Category Archives: Book reviews

New Tales both Old and New (again) — Clare Rhoden

I’m sharing this as it sounds really terrific. Fantasy and wolves? Who could resist? check it out.

March brings change and growth, they say. There’s certainly a lot happening in my writing world, with new tales. New Tales of Old, both old and new. 309 more words

New Tales both Old and New (again) — Clare Rhoden

Book Review: Child of Fear and Fire by G.R.Thomas

I don’t think I’ve ever really read a dark gothic fantasy novel before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the first page though I was taken on a ride and kept turning the pages of this short novel until I was done.

It’s about a young maid, Eliza who works for the Norlane family. Her life is miserable, taunted as she is by three sisters who are particularly horrible and nasty. The parents are little better and Eliza lives in constant fear and with nowhere else to go she must endure the harsh life of cruelty. Her only ally is the cook who dotes on Eliza treating her like a daughter. But even she can’t protect Eliza.

The story builds as we are drawn into the darkness entering Eliza’s mind as she senses something else is watching her. Her fear is palpable and the dark forces surrounding her and the house builds the tension right until the gruesome end.

I’ll admit it was a tough one to read not because it’s not well written, it is, but because of the subject matter. It’s disturbing and dark. But the author does a great job to immerse us into the dark world. The world building is exceptional and despite the hot summer day when I was reading, I felt the cold, dank and wet setting. The forest is particularly eerie and I wanted to stop Eliza from going into it.

“The wind whipped harder, its whistle more a song in her ear. She could have sworn upon the bible itself she heard a voice in it.”

Yes, I’m still recovering but then I am a bit of a scaredy cat. If you like dark fantasy then this one might appeal.

Book Review: The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters

A civil war in England breaks out in 1642 tearing the countryside apart, forcing families and villages to decide whether they support Parliamentarians or the King.

This is a beautifully told tale of a female physician Jayne Swift who is caught up in the war. From a Royalist family, she declares herself neutral prepared to offer her medical knowledge to people who need her from either side. She meets William Harrier who has many mysterious hats raising her curiosity each time their paths cross.

You might think that this is a novel about war but it is much more than that. It’s a novel about a strong and independent woman forging a career while the war rages around her. She’s an unusual character for the era – straight talking, single minded, witty as she is charming and knowledgeable. I suspect that a real- life character such as Jayne might have had many more difficulties in the day. Walters however does a good job in throwing many challenges Jaynes way and we as the reader constantly cheer for her.

As for William Harrier, he is a mystery – a mercenary, a tough fighter, wearing coats of different colours, his true character slowly evolves as does his interest in Jayne.

The medical knowledge and practices were fascinating and no doubt thoroughly researched and the siege of Lyme well conveyed. I’d not read a book about the Civil war before and there was a large focus on the content of battles and the history of both sides.

What I did find interesting is that the relationship between Jayne and William takes a back seat, weaving in and out of the story until the end when the last two chapters provide a quick summary. This surprised me a little as it felt like an information dump.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book, the writing and appreciated the history. It’s easy to read and although long, is very quickly absorbing.

Book Review: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

This epic story is mostly about eighteen-year-old Emmett and his eight-year-old brother Billie who set off on a road trip. I  say mostly because these two are the main characters from whom the rest pivot.

Go back in time to June 1954 when Emmett comes home having done his time at a juvenile work farm. His father, dead and his home sold by the bank, all he wants is to pick up his eight-year-old brother Billie, leave town in his beloved Studebaker and head to Texas where he figures there’ll be plenty of opportunity to use his skills as a builder for a growing population.

Billie, however has other ideas as he want to go to California to find their mother who abandoned him as a baby. Finding long lost postcards sent by her, Billie works out that the Lincoln Highway will get them there. Emmett agrees after realising the greater opportunity to build his wealth. What they both don’t figure on is Duchess and Woolly railroading their plans. Having escaped the juvenile work farm, Duchess via trickery and manipulation detour the brothers in the opposite direction to New York where Woolly is to retrieve his $150k inheritance which he is prepared to split.

What ensues is a series of disasters as well as a struggle for survival as Duchess and his erratic behaviour plunge the four into a course that is both comical and tense.

It’s a long book but an easy one to read taking us on a journey not just to New York but also into the minds of the various characters who are at times given their own point of view by the author. Mostly we see Emmett, Billie and Duchess but there are a host of other side characters who I’m not sure added much to the narrative. This is because it was part repetitive, part backstory and part meandering thoughts. Sometimes I enjoyed these asides but for the most part I thought it slowed the story down too much. I wanted to race ahead impatient to know what was to happen next.

Each boy is fundamentally good in their own way but through circumstance or a misguided view of the world have lost their place in it. Billie is the glue holding them all together and  is remarkably insightful for his young years, almost to the point of being scarcely believable. But I took the leap. Billie anchors them with a common sense that belies his years and is at times very touching.

It certainly is a hero’s journey in more ways than you realise, yet the twist in the end is heartbreaking. This one is certainly a memorable one. Check it out.

Book Review: Lucky by Marissa Stapley

Can a criminal who holds a winning lottery ticket cash it in without being caught?

This fast-paced dual timeline novel is very easy and quick to read and was exactly what I needed when my husband contracted Covid-19 and I was forced to isolate. I managed to fill in my time with a few good books and this is one of them.

This is the problem faced by Lucky Armstrong whose life as a grifter has led her down a path of crime. Brought up by her con-artist father, Lucky only knows a life of lies, fake id’s and running when the authorities are close. When she and her boyfriend are preparing to flee to Dominica to begin a new life and enjoy the millions they’ve appropriated from the gullible, she buys a lotto ticket. Things don’t go to plan and she finds herself alone and on the run.

The character Lucky reveals herself as guilt-ridden for her actions yet naïve and gullible which is understandable as a child under the control of her father but as an adult hard to swallow. Finding out who she really is slowly unwinds with some predictable twists.

Down and out, she finds out that she holds the winning numbers and there is a cat and mouse game interspersed with her own longing to find her mother. Somehow this was the bit I found hardest to swallow despite the motivation of getting her ‘mum’ – a complete stranger – to cash in her ticket.  Yet it added another story line to Lucky’s flawed character.  Of course, there is a predictable Hollywood happy ending which I expected although it did seem a tad rushed.

All in all a good holiday read and no doubt this one will be on our screens soon.

Book Review: Smokehouse by Melissa Manning

Smokehouse is a book of linked stories set in southern Tasmania, more particularly, the region around Kettering and Bruny Island.

I visited this region only a few years ago and it’s a stunning landscape of rugged beauty. And Melissa Manning not only paints the landscape but she fully immerses the reader right into it.

“She walked down to the beach, sat in the sand throwing shells into the frothy swash of waves, and considered whether all of this might be a sign that it was a time to move on.”

The book begins with the title story Smokehouse Part 1 which is almost a novella about Joy, who with her husband builds a mud-brick home, a dream home away from the bustle of Hobart. Her new life begins to fracture and the consequences of her actions resonate not only on her family but within the small community around her.

“She had never expected to feel so absent, as though her identity had bled out into the fabric of their family. She longed to feel the margins of herself.”

The last story Smokehouse Part Two, set in Joy’s future, gives us a glimpse into her life as an older woman. In between are short stories whose characters link with the community or Joy’s life.

There was a lot I enjoyed. There is a tenderness in the tragedy and trauma. The reference to food brings joy and pain. “… she dished field mushrooms onto her side plate and ate them with her fingers, let the juices run own her chin and into her lap and tried not to think about the night to come. “

Each story is beautifully written and evocative. The characters are rich in detail and drawn so fully, you feel you know them, their pain, their joy and the problems they encounter. Manning treats the characters and the themes of grief, sorrow, health decline and loss with empathy and dignity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and am not surprised it was shortlisted in 2021 for Queensland Literary Awards as well as Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. It’s a stunning debut by an extraordinary author. Highly recommend this one.

Book Review: Hello Beautiful by Hannie Rayson

I have to confess that I’d never heard of Australian playwright, Hannie Rayson. Yet I knew of her plays. When my book club chose this book I was extremely curious.

In Hello Beautiful, Hannie Rayson detours from plays to a memoir of revealing snapshots from her own life.

It’s a highly relatable book especially for those who lived in Melbourne during the eighties. Hannie grew up in East Brighton as the daughter of a real-estate agent who made and lost money. He was a ‘Melbourne bitter man. Anything else was cat’s piss.’ 

Nothing seems to be off limits in this memoir from ‘women’s problems’, and vagina moles to childbirth, together with blended families and dead bodies.

It’s a humorous collection of anecdotes as well as insights into inner suburban living, feminism, sex, being a mum, wife and friend, and becoming a writer.

‘One weekend my neighbours Suzie and Dave demolished their house. But the most significant impact on our household was that (they)… decided to move. Into our place. It seemed to me then that the nuclear family was a ludicrous idea – conceived not by nature, nor by God, but by people who wanted to sell us stuff.’

Hannie Rayson writes very well with charm and humour. If you don’t know Melbourne you might not fully appreciate the nuances but if you want an amusing insight, then give this one a go.