Sunday, 31 August 2014

Saturday Sneak-Peek: The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer

I know my Saturday Sneak-Peek's a little late, but as the saying goes, "rather late than never" - we were having far too much fun on our boat down at one of the local dams yesterday. But, back to the reason for this post!

A book that I recently received from Penguin Books Australia and The Reading Room and, which I'm looking very forward to reading, is The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer, due for release on the 24th September.

I've read two of Fiona's previous novels, namely The Sunburnt Country (my review here) and The Outback Heart (my review here) and in my opinion, her stories are told with both warmth and humour and she's an Australian Rural Romance author I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to readers of one of Australia's most loved genres.

Here's the blurb:

"Three generations of Stewart women share a deep connection to their family farm, but a secret from the past threatens to tear them apart. 

Widowed matriarch Maggie remembers a time when the Italian prisoners of war came to work on their land, changing her heart and her home forever. Single mum Toni has been tied to the place for as long as she can recall, although farming was never her dream. And Flick is as passionate about the farm as a young girl could be, despite the limited opportunities for love.

When a letter from 1946 is unearthed in an old cottage on the property, the Sunnyvale girls find themselves on a journey deep into their own hearts and all the way across the world to Italy. Their quest to solve a mystery leads to incredible discoveries about each other, and about themselves."

Fiona Palmer lives in the tiny rural town of Pingaring in Western Australia, three and a half hours south-east of Perth. She discovered Danielle Steel at the age of eleven, and has now written her own brand of rural romance. She has attended romance writers' groups and received an Australian Society of Authors mentorship for her first novel, The Family Farm. She has extensive farming experience, does the local mail run, and was a speedway-racing driver for seven years. She spends her days writing, helping out in the community and looking after her two children.

If you'd like to read an extract from The Sunnyvale Girls, please do so here.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Aussie Book Review: The French Prize by Cathryn Hein

From the Cover

"An ancient riddle, a broken vow – a modern-day quest for a medieval treasure.

Australian-born Dr. Olivia Walker is an Oxford academic with a reputation as one of the world’s leading Crusade historians and she’s risked everything on finding one of the most famous swords in history – Durendal. Shrouded in myth and mystery, the sword is fabled to have belonged to the warrior Roland, a champion of Charlemagne’s court, and Olivia is determined to prove to her detractors that the legend is real. Her dream is almost within reach when she discovers the long-lost key to its location in Provence, but her benefactor – Raimund Blancard – has other ideas.

For more than a millennium, the Blancard family have protected the sword. When his brother is tortured and killed by a man who believes he is Roland’s rightful heir, Raimund vows to end the bloodshed forever. He will find Durendal and destroy it, but to do that he needs Olivia’s help.

Now Olivia is torn between finding the treasure for which she has hunted all her life and helping the man she has fallen in love with destroy her dream. And all the while, Raimund’s murderous nemesis is on their trail, and he will stop at nothing to claim his birthright.”

Ever since she was a little girl regaled with her grandmother’s tales of Charlemagne’s paladin, Roland and his sword, Durendal, Olivia has wanted to discover the artefact’s hiding place.

Now, an Oxford academic and a leading Crusade historian, Dr Olivia Walker, who has trawled through rotting archives, “breathed the dust of Raimund’s ancestors into her lungs” and heard them speak the almost forgotten language of southern France, is the only one who can decipher the true meaning behind La Tasse du Chevalier Gris’ inscription.

Having been commissioned by Raimund Blancard to find the legendary sword, we are introduced to both of them as she is about to unearth the goblet which, according to legend has a riddle inscribed on it that is the “key” to the location of the sword.  Hopefully this will give Olivia “vindication for all the years of mockery and ridicule she’d endured” at the hands of her peers.

An argument between them ensues but comes to an abrupt halt when shots suddenly ring out and, ire forgotten, they find themselves running from a persistent gunman.

The treasure safely in Olivia’s hands she doesn’t realise the danger they are in until Raimund begins to reveal the reasons behind their close encounter with the gunman.  She is further horrified to learn that Raimund has an arrière-pensée, one which compels her to prevent him doing what he believes is his right – she is, after all, a historian charged with protecting anything of historical value for future generations.

But somewhere in the midst of crossing swords with this enigmatic but honour-bound French Legion soldier who is determined to uphold a promise made to his dead brother, Olivia becomes entangled in his quest for justice and discovers that Durendal is perhaps not the only thing that she wants. Hoping to penetrate Raimund’s hard exterior to see if there is something deeper at his core, she undertakes to help him.  Will they be able to find Durendal before the madman on their tail does? If so, will they discover if it is Durendal or love that is the ultimate French prize?

The one thing I love about Cathryn’s novels is that in all of them, she uses beautiful settings to support her romantic themes. Set in present day Provence, she deviates from her usual genre of Australian rural romance to bring us a down-scaled Indiana Jones’ style adventure, packed with legendary French tales, history, beautiful scenery, one gutsy heroine and a very determined hero.

Despite the deviation from our favourite sub-genre and continent, the scenery is authentic, the action scenes fast-paced (with a well-placed booby trap keeping the climax dynamic), while Olivia's growing attraction to Raimund and his loyalty to his brother are palpable. As she draws on memories and photographs of her own time spent living in France, her remarkable knowledge of the Provençal countryside, the language and French history shines through and adds much depth to the novel as you imagine yourself on the dig with both Olivia and Raimund, wander through his family’s subterranean archives smelling those amazing old books and feel the adrenaline rush through your body on a chase through a cave. In typical Hein style, she pulls it together with élan.

If you’ve been longing for some action in your romance novels, then I definitely recommend this romantic escapist adventure.

I wish to thank Harlequin Books Australia for providing me with an ARC eGalley 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.

Her 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 and 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.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Saturday Sneak-Peek: Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer

I recently requested a soon to be released new novel, Lyrebird Hill, by bestselling author Anna Romer, from NetGalley and am so looking forward to reading it.

Due for release on the 1st September by Simon & Schuster, Lyrebird Hill promises to be a gothic tale about family secrets and trusting yourself.

Here's the blurb:

"When all that you know comes crashing down, do you run? Or face the truth?

Ruby Cardel has the semblance of a normal life – a loving boyfriend, a fulfilling career – but in one terrible moment, her life unravels. The discovery that the death of her sister, Jamie, was not an accident makes her question all she’s known about herself and her past.

Travelling back home to Lyrebird Hill, Ruby begins to remember the year that has been forever blocked in her memory . . . Snatches of her childhood with beautiful Jamie, and Ruby’s only friendship with the boy from the next property, a troubled foster kid.

Then Ruby uncovers a cache of ancient letters from a long-lost relative, Brenna Magavin, written from her cell in a Tasmanian gaol where she is imprisoned for murder. As she reads, Ruby discovers that her family line is littered with tragedy and violence.

Slowly, the gaps in Ruby’s memory come to her. And as she pieces together the shards of truth, what she finally discovers will shock her to the core – about what happened to Jamie that fateful day, and how she died."

Anna Romer spent her wayward youth travelling the globe, working as a graphic artist while she soaked up local histories and folklore from the Australian outback, then Asia, Europe and America. On returning home to Australia, she began weaving stories of her own and was quickly hooked. A visit to her sister in north Queensland inspired her first novel Thornwood House, a story that reflects her fascination with old diaries and letters, dark family secrets, rambling old houses, the persistence of the past, and our unique Australian landscape. She lives and writes in northern NSW.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Aussie Book Review: Can You Keep a Secret by Caroline Overington

“People can pretend to be anything” – Caitlin

From the Cover

"How well do you really know the one you love? With her customary page-turning style and potent themes, this is Caroline Overington at her thought-provoking best. 'Why do some people decide to get married when everyone around them would seem to agree that marriage, at least for the two people in question, is a terrifically bad idea?'The year is 1999, and Lachlan Colbert - Colby - has the world at his feet. He's got a big job on Wall Street and a sleek bachelor pad in the heart of Manhattan. With money no object, he and his friends take a trip to Australia to see in the new millennium. And it's there, on a hired yacht sailing the Whitsundays, that he meets Caitlin. Caitlin Hourigan has got wild hair and torn shorts - and has barely ever left the small patch of Queensland where she grew up. But Colby is smitten and for Caitlin, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, a blissful future awaits - marriage, a big house, a beautiful little boy.But nothing is ever as perfect as it seems. And for Lachlan and Caitlin the nightmare is only just beginning."

The story opens with Caitlin Colbert outside her burning home, calling for her son Benjamin, who is trapped inside.

Skip back a few years to December 1999, just before the dreaded Y2K bug is set to hit, and we are introduced to both Caitlin and Lachlan (Colby to his friends).  An American on holiday in Australia with two of his mates, Colby’s path collides with Caitlin’s when she is asked to work on the yacht that he and his friends have chartered to cruise around the Whitsunday Islands.  It is not love at first sight, but by the end of their trip, Colby has taken a bit of a shine to Caitlin, and she to him, so he decides to delay his New Year trip with his friends to the Sydney New Year’s fireworks, in favour of spending some time with Caitlin.

From there, and for the next two years, they embark on a long-distance relationship of sorts and, in 2002, he buys Caitlin, who is really, rather uneducated and has never ventured very far from the Whitsundays, a ticket to fly to New York for six weeks.

Things seem to be going extremely well between them until, in the aftermath of a tragedy that left the whole world shocked and so many families shattered, Caitlin begins to experience a fear of flying.  With her visa soon to expire, but unable to overcome her phobia, her six week holiday turns into far longer than either her or Colby had anticipated as she begins to see a psychiatrist in the hope of a breakthrough.  A hasty decision on Thanksgiving sees Colby proposing to her and a few days later, Caitlin becomes his wife.

Having become a bit of a recluse, withdrawing into herself and continually cleaning and renovating their beautiful home, while Colby works long hours at his demanding job, she begins to think about children, but when the barren weeks fade into months, she seeks the advice of a doctor.

With one miscarriage behind her, and apparently no hope of her ever conceiving, she turns to researching adoption and, with the help of a social worker, discovers that her and Colby could finally have a chance at parenthood when they are told about an orphanage in Russia. But all is not as it should be and, instead of strengthening their marital bonds, her and Colby continue to drift apart as she takes up the practice of placing her thoughts, emotions and fears of their incredible journey into a blog.

The comments that are left in response to those posts offer conflicting viewpoints on her dilemma, but at the end, the questions that the police and fire brigade put to Colby, and everyone else who has been associated with them, bring to light the very sad fact that you can’t always rely on one person’s viewpoint!

Do you know your loved one as much as you think you do?

Caroline Overington is known to make her readers think, offering us thought-provoking themes and, although I’ve never read her before, from what I’ve seen around the blogosphere, this time it appears no different.  In Can you Keep a Secret, she delves into the complicated world of adoption as well as severe mental illness, whilst also touching on the challenges of parenting an adopted child from a country that you know nothing about and the pressure this can possibly place on the sometimes fragile bonds of marriage.

Whilst I didn’t really like any of her characters, in my opinion, I think this is the reaction she was aiming for and, even though they don’t have the amount of depth that I usually love in my novels, such as a sufficient amount of backstory, she did manage to convey Caitlin as immature and clingy – so much so that there were times I wanted to shake her and tell her to grow up.  Colby, while he is ten years older, bore (and perhaps I’m being a bit stereotypical here) the ambivalence of a male faced with a situation he has no control over, with his answer being to just give her everything she wants.  He has the money, so why not!

Even though I think that some will find the subject matter a bit of a challenge, this aside, Caroline’s writing has a surprisingly relaxed and easy feel to it which immerses you into Caitlin’s world and keeps you turning the pages.  She’s also been rather shrewd in choosing Caitlin to be the narrator as we get nobody else’s viewpoint until the very end. For me, the title itself asks the reader “can you keep a secret”?  As a reviewer, yes, I sure can!

I wish to thank Random House Australia for providing me with an ARC eGalley of this novel.

A Little About the Author

Caroline Overington is an award-winning Australian author and journalist. 

She has published nine books, including six novels, and three works of non-fiction.

Caroline has twice won Australia’s most prestigious award for journalism, the Walkley Award for Investigative Journalism. She has also won the Sir Keith Murdoch award for Journalistic Excellence; and the richest prize for business writing, the Blake Dawson Prize.

She has been a foreign correspondent, based in New York, worked for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian, and is currently the associate editor of the iconic The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Her second novel, I Came To Say Goodbye, was short-listed for both Book of the Year, and Fiction Book of the Year, at the 2012 Australian Book Industry Awards. 

Caroline lives in Bondi with her 14-year-old twins, a blue dog, and a blue-tongue lizard.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Saturday Sneak-Peek: Rachael's Gift by Alexandra Cameron

One of the books that recently landed on my doorstep was Rachael's Gift by Alexandra Cameron, due for release by Pan Macmillan Australia on the 1st September.

Just the stunning cover of a girl's face on canvas left me spellbound and I didn't want to stop touching it because it looked so real.

"Rachael is a child prodigy, a talented artist whose maturity and eloquence is far beyond her fourteen years. She's also energetic, charming and beautiful, beguiling everyone around her. To her mother, Camille, she is perfect. But perfection requires work, as Camille knows all too well.

For Rachael has another extraordinary gift: a murky one that rears its head from time to time, threatening to unbalance all the family has been working towards. When Rachael accuses her art teacher of sexual misconduct, Camille and Rachael's father, Wolfe, are drawn into a complex web of secrets and lies that pits husband against wife, and has the power to destroy all of their lives.

Set in the contrasting worlds of Australia and Paris, Rachael's Gift is a mystery story of the heart, about a mother's uncompromising love for her daughter, and a father's quest for the truth."

As per their tweet to me in response to my thanks, Pan Macmillan have assured me that I will be "in for a treat - Rachael's gift is magnificent".

"What would you do if you suspected your child was a gifted liar?"

In the tradition of We Need To Talk About Kevin, Gone Girl and The Slap, Rachael's Gift is an explosive debut novel from a dazzling new talent.

Alex Cameron has spent years traversing the globe, living in between her hometown of Sydney and London, via Paris and Provence, before settling down in London with her husband and young son. Her BA in Film and French, and a background in film and TV production / development helped as research for the novel. As a freelance writer, she studied novel-writing at City University in London and was mentored by author Jill Dawson.

If you'd like to know more about Alexandra, and her upcoming debut, you can visit her website, like her Facebook page or Tweet with her on Twitter.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Aussie Book Review: Let Her Go by Dawn Barker

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   ARC ecopy courtesy of Hachette Australia
Publication Date:    June 2014
Category:               Modern & Contemporary
ISBN:                      9780733632228
Publisher:               Hachette Australia
RRP:                      AU$29.99
Extent:                    352 pages

From the Cover

“A powerful and haunting novel about family, motherhood and letting go.

How far would you go to have a family?

What would you hide for someone you love?

Confused and desperate, Zoe McAllister boards a ferry to Rottnest Island in the middle of winter holding a tiny baby close to her chest, terrified that her husband will find her or that her sister will call the police.
Years later, a teenage girl, Louise, is found on the island, unconscious and alone.

Flown out for urgent medical treatment, when she recovers she returns home and overhears her parents discussing her past and the choices that they've made. Their secrets, slowly revealed, will shatter more than one family and, for Louise, nothing will ever be the same again.

Let Her Go is a gripping, emotionally charged story of family, secrets and the complications of love. Part thriller, part mystery, it will stay with you long after you close the pages wondering ... What would you have done?”

Summary and Thoughts

Dawn Barker is truly becoming one of my go-to authors for stories that highlight powerful emotional issues, cultivating them into stories which will have us constantly thinking, questioning and, for some of us, in this lifetime, experiencing.  In Fractured, her debut novel (my review here), Dawn addressed the subject of oft-times undiagnosed post-natal psychosis.  In Let Her Go, she attempts to decipher the complexities, ethics and emotional morass of altruistic surrogacy and the effects of a decision which, sadly, affects more women than we know about.

In a recent interview held with Annabel Smith here, she had this to say about the inspiration behind Let Her Go:
“I first thought about writing Let Her Go after watching a documentary about a woman with a medical illness who used a surrogate mother to have a child. In the show, her husband was very much in the background, and when the surrogate mother attended the child’s first birthday party, it was clear that she was still very much attached to the child she had carried. There was something in the body language of both women that made me wonder how they both really felt, behind their smiles.
I then heard more and more about the advances in fertility treatment, and read stories in magazines about people buying eggs and embryos overseas, then paying women to carry the children for them.
I personally felt conflicted: being a mother myself, I would never deny anyone the right to experience the joy of being a parent, but there are ethical issues to consider. I wanted to write Let Her Go to explore my own feelings about this complex issue.”
Where does the guilt end?  How hard must it be to not be able to bear a child?  How far would we, as women, go to have a child?  How do our men really feel?  These are just some of the questions that Dawn has us asking ourselves in Let Her Go, as she narrates the lives of Zoe, Nadia and Louise.

With the Prologue setting the scene against the backdrop of Rottnest Island (affectionately known by locals as “Rotto”) just off the coast of WA, the reader is automatically cast into Gothic waters as we see a woman clutching a child to her chest with the salty spray and roiling movements of the ferry and its diesel fumes assaulting her senses, intensely adding to the inner turmoil she is experiencing.

Skip back a few weeks and, in the first chapter, we are introduced to Zoe McAllister.  Having developed an auto-immune disease in her teenage years, it has ultimately destroyed her chances of successfully carrying a child to full-term, and she has begun to face the bleak reality that she will never be able to bear children. While her husband, Lachlan, assures her that he loves her, despite her inability to carry and bear the children she wishes for, she can’t help but feel that she is a failure, especially since his job on the mines takes him away from home for weeks at a time, leaving her to pick up most of the pieces after each miscarriage.

Her sister, Nadia, also married with three beautiful children of her own, has borne witness to the distress and pain that Zoe suffers after each miscarriage, known in Australia as a “gestational mother’s incentive”.  After much deliberation and discussion with her husband, Eddie, she comes to a decision and intervenes, offering to be a surrogate for Zoe. But this is not a quick process and it takes a further three years before Zoe is holding her bundle of joy in her arms.

However, when the unthinkable happens and Zoe’s only chance at raising a child becomes threatened, one of these women will need to harvest the power to let the child go.

Dawn, a qualified child psychiatrist, skilfully shows us all three sides of the story by presenting us with the personal dilemmas of the two families, their direct relatives, as well as those of the child.  While there is no question that Louise is absolutely and unconditionally loved by Zoe, both her and Nadia discover that it’s not as easy as just signing legal documents when it becomes painfully apparent that legalities will never be able to sever the incredible bond formed between a mother and a child at conception.

To put it mildly, I was hopelessly conflicted as Dawn delved so far into the psyches of both Zoe and Nadia that I wondered whether it would all be worth it in the end. As a mother of two beautiful children myself, Dawn presents us with such a compellingly real situation that I couldn’t help but find myself empathising with both of these women - each of them on a different journey, for the love of one child.

What would I have done in their circumstances? Well, it’s not as easy to take sides as everyone thinks because each of us has their own valid thoughts on the situation and, our own perceptions as mothers and what’s best for our children, can become jaded because of the emotional ties we have with them. It must be even more difficult though when the surrogate, like Nadia, shares an even closer relationship with the mother of the child and I could understand that the insecurities must be overwhelming.

But what of Louise? She, it seems, will find herself in the midst of an identity crisis which we can only hope will have a happy ending.

While Dawn addresses the issues of surrogacy in this profound psychological novel with both a deft and sensitive hand, she also touches on many other themes from domestic violence, chronic illness, underage drinking, marital instability and alcohol abuse to psychological problems like self-harm, anxiety and depression. As we navigate today’s world filled with many hindrances to procreation and unhappy endings (particularly in relation to the current surrogacy case here in Australia featuring baby Gammy and his twin sister), it becomes all too easy to be the judge and not the judged!  Although the twins’ much publicised situation bears no similarity to that of Louise, the ethical dilemmas and long-lasting effects remain the same.

I wish to thank Hachette Australia for providing me with an ecopy of this deeply moving novel.

A Little About the Author

Dawn Barker grew up in Scotland, studied Medicine at Aberdeen University and specialised in psychiatry, moving to Australia to complete her training.

In 2010, her first novel Fractured was selected for the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre's manuscript development programme and published by Hachette in 2013.

She lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband and three children.

If you would like more information on Dawn Barker, you can visit her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Aussie Book Review: Luna Tango (Dance Card #1) by Alli Sinclair

My Rating:              5 / 5
Format:                   ARC courtesy of Harlequin Australia
Publication Date:    August 2014
Category:               Romance
ISBN:                      9781743568644
Publisher:               Harlequin Books Australia
Imprint:                   Mira
RRP:                      AU$29.99
Extent:                    325 pages

From the Cover

"Tango, like love, is complicated.

Journalist Dani McKenna delves into the world of tango to expose the decades of lies and deception that threaten three generations of her family. She’s desperate to understand the reason her mother abandoned her twenty years ago to become a world-class tango dancer, why her grandma lives in fear of all things tango, and how the brutal murder of a tango music legend in 1950s Buenos Aires now affects her family.

Dani meets the enigmatic Carlos Escudero, a revered tango dancer and man of intense passion, who helps her unravel tango’s sordid history. Despite Dani’s lack of rhythm, they create their own dance of the souls until the differences in their cultures causes a deep rift. As she seeks to reconnect with Carlos and rebuild her family, tango – the dance of passion – becomes a complicated dance of betrayal.”

Summary and Thoughts

The first thing about this novel that caught my attention was its striking cover. The second, that its backstory is based on one of the most passionate Latin dances around - the Argentine Tango.

With a present day timeline entwined within a historical one, which takes place in 1950’s Buenos Aires, Alli Sinclair gives us Dani and Louisa.

From the wide open spaces of Australia and the populous city of New York where she has lived for the last three years and, against the wishes of her grandmother, Dani McKenna, our present day heroine, finds herself on the narrow cobbled streets of Buenos Aires, trying to save her career by writing an article on the Tango. While she anticipates that the article will give her flailing career the lift it needs, she hopes her trip will also afford her the opportunity to delve a bit deeper and shed some light on the reasons why her mother abandoned her when she was five years old. She’s got just one problem though – she needs to interview Carlos Escudero, the revered Tango dancer, but their first meeting doesn’t go at all as planned.

Injured in a motorbike accident and having suffered injuries that ruined his dancing career, Carlos hates the media with a passion and shies away from all kinds of publicity – even the ones who say they have no interest in his personal story, but when she presents herself, asking for an interview, she is not expecting the cold reception he gives her.

Not to be thwarted by his obvious dislike of journalists (or is it just her), and their incessant attempts at breaking the story behind the accident and the break-up with his fiancé, Dani persists, causing him to finally have a change of heart – on condition that he has control over what she writes and that she learns to dance the Tango – for every step learnt, he will answer one question.

Finally given access to the world of the sultry Tango, the dance, with its impassioned portrayal of seduction and despair, soon casts its timeless spell over Dani, as she tries to uncover the secrets buried deep within her family history and begins to break all of her own rules. However, it is a photograph in Carlos’ possession that will have her questioning everything she has ever known about her family. Who is La Gringa Magnifica?

In the parallel timeline, it is 1953 and we are introduced to Louisa Gilchrist who had endured life in war-torn Britain where she lost her parents in the London Blitz at the age of thirteen. At seventeen, Louisa found herself in the slums of Buenos Aires, determined to find her only living relatives. Just like Eva Peron, Louisa arrived in Argentina penniless, having to work her way up in the world – until she, like Eva, met someone who could offer her a better life. For Eva it was Juan Peron. For Louisa, it was the esteemed composer, Eduardo Canziani, who plucked her out of poverty.

Louisa becomes Eduardo’s muse and, whilst they share a platonic relationship, it is still no easy feat, especially when she realises that she has fallen in love with his protégé, Roberto. Keeping it a secret from Eduardo proves to be quite difficult and the lovers are finally forced to find a way to be together forever. When Eduardo is murdered in cold-blood on the streets of Buenos Aires, Louisa, fearful of the consequences, is encouraged to take flight. However, it seems as though their relationship is doomed when Roberto doesn’t arrive at their designated meeting place, forcing Louisa to go to extremes to find the man she loves. Will she ever find him?

Seguing between present and past, we come to know Louisa, Eduardo, Dani and Carlos as they are swept into the dance's embrace, journeying to uncover the secrets, betrayals, loves and losses of lives torn in two by Tango.

Did you know that Argentina is known as “the Paris of South America”? Well, I didn’t, but I am so grateful for this “thing” I have when I am reading novels with a background that really interests me - my own research. In the case of Luna Tango, I scoured the web for hours looking at amazing pictures and reading about this country I know so little about. I soon realised, after also doing some digging on Alli Sinclair, that it’s no wonder she has the ability to intertwine the rich history of Argentina into the lives of her characters, along with the sultry atmosphere and nature of the Argentine Tango - because she has lived there.

As there is so much contained within this story and, in order to prevent this review from becoming overly lengthy, I have been placed in a position where I will not be able to wax lyrical about everything I loved. Instead, I'm going to have to just concentrate on a few facets of what really struck me about Alli's writing - and believe me, these are just a few.

Firstly, her love of history and culture definitively shine through the narrative as her descriptions drip with the history of both Argentina and its Tango, enhancing it and giving us an engrossing and informatively well-balanced story that captures the strength of her characters as well as the intensity of the city and the dance itself. As it echoes its tango-bar days, we come to learn that the Argentine Tango is a lifestyle with its own rules, politics, codes and plenty of drama!

Secondly, the details often associated with Latin America – over-polluted streets, hazy smoke-filled dance halls and the endless pulsating rhythm of dancing and music, the heady aroma of gardenias and the tantalizing smell of buttery pastries, to the mentions of Argentina’s beloved Eva Peron and the presidential building of Casa Rosada, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (who continue to march in mourning of their children who “disappeared” during the Dirty War), the infamous Calle Florida and the pedestrian mall of Mendoza’s Avenida Sarmiento with its bustling sidewalk cafes, to smaller details such as an “ornate gate” and a “delicate brass handle” – are brought to life with vivid precision, lending authenticity to the entire novel.

Let me also just say that this is one of those novels where you can judge a book by its cover because it is so striking and evocative of everything contained within, from the baroque architecture to the passionate embrace of a Tango dance. And, fear not if you have neither visited the country nor ever danced the Tango, because Alli’s writing is so assured that I guarantee you will be able to experience the exoticism of the place and the passion of the art form directly from your armchair. In fact, you might even find yourself taking a Tango lesson or two!

Despite the fact that the novel is published by Harlequin (who are well-known for their romances), Luna Tango’s romance is, whilst at times a bit heated, somewhat understated, as it is rather the mysteries and discoveries surrounding La Gringa Magnifica and the cold case of Eduardo Canziani taking place in the midst of this vibrant city, that will have readers turning its pages well into the night, trying to solve these puzzles alongside Dani. Don't get me wrong, it is a love story - just one you've never experienced before.

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

And, if my review hasn't convinced you enough, why not have a look below at the gorgeous book trailer that has been produced or read a chapter sampler, courtesy of the publisher, here.

A Little About the Author

Alli Sinclair is Australian born but considers herself a citizen of the world. She spent her early adult years travelling the globe, intent on becoming an Indiana Jones in heels. She scaled mountains in Nepal, Argentina and Peru, rafted the Ganges, and rode a camel in the Sahara.

Argentina and Peru became her home for a few years and when she wasn't working as a mountain or tour guide, Allie could be found in the dance halls dancing the tango, salsa, merengue and samba.

All of these adventures made for fun storytelling and this is when she discovered her love of writing. Her stories combine her passion for exotic destinations, the quirks of human nature and the belief that everyone can dance, even if it's to their own beat.

She currently serves on the committee of Romance Writers of Australia as Events Liaison but loves to hear from readers and lovers of dance, so feel free to contact her via Facebook or Twitter.

Luna Tango is Alli’s debut novel and the first in the Dance Card series.  Flamenco Fire will release in 2015 and Turning Pointe is due to be released in 2016.

As promised, here is the trailer:

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Saturday Sneak-Peek: Moonlight Plains by Barbara Hannay

Due for release on 27 August by Penguin Books Australia is Barbara Hannay's latest, Moonlight Plains.  If you're a lover of some history entwined into a dual timeline along with secrets, this one's for you.

Here's the blurb:

"In 1942, as the Japanese sweep towards northern Australia and allied troops swarm into Townsville, Kitty Martin is sent inland to the safety of Moonlight Plains. But when two American airmen crash on the isolated property, she is forced to grow up fast, coming face to face with tragedy, with falling in love… and with heartbreak.

Years on, and Sally Piper, a young journalist, is sent out to Moonlight Plains to cover the story of a cattleman turned builder who is restoring his grandmother's old forgotten homestead. Sparks fly between them but Sally is struggling to let go of the past, and Luke has his eyes fixed firmly on the future.

What they uncover together is a shocking secret that has been kept safe for more than seventy years. Now the entire family's happiness is at stake – or does the truth about the past hold a valuable lesson for the future?

From the internationally acclaimed and award-winning romance writer Barbara Hannay comes this breathtaking novel about finding love against all the odds. It will have you smiling – and crying – from beginning to end."

Multi-award-winning author Barbara Hannay is a city-bred girl with a yen for country life. Most of her forty-plus books are set in rural and outback Australia and have been enjoyed by readers around the world. In her own version of life imitating art, Barbara and her husband currently live on a misty hillside in beautiful Far North Queensland where they keep heritage pigs, hens, ducks, turkeys and an untidy but productive garden.

Zoe's Muster was shortlisted for the 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards and the 2013 RITA Awards, America's recognition of excellence in romance fiction.

For more information on Barbara, please visit her website.

And just to get you a bit more excited, here are the opening lines:

"Sally's friends were wrong.  She shouldn't have come to the ball.  It was a mistake.
But her friends had been so very persuasive.
'You have to get back into the social scene, Sal. You can't go on like this. There's only so much running and swimming and kickboxing a girl can do.'
The messages had been coming at her on all fronts. She should be over her loss by now. Her grief for Josh was a moving and beautiful thing, but two and a half years was long enough.
Even the old ladies at her grandmother's nursing home had chimed in with their two cents' worth.
'You still have your whole life ahead of you, my dear. You're not Queen Victoria, you know. You can't grieve for your husband forever.'
The only people in Sally's circle who had not showered her with advice were her parents. Admittedly, Sally's mother had tried to steer her out of the black morass of her initial grief, but she'd been rebuffed by her only child one time too many. Angela Spence's focus had quickly reverted to her mega-busy job as one of Townsville's most in-demand lawyers." 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Guest Post: The Fine Art of Faking It by Jenny Bond

Today I'm really excited to share a Guest Post by the lovely Jenny Bond, author of The President's Lunch, who has offered to share her take on writing fiction based on historical figures.

First up though, I'd like to thank Jenny for contributing this post and tell you a bit more about her.

Jenny has worked as a teacher, journalist, copywriter and researcher. Her non-fiction titles have been published in Australia and the USA. It was writing about the stories behind great novels that led to her own first novel, Perfect North (Hachette 2013).

Her second novel, The President's Lunch, again incorporates real life figures with fictional ones, a technique that allows her to imaginatively interpret historical events.

Jenny lives with her husband and children in Canberra.


John Updike once said, ‘An imitation of the life we know, however narrow, is our only ground.’ Updike was a prolific author but his themes were limited to events in his own life, and his settings to fictionalised versions of the towns in which he lived. Of the sixty or so books he began there were only a few projects that he failed to complete. One was a novel about America’s fifteenth President James Buchannan. Updike said he despised the ‘vigorous fakery’ of historical fiction. ‘Having never used a spittoon,’ he said, ‘I am unable to write about one.’ 

I admit that when an author writes a work of historical fiction they are treading a very fine line between historical accuracy and make believe. However, a story is not fakery if the topic is thoroughly and judiciously researched. What I find most rewarding as an author of historical fiction is this very process. To discover what it was like to use a spittoon, to use Updike’s example, is an incredibly challenging task. I spent an entire day recently learning how to light a fire as it would have been done in the early eighteenth century. As I was writing a scene for my third novel, which is partly set in New England, it occurred to me that matches might not have existed in 1716. Alas, they did not. The first self-igniting match wasn’t invented until the nineteenth century. Before this time fires were lit by igniting tinder with a spark produced by striking steel against flint. It was a painstaking process, as is the process of writing historical fiction. 

Hilary Mantel, award-winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, has often been accused of fakery, of weaving historical characters into a narrative of her own devising. What’s wrong with that? If the characters and setting are thoroughly researched, what’s the crime? In the two years it took me to write and edit The President’s Lunch, I have come to know Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt so well that I believe I could take a fairly accurate stab at predicting how they’d react in any situation. I have read their letters and their memoirs,  scoured their biographies and spoken to people that knew them.

Visiting the homes of the Roosevelts was the most valuable piece of research I carried out. Not only did I obtain an insight into the characters of this unique couple from the furnishings, wall hangings and place settings they chose, but I was also offered an illuminating glimpse into the time in which they lived. All of their private homes - Stone Cottage and Springwood in Hyde Park, New York, the cottage on Campobello Island and the little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia - have been scrupulously maintained by the National Park Service. 

When I walked into the sitting room of Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage at Val-kill in Hyde Park, a fire burned in the hearth and the walls lay covered with hundreds of framed photographs of her family and friends. The sofa and armchairs were plush and inviting. On one wall rested a substantial shelf that heaved with books. I examined the breakfront in the dining room and noticed the china. It was a very ordinary looking setting, simply decorated with apple blossoms. And despite the compact space, the table was large and I easily imagined at least ten people seated around it. Just from two rooms I determined the warmth, intelligence, generosity and sociability of the First Lady. 

Writing historical fiction is a time-consuming and often expensive occupation. But to find a doorway and an insight into the lives of historical figures, then weaving that newfound awareness into an entertaining narrative fabric, is incredibly rewarding.

If you'd like to keep up with Jenny's news and books, you connect with her via the following links:

About the Book

"She tasted power and passion in the world's highest office against the backdrop of the Great Depression and World War Two.

Robbed of her home and job by the Great Depression, the future looks bleak for Iris McIntosh - until a chance encounter with America's indefatigable First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Propelled into the White House's brilliant inner circle, Iris finds herself at the centre of momentous change ... and her heart torn between two men. But her loyalty lies with a third: the complicated and charismatic President Roosevelt, who will ultimately force her to question everything she believes in.

A compelling story of politics and power, love and loss, set in one of the most cataclysmic periods of history."

The President’s Lunch is published by Hachette Australia and is available from the 1st August at the RRP of $29.99.


The President's Lunch is available for purchase at the following links:

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Saturday Sneak-Peek: Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

One of the novels I've recently requested is Sonya Hartnett's latest, Golden Boys.

Due for release on 27 August by Penguin Books Australia, this novel is about two brothers who seem to have it all.

Here's the blurb:

"With their father, there's always a catch ...

Colt Jenson and his younger brother Bastian have moved to a new, working class suburb. The Jensons are different. Their father, Rex, showers them with gifts – toys, bikes, all that glitters most – and makes them the envy of the neighbourhood.

To Freya Kiley and the other local kids, the Jensons are a family from a magazine, and Rex a hero – successful, attentive, attractive, always there to lend a hand. But to Colt he's an impossible figure in a different way – unbearable, suffocating. Has Colt got Rex wrong, or has he seen something in his father that will destroy their fragile new lives?

Sonya Hartnett's third novel for adults is an unflinching and utterly compelling work from one of Australia's finest writers."

It certainly does sound like a compelling read and I am looking forward to it reaching the top of my pile.

Sonya's work has won numerous Australian and international literary prizes and has been published around the world.

Uniquely, she is acclaimed for her stories for adults, young adults and children.

Her accolades include the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Of A Boy), The Age Book of the Year (Of A Boy), the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize (Thursday's Child), the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for both Older and Younger Readers (Forest, The Silver Donkey, The Ghost's Child, The Midnight Zoo and The Children of the King), the Victorian Premier's Literary Award (Surrender), shortlistings for the Miles Franklin Award (for both Of a Boy and Butterfly) and the CILP Carnegie Medal (The Midnight Zoo).

Hartnett is also the first Australian recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (2008).

In 2014, Sonya will also be publishing her third picture book, The Wild One.

For more information on Sonya and her writing, please visit her website.

Here's a taste of the extract on Penguin's website:

"With their father, there's always a catch: the truth is enough to make Colt take a step back. There's always some small cruelty, an unpleasant little hoop to be crawled through before what's good may begin: here is a gift, but first you must guess its colour. Colt's instinct is to warn his brother – Bastian, don't – as if away from a cliff 's edge or some quaggy sinkhole, but doing so risks leaving him stranded, alone like someone fallen overboard in the night, watching a boat full of revellers sail on. Bastian will want to play. Their mother will say, in her voice of reined-in dismay, 'It's just a bit of fun.'

As the eldest he gets to guess first, so he guesses, 'Blue.'

Their father shakes his head happily. 'Nope! Bas?'

Bastian is prone to birdiness, his whole world one of those plastic kitchens in which girls make tea from petals and water. He guesses, 'Yellow?' as though it's perfectly possible their father would bring home for his two boys a bicycle coloured yellow.

'Nope again!' Their father is cheered, rather than nonplussed, by the attempt. 'Colt?'

Already Colt feels they've run out of colours. 'Green?'

'Not green. Your guess, Bas.'

Colt lets his shoulders fall. He looks at his mother, who is lingering by the leather recliner where their father would be sitting if he wasn't standing by the mantelpiece conducting this game ..."

For more of that extract, visit the book's page on Penguin's website here.