The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

imgresA wonderful story of secrets, families, hope, regret, relationships and the way in which the actions of past can impinge upon the present from Liane Moriarty. Set on an island (Scribbly Gum) in the Hawkesbury River, New South Wales, Australia, it centres around Sophie Honeywell, a sweet-natured woman who reflects upon her life and decides that because she is in her late thirties, single and childless, she may have made some huge mistakes, including letting the man who asked her to marry him, Thomas Gordon, get away years earlier.

When she is left an extraordinary bequest by Thomas’ Aunt Connie, one that sees her relocating to Scribbly Gum Island and becoming part of the commercial enterprise that is the Munro Baby mystery – a mystery that harkens back to the 1930s when two residents of the island, Alice and Jack Munro dramatically disappeared, leaving behind a baby which the then island residents, Alice and Connie, raised as their own – she is flung back into Thomas’ life and that of his rather eccentric family. Befriending them all over again, Sophie is forced to reassess her life and her opinions of those who both seek to include her in the Munro baby enterprise but also those who feel that as an outsider, she has no right to be on the island and upsetting the status quo.

The longer Sophie stays, the more she begins to understand herself, what she wants from life and the “enigma” that is the Munro mystery.

While this book doesn’t quite have the sophisticated plot and characterisation of Big Little Lies, it is a delightful, light-hearted examination of people and the way we form and maintain or break relationships as well as how decisions made on the spur of the moment can have a huge impact upon the future. Often funny, moving and with a serious side, it’s an easy read and a great way to pass the time. Moriarty paints the characters so well, even the minor ones are three-dimensional and, just like real people, can be alternately annoying, fascinating and adorable. I read this while on holidays and reluctantly tore myself from it. While some of the narrative is predictable, there is a marvellous twist at the end that I never saw coming and found eminently satisfying. Another good read from a simply fabulous writer.

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Martyr (John Shakespeare #1) by Rory Clements

imgresA fabulous, well-paced historical crime book set during the latter years of Elizabeth’s reign (it opens in 1587), a time when conspiracies abounded, suspicions towards Catholics and fears for Elizabeth’s life were rife in a country still trying to lay firm Protestant foundations. This was an era when paranoia was alive and well (and often with good reason) and Mister Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham and his spies or intelligencers played a significant role in shoring up the safety of the land and its monarch.

 

Enter John Shakespeare, brother to William and a clever, generous and handsome bloke to boot, who is recruited into Walsingham’s network. Between the brutal murder of one of the queen’s cousins in a burnt out house on London Bridge and a plot to assassinate Sir Francis Drake, John has his work cut out. Alongside all this, King Philip and his armada threatens, Mary Stuart is poised for execution, while Jesuit priests walk the streets, harvesting English souls, evading capture by hiding in the houses of Catholic sympathisers.

 

Tasked with discovering Drake’s would-be assassin, the killer of the queen’s cousin and the recusants hiding the Jesuits, Shakespeare is forced to confront his own beliefs, his heart’s desire and the fears and realities of both Protestants and Catholics alike.

 

Watching his every move but always seeming to be one step ahead is the awful character of Richard Topcliffe who, in real life, was known to be a blood-thirsty sociopath with a genuine love for torture. His name alone was enough to cast a long and horrifying shadow – and if you read books on the torture of the time and what this man did, it still will…

 

Topcliffe knows John has secrets, secrets that could undermine his position, family and his life. But when the assassin and Topcliffe start to threaten those John has grown to love, the stakes become even higher.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed what at times is a very, very gory book that doesn’t hold back from the shocking realities of Elizabethan life for the men and poor women who were held in thrall by violent, powerful people. The constant pressure brought to bear on Catholics and the religious schism that existed at the time is painful to read, but also reflects what was again a reality for many folk.

 

In some reviews I’ve read, readers’ criticise Clement, the author, for giving his hero what they term “modern religious sensibilities”, meaning, I think, a tolerance for both sides of the religious divide. The historical facts record that just like in any period, while there were fundamentalists and those who truly believed their soul was at stake if they adhered to a different set of religious principles, there were also those very tolerant and even ambivalent about specific religious practices, even if they never doubted God. This period was not as black and white as many other writers of the era make out, so in that regard, I think Clement has done something very original and interesting with John Shakespeare and the other characters who populate this book. Certainly, his evocation of the era is outstanding and his use of language rich and fruity.

 

I really enjoyed this book and upon finishing it, immediately commenced the next in the series.

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Book Review: Heresy by SJ Parris

This was a strange book in so many ways – and I mean that more positively than to infer the opposite – strange can be good, right? Ostensibly a historical novel that, while a work of fiction features real people – the main one being the lead character, the excommunicate Roman priest and humanist philosopher, Giordano Bruno – it also uses quite modern if literary language to tell its Elizabethan tale of murder, mystery, spies, religious heresy and mayhem. Due to this, it asks for a leap of faith from the reader – of the literary rather than the religious kind – and we do this willingly.

Establishing Bruno’s credentials as someone genuinely disenchanted with the Catholic church (he’s caught reading inappropriate materials and the Inquisitor is sent for, which forces him into exile), he arrives in England years later to be hired by Queen Elizabeth’s great spymaster, Walsingham himself, and is sent to Oxford University. Travelling there to debate the forces of the uHeresy (Giordano Bruno, #1)niverse with the Rector, Bruno is also asked to uncover any heretics – Catholicism having mostly gone underground during this period – as a plot to assassinate the queen has been discovered and the search for those involved (directly and indirectly) is underway.

While at Oxford, a series of “maytyr” murders take place – gruesome and clearly spelling a warning – but to whom and why is not immediately clear. Determined to unearth the killer, Bruno hasn’t quite accounted for the prejudice of the English towards foreigners, the passions of Catholics nor the unexpected pleasure of the Rector’s beautiful and clever daughter, Sophia.

The closer Bruno gets to the finding the killer or killers, the greater the danger grows until it’s not simply Bruno’s soul that’s at risk, but his very life.

While this novel is an Elizabethan mystery, it’s also very self-consciously historical and in that sense, it sets out to be accurate in its descriptions and in the way it characterises some of the people it introduces into the story. I always enjoy that kind of didacticism if it’s done well and, mostly in this book, it is. Parris (a journalist) knows how to do her research and incorporate it in an interesting manner. And so you have long dinner conversations that demonstrate both the ignorance of the era as well as the cleverness of the protagonist (and in real life, he was), as well as lovely details about Oxford University, it’s buildings and rules and the relationships between staff, students and servants and the various rituals that make up the day.

Where I found the book pushed the boundaries a little too much was in its tendency to introduce characters either for the purposes of “proving” this was a dinky-di historical novel (eg, the extremely annoying European nobleman Bruno is forced to accompany to Oxford and Sir Phillip Sidney, both of whom didn’t really serve any useful narrative purpose except as genuine figures from the past) or as devices to wrap up plot points. There’s one character particularly from whom Bruno finds out a great deal of information that leads to the identity of the killer. This character is a “simpleton” and in one scene, even while doubting the wisdom of telling Bruno everything (ie. that he possibly shouldn’t), he still spills his guts, allowing clever Bruno to put five and five together. In other words, this character was created purely to reveal a great deal of information at the right time and I found that a tad clumsy, even though I liked the character.

Some of the characters are also a little too black and white as well as smart alec, but in a stupidly disrespectful way, though this also adds to the tension.

The scenes describing torture and execution are very well done, if grisly, and also reveal Parris’ knowledge of and appreciation for the era.

Overall, while I tended to skim read small parts of this, I really enjoyed others and if you like a good historical murder mystery that isn’t quite in the league of The Name of the Rose, but is nonetheless very good, then this is for you.

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Book Review: A Necessary End, Peter Robinson

A Necessary End is no. 3 in the Inspector Banks series and as far as the others go (I am reading them out of order which is not a problem), it lacks the tight pacing of both the two previous books and later ones.

A Necessary End (Inspector Banks, #3)Commencing with an anti-nuclear demonstration in which a policeman is killed, Banks finds himself playing second-fiddle to an aggressive Superindent brought down from London. This man, Burgess, has a reputation for results only, it’s how he gets them that has Banks questioning not simply the man’s ethics and treatment of various suspects, but his inability to be anything but myopic about the case.

Involving a sort of hippy pseudo-family on a nearby farm, may of whom have tragedy and secrets in their past, and some left- wing ideologues, the novel is a study of character more than it is crime. Having said that, I found the character of Burgess to be unbelievable. For someone who has risen through the ranks and supposedly earned the respect of his colleagues, he’s a misogynistic, narrow-minded bully who’s inability to join the dots would make a pre-schooler blush. He was very cliched and, in that regard, unusual for Robinson. Burgess does, however, function as a foil for Banks, highlighting the hero’s intellect, moral compass and compassion, but I think he could have been more subtley drawn – he is quite vaudevillian! The crime itself is also fairly pedestrian and I think the resolution owes more to happy coincidences and is too reliant on ex-machina to really ring true. What is lovely about this book is the language and the poignant descriptions of loss, longing and the countryside.

Overall, a good read, but not up there with the best. Gave it three out of five.

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Illumination news

I’ve decided I’m not very good at putting up info about my books. I must get better at it. I also have to update my website – and I will. After Illumination comes out. See, that’s my problem. At the moment, my year is divided into two halves: BI and AI – Before Illumination and Artificial Intelligence… not really 🙂 I do mean, After Illumination. The idea being that once the final book in the Curse of the Bond Riders series is out there, I can fix/reinvent/update my website. And I will… I’ve said it twice now, three times and it’s a charm I cannot break 🙂

In the meantime, I do have some news and the cover to share with you.

So, here’s the cover. Tallow’s face is finally revealed and Serenissima is there wreathed in mist and unctuous moonlight. I really love the cover. From the jade greens of Tallow, to the golds of Votive to the sapphire hues and silvers of Illumination. It’s the series captured in jewels and metals.

News wise, I’ve just signed the contract with Bolinda to have Illumination turned into an audio book. That means that all of the series will now be made made into audio books which is really very thrilling and I can’t wait to listen to them – the idea that someone will read the books, bring them to life aurally, is just lovely. It’s like the first time you see your book’s cover and what an artist and graphic designer have done to your tale, how they’ve visually translated your ideas into a different medium. It’s very dazzling and exciting. I can’t wait to hear how Bolinda translate the series either.

The print version of the book is due for release JULY 1st. I put that in capitals because I am getting asked a great deal about this (thank you) and I wanted it to stand out. It should be in all good book stores from that day forward, and it  it’s not, it doesn’t mean your bookstore is bad (necessarily, but… bad bookstore!:)), but that you have to ask them to order it in! Please do that if it’s not.

My last bit of news for this post is to put a link to an interview I did with the lovely Kathryn Linge as part of the spec-fic “snapshots” that they do with well-known authors every two years. I was chuffed to be asked and Kathryn’s questions were fabulous. So if you want some info from behind the scenes, so to speak, about the writing of my books and what research I do, and more, then follow this link!

Other than that, I have no other news for now. I am writing a new book and in time, I will blog about that too! Take care,

Love,
Karen 🙂

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Book Review: Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog

 

Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman

This book is a collection of columns that Lisa Scottoline, an American novelist, wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer and, as the title indicates, they are humorous, reflective, self-deprecating and frankly, really heart-warming. They might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this rich glimpse into a thrice-married writer, with one daughter, a feisty aging mother, a gay brother and loads of dogs, is delightful.

From braless emergency room moments, to her mother insisting on wearing a lab coat at home and into public space, to her daughter’s graduation(her daughter also has a voice in a couple of the columns: ie. she writes them, and they’re lovely too), to a road trip for book signings and many other things in-between, Scottoline shares them all. I laughed out loud, cried, empathised, and appreciated her frankness. I would often read columns to my partner who enjoyed hearing them.
I don’t normally seek out these kinds of books – a collection of previously published works, but I make an exception for this one. It’s great to read chronologically or to do dip in and out. Described as chick-wit, I think it has a broader appeal than that for what it covers is what effects us all, relationships, family, work, tradespeople, decisions, pets… admittedly, all these are coloured with Scottoline’s specific slant, but once you understand where she’s coming from, she’s hard to put down.

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