All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor

Beautiful Little Fools
Jillian Cantor
Simon & Schuster AUS
2022, 344p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: On a sultry August day in 1922, Jay Gatsby is shot dead in his West Egg swimming pool. To the police, it appears to be an open-and-shut case of murder/suicide when the body of George Wilson, a local mechanic, is found in the woods nearby.

Then a diamond hairpin is discovered in the bushes by the pool, and three women fall under suspicion. Each holds a key that can unlock the truth to the mysterious life and death of this enigmatic millionaire. 

Daisy Buchanan once thought she might marry Gatsby—before her family was torn apart by an unspeakable tragedy that sent her into the arms of the philandering Tom Buchanan.

Jordan Baker, Daisy’s best friend, guards a secret that derailed her promising golf career and threatens to ruin her friendship with Daisy as well.

Catherine McCoy, a suffragette, fights for women’s freedom and independence, and especially for her sister, Myrtle Wilson, who’s trapped in a terrible marriage.

Their stories unfold in the years leading up to that fateful summer of 1922, when all three of their lives are on the brink of unraveling. Each woman is pulled deeper into Jay Gatsby’s romantic obsession, with devastating consequences for all of them.

Jillian Cantor revisits the glittering Jazz Age world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, retelling this timeless American classic from the women’s perspective. Beautiful Little Fools is a quintessential tale of money and power, marriage and friendship, love and desire, and ultimately the murder of a man tormented by the past and driven by a destructive longing that can never be fulfilled.

I really enjoyed this. And honestly, I’m quite ambivalent about The Great Gatsby. However, I have only read it once and books like that I think that probably, you benefit from reading them multiple times. There’s always a lot that you don’t pick up on in the first reading or character motivations and actions that become clearer later or after having read other literature on it etc. I’ve never felt compelled to pick it up again…until reading this.

This is a retelling that focuses on the women – Daisy Fay (later Daisy Buchanan), her best friend Jordan Baker and Catherine McCoy (sister of Myrtle Wilson). The women are all very different but will eventually be standing together, deciding to keep a secret before going their separate ways. One detective, Frank Charles, doesn’t really believe that the murder of Gatsby is as open and shut as it looked and armed with the motivation of a healthy reward, interviews all three women in order to clear up “loose ends” and see if he can really know what happened.

Daisy was raised in relative wealth and privilege (so too, was Jordan, whose father was a Judge) with a businessman father and a lovely house. She meets Jay Gatsby, then a poor soldier and the two fall in love with Gatsby begging Daisy to wait for him. When Daisy and her mother are left with virtually nothing after the death of her father, Daisy makes a choice – she will get Tom Buchanan, wealthy beyond reason to marry her, thereby securing her mother and herself a life of comfort. For Daisy, life is a dream – until the gloss starts to wear off after the honey moon and they bounce from one city to another, moving on due to Tom’s “indiscretions”. For what it’s worth, Daisy is aware every step of the way that the choice she has made has created this life – when her child is born, Daisy hopes it’s a boy so that he may be born with more choices than she ever had. When the baby is a girl, Daisy says that she hopes she’ll be a fool and that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a “beautiful little fool”. Daisy is young when she makes these decisions, too young in many ways, to be so jaded. She knows she’s the “pretty one” and that it’s up to her to change things and the only way she can do that, is to use her looks. To become the woman the wealthiest man wants as his wife. A status symbol, an ornament.

Jordan and Catherine are in their own ways, trying to change things. Jordan is a gifted golfer, joining the first Ladies tour and Catherine is a suffragette, fighting for women’s rights. She lives in relative poverty and doesn’t want or need a man, much to her sister Myrtle’s dismay and confusion. Jordan doesn’t want a man either, but for different reasons to Catherine. Over the course of the book, Jordan and Catherine (and Myrtle) all fall pretty to Jay Gatsby’s manipulations, pawns in his determined game to win back Daisy and her love. Gatsby takes obsession to new levels the deeper into the story we go, increasingly desperate to convince Daisy that he can take care of her now. In Gatsby’s mind, the problem was that he had no money and someone of Daisy’s beauty and status was always going to marry into money. Now he has money, it doesn’t matter that Daisy is already married. It doesn’t even seem to matter to him what Daisy wants. Gatsby has obsessed over their being together again for years and I don’t think it occurs to him that this might not have been the case for Daisy.

I’m sure that people who really love and intimately know the original story will see this quite differently than I did but it definitely works as a story for those who are only passingly familiar with Fitzgerald’s book or to be honest, who have never read it at all. It’s made me want to take another look at it again, to see what parts of the novel were used to construct and flesh out female characters, to see what their actions looked like through different eyes and see the differences that Cantor worked into her story. Going to have to dig out the copy we have somewhere.

Really liked this. 2/2 for me now on Jillian Cantor’s novels.

8/10

Book #10 of 2022

This is the first book completed for my 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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Review: Clouds On The Horizon

Clouds On The Horizon
Penelope Janu
Harlequin AUS
2021, 390p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Will a misunderstanding and past trauma stand in the way of profound attraction? Immovable determination meets irresistible charm in this delightful rural romance from an award-winning and much-loved author – for readers of Rachael Johns, Karly Lane and Fleur McDonald.

When Phoebe Cartwright finds Sinn Tørrissen, a naval officer and meteorologist, frozen half to death in the middle of a thunderstorm, she believes she’s saved his life.

Sinn, unfailingly competent and infuriatingly arrogant, disagrees. In Phoebe’s small country town to track down the members of an illegal horse-racing syndicate, the last thing he needs is to become entangled with Phoebe.

A much-loved member of her community, the prickly and independent Phoebe is used to solving other people’s problems, not being told what to do. So when she learns her younger sister could be implicated in their father’s dishonest accounting for the syndicate, she insists on working with Sinn to uncover the truth.

Sinn is both confused and entranced by the passionate Phoebe and in spite of her resistance, Phoebe finds herself drawn to him. But Phoebe is determined to protect her sister above all, and the secrets she cannot tell Sinn threaten to sweep his investigation – and their romance – way off course. Sometimes even a meteorologist can’t judge which way the wind is blowing.

With clouds building on the horizon, can Phoebe and Sinn weather the gale and find in each other a shelter from the storm?

I always think it’s important to start the reading year off on a good note and for the last 2 years, my first book has been Penelope Janu’s new release. She’s one of my favourite romance authors and although I could’ve read this book in the last days of 2021, I chose to keep it to begin 2022 with and it was definitely the right decision.

Phoebe lives in a tiny country town – it’s a quiet sort of life. She works with children, paediatric occupational therapy where she helps those with issues like sensory processing difficulties and motor skill delay develop coping mechanisms and techniques that will benefit them in every day life. She has a dog named Wickham, a Welsh pony named Mintie and an off-track thoroughbred named Camelot. Phoebe has 2 sisters, one of which is in the Navy and the other is in the Northern Territory on a research project. Her father, an academic, is in the early stages of dementia and some of the practicality of his care falls to Phoebe, despite the way he treats her. Her isolated life is disrupted when she rescues a man in a storm and later learns he’s there to investigate her father’s involvement in a horse-racing gambling syndicate that may have been used to launder money. Phoebe doesn’t know much about it but she’s willing to do anything to protect the person that probably does – and that puts her at odds with Sinn, who just wants to finish this job. But Phoebe is making that very difficult for him, in more than one way.

If you’ve read any of the author’s books before, they can all be read stand alone but are sort of connected in that a lot of the characters are related in some way and inhabit the same world, crossing over in work and recreation at times. In this book Sinn is the cousin of Per and Tor and both of them rate a couple of mentions in this story which will give you a bit of an idea of how they’re doing and I always love Easter eggs like that! It satisfies my desire to always know what comes next.

Sinn and Phoebe have great chemistry complicated by Phoebe’s potential involvement in the racing syndicate and also, the wall she’s sort of built around herself. She has good reason to have done so, her childhood was traumatic in multiple ways and she’s had to protect herself and present a calm front in order to also protect her sisters, to keep them all together. Phoebe bears deep scars from an event in her childhood that she’s never really gotten over and it still dominates a lot of her day to day thought processes and controls her actions. This trauma is written really well and it’s not something I’ve experienced before, reading from the perspective of a character who has this fear but I could really feel and experience it the way Phoebe did and it was incredibly easy to understand why it still had such an impact on her.

Sinn had a really interesting background that I would’ve liked to be explored a bit more – a lot of the focus is on what he’s doing now and how it relates to Phoebe and how it acts as a barrier at times as well as a catalyst for bringing them together often. But he has some complications as to why he’s doing what he’s doing now and not what he originally trained for. I did really like all the time Sinn got to regale Phoebe with his knowledge of climate and weather patterns, about precipitation and things like that. I find that really interesting especially as the patterns are changing and there are plenty of people who don’t seem to want to acknowledge that. I also really loved the inclusion of Phoebe’s sessions with her various children – especially when she uses the animals to assist in their sessions and therapy. One of my children had OT for fine motor skill issues and it was great to get a little bit of an insight into this work and how Phoebe used various techniques to provide the children with coping mechanisms when they required it or to convince reluctant children to do their exercises by applying it to things they cared about. I feel like we learn a lot about both characters through their work, Phoebe especially. The way she devotes herself to her clients, and the way she takes in strays. The lamb was super cute (I don’t like sheep but I do like lambs, is that weird? I don’t know) and Nate with the lamb was adorable. Oh yeah, Nate’s back! If you liked him in On The Right Track, you’ll love him in this too. He’s still all for dropping truth bombs much to Sinn’s frustration (who probably runs off to commiserate with Tor after every time Nate speaks to Phoebe).

I’m pretty sure hopeful we will see books featuring Phoebe’s sisters Patience and Prim in the future and Sinn mentions having a brother and of course there’s still Nate hanging around and I’m basically like bring on ALL the relatives and colleagues so that I can have many more books. There’s always such excellent push-pull chemistry which is my absolute favourite thing. It makes me want to take a deep dive into re-reading all the previous books while I wait for the next because now it’s a whole year.

Such a good start to my reading year.

8/10

Book #1 of 2022

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Review: Game On by Janet Evanovich

Game On: Tempting Twenty-Eight (Stephanie Plum #28)
Janet Evanovich
Simon & Schuster UK
2021, 286p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Stephanie Plum returns to hunt down a master cyber-criminal operating out of Trenton in the 28th book in the wildly popular series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Janet Evanovich. 

When Stephanie Plum is woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of footsteps in her apartment, she wishes she didn’t keep her gun in the cookie jar in her kitchen. And when she finds out the intruder is fellow apprehension agent Diesel, six feet of hard muscle and bad attitude whom she hasn’t seen in more than two years, she still thinks the gun might come in handy. 

Turns out Diesel and Stephanie are on the trail of the same fugitive: Oswald Wednesday, an international computer hacker as brilliant as he is ruthless. Stephanie may not be the most technologically savvy sleuth, but she more than makes up for that with her dogged determination, her understanding of human nature, and her willingness to do just about anything to bring a fugitive to justice. Unsure if Diesel is her partner or her competition in this case, she’ll need to watch her back every step of the way as she sets the stage to draw Wednesday out from behind his computer and into the real world.

Well I’m going to take full responsibility for this one. I read it knowing that I probably wouldn’t enjoy it but I was curious and I had a copy sent to me. I used to love this series so much. I’ve talked a lot on here previously about how much I loved it. I discovered it when I was 18 and for probably the next 10 years, it was my absolute favourite. Every year, a new instalment coming out was my bookish highlight. But around the mid-teens I started to get quite frustrated with this series. It wasn’t just the endless back-and-forth between Joe and Ranger, although that was tedious too at times. I understand that though, why Evanovich doesn’t want to make a firm decision there. She knows the fanbase is split pretty 50/50 and having Stephanie completely burn bridges with one of the love interests would alienate a significant portion of the readership even though I think sometimes most people now don’t care who Stephanie actually chooses as long as she chooses someone. No for me, it was the fact that these books just got more ridiculous. More Lula, more Grandma Mazur, more stupid animal moments that literally do not make sense. Stephanie never got any better at her job, she never changed in any way. And some of the things that are played for laughs for me, aren’t really that funny anymore (see: Stephanie’s mother’s clear problem with alcohol, using it as a coping mechanism). I think this series is long past its sell-by date but I must be in the minority. Evanovich signed an 8-figure, 4-book deal almost two years ago and no one would’ve offered that to her if they didn’t plan on making a significant profit. Clearly many people still buy her books.

And so I read this. The blurb did not excite me. The Baked Potatoes? Seriously? But anyway, putting that aside, there is nothing here that we haven’t read before. In fact I feel like I have read parts of it before. Evanovich is recycling character descriptions now (there’s a guy in this who is described pretty much the same way she described Albert Kloughn, the guy that ends up marrying her sister Valerie. Is he still a thing? I remember they were in most books for a while but I haven’t read the last 5 and they weren’t in this one) and also, Diesel definitely throws a line here and there that brings to mind Ranger from the earlier books. Because oh yeah, Diesel is back. Now it’s been a long time since Visions Of Sugar Plums and I didn’t read any of the Diesel books but honestly, the last thing this universe needs is another man who thinks Stephanie would be excellent to go to bed with. We already have two of those: her mostly-on again boyfriend Joe Morelli and Ranger, the guy who doesn’t want a relationship but is happy to act on their sexual attraction whenever Stephanie indicates that she’d be into it. I’ve always unashamedly been a Ranger fan – I don’t dislike Joe, but for me, I just find Ranger a lot more interesting. I had to wait for over half the book for him to even appear here, which was disappointing.

I know I’m reading way too much into these books but I find Stephanie’s actions at times, baffling. It makes me wonder why anyone would want to be with her, let alone everyone. Having a dude turn up, break into your apartment, take their clothes off and get into bed with you who is not your boyfriend (or even your sometimes-lover) is not hot. Diesel and Stephanie also have zero chemistry – it’s almost like he says these random things out of habit and he should really stop. Also I laughed out loud at the appearance of his cousin Wulf and not in a good way. That was one of the more ridiculous things I’ve read recently and by ridiculous, I mean really bad. Also Stephanie never really tells Joe about her houseguest, which…..doesn’t sit well with me. Let’s face it, I think there’s a lot Stephanie doesn’t really tell Joe which is why their relationship never really feels like it’s genuine to me. They’re just adults who sleep together and go to events together sometimes. There’s nothing more to it than that. Yet they keep talking about maybe getting married even though Stephanie spends more time with literally every other character in this story, than she does with Joe.

Anyway, like I keep saying – it’s not that deep. I think I want it to be, but it’s never going to be. It’s always going to be dumb skips doing dumb things (and sometimes, smart skips who make everyone look like idiots), Lula being Lula, weird and random animal moments that have no business being anywhere and Stephanie being terrible at life in general.

3/10

Book #232 of 2021

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Review: Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

Unforgiven
Sarah Barrie
Harlequin AUS
2021, 480p
Uncorrected advance copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Once a victim, she’s now a vigilante. An addictive and suspenseful thriller for readers of Candice Fox and Sarah Bailey.

Lexi Winter is tough, street-smart and has stood on her own two feet since childhood, when she was a victim of notorious paedophile the Spider. All she cares about now is a roof over her head and her long-term relationship with Johnny Walker. She isn’t particular about who she sleeps with … as long as they pay before leaving.

Lexi is also an ace hacker, tracking and entrapping local paedophiles and reporting them to the cops. When she finds a particularly dangerous paedophile who the police can’t touch, she decides to gather enough evidence to put him away. Instead, she’s a witness to his death …

Detective Inspector Rachael Langley is the cop who cracked the Spider case, 18 years earlier – but failed to protect Lexi. Now a man claiming to be the real Spider is emulating his murderous acts, and Rachael is under pressure from government, media and her police colleagues. Did she get it wrong all those years ago, or is this killer is a copycat?

Lexi and Rachael cross paths at last, the Spider in their sights … but they may be too late …

Well. This was an absolute screamer.

I’ve read all of Sarah Barrie’s previous books and loved them. So when this turned up, I knew I was going to be in for another fantastic story. This is a little different to the books she’s been writing lately, a natural progression perhaps. It’s still set in Australia, more regionally than remotely, focusing around the Central Coast/Gosford area.

We’re introduced to Lexi, a traumatised adult with an alcohol problem and patchy employment history. In her spare time, Lexi helps her sister Bailee, a child protection officer, by posing underage online and gathering data on predators for Bailee to pass on to the police. Lexi doesn’t do police – not anymore.

Detective Inspector Rachel Langley was just a young cop when she helped put the notorious child sexual predator the Spider away. It’s 18 years later and a special TV series has aired, detailing the investigation and Rachel’s success. Now Rachel finds herself on the receiving end of truly terrifying calls, someone telling her she got it wrong. She got the wrong man. And now the “real” Spider is going to make her pay…and the pattern will start all over again.

This is just a rollercoaster of a ride from start to finish. It’s one of those books where I picked it up and thought I’d just get started over breakfast but after the first like, couple of pages of this, I knew I wasn’t going to be putting it down until I’d finished it. It sucks you in and holds you in the whirlpool.

Lexi is tough – she’s had to be. She’s survived things that most people could not even bring themselves to imagine. A despicable childhood, her teenage years spent on the streets, Lexi has a home now but she’s not what you’d call stable in some ways. However, in others, she’s become a functioning adult, independent and more adjusted than you might expect given what she’s experienced. Her income is a bit dubious and a lot of her time is spent helping to unofficially catch child sexual predators. She has managed to have a good relationship with her sister Bailee, which after everything Lexi did to protect her when they were children, must be somewhat gratifying for her. She even has a friend, Dawny, who lives in the same complex (side note – Dawny is just the best character, I adored her right from the beginning, even before I knew anything about her and I only liked her more, the more I found out).

When it gets out that the original man convicted as the Spider might’ve been the wrong one (something Lexi definitely disputes) it does throw her into the path of the police, namely Detective Inspector Rachel Langley, who has unfinished business with Lexi and also Rachel’s nephew, Detective Senior Sergeant Finn Carson. They’re surprised with not just the intimate knowledge that Lexi can bring to their investigation but also her computer skills as well and Rachel wastes no time securing her official assistance, even though this puts the back up of another officer, who has a chip on his shoulder. The way this officer treats Lexi is probably quite common for people within her line of work and even Finn sometimes has to remind himself early on in their acquaintance, not to be that guy. That she’s where she is because of a very specific set of circumstances and it’s really not for anyone else to pass an opinion on that, without having first been through what Lexi has.

The suspense in this built so well as more things pointed towards the fact that maybe Rachel had been wrong all those years ago and now people were going to pay the price for that. It is something that would be every detective’s worst nightmare, especially given the nature of the crimes. Look, there were times when it felt a bit improbable that Lexi was everywhere, doing everything but it’s not exactly unknown in the genre. What I did like was the way that the ending leaves it open for Lexi to pursue this as a legitimate career….and that there are a few loose ends that suggest future novels with Lexi, which I’d really love to see. I think she has real potential as a character that can evolve and grow as well and there’s some differences to her that make her an interesting choice as a lead to carry a series.

If you want something fast paced and addictive, can highly recommend this one.

9/10

Book #224 of 2021

Book #94 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

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Review: A Little Bird by Wendy James

A Little Bird
Wendy James
Lake Union Publishing
2021, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: A homecoming snares a young woman in a dangerous tangle of lies, secrets, and bad blood in this gripping novel by the bestselling author of An Accusation.

Running from a bad relationship, journalist Jo Sharpe heads home to Arthurville, the drought-stricken town she turned her back on years earlier. While some things have changed—her relationship with her ailing, crotchety father, her new job at the community newspaper—Jo finds that her return has rekindled the grief and uncertainty she experienced during her childhood following the inexplicable disappearance of her mother and baby sister.

Returning to Arthurville has its unexpected pleasures, though, as Jo happily reconnects with old friends and makes a few new ones. But she can’t let go of her search for answers to that long-ago mystery. And as she keeps investigating, the splash she’s making begins to ripple outward—far beyond the disappearance of her mother and sister.

Jo is determined to dig as deep as it takes to get answers. But it’s not long before she realises that someone among the familiar faces doesn’t want her picking through the debris of the past. And they’ll go to any lengths to silence the little bird before she sings the truth. 

This has all the best elements of Australian rural crime

Josephine is returning to the small, dusty drought-prone place where she grew up. It wasn’t a particularly happy childhood, after her mother and baby sister vanished never to be seen again when Jo was around 8 years old. What was a missing persons investigation was closed when Jo’s father received a letter from her mother saying she wasn’t returning and after that, it was just assumed she’d left of her own volition. Jo has had to live with the fact that her mother took her sister with her but not her, her whole life. Her father turned to the bottle and Jo left town as soon as she finished school and hasn’t been back much. Until now.

She’s been offered a job to take over the local flagging newspaper, a mysterious benefactor paying for her employment. The catch is, she can only report positive stories and news. Whoever funds the paper isn’t interested in crime or bad happenings. It’s good times only – the bigger papers in the bigger cities can handle anything dark. Jo finds this….odd but goes with it. She covers local school events, functions, feel-good community stories but in being back in town, the disappearance of her mother and her sister is always on her mind.

Jo is a tough, independent type of character. She practically had to raise herself, she’s been on her own for a long time. Her relationship with her father is rough but not unsalvageable although the two of them have a lot of baggage and things to work through but they’re not the types to sit down and air it all out. Being back in her hometown is complex for Jo, there are all sorts of memories to confront. A lot of people she knows still live there and sometimes that’s good…..sometimes, not so.

Quite unintentionally, Jo discovers some things that make her realise that her mother’s leaving might not be as straightforward as it seems all those years ago and why none of her attempts to find her have ever been successful. Jo wants answers because I think that anyone in her position would want to know if their mother had chosen to leave them behind, in such a way. Or had they been a victim of something that meant that they weren’t able to return. A lot of Jo’s character has been shaped by her mother leaving and the story is excellent at showing the reader this without going into long inner monologues from Jo.

I also really enjoyed the character of Jo’s father. Mick Sharpe is a complicated character – a very young father, who attracted a girl from a very different background to his. A girl that then disappeared when they were still only in their mid-20s, leaving Mick a single father to Jo. He didn’t cope well with that and made mistakes but not through lack of caring about Jo or not wanting to be there, I don’t think. He’s always lived close to the poverty line, worked a hard physical job for not much financial reward and found solace in drink. He was a tough, reticent, very rural-Aussie-man type of character who does not do well talking about his feelings and often avoids things but still has ways of showing that he does care quite deeply for Jo and was very shook by the disappearance of his wife and baby daughter.

I found this incredibly engaging from the first page. I really wanted to know what had happened to Jo’s mother and sister and felt like this book did such an amazing job of showcasing the small town, the difference between some of the bigger properties with wealth behind them and those who have much less. Jo’s feelings about her return come across well as do her feelings about her father and her childhood. I also loved her connection with someone she knew when she was still living there and was hoping that’d play out in a particular way.

Wendy James is excellent at endings and honestly? This book has another fabulous one. Very clever.

8/10

Book #223 of 2021

Book #93 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

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Review: The Waterhole by Lily Malone

The Waterhole
Lily Malone
Self-published
2021, 359p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from Goodreads.com}: When a backyard dare to discover the source of a fabled waterhole uncovers human bones, small town detective, Marley West, leaps at the chance to kickstart his stalled career. But it’s more than two decades since developers filled the Cowaramup creek. The woman who owned the land—the Ross family matriarch—has passed away. Relations between her sons, Jack and Bill, are colder than the case.

Then the Ross family learn Marley is the grandson of notorious police sergeant, Alan West, the corrupt cop who once ruled the town with an iron fist. To solve the case, Marley must gain the trust of three people with no reason to trust each other and less reason to trust him: Bill, who left the love of his life to fight in Vietnam; charismatic Jack, who could always catch the eye of a pretty girl; and city school teacher, Annette, whose move to Cowaramup in 1966 would change the Ross brothers’ lives forever.

As he navigates a tangled web of lies and betrayals, jealousies and murder, Marley has to ask himself: are these bones better left buried?

I really enjoy Lily Malone’s romances so when she contacted me and asked me to review a new book she had coming out, I was enthusiastic. This is a departure from her previous work and it delves into a much darker type of story but don’t let that put you off. This is a very well put together mystery with well rounded characters and complex backstories for days.

Detective Marley West is called to a small Western Australian town when a couple of guys with a backhoe find human bones in an attempt to find a waterhole that used to exist before it was filled in during the subdivision development. A careful excavation of the site reveals not just the bones of one body but two.

There was so much I loved about this! Firstly, I really enjoyed the character of Detective Marley West. His story is doled out slowly and I still think there’s a lot we don’t know about Marley. His grandfather Alan West was a crooked cop who controlled the town during his time, having half of it in his pocket and the other half terrified of him and what might do. Although Marley isn’t him, he bears the legacy his grandfather’s disgrace left upon the family and how it impacted on other members as well. It also cost him his marriage and Marley isn’t in the greatest of places. He fights not to be taken off this case when it might be connected to his grandfather – perhaps this is a chance of some sort of redemption for Marley who isn’t the one who needs to be redeemed but still bears the stigma of it anyway. I also loved his interactions with his younger partner, Brigit Winger. The two of them are great together.

I found myself so intrigued by the story of Bill, Jack and Annette. It was hard not to really feel for Annette and the triangle was much more complex than it first appeared. It would’ve been really easy to simply demonise Jack I think but he had hidden depths and I felt like his friendship with Jed really showcased how genuine he’d been in his desire to live a better life when he was given the chance to be free. All three of them had suffered at the hands and whims of a person who enjoyed manipulating people and having power over them and that suffering had continued for years.

As well as there being the “present day” time period, which I think is 2018 and the time period when Bill and Jack meet Annette and how that plays out in the 60s, there’s also a brief foray into 1994 and a significant event that happens during that time. That part of the story gave me shivers because I’ve lived in a small town, I’ve experienced how laid back and casual things can be in that environment and this is an excellent example of how things like that can be taken advantage of and it’s always the sort of thing that you think would never happen in such a small town.

I don’t know if Lily Malone plans this to be a series, but I hope so because I honestly feel like this has a huge amount of potential. We’ve only scratched the surface with Marley West, the shadow that hangs over his head from his grandfather and how his career can progress from here. There’s some issues in his personal life as well, which could definitely be developed further. I also wouldn’t mind exploring Brigit as a character also but I feel like West in particular, could quite easily carry a series of some weight.

This was excellent – I found it riveting from the very beginning. I loved the setting, I thought the characters were done incredibly well and the overall mystery was compelling and kept me invested. This is a clever and polished foray into the world of mystery and crime.

9/10

Book #220 of 2021

The Waterhole is book #91 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge

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Review: The Swift And The Harrier by Minette Walters

The Swift And The Harrier
Minette Walters
Allen & Unwin
2021, 493p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Dorset, 1642. England is on the cusp of civil war.

Jayne Swift, a daughter of the Dorset gentry, has resisted all offers of marriage and instead trained as a physician, using her skills to tend to her Royalist father’s tenants and the local population. When civil war sweeps England she vows to remain neutral and aid the injured whether they be Royalist or Parliamentarian.

William Harrier is first introduced to Jayne as footman to Lacy Alice, a Dorchester parliamentarian, but every time she encounters him, he seems to be in a different guise, and it’s not always clear which side of the war he’s fighting for.

As the battles continue to rage, bringing pain and suffering to both sides, Jayne never wavers in her vow of neutrality. Throughout it all, from the terrifying siege of Lyme Regis, to the execution of the King, she always seems to find herself drawn back to William. But what does she really know of him? His past is a mystery, and his future seems uncertain.

The Swift and the Harrier is a sweeping tale of adventure and loss, sacrifice and love with a unique and unforgettable heroine at its heart.

This was incredible.

I always say how my historical knowledge is pretty bad – I didn’t do a lot of history at school and what we did do was woefully focused on Australian history post 1788. There’s so much more out there and until I picked up this book, I didn’t even really know that there had been an English civil war, which took place between 1642 and 1651 and encompassed three wars. It was a war between the Royalists, who supported the King’s Godly decree of absolute power with a Church that still answered to the King and the Parliamentarians, who were mostly Puritans who were against this absolute rule and favoured a constitutional monarchy arrangement.

Jayne Swift is the daughter of a wealthy Dorset landowner and trained physician, although due to being female she cannot actually refer to herself as such. She has earned a reputation through hard work and the ability to help those unwell with straightforward medical techniques, rather than methods that rely on more religious backgrounds. During an attempt to reach her cousin in order to treat her cousin’s young son she is caught up in a mob watching the execution of a Catholic priest. Stepping into a doorway in order to escape the crowd, she finds that it’s the home of Lady Alice Strickland, who has heard of Jayne after Jayne treated her brother. She introduces Jayne to her footman William, saying he will accompany her to her cousin Ruth’s home. William Harrier is not at all what he seems and each time Jayne crosses his path from then on, he appears to be something different. She has her suspicions about this but keeps them quiet.

Jayne’s father is for the King but Jayne herself remains neutral, determined to treat any who might require it regardless of their allegiance. It’s an admirable trait albeit one that often leads people to regard her warily as they do not believe that one could be entirely neutral in such matters. As a physician, Jayne tires of the fighting and pointless death. When caught in Lyme during a seige from Prince Maurice, the King’s cousin, she implements strict hospital routines and her methods are able to save the lives of many as the war rages around them. She favours salt water and lots of it, clean bandages and a spotless working environment with no possibility of vermin or plague to enter the camp. She’s constantly writing to her tutor, discussing cases and patients, methods and treatments, always learning. Jayne is such an incredibly interesting character, definitely far ahead of her time. She’s almost thirty with no interest in marrying and is often seen travelling unaccompanied to visit her various patients. It can be a dangerous occupation but for the most part, Jayne is unperturbed. Her priorities are always the people that need her.

The amount of research that must’ve been undertaken for this book would be incredible and I honestly felt like the time period came across so vividly. Despite having no background knowledge of this war going in and not googling it or reading any further until I finished the book, I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on and could easily discern who the key players were and what the different sides were about. What I did like was that often the conflict meant that people’s perceptions shifted and changed and that sometimes, families had different members supporting different sides. The human emotions were quite often a focus during this war, not just the battles themselves. Actually given that we are mostly with Jayne, the battles are almost never the focus but there are enough violent descriptions (particularly during the beginning of the book, with the execution scene) that give the reader a showcase of how mob mentality can come into play and how people lose their ability to reason in times of conflict like this. Everything becomes about them being ‘right’ and the other being ‘wrong’ and rarely ever are things that simple.

I also loved the interactions between Jayne and William, who evolved so much as a character throughout the story. Their growing affection for each other is only ever very subtle and the romance plays an incredibly understated role in the story. In fact to use the term romance would almost be inaccurate. But this plays out in the most enjoyable of ways – Jayne and William cross paths often and it really gives them time to know each other and learn about each other. Jayne had refused her father’s every attempt to get her to marry because it would be a rare man whom she could both care for and who would support her in her continued role as a physician.

I loved this – I’m more familiar with Minette Walters as a crime author but I’ve been told she has other historical fiction so I’m definitely adding those to my TBR.

9/10

Book #212 of 2021

This is book #36 of my participation in the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

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Review: Devotion by Hannah Kent

Devotion
Hannah Kent
Picador
2021, 432p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Prussia, 1836

Hanne Nussbaum is a child of nature – she would rather run wild in the forest than conform to the limitations of womanhood. In her village of Kay, Hanne is friendless and considered an oddity…until she meets Thea.

Ocean, 1838

The Nussbaums are Old Lutherans, bound by God’s law and at odds with their King’s order for reform. Forced to flee religious persecution the families of Kay board a crowded, disease-riddled ship bound for the new colony of South Australia. In the face of brutal hardship, the beauty of whale song enters Hanne’s heart, along with the miracle of her love for Thea. Theirs is a bond that nothing can break.

The whale passed. The music faded.

South Australia, 1838

A new start in an old land. God, society and nature itself decree Hanne and Thea cannot be together. But within the impossible…is devotion.

This long-awaited novel demonstrates Hannah Kent’s sublime ability with language that creates an immersive, transformative experience for the reader. Devotion is a book to savour.

What a book this was.

I have only read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent but it was sublime and when I heard about this, I knew I had to read it. It’s exactly the sort of historical fiction I’m loving at the moment and I knew the writing would be incredible – which it absolutely was.

It begins in Prussia in 1836, a small group of people who live in a village where they’ve had their religion taken away from them. Their church is chained and locked, the leader having fled somewhere else where he’ll be safe. The people still conduct their ceremonies but they do them at night now, quietly. Hanne lives with her parents and twin brother and she’s…different from the rest of them. Different to the girls who are her age and she’s ostracised, has no friends. Her mother wants her to marry soon but Hanne isn’t interested in that. She’s interested in nature and the things she hears whilst in it. When she meets Thea, part of a new family in the village, they become friends with a deep, deep bond. But Thea’s mother is a Wend (Slavic) and some of the more pious families distrust her deeply. When the whole village decides to emigrate to a far away land, Hanne is determined to never be separated from Thea.

This book went in a direction that I did not expect. At all. In fact there’s one thing that happens that is actually the complete opposite of what I was expecting but I loved that the book surprised me and took me to these unexpected places. The writing is so evocative, I really felt the experiences of the characters: the small village, the snow, the frustration Hanne felt at not living up to the expectations or wishes her mother had for her or wished she would be. And then when they are on the ship to South Australia, a journey that would take 6 months – the misery was palpable. It actually leapt off the page. The descriptions of the cramped quarters, the seasickness, the smells (maybe don’t read that bit whilst eating). And the illness and sadness that not everyone who boarded this ship would make it to their destination and would be buried at sea.

There’s a lot of beauty in this story. It’s a bit of a slow, often meandering story but it perfectly showcases its setting and the way of life of its characters. Hanne is brilliantly rendered, this somewhat awkward girl who knows she isn’t like those around her but I think if left to just be, would be perfectly happy the way she is. It’s the disappointment she perceives from her mother that bothers her. She’s happiest in nature, listening, being. I really liked the sibling bond she had with her twin. It was somewhat sad that some of that was forced to change as they grew older but this is a community that seems quite strictly religious and very concerned with what others are doing and how they might be doing something different or wrong. They view outsiders warily, which is obvious when Thea’s family arrives. Her father is German but her mother is not, and even though some stoutly say that she’s married a German, which makes her one, it’s clear that others don’t agree and watch everything she does with suspicion, seemingly just waiting for her to do something they can disapprove or or denounce. But for Hanne, the arrival of Thea and her family is a gift. She’s shown a family that act in a completely different way than hers with open love and affection, unlike her rather distant and stoic parents. And for Thea, Hanne experiences deeper feelings, the likes of which I suspect would never be understood by their community.

I basically read this in a single sitting after only intending to read about 100 pages. I found that once I settled into the story, probably after the 40-50p mark, I could not put it down. I got so caught up in the journey of the whole community and how they would find the trip to Australia and their new life and more than that, the story of Hanne and Thea. And then once the book took the unexpected direction I was so caught up in the range of emotions that Kent portrayed that I needed to see where it went and how. This is honestly just such an incredibly well written book and such an engaging story. One of my favourites of the year probably.

9/10

Book #207 of 2021

This is book #89 of The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021

And book #33 of the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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Review: Echoes Of War by Tania Blanchard

Echoes Of War
Tania Blanchard
Simon & Schuster AUS
2021, 457p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Set in Mussolini’s Italy amid great upheaval, this is the story of one woman’s determination to find her place in a world that men are threatening to tear apart. Another heart-rending novel inspired by a true story from the bestselling author of The Girl from Munich. 

Calabria, Italy, 1936

In a remote farming village nestled in the mountains that descend into the sparkling Ionian Sea, young and spirited Giulia Tallariti longs for something more. While she loves her home and her lively family, she would much rather follow in her nonna’s footsteps and pursue her dream of becoming a healer.

But as Mussolini’s focus shifts to the war in Europe, civil unrest looms. Whispers of war are at every corner and her beloved village, once safe from the fascist agenda of the North, is now in very real danger.

Caught between her desire to forge her own path and her duty to her family, Giulia must draw on the passion in her heart and the strength of her conviction. Can she find a way to fulfill her dreams or will the echoes of war drown out her voice?

This is the second Tania Blanchard novel I have read and I have enjoyed both of them enormously. She is definitely becoming one of my favourite historical fiction authors and I appreciated this somewhat unique perspective of World War II.

Giulia is a young girl living in Calabria, right at the “toe” of Italy. Her family has a small farm that provides for their livelihood but Italy is going through a time of upheaval with division between the north and south and the ambitions of Mussolini, who wants to create an empire, increase Italy’s territory and provide more land to farmers. There’s also the brewing situation in Europe with the rise of Hitler and Mussolini’s treaty with him, which seems almost certain to drag them into more wars.

Giulia is sixteen and has already shown that she has some gift as a healer, like her maternal grandmother. Her father though, is very against this and wants her married off and settled, against Giulia’s will. He’s very much a “I am your father and my word is law and you will obey” type of figure, which causes a lot of problems between him and Giulia. She wants to learn her craft and be apprenticed with her grandmother – she’s not interested in marriage and babies and keeping a home. It’s arranged that she will go to a monastery and study with a healer there but her father will think she is having some instruction on manners and behaving herself.

I’m old enough to be Giulia’s mother but reading this sent me right back to being this indignant teenager and wanting to defy my parent’s every command. Of course they didn’t want to marry me off to some random guy their age, unlike Giulia’s father but it was the same vibes. I felt for Giulia because she had so much that she wanted to achieve and her ambition was stifled so often by her father. And he’s very much a product of his time and location, the authoritarian Italian father whose job it is to see his daughters are taken care of but he was so focused on this one thing, because unfortunately in this time, girls had no protection without being married. They get to sixteen or so and they leave their father’s homes and go straight to their husband’s homes and start producing babies. Looking back now, it’s a bleak life, especially in times of hardship when feeding big families becomes difficult. Her father believes a lot of what her grandmother does is “witchcraft” and he’s not really willing to listen to reason.

I haven’t read a lot set in Italy during WWII – most of what I end up reading is very much focused on German/French/British settings and I was surprised tor read just how much damage retreating German troops did in parts of Italy after Italy “flipped”sides and declared war on Germany. Italy was a country that had overstretched itself before the beginning of this war, with conflicts in Africa from pacifying Liberia and invading Abyssinia/Ethiopia and also sending troops to assist in the Spanish Civil War. I think Italy hoped that Britain would be convinced to sue for peace early on, preventing a long and drawn out battle but the way events went didn’t go that way and the country suffered heavy losses, particularly in the invasion attempt of Russia. In the book, both Giulia’s brother (and his friends) as well as their father are conscripted to join WWII forces, even though her father is in his 40s. A younger brother also seeks to avoid conscription towards the end of the book, by hiding in the surrounding mountains, along with others of a similar mindset who also wish to rout out the Germans.

There’s a lot that gets included in this – it’s really a coming of age story of Giulia as she gains confidence in herself and her abilities as a healer and although I’m not at all religious, I enjoyed her various times at the monastery and the friends she made there. I loved her spirit and her standing up for herself against a future she didn’t want at a time when she was very much powerless in controlling her own destiny. She somehow persisted and made it work. Her and her siblings also had really good bonds as well and that was nice to see. They supported each other. And there is a love story in this as well, which is very sweet.

I still have one book by Tania Blanchard on my TBR pile and another book by her unread and I really have to try and prioritise them! The two I have read are so much my type of thing, I’m sure I’ll love the ones that are unread also. I highly recommend this.

8/10

Book #206 of 2021

This is book #88 of my participation in The Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2021

It’s also book #32 of my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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Review: The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

The Dark Hours (Harry Bosch #23, Renee Ballard #4)
Michael Connelly
Allen & Unwin
2021, 388p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: There’s chaos in Hollywood on New Year’s Eve. Working her graveyard shift, LAPD Detective Renee Ballard seeks shelter at the end of the countdown to wait out the traditional rain of lead as hundreds of revelers shoot their guns into the air. As reports start to roll in of shattered windshields and other damage, Ballard is called to a scene where a hardworking auto shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the middle of a crowded street party.

It doesn’t take long for Ballard to determine that the deadly bullet could not have fallen from the sky. Ballard’s investigation leads her to look into another unsolved murder-a case at one time worked by Detective Harry Bosch.

Ballard and Bosch team up once again to find out where the old and new cases intersect. All the while they must look over their shoulders. The killer who has stayed undetected for so long knows they are coming after him. 

I think I own the first 3-4 Harry Bosch books and I might’ve even read 1 or 2 of them. I haven’t read any from the series since and I didn’t know who Detective Renee Ballard was before going into this book but honestly? It doesn’t really matter.

This is set as the clock is ticking over to a new year in 2021. The pandemic is still a thing, the vaccinations haven’t been rolled out quite yet and Renee Ballard is working her night shift. Apparently in LA (and maybe other places) it’s a tradition on NYE to go out and shoot guns into the sky during the fireworks. Unfortunately though, all that gunfire and fireworks makes for the perfect cover when someone is shot during the celebrations and it’s definitely a deliberate, intentional shooting. This brings Ballard back into contact with retired Detective Harry Bosch, now working as a private investigator.

As well as working on the murder case, Renee is also working on another case where two men break into women’s houses and assault them. The attacks have occurred on holidays and with several more coming up, Renee is on high alert. They need to find these people and apprehend them before the violence escalates but she can’t find anything that links them together so she doesn’t know how they’re choosing victims.

I really enjoyed this – I will say that it took me a little while to settle into it. I’m not from LA, I’m not really familiar with the geography and different police departments and such for the first little bit was a blur of directions, driving, acronyms and mentioning of various organisations. But once I got a bit deeper into the story and things started happening I was drawn into the story in a big way.

The two crimes are both interesting, but I was definitely more invested in the sexual assault case that Ballard was working. As someone who has lived alone in the past, I find crimes like this both terrifying but also necessary in terms of being explored because while they can seem the thing out of worst nightmares, too crazy to be real, they are real and you only have to look at examples like the Golden State Rapist/Killer to see that sometimes, they’re very difficult cases to crack.

Renee is working with a fellow officer who has definitely lost empathy for the victims in sex crimes, which is something that I suppose happens after prolonged exposure. Victims stop being seen as victims, they’re just numbers in a steadily growing pile and it becomes about what they didn’t do vs what they did do, such as when one of the victims has a shower before reporting the crime. The ability to understand why someone might do that (or why people might not report these crimes at all) gets lost and Renee isn’t afraid to put sneering male officers or her jaded female co-worker in their places.

I liked Renee a lot – this is my first experience reading about her and she’s much more the main character now. I suppose Bosch has become older throughout the 23 books and moved into another area now, no longer working as an active police officer. I assume Ballard is the author’s way of keeping the police involved in the series and I think she’s an excellent character. So much so that I really want to go back and read the other books that she is in. She’s smart, dedicated, not afraid to break a rule here and there if it’s for the greater good. She sees a lot of problems within the force and I think she’s struggling for how best to deal with that. This is post Black Lives Matter and just prior to the exit of Trump and there’s the Defund The Police movement, resentment is high on cops at the moment and this is addressed repeatedly. They are spat on, abused, harassed, targeted, their every move watched because unfortunately, bad cops get a lot of press in America, especially when they keep shooting black people. It’s interesting to see it from the other side even though I don’t think it’s as simple as Ballard and some of her colleagues say either. If anything sometimes the things that happen in this book seem to create an even stronger argument for new organisations to undertake some of this work, like the checking in with victims of a crime.

I thought the ending was awesome – Ballard has loads of courage or zero self-preservation. Maybe both! I’m honestly not sure yet but I love it.

If you’re a fan of this series, I’m sure this will be a new favourite and if not – like me, who has very limited experience with this series? Well it’s definitely the sort of book that will hook you in and make you want to catch up. Definitely.

8/10

Book #203 of 2021

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