Review: NO PLACE LIKE HOME, Caroline Overington

  • format: Amazon (Kindle)
  • File Size: 434 KB
  • Print Length: 203 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (September 25, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DBOF5FW

Synopsis (Amazon)

From bestselling author and award-winning journalist Caroline Overington
comes another thought-provoking and heart-rending story, that reaches
from the heart of Bondi to a small village in Tanzania.

Shortly after 9.30 in the morning, a young man walks into Surf City, Bondi’s
newest shopping complex. He’s wearing a dark grey hoodie – and a bomb
around his neck.

Just a few minutes later he is locked in a shop on the upper floor. And trapped with him are four innocent bystanders.

For police chaplain Paul Doherty, called to the scene by Senior Sergeant
Boehm, it’s a story that will end as tragically as it began. For this is
clearly no ordinary siege. The boy, known as Ali Khan, seems as
frightened as his hostages and has yet to utter a single word.

The seconds tick by for the five in the shop: Mitchell, the talented
schoolboy; Mouse, the shop assistant; Kimmi, the nail-bar technician;
and Roger Callaghan, the real estate agent whose reason for being in
Bondi that day is far from innocent.

And of course there’s Ali Khan. Is he the embodiment of evil, as the villagers in his Tanzanian birthplace believe? Or just an innocent boy, betrayed at every turn, who
just wants a place to call home?

My Take

The story takes readers through the background of all the people who are locked in the shop with Tanzaniaan refugee Ali Khan. The narrator is former Catholic priest, police chaplain Paul Doherty, who contacts each of the people locked in the shop after the event for trauma counselling.We benefit from the research he has done about each of these people.

Part of what each reader must ask herself is how you would react in this situation. The shopping centre is in lock down with the voice of Senior Sergeant Boehm booming instructions over a loud speaker system. And yet Ali Khan is showing no sign of understanding.

The book also broaches issues with which Australians are familiar, or are we? Do we really know how refugees are treated under the Australian border protection systems? What are the detention centres housing refugees and asylum seekers really like? Why was Ali Khan, a genuine refugee who has an Australian passport, in Baxter and Villawood for four years?  This is a book that will make you think.

And Paul Doherty has his own problems too, his own crisis of faith, which perhaps does not make him the best narrator.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME is written as a thriller, and, true to form, we do not find out what happened in the last minutes of the siege until the very end.

A good read by an Australian author to look for.

My rating: 4.5

I have also read 4.4, SISTERS OF MERCY

Aussie Author Challenge returns for 2014

The Aussie Author Challenge is back for its fifth year!Aussie-Author-Challenge-2014-final-badge

Whether you are a patriotic Australian, an aspiring or armchair tourist or simply an international reader wanting to discover some talented new authors and interact with like-minded readers, the Aussie Author Challenge could be for you!

The objective of this challenge is to showcase the wonderful diversity of the work being produced by Australian authors.

Due to popular demand there will be a broader range of participation levels for the Aussie Author Challenge in 2014:

JOEY, WALLABY, WALLAROO and KANGAROO

The keen eyed will notice these animals are listed in order from smallest to largest — as the size of the animal increases, so too does the challenge!

A dedicated page at Booklover Book Reviews will be your one-stop shop for the challenge.

Review: A WICKED DESIGN, Brian Kavanagh

  • Published by Vivid Publishing 2013
  • ISBN 978-1-925086-06-5
  • #5 in the Belinda Lawrence series
  • 190 pages
  • source: complementary copy from the author

Synopsis (Vivid Publishing)

Belinda Lawrence returns to her home town of Melbourne, to discover a murder that’s close to her heart.

A murder which leads to the seat of political power, Parliament House.

The various threads of deceit and intrigue are gradually
unravelled and, with Hazel Whitby at her side, Belinda is confronted by
warring political factions.

The mystery deepens with the discovery of a priceless
historical item, of value to both political powers, and which places
Belinda’s life in jeopardy.

The gregarious Major;
An enigmatic university Professor;
Two colourful antique sellers;
Eccentric retired music-hall entertainers;
And Belinda’s partner, Mark Sallinger…

…all immersed in the scheming and covert encounters besieging Belinda as she solves her most challenging mystery.

Book Five in the Belinda Lawrence mystery series.

My Take

I think the author’s decision to base this novel in his, and Belinda Lawrence’s, home town of Melbourne is a very successful one, as is his basing one of the plot lines on a piece of Melbourne’s colourful history. It also considers the ever present Republican debate, a very real Australian political divide.

A WICKED DESIGN is a well constructed cozy with a heroine who has grown in stature with every outing in this series. Belinda Lawrence and her antique dealer friend Hazel Whitby are very realistically drawn, as is Belinda’s fiance Mark Sallinger.

I have also reviewed

CAPABLE OF MURDER
THE EMBROIDERED CORPSE
4.2, BLOODY HAM
4.3, A CANTERBURY CRIME

I think each one has seen Brian’s writing become more assured.

All the books are available in print and as e-books.

My rating: 4.3

About the author

Brian Kavanagh (b. 1935) is an accredited life member of the Australian Film Editors
Guild & a member of the Australian Society of Authors. He has many
years experience in the Australian Film Industry in areas of production,
direction, editing and writing.

His editing credits include THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH,
ODD ANGRY SHOT, THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND, LONG WEEKEND, SEX IS A
FOUR-LETTER WORD and the recent comedy, DAGS.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Australian
Screen Editors Guild and is an accredited member. An Australian Film
Institute award for Best Editing for FROG DREAMING (USA title THE
QUEST).

His website 

Review: THE MIDNIGHT DRESS by Karen Foxlee

My Take

Had this book not been chosen by my face-to-face reading group, I probably wouldn’t have come across it, but I’m glad I did. Karen Foxlee is a new-to-me Australian author.

Apart from anything else, the structure of the book is unusual and interesting. After the annual Harvest Parade in which they both participated, two girls are missing in a coastal sugar cane town in mid-northern Queensland.

Each of the chapters is headed with the name of a stitch used in tailoring or embroidery.
e.g.
Anchor Stitch
Oyster Stitch
Catch Stitch
Straight Stitch
Binding Stitch
Spider Web Stitch etc. etc. (I didn’t know there were so many stitches)

And the reader’s attention is captured straight away in the opening of the first chapter, Anchor Stitch:

Will you forgive me if I tell you the ending? There’s a girl. She’s standing where the park outgrows itself and the manicured lawn gives way to longer grass and the stubble of rocks. She is standing in no-man’s-land, between the park and the place where the mill yards begin. It’s night and the cane trains are still. It is unbearably humid and she feels the sweat sliding down her back and she presses her hands there into the fabric to stop the sensation that is ticklishly unpleasant. She lifts up the midnight dress to fan her legs. It’s true, the dress is a magical thing, it makes her look so heavenly.

After a couple of pages from this narrator, the chapter continues with the story from the beginning. Rose Lovell arrives in town with her father at the Paradise caravan park where they will live for the next few months. She meets Pearl Kelly in the next day or so when she goes to school. They will be the central characters of the story, but there is also Edie Baker, an eccentric dressmaker with a history, Rose’s alcoholic father, and Paul Rendell who runs a Book Exchange in the back of his mother’s shop.

The first chapter sets the pattern for the rest. There is always a preface from the narrator, helpfully written in italics, and then the continuing story. There’s the feeling of two paths, with the main story slowly catching up to the point where the narrator’s brief snippets begin.

The two teenage girls are trying to establish their identities. Rose has been on the move with her father for a number of years after the apparent drowning suicide of her mother. She has had little chance to establish friends, and she connects surprisingly well with both Pearl and Edie, who agrees to help her make her dress for the Harvest Parade. Pearl is trying to work out who she is too, looking for her Russian father, by writing to men surnamed Orlov in Moscow. As Rose and Edie make the dress, so the tragedies of Edie’s life emerge.

After a stuttering start, the book gathers pace. The author drops information all over the place and there are many little stories for the reader to piece together. It is a very effective technique.

So for me, Karen Foxlee is a new author to watch out for. A great book, not just a coming of age novel, but a well constructed mystery on many levels.

My rating: 4.7

The author’s debut title, THE ANATOMY OF WINGS, published in 2009 looks interesting too. (My local library lists it as teen fiction).

    Ten-year-old Jennifer Day lives in a small mining town full of secrets. Trying to make sense of the sudden death of her teenage sister, Beth, she looks to the adult world around her for answers.

Review: BITTER WASH ROAD, Garry Disher

My Take

BITTER WASH ROAD is set smack bang in the present day; more than that, in a South Australia I recognise: fragile economic climate, police corruption and whistleblowing, small rural communities struggling to survive, reduced resources, drought – you name the issue, it’s there.

Until I did a bit of research I thought Tiverton, South Australia, the wheat belt town near the Barrier Highway where Paul Hirschhausen is posted, was fictitious. But it exists all right. Garry Disher seems to me to have played a little with the geography, but the flavour of the setting rings true.

This is Australian crime fiction at its best. A body is discovered but Hirsch is frustrated when his local boss Sergeant Kropp seems determined to keep him away from any real action. Hirsch faces real issues of getting himself established in the small town. The cops in nearby Redruth where Kropp is have a reputation for being bullies, mates with every one and turning a blind eye to what their mates get up to, perhaps even participating in crime themselves.

I absolutely loved this book.

Read an extract on Amazon.

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also reviewed
4.7, WYATT
4.8, WHISPERING DEATH
4.7, BLOOD MOON

Review; MURDER AND MENDELSSOHN, Kerry Greenwood

Synopsis (Allen & Unwin)

The divine and fearless Miss Phryne Fisher returns in her 20th adventure in a vastly entertaining tale of murder, spies, mathematics and music.

To the accompaniment of heavenly choirs singing, the fearless Miss Phryne Fisher returns in her 20th adventure with musical score in hand.

An orchestral conductor has been found dead and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson needs the delightfully incisive and sophisticated Miss Fisher’s assistance to enter a world in which he is at sea. Hugh Tregennis, not much liked by anyone, has been murdered in a most flamboyant mode by a killer with a point to prove. But how many killers is Phryne really stalking?

At the same time, the dark curls, disdainful air and the lavender eyes of mathematician and code-breaker Rupert Sheffield are taking Melbourne by storm. They’ve certainly taken the heart of Phryne’s old friend from the trenches of WW1, John Wilson. Phryne recognises Sheffield as a man who attracts danger and is determined to protect John from harm.

Even with the faithful Dot, Mr and Mrs Butler, and all in her household ready to pull their weight, Phryne’s task is complex. While Mendelssohn’s Elijah, memories of the Great War, and the science of deduction ring in her head, Phryne’s past must also play its part as MI6 become involved in the tangled web of murders.

A vastly entertaining tale of murder, spies, mathematics and music.

My Take

Followers of my blog will realise that it has taken me a bit longer to read this novel than is usual for me. Part of the reason is that I spent the weekend at a crime fiction convention, but it is also true to say that I found MURDER & MENDELSSOHN a little more challenging to read.

It was partly due to the setting that surrounds the murder of the orchestral conductor of the Harmony Choir. The author uses her own experiences of singing choral music to explore how the conductor and choristers feel about Mendelssohn, including some scripts in detail.

There are many possible murderers when first one conductor, then another is murdered. Neither of the conductors has many friends in the choir or the orchestra but murder seems rather extreme.

There is also a sideplot where it appears someone is trying to kill ex-code-breaker Rupert Sheffield. We learn a few never-revealed-before facts about Phryne’s role in
intelligence gathering, and particularly about her connections with MI6.

Greenwood also uses the novel as an opportunity to explore homosexuality and this side plot takes up quite a bit of space, detracting a little from the main murder plot. Phryne herself also seems a little more promiscuous, while her lover Lin Chung is overseas.

I did enjoy the glimpses of the splendour of Melbourne’s grand old dame, the Windsor Hotel, where some of the characters are staying, and where I have also stayed a couple of times.

So this, the 20th in the Phryne Fisher series, didn’t delight me as much as #19 UNNATURAL HABITS.
But I’ll be still lined up for #21.

My Rating: 4.3

I’ve reviewed
MURDER ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT
TRICK OR TREAT
FORBIDDEN FRUIT
4.3, DEAD MAN’S CHEST
4.4, COOKING THE BOOKS
4.3, TAMAM SHUD
4.8, UNNATURAL HABITS

Review: THE CRY, Helen Fitzgerald

  • Published 2013, Faber & Faber UK
  • ISBN 978-0-571-28770-3
  • 307 pages
  • source: library book

Synopsis (Amazon)

He’s gone. And telling the truth won’t bring him back…

When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.

Lies, rumours and guilt snowball, causing the parents, Joanna and Alistair, to slowly turn against each other.

Finally Joanna starts thinking the unthinkable: could the truth be even more terrible than she suspected? And what will it take to make things right?

The Cry is a dark psychological thriller with a gripping moral dilemma at its heart and characters who will keep you guessing on every page.

My Take

Anybody who has flown a long flight, say Glasgow to Dubai, in the company of a small child, or been sitting near one, can empathise with the situation when the child constantly cries. That’s where we start with Joanna and Alistair and their baby Noah. For Joanna this becomes the trip from hell, although Alistair seems to be able to sleep through it all. The second leg of the journey from Dubai to Melbourne is only a little better.

The journey starts badly at departure when airport security declares that the bottles that Joanna’s antibiotics and Noah’s Calpol are too big. That leads Joanna into making a crucial error.

The family is on its way to Melbourne so that Alistair can claim custody of his teenage daughter from his ex-wife who brought Chloe back to Australia illegally. When Noah goes missing from the car when they are driving to Geelong, the custody of Chloe still looms large for Alistair in particular. It becomes even more crucial when Noah remains missing.

This story twists in directions the reader just couldn’t predict. The general public becomes involved in the search for Noah not only through media releases but also through social networking like Facebook and Twitter. Joanna and her reactions to her baby’s disappearance come under public scrutiny, with the rumour mill coming perilously close to the truth.

Although firmly set in Australia (Joanna and Alistair land in Melbourne when small towns near Geelong are threatened by bushfires) the setting could almost be anywhere and Helen Fitzgerald has the reader asking how they would have reacted in similar circumstances.

A really good read, touching issues that go well beyond the disappearance of a baby.

My rating: 4.7

See other reviews

I’ve also reviewed
DEAD LOVELY

Novels by Helen Fitzgerald (from Fantastic Fiction)

Dead Lovely (2007)
My Last Confession (2009)
The Devil’s Staircase (2009)
Bloody Women (2009)
Amelia O’Donohue Is So Not a Virgin (2010)
Hot Flush (2011)
The Donor (2011)
Deviant (2013)
The Cry (2013)

About the author (Fantastic Fiction)

Helen FitzGerald is one of thirteen children and grew up in Victoria,
Australia. She nows lives in Glasgow with her husband and two children.
Helen has worked as a parole officer and social worker for over ten
years. Her first novel, Dead Lovely, was published in 2007.

See the author’s blog.

Review: SILENT VALLEY, Malla Nunn

  • Published by Pan Macmillan Australia 2012
  • Alternative title BLESSED ARE THE DEAD
  • ISBN 978-7426-1088-7
  • 311 pages
  • #3 in the Emmanuel Cooper series
  • source: review copy from publisher

Synopsis (publisher)

A remote town. A girl of rare and exquisite beauty. A murder that silences a whole community.

The body of a seventeen-year-old girl has been found covered in wildflowers on a hillside in the Drakensberg Mountains, near Durban. She is the
daughter of a Zulu chief, destined to fetch a high bride price. Was Amahle as innocent as her family claims, or is her murder a sign that she lived a secret life?

Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate. He must enter the guarded worlds of a traditional Zulu clan and a white farming community to gather up the clues Amahle left behind and bring her murderer to justice. But the silence in the valley is deafening, and it seems that everyone – from the uncooperative local police officer, to the white farm boy who seems obsessed with the dead girl – has something to hide.

With no cause of death and no motive, Cooper’s investigation is blocked at each turn. Can he tough it out, or will the small-town politics that stir up his feelings about the past be more than he can bear?

In this page-turning tale of murder and mystery, Nunn entangles us in a rich and complex web of witchcraft, tribalism, taboo relationships… and plain old-fashioned greed.

My Take

This novel is set in South Africa in October 1953. It is a world still divided by apartheid, blacks are always treated as “kaffirs”, and white supremacy is assumed.

With Emmanuel Cooper comes his Zulu constable Shabalala. Apartheid means he can’t stay in the same hotels as Cooper, or dine at the same tables, but he can get the “real” story from the servants, and he understands local Zulu customs.

SILENT VALLEY is a very atmospheric novel. Malla Nunn is able to transport 21st century readers to a very different culture, and help us to see the crime with very different eyes.

Life is not easy for Emmanuel Cooper. He is descended from Boers and is still not accepted in police circles dominated by whites even though he has the patronage of Colonel van Niekerk who is also an Afrikaaner. van Niekerk will take the credit for Cooper’s successes, but will quickly disown him when he fails.

If you’ve never read any of this series before I would suggest you start at the beginning, so you get the full story (although of course you can read SILENT VALLEY as a stand alone). But there are characters who were created in the first and second novels who are important in the third and so you will understand more if you read them in order. They are available for Kindle.

My rating: 4.9

I’ve also reviewed

5.0, A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE

4.5, LET THE DEAD LIE

About the author

Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth
in the 1970s. She attended uni in WA, and then the US. In New York, she
worked on film sets, wrote her first screenplay before returning to
Australia where she began writing and directing short films and
corporate videos, three of which have won numerous awards and have been
shown at international film festivals. Her debut novel A Beautiful Place to Die
was published to international acclaim and won the 2009 Sisters in
Crime Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Novel by an Australian female
author. Malla and her husband live in Sydney with their two children.

Book Review: UNNATURAL HABITS, Kerry Greenwood

  • Published by Allen & Unwin 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-74237-243-3
  • 332 pages
  • #19 in the Phryne Fisher series
  • library book
  • read an extract

Synopsis (Allen & Unwin)

1929: pretty little golden-haired girls are going missing in Melbourne.
But they’re not just pretty. Three of them are pregnant, poor girls from the harsh confines of the Magdalen Laundry. People are getting nervous.

Polly Kettle, a pushy, self-important Girl Reporter with ambition and no sense of self preservation, decides to investigate–and promptly goes missing herself.

It’s time for Phryne and Dot to put a stop to this and find Polly Kettle before something quite irreparable happens to all of them. It’s a tale of convents and plots, piracy, murder and mystery . . . and Phryne finally finds out if it’s true that blondes have more fun.

My Take

Nearly a quarter of a century on from the start of the series, Phryne Fisher is going as strong as ever. This remarkable, seemingly ageless, sleuth has gathered quite a household around her now, and also has the local police in her pocket. Most of Melbourne’s high society either count her as a friend, or they owe her something, and so she has passage into places that the police on their own could never penetrate, like the Blue Cat Club and the Abbotsford Convent and the Magdalen laundry.

For me Kerry Greenwood seems to have captured well the essence of society’s attitude to unmarried mothers, as well the growing militant unionism of the late 1920s. A mark of her indefatigable research.

These novels carry the hallmarks of most cozies, with a tinge of Australian history and attitudes. There’s plenty of humour, and loads of well drawn characters. At the same time they are well plotted, and I think UNNATURAL HABITS is almost Greenwood at her best. Their growth in popularity, and that of the Miss Fisher television series, ensure they are also available overseas, at least in e-format, for a reasonable price.

My rating: 4.8

I have reviewed
MURDER ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT
TRICK OR TREAT
FORBIDDEN FRUIT
4.3, DEAD MAN’S CHEST
4.4, COOKING THE BOOKS
4.3, TAMAM SHUD

Phryne Fisher series
1. Cocaine Blues (1989)
aka Death by Misadventure
2. Flying Too High (1990)
3. Murder on the Ballarat Train (1991)
4. Death at Victoria Dock (1992)
5. The Green Mill Murder (1993)
6. Blood and Circuses (1994)
7. Ruddy Gore (1995)
8. Urn Burial (1996)
9. Raisins and Almonds (1997)
10. Death Before Wicket (1999)
11. Away with the Fairies (2001)
12. Murder in Montparnasse (2002)
13. The Castlemaine Murders (2003)
14. Queen of the Flowers (2004)
15. Death By Water (2005)
16. Murder in the Dark (2006)
17. Murder on a Midsummer Night (2008)
18. Dead Man’s Chest (2010)
19. Unnatural Habits (2012)
20. Murder & Mendelssohn (2013)

Review: GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, Maggie Groff

Synopsis (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Intrepid investigative journalist Scout Davis has given herself a holiday, but when Hermione Longfellow accosts her in the supermarket, she stops to listen.

Most people in Byron Bay are aware of the
eccentric Anemone sisters. Always dressed in black, they rarely leave their home nestled in the hills – but Scout is sure that the drinking of chicken blood is just idle gossip. When Hermione asks Scout to track down her sister Nemony’s AWOL husband, believed to have died at sea thirty years ago but recently popped up again on the Great Barrier Reef, Scout jumps at the opportunity.

Another source of intrigue falls close to home when Scout’s sister Harper despairs over her husband’s odd behaviour. And as if that wasn’t enough, Scout’s journalist boyfriend
is finally coming home from Afghanistan. Trouble is, Scout thinks she may be falling in love with irresistible local cop Rafe – who coincidentally is also Toby’s best friend…

Delightfully witty and addictively fast-paced, this is the second hilarious outing for unforgettable sleuth Scout Davis.

My Take

I wasn’t sure whether this title by 2013 Davitt Award winner Maggie Groff (she scooped the Australian Sisters in Crime pool of Best Novel and Best First novel with MAD MEN, BAD GIRLS a few weeks ago) would actually be my cup of tea. It seemed that it would be “lighter” than my usual crime fiction fare. But then I chose it for my face to face reading group to read in the coming month, so in a sense I was committed.

I did have my doubts in the first 50 pages or so, but then things settled down a bit, and I must admit to enjoying both the plot and the plotting skill. The blurb on the front cover calls sleuth Scout Davis ” a successor to Evanovich”, and I thought I could detect a bit of Phryne Fisher there too.

I also enjoyed the quirky humour – who would call their cat Chairman Meow? – but underneath it all there is some serious, realistic characterisation and some careful plotting. There are a couple of other humour lines such as the guerilla knitting group that I thought were a bit superfluous but I guess they show another dimension of Scout’s character.

I think this series has a future.  My rating: 4.6

International readers can find it here on Amazon US for Kindle or audio.

See Bernadette’s review