Book reviews from CloggieDownunder

New South Wales, Australia

Number of reviews
Average review
CloggieDownunder's average rating is 4 of 5 Stars.
On Mar 5 2024, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 3 of 5 Stars.

The Girl With The Green Eyes is the first book in the Take Them Back series by J.M. Briscoe. In 1995, Julia D'accourt drives her nine-year-old genetically engineered daughter, Bella, to Cumbria, to the lab at the Aspira Research Centre where she was made. Beautiful Bella, she complains, uses her unnaturalness to manipulate others. "Take her back!" she demands of Dr Frederick Blake. He does.

In October 2018, having realised that her cover is blown, the thirty-two-year-old woman posing as Professor Elodie Guerre collects her daughter from school and they drive, with much complaint from nearly-teenaged Ariana, to a safe cottage somewhere on the Cornwall coast.

She knows that a team from the Aspira Research Centre will be on their trail. And possibly another, even more dangerous person. The mother in her needs to balance the need for caution with scaring her daughter too much, but she is unaware that Ri has a second mobile phone, until it is too late.

The dual-timeline narrative is related by several characters, detailing what happens to young Bella in Cumbria, the shocking incident that precipitated her withdrawal from the ARC and, thirteen years on, her flight with Ri to Cornwall and what ensues..

Possibly a product of the slow drip-feed of the story via The Pigeonhole, but this reader isn't tempted by the cliff-hanger ending to continue the series. Speculative science fiction that will appeal to some. This unbiased review is from an e-copy provided by BAD PRESS iNK and The Pigeonhole.


by Cathy Kelly

On Mar 5 2024, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Sisterhood is the twenty-second novel by best-selling Irish author, Cathy Kelly. When, soon after her fiftieth birthday party, Lou Fielding takes off to Sligo, and then Sicily, with her younger sister, Toni, her daughter Emily isn't worried: it's about time her mother took time for herself. Lou's disorganised husband, Ned assumes she'll soon forgive him for forgetting to buy her a gift.

Her sculptress mother, Lillian, though, is quite put out that her normally biddable daughter isn't at her beck and call to see to the menial chores with which she, as a creative, shouldn't have to bother. And her ungrateful employers at Blossom Flowers are just about frantic that Lou isn't answering her phone when a wealthy client is expecting Lou's personal attention and the young business-degreed new hire hasn't a clue.

They have all taken her for granted, a situation for which Lou does bear some responsibility: she tended to make her own needs so minuscule that nobody remembered them. "Why did she feel that she had no right to bother other people with her problems when they had no problem bothering her with theirs?"

There are seven years between Lou and Toni, and nobody would have even guessed they were sisters. Toni is utterly self-contained and confident, while Lou could fit her self-confidence in one of the tiny, enamelled pill boxes their aunt Gloria collected. Toni has a wildly popular TV show, she also mentors as part of the Women in Business charity. It wasn't that Toni was an absent sister, but she had a big life and, by contrast, Lou felt her own life was small.

But now, Toni has problems of her own: a husband who has betrayed her trust, but not in the usual way; and a nasty businessman who has recorded an angry tirade that amounts to career suicide. She needs time to think about what to do, and distraction when it gets a bit overwhelming, and their quest in Sicily is just the ticket.

And Sicily? That's because of the shockingly insensitive revelation Lillian made at the party about Lou's parentage. Just to add a little more spice to the trip, they acquire a very appreciative hitchhiker who gives them a youthful perspective on life's problems and joys.

Kelly certainly has the knack for producing a lump in the throat, of making the jaw drop at some of the behaviour of her characters, and of providing laugh out loud at some of the dialogue. Her characters are mostly appealing and she gives them wise words and insightful observations. Lou eventually notes: "People treated you how you allowed them to treat you" and understands that "Her mother was very successful at only worrying about what she cared to worry about", while Toni tells her "There were no princes in life – women needed to rescue themselves and they helped each other." Topical, moving and thought-provoking. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and the publisher.

Rapture In Death

by J D Robb

On Mar 3 2024, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Rapture In Death is the fourth book in the popular In Death series by American author, J.D. Robb. Her three-week honeymoon with Roark is cut short when the apparent suicide of a crew member at his still-under-construction off-planet resort on Olympus sees Lieutenant Eve Dallas donning her cop hat. Jack Carter can't believe that his brilliant roommate, audiotronics tech Drew Mathias would take his own life.

Back in New York, the next case Eve and her new aide, Officer Delia Peabody catch is the death of notorious lawyer, S.T. Fitzhugh, a very bloody scene involving an antique knife and a bathtub. Eve isn't convinced it's suicide but firm alibis clear any possible suspects, and the autopsy reveals a brain anomaly which, it turns out, he has in common with Drew Mathias and a politician who threw himself off a building while Eve and Roark were away.

There is nothing to link the three, except their use of a new VR unit and program. When Eve finds herself at the scene of yet another inexplicable suicide, she is determined to find the who and why of it before Commander Whitney makes her wrap up the cases as suicides.

It's no doubt a gamble to write novels set some six decades into the future when the author doesn't know (but might hope) that they will still be read thirty years on, especially when a lot of tech is involved. Thus, Robb does predict music and voice tech, but about three decades late; ditto the proliferation of AI.

Her regular characters in this series already have plenty of appeal, the banter between them is always fun, and there's plenty of action leading up to an exciting climax (or two) before the final reveal. As might be expected for a newly married couple, Eve and Roark do go at it like rabbits. This speculative crime fiction series is entertaining and addictive: Ceremony In Death is eagerly anticipated.

One Of the Good Guys

by Araminta Hall

On Mar 2 2024, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Of The Good Guys is the sixth novel by British journalist, editor and author, Araminta Hall. The audio version is narrated by Elliott Fitzpatrick, Olivia Vinall and Helen Keeley. At forty-three, Cole Simmonds has quit London for a job as a wildlife ranger and a cottage on the Sussex coast. After two months, he meets Lennie at the Christmas drinks do, learning she has been living in the coastguard cottage nearby since September.

He confesses he is still feeling fragile about the break-down of his seven-year marriage, some six months earlier, still confused about his wife Mel's nastiness, still lamenting having to leave their lovely flat. "But it's always that way, isn't it? Men are expected to be the ones to leave. As if men don't have an inner life or as much of an emotional connection to spaces and things as women do. Which means, when it comes down to the messy process of splitting up, it's the women who get to be coddled and cared for, even if they're the one who's f**ked it up."

After further encounters, he sees a potential relationship forming with Lennie, whom he prefers to call Leonora. It's also around this time that two young women are doing a walk, #walk4women, along the south coast, wild camping as they try to raise money for a domestic violence charity, Safe Space UK. Cole's interaction with them when they ignore signs and barriers is an awkward, angry one that they capture on their phones. And then the girls go missing, and there's lots of conflicting opinion on social media about what they are doing, and their likely fate.

Cole has always tried to be kind and gentle with everyone; he is very charming; he truly believes he's one of the good guys. It's fairly soon apparent from the way he describes their marriage, though, and from Mel's perspective on that same relationship, that his charm hides a manipulative tendency, a deep-seated toxic masculinity within him of which he seems completely unaware:

"It's strange how men are asked to be sensitive and understanding now, but when we really are, when we say how we're truly feeling, women don't actually like it. I think, subconsciously, they want us to hold their hands and understand their emotional contradictions, but they also still want us to be strong, to bang our chests with our fists and protect them from shit… it was all so … confusing because I want nothing more than to support and empower women, but surely that doesn't mean I should lie on the floor and let them walk all over me."

While Cole moans: "I know, historically, it's been hard to be a woman but, my god, it's hard to be a man right now", Mel's friends observe: "The bar is so low for men. All they have to do is a bit of bloody washing up, or ask how you're feeling, and everyone thinks they're the second … coming." There aren't really any likeable characters in this tale, but their opinions do bear serious consideration.

As well as three straight narratives (that are perhaps not entirely reliable), Hall uses email, text, tweets, press articles, transcripts of radio and TV interviews, WhatsApp chats, and blog posts to convey the mood and opinions of the online community and the general public. This is a story that examines the arguments on many sides of some very topical issues: gender and the dynamics of power, BDSM, consent, domestic violence, and ownership of embryos. Sound effects in the audio version add authenticity to this compelling and thought-provoking read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Gillian Flynn Books/Zando audio


by Jane Harper

On Feb 29 2024, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Exiles is the third book in the Aaron Falk series by award-winning Australian journalist and author, Jane Harper. A year after he was meant to become godfather to Greg and Rita Raco's baby son, Henry, Aaron Falk is returning to the Marralee Valley Annual Food And Wine Festival, the scene of a disappearance that postponed the baby's christening.

On the first day of the Festival, a year earlier, thirty-nine-year-old Kim Gillespie went missing, leaving behind a husband, a teenaged daughter, and a six-week-old baby. Now, there's an appeal from seventeen-year-old Zara, Kim's husband Rohan and ex-boyfriend Charlie, to any who were present twelve months earlier, for even the most insignificant scrap of information that might help to reveal what happened to the beloved wife and mother.

As he and KIewarra cop Greg wander the venue before the appeal, Aaron gets a feel for who was where, including himself, although he is a little distracted by a potential encounter with a certain woman, as he was a year earlier. Many of those they speak to express regret at not having said or done something at the time while, strangely, those who knew Kim deny speaking to her on the evening she vanished.

While local sergeant, Rob Dwyer, absent at the time, along with others, wonder if Kim might have left voluntarily, Zara is convinced that her mother would never have chosen to leave her husband and daughters, and especially would never have left baby Zoe alone in the Festival's pram bay. Some believe she may have drowned in the nearby reservoir, but Zara's friend, Joel is certain that she did not come to the reservoir via the route where he was stationed.

Greg Raco shows Aaron the comprehensive file he has made on Kim's disappearance, having quietly checked for himself the alibis of everyone who knew Kim, and feels in his gut that something is amiss, but what? He and Aaron walk the perimeter, suggest theories, but come up blank.

For young Joel, the Festival stirs different unhappy memories: his father, Dean, accountant for many Marralee businesses, was killed in a hit-and-run at a dangerous reservoir spot known as The Drop, six years earlier. The driver was never found. Aaron reluctantly agrees to look over footage of the scene.

Having chatted more than once to most people who knew Kim, Aaron is left wondering if this depressed woman ran away, took her own life in the reservoir, or if her fate was a more sinister one. It's Greg Raco's five-year-old daughter, Eva who finally, unwittingly, crystallizes the niggling thought that has danced in Aaron's subconscious.

Harper effortlessly evokes the small Australian country town, and her characters are typical of those one might encounter there. Her clever plot has enough intrigue and distraction to keep the reader guessing right up to the final reveals. Falk's inner monologue and his dialogue with various characters cement his appeal, and reinforce his integrity. This is another excellent example of Aussie Crime Fiction and, whether or not it features Aaron Falk, more from Jane Harper will be eagerly anticipated.


by Asako Yuzuki

On Feb 26 2024, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Butter is the first novel, of several award-winners by Japanese author, Asako Yuzuki to be translated into English by Polly Barton. After many frustratingly unsuccessful attempts to visit convicted serial killer, Manako Kajii in the Tokyo Detention House, a suggestion from a good friend finally gains Shumei Weekly journalist, Rika Machida, access to this enigmatic woman.

Kajii gained notoriety when, over a period of six months in 2013, three of the wealthy men she found via an online dating service, on whom she lavished attention with gourmet meals, and who handed over large sums of cash, or funded lessons at the exclusive all-women cooking school, Le Salon de Myuko, all died, apparently by suicide or accident.

Kajii was convicted after a misogyny-tinged trial that seemed to ignore alibis and evidence, and two years on, is awaiting retrial. It felt to Rika that Kajii was tried for her appearance (not young, not beautiful, too fat) and her attitude to men, wanting "'a mature man, with the capacity for both emotional and financial generosity", and attacking her concept of chastity. "A woman who didn't hide the fact that she used her sexuality as a weapon was met with such fierce scorn, and even a kind of terror."

Rika's clever request for the recipe that Kajii fed her last victim results in conditional approval for a visit: nothing at all about her trial or conviction may be discussed. Instead, Rika comes away with a recommendation for a very simple dish that requires top quality butter, a commodity currently scarce due to the widespread occurrence of mastitis in cows. She's still hopeful that at a later visit she may be permitted an interview.

Meanwhile, Rika, with "taste buds are like a child's. I'm perfectly happy with convenience store bento boxes and curry from cheap restaurants" tries the recipe and is hooked. "Soon enough, just as Kajii had said, the melted butter began to surge through the individual grains of rice. It was a taste that could only be described as golden. A shining golden wave, with an astounding depth of flavour and a faint yet full and rounded aroma, wrapped itself around the rice and washed Rika's body far away." Eventual further visits net recommendations for other dishes, and eating establishments to try.

Rika wonders if "To make something yourself that you wanted to eat and eat it the way you wanted – was that the very essence of gratification?" But her best friend, Reiko Sayana observes that Rika seems to be in thrall to Kajii: "You don't try to see anything she hasn't shown you", and Rika admits to herself that she has doubts about Kajii's guilt, although thinking that her victims displayed "the excessive self-pity felt by lonely men" feels a lot like victim-blaming. Was she losing her powers of judgement?

Some of Kajii's opinions, though, seem valid: "Japanese women are required to be self-denying, hard-working and ascetic, and in the same breath, to be feminine, soft and caring towards men. Everyone finds that an impossible balance to strike, and they struggle desperately as a result." But Kajii disabuses Rika of the notion they might become friends: "I don't want friends. I don't need friends. I'm only interested in having worshippers.'

Reiko is fascinated with her interactions with Kajii, while continuing to express her concerns over Rika's mental and physical health, which does give her pause, but Rika is unaware of what her best friend is up to behind the scenes. Will Rika get her exclusive interview? Will the true fate of those men be revealed?

Yuzuki's tale takes several unexpected turns over the twelve months leading up to, and beyond Kajii's retrial, and examines the status of women in Japan, and the expectations to which they are subject. Her varied cast of support characters includes a childless housewife, a boyfriend with a girl-band fetish, an industrious mother, opinionated colleagues, a well-known older editor who mentors, and a dairy farmer. Not one of the significant characters has a conventional loving childhood and youth: each is carrying emotional baggage, grief or guilt, creating problems in their relationships, be they romantic or filial.

The only thing missing from this intriguing story is a few detailed recipes: as they consume it, readers will be hungry; those familiar with Japanese cuisine won't be the only ones salivating. An interesting and entertaining read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Harper Collins Australia/ 4th Estate

On Feb 17 2024, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The List Of Suspicious Things is the first book by British author, Jennie Godfrey. It's about two years since Mavis Senior's mum, Marion stopped talking, now spending her days in the armchair or her bedroom. In that time, Dad's sister, Aunty Edna has come to help out, Maggie Thatcher has become Prime Minister (and Aunty Edna has plenty to say about that), and Sharon Parker, at first sort of co-opted, has become her best friend.

The other thing is the murders: young women are being brutally killed by the man everyone calls the Ripper, and the police don't seem to be getting any closer to catching him. When twelve-year-old Miv hears Dad and Aunty Edna talking about moving away from Yorkshire, away from it all, she dreads the idea of losing everything familiar, including her best friend. She reasons that, if she could investigate, work out what the police are missing, and catch the killer, they would be able to stay.

Miv is a fan of the Famous Five books and, following Aunty Edna's example, she buys a notebook and, after carefully studying the newspaper reports about the murders, starts listing the suspicious things she observes around her. Sharon is a bit sceptical that they can catch him, but indignance at the way the victims are described in the press gets her over the line.

Everyone in their small Yorkshire town, Bishopsfield, comes under scrutiny, but dark-haired, dark-eyed men with moustaches, especially if they "aren't from around here", drive a certain car, or have a certain accent, qualify for entry into Miv's notebook. The pair check out places suitable for hiding a body and where the Ripper might find his victims. When the press mention "hiding in plain sight" and "the women in the Ripper's life" the range of people they feel need watching expands.

After each new killing, "the streets themselves felt unsettled, as though the news had seeped into the bricks and mortar of the town. Whispers of the news seemed to be all around us: women were outside their houses in small groups, muttering his name, their eyes darting around as if he might appear at any moment."

As they investigate suspicious behaviour and gradually eliminate various suspects, they learn quite a lot about the people of their town: some of it sad, some of it surprising, some of it disturbing. When Sharon's enthusiasm for their project wanes, she tells Miv "I don't know if any of the people we know are suspicious or whether they're just trying to live their lives." Miv realises "a growing awareness that behind every grown-up was a story I knew nothing about."

In trying to catch the Ripper, they discover that Bishopsfield harbours: some right-wing thugs who like to intimidate; an arsonist; sexists, racists and xenophobes; a paedophile. There's infidelity, domestic violence, bullying and cruelty, alcoholism, divorce and suicide.

But they also encounter plenty of ordinary people leading ordinary lives: people grieving losses, trying to cope with life's challenges, keeping secrets and telling lies, showing concern and kindness and care. The pair make assumptions and jump to conclusions; there are few narrow escapes and some tragic deaths; new bonds of friendship are formed and there are budding romances.

Godfrey's debut is somewhat reminiscent of Joanna Cannon's The Trouble With Goats And Sheep, but this is by no means a copy of that. Her descriptive prose is marvellous: "though Aunty Jean's hearing was less than sharp, her other senses were razor-like, and she would have smelled my inattention like a hunting dog."

She gives her characters wise words and insightful observations. Omar, the Pakistani shop-keeper: "He heard talk about everyone in the shop, so often he wondered if people knew he could speak English, the things they would say to each other in his presence."

Omar on surviving grief: "I suppose what I do is try not to think too far ahead,' he said eventually. 'If I'd considered for a second that I had to live months, or even years, without her . . .' Omar stopped for a moment and cleared his throat. 'I'm not sure I could've . . . kept going. But if I only think about the day in front of me, sometimes the hour, or even the minute, then I can do it. I can keep living."

And Miv on adults: "I had already discovered by then how much people would reveal when you stayed quiet" and "Adults were always doing this in my experience, saying one thing and meaning another, the truth a blur in between" and "I was used to grown-ups having conversations that left the important things unsaid, they happened in my family all the time." This is a brilliant debut and more from Jennie Godfrey is eagerly anticipated. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Random House UK Cornerstone.

On Feb 17 2024, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Untimely Resurrection Of John Alexander MacNeil is the second book by Canadian author, Lesley Choyce to feature John Alexander MacNeil, and is set ten years on, still near the town of Inverary on the isle of Cape Breton. Living alone in his rundown Deepwater farmhouse, John Alex is ninety when his breathing (and loud snoring), then his heart, stop one night, but his sheer cussedness and strong stubborn streak wills it to restart. This results in a confrontation in his kitchen with Death, who looks like a cross between Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe, and is puzzled as to how it happened.

John Alex isn't sure it did. He goes to see one-hundred-year-old Flossie Henderson who reasons that "What you believe to be real is real … or at least might as well be real." He talks to his good friend Sheila LeBlanc, who recommends a visit to the new doctor in town. John Alex is shocked to find that Dr Holbrook looks exactly like Death, although he denies ever having met John Alex.

When Death does return to the farmhouse, still looking exactly like the doctor, he says that he's intrigued by John Alex's resurrection. He explains that everyone has a circle, an affinity group, tells John Alex who comprises his, and offers what John Alex sees as an unacceptable ultimatum.

"One of my favourite pastimes since I turned ninety, I must admit, was napping. I had learned that here was a hobby for which you did not have to study at length, read any how- to books, or look up on the damn internet to figure out. If they included napping in the Olympics, I would say, I could possibly win a gold medal. Finally, here was something I was good at."

But napping will have to wait. Circumstances bring him in close contact with each surviving member of his circle: concerned for him, Sheila stays over at John Alex's home; Emily and her serious sensitive, intuitive and weird ten-year-old daughter, Evie come to stay; the reclusive island-dwelling son of an idealistic hermit friend needs a safe place to heal; an apologetic meth addict, vowing to reform, joins them. Coincidence? Or Death's doing?

Choyce easily sets his Nova Scotia scene; interesting vignettes describe characters with depth and appeal and some endearing quirkiness; he gives them wise words, gentle philosophy and insightful observations. All against a background of the country's southern neighbour going more than a bit crazy with their new leader, and reports of a nasty Chinese flu …

Before we reach the final page, there's a well-meaning kidnap, an assisted suicide, the fire bombing of a meth lab, a midnight flit, a case of corona virus within John Alex's circle, a puzzling suicide, and a few incidents that have John Alex, and others, wondering about his mental state, and these topical themes are all handled with sensitivity and humour.

Choyce's descriptive prose is often gorgeous: "I studied the dust motes drifting in the sunlight like it was a micro ballet" and "my brain corrugated with a million thoughts about what was and what wasn't the right thing to do" are examples.

His protagonist is delightfully self-deprecating as "I was a little surprised that Sealy was getting impatient with me, but I guess I was working too hard at being the stubborn old goat I aspired to be" and "You sure you know what you are doing?" "Of course not," I answered. "Never did. Life just throws stuff at me. That's the way it's always been. And I make a decision — almost always a gut decision, and not always the correct one, I admit" demonstrate.

While there are likely spoilers for the first book, this one can easily stand alone and, for those familiar with that book, will be a welcome update on the cast. Heart-warming and uplifting This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Fernwood Publishing.

Please Write

by J Wynn Rousuck

On Nov 1 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Please Write is the first novel by American theatre critic and author, J. Wynn Rousuck, and is presented in letters. Initially, it's Winslow, a very proper Boston terrier who lives in Baltimore with Pamela, a theatre critic, and Frank, a landscape architect, who writes to inform Grandma Vivienne of an interloper in their happy one-dog household. Grandma Vivienne, it gradually becomes clear, is the alter-ego of Pamela's mother, a recently widowed teacher living in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

The interloper, a stray brought home by Frank, possibly a West Highland Terrier/Jack Russell Terrier mix, is eventually (and appropriately) named Zippy. Grandma Vivienne begins writing to Zippy, over the three years that follow, encouraging her to learn to read and type (with help from an ever-patient Winslow), sending treats, toys, reassurance and helpful advice on how not to annoy Pamela or Winston, whose footnotes to Zippy's replies usually detail Zippy's transgressions, and bemoan his poor success in mentoring the new pup.

To begin with, the letters deal with incidents in and around the household, with Zippy expressing joy, confusion, indignance, fear and annoyance, depending on the subject: treats, time-outs in her crate, perceived unfair punishment, misunderstood expressions, or baths, to name but a few. With two rounds of Puppy Kindergarten, Zippy's correspondence improves markedly, although her behaviour, less so: chewing of electrical cords, designer boots, and Winslow's favourite jumper takes some effort to correct.

Winston's (and Zippy's, as she becomes more adept) comments also reveal a potential problem in Frank and Pamela's marriage. Reported absences turn out to be due to Frank's unfortunate addiction, and mean that Pamela needs a lot of comfort: fortunately, both Winslow and Zippy gladly step up. This family does suffer its share of trauma…

Lots of topics provide humour: a mouse in the kitchen; camp; agility trials tryouts; and a letter to the new President suggesting a presidential dog, among other things. Pamela tries her hand at children's fiction, a book starring Zippy, the first chapter of which gets very positive reviews from both the star and Winslow, while Pamela's mother delights them both with seasonal treats, and the suggested cookbook catches the interest of a publisher.

Zippy, by this time quite articulate, has suggestions for recipe names: "Zippy even thinks you should name a recipe for Winslow. Something Zippy doesn't like. Something with broccoli." Dog owners will be delighted with the many recipes included in the letters.

Any reader familiar with Richard Glover's book, Love, Clancy, will enjoy the style and format, and while there is plenty of humour, the problems the humans face are relatable and not unrealistically solved for a happy ever after ending. In fact the most hard-hearted reader may shed a tear at the last line. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Bancroft Press.

On Oct 30 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Mistress of Bhatia House is the fourth book in the Perveen Mistry series by award-winning, best-selling British-born American author, Sujata Massey. At Bhatia House for a fund-raising tea in aid of a proposed hospital for women, Perveen Mistry witnesses a heroic act by the family's ayah that saves the life of the young heir to wealthy widower and stone merchant, Sir Dwarkanath Bhatia's fortune. Both the boy and his ayah sustain burns, but Dr Miriam Penkar, the future hospital's medical director, is on hand to help.

A few days later, having inexplicably fallen out of favour with her sister-in-law Gulnaz and her new baby, Perveen seeks to escape the Mistry home by attending to a chore at the bail court. Her wish to further occupy her afternoon is granted when she spots the ayah in a line of prisoners. Sunanda Chavda has been arrested on what Perveen believes is a trumped-up charge, and she is determined to help the courageous young woman.

This is mid-1922, and women are not allowed to speak in court, so she almost gets herself into trouble trying to speak for Sunanda, but she can and does pay her bail. As Sunanda is homeless because of the shame the charge will bring on her family, Perveen takes her home to await trial and tend her infected burns in the servant's cottage and, while her mother is sympathetic, her father foresees complications, both legal and with the extended family.

To give her client the best chance, Perveen will have to engage a barrister, and depose witnesses, but will the Bhatias pay their employee's legal fees? She is dismayed by their response, and something about the whole situation has her wondering if there's more to Sunanda's story than she's telling. And then, Dwarkanath Bhatia dies of poisoning…

In the background of all this is Perveen's developing relationship with former ICS agent, Colin Sandringham, now living in Bombay. She wonders if her acquaintance of Dr Penkar might provide the means to allow her to engage more intimately without disgracing her family. She is a little concerned at the political aspect of the work he has been offered, though.

In an action-packed tale that features wrongful imprisonment, arson, unfair dismissal, corruption, a shooting, and fraud, all leading up to a nail-biting climax, Massey deftly demonstrates the powerlessness of women in this era, even as progressive thinkers are striving to make changes to improve their welfare.

Once again, Massey gives the reader a tale filled with rich everyday historical minutiae, making the detail of custom and ritual easy to assimilate, while providing a plot that will keep the reader guessing until the final pages.

While it could be read as a stand-alone, familiarity with the regular characters and their backgrounds certainly enhances the reader's enjoyment. There are several unresolved situations that promise further instalments, and more of this fascinating historical crime fiction is most definitely welcome.

On Oct 30 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

The Socialite's Guide To Death And Dating is the second book in the Pinnacle Hotel Mystery series by American author, S K Golden. Evelyn Murphy, daughter of the owner of the Pinnacle Hotel in New York City, has already, some weeks earlier, solved one murder when she and her beau/assistant, Malcolm Cooper (Mac) come across a body in a car in the Pinnacle's parking garage.

Judge Cliff Baker is found in the driver's seat of his cherry red Cadillac Coup de Ville with a needle in his arm, but Evelyn notes no track marks on his skin. When the police turn up, they assume a heroin overdose, but Evelyn isn't convinced: why would a man with a successful career and a young, pregnant wife take such a risk. Even more puzzling is the frightened, scantily-clad young woman locked in the trunk of his car.

Dealing with Detective Hodgson is difficult enough, but when his younger colleague, Detective McJimsey decides to arrest Evelyn for the murder, she calls in the big guns: the attorney general and the chief of police see that she is released pronto.

Mark Murphy is annoyed with his daughter's recent activity, but is even more disturbed by the company she's keeping. Mac is a former bellhop, way below her station, and he issues Evelyn an ultimatum: break it off with Mac or be disinherited, and therefore penniless. He makes his dislike for Mac plain, and it is reciprocated when Mac stands up to him about his treatment of his daughter. Evelyn diagnoses overtiredness and defers further discussion until the next day.

But less than twenty-four hours after Judge Baker is found, there are three corpses: a dead judge, a dead prostitute and a dead maid; and Mark Murphy is in the hospital recovering from an attempt on his life. Worse still, Mac has been arrested for the murders. Evelyn is determined to get him out on bail and find the real killer, but Daddy has her money tied up tight, even her mother's inheritance.

As she questions the Pinnacle staff, the Judge's widow and his family, and those who knew the dead women, the list of potential suspects grows alarmingly: the valets are disgruntled with Mark Murphy's budget cuts and his anti-union stance; the widow's stepson seems a bit too friendly with his very regnant step-mother; and the doctor is too conveniently on the spot.

At first appearance, Evelyn seems to be exactly what her father describes: a spoiled, stupid socialite, whom some will see as nosy and entitled. When she gives priority to shopping and getting her hair and nails done, she does seem ditzy and shallow. Her father criticises her generosity: "…tipping that boy a dollar. A dollar, Evelyn, for opening a door? A quarter, at most, will do." The lift boy opened the elevator doors, and Daddy swept inside. My mouth fell open, staring after him aghast. "But Daddy, I can't carry loose change! I'll jingle!" And her fixation on a particular red lambskin Archambeau handbag seems frivolous, but perhaps her perspective gives her different insights.

Evelyn suffers from anxiety and agoraphobia, and is trying to overcome her fear of leaving the Pinnacle, where she has lived her whole life. Raised by a nanny since her mother was murdered when she was six, and with a father who parented her with his wallet, it's no wonder she needs an analyst, although Dr Sanders ideas do seem quite advanced for 1958.

While this is the second book in this cozy mystery series, it easily stands alone; there's plenty of humour and melodrama; there's already a cute dog, Presley, and now a cat, Monroe; and the final pages promise an interesting third instalment when Laurence Hodgson and Evelyn try to track down Gwen Murphy's killer. Amara Jasper's narration of the audio version really enhances the reading experience. A very entertaining cozy. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books.

A Lonesome Blood-Red Sun

by David Putnam

On Oct 24 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 3 of 5 Stars.

A Lonesome Blood-Red Sun is the second book in the Dave Beckett series by best-selling American author, David Putnam. In 1984, Deputy Dave Beckett is working as a patrol cop out of Hesperia Station, catching crooks, unofficially mentoring rookies, covering for PTSD-affected colleagues, failing to stay under the radar of brass that dislike him, and hoping the standard of his work will count towards becoming a homicide detective. He has a case with a perpetrator still at large, one whose victim haunts him, one that he wants to follow up.

On top of that, his marriage has broken up, he's reconnected with the father who left when he was young, and he's trying to generously support his ex and their daughter financially. Despite a brutal divorce, he still has feelings for his ex, but those are tested when a pretty young Deputy from Victorville Station begs for his help. Together, he and Jimmie Poe make surprise arrests in two cases deemed "go-nowhere". Unfortunately, this time Dave's penchant for immature pranks blows back onto Jimmie.

Four years on, Dave's dubious methods for getting arrests has seen him relegated to Bone Detective, investigating the finds in the desert around San Bernadino, a popular place for body disposal. His preoccupation with arresting a drug-dealing murderer leads to a delay in following up a bone find. When he does, checking with neighbours in the area leads to a grisly find: the true fate of sweet Jimmie Poe, presumed to have abandoned her deputy job a few years earlier. But will his captain let him take part in the investigation?

The author's former career as a policeman certainly informs his work and the first part sometimes reads more like a memoir than a novel: a string of incidents that tend to paint the protagonist as impulsive and rather arrogant, if effective. The bullying, petty jealousies and use of questionable methods ring true, as does the unprofessional behaviour of some of his colleagues and the tacit approval of his immediate superiors, given his success rate.

There's plenty of good detective work in this police procedural, and lots of action building up to a nail-biting climax and ending with and a hefty body count, but there are unresolved issues, unexplained but significant incidents, and the major unresolved issue from the previous book is summarily dismissed with a few short lines. This ARC does have quite a lot of spelling errors and continuity issues that have, hopefully, been corrected for the final print version. Still very readable American crime fiction. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Level Best Books.

Fear the Silence

by Robert Bryndza

On Oct 21 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

Fear The Silence is a stand-alone novel by award-winning, best-selling British author, Robert Bryndza. Even when the pathologist tells Senior Registrar at Guys' Hospital, Dr Maggie Kendall that he pulled the trigger, she refuses to believe that her husband Will took his own life. They bury him on what would have been their twenty-fourth anniversary, but even if she didn't know him as well as she believed, Maggie knows that Will was not suicidal.

Both of those prove true. When she heads to their Croatian Island holiday home to sort out his things, a letter from Will indicates that he anticipated his death, and sends her hunting for an explanation. The letter was written six years earlier, at the same time as Will gave up his career as a forensic pathologist to become a property developer, and also when he bought a gun.

At their fully digitised house in Tisina, suddenly too many incidents endanger her life and she's desperate to return to London, where a close friend doing her a favour has also come to grief. It's starting to look like Will's legacy is quite the poisoned chalice. Getting off the island, at first straightforward, unexpectedly becomes much more of a challenge, and going back to the UK may be the right thing to do, but is it safe?

Bryndza gives the reader a tightly plotted thriller with a hefty body count courtesy of some very nasty killers. It's a dark and twisty tale, although some aspects will need the reader to don their disbelief suspenders.

Summer Fishing In Lapland

by Juhani Karila

On Oct 21 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Summer Fishing In Lapland is the first novel by Finnish author, Juhani Karila. It is translated into English by Lola Rogers. For the last five years it's been Elina Ylijaako's summer ritual to travel back to her home village of Vuopio in eastern Lapland. It's not a particularly popular place: "A horizon pierced by scruffy spruce, appalling desolation that keeps the people mute and the myths strong."

She treks through the swamp where "A song thrush is cooing in the pines, and just ahead a black cloud of mosquitoes is rising from the swamp. Horseflies were living Swiss Army knives built by Satan himself, because they had spoons in their mouths, too, for ladling up the blood" and catches the sole remaining pike left in Pike Pond after the meltwaters recede. It's important, and needs to be done by the 18th of June: her life depends on it. Just why is gradually revelaed.

Usually, she catches the pike on first cast, but this year, things go awry: there's a knacky at Pike Pond, a malevolent water spirit that is set on preventing her catch. She tries a few tricks that don't work, and her deadline is getting close, so she has to visit Dead Man's Island to enlist some spiritual help.

On Elina's trail is Detective Janatuinen, wanting to question her about a homicide that her city row house neighbour witnessed, and trace evidence confirmed. She's not finding the Vuopio locals very helpful, though. Her police chief has told her that things are a bit different up there, to go with the flow.

So when the owner of The Vuopio Lure, the fishing tackle shop, insists on a favour in exchange for information, she reluctantly agrees. Taking a furry creature known as a raskel fishing in a rowboat, and encountering some rapacious river wretches is unexpected, but Janatuinen is resourceful.

When she heads off in her chief's old Toyota to find Elina, though, the raskel won't leave, and everyone knows they make a dangerous pet: "You know you got a raskel in your back seat?" is the constant refrain.

While Elina is making hard-to-keep bargains with mythical creatures to outwit other mythical creatures, Janatuinen is hearing a story from Elina's Vuopio neighbour about the murder, by Young Lady Ylijaako, of the town's former police chief.

Karila's story features plenty of mythical creatures, witchcraft, spells and curses, as well as some very quirky, but appealing townspeople, romance, a bit of heartbreak and lots of laugh-out-loud humour, some of it quite dark. More from this author is definitely welcome. Clever, funny, a little bizarre and very entertaining. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Pushkin Press.

The Last Devil To Die

by Richard Osman

On Oct 9 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Last Devil To Die is the fourth book in the Thursday Murder Club series by British TV presenter, producer, director, and novelist, Richard Osman. When Stephen's good friend, antiques dealer Kuldesh Sharma is murdered in a country lane at the end of December in what looks very much like a hit, of course the Thursday Murder Club is going to get involved.

It seems Kuldesh was playing a reluctant part in an import/distribution scheme involving an ugly terracotta box containing 1.2kg of heroin, and when he strayed from the script, he met a quick, efficient end. And despite being politely warned off by Kent Police's finest aka DCI Chris Hudson and PC Donna de Freitas, Elizabeth and Joyce are soon trying to check out the ransacked Kemptown Curios and, with help from Ibrahim and his incarcerated (and only) patient, learning quite a bit more than the police.

Ironically, Chris and Donna are booted off the case by a new SIO, Jill Regan, and her National Crime Agency team, making them more favourable to the idea of sharing information with Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron. Soon enough, the TMC are staking out an import warehouse on the South Coast, chatting to a historical archaeology professor, questioning an antiques forger, and even hosting drug dealers and forgers to a Coopers Chase Sunday lunch.

Closer to home, Joyce has been trying to include a new resident at Cooper's Chase, inviting him to their Boxing Day lunch. When Mervyn Collins unenthusiastically shares a few details about his new Lithuanian girlfriend, it's quickly apparent to those gathered that he has fallen for a romance scam to the tune (so far) of five thousand pounds. Trying to convince him of this is a thankless task

Elizabeth is understandably diverted by Stephen's deterioration into dementia, as his lucid moments decrease precipitously, a sensitive topic Osman handles with the utmost delicacy, but which will still make hearts ache, tears flow and throats get lumpy. That distraction sees Joyce stepping into Elizabeth's usual role with great aplomb. They also enlist the help of another resident with IT skills, who is quickly dubbed Computer Bob.

As always, Osman gives his characters laugh-out-loud dialogue, including the innocuous dinner chat that disguises the more serious topics of murder and drug dealing; other sources of humour are the chatty entries in Joyce's diary, the list of Christmas gifts exchanged, New Year's Resolutions, and even Bogdan's eulogy for Kuldesh.

There's a not inconsiderable body count, meaning that, as another likely suspect meets their fate, the reader has to adjust their thinking about who the killer might be. Before the final reveals, there are twists and red herrings clever enough to keep even the most astute reader guessing. Very entertaining.

On Oct 7 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

The Accidental Housemate is the first novel by British author, Sal Thomas. One minute, thirty-nine-year-old single mother of three, Cath Beckinsale thinks she's handling life OK: dreading the departure of her eldest daughter Leanne to Uni buts coping well enough with her (somewhat precocious) pre-teen, Eric, and her hyperactive toddler, Jack, and enjoying teaching science to her small year 11 learning difficulties group.

Then, without warning, she's unfairly dismissed and needing to supplement Gaz's life insurance if she's to keep paying her rent. The American student lodger sounds like a good idea, until she meets him: Dan Stanford-Sturgess is thirty-six, drop-dead gorgeous and full of self-confidence. Cath turns into a babbling mess, convinced there's no way he'll fit in with her crazy tribe.

When Dan decides to stay, Cath busies herself with life, trying to avoid too much interaction with him: there's the chic-clique at Jack's daycare to avoid; the new lady that Geoff, Gaz's dad, is hooking up with, to meet; a school reunion to consider; her rampant negativity bias to overcome; and free private lessons for her struggling students to prepare them for their pending GCSE's.

A suggestion from Dan about making the lessons more attractive to her students leads to a social-media channel as Science Mom, and popularity and publicity see Cath neglecting those things she previously felt important: her family, her friends, her students, and becoming a less appealing version of herself. It takes harsh words that break up a friendship, someone's heart attack, and domestic violence on one of her students, for her to take a good hard look at herself and sort out her priorities.

While grief and guilt and love and loyalty feature, there's plenty of laugh-out-loud humour, of both the situational and dialogue sort: candid descriptions, double meanings and sexual innuendo. This is an entertaining debut novel. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Harper Collins UK One More Chapter.

Vanishing Girls

by Lisa Regan

On Oct 6 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

4.5★s Vanishing Girls is the first book in the Detective Josie Quinn series by best-selling American author, Lisa Regan. Three weeks into her paid suspension from the Denton PD for the use of excessive force on a member of the public, Detective Josie Quinn is frustrated with her exclusion from the case hitting the news, the abduction of pretty teen, Isabelle Coleman. The Denton PD's searches aren't turning up any clues, and they could surely use some help, but her boss warns her off, and her soon-to-be ex, Sergeant Ray Quinn refuses to share information.

Days later, she has twice come across the name "Ramona": first, on the lips of Isabelle's history teacher, Dirk Spencer soon after he has been shot; then written in blood on a wall by a catatonic teen recently found after being missing for a year. Josie is convinced that it can't be coincidence, but none of the Denton PD personnel she tells seem to find it important.

The one silver lining to her suspension cloud is that she has plenty of time to chase up leads. She trawls the internet, discovering a similar case from six years previous, she chats to ex-girlfriends, and a certain persistent TV reporter, and she manages to persuade her new fiancé, State Trooper Luke Creighton to get her copies of files. At every step, with every piece of information she uncovers, she feels there's a cover-up going on: someone is being protected, and she starts to wonder just whom she can trust.

This is an action-packed thriller with a hefty body count and some clever detective work. Regan's protagonist is smart, persistent and gutsy, and more of Josie Quinn will be eagerly anticipated.

No Two Persons

by Erica Bauermeister

On Oct 6 2023, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

No Two Persons is the third novel by best-selling American author, Erica Bauermeister. A reductionist review might say: debut author writes a book that affects different readers differently; for a little more detail, read on… Since she was nine years old, Alice Wein has wanted to be an author. A watchful child, her eye for detail, be it her surroundings, the people she encounters, their dialogue, their body language, their behaviour and reactions, all set her up for writing the stories she wants to tell. But her kindly college professor explains what is missing, and it takes an unwanted occurrence close to home to rectify that. The story told from within, her debut novel at twenty-five, is Theo.

Personal assistant to literary agent Madeline Armstrong, Lara is doing a job she loves, hoping to happen upon the right manuscript, "the one", when an unplanned pregnancy relegates her to working from home, reading manuscripts from the slush pile while trying to soothe the screaming son with whom she is having some difficulty bonding. It's Theo, the story about the blond boy, the one she instantly falls into, the one she can't put down, "the one", that unexpectedly helps her connect.

Rowan's desire to be a serious actor is sabotaged by his golden boy looks and his sporting prowess: he seems doomed to be typecast in action-drama roles. Then that same body conspires to make those roles impossible, but also rules out other on-screen roles. He reacts to negative publicity by retreating to an island. His caring and concerned older sister drops an idea which has him pursuing a tangential career, one that eventually sees the ARC of Theo arriving in his mailbox. This, he quickly understands, is his serious role.

On her island, the creating of sea-glass jewellery has lost its thrall for Miranda, but nothing else stirs her. She knows her "be your best self" mother is sceptical of her artistic talent, and her calls and gifts just irritate. The book that arrives has the opposite effect to what her mother might have hoped: the first line so angers Miranda, she takes her machete to the blackberry bushes in her garden. What is exposed becomes the unexpected inspiration she seeks, and the final product surprisingly incorporates the pages of Theo.

Even as a toddler, Tyler wants to be in the water, or under the water, to be exact; it's impossible to keep him out; the family's move to a hot, dry inland town fails to dampen that visceral longing for submersion. Teenaged Tyler substitutes alcohol, until he's permitted into the town pool where he learns to control his breathing. When he escapes at eighteen, it's to free-diving competitions. With travelling nurse, Saylor, he connects, but can't commit: diving is his first love. Until he pushes himself too far, into a serious injury. Saylor tries to help him heal, but it's the book her sister Lara sent, Theo, that breaks through his wall, resonating so strongly with his own youth, perhaps explaining his compulsion.

Nola only needs to last until June, when she graduates, and she has it down to a fine art, filling up on school lunches, spending the after-school hours in the warmth of the library, then settling into a corner of the garden shed of her exclusive school with her sleeping bag. She's a scholarship student, but discovery would mean another stint of foster care, something she has experiences when her father died and her mother couldn't cope. "Her anger a precious bonfire, keeping her warm." Not until an English class discussion of Theo, the text set by her teacher, does she understand her mother's experience. Eventually, Nola understands that someone knows, and she fears expulsion. That's not what happens.

The book has been out four years, and when Alice Wein comes into the bookstore, Kit decides he really should read it. But he is distracted by the thought of his new girlfriend, Annalise, a precise, organised scientist working on the leap second. By the next time Alice comes in, Annalise has been to dinner at his family's home, and endures rather than enjoys this challenging experience: their wedding plans are progressing well. But then Kit does lose himself inside Theo, and understands the fundamental flaw in their relationship.

Newly widowed civil engineer, William heads out to a ghost town in Northeastern California to act as caretaker until the tech billionaire who owns it acts on his plans. He's dismayed by the extent of the dilapidation but will cope: escaping from reminders of Abigail is the intention. While William preferrs non-fiction, she and their daughter Clara loved to connect over novels: "…historians care more about the rocks than the river… Where do novels fit in? They're the boats, of course. The river never stops" He grieves that he will never share anything new with Abigail. When he suddenly finds himself in danger, reading the copy of Theo that Clara put in his trunk unexpectedly gives him more of Abigail and a reason to save himself.

Once a teacher of fencing, Juliet is now an intimacy coordinator for movies. When she's stuck on a twelve-hour flight home without the file she needs, she resorts to an audiobook she was given much earlier. She recognises the voice as an actor she taught to fence, but is soon completely immersed in Theo's story; it pushes her to examine the intimacy of her own relationship.

Legendary literary agent, Madeline Armstrong has just received an adverse diagnosis, and engages someone to sort out the four floors of books in her house. Many memories are unearthed, including the discovery of Alice Wein's only book so far.

Bauermeister gives her reader characters with depth and appeal, who have some insightful observations: "People didn't see reality because they didn't want to, not because it wasn't there" and "… anger was a propulsive form of energy; that's what made it so attractive. It was easier to use it to blast off, fly away, rather than stay and pick up the necessary weight of another's point of view" and "…wasn't that what marriages were, in the end? The ability to hear love in an exhalation, to see frustration in the twitch of a finger, forgiveness in a single letter of the alphabet" are examples.

As expected, Alice Wein's book appears in each of the stories that follow hers, but often, characters from one story may appear in several others, as secondary characters or cameos or simply vague mentions, so that the later stories and the epilogue provide some bonus resolution for the earlier ones. Bauermeister includes some delightful little ironies, touches, hints and echoes. Only the hardest of hearts won't need the tissues for at least one of these stories. These ten wonderfully-told related tales are enclosed within a striking cover. A must read for booklovers.

Rabbit Factor

by Antti Tuomainen

On Sep 24 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

The Rabbit Factor is the first novel in the Rabbit Factor series by award-winning Finnish author, Antti Tuomainen. It is translated from Finnish by David Hackston. Within a few days in late September 2020, Henri Koskinen has lost his actuarial job, his brother, Juhani, and inherited an Adventure Park on the outskirts of Helsinki. Worse still, when he takes a quick look, he discovers that YouMeFun, despite being a relatively successful business, has a mountain of unpaid bills and a massive loan to repay.

Henri was never really close to Juhani, who had more in common with their chaotic parents. "Juhani was fun and flexible. Humorous and quick-witted. Spontaneous and amiable" while Henri "had only one deep-held wish. I wanted everything to be sensible"

"He used to joke, saying I would die of stiffness. I told him I was very much alive and not at all stiff, I just wanted things to occur in a good, logical order and that I based all my actions on rational thinking" but now Henri wishes he knew more about his brother, and what Juhani could possibly have done with so much money.

Even before he has met all the staff and had a decent look at the books, a reptilian organised-crime type and his heavy turn up to demand payment of his brother's two-hundred-thousand-euro debt, with interest. Not that Henri has the money to pay but, as an actuary, what he really objects to the exorbitant interest rate: ten per cent over just two and a half weeks? Henri narrowly escapes losing a finger, but he knows that won't be their last visit.

Sure enough, a few days later, as he's trying, after hours, to repair the broken ear on a giant rabbit statue, a nasty fellow with a knife (or two) turns up to deliver him an unambiguous message. Another narrow escape that sees Henri taking action he could never have envisaged when he was working for the insurance company, and he really has to figure out something to get them off his back.

What is really puzzling is how Knife Man knew Henri was there alone, and how he got into the park. Juhani gave the staff free rein with running the place: could one of them be in cahoots with the crooks? They are an unusual bunch, and Henri knows his directness can be off-putting: "'I can be frank with you, yes?' 'I believe it's for the best,' I say. 'Some people say it can be rude, but I think the benefits far outweigh the possible drawbacks. I'm not sure of the exact ratio, but in my experience I can say that the probability of causing offence can't be higher than ten percent. That gives being frank around a ninety-percent chance of success. Those are exceptionally good odds.'"

Needing to pay the loan, the bills and trying to keep the adventure park running, Henri comes up with a bold plan and presents his criminal creditors with an audacious proposal, the sort only an actuary could convince the big man will be viable. His radical idea includes starting a bank and offering park patrons pay-day loans, but can it really work?

As if he doesn't have enough on his plate, the reptilian guy tries to blackmail him, someone might be sabotaging park structures, and he finds himself falling for the park's manager. Laura Helanto is an artist whose murals are transforming the park and have Henri inexplicably fascinated. The mathematician in him tries to analyse why, without success. Oh, and a Helsinki Police DI is looking for Knife Man…

As well as the artist, his team consists of Kristian (a maintenance man who was promised the position of General Manager), Minttu K (an alcoholic marketing and sales manager), Esa (a head of security who wants to be a US marine), Samppa (an earringed, tattooed children's entertainer), Johanna (a fitness-freak café manager) and Venla (a ticket-seller who has yet to turn up for work).

There's plenty of humour in this novel, some of it quite black, and a delicious irony when Henri uses the exact same touchy-feely language that drove him from his last job to handle Kristian's promotion demands. Henri will remind some readers of Don Tillman: with his reliance on maths and logic, his imaginative problem solving and good intentions. More of this protagonist, in The Moose Paradox, will be most welcome. Recommended! This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Orenda Books

A Song Of Comfortable Chairs

by Alexander McCall Smith

On Sep 24 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

"'Mma, I see you.' It was the oldest and simplest of African greetings. I see you. It implied so much more than it said, though, because it meant that Mma Ramotswe saw not only the person standing before her, but all that lay behind her – who she was, where she came from, how she felt."

A Song Of Comfortable Chairs is the twenty-third book in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by popular Scottish author, Alexander McCall Smith. It opens with Precious Ramotswe considering aspects of her colleague Grace Makutsi's behaviour that seem to signal ambition. Precious wonders if she's about to face a coup, but Mr JLB Matekoni wisely diagnoses the sort of insecurity characteristic of someone with poverty in their past.

Grace's husband Phuti Radiphuti's Double Comfort Furniture Store has a serious competitor, Twenty-First Century Chairs, whose aggressive advertising campaign is fronted by her seemingly indefatigable nemesis, Violet Sepotho. Mma Ramotswe checks out their stock and returns with important intelligence. Eventually she has a clever idea that will hopefully save the business and dispel Phuti's despondency.

That idea means that Orphan Farm matron, Mma Potokwani gets to star in an ad campaign and the photo shoot attracts not only staff of the Detective Agency and the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, but also a large support crew from the Orphan Farm.

After a hard life with plenty of bad luck, Mma Potokwani's newest employee, Patience finally has a chance at happiness in Gabarone with a Water Affairs man from Malawi, but her teenaged son's jealousy and poor behaviour poses a threat to that. Mma Ramotswe comes up with a radical plan that might teach the boy to appreciate what he has.

After his first- ever visit to the dentist, Charlie is dismayed to learn what will be needed to keep his teeth from falling out. As usual, he has numerous unsatisfactory interactions with Mma Makutsi, but somehow ends up becoming a mentor to a troubled young boy.

Throughout it all, the ladies (and their men) muse on many topics: unheeded parental wisdom, the benefits of occasional consumption of unhealthy food, the proliferation of extra features on any saleable item, the demise of dining tables and plates, and the curse of phased redundancy and planned obsolescence. Tea and fruit cake often accompany these musings.

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 such as "If we do not forgive, then we end up carrying a big burden on our shoulders" and "We should love one another, she thought, not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because it was far easier than hating one another. People who hated often had to work quite hard at keeping their hatred warm." Anything by this author is a guaranteed feel-good read.


by Holly Throsby

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

"We didn't know then that it wouldn't be long now. That the calendar was just running backwards from the day when there would be answers. At that time, all there was were questions, which drifted around Goodwood like despair…"

Goodwood is the first novel by Australian songwriter, musician and novelist, Holly Throsby. In little rural NSW town of Goodwood nothing much happens. Until, in August of 1992, two residents go missing, a week apart. Eighteen-year-old Rosie White is absent from her room on a Sunday morning. While the town puzzles over that, their favourite butcher, Bart McDonald fails to return from his regular Sunday fish on the lake.

The town soon learns that his boat has been found on the lake without any sign of Bart, and when the lake is dragged, no body is found. They've always believed that theirs is a safe town, but now: "Goodwood had never been visited by such collective worry, and we were not familiar with the burden of the unknown."

Seventeen-year-old Jean and her best friend George observe and discuss what they see. Their teenaged thoughts and emotions are complicated by this disquiet that settles on the town, although Jean is also distracted by the arrival in town of Evie, the most beautiful girl she has ever seen.

The uncertainty has a negative effect on the town: people are sad and anxious; many rally together and support one another; with others, tension rises and tempers flare; the uglier side of some relationships is exposed.

Readers should not expect an action-packed page-turner. Rather, the pace befits the small-town setting, and while there are mysteries to be solved, and the reader will be kept guessing as each piece of relevant information is revealed, this is more a study of an Australian country town than a crime thriller.

Some elements of this novel (small town where everyone knows everyone, the observations of the young female narrator and her best friend, the mysteriously missing residents) are reminiscent of Joanna Cannon's The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, a favourable comparison.

Throsby's depiction of the Australian small town is faultless: her setting so well rendered that readers familiar with the area may well have a certain town fixed in their minds. But it could be any NSW small town with its attractive and its less desirable qualities, and that includes the residents.

While some are necessarily a little stereotypical and therefore one-dimensional (the gossipy grocer, the outraged-at-anything-new old couple, the busybody neighbour, the obligatory sleazebag) and others are quite quirky, the townspeople are, of course, what makes this novel. And if they are all are believably flawed, many are also kind and generous and wise and some have unexpected depth. It soon becomes apparent why they love their town.

Throsby certainly has a way with words: "A woman who had long ago lost her mooring and sunk like a ship into her peculiar home. A person who had become more like a rumour than a human being." The cute little map in the front is appreciated. This tale is clever and captivating and heart-warming and there's plenty of (sometimes very black) humour. An outstanding debut.

Awkward Squad

by Sophie H?Naff

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

The Awkward Squad is the first book in the Awkward Squad/Anne Capestan series by French author, Sophie Hénaff. It is translated from French by Sam Gordon. After a six-month suspension for being a little too trigger-happy, Commissaire Anne Capestan faces the top brass of the Ile-de-France Police force hoping not to have lost her job. She hasn't. Instead, she is to head a new squad and will report directly to her former mentor, now Chief at 36, quai des Orfèvres, Buron.

Relieving all the other squads of some of the force's least conventional members, the undesirable ones: the drunkards, the thugs, the depressives, the layabouts and everyone in between – the people hamstringing the force but who can't be fired – are all to be absorbed into one squad and forgotten about in some corner.

Capestan's squad is meant to comprise forty of these, but she'll be surprised if twenty actually show up; turns out only half that do. Their directive is to deal with all the unsolved open cases and not satisfactorily resolved closed cases that are dragging down the statistics of other squads.

By definition, those relegated to this squad of misfits will be quirky. First to turn up are: Commandant Louis-Baptiste Lebreton, a nit-picker from internal affairs who brought a discrimination complaint against his boss; Lt José Torrez aka Malchance, whose jinx has him losing partners in the worst possible way; Capitaine Eva Rosière, a flamboyant crime novelist writing a TV series; and Lt Évrard, a compulsive gambler.

Joining them a bit later are: the appropriately named Capitaine Merlot, an alcoholic deskbound grandpa; Capitaine Orsini, whose campaign against corruption includes alerting journalists to his finds; Brigadier Lewitz, a petrolhead with a history of demolishing cars; and Lt Dax, ex-Cyber-Crime, now with boxer's brain.

They find themselves tucked away on the attic floor of an apartment building at number 3, rue des Innocents, sparsely outfitted with worn out furnishings and equipment, and allocated three knackered vehicles. They don't hesitate to improve their lot, bringing or buying comforts to make their job more bearable.

What is perhaps surprising is that these unwanted police officers, when freed from irritating regulations and demanding superiors, when allowed to play to their strengths, are unexpectedly capable, and ready, even eager, to team up to get their teeth into some unsolved cases. "I've been a cast-off for years. Beforehand it was just me, but now there's a whole team of us. As far as I'm concerned, that's progress."

Not all of them see themselves as on the shelf, cretinous officers in the naughty corner, however. One tells her "I consider my role to be more of a supporting one, commissaire."

Having resorted her secret weapon (Orsini and his journalist pals) to get a result in their parc Morceau drug dealer case, Capestan begins to wonder if her mentor has set the whole thing up to suit his own purposes. He is known for manipulation: does he have an agenda? It won't deter her from investigating two further cases, whether or not they get any cooperation from #36.

The concept of shoving all the misfits together somewhere out of the way so they can't do any more damage will strike a chord with readers of Mick Herron's Slough House series, although the Awkward Squad's leader is quite the polar opposite of Jackson Lamb. But like his staff, Anne's squad are glad to see some action.

Hénaff's plot is clever enough to keep the reader guessing and the pages turning. Her characters are fun and more than one-dimensional, taking very little time to endear themselves to the reader. Luckily there are two further books in the series, although English-speakers will be hoping that #3 is translated soon. Very entertaining!


by Lionel Shriver

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

4.5★s Abominations is a collection of thirty-five essays about a wide range of topics by prize-winning best-selling American author, Lionel Shriver. She applies her insight, her talent for argument and her succinct prose to subjects like her teenage diary, a dying friend, cancel culture, writers blocked, the fashionable argot and privilege, semantics in arguments about gender, the laziness of buzzwords, patriotism, nationalism and loyalty to one's birth or adopted country, Brexit, immigration, and paying tax.

She offers a sermon rejecting religious faith, a letter to her younger self about what makes one happy, a tribute to her older brother, and she outlines the inspiration for her novel, Big Brother. She describes being an American ex-pat in Belfast, and film festival humiliation at Cannes.

She comments on playing tennis: "It's fabulous to be able to thwack anything that hard, over and over, and not get arrested"; on fitness junkies, libertarians and the 2016 US election, Ikea's real genius ("sooner or later, it falls apart"), an oppressively gendered world, the drive to politically decontaminate public memorials, and what happiness is (not a position, a trajectory).

On cycling in London: "I've biked dozens of American states and all over Western Europe, and nowhere have I encountered a cycling culture so cutthroat, vicious, reckless, hostile, and violently competitive as London's". On diversity quotas: "unfair, antimeritocratic, and culturally destructive".

She gives the reader a very tongue-in-cheek list of her activities during pandemic lockdown, an opinion on the cost of health care in an ageing population, and an account of friendship, ongoing, fractured and mended. She muses on end of life and where one might draw the line with acceptable debility.

She bemoans the deteriorating standards of prose and speech, explaining her tendency to mark up casual conversation with a red pencil, and theorises on civil unrest during lockdown, BLM zealotry and the economy.

Her controversial essay on fiction and identity politics, on authenticity, is particularly well thought-out with many valid points. And her essay on quoteless dialogue in literature will resonate with most readers and many in the publishing trade: "I've yet to hear any reader despair, 'This would have been a great book, if it weren't for all those pesky quotation marks!'"

Her thought-provoking opinions pull no punches, and while many will disagree with what she says, this is a worthwhile read, even if some of the topics are of little interest to some, thus tempting skimming. Diverse, provocative, interesting. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Harper Collins UK.

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

"She was used to being wild Molly, exasperating Molly, cheeky Molly, but still after all these years she hadn't found the words to be sad Molly. She would have felt more comfortable calling her family to say she'd been arrested than that she was lonely."

There's Been A Little Incident is the first novel by Irish author Alice Ryan. When Molly Black's Uncle John gathers the family together, some think it's a bit premature. Molly has disappeared before, often requiring a dramatic extraction, and maybe she just wants to escape for a while. If so, who could blame her?

Crammed into John's suburban Dublin house, in person or by Zoom, are Molly's four uncles, her four aunts (not necessarily spouses of said uncles), her granny (mother of five of those present) and four cousins. John reports that B., Molly's best friend since they were four, was left a note that "didn't say where she was going, just that she loved us, but she had to run".

When John stresses the urgency to find her, several remind him of earlier false alarms, but he is insistent, and assigns them tasks. While Molly has always been impulsive, B. is inclined to believe that his decision to move in with his new boyfriend has precipitated this. And he'd be right: fatherless since she was nine, motherless at nineteen, without B. as her constant companion, she feels there's no one to whom she now belongs.

As the family searches for clues to her destination, some at first believing the whole exercise to be unnecessary, irritating and inconvenient, they begin to recall what Molly has been in their lives. "Molly had a special connection to each of us" For John, "it seemed like Molly was the daughter he'd never had" and "Molly Black was like electricity – sometimes she lit up the world. Sometimes she electrocuted you."

They remember how Molly had tried to talk to each of them over the last few weeks, but they didn't spare her the time, so now they feel a little guilty about that. They also remember just how much Annabelle, of whom Molly reminds them so much, did for them when she was still alive.

Thinking back, they realise that, actually, they have always needed Molly just as much as she has needed them. Even if some of them think she is more a contagious mess than a lovable rogue to be humoured, they agree that Molly has to be found.

The Black family aren't the only ones who want to know where Molly is: the Guards want to ask her what she might have seen when she was near where a young nurse, now missing, was last seen alive.

So when they get word, they put together an extraction team "of nothing but liabilities. The line-up was an irate aunt with a broken ankle, a vacuous vlogger who Bobby had actively avoided for twenty years, a heavily sedated uncle on the verge of a pro-terrorism diatribe, a nervous wreck who could only grasp concepts which existed as functions in Excel, and at the last minute –and the absolute pièce de résistance –they'd had to replace Mike, the one reliable member of the team, with a long-term alcoholic."

Ryan's cast of characters is a crazy family, made up of "new-aged hippies, religious nuts, alcoholics, former shoe salesmen, delinquent youths and Sudoku enthusiasts" who manage to endear themselves to the reader. Are they "nosy, judgemental and eccentric but ultimately great"? or "suffocating, overbearing people who pigeon-holed you"? Either way, quite a few of them are dealing with grief. And doing it the best way they can.

Ryan gives them wise words and insightful observations: "People who give out that much good energy, who are breezy and jovial and try their best to be happy and positive all the time, have a far greater capacity for getting hurt than those who put up a defence." She often has a marvellous turn of phrase: "Mike called them the Botox Bettys. But Liam said they were more like the Schadenfreude Sheilas". Funny, heart-warming and uplifting, this is a brilliant debut novel. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Head of Zeus Apollo


by Ian McEwan

On Sep 14 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 3 of 5 Stars.

Lessons is the eighteenth novel by Booker prize-winning British author, Ian McEwan. At the age of eleven, after living for five years with his parents in Libya, Roland Baines is sent to Berners Hall, a boarding school in rural Suffolk, to get the education his parents missed out on. His father had always wanted to play the piano: Roland is signed up for lessons with Miss Miriam Cornell.

When Roland is thirty-seven, his wife abandons him and their baby son, claiming in a note that, while she loves him, motherhood would sink her, and she's been living the "wrong life". Now a published poet, Roland has to seek social service assistance as sole carer for seven-month-old Lawrence.

As he copes with sole parenthood and the threat of a radiation cloud from Chernobyl, he is also under suspicion for murder from DI Douglas Browne, who is sceptical of the note and postcards Alissa has sent.

Plagued by sleeplessness, Roland's mind goes back to his childhood: army accommodation in Tripoli, boarding school, lessons with Miss Cornell, and the highly inappropriate affair into which she grooms a pre-teen boy. While the prospect of an older, attractive, single and erotically-inclined lover might be a dream come true for a randy sixteen-year-old schoolboy, even bedazzled, Roland understands it could be the destruction of his future.

In eventually rejecting her, he also abandons his formal education, spends a rather dissolute decade travelling, then begins to educate himself. By his mid-forties, he is coaching tennis, writing reviews and playing tearoom piano. "How easy it was to drift through an unchosen life, in a succession of reactions to events."

Some of McEwan's descriptive prose is exquisite: "He knew that her mind was elsewhere and that he bored her with his insignificance – another inky boy in a boarding school. His fingers were pressing down on the tuneless keys. He could see the bad place on the page before he reached it, it was happening before it happened, the mistake was coming towards him, arms outstretched like a mother, ready to scoop him up, always the same mistake coming to collect him without the promise of a kiss. And so it happened. His thumb had its own life. Together, they listened to the bad notes fade into the hissing silence."

But, at times, he seems to go off on tangents from his main plot, and although patience with these apparent digressions does offer the reader a fuller backstory, his lofty prose and cerebral subject matter can be enough to make the ordinary reader feel uneducated, even dumb. His protagonist is not all that likeable, making it hard for the reader to care a whole lot about his fate until, in the final pages, he develops into a more appealing character.

With references to national, European and world events, McEwan certainly establishes the era and setting, but his protagonist's opinions on, and reactions to, politics and current affairs do begin to bore, and readers will be tempted to skim. A too-detailed description of a mediocre life that is much wordier than it needs to be. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and the publisher.

The Invisible

by Peter Papathanasiou

On Sep 13 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 4 of 5 Stars.

4.5★s The Invisible is the second novel in the DS Manolis Investigations series by Greek-born Australian author, Peter Papathanasiou. Forced to take leave due to PTSD, George Manolis heads to the tiny northern Greek village of Glikonero: an opportunity to reconnect with his father's homeland, to catch up with his friend, Stavros, to fulfil his promise to deliver his father's heirloom set of komboloi to his old acquaintance, Lefteris, and maybe to track down his long-lost Aunt Polly.

But Stavros tells him Lefty is missing. Lefty is an invisible: completely undocumented, and the Greek police aren't concerned, Lefty is merely absent. Constable Yiannis remarks "how do you find someone who doesn't want to exist, let alone be found?" Manolis remembers Lefty as charismatic rascal, a shady but loveable hustler, but Stavros is convinced he did not leave of his own accord. Manolis agrees to try to find him.

Working as a labourer fixing up Lefty's cottage is not only a great cover, it is also therapeutic, and allows Manolis chat to villagers and explore the nearby woods, lake and island. He tries to subtly enquire about Lefty, and learns that, despite his popularity with the elderly villagers who relied on him, not everyone felt that way. Glikonero is a village of feuds and long-held grudges. And in the village of Eleftheria, he was considered a conman and thief.

Manolis soon decides that a myriad of possibilities could account for Lefty's absence: he might have gone to Lesbos, as he told neighbours; he may, on his frequent walks through the woods, have fallen in a deep cave or mineshaft, stepped on an unexploded mine, or been attacked by a bear, wolf or another predator; he may be the victim of foul play in the course of selling black market goods or smuggling across the border in Albania or North Macedonia; he may have been abducted while hitchhiking between towns; he might have drowned in the lake, been a victim of a poisonous viper on the island, shot by a hunter… the list goes on.

Lefty's cottage yields nothing at a cursory glance, but a more thorough search turns up some enigmatic clues including a euro-stuffed toolbox, some forged passports and a duffle bag of weapons. But nothing points to where he has gone. Before Manolis gives up looking, he has encounters with several quirky villagers, a group of Romani, and some illegal immigrants as well as snakes, bears, and scorpions; just which of these is more dangerous might be debatable.

Papathanasiou's setting feels highly authentic, and his fondness of the region and her people is apparent with every line of his descriptive prose; his characters and their dialogue are credible; and some scenes, like the negotiation with the Eleftheria villagers over the stolen cash, and the snake-bite scenario, are blackly funny.

As well as the mystery of Lefty's disappearance, the story touches on graft and corruption rife in official circles, sworn virgins, the mass removal of children following the civil war, the treatment of mentally and physically disabled children and, of course, the difficulty associated with locating an invisible. This is atmospheric crime fiction with an excellent twist in the final pages. This unbiased review is from a copy provided by MacLeHose Press


by Andrew Sean Greer

On Sep 3 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Less is the first novel in the Less series by award-winning best-selling American author, Andrew Sean Greer. Quickly approaching fifty, Arthur Less is dismayed to be invited to the wedding of a former lover. Attending is out of the question: Arthur Less devises a "cats cradle of junkets" that will ensure he is out of the country and very busy while Freddy Pelu marries Tom Dennis in Sonoma, CA.

First on his itinerary is New York City, interviewing an author of a sci-fi series with a cult following. This is preceded by a lunch with his agent, the outcome of which is a shock: his new novel will need a rewrite if it is to attract a publisher.

From there, Mexico City (an interview about his famous lover, poet Robert Brownburn), Turin (nominated for a book award), Berlin (teaching a five-week course), a short, unplanned stop-over in Paris (catch up with a friend), Morocco (to celebrate the birthday of a friend of a friend, and his own), India (a writing retreat, to fix his novel?), and Japan (to review some restaurant meals).

But at each destination, and often, during his travels, Arthur is overwhelmed by reminiscences, reveries, flashbacks, courtesy of those he meets, old friends and new acquaintances, and of little incidents that occur. Much as he would rather not, he recalls not just past lovers, but those he truly loved (and perhaps still does?), and fails to scrub Freddy from his mind and heart.

It's on his fiftieth birthday that he is blessed with an epiphany about his apparently unwanted novel, and it's a delightful irony that it just about describes what Greer has written: "What if it isn't a poignant, wistful novel at all? What if it isn't the story of a sad middle-aged man on a tour of his hometown, remembering the past and fearing the future; a peripateticism of humiliation and regret; the erosion of a single male soul? What if it isn't even sad?"

Greer's protagonist might remind some readers of those that David Nicholls creates: inept, accident-prone, awkward, subject to "those writerly humiliations planned by the universe to suck at the bones of minor artists like him", whose "brain sits before its cash register again, charging him for old shames as if he has not paid before".

And towards the end, his friend/rival tells him "You are the most absurd person I've ever met. You've bumbled through every moment and been a fool; you've misunderstood and misspoken and tripped over absolutely everything and everyone in your path, and you've won. And you don't even realize it."

The story is related by an unnamed narrator whose identity gradually becomes clear. Greer's plot, characters and prose are entertaining and enjoyable, and it's no surprise that this novel was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Fans will be pleased to know they can look forward to a sequel, Less Is Lost.

Real Bad Things

by Kelly J Ford

On Sep 2 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

Real Bad Things is the second novel by award-winning American author, Kelly J. Ford. Recently jobless, homeless and romantically detached, a string of text messages from her ever-hostile mother is really all the impetus Jane Mooney needs to quit Boston and return to her Arkansas hometown, Maud. "They found him." "I TOLD YOU THEY WOULD." "Time to come home." "Time to pay for what YOU DONE."

Twenty-five years earlier, inexplicably breaking the solemn vow made with her younger brother, her best friend and her lover, Jane confessed to murdering her abusive stepfather, Warren Ingram, as soon as he was reported missing. Jane was arrested, but without a body, or evidence of a crime, the case couldn't proceed. Jane left town as soon as she was released.

Now, she's back to face the music but, new among the lazy, incompetent members of the Maud Police Department, Detective Benjamin Hampton isn't ready to arrest her just yet. He's asking awkward questions, and Jane feels the need to check that the other three are sticking to the agreed story. But, for over two decades, Jane has believed a version of what happened that, it turns out, is not quite correct.

Georgia Lee Lane is unhappily married with twin teenaged sons, manages the Maud Pharmacy, and has been a city councillor for fifteen years. But her opponent in the upcoming election has plenty of money to splash around, and she is already polling badly enough without her name being associated with Lezzie Borden, the nickname Jane acquired after her confession. But that's exactly what the "Let's Talk About Maud" Facebook group, run by a couple of auto body guys, is doing.

In order to survive, Georgia Lee has cast the events of twenty-five years earlier from her mind, but "Some days it felt like trouble hung around her like a coat she couldn't cast off, weighing her down, no matter how good or kind or helpful she tried to be. It made her sweat. Restricted every forward motion so much that past deeds and present resentments swelled inside her."

The story is told through alternating narratives from the perspectives of Jane and Georgia Lee, along with flashbacks to the time of the murder. Ford constructs her plot so skilfully that the astute reader who believes they have figured out exactly what happened to Warren Ingram still has a surprise or two in store, and even those who pick up on a few hints throughout the story are unlikely to predict the final, jaw-dropping, reveal.

Ford deftly conveys the Arkansas Bible-belt small-town mindset where "Who cared about crime when you had two women doing something people thought they ought not do?" Maud is painted as a place that revels in gossip and speculation spouted in print, screen and social media, where a strip of compromising photo-booth shots of two seventeen-year-old girls is deemed more important than competing confessions of murder.

While it is easy to empathise with some of the players, none of her characters is necessarily all that likeable: all have very human flaws, and while many are simply trying to get by as best they can, quite a few are downright despicable. Certain scenes in the later chapters are blackly funny, and Ford has a talent for descriptive prose: "words like justice and I told you so spitting out of her mouth like knives". A brilliant slow-burn thriller! This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer

Shrines Of Gaiety

by Kate Atkinson

On Sep 2 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

"The war was history, and history didn't interest Freda, she'd had no part in it. She was vibrant with the present and hungry for the future."

Shrines Of Gaiety is the fifth stand-alone novel by award-winning, best-selling British author, Kate Atkinson. It's in the late spring of 1926 that the notorious Nellie Coker is released from Holloway prison, having served six months for a liquor licencing offence. Clearly, her paid policeman, DI Arthur Maddox, has fallen down on the job. Probably intentionally, Nellie thinks, and planning to take over her business as his own.

Her five nightclubs have been operating under the management of her adult children, but her stint in jail has diminished her. Nellie has her finger firmly on the pulse, though: she realises that Maddox isn't the only threat she faces, and she won't go down without a fight.

Gwendolen Kelling has come from York to look for two fourteen-year-old runaway girls. Freda Murgatroyd, half-sister of Gwendolen's friend, Cissy has dragged her best friend Florence Ingram to London, promising a singing and dancing career on the stage. The reality isn't as sparkly as they had hoped, but Freda is determined. She may not be entirely street-smart, but she's far from the naiveté Florence evinces.

Having lost two brothers in the war, a father to illness, and then cared for her demanding, dying mother, Gwendolen quits her job at the library and seeks out DCI John Frobisher at Bow Street Police Station, assured that he is the man to help her find the girls. Frobisher is, indeed, concerned about the number of girls going missing in London over the last few months, believing that Nellie Coker's clubs are swallowing them up.

Frobisher is on secondment from Scotland Yard, at Bow Street to root out the corruption that is rife. He is convinced that Maddox is the main actor, but the man remains frustratingly absent from duty, and Frobisher is unsure which of the men at Bow Street can be trusted: who knows if they are in league with Maddox? The ones that aren't lazy or stupid, that is.

Frobisher quickly decides that there is clearly more to this librarian than meets the eye, and Miss Kelling's timely arrival somehow has him sending a civilian undercover into Nellie's citadel club, The Amethyst. She might spot her runaways there; she might just see something else useful…

Once again, Atkinson has written a brilliant story with a wholly believable plot that twists and surprises. In a tale that includes murder, blackmail, theft, corruption, and a prostitution racket, there is also plenty of dark humour, some delicious irony, a few farcical near-misses, and dialogue with many amusing mental asides. Loyalty, trust and a perceived lack thereof, also feature.

As well as main characters of surprising depth, Atkinson gives the reader a marvellously entertaining support cast: a war veteran who rescues damsels in distress, a somewhat precocious, perceptive pre-teen who fends well for herself, an aspiring novelist inclined to melodrama, a dissolute gossip columnist, and a jewel thief bent on revenge.

She gives them insightful observations: "Men talked in order to convey information or to ruminate on cricket scores and campaign statistics. Women, on the other hand, talked in an effort to understand the foibles of human behaviour. If men were to 'gossip', the world might be a better place. There would certainly be fewer wars"

Her extensive research into the era is apparent on every page, and as always, she is expert at setting a scene rich in detail with succinct descriptive prose: "The Cokers all had very eloquent eyebrows. They could conduct entire conversations with them, without saying a word" and "Sometimes he thought he could feel the weight of history in London pressing down on the top of his head" and "Much as he disliked being chained to his desk – Frobisher bound, his liver pecked at by bureaucracy – this pointless trailing around was time-wasting" are examples. Superlative historical fiction. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Random House UK Transworld

Do No Harm

by Robert Pobi

On Aug 29 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

4.5★s Do No Harm is the third book in the Lucas Page series by Canadian author, Robert Pobi. Only brilliant astrophysicist and numbers genius, Lucas Page could come home from a charity dinner convinced that thirty doctors have been murdered undetected by any law enforcement body. By the next morning, his grad student Bobby Nadeel has analysed the cases and produces the figures to prove it, but FBI Special Agent in Charge of Manhattan, Brett Kehoe isn't wholly persuaded that this string of accidents, suicides and seemingly natural deaths are really murders.

When their friend, Dr Dove Knox has apparently suicided after the same dinner, Lucas's wife, Erin asks him to look into her colleague's death. Much to the irritation of the NYPD and the ME's officers, Lucas immediately reads the scene as murder. By the time Dr Arna Solomon is shot in what is meant to look like a mugging in the car park opposite Weill Cornell, the FBI is convinced.

As first responder to several of the cases for which the FBI is requesting files, NYPD Detective Johnny Russo has quickly worked out that something is going on, and demands to be involved. The irritating alcoholic does seem to have some valid points, and seems able to withstand his rudeness like water off a duck's back, so Lucas reluctantly lets him stay.

Thorough investigation and analysis lead them to conclude that the murders look random and, indeed, the victims seem to have nothing in common except that they are doctors; of the few cases where a perpetrator is identified, nothing seems to link these unlikeliest of killers to their victims. Their motivation to commit murder is a complete mystery.

Any inclination Lucas might have to leave the investigation to the FBI, though, is quashed when Erin is targeted by a gunman and three of their children narrowly escape incineration. The FBI goes into deep analysis of every scrap of data they can find, and gradually, Lucas forms a theory.

Despite the red herrings and distractions, the most astute reader may figure out what is going on early in the piece but discovering the who, the why and the how is guaranteed to keep the pages turning right up to the final jaw-dropping reveal. And whenever the tension builds up, Russo throws in his two cents worth, or there's another vehicle mishap…

Special Agent Alice Whitaker, somewhat recovered from the injuries sustained in their last encounter, ends up needing her shiny black Navigator SUV replaced FOUR times as she drives Lucas around, courtesy a wild mercy run to hospital, a body falling from a great height, a motorcyclist through the rear screen, and a second body falling from a great height. And then a Ferrari SF90 Whitaker is driving is comprehensively destroyed in an exciting high-speed car chase.

This third instalment is cleverly plotted and Pobi includes plenty of action scenes, some of them quite grisly, characters from previous books engaging in entertaining dialogue, some chillingly nasty killers and a high body count. Disbelief may need to be suspended for some aspects, but the best advice is to hang on and enjoy the ride. Gripping, intriguing, and often blackly funny, this is another excellent crime thriller. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton.

The Sweet Remnants Of Summer

by Alexander McCall Smith

On Aug 29 2022, CloggieDownunder said:
CloggieDownunder rated this book 5 of 5 Stars.

"Being married to Isabel had many positive features, but it also involved a form of moral self-scrutiny that could be challenging. But Jamie would not have it otherwise. She was the woman he adored, and if he was being influenced by her – which he was – then there was nobody else by whom he would rather be swayed."

The Sweet Remnants Of Summer is the fourteenth book in the Isabel Dalhousie series by Scottish author, Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel Dalhousie, philosopher, wife and mother of two boys, often finds herself in discussion with Jamie over cooking and eating delicious-sounding meals. They might debate Tolstoy's oft-quoted line about happy families, decide that pious people make us uncomfortable, declare that only the insecure are nasty, and wonder should the private life of an author/composer/poet/actor affect our reading & enjoyment of their work?

In this instalment of our favourite philosopher's life: Cat, Isabel's flighty niece, returns to Edinburgh without Leo and, via the business she plans to open with her new boyfriend, demonstrates just how morally casual she is. But might this not turn out quite how Isabel expects?

His teacher informs Isabel that Charlie has been biting at school, but it later turns out he's not the only one doing the biting. A curly question from Charlie also alert Isabel and Jamie to the need to agree on the concept of God for their young sons' upbringing.

As she does in every instalment, Isabel counts herself fortunate to be married to Jamie and, as he does in every instalment, Jamie begs Isabel to be careful in her unavoidable meddling. She concedes: "'Oh, I get it spectacularly wrong,' she admitted. 'Sometimes. In fact, rather often.'" Jamie describes to Isabel a situation involving a corrupt conductor showing favouritism towards his less talented lover, and confesses that, ironically, he feels the need to interfere.

Isabel is asked by the convener of a gallery advisory board that she has just joined if she will intervene in her family's rift, but the situation related to her, (a politically intolerant son, his prejudiced [maybe] boyfriend, and an overbearing father), on later consideration and discussion with Jamie, could describe a number of possibilities, so some subtle probing is needed. Jamie reflects that "Family pathology was usually deep-seated and recalcitrant; a well-meaning outsider would be able to do little to shift it from its ancient moorings."

Their housekeeper, Grace offers to consult her network of contacts in service for information, but advice from an unconventional source has her reconsidering. Isabel's thoughts regularly veer off on tangents and this fourteenth instalment also sees her contemplating the need for co-operation and peace in the world, euphemism, and the marital short-hand used by couples who know each other well to avoid touchy subjects, all while in mid-conversation.

As always, McCall Smith includes plenty of gentle philosophy and an abundance of wisdom: "Sometimes, Isabel felt, the most honest thing to do was to confess that one was not entirely sure; and that uncertainty, even vagueness, was a perfectly defensible position." Isabel's reflections often bring a smile to the face, and her banter with Jamie and Charlie provide some laugh-out-loud moments Another delightfully entertaining dose of Alexander McCall Smith.

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.


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.