The Artist’s Portrait by Julie Keys

Artists Portrait.jpgTitle: The Artist’s Portrait

Author: Julie Keys

Genre: Mystery/Literary/Historical

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th March 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 290

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A story about art, murder, and making your place in history.

Whatever it was that drew me to Muriel, it wasn’t her charm.

In 1992, morning sickness drives Jane to pre-dawn walks of her neighbourhood where she meets an unfriendly woman who sprays her with a hose as she passes by. When they do talk: Muriel Kemp eyes my pregnant belly and tells me if I really want to succeed, I’d get rid of the baby. 

Driven to find out more about her curmudgeonly neighbour, Jane Cooper begins to investigate the life of Muriel, who claims to be a famous artist from Sydney’s bohemian 1920s. Contemporary critics argue that legend, rather than ability, has secured her position in history. They also claim that the real Muriel Kemp died in 1936.

Murderer, narcissist, sexual deviant or artistic genius and a woman before her time: Who really is Muriel Kemp?

~*~

The Artist’s Portrait moves between the early nineties and the first three decades of the twentieth century, up until 1936 – when a woman named Muriel Kemp is said to have died. Yet in 1992, Jane, on an early morning walk as she tries to combat morning sickness, encounters the long-presumed Muriel Kemp, whose abrasiveness somehow draws Jane in, and from there, an unlikely companionship forms – where Muriel constantly criticises Jane, as Jane begins to write Muriel’s biography as Muriel would like it to be written – on her own terms, in her words and only including what Muriel herself wishes to be in it.

The novel weaves between 1992-1993 in Jane’s perspective, and the first decades of the twentieth century in Muriel’s perspective – both told in first person. At first, this was a little confusing, but it became clear that the change in voice often coincided with the year or decade that was at the top of the chapter, thus making it easier to follow with both voices in first person.

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The mystery at the heart of this book is the true identity of Muriel Kemp, and whether or not she actually died in 1936. The trick for Jane in 1992-3 is getting those who rely on the official record to believe her. Mixed in with this is a story of the world of art and the ways in which gender could impact the role someone had in that world, and the breaking free of conventions to forge your own way in the world.

Where art critics and historians tell Jane that Muriel Kemp’s legend has secured her notoriety more than her artistic talent and her triptych paintings, and the mystery of the post-1936 paintings are relegated by the official archives as fakes, rumour – anything but the real thing, and even credited to a different Muriel. So, at the heart of the novel is a search for identity and the how a myth is created around a person, and the lengths people will go to deny anything that contradicts what they know.

Not everything I felt was revealed in this novel – some things are definitely left to the imagination, particularly when it comes to Muriel, and others are revealed slowly, likely peeling back the layers of an onion. It is a very layered novel, and one I found intriguing, and think is worth the read for those who like a mystery where not everything feels wholly resolved and bits left to the imagination of the reader.

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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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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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Pre-release review: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson

What-Lies-Beneath-Us-Cover-sample-copy-197x300.jpgTitle: What Lies Beneath Us

Author: Kirsty Ferguson

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Elephant Tree Publishing

Published: 22nd February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 286

Price: $20.00

Synopsis: Jessica James had the perfect life. She had a good job, supportive friends, and her husband Geoff and her son Jack both adored her. Everything changed the moment she found out she was having another child.

Now she’s a stay-at-home mum, they have barely enough money coming in, Jack is a troubled ten-year-old and she feels there’s an insurmountable divide between her and her husband. Worse still, her feelings towards her youngest son are just wrong. Does her recent diagnosis of post-partum depression explain those feelings or is something more sinister going on?

The unthinkable occurs when baby Jason is found dead in his cot. At the time of his death, Geoff is away on a camping trip. Now Jessica finds herself accused of murder and is vilified by all those who once claimed to love her. As the evidence mounts against her, Jessica must come to terms with the fact that she may well have had something to do with her baby’s death.

When a second tragedy rocks the James family, Jessica’s world quickly unravels, and she spirals into darkness. Meanwhile, Victorian Detectives Hunter and Cooper investigate the infant’s homicide, but are quickly left with more questions than answers.

By the time they get to the bottom of this mystery, will there be anyone left of the James family to save?

~*~

This is one of the books I copy-edited for Elephant Tree Publishing, and it was a real pleasure to see how my editing has helped the story and been considered. When I started reading this, I had to switch off my editor’s brain, and switch on my reading and reviewing brain, and focus on the story itself rather than the technicalities that mould it into what is a thrilling and compelling mystery.

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The author contacted me after I edited it, to ask me to review it as well, and the publisher sent me an ARC copy – the copies that are the final stage prior to publishing, where final touches are put on it, and gave me permission to post this review prior to review date for the paperback to generate a buzz for it.

What Lies Beneath Us is a tightly plotted mystery, revolving around a family touched by tragedy in a most unspeakable way. First, her youngest son, Jason is found dead in his cot. This incident begins a mystery that feels like it won’t ever be solved, and the hints dropped in the chapters that lead up to the crucial events and climax of the novel are subversive and cleverly written to make the reader think twice about what has really happened, and question what they know about Jessica and her family.

The detectives – Hunter and Cooper – fulfil the investigative roles wonderfully, and I liked the divide between the two of them in terms of Jessica’s guilt. Hunter is convinced there is more to the situation than what they, Jessica’s family and friends, and everyone else who knows about the case can see. He’s the character convinced these cases aren’t always straightforward and that there are shades of grey in some areas. In comparison, his partner, Cooper, is very black and white, and convinced that nobody else could be involved – until some of the things Jessica says, and some things he hears don’t quite fit with his preconceptions. It is these aspects that make the novel engrossing and intriguing, and lead to events and a conclusion that I never saw coming.

What Lies Beneath Us is the kind of novel that makes us question what we know and who we know, and what people are capable of. It shows that we are all human and infallible. It shows that what we see on the surface isn’t necessarily what is happening underneath – that assumptions will be made on the visible, and the invisible will be ignored. It is the unseen that Hunter makes more of an effort to understand, and this is what makes him a really good character. It is also what makes the novel powerful – recognising that the visible isn’t a person’s entire character – that it is what lies beneath us that contributes to who we are in many different ways.

I hope to read more from Kirsty soon, and hopefully there will be more to this story as well.

Enola Holmes Mysteries: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer

enola holmes 4Title: Enola Holmes Mysteries: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Historical Fiction/YA

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 185

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Enola Holmes might be the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to outsmart him at every turn, solving thrilling mysteries in her very own way…

Enola is thrown into a tailspin when she receives a desperate message from her old friend, Lady Cecily. Enola knows she must help her friend before it’s too late – but she doesn’t know how! This complicated case has Enola hunting down clues all over London until she finally discovers the awful truth: Lady Cecily is being held prisoner! Enola must risk her own freedom and join forces with her brother, the famed Sherlock Holmes, to free Cecily. Can Enola trust her brother, and can they save Cecily in time?

~*~

Four cases in, and Enola Holmes just gets better and better. Here, she is determined to help a young woman – Lady Cecily – from a forced marriage that her family has not agreed to. But Enola’s brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, are still after her, and Enola must weigh up the risks of revealing herself to enlist Sherlock’s help. At this point, Sherlock has been trying to communicate with Enola, using the code she used with her mother, and he seems to be quite impressed with her – happily, much to Mycroft’s chagrin. The fourth novel in the series sees Sherlock steering further from Mycroft’s goals, and shrugging off his concerns about their sister as she forges her own path and proves she is just as clever and resourceful as Sherlock. Mycroft’s slow loss of control is evident, as Enola and Sherlock have a laugh at his expense – and I hope a bond will form between the two, where they continue to thwart Mycroft at every chance they get.

I started this series, because I liked the idea of a reimagination of a classic, set in the same time period that would lead readers into the originals. When done right, retellings of fairy tales and classics are enjoyable, especially when the execution makes sense with what has come before, or the shadows and ghosts of the original are evident, whilst allowing the new characters to fulfil their purposes. The Enola Holmes Mysteries fulfils these both wonderfully, whilst still allowing Sherlock, Mycroft and Dr Watson to exist in Enola’s world. They have to – they link this to the originals, and give a fresh voice, as the originals are told only from Watson’s perspective, and only the world and cases occupied by Sherlock and John – not many in their peripheral worlds.

Together, and apart, Enola and Sherlock, in this story, are an amazing pair of investigators. They are much more alike than they have thought up until now, and it seems from this novel that Enola may have an ally in Sherlock, but perhaps they will also be in competition with each other – something I feel Sherlock – both in this incarnation and in the originals – would and will find amusing as time goes by. It would be very fun to see if they eventually do join forces and do all they can to flout and drive Mycroft spare – as siblings do – and perhaps finally prove to Mycroft that he shouldn’t be underestimating his sister – she is a great character, and shows a whole new side to the Sherlock Holmes canon.

Challenge Check-in: January 2019 

In an effort to keep on top of my check in posts this year, I’m hoping to do monthly wrap ups, and break downs every fifteen books where possible. These Challenge check-ins will allow me to track my progress and determine how many books I read each month to make my end of year posts easier to write.

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#AWW2019 – Australian Women Writers: six books so far

  1. All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – Reviewed
  2. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – Reviewed
  3. Vardaesia by Lynette Noni – Reviewed
  4. Saving You by Charlotte Nash – Reviewed
  5. Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nikki Greenberg – Reviewed
  6. 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne – Reviewed

General challenge: Fourteen books completed.

  1. All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill
  2. Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes
  3. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
  4. Bella Donna: Too Many Spells by Ruth Symes
  5. Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon by Tracey West
  6. Vardaesia by Lynette Noni
  7. Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills
  8. Saving You by Charlotte Nash
  9. Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg
  10. Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams
  11. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
  12. 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
  13. Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer
  14. Enola Holmes: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan (Enola Holmes #4) by Nancy Springer

#Dymocks52Challenge

#Dymocks52Challenge: Fourteen books read so far.

  1. All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill
  2. Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes
  3. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
  4. Bella Donna: Too Many Spells by Ruth Symes
  5. Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon by Tracey West
  6. Vardaesia by Lynette Noni
  7. Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills
  8. Saving You by Charlotte Nash
  9. Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch by Nicki Greenberg
  10. Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams
  11. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
  12. 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
  13. Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer
  14. Enola Holmes: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan (Enola Holmes #4) by Nancy Springer

 

PopSugar Challenge: Nine categories ticked off so far.

 

A book written by a musician (fiction or nonfiction): Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

A book with a plant in the title or on the cover: Bella Donna: Coven Road by Ruth Symes

A book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover: 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne

A retelling of a classic: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) by Nancy Springer

A book about someone with a superpower: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power by Ryan North

A book with SALTY, SWEET, BITTER, or SPICY in the title: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

A book that’s published in 2019: Vardaesia by Lynette Noni

A book featuring an extinct or imaginary creature: Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon by Tracey West

A book featuring an amateur detective: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

A book with a two-word title: Saving You by Charlotte Nash

Book Bingo: Seven read, and four squares ticked off.

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Beloved Classic: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner – AWW2018

Memoir about a non-famous person: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Crime: All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – AWW2019

Comedy: Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

 

January Round Up

Book Author Challenge
All the Tears in China Sulari Gentill #AWW2019, Book Bingo, overall, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge
Bella Donna: Coven Road Ruth Symes PopSugar, general, #Dymocks52Challenge
Seven Little Australians Ethel Turner #AWW2019, Book Bingo, general
Bella Donna: Too Many Spells Ruth Symes general, #Dymocks52Challenge,
Dragon Masters: Treasure of the Gold Dragon Tracey West general, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge
Vardaesia Lynette Noni #AWW2019, general, #Dymocks52Challenge, book bingo, PopSugar
Best Foot Forward Adam Hills Book Bingo, general, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge
Saving You Charlotte Nash #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge, general, Book Bingo, PopSugar
Zelda Stitch Term Two: Too Much Witch Nikki Greenberg general, Book Bingo, #Dymocks52Challenge, #AWW2019,
Australia’s Sweetheart Michael Adams General, Book Bingo, #Dymocks52Challenge, PopSugar
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Volume One: Squirrel Power Ryan North General, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge
99 Percent Mine Sally Thorne General, PopSugar, #AWW2019, #Dymocks52Challenge
Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3) Nancy Springer General, PopSugar, #Dymocks52Challenge,
Enola Holmes: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan (Enola Holmes #4) Nancy Springer General, #Dymocks52Challenge