Review: NINE PERFECT STRANGERS, Liane Moriarty

  • Originally published: 18 September 2018
  • Source: Libby e-book App, through my local library

Synopsis

The retreat at health and wellness resort Tranquillum House promises total transformation. Nine stressed city dwellers are keen to drop their literal and mental baggage, and absorb the meditative ambience while enjoying their hot stone massages.

Watching over them is the resort’s director, a woman on a mission to reinvigorate their tired minds and bodies.

These nine perfect strangers have no idea what is about to hit them.

With her wit, compassion and uncanny understanding of human behaviour, Liane Moriarty explores the depth of connection that can be formed when people are thrown together in… unconventional circumstances.

My take

My first Libby book – I read it on my android phone (the screen is a bit small) and my iPad (the screen is a bit big. Borrowing and returning were painless, and the app “synced” on the two devices. But you are at the mercy of the battery life of your devices and my iPad is not good. I may have to buy a smaller one just for ebooks, but then I can get the books free as against buying them for my Kindle.

Nine strangers embark on a retreat at Tranquillam House, in the Australian countryside, about 2 hours from Sydney.

In the first half of the book we learn why the various individuals are there and what they hope to get out of the 10 day retreat. We learn also about the people who are running the business.
All seems to be going well until we learn that Masha, who is the CEO of the retreat has been lacing their smoothies with LSD and ecstasy and then it appears that she is just a little mad and even dangerous.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.6, THE HUSBAND’S SECRET
4.8, BIG LITTLE LIES
4.5, TRULY, MADLY GUILTY

Review: THE LOST GIRLS, Jennifer Spence

  • this edition published by Simon & Schuster 2019
  • ISBN 978-9-2579-137-2
  • 338 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

A haunting tale of love and loss that will make you think twice

What would you do if you had the chance to change a pivotal moment from your past?

How far would you go to save someone you loved?

These are just two of the fateful choices a woman is forced to grapple with in this highly original and hauntingly evocative detective story of love and loss.

At the core of the enigmatic Stella’s story, past and present, is a mystery she is compelled to solve, a beautiful young woman who went missing fifty years ago – and a tragedy much closer to home she must try to prevent.

As Stella unravels the dark secrets of her family’s past and her own, it becomes clear that everyone remembers the past differently and the small choices we make every day can change our future irrevocably.

My take

This is one of those books that presents a problem for the reviewer. The blurb on the back cover gives the reader no clue about the strategy the author adopts to tell Stella’s story, and I’m not going to outline it either.

There are two lost girls, and the story swings between two main time frames: 1997 and 2017, in a very creative scenario.

One review called the format “the butterfly effect”, another called it “unsettling”, which it. It strains your sense of credibility. And is it crime fiction – oh yes!

When I was 100 pages in, I really wondered whether I wanted to continue reading, but I’m glad that I did. I can’t even remember who recommended the book to me, but thank you.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Jennifer Spence has worked as an English teacher, a scriptwriter of soap operas and a technical writer. She is the author of three children’s books and a crime novel. She lives in Sydney.

Review: DEAD MAN SWITCH, Tara Moss

Synopsis (publisher)

She’s a woman in a man’s world …

Sydney, 1946. Billie Walker is living life on her own terms. World War II has left her bereaved, her photojournalist husband missing and presumed dead. Determined not to rely on any man for her future, she re-opens her late father’s detective agency.

Billie’s bread and butter is tailing cheating spouses – it’s easy, pays the bills and she has a knack for it. But her latest case, the disappearance of a young man, is not proving straightforward …

Soon Billie is up to her stylish collar in bad men, and not just the unfaithful kind – these are the murdering kind. Smugglers. Players. Gangsters. Billie and her loyal assistant must pit their wits against Sydney’s ruthless underworld and find the young man before it’s too late.

My take

Here we have what appears to be the beginning of a new series, a female investigator in Sydney, and ex-soldier as her associate, and a historical setting to boot.

Billie is asked to look for a young 17 year old man, who disappears after visiting a Sydney night club to talk to a well known wealthy auctioneer.

The novel opens with a Prologue which appears to be an account of what has happened to the young man.

As befits the first novel in a series readers are given a lot of background about Billie and Sam, her associate, and the background material continues throughout the novel. The year is 1946 and Australia is beginning to recover from the aftermath of World War II, but there is a lot of opposition to Billie taking on what is seen as men’s work.

A well told tale with strong adherence to historical setting if not strictly factual.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

She is a mother, a wife and a dual Canadian/Australian citizen, and currently resides with her family in Vancouver, BC.
Moss is an outspoken advocate for human rights and the rights of women and children, has been a UNICEF Australia Goodwill Ambassador since 2007 and since 2013 has been UNICEF Australia’s National Ambassador for Child Survival, and has visited Australian hospitals, maternity wards, refuges and schools as well as Syrian refugee camps in her UNICEF role. In 2014 she was recognised for Outstanding Advocacy for her blog Manus Island: An insider’s report, which helped to break information to the public about the events surrounding the alleged murder of Reza Barati inside the Australian-run Manus Island Immigration Detention Centre.

In 2015 Moss received an Edna Ryan Award for her significant contribution to feminist debate, speaking out for women and children and inspiring others to challenge the status quo, and in 2017 she was recognised as one of the Global Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life, for using her position in public life to make a positive impact in diversity, alongside Malala Yousufzai, Angelina Jolie, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet and more.

Review: THE VAN APFEL GIRLS ARE GONE, Felicity McLean

Synopsis (publisher)

Part mystery, part coming of age story, The Van Apfel Girls are Gone is set in a distant suburb on the encroaching bushland, over the long hot summer of 1992. It’s the summer of the school’s Showstopper concert. The summer Tikka never forgot. The summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Blackly comic, sharply observed and wonderfully endearing.

‘We lost all three girls that summer. Let them slip away like the words of some half-remembered song and when one came back, she wasn’t the one we were trying to recall to begin with.’

Tikka Molloy was eleven and one-sixth years old during the long hot summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters disappeared. Hannah, beautiful Cordelia and Ruth vanished during the night of the school’s Showstopper concert at the amphitheatre by the river, surrounded by encroaching bushland.

Now, years later, Tikka has returned home to try and make sense of the summer that shaped her, and the girls that she never forgot.

Blackly comic, sharply observed and wonderfully endearing, this is Picnic at Hanging Rock for a new generation, a haunting coming-of-age story with a shimmering, unexplained mystery at its heart.

My Take

Twenty years on, Tikka Molloy has always been haunted by the disappearance of the Van Apfel sisters. Were there things that she and her older sister should have told the investigating police at the time?

There is a strong Australian setting to this novel – not just the commentary in the background
of the Lindy Chamberlain case, but the heat, the bushland, and the flavour of the description. I thought there was also a touch of Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), of things observed but not necessarily understood. And the story leaves us with more questions, the opportunity to write our own ending, to come to our own conclusions.

An excellent read.

My rating: 4.8

About the author
Felicity McLean is a writer and a journalist.  Her writing has appeared in The Good Weekend, the Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun, the Big Issue and more. She has written fiction and non-fiction books and has been published by HarperCollins Publishers, Allen & Unwin and Black Inc. Her latest book, Body Lengths, was co-written with Olympian Leisel Jones. It won the 2016 Australian Book Industry Awards ‘Reader’s Choice’ for Small Publisher Adult Book of the Year, and it was Apple iBook’s ‘Best Biography of 2015′. As a ghostwriter she has collaborated with celebrities, sports stars, business leaders and others.This is her first novel.

Felicity will be sharing the stage with Michael Robotham at Adelaide Writers’ Week 2020.

Review: THE MISSING PIECES OF SOPHIE McCARTHY, B. M. Carroll

Synopsis (publisher)

She’s the victim.
But is she so innocent?

Sophie McCarthy is known for her determination, ambition and brilliance at work. She’s tough, but only because she wants to get the best out of people.

Aidan Ryan is strong, honourable, and a family man. He’s tough too; the army requires it.

When these two strangers are brought together in a devastating incident, Sophie’s life is left in ruins. Her family wants to see Aidan pay for what he did.

Aidan’s prepared to sacrifice everything – including his marriage and his child – to fix the mess he’s made.

But some things can’t be fixed, and Sophie is not at all what she first appeared . . .

My Take

More a novel of mystery than crime fiction, although there are crimes: physical violence, bullying, and abduction. If I had to pick an element that I think the novel is about: it is about pain, and the effects of stress, the sort of stress created by our modern society.

Aidan and Chloe’s happy family life comes to an abrupt end the day that he swerves out into the traffic without looking and smashes into Sophie McCarthy’s oncoming car. Aiden and Chloe are not significantly injured but Sophie has horrific injuries. Aiden’s feelings of guilt don’t allow him to move on, and his stress leads to the break up of his family.

In another way this story is about the impact of something like a car crash on both sides: the person who causes it, and the person who suffers it.

We hear the story from a multitude of narrators, and sometimes see an event from numerous points of view. This seems to make it all the more mesmerising.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Ber Carroll was born in Blarney, a small village in Ireland. The third child of six, reading was her favourite pastime (and still is!). Ber moved to Sydney in 1995 and spent her early career working in finance. Her work colleagues were speechless when she revealed that she had written a novel that was soon to be published. Ber now writes full time and is the author of eight novels, including Once Lost, Worlds Apart and Less Than Perfect. The Missing Pieces of Sophie McCarthy is her first book published under the name B M Carroll.

Review: SILVER, Chris Hammer

  • format: kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1958 KB
  • Print Length: 444 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (October 1, 2019)
  • Publication Date: October 1, 2019
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B07TNHDYBG

Synopsis (Amazon)

For half a lifetime, journalist Martin Scarsden has run from his past. But now there is no escaping.

He’d vowed never to return to his hometown, Port Silver, and its traumatic memories. But now his new partner, Mandy Blonde, has inherited an old house in the seaside town and Martin knows their chance of a new life together won’t come again.

Martin arrives to find his best friend from school days has been brutally murdered, and Mandy is the chief suspect. With the police curiously reluctant to pursue other suspects, Martin goes searching for the killer. And finds the past waiting for him.

He’s making little progress when a terrible new crime starts to reveal the truth. The media descend on Port Silver, attracted by a story that has it all: sex, drugs, celebrity and religion. Once again, Martin finds himself in the front line of reporting.

Yet the demands of deadlines and his desire to clear Mandy are not enough: the past is ever present.

My Take

Set in a fictional seaside town on the New South Wales northern coast, this novel seems to have a bit of everything. An undeveloped coastal retreat with a number of people with big ideas on how to make money, a swami taking advantage of the secludedness, others who enjoy the backwater nature of their home town. It starts with a murder and then follows with something even worse.

The plot has a number of complex threads and the book is definitely a sequel to the first Martin Scarsden novel, SCRUBLANDS for which the author recently won a CWA Dagger. However I felt my reading of SILVER was hampered by the fact that I seem to have forgotten some of the lesser threads of SCRUBLANDS. So, if you are wondering if you can read SILVER as a stand-alone, then the answer is probably no.

But Chris Hammer is obviously a writer to follow. The setting has a strong Australian flavour, and the main character Martin Scarsden is nicely flawed.

And will there be a sequel to SILVER? I’m not sure, unless Martin Scarsden becomes involved in an entirely new case. In this novel we learnt a lot about his past, his relationship with Mandy Blonde definitely went through some rocky times, so where now?

My rating: 4.4

I’ve also read
4.7, SCRUBLANDS

Review: RIVER OF SALT, Dave Warner

  • this book published by Fremantle Press 2019
  • ISBN 9-781925-591569
  • 246 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Publisher)

1961, Philadelphia. After having to give up his brother to save his own life, hitman Blake Saunders flees the Mob and seeks refuge on the other side of the world. Two years later he has been reborn in a tiny coastal Australian town. The ghosts of the past still haunt him, but otherwise Coral Shoals is paradise. Blake surfs, and plays guitar in his own bar, the Surf Shack.

But then the body of a young woman is found at a local motel, and evidence links her to the Surf Shack. When Blake’s friend is arrested, and the local sergeant doesn’t want to know, it becomes clear to Blake – who knows a thing or two about murder – that the only way to protect his paradise is to find the killer.

My Take

Blake Saunders fled to Australia, deserting his older brother Jimmy, a fact that is still raw in his mind.
He is forever alert to the fact that the Mob he escaped might still track him down and so he watches strangers with suspicion.

The novel is set in 1963, in coastal New South Wales where Blake has set up a bar which feeds off the surf culture of the remote town it is set in. He is on good terms with the local police sergeant, and they look after each other.

The quiet is disrupted when a murder takes place and city police move in to put everyone under a microscope. Blake is none too keen to have his own background investigated. At the same time two men appear, operating a “protection” racket, providing insurance against injury and arson attacks. Blake knows exactly what they are offering. The local police sergeant is not able to help much, but Blake knows he can handle this problem himself.

This was a good read, an engaging plot.

This is the first novel I have read by Dave Warner, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

My rating: 4.7

About the author
Dave Warner is an author, musician and screenwriter. His first novel City of Light won the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Fiction, and Before it Breaks (2015) the Ned Kelly Award for best Australian crime fiction. His latest novel Clear to the Horizon features the lead characters from both these books. Dave Warner originally came to national prominence with his gold album Mug’s Game, and his band Dave Warner’s from the Suburbs. In 2017 he released his tenth album When. He has been named a Western Australian State Living Treasure and has been inducted into the WAMi Rock’n’Roll of Renown.
Awards
Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Fiction (Longlisted 2018)
International DUBLIN Literary Award 2019 (Longlisted 2018)
Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction (Winner 2016)
Western Australian Premier’s Book Award (Co-winner 1996)

Review: THE COTTAGE AT ROSELLA COVE, Sandie Docker

  • this edition published by Penguin Random House Australia 2019
  • ISBN 978-0-14-378921-5
  • 343 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (author website)

Welcome to the place of new beginnings…
Why had the house stayed empty so long?  Why had it never been sold?

LOST

Nicole has left her city life for the sleepy town of Rosella Cove, renting the old cottage by the water. She plans to keep to herself – but when she uncovers a hidden box of wartime love letters, she realises she’s not the  first person living in this cottage to hide secrets and pain.

FOUND

Ivy’s quiet life in Rosella Cove is tainted by the events of World War II, with ramifications felt for many years to come. But one night a drifter appears and changes everything. Perhaps his is the soul she’s meant to save.

FORGOTTEN

Charlie is too afraid of his past to form any lasting ties in the cove.  He knows he must make amends for his tragic deeds long ago, but he  can’t do it alone. Maybe the new tenant in the cottage will help him  fulfil a promise and find the redemption he isn’t sure he deserves.

Welcome to the cottage at Rosella Cove, where three damaged souls meet and have the chance to rewrite their futures.

My Take

A mystery but not crime fiction.

After I had so enjoyed THE KOOKABURRA CREEK CAFE I determined to read Sandie Docker’s second book and it did not disappoint.

Three stories come together and the reader finds the connections between them and the events that have brought their lives together.

A very enjoyable read.

My rating: 4.5

I’ve also read
4.4, THE KOOKABURRA CREEK CAFE

Review: ALL OUR SECRETS, Jennifer Lane

Synopsis (publisher)

A girl called Gracie.

A small town called Coongahoola with the dark Bagooli River running through it.

The Bleeders — hundreds of ‘Believers’ who set up on the banks of the river, who start to buy up the town and win souls.

The River Children
— born in the aftermath of the infamous River Picnic. They begin to go missing, one after another.

Gracie Barrett is the naively savvy spokesperson for her chaotic family (promiscuous dad, angry mum, twins Lucky and Grub, Elijah the River Child and fervent, prayerful Grandma Bett), for the kids who are taken, for the lurking fear that locks down the town and puts everyone under suspicion.

Gracie is funny and kind, bullied and anguished, and her life spirals out of control when she discovers she knows what no one else does: who is responsible for the missing children.

Coongahoola is where hope and fear collide, where tender adolescence is confronted by death, where kindness is a glimmer of light in the dark.

My Take

Gracie Barrett, the central figure in this novel, reminded me a lot of Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. In fact at one stage Gracie is reading the book. In some senses Gracie has a wisdom beyond her years, and in other ways she is naive in her acceptance of what is happening in the adult world. There is a deceptive complexity to this plot.

The first mystery to solve is what actually happened on the night of the River Picnic. And then, as the River Children born in its aftermath, begin to go missing and are then are discovered murdered, what is the thread that connects them? Why are these murders happening, what has triggered them after 8 years?

The town of Coongahoola is divided with the arrival of Saint Bede and his followers, and the followers become easy scapegoats to blame for the murders. Gracie is particularly affected when he mother and father breakup, her mother leaves home, and is then chosen by Saint Bede to be his 4th wife. Through all Grandma Bett provides much needed stability, but still the murders happen.

And then Gracie unwittingly identifies the murderer.

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Boo Radley had been bad?

My rating: 4.5

In 1995, doubled over under the enormous weight of her backpack (lugging a 10kg laptop among other things), Jennifer Lane left Australia to satisfy her curiosity about the rest of the world – and to fulfil her dream of writing a novel. Twenty-two years, one husband and two daughters later, her mum has finally given up asking when she’s coming home.

For two decades now, Jennifer has lived in Wellington, New Zealand with the aforementioned family. She was a winner of New Zealand Book Month’s Six Pack 2 writing competition in 2007 and her short stories have appeared in publications on both sides of the Tasman, including Southerly and Island.

It took a little longer than she planned, but ALL OUR SECRETS is her first novel.

Her website and blog are at: jenniferlane.co.nz

Review: KILL SHOT, Garry Disher

Wyatt is almost spectral as he shifts unseen through a corrupt world, an inscrutable villain doing what he does best––stinging the stingers.

No qualms from Wyatt as he tracks ruthless, avaricious people and their hidden treasures, taking back what is not rightfully theirs and passing it on.

Wyatt was doing specialist break-and-enter jobs when his friend and fixer Sam Kramer contacted him.  Currently incarcerated and relying on prison networks and outside contact from his daughter Phoebe, Kramer gets a message through to Wyatt offering him a lucrative job.  Lucrative yes, easy no.

After some quick research, Wyatt learns his target is corporate financier Jack Tremayne who is being investigated by the Probity Commission and facing jail time for a Ponzi scheme which ripped off innocent people and made him rich.  Tremayne appears likely to abscond with the lot.  Before he escapes the country, Wyatt’s task is to find the assets he’s hidden, a million in cash, shares and bonds.

gun 02The trouble is several other felonious characters are interested in the hidden million, working just as hard as Wyatt to find it.  And we know there will be inescapable violence along the way.

Author Garry Disher is adept at getting inside the morally deficient minds of the criminal fraternity Wyatt encounters, tearing down their respectable facades, releasing their foibles bit by bit until cruel, cunning personalities emerge––those who will fight hard to steal a valuable prize.  And fight even harder when they find out Wyatt is closing in.

There is plenty of action in this thriller and as the tension builds, the main players emerge.  Trophy wife Lynx Tremayne; Will DeLacey the Tremayne lawyer; Mark Impey nervous investor; prison gofer Brad Salter; Kramer’s sleazy son Josh: ex-commando Nick Lazar; none are particularly agreeable.  Apart from the incomparable Wyatt, my other favourite person is Property Crimes DS Greg Muecke who gets in the way of Robbery & Serious Crimes division as he relentlessly follows Wyatt’s trail.  A knowing man but usually one step behind.

merewether beach newcastle nswThe drama starts in Sydney and unfolds around the beachside homes in Newcastle before progressing through to yachting marinas and beyond.  Wyatt has various identities and travels in understated disguises as he tracks his target.  No slang but unashamedly Australian with place names and businesses, author tributes e.g. Corris, Throsby, and an atmosphere so evocative you can smell the eucalyptus and fresh sea air.

Full of plot twists, ‘Kill Shot’ is number 9 of this tightly written series.  The ending is not what I expected which makes the story all the more enthralling and earns my Five-Star rating.

♥ This review reproduced from Thoughts Become Words with kind permission from Gretchen Bernet-Ward