Monday, 24 October 2016

Book Review | Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil | Melina Marchetta

I’ve wanted to read a Melina Marchetta book for a number of years now but time just hasn’t allowed for it. So, it was with anticipation that I opened this latest (her debut novel for adults) as I loved the premise of the novel and the fact that the blurb alluded to “suspense and heart-rending drama” – two of my favourite elements in fiction.

The novel opens with suspended Chief Inspector Bashir “Bish” Ortley receiving a telephone call informing him that his daughter, Bee, has been caught up in the midst of a bus bombing in Calais, France. With his mother, Saffron, accompanying him, they make their way across the channel - thankfully, Bee is unharmed but there are others who haven’t been so lucky.

When he recognises the name of another passenger, Violette LeBrac, his senses go on high alert because he and the LeBracs have a long history of acquaintanceship through the criminal justice system but before he has an opportunity to question her, she, along with one of the other students, Eddie Conlon, disappear.

Left to figure out if the bombing was an act of terror and Violette the perpetrator, Bish is immediately drawn into the investigation, albeit in his personal capacity as a father acting as a liaison between the French police and the children’s parents. He soon finds himself taking instructions from the Home Office and as he tries to find the missing Violette and her companion, he uncovers some discrepancies in the historical case of a supermarketing bombing carried out by Violette’s grandfather, once again coming face-to-face with her imprisoned mother, Noor LeBrac.

It is during the investigation that the conflict in his personal life comes into sharp focus and he begins to realise that he’s only half the man he used to be – still grieving the loss of his son, angry at the loss of his ex-wife to another man and seeking solace in the bottle, Bish also needs to put to bed the issues he has with his mother’s indifference towards him as a child as well as try and figure out his daughter’s distant behaviour towards him.

As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I loved the premise of this novel, so I was somewhat disappointed when I got off to a bit of a slow start. Something just hooked me though so I persisted and I’m so glad that I did because at about 25% of the way in I got the connection with the characters that I was looking for!

In addition to the main plot regarding the investigation, Melina Marchetta has layered her story with some great side plots that explore the complex relationships between her characters - those between fathers and daughters, ex-husbands and wives and mothers and sons - making it more than just another crime novel.

Whilst Bish may sound like a stereotype – divorced, still grieving the loss of his son, drowning his sorrows in a bottle and recently suspended from his job at the London Met (for reasons which become clearer along the way) – he is far from that and by the end of the book, he has come almost full circle.

The things that struck me most are Melina's unfailing ear for dialogue – especially with regard to her teenage characters – and her wry wit had me snorting with laughter a number of times.

At the heart of the story though is a feeling of general resentment towards the Muslim culture that has become all too familiar since the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 and Melina paints an unflinchingly honest picture of the times that we live in, where we have all possibly been guilty of stigmatising people based on colour and religion.

A morally complex tale that is rich with authenticity, this is, on the one hand a crime novel, but on the other, it’s about the relationships and the lives of those involved with Melina exploring family, marriage and repressed grief as well as the symptoms of racial prejudice such as fear, intolerance, segregation, racial profiling, displacement and discrimination.

Despite my slow start, Melina Marchetta is a great storyteller and this novel is very definitely worth a read. I look forward to reading more from her.

I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with an eARC galley proof of this novel.

About the Author

Melina Marchetta’s writing career took off in 1992 when she published her first novel Looking For Alibrandi. She later turned the story into a film script and the movie Looking for Alibrandi screened in theatres around Australia and the world from 2000.

Melina managed to combine writing with teaching English and History in secondary school for ten years up to 2006, when she committed to writing full-time. During that period, she released two novels, Saving Francesca and On the Jellicoe Road.

Her first fantasy novel, Finnikin of the Rock, was published in 2008.

The Piper’s Son (a companion novel to Saving Francesca) was released in 2010 and she has also written a children’s book, The Gorgon in the Gully, as part of the Puffin Pocket Money series.

Her novels have been published in 17 languages in at least 18 countries.

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is her first adult crime novel.

Melina lives in Sydney where she writes full time.

About the Book

Melina Marchetta's gripping new novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is a cracking fusion of suspense and heart-rending drama.

Chief Inspector Bish Ortley of the London Met, divorced and still grieving the death of his son, has been drowning his anger in Scotch. Something has to give, and he’s no sooner suspended from the force than a busload of British students is subject to a deadly bomb attack across the Channel. Bish’s daughter is one of those on board.

Also on the bus is Violette LeBrac. Raised in Australia, Violette has a troubled background. Thirteen years ago her grandfather bombed a London supermarket, killing dozens of people. Her mother, Noor, is serving a life sentence in connection with the incident. But before Violette’s part in the French tragedy can be established she disappears.

Bish, who was involved in Noor LeBrac’s arrest, is now compelled to question everything that happened back then. And the more he delves into the lives of the family he helped put away, the more he realises that truth wears many colours.

ISBN: 9780670079100
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Pub date: 29/08/2016
RRP: AU$32.99

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Book Review | Watching Edie | Camilla Way

Sixteen years ago, Edie and Heather were best friends but then something happened that drove each of them away from each other and their home town.

Now, all these years later, Edie, a waitress, lives in a tiny little apartment, on her own, pregnant and estranged from her mother.

But the past has a way of catching up and, when her doorbell rings one afternoon, she is more than shocked to see Heather standing there. Reluctantly, she invites her in but soon realises that she’ll need to get rid of her before she begins to dredge up the past she has tried so hard to forget.

Unfortunately, Heather is persistent and not that easy to dismiss so when Edie finally brings baby Maya home, Heather reappears and cleverly insinuates herself in their lives when she realises that Edie is unable to cope with her new baby while the effects of post-natal depression drag her under.

Told from Edie’s perspective in the present (after) and Heather’s in the past (before), their history begins to unfold and we start to wonder what happened all those years ago to bring these two women so far from who they had aspired to be.

You’ve just got to love it when a psychological thriller makes you feel really uncomfortable and this one has discomfort written all over it.

With an almost gothic style of writing, Camilla Way knows how to keep her readers in suspense. Set against the bleakness of London and mainly in Edie’s apartment, Camilla uses her almost claustrophobic setting to great effect, creating an atmosphere edged in creepiness as she gets to the hard-hitting crux of the story.

Edie and Heather are both sympathetic characters and it’s obvious that their actions and the consequences of that fateful night have continued to gnaw away at them as they refuse to confront the horror of what happened. Keeping their secret close to their chests and focusing on their emotional states, it is this that Camilla uses to create suspense and drive her narrative forward, as she vividly captures the shifting dynamics between them.

Weaving the elements of her plot tightly, the explosive revelation of what really happened is well hidden until the denouement and goes to show how extremely talented Camilla Way is.

Complex, challenging and darkly fascinating, Watching Edie is a novel that brims with tension and a growing sense of unease as Camilla delves into toxic friendships, dysfunctional relationships, emotional parental neglect, obsession, guilt and mental health issues.

This one will pull you headlong into the dark secret that controls these characters’ lives and is a must-read for all fans of a good psychological thriller.

I wish to thank HarperCollins Australia for providing me with an egalley proof for review.

About the Author

Camilla Way was born in Greenwich, south-east London in 1973. Her father was the poet and author Peter Way.

After attending Woolwich College she studied modern English and French literature at the University of Glamorgan.

Formerly Associate Editor of the teenage girls' magazine Bliss, she is currently an editor and writer on the men's style magazine Arena.

Having lived in Cardiff, Bristol, Bath and Clerkenwell, she now lives in south-east London.

About the Book


Edie is the friend that Heather has always craved. But one night, it goes terrifyingly wrong. And what started as an innocent friendship ends in two lives being destroyed.

Sixteen years later, Edie is still rebuilding her life. But Heather isn’t ready to let her forget so easily. It’s no coincidence that she shows up when Edie needs her most.

Edie or Heather?
Heather or Edie?

Someone has to pay for what happened, but who will it be?

ISBN: 9780008159016
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Pub date: 01/08/2016
RRP: AU$34.99

Friday, 7 October 2016

Book Review | Labour of Love | Shannon Garner

While I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, I do enjoy a good memoir so when I was contacted by Shannon Garner and asked to review the account of her journey through surrogacy, I couldn’t resist.

Altruistic Surrogacy is a subject that has always fascinated me and, while books like Dawn Barker’s Let Her Go (which I loved), shed some light on it, Shannon Garner has been through it.

Happily married with two beautiful children of her own, Shannon’s determination to pursue her desire to be a surrogate drove her to carry out meticulous research for a complex and emotional process that remains, even in today’s day and age, a controversial subject.

With honesty and insight, she explores the highs and lows of being an altruistic surrogate in Australia and, in the process, gives the reader a glimpse into an oft misrepresented process with all its legal, clinical and ethical complexities along with the (not always positive) perceptions of friends, family and strangers.

Her joys, struggles and fears are all here and I take my hat off to Shannon because it’s not only a difficult decision – one that affects not just the surrogate but her wider family – but it’s also a journey that only a very special few are able to make and her dedication, commitment and self-sacrifice is to be commended.

With the flair of a natural storyteller, Shannon has lovingly documented her (and her family’s) profoundly personal journey, answering a lot of questions while writing with heart, humour and a light and friendly tone that sets a warm and intimate atmosphere - which leaves me in no doubt that this is who she is in real life.

An absorbing, insightful and inspiring memoir with contemporary relevance, Labour of Love is a story of love, family, hope, pure selflessness and the joy of giving that I highly recommend to anyone who is thinking of heading down the surrogacy path as well as those who, like me, just find the surrogacy world to be so fascinating.

Thanks goes to Shannon Garner for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Shannon Garner is first and foremost a mother to two beautiful children, a wife, surrogate and then a writer, passionate about the craft of storytelling. She lives in a seaside town on the New South Wales north coast in a timber cottage complete with the white picket fence!

Shannon started concentrating on her writing in 2009 when her first child was born and hasn’t looked back. Her writer’s group encouraged her to delve into non-fiction after the birth of a surrogate child she carried for a gay male couple from Sydney and with that… her first memoir “Labour of Love” was born.

She is delighted that her memoir about her altruistic surrogacy journey was released on the 1st July 2016 and hopes you will enjoy her journey as much as she did.

Shannon has started writing her first fiction novel which is a family saga spanning many decades set in rural England and Australia, two places held close to her heart.

About the Book

A story of generosity, hope and surrogacy

Shannon Garner met and married the man of her dreams, had two gorgeous children and lived an idyllic life on the New South Wales coast. So why did she decide one day to pursue altruistic surrogacy? And what made her choose a gay male couple from Sydney?

Labour of Love is Shannon’s honest and engaging story – a rollercoaster of emotion set against the backdrop of a highly regulated ‘industry’. This is no account of heartache and conflict but an uplifting story of ‘a collective love’ – one that involves a handful of people from very different walks of life who end up being so much more than family.

As Shannon travels her journey of body, mind and soul, she lays bare the loving reality behind surrogacy, but also the trouble she found along the way.

Finding strength in unexpected places, Shannon pushed past the negativity of others to discover the courage she needed to selflessly carry and birth a baby that will not be her own – and to bring the gift of a precious life and soul into the world, to be loved and cared for by her new adoring parents.

ISBN: 9781925368604
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Pub date: 01/07/2016
RRP: AU$29.99

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Book Review | Nothing Short of Dying | Erik Storey

Clyde Barr just wants to disappear into the wilderness. After the last sixteen years, who can blame him - mercenary and hired gun on three different continents, prisoner on one - call him what you want, he's tired and needs to regain some sense of himself. He also doesn't really need the added complications of electronic communication like a mobile phone but, in this day and age, it seems to be a must-have.

Only problem is, the next call he receives is going to shatter his much sought-after solitude with a cry for help from his youngest sister who doesn’t even get a chance to let him know where she is!

In trying to figure out her whereabouts and who may have her, he finds himself teaming up with Allie, a bartender with her own reasons for running, who just might know the answer to that question. Together they begin the search! Travelling through wide open spaces and into the mountains looking for clues, they also find themselves fighting for their lives when they cross the paths of some ruthless drug dealers and are double-crossed by someone Clyde once called a friend!

As the bodies pile up and he and Allie grow closer, vignettes of a fractured family, abusive relationships and an obscure past begin to form the patchwork of history that is Clyde Barr.

This one had been glaring at me from my reading pile for some time and, not having read a “Jack Reacher” novel (to whom Clyde Barr has been compared), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I picked it up anyway, thinking that I’d “expand my horizons” so to speak – and I’m so glad that I did because Erik Storey is a remarkable storyteller.

Not only does he give us non-stop action right the way through but in Clyde Barr, he introduces us to an extremely complex man, slowly peeling back the layers to reveal an honourable, albeit tough-as-nails hero. He’s rugged, a wanderer with a strong sense of justice, tough but soft when he needs to be and if there’s one thing he loves more than anything else, it’s his sisters – even if they’re not all on speaking terms with him. As a woman, I could just fall in love with Clyde - he's not afraid or ashamed to stand up for what's right, he keeps his word and will always defend the underdog!

There’s a lot to enjoy in this novel which provided me with a few hours of adventurous escapism such as getting to know our hero whilst exploring Erik’s lush setting of Colorado and the Appalachian Mountains that not only gives the reader a strong sense of place which is integral to the events unfolding around Clyde, but also shows that Erik knows it well.

Another big plus for me was that while there are a number of violent scenes (which is to be expected from the genre), Erik doesn’t expose the reader to too much guts and gore. And, once his characters have served their purpose, he has no qualms about expiring them along the way.

Clyde Barr is an appealing lead character and Erik Storey’s skill as a writer shines, making it hard to believe that this is a debut. He also strikes the right emotional balance so if you, like me, prefer your action thriller novels not to forsake depth, then don’t hesitate to get this one on your list so that you too can welcome knight errant, Clyde Barr, to the fold. 

With non-stop action right the way through and a skilfully crafted plot that picks up steadily, this is compulsive reading at its best from an author who is putting true adventure back into the action thriller genre. In saying that, I can confirm that I’m definitely a fan and that nothing short of dying will stop me from reading the next novel in the series!

I wish to thank Simon and Schuster Australia for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Erik Storey is a former ranch hand, wilderness guide, dogsled musher, and hunter.

He spent his childhood summers growing up on his great-grandfather’s homestead or in a remote cabin in Colorado’s Flat Tops wilderness.

He has earned a number of sharpshooter and marksman qualifications.

Nothing Short of Dying is his first novel.

He and his family live in Grand Junction, Colorado.

About the Book

Sixteen years. That’s how long Clyde Barr has been away from Colorado’s thick forests, alpine deserts, and craggy peaks, running from a past filled with haunting memories. But now he’s back, having roamed across three continents as a hunter, adventurer, soldier of fortune, and most recently, unjustly imprisoned convict. And once again, his past is reaching out to claim him.

By the light of a flickering campfire, Clyde receives a frantic phone call from his sister Jen. No sooner has she pleaded with him to come rescue her than the line goes dead. Clyde doesn’t know how much time he has, or where Jen is located, or even who has her. All he knows is that nothing short of dying will stop him from saving her.

Joining Clyde in his against-all-odds quest is a young woman named Allie whose motivations for running this gauntlet are fascinatingly complex. As the duo races against the clock, it is Allie who gets Clyde to see what he has become and what he can still be.

Vivid with the hues and scents of Colorado’s backcountry, and thought-provoking in its exploration of how past, present, and future collide to test resolve, Nothing Short of Dying is, above all, a propulsive, action-driven race against the clock.

ISBN: 9781501124143 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub Date:  August 2016 
Extent: 320
RRP: AU$26.00

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Announcement | Winner | Southern Ruby by Belinda Alexandra

                                Image Designed by Qeaql-studio -

So, my trusty competition friend, has generated a winner!


Tien's Blurb

You have been selected as the winner.

Please could you contact me at with your postal address details.

To everyone else who entered, a big THANK YOU.
I'm just so sorry that there could only be one winner - would love to have given you ALL a copy but I only had one spare.

Keep your eyes peeled for more giveaways that may come up in the next few months.

Until next time!

Friday, 30 September 2016

Book Review | The Safest Place in London | Maggie Joel

“Walk a mile in my shoes … see what I see, hear what I hear, feel what I feel … then maybe you’ll understand why I do what I do … until then, don’t judge me.”

The above expression encapsulates this latest novel by Maggie Joel, as she brings us a touching and poignant tale of two families who get caught up in a London air raid in 1944, changing their lives forever – six people who will become victims of circumstance with no black and white answers to any of the questions raised by the reader.

Divided into two parts, the novel opens with Nancy Levin and her three year old daughter Emily, just about to sit down to dinner when the air raid siren goes off and they have to make their way to a shelter. Not long after, we are introduced to Diana and Abigail who are lost and trying to find a shelter in an area they are not familiar with.

As these two women from vastly different social classes wait for the all-clear to sound, their fear and loneliness is palpable when it becomes apparent that the night will be a long one, with the unused tube station at Bethnal Green becoming their shelter for the duration. When a large incendiary bomb drops on the shelter, lives will be altered when one of them is forced to make a heart-wrenching decision.

In the second part of the book, we are introduced to Joe Levin and Gerald Meadows, the women’s husbands, who have returned to London in the midst of the chaos that has taken place, only to be left reeling both by the memories of the horrors of the war they have been fighting and the fact that their hopes of finding their families look grim.

Told from their viewpoints it soon becomes apparent that desperate choices, unforeseen circumstances and relationships will combine to show us that no matter how distinctly different we are, we are all connected.

This one kept popping up on my Facebook newsfeed and when I first saw the cover, I was instantly drawn to it but even more so after reading the blurb and I couldn’t wait for it to get to the top of my reading pile because WWII stories have always fascinated me.

This one intrigued me even more because it held the promise of suspense and, whilst I finished it some time ago, it’s one of those reads that I needed to simmer for a while in my head. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was an outstanding read but it’s one that’s not easy to review for fear of giving something away because of the way in which Maggie has so intricately layered it.

The subject matter is also very different to any other WWII book I’ve read before because the war is not the main subject but merely a backdrop that highlights the impact that war can have on the human race, the complexities of human nature in a fight for survival, the struggles of those that become morally afflicted and the emotional fallout and consequences of shameful choices made. Whilst some readers may be uncomfortable with the moral complexity of these characters, I found this part of human nature fascinating!

One of this novel’s greatest strengths is its sense of time and place with Maggie evoking this period in London’s history brilliantly by painting a portrait of what life must have been like – from the rationing, the blackouts, trudging the war-torn streets, the hunger, endless hours spent sheltering from the bombs, searching for loved ones, to the desperate measures that people resorted to in order to survive and the harsh realities that most of them faced.

Maggie's characters are also well drawn and she portrays all of them with sympathy by profiling the marriages and the manner in which the war has forced these families to separate, thereby showing their vulnerabilities and shedding light on the difficulties they experience once reunited.

Without being preachy, the scope of people that were affected by WWII (or any war for that matter) is hard for you and I to imagine but no doubt a reality and this is a story that needs to be read with an open mind and with no judgments as to what we may think is morally correct because some thought-provoking questions are raised, such as how many other people committed these same acts in similar circumstances; where do we draw the line between right and wrong, moral or immoral; and, what would it take for your morals to fall by the wayside?

Difficult questions, I know! But ones which her amazingly distinct narrative voices raise by the sheer complexity of emotion and reasoning of characters who have been challenged by unimaginable hardship and grief.

A page turner that is both emotionally engaging and involving, Maggie Joel has penned a unique albeit bittersweet tale with a compelling human story and complex moral dilemmas at its heart, showing us that good people can be placed in impossible situations. Highly recommended.

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

About the Author

Maggie Joel is a British-born writer who grew up in a small commuter town in southeast England. She studied marketing and advertising in Southampton, on England’s south coast, and worked for a number of years in the marketing and events industry in London before moving to Australia in the early Nineties.
She completed a Bachelor of Arts (Media Studies) and a Master of Arts (Literary Theory and Creative Writing) both at Sydney’s Macquarie University and became an Australian citizen in 1998.

Maggie has been writing fiction and non-fiction since the mid-1990s and her short stories have been widely published in Southerly, Westerly, Island, Overland and Canberra Arts Review, and broadcast on ABC radio. Her first novel, The Past and Other Lies, was published to critical acclaim in Australia and New Zealand by Murdoch Books in April 2009 and in the US by Felony & Mayhem Press in 2013 and was chosen as the Sydney Morning Herald’s 'Pick of the Week'.

Her second novel, The Second-Last Woman in England, was published by Murdoch Books in Australia and New Zealand in 2010, in the US in 2011 and in the UK by Constable & Robinson in 2013. This book was also selected as the Sydney Morning Herald’s 'Pick of the Week' and was awarded the 2011 Fellowship of Australian Writers' Christina Stead Award for Fiction. Her third novel, Half the World in Winter, was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in October 2014.

Maggie currently lives in Sydney and works as the operations manager at a federal government agency.

About the Book

Two frightened children, two very different mothers, and one night of terrifying Blitz bombing during World War Two. And when the bombs stop falling, which families' lives will be changed forever?

On a frozen January evening in 1944, Nancy Levin, and her three-year-old daughter, Emily, flee their impoverished East London home as an air raid siren sounds. Not far away, 39- year-old Diana Meadows and her own child, three-year-old Abigail, are lost in the black-out as the air raid begins. Finding their way in the jostling crowd to the mouth of the shelter they hurry to the safety of the underground tube station. Mrs Meadows, who has so far sat out the war in the safety of London's outer suburbs, is terrified - as much by the prospect of sheltering in an Eastend tube station as of experiencing a bombing raid first hand.

Far away Diana's husband, Gerald Meadows finds himself in a tank regiment in North Africa while Nancy's husband, Joe Levin has narrowly survived a torpedo in the Atlantic and is about to re-join his ship. Both men have their own wars to fight but take comfort in the knowledge that their wives and children, at least, remain safe.

But in wartime, ordinary people can find themselves taking extreme action - risking everything to secure their own and their family's survival, even at the expense of others.

ISBN: 9781743310601
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date:  September 2016
Extent: 352
RRP: AU$29.99

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Book Review & Give Away | Southern Ruby | Belinda Alexandra

In Southern Ruby, Belinda Alexandra wraps her storytelling magic around New Orleans, giving us two narratives, one in the present and one in the past.

Opening in current day Australia, we are introduced to Amanda who, after losing her Nan with whom she has lived since she was just a toddler, finds a letter and discovers that she has other family - New Orleans.

Determined to solve the mystery surrounding her parents and their death which her Nan refused to speak about with her, Amanda makes arrangements to visit New Orleans to see if she can reconnect with her remaining relatives and discover her roots.

Moving into the past, we have Ruby who, with Amanda’s arrival, is compelled to reveal the wrenching secrets of her glamorous (if somewhat illustrious) past - her loves and losses, the hardships her family faced and the racial discord surrounding 1950’s New Orleans.

Of genteel upbringing, Ruby and her perpetually ill mother sank to new lows when her uncle refused them further financial assistance forcing Ruby to find ways to keep a roof over their head and food in their stomachs. In doing so, she found herself living in the scandalous world of burlesque and falling in love with a jazz musician. It wasn't long, however, before Ruby came to realise that the comfortable and lovingly assembled world she had created for herself had begun to close in on her.

I’m not sure if perhaps in a previous life I was a resident of NOLA but, in this life, this particular city has always held a certain allure for me. I thoroughly enjoy learning about its history but, even more so, I love the way that some authors make the place come alive with all its mystery, vibrancy, seductive beauty and pagan heritage.

In this latest by Belinda, the past (and death) are never far away in a city that, whilst the sounds of jazz continually permeate its aged streets, is as beautiful as it is dangerous.

Blending fact into fiction, Belinda has created a rich setting both pre- and post-Katrina which is vivid and real, adding to the mystery as well as the colour of the Big Easy and, for me, the greatest weight was held in Ruby’s story in which issues of class, cultural identity as well as the sociological and political conditions of the deep South at that time, give a broad scope of its complex history and put a human face to the everyday people of "The City That Care Forgot".

Her scene-settings drip with atmosphere and her characterisations are colourful. The additional layers of intrigue surrounding the reasons for Amanda’s parents’ car accident as well as Ruby's own story add depth and complexity to the plot, while her descriptions of the food will soon see you wanting to rush and find your place at one of the characters’ tables!

From the elegance of the Garden District to the dark and sultry ambience of the French Quarter, the vibrancy of the Vieux Carre and the poverty of the Lower Ninth Ward, Belinda offers a well-traversed perspective to the charismatic Crescent City.

She is a passionate and confident storyteller and her writing is like an artist’s dream as she skilfully illustrates the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of one of America’ most culturally rich and diverse cities.

Highlighting the city’s charms and vices and, putting her own distinctive stamp on it, she brings us a story about loss, survival, hope and the desires of acceptance and belonging. Highly recommended.

I would like to thank the publisher, HarperCollins for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Belinda Alexandra has been published to wide acclaim in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Poland, Norway and Russia.

She is the daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father and has been an intrepid traveller since her youth.

Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer rescuer and carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).

You can learn more about Belinda either at her website or in the interview I held with her recently.

About the Book

Forbidden love. Family secrets. A twist of fate. The stunning new generational saga from Belinda Alexandra, bestselling author of Tuscan Rose and White Gardenia.

In New Orleans - the city of genteel old houses and ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss, of seductive night life, of Creole culture, voodoo and jazz - two women separated by time and tragedy will find each other at last.

Amanda, orphaned as a child and suffering the loss of her beloved grandmother, has left Sydney in search of a family she never knew.

Ruby, constrained by the expectations of society and class, is carrying a lifetime of secrets.

Amanda's arrival sparks revelations long buried: a double life, a forbidden love, and a loss that cannot be forgotten.

Southern Ruby is a sweeping story of love, passion, family and honour. Alternating in time between the 1950s and the eve of Hurricane Katrina, it is also a tribute to a city heady with mystery, music, and superstition, which has borne the tumults of race and class and the fury of nature, but has never given up hope.

ISBN: 9780732296445
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pub Date: 22 August 2016
Page Extent: 576
RRP: $32.99

I'm offering ONE lucky reader the chance to win a brand new paperback copy of Southern Ruby.

In order to enter, all you need to do is leave a comment below.

The giveaway closes at midnight (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on Friday, 30th September and one winner will be selected at random (using and announced here on the blog within 48 hours.

Please note that due to high international postage costs, this giveaway is open to Australian residents ONLY and you will be required to email me at in order to provide your name and street address.

Disclaimer: I reserve the right to re-draw if the winner doesn't contact me within 24 hours of them being notified.

Best of Luck!!!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Book Review | Rebellious Daughters | Edited by Maria Katsonis & Lee Kofman

In this anthology, Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman (rebellious daughters themselves) effectively offer us intimate essays by prominent female Australian writers divulging their personal experiences with rebellion.

Often we think of authors as people who haven’t really done the same things as us “normal people” or lived lives like we do – we almost put them on a pedestal, thinking that they’re these perfect beings who’ve had wonderful lives, never stopping for a minute to think that they’re humans, just like us!

Well, this wonderful anthology puts to bed that belief and gives us some food for thought with seventeen memoir-type reminiscences written by various authors who, with wisdom and the benefit of hindsight, offer us personal insight into their rebellious attitudes towards their mothers, fathers and cultures on a variety of themes such as cultural boundaries, divorce, education, fitting in, jealousy, sexuality, individuality and self-discovery, amongst others.

Whilst one story in particular resonated with me the most, I enjoyed all of these nostalgia-induced recollections of womanly defiance because there are anecdotes from every story that made me ponder my own teenage transgressions.

Open, honest, oft times apologetic, sometimes heartbreaking and frequently humorous, these are the stories that helped shape the writers we know today but are also something to remember when the conflicts and paradoxes of motherhood (and fatherhood) smack us in the face!

With stories as diverse as their voices, readers will undoubtedly be inspired (or shocked) because there is a piece of us rebellious daughters in every one of them.

I wish to thank Ventura Press for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Editors

Maria Katsonis enjoyed a traditional Greek childhood, living on top of a milk bar and sharing a bedroom with her yiayia.

She was a good Greek girl throughout high school until university when she discovered her rebellious side and abandoned nine-tenths of an economics degree for a career in the theatre. She managed theatre companies such as Anthill and Arena Theatre Company and then became an independent arts management consultant and theatre producer, touring shows to Asia, Europe, and South America.

After a decade in the arts, Maria decided it was time for a career change and became a bureaucrat, joining the Victorian Public Service where she is a senior executive. She is also a public policy lecturer at the Melbourne School of Government.

Her debut memoir, The Good Greek Girl, was published in 2014. 

Lee Kofman is a Russian-born Israeli-Australian author of five books, writing teacher and mentor based in Melbourne. She has published three fiction books in Hebrew, but since 2002 has been writing exclusively in English. Lee has also published numerous short stories, short creative non-fiction and poetry in Australia, Scotland, UK, Israel, USA and Canada.

Five of her poems were selected for a performance by professional actors at Lord Ivy Gallery on 25th August 2009. Her writing has won various awards, including the Australian Council grant and the Varuna Eric Dark Flagship Fellowship.

Lee is involved in the Australian literary community in many other ways too and also regularly speaks in public about her writing all around Australia.

Her most recent memoir, The Dangerous Bride, was published in 2014.

About the Book

Good daughters hold their tongues, obey their elders and let their families determine their destiny. Rebellious daughters are just the opposite.

In Rebellious Daughters, some of Australia’s most talented female writers share intimate stories of defiance and independence as they find their place in the world.

Powerful and poignant, these true tales explore everything from getting into trouble in seedy nightclubs to lifelong family conflicts and marrying too young. Every story is a unique retelling that celebrates the rebellious daughter within us all.

Not every woman is a mother, grandmother, aunty or sister – but all women are daughters.

ISBN: 9781925183528
Pub date: 01/08/2016
Pages: 325
RRP: AU$32.99

What's Your Story? | Aussie Author Round-Up | Belinda Alexandra

It’s a great honour to welcome well-known Australian author Belinda Alexandra to my blog today to celebrate the release of her seventh novel, Southern Ruby, which was published on the 22nd August.

Belinda writes great historical and historical/contemporary fiction novels set in exotic locations such as Paris, Shanghai, Barcelona, Florence and Moscow. Her books have been published around the world including in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, Poland and Norway, as well as Australia.

She loves nothing more than immersing herself in page-turning stories of passion and intrigue, especially ones that take her deep into other cultures and times – and these are exactly the kinds of stories she likes to write!

The daughter of a Russian mother and an Australian father, Belinda has been an intrepid traveller since her youth. Her love of other cultures is matched by her passion for her home country, Australia, where she is a volunteer rescuer and carer for the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).

As an animal lover, Belinda is also a patron of the World League for the Protection of Animals, Australia.

Everybody has a story, so please feel free to pull up a stump and hear Belinda's.

Before I continue though, I'd just like to thank HarperCollins for making this interview possible.

Belinda, it's fabulous to finally be able to host you here on the blog.

Thank you, so much! I’m looking forward to talking about writing with you and your readers!

Why don't we kick off with you sharing a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author.

I was a born writer. I was always writing stories as a child and was in constant trouble at school for day dreaming. As I grew older and started  travelling, I used to write really, really long and detailed emails and letters to my friends and family. But writing as a career seemed like a far-fetched dream until I went to University in California where my fellow students and professors encouraged me to go for my dream. When I returned to Australia, I started writing seriously. But I was no overnight success! Everything … and I mean EVERYTHING … I wrote was rejected until I finally succeeded with White Gardenia. That journey from rejection to success took about ten years.

I recently finished reading Southern Ruby but for those who haven’t, could you please tell us what it’s all about?

Southern Ruby is a tale of forbidden love set in New Orleans. The story moves from the 1950s to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is the story of Vivienne de Villeray – Ruby - whose aristocratic French Creole family has whittled away its fortune on lavish living and now Ruby must support her ailing mother and one remaining loyal and aging maid. Because women in Ruby’s position in society are discouraged from working, she must support her loved ones by creating a double-life.

Switch now to 2004 and Ruby’s adult granddaughter, Amanda, has been living with her maternal grandmother – Nan -  in Australia since she was two years old following the horrific accident that left both her parents dead. Amanda has no idea that her Grandma Ruby even exists until the death of Nan leads to the discovery of a letter from Grandma Ruby sent on the occasion of  Amanda’s 21st birthday. She now realises that she has family in New Orleans and travels there to discover the truth about her father, Ruby’s son, who Nan has refused to tell her anything about. 

Amanda finds a vibrant city of contrasts. There’s jazz, burlesque, ghost stories and shocking burial rites. But nothing is as astonishing as mysterious Grandma Ruby and the tale she reveals to Amanda during candlelit nights in the grand old Lalande mansion. A story that will change everything Amanda has believed about herself.

What made you base this latest novel against the backdrop of New Orleans?

When I was a student at the University of California, I made a trip to New Orleans with some friends during summer break and fell in love with this steamy hot, quirky and fascinating Southern city. I became enamoured of the grand decadence of the historic Garden district, as well as its spookiness, and also of the cultural mixes so prevalent in the famous French Quarter.

With Southern Ruby, I wanted to bring the city and its elements to life. It’s the birthplace of jazz which came into being in the numerous brothels of Storyville but it’s also a very Catholic city. Its mix of cultural influences - French, Spanish, Caribbean, American, Canadian, African, Italian, Irish, German – has made it a tolerant and diverse city but it is also the 4th most dangerous city in America for crime. 

Southern Ruby is incredibly atmospheric with vivid descriptions of the lifestyle, sights and sounds of New Orleans (a place I’ve always had an unexplainable personal affinity with). Did you spend a lot of time there soaking up your senses?

I made a research trip to New Orleans with my husband, Mauro, in 2014 to soak up the atmosphere and observe those details that would bring the story to life. We absolutely loved it, and I think my passion for New Orleans comes across in the story. My husband and I were there for Halloween, which is the second biggest festival in the city after Mardi Gras. The decorations are very elaborate and I swear some of the skeletons propped in the gardens Uptown were real!

If you listen to the residents of the Garden District or the French Quarter, you could become convinced that there isn’t a corner of those neighbourhoods that does not harbour some unearthly visitor in one guise or another.

The home I wanted to base my story in was to be a Queen Anne Victorian mansion. Given the city’s fascination with ghosts, most bed and breakfasts in New Orleans offer their resident phantoms as an enticement to stay with them. My husband, Mauro, is not a fan of the supernatural, so I had to do a lot of research to find a house that met my requirements but that didn’t claim to be haunted.

I found a beautiful one on St Charles Avenue with period antiques and opposite the street car stop. But when we arrived and were given a detailed history of the house by the hostess, it turned out that it had been built by a mortician! Death is never very far away in New Orleans. That’s an important motif in the story. 

The character of Ruby really came alive for me and I loved her but could you tell us about her in your own words?

Vivienne de Villeray ‘Ruby’ is the youngest member of an aristocratic French Creole family that has lost its fortune on lavish living. But rather than languish in genteel poverty, she decides to take charge of her life. In order to work she has to invent a double life. Her alter ego allows her to have experiences that would otherwise be closed to her, but it also gets her into a lot of trouble.

Was there anything you found particularly challenging in writing Southern Ruby?

I wanted to make sure that I wrote a story about the South that was original and didn’t sound like a cliché. I didn’t want to write another ‘Gone with the Wind’.

When you begin a new novel, do you already know how it’s going to end? Or do your stories unfold organically as you write?

I start out with the intention of writing and following a detailed plan, but then the story and characters take over for themselves. Luckily for me, I always know the ending of my story before I know the beginning so it gives my stories a sense of narrative drive, that the story is heading somewhere, rather than just meandering along. I may rewrite my beginnings and middles many different ways, but my endings usually remain fixed. It’s a rather unusual way to go about things, but it seems to work.

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

Be a nice person in real life but don’t be a ‘nice’ writer. Make your readers as uncomfortable as you can and keep them that way so they keep turning the pages. Don’t let them rest or get any sleep. Then make it all worthwhile by giving them a truly satisfying ending that they’ll remember long after the book is closed.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Be passionate about writing and keep improving. Keep pushing yourself to make each piece of writing better than the last. I still do that. For each book I try to push myself to improve my writing and storytelling in some way. That way you never become complacent or get bored.

If I think I’m a writer, how would I know for sure?

If you wake up with a story playing in your head, you are a writer for sure!

So now that we have the official part of the interview out of the way and, before we close, I thought we’d have a bit of fun!

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

Q:  If I wasn’t a writer, what would you be doing?
A: I have no idea!

Wine or Cocktail?

Do you have a favourite motivational phrase?

Notice the magic and miracles that appear every day.

When you’re not writing, what are your favourite ways to relax?

I love dancing, playing the piano and catching up with friends. But my most favourite thing in the world is to play with my cats!

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

Charles Dickens. I never get tired of his novels and read ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ at least once a year! But of course, if I had a book club I would ask its members what they would like to read too!

Give us three good to know facts about you – be as creative as you want!

I remember the names of pets better than I do the names of their owners.

I was a very mischievous child, and sometimes my inner child still gets the better of me.

I’m most attracted to people who are kind, have a good sense of humour and a really unusual hobby.

Belinda, it’s been such a treat having you here today and I look forward to reading more of your novels.

If you would like to read an excerpt from Southern Ruby, HarperCollins have kindly provided a link to the first three chapters here.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Book Review | The Fence | Meredith Jaffé

In this sharply witty and astute debut, Meredith Jaffé, well-known book critic and former editor of The Hoopla, gives new meaning to the terms “suburban bliss” and “neighbours from hell” in a novel that’s sure to have everybody talking!

We’re firstly introduced to Gwen Hill who has lived in this North Shore suburb of Sydney all her adult life. When she loses her best friend and confidante, Babs, to cancer and the house next door is sold, she holds all sorts of fears for the future.

Enter Frankie Desmarchelliers-Boyd, she of the high-flying career with a house husband, four children and two dogs, who has moved to the lush and leafy suburb in a bid to save her marriage. Frankie is determined to keep her children and animals contained (perhaps her husband too) and nosy neighbours excluded and the fact that Gwen’s beautiful Crab Apple Trees encroach on her property quickly begins to breed contempt.

It’s an unfortunate situation that they soon find themselves in and what ensues is a battle of the generations where the older is grieving for what has been lost and the younger is determined to live life and raise her children her way.

Written in third person, from the perspectives of Gwen and Frankie and interspersed with Gwen’s newspaper column which adds some gardening flavor (with a hint of what is to come in the story), along with snippets of Eric’s and Brandon’s points of view, it’s this style of writing that has allowed Meredith to explore the motivations and frustrations of her realistic, complex and perfectly imperfect characters, thereby holding and increasing the tension throughout the story.

Whilst on the subject of characters, Meredith’s are universally recognisable and their observations of and experiences with one another will have the reader either taking sides or attempting to sit on the fence with an outsider’s perspective. Difficult as it was for me to just sit on the fence, I soon found myself empathising and sympathising more so with Gwen than Frankie, who I had a hard time warming up to because I found her to be acerbic and obnoxious.

In saying that though, don’t let my perceptions colour your impressions as there’s a lot more to Meredith’s characters and their stories than what I’m letting on and, in spite of my difficulties with Frankie’s character, it wasn’t long before I found myself vacillating in my allegiances between the two women.

The variety of themes explored in The Fence is also vast and there is definitely something for everyone with Meredith touching on grief, generational differences, mother-daughter relationships, identity and stereo-types, fidelity, dementia and aging, the complexities of modern marriage, parenting, as well as the ever-debatable nature versus nurture argument.

Delivering gems of barbed humour that don’t overshadow her poignant insight, Meredith Jaffé has written an absorbing, entertaining and utterly believable story that brims with the assurance of an important new voice in contemporary fiction and I can’t wait to see where she takes us to next.

Highly recommended and one for the Book Clubs!

I wish to thank Pan MacMillan for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Meredith Jaffé became a writer via the scenic route. As a schoolgirl she wrote stories and poetry almost exclusively on the topic of horses (her poem The Brumbies was published in the annual school magazine!) When not writing about or riding horses, she channelled her energies into drama classes earning bit parts in the annual school plays. In Year 12, Meredith scored one of the two leading roles in the school’s production of Pride and Prejudice. Playing the part of Darcy remains the pinnacle of her acting career.
Meandering off to university, she majored in English Literature and Sociology and upon graduating she announced that she was going to be a writer. Her parents told her not to be silly and to get a real job, which she did. For 9 years, she worked in an insurance company and later became quite successful as a recruiter, possibly because it allowed her to collect other people’s life stories.
Facing the impending birth of her third child, she decided it was time to write or die wondering. Her early writing caught the eyes of one of the founders of the online women’s magazine The Hoopla and Meredith joined the magazine when it launched in July 2011. In March the following year, Meredith stepped into the role of Editor, Books and enjoyed three blissful years reviewing books and interviewing writers before the magazine closed its doors in March 2015.
Along the way, she was a member of the expert panel that selects the longlist for the Australian Book Industry Awards and chaired panels, presented workshops and interviewed fellow writers for various literary festivals. She volunteers at The Footpath Library where she is the Ambassador Program Coordinator enlisting writers to share the joy of reading with homeless people. She also runs their national EPIC! writing competition for school children.

For more on Meredith and her debut novel, see my Q & A here.

About the Book

"I promise you one thing, young lady. Building a fence is not going to keep the world out and won't keep your children in. Life's not that simple."

Gwen Hill has lived on Green Valley Avenue all her adult life. Here she brought her babies home, nurtured her garden and shared life's ups and downs with her best friend and neighbour, Babs. So when Babs dies and the house next door is sold, Gwen wonders how the new family will fit settle into the quiet life of this cosy community.

Francesca Desmarchelliers has high hopes for the house on Green Valley Avenue. More than just a new home, it's a clean slate for Frankie, who has moved her brood from Sydney's inner city to the leafy north shore street in a bid to save her marriage and keep her rambunctious family together.

To maintain her privacy and corral her wandering children, Frankie proposes a fence between their properties, destroying Gwen's lovingly cultivated front garden.

To Gwen, this as an act of war.

Soon the neighbours are in an escalating battle that becomes about more than just council approvals, and boundaries aren't the only things at stake.”

ISBN: 9781743540152
Pub date: 30/08/2016
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 368
RRP: AU$32.99