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Cloggie Downunder (Australia)
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Evil in Return
Evil in Return
by Elena Forbes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars another excellent offering from Elena Forbes, 6 April 2015
This review is from: Evil in Return (Paperback)
Evil In Return is the third book in the Mark Tartaglia series by British author, Elena Forbes. DI Mark Tartaglia and his Barnes Murder Squad investigate a body discovered in the crypt of Brampton Cemetery. The victim has been tortured, killed with a single bullet to the head, and the corpse mutilated. He is identified as Joe Logan, ex-actor, teacher and first-time author of a bestseller, publicity-shy and hiding out on a narrow boat on the Maida Canal. His laptop yields a bizarre email in Gothic script, and the team has difficulty locating one of his most recent phone contacts.

When a second corpse subjected to the same brutal treatment is discovered, the team struggle to connect the victims. Clever detective work eventually reveals other potential victims who confess the dreadful secret they have been hiding for years. But just who is targeting these men, and why? As Forbes skilfully builds her story to its exciting climax, the list of potential suspects in the reader’s mind lengthens: it seems everyone has something to hid, and no-one is telling the complete truth.

With each instalment, Forbes expands her main characters and makes them a bit more human. Both Sam Donovan and Mark Tartaglia make some unwise decisions, reminding us that the police, too, are human and prey to insecurities and failings. This instalment touches on missing persons and again involves some psychological profiling. Evil In Return is another excellent offering from Elena Forbes and readers will look forward to the fourth book in this series, The Jigsaw Man.


Goanna Island Mystery, The (Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!)
Goanna Island Mystery, The (Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!)
by Dale Harcombe
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun!, 6 April 2015
The Goanna Island Mystery is a book by Australian author, Dale Harcombe, in the Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Read! Read! Read! series. When Mark, the bully at Leo’s new school dares him to cross the sandbar to Goanna Island, he can’t refuse, even though Mark tells him the island is haunted by the ghost of a pirate. Leo sets off to prove he’s not chicken, but is he going to regret his bravado? This mystery, perfect for 5-9 year-olds, involves a scary white face at a window, a secret room, a tunnel and a stolen Tim Tam. It stars a brave and clever boy who is depicted in delightful illustrations by Dillon Naylor. Great fun!


A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars a stunning debut: moving, uplifting and very funny, 4 April 2015
This review is from: A Man Called Ove (Hardcover)
A Man Called Ove is the first novel by Swedish blogger and columnist, Fredrik Backman. At fifty-nine, Ove has definite ideas on how things should be done, on the best car to drive (obviously a Saab), and no patience for those who cannot follow the rules. The son of a hard-working, poor but principled man, Ove, too is hard-working and sticks rigidly to his principles. But now, six months since the death of his beloved wife, Sonja, he is “not dead, but not really living”, and he is no longer hard-working: he has been retrenched. His life without any purpose whatsoever, he matter-of-factly sets out to commit suicide.

His meticulous plans are derailed, time and again: inferior-quality rope; the Cat Annoyance; the Pregnant Foreign Woman who needs a ladder, a lift, a lesson; radiators that need to be properly bled; a bicycle that needs repair; a fainting Suit needing rescue from certain death; a gay man in need of accommodation. Time and again, he finds himself at Sonja’s grave, apologising once more for failing to join her as promised.

The narrative alternates between a three-week period in the present day, and Ove’s life from the age of seven, when his mother died. With his cranky main character, Backman gives the reader social commentary with plenty of chuckles, snickers and laugh-out-loud moments: “In the parking area, Ove sees that imbecile Anders reversing his Audi out of his garage. It has those new, wave-shaped headlights, Ove notes, presumably designed so that no one at night will be able to avoid the insight that here comes a car driven by an utter s***” and “’I almost smashed into that car!’ pants Parvaneh. Ove peers over the edge of the bonnet. And then, suddenly, a sort of calm comes over his face. He turns and nods at her, very matter-of-fact. ‘Doesn’t matter. It’s a Volvo’” exemplify his opinion about non-Saab vehicles. His insults are similarly hilarious: “You shouldn’t even be allowed to rewind a cassette”, he tells The Lanky One.

But Backman gives his characters plenty of words of wisdom too: “Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say” and “We can busy ourselves with living or with dying, Ove. We have to move on” are two examples. There is much humour in this novel, some of it quite black, but there are also moments that will produce a lump in the throat and even tears. Flawlessly translated from Swedish by Henning Koch, this “requested-by-readers” novel is a stunning debut: moving, uplifting and very funny.


Our Lady of Pain
Our Lady of Pain
by Elena Forbes
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant read, 2 April 2015
This review is from: Our Lady of Pain (Paperback)
Our Lady of Pain is the second book in the Mark Tartaglia series by British author, Elena Forbes. When a naked body is found in the snow in Holland Park, posed in prayer, a Swinburne poem stuffed in her mouth, DI Mark Tartaglia and his Barnes Murder Squad investigate. On closer examination it transpires that the victim, an attractive, wealthy and well-liked art dealer, had secrets of which even her family and closest friends were unaware. Then a journalist claims a link to a year-old cold case, complicating the investigation even further.

In this instalment, Forbes expands on her two main characters, Tartaglia and DS Sam Donovan, both of whom are appealing, in spite of, or perhaps because of, their flaws. The story features S&M, more than one stalker, and a bit of psychological profiling. This page-turner has a clever plot with a red herring or two, a heart-stopping climax and enough twists that the author should worry about being sued for whiplash injury. A brilliant read.


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.


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