The Lost Order by Steve Berry

The Lost Order is the twelfth book in Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone series and, once again, we find the former Magellan Billet agent immersed in conspiracies and doing his utmost to save America and those he loves from greedy, power-hungry people. This instalment features characters we’ve come to know and love, including former President, Danny Daniels, the head of the Magellan Billet and Malone’s friend, Stephanie Nelle as well as the marvellous Cassiopeia Vitt. There’s even a strange historical sect, described as a terrorist organisation, called the Knights of the Golden Circle to either ally with or defeat, depending on whom Malone, Nelle, Daniels of Vitt believes. There is a map to follow (well, it has to be pieced together first), a key, dysfunctional relationships, betrayal, murder and ambition aplenty. There are tight situations, gun fights, collapsing buildings, dynamite, implausible escapes and some really dumb moves by people who should know better. There are also huge doses of history. I really appreciate the history and effort that goes into a Berry book. I don’t even mind the predictable and sometimes repetitive action, after all, this is Malone’s schtick. He’d hardly be a super, secret agent if he didn’t haveto shoot himself out of a quandry, have split-second decisions to make and people to kill/rescue. It’s the history and the way that it’s woven into the novels lately that’s becoming a bit hard to take. Well, it’s not exactly woven – and that’s the problem. You seem to get an information dump between a chase sequence or some dramatic revelation that leads to action. While Berry does action very well, the history is often too didactic and, frankly, overdone. His books didn’t always feel that way, but I found The Lost Order a bit too like a lesson in US...

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Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner is a marvellous, beautifully written novel that while it sits under the crime genre, is so much more than that. When Cambridge University post-graduate student, Edith Hind – a privileged young lady whose parents not only have royal connections but friends in high political places –  goes missing, DS Manon Bradshaw, a self-described misanthrope is put on the case. A shade this side of 40, Manon seems to be the only one not too perturbed by the high-profile nature of the case – not even when every possible suspect has a water-tight alibi – Manon has more things than death and kidnapping on her mind. Yet, there is blood at the scene of Edith’s disappearance, suspicious circumstances and behaviours leading up to the event but, there’s no ransom note or any other clue as to where in the hell Edith is. With the media breathing down their throats, time ticking and budget limitations, never mind stressed parents on their backs, the police are hard-pressed to know what to do. Every angle appears to lead to a dead-end or uncovers an element that bears no relevance to Edith’s disappearance. In the meantime, Manon does her job and gets on with her rather miserable life. Stuck in the predictable rut of internet dating, she uses sex as a panacea for loneliness and just exacerbates her condition. With good friends and a reliable partner, however, it’s not all bad, especially not when a young street kid comes into her life. However, there is the over-arching case and associated pressures of solving Edith’s disappearance and when more death follows, Manon begins to understand that they’ve all been looking in the wrong places and at the wrong people. Superbly written with shifting points of view, allowing you to access...

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The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

There’s been a real trend in books featuring “girl” in the title, from Gone Girl to the Girl on the Train and a few more besides. I don’t know why I picked up this one because I find the diminutive “girl” problematic rather than recuperative when discussing women. Nonetheless, I think the premise (and rave reviews) fascinated me – the idea of someone having died in a house you move into and the sense of being haunted by that… I was, however, worried that perhaps this was just a “jump on the ‘girl’ bandwagon book” and I would have read it or better before. Yet, The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney manages to be so much more than simply “on trend” and, when the reveal at the end occurs, the title resonates in ways I didn’t expect. Despite criticisms that it doesn’t stack up to some of its predecessors, I think where it really succeeds is in the structure – where we have two primary narrative voices, both female, who are described simply as “Emma/Then” and “Jane/Now”. The interweaving of immediate past and present as the two women’s lives come together through the minimalist structure of One Folgate Street – the house both Emma and Jane live in, albeit at different times – is very well executed. Designed by an award-winning and quite mysterious architect, Edward, who suffers his own burdens, the house strikes different people in different ways – as does the man. From the opening pages, the house is as much a character as the people who dwell within its controlled, “perfect” white walls. Living in One Folgate Street comes at a price: for reduced rent, the tenants have to be prepared to follow a strict set of rules (200) which also involves an interview, answering a...

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The Physician, by Noah Gordon

The Physician, by Noah Gordon, was recommended to me by a lovely book shop owner in Launceston when I was there one day doing a book-signing. Without telling me too much about the tale, the owner pressed the very thick book into my hands and said, “I think you will love this.” I always feel a shiver of trepidation come over me when someone I like or even whose reading tastes I share says this to me.  More than anything, I want to like, no, love the books that are recommended with such passion and I fear that if I don’t, I am somehow letting them down. The good news is with The Physician, I did indeed love this book – so much so, I felt bereft when it ended. Set mostly during the 10th Century, this is the story of a young Englishman, Robert J Cole who, from a very young age, learns he possesses a gift – the gift, basically, of sensing a person’s life force. The reader follows his life from the discovery of this gift around the age of nine to middle age; from the tragedy of his beginnings to the triumphs of his later years. Rob J has a varied and amazing life and how and why he becomes a physician and the journey he takes to train is, quite simply, sensational. We’re taken around England and given insight into the peripatetic life of a Barber-Surgeon (to whom Rob J apprentices himself), to France, across Europe and to war-riven Turkey and then Persia and its amazing culture and religious Otherness. Determined to train under the man he’s been told is the best physician in the world, Rob J makes incredible sacrifices: physical, emotional and, above all, spiritual. But in making these he gains more...

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The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell was such an unexpected delight. Provided to me by NetGalley and the publishers (both of whom I thank for the opportunity to read and review), I confess the rather unusual and slightly formal title didn’t prepare me for the marvellous and very different content. The novel is essentially two books in one, both of which are framed by the conventions of the world’s most popular genre: romance. The main narrative centres around two sisters: Lilly and Neave Terhune, and it’s primarily their voices that tell their utterly compelling story of growing up and entering the adult world pre and post World War II in small town America. The second narrative, which interweaves Lilly and Neave’s story, is called The Pirate Lover and it uses the usual romance conventions of the stricken heroine, wealthy, dashing and dastardly hero and a terrible villain to tell its tale of love, loss, and triumph over evil. While The Pirate Lover is a rollicking romance in the grandest sense, played out in Parisian salons and the high seas, what occurs between the characters is echoed meaningfully and with chilling consequences in the sisters’ story. Both narratives also deal with the social expectations of women; how marriage is regarded as an inevitable outcome that should socially elevate them. Independence of thought action and through being financially independent is an outrageous prospect for women yet it’s precisely this that nevertheless, Lilly and Neave embrace. In this regard, both stories, but particularly, Lilly’s and Neave’s, portray a particular slice of cultural history – including, through their brother Synder, pop culture history (and I love the way Pywell plays with the devaluation of that; how it’s discredited as meaningless froth by most) – in really evocative and accurate ways....

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Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

Sent a copy of Daniel Coles’ Ragdoll by the publishers through NetGalley (thank you to both), I was excited to read a new crime book by a debut author. While the premise of the book was quite daunting and ugly (six dismembered bodies sewn together to form one Frankenstein’s monster), I was keen to see how Cole developed the professional and personal relationships of his leads, as well as resolved the hideous crime, in the first book in a series. After reading a really charming foreword where readers learn Cole thought to write a screenplay after watching the character of Jack Bauer in the TV series 24 and, having his efforts rebuffed, wrote this novel, it’s easy to see the influence of what was, at the time, cutting edge television. The main character in Ragdoll is Detective William (Wolf) Fawkes – his entire name forming the neat and symbolic anagram. Having disgraced himself and his profession in an earlier case, and served time, Fawkes is assigned to track down the ragdoll killer along with his former partner, the edgy Emily Baxter. Complicated, irascible and capable, Wolf is a loner in every sense. Divorced from his wife, the anchor of a tabloid news show that is stalking the Ragdoll investigation’s every move and impeding it, he’s also loyal and believes himself smarter than everyone in the room. This is fair enough, as he mostly is – he’s also attractive to all the women, including his professional partner and ex and even a suspect in the crime. But for someone so smart, he really ends up doing some very silly things. This, frankly, annoyed me. Well-written, paced and mostly plotted, I loved the first three-quarters of the book. But, for me, the last quarter lost a bit of credibility – and...

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The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte by Lesley Truffle

The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte is the fantastically titled second novel by Melbourne-based writer, Lesley Truffle and I have to say, it is unlike any book I have ever read. Part historical fiction, part-fantastical and whimsical romp, part crime mystery, cooking extravaganza and cautionary fable, it’s also a picaresque novel that tells the tale of the irrepressible Sasha Torte, flame-haired daughter of a murderess and heiress to a bad reputation and melancholy, who becomes not only a world-famous pastry-chef in, of all places, the wilds of Tasmania in the early 1900s, but courts men, drugs and danger with abandon. Told with Truffle’s wonderful flair, at first I wasn’t sure what to make of a book that opens with the heroine in a luxuriously appointed prison accused of murder. Deciding to pen her memoirs, Sasha then takes the reader back through her childhood, revealing how she grew up in a brutal and unconventional family surrounded by dedicated servants and a doting grandfather. As she matures, she learns to deal with nepotism, bullying, the cruelty of strangers and their kindness in equal measure. When her Aunt Lily enters her life, she finds a soul-mate and confidant to whom she can also aspire. Launched into the society that wants to reject her, but finds they’re unable to resist her, the beautiful Sasha appears set to conquer not only men, but the globe. But in earning devotion, Sasha also attracts enmity, even from those who purport to love her and it’s when the handsome Dasher brothers enter her sphere that trouble for Sasha and those she cares about looms large and deadly. Featuring wilful, sassy and smart women, dedicated and dastardly men, horses, dogs, a psychic goldfish (no, I’m not kidding) ghosts, gangs, and, of course, amazing confectionary and pastries, this novel...

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Cavalier: The Story of a 17th Century Playboy, by Lucy Worsley

As I read this wonderful book, Cavalier: The Story of a 17th Century Playboy, by Lucy Worsley, I could hear her voice with all its lilting passion telling me the history of William Cavendish and his rise, downfall and rise again – the latter occurring along with the Restoration of Charles II. Poetic, often moving and with incredible detail about the social mores and hierarchy of the English aristocracy at the time (from old King James, his son Charles I, the Civil Wars and Cromwell, to Charles II), it’s also a tale of sexual intrigue, gossip, and conspiracy.   Recommended for lovers of history, architecture (there is a long chapter on the Cavendish home – a former abbey) and those who like beautifully written books. It’s clear Worsley knows her subject so well and the detail leaps from the pages and is underpinned by meticulous footnoting and research. A terrific...

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The Little Book of Slow by Sally Wise and Paul McIntyre

When was the last time you not only stopped and smelled the roses, but pruned them too? When did you last host a dinner party for friends you might eagerly text or follow on FaceBook but haven’t seen for months or years? When did you last listen to a vinyl record with all its scritches, scratches and layers of sound? When did you last bake a cake, bread or dog treats? Play a board game with your kids, partner or friends? Hand write a letter or card instead of tying it or emailing? If you answered, “I don’t remember” or “never” to any of these questions, then do yourself a favour and read this marvellous, gem of a book with a gorgeous cover. Written by well-known writer, Sally Wise, and award-winning, international playwright, ABC radio senior producer, and first time author (and a friend of mine – I declare it now), Paul McIntyre, The Little Book of Slow is packed full of not only ideas about favourite past-times, but also how to pass the time in meaningful, mindful and often relaxing ways, and really appreciate this in a world where we so often cry we’re time-poor. Whether it’s op-shopping, keeping a dream diary, or cultivating good manners and being civil or making your own curry pastes and powders, pickling veges and planning a picnic, this “little” book is big on caring about ourselves, the planet and each other. Reminding us to live mindfully and meaningfully, the prose is sweet and gentle but the messages are so important, especially in a world of cyber and other distractions that mean we too often disconnect – not only from others, but from ourselves. As I read this book (and I did cover to cover, though it’s designed to dip in and out...

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The Westminster Poisoner by Susanna Gregory

This is the fourth Thomas Chaloner book I’ve read featuring the much put upon and impoverished former roundhead spy who now works for the ungrateful (and disloyal – to him) Earl of Clarendon. This time, a poisoner is at work killing the King’s clerks in brazen circumstances. When the Earl asks both Chaloner and a new man he’s appointed to investigate these crimes and the case of the king’s missing Bernini sculpture, setting them against each other, and the Earl’s own secretaries Bulteel and Haddon take bets on whether Chaloner or the new man will solve the cases, Thomas understands his job is at stake. But, it’s not only his employ that’s under threat. As usual, on the mean streets of Restoration London, it’s his life as well. With his only friend, his former boss, Thurloe, about to leave the city and his old friend, the former Puritan and now brothel madame, Temperance, fast losing patience with him and a new relationship with one of the queen’s ladies to foster, Thomas has his work cut out and many dangers to avoid – never mind worrying about where his next penny will come from. But as the body count mounts and he’s no closer to solving the case, Thomas understands that his priorities and friendships may have to change… Gregory has such a rich and detailed understanding of the period, of the complexities of the political, social and sexual machinations of the court, it’s sometimes hard to keep up as a cast of hundreds appear and disappear and the plot thickens until it almost congeals. Only, it doesn’t. Immersing the reader in the murky settings and even murkier plans of those who seek power at all costs, Gregory’s novels are a great way to rediscover history and cleave to a...

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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)