BOOK REVIEW: Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood

Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry GreenwoodMurder on the Ballarat Train
By Kerry Greenwood
Completed April 29, 2012

Murder on the Ballarat Train is part of the Phryne Fisher series – a suave, intelligent flapper/private investigator who solves crimes in 1920’s Australia. Phryne is a no-nonsense, forward-thinking woman who isn’t afraid to use a gun or her prowess to get to the bottom of a mystery.

In this book, Phryne is traveling in a first-class train car with her maid, Dot, when she awakens to the smell of chloroform. Someone had used chloroform to sedate the entire passenger car so he/she could murder one of the passengers, a grumpy old woman named Mrs.Williams.  Eunice, the woman’s daughter and fellow train passenger, hires Phryne to solve the case.

Meanwhile, a young girl appears at the train station with amnesia, and Phryne takes the girl, Jane, under her wing.When it is discovered that Jane was molested, Phryne undertakes another investigation to determine who hurt the young girl.

Like all good murder mysteries, the plots eventually tie together, and 175 pages later, Phryne catches the bad guys, gets the cute man and adopts two orphans. Murder on the Ballarat Train is a bit of a departure from my usual fare, but I enjoyed the story nonetheless. I liked Phryne’s style – sort of a racier version of Nancy Drew. If you need a good poolside read, consider checking out this page-turning mystery series. (  )


BOOK REVIEW: Gilgamesh by Joan London

Gilgamesh by Joan LondonGilgamesh
By Joan London
Completed August 28, 2011

Joan London’s debut novel is the story of Edith, a young Australian girl who lives in the bush with her mom and sister. Edith knows the realities of hard country living – her parents’ farm never taking off after years of effort. When her cousin, Leopold, and his friend, Aram, arrive for a visit, it’s a breath of fresh air. Edith and her family are charmed by the young men’s stories and antics, and slowly, Edith falls in love with Aram.

After the men leave, Edith begins to plot her own departure, a worldwide journey to Aram’s homeland of Armenia. However, Edith didn’t realize that Europe was about to burst with World War II, and as she draws closer to her destination, Edith becomes an unwilling pawn in a political chess match.

The fable Gilgamesh is central to this story, and it fits well with the travels of many characters. London does a wonderful job weaving in texts from the poem to help the reader connect the dots between the fable and the story. In fact, my favorite parts of the book are when Edith is traveling – first on a ship around Africa, then to London, Armenia and finally northern Africa. Each stop on Edith’s journey gave the reader a snapshot of life during that time.

Gilgamesh is a quick read – very enthralling with fully developed characters and great plot twists. London’s writing is subtle but powerful. Fans of the Orange Prize or literary fiction are sure to enjoy this fast-paced novel. (  )

REVIEW: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden by Kate MortonThe Forgotten Garden
By Kate Morton
Completed December 11, 2010

The Forgotten Garden is Kate Morton’s follow-up novel to her bestselling The House at Riverton. I enjoyed Morton’s first novel immensely, and I couldn’t wait to read her sophomore effort. All in all, I was not disappointed.

The novel starts with four-year-old Nell, stranded on a wharf in Australia. With no one claiming her, she is adopted by Hugh and Lil, who raise her as their own. When she reaches adulthood, Nell learns the truth about her past and begins a quest to learn more about her biological parents. Unfortunately, she never learned the full truth, leaving her granddaughter Cassandra to unravel the mystery.

The novel takes its readers through multiple generations – the Victorian lives of Rose and Eliza (who are Nell’s ancestors), the 1975 quest by Nell to learn more about her family and the 2005 journey by Cassandra to England to pick up where Nell left off. Morton masterfully maneuvers through each time period, slowly unveiling clues to the secrets of Nell and Cassandra’s ancestry.  Where Morton shines is in her character development, even making a 200-year-old cottage a character of its own. Without a doubt, The Forgotten Garden is a classic Gothic novel, and if you love that genre, you’ll enjoy this book.

My only complaint was the overabundance of detail in the story. Morton is talented enough to tell a story without the minutia, and I think about 20 percent of this novel could have been trimmed. Admittedly, it’s a small qualm and does not stop me from recommending The Forgotten Garden to other readers. But if you’re an impatient reader (like me), consider yourself warned.

With that said, Kate Morton continues her storytelling mastery, and I look forward to reading her third book, The Distant Hours, very soon. (  )

REVIEW: Getting the Girl by Markus Zusak

Getting the Girl by Markus ZusakGetting the Girl
By Markus Zusak
Completed November 26, 2010

Wanting to read more beautiful prose by Markus Zusak, I stumbled into the final story of a trilogy for young adult readers. Haven’t read the first two, I languished over the insighful Getting The Girl, the story of Cameron Wolfe and his challenges being the youngest brother to popular older brothers.

Cameron was a loner, and through Zusak, he comes alive to show the anguish and sometimes-fun of being a teenage boy in Australia. Cameron might have liked to be alone, but he was typical boy – girl crazy, liked sports and wondered what people thought about him. At the end of each chapter, the book changes font, and we get a deeper look into Cameron through his journal writings. It’s in these writings that we see the true Cameron.

Admittedly, Getting the Girl can’t be loved for its plot – for it really doesn’t have one – but it can be appreciated for Zusak’s lyrical writing style and showcasing of the human spirit. If my boys were older, I would definitely add this book to their shelves. I hope to read the first two books, The Underdog and Fighting Ruben Wolfe, in order next year. Until then, Getting the Girl was a satisfying read – not in the same class as The Book Thief – but a book that’s perfect for young adults who, like Cameron, are struggling to find themselves. Markus Zusak knows how to speak to that generation.

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