Brenda’s Top Ten Books of the Year 2018

This has been a bumper year for 5 star reads, trying to narrow the list to just ten is very difficult but Brenda has managed to whittle her list to these  ten exciting reads (in no particular order) :

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

The Queen's Colonial

The Queen’s Colonial by Peter Watt

The Nature of the Lion

Nature of the Lion by T.M. Clark

Wundersmith

Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend

Disguising Demons

Disguising Demons by Brigid George

The Dream Daughter

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

The Great Alone

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah

The Lost Pearl

The Lost Pearl by Emily Madden

The Lost Valley

The Lost Valley by Jennifer Scoullar

Whitsunday Dawn

Whitsunday Dawn by Annie Seaton

Post Script: The Portrait of Molly Dean – Katherine Kovacic

The Portrait of Molly Dea

The Portrait of Molly Dean

Katherine Kovacic

Echo Publishing

ISBN: 9781760409784

 

Description:

An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years…

 

In 1999, art dealer Alex Clayton stumbles across a lost portrait of Molly Dean, an artist’s muse brutally slain in Melbourne in 1930. Alex buys the painting and sets out to uncover more details, but finds there are strange inconsistencies: Molly’s mother seemed unconcerned by her daughter’s violent death, the main suspect was never brought to trial despite compelling evidence, and vital records are missing. Alex enlists the help of her close friend, art conservator John Porter, and together they sift through the clues and deceptions that swirl around the last days of Molly Dean.

 

 

My View:

What an outstanding read! In this book you will EXPERIENCE history, art, mystery, murder…

When I picked up this book I was enthralled by the cover art and then I started reading! I hadn’t read but a page or two and I KNEW this book was going to feature on my “Best Reads 2018”. Fantastic writing, locations that leap of the page.  An era that is succinctly captured; the socio economic environment, the mores, the fashion, the corruption, and the abuses of power. This novel is intriguing, you will devour the pages till the revealing end.  Plus I loved the characters.  And the dog. 🙂

 

Encore! More!!!!

 

 

Post Script: Pachyderm – Hugh McGinlay

Pachyderm

Pachyderm

Hugh McGinlay

Threekookaburras

ISBN: 9780995369245

 

 

Description:

A night at the Melbourne Zoo drinking champagne seems a fine idea, until an animal’s death throws milliner and sleuth Catherine Kint into another mystery. Before you can say ‘monkey business’ Catherine and her trusted barman Boris are annoying everyone from zoologists to police. The investigation would challenge the best detectives, but this is Catherine and Boris on the case. Secrets, accidents, rivalries, egos and lust all set the dung flying. By the time this is finished, reputations will be tarnished, gin will be drunk and someone’s gonna get fed to the lions … or some other carnivore.

 

Pachyderm is the second Catherine Kint mystery written by Hugh McGinlay.

 

 

My View

I can visualise this book in the show-reel in my mind; such quintessential Australian humour, larger than life charters – Catherine and Boris are fantastic protagonists that you will cheer on as they try and solve this mystery. The settings are pure Australian – from the Melbourne Zoo to the local pubs, taxis and streetscapes.

 

I loved being privy to the protagonists’ thoughts as they navigate their way through their action packed days. Interestingly each chapter starts with a characters witty observation, eg  p. 165 chapter ten – “I’m cheerful, it’s the most subtle form of rebellion can think of,” Boris  Shakhovskoy. There is a lot to love about this clever, addictive read.

 

I predict that this series would make great television viewing with its quirky yet loveable characters, with a narrative that has a wonderful sense of fun and adventure and moments of almost slapstick humour.  I did enjoy this quirky read!

 

 

 

 

Post Script: The Hidden Hours – Sara Foster

The Hidden Hours

The Hidden Hours

Sara Foster

Simon & Schuster Australia

ISBN: 9781925184815

 

Description:

Keeping her secret may save her family.

But telling it may save her life.

Arabella Lane, senior executive at a children’s publisher, is found dead in the Thames on a frosty winter’s morning after the office Christmas party. No one is sure whether she jumped or was pushed. The one person who may know the truth is the newest employee at Parker & Lane – the office temp, Eleanor.

Eleanor has travelled to London to escape the repercussions of her traumatic childhood in outback Australia, but now tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. To her horror, she has no memory of the crucial hours leading up to Arabella’s death – memory that will either incriminate or absolve her.

As Eleanor desperately tries to remember her missing hours and uncover the events of that fateful night, her own extended family is dragged further into the dark, terrifying terrain of blame, suspicion and guilt.

Caught in a crossfire of accusations, Eleanor fears she can’t even trust herself, let alone the people around her. And soon, she’ll find herself in a race against time to find out just what happened that night – and discover just how deadly some secrets can be.

 

 

My View:

It took me a little time to warm to the protagonist – the death of Arabella Lane in the UK presents a story line that is not particularly   warm or sympathetic; Arabella’s character is manipulative and Eleanor appears stunted by fear, is lonely, low in confidence and has a mysterious past that we want to unravel. The second narrative, of Eleanor’s childhood, reaches out to your heartstrings, you can feel the loneliness, the frisson of fear and anticipation of the revealing of unspeakable events causing static as you turn the pages.  In the telling of the two histories Eleanor becomes whole; empathetic and intriguing.

 

For this is a story of intrigue – so much is not what it seems. Sara Foster cleverly leads us on tour of discovery complete with dead ends, false starts, false leads and so much anticipation. Several times I thought I knew where/how this mystery would resolve…and I was wrong each time. This is very cleverly plotted and paced mystery. Trust no one.

 

Read right to the very end, read the afterword and learn a little about Sara Foster, about loneliness and despair…and books. “My favourite writers could read my mind before I could find my voice. They could answer my questions without me having to utter them. They pulled me through then, and they still do now. I believe there is at least one book out there that will do this for everyone. Probably many. If you ever need them, I urge you to search them out and bring yourself back to the world. Seek out your books, not the ones you are told to read. Find your truth. Do your soul work. And while you do it, keep faith in a brighter day tomorrow.” (Sara Foster, Afterword)

 

A great read. Thank you Sara Foster.

 

 

 

Post Script: The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman ( aka Everything You Want Me to Be ) Mindy Mejia

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman

The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman (aka Everything You Want Me to Be)

Mindy Mejia

Hachette Australia

Quercus

ISBN: 9781784295936

 

Description:

Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to her death.

 

High school senior Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good citizen. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death on the opening night of her high school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of her small town community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a family friend of the Hoffmans, vows to find her killer, but trying to solve her murder yields more questions than answers. It seems that Hattie’s acting talents ran far beyond the stage. Told from three points of view—Del, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling—Everything You Want Me to Be weaves the story of Hattie’s last school year and the events that drew her ever closer to her death.

 

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery—or destruction?

 

My View:

This narrative is so much more than a whodunit, it has so much more to offer than a psychological thriller, indeed it offers the reader so much more of life you will be rendered emotionally spent at the end of this work of crime fiction/ life lit/YA/murder mash up. WOW!

Powerful, credible and engaging…this is a fabulous read that will have you staying up late to finish the last page. And then you will be bereft!

 

I was astounded by the amazing insight that teen Hattie has about her life and the meaning of her existence and how she was able to verbalise her identity crisis – we all at some stage of our life ponder who we are and what we are doing with our life, what a great basis for a crime novel, what a way to connect with an audience.  Hattie ponders her existence, her role, her identity, the big WHY’s and the honest answer she eventually provides herself is life changing or more accurately life ending.   So much irony here.

 

Credit must be given to this author for creating such a loathsome manipulative character who somehow we cannot help but empathise with, as we do with all the main characters. The three, first person perspectives work effectively to flesh out the story and to bring out the honesty, humanness and great sadness that completes this narrative.  This is the thinking person’s murder mystery.   WOW WOW WOW- this is a great read.

 

PS I prefer the Australian tittle i.e The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman – says it all really  🙂

Post Script: What She Never Told Me – Kate McQuaile

What My Mother Never Told Me

What She Never Told Me

Kate McQuaile

Hachette Australia

Quercus

ISBN: 9781784296711

 

Description:

What do you do when you find out that your whole life could be a lie?

 

‘I talked to my mother the night she died, losing myself in memories of when we were happiest together. But I held one memory back, and it surfaces now, unbidden. I see a green post box and a small hand stretching up to its oblong mouth. I am never sure whether that small hand is mine. But if not mine, whose?’

 

Louise Redmond left Ireland for London before she was twenty. Now, more than two decades later, her heart already breaking from a failing marriage, she is summoned home. Her mother is on her deathbed, and it is Louise’s last chance to learn the whereabouts of a father she never knew.

 

Stubborn to the end, Marjorie refuses to fill in the pieces of her daughter’s fragmented past. Then Louise unexpectedly finds a lead. A man called David Prescott . . . but is he really the father she’s been trying to find? And who is the mysterious little girl who appears so often in her dreams? As each new piece of the puzzle leads to another question, Louise begins to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be a delicate web of lies.

 

 

My View:

This was a very intense mystery that speaks to the themes of motherhood, family, memory, loss and grief.

So many secrets and lies… so much sadness. The author slowly reveals clues or bits of information or red herrings that have you plotting and planning and trying to solve the mystery, I doubt that you will or at least not till the very end.

 

The author has excelled in drawing the reader into the world of her characters. The opening pages are full of mystery and the images in these pages repeat themselves throughout the novel building the anticipation and expectation of a resolution of the mystery.

 

As you read you will find yourself sighing with sadness at the many disappointments, revelations and lies that fill these lives and pages. Life has thrown many challenges in the path of the main characters, good choices have not always been made, and lives can be changed in an instant.

 

 

You are transported back into the time and places (Ireland 1960’s) when religion and fear dictated women’s choices regarding their sexuality and fertility. The settings, the social structure of society are clear and visual, the characters and their relationships are realistic but always there is a hint of the unreliable narrator that throws questions and misdirection’s in your path.

 

A heartbreaking but enjoyable family drama and mystery. A great debut novel.

 

Post Script- The Darkest Secret – Alex Marwood

The Darkest Secret

The Darkest Secret

Alex Marwood

Hachette Australia

Sphere

Little Brown Book Group

ISBN: 9780751550702

 

Description:

Taut, emotive and utterly compelling, an unputdownable ‘ripped from headlines’ read from Alex Marwood, author of the huge word-of-mouth bestseller, The Wicked Girls.

 

When three-year-old identical twin Coco goes missing during a family celebration, there is a media frenzy. Her parents are rich and influential, as are the friends they were with at their holiday home by the sea.

 

But what really happened to Coco during her father’s 50th birthday weekend?

 

Set across two weekends – the first when Coco goes missing and the second, at the funeral of Coco’s father, where at last, the darkest of secrets will be revealed…

 

 

My View:

For me the scene setting and character development took just a little too long. However it did set the scene extraordinarily well – a life of pretentious self-absorption, a “look at me” “look at me” generation (and I am not talking gen Y!) full of unlikeable characters and over the top behaviours. There was not a lot to like here and a lot to loathe.

 

Suddenly all that changed! I was engrossed in the narrative – the cold and calculating behaviours, the self-absorption, the lies and the turmoil, the obvious effect that this self-indulgent lifestyle had on the younger members of this cast and the shocking tug at your heart strings disappearance of a child.

Later Camila/Mila, with the maturity/responsibilities that a death of a parent forces upon her somehow morphs into a somewhat more likeable character, Ruby her half-sister is unblemished by her birth rites, other than that the vast cast of characters are totally unlikable and unfortunately somewhat realistic. Somehow you find yourself absorbed in this read about ugly people with very ugly behaviours and the mystery regarding the disappearance of baby Coco.

 

The author leaves subtle clues (or maybe my intuition is just spot on) but I guessed the demise of baby Coco and the orchestrator and the reasoning behind the act and where we could find Coco. (No spoilers here). But the final chapter left me gutted! We are not given a neat and tidy happy ending or cause for too much optimism – and in the final chapter we are dumbstruck by yet another lie that leaves the reader gasping!

 

Powerful, dark yet utterly compelling.

 

 

 

**Robert Gott – you will find Charlie Clutterbuck an interesting character J