Okay, let’s not get into the smell and feel of real books because I am only concentrating on the thickness of real books.
I thought the great hulking bulkiness of the doorstop blockbuster novel was long gone – not so when it comes to Robert Galbraith (worst kept pseudonym ever!) and her Cormoran Strike private detective series.
You know the one, the war veteran who lost half his leg, and his assistant like Robin in Batman, that’s it Robin, she’s really the most interesting character in these crime novels.
But I digress.
What I really want to say is that I find big heavy books daunting, not because they are big and heavy but because they had better have a really clever plot, plenty of drama, lots of tension, rip-roaring action and a nice twisty ending.
I want my money’s worth!
Which, in this case, isn’t relevant because I borrowed the big bruiser from the library – long live libraries – but I certainly hope this fifth installment lives up to its hype and dimensions.
My loan copy of “Troubled Blood” is fresh and unsullied as you can see in my first angle shot. When I look at the bold spine in my second shot, it doesn’t seem nearly as daunting. Bonus: inside I discovered the author’s hand-drawn illustrations.
Don’t worry, I am not writing a three-part posting on the joys and disappointments of reading J K Rowling’s (oops, Robert Galbraith’s) latest literary endeavour.
Book 4 ‘Lethal White’ has 647 pages but at 927 pages, ‘Troubled Blood’ is not the longest book I’ve ever read.
I just hope it is one of the best.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
“Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough, who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974. As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .”
Hachette “A breathtaking, labyrinthine epic, ‘Troubled Blood’ is the fifth Strike and Robin novel and the most gripping and satisfying yet.”
I guess if you can say “labyrinthine” you’ll have no worries reading this book. GBW.
This is a book I had to read. The name is derived from “an alleged 1942 WWII government plan to abandon Northern Australia in the event of a Japanese invasion”—there is nothing alleged about it. My father was a young soldier in WWII based in Melbourne when his division received the command to form The Brisbane Line. It made such an impression on him that later, when he was married, he relocated the family to Brisbane where I currently live.
I dearly wish I could discuss this novel with my late father but I do remember him reminiscing about the off-duty times and leave in tropical Far North Queensland where hi-jinks often lead to a soldier’s death. I am sure there was tension, corruption and murder among the thousands of American troops stationed in Brisbane, but on the other hand I know families of young women who married GI Joe’s and went to live in US never to return.
Enigmatic protagonist, Rose, has a boyfriend who is a prisoner-of-war and she says “It’s men who cause the trouble in the first place. It’s just another hypocrisy.”
Suitable for crime readers and historians, this well-researched yet fictionalised novel is based on a real person and his original paperwork. It is more interesting than a text book and follows Sergeant Joe Washington, a US Military Police officer and amateur photographer who joins local police in battling crime and black market corruption. Joe also has grave suspicions of a murder cover-up.
The humid atmosphere is laced with grunge and irritability offset by guys and gals dancing the night away at the Trocadero Dance Hall. Well-known landmarks and people make an appearance, for example notorious cop Frank Bischof, author Thea Astley and General Douglas MacArthur, an American who in WWII commanded the Southwest Pacific region.
The book is gritty and at times the inequality upset my 21st century sensibilities but it is based on true events. Powell has recreated a vibrant town which embraced a huge influx of cashed-up strangers in uniform and the repercussions this had on Brisbane society, some of which still lingers today.
In “The Art of War” Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote “All warfare is based on deception” and “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle” so I think Judy Powell’s book shows there was no battle—but plenty of deception closer to home.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Judy Powell is an archaeologist and historian with a passion for bringing the past to life. She has worked as a high school teacher, an academic, a National Parks officer, a museum administrator and has excavated in Jordan, Cyprus and Greece as well as leading historical archaeology projects in Australia. Powell, who lives outside Brisbane, was awarded a QANZAC Fellowship by the State Library of Queensland to pursue research into, and writing of, a series of crime novels set in Brisbane during World War II.
This Alan Bradley story is deserving of 10 stars. The irony, the wit and the revealing portrayal of 1950s English village life, is both hilarious and horrible. Events are seen through the eyes of young Flavia de Luce, an implausibly precocious 11 year old girl who lives with her family in genteel decline.
Young Flavia’s encounters turn into forensic investigations and she has an inherent love of chemistry, brewing dangerous concoctions in her late grandfather’s lab.
The village of Bishop’s Lacey appears to be close-knit, yet even gossipy Mrs Mullet didn’t seem to know who or what killed young Robin Ingleby at Gibbet Hill. The story really kicks off when well-known BBC puppeteer and bully Rupert Porson gives his last performance. The scene-setting is brilliantly done and I felt immersed in the story from the beginning right through to the end.
Perhaps not a book for younger readers because they may get tired of the mid-20th century writing style. Mature readers who like a quirky character will enjoy this tale. I have never encountered the likes of Flavia de Luce, a strange mixture of Wednesday Addams and Bones.
But she certainly knows how to snoop or turn on the charm when necessary.
Generally the main players are conventional but it’s what I expected, having been raised on a diet of British books, magazines and television series. Their dialogue and the descriptions of village society in post-war Britain were familiar to me – at least fictionally – and it’s clever how the tension and Flavia’s ‘fluctuations’ from girl to grown-up and back again is established.
Question: Apart from the shock value, what is the significance of Jack’s puppet face? And I don’t mean who it represents.
‘The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ is book 2 in the current 10 book Flavia de Luce mystery series, and takes its title from Sir Walter Raleigh. With my thanks to Goodreads friend and writer Chris Hall for recommending this delightfully different book.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Alan Bradley is a mystery writer known for his Flavia de Luce series featuring this pre-teen sleuth with a passion for chemistry. The series began with the acclaimed ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’. See more books in the series at Penguin Random House. Bradley is also a New York Times bestselling author of many short stories, children’s stories, newspaper columns, and the memoir ‘The Shoebox Bible’. More about Alan Bradley
Birdie McAdam is a bogler’s assistant, a stout defender of Alfred Bunce and his unusual profession. The ‘unusual’ relates to luring and eradicating child-eating bogles by using Birdie as bait. Her songs sometimes quaver when a foul bogle monster leaves its lair but she holds firm. A spear and split second timing is needed and old Alfred is the man for the job.
Before reading Catherine Jinks adult novel ‘Shepherd’ I read her children’s trilogy City of Orphans. These stories captured my interest from the first page and held it to the last. Following the adventures of young orphan Birdie McAdam, a lively, focused girl with a beautiful singing voice, I soon blended into the damp, grimy streets of 1870s London.
After the messy demise of a chimney bogle in a fancy parlour, the story kicks up a notch with overlapping events; Fagan-like Sarah Pickles with her young thieves and no scruples; well-to-do Miss Eames with an interest in mythology and rehabilitating young Birdie; and evil Dr Morton, a man with a heart as ugly as a bogle. And, of course, the markets and docklands of London.
I love the levels of intrigue, grim deeds, and disagreeable behaviour which surround Birdie and Alfred.
As true protagonists, they rise to every challenge.
Birdie has entertaining friends, although she wouldn’t admit that to rascals Ned or Jem.
These lads get to shine in books two and three.
Characters are clearly and consistently written.
Together they overcome hardship and show concern for each other.
There is great strength of purpose when adversity strikes.
The fast-moving chapters are vividly written and although I am not the target audience, each time the tension rose I held my breath. This plot builds and moves forward with fortitude, the second book in sight. All three books are well worth reading, and while the mood may get darker and the bogles may get messier, the sequence of events lead to a very satisfying conclusion.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Bookcovers, like those beauties above, hold a certain fascination for me. Way back I did a blog post about it. In this instance, the publication of different titles and different artwork in overseas countries let me down. They are nothing like the bookcovers shown here, their titles don’t capture the atmosphere of the era nor do the illustrations recreate how the bogles are described. Gotta love marketing. GBW.
About the author
Catherine Jinks, Australia (b.1963) http://catherinejinks.com/
Catherine is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction. In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.
Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney. She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television. She gets her ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.
The author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, Catherine writes whenever she gets a spare moment, and could write for eight hours straight if she had the chance. She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.
City of Orphans trilogy
- A Very Unusual Pursuit (2013)
or How to Catch a Bogle
- A Very Peculiar Plague (2013)
or A Plague of Bogles
- A Very Singular Guild (2013)
or The Last Bogler
- Pagan’s Crusade (1994)
- Pagan in Exile (2004)
- Pagan’s Vows (2004)
- Pagan’s Scribe (2005)
- Pagan’s Daughter (2006)
Allie’s Ghost Hunters
- Eglantine (2002) – very quirky story.
- Eustace (2003)
- Eloise (2005)
- Elysium (2007)
- Evil Genius (2005)
- Genius Squad (2008)
- The Genius Wars (2010)
Hidden at the heart of the Harper family, veiled in secrets, is a mystery waiting to be solved. A skilfully plotted novel with intriguing characters, crime, cats and a brother and sister unaware of what they will expose when they start peeling back the layers.
Set in south-east England around 2005, Hilda Harper tramps across the North Kent marshland on a summer’s evening. She is mulling over an unusual meeting she had earlier in the day. A woman named Nicky had knocked at her door and revealed some astounding news. This unexpected visit impels Hilda to explore the truth about her family’s past.
How well did she know her father? What was the cause of her mother’s death? Is Nicky really who she says?
The story is told through the three main characters, Hilda, Dunstan and Nicky, each with their own chapters and different points of view. Hilda and her younger brother, Dunstan, approach their deceased parents anomalous behaviour in varied ways. The plot revolves around their strict, controlling father Dr Nicolas Harper and their religious mother Violet who suffered from a cardiac disorder.
Dunstan believes his father could do no wrong but Hilda couldn’t wait to leave home and start rescuing abandoned cats and kittens. Dunstan says “My sister Hilda is, to put it kindly, rather eccentric.” I agree, but she is a great character. I think Dunstan has way more hang-ups to overcome, courtesy of his disenchanted upbringing.
Touching on mental issues, domestic bullying and unsettled memories, there comes a time when the scales dip towards a desperate action. Poor Dunstan goes off the rails. A cliff-hanger tempted me to untap my bookmark and keep reading into the night. I followed the clever twists and turns until I arrived at two startling discoveries. One more shocking than the other.
Family secrets can be destructive, changing the course of lives.
For me, the sense-of-place is strong and characters are easily envisaged. Nicky is quite lively yet generally I felt a genteel vibe and imagine the setting would work equally well further back in time. I liked the medical details, and Hilda’s love of cats; her rescue of tiny Magic echoes author Jennifer Barraclough’s support for animal welfare.
The book title is taken from “The Yew Tree” poem by Valerie Dohren, but I will close with a quote from Hilda “I need a walk to clear my troubled mind, so after lunch I put on my oilskins and gumboots and set off over the desolate marshland towards the Thames. It is a cool and misty day with a light rain falling and there are no other people about, just a few sheep and gypsy ponies.” A perfect remedy.
Top marks for “You Yet Shall Die” an absorbing crime and mystery story without the gory bits.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Formerly a medical doctor in England, Jennifer Barraclough now lives in New Zealand and writes novels, non-fiction books and a blog. Jennifer is a cat owner and Magic has a cameo in her latest book You Yet Shall Die a novel in the “domestic noir” genre, set in the North Kent marshes near her childhood home.
After moving to her husband’s native New Zealand in 2000, Jennifer studied natural healing, and ran a Bach flower practice for ten years. Writing is her main occupation now but her other interests include animal welfare activities, choral singing, and visiting the local beaches and cafés.
My thanks to the author for a complimentary copy of this book. I appreciate the opportunity to read and review “You Yet Shall Die”—GBW.
FOR LOVERS OF CATS AND ILLUSTRATIONS – GUTENBERG CAT FILE
The Project Gutenberg eBook of “Our Cats and All About Them” by Harrison Weir (1892) a well researched and remarkable volume. Full Title: “Our Cats and All About Them. Their Varieties, Habits, and Management; and for Show, the Standard of Excellence and Beauty; Described and Pictured”.
Former journalist Martin Scarsden had vowed never to return to Port Silver so I was not too sure about his inauspicious homecoming nor his strained relationship with girlfriend Mandalay (Mandy) Blonde. She has inherited an old house on a clifftop, while Martin seems distant from everything happening around him, plagued by unsettling flashbacks from his unsettled past. And long-ago deaths in his family.
As the plot twists and turns with great characters and best-ever location, I was there strolling along the Port Silver shoreline; eating fish and chips; watching the waves break on Hummingbird Beach; driving the coastal road with Martin Scarsden as he tries to solve the stabbing death of his childhood friend Jasper Speight. Unfortunately Jasper died in Mandy’s apartment and she is being held for his murder so Martin works on clearing her name using the only clue, a blood-stained postcard.
Over nine days, Martin’s exploits unfold and move inexorable towards their goal, every question important to building the story and solving the first murder mystery. Yes, not one but two mysteries, and I like the way Chris Hammer does not describe so much as lets slip small details until they add up to a whole.
Mandy’s creepy old Hartigan house on the clifftop is suitably introduced in Disney ‘Goonies’ fashion.
Characters formed before my eyes—all with big question marks hovering over their heads. The mellow reunion with Martin’s Uncle Vern; the glowing backpackers Topaz and Royce; real estate agent Jasper’s mother Denise; Jay-Jay Hayes surfie greenie conservationist of Hummingbird Beach; sleazy bigwig developer Tyson St Clair; oddball Swami Hawananda; and dishonest cop Johnson Pear to name a handful.
Despite youthful recollections and emotional hurdles, Martin keeps working on the murder case, annoying the police and local land developers with questions and questionable behaviour. He gets hauled in occasionally for interrogation and was appointed a scruffy solicitor Nick Poulos to handle his case. Then comes a tragic mass murder … or ritual suicide?
At this stage, I am undecided if I am meant to have sympathy for Martin or not. He certainly makes mistakes and isn’t good boyfriend material. But he’s an inquisitive bloke, and a good journo who pursues the secondary crime of the multiple deaths. The scoop of the decade! By chapter 24, he’s in his element, following up leads, discovering clues, writing copy, advising Terri, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, topping it off by having dinner with media buddies just like old times. Hmm.
An overarching question: what happened to his mother and sisters? I think it’s stretching it to say Martin did not have an inkling about what happened all those years ago. School mates, friends, even his alcoholic father could have babbled. As to the possible perpetrators, I was spoilt for choice. The only one I could happily cross off the list was Liam, the nappy-filling baby son of Mandy.
I love Aleksander J. Potočnik’s map of Port Silver. The setting is similar to Byron Bay and my photographs, taken on an overcast day, show the iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse.
The lighthouse sits on a rocky headland, Australia’s most easterly point. That’s what I pictured in my mind while reading. The beaches, lighthouse, Nob Hill, coastal views, inland sugarcane fields and menacing land development which are strongly portrayed by the author. Landmarks like the ‘fictitious’ old Cheese Factory give off furtiveness vibes.
Heading towards Martin’s hard won resolution, author Chris Hammer deserves top marks for not changing certain Australian words which some readers may not understand but will eventually figure out. I think it’s time to stop neutering, let readers learn, laugh and speak our colloquial sayings.
Grab this book and be swept away by the tidal undertow of crime and mystery—well worth it.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs. He holds a BA degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a Master’s degree in international relations from Australian National University.
Chris has written an award-winning non-fiction book ‘The River’ followed by crime fiction ‘Scrublands’ published 2018 and shortlisted for Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards. Chris lives in Canberra with his wife and two children.
Website https://chrishammerauthor.com/ Recommended ‘The Coast’ a journey along Australia’s eastern shores by Chris Hammer https://www.mup.com.au/books/the-coast-paperback-softback
David Burton has written an outstanding story about a tenacious young man determined to solve a mystery. In a tightly woven and highly readable plot he keeps the pressure up, and keeps it real. Shaun sees a man’s body floating in the local lake and when he returns with Constable Charlie Thompson the body has gone. The story kicks off from there and Shaun begins to investigate the mysterious death. He uncovers far more than he ever imagined. And he has a good imagination!
Set in a gritty, rundown Queensland coal mining town, the atmosphere is hot, dry and pulsating with undercurrents from personal relationships through to shonky mining regulations. My assumptions were overturned, clues were flipped and hopes were dashed. From angry picket lines headed by volatile Peter Grant, head of the mine workers union, to various forms of small town mindset, Shaun’s investigations pull him deeper and deeper into a world of unanswered questions.
The subtext throughout the story is “Who believes Shaun actually saw the man in the water?”. Not many people, it seems. Even his mother Linda struggles to accept the situation, although a family death may be clouding her reasoning. Shaun does appear to have a kind of obsessional limerence.
Fortunately Shaun has a keen ally in his long-time friend Will, a larrikin with a charming manner. They both believe the drowned man was murdered and someone has masterminded a cover-up. They negotiate their way through a minefield of possibilities, taking risks, and discovering the mental and physical challenges faced by coal workers and their families. Only once did I suspend disbelief when Shaun infiltrates a building, but it’s a pivotal moment.
In between covert operations, annoying teachers and school classes, Shaun and Will are on the school debating team with Megan Grant. Shaun adores Megan from afar and he imagines a future of “happy ever afters” together. Investigations continue in Brisbane with their debating team when a challenge is held in a Harry Potteresque private school perched on a hillside (I recognised it) and they stay overnight in enemy territory. A gripping spy-like chapter for you to discover.
I loved the personalities David Burton has created, the characters often did the opposite to what I expected, making them fallible yet understandable. In certain cases, there’s a fine line between liking and loathing. There is power in subtlety, and from the frustration of workers about to lose their jobs, to the death of a loved one, nothing is overstated.
David Burton has given Shaun a proactive role with plenty of intrigue. I have no hesitation in saying “The Man in the Water” is an excellent mystery for young adults and older readers. I became fully absorbed in the story and was right beside young Shaun trying to unravel the riddle. The end result is definitely worth it!
Quote from Chapter 32 “From the sky, Shaun’s home town looked like it was surrounded by yawning black holes. It was epic. The mines were colossal dark wounds in the earth, the town a sort of defiance among the rubble. It was a god’s sandpit. He pressed his face against the window and watched as the earth turned with the plane. They were coming in to land.”
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
David Burton is an award-winning director, playwright and author. By the age of 30, he’d written over two dozen professionally produced plays, published a book, and been a core part of some of the most innovative theatrical projects in Australia.
He’s now 32, a Dad, and has written a new YA fiction book “The Man in the Water” which I reviewed.
My recent reading had been on the gloomy side so I was looking forward to a rollicking read—the first thing I noticed in ‘Dead Man Switch’ was the initial lack of thrills and spills although they do make an appearance in the final chapters.
Tara Moss hints that protagonist Billie Walker, private inquiry agent, has a wild past but she seems a bit too reined-in for someone with such a pedigree, her father was a former policeman turned PI and she inherited his business. Even the business relationship between Billie and her ex-soldier assistant Samuel Baker seems flat, more diligence than derring-do, and similarly from starchy DI Hank Cooper from Central Police.
Regardless, I launched into ‘Dead Man Switch’ with high hopes and discovered Tara Moss has written a great book for the novice crime reader. Loaded with adjectives and story recapping, this mystery novel is a nice entry point for those graduating from cosy crime into something slightly more improper.
There are a lot of people draping themselves around the 1940s Sydney scene. There’s a knack to letting characters unfold, and piling them all in the front of the book slowed the action for me. First up we meet stoic lift operator John Wilson and then Mrs Lettie Brown of Brown & Co Fine Furs visiting Billie’s agency asking for help to find her missing son Adin. Business is slow, money is tight, Billie takes the case.
Somebody is spying on Billie from afar, while chunks of author research are on show; the stolen generations via quiet Shyla; WWII atrocities; the fur trade; Sydney nightclubs; Billie’s mother Baroness Ella von Hooft and her lady’s maid Alma representing a dying aristocracy—all jostling in a narrative where deployment of the five senses wouldn’t go amiss, and neither would more showing less telling.
Is Billie glamorous? I did not conjure her, as did a Greek café owner, looking like US film star Ava Gardner (above).
Billie is indirectly responsible for four deaths, although she herself does hang by a thread in one dire situation. She breaks the law, a rather humorous chapter involving her zany mother, and she bribes men with an Australian shilling. It’s hard to believe that when they were phased out in 1966 a shilling was worth 10 cents. But in 1940s, one shilling could buy a loaf of bread and a pint of milk so that’s breakfast sorted.
The Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains makes an appearance (below) with a corny filmscript car chase. Was this due to the writing, editing or my longing for a more unpredictable encounter? Billie is allowed to make mistakes to further the plot but one of them was transparent and I was disappointed in her naivety. Oh well, it is crime fiction after all.
With a view to a series, this first book is a light read with tasty clothes and much eyebrow-raising and head tilting. I sincerely hope Book 2 ups-the-ante. In the meantime, you will learn what to do with Fighting Red, the meaning of ‘dead man switch’ and discover what happens to young Adin Brown.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
NOTE This debut Billie Walker Mystery may also be titled ‘The War Widow’ due to Billie’s photojournalist husband missing, presumed dead.
VISIT AUTHOR TARA MOSS FOR A FEAST OF BOOKS AND BACKGROUND TO HER LIFE https://taramoss.com/
How is this for the personal touch! Sisters-in-Crime mailed a white 9×4 envelope with my address neatly printed on it and a postage stamp stuck in the corner. The stamp, if you are interested, commemorates 50 years since the moon landing. Australia had a hand in the Apollo 11 lunar module ‘Eagle’ landing on the moon.
Back to the goodies in the envelope:
A welcome letter from Carmel, Secretary & National Co-convenor.
Diary Dates and information on 26th Scarlet Stiletto Awards.
Leaflet for ‘Murder She Wrote’ Readers and Writers Festival to be held in Tasmania under the title ‘Terror Australis’ .
Bookmark stating all the wonderful things Sisters-in-Crime can offer me.
Info on bookshop discounts, panels, discussions, debates, tours, launches, festivals.
And, of course, my Membership Card!
Every department store in the world wants to give you a plastic card but this is a Crime Card. Not plastic; written on by hand; the nostalgic beauty of it.
Who or what are the Sisters-in-Crime? Let me fill you in—
Sisters-in-Crime is a world-wide organisation but the Australian chapter was launched at the Feminist Book Festival in Melbourne in September 1991, inspired by the American organisation of the same name, which was founded in 1986 by Sara Paretsky (creator of Chicago PI VI Warshawski) and other women crime writers at the Bouchercon crime convention. Members are authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by their affection for the mystery genre and their support of women who write mysteries. Chapters currently meet in Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane. The Melbourne chapter holds very regular events and partners with festivals, libraries and other organisations.
There are annual crime-writing competitions, the Scarlet Stiletto Awards (big prize money) and the Davitt Awards for the best crime books by Australian women published in the previous year.
I missed ‘Murder She Wrote’, the readers and writers Terror Australis Festival in Huon Valley, Tasmania, from 31 October to 5 November 2019. It was jam-packed with amazing stuff; panel sessions, masterclasses, Hall of Writers, book launches, Murder Mystery Dinner, etc. Hear my teeth gnashing…
I am currently reading ‘Dead Man Switch’ by Tara Moss and she attended the Festival. Quote ‘I would kill to be at the Terror Australis Festival, but thankfully I was invited so I won’t need to.’ – Tara Moss, author.
Maybe next year <sigh>
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
This slow burning story crept up on me. I guess you know by now that I don’t write conventional book reviews. For starters I’m not going to give you a synopsis. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
The sadness and bewilderment Jessica suffers when her partner Matthew goes missing in the wilds of Tasmania gradually expands until she snaps. The atmosphere changes into an eerie, gothic-like tale of deception and fear. There are disturbing bits, there are gruesome bits and there are strong sex scenes, Krissy Kneen’s trademark.
Jessica lives in a flimsy wooden cottage at the edge of a seawall not far from the township of Southport. As I read on, I was unsure of William, the man who offers to help her, and doubly unsure of the coven of local women who offer strange advice and an even stranger solution. In the end I wanted Jessica to fight back and she did, the result is worth more than the price of admission to the spooky glow-worm caves.
At the time Matthew goes missing, Jessica, a scientist, is just finishing her PhD on glow-worms and works as a tour guide at the local cave complex, helping the tiny creatures to prosper. Winter Cave is her favourite and Winter Cave coldness, the surrounding dense forest, and feral smells pervade this book. Disturbingly, she is a good shot and needs to carry a gun to feel safe.
The character portrayals are well suited to their remote Tasmanian coastal surroundings, in particular old Marijam of Cockle Creek and her outlook on what appears to be a strange isolated life. She goes fishing for her seafood and compares commercial fishermen to the demise of small traders “Pick on a little bookstore, put a big mega-store across the road. Discounts on all the prices till the little fella dies, then corner the market” which she read about on the internet.
I queried some of the ‘things’ in the story and I was dissatisfied, or perhaps had my credulity stretched, with what transpires at the end. Like most animal-lovers, I sincerely hope the thylacine Tasmanian Tiger still exists. I also wondered if Jessica knew those caves as well as she thought.
My pet peeves are:
(1) More showing, less telling.
(2) Proof-reading misses, e.g. license interchanged with licence, rear-view mirror becomes rear-vision mirror. I’d go for Aussie spelling every time.
(3) Parts of the story felt like a filmscript not a literary description. There is a difference.
Krissy Kneen’s story reflects the time and effort she put into it, the sense of place is strong and at times overpowering. As a child, my parents and I visited the Jenolan Caves in New South Wales, Australia, and I have been claustrophobic ever since.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
NOTE Photographs depict general scenes and caves in Australia and Tasmania and are not related to places mentioned in the book. If you want an in-depth analysis I suggest reading ‘Not a Tiger at All: A Review of Krissy Kneen’s “Wintering”’ by Madeleine Laing of The Lifted Brow.
Not my usual genre
but I love and respect this book. It deserves the status of a 21st century classic. Narrated by numerous voices from Birdie Bell to Elodie Winslow, I was immersed in a mystery with twists and ghostly turns, fine art and emotional lives of several families over two centuries of turmoil and heartbreak.
The fluid nature of ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ is similar
to the ebb and flow of a river. In this case the Thames, and the reader should move with the tide, not fight against it. Accept each individual character and enjoy their allotted time in the book, otherwise an undercurrent could pull you down into reader malaise which may cause you to miss the best bits.
Human emotions are the core of this novel
but some criticism seems to be there are too many characters. Why? The classics and modern historical fiction have loads of characters. I think Kate Morton truly loved her cast of players and couldn’t bear to trim them to fit a mere trifle like a word limit. Each person has a purpose!
Perhaps the 21st century reader has difficulty due to
a shorter attention span?
less retentive memory?
reading skills only suitable for glancing at a small screen?
Tick all of the above √
(Sorry, just had to lecture…)
My friends know that rarely, if ever, do I reread a book
because once read, never forgotten – well, almost – but ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ is the first book in years which I have felt compelled to reread. It touched on many threads in my own familial life and exposed feelings and understandings. In one chapter, I had to stop because the emotion became too much as I recalled several elements of my own family’s journey through life and death. My grandfather was an early 20th century artist, talented and struggling to make a living, perhaps similar to Edward Radcliffe.
Triggered by outstanding writing, we pour our own sentiments into a story
and Kate Morton succeeded in cracking my heart just enough to make the sadness bearable. Then the atmosphere lightens, a scene change like a stroll in springtime.
Synopsis from publishers Simon and Schuster
“In the depths of a 19th-century winter, a little girl is abandoned on the streets of Victorian London. She grows up to become in turn a thief, an artist’s muse, and a lover. In the summer of 1862, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, she travels with a group of artists to a beautiful house on a bend of the Upper Thames. Tensions simmer and one hot afternoon a gunshot rings out. A woman is killed, another disappears, and the truth of what happened slips through the cracks of time. It is not until over a century later, when another young woman is drawn to Birchwood Manor, that its secrets are finally revealed.”
Oh, secrets revealed
but there are a couple of unanswered questions. This is where a keen reader sees the clever intertextuality and works it out for themselves from the vignettes Kate Morton has polished and refined for us. Even down to the defining chapter headings—or didn’t anyone notice that. This story is a puzzle, it appeared to be disparate people until I followed the signposts, keeping observations tucked away for future reference. Gradually events join up, different eras are linked, a genealogical timeline exposed.
Here’s my incomplete list of characters…
Elodie Winslow, modern archivist
Tip, her great-uncle
Handmade leather satchel
Birdie Bell, young pickpocket
Lily Millington, pickpocket and artist’s muse
Mrs Mack, purveyor of crime
Martin Mack, thug
Pale Joe, sickly boy
Fairy folk tale
Edward Radcliffe, artist and portrait painter
Frances Brown, his fiancée
Lucy Radcliffe, his sister
Thurston Holmes, unpleasant friend
Ada Lovegrove, sad student
Juliet, newspaper columnist
Radcliffe Blue, diamond
There are beautiful paragraphs
which I would love to reproduce, although being taken out of context would ruin the impact. There’s grimy poverty stricken London, the joy of wildflowers, the thunder in a storm, a fascinating country manor, the love between Edward Radcliffe and Lily Millington, the dubious behaviour of their friends and family culminating in a shocking moment followed by the ultimate conclusion.
I won’t divulge crucial plot points and
my recommendation is to read ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ without preconceived notions. Unlike reviewer Caroline E. Tew, Crimson Staff Writer of The Harvard Crimson, I did not expect a resolution that is literal, practical or easy to digest. Have a pinch of romance in your soul.
There’s a 12-Minute PDF Blog summary out there which should have a Spoiler Alert. It reports inaccurately on a clue, and pretty much gives the game away. I am glad I did NOT read it prior to reading the novel. It exposes the plot in a clinical fashion, ruining the atmosphere and skimming across Kate Morton’s beautiful prose and depth of feeling.
On the other hand
an exceptionally good review of ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ by Jo Casebourne of The Reading Project will give you well-rounded insights into the story and characters in chronological order from 1860s to present day.
Naturally author Kate Morton’s website is an absolute must
I have reproduced a chapter vignette (below) to show a scene of top-notch character writing. But first, let me ask you to ponder this key question, answerable after reading the book. Out of the four woman, mother, sister, lover, fiancée, who do you think loved Edward Radcliffe the most?
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Chapter Sixteen ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ Extract
Leonard Gilbert, ex-soldier, researching the Radcliffe family.
Lucy Radcliffe, now elderly yet still sharp.
“The cottage was pleasantly dark inside, and it took a moment for his gaze to arrive at Lucy Radcliffe in the midst of all her treasures. She had been expecting him only a minute before, but clearly had more important things to do than sit in readiness. She was engrossed in her reading, posed as still as marble in a mustard-coloured armchair, a tiny figure in profile to him, a journal in her hand, her back curved as she peered through a magnifying glass at the folded paper. A lamp was positioned on a small half-moon table beside her and the light it cast was yellow and diffuse. Underneath it, a teapot sat beside two cups.
‘Miss Radcliffe,’ he said.
‘Whatever do you think, Mr Gilbert?’ She did not look up from her journal. ‘It appears that the universe is expanding.’
‘Is it?’ Leonard took off his hat. He couldn’t see a hook on which to hang it, so he held it in two hands before him.”
Five Star Rating
Here are my notes from the book review I presented at my local Crime And Mystery Book Club which meets once a month in our local library. Most of the participants had similar reviews. ♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward.
The plot twists and turns over many months as I follow the lives of three families jolted sideways after two untimely deaths.
Michael’s friend Janey has lost her dad to cancer and Michael understands this, but the other person who died? Nextdoor neighbour and dear friend Irma. Was it a heart condition, an accident or murder?
The safe, cosy world of young Michael and his Nan changes dramatically. Michael also has to cope with George, a bully, who moves into Irma’s house with his father Shawn prior to her death.
The sudden loss of Irma is deeply felt by Michael. As the saying goes he has “an old head on young shoulders” but is confused over what actually happened and gets no real help from the adults. Advice is conflicting.
Deep down Michael believes Irma was murdered and is determined to convince Nan and the gatekeepers. There are complexities to face and he over-reaches in the hope of finding justice. Anxiety joins his grief, he challenges his homelife and raises old questions. Why does he live with his grandmother? Where are his parents?
During a bad night, Michael’s old teddy bear comes down off the shelf for support as he works on his theory of Irma’s demise. He thinks she may have been poisoned. The chicken soup in question was homemade by Irma and well loved by Michael, his favourite panacea for cold symptoms.
At one stage, Michael suspects his Nan – she’s my favourite character! – and while out walking he dashes away and hides. Quote “Michael?” calls Nan. I don’t move. “Michael”. “He’s fallen in the bloody moat,” says the man who isn’t Grandad. “Good job there’s no water in it.” “Feeder canal,” says Nan. “This is no time to be right about everything,” he growls. I’ve never heard anyone tell Nan off like that before. Unquote.
Author Maria Donovan portrays well-rounded, believable characters and each brings small yet highly significant details to the story. Bully and his father are thorns in Michael’s side but nothing distracts him from the hunt for clues. Janey has her own family problems. To relieve her frustration she gets a box of golf balls and stands in The Middle, a green opposite the houses…
Being of a nosey disposition myself, I empathise with Michael’s underlying emotions and the need for resolution. Tension escalates and stoic Nan marches towards a showdown. Maria Donovan’s tightly written finale comes at a penultimate time of year for everyone.
Skillfully woven through the story are school holidays, the seaside, and events on telly like Wimbledon. Occasionally the zeitgeist side-tracks Michael’s quest yet adds a kaleidoscope of nostalgia for me.
Michael’s journey isn’t for children although young adult readers would identify with the youthful side. Part mystery, part coming-of-age, I think adults will enjoy the unique elements of the plot, and appreciate less gore than currently found in mystery novels.
Maria Donovan’s book walks a fine line between innocence and adult behaviour and succeeds in capturing the mood beautifully. It demands to be read again. Seek out those clever clues!
My star rating
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ is Maria Donovan’s debut novel and was a finalist for the Dundee International Book Prize. Apart from this book, Maria has many literary credits to her name including her flash fiction story ‘Chess’ which won the Dorset Award in the Bridport Prize 2015.
Maria is a native of Dorset UK and has strong connections with Wales (also in the book) and Holland. Her past careers include training as a nurse in the Netherlands, busking with music and fire around Europe and nine years lecturing in Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan, South Wales.
I was waiting for the delivery of a book written by UK author Maria Donovan. The title and synopsis of ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ hint at a delicious yet deadly coming-of-age mystery.
There was scratching at the front door and our well-trained pet dragon stood there with a grin on his face. He had collected the parcel from the letterbox in anticipation of a treat. I patted him on the head and said ‘Good boy’ then picked up the parcel. He whined. I laughed. ‘Okay, I’ll get a couple of nuts’.
Inside the door, I placed the parcel on the sideboard. Underneath was an old rusty toolkit containing old rusty bits and pieces. I selected a couple of flange nuts and one bolt, gave them a squirt with WD40, and went back outside.
Part of the game was a quick toss-and-gulp and if you weren’t ready you’d miss it. I closed the front door on the slobbering noises and went to find a pair of scissors. The Booktopia cardboard was tough but I wrested it open.
And there was the pristine book I had so eagerly awaited! At the moment, I’ve only read up to Page 20 so I am sorry to disappoint you but my book review will be in another blog post further down the track. As my auntie used to say ‘Keep you in suspenders.’
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Was going to wait for the holiday season but…four authors, perennial and well-seasoned storytellers who can spin a yarn which kept me absorbed to the final chapter. Highly recommended!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
My shortish, sharpish book review.
Blackmail, a dead body, superb use of “show, don’t tell”.
“Lethal White” is a masterclass in characterisation BUT…
Link to my teaser post: https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2018/10/19/ready-to-read-lethal-white/
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
“Stella Montgomery is in disgrace.
The awful aunts, Aunt Condolence, Aunt Temperance and Aunt Deliverance, have sent her to Wakestone Hall, a grim boarding school where the disobedient are tamed and the wilful are made meek.
But when a friend disappears, Stella is determined to find her – no matter what danger she encounters.
Soon Stella is thrown headlong into the mysteries surrounding Wakestone Hall.
Will Stella save her friend in time? And will she discover – at long last – where she truly belongs?”
Stella Montgomery and Wakestone Hall – the intrigue draws to an exciting close!
Wakestone Hall is Book 3 in the Stella Montgomery Intrigues and this series has captured my imagination. My inner child responded to the mysterious and creepy goings-on in the first two books, beautifully complemented by author Judith Rossell’s own illustrations of the Victorian era. The third book is out now with a book launch due in a couple of days. I can’t wait to read it! GBW.
Information: HarperCollins Publisher
Published: 22 October 2018
Imprint: ABC Books – AU
Number Of Pages: 280
For Ages: 8+ years old
Children’s, Teenage & educational / Fantasy & magical realism (Children’s – Teenage)
SUGGESTION : READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS BEFORE YOU SNEAK-A-PEEK AT THE CONCLUSION––read some Wakestone Hall pages here––
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Just received a brand new copy of ‘Lethal White’ the fourth volume in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike detective series. We all know that J K Rowling actually writes it but what I didn’t know was that this hardback edition is large and heavy!
The cover has a nice grungy look and, no, I did not skid it across the tarmac.
It was difficult to photograph because the bronze lettering flared but I wanted to illustrate the interesting trend of books getting bigger again.
I can’t help wondering how it will compare to previous adventures. The book blurb reads “The most epic Robert Galbraith novel yet, ‘Lethal White’ is both a gripping mystery and a page-turning next instalment in the ongoing story of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott.”
I will post a review when I’ve ploughed my way through 647 pages.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Link to my book review https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2018/11/09/review-lethal-white-by-robert-galbraith/
I love binge-reading! When I discover a good author like Elly Griffiths who has ten books in her crime oeuvre, I am ready, willing and able to read all. The archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway mystery series fits the bill nicely. To quote the Independent ‘The perfect ratio of anticipation, shock and surprise’.
Elly Griffiths is the pen name of Domenica de Rosa; she has written other novels under her real name. I like the historical and archaeological authenticity of this series which could be due to the fact that she’s married to Andrew Maxted, curator of archaeology at Brighton Museum.
I enjoyed the earlier books and then the later ones shown above. I loved ‘The Ghost Fields’ WWII story and found award-winning ‘The Chalk Pit’ quite fascinating. I struggled with ‘The Outcast Dead’ subject matter although it is fitting. I must mention the clever yet sneaky outcome of ‘The Dying Fall’ which has a touch of Hollywood about it.
The stories mainly revolve around Norfolk UK, tidal marshlands, excavations (with an occasional nod to ‘Time Team’) coastal regions and fictional University of North Norfolk where Ruth Galloway works. She is also a police adviser. The relationships of the key players are intriguingly tricky because of love triangles, children, 21st century parenting, murder and mystical goings-on.
Rather than a book review, I thought I’d do a quick character overview:
- Dr Ruth Galloway lives on the Saltmarsh, lectures in forensic archeology, makes ground-breaking discoveries, and likes old bones and her cat Flint.
- Fast-driving policeman DCI Harry Nelson moved with his family from Blackpool to Norfolk and doesn’t really like the place but he’s a born copper.
- Two glamorous women, Michelle Nelson is wife of DCI Nelson, and Shona MacLean is Ruth’s bestie.
- Michael Malone (aka Cathbad) brings enjoyable highlights to each plot with his spiritual insights, Druid instincts and flowing cloak.
- Part of Nelson’s team are police officers DS David Clough ‘old school’ and DS Judy Johnson ‘graduate’ who don’t always share the same views.
- Phil Trent, professor of archaeology at UNN, worries about funding but loves TV cameras, publicity and himself.
As I dug and sifted through the series, I noticed less archeology and gradual changes to the main characters but that’s the grit which makes these books human and relatable. There’s drama in their lives; a rocky layer or two over a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered.
Elly Griffiths has a nice knack of getting you up-to-speed with each book while revealing a ‘fresh’ crime involving the living and the desiccated. At one stage I quibbled over her use of Anglo male names like Max, Dan, Tim, Tom, Ted, Bob, well, you get my drift…but this has improved and the VIP reviews keep on coming:
"I refuse to apologise for being in love with Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson, one of my favourite current crime series . . . a pleasure from start to finish" Val McDermid. "I adore the Elly Griffiths series and have eagerly read each book. I love seeing how the recurring characters are living and working out their relationships" Joyce of joycesmysteryandfictionbookreviews
I’m waiting for book No.11 ‘The Stone Circle’ but don’t you hang around, start reading!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
—NEWS FLASH NEW BOOKS—
Ruth Galloway Mystery series book No.12 ‘The Lantern Men’ (2020) and book No.13 ‘The Night Hawk’ (2021)