Book Review: Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw

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There is a touch of The Girl on the Train in this story, unreliable witnesses, plenty of selfish motivations, interesting characters, great writing. But the plot isn’t mind-blowing and that makes it, like The Girl on the Train, another okay mystery. And there’s starting to be a very big pile of three-star books just like it. It needed a moment that punched the reader in the face unexpectedly but it just didn’t have one.

Iris is a single mother and part-time lawyer. Ray is in a hospital for the criminally insane. When Iris’s mother goes away on a holiday and asks Iris to house sit, particularly to look after the large saltwater aquarium full of fish in her home, she agrees. It takes nothing more than one of the fish dying to set the unfolding of this mystery in progress. The meticulously kept logbook of the aquarium’s conditions has the name “R. Boelens” on it and Iris’s mother’s maiden name was Boelens. Suddenly, Iris can’t rest until she knows who R. Boelens is.

It turns out he’s her much older half-brother. Convicted of murdering his attractive neighbour and her small daughter, he’s been in prison and a hospital for the criminally insane ever since. Still, Iris is intrigued, mostly because her mother never breathed a word of her brother’s existence. She goes to visit him at the hospital and offers to look into an appeal against his conviction, although mostly to find out exactly what happened. He agrees. Continue reading

Book Review: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

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I had high hopes for this book. A straight-laced woman looking for her artsy, younger, pregnant and unmarried sister after she is reported missing by her landlord. And the longer I read, the more certain I was that the end must be mind-blowing because the build-up took forever. But when it came, I realised that the author had been jerking me around, using every writer’s trick in the book, just to let me down with a mediocre ending, a not particularly complex bad guy and a cliffhanger that, to be honest, I could see coming from a mile away.

Beatrice lives in New York, is successful in an unimportant job and catalogues everything in her life according to Pantone colours (although she really only needs one – beige). She’s engaged to Todd but clearly doesn’t love him – he’s just a safe option. Tess, the missing sister, is a student at an art college in London but she’s been forced to take a sabbatical by her tutor who is also her married lover and doesn’t want his bosses to find out he’s been sexing up students. She’s just weeks away from giving birth when Beatrice receives a call from her mother telling her that her sister has gone missing. Continue reading

Book Review: Hell Island by Matthew Reilly

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Hell Island was released in 2005 as part of the Books Alive promotion – the only way to get it at the time was to buy another Australian book in order to receive it for free. Given Matthew Reilly’s popularity at the time, it was a brilliant idea. People (including me) were desperate to get their hands on it. (I bought a Phryne Fisher book by Kerry Greenwood – didn’t like it but love the TV series that is based on the book series.) That was when I first read it.

The story is part of the Shane Schofield narrative, Reilly’s heroic US Marine who always seems a little smarter, a little stronger, a little more strategic than everyone else around him and one hell of a survivalist. In the Schofield chronology, it takes place after Scarecrow and before Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves but is easily removed from it. And enough is regurgitated to make this a stand-alone book. Continue reading

Book Review: Something Missing by Glenice Whitting

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Glenice Whitting is the master of character studies. I’ve read both of her novels now (the latest being Something Missing, the first being Pickle to Pie) and if there’s one thing she surpasses almost all other writers in, it’s unravelling the intricacies of people living ordinary lives.

In Something Missing, the two main characters living ordinary lives are Diane and Maggie. Diane is Australian, a hairdresser, has a daughter from her first marriage, is onto her second marriage and is travelling in outback Australia with her family. Maggie is American, an unacknowledged research assistant to her academic husband, mother to two grown daughters and thirty years older than Diane. When they cross paths on their travels in the 1970s and exchange addresses, it’s the start of a decades-long pen pal friendship. Continue reading

Book Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

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Another legendary story, another example of how a great idea can transcend time, place and the rules of writing. First published in 1820 as part of a larger collection, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a short story that has gone on to overshadow everything else Washington Irving has ever written.

Ichabod Crane is a teacher from Connecticut (where all teachers at the time are from apparently), educating the children of the Dutch farmers in New York and accepting their hospitality – he doesn’t have a place of his own and bunks in with anyone willing to offer him a place to sleep so he moves around quite a bit. To remedy his lack of fortune, he has his eye on the attractive daughter of a local wealthy man but the Headless Horseman – the legend referred to in the title – has his eye on Ichabod (well, maybe not his eye since he doesn’t have any but you know what I mean). Continue reading

Book Review: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

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I saw the movie of this book several years ago so it’s one of those rare experiences for me in that I’m reading the book afterwards. Normally, I find that a challenge because I’m constantly anticipating what’s about to happen. That didn’t happen with this book because the movie is very different… and so much better.

The Silver Linings Playbook is narrated by Pat, who is living in “the bad place”, as he calls it. His mother is there to take him home after… is it months or years? Pat can’t tell. He can’t remember why he was living in the institution either. Pat only has one goal: to be reunited with his beloved wife, Nikki, by focusing on being kind instead of being right, reading great American literature and by keeping up his gruelling exercise regime. He feels he was unkind to her, didn’t involve himself enough in her interests and let himself go during their marriage and if he can only rectify these things, then Nikki will welcome him back with open arms and everything will be alright again. Because he believes in silver linings. Continue reading

Book Review: The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

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If ever there was a novel to break the “show, don’t tell” rule – willingly, completely, knowingly – this is it and this is the only novel that is likely to be able to get away with it. But getting away with it doesn’t automatically equal a great book. In this case, it equals a good one but not a great one.

Amy is a published author and academic who teaches a writing class at a local university. But her last book is a very long way behind her and the wannabee writers aren’t students, they are paying for an evening extension class. The participants include a doctor, a lawyer, a former child actress, a mildly infuriating feminist, a retired teacher and several others. Each week someone brings a piece of writing and the class spends time analysing it and provides written feedback to help the writer improve.

At first it’s like every other writing class Amy has ever taught. There are some good writers, there are some bad writers, there are some who aren’t writers at all and thought the class would be a good way to pick up women. But then one of the participants starts providing feedback that is anonymous and unnerving including cruelly parodying a poem, drawing crude images and using very bad language as well as crank calling Amy on the phone and whispering repeated phrases and sentences. Continue reading