Pip Williams blends history with imagination, weaving a captivating, poignant tale of desire, duty, grief a“Your job is to bind books, not read them…”
Pip Williams blends history with imagination, weaving a captivating, poignant tale of desire, duty, grief and love in The Bookbinder of Jericho, a companion novel to her award winning fiction debut, The Dictionary of Lost Words.
Set within the bindery of the Oxford University Clarendon Press, we are introduced to Peggy, who, wielding her late mother’s bonefolder, gathers and folds the pages of books she dreams of studying at University, but as a Town, with the added responsibility of her vulnerable twin sister, Maude, such ambition has always seemed impossible. Then World War I breaks out, heralding change that seems to bring the future Peggy wants within her grasp, but war always calls for sacrifice.
Told in five parts, beginning in 1914 and ending in 1918, The Bookbinder of Jericho is well grounded in historical fact, exploring the gatekeeping of education and knowledge, womens suffrage, the horrors of war, post traumatic stress, and the devastating spread of Spanish Flu. It’s also a thought provoking and emotional story, rendering longing, romance, heartache, and loss with sincerity.
Peggy is a complex central figure, intelligent and dutiful but prickly, her resentment of all she is denied, by her gender, her social status, and her responsibilities, is never far from the surface. Though they are identical in looks, Maude’s contented nature and simple needs contrasts sharply with that of her twin. The supporting characters, including family friend Tilda (who appeared in The Dictionary of Lost Words), and Belgian refugees Lotte and Bastiaan, are well drawn and enrich the story.
Evocative prose effortlessly conjures movement and place. I found it easy to visualise the sisters crowded narrowboat lined with books and manuscripts, the balletic grace of the bindery women sweeping pages into their arms, the intimidating architecture of Oxford University, and Maude carefully folding her array of colourful paper stars.
The Bookbinder of Jericho is a rich, lyrical, beautifully crafted novel, I won’t hesitate to recommend....more
“Herein I intend to provide an honest account of my day-to-day activities in the field as I document an enigmatic species of faerie called “Hidden One“Herein I intend to provide an honest account of my day-to-day activities in the field as I document an enigmatic species of faerie called “Hidden Ones.””
Offering a delightful blend of mystery, adventure, romance and magic, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is an enchanting historical fantasy from Heather Fawcett.
Emily Wilde, a Cambridge Professor and dryadologist writing an encyclopaedia about the known species of Folk and their lore, arrives in the remote village of Hrafnsvik on an island off the Norwegian coast hoping to learn the secrets of its elusive indigenous fae. Related through Emily’s journal entries, Emily soon encounters her quarry, befriending a brownie she calls Poe, and meeting an unhappy changeling, but it’s after two young women vanish from the village that Emily must confront the regions rather terrifying courtly fae, and finds herself at the mercy of an imprisoned Faerie King.
Though she is uptight and has few people skills to speak of, Emily is an endearing character, who I thought intelligent, earnest and brave. Conditions are tough in Ljosland but content with just her faithful dog, Shadow, for company, Emily is looking forward to months of solitary field work, so she is not pleased by the unexpected arrival of fellow academic, Wendell Brambley. Wendell is in many way Emily’s opposite. Cheerful and charismatic with uncommonly good sewing skills, he exasperates Emily in a manner no other does. Though Emily pretends otherwise, she recognises there is something special about Wendell. Wendell’s charm does prove to be a boon for Emily, especially in her dealings with the villagers, whom she inadvertently offends, and later in dealing with fae. I enjoyed the pair’s banter, and their friendship that hints at the development of something more.
Though the pacing may seem a little slow to begin, it does improve. Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is not all light and whimsy, Fawcett’s world of Folk has its dark side. There are moments of drama, suspense and action that include faery trickery, abduction and sword fights.
I think Fawcett got the tone of the narrative right in that it reflects the formality of the period (the book is set in 1909), and Emily’s own scholarly propriety. The footnotes, which are not too extensive, also fit the style.
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries is a captivating read, and I’m pleased to know that a second book is expected in early 2024. ...more
Taken is the second thrilling book to feature Detective Sergeant Kathryn Miles who was introduced in Dinuka McKenzie’s bestselling debut, Torrent.
PickTaken is the second thrilling book to feature Detective Sergeant Kathryn Miles who was introduced in Dinuka McKenzie’s bestselling debut, Torrent.
Picking up several months after the dramatic final scenes of the previous book, Kate has just returned to work following maternity leave and is eager to return to active duty. A domestic disturbance call gives Kate the opportunity she needs to prove herself ready, and results in her being assigned as co-lead detective in an infant abduction.
Four month old Sienna Ricci, her mother, Ellisa reports, was taken from her home while she showered. As the team investigates, Kate’s partner becomes convinced the baby’s father, Aaron Ricci, is responsible for the abduction and she is taken off the case, even though Kate believes she has a viable alternative suspect in Jason Veliu, a violent man Kate recently had cause to arrest.
With a child’s well-being at stake, the tension is high in Taken. The plot is well thought out with several red herrings, though I found it relatively easy to discern who was responsible early on. The story has good momentum and there is action too as Kate finds herself risking her life in two separate confrontations with desperate people. Sensitive readers should be aware that domestic violence, adultery and postnatal depression are among the issues that are raised in the crimes Kate is investigating.
Kate is under a lot of personal pressure in Taken. While struggling with the effects of PTSD, she is also trying to find a balance between the needs of her husband and children, and the demands of her career. On top of this, the media have picked up on a story involving her father's late partner’s business activity which could implicate them both in a corruption scandal, amplifying her concerns about the family’s finances. Determined not to be seen as lacking, Kate doesn’t always make sensible decisions, but she acts for the right reason.
Suspenseful, fast paced and gripping, Taken is an excellent read, perfect for fans of Australian crime fiction from authors such as Jane Harper, Chris Hammer and Emma Viskic....more
“I am a menopausal woman, standing here before you all in a lather of sweat, terrified that I might forget a word in the middle of a sentence with the“I am a menopausal woman, standing here before you all in a lather of sweat, terrified that I might forget a word in the middle of a sentence with the threat of brain fog that looms over me on a daily basis as I sit at my desk and attempt to write to a deadline. I have insomnia, none of my clothes fit me, and there’s a chance I’m more irritable than I used to be.”
Accepting an invitation to join a panel at the Flights of Fancy Writers Festival feels like a gamble for Agatha Doyle who is supposed to be writing her next bestseller, but is instead documenting her menopause symptoms in a diary which her GP insists will be helpful in reducing her stress. Agatha has her doubts. Still, despite brain fog, hot flushes, resentment, and blistered, bloodied stumps, Agatha is holding it all together until a Beardy Man from the author asks the wrong question and Agatha’s ensuing rant goes viral, making her an icon for menopausal women everywhere.
As a woman experiencing the vagaries of the onset of menopause myself, I really enjoyed Queen Bee. Written in the form of a diary, entries often begin a list of symptoms that are all too familiar to me.
Those symptoms, which include (but are not limited to) insomnia, resentment, rage, brain fog, hot flushes and anxiety are bad enough, but add a full house that includes Agatha’s recently widowed father, her father’s girlfriend’s dog, LulaBelle; her heartbroken son Colm; her college drop out son Aiden, who is building a beehive in the backyard; and her husband Luke, plus financial concerns regarding their family business, and it’s new gorgeous waitress, it’s no wonder Agatha is overwhelmed, and stymied by writers block. She is rather bewildered by her new ‘heroine’ status, particularly since she feels like she’s not handling things well at all.
I couldn’t help but empathise with Agatha and found her to be a very appealing character. I enjoyed her sense of humour, which is quite heavy on the sarcasm, and her blunt assessments of everything. Agatha’s ‘conversations’ with her late mother add a layer of poignancy to the story, and her struggle to maintain her equilibrium attracts sympathy.
Witty, smart and ingenuous, Queen Bee is an entertaining, easy read....more
When Sean Preston’s first serious relationship ends, the social media moderator makes a list. Get body back in shape. Visit Meredith. Call Mum. Don’t When Sean Preston’s first serious relationship ends, the social media moderator makes a list. Get body back in shape. Visit Meredith. Call Mum. Don’t date. He also needs to find somewhere else to live, crashing with his best friend, and former girlfriend, Abby can only be a temporary solution.
Eager to restore his self esteem, Sean throws himself back into the world of hook ups via Grindr, convinced now that exclusive partnerships are antithesis to the gay lifestyle, despite the current campaign with regards to the Same Sex Marriage plebiscite. Yet the rewards seem increasingly hollow.
As Sean is struggling to find his place in the world, he meets William, a nurse at the home where Meredith, suffering late stage dementia, is confined. Her impending death, a mystery correspondent and William’s friendship, forces Sean to face the emotional traumas he carries, and re-claim his pride.
The author thoughtfully explores issues such as identity, homophobia, acceptance, and friendship. Sean initially presents as shallow and narcissistic, playing up to the media stereotype of a promiscuous gay party boy, but as the story unfolds his avoidance of intimacy begins to make sense. With compassion and insight Rutledge slowly strips away Sean’s outward persona to expose his vulnerability, guilt, and loneliness.
William is a sweet foil for Sean, and I really liked the way Rutledge developed the relationship between the two men. What starts as a sort of mercenary exchange becomes something more meaningful and moving. William, and his friends, also illustrate the diversity of the gay community, and model an alternative lifestyle for Sean.
Tender, forthright, entertaining and poignant, I enjoyed A Man and His Pride....more
Crime fiction with a speculative twist, In the Blink of an Eye is an impressive debut from British author, Jo Callaghan.
DSC Kat Frank, newly returned Crime fiction with a speculative twist, In the Blink of an Eye is an impressive debut from British author, Jo Callaghan.
DSC Kat Frank, newly returned from bereavement leave, is unhappy when her boss directs her to lead a pilot program to test the suitability of using an AIDE (Artificially Intelligent Detective Entity) in a police investigation. Professor Okonedo, determined to better the operation of the force, asserts that the AIDE is not only capable of collating and analysing vast amounts of data in a fraction of the time required by a human, but has been programmed to filter out the bias and prejudice that can taint investigations. Kat doesn’t believe algorithms can truly account for the vagaries of humankind, or replace the experience and instincts she, like most good police officers, often rely on.
With input from her small handpicked team, consisting of DI Ryan Hassan and DS Debbie Browne, along with AIDE Lock, who presents as a lifelike hologram with the default appearance is as a fairly nondescript 6ft tall white male, and Professor Okonedo as an observer, Kat selects two missing person cold cases for them to review. Unexpectedly the investigation’s into the current whereabouts of university student Tyrone Walters and wanna be actor Will Robinson converge when the team discovers a sinister link in their disappearances.
Essentially In the Blink of an Eye is a police procedural, Kat and her squad conduct interviews, investigate clues and gather evidence to explain the fate of the missing men. Callaghan develops a solid mystery and I thought it played out well. There’s plenty of tension, enhanced by the anonymous perspective of a young man suffering at the hands of shadowy figures, and effective twists in the plot.
The speculative elements of the novel are thought-provoking. The conflict inherent in Kat and Lock’s different approaches to investigation, and how each affects the case, is fascinating, with the strengths and weaknesses of both methods fairly illustrated. Lock’s superior ability to gather and analyse information is undeniable but Kat proves that empathy, discretion, and an understanding of nuance are also valuable investigative tools.
I really enjoyed the unique dynamics of Kat and Lock’s partnership. Kat is a likeable lead character. As a decorated police officer, with 25 years of experience in the force, Kat is a dedicated investigator who has confidence in her abilities, but she is a little emotionally fragile given the recent death of her husband, caused in part by of a misdiagnosis by an AI, which fuels her antagonistic attitude towards the AIDE. Kat is also a mother, with her teenage son on the cusp of relocating to begin university, and as such there are aspects of the cases that she strongly relates to. It’s surprisingly difficult to refrain from ascribing human motivations and emotions to AIDE Lock. Solely driven by statistics and logic, though capable of deep learning that gives it the ability to adjust its behaviours, it nevertheless has a distinct character which I really grew to like.
With its clever, provocative premise and appealing, complex characters, In the Blink of an Eye is a compelling novel, and I believe only the first of what promises to be a great series...more
Red Dirt Road is the third police procedural to feature Detective Dana Russo from former police officer S.R. White.
In the wake of the internal politicRed Dirt Road is the third police procedural to feature Detective Dana Russo from former police officer S.R. White.
In the wake of the internal political manoeuvring in Prisoner, Dana has been sent to Unamurra, a tiny outback community with a population of 82 people and given just two days to solve the murders of two locals. Discovered a month apart, the bodies of Larry Muir and Tim Ogden were found shot in the heart and strung up on mobile art installations representing angels. Dana has concerns about the original investigation which yielded no witnesses, suspects or motive, and knows she needs to try something different if she is going to get results, and save her career.
It seems to me that the author has drawn some inspiration from the true crime mystery centred on the Australian town of Larrimah for Red Dirt Town. There are definitely some similar elements, though White tells his own story.
In what is essentially a ‘locked room’ mystery, in that the murderer must be one of Unamurra’s residents, Dana has limited resources to work with. Her usual team isn’t with her, she’s wary of the assistance offered by the town’s police officer, Abel Barillo, and the community doesn’t seem invested in finding the truth.
There’s not a lot of action in Red Dirt Road, and despite the time pressure Dana is under I felt Red Dirt Road lacked a sense of urgency, though the mystery, and the motive is intriguing.
The information Dana needs to solve the case comes slowly as she takes an oblique approach to the case. With plenty of possible suspects, White develops several red herrings, but it’s deciphering the unusual dynamics of the town that will prove crucial to Russo solving the murders.
Not my favourite of the series so far, but Red Dirt Road is still an interesting read. ...more
The One and Only Dolly Jamieson is a charming and uplifting novel from Australian author Lisa Ireland.
Once a sought after Broadway/West End performer The One and Only Dolly Jamieson is a charming and uplifting novel from Australian author Lisa Ireland.
Once a sought after Broadway/West End performer and television star, seventy-eight year old Dolly Jamieson spends her days in a London library, and her nights in a stranger’s rarely used shed. There’s little danger of her being recognised as no one wishes to look too closely at the homeless, in fact most people choose to ignore her. Dolly tries not to take offence, she knows she doesn’t look, or smell, her best but she misses being seen.
When Jane Leveson stumbles into the library, looking lost and on the verge of tears, Dolly feels compelled to reach out and offer the woman comfort. Jane sees past Dolly’s worn coat and unkempt hair and their conversation sparks a connection that grows as Jane offers to help Dolly turn her scribbled notes into a memoir.
With a dual timeline that shifts smoothly between the past and present, we learn how Dolly, born Margie Ferguson in Geelong, Victoria, overcame hardship and tragedy in her determination to become a star, and the subsequent trajectory of her life. Despite the ills that have befallen her, and the mistakes she has made, Dolly is a delightful character, and admire her optimism.
As she and Jane work together to tell Dolly’s story Ireland reveals more about what is troubling Jane. Dolly’s gentle sympathy and nonjudgmental attitude is a balm to Jane who is struggling under the weight of her own regrets. Ireland stunned me with the reveal of Jane’s whole story, it a was very unexpected and hit hard.
Ireland addresses a number of sensitive issues in the novel including adoption and suicide, but particularly highlights the shocking increase in homelessness amongst women aged 65 and over, and includes a note that outlines the extent of the problem.
Written with warmth, tenderness and humour, The One and Only Dolly Jamieson is a really lovely read....more
Saha is a disquieting dystopian story from Korean author Cho Nam-Joo that explores oppression, privilege, humanity and suffering.
Saha Estate, a decayiSaha is a disquieting dystopian story from Korean author Cho Nam-Joo that explores oppression, privilege, humanity and suffering.
Saha Estate, a decaying block of housing units, is home to a disenfranchised assortment of residents, ‘nobodies’, who eke out an existence on the fringes of an independent, corporate controlled country, ruled by an anonymous board known only as The Council of Ministers, and referred to as ‘Town’.
The narrative begins with Jin-Kyung, a young woman whose younger brother, Do-kyung, survives a suicide pact with his high status girlfriend only to be accused of murdering her. When he disappears, Jin-Kyung’s anger at yet another injustice festers, and compounds, until she gathers her courage to confront its architects.
A series of character vignettes follows, illustrating the lives of past and current Saha outcasts including Do-kyung and his girlfriend Su, the building’s caretaker simply called “Old man”, long-time resident, Granny Konnim, and her unusual adopted granddaughter, Woomi. I was quite caught up in these heartbreaking tales of bad luck, prejudice, violence and desperation. To me each sketch highlights the ways in which somebody can become nobody, sometimes through no fault of their own.
Though there is death and secrets in Saha, I would not label it as a mystery. The focus of Saha is on exploring themes that echo current social issues, including the inequity of rampant capitalism, the effects of the pandemic, and the struggle of disenfranchised populations, especially immigrants.
Despite some interesting elements, I found Saha to be a generally sad, bleak story. Though only a short novel it is not a quick read, and offered what I felt was little payoff....more