Thursday 30 April 2020

Book Review: THE DARKEST SHORE by Karen Brooks

Author: Karen Brooks
Publisher: HQ Fiction
Read: April 2020
Expected publication: out now

“Above all, THE DARKEST SHORE is a love-letter to the fishwives and all other ‘wicked women’ out there, a tribute to strong, resourceful women whose boldness and courage, and that of their families and the men who stand by them, is cause for wonder, celebration and commemoration.” Karen Brooks about her book THE DARKEST SHORE

Book Description:

The independent women of Scotland stand up to a witch hunt, male fury and the power of the Church in a battle for survival in this compelling historical novel based on true events in early eighteenth century Scotland.

1703: The wild east coast of Scotland.
Returning to her home town of Pittenweem, fishwife and widow Sorcha McIntyre knows she faces both censure and mistrust. After all, this is a country where myth and legend are woven into the fabric of the everyday, a time when those who defy custom like Sorcha has are called to account.

It is dangerous to be a clever woman who 'doesn't know her place' in Pittenweem - a town rife with superstition. So, when a young local falls victim to witchcraft, the Reverend Cowper and the townsfolk know who to blame. What follows for Sorcha and her friends is a terrifying battle, not only for their souls, but for their lives, as they are pitted against the villagers' fear, a malevolent man and the might of the church.

Based on the shocking true story of the witch hunt of Pittenweem, this multi-layered novel is a beautifully written historical tale of the strength of women united against a common foe, by one of Australia's finest writers.

My musings:

If you like books featuring courageous and strong female characters, then look no further. Karen Brooks’ love-letter to the fishwives, who feature prominently in this story – some based on real life characters and some who have sprung from the author’s own imagination – tells of a frightening and yet compelling episode in Scottish history: the Pittenweem witch trials. Set in the small fishing village of Pittenweem on the east coast of Scotland, the story centres around real life events that took part there in 1704, when five local women were accused of witchcraft, and another two women and a man named as accomplices as the result of a story told by a teenage boy. The events that follow will chill you to the core. It is a sign of Brooks’ talent as a writer that she was able to take dry facts gleamed from history books and spun them into a rich tale of courage and solidarity, as her brave fishwives face their accusers and battle to stay alive.

THE DARKEST SHORE brims with richly drawn, well-rounded characters that instantly transported me into 18th century Scotland. I love nothing better than an atmospheric setting, and the books delivered this in spades. As soon as I met the group of fishwives, those brave, fearless women who are as resourceful as they are resilient in the absence of their men at sea, and who look out for one another even if it puts their own lives in danger, I was fully invested in their fates. It is no surprise then that I also took an instant dislike to the minister at the heart of the crisis, a narcissistic fanatic, who unfortunately wields a great deal of power in the village. Let one of the fishwife’s own words speak for themselves:

“Do you hear that, God? You have chosen poorly, Sir, and need to rethink whom you allow to speak on your behalf. They’re letting you down, these men. They pretend a consideration they don’t feel; they lie and cheat and call it your will.”

They are not easily cowered, those fishwives, so it is easy to see how they posed a threat to the social order at the time, especially to the men of the cloth, the religious leaders who imposed strict rules on villages and exerted a massive amount of power. If Brooks thinks of the fishwives as “life-affirming and bold” (in her own words), then she really managed to let these qualities shine through in her characters.


In summary, THE DARKEST SHORE is a story that not only tells of a dark but fascinating chapter in Scottish history, but also offers us a glimpse into the lives of Scottish fishwives, a bunch of strong, courageous and independent women who are true role models for women everywhere. With such a rich cast of strong and intriguing characters and an atmospheric Scottish setting that made the perfect backdrop for a thrilling and chilling read, the book was a pleasure to read from beginning to end. One of the most intriguing and well researched historical fiction books I have read. Highly recommended!

Thank you to HQ Fiction for the free copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Audiobook Review: ONE SUNDAY by Joy Dettman

Author: Joy Dettman
Narrator: Deirdre Rubinstein
Read: April 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

Early one Sunday, the town of Molliston wakes to the news that a young bride is dead. The year is 1929. The Great War with Germany has been fought and won, but at an immense cost to the small community.

Death is too familiar here. So many sons were lost. So many daughters would never be wives; so many grandchildren would never be born.

Racial hatred is like a bushfire in the belly of some. And the dead girl is found only yards from the property of old Joe Reichenberg, a German. Tom Thompson, the local cop, lost his two sons in Gallipoli. He believes he has come to terms with his bereavement - until that Sunday.

Slowly, the true face of Molliston is exposed. By midnight, a full moon is offering its light - and a glimmer of hope.

What attracted me to this book:

I think I must have been living under a rock, because it has taken me this long to discover Joy Dettman’s books! Aussie author, Aussie setting, time travel to the 1920’s – all the things I love in a book, and yet I had never stumbled across this one before now. 

My musings:

Let me tell you, if you love historical fiction set in Australia, then you are in for a real treat. ONE SUNDAY is chockablock full of themes that make for a ripper of a story. Soldiers returning to Australia from WWI, some disfigured, some traumatised, but all with scars of their own, trying to resume lives that had been stolen from them. Small country towns which have lost a great number of their sons, lovers, husbands, fathers to a war on a distant shore. Grieving families, madness, sadness. Hatred of Germans and everything that is of German origin. Small town gossip, politics, feuds and alliances. Domestic abuse, cruelty. Teenage pregnancy. A doomed romance between feuding families. And in the centre of it all a murder: who killed young beautiful Rachel Squire?

ONE SUNDAY had everything I love in a good story, and Dettman is a master story teller to boot. With well rounded, real life characters and interpersonal dynamics that painted the book’s rich cast vividly in my mind, I was invested in each and every one of their stories – and there are lots of them! This book was as addictive as a soapie, and I could not wait to find out all the answers. But most of all, Dettman offers us an observant snapshot of post war Australia with all its problems and lasting scars. There isn’t a character who hasn’t been affected by the war, even though it had been fought on a distant shore. But the loss of so many fine young men has left a huge toll on the whole community and has divided it in ways that had never been an issue before. Those who did return are never the same again. The wounds have stoked the fire of racial hatred, and suddenly the love between Rachel Squire and Christian Reichenberg is taboo.

Tom Thompson, the town’s cop, who is facing his own battles trying to look after his “crazy” wife and mourning the loss of his two boys, is faced with solving Rachel’s murder. In a town where hatred runs so deep, were each and every one has something to hide, it won’t be easy ....

I must also give credit to Deirdre Rubinstein, the narrator of this lengthy audio book, who did an absolutely outstanding job in bringing each and every character to life for me., making this one of the best audio book narrations I have ever listened to.


In summary, ONE SUNDAY may have been the first book I have ever read by Joy Dettman, but it won’t be the last. I have already picked up one of her Woody Creek series and am looking forward to losing myself in more of her brilliant writing. ONE SUNDAY is Australian fiction at its best, giving an insightful snapshot of small town Australia in the 1920’s. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Book Review: THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY by Kelly Rimmer

Author: Kelly Rimmer
Read: March 2020

"War breaks us down to nothing more than our most selfish will to survive - but when we rise above that instinct, miracles can still happen."

Book Description:

In 1942, Europe remains in the relentless grip of war. Just beyond the tents of the Russian refugee camp she calls home, a young woman speaks her wedding vows. It’s a decision that will alter her destiny…and it’s a lie that will remain buried until the next century.

Since she was nine years old, Alina Dziak knew she would marry her best friend, Tomasz. Now fifteen and engaged, Alina is unconcerned by reports of Nazi soldiers at the Polish border, believing her neighbors that they pose no real threat, and dreams instead of the day Tomasz returns from college in Warsaw so they can be married. But little by little, injustice by brutal injustice, the Nazi occupation takes hold, and Alina’s tiny rural village, its families, are divided by fear and hate. Then, as the fabric of their lives is slowly picked apart, Tomasz disappears. Where Alina used to measure time between visits from her beloved, now she measures the spaces between hope and despair, waiting for word from Tomasz and avoiding the attentions of the soldiers who patrol her parents’ farm. But for now, even deafening silence is preferable to grief.

Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative that weaves together two women’s stories into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honor. The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder of the devastation when truth is silenced…and how it can take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust it.

What attracted me to this book:

I love historical fiction set around WWII and always feel drawn to stories exploring this topic. However, I have found that this time period has become popular lately, and that a lot of books promising wartime premises have been romances in disguise, or have been so sloppily researched that they ended up in disappointment, which is why I have been steering clear of them. I wouldn’t have picked this book up if it hadn’t been a buddy read on Instagram, and I am so glad that I did!

My musings:

THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY uses a popular format to tell a tragic story that played out during war-torn Poland – a dual timeline. In the present, Alice is a young woman whose grandmother has been hospitalised after suffering a stroke, leaving her unable to communicate. Through an electronic device Alice’s autistic son uses to convey messages, her grandmother makes it clear that she is desperate for Alice to go to Poland, the land of her birth, to find people from her past. But who? And why?

In the second timeline, we get to know Alina, who is a young woman growing up in Poland at the start of WWII. She is in love with Tomasz, her childhood friend, whom she is planning to marry and start a family with. But the occupation of Poland by the Nazis sets an end to all Alina’s plans, and she is soon finding herself fighting for her life.

Dual timelines always carry the danger that one is more compelling than the other, but this was not a problem here as I found myself quickly drawn to both women characters and invested in their fates. Rimmer beautifully paints the love between grandmother and granddaughter, setting Alice off on a journey that will unearth family secrets noone has ever spoken about. It also demonstrates the effects of trauma on future generations, especially the children of wartime survivors, who often had no idea of the suffering their parents had endured.

Rimmer skilfully conjures up a war-torn Poland and the sense of urgency and danger many people in Alina’s situation found themselves in. As history marches remorselessly on, the atmosphere of the story became more and more claustrophobic and tense, making me fear for Alina’s life. As Rimmer slowly unravelled the surprise she had in store for her readers and for Alice’s family, some things at the beginning of the story suddenly fell into place.


THE THINGS WE CANNOT SAY contained everything I love about well-written historical fiction. It is well researched, starring well-drawn characters with deeply emotional connections that soon wove their way into my heart. Each woman bravely faces the obstacles in their lives, buoyed by love for their families. If you have been put off by recent “popcorn-reads” featuring a WWII setting, rest assured that this book has the kind of emotional depth and historical accuracy that made it impossible to put it down. Highly recommended to lovers of the genre and anyone looking for a story featuring courageous female protagonists and family secrets connected to WWII.

Sunday 19 April 2020

Book Review: THE BASS ROCK by Evie Wyld

Author: Evie Wyld
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia
Read: April 2020
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

Surging out of the sea, the Bass Rock has for centuries watched over the lives that pass under its shadow on the Scottish mainland. And across the centuries the fates of three women are linked: to this place, to each other.

In the early 1700s, Sarah, accused of being a witch, flees for her life.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Ruth navigates a new house, a new husband and the strange waters of the local community.

Six decades later, the house stands empty. Viv, mourning the death of her father, catalogues Ruth’s belongings and discovers her place in the past – and perhaps a way forward.

Each woman’s choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men in their lives. But in sisterhood there is the hope of survival and new life. Intricately crafted and compulsively readable, The Bass Rock burns bright with anger and love.

What attracted me to this book:

I loved Evie Wyld’s atmospheric novel ALL THE BIRDS, SINGING and was very excited to read her latest book!

My musings:

As I am sitting here, digesting the story, I am again marvelling at how Wyld can conjure up such an intensely emotional and atmospheric setting with mere words. In this case, parts of the story filled me with dread and foreboding, as they were undoubtedly intended to do, dealing with issues such as murder, domestic abuse and violence against women in general.

The format of the book was unusual, with one timeline set in the present, one in 1950’s and one back in the 1700’s. Two female characters, Viv and Ruth, dominate most of the book, with whole chapters devoted to them. Interspersed with these are short chapters  from the 1700’s (from a male perspective), as well as snapshots of random acts of violence committed against anonymous woman characters. Male dominance features strongly in each timeline, which stoked feelings of anger and infuriation in me at the scenes I witnessed. Some of it was confronting in its brutality and not for the faint hearted! If I found this format unusual at first, I was soon drawn into the story / stories and they had a strange hold on me.

Wyld’s writing is beautiful and poetic, conjuring up both beauty and horror in equal measures and bringing her characters to life. There was even a small hint of the supernatural in the descriptions of the old house perched on the cliff and its ghostly inhabitants – or where they merely a manifestation of the women’s fears and sorrows? This was not a story that focused on any particular central event, but instead catalogued parts of the lives of these women. Once I got used to the story’s gentle ebb and flow, I was hooked. 


THE BASS ROCK was a dark, disturbing but also captivating tale that chronicles parts of our central female characters’ lives, featuring themes such as male dominance, murder, madness, domestic abuse and violence against women in general. With her different timelines Wyld demonstrates that the issue of violence against women by male perpetrators has been an ongoing relevant topic for centuries, and is still a theme we need to take seriously. She manages to do so in a clever, subtle way that really got under my skin, by simply showcasing her female characters’ experiences. Written in her hallmark beautiful lyrical prose, the story made for disturbing and yet enchanting reading, burrowing itself deep into my psyche. An unusual but very topical read that will appeal to readers who are not solely focused on a beginning-to-end story.

Book Review: DUSTFALL by Michelle Johnston

Author: Michelle Johnston
Publisher: UWA Publishing
Read: March 2020

Book Description:

Dr Raymond Filigree, running away from a disastrous medical career, mistakes an unknown name on a map for the perfect refuge. He travels to the isolated town of Wittenoom and takes charge of its small hospital, a place where no previous doctor has managed to stay longer than an eye blink. Instead of settling into a quiet, solitary life, he discovers an asbestos mining corporation with no regard for the safety of its workers and no care for the truth.

Thirty years later, Dr Lou Fitzgerald stumbles across the abandoned Wittenoom Hospital. She, too, is a fugitive from a medical career toppled by a single error. Here she discovers faded letters and barely used medical equipment, and, slowly the story of the hospital’s tragic past comes to her.

Dustfall is the tale of the crashing consequences of medical error, the suffering caused by asbestos mining and the power of storytelling.

What attracted me to this book:

I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle Johnston through work a few years ago, and was excited to hear that she has branched out from emergency medicine to writing. Being a damn fine ED doctor, I just knew that her experience would make the perfect basis for a brilliant medical thriller, and I was not disappointed.

My musings:

DUSTFALL is set in Wittenoom, an abandoned asbestos mining town in the Hamersley Range in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Since 2006, the town’s name no longer appears on any official maps and road signs, as if it had been erased from Australian soil together with its dark history. As a physician, Johnston knows firsthand the terrible legacy of asbestos mining, and the toll on human lives. Her personal experience of being an emergency doctor also shines through in her two main characters : Lou Fitzgerald, a young ED doctor seeking refuge in the abandoned mining town after a medical error ended her career; and Dr Raymond Filigree, who is a doctor working in the town’s small hospital at the time when the mine is still operational.

It is not easy to find Australian medical mysteries based on the vast knowledge of an author who is also a medical professional – especially a “homegrown” one from WA. You won’t find any inaccuracies here, and all medical emergencies the two fictional doctors encounter are so well presented that I could feel my own adrenaline rush on putting myself in their shoes. As Johnston delves into Wittenoom’s dark history as seen from the perspective of one of the town’s physicians, the true scale of the crime committed there against its residents becomes even more palpable. With a rich cast of characters you would encounter in a remote Australian bush town, the story made for compelling reading.

DUSTFALL is the type of novel that showcases how a dual timeline can add both depth as well as tension to a narrative, and I felt equally invested in both as the mystery slowly unfolded. Atmospheric, with a constant sense of tension and foreboding, the story gripped me from the very beginning and kept me invested until the end. I felt that Johnston beautifully captured the atmosphere of the remote Pilbara region, an area I have spent some time in and which is always close to my heart.


In summary, DUSTFALL is the type of medical mystery that only comes around rarely: beautifully written, well plotted and based on the author’s own experiences and knowledge as an accomplished emergency physician. Set both in the present as well as exploring one of WA’s darkest chapters in history, the book made for compelling reading from start to finish. As a health professional, I appreciated and admired the authenticity with which Johnston explores both her subjects as well as the challenges presented by the remote Australian setting. DUSTFALL was a pleasure to read, and I hope to read more from this talented author in future.

Book Review: BLACK RIVER by Will Dean

Author: Will Dean
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Read: March 2020
Expected publication: out now

Book Description:

Black River is an electrifying return for relentless reporter Tuva Moodyson, from the author of Dark Pines and Red Snow.


Tuva’s been living clean in southern Sweden for four months when she receives horrifying news. Her best friend Tammy Yamnim has gone missing.


Racing back to Gavrik at the height of Midsommar, Tuva fears for Tammy’s life. Who has taken her, and why? And who is sabotaging the small-town search efforts?


Surrounded by dark pine forest, the sinister residents of Snake River are suspicious of outsiders. Unfortunately, they also hold all the answers. On the shortest night of the year, Tuva must fight to save her friend. The only question is who will be there to save Tuva?

What attracted me to this book:

Will Dean’s Tuva Moodyson series has been one of my favourite series since Tuva first made her appearance in DARK PINES, making BLACK RIVER one of my most anticipated books this year!

My musings:

Dean knows how to write an atmospheric, dark and claustrophobic thriller, and whilst each one of his books is set in the same place, he manages to bring a new perspective into his setting with every story. So whilst we first met Tuva in a wintry Gavrik, which was chilling in every way, the events in BLACK RIVER are taking part around midsommar, the time of 24 hour daylight around the Nordic summer solstice. It’s a credit to Dean’s skill as a crime writer to make this happy, light and summery period as dark and chilling as his wintry settings!

The best thing about a good series is the ability to get closer to your characters with every instalment, and I have enjoyed finding out more about Tuva’s life as she embarks on yet another adventure. This time Tuva has a lot more emotional involvement in her investigation, as it’s her best friend Tami who has disappeared into the dark and sinister forest around Gavrik. Apparently Dean lives in a cabin in the woods, where he writes his books – and his intimate knowledge of the dark Swedish forest really shows. Fans of the series will be pleased (or terrified) to see some of the forest’s more sinister inhabitants back, such as the creepy wood carving sisters and the sleazy paramedic who once locked Tuva in his car. There are many more odd characters that make an appearance here, ranging from slightly off-centre to downright scary. You will even find some other forest critters here that may haunt your nightmares long after you have turned the last page. To put it simply: I loved it!

Whilst Dean relies heavily on his claustrophobic setting and his characters to set a scene that is loaded with an undercurrent of danger and menace which never totally lets up, I also found his observations of Swedish culture and custom that pepper the story interesting. Tuva, with her eye for detail and her sharp, often cynical sense of humour, gives a good social commentary that added a lot more depth to the story than found in many other contemporary crime novels.


In summary, BLACK RIVER is another unputdownable instalment in the Tuva Moodyson series. Unsettling, dark and tense, it makes for a perfect crime read with a protagonist who does not fit any stereotype. With her indestructible sense of justice, her courage and her determination, Tuva is one of my favourite fictional amateur detectives. Complimented by a rich cast of characters ranging from oddball to downright creepy, and the type of dark atmospheric setting that has become Dean’s hallmark, this series remains one of my all-time favourite Nordic crime series. I can’t wait to see more of Tuva in future!

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

Saturday 4 April 2020

Book Review: THE SILENCE by Susan Allott

Author: Susan Allott
Publisher: Harper Collins Australia
Read: March 2020
Expected publication: 1 May 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!

“I realised my life was going to be shaped by my husband. His choices, his decisions. Anything was possible, but only for him.”

Book Description:

It is 1997, and in a basement flat in Hackney, Isla Green is awakened by a call in the middle of the night: her father phoning from Sydney. Thirty years ago, in the suffocating heat of summer 1967, the Green's next-door neighbor Mandy disappeared. At the time, it was thought she fled a broken marriage and gone to start a new life; but now Mandy's family is trying to reconnect, and there is no trace of her. Isla's father Joe was allegedly the last person to see her alive, and now he's under suspicion of murder.

Isla unwillingly plans to go back to Australia for the first time in a decade to support her father. The return to Sydney will plunge Isla deep into the past, to a quiet street by the sea where two couples live side by side. Isla's parents, Louisa and Joe, have recently emigrated from England - a move that has left Louisa miserably homesick while Joe embraces his new life. Next door, Steve and Mandy are equally troubled. Mandy doesn't want a baby, even though Steve - a cop trying to hold it together under the pressures of the job - is desperate to become a father.

The more Isla asks about the past, the more she learns: about both young couples and the secrets each marriage bore. Could her father be capable of doing something terrible? How much does her mother know? What will happen to their family if Isla's worst fears are realized? And is there another secret in this community, one which goes deeper into Australia's colonial past, which has held them in a conspiracy of silence?

What attracted me to this book:

Family loyalties.

The legacy of secrets.

The legacy of shame.

It was the cover of THE SILENCE which first attracted my attention, but Erin Kelly’s description was the thing that sealed the deal for me: a book that “excavates dark, decades-old secrets buried in human hearts, in families and in nations.” I can never resist a book about dark family secrets, and was looking forward to some virtual time travel to the 1960’s, one of the timelines in this story.

My musings:

What can I say? THE SILENCE was five stars all the way for me! I filled four pages of my reading journal with quotes, and devoured the book over the course of a day because I just couldn’t tear myself away. Straight from the start, we get to know the three compelling, flawed female characters that are driving the story. Mandy and Louisa, who are two unhappy Australian women trapped in their boring housewife lives in suburbia during the 1960’s. And Isla, Louisa’s adult daughter, who will discover some dark family secrets when the police opens the case of Mandy’s mysterious disappearance.

Set against the backdrop of the terrible events that marked the era of the “Stolen Generation”, THE SILENCE gives a chilling account of a woman’s life in Australia in the 1960’s. Both Mandy and Louisa, bright and vivacious young women, are soon stifled by marriage. They are dependent on their husbands for everything, and have none of the liberties we now take for granted, for example being able to have our own bank account, or being allowed to work, drive a car, travel without the husband’s permission. Steve, Mandy’s husband, may be loving and kind most of the time, but suffers from bouts of depression and guilt from his role in removing indigenous children from their families. Joe, Louisa’s husband, has a dark violent side his daughter still does not want to acknowledge, but which prompted his young wife to flee back home to England with her small child during the summer Mandy went missing.

“There were happy times, weren’t there? Louisa says.
You’re never happy, Isla thinks [...] “Of course there were”, she says. “But the bad times were really bad.”

THE SILENCE was raw and gut-wrenching and got under my skin as only few books can. Each character appeared vividly in my mind, their thoughts, actions and emotions leaving their scars on my psyche. Overall, it was a sad, tragic story, but so well written and so observant that I was utterly captivated all the way. Allott’s insights into the dynamics of an unhappy marriage and the effects on the whole family left a lasting impression, as was her presentation of a woman’s life in Australia during the 1960’s. It’s the era my mother would have experienced as a young wife, and I could see an echo of her among the pages – a bright, independent woman stifled by the restrictions of her time, and by the person who she loved, her husband. It was sobering and yet very compelling. I couldn’t put the book down!

And if the personal portrayal of womanhood and marriage isn’t enough to lure you in, then be assured that there is also a very decent mystery buried in these pages. The historical background, especially the events related to Steve, also delivered a sobering message and one that may present a trigger for readers with indigenous backgrounds, where many generations have been affected by the events portrayed. 


In summary, THE SILENCE was a brilliant book, the type that comes around rarely, containing all the elements of a dark family drama cum mystery that make for an unputdownable read. I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys a multi-layered mystery with compelling characters and a historical context that stays with you long after you have turned the last page. I can’t wait to read more from this author in future!

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

Image result for 5 stars