Review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Published by: Penguin
ISBN: 0241425441
ISBN 13: 9780241425442
Published: October 2020
Pages: 336
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author’s Twitter
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended

In the book community we often talk about trying to find books that do something a bit different – sometimes it seems that in order to save the world you have to be between 15-25 years old, usually male, and an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time. What about literally everyone else in the world?

And what about people who have a very specific set of skills who are now retired so have all the time in the day to go over cold cases? Especially when a murder happens right on their doorstep and concerns their home, the 7th best retirement village in England, Coopers Case.

We have four members of the Thursday Murder Club, Elizabeth (who is very much the leader and has a seemingly complex past that has left her with a lifetime of important connections and owed favours), Joyce (who was a nurse and who now keeps a journal, which is an excellent way of delivering certain facts for the reader or revealing scenes that happened that aren’t shown in the book itself, without it seeming forced), Ron (who is never afraid of standing up for what needs to be protected and demonstrated for, and still loves a chance to get on his soapbox for a bit) and Ibrahim (a retired psychiatrist and the one with the mathematical mind). Being in a retirement village they are often visited by various spokespeople from society, and one day get a visit from the police to listen to a home safety presentation about not opening front doors to strangers or falling for various scams, and it’s through this that they meet PC Donna De Freitas, a police woman who is far better than most of the small police centre she’s moved herself out to after a bad breakup and a split second decision. She wants to be out there catching serial killers and taking on the big cases, not working in such a sleepy little back county… and this just so happens to line up with exactly what the Thursday Murder Club want, too.

It’s so refreshing to have a set of very intelligent older people who are often overlooked and know how to play to this advantage. There’s a tv show called New Tricks which is quite similar, but honestly this book is so much better – the characters are more likeable, the dialogue is a lot more fun, and the general observations about life and such are really quite entertaining.

It also has its sad moments. Some of the main characters have already lost their life partners whilst some are worried about their curernt partners, and they’re all a bit worried for their neighbours daily as they slip further away. Another main character is a woman who doesn’t say a word yet is still integral to their group. She’s in palliative care now, and is someone Elizabeth visits often, another way that we get information about the case without it seeming forced. This woman, Penny, seems like she was a member of the Thursday Murder Club until soon before the novel starts, and there seems to be some guilt of Joyce taking her place, which gives a nice lived-in feeling to this club and the retirement village itself.

As far as murder mysteries go, this one is quite complex with more and more information getting uncovered through various means and their initial suspicions changing as this comes to light or they get a feel for the various suspects (and more people keep dying). It’s not obvious who did it at all, and there are surprises right until the end of the book – and not in a way that seems ridiculous.

The author, Richard Osman, is quite well known in England and anywhere else that airs the TV quiz show Pointless. We have so much more to thank him for though, as before he was a debut author or a tv presenter he worked in the behind the scenes of TV on shows like Out of 10 Cats and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, all the way back to Total Wipeout, Whose Line is it Anyway, and Deal or No Deal (he knows who the Banker is!)

Somehow, it also seems that he can write. I can’t wait for the second book in this series and see what the Thursday Murder Club get up to next.

Review: Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

Published by: Macmillan-Tor/Forge
ISBN: 1250260493
ISBN 13: 9781250260499
Published: July 2020
Pages: 176
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Lists: Recommended

This is one of those books that I want to give two scores – four out of five (or four and a half perhaps) for the book’s style and what it reaches for. Three stars for my own personal enjoyment. Some of this hit a little too close to home, having spent my school breaks in a remote part of Western Australia that aligns itself in more ways than I’d have initially imagined with Queensland.

In this book, Bettina lives in a small town that has thirteen streets, one remaining pub, one low school house block, one grocery store and has never had a bank, but has three churches. It’s hot and dusty, and surrounded by bush land. Mine was much the same – a pub that was also where first aid was handled, a corner store that also handled post office stuff and petrol, one school, two churches (again, each smaller than a house), though we had a town hall that doubled as a ‘library’ and would be where the visiting doctor would set up shop.

Above all else it’s the small town mentality that’s shown in the book – everyone knows everyone’s business and everyone is either too helpful or gives their opinion too freely. In Flyaway, Bettina lives with her mother after her father and brothers left some time ago. She considers her responses to her mother, hides what she needs to, runs away from most interactions because she has her mother’s accusations at the forefront of her mind why so-and-so should be avoided.

Until Bettina comes to realise that perhaps everything she’s believed in (or ignored) up until now, and starts to look into what really has happened around her. Bettina reunites with two friends she lost along the way – Gary and Trish, and together they start to delve into her family secrets.

This is Australian gothic right up there with Kaaron Warren, Angela Slatter and Lisa L. Hannett, Kim Wilkins, and other common names we see on the Aurealis shortlist. If you’ve been Jennings’ artwork then you know exactly what you’re in for with her writing – whimsy and intricacies.

Review: Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

Series: Seven Devils #1
Published by: Gollancz
ISBN: 1473225140
ISBN 13: 9781473225145
Published: August 2020
Pages: 448
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Laura Lam’s Site
Site: Elizabeth May’s Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Imagine you worked for the Resistance (Star Wars style), only instead of fighting against various men with mummy issues whilst dressed in silly helmets, you were instead up against a power more akin to those running the Capitol/Panem in The Hunger Games.

We have Eris, who had an upbringing that granted her every skill the resistance could ever want. We have Clo who came pretty much from the opposite – the slums, but luckily so low below the empire’s notice that at least she wasn’t brainwashed like most of the population have been. Clo handles all the ship’s mechanics and piloting and is damn good at it, Eris handles… well, a heck of a lot of things. They work for Kyla and Sher who lead the Resistance, and it’s on their orders that they’re boarding ships and trying to gain intel on what’s got the empire so obsessed with a particular delivery when they run into a trio of others who just happen to be on their way fleeing the empire to join said resistance.

This trio consists of a soldier so talented she was placed in the honour guard of one of the royal family – the rulers of the entire empire. We have Rhea, a courtesan, who was also so talented she worked directly with the royal family also. They’ve come protecting the third in their part, Ariadne, the youngest character in the story who is beyond incredible – who was created literally to be the hands and body work for the previously mentioned brainwashing system known as the Oracle.

This is a space opera that hits all the right notes – women who are powerful (in terms of actual power, body strength, technical ability), fight scenes, romance, and all kinds of representation – bisexual, trans, neurodivergent, disabled. It’s a bit grungy, showing us a future that’s a bit more dirty and negative (but always with a twinge of hope and people trying to make it better/fairer for all), and it’s a bit violent though never gratuitous.

I love how it has its own version of swearing and Gods, building up quite a layered bit of world building without drowning the reader in it at any time, always leaving you wanting more. The tech is mentioned seamlessly throughout. The food sounds familiar yet has its differences. I personally wish the purple fruit existed.

This is planned to be a duology, with the second book hopefully coming out sometime in 2021, covid-willing.

Review: A Dance With Fate by Juliet Marillier

Series: Warrior Bards #2
Published by: Macmillan Australia
ISBN: 1760784222
ISBN 13: 9781760784225
Published: July 2020
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Set a few seasons after the ending of the first in the series we return to our main characters – Liobhan and Dau who have returned to Swan Island, and Liobhan’s brother Brocc who is still in the Otherworld, now married to the Queen and an integral member of the community made up of little creatures.

Early on we’re thrown into the conflict of the novel. Originally at the start of the first book there were twenty people vying to join Swan Island for good. Of those, 15 didn’t make it, and Brocc left as we already know. So there’s just four left, and now they have to fight to win Bran’s Blade, which is awarded to the most outstanding fighter of the day who then gets to be its keeper until someone else proves themselves worthy.

The other two battle first, and then it’s Liobhan and Dau’s turn. They’re very evenly matched – getting one point each. These two have come a long way since the start of the first book, back when Dau seemed arrogant and Liobhan just as determined to earn a place on Swan Island no matter what the cost. So they enter the fighting circle friends, but also just as determined as ever to best the other.

Liobhan makes a move, Dau tries to twist out of the way and loses his footing, and strikes his head going down, and… is rendered unconscious. And when he finally wakes, he’s blind.

At a point when it seemed like he may not make it through the night his family are sent a message. Dau is a chieftan’s son after all, and although the leaders of Swan Island know he’s somewhat estranged from his family they do what they think is right, and reach out to them to let them know.

And they come, and they demand a hefty recompense of silver thinking that Dau will now be a disabled burden on the family forever. They have the money to make it seem like Dau will be better in their care, able to seek out the best physicians across the land who may eventually be able to work up a cure. They also demand Liobhan to be a bond-servant, blaming her for Dau’s injury.

As readers of the first book will know, Dau’s family are absolutely terrible although they give the impression of being fine and upstanding. They bullied Dau to the point he tried to take his own life when he was young, and Dau makes it clear to Liobhan that the first chance he gets, he’ll be trying again if he has to go back with them. So Liobhan volunteers to meet their demands, as headstrong and determined that she always is, to protect Dau from his family however she can.

And that’s the novel. Dau blind, Liobhan proving her strength, and the reader getting to see what his family are really like for ourselves.

Brocc has his own storyline weaved throughout the novel and while important and engaging, I will admit that whenever the chapters do flick to his POV I did wish that we were staying with Dau and Liobhan.

Overall this was an excellent book, and I’m looking forward to the third which will hopefully come out sometime next year.

Review: Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson

Series: Galaxy’s Edge #2
Published by: Arrow (Random House UK, Cornerstone)
ISBN 13: 9781787462410
Published: July 2020
Pages: 380
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

I came to this one not realising it was the second in a series but read it anyway, seeing that it apparently stands alone and wanting to test that. I would agree. It hints enough at what has passed so you know what the characters have been through (and why they are how they are) but doesn’t leave you confused. If anything, it piques your interest enough making you want to hunt out the events on the Absolution (which I just might once I’ve caught up on my review pile), so overall that’s a plus from me.

When we begin this book we meet Vi Moradi, one of General Leia’s best spies, and find that she’s been recovering from a pretty horrific recent mission that went pretty wrong. Vi is eager to move on (whether she’s ready to or not), but the mission Leia has for her seems at first glance an insult, ego-crushing at next glance, and basically boring and beneath her with all things considered.

Vi is to seek out a boring and out-of-reach planet and go there to begin building another retreat for the Resistance – somewhere the First Order would never even think of bothering with. Sure, it’s a much needed thing – the book is set just after the events of The Last Jedi when they’re hurting deeply from everything that’s happened… but Vi still hates it. She wants to be in the excitement doing what she does best… but, she also trusts and believes in Leia with every fibre of her being, so if Leia wants a boring planet, then Leia’s going to get a boring planet.

And if that’s not enough? Vi also has to collect someone on her way to help on the mission. And that person is the same one that has left her in such a poor state. He’s not doing much better, either – if anything, he is in far worse condition (thanks to Phasma) so they make a jolly pair on the long and boring journey to an equally boring planet.

As if that isn’t enough to deal with, it all goes wrong from the start. Their ship is knocked near entry causing them to crash, and injuring both Vi and her reluctant partner (as if they weren’t already in pain from recent events), and while unconscious from the crash their ship is ransacked. Every item scraped together to help build a new base for the Resistance is taken – even the thin mattress in Vi’s bunk. Even her knitting.

So now before they can do anything else she needs to get a regular old-fashioned job in order to earn a few local credits to start buying back their much needed supplies… and seeing as their boring planet of choice is Batuu, located literally on the edge of the galactic map, the last settled world before Wild Space… even the simplest manufactured goods go at a high price. And the price only goes up if the local thugs who run the planet don’t like the look of you.

And it’s going to take Vi some luck to get on their good side.

Overall, this is a decent read. I preferred Phasma (also written by Dawson) but this was a good adventure, filled with a range of characters, and didn’t simply brush people off as ‘good’ or ‘evil’, they all had their reasons for being, even the thugs who ran Batuu.