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Cloggie Downunder (Australia)
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Games Creatures Play
Games Creatures Play
by Charlaine Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.76

3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag, 30 July 2015
This review is from: Games Creatures Play (Paperback)
Games Creatures Play is an anthology of fifteen short stories edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L P Kelner. Fifteen very different stories from fifteen authors, including Scott Sigler, Laura Lippman and Brandon Sanderson; Harris and Kelner themselves also contribute. All the stories involve games, be they of the sporting type, children’s games or games of chance, and all involve some element of the supernatural.

Thus, the reader gets real-life Capture-the-Flag, Hide-and-Seek with malevolent gods or with horrific consequences for the found, a fight-night where a dead victim gets revenge, car racing with the Devil, lacrosse with ghosts, taking on in a game of chance, Greek wrestling with a shapeshifters, fencing in a French finishing school, shoe-skating on thin ice, roller derby with monsters, softball with psychics, a haunted candlepin alley and baseball in the Safeway.

Some of the stories are chilling, some are laugh-out-loud funny and some are just OK. At least one is so verbose it borders on being boring. Harris offers a meeting between Sookie Stackhouse and Manfred Bernardo that feels like a prelude to the Midnight, Texas novels. Kelner’s offering is clever, but the stand-out gem in this collection is Scott Sigler’s The Case of the Haunted Safeway, featuring Hunter Hunterson and family. This is a good chance to sample the wares of fifteen authors without committing to a full novel and worth reading for the Sigler story alone. A mixed bag.
3.5 stars


Kingdom of the Strong (The Darian Richards Series Book 4)
Kingdom of the Strong (The Darian Richards Series Book 4)
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars a riveting read, 28 July 2015
“Every murder, rape, every act of wanton violence is a snatch in time but the incident didn’t come out of nowhere; there’s always a timeline where the person who commits the crime sets about on his or her journey and for whatever reasons, intersects with their victim and then, following that crossroads of violence and mayhem, tendrils are left behind. Guilt, shame, remorse, anger, feelings of retribution or hopelessness and evidence, the traces from the contact and these tendrils, both physical and psychological, never….vanish”

Kingdom of the Strong is the fourth book in the Darian Richards series by Australian author, Tony Cavanaugh. On the night of December 21st, 1990, eighteen-year-old Isobel Vine was found dead in her house in Osborne Road, South Yarra. She was slumped, naked, on the back of her bedroom door, hanging by a man’s tie that had been wrapped around her neck and secured to a solid brass hook on the door. The Coroner gave an open finding, unable to decide between suicide, self-inflicted accident and murder.

Her father Eli always maintained that she was murdered and was convinced that four police constables and a local businessman were implicated. Twenty-five years later, one of those constables is in line to become the next Police Commissioner, and needs to be shown as squeaky clean. Current Commissioner, Copeland Walsh personally recruits ex-Homicide detective Darian Richards, now retired to Noosa, to conduct the investigation into this decidedly cold case.

Darian enlists Senior Constable Maria Chastain, knowing he can rely on her; his IT expert, Isosceles, is challenged but not defeated by the lack of electronic records in 1990; Maria’s ex-(?)criminal, tattooed bikie boyfriend, Casey Lack may be a complication or an advantage. The team quickly rules out suicide, but the list of possible suspects is not small, and tracking down witnesses after twenty-five years is no minor task. Trace evidence, too, is lacking as first responders assumed suicide.

This gripping novel is full of twists and red herrings. None of the characters is quite what they first seem and the reader kept guessing to almost the end. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, often provided by Isosceles and also by Casey, but readers are warned that there is also a quite graphic depiction of a rape and murder. Cavanaugh heads his chapters with interesting titles, and Darian’s obsession with murder is demonstrated with his running commentary of violent crime linked to each location they pass as he and Maria travel through Melbourne, which is, according to Darian, a city of murder.

While this is the fourth book in the series, it can easily be read as a stand-alone. But he is a complex and interesting character, and fans will not be disappointed with this next dose of Darian Richards; first-time readers of this author will very likely want to seek out Cavanaugh’s backlist. The description of this novel as “top notch Aussie crime” is certainly apt: this is a riveting read.
With thanks to Hachette and TheReadingRoom for this copy to read and review.


The Lost Daughter
The Lost Daughter
by Elena Ferrante
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and thought-provoking, 27 July 2015
This review is from: The Lost Daughter (Paperback)
“Life can have an ironic geometry. Starting from the age of thirteen or fourteen I had aspired to a bourgeois decorum, proper Italian, a good life, cultured and reflective. Naples had seemed a wave that would drown me. I didn’t think the city could contain life forms different from those I had known as a child, violent or sensually lazy, tinged with sentimental vulgarity or obtusely fortified in defense of their own wretched degradation”

The Lost Daughter is the third novel by Italian author, Elena Ferrante. An English professor in Florence, 47-year-old Leda takes a summer vacation on the coast. She is divorced, and her two adult daughters live in Canada with their father. On the beach, she encounters an extended Neapolitan family that reminds her of her own childhood, her youth and the life choices she made: “In the first year of Marta’s life I discovered I no longer loved my husband. A hard year, the baby barely slept and wouldn’t let me sleep. Physical tiredness is a great magnifying glass…..Love requires energy, I had none left”.

About her own mother, Leda says “I suspected that she had begun to flee the moment she had me in her womb, even though as I grew up, everyone said that I resembled her. There were resemblances, but they seemed to me faded. Not even when I discovered that I was attractive to men was I appeased. She emanated a vital warmth, whereas I felt cold, as if I had veins of metal……I wanted to be like her in the capacity she had to expand and become essence on the streets, in the subway or the funicular, in the shops, under the eyes of strangers. No instrument of reproduction can capture that enchanted aura. Not even the pregnant belly can replicate it precisely”

Leda states she is an “unnatural mother”, and proves this with her own mothering experience: “The children stared at me. I felt their gazes longing to tame me, but more brilliant was the brightness of the life outside them, new colors, new bodies, new intelligence, a language to possess finally as if it were my true language, and nothing, nothing that seemed to me reconcilable with that domestic space from which they stared at me with expectation”. Her actions during this seaside stay reinforce this.

Leda is callously candid about her feelings towards her children: “I observed my daughters when they weren’t paying attention, I felt for them a complicated alternation of sympathy and antipathy……Even when I recognised in the two girls what I considered my own good qualities I felt that something wasn’t right. I had the impression that they didn’t know how to make good use of those qualities, that the best part of me ended up in their bodies as a mistaken graft, a parody, and I was angry, ashamed”

Whether or not due to her own attitude, “My daughters make a constant effort to be the reverse of me. They are clever, they are competent, their father is starting them out on his path. Determined and terrified, they advance like whirlwinds through the world”. Ferrante is not afraid to create a main character who is, for the most part, unappealing. Nina’s violent reaction against Leda is wholly deserved. Despite some marvellous descriptive prose, this is not a pleasant read. Powerful and thought-provoking.


Day Shift (Midnight Texas 2)
Day Shift (Midnight Texas 2)
by Charlaine Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

4.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable read, 26 July 2015
Day Shift is the second book in the Midnight Texas trilogy by popular American author, Charlaine Harris. Residents of Midnight, Texas are concerned to learn that the old abandoned Rio Roca Fria Hotel is being refurbished. Someone is spending quite a bit on the renovation, and it is complete in record time, but why? Then a client of Manfred’s meets an unexpected end, and her son makes public accusations against the psychic. Reporters flock to Midnight and all the extra attention on their little (almost ghost) town is not welcomed, especially as the Rev has an unusual visitor.

While her narrative seems almost flat to begin with, Harris soon has the reader rushing through the pages as the action hots up. In this instalment, Harris expands on each of the established characters, satisfying, to some extent, the curiosity about these unusual residents that may have arisen in Midnight Crossroad. The action includes quite a few murders, telepathy, a séance, a curfew at full moon, a crazy brother, a jogging accident, several disguises, an attempted robbery, a retired Vegas mobster, a demented grandfather, an influx of fangbangers from Dallas and more than one press conference. Someone flies over the town (with wings), and someone gets killed by a wild animal. A very enjoyable read that will have fans looking forward to the next book, Night Shift.


Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Ron Rash
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Rash’s stories are pure gold, 26 July 2015
This review is from: Nothing Gold Can Stay (Paperback)
“I’d fish until it was neither day nor night, but balanced between. There never seemed to be a breeze, pond and shore equally smoothed. Just stillness, as though the world had taken a soft breath, and was holding it in, and even time had leveled out, moving neither forward nor back. Then the frogs and crickets waiting for full dark announced themselves, or a breeze came up and I again heard the slosh of water against land”

Nothing Gold Can Stay is an omnibus of fourteen short stories by American author, Ron Rash. Ranging from the time of the Civil War through to the present day, the stories occur in a feast of Appalachian settings: Tennessee mountains, small town, a river between Georgia and South Carolina, a casino, a farm near the Tennessee border, a college campus, a slope in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a derelict old house, a pond and more.

Rash is a consummate storyteller who gives his reader a marvellous cast of characters: a prison trusty on a road gang, a desperate pair of drug addicts, a diver called in to recover a body, a debt-weary couple hoping for good luck, a pair of black fugitives, an Englishman with an interest in ballads, a father worried for his daughter serving in the Middle East, a husband fed up with his Florida in-laws, a mountain boy with a chance at a better life, a sixteen-year-old girl wishing for a more exciting life, a nineteenth century pastor who takes a drastic step to help a young couple, a grocery store manager prompted to recall an encounter in his teens, a night-time radio DJ and a retired veterinarian.

The stories are filled with twists, amusing plays on language and accent, black humour, irony and, of course, beautiful prose. Rash will cause the reader to think about deception, theft, loyalty, feuds, gambling, hopelessness, revenge, physical beauty and ageing. Rash’s love of the Appalachian setting is apparent in every paragraph: “He stood there in the late-afternoon light, absorbing the valley’s expansiveness after days in the mountains. The land rippled out and appeared to reach all the way to where the sun and earth merged”. Rash’s stories are pure gold.
4.5 stars


The Days of Abandonment
The Days of Abandonment
by Elena Ferrante
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars A powerful read, 22 July 2015
The Days of Abandonment is the second novel by Italian author, Elena Ferrante. When Mario announces after dinner that he intends to leave Olga after fifteen years of marriage, she at first believes this is another “absence of sense”, as Mario referred to his infatuation with fifteen-year-old Carla, five years earlier. She tries to discuss things calmly, as they have always done: “I hated raised voices, movements that were too brusque. My own family was full of noisy emotions, always on display, and I felt that I was inside a clamorous life and that everything might come apart because of a too piercing sentence, an ungentle movement of the body”.

Olga had given up her own ambition to become a writer (“I was young, I had pretensions. I didn’t like the impenetrable page, like a lowered blind. I liked light, air between the slats. I wanted to write stories full of breezes, of filtered rays where dust motes danced… I loved writers who made you look through every line, to gaze downward and feel the vertigo of the depths, the blackness of inferno”) to support Mario and care for their children. Now, suddenly alone, abandoned with just her two young children, Olga spirals through anger into deep despair.

She alienates friends: “…so even the very few people who still tried to help me withdrew in the end: it was difficult to put up with me. I found myself alone and frightened by my own desperation”; she questions who and what she is: “…perhaps I would understand better why he had gone and why I, who had always set against the occasional emotional confusion the stable order of our affections, now felt so violently the bitterness of loss, an intolerable grief, the anxiety of falling out of the web of certainty and having to relearn life without the security of knowing how to do it”

Olga reaches a crisis point, descending into a dangerous mental and physical state: “I had only to quiet the view inside, the thoughts. They got mixed up, they crowded in on one another, shreds of words and images, buzzing frantically, like a swarm of wasps…”, she behaves in a completely uncharacteristic manner, before she eventually gains a new sense of herself: “Perhaps I remained beautiful even if my husband had rolled up the sense of my beauty into a ball and thrown it into the wastepaper basket, like wrapping paper”.

Ferrante certainly knows how to convey the myriad of emotions, the stages of loss that accompany a marital breakdown. Readers should be prepared for the explicit language that reflects the depth of Olga’s anger. This dark tale, filled with marvellous descriptive prose, has a hopeful ending. A powerful read.
4.5 stars


The Long, Hot Summer
The Long, Hot Summer
by Kathleen MacMahon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.58

5.0 out of 5 stars A genuinely heart-warming read, 20 July 2015
This review is from: The Long, Hot Summer (Hardcover)
“In through the nose, out through the mouth, he chanted silently to himself, thinking ruefully of old dogs and new tricks as his thoughts marched off in a new direction. He made a half-hearted attempt to catch them, like a man chasing along a city pavement a scrap of paper or a sweet wrapper that has been picked up by the wind and is dancing away from him, always just out of reach”

The Long, Hot Summer is the second novel by Irish television journalist and author, Kathleen MacMahon. It’s April, 2013, six months until Deidre O’Sullivan’s eightieth birthday and she is flicking through the scrapbook that documents the life of her family: two daughters, a son, two grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and, of course, the attached spouses and lovers. Both Deidre and her house are feeling their age, what with cataracts, arthritis, an ageing bladder, a leaky roof and an overgrown garden. And her husband Manus is no help, having left her for his young Moroccan lover over twenty years previously. But Manus does make a comment that sows the seed of an idea in her mind: it’s something that will make everyone sit up and take notice.

MacMahon gives eight other members of this extended family a voice: the events (and there are quite a few) of the following six months and how they affect the family are told as they occur, from each successive perspective; Deidre’s views bookend this tale of a long, hot summer that includes sleep deprivation, a mugging, the theft of a pepper-grinder, a shocking public confession, arrest in a foreign country, a tragic car accident, a thirty-year manuscript, yoga, Celebrity Master Chef, a separation, a reconciliation (or two), the death of a political career, a terrible Irish joke and, of course, an eightieth birthday party.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments but also some that will have even the most cynical reader choking up. Words of wisdom are spoken and decisions are made. MacMahon gives the reader a cast of appealing characters: Maeve Binchy said of MacMahon’s first novel “…people who are easy to believe in and hard to forget” and this could easily apply here too. She touches on everyday family issues, but also topics like Irish Abortion laws, ageing, sibling rivalry, dementia, death notices and the responsibility for cleaning out blocked drains.

MacMahon has a real talent for descriptive prose: “As Alma listened to them, it seemed that their conversation was like a deck of cards that had been well and truly shuffled and then dealt out, each card appearing at random but still familiar” and “On the screen, Nora was all distorted. Her face was too small, her eyes too big. She looked like a woodland animal who has stumbled upon a secret camera and is inspecting it, oblivious to its purpose” and “…Deidre has been playing a part for so many years that she has long since given up on trying to find the place where her own personality ends and the pretending begins” are examples. A genuinely heart-warming read.
With thanks to TheReadingRoom and Hachette for this copy to read and review


Troubling Love
Troubling Love
by Elena Ferrante
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Dark and powerful., 15 July 2015
This review is from: Troubling Love (Paperback)
“Childhood is a tissue of lies that endure in the past tense: at least, mine was like that”

Troubling Love is the first novel by Italian author, Elena Ferrante. The drowning death of her sixty-three year old mother, Amalia, sends Rome cartoonist, Delia back to her hometown of Naples for the funeral. The circumstances of Amalia’s death were a little strange: overdue for her monthly visit to Delia, she was found on the beach that was their childhood holiday destination, dressed only in an expensive bra. Suicide is assumed. Back in the town she fled years ago, the surroundings, events and people she encounters force Delia to re-examine her childhood and adolescence, and reassess her memories of that time.

Ferrante is described as one of the great novelists of our time, and she certainly has a talent for rendering powerful images and ideas (“Amalia had the unpredictability of a splinter, I couldn’t impose on her the prison of a single adjective”), but one does not read this author for pleasure. In this, her first novel under this pseudonym, her characters are wholly unappealing: a flirtatious mother who takes her young daughter along to her assignations; a violent, jealous and insecure husband and father; an arrogant lover; an old man with a soiled underwear fetish. Their dialogue is occasionally difficult to follow, the intended meaning and significance of their words obscure.

Ferrante sets her story in a male-dominated culture, where sexual harassment is commonplace, verbal abuse is the norm (“In fact, they had produced in unison a tumult of insults in dialect, a long list of words ending in consonants, as if the final vowel had been thrown into an abyss and the rest of the word were whining mutely in displeasure”), and domestic violence is routine.

Readers may well wonder just how reliable Delia is as a narrator: Was she really molested at age five by the grandfather of her playmate? Was Amalia really an adultress? Delia is difficult to identify with: she provides bizarre intimate details of her life, and the reasons for some of her actions, incomprehensible: “…I was grateful for the small dose of humiliation and pain he had inflicted on me”. Sometimes her thoughts are quite convoluted: “Maybe I couldn’t tolerate that the most secret part of myself used that solidarity to give weight to a hypothesis cultivated with equal secrecy: that my mother bore inscribed in her body a natural guilt, independent of her will and of what she really did, and yet readily appearing as needed in every gesture, in every breath”. Dark and powerful.
2.5 stars


The Ugly Man (Short Story): A Dani Lancing Story
The Ugly Man (Short Story): A Dani Lancing Story
Price: £0.00

5.0 out of 5 stars a gripping novella, 14 July 2015
The Ugly Man is a (free download) novella in the Dani Lancing series by British author, P.D.Viner. Midsummer, 1976. Patty Lancing, mother of young Dani and wife of Jim, is determined to make it as a journalist. Sexual discrimination and harassment in her workplace are rife, but Patty sees her chance for a good story in the short stop press about a barmaid in Yorkshire bludgeoned to death in the bar by a regular customer, Mark Radix. Patty travels to Little Longstone to get the real story behind the killer, known locally as the Ugly Man. The locals are reticent, but Patty uses her skills to learn more than the local constabulary will reveal. But then she finds herself so close to the story, she wonders if she ever see Jim and Dani again. This is a gripping novella that provides some background on one of the main characters in the first book of the series and also includes preview of next novel in the series, The Summer of Ghosts.


A Dangerous Place (Maisie Dobbs Mystery Series Book 10)
A Dangerous Place (Maisie Dobbs Mystery Series Book 10)
Price: £1.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating crime fiction, 12 July 2015
“Memories come out of nowhere, sometimes, don’t they? Like a splinter long in the finger finally rises to the surface. Pluck it out, and the pain goes – and you realise there has been discomfort all along, but you have lived with it”.

A Dangerous Place is the eleventh book in the Maisie Dobbs series by British-born American author, Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and private investigator, is on the island of Gibraltar. It is 1937, and across the water, the Spanish Civil War is being fought. Maisie has stopped over in Gibraltar on her way home from India, feeling unprepared to face family and friends in England after the recent tragic events of her life. But soon after she arrives, she stumbles across a body on a dark path during an evening walk: Sebastian Babayoff, a Sephardic Jew, a photographer, has just been beaten to death. The Police dismiss the case as an opportunistic robbery by one of the many refugees on the island, but Maisie is not convinced. She decides to investigate.

“She’d been feeling as if all meaning in her life had perished when she discovered Babayoff’s body. Perhaps she would find the person she used to be, before tragedy struck her a second time, cutting deeper into her soul, a still-open wound more livid than anything left by the war. Now she was in business – and that responsibility to another would give her a reason to live”. Maisie’s investigations, without Billy Beale’s capable assistance, see her meeting quite an array of people: a professor of philosophy and politics; a café owner; a shopkeeper; a bereaved sister; a fisherman’s niece; a carpenter; and none of these is quite what they first seem to be. She finds herself the subject of covert observation, and encounters a certain ex-Special Branchman she would rather avoid.

Winspear’s plot has plenty of twists and turns and Maisie interviews quite a few witnesses who are practiced at evasion and determined to keep their secrets. This episode of Maisie’s life is set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and its effect on nearby countries. Winspear rather quickly disposes of the events of years since Maisie’s decision to go to India, her decision to marry, her marriage, impending motherhood and widowhood, not unsympathetically, but somewhat cursorily, perhaps because Maisie’s forte is private investigation. It will be interesting to see where Winspear takes her heroine next. Captivating crime fiction. 4.5 stars


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