March 2020 Round Up

March was a strange month – it started out as normal as could be, though we knew about the coronavirus, and then a few weeks into March, everything changed, and by the end of it, they had changed again with strict social distancing rules. Despite this, I got a lot of reading done. My stats are:

20 books read overall
11 read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge
8 for the Nerd Daily Challenge
1 for the Dymocks Reading Challenge
1 for the STFU Reading Challenge
1 for Book Bingo
1 for Books and Bites Bingo

Overall stats so far:

The Modern Mrs Darcy 9/12
AWW2020 -26/25
Book Bingo – 10/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 40/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 12/25
STFU Reading Society 5/12
Books and Bites Bingo 11/25
General Goal – 51/165

Most of these books have been reviewed on my blog.

 

March – 20

Book Author Challenge
Esme’s Gift Elizabeth Foster AWW2020, Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Dymocks Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Girl Detective R.A. Spratt AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Last Firehawk: The Cloud Kingdom

 

Katrina Charman The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Christmas in Paris (Miss Lily 3.5)

 

Jackie French Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow Natasha Pulley The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Paris Secret Natasha Lester The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, AWW2020
Museum Kittens: The Midnight Visitor Holly Webb The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
Firewatcher Chronicles: Phoenix Kelly Gardiner Reading Challenge, AWW2020, STFU Reading Challenge
The Lost Jewels Kirsty Manning The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Girl She Was Rebecca Freeborn Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Bingo
Ninjago: Back in Action Tracey West Reading Challenge,
Layla and the Bots: Happy Paws Vicky Fang Reading Challenge
Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion R.A. Spratt Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daring Delly: Going for Gold

 

Matthew Dellavedova and Zanni Louise Reading Challenge,
Aussie Kids: Meet Katie at the Beach 

 

Rebecca Johnson and Lucia Masciullo Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Aussie Kids: Meet Eve in the Outback 

 

Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair  Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Besties Make A Splash Felice Arena and Tom Jellett Reading Challenge
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them JK Rowling/Newt Scamander Reading Challenge
Liberation 

 

Imogen Kealey The Nerd Daily, Reading Challenge
The Year the Maps Changed

 

 Danielle Binks Reading Challenge, AWW2020

 

Onto April and hopefully lots of reading during these trying times.

A Testament of Character (Rowland Sinclair #10) by Sulari Gentill

ATOC_3DTitle: A Testament of Character (Rowland Sinclair #10)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In fear for his life, American millionaire Daniel Cartwright changes his will, appointing his old friend Rowland Sinclair as his executor.

Soon murder proves that fear well founded.

When Rowland receives word of Cartwright’s death, he sets out immediately for Boston, Massachusetts, to bury his friend and honour his last wishes. He is met with the outrage and anguish of Cartwright’s family, who have been spurned in favour of a man they claim does not exist.

Artists and gangsters, movie stars and tycoons all gather to the fray as elite society closes in to protect its own, and family secrets haunt the living. Rowland Sinclair must confront a world in which insanity is relative, greed is understood, and love is dictated; where the only people he can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a passionate sculptress.

~*~

Rowland Sinclair is back with his companions – Milt, the Jewish, Communist poet, Clyde Watson Jones, the painter, and Edna Higgins, the beautiful sculptress who adores the three men she travels with. At this point, Rowly and his friends have been travelling for several months outside the British Empire – in China and America so far, and has previously spent time in Germany – about a year before this story. Along the way, Rowly has met many historical characters and seen what the encroaching Fascist forces are doing in Europe. The rise of the Nazis is bubbling near the surface of this book, even though Nazi Germany feels far away, there is no doubt that the ongoing political tensions impact how this story occurs.

Rowland is on his way back to Australia – summoned home by brother Wilfred, when he finds himself in America and discovers an old friend, Daniel Cartwright has been murdered, and Rowly is the executor of Daniel’s will. Instead of Nazis or ruthless political parties, Rowly and his friends find themselves confronted by Irish and Italian gangs in Boston and New York, and they encounter the 1930s racism when they head into the Carolinas in pursuit of someone known as Otis Norcross.

AWW2020As with the previous nine books, historical and cultural figures of the time such as F. Scott Fitzgerald are woven into the narrative, and the Australians are met with various ideas in America that are foreign and bewildering to them – such as the detective who seems to confuse Australia and Austria which gave me a little chuckle. Rowly is as ever a gentleman – ready to defend his friends and help those in need even at great risk to his own life. America seems safer in some ways after Germany and China, yet as always, there are people who wish harm upon Rowly and his companions and will do whatever they can to gain the upper hand, even though at the end of the day, Rowly will overcome these threats.

This book is a turning point in several ways – and it is mainly in the second half that most of the shocks come out – but in this way, they work very well with the storyline and show, as the other nine books have done, what kind of people Rowly, Ed, Milt and Clyde are – and what they are willing to sacrifice to help people who need their help. Their actions and words link back delightfully to the title, A Testament of Character, and prove what kind of people they are. There are many other ways the title makes sense – but I will let you read that to find out what it is!

Overall, I think it fits nicely in the series, and Sulari has delivered a spectacular story again. High stakes in many ways, but also, at times, sedate enough to allow the heroes to breathe. Yet it does not meander, and nor does it shy away from the realities of the 1930s and impending war. As readers in 2020, we know what is coming. Hitler gaining further power in Germany. More anti-Jewish Laws. The abdication of Edward the VIII, which led to the current Royal Line we have today. Kristallnacht, World War Two and The Final Solution. All are to come, and with that knowledge, it makes me wonder what Rowly will do in the coming books and years – how he will cope with it, what he will do, and what the growing political unrest will do to his family and friends. This is a part of history that seems to be repeating itself today – and books like this are a stark and much needed reminder not to turn away, and Sulari is doing this exceptionally well, and her research gives such great authenticity to the period, and I love the inclusion of the newpaper articles of the times.

Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club by Julian Leatherdale

ladies goddess clubTitle: Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club

Author: Julian Leatherdale

Genre: Historical Fiction/Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Murder and blackmail, family drama and love, all set within the shady underbelly of 1930s Kings Cross and its glamorous fringe.

‘Crime’s not a woman’s business, Joanie. It’s not some bloody game.’

In the murky world of Kings Cross in 1932, aspiring crime writer Joan Linderman and her friend and flatmate Bernice Becker live the wild bohemian life, a carnival of parties and fancy-dress artists’ balls.

One Saturday night, Joan is thrown headfirst into a real crime when she finds Ellie, her neighbour, murdered. To prove her worth as a crime writer and bring Ellie’s killer to justice, Joan secretly investigates the case in the footsteps of Sergeant Lillian Armfield.

But as Joan digs deeper, her list of suspects grows from the luxury apartment blocks of Sydney’s rich to the brothels and nightclubs of the Cross’s underclass.

Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club is a riveting noir crime thriller with more surprises than even novelist Joan bargained for: blackmail, kidnapping, drug-peddling, a pagan sex cult, undercover cops, and a shocking confession.

From the shadows of bohemian and underworld Kings Cross, who will emerge to tell the real story?

~*~

In 1932, bohemian life collides with the Great Depression, and Joan, an aspiring writer, and her friend, Bernice are at the heart of it in a boarding house in King’s Cross. Amidst all the balls and parties, there is a dark underbelly of crime linked to underworld razor gangs, and Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh. Whilst all this is bubbling along, Joan’s neighbour, Ellie is murdered, and one of Sydney’s only female police officers, Special Sergeant Lillian Armfield, is called in to help with the investigation. As the case moves along, Joan’s determination to solve the case herself leads her into danger, and into the path of Hugh, a man who associates with the Communists and has his own secrets. As Joan continues to investigate despite being warned away by the police and other threats, she will uncover several shocks and secrets that she never thought possible.

It seems that mysteries set in the 1930s have been a common appearance on my blog these past couple of weeks, and a staple of these mysteries now and over the years has been the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – which each book has dealt with uniquely and from different perspectives, and it’s interesting to imagine that even though the fictional characters inhabit different series, that just maybe in the fictional world, they were all present at the opening usurped by de Groot, but were unaware of each other’s presence. Whilst this is just a small scene in this novel, not only is it a significant turning point in the plot, but it also positions the  novel in a specific time and place, and allows the reader to gain some historical insight and context beyond the Great Depression and the razor gangs, all of which intersect to create a political and social backdrop to the murder that is being investigated.

It is a complex mystery, where each strand is slowly revealed and at times, might seem unrelated but when they come together, bring to life a remarkable and thrilling mystery. There are things hinted at that are cleverly revealed at the end, but at the same time, that when it is revealed, feels like everything was pointing to it much earlier, but had legitimate explanations. In doing so, Leatherdale has created spectacularly misleading characters who not only does Joan find believable in what we are told, but the reader does as well.

It is a very well-thought out mystery, and I felt delivered the right information at the right time. Historical information and bits of context are continuously peppered throughout, yet it is also not overdone. In fact, I do not think anything is overdone, as there is nothing unnecessarily described or used, and I loved the way Joan’s story was peppered throughout and the way the real case she was caught up in started to appear within the novel she was writing. The combination of the mystery and Joan’s aspirations were integrated well, as was the uncertainty of stability in employment and housing during the 1930s.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, and think readers of historical fiction and mystery will enjoy it. Including real life historical figures creates an authenticity that allows a great immersion in the world of the book and sparks an interest in this history beyond what is often taught at school.

February 2020 Round Up

In February this year I read seventeen books – several for pleasure, some for quiz writing purposes and the rest for review purposes – most coming out in March or in the next few months.

My current total stats for my reading challenges are:

The Modern Mrs Darcy 9/12

AWW2020 -15/25

Book Bingo – 9/12

The Nerd Daily Challenge 35/52

Dymocks Reading Challenge 11/25

STFU Reading Society 4/12

Books and Bites Bingo 10/25

General Goal – 31/165

For the Book Bingo Challenges, I am aiming for one book per square, and have several posts scheduled for each one – the monthly book bingo challenge is scheduled until at least September, with three categories to go. Some challenges have multiple books in a category, which is why they might have higher numbers, and some I am still trying to find or track down the right books for some categories. As always, I have linked the reviews here to make compiling my end of year posts a bit easier.

February – 17

 

Book Author Challenge
The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett The Nerd Daily Challenge, Reading Challenge,

Books and Bites Bingo, Dymocks Reading Challenge

 

The Good Turn Dervla McTiernan Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge,

 

Dragon Masters: Future of the Time Dragon

 

Tracey West Reading Challenge,
The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s First Serial Murderer

 

Tanya Bretherton Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Dolphin Island: A Daring Rescue Catherine Hapka Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge
The River Home Hannah Richell Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, AWW2020
The Vanishing Deep Astrid Scholte The Nerd Daily Challenge, Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge,

 

Radio National Fictions (various short stories) Various Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
Withering-by-Sea (A Stella Montgomery Intrigue)  Judith Rossell Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge,
Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club Julian Leatherdale Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge,
Hapless Hero Henrie (House of Heroes) Petra James Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, AWW2020
The Story Puppy Holly Webb Reading Challenge
Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy Rick Riordan Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Books and Bites Bingo
The Bell in the Lake Lars Mytting Reading Challenge, Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge
The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour Ally Carter Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
The Republic of Birds Jessica Miller Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, AWW2020
Captain Marvel Hero Storybook Steve Behling Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily

 

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 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.

Ten Years of Rowland Sinclair

Ten years ago, a small publisher, Pantera Press, and as yet unknown author, Sulari Gentill, came together with the publication of the first in a mystery series set in the 1930s, The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries, about a gentleman artist from a wealthy family who always seems to find himself embroiled in the investigation of crimes and other political games, caught between two extremes during the Great Depression, and leading into what will become World War Two. The adventures of this dapper detective began in 2010 with A Few Right Thinking Men and this year, the tenth outing, A Testament of Character is published on the third of March. Happy tenth birthday, Rowly, and welcome to double figures! And may we present to you this diamond encrusted tie pin, and this aluminium paint brush holder to protect your paintbrushes on lengthy journeys.

Congratulations Sulari and Rowly on ten books, here’s to many more in the series over the coming years.

To celebrate this anniversary, this post will combine all my reviews and posts so far about the Rowly books, and I will add in my review for book ten when it is released. Rowly has also featured in several monthly and yearly roundups, and challenge roundups, but I have captured the most important posts about Rowly here.

Book Reviews:

A Few Right Thinking Men
A Decline in Prophets
Miles Off Course
Paving the New Road
Gentlemen Formerly Dressed
A Murder Unmentioned
Give the Devil His Due
A Dangerous Language
All the Tears in China
A Testament of Character

Five Years of Rowland Sinclair

January 2020 Round-Up

Best Books of 2010-2019 (entry as a series)

The first nine can be purchased individually from the publisher or all good booksellers. Alternatively, all nine are offered in this pack from the publisher:

The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries
Sulari Gentill
The Rowland Sinclair Mystery Series
Book 1: A Few Right Thinking Men
Book 2: A Decline in Prophets
Book 3: Miles Off Course
Book 4: Paving the New Road
Book 5: Gentlemen Formerly Dressed
Book 6: A Murder Unmentioned
Book 7: Give the Devil his Due
Book 8: A Dangerous Language
Book 9: All the Tears in China
The Award-Winning Rowland Sinclair Mystery Series by Sulari Gentill is a charming historical crime series, set in the 1930s in Australia and overseas. Each novel can be read as a stand-alone story, or as part of the series.
Rowland, the youngest of the respectable and influential Sinclair family, has a talent for scandal. His family consider him the black sheep, because he is an artist and associates with the ‘riff raff’ of society – Milton, Clyde and of course Edna, the beautiful bohemian sculptress (and his love interest).
These four companions continue to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time – playing amateur detectives while stumbling across murder and mayhem, all set to the glamourous and darkening backdrop of the 1930s.