Monday, 30 June 2014

Aussie Author Round-Up: Fiona McArthur, Red Sand Sunrise

Today it is my absolute pleasure to welcome Australian romance author Fiona McArthur to my blog, to celebrate the release of her latest novel, Red Sand Sunrise.

Like a lot of girls from the country, Fiona moved to Sydney at seventeen and started her training as a nurse, and later a midwife. There she met her wonderful husband, Ian, and they’ve been married for thirty-three years and blessed with five boys, now between nineteen and thirty years.

Prudently, when they began to produce boys, they moved to northern NSW and now live on two hundred acres with kangaroos, wallabies and grass that grows faster than the speed of light when it rains.

Fiona has always loved reading which has fed her passion for writing. Her first medical romance novel was published by Harlequin  in 2001 and she is now on her thirty-first novel. She has been nominated for the Romantic Book of The Year with Romance Writers of Australia and the US based Cataromance Readers Choice Award and has sold over 2 million books, in twelve languages.

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

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Penguin Books Australia, especially Maria from their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

Fiona, it’s really wonderful to have you here to celebrate the release of your latest novel Red Sand Sunrise.

Thanks so much for inviting me, Marcia, it’s lovely to be here. It’s been such an exciting ride the last couple of weeks.

I've just finished reading Red Sand Sunrise (what a great book - my review here) but for those that haven’t, would you mind telling us about it?

Red Sand Sunrise is a rural fiction about three sisters; a midwife, a GP and an obstetrician, who learn to appreciate each other while working to provide a service for pregnant women in the outback. They’re very different personalities and I wasn’t so sure how they were going to bond but the conversation and growth between them was great fun and the book flew.

Could you share with us the amount of research that went into writing Red Sand Sunrise.

I’m a midwife who works in a country hospital, so I have a fair bit of background expertise, though we look after low risk women. The cold hard facts are we have so many more resources than the women in the outback have at their disposal. Luckily I get to spend education weekends with midwives and doctors who work and fly all over Australia so I’m always pestering them for stories and reality checks. There’s also a team of fabulous sexual health workers in the building next door to my work who have answered lots of my questions for RSS and the original idea came from a midwifery conference. Then there was the really fun part of travelling around western Queensland with my husband to soak in the sights and sounds and heat.

Well, I think you've done a brilliant job and it definitely shows. Could you please share a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author?

I loved writing stories at school but didn’t start writing ‘For Pleasure and Profit’ until after I had four little boys. It took me ten years, and another little boy, before I actually finished a book, but that was the one I sold. It was one of the most exciting days of my life. Not surprisingly I was waiting for a baby to be born at work when the news came through and I still remember that baby’s birthday. 

Do you, as a writer, have a motto or maxim? What is it?

Same as I have for women having babies or new mums. Believe in yourself. Go with your instincts. For writing, I add one more. Be professional when you present your work. 

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

Finish the damn book. From Emma Darcy. I stopped writing  ten years of three chapters and synopsis. Thankfully I finished the ‘damn book’ and sold it the next year.

When did you start writing seriously and what motivated you?

As I said, we had four little boys and then five, and my husband was working long hours as a country ambulance officer. He was paying the bills and I thought writing on my days off would be another income I could make, (I did two shiftwork days a week as midwife) as a way of being able to afford fun things. I used to write between 4am and 6 am when the boys were asleep. Since I sold my first book I’ve been writing between two to three books a year for the last twelve years. The friends I’ve made with other writers, and fabulous readers letters, have been the biggest bonuses. Now Red Sand Sunrise is the start of a whole new adventure and I can’t wait to finish the next book for Penguin. It will be out this time next year.

An adventure that I'm sure your fans are going to share through your writing! Fiona, it’s been an absolute pleasure.  Thank you so much for joining me today and once again, a huge congratulations, but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of Red Sand Sunrise?

The start of Chapter Two:

"Duncan Wilson’s wake was held at the Imperial Hotel. Eve followed Callie’s car to the pub as she mulled over her first impressions of the two women in Duncan’s life.
Funny how she’d assumed Callie would be tall and slim like her and Sienna, but Callie was like her mother. Sylvia was small and dark-haired, almost pixie-ish, with the kindest eyes Eve had ever seen, and Callie had her mother’s build and eyes in an elegant package. 
There had been none of the stand-offishness she’d expected as the representative of Duncan’s other family. Maybe it was a good thing Sienna hadn’t come; if anyone could instantly get up people’s noses it was Sienna.
Eve turned into the pub’s crowded red-dirt car park and pulled up in front of a post and rail fence that looked like it had had one too many drinks itself. How appropriate. She could almost hear Sienna’s condescending comment: ‘Very rustic.’ 
Well, Eve loved it. The building sat back a little from the red dusty edges of the tarred road, its most distinguishing feature the silver tin roof that hung over the encircling verandahs. A flagpole stood to the side and Eve felt her eyes sting as she took in the Australian flag hanging limply at half-mast, forlorn in the hot, still air. She wondered how many times the father she couldn’t remember had run his fingers through the rope at the side of the flagpole.
A couple of wooden steps led to the main doorway, which lay on the diagonal. It looked like someone had snipped off a corner of the pub just as they would snip off the corner of a packet of frozen peas.
The heat from the sun soaked into her hair as if someone had pointed a blow dryer to her head and when she touched her crown she was astounded at the burn beneath her fingers. This place was insane."

Red Sand Sunrise can be purchased from the following links:

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Aussie Book Review: Red Sand Sunrise by Fiona McArthur

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Penguin Books
Publication Date:    25 Junel 2014
Category:               Romance
ISBN:                      9781921901867
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

"When the father she barely knew dies suddenly, midwife Eve Wilson decides she owes it to him to go to the funeral and meet her stepfamily in Red Sand. She doesn't expect to be so completely charmed by the beautiful remote township in far west Queensland – or by local station owner, Lex McKay.

After disappointment and heartbreak in Sydney, Dr Callie Wilson decides it might be time to move home to spend some time with her grieving mother. When she is approached to oversee the establishment of the area's first medical clinic, it seems the perfect opportunity. And Callie is keen to involve Eve, the sister she's just getting to know.

Melbourne-based obstetrician Sienna Wilson can't understand why anyone would want to bury themselves in the outback, but when her hospital sends her north to research the medical mystery affecting women in Red Sand, it seems fate is intent on bringing the three sisters together.  And when disaster strikes, they must each decide if being true to themselves means being there for each other...

Red Sand Sunrise is a romantic, heartfelt story from an internationally bestselling author. It celebrates the strength of family ties, the renewing power of love, and the passion of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things.”

Summary and Thoughts

Drama and tragedy abound in this emotionally wrought story brought to us by Australian author Fiona McArthur, as she puts her three heroines through the paces of life, death and birth in the Outback. 

A successful Obstetrician in Melbourne, Sienna Wilson is a hard egg to crack.  While her sister Eve heads to the small township of Red Sand in western Queensland to attend the funeral of the father she didn’t know, Sienna has no desire to meet the “other” family of the man who deserted them, and would rather continue climbing her ladder to success in the city.

Eve is not expecting to be welcomed with open arms by her father’s other family - her half-sister Callie and his widow, Sylvia - but she is overwhelmed with the generosity of their hearts and the unadulterated warmth which is shown to her.

Callie, older than Eve by ten years, was a successful GP in Sydney until, after suffering a personal trauma and heartbreak at the hands of her ex-husband, thought it prudent to move home and rather offer support to her grieving mother than remain in an unhappy existence in the city.

Motivated by three family tragedies of her own, the formidable matriarch of McKay Holdings, Blanche McKay approaches Callie at her father’s wake seeking her assistance in finding staff for a medical clinic she wishes to fund and build in Red Sand because, as if the drought in Red Sand isn’t bad enough, affecting many property owners’ livelihoods, it has become apparent that something is threatening the lives of the town’s unborn babies, causing them to be born prematurely.

With the two sisters already having begun to form a close relationship that both appear hesitant to lose, Callie discusses Blanche's idea with Eve, asking if she knows of any midwives who could possibly want to come out to Red Sand for six months to trial it, while she gets herself settled in with Sylvia.  The prospect immediately appeals to Eve as she sees it not only as a challenge but a chance for change and getting to know her sister better, but she will need to go back to the city for a while to think about it and tie up her affairs.

It's not long before Sienna gets her first taste of Red Sand when her and Eve are called for the reading of their father's will which has a stipulation requiring that they both be present. Needless to say, Sienna is not happy, even though it's only for a day ... and she doesn't get to escape meeting Blanche McKay.

Speaking of Blanche, I did mention before that she was formidable didn’t I?  So, it’s no surprise to the reader that eleven weeks after her first visit, when Eve has already taken up her position at the clinic, Blanche is once again on a mission after another near tragedy involving a mother and baby.  She needs answers and she needs them now – preferably from someone who is familiar with research.  Sienna is at the top of her list and the lady with the deep pockets has her seconded to the town on a three month research trip to find out what is elevating the premature birth rates so substantially.

When the stand-offish Sienna finally makes her unhappy appearance, her arrival in town is nothing less than memorable, as she assists a young resident of the town to give birth to her baby on the side of the road, but it is an almost fatal accident in which a road train and a ute connect that will see Eve and Sienna in a race against time to save the life of the pregnant woman and her unborn baby trapped within the confines of the mangled wreck.

A midwife herself, Fiona McArthur, has written an engaging tale which, while it will have readers immersing themselves in both the beauty and harshness of the Outback, will also have then nodding their heads in agreement as "women's fiction meets rural medical drama".  In her latest offering, Fiona tugs at our heartstrings as we get to feel the depth of the loves, losses, trials and tribulations of these three strong and independent women intermingled within the wider focus of the isolation of the Outback and the minimal access to medical assistance.

Much like the Rev John Flynn pioneered his way to success with campaigning for and then establishing the much needed Royal Flying Doctor's Service, in Red Sand Sunrise, Fiona gives us Blanche McKay, the wealthy benefactress who rises to the challenge of seeking out and providing the required medical skills in their suffering Outback town and, for those of us who live in both the capitals and larger regional cities in Australia (like Toowoomba where I live), I think that we often take advantage of the medical services we have at our disposal - services that can arrive in next to no time with the push of three simple zeros - and we tend to forget about those living in isolation and having to make do with the little that is available to them on short notice.

The RFDS and Flying Obstetrician offer a wonderful and important service and Fiona McArthur has done a brilliant job of bringing this home to us as she puts the perils of living in remote locations into real life perspective, painting a vivid picture of the medical struggles which our Outback counterparts face every day of their lives.

From corrugations in the dirt, dry creek beds and the raucous cockatoos in the trees, to Eve and Sienna fighting against the clock to save the lives of a mother and unborn baby as I stood by literally feeling the sun beating down on my head with the red dirt settling on my tongue, Fiona has given us the Outback in all its ochre and brown glory, in a story that will warm your heart on a cold winter’s day.

I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a hard copy of this heart-warming tale of loss, love and the gift of family.

A Little About the Author

Fiona McArthur has worked as a rural midwife for twenty-five years. She is a clinical midwifery educator and teaches emergency obstetric strategies while working with midwives and doctors from remote and isolated areas.

She has written more than thirty romances, which have sold over two million copies in twelve languages and has been a RWA Romantic Book of the Year finalist and American Cataromance Readers Choice finalist. A midwifery expert for Mother and Baby magazine, she is also the author of the non-fiction work, The Don't Panic Guide to Birth.

Much to the pleasure of her ex-paramedic husband, she has sold her motorbike and finally had her first parachute experience, as well as booked her next research trip.

Fiona lives in northern New South Wales.

If you would like to know more about the fantastic service that the RFDS offers to our remote locations or if you would like to make a donation, please visit their website by clicking on their logo below:

Monday, 23 June 2014

Aussie Book Review: Fairway to Heaven by Lily Malone

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   eBook courtesy of Lily Malone
Publication Date:    6 January 2014
Category:               Contemporary Romance
RRP:                      Kindle Edition - AU$3.99

From the Cover

“I just want sex to feel normal again. I don’t have to see stars. I don’t want multiple orgasms. Normal. Do you think that’s possible?” 

The story of one woman’s personal struggle to regain her mojo in a small seaside town.

When Jennifer Gates drives to Sea Breeze Golf Club to kick off date-night with her boyfriend, the last thing she expects is to find Golf-Pro Jack giving one of his lady students a private—and very personal—lesson in bunker-play.

Lucky for Jenn, her best friend gives her the keys to the Culhane family’s beach shack on the white-pepper shores of Western Australia’s Geographe Bay. Jenn hopes a weekend on the coast with her young son will give her the space she needs to rebuild her confidence after Jack’s betrayal.

But she’s not the only person seeking sanctuary by the sea. Brayden Culhane is there too, and Jenn can’t look at Brayden without remembering the tequila-flavoured kiss they shared on the shack steps years ago.

As long-buried feelings are rekindled, and a friendship is renewed, Jenn knows it is more than lazy summer days bringing her mojo back. Romantic sunsets, ice-cold beers and the odd round of golf can only go so far, because this time, trusting Brayden with her heart won’t be enough. Jenn has to learn to trust her body, too.

Summary and Thoughts

In Fairway to Heaven, Lily Malone brings us a romance, and heroine, with a difference.

The book opens with Jennifer (Jenn) Gates heading to the golf course intent on surprising her boyfriend, Jack Bannerman with a romantic night in.  Unfortunately, Jenn is the one who is surprised when she discovers him and one of his students in a compromising situation.

Hot on the heels of this distressing discovery, the disillusioned Jenn heads home to pack some things for herself and Seb, their toddler son, then seeks solace with Emmy, her best friend, who offers her unconditional use of the Culhane family beach shack at Busselton in Geographe Bay.

When Jenn finally arrives at the shack though, she comes face-to-face with Brayden, Emmy’s brother and, while her and Brayden are no strangers to each other (after all, they grew up together and she spent many happy beach holidays with their family), she doesn’t want to intrude.

Brayden soon puts both her and Seb at ease though, explaining that his family don’t know that he’s at the shack.  As the story progresses, we come to learn that he is a FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) mine worker, currently taking some time out from work after an accident which could see him being charged.  Eight years before though, Brayden had walked away from Jenn and the possibility of a relationship to pursue that career.

With him and Jenn sharing the small shack, they resume the close friendship they had all those years before and, while Jenn tries to come to terms with the fact that her and Jack’s relationship is over, she sets out to make a life for herself and Seb, whilst also trying to get to the bottom of the sexual issue that she has suffered from since his birth.

Lily Malone has done it again – ok, so it’s no secret that I adore the girl in the pink beanie.  Seriously though, Lily has brought us a story about real people with contemporary issues and, unlike the majority of romance novelists today, who prefer the safety of drawing perfect female protagonists, Lily swings her way into territory unknown as she challenges the notion of conventional romance by tackling an issue which could quite possibly affect more women out there than we know about. 

Her writing is thoughtful and insightful and, with her use of first person POV, she pulls the reader into Jenn’s angst and hopes as she tries desperately to have her problem diagnosed.  She first convinces herself that it is all hormonal and then wonders whether her lack of desire to go through the pain of sexual intercourse could be the result of Jack having an affair.  As the romance between her and Brayden deepens with his drama unfolding as well as a hint of things to come, she finally gets to see a gynaecologist who has the answers she’s been seeking.

I found Jenn to be an extremely relatable protagonist (she could be your best friend) and, having given birth to two children myself, I was hooked and drawn into her mindset and dilemma as I learnt about an issue I had never heard of.

In a recent blog post, Lily had this to say about why she decided to write about a heroine with a vaginal problem: “While I am all for reading for escapism, I have reached the stage where I’m tired of the heroine seeing stars at the touch of her hero’s hand. I like my romance to be real.”  Lily goes on to say that if she “can raise some awareness about this as an area of our medicine that needs research and attention, then I think as a writer, that’s a very positive thing.”

Lily also doesn’t suffer fools gladly as she expertly advances the story with succinct and purposeful dialogue from Jenn, Brayden and the secondary characters, allowing the reader to get a great sense of personality and a real sense of place.

Whilst on the subject of place, I have never been to WA (besides a quick stopover at the airport on our journey to Australia from South Africa), but Lily has portrayed the town in such a manner that I really want to visit.  This time, instead of stopovers at the airport, rather it would be for time spent in Busselton with some wonderful WA friends that I have made through my blogging and Facebook and, perhaps quite a few bottles of red wine!

Quite clearly, a large amount of research has gone into the issue contained in this novel but Lily keeps it light in tone, once again lending her sassy wit and humour to Jenn’s journey to her very own fairway to Heaven.

I would like to thank Lily Malone for providing me with a copy of this ebook (even though it took quite a while for us to figure out how I could get the attachment to open correctly in my Kindle reader) and I also wish to thank her for the acknowledgement of my review for The Goodbye Ride!

For more information on the blogpost by Lily that I mentioned earlier, please follow the link here.

About the Author

Lily Malone is a journalist and editor who decided after years of writing facts for a living, writing Australian contemporary romance was much more fun.

Her debut novel His Brand Of Beautiful, was published by Escape Publishing in March 2013.

In May 2013, Lily self-published her second novella, The Goodbye Ride.

Fairway to Heaven is her third contribution to the writing world.

Lily loves to hear from her fans and you can find her at the following links:

Twitter - @lily_lilymalone
Facebook - lily.lilymalone

Or visit her blog at

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Aussie Book Review: Rocking Horse Hill by Cathryn Hein

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Penguin Books
Publication Date:    23 April 2014
Category:               Adult & Contemporary
ISBN:                      9781921901980
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

“Ever since she was a little girl, Emily Wallace-Jones has loved Rocking Horse Hill. The beautiful family property is steeped in history. Everything important in Em's life has happened there. And even though Em's brother Digby has inherited the property, he has promised Em it will be her home for as long as she wishes.

When Digby falls in love with sweet Felicity Townsend, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Em worries about the future. But she is determined not to treat Felicity with the same teenage snobbery that tore apart her relationship with her first love, Josh Sinclair. A man who has now sauntered sexily back into Em's life and given her a chance for redemption.

But as Felicity settles in, the once tightly knitted Wallace-Jones family begins to fray. Suspicions are raised, Josh voices his distrust, and even Em's closest friends question where Felicity's motives lie. Conflicted but determined to make up for the damage caused by her past prejudices, Em sides with her brother and his fiancée until a near tragedy forces the entire family to see things in a new light.”

Summary and Thoughts

They say that “the kitchen is the heart of the home”!  Cathryn Hein, who has become one of Australia’s most loved rural romance authors, is an avid foodie to boot, and she succeeds in Rocking Horse Hill to prove that there is no myth in the above quote.  As you turn each page of this suspenseful but heartfelt novel steeped in tradition, your senses are sure to be aroused with taunting aromas, crackling warmth, sizzling romance and a dollop of suspense.

Emily (Em), our protagonist, is from the prestigious Wallace-Jones family.  We are introduced to her on a cold rainy night as she locks up her shop, PaperPassion, ready to head to Camrick, the family’s ancestral estate, for their traditional Tuesday evening family dinner.

Arriving at Camrick, she is told that Digby, her brother, and heir to the Camrick fortune, has a “surprise” as well as an announcement to make.  His surprise arrives in the form of Felicity (Flick) Townsend and, when he reveals that they are engaged, Em and her family are somewhat taken aback at the girl he has chosen. However, Em is determined to make Flick feel welcome.

While Em goes out of her way to make Felicity feel comfortable and tries to get to know her better, it’s not long after that she begins to fear for her own place within the family and worries that her brother’s promise of long-term tenancy at the farm nestled at the foot of her cherished Rocking Horse Hill will disappear from her life.

Despite some serious misgivings from the illustrious grand dame of Camrick, Granny B, and her best friends Teagan and Jasmine, there’s another dimension to Em’s commitment to doing all she can to make Flick feel welcome and that is the pain and anguish she knows all too well from a snobbish decision she made thirteen years before when she walked away from Josh Sinclair.

Josh, after the break-up of his marriage, is back home with his ordinary working class family to lend support to his warm and loving mother, Michelle, stricken with a terminal illness.  He’s been told that PaperPassion is owned by Em, but when he walks into the shop to make a purchase for Michelle and comes face-to-face with Em, all the old feelings of hurt and resentment come bubbling to the surface, as he recalls that the only sin he ever committed was by loving her too much.

The passion between her and Josh is soon reignited, but as Flick continues to make subtle in-roads into the family and begins to emulate both Em and Adrienne, Em’s only solace is at Rocking Horse Hill with her menagerie of animals which include Muffet, her aging Smithfield Collie, a few horses, Chelsea, the Indian Runner duck and her two naughty donkeys, Kicki and Cutie who are hell-bent on escape.

However, when a seemingly innocuous incident involving Granny B sees her being rushed to hospital and Adrienne’s state of mind begins to deteriorate, it appears that not is all as it should be at Camrick!  But, Rocking Horse Hill, it seems, will not allow its guardians to be thwarted!

I’m a bit of a sucker for a suspenseful story and this reviewer especially liked that Cathryn has, for the first time, interwoven these elements into one of her stories.  While the taunting aromas of good food and wine permeate the pages, as the plot is juggled brilliantly with the dramatic conflict building at a steady pace, we 
get to know all the characters, their baggage and the familial issues surrounding them.

Em’s story takes place in the beautiful south-east corner of South Australia, with Rocking Horse Hill, the extinct volcano in this story, being inspired by both Mount Elephant in Victoria and Mount Schank, sister to Mount Gambier, where Cathryn Hein grew up.

Its majestic but austere presence along with its abandoned quarry seeps ever so effectively into the storyline so that it almost becomes a character in itself, and I thought it especially ingenious when a severe storm sees one of the decades old cypresses leaving a gaping hole in the farm's Avenue of Honour - like an omen of things to come – atmospherically adding to our protagonist’s hopes, fears and anguish.

While on the subject of characters, Cathryn knows how to build them into well-rounded, likeable people, from Em who is still guilt-ridden for the manner in which she treated Josh in their late teenage years, Felicity who is from the wrong side of the tracks and a mystery to all, to Josh, our disfigured but oh so sexy, charming and gentle hero who has always felt that he wasn’t good enough for Em due to her wealthy background.  Her secondary characters are just as well developed, adding layers to the story and I couldn’t help falling in love with Josh’s mom who is warm and motherly, while Granny B, steals the show with her wry sense of humour and a hint of snobbery.  Of course, Cathryn's delightfully endearing animal characters always lend a bit of comic relief, this time with Kicki and Cutie keeping our protagonist on her toes.

Populated with real life problems, which Cathryn always handles with skill and compassion, this is a story about families whose homes are not only built by bricks and mortar but also by love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness, second chances and mouth-watering  home cooked meals.

All in all, Cathryn has given us a great winter read that is sure to tug at your heartstrings and tickle your tastebuds while you warm yourself next to a crackling warm fire.

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

A Little About the Author

Cathryn Hein was born in South Australia’s rural south-east.  With three generations of jockeys in the family it was little wonder she grew up horse mad, finally obtaining her first horse at age 10.  So began years of pony club, eventing, dressage and showjumping until university beckoned.

Armed with a shiny Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) from Roseworthy College she moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry. Her partner’s posting to France took Cathryn overseas for three years in Provence where she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write. Her short fiction has been recognised in numerous contests, and published in Woman’s Day.

Cathryn’s first three novels, Promises, Heart of the Valley and Heartland were finalists in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards. Rocking Horse Hill is her fourth rural romance novel.  In September she will release The French Prize, her first romantic adventure story.

Cathryn currently lives at the base of the Blue Mountains in Sydney’s far west with her partner of many years, Jim. When she’s not writing, she plays golf (ineptly), cooks (well), and in football season barracks (rowdily) for her beloved Sydney Swans AFL team.

If you would like to know more about Cathryn Hein and Rocking Horse Hill, please click here for an interview held with her recently in which she talks about the novel and writing.

*Please note that the owner of this blog claims no rights to the artwork displayed in this post.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Aussie Author Round-Up: Mary Costello, Irresistible Enemy

Today it is my pleasure to welcome contemporary romance Author Mary Costello to my blog.

Mary is an Irish-Australian freelance writer, and despite living most of her life here, she hasn't lost her accent, or the sense of being somewhere exotic.

She lives in Melbourne's bush-burbs with her husband of many years, who, oddly, bears no resemblance whatsoever to a romantic hero. They live with a flock of recovering battery hens and their two daughters, for whom Mary aspires to arrange advantageous matches to men of large property.

Mary's first book, Titanic Town: Memoirs of a Belfast Girlhood, was published twenty years ago, but she only recently turned her pen to Romance, inspired by the heroics of the men of Aussie Rules footy.

Through the thrilling nexus of footy and love, she hopes to fulfil her romantic Destiny, and keep on writing.

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

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Penguin Books Australia, especially Anna from their publicity department, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

Mary, it’s really lovely to have you here with me.  Thank you for stopping by my blog.

No worries, Marcia.  I’m always happy to talk about romance, especially romance with an Australian flavour.

Would you mind telling us a bit about Irresistible Enemy?

The story is set in Melbourne’s bush-burbs – a beautiful environment, but one prone to bushfire.

The heroine, Cassie Bowtell, runs a wildlife sanctuary and spends all her time, energy and money on the animals she cares for.  The hero, Hart Huntingdon, is a handsome, charming and wealthy property developer, so the two lead very different lifestyles.  Hart lives the good life, with his architect-designed homes, his expensive cars and his wardrobe of hand-made Italian suits.  Cassie is a sweet, girl – plain and flat-chested with knobbly knees and frizzy hair. She’s no one’s idea of a romantic heroine, and she’s broke. Her old weatherboard cottage is falling down around her, her rusty ute is in desperate need of a service, and her clothes are all op-shop chic.

This unlikely couple comes into contact when Hart buys the property next to the wildlife sanctuary in order to build a residential development of a hundred exclusive homes.  Cassie and her neighbours band together to stop him, and Hart becomes increasingly intrigued by the feisty little greenie who is so very different from the sexy and sophisticated women who normally hover around him.

Please share a bit about yourself and your journey to becoming an author?

I’ve been a freelance writer for many years, writing about everything from education and food to travel and gardening.  But above all I loved writing about property – architecture, land, decor – anything to do with making a home, and I think that’s what I like to do when I write – make a home for the characters – an entire world of the imagination.

I started writing romance because I fell in love, not with a man – with Aussie Rules footy.  It was so unexpected, because I’d never played or attended any sport in my entire life until about seven years ago, when a friend insisted on my accompanying her to a game of footy.  I don’t know how, but I got hooked on the excitement, the spectacle and the drama of it all.

It was the off-season about two and half years ago, and I was missing footy.  So I decided to create my own footy story – with a dash of romance, and I wrote The Reluctant WAG, the first in the Yarraside Wolves series.  My second romance, Irresistible Enemy, was more about my land and property fantasies, and I‘ve just finished a romantic suspense novel, which was enormous fun to write.  I hope to start on another footy story in the next few weeks.

If I enjoy fantasising about something, and can keep myself entertained by it, I like to think other people will want to read about it.

I absolutely LOVE romantic suspense Mary, so I'm sure that will be added to my list of "must reads", but continuing our discussion, do you, as a writer, have a motto or maxim?  If so, what is it?

There is no such thing as a bore.  Everyone has an interesting story to tell, if you can only get it out of them. If you don’t see that, you’re probably not cut out to be a writer.

Why did you choose to become a contemporary romance author?  Or did the genre choose you?

It was the only genre that a footy story would fit into.  But I have a great love of Regency romance and also of romantic suspense.  I’m as fascinated by history and murder as I am by footy.  I’d like to write in a range of genres in the future.

If you could ask your readers a question, what would it be?

What’s the one thing that draws you to a novel and keeps you reading it? 

Who’s your favourite footy player? And Why?

Now you’re talking!  My all-time favourite would have to be Nathan Buckley.  He’s a compelling mix of intelligence, strength, talent, drive and leadership, but he’s also funny and compassionate.  He was the model for my first hero, Cal McCoy, although I touched up a few of Nathan’s slight physical imperfections, for the sake of my readers, of course.

My favourite current player is Dane Swan.  I’m convinced he’s a misunderstood genius, so he’s the inspiration for next footy hero.

Mary, thank you so much for joining me today, but before you go, would you mind sharing an excerpt from Irresistible Enemy?

Thanks Marcia, I appreciate the chat. Here’s a wee bit set in a typical rural paddock of this land of sweeping plains:

"Cassie had finished feeding the roos in the paddock and Sage still hadn’t turned up. She needed to find him. He’d cut his leg badly on a barbed wire fence a few days before and needed the dressing changed. The blind old wombat usually appeared when she set out the feed. He’d come ambling across the paddock, snuffling for something to eat. But there was no sign of him this morning. Sometimes he’d wander on to one of the adjoining properties, and wouldn’t reappear until twilight, but she had to track him down before then.
She headed first towards Huntingdon’s land. It was Sage’s favourite foraging ground, but not for much longer. A few minutes later Cassie was searching down among the trees beside the creek when she heard a cry. A human cry. She turned sharply. It was coming from the other side of the property, near the old diggings. She heard it again, and this time she could make out someone calling ‘Help! Help!’ She began to run towards the sound.
‘Hey! Over here!’
She could hear the shouts, but there was no one around. She turned a full circle. Not even a tree for anyone to hide behind. Then it struck her; she lowered her eyes and there, fifty metres in front of her, was a hand waving out of a hole in the ground. Someone had fallen into one of the abandoned mine shafts. She ran over to the hole, looked down and saw Hart Huntingdon. ‘You!’ she exclaimed.
‘Yes. Me. I fell in,’ he said testily.
‘You don’t say! And I thought maybe you were down there looking at the possibilities of putting in a few hundred underground apartments.’
‘Very funny.’
‘Yeah, well, I think it’s funny that anyone would want to spoil this place, but that’s just me.’ She squatted down and inspected the hole. ‘Can’t you climb up yourself? You seem able-bodied enough to me.’ Whoops! Too much information. Didn’t want him thinking she’d been looking at his body.
‘Yeah, but I’ve broken my damned wrist, I think, and I’ve twisted my ankle. I can’t haul myself up on one hand. Well, maybe I could drag myself up somehow, but not without doing more damage to this wrist. I’m going to need some help.’
‘From me?’
‘From anybody, but as you’re the only one here, then yes. I’m sorry to be a pain, but I came out here on my own and no one even knows I’m here.’
Cassie raised a speculative eyebrow. ‘Really? So, let me see; you’re stuck down a hole right in the middle of your hundred acres, out of sight, out of earshot of anyone. No one knows you’re here. You’re injured, you’re helpless and you’re the man who’s going to totally destroy this environment and my way of life. Mmm . . . what should I do? Rush to your aid and let you live to wreck my life, or shovel a ton of dirt in on top of you?’
‘Hilarious!’ he retorted. ‘You’re in a playful mood today, I see. But I’d rather you cut the comedy and got me out of here.’
‘I’m just wondering how you could be so silly. Everyone knows this whole paddock’s riddled with disused mine shafts. They dug a lot of open mines around here. Hence the name Diggers Creek.’
‘Thanks for the history lesson, and so timely when I’ve been standing here yelling for the best part of an hour, dehydrated and roasting in this heat.’
‘Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you acquire land you know nothing about. Have you thought that some of your hundred future “boutique” homes might just disappear into a big hole one day?’
‘All of this will be properly filled in before we even start putting in the roads and services.’
‘Oh great – years of disruption and noise from construction machinery, and that’s before the hordes move in. I can hardly wait.’
‘Look, can we debate this another day?’ He was beginning to sound thoroughly exasperated. ‘I’d really like to get out of here. Why are you here, anyway?’
‘I’m looking for a sick wombat. He’s gone walkabout. I’d say he’s wandered in here. But if you’re worried that I’m trespassing, I’ll just shoot off.’ She stood up and made as if to go.
‘No!’ he cried. ‘Please, I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. I meant that it’s lucky for me you happened by here.’
‘Indeed. Or we mightn’t have found your desiccated body for weeks.’
He gave a wry smile. A gorgeous smile.
‘Okay, if you’ve had enough of a laugh at my expense, could you please help me out?’ 
But she’d turned and walked away. He could hear her boots crunching on scree and twigs. ‘Cassie!’ he called out. ‘Miss Bowtell! Are you going to get help or what?’
There was no response. Hart sighed and hunkered down in the hole. She wouldn’t leave him. She’d be back. Wouldn’t she? 
As Cassie hurried back to her place she realised she was still wearing her hideous mucking-out gear. The thought slipped into her mind that she really didn’t want Hart to see her like this. She immediately banished that thought and decided she’d better banish all the other wayward thoughts she’d been having about this man. Better not to start imagining things, or getting her ridiculous hopes up. Because that’s all she’d be doing. A man like Hart Huntingdon would never think of someone like her in that way. Sure, he was polite and he had been great about Mimi. But realistically, he would never even have noticed her if she hadn’t been part of the residents’ campaign. To him she was just one insignificant part of a damned nuisance. 
But then she thought back to that day at the market, when he saved William the rooster, and was so sweet, and, yes, attentive. For a fleeting moment she’d thought he liked her. She’d probably been wrong. She was probably projecting her own thoughts on to him. Cassie sighed as she threw her leg over the fence. Focus on the job in hand and get him out of that mine shaft, Cass. Don’t give him any inkling of the fact that even covered in dust and stuck down a hole, he’s still the most attractive man you’ve ever met. 
She went straight to the tool shed and began searching for a rope. It would be okay if she was actually doing something. Must focus on activity! Now, where was that bloody rope? It took her a while, but about twenty minutes later he heard a vehicle approaching, and the next thing Cassie was kneeling above the pit looking down at him, that brown kelpie right next to her.
‘Tie this round your waist, or somewhere,’ she yelled throwing down one end of the rope. 
Hart grabbed it and dubiously inspected the dirty rope with its fraying strands. 
‘Do you think this will hold?’ he called up.
‘It’s hard to say. It might snap and you might fall and break your neck, or back. We’ll just have to take that risk,’ she added cheerily.
‘Thanks. Very reassuring.’ He fumbled to tie a knot with one hand, manoeuvring his elbow to work in place of his left hand.
Cassie watched him struggle. ‘I’m trying to think of you as an injured animal,’ she told him. ‘I’ll give you the same attention I would a wounded wombat or kangaroo.’
‘Oh, terrific! Great to know that. The good news is that I won’t bite, scratch or kick – even if I am tempted. Okay, I think this should do. Now could you please hurry up before I get fried in this heat.’
She waved a hand at Banjo and the dog ran off and returned right away with a plastic water bottle in its mouth. Cassie passed it down to Hart and he drank gratefully.
‘Clever dog.’
‘Very. He’s never fallen down a mine shaft,’ she remarked as she walked away.
She took her time tying the other end of the rope to the tow bar of her ute, making sure it would hold. Then she went back and called down to Hart. ‘Okay, I’m going to move the ute forward slowly. Hold on tight with that good hand and brace yourself with your feet against the wall of the shaft.’
‘I know how it’s done,’ he said, irritated. ‘I’ve seen loads of cowboy movies.’
She only smiled, climbed into the ute and started the engine. Very gradually she inched forward, watching in her side mirror as the rope went taut. Banjo was running busily between the ute and the shaft, barking encouragement. Then Hart’s head emerged above the hole, his face strained, red and sweating. Next his shoulders emerged; he pitched himself forward and used his elbows to get a purchase on the surface. Cassie inched forward one final time, pulled him clear of the shaft and Banjo let out a yelp of triumph."

If you are interested in obtaining copies of Mary’s books, they are available for purchase from:

Destiny Romance -
Kobo Books -

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Aussie Book Review: Through the Cracks by Honey Brown

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Penguin Books
Publication Date:    23 April 2014
Category:               Thriller / Suspense
ISBN:                      9781921901546
Publisher:               Penguin Australia
Imprint:                   Michael Joseph
RRP:                      AU$29.99

From the Cover

“A leafy street.  A quiet neighbour.  The darkest of crimes.

Four-year-old Nathan Fisher disappears from the bank of a rocky creek.  Did he drown or was he taken The search for the missing boy grips the nation.

A decade later, young teen Adam Vander has grown tall enough and strong enough to escape his abusive father.  Emerging from behind the locked door of their rambling suburban home, Adam steps into a world he’s been kept isolated from.

In the days that follow, with the charismatic and streetwise Billy as his guide, Adam begins to experience all that he’s missed out on.  As the bond between the boys grows, questions begin to surface.  Who is Adam really?  Was it just luck that Billy found him, or an unsettling kind of fate? And how dangerous is revealing the shocking truth of Adam’s identity?

It's a treacherous climb from the darkness.  For one boy to make it, the other might have to fall through the cracks.”

Summary and Thoughts

“There’s no place in the world for you – a boy like you” - how short-sighted and selfish can anyone be by saying that to another human being, let alone a defenceless child!  In her latest psychological thriller, Through the Cracks, Honey Brown delivers to the reader a taut and gritty tale that holds you in the grips of your emotions as you turn the pages late into the night.

The year is 1984 and we are introduced to Adam.  Illiterate and socially inept, he has been locked in a backroom for most of his life, suffering physical and psychological abuse from a man he’s always known as his father.  When Adam finally realises that he has the strength to stop what is happening to him, he makes a conscious decision to bring an end to his nightmare and escape the bruising hands of an unpredictable tormentor and the confines of his prison.

Adam’s just coming to terms with the gravity of what he has done when Billy appears, seemingly at just the right moment, taking him under his wing.

Billy’s a streetwise kid, with it soon becoming obvious that he has been left to his own devices for most of his life.  With Adam still trying to make sense of this new chaotic world around him, they embark on a somewhat risky adventure in which we are introduced to the secondary characters – some good, some bad – who have in some way shaped Billy’s, and possibly Adam’s, life.  But Billy soon proves to Adam that he is someone that can be trusted and for the first time in his life, Adam has a friend.

As the police slowly close in on the missing person's investigation that has been ongoing for the last ten years, the narrative reaches its climax and the denouement reveals, through both that investigation and Billy’s dialogue, the events of that fateful day along with the part he played in what was to become Adam’s life.

Honey Brown doesn’t write comfortable!  In her four previous novels she challenges her readers to their limits, so why should Through the Cracks be any different?  This time, however, she tackles the difficult subject of child sexual abuse which, while discomfiting for most of us, can only be described as terrifying for the victims.  Without resorting to graphic scenes of the abuse that was perpetrated in the past, she instead delves into her own mind, asking the "what if" questions and using Adam’s thoughts, along with her short, snappy dialogue to skilfully convey those feelings of dejectedness, fear, hopelessness and worthlessness that every victim must feel, thus providing the reader with a deep emotional connection to these two boys and "pushing beyond the barriers" of our comfort zones.

In a guest post over at Monique Mulligan's blog, Writenote Reviews, Honey recently had this to say about the "What If" questions:

“... I believe it’s my job as a writer to push beyond the barriers our hearts and minds sometimes put up, and explore the tougher topics and issues. I make it my business not to baulk at shocking things, or be too quick to judge what is right or wrong, I try not to fall too quickly into outrage, and I steer well clear of pity. Every element of being human is explored in literature and the arts, and childhood trauma and sexual abuse shouldn’t be exempt from that. I’d argue that it’s one of the most important topics to cover, because it is so prevalent. We need stories written about it. We need creative minds delving deep, demystifying sexual abuse and pulling back the cloak of shame.”

Despite the novel being written from Adam’s POV only, Billy too becomes as much a fully realised character through his dialogue as Adam does through his thoughts and, while we all know the statistics on the cycle where the abused can become the abuser, Honey’s deft hand shines a light on the altruism that they both display, towards each other and the various animals that cross their paths, and I found this extremely touching.  

I will be the first to admit that there were scenes throughout that had me moved to tears with the sheer intensity of what they had been exposed to in their short existence – I am a mother after all – but Honey’s compelling writing style sucked me in so much that I just couldn’t see myself abandoning Adam and Billy in their time of need.

Although some may say that the blurb leaves little to the imagination, I am of the opinion that it is just the beginning of a story about two boys searching for their place in this world, one in which the reader can only hope that both will find their way out of the darkness to the light shining through the cracks!

While themes of child exploitation, manipulation and fear vie for attention, the remarkable human endurance, courage and survival that permeates these negatives will resonate long after the final page is turned and I wish to thank Penguin Books for providing me with a hard copy of this perfectly executed psychological thriller.

A Little About the Author

Honey Brown lives in country Victoria with her husband and two children.
Honey Brown
She is the author of four books: Red Queen, The Good Daughter, After the Darkness and Dark Horse.

Red Queen was published to critical acclaim in 2009 and won an Aurealis Award, and The Good Daughter was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and shortlisted for the Barbara  Award in 2011. 

After the Darkness was selected for the Women's Weekly Great Read and for Get Reading 2012's 50 Books You Can't Put Down campaign.

Through the Cracks is her fifth novel.