Book Review: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet was a surprise find for me. I wasn’t familiar with the author, nor had I read any reviews or social media chatter surrounding the book. I picked this one up purely for the beautiful cover! Oddly enough, after I’d bought it I came across another edition with a cover that was completely different. I would never have picked up this book with that cover! Isn’t that interesting?!

Anyway, what did I get from my surprise find? I got a book I found very hard to put down almost from the very first page! By no means is A Promise of Fire a new story; in fact, reading it I was reminded of other series – The Study and Healer series by Maria V Snyder – both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. A Promise of Fire has your feisty heroine, your dark, menacing stranger, plus your totally dependable band of strong, loveable soldiers. What makes it different is the interesting fantasy world Amanda Bouchet has created for these characters to live in. I also found the first person narrative highly engaging.

I am a huge fan of fantasy books, but I am also very choosy. I like to read stories focused around female characters and told from their perspective. A Promise of Fire, the first book in a new fantasy series called The Kingmaker Chronicles; delivers just that.

The story is told by an unlikely heroine named Cat. She gradually introduces the reader to a world interwoven with Greek mythology, magic and politics. It’s a world divided into three kingdoms, Fisa, Sinta and Tarvan; each with their own ruling family. The main character, Cat was born into the Fisa kingdom but is trying to avoid her terrifying destiny by hiding out in Sinta.

I like Cat’s character very much. She is funny, strong but at the same time vulnerable. The way Amanda Bouchet writes the character is entertaining; she would say one thing and think something entirely different, and you were taken along with her observations. It was highly original and really added to the depth of character.

There’s a lot of romantic tension in this book, which is not something I’m usually that into and I think the story and world was intriguing enough without it.  But I really liked both characters involved in the romance, so that made the story speed along. I’ve read some quite critical reviews of this novel (lesson learned: never read reviews before writing your own!)  but I think there’s no harm in it and it’s a fantastic story. An adventure.

A Promise of Fire was a great book and I will eagerly await the next in the series. But was it a romance with fantasy elements or a fantasy with romance thrown in? Has anyone out there read it? What do you think?

Jody

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Book Review: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire

Annabel Crabb recently talked about Emily Maguire on her podcast with Leigh Sales, Chat 10 Looks 3  (which I love!). I hadn’t really heard much about Emily Maguire before, although her first book was published in 2004. Sorry Emily! Anyway, since I read The Dry by Karen Harper a few weeks ago, I’ve been exploring what Australia has to offer in the way of female crime writers.

Emily’s latest book, An Isolated Incidentrevolves around the murder of Bella Michaels, a 25 -year-old small town darling who is killed in a most brutal way. The book never goes into great detail about the nature of her death, instead the incident is implied through others’ reactions to it. This was an interesting take, as it avoids the gruesome details but allows the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

The book tells the story of Bella’s older sister, Chris, a bartender in the small town of Strathdee.

These were the parts of Strathdee the tourists never saw, lined with red-brick and fibro rentals with squat steel fences out front…I exchanged glances with a chain-smoking teenager half watching two toddlers beating each other with plastic tools.

Chris is a hard-working, good-natured woman who before her sister’s murder had wanted little more than a house she could own for herself. Bella’s murder sends her deep into depression. She is filling in the blanks in the same way that we do as we read through the story, and it is understandably driving her to despair.

The impact Bella’s murder has on Chris’s life is profound, and it’s heightened by the media attention that follows. This aspect of the novel rang true of many murder investigations familiar to us here in Australia – Anita Cobby, Jill Meagher, Stephanie Scott. The media attention around these cases was intense, and this novel strives to highlight the effect this has on the family around the victim. The constant harassment, and the debate over using the media to garner information versus having to go through such a private suffering so publicly,  are things Chris battles with daily.

These issues are particularly crystallised through the perspective of May Norman, an investigative reporter who finds herself drawn into the story, even after the attention from rival reporters has died down. Eventually their stories intertwine and Chris finds an unexpected friend in the young city girl.

I don’t want to give the ending away, so I won’t write much about it. I will just say that it’s an interesting take on a crime novel, particularly because the ending is so anti-climactic and I don’t mean that in a bad way. You’re never really directed to suspect particular characters, you never wonder – is that who did it? Instead you’re drawn into the story because of the impact on the small town mindset, the emotion it draws out of the characters, the fear and despair that exudes from the pages. That is where the power of the novel lies, and it is indeed powerful. It’s a great one for book clubs because there is so much you can talk about – the ending, the small-town life, the media, and the connections to those real-life cases. A fascinating, engaging read that felt, at times, a little too real.

Amanda

Book Review: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey is one of my best-loved books! I have read it three times (now in the middle of my fourth) and listened to the audio version twice. I have done this not over the space of the last last seven years since it was first published, but in the last two years.

Unlike many people I didn’t rush out to read it when it came out in 2009. It was a bestseller, and has gone on to win and be shortlisted for multiple awards. I ignored all this hype – and many recommendations from colleagues – and didn’t read it until a few years later. I am very much a person who will read a book when I am in the right mood. Now though, Jasper Jones is like an old, beloved friend!

Every time I read the first line “Jasper Jones has come to my window”, I feel a sense of calm come over me. This is what I need to read now, and I know I will enjoy every word. By no means am I implying Jasper Jones is a light read; it isn’t. It deals with some heavy subject matter. But what sets it apart from other books is the voice of the storyteller; 13-year-old Charlie. He is honest, raw and human.

When Jasper Jones comes to Charlie’s window one hot and humid night in 1965, Charlie unwittingly shares Jasper’s horrible discovery. How Charlie copes with this discovery, deals with life in a small rural mining town and the normal confusion of an early teen is a huge part of the story. But there is so much more; I will leave you to find that out for yourself. I seem to discover a new aspect every time I read it! This time it was Charlie’s relationship with his mother I found really compelling. I can’t wait to see what I discover the next time I read it – because I know there will be a next time.

Jody

P.S. The conversation Charlie and his friend Jeffrey have concerning super heroes is hilarious! I laugh harder every time I read it.

On The Silent Inheritance by Joy Dettman

I hadn’t read any books by Joy Dettman before The Silent Inheritance. I found myself picking it up every time I walked into a book shop, but then I would put it back. This week I thought, you know what? Just buy it! And I did.

Choosing The Silent Inheritance was one of the best decisions I made this week. I enjoyed every page. The main story line revolves around the life, secrets and heartache of Sarah Carter and her daughter Marni, but there are so many other stories intertwined, some of them quite dark like that of the serial killer.

In the beginning I was a little bit put off by the language of the book; it was confusing and hard to read. However it wasn’t long before it became clear why it was written in this manner. So please, if you have tried to read this book but put in down because of the first few chapters or so, persevere because it is well worth finishing.

I will admit I found it hard to read the chapters about the serial killer dubbed “The Highway Killer”. I wanted to skip them but I didn’t because I felt it was important to the overall story to know what everyone was feeling.

Sarah and her daughter Marni were strong and likeable characters, as was Detective Senior Sergeant Ross Hunter (I loved him). In fact all of the characters in the book were really interesting.

Now I come to a very hard part to write about, the book’s ending. I have mixed feelings and am not sure how to write it down without giving too much away or discouraging anyone from reading this book; because I loved it.

I think the main thing I find hard to cope with is that I didn’t get the closure I needed for most of the characters in the book; including Sarah, Marni, Ross, Dani (and her family), Bob, basically everyone who featured in the story. Maybe this was how it was meant to be; perhaps there is a sequel planned, or am I the only one who felt this way?

But the book’s ending didn’t alter my overall opinion. Quite the opposite,  it left me wanting more, more, more. I totally enjoyed every page and if there isn’t a sequel planned that’s OK, because it doesn’t spoil the fact that it was a great Australian novel.

I will definitely be looking for more Joy Dettman books in the future.

It’s 5/5 stars from me.

Jody