Great New Reads

Murdering Stepmothers by Anna Haebich

Three small children are dead. Did they die of natural causes or is Martha Rendell  the evil stepmother who killed them? Perth in the 1900s is a harsh place to live and children often fall victim to diphtheria and typhoid. Arsenic and spirits of salts are common ingredients in home remedies. The citizens of Perth, incensed at such a shocking crime, demand that Martha be punished.

Based on a true events,  this compelling novel brings to life the story of Martha Rendell – the last woman to be hanged in Western Australia. Told through the voices of the photographer, the detective, the doctor and the reverend, Haebich successfully portrays the people, the mood and the harsh realities of life in Perth in the early 1900s.

There are startling flaws in the prosecution’s case, the press incites the general public into a frenzied state, and bigotry, slander and the dismal state of women’s rights makes this a compelling yet tragic story.

Haebich handles the subject matter well and the different voices are a great way to introduce varying viewpoints as well as introduce the facts of the case. Did Martha kill the children or was an innocent woman hanged? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Sustenance by Simone Lazaroo

On a tropical Balinese island, the guests and staff at a small resort are taken hostage. Perpetua, the cook, finds herself providing nourishment to the guests, staff and their captors.  Her love and understanding of the sustenance of food helps the hostages to navigate their  through the trauma. Everyone emerges changed in some way.

This enchanting novel combines Australian and Balinese stereotypes and then disintegrates them. The characters are well-rounded and while they reflect the cultures that they come from, they are given room to change. Lazaroo weaves love, greed, racism, sensual food and the frailty of the human condition into this rich and suspenseful novel. A wonderful read  that should be on everyone’s bookshelf.

Holy Water by James P Othmer

Henry Tuhoe works for a multi-national conglomerate that has just made him redundant. They have, however, offered him a position setting up a bottled water call centre in the far-flung Kingdom of Galado. Henry’s marriage is on shaky ground: his beautiful wife demands he get a vasectomy, then won’t let him touch her. The job in Galado put’s Henry in the path of a sociopath monarch, moral conundrums, an Aussie intent on getting lost, and a woman intent on redeeming his soul and her country.

This novel confronts the myth of contentment attached to settling down, buying a house in the ‘burbs and having 2.5 children. It tackles the subject of large corporations outsourcing to third-world countries and the resulting repercussions in an engaging and entertaining way. Othmer’s advertising background gives depth and credibility to the story and his flowing writing style make this book an easy read.

Where Have You Been? by Wendy James

A house in the Northern  beaches suburbs, two cars, two kids: Ed and Susan Middleton couldn’t ask for more. Life is just about perfect. That perfection is shattered by the death of Susan’s mother and the sudden reappearance of Karen, Susan’s sister who has been missing for the past twenty years. Only Karen, now known as Carly, seems different. Susan can’t quite put her finger on why. Carly reveals different things about herself to different people. Is she really Karen? Susan’s life will spin out of control before she finds the answer.

Wendy James writes this thriller with conviction. Is Carly really Karen? James keeps you guessing right until the end. This story twists and turns and twists again and just when you think the game is up, it takes off again. Told through Ed, Susan and Karen’s eyes, this techniques gives the reader a sense of being right in the story with the characters, adding to the tension.

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