Book reviews

Archive for August, 2017

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent


Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent was added to my list of ‘must reads’ after I read an enticing review of the book by Cathy at 746 Books.

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

The story starts with a shocking first line by a narrator who doesn’t pull her punches; “My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.”

The husband in question is Andrew, a respected judge, husband and father, who was sitting in his car with Annie late at night in the carpark of a deserted beach, while Lydia, Andrew’s wife, watched them from a distance. When Andrew began strangling Annie, Lydia leapt into the car to try to stop him.

Annie died however, and with Lydia’s assistance, Andrew bundled Annie’s body into the boot of his car before driving home. When they arrived home Lydia checked on their son, Laurence, before sitting down with Andrew to plan their next move; how to bury Annie in the garden and destroy all evidence of her murder.

Soon after Annie’s death Andrew’s conscience got the better of him and he killed himself, leaving Lydia and Laurence struggling to survive in Avalon, the mansion Lydia grew up in. Later, while working in the garden Laurence found Annie’s body, confirming his initial suspicions of his father’s involvement in Annie’s disappearance.

The story is narrated alternately by Lydia, Laurence and Karen, Annie’s sister. Karen and her family reported Annie missing, but when the police investigations found that Annie was a heroin addict and a prostitute, the police and the media lost interest in finding out what happened to her.

Time passed and Laurence, who was a socially inept, obese teenager, became an adult. By chance Laurence came into contact with Annie’s father and eventually, her sister Karen, with whom he fell in love.

The story is set in Ireland during the 1980’s.

The suspense of this story kept me in a state of anxiety for the more innocent characters right up until the end of the novel. Read this for yourself to find out what happens, and if you can tell how this ending unfolds before the author tell you, then you’ve got more imagination than me!

Liz Nugent has written another novel, Unravelling Oliver which I’m looking forward to reading too.





Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes


You know how you can pick up a novel by a certain author and instantly know who is telling the story? Marian Keys has one of these distinct writing voices. I’ve read most of her novels, and loved her cookbook, Saved by Cake, so was delighted to come across her most recent collection of stories and life observations, Making It Up As I Go Along.

Making It Up As I Go Along starts with a ‘who’s who in the zoo,’ where a cast of thousands are introduced with gorgeously funny descriptions, with special mention of Mam and Dad, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, dear friends, and Himself, who she describes as; “the fabliss man I’m lucky enough to be married to.”

Next is a dictionary of Irish words and expressions. There are few words that the author assures readers are not swearwords, but I still wouldn’t risk using them in front of my own parents for fear of receiving a clip around the ears. I am planning to use the words ‘spannered,’ ‘banjoed’ and ‘praties’ sometime, although possibly not in the same sentence.

The book is divided into sections of ‘Health and Beauty,’ ‘On My Travels’ (I never thought I would say this, but I think I am going to have to visit the Antartica sometime, read on for further details), ‘Soul Searching’ and other delightful groupings of funny little stories. I enjoyed all of them, but my particular favourites are as follows;

How To Deal With Hostile Hairdressers. Well, this story made me laugh, but only a little bit, because my own fringe is in my eyes and I’ve been pulling the rest into a ponytail for weeks because I desperately need a haircut but am too frightened to go, honestly, I would rather go to the dentist. Being ignored on arrival, then being seated in the window where everybody passing by can see you with your hair plastered down on one side and pinned up on the other, getting an entirely different haircut to the trim requested because you aren’t wearing your glasses and can’t see what the hairdresser is doing, getting sprayed in the face with something toxic, then handing over a ridiculous amount of money for a haircut that you are going to go home and cry about… I think I’m going to take the scissors to the bathroom when I’ve finished writing this and just take a little bit off my fringe so that I won’t need to go to the actual hairdressers for at least another three weeks.

Antartica Diary. After reading this, a trip to Antartica to see the penguins and icebergs has bumped the tour of the Cadbury Chocolate Factory in Hobart off my bucket list.

Writers I Love was a delightful account of a lunch with a group of Irish writers who are household names (we’ve even heard of most of them here in Australia!) to celebrate the launch of a new makeup range. The author writes openly about her issues with depression, which she calls being ‘mad in the head’ and was initially anxious about attending the lunch, but then decided to go and had a great time. Reading about the lunch was almost as good as being there.

All of the stories in the Friends and Family section are great, but my favourite was poor old Himself having to do physiotherapy exercises with the author’s encouragement. I know it isn’t kind to laugh at someone else’s misfortune, but I couldn’t help it. If I yelled “Round we go! Round we go!” or ‘Funky chicken! Funky chicken!” while He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers was doing his exercises, he would probably suggest that I leave him alone. I’m sure he wouldn’t think this was as funny as I did when I was reading this story.

Making It Up As I Go Along is a funny and relatable set of stories which is a must for Marian Keyes fans.


Nora Webster by Colm Toibin


Nora Webster is the second book I’ve read by Colm Toibin after being lucky enough to discover this author last year. I thought Brooklyn was a great book but Nora Webster even better. My rating system is going to need more stars…

The title character, Nora, is a grieving young widow who is mother to four children, two older girls who are away at school and two younger boys still at home. Nora lives in a small town in Ireland where her business is known by everyone. The amount of fear that Nora has about what other people will think of her is distressing, and simple, personal things like getting a haircut or buying a new coat is cause for concern for her that the people in her community might think less of her.

Nora has a large family who are mostly helpful and loving, although they can also be intrusive. Some relationships are difficult, just like in any family. The people who make up Nora’s community are mostly a blessing but sometimes a curse, as anybody who has lived in a small town will know.

Nora’s grief is almost overwhelming. Her husband, who died of cancer, was the love of her life and Nora doesn’t know how to make a life without him. She has moments of guilt when she realises she is free to make decisions without consulting anyone else or when she realises she can follow her own interests, such as her love of singing and listening to music, but she also struggles with practical decisions and worries about money. Nora is forced to return to a job which she was glad to have left when she married.

I don’t know if it is the grief or Nora’s own character, but she is an unusually detached mother. She doesn’t have open relationships with her children and avoids conversations which will remind the children of their shared grief. She is surprised to learn that the children open up to their aunts and uncles about their hopes and dreams, and their troubles. Nora avoids making decisions for her children, particularly for her sons, but is annoyed when other family members take charge. Despite the detached relationships there is a strong sense that both of her sons understand Nora and her solitary grief.

The story itself is gentle, despite being set in the late 1960s while ‘The Troubles’ in the background were absolutely ferocious. I don’t have a great deal of knowledge or understanding about Irish history and politics, but even the characters in this book are confused and anxious about their times, uncertain of how to make things in their country right. One character says of Northern Ireland, “That’s one scrap I wouldn’t like to be in. There will be no easy way out of that one.”

The language in this book is lovely. As I read I could hear the character’s voices saying their words and there is a strong sense of place and time. The story is about ordinary life and ordinary people, so I was surprised to find myself thinking about the characters and their lives for long after I had finished the book.

In a crossover between other novels, the mother from Brooklyn appears in Nora Webster, although each of these books stand alone.

Colm Toibin has written loads of other books and I am looking forward to them all.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand


I’m a sucker for Nantucket which is the main setting of Elin Hilderbrand’s novels, but in The Identicals, the author added Martha’s Vineyard into the mix. This turned out to be a happy thing for me, because I got my fix with twice as many beaches, twice as many lighthouses, twice as many lobster rolls and twice as many ice creams. Happy days.

There are also twice as many heroines as usual since The Identicals features twins Harper and Tabitha, forty year olds who have been estranged for 14 years. Harper is the easy-going screw-up who lives on Martha’s Vineyard, a community where everyone knows everybody else’s business. Harper recently ruined her reputation by having an affair with the married doctor who had been treating her dying father.

Tabitha lives on Nantucket and is the elegant, stuffy twin. She is the mother of an out of control teenager, Ainsley, who has been brought up in the same disinterested way that her mother brought Tabitha up. (Harper and Tabitha’s parents divorced when they were teenagers, and in the style of The Parent Trap, each parent took a twin. Separating siblings didn’t work well for the twins in The Parent Trap or The Identicals).

When their father dies, Tabitha and Harper swap places, with Harper going to Nantucket to look after Ainsley and to work in her mother’s exclusive fashion boutique which is on the brink of bankruptcy, while Tabitha moves to Martha’s Vineyard to renovate their father’s house to sell.

These characters are flawed but I liked them regardless, I enjoyed the story and as always, loved the location. The Identicals is an easy summer read and I can imagine myself lying on a beach towel, feeling the warmth of the hot sun on my back as I read, in between dozing, paddling, collecting shells, swimming and riding the waves on the boogie board… pure bliss!

I’m always surprised by how badly Elin Hilderbrand’s characters mess up their lives, and yet, I still like them. They drink to excess, use drugs and mess around with other people’s husbands, all things that I would avoid and judge in real life, but I love these books, which are pure escapism.

As an Australian I’m not all that good with American geography, so before reading this book I had no idea that Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are neighbouring islands. This has opened up a whole new world of travel daydreams for me, as I intend to see the Gingerbread Cottages on Martha’s Vineyard for myself (one day…)


The sections on the rivalry between the Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard was clever, with the islands comparing themselves using a combination of sweetly pointed remarks, leaving the reading feeling as if the island are siblings much like Harper and Tabitha, who have their differences but love each other anyway.

As always, I loved my annual fix of Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket, and am delighted to have gotten to know Martha’s Vineyard in The Identicals.




Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks


Sebastian Faulk’s homage to P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is a happy read which captured the spirit of the real thing well enough to have pleased me.

Like most fans of P.G. Wodehouse, I go on reading jags where I immerse myself in these good-hearted, absurd stories, and have a particular fondness for Bertie Wooster and his man, Jeeves. I have read and re-read these books, so was both anxious and excited to find an author who had continued writing these stories for those of us who can’t get enough of them.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells starts unusually, with Bertie awoken at 6am by that monstrous device otherwise known as an alarm clock, after lying all night on what he referred to as a bed of nails. Bertie then made his way to the kitchen of the house to make a cup of tea for his master, Lord Etringham. Even more confusingly, in the kitchen Bertie is addressed by the housekeeper as ‘Mr Wilberforce.’ Bertie then took the tea tray to Lord Etringham, who turned out to be Jeeves sitting up in a comfortable bed in a lavish room, wearing Bertie’s burgundy dressing gown.

The story then goes back a little bit, to explain how this exchange in situation happened. Bertie and Jeeves were on holidays in the south of France when Bertie met a girl, which, as all P.G. Wodehouse fans know, often happens. The girl who was met needed help with a ticklish problem. Say no more. Bertie and Jeeves to the rescue.

The language in this story is spot on. Bertie comes out with all of the sort of things you would expect him to say and so does Jeeves. The other characters are perfect too. There are aunts to be avoided, a delightful heroine, ridiculous friends and seldom-seen lords who are easily impersonated.

One of the characters in the story is a travel writer whose books are titled; By ‘Train to Timbuctoo,’ ‘By Sled to Siberia’, and so on. I brought this up with He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers and Miss S while we were eating our dinner and we enjoyed going through the alphabet to make up other ridiculous titles. My favourite was By Stilts to Serbia. We struggled with a few of the letters but we surprised ourselves with our creativity. Try it yourself, it’s fun (and slightly addictive).

I was surprised by the ending because this story ends in a way for Bertie and Jeeves which is entirely new. I’d love to say more but can’t, as to do so would spoil this story for future readers.

As the son of a judge and an actress, Sebastian Faulk’s bio reads as if he could be a character in these stories himself.

I didn’t laugh out loud reading this book, but I definitely smiled a few times. I recommend Jeeves and the Wedding Bells for P.G. Wodehouse fans and as a stand-alone novel, and am looking forward to reading further works by this author.



Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas


Merciless Gods is a collection of short stories by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, who is best known for writing The Slap. I read and enjoyed both The Slap and Barracuda, which although occasionally brutal, are well written contemporary stories which are set in my home town of Melbourne.

I finished reading Merciless Gods some time ago, and have been dithering about whether to post a review or not. The writing in Merciless Gods is up to the author’s usual high standards, but this book did not leave me feeling good about myself. I felt squeamish and anxious reading most of these stories, many of which depict physically and emotionally violent exchanges between characters, as well as graphic (and again, sometimes violent) sex between gay men. The characters in this collection are absolutely brutal to each other.

The first story in the collection is the title story and tells of a group of friends telling each other true stories. One of the characters tells a story of revenge which left me and the other characters feeling emotionally shattered. Merciless Gods is an amazing story, but had I realised each story in the collection was more confronting than the last, I probably would have stopped reading after the second story.

Reading so many stories about unhappy, sometimes unpleasant people behaving viciously towards each other flattened me. I wish this author would show people at their best more often, rather than always at their worst.

I’ll continue reading books by Christos Tsiolkas for the quality of the writing and for my enjoyment of the familiar locations and times, but this confronting collection of stories is not for everyone. I’m prudish at the best of times and if you are too, then give this collection a miss.


Life or Death by Michael Robotham


I started reading Life or Death by Australian author Michael Robothamon on the train to work, and on arriving at Flinders Street Station seriously considered calling in sick to ride the trains all day while I finished the story. Because I am a responsible member of society I went to work, but read at lunchtime, again on the train home, and then sat up in bed half the night until I finished.

Life or Death won the 2015 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award, and I liked this story even better than The Wreckage, which I read last year.

The big mystery of Life or Death is why Audie Palmer, who has been in jail in Texas for over ten years for armed robbery, would escape from prison the day before he was due to be released. The story starts with a flashback to Audie’s childhood, when Audie was fishing and learning life lessons from his father. As a result, the reader is on Audie’s side of the story from the beginning, even though we soon learn that as well as him being a criminal on the run, four innocent people died during the armed robbery.

Audie is helped by some kind-hearted people who probably would have reported him for the reward had they realised who he was, as he makes his way to Houston with a posse of police, FBI agents and gangsters on his tail.

The combination of wondering where the missing seven million dollars from the armed robbery got to, and why Audie, who seems to have selfless and kind nature but was involved in a crime which killed four people was driving me crazy with curiosity, and the more I read, the more questions I had.

Audie is the biggest underdog I’ve ever come across in a story, but time and time again he scraped out of dire situations.

He was regularly beaten in prison by people who wanted to get their hands on the money, he had a no-hoper brother who led him into disaster and tarnished his reputation and he fell in love with a gangster’s moll and she with him. Not to mention that he was shot in the head during the armed robbery. Things didn’t improve much for Audie after he escaped from prison, but as the plot unravels, all of my questions were answered, although right up until the very last few pages, I could not see how this story would work out.

Each of the characters in this book become real to me in just a few sentences. Besides Audie, there is another prisoner called Moss, whose name would have been Moses except that his mother didn’t know how to spell his name, Special Agent Desiree Furness, who is fantastic at her job but patronised by the whole world because she is female and five foot nothing, a politician who is doing his best to avoid former associates, a police officer and his family and a single mother who is living in her car with her daughter.

Believable characters, exciting plot and good writing have made me a big fan of this author’s works. While I’m hanging out for the next Michael Robotham book, in the meantime, I can always go back to some of his earlier works which feature the same characters as The Wreckage, although it might be best if I save them to read on the weekends.






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