Book Review: The Good Mother by Rae Cairns

The Good Mother by Rae Cairns

‘Past and present collide on and off the page in this explosive debut’ Sunday Telegraph

‘This story wouldn’t let me go’ Michael Robotham

Shortlisted for the 2021 Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction

She’s protected them from the truth. Can she save them from her past?

Sarah Calhoun is a regular Sydney soccer mum, but she’s keeping terrifying secrets from everyone she loves . . . and her past is about to catch up with her.

When two men from Northern Ireland hunt her down, she’s forced to return to Belfast to testify at a murder trial. Caught in the crossfire of an obsessive policeman driven by a disturbing past, and a brutal IRA executioner, Sarah faces an impossible choice: lie and allow a killer to walk free, or tell the truth and place her children in the line of fire.

With her family and innocent people at risk, Sarah must find the courage to fight for the truth. But righting the wrongs of the past just might cost her everything . . .

This fast-paced, explosive thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat to its gripping finale.

‘Show me a soldier who would fight harder than a mother to save her son.’

My Review

The Good Mother by Rae Cairns is a fast-paced thriller that had me on the edge of my seat until the very end.

Suburban mum Sarah Calhoun has kept her past a secret for years until it catches up with her in the worst possible way – through her children. She used to work as youth worker in Ireland during the 90s until she witnessed a murder by a brutal IRA member and had to leave because her own life was on the line. Now her children may have to pay the price of what she saw.

At first, Sarah comes across as a bit of a helicopter mum who doesn’t want to let her children out of her sight, but it soon becomes apparent that her fears are well-founded when an obsessive Irish policeman hunts her down and she is left with two choices: let the killer walk free or put her children’s and other innocent people’s lives in danger.

Not being a mother myself, I was a bit worried that I would find Sarah difficult to connect with, but I found her relatable in other ways. Particularly with her motivations around what she witnessed in the 90s and her fearless determination to make sure that the IRA didn’t get away with murder this time.

I also really enjoyed the setting of both the modern day and 1990s Ireland and I feel as though I learned a lot about The Troubles woven throughout the book in a natural way. The author’s own experiences have provided invaluable insight into such a complex period of recent history.

The good mother is a strong debut and was Shortlisted for the 2021 Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction. I’ll be looking forward to reading more from this author.

Thanks to HarperCollins for my review copy

Details

Title: The Good Mother

Author: Rae Cairns

Published: HarperCollins AU 30/03/2022

Pages: 368

RRP: $32.99 AUD

Source: Publisher

Goodreads: The Good Mother

The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall Book Review

THE MOTHER FAULT BY KATE MILDENHALL

Set in a dystopian Australia in the not too distant future, THE MOTHER FAULT is a cleverly crafted eco-thriller that had me on the edge of my seat all the way through.

Mim is a geologist turned stay at home mum with two children Essie (11) and Sammy (6) in a Victoria that is ruled by ‘The Department’. Her husband Ben is an environmental engineer at an Australian/Chinese mine in Indonesia. Climate change has begun to cause catastrophic damage, all citizens are microchipped ‘for their safety, and anybody who doesn’t comply with ‘The Department’ are shipped off to a place called ‘Best Life’.

When Mim receives a phone call to let her know that Ben has gone missing from the mine she packs up Essie and Sammy and sets of across the country, and then across the ocean, to find a way to get to Indonesia and find her husband. Even though she must put her family and her friends in serious danger, Mim is determined to get to Ben.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE MOTHER FAULT and found the dystopian Australia that had been ravaged by climate change to be frighteningly plausible. The vivid characters and fast-paced action make it a compelling reading experience.

Details

Title: The Mother Fault

Author: Kate Mildenhall

Published: September 2, 2020 by Simon & Schuster

Pages: 366 pages, paperback

Genre: Dystopian, Thriller, Eco-Thriller, Speculative Fiction

Source: Own Copy

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GULLIVER’S WIFE by Lauren Chater

GULLIVER’S WIFE by Lauren Chater

GULLIVER’S WIFE is an imaginative and rich retelling of Jonathan Swift’s classic Gulliver’s Travels from his long-suffering wife’s perspective with a strong feminist flavour.

In London 1702 Mary Burton Gulliver is forced to raise her son and daughter alone while her husband is at sea. He is often gone for years, rarely keeping in contact, and each time he returns his stories become increasingly fanciful. Mary has no choice but to work as a midwife to make ends meet, even though that she is judged harshly for having to work as a married woman.

When her husband returns home from his long stint at sea feverish and making the most ridiculous claims yet, Mary has no choice but to take him in and to care for him. Even though it was difficult to survive while her husband was at sea, in many ways Mary found it easier to manage her household on her own. Her life without Lemuel was spent managing her household, working in her garden, and caring for the local women in her role as a midwife was mostly calm and orderly. Even before his outlandish ravings began Lemuel brought chaos and deception wherever he went, and his light fingers meant that Mary needed to try to hide whatever meagre money and valuables she possessed.

I particularly liked the character of Bess, Mary’s daughter. Bess is 14 years old and infatuated with her father. She believes his tall tales and false promises that he will take her sailing with him one day until his selfish behaviour puts her in danger this time. Mary hopes that she will train to become a midwife like herself and her mother before her. I think that the relationship between Mary and Bess perfectly captured the difficulties often found in the mother/daughter relationship during the tumultuous teen years when the daughter is trying to figure things out for herself and is desperate for her independence.

I thoroughly enjoyed GULLIVER’S WIFE and would highly recommend it to lovers of historical fiction with a strong feminist bent and touches of magic and wonder. The story is engrossing and skilfully weaved together.

Details

Published: April 1st 2020 by Simon & Schuster

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, February 2021

Pages: 416 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Amazon AU

About the author

Lauren Chater is the author of the historical novels The Lace Weaver and Gulliver’s Wife, as well as the baking compendium Well Read Cookies – Beautiful Biscuits Inspired by Great Literature.

In 2018 she was awarded a grant by the Neilma Sidney Literary Fund to travel to the Netherlands to research her third novel The Winter Dress, inspired by a real 17th century gown found off the Dutch coast in 2014. She has made appearances at the Brisbane Writers Festival, Storyfest, the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival and the Tamar Valley Writers’ Festival, as well as many others. She is currently completing her Masters of Cultural Heritage through Deakin University.

For all rights enquiries, please contact Tara Wynne at Curtis Brown Literary Agency.

For all media enquiries, please contact the Marketing and Publicity department at Simon & Schuster Australia.

You can also connect with Lauren via Facebook and Instagram.

Book review: The Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Kovacic

I’ve been obsessed with books set in the 1930s lately, so I was instantly intrigued by The Portrait of Molly Dean when I discovered that it’s a true murder mystery set against the background of Melbourne’s bustling art scene in 1930.

Goodreads Blurb

An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years…

In 1999, art dealer Alex Clayton stumbles across a lost portrait of Molly Dean, an artist’s muse brutally slain in Melbourne in 1930. Alex buys the painting and sets out to uncover more details, but finds there are strange inconsistencies: Molly’s mother seemed unconcerned by her daughter’s violent death, the main suspect was never brought to trial despite compelling evidence, and vital records are missing. Alex enlists the help of her close friend, art conservator John Porter, and together they sift through the clues and deceptions that swirl around the last days of Molly Dean. 

Review

The Portrait of Molly Dean is based on a real unsolved murder. Molly Dean was brutally murdered in Melbourne in 1930. She was a beautiful and popular artist’s muse who was determined to break out of her complicated home life and make a name for herself as a writer but her murder was never solved and she was almost forgotten.

This novel imagines what might have happened in Molly’s last days via the fictional investigations of an astute Melbourne art dealer who snaps up Molly’s portrait in 1999 for a bargain. As Alex and her art conservator friend investigate the painting and the mystery surrounding the death of Molly Dean, they discover that there were many inconsistencies surrounding the investigation and that there are still people out there who will do whatever it takes to make sure that the truth remained hidden.

There really isn’t anything that I didn’t love about this book! Both the 1930 and 1999 timelines were full of distinctly timely and Melbourne features and I also found the art history fascinating. Molly was such an interesting character that I found myself invested in finding out what happened to her. I feel like I could have been great friends with her. And I loved Alex Clayton the sassy art dealer and will be adding the rest of the Alex Clayton art mystery series to my TBR list!

Details

Published: March 1st 2018 by Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, January – February 2021

Pages: 271 pages

Rating: 5 stars

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Amazon AU

Amazon UK

Amazon US

About the author

Katherine Kovacic was a veterinarian but preferred training and having fun with dogs to taking their temperatures. She seized the chance to return to study and earned an MA, followed by a PhD in Art History. Katherine spends her spare time writing, dancing and teaching other people’s dogs to ride skateboards.

A research geek, Katherine is currently fired up by the history of human relationships with animals, particularly as they appear in art. Her first book, The Portrait of Molly Dean, was shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award for best first fiction.

Katherine lives in suburban Melbourne with a Borzoi, a Scottish Deerhound and a legion of dog-fur dust bunnies.

January 2021. True Crime.

Available in all good bookshops and online (paperback, ebook, audio) including:

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Booktopia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon US)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon Australia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Kobo)

Book Review: The Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner

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The Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner

Blurb

An enthralling story of one woman’s determined grab for freedom after WW2 from a talented new Australian voice.

‘PART CABARET, PART BURLESQUE, AND LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE! GENTLEMEN, AND LADIES IF YOU’VE DARED TO COME, WELCOME TO …

THE VICTORY!’

1945: After the thrill and danger of volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment protecting Londoners from German bombers overhead, Evelyn Bell is secretly dismayed to be sent back to her rigid domestic life when the war is over. But then she comes across a secret night-time show, hidden from the law on a boat in the middle of the Thames. Entranced by the risqué and lively performance, she grabs the opportunity to join the misfit crew and escape her dreary future.

At first the Victory travels from port to port to raucous applause, but as the shows get bigger and bigger, so too do the risks the performers are driven to take, as well as the growing emotional complications among the crew. Until one desperate night …

1963: Lucy, an unloved and unwanted little girl, is rescued by a mysterious stranger who says he knows her mother. On the Isle of Wight, Lucy is welcomed into an eclectic family of ex-performers. She is showered with kindness and love, but gradually it becomes clear that there are secrets they refuse to share. Who is Evelyn Bell?

PRAISE FOR KERRI TURNER

‘Beautiful, daring, deceptive and surprising.’ The Australian Women’s Weekly

‘An impressive debut … one of the strengths of the novel is the tapestry it creates of everyday life in an era of great turbulence.’ Queensland Times
 

 

The Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner

My Review

The Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner is a charming historical fiction novel that travels between WW2 London and the all-female searchlight regiment, to a post-war burlesque ship on the Thames, and a young girl’s search for answers on the Isle of Wight in 1963.  

Evelyn struggles to adapt to life after the end of WW2 where she was a member of the all-female searchlight regiment which played an essential, and often very dangerous, role during the war. After the war is over she feels stifled when she has no choice but to live with her sister’s family and return to the domestic life. When a chance encounter introduces her to the wild and risqué Victory – a ship that performs a part cabaret, part burlesque, show along the Thames – she grabs the opportunity to live a more exciting life on board while putting her skills with lights to good use. 

I was fascinated by Evelyn’s all-female searchlight regiment, the horrific job of the Graves Registration Officers, and the idea of a burlesque show getting around the strict post-war restrictions, which were all inspired by true stories. Kerri Turner has crafted a nice balance between providing rich details inspired by real historical events while avoiding the dreaded information dump. 

I adored The Daughter of Victory Lights and it had given me great comfort during this difficult time. I’ve not been able to read as often or as much as I usually do, but the fact that I’ve been able to finish reading this novel is a testament to the compelling story, interesting characters, and rich historical detail. I highly recommend The Daughter of Victory Lights to anybody who enjoys historical fiction, especially those interested in this era. 

5 stars! 



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The Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner

Details

Author: Kerri Turner

Published: January 20th 2020 by HQ Fiction

Source: Competition by Robinsons Bookshop

Read:  Paperback, 362 pages, March 2020

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Book Review: The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan (Cormac Reilly #3)

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The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

“Sometimes to fix the law you have to break it”

Blurb

The unputdownable new novel from the bestselling author of The Ruin and The Scholar.

Police corruption, an investigation that ends in tragedy and the mystery of a little girl’s silence – three unconnected things that will prove to be linked by one small town.

While Detective Cormac Reilly faces enemies at work and trouble in his personal life, Garda Peter Fisher is relocated out of Galway with the threat of prosecution hanging over his head. But even that is not as terrible as having to work for his overbearing father, the local copper for the pretty seaside town of Roundstone.

For some, like Anna and her young daughter Tilly, Roundstone is a refuge from trauma. But even this village on the edge of the sea isn’t far enough to escape from the shadows of evil men.

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The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

My Review

The Good Turn is the ripping third novel of the Irish Detective Cormac Rielly series by Dervla McTiernan.

My favourite  brooding Irish detective with a heart of gold, Cormac Reilly, is still facing serious issues caused by bitter office politics and corruption in the police force. While Cormac is fighting for his own job, young Garda Peter Fisher is forced to leave Galway  amid controversy and work in the sleepy town of Roundstone with his  father.

What I love about the entire Cormac Reilly series is the focus on the office politics, the relationships between the police officers, and the people they deal with. Of course they do use modern technology to help them solve crimes, but most of the focus is on the people and their interactions; most of the crimes are solved by asking the right questions and good old fashioned detective work.

Like the rest of the series, The Good Turn is a character driven novel. I found myself falling in love with the people of Roundstone and, as always, hoping that Cormac would manage to solve the crime and live to fight another day, but not being sure how he was going to pull that off this time until the very end. I also like the way that Cormac is always a major player in the novels, but he can also play a bit of background role at times, so that the reader can become immersed in the other character’s lives.

5 stars!

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The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

 

Details

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Published: February 24th 2020 by HarperCollins – AU

Source: Publisher

Read: Paperback, 400 pages, February 2020

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Amazon AU

Amazon US

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Book Review: Postscript by Cecelia Ahern

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Postscript by Cecelia Ahern

“There’s always one more thing to say…”

My Review

Uplifting tearjerker about grief and love. Postscript is Cecelia Ahern’s eagerly anticipated  sequel to P.S. I Love You, and it is just as beautiful.

Postscript picks up seven years after Holly Kennedy’s husband dies too young and left her a series of letters to read after his death. She feels as though she has moved on very nicely, and is even in the process of selling the home she shared with Gerry, until she reluctantly agrees to discuss Gerry’s letters on her sister’s podcast.

Not only does the podcast reopen old wounds and make things difficult with her new boyfriend, now she is being hassled by a group of terminally ill people who want her to help them write their own letters.

Postscript is obviously a sad read given the subject matter, but it is also heartwarming and uplifting novel with plenty of humour to balance out the sad bits. Sequels often struggle to live up to expectations, but I thought Postscript was a wonderful followup and a joy to read.

5 stars!

Synopsis

Sixteen years after Cecelia Ahern’s bestselling phenomenon PS, I Love You captured the hearts of millions, the long-awaited sequel follows Holly as she helps strangers leave their own messages behind for loved ones.

Seven years after her husband’s death — six since she read his final letter — Holly Kennedy has moved on with her life. When Holly’s sister asks her to tell the story of the “PS, I Love You” letters on her podcast — to revisit the messages Gerry wrote before his death to read after his passing — she does so reluctantly, not wanting to reopen old wounds.

But after the episode airs, people start reaching out to Holly, and they all have one thing in common: they’re terminally ill and want to leave their own missives behind for loved ones. Suddenly, Holly finds herself drawn back into a world she’s worked tirelessly to leave behind — but one that leads her on another incredible, life-affirming journey.

With her trademark blend of romance, humor, and bittersweet life lessons, Postscript is the perfect follow-up to Ahern’s beloved first novel.

Details

Author: Cecelia Ahern

Published: September 19th 2019 by HarperCollins

Source: Publisher

Read: Paperback, 368 pages, 2019

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Amazon AU

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Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

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Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

My Review

“A truer history”

A truer history of Australian agriculture. Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe should be essential reading for all Australians!

Pascoe argues that what we learned in school about what Aboriginal Australians were like before the First Fleet arrived in Australia is wrong. He presents robust evidence from early settler accounts and archaeological evidence which strongly suggest that many Aboriginal people all over Australia were engaging in farming, building, storing, irrigating, governing, and making activities that mean that they were not hunter-gatherers at all.

Pascoe also argues that evidence of pre-colonial Aboriginal societies and structure was deliberately erased by early settlers. I suspect this may be the case as history is always written by the victor!

I found the evidence in Dark Emu to be very well and modestly presented. Pascoe meticulously cites many diaries and original sources from early settler first hand accounts, including some accounts from very familiar names such as Charles Sturt and Thomas Mitchell.    These citations are all listed within the book and have been independently checked by Rick Morton for the Saturday Paper.

The evidence Pascoe has unearthed about the ways Aboriginal Australians managed the land through controlled fire burns and the way the soil was then compared to how it is now after more than 200 years of Western farming practices are more important than ever now. I am also very curious about the native plants that were used to make flour because they sound delicious and I suspect they might be beneficial for people with wheat or gluten intolerances.

I strongly urge all Australians to read Dark Emu. It will certainly make you think differently about things. It has made me think differently about what I was taught about colonial times and even more determined to be a better ally. I have also heard great things about Young Dark Emu, the adaptation of Dark Emu designed for children.

Synopsis

Dark Emu puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for precolonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag. Gerritsen and Gammage in their latest books support this premise but Pascoe takes this further and challenges the hunter-gatherer tag as a convenient lie. Almost all the evidence comes from the records and diaries of the Australian explorers, impeccable sources

Details 

Author: Bruce Pascoe

Published: 2014 by Magabala Books

Source: Own Copy

Read: Paperback, 176 pages, January-February 2020

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Book Review: Love and Other Battles by Tess Woods

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Love and Other Battles by Tess Woods

“Three generations of women.

Three heartbreaking choices.

One unforgettable story.”

CW: Love and Other Battles deals with issues of self-harm and suicide. Please contact your local support lines if required.

My Review

Love and Other Battles by Tess Woods spans across three generations of women, each one faced with her own heartbreaking decisions. This story will take you from the horrors faced by Jess during the Vietnam war in 1969, her daughter Jamie’s brush with a wild musician in 1989, and her teenage daughter CJ’s infatuation with the cool new boy in school in 2017.

I actually read this book last year, so you may remember me shouting about it a while ago. I absolutely loved this story just as much as I have a loved every single one of Tess Woods’ beautiful novels. She really excels at exploring difficult and messy subjects sensitively. I was spell bound by this book and fell in love with all of the characters, although I think I have a bit of a soft spot for Jess, the free-spirited hippie who was an unwilling victim of the Vietnam War.

5 stars!

Synopsis

1969: Free-spirited hippie Jess James has no intention of falling for a soldier … but perhaps some things are not in our power to stop.

1989: Jess’s daughter, Jamie, dreams of a simple life – marriage, children, stability – then she meets a struggling musician and suddenly the future becomes wilder and complex.

2017: When Jamie’s daughter, CJ, brings home trouble in the form of the coolest boy at school, the worlds of these three women turn upside down … and the past returns to haunt them.

Spanning the trauma of the Vietnam War to the bright lights of Nashville, the epidemic of teenage self-harm to the tragedy of incurable illness, Love and Other Battles is the heart-wrenching story of three generations of Australian women, who learn that true love is not always where you seek it.

If you loved The Notebook, this is a novel for you.

Details

Author: Tess Woods

Published:  June 17th 2019 by HarperCollins – AU

Source: Publisher

Read: Paperback, 336 pages, 2019

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Amazon AU

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 

Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

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Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

“Your end is a dead blue wren”

My Review

Boy Swallows Universe is the debut Australian best seller and multi award winner of 2019. I’m not usually a fan of stickers on book covers, but that certainly is an impressive number of awards there!

Set in the suburbs of Brisbane in 1985, Eli Bell is struggling to grow up in the midst of a very complicated life. His mum is a junkie, his step-father is a heroin dealer, his brother is mute, his absent dad is an alcoholic, his best friend is a notorious criminal, and his pen pal is the ex sergeant at arms of the Rebels motorcycle club.

All of a sudden, tragedy strikes, and Eli’s life becomes a lot more complicated. He needs all the help he can get from his brother, his friends, his father who has suddenly landed in his life, and an attractive young (but still far too old for Eli) journalist called Caitlin Spies.

Boy Swallows Universe is a heartbreaking, but triumphant, Australian novel that reveals the true horrors lurking underneath the surface of most suburbs, I suspect. I’m still reeling from the wild ride of the last few chapters and Dalton shines through as a simply brilliant storyteller. If you are in the middle of reading this book and are perhaps thinking that there is a bit too much description and it jumps around a bit too much, just wait til the end where all will be revealed.

5/5 stars!

Author: Trent Dalton

Published:  June 18th 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Source: Own Copy

Read: Paperback, 464 pages, January 2020