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In at the Deep End by Penelope Janu

Reviewed by Sarah Todman


Fresh and witty rom-com: an exciting debut!

When her ship sinks in the middle of the Antarctic, environmentalist Harriet Scott finds herself being rescued by a real life action hero. He’s tall, lean and…totally pissed off. Yes, Harriet’s mayday call may have saved her life but it has also derailed this brooding Norwegian naval commander’s fledgling ice core research project.

Three months on Commander Per Amundsen wants recompense — a ship that will get him back to Antarctica and allow him to reignite his scientific study — and he expects Harriet to deliver it. Of course, Harriet no longer has a ship; hers is at the bottom of the ocean and the legacy of her famous adventurer parents may have gone down with it.

Per wants a ship, Harriet needs one (how else is she going to get the irate action man off her back and rescue her family’s reputation?); what’s missing from the equation is funding. When a plan presents itself to secure the money needed the two realise they are going to have to work together, like it or not.

In At The Deep End is a delightfully fresh rom-com from debut author Penelope Janu.

Janu, a Sydney lawyer and legal academic, injects the age-old boy-meets-girl then-stumbling blocks-ensue formula with fresh wit, well-drawn characters and settings that sink into your senses.

The sexual tension between Harriet (kind of a grown-up Bindi Irwin sans the celebrity-fied Dancing With The Stars turn and movie career) and Per (a delicious combination of gruff and gorgeous) is perfectly executed.

These two spark and flare their way to the eventual happy-ever-after by navigating a set of challenges the author has been careful to make sure are both authentic and fully realised.

The cosy cast of supporting characters adds satisfying touches of light and shade and the zingy pace of the story keeps the pages turning. I read this over a weekend, finding plenty of excuses to escape to my room and dive back in.

A very small trifle — the only one I could find — was a desire for the tone of the blog posts from Harriet, which appear intermittently throughout the book, to have just a little more of the quirkiness that makes her character so likeable.

Long story short, I really enjoyed this book. With In At The Deep End Janu stamps herself as an exciting new entry to the rom-com market.

Pick this one up and you won’t be dipping your toes in, you’ll be diving straight for the deep end.


Review: Devour by L. A. Larkin

Reviewed by Sarah Todman: “A fast-paced thriller I devoured” 

Investigative journalist Olivia Wolfe always gets the story and she’s not afraid to put herself in danger to do it. We learn this within the first few pages of the new L.A. Larkin thriller Devour. From here, the pace is set for a spine-chilling read full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing right to the end.

Think Antarctica, where two teams of scientists – one British and one Russian – are battling the elements and each other to be the first to discover new life in underground lakes that have been sealed beneath ice sheets for millions of years. The Brits are looking like they might hit the jackpot first. Then the team’s chief drilling engineer is found dead in the snow. Was it murder?

Newspaper editor Moz Cohen smells a story. One he has every confidence his best investigative reporter Olivia Wolfe will crack.

“From the poppy palaces of Afghanistan and Antarcticas forbidding wind-swept ice sheets, to a top-secret military base in the Nevada desert, Wolfes journey will ultimately lead her to a man who would obliterate civilisation. She must make an impossible choice: save a life or prevent an unspeakable horror.”

British-Australian author Larkin’s writing has been likened to high-adrenaline thriller experts Michael Crichton and Matthew Reilly. Her books have been nominated for various crime fiction awards and her previous novel Thirst, was described by one reviewer as ‘The best Antarctic thriller since Ice Station’. Authenticity certainly rings true as we are transported to the bleak setting of an ice station. Larkin has herself spent time in the Antarctic and the story of Devour was inspired by a British expedition to the region in 2012.  Devour is the first book in the Olivia Wolfe series.If book one is any indication then intrepid reporter Olivia will have no trouble establishing a following. Our protagonist is worldly and tough but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some vulnerability lurking beneath the surface. She is layered and that’s why, as we turn the final page of Devour, it feels like our journey with this character has only just begun.

Devour has suspense and intrigue in spades. For much of the book, the identity of not one but two characters is concealed from the reader. So we are invited into the minds of both without knowing even as much as their physical characteristics. The puzzle is at times almost too much to bear. As the identities are finally revealed we learn that at least one of the characters will be circling Olivia for some time yet.

Bring on book two.

Review: Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt

Reviewed by Sarah Todman

Sharp shooter gets me right in the heart

OK, so I’ve decided Tara Sharp is my new BFF.

The straight talking, aura reading heroine of Marianne Delacourt’s Sharp Shooter is a total hoot to spend time with.

Broke but always resourceful, insightful but equal parts impetuous, and with a knack for landing herself in hilariously awkward, if not dangerous situations, Tara’s hands down the quirkiest crime solver I’ve come across.

Between jobs and back living in the converted garage of her parents Perth home, this 20-something decides the veritable paint catalogue of colours she’s noticed hovering over people her whole life might hold the key to a new and lucrative career.

Under the tutelage of a kooky aura reading sensei named Mr Hara, Tara embarks on Tara Sharp enterprises, hanging out her shingle to offer struggling souls help with social skills (‘learn to read those around you in four weeks’) and kinesics (communication analysis and relationship dynamics 101).

It ain’t long, however, before her newly unleashed paranormal talents lead Tara direct to drama, drama, drama.

Think Perth’s local crime boss and an underworld ‘situation’ that has our heroine running for her life.

Pick this book up and I pretty much guarantee that, like me, you won’t want to put it down.

You’ll fly through its pages laughing out loud at Tara’s antics and growing increasingly fond of the classic cast of characters Delacourt has assembled to join her on this journey.

Your stomach may at some junctures even give way to the odd grumble. Tara, a former high school basketball star, is the kind of cool chick who actually eats you see.

Her trotting out a 5 km run only to head straight to the corner shop following it and down two full bags of Clinkers (best Aussie confectionary ever!) had me sniggering and wishing for my own bag of Clinkers to crunch through as I turned to the next page.

The Perth setting for this rollicking ride is a highlight too. An Australian city with so much to offer, it really is a key character in this tale. As Tara herself says: “My city is a woman with so many moods and angles: dazzling, conceited, sheltered, and sometimes downright stuffy.”

Sharp Shooter closes with the promise of more hi-jinks in the next instalment of this four book Tara Sharp series.

I for one can’t wait to see what Tara does next.

Review: Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

Reviewed by Sarah Todman

I’m not proud of the fact it wasn’t until book 20 of Ian Rankin’s uber successful crime series (which has, incidentally, stamped him as one of the world’s best crime writers) that I introduced myself to grumpy Endinburgh detective John Rebus.

Having just finished flying through the pages of Even Dogs In The Wild I am now of course wishing Rebus and I had met sooner. A lot sooner.

Cantankerous he may be but this aging policeman is in a class of his own when it comes to cracking cases no-one else seems able to. John Rebus plays by his own rules you see. He’s got street smarts, a dry wit and a habit of doing most of his crime solving over a drink or two. Basically it’s hard not to fall for the guy.

In book 20 Rebus has actually retired from the force, but it becomes pretty clear pretty quick that a quiet life is not suiting him.

When one of his former colleagues, detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke, asks him for help on a case, Rebus finds the lure of an unsolved puzzle too hard to resist.

Clarke has been investigating the death of a senior lawyer whose body was found along with a threatening note. On the other side of Edinburgh, Big Ger Cafferty – a long-time nemesis of Rebus – has received an identical note and a bullet through his window.

Now Rebus has to help Clarke connect the dots and stop a killer.

Inside Edinburgh’s seedy underbelly we delve with Rebus and as each dot of the complex mystery is connected characters big and small make their presence felt.

This book is perfectly paced and the snappy dialogue so enjoyable to read. There is depth, humour and intrigue.

I have a friend who is a crime writer and she seems to know all there is to know about the genre. She puts Rankin – and therefore Rebus – at the the top of the pile.

I know I’ll now be reading my way through the back catalogue.

Sarah Todman is a contemporary fiction writer who lives in Brisbane. She loves books that deliver a gritty punch of realism. And ones that make her cry. Sarah blogs at sayanythingsare.