Streets on a Map, by Dale Harcombe

Reviewed by Dee White

Having lived for many years in a small country town, there was so much about Dale Harcombe’s new novel, Streets on a Map, that I could relate to.

Newly married Abby moves to Astley when her husband gets a transfer with work, but it’s not exactly what she expected and she wonders if she will ever fit into this close knit community. Abby’s husband, Joel doesn’t seem to understand her difficulties and Abby starts to think that this the whole marriage/moving thing might have been a mistake.

She finds a friend, Laila and ends up opening a restaurant with her. Soon Abby is back doing what she loves, singing and running a very successful business. As she becomes more content, things seem to settle down in her marriage too.

But harmony doesn’t reign for long. A deadly house fire and an unplanned pregnancy.

Then there’s the arrival of Laila’s sister Margot and the teenage tearaway, Zoe to add further complications.

The action just keeps coming in Streets on a Map and keeps the reader turning the pages, wondering what’s going to happen next to the characters they have come to know. In the final climactic stages of the book, one of the most well loved characters is stabbed and the reader is left biting their nails, hoping and praying that the victim will survive.

The main characters in Streets on a Map have been well developed so that they become real to the reader – so the reader cares what happens to them and those they love.

It was easy to engage with the likeable and talented heroine, Abby although she had plenty of flaws too that kept her from being perfect and made her authentic for the reader.

Every one of the characters in Streets on a Map has their own fascinating story to tell and Dale Harcombe weaves them cleverly together to create dilemmas for Abby and help her discover strengths she didn’t knew she had.

Streets on a Map is full of vivid description that places the reader right in the story, feeling as if Astley is a place they have visited themselves. The dialogue is authentic and there are strong themes of trust, friendship, forgiveness and self-discovery throughout the book. It’s also about the choices we make and the fact that choices have consequences.

Streets on a Map will be enjoyed by readers who enjoy a fast-paced story with engaging, memorable characters.

Streets on a Map, by Dale Harcombe
Ark House Press or available signed from Dale Harcombe
Paperback $19.95

Picking Up the Pieces, by Paula Vince

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

In Picking Up the Pieces, Paula Vince has tackled some very complex and emotional issues. How to forgive someone who has done something so vile it haunts you? Is it even possible? And what of the families of the two young people whose lives take a sudden and dramatic turn one fateful night?

Claire Parker and Blake Quinlan are characters you won’t forget in a hurry, as they each struggle to come to terms with the aftermath of one evening. This is a story about choices and consequences. It shows how the choices one person makes, affect not just themselves but those closest to them.

I became involved quickly in the story of Claire Parker and Blake Quinlan and their families and regretted each time I had to put the book down to do something else . A well written novel with a fast moving plot, it is the characters that will stay with you long after the final page is closed. This is a book to make you think.

This is the first of Paula Vince’s books I have read. I am sure it will not be the last.

Picking Up the Pieces, Paula Vince
Even Before Publishing

This book can be purchased from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Fortune Cookie, by Bryce Courtenay

Now I prepared a life-size canvas and began to outline in paint her shape, and the slight tilt of her head…It was a winsome look that never failed to touch my heart. I’d felt it perhaps most powerfully the night I walked into the reception area at Raffles and seen her in the black cheongsam seated in a peacock-tail wicker chair…It had been one of the defining moments of my life, a glorious vision I would never forget.

Simon Koo, an Australian-born Chinese, doesn’t need a career. He comes from a wealthy family, and is heir to a business empire founded by his grandfather, who came to Australia during the gold rush. But, heir or not, Simon works in advertising, and when he’s offered a job in Singapore setting up the creative department for an advertising agency. But in mid-sixties Singapore Simon finds life complicated.

Fortune Cookie is the newest offering from great Australian novelist Bryce Courtney. As with earlier books, the research and sense of place is masterful, with the fictional events heavily influenced by the times in which they are set – with the backdrop of Singapore in the sixties proving a fascinating stage. The characters too are intriguing, with Simon supported by a strong cast including the beautiful Mercy B. Lord, the rogue Wing brothers who run the advertising company, and Simon’s mother, Chairman Meow.

Part love story, part mystery and, at times, part comedy, this is an absorbing read.

Fortune Cookie

Fortune Cookie, by Bryce Courtenay
Penguin, 2010
ISBN 9780670074082

This book can be purchased from good bookstores or online through Fishpond .

Blue Skies, by Fleur McDonald

Amanda sat next to her father in the church, her mother’s coffin resting on a gurney in front of them, her uncle speaking at the pulpit. Although cheerful flowers matched her mother’s vibrant personality, Amanda had to close her eyes against the pain she felt looking at them atop the coffin. She could hear her mother’s laughter, see her flashing eyes and feel her arms around her.

Amanda has long dreamt of returning home to put her university studies to use and help on the family farm. But when her beloved mother dies suddenly, things start to change. Her father, unable to cope, wants to sell the farm and, in financial crisis, it seems there may not be much choice. But Amanda is determined to keep Kyleena and make it a successful business once more.

As she struggles, without her father’s help, things start to look up, until a series of unexpected obstacles look set to pull her even further down.

Blue Skies is a tale of life on the land, with a strong female lead character, some elements of romance and mystery and plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and turning pages.

Set in rural Western Australia.

Blue Skies

Blue Skies, by Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond . Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Misconceptions, by Terry McGee

Julia loves her job. An obstetrician, she helps women to bring their children into the world safely and with as little intervention as possible. Although her job is gruelling – long, irregular hours leave her little time for herself or her daughter – keeping busy keeps her thoughts from dwelling on painful memories. In one painful year she lost her unborn son, lived through a very public court case involving her husband, and saw the demise of her marriage. The intervening years have dulled the pain and now Julia thinks she may be starting to move on.

Then a letter arrives which shakes Julia to the core. She is being sued for malpractice, by the mother of a child born brain damaged and permanently disabled. For Julia this is a double blow – not only will her professional integrity be challenged, but she must also revisit the pain of her husband’s traumatic court case. Will she be able to survive the court case and keep her personal life intact?

Misconceptions is a touching drama, which draws the reader to the character of Julia and to the friends and family who fill her life. It also provides an insight into the world of obstetrics, hospitals and litigation. Author Terry McGee, herself a practising obstetrician, is able to share her own knowledge in a believable way.

Great reading.

Misconceptions, by Terry McGee
Macmillan, 2003

Wife For Hire, by Dianne Blacklock

Sam has made a career out of being a perfect wife and mother to her husband Jeff and their three children. So, when Jeff leaves her for another woman, she is devastated – and angry.

With her perfect life in tatters, Sam must make a new one for herself – and quickly finds the perfect job – working as a wife for hire. Sam works for professionals – men and women – who don’t have time for the jobs traditionally handled by a wife – shopping, travel arrangements, bill payment, gift purchasing and more. But when she is assigned Hal Buchanan as a client, she finds him a little difficult to work for, primarily because he doesn’t want to use her services.

As her up and down relationship with Hal develops and her family faces the challenges of new arrangements, she can longer organise everything to perfection. Letting go of her control is not always easy, especially where her emotions are concerned.

Wife For Hire is a lively combination of personal growth, romance and light humour. The effects of divorce on the individual and the whole family are explored, as are relationships between generations, and the search for self identity.

Great reading.

Wife for Hire, by Dianne Blacklock
Pan Macmillan, 2003

The Dragon Man, by Garry Disher

When two young women are murdered, the previously sleepy Peninsula is on full alert – there is a serial killer on the loose. Detective Inspector Hal Challis is charged with finding the killer – before another death happens. The media want to know what’s being done, with the editor of the local paper giving him particular trouble.

As Christmas approaches the Peninsula should be brimming with holiday cheer, but this year the pall of danger hangs over the area.

The Dragon Man is the first book in the Detective Inspector Challis series. Challis is based on the Peninsula, where he moves between stations as the need arises. He has come to the Peninsula following the break up of his marriage – when his wife and her lover tried to kill him. He is at once likeable and multi-faceted, with the promise of being an intriguing character to follow through the subsequent books in the series.

The Dragon Man, by Garry Disher
Allen & Unwin. First published 1999, reissued, 2003

The Point, by Marion Halligan

On a promontory on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, an equisite glass building houses an equally exquisite resautrant. The city’s elite come to dine there, to eat the culinary marvels created by Flora, the city’s most celebrated chef. Nearby, in a ferry shelter which no ferry has ever visited, an eldery homeless man drinks cask wine and befriends a young drug addict. They are not part of the life inside the restaurant, until the man’s heroic actions draw them in.

As the novel focusses on food, so the story itself is like fine dining – served in differing forms, brought out layer by layer, to be savoured, explored and slowly digested. And like a good meal, the book leaves an aftertaste which lingers long after it is finished.

The art of the point is in its mix of narrative technique. Part diary, part third person recount. First one viewpoint, then another, the novel keeps the reader guessing from chapter to chapter. Flora, the charcater who would seem to be central to the varying plots and subplots is perhaps the one we come to know least. Other characters, chiefly her lover, Jerome, an ex-priest and the homeless Clovis are looked at from differing perspectives and seen to evolve. Flora is an enigma. The other characters all worship her, but few seem to know her very well.

The Point will be a special treat for those who love fine food, with meals playing an important part of the action, and also those who love Canberra – although The Point itself is a fictional place.

Fine reading.

The Point, by Marion Halligan
Allen & Unwin, 2003

Murder in Montparnesse, by Kerry Greenwood

There is nothing that inspires Phryne Fisher more than a mystery. When her wharfie mates Bert and Cec come to her for help, Phryne becomes involved in solving a mystery more personal than she first expects.

Bert, Cec and their five mates, celebrating the end of World War I in 1918, have unknowingly witnessed a murder in Paris. Ten years later, two have died in strange circumstances and the remaining five men fear for their own lives.

While Phryne delves into these events in a quest to find the killer, she must deal witht he memories of her own time in Paris. Her former lover Rene Dubois returns to haunt both her dreams and her reality.

At the same time, Phryne’s houshold is in turmoil. Her lover, Lin Chung, is about to be married and her trusted staff are threatening to leave her employ.

Murder in Montparnesse is the twelfth title in the Phryne Fisher series by Australian author Kerry Greenwood. For those not familiar with this sassy, self-styled detective of 1920s Melbourne, there are some unanswered questions about her background, however as the novel progresses these become less important.

Phryne Fisher moves in a world of class and culture, but hovers on the edge of shadow and intrigue. She is equally comfortable with fine art and cocktails as with house breaking and vengeance – on the side of justice, of course.

Murder in Montparnesse is a delight for lovers of crime fiction.

Murder in Montparnesse, by Kerry Greenwood
Allen & Unwin 2002

Lancashire Legacy, by Anna Jacobs

If you are a fan of the historical saga , then you are surely familiar with the name Anna Jacobs. Jacobs is undoubtedly queen of this genre in Australia, with her stories about her native Lancashire and Australia, her adopted home. Fans of Ms Jacobs will not be disappointed with Lanacshire Legacy, new out in paperback.

The heroine, eighteen year old Cathie, loves her family, but wants desperately to escape the bush home that she shares with them. Life in the bush is hard, and Cathie longs to return to England, to make contact with relatives in Lancashire and to have an adventure.

When Cathie’s Uncle agrees to pay her fare, Cathie travels to England, where she finds that the adventure she has is far removed from the adventures she had hoped for. Attacked on the docks after her arrival, Cathie loses her memory. Rescued by a man with problems of his own, she struggles to remember her past and to find the answers she is seeking about her father and brother. As she does so, she becomes a part of the family of her rescuer, the handsome Magnus Hamilton, towards whom she feels an increasing attraction.

As she learns about her past, Cathie discovers that she is moving in a society where rich established families have the power to destroy her own chances at happiness, and that of those around her, including Magnus, her young brother Francis, and three half-brothers she didn’t know she had.

As we follow the journey of Cathie’s self discovery we also revisit the life of her mother, Liza, who was introduced in Jacobs’ earlier title, Lancashire Lass. Whilst the novel continues the story of Liza and her family, the first title is not prerequisite reading for a full enjoyment of the second. Be warned though, that having read Lanacshire Legacyyou will want to learn more of this family and will, like this reviewer, be looking out for more stories in the future.

Lancashire Legacy, by Anna Jacobs.
Hodder & Stoughton, 2001 (Paperback edition 2002)