Watching You by Michael Robotham

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Watching You is another fast and enjoyable read by Michael Robotham, although I wasn’t as tempted to stay up all night reading this as I have been with some of his other books.

The story follows a single mother of two, Marnie Logan, whose husband Daniel mysteriously disappeared a year ago. Marnie is working as an escort to pay off a gambling debt incurred by Daniel before his disappearance. When a gangster who pimps for Marnie dies, she is investigated by the police.

Marnie is a heroine who we like and feel sorry for, and as the story unfolds, become concerned for her wellbeing. She is under the care of a clinical psychologist, Doctor Joe O’Loughlin for depression, but Joe is also interested in learning more about Marnie’s complicated past. Historically, people who have done the wrong thing by Marnie have been punished in extraordinarily vindictive ways although it is unclear if Marnie is the perpetrator, or if someone else is acting on her behalf.

The plot is complicated with plenty of twists. During the first few chapters I suspected someone and something and felt very clever until I realised that the author had been playing me! It turns out that I believed what the author wanted me to all along! When I figured out exactly who to be worried about – once the author was ready for me to know, I then had the worry of watching if everyone would be okay…

Most of Michael Robotham’s earlier books feature Joe and another character, Vincent Ruiz, but I’ve been reading them out of order. Watching You worked as a stand-alone, but I intend to read the rest of the series in order.

 

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Bay of Martyrs by Tony Black and Matt Neal

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I have been hanging out to read Bay of Martyrs by Tony Black and Matt Neal, who set their crime-thriller in my old stamping grounds of Warrnambool, Peterborough and Port Fairy, on the south-west coast of Victoria, Australia.

Part of the danger in reading a novel set in a familiar location is that the reader will pick up on inaccuracies or poetic licence to do with the place which might detract from their enjoyment. I struggled with this initially but then settled in and enjoyed the story, deciding that a reader who doesn’t know this part of the world wouldn’t care about the parts which annoyed me.

The story is fast-paced and believable, apart from the crime-rate in Warrnambool. There were heaps of dead people by the end of this story, and even though locals always turn to the death notices in The Standard first to see who they know, it is rare for anyone in town to die of anything other than natural causes.

The story starts with the body of a young woman found dead at the Bay of Martyrs, a Peterborough beach. Local police write off her death as misadventure and fail to investigate further. A stereotypical hard-drinking, smoking, drug-using journalist, Clayton Moloney, thinks there is more going on and starts poking around. Luckily Clay is mates with a cop or two, knows plenty of drug-dealers and regularly shags someone who is able to provide him with a copy of the dead woman’s autopsy report.

Clay teams up with an Irish photographer who is new to town and together they follow a number of stories, including the expansion of the airport (although as locals point out, they would prefer money to be spent on better roads) and a few human-interest stories such as people turning 100, although things become more interesting when another woman dies in mysterious circumstances.

When Clay is beaten up by a couple of thugs in The Warrnambool Hotel, Clay realises he is closer to finding out what supposedly doesn’t exist and of course, being beaten up makes him keener than ever to find out what is going on so he can get the story onto the front page of the paper.

The story resolved satisfactorily although there were no big surprises about who the bad guys were or how the story unfolded.

I haven’t read many co-authored books but didn’t notice differences in style. I believe Matt Neal is a journo at The Standard and Tony Black has written a number of well-received crime novels. The characters are worthy of a series but in reality, not that much happens in Warrnambool…

 

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The photo below is of the Bay of Islands from the top of the track which leads down to the Bay of Martyrs beach. Not dark and gloomy enough to go on the cover of a crime novel, but in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

 

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Each time I tried to buy Bay of Martyrs in Warrnambool the book was sold out and book-sellers were waiting on more stock, so clearly I’m not the only one who enjoyed reading a story set in a familiar location.

 

 

 

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Passing by Nella Larsen

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Although Passing by Nella Larsen is a novella and a reasonably fast read, the story left me with a lot to think about. My edition was the Penguin Classics edition pictured above. If, like me, this is the first time you’ve read this work, skip the introduction which contains spoilers and read the actual story first. You can always go back to the introduction later.

This story was added to my TBR list after being reviewed by FictionFan a few years back. (I take so many reading recommendations from FictionFan that I’m thinking of starting a new category on my blog, ‘FictionFan’s Recommendations’).

https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/passing-by-nella-larsen/

Passing is a three-part story set in Chicago and New York during the 1920s.

The story begins with Irene Redfield receiving a letter from a childhood friend, Clare. Irene and Clare lost touch during their teens after Clare’s alcoholic father died and she went to live with her aunts. The two woman met again by chance while having afternoon tea at a hotel in Chicago.

When they met, both were ‘passing’ as white women, Irene temporarily, so she could have afternoon tea in the hotel where she would otherwise have been unwelcome. (Irene and Clare were light-skinned women of African-American descent). Once they started talking, Irene learned that Clare was ‘passing’ permanently and living as a white woman. Not even Clare’s husband knew she was black.

Clare expressed a desire to spend time with her old friends again and against Irene’s will, pushed her way into a social engagement with Irene and another woman who, while not ‘passing,’ was not obviously black either. Clare’s husband unexpectedly arrived and offended Irene by calling Clare ‘Nig,’ short for ‘Nigger’ as he had noticed her skin darkening as she aged, and by telling the women in the strongest terms how much he hated Negroes. Irene could not have been more offended, but was unable to respond to his insults because of the risk to Clare’s situation.

Irene decided not to see Clare any more, but Clare continued to push her way to become part of Irene and her husband’s social lives. Irene became distraught to realise that her husband had been seduced by Irene and the story ended with a tragedy which seemed inevitable.

Irene’s character was respectable and conservative, while Clare was a risk-taker, daring and seductive. Irene described Clare as having a ‘having’ nature, an expression I have not heard before but which summed up Clare’s personality succinctly. Clare was always going to bring trouble on herself by wanting more and more, to be white, to have a white husband while secretly enjoying her black heritage, all of which she should have been able to have but couldn’t because of the predominant beliefs of the time. Clare was also perceived by Irene as ‘wanting’ in that she wanted everybody to love or desire her, which was shown when she behaved seductively towards a waiter, to Irene’s husband, and to some degree, to Irene herself.

Passing is a well-written, powerful book. I’m hoping to find a copy of Nella Larsen’s only other novel, Quicksand sometime soon.

 

 

 

 

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Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

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Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson’s first book, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The story is told by Ruthie, who with her sister Lucille, is being brought up by relatives in a town called Fingerbone in Idaho.

Fingerbone’s location, on a lake which occasionally floods the town and which has been the scene of several tragedies, sets the uneasy tone of the book. Ruthie and Lucille’s mother dropped her daughters off at their grandmother’s house, then drove into the lake at Fingerbone and drowned herself. Ruthie and Lucille’s grandfather also died in the lake when the train he was travelling on derailed and disappeared into the lake, never to be seen again.

Ruthie and Lucille are taken care of by their grandmother until her death, then by two elderly great-aunts who are terrified by the responsibility of two young girls. Later, Ruthie and Lucille’s Aunt Sylvie comes to take charge of the girls, although she is a drifter who does not want to be tied down to Fingerbone or to any other place.

The characters sometimes say and do funny things but the story itself is sad. The themes include family, loss, suicide and depression, small town values, itinerancy, abandonment and community.

The author’s choice of words and the style is beautiful. I could choose any sentence at random from the book to illustrate this, although I’ve chosen the following from the first few pages of the book, when the train wreck which killed Ruthie and Lucille’s grandfather occurs.

“Though it was reported in newspapers as far away as Denver and St. Paul, it was not, strictly speaking, spectacular, because no one saw it happen. The disaster took place midway through a moonless night. The train, which was black and sleek and elegant, and was called the Fireball, had pulled more than halfway across the bridge when the engine nosed over toward the lake and then the rest of the train slid after it into the water like a weasel sliding off a rock.”

Housekeeping is an incredible first novel. I intend to make my way chronologically through Marilynne Robinson’s books.

 

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2017 Reading Bingo

 

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I’ve actually been to Bingo. It’s merciless. You daren’t sit in anyone’s regular seat or make a noise when the numbers are being called out, and heaven forbid you should get overexcited and call out “Bingo” by mistake, because the regulars take it very seriously indeed.

Fiction Fan got me onto Reading Bingo. I’m not entirely sure that I’m grateful, as although it is enjoyable, it is also addictive…

https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/clickety-click-66/

Eyes down everyone, we’re away with Two Little Ducks…

Book set in college: Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger. What a self-absorbed pair I found the characters in this novel to be. My dears, I simply can’t emphasise enough how much they annoyed me.

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A re-read: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery is an old friend. I laughed and cried just as much as I did reading this the first time, forty years ago.

Honey-Bunny’s middle name is Anne with an ‘E’ for a reason.

 

Book about friendship: A Prayer for Owen Meanie by John Irving. I loved the characters in this book so much I didn’t want this story to end, so went on a jag of reading John Irving books.

Book with only male POV: Jasper Jones by Australian author Craig Silvey is the coming-of-age story of an Australian boy in the late 1960’s.

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Book based on its cover: Call me superficial, but I desperately want the dress (and somewhere to wear it) from the cover of The Dress by Kate Kerrigan…

At a pinch, I would swan around my own kitchen in this dress.

 

New to you author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love in the Time of Cholera knocked my socks off.

Diverse novel: Unpolished Gem. I had to look up what a ‘diverse novel’ was. It turned out to be a novel with a ‘non-Caucasian’ main character. I cheated a little, because Alice Pung’s Unpolished Gem is a memoir about growing up Chinese in Australia, rather than a novel. I figured this was close enough…

Book you can finish in one day: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming is so fast-paced and exciting that I didn’t put the book down until I had finished.

Hyped book: Go Set A Watchman. Is there anyone out there who didn’t jump up and down with excitement when it was announced that a new book by Harper Lee was to be published?

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Book set in summer: Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun. I love that the rest of the characters happily got on with their holiday after the murder had taken place.

Anyone for a swim?

 

Book that makes you laugh: An Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim had me in tears. The bit where a heroine’s husband has a terrible encounter with the bath’s hot water system cracked me up.

2017 release: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is an amazing book. Highly recommended.

THE STAR OF 2017: The Women in Black by Australian author Madeleine St John is a forgotten classic. Thank you to Orange Pekoe Reviews who called this book “a perfect novel” in her review, which led me to my favourite read of the year. The story of four women working in a Sydney Department Store in the fifties is gorgeous.

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/8378494/posts/997638178

Book with music or art: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett almost made me want to listen to opera, but not quite. All that loud singing makes me irritable.

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Book about a roadtrip: In The Port Fairy Murders by Australian author Robert Gott, the characters tore up and down the road between Melbourne, Warrnambool and Port Fairy, either murdering people, planning to murder people or trying to stop the murderer.

 

Book out of your comfort zone: Merciless Gods, a book of short stories by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap. Brutal.

Book you knew nothing about: Of A Boy by Australian author Sonia Hartnett. Another author who I have added to my list with the intention of reading everything they have ever written.

New adult bestseller: I felt let-down by The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, but apparently no one else did…

Start a new series: The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. It’s going to take me years to get through this series.

Debut novel: The Dry by Australian author Jane Harper is a ripper of a book. I am looking forward to reading Harper’s second novel, Force of Nature, which is just out.

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One word title: Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady. When I die and go to heaven, I hope there is a library with another forty years worth of books written by Jane Austen. In my version of heaven, I’m also hoping to attend regular gigs to hear Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Freddie Mercury sing. And to eat as much chocolate as I like without getting sick.

 

Book about Sports: The Club, a play about an Australian Rules Football club by David Williamson. Back when men wore sideburns and women… didn’t matter.

LGBTQ novel: The heroine of The Flywheel by Australian author Erin Gough attends an Australian High School, where she is bullied for being open about her sexuality. Australia voted ‘Yes’ this year, by the way.

Book recommendation: Honey-Bunny insisted I read The Hundred-Year Of Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. A surprising, funny, clever novel.

Bottom of your TBR pile: The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. A beautifully written classic but the character’s morals are appalling.

So there you have it. In my humble opinion, Reading Bingo is loads more fun than the other kind…

Merry Christmas, everyone. See you in the New Year!

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The Flywheel by Erin Gough

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The Flywheel by Erin Gough came to my attention via the Readings Summer Reading Guide a few years ago. I have a ‘No Junk Mail’ sticker on my letterbox, but go out of my way to make sure I get this catalogue every year, then spend hours happily poring over the book reviews and recommendations.

Ordinarily, I would not have read The Flywheel. For starters, it is Youth Fiction. Secondly, it is teen romance. But Readings recommended the book, so I read it.

The heroine, Delilah, is 17 and lives in Sydney. Her mother ran off with another man last year and her father is off seeing the world, leaving Del home alone, running the family cafe, The Flywheel, with the help of a manager.

Things get complicated when the cafe’s manager gets picked up for a traffic infringement and is deported. Del hires a new manager, but then catches him with his fingers in the till and gives him the sack. Del decides on a whim to leave school and manage the café herself.

Del’s decision to leave school was also made because she was being bullied. Del is openly gay and the mean girls have it in for her.

Del has loads of adventures with her friends, a few false starts to romance and in the meantime almost runs the café into the ground. Things come right in the end though.

I liked that the characters sometimes made bad decisions, but eventually worked out better ways to do things, and I also liked that the characters felt strongly about community issues, such as saving local libraries. Del is a likeable heroine who is resilient and has a strong character. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to read another Youth Fiction book by this author, I would recommend The Flywheel to teenage readers.

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The Woman on the Stairs by Bernhard Schlink

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I’ve been reading novels by Bernhard Schlink since coming across The Reader some time ago, hoping for another book by this author which would live up to that extraordinary story. The Woman on the Stairs was just okay. Maybe nothing else this author writes will ever be as good as The Reader.

The Woman on the Stairs has a coldness to it. I didn’t care about the characters or their story. The story was written in German and translated into English, so the feel of the book may have changed with the translation, unless that was the author’s intention and the characters were not there to be cared about.

The story with a German businessman having finished his business in Sydney, when he goes to the Art Gallery of NSW and sees a painting of a woman he has been in love with his whole life after knowing her very slightly in his youth. Back when the German businessman knew the woman, he helped her to steal the painting from her husband, who owned the painting, and from her lover, the artist who painted it. The woman then disappeared with the painting.

The German businessman (he was un-named) paid a detective to track down the painting’s owner and was not at all surprised to learn that the woman was the owner and that she was living a remote hermit’s life somewhere north of Sydney.

He delayed going home to Frankfurt to visit the woman, but was surprised when she turned out to be forty years older than he remembered her, (so was he, but she instantly recognised him) and dying of cancer. The artist and the woman’s former husband turned up at her home too, although it wasn’t clear if they wanted her or the painting.

I did finish the book, but I forget what happened next.

The translation annoyed me, as some of the words weren’t right for an Australian setting. One example which I remember was the use of ‘wildfire’ instead of ‘bushfire.’

I really must get around to watching the movie of The Reader sometime. That was an amazing story. I think I’m probably done with Bernhard Schlink otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

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The White Monkey by John Galsworthy

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I started reading The White Monkey by John Galsworthy with the plan of giving up The Forsyte Saga if I didn’t like this fourth book in the series, but it is my favourite book so far! Looks like I will continue reading…

The White Monkey is the story of Fleur Forsyte and Michael Mont, who married after Fleur gave up her sweetheart, Jon, after learning about their parent’s history (see the previous three books for their parent’s story). Michael is in love with Fleur, but she isn’t in love with him – that sad, old story. Michael’s best friend Wilfred is also in love with Fleur. She keeps him dangling alongside Michael, while she decides who, if either man, she loves…

The story is set during the 1920s and Fleur and Michael are rich and privileged, able to enjoy life in London society while others around them starve.

Michael, who will eventually become a baronet, is a good man who knows and understands Fleur very well. John Galsworthy did very well not to have Fleur come across as a spoiled brat, one whom the reader would lose patience with. Instead I liked her and sympathised with her, hoping all the time she would see sense and fall in love with Michael.

Soames Forsyte, Fleur’s father, appears again in this story as a main character. He is embroiled in a business scandal when he discovers inconsistencies in the accounts of the P.P.R.S., of which he is on the Board of Directors. To his credit, he brings the inconsistencies to the attention of other board members, most of whom would rather not know or let their shareholders know about. Soames still regularly buys art and purchases a painting called The White Monkey, which he gives to Fleur. The significance of the painting is in the composition, a monkey with haunting eyes eating fruit with the discarded rinds thrown about it.

Art appears regularly throughout The White Monkey. Michael is a publisher and Wilfred a poet. One of the characters is a painter and another his model. Some characters visit art galleries to carry out liaisons, and all of the characters talk about books and art.

I loved Michael and Fleur’s slang, which Soames despised, his exact words in response to something Michael said were; ‘Good Gad! he thought; ‘what jargon!…’

There are less Forsytes in this book than in the first three, apart from Fleur and Soames, but there were a few minor characters who I enjoyed very much. I don’t think these minor characters will appear again in future novels but I would like to know what happened to them, especially the Bickets, a poor couple who were dreaming of a better life in Central Australia.

The Silver Spoon is next in the series. I plan to read it on the beach this summer.

 

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A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

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After reading Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Sebastian Faulks’ homage to P.G. Wodehouse, I jumped on this author’s bandwagon, reading A Possible Life and A Week in December in quick succession.

A Week in December is told over the course of a week in December 2007, in London. A politician’s wife is organising a dinner party, a hedge-fund manager works to carry out a trade so big that it will take down a number of banks, a wealthy business man prepares to be honoured with an OBE, a Polish footballer tries to fit in to his new club, a young lawyer hopes for some clients, a teenage boy risks his mental health for his drug addiction, a jaded book reviewer allows his jealousy of fiction-writers to get the better of him, a young woman risks falling in love and a young Muslim man who should know better uses Islamic theory to justify belonging to a group who plan to bomb a London hospital.

You may be able to tell from my previous sentence that A Week in December had too much going on, too many characters and too many stories. I couldn’t keep track of them all and would have preferred to follow just one or two of the stronger character’s stories.

I also struggled to believe in all of the characters. For example, Hassan, the would-be suicide-bomber, is from a wealthy industrialist English-Pakistani family, has loving parents and has had an excellent (English) education. Really? Maybe my view of terrorists is stereotyped, but I don’t think they usually spring from this particular set of circumstances. Another character, a businessman who is to be awarded the OBE hires the book reviewer to teach him about books, in case he and the Queen get into a conversation about literature. Again, really? Where did that come from? Successful business people are usually socially adept and unlikely to do anything so silly. On the other hand, I did believe in Jenni, the train driver, who after work reads novels and plays an internet game where her alter-ego lives the life that Jenni wishes she lived.

While telling the story, the author gave pages and pages of explanations about hedge-fund trading, the mechanics of driving a train, the connection between drugs and schizophrenia, and how terrorists find each other, make and execute their plans. The research must have been interesting for the author, but I felt as if his learnings were too obviously used in this book.

I also felt as if one of the character’s lack of respect for the Koran was too clumsily used as a tool to disparage Islam. Maybe the author hoped a would-be terrorist would read A Week in December and be swayed by this character’s argument that the Koran was bombastic, sexist and unlikely to present a true version of what happens to a terrorist after death. If so, great. However, I expect most Muslim readers would be offended by the use of this character to undermine their religion. I don’t believe in much myself, but I do understand that faith is believing in something which can’t be proved to exist, which is not unique to any religion.

I loved Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, liked A Possible Life and disliked A Week in December. I’m going to give myself a break from Sebastian Faulks before reading Birdsong by this author, as this story has been highly recommended and I don’t want to spoil it for myself.

 

 

 

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In One Person by John Irving

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I did not finish John Irving’s In One Person. After reading A Prayer for Owen Meanie, I wanted to love every other word he wrote, from his shopping list to his novels, but the main character’s sex life became far too explicit for me to enjoy reading about.

The story starts with Billy, the bi-sexual main character, as a child, falling in love with various people. Billy’s step-father gave him lovely advice, which was to enjoy his crushes and not to worry about the appropriateness of who they might be on. Billy’s first crush was on the town librarian, Miss Frost, who might have been trans-gender – I expect this query was answered later in the book. His next crush was on a boy at school, Jacques Kittredge. Billy’s best friend and pseudo-girlfriend Elaine is also crazy about Kittredge, despite Kittredge being a nasty bully.

The story then jumped to Billy as an adult, and while I had been enjoying the story up until then and liked Billy’s character very much, there were too many explicit details about his sex life for me to feel comfortable continuing.*

Billy’s family are theatrical and are a funny and interesting bunch of characters, although I did notice similarities between some of them and the characters in A Prayer for Owen Meanie. Billy’s grandfather, who played most of the female roles in local plays was a terrific character, and I would have liked to know how things worked out for him.

I’ll try another John Irving book instead, hopefully one which doesn’t offend my delicate sensibilities.

*I don’t care who does what with who (or should that be whom?), but I don’t like to know the details…

 

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