The Fragments by Toni Jordan

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This is a literary mystery set primarily in Brisbane Australia.  The genre and locale hooked me right away so I promptly requested a copy from NetGalley.

Imagine a famous author who publishes a ground breaking literary masterpiece, one people talk about and analyze over the years.  The author has another book about to published, people eagerly awaiting the story, when a horrific tragedy strikes. The author dies in a warehouse fire, the flames destroying all copies of the latest book.  Only fragments are recovered and her mourning fans and scholars are left with scraps of sentences, forever wondering about this lost masterpiece.   That is the story of Inga Karlson, the author who became a legend.

The fragments of her manuscript along with photos of Inga and her personal belongings are exhibited around the world for decades.  Loyal fans and scholars line up to view this exhibit, some of the devotees young enough to be Inga’s grandchildren.  She is epic.

Cadence “Caddie” Walker’s obsession with Inga Karlson’s lost manuscript has her standing in line in the blazing Brisbane heat, awaiting the opening of the exhibition so she may view this collection.  In line near Caddie is an old woman named Rachel Lehrer.  She speaks with Caddie, asking what her favorite lines were from the scraps left of the book.  In return, Rachel “quotes” this sentence fragment of the unpublished book.

And in the end, all we have are the hours and the days, the minutes and the way we bear them, the seconds spent on this earth and the number of them that truly mattered.

But that last part wasn’t written anywhere.  Is it the imaginary conjuring of an old woman?

The book is divided in three parts.  I thought the first part had a few slow spots, certainly not enough for me to abandon the book.   I was very intrigued with the perspective back in the 1930’s about Rachel Lehrer and her family.  When the story took that reminiscing turn to the past I was completely engaged.  It hops with a fluid transition from 1986 and Caddie Walker’s obsession to the 1930’s story line.  You don’t see what one has to do with another until part two of the book. Then the puzzle connects.

Nearing the end of part two I was on the fence regarding my feelings for Caddie.  She was about to take up with someone I know isn’t a good person; someone who will use her up. I’m torn with the entwining stories of Rachel and Inga in the past and the Caddie/Jamie/Philip mess in the 1980’s.  Caddie needs to be shaken by the shoulders as I, the reader, clearly knows what needs to be done here!

There is mystery, love, a snapshot of domestic violence in the 1930 era and a satisfying conclusion to the story.  Also, a surprise about several characters in part three of the book.  I would like to know what became of  a few supporting characters but there certainly was a clear resolution.  I would read more by this author.

Adventurous setting for me, Kookaburra and Queensland and Brisbane……I am armchair traveling again.

Food stuff:  Chili Lentil Soup, pizzas of Margherita and vegetarian varieties, sundaes, cakes, chicken a la King.

Linking up with the 2019 Aussie Author Challenge,   Girlxoxo for the Monthly Motif and Heather for April Foodies Read.

Thank you very much  Netgalley for this digital copy of the book. I received this complimentary copy and was not compensated for my opinion/review.

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The Lost Man by Jane Harper

They are at the Stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects… (From Goodreads)

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Right away Jane Harper’s descriptive prose grabs your attention. You are plunged into the hot desolate landscape and have a clear image of the unforgiving Australian desert. We begin with one brother standing guard near his older brother’s dead body.  Bub had to spend the night to keep dingos from Cameron’s body.  In the morning Nathan Bright, the eldest in the family, arrives and asks Bub what he knows.  What would bring Cameron Bright to the isolated area near the Stockman’s grave?

When Cameron didn’t turn up at Lehmann’s Hill to meet Bub an alert went out on the radio.  Anyone living in that desolate part of Queensland would be on the lookout for Cameron or his truck. Dehydration can kill you quickly, as could an accident where you’d not be discovered in time.  Cameron was well organized and knew the dangers and how to be prepared with a truck full of supplies.  Yet here he was, near the Stockman’s Grave without water, shade or vehicle.

As you get to know the characters you realize how the three brothers were shaped, or should I say scarred, by their father Carl Bright. The revelations keep coming and you can sympathize with every single person in that family.  Nathan is the main voice in this book but you do get other’s perspectives. A few characters are not likable or I should say, it’s hard to warm up to them. Yet learning their backstories made me sympathetic to them.  The outback desert can be bleak place to raise a family.

In the beginning I thought it was a slow start yet I was interested and kept reading.  Getting less than halfway through I couldn’t put it down.  The end of just about every chapter left you wanting more. One of those books where you say, Ok after this chapter I’m going to go to bed, or do some work, or put the book aside. Nope, you just have to read one more chapter!

There’s a map – I love maps and since the places are referenced right from the beginning I was able to refer to the map and see the distances. This is important to the story to see how far it is from the Bright Homestead to the Stockman’s Grave and then to Nathan Bright’s ranch.

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The Stockman’s grave is mentioned throughout and with it come various stories about who he was and how he came to be buried in the middle of the desert.  Near the end Nathan tells his nieces the true story which he read at a national Library in Brisbane. I liked the story even if it was sad.

The heat – One curious thing was the mention of the heat in December, 45 degrees. I’m guessing the temperature is Celsius which means it’s 113 F. More appropriate for the hot December summer. Perhaps that wasn’t converted for the publications in the U.S.

School of Air – these days the school work and teaching is handled by video and internet, teachers able to schedule video chats. Before those amenities the School of Air was handled via radio. Children in the Outback didn’t have a convention school setting. It was up to the parents to supervise the lessons that were delivered by radio.

If you enjoyed Harper’s first book, The Dry, then I think you will like this one.  I’ll read every book she writes.  When I heard The Lost Man was coming out I was initially disappointed that Aaron Falk wasn’t the star character.  This is a stand alone from the first two books but I liked it very much.  Maybe this one will be made into a movie too.  Looking forward to The Dry coming out in theaters.

Well done again, Jane Harper!

Linking up with the 2019 Aussie Author Challenge.

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Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

intothenightFractured relationships abound in this novel, the second book in the Gemma Woodstock series.

We have a murdered homeless man, elderly and kind, knifed in the early hours of the morning.  Gemma is not assigned lead detective on this case so straight away we can see her mopey side.  Next murder is a high profile case.  A good looking young actor, Sterling Wade, is killed on the set of a movie being filmed locally in Melbourne.  This will take priority as it’s a media nightmare.  Gemma is lead on this one but descriptions of her personality don’t exactly have her leaping off the page.

In the first book, The Dark Lake, she was a lead detective in a rural town in Australia.  Gemma transferred to another detective position in busy Melbourne after her relationship with her partner Scott fails.  She leaves her young son Ben with Scott and has issues with the separation yet doesn’t seem to want custody, only visits. It’s a good transition from book one to this story.

In my opinion, Gemma Woodstock’s personal issues detracted from this story. You do want a little bit of the personal side of your main character, that’s one of the things I like about the DCI Banks series, but Gemma’s internal turmoil could have been toned down.  I was actually warming more to her partner Nick Fleet, incorrigible as he is. Hoping he shows up in the next book and we get more information about his back story.

If you like multiple story lines with more than one murder investigation then you will enjoy that aspect of the book.  Hoping Gemma conquers her many demons and becomes confident and energetic.  We need some flaws in our main characters but Gemma’s issues are legend.

Much thanks to NetGalley for this advanced copy. Opinions are mine and I was not compensated for the review. This book was published in December 2018.

Sharing with the Aussie Reading Challenge and Girlxoxo for January’s Monthly Motif.

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Scrublands by Chris Hammer for the Australian Reading Challenge

scrublands I’ll say straight away that I liked this book and would read more by this author. There were a few things that I didn’t care for but overall, what a great plot. Anyone can read from the book cover/descriptor the story of a priest who guns down 5 men in front of his church. The journalist, Martin Scarsden, arrives in town to report on how the residents are coping a year after the tragedy. Martin is suffering from PTSD after an incident in the Gaza strip, his editor sending him out on this story to give him a chance to get back in the journo game. Why would an admired priest turn killer?

Best I can describe the way the story unfolds is to think of a nesting doll. There are layers and layers of stories that intertwine, the residents’ dark secrets, the greed, guilt and love and motivations of the characters. There are multiple crimes that are revealed in this investigative journalist’s report.
Some of the character names are a hoot – you have Harley Snouch and Mandalay “Mandy” Blonde who are supporting characters.

I’m learned about bush fires in the Scrubland, how they work, quite different from a house fire. Smoke inhalation gets you in a house fire but a bushfire flat out cooks you. This was addressed in another Australian book I enjoyed, Jane Harper’s debut book The Dry. The scenery described is almost apocalyptic, the land has a harshness and character of its own.

What I didn’t care for was how the character Codger Harris was introduced. He’s waaaay out in the Scrubland where it’s dry and extremely hot. When Martin arrives at Codger’s dilapidated house he finds the old man inside, naked and masturbating. Sorry but that part just didn’t fit into the story, it didn’t blend and it was an unnecessary detail to introduce us to Codger. It was established how unbearably hot it is, so much so that Codger didn’t wear clothes in this isolated part of the scrubland. By the way, he is an integral part of this story and has his own interesting past which dovetails with the ending.

Let us meet the author, Chris Hammer!

This book is the first one for the Aussie Author Challenge. It could cover the male author or new author category. Also linking with Girlxoxo for the January Monthly Motif – “category new to me author.”

Much thanks to NetGalley for this advanced copy. Opinions are mine and I was not compensated for the review. Publication date is January 8, 2019.

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Aussie Author Challenge 2019

It’s the last week of December – how did this year fly by so fast?!
One of the things I like to do near the end of the year is evaluate which books are must-reads for the upcoming year. This leads me to reading challenges and for 2019 I am sticking with two that I love.

There is the Monthly Motif Challenge hosted at Girlxoxo and the Aussie Author Challenge.  The Aussie challenge is in it’s 10th year but this is only my second time participating.  (here is my roundup for 2018)

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I completed the Wallaby level this year and now I’m thinking of taking on the Wallaroo level.  Wish me luck!  A few of the books I am planning are:

Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Sarah Bailey’s The Dark Lake and Into the Night

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

I’ll need at least one book but I hope to find more as I read and see what others have read.  If you’d like to sign up check it out HERE.

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The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton {Aussie Book Challenge}

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In this epic book by Australian author Kate Morton we are transported back and forth from present day (2011) to WW II London as two stories merge. Laurel Nicholson is a very successful English actress and she is our main narrator.

We open with Laurel in the year 1961. She is a teenager, daydreaming about escaping her life in the English countryside. She sits in a tree house thinking about her boyfriend while the festivities for a birthday party are starting to get underway. Laurel is the oldest with three younger sisters and one little brother, Gerry. Their mother Dorothy is a wonderful woman., a loving mother and creative storyteller. It’s Gerry’s second birthday party and the family tradition is to cut the cake with a very special knife, red ribbon attached.

From her tree house perch Laurel sees her mother walk toward the house, little Gerry balanced on her hip, as she retrieves the special birthday cake knife. She also notices a man walking up to their rural home, an unusual thing as they don’t get many visitors. As he approaches Dorothy she witnesses her mother look fearful, place the baby behind her in the gravel path, as the man greets her by name. “Hello Dorothy….” Her mother then lifts the knife and plunges it into the man’s chest without any hesitation.

Gerry remains on the ground wailing. Laurel is naturally shocked. No one else sees what happened. The police are called and it’s determined the man was a tramp who had been bothering picnickers recently, clearly a dangerous fellow. But Laurel knows there is more to it as the man addressed her mother by name.

2011: All the siblings, now grown and middle aged plus, gather at their childhood home for their mother’s 90th birthday. It will clearly be the last one as Dorothy is dying. Laurel knows this will be the only opportunity to discover what happened with her mother and the man she killed so many years ago. Dorothy had asked for an old book to be retrieved so she could look at it and within is an old photograph tucked away. The photo depicts two beautiful young women with the inscription Dorothy and Vivian, something that clearly agitates elderly Dorothy. No one has ever heard her speak of a woman named Vivian so there is another mystery. As she gets her mother talking Laurel is given bits of information to research and discover who her mother was and what her life was like before. She’s in for a surprise.

Dorothy’s story is told from multiple perspectives during the WW II era in London. We are introduced to Jimmy Metcalfe and Vivian Jenkins, key characters in this vividly painted story.

The last 20 or so pages bring all the mysteries into play and it’s a very cool ending ( In my opinion). I love Kate Morton books and have read The House at Riverton, The Lake House and The Forgotten Garden. All wonderful stories with mystery throughout and a twisty endings. I love being transported to other countries as it’s armchair traveling for me at this time.

Linking up with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday series as this book was partially set in England.  Also, this is the last book for my Aussie Reader’s Challenge and I hope to join in again next year and discover more Australian authors. I completed the Wallaby level.

For the challenge I have read:

The Dry by Jane Harper
The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

BriFri     aussieauthor

The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

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This is a physiological drama told from the point of view of a nine-year old boy. It’s a unique perspective to see young Samuel Clay’s view of his world, one where his mother Margot has been away for more than 100 days.

He receives no phone calls, no telegrams or packages. The only thing he waits for are the few postcards his mother sends from her travels across the United States and of course, his hope of her return. Samuel lives alone in a large estate in Surrey England with only the housekeeper, Ruth, to attend to his needs.

Samuel tracks his mother’s travels using an atlas and pins when he receives a postcard. Being a person who loves maps, it’s particularly enjoyable to read about the atlas and Samuel putting colored pins in Boston, San Francisco, London, Bath and Penzance.

Samuel’s father died a few years ago and the dire financial state of affairs prompted Margot Clay to go “fund raising” across the country and the USA to raise money. She left in the middle of the night without saying goodbye to her son. Ruth takes care of Samuel by cooking and cleaning. You suspect Ruth in the beginning of withholding information from the boy.

As you read the story from a nine-year old’s point of view, the adult reader can see and understand some of the reality of the situation. An example of that is when Samuel sneaks into his mother’s room and steals letters his mother had written to her husband.

You get the idea that Margo Clay had been in an institution or some home. Samuel remembered that from a remark by his father about Margot being away in bath where there would be peace and quiet. She evidently wasn’t suited to domestic life. In a letter from Margot to Samuel’s father she implores him not to bring he boy next time he visits as his arms around her make her feel as if she is sinking in the water. Not everyone is suited to be parent. When Ruth catches the boy in his mother’s room she berates him and tells him he should be ashamed snooping around.

Ruth didn’t understand that he was only trying to be near his mother, she was a creature in orbit and the one way he could feel close to her was to linger in the traces she left behind.

Ruth is really a piece of work – alternately making his favorite meals, asking about homework then berating him and being mentally abusive. The ending wasn’t what I thought might happen, quite a surprise actually. Can’t say I didn’t have questions about that and since they will be spoilers, I won’t talk about it here.  Goodreads has a spoiler feature so I will add my thoughts about that there.

I always notice the foodie parts in a book. Here are the offerings:

Shortbread, cake, freshly baked bread, roast beef and potatoes with peas, mince pie, eggs and sausages, roasted chicken and potatoes, roasted lamb, roast rabbit and chestnut stuffing, tea cakes and lemon tarts.

As I love making bread, the baguettes seemed a good option.

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Baguettes

1 cup water
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water

Directions

brush over tops of loaves.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheaPlace 1 cup water, bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast into bread machine pan in the order recommended by manufacturer. Select Dough cycle, and press Start.

When the cycle has completed, place dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.

Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 16×12 inch rectangle. Cut dough in half, creating two 8×12 inch rectangles. Roll up each half of dough tightly, beginning at 12 inch side, pounding out any air bubbles as you go. Roll gently back and forth to taper end. Place 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Make deep diagonal slashes across loaves every 2 inches, or make one lengthwise slash on each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Mix egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water; Brush the dough, bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Much Thanks to Netgalley for this book.  All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for the review.

Sharing with:

Joy for British Isles Friday as the setting is England.
Heather at Based on a True Story for August Foodies Read
Booklover’s Aussie Author Challenge