Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie

I don’t recall the last time I was so chilled by a book as this one – and I mean that in a good way! The story of young widow, Callie and her attempt to put the tragic death of her husband behind her and the suspicion cast on her by a click-bait hungry media, by hiding in a small town in Tasmania – New Norfolk – Devil’s Lair is suspenseful, atmospheric and really very scary!

Grateful that her friend has offered her a safe haven in Tasmania, what Callie doesn’t expect is the kindness of the strangers she encounters, or the eerie surroundings in which she finds herself. Located in the smaller gatehouse of a large property in which a curmudgeonly recluse lives, Callie nonetheless makes a real effort to get on with her life and interact with the people she finds herself among. More than anyone else, she finds herself drawn to Connor, one of the siblings who own a huge tourist-based property nearby and who gives her much-needed work.

But when strange letters, stories of ghosts and unexplained deaths as well as the sense of being watched start to overwhelm her, Callie finds that the most rational of explanations don’t add up. Wanting desperately to trust someone, Callie is no longer sure, after all, how can you trust anyone when you can no longer trust yourself?

I really enjoyed this book. The plot was terrific, the pace just right and the way it which it managed to capture the almost suffocating and frightening sense of being in a small house, at night, on the edge of the river and the feeling of being watched (I was looking over my shoulder in my bedroom!) against the gorgeous expanses of the Tasmanian countryside, was superb. Evocative, eerie and compelling. A wonderful read. 

I cannot wait to read Sarah’s other books. 

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The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte by Lesley Truffle

31306285The 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 is fast-paced, enormous fun and heart-aching at the same time. Able to transport you from the docks of fictitious and rough Wolftown, to parties on wealthy estates, then sail you to London (where the Hotel Du Barry has a cameo role), Paris, Vienna and beyond, you find yourself captivated by Sasha – honest, steadfast and fair – as you ride the roller-coaster of her full and often tragic life.

For all its fantastical elements, the book coheres into a luminous whole, an adventure and story like no other that you feel the richer and more fulfilled for reading. Like one of Sasha’s sweet creations, it lingers in your mouth, head and heart long after you’ve finished it. Quite simply, it’s so completely different and a real treat.


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