The Winter World by A.G. Riddle

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed A.G. Riddle’s Pandemic series, I couldn’t wait to read his latest, Winter World. Not  only do I love the visceral thrill of eschatological narratives and their exploration of geo-political machinations as well as emotional and psychological trauma and challenges of facing the end of the world as we know it and how people react, but the notion of the earth becoming a winter wasteland (and the reasons behind this) were fascinating to me – very Day After Tomorrow-esque. This tale of the earth’s rapid change from varied climate and where power is concentrated in familiar regions to one where mass immigration from First World centres to formerly third world countries is told from two points of view. The first is that of an astronaut/scientist and commander, Emma, and a brilliant doctor and roboticist (among other things) James, who commences the book in a federal prison. The way Riddle tells the story of earth’s epic struggle to survive an attack that will destroy all life is at once personalized through these two characters and the relationships they form with their families, colleagues and each other, but also far-reaching. He cleverly keeps the pace moving by leaping the story forward and avoiding what some sci-fi narratives do (albeit some do it very well), bogging the reader down in extraneous scientific detail that show the author’s grasp of technical complexities as opposed to serving the story. We are given some of the science and for this Luddite, it appears to work. But it is the story that captures you – as well as demands you suspend your disbelief – as James and Emma and the brilliant people they work with fight to battle an alien enemy no-one predicted and who is ruthless in the extreme.  My only...

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The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

The Stone Circle is the 11th book in Elly Griffiths fabulous series featuring archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway and terse DI Nelson. Like its predecessors, it’s packed with mystery, complex interpersonal relationships and murder. In this novel, a body is found buried in a recently unearthed stone circle. While the circle is of ancient origins the body definitely isn’t. Enter both Ruth and Nelson whose expertise is required to firstly age the body and then discover who the culprit is. When a cold case is reopened, it’s not long before suspects come to the fore. But when the most prominent of these is murdered, Nelson and his team have to work harder than ever before someone else is hurt – or worse.  As usual, Griffiths excels in developing her characters – the regulars and even those introduced because of the central plot. Ruth, Kate, Nelson and his family’s dynamic becomes even more tangled and emotionally fraught as revelations and decisions regarding the future are made and then disregarded. I think Griffiths does real justice to the notion that it’s possible to love two people at once – two good people who don’t deserve to be hurt. While Nelson is torn between the two women in his life and his very different families, there’s no doubting his love for them or the fact he’s a good person who can make bad decisions (like other characters in the books). I also like that the women are represented as strong and proud, not passive vessels to Nelson’s wishes or desires.  The ending to this novel feels a little rushed – not in terms of the plot, which is nicely played out, but in relation to the main recurring characters. I wish the editors had allowed Griffiths the chance to flesh it out just...

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Past Caring by Robert Goddard

When disgraced former history teacher, Martin Radford, is invited to holiday with an old friend in Madeira who now runs an English language newspaper, it is an offer too good to refuse. So is another offer given by a wealthy recluse on the island, Leo Sellick, who also happens to fund the newspaper Martin’s friend edits. Leo wants to utilize Martin’s skills as an historian to solve a puzzle that has bothered him ever since he found a memoir in the house he bought and which belonged to a former English diplomat. The diplomat, Edwin Stafford was, once upon a time, a rising star in the British parliament, but suddenly, at the height of his career, not only resigns but the woman he loves and his engaged to marry spurns him without explanation. Alone, unhappy, Edwin takes the post of governor of Madeira and, later, writes his memoir which explores his life up until his change of circumstance in an effort to understand it. Only, he is no wiser for having written and dies not knowing why his love turned against him as did his former employers. When Leo finds the memoir years later, he’s intrigued and hires Martin to discover exactly what happened. Traveling back to England, what Martin doesn’t expect when he begins his search for the truth is the trail of destruction, deceit and betrayal he finds nor the lengths to which people will go, even now, decades after events, to cover them up. Soon Martin finds his race to find the truth is a race to stay alive… This is the second Robert Goddard book I have read (the first is Into the Blue which I will try and review as well) and it is riveting. Goddard has such skill – not only in the...

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Mosaic, by Michael C. Grumley.

Mosaic is the fifth book in Michael C Grumley’s fabulous Breakthrough series, a tale that keeps getting wilder, more intense and utterly immersive with each book. Grumley’s imagination, grounded in science, knows no bounds but also respects them as his tale of a group of ex-Navy seals, scientists, ethical politicians (yes, they exist in Grumley’s world) as power-hungry despots, conspirators and unscrupulous folk well as dolphins, primates and an assortment of others, gets taken to the next level. Having rescued the young Chinese woman, Li Na Wei, John Clay and Steve Cesare as well as Alison and Neely cannot rest on their laurels. While international interest in not only the bacterium they’ve discovered and its implications for Earth’s future but where it’s come from intensifies, it’s the attention they’ve attracted from their own that poses the greatest threat to their mission.  Once again, the wide cast of characters are expanded upon revealing their strengths and vulnerabilities. Readers who have invested in this series need to be prepared to lose a few favourites as well for surprises. Just when you think you know where the narrative might be heading, it explodes in a different direction. Some old faces and new also make appearances and then, of course, there’s the endearing mammals – Dirk, Sally, the dolphin Elders, the gorgeous primates – all of whom have secrets to tell and wonders to share with their human companions. It’s so evident that Grumley really cares about this story and those he’s created to help him tell it – you cannot help but care as well and forgive the narrative if it sometimes slips or slides into over-telling or didactics (which he mostly avoids). I was describing this series to a friend and while I don’t think this does it justice, it’s sort...

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The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan

The second Cormac Reilly book by Dervla McTiernan, The Scholar, is a gripping read, a genuine page-turner that had me staying up into the wee hours because I simply had to finish it.  Cormac and his scientist girlfriend, Dr Emma, have now moved to Galway where Cormac has been assigned cold cases and given the cold shoulder by his new bosses while Emma takes up a prestigious job in a pharmaceutical research company attached to the local university. When a young woman is found brutally murdered on campus grounds, and Emma is the one to discover the body, it sets in motion a chain of events that have devastating consequences, not just for the victim’s friends and family, but for Cormac and Emma as well. McTiernan has done a marvellous job of expanding upon the primary characters she established in her debut novel, The Ruin, and introducing some new ones as well. She also uses police politics and procedures to give the reader insight into how various characters cope with not only the mundanity of the everyday, but the impact this, and the trauma of police work, can have upon families, individuals as well as the toxicity of certain personalities and their motivations in the workplace. DS Cormac Reilly is a terrific character and his relationship with Emma is still finding its feet as she deals with the fallout of the past and he has to overcome his urge to protect her. It feels real as do the various issues they have that any busy professionals with psychologically and physically demanding jobs as well as emotional baggage could face.  Not only does McTiernan create relatable characters you invest in (or even dislike intensely even while understanding why they might behave a particular way), but the plot is also given...

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Mosaic by Michael C. Grumley

Mosaic is the fifth book in Michael C Grumley’s fabulous Breakthrough series, a tale that keeps getting wilder, more intense and utterly immersive with each book. Grumley’s imagination, grounded in science, both knows no bounds but also respects them as his tale of a group of ex-Navy seals, scientists, ethical politicians (yes, they exist in Grumley’s world) as well as dolphins, primates and an assortment of others both “good” and “bad”, all working to understand or subvert and control a mysterious and powerful substance, gets taken to the next level. Having rescued the young Chinese woman, Li Na Wei, John Clay and Steve Cesare as well as Alison and Neely cannot rest on their laurels. While international interest in not only the bacterium they’ve discovered and it’s implications for Earth’s future but where it’s come from intensifies, it’s the attention they’ve attracted from their own that poses the greatest threat to their mission.  Once again, the wide cast of characters are expanded upon revealing their strengths and vulnerabilities. Readers who have invested in this series need to be prepared to lose a few favorites as well for surprises. Just when you think you know where the narrative might be heading, it explodes in a different direction. Some old faces and new also make appearances and then, of course, there’s the endearing mammals – Dirk, Sally, the dolphin Elders, the gorgeous primates – all of whom have secrets to tell and wonders to share with their human companions. It’s evident Grumley’s cares about his story and the characters that populate it and, as a consequence, the reader does as well. I was describing this series to a friend and while I don’t think this does it justice, it’s sort of Avatar meets Indiana Jones, meets James Bond meets Dr Doolittle. I...

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Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic

This was another one of the books that appeared on the list of top ten crime books by Australian authors that I hadn’t yet discovered – what an oversight on my part! Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic is a cracker of a read. In this first book in what is clearly going to be a series, the reader is introduced to Caleb Zelic, a divorcee who runs a security business with his friend, older woman and ex-cop, Frankie. Because he’s differently-abled, Caleb is able to observe the world and people in ways those with hearing cannot, picking up physical signals and cues as well as possessing a terrific memory. When the story opens, a childhood friend and policeman is murdered and Caleb, determined to prove the victim is not the corrupt cop some are trying to portray him as, finds his role in the crime being questioned. In a bid to prove his innocence, Caleb is drawn into a world that’s at once brutal and incredibly dangerous – and that’s not just because of the criminals who enter his sphere. Under investigation himself, Caleb moves between the city and the small town where he used to live, determined to clear his name and that of his friend’s. But when his beloved ex-wife is drawn into danger and people he love go missing, Caleb begins to doubt not just his stubbornness at being unable to let go of the case, but wonders who he can trust. Well-paced, gripping and with a tight plot and wonderful narrative that invites the reader to deploy his or her senses, with a flawed and interesting main character and terrific secondary ones, this is an excellent addition to the marvellous canon of Australian crime fiction. Cannot wait to read Viskic’s next book and learn more...

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Wimmera by Mark Brandi

While Wimmera by Mark Brandi is classified as a crime book, it is so much more. Sure, a terrible offence lies at the heart of this tale of growing up in small town Victoria in the 1980s, but it’s also about families, friendship, loyalty and how some secrets are best not kept. Divided into two parts, the story of best friends, Ben and Fab, who spend their summer doing the things young boys do – playing backyard cricket, yabbying, exploring and musing about their friends, parents and neighbours – is one where you sense innocence is on the brink of not just being lost but utterly destroyed. Beautifully written and at a languid pace (like the hot days and steamy nights themselves) it is riddled with a tension that seizes the reader and twists your stomach in knots. I cannot describe the way I felt reading this book. I think my jaw began to ache with the sense of looming darkness and dreadful possibility that permeates the edges of the narrative. It is so brilliantly executed. When the crime is revealed, even though you’ve long guessed it, it’s still shocking. So are the consequences many years later which is what the second half of the book basically deals with – the impact of those seemingly Halcyon days on the adult Ben and Fab who have both gone their separate and very different ways until a secret from their past is unearthed and they’re forced to come together one last time.  I understand why this book won awards and acclaim. It is riveting in a most unusual and clever way. It’s also deeply disturbing and lingers long after the last...

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Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

Sarah Bailey’s second book, Into the Night, is a terrific follow up to her wonderful debut, Dark Lake. The troubled protagonist of Dark Lake, Detective Sergeant, Gemma Woodstock has shifted to Melbourne and is still readjusting to life in the city and away from her beloved son. Dedicated cop by day, with a hostile and uncommunicative partner, Nick Fleet, Gemma is a drifter at night, enjoying random sexual encounters in order to feel a brief sense of connection as well as the control lacking in other parts of her life. When a homeless person is brutally murdered and then a famous young actor is killed on the set of his latest movie, Gemma empathises with the loneliness of the homeless man and drawn to the actor’s murder; someone killed the man in broad daylight and yet in a similar way to the other victim. Yet, while no-one sets to gain from the homeless man’s death, everyone appears to when it comes to the rich handsome young actor, but in order to solve the crime, Gemma needs to not only trust her instincts, but those she relies to do her job properly… Not only is this a terrific police procedural that doesn’t steer away from revealing the dogged and often unexciting processes involved in attempting to solve a crime, but it’s a top-notch exploration of relationships and families as well. Professional relationships, personal bonds and how one impacts on the other whether you’re a man or woman, mother or father, are beautifully and often painfully rendered. Gemma Woodstock is such a flawed and yet relatable character and it’s her vulnerabilities as much as her strengths that make her so appealing as a policewoman and as a person. A terrific novel with good and believable twists and great pacing. Looking forward...

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In Celebration of the release of The Chocolate Maker’s Wife – here’s some background on the writing of the novel and what’s between the covers…

This is an edited excerpt of what appeared in the ARC copy of the novel. Official release date: 18 February in Australia/NZ. Out in the USA and UK August 2019. The Chocolate Maker’s Wife, a tale of tragedy, triumph and sensual delight in Restoration London, is my twelfth book. It’s also the fourth time I’ve used the same basic premise to explore humanity and history through fiction by focussing on women in trade. So many historical fictions are about the gentry and nobility and they’re fascinating. What captivates me even more is what ordinary folk – well educated or not, rich or poor – did to survive in business, sickness, health, love and loss. In previous novels, I’ve tackled a candle-maker-cum-courtesan, a brewer, a lock-pick/spy and due to a timely visit to Hampton Court in 2014, I’ve my latest book. Not only was chocolate a decadent drink introduced to England from Europe – Spain (via South America) – around the 1660s, coinciding with the restoration of Charles II to the English throne and all that his reign heralded in terms of hedonism and decadence, but it was associated with a range of naughty behaviours and benefits. Touted for its health-giving properties, chocolate was also considered an aphrodisiac. While there were those who sought to ban it, there were many more who relished the wicked things it signified. Just like the new, bitter drink of coffee, entire “houses” were opened where men could gather and quaff, smoke and exchange news. While this is a Georgian coffee or chocolate house, Rosamund’s in my novel would have been similar. The new-fangled and troublesome (for king and court) profession of journalism was also burgeoning. The collision of new ideas, political protest and the ability to read what was happening as people’s literacy grew,...

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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)