Turtle Reef is Jennifer Scoullar's fifth novel, and her fourth engaging contemporary regional romance.
City girl Zoe King is thrilled when she lands he Turtle Reef is Jennifer Scoullar's fifth novel, and her fourth engaging contemporary regional romance.
City girl Zoe King is thrilled when she lands her dream job at a marine park and research center in Kiawa, a small town in northern Queensland, looking forward to working with the Reef Center's impressively credentialed director, Bridget Macalister. Though the job proves more demanding than she expected, Zoe quickly learns to embrace its challenges, impressed by Bridget's dedication to the center and delighted by the aquarium's residents, including their six rescue dolphins. Its the findings from Zoe's first research project, monitoring the local dugong population and mapping seagrass meadows, that alerts her to a problem not only with the reef, but also the operation of the marine center.
Conservation management and environmental protection is a major theme of this novel. Set in a small sugar cane community on the Queensland coast, Scoullar writes of the risks outdated cane farming practices poses to the coastal environment, the general threats to our fragile marine ecosystem as well as the desirability of rehabilitating wild creatures for return to their natural environment.
The intrigue in the novel is a touch slow to develop but I enjoyed the measured unraveling of secrets. The suspense is fairly low key for most of the novel but the danger Zoe faces when she comes too close to working out exactly what is going on came as a surprise, raising the tension considerably.
There is an unconventional romance for Zoe in Turtle Reef. Quinn Cooper is a fifth generation local cane farmer and a caring guardian of his brain injured younger brother, Josh. Zoe is attracted to his good looks and down to earth charm from their first meeting, but as Bridget's long term boyfriend, Quinn is strictly off limits. I have to be honest, I found the relationship a little odd, though the chemistry is there, the circumstances are awkward.
The Reef Center is home to a half dozen rescue dolphins, given delightful personalities by Scoullar. I was charmed by Josh's interactions with them and saddened by the way in which they were betrayed. I was surprised to learn how intelligent octopuses can be, and fell in love with Einstein.
Scoullar's descriptions of the beauty of the reef and the ocean are highlights of the novel. "All around them lay a tapestry....Brightly coloured parrot fish abounded and were utterly fearless. Zoe could hear the soft chomping of their beaks as the grazed on the branching coral gardens. Blue-spotted lagoon rays scooted past,... and a shovelnose shark, with its strange triangular snout."
Turtle Reef is a lovely novel from a storyteller whose fiction evokes the romance of the Australian landscape, and the heart.
Lizzy Chandler's debut novel, Snowy River Man, is an engaging contemporary romance, with an edge of suspense, set in rural Australia.
Katrina Delaney Lizzy Chandler's debut novel, Snowy River Man, is an engaging contemporary romance, with an edge of suspense, set in rural Australia.
Katrina Delaney is stunned when she learns that the lost and frightened child she has seen in her dream is Jack Fairley's son. Seven years ago she and Jack spent a single passionate night together, only for everything to fall apart the morning after. Jack Fairley is frantic when his young son disappears while at a rodeo, seemingly without a trace, and he is willing to do anything to ensure his safe return, even if that means accepting the help of Katrina Delaney. Though wary of their history, Katrina and Jack are determined to put aside their differences in order to ensure Nick's safe recovery but in saving the lost boy, they just may lose their hearts.
I really like the bones of the story, for such a short novel (just 165 pages) the author has developed a well layered plot, even if several elements seem somewhat truncated. The main conflicts expose personal and professional betrayal and shocking family secrets providing plenty of dramatic tension. The suspense is well crafted and nicely paced.
Katrina is an interesting character, only recently having found some sense of equilibrium after enduring several difficult years related to a tragic loss and the intrusiveness of her psychic gift, it's brave of her to offer Jack her help, knowing she could be opening herself up to more pain. Jack is a fairly typical leading man for the genre, he has made mistakes but in general is kind and honourable. He is a loving father and a savvy businessman though it's his rugged farming persona that I found most appealing.(I have to mention too, I am a fan of the cover model representing him - yum!) The chemistry between Katrina and Jack is portrayed well, their simmering attraction, complicated by the past, eventually boils over in a sensual scene.
I must admit I wish the author had chosen to exploit the story's potential and developed Snowy River Man into a full length novel but it is a quick, engaging read offering an appealing tale of love, betrayal, forgiveness and family.
SJ Watson's debut, Before I Go To Sleep was a smash hit and I imagine the pressure to produce a similarly successful novel has been immense.
London wi SJ Watson's debut, Before I Go To Sleep was a smash hit and I imagine the pressure to produce a similarly successful novel has been immense.
London wife and mother, Julia, is devastated when she is informed her younger sister, Kate, has been murdered by an unknown assailant in a Parisian alleyway. Half crazed with grief and guilt, Julia becomes obsessed with finding Kate's killer, infiltrating an online 'hook-up' service her sister used in search of suspects. Lukas is one of the first men to respond to her tentative approach, and though she quickly dismisses him as a suspect in her sister's murder, Julia can't seem to extract herself from the connection they have made. Her stolen moments with Lukas are a reprieve from her despair but as their relationship transitions from the virtual to the real world, Julia's 'second life' unwittingly puts everything she has, and those she loves most, at risk.
What Watson does particularly well in Second Life is create a close, tense and increasingly disorientating atmosphere as Julia's life spirals out of control.
My dissatisfaction with this novel can be laid at the feet of Watson's protagonist, Julia. I just didn't buy into her behaviour, despite the author's rationalisations of grief and guilt. I found Julia to be painfully frustrating - naive, self obsessed, and later, wontingly self destructive.
Unable to invest in the character, I then struggled with the plot, which relies on Julia's poor judgment to progress. There is tension and some surprising twists but it wasn't enough to convince me to put aside my dislike of Julia. Perhaps the strongest element of the story is the pacy and shocking denouement, though I'm still not quite sure how I feel about its ambiguity.
Just barely an okay read, largely due to my frustration with the main character, unfortunately, I think Second Life suffers badly in comparison with Before I Go To Sleep....more
Belinda Bauer's backlist, including Rubbernecker, has been on my 'must read' list for quite some time but as it happens The Shut Eye is the first of h Belinda Bauer's backlist, including Rubbernecker, has been on my 'must read' list for quite some time but as it happens The Shut Eye is the first of her six published books I have read.
DCI John Marvel is haunted by the case of missing schoolgirl, Edie Evans, and resents being distracted from his investigation when he is tasked by his boss to find his wife's poodle. Marvel couldn't care less about the fate of Mitzi but when he is approached by Anna Buck, a young mother grieving for her own missing son, with information that seems to link Mitzi, Edie and Richard Latham, a local self-proclaimed psychic, his interest in the case is assured.
The Shut Eye is solid crime fiction with unexpected flashes of dark humour, unfolding from the perspectives of Marvel, Anna, and her husband James.
DCI John Marvel is a dogged and driven detective, but not a particularly nice man. He is brutally dismissive of his colleagues, his de facto partner, and suspicious of humanity in general. He is also a skeptic, and detests Latham's 'psychic' claims, so he is challenged by the inexplicable elements of the case even though he is willing to do anything to solve it.
James is shamed by the depth of his wife's grief, and feels guilty for the role he plays in it, but is at a loss as to how to help her. A mechanic, he works in the garage next door to their flat with a motley assortment of illegal colleagues, doing little else than putting one foot in front of the other every day.
Five months after her four year old son slipped out of the front door of their home, accidentally left ajar by her husband, and vanished without a trace, Anna Buck is still crazed with grief. Bauer's portrayal of Anna's emotional agony is raw and affecting, she is teetering on the edge of a complete breakdown when she reaches out to Latham.
The paranormal element of the story comes into play when Anna visits Latham's 'church' in search of answers. Though he refuses to help her, soon after Anna believes she is either experiencing visions, or has finally gone mad.
The Shut Eye is a good read, but I thought the characters were more convincing than the plot. I enjoyed the uncertainty Bauer created by blurring the line between proof and visions, and offering multiple suspects. The ending didn't quite sit right for me though, feeling a little rushed and aspects of it unlikely. ...more
Set in provincial France during the late 1800's, Doctor Death is the first book in a new historical mystery series from Lene Kaaberbøl, featuring Made Set in provincial France during the late 1800's, Doctor Death is the first book in a new historical mystery series from Lene Kaaberbøl, featuring Madeleine Karno.
"My father was reluctant to let me assist when he examined the dead. He said it could only hurt my reputation and my future – by which he meant my chances of marriage. For the most part, my father was a man of progress, absorbed by the newest ideas and the latest technology. But he was incomprehensibly old-fashioned on this particular point."
The daughter of a widowed surgeon/coroner, Madeleine dreams of one day following in his footsteps but for now must be content with those rare times when her father allows her to assist him. Intelligent, rational and ambitious, Madeleine is an admirable character who chafes at the expectations of the era though rarely in an overt way. When her father is injured she seizes the opportunity to become more involved in his current case that begins with a dead girl, scarred with human bites, found on her snow covered doorstep.
Solving the complex mystery involves a combination of common investigation techniques led by Madeleine's father's colleague, the Commisioner, and the fledgling science of forensics utilised by Madeleine and her father. It is a strange case that involves an unidentified parasite, a missing boy, a pack of wolves, a murdered priest and it becomes increasingly unsettling as Madeleine gets closer to unmasking a killer. There are red herrings and twists that keep the reader guessing as Kaaberbøl explores the conflicts of human and beast, science and faith.
"Illness is not necessarily a punishment from God.... Sometimes it just comes to us. If we are lucky, it is a trial from which we can learn. Other times, we must just accept that we humans do not understand everything."
The tone is quite dark overall and there are elements of the story which readers may find disturbing. There is a touch of unconventional romance which will be interesting to see develop in further installments. The pace is good but the narrative does feel a little dry and formal at times, perhaps a consequence of the translation as much as a reflection of the period.
I did enjoy Doctor Death, the mystery was intriguing and Madeleine is an interesting lead but I have to admit I wasn't as engaged as I hoped to have been. I do hope to continue with the series though to see how it develops. ...more
A fast-paced high fantasy adventure, Red Queen introduces Victoria Aveyard's debut trilogy.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of Red Queen is its fairly formu A fast-paced high fantasy adventure, Red Queen introduces Victoria Aveyard's debut trilogy.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of Red Queen is its fairly formulaic concept. Aveyard pits an elite group - the Silvers - against an oppressed faction - the Reds. The Silvers, so called because of their silver blood, have a range of special abilities and hold all the wealth and power. The Reds, who bleed red blood, have no such gifts and are used as little more than slave labour or as fodder for the war with neighboring factions, subject to the whims of the ruling class. Enter the Scarlet Dawn, a band of Red rebels determined to overthrow the Silver's.
"We will rise, red as the dawn."
In terms of plot however, the author ably develops exciting conflict, intrigue, and betrayal. There is plenty of tension, high emotion and drama as Mare struggles to deal with the dangerous situation she finds herself trapped in. The story is fast paced with plenty of action and the obligatory romantic triangle, though with a surprising twist.
“I see a world on the edge of a blade. Without balance, it will fall.”
I liked Mare a lot, she is daring, feisty and loyal to those she loves. She has never simply accepted her lot in life as a Red, rebelling by becoming a petty thief in order to help support her family, and she jumps at the chance to become part of the revolution. Mare's idealism is tempered with a hard earned streak of pragmatism but it proves to be not quite enough to protect her from intrigue of the Silver Court. She makes mistakes, tending to take things at face value, and as such is vulnerable to placing her trust in the wrong people with dramatic consequences.
"It is impossible. It is foolish. It is our best chance."
The other main characters introduced in Red Queen also prove to be interesting, particularly the Silver Princes, Cal and Maven. Their complicated dynamic is integral to the plot development and Aveyard uses it well.
"He's strong, he's talented, he's powerful - and I'm his shadow. The shadow of the flame."
Entertaining and exciting I really enjoyed Red Queen and I am looking forward to the next book.
A quirky tale with a hint of magical realism, Lisa Walker's third novel, 'Arkie's Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing' is the story of one woman's search A quirky tale with a hint of magical realism, Lisa Walker's third novel, 'Arkie's Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing' is the story of one woman's search for all the things she has lost....including herself.
“I am forty-one years old but perhaps it is possible … Can my life begin again?”
A year ago, Arkie Douglas's life fell apart. Her husband left her when Arkie confessed to an affair, and shortly after her business failed, her trend forecasting mojo having deserted her. It's New Year's Eve and Arkie is waiting on a deserted platform in Byron Bay planning to throw herself under the next passing train when a young Japanese woman carrying a briefcase and a surfboard, strikes up a conversation. Despite herself, Arkie is intrigued by Haruko Iida and excited when she recognises her own brand of trend spotting magic in the twenty year old. Abandoning her plans for suicide, Arkie convinces Haruko to work with her, hoping to recover her career.
"Pilgrimages are so hot right now. I think they are the Next Big Thing."
The idea is Haruko's, suggesting society is ready for a resurgence of spirituality, self discovery and simplicity. Arkie enthusiastically embraces the idea but traveling to Japan is out of the question, so instead she proposes a journey closer to home, a pilgrimage to Australia's 'Big Things'. Traveling by train, bus and on foot, while avoiding the Yakuza and Arkie's ex husband's divorce lawyer, Arkie and Haruko set out their unusual pilgrimage in search of the Next Big Thing.
From the Big Redback Spider, to the Big Banana and the Big Prawn, Arkie and Haruko look past the peeling paint and wire fences to find the beauty and meaning in the outsized icons. Their adventure is blessed by the Shinto Gods and smiling Buddha's found in unlikely places, but they face challenges on the 'yellow brick road' along the way. Arkie in particular is forced to reflect on the root causes of her present unhappiness and look closer to home for fulfilment . I enjoyed traveling to the Big Things with Arkie and Haruko, I have visited a few in my time. In fact the town where I live is home to The Big Oyster. It was once a restaurant, housing a roadside cafe underneath for highway travellers heading North, but the bypass forced its closure and the site was redeveloped, so now the Big Oyster is empty, presiding over a car dealership.
Truthfully Arkie doesn't engender a lot of sympathy, she is self absorbed and a confessed adulterer, but I could sort of relate to the questions she is struggling with. Her life has imploded and she is lost, looking for a way to regain her equilibrium. Haruko is an unlikely spiritual guide in the guise of a quirky, hip Japanese girl. An enigmatic character with an ethereal quality, she is self possessed with a talent for reinventing herself.
Arkie's Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing is an offbeat, sometimes surreal, contemporary novel that will have you reminiscing about your last visit to one of Australia's 'Big Things' and perhaps yearning for your own spiritual road-trip.
Anna Olmstead is just nine when she meets Asher, a dashing, centuries old vampire who rescues her from her father pimping both his daughter's magical talent and more to any one with a few dollars. Asher is her saviour, he provides her a life of wealth and privilege, love and protection and as Anna grows she is determined to always be at his side. At fourteen she becomes Asher's legal consort and later his lover, believing all of her dreams have come true. Eventually however the relationship begins to sour as Asher's true nature asserts itself, and things begin to spiral out of control. Still she can't let go, and Asher refuses to free her, until one murderous, bloody night. Almost a decade later Anna is happily married and the mother of two young sons, her life with Asher behind her, when an attempt is made to kidnap her and Anna has no choice except to confront the man she once loved with all her heart.
Witch Upon a Star is actually a story of corrupted innocence and dark obsession. There is little humour, and the themes are confronting touching on child abuse, drug addiction and exploitation. Don't get me wrong, the novel is well written and the story is quite affecting but I was thrown by the unexpected seriousness.
To be fair the synopsis hints at the seriousness of the story but the whimsical title, cutesy cover and the reputation of the author for snarky humour, contradicts it. As long as the reader is aware of what they are getting into, Witch Upon A Star is a good read....more
Rage Against the Dying caught my attention when it was nominated for both The Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger and the Edgar Award for Best Firs Rage Against the Dying caught my attention when it was nominated for both The Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. I was further intrigued to learn the protagonist is a retired fifty something year old female FBI agent.
Brigid Quinn is a women with a secret. She lives happily with her new husband, Carlo, and their two pugs, in a nice house in Tuscon, Arizona and spends her days combing the nearby wash for interesting rocks and learning to cook. Yet just a few short years ago, Brigid hunted sexual predators killers and human traffickers as an agent with the F.B.I. In Rage Against the Dying one of her past cases comes back to haunt her when a man is arrested and claims to be the 'Route 66' killer, responsible for the murders of a dozen women, including Brigid's protegee, Jessica. Floyd Lynch's confession is compelling, he is aware of details the FBI never released and leads them to what remains of Jessica's body, nevertheless when Agent Laura Coleman voices her doubts Brigid feels she owes it to Jessica, and her still grieving father, to investigate.
Fast paced, with plenty of tense, gritty, action, Rage Against the Dying is a complex mystery. The main plot centers around the confession of the serial killer and Brigid's doubts about it, but is further complicated by attempts on Brigid's life, another missing FBI agent and 'office' politics. The plot twists and turns, and though at times it relies on some contrivances that are a bit of a stretch, it offers an interesting story.
I love that Brigid is an older woman who remains feisty, resourceful and even sexual. She is complicated, flawed, and damaged but I found I both liked and respected her. Her cynicism is offset by her emotional vulnerability, and her confidence by her past failures. On a couple of occasions though I thought the author allowed Brigid to make mistakes an experienced agent wouldn't for the sake of the plot, which was a tiny bit disappointing.
Rage Against the Dying is an introduction to a series I think has real potential and I am looking forward to reading Fear the Darkness: A Thriller
Sullivan stepped up onto the low wall and peered over the edge. The job of obliterating himself shouldn't be a huge effort, considering he'd made so l Sullivan stepped up onto the low wall and peered over the edge. The job of obliterating himself shouldn't be a huge effort, considering he'd made so little meaningful impact on the world."
Sullivan Moss is useless, once a handsome and charming young man with the world at his feet he is now a puffy faced, unemployed, near forty year old, divorced alcoholic. Wracked with guilt and regret after the death of one of his best friends, he decides to commit suicide by jumping from a building only to fall the wrong way. Waking up in hospital with bruises and concussion, a casual comment from a nurse gives Sully an idea, he can do one useful thing before his next suicide attempt, he can donate a kidney to a stranger.
To everyone's surprise, including his own, Sully begins to turn his life around, determined to honour his commitment. He sobers up and gets a job removing hazardous asbestos. He makes an attempt to repair some of the bridges he burned and makes a friend of his reluctant landlady Natalie, and her son Louis. Redemption isn't going to be easy though.
With a blend of black humour and soap opera like drama, Oswald explores the regrets for the life not lived. It's not just Sully who is struggling with the disappointments of middle age, his best mate Tim is bewildered by his unhappy marriage, and Natalie is beginning to wonder if she will spend the rest of her life alone, living in her mother's spare bedroom.
The narrative is sharp, funny and insightful. I enjoyed the writing though some may be offended by instances of crude language. The mix of slightly surreal and familiar scenario's works well and the story is well paced.
A story about finding meaning and purpose in life, about changing the things you can, and accepting those you can't, Useful is an entertaining read from Australian playwright, author and television scriptwriter (most notably for Offspring), Debra Oswald.
Things in Half Shadow is an entertaining mystery thriller with a paranormal twist, set in postbellum Philadelphia, in which author Alan Finn (the pen Things in Half Shadow is an entertaining mystery thriller with a paranormal twist, set in postbellum Philadelphia, in which author Alan Finn (the pen name of Todd Ritter) introduces an unusual crime solving duo - independently wealthy crime reporter, Edward Clark and brazen confidence trickster, Lucy Collins, who become unlikely allies when they are present at the death of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city's most highly regarded medium.
Edward tells the tale of Things Half in Shadow as an old man sharing the story with his granddaughter. The two lead characters are wonderfully drawn, interesting and believable with intriguing secrets. Edward is a gentleman, a veteran of the civil war, independently wealthy and engaged to a young lady of society. Tasked by his editor to expose Philadelphia's psychic fraudsters preying on the grieving families of those lost in the war, he is reluctant to do so, though he has a secret that makes him uniquely qualified for the feature. Mrs. Lucy Collins claims to be a 'spiritually gifted' young widow, offering her services as a medium to the bereaved of Philadelphia and is Edward's first target for his newspaper expose. In truth she is a 'fallen' woman, successfully scamming Philadelphia society with simple sleight of hand.
The plot sees Edward and Lucy forced to cooperate in the wake of Pastor's murder to clear their names, despite their mutual antipathy. There are several suspects including the other man and women who were in attendance at the seance, Leonora's husband and a mysterious man in black who seems to be shadowing Edward. The suspense is well crafted, and the mystery behind Leonora's unusual death is much more complex than it seems, eventually exposing a startling conspiracy that stretches back into Edward's past.
Historically atmospheric, with a surprise cameo from PT Barnum, Things Half in Shadow is a great mystery tale, and one of my favourite books for 2014. Finn hints that Edward and Lucy may return soon, I can't wait. ...more
Phoebe Maxwell is getting married and she is determined that the occasion will be the catalyst which mends the rift between her two older sisters, Eve Phoebe Maxwell is getting married and she is determined that the occasion will be the catalyst which mends the rift between her two older sisters, Eve and Tash. To that end, she insists on having her wedding at the family home and winery, Tawny Brooks, necessitating all hands on deck to repair the restaurant her fiance and Eve once ran on the grounds. Eve and Tash are both reluctant to return home, but for reasons that have little to do with their feud. The Maxwell sisters are keeping secrets... and they aren't the only ones.
With warmth and humour Hill introduces a family bound by love but divided by secrets. Everyone wants Phoebe to have the wedding of her dreams so they are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen but putting aside their own problems is more difficult than they expect. As the story unfolds we learn of Eve's guilty conscience, Tash's heartbreaking tragedy and that Phoebe is keeping secrets of her own.
Hill's characters are easy like and relate to, Phoebe is the optimist, Eve the pessimist and Tash the perfectionist. The Maxwell patriarch is considered to be a little crazy and the girls Greek mother is all about family and food. The men in the sister's lives, Heath, Spider and Adonis..uh Adam, are all quite different but prove to be more than capable of holding their own against the Maxwell clan.
The relationships between the family, the sisters and their various lovers are well drawn, though I did think one couple declared true love a little too early to be sensible. It's perhaps the only off note that mars the plot which includes a touch of suspense, a healthy dose of romance, and lust, and plenty of drama.
Hill has left behind the dry and dusty Pilbara and set this novel in the fertile southern region of the state. I spent many of my school holidays in and around the area of Margaret River, so I particularly enjoyed being able to visit towns familiar to me.
The Maxwell Sisters, Loretta Hill's fifth novel, is an engaging story about love, relationships, loyalty and family. Enjoy it with a glass of Western Australian wine....more
Life or Death is Michael Robotham's tenth novel, a rare stand alone from one of Australia's favourite crime fiction author's, best known for his O’Lou Life or Death is Michael Robotham's tenth novel, a rare stand alone from one of Australia's favourite crime fiction author's, best known for his O’Loughlin/Ruiz series.
Inspired by a real life news report, Robotham has built his story around the character of Audie Palmer who, after serving ten years in prison, escapes the day before his scheduled release. No one understands why Audie would run when he risks an extended sentence if caught, but it's assumed that it has something to do with the unrecovered $7 million dollars stolen during the robbery he was convicted of committing.
It soon becomes obvious however that Audie isn't motivated by money, hunted by the authorities and criminals alike, he is on a mission to save a life. Despite what Audie stands accused of, he quickly becomes such a likeable character, a victim of bad luck and worse luck, he demonstrates an enviable strength of character to rise above it all. He is the ultimate underdog, battling to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds.
Flashbacks provide the details of Audie's back story, explaining his present predicament. The twists and turns of the plot are well executed, even if a touch predictable. I read Life or Death in a matter of hours, Robotham's fluid writing, and tight pacing ensures this is a page turner.
An entertaining read with a great premise, appealing characters and a strong and satisfying ending, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Life or Death....more