31 December 2020

My Best Reads in 2020

Well, I made it to 118 books for the year.

The target was 120, so I'm quite happy, particularly as I rated so many books quite highly.

The best for the year were

Over half my books, both hard copies and e-books, came through my local library.
Just under 50% of my reads were e-books either on Libby or my Kindle.
A third of my reading came from Australian authors, 49/118 from British authors, and roughly a third are "new-to-me" authors, many of which I have followed up with a second title.
There are some areas where I haven't done so well: translated books, New Zealand authors.

I participated in a number of challenges, notably

  • 2020 Good Reads Reading Challenge. I have set my challenge at 120. Currently: 118
  • Good Reads A-Z of titles: Currently: 21
  • Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Completed in 2014, titles read in 2020: 3
  • USA Fiction Challenge So far 29/51, this year: 15
  • 2020 Aussie Author Reading Challenge: aiming for 20: currently 39
  • 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge: aiming for 20. Currently 29
  • Read Around the World 2020: currently: 118
  • British Books Challenge 2020 currently 49
  • 2020 Ebook Reading Challenge currently 57
  • New to me authors - a personal challenge currently  40
  • Not crime fiction - a personal challenge currently 8
  • Nordic reading challenge - a personal challenge, currently 6
  • New Zealand reading challenge -again a personal challenge. currently 2
  • Translated crime fiction - a personal challenge that will overlap with many of the other reading challenges that I have undertaken. currently 9
  • Snagged through the Library currently: 68
  • Audio books: currently: 10
  • 2020 Historical Reading Challenge. Currently: 13

Blogger put up a new platform this year which I avoided swapping to for as long as I could, but eventually had to. It has made some of my record keeping more difficult and probably next year I will cut down on the number of pages that i maintain.

This blog turns 13 on January 2. According to Blogger there have been 2,642,874 page views, there are 3,945 posts, with nearly 10,000 comments. The blog gives me great pleasure.

Happy New Year! 

30 December 2020

review: CONSOLATION, Garry Disher

  • Format: e-book Libby - available through my local library
  • Length: 400pp
  • Text Publishing: 3 November 2020
  • ISBN: 9781922330260
  • #3 Paul Hirschhausen series 

Synopsis (Text Publishing)

In Consolation, Tiverton’s only police officer Constable Paul Hirschhausen is dealing with a snowdropper. Someone is stealing women’s underwear, and Hirsch knows how that kind of crime can escalate. Then two calls come in: a teacher who thinks a child may be in danger at home. A father on the rampage over at the primary school.

Hirsch knows how things like that can escalate, too. Families under pressure. Financial problems. But it’s always a surprise when the killing starts.

My Take

Constable Paul Hirschhausen of South Australia Police patrols his base town of  Tiverton on foot every morning just after sunrise, making sure that all is well. Every Tuesday and Thursday he visits people in local towns, checking on the elderly, the vulnerable and those living alone. He makes it his business to know how everybody is and what the locals are up to.

But life is never boring. There is always something that needs to be done, and he is not on his own. His supervising sergeant lives in the neighbouring town of Redruth. When she is hurt early in this novel Hirsch has to take charge. He doesn't usually have the luxury of being able to focus on a single case; he often has many strings to his bow, many little mysteries to solve. When something major happens - perhaps a shooting or a disappearance - then the investigation is often taken out of local hands by senior officers from Port Pirie or even Adelaide. Often these teams will treat Hirsch or even his sergeant as if they have no local knowledge.

The structure of these novels reminds me of those I used to read years ago before I became a crime fiction addict - novels like Dr. Findlay's Casebook by A.J. Cronin, or The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith. In the case of the Hirsch novels, (of which there are now 3) many balls are being juggled at once, and there is a strong flavour of what it would be like to live in a remote mid-North town, and a sense of the community repercussions of a single crime.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 5.0

I've also read
- Hirsch #1 - aka HELL TO PAY
5.0, PEACE- Hirsch #2

29 December 2020

review: THE AOSAWA MURDERS, Riku Onda

  • first published in Japanese in 2005 as Eugenia
  • first published in UK by Bitter Lemon Press in 2020
  • translated from Japanese by Alison Watts
  • 315 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-912242-24-5

Synopsis (Bitter Lemon Press)

The Aosawa Murders won the 59th Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel.

The novel starts in the 1960s when 17 people die of cyanide poisoning at a party given by the owners of a prominent clinic in a town on the coast of the Sea of Japan. The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer's, and the physician's bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only person spared injury. The youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery.

The police are convinced Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident, who was herself a childhood friend of Hisako’ and witness to the discovery of the killings. The truth is revealed through a skillful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members, witnesses and neighbors, police investigators and of course the mesmerizing Hisako herself.

The Aosawa Murders takes the classic elements of the mystery genre but steers away from putting them together in the usual way, instead providing a multi-voiced insight into the psychology of contemporary Japan, with its rituals, pervasive envy and ever so polite hypocrisy. But it’s also about the nature of evil and the resonance and unreliability of memory.

My Take

This novel has the reader working hard to cope with both the structure of the novel and the author's intent. It appears to be first of all a series of interviews, three decades after the original poisonings,  presented as one-sided conversations with a range of "witnesses", where we can only surmise what the original questions were. In the main those being interviewed are being asked about an event that took place over 30 years before, when 17 people died of cyanide poisoning at what was meant to be a double birthday celebration. Of the actual family only one child, a blind girl, is left. She did not drink any of the sake or cordial that contained the poisoned but sat listening to those around her vomiting and dying in agony.

At the time the blame was pinned on a young man who committed suicide a few months after the event, but there did not seem to be any motive.  In the absence of real clues the original detective became convinced that the surviving daughter was somehow responsible even if she wasn't the one who delivered the poisoned liquids. Later other survivors were also apportioned blame.

I think Japanese crime fiction is quite markedly different from that which I usually like to read. It appears that Japanese crime fiction readers like to have their plots more inconclusive, more focussed on the psychological, more open-ended. While other blurbs and reviews tell us that the plot is finally resolved, that the murderer finally becomes clear, I don't think that is the case. Maybe I just missed the bit that proved conclusively "who dunnit" but I didn't think, at the end, that it was clear - in the final wash-up we were still in the area of theory, hence my final rating. You, of course, may disagree totally.

I'd like to note also how long it has taken for this title to be translated into English. I'm not sure we can read anything into that apart maybe from recognising that maybe 15 years ago readers in English would not have been so accepting of this type of crime fiction.

My rating: 4.2

About the author 

Riku Onda, born in 1964, is the professional name of Nanae Kumagai. She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers' Award, the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel, the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize, and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television.

26 December 2020

Review: THE ESCAPE ROOM, Megan Goldin

  • e-book via my local library through Libby
  • Publisher : Michael Joseph; 1st edition (28 May 2018)
  • Paperback : 368 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0143785478
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0143785477


'Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.'

In the lucrative world of Wall Street finance, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie and Sam are the ultimate high-flyers. Ruthlessly ambitious, they make billion-dollar deals and live lives of outrageous luxury. Getting rich is all that matters, and they'll do anything to get ahead.

When the four of them become trapped in an elevator escape room, things start to go horribly wrong. They have to put aside their fierce office rivalries and work together to solve the clues that will release them. But in the confines of the elevator the dark secrets of their team are laid bare. They are made to answer for profiting from a workplace where deception, intimidation and sexual harassment thrive.

Tempers fray and the escape room's clues turn more and more ominous, leaving the four of them dangling on the precipice of disaster. If they want to survive, they'll have to solve one final puzzle- which one of them is a killer?

My take

These high flyers are used to the company making unreasonable demands on them, imposing impossible deadlines, requiring them to sacrifice personal and family interests in the name of billion dollar contracts. They are used too to riding rough shod over anybody they need to, taking risks, cutting others off. But they've left behind them an incredible path of destruction, two deaths, and they share dark secrets. 

They enter the elevator thinking this is yet another one of those team building exercises that usually take an hour. But conditions in the elevator become intolerable, the clues seem incomprehensible, and when the doors don't open after an hour, or even after the last puzzle appears to be solved, it becomes obvious that this is no bonding exercise.

Meanwhile the reader is seeing the other side of the scenario, through the eyes of a previous employee, and becomes aware that over the course of the years some very nasty stuff has indeed happened.

I'm not sure that I swallowed the entire plot but certainly it made compulsive reading.

This was Megan Goldin's second thriller, and I'm looking forward to her third: THE NIGHT SWIM

My rating: 4.7

I've also read


21 December 2020

Review: THE GIRL IN KELLERS WAY, Megan Goldin

  • format: e -book available through Libby

  • ISBN-10 : 0143785443
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0143785446 
  • Published 2017, Penguin e-books
  • 274 pages 

Synopsis (Sisters in Crime)

When Laura West was murdered, Julie gained everything – her husband, her child, her house. Now, Julie West lives the good life. She is mother to 3yr old Alice and married to Matt, a charismatic professor of psychology. Yet Julie is stifled, by the memory of Laura, by the demands of being a trophy wife, and by constantly trying to wrest her husband’s attention from the young women who flock to his lectures. Julie’s escape is in running, and one morning in the forest on Kellers Way, she is forced to dive out of the way of a crashing vehicle. Then the dying driver gives her a chilling warning…

Things get busy for Detective Mel Carter when her partner goes on holidays. Just two weeks apart there’s a fatal road crash and then the discovery of human remains, both on Kellers Way. Mel discovers that the murder of Laura West is not a closed case and that the trail of clues is not as clear as she had thought. Is the obvious suspect really the murderer? Or has an innocent person been condemned?

My Take

Although Megan Goldin lives in Melbourne this psychological thriller is set in small-town North (?) Carolina.  The basic theme is how much our memories can be manipulated either by drugs or verbal means. That is what Julie's husband Professor Matt West does his research in and what he lectures in. In Julie's world whole days pass when she is "not well" and she remembers almost nothing. There are times when she hardly remembers Matt's first wife Laura, and other times when she wonders if she had a hand in her death.

The reader sees the world mainly from Julie's point of view but there are many inconsistencies and glimmers of something else. Matt is insistent she takes her medication to keep on an even keel, but when she doesn't Julie feels that she wakes up clear-headed and in control.

This is a book that will get your book group talking - particularly about the ending. The author has provided questions and an "interview" to help you along.

My rating: 4.6

About the author

Megan Goldin is the author of THE ESCAPE ROOM, a 2019 thriller that Lee Child called "one of my favorite books of the year" and Harlan Coben called "thrilling and unforgettable". Megan's latest novel THE NIGHT SWIM was released in August 2020. Before becoming a novelist, Megan worked as a reporter covering the Middle East and Asia for the Reuters news agency, the Associate Press and the ABC as well as other news outlets. 

20 December 2020

Review: THE FLIGHT, Julie Clark

  • first published in UK by Hachette 2020
  • ISBN 978-1-529-529-38476-5
  • 311 pages

Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Claire and Eva lead very different lives, but they have one thing in common - they are both in huge danger and need to disappear.

A chance encounter at the airport presents the two women with a simple but crazy solution: switch places then drop off the grid when they land.

But one woman will never reach her destination.

The Flight has been highly acclaimed across the world and delivers a smart, tense and twisting narrative that will have you hooked from the first page to the last. It's the perfect escapism, wherever you are! 

My Take

Claire has been planning to leave her manipulative husband for some time, not just leave, but start a new life, go somewhere where he can't touch her. Everything is in place, tomorrow is the day - and then she wakes to find that the unthinkable has happened - he has changed her plans for her.

Eva has got to disappear. She is in an impossible situation. She too has to establish a new identity, a new life.

The pivot point of this story is the flight that Claire is scheduled to take, and which Eva ends up being on. There is mystery in this story from the very beginning. One of these women is walking into a trap, one is being manipulated by the other.

Good reading.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Julie Clark grew up reading books on the beach while everyone else surfed. After attending college at University of the Pacific, and a brief stint working in the athletic department at University of California, Berkeley, she returned home to Santa Monica to teach. She now lives there with her two young sons and a golden doodle with poor impulse control.

Review: THE CHIMES, Charles Dickens - audio book

  • format: audio book from audible.com
  • Narrated by: Richard Armitage
  • Length: 3 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 12-11-15
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Audible Studios
  • originally written in 1844
  • aka A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In

Synopsis (Audible)

The magnificent Richard Armitage (Hamlet: King of Denmark: A Novel) performs The Chimes by Charles Dickens.

This classic story is the second in a series of five Christmas books Dickens was commissioned to write - beginning with A Christmas Carol. A haunting tale set on New Year's Eve, The Chimes tells the story of a poor porter named Trotty Veck who has become disheartened by the state of the world - until he is shown a series of fantastical visions that convince him of the good of humanity. Though much different from and certainly a bit darker than A Christmas Carol, the moral message of The Chimes is equally poignant - touting the importance of compassion, goodwill, and the love of friends and family. 

My Take

This is really not crime fiction at all, but rather a moralistic tale along the lines of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, where ghosts tell us how we should live. Trotty Veck is convinced that the cathedral bells are talking to him and on New Year's Eve, unable to sleep, goes up into the bell tower where they point out the faults of the way he lives.  It is actually a very sombre tale, not the least aspect of which is the squalid nature of daily life for those in England's poorer classes.

I think it is a reminder too of how fiction writing has changed. I can't imagine a novella like this being written today.

My rating: 4.3

I've also read A CHRISTMAS CAROL among many other Dickens titles

11 December 2020

review: ANGEL FIRE, Lisa Unger

  • writing as Lisa Miscione
  • first published 2002
  • #1 in 4 Lydia Strong books
  • format Kindle (Amazon)
  • print length 306 pages
  • ASIN : B004P8JMZM
  • Publisher : Crown (August 9, 2011)

Synopsis  (Amazon)

The gripping New York Times bestselling debut that established Lisa Unger, writing as Lisa Miscione, as a novelist to watch!

The childhood murder of Lydia Strong's mother has turned her into a woman obsessed with bringing brutal killers to justice. The reclusive, bestselling true-crime writer and investigative consultant has made a life out of chasing monsters. And her powerful intuitions rarely fail her.  

When three adults--loners, drifters--go missing, no one seems to notice except for Lydia. Enlisting the help of her friend, former FBI agent Jeffrey Mark, Lydia starts an investigation of her own. But when someone raises the stakes and goes after Lydia--just as fifteen years ago when she put the FBI on the trail of her mother's killer--the real hunt begins.

My take

It wasn't until earlier this year that I read Lisa Unger's second book in this series. Lydia is constantly haunted by her mother's own violent death when she was a teenager. She solves mysteries and violent crimes and then writes about them, which makes her a target for those who feel wronged. She is fighting her own attachment to ex-FBI agent Jeffrey Mark who rescued her when her mother had been killed. 

A sound read.

My rating: 4.4 

I've also read

4.4, THE DARKNESS GATHERS  #2 Lydia Strong

9 December 2020

Review: THE KINGDOM, Jo Nesbo

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File size : 2309 KB
  • Print length : 542 pages
  • Publisher : Vintage Digital (September 17, 2020)Language: : English 
  • ASIN : B084Q8YRBP
  • Publication date : September 17, 2020
  • Translated from the Norwegian by Robert Ferguson

Synopsis (Amazon)

Jo Nesbo, author of the number one bestselling Harry Hole series, is back with a tense and atmospheric thriller about two brothers bound together by dark secrets.

When Roy and Carl's parents die suddenly, sixteen-year-old Roy is left as protector to his impulsive younger brother. But when Carl decides to travel the world in search of his fortune, Roy stays behind in their sleepy village, satisfied with his peaceful life as a mechanic.

Some years later, Carl returns with his charismatic new wife, Shannon - an architect. They are full of exciting plans to build a spa hotel on their family land. Carl wants not only to make the brothers rich but the rest of the village, too.

It's only a matter of time before what begins as a jubilant homecoming sparks off a series of events that threaten to derail everything Roy holds dear, as long-buried family secrets begin to rise to the surface...

The Kingdom is a simmering and complex thriller full of unexpected twists, devastating family legacies and an ever growing body count.

My Take

A stand alone from Jo Nesbo.

There are plenty of little mysteries in this novel, not the least of which who is responsible for each entry in the growing death toll. There are secrets that no-one talks about.

Roy and Carl are the children of a "mixed" marriage: the father is American. To some extent the family is dysfunctional, the father violent, the mother ignoring what she doesn't want to admit observing, and Roy, the older, always protective of his younger brother, but sometimes powerless to do anything.

Roy has inherited the violent streak from his father, and often solves Carl's problems with his fists. Their parents die when they are just teenagers and they are watched over by an uncle. Eventually Carl, the more academic of the two goes off to America to university. Over a decade later he comes back with a beautiful wife in tow, who just happens to be an architect, and that is where the real trouble starts.

An engrossing but very long novel that explores the relationships between the trio and with those from the village who have been part of Roy and Carl's life for decades.

my rating: 4.6

I've also read

4.7, THE BAT
5.0, THE SON
4.3, MACBETH, Jo Nesbo

1 December 2020

What I read in November 2020

 The year rolls on. For part of this month in South Oz we have been in sort of lock-down - they called it a 'pause' where for 3 days we stayed home. It was meant to be longer, but was called off. For some people it was their first experience of being house-bound.

But now restrictions still apply on what we are able to do because we have one that defines social distancing as 1 person to every 4 sq meters, and that looks like it might extend for another week. That really limits what social gatherings can happen - makes things like chess, bridge, backgammon and mah jong very difficult.

But anyway, reading has continued and I am pleased to announce that I have reached 110 books for the year. My target is 120, so in December that will mean 10 books.

In the last month some good reads


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