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Review: The Patterson Girls by Rachael Johns

Patterson GirlsThe Patterson Girls
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA Aus
2015, 496p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/}

How can four sisters build the futures they so desperately want, when the past is reaching out to claim them?

When the Patterson daughters return home to Meadow Brook to be with their father after their mother’s death, they bring with them a world of complication and trouble.

The eldest sister, obstetrician Madeleine, would rather be anywhere but her hometown, violinist Abigail has fled from her stellar career, while teacher Lucinda is struggling to have the children she and her husband so desperately want. The black sheep of the family, Charlie, feels her life as a barista and exercise instructor doesn’t measure up to that of her gifted and successful sisters.

Dealing with their bereft father who is determined to sell the family motel, their loves old and new and a series of troublesome decisions doesn’t make life any easier, but when they go through their mother’s possessions and uncover the shocking secret of an old family curse, they begin to question everything they thought they knew.

A warm and wise novel about secrets revealed, finding your soulmate and the unique bond between sisters.

It’s always a little scary when a favourite author tries something new. Their previous books are familiar, you always know what you’re going to get and it’s going to be good! There’s always a little nervous anticipation diving in when a writer deviates from their previous work, but it’s an excited anticipation. It’s the unknown and if you’re lucky, it will be just as fabulous but in a different way.

With The Patterson Girls, Rachael Johns moves from rural romance to the broader women’s/contemporary fic genre and neatly ties in the stories of four sisters, all returning to spend their first Christmas at home with their recently widowed father. Their mother died unexpectedly and her absence is felt keenly by each of the Patterson daughters, as well as her husband. Two of the daughters, obstetrician Madeleine and violinist Abby now live overseas. The two other daughters, teacher Lucinda and yoga teacher Charlie also live interstate so it’s not often that they all return together to their family home.

I don’t have a sister and sometimes I lament that but sometimes I’m actually rather glad of it. I have a brother and we have a wonderful relationship, I couldn’t ask for a closer sibling. But I do enjoy reading about sisters, perhaps because for me, it’s the unknown, the different relationship that I’ve never experienced. I have sisters-in-law, and get on rather well with one of them but it’s not quite the same. I think the sister dynamic can be difficult to get right because four, very different grown up women are going to interact in many and varied ways. They will love each other and they will at times, hate each other too, or at least fight. In this novel, each of the sisters is a fully fleshed out personality with attributes and faults and their personalities do often clash in believable and yet also silly ways – just as people who have known each other all their lives would.

Each of the sisters has an issue in their personal life and after the Christmas holiday is over all four of them once again find themselves back at home. Each of the girls’ stories are incredibly interesting and I found that I had little trouble relating to almost all of the sisters at one point or another in the story. I understood Lucinda’s longing for a child and her frustration at her mother-in-law’s attitude. I also understood how her longing could become an obsession driving a wedge between her and her husband Joe. Charlie was a favourite character of mine and her story is an absolute page turner! I don’t want to say too much about it for fear of spoiling anything but the twist in the story that involves Charlie is amazing and very well orchestrated. It’s an emotional rollercoaster – for both the characters and the reader!

To be honest I’m not really one for believing in curses or anything like that so I did wonder how I would go with that part of the story but I think it’s presented in a way that you can understand why the sister’s would begin to really start to question it, especially Lucinda who is searching for an answer, any answer to a question. I found myself quite enjoying the revelation about the curse and how it played out. There was something about the way it was written and something about the way the girls slowly came to question whether or not it was just rubbish or if there could really be something to it and it might explain a few things that they have begun to question and worry over. Each of them react to the news about the curse, some of them do things that are quite out of character and some of these things (probably most of these things) end up getting them into problematic situations. It’s how these situations get resolved that make for wonderful reading as each of the sisters put their lives back together, take on new challenges and head in different directions from the ‘before’ time, when their mother was still alive. Even their father begins to embrace change and the chance to live again.

I really enjoyed The Patterson Girls and I’m sure it’ll bring Rachael Johns new admirers. For her old fans, there are times when she hasn’t strayed too far from the familiar – Charlie and Mitch’s story could’ve probably made a full length rural! But there are more intricate layers here and more main characters are handled expertly with none losing out in depth and time in the limelight. Luckily for me, The Patterson Girls is just as fabulous as Johns’ other books, just in a different way!


Book #142 of 2015

aww-badge-2015The Patterson Girls is book #56 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015


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Review: Swimming Home by Mary-Rose MacColl

Swimming HomeSwimming Home
Mary-Rose MacColl
Allen & Unwin
2015, 387p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It’s 1925 and after an idyllic childhood growing up in the Torres Strait Islands, learning to swim in the clear warm waters, Catherine finds herself an orphan and living with her aunt in England. She’s miserable, trapped in a school where she doesn’t fit in, where she hasn’t been raised the same way as the other girls. She can’t swim, something she has lived for as long as she can remember. Her aunt Louisa is a busy doctor and she holds views on the way Catherine needs to behave now. The time for running wild on the island is over – she needs to grow up into a well rounded young woman who now has the opportunity to do anything, to be anything.

A chance meeting with rich American Manfred Lear Black gives Catherine the opportunity she so desperately craves – the chance to swim. He convinces Catherine to come to New York and go up against some of America’s best female swimmers. He’s convinced that she could be the first woman to successfully swim the English Channel and he’s willing to provide the financial backing for her attempt. But is it simply an innocent interest in finding a champion or does he have deeper motives?

Swimming Home is the latest novel from bestselling author Mary-Rose MacColl and it gives the reader three very different settings – an island in the Torres Strait off the coast of the northern tip of Australia, London and then New York. Catherine grew up the daughter of a doctor who worked on a remote island in the Torres Strait. She learned to swim in the open water at an incredibly young age and it’s something that shapes her entire life, as are her relationships with her father’s native housekeeper, who has cared for Catherine since the death of her mother when she was a toddler, as well as the housekeeper’s son Michael. On the island, the relationships are different, although the native Torres Straight Islanders do not escape having their children taken to be ‘fostered out’ among white families in order to see them raised properly and put to work.

When Catherine is 14, her father dies leaving her an orphan. He makes his sister, Catherine’s Aunt Louisa her guardian, someone Catherine has only seen once when she was a young child. Unmarried, Louisa is a busy surgeon, not at all sure of how to raise a teenage girl. Still she does her family duty and travels to the islands to bring Catherine back to England, seemingly unaware just how reluctant Catherine is to leave her home and move somewhere so utterly removed from everything she has ever known. To be honest I thought Louisa, although clueless about adolescents, did show quite a bit of shortsightedness here, thinking that enrolling Catherine in good school where she would be very unlikely to fit in, especially immediately would be the answer to Catherine’s development. I understand where she was coming from and her thoughts on how to raise Catherine, a girl who had been left to really kind of go wild, from an English point of view. But she really seems very oblivious to the fact that the girl has had so much change in her life and she’s miserable. She’s had the things and people she loves most taken from her and she’s moved to a place that’s the virtual opposite of everything she’s ever known. Louisa is very busy and she has trouble actually sitting down and talking to Catherine, as Catherine’s presence stirs up memories for her. It’s Louisa’s housekeeper Nellie who understands how lonely and out of place Catherine feels. When Catherine swims the Thames, she is asked to leave her exclusive school but it also in its own way, is the catalyst for the presentation of opportunity.

I really enjoyed reading about Catherine as a character – her unusual upbringing, her difficulty in fitting in once she moved to England and her devotion to swimming. For Catherine it wasn’t just a past time, it was a necessity. Something she required for her mental well being, it was almost as much a part of her life as breathing. And not just swimming, but the sort of open water swimming she had grown up with. Training in a tank in New York, attempting to adapt her stroke to what her coach wanted, wasn’t enough to satisfy the craving in her to just get out on the water and swim. I loved the part of the book devoted to swimming and the move towards the first woman being able to swim the English Channel. As someone who cannot really swim (bit embarrassing, being an Australian!), the idea of swimming such a distance is mind-boggling. The fatigue, the cold, the sheer length of time it takes – it’s amazing that someone of Catherine’s age with pretty much no formal training, could be considered for such a feat.

There are a few mysteries and twists in this book which are really interesting. So interesting in fact that I’d have loved to read more about the time before Catherine was born. The upbringing of Louisa and her medical studies and what happened to her would’ve been good to read about in greater detail, as well as Catherine’s parents’ marriage. There could’ve been a deeper delving into the island life of the early 1900’s, especially what it was like when her parents first arrived there. I really could’ve read a lot more in this setting.

Swimming Home is a beautifully written story of a girl who just wants the freedom to go home, to be with the people she loves and do what she loves. I did really like the way in which the relationship between Louisa and Catherine evolved, even though they did spent quite a bit of time apart. Louisa makes some difficult choices sometimes, you can see where she’s coming from and why she might do it but you can also see that it’s going to make things even more difficult between her and Catherine and from those different places they have to come together and reach an understanding, air the secrets between them in order to move forward. The believability and well-roundness of the characters are definitely a strong point and it’s the sort of book that makes you feel as if you know the people involved. I only wish there’d been more.


Book #146 of 2015


Swimming Home is book #58 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: The Saddler Boys by Fiona Palmer

Saddler BoysThe Saddler Boys
Fiona Palmer
Penguin Books Aus
2015, 359p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from of the publisher/}

Schoolteacher Natalie has always been a city girl. She has a handsome boyfriend and a family who give her only the best. But she craves her own space, and her own classroom, before settling down into the life she is expected to lead.

When Nat takes up a posting at a tiny school in remote Western Australia, it proves quite the culture shock, but she is soon welcomed by the swarm of inquisitive locals, particularly young student Billy and his intriguing single father, Drew.

As Nat’s school comes under threat of closure, and Billy’s estranged mother turns up out of the blue, Nat finds herself fighting for the township and battling with her heart. Torn between her life in Perth and the new community that needs her, Nat must risk losing it all to find out what she’s really made of – and where she truly belongs.

Some people might notice there hasn’t been a lot of action on this blog lately – and by that I mean none at all. In fact this is the first review I’ve written for two months due to serious health issues faced by my husband. However I have still been reading, even if it is a little less than usual and I’m hoping to try and get back into the swing of reviewing, starting with a few titles recently released. When I have been reading, I’ve been picking books by authors I know I already enjoy, the sort of comfort reads that I won’t have any trouble being engaged by. Fiona Palmer is a very well known and loved Australian rural author and I’ve read most, if not all of her previous books so this one was a welcome surprise on my doorstep recently.

Natalie is definitely not what the locals would be expecting when she rolls into town in her cute little sports car with her designer clothes and high heels. She’s clearly from a very different world but Natalie has come to Lake Biddy, population less than 300 in Western Australia, to take up a position at the small local school. She’s very passionate about her job and she cannot wait to meet her young students and get started. Nat’s enthusiasm and energy for her job and the way that she builds a rapport with her young charges as well as her friendliness and willingness to be involved in the local community quickly wins over the residents.

The Saddler Boys packs a lot in between its covers – it’s not just a rural romance. Palmer tackles some issues close to a rural community’s heart as the school Natalie has come to work at faces closure by the government due to lack of numbers, which will mean longer bus rides for the children to nearby, bigger towns with schools. The community bands together to protest the closure and Natalie becomes heavily involved as they campaign to save it. Despite the connection Natalie has made with local single father Drew, and the time they are spending together, she has a boyfriend in the city. She finds herself torn between the life she always envisaged with her boyfriend, who comes from a family very close to her own, but it’s a life that since she moved to Lake Biddy, has become somewhat suffocating. Natalie finds herself patronised by her boyfriend and wondering if he really is all that she had thought him to be. In contrast, time spent with Drew is easy as she learns more and more about country life, helping with shearing and minding Billy, Drew’s son while Drew seeds new crops on the farm. She fits in and she’s one of the first people Drew turns to when he feels that Billy may be in danger. I got a good idea of what it might be like to be a single parent and a farmer as well as how closures of things like schools can really affect tiny communities.

I loved the ease of Natalie and Drew’s friendship and the way Palmer took time to nurture it. Drew is well aware Natalie has a boyfriend and the two of them are mindful of boundaries but at the same time, really enjoy spending time with each other and want it to continue. I really enjoyed the glimpses into Drew’s head that writing in the third person allowed Palmer to give the reader and he’s always much more honest about his feelings for Natalie to himself than she is to herself about him, still confused by the complication of her boyfriend. Drew and Natalie fit together very well, despite their very different backgrounds and lifestyles and all of their scenes together are so well done that you become very invested in them getting it together already. Natalie is perfect with Billy, Drew’s young son who is perhaps a little different, and who requires a little more than most students would. He’s an interesting child and I enjoyed the part of the story concerning him and how it all played out. Children are often hard to place within a book that has romance and it’s difficult to get that authenticity but I feel as though this was definitely one of the book’s strong points.

I love a good rural story – even though I don’t live in the country myself, they’re just so familiar and comforting, they’re the perfect things for me to read when I’m distracted and stressed because I can slip into the story so easily. This was exactly what I needed and I’d recommend it not only to fans of the genre but also those who haven’t yet tried it yet. It’s got enough going on to satisfy any reader.


Book #143 of 2015


To be honest, I’ve lost track of how many books I’ve read for the AWWC because my record keeping has gotten a bit lax during my hiatus. At a guess I think it’s around #57



Review: A Time To Run by J.M. Peace

A Time To RunA Time To Run
J.M. Peace
Pan Macmillan AUS
2015, 228p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Summary {from the publisher/}

The hunt is on
A madman is kidnapping women to hunt them for sport.
Detective Janine Postlewaite leads the investigation into the disappearance of Samantha Willis, determined not to let another innocent die on her watch.
The killer’s newest prey isn’t like the others. Sammi is a cop. And she refuses to be his victim.

A Time To Run is the debut novel from a currently serving Australian police officer and it packs quite a punch from the very beginning. It’s a hugely suspenseful ride, as Sammi, a young woman treating herself to a night out after an argument with her boyfriend suddenly discovers herself in a nightmare. Only this is something she won’t be waking up from, she’ll need every inch of her training as a police officer and her wits to get herself out of it.

The narrative is gifted in that it gives the reader a look at the various people that make up such a scenario: Sammi is our victim and her terror comes right through the page. There’s also strength and determination, a huge amount of it and she’s wonderful to read. Apart from Sammi we also get to get inside the heads of the investigating officers and I loved being a part of that. It’s all about the details, making you feel involved and I felt their urgency as well, as they sought their information and gathered their clues. We also get a tiny insight into our madman, a chilling character who hunts for sport and the sheer pleasure it brings him.

This isn’t a very long book but there’s so much packed into it and it honestly makes it so easy to just keep racing through as you become desperate to find out if the investigating police will find what they need to in time in order to save Sammi – or will she be able to use her smarts and training to help herself? Sammi is an amazing character, she’s young in some ways but she manages to really try and keep a level head, tapping into the strength she needs both mentally and physically in order to try and survive. I would’ve liked a little bit more at the end of the story – that section felt a tiny bit rushed and didn’t give up as much information as I wanted but the journey to get there was an emotional rollercoaster, an awesome one. If you like crime novels and if you love a bit of suspense to get your heart racing, definitely pick up this book.


Book #116 of 2015


A Time To Run is book #48 of my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

This review is part of the A Time To Run blog tour. You can check out my guest post from author J.M. Peace here and the rest of the tour stops are listed below.

Blog Tour – A Time to Run


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Author Guest Post – J.M. Peace


JM Peace (c) Sheree Tomlinson WEB

Today I’m happy to welcome Australian author J.M. Peace to my blog. Her debut novel, A Time To Run has just been released and to celebrate, I’m taking part in the blog tour. You can find the full details of all the stops at the bottom of this post and my review of Time To Run will be up later today, so don’t forget to check back for that too. But for now, it’s over to Jay and the use of a pseudonym.


I don’t want to shock you, but J.M. Peace is not my real name.  I know, who would have guessed?

I chose to use a pseudonym in an attempt to duck any potential conflicts of interest that arise from the fact that I am still a serving police officer. I may or may not encounter any number of problems along the lines of conflict of interest, improper disclosure of information and secondary employment obligations. When I consulted my union about it, they listed a potential eighteen areas of legislative concern. So I thought my life would be easier if I pretended not to be me.

I intend on continuing to pretend to be J.M. Peace until I make the decision to identify myself. That will hopefully be after I have resigned from my ‘day job’ to pursue writing and other plans.

Having a fake identity is an odd sort of thing. As well as the blog, there’s an email, a personal Facebook page as well as an author page, plus some other social media accounts. But I’m making quite a few mistakes with it all, and only realising what I’ve stuffed up as I go along.

The initials were probably an error. The fullstops are a problem when it comes to searching for the name on social media sites. I didn’t see that one coming.  I’ve also been referred to on a few occasions as ‘Jim’. Clearly an ‘i’ can be added at the reader’s discretion.

Just to add to the confusion, the initials are fake. My actual name does not start with ‘J’. At some point I realised I should probably create a new name. So, trying to keep it simple, I have a fake first name of ‘Jay’. Now I have to remember to answer to it, use it when introducing myself in relation to the book and also when signing off emails from my author email account. I’ve already failed on occasion at every one of these points. On the plus side, my fake signature looks a lot better than my real one though.

I had a phone interview about the book the other day. New problem – how do I answer the phone? If I used my real name, the interviewer would think they had the wrong number. If I used my fake name and it was anyone but the interviewer that would lead to a very interesting conversation too. Especially if it was someone from work. I went with ‘Hello’ and an explanation.

There’s a personal connection for me with the name ‘Peace’, but I partially chose it because I thought it would be a good fake name for a copper/crime writer. Something that was easy to remember and maybe stuck in the reader’s mind.

I did consider that it might be considered twee and unrealistic. But a scroll through our internal police email system reveals real police officer’s surnames that make ‘Peace’ seem unimaginative. There’s a Goody (fortunately no Baddies), Crook, Kill, Strongman and one of my personal favourites, Punchard. And I thought it was such a shame when Senior Constable Makepeace changed her name after marrying.

If you gave characters in a story names like these, everyone would say it was too far-fetched. Truth is stranger than fiction. Maybe ‘J.M. Peace’ wasn’t such a bad choice after all.




Want to know more? Check out the author’s website and follow the other stops on the tour!

Blog Tour – A Time to Run


And don’t forget to check back later today for my own review of Time To Run. 



Review: Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Black Rabbit HallBlack Rabbit Hall
Eve Chase
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 393p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Lorna is getting married and for some reason that she can’t explain, she’s drawn to a beautiful crumbling house in the country as the venue. She and her fiance travel to Pencraw Hall, known locally as Black Rabbit Hall. Lorna falls in love immediately, a powerful and confusing force demanding that she have their wedding there despite its lack of facilities, crumbling infrastructure and the rather eccentric inhabitants. Her fiance Jon is less enthusiastic and when both of them are invited back for a weekend to further explore the estate, he is unable to take time off from work and Lorna returns alone.

Whilst on that visit, she learns about the secrets of Black Rabbit Hall and how it went from beloved family home to a shadow and shell of its former self after the death of its mistress. Amber Alton was a child when her mother died and she and her siblings watched their father change before their very eyes, unable to cope with widowhood and the responsibility of sole parenting. Financial pressures also placed him under great strain and it wasn’t long before their father was inviting a ‘guest’ to spend holidays at Black Rabbit Hall with them. For Amber, these holidays were both despair and the fragile hope of a fledgling teenage love. They were happiness and misery as her family fractured further apart and then disintegrated entirely.

For Lorna in the present day, it’s time to bring the secrets of Black Rabbit Hall into the light. Only then can she learn her true connection to the estate and help heal the rifts that have soured its history.

A story set between two time periods is basically singing my name and so when I received this, I was pretty intrigued. Add in a crumbling country estate and a mystery and you’ve got the makings of a great story and I think that Black Rabbit Hall delivers on pretty much every level. On one hand you have the story of Amber Alton and her family, which is centered around the late 1960s. A post-war world, a time of economic instability for many and a disintegration of the lazy summer country life. Amber, her twin Toby and their younger siblings Kitty and Barney. Their father, a landed gentry sort married a glamorous American and for over a decade, the family lived an idyllic life with summers spent exploring the wild Cornish countryside until tragedy strikes. Life for Amber and her siblings changes dramatically with the events of a single storm and although they continue to summer and holiday at Black Rabbit Hall, it isn’t the same. The mood is different, the atmosphere. Amber is struggling under the weight of responsibility as increasingly it is up to her to soothe, reassure and even raise, Kitty and Barney. The arrival of a potential stepmother does nothing to improve the situation, especially as it seems their future stepmother has little time for children, not even her own son.

I absolutely loved Amber’s story. In the beginning it’s so wonderful, an intimate and loving family who divide their time between the London house and the eccentric Cornwall summer home. Amber and her siblings are tightknit, their relationship with their mother intimate and warm. It’s clear she is a wonderful if slightly unusual mother and the relationship their parents have is based on a great love. So much so that when the tragedy strikes, Amber’s father does not cope very well at all. He neglects his children and their emotional needs – not intentionally, but perhaps because he was always a supporting parent, his role defined and revolving around that of his wife’s. He also is experiencing some financial difficulty and perhaps he makes a great sacrifice in remarrying someone wealthy in an attempt to ensure their future as a family and so they can keep Black Rabbit Hall. In doing so, he slowly fractures many of the bonds within the family and doesn’t even seem to realise what is happening before his eyes – or does and is powerless or unwilling to stop it. Amber’s story is something of a tragic one in many ways, very bittersweet. She experiences a lot of loss and heartache but she also falls in love for the first time, a love that costs her dearly.

In the contemporary part of the story, Lorna is newly engaged and looking for a wedding venue. For some reason she has been drawn to Black Rabbit Hall, remembering visiting it as a small child with her mother on holiday. It’s difficult for them to find and her fiance Jon is clearly having reservations but Lorna is determined. Even though the venue is problematic (no permits, plants growing up through the ballroom floor, etc), Lorna is utterly hooked on it, so much so that it becomes quite clear that she’s connected to the place in some way beyond visiting it with her mother. To be honest, Lorna’s connection is quite easy to figure out, much before it is revealed within the narrative but it does unfold rather naturally. There were times when I found her single-mindedness a bit irritating, because she wasn’t the only person getting married, but she didn’t seem to really want to take into her fiance’s opinions and thoughts at all. He clearly had his reservations and for good reason, but they weren’t things Lorna wanted to hear. She’s pretty strong willed and luckily for her, Jon is pretty easy going and tolerant. He has reservations but he seems willing to put them aside and give her what she wants.

I enjoyed this book – the setting of Black Rabbit Hall for most of the story provides a fantastic atmosphere and the house is almost a living, breathing character itself. There was enough mystery to keep me interested, although parts of it were relatively simple to figure out, I really wanted to know what became of the Alton children after that eventful time. A fantastic debut and I look forward to more from Eve Chase.


Book #119 of 2015

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Review: Friday On My Mind by Nicci French

Friday On My MindFriday On My Mind (Frieda Klein #5)
Nicci French
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 375p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

A bloated man is found in the River Thames, an identifying hospital bracelet around his wrist that states Dr F. Klein. But the victim isn’t Dr Klein, because Frieda is very much alive…and not a man. Nor is he one of her patients but the man is definitely known to her and she can identify him.

And then evidence linking her to the murder is found in her apartment and she becomes the number 1 suspect. Due to her past involvement with the police, as a consultant that has inevitably become involved in cases, often in the very worst way, she knows that it’s going to be almost an impossible job to convince the police of her innocence. The powers that be have already made up their mind and seem to have made it known they consider this case cut and dried. There’s no way that they’ll consider any other suspect and Frieda’s friend DCI Karlsson is being kept mostly out of the loop and away from the investigation.

Frieda makes the choice to go on the run, knowing she’ll never be able to solve this murder if she’s sitting in a jail cell. She needs to piece together the truth herself. She believes that she knows who killed the man found in the river but proving it is going to be hard when everyone else believes that man is dead. And then of course there’s the possibility that Frieda has it wrong…

Friday On My Mind is the fifth installment in this crime series featuring psychoanalyst Dr Frieda Klein. Frieda is a really interesting character as a protagonist, mostly because she’s so seriously cold about everything. She very rarely shows emotion of any description, be it joy, anger, sadness, grief, affection. She’s very calm, very measured and understated in her interactions with people and in her internal thoughts. At times this makes her a difficult character to connect with but it does also make her interesting. She rarely, if ever, allows emotion to get in the way of her work and putting pieces together in the crimes she inevitably becomes involved in both working as a consultant for the police and just in general on her own. Frieda has basically become a crime magnet in recent times but like pretty much everything else, it doesn’t seem to bother her.

This book steps it up a gear with the murder of someone very close to Frieda and it’s clear from the beginning that Frieda is also being framed for it. However the Commissioner has made up his mind about Frieda and her inconveniently cropping up in and being connected to many investigations and he makes it clear that this is who the investigating officer, DCI Sara Hussein and her partner should focus on. Frieda knows they probably have enough to arrest her and have her sitting in a jail cell where she’ll never be able to find the real killer. And so, with the help of a few of her staunch allies, she goes on the run.

Frieda proves surprisingly (or perhaps not so, given how phenomenally capable she is at everything) resourceful whilst on the run and with the help of Josef, her Ukrainian builder who has become a very close friend and who appears to have connections, she is able to find places to stay (of dubious and varying safety) and move about the city as needed. To be honest, I was never really sure how what Frieda was doing was going to help her prove that she didn’t murder anyone, given she had no chance of catching the person she did originally think was responsible. However she did manage to discover that it couldn’t possibly be that person, so that did mean she had to look elsewhere. It did seem however that no matter how capable Frieda is, she needs her friends – Josef is invaluable to her as well as DCI Karlsson. Karlsson is limited in what he can do of course because he risks his job but he believes in Frieda and her innocence and he does what he can in his own quiet, discreet and understated way. In fact if it weren’t for Karlsson and his devotion to Frieda, there probably wouldn’t be a forthcoming book with Saturday in the title.

Although each book is also a separate story, there’s an overarching plot that began in the first one and has carried through each volume, sometimes so far in the background you almost forget about it. This book focuses on it much more and brings it back to the forefront, suggesting that things will soon be very much coming to a head between Frieda and the man everyone else believes is dead. Although I do find Frieda baffling at times, I have to admit her steadiness and sheer unflappability is somewhat soothing in a crime novel. There are no screaming hysterics, no sobbing in corners and although Frieda does occasionally do things that I would term as TSTL in other stories, she does them with such a calm determination that somehow they seem completely logical and rational methods of behaviour. I really enjoy her interactions with those she is ‘close’ to (and I use that term loosely because at times, there’s nothing to separate her actions/mannerisms from those she’s close to with those she isn’t, it’s more how you read between the lines) especially her evolving relationship with DCI Karlsson. The way in which that has grown throughout all of the books has been probably my favourite part of this series.

I really enjoyed this – I think it might be the strongest of the series and I’m really looking forward to the Saturday installment and especially seeing what role Walter Levin is going to play in the future.


Book #114 of 2015

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Review: Harry Mac by Russell Eldridge

Harry MacHarry Mac
Russell Eldridge
Allen & Unwin
2015, 279p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Tom is a young boy who lives with his family (father, mother, older brother) in a quiet lane in on the edge of town. His best friend is Millie who also lives on the lane and together they puzzle through the often mysterious goings on in their street at a time of change and struggle in South Africa.

Tom idolises his father Harry Mac, a big man who works for a newspaper and who is catching the attention of the wrong people with his scathing op ed pieces. One night Tom is somewhere he shouldn’t be and he overhears his father and his neighbour talking and Tom comes to the conclusion that his father is about to become involved in something terrible.

Tom’s world is changing, growing darker and more dangerous day by day as the politics of South Africa become more radiacalised. His brother is ready to leave for his compulsory military service and the whole family is on edge waiting to see where he will be assigned. The black car that visits the lane at night is a constant source of mystery to Tom and Millie, as is what really happened in the house on the corner. It seems that Tom is close to the truth but the consequences will be like nothing he could’ve ever imagined.

I knew this book would be just my thing the second I picked it up. Africa is one of my favourite settings for a novel and this one chooses an interesting and tumultuous time in South Africa’s political history, around the early 1960s. It’s an ugly history, in many different ways and Eldridge chooses to portray it through the eyes of a child who is perhaps just coming to terms with some of what he is beginning to see and hear. He knows enough to be scared of many things but at the same time, he’s still relatively young and his days are spent curiously asking questions. When he cannot ask his father, he asks his neighbour, Millie’s father Sol, a Jewish man who shares stories of the past with Tom and Millie.

The relationship Tom has with his father is what drives the novel. Harry Mac is a big man, a presence. Former military he now works for a newspaper, one of the ones seemingly left that doesn’t mind criticising the political party in charge and defying any attempts at censorship. Harry Mac’s op ed and front page pieces are the most critical of all, which means that he’s being watched, his phone lines tapped etc. Tom has a brother known as Little Harry (despite the fact that he’s no longer so little) who is older, a man ready to undertake his compulsory military service and who, once having started that, can suddenly relate to Harry Mac in ways that the younger Tom cannot. The older men sit drinking beer and Tom longs to join in, to be a part of their world. Instead he is on the sidelines, especially as the pressures of his job and the changing political environment force Harry Mac into his long silences and nights spent alone drinking grimly.

But despite the stress that comes with his job and refusing to back down, Harry Mac still finds time to relate to his youngest son when he can, including taking him out for a bush experience. It is there that Tom first learns what rhino smells like, something that he comes to associate with his father when he becomes angry (and perhaps helplessly angry about things that he doesn’t feel he can really change, no matter how hard he tries and bucks against the system). The household seems to revolve around the moods of Harry Mac – when he’s happy, Tom’s mother dances and laughs and the mood is light. When he’s brooding in silence, Tom’s mother is silent as well, the house is somber and darker. Harry Mac’s enormous presence is very dominant in the novel but I don’t meant that at all in a negative way. He’s a generous man who clearly cares about his family but at the same time, is feeling external pressure and frustration.

Tom is a wonderful character, he sees the world in such a unique way – equal parts youth and innocence as well as a growing sense of awareness about the world around him, and even fear that things will continue to become more and more complicated. I’m including this in my Around The World in 12 Books Challenge and part of the criteria for that challenge is that the book showcase life within its setting and timeframe and I think that this book does a fantastic job at that because you get to see what the situation was for so many characters, including ones that actually don’t even appear in the story but are merely mentioned in passing. Not only are we given a window into Tom’s life at home with his family and Harry Mac’s life at work in a political situation that is becoming more and more aggressive but we also get a chance to hear and see how Tom’s brother Little Harry goes in his military service. Apart from that, there’s also a pretty good look into life for some of the displaced Jews who settled in South Africa around the time of WWII as well as some of the black citizens, such as the lady who works as a kind of housekeeper/maid for Harry Mac and his family and what her son is doing as well. There’s a broad showcase of minor characters such as the young man injured in the war across the road, being cared for by his father as well as the physically gifted but perhaps mentally challenged young man who is using his athletic prowess as a way to attempt to avoid his military conscription. All of these weave together to paint the bigger portrait of life in 1960’s South Africa for a wide variety of people, with the story behind the family that formerly lived on the house on the corner of the lane perhaps one of the most heartbreaking and horrifying stories of all. This was a truly stunning and thought-provoking debut.


Book #111 of 2015


Harry Mac is book #3 of My Around the World in 12 Books Challenge. The country visited is South Africa.



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Review: The Homestead Girls by Fiona McArthur

9780143799825The Homestead Girls
Fiona McArthur
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 282p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

When Dr Billie Green’s teenage daughter Mia falls in with a bad crowd, Billie uses that as an opportunity to return to the small town in far western New South Wales where she grew up. It’s been a goal of Billie’s to work for the Flying Doctor Service and she’s spent time in her career doing rotations and earning qualifications that will serve her well in the remote locations. She’s happy to meet her colleagues, including the lovely but insecure flight nurse Daphne Price and their authoritarian boss Dr Morgan Blake.

Soretta Byrnes has benefited from the Flying Doctor Service after her grandfather was severely injured on their farm. But with him in hospital, Soretta is struggling more than ever to make ends meet when the drought just won’t quit. Although Daphne has supported Soretta as a friend, she decides that she’d like to do more. The homestead on Soretta’s property is huge – old and beautiful and with plenty of room. Daphne, Billie and Mia soon move out to the property as paying boarders, an arrangement which suits everyone. Billie and Daphne want a home and Soretta is grateful for the financial contribution. Teenage Mia is resentful at first…until she realises how much she can help by looking after the animals on the farm. They are soon joined by Lorna Lamerton, an eighty year old former bush nurse looking for a holiday from her son and his wife.

It isn’t long before the women overcome their awkwardness and begin to form strong friendships and attachments. The situation is working out better than any of them could have planned and there’s always someone on hand for advice on medical issues and even the odd romantic challenge. However it’s not until one of the women faces a threat to their life that they show just well they can band together.

Australian rural romance author Fiona McArthur’s latest book invites readers to far west New South Wales and introduces them to a small town which hosts a branch of the Flying Doctor Service. Dr Billie Green has just moved back to the town, which is also where she grew up and is fulfilling a dream working for the FDS. Billie has lived a life moving around, gaining qualifications but not possessions. She and teenage daughter Mia live out of a couple of suitcases and a box full of kitchen necessities.

In no time at all, Billie’s colleague Daphne has organised for herself, Billie and Billie’s daughter Mia to move from their duplex accommodation out to a beautiful old homestead some ten minutes out of town. There the women begin to become friends, settling into roles and working together. Even Mia, resentful at first being made to move out west and then away from town and to the farm, begins to prove her worth. She’s given the job of feeding the lambs and Soretta is no nonsense when it comes to any teenage attitude. Mia is told in no uncertain terms she must be responsible or else – the lambs could die if she ‘can’t be bothered’. Through being given this responsibility and trust, Mia begins to mature and grow, coming to appreciate her surroundings and the role she is developing. I really liked Mia and I think McArthur was quite understated in portraying her character as the disgruntled teen. Mia had moved around a lot and even though she resented having to move out to the homestead, yet another move, it seemed almost immediately that it would be different. This was a place where roots could be put down, where Mia could be given a role, even get a pet in the future. All she needed was a little bit of security and some faith, both in herself and from others in her and she began to really blossom which was good to read.

There’s a huge amount in this story about the role of the FDS and it’s fantastic to read. I’ve lived all my life on the coast, never been further west than Dubbo (and that was only to visit the zoo) so it’s super interesting to read about how the FDS works and the sort of incidents they deal with. There’s a wide range of medical emergencies they might encounter as well as geographic difficulties like finding the landing strip that’s the closest to the person that needs attention. I didn’t know about the oxygen issues with so much time spent in the plane in the beginning either so all of those little tidbits were great info. Although most of the population in Australia does live along the coastlines there are still plenty of remote communities and properties that benefit from this service and the amazing people who campaign to fund it.

Whilst there is a little romance in The Homestead Girls it is really quite subtle. Both Daphne and Billie are struggling with workplace attractions and I really enjoyed reading about Daphne getting some of her self-confidence back and hopefully beginning to put her past behind her and those that had made her feel so bad about herself. I’d have liked a little more romantic interaction for Billie but the focus is really on the women building those friendships and strengthening them at the homestead, as well as the role of the FDS. The women are all well constructed, with insecurities and flaws and made stronger by the growing friendship. I would love it if we saw Soretta and Mia again in the future, I’d love to know what the years to come hold for them.

A really enjoyable and heartwarming story from a must-read author.


Book #112 of 2015


The Homestead Girls is book #46 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Make sure you check out Fiona McArthur’s guest post on the blog, talking more about the FDS.

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Guest Post: Australian Author Fiona McArthur

McArthur, Fiona, credit Carolyn Guichard3

Today I am thrilled to welcome Aussie romance author Fiona McArthur back to the blog. Fiona was here last year for a Q&A on all things reading, writing and life and now returns to share a little about her newest novel, The Homestead Girls and the inspiration for including the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in the story.


Flying Doctors

The Homestead Girls is a story about five women and the background is about medical retrieval in the outback. I’ve dedicated the book, with much sincerity, to the wonderful people who work for and support the Royal Flying Doctor Service, because, like every Australian, I’ve always greatly admired those who meet the needs of those far-flung families who live away from the medical facilities of the city.

One of the women characters is an experienced flight nurse – I do have a friend who is one, one becomes the flying doctor she’s always wanted to be – have met and spoken to several, one used to be a bush nurse and helps raise money for the cause, and one has her closest relative saved by the service – so it’s a story that touches on how the flying doctor service can work.

Real stories of medical retrieval by the flying doctors touch us and a lot of it is the humility and appreciation of those who have been saved. So many times it’s hard working, unpretentious people in extremely remote areas who are used to managing with their own resources, those who never ask for assistance but offer it selflessly, who might need that urgent rescue. RFDS makes it their job to help those people and a whole lot more. It could be a grey nomad and his wife involved in an accident, a mum in an outback community in premature labour or a child with a snake bite. All people who need to travel from a remote outpost to a larger hospital in what could be a matter of life or death.

If you do travel to Longreach, Charleville, Kalgoorlie, Alice Springs, Broken Hill or Dubbo then drop into the RFDS visitor centres because the statistics and stories and history of the service is fascinating and inspiring.

You can read a story, there’s hundreds of them, that will thicken your throat and blur your vision when you look up case a history from the RFDS Stories like ‘Fuzz’s, here.

Fuzz knew his heart was probably going to stop. Just imagine him telling his mate to strap that AED onto his chest in case they’d have to use it. I’m certainly going to use it in my next book. Not because it’s dramatic and almost unbelievable, but because I admire Fuzz, who has probably saved other people’s lives, for not only thinking of himself, he was worried about his mate and how his mate would feel if he couldn’t keep Fuzz alive until that plane landed. Go Fuzz, and go his mate who did CPR until Fuzz regained consciousness, but unless Fuzz was retrieved to a large hospital by the RFDS for surgery he would have died.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service is only partly funded by the government. It runs on donations from individuals, groups and fund-raising activities, and when you run down the list of people, and what they do to raise that $20 million funds every year, it’s humbling.

An example is Operation Pudding that the senior bush ladies from around Broken Hill come together for every year. The way these women gather, some travelling hundreds of kilometres, to cook for a week and how every single one of those Christmas Puddings are snapped up, not just because it’s a secret recipe and the best pudding in the world, but because people are supporting the RFDS.

Money is raised by sponsored car rally’s, circumnavigating cyclists and women walking the Kakoda Trail, though it’s the RFDS tin that sits in every hairdresser, pub and shop in the outback towns that quietly accumulates, too. So if you see a tin, or a fundraiser, smile, share a thought for the people you can help, and be generous and be thankful, Australia, in all her vastness, has the Royal Flying Doctor Service.


I found the RFDS really interesting in The Homestead Girls, there’s so much to consider when staffing and running an organisation that relies on planes to access its patients. I’ll have a review of The Homestead Girls up on the blog later today so make sure you check back for that! Thanks again for stopping by, Fiona.




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