Friday, 28 June 2013

Aussie Novella Review: Captivation by Nicola Moriarty

My Rating:              3 / 5
Format:                   eBook courtesy of Random House
                               via NetGalley
Publication Date:    1 July 2013
Category:               Paranormal Romance
ISBN:                      9781742758336
Publisher:               Random House Books Australia
Imprint:                   RHA eBooks Adult
Extent:                    176 pages
RRP:                      TBA

The Blurb

"Captivation is an intoxicating ghost story . . . True love never dies.

After Juliette lost her beloved husband Danny, she closed herself off from the world, tormented by her grief.

But now, just as she is finally preparing to move on, she senses he has returned. Is he trying to come back to her?

How can Juliette say no to the man she loves more than life itself? And why would she want to when Danny's methods of persuasion have her weak at the knees . . . ?

Yet there is always a price to pay. And when their passionate love starts to turn sinister, will she find the strength to finally let him go for ever?”

Summary and Thoughts

Juliette is stricken with grief.  Her husband, Danny, passed away six months ago and since then she has become somewhat reclusive, distancing herself physically and emotionally from family and friends and not even venturing out to buy necessities, instead, preferring to use the modern convenience of online shopping.  Frequently reading novels and baking to make up for the loneliness in her life she quickly amasses a large selection of goodies which she stores in her freezer, until one day, immersed in her baking, she decides to begin sharing it with the neighbours in her apartment building by leaving little food parcels on their doorsteps.  And then there’s the fact that she’s finally ventured out to the bookshop to rectify an error with one of her orders!  But just as she thinks she is getting her life back on track and trying to conquer the fear of having to interact with outsiders, the faint smells of Danny’s aftershave begin to linger and sexually intoxicating dreams pervade her sleep leaving her to wonder whether Danny has returned.

A few days after she has recovered from a very bad cold which landed her in bed for three days, feverishly tossing and hallucinating, Juliette is in the kitchen baking when she begins to cast her mind back to some unexplained moments during her illness, when she has the sudden sensation that someone is pressing their body up against her.

Realising that it is Danny, the connection with one another becomes far stronger and, if Juliette hadn’t been a reclusive introvert before, Danny’s entrance back into her life causes her to become even more so, as she spends her time in the flat revelling in the feeling that she has her beloved Danny back, blissfully taking part in the sexual pleasures that she has missed for so long, forgetting about eating meals, ignoring the telephone and her doorbell and surviving only on the bare minimum of sleep, until one day a near fatal event sees Danny making the decision that he can no longer stand by and watch her destroy herself.  But, was this all real or imagined?

While this is her first foray into the paranormal romance sub-genre, Nicola Moriarty is by no means a new Australian author, having written two previous full-length novels, Free-Falling and Paperchains (my review here), both of which are modern contemporary.

As novellas go, they generally lack the sub-plots and multiple points of view contained within a full-length novel, but Ms Moriarty makes up for this by creating a three-dimensional character in Juliette, whose depth of despair and conflict with the outside world was palpable and had me reading with my heart sitting in my throat.

A quick read with some fantastically steamy scenes and which brought to mind one of my favourite movies of all time, Ghost, I wish to thank Random House for inviting me to read and review this first paranormal addition to the Random Romance series, due for publication on the 1st July.

About the Author

Nicola Moriarty lives in Sydney's north-west with her husband and two small daughters. She has a serious literary pedigree as the younger sister of bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Jaclyn Moriarty. In between various career changes, becoming a mum and while studying teaching at Macquarie University, she began to write. She has now published two novels - Free-Falling and Paper Chains.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Aussie Book Review: The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

The Wild Girl
My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   Paperback courtesy of Random House
                               and The Reading Room
Publication Date:    18 March 2013
Category:               Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781741668490
Publisher:               Random House Books Australia
Imprint:                   Vintage Australia
Extent:                    560 pages
RRP:                      AU$32.95

The Blurb

“One of the great untold love stories - how the Grimm brothers discovered their famous fairy tales - filled with drama and passion, and taking place during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Wild Girl tells the story of Dortchen Wild. Growing up next door to the Grimm brothers in Hesse-Cassel, a small German kingdom, Dortchen told Wilhelm some of the most powerful and compelling stories in the famous fairytale collection.

Dortchen first met the Grimm brothers in 1805, when she was twelve. One of six sisters, Dortchen lived in the medieval quarter of Cassel, a town famous for its grand royal palace, its colossal statue of Herkules, and a fairytale castle of turrets and spires built as a love nest for the Prince-Elector's mistress. Dortchen was the same age as Lotte Grimm, the only girl in the Grimm family, and the two became best friends.

In 1806, Hesse-Cassel was invaded by the French. Napoleon created a new Kingdom of Westphalia, under the rule of his dissolute young brother Jérôme. The Grimm brothers began collecting fairytales that year, wanting to save the old stories told in spinning-circles and by the fire from the domination of French culture. Dortchen was the source of many of the tales in the Grimm brother's first collection of fairy tales, which was published in 1812, the year of Napoleon's disastrous march on Russia.

Dortchen's own father was cruel and autocratic, and he beat and abused her. He frowned on the friendship between his daughters and the poverty-stricken Grimm Brothers. Dortchen had to meet Wilhelm in secret to tell him her stories. All the other sisters married and moved away, but Dortchen had to stay home and care for her sick parents. Even after the death of her father, Dortchen and Wilhelm could not marry – the Grimm brothers were so poor they were surviving on a single meal a day.

After the overthrow of Napoleon and the eventual success of the fairytale collection, Dortchen and Wilhelm were at last able to marry. They lived happily ever after with Wilhelm's elder brother Jakob for the rest of their lives.”

Summary and Thoughts

Opening in December 1814 and set against the backdrop of the French Revolution which affected the kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in Germany, where the Grimm and Wild families lived, this novel pays homage to Dortchen Wild, the woman who went on to share her stories with the Grimm brothers and enabled them to become famous for the treasury of fairytales that most of us grew up with.

One of six children, five sisters and a brother, Dortchen and her family live across the lane from the impoverished Grimm family and her best friend, Lotte, their only daughter.  Gentle but headstrong, Dortchen is full of life and vitality and finds peace in the forest and garden where she eagerly gathers herbs and plants for the mixtures and tinctures that her father, an apothecary, mixes for the retail shop attached to their home.  Her knowledge of these herbs as well as the mixing of the remedies is vast and goes a long way in assisting this selfless young girl, at the risk of angering her father, to secretly aid the Grimm family in times of hunger and sickness.

Herr Wild is a tyrant and, along with their incapable mother, a weak Laudanum-dependent woman who constantly bows under the pressures of her husband’s controlling and violent behavior, all the Wild girls find themselves slaves to their parents’ demands and maladies, having to clean, cook, mend, wash, assist in the retail shop and basically run the household with Old Marie, their only servant – and at times, the only source of motherly love in Dortchen’s dark life.

When Lotte’s two older brothers, Jakob and Wilhelm, arrive home amidst the escalating war, Dortchen, at the tender age of twelve, finds herself smitten with the much older Wilhelm.

With the events in this novel taking place over many years, we get to see Dortchen grow into a beautiful albeit physically and mentally abused young woman whose feelings for Wilhelm strengthen and become more than just a fanciful teenage crush.

Wilhelm, a literary scholar who is unable to find work amidst the turmoil of war and, in trying to keep the German customs, language and heritage alive, as well as sustain his family, begins the process of gathering and transcribing all the German folk tales handed down from generation to generation for publication into a book.  When he approaches Dortchen and asks her to share the stories that she knows, he doesn’t realise at the time that her input will be tremendous.

Spending many happy hours with Wilhelm and other town folk translating their old stories for Wilhelm’s quill to record and, with her imaginative storytelling abilities, Wilhelm eventually begins to see her as a young woman and no longer merely just Lotte’s best friend.

However, as Dortchen’s older sisters marry and move out of home to create their own lives and her brother is called to serve in the war, life in the Wild household begins to change and, left behind with her youngest sister and an incapable mother, becomes subjected to life in her father’s oppressive shadow.  While her feelings for Wilhelm strengthen and it becomes apparent that he feels the same way, she is all too aware of the fact that her father will never approve of any union between the two of them, not only because of Wilhelm’s penurious circumstances, but because of his intense dislike for the Grimm family.

As the wages of war begin to show their true colours, so, too, does Herr Wild, who deteriorates into a bluebeard of that time and, whilst he doesn’t physically murder, this supposedly pious man stealthily begins to smother Dortchen’s beautiful nature with acts of abuse and humiliation.  Forbidding her to have anything to do with Wilhelm and, knowing that they can’t be seen together, secret trysts between the two become the only opportunities open to Dortchen to tell Wilhelm her stories and, there are times when, through tales such as “All Kinds of Fur” (the origins of which are deeply incestuous) Dortchen tries to convey her misery and oppression to Wilhelm - but the true meaning is lost on him.

Nonetheless, it’s not all dark and, as with all fairytales, there is a happy ending in which we see both Dortchen and Wilhelm finally overcome the adversity to which they have been subjected all their life.

Let me start off by saying that I absolutely loved this book and, while I am extremely embarrassed to admit that it is the first novel I have read by Kate Forsyth, it certainly won’t be my last!  Although I was initially overwhelmed at the sheer length of it, Ms Forsyth’s deft hand, rich imaginings and storytelling abilities immediately sucked me into a world where I became so emotionally invested in the plight of Dortchen that there were many times when the awful things that she suffered at the hands of her cold and abusive father, who took religious teachings just one step too far, had me wanting to climb into the book and give him a dose of something lethal from his own apothecary supplies!

For Wilhelm, I could feel only sadness at the poverty that he and his family lived in, and, even though he was quite sickly, I was most in awe of the strength and determination he showed in trying to free  himself from the clutches of his dire circumstances.  Of course, prior to reading this story, I had never thought of the Brothers Grimm as youthful with romantic conquests in their lives, having always pictured them as decrepit old men sitting at their antique secretaires transcribing their stories into massive tomes by candlelight, never once giving thought to their circumstances nor that these works were done in the midst of the ravages of war, so thanks should surely go to Ms Forsyth for educating me.

Like many others out there I, too, was brought up with the tales of the Brothers Grimm and, whilst I was introduced as a child to Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin (to name a few), Kate Forsyth reveals through this novel that there are so many more which found their way into the world albeit with far grimmer beginnings.  Who knew that the original works were so gruesome!

I also didn’t’ realise the depth of destruction that the Napoleonic wars left in their wake and, while I wish I had listened more intently to my school history lessons about Napoleon, Kate Forsyth provided me with an illuminating historical backdrop and, through her extensive research, has done a brilliant job in exploring the little known historical facts about Dortchen Wild’s life and blending it with fiction.

Ultimately an enduring love story spanning almost two decades, Ms Forsyth does weave some terribly dark and disturbing scenes into this novel and, while the subject matter is dealt with skillfully and sensitively, leaving it to the reader’s imagination rather than plying us with a graphically articulated narrative, we are given a glimpse into Dortchen and Wilhelm’s lives which, long after the final page was turned, profoundly impacted this reviewer’s thoughts.

Rich and imaginative, Kate Forsyth vividly evokes the scenery, the depth of human emotion, the violence of war and some fascinating herb lore as her characters attempt to overcome life’s adversities, and I do believe that she has gifted us with a memorable literary exploration of the life of a girl who lived her own dark fairytale!

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

A Little about the Author (taken from Random House's website)

Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty books, including The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon's Ride series for adults, and The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, and The Starthorn Tree for children.

She has won or been nominated for numerous awards. Her books have been published in 13 different countries, including Japan, Poland, Spain and Turkey, and Kate is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairytale retellings at the University of Technology and recently published Bitter Greens, a retelling of the Rapunzel story.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Press Release, Official Poster & Teaser Trailer: A Film Adaptation of "The Turning" by Tim Winton


Tim Winton is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers.

Born in Perth in 1960, he has published twenty-one books for adults and children, which have been acclaimed both in Australia and abroad.  He has traveled in various countries and lives in Western Australia with his wife and three children.

His first novel An Open Swimmer won the 1981 Australian/Vogel Prize. He has won the Miles Franklin Award three times, for Shallows, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and Breath.

The Riders and Dirt Music were shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1995 and 2002. He’s also won the Banjo Prize, the WA Premier’s Prize, the Deo Gloria Award (UK), the Marten Bequest and the Wilderness Society Environment Award. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages and adapted for stage, radio and film.

His collection of short stories called The Turning won the 2005 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and the 2005 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards.


"Melbourne, June 24 2013 – Audiences can now get their first look at Tim Winton's 'The Turning' following the release of a teaser trailer and official poster ahead of the film’s upcoming World Premiere and cinema release.

'The Turning', a film adaptation of Tim Winton's best-selling novel, consists of 17 chapters that each features a different director and stellar cast.   Under the guidance of curator Robert Connolly (Balibo), first time filmmakers Mia Wasikowska and David Wenham make their directorial debut amongst acclaimed directors such as Warwick Thornton and Justin Kurzel.

Australian talent starring in the film includes Rose Byrne, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Otto, Brenna Harding, Richard Roxburgh, Callan Mulvey, Dan Wyllie, Oscar Redding, Robyn Nevin, Susie Porter, Wayne Blair, Mirrah Foulkes and numerous others.

'The Turning' will soon have its World Premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and will then release as a unique cinematic event across Australia later this year.  

Producer Robert Connolly comments: “Embarking upon this cinematic adventure posed a unique challenge for us in relation to adapting a book like ‘The Turning’ for the screen.  We came upon this idea of extending a personal invitation to seventeen great creative minds to interpret one chapter each and asking them if any of the stories particularly spoke to them, affected or resonated with them.”

Robert continues: “What I found amazing was that each person found something very different in ‘The Turning’. Like all great works of literature it offers up so many permutations and interpretations.”

The film-making is also unique as a collection of artists from many different backgrounds have collaborated to provide chapters, including the Artistic Director of Bangarra Dance Theatre, Stephen Page, and Shaun Gladwell, one of Australia’s most acclaimed video artists.

'The Turning' was created by Robert Connolly (Balibo), who produced the film together with Maggie Miles and Arenamedia. Funding partners include Screen Australia, Film Victoria, ScreenWest, ABC and the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) Premiere Fund.  'The Turning' is co-distributed by Madman Entertainment and CinemaPlus.

DIRECTORS: Marieka Walsh, Warwick Thornton, Jub Clerc, Robert Connolly, Anthony Lucas, Rhys Graham, Ashlee Page, Tony Ayres, Claire McCarthy, Stephen Page, Shaun Gladwell, Mia Wasikowska, Simon Stone, David Wenham, Jonathan Auf Der Heide, Justin Kurzel, Yaron Lifschitz, Ian Meadows

STARRING: Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving, Callan Mulvey, Brenna Harding, Dan Wyllie, Susie Porter, Harrison Gilbertson, Robyn Nevin, Matt Nable, Wayne Blair."

Here's a sneak peek:

And some initial stills:

For further information, you can find 'The Turning' on Facebook and Twitter.

My thanks goes to Anthony Britten for providing me with the Press Release, Poster and Initial Stills.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Author Q & A: Allison Rushby

Today I wish to extend a very warm welcome to Allison Rushby and congratulate her on the publication of The Heiresses.

Having failed at becoming a ballerina with pierced ears (her childhood dream), Allison Rushby instead began a writing career as a journalism student at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.  Within a few months she slunk sideways into studying Russian, began writing her first novel and, most importantly, joined the Chocolate Appreciation Society.  Over the past ten years, she has published five books for young adult readers and five for adult readers in the women’s fiction genre.  She is originally from Brisbane, Australia, but spent 2011 and most of 2012 living in Cambridge, UK, where she mainly spent her days whinging constantly about the weather.

Before I continue however, I wish to thank Pan MacMillan Australia, more especially Laura Norton from their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

So, without further ado, let us indulge in getting to know The Heiresses and Allison much better.

Allison, as a brief introduction, would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and how you came to write?

Thanks for the lovely welcome, Marcia!  I suppose writing is in my blood – my mother, Pam Rushby, is also an author. I've always been a bookworm and after leaving school, studied journalism at university and started writing novels after I'd left.  My first novel was never published (and I can now tell why!), but my second novel was picked up and I haven't stopped writing since.

What can you tell us about The Heiresses?

The Heiresses revolves around triplets Thalia, Erato and Clio.  Estranged since birth, they are thrust together in glittering 1926 London to fight for their inheritance.  They quickly learn they can't trust anyone in their new lives – least of all each other.  I had an absolute ball writing The Heiresses with all its dramatic highs and lows.

What inspired you to write The Heiresses and was there any specific reason you chose the 1920’s in which to set your novel?

This is extremely embarrassing, but I think it was actually from watching a Dr Phil show, years ago.  I can't say too much as it will spoil the plot completely, but I saw a segment that involved a family and their genetic makeup and asked my husband (a medical specialist) about it all that evening.  This led me to wondering how this family's scenario might have played out if genetic testing was not available to them, which is the case in The Heiresses, set in 1920s London.

All three girls have such unique personalities.  How did you feel writing about them?

I realised quite early on that my three heroines would need to be decidedly different in order for the reader to remember who was who, or the story would simply be too confusing.  I really enjoyed writing about their differences and their being so different brought a fresh feel and a different take on each new scene as I wrote.

What was your favourite part of the book to write?

I think bringing all the girls to the Savoy for that initial meeting – getting them all to London from their very different homes and ways of life.

Which part of The Heiresses was the most interesting to research?

I was very lucky to be living in Cambridge as I was writing The Heiresses, which made research a breeze. London was less than an hour away by train and I took full advantage of this.  I think my favourite piece of research was simply wandering around Belgrave Square and hand-picking the townhouse the girls would spend most of their time in.  Bliss!

Can we expect another novel soon?  If so, would you like to give us a hint as to what we can expect?

You sure can!  It's contemporary New Adult and is about an English girl who falls for a charismatic modern artist who is American.  It's set in Paris, London and New York, so has more of an international feel than a lot of the college-based New Adult that's available right now.  I've also recently started writing another historical New Adult, set during WWII, which is quite similar to The Heiresses in many ways (three heroines, much drama!).  The research for this one isn't quite as pleasant as it was researching the 20s, but it's certainly fascinating!

And, just for some fun:

Favourite film?

Notting Hill

Pizza or Pasta?

Lovely gluten-y pasta (my daughter is gluten-free and I dream of eating real pasta again!).

Favourite writer?

P.G. Wodehouse.

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

I'm in a book club!  We're currently reading Chris Bohjalian's Midwives.

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

1. I'm a slave to my old, diabetic Devon Rex cat, Violet, who is currently warming my lap.
2. I'm crazy about Minis and have been known to squee when I see a particularly cute one.
3. I love baking, but cooking doesn't interest me much (I want to be Nigella when I grow up).

Allison, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on my blog.  Thank you for coming along.

Aussie YA Book Review: The Heiresses by Allison Rushby

The HeiressesMy Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   Paperback courtesy of Pan Macmillan
Publication Date:    1 May 2013
Category:               Children's: General Fiction
ISBN:                      9781742613147
Publisher:               Pan Macmillan
Imprint:                   Pan Australia
Extent:                    352 pages
RRP:                      AU$14.99

The Blurb

“Money, Intrigue, Secrets and Scandal.

Seventeen-year-olds Thalia, Erato and Clio are summoned to glittering 1926 London by Hestia, an aunt they never knew they had.  They are shocked to discover they were separated at birth and are in fact triplets and the rightful heiresses to their deceased mother’s fortune.  All they need to do is find a way to claim the inheritance from their greedy half brother, Charles.

The sisters move to Hestia’ house in Belgrave Square to begin their new lives.  But amidst the confusion of new romances and money, they each struggle to find their way.  Thalia knows she can never return home to her dark past; Erato’s dreams threaten to slip from her grasp; and Clio must save the only mother she has ever known.

As the battle for their shared fortune grows more complex, the girls realise that they can’t trust anyone – least of all each other.

A thrillingly addictive saga of love, betrayal, money and intrigue.”

Summary and Thoughts

Three young women, triplets separated at birth, are brought together seventeen years later by their estranged aunt against the backdrop of London’s roaring 1920’s.

Thalia, the oldest, is rather worldly-wise and a party girl through and through – if there’s a party going on, she’ll be the first one to know about it!  Having been brought up in a family who didn’t have much time for her she was left mostly to her own devices and as a consequence, has always felt somewhat isolated.  As a result, she comes across as quite self-absorbed and while her moral choices leave something to be desired, she harbours a terrible secret.

Erato (Ro) is the scholarly one.  Brought up in her Uncle Henry’s home, a professor himself, she is quite level-headed and rather learned with aspirations of becoming a doctor.  Having led a pretty ordinary life  and attended boarding school for most of the time, there’s only one thing that has always eluded her - a sibling.  So, it’s not surprising that she takes a bit of a shine to Clio.

Clio, the sweet one, and the youngest, has lived a somewhat poor but happy existence being brought up in a loving home by a Vicar and his wife.  With her father having passed, things have become quite difficult financially and, when it comes right down to it, she’s trying desperately to provide for and take care of her mother who’s health is ailing.  She’s a gentle soul and has difficulty settling into the glitz and glamour of London, but at least Ro is friendly enough.

Three very different young women shaped by their totally dissimilar upbringings and value systems, they are summoned to London by their estranged aunt, Hestia, after the passing of their biological father and, as if the first shocks of discovering the existence of each other and their aunt is not enough, they are further surprised to learn that they are in fact heiresses to their mother’s fortune.

Hestia, a remarkably independent and wealthy woman feels satisfied that she has finally been able to live up to the promise she made to her dying sister and, having now gathered the girls together under one roof, is able to go ahead with her plans in achieving what turns out to be a seemingly impossible task – securing their inheritance.

However, in doing so there is just one problem – the girls’ half-brother Charles who refuses to acknowledge their existence.  Charles, a promising politician isn’t prepared to risk a scandal and have his family’s name dragged through the mud and persistently denies the triplets what is rightfully theirs, unless they all leave town.
Sparks fly as the girls begin to get to know one another and, with the usual family loyalty of siblings having never been ingrained in them, as unspeakable truths come to the fore, their loyalties constantly shift as each of them consider how they are going to utilise an inheritance which is just out of reach.

Charles appears to have the upper hand when he reveals a well-kept secret, and continues to play twisted games with the sisters and the girls, finally forming a united front, are once again thrown into turmoil when Thalia gets herself into a disgraceful pickle and a chance encounter with a friend of the family finally reveals who the rightful beneficiary of the fortune is!

It is apparent that Allison Rushby has done a lot of research in order to recreate the historical authenticity and culture of this era which clearly comes through in her well-rounded characters and atmospheric prose, pulling you in to the colourful people and wild parties, the decorum of the time and the beautiful fashions of the day, remarkably bringing to life 1920’s London in all its splendour and bohemian flamboyance.

Unfortunately it isn't all rosy and, as with all eras, there is a seamier side which Ms Rushby doesn’t shy away  from, threading it through the narrative and giving us a glimpse into excessive drinking at parties in which people succumbed to the champagne haze of the period, the illicit drug-taking which went on behind closed doors and some licentious liaisons!

Previously released as a six part e-serial and, along with the controversial concept of Eugenics playing a large role, this novel which has been labelled "New Adult", is a family saga filled with the dramatic highs and lows of greed, scandal, family secrets, betrayal and loyalty which Downton Abbey fans will find enthralling.

I wish to thank the publisher, Pan MacMillan, for providing me with a paperback copy of this glitzy novel.

Please stand by for a Q & A with Allison Rushby in which you will be able to learn more about this author who has, over the past ten years, published five books for young adult readers and five for adult readers in the women’s fiction genre.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Aussie Book Review: Half Moon Bay by Helene Young

Half Moon Bay
My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                  eBook courtesy of Penguin Australia
                              and NetGalley
Publication Date:    22 May 2013
Category:               Modern & Contemporary Fiction
                               (Romantic Suspense)
ISBN:                      9781921901584
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
Extent:                    392 pages
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

“Ellie Wilding has been running from her past, but when the residents of Half Moon Bay call for help she knows it’s finally time to return home.  As an international photojournalist, she’s used to violence in war zones, but she’s shocked when it erupts in the sleeply hamlet on the north coast of New South Wales, threatening all she holds dear.

Battle-weary Nicholas Lawson walked away from his military career leaving unfinished business.  In a coastal backwater, that decision returns to haunt him.  He remembers all too vividly his last lethal assignment in Afghanistan when Ellie’s sister, Nina, was shot and killed.  Ellie’s been in his dreams ever since, even if she doesn’t remember him …

As a storm rages and floodwaters rise, Ellie struggles to save her community.  But who can she trust?  Nick Lawson, the dangerously attractive stranger with secrets, or an old friend who’s never let her down?

A compelling story of danger and desire by the award-winning author of Burning Lies.

‘Plenty of action, sizzling romance and page-turning suspense’ Book’d Out

‘Helene Young is a very accomplished writer, building her romance and suspense with verve and skill’ Sisters in Crime”

Summary and Thoughts

Is he her enemy or her protector?

Suffering with survivor’s guilt, Ellie Wilding has isolated herself for the last two years since the death of her sister Nina.  Having been away from the war zone covering a story in the UK, she was unable to save her sister even after single-handedly arranging for the casevac from Afghanistan to Australia, so she’s been hiding around the world, losing herself in her photojournalism work.  After she receives an email from the former mayor of her home town, Half Moon Bay, requesting her to return home to investigate some shady dealings taking place by using her finely-honed investigative skills, she finally makes her way back.  Used to capturing brutal images through the filters, angles and lighting of her camera which has always enabled her to keep her distance, Ellie is unprepared for the development battle being waged amongst the residents and the new Lord Mayor and his sidekick development engineer, the arrogant Nicholas Lawson, threatening to overthrow the tranquillity of the town and all she holds dear.  But who is Nicholas, and why does she get the distinct feeling that she knows him from somewhere?

Nicholas Lawson, a former Major who walked away from the army, disillusioned at the government’s inability to contain the drug-trafficking in Afghanistan and weary after the tragic accident which saw Nina being fatally injured, has arrived in Half Moon Bay to take up the position of property engineer for the development which is causing so much angst between its residents and the Mayor.  While his first unexpected encounter with Ellie causes him concern, thankfully, she doesn’t recognise him, but he realises that he doesn’t need the added complications which she could present as he tries to deal with the secrets and cover-ups which have led him to this little town.  Although he’s used to shouldering the blame, he’s just not prepared to see another Wilding sister die in the name of an international racket, especially one who has intruded so thoroughly into his thoughts, dreams and well-ordered life.  If any operation is going to threaten to stretch his attachment to its limits, it’s going to be this one!

From overhearing private conversations, surfing the cool blue waters of Half Moon Bay to discovering that friends and family aren’t always who we want them to be, Ellie is thrust into the centre of a dark web of drug-trafficking, money laundering and duplicity, which has entangled two continents, and she learns that there is more to the tragedy which took place in Afghanistan and the man with a seemingly untraceable past.

Most of my reading lately has been somewhat focused on more emotional subjects, so it’s been a while since I picked up a romantic suspense novel.  Of course, it would have been quite sinful to overlook Helene Young’s latest novel so it wasn’t long after requesting it that I eagerly devoured it.  Thank you Helene for reminding me of the reasons why I have always loved romantic suspense!

Having read three of this award winning author's books (sorry Helene, I still need to read Burning Lies), it’s not surprising that Half Moon Bay was chosen as Get Reading’s June 2013 Book of the Month and I have come to love this author who centres her novels in authentic Australian settings.  Even though this is her first stand-alone novel and she veers from her usual setting of Far North Queensland with the ins and outs of border security, to that of Half Moon Bay in NSW, she keeps one of her personal passions intact – that of flying.  Despite the fact that it takes a bit of a backseat in this novel, there is no doubt in my mind that at least one of Helene’s characters will always have the ability to fly an aircraft and this certainly gives her writing a certain individuality!

Half Moon Bay is dominated by suspense and anxiety and, while her characters thoughts, feelings and actions are heartfelt, she seamlessly moves the story forward and keeps the tension mounting in every scene.  The romantic elements are believable and moving yet understated, which, to my mind, certainly helps to keep the suspense factor alive.  In particular her description of life in a war zone and the events which took place in Afghanistan are evocative, calling to mind another read about photojournalists in the midst of war.  Of course, the fact that Ellie, her likeable heroine and I share a passion for photography, was an added bonus.

Fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action and intrigue with some tantalizing romantic encounters, Half Moon Bay is a fantastic addition to Australian romantic suspense and truly is “love in the heart of danger”.

I wish to thank the publisher, Penguin Australia via NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this suspenseful read from an author at the top of her genre.

A Little about the Author (adapted from her website)

Helene Young is a multi-award winning author of three novels, with Half Moon Bay being her fourth.

Wings of Fear, first in her Border Watch series, was voted as Romantic Book of the Year in 2011 and is the first of her loosely linked trilogy focusing on the coastal surveillance operations around Australia.

Shattered Sky, the second Border Watch book, recently won the Romantic Book of the Year 2012 and is set in the world of the Outlawed Motorcycle gangs and organised crime.

These first two books were also awarded the Favourite Romantic Suspense novels by the Australian Romance Readers Association in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Burning Lies, the final Border Watch book, was released in July 2012 by Penguin Australia and is a passionate love story set on the Atherton Tablelands at the height of the bushfire season.

Helene continues to work as a senior Check and Training Pilot with Qantaslink flying throughout regional Australia.  When she’s not flying, you’ll find her in North Queensland with her husband and manic Staffordshire Bullterrier, Zeus.  She’s also custodian of several million bees, a lover of tropical gardens and an avid reader.

In what other spare time she has left she conducts writing workshops for QWC and schools and other writing organisations.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Aussie Book Review: The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

The Shadow Year
My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                  Paperback courtesy of Hachette Australia
                              and The Reading Room
Publication Date:    May 2013
Category:               Modern & Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9780733630507
Extent:                    416 pages
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

"No one knew that one lost year would cast such a long shadow ...

On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside.  For Kat and her housemates, it offers an escape, a chance to drop out for a while.  But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again …

Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage.  With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house.  Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants.  How did they manage in such isolation? And why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can’t she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?

The Shadow Year is a mesmerising story of tragedy, lies and betrayal."

Summary and Thoughts

After reading Hannah Richell's debut novel, Secrets of the Tides in January this year (review here), for which she received many accolades and, after eagerly anticipated the release of The Shadow Year, and then being offered a review copy which I absolutely devoured, I can only say that I was right in my assumption!

July 1980 and a swelteringly hot English summer’s day sees five friends on the verge of graduating from Uni trying hard not to think about heading home, registering at the local job centre and all the responsibilities contained in the “real world”.  Having lived together in a student house for two years, they seem to have formed a little family unit and can’t envision being separated, especially not Kat.

Simon comes from a wealthy background and is the “wise one”.  He exudes confidence and commands attention by his very presence; Kat is the victim of unrequited love.  A prospective journalist and the result of a broken family, she is a girl who has always held people at arm’s length and been a bit of an outsider; Ben, with his easy humour, is an engineering graduate from a wealthy family and has been friends with Simon since school; Carla, warm and generous by nature is hoping to go into social work and is Ben’s long-term girlfriend; and Mac, a loner, shy and quiet.

Together they are a kaleidoscopic group full of dreams and, with the newspapers of 1980’s England extolling doom and gloom from its pages by hinting at a recession and unemployment rates on the rise, when they stumble upon a dilapidated old cottage, the possibilities are endless – a simple life with no responsibilities besides the basic necessities for survival.

Their gap year becomes a reality and all is well in their idyllic existence until the beautiful languid days of summer begin to recede into the ever-lengthening shadows of autumn, and a cold, hard winter.  The arrival of a surprise visitor threatens their idealistic visions and, along with their unspoken but manipulative leader and dwindling food supplies, ever-shifting loyalties become the order of the day.

Shortly after her father's death and in July, present day, we meet Lila and are immediately thrown into the psyche of this young woman struggling to come to terms with the loss of her first child and the consequent depression which is causing extreme pressure on her perfect marriage to Tom.  Lila, an interior designer has always felt that her and Tom, a design engineer, are meant for one another, but as she tries to decipher the flashbacks from the tragedy which engulfs them with grief, the guilt and blame along with her fear and anxiety, threatens to forever crumble a perfect marriage which has always been filled with spontaneity and passion.

When Lila receives a letter with a key informing her that she has inherited a cottage in the Peak District, from an unknown benefactor, she is intrigued by the bequest.  She decides that she’d like to take a look at the mysterious cottage but when she arrives at the dilapidated structure with its tranquil lake, she is stunned to find that remnants of its previous occupants remain, as if they have fled in haste, and she feels a deep connection which pulls her in.  In her current frame of mind she feels that the cottage could be a refuge and renovating it, the means by which she will be able to exorcise the memories of the tragedy which plague her and give her time to reassess her life and marriage to Tom.  Not to be deterred by the awful dreams which consume her sleep and the sense that she is constantly being watched, along with Tom’s misgivings about her living at the remote cottage on her own, Lila insists on continuing with her project.  With some assistance from a local farmer whom she befriends, as Lila begins to peel back the layers of paint and sift through the contents, the cottage begins to reveal clues to its closely held secrets.  History is unraveled and, while it becomes clear that past and present characters’ lives are inexorably linked, it is left to the reader to determine how.

The abandoned cottage and lake form the backbone of the narrative and they too become living, breathing characters in themselves, keeping the eerie undercurrent alive as the landscape and seasons parallel that of the characters’ moods and behaviors and, the power of that age-old saying, “still waters run deep”, is not to be underestimated!

Told from the perspectives of Kat and Lila, the scene is set in the prologue, by casting an atmosphere of deep and dark unease over the reader, threatening to suck you into its depths, and not letting up until the dramatic epilogue reveals the final twisted secret.  With so much contained within these two different but tragic stories that eventually converge, we are given a glimpse into the dynamics of dysfunctional families and toxic friendships, the consequences of recreational drug use, obsession, jealousy, betrayal, truth, honesty and the pain surrounding the loss of a baby.

The characters are complex individuals and I became emotionally invested in their lives, in particular with Kat and Lila – Kat for her ability to make me feel sympathy in one moment and contempt the next and, as a mother, with Lila, who had me feeling her pain and isolation as I identified with the subtle errors in judgment that so often become a part of the life of someone in the throes of depression.

The clever structure of this novel results in a powerfully told, richly evocative and compelling tale in which Ms Richell once again explores the complexity of human relationships and lays them bare for all to see.

I wish to thank the publisher, Hachette Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a paperback copy of this deeply dark tale in which the flawed characters are as dominant as the nature that surrounds them.

A Little About the Author (adapted from her website)

Hannah Richell loves books and film and has been lucky enough to market both in her career.  

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

Secrets of the Tidesher debut novel, was published in 2012 and was translated into fourteen languages along with being selected for the autumn Richard & Judy Book Club.

The Shadow Year is her second novel.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Aussie Book Review: Flame Tree Hill by Mandy Magro

Flame Tree Hill
My Rating:              3 / 5
Format:                  e-Book courtesy of Penguin Books
                              via NetGalley
Publication Date:    22 May 2013
Category:               Modern & Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781921901324
Extent:                    280 pages
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

"Kirsty Mitchell is ready to come home.  After a tragic accident that left her scarred, she fled overseas.  Now, three years later, she's finally returning to Flame Tree Hill, her beloved family farm.

But at twenty-five Kirsty isn't prepared for the terrifying new challenge ahead: breast cancer.

Kirsty's never been a quitter and that's not about to change.  But can her budding romance with local vet Aden bear the strain?

As she battles with chemotherapy and as her past threatens to overwhelm her, Kirsty realises you can never take anything - or anyone - for granted.  Drawing strength from her family and the beauty of Far North Queensland, Kirsty finally understands what she must do.

A lyrical and heart-warming testament to the power of love - and forgiveness."

Summary and Thoughts

Kirsty Mitchell ran away from her home town of Hidden Valley three years ago, after a tragic accident left her both mentally and physically scarred.  Suffering with survivor's guilt, she has found some solace in studying and travelling, but with her UK work visa about to expire, she's on her way back to face the haunting memories of her past.

On arrival at the airport, the last person she’s expecting to see is Aden Maloney, the man who once took her breath away and for whom she felt an all-consuming love.  A further shock is delivered when she learns that he’s living at Flame Tree Hill, her family’s homestead.

Aden has accomplished much in the time he’s been gone.  No longer the reckless boy of his youth, still a keen bull-rider who is passionate about the sport, but with a failed marriage and the big city having become somewhat tiresome, he’s back home to set up a mobile veterinary business.

As Kirsty tries to make the most of life back on the family farm, she realises that while she needs to try and forget her past, she isn’t sure whether she has the courage to do so.  It becomes quite obvious that there’s a strong mutual attraction between her and Aden and each new day she spends with him finds her standing dangerously close to an edge which threatens to tip her over.  When the intensity of their long-buried feelings for one another become too hard to contain, Kirsty begins to wage an inner war, feeling that there is no way a relationship between them could ever develop into something more – not when he finds out what she’s hiding!

While out mustering one day, she feels a sharp pain in her right breast, but thinks nothing further of it until a check-up at the doctor has her mind spinning into overdrive and, after further tests have been carried out, she comes away with the diagnosis of breast cancer.

As Kirsty begins to feel that the cancer is devouring her body and sapping her of all her strength, she also comes to the conclusion that she can no longer live with the guilt that has assailed her since the accident and makes the decision to tell Aden the truth.

It has taken me a while to articulate this review (having read the book during April) in view of the fact that I was a bit torn over how the characters’ resolution of the heart of the story made me feel.

While their emotional experiences touched my heart, calling to mind deeply embedded memories of my own grandmother’s suffering and demise from cancer of the colon, I struggled a little with Ms Magro’s inclusion of an unsound decision made by the characters.  I am not going to go into any detail for fear of spoiling it for the rest of you, but I will say that yes, reading is a subjective experience with each reader having their own life experiences and emotions on which to compare the story they are reading at the time, but this is one I couldn’t envision in reality and were it real life, the consequences would have been far more serious.

However, that being said, Mandy Magro writes with compassion and her sense of humour, evident in the dialogue, capably manages to blunt the edges of what could otherwise be a sombre subject.  Coming from a rural background herself, she quite clearly writes what she knows and gives us insight into small town dynamics and life on a homestead, with her passion for the landscape, animals and spirit of the land shining through her prose.  The description of the rodeo grounds, in particular - “families were sprawled on picnic blankets eating and drinking, children were high on fairy floss, and couples sat on the bum-numbing benches in the grandstands …” – is spot on and conjures up all the sights, smells and sounds which prevail at events of this nature.

There is also an overwhelming sense of strong family relationships and friendship in this novel and, drawing on her best friend’s personal struggle with breast cancer, Ms Magro has delved into the psyche of a cancer sufferer by punctuating Kirsty’s story with some diary entries containing her hopes, dreams, doubts, fears, anger and hopelessness, as she is forced to rely on those she loves to take care of her.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read and kudos goes to Ms Magro for tackling a subject which affects more and more families in today’s society.

A Little About the Author (adapted from her website)

Mandy lives on the family farm in the picturesque country town of Mareeba, which is situated in beautiful Far North Queensland, with her adorable little girl, Chloe Rose.

She considers herself to be a country girl through and through, with a passion for wide open spaces, fields full of horses and cattle, rodeos, country music, and the fair dinkum Aussie way of life.  She’s also been known to sniff the air madly when a cattle train goes by – “I just love the smell of the cattle on board”!

Mandy decided to put pen to paper about 4 years ago, writing about the many memorable adventures she had experienced on the land, from being a station cook, helping behind the chutes at rodeos, to being a fruit farmer.  Little did she know that this would be the beginning of her fantastic writing career with Penguin Australia and now also writes for Harlequin Books Australia!

Rosalee Station was Mandy’s first rural romance novel and her second, Jacaranda, hit the shelves in 2012.  Her fourth novel, Driftwood, in which Adam Brand makes a small appearance, will be out on 1 November 2013.

Mandy is now working on her fifth novel, Country at Heart.