Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: New Releases (page 1 of 26)

56 Days – Catherine Ryan Howard

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Is it too soon for a COVID-19 murder mystery? Catherine Ryan Howard surely hopes not. 56 Days is her latest high-concept crime thriller, set in Dublin in the early days of the city’s first lock-down. The wonderful team at Corvus (via Allen & Unwin) kindly sent me a copy for review.

In a lot of ways, this is a high-octane version of an all-too-familiar story. Single people (like Ciara and Oliver, the main characters) found themselves backed into a corner by the pandemic: either white-knuckle it through alone, or move into the same “household” as someone you’ve been casually dating. Ciara and Oliver choose the latter… and someone ends up dead.

56 Days is well written, well paced, with tantalising clues and a couple of truly excellent fake-out twists. The couple barely know each other when they’re forced into the pressure cooker pandemic situation, so the reader gets two (or more?) very different perspectives on the same events.

One important note: if you’ve yet to read Catherine Ryan Howard’s previous novel, The Nothing Man, there’s a spoiler buried in this one about mid-way through – the stories take place in the same universe.

I thoroughly enjoyed 56 Days – so my verdict is that it’s not too soon for a COVID-19 novel, as long as it’s a good one.

Lily Harford’s Last Request – Joanna Buckley

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Joanna Buckley chose a lofty goal for her debut novel. The Australian author “wanted to write a book that would highlight, and encourage readers to discuss and debate, the fraught topic of assisted dying”, according to her author’s note. My friends at Harlequin HQ (HarperCollins) were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Lily Harford’s Last Request renders the long life and final days of the titular character, Lily Harford. The story circles around her move into an assisted living facility, and her decline into vascular dementia, alongside the various other ills that come with aging.

Her perspective is shared with that of her daughter, a middle-aged school principal with a lot on her mind, and a nurse’s aide, who draws a lot of meaning from her work in aged care.

Fearing a similar mental decline to that experienced by her father, with a traumatic end, Lily begins asking others to help her end her life on her own terms.

Clearly, this story is trigger-heavy, for anyone with sore spots around ageing, dementia, and assisted dying. The opening scene, depicting Lily’s imminent death by means of smothering, is particularly confronting.

While I appreciated Buckley’s choice of subject, and warmed to the nature of the characters she crafted, Lily Harford’s Last Request fell a bit short for me. The dialogue was often stilted, exposition-heavy and unrealistic, and the “twist” ending was all too foreseeable.

This one would resonate, though, for fans of Still Alice. Even though it wasn’t for me, I hope it does indeed encourage more open conversations about assisted dying and the options that are (or should be) available to those who wish to control their own death.

Murder Most Fancy – Kellie McCourt

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Accidental socialite sleuth Indigo Daisy Violet Amber Hasluck Royce Jones Boomberg is back!

I haven’t had the chance to check out the first installment in her adventures, Heiress On Fire, as yet, but I couldn’t wait to check out the latest – Murder Most Fancy. The amazing team at Harlequin Australia (Harper Collins AU) were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Indigo still hasn’t lived down the scandal that saw her investigated for the murder of her husband. She has every intention of keeping a low profile… but then she stumbles over a corpse in her grandmother’s back yard. She’s dragged kicking and screaming back into a life of amateur criminal investigation, and her trusty sidekick Esmerelda is more than happy to help find the killer.

It was a pleasant surprise to read a “glamorous” cozy mystery set at home; usually, these stories are set in Los Angeles or New York, but Murder Most Fancy takes place in more recognisable locales like Vaucluse and Darwin. McCourt also gets bonus points for crafting a clever murder mystery that “doesn’t commodify sexual violence against women or children” (which was her intention, as per the author’s dedication).

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite jive with the pacing of this one. I also think I would have been better off reading the original Indigo novel first – there was enough exposition for me to get the gist, but it still assumed a level of preexisting affection for and familiarity with the characters.

Still, if a Sex And The City-with-murder vibe sounds good to you, you should check out Murder Most Fancy (just be sure to read Heiress On Fire first!).

Being Britney – Jennifer Otter Bickerdike

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Being Britney, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike’s biography-cum-social-history of the world’s biggest pop star, was coincidentally published just as news broke that its subject had been freed from her draconian decade-long conservatorship.

It’s the good-news headline we all needed in 2021, but as Otter Bickerdike was writing before it broke, her book actually contains very little about it. So, if that’s the story you’re looking for, you’re going to need to find a different book.

Luckily, when I opened up my copy (kindly sent to me by the team at Nine Eight Books via Allen & Unwin), I was hoping for a nuanced analysis of Britney’s key career milestones, contextualising her career – in the vein of Sarah Smarsh’s She Come By It Natural, which did the same for Dolly Parton. That’s exactly what I got.

Otter Bickerdike reflects on Britney as “both a creator and a creation”, looking at the collective pressures that formed a diamond.

This was a quick and fascinating read that I would recommend to anyone interested in the current shifts in celebrity culture.

The Library – Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen

The Library - Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Get The Library: A Fragile History here.
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I loved Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, and I’ve been on the hunt for more books and stories about the history of libraries ever since.

Then this beauty landed in my lap (courtesy of Profile Books via Allen & Unwin), The Library: A Fragile History. Pettegree and der Weduwen explore “the rich and dramatic history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the embattled public resources we cherish today”.

This is a BEAUTIFULLY designed hardcover, with ribbon bookmark; I suspect the designers knew full well that the subject matter would appeal to bibliophiles.

Pettegree and der Weduwen’s focus is more on the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance history of the library, when it largely existed as personal collections of the wealthy and powerful. I’ll admit I skimmed some of those chapters, but if those eras of history make your heart sing, you’re in luck.

The final chapters, with more recent history of the politics and progress of the library as a public institution, were of most interest to me.

While The Library wasn’t quite as snappy and readable as Orlean’s book, but it was still an interesting wide-view window into world history via book collections through the ages.

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