Book Review: The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper @TeaCooper1 @ThomasNelson @TLCBookTours

The Girl in the Painting
Tea Cooper
Thomas Nelson, March 2021
ISBN 978-0-7852-4033-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A young prodigy in need of family.

A painting that shatters a woman’s peace.

And a decades-old mystery demanding to be solved.

Australia, 1906

Orphan Jane Piper is nine years old when philanthropist siblings Michael and Elizabeth Quinn take her into their home to further her schooling. The Quinns are no strangers to hardship. Having arrived in Australia as penniless immigrants, they now care for others as lost as they once were.

Despite Jane’s mysterious past, her remarkable aptitude for mathematics takes her far over the next seven years, and her relationship with Elizabeth and Michael flourishes as she plays an increasingly prominent part in their business.

But when Elizabeth reacts in terror to an exhibition at the local gallery, Jane realizes no one knows Elizabeth after all—not even Elizabeth herself. As the past and present converge and Elizabeth’s grasp on reality loosens, Jane sets out to unravel her story before it’s too late.

From the gritty reality of the Australian goldfields to the grand institutions of Sydney, this compelling novel presents a mystery that spans continents and decades as both women finally discover a place to call home.

Immigration is a heavily-weighted word these days and has always held significant meaning in America’s history and it is no less so in Australia. That country’s beginnings are rooted in the creation and development of a penal colony and its early, mostly white, settlers frequently either had a prison-based past or had run to this remote land to escape secrets. Once again, Ms. Cooper makes use of multiple timelines, bringing divergent yet connected stories together, and does so to good effect.

In 1906, the Quinn siblings are successful business leaders who are generous in sharing their good fortune and plucking Jane Piper from an orphanage is exactly the sort of thing they like to do to help someone else make the most of their own abilities and strengths. Jane’s prodigious mathematical talents position her to become useful to the kind brother and sister but it’s something from Elizabeth’s past that triggers Jane to learn more about the Quinns and the secrets Michael has been keeping to himself for decades. By now a trusted partner, Jane is driven to look for the hidden truths that lie in the Quinns’ own emigration as children from England to Australia all those years ago and the mysteries she unearths are compelling history in themselves.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2021.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Thomas Nelson // Amazon

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About the Author

Tea Cooper is an Australian author of historical and contemporary fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling.

Connect with Tea:

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

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Book Reviews: Amnesty by Aravind Adiga and All the Way Down by Eric Beetner @AravindAdiga @ScribnerBooks @ericbeetner @DownAndOutBooks

Amnesty
Aravind Adiga
Scribner, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-9821-2724-4
Hardcover

Danny, an undocumented Sri Lanken living in Australia, has gradually fashioned for himself a satisfactory life. He has acquaintances with whom he socializes and a woman friend about whom he is serious. And now he has a problem. He may have important information that will help local police solve a nasty murder. If he steps forward as his world view requires, he may be deported because he’s illegally in the country. On the other hand, he may hold the one fact that will solve the case.

The novel is not so much a murder mystery or thriller as a thoughtful if sometimes wandering essay on the life of honest hard-working illegals and the pressures and vicissitudes of that life. There is little overt drama in the story, rather a character-peopled tale in which the author adeptly channels his protagonist Danny into more and more tension as he wrestles with a decision which will, in either path, affect a great many people.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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All The Way Down
Eric Beetner
Down and Out Books, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-64396-010-4
Trade Paperback

This enthralling crime novel starts with a bad cop called on the carpet. Dale Burnett, risen to detective grade, has allowed his need for money to gradually bend his ethics, in a city already badly out of tune with ethics and morality. He assumes the worst but is given one chance at redemption.

It turns out, the Mayor’s daughter has been captured and is being held by one of the city’s most dangerous and brutal gang leaders. Since Burnett is now known to the gang, law enforcement believes an alternative to a frontal assault is a better option. Burnett is tasked with going into gang headquarters and rescuing the young woman.

Of course, Burnett takes this limited opportunity to risk death and retrieve his good standing. What follows is a rousing and ever more dangerous series of encounters with the gang leader and his murderous minions. With the considerable assistance of the mayor’s able daughter, Burnett engages the forces of evil.

The scene is very limited, all the action takes place inside a single large former factory building, so some of the common characteristics of action novels such as weather, are missing. Nevertheless, the pace is relentless, the tension high and the outcome uncertain until the very end.

All The Way Down is a fine thriller of a novel with surprises on almost every page, sustained action and relevant character development. The mayor’s daughter is a strong, important component of the fabric of the story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper @TeaCooper1 @ThomasNelson @TLCBookTours

The Woman in the Green Dress
Tea Cooper
Thomas Nelson, June 2020
ISBN 978-0-7852-3512-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A cursed opal, a gnarled family tree, and a sinister woman in a green dress emerge in the aftermath of World War I.

After a whirlwind romance, London teashop waitress Fleur Richards can’t wait for her new husband, Hugh, to return from the Great War. But when word of his death arrives on Armistice Day, Fleur learns he has left her a sizable family fortune. Refusing to accept the inheritance, she heads to his beloved home country of Australia in search of the relatives who deserve it more.

In spite of her reluctance, she soon finds herself the sole owner of a remote farm and a dilapidated curio shop full of long-forgotten artifacts, remarkable preserved creatures, and a mystery that began more than sixty-five years ago. With the help of Kip, a repatriated soldier dealing with the sobering aftereffects of war, Fleur finds herself unable to resist pulling on the threads of the past. What she finds is a shocking story surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress. . . a story that, nevertheless, offers hope and healing for the future.

It seems as though I’ve been reading quite a few books in the past year or so that feature mutiple timelines, as does The Woman in the Green Dress, but there’s a difference with this one. Rather than a contemporary setting that flashes back to an earlier time, here we have an historical setting that takes us back to a still earlier time, a nice change from the norm. Added to that, for me, having the stories take place in Australia is a bonus because there’s so much about that country that I don’t know.

Fleur Richards sets out on the long journey to her husband’s home country because she doesn’t really believe he’s dead and she wants to see to it that his estate goes to his remaining family. Well-intentioned as she might be, the inheritance is hers, an old shop and a farm, and it’s the shop that garners her attention with its collection of oddities, including a number of taxidermied creatures. Fleur learns that another young woman, Della, had continued her father’s work back in the early 1850’s, showing a fine touch in preserving such beautiful, exotic specimens.

Fleur begins to unearth more about the unusual Della, including a long-lasting mystery and, with each turn of the page their stories and the mystery regarding a beautiful opal, I became more and more engaged with this appealing tale. Tea Cooper is a new author to me but I’ll be looking for more of her work.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2020.

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

Tea Cooper is an Australian author of historical and contemporary fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling.

In August 2011 Tea joined Romance Writers of Australia and her debut novel Tree Change was published in 2012. In 2015 her book The Horse Thief won the Australian Romance Readers Award for Favourite Cover.

Connect with Tea:

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

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Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry                 
Jane Harper
Flatiron Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-10560-8
Hardcover

Parts of Australia are in the depth of a persistent drought. Back to the tiny farm town of Kiewarra, comes Aaron Falk. He returns to his childhood home to the funeral of his youthful friend, Luke Hadler, Luke’s wife and their small son. It appears Luke murdered his own wife and son and then dispatched himself with a rifle bullet through the skull.

Falk is not happy to be back because he and his father were run out of town decades ago. Falk, now a member of the federal police of Australia, on short leave, expects to attend the funeral, talk with one or two family friends and then flee back to Melbourne. It doesn’t work out that way.

Like a dripping faucet, piece by casual comment, the possibility that Luke Hadler could not have done this hideous deed grows in Aaron Falk’s mind. Encouraged by the single local law officer and the discovery of interesting anomalies, Falk stays, irritates some residents, and eventually solves not just one but several crimes.

The characters are excellent, the descriptions of the community and surrounding landscape are compelling and the pace is relentless. This is a terrific very well-written novel and the concluding climax is a page-turning grabber.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

The Lines We Cross
Randa Abdel-Fattah
Scholastic Press, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-11866-7
Hardcover

My tongue is tripping over the terrifically timely topics touched in The Lines We Cross.  Universally relevant, remarkably well written; my personal recommendation for required reading resonates with me in an invigorating, inspirational way.

Generally, offspring look up to their parents, seeing them as large-and-in-charge with all the answers.  Beyond that, there is an inherent knowledge: parents are good people.  (My reminder to myself when first meeting Michael) an amiable, ill-informed adolescent supporting his parents’ new political party, Aussie Values.  And, it’s not as if his parents oppose Australia accepting refugees, after all.  Provided the emigrants are truly fleeing persecution (as opposed to those pesky “economic refugees”’) and they arrive via the magical queue, of course.

Then, Michael meets Mina.

Yes, it is a boy-meets-girl story; but in a boy-meets-radioactive-spider kind of way.

Mina and her mother had come to Auburn, Australia from Afghanistan ten years ago.  Forced to flee Taliban occupation among horrific loss, the two persist and painstakingly, rebuild their life.  A scholarship allowing Mina to attend eleventh grade at one of Australia’s top schools, affects the entire small family.  They choose to move their residence, along with the family restaurant to Melbourne.

Starting a new school is rarely easy.  Going from “…a kaleidoscope of cultures and ethnicities,” to being a “…cultural diversity mascot,” could be unbearable. For someone who has been smuggled out of a war zone, lived in a refugee camp, traveled on a leaky boat and spent months locked in detention, it was merely infuriating.

Not wanting the role of ‘refugee myth-buster’, but being too smart and courageous to keep quiet, Mina may seem too mature, thoughtful, compassionate and well-spoken to be a typical teen, but because I have the privilege of actually spending time with high school seniors, I can say that this is a spot-on representation. Ms. Abdel-Fattah has brilliantly broken-down misconceptions without beating down people to present one of the most important books I have ever read.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2017

Book Review: Poison by Lan Chan

Poison Tour Banner

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Title: Poison
Series: Wind Dancer #1

Author: Lan Chan
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic,
Dystopian, Young Adult

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

  Barnes & Noble / Smashwords / Amazon US
Amazon AU / Amazon UK / Kobo       

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PoisonPoison
Wind Dancer #1
Lan Chan
CreateSpace, September 2015
ISBN 978-1516807376
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Since the night her mother was murdered, sixteen-year-old Rory Gray has known one truth: There are no good Seeders.

In post-apocalyptic Australia, the scientists known as Seeders have built a Citadel surrounded by food-producing regions and populated with refugees from the wars and famine. To maintain their control, the Seeders poisoned the land and outlawed the saving of seeds.

It’s been six years since Rory graced the Seeders’ circus stage as the Wind Dancer and still the scars on her body haven’t healed. Even worse are the scars on her heart, left by a Seeder boy who promised to protect her.

Now the Seeders are withholding supplies from Rory’s region for perceived disobedience. Utilising the Wanderer knowledge she received from her mother, Rory must journey to the Citadel through uninhabitable terrain to plead for mercy.

However, the Citadel isn’t as Rory remembered. The chief plant geneticist is dying and rumours fly that the store of viable seed is dwindling. The Seeders are desperate to find a seed bank they believe Rory can locate, and they will stop at nothing to get it.

To defy the Seeders means death. But Rory has been close to death before–this time she’s learned the value of poison.

Recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent, strong protagonists, minority characters, circuses and nature!

In the first few pages of Poison, I knew I was in for a treat when I discovered that Ms. Chan has added elements to what could have been a just-like-all-the-rest dystopian story, elements that lift it above the pack. The Reapers are certainly intriguing but the blood furies really caught my attention. The author doesn’t shoot her wad, so to speak, in those first pages, though; surprises are to be found from one scene to the next. (Glider suits? How cool!)

Ms. Chan is equally adept with plot and character development. The tale of a world that comes into being following devastating famine is unusual with her special touches, leading to pathos as well as resistance against the controlling Seeders, and the near-constant twists and turns left me breathless at times. Rory’s own evolution into a young woman who overcomes her fears and rises above what seems to be neverending adversity is compelling and it’s impossible to be sure who is friend, who is foe.

Australia makes a wonderful setting especially with its native fauna that becomes just a little odder as a result of genetic manipulation. This country’s natural and spectacular beauty lends itself well to a story focused on the environment and, for me, heightened the impact of the disaster that could very well arise from genetic manipulation of our agriculture. Perhaps we should take heed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

About the Author

Lan ChanLan Chan is a writer, gardener and professional procrastinator based in Melbourne, Australia. She is still waiting for her super powers to manifest but until then she writes young adult novels featuring strong female protagonists, minority characters and has a particular interest in dystopias and urban fantasy. Lan’s debut novel POISON, the first in her WIND DANCER series was released in September 2015.

Author Links:
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Book Reviews: Propinquity by John Macgregor, The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan, and Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce

PropinquityPropinquity
John Macgregor
John Macgregor, June 2013
ISBN 9781301702114
Ebook
A 2013 release of a 1986 original

One of the definitions of the title is a nearness in time. This highly imaginative novel deals with both the twentieth century and the thirteenth. It would appear at first blush there isn’t much. Propinquity. The novel begins in Australia and it ends there. In between, the uncertain narrator touches down in England and Haiti. Moreover, the principal character in the novel is Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard I, King of England. She appears to have been a student and perhaps a dispenser of gnosis. Gnosis comes from the Greek for internal secret knowledge which, if properly recognized, leads to an exalted and serene existence.

When the novel begins, Clive Lean is a young student in school in Australia. With friends he muses over the meanings of life and the roles of religions. Once his life develops and he becomes wealthy he journeys to England and through a chance encounter with a randy student of the medieval, is able to explore the crypts of Westminster abbey and to make a surprising discovery. Here, in an unmarked coffin, lies the body of a queen of England. Perhaps.

Why here? Why now? And what messages lie in the ancient documents discovered with the remarkably well-preserved queen, a queen whom, so far as is stated by the chroniclers, never set foot on fair England’s shores. Those questions will only be answered by readers of the novel. I hasten to point out this is not a history text, nor is it a mystery in the conventional sense. Yes, crimes are committed, crimes that result in an international outcry and a multi-continent chase. All of this activity is related with considerable wit and erudition and a propinquity that will satisfy most readers.

The dialogue is often crisp and sometimes meandering, occasionally thrilling. The many characters in this morality play are clearly and humanely drawn. Unlike many novels in the genre, a good many questions raised during the narrative are never answered and that, ultimately, is, I suppose, the point. At least, one of the points. Because, finally, frustrating though it may be, I suspect that each thoughtful, careful reader will finish the novel with a sigh, a smile and a nod of recognition.

The novel was originally released in 1986 by a publisher who promptly went out of business. Thus, this is, in one sense at least, its original release, since the book had almost no circulation at that time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

 

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The Fame ThiefThe Fame Thief
A Junior Bender Mystery #3
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2013
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5280-8
Hardcover

Junior Bender, the protagonist in this, the third in this series, has a franchise, according to the eminence grise of Hollywood, the powerful Irwin Dressler, the 93-year-old mob boss. Junior prides himself as a burglar’s burglar, and has found himself much in demand by criminals as their own private investigator. And that’s why Dressler has two of his goons snatch Junior off the street and bring him to his home. He asks Junior to find out who was responsible for ruining a minor actress’ career over 60 years earlier.

This gives the author an opportunity to describe the Hollywood scene of the 1950’s, together with the glamour of Las Vegas and the prevalence of mafia bigwigs and run-of-the mill hoodlums. It is a mystery why a minor starlet became so important to the mob that she had a single starring role: testifying at the Estes Kefauver crime hearings.

I did not find Junior quite as amusing this time around as he was in the first two novels in the series, Crashed and Little Elvises, but Mr. Hallinan makes up for it in the dialogue delivered by Dressler, a Jew who was sent west by the Chicago mob to develop Hollywood and Los Angeles, as well as Las Vegas, for it. This book has quite a plot, and Junior has a tough road to hoe to solve the mystery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2014.

 

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Cold SpellCold Spell
Jackson Pearce
Little, Brown and Company, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-24359-9
Hardcover

There is something about Ms. Pearce’s writing that calls to me like a siren from the sea. Her words leap from the pages to wrap me in comfort. Picking up one of her books feels like wrapping chilly hands around a steaming mug of cocoa. The anticipation must be savored for a moment, before diving into the bliss. Cold Spell, her most recent novel, is no exception.

This enchanting interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” captivated this reader immediately. Brimming with exceptional characters exhibiting quirks, wit, sweetness, determination, talent and compassion; this seemingly simple tale of one girl persistently pursuing her soul-mate becomes a book that cannot be put down.

At the tender age of 17, Ginny has known and loved Kia for a decade. With just a twist, a typical romance is transformed. You see, Kia loves her right back. Where does a story go when it starts with an uncomplicated, true and shared love? Well, in this case, on an epic adventure including Fenris, gypsies (Travellers), a compassionate and ultra-cool couple and the sinister, selfish Snow Queen, Mora.

When the Snow Queen chooses Kia for own court, she has no clue how far Ginny is willing to go to prevent this. Even during her time as a human, Mora has never known real love; therefore, she simply can’t fathom what one person may do to save a cherished soul from a life-time of suffering, servitude and pain. Until faced with it; The Snow Queen never anticipated that a girl would be willing to kill her own soul-mate as the last resort to free him.

This alone would make a fabulous book, but true to form, Ms. Pearce gives us so much more. Ginny’s chase after Kia and his captor is enriched with colorful characters, unique life-styles with funky traditions, and surprising common bonds. As Ginny meets new people, this reader enjoyed subtle reminders that translate to real-life such as; things are not always as they seem, trust your gut-feelings; sometimes, good people appear to be doing “bad” things and, on occasion, the proverbial “bad-guy” is a hurt, frustrated and confused being with no one to turn to.

Although the story and characters are fictional; emotions, concerns and certain dilemmas aren’t really that far from reality. It is to that end, I think, that Ms. Pearce’s books bring me happiness and satisfaction. Not only are they tremendously entertaining, but they help me remember that the story-book wrap-up I tend to carry in my head is not always the best ending.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.