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Cloggie Downunder (Australia)

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Under the Covers (Temptation)
Under the Covers (Temptation)
by Roseanne Williams
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars a bit too long and repetitive, 31 Mar. 2015
Under The Covers is the fourth romance novel by American author, Roseanne Williams. Blair Sansome has a job evaluating hotels. The St Martin Hotel in San Francisco should have been evaluated by her boss, but an unfortunate accident means Blair has to step up. Unfortunately, the hotel manager, Powers Knight, is the man she spent a night seducing three years ago in a case of mistaken identity. Armed with several disguises that include wigs, dowdy clothing, coloured contact lenses, glasses and even a dental prosthesis, Blair hopes to get the job done without alerting Powers to just who she is. But she doesn’t count on Powers father, Matthew, a man eager to get his son married. The premise for this romance is sound, but the execution suffers from being a bit too long and repetitive. Certainly there is plenty of humour, much of it slapstick, and this would translate well onto the screen. 3.5 stars

Die With Me
Die With Me
by Elena Forbes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent debut., 30 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Die With Me (Paperback)
Die With Me is the first novel by British author, Elena Forbes, and the first book in the Mark Tartaglia series. When an autopsy on the victim of an apparent suicide in a deserted London church raises questions about the death, DI Mark Tartaglia finds himself in charge of a murder investigation. From laborious examination of coroner’s records, it becomes clear that there are at least two, and possibly three, earlier victims. Emails, suicide notes, locks of hair, presence of GHB and other factors point to a serial killer.

With Tartaglia’s DCI in hospital following an accident, he and DS Sam Donovan are under pressure to produce results, but Tartaglia is infuriated when DCI Carolyn Steele is brought in to head the case. And even more annoyed when she brings in psychologist, Dr Patrick Kennedy as the profiler. Kennedy and Tartaglia have an adverse history on a previous case; Steele is also not as impartial about Kennedy’s role as would be wise. As more deaths occur, Tartaglia is also distracted from his work by his previous affair with pathologist, Dr Fiona Blake.

This is an excellent murder mystery that captures the feel of the west London suburbs and introduces a team of realistically flawed members of the Metropolitan Police force. While the astute reader may be able to determine the perpetrator and the source of various red herrings, this is, nonetheless, a page turner that will keep the reader enthralled to its gripping climax. Forbes leaves plenty of scope for further books in the series, and readers who enjoy this one will be pleased to know there are a further three (so far) to be savoured. An excellent debut.

Streets on a Map
Streets on a Map
Price: £3.05

4.0 out of 5 stars an entertaining and enjoyable read., 30 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Streets on a Map (Kindle Edition)
“You don’t stop caring for someone just because they make a mistake. We all make mistakes. The difference is whether we learn from them”

Streets on a Map: Journey Through Changes is a novel by Australian author and poet, Dale Harcombe. Abby Donovan never dreamed she would find it so hard to fit into her husband, Joel’s hometown. But Astley, in central west NSW, several hours travel from her beloved Sydney, seems to be a close-knit community with no space for her in the weave. Luckily, not everyone is wary of newcomers: Laila Harris holds out a metaphorical hand. “It’s a gift. All you have to do is accept it. There are things in this world that can’t be bought ……friendship is one of them”

Over the following years, Abby finds herself slowly becoming part of the community, and she learns just what living in a small town can mean: “…appreciated concern or….an intrusion? ….it was both one of the privileges and the pitfalls of a small community. Here, where lives intertwined like streets on a map, such things were more noticeable”. Abby grows and matures, delighting when things go well and learning to cope when they don’t. She realises “There’s always a choice. It’s easy to use circumstances as an excuse for what happens to us”

In the tradition of Anne Tyler and Maeve Binchy, Harcombe takes a cast of ordinary characters and subjects them to everyday happenings. Along the way, she throws them some challenges and gives them words of wisdom to share: “…in some way, we are changed by the people we associate with. And their perceptions of you are coloured by their own personalities and experiences. You appear to them the way they expect you to behave. Between them they bring out the different aspects of your personality”, Laila tells Abby.

Harcombe expertly renders the feel of a typical central west town, the different attitudes of community members, unwavering ostracism side by side with incredible generosity. Her characters are familiar and appealing, none wholly good or bad, all flawed to a greater or lesser degree. Their dialogue is exactly what is heard on the streets and in the shops of every country town. Harcombe gives the reader some humour, some heartache, even some excitement (someone gets stabbed!), but above all, an entertaining and enjoyable read.
With thanks to the author for my copy.

One Life: My Mother's Story (Unabridged)
One Life: My Mother's Story (Unabridged)
Offered by Audible Ltd

5.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant read, 26 Mar. 2015
“It was different for Nance. She wasn’t dependent on a man. In fact, she thought that might be part of the problem. She’d been running her own life for so long, she was used to shaping things as she wanted…….She was like those girls who learned to dance with other girls, taking turns to be the man. They never got the hang of following, once they knew what it was like to lead.”

One Life is a biography of Nance Isobel Gee, written by her daughter, popular Australian author, Kate Grenville. Nance was born in 1912. Against the odds for a woman of her humble background, Nance attended Sydney University, became a registered pharmacist and owned her own pharmacy. But this simplistic summation of her life is completely inadequate, for Nance did much, much more with her life. As Grenville relates the incidents and events that punctuated Nance’s life, she takes the reader back to another era, one on the cusp of major change. Schooling, work, war, sexual discrimination, motherhood, political affiliations and even building a house feature in this interesting and entertaining memoir: “Why shouldn’t a woman lay bricks? The world would never change if someone wasn’t prepared to be the first.”

While this may be a memoir, Grenville still manages to treat the reader to some wonderfully evocative prose: “They woke to a day so hot and still the air was like something solid. All morning a cloud gathered on the horizon and by afternoon it filled the sky, dark with a dangerous green underbelly like a bruise. Then one great blast of wind, and the hail starting all at once, like someone spilling peas out of a colander” is just one example. Many of the images on the twenty-four pages of photographs will strike a chord with readers of a certain vintage, who may well have similar photographs of their own family.

Grenville explains: “Her story is unusual in some ways, but in other ways it’s the archetypal twentieth-century story of the coming of a new world of choices and self-determination” Those who knew her have described Nance Gee as a remarkable woman: this is a description which Grenville’s biography proves is certainly very apt. Once again, Grenville treats her readers to a brilliant read.

In Certain Circles
In Certain Circles
by Elizabeth Harrower
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars previously unpublished novel from an acclaimed author, 24 Mar. 2015
This review is from: In Certain Circles (Paperback)
“She was too young to be thoughtful, or interested in someone else’s problems. She felt a huge impatience at this unwarranted check to her self-absorption and happy conceit and ambition. So they had all had more troubles than she. Did that really make hem superior? ….It was not as though she were a trashy or frivolous person. Or not only trashy and frivolous. She was almost sure her heart was in the right place. It was simply that circumstances had not called on her to produce it very often.”

In Certain Circles is the fifth and final full-length novel by Australian author, Elizabeth Harrower, and is set in post-WW2 Sydney. Meet the Howard siblings, offspring of well-to-do parents living on Sydney’s exclusive north shore: seventeen-year-old Zoe, a shallow, self-centred, snobbish girl whose sheltered upbringing means she is quite naïve in some respects; and her older brother Russell, returned safely from the war and very unlike the rest of the family. Russell, about to marry childhood sweetheart, Lily, introduces two orphans to the family: Stephen Quayle, a prickly salesman with erratic moods, and his younger sister, Anna.

The narrative, carried mainly by two voices, Anna and Zoe, follows the lives of these five characters over the next twenty-three years. Zoe is a quite unappealing main character, although she improves with maturity; Anna is more likeable; the remaining characters are lightly sketched: Russell is apparently charismatic and convincing, a champion of the needy; Stephen, a stereotypical damaged soul; and Lily, a woman devoted to her twin daughters. A somewhat disjointed narrative may confuse the reader at times. Harrower subjects her players to unrequited love, widowhood, neurosis, mental breakdown, mental cruelty and suicidal thoughts.

Some of the prose is quite beautiful: “Something in him took her from the pink marshmallow castle of her life to a high cliff over the ocean of the real world” and “As always now, she had the sensation, when their eyes met, of sustaining a physical injury. A speechless, difficult resentment went out from them both” and “To live without the interest or attention of other people, without making an impression: in her mind, Zoe groped to imagine such a state. All she could find was a feeling of irritation” are examples.

The dialogue seems rather stiff and formal, but perhaps the well-to-do intelligentsia really did talk like that in post-war Sydney; perhaps they really did spend their days analysing themselves and their relationships. : “Now she realised that she had shared the common illusion that if someone were only ‘himself’, instead of an imitation of what he could be, he would be fulfilled, more likeable, cleverer, happier, good, better, best. That the mask might sometimes be superior to what lay beneath was an idea that had only recently occurred to her”. This previously unpublished novel from an acclaimed author rewards the reader who persists with a very clever twist at the end.

A Place Called Winter
A Place Called Winter
by Patrick Gale
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars incredibly moving and completely captivating., 24 Mar. 2015
This review is from: A Place Called Winter (Hardcover)
“When a thing has always been forbidden and must live in darkness and silence, it’s hard to know how it might be, if allowed to thrive.”

A Place Called Winter is the sixteenth novel by British author, Patrick Gale. In early 20th century England, shy and stuttering Harry Cane, nurturing older brother to the infinitely more confident Jack, is rather surprised to find himself married to Winnie, and before long, a father to Phyllis. Even more surprising, the obsessive infatuation for another that forces him to abandon his family, England and the bulk of his wealth for the hardship, privation and loneliness of the Canadian prairielands. Harry is befriended on the ship by a strangely charismatic man, a Dane named Troels Munck, who commandeers his life and steers him to a land plot near the remote Saskatchewan town of Winter.

The narrative alternates between two time periods: Harry’s life after he leaves a mental asylum and joins the therapeutic community run by the unconventional Dr Gideon Ormshaw at Bethel; and the events of his life from when his father died, events that led up to his admission to the asylum. Based on story of his own great-grandfather’s life, Gale’s story portrays the reality of pioneering in the Canadian wilderness. It also touches on accepted therapies for mental illness at the time and the dangers of being a homosexual in this era. Gale has a marvellous talent for making the reader feel true empathy for his main character: it is virtually impossible not to feel Harry’s heartache, his anxiety, his anger and his fear, but also his love.

Gale’s descriptive prose is a pleasure to read: “She looked after the geese and ducks and was an excellent shot, regularly bagging wild duck…. She also shot rabbit and the occasional hare. These she would pluck or skin herself in an efficient fury all the more self-righteous for being unapplauded and unregarded” and “As Troels cane to stand beside him, Harry smelt the musk of his sweat and something else, something threatening, if threat had a smell” and “There were stars, a seamless, spangled fishnet of them from horizon to horizon, coldly lighting the land and lending the farm buildings, outlined sharply against them, an eerie loveliness” are just a few examples.

Fans of Gale’s work will not be disappointed, and newcomers to his work will want to seek out more of it. This beautifully written novel is incredibly moving and completely captivating.
With thanks to Hachette and The Reading Room for this copy to read and review.

Legend of a Suicide
Legend of a Suicide
by David Vann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing debut, 24 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Legend of a Suicide (Paperback)
“Watching the dark shadow moving before him, it seemed as this were what he had felt for a long time, that his father was something insubstantial before him and that if he were to look away for an instant or forget or not follow fast enough and will him to be there, he might vanish, as if it were only Roy’s will that kept him there”

Legend of a Suicide is the first book by prize-winning American author, David Vann. It consists of five short stories and a novella. The stories are all connected and describe the relationship of young Roy Fenn with his father Jim, a failed dentist and unsuccessful fisherman who commits suicide when Roy is thirteen. Vann writes from a position of authority, having experienced exactly that with his own father.

While this dark subject forms the centre of the tales, Vann often surrounds it with equally dark humour as he describes the (frequently absurd) incidents of their lives. All this is contained within Vann’s luminous prose: “There had been rain overnight. I remember how strong the dove grass smelled, bitter in my nostrils and throat. I looked up suddenly from the bright ground and everything pulled together, all the strands of cloud and blue air, as if there were a huge drain in the center of the sky that sucked it all up”

The short stories are narrated in the first person by Roy; the novella (Sukkwan Island) is narrated in the third person from the point of view of Roy and Jim, and describe a fateful homestead stay on a remote Alaskan island. Again, some evocative descriptive prose is used: “They watched the sun getting lower. It was so slow they couldn’t see it dropping, but they could see the light changing on the water and on the trees, the shadow behind every leaf and ripple in the sideways light making the world three-dimensional, as if they were seeing trees through a view-finder” is an example.

Vann’s portrayal of the mentally ill father, his rationalisations and choices, is very realistic. Young Roy’s thought processes have a similarly authentic feel. This is a moving, sometimes funny, sometimes shocking tale with a clever twist. An amazing debut.

Leaving Everything most loved (Maisie Dobbs)
Leaving Everything most loved (Maisie Dobbs)
by Jacqueline Winspear
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent read., 21 Mar. 2015
Leaving Everything Most Loved is the tenth book in the Maisie Dobbs series by British-born American author, Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and private investigator, is engaged by (former) Sergeant-Major Pramal, of India, to investigate the murder, some two months earlier, of his sister, Usha, a governess living in London. Scotland Yard have made no progress with the case, so Maisie’s team have a challenge ahead of them with this cold case. When Maisie visits the ayah’s hostel where Usha had been living, she gets the impression that the couple running the supposedly charitable institution are not quite what they seem, and before Maisie can speak to her privately, Usha’s friend and fellow lodger, Maya Patel is murdered in the same manner: shot between the eyes and found in the nearby canal.

Maisie’s assistant, Billy Beal is back in the job, but apparently not completely recovered from the attack that hospitalised him: his distraction affects his investigative abilities. Maisie takes over the case of a missing boy and a chance remark by DI Caldwell has her wondering if their two cases are linked. But Maisie is distracted too, by her burgeoning desire to travel overseas in her mentor’s footsteps. It seems that Usha Pramal was well loved, for her personality and her healing powers. As Maisie investigates, all manner of possible suspects present themselves. Maisie wonders if jealousy or a case of mistaken identity are the answer, or was there some sort of racial motivation? Or is it all about love? Winspear once again gives the reader a plot with plenty of twists and turns. She touches on the plight of Indian ayahs abandoned far from home; shell shock and mixed marriage also feature. The final chapters ensure that future books in the series will be quite different. Another excellent read.

Get in Trouble: Stories
Get in Trouble: Stories
by Kelly Link
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars plenty of dark humour, 21 Mar. 2015
Get in Trouble is a collection of nine short stories by American author, Kelly Link. Each of the stories has been previously published in other publications from as early as 2006. The stories are varied in both format and subject matter, although each one seems to feature some element of alternate reality and have a highly original plot with a twist or two to keep it interesting. There are Summer Visitors of quite a different kind, internet gaming worlds, an internet date that goes wrong in an unpredictable manner, an unusual theme park, a pair of nervous expectant gay fathers, bizarre teen toys, weird pocket universes and an attempted suicide with a potato peeler.

In these very different stories, Link manages to somehow logically combine: butter sculptures, dentists and superheroes; a surrogate mother, a gay couple, a bunch of left-over wedding dresses and a premmy baby; space ships, haunted houses and ghost stories; a jealous teenager, an antique locket and a ghost toy; pyramids, an asp and a pair of spoiled rich siblings; double shadows, twins, mermaids, iguanas and a hurricane; a Land of Oz theme park, superpowers and a childhood friend; a demon lover, an actress and a ghost.

There is plenty of dark humour in these tales; they are imaginative, sexy, often fantastic and great fun to read. Fans of Kelly Link’s work will not be disappointed with this latest collection.

The Adventuress
The Adventuress
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Different., 17 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Adventuress (Hardcover)
The Adventuress is the first book by American author and artist, Audrey Niffenegger. It was created when Niffenegger was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, developing from a series of drawings. The original books were hand printed: a limited edition of ten copies. The drawings are aquatints, featuring a young woman in a skirt and long gloves, created by an alchemist. After the woman is kidnapped by a Baron, the story takes some bizarre turns, including transformation into a moth, an affair with Napoleon, giving birth to a cat and being cared for by nuns. The text is minimal, often as little as one or two words on the page opposite the prints.

In her afterword, Niffenegger explains the complicated process involved in the hand printing. The prints, in subdued colours, are quite individual, and Niffenegger’s style is distinctive. It is easy to see from her later works (The Night Book Mobile and Raven Girl) that both the quality of the art and the storytelling have improved since the earlier books she refers to as “visual novels”. Dedicated Niffenegger fans may wish to own a copy; borrowing from the library is recommended for those who are merely “interested”. Different.

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