The River Home by Hannah Richell

the river homeTitle: The River Home

Author: Hannah Richell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under… The new novel from bestselling author Hannah Richell. A wise and emotionally powerful story of a broken family and the courage it takes to heal.

The river can take you home. But the river can also drag you under…

‘It’s something she learned years ago – the hard way – and that she knows she will never forget: even the sweetest fruit will fall and rot into the earth, eventually. No matter how deep you bury the pain, the bones of it will rise up to haunt you … like the echoes of a summer’s night, like the river flowing relentlessly on its course.’

Margot Sorrell didn’t want to go home. She had spent all her adult life trying not to look behind. But a text from her sister Lucy brought her back to Somerset. ‘I need you.’

As Margot, Lucy and their eldest sister, Eve, reunite in the house they grew up in beside the river, the secrets they keep from each other, and from themselves, refuse to stay hidden. A wedding brings them together but long-simmering resentments threaten to tear the family apart. No one could imagine the way this gathering would change them all forever. And through the sorrow they are forced to confront, there is a chance that healing will also come. But only if the truth is told.

The new novel from bestselling author Hannah Richell. A wise and emotionally powerful story of a broken family and the courage it takes to heal.

~*~

The River Home opens with a mysterious passage hinting at a tragedy, something gone terribly wrong – a mystery that promises to unfold itself as the novel progresses and weave itself along the river in the title of Hannah Richell’s latest novel, The River Home. It centres around three sisters – Eve, Lucy and Margot Sorrell as they come together for Lucy’s whirlwind wedding. Yet Margot is resistant – holding onto secrets from the past that led to her leaving her family.

As Margot returns, old tensions resurface and whilst the novel goes between Lucy, Eve and Margot in the present and their parents and childhood in the past, the reasons Margot doesn’t want to return are slowly revealed, as are other secrets that Eve wants to keep quiet. Yet whilst all together in their childhood home with partners, Eve’s daughters, their parents and their father’s new partner, old secrets come to the surface, and new secrets burst forth throughout, culminating in the finale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful, bringing to life how unspoken secrets and tensions can rip a family apart and then bring them all back together.

AWW2020It is for Lucy that they come together, where all past ills are somewhat forgotten, and bridges start to be constructed. It is Lucy who urges them to do this – to heal themselves. Her heartbreaking story is raw and filled with every emotion possible – joy, fear, sadness, love and uncertainty. The three sisters have lived their entire lives with their mother as a best-selling author, and her story is woven throughout this family saga, written eloquently and in a way where each character gets to tell their story. Lucy is full of life, yet her secret will rock the family. Margot has been holding onto hers since she was sixteen – ever since the school play, and the incident that drove her away from her family at seventeen. And Eve is determined to hide her secret from her husband, to maintain the order and proper life she has led for thirty years. These secrets, and how they are revealed to the reader and to the other characters are each done with great impact, rocking the world for everyone involved and threatening to cause new rifts. Yet in the aftermath, when they discover Margot’s secret, that knowledge brings them together and allows the family to begin healing and gives the Sorrell sisters the courage to go on with the challenges that life is throwing at them.

Hannah Richell has delivered another enthralling family story, where the focus is the love of family and between family – extended and immediate, as they grapple with challenges in life, and takes place over a weekend as it goes back and forth in time, and in doing so, sets up for the secrets that are to be revealed and gives great insight into the characters and their lives. She has managed to capture the full range of emotion – from joy to despair on the page and everything in between, this is a book for fans of Hannah Richell, and the books like this that get a perfect balance between drama, secrets, happiness and what it means to be part of a family. I do hope others enjoy it as much as I did, as it is refreshing to see family love front and centre of a novel, rather than it always being romantic love.

The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s first serial murderer by Tanya Bretherton

killing streetsTitle: The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s first serial murderer

Author: Tanya Bretherton

Genre: History, Non-Fiction, True Crime

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 25th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: From the acclaimed author of THE SUITCASE BABY and THE SUICIDE BRIDE, the story of a series of horrific murders that began in 1930s Sydney – and a killer who remained at large for over two decades.

In December 1932, as the Depression tightened its grip, the body of a woman was found in Queens Park, Sydney. It was a popular park. There were houses in plain view. Yet this woman had been violently murdered without anyone noticing. Other equally brutal and shocking murders of women in public places were to follow. Australia’s first serial killer was at large.

Police failed to notice the similarities between the victims until the death of one young woman – an aspiring Olympic swimmer – made the whole city take notice. On scant evidence, the unassuming Eric Craig was arrested. But the killings didn’t stop…

This compelling story of a city crippled by fear and a failing economy, of a killer at large as panic abounds, is also the story of what happens when victims aren’t perfect and neither are suspects, and when a rush to judgement replaces the call of reason.

~*~

Modern Sydney has been connected to crime ever since the arrival of the First Fleet with the first lot of convicts from the UK, sent to serve out sentences for stealing bread, stealing clothes and many other crimes at what must have felt like the end of the world for those people. In 1930s Sydney, during the Depression, a violent murder occurred in Queens Park – followed by several others that were similar, and a few others had preceded the 1932 murder. It seemed Australia had its first serial killer.

AWW2020Yet in 1932, even though new forensic and crime scene recording techniques were coming to light – sketches and photography were used in conjunction as part of investigations – the police did not see the link between the initial deaths  – unfortunately laying some of the blame on the victim, due to their profession. Yet when Bessie O’Connor – an aspiring Olympic swimmer who lived a very different life to the other women – prostitutes – was murdered, the police hurriedly made the connection.

In these dark days, the police investigation appears to have been hurried somewhat in a desperate attempt to get the ‘sex slayer’ off the streets. Yet even once Eric Craig, who forever professed his innocence, was arrested – the killings continued after a brief break. The killer could have been a copycat, or perhaps in their haste, the police arrested the wrong man, and because of that, let the real killer go free for decades to come.

Tanya Bretherton uses the facts at hand in articles, archives and various other sources to construct her book, and whilst she extrapolates what may have happened in some places due to gaps in the information she has access to, this I felt was done respectfully and in a way that tried to give something more to the history, and show just how a forced and quick investigation can result in the wrong outcome, and possibly, lead to the real killer never being caught. She humanises the victims, and makes sure we remember their names: Daisy, Rebecca, Vera, Hilda, Iris, Bessie, Betty, Lucy, Joan and Ada, whose deaths were not properly investigated, and where their gender was also a factor in how the police viewed these crimes – that somehow they’d done something wrong, yet they hadn’t. Tanya makes them human again, seen through the eyes of those that loved them rather than their killer, and also, illustrated the dynamics of Eric Craig, his upbringing and the stark contrast between the way his mother – Leah, and his wife – Mary-Caroline as they watched the trial, and what happened to their son and husband.

Tanya also manages to get the balance between the emotions linked to the deaths and cases, and the facts – they both contribute to construct a narrative where one can believe that Craig wasn’t the killer, that he was coerced into a confession due to shoddy police work, and lack of further investigation into other possible suspects in an attempt to make the killings stop. The killings Craig was accused of were the 1932 ones, but very similar killings took place from 1926 to 1944, and suggest the possibility of one serial killer across the eighteen years – but nobody can know for sure, which is what makes this book so interesting – it posits that there could have been at least two, but this is something we will never know, perhaps lost to history forever. Still, these stories open up a seedy and dark underside of a well-known city, illustrating a time of fear and uncertainty through a dark and murky mystery. Readers of crime and true crime will find this a fascinating insight into Australia’s history and crime and justice system.

The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan

dark prophecyTitle: Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 30th April 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 528
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: The second title in Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series – set in the action-packed world of Percy Jackson.
The god Apollo, cast down to earth and trapped in the form of a gawky teenage boy as punishment, must set off on the second of his harrowing (and hilarious) trials.
He and his companions seek the ancient oracles – restoring them is the only way for Apollo to reclaim his place on Mount Olympus – but this is easier said than done.
Somewhere in the American Midwest is a haunted cave that may hold answers for Apollo in his quest to become a god again . . . if it doesn’t kill him or drive him insane first. Standing in Apollo’s way is the second member of the evil Triumvirate – a Roman emperor whose love of bloodshed and spectacle makes even Nero look tame.
To survive the encounter, Apollo will need the help of a now-mortal goddess, a bronze dragon, and some familiar demigod faces from Camp Half-Blood. With them by his side, can Apollo face down the greatest challenge of his four thousand years of existence?

~*~

As I work my way (slowly, mainly due to other commitments) through these four books after being sent the latest by the publisher after the publication date, I’m finding the way the author includes mythology and ancient history in the modern world amidst modern issues interesting. It is first and foremost the mythology that I am interested in, and as I was sent book four late last year, decided to read the first three so I knew what to expect and what was going on.

There are some series that I find easy to read out of order, as they tend to be their own singular stories that are linked through a theme, genre or character. However, there are some that I do feel need to be read in order, and this one is one of those series. As Apollo moves through his tasks to earn back his immortality from Zeus, he keeps running into Meg, and is accompanied by Leo Valdez and sorceress Calypso as they journey across America in pursuit of Nero and those who are trying to stop Apollo.

Apollo often references all kinds of literary and musical highlights and has a running commentary about how good he is – and how he is responsible for certain bands and songs. This is secondary to the ongoing plot, and Apollo’s godlike mind and memories is at constant odds with what his mortal teenage body is capable of.

The combination of Greek and Roman elements makes sense as the Romans would eventually usurp the Greek society and culture and assign their own names to the Greek gods, goddesses and heroes. As someone who loves reading about Greek mythology, I find the way it is used in contemporary literature interesting, as each retelling and reimagining is unique, and some are very cleverly done. At the very least, this series makes it accessible to new readers and this will hopefully spark an interest in Greek mythology beyond this series.

The Good Turn (Cormac Reilly #3) by Dervla McTiernan

the good turnTitle: The Good Turn (Cormac Reilly #3)

Author: Dervla McTiernan

Genre: Crime

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 24th February 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Some lines should never be crossed. Police corruption, and investigation that ends in tragedy and the mystery of a little girl’s silence – three unconnected events that will prove to be linked by one small town.

While Detective Cormac Reilly faces enemies at work and trouble in his personal life, Garda Peter Fisher is relocated out of Galway with the threat of prosecution hanging over his head. But even that is not as terrible as having to work for his overbearing father, the local copper for the pretty seaside town of Roundstone.

For some, like Anna and her young daughter, Tilly, Roundstone is a refuge from trauma. But even this village on the edge of the sea isn’t far enough to escape the shadows of evil men.

~*~

The Good Turn is the third Cormac Reilly novel, but the first I have read, and I found it very easy to get into, even though I haven’t read the first two, which I will now go back and do. This novel is set in 2015 – and centres around a series of seemingly unrelated crimes and people, and evolves into two separate storylines revolving around Cormac Reilly, whose enemies start to undermine him as he looks into the disappearance of Peggah Abbassi with his team in Galway. When the case comes to an abrupt end, Peter Fisher is sent to Roundstone. In his exile, he is forced to work with his father, faces what looks like further police corruption, in a town where community policing supposedly is the goal. Amidst all of this, Anna Collins and her daughter, Tilly had arrived in Roundstone from Dublin – has their arrival coincided with the series of events occurring around the other cases, or is it a separate reason for their arrival?

Each mystery is seemingly separate – and moves between Galway and Roundstone and also back in time – where hints are dropped about Tilly and Anna, but enough is held back throughout about each mystery that it drives it towards the end, and lays out those we think are guilty, those who people think cannot be guilty and at times, totally throws a spanner in the works when it comes to uncovering what is going on. Slowly, each case and tragedy starts to intersect, and slowly weave together to bring the novel to its conclusion, and the way Cormac, Peter, Anna and Tilly figure out their lives and resolutions to the issues at work and with family that bubble throughout the novel, across Ireland and Europe.

AWW2020This was the first Cormac Reilly book I read in the series, and whilst I am guessing some things in it refer back to the previous books, I found that I was able to follow everything really well despite not having had a chance to read them yet. It was written and told in a way that I feel readers can read from any point and go back to the previous books – each story is its own encapsulated event much like the Phryne Fisher books or the Rowland Sinclair books – each case is its own event and sure, some things from the past might be mentioned in passing, but if the main plot doesn’t hinge on these mentions, it is a joy to read.

Dervla McTiernan also reveals things when it is necessary for the reader to know, and she doesn’t overdo descriptions – she gets the balance of what we need to know and leaving enough up to the imagination really well done, and to me, this is what makes a good crime novel – where we’re told what we need to know without going over the top, but at the same time, given a chance to guess, or fill in gaps for ourselves. It adds to the experience of reading the novel, and I will definitely be going back to the first two books now – hopefully this year.

The Irish setting was also lovely – I love Ireland, and this book marks off several challenge categories, including a book bingo one for later in the year, so keep an eye out for that post. Moving between the small and larger settings worked well too, as it showed that nowhere is ever truly safe or free from insidious crimes and characters – just that these crimes might manifest themselves in different ways and be perpetuated by different people – as it is with all crimes anywhere. It is a series that I will now be eagerly following – and am pleased that I have the two previous books – as well as many others by other authors – to tide me over until the next Cormac Reilly comes out.

Peter, Diedre and Cormac are great characters – not perfect – they are human and flawed and they can recognise these flaws. They are also there for each other, and I liked the dynamics that I got to experience between them throughout the novel and the way they interacted with other police officers, those in their personal lives and in their wider communities. Another great crime novel from an Irish-Australian author I will be watching with keen interest.

Podcasts about Kids Books

 

As I have been listening to lots of podcasts lately – all of them Australian-based – many of them have been about books. Whilst most have been geared at adult reading, there are a few that are about kids’ books. I have already spoken about Middle Grade Mavens, and in this post I want to highlight two more podcasts hosted by Australian authors of children’s, middle grade and young adult novels.

kid lit club

The first is the Kid Lit Club, hosted by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck, which has a backlog of episodes up to October 2019, and also appeared as a television show on one of the Channel Nine channels, and in my google searching, I found that it can also be viewed on YouTube. I’ve listened to the audio and am part of the Facebook group – The Kid Lit Club, where articles and news are also shared, and hopefully there will be news about new episodes of the podcast if there are to be any. The associated Facebook group is for those in the industry, and a place where contacts can be made and reviews, and other news can be shared, and it is a great place to check out whilst listening to all my podcasts.

 

one more page

The second kid’s podcast I’ve been binge listening to is One More Page with Kate Simpson, Liz Leddon and Nat Amoore, where I have discovered some new books to check out. They interview authors, invite kids on the show, and talk about books linked to a theme each fortnight, and all the links to their social media and the various podcast apps can be found on their website, One More Page. Like the other podcasts, this is filled with recommendations for all age groups, and is fun for anyone interested in kids’ books and literature to listen to.

They explore book awards, trends in children’s books and the latest in what should be read. I love listening to them as I write or work and it really does make the time go by but are the perfect length to get through several in a day, and to play in the background as well. As I work in the children’s book industry – these podcasts complement my work and I feel keep me informed about what is out there. I thoroughly enjoy these podcasts and encourage you to listen to them if you enjoy podcasts about books. I am a bit biased towards Australian ones but I find that they are my favourites and much more engaging for me.

With that, I am off to listen to some more podcasts!

Hapless Hero Henrie (House of Heroes #1) by Petra James

hapless hero henrieTitle: Hapless Hero Henrie (House of Heroes #1)
Author: Petra James
Genre: Fiction, Spies
Publisher: Walker Books
Published:
Format: Paperback
Pages: 240
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Henrie is the first girl heir of the Melchior family in 200 years. This was deemed a dereliction of duty by the formidable Octavia Melchior, head of the House of Melchior (HoMe). For HoMe is in the business of heroes for hire. Boy heroes, that is. Girls have no place. When Henrie receives a mysterious note, it sets off a chain of events including a kidnapping, a fancy skateboard manoeuvre and a private jet and she discovers something rotten at the heart of HoMe. As past, present and future collide, HoMe is poised to come tumbling down … unless a new kind of hero can emerge from the rubble.
• A fun and funny middle-grade novel, the successor to Deb Abela’s Max Remy series and Lauren Child’s Ruby Redfort: Genius Girl Spy.
• Perfect for readers who like their heroes to be smart, fearless and ready for action. Featuring strong male and female characters.
• Accessible high-interest text with illustrations by A. Yi, illustrator of the Alice-Miranda, Clementine Rose and Kensy and Max series.
~*~

For two hundred years, only boys have been born into the Melchior family – that is, until Henrietta Madeline Melchior came into the world, followed by a trio of shrieks eleven years, eight months and nine and a half days ago, and so this is how the first book in the new series, House of Heroes begins. When Henrie receives a mysterious letter, she sets off on an adventure with Alex, and finds herself at HoMe – the House of Melchior. Henrie tells the story of her birth and life in a dramatic and exciting way, with her own twist on the facts. It turns out that her story is not as far-fetched as Aunt Ellie would have her believe, as we find out as the story goes on. Here, secrets about her family – her parents, her ancestors and that missing portrait of another Henry – as she navigates trying to outsmart her girl-hating boy cousins.

AWW2020As Henrie ventures from her home with Ellie, following the letter and subsequently falling into a trap on her way to Moldovia. Once there, Henrie starts to learn about the history of her family – and there are a few surprises along the way that I absolutely loved. The brilliance of these secrets was that the hints and Easter Eggs were dropped, and it doesn’t matter if you pick up on them or not, it is equally fun working the answer out on your own or waiting for the Big Reveal later on in the book. I do hope that characters involved in this secret return later on in the series, because I feel like there could be a big surprise on the way for readers. In this high interest, accessible middle grade text, graphics are combined with text to make the story engaging and interactive. I love the names – the alliterative names and the names like Claire Voyant – it is something I would do, as I love names that have a hint of irony and humour behind them. It also allows readers of all abilities to engage with the text and will hopefully grow confidence for any readers who might need that little boost. It should engage both boys and girls as well, giving them a female hero who is not too feminine and who fits into a world where she was told she doesn’t belong but in actual fact, she really does. Henrie is one of those heroes like Kensy and Max that will have wide appeal, and much like Kensy and Max, I cannot wait for the next installment of this series.

What I loved about this book was the way Henrie didn’t give up, yet there were times when she did show vulnerability, and this was perfectly balanced for readers of middle grade books like this. The magic in this book is that it will have a wide appeal, with the inclusion of spies, heroes and turning age-old attitudes on their heads – such as gender roles and what the Melchior family thinks of girls. Henrie is a fabulous character who is bound to have many fabulous adventures and take readers on a spectacular journey through the world of spies and heroes. It is a book that also has an eye-catching cover, and characters that you can cheer on, and characters who you will love seeing fail – but never fear, I am sure they will be back throughout the series to cause trouble for Henrie. This is also done in an entertaining way – and also tries to play a few tricks on the reader, which adds to the fun and the intrigue. All in all, I loved this book and would like to seek out more in this series when they come out.

Withering-by-Sea (A Stella Montgomery Intrigue #1) by Judith Rossell

withering by seaTitle: Withering-by-Sea (A Stella Montgomery Intrigue #1)
Author: Judith Rossell
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Publisher: ABC Books/HarperCollins Australia
Published: 19th August 2019 (First published 2014)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: WINNER ABIA BOOK OF THE YEAR FOR YOUNGER READERS
‘Fans of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events will eat up Withering-by-Sea’
— Shelf Awareness
High on a cliff above the gloomy coastal town of Withering-by-Sea stands the Hotel Majestic. Inside the walls of the damp, dull hotel, eleven-year-old orphan Stella Montgomery leads a miserable life with her three dreadful Aunts.
But one night, Stella sees something she shouldn’t have … Something that will set in motion an adventure more terrifying and more wonderful than she could ever have hoped for …
Discover the gorgeously illustrated series that’s loved by tens of thousands of readers!

SERIES AWARDS
Withering-by-Sea (Book 1)
Winner — 2015 Indie Awards, Book of the Year: Children’s & YA
Winner — 2015 Australian Book Industry Awards, Book of the Year: Older Children
Winner — 2015 Davitt Awards
Honour Book — 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards
Shortlisted — 2015 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards
Shortlisted — 2014 Aurealis Awards
Shortlisted — 2017 Australian Book Design Awards
~*~

Orphan Stella Montgomery lives with her three aunts – Aunt Condolence, Aunt Deliverance and Aunt Temperance in an old hotel in Withering-by-Sea. She’s never known anything else but being expected to live up to what feels like their impossible standards. The novel starts with Stella exploring the conservatory of the hotel as the Amazon, when she meets Mr Filbert, a guest, who later passes something onto her to take care of, and from here, Stella’s adventure begins as she tries to discover what she has been given, and why someone is trying to take it away. Why did someone want Mr Filbert dead, and who did it? What is the secret that her aunts are keeping from her about her mother? Stella is encouraged to remain quiet, never ask questions and above all, become a polite young lady who will be an exemplary member of society.

But no matter how hard Stella tries, she cannot make the aunts happy – but why would she want to, when they’re always being horrid to her, and punishing her whenever they get a chance? It is when Stella meets Ben and Shadow that things start to change, and she is suddenly on the run, and trying to uncover a mystery. I love mysteries – all kinds of mysteries and there are many ways to write them for all age groups and readerships. With its fantasy setting, and magic infused mystery, it is a great way to introduce middle grade readers who enjoy mysteries to younger readers, and even as an adult reader, I found myself swept up by it and loved reading it. I cannot wait to get the next two books and find out what happens next with Stella and hope that we get to see Ben and Gert again, as well as several other characters who had an awesome role in the story. I’d love to see them appear again to help Stella or for Stella to help them. Also, it has an abundance of singing cats, and who doesn’t like singing cats?

AWW2020Stella’s adventure is filled with magic and danger – but not too much danger and is set in a time that evokes a Victorian sense of time and place, which contributes to the magical sense of this book and the characters that populate this novel. In a world where girls are trained to do certain things, and where they are expected to fall in line, characters like Stella and Gert flout the rules and turn the whole world upside down, proving that they are just as capable of the boys. There is a delightful twist at the end that has a fairytale feel to it, as does the whole novel, which makes it very exciting and interesting to see how various fairy tale tropes and characteristics have found their way into children’s literature today. Having won many awards, I can see why this book won them – and as it begins a series, it answers enough questions to wrap the first book up but at the same time, leaves enough unanswered that readers will want to read the next book to find out what happens and get those answers. There is at least one that I wonder if is going to be a thread throughout the series and will be revealed at the end.

Overall, I loved this book. It is probably one that I would have loved to have read as a kid, and it seems like many of the books and series I am discovering these days for middle grade are what I would have enjoyed. Australian authors are bringing out some brilliant middle grade books at the moment and I’m working on reading any that grab my attention. Looking forward to more about Stella!