Saturday, 29 January 2022

Book Review: THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS by Vanessa McCausland



Author:  Vanessa McCausland

Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Read: January 2022

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


Sylvie is a lover of words and a collector of stories, only she has lost her own. She has no words for that night at the lighthouse when their lives changed forever. What happened to cleave her apart from her best friend and soulmate, Kase?


Sylvie yearns to rekindle their deep connection, so when Kase invites her to the wild Tasmanian coast to celebrate her 40th birthday, she accepts - despite the ghosts she must face.


Through an inscription in an old book, Sylvie and Kase discover their mothers have a history, hidden from their daughters. As they unpick what took place before they were born, they're forced to face the rift in their own friendship, and the question of whether it's ever okay to keep a secret to protect the person you love.

My musings:


THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS is the third book I have read by Vanessa McCausland, and I enjoyed every one of them. In her latest books, she once again creates a beautiful, atmospheric Australian setting (this time in Tasmania) and complex characters whose relationships appear authentic and moving. As with her other books, THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS touched my heart as each character has to overcome their own struggles. And like in THE LOST SUMMERS OF DRIFTWOOD, the story revolves around the themes of friendship, family secrets, grief, reinventing yourself and ultimately healing and hope.


Readers who love the theme of female friendships in all its complexity will be pleased with McCausland’s portrayal of Sylvie and Kase, best friends at school and soul sisters, until a tragedy tore them apart. Now, over twenty years later, the friends meet again for Kase’s 40th birthday celebrations on a small Tasmanian island near Bruny. To repair the rift that cleaved their worlds apart, they must first face up to the truth of what happened when they were just teenagers ....


I love the way the author portrays her female protagonists, endowing each with a rich history that makes them relatable in many ways and gives them unique, multi-layered personalities as with people you meet in real life. And whilst the author has taken a theme that is very relevant today and close to her heart, you will find no preaching or lecturing here, just a gentle tug on your conscience and your heartstrings as she takes you by the hand and leads you down the path of her story with all the tumultuous emotions connected to it. Set in three different timelines – the 1960’s, 1990’s and today, three generations of women are linked by a secret that will have far reaching effects on all of them.





THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS transcends multiple genres: part mystery, part drama, there is also a light sprinkling of romance, leaving the reader with a sense of hope and light despite the dark themes explored here. McCausland is a talented storyteller who knows how to bring her characters and her settings to life with language that flows a smoothly and gently like the waves lapping against the beaches in her story, which made it a real treat to read. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy contemporary books centred around female friendships and family secrets that linger in your mind and heart long after the last page has been turned.




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

Books from my TBR pile - mini reviews


THE DARK by Emma Haughton 🌟🌟🌟


THE DARK is a locked room mystery set in the harsh landscape of an Arctic winter, as a group of scientists are overwintering in a remote research station. Dr Kate North has been sent to replace the group’s previous doctor, who has been killed in a tragic accident on the ice – but was it an accident? The more questions Kate asks, the tighter the group pulls together, locking her out and refusing to discuss the matter – until Kate is convinced that the doctor’s death may not have been an accident after all. But with the Arctic winter upon her, there is no way out ....


What I loved:

*) The atmospheric setting in an Antarctic research station. Some of the descriptions of the harsh landscape and the Southern lights managed to transport me there.

*) The psychology of a diverse bunch of people stuck in a claustrophobic setting for a few months was fascinating, with the harsh winter and darkness confining them even more. I also thought that the author portrayed really well how difficult it would be for an outsider (Kate) to be thrown into a group of people who have all been together for a long period of time and share secrets they want to keep hidden at all cost.

*) The premise of a medical emergency whilst stuck in a remote place with no outside help available was terrifying and well presented – if a tiny bit melodramatic.


Not so much:

*) I found it very difficult to bond with Kate, the main character. Whilst I had empathy for her battle with her opioid addiction and mourning the death of her fiancΓ©, her constantly terrible decisions made me wonder how she was ever chosen for her role in the research station.

*) Some elements of the plot were too farfetched to seem plausible, i.e. how would an organisation employing people to live and work in one of the most remote places on earth not implement simple steps such as drug testing to keep things running smoothly? Almost every single member of the team was acting very unprofessionally for a group of experts employed to man a research station – I just didn’t quite buy it!

*) The mystery wasn’t suspenseful enough to really keep me engaged – I would have loved some more spooky vibes or messing with my mind, just as the constant darkness would have unsettled the group of scientists stuck in their remote home with no way out. Early in the book, the author referenced one of my favourite books, DARK MATTER by Michelle Paver, which mastered the balance between spooky vibes, unreliable narrator and psychological thriller as few other books have done since – and that was exactly what I was looking for!


All in all, THE DARK was a locked room mystery with a deliciously remote claustrophobic setting, which didn’t thrill me as much as I had hoped but still provided some great armchair travel and a decent enough mystery to keep me engaged. If I had been able to better relate to the main character, I may have rated this a lot higher.



THE ASSISTANT by S.K. Tremayne 🌟🌟🌟

Do you own an Alexa, a Siri or a Google Assistant? Are you happy to let them take control over some parts of your life, or even provide you with company of sorts, even if it’s just an electronic voice answering your questions and demands? Do you really own them, or do they own you? After reading this book, you may want to unplug them!


To be honest, the thought of an electronic assistant who has control over things in my home and life in general has always freaked me out, so it came as no surprise to me when things started going wrong with this concept in Tremayne’s novel THE ASSISTANT. For Jo, who has resorted to seeing her electronic helpers as the friendly voices she turns to when she is lonely, their sudden betrayal probably came as much more of a shock. Especially since they seem to know her deepest, darkest secret – and threaten to expose it if she doesn’t give in to their demands. Blackmailed by a robot – what a perfect premise for a 21st century mystery!


I usually love the concept of an unreliable character due to some mental illness or memory disorder, which throws all their actions and memories into doubt. Did they really do this, or did they just imagine they did? Is the main character just paranoid, or is there really someone out there trying to hurt them? Jo’s father had schizophrenia, which first manifested itself by the TV “talking to him”, which is why Jo is terrified when the electronic assistants first turn against her. Is she going crazy, too?


Whilst the first part of the novel perfectly messed with my mind, the later part did go slightly over the top for me, as I had to suspend a lot of disbelief. I also felt that Jo’s decisions were often inconsistent with the rest of her character, and she fell too easily into the role of the victim, when a woman of her experience and profession would surely have sought professional help or advice rather than let herself get trapped in a rather far-fetched situation. However, all in all this was a suspenseful premise that kept me guessing, and an easy, entertaining read that provided the distraction I was looking for.



THE DEVIL AND THE DARK WATER by Stuart Turton 🌟🌟🌟1/2

If you have read THE 7 ½ DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE, then you will know that Turton writes unusual stories that stand out from the rest and are hard to put into any particular genre. This was also the case with his second book, THE DEVIL AND THE DARK WATER, which at best I can only describe as a mix between Pirates of the Caribbean, Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones, with the hint of supernatural themes thrown into the mix. This is a hefty book, rich in descriptions and a massive cast of characters that at times were difficult to keep track of. Set mostly aboard a ship and the high seas, it will appeal to any reader who loves a good adventure story.


I’m at a loss how to review a book that is so complex and straddles a multitude of themes and genres. Adventure, mystery, action and a demonic threat – you get it all here. THE DEVIL AND THE DARK WATER was a book to be savoured slowly, partly because my arms got tired from holding its bulk up whilst reading, and partly to keep all the characters straight in my mind. Set in 1634, the novel provided that particular mix between fantasy and historical fiction that offers the ultimate escape. Throw in a bit of swash-buckling and it’s a perfect distraction from the woes of our times (with all the slaughter and mayhem going on aboard the Saardam, our lives look peachy and pampered in comparison).


All in all, THE DEVIL AND THE DARK WATER is a book that cannot be pigeon-holed into any particular category and will appeal to a wide variety of readers: action, adventure, detective stories, historical fiction and a hint of romance. I enjoyed the distraction and entertainment it provided and am waiting with bated breath what Turton will come up with next!



THE LAST FLIGHT by Julie Clark 🌟🌟🌟1/2

I am always intrigued by the premise of people trying to disappear or changing identity, so the idea of two women trading passports at the airport to escape their own lives immediately got my attention. And whilst it may sound a bit farfetched, Clark managed to convince me that even in our times it may be possible to disappear off the radar, if you have courage and use a bit of imagination.


Claire and Eva both have valid reasons to run away – Claire from a controlling, violent husband, and Eva from a dangerous man who has a hold on her for other reasons. A chance encounter at the airport gives them the chance to switch identities and disappear off the radar long enough to hopefully make a clean getaway. But of course it could not be this easy now, could it? From here follows a twisty thriller with lots of surprises in store, as well as a look back into the lives of the two women before they decided to run away.


Whilst switching identities isn’t a new concept, Clark put a new, refreshing spin on the topic and kept me enthralled with her tale from beginning to end. And whilst I struggled a bit with the pacing of the story and thought that the ending could have exploited the premise a bit more to add drama and suspense, THE LAST FLIGHT was a quick, entertaining read that was a perfect weekend read to chill out with.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Book Review: THE WAY FROM HERE by Jane Cockram



Author:  Jane Cockram

Publisher:  Harlequin Australia HQ

Read: January 2022

Expected publication: 2 March 2022



Book Description:


Three generations of women. Three generations worth of secrets. Will a cache of letters from beyond the grave hold the key to unravelling them all? The answer to that question lies at the heart of this addictive and atmospheric novel from the author of The House of Brides.

Growing up, the Anderson sisters could not have been more different. Susie, the wild one, had an adventurous life while Camilla— Mills—followed a safer path. When Susie suddenly dies, Mills falls apart. Until she receives a bundle of mysterious letters from her estranged sister to be read in the case of her death. Each letter instructs her to visit a place special to Susie, both to spread her ashes but also to uncover some truths Susie has long kept hidden from her family.

What attracted me to this book:


I love sister mysteries, and family secrets, so THE WAY FROM HERE was the perfect book for me, as it spun both themes into a suspenseful story that touched my heart.

My musings:


Camilla has always been the sensible, rational Anderson sister, whilst Susie was the wild, spontaneous, rebellious one. When Susie dies tragically just before her 40th birthday, Camilla is left with just a bundle of letters from her sister, urging her to go overseas and visit places from Susie’s past that changed her life and put a distance between the sisters that Camilla could never fully explain. Intrigued, Camilla sets off to France to walk in her sister’s footsteps and solve the mystery of what happened to her that long ago summer that had such a lasting effect on Susie’s life ....


I loved the way Cockram portrayed Camilla and Susie’s sister relationship, a bond that seems tenuous at times and yet draws the siblings together time and time again, despite the differences in their personalities. Camilla’s quest to find out about her sister’s past was as touching as it was intriguing, and I was instantly hooked and fully invested in finding out the answers for myself. It certainly also helped that Cockram sets her story on a picturesque little French island, adding some delicious armchair travel to the mix. The more clues Camilla uncovered, the clearer it became that this was one family mystery that would go deeper than just your average misstep on a youthful backpacking adventure. We learn how all the women’s fates in the family are connected, from the sisters to their mother and grandmother, each of their decisions affecting the rest of their lives as well as future generations.





THE WAY FROM HERE is a story about three generations of women bound by a secret that will have far-reaching effects on all of their lives. All relationships are wonderfully drawn, dipping into a well of emotions that touched my heart and made me connect to each character on a visceral level until I felt like a participant in the story rather than just a casual observer. Nellie, Margaret, Susie and Camilla each have unique voices that tell their side of the story as we gradually uncover the dark shadow that has lain over the family for generations. Intriguing and bittersweet, this book will appeal to readers who love a good character driven sister mystery.




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

Monday, 17 January 2022

Book Review: THE PARIS APARTMENT by Lucy Foley


Author:  Lucy Foley

Publisher:  HarperCollins UK

Read: January 2022

Expected publication: 3 March 2022

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Jess needs a fresh start. She’s broke and alone, and she’s just left her job under less than ideal circumstances. Her half-brother Ben didn’t sound thrilled when she asked if she could crash with him for a bit, but he didn’t say no, and surely everything will look better from Paris. Only when she shows up – to find a very nice apartment, could Ben really have afforded this? – he’s not there.

The longer Ben stays missing, the more Jess starts to dig into her brother’s situation, and the more questions she has. Ben’s neighbors are an eclectic bunch, and not particularly friendly. Jess may have come to Paris to escape her past, but it’s starting to look like it’s Ben’s future that’s in question.

The socialite – The nice guy – The alcoholic – The girl on the verge – The concierge

Everyone's a neighbor. Everyone's a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.

My musings:


I was very excited to get my hands on an early copy of Lucy Foley’s latest book, because her closed door mysteries are always a joy to read. Unfortunately I found that THE PARIS APARTMENT and I did not gel as I had hoped.


“What’s not to love about a mystery set in a luxury apartment block in Paris?” you ask.  Good question. Paris, this wonderful romantic old city is indeed an ideal place to host a bit of murder and intrigue. And yet I found that I got very little sense of place from this book. Whilst the descriptions of the apartment are atmospheric and gave me old creepy house vibes, the rest of the story could have been set anywhere in the world and would not have been any different. I wanted to FEEL like I was in Paris, the city of love and romance, only to be betrayed by the city with fear and murder. I wanted to picture the smell of coffee and croissants in smoky cafes, the melodic chatter of Parisians milling in the streets, the feel of the ancient city as it pressed in on me. And yet, the city felt flat. None of French charm here. Not even creepy vibes of dark back alleys. If some Paris landmarks hadn’t been mentioned, this could have been anywhere in the world.


Then there was the cast of characters. In retrospect, they all blend into one big glob of unlikeable people with few distinctive characteristics to set them apart. Again, the French could have been any nationality, this horrible bickering family that would have fitted into any other setting without having to change a thing. I tried to get invested in Jess’ plight as she desperately searches for her brother, but even she couldn’t touch my heart. The multiple POVs, instead of drawing me in, made the book feel disjointed and stole a lot of its mystery. To be honest, I stopped reading a few times and only persevered because this was an ARC, and I thought the ending may redeem it. However, even though many things finally fell into place and the story picked up pace, the final denouement seemed farfetched to me. I really wanted to love this book, so it pains me to say that I barely made it through until the end!





All in all, THE PARIS APARTMENT and I weren’t a good fit. I am finding more and more that I am not a fan of multiple POVs, especially in mysteries. I often come away thinking that one person tapping in the dark and struggling to get the answers would make the story more suspenseful. So perhaps it is due to reader preferences that made me struggle with this book, as many other readers have loved it. Saying that, will I line up to read Foley’s next book? Most definitely. At a different time, a different mood, it may all work out better – sadly this time the story and I just didn’t gel.





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


Saturday, 1 January 2022

Book Review: UNDER THE INFLUENCE by Joyce Maynard



Author: Joyce Maynard

Read: December 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


Drinking cost Helen her marriage and custody of her seven-year-old son, Ollie. Once an aspiring art photographer, she now makes ends meet taking portraits of school children and working for a caterer. Recovering from her addiction, she spends lonely evenings checking out profiles on an online dating site. Weekend visits with her son are awkward. He’s drifting away from her, fast.

When she meets Ava and Swift Havilland, the vulnerable Helen is instantly enchanted. Wealthy, connected philanthropists, they have their own charity devoted to rescuing dogs. Their home is filled with fabulous friends, edgy art, and dazzling parties.

Then Helen meets Elliott, a kind, quiet accountant who offers loyalty and love with none of her newfound friends’ fireworks. To Swift and Ava, he’s boring. But even worse than that, he’s unimpressed by them.

As Helen increasingly falls under the Havillands’ influence—running errands, doing random chores, questioning her relationship with Elliott—Ava and Swift hold out the most seductive gift: their influence and help to regain custody of her son. But the debt Helen owes them is about to come due.

My musings:


Noone writes complicated relationships like Joyce Maynard! I fell in love with her writing back in the 90’s when I read WHERE LOVE GOES and realised, even as a young, hopeful and optimistic new mother, that the initial starstruck era of first love would inevitably fade and fizzle if there wasn’t a stronger, deeper foundation. In UNDER THE INFLUENCE, Maynard once again lays bare the heart and soul of her vulnerable protagonist, Helen, taking us on an unforgettable journey into the complexities of friendship and love.


I immediately warmed to Helen, whose unhappy and neglectful childhood has left her especially vulnerable for attaching herself to the wrong people in her search for the unconditional love she never had growing up. She didn’t find it in her husband, a relationship that ended shortly after the birth of their son Ollie. Distraught, she turned to alcohol, one of her estranged mother’s crutches, and it cost her the custody of her small son. So when Helen meets the glamorous couple Ava and Swift Havilland, she is at her most vulnerable and easily dazzled by their splendour. As has been her habit in the past, she soon totally falls under the influence of her new friends, turning to them for advice and considering their opinion above all others when it comes to making decisions. So when she meets Elliott, a quiet but endearing accountant and starts dating him, their low opinion of her new boyfriend weighs heavily on her mind. The problem with this type of friendship is that sometimes you don’t see how enslaved you have become until it is too late ...


The book started with a strong sense of foreboding and instilled an underlying sense of anxiety and dread as I became more emotionally attached to Helen and privy to her most innermost thoughts. I just knew that this couldn’t end well, but had no idea of the turn of events that were to follow. Maynard is a true master of portraying relationships and loyalties – between lovers, friends, families – that exposes the very essence of our need to love and be loved and the price we often pay for this. I particularly loved how Helen was brutally honest with the reader, never making excuses for her behaviour, but giving full disclosure when it came to sharing her thoughts. Some parts of this book broke my heart, as Maynard always tends to do, others opened my eyes to the perplexities of trying to start over, as Helen has to do.





All in all, UNDER THE INFLUENCE was a multi-layered and astutely observed story of love and friendship as only Maynard can tell it. With particular insight into the complexities of different relationships, the book took me on a true rollercoaster ride of emotions and spat me out – heartsore and exhausted – at the end, but not without giving me a glimmer of hope. A truly wonderful book that ticked all the boxes for me!