Book reviews from CloggieDownunder

New South Wales, Australia

Number of reviews
1003
Average review
CloggieDownunder’s average rating is 4 of 5 Stars.

The April Dead

by Alan Parks

On Mar 10 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The April Dead is the fourth book in the Harry McCoy series by British author, Alan Parks. It's mid-April 1974 and bombs are going off in Glasgow: the first looks like an inept bombmaker has met a nasty fate; the motive for the second, in the Cathedral, is more puzzling, but Special Branch rule out Irish paramilitary.

Harry's not quite sure how he ends up agreeing to do a favour for a retired US Naval Captain but, in the process, Andrew Stewart makes the acquaintance of newly-released-from-prison gangland crime boss, Srevie Cooper, whose recent interest in boxing strikes a chord with the American.

Andrew Stewart describes his son, Donny, now AWOL from the US Naval Base near Dunoon, and the target of this concerned father's search, as a timid young man, but McCoy soon learns that young Stewart might be getting his hands dirty with some local colour.

Over the nine days that follow, there is an attempted murder in a posh restaurant, a brutal bashing murder of a local crime figure, more bombs explode, the death toll rises, and two individuals lose limbs. It eventually becomes clear that a charismatic ex-Highlander Colonel with a private army working under a rather bizarre manifesto may be involved. Meanwhile, Stevie Cooper suspects his lieutenant may have ambitions beyond his station, something that cannot end well.

In the course of investigations, McCoy finds himself an unwilling spectator at a boxing match, mentoring Wattie in his first in-charge case, unwittingly delivering an IRA threat, catching up with show people sharing his youthful history, and checking out a hippy commune, all while plagued by a newly-diagnosed peptic ulcer, for which he tries (and fails) to curb his smoking and drinking. It's quite apparent by now that McCoy may not be the straightest cop on the force, but he does have standards and his heart is in the right place. As this series progresses, the background on the characters and their history. provided by earlier books make it more difficult for subsequent volumes to stand alone: readers new to the series may find this one confusing as there is virtually no recap. Again, the prolific use of expletives may offend some readers, but there's a bit of black humour in the banter. Portraying Glasgow at its grittiest, this is excellent Scottish Noir.

Nine Lives

by Peter Swanson

On Mar 5 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Nine Lives is the eighth novel by award-winning American author, Peter Swanson. Nine individuals of diverse background, race and social standing receive an envelope that contains only a list of nine names, including their own. Puzzlement is the general response; some show or mention the list to others; some dismiss it, set it aside, discard it; one uses it as inspiration for writing a song; another ignores the chill it gives her sixth sense; for some it later becomes the basis of a relationship.

With her list, Special Agent Jessica Winslow does what comes naturally to any FBI agent: she handles it carefully, treats it like evidence, an action that is vindicated when, the following day, she learns that someone on the list has been murdered. She immediately sets to work trying to find those on the list, with limited success. One name triggers a vague childhood recollection, and Jessica develops a theory that she shares with her supervisor. But two more murders in quick succession, by different means, see her going into hiding to avoid that fate.

The story has an intriguing premise that Swanson develops with skill and flair. There are several references made to Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" that offer a clue; there are red herrings and twists and surprises that keep the pages turning and the reader guessing. Even those astute readers who settle on a perpetrator early will be compelled to read on for the how and the why. Unputdownable crime fiction. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Faber & Faber.

On Mar 5 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

"He'd long been a complete blank, his behaviour inexplicable, his motives unknown. To find out, after all this time, what he was really thinking might be unbearable."

The Woman Who Came Back To Life is the fifth novel by British author, Beth Miller. A phone call in the middle of a private French wood turns the ordered life that Pearl Flowers had been leading upside down. Her older brother Greg rings with the news that the father from whom she and her brothers have been estranged for some thirty years, is dying.

No one, not her brother, not her ever-protective husband Denny, is more surprised than Pearl that she feels an urgent need to be there. Too late for last words with her father, she and Denny reluctantly hang around for the hastily-arranged funeral of Francis Nichols, partly because this is a requirement for the mysterious legacy he has left Pearl.

After the expected bequests of property and cash are dealt with, the solicitor tries to hand over a bag of notebooks to Pearl amid vociferous objections from Jeanie and Andrea Nichols, her father's second wife and step-daughter. It seems Francis has written private journals for the previous thirty-seven years, and several of the family want to have first sight of what could be sensitive material.

"'They cover the period from 1981 to 2018. I believe the final entry was made only a few weeks before his death.' A chill ran down my spine. My dad's life, laid out, for the entire period that I didn't know him."

The catch is that they are written in a shorthand that Francis taught Pearl. She returns to France in possession of her father's legacy to her, not at all sure she wants to read the words of a man who ignored or rejected her attempts at communication after he abandoned her mother and his children. "I stopped writing to Dad then, and eventually, after some rough years of grieving the father I'd loved, I more or less stopped thinking about him, too."

Those journals sitting in her study are unsettling enough; contact with the family she left behind after a traumatic event is unnerving; the trespasser apparently living in the woods around their secluded little refuge from the world adds to her unease; harassment from her step-sister Andrea about the diaries increases her stress levels; and then there's a phone call from a young woman…

One of her dying mother's last requests is that Caroline Haskett attends the funeral and take her measure of the family. The other is that she contact Pearl, something Carrie has no real desire to do. She has managed well for thirty-five years without, and is quite busy enough being the single mother of baby Emmie. But she has made a promise.

The story is carried by three separate narratives: Pearl and Carrie relate in the present day while entries from the journals Francis kept describe past events, giving an alternative, if not always reliable, perspective. The novel's back-cover blurb is a little misleading, giving the impression that Pearl is more dysfunctional or obsessive than she really is. Some aspects of the story may be predictable, but there are also surprises in the journey to a rather satisfying ending.

Miller's protagonists are much more than one-dimensional and reward the reader's time investment with their emotional development. Pearl's younger brother Benjamin provides some much-needed light relief with his comments and insults during the tenser moments (eg Jeanie's nasty outburst over the diaries): "Pointing at the page, Benjy said, 'Doesn't this line say, "wow my second wife is such a cow"?'", while Francis is responsible for quite a few, but not all, eyes-welling-up-lump-in-the-throat moments. Funny, moving and uplifting. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Bookouture

Naked In Death

by J D Robb

On Mar 4 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Naked In Death is the first book in the popular In Death series by American author, J.D. Robb. New York Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas is assigned to investigate the cold-blooded murder of a Licensed Companion (prostitute), but because the victim's grandfather is a powerful right-wing US Senator, it's to be done very much under the radar.

Sharon DeBlass was shot by a Smith & Wesson .38 which, by 2058, is already thirty-five years obsolete, so Eve is looking at gun collectors, of which an attractive but enigmatic Irish-born billionaire, Roarke is one. And Roarke doesn't have an alibi. But he's not the only one with access to such a weapon: among others is the woman's grandfather, Senator Gerard DeBlass and some members of the Police Force.

Disturbing is the indication that this only the first of more planned killings, and when the second occurs, another Licensed Companion, Roarke still doesn't have a cast-iron alibi, although Eve is now wishing he did. Her gut tells her he's not involved; the rest of her is busy trying to fight her attraction to him. Lots of leaking of confidential information is happening, so Eve isn't sure quite whom she can trust.

By the time a third LC is murdered, though, it's clear that Roarke is no longer a suspect: he has just about the best alibi possible. He also has a very good reason (or two) for wanting to help Eve discover just who this serial killer is, and he has resources and skills that allow her to bypass any leaks to the perpetrator.

Robb gives the reader one protagonist who is smart and gutsy, but damaged by childhood trauma; the other is intelligent, successful and arrogant with it, but capable of compassion and loyalty. There's plenty more to learn about each, and the secondary characters, who include an accidentally heroic cat.

The story starts with enough intrigue to start the pages turning and the plot has a few red herrings and a twist or two to keep the reader guessing. Those astute enough to pick the perpetrator might still be in for a surprise before the final resolution.

It's an interesting exercise to read, almost thirty years after it was written, a novel set, at time of writing, over sixty years into the future: how could Robb have known, as she wrote, that the series might still be read decades later? She could hope…

So obviously there wasn't an Urban Revolt in 2016, the French government wasn't overthrown by a Social Reform Army in 2018, and it really doesn't look like the gun ban will be happening in 2022 or 2023. Some of the technology featured has already been surpassed, some we are on the cusp of in 2022. Setting all that aside, excellent crime/romance from an author highly skilled at both. Glory In Death eagerly anticipated.

Love In the Time Of Bertie

by Alexander McCall Smith

On Feb 28 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Love I the Time of Bertie is the fifteenth book in the popular 44 Scotland Street series by Scottish author, Alexander McCall Smith, and in it, the lives of the residents of 44 Scotland Street and those of their friends are, once again, updated for the continuing enjoyment of series fans.

Bertie Pollock is dismayed to find the awful Olive and her acolyte Pansy in the Drummond Place Gardens, issuing edicts on games and marriage threats. But worse is on the way for Bertie: His mother, Irene decides it will broaden his horizons to come and live with her in Aberdeen for three months, an idea that horrifies most who know him. Poor Bertie!!

Meanwhile, Angus Lordie expresses his appreciation of the bespoke Lobb brogues he inherited from his father, while Domenica comments on Belgian indoor shoes and the fashion for knee-ripped jeans and low-slung trousers that expose underwear. She bemoans how independent privately-funded scholars suffer the condescension of academics, and Angus muses on the alter-ego endowed on him by the bureaucracy.

Matthew and Elspeth remark on their good fortune at having James: efficient au-pair, talented cook (a fact that prompts a discussion about food so good you want to lick the plate, socially unacceptable private habits and food waste) and part-time barista at Big Lou's.

Is romance blossoming in Big Lou's café? The aptly named but surprisingly couth Fat Bob is a professional strongman who raises the tax-deductibility of bacon rolls for his occupation. His history prompts discussion about acts of kindness and concern for others.

The ever-arrogant Bruce Anderson overestimates his skill at cryptic crosswords, and is offered a role in a morally questionable real estate scheme by a former schoolmate. When by chance he learns who the buyer is, he faces a moral dilemma. It all becomes moot when nature interferes in a very dramatic way.

Bertie valiantly argues his case for staying in Edinburgh to Stuart and Nicola, but it seems that Irene is still calling the shots, even from Aberdeen. Wishing that his sibling might go instead, Bertie remarks, not for the first time, on the resemblance of his baby brother Ulysses to the psychotherapist Irene forced him to see, Dr Fairbairn. Nicola Pollock ponders the obligation to tolerate those we dislike, perhaps intensely, and compares Irene Pollock to Agrippina, mother of Nero.

Ultimately, it falls to Bertie's best friend, Ranald Braveheart MacPherson, to rescue Bertie, and that involves theft from a safe, a train journey, defenestration and close contact with ewes.

As always, many topics are mulled over or discussed: expert knowledge vs pretentiousness; the Dunbar Number of close friends; social climbers; guilt over the amount of water needed to produce coffee. Domenica MacDonald cultivates a friendship with Tarquin, one of the downstairs student neighbours, and they have some stimulating conversations.

Sister Maria-Fiore dei Fiori di Montagna continues to offer aphorisms, some more enigmatic than others: "Two snails do not argue about whose shell is the more attractive." Angus compares conceptual art to the emperor's new clothes, there is a marriage proposal, Highland Games are organised for the Drummond Street Gardens and, as always, Angus bestows a poem on the gathered company.

The concept of a serial novel is an interesting one, as the author is locked into what he has written earlier, unable to edit. Thus one of Bruce's associates might be Greg or Gregor, but McCall Smith's work is always a joy to read. This one has a generous helping of laugh-out-loud moments and a hilarious twist; fans will hope for many more instalments of this delightful series.

A Mouse Called Miika

by Haig- Matt

On Feb 27 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

A Mouse Called Miika is a middle-grade children's book in the Christmas series by British author, Matt Haig. Miika, the 101st son of (very tired) Ulla and (deceased) Munch, departed the tree hole where he was born without a name. After discovering how hard it was to survive in The World Outside, he was overjoyed to inhabit the cabin deep in the woods of Finland where Joel and Nikolas eked out a living. He was equally happy to join the quest Nikolas made to the Far North, and very satisfied to be living near Elfhelm in a tiny cottage with the Truth Pixie, where Loka the elf occasionally gives him cheese.

But Nikolas is busy with Elf Council business, and he really wants a friend, so he's glad to have found another mouse, Bridget the Brave. But Bridget criticises his mouse-ness, and challenges him to be brave: she doesn't want a coward for a friend. This leads to a foolish act in which he is drimwicked at the point of death, something of which the elder elves highly disapprove. His resulting powers, when revealed during an attack by the Snow Owl, see Bridget cosying up to him with a plan she labels "an adventure". Miika goes along with it, against his better judgement, and the result is almost catastrophic.

Haig's characters display plenty of flaws and weaknesses, and he uses the nasty Bridget to demonstrate emotional blackmail and gaslighting. Several of his characters, including the Truth Pixie, have wise words and good advice for Miika so that he learns what courage really is, and how he can choose to be true to himself. She tells him: "it is better to be disliked for being who you are than to be liked for who you are not. Being who you are not is exhausting." Haig's highly original tale is enhanced with charming illustrations by Chris Mould. Once again, delightful.

The Unsinkable Greta James

by Jennifer E Smith

On Feb 27 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Unsinkable Greta James is a novel by best-selling American author, Jennifer E. Smith. It is literally the last place Greta James wants to be: on a cruise ship off the coast of Alaska. Her mother had planned the week-long cruise as a celebration of forty years of marriage. But three months earlier, an aneurysm had put Helen James into an early grave. Now here she is with her father and two other couples of his vintage: Helen and Conrad's best friends over the last several decades, having the vacation Helen can't.

Losing her mother plunged Greta into such deep grief that she had a meltdown on stage during her last live show, a week after Helen died. A meltdown that went viral. Despite pressure from the label, her manager and her publicist, Greta has withdrawn from public life since then. She knows if her career as an indie singer/songwriter/guitarist is to survive, she needs to come back controlled and confident, with a new song. A song that's not coming…

On top of all that, she's broken up with her boyfriend and just learned the man who's been her fallback most of her life has gotten engaged.

So she's on a ship full of mostly oldies who haven't a clue about her, which is OK. The two other couples provide a buffer between her and Conrad, necessary because, although she's here to keep an eye on him (at her brother's insistence), they haven't seen eye to eye since she entered her teens. Her mother may have been her greatest fan, but her father still thinks she should, at age thirty-six, have quit travelling, got a real job, and settled into a steady relationship, like her brother.

While she can relax in relative anonymity, an enthusiastic young teen of south Asian descent is thrilled to meet her idol, and Greta recalls her own teenaged obsession with making music. And among the activities to which she does accompany Conrad and his friends, a talk by Ben Wilder, a history professor at Columbia with a best-selling novel: an enigmatic figure who piques Greta's interest. Somehow they connect, and see unexpected parallels in their lives.

It's when she's agreed to spend a whole day excursion with her father, meticulously pre-arranged by her mother, that things with Conrad come to a head. Can they salvage something from their decades-long estrangement?

In this novel, Smith offers a well-rounded protagonist and an appealing support cast, most of whom endear themselves to the reader despite, or perhaps because of, their very human flaws and foibles. Her portrayal of the various relationships is convincing and certain turns of the plot are likely to have the eyes filling with tears and a lump forming in the throat, although there is also plenty of humour, especially in the witty dialogue.

Smith's depiction of the cruise, the activities and excursions, and life aboard a cruise ship perfectly captures the atmosphere and she so skilfully sets the scene of Greta's performances, readers will wish they could be there. A tale that examines family dynamics and throws in a little romance, this one is funny, moving, heart-warming and uplifting. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Quercus Books

On Feb 22 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

A Boy Called Christmas is a Middle-grade children's book by British author, Matt Haig. Eleven-year-old Nikolas lives with his father, Joel, a poor, hard-working woodcutter, in a one-room hut in remote Finland. When King Frederik offers a twelve-thousand-ruble reward for proof of the existence of the fabled elf village, Elfhelm, Joel and six men from the nearby village decide the trek to the Far North will be worth it.

Nikolas is left in the care of his nasty aunt, Carlotta, and that soon goes awry, so Nikolas decides to follow Joel. His mouse Miika, having also been ejected from the hut by the cruel aunt, tags along. It's no easy journey, trekking through the snow with hardly any food and no shelter. But when they are attacked by an angry reindeer, things improve. Until they don't, and Nikolas, Miika and Blitzen (the reindeer) almost freeze to death.

It's elf magic that brings them back, but the people of Elfhelm are no longer their usual font of goodwill and joy. An elf boy has been kidnapped by a band of men, so humans are no longer welcome. In fact, Nikolas end up imprisoned with a murderous troll and a pixie who never lies but likes to explode heads. And Nikolas has only even had good intentions….

The excitement follows with a magical escape marred by an axe and arrows, a faithful reindeer, and then a discovery about Joel that dismays Nikolas deeply. A daring rescue and some fast talking later sees Nikolas looked up to for more than his height in Elfhelm.

From there the story explains how Nikolas becomes Father Christmas, and sometimes Santa Claus, and there are lots of little incidents that give background to various Christmas traditions. While the recent movie of the same title is based on this book and follows it reasonably well, Blitzen's pranks don't make it to the screen, and Nikolas's nemesis turns into a screechy female elf for added screen drama. Haig packs in lots of wisdom and feel-good thoughts: "Perhaps a wish was just a hope with better aim." Haig's highly original tale is enhanced with charming illustrations by Chris Mould. Utterly delightful!!

The Trivia Night

by Ali Lowe

On Feb 22 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Trivia Night is the first novel by Australian author, Ali Lowe. A fancy-dress trivia night primary school fundraiser; a table of eight parents of year one pupils; marital tiffs; flirtatious partners; a rumour about a swinging couple; inhibitions loosened by way too much alcohol; deep, dark secrets; a tightly-held grudge and an iPhone camera. What could possibly go wrong? And when it does, who will be caught up in the aftermath?

Three main narrators carry the story: an alcoholic mother shares the series of events that precipitate the start of her journey to sobriety; a transcript of a closet lesbian's sessions with her therapist offers her perspective on the events that lead her to find her true self; and a grieving woman's emails to her far-away sister fill in the rest; the prologue and epilogue come from a fourth mother.

Australian author Ali Lowe's debut novel definitely has shades of a certain Liane Moriarty novel, but sports an original plot, an easily recognisable setting, credible characters, plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and an excellent final twist. A brilliant read from an author to watch. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Better Reading Preview and Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette Australia.

Put Out To Pasture

by Amanda Flower

On Feb 21 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Put Out To Pasture is the second book in the Farm To Tablet series by award-winning, best-selling American author, Amanda Flower. It's three months since Shiloh Bellamy returned to Cherry Glen, Michigan, and she's determined to save Bellamy Farm. Her dream is to make it a destination for organic produce and intends to add a café to showcase her baking skills.

Their first promotional activity is Fall Daze, a two-day food and fun festival at Bellamy Farm, attracting unexpectedly high numbers of visitors. Some drama is added when Shiloh's best friend Kristy has a loud argument with one of her Farmers' Market stall holders. Beekeeper Minnie Devani is later found at the foot of the scarecrow out in the field, strangled.

Circumstantial evidence implicates Kristy as a suspect, and Shiloh is not confident that the town's Police Chief, Randy Killian won't just settle for the easiest option rather than investigating further. Shiloh vows to clear her friend's name, even if it means talking to Minnie's best (only?) friend, Doreen Killian and her book club friends, who are unlikely to be friendly or welcoming, due to past accusations

But then US Marshal Lynn Chuff arrives, claiming a different name and history for Minnie than the one generally accepted in Cherry Glen. Could her criminal past have caught up with her?

Shiloh discovers she has a (gorgeous) new neighbour, also intending to farm organically, a man who has paid Minnie an exorbitant amount of money for the Market stall she had no right to sell. As Shiloh investigates further, she encounters several more townspeople with grudges against the abrasive Minnie.

This is a cosy mystery with plenty of red herrings to keep the reader guessing. Shiloh does seem to have rather a lot of free time to spend investigating when she also has a farm to save, and her defining the best friend of her fifteen-years-dead fiancé as "off limits" is puzzling. Doubtless fans of rural cosies will enjoy this one. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press.

The Silent Sisters

by Robert Dugoni

On Feb 21 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Silent Sisters is the third book in the Charles Jenkins series by American author, Robert Dugoni. When the CIA becomes aware of a Kremlin program to expose the remaining two of the Seven Sisters, and the women go silent, they decide to send Charles Jenkins in to ascertain if the women need to be exfiltrated from Moscow, or have turned.

It's dangerous for Charlie: he's on a Kremlin kill list, and his wife isn't happy that he is going to risk his life yet again, but he managed to extract a woman from the notorious Lefortovo prison, so if the women will trust anyone, it will be him. The CIA upskills him in tech and devices and equips him with disguises and the necessary papers, and he enters Moscow very much under the radar.

But before he can even connect with either woman, his deeply-ingrained sense of human decency gets in the way of his common sense, a Mafiya son is shot dead, and Charlie is soon being sought by Police, a Mafiya Godmother and Russia's FSB. By the time he is ready to extract the seventh sister, they have a ruthless assassin on their trail.

When Arkhip Mishkin, a Senior Investigator with the Department of Criminal Investigations due for retirement is called to a shooting at a dive bar, he's not phased by the status of the victim, and determined to close his last case and maintain his perfect record, whatever it takes. There's not much else to interest him now he's a widower.

But then the CCTV footage of the shooting is wiped and Akhip, having seen the body, knows the Medical Examiner's report is a fabrication: the bystander did not kill Eldar Velikaya. When the bystander's prints turn up a surprise, he concludes something more complicated is going on. But Arkhip can't rest until he tracks down this Charles Jenkins to get the truth. If that means a train trip to Vladivostok, so be it.

As the prologue indicates, all does not go as planned and Charlie is subjected to quite a beating in the Irkutsk Meat Market. But he does have some very able people in his corner, and not just the CIA. Once they locate Charlie, they set up a neat sting that seems to satisfy all concerned, except a certain deputy director who has been gunning for Charlie from the start.

Dugoni manages to include a nail-biting chase through Moscow tunnels, numerous disguises, clever switches and a rather grisly revenge that will probably put some readers off eating sausages. Senior Investigator Arkhip Mishkin is an utter delight, and there's plenty of black humour in the action-packed final book of this brilliant spy trilogy. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer.

A Mother's Secret

by Caroline Finnerty

On Feb 17 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

4.5★s

A Mother's Secret is the sixth novel by Irish author, Caroline Finnerty. Out of the blue, mother of three Rowan Whelan contacts her friend (and sometime lover) from college days, James O'Herlihy, suggesting they meet up: she wants to chat about something. James is puzzled: they haven't seen each other since his wedding three years earlier. With her three-year-old daughter in the car, she collects him for a drive to the beach, but before she can reveal what she wants to talk about, they are involved in a serious traffic accident.

The reader's first guess about what Rowan intended to reveal is likely correct, but her further intentions are not apparent. It's the aftermath for the survivors that form the bulk of the story. Aiden Whelan already has to cope with his grief, worry for his injured daughter and the grief of his sons and their extended family.

Before she learns of her husband's accident, GP Helena O'Herlihy is dealing with fertility issues, potential marital breakdown and forced leave from work. Both Helena and Aiden are baffled as to why James and Rowan were together. Until James regains consciousness, when they are both in for a shock.

A devastating betrayal and an upsetting secret are eventually revealed. From there, characters who should know better make unethical choices, act in a disappointingly selfish manner and fail to consider the happiness and welfare of the one central to the dilemma they face. After much anguish, people come to their senses and remember to be kind, although the resolution is perhaps a little neater than is realistic.

In hindsight: "Helena had always thought that secrets were better off aired, but now she realised that some secrets were better off not being discovered. They could cause too much heartache and pain. Sometimes you were better off not knowing the truth. It was kinder that way." A moving and thought-provoking read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Boldwood Books

Everyday Kindness

by Lj Ross

On Feb 15 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

4.5★s Everyday Kindness is a collection of fifty-five short stories, different genres by different authors, edited by L. J. Ross. Some are very short, others a little longer, some have delicious twists, but all are quick reads, and all share a common element: kindness features in each one.

The characters include three squabbling daughters, police, a neighbour enthusiastic about Easter, a dedicated mother, an old man at a window, a good witch, a good Samaritan, a kind step-mother, a travel writer, a trainee teacher, an elderly neighbour, a schoolboy, a sandwich maker, a stray dog, a woman taught kindness by her young son, charitable drinkers, a prospective car buyer, a not-a-boy hero, a neighbour's surprise, a liar, a widower hoarder, the widow of a murdered man, a clever grandma, a blind runner, a boy with cerebral palsy, a refugee, a real estate agent, and an early dementia sufferer.

And the stories centre, variously, on a thoughtful bequest, magic, fun in fiction, an angel's blessing, beautiful satin shoes, seizing the day, a dream, contagious community kindness, a dog holiday, a friendly snowman, paying it forward, a broken gravestone, changing history, a life-changing piece of paper, a lost photo, weather magic, a supermarket ghost, a bird with a broken wing, a haunted stuffed sheep, a reminiscent recipe, a bunch of chrysanthemums, an old woods cottage and an ageing elk, birthday gifts, and a fishing trip for a thoughtful boy.

With the challenges and hardships and tragedies that the world has endured these last years, everyone needs a little kindness, and these little doses of kindness are just what the doctor ordered. One or two drops when needed is the perfect prescription for what ails us. This unbiased review is from a complimentary copy gratefully received from one of those authors, Graham Brack.

Meet Me In the Margins

by Melissa Ferguson

On Feb 15 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Meet Me In The Margins is the fourth novel by American author, Melissa Ferguson. Savannah Cade works as an Assistant Acquisitions Editor for Pennington Publishing, known for non-fiction and literary fiction. But Savannah's real passion is the romance novel she's been writing since college, tentatively titled Pining For You.

Savannah is probably the least accomplished member of her overachieving family: it would be so good to succeed at something, especially beside her highly qualified younger sister. Living with Olivia, super-fit and studying for two PhDs, she (unfortunately) regularly encounters her ex-boyfriend and soon-to-be brother-in-law, Ferris, the awkwardness of which has mostly worn off.

Trying to meet a submission deadline for a romance editor she met at a conference, Savannah brings that manuscript to work to do some final edits, then has to quickly hide it away: CEO Patricia Pennington would NOT approve. When she later retrieves it, she finds someone has written comments and criticism in the margins. Savannah is miffed, but also intrigued: who at Pennington has critiqued her work?

Patricia Pennington's son, William has recently joined the team as VP and Publisher of their Pennington Pen division (Savannah's) and somehow, she has a number of somewhat embarrassing interactions with him. Her colleagues are worried about their jobs: William is there to save Pennington from going under, but out of hours Will and Savannah seem to connect.

When she later meets with Claire Donovan, chief editor of a romance publishing house, Savannah listens carefully to her criticism, which aligns with her mystery reviewer: she has to concede that perhaps those remarks are valid. Soon, she has returned the manuscript to its hiding place with a polite request attached for help. She's almost convinced that Will is her mystery editor, and not unhappy when the comments turn a little flirtatious, but then she spots another colleague near the space where she usually leaves the manuscript…

Even if the outcome is predictable from the start, this is still an enjoyable journey to a sweet ending. Ferguson gives the reader some appealing characters and witty dialogue. The Cade family's idea of loyalty is a little warped, and Savannah draws out the mystery of her editor longer than is perhaps realistic, but romance fans will appreciate the happy-ever-after ending. A fun rom-com. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Thomas Nelson Fiction.

Em & Me

by Beth Morrey

On Feb 15 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Em & Me is the second novel by best-selling British author, Beth Morrey. It is nothing like Delphine Jones had envisaged when she was a stellar student at Brownswood Academy: living in her father's basement flat, working for an awful boss in a low-paying, dead-end job, raising her pre-teen daughter as a single mother, sharing a tiny damp bedroom and bed. A better life for her and Emily looks a long way off.

Delphine dearly loves her daughter and her father, but so much is missing from her life: the music and French language she shared with her late mother; the love of language nurtured during childhood by her still-grieving father, much withdrawn from life since his wife's death, and the chance of a career centred on literature. And a man? Well, she doesn't have time for that!

And then an incident with a spiteful rival sees her losing her job: could things get any worse?

Life, though, and her sometimes-devious daughter, have other plans. They conspire to drop opportunities into her lap. Delphine is hesitant at first, but with encouragement and support from newcomers in her life, Delphine convinces herself to grab them with both hands.

It's not without hiccups but, over a period of months, Delphine finds a job she enjoys, with caring employers, a chance to reconnect with her mother's native language, the prospect of singing in a band, and possibility of completing the education she abandoned when she decided to keep her baby. And a man, but she still doesn't have time for that… does she?

As Delphine approaches each new chance at her dreams, her thoughts are also plunged deep into her past, gradually revealing to the reader just how her life changed from her happy and loving childhood to the dissatisfying fog she inhabits at twenty-eight. And as she emerges, so, eventually, does another significant person in her life.

This is a story that abounds with literary references, so those well-read or at least familiar with classics will find their enjoyment much enhanced. Morrey fills her novel with characters that capture the heart and stir up the emotions. She saddles them with realistic problems and challenges that will have the reader cheering them on to a satisfactory resolution. A story that demonstrates the vital importance, in a young person's life, of a good teacher, Beth Morrey's second novel is inspirational and uplifting. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Better Reading Preview and Harper Collins Australia.

On Nov 7 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Last Time She Died is the first book in the Blake & Byron Thrillers series by British author, Zoë Sharp. The slim young woman who makes an appearance at the funeral of former British MP, Gideon Fitzroy, and is later discovered having entered his boxy Georgian pile, is a shock to the system for his heirs and this Derbyshire village: she claims to be his daughter, Blake Claremont.

Then a chubby, troubled fifteen-year-old, Blake ran away ten years earlier; no-one has seen her since; quite a few people were sure she was dead; so, is it really her? The local constable, a recent import from the London Met, PC Jane Hudson isn't convinced. Her one-time mentor, Detective Superintendent John Byron, who is currently taking an unofficial look at Gideon's death in relation to a sensitive but stalled enquiry into MPs, is unsure.

It's the talk of the village, and many are puzzled when Gideon's widow, Virginia Fitzroy seems to accept her claim, rescues her from Jane's interrogation, and welcomes her to Claremont manor. But even before Gideon's will is read, even before the young woman's identity is proven or otherwise, there are some apparent attempts on her life. The widow's brother, Roger Flint is assaulted, and cottage of the village's former sergeant is burned down. It seems that her arrival is a catalyst for drama.

Sharp's protagonists are appealing: smart, talented, but also flawed, and it will be interesting to watch them develop over the series. Their dialogue is snappy and often entertaining. The villagers and other support cast are believably portrayed, including the young constable who is a little too deferential to those with community standing.

Sharp gives the reader such a clever plot that even those astute readers who see past the red herrings, predict some of the twists and deduce the 'who' from the list of potential perpetrators, even those clever clogs, will still be sufficiently captivated to read on to the nail-biting climax for the 'how' and 'why' of it. The second instalment will be eagerly anticipated. Brilliant British crime fiction. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Bookouture.

The Unheard

by Nicci French

On Nov 7 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Unheard is the twenty-third novel by British writing duo, Nicci French. While her separation from her partner of ten years was not acrimonious, when her three-year-old daughter, Poppy returns from an access visit to her father and his wife, Tess Moreau becomes concerned. Poppy has drawn a very disturbing picture while she was with Jason and Emily, then talks about killing, "He did kill. And kill and kill and kill", wets the bed, is unusually clingy and uses foul language. Jason dismisses her concerns as unimportant, but Tess feels something is definitely amiss.

More incidents of uncharacteristic behaviour: biting, swearing, nastiness and the mutilation of a toy; Tess becomes worried enough to mention her concerns to a friend, to Poppy's nursery school teacher, to a psychotherapist acquaintance, and certain others, but the consensus of advice is just to be observant and note anything unusual. From some things she says, Tess becomes convinced that Poppy has seen or heard something terrible, but what?

Her ex-partner, it soon becomes clear, is not above a bit of gaslighting to make Tess feel her own anxiety is to blame for Poppy's behaviour. The whole situation unmoors her enough to actually stalk Jason's family during Poppy's next visit. Her unease begins to affect the fledgling relationship she has with Aidan, and her close friendship with Gina.

When Tess learns of the death of a young woman in circumstances that mirror Poppy's picture, she takes her fears to the police, and begins to wonder if any one of the several men in regular contact with Poppy, in a caring or incidental role, could be involved. Could she and Poppy be in danger from him? Will anyone take Tess seriously?

Once again, these authors give the reader a tightly-plotted, gripping dose of crime fiction, cleverly constructed, with an excellent twist in the tension-filled build-up to the nail-biting climax. Their characters feel genuine and, while certain incidents have Tess second-guessing herself, the narrative voice is so strong that the reader does not doubt her reliability. Nicci French never disappoints. This unbiased review is from a copy provided by Simon & Schuster Australia.

How Stella Learned To Talk

by Christina Hunger

On Nov 5 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

How Stella Learned To Talk is a non-fiction book by American speech therapist, Christine Hunger. The author provides a few anecdotes of her work with children, and describes her experience dog-sitting for a friend whose pets had been trained to ring a bell when they needed to go out.

When she and her fiancé, Jake discussed getting a dog, they initially rejected the idea of a puppy, but fell in love with a Catahoula/Blue Heeler puppy, which they named Stella. Christina saw parallels between the language development of toddlers and the behaviour of young dogs, and wondered what dogs might want to say if they, like humans, had access to the tools to express themselves.

Eighteen months, a lot of patience and persistence, and some recordable buttons later, and Stella uses nouns, verbs, names, adjectives, and question words to tell Christina what she wants to do, where she wants to go, when she is thinking about Christina, what they are doing, what she likes, when she is mad, when she is happy, when she needs alone time, when Christina and Jake are being good, to answer questions, to ask questions, to participate in short conversations, and to make her own unique phrases every day.

On the author's website, readers can see video of Stella using her device. The book contains teaching tips for those who want to teach their own dog to speak, as well as a list of resources, recommended reading, comprehensive notes and eight pages of colour plates. This is an utterly fascinating read.

Gloria In Extremis

by Lynne O'sullivan

On Nov 4 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Gloria in Extremis is the first novel by British author, Lynne O'Sullivan. Three months since her partner of ten years, Roy Chislett left her to be with younger, slimmer, prettier Tessa Tonkins in her cottage in Smeeth, and Gloria Grey is not coping. Everyone else may say good riddance, but she still misses Roy.

She's miserable enough to top herself, but is apparently no good at that either: when hanging herself from the banister results in a broken banister and crushed phone table, she tries drowning, but is too good a swimmer. Not wanting to endure the criticism of her mother, or worry her dear, frail, old Auntie Kit, she goes to her best friend Alison, who dispenses warmth, wine, sympathy and moral support.

Losing her job, though, will that be the final straw? Alison helps with a creative CV and much needed reality check: "Gloria, for God's sake! You're fifty years old, as you keep reminding me. Well, be proud of being fifty and all the experience that goes with it! OK, you've had a few knock-backs, but so bloody what? It's time to stop making excuses for yourself. Think positive for once."

Phil the lodger helps with the financial situation, but is clearly not interested in anything more personal. Finally, as Alison's companion in a late summer trip to Majorca, Gloria encounters Tony, retired school teacher and professional nature photographer. Their initial meeting is less than stellar, but by the time they have saved each other's lives, they are getting on very well. Except, he leaves without getting her number…. Oh well.

O'Sullivan gives Gloria a chatty narrative voice: she is self-deprecating, with essentially a heart of gold except perhaps, as she devises punishments to those who have inflicted real or imagined slights, recent and historical. It is easy to envisage some of her monologue being done as a stand-up routine by British comedienne Sarah Millican, very dry and deadpan, but hilariously funny. An entertaining and ultimately heart-warming read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Matador.

Gilded

by Marissa Meyer

On Nov 2 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Gilded is the first book in an as yet untitled series by NYT best-selling American author, Marissa Meyer. Rumpelstiltskin. You remember, don't you? That Brothers Grimm story. The poor miller, the miller's daughter, the greedy king who imprisons her to spin gold from straw, the magical man who does the spinning, for a price, the gold locket, the ring, the promised firstborn, the to-be-guessed-at name. This is that story, but with tweaks, embellishments, twists and enhancements as only Marissa Meyer can do them. Thus a few pages become an enthralling five hundred.

Once upon a time, in the north of the Kingdom of Tulvask, in the village of Märchenfeld, just south of the menacing Aschen Woods, a daughter is born to a poor miller…. nup, that's not how this story starts, but it could. Now eighteen, Serilda Moller is that miller's daughter, born under the blessing (or curse) of Wyrdith, god of fortune and of stories (lies), her black irises etched with a golden wheel of fortune, Wyrdith's mark.

That god's other legacy is Serilda's story-telling, tales that just pop into her head, that sometimes seem touched by prophesy, but are seen by all except the village schoolchildren as dreadful lies. The villagers consider her cursed, the cause of every piece of bad luck they suffer.

The king who locks Serilda in a room to spin gold from straw is not your run-of-the-mill king: His Grim, Erlkönig the Alder King is the ruler of hellhounds and other fearsome magical creatures, ghosts, the undead and the dark ones; he leads the wild hunt that happens every full moon, when people lock their doors and hold onto their children.

Serilda is certain that the person who spins the straw to save her from the Erlking's wrath is not a ghost, but quite what he is, she can't guess. Mischievous, but not an imp, that's for sure: he looks just like a human boy her own age. Gild is the name he tells her to use, and she learns that the townspeople of the castle town of Adalheid fondly refer to him as the Vergoldergeist, The Gilded Ghost.

The more she gets to know him, the more she realises there's no malice in him, and that, captive in the castle, he is starved of human company, craving human touch. And having been avoided by the village boys (those unholy eyes), she's incredulous that he finds her attractive.

Soon, though, Serilda's concern about her own fate at the Erlking's mercy is eclipsed by her anger on behalf of his ghostly servants, denied eternal rest in Verloren due to their captivity in the castle, and the ordinary folk who succumb to his thrall, and an uncertain fate, on full-moon nights. And before long, a more personal aspect to her anger emerges.

Serilda wonders, too, about the fate of the royal family who owned Adalheid Castle before Erlking captured it, and for what purpose this magical king needs to amass all this spun gold.

What a marvellous retelling of this classic tale Meyer gives the reader: a cast of intriguing, appealing, quirky or downright nasty characters; her version of the plot is clever, imaginative and has enough mystery to keep the reader engrossed and the pages turning; there's humour and romance and a number of satisfying "aah" moments as it all unfolds; and sufficient unresolved issues to have readers eagerly anticipating the sequel. More of this, soon, please! This unbiased review is from a copy provided by Text Publishing.

The Hush

by Sara Foster

On Nov 2 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Hush is the seventh novel by British-born Australian author, Sara Foster. Seventeen-year-old Lainey Aitken fears she may be pregnant. Getting a test done has turned difficult with the government's new rules, but her imaginative best friend, Sereena Mandalia has a plan.

While Lainey has a very understanding mum, being pregnant is a problem: pregnant teens, and sometimes their families, are disappearing without a trace; and the number of stillbirths has risen dramatically, with no good explanation. So Lainey is worried. And having that pesky Liam Whittaker, who happens to be the son of the government Health Secretary, hanging around her doesn't help.

Overworked, exhausted and demoralised by the stillbirths she attends, midwife Emma Aitken is concerned for her daughter, especially when she is detained by police for taking part in a protest. But when her serious situation is revealed, she does not hesitate to back Lainey up with all she has in reserve, even if it means begging help from the mother who abandoned her.

The near-future that Foster describes does not stretch the imagination very far at all: compulsory wearing of government-issue smart watches that track and monitor; laws that restrict freedoms surreptitiously passed; a much-worsened climate crisis; corrupt, greedy politicians; all are realistically depicted.

Her characters are believable, the reader is quickly invested in their fate, and it is heartening to see these women support each other in their fight for basic human rights. The story is fast-paced, taking place over a mere eight days, leading up to a nail-biting climax.

Topical, relevant and entirely credible: this is the best dystopian fiction you will read this year, so gripping that once you pick this up, you won't want to put it down until the final page. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley, Better Reading Preview and Harper Collins Australia.

On Oct 31 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Tea Ladies Of St Jude's Hospital is the fourth novel by best-selling Australian author, Joanna Nell. Meet the staff of the Marjorie Marshall Memorial Cafeteria in the foyer of St Jude's Hospital, volunteers all: Hilary Halliday, in her mid-seventies, manageress for ten years; Joy, also in her seventies, nearing the end of her first months' probation; seventeen-year-old Chloe Foster-Pearson, their newest recruit, fulfilling a requirement for her Duke of Edinburgh gold medal.

Distracted by her currently chaotic personal life, Hilary has missed a few important emails from General Manager Dave Rawlinson concerning the hospital's renovations, so none of them has any idea of what's about to happen.

Virtually an institution in itself, the Marjorie Marshall has been serving refreshments to appreciative staff, patients and visitors at St Jude's for some fifty years and is currently raising funds for a sea-life mural for the Children's Ward. Their fare is basic: plain and simple; so when a branch of wholefood café chain, Platter opens in the foyer, with its black-T-shirted, blonde-ponytailed clones and its myriad of food and drink choices, Hilary immediately understands the threat it poses.

Despite Hilary's tendency to micro-manage and her previous rejection of suggestions for improvement, with the café's viability endangered, Joy and Chloe are wholeheartedly supportive of a makeover, contributing time and talent and furniture. But will it be enough? Because there's that email about Phase 2 of the renovations that Hilary has neglected to open…

Nell's depiction of the hospital foyer almost like a little village will resonate with hospital regulars: the passing parade of daily life here is presented from three different perspectives. As always, her characters have depth and appeal and the reader quickly invests in their fates, even the prickly ones.

She gives them insightful observations and wise words: "With the passing years, the list of things Joy could do was shrinking. Listening was the one thing that people became better at as they aged, she realised."

Young Chloe labours under the heavy weight of expectations: those of her family, and of everyone to whom she is introduced as the progeny of consultant surgeon parents, all assuming she wants to be a doctor. The only exception is her best friend since kindergarten, Sam, who understands and enthusiastically encourages her artistic aspirations. Working with these two older, perceptive women helps her distil what is important.

Joy, ever cheerful in dress and manner, serves up tea with sympathy and comfort so it's surprising to learn she has only recently dragged herself up out of a lengthy depression. But she's still working up the courage to carry out the simple task she needs to complete on her beloved husband Len's behalf.

For Hilary, her position as manageress has afforded her status with the well-off wives of her (soon-to-be-ex) husband's associates, but her recent change in fortunes is compounded when she is forced to live with her bossy, cranky older sister, Nancy. She is understandably afraid that her raison d'etre might be lost.

Once again, Nell has her finger on the pulse when it comes to seniors, touching on many issues that affect the elderly: loneliness, poverty, malnutrition, denial in grief, the need for a sense of purpose, and the fear of being irrelevant or invisible. She addresses these topics with sensitivity and humour, giving the reader laughter and lumps-in-the-throat in equal measure. The clever chapter headings are a bonus. A delightful read! This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Hachette Australia.

Bobby's Diner

by Susan Wingate

On Oct 30 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Bobby's Diner is the first book in the Bobby's Diner series by American author, Susan Wingate. Still grieving from the sudden death of their husband, Bobby Carlisle, his widow Georgette and his ex-wife Vanessa are shocked by a certain item in his will: Bobby has left his diner to them both as joint owners. Ever since Georgie arrived on the scene fifteen years earlier and stole her husband, Vanessa and her daughter Roberta have hated her. How is this ever going to work?

Bobby's Diner is a successful business, almost an institution in the small town of Sunnydale, Arizona, and both women are determined it will continue to be. So they come to terms, and they work hard to keep it going. When developer Zach Pinzer turns up at the diner's kitchen door with a lucrative offer to buy, they quickly see him off. But Zach is persistent, and not averse to using other means to get his deal.

The story is quite a good one, although this copy would benefit from an edit: it demonstrates the pitfalls of "replace all" in word processing; and while the plot may be a little predictable, the journey to the climax, featuring a crooked local politician, a city hit man, bonding over target practice, a town full of loyal customers, a wife suffering under coercion, two murders, one near-fatal shooting, and a cat called Gangster, that journey is a moving and entertaining one and more of this cast is definitely welcome. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and The Wild Rose Press

At the End Of the Day

by Liz Byrski

On Oct 30 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

At The End Of The Day is the eleventh novel by Australian author, Liz Byrski. Former librarian Miriam Squires is returning home to Fremantle after visiting her sister in Oxford. Best-selling Melbourne author, Mathias Vander is rounding off his visit to his dying Belgian friend with a Perth stopover to see his daughter. Stuck for some hours in Doha, these usually reserved strangers strike up a conversation and discover an almost instant rapport.

Back in Perth, Mim is dismayed by her diminished energy and enthusiasm for her successful second-hand book store, Life Support, and by the rebuffing of her offer of help to her much younger friend, Jodie, who recovering from a car accident. It's a reality check on her ongoing physical disability, a legacy of polio that Mim contracted over sixty years earlier. Continued contact with Mathias brings her unexpected comfort.

Fresh from the break-up of an unsatisfactory relationship, artist/illustrator Carla Vander is happy to have the company of her beloved Papa, and delighted when he again raises the idea of selling the family home in the Dandenongs and moving to Perth, to be closer to her (and Mim?). Except for the author persona he adopts for book publicity events, Mathias is usually rather reclusive, so she is pleased to see how much at ease he is when Mim is around.

But both Mim and Mathias are burdened with relics from their pasts. When his oldest, closest friend in Belgium dies "the loss of the one person who knew his deepest secret and kept it all his life, has made him vulnerable. Without Luc's support, he fears exposure and rejection more than he has ever done. He is haunted by dread." Mathias wonders if the move to Western Australia "could be more than just a change of location; it could be the catalyst for a change within himself."

Meanwhile, Mim is overjoyed that her encouragement of younger sister, Alice to come to Australia has had a result. "For years she struggled to appear strong and competent; an example of how someone with a disability can overcome the hurdles if they really want to. But deep down she's felt that polio had left her flawed and unlovable, and she had longed to be loved." Could they finally broach the subject that had been avoided for so many decades?

What a marvellous cast Byrski gives the reader: her talent for creating believable characters, appealing for all their faults and foibles, is undeniable. She sets them realistic challenges, and the reader cannot help but cheer them on and hope for their happiness.

It is apparent on every page that Byrski's research is thorough and this thought-provoking and moving tale includes both topical and classic themes: panic attacks, post-polio syndrome, fear of becoming irrelevant as we age, loneliness, and lack of self-worth. A heart-warming and uplifting read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Pan Macmillan Australia

On Oct 30 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Thursdays At Orange Blossom House is the third novel by best-selling Australian author, Sophie Green. A retired cane farmer, a high school English teacher and a café owner: three women from different generations and backgrounds who might have little in common, yet stiffness or pain or anxiety find them, via friendly recommendation or encouragement, or simply dumb luck, at Orange Blossom House for yoga classes.

After three miscarriages, Dorothy is feeling diminished and defective. She and her husband live in Kuranda and run a busy café in Cairns, and Frederick is loving and undemanding, but now they need to decide if they want to involve medical technology in their efforts to procreate.

Patricia's three married siblings, all "extremely busy, you know", have blithely accepted her return from Sydney to become the default carer for their elderly parents: a physically well father not coping with his increasingly demented wife. She doesn't expect thanks: they are her parents and she loves them, but the responsibility is not made any easier by her siblings' expectations and criticism.

Grace Maud keeps an eye on her family's cane farm near Atherton, but is happy to take a step back to allow her only son, Tom, and his wife run it. She gracefully accepts both garden and house help in her little cottage in town. Yoga seems to help her flexibility and sleep, but will it help her handle the sense of hurt and betrayal she feels when Tom drops his bombshell?

At Orange Blossom House, Sandrine guides their beathing, their poses and their meditation with her lovely French accent and her steely discipline, promising, and delivering, physical, mental and spiritual release. Her uncanny perceptiveness seems to inspire her intuitive direction and support.

Over the eighteen months that follow, the women gradually become friends and learn to overcome their reticence to share problems. As they deal with Frederick's ambitious plans for the business, the young(er than Patricia) PE teacher whose purported interest in her surely can't be real, and a devastating tragedy on the cane farm, Sandrine often weighs in with insightful observations and words of wisdom.

Sophie Green's main characters, feisty, harried or timid, quickly feel like close friends whose stories you can't wait to get back to, so that picking up this novel gives the same comfort as a hug or a warm blanket on a cold day. By contrast, readers will probably want to shake some of the secondary characters for their selfishness and thoughtlessness.

Green divides her tale into seasons, prefacing each with a list of current songs, movies, TV series and world events that firmly establish the era (1993-5) and may well induce a sense of nostalgia in readers of a certain vintage. Her plot does have some predictable aspects, but there are enough surprises and topical issues to easily keep the reader's interest. Once again, Green gives the reader a wonderfully heart-warming read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Hachette Australia.

Birds Of a Feather

by Tricia Stringer

On Oct 30 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Birds of a Feather is the fourteenth novel by Australian author, Tricia Stringer. Eve, Julia and Lucy: they are probably the least likely trio to gather by intention, but life and circumstances have thrown them together in Wallaby Bay, and they need to make the best of it.

Evelyn Monk has hit seventy without depending on anyone, so she's most displeased that a (surely minor?) shoulder injury needs surgery and homecare thereafter. While her self-imposed exile has already cut down on many of her community activities, not being able to drive, to be independent, is unthinkable!

While research work is always dependent on funding, to lose her job at forty-five has Julia Paterson reassessing her priorities, and the best place to do that is back home in Wallaby Bay, where she can catch up with her brother on the family farm and stay with her godmother, Eve. A break from Glen Walker, the man she has kept at arm's length for three years, won't hurt either.

Registered nurse and mother of two, Lucy Ryan has had an extended break from nursing after a scare during the previous year. While her de-facto, Alec is often away doing FIFO work, the move to Wallaby Bay has allowed their children to better get to know his ageing parents. At her mother-in-law's suggestion, she warily agrees to provide in-home care for the rather cranky prawn-fishing matriarch of Wallaby Bay, Evelyn Monk.

While their first few encounters are a little prickly, Lucy and Eve soon come to an understanding and get on rather well. When Julia and Lucy meet, though, they seem to instantly rub each other the wrong way and barely do more than tolerate each other. Their grudging but necessary cooperation for Eve's sake gradually morphs into friendship, surprising them both.

Stringer's setting in a small town on the Spencer Gulf in South Australia is well-rendered, and no wonder, as she is very familiar with the area. Her depiction of the community, with its gossip and loyalties and petty jealousies, is convincing, as are the townspeople who inhabit it.

The challenges that Stringer throws her protagonists highlight various topical issues including feeling relevant after retirement and the unique problems faced by FIFO workers and their families. Her characters are appealing for all their faults and foibles, and it is heartening to watch them triumph over the adversities that life poses, and help each other doing it.

The story starts in June 2021, and it's certainly tricky to set a novel in the undefined landscape that is the aftermath of a pandemic: who could predict a Delta variant that throws states back into lockdown? Nonetheless, the pandemic aspects of the story are handled realistically without being overwhelming. A thought-provoking and heart-warming read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Harlequin Australia.

The Pavilion In the Clouds

by Alexander McCall Smith

On Oct 25 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Pavilion In The Clouds is a stand-alone novel by popular Scottish author, Alexander McCall Smith. In 1938, when Bella Ferguson is eight, her parents employ a live-in governess, Miss Lavender White. Henry Ferguson owns a tea plantation in Ceylon, and rather than send Bella home to Scotland, he and Virginia decide to arrange tuition on their estate, Pitlochry.

Miss White is an excellent teacher and Bella enjoys her lessons. But it seemed that Virginia is somewhat intimidated by Miss White's intellect, and Bella picks up on this when her mother questions her about her governess.

Bella begins to suspect that Miss White is trying to get rid of her mother so she can marry her daddy, and her dolls, Li Po and Po Chü-i, named after Chinese poets and exhibiting their quite individual personalities, seem to agree, especially after a few strange incidents.

Bella's best friend Richard Macmillan, the ten-year-old son of another plantation owner, suggests a way to get Miss Lavender to go away. This would have the added advantage of Bella being able to go back home to Scotland for school, as Richard will soon do.

About those incidents, and certain things Bella has said, Virginia feels the need to consult her closest friend in the area, Heather Macmillan. Heather has seen it all before, and suggests quick action. Which is what happens. Later Bella is a bit sorry for what she has done, but she never expects to see Miss White again.

McCall Smith is such a skilled story-teller, and here, his main narrators are the slightly precocious Bella with her dolls and her diary and her very active imagination, and the perhaps over-sensitive Virginia. Suspicions are aroused by misinterpreted looks and words, a potentially fatal fall, unrefrigerated water and a cobra.

As always, there's plenty of gentle philosophy on a myriad of topics including colonisation, killing wild animals, the concept of home, intelligence and spinsterhood, a male-dominated society, that men and women think differently, competitiveness. And he includes a delightful twist (or two) in the final resolution.

About bible stories: "we had to believe in something, she told herself, because the truth sometimes seemed too thin to satisfy our yearnings."

"We are uninvited guests, just as we are uninvited guests in every corner of the globe, and yet we take it upon ourselves to dictate how things should be done. That was the massive, almost unbelievable, conceit upon which the whole colonial enterprise was built, and yet nobody seemed to see."

Insightful, sometimes poignant and often humorous, whether his setting is in present day London, Edinburgh, Botswana or pre-war Ceylon, McCall Smith's grasp of people and relationships is superb. Always a delight to read.

Oh William

by Elizabeth Strout

On Oct 21 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Oh William! is the third novel in the Amgash series by best-selling, Pulitzer Prize winning American author, Elizabeth Strout. Not long widowed and still very much grieving her second husband, David Abramson, Lucy Barton relates recent events in the life of her first husband, William Gerhardt.

Two life-changing things that occur in fairly short succession see her travelling with William to Maine to perhaps connect with a relative of whom William was, until recently, unaware. It's a journey of many revelations, both about newly-discovered family, those already departed, each other and themselves.

Lucy's narrative comes across as a little rambling, at first, but it soon becomes clear that all those casual asides, those frequently inserted anecdotes from earlier, are given to illustrate a certain point, a feeling, an opinion.

Musing on what she had with each husband, she tells the reader that even though "At times in our marriage I loathed him. I saw, with a kind of dull disc of dread in my chest, that with his pleasant distance, his mild expressions, he was unavailable", William was her home, that she felt safe in his presence.

She does not talk much about David, noting what they had in common "It is hard to describe what it is like when one is raised in such isolation from the outside world. So we became each other's home. But we— both of us felt this way—we felt that we were perched like birds on a telephone wire in New York City" and concluding that "David was a tremendous comfort to me."

Strout gives her characters palpable emotions, wise words and insightful observations. When Lucy is unable to understand why William married her, a nothing, he tells her: "Lucy, I married you because you were filled with joy. You were just filled with joy. And when I finally realized what you came from—when we went to your house that day to meet your family and tell them we were getting married, Lucy, I almost died at what you came from. I had no idea that was what you came from. And I kept thinking, But how is she what she is? How could she come from this and have so much exuberance? …. There has never been anyone in the world like you. You steal people's hearts, Lucy."

Strout's writing, both in style and subject matter, is reminiscent of Sebastian Barry with shades of Anne Tyler. Strout writes about ordinary people leading what they believe are ordinary lives (although there are definitely some quirky ones doing strange things amongst them) and does it with exquisite yet succinct prose. Another powerful read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Penguin UK Viking.

Case Study

by Graeme MacRae Burnet

On Oct 18 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Case Study is the fourth novel by best-selling award-winning Scottish author, Graeme Macrae Burnet. Two years after her older sister suicides by throwing herself off a railway overpass in Camden, a young woman becomes convinced that notorious psychotherapist A. Collins Braithwaite is responsible for her death. Determined to prove his guilt, she poses as a patient, writing detailed notes of her sessions with him.

Over fifty years later, her cousin Martin "Grey" discovers the five notebooks and offers them to the author, who happens to be researching the psychotherapist with a view to writing a biography of this now-forgotten, disgraced character. At first sceptical, the author eventually decides to supplement his own material with the notebooks because, if nothing else, they tell an interesting story.

The young woman does not reveal her identity in her notebooks. For the purpose of her visits to Braithwaite, she adopts a persona she names Rebecca Smyth, creating for Rebecca an alternate life quite different from her own strictly controlled existence. Rebecca's life is so attractive, she begins to inhabit it, rather losing sight of her initial objective as she is swept up in Braithwaite's "therapy".

This unnamed protagonist is clearly unworldly, her scheme evidence of a naïve arrogance. She is immature with a childlike self-absorption, admitting about herself: "I have understood from an early age that I am an unpleasant and spiteful person. I am unable to see events in any terms other than their benefit or injuriousness to myself." Her thought processes often prove darkly funny.

With later visits, it's clear she is losing touch with reality, having conversations and arguments with Rebecca; at one stage she records an exchange with Braithwaite thus: "'I don't believe I've ever encountered anyone quite as hollow as you. I'm beginning to wonder if you really are who you say you are.' 'I often wonder the same thing,' Rebecca responded, rather deftly, I thought. (She is so much brighter than me; I sometimes wonder whether I shouldn't let her take over completely)"

The last notebook offers no clue as to the young woman's ultimate fate, but her "progress" during the first four sessions with this unconventional man don't suggest a promising future. Braithwaite, from the author's research, is variously described as a "cheerleader for suicide" (having written a book titled Kill Your Self) and a "dangerous charlatan" who, throughout his life, never faltered in his conviction of his own genius.

While readers generally don't skip over the prologue, many are tempted to ignore any post-script, but, as with previous Macrae Burnet novels, this is unwise as the Post Script forms an integral part of the whole. Once again, very cleverly written, Macrae Burnet's latest work is thought-provoking, funny and utterly brilliant. This unbiased review is from a copy provided by NetGalley and Text Publishing.

Blood Card

by Elly Griffiths

On Oct 16 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Blood Card is the third book in the Stephens and Mephisto Mystery series by British author, Elly Griffiths. It's May, 1953 and the former Magic Men are busy with their lives; DI Edgar Stephens is investigating the death of gypsy fortune-teller, Madame Zabini (Doreen Barton) in Brighton; magician Max Mephisto is performing at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

They're puzzled to be summoned to Whitehall by General Petre, even more so when he explains they are to look into the murder of their former CO, Colonel Peter Cartwright. Certain things about the murder scene have led Petre to call them in: a playing card left on the body; a newspaper cutting about an American mesmerist; and a 1939 Liverpool Empire playbill.

Petre stresses urgency: there is a threat to the imminent coronation of the new Queen. Max makes an international phone call which yields only a cryptic clue. Ed is sent to Albany, NY, arrives too late for his purpose, is almost the victim of a hit-and-run driver and has his motel room ransacked.

Back in Brighton, DS Emma Holmes is keeping a close eye on the Barton family when it transpires there may be a connection to Cartwright's murder. Soon enough, Max and Ed conclude that all is not as it seems with the now-elusive General Petre, and the connection between the two deaths strengthens.

Griffiths gives the reader characters that are real and flawed; some are vain and selfish; others distracted by misdirection and convinced by illusion. Her plot is clever and original and has a few twists that even the most astute reader may fail to anticipate. The atmosphere of post-war Britain is skilfully evoked with description, dialogue and the attitudes common at the time.

The immediate post-war era ensures the absence of mobile phones, internet, DNA and even many personal vehicles; thus the detective work relies on heavily on legwork, personal visits and intelligent deduction.

Before the puzzles are solved and the murderers apprehended, there are communists, mafiosi and anarchists to investigate, there is arson, assault and attempted kidnapping, a bomb has to be defused on live TV and a knife thrower saves a young magician. Ed's short stay in America is quite entertaining, and there are plenty of unresolved situations to draw the reader to the next book, The Vanishing Box. Excellent Historical crime fiction.

On Oct 14 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

When Two Feathers Fell From The Sky is the third novel by American Pulitzer Prize finalist, Margaret Verble. It's 1926 and Cherokee horse diver Two Feathers is performing at Glendale Park and Zoo near Nashville, Tennessee, regularly sending money home to her family at The Miller Brothers One Hundred and One Ranch in Oklahoma. She loves the animals of the zoo, especially the bison, and enjoys the company of three friends: Marty and Franny Montgomery, the Juggling Juggernauts, and Hank Crawford, the stable hand.

Two is used to propositions from male fans, but had her heart broken during the winter at home so she is wary of communications from a man who calls himself Strong-Red-Wolf, clearly a fake Indian name. Little Elk, on the other hand, is no fake, but she's mostly unaware of his presence. It takes him a while to understand why he has, once more, been drawn from the afterlife into the in-between: "To kill the murderous night-going witch. To save the woman and animals."

James Shackleford, owner of Glendale, consults with Two about establishing a box-turtle race as an attraction. Before this can get going, though, disaster strikes Two's act and she ends up on crutches after being rescued from an underground cave-in by Clive Lovett, the Zoo's general manager. Her enforced inactivity allows her to see certain things from a different perspective: the sick hippo, the romantic pursuit by the charming college anthropology graduate, and her performing future.

Verble populates her tale with a large cast, some of whom she allocates a vignette, while others receive much more than a potted history. And those characters are not exclusively human: buffalo, bear, monkey and hippopotamus also make a significant contribution.

Perhaps the most interesting are the zoo manager who, haunted by his wartime experience, becomes aware of spirits present in the park; Two Feathers, with her strong connection to the animals and her distrust of most whites; deep-thinking Hank whose genuine care for Two is unstinting; and Little Elk, whose naive perspective on a modern world occasionally provides humour.

Verble easily evokes the era with the customs of the day and the mindset of the community with regards the black population and the Indians, and the controversial Scopes trial and appeal. Her plot manages to include a scalping, theft from a tomb, electrocution, a spirit with a tobacco craving, several romances and, trigger warning, the death of three animals.

Verble states in her notes that many of the characters are based on the lives of real people, while certain activities and events have basis in fact. It is clear that her research on such topics as massacres omitted from teaching, and mass robbing of Indian graves, is thorough. Entertaining and thought-provoking historical fiction. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Eighth Sister

by Robert Dugoni

On Oct 11 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

4.5?s The Eighth Sister is the first book in the Charles Jenkins series by American author, Robert Dugoni. It might be forty years since Charles Jenkins left the CIA, but this sixty-four-year-old African American, now living on a Washington state farm, sticks to a fitness regimen. CJ Security, the successful business he named after his son, is currently having cash-flow problems, courtesy of a large account's tardiness; it's the only reason he agrees to leave his pregnant wife and nine-year-old son to go to Moscow at Carl Emerson's request.

The problem, Carl explains, is the murder of three of the Seven Sisters, women who have been, independent of any knowledge of each other, been passing information to the CIA for the past four decades. Charlie's Russian language skills and his client's branch in Moscow make him the ideal person to discover the identity of the eighth sister, the person who is apparently systematically, eliminating these women. Although a two-metre black man is hardly going to be inconspicuous amongst Muscovites!

Charlie is assured by his handler that as soon as he hints at having the names of the other sisters, the eighth sister will seek him out. But when she does, it's quickly clear they have both been fed lies. By whom, exactly, they're not sure, but they are now both targets of Russia's FSB, and end up together in a mad chase across Russia.

Charlie's attempts to return home involve a fist-fight in a bathroom, an underwater swim, a rendezvous with a Turkish fishing boat, clever disguises and false passports hurriedly acquired, buses, boats and planes and, at each turn, Charlie has cause to wonder whether he will ever see his second child born.

The pace is initially fairly sedate, but once the action begins, it doesn't let up until Charlie has followed a complicated route back to Seattle. There, dissatisfied with the outcome of his mission and the lack of resolution for the remaining sisters, he takes his concerns to a different government agency and, for his troubles, ends up in court on an espionage charge. Luckily, he has a close friend with legal expertise, but will that be enough? Excellent Dugoni spy drama.

Last Girl Ghosted

by Lisa Unger

On Oct 10 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

4.5?s "Once you ditch that phone, everything that you think tethers you to your life will fall away. Cash. A burner phone. A map�a real paper map!�marked where she should stop for gas, to spend the night. Places that took cash, that didn't have cameras. It's not forever, he told her. Think of it as a life reset."

Last Girl Ghosted is the nineteenth novel by award-winning best-selling American author, Lisa Unger. After three intensely romantic months with Adam Harper, Wren Greenwood is suddenly, inexplicably, ghosted. What was a hook-up from the Torch app soon developed into more; it felt like the real thing, and Wren just can't believe she got it so wrong. Her best friend Jax tells her to chalk it up to experience and move on, but Wren can't let it go.

Then PI Baily Kirk turns up on her doorstep, looking for Adam Harper or Raife Mannes or the man who goes by any number of other names. His client's daughter hooked-up with the man on Torch: now she and all her money have been missing for nine months. She's one of at least three similar stories, all of whom have had some trauma in their early lives, all of whom have connected with this apparently charismatic, Rilke-quoting ghost.

Wren too, has had trauma in her youth, but she's a survivor, a success: her popular advice column, Dear Birdie runs in the New York Chronicle, helping many; she owns a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights; she has friends and interests. But she wants to find Adam too. Do she and Bailey join forces? Does she actually believe the disturbing things that Bailey tells her about the man she had fallen in love with? And what happens if she finds him?

The story is told in a first-person narrative that is addressed to Adam, which sometimes makes for momentary confusion, but ultimately works well. While Wren is a protagonist with whom many readers can empathise, it's disappointing that Unger inserts her into that overdone trope of na�ve arrogance where she enters an almost-certainly dangerous situation alone, without any protection or means of summoning help, and without telling anyone what she is doing. Sure, it does later allow her to be kick-ass, but it's getting a little tired.

However, she does give the reader a gripping thriller, the bones of which are easily believable: the potential dangers of online dating are well-documented. There's plenty of enjoyable banter between friends, some good detective work, and a few action scenes in the lead-up to a nail-biting climax (or two). The support characters are an appealing bunch that Wren is lucky to have beside her. A guaranteed page-turner. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and HQ Fiction.

The Joy and Light Bus Company

by Alexander McCall Smith

On Oct 3 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

"'There is nothing wrong with this bus,' he said. 'Or there won't be, once we have fixed all the things that…' He floundered, before continuing, '… all the things that are wrong with it.' Then he added, hurriedly, 'Not that there are all that many things wrong, I think. Just some. Just three or four … or five. Small things, mostly, like brakes and so on.'"

The Joy and Light Bus Company is the twenty-second book in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by popular Scottish author, Alexander McCall Smith. Having left a very capable Fanwell in charge of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Mr JLB Matekoni attends a business course and returns pensive, eventually sharing that he intends to achieve his full potential. This apparently involves a partnership with an old school friend in a bus company.

What worries Precious Ramotswe most about the scheme is that the necessary bank loan will be taken against the garage and the premises of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Failure of such a risky business venture will impact on them all. (Self-appointed) senior co-managing director of the Agency, Mma Grace Makutsi can see the problem, but understands that "male menopausal behaviour was beyond rational argument". She promises to enlist Phuti Radiphuti's help in talking sense into Mr JLB Matekoni.

Precious seeks the wise counsel of her good friend Mma Potokwani at the Orphan Farm, reflecting that "Wise people had been replaced in the public estimation by that curious category of people – celebrities – who were, for the most part, shallow people not known for their wisdom." Her sound advice is gratefully accepted, even if it does include a recommendation for yoga.

While there, Precious is disturbed by what she learns about one of the newest orphans: there is a suggestion that a well-off family is engaging in a practice long out-lawed. Acting on impulse, she later manages get important information from very close to the source, and cleverly uses a certain woman's susceptibility to superstition to ensure things are set to rights.

A new client wants Agency to investigate the nurse looking after his elderly father when it emerges that his father has willed her his farm, alleging that the woman has exercised undue influence on the old man. When Precious and Mma Potokwani visit the farm, they tend towards a different conclusion but, heeding Clovis Anderson's best advice, they reserve judgement. A meeting with the daughters of the family reveals that things are not quite so straightforward.

No instalment in this series is complete without some mention of Mma Makutsi's nemesis: after witnessing a brazen act of shoplifting by the dreadful Violet Sepotho, attempts to force accountability on her backfire on Mma Potokwani and Precious.

As always, the ladies muse on many topics, including what is required to keep men happy, and Mma Makutsi coins an excellent term for those old-fashioned males who still indulge in sexual discrimination: Past Tense Men. If you want to know why slugs and beetles in her vegetable garden remind Precious of baboons in the corn, you need to read the book, but that's no hardship! As always, McCall Smith gives the reader some minor mysteries that don't tax the brain too much, laced with plenty of gentle philosophy, astute observations and wise words. This author never fails to delight.

On Oct 3 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

The Last Speaker of Skalwegian is the second novel by American author, David Gardner. It's only after he has been working on the Skalwegian language for three months, after he has applied for and received a hefty government research grant, that linguistics professor Lenny Thorsen realises that Charlie Fox, the last speaker of Skalwegian, might not be the real deal. And that's a problem.

After three years of teaching French at Ghurkin College in the small Massachusetts town of New Skalvik, where he is expected to issue As for football jocks despite non-attendance, Lenny jumps at the chance to document a dying language. Skalwegian was spoken on the tiny island of Skalvik, near Norway, until the population migrated to New Skalvik over two hundred years earlier, and learned English.

Documenting Skalwegian, as Lenny explained to Daniela Fox, the gorgeous co-anchor of News at Noon on local TV station WDRK, might just prevent the extinction of a language, should help with securing tenure, and he just loves the work. But if this counterfeiting of a language is revealed, his career and reputation are ruined.

When Charlie gives a (partial) explanation of why he is virtually creating a new language, Lenny faces a dilemma: the motive is pure, but the consequences of failure or discovery are unthinkable. Before the year is out, Lenny will be the target of four or five assassination attempts, there will be a murder, a kidnapping, and blackmail with regards the stipulations of a lucrative will. And Lenny will, mysteriously, acquire the apparently fearsome title of The Lobsterman.

Gardner's plot is sometimes a little convoluted and involves an element of slapstick and plenty of absurdity, especially with the character names, where there's a bit of nominative determinism going on. There are few ordinary people in this story: almost every character is quirky, weird, strange, odd, or eccentric.

Our linguist is caretaker of a revolving ex-restaurant which sporadically, and quite unpredictably, rotates, where he dines on a frozen cache of lobster tails, boysenberries and ginger and citrus tea, while avoiding cases of mediocre wine. He is easily distracted by words, his thoughts shooting off in tangents as he puzzles over their derivations. And plagued by a guilty secret from his past…

The supporting cast includes an ageing Godiva, a corrupt Police Chief, a money-grubbing college dean siphoning off funds for his personal gain, a local businessman with underworld connections, several hitmen named Bob, and a resourceful army vet. Readers in the mood for silliness, with occasional laugh-out-loud moments and some sweet romance will find this one entertaining. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Encircle Publications/Books Go Social.

All About Ella

by Meredith Appleyard

On Oct 3 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

"'I'm entitled to the future I want, not the one you think I should have."

All About Ella is the sixth novel by Australian author, Meredith Appleyard. Ella Sinclair has had a terrible year: nursing her husband to an early grave; coerced by her children into selling the family home; relegated to the spare room at her son's house; regularly chastised by her daughter-in-law, like a disobedient child, for any perceived transgression; the only consolation is her proximity to her grandchildren, especially fourteen-year-old Stefan, intelligent and easy-going with a quirky sense of humour.

A shouting match over the financing of the proposed granny flat is the final straw: Ella sneaks out and drives from Adelaide over to Cutlers Bay on the Yorke Peninsula: she needs some breathing space and time to not think about anything. A day later, feeling a little shaky from a rough night and too little to eat, she is approached on Rocky Point by Sergeant Zach Cooper, who advises her to ring her son: she has been reported missing.

"What was it I'd hoped for from my eldest son? Acknowledgement that he respected his mother's right to make decisions about her own life? Some kind of sign that he understood why I might need time to get used to life without a husband and a home? Anything that might have indicated I hadn't become invisible to my family. That I hadn't passed my use-by date and become nothing more than a hindrance to them."

After things didn't work out in Cairns, Angie Daniels is on the road again, all her worldly goods contained in her trusty Subaru, destination Perth, and the mother she has not seen for five years. But no rush. A left turn has her checking out the scenic Yorke Peninsula, Rocky Point Beach and Cutlers Bay. Rather than spend another night in her car, Angie opts for the Cutlers Bay pub, where she finds herself assisting the rather dishy local cop with a distressed older lady.

It's an unlikely trio, and they don't get off to the best of starts: Zach would like to see Ella return to her family, and is unsure if Angie's apparent good intentions towards Ella are genuine; Ella is definitely not ready to face her family, and finds Angie good company; Angie is ready to help Ella out, but won't be sticking around long enough to make real friends; she never does.

Appleyard gives the reader appealing characters who are all the more believable for their flaws and foibles. As their backstories are revealed, and life throws them challenges, it's easy to invest in them and hope for their happiness. Appleyard easily captures the country town vibe and the support characters are well-drawn: Stefan is a delight, and likely to be a favourite. And in Kirsten, the daughter-in-law, she gives the reader someone to happily despise.

Ageism in its many and varied incarnations is examined here with sensitivity and humour: there are laugh-out-loud moments, but also some jaw-dropping ones. There are many insightful observations and wise words: "When you get old, younger people treat you as if you've always been old. That you haven't had a life. That you weren't young once." "We're not old. We're just lucky enough to have had more birthdays than some."

And Angie explains her nomadic nature: "a place to start would be that an emotionally dysfunctional childhood results in an emotionally dysfunctional adult" While some aspects of the plot may be predictable, there are plenty of twists and wrinkles before a very satisfactory conclusion: Ella finally says "I could sit and brood and say woe is me, but I've decided I will live the life I have left to the full" and has everyone cheering her on. A delightful, thought-provoking and heart-warming read that will resonate with many. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Harlequin

On Oct 3 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Unusual Abduction of Avery Conifer is a stand-alone novel by Australian author, Ilsa Evans. To say that Elizabeth Patterson is surprised when Shirley Conifer turns up on her doorstep at 5.40am on a Sunday morning with their granddaughter, Avery, would be an understatement. And when she learns why they are there, she is incandescent with anger.

That Shirley has come to her at all is unexpected: rather than not getting on, they actively despise each other. But her motivation is concern for four-year-old Avery, and Shirley knows that Beth's feeling in that regard is as strong as her own. Later it is pointed out to Beth just how difficult it must be for Shirley to concede that her own son represents a danger to his daughter.

With an eye on the long term, Shirley manages to talk Beth out of her initial impulse to call the police, and within hours, they have headed to a beachside AirBnB and sent Avery's father, Daniel an ultimatum: seek counselling and live with Avery under the watchful eye of his parents. Beth is fairly confident that the man who put her daughter, Avery's mother, into prison, will not agree, so makes contingency plans with military precision.

Soon they are on the run, with Beth's salt-and-pepper miniature schnauzer and Shirley's eighty-nine-year-old mother, Winnie, along for the ride, an Amber Alert on Facebook, and the cops, specifically DS Elsa Kaltenbrunner and her partner, DC Rebecca Flanagan, on their tail. Elsa is convinced that the matter will be quickly and efficiently sorted out, but she has perhaps underestimated the strength of feeling this trio of grandmothers has for young Avery.

In the process of reaching their hideaway, the grannies learn that anonymity cannot be found in an international airport, or on a city street, especially given how prolific mobile phones are. Then, confined together with a four-year-old, these three women discover a great deal about each other and themselves, about motherhood and the myriad of feelings and emotions it entails.

Evans gives the reader a tale that has elements of slapstick, but also addresses several topical issues, including ageism, the influence of breakfast TV, and trial by social media. Multiple narrators each contribute: snippets, or larger parts of the story. The dialogue, especially anything uttered by Winnie and Avery, is often entertaining. Her characters have depth and appeal, and all are very humanly flawed, giving this tale the seal of authenticity. Funny and thought-provoking, a delightful read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Harlequin Australia

On Oct 3 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Wattle Island Book Club is the fourth novel by Australian author, Sandie Docker. Now in her eighties, Anne Sato has lived most of her life on Wattle Island. Her decision to restart the Wattle Island Book Club will, she is sure, meet with criticism, but it is born of a desire heal the hurting that ensued after their last meeting, seven years earlier. Her deepest desire is for her grandson to begin properly living again before she departs this life.

Anne's call to the Port Maddison Regional Library is taken by Grace Elliott, who expertly manages the many clubs for which the library caters; she efficiently sends out a tub of books on the supply ship. When, on her follow up with Anne, the reaction is somewhat equivocal, Grace proposes attending their next meeting to facilitate. A visit to an island will fit nicely into the bucket lists that Grace is determinedly attempting to tick off.

As an artist, Anne finds her go-to for relaxation and de-stressing is to paint, but lately her imagination takes her to long-ago memories: when thirteen-year-old Anne Webb arrives on Wattle Island in 1947 to live with an aunt she's never met, she's clutching the one book she managed to grab from her mother's bookshelf: Anne of Green Gables. There are no books in Aunt Bess's spartan little cottage, nor does the island school's library boast an extensive range.

Anne is grateful when Jeremiah Allen, the deckhand on the Seafarer, agrees to bring books from the mainland library to feed the voracious reading appetite that is her parents' legacy. It's not something other islanders of her age share. It sets her apart, as does her befriending of the new deckhand, Tadashi, whose love of literature matches her own. But what she wants most is to return to the city.

Grace is completely enchanted by Wattle Island and its residents, a little destabilised by Anne's gorgeous, brooding grandson but eagerly anticipating the book club gathering. Solving a mystery has been on Grace's bucket lists ever since she was seven, and she can't help being drawn in to the mystery surrounding the seven-year hiatus in the Wattle Island Book Club's gatherings: an empty book shop, and a pervasive sadness amongst the townspeople. But it's clear from the reactions of some that her interest is not entirely welcome…

This is a wonderfully romantic story that champions libraries and reading, and it is difficult not to fall in love with these characters from the outset, and become invested in their fates. Docker easily captures both the island's village atmosphere and the post-war mindset of the Australian public: the rampant sexism, xenophobia and homophobia characteristic of the era.

Her descriptions of the art and sculpture will have readers craving a peek into the studios, and she gives her characters some wise words and insightful observations: "Life was what it was. Always had been. No one was in control, despite the human race being rather adept at fooling itself into believing it was" and "We can't move on from our scars. They are part of who we are. It's only when we accept that, that we can be whole again" are examples. From Sandie Docker the reader is always guaranteed a superb Australian-flavoured feel-good read. This unbiased review is from a copy provided by the author.

Happy Hour

by Jacquie Byron

On Oct 3 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

"Frank was the really social one, the one who loved a crowd. I just went along for the ride. I liked the show, his show. No, listening to other people bleat about him now, needing me to comfort them, sitting through their anecdotes… pure torture"

Happy Hour is the first novel by Australian author, Jacquie Byron. Three years widowed, Franny Calderwood keeps social interactions to a minimum. She accepts that Frank is dead, although that's no reason to stop talking to him, addressing the many photos of him spread through their house, sharing the small details of her day.

She keeps busy with chores, visits to book shops, the cinema, galleries, the ballet, to gardens and the zoo for material to paint, a regular lunch at a favourite restaurant; Franny cooks herself gourmet meals and allows herself a cocktail or a wine in the evening; the company of her Cairn terrier, Whisky, and her golden retriever, Soda is quite enough.

Those who knew Frank invariably react to her with sorrow, pitying looks and melodramatic sighs, something that threatens to undo her, something she wants to avoid. Wayne at the liquor store, though, she appreciates: "He'd arrived in the bottle shop a year after Frank's death, so he never asked about her home life or 'how she was coping'. He saw her as an entity unto herself, not the remaining half of a once fine pair."

Now, though, a family of three: mother, teenaged daughter and eight-year-old son, moves in next door and, despite her reclusive tendencies, she inexplicably finds herself admitting them into her life. Franny finds she has something to offer each of them and that, surprisingly, she enjoys their company.

Not until her annual meltdown, when an accident means she really needs the friends who know her best, is it brought home to her that, in her avoidance of those who knew them as a couple, she has rejected family, her closest friend, and her goddaughter, never considering how hurtful her repeated evasions would be.

Byron's tale examines grief, blame and forgiveness, reclusiveness and loneliness, and does it with humour and sensitivity. Her characters have depth and appeal, displaying very human flaws and, in Franny's case, occasionally disappointing the reader with poor behaviour. Her inner monologue is often darkly funny.

The support characters will charm, and Joshie, in particular, is a delight. The dialogue is natural and Byron endows Franny's best friend with wise words indeed: "No one can criticise the way someone else handles grief." Funny, moving and thought-provoking, this is an impressive debut. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen & Unwin

Private Prosecution

by Lisa Ellery

On Oct 3 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Private Prosecution is the first novel by Australian lawyer, former prosecutor and author, Lisa Ellery. It was meant to be a one-night-stand, although Andrew Deacon, junior prosecutor with Western Australia's DPP was hoping for more with pretty, sexy Lil Constantine. But the next day she was dead.

Lil's influential brother-in-law, Samuel Godfrey SC is the person Drew believes responsible, but the police have no case. When Drew persists, he is given an unambiguous demonstration of the man's power to inflict pain of the physical and reputational kind. Proving Sam Godfrey's guilt initially has to take a back seat to surviving. But not for long.

Before Drew manages to achieve that reckoning he feels is richly deserved, his beloved BMW is torched, he has his nose broken (twice), he tries to convince the police he is not a paedophile, he stays under the radar by sleeping in a rather lurid-looking borrowed car and ditching his smart phone, he learns to use a public library, and he is reduced to finding a dealer to service an inconvenient prescription painkiller addiction, a legacy of being beaten up in a car park.

Drew is a likeable enough character, a little immature (he refers to himself as a spoilt brat), certainly naïve and sometimes careless, but his heart is in the right place, and his strong sense of justice won't allow him to let Lil's death go unanswered. His inner monologue is often darkly funny, as is much of the dialogue: "I handed over a thousand bucks. I was pretty sure that would do the trick. 'Don't bother mentioning that to the police,' I said. 'It'll only complicate things.'"

Ellery's expertise in the Australian legal field is apparent on every page, and her skilfully constructed plot offers twists and surprises right up to the final pages. Fast-paced, funny and clever, Ellery's debut novel is utterly enthralling and more from this author will be eagerly anticipated. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Better Reading Preview and Fremantle Press.

On Oct 1 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

4.5★s Notes From The Burning Age is the eighth novel by best-selling, award-winning British author, Claire North. Thirty-one-year-old Ven Marzouki, sometimes Kadri Tarrad, freely admits he is a traitor. He trained to be a priest for the Temple, translating documents in archaic languages salvaged from the Burning Age to be assessed for heresy but, unappreciated for his hard work and expertise, he begins illegally selling classified information. This might be true…

By the time Brotherhood operative, Georg Mestri finds him, he's working in a cellar bar. Vien's Justice and Equality Brotherhood is opposed to the Council, believing that humanity can best be served by reviving the fuels, the resources, the industry of the Burning Age. Temple, on the other hand, recommends giving thanks for the land, the sea, the sky, espouses being in harmony with the earth, doing nothing to rouse the kakuy, whose wrath spares none.

When Ven is recruited, the Brotherhood is gaining ground in the Assembly. Translating forbidden texts for Georg, Ven realises he must have a spy in the Council supplying these, and it begins to look like war between the provinces is inevitable.

North sets her tale in a futuristic dystopia, a vaguely-recognisable Europe where the predicted environmental destruction is in full swing. The politics is initially a little convoluted, but patience is rewarded with some rather good action once the groundwork is laid. The pronouns used for those of undefined gender do, at times, cause a little confusion.

Ven is, eventually. a likeable protagonist whom North subjects to all manner of challenges: he is beaten, tortured mentally and physically, spends quite a bit of time captive or on the run, almost drowns yet recovers to return to his mission. At one stage, one of his mentors comments that he will present a danger to anyone who gives him shelter.

North explores many topical sociological themes in the dialogue that Ven shares with Georg and others, none of which moderates Georg's fervour to win. She does give Ven wise words, for example: "Your mistake is imagining that in understanding the size and majesty of creation, the wonder of this world and the richness within it, you become small. A tiny, scuttling thing without centre, without identity and form. You fail to see how, in grasping your small place within this life, you become part of something that is so much bigger than you could ever be when you were being a hero alone." A thought-provoking and perhaps prescient read.

Skylight

by Louise Candlish

On Sep 28 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Skylight is a novella by British author Louise Candlish. Simone doesn't like her neighbours. Alina and Gus Hunt are just too perfect a couple. They used noisy, inconsiderate builders for their fancy extension; the work went on far too long. But now the new skylight into their kitchen gives Simone a glimpse into their lives from her top floor bathroom, so she keeps an eye on them, surreptitiously gets to know them quite well. Her partner, Jake never uses that bathroom, so the view is hers alone. But what she sees one night, while Jake is working late, is a shock. That Alina needs to be taught a lesson, she decides, but Simone will bide her time. A little selective mail sorting, and she has a plan…. Short but powerful, a chilling read.

These Toxic Things

by Rachel Howzell Hall

On Sep 28 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

These Toxic Things is the seventh novel by American author, Rachel Howzell Hall. Twenty-four-year-old Michaela Lambert is a digital archaeologist for the Memory Bank, and her latest client is Nadia Denham. Nadia's Memory Bank will be a digital collection of those things she holds most dear, together with their background stories.

Nadia owns Beautiful Things Curiosities Shoppe, located in a run-down little plaza next to a diner, a locksmith, a hair salon, a boarded-up bar and a carpark that harbours a collection of somewhat derelict RVs. Real-estate developer, Peter Weller is keen to get his hands on the plaza but, to his annoyance, the remaining four shop-owners are standing their ground, despite some underhand tactics.

At their first meeting, Mickie's new client has arrayed her precious keepsakes on a table with notes for each item detailing when and where it was acquired, and from whom. But before they get together for a more thorough discussion, Nadia is found dead, an apparent suicide, something that sits completely at odds with Mickie's impression of an enthusiastic woman eager to digitise her memories for her own future reference.

Mickie's boss insists she go ahead with the project, for which he has been paid, but she has to endure the chagrin and disdain of the store manager, Riley. The items and their backstories are quite intriguing, although Mickie notes that they all seem to have come from desperate women, some of whom later met with nasty ends.

Meanwhile, Mickie's personal life is in upheaval: creepy notes under her door; threatening texts ordering her to stop what she is doing; a car tailing her home; and a weirdo confronting her in a café. Luckily, she has a very supportive family with police connections, and some good friends. She's a smart girl, shares whatever concerns her and listens to their sound advice and observations.

While her ex-boyfriend (inconveniently also her boss) is not quite off the scene, Nadia's rather dishy son seems interested, and interesting. But Mickie is being careful: there's some nutjob out there grabbing young women and killing them, and no way is she going to add to the list of victims.

Howzell Hall gives the reader a story that is cleverly plotted with several red herrings and a chilling twist. This is a tale that may have us considering where we perceive personal danger lies. Her characters are believable and Mickie's family and friends are so appealing that many will envy her relationship with them.

It is certainly refreshing to have a protagonist who is fairly security conscious, one who doesn't assume she'll be OK but, instead, lets people where she's going and when to expect her back, who doesn't go and investigate a strange noise on her own but calls for help. The Magic 8 Ball predictions as section headings is a cute touch. Another brilliant crime fiction read that puts Howzell Hall firmly on the Must Read list. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Thomas and Mercer.

On Sep 28 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

4.5★s How To Examine A Wolverine is the second non-fiction book by Canadian veterinarian and author, Philipp Schott. That's certainly a catchy title, and the cover picture also speaks volumes: this is a book by a vet about animals and, of course, their owners. It comes in the format of essays with intriguing titles like Dogs Getting High, How To Make A Sheep Sit and Surgery for Dummies.

Schott divides his book into four sections: dogs, cats, vets and other beasts, and includes anecdotes about patients he has seen over his thirty-year career. He shares successes (which often amount to asking the right questions) and admits to failures, including when succumbing to flattery taught him an expensive lesson; there are happy endings and sad ones, but he does issue warnings for squeamish readers when necessary.

Regarding dogs, there are encounters with skunks, porcupines and beavers, amputations, barking, flatulence, nail clipping, balding dogs, stoned dogs and escapes.

Cats take him into the territory of catnip, ageing, barfing and furballs, poisoning, obtaining blood samples from uncooperative pets, and euthanising companion animals.

Vets leads him to expound on the practices of some of his colleagues, corporate monopolies, the gender distribution of the profession, his early graduate experiences, costs and charges, and a myriad of aspects of veterinary practice.

Other beasts delves into the variety of unusual animals treated at his practice: ducks, bees, hamsters, lion cubs, poisonous fish, ferrets, rescue squirrels, a wolverine, and the challenge of doing an ultrasound on a very long python.

There are amusing illustrations by Brian Gable and Schott manages to include a great deal of information in easily-assimilated form, as well as lots of good advice. He throws in a few dad jokes, but you will also learn some interesting tidbits (porcupine quills are coated in antibiotic; beavers can kill a human being) and yes, he does explain how to examine a wolverine, but if you want to know that, read the book.

Even when he mounts his soapbox on something about which he feels strongly, such as flat-faced breeds, boutique dog foods, raw diets, or fad foods and treatments, he's never preachy; rather his explanations are redolent with expertise and common sense. The tone is conversational and this makes the book very readable. You don't have to be a pet owner to enjoy this informative, entertaining and frequently laugh-out-loud funny book. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and ECW Press.

Have You Seen Luis Velez?

by Catherine Ryan Hyde

On Sep 26 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

"He closed his eyes and said a . . . well, it would not do to call it a prayer, because Raymond was not at all sure he thought there was a God. And even if there was, it would be terribly rude to come to him with a favor after all these years of not speaking. He had done so once earlier that morning, and it had felt entirely selfish and wrong. No, what he said was more of a whispered entreaty to no one in particular. Maybe out into the universe in case there was anything listening. Maybe to some less ruined part of himself."

Have You Seen Luis Velez? is a novel by best-selling American author, Catherine Ryan Hyde. In short succession, almost-seventeen-year-old Raymond Jaffe has said goodbye to his only friend, offered help to a ninety-two-year-old blind woman in his apartment block, and rescued a stray cat from probable torture.

Mildred Gutermann relies on Luis Velez to take her to the bank and the market, but he hasn't been for seventeen days by the time she waylays Raymond on the landing on his way to school. She is worried about Luis. Raymond is aghast at how little food Millie has left, gives her his granola bar breakfast, and fills Luis's role without hesitation.

Raymond is of mixed race and lives with his mother, a critical, stingy step-father and three step-sisters, but has always felt he doesn't fit there. Alternate weekends are spent with his well-off father whose new wife never hides her dislike of him. Nor does he fit in at school. Spending time with Millie, though, is not only a refuge from these uncomfortable situations but, to his surprise, Raymond finds that this old lady's company and conversation put him at ease. "It struck him odd that he'd had to come to the home of a blind woman to be seen clearly."

Hoping to avoid bringing her disappointing news, Raymond searches for Luis Velez without telling Millie. He has mixed feelings, though: would it be worse that Luis has stopped visiting because he has met with some sort of misfortune, or because he no longer cares about Millie? He finds the search challenging, although many of the people he meets are kind, even moreso when they learn what he is doing: kindness, like yawning, seems to be contagious.

Disheartened by the aftermath of the search, Millie seems to lose faith in humanity. Raymond worries she is withdrawing from life, but Millie assures him she intends to stick around, sharing a dream she had about a schoolfriend not fortunate enough to escape the Holocaust: "She said it was very selfish of me to base my participation in the world on whether the world was pleasing me at the moment. She said of course the world can be cruel; this is a given. She asked if I knew what she would have sacrificed to be ninety-two."

Raymond determines to bring her instances of goodness to balance out the moments of despair, and some of those kind people he encountered earlier play a role.

With one of the main protagonists being ninety-two years old, many words of wisdom could be expected, and most but not all are offered by Millie: "When it comes to seeing what is important about a person," she said, "I think it's possible that what our eyes tell us is only a distraction. Not that I wouldn't take them back if I could. Oh, I would. I miss seeing. But I also like the things I've learned to see without them."

At one point, she tells Raymond "We both know a strange truth about the world: that people judge you by your most controversial half. If you meet a person, Raymond, who is prejudiced, this person will not think to himself, 'This Raymond has a white half, and I will respect that half of him.' People judge you only by the half they don't like"

Ryan Hyde gives the reader a cast of mostly very appealing characters faced with the challenges of everyday life as well as lack of privilege, prejudice, survivor guilt, and loneliness. A certain aspect of the story will be reminiscent, for many readers, of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Once again, a moving, thought-provoking and uplifting read.

Blowback

by Peter May

On Sep 24 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Blow Back is the fifth book in the Enzo Macleod Investigation series by Scottish journalist, screenwriter and author, Peter May. Having achieved more than the French police had managed to with four of Roger Raffin's cold cases, Enzo Macleod heads to the auberge at Saint-Pierre that houses Chez Fraysse, a Michelin-three-starred restaurant.

Unlike the reception he received with earlier cases, he is made welcome by both the young Gendarme, Dominique Chazal, and the victim's widow and older brother: all claim that their most fervent desire is for Enzo to solve the murder of celebrity chef, Marc Fraysse. On his customary afternoon run, seven and a half years earlier, Marc was shot dead in a buron on the ridge track, his mobile phone missing. But not everyone at Chez Fraysse seems happy with Enzo's presence.

Elisabeth Fraysse maintains that Marc was loved by all, had no enemies except for the food critic who made public a rumour that Marc was about to lose a star. Dominique tells Enzo she was unimpressed with the detective high fliers who came to investigate. Finding Marc's laptop still in his bureau, Enzo concludes she may be right. Incredibly, it seems that investigators, when they did not find a document stating in 36-point font "My killer is XX", looked no further. Enzo does, with an interesting result.

Enzo has set up someone on staff to helpfully provide inside information, although that backfires in an unexpected manner. The gossip thus garnered does provide three possible suspects; perusal of the draft of Marc's memoir yields further motives; and a certain compulsive vice of Marc's points to yet more.

As usual, Enzo attracts a woman: this one conveniently owns the sniffer dog that comes in handy later. There's an attempt on his life, a couple of trips to Paris, some welcome and some unwelcome news about his daughter, Kirsty, and a favour called in from a documents expert. Three young women press Enzo to demand access to the baby son he has not yet seen.

While it's true the setting is a gourmet restaurant with a seventy-thousand bottle cellar, Enzo waxes lyrical about meals and wines so many times that it does get just a bit tedious. And it seems odd that Enzo only reads the earlier parts of Marc's memoir (which, incidentally set him off on uncomfortable reminiscences of his own) when the most recent might have provided more relevant information.

Despite a few plot holes, this is still an enjoyable read: there are plenty of red herrings (not all of them convincing) in the lead up to a dramatic climax that involves guns, quite a bit of spilled wine and broken glass, and the twist is excellent. The next instalment, Cast Iron is eagerly anticipated.

Choose Me

by Gary Braver

On Sep 17 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Choose Me is a novel by American authors Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver. When Boston PD Detective Frankie Loomis and her partner MacClellan are called to an apparent suicide, most of what they find seems to support the call: a twenty-two-year-old student of English at Commonwealth University, depressed about the break-up with her long-time boyfriend, is found below her fifth-floor balcony.

But a couple of things don't sit right with Frankie, including the woman's missing cell phone. The autopsy neither confirms nor rules out suicide, but it does reveal some anomalies and, while Mac is ready to call it a suicide, Frankie remains unconvinced. CCTV is barely helpful, but by now Frankie is certain that Taryn Moore was murdered.

As Frankie and Mac track down and interview Taryn's contacts: her ex-boyfriend, her mother, her classmate, her English professor, they are continually forced to reassess just who might have sufficient motive to murder this smart young woman. They also learn that Taryn has engaged in stalking behaviour, is not necessarily popular with her classmates, and might have been inappropriately involved with her teacher.

The story is told through a split-time narrative that is carried by three characters: Taryn, Frankie and Jack, the English professor. The back-and-forth is clearly distinguished, and Frankie's discoveries are paired with earlier interactions between relevant characters.

There are plenty of distractions and red herrings to keep the reader guessing right up to the dramatic climax, but the astute reader won't be convinced by the direction in which the authors funnel suspicion, so the true perpetrator won't be a complete surprise. An intriguing read, nonetheless.

The Man Who Died Twice

by Richard Osman

On Sep 16 2021, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Man Who Died Twice is the second book in the Thursday Murder Club series by British TV presenter, producer, director, and novelist, Richard Osman. After the excitement of all the recent murders, things have calmed down at Coopers Chase retirement village, but Joyce Meadowcroft notices that, at the most recent meeting of the Thursday Murder Club, her good friend Elizabeth is a bit distracted.

Turns out, one of the units at Coopers Chase has temporarily become a safe house for an ageing, politically incorrect spy and Elizabeth is roped into baby-sitting a man she knows too well: her former life has come calling. This man makes an unwelcome declaration of love and a confession which concerns the reason for his concealment.

While DCI Chris Hudson and PC Donna De Freitas (ineptly) practice their covert surveillance skills on Fairhaven's newest drug baroness, Ibrahim Arif has cause to regret his decision to make a solo outing into town when he is mugged by a teenaged trio. His friends are certainly not going to let that go unanswered…

Ostensibly a builder, Bogdan Jankovski is actually a man of many talents, be they playing chess with a demented husband, acquiring ten thousand pounds worth of cocaine (a disappointingly small parcel), or assisting Elizabeth "I'll also need you to drive me to meet an international money launderer today, if you're free?"

International money launderer, Martin Lomax has a bit on his mind: competing are thoughts of the Ukrainian who has just agreed to buy some decommissioned Saudi anti-aircraft missiles for twelve million dollars for which he plans to kidnap a racehorse as down payment, the Open Garden Day Martin is hosting, and the missing twenty million pounds worth of diamonds that the New York mafia are going to want back soon.

Ron Ritchie may be in his seventies, but he, too, is a versatile fellow, hosting his clever and inquisitive eight-year-old grandson as well as convincingly posing as both a plumber (overalls are so comfy!) and a London drug dealer.

Joyce's (badly-)knitted, sequinned friendship bracelets are gently foisted upon almost everyone she meets. These, along with a cheap locket, a crisp packet, a left luggage locker key and the employment of some old spy tricks, play a significant role in the location of Martin Lomax's missing diamonds, and the discovery of the identity of the murderer.

Whether describing outings like the Eurostar to Antwerp in her chatty journal entries, or signing up for Instagram with an innocently-chosen but unfortunate handle, or hiding diamonds, Joyce is an utter delight: she may often seem preoccupied by something mundane, but should never be underestimated, because she catches every detail. She is terribly pleased to learn she is on MI5's radar, then thrilled to be blindfolded and interrogated by them, a session that is laugh-out-loud funny.

Once again, a perfect mix of cosy crime fiction and British humour that should probably not be read in the Quiet Carriage of public transport as it is likely to have readers chuckling, snickering and even guffawing. Hugely entertaining. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Penguin UK