The Great Divide by L.J.M. Owen

I love L.J.M. Owen’s Elizabeth Pimm’s series, so was really looking forward to her starting what promises to be a new and even darker crime series. I am pleased to say, the result is fabulous. The Great Divide is set in a small, rural town in Tasmania – a place fast becoming popular for crime writers across a range of media. And it’s no wonder (but maybe, as a local, I’m biased). For readers familiar with Tassie, the setting is so authentic in many ways – from the climate, to the suspicious welcome of the townspeople, their quirkiness and infuriating familiarity with each other, to the natural surroundings. To those not so familiar with Tassie topography or towns and their folk, there’s no problem as newly-arrived, Detective Jake Hunter, becomes the lens though this troubled place and its rather secretive inhabitants are viewed. Believing he’s escaped an uncomfortable situation in Melbourne, giving himself professional and personal breathing space, Jake’s illusions are quickly shattered when the body of a former headmistress of a children’s home is discovered in a nearby vineyard. What follows is a case filled with half-told truths, bigotry, lies, enigmas and a dark past that many of the townsfolk are reluctant to shed light upon. But as the death toll begins to mount, Jake understands that not only must he get the bottom of what’s going on, unearth that which too many wish to keep buried, but do it before anyone else is murdered. This is a grim tale which ratchets up the tension with each chapter. It is moody, dark, and hard to put down. Equal parts disturbing and compelling, the pace is perfect and the characters well drawn. Jake, especially, is an interesting and beautifully flawed human being that it’s easy for the reader to...

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Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner

This second book by Kerri Turner, Daughter of Victory Lights (her first was The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers), is an exquisite, heart-aching tale of love, loss, rejection and connection all set against the backdrop of firstly, London during the Blitz and, later, the post war years and early sixties. Evelyn Bell is a young woman who rejects the roles and path society and her times insist upon for her. Determined to carve her own future and contribute to the war effort, against her family’s wishes, Evelyn joins the first all-woman Searchlight Squadron, tasked with the dangerous job of tracking enemy planes so they may be shot out of the sky or, alternately, helping friendly planes to land. It is a fraught exercise and not merely because of the terrible personal peril the women put themselves in, but because the women know that in saving the lives of many, they also end the lives of a few and destroy family forever. In the end, war has no victors.  It is family that lies at the heart of this tale, that and the way war irrevocably alters both the social and personal fabric of our lives. Unable to settle back into “routine” in the aftermath of the war, Evelyn seeks, yet again, a different life. This time, she finds herself working the lights on The Victory, a ship which sits in different waters and offers entertainment like no other. It’s here that Evelyn meets her future, only it’s one that no-one, least of all Evelyn, anticipates… Not only does Turner recreate London during the war and the stifling social and other mores (and attempts to disrupt and overturn them) of the time in a beautiful fashion, she breathes life into those who found theirs shattered. Whether it’s a US...

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The Middle Ages Unlocked by Gillian Polack and Katrin Kania

There are so many really good books written about the Middle Ages, both general and specific which, collectively, are fabulous resources for students of history, writers and those with just a general interest in a long and fascinating period. This book came with huge and exciting claims by a well-known writer of fiction, so I was thrilled to get a hold of it and, even though it is slightly out of the period I am homing in on at the moment (the mid to late 1300s), I hoped it would provide a solid general overview of the previous two to three centuries. In some ways, the book does exactly this. It covers roughly the eleventh through to the end of the thirteenth century and examines topics such as religion, literature, education, music, women and men’s roles, trade etc. However, where some general books also give very specific and detailed examples of the information they are relaying, sadly, this book did not. Or, rather, when it did, it was superficial to the point of not being very helpful. It was also very dry in parts. While I did enjoy some aspects of it, I have found other books on this period (eg. anything by the Guises, Judith Bennett’s works, Paul Strohm, Terry Jones, Alison Weir, Liza Picard, Barbara Hanawalt – just to name a few), to be more in-depth, better written and, frankly, far more useful as both starting points for developing an understanding of this era but also for advancing it. Where it did serve well was as a reminder of the most important and significant aspects of this...

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Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

A huge fan of Gregory’s work, I was so excited to see that not only had she written a book in the third person, but had moved away from her wonderful fictive histories of various British royals to focus on an “ordinary” woman and her family. Only, the beautiful Alinor is anything but ordinary, as a young priest deposited on the shores of anti-Catholic England in 1648, just when the country is in the midst of Civil War and the King imprisoned, and who is tasked with an important mission, realises the moment he encounters her.   Alinor is a wise-woman, a healer who acts as a midwife for her local community and is entrusted with their health and well-being. The mother of two children, her bully of a husband is believed lost at sea. Not quite a widow and not quite married, when she finds the priest, James, and leads him out of the marshes and to safety, she knows something momentous and dangerous has been set in motion. As the weeks go by and rebellion grows even while the tidal community go on with their daily grind, James and Alinor’s secret bond grows. But these are hazardous times to be a Catholic, a monarchist but, above all, it’s a perilous time to be a wise-woman, especially a beautiful one. This book is a slow burn. Gregory takes great delight in presenting the reader with the minutiae of Alinor’s life as well as that of other villagers. I really enjoyed the initial slow-pace, the context against which the wider political and social turmoil receded into the background. The writing is mostly lovely and it’s very easy to imagine Alinor and the rest of those who dwell in the liminal spaces between land and sea. Where I struggled a bit...

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The Wife and the Widow by Christian White

Having thoroughly enjoyed White’s debut novel, The Nowhere Child, I couldn’t wait to read his latest. As usual, life got in the way and it wasn’t until work was put aside for Christmas that I was able to treat myself to this marvellous and structurally clever novel and immerse myself in its mystery. Set on an island off the coast of Victoria Australia, the action occurs during winter, when most of the tourists have gone and the residents are left to live their usual lives. When a body is found, not only does the town begin to whisper and those whose lives are affected by the murder rush to cover up long-held secrets, but the newly minted widow arrives to pick up the pieces and discover what led to her husband’s death – a man, it swiftly becomes apparent, she didn’t really know as well as she thought. Atmospheric, wonderful, stark and evocative prose, this is a book that will hold you in thrall as it slowly builds to a conclusion that when you see it coming will impress you for its craftiness. Another wonderful read from White – I cannot wait to see what he produces...

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The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

This is the third book in the Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard series and, like the other two, it’s a cracker. Semi-retired, Harry is still keeping his finger in the investigation pie when his old mentor, John Jack Thompson, dies, leaving him with a murder book for an unsolved case. Harry calls upon Renee to see if they can crack the 20-year old death of a young man. But, the further they delve into the case, the further aspects of Thompson’s life and character are revealed, aspects that don’t represent him in such a positive light. Conflicted, but determined to uncover the reasons the murder book was removed from archives, both Harry and Renee start to wonder, is it because Thompson wanted the case cracked or was it to ensure it never got solved? Once again, Connelly is able to meld the lead characters’ past and present, adding richness and depth to not only Harry and Renee, and also Harry’s brother, the Lincoln lawyer (who makes an appearance), but the cases they’re working. The social and cultural scene of LA is fabulously set as are the changes that twenty years has wrought. The dialogue is smart and real and what I really love about all Connelly’s books is there is a logic to the investigation and the steps Harry and Renee take that demonstrates not only their intelligence, but the barriers they encounter and how they need to be overcome if possible. Connelly also never steers away from exposing his main protagonists’ weaknesses and flaws as much as their strengths, and we love them all the more for it. I was shocked to find Harry admits to being almost 70 in the book. Seventy! While it’s clear Harry is struggling with the notion of retiring, I think they’ll be...

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Silver by Chris Hammer

Silver, the second novel by Chris Hammer, commences virtually where his first, Scrublands, finished. Journalist Martin Scarsden is enroute to Port Silver, the place he grew up and where, with his new partner, Mandalay Blonde and her baby boy (who have gone ahead) he hopes to start afresh. But fate has other plans.  When an old friend is brutally murdered in the hallway of the flat Mandy was renting on the day Martin arrives in town, he understands that not only are the ghosts he thought he’d laid to rest when he left Silver all those year ago still waiting to haunt him, but fresh spectres are set to destroy the plans he hasn’t even set in motion. In the initial stages of the murder investigation, Mandy is both key witness and suspect, so Martin determines to prove her innocence. While Mandy may have blood on her hands, all is not as it seems – not in Martin’s relationship, his past and the terrible secrets it holds, nor the town he’s avoided for so long. When another horrifying event causes a media scrum to descend upon the tiny town, Martin finds himself not only reporting the story as it unfolds, but becoming, as is his inadvertent way, very much a part of it. But will he be able to write the happy ending he so desires? This was a much denser book than Scrublands. The plot is thicker and, as a consequence, the exploration of character is as well. This worked both for and against the novel and sometimes, the story seemed to tread water as it became burdened with telling – mainly character backgrounds, as interesting as some were – rather than showing. Still, the writing is clear, evocative even, and the way Hammer represents the media, the...

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The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

Book two in Philip Pullman’s new trilogy, a trilogy that functions as both a prequel (Book One, La Belle Sauvage) and a sequel to his original Dark Materials series, is a deeply disturbing and at times very dark read that sees the main characters from La Belle – Lyra, Pan and Malcolm, thrown into personal and professional turmoil as their world and lives are threatened, before being catapulted into momentous journeys. Commencing with a murder that Pan bears witness to, it’s a while before the significance of the death becomes apparent. What’s of concern to the reader is not only the fact that Lyra and Pan can separate (those who’ve read The Amber Spyglass will recall the heart-wrenching circumstances that facilitated this ability), but that they’re at terrible odds with each other. Now twenty, Lyra is a student at Jordan College in Oxford and, despite what happened to her in childhood, is filled with the new, rationalist and materialist philosophies of the latest academic and literary “celebrities”, notions which cast doubt on what Lyra has not only experienced, but sees around her on a daily basis. This makes Pan totally despondent as he tries to debate the futility and absurdity of these viewpoints. But whatever Pan says, it simply makes Lyra more determined than ever to try and adhere to them. Initially, the tension between the two is just disheartening to read, but when you begin to understand this isn’t simply a personal change in perspective for Lyra, but part of a much broader way of thinking and being, and which links to the growing might of the Magisterium, then it’s apparent much darker forces are at play. When Lyra is forced from her lodgings under a slim pretext and Pan, fed up with what she’s become decides to...

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Sunshine by Kim Kelly

This beautifully crafted novel set in rural Australia in the aftermath of WWI, is an incredibly moving story of loss, betrayal, masculinity, and terrible and entrenched bigotry. The story is told from three perspectives – that of two returned servicemen, Snow and Jack, and explores the expectations placed on them by themselves, others and especially patriarchal and white society – and a British nurse, the appropriately named Grace, who, married to an Australian returned serviceman, the eccentric and damaged Arthur, travels with him when he returns to his homeland and takes up the grant of land offered to all white soldiers. Only Jack, an Indigenous former Light Horseman is not given the opportunity to either own (by white laws) or work the land which is his anyway. Accustomed to being treated as if he has no rights, his service and sacrifice for his country so swiftly forgotten, Jack remains a drifter on the soil that is his. Like Jack, both Arthur and Snow – the latter who most people give a wide berth – carry the internal wounds of their experiences and actions, the horrors to which they bore witness and played a part in – unable to quite readjust to their survival and the role that the land and the government now demands of them – never mind others. But what none of the men, who prefer to keep others at a distance anticipated is firstly, Grace, and the ability she has to recognise their pain and seek ways to heal them and herself, but also the land and the capacity it has to regenerate – not just what’s grown but those who work it. The land and each other. I found this book achingly beautiful. Sparse yet so rich in its descriptions I found myself lingering on...

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Second Son by Pamela Taylor

The first book in what promises to be a terrific series, Second Son: Volume 1 of the Second Son Chronicles, by Pamela Taylor, tells the story of a prince of a Renaissance-style realm, Alfred, a young man who because of his birth, might have royal blood but is also destined for an ordinary if privileged life. All that changes when he is captured and held to ransom in a long-held feud born of revenge and a desire to crush the current monarch, Alfred’s grandfather. But Alfred, a kind, intelligent and compassionate young man, is more than he seems and throughout his ordeal, the lessons he’s learned from his grandfather, father and various mentors, put him to the test in ways he never anticipated… This is a carefully crafted, well written story that really immerses the reader in Alfred’s life – the complicated simplicity of it – and how, as a “second son” the expectations placed upon him are mainly self-imposed, which requires a self-discipline not all in his family possess. There is drama, romance and all the ingredients of a good story with the added bonus of historical accuracy within a fantasy realm, albeit one based on our actual past. It’s also an excellent first book in a series in that it sets up the geo-politics of the world, the social structures and, of course, the main characters and their various relationships as well as a nice “hook” at the end. You really believe in Alfred, his family and the world and root for them. I also really enjoyed the fact that everyone’s motivations were plausible – there were no Machiavellian-style villains (though there were those out to please themselves at any cost, including kidnap and murder) and Taylor didn’t steer away from having decent people shine and exploring...

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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)