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Book Review | The Twisted Knot | JM Peace

I remember when I first met Sammi Willis – in JM Peace’s debut novel, A Time to Run (my review here ) – and thought to myself how refre...

Friday, 19 August 2016

Book Review | Only Daughter | Anna Snoekstra

One of my favourite genres is psychological thrillers and, after reading this fabulous debut novel by Anna Snoekstra, I have been left wanting more.

On the 17th January 2003, Rebecca Winter finished a late shift at the McDonald’s restaurant in 
Manuka, Canberra but somehow, between there and home, she disappeared, never to be seen again.

In 2014, an unknown young woman is caught shoplifting and, trying to save herself, tells the police that she is the missing Bec Winter.

As the imposter artfully insinuates herself into the Winter family’s lives, skilfully dodging the police questions by feigning confusion, it’s not long before she realises that something is seriously wrong and her own life may very well be in danger!

I have no doubt that, like the Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009, the 2003 Canberra Bushfires are probably still sadly etched in the minds of most Australians (but what a perfect backdrop on which to set the story of a missing person) and what intrigued me the most was the premise, as I wondered how Anna was going to pull it off – after all, how could a mother mistake someone else for her own daughter?

But pull it off she does, with the novel not only being lauded by bestselling authors Lisa Unger and Mary Kubica, but also heading for Hollywood after the film rights were sold to Universal Pictures and Working Title films.

Told in first person from the imposter’s point of view in the present and third person from Bec’s in the past, the reader gets a sense of who these two young women are, or were, and the utter fear they both experience, while discovering that not all is as it should be in the Winter household.

Written with clever twists and turns and skilfully creating an eerie, tension-filled atmosphere, Anna Snoekstra takes a timely subject and puts her own disturbingly chilling spin on it, displaying not only her creative writing abilities but also her screenwriting and cinema expertise.

With a surprise ending that I wasn't expecting, preceded by a final twist that will have the reader agape (which includes some graphic images), you’ll be forgiven for thinking that you’ve waded into a slightly tamer version of a Stephen King novel. I have, however, absolutely no hesitation in recommending this one to all those thriller lovers out there and cannot wait for the movie (The New Winter) to hit the big screen.

I wish to thank Harlequin Mira for providing me with a NetGalley proof for review.

About the Author

Anna Snoekstra was born in Canberra, Australia to two civil servants.

At the age of seventeen she decided to avoid a full time job and a steady wage to move to Melbourne and become a writer.
She studied Creative Writing and Cinema at The University of Melbourne, followed by Screenwriting at RMIT University.

After finishing university, Anna wrote for independent films and fringe theatre, and directed music videos. During this time, she worked as a cheesemonger, a waitress, a barista, a nanny, a receptionist, a cinema attendant and a film reviewer.

Anna now lives with her husband, cat and two housemates and works full time writing.

About the Book

Home can be the most dangerous place of all...

In this chilling psychological thriller, one woman’s dark past becomes another’s deadly future.

In 2003, sixteen-year-old Rebecca Winter disappeared.

She’d been enjoying her teenage summer break: working at a fast food restaurant, crushing on an older boy and shoplifting with her best friend. Mysteriously ominous things began to happen — blood in the bed, periods of blackouts, a feeling of being watched — though Bec remained oblivious of what was to come.

Eleven years later she is replaced.

A young woman, desperate after being arrested, claims to be the decade-missing Bec. 

Soon the imposter is living Bec’s life. Sleeping in her bed. Hugging her mother and father. Learning her best friends' names. Playing with her twin brothers.

But Bec's welcoming family and enthusiastic friends are not quite as they seem.  As the imposter dodges the detective investigating her case, she begins to delve into the life of the real Bec Winter — and soon realizes that whoever took Bec is still at large, and that she is in imminent danger.

Only Daughter will be published on the 22nd August but can be pre-ordered here.

Published: August 2016
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
ISBN: 9780778319443

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Book Review | Blame | Nicole Trope

In this sixth novel by one of our very own queens of psychological family drama, Nicole Trope brings to life what it’s like to walk in the shoes of two tormented women for a while, masterfully creating a narrative of unexpressed despair and hopelessness.

As the blurb alludes to, there has been a tragic accident and best friends, Caro and Anna are brought in for questioning. Over the next two days and, told in alternating chapters, these two women will lay bare their souls as they are interrogated by detectives in a bid to find out exactly what happened. But who is telling the truth? And who is going to take the blame!

A reader tends to be moved by a story when they feel that they are living in the world of that story, allowing them to experience the character’s struggle and, it’s the mark of a good author if they can extract a range of emotions and feelings from me. Nicole Trope did just that, evoking a mixture of sympathy, disbelief, antipathy, doubt, contempt and exasperation in me for both Caro and Anna who are seriously flawed human beings.

Although I didn’t particularly like Caro, I had even more disregard for Anna and felt that she wasn’t deserving of my empathy – even though, at times, I found myself floundering between kinship, sheer frustration and anger at the resentment and bitterness that she displays. Her bemoaning in particular is hard to swallow but really, what do I know? I’ve not had to live her life so who am I to judge!

It’s a book I was totally absorbed in, despite my inner storm, and I was in awe of the way Nicole manipulates tension, keeping her plot tight and the reader engaged by exacerbating the internal conflict with the external.

Nicole touches on mental health issues triggered by a variety of other historical situations the characters found themselves facing, including the stillbirth of a child (I only mention this as a subtle warning to those who have lived and currently live with the loss of a baby), as well as a severe case of autism which in turn leads us into the territory of alcoholism and its effects, not only on the person affected but also their family and friends.

A compelling psychological drama about best friends caught between family and friendship, envy, truth and lies and what happens when the lies begin to unravel, Blame shifts between sheer anguish and an uneasy mystery, is brutally honest, thought-provoking and somewhat disquieting. Do yourself a favour and put it on your reading list.

I wish to thank Allen & Unwin for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Nicole Trope is a former high school teacher with a Masters Degree in Children's Literature.

In 2005 she was one of the winners of the Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development. In 2009 her young adult novel titled I Ran Away First was shortlisted for the Text Publishing Prize.

Blame is Nicole's sixth novel. Her previous titles include the acclaimed The Boy Under The Table, Three Hours Late, The Secrets in Silence, and Hush, Little Bird.

About the Book

A tender and terrifying page-turner from the master of white-knuckle suspense and searing family drama.

'If you love writers such as Jodi Picoult, Nicole may just be your cup of tea.' The Hoopla

'I am here because they suspect me of something. I am here because I am a suspect. I know that, she knows that. Everyone knows that.' Anna

'It wasn't my fault. None of this is my fault!' Caro

Caro and Anna are best friends... they were best friends. Over a decade, Caro and Anna have bonded while raising their daughters, two little girls the same age but living two very different lives. The women have supported each other as they have shared the joys and trials of motherhood, but now everything has changed.

There's been a terrible car accident, an unimaginable tragedy that leaves both families devastated. Over two days, as Caro and Anna each detail their own versions of events, they are forced to reveal hidden truths and closely guarded secrets.

The complicated lives of wives and mothers are laid bare as both women come to realise that even best friends don't tell each other everything. And when hearts are broken, even best friends need someone to blame.

A hard-hitting, provocative and gripping read from the queen of white-knuckle suspense and searing family drama.

Published: July 2016
Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia
ISBN: 9781760293154
RRP: Paperback - $29.99

Blog Tour | Aussie Author Round-Up | JM Peace

Today, it is with great pleasure that I welcome the somewhat elusive Australian author, JM Peace to my blog to celebrate the recent release of her second Constable Sammi Willis novel, The Twisted Knot.

An avid reader and writer from an early age, Jay wanted to be a writer, so she studied journalism figuring this would be a way of turning a passion into a job. Her career as a print journalist failed after a single year, and the experience completely sucked the joy out of writing for her. So, she took a complete change of direction by becoming a police officer and, over the past sixteen years has served throughout south-east Queensland in a variety of different capacities, including Intelligence and CIB.

After her children were born, the dangers and stresses of the job made it unappealing so, in the search for a new career path, she returned to her childhood dream. By carving a spare hour out of every day, she wrote the manuscript for A Time To Run whilst juggling her family commitments, police work and running a household.

Jay currently lives on the Sunshine Coast with her partner, wrangling her two cheeky children, a badly behaved dog and an anti-social cockatiel. Although she travelled extensively when she was younger, these days she is just happy if she makes it as far as the beach on the weekend. Her current goals are trying to teach her children to surf and finishing the next book in the ‘Constable Sammi Willis’ series.

Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her a bit better.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Pan MacMillan Australia for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.

Wow Jay, it’s fabulous to finally have you here! It appears that the proverbial cat has been let out of the bag and it’s no longer imperative that we keep your true identity a secret?

I was worried that there might be a conflict of interest between being a cop and a crime writer, but I’ve been a published author for over a year now and no one appears bothered by it. I’m a bit more relaxed this time around.

Could we start off with you telling us a bit about your childhood.

My parents are German migrants who taught me to work hard and make the most of every opportunity. I have an older brother who showed a lot of promise as a writer when he was a child. Perhaps that’s why I’ve pursued this career? (I win this round, Robert…)

I’ve just recently finished reading The Twisted Knot and, like A Time to Run, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but for those who haven’t yet heard about your latest, would you mind sharing with us your version of the story they can expect?

Sammi returns to active policing duties at Angel’s Crossing and finds herself caught up in the suspicious suicide of a suspected paedophile. The story attempts to show some of the difficulties and frustrations involved in the burden of proof in some police investigations.

Because you’re a serving Queensland Police Officer I’m sure you have a treasure-trove of knowledge to fall back onto when it comes to subject matter for your novels but, are there still certain aspects for which you conduct research?

Research is probably a lot easier for me because I can generally find the right person to chat with. My policing background is in general duties, so I have spoken to specialist officers in CIB, CPIU, Forensics and also the Fire Service about different things.

I’m sure that when you were trying to keep your identity a secret it presented its own challenges but what other types of challenges did you need to overcome to get your first novel published?

There were all the usual hurdles of trying to find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unknown author’s debut novel. But one thing I didn’t realise would work against me was that I live on the Sunshine Coast. I love it here but it is not Sydney or Melbourne which is apparently where you are meant to do all your networking.

What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?

A typical working day consists of me getting my kids off to school and going to work at the police station. Writing is not work for me – it does not pay the bills so it is still a hobby. I try to write for an hour in the evenings. I don’t have a dedicated writing space so there always seem to be distractions. I aim for 1000 words a day but usually fall short. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day at the moment. Sometimes I’m surprised that I have actually managed to write these stories.

Do you, as a writer, have a motto or maxim?

“You can’t edit a blank page”. Just start writing. Something. Anything. Once I get going, I usually end up keeping most of it anyway.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received since you started writing?

“Don’t read the comments”. I steer clear of most reviews, Goodreads is a minefield for writers. There might be twenty good reviews, but you will always focus on the one person who says “this is rubbish”. That can absolutely floor you on a bad day.

Any advice for aspiring crime writers?

Become a cop? I think it would be quite difficult to write the police side of a crime story without knowing how all the procedures and processes fit together.

Now for the easy questions:

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?

Can you believe you are a published author? Sometimes I can.

Pizza or Pasta?

Pizza – I make homemade pizza regularly. But pretty much anything if there’s lots of chocolate for dessert.

If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?

‘Like I Can Love’ by Aussie author Kim Lock. Aside from giving a spine-tingling portrayal of domestic violence, it is also an intriguing and multi-layered read.

Give us three good to know facts about you – be as creative as you like.

1. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t like the taste. This seems to baffle people.
2. I’ve backpacked through 43 countries.
3. I can touch my nose with my tongue.

Jay it’s been such a treat having you visit the blog and I just want to say thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join me today.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Updated | Book Review | Love at First Flight | Tess Woods

Right now I would imagine that Tess Woods is beside herself with excitement!

Why? Because on Monday, 25 July 2016, Love at First Flight, her debut novel, will become the "first HarperCollins Australia digital book acquisition to be given a print release".

When it was originally released in eBook format, the novel "quickly won worldwide critical acclaim, including an AusRom Today Reader's Choice award".

And, with its stunning new print cover, I have no doubt that many readers around the world will be wanting to find out exactly what is hidden within.

In celebration of Tess' awesome milestone, I'm re-blogging my book review, originally published in April 2015.

I’m not usually one for enjoying my fiction with a dose of extra-marital affair - after all, I’ve been in a monogamous marriage for sixteen years and both my husband and I have witnessed first-hand the pain and devastation that occurs with these types of situations - but I must admit I was just slightly curious when I received the request from debut author Tess Woods (thank you Ellie O'Neill) to read and review her novel. After reading the blurb, that curiosity was compounded by the fact that I wanted to find out what motivates people to do the things they do … and so, I started reading!

Mel, a GP in Perth with a couple of teenaged children, has been happily married to her anaesthetist husband, Adam, for fourteen years - until she boards a Melbourne-bound flight to spend the weekend with her best friend Sarah, something that they’ve decided to do annually after the last one went so well.

On the flight, she meets Matt, a physiotherapist headed home to his fiancĂ©e after a job interview. It’s an instant physical attraction that makes her feel somewhat uncomfortable as Matt, so taken with her, dishes out compliments left right and centre  – yep, he’s got it bad – but so has Mel even though she continues to raise red flags when he enters territory she’s not comfortable in.

In the three hours they spend together chatting, Matt is astounded by the fact that Mel actually “gets him”. No-one else ever has, not even Lydia. Likewise, Mel has never had a man pay so much attention and compliments to her and she somewhat reluctantly begins to revel in it even though she's happily married.

Once they reach their destination, they say their goodbyes and each goes their own way. But, neither of them can rid themselves of the thoughts that consume them and, after a night on the town with Sarah, Mel finds a hastily scribbled note with Matt’s number tucked into the novel that she was planning on reading on the flight and makes a decision - even though she continually thinks back to the devastation that occurred in her parents’ marriage when her father strayed. Is this really love at first sight, enduring love or a fatal attraction that will have repercussions for all involved?

Wow! For a debut novel, this is simply outstanding. Perth-based author Tess Woods gets right into her characters mind-sets and capably managed to bring so many of my emotions to the fore ranging from antipathy to sympathy as she explores the reasons why some relationships work and why wives (or husbands) stray! For me, the initial reluctance I felt about reading a novel showcasing infidelity soon dissipated as she deftly conveyed the pure range of emotions experienced by these characters and, by the last quarter of the book, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably thinking that I’d somehow found my way into the emotional debris of a Nicholas Sparks’ novel (whose stories I love by the way). It’s the way Tess portrays her subject that makes all the difference as Mel finds herself caught in a web of lies and moral subterfuge as this novel takes the cheating trope and turns it upside down.

When asked the question “What do you hope readers will take from your book?”, Tess simply states that “I’m not out to challenge anybody and I don’t have a life-changing message for anybody. I simply want to entertain” but I do believe that this novel will open your eyes and possibly teach a valuable lesson – after all, we’ve always been told to learn from someone else’s mistakes! 

Told in first person from the perspectives of both Mel and Matt, Tess has chosen the perfect point of view from which to convey the character’s motivations which also lends a sense of immediacy and intimacy that makes the narrative all the more convincing and ups the pace of both the tension and the guilt. Her character development is pitch-perfect and for me, both the characters and her vividly painted backgrounds of Melbourne and Perth lived and breathed on the page.

Unsettling but entertaining and tastefully written, Tess has taken a combustible issue and given us a gut-wrenching and thought-provoking novel about obsession, love, choices and guilt so, put aside all the notions you’ve ever held about the motivations behind love at first sight and infidelity and pick up this novel – go on, don’t let the premise be a deal-breaker!

Having written a story that is beautiful, real, relatable and wonderful, Tess is definitely an author to keep on your watch-list and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us in her next novel.

Fans of Liane Moriarty will not want to miss this one.

About the Author

A born and bred Egyptian, Tess Woods is a health professional who lives in Perth, Australia with one husband, two children, one dog and one cat who rules over all of them.  Love at First Flight is her first novel.

When she isn't working or being a personal assistant to her kids, Tess enjoys reading and all kinds of grannyish pleasures like knitting, baking, drinking tea, watching Downton Abbey and tending to the veggie patch.

She'd love her fans to connect with her so, if you would like to do so, please join her on Facebook, Twitter or visit her Website.

About the Book

Looking back on it now, I can see it was instant. The second we locked eyes. Boom. Just like that. The me I had spent a lifetime perfecting began its disintegration from that moment. And despite the carnage it brought to all our lives, I still don't regret it.

What would you risk to be with the love of your life? And what if your soul mate is the one who will destroy you?

Mel is living the dream. She's a successful GP, married to a charming anaesthetist and raising a beautiful family in their plush home in Perth. But when she boards a flight to Melbourne, she meets Matt and her picture perfect Stepford life unravels as she falls in love for the first time ever

What begins as a flirty conversation between strangers quickly develops into a hot and obsessive affair with disastrous consequences neither Mel nor Matt could have ever seen coming. Mel's dream life turns into her worst nightmare.

Love at First Flight will take everything you believe about what true love is and spin it on its head.

Pre-Order Links:

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Book Review | The Twisted Knot | JM Peace

I remember when I first met Sammi Willis – in JM Peace’s debut novel, A Time to Run (my review here) – and thought to myself how refreshing it was to be reading about a woman police officer, in Queensland (my home State), being the target of a deranged killer. What struck me the most though, was Jay’s obvious passion for her job which seeps through the pages.

With its moody cover and tautly told story, The Twisted Knot not only confirms that her passion is real but that, as an Australian crime author, her first-hand experience in policing sets her apart from others in the genre.

It’s been approximately a year since Sammi Willis survived a dangerous battle of cat and mouse with a sadistic killer and, despite the painful memories that continue to haunt her, she’s back at the Angel’s Crossing police station albeit in a slightly different capacity – working behind the counter tending to complaints.

When an anonymous note is delivered to the police station averring that a known paedophile from the area has claimed another victim and, thereafter being faced with a mob of people demanding action be taken, Sammi’s conscience prickles and she feels herself being drawn back into the investigation side of things hoping that the matter can be properly dealt with - before the unrest spirals out of control and the townsfolk take matters into their own hands.

Following the investigation step-by-step with Sammi pulls the reader in and creates a sense of immediacy as the situation throws up more questions than answers. Despite her own frame of mind and the personal issues she is experiencing with her partner Gavin, Sammi’s determination to uncover the truth is admirable while the portrayal of Jay’s secondary characters and the town of Angel’s Crossing are convincingly Australian, both in the dialogue and the setting.

They’re an entertaining bunch who all have something to offer the story (like parking illegally themselves and then issuing parking tickets to residents, the usual office politics and the daily camaraderie and strain between workmates and friends) with Jay making great use of small town hostilities that create a sense of foreboding which, in turn, drives the tension.

Jay’s storytelling ability is of an impressive quality and she presents things using an authentic policing and investigative perspective rather than trying to create drama, thus delivering this story of secrets, lies, revenge, malice and loyalty with passion and conviction.

Touching on paedophilia, The Twisted Knot is a well-written novel with a moderate but believable pace, unflinching descriptions, a continually tense atmosphere and fabulous scene setting. With plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader engrossed, it is the final tug of the knot that will have you gasping out loud!

If this is your first foray into one of Jay’s novels, it’s an introduction that will definitely whet your appetite for more from an author who has a wealth of personal experience in her field to draw from.

I wish to thank Pan MacMillan Australia for providing me with a hard copy ARC of this novel.

About the Author

J. M. Peace is a serving police officer who would rather be writing about policing. Over the past 15 years, she has served throughout south-east Queensland in a variety of different capacities. Her voice of authority shines through in her debut crime thriller, A Time to Run. Jay has also written various short stories, blogs regularly about policing and writing. She blogs at www.jmpeace.com.

She lives on the Sunshine Coast, juggling writing and police work with raising two kids along with her partner.

About the Book

A marked man. A damaged cop. A town full of secrets.

After her abduction and near death at the hands of a sadistic killer, Constable Samantha Willis is back in the uniform. Despite being on desk duty, rumours reach Sammi that Someone in Angel's Crossing has been hurting little girls, and before long a mob is gathering to make sure justice is served.

So when a man is found hanging in his shed, the locals assume the pedophile has finally given in to his guilt. That is, until Sammi delves further into the death and uncovers a dark family secret, an unsolved crime and a town desperate for vengeance.

Look out for a Q & A here, with Jay, next Thursday (28th July) as part of the Blog Tour being hosted by Pan MacMillan.

In the meanwhile, HERE's a list of blogs taking part in that tour.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Book Review | The Horseman | Charlotte Nash

“It's been eleven years since Dr Peta Woodward, born into a horse-breeding dynasty, fled the family stud in the wake of a deadly tragedy that split her family apart. Carrying wounds that have never truly healed, Peta has focused on helping others. But when an injury during a solo trip through the Australian high country leaves her stranded, the man who comes to her rescue is Craig Munroe, a born and bred high-country horseman, and the kind of man legends are written about.

Stuck in the tiny town of Yarraman Falls while she recovers, Peta is surrounded by prying eyes and heartbreaking reminders of all she has lost. But while she resolves to leave as soon as she can, fate has other ideas . . .”

This is only the second book I have read by Charlotte Nash (Iron Junction and Ryders Ridge are still on my shelf) but I have come to love her writing.

In my review of Crystal Creek (find it here) I said that Charlotte was a “gifted writer” – and that remains true after reading this latest.

When we first meet Dr Peta Woodward, she’s in the Wonnangatta National Park in the Victorian High Country where she’s come to try and gain some perspective on her life and make a decision that’s been forced on her. As she seeks solace in the bush, her thoughts continually turn to the grief and pain she carries around, even after she takes a fall and lands in a precarious position, unable to move because of her injured leg.

It’s not long afterwards that Craig Munroe, Yarraman Fall’s legendary horseman who’s been out searching for stray cattle on a neighbouring farm, comes to Peta’s aid and insists that he take her back to town to have her leg tended to.

After much deliberation on her part and the fill-in doctor’s diagnosis, she finally realises that her injury is a lot worse than she first thought and decides that it probably is best for her to put her bushwalking off for a while.

And so, it is here, that Peta begins to do a lot of reflection but at the same time is slowly drawn into the daily life of the small town – a place that, quite possibly, she could call home – if only her life wasn’t so complicated.

Charlotte has a knack for making her reader care about her characters and, in The Horseman, she has written an appealing novel with sympathetic and memorable characters as well as the usual suspects who we all love to hate. The stand-out for me though was the relationship between Craig and his horses which had me thoroughly mesmerised because the interactions are so beautifully written and touched my heart. And then of course, there’s the loveable Diane and our not-so-loveable villain!

While her characters keep the story moving, Charlotte also gives us an enchanting look into Aussie small-town life, offering delightful descriptions of life in the High Country, where life ambles along notwithstanding the daily struggles and threats that abound in Yarraman Falls. She writes the setting well and her combination of medicine and drama really fosters a sense of Aussie close-knit communities.

With its intriguing plot lines that create suspense and, paying tribute to the power of community, this is a novel that brims with warmth, great characters, simmering tension, small-town politics and a true blue Aussie landscape – a genuine treat for romantics and non-romantics alike.

I wish to thank Hachette Australia for providing me with a hard copy ARC of this great novel.

About the Author

Charlotte was born in England but grew up in the Redland Shire of Brisbane spending her days riding horses and enjoying the outdoors. She graduated with degrees in engineering and medicine, and over her pre-novelist career worked for the CSIRO in composites and rocket building, in private industry as an incident investigator, and as a technical writer.

Her contemporary love stories are published with Hachette Australia, and she has been nominated for Ditmar and Aurealis awards for her speculative fiction.

She lives in Brisbane with her family, and sometimes teaches creative writing at both The University of Queensland and Queensland Writers Centre.

When not writing, she loves good movies of all genres, cruising about on the Triumph, running, and sailing a yacht somewhere warm with palm trees.

Her favourite writers are Jilly Cooper, JR Ward, Nalini Singh, Liane Moriarty, JoJo Moyes, Neal Stephenson, Michael Crichton, Ted Chiang and Kim Stanley Robinson.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Pass The Word #4

Pass the Word is a Meme hosted by me featuring some great books that I have either read and not had time to review or have not had time to read at all.

Well, it sure has been a while. Over the last few months you may have noticed that I haven’t been so active on the blog and my Facebook (or Twitter for that matter) and that’s due to this roller coaster thing called life - I really have been feeling a bit like that hamster on its wheel!!

Between being placed in a higher position at work, Soccer season with my son and TRYING to get my new blog up and running, there hasn’t been much time to dedicate to my “hobby” – but let’s just blame it on the shorter days - and April especially wasn't a good month!

Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from reading and, although many fantastic books have found their way to my doorstep and onto my bedside table, it’s absolutely impossible to read and review all of them (so be prepared for this to be a long one).

One of the reasons why I started this Meme was to take the opportunity to introduce you, dear followers, to some of these books as I believe they do deserve to be read, but by featuring these books, it's also my way of thanking the many publishers that support my blogging by providing me with both electronic (via NetGalley) and hard copies (via mail) and letting them know that I am getting the word out there.

And, isn’t it just so easy these days to grab an electronic version for your Kindle, no matter when the book was published?

In the words of Arnold Lobel,“Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky, My pile of books is a mile high. How I love them! How I need them! I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.”

Happy reading everyone!

NB: Please note that covers may vary depending on where you purchase from.

"LOVE. BETRAYAL. NEW BEGINNINGS. A young English war bride makes a new life in Australia in this romantic story set on the stunning coast of Sydney, by the author of THE SOLDIER'S WIFE.

January, 1920. Young Englishwoman Margaret Dalton is full of excitement as she arrives to begin a new life in the warm, golden land of Australia. She leaves behind the horrors of WWI and can't wait to see her husband, Frank, after two years' separation. But when Margaret's ship docks, Frank isn't there to greet her and Margaret is informed that he already has a wife . . . Devastated, Margaret must swap her hopes and dreams for the reality of living and working in a strange new city. And just as a growing friendship with army sergeant Tom McBride gives her a steady person to rely on, news arrives that Frank may not have abandoned her. Where should Margaret's loyalties lie: with the old life or with the new?

Inspired by the true stories of war wives who arrived in Australia, THE WAR BRIDE is a gorgeously romantic story by the author of THE SOLDIER'S WIFE."

Published by Hachette Australia in March 2016
Genre: Historical, Romance

Buy Links:

"You don’t have to believe in ghosts for the dead to haunt you.
You don’t have to be a murderer to be guilty.

Within six months of Pen Sheppard starting university, three of her new friends are dead. Only Pen knows the reason why.

College life had seemed like a wonderland of sex, drugs and maybe even love. Full of perfect strangers, it felt like the ideal place for Pen to shed the confines of her small home town and reinvent herself. But the darkness of her past clings tight, and when the killings begin and friendships are betrayed, Pen’s secrets are revealed. The consequences are deadly.

‘This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.’Your secrets define you, don’t let them kill you."

Published by Simon & Schuster Australia in March 2016
Genre: Mystery, Crime, Thriller

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"Best friends Isla and Sophie made each other a promise a long time ago: to never let life pass them by. Years later, Isla is in love, living abroad and fulfilling her dreams. But for Sophie, things haven't turned out the way she was expecting and she hasn't achieved any of the things she and Isla talked about.

And then, in one sudden moment, life irrevocably changes for both women.

Isla and Sophie have hard decisions to make but above all else they must face up to the uncertainty that lies ahead. It's only when they realise that this is easier together, two friends standing side by side, that each woman can embrace whatever the future holds for them.

Emotional, poignant and uplifting, The Little Pieces of You and Me is a story about old friends, new beginnings and what happens when being strong is your only choice. It will take your breath away."

Published by Hachette Australia in April 2016
Genre: General Fiction

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"Moving from Blitz-torn London to the Siege of Malta, this is a story of passion, loss, prejudice and incredible courage. This is the novel Chris Cleave was born to write.

When war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.

Tom Shaw decides to give it a miss - until his flatmate Alistair unexpectedly enlists, and the conflict can no longer be avoided.

Young, bright and brave, Mary is certain she'd be a marvelous spy. When she is - bewilderingly - made a teacher, she instead finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.

Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.

And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.

In a powerful combination of both humour and heartbreak, this dazzling novel weaves little-known history, and a perfect love story, through the vast sweep of the Second World War - daring us to understand that, against the great theatre of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs, that change us most."

Published by Hachette Australia in April 2016
Genre: Historical

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"With her heart in tatters after a relationship break-up, Rose Bennett swaps her hometown of London for the sunny shores of Australia – but she arrives to find the Shingle Valley shrouded in winter.
As the weather improves, Rose starts to unlock the secrets of the valley – from bonfire ceremonies and wine-making traditions to eccentric locals and their histories.

And despite herself, Rose starts to fall in love: with the valley, the wines, the two children she's helping to look after – and with the handsome and brilliant Mark Cameron, owner of the troubled Kalkari Wines estate.

What will happen when Mark's estranged wife, the tempestuous Isabella, returns? Will Rose find a future in the Shingle Valley, or will she be forced to leave?"

Published by Penguin Books Australia in April 2016
Genre: Romance

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"THE ONE-IN-A-MILLION BOY by Monica Wood is for anyone who loves to laugh, cry, and think about how extraordinary ordinary life can be. Not to be missed by readers who loved THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, ELIZABETH IS MISSING or THE SHOCK OF THE FALL. 'A lovely, quirky novel about misfits across generations' Daily Mail

The story of your life never starts at the beginning. Don't they teach you anything at school?

So says 104-year-old Ona to the 11-year-old boy who's been sent to help her out every Saturday morning. As he refills the bird feeders and tidies the garden shed, Ona tells him about her long life, from first love to second chances. Soon she's confessing secrets she has kept hidden for decades.

One Saturday, he doesn't show up. Ona starts to think he's not so special after all, but then his father Quinn arrives on her doorstep, determined to finish his son's good deed. The boy's mother is not so far behind. Ona is set to discover that even at her age the world can surprise you, and that sometimes sharing a loss is the only way to find yourself again."

Published by Hachette Australia in April 2016
Genre: Contemporary

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"Imagine swapping your house for a stay in an Italian villa... and falling in love with the owner's life...

Stella has life under control - and that's the way she likes it. For twenty-five years, she's been trusted assistant to a legendary fashion designer, but after her boss dies suddenly, she's left with nothing to do apart from clear the studio.

It seems as though the life she wanted has vanished. She is lost - until one day she finds a house swap website and sees a beautiful old villa in a southern Italian village. Could she really exchange her poky London flat for that?

But what was intended as just a break becomes much more, as Stella finds herself trying on a stranger's life. As the villa begins to get under her skin, she can't help but imagine the owner from the clues around her. She meets his friends, cooks the local food he recommends and follows suggestions to go to his favourite places. But can an idea of someone ever match up to the reality?

As Stella wonders if she can let go of the safety of her past, perhaps there's a chance for her to find a way into her future..."

Published by Hachette Australia in April 2016
Genre: Romance, Women's Fiction

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"Paul Starr, Ireland's leading cardiologist dies in a car crash with a pregnant young women by his side.

United in their grief and the love of one man, four women are thrown together in an attempt to come to terms with life after Paul. They soon realise they never really knew him at all.

The love they shared for Paul in his life and which incensed a feeling of mistrust and dislike for each other, in his death turns into the very thing that bonds them and their children to each other forever.

As they begin to form unlikely friendships, Paul's deaths proves to be the catalyst that enables them to become the people they always wanted to be."

Published by Aria Fiction in May 2016
Genre: Romance, General Fiction

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"A wonderfully warm novel to curl up with about family loss, hidden secrets and new beginnings. Perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley.

Alice finds herself suddenly widowed in her early forties, leaving her with an empty house and a lonely heart. Laura and Evie, her twenty-something daughters announce their separate and unexpected news, which ploughs Alice straight out of grieving and into the prospect planning a wedding and becoming a reluctant - yet glamorous - granny.

Frank, an old family friend returns to give his godchild Laura away at the wedding. A whole host of secrets unfold that rock the family's foundations and set Alice free to begin a new, exciting chapter of her life."

Published by Harper Collins Australia in May 2016
Genre: Romance, General Fiction

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"Welcome to the most intriguing mystery you'll read this year.

Welcome to Midnight, Texas.

At Midnight's local pawnshop, weapons are flying off the shelves-only to be used in sudden and dramatic suicides right at the main crossroads in town.

Who better to figure out why blood is being spilled than the vampire Lemuel, who, while translating mysterious texts, discovers what makes Midnight the town it is. There's a reason why witches and werewolves, killers and psychics, have been drawn to this place.

And now they must come together to stop the bloodshed in the heart of Midnight. For if all hell breaks loose-which just might happen-it will put the secretive town on the map, where no one wants it to be..."

Published by Hachette Australia in May 2016
Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

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All the world forgets me. First my face, then my voice, then the consequences of my deeds.
So listen. Remember me."

My name is Hope Arden, and you won't know who I am. We've met before - a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets. 

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit - you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

The Sudden Appearance of Hope is the tale of the girl no one remembers. But this gripping story - of love and loss, of hope and despair, of living in the moment and dying to leave a mark - is novel that will stay with you for ever.

Published by Hachette Australia in May 2016
Genre: General Fiction

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"From the author of Currawong Creek and Turtle Reef comes a beautiful story of family, friendship and the healing power of love.

When Sydney botanist Kim Sullivan and her husband inherit Journey's End, a rundown farm high on the Great Eastern Escarpment, they dream of one day restoring it to its natural state. Ten years later, however, Kim is tragically widowed. Selling up is the only practical option, so she and her children head to the mountains to organise the sale. The last thing Kim expects is for Journey's End to cast its wild spell on them all. 

The family decide to stay, and Kim forges on with plans to rewild the property, propagating plants and acquiring a menagerie of native animals. But wayward wildlife, hostile farmers and her own lingering grief make the task seem hopeless. That is, until she meets the mysterious Taj, a man who has a way with animals. Kim begins to feel that she might find love again. But Taj has his own tragic past – one that could drive a wedge between them that can not be overcome . . ."

Published by Penguin Books Australia in June 2016
Genre: Women's Fiction, General Fiction

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"By the bestselling author of The Lost Swimmer, a tense, eerie thriller set in the icy reaches of Antarctica.

When environmental scientist Laura Alvarado is sent to a remote Antarctic island to report on an abandoned whaling station, she begins to uncover more than she could ever imagine.

Reminders of the bloody, violent past are everywhere, and Laura is disturbed by evidence of recent human interference. Rules have been broken, and the protected wildlife is behaving strangely.

On a diving expedition, Laura emerges into an ice cave where she is shocked to see an anguished figure, crying for help. But in this freezing, lonely landscape there are ghosts everywhere, and Laura wonders if her own eyes can be trusted. Has she been in the ice too long?

Back at base, Laura’s questions about the whaling station go unanswered, blocked by scientists unused to outsiders. And Laura just can’t shake what happened in the cave.

Piecing together a past and present of cruelty and vulnerability that can be traced around the world, from Norway, to Nantucket, Europe and Antarctica, Laura will stop at nothing to unearth the truth. As she comes face to face with the dark side of human progress, she also discovers a legacy of love, hope and the meaning of family. If only Laura can find her way . . .

Out of the ice."

Published by Simon & Schuster Australia in June 2016
Genre: Mystery, Thriller

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Friday, 8 July 2016

Book Review | The Other Side of the Season | Jenn J McLeod

“When offering to drive her brother to Byron Bay to escape the bitter Blue Mountains winter, Sidney neglects to mention her planned detour to the small coastal town of Watercolour Cove.

Thirty-five years earlier, Watercolour Cove is a very different place. Two brothers are working the steep, snake-infested slopes of a Coffs Coast banana plantation. Seventeen-year-old David does his share, but he spends too much time daydreaming about becoming a famous artist and skiving off with Tilly, the pretty girl from the neighbouring property. His older brother, Matthew, has no time for such infatuations. His future is on the land and he plans to take over the Greenhill plantation from his father.

Life is simple on top of the mountain for David, Matthew and Tilly until the winter of 1979 when tragedy strikes, starting a chain reaction that will ruin lives for years to come. Those who can, escape the Greenhill plantation. One stays—trapped on the mountain and haunted by memories and lost dreams.

That is, until the arrival of a curious young woman, named Sidney, whose love of family shows everyone the truth can heal, what’s wrong can be righted, the lost can be found, and . . . there’s another side to every story.”

“As I peer through the window, Of lost time, Looking over my yesterdays, Through the mirror of my mind, Time after time, I see reflections of you and me …Reflections of the way life used to be” – Diana Ross and The Supremes

The Other Side of the Season is Jenn J McLeod’s fourth novel in her Seasons Collection (which are all stand-alone novels) but this, perhaps, could be her best yet. As usual, Jenn’s capabilities managed to sweep me away with her unique storytelling ability – an ability that is strengthened by a fabulous mix of emotional depth, real life and family secrets.

With her mother’s refusal to discuss the past still fresh in her mind, along with the breakup of her seven year relationship with her partner, Sidney and her brother head off on a road trip but, unbeknownst to Jake, Sidney’s heading straight to Watercolour Cove, hoping that she’ll be able to discover exactly what it is that her mother has been hiding all these years.

“My life began when I met and married your father.” - Natalie

In the parallel timeline of 1979 on a banana plantation on top of the mountain in Watercolour Cove, we are introduced to David Hill, an aspiring artist who has every intention of leaving the family farm to pursue his dream of painting and owning his own art gallery and Matthew, his brother, who would be only too happy to take over the running of the family plantation.

“There are winners and losers in life, Tilly. You and me are losers. We’re not handed the same chances. We have to find our own opportunities” - Matthew

In this timeline, we are also introduced to the kids from the wrong side of the tracks, Tilly and Albie Markht, the adopted children of the farmers on the neighbouring plantation, who share a somewhat discordant relationship with one another.

“I understand. I do. You’re just like everyone else. No one’s ever wanted me for real.” - Albie

It is Sidney’s “detour” and subsequent search for her imprisoned grandfather, as well as an accident that brings Natalie to Watercolour Cove and gradually, the veil begins to lift and the links between her characters start to emerge and advance towards a point of convergence in which perhaps nobody will come out unscathed as they try to reconcile the past while moving to the future.

“One day I’m going to choose the biggest rock on the wall and I’m going to paint you a message that will last forever … and I won’t care if everyone sees it” – David

I eagerly anticipate each new release by Jenn J McLeod and it’s really not hard to see why as she continues to demonstrate a masterful gift for storytelling, writing realistic and three-dimensional characters who the reader intuitively understands and empathises with.

Told from the viewpoints of Sidney, Tilly, Natalie and David, broken up into four parts and shifting decades between 1975 and present day, it’s a book that reflects on the paths our lives take, the people who influence those paths, the choices we make and the repercussions those choices can have.

The intricately woven plot that combines secrets, lies, betrayal, mother/daughter relationships, lost chances, sibling rivalry, choices, broken families, love and redemption, all of which lead us into territory touching on albinism, mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction as well as the institutional abuse of children, reinforces the balance between hope and reality and the world in which we live. 

Just as in life, there are not always happy endings so be prepared for the shocking twist – one I didn’t see coming – that had me hauling out the Kleenex while I sobbed my heart out! Yes, Jenn, I have a bone to pick with you!!

Well-paced and, with its fictional seaside setting of Watercolour Cove creating more than just mere ripples in the water and distorted reflections for everyone involved, this novel is ideal for those blustery wintry days when you want to curl up in a quiet sunny corner and let the queen of small-town stories leave her own memorable imprint on you.

I wish to thank Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with an ARC copy for review.

About the Author

No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn J McLeod took her first tentative steps towards a tree change in 2004, escaping Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small cafe in the seaside town of Sawtell.

For Jenn, moving to the country was like coming home.

After ten years running a B&B on her NSW property, she now gets to write her contemporary Australian fiction (life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep) grey nomad style–a wandering writer of no fixed address. Yep! She's hit the road in a Ford and a fifth wheeler –writing in and under the southern cross.

Readers and reviewers alike enthusiastically received her debut, House for all Seasons, placing it at #5 on the 2013 Nielsen’s Best Selling Debut Novel list. Simmering Season is book two in the Seasons Collection (all standalone reads) with Season of Shadow and Light in 2015 and now, The Other Side of the Season which was released in May this year.