Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Book Review: THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF H by Sarah Burton



Author:  Sarah Burton

Publisher:  Legend Press

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Orphaned young, H is sent to live with her doting aunt in London. H's life is a happy one until her lecherous cousin robs her of her innocence, and the plague takes away the city and the people she loves. H is cast out—friendless, pregnant and destitute--into the rapidly emptying streets of London under quarantine.

Forced to fend for herself, she is determined to gain back the life she lost. H will face a villain out for revenge, find love in the most unexpected places, and overcome a betrayal that she never could have foreseen. Weathering it all, can H charm, or scheme, her way to the life of freedom and independence that she longs for?


My musings:


What a curious little jaunt through 17th century London this book proved to be! I admit that it was pure cover love that first drew me to the story, and I am so glad that I embarked on this journey. Covering historical events such as the plague, the Great Fire of London and the Shrove Tuesday Riots, this was not only an unusual but refreshingly honest (and sometimes funny) tale told through the eyes of an enigmatic, plucky young protagonist.


After having been orphaned as a young child,  the girl “H” and her older sister are sent to live with an aunt in London, where they act as part surrogate daughters, part hired help in their relative’s large and comfortable house. Life is good until a series of disasters (being raped by an older cousin, falling pregnant and losing most of her remaining family to the plague), H finds herself on the streets, having to fend for herself to survive. But she is nothing but resourceful, and the following story tells of her adventures ...


If you think that having a character only referred to as “H” is strange, don’t let this put you off from reading this delightful book – you will find out the reason soon enough! H was a wonderful protagonist, representing the life of a young woman in the era, even if her journey was anything but ordinary. This is not the type of dry, tedious historical fiction often encountered when reading about the late middle ages, but a story full of family drama, intrigue and adventure. The setting in old London town is atmospheric and evokes the era perfectly, especially in the grip of the plague and with a fire destroying great parts of the city. I also fell in love with many of the other colourful characters starring in H’s life, which added interesting side elements to the story.


At times, I was divided between taking the book as an entertaining romp (it appears at times not to take itself too seriously, with H’s often quite humorous observations) and wanting a bit more emotional depth, for example the terrible stresses encountered during the plague, which sometimes felt rushed and a bit glossed over. Covering a large timespan, the story often jumped over details I really wanted to explore a bit deeper.




All in all, THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF H was an atmospheric, entertaining romp through 17th century London, led by an enigmatic female lead. Exploring the darker elements of the time through a tongue-in-cheek lens, the book never became dark or confronting despite not shirking away from the hardships faced by women of the era. The book made a pleasant change from others in the genre, not overly romanticizing history but also managing to remain upbeat and often laugh-out-loud funny when seeing the world through H’s eyes. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this author in future.



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.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Book Review: THE FAMILY DOCTOR by Debra Oswald



Author:  Debra Oswald

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Paula is a dedicated suburban GP, who is devastated by the murder of a friend and her children by their estranged husband and father. Stacey and the children had been staying with her after fleeing his control, and Paula is haunted by the thought that she couldn't protect them when they most needed it. How had she missed the warning signs? How had she failed to keep them safe?

Not long after, a patient with suspicious injuries brings her anxious young son into Paula's surgery. The woman admits that her husband hurts her, but she's terrified to leave for fear of escalating the violence, and defeated by the consistent failures of the law to help her.

Can Paula go against everything she believes to make sure one woman is saved, one child spared? She isn't motivated by revenge. She's desperately trying to prevent a tragedy . . .


My musings:


Before I begin, let me tell you a little story we were told in an ethics class long ago, which has always stayed in my mind. A train is racing towards a canyon, where the bridge has collapsed. You have the power to stop the train by diverting it onto an unused line, but a family are sitting on the tracks having a picnic and there is no time to warn them. What do you do? Let the train run its current course and know that hundreds of passengers are doomed, or save them by diverting the train but kill a family in the process?


This is the sort of ethical dilemma Dr Paula Kackzmarek faces in Oswald’s confronting and thought provoking novel THE FAMILY DOCTOR. Paula has always been a rock to her friends and family, even through times of personal tragedy when she lost her young husband to cancer. When her long-time friend Stacey and her two kids had to flee their family home to escape Stacey’s violent husband, Paula didn’t hesitate to take them in. But then the unthinkable happened, and Paula came home from work to find her friend and her two children had been shot by her estranged husband, in a terrible murder-suicide. So when Paula encounters a woman and her child in her clinic, bearing the scars of domestic violence, she is determined to help her. With a system often powerless to stop violence against women and legal processes that see many predators freed due to technicalities, Paula feels helpless. Can she stand back and risk another woman being killed by her violent husband, or should she take matters into her own hands?


When I picked up THE FAMILY DOCTOR, I had no idea how deeply this novel would draw me in, and keep me captivated in a state of permanent moral conflict. Initially I stood firmly on my own moral highground, but as the story unfolded, layer after layer, I realised what a complex and ambivalent story this had become. Oswald draws her characters so well that I was quickly emotionally invested and could no longer look away or pretend that this was not troubling me on many levels. Even now, I feel like I need to discuss this book with someone! According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1 in 6 women have experienced violence from a current or previous partner. These terrible numbers don’t lie!


Throughout the book, I felt the author’s frustration with a legal system that often sets predators free, only to continue the cycle of violence. By exploring the topic through a variety of characters – a doctor, a journalist covering a murder trial where a man has been accused of killing his girlfriend, a police detective plus several victims of domestic violence – Oswald explores all the ethical and moral nooks and crannies associated with this issue.




THE FAMILY DOCTOR is a well researched, well written novel that really got under my skin! I was in a constant state of anxiety trying to sort out my own thoughts about Paula’s situation, and confronting my own moral highground and preconceived ideas about many issues surrounding the topic of domestic violence in our society today. Being set in Australia made it even more relevant, as it described processes I am familiar with through my work and everyday life. This was a profound if troubling piece of writing, which will stay in my mind for a long time to come. I can’t wait to read more from this author in future!

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Book Review: THE KILLING KIND by Jane Casey



Author:  Jane Casey

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


He tells you you’re special…
As a barrister, Ingrid Lewis is used to dealing with tricky clients, but no one has ever come close to John Webster. After Ingrid defended Webster against a stalking charge, he then turned on her – following her, ruining her relationship, even destroying her home.

He tells you he wants to protect you…

Now, Ingrid believes she has finally escaped his clutches. But when one of her colleagues is run down on a busy London road, Ingrid is sure she was the intended victim. And then Webster shows up at her door…

What attracted me to this book:


Jane Casey is one of my favourite authors and I have devoured every single instalment of her Maeve Kerrigan series. I was absolutely stoked to find out that she had a new standalone thriller out and read it as soon as it became available. You might gather from the five stars in my galaxy that I adored this book as much as all her others!

My musings:


Casey knows how to write a riveting, clever, multi-layered psychological thriller that has as many twists and blind alleys as trying to navigate the streets of Venice at night, blindfolded – there is a good chance that you are going to fall into a canal and drown. I had so many theories that got blasted out of the court one by one, in gob-smacking twists that met me around blind corners whenever I thought I was on track.


Ingrid Lewis is a young barrister whose life has been ruined by the unwanted attentions of one of her former clients, conman John Webster, who has been stalking her mercilessly for years. Being cunning and clever, he has been able to evade law enforcement all this time. When one of Ingrid’s colleagues dies tragically in suspicious circumstances, she is afraid that Webster is behind it, and that she had been the intended target. The stakes have just become a lot higher ...


Casey paints a grim picture of being stalked by a sociopath, and the clever ways in which Webster torments Ingrid without enough evidence to ever pin a charge on him. It was scary imagine the powerlessness Ingrid would feel, relentlessly haunted by this awful man. Once people started dying, the undercurrent of menace and danger rose to new levels, and I absolutely couldn’t put the book down! Then came Casey’s first major twist, blazing across the horizon and bam! All my theories were out the window again. This proved to be an ongoing theme in this clever book, and I loved being proven wrong as the twists kept coming.


THE KILLING KIND is exactly the kind of multi-layered thriller I love. It contained everything a book needs to be unputdownable: an enigmatic lead (who may or may not be just a tiny little bit dishonest in her telling of events), a villain in relentless pursuit, some side characters who will all have a few surprises in store (boy oh boy, didn’t they ever!) and a mounting body count. This was such an adrenaline fuelled read, even in the scenes where Ingrid just goes about her daily life. I will not say any more about the plot, because you’re best to go into this blind and let the story sweep you along.




All in all, THE KILLING KIND is a stalker suspense story of the highest order. Multi-layered, clever and original, it shows Casey as a master of the genre and will keep you guessing to the end. One of my favourite reads this year (no surprises here) and one I very highly recommend!

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Book Review: HAIRPIN BRIDGE by Taylor Adams



Author:  Taylor Adams

Publisher:  Joffe Books

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Three months ago, Lena’s estranged twin sister drove to a remote bridge in Montana, exited her car, and jumped two hundred feet to her death. She left behind a vague suicide note and no answers.

Lena suspects murder. Armed with an audio recorder, she travels to that very bridge to interview the highway patrolman who allegedly discovered her sister's body – and catch him in an incriminating lie. But as her twin's fateful last hours come into focus, Lena's search for the truth turns into a harrowing, tooth-and-nail fight for her own survival – and one that will test everything she thought she knew about her sister.

She wants the truth. Even if it costs her life.


My musings:


Yeah, yeah, I know! Before you comment on the lack of stars in my galaxy, just let me say that this was always most likely going to be a “it’s-not-you-it’s-me” type of read for me, considering I am one of the few readers on here who wasn’t overly enamoured by NO EXIT.


I remember a biking holiday on a small Indonesian island a few years ago, where the road was so full of potholes that even going at 10km/hr felt like risking life and limb. We took it as a challenge, but it just wasn’t all that enjoyable. How is this relevant, you ask? Well, I felt a little bit like this here, dodging the plotholes, expecting yet another farfetched twist or stereotype to hit me every time I rounded the corner.


HAIRPIN BRIDGE is a story which played out over a few hours, starring only three (almost four – or five, if you count the reptilian kind) characters and one single setting. To fill 320 odd pages with a very minimalist cast was never going to be an easy feat. Not only would the characters have to be very complex and enigmatic to pull the reader in, but they also had to have a multi layered and intriguing backstory. That was a lot of pressure on our main protagonist Lena Nguyen, a young woman investigating the apparent suicide of her estranged twin sister Cambry. Basically, the whole book revolves around Lena’s meeting with the police officer who found her sister’s body, and her multiple theories of what could have happened to Cambry in the days and hours leading up to her death. I give bonus points to the inclusion of blog entries, in which Lena shares her findings and theories with her followers. The rest is one epically long stand-off between Lena and two other characters, which I shall not name because this is the only mystery element you are going to get here!


My personal views are that if you have a slightly built female who will turn action hero, sharp shooter and indestructible bionic powerwoman, she needs to have a) a plausible history of what made her this way; b) very powerful motivation; and c) some sort of genetic mutation that makes her immune to assaults on her body that would incapacitate, maim or kill the rest of us mere mortals. Google “action movie tropes” and you will find most of them in the scenes on the bridge (bonus points for the snake, though!). Some stereotypes were so crass that I am surprised no other readers commented on them (the small Asian “girl” turned ninja vs the big ugly brutish badies – pleaaaaseeee! *eye-roll*).


Okay, let’s just cut a long rant short by saying that this book was never going to be a good choice for me. If it had not been a buddy read, I would have DNF’d very early on and moved on with my life. As it was, I did a lot of sighing and eye rolling and wishing that I was enjoying it as much as the other readers in the group. However, if you love action movies, car chases, an indestructible badass female lead and badies who are almost caricatures, and aren’t put off by lots of graphic violence and stereotypes, then you will probably love this book (I must admit that the first car chase did ratchet up the tension because who doesn’t love a good car chase?). I can see that for readers attracted to the premise of the story and those able to suspend disbelief, this might be a fast, entertaining and adrenaline fuelled read. Best go and judge for yourself.



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

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Book Review: THE PACT by Sharon Bolton



Author:  Sharon Bolton

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


A golden summer, and six talented friends are looking forward to the brightest of futures - until a daredevil game goes horribly wrong, and a woman and two children are killed.

18-year-old Megan takes the blame, leaving the others free to get on with their lives. In return, they each agree to a 'favour', payable on her release from prison.

Twenty years later Megan is free.
Let the games begin . . .

What attracted me to this book:


I’ve devoured every single book by Sharon Bolton and I just love the way her mind works. She is not called the Queen of Gothic for nothing! When I read the synopsis for her latest book, THE PACT, I knew I would be in for another treat. 

My musings:


A night of partying and a drunken dare between six friends ends up in a terrible hit-and-run accident that kills a mother and her two young children. Even though she was just a passenger in the car that caused the accident, eighteen-year-old Megan agrees to take the fall for it to protect her friends. They make a pact that she will serve prison time, but they will stand by her, and each of them will owe Megan one favour – anything she asks. Now, twenty years later, Megan is back. Her former friends haven’t kept their side of the bargain, and she is ready to collect the debts she is owed ...


What a deliciously dark, twisted tale this was! Each of the friends have moved on with their lives, trying to forget the accident that sent Megan to jail, and, even worse, pretend that Megan never existed. With an eye for the darker corners of the human psyche, Bolton explores the friendship dynamics between this bunch of unlikeable, privileged, arrogant people, which left me speechless at times. I loved seeing the friendships unravel as panic takes hold on Megan’s return into their fold.


Bolton is a skilled writer and her story is intricately constructed, so the clues are revealed slowly, as layer after layer is peeled away. I must say that I was firmly in team Megan as her shitty friends were trying to cut her out of their lives. But of course with Bolton nothing is black and white, and the surprises kept coming as the story took a more and more sinister turn.


THE PACT is one of those dark, twisty and cleverly crafted psychological thrillers from a master of the genre that will keep you spellbound from beginning to end. I couldn’t put it down! And finally, when I thought I had it all worked out, came the fast-paced, adrenaline fuelled and totally unpredictable finale. Bravo! One of the best thrillers I have read this year and definitely one for my favourites list. Highly recommended to readers who love a clever psychological thriller that features fascinating friendship dynamics and a constant undercurrent of escalating danger and menace.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Book Review: GIRL, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke


Title: GIRL,11

Author:  Amy Suiter Clarke

Publisher:  Pushkin Press

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ.25


Book Description:


Once a social worker specializing in kids who were the victims of violent crime, Elle Castillo is now the host of a popular true crime podcast that tackles cold cases of missing children in her hometown of the Twin Cities. After two seasons of successfully solving cases, Elle decides to tackle her white whale—The Countdown Killer. Twenty years ago, TCK abruptly stopped after establishing a pattern of taking and ritualistically murdering three girls over seven days, each a year younger than the last. No one’s ever known why—why he stopped with his eleventh victim, a girl of eleven years old, or why he followed the ritual at all.

When a listener phones in with a tip, Elle sets out to interview him, only to discover his dead body. And within days, a child is abducted following the original TCK MO. Unlike the experts in the media and law enforcement who have always spun theories of a guilty suicide, Elle never believed TCK had died, and her investigation was meant to lay that suspicion to rest. But instead, her podcast seems to be kicking up new victims.

What attracted me to this book:


I love mysteries that feature different ways of storytelling, and the book-within-a-book or podcast-within-a-book are two of my favourites. There is so much potential here to drive the story along at a good pace and introduce peripheral characters whose use is primarily to provide information. As soon as I heard that GIRL, 11 features a true crime podcast, I knew I had to read it.

My musings:


Cold cases hold a special fascination for the public – a killer who has never been found is a killer who is still out there, potentially still posing a danger to innocent people. And everyone likes to see justice being done, not someone getting away with murder (quite literally). Which are two of the reasons that attract me to the theme of cold-case investigations. In GIRL, 11, we have a particularly nasty serial killer, one who targets children. He is also meticulous in his planning and the execution of his crimes, which has seen him evade law enforcement for over twenty years. Elle, a social worker who specialises in children who have been the victims of violent crime, has targeted The Countdown Killer (TCK) in her true crime podcast in an effort of unearthing more witnesses and evidence that could lead to his capture. But then a listener who calls Elle with information suddenly winds up dead and the stakes become a lot higher still...


Let me start by saying that I absolutely loved the podcast elements in this book, which were brilliantly done. Even though we cannot hear the music scores, special sound effects and voiceovers in the podcast, nor are we able to see or hear all the characters involved, the author has written the podcast chapters in a way that brought it to life for me. I felt as if I was tuning in, and I was excited to come along for the ride!


It’s hard to put my fingers on reasons why the rest of the story didn’t grab me as much as I would have liked, but I will try:


*) Elle herself was the sort of character who should be able to drive this particular story well, and yet I never really fully connected to her. It’s not because she is holding things back from the reader (I do love a good unreliable narrator), but something just didn’t click between us. I think I would have preferred Elle to live in a share house, be down on her luck and recording her podcast in the basement than this uber-confident “I am a brilliant investigator” type person who preaches quite a few times about current affairs topics that weren’t part of the story.

*) I’m never very fond of chapters written from the perspective of the killer (with the exception of THE NOTHING MAN by Catherine Ryan Howard) because often they turn out to be stereotypes or give away too much. As soon as the killer’s POV made an appearance, the story became predictable for me and totally lost steam. TBH, the mix between trying to make us feel empathy for the killer because of his traumatic childhood on one hand, and asking us not to give the killer any attention for his crimes was odd.

*) Characters that were just a bit too “convenient”. The perfect medical examiner husband who has all the facts of the recent murders at hand to share with Elle. The police chief friend, who invites civilian Elle to be part of the investigation. The modern single mum career-woman friend whose ten-year-old-going-on-forty daughter is of course so much tougher and smarter than most of her peers. I can’t really put a finger on why these bothered me so much, but all together they didn’t ring true to me. Some side characters almost seemed like “token” characters to me to add diversity.


I think that with a bit of tweaking and editing out of information that didn’t add all that much to the story, the book would have moved at a faster pace and kept my interest for longer. As it was, I eagerly devoured the podcast chapters but almost groaned every time TCK made an appearance.





GIRL, 11 will appeal to readers who enjoy the use of different story elements in a thriller, in this case episodes of a true crime podcast. The author really brought the podcast elements to life with the use of snappy dialogue and descriptions of other effects used to garner the audience’s attention. And whilst some of the other story elements dragged a little for me, the overall mystery was intriguing enough to keep reading.



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

If you love podcasts featuring in books you may also like:

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Book Review: THE LOST APOTHECARY by Sarah Penner



Author:  Sarah Penner

Publisher:  Legend Press

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ.25


Book Description:


A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.


My musings:


Historical novels with two separate timelines have become very popular. They usually go something like this: someone in the present discovers an old photo / diary / artefact which links to a past mystery / tragedy / secret, and both timelines run parallel as our modern day protagonist finds the clues. I have a kind of love / hate relationship to this kind of story, because I always feel drawn to the premise of an old secret being discovered, and yet on the other hand invariable find one timeline more compelling than the other. #readerproblems


As someone who would dig for Roman coins as a child and dream of becoming an archaeologist in the vein of a 1930’s expedition to Egypt with a panama hat and a camel train, I was instantly excited by the premise of mudlarking. Who wouldn’t be excited to find an old treasure? Therefore, when could-have-been historian Caroline Parcewell finds an old blue glass vial in Thames river mud on her holiday in London, she is intrigued. With only a small etching of a bear in the glass as a clue, she embarks on a search for more information about the origins of her find.


In the second timeline, in 1791, we are introduced to Nella, who owns a hidden apothecary shop inherited from her mother. But unlike her mother, Nella has expanded her knowledge of plants and remedies to supplying poisons to women who need to free themselves of a man, for whatever reason. She does so by her own code of ethics, which includes that no woman must ever be harmed by her poisons. When twelve-year old Eliza turns up in her shop to pick up a poison meant for her mistress’s philandering husband, both Nella as well as Eliza’s lives are about to change forever ...


As soon as I met Nella, I was hooked on her story. She was both mysterious as well as damaged, a strong female defying all the norms of her time, a wise woman who had strayed off the path of a “normal” moral compass through her own tragic experiences. Here was a character who could really drive a story! I also loved the information about the herbal potions and poisons Nella dispenses to her clients, which made me furiously google “poisonous plants in your own backyard”. I now live in fear of some neighbour dropping dead and my search history getting scrutinised by police!


Unfortunately, I soon found my interest waning in Caroline’s story. I became bored of her marital problems, her lamentations about wanting a baby but not wanting a baby, and about her failed aspirations of following her dream to study history at Cambridge. Her “research” into the little glass vial she had found sounded so easy that surely every one of us would be able to unearth a hidden underground city just by trowelling a garden bed and googling a few historical facts. I was tempted to skip through the present timeline just to get back to the “real” story, that of Nella and Eliza, which was so much more intriguing.


In the end, I felt that the whole book could easily have done without Caroline’s timeline, and those pages used to flesh out the peripheral characters in Nella’s story instead. I wanted more Gothic vibes, I wanted to hate the villains and understand Nella’s true motivations on a much deeper level. I think that the problem was that Caroline had no real emotional involvement in unearthing the past secret her little vial held hidden, which made both timelines run parallel rather than connect in any meaningful way, such as – for example – an old family secret would have done. Instead, it takes her only a couple of days to solve a mystery that has been missed by every single person in London for the last 200 years. I just didn’t buy it.




In summary, THE LOST APOTHECARY offered both the highs and lows I often experience in historical fiction – a potentially 5 star timeline diluted by one I felt woefully uninvested in. However, I loved the way the author brought Nella to life for me, and eagerly followed her story. I think that the book will appeal to readers who enjoy a pleasant, entertaining story that is neither too dark or too mentally taxing but which still offers an intriguing past mystery to explore.



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.

Monday, 7 June 2021

Book Review: THE ROME AFFAIR by Karen Swan



Author:  Karen Swan

Read: June 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


1974 and Elena Damiani lives a gilded life. Born to wealth and a noted beauty, no door is closed to her, no man can resist her. At twenty-six, she is already onto her third husband when she meets her love match. But he is the one man she can never have, and all the beauty and money in the world can't change it.

2017 and Francesca Hackett is living la dolce vita in Rome, leading tourist groups around the Eternal City and forgetting the ghosts she left behind in London. When she finds a stolen designer handbag in her dustbin and returns it, she is brought into the orbit of her grand neighbour who lives across the piazza - famed socialite Viscontessa Elena dei Damiani Pignatelli della Mirandola. Though the purse is stolen, Elena greets the return of the bag with exultation for it contains an unopened letter written by her husband on his deathbed, twelve years earlier.

Mutually intrigued by each other, the two women agree to collaborate on a project, with Cesca interviewing Elena for her memoirs. As summer unfurls, Elena tells her sensational stories, leaving Cesca in her thrall. But when a priceless diamond ring found in an ancient tunnel below the city streets is ascribed to Elena, Cesca begins to suspect a shocking secret at the heart of Elena's life.


My musings:


THE ROME AFFAIR was another bit of wonderful escapism through the pen of Karen Swan, a new go-to author for me when the travel bug strikes. And what could be better than exploring the “eternal city” through the eyes of a rich cast of characters who are all full of life – and secrets!


I have come to value Swan’s ability to conjure up locations with a sense of time and place that instantly transports the reader into another world. As a former fashion journalist, Swan is familiar with the glitz and glamour (as well as the dark side) of Europe’s rich and elite, which she pens in rich and varied detail. Elena, the “principessa” living in her spacious Roman palazzo was a truly intriguing character to get close to – even more so because she had so much to hide!


Swan’s stories are always multi-layered. There is romance, yes, but it’s so much more. A young, enigmatic heroine who is hired by the rich countess to write her biography – and unearth an old family mystery. A city where secrets are buried, where underground passages lead to unpalatable truths, where gilded facades may hide ugly realities. But also a city full of joy, of love, of life. And of course there is the Italian heartthrob whose smouldering dark eyes will make one character (and the reader) swoon.


Swan strikes the perfect balance with THE ROME AFFAIR, delivering escapism spiced with mystery and intrigue and plenty of food for thought and reflection. Each character is so richly drawn that the story rolled out almost movie like in front of my eyes, evoking the sight, sounds and smells of Italy. This is armchair travel at its best! I was thoroughly intrigued by the truths young Cesca discovers about her employer, and the tragedies that lay behind the rich facades of the city’s most prominent houses. It was one of those rare dual timeline books where both stories were equally compelling to me, and I enjoyed every minute of it.


If you enjoy great armchair travel and also want some pleasant escapism that still offers a rich and intriguing storyline, then I highly recommend picking up THE ROME AFFAIR.

Book Review: CONSOLATION by Gary Disher



Author:  Gary Disher

Publisher:  Serpent’s Tail

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: out now




Book Description:


Winter in Tiverton.

Constable Paul Hirschhausen has a snowdropper on his patch. Someone is stealing women’s underwear, and Hirsch knows enough about that kind of crime—how it can escalate—not to take it lightly.

But the more immediate concerns are a call from the high school, a teacher worried about a student who may be in danger at home. Another call, a different school: a man enraged about the principal’s treatment of his daughter.

A little girl in harm’s way and an elderly woman in danger. An absent father who isn’t where he’s supposed to be; another who flees to the back country armed with a rifle. Families under pressure. And the cold, seeping feeling that something is very, very wrong.


My musings:


Three things made me fall instantly in love with the Paul Hirschhausen series: 1) it’s set in rural Australia; 2) Hirsch is just such a decent, likeable cop who really cares about his community; 3) the events happening in the series are not far-fetched, twisty stories but reflect the darker side of a real-life small community (it’s all very relatable). Plus, Garry Disher is a seasoned author who knows how to spin a good yarn!


In the midst of a cold, South Australian winter, Constable Paul Hirschhausen (“Hirsch”) has a few problems on his hands. Someone in the community has been stealing old ladies’ knickers off their clotheslines, leaving the senior citizens of Tiverton and Redruth up in arms. On top of that, Hirsch is sent on a welfare check to a remote farmhouse to address a teacher’s concerns about one of her home-schooled pupils. And, just as he is trying to sort these issues out, a parent goes berserk at the local school, prompting pupils and teachers to barricade themselves inside the classrooms until the fracas has died down. It’s all in a day’s work for Hisch, who spends his days driving around the area to check on the vulnerable members of his community and making sure that law and order is being upheld by the rowdier ones.


There are many different storylines and multiple characters that drive the many threads Disher weaves together in CONSOLATION, which made for an intriguing and fast-paced read with the hallmark atmospheric setting that makes this series so compelling. Disher isn’t out to trick his readers with sleighs of hand, killer twists or red herrings galore, and yet it takes a clever armchair detective to follow all the clues and solve the mysteries in the same time as Hirsch does. I love Disher’s innate understanding of the obstacles a lone copper in a small rural town faces on a daily basis: the isolation, the weather, the fact that everyone knows everyone else’s business, just to name a few. I also appreciated the undertone of menace as evil crawls out of the cracks and makes the town an unsafe place.


CONSOLATION, just like its prequels, is a novel that reads like a good yarn at the local pub, catching up on all the town gossip, the speculation and the scandals. It’s both a comfort read as well as one you will be loathe to put down because of the many different mysteries Hirsch is juggling, and you really want to find out the answers.




CONSOLATION has a little bit for everyone: crimes to solve, lots of intriguing backstories, true to life characters and the bleak, vast landscape that typifies Australian noir. I highly recommend this series to readers who love an atmospheric read told by a master of the genre and led by one of the most likeable small town cops you will ever encounter in a crime novel. I look forward to my next Hirsch-fix!



Thank you to Netgalley and Serpent's Tail for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Book Review: THE DISAPPEARING ACT by Catherine Steadman



Author:  Catherine Steadman

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Australia

Read: June 2021

Expected publication: 7 June 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Once a year, actors from across the globe descend on the smog and sunshine of Los Angeles for pilot season. Every cable network and studio looking to fill the rosters of their new shows enticing a fresh batch of young hopefuls, anxious, desperate and willing to do whatever it takes to make it. Careers will be made, dreams will be realized, stars will be born. And some will be snuffed out.

British star Mia Eliot has landed leading roles in costume dramas in her native country, but now it's time for Hollywood to take her to the next level. Mia flies across the Atlantic to join the hoard of talent scrambling for their big breaks. She's a fish out of water in the ruthlessly competitive and faceless world of back-to-back auditioning. Then one day she meets Emily, another actress from out of town and a kindred spirit. Emily is friendly and genuine and reassuringly doesn't seem to be taking any of it too seriously. She stands out in a conveyor-belt world of fellow auditionees. But a simple favor turns dark when Emily disappears and Mia realizes she was the last person to see her, and the woman who knocks on Mia's door the following day claiming to be her new friend isn't the woman Mia remembers at all.

All Mia has to go on is the memory of a girl she met only once . . . and the suffocating feeling that something terrible has happened. Worse still, the police don't believe her when she claims the real Emily has gone missing. So Mia is forced to risk the role of a lifetime to try to uncover the truth about Emily, a gamble that will force her to question her own sanity as the truth goes beyond anything she could ever have imagined.




My musings:


I love it when authors use their very specific background knowledge as a base for a novel because it usually makes for an intriguing, authentic insight into another world. With her acting background, Steadman allows us a glimpse into Hollywood life in her latest novel THE DISAPPEARING ACT, spicing up the story with a generous sprinkling of murder and intrigue.


English actress Mia is auditioning for movie roles in LA when she meets Emily, another hopeful actress from out of town. Minding Emily’s bag and car keys for her whilst she is in the studio, Mia becomes concerned when Emily fails to return to claim her possessions, and Mia’s calls to her mobile remain unanswered. Her suspicions grow when the next day, a stranger turns up on Mia’s doorstep claiming to be Emily and asking for her bag and car keys back. And so starts a story full of mystery and intrigue – who really is Emily? And what has happened to the girl Mia met at the auditions?


As soon as I met Mia, I immediately warmed to her. Despite her rise to fame through her movie role as Jane in Jane Eyre, she has remained refreshingly down to earth. A recent break-up with her long term partner, who has left her for another, younger woman, has left her heart broken and has shaken her self-confidence. In the dog-eat-dog world of LA, her innocence renders her as alien as a fish out of water, which is why she is instantly drawn to Emily, who is the only smiling, friendly face around. Through Mia we also get a glimpse into some of the quirks of the Hollywood scene, which I found thoroughly intriguing.


Once Mia starts looking into the mystery of Emily’s disappearance, things start to take on a sinister turn, putting Mia’s own life in danger. I was hooked!


Even though some suspension of disbelief was required to buy the whole premise of the final reveal, and even some of Mia’s actions, I found the story entertaining and intriguing until the end. Some readers may find Mia a bit naive, but I was touched by her honesty and innocence, which made her more relatable for me. A special mention must go to Steadman’s inclusion of a real-life mystery into her story, the suicide of actress Peg Entwistle, who jumped to her death from the “H” of the Hollywood sign in 1932, and whose body was discovered by a hiker a few days later. Her sad death becomes a symbol of the ruthlessness of Hollywood and has a special significance for Mia – I will say no more.





In summary, THE DISAPPEARING ACT offered a fascinating insight behind the glamour of Hollywood, incorporated into an intriguing mystery. It will appeal to readers who are able to suspend disbelief for the sake of a few unexpected twists and a finale I definitely could not have predicted. I really enjoyed Steadman’s writing style and her insider glimpses into the life of an actress, which made for an authentic and compelling read.


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