Friday, March 22, 2019

Review: The Scholar

Title: The Scholar
Author: Dervla McTiernan
Publisher: 18th February 2019 by HarperCollins
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: mystery, fiction, crime
My Rating: 5 cups

From the author of the critically acclaimed bestseller The Ruin comes a compulsive new crime thriller featuring DS Cormac Reilly. Being brilliant has never been this dangerous ...
When Dr Emma Sweeney stumbles across the victim of a hit and run outside Galway University late one evening, she calls her partner, Detective Cormac Reilly, bringing him first to the scene of a murder that would otherwise never have been assigned to him.
A security card in the dead woman's pocket identifies her as Carline Darcy, a gifted student and heir apparent to Irish pharmaceutical giant Darcy Therapeutics. The multi-billion-dollar company, founded by her grandfather, has a finger in every pie, from sponsoring university research facilities to funding political parties to philanthropy - it has funded Emma's own ground-breaking research. The enquiry into Carline's death promises to be high profile and high pressure.
As Cormac investigates, evidence mounts that the death is linked to a Darcy laboratory and, increasingly, to Emma herself. Cormac is sure she couldn't be involved, but as his running of the case comes under scrutiny from the department and his colleagues, he is forced to question his own objectivity. Could his loyalty to Emma have led him to overlook evidence? Has it made him a liability?
My Thoughts

As a follow up to her most successful ‘The Ruin’, author Dervla McTiernan delivers a sensational second story in the Cormac Reilly series. Not having read the first book, I did not feel that I missed out by not doing so. ‘The Scholar’ is a complex and captivating thriller that confirms Dervla to be a wonderful crime writer.

I raced through this book completely captivated by the murder mystery playing out before me. Dervla does provide some of the backstory to Cormac from the first book which helped in understanding some main characters. There is also a range of supporting characters that are so well presented, particularly Peter Fisher and Carrie O'Halloran who I loved and would love to learn more of in future stories.

This is a fabulous crime novel full of intrigue and corruption with a well developed plot. You will follow along with the investigation and learn of cover ups, deception and much police ‘politics’ on when to follow procedure and when to follow your instinct. The story was so well woven that not until the very end did I have an inkling of the perpetrator. The twists and turns will certainly keep you guessing and you will become most invested in well rounded and developed characters.

All up this is an addictive and fascinating journey and if you are not on the Dervla McTiernan crime train, I suggest you hop aboard for some well written thrillers.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Review: Home Fires

Title:  Home Fires
Author: Fiona Lowe
Publisher: 18th February 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 4.5 cups

When a lethal bushfire tore through Myrtle, nestled in Victoria's breathtaking Otway Ranges, the town's buildings - and the lives of its residents - were left as smouldering ash. For three women in particular, the fire fractured their lives and their relationships.
Eighteen months later, with the flurry of national attention long past, Myrtle stands restored, shiny and new. But is the outside polish just a veneer? Community stalwart Julie thinks tourism could bring back some financial stability to their little corner of the world and soon prods Claire, Bec and Sophie into joining her group. But the scar tissue of trauma runs deep, and as each woman exposes her secrets and faces the damage that day wrought, a shocking truth will emerge that will shake the town to its newly rebuilt foundations... 
My Thoughts

‘ wasn’t the sight of the buckled and twisted remains of their home that undid her. It was seeing two tiny rompers, Liam’s shorts and T-shirts and Josh’s workwear—clothes she’d pegged on the line the morning of the fire before leaving to visit her mother. She’d doubled over at the everyday sight and sobbed at nature’s taunting. How dare she have taken normality for granted.’

If you live anywhere in the world where bushfires are hazard, you will be enthralled by this book. Each summer, here in Australia, we are faced with this deadly disaster annually. What Fiona does is bring it right into the spotlight in a most confronting way. From both an individual and community perspective the devastating effects are presented and admirably not just for a moment but for many months afterwards as well.

Following the lives of three women deeply affected, the story jumps back and forth from prior to, during and many months later. At times this can be a challenge to track, however, Fiona does it well enough, climaxing with the fire itself on the day. This is not just a story about bushfires, it’s an investigation into the many issues of life in a small town community and the everyday challenges they face. What the fire does, is bring these conflicts to a head with how people cope when faced with adversity.

‘Now everything was measured in BF and AF, from the big picture things right down to the little things like reaching for your favourite cooking knife or spanner, only to realise it had been destroyed.’

Beginning with their frustrations at the slow rebuild after the fire and having to live in temporary housing, to the social and emotional impact on families and individuals. Fiona does a wonderful job at presenting how such a traumatic situation impacts on people differently. It really makes you stop and pause as to how you would respond to such a confronting situation. There are many personal stories here that cover a cross section of issues - marriage, jobs, domestic violence. I have to be honest and say that I did struggle with the three male partners - I didn’t like any of them and found their actions - scripted or not - rather hard to accept.

Overall, this was a fabulous read, so real and emotional - the frustration and heartbreak very relatable. There are many facets and components to this story of a small town in the face of devastating fires. I highly recommend you taking the time to become part of the lives of these people and feel the fear with what they faced.

‘Claire thought about the men and women of Myrtle and how many were barely coping. All their energy was sucked out of them just trying not to sink under the weight of trauma, red tape and rebuilding. It didn’t leave much in reserve...’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Monday, March 11, 2019

Review: Queenie Malone's Paradise Hotel

Title: Queenie Malone's Paradise Hotel
Author: Ruth Hogan
Publisher: 12th February 2019 by Hachette
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: general fiction, contemporary
My Rating: 4 crowns

From the bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Things and The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes - a novel of mothers and daughters, families and secrets and the astonishing power of friendship.
Tilly was a bright, outgoing little girl who liked playing with ghosts and matches. She loved fizzy drinks, swear words, fish fingers and Catholic churches, but most of all she loved living in Brighton in Queenie Malone's Magnificent Paradise Hotel with its endearing and loving family of misfits - staff and guests alike.
But Tilly's childhood was shattered when her mother sent her away from the only home she'd ever loved to boarding school with little explanation and no warning. Now, Tilda has grown into an independent woman still damaged by her mother's unaccountable cruelty. Wary of people, her only friend is her dog, Eli. But when her mother dies, Tilda goes back to Brighton and with the help of her beloved Queenie sets about unraveling the mystery of her exile from The Paradise Hotel and discovers that her mother was not the woman she thought she knew at all ... Mothers and daughters ... their story can be complicated ... it can also turn out to have a happy ending.
My Thoughts

‘I am here to pick over the bones of my mother's life like some sort of domestic vulture; deciding which linen, china and furniture are worth keeping, and which should be consigned to the charity shops’

I love Ruth Hogan’s writing. Her book, The Keeper of Lost Things’ (review HERE) was extraordinary, so I was excited to embark on another reading journey with Ruth at the helm. Her writing is pure and simple, yet leaves you with a full heart. She most definitely has a way with words especially considering it’s not about always about plot but character and relationships. I particularly appreciated her shining a spotlight on mental health in this particular tale.

‘Maybe I am mad, and yes, maybe I will get hurt, but isn't it about time to take a risk? I'm sick of being careful and hiding who I really am.’

This is a wonderful story all about family relationships over time and the impact of being truthful to those you care about. It really is a thought provoking read just from that aspect alone. It alternates (seamless shifts and connections between timelines I might add) between a young Tilly and the grown up Tilda and this provides insightful perceptions of the impact of change over time. Tilda holds onto much resentment towards her mother and only after her mother dies and she is sorting things out, does Tilda come to see events from a different perspective.

‘I can still see her hair blowing in the wind and her dress billowing. She was so beautiful and I was so proud of her. So where did it all go so terribly, irrevocably wrong?’

Tilly was always closer to her father and only upon her mother’s death and with the help of friends and neighbours can she see events of the past through fresh eyes. The diaries she reads help Tilda to understand her mother more as a person and appreciate how it was for her and ultimately form the person Tilda was to become herself. This struggle to reconcile a past she thought she understood, to how things really were is fascinating. Combine that with a fabulous cast of characters and you have an engaging read.

‘I am going to use the best cutlery, the best crockery and the best glasses every day. I am not going to die with my best party dress still unworn on its hanger.’

If you have never read a Ruth Hogan book, I suggest you give it a go and read one sooner rather than later.

‘These days I remember my childhood like an old cine film shot in soft focus mellowed by distance and nostalgia, that jumps and jerks from one frame to another. Some of the characters are just shadows in the background, some have starring roles and others are out of the frame altogether. Bits of the film are missing or blurred and it is shot entirely from one perspective.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Review: The Happiness Project

Title:  The Happiness Project
Author: Pippa James
Publisher: 12th February 2019 by Bookouture
Pages: 343 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, chick lit
My Rating: 2 cups

Forty-year-old Alison Lund has always carefully planned everything in her well-ordered life, from colour co-ordinating her beautiful house to persuading her excitable son Alexander that sticker charts are more fun than misbehaving. But Alison’s perfect world has just fallen apart…
Her head is left spinning when her beloved larger than life mother-in-law, Maggie, passes away and Alison is left heartbroken. Every afternoon they’d talk and laugh over a pot of tea, she was the glue that kept Alison together through the first few tough years of motherhood. And now Alison is trying to figure out a future without her.
With a little help from her two best friends, Alison resolves to be more Maggie. After an emotional New Year’s Eve get together, the three women create a happiness project, challenging themselves to step outside their comfort zones and make the most of every single day.
Daring to do things differently, can Alison learn to live more spontaneously and find happiness along the way? Or will letting go be harder than she ever imagined?
My Thoughts

I was drawn to this book through the promise of making positive changes in an effort to bring more happiness into one’s life. Three friends decide to start the new year afresh with the goal of reaching greater heights of happiness - through either a job, health or new family outlook.

I felt the author tried to make the interactions between the three friends as down to earth and realistic as possible, however for me, it just did not work. Perhaps, those that read the first book (this is the second in the series but can be read as a stand-alone) may have found a greater connection to the characters, unfortunately I really struggled and found them underdeveloped on the whole.

There also appeared to be much unresolved, for example, rather strange that it is a year’s resolution yet the book ends within the first few months of the year. As mentioned, I found some of the characters - main and secondary - behaviour at times, to not quite gel and I didn’t really empathise with them. So all up, a well written story that will definitely appeal to some with its classic chick lit approach in both character and story - for me, however, it just fell a little flat which is disappointing as the premise was a worthy one.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Review: Summer on the Italian Lakes

Title: Summer on the Italian Lakes
Author: Lucy Coleman
Publisher: 5th February 2019 by Aria
Pages: 304 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, romance
My Rating: 2.5 cups

Bestselling Brianna Middleton has won the hearts of millions of readers with her sweeping - and steamy - love stories. But the girl behind the typewriter is struggling... Not only does she have writer's block, but she's a world-famous romance author with zero romance in her own life.
So the opportunity to spend the summer teaching at a writer's retreat in an idyllic villa on the shores of Lake Garda - owned by superstar author Arran Jamieson - could this be just the thing to fire up Brie's writing - and romantic - mojo?
Brie's sun-drenched Italian summer could be the beginning of this writer's very own happy-ever-after...
My Thoughts

In essence, this is a getaway romance about two authors that come together at a writer’s retreat at the Italian lakes - wonderful and inviting descriptions of the Villa Monteverdi and the views overlooking the lake, make it a worthwhile escapism to Italy, with the right mix of romance and atmosphere to make you feel like you are there.

Brie is a romance writer and Arran, a military historical writer - just about as different as you can get - but the sparks fly and the inevitable romance occurs. Bring into the mix the couple’s separate troubled past relationships and there is enough there to engage the reader.

I do have to admit, however, that I found this book quite methodical, characters cardboard cutouts and the book used as a platform to ‘preach’ on a number of issues - everything from trolling, to relationships, to becoming an author. I found it overall to be rather clinical, providing too much information that did not necessarily weave in seamlessly with the story. It felt at times, as if the author used her book as a forum to speak directly to the reader on these issues with a mixture of her opinion and facts. Unfortunately, that made it somewhat disconnected and even conflicted this message with the plot on one occasion.

So whilst I loved the premise of the story, I found the writing style challenging. I admire the author for making a statement on these important issues, however, it just seemed to be at odds with the overall intended romantic nature of the book.

‘We live in a world where the bad news hits the headlines faster than the good news, if it makes it at all. Good deeds go unrecognised all the time, but I suspect that it’s not often they go totally unnoticed, or unappreciated. What many suffer from is a hesitancy to put themselves in a position where they reach out to offer help, love, or simply a listening ear, because they fear rejection.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Review: The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Title:  The Department of Sensitive Crimes
A Detective Varg novel
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: 12th February 2019 by Hachette Australia
Pages: 240 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: General Fiction (Adult) , Mystery & Thrillers
My Rating: 3 cups

From the beloved and bestselling author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series comes a lighthearted comedic novel about a Swedish police department tasked with solving the most unusual, complicated, and, often, insignificant crimes.
The detectives who work in Malmo Police's Department of Sensitive Crimes take their job very seriously. The lead detective, Ulf Varg, prioritizes his cases above even his dog's mental health. Then there are detectives Anna Bengsdotter, who keeps her relationship with Varg professional even as she realizes she's developing feelings for him . . . or at least for his car, and Carl Holgersson, first to arrive in the morning and last to leave, who would never read his colleagues' personal correspondence--unless it could help solve a crime, of course. Finally, there's Erik Nykvist, who peppers conversations with anecdotes about fly fishing.
Along with an opinionated local police officer named Blomquist, the Department of Sensitive Crimes takes on three extremely strange cases. First, the detectives investigate how and why a local business owner was stabbed . . . in the back of the knee. Next, a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. And, in the final investigation, Varg must determine whether nocturnal visitations at a local spa have a supernatural element.
Using his renowned wit and warmth, Alexander McCall Smith brings a unique perspective on Scandinavian crime. Equal parts hilarious and heartening, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a tour de farce from a literary master.
My Thoughts

The Department of Sensitive Crimes is the first in a new series, by the much-loved author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series -  Alexander McCall Smith. Having written a number of series, it’s always tempting to delve into McCall’s newest writing, as I adore his warmth and philosophical observations. Whilst this proved a very different read, it was still light and quirky with his signature ramblings:

‘Sometimes we stumble over the truth. We think we find it, but it finds us.’
Anna asked, ‘Does that matter? What counts is the result, not the route by which one reaches the result. it’s often all a matter of luck.’
Ulf pondered this. The role of luck in human affairs had always intrigued him. So much of what we did was influenced by factors that were beyond our control –the vagaries of others, sequences of events that we initiated in ignorance of where they would lead, chance meetings that led to the making of a decision that would change our life.’

I am a huge fan of McCall's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and have delved into some of his other tales but sadly this one was not up there with my favourites even though it follows a similar vein as No.1 Ladies. We have a detective working on quirky cases who contemplates and passes observations. The ‘crime’ side of the novel is very gentle, much like No.1 Ladies.  The problem I feel is that, that being character driven, Ulf and associated characters do not portray the same charms as Mma Ramotswe and crew. It seemed to lack that unique attraction and heartfelt engagement of the African plains. Maybe it was not transferable to Sweden?

Still, it is McCall’s writing that I enjoy and a pleasant enough read, sprinkled with the musings that we have come to love and expect.

‘There were subtleties in the claiming of space; we staked out our territory on beaches, small squares of sand to which we felt entitled to return after our swim; we created all sorts of unseen boundaries, temporary and informal, by leaving our possessions on seats and benches  – a jacket left on a chair made a claim every bit as specific and discouraging as a notice of legal title. This is mine –I’m coming back. Don’t think of sitting here.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Review: Homestead on the River

Title: Homestead on the River
Author: Rosie Mackenzie
Publisher: 29th January 2019 by Harlequin Australia, HQ (Fiction, Non Fiction, YA) & MIRA
Pages: 512 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 3 cups


An unforgettable tale of love, loss and betrayal from an exciting new Australian voice in historical fiction. In stark contrast to her own childhood during the last days of the Raj in India, the spectacular beauty surrounding their home, Rathgarven in Ireland has proven to be a happy place for Kathleen O'Sullivan and her husband, James, to raise their four children. But Kathleen is no stranger to heartbreak, and when the family is faced with losing everything, she knows they will need to adapt to survive. Even if that means leaving their beloved home and moving to Australia to start afresh.

Lillie O'Sullivan knows that her mother and father haven't been entirely truthful about the reasons for their move to Australia. But as they settle into their new home in rural New South Wales she is willing to give it a chance. That is, until the secrets her parents have kept for so long finally catch up with them.

Secrets that have the power to destroy their family and ruin their future.

From the vibrant colours of India to the meadows of Ireland to the harsh but beautiful Australian land, a family fights for their future.

My Thoughts

A somewhat epic family saga spanning around the world, from Ireland to Australia and set in the 1960s. This tale centres around a family who have to give up their family estate in Ireland and are forced take up a new adventure in outback Australia.

Whilst it seems appealing, there is a lot going on with this book trying to do too much in my opinion. There is a large cast of characters with backstories to match, full of many dramas.  However, few are dealt with in a way to engage the reader sufficiently despite the 500+ page reading. There really is not that much set in the last days of Raj, India which is rather disappointing - a cryptic prologue to try and engage the reader is about it. We then move to Ireland where the father loses the family estate which all seems rather unbelievable and out of character. There is this ‘mystery’ held over the reader for the entire book and it is not until the last 10% of the book that anything really happens with regards to a few key plot lines.

The story of two generations contains love and loss, secrets and betrayal with their  impact upon many of the family members. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot on offer with this read, but I felt that a condensed version focused purely on certain characters would have produced a more engaging and in depth read - certain sections were just too simplistic with the writing lacking depth. It rambles on a bit with some passages and interactions either irrelevant or drawn out for far too long.

The characters are, however, relatable and engaging (although I did have a real problem with Lillie’s reaction to her shock twist towards the end, as once again it seemed out of character) as it sweeps over many drama filled moments 1960s style.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.