Thursday, 31 January 2013

Aussie Book Review: Beneath Outback Skies by Alissa Callen

Beneath Outback Skies

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC electronic copy provided by publisher






The Blurb
“A captivating rural romance featuring an indomitable young woman determined to save her family farm, and the city-boy who is not all he seems...

Paige Quinn will let nothing and no one distract her from caring for her crippled father, Connor, and fighting for her remote, drought-stricken property, Banora Downs. Least of all a surprise farm-stay guest named Tait Cavanaugh, whose smooth words are as lethal as his movie-star smile.

Except Paige can't help noticing that, for a city-boy, Tait seems unexpectedly at home on the land. And he does ask a lot of questions…

It doesn't matter how much he helps out or how much laughter he brings into her life, she soon suspects he is harbouring a big secret – the real reason he has come to Banora Downs…”


Overview
It seems like everybody at Banora Downs is keeping secrets!

Paige Quinn is desperately trying to keep their once iconic family farm, Banora Downs, up and running, but with an end to the 5 year drought nowhere in sight, this is beginning to prove difficult, what with trying to keep her father, Connor, none the wiser with regard to the dwindling numbers in cattle and the true state of their finances. So, when she arrives home absolutely exhausted after droving hungry cattle for a fortnight, her anger is sparked as Connor, wheelchair bound after a car accident, and whom she loves dearly, informs her that they are expecting a “paying guest” at Banora Downs.

Unbeknownst to Paige, Connor is well aware of the burdens that she is carrying in trying to keep their farm going, and whilst he himself has requested Tait Cavanaugh’s presence at the farm in order to draw up a farm management plan, he also has a secret which he is holding on to, and that is, the promise he made to Paige’s mother before her death.

Tait, a business owner from Sydney arrives on their doorstep and Paige, unable to see past his designer clothes, expensive aftershave and slicked back hair, begins to sum him up and labels him a wealthy city pretty-boy who she won’t be able to make much use of because he’ll think twice before getting his hands dirty. With her initial instant dislike of him still hanging in the air, she goes out of her way to prove that he’s not farm material whilst he surreptitiously obtains information from her with regard to her vision for a farm that was once lush lawns and cultivated flower beds with a thriving herd of cattle.

Unfortunately, she’s got it all wrong, and if she thinks that caffeine-addicted Tait could be anything besides a shallow, spoilt city slicker, she’s in for the surprise of her life, when he sets out to prove to her that not all city boys can be cast in the same mould and his true identity is finally revealed.

My Thoughts
Told from the perspectives of all three characters, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and the insight the author gives into the uncertainties our farmers face in times of drought and which, for the most part, go unnoticed by us city people who have water at the turn of a lever.

I personally found the three main characters to be original and well-developed, with the conflict and tension being believable, thus allowing me to create an emotional attachment to all of them, which is what I look for in a novel. Although the plot is quite typical of romance novels today, this doesn’t detract from the fact that Alissa Callen’s sense of place draws you in with her vivid descriptions of life on the land. The added intrigue of Connor’s motivation and Tait’s true identity not being revealed until the final chapters are an added bonus and leave you in no doubt that Ms Callen is more than capable of spinning a good yarn.

With a fast pace, great humour, lots of secrets and romance, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book and it therefore earns 5 stars from me.

A Bit about the Author (taken from the author’s website)

When Alissa Callen isn’t writing, she plays traffic controller to four children, three dogs, two horses and one renegade cow who really does believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

After a childhood spent chasing sheep on the family farm, Alissa has always been drawn to remote areas and small towns, even when residing overseas. Once a teacher and a counsellor, she remains interested in the life journeys that people take. She also is partial to historic homestead and country gardens and has been known to drive hours to see an open-garden.

She currently lives on a small slice of rural Australia in central western New South Wales.

Beneath Outback Skies is due for release on 1 February 2013 under Random House Australia's Random Romance digital first list and I wish to thank both the publisher and NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to be one of the first to read it.

View all my reviews


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Aussie Book Review: Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell

Secrets of the TidesSecrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hard Copy provided by the publisher, Hachette Australia / The Reading Room







The Blurb
“Every family has its secrets. Some are small, like telling a white lie or snooping through a private drawer. Others are more serious like infidelity and betrayal. And some secrets are so terrible they must be hidden away in a deep, dark place, for if they ever came to light, they would surely tear a family apart.

The Tides are a family full of secrets. Returning to Clifftops, the rambling family house high up on the Dorset coastline, youngest daughter Dora hopes for a fresh start, for herself and the new life she carries. But can long-held secrets ever really be forgiven? And even if you can forgive, can you ever really learn to love again?

Secrets of the Tides is a compelling family drama with a dark thread of suspense at its heart.”


Overview
The story is told (in the third person narrative) alternately from the viewpoints of Dora, Helen and Cassie Tide, the three main female characters. The narrative includes many shifts between past and present, but is structured so well that both perspectives as well as time shifts segue easily into one another and capture an emotional journey which elaborates on the tragic event and repercussions which shaped these women’s lives.

We begin the story with Dora, who is in a committed relationship with Dan, pregnant with her first child and suffering from nightmares and panic attacks as a result of the inability to let go of past events over which she had no control. In her attempts to figure it all out, she realises that she needs to revisit her past in the hopes that unanswered questions will be answered but, in doing so, she needs to go to the root of the problem – Helen, her mother!

Helen, eighteen years old, young and carefee, dreaming of a great future, falls pregnant and ends up marrying the father of her child, Richard Tide. Her first-born is Cassie and eighteen months later, Dora is born. With the demise of Richard’s parents, the family inherits Clifftops, where Richard grew up. Whilst Richard is quite keen to move back to his family home, we see the reluctance in Helen and, as time marches on, we see how she becomes extremely dissatisfied with her life and her marriage with her and Richard drifting further and further apart. With Richard mostly absent due to work commitments and the amount of time he spends commuting, we see Helen become so self-absorbed with her own wants and needs that she doesn’t stop to think about the consequences of her spur of the moment actions until it is too late.

Guilt, tragedy, anger and hopelessness all combine, and after all is said and done, will this family be able to put the past behind them and embrace forgiveness?

My Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but found it a bit daunting writing this review as the book contains so much that the blurb does not allude to, thereby making it a bit difficult to summarise without giving too much away.

Whilst I empathised with Helen, my sympathies definitely lay with both Cassie and Dora – Cassie as she gets caught up in her own quagmire of teenage rebellion and feelings of self-worthlessness; and Dora, who yearns for a proper relationship with both her mother and sister.

And, without attempting to stereo-type, but thinking back on my own teenage years, Hannah Richell appears to have captured the essence of teenage self-absorption, which I guess can only be put down to the hormones running rampant through our bodies in those sometimes turbulent years of impending adulthood which envelops so many. Of course, having a mother who is equally self-absorbed and unhappy with her own life, would definitely make for a time of turmoil rather than opportunity, when she doesn’t even notice that her child has grown into a woman without having had the usual “mother-daughter talk” or helping with the purchase of a first bra.

The plot, albeit a bit dark at times with scenes ranging from infidelity and psychological problems such as self-inflicted harm to attempted suicide, has an underlying moral lesson and that is, that your lies can come back to haunt you.

In my opinion, Ms Richell has created a thought-provoking family drama with complex emotional layers and believable characters that draw you into their stories and, although I personally felt that she left a bit of a loose end with regard to the resolution of the tragedy, I can’t help wondering if this was intentional – perhaps there is another story there!

Compelling, emotionally charged, cleverly constructed and fast-paced, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Secrets of the Tides to readers who enjoy a dark thread of suspense and I would most definitely keep an eye out for future books by Ms Richell, as she has a talent that is going to rival many in her genre, which this debut novel confirms.

A Bit About the Author (Adapted from the author’s website)
Hannah Richell loves books and film and has been lucky enough to market both in her career.

Secrets of the Tides is her debut novel which she began writing a few weeks after her son was born. Her son was a relatively good sleeper, thus enabling her to spend an hour or two at her computer each morning. Several drafts later she was fortunate enough to attract an Agent and after a bit more tweaking, the manuscript was sent out to publishers.

Hannah currently lives in Sydney with her husband, two young children and a black-and-white cat called Lennie.

My thanks to both the publisher, Hachette Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy of this novel.

Secrets of the Tides is the sixth book towards the 2013 Australian Women Writers' Challenge.

View all my reviews


Friday, 25 January 2013

Aussie Book Review: Rough Diamond by Kathryn Ledson

Rough DiamondMy rating: 3 of 5 stars

ARC provided by Penguin Australia (Michael Joseph)

Due for release 30 January 2013





The Blurb
“Funny, romantic, and action-packed, Rough Diamond introduces Australia's own Stephanie Plum – the unforgettable Erica Jewell.
The shock ending to Erica Jewell's marriage left a huge hole in her bank balance and a bigger one in her heart. And now her life goals make a very short list: no surprises, no debt and, definitely, no men. That is, until she finds one bleeding to death in her Melbourne garden one stormy Friday night.

Jack Jones is a man whose emotional wounds are more life-threatening than the bullet in his shoulder. Under orders, he recruits Erica to his secret team of vigilantes, and Erica suspects her safe, predictable world is about to be turned upside down.
And she's absolutely right.”


Summary
Erica Jewell is having a bad day! And it looks like it’s about to get a whole hell of a lot worse!

After separating from her “lying-cheating-bastard husband”, Dan, she’s been enjoying her single, quiet life, slowly working towards getting rid of the debt her estranged husband left her with.

Arriving home from work one night, she finds a bloody, semi-conscious man on her doorstep issuing her with half-lucid instructions not to involve the authorities but to call the number on a card he manages to hand to her.

Of course, she doesn’t realise that her safe, predictable and cheap life as a media relations office for Dega Oil is about to take a decidedly twisted and dangerous turn!

Commitment phobic Jack Jones is the mysteriously injured man and after her and her best friend (who just happens to be a nurse) manage to help him on the road to recovery, he proceeds to disappear again, showing up a few days later with a rather lucrative but dangerous proposition – for her to become part of his highly organised vigilante team.

And so begins the reluctant heroine and Jack’s dangerous liaison – in more ways than one. Whilst trying to second-guess would-be terrorists, escape bombs and attempt to find the perpetrators of the heinous crimes being committed in Melbourne, they are not only putting their lives on the line, but their emotions too.

My Thoughts
I loved Erica’s character and thought that a lot of her actions – and reactions – were hilarious. In particular, I enjoyed the somewhat comical (or not) situations she found herself in and actually found myself laughing out loud, in particular with the antics at the dinner table scene and the quote “I pictured her disapproving face; lips pursed so tight her mouth would look like a cat’s bum”.

Kathryn Ledson's writing style is a bit different, having written this novel in the first-person singular narrative. She uses a lot of “telling” and not much evocative description. However, her characters are realistically portrayed with their typical Aussie lingo and a lot of humour. Although I personally find that this way of narrating limits the way in which the other characters’ motivations unfold, it does tend to be a bit more realistic as, in every day life, we do not get to hear what another’s thoughts are.

Whilst initially I thought this was going to be “just another” traditional romance, I was most pleased that this tale had a somewhat unpredictable conclusion.

The fact that the book is based in Australia is an added bonus and, having not yet visited Melbourne and Sydney, I loved the snippets shared by the author.

Delightfully funny, light-hearted and fast-paced, Kathryn Ledson managed to keep me entertained with a few tummy-tingling moments thrown in, and I am looking forwarding to Erica’s next rollicking adventure!

Move over Stephanie Plum – Erica Jewell is in the house!!

I wish to thank Penguin Australia (Michael Joseph) and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC for review.

About the Author (Adapted from information on the author’s website)

Kathryn Ledson is a former PA and spent some time during her 25 year career on Hayman Island working for its PR department where she met an array of fascinating folk, including some rich and famous ones and was privy to things the paparazzi would envy her for.

After travelling through Europe for 12 months she returned to a job offer as Peter Ustinov’s PA for his 1990 Australian tour. With one thing leading to another, she found herself on the road again with rock bands Dire Straits and AC/DC.

Having completed a writing and editing diploma, she assumed she’d resume her corporate life as a writer and dabbled in various bits and pieces including poetry, short stories and travel writing, which all went unpublished, but discovered a natural ability for editing.

Whilst trying to be sensible, and set a new career in motion, Erica Jewell’s will and need to exist were so powerful that Kathryn abandoned all other writing and editing efforts and eventually landed a publishing deal with Penguin Australia.

Kathryn likes to hang out with family and friends, sharing her time between Melbourne and Aireys Inlet on Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road where she lives with her husband and a big woolly dog and is currently working on the second book in her Erica Jewell series.

This is the fifth book I have read for the 2013 Australian Women Writers' Challenge.

View all my reviews


Monday, 21 January 2013

Aussie Book Review: Bridie's Choice by Karly Lane

Bridie's Choice

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC provided by publisher, Allen & Unwin




The Blurb

“Bridie Farrell and Shaun Broderick come from opposite sides of the tracks. But unlike Bridie’s family, who are perennial strugglers, the Brodericks are the wealthy owners of Jinjilu – one of the most prestigious properties in their local district.



All her life Bridie has longed to leave the small town she grew up in. But time after time family responsibilities have kept her anchored there. Meanwhile, Shaun’s dream of taking over the management of Jinjulu is dashed by his dictatorial father who tries to rule Shaun’s life both on and off the farm.

The Brodericks are dismayed when Shaun falls in love with ‘that Farrell girl’, whom they deem unsuitable. And they don’t just make their feelings clear to Shaun but to Bridie as well.

Faced with a choice, Bridie must decide whether to turn her back on her heart or her dreams in order to make the biggest decision of her life…”


Overview
Bridie Farrell is on the brink of finally being able to say goodbye to Tooncanny to follow her own dreams – well, that is, if she can get her sixteen-year-old brother Luke to finish his schooling and make it into the army before his so-called “friends” get him into trouble!

Beneath the tough veneer is a strong determination to shrug off the cloak of small town syndrome and, thanks to her questionable family history, Bridie feels that if she remains in Tooncanny she will never be taken at more than face value. Whilst the responsibility of raising her little brother has fallen on her young shoulders due to unforeseen family circumstances, and she takes those responsibilities seriously, Bridie yearns to live her own life and make her own choices and therefore doesn’t need any distractions to keep her from obtaining her ultimate goal – and this includes getting involved with Shaun Broderick.

After placing himself in self-imposed exile following a family tragedy of his own, Shaun Broderick is back in town and although it’s been seven years, he’s forgotten neither Bridie nor their past disastrous encounter. Son of the wealthy owners of Jinjulu, he’s back to claim his inheritance and prove a point to his father. With his brooding good looks hidden under the brim of an Akubra and an amazing body that would be a positive endorsement for RM Williams jeans, he attempts to make amends for past transgressions and befriends Bridie who, admittedly, is not quite sure of his intentions but hesitantly accepts his advances.

Shaun’s family, like Bridie’s, is rather dysfunctional, albeit on a different level. Whilst Bridie’s family shame is constantly bandied around town, the Broderick family have capably managed to hide behind a façade of normality. With a stuck-up mother who is unable to get past the death of a child and an arrogant father living with the guilt of past actions, they have other ideas for Shaun’s future.

Having made Shaun aware from the start about her intentions of pursuing her dreams, the responsibility of Luke now having come to an end and bridges slowly being mended with her own father, we see Bridie’s inner turmoil begin when Shaun’s parents’ actions and words quite capably force her to realise that she is not good enough for their son, making her all the more determined to leave Tooncanny behind and become the master of her own destiny.

Shaun quite frankly doesn’t care too much for his parents’ opinions on the company he keeps but with a secret weaving a dark thread through his family and a confrontation on the horizon, we see him attempting to persuade Bridie to change her mind - only trouble is, will he be able to stand up to his domineering family, thereby proving to her that she means more than a family inheritance?

My Thoughts
This book has been on my “to be read” list for some time now and I’m so glad that I finally got there. Having never previously read one of Karly Lane’s novels before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, so let me just start out by saying that in my opinion, any author who is able to elicit emotions ranging from laughter and anger to tears and joy from their readers, has the great gift of writing with emotional depth, and Karly quite capably proves this in the way she has drawn her characters.

Two sub-characters who stuck out are Luke and Phoebe and I thought they deserved a special, although minor, mention.

Luke, I could have throttled and whilst I now await the teenage years of my two children with angst and trepidation, thanks to Karly, I was so excited that things took a turn for the better.

Phoebe paints a tragic picture and with her fast becoming the black sheep of the family she’s not gaining any supporters with the way in which she treats other people.

May I also just take a moment to say that I felt there was more to the stories of Luke and Phoebe and, if the author doesn’t mind me saying so, I think there could be another two novels in the making!

A heart-warming story of love in the midst of adversity, hope in times of despair and the discovery that the choices we think we should make don’t always work out to be what is best for us!

With a fast-pace, great tension, well-developed characters and a thread of intrigue weaving its way through, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book and I look forward to reading Ms Lane’s other novels, North Star (which I already have on my shelf) and Morgan's Law, as well as the romantic suspense novels she writes under the pseudonym Karly Blakemore-Mowle.

My thanks goes to the publisher, Allen & Unwin as well as The Reading Room, for providing me with a hard copy of Bridie’s Choice for review.

A Bit About the Author
Karly Lane lives on the beautiful Mid North Coast of NSW in Australia. A certified small town girl, she is most happy in a little town where everyone knows who your grand parents were. She writes women’s fiction – everything from romantic suspense to family sagas and life in rural Australia.

A wife and mother of four children, working part time as a pathology collector by day, she manages to squeeze in her writing whenever and however she can. She is a proud member of the RWA Australia.

Bridie’s Choice is the fourth book I have read for the 2013 Australian Women Writers' Challenge.

View all my reviews


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Aussie Book Review : The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh

The Lavender Keeper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


ARC provided by publisher



Synopsis

“Are you German or are you French? Are you working against Germany or for it? Are you telling me the truth, or are you a very accomplished liar?”


Lavender farmer Luc Bonet is raised by a wealthy Jewish family in the foothills of the French Alps. When the Second World War breaks out he joins the French Resistance, leaving behind his family’s fortune, their home overrun by soldiers, their lavender fields in disarray.

Lisette Forestier is on a mission of her own: to work her way into the heart of a senior German officer – and to bring down the Reich in any way she can. 

What Luc and Lisette hadn’t counted on was meeting each other. When they come together at the height of the Paris occupation, German traitors are plotting to change the course of history.

But who, if anyone, can be trusted? As Luc and Lisette’s emotions threaten to betray them, their love may prove the greatest risk of all."

Overview


Times of war can make people reckless, and so it is that fate sets these people on a journey towards one another - paths that are destined to cross

Set against the backdrop of World War Two at the height of the German occupation in France, we are introduced to Luc Bonet, a Lavender farmer. Luc has always been aware that he was adopted, but after learning from his father the real circumstances surrounding his birth and adoption as well as bearing witness to the harsh arrest of his family from a distance, and the cruel murder of his grandmother, he joins the French Resistance in the hopes of exacting revenge against the perpetrators. The Maquis generally don’t carry out their revenge in the form of murder, but rather attempt to inhibit all means of communication, transport and the like in order to hinder the Germans in their quest to gain full occupation of France.

Meanwhile, amidst the same destructive war, but across the channel in Britain, lives a girl by the name of Lisette Forestier, daughter of a French mother and German father, who is extremely intelligent and more than competent in speaking both languages. We learn that Lisette, with a somewhat tragic past, shows no fear and has taught herself to live in the moment. It is both her affinity for languages and her displays of fearlessness which brings her to the attention of the War Office through her waitressing job at the Lyons Corner House where she comes into contact with both celebrities and soldiers. After her initial meeting with a Mr Collins, she is interviewed by the War Office and then recruited and trained as an agent. Both her path and mind are set as she clandestinely makes her way to France, where she is required to carry out her mission, one which requires her to get close to a German officer and thus assist in bringing down the Reich.

Lisette meets Luc who, as a member of the Maquis working in cahoots with the War Office, is tasked with assisting her to get to the other side of France in order for her to carry out her mission. On their journey across the war-torn country, it is inevitable that they should become closer and, whilst not meant to, begin to share personal details. Alas, she, as is Luc, are very aware that their separate but very important missions need to be accomplished and, if she is to successfully infiltrate the life of the Colonel, she will need to compartmentalise her life and try not to taint what she and Luc have begun to feel for one another.

With a love triangle threatening everything they believe in, tensions mounting amidst the first of the Allied forces landing at Normandy, the final scenes playing out amidst the celebrations of liberation and the traumatic events of the aftermath, will these two people emerge unscathed and once again find each other in order to fulfil promises made?

My Thoughts

This is the first book I have read by Fiona McIntosh and I’m so glad that the publisher afforded me the opportunity of discovering this great storyteller.

Although I tend not to read too many historical novels, what with my high school history lessons on the Second World War and everything in-between being pretty much boring, between Fiona and another author I have recently had the pleasure of reading, I think I am hooked.

Fiona’s sense of place is truly amazing and goes a long way to supporting the characters and plot along with providing the reader with a full range of sensory information, and I constantly found myself surrounded by the smell of lavender.

The story has great depth, created by well-rounded characters whose emotions are brought to life as they bear witness to the atrocities which the Germans carry out on the Jews in war-torn France during World War Two. And, whilst the war is the backdrop to this story, Fiona has quite capably managed to keep her focus on her characters. We see Luc, in particular, struggling with his hatred of the German army and the resulting treatment of his family and fellow man, whilst harbouring a lot of anger for the loss of that family, but at the same time, the feelings invoked by his love for a woman who appears to be just beyond his reach. Lisette, of course, whilst endeavouring to physically and emotionally distance herself from Luc in order to carry out her mission, doesn’t expect the Colonel to arouse such strong feelings within her, and her moral ethics come into play when she is torn between her love for these two men.

This book has earned 5 Stars from me and I wish to thank both the publisher, Penguin Group Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy for review. I am now eagerly waiting to sink my teeth into the sequel, The French Promise, due to be released in 2013.

A Bit About the Author

Fiona McIntosh was born in England, spent her early childhood in West Africa and has lived in Australia for the past three decades. She worked for many years in the travel industry but after her shift to full-time writing she roams the world researching and drawing inspiration for her novels. Adelaide is her home base, which she shares with her husband and twin sons, but Fiona does most of her writing from the peace of southern Tasmania. To date she has written 23 adult novels across various genres and six novels for children.

This is the third book towards my 2013 Australian Women Writers' Challenge.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Book Review : Seduction by Kate Forster

Seduction
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My thanks goes to Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a copy





The Blurb

“Actress Willow Carruthers is Australia’s favourite daughter. Now living the dream life in London, with an Oscar on her shelf and a rock-star husband, the beautiful Willow seems to have it all – wealth, fame and three perfect children.

Kitty Middlemist, Willow’s nanny, is used to flying under the radar. But a life-changing secret forces her to rethink her tactics.

So when Willow suddenly falls from grace Kitty offers her the perfect place to hide – Middlemist Manor, the crumbling ancestral home of Kitty and her reclusive older brother, Merritt.

Middlemist is the dream location for Willow’s new movie, a gorgeous costume drama that the actress hopes will restore her fortunes. But sparks fly as the house is taken over by a glamorous and demanding cast and crew, and the distinction between acting and real life becomes ever more blurred.

From London to LA, Byron Bay to Sydney, is a lush, compelling story about passion, betrayal, forgiveness and the price of fame.”


Summary

Willow Carruthers, beautiful movie star, wife and mother of three is living a life we can only dream about – little does she know that it’s about to shatter and the most unlikeliest of people will come to her rescue.

Whilst we are drawn into the drama surrounding Willow and come to learn that her husband Kerr has quite capably managed to squander all their money – leaving them almost penniless as well as homeless – her nanny, Kitty Middlemist, continues to be the one person she can rely on when it comes to organising her home and three children – Lucian, Poppy and Jinty.

But that’s not all, because when Kitty learns of Willow’s imminent homelessness (as well as her potential unemployment), she becomes Willow’s saving grace and offers her childhood home, Middlemist Manor, to Willow and the children as a roof over their heads - as well as a hideaway from the headlines about to make the tabloids – giving Willow the opportunity to try and re-gather her slowly crumbling life and career.

Middlemist Manor then becomes the “light at the end of the tunnel” so to speak, with lots of great things beginning to happen in both Willow’s and Kitty’s lives. Amidst the filming of the period movie in which Willow is the lead actress, both her and Kitty cross paths with affable Harold, producer extraordinaire of the movie being filmed; Merritt, who happens to be Kitty’s older brother and a qualified landscaper taking time out from his travels; and Ivo, the son of wealthy parents who doesn’t appear to have much ambition in life.

This historic family home may just be what everybody involved needs – and whilst some of these characters carry their own secrets, the house is about to reveal some secrets of its own!

My Thoughts

Kate Forster has drawn her characters well, albeit creating a certain amount of disdain in me for Willow and, I’m not sure what it is with the last two books I’ve read, but this is the second female character to whom I took an immediate dislike and then as the story progressed, warmed up to.

I had some difficulty engaging with her as she came across as rather superficial to begin with and, just as I was warming up to her she did it again in Part 2! Of course, being a mother myself, I was a bit perturbed at the emotional distance she managed to keep from her children and the difficulties she had interacting with them.

Kitty is gorgeous – in more ways than one. Although quite young, I warmed up to her immediately with her complete and utter selflessness. Eager to please everyone around her whilst harbouring a deep secret of her own, she managed to shine through, developing so well and becoming a character I thoroughly enjoyed.

Along with Merritt, whom I found to be quite upstanding, typically British and with hardly an arrogant bone in his body; and Harold, kindly benefactor and absolute darling (who truly was a guardian angel due to his timeous appearances in the most unlikeliest of places), Ivo was probably one of the characters who had the most to learn in this story and I really enjoyed the way his character grew with him ultimately realising that life is not all about “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll”.

Although I felt that there were some places in the book where there was too much going on, certain events could have been expanded upon and even though to my mind the plot was a bit weak and predictable, Kate has a noticeable talent which, like a fine wine, can only get better with time.

Glitzy, romantic and sexy, Seduction is Kate Forster’s second novel with characters from her first book The Perfect Location making a brief appearance.

This novel has earned 3 stars from me and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to those of you looking for a fast-paced light read with a hint of something different.

And last, but not least, this is my second book for the Australian Women Writers' Challenge.

A Bit About the Author (taken from her website)

Kate lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, two children and dogs and can be found nursing a laptop, surrounded by magazines and talking on the phone, usually all at once. She is an avid follower of fashion, fame and all things pop culture and is also an excellent dinner party guest who always brings gossip and champagne.

View all my reviews


Monday, 7 January 2013

Book Review: Absolution Creek by Nicole Alexander

Absolution Creek


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish to thank both the Publisher, Random House Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy of this novel.





One man lost her. One man died for her. One man would kill for her …


The Blurb

“In 1923 nineteen-year-old Jack Manning watches the construction of the mighty Harbour Bridge and dreams of being more than just a grocer’s son. So when he’s offered the chance to manage Absolution Creek, a sheep property 800 miles from Sydney, he seizes the opportunity.

But outback life is tough, particularly if you’re young, inexperienced and have only a few textbooks to guide you. Then a thirteen-year-old girl, Squib Hamilton, quite literally washes up on his doorstep – setting in motion a devastating chain of events.

Forty years later and Cora Hamilton is waging a constant battle to keep Absolution Creek in business. She’s ostracised by the local community and hindred by her inability to move on from the terrible events of her past, which haunt her both physically and emotionally.

Only one man knows what really happened in 1923. A dying man who is riding towards Absolution Creek, seeking his own salvation …”

Summary

Jack Manning wishes there was more to his life than being just the son of a grocer and dreams of a life better than the inherent prospect of one day owning the business his father will leave behind. An accident sees the early passing of his father, and the intervention of their elderly next door neighbour – to whom Jack has always shown kindness – sees Jack being given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - to run Absolution Creek, 700 miles from Sydney.


With the forced acquisition of a large amount of Sydney homes and businesses taking place to make way for the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the resultant displacement of many residents, Jack grasps this opportunity with great excitement and heads out, promising to send for the love of his life, Olive who comes from a wealthier family than him – this is his one hope of making a better life for himself, thereby allowing him to rid himself of his lower-class status.


Then the waif, Squib, quite literally washes up on his doorstep, setting in motion life-changing events and we see that life doesn't always go according to our plan!


With the book shifting between Jack in 1923 and Cora in 1965, we see Jack constantly battling to tame a brutal land with only a handful of books as his teachers and Cora awaiting the arrival of her niece – a final chance at revenge on her step-sister. The lone rider too, begins his journey.


My Thoughts


Definition of absolution (take from oxforddictionaries.com)


“noun
• formal release from guilt, obligation, or punishment”


I found Cora’s character to be well-developed and extremely strong, quite capably managing to raise my hackles! I really did not like her, but as the story progressed, Nicole Alexander managed to draw on my sympathy towards the young girl that Cora once was and the heartbreaking events which took place at the hands of her step-sister, leading her to Jack and Absolution Creek and ultimately the life she was meant to live. And, although I like to think of myself as quite a forgiving person, believing that “hate” is a strong word, I did feel that Cora’s bitterness and caustic treatment of her step-sister was rather well-deserved, due to the heartbreak she experienced and the life and family she could never regain.


I enjoyed Jack’s character and whilst I felt he was a bit shallow at times in his treatment of Olive, a girl he was supposedly in love with, he was rather focused on the job he had been employed to do, and totally redeemed himself in my eyes with his treatment of and loyalty to Squib.


Olive’s character, of course, appears to be typical of that time period with her coming across as particularly needy and weak – but maybe that too has something to do with the cards that life dealt her!


The culmination of events which unfold in the last quarter of the book including the revelations made by “Scrubber” all add to the mystery surrounding Cora’s “inheritance” of Absolution Creek. Of course, the revelation of “Scrubber’s” true identity came as a shock to me as, throughout most of the book, I had difficulty keeping up with his character and trying to tie him in to the story. His final revelation to the reader will astound you and make you wonder if he truly realised the consequences his initial action would have on so many people’s lives.


Whilst Cora doesn’t get to hear the “whole” truth, thankfully with the third person narrative, we as reader get to learn the full story!


All in all, I found this to be a well-structured story with a very satisfying climax resulting in a plot where all the elements of love, betrayal, hatred, deception, jealousy and redemption are strongly entwined.


This is a fairly lengthy book and the first that I have read by Nicole Alexander. Although I really struggled with it due to the number of characters the author introduces, the alternating time periods of 1923 and 1965 and trying to tie all the characters together, I will most definitely read more from her.


The historical facts are fascinating – perhaps because I have only lived here for 4 years and am still learning a lot about my adopted country – but perhaps too because my former homeland (South Africa) and Australia share a history rich in colonialism and a landscape equally diverse. Being a fourth generation grazier, Nicole Alexander knows the land, and her vivid representations of the outback have me wanting to carry out one of my dreams – to visit Outback Australia and be present on a stock muster! Needless to say, I can still smell the dust!


This was also the first of my long list of books to read for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2013 as well as the 2013 Aussie Author Challenge.



Thursday, 3 January 2013

Book Review: The Girl in the Hard Hat by Loretta Hill




My rating:  3 out of 5 Stars (meaning I really liked it)


My thanks goes to the publisher, Random House Australia for providing me with an ARC.





Synopsis
“To tame a bad boy you will need:

a.    One hard hat
b.        350 sulky FIFO workers
c.        A tropical cyclone

From the author of The Girl in Steel-Capped Boots comes another funny and deliciously romantic tale of a woman in a man's world. Wendy Hopkins arrives in the Pilbara to search for the father who abandoned her at birth. Getting mixed up in construction site politics at the Iron Ore wharf just out of town was not high on her to do list. But when she takes a job as their new Safety Manager she becomes the most hated person in the area. Nicknamed The Sergeant, she is the butt of every joke and the prime target of notorious womanizer, Gavin Jones. Giving up is not an option, though. For, as it turns out, only Wendy can save these workers from the coming storm, find a man who wants to stay buried and ... put a bad boy firmly in his place.”

Summary
Fed lies by her family her whole life, Wendy Hopkins appears to be on a bit of a fruitless search for the father who abandoned her not long after birth.  Armed with the little information her mother has divulged, she heads off to the Pilbara to attend a job interview arranged by her “slimy” Uncle Mike.  Mr Hullog of TCN informs her that he has no need of her services but has arranged a meeting with another company, Barnes Inc.

And so it is she finds herself one of six women on what is clearly a man’s work site, becoming the butt of their jokes and pranks … and the object of Gavin Jones’ interest!

Gavin, however, has a secret of his own and has no intentions of ever becoming entrapped by “love” and has acquired the practice of “loving and leaving”, never allowing any one female to get too close to him.

With Wendy trying to pursue her search and coming up with dead ends, Gavin hopelessly fighting growing feelings for her and an elusive father who seems to want to remain buried, the ensuing cyclone brings not only utter destruction to their work site as well as the small town, but finally allows some secrets to become unburied.

My Thoughts
Loretta Hill brings to life the Aussie spirit and lingo in this hilariously funny book of romance, and whilst ultimately it is romance, she never veers far from what to me, was the main subject of the book - the search for Wendy’s father.  Along with Gavin’s underlying story, all the threads come together to combine for a realistic plot.

Loretta has created some colourful, likeable characters and I particularly admire Wendy’s strong character and the tenacity she shows in dealing with her male co-workers.  It was quite refreshing for me to discover a heroine who didn’t require rescuing!

With typical Aussie humour, this book was a treat, with one of my favorite quotes being “… word travels faster around here than nits in a classroom”.

I have not yet read The Girl in the Steel Capped Boots, but it has been on my TBR for a while now and I will make an effort to read it through the course of this year.  Of course, Loretta's graphic descriptions of the Pilbara have now got me wanting to visit!

A Bit About the Author


Loretta was born in Perth, Western Australia, the eldest of four girls.  She enjoyed writing from a very early age, spinning stories almost as soon as she could read them.

She was first published in the Western Australia Newspaper with a short story about a circus horse when she was eleven years old.  They paid her ten dollars for it and she knew she'd found her calling.

She graduated from the University of Western Australia with a degree in Civil Engineering and another in commerce.  Before her final year of study she was awarded a scholarship and a job upon graduation by a major West Australian engineering company.  She took both.

The whole time however, Loretta continued to write.  Although she continued to work as an engineer she decided to devote more time to a career move into writing.

Her and her lawyer husband (whom she met at a Black Friday party hosted by a friend) are now happily married and living in Perth with their two young sons and one daughter.

Loretta's debut mainstream commercial Women's Fiction novel, The Girl in Steel Capped Boots was published by Random House Australia in January 2012.  The Girl in the Hard Hat is the highly anticipated sequel.

If you would like to read some sample chapters to both these novels, you can find them here, at the Random House website

Then, of course, please head on over to the next scheduled part of the tour for The Girl in the Hard Hat being hosted by Alpha Reader on the 4th January.

My thanks goes to Random House Australia for selecting me as a Tour Host.

List of Tour Hosts:


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013



I’ve also undertaken to complete the Australian Women Writers Challenge, having chosen the “Franklin” challenge level with the genre/special interest area being in Contemporary Fiction – General, Crime Fiction and/or True Crime, Romance, Romantic Suspense and Erotica.

The “Franklin” challenge requires that you read 10 books written by Australian women and review at least 6.

For further information and if you would like to sign up for this challenge, please visit the Australian Women Writers website at http://australianwomenwriters.com/2013-challenge/.



Aussie Author Challenge 2013


So, I’ve decided that I’m going to push myself this year and have now entered my second reading Challenge for 2013 – well second Big reading challenge of all time for me.

The Aussie Author Challenge 2013 is hosted by Book Lover Book Reviews their dedicated page for this challenge can be found here - 2013 Aussie Author Challenge.

I've chosen to do the “Fair Dinkum” Challenge which is made up as follows:

  • Read and review 12 books by Australian Authors
  • Ensure at least 4 of the authors are male, at least 4 of the authors are female and at least 4 of the authors are new to you
  • Ensure at least 2 of the books are non-fiction and at least 4 fiction genres are represented amongst your 12 titles.
        Balanced and diverse reading is the objective here.



Happy Reading!!

Happy New Year!


As the sun sets on the first day of 2013, here are some thoughts on what a New Year should be like:

"It's like a new Sunrise ... of Hope, of Prosperity, of Happiness
It's like a new Beginning ... of Thoughts, of Words, of Actions
It's like a new Day ... of Energy, of Strength of Ideas
It's like a Bunch of whole New things ... of Prayers, of Friends and of Love."

My wish for all of you - a joyful, bright, healthy, prosperous and happy 2013.