Bruny by Heather Rose

I don’t know where to begin with this book. It was so wonderfully unexpected. A thrilling, outrageous and clever tale about family, politics, betrayal, deceit at the highest levels and the people who really pay for that – and all set in Tasmania. What’s not to love? The book opens when a bomb explodes, almost destroying a new and ridiculously expensive bridge that has been built by the Tasmanian government using federal and international funds and which connects the beautiful island of Bruny to the rest of Tasmania via a six-lane roadway. Overkill anyone? Heralded by the sitting government as an essential piece of infrastructure that will invite more tourists and thus money to Tasmania and advance the island fair, there are many who doubt the efficacy and legitimacy of the project. Vested interests, splinter groups both combine and implode as debates over the bridge – especially now it needs to be repaired – escalate. Enter Astrid Coleman, member of a famous political family currently working for the U.N., whose twin brother is not only the Premier of Tasmania, but her older half-sister is leader of the Opposition. An expert in conflict resolution, it’s believed Astrid will not only be able to pour oil over troubled waters by tempering the mood of those against the bridge, but prepare locals for the government’s solution (one backed by the Federal government) to ensure the bridge is repaired by the rapidly approaching opening date: by bringing in hundreds of Chinese workers. Astrid arrives home to find not only the island and, particularly Hobart and Bruny in turmoil, but her family as well. Her father is suffering from dementia and quoting only Shakespeare, her mother is dying of cancer and while the family can come together and give the appearance of unity in...

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The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

Like so many others, I was thrilled when the new Juliet Marillier book, The Harp of Kings, landed on my Kindle. Instead of diving straight into it, which I was so tempted to do, I held out and made reading it my reward for completing work that had to be done. Finally, a few days ago, the task I’d set myself was finished and I was at last able to return to the world Juliet so lovingly and beautifully created in the Blackthorn and Grimm series. Even so, this book also works as a standalone as it shifts into the next generation of players in this fabulously crafted realm of fey folk, druids, kings, warriors, bards, healers, wise women and so much more. Told from three different points of view, Liobhan and Brocc’s, the children of Blackthorn and Grimm who are both superb singers and composers of music and training to be Swan Island warriors, and Dau, a chieftain’s son also training to be a warrior and with a dark and troubled past that he keeps firmly locked away, the reader is given insights into each character’s fears and strengths. We’re also given a greater depth of understanding about what makes these interesting young people tick and the choices they’ve made and are yet to have thrust upon them. When the three of them are chosen for a specific task – to find and restore the precious Harp of Kings so that a new ruler might ascend to the leadership of a distant kingdom – and given fresh identities to both aid them in its completion and protect them, they are forced to work together and subsume parts of their characters in ways they’d never foreseen. While Liobhan and Brocc have a strong and deep sibling bond, Dau was...

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Cold Storage by David Koepp.

There was a great deal of hype surrounding this book, Cold Storage by David Koepp, which kept popping up in my email and all my book-related social media. I always enjoy a good sci-fi thriller and apocalyptic-type narrative, so thought I would give it a go. Koepp comes with good credentials having written the screenplays to some very successful blockbusters. I was ready for an edge-of-your-seat, high-octane ride. And, I did get that in parts. What should have probably sent some warning bells my way was the fact many critics mentioned how funny the book was. While laughter is often the natural response to danger or being frightened, I am not entirely certain the end of the world should be that hilarious. But I reserved my judgement. This is story that begins 30 odd years before the main events. We read about a team of scientists who travel to a remote community in Western Australia where a fungus has wiped out an entire community. The scientists retrieve the fungus and manage to return it to the US where they put it in a storage facility deep underground where a constant freezing temperature should keep the deadly organism dormant. Should. Fast forward to now and two security guards at a storage facility are puzzled when an alarm sounds and they discover a hidden vault deep underground which has thermal controls that are malfunctioning. When they realise just how catastrophic this is and infected people and creatures start to run amok, they are forced to put their own lives in danger to save the world. But, they’re not alone. Called to take control is retired scientist cum operative, Roberto Diaz. Older, wiser and with a lot less to lose, he makes the hard decisions, decisions that may yet cost more lives...

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The Long Call by Anne Cleeves

How fabulous is this, hey? Anne Cleeves has started a new series and while I am disappointed I won’t get to read any more about Vera Stanhope or Jimmy Perez (the lead characters from her other respective series), it’s been exciting to get to know a new character. In The Long Call, the first book in the Two Rivers series, this lead character and detective is the rather gentle and self-effacing Matthew Venn. A man with an interesting and troubled past, having been raised and then rejected by an evangelical community, Matthew has a tendency to empathise with most people he encounters, even the criminal kind. The hard-bitten, gum-shoe detective he ain’t. The book opens with Matthew as an outsider at his father’s funeral, a position to which Matthew is, sadly, sort of accustomed, as much as he’s tried to compensate for this as well. When he takes on his first major case in the Two Rivers area, Matthew has to both learn the strengths and weaknesses of his team as well as the area he and his beloved partner have moved into. But just when Matthew thought he could forge ahead personally and professionally, put his difficult past behind him, the killer lurking in the region has other ideas… This book, like the first book in any good series, is a slow-burn. Beautifully written and constructed, the reader is taken into not only the crime that rocks a community, but the lives of those seeking to solve it, in particular, Matthew and his team. We’re given insights into the personal foibles and ambitions of all involved and it’s so typical of Cleeves that she says so much with so few words. Likewise, the area is brought to life with a few choice phrases, and it leaps off the...

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The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz

Ever since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson was released, I have adored this series featuring one of the most original and feisty, bad-ass women in crime/thriller fiction, Lisbeth Salander. When David Lagercrantz took over writing the series in the wake of Larson’s death, like many, I was worried about how another writer could replicate and progress Larson’s characters, let alone his vision. Well, Lagercrantz has done a stellar job and his books are page-turners and thrillers par excellence. Up until this book, I also thought that Lagercrantz had kept Larson’s Lisbeth alive and kicking. However, in this latest instalment, there’s a sense in which she’s diminished. No, possibly that’s not the right word. There’s a sense in which her brilliance, her capacity to embrace both her dark and light sides, has weakened and thus this book doesn’t twinkle as brightly in the Salander/Blomkvist universe. However, it is very plot-drive – for better and worse – and it is still a well, written and mostly gripping read. The novel opens with Lisbeth hiding in Moscow. There to enact vengeance, when push comes to shove, or gun to trigger, she finds herself unable to perform and is forced into the type of hiding on Lisbeth can pull off. Concerned for Lisbeth’s welfare, back in Stockholm, Mikael Blomkvist is caught up in the death of a homeless man. Sadly not unusual in itself, a persistent coroner has cause to believe the man was murdered and asks Blomkvist to look into his background. Knowing Salander will be unable to resist, Mikael asks for assistance as well. What unfolds is a story of corporate greed, political machinations, ‘fake-news”, Russian cyber “troll-factories,” cover-ups, betrayal and murder. There were parts of this book I raced through, eagerly anticipating how something was going...

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The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

I wasn’t sure what to expect reading The Testaments, especially after its prequel, The Handmaid’s Tale had such a profound impact on my life – as it did with so many others too (I couldn’t bring myself to watch the TV series, despite all the amazing reviews and awards, because I didn’t want the impression the book left to be diluted or, dare I say, translated in any way). It’s not incorrect to say that because of studying that book at university (and Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus), I underwent a career change becoming an academic for over 25 years. Over some of that time, I introduced others to the wonder, power and terrible vision of Offred and Gilead’s story, reliving and appreciating its formidable narrative every single time. So, what would the sequel a book, as Atwood herself said, 35 years in the making offer? Would it destroy the foundations laid so long ago or build upon them in a way that is as astonishing and frightening as the first book? The Testaments begins fifteen years after Offred disappeared from Gilead and readers heard her harrowing tale (and which we’d just borne witness to), interpreted through the lens of history and the dry rhetoric of an academic conference – a brilliant metaphor on its own. Told from three different points of view – that of one of the most influential and dreadful of the Aunts, a young Gileadian girl destined to become a Wife, and then from an outsider’s perspective – Gilead, the state that oppresses and subjugates in the name of God and specific interpretations of the Bible – is no less chilling and the themes and incidents no less prescient than they were in The Handmaid’s Tale. Once more, the reader is given insight into...

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The Naturalist’s Daughter by Tea Cooper

This is a wonderful novel, set in Australia and England, about two extraordinary young women, a century apart, who are embroiled in the great scientific mystery of the Antipodes that was the platypus. In 1808, young Rose Winton adores working with her father, Charles, studying and creating detailed drawings of the platypus in its natural environment. Clever, quick-witted and resourceful, Rose is a wonderful foil and encouragement to her kind, studious father who is supported in his research, in part, by a meagre sum of money from none other than the great botanist and scientist, Joseph Banks in England. When an opportunity to present his findings to the Royal Society in London arrives, Charles Winton is thrilled – at last, all his hard work and dedication will reap the rewards and recognition he deserves. But when something happens that prevents him going, he sends Rose, equipped with his glorious and detailed sketchbook and findings, in his stead. Filled with equal parts excitement and trepidation, little does Rose know that her journey to the “mother-country” will be just that – a dangerous journey into a past that she had no knowledge of and which her mother, transported to the colonies years earlier, has tried hard to forget. At the newly established Mitchell library in Sydney 1908, Tamsin Alleyn has been tasked with proving the provenance of an old sketchbook that is going to be donated by a reclusive woman living in the Hunter Valley. Sent to see the old woman, Tamsin is thrown into the company of lawyer and wanna-be antiquarian book dealer, Shaw Everdene, and his clients, people with a vested interest in not only the sketch-book but discovering the origins and real owner as well. What Tamsin learns – about the book, but also about Shaw, herself and...

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Circe by Madeline Miller

I had been meaning to read this book ever since I first heard about it last year and I am kicking myself it’s taken so long, but then also glad I was able to delay the pleasure. Circe is a beautifully written and structured novel about the Titan nymph, Circe. Daughter of Helios, the sun-God, and related to all the powerful beings in the Titan universe who’ve been subjugated by the mighty Olympians, Circe is nonetheless best known from Homer’s Odyssey, as the witch who turned Odysseus’ men into swine, delaying his already long and arduous journey back to Ithaca further (not nearly as much as others – including his own crew’s foolhardiness and greed and his own amor – would subsequently do). Commencing while she’s still “young” (by immortal standards), the reader follows her story from a rather neglected and rejected junior member of a pantheon of almost-forgotten gods to a powerful wielder of magic in her own right years later. Barely noticed by her family, despite doggedly following her father around, one compassionate act separates her literally and metaphorically from the rest of her scions. Offering succour to the Titan Prometheus, who is about to be punished for daring to give fire to man, what Circe doesn’t expect when she confesses to her deed, is the way in which her world will be turned upside down. Exiled to a remote island, over time, Circe finds that being alone doesn’t necessarily equate with loneliness. Honing her powers, teaching herself new ways of conjuring magic, Circe begins to grow in strength. When visitors come to her island, she is able to not only put her new skills to the test, but ensure justice is served – on her terms. But it’s when the great trickster, Odysseus and his crew,...

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The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers by Kerri Turner

This absorbing book took me completely by surprise. Not only is it a skilfully told story of a time in Russian history (the final years of the decadent Romanovs, and the rising rebellion among the workers as dissatisfaction and real anger towards the ruling classes, economic instability, food shortages, dreadful working conditions and war, grew worse), using two ballet dancers employed by the elite Imperial Russian Ballet as foils, it’s also a tragic tale of class difference, and the lengths those who were born with nothing will go to in order to ensure they don’t lose what they’ve gained.  Luka Zhirkov is a young, up and coming dancer who has been given the chance of a lifetime when he’s asked to join the Imperial Ballet. For his father, a staunch member of the proletariat, who has already given one son to the civil war tearing Russia apart, Luka’s dancing career, where he mainly entertains capitalist elites, is a betrayal of class, family and country.  When one of the principal dancers, Valentina Yershova, a woman born into poverty and whose talent and dalliances with rich protectors has allowed her to climb the ballet ladder, spies Luka, even she recognises his talent. But Luka hasn’t yet learned the rules that govern the ballet dancers behind the scenes – how who you know and associate with and who you share your body with is almost as important as skill. Disgusted and confused by the careless wealth of some of the dancers and those they choose to align themselves with, as well as their wilful ignorance about deteriorating social conditions for those who cannot afford to change them, Luka is nonetheless drawn to Valentina and his feelings for her begin to grow. As great opportunities for both Luka and Valentina manifest, war and...

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Queens of the Sea (Blood and Gold #3) by Kim Wilkins

I have so enjoyed the first two books in the Blood and Gold trilogy by Kim Wilkins and felt ambivalent about reading the final one, Queens of the Sea, because I knew that on completion, my time with the amazing warrior queen, Bluebell and her dysfunctional and fascinating family must come to an end. But what a magnificent closure it has been. In this concluding novel, the simmering war between the followers of the old gods and those of the new, violent Trimartyr god, comes to a brutal and bloody conclusion. The time for “mad” Willow, one of Bluebell’s sisters and Ivy’s twin, to rise has arrived and she grasps her opportunity with wild and unforgiving hands, turning on those she once called her people and even her own kin in a murderous grab for power at all costs. Having lost her city through terrible deceit and betrayal, Bluebell and her remaining sisters, some of whom have their own personal demons and burdens to carry, must turn not only to the gods they know and love, but place their faith in what has always been believed to be myths and legends in order to even have a chance of defeating Willow and the Crow King, Hakon. But with Ash divested of her powers, and Rowan, Rose’s estranged daughter uncertain whether she should embrace hers or not, and Ivy struggling to find the strength to leave her abusive lover, and arguments and tensions erupting among remaining tribes, Bluebells allies are no longer as dependable as they should be. Forced to seek help across the seas, Bluebell’s voyage is not only fraught with personal risks, but with the very real chance she could lose her kingdom and, worse, the faith of her people, forever. As the Trimartyr’s unleash a reign of...

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Archives

Goodreads

Karen Brooks's books on Goodreads
TallowTallow (Curse of The Bond Riders, #1)
reviews: 29
ratings: 489 (avg rating 3.79)

VotiveVotive (Curse of the Bond Rider #2)
reviews: 10
ratings: 154 (avg rating 4.25)

The Gaze of the GorgonThe Gaze of the Gorgon (Cassandra Klein, #2)
reviews: 1
ratings: 14 (avg rating 3.78)

The Kurs of AtlantisThe Kurs of Atlantis (Cassandra Klein, #4)
ratings: 15 (avg rating 4.12)

Rifts Through QuentarisRifts Through Quentaris
ratings: 12 (avg rating 3.56)