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Blood, Wine and Chocolate
Blood, Wine and Chocolate
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $6.99

2.0 out of 5 stars I'm not sure what genre I would classify this as, June 28, 2016
Vinnie has grown up on the fringe of a London mob. His father was a mobster and his boyhood friend Marcus was a future crime boss. Vinnie however dabbles in small crime, selling counterfeit goods at a London market. When he witnesses a murder, he and his wife Anna are re-settled in New Zealand as part of a witness protection programme. They buy a vineyard on idyllic Waiheke Island where they can pursue their joint passions for wine (Vinnie) and chocolate (Anna). However when their wine starts to meet with international acclaim, they come to the attention of the very people that they are trying to hide from.

I really wasn't sure what to make of this book. It's a very uneasy combination of a dark London gangster thriller and an upbeat comedic tale about wine and chocolate. The best way I can describe it is is Simon Kernick paired up with Nicky Pellegrino to write a novel. One moment a gangster is breaking someone's kneecaps, the next we are getting mouth-watering descriptions of chocolates. The plot and the tone just don't work together.


The Dry
The Dry

4.0 out of 5 stars Really, really good, June 26, 2016
This review is from: The Dry (Kindle Edition)
Aaron Falk grew up in Kiewarra, a small town in rural Australia. When he was 16, his girlfriend Ellie was found drowned and he and his father were run out of town. He never returned. Twenty years later, having forged a career with the Federal Police, he sees a news story that Luke Hadler, his best friend growing up, has killed his wife and son in a murder-suicide. He returns to Kiewarra for the funeral. The local policeman has doubts about whether Luke was actually responsible for the killings and asks Falk to stick around and assist in the investigation. He agrees to do so, despite the fact that there is still considerable ill will in the town towards him.

This is a terrific crime novel. Really, really good. It's full of atmosphere and all the claustrophobia of an isolated small town. The characters are believable. The dual mysteries (both who killed the Hadler family and also Ellie's death twenty years prior which may or may not have been suicide) unfold gradually and keep you guessing. It's reminiscent of the excellent Bitter Wash Road by Garry Disher in tone and setting, but also feels like an early Gillian Flynn novel.

My only complaint is the way that the book comes together. I have no issues with the solutions, which are clever and believable, but the way that they come out feels too contrived. Any book that relies on a character finding a long-lost diary is a bit of a let down. Also, the abrupt ending felt a little like Jane Harper just decided that she'd had enough and it was time to send the book off to the publisher, stat.

Nevertheless, a good 90% of this book is close to unputdownable. Read it!


This Must Be the Place
This Must Be the Place

4.0 out of 5 stars Layered, complicated, pleasing, June 22, 2016
This is a sprawling novel with a host of characters and locations, but at its core its the story of the marriage. Daniel is an American linguist who meets Claudette while travelling in Ireland. Claudette is an Oscar-winning actress who, unable to cope with fame, broke away from her life and found a remote corner of Ireland to hide away in. For a time they are happy, but Daniel has unresolved issues from a previous relationship that threaten to spill into their present lives.

Maggie O'Farrell's books often feature layered plots, but here she has exceeded herself in terms of scope and also technique. Chapters jump forward and back in time, from 1944 to 2016, as we focus on different people in Daniel and Claudette's lives. One chapter is presented as notes from an auction of Claudette's belongings while another is the transcript of an interview. For the most part the focus is on their family members but occasionally we are introduced to peripheral characters. Somehow it works. The sum of the parts comes together in one glorious whole.

Reading this book, I was sure that I'd be rating it five stars, but somewhere towards the end I realised that something - for me - was missing. Maybe it was the fact that we never learn the specifics of where things went wrong between Daniel and Claudette. We intuit it, we understand what happened, but it's never explicitly laid out for us. Or maybe it's because, in focusing on so many characters, we don't develop a sufficiently strong relationship with the central pair. I realised at some point that I didn't quite care enough about Daniel and Claudette and that Claudette had never really come alive for me. While I fell heavily for some of the peripheral characters and I very much enjoyed the journey that the book took me on, it ended up being a book I really liked and admired rather than one that I truly loved.


A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald
A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald
Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)

4.0 out of 5 stars Tears along at a good pace, June 17, 2016
Hugely, addictively readable, the kind of book you devour in big chunks at a time - this is the story of Evie in 1920s New York. who is determined to become an obstetrician. This is an occupation that until very recently had been unheard of for a woman and one which was still most definitely not the choice of a respectable lady who is expected to marry young and uphold appearances at all times. Despite her family's objections, Evie ploughs ahead and to fund her studies she moonlights as a Zeigfried girl at the famous Ziegfried Follies.

One of the stars of this book is 1920s New York: the parties, the clothes, the glamor are present in spades but they butt up against traditional expectations of women and marriage. I was also genuinely fascinated by the details of childbirth at that time.

The book isn't without its flaws. Evie got on my nerves several times with her reactive nature that kept causing problems for herself. Also, the villain of the story is such an over the top villain that he lacks realism. Oh and the title of the book (which references F Scott Fitzgerald) is terrible! But overall, if you're after a good story set in an interesting time, this is a great choice.


The Gustav Sonata
The Gustav Sonata

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Precisely and lovingly told, June 13, 2016
This review is from: The Gustav Sonata (Kindle Edition)
"At the age of five, Gustav Perle was certain of only one thing: he loved his mother." Thus begins the story of Gustav's life, born and growing up in an unremarkable small town in Switzerland (the name of which translates as "Medium Town"). Gustav's father died when he was very young and his mother, who suffered from what we would now call post-natal depression, never bonded with him. Instead, she urges him to keep his emotions in check at all times. Growing up, Gustav's only friend is musical prodigy Anton, whom he adores. Anton however is self-centered and takes Gustav - who is often lonely - for granted.

The book splits into three parts. The first part is about Gustav's childhood. The middle part goes back to when his parents met and explains their story. In the third part, Gustav and Anton are in their 50s and coming to terms with the ways in which their lives haven't lived up to their expectations.

It's a slight story but it's told in a very careful way. Reading it, I felt that Rose Tremain was in total control of where the story was going and what she wanted to tell us at each point. Every word felt like it had been carefully assessed and placed on the page with care. I ached for Gustav and for some of the other characters who make appearances along the way. It is an understated book, but one that leaves an indelible mark.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 26, 2016 1:35 PM PDT


A Hero in France
A Hero in France

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tense and exciting, June 11, 2016
This review is from: A Hero in France (Kindle Edition)
Paris, 1941. Mathieu (not his real name) leads a small group of Resistance fighters. They help British airmen stranded in Occupied France to make their way to the South of France, from where they can cross into Spain and return to England. It's dangerous work. Mathieu has to rely on his instincts to know who he can trust and who he can't trust. He needs to build a network of people he can rely on and be able to rapidly improvise when things don't go according to plan (which is pretty much every time). Meanwhile, a top German detective has arrived in Paris tasked with identifying and arresting members of the Resistance.

Reading this book is almost a cinematic experience. If authors could win awards for best cinematography, surely Furst would be a candidate. His writing style is deceptively spartan. He strips all unnecessary words from every sentence, but still manages to make his books rich in atmosphere and detail. He even writes the conversations in such a way that they feel they could have been translated from French. I felt like I was transported to wartime France and I was kind of startled when I looked up from the book to find myself here in 2016. If you've read other books by Furst you'll know that his books, while standing alone in their own right, feature many crossover elements and part of the pleasure in reading them is recognising elements that he has used before - Brasserie Heininger, British agent S Kolb.

I notice that many of the other reviews for this book are quite critical of the absence of a coherent plotline, but the meandering plot structure is very typical of Furst and in fact I thought it was less true of this book than of several of his others. What it gives you is a clear sense of how one Resistance Cell might have operated, of how the English and the Germans may have reacted to it, and of the constant stress and danger that its members operated under. I also really liked the way he brought things together at the end. Several reviews also comment that the characters are caricatures, but while it's true that they may only have small roles I feel like they are rounded and real people. In a book like The NIghtingale for example, the characters are more filled out but to me they are much more caricatures than Mathieu and his crew.

If you enjoyed this book, I recommend Trapeze by Simon Mawer (also published under the title The Woman Who Fell From The Sky).


A Hero of France: A Novel
A Hero of France: A Novel
by Alan Furst
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.39
80 used & new from $10.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tense and exciting, June 11, 2016
Paris, 1941. Mathieu (not his real name) leads a small group of Resistance fighters. They help British airmen stranded in Occupied France to make their way to the South of France, from where they can cross into Spain and return to England. It's dangerous work. Mathieu has to rely on his instincts to know who he can trust and who he can't trust. He needs to build a network of people he can rely on and be able to rapidly improvise when things don't go according to plan (which is pretty much every time). Meanwhile, a top German detective has arrived in Paris tasked with identifying and arresting members of the Resistance.

Reading this book is almost a cinematic experience. If authors could win awards for best cinematography, surely Furst would be a candidate. His writing style is deceptively spartan. He strips all unnecessary words from every sentence, but still manages to make his books rich in atmosphere and detail. He even writes the conversations in such a way that they feel they could have been translated from French. I felt like I was transported to wartime France and I was kind of startled when I looked up from the book to find myself here in 2016. If you've read other books by Furst you'll know that his books, while standing alone in their own right, feature many crossover elements and part of the pleasure in reading them is recognising elements that he has used before - Brasserie Heininger, British agent S Kolb.

I notice that many of the other reviews for this book are quite critical of the absence of a coherent plotline, but the meandering plot structure is very typical of Furst and in fact I thought it was less true of this book than of several of his others. What it gives you is a clear sense of how one Resistance Cell might have operated, of how the English and the Germans may have reacted to it, and of the constant stress and danger that its members operated under. I also really liked the way he brought things together at the end. Several reviews also comment that the characters are caricatures, but while it's true that they may only have small roles I feel like they are rounded and real people. In a book like The NIghtingale for example, the characters are more filled out but to me they are much more caricatures than Mathieu and his crew.

If you enjoyed this book, I recommend Trapeze.


The Swimming Pool
The Swimming Pool

3.0 out of 5 stars Takes too long to find its feet, June 10, 2016
This review is from: The Swimming Pool (Kindle Edition)
Natalie and Ed have been married 16 years. They're both teachers and they have one child, 13 year old Molly, who has a phobia about water. When the local swimming pool opens, Natalie starts attending and gets to know mega-glam, mega-wealthy, Lara. To her delight, Lara welcomes Natalie into her circle of friends with open arms. Soon Natalie is hanging out with Lara on a daily basis, ignoring the rifts that this creates with her former friends and her husband.

However tension is simmering. We know from the prologue and also from the sub-plot, set a few weeks in the future, that drama is not far away. We know that Natalie has secrets from her past that she hasn't even told her husband. We sense, even if Natalie doesn't, that Lara's dazzling attentions are too good to be true. What we don't know is where the danger will come from. Will it comes from Molly's phobia? From Natalie's past? From Lara's hidden motivations? Or somewhere else entirely?

This is the second book I've read by Louise Candlish and she has a highly readable style that pulls you right in. However the storyline in this instance is less compelling than in "The Sudden Departure of the Frasers". It takes a very long time to get going. The tension simmers along but not a lot happens until the final third of the book. In the final third there are pleasing twists and discoveries, but you have to be patient to get to them. I suspect that Candlish realised this problem and that's why she added the prologue which is (minor spoiler, minor spoiler) highly misleading and really annoyed me when I realized how it fitted into the story.

Did I like this book? Sort of. It's not bad, it's just far too drawn out, with insufficient payoff for the reader when it all comes together. Plus I came to really dislike Natalie our narrator, which doesn't particularly help.


Sisters and Lies
Sisters and Lies

3.0 out of 5 stars Goes round in circles without a lot of progression, June 9, 2016
This review is from: Sisters and Lies (Kindle Edition)
Rachel is a successful writer whose marriage is floundering. One night, recently returned from a lengthy book tour, she gets a call to tell her that her sister Evie has been involved in a car crash and is in a coma. Rachel flies to Evie's side, but is surprised to find that Evie has been living an entirely different life from the one that Rachel knows about - and that she has been keeping Rachel's existence a secret. What was going on in Evie's life and is it connected to the car accident?

This is an easy book to read and it starts in a way that is fairly engaging but as it continued I felt like it was going round in circles without a lot of progression. The central mystery is quite a clever plot but it felt like the author struggled with how to bring it together as a believable story. So often people behave in ways that just. don't. make. sense. Small examples: are people really completely out of touch when they are in New Zealand for five weeks? do people decide marriages are completely over when they both still love each other without trying counselling? There are larger and more irritating examples but I can't really get into them without spoilers (the bet that two characters supposed had being one of them - if they didn't already know the outcome there is no point in the bet, but if they did know the outcome there is also no point in the bet!!!). Essentially, not one of the characters felt like a real person.

I do feel that there was a good story buried in this book and the explanation for Evie's behaviour is clever. I read this on a plane and it was a good choice for that - undemanding but sufficiently intriguing to (mostly) hold my interest.


Rick Steves Snapshot Naples & the Amalfi Coast: Including Pompeii
Rick Steves Snapshot Naples & the Amalfi Coast: Including Pompeii
by Rick Steves
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.03
67 used & new from $5.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not up to Rick's usual standard, June 8, 2016
Unless you are planning to include Naples on your trip, I wouldn't both with this guide. I bought it for the sections on Pompeii, Capri and the Amalfi Coast and I was fairly underwhelmed by it.

The section on Pompeii is excellent and has a suggested and interesting walking tour you can do. However the reality of Pompeii is that sections are closed off to the public all the time, and therefore it was impossible to follow the (admittedly very good) tour as suggested. Also, be aware that if this is one of your key motivations for buying this guide, you can download the same Pompeii tour as a podcast.

With the Amalfi Coast - well it just felt like Rick didn't like the Amalfi Coast much and didn't have a lot to say about it. How he could not rave about the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello I do not know. Not even graded "worthwhile if you can make it"?! There is no mention of sights like the Esmeralda Grotto, leaving you wondering if this is because he didn't have the space or thought them unworthy. (If the latter, it would have been good to know that). Praiano is not covered. The restaurant and accommodation recommendations in Positano are uninspired and uninviting. Essentially, the Amalfi Coast section is near useless.

A third of the book is devoted to Naples, which we did not go to. If you plan to include Naples in your trip, this book may be worthwhile, but otherwise I wouldn't recommend it. An unusual fail for Rick Steves.


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