The Wolf and The Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

wolf and watchman.jpgTitle: The Wolf and The Watchman

Author: Niklas Natt och Dag

Genre: Crime/Scandi Noir

Publisher: Hachette/John Murray

Published: 12th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 407

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Best Debut, The Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award 2017

‘Thrilling, unnerving, clever and beautiful’ Fredrik Backman

The year is 1793, Stockholm. King Gustav of Sweden has been assassinated, years of foreign wars have emptied the treasuries, and the realm is governed by a self-interested elite, leaving its citizens to suffer. On the streets, malcontent and paranoia abound.

A body is found in the city’s swamp by a watchman, Mickel Cardell, and the case is handed over to investigator Cecil Winge, who is dying of consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell become embroiled in a brutal world of guttersnipes and thieves, mercenaries and madams, and one death will expose a city rotten with corruption beneath its powdered and painted veneer.

THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN depicts the capacity for cruelty in the name of survival or greed – but also the capacity for love, friendship, and the desire for a better world.

~*~

The mystery that The Wolf the Watchman follows is both complex and strange – it follows Mickel Cardell and Winge after Mickel finds a torso in the river, Anna Stina, a young woman trying to find her way out of poverty and who finds herself in a position she never imagined she’d be in, and Kristofer Blix, whose path will eventually cross with Anna’s, and their lives will be changed forever.

They all have goals and dreams that are changed over the course of the novel, and each part weaves back and forth between their perspectives – creating a dense and complicated story where anxiety seems to be lurking around every corner. In 1793, things feel less stable following the assassination of the king of Sweden, and threats abound, and people will do whatever they can to survive whatever existence they might be living. It took me a while to read this one, only because there was so much to take in and absorb to get to the end and what felt like the solving of the mystery, but at the same time, maybe not quite. It’s the kind of book one needs to dedicate time and attention to because of the density of the plot and characters, and the way everything connects together.

The mystery of the body in the river is the impetus for the story, and it is woven through as each character and their story becomes clearer throughout the book. As I said before, it is dense and very involved, and needs quite a bit of attention to get through this meandering, and thrilling story as the characters travel across an eighteenth century Sweden during a time when people are trying to survive, and when people’s capacity for cruelty or love is shown through the actions and sacrifices they are willing to make for people they barely know, taking advantage of the law and others.

I enjoyed this mystery, a very different story to what I usually read. Translations into English can often be denser, depending on the story, and in this case, it benefits the story and enhances the characters and their actions. Be sure to pay attention as best you can to absorb everything you need to know.

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Book Bingo Six – Themes of Fantasy and Themes of Justice

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Another fortnight, and another book bingo post, my reading challenge done with Theresa Smith and Amanda Barrett, and a few others who have decided to take part with us. I am doing another double bingo this week and might be doing a double bingo next time. For themes of Fantasy, I chose the epic and much-anticipated finale to the Medoran Chronicles, which began in 2015 with Akarnae. My second square will be Themes of Justice, another book

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vardaesia_3d-coverThis series by Australian author, Lynette Noni, published by Pantera Press, is the series that got me started in blogging, and concluded this year with the heart-stopping, fast-paced Vardaesia, where the final battles between Alex and Aven come to a head, and where we will finally see the fate of Medora, and by extension, the entire world beyond Medora. Who will win? Aven, or Alex?

With this book, we wrap up the battles and troubles of Medora, and the journey of Alex and her friends. There is a hint at more Medoran books, but what these will be, and when they come and are set, is yet to be seen.

What-Lies-Beneath-Us-Cover-sample-copy-197x300My second book for this week fits the themes of justice square. This one is by the debut author, Kirsty Ferguson, whose book I also had the privilege of copyediting, and then reviewing – an interesting venture, as I had to switch off my editor’s brain whilst reading and go into reader-reviewer mode – it’s not as easy a task as you might think! What Lies Beneath Us is a book filled with twists and turns, following the murder of a young baby, Jason James. Is it a natural death, or is there something more sinister going on in the family or in the neighbourhood? It is a complex narrative with an unsettling ending that has a feeling of finality, yet that there is more to come later on.

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Zebra and Other Short Stories by Debra Adelaide

Zebra.jpgTitle: Zebra and Other Short Stories

Author: Debra Adelaide

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Picador

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 326

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A body buried in a suburban backyard.

A suicide pact worthy of Chekhov.

A love affair born in a bookshop.

The last days of Bennelong.

And a very strange gift for a most unusual Prime Minister…

Tantalising, poignant, wry, and just a little fantastical, this subversive collection of short fiction – and one singular novella – from bestselling author Debra Adelaide reminds us what twists of fate may be lurking just beneath the surface of the everyday.

~*~

In this series of short stories, Debra Adelaide explores the spectrum of humanity and the human condition, from a dream about a murder, and the suburban lives it almost disrupts, to stories about love affairs that start in a bookshop, and suicide pacts, and an interesting story about the last days of Bennelong – a man who was captured and served the governor of New South Wales and travelled back to England, told from the perspective of Governor Phillips’ wife. Finally, the novella-length story Zebra is about an unnamed female Prime Minister in Australia who is gifted a zebra – and how this changes her and her life, and her relationships with those around her in government and her neighbours.

Each story encapsulates a different aspect of the human condition, and how we respond to the world and people around us, and how we handle ourselves. They are subversive, touching on the things we do not speak about, or the things about ourselves that we have to hide from the public, or the public persona versus the private persona and how we reconcile these. Or, the lengths humans go to in order to ensure their quirkier, fantastical aspects of their lives are kept private, and hopefully not released. This is what made me enjoy it – that each story was so different, and each perspective has been told from a unique perspective in first, second or third person. To make this connection, the book is divided into three parts – one, two and three – that represent which stories are told through which perspective. Doing this was brave, and unique – it is something I have never seen before and where some might think it takes away, I think it makes each story, each section and finally, the entire anthology more powerful because it shows the world through so many different perspectives, you always find yourself engrossed wholly in one story, and then pulled wholly into another.

If I had to choose a favourite story, it would have to be the novella, Zebra – about a female PM. What was striking about it, and indeed the rest of the anthology, was the tight, and varying imagery used throughout to convey what the characters were doing. Zebra was my favourite because I enjoyed the way the PM dealt with her neighbour, her staff members and everything in her life – too many to quote, I think. I liked that she was allowed to be human in her own world – we were allowed to see the vulnerabilities of politicians we never see in the media, such as when she was contemplating whether she should call Malcolm on a work pretence, but really, she just wanted to tell him how she felt.

Each character can represent people at different stages of life, or at various times and spaces in our lives – whether it is the culmination of many things, or a single instance where we cross paths with a like-minded person in a bookstore and start an affair. The subtlety in each story is excellent and enjoyable. It allows the reader to imagine some of what happened without completely explaining it, and this is the power of the stories in this anthology – that anyone can see themselves in these characters and situations. The subtlety also allows the reader to imagine how they might handle things, and what happens in the story.

Debra Adelaide has created a series of stories and a novella that are engulfing and subversive, that allow the depths of human nature to be explored and the reality, so to speak, is shown here in an unusual and intriguing way.

Short story collections are often hard to review, because they don’t always necessarily always link through a theme. In Zebra, the only discernible link is the subversiveness of the stories and characters, and the fantastical elements and quirkiness that feels uniquely Australian that connects these stories. I found this to be very effective, and it allows for the stories to be read in isolation, or as whole, seeing the progression of human nature and tearing ourselves away from our normal, everyday lives that might feel suffocating or claustrophobic. Debra Adelaide allows readers to feel like they were in that enclosed space with the characters until that final release of what constrains the characters, the narrators of the stories, and this release is like a weight lifting off the reader’s chest.

I quite enjoyed these stories and their uniqueness that showed another side of human life. Each story is tightly plotted and tells the whole story succinctly in a way that feels like a novel or epic story.

An excellent read if you enjoy short stories.

Booktopia

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

four dead queens.jpgTitle: Four Dead Queens

Author: Astrid Scholte

Genre: Fantasy/Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 432

Price: $19.99

Synopsis:A thrilling debut YA fantasy novel for fans of Red Queen and Three Dark Crowns.

Four Queens. A divided nation. A ruthless pickpocket. A noble messenger. And the murders that unite them.

Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington is one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves, but when she steals an unexpectedly valuable package from a messenger she is soon entangled in a conspiracy that leads to all four of Quadara’s queens being murdered.

With no other choices and on the run from her former employer, Keralie teams up with Varin Bollt, the Eonist messenger she stole from, and together they race to discover who has killed the queens. But when dark secrets threaten their reluctant partnership and put everything at stake, Keralie and Varin must use all their daring to stay alive and untangle the mysteries behind the nation’s four dead queens.

An enthralling fast-paced murder mystery where competing agendas collide with deadly consequences, Four Dead Queens heralds the arrival of an exciting new YA talent.

~*~

Keralie Corrington lives in Quadara, a land ruled by four queens – one from each quadrant – and no king. It has been this way for many years, and the citizens of each quadrant are used to being ruled by the queens: Ludia, ruled by Queen Stessa, is the fun quadrant, Eonia is the frozen quadrant, reliant on technology, ruled by Queen Corra. Queen Marguerite rules Toria, the isle of commerce, and Queen Iris rules Archia, where all Quadara’s produce is grown. When thief Keralie, is caught stealing something for Mackiel to sell at the auction house by Eonist messenger, Varin Bolt. This item holds something that will change the course of Quadara forever – the plot to kill all four queens – which comes to pass, as the title suggests. Keralie and Varin set out to stop the killer, or, if they can’t, catch them in the act.

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Using the alternating perspectives of Keralie in first person and each of the queens in third person, the story evolves at a decent pace, revealing secrets, twists and turns as it goes – from relationships between characters, to the history or Quadara, and every other aspect of the mystery surrounding the deaths of the four queens. In doing so, Astrid appears to weave a recent past together with Keralie’s present, and whether this is the case or not, I shall let readers discover for themselves. Either way, it is cleverly done, and clear – and it works well for this story and allows for a mysterious feeling about when in the timeline of the story we are, and a clever look at how each queen is murdered.

Four Dead Queens is Astrid Scholte’s debut novel, and it is a fine debut. It is complex and intriguing, and filled with mystery woven throughout the story, and on every page. Not only the mystery of who kills the queens and how, but the mystery and secrets that each character whose perspectives are present and all those who speak on the page, even if not the primary characters. It is filled with fantastical aspects as well as technology and touches of what could be science fiction, but primarily, this is a fantasy novel even though it crosses several genres.

It is a very female driven novel, which I really enjoyed. It was a powerful read because it showed female characters along a spectrum – in so many different ways that to list them all might be a bit spoilerish, and I want to avoid that but I absolutely loved the diversity of the characters and their personalities and who they were. On top of this, there were so many twists and turns that kept coming right up until the end, and constantly had me guessing at what was to come and questioning what I knew.

The mystery and the big reveals are cleverly plotted and revealed right when they need to be – like any good mystery or crime novel should do. Overall, I really liked this book and it works well as a stand-alone, where everything is concluded but also left a bit open-ended for readers to imagine what happens next.

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Blog Tour: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion

house of second chances.jpgTitle: Blog Tour: The House of Second Chances

Author: Esther Campion

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 12th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 392

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:  Can a house heal heartache? From coastal Australia to the rugged beauty of Ireland, an enchanting novel of starting over, in the tradition of Maeve Binchy and Monica McInerney

Their grandmother’s stone cottage was always a welcome retreat in the childhood summers of Ellen and Aidan O’SheaAfter a trip home from Australia, Ellen is keen to bring the neglected property back to its former glory and enlists the help of her dear friend and one of Ireland’s top interior designers, Colette Barry.

Aidan is already begrudging the work on the house he has avoided for nearly twenty years. The last thing the builder needs is an interior designer who seems to do nothing but complicate his life. With their own personal heartaches to overcome, will Aidan and Colette find the courage to give the house and themselves a second chance?

 

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~*~

The House of Second Chances is the sequel to Leaving Ocean Road – which I didn’t realise at first, even though I have read the first one. It did all fall into place after the first few chapters, when familiar characters and settings appeared on the page, and links back to the first book were made. This story flicks back and forth between Ireland, and coastal South Australia with the characters, as they are reunited with each other, and as Aidan and Ellen work to restore the cottage with the help of Ellen’s friend, Collette Barry.

Intertwined are the lives of various family and friends in Australia and Ireland, such as Louise, Ellen and Gerry’s daughter, and the young daughter of a friend of Aidan’s. When something tragic happens, forces on both continents will work together to solve a mystery.

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There are a few families at the centre of this novel. Ellen and Aidan O’Shea, Ellen and Gerry, and Ellen and Louise. Fern and her husband, who work for Aidan, and their family, Jane, the mother of a young girl and Aidan’s friend and many others whose lives all intertwine in the small towns in Ireland and Australia, which makes this a story more about families than romance for me, though there are romances that do happen, the majority of couples in this book are already together in relationships or marriages at the start of the novel. For me, I think this straddles the in between area of a romance-only based novel and one that allows other characters and relationships to be explored on the page. Relationships between parents and children, between siblings, between friends and between married couples, but that also touches on the darker sides of life -loss and death, and why people are who they are, revealed in flashbacks and chats throughout the novel. It is these stories floating around the central story about the house, Aidan, and Collette, that enhance the story and offer something for all readers and allows each individual reader to find a character that they can connect with.

Whilst not one I will read again, I still enjoyed it for what it was, and know that there will be an audience for this book and these characters. I did enjoy the Irish and Australian landscapes and the vibrant characters who were complex and vibrant, and always had more sides to them than it might first appear. As a sequel, it is well-written and brings us back to familiar – and new – characters, and the lives they have been leading since the first book.

A nice, light-hearted novel for those who enjoy these kinds of stories.

Booktopia

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AUTHOR LINKS

 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/esthercampionauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TammyRobinson76

Goodreads:https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16748682.Esther_Campion?from_search=true

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/esther_campion_/

 

Purchase Links from the publisher:

AU

https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-house-of-second-chances-esther-campion/prod9780733636172.html

 

Kobo

https://www.kobo.com/ww/en/ebook/the-house-of-second-chances

 

Apple Books

https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/the-house-of-second-chances/id1421691218?mt=11

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Esther_Campion_The_House_of_Second_Chances?id=BjhnDwAAQBAJ

Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

kensy and max 3.jpgTitle: Kensy and Max: Undercover

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Spies/Adventure

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 5th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: How do you keep your head in the game when someone wants you gone? When those dearest to you are far away and the future is so uncertain . . .

Kensy and Max are back in London for no time at all before things begin to heat up – quite literally. As a result, Granny Cordelia ships them off to Australia on an undercover mission. The twins find themselves planted in a posh Sydney school where first appearances prove to be deceiving.

What seems like a straightforward assignment turns into something so much bigger. Kensy and Max must employ all their spy skills – the fate of their parents, and who they’ve been searching for, depends on it.

~*~



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When Kensy and Max’s London home is destroyed, their grandmother, and the head of spy agency, Pharos, sends them off to Sydney on an undercover mission. Here, they must befriend Ellery and Donovan Chalmers, and find out what their parents are up to and why. To do so, they will attend the same school, where they also become friends with wannabe spy, Curtis, who is their neighbour, join the choir, and Max becomes a cricket whiz. But in the midst of their success at school, they are worried about their parents, and where they are. The people their parents are looking for are somehow connected to what Kensy and Max are looking into, and it will be up to the intrepid twins and Curtis to find out.

 

Since the first time I picked up a Kensy and Max book, I have loved them. They are perfect for anyone to read, and it is the kind of series that I wish I had had as a kid, because Kensy and Max are not typical kids, and not typical of what we expect a boy and a girl to be – they are unique and filled with faults, and this is why they are great characters. Because they are allowed to be who they are and make mistakes. Also, being able to travel the world so much is pretty cool, and training to be a spy is a childhood dream of many kids that is captured by Curtis in this novel, and his determination to solve the mysterious goings on around him – and maybe he will be one of the best assets Kensy and Max have ever had.

As Kensy, Max, Fitz and Song investigate the Chalmers, hints are dropped about Annabel and Edward through, and Annabel’s parents – will Kensy and Max finally be reunited with their parents, and find out what really happened to Annabel’s parents? It is this mystery that has driven the first three books, and I did cheer at the end of this book, and look forward to the next book and where we go with Kensy and Max. It is a fantastic series and I really hope Curtis shows up again – he’s awesome and I loved his friendship with Kensy – he’d fit right in at Pharos, I think.

At first, the twins think their mission is simple: find out what Tinsley Chalmers is up to. Yet things get more complicated, and the chapters that feature characters other than Kensy and Max cleverly reveal secrets slowly and lead up to a conclusion that I never saw coming. We soon learn who the twins need to look at more closely, though. The mystery and all its elements are written so well and work together to create a mystery that even our adorable twins have no idea they’re going to uncover. But when they do, will it be one they wish they had, or one that is best kept secret?

With twists, turns and secrets, this series is an excellent spy series – it’s spy kids, and I love it. I’m also enjoying learning about ciphers as I go, and ways spies communicate. It’s the kind of series kids and anyone rally, can read and enjoy thoroughly.

52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor

52 Mondays.jpgTitle: 52 Mondays

Author: Anna Ciddor

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A new historical novel from Anna Ciddor, in the same beautiful, classic storytelling tradition as The Family With Two Front Doors.

We’re going to look everywhere,’ said Anna. 

And they did.

When Anna sets out to find the doll of her dreams, her two younger sisters are eager to help. But it’s not easy. This is 1960s Australia and there’s no computer or internet yet. This is a time when teachers still write with chalk, cars have no seatbelts, and Mr Whippy sells ice-cream cones for half a penny.

Anna and her sisters fill their days with fun, mischief and adventure – like the time Anna glues a block of wood to her middle sister’s foot, then worries it will be stuck there forever! They celebrate birthdays and Passover together, cope with friends being mean, and feed peanuts to the bears at the zoo.

But through it all, Anna never loses sight of her dream.

Inspired by the author’s real childhood, this is a warm, funny and fascinating family story from the author of The Family with Two Front Doors.

~*~

Anna loves dolls, but she longs for a special doll, an antique doll that stands out from her others after reading a book called Hitty, about a doll unlike any of the ones she has in her own collection. But Anna’s life is also filled with school, friends and family traditions brought over from Europe. Anna’s family is Jewish, and traditions are important to them, though Anna and her cousins and siblings don’t always understand. It is woven through easily, as Anna continues her search for the perfect doll. Set in the 1960s, during a time of no Internet and no computer, and cheap ice creams. It is a time when seatbelts don’t exist, and teachers still write in chalk.

It is a simpler world, at least for Anna, as we see everything through her eyes. The world of a child, who doesn’t see that ice cream will melt, who doesn’t always understand how important family traditions are, but still knows to respect them, and who also has the desires of a young girl of her time and keeps wishing it will happen. Threaded throughout, is Anna’s quest for a doll as she visits the auction house week after week with her mother and sisters, looking for the perfect doll.

Based on author Anna Ciddor’s own life, 52 Mondays looks at a post-war Australia through the eyes of the child and takes away the complexities of adult life. It is a charming story about childhood, and the desires and mistakes made in childhood, such as putting an ice cream in your bag, not knowing it would melt, and finding that one thing that you want more than anything in the world.

2019 BadgeThis was a very enjoyable book, and even though the story seemed simple and straightforward, there were aspects of it that hinted at more happening behind the scenes of Anna’s life. I liked the realism of Anna’s life: school, family, friends and illness as she searched and searched for her doll. Throughout the book, her goal is to get the doll, but there are always things in her day to day life that take her away from her search, and instances where she doesn’t think about the doll at all, or so it seems. It allows the children to be children, and shows a 1960s Melbourne through the eyes of a child, in a way that this generation may not have experienced before and shows them a world they may only have heard about from older family members.

In the few instances where the family’s Jewish heritage is touched on, I heard the echoes of the 1930s and 1940s, though it wasn’t clear when Anna’s family started living in Australia, the shadows of those decades felt like they were there in some way. It doesn’t directly reference this, but it is possible that the family made their way to Australia before things got bad. As this is seen through Anna’s eyes, we’re not privy to the family history, though now i want to go back and read Anna’s other book, The Family with Two Front Doors to see how the family ended up in Australia.

It is a period of history not often touched on, perhaps because even though it was a time of change – in the 1960s, Australia changed from imperial to metric, and pounds to decimal currency, and there were many other social changes, and in the later 1960s, the Vietnam War. Often, it is the key instances in history that are touched on: the wars, the Depression, and other key moments in Australian history such as the Anzacs. So it was nice to read about a quieter period of time seen through the eyes of a child and her family, and what the world is like to them.  It shows a post-war Australia, a relaxed sort of story, where there are no threats mentioned. It is the story of a childhood and the things that Anna enjoyed and the mischief she got up to with her sisters.