Posts Tagged ‘Book review’

It’s been a big week for The Cabin Sessions. First I received a warm and thoughtful review in Unnerving Magazine…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and I was then invited to be interviewed.

 

To read the full review, and so much more click on the link.  http://www.unnervingmagazine.com/

Click for more on The Cabin Sessions 

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The second in Wallace’s rural crime series, Dead Again is a fast-paced thriller set in the fictitious town of Bullock in the Yarra ranges east of Melbourne, and in the historic spa town, Daylesford.

“It is almost two years since wildfires ravaged the tiny town of Bullock, and Melbourne journalist, Georgie Harvey, is on assignment in the recovering town to write a feature story on the anniversary of the tragedy.

In nearby Daylesford, police officer, John Franklin, is investigating a spree of vandalism and burglaries, while champing to trade his uniform for the plain clothes of a detective.

When Georgie’s story and Franklin’s cases collide, she not only finds herself back in conflict with the man she’s been trying to forget since their first encounter, but she uncovers the truth about how the fires started – a truth no-one is wanting to believe.”

My Review (first appeared on the website of Sisters in Crime)

Dead Again opens with a perpetrator consumed by guilt for a crime he doesn’t reveal. From the first, the reader knows a little more than city journalist Georgie Harvey and Daylesford cop John Franklin. What unfolds is a flawlessly plotted unravelling of a heinous truth. The plot, jump cutting between the two protagonists, never stumbles. The story architecture that leads to a dramatic conclusion is convincing and plausible. Sub plots provide pleasing texture, driving the story forward, affording the necessary complications and frustrations. The result is a rich and satisfying tale.

Catch up on the novel’s predecessor is deftly handled. Georgie and Franklin have history, one that is unresolved. Franklin is consumed by an unwavering passion. Georgie is conflicted, her relationship with hot shot lawyer AJ, on the rocks. Wallace develops her characters with considerable finesse. It isn’t easy creating emotional character arcs in a novel heavy with plot. It appears Wallace has a hunger for Wallander in rural Victoria. Both Georgie and Franklin are introspective, troubled, frustrated and hurt. They are mirrors of each other, yet distinct. Wallace applies the same character-developing care in her antagonist. The reader will be forgiven for feeling some initial sympathy for a figure who has plainly committed some terrible act.

Dead Again is a brave book. The theme, termed Red Victoria in the narrative, concerns the Black Saturday bush fires of 2009. The horrors of that day cannot be erased from collective memory. The trauma lives on. Stepping into this terrain is dangerous, the author will inevitably be accused by some as cannibalising the tragedy of others for personal gain, a vulture, picking over trauma as though it were carrion. Worse, misconstruing or trivialising real events. These are unfair accusations. Authors travel where their muse takes them. Besides, Wallace is well aware of the dangers. The author treads lightly, defensively, tentatively, as does her protagonist, Georgie, the city-dwelling outsider on an assignment to write a magazine feature.

“’It’s impossible to describe. It’s a unique sound. Terrifying. And I hear the death screams of humans and animals.’ Gravelly, she added, ‘Ever heard that?’

Not trusting her voice, Georgie shook her head.

‘I feel the ghosts of my friends. This is stuff that I wouldn’t believe if it hadn’t happened to me. It keeps me awake at night.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘Hour upon hour, every single night. And the smells…’ Kelly shuddered.

It felt cruel to want more, but Georgie hung on each word.”

In this fashion, the wildfire theme is handled with respect and consideration, like an artefact held in the hand and turned over, sensitively scrutinised.

All the incidentals in the story are carefully researched, adding to the social realism that the author strives for. With wit and a sharp eye for the essentials, Wallace has built a story world that feels real. A page turner with much to savour, Dead Again is a moving and highly engaging read.

Find out more about Sandi Wallace here.

Buy Dead Again here.

Dr Elizabeth Pimms has a new puzzle.

What is the story behind the tiny skeletons discovered on a Guatemalan island? And how do they relate to an ancient Mayan queen?

The bones, along with other remains, are a gift for Elizabeth. But soon the giver reveals his true nature. An enraged colleague then questions Elizabeth’s family history. Elizabeth seeks DNA evidence to put all skeletons to rest.

A pregnant enemy, a crystal skull, a New York foodie, and an intruder in Elizabeth’s phrenic library variously aid or interrupt Elizabeth’s attempts to solve mysteries both ancient and personal.

 

 

 

My Review (written for Sisters in Crime)

Set in Canberra, and in the Mayan empire in what is now Guatemala, Mayan Mendacity is the second in L.J.M. Owen’s Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series. It is a challenge setting up the next book in a series and Owen has done so with finesse. The narration is light, buoyant, playful at times, yet ever observant, the result, a most satisfying read.

The main plot is driven by protagonist Dr Elizabeth Pimm’s new volunteer project, given her by the exacting Dr Marsh. She must assess an archeological find, the remains of a cesnote in Guatemala, meeting a series of crushing deadlines. Elizabeth’s pursuit of answers to the mysteries of the find is continuously thwarted as a number of complications beset her. Obstacles and challenges come from all directions, enough to make the weak among us buckle, but not Dr Pimms.

Owen has created a convincingly flawed and utterly lovable protagonist. She’s determined, dedicated, thorough and loyal. She sallies forth with gung ho exuberance, never down for long, no matter what befalls her. Elizabeth’s attitude is probably best summed up when she confronts another disaster and asks herself, ‘What fresh new hell was this?’

Dr Pimms is supported by a cast of characters, all rounded out and believable. The reader is introduced to each in turn as the story unfolds and a secondary plot emerges, one that is deeply personal. Indeed, it is Dr Pimms’ own history that thwarts her investigation, yet ultimately leads her to mature and open her heart.

The story is thoroughly researched; the author clearly knows her themes and her setting. Technical details are provided in an engaging, easy to follow manner. This is especially evident when Owen opens a window on the fascinating world of the Mayan empire, making use of a parallel narrative to take the reader back to the time of Dr Pimms’ find.

Elizabeth’s phrenic library is an interesting addition to the narrative, a fascinating invention, one that creates a curious occult dimension to Owen’s series. This phrenic library is a personal and mundane version of the Akashic records, a metaphysical compendium of all that has ever occurred in human history, stored on the inner planes, according to Theosophical belief. As a device, Elizabeth’s inner library works well, granting her plausible, if esoteric, access to knowledge she would otherwise be hard pressed to gain.

In all, I found Mayan Mendacity difficult to put down. Owen has provided her readers with an entertaining story that also informs, without allowing exposition to put a brake on the narrative. Pulling off a story laden with this much technical detail and maintaining a fast pace is quite a feat.

You can buy a copy of this book HERE

Visit the author L.J.M. Owen
With thanks to Sisters in Crime for my review copy

All good books are hard to put down. Sandi Wallace’s Tell Me Why is no exception.

“Picturesque Daylesford has a darker side. Melbourne writer Georgie Harvey heads to the mineral springs region of central Victoria to look for a missing farmer.There she uncovers links between the woman’s disappearance and her dangerous preoccupation with the unsolved mystery surrounding her husband.Maverick cop and solo dad John Franklin is working a case that’s a step up from Daylesford’s usual soft crime; a poison-pen writer whose targets are single mothers.Georgie’s investigation stirs up long buried secrets and she attracts enemies. When she reports the missing person to the local cops, sparks fly between her and Franklin. Has he dismissed the writer too quickly? A country cop, city writer, retired farmer and poison-pen stalker all want answers.What will they risk to get them? What will be the ultimate cost?”

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The twin elements that will win the hearts of crime fiction fans are setting and an interesting sleuth. In Tell Me Why Wallace has both. The setting is Daylesford, a small country town east of Melbourne famous for its proximity to Hepburn Springs, rendering the locale a lure for the rich and famous, an area of luxury hotels and spa retreats. Knowing this before opening Tell Me Why, the reader may be forgiven for anticipating an Agatha Christie cosy mystery, or a sort of corporate crime conspiracy novel. Tell Me Why is neither. The novel is firmly situated in the sub-genre of Australian rural crime, since there is such a thing.

The novel has two sleuths, senior constable John Franklin, and Melbourne-based writer Georgie Harvey, each investigating a separate mystery. The inclusion of two sleuths, one from the country, the other the city, plays to the theme of the rural-city divide, although the dichotomy serves more as a backdrop than as an issue explored and developed in a literary sense. Both Franklin and Harvey are well-crafted characters, satisfyingly complex and damaged. Neither sleuth is especially likeable at first. Both are hard edged, carrying their hurts and prejudices close. Both are judgemental, Harvey more so, her heart filled with resentments and frustrations, whereas Franklin is prone to the sort of casual sexism found in Australian rural society. Through both pairs of eyes social realism veers close to stereotyping, with single mothers under the spotlight.

Inevitably, the various foibles of Franklin and Harvey drive the plot. The story opens with a short prelude, a catastrophic fire and a mystery. From there the  narrative jump cuts from Franklin to Harvey, as their individual inquiries unfold.

The jump cuts work well, if making for a seemingly disjointed narrative at first, more demanding of the reader’s attention. The style makes for a fast pace and creates natural tension, the reader forced to wait for vital information as her attention is diverted back and forth between the points of view. What unfolds is a cracking plot. There is never a dull moment. The reader sinks into the story, confident the author is in control of the narrative and won’t disappoint. No small feat. Crime readers are a sharp bunch, likely to extract a calculator to check up on a distance or a passage of time. Thankfully, Wallace manages to avoid stepping outside the bounds of plausibility.

The writing is strong, gritty, earthy and witty at times. Tell Me Why  is a considered work, written with care. Wallace knows her craft. Tell Me Why is a perfect balance of action, dialogue, and reflection. Description is kept to a minimum, just enough to be evocative. Wallace knows her readership too. Themes appealing to female crime lovers abound. Mothers and babies, the strong bonds of female friendship, a cast of utterly believable and endearing minor characters, all held together in a pleasing the rural setting.

Tell Me Why is a compulsive read. The novel should appeal to crime lovers everywhere. I am looking forward to reading the newly released sequel, Dead Again.

BUY Tell Me Why

Find Sandi Wallace here: http://www.sandiwallace.com/

This is the second book I have reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. To find out more about the challenge, visit the website

In The Tower, Marguerite Steen provides the contemporary reader with her valuable insights into the world of the struggling if moderately successful artist of 1950s Britain, a time of post-war transition in society and the art world, as abstractionism grew in ascendancy.

“Painter Tom Proctor and his wife Antonia are among innumerable victims of the so-called Welfare State, their problem complicated by their child, Noelle, who is in desperate need of care. Tom’s career has arrived at an impasse, in which his sole support is the steadfast belief of Antonia in the value and honesty of his work.

Torn between duty to wife and child and artistic integrity, Tom is about to play for safety by accepting a salaried job in an art school. In The Tower, Marguerite Steen delicately explores domestic tension and the strength that comes from a loving relationship against an artistic backdrop she knows so well.”

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In The Tower Marguerite Steen demonstrates considerable literary prowess, painting in words a character riven by situations and conditions beyond his control. Tom Proctor is enduring a form of mid-life crisis. With mounting debts and a wife and child to support, he is torn between satisfying convention and taking risks. He’s broody, wary, given to intense moods, staunch when he can’t afford to be, and prone to bouts of drunken recklessness. His angst centres on finding ways to earn a living from his art in a changing world. He hankers after a past, his own in those early years before the birth of a severely disabled daughter, Noelle, and for a time in the art world when primitivism was valued over abstraction.

The reader senses early in the narrative that Tom’s explanations and justifications for his various decisions take the form of an elaborate excuse for something disastrous. He is confronted with a decision, a fork in the road, two futures presenting themselves, one of security and stability, the other its opposite. What ensues has the flavour of a descent into desperation without redemption.

In Tom Proctor, Steen balances ruthless honesty and self scrutiny with equally acute observations of other characters, particularly the pretentious upper classes in the art and theatre milieu. Proctor’s observant eye is that of a painter regarding his subject and the result is a novel filled with evocative depictions of setting and character.

The Tower is not a work of perfection. Some of the transitions between scenes could have been more deftly handled. At times the narrative feels hurried, some plot points skated over rather than dwelt on, yet if they had been explored in more detail, the narrator pausing, attending, then The Tower would be a different book, and not what it is, a masterful portrayal of one man’s account of his motivations, apprehensions and misgivings in the face of an art scene filled with dilettantes, and a post-war society in transition. Steen provides an intimate tale of an artist battling with authenticity versus compromise, with his conscience, with his own artistic temperament and with his domestic responsibilities.

The re-release of this novel will satisfy a new wave of readers hankering after works composed in a richer style of prose, those who seek not only an entertaining read, but a work that stimulates the imagination and ignites the intellect.

I’d like to thank NetGalley and Odyssey Press for my review copy.

Kathryn Gossow is a masterful storyteller who displays great insight and sensitivity in her handling of difficult themes. The result, her debut novel Cassandra, is an extraordinary and engaging coming of age tale.

“On a remote farm in Queensland, Cassie Shultz feels useless. Her perfect brother Alex has an uncanny ability to predict the weather, and the fortunes of the entire family hinge upon his forecasts. However, her own gift for prophecy remains frustratingly obscure. Attempts to help her family usually result in failure.

After meeting with her new genius neighbour Athena, Cassie thinks she has unlocked the secret of her powers. But as her visions grow more vivid, she learns that the cost of honing her gift may be her sanity.

With her family breaking apart, the future hurtles towards Cassie faster than she can comprehend it.”

There is much to love in this novel. The reader is enchanted from the opening scenes, of a very young Cassie playing where she isn’t meant to, under the house; of her encounter with a snake and the nightmare that follows; of her innocent curiosity. “A crackle of excitement pops in her belly. Like Coco-Pops when the milk first goes on.”

Through the early chapters, Cassie soon grows into a teenager, and it is this lonely, rebellious, confused girl eager to belong, who experiments with her own abilities in an attempt to understand them.

Cassandra is laced with evocative descriptions of rural Queensland. Gossow’s characterisations are convincing and her pacing measured. Early suspense shades into a textured exploration of clairvoyance, dreams, trance states and the predictive powers of Tarot, as Cassie tries to get a handle on her own inner powers; her friend, the ever doubtful Athena, egging her on. These moments are convincingly portrayed, never overplayed, each adding another dimension to the fabric of the paranormal. In this fashion, tinges of Jungian psychology and Greek mythology are blended seamlessly into a family drama.

Cassandra rises and flows, rises and flows, the reader held in a deep ocean swell. When the end of the novel is sensed on the horizon, this swell breaks into great waves that eventually deposit the reader on the shore of normality, somewhat transformed by the experience.

A novel with broad appeal, Cassandra is told in well-crafted, elegant prose. The reliance on simile to create a childlike atmosphere works well in my view. Think Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

Gossow’s literary skills shine in her portrayal of Cassie’s altered states of awareness. It is in these scenes that the author demonstrates much empathy, empathy needed in order to render authentic the inner experiences of the protagonist. In this aspect, I am reminded more of Madeleine Thien’s Booker-shortlisted Do Not Say We Have Nothing than I am Paula Hawkins’ bestselling The Girl on The Train. Through all of the numerous scenes of other-wordly introspection, Kathryn Gossow reveals a fine literary talent.

The reader is gifted a gem of a story in Cassandra.  Highly recommended.

I’d like to thank Odyssey Books for my review copy.

Visit Kathryn’s website here.

Buy her book here.

I am delighted to share this warm, 5 star review of my novel, A Perfect Square, from Kate Braithwaite, author of Charlatan.

A perfect square

A Perfect Square is a clever, thoughtful literary novel which also manages to have a cracking plot and complex characters.

This is a book that grew and grew on me. I’ll admit to a false start the first time I picked it up. I felt there was a lot of moving around in the characters’ heads to the recent past, the far past and then back to the present. But when I sat down with a proper amount of time to dig into the story it was an absolute pleasure. Blackthorn has a great plot and lots of writing talent. Her descriptions are wonderful – both of people and places – and there was lots of fabulous language to enjoy. I loved the two parallel mother/daughter stories and was impressed by the way they intersected. It was also great to read so much about the creative process and to consider the challenges of creativity and motherhood.

I will certainly look to read Blackthorn’s other work. A Perfect Square is a clever, thoughtful literary novel which still manages to have a cracking plot and complex characters. It should appeal to lovers of psychological thrillers too – think artistic Gone Girl.” – – quoted from Goodreads