Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Aussie Novella Review: Anybody But Him by Claire Baxter

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   eBook courtesy of Random House
                               via NetGalley
Publication Date:    1 July 2013
Category:               Romance
ISBN:                      9780857981080
Publisher:               Random House Books Australia
Imprint:                   RHA eBooks Adult
Extent:                    150 pages

The Blurb

“What happens when you fall in love with the man you hate?

Nicola Doyle’s dating record is a disaster, and it doesn’t improve when she returns to Redgum Valley, after an absence of twelve years, to look after her increasingly eccentric parents.  There she’s thrown into regular contact with Blair Morrissey- the very reason she couldn’t wait to leave town in the first place.

The decade-old scars are still raw from that humiliating day in high school – when Blair went from the boy she loved to the boy she hated.

Except Blair doesn’t seem to be a ‘bad boy’ anymore – in fact he’s charming, infuriatingly helpful and extremely attractive.

If only Nicola could forgive and forget.”

Summary and Thoughts

I absolutely love it when a story has me so gripped that I have these rather loud outbursts of unrestrained laughter and Anbody But Him did just that, offering me a brief escape for a couple of hours.  It is a laugh-a-minute account of Nicola Doyle’s return to Redgum Valley and her childhood home.

Former Financial Controller of a huge corporate giant, Nicola recently walked out of her job and decided to come back to Redgum Valley to keep an eye on her parents at her sister, Una’s, behest.  Only planning on being there for three months, she’s not prepared for an encounter with the pesky little Dammit to lead her back to the one person from her childhood whom she absolutely hates, Blair Morrissey.

The prologue so deftly sets the scene for the animosity between Nicola and Blair and my heart was in my mouth, empathising with her at the sheer embarrassment of the situation – as teenagers, I’m sure we all at some time experienced a situation similar to this.

But Blair has seemingly grown into a man who bears no hint of the boy he once used to be, even if Nicola can’t see this at first and, from a scathing comment at their unexpected first meeting after twelve years – “Of course no.  I didn’t think you’d manage to retain the information, that’s all” – to Nicola running into car trouble after a night out with her “down in the dumps” best friend Lainey, being locked in a bathroom with no handle and an accident on the back steps of her sister’s house, with Blair coming to the rescue on all three occasions, Nicola slowly begins to question her lonely existence in Sydney and eases into a friendship with him – a relationship in which he is eventually comfortable enough to reveal a little known fact about his own childhood and offer some insight into the way in which he viewed her “unhappy” home life.

With the time fast approaching for her return to Sydney, Nicola, for the umpteenth time finds herself reflecting on the past and trying to figure out what it is she really wants.  Thankfully, Blair comes to the rescue (again) and Nicola’s teenage dreams are finally realised.

I really loved this story and found myself immersed in Nicola’s life with her worrisome parents “He looked at her as if she’d fallen out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down” along with her keen sense of humour “His memory was like a piece of Swiss cheese – random holes appearing with no pattern” whilst also enjoying the shenanigans of Dammit “The dog sniffed her, then dashed off, apparently satisfied with his work”

Both Nicola and Blair are well-developed and extremely likeable (I also loved Nicola’s parents’ eccentricities) and the dialogue, as also Nicola’s thoughts, are succinct and effective giving the reader a really good sense of everyone’s quirks and backstory, without any unnecessary padding.  Claire Baxter has kept her chapters short and punchy and, while introducing secondary characters, she does so skilfully and with purpose, giving the story an element of suspense as she incorporates some twists and turns (such as the discovery Nicola makes while temporarily employed with a firm in town and her best friend, Lainey’s relationship problems), thereby keeping it exciting.

Anybody But Him is a delightfully sweet and pacy romantic comedy which, while exploring themes of aging parents, re-discovering who we really are and forgiveness, is light in tone.

I wish to thank Random House via NetGalley for providing me with an eGalley of this sweet Novella.

A Little About the Author (taken from the publisher's website)

Claire Baxter writes contemporary romantic fiction of all lengths.  Her short stories have been published in commercial women's magazines around the world, while her novels have been translated into 20 languages, and have finalled in the Romance Writers of Australia's Romantic Book of the Year Award, the Booksellers' Best Awards, the RT Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice Awards, and the Cataromance Reviewers' Choice Awards.

Before following her passion to write full-time, Claire was an award-winning corporate communications manager.  Earlier, she worked as a translator and a PA.

Claire grew up in Warwickshire, England, but for more than 20 years has called Australia home. She considers herself lucky to live near one of Adelaide's beautiful metropolitan beaches where she loves to walk and think up stories.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Character Map: Longbourn by Jo Baker

I was recently invited by Random House Australia to take part in a blog tour for one of their most exciting book releases of the year, Jo Baker's Longbourn which will be published in August 2013.

After reading this novel and, whilst my review will only be posted during August as part of the NetGalley tour, I can confirm that there is no need for you to be a "die-hard" Jane Austen fan in order to enjoy the servants' story.

In anticipation of Longbourn's publication, Random House has released a fabulous Character Map of all the characters in Longbourn (who I just know you will come to love), and I invite you to take a look at it in order to familiarise yourself with these gracious servants, without whom, the running of the Bennet household would not have been possible:

For a larger view of the above Character Map, just click on it (or click here) and this will take you directly to the Random House website.

In amplification of that Character Map, here is a brief overview of all the servants at Longbourn by name (taken from the Random House website and for whom more information can be found here):

Mrs Hill: The Housekeeper
A longstanding and loyal servant to the Bennet household, Mrs Hill is charged with the day-to-day running of Longbourn ...

Mr Hill: The Butler
Trusted with the wine cellar and other valuables, Mr Hill also waits on table ...

James: The Footman
A new arrival to the household, Mrs Bennet is keen to show him off with front-of-house duties such as answering the door, waiting on table, and driving the carriage – he’s a fashionable accessory ...

Sarah: Housemaid
The only Longbourn servant to be mentioned by her first name in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Sarah was apprenticed to Mrs Hill as a child, to learn her trade as a housemaid ...

Polly: Housemaid
The second and younger of the two housemaids, Polly’s duties are similar to Sarah’s – though still serving her time as an apprentice, she is not yet fully trained, and is less thorough in her work ...

While I have not yet read Pride and Prejudice (yes, shock! horror! but I am in the process of rectifying that issue), Jo Baker has this to say about Longbourn's servants:

"These are the five servants mentioned by their role or name in Austen’s novel; they undertake all the work of the Bennet household.  When a meal is served in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, it has just been prepared in LONGBOURN; when a footman enters the breakfast room in Austen’s novel, he has just left the kitchen in mine. And when Elizabeth Bennet gets her petticoats muddy, it is Sarah and Polly, the two Longbourn housemaids, who must wash them clean again for her".

If you would like to read more about Jo Baker and Longbourn, please click here and you will be directed to the Longbourn feature page on the Random House website.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Aussie Non-Fiction Review: Life in The Saddle: Adventures of Legendary Horseman, the Kokotunga Kid by Alwyn Torenbeek with David Gilchrist

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                  Paperback courtesy of Penguin Australia
Publication Date:    24 July 2013
Category:               Autobiography
ISBN:                      9781921901355
Publisher:               Penguin Books Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
Extent:                    288 pages
RRP:                      AU$29.99

“Alywn Torenbeek's boyhood in outback Queensland in the 1940s was spent chasing wild horses, catching death adders and dreaming of becoming a rodeo champion. At the age of 14, he left Kokotunga for good, taking with him a bushman's spirit, an uncanny natural riding ability and determination to succeed. By 21 he was an international rodeo champion.

Travelling far and wide, he became great friends with R.M. Williams and Queensland legendary cowboy Wally Mailman (father of actor Deborah). After a horrific accident that nearly killed him, Alwyn worked as a drover and eventually established a stockman's school to teach underprivileged teens to become jackaroos and jillaroos. Throughout his life, he has faced personal tragedies and triumphs with stoicism and his own get-on-with-it philosophy.

A non-stop adventure and an amazing insight into a bygone era, this is one man's view of life, from the back of a horse. Now in his mid-70s, Alwyn is still doing gruelling endurance equestrian rides and is a great storyteller.”

Summary and Thoughts

In this passionate and heartfelt account of the last sixty years of his life, Alwyn Torenbeek, through David Gilchrist, a freelance Brisbane-based journalist, who initially travelled to Alwyn’s home near Rockhampton to interview him for an article for RM Williams Outback Magazine and was “immediately intrigued by his roller-coaster of a life story”, now takes us on the journey of an ordinary boy from humble beginnings who grew into an extraordinary man.

And, for those of you (like me) who have ever romanticised the notion of being a rodeo champion or a drover whilst in the midst of the atmosphere and excitement of a rodeo or an episode of McLeod’s Daughters, this is a must read – without the rose-tinted glasses.

Known as the Kokotunga Kid, thanks to his mischievous youth when he caught death adders and played pranks with said adders, Alwyn (fondly known as “Torrie” to his friends) has led a life that some of us can only dream about.

At the age of fourteen when he left Kokotunga in outback Queensland “with a passion and ability to ride rough and tough horses”, he had no idea how many miles he would travel, the wonderful friends he would make along the way and those he would lose.

It was in 1950 amongst a massive crowd at the "Rockhampton Industrial Fair and Rocky Round- Up", that Alwyn witnessed legendary Wally Mailman at work and “an excited young horseman … dreamed of joining them”.   The young Alwyn wasn’t to know that “the fates were about to intervene” at the Kokotunga Rodeo in the form of Bob Kelly, for whom the call of the rodeo circuit would also prove too hard to ignore and that his career would amount to becoming both a national and international champion before he turned twenty-one, many more championship titles under his belt both here and in New Zealand (on the backs of some formidable opponents) and numerous achievements, including being inducted into the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach and The Rodeo Hall of Fame in Warwick.

Of course, Alwyn’s life is no fairytale, and none of these triumphs have come without a lot of hard work, his tenacious spirit and life’s share of trials and tribulations, including countless broken bones, a near death experience (in which he spent three months in hospital and rehabilitation and thereafter took two years to recover his strength and horsemanship) and losing a child - all of which he has stoically faced head on, taking the proverbial bull by the horns.

This fair dinkum bushie has spent the last six decades doing what he loves and David Gilchrist’s writing and descriptions of the Australian landscape, and the people Alwyn would come to meet, is both expansive and detailed, giving us a keen insight into the life-long friends he made (one of which was legendary RM Williams), the skills required in riding wild brumbies, the dangers involved in mustering cattle, the adrenaline-inducing experiences of riding the rodeo circuit to the thrills and spills of catching wild bulls, the passionate restoration and management of cattle stations as well as the countless positive results achieved from running stockmanship schools for disadvantaged teenagers – none of which would have been realised without his loving family one hundred percent behind him.  In David Gilchrist’s own words, “through fire and flood, hope and happiness, love and loss, Alwyn’s is a remarkable story of a legendary horseman who loves the bush and the folk who live within it”.

Having now "mostly" retired from the rodeo scene, Alwyn and his wife Marion live on a property near Rockhampton, the naming of which is a tribute to their youngest son.  While they realised, after  reaching fifty-five years of age that they had lived “a gypsy life, taking on wild bulls, raising a family, droving and all their other adventures” and were ready to “make a home base”, Alwyn still has a mischievous twinkle in his eye (yes, I could see it gleaming off the pages) and, while at the age of seventy-five he continues to clock up his miles in endurance riding, he maintains that “for the Kokotunga Kid it’s all about being in the saddle – there’s always another ride, another chance to win, another adventure”.

This is a story of true Aussie grit and determination, taking the good with the bad, but above all having the endurance to go where this spirited bushie has been and David Gilchrist has written a brilliant account of a life well lived by a man who can spin a good yarn and is an inspiration to all.

I wish to thank Penguin Books for providing me with a copy of this truly inspiring biography.

A Little About David Gilchrist (taken from the Publisher's website)

David Gilchrist is an Australian writer whose work has appeared in publications as diverse as Australian Geographic, The Sydney Morning Herald, The New Zealand Herald, The Independent (London), and R.M. Williams Outback magazine.  David lives just north of Brisbane. A word wrangler, he can't ride horses or catch bulls.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Aussie Novella Review: The Goodbye Ride by Lily Malone

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   eBook courtesy of Lily Malone
Publication Date:    17 May 2013
Category:               Contemporary Romance
Publisher:               Author Self-Published
Available:               Exclusive to Amazon (purchase here)

The Blurb

“Olivia Murphy is a woman on a mission. Gracing the front lawn of a house in her Adelaide Hills hometown sits the classic Ducati motorbike that once belonged to her brother, a For Sale sign by the tyre.

Liv wants to buy the precious bike and bring it back into her family, and she wants the ink dry on the paperwork before the approaching holiday weekend. 

One person stands in her way. 

Owen Carson likes rare and beautiful things and he has the Ducati in his sights. Then he meets Liv, and finds his heart captured by beauty of a far different kind.

What will Olivia do to make the Ducati hers? And can Owen convince Liv he wants more than a holiday fling?”

Summary and Thoughts

It’s the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in Hahndorf, Adelaide Hills, South Australia and Olivia Murphy’s finally managed to scrape together a deposit for something close to her heart – the Duke which once belonged to her brother.  Cash in hand, she makes her way to the seller’s house to exercise her first right of refusal but, as luck would have it, someone else, in the form of Owen Carson, arrives and “steals” the show (or motorbike in this case)!

First impressions of Owen abound in Liv’s mind, but after the deal is done and, sensing her disappointment, he seeks her out and makes a proposition.

What follows is a comedy of errors from mistaken first impressions – “Thongs! … didn’t Mr Muscle Car know it was June”, an embarrassing fall – “Liv heard a flap clap sound and thought for a second that some arsehole was applauding her fall”, a bit of sexy guitar playing – “she couldn’t help but imagine those skilled fingers plucking at her own body”, to an ignition of passion – “He pushed off the bench and moved close … Saliva pooled on her tongue, rich with the taste of how much she wanted him” and extreme panic when she discovers that perhaps Owen has taken what he wants with no regard to her feelings.

I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon this novella by Lily Malone, but it could have had something to do with Facebook, a bit of humorous banter between us and another fabulous author (yes Jennie, you know who you are), all whilst consuming a few glasses of wine, when I came across a post on Lily’s blog seeking reviewers for her novella.  Needless to say, after putting in my request that night a few months back, Ms Malone has been biting her fingernails in anticipation of my review!  I’m pleased to say that she need not have feared “this woman who is going to review our books” and I do hope that her nails aren’t too badly damaged.

The Goodbye Ride provided me with some much needed escapism from the “heavy” psychological literature to which I usually subject myself and, without having read her first novel, His Brand of Beautiful released by Escape Publishing in March 2013 (and which has already landed on my burgeoning TBR shelf), I can honestly say that I have found another Aussie author who has earned a place on my bookshelf.

I can imagine how difficult it must be to write a condensed story (not unlike trying to condense a book review!), but Lily is clearly talented enough to pull it off, incorporating all the elements of a novella into her thirty-two thousand two hundred words.  She has focused on one main plot and conflict leaving no loose ends, moves her scenes along at a brisk speed without detracting from maximum emotional impact and at no time did I feel that the story was rushed.  The dialogue is effective and while Ms Malone has stuck to another element of novella writing by not burdening the plot with too many minor characters, the sub-characters she does introduce to advance her story have been created with the perfect amount of depth.

Olivia and Owen are very well-developed and this enabled me to connect emotionally with them as they drew me into their lives and I felt that some of the scenes just sizzled right off the page – particularly the motorbike scene which evoked in me memories of another bike scene from one of my favourite movies, Top Gun – hubba hubba!

Fast-paced, light and extremely entertaining with some very saucy romance, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this for a dreary winter’s day with a blanket tucked over your feet (yes, you know who you are) and a glass or two of velvety South Australian red.

A Little About the Author (taken from her website)

Lily recently moved from the famous wine region of South Australia, to the equally famous and fabulous wine region that is Margaret River in West Australia. Her gorgeous hubby and two sons (they take after their father) came along for the ride.

Lily took up romance writing in November 2010, after an ill-fated dalliance with colour-field painting that ended when her youngest son put a golf club through the canvas.

She juggles part-time work as a freelance writer, and family, with writing, and when not writing, likes gardening, walking, wine, and walking in gardens (sometimes with wine).

In March 2013, her debut novel, His Brand Of Beautiful, was published with Escape Publishing and in May 2013, she self-published her follow-up novella The Goodbye Ride.

Lily loves to hear from people who have read her books. You can find her on Goodreads, and on Facebook.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Aussie Book Review: The House on Burra Burra Lane by Jennie Jones

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   eBook courtesy of Escape Publishing
                               via NetGalley
Publication Date:    June 2013
Category:               Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9780857990532
Publisher:               Harlequin Enterprises Australia
Imprint:                   Escape Publishing
Extent:                    173 pages
RRP:                      AU$4.99

The Blurb

“A dilapidated house, a city girl looking for a tree change, and a rugged vet with a past. Just another day in rural Australia… 

Just ten days after her fresh start in the isolated Snowy Mountains, Samantha Walker trips over a three hundred pound pig and lands in the arms of Dr. Ethan Granger — and the firing line for gossip. It was hardly a ‘date’ but sparks of the sensual kind are difficult to smother in a community of only 87 people. Now there’s a bet running on how long she’ll stay and what she’ll get up to while she’s in town.

Ethan has his own issues — Sammy’s presence in his childhood home brings with it painful recollections of family scandals and a bad boy youth. When the gossip around them heightens, his life is suddenly a deck of cards spread on the table for all to see. Then Sammy's past catches up with her... and it looks like all bets are off.”

Summary and Thoughts

The last thing Samantha Walker is expecting when she rushes in to the local veterinary surgery with her cat is to trip rather ungraciously over a pig and straight into the arms of a gorgeous man who just turns out to be Ethan Granger, the local vet.

A design artist who has fled Sydney to gain much needed distance between a conniving, controlling and self-centred mother along with an ex-fiance who proved he has no moral high-ground, she’s only been in Swallow’s Fall for ten days, trying to gain a sense of independence by building a new life for herself – and renovating the run-down property she has bought – her intentions don’t include a new relationship.

This first encounter, while igniting an instant attraction, also reveals Ethan’s other ability and sparks are bound to fly as she finds herself employing his skills and looking forward to his visits to the property - until her past catches up with her in a mean-spirited attempt to defame the name she has begun to make for herself in her new town and we are left wondering whether the lights of the big city will lure her back.

Ethan Granger, while being the local vet, is also a carpenter.  Having grown up in the town and then been banished and come back as an adult with a pregnant wife in tow, he has had his fair share of hard knocks in his lifetime!  Growing up in an abusive home has him cowering from any form of commitment and he has all but withdrawn into himself.  As he finds himself taking on the task of helping Sammy with her renovations, their friendship grows and the attraction which was so obvious from their first meeting, grows deeper.  The only problem is the dark memories he has of the house Sammy is restoring, the one in which he grew up and his inner struggles and the memories which he thought he’d laid to rest, threaten to become a barrier between him and Sammy.

Swallow’s Fall, population 86, while fictional, is a close-knit community where everyone looks out for one another and newcomers can sometimes find themselves the object of gossip and interference - and then there are the secrets.  Jennie Jones, by creating a backbone in the form of a wager amongst the townsfolk on how long it will take before the newcomer high-tails it out of there, along with the three hundred pound pig called Ruby, who started the chain of events, has cleverly utilised these small town dynamics and interspersed the palpable emotional conflict within and between Sammy and Ethan with some well thought out encounters by utilising the townsfolk, the scenery, the weather and the house, to create a living breathing world.

Sammy came to life with her complexity.  She is stubborn, capable and smart, has a hands-on attitude and a willingness to help, but seriously lacks self-confidence owing to her manipulative mother and obnoxious ex-fiance and, while I will admit that there were times when she lost me and I found myself having to re-connect with her, on the whole, she brought a breath of fresh air into Ethan’s life – a life overshadowed by his father’s abusive actions.

Ethan is extremely likeable and very sexy but he carries a lot of unnecessary baggage - most of it self-inflicted, and I found myself empathising with him as his vulnerability became apparent through his thoughts and memories.  An inner war wages within him and despite growing feelings for Sammy he continuously withdraws, fearing that he has inherited his father’s tendencies. That is, until a revelation, and a twist which I didn’t seem coming, causes him to reconsider and suddenly, there is light in his darkness.

In bringing together two bruised characters, one of which harbours some awful memories of familial abuse, debut author Jennie Jones has sprinkled the narrative with humour and wit, added some tender moments and sizzling sex scenes and presented them in a package which encapsulates the dynamics of small town living and the memories and secrets which can make or break us.

I wish to thank Escape Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an eBook of this novel and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

A Little About the Author

Born and brought up in Wales, Jennie loved anything with a romantic element from the age of five.  At eighteen she went to drama school in London then spent a number of years performing in British theatres, becoming someone else for two hours, eight shows a week.

Jennie wrote her first romance story at the age of twenty-five whilst ‘resting’ (a theatrical term for out of work).  She wrote a western and sent it off to Mills & Boon in the UK who politely and correctly declined.  She put writing to one side after that and took a musical theatre job.  Which brings Jennie to her favourite quotation – “Fate keeps on happening” – Anita Loos.

When Jennie’s life changed and a new country, marriage and motherhood beckoned, she left acting and the UK.

She now lives in a log house in Western Australia, a five minute walk to the beach that she loves to look at but hardly ever visits due to there being too much sand.  (Sand is like glitter; once it gets between your toes, you keep finding it in the house for months.)

Jennie returned to writing three years ago.  She says it keeps her artistic nature dancing and her imagination bubbling.  Like acting she can’t envisage a day when writing will ever get boring.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Green Popular Penguins: Crime Classics coming soon

Penguin Books are extremely excited to be publishing their Green Popular Penguins on the 24th July.

From Penguin Books' Press Release:

‘One of the questions most asked when we originally published the Popular Penguins was – would we be bringing back the Penguin green crime titles? We’re thrilled to say that this August we’ll be dressing a host of great crime writers in Penguin’s famous green livery.’ Peter Blake, Sales Director, Penguin Australia.

Green Popular Penguins are a new generation of iconic, instantly recognisable Popular Penguin books.  With a nod to the design for Penguin’s original ‘Mystery and Crime’ series, these new titles have been dressed to kill with a sharp price of $9.95 and a bold green cover twist on the iconic Penguin triband.

Of course, I'm thrilled that I've been invited to feature some of these "iconic new releases" on my blog and, with fifty collectable crime classics being made available from 38 acclaimed crime writers, the collection will feature classic stories from some well-known authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle as well as the "gritty detective fiction" of Raymond Chandler and the "hard-boiled work" of Dashielle Hammett.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, a Victorian era writer and sister of an ex-Premier of Tasmania, will also feature in this collection, along with Erica Ambler (British Spy novel specialist) and the contemporary husband and wife crime writing duo, Nicci French.  Some much loved characters will also make a return and these will include Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason (a defence attorney) and Francis Durbridge's "ever gentlemanly" Paul Temple.

Penguin says:  Crime as a genre has always been a specialty of Penguin Books.  In fact, on that fateful day in 1935 when Allen Lane stood on a British railway platform looking for something good to read on his journey (consequently creating Penguin and the Popular Penguins books), he was returning from a visit with the doyenne of crime fiction herself, Agatha Christie.

These wonderful new releases will reintroduce a whole new generation of readers to the magical world of crime fiction throughout the ages with their "suspenseful, compelling plots and captivating characters" and I guarantee that there will be something for everyone.

Be sure to look out for my posts.

For further information on these crime novels, please visit the Green Popular Penguins section on Penguin's website.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Press Release: The Turning by Tim Winton will be in Cinemas on 26th September

Tim Winton's 'The Turning' which will have its World Premier at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has just been given an official Australian release date of the 26th September 2013.

Synopsis: 'The Turning' is a unique cinema event. Seventeen talented Australian directors from diverse artistic disciplines each create a chapter of the hauntingly beautiful novel by multi award-winning author Tim Winton. The linking and overlapping stories explore the extraordinary turning points in ordinary people’s lives in a stunning portrait of a small coastal community. As characters face second thoughts and regret, relationships irretrievably alter, resolves are made or broken, and lives change direction forever. This watershed film reinterprets and re-imagines the work for the screen.

Directors are: 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.

For further information, the official teaser trailer and some initial stills, please see my previous post here.

A special thanks goes to Anthony Britten from Playmaker Digital for providing me with the Media Alert.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Nicola Moriarty - Author Q & A

Today I am thrilled to welcome Nicola Moriarty to my blog.  Nicola has recently released her first paranormal romance, Captivation, a novella (and the first paranormal addition to Random Romance’s digital series) which is an intoxicating ghost story that had me comparing it to the movie Ghost (my review here).  By no means new to the author scene, Nicola has two previously published contemporary novels, Free-Falling, released in February 2012 and Paper Chains (my review here), released in February 2013.

Nicola lives in Sydney's north west with her husband and two small (but remarkably strong willed) daughters.  She is the younger sister of bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Jaclyn Moriarty. In between various career changes, becoming a mum and studying at Macquarie University, she began to write. Now, she can't seem to stop.

Before I continue however, I wish to thank Random House Australia, particularly Kirsty Noffke from their publicity department, who made this interview possible.

So, without further ado, let us indulge in getting to know Nicola a lot better.

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

Hi Marcia, thanks so much for the invite to your blog, it’s lovely to be here!  I grew up with a love of stories.  When I was ten, Liane, my eldest sister used to make up stories for me – with me as the star, which I found absolutely thrilling.  Another sister Kati, taught me to read with Enid Blyton’s, The Enchanted Wood and The Faraway Tree.  All through school, English was always my favourite subject – especially creative writing – I’m just not sure why it took me so long after I left high school to come back to writing!

You are already a published author of two contemporary fiction novels but Captivation is your first foray into the paranormal romance sub-genre.  Would you mind telling us a bit about the novella?

Captivation is about Juliette, a woman who has lost her husband and is slowly cutting herself off from the rest of the world due to her grief.  When signs begin to appear that her husband’s ghost is still with her, she closes herself off from the world even further, determined to reignite their romance – no matter the cost!

What inspired you to explore paranormal romance?

Captivation was actually inspired by my first novel Free-Falling.  Because Free-Falling deals with the loss of a loved one, I think I was always sort of wishing I could find a way to bring back the lost character in that book – but I couldn’t – because that wasn’t the story and that wasn’t the genre of that book. So Captivation became my chance to explore that possibility.

Paranormal romance is generally fantasy-based but I’m intrigued to know how you came up with Juliette’s experience?  Is her character based on someone you know?

Nope, it’s completely imagined, but I guess it’s based on how I suspect I would feel if I lost the love of my life, I can imagine wanting nothing more than for him to find a way to return to me – and I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of ghosts and wished that I could have some sort of ghostly experience.

What was your favourite part of the novella to write?

There is a scene where Juliette starts drinking and in her intoxicated state, very nearly sets fire to her apartment, I enjoyed writing that scene because of the exciting conclusion and because of the setting of that scene – it’s all dark and hot and mysterious!

While the subject matter in Captivation is a far cry from your usual, was there anything in particular you found challenging in writing about paranormal experiences?

Yes, definitely!  I struggled with the idea of exactly how Juliette should be communicating with the ghost of her husband - with the logistics of it I suppose – how could he touch her, could she touch him, would she be able to see him at all, could he walk through walls, would he vanish and reappear?!  These were all the questions I was forever asking and often had trouble answering!

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

Yes I’m working on a third full-length novel right now.  It’s actually quite different yet again from my first two books, but sort of hard to describe.  I guess the best hint I can give is that it’s about a girl named Roberta Phish-Roden and a guy called Roger Dong and it’s a sort of absurdly crazy story of their lives unexpectedly crossing paths!

Oh and I should also mention that I have a short story included in the anthology book, ‘Sunlounger’ – it’s out now on Amazon here and features stories from over 40 authors set all over the world.  My story is called, ‘The Red Glove’ and is set in outback Australia.

And now, just for some fun: 

Favourite film?

‘How to go out on a date in Queens’

Pizza or Pasta?

Pasta. (Penne with a creamy sundried tomato sauce!)

Favourite writer?

I have to choose two: Liane Moriarty and Jaclyn Moriarty! (Okay, okay, if I’m not choosing family members, then Neil Gaiman!)

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

My preference is for always reading feel-good books. When I read, I want to escape from the real world, and I want to be left feeling contented – I like all sorts of genres, but I generally want a happy ending!

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

I seem to think that I’m taller than I actually am. For years I was always surprised when I was placed in the front row of class photographs.

I make excellent triple-choc brownies.

Despite years of post natal depression, I absolutely LOVE being a mum, my girls surprise me every day (for instance, this morning I noticed that my 2 year old daughter’s hair had literally grown a couple of inches overnight and all of a sudden I could pop it in a ponytail!) 

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

Twas a pleasure to be here!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Book Review: Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Kiss Me FirstMy Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   Paperback courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia
Publication Date:    1 July 2013
Category:               Modern and Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9781447235668
Publisher:               Pan Macmillan
Imprint:                   Picador
Extent:                    256 pages
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

“Leila has never met Tess, but she now knows more about Tess than anyone in the world. She’s read all of her emails, researched her past and asked Tess for every detail about her friends and family.

Tess has never met Leila. But if she wants to slip away from the world unnoticed, she needs to trust Leila with her life.

At first, Leila finds it easy to assume Tess’s identity, and no one has any reason to distrust her. But as Leila is soon to discover, there is much more to a person than the facts and there are things about life you can learn only by living it . . .

Original, haunting and utterly gripping, Kiss Me First is an electrifying debut from a phenomenally gifted storyteller.”

Summary and Thoughts

This brilliantly original debut by Lottie Moggach, is a timely novel with two current issues at its heart.  The first, the fact that we live in a digital age where social media has become a means of networking with individuals we have never met, thus begging the question “Do you really know who you are interacting with online” and the second, a sensitive subject for many and one which has garnered countless moral, religious, legal and human rights debates the world over – voluntary euthanasia!

Leila, our narrator, was an only child.  Intelligent albeit socially inept and just a little naive, having led a sheltered life in which taking care of her mother, who suffered with Multiple Sclerosis, was a priority, she is a loner, still mourning the loss of her mother and is content to work from home doing freelance computer programming work and getting lost in the world of her favourite online game.  When she discovers a website called Red Pill where like-minded people come together on the forum, passionately discussing diverse ethical and philosophical topics, she begins to feel comfortable in the company of “friends” chatting about subjects she has an interest and passion for, instead of lurking on Facebook where she only has seventy-three friends and none of them would be interested in what she has to say anyway. 

After a particular ethical discussion, of which she is passionate about, captures her attention on the forum and she posts her thoughts, she is at once noticed by the founder of the website, Adrian Dervish, a somewhat elusive online presence and, according to another member of the forum, one not to be provoked.  When he sends her a message requesting a meeting to discuss an issue relating to her post, she is thrilled that someone has taken the time to notice her.  But his proposition is one which she needs a little time to think about - to take on the online persona of Tess, a forty year old woman who would like to “check out”.

As the narrative progresses, we see Leila accepting Adrian’s proposition and embarking on her journey to become Tess whilst still struggling with her own issues of self-identity and I began to empathise with her as she whole-heartedly delved into all aspects of Tess’ life in order to convincingly take over the online presence of this beautiful, sexy and confident older woman.  As the two strands of the story converge, and a series of distressing encounters and discoveries throws Leila into turmoil, she begins to realise that no-one can ever truly “be” another person.

I really liked the premise of this novel which I thought to be quite unique and, throughout the narrative, found myself continually asking myself questions about what I would have done.  On the one hand, there is the issue of social media and the ever-increasing effect it has on our lives as families begin to separate and create new lives for themselves, sometimes many thousands of kilometres away from each other.  Living in a society where families are fracturing and losing touch with one another more and more, what Leila did in taking over Tess’ online persona, for me, was absolutely plausible.  However, in my life, and while I wouldn’t even consider doing what Tess did, with the close-knit family I have?  Impossible!  I have a husband and two children and, my mother may live about half a world away from me, but I speak to her on a weekly basis.

On the other hand there is the voluntary euthanasia aspect which, as a Christian, I in no way advocate, but with Lottie Moggach and her family having had to consider this issue in the past and, in drawing on her memories, she writes what she knows, bringing the subject to life as she explores the cause and effect through Leila and Tess’ characters.  Clearly making it an interesting subject to read about from a terminally ill sufferer’s point of view, Ms Moggach remains subjective, leaving it up to the reader to take away from her novel what they will.

Well-crafted with thought-provoking and powerful issues at its heart, this emerging author has written an insightful story about the depths of grief and suffering, loneliness and that fundamental human need to belong, which I would highly recommend to both young and old.

I wish to thank Pan MacMillan Australia for providing me with a first edition hard copy.

A Little About the Author

Lottie Moggach is a journalist who has written for The Times, Financial Times, Time Out, Elle, GQ and The London Paper.

She lives in north London.

Kiss Me First is her first novel.

If you would like to find out more about Lottie Moggach and Kiss Me First, please head over to Pan Macmillan's website by clicking here.

For the brilliantly mastered interactive trailer, go here.  Best listened to with your sound on maximum volume.

(Please note that while you will need to log into Facebook in order to view this trailer, connecting  with your Facebook account will not result in anything being posted on your Facebook profile or elsewhere, and your details will never be shared.  Pan Macmillan promises that connecting to watch the trailer with Facebook is completely safe.)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Aussie Book Review: Burned by Persephone Nicholas

BurnedMy Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   Uncorrected eBook Proof courtesy of
                               Random House Australia via NetGalley
Publication Date:    3 June 2013
Category:               Contemporary Fiction
ISBN:                      9780857981240
Publisher:               Random House Australia
Imprint:                   RHA eBooks Adult
Extent:                    256 pages

The Blurb

“One tragic event connects four lives in this haunting story of loss, love and renewal.

Noah Daniels is an innocent young boy who treasures the telescope his father bought him and who daydreams of one day travelling through space.

His mother, Kate, nurses bittersweet memories of her marriage to Richard and deeply regrets moving the family from Sydney to England.

Malcolm Martin is still paralysed with grief twenty years after the death of his son.  Home for him now is a park bench by the canal.

And then there’s Matthew Hooper – a classmate of Noah’s – who has come to suspect that his older brother, Tom, has a dangerous obsession with fire …

Four people from opposite sides of the world are about to be brought together by one horrifying event that will burn them forever.”

Summary and Thoughts

*Please note that this review is based on the uncorrected proof provided to me by the Publisher and that it may differ slightly to the final published version*

Switching between past and present as well as Sydney and Salisbury in the UK, our main characters are Kate Daniels and her son, Noah, Malcolm Martin and Tom Hooper along with David, Lydia and Frankie Trafford and Persephone Nicholas takes us on their journeys dissecting and capturing their emotions with life-like clarity in a novel that explores love, letting go and our sense of belonging.

Noah is a model child who does his best at school, knowing that if he doesn’t, there’s no way he’ll ever be able to reach his dream but, he still grieves the loss of his father and can’t help but blame his mother.  After all, they moved from Australia to the UK and lived together for a while until the day his father moved out into his own home and two years later, was dead in an accident.  Will Noah get to live his dream?

Kate loves Noah, but has always felt somewhat emotionally disconnected from him seeing him as more Richard’s child than hers.  As she reflects back on her life with Richard, and goes through her daily life with Noah, we begin to get a clearer picture regarding the disintegration of her marriage – something that no child of Noah’s age would be able to comprehend when the seriousness of what occurred was always kept behind closed doors.  Can she finally let go of her past and realise that the past has no hold over her?

Tom and Matthew Hooper are brothers.  As the story progresses, the Hooper’s seem to be just like any other normal family, but Matthew, the younger of the two is afraid of his brother’s disturbing  obsession and tries to have as little to do with him as possible.  When he begins to suspect that Tom is involved in something more sinister, he doesn’t realise that trying to keep his knowledge of what his brother has done is going to have dire consequences for both of them.

Malcolm Martin paints a lonely, dejected picture.  Having lost his son, twenty years previously, he has never been able to overcome his grief, plunging him deeper into depression which in turn caused the collapse of his marriage.   Content with now staring down the neck of a bottle, drowning his sorrows with its contents and sleeping on a park bench, he has become a shell of his former self.  Surely no-one will miss him!

David Trafford is a police officer.  His wife, Lydia and his daughter Frankie (Noah’s best friend), play an important part in his life, but while David loves his job, Lydia still longs for something more.  And Frankie?  When she becomes enamoured of Matthew, what will it mean for her friendship with Noah?  Will David and Lydia realise that this is not the life they wish to live?

When Noah finds himself walking home from Scouts late one night, he comes across a burning bundle and attempts, in the only way he knows how, to help.  Unknowingly his kindness and this painful event with its reverberating consequences will have a profound impact on the lives of everyone close to Noah and we are left hoping that they will all stop and reflect on the true importance of life.

It took me a while to get into this novel due to the fact that there is a lot going on in these characters’ lives and memories.  The frequent skipping between past and present was a bit confusing at first although I soon realised that this was important in order to get to know the characters’ backstories and connect emotionally with them.

On the topic of emotional connection, while I thoroughly enjoyed what I shared with Kate and Noah, I found myself floundering when it came to the sixteen year old Tom, as the vivid picture that Persephone Nicholas paints of this psychologically challenged character had me fearing for the safety of all concerned.  He is almost psychopathic in nature and, being a gentler person myself who abhors any act of unkindness, I struggled with his sinister personality wanting in no way to connect with him.

All things considered and, inspired by changes in her own life, Ms Nicholas has written a cleverly constructed human account of our search for belonging which I could totally relate to, as we, too, longed for something more which resulted in us making the decision to create a new life for ourselves in Australia. 

While there are emotional charges of delinquency and bullying threading their way through the narrative along with the renewing effect of letting go of the past and accepting the future, this is a novel about the strength of a mother’s unconditional love for her children and a testament to new beginnings.

I wish to thank Random House Australia for inviting me to read this debut by a talented new author on the Australian scene.

A Little About the Author (Adapted from her website)

Persephone Nicholas is a Sydney-based author and freelance writer.  In February 2013, she was awarded the National Seniors Literary Prize for Burned, her debut novel, published by Random House in June 2013.

Ms Nicholas is a freelance writer with more than 15 years' commercial copywriting experience gained during her career in public relations and marketing in London, working for two of teh UK's leading agencies, J Walter Thompson and The Rowland Company.

Ms Nicholas has a particular interest in management and workplace issues, travel and lifestyle and her work has been published in The Weekend Australian and Daily Telegraph newspapers.  Along with writing for Prevention, Rendezvous en France, Viva La France, Holidays with Kids, Health Smart, Reader's Digest, the Innovative Household and Renovate (NZ) magazines, and has her own blog about books and writing at The Book or Me.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Aussie Book Review: Currawong Creek by Jennifer Scoullar

Currawong Creek
My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   Paperback courtesy of Penguin Australia
Publication Date:    26 June 2013
Category:               Adult and Contemporary Romance
ISBN:                      9781921901560
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
Extent:                    302 pages
RRP:                      AU$29.99

The Blurb

“Brisbane lawyer Clare Mitchell has a structured, orderly life. That is, until she finds herself the unlikely guardian of a small, troubled boy. In desperation, Clare takes Jack to stay at Currawong Creek, her grandfather's horse stud in the foothills of the beautiful Bunya Mountains.

Here life moves at a different pace, and for Clare it feels like coming home.  Her grandad adores having them there.  Jack loves the animals.  And Clare finds herself falling hard for the handsome local vet.

But trouble is coming. The Pyramid Mining Company threatens to destroy the land Clare loves – and with it, her newfound happiness.

Praise for Jennifer Scoullar's Brumby's Run:
'A lovely story of family and self-discovery, of love of the land and the wildlife that live on it.' 1 Girl . . . 2 Many Books
'Appealing characters set within in a magnificent landscape. If you devoured the The Silver Brumby series as a child or had a crush on Tom Burlinson, you are sure to love Brumby's Run.' Book'd Out
'Celebrates the country and, more importantly, the bush as a life-changing environment…A heart-thumping romance.' The Weekly Times”

Summary and Thoughts

When Brisbane-based legal aid lawyer Clare Mitchell is left “holding the baby” so to speak, in this case four year old Jack who has been deserted by his mother, Taylor, when she walks out of a consultation under the pretence of going for a cigarette, Clare’s life is thrown into turmoil.

After the Department of Human Services arranges for Jack to be placed in a Contingency Unit due to the lack of available foster carers and once Jack takes an instinctive dislike to everyone bar Clare, she makes an impulsive decision and offers her assistance, little knowing what’s ahead of her.  Used to being single and living in a small apartment, both Clare and her apartment are ill-equipped for the shenanigans involved when it comes to the mischievous four-year-old Jack and Samson, the German Shepherd puppy she recently inherited from her deceased father.

As she tries to find an equal balance between work and life with Jack and his challenging behavioural issues which are a source of contention at the daycare he attends, she finds herself more often than not being reminded of Currawong Creek, her grandfather’s horse property in Merriang at the foot of the Bunya Mountains where her and her brother spent many happy hours as a children – until their mother walked out on them and their father decided to distance himself from that side of the family.

Things become a bit more complicated after her boss announces that her temporary care of Jack may need to be extended due to unforeseen circumstances and, at his suggestion that she take some leave, Clare takes a long hard look at her life.  While she’s eager to rise up the ranks in a job that she is passionate about and, when an embarrassing event involving her barrister boyfriend Adam leaves her bristling, she makes the decision that the best thing for her, Jack and Samson is a tree change.

Making all the logistical arrangements with her grandfather, Clare finally finds herself at Currawong Creek and, for me, gets off to a hilarious start in her new life when she finds herself in a bit of a pickle after having climbed a tree as well as a tussle between the handsome Tom, the local vet, and a python.

Tom, although not fleshed out as much as Clare, is a very likeable character who clearly grows to love both Clare and Jack and, while there isn’t much in the way of personal conflict between them, I found this to be a somewhat refreshing change, with Jennifer Scoullar instead creating the two sources of conflict in the form of Taylor, Jack’s mother (along with the lack of placement options for children who have behavioural issues), and the fears facing our farmers in relation to the mining of coal seam gas.

Ms Scoullar’s love of the land, as well as her concern for the larger issues at hand, which are dealt with sensitively, truly shine through in her prose and having regard to the fact that I live in Toowoomba and have done a few trips to the Bunya Mountains myself, her sense of place is brought to life in her precise observations of the landscape, immediately allowing me to conjure up the majestic beauty of my part of the Darling Downs, as I envisaged Clare driving up the Range into Toowoomba and then on through the rural countryside which surrounds the Bunyas.

The incorporation of animal interaction, specifically equine therapy, also plays a role, but the landscape is central in all the characters’ lives, and I felt that I was in a living, breathing world sharing their experiences.

Told with warmth and humour, this is a story about family, the risks and rewards of selfless devotion and the powerful bonds we form with animals and the land.

I wish to thank Penguin Books for providing me with a paperback copy of this fine novel.

A Little About the Author (taken from Penguin Books Australia)

Jennifer has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world.  Her house, which was left to her by her father, is on a hilltop overlooking valleys of messmate and mountain ash.  She lives there with her family.  A pair of old eagles live there too.  Black-tailed wallabies graze by the creek.  Eastern spinebills hover among the callistemon.  Horses have always been her passion.  She grew up on the books of Elyne Mitchell, and all her life she's ridden and bred horses, in particular Australian stock horses.

Currawong Creek is Jennifer's third novel.  Wasp Season, a contemporary Australian thriller, was launched at the 2008 Melbourne Writer's Festival and Brumby's Run, her second, was released by Penguin Books Australia in July 2012.