Book Review: Devour by L.A. Larkin

DevourDevour by L.A. Larkin

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, July 2016

Synopsis- Their greatest fear was contaminating an ancient Antarctic lake, buried beneath the ice for millions of years. They little knew about the catastrophe they were about to unleash.
Welcome to the high octane world of Olivia Wolfe,
As an investigative journalist, Wolfe lives her life in constant peril. Hunted by numerous enemies who are seldom what they first seem, she must unravel a complex web of lies to uncover an even more terrifying truth.
From the poppy palaces of Afghanistan and Antarctica’s forbidding wind-swept ice sheets, to a top secret military base in the Nevada desert, Wolfe’s journey will ultimately lead her to a man who would obliterate civilisation. She must make an impossible choice: save a life – or prevent the death of millions.

Review- Devour is the third crime thriller novel written by Australian author LA Larkin and the first in her new Olivia Wolfe series. I enjoyed her last novel, Thirst which was set in Antartica and centred around Australian scientists and a murder mystery. But I absolutely loved Devour. LA Larkin has definitely stepped up the plotting, characterisation and suspense in her latest novel and I found it really hard to put down.

Olivia is an investigative journalist who escapes a near death experience in Afghanistan and returns to London with the creeping sensation that she has a stalker. She jumps at the chance to investigate a suspected murder in Antarctica and leaves right away, on request from her boss. Once again, Wolfe’s curiosity places her life at risk and it’s not long before the small team of scientists she has infiltrated start to point the finger at her when crucial assets go astray. Olivia discovers there’s a potential ‘mole’ in the team who is feeding information to a rival team of Russian scientists which places the English scientists’ discoveries at significant risk. She is drawn to an English scientist of Russian heritage and strives to uncover which side exactly he works for… before it’s too late.

Olivia is a likeable, tough and intelligent protagonist with enough emotional damage and mystery to make for an interesting series. Larkin has also set up an arc for the series with a number of plot elements that will likely carry through into later novels. I thought the romantic plot line also added an interesting dynamic to the story… It’s exactly the kind of crime series that I really enjoy!

From murders to biological warfare, Devour has plenty of action-packed drama, suspense and intrigue to keep a crime fiction fan turning the pages until the very end. Highly enjoyable read and I look forward to reading the next book in the Wolfe series!

Overall Rating

4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

Devour can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

 

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Aussie Book Review: The Horseman by Charlotte Nash

The HorsemanThe Horseman by Charlotte Nash

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, July 2016

Synopsis- Craig Munroe is the kind of man legends are written about. Escape to the high country in this passionate love story of a young doctor and a legendary horseman whose lives become inextricably linked, by the bestselling author of RYDERS RIDGE, Charlotte Nash

It’s been fifteen years since Dr Peta Woodward, born into a horse-breeding dynasty, fled the family stud in the wake of a deadly tragedy that split her family apart. Carrying wounds that have never truly healed, Peta has focused on helping others. But when an injury during a solo trip through the Australian high country leaves her stranded, the man who comes to her rescue is Craig Munroe, a born and bred high-country horseman ,and the kind of man legends are written about.

Stuck in the tiny town of Yarraman Falls while she recovers, Peta is surrounded by prying eyes and heartbreaking reminders of all she has lost. But while she resolves to leave as soon as she can, fate has other ideas . . .
Review- The Horseman is another great medical-rural romance novel by Aussie author Charlotte Nash. Her latest heroine, Dr Peta Woodward is determined to complete a hiking trail for personal and emotional reasons; but when she becomes injured and stranded in the bush her plans quickly take a turn to the small country town of Yarraman Falls. It’s the infamous horse trainer Craig Munroe who stumbles across Peta who is muddy, bitter and bossy; not that any of that turns him off. In fact, as she starts to mend, they develop a close friendship that quickly blossoms into something much more serious and Peta has to decide whether she is willing to take a permanent detour on her plans or if she turns her back on the the town that has started to feel like home.

Peta is a feisty and determined character that’s a little prickly in the beginning but I soon warmed to her as her backstory unfolded and the chemistry with Craig heightened. Craig is a very likeable guy, on the one hand he’s a reserved and strong male figure; but when it comes to his horses he’s soft and compassionate. Peta and Craig have plenty of challenges to face both individually and as a couple and I enjoyed seeing them find their way and overcome these barriers. I read this book very quickly as it was hard to put down and an easy, enjoyable read. Definitely recommend it!

Overall Rating

4/5

“I loved this book!”

The Horseman can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

 

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Book Review: In the Month of the Midnight Sun by Cecilia Ekback

In the Month of the Midnight SunIn the Month of the Midnight Sun by Cecilia Ekback

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, June 2016

Synopsis- An orphaned boy brought up to serve the state as a man. A rich young woman incapable of living by the conventions of society. Neither is prepared for the journey into the heat, mystery, violence and disorienting perpetual daylight of the far North.

Stockholm 1856.

Magnus is a geologist. When the Minister sends him to survey the distant but strategically vital Lapland region around Blackasen Mountain, it is a perfect cover for another mission: Magnus must investigate why one of the nomadic Sami people, native to the region, has apparently slaughtered in cold blood a priest, a law officer and a settler in their rectory.

Is there some bigger threat afoot? Blackasen seems to be a place of many secrets.
But the Minister has more than a professional tie to Magnus, and at the last moment, he adds another responsibility. Disgusted by the wayward behaviour of his daughter Lovisa – Magnus’s sister-in law – the Minister demands that Magnus take her with him on his arduous journey.

Thus the two unlikely companions must venture out of the sophisticated city, up the coast and across country, to the rough-hewn religion and politics of the settler communities, the mystical, pre-Christian ways of the people who have always lived on this land, and the strange, compelling light of the midnight sun.
For Lovisa and Magnus, nothing can ever be the same again.

Review- In the Month of the Midnight Sun is the second historical Nordic Noir thriller by Swedish author Cecilia Ekback. Her debut novel, Wolf Winter was one of my favourite reads of 2015, so when I had the opportunity to read her new release (set 150 years later in the same setting) I was very excited! She’s a brilliant writer and creates a character-driven and intricate plotted murder mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end.

It’s 1855 in the Swedish Lapland’s Mountains and three men have been massacred. An indigenous man is in custody but refuses to talk. The Minister of Justice in Stockholm sends his son-in law Magnus, a geologist along with his exiled daughter Lovisa (and Magnus’s sister in law) to investigate and check on the Mountain resources. Once again, the Mountain is the star of the novel, it takes on a character in itself and creates an eerie backdrop to the intrigue of the murder mystery. Unlike Wolf Winter, this book is set during summer; known as the month of the midnight sun and so the heat creates an atmosphere amongst the people where frustrations simmer just below the surface.

Magnus is an interesting character whose past begins to emerge as he finds himself feeling at home in the mountains, while Lovisa redefines her identity without the disapproving observations of her father. Their meeting with settler and older Lapp woman Ester, initially fraught with distrust draws them together to uncover the mystery of the murder and the horrific tragedies that have been buried in the Laplands.

I won’t go too much into the plot; it’s really one of those stories you just have to read and experience for yourself. And in many ways when describing the plot it doesn’t seem like much really happens, but Ekback manages to make a lot happen without having to say much. I like that she allows the reader to read between the lines and discover things rather than being spoon-fed the clues.

Fans of Burial Rites will enjoy this one. Another great thriller and this author is definitely one I will seek out again in the future.

Read my review of Wolf Winter here

 

Overall Rating

4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

In the Month of the Midnight Sun can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

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Book Review: A French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe

A French WeddingA French Wedding by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Pan Macmillan, April 2016

Synopsis- Max is turning forty. All he wants for his birthday is for his six oldest friends to come to France to eat, dance, drink and laugh for one weekend. And to finally declare his secret, undying love for his best friend, Helen.

Juliette gave up her dream of owning an acclaimed Parisian restaurant to return to her tiny coastal village and nurse her aging parents. But she finds her home much changed, even the boulangerie where she first learned to love baking has fallen upon hard times. Now, as she tries to find her way to a new future, Max’s birthday weekend may just provide the new beginning Juliette is wishing for… but at whose cost?
Review- New Zealand born Hannah Tunnicliffe has once again created a character-driven story centered around delicious food and a wonderful exotic location. When I pick up a Tunnicliffe novel I know i’m going to get a novel with deeply flawed and strong characters, scrumptious food influences and a beautiful setting.

Quite different from her previous two novels The Colour of Tea and Season of Salt and Honey; A French Wedding brings together a group of college friends who reunite for Max’s 40th birthday. While it is Juliette whose POV we delve into first, Max really steals the show in the novel as his past and present collide. They meet up in his country house in France where Juliette is the interim cook. He’s well and truly in the midst of adulthood and yet he can’t seem to let go of all the habits that has kept him feeling young; alcohol, drugs, women and non-commitment. His friends are facing very real issues; marital problems, identity issues and health problems.

This is a very character-driven novel and I feel the author really succeeded in stripping away the layers of the underlying issues Max faces, but I was a little disappointed in the role played by Juliette. She’s painted as a very driven and focused woman who is determined to put her career above else and yet she’s very much invisible in this story. She’s in the background, watching everything unfold before her and I’d have liked to see her really take charge of her life. Her character could have been fleshed out further and pulled her to the forefront of the story to really give it a big impact.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this story and I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.

Overall Rating

3.5/5

“I really liked this”

A French Wedding can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

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Book Review: Under Italian Skies by Nicky Pellegrino

Under Italian SkiesUnder Italian Skies by Nicky Pellegrino

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, April 2016

Synopsis- Stella has life under control – and that’s the way she likes it. For twenty-five years, she’s been trusted assistant to a legendary fashion designer, but after her boss dies suddenly, she’s left with nothing to do apart from clear the studio.

It seems as though the life she wanted has vanished. She is lost – until one day she finds a house swap website and sees a beautiful old villa in a southern Italian village. Could she really exchange her poky London flat for that?

But what was intended as just a break becomes much more, as Stella finds herself trying on a stranger’s life. As the villa begins to get under her skin, she can’t help but imagine the owner from the clues around her. She meets his friends, cooks the local food he recommends and follows suggestions to go to his favourite places. But can an idea of someone ever match up to the reality?

As Stella wonders if she can let go of the safety of her past, perhaps there’s a chance for her to find a way into her future…

Review- This novel was such a pleasant surprise. I was initially attracted to the setting (Italy) and the premise (house swap) but was a little wary after a few pages in when I realised the protaganist was in her late 40’s; almost two decades older than me. I wasn’t sure I could relate, but this was such a lovely, well written book with a fantastic cast of characters, that I was very quickly swept away and found it difficult to put the book down.

In Under Italian Skies, Stella is stuck in a rut. Her long-term employer has died as has her assistant job in fashion design. Stella hadn’t ever considered doing anything else, she was happy and content; comfortable. When her best friend Birdie suggests she place her little flat in Camden, London on a house swap website and take an ‘adult gap year’, Stella is hesitant but goes along with the plan. It’s not long before she’s swapping keys with the mysterious Leo, a landscape designer from Southern Italy and is packing up her life to venture into the unknown. She stays in Leo’s summer holiday home, Villa Rosa in Triento. It’s outside of tourist season in this small town and it’s not long before Stella befriends Francesca the local linen store assistant, Rafaella a widow who runs a restaurant in summer and the local celebrity Tosca; three women who, like Stella, are trying to redefine their identity and find their place in the world.

Though Stella’s character doesn’t jump out of the pages, I did feel connected to her. As the reader I wasn’t sure where the story would lead me, just as Stella was stepping into murky waters, unsure where her journey would lead her. The women in the story are all strong, opinionated and sometimes Stella became swept up in their dramas, but after some time it was clear that Stella was also the catalyst for each of the women to change their lives.

One of my favourite elements of the story, was the sub-plot friendship that develops between Stella and Leo via emails. We never see Leo’s POV but he is so alive from the emails and this is a great credit to the author for developing his character so well that the development of their relationships felt completely natural and realistic. I finished this book with a big smile on my face and even said aloud “that’s nice” because I just loved how some of the plot was left open-ended while others were tied up neatly. Highly recommend this book!

Overall Rating

“I loved this book!”

4.5/5

Under Italian Skies can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

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Book Review: Second Chance Town by Karly Lane

Second Chance TownSecond Chance Town by Karly Lane

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Allen & Unwin, April 2016

Synopsis- The town of Bundah is dying, with many of its young people fleeing for jobs in the city. A desperate plan to revive Bundah’s fortunes – with generous incentives to attract new businesses – results in a flood of people coming to the town to set up shop.

As Bundah begins to come to life with the new arrivals, a spate of teenage drug overdoses starts to divide the locals. Many are convinced the narcotics trade has been brought to town by one of the newcomers. It doesn’t help that the mysterious new owner of one of the local pubs has a dark past.

Lucy Parker is a single mother doing her best to support her teenage daughter, Belle, through her last year of high school. It’s long been Belle’s dream to go to university, so when she starts to stray, hanging out with the wrong kids and experimenting with alcohol and possibly drugs, her mother is deeply troubled.

The very last thing Lucy needs is for a man like Hugh Thompson to mess with her heart and disrupt her life. However it seems fate has other ideas.

Review- As soon as I pick up a Karly Lane novel I know I’m in for a great read! Her rural romance novels are always packed with mysterious and likeable characters, a slow-building romance and a ripple of suspense that just simmers beneath the surface until the ultimate plot climax. What more can I say? I love that she reliably delivers exactly what I want to read🙂

A quick recap on the plot; Lucy Parker likes to play it safe, with a long-term reliable job and a clear plan for financially securing her daughter a place at University there’s nothing else on her sights until a leather-clad biker named Hugh Thompson turns up in her small country town. Hugh moves into Bundah and renovates the old abandoned pub in the hopes of creating a stopover destination for weekend (motor) bike riders. There’s instant chemistry between the two, and Hugh’s mysterious past only heightens the attraction. As their romance develops, the town that Lucy has always felt safe in is expanding, there’s new faces and a rising drug problem. An interesting plot, great chemistry and characters, plus the suspense adds to the page-turning element of the story. Highly recommend it!

Overall Rating

4/5

“I loved this book!”

Second Chance Town can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

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Book Review: Call to Juno by Elisabeth Storrs

Call to Juno (Tale of Ancient Rome, #3)Call to Juno by Elisabeth Storrs

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher

Lake Union Publishing, April 2016

Synopsis- Four unforgettable characters are tested during a war between Rome and Etruscan Veii.

Caecilia has long been torn between her birthplace of Rome and her adopted city of Veii. Yet faced with mounting danger to her husband, children, and Etruscan freedoms, will her call to destroy Rome succeed?

Pinna has clawed her way from prostitute to the concubine of the Roman general Camillus. Deeply in love, can she exert her own power to survive the threat of exposure by those who know her sordid past?

Semni, a servant, seeks forgiveness for a past betrayal. Will she redeem herself so she can marry the man she loves?

Marcus, a Roman tribune, is tormented by unrequited love for another soldier. Can he find strength to choose between his cousin Caecilia and his fidelity to Rome?

Who will overcome the treachery of mortals and gods?

Call to Juno is the third book in the Tales of Ancient Rome saga, which includes The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice.

Review- Call to Juno is the third and final installment of this epic saga set in ancient Rome. When I picked up The Wedding Shroud (the first book) back in 2011 I was absolutely enthralled. It’s probably still one of my all-time favourite novels. As far as historical novels go, this series is so unique. It’s set in Italy (big thumbs up!) and it introduced me to an era that is much earlier than many of the books I tend to read in this genre. I liked how Storrs expanded the character viewpoints to include two other women in the second book and that this continued on in the third.

The heroine of the story is Caecilia, Roman born but adopted by Veii when she married Mastarna, the now King of Etruscan Veii. Following on from the last novel, there’s a war brewing between the city and Rome. Their strength, love and values are tested at every turn in Call to Juno. It was great to see this pair continuing to stay strong and fight together no matter what hurdles that come their way.

Wet nurse and servant to the King and Queen, Semni tries to overcome her past betrayal to her employers while creating a future life and family with her partner Arruns. She was probably the least likeable female character in my opinion, but she did grow up a lot more in this novel and made some brave choices.

On the other side of the battle, we gain further insight into Pinna a former prostitute who has become concubine to the Roman general Camillus. She grew further as a character in this story and became a strong female influence on the Roman front without compromising her values and sense of justice.

We are also shown the viewpoint of Marcus, Caecilia’s cousin who is part of the rise against Veii. He has many emotional and physical challenges to face as he works toward bringing down his cousin’s family and power.

As in the previous two novels, there’s a lot of spiritual and religious influence that plays an important role in each of the characters in the novel and realistically reflects the era in which they are making decisions. The author did a wonderful job at moving forward with the women in the story as well as the plot and tying up many of the loose ends that were left unanswered in earlier books. I must say, I was a little teary at the end, as the story took an unexpected (very unexpected!!) turn. However, I was left with a thread of hope that perhaps a spin-off series could be in the works by the author! This is an epic series and I’d highly recommend it.

Overall Rating

4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

Call to Juno can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

You can read my earlier reviews for The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice here.

 

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