Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Category: New Releases (page 1 of 45)

Kill Your Husbands – Jack Heath

Jack Heath is an alarmingly prolific writer (he’s written over forty books!), he’s got range (he writes for both children and adults), and yet Kill Your Husbands is the first book of his I’ve read. It’s his latest novel, definitely for grown-ups, and Allen & Unwin were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Kill Your Husbands is a locked-room mystery set over the course of a weekend getaway. Three couples rent an isolated house on a mountaintop, to spend some time reconnecting and relaxing in nature. There’s no wifi and no phone reception, but that’s alright – unplugged escapes are all the rage now, aren’t they?

Things get spicy when the idea of partner-swapping comes up. The friends concoct a convoluted scheme where, for one night only, they’ll sleep with someone who isn’t their spouse. What could go wrong?

Well, one of the husbands turning up dead, for one. And then another. And one of the wives goes missing.

Yes! We’ve got swinging! We’ve got murder! Kill Your Husbands has the kind of scandalous, ridiculous fun I love in a novel. Heath alternates the perspectives, bringing in the points of view of the detective investigating the murders and her girlfriend as well (a masterstroke that stops the reader feeling trapped in the suffocating self-involvement of the victims/culprits).

Could the three women have been working together? Maybe it’s a movement. Burn your bras. Kill your husbands.

Kill Your Husbands (Page 220)

It’s perfectly paced to keep you intrigued all the way along. Even though the red herrings might feel a little obvious at times, the pieces of the puzzle fit together nicely in the end. Kill Your Husbands was great fun to read, and I’m seriously impressed by Heath’s skilled hand in crafting a killer summer mystery.

Buy Kill Your Husbands on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

Women & Children – Tony Birch

Tony Birch is one of those novelists that the critics and literary insiders gush over. He writes intense and vivid literary fiction, the kind of stuff that is unlikely to rocket to the top of the best-seller list but will definitely win awards. His latest novel is Women & Children, and the team at UQP Books were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Women & Children is an inter-generational story of inherited trauma and violence, set in working-class suburbia circa 1965. Joe Cluny is surrounded by strong women: his single working mother, his strong-minded sister, and the terrifying nuns at his Catholic school. His Aunty Oona shows up on the family’s doorstep one night, completely distressed and in desperate need of help. Joe Cluny is about to see what happens when women work together to protect one of their own.

This is a quiet novel about big problems: rage, justice, powerlessness, and complicity. It has a strange and meandering point of view, sometimes zeroing in on Joe’s perspective, sometimes focusing on others (like his grandfather, who cares for Joe in the school holidays).

It’s hard to shake the suspicion that Women & Children is based on Birch’s own lived experience – it just has that Vibe. In his Author’s Note, he emphasises that the story is a work of fiction, simply inspired by Birch’s father’s “refusal to accept silence”, but I can’t help feeling there’s more to it than that.

Women & Children is a surprisingly readable but terribly confronting novel, one that cements Birch as a strong voice in Australian fiction.

Buy Women & Children on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Read the Women & Children audiobook on here. (affiliate link)

Check & Mate – Ali Hazelwood

Check and Mate - Ali Hazelwood - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Check & Mate here
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Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending a picnic hosted by Hachette Australia x The Bookish Type, where they were distributing copies of #BookTok star Ali Hazelwood’s new novels. I scored a copy of Check & Mate, billed as a chess-themed rivals-to-lovers young adult novel. It sounded cute, so I dived in straight away!

The story is narrated by 18-year-old Mallory. The girl has the weight of the world on her shoulders. There’s some trauma with her dad, her mum is sick, and she has to work full-time instead of going to university to support her two younger sisters.

Mallory used to be a chess prodigy, but she gave it all up. The charity tournament she attends with her bossy bestie is the first game she’s played in years. And that’s where she meets Nolan, the “bad boy” Grand Master. Before she knows it, Mallory is swept back into the world of high-stakes competitive chess, and seems to be facing Nolan at every turn. Is he the arsehole she’s always assumed him to be? Or could he be the King to her Queen?

(Does that analogy even work? I don’t know, almost everything I know about chess I learned from Check & Mate, so if I’m getting it wrong, blame Ali Hazelwood.)

Even though Check & Mate will probably be shelved in the Young Adult section, I’d call it New Adult – and it’s definitely adult enough to interest older readers. It’s a well-paced romance novel, with enough sparks flying to keep the pages turning. I also loved the family relationships and the dialogue that plays out between Mallory and her loved ones – it felt very realistic, and kept Check & Mate out of talented-girl-makes-stupid-career-decisions-because-of-a-boy territory.

That’s not to say it all felt realistic; even knowing as little as I do about the world of competitive and professional chess, I doubt Mallory could go all the way to the World Championships on little more than raw talent and a bit of encouragement from her boss, but that’s the nature of the beast. Check & Mate was a fun read and a couple of plot and prose blips did nothing to take away from my enjoyment of it.

Buy Check & Mate on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)
Get the Check & Mate audiobook from here. (affiliate link)

The Teacher’s Pet – Hedley Thomas

The Teacher’s Pet was originally one of the true crime podcasts that became a cultural phenomenon. It was downloaded over 30 million times, and made front-page news with each new episode drop. Now the journalist behind it, Hedley Thomas, has laid out the story in a book of the same name – The Teacher’s Pet – to commit the whole, extraordinary tale to the page. The terrific publishing team at Macmillan were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

In case you missed the story the first time around, here are the bare-bones facts: in 1982, Lynette Simms (then known as Lyn Dawson) disappeared. Her husband Chris reported her missing, weeks later, and police seemed happy to accept his version of events – that she had abandoned her home and two young children, without contacting any of her loved ones or co-workers. They didn’t think to investigate any further, despite the “marital difficulties”, despite Chris’s public affair with a 16-year-old student at the school where he taught, despite Chris installing that same student in Lyn’s house and bed to act as defacto wife and mother just a couple of days after her “disappearance”.

It wasn’t until forty years later, in 2022, that Chris Dawson was held accountable for the murder of his wife – thanks, in large part, to Hedley Thomas’s headline-grabbing investigation.

Chris Dawson was not a criminal mastermind. Police incompetence, the trust of Lyn’s family and the passage of time had conspired to help him get away with murder.

The Teacher’s Pet (Page 219)

The blurb of The Teacher’s Pet promises a “blow-by-blow” account, and it delivers. It’s a big hefty book, around 500 pages, with the genre-standard glossy inserts. The devil is in the details, sure, but I couldn’t help feeling at times that Thomas was overdoing it a bit – at times, The Teacher’s Pet reads like a never-ending list of people who say they “believe” Chris is guilty, without being able to point to a body or a crime scene. There’s a character list and timeline at the end of the book, but that might’ve been more helpful printed at the start, because the revolving door of interviewees with similar names can feel overwhelming.

It’s a journalistic true crime book, not a literary one, so don’t come to The Teacher’s Pet expecting evocative prose or earth-shattering insights. Leigh Sales called it “a masterclass in investigative journalism”, but I must say, I was surprised by Thomas’s approach. He went in with explicitly preconceived notions – that Chris Dawson was guilty of murdering Lyn Simms – but doesn’t interrogate that at all for the reader, or make any concessions to open-mindedness in journalism.

I was similarly surprised by some of his choices in storytelling, like mentioning (twice) discussing the case with Matthew Johns without mentioning Johns’ own history with historical criminal allegations. I guess I’m just more used to more reflective true crime writing that incorporates self-examination and individual motivations into the narrative.

The Teacher’s Pet is a comprehensive and interesting account of the unravelling of Chris Dawson’s crimes – but a revolutionary work of true crime literature? Not so much.

Buy The Teacher’s Pet on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

Emmett – L.C. Rosen

Emmett - LC Rosen - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Emmett here
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When Jane Austen set about writing Emma, she said that she was writing a protagonist she expected no one would like but herself. L.C. Rosen seems to have taken the opposite approach in writing Emmett, a queer YA adaptation of Austen’s perennial matchmaker novel.

The titular character is the guy that everybody likes: handsome, smart, aware of his privilege, and determined to be “nice”. (Seriously, you could turn Emmett into a ripper of a drinking game if you just take a sip every time you see the word “nice”.) This niceness extends to setting up his friends and f-buddies with their romantic matches. What could possibly go wrong?

I liked the setting of Emmett, the swanky Highbury Academy in a wealthy neighbourhood, where everyone drives a hybrid car and art exhibitions are “interactive exhibits”. It’s a nice nod to Clueless, which (aside from being based on the same source text) has clearly had a strong influence on Rosen’s writing.

I worry, though, that I might be a bit too old and hardened to be the ideal reader for Emmett. Even though the teenage characters are on the mature side, having sex and drinking at parties and all the other stuff that gets the pearl-clutchers up in arms, it all felt very Young to me. Emmett has the kind of deluded self-confidence you find exclusively in earnest well-off teenage boys. As much as it wasn’t quite for me, I can see how Emmett would be a fine, cutesy read for young adult romantics getting their first taste of Austen-esque stories.

Many thanks to my friends at Allen & Unwin for sending through a copy for review!

Buy Emmett on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)

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