Book reviews


Fresh Complaint is a book of short stories by the author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides.

The theme of Fresh Complaint is men behaving badly, although to be fair, some of the men were coerced into behaving as they did. Not all of the stories feature male main characters, but in these cases, the men’s behaviour impacts the female characters, causing a problem.

Complainers tells of two aging female friends as the eldest of the two becomes unable to look after herself due to poor health and dementia. The women share the love of a good book;

“They didn’t consider themselves intellectuals but they knew good writing from bad. Most of all, they liked a good story.”

Baster is the funniest of the stories in the collection and was my favourite. Tomasina is desperate to fall pregnant and although her ex-boyfriend Wally still loves her and is keen to be a father himself, Tomasina chooses someone else to provide the raw material… The outcome of this story made me surprisingly happy, despite my qualms about the characters’ behaviour.

Great Experiment is the story of an employee looking for a better deal from his employer. I felt sorry for the main character in this story, even though he should have listened to his conscience. (Isn’t that always the way?)

The title story, Fresh Complaint is the story of a Physics Professor who meets a young Indian woman desperate to avoid an arranged marriage. Another set of characters who should have listened to their consciences before making stupid choices.

Air Mail is the story of a young man travelling on the hippie trail who contracts a tummy bug. In my opinion he would have been better served by antibiotics than by searching for a spiritual remedy for his diarrhoea…

Each of the stories in Fresh Complaint were the perfect length to dip in and out of when my available reading time was short. I enjoyed some of the stories more than others, but as I’ve come to expect from this author, the plot of each was varied, unpredictable and interesting.








I came across the Aunt Dimity series after reading Ami at luvtoread’s delightful review of Aunt Dimity & the Next of Kin by Nancy Atherton. Ami’s review suggested that readers who are new to the Aunt Dimity books start at the beginning of the series, but as most of my reading matter comes from the local library, I am a slave to what they have, so started with number 19, Aunt Dimity & the Wishing Well. 

Book Review: Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin by Nancy Atherton (An Aunt Dimity Mystery #10)

Aunt Dimity & the Wishing Well was a fun read which featured a light mystery. The story follows the heroine, Lori Shepherd as she and her neighbours welcome a newcomer to their English village in the Cotswalds. The newcomer is Jack MacBride, who hails from… wait for it… Malua Bay in New South Wales. You won’t believe this, but I lived at Malua Bay for many years, so nearly fell out of my Acapulco Chair in my haste to show the relevant page to He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers! Nancy Atherton must have visited Malua Bay at some point as Jack described it as a slice of paradise. See the photo below for proof…


Coincidences aside, Jack MacBride is a tall, handsome, gorgeous Aussie (aren’t they all?) who set female hearts a-flutter when he arrived just in time for his Uncle Hector’s funeral. A few people suspect Jack of being someone other than who he says he is, but others, including Lori, jump at the chance to help him clear the garden around his Uncle Hector’s cottage in order for him to put it up for sale. When a wishing well is discovered in the garden, Lori makes a wish which comes true. Soon, everyone for miles around is visiting the garden to make their own wishes.

Other people’s wishes also start coming true, which became a problem when their wishes started impacting other people’s happiness. Lori, in an attempt to get to the bottom of what is going on with the wishing well, discusses matters with her Aunt Dimity who helps her to work out what is going on.

It is no secret that the character of Aunt Dimity is a ghost, who Lori communicates with by writing in a book with magical ink. I accepted this without hesitation, but struggled with the idea of a wishing well which delivered all sorts of wishes. I might have been less skeptical if a character had wished for a never-ending supply of chocolate, but obviously we all want different things…

Aunt Dimity & the Wishing Well was a quick read, fun and frothy and I enjoyed it enormously. Highly recommended as a cheerful, light read.



The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Australian author Richard Flanagan won the Man Booker Prize in 2014, but don’t let that stop you from reading this book.*

Secondly, don’t be put off because most of the story takes place during World War 2. I avoid war novels and wouldn’t have read The Narrow Road to the Deep North had I realised what the setting was before starting, but as it turned out, I read most of this emotionally draining, gruelling story with a huge lump in my throat. There were times I had to stop reading because I was feeling too much to continue. I can list other books which have made me feel this way with just the fingers on one hand.

“A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul. Such books were for him rare, and as he aged, rarer. Still he searched, on more Ithaca for which he was forever bound.”

And lastly, don’t be put off by the beginning of the book which doesn’t do justice to the rest of the story. It also took me a while to get used to quotation marks not being used to differentiate dialogue within the text.

He was your cobber?

Like all immigrants, he seemed to have an erring instinct for the oldest, truest words in his new language.

The story follows the life of a Tasmanian doctor, Dorrigo Evans, who for most of the book is a Japanese prisoner of war on the Burmese Railway. The story is interspersed with the story of Dorrigo’s love affair with his uncle’s wife, Amy, who for Dorrigo, no other woman ever lived up to. Later, the story switches to Dorrigo’s life after the war.

The stories of the Australian POWs while building what became known as the Death Railway in The Narrow Road to the Deep North are harrowing, but the story does not treat the characters with pity. Instead, I realised that the POWs themselves had no room in their quest for their own survival for pity, either for themselves or for anyone else, although that didn’t mean that they didn’t show kindness to each other, generosity and a spirit which made me feel overwhelmingly patriotic at times (for an Australian society which no longer exists).

“Darky Gardiner loathed Tiny, thought him a fool and would do anything to keep him alive. Because courage, survival, love–all these things didn’t live in one man. They lived in them all or they died and every man with them; they had come to believe that to abandon one man was to abandon themselves.”

The way the Japanese soldiers are portrayed is interesting, in that their cruelty to the POWs is shown to be the only way they can behave and still be Japanese.

“Humans are only one of many things, and all these things long to live, and the highest form of living is freedom: a man to be a man, a cloud to be a cloud, bamboo to be bamboo.”

I’m taking a break from reading for a few days because I’m not ready for another story yet, as The Narrow Road to the Deep North still has too strong a hold of my heart and imagination. And yes, I’ll be working my way through other books by Richard Flanagan soon.

*My reading tastes can be quite low-brow, I often enjoy books that critics bag out, and dislike books they praise.

Happy Australia Day, everyone.


I loved Downton Abbey and have been known to swan around my kitchen saying “Oh, golly,” in Lady Mary’s cool style, but I sounded more like a Downton Abbey fan learning there is to be a Downton Abbey movie when I found Belgravia by Julian Fellowes! Woo-hoo!

My edition was large print too, which is brilliant for reading in bed. Obviously I had chocolate, and my pillows were just right. I was uninterrupted and perfectly happy for the first third of the book.

But then, disaster. I became bored with the story.

Belgravia started well. James Trenchard, food supplier to the British military, and his family were in Brussels in 1815, along with the Duke of Wellington, his soldiers and a great many British Society people, many of whom attended the Duchess of Richmond’s ball the evening before the Battle of Waterloo. The comparatively lowly Trenchard family also managed to scrape an invitation to the ball because their daughter Sophia was romantically involved with Lord Bellasis, the Duchess of Richmond’s nephew. A few days later, Lord Bellasis died in battle.

The story then jumps to 1841, 25 years later. Sophia has also been dead nearly 25 years. James, whose business is now building grand homes for the aristocracy and his wife Anne are still scrabbling at the edges of society. When Anne has a chance meeting with Lady Brockenhurst, the late Lord Bellasis’ mother, the future of both families is changed.

It was at this point that the story then fell into a predictable set of family intrigues, schemes and disasters. I didn’t feel emotionally attached to any of the characters apart from those who had already died, so I started skimming through the book, just to satisfy myself that the book would turn out as I had expected. (It did).

I’ll stick with Julian Fellowes’ brilliant screen work in future.







Calamity in Kent by John Rowland is from the British Library Crime Series. For ages I have been getting the ‘wants’ whenever I see a review of one of these, although for the original poster the book cover come from, rather than for the books themselves.

I won’t lie, Calamity in Kent isn’t the best story I have ever read, partly because it hadn’t aged well. However, I also guessed who the murderer was on first appearance, found the story to be flimsy and repetitive, and the dialogue clumsy. Good editing would have improved this book enormously. Had I not been so enamoured of the cover, I would not have finished the book.

The original posters used on the book’s cover are below.

For anyone interested, the story tells of a tabloid newspaper journalist, Jimmy London, on holidays in Broadgate when he meets a man who has just discovered a dead body locked in the lift that takes tourists from the clifftop to the beach. Jimmy investigates the murder, encouraged (!) in his quest to find the murderer by Inspector Shelley of Scotland Yard.

My fondness for the covers on the novels of the British Library Crime Series continues, despite my disappointment in this particular story.


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.



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…




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.


bay of


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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