way she did.


Saying that, if you like a good detective story with some old fashioned sleuthing and following the clues to get to the answer at the same time the main character does (without the killer twist you will never see coming), then this is the sort of book that should be on your reading list. Post-war Sydney makes a great backdrop against a colourful cast of characters who complimented Billie’s quest to find a missing seventeen-year-old boy.



Summary:



All in all, whilst I did not fully connect to the main character here, I am intrigued by this new series, especially its post-war Sydney setting, which will see me coming back for further instalments in future. Moss writes well and I look forward to Billie Walker’s next case in the hope she will grow on me just like Kinsey did all those years ago.


Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.




If you enjoyed the post-war Sydney setting, make sure to check out this series:


The Diggers Rest Hotel (Charlie Berlin, #1) The Digger's Rest Hotel, by Geoffrey McGeachin

Book Review: THE LOST SUMMERS OF DRIFTWOOD by Vanessa McCausland

Author: Vanessa McCausland
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: 16 December 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Phoebe's life has fallen apart and there's only one place left to go. Alone and adrift after a failed marriage proposal, she flees Sydney to her family's abandoned holiday cottage.

On the slow-moving river Phoebe is confronted with the legacy of her older sister's suicide, a year before. Why did Karin leave a note written in flowers and walk into the water?

Phoebe's childhood love, Jez, has moved back to the beautiful old house, Driftwood, one jetty down. He's married now and the home has become a refuge for an unlikely little community.

As the river begins to give up its secrets, Phoebe finds herself caught up in old feelings and new mysteries.

My musings:


I’m always a total sucker for an atmospheric setting, which initially attracted me to THE LOST SUMMERS OF DRIFTWOOD. If the title and the book cover alone evoke a dreamy, melancholy feel, then you will be pleased to hear that the author’s words build on this theme with her beautiful story of family secrets, grief, reinventing yourself and ultimately healing and hope. It brings to life an Australia many of you may remember from your own childhood – holidays in a little cabin by the water, barbeques on hot summer nights, smoky skies with the threat of bushfires in the distance, birdsong, the hum of flies against the window pane. Vanessa McCausland has such a beautiful way with words that the setting sprang to life in front of my eyes, almost a character in itself. Add Phoebe, a young woman whose whole world has come crashing down after the apparent suicide of her older sister almost a year ago, followed by a recent relationship breakdown. Having hit rock-bottom, she flees back to the place where happy memories live – the family’s holiday cottage on the bank of a tranquil river, the very same place where her sister walked into the water to die.


Since the story relies on secrets kept and changing dynamics between characters, I will try to give as little away as possible here. It is safe to say though that Phoebe really touched my heart, and I felt a kinship with her that comes from having lived through loss and grief and the journey back to healing. I particularly appreciated that the author was not afraid to touch on some dark topics and explore her characters’ deepest secrets instead of going down the “happily ever after” route that would have robbed the book of the deep impact it left on me long after reading it. As Phoebe seeks solace in a place that has happy memories for her, she must also confront some truths about herself, her family and her past that are painful. After a journey through every possible emotion, its lingering message was that of love, and hope, and personal growth that left a warm glow in my heart (and I am not the warm and fuzzy reader type, so this takes some doing!). 


Summary:



All in all, THE LOST SUMMERS OF DRIFTWOOD is a beautiful, evocative and quintessentially Australian story that touches on topics of childhood, family, grief, first love and a sense of connection to places from our past. It touched my heart in all the right places and brought out a lot of emotions from my own life. McCausland has a beautiful way with words that brings to life the magical landscape of a small coastal Australian town as well as a rich cast of characters that became as real to me as people I had known all my life. A perfect summer read that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.





Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.



Friday, 1 November 2019

Book Review: DEVIL'S LAIR by Sarah Barrie

Title: DEVIL'S LAIR
Author: Sarah Barrie
Publisher: Harlequin Australia
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


After the violent death of her husband, Callie Jones retreats to a cottage in the grounds of an old mansion in Tasmania. The relative remoteness of the place and the wild beauty of the Tasmanian landscape are a balm to her shattered nerves and the locals seem friendly, particularly horseman Connor Atherton and his siblings at the nearby property, Calico Lodge.

But all is not well: the old mansion has a sinister past, one associated with witchcraft and murder. As Callie is threatened by odd events in the night and strange dreams overtake her sleep, she begins to doubt her own sanity. What's really going on beneath the surface of this apparently peaceful town? Are her friends and neighbours really who they seem? As events escalate, Callie starts to realise that the mansion may hold the key to unlocking the mystery, but the truth might have as much power to destroy as it does to save.

My musings:


This book is a difficult one for me to review because I think that we just weren’t a good fit for each other. I picked it up a few times and put it down again, lured repeatedly by its promise of some Gothic suspense. Just a disclaimer, which is purely my personal opinion, but if you are a fan of Jane Harper’s THE DRY, you are not guaranteed to automatically gel with this book, even if the blurb states so. I don’t think that comparing books to other best sellers does them any favours, UNLESS they are very similar in style. However, to me – whilst an entertaining read – DEVIL’S LAIR lacked the grit of Jane Harper’s or Sarah Bailey’s novels. This is not a bad thing for readers who love a good romantic suspense novel. But for someone who doesn’t do romance well, it was a bit like false advertising.

However, saying that, I can fully appreciate how DEVIL’S LAIR will be a good fit for readers who love a rural romance set in an atmospheric setting with some crime thrown in. There is a bit of murder and suspense, but in a non-confrontational manner that is more easily digestible for readers who shy away from graphic violence. I really enjoyed the Tassie setting and was thoroughly intrigued when the old mansion started to turn a bit creepy – even though there was not enough of that stuff in my opinion. Barrie sets the scene well, and I could easily picture those lush gardens set among green Tassie hills. Despite earlier misgivings, I came to like Callie and thought her to be a plucky character who was not afraid to face her inner demons and rise from the ashes of her traumatic past to make a better life for herself. I also really enjoyed Barrie’s writing style, which was the one thing that kept me reading to the end, even when the romance threatened to take over the storyline.

On the downside, there were so many characters with strange names to keep track of. Not a single Jack, Joe or Jane in the whole group!  They were each going about their daily lives, which took up a lot of the story with often mundane descriptions of everyday stuff that wasn’t relevant to the plot. Sometimes that works well for me, other times I get a bit bored. I thought that instead of hearing about tree planting and meals in the staff room, or random conversations between the twenty or so characters working on the property, I would have loved to see a bit more action, especially the spooky stuff that was going on in the old house. It had so much more potential to be super creepy! There was even a weird over-friendly guy who gave me goosebumps for all the wrong reasons and it skirted the border of spooky a few times, but never quite got over the finish line.


Instead, I got a very predictable romance between the two main characters that held absolutely no surprises and little interest for me. As I said – not a good fit for this reader! At some point, my cynical mind coined the story as The Bachelor with some weird Gothic murders thrown in, which no one seemed particularly freaked out about. If I had found a few mutilated corpses on my property (who BTW were staff members of mine), my first priority would probably not be to feed the B & B guests and impress the visiting food critic. I could go on and on about all the things that bugged me about the crime elements of the book, but it would take way too long – let’s just say I had major issues with credibility here. Towards the end, I felt that the author was trying too hard to fit in as much weird stuff as possible – there were cases of mistaken identity, a few ritualistic murders, mental illness, a psychopath on a killing spree, witchcraft, things that go bump in the night ... too much, TOO MUCH! 


Summary:



To sum it all up, I concede that DEVIL’S LAIR and I were not a good match. I suspect that many lovers of gritty Australian crime will struggle with some of the same elements that made my eyes roll back in my head like a Chucky doll, leading to the consumption of several paracetamol to quell the ensuing headache. I really think that comparing this book to THE DRY is doing it a disservice – fans of cosier mysteries and romantic suspense will most likely enjoy it much more than I did.


Thank you to Netgalley and Harlequin Australia for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.



Thursday, 31 October 2019

Book Review: THE DREAM DAUGHTER by Diane Chamberlain

Author: Diane Chamberlain
Read: October 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


When Caroline Sears receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970 and there seems to be little that can be done. But her brother-in-law, a physicist, tells her that perhaps there is. Hunter appeared in their lives just a few years before—and his appearance was as mysterious as his past. With no family, no friends, and a background shrouded in secrets, Hunter embraced the Sears family and never looked back.

Now, Hunter is telling her that something can be done about her baby's heart. Something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Caroline has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage that Caroline never knew existed. Something that will mean a mind-bending leap of faith on Caroline's part.

And all for the love of her unborn child.

A rich, genre-spanning, breathtaking novel about one mother's quest to save her child, unite her family, and believe in the unbelievable. Diane Chamberlain pushes the boundaries of faith and science to deliver a novel that you will never forget.

My musings:


What was the last book that managed to steal past all your defences and shoot an arrow straight through your heart? THE DREAM DAUGHTER was that type of book for me. As soon as I turned the last page, I felt an intense sense of loss for the story and the characters – it’s always the sign of a very special read when the characters seem like friends or family and finishing the book leaves behind an almost physical longing to continue being part of their journey. Rarely has a story touched my heart like THE DREAM DAUGHTER. I felt 100% invested. I laughed, I cried, I dug my nails into my hands until they left deep indents. I gripped my teeth as things didn’t go as expected. Such a rollercoaster ride of emotions!

I cannot discuss this book without a very small spoiler, so if you haven’t read it yet, please stop now – it’s definitely worth going into this one blindly!

How far would you go to save your child? Would you move to another city? Another country? Another time? When Carly Sears receives the devastating news that her unborn daughter has an unsurvivable  heart defect, she is – as you would expect – devastated. She has recently lost her husband Joe to the Vietnam war, and this baby is the only thing that has kept her battling through her grief. In 1970, there is nothing that can be done for her baby. However, 30 years later there will be medical advances that could save her daughter. If time travel was possible, would you take that chance?

I think if you are a parent, you will know this is a no-brainer. Of course you would! Yes, Carly has her sister and her home to tie her to the 70’s, but her husband is dead and this is her first baby – the only baby she will ever have with Joe. Of course she will do anything to save her. And so starts an unusual journey – one young mother’s quest to save her child at all costs.

If you have read my reviews or know me at all, you will also know that I struggle with suspension of disbelief. Really? I hear you say, you read a story about time travel and actually enjoyed it? That, my friends, I did. I more than enjoyed it – I loved it! It stole my heart. Rarely has a story affected me as much as this one, and I am awed how the author could tackle such a difficult and tricky subject with such skill. It was just perfect in every way! Keeping me at the edge of my seat as Carly embarks on her journey. There was drama, and suspense, and an ending that tied everything together in a way that was wholly satisfying in every aspect. Furthermore, the author managed the tricky balance of making something we think of as impossible plausible, without trying to over-explain or complicate matters. Each piece slotted into place seamlessly to create a story that just WORKED.


Apart from Carly’s quest, I also wholly enjoyed the nostalgic travel back in time, and it made for a lot of reflection. Yes, we have made a lot of medical advances. There is so much technology today that was unheard of in the 70’s. And yet, life was so much simpler then. What would you prefer? I loved the way Carly reflects on all the differences between her time and the future / present, and the good and bad aspects of each. It certainly made me think! I wish I had read this with a group to be able to discuss the many things that came up for me.


Summary:


All in all, some books manage to touch your heart very deeply, and THE DREAM DAUGHTER was that sort of book for me. It easily made it onto my all-time-favourites list and my friends and family have heard ALL about it. It’s a beautiful story about the sacrifices you make to save your child, with a special twist that will have you reflect on the past, present and future and everything you take for granted. Definitely one of the best books I have read this year, brought to life by Chamberlain’s beautiful writing. Very highly recommended!


Image result for 5 stars



Friday, 25 October 2019

Book Review: GRACE'S TABLE by Sally Piper

Title: GRACE'S TABLE
Author: Sally Piper
Publisher: Legend Press
Read: October 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Grace had not had twelve people at her table for a while. This wasn’t the kind of family who shared regular Sunday meals. But you don’t turn 70 every day.

As her friends and family arrive for lunch, memories are rekindled but not all of them are welcome. As the meal is served, it becomes clear that events of the past have left their mark on everyone at the table in vastly different ways. Grace is reminded that age is no guarantee of wisdom and there is much still to learn from the young at heart. As the family finally confront a shocking event in their past, Grace is forced to face her own shortcomings as a parent and wife and left to contemplate the ways in which grief and regret have resonated through her life.

This moving and often funny novel dissects the lives of women over three generations, explores the pull and power of memory and celebrates the triumph of endurance.

My musings:


I’m not going to lie, it took me several attempts at this book until I got into it, as I initially found it off to a really slow start. Sometimes that’s ok, and other times I need an instant attention grabber to keep me interested. But I am so glad I persevered, because GRACE’S TABLE turned out to be a deeply reflective journey for me that made me ponder family, marriage and life in general.

Basically, GRACE’S TABLE revolves around Grace, who is celebrating her 70th birthday by hosting a dinner for her family in her home. As the blurb states:”This wasn’t the kind of family who shared regular Sunday meals.” Interesting - why? As her children, grandchildren and closest friends come together, some old family memories come to the surface that may explain the rift between Grace and her adult children.

As I close this book and reflect on its message, I still feel deeply saddened for Grace. She knew passion once, but as a young woman growing up in conservative small-town Australia, she ended up with the sort of husband everyone approved of but who ultimately did not make her happy. In fact, reading about Grace’s marriage awakened a rage in me that obviously touched some raw spot, and I was instantly grateful that my generation enjoyed so much more freedom of choice when it came to choosing a life partner. As Grace reflects back on her life, I could see the confident and passionate young woman and nurse becoming stifled by an ill-suited partner who would soon suffocate any sense of hope and dreams she had ever had, turning her into a dutiful but unhappy mother and wife. On the other hand, Des, Grace’s husband, was probably as much of a product of his time as Grace was, and in a way I could see my grandparents’ roles reflected in both characters, living up to the expectations of their era dutifully, losing a little bit of themselves along the way. I am not excusing Des’ constant bullying, from dictating what foods Grace was allowed to cook to expecting her to bow to his every wish, but sadly, this too often was the reality women found themselves in during that era. It was through Grace’s fond memories of her Dad that we saw how much Grace suffered, even though she may have seen him through the rose-tinted glasses of a daughter rather than a wife.

When Grace’s life is derailed by a terrible tragedy, it is little surprise that it fragments the family for good. It was at this point in the book that I felt like letting out a scream of raw pain, because Piper brings to life one of the most horrific things a woman would ever have to endure. I’m not about to give spoilers, but be prepared! At this point, I felt truly invested in Grace’s story, and it will be an image that will stay with me in all its horror.


Also interesting was Grace’s relationship with her daughter Susan. Susan was close to her father, and still resents her mother for not loving him (children can always tell), and for her emotional absence after the trauma she suffered. These were such complex family relationships, and I felt that I would have loved to discuss it all with another reader! Through Grace’s relationships with the different members of her family and her closest friends, we become privy to the real Grace, and it was this aspect of the book that ultimately made me glad I finished it.


Summary:


If you like stories exploring the complexities of family relationships, then this one should definitely be on your list. It is a slow, character-driven story that takes a bit to get going, but once you are in Grace’s head you will appreciate the foundations Piper has laid here for her story. My only regret is not having read this with a book buddy so we could discuss it, as there was much to reflect upon. Which is the very reason I would recommend GRACE’S TABLE as a book club or buddy read. Beautifully written and very reflective! 


Thank you to Netgalley and Legend Press  for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.