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.

Books and Bites Book Bingo: A Book with a door on the cover: The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter

books and bites game card

For my eleventh square, I chose a book with a door on the cover. This was always going to be a challenge, and the book I chose for a book published over 100 years ago – The Secret Garden – would also have been good for this square. However, I realised I had to use – or wanted to use – a different book for each square as much as possible.

I interpreted a door as a gate as well, and that’s why I chose The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter. There is a gate in the foreground of the cover, with the house and its door in the background behind the kids.

Winterborne 1

I reviewed this for Hachette on the 3rd of March, and thought it was a great introduction to a new series – with a slow build towards the climatic conclusion that inevitably leads into a second book – with several threads that were worked through the book left seeking more answers beyond what April finds out in the book.  As readers, we only know what April knows, and this draws us further into the mystery, and the lives of the orphans and their world, and what is to come. I cannot wait to find out what happens next.

 

Friday Barnes: Girl Detective by R.A. Spratt

girl-detectiveTitle: Friday Barnes: Girl Detective

Author: R.A. Spratt

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 1st July 2014/7th May 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $15.99Synopsis: Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an eleven-year-old girl!
The eagerly awaited new series from the author of the bestselling Nanny Piggins series.
When girl detective Friday Barnes solves a bank robbery she uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country, Highcrest Academy.

On arrival, Friday is shocked to discover the respectable school is actually a hotbed of crime. She’s soon investigating everything from disappearing homework to the Yeti running around the school swamp. That’s when she’s not dealing with her own problem – Ian Wainscott, the handsomest boy in school, who inexplicably hates Friday and loves nasty pranks.

Can Friday solve Highcrest Academy’s many strange mysteries, including the biggest mystery of all – what’s the point of high school?

~*~

 

Girl detectives and boarding school novels seem to be very popular these days. Most boarding school novels have a bit of a mystery within, but it is not often that boarding schools are combined with a detective character as they are in Friday Barnes: Girl Detective. Friday is the fifth child of Dr Barnes and Dr Barnes – two scientists who had had everything in their lives planned precisely until Friday came along. Left to her own devices for much of her life, Friday is a keen observer, lover of literature and great at science and many other subjects and doesn’t seem to worry that others don’t pay attention to her. She is a far cry from some other characters aimed at girls – a good thing, as we are able to see a shy, awkward girl be who she is unapologetically  herself – and does not allow anyone to question her, so when she manages to solve a crime, she sends herself to boarding school with the reward money – to Highcrest Academy.

Once there, Friday stumbles upon many mysteries, that eventually lead her to a big discovery, and several run ins with the Headmaster and other teachers. At the same time. She gains two friends – Melanie Pelly and Melanie’s brother Binky. As the start of a series, where each character is established, I enjoyed the way R.A. Spratt pulled this off, making each character unique, yet at the same time, as recognisable figures in the lives of readers at school and work.

AWW2020

Friday is the kind of character we need to see – she’s not perfect, and she doesn’t fit into any gender stereotypes. She’s not strong nor is she sporty. She’s just who she is – and that’s why I loved her. In many ways, she is who I probably was as a kid, and in some ways, that’s still who I am. She lets little girls – and boys – enjoy things that others might see as nerdy or not cool and she makes them cool. She lets girls be interested in whatever they want – but has a nice focus on detective work, academics and not following trends.

I also thought that setting this in an Australian boarding school was a nice touch, and we seem to be getting a few books like that in the past few years. Previously, most boarding school books have been set in the UK – Harry Potter, St Clare’s – things like that. But these days with Alice-Miranda, Friday Barnes and Ella at Eden, which I also reviewed on this blog a few weeks ago, Australian kids and their experiences can be seen and with each of these series, a different aspect of what they experience at the boarding school is explored. It will be interesting to see what else Friday gets up to at school or out of school, and to see how many more of her fellow students she has to investigate throughout the series.

I’ve got the second book ready to go, and then need to read the rest of the series, as each one looks like it ends on a to be continued cliffhanger which is both exciting and frustrating as I find each book and sometimes have to wait to do so. This is the mark of a good series – the reader wanting to come back for more, a fun and relatable character, and humour. Friday Barnes is a character and series that I hope many will love and enjoy reading, and I am definitely going to continue reading the series.

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.

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter’

Winterborne 1Title: Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour

Author: Ally Carter

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Lothian/Hachette Australia

Published: 3rd March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 340

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: New York Times bestselling author Ally Carter’s middle grade debut is full of mystery, mayhem, and friendship, and will keep you guessing right until the very end.

When 11-year-old April joins a group of kids living at Winterborne Home she doesn’t expect to be there for very long. But she soon learns that this home isn’t like any of the others – especially when she unearths the secret of the missing-and-presumed-dead billionaire, Gabriel Winterborne, who is neither missing nor dead but is actually living in a basement lair, sharpening his swords and looking for vengeance.

Now that April knows Gabriel Winterborne is alive, she must turn to the other orphans to keep him that way. As a looming new danger threatens to take Gabriel down once and for all, they must use their individual talents to find a way to make sure this home for misfits isn’t lost to them for ever.

Because at the Winterborne Home, nothing is what it seems, no one is who they say they are and nowhere is safe. And now a ragtag group of orphans must unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a supposed phantom and a secret key, all without alerting the adults of Winterborne House that trouble is afoot.

The first book in a captivating new series from the bestselling author of Gallagher Girls.

 

~*~

April has lived her life as an orphan in a foster system that never works out. She’s on a school excursion to a museum and is examining an exhibition of Winterborne jewels when a fire breaks out, and she wakes up in hospital. Ms Nelson is there – and takes April, along with Tim and Violet, to a place called Winterborne House, under the care of the Winterborne Foundation.

 

Once here, April and her new friends – Tim, Violet, Colin and Sadie – start to discover that there is more to Winterborne House than they are being told, and uncover the secret of the missing billionaire, Gabriel Winterborne. The excitement begins when something – or someone – sinister starts threatening the house and in doing so, threatens to take away the one home these ragtag orphans feel is really home.

 

As the threat grows, the pace picks up, especially in the later third of the book, when the group of orphans set out to recover something stolen and save Gabriel Winterborne from the person threatening him. As the mystery unfolds, April beings exploring the Winterborne House after things go missing – chasing a ghost, so she thinks, until she stumbles across Gabriel Winterborne. But Gabriel doesn’t want to be found – if people think he’s dead, then he can go on with his quiet life, and not worry about the house or the Winterborne Foundation.

 

Using the common mystery and orphan tropes, Ally Carter creates a world where adults are present, and keep the children safe, whilst at the same time, Smithers and Ms Nelson are distanced enough that April and her friends can carry on their investigations – until the adults are needed. It has echoes of the Famous Five in some parts – with the old mysterious house with its secrets, and the mystery of a family. This is coupled with hints of Annie and Anne of Green Gables with the plucky orphans determined to uncover a mystery and save the best home they’ve ever known, and for Sadie and Colin – the only home they’ve ever known.

 

This book took tropes and themes from other books and retold them for a modern audience, and is set in our contemporary world yet has elements of a setting that is not quite what we know – the setting isn’t completely identified, which perhaps is what gives it a more mysterious feel for the characters, plot and readers. Whilst some things are answered in this book, there are many more that aren’t, and hopefully, these will be answered further on in the series.

 

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