Category Archives: Novels

Review: All Our Secrets by Jennifer Lane

Clan Destine Press’s new release, All Our Secrets, is set in the fictional small town of Coongahoola in NSW.

Set in 1984, the town is steeped in the consequences of a wild party on the banks of the Bagooli River in 1975 and the rush of children born nine months later. The fathers of the River Children are not necessarily the men married to their mothers.

Nine years later, one of the River Children goes missing, his body turning up a few days later by the river. He is the first of a string of murders. One of the children who may be the next target is Elijah Barrett.

His 11 year old sister, Gracie, is our guide to Coongahoola. Through her eyes we meet her chaotic family, her town, the shock of the murders and her beloved brother.

Lane imbues Gracie with a realism that makes the young girl sympathetic and irritating in turns, though her innate kindness is her saving grace (as it were) even when she’s not always making the kindest decisions in her attempts to fit in to the town’s narrow social expectations. She is struggling with the estrangement of her parents, her sometimes embarrassingly religious grandmother, her crush on the boy next door and her anxiety from the usual array of schoolground bullying and snooty cliques.

Through this thoroughly believable child, Lane captures the personalities and quirks of the people of Coongahoola. As each child disappears, only to be found murdered, the net of suspicion is cast wide – from townspeople to the group of religious devotees who have recently set up camp by the river.  The parallels between the personal chaos of Gracie’s world and that of the whole town is clear: all the rivalries and jealousies, the in and out groups, the unfounded rumours and blame games.

All Our Secrets is a gripping and perfectly paced story, balanced splendidly between Gracie’s  distress and concern for her family ad the fear experienced by the wider community as their children become victims.

It’s no surprise to learn that All Our Secrets won the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel in New Zealand. Clan Destine Press has brought this fantastic book, with it’s unusual and powerful point of view, to a new audience. Get it now to read a fresh new voice in Australian crime.

Buy All Our Secrets

Five questions for Karen J Carlisle

Today, Karen J Carlisle answers five questions about her latest book.

Karen J Carlisle

  1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?

I’m currently writing Aunt Enid: Protector Extraordinaire. It is the first book in ‘The Aunt Enid Mysteries’ series. I’m told it’s a cosy parnormal mystery.

The ‘Aunt Enid’ was there from the beginning (based on my own great aunt Enid). The Subtitle was problematic; how to hint at what the story was about, without giving it all away?

Usually a title will pop in my head, giving me something to hang the story on. I have fun making up titles.

  1. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?
  • Aunt Enid: Miriam Margoyles
  • Agnes Farrow: Helen Mirren
  • Alfred Knowles: Richard E Grant (aged up a bit.)  Those eyes…
  • Sally: someone in late 20s/early 30s. Perfect for a ‘newcomer’ This is flexible. Sally is the newcomer discovering everything – a substitute for the reader, so she can take on any likeness. She has a role and personality. She’s sometimes blonde, sometimes brunette but always Sally.
  1. What five words best describe your story?

Cosy, supernatural mystery in Adelaide.

  1. Who is your favourite fictional team/couple?

The Doctor (as in Who) and Donna. (Even they do the Agatha Christie thing!)

  1. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

I had to think a lot about this. (Usually I can rattle the song off immediately: Doctor Jack – Behind Blue Eyes by The Who, my work-in-progress fantasy – Stay by Shakespears Sister.)

I didn’t really have one song for this book. It was mostly driven by childhood memories. I suppose I’d say: Curious World by Alice’s Night Circus, and the line: “Don’t be afraid of the dark.”

About Aunt Enid: Protector Extraordinaire

Daemons, fairies, magic: it’s all real! The Otherworld is bleeding through cracks into our world. And Adelaide is ground zero.

Something is coming. Something dark – trading souls for passage. And only one person stands between The Dark and the fate of the world.

Aunt Enid is just your average seventy-something year old. She loves to cook, is a regular at bingo and spends hours in her garden, talking to her army of garden gnomes and fussing over the colour of her hydrangeas…

When people start disappearing, her great niece, Sally, is drawn into a secret world and soon discovers her great aunt is a Protector Extaordinaire.

Aunt Enid: Protector Extraordinaire is the first book in ‘The Aunt Enid Mysteries’, the first series in ‘The Otherworlds Chronicles.’

About Karen J Carlisle

Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy.

She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, Hunted, featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat. She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.

Follow Karen:

Buy Aunt Enid: Protector Extraordinaire

Smashwords offers a special 66% off Aunt Enid: Protector Extraordinaire from 21st May to 7th June. Visit Karen J Carlisle’s Aunt Enid for Smashwords and Amazon links.

Recommended Kickstarter: The Creature Court

It’s my week for writing about writers I love. Today it’s Tansy Rayner Roberts and her Creature Court series. Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts are a remarkable, richly realised, unpredictable and deeply satisfying dark fantasy trilogy about ancient battles, strange festivals, and shape shifters who can turn into one big beast or dozens of littler ones – with the bonus of really gorgeous frocks.

So imagine my delight to discover that the trilogy is being re-released, along with a brand new story! And imagine the delight doubled when I learned that the fabulously talented Kathleen Jennings would be providing art for the books!

If you’re already on board and can’t wait to support the project, go straight to Kickstarter and show your love.

If you want to know more about the books and the Kickstarter campaign, I asked Tansy Rayner Roberts a few questions.

Why have you decided to re-release the Creature Court series through a Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is still one of the best ways to crowdfund a substantial arts or publishing project if you have costs to be covered up front. After running the successful Mother of Invention campaign for Twelfth Planet Press last year I have confidence in my own ability to handle a more personal campaign. I knew I wanted to bring Creature Court back into print after I got the rights back last year, but doing it through Kickstarter means I can release them all at once, paying for fantastic new art and design.

You’ve mentioned the original three books and a fourth, new book, Cab aret of Monsters. Which books is the Kickstarter supporting?

The Kickstarter is for all four books. I decided to write a prequel novella set in the same world because I knew a lot of people who are close Tansy supporters (especially Australians) already have copies of the Creature Court trilogy on their shelves, and I haven’t revised the text substantially (though I have revised it). This way, there’s something new for people who have been buying my books all along!

You’re re-editing the books for the re-release. What does that entail? Why did you decide to do that?

It’s not so much a decision, to edit before a rerelease… I have been laying out the books myself and I am physically incapable of doing that without making a few changes here and there. Sometimes it’s word choice, or rephrasing. More commonly it’s basic proofing – I was particularly surprised how many errors had got through the final volume of the series as printed!

I haven’t made any huge changes though I did find an alarming inconsistency in the flashback/backstory timeline which took a little behind the scenes industrial engineering before I was happy with it. They’re still essentially the novels I wrote between 2004-2011.

How did Kathleen Jennings get involved with the project?

I asked her! Kathleen and I have known each other for a long time now, and I love her work so much. It’s been exciting seeing an Australian artist take on such big international projects. We have a similar attachment to historical aesthetics, so I knew I wanted her on board if I possibly could – and I’m so grateful she was able to make time in her schedule for me.

We’ve worked through a lot of ideas already, and I’m excited to see how the books turn out. One of Kathleen’s talents is extremely detailed silhouette art which she creates with cut paper. We also have a great cover designer, Cathy Larsen, who will be producing the typography with vintage fonts to get across the 1920’s feel that infuses the novels.

How is her art going to be used in the re-rereleases and the new, fourth book of the series?

Book covers primarily – four book covers in one year is a major commitment (it helps a lot when you can pay the artist, hence the Kickstarter) but it’s really exciting to have all of them designed at the same time, and allows us to have a real coherence across the covers.

The novella cover will be developed over the next month or so and then the trilogy later in the year. I also commissioned some pieces up front so I could show our backers the visual style that we were aiming for – hence the lovely flapper with sword banner on the main Kickstarter page, and the iconic Art Deco pin design which Kathleen produced.

Several of our rewards including postcards will be based on Kathleen’s art… and I’m really hoping we make our stretch goals so I can offer the beautiful enamel pin in a variety of colours.

If you could turn into an animal (or a whole lot of little ones) – what animal would it be?

My first instinct was to wonder what animal is most industrious. I’ll take ten of those! Though cats have a pretty great life. I could happily live out my years as a sleepy bed full of cats.

Get on board the Creature Court Kickstarter

(I’m supporting at the Come to the Cabaret level ‘cos I want all the Jennings art as well as the new book!)

Review: The Midnight Quill Trio by Emily Larkin

We all know I’m a Larkin fan, having previously gibbered excitedly about the books in her Baleful Grandmother series of regency romances with a magical element.

I’ve discovered I can always count on Emily Larkin for partnerships of equals: honourable men with heart and brains, and vulnerabilities of their own; women of humour, intelligence and courage, with determined agency even when they’re restricted by society and economic dependence. If I’ve had a rough week, I’ll always reach for Emily Larkin or Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Larkin’s non-magic regency romances are just as delightful, and I recently devoured the novel and two novellas in the ‘Midnight Quill’ series.

The Countess’s Groom

The series begins with a novella set in 1763, The Countess’s Groom, in which a terribly abused young wife is falls in love with her groom, Will Fenmore, who is trying desperately to save her from her brute of a husband without ruining her. The Countess, Rose, is just as imprisoned in her vile husband’s absence by her maid Boyle.

It’s not all down to Will, however. Rose finds courage and determination, and slowly learns to trust the giant but gentle Will. She learns from him, too, that love, and making love, can be tender and joyful.

Larkin always paces her stories perfectly, with just enough detail, just enough danger, to keep the heart racing, even though you know love will win.

Throughout her trials, Rose keeps a diary of her experiences, from the abuse at the hands of the Count, to her blooming under Will’s loving touches. She keeps quite explicit details, and it’s this diary, hidden away in the walls of her room, which is found and made good use of in the novel-length story of the trio.

The Spinster’s Secret

Set in 1815, The Spinster’s Secret sees Edward Kane returning from war, his face and hand disfigured from his wounds at Waterloo. He comes to the grim Creed Hall to return the worldly goods that belonged to his dear friend Toby, Strickland who died before his eyes in the battle.

Circumstance leads Edward to make a rash promise to Sir Arthur Strickland – Sir Arthur has found that a scurrilous author lives in his town! Disgusted, he wants the perpetrator found, exposed and driven from the too-appropriately named Soddy Morton. He thinks the poor writer, whoever it is, should be left in peace (and after all, the Cherie stories do no harm) but he’s honour-bound now.

Which is awkward, considering who it is.

Sir Arthur’s niece, Matilda Chapple, is Toby’s beloved cousin. She’s considered too tall, too rangy and too plain to be a catch for anyone. Her natural wit, warmth and intelligence oppressed by the puritanical strictures of the household, she has a plan to earn enough money to set up an orphange school and escape. And she’s doing it with the aid of the diary of the former Countess and its explicit content.

In fact, Mattie is anonymously writing the very popular and very sensual ‘memoir’ of Cherie. The fact that Mattie’s a virgin matters not at all, as between the diary and one or two other saucy books, she’s making it all up very nicely. That is, until her publisher asks her to write the story of how the fictional Cherie lost her virginity to her dear, late husband.

Matilda is a clever, resourceful, strong willed and determined young woman, so never doubt she’ll find a way.

Larkin, as always, weaves a wonderful story with characters of depth and charm. Edward and his friend Gareth, who lost an arm at Waterloo, are both dealing with what we’d now call Post Traumatic Stress as a result of the horrors of that battlefield.

One thing I always appreciate about Larkin’s books is that her women may be strong or soft, frightened or bold, sporty or delicate, but they are never less than whole people, just as her heroes aren’t all alpha, and have their own fears and doubts as well as strengths and courage.

Both Edward and Mattie have their difficulties to bear, their obstacles to overcome. As the reader, you fear Mattie’s discovery as the writer of these erotic fictions, and want her to succeed in completing her manuscript so that she can fulfil her ambitions of independence. Butyou also want the love that’s growing between her and Edward to find expression without any dishonesty between them.

Larkin brings an ending which is true to both those things, and made me very happy with the balance.

I actually read The Spinster’s Secret before The Countess’s Groom, and neither suffered from being read out of order. (Larkin says in the trilogy forward that many people read them this way.) However, the third book in the series should definitely be the last to read, as it has spoilers in it for The Spinster’s Secret.

The Baronet’s Bride

The last story in the series is the novella, The Baronet’s Bride, dealing with the wedding night of two of the secondary characters from The Spinster’s Secret.

Gareth Locke lost his arm at Waterloo, and he’s still struggling to cope with the loss as well as the ongoing pain. But he’s determined to show no pain, no doubt, no weakness to his new bride, Cecily, whom he met at the dire Creed Hall. Cecily has been married before, which is a relief. That should make things easier.

Cecily, who was married for two weeks before her husband died in an accident, so her experience really isn’t what Gareth thinks it is. Cecy’s general view is that sex is a painful, messy, unpleasant thing that you endure for the sake of the man you love (who seems to enjoy the messy experience) and to have babies.

Those two attitudes are going to meet head-on in the most awkward wedding night ever.

Larkin of course can be trusted to write them out of the awkwardness towards gentler understanding and then a night of caring, loving, joyful passion. The whole night takes nine chapter but, oh, what chapters they are!

The three stories are available separately or bundled as the Midnight Quill Trio. I highly recommend all three if you like smart, funny regency romance full of well-rounded characters and charm.

Buy Midnight Quill Trio