"Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living."
-Anais Nin

14 January 2012

UnFair Coverup: The Grevillea Murder Mystery Series Book Three -- A Review

This is my third review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

You might also like to read my first two reviews of Claire Corbett's When We Have Wings and Anne Whitfield's Broken Hero

Fact #1: I seldom read crime and mystery novels. 

Fact #2: I avoid stories of crimes against children, particularly sexual crimes. 

Fact #3: I am SO GLAD I went beyond my comfort zone and read UnFair Coverup by Goldie Alexander

What it IS: 
A story narrated from multiple (I counted 7) perspectives written in third person, describing a mystery surrounding a shredded body found in a sleepy town outside Melbourne, Victoria.

This story reminds me so much of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple mysteries. I loved them and I may have read all of them when I was young. The small town gossips, the dark secrets of close neighbours, and the slowly simmering tension that builds up to the revelatory climax are all reminiscent of Miss Marple. Kudos to the modern Agatha Christie, Goldie Alexander!

What it is NOT:  
It is not a thriller, car-chase-filled page-turner in the likes of Dan Brown, with clues and mysteries that lead to an unexpected revelation. The pleasure of the read is in getting to know the charming characters and their quirks, and immersing oneself in their lives. 

Best Parts:
Olivia's mouth-watering recipes that are peppered throughout the story add spice to the mystery! I haven't tried any of them yet, but other reviewers attest that they work.

The multiple third-person close perspectives used in the story might be a bit exhausting for some readers.

This is the third of a series. While not having read the first two did not reduce the pleasure I had in reading this one, I caution other readers that this one has spoilers  for the first two books. I do think I'll still enjoy the first two even knowing the culprits, as these books are really entertaining even without the suspense of a typical whodunit. 

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12 January 2012

'Broken Hero' by Anne Whitfield-- A Review

This is my second review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.
I am a fan of historical novels, and I always love reading romantic fiction. Broken Hero by Anne Whitfield belongs to that genre of historical novels with strong romantic elements (I hesitate to call it ‘historical romance’, as this term evokes  images of Viking romances and Regency romances—all of which, by the way, I enjoy reading, too!).

I picked this book for my next review with rather high expectations, given its interesting blurb and excellent ratings on Goodreads.com.

Audrey is a strong young woman caught up in the turmoil of the war in her home, which accommodates recuperating soldiers. She falls in love with Captain Jake Harding, an attractive yet reticent army doctor with a tragic past. Audrey uses her strength and intense passion for Jake to entice him out of his self-imposed shell and show him how to love—and live—again.

At first, I fell in love with all the characters at once, and found myself swept up in the drama of their lives. I admired Audrey's strength and passion, Jake's intense love for his dead wife and his compassion for his patients, Lucy's love of life and youthful gaiety. They were very sympathetic characters, and I enjoyed meeting them.

Unfortunately, my romance with the characters weakened with the progress of the book. 

I regret to admit that I was disappointed in this story. I suppose the overall plot and themes are typical for novels in this genre, but I expected the writing to make something more out of the clich├ęs and come up with something unique to the book. I have enjoyed many other novels in this genre having the same overall plot, thanks to entertaining writing.

I found the beginning of the book riveting, and I couldnt wait to know the characters more deeply.  By the middle of the book, however, I began to think Audrey’s tenacious efforts to get Jake to open up a little tiresome rather than admirable.  The idea of Audrey persisting to break Jake’s shell was a good one, but at some point I wanted to tell her to give up. Or at least try a different tack with Jake.

Jake intrigued me in the first chapters and I wanted him for Audrey. But as the story progressed, he did not seem strong enough for Audrey. Even his resistance to her affections  seemed tentative rather than resolute. 

I thought the tension and drama could have been improved when Jake finally revealed what ‘horrors’ he committed during the war that he regretted. His revelation somehow seemed anti-climactic.

The dialogue could have been written to be less predictable. While the characters did not need  be witty, it would have been nice to read entertaining dialogue and enjoyable banter.  

I guess, overall, I felt the story could have used a bit more drama and conflict. The first few chapters were enjoyable to read, but the tension between Jake and Audrey soon dissipated and I could not wait for the book to end. Audrey’s injury during an air raid, which I assumed should be an important turning point in the story, appeared not quite fleshed out enough. I felt the same was true for each turning point in the story. Every single one seemed rushed through, not elaborated, as if the writer was pulling her punches. The scenes when Audrey and Jake finally got together, for example, were quite disappointing. Likewise, I thought the sub-plot involving Audrey’s sister, Lucy, was a tad underdone, such that it seemed almost superfluous to the story. Valeries secret inner wound could also have been written to be more striking, despite being predictable.

I do think the story is a good one, and I can see why so many people liked it. I just think that the drama could have been amplified somehow, to challenge the emotions of the reader even more, and to deliver on the climax and tension that the opening promised.

This is the first book by Anne Whitfield that I have read. Id like to read her other  romance novels, to see whether I might enjoy her other work more than this one.  Given the excellent ratings her books get on Goodreads, I was surprised  I did not completely enjoy this book. I want to know what I might  be missing in her other work.

Overall, I'd recommend the book to romance readers everywhere. But do be warned that some of you may feel let down if you’re looking for a more emotional and impassioned time with your romantic fiction.

My first review (Claire Corbett’s When We Have Wings) can be viewed here.

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07 January 2012

When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett- A Review

This  is my first review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012.

What would life be like, how would our cities look, what would our values be, and who would we be when we have wings?

Claire Corbett masterfully addresses these questions and more in her debut novel 'When We Have Wings', published by Allen and Unwin in 2011.

The story is set sometime in the future, when bioengineering has made it possible for humans to fly. Through surgery, treatment and training, those who can afford them can have wings seamlessly made part of their bodies, with the appropriate modifications to muscles, sight and navigation skills, as well. Society is no longer merely divided into haves and have-nots; this future world distinguishes between fliers and non-fliers.

Peri is a young woman with an enigmatic background. After seeing fliers on television for the first time, her troubled life in 'rural land' as a non-flier is consumed by the dream to fly. She moves to the city and joins the household of two high-profile fliers, the Chesshyres, to become the nanny to their son, Hugo. Her unparalleled service to the Chesshyres earns Peri the right to have her own wings as well. But the sudden and mysterious death of a fellow non-flier-turned-flier nanny compels Peri to take flight (pardon the pun), with Hugo in tow.

The Chesshyres hire Zeke Fowler, a private investigator, to find Hugo and bring him back. A non-flier himself, Zeke is thrust into the amazing and shady world of fliers, which he studies not only to find Hugo, but also to learn more about the elite world that may be in store for Zeke’s own son.

The story unfolds from Peri’s and Zeke’s perspectives. The mystery of Peri's parents and identity is slowly revealed through both their eyes.  A sub-plot involves a mystery in the Church of Seraphim, run by a Luddite-like Origins cult that opposes the creation of fliers and embraces the many defects that afflict humanity. The mysteries are all neatly resolved at the end of the novel, with the main plot and sub-plot emerging together as one thread. A minor plot of romance between Peri and another flier juxtaposes nicely against the bigger picture of Peri’s love for Hugo.

As one who has spent most of her sleeping hours having lucid dreams of flying, I absolutely enjoyed the world that Corbett created. Her vision of a time when humans may choose to have wings is glorious, but she has also insightfully raised the ethical issues involved in choosing to alter oneself so radically as to aspire to be angels. Are fliers evolving to be a new species? Should they be considered superior to non-fliers, set apart in their own cities in the skies? Should parents choose for their children to be fliers? These moral dilemmas are addressed squarely in the story, without too much preaching or self-righteousness.

I was impressed by the depth of Corbett’s research into how birds fly and navigate, and the different types of wind and clouds. I confess, however, that I skipped these highly technical descriptions during my first reading, and went back to them after finishing the story.

The rendering of a future world is accomplished very well, without taking over the plot and delicately told story. Zeke’s artificially intelligent car is as much a character in the book as iPhone’s Siri may eventually be in our lives.

Most of all, I really appreciate the message that merely having wings doesn’t make humans fliers; flight is a way of life. It is a culture and a philosophy. Corbett writes, “It takes more than wings to fly.” Peri’s experience with the Audax, a group of fliers striving to test the boundaries of what they can do with their wings, reminds me of that other wonderful work I love: Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Corbett quotes scripture hundreds of times throughout the novel, from both Peri’s and Zeke’s perspectives. While the reference to the Bible makes the image of fliers as modern-day angels even more powerful, I found it quite overdone. It might have been fine if we just had Zeke quoting scripture; but having Peri constantly spouting verses from the Bible as well was too much. The spiritual and moral aspects of humans with wings were coarsely hammered to the readers this way, rather than subtly rendered in broad strokes.

I also found it jarring how the first chapter was written in present tense, while the rest of the book was in past tense. At first I thought Peri’s perspective would be told in the present tense while Zeke’s would be in the past tense, but this was not the case. The first chapter just stood out like a sore thumb. If it had been a prologue, the different tense would have made sense; but as Chapter One, it doesn’t quite work as smoothly, and rather distracting.

As a romantic, I would have liked the romance between Peri and a Raptor (military-trained fliers) fleshed out even more. The brief interlude between Zeke and a flier was also quite a distraction; the story would have worked without it, yet it could have made Zeke’s story stronger had it appeared as more than just a blip on the screen.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, and will most likely read it a few more times. I recommend it for all those who would like to contemplate what it would be like—and who we would be—when we have wings.

I have also posted this review on Goodreads.

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