Monday, 27 October 2014

Book Tour News - Queensland and NSW: The Great Plains, Nicole Alexander


I was absolutely thrilled over the weekend to learn that Nicole Alexander would be coming to my neck of the woods to take part in a book tour of her latest novel, The Great Plains.


The Toowoomba City Library hosted a lovely event, with their friendly staff going out of their way to make everyone feel welcome. Considering that this is a first for me, I was really impressed. But, I digress.

Nicole gave a great talk, going into some detail with regard to her research (which included a two week trip to Oklahoma City in July last year with her number one fan and critic, her Mum - who was also present at this event) showing us photographs as well as giving us a more in-depth view as to what we can expect from this latest novel.

Whilst it is totally fictional, the novel includes some great historical information on both Oklahoma as well as what life would have been like for the American immigrants who came to live on an outback station in Queensland during the late 1880s, including their feelings of displacement. It also explores traditional themes of our own Australian Indigenous people and the Apache Indians, including appearances by Geronimo, the legendary leader of the Chiricahua Apache tribe. Ultimately though, this is Philomena's story.

Nicole speaks with authority and such passion about what she does and I'm therefore not surprised that her love of this wide brown land as well as its traditions shows in her writing.

The tour started today in Goondiwindi and will continue until the 5th November with venues at the Sunshine Coast, North Lakes, Carindale, Helensvale, Warwick and Inverell already named.

For further information about an appearance in your area, please visit Random House's website here.

Tomorrow's venues are:

11:30 am at the Kingaroy Library, (TJ O”Neill Memorial Library), Civic Centre, Glendon Street KINGAROY Qld

3:30 pm at the Gympie Regional Library, 8 -14 Mellor Street, Gympie Qld





Saturday, 25 October 2014

Saturday Sneak-Peek: The Great Plains by Nicole Alexander


Ever since I read Nicole Alexander's Absolution Creek (my review here), I fell in love with the way she writes, showcasing her obvious love for our wide brown land. So, when Random House ran a competition to win a copy of her latest, The Great Plains, I didn't hesitate to enter and was most excited when I was announced as one of the winners.

Set in both Queensland and the American Wild West, Nicole brings us yet another sweeping saga telling the story of a powerful yet divided family.

To coincide with the release of this novel on the 1st November, Random House will be hosting a blog tour during that month and I am pleased to tell you that I will be taking part by doing a Q & A with Nicole on the 3rd - be sure to look out for it.

Here's the blurb:

"Nicole Alexander, the 'heart of Australian storytelling', takes us on a captivating journey from the American Wild West to the wilds of outback Queensland, from the Civil War to the Great Depression, in an epic novel tracing one powerful but divided family.

It is Dallas 1886, and the Wade Family is going from strength to strength: from a thriving newspaper and retail business in Texas to a sprawling sheep station half a world away in Queensland. 

Yet money and power cannot compensate for the tragedy that struck twenty-three years ago, when Joseph Wade was slaughtered and his seven-year-old daughter Philomena abducted by Apache Indians. 

Only her uncle, Aloysius, remains convinced that one day Philomena will return. So when news reaches him that the legendary Geronimo has been captured, and a beautiful white woman discovered with him, he believes his prayers have been answered.

Little does he know that the seeds of disaster have just been sown. 

Over the coming years three generations of Wade men will succumb to an obsession with three generations of mixed-blood Wade women: the courageous Philomena, her hot-headed granddaughter Serena, and her gutsy great-granddaughter Abelena – a young woman destined for freedom in a distant red land. But at what price . . . ?"

For those of her fans who can't wait for the release, here's a taste - an excerpt from Chapter One:

"Aloysius Wade looked down at the main street of Dalls from the second-storey window of Wade Newspapers. Timber shops and business houses lined the wide dirt road. Men on horseback fought for space with covered wagons, drays and sulkies as full-skirted women lifted their hems above rain puddles. At the far end of the street a wagon laden with buffalo bones was halted outside the hotel. The pieces of skeleton glinted in the late morning sun as a black child in cut-of pants and bare feet stood guard, perched on a wagon wheel.
Dallas had once been the world centre for the trade of leather and buffalo hide but with the animal practically wiped out, the desperate were gathering the sun-whitened bones of the slaughtered beats and selling them to fill the demand for fertiliser back east. Aloysius had briefly considered entering the market, but his head had been filled with images of bedraggled men, women and children scouring the carcass-strewn plains. Collecting the bones of the dead was not a legacy he fancied even if there was substantial coin to be made.
He still couldn't help but marvel at the growth the city had undergone over the past three decades. His father had first sent him and his older brother, Joseph, west to Dallas in 1857 with a view to making men out of them under the guise of expanding the family business. At that time Aloysius had held little hope of a successful venture. The brothers expected to be killed en route either by Indians, accident or some other wily character. As it was, one of their wagons was lost crossing the Red River.
There had been less than 600 inhabitants on arrival, which Joseph considered to be an impressive population considering a few years earlier a trading post had been the only feature. The streets were orientated to a bend in the Trinity River at the site of a limestone ledge, which was meant to be the head of navigation. In fact the river as unnavigable but it was the best crossing for miles and Aloysius and Joseph grew used to seeing the billowing clouds of dust that signified hundreds of head of cattle being driven along the Shawnee Trail. Dallas had grown on the back of farming and ranching, but it was only with the arrival of the railroads that the city had prospered."

Friday, 24 October 2014

Aussie Book Review: Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman


“A long-forgotten secret, a scandalous attraction and a place where two women's lives are changed forever - Evergreen Falls is the captivating new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

1926: Violet Armstrong is one of the few remaining members of staff working at the grand Evergreen Spa Hotel as it closes down over winter. Only a handful of guests are left, including the heir to a rich grazing family, his sister and her suave suitor. When a snowstorm moves in, the hotel is cut off and they are all trapped. No one could have predicted what would unfold.

2014: After years of putting her sick brother's needs before her own, Lauren Beck leaves her home and takes a job at a Blue Mountains cafe, the first stage of the Evergreen Spa Hotel's renovations. There she meets Tomas, the Danish architect who is overseeing the project, and an attraction begins to grow. In a wing of the old hotel, Lauren finds a series of passionate love letters dated back to 1926, alluding to an affair - and a shocking secret. If she can unravel this long-ago mystery, will it make Lauren brave enough to take a risk and change everything in her own life?

Inspired by elements of her grandmother's life, a rich and satisfying tale of intrigue, heartbreak and love from the author of the bestselling Lighthouse Bay and Wildflower Hill.”

It seems that I’m on a bit of a roll lately what with all the dual timeline novels I’ve been reading that are enriched with old letters and secrets, but I’m definitely not complaining because I just love the intrigue and suspense created by the authors who use their protagonists to dig deeper and uncover sometimes scandalous events. After all, who doesn’t like a good scandal!

Thirty year old Lauren Beck has led an extremely sheltered life in a stifling environment with basically only her mother, father and brother for company. Born and bred in Tasmania, she’s recently escaped the confines of her parental home and with freedom now at her fingertips, she’s developed just a bit of a rebellious streak as she tries to conquer her naivety by going on a journey of independence and self-discovery – if only her mother would stop phoning her all the time.

Now living and working in the Blue Mountains, the last place her deceased brother was ever happy, she embarks on that journey firstly by getting herself a job at the local café and then befriending Tomas, the architect overseeing the renovations at the once magnificent Evergreen Spa Hotel. When he accidentally leaves a clearly marked key on one of the tables, her curiosity gets the better of her and she finds herself exploring the rundown hotel and discovering a stack of old love letters filled with enough passion to make her blush.

As her and Tomas’ friendship grows, he gives her unhindered access to the hotel but when she is discovered by a security guard with further access being denied and Tomas is called overseas to a family emergency, she continues her explorations in the grounds and discovers a cave with an inscription in its wall. Knowing that the initials SHB belong to the same person mentioned in the letters, she is overcome by the desire to find out exactly who those initials belong to and who the mystery woman is.

From here, the narrative segues into 1926, introducing us to Violet Armstrong, a moralistic young woman who has recently lost her job. Knowing that she is responsible for caring for her mother who suffers with debilitating arthritis, she lands a job at the Evergreen Spa Hotel with the help of her friend Clive.

It’s quite obvious that the majority of guests at the hotel are far above Violet’s station in life and she is warned from the outset not to become friendly with any of them. However, she catches the eye of Sam, the opium-addicted son of a wealthy grazing family and can’t help herself falling for this young man who clandestinely and relentlessly pursues her, promising her the world. So begins a story of love and desire, passion and pain which can only end in tragedy. Or will it?

As Lauren untangles the secrets and scandal surrounding Sam and Violet, she also discovers the truth and reasons behind her brother's happiness in the Blue Mountains, all the while learning that she, too, is worthy of real love.

I’ve been meaning to get to Ember Island by Kimberley Freeman (which I won in a competition) for a long while now, but the opportunity to do so has not yet arisen. However, after reading Evergreen Falls, I am even more determined to somehow get it into my reading pile as she is yet another great Australian author who deserves to be added to my lengthening list of favourites.

It’s also no secret that I enjoy a parallel storyline and right from the Prologue of Evergreen Falls, which hints at the mystery that will be uncovered, Kimberley skilfully dropped me into a story complete with some great gothic elements from the old crumbling hotel to the inclement weather and the almost oppressive relationship that develops between Violet and Sam.

I was, however, slightly conflicted with regard to the strength of each storyline and, whilst I loved Lauren’s tale about her search for happiness and belonging, I became much more invested in the stronger narrative involving Violet and Sam because of the intrigue and suspense that Kimberley so skilfully builds and carries through. In saying that, Kimberley capably swept me away to a time and place in the past where your station in life determined your future and I was drawn in as an onlooker while their story unfolded.

Filled with numerous characters who will either gain your empathy or earn your contempt, the unmistakable beauty of the Blue Mountains in summertime with a story of hope and self-discovery juxtaposed against the icy cold of its snowy winter featuring a story of treachery and misfortune and the dilapidated charm of a once thriving hotel where secrets abound, this is the ideal read for a day when the rain is beating down on your old tin roof!

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

A Little About the Author

Kimberley was born in London and her family moved back to Australia when she was three years old. She grew up in Queensland where she currently lives.
She has written for as long as she can remember and is proud to write in many genres.

Kimberley is also an award-winning writer in children’s, historical and speculative fiction under her birth name Kim Wilkins. She adopted the pen name Kimberley Freeman for her commercial women’s fiction novels to honour her maternal grandmother and to try and capture the spirit of the page-turning novels she has always loved to read.

Kim has an Honours degree, a Masters degree and a PhD from The University of Queensland where she is also a senior lecturer.

She lives in Brisbane with her kids and pets and lovely partner.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Book Review: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult



"The gripping story of a daughter searching for her missing mother - one of Jodi Picoult's most powerful and affecting novels yet.

Alice Metcalf was a devoted mother, loving wife and accomplished scientist who studied grief among elephants. Yet it's been a decade since she disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind her small daughter, husband, and the animals to which she devoted her life. All signs point to abandonment - or worse.

Still Jenna - now thirteen years old and truly orphaned by a father maddened by grief - steadfastly refuses to believe in her mother's desertion. So she decides to approach the two people who might still be able to help her find Alice: a disgraced psychic named Serenity Jones, and Virgil Stanhope, the cynical detective who first investigated her mother's disappearance and the strange, possibly linked death of one of her mother's coworkers.

Together these three lonely souls will discover truths destined to forever change their lives. Deeply moving and suspenseful, Jodi Picoult's 21st novel is a radiant exploration of the enduring love between mothers and daughters."

“It does not matter who you are or what kind of personal relationship you’ve forged with an elephant: Come between her and her calf, and she will kill you."

Having read Larger than Life, one of the prequels to this novel (the other being Where There’s Smoke), I thought that I was prepared for what Jodi Picoult was going to present me with in this, her twenty-second novel, but boy was I wrong! In fact, she totally blew me out of the water with this one. 

Told in two parts from the POVs of Jenna, Alice, Virgil and Serenity, the first part builds up to a confrontation with Jenna’s father, Thomas, whilst the second part begins to unravel the mystery surrounding Alice’s disappearance.

To give you a bit of a background on Alice, she was in Africa, researching grief in elephants when her and Thomas Metcalf met. A woman who was ridiculed by her peers for what she had chosen to study, when she met Thomas, she knew she'd found her soulmate as he was the first person who understood what she was trying to determine in her relentless research. When he left, she felt like she’d lost something even though they kept in contact. Finding herself pregnant she decided to take him up on his invitation to visit him in America and the rest, they say, is history.

Sadly, for Jenna, she was just three years old when Alice disappeared without a trace. Now thirteen and living with her grandmother who never speaks about her daughter’s disappearance, all Jenna has are fractured memories through the eyes of her three year old self and her mother’s research journals. Because of all that remains unspoken, she hurts, like any child would, and desperately wants to get all the answers behind her mother’s abandonment. An intelligent young girl, she’s save up some money and begins to do her own amateur detective work, gathers clues along with other bits and pieces and, under the pretext of doing babysitting jobs, sets out to enlist the help of Serenity Jones and Virgil Stanhope, in the hopes that, together, they will be able to find Alice.

Once famous for the work that she did helping people find their lost loved ones, Serenity is now a down-on-her-luck, has-been psychic. Having won three Emmy Awards and clicked heels with a variety of celebrities, that all became a mere memory when one serious mistake led her to lose everything from her credibility to her self-confidence.

Virgil, an ex-detective turned private eye, who now prefers to investigate the contents of a bottle, became disillusioned with his job whilst investigating a case at the elephant sanctuary in which one person was found dead and the other unconscious. While his gut instinct had told him to dig deeper, his partner, Donny, had warned him off investigating further, preferring to bury an inconsistency in the evidence they had procured.

Together, Jenna, Serenity and Virgil form a tenacious trio as their search leads them from New England to Tennessee and back again, in what can only be described as a soul-searching expedition of remembrances and self-discovery.

Along with just a handful of other overseas authors, Jodi Picoult is one of my favourites and has been ever since I discovered her in the early 1990s. In this, her twenty-third novel, there is no denying that her writing continues to strengthen and the amount of research she puts into it is extensive, specifically in regard to the elephants, from their mothering and behavioural instincts, to the memories they retain and the grief they overcome, both in the wild and in captivity.

With her rich prose and descriptions, Jodi draws parallels between elephant herds and human families whilst skilfully demonstrating the emotional impacts created by an unseen umbilicus being torn away and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she switched between the perspectives of Jenna, Virgil and Serenity, along with Alice’s memories of her research and life, with the elephants providing a strong emotional centre.

It’s true that the bond between a mother and her child is unbreakable and I can attest to that wholeheartedly. Being an immigrant who left hers behind six years ago, to take up residence on the other side of the world, was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But the difference between me, Jenna and Alice, was that I was an adult and mine was planned and, although I suffered severe personal trauma and grief for the first two years, nothing can be worse than your mother being wrenched from you and not having any answers to the questions that linger but remain unspoken.

The other reason this story resonated with me, goes even deeper - the setting. It's true that Africa beats to the rhythm of its own drum and, coming from South Africa myself, Jodi made me call to mind my own experiences in the African wild and believe me when I say there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. She sums it up perfectly in the following passage:
“You have to understand – there is a romance to Africa. You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the hand of God. You watch the slow lope of a lioness and forget to breath. You marvel at the tripod of a giraffe bent to water. In Africa, there are iridescent blues on the wings of birds that you do not see anywhere else in nature. In Africa, in the midday heat, you can see blisters in the atmosphere. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world.”
The story is told with skillfulness and elegance whilst the pacing kept me intrigued and the suspense almost killed me as I was captivated by Jenna’s unrelenting search for her mother. What was she going to uncover? Would she find Alice? Were all her questions finally going to be answered?

By no means maudlin, Jodi’s poignant narration and distinct voice will mesmerise readers as she tells a story that will touch your heart, have you reflecting on the memories we keep and the pain that we bury all the while leading you to a cracker of an ending that will undoubtedly have you questioning everything you've ever believed in.

I wish to thank Allen & Unwin and The Reading Room for providing me with an uncorrected proof of this novel.

About the Author

Jodi Picoult, 47, is the bestselling author of of twenty-two novels: Songs of the Humpback Whale (1992), Harvesting the Heart (1994), Picture Perfect (1995), Mercy (1996), The Pact (1998), Keeping Faith (1999), Plain Truth (2000), Salem Falls (2001), Perfect Match (2002), Second Glance (2003), My Sister's Keeper (2004), Vanishing Acts (2005), The Tenth Circle (2006), Nineteen Minutes (2007), Change of Heart (2008), Handle With Care (2009), House Rules (2010), Sing You Home (2011), Lone Wolf (2012), the YA novel Between the Lines (2012) co-written with her daughter Samantha van Leer, The Storyteller (2013). Her last seven novels, including The Storyteller, have debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.

Picoult studied creative writing with Mary Morris at Princeton, and had two short stories published in Seventeen magazine while still a student. Realism - and a profound desire to be able to pay the rent - led Picoult to a series of different jobs following her graduation: as a technical writer for a Wall Street brokerage firm, as a copywriter at an ad agency, as an editor at a textbook publisher, and as an 8th grade English teacher - before entering Harvard to pursue a master's in education. She married Tim Van Leer, whom she had known at Princeton, and it was while she was pregnant with her first child that she wrote her first novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale.

In 2003 she was awarded the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction. She has also been the recipient of an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association, sponsored by the Margaret Alexander Edwards Trust and Booklist, one of ten books written for adults that have special appeal for young adults; the Book Browse Diamond Award for novel of the year; a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America; Cosmopolitan magazine's 'Fearless Fiction' Award 2007; Waterstone's Author of the Year in the UK, a Vermont Green Mountain Book Award, a NH Granite State Book Award, a Virginia Reader's Choice Award, the Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award, and a Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award. She's the 2013-14 recipient of the New Hampshire Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit. She wrote five issues of the Wonder Woman comic book series for DC Comics. Her books are translated into thirty four languages in thirty five countries. Four of those – The Pact, Plain Truth, The Tenth Circle, and Salem Falls - have been made into television movies. My Sister's Keeper was a big-screen released from New Line Cinema, with Nick Cassavetes directing and Cameron Diaz starring, which is now available on DVD. She received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Dartmouth College in 2010 and another from the University of New Haven in 2012.

Jodi is part of the Writer's Council for the National Writing Project, which recognises the universality of writing as a communicative tool and helps teachers enhance student writing. She is a spokesperson for Positive Tracks/Children's Hospital at Dartmouth, which supports youth-led charity fundraising through athletics; and is on the advisory committee of the New Hampshire Coalition Against the Death Penalty. She is also the founder and executive producer of the Trumbull Hall Troupe, a New Hampshire-based teen theater group that performs original musicals to raise money for local charities; to date their contributions have exceeded $80K.

She and her husband Tim and their three children live in Hanover, New Hampshire with two Springer spaniels, two rescue puppies, two donkeys, two geese, eight chickens, and the occasional Holstein.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Aussie Book Review: Deadly Obsession by Karen M Davis


“Death, drugs and deviants … Sydney just got a whole lot smaller for Lexie Rogers.

In the early hours of a wintry morning, a young nurse’s body is found at Clovelly Beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Apart from a puncture wound in her neck, she’s in perfect condition. But she’s also clutching a rose – and there’s an empty packet of prescription drugs in her pocket.

To Detective Lexie Rogers and her partner Brad Sommers, it seems like a staged suicide. And as they dig deeper, Lexie discovers the case is too close to home – the dead girl was a friend of the woman who destroyed her Lexie’s marriage. Struggling with her own recent breakup and the numbing flashbacks of violent attacks she’s suffered on the job, Lexie throws herself into the case, determined to solve the murder.

Tracking down the killer with the help of an old bikie friend, Lexie and her colleagues set a trap in an ambitious sting. But there’s a big difference between naming a suspect and catching a killer … and Lexie’s about to discover that sometimes the past comes back to bit you.”

I’ve had Karen Davis on my radar since I read and reviewed her first novel, Sinister Intent (my review here), so I was absolutely ecstatic when Deadly Obsession landed on my doorstep and couldn’t wait to read it.

Yes, Lexie’s back and, although she’s suffering with PTSD, a broken relationship, severe anxiety attacks and still grieves the loss of her brother Linc, you can count on her to take you on an investigation where nobody escapes the net of suspicion as she wades through the paperwork, briefings, late nights and personal dilemmas whilst discovering that working so close to where she grew up can have its drawbacks.

Once again set against the backdrop of Sydney, but this time in the grips of its chilly late autumn, Karen ensures that Lexie has plenty of suspects to keep her busy as she challenges her readers to figure it out before Lexie does.

For Lexie, she’s faced with the body of a young woman, who appears to have committed suicide, clutching a rose. There’s definitely a problem with the scene – it’s far too neat - but she can’t immediately put her finger on it, until she discovers both a puncture wound in the girl’s neck and a familiar tattoo that jogs her memory and links the dead girl to her ex-husband Zack who is now a paramedic at the hospital.

When she’s given the lead on the case it presents her with an opportunity to not only prove herself but also as a means of losing herself in work in the hope that she can forget about Josh Harrison.

Meanwhile, in Bali, Josh continues to wallow in self-pity and emotional turmoil following the suicide of his sister, Jenna. But, his hiatus and continued abuse of his favourite vice may just come to an abrupt end when he receives a call from Brad with new information that their investigation has uncovered and a request that he still feels somewhat raw about agreeing to.

Thanks to Karen’s criminal investigation background, she gives us a wholly believable picture of Sydney and its seamier side through the eyes of her protagonist who clearly knows it well. She mixes believable crime, mystery and suspense along with Lexie’s personal angst, making her a convincing heroine who is vulnerable and, just like us, flawed, giving us a three-dimensional character who shows us that these aspects are just as important as the cases she works on – after all, we are all human and shouldn’t expect our characters to be any less.

Karen also continues to build Lexie’s character by showing us a woman who is thorough when it comes to her job, obsessed with punctuality and has an amazing gut instinct which serves her well in her chosen profession while her distaste for morgues and hospitals goes deeper and becomes more apparent.

Her relationship with Brad is one based on mutual trust and respect and, while we discover that he has a bit of a soft side, we also begin to see what makes him tick. For one, he appears to be somewhat of a “boob man”, he loves his food and gets freaked out by anything remotely supernatural, which sometimes includes Lexie’s “excellent” gut instinct. The easy repartee between him and Lexie also brings with it just the right dose of humour and light-heartedness, as they enjoy stirring each other up, in what can at times prove to be difficult circumstances.

Then there’s Josh and the other secondary characters that we got to know in Sinister Intent such as Batman, the sexy “ladies’ man” who is now intent on obtaining more than just Lexie’s professional interest in him seeing that Josh is no longer on the scene and Dani, Lexie’s best friend who could be in just as much danger as her. This time around, Karen allows them to play slightly bigger roles, introducing us to Zack, with Rex Donaldson, too, making a re-appearance. Although Rex remains somewhat on the periphery, it is clear that he and Lexie have the utmost respect for one another and share an unspoken understanding.

This is a satisfying, well-structured read with a tight plot that twists and turns as Karen throws in enough red herrings along the way to keep us guessing, with our heroine giving us insight into the inner workings of our criminal justice system whilst negotiating those of her personal life. And, for those readers who enjoy their crime novels with emotional angst and some spicy romance, like this reviewer does, Karen balances it out well.

While it is the second in the series, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to read Sinister Intent, as Karen does well by allowing for a fair amount of backstory that won’t leave you feeling confused. However, if you’d like to learn more about the circumstances that brought all these great characters together, you’d do well to read them in order.

I can’t recommend this series highly enough and I do believe that Karen Davis is an emerging author to keep on your list as I have no doubt that she will continue to rise up amongst the ranks of Australian crime fiction. I, for one, cannot wait to read her next offering, but will have to content myself for now with my memories as I suffer severe Lexie Rogers withdrawal!

I wish to thank Simon & Schuster for providing me with a hard copy of this novel. 

A Little About the Author

Karen Davis was a New South Wales police officer for twenty years. Completing her training at the police academy in 1987, Karen started her career on the streets of Newtown.  She then moved on to work as a detective and undercover operative in a variety of sections, all of which specialised in the investigation of organised crime.

When Karen left the force six years ago her mother (author of twelve novels, the late Lynne Wilding) encouraged her to write about her experiences.

Her first fictional crime novel Sinister Intent was released in August 2013. Deadly Obsession was published in August 2014.

And for those of you not quite convinced, here's a preview of what you can expect from Deadly Obsession:

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Book Review: Double Whammy (Davis Way Crime Caper # 1) by Gretchen Archer


“Davis Way thinks she’s hit the jackpot when she lands a job as the fifth wheel on an elite security team at the fabulous Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. But once there, she runs straight into her ex-ex husband, a rigged slot machine, her evil twin, and a trail of dead bodies. Davis learns the truth and it does not set her free—in fact, it lands her in the pokey.

Buried under a mistaken identity, unable to seek help from her family, her hot streak runs cold until her landlord Bradley Cole steps in. Make that her landlord, lawyer, and love interest. With his help, Davis must win this high stakes game before her luck runs out.”

In this, her debut novel, Gretchen Archer brings us a “new to the block” amateur detective in the same vein as Stephanie Plum and, for us Aussies, Erica Jewell, introducing us to Davis Way from Pine Apple, Alabama (yes, seriously)!

Davis has had a run of bad luck lately. A former police officer in Pine Apple (with two degrees behind her name, one in Criminal Justice and the other in Computer and Information Science), she’s found herself unemployed and down on her luck. Ready to take her sister’s advice and get out of town to make a fresh start, away from her mother (who sends her eviction notices when she’s late on her rent), she finds herself in Biloxi, Mississippi.

With her no-good ex-ex-husband, Eddie Crawford  – yes, she married him twice – frequenting Biloxi himself, she’s hoping that it’s big enough to prevent them bumping into each other. After all, it’s taken her every dime she had to divorce him (again), and he’s lucky he’s alive.

However, she has no idea what she’s letting herself in for when she finds herself applying for the same job at the Bellissimo Casino fifty times, and finally landing the job as their in-house investigator. Her job description - to figure out who is winning all the money on one of their gambling machines as well as the modus operandi. Not that she knew that when she signed the “phone book”! 

A few days into the job, poor Davis seems to be in over her head when she discovers (thanks to her two new friends Mary and Maxine) exactly who it is that’s winning all the money and hastily decides that it’s in everyone’s best interests to resign. Unfortunately, her employer has bad news! The employment agreement she signed, “the phone book”? Well, it says she has to work for them for ninety days or pay back all the money they’ve spent on placing her, including that which she’s lavishly spent on her new life. For the first time in her life, her clothing and shoes are expensive, her living and work environment luxurious and the drinks are flowing - well, who else does the money in the bag they gave her and what she wins on the slots belong to? On top of that, with the hefty wage she's being paid, she might just be able to get her finances back in the black and move into an apartment where there are no prying eyes.

Along with her unfortunate colleagues “Teeth” and “No Hair” and the surly taxi driver, George, who always seems to be the only one on the block, frequently providing her with unwanted advice, Davis soon finds herself in more pickles than she can handle. From being ensconced in the lap of luxury, then hovering over an endless succession of toilets in a maid’s uniform to casino host assistant, the dead bodies suddenly begin to pile up, and it’s not long before she finds herself in the clanger, accused of attempted murder. Unfortunately, her new persona doesn’t allow for her to contact her family but thankfully, her love interest and landlord, Bradley Cole, comes to her rescue after she makes the one phone call she is allowed and together they try and figure out the complexities of the case.

It’s taken me a while to get this one to the top of my reading pile and I’m so glad it eventually got there because Gretchen Archer has created a sassy, witty and engaging character in Davis Way who I could so easily relate to. Written in first person from the point of view of Davis, this gives the reader greater insight into her motivations as well as justification for her actions, as she speaks to us in a conversational manner whilst sharing her innermost thoughts and memories using snappy humour and a few doses of sarcasm.

Gretchen’s writing style is relaxed and easy and makes for fast-paced reading as we turn the pages in anticipation of solving the mystery alongside Davis. She also nails one of the elements of fiction down to a tee – that of showing and not telling. I was really quite in awe of her writing and would like to share a few examples with you:

“I gave them a nervous smile, crossed the quiet room, and stepped outside, where I was met by a blast of winter. January only looks like June on the Mississippi coastline. The difference is the icy, wet wind whipping off the Gulf, and this entrance to the Bellissimo was two feet from it.”

“Shoulders back, wig held high, I made my way through the middle of the casino. I had three cell phones riding inside leather on my right hip; their weight and placement reminded me, as my sister had earlier on the phone, of my pistol-packing days. Meredith had grown up at mother’s knee, learning how to sift stuff. I had cut my teeth on my father’s lap, learning how to keep a gun oiled. And it was a good thing that the bag was full of AT&T and not Smith & Wesson, because one of them went off.”

“The next ten minutes of my life are a blur. I got a hold of the grip, only intent to scoot it out of the way, but honestly, I couldn’t help myself. I hefted it up, groaned with pleasure at the cold, hard defense of it, immediately dropped into a Weaver stance, trained in on an imaginary bad guy across the dark room, and putting about as much pressure on the trigger as a cotton ball would, blew a new door into [the] otherwise solid wall.”

“She looked at me as if my last marble had just rolled out of my head, across the floor and out of the building.”

“We stepped over to a thick bundle of multi-colored cables coming out of a steel box that I couldn’t have wrapped my arms around.”

Entertaining and light-hearted with an original twist that Gretchen doesn’t reveal until she’s ready, this is a great addition to the cozy-mystery sub-genre and I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series, Double Dip which was released in January 2014. The third in the series, Double Strike, is due to be released by her publisher, Henery Press, on the 21st October 2014.

I wish to thank Claire McKinney PR for providing me with a hard copy of this side-splitting novel.

A Little About the Author

Gretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her.

She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son, and a Yorkie named Bently.

Double Whammy, her first Davis Way crime caper, is a Daphne du Maurier Award finalist and hit the USA TODAY bestsellers list.


Monday, 13 October 2014

Announcement: We Have a Winner - Book Giveaway - The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer

Thanks to Rafflecopter, I have now drawn my winner.

CONGRATULATIONS goes to:

Brenda Telford

You have won the hard copy of Fiona Palmer's novel, The Sunnyvale Girls.

Please email me your details.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Announcement: RE-DRAW of Luna Tango by Alli Sinclair

Due to the fact that the original winner has not yet contacted me, despite me sending them an email as well as posting messages to my Facebook Page and Twitter handle, I have decided to have a re-draw.

My trusty new friend, Rafflecopter, has now drawn the new winner.

Congratulations goes to:

Veronica Joy

You have WON the re-draw of Luna Tango.

Please email me your postal details.




Friday, 10 October 2014

Aussie Book Review: Rachael's Gift by Alexandra Cameron


“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.”

Do you treat a child prodigy different to any other child? Is compulsive lying in-bred or learned?

The story starts out with Rachael’s parents being called to the prestigious private school that she attends to be informed of an incident that has taken place for which Rachael has now opened a case of sexual misconduct against one of her male teachers.

Her father, Wolfe, is shocked. Camille, not as shocked. Why? She’s had other encounters with the principal without Wolfe’s knowledge and although she thinks her daughter is innocent, Wolfe has his doubts.

Whilst both parents love Rachael as any parent should, they are both very different people and this becomes apparent in the way they approach their parenting. Both think that Rachael is extremely special although Camille even more so because of her artistic talents. In Rachael she sees the artist that she could never be and hopes to eventually be able to get her into the famous Beaux-Champs art school in Paris.

When information regarding the allegations are leaked out of the school, after the principal promising that they won’t release any information, a scandal ensues. Taking Rachael, Camille flees Australia for her mother’s family in Paris, leaving Wolfe to find his way through the chaos of gossip, accusations and juvenile vandalism on his own.

The eclectic art community and Camille’s somewhat eccentric family in Paris are far-removed from the life they lived in Australia, but she decides that this could be Rachael’s only chance to gain entry into Beaux-Champs. It all proves to be a far bigger challenge than she ever anticipated when her own memories come into play, mother and daughter become rivals for attention and Wolfe arrives, intent on taking them home.

Rachael’s Gift is Alexandra Cameron’s debut novel and she should be commended for drawing so many emotions from this reviewer from incredulity, anger and distress at the thought that a teenager can be so opportunistic and disrespectful, contempt for Camille’s own behaviour, to sympathy for the loving and protective (albeit rather laid-back) father who only wants what is best for his daughter but may not get the happy ending he is looking for.

Told in flashbacks by each parent, the events which have brought them to this point are slowly revealed. Vignettes of a lying, indulged, petulant and spoilt fourteen year old only child, who knows exactly how to manipulate her parents, are given and then somewhat overlaid by those of the girl that Camille used to be, making it evident that the old saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is true. There is also a lot that Camille should be answering for.

I’ve had a few weeks to mull over this novel as I honestly didn’t know how to interpret it and, in actual fact, didn’t know if I was even going to write a review, perhaps because of my lack of knowledge on personality disorders. Thankfully I’ve come to my senses, even though the content left me slightly unsettled, due to the fact that the actions of both mother and daughter went against every moral fibre in my body.

Just as my mother instilled good values in me, so, too, have I instilled in my children good morals, expanding on the fact that lying and stealing are two things I will not tolerate, so to be confronted by the picture Alexandra paints of a narcissistic and somewhat hedonistic child with so much talent had me devastated. Whilst it’s been a long time since I went through the teenage years, some of my memories are of a fairly rebellious teenager trying to find her place in the world - thankfully I have grown up and, in hindsight, seen the error of my ways. Rachael’s life, however, is far more complex than mine ever was, so Alexandra made me want to decipher what made her tick – as the mother of an almost teenage daughter myself, one never knows  what to expect with all those hormones raging inside their bodies.

Alexandra also raises many contemporary issues in this novel such as social media matters, promiscuity, bullying, drugs and infidelity whilst using a dislocated family to get her message across and I can already see the parents out there shaking their heads in dismay when they read this novel.

Ultimately, this is a fascinating debut about manipulation and how easy it is to become entangled in a web of lies, one that I'm sure will raise many questions in both book clubs and the wider reading community – it starts with just one lie! Where do you draw the line?

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

A Little About the Author


Alex Cameron is an Australian living in London with her husband and son.

She has spent years traversing the globe, living in between her hometown of Sydney and London, via Paris and Provence.

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.

Alex was also mentored by author Jill Dawson.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Announcement: We Have a Winner - Book Giveaway - Luna Tango by Alli Sinclair

Rafflecopter has just drawn my winner.

Congratulations goes to:

Andrew Maxwell

You have won the hard copy of Alli Sinclair's debut novel, Luna Tango.

Please email me your details.


Aussie Book Review: Lyrebird Hill by Anna Romer


“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.

A thrilling tale about family secrets and trusting yourself...”

In this dual timeline novel, the remembrances of an amnesia-stricken woman have dangerous consequences for her. Combined with the unravelling of a century old mystery, it will have the reader sitting on the edge of their seat.

In the present day we meet Ruby Cardel, the owner of a successful bookshop and girlfriend of writer Rob as they are getting ready to go to her mother’s art exhibition opening. Ruby has spent most of her life living in the shadows cast by her sister’s death eighteen years before and hasn’t seen Margaret in three years due to the troubled relationship that they share. But somehow, she has managed to cope through it all – if only just!

Still suffering from the amnesia that blotted out that fateful day as well as the events that took place in the previous year, past ghosts and self-doubt have continued to haunt her but it is the sight of Margaret’s artwork and her face-to-face encounter with Esther, the owner of her childhood home, Lyrebird Hill, that suddenly threaten to dislodge the veil and bring the past tumbling back into the present.

After an argument with Rob about his infidelity, Ruby flees to Lyrebird Hill in the hopes that Esther will be able to answer the questions that plague her. In her dogged determination to search for the truth, latent memories come to the fore and Ruby will finally confront all the lies and deceit that have been festering for more than two decades. As well as re-discovering a childhood friend, she digs up an old tin with a bundle of letters that take us on a journey back to 1898, introducing us to Brenna Magavin.

Having recently uncovered the truth about her parentage and out of absolute love for her brother, Owen, and Fa Fa (her father), Brenna does a selfless thing by entering into a loveless marriage in order to save Fa Fa from paying back a rather large debt.

Sacrificing everyone at Lyrebird Hill (including the Indigenous people who live on the property and with whom she has developed a close relationship) for her husband’s family home in Tasmania, Brenna soon finds herself leading an almost isolated and fearful existence with only Carsten’s sister, her love of drawing the indigenous flora and Carsten’s enigmatic and physically scarred man-servant to keep her company.

For the reader, the pieces of the ambiguous puzzle begin to fall into place as we see a family shadowed by fear, tragedy and death, with concerns that a familial trait has been passed down through the generations showing how the mistakes of our ancestors can have a hold over our present. The story reaches a dramatic climax when the final threads of Ruby’s memory are stitched together and Anna reveals the events leading up to the Prologue, all of which make for some bone-chilling as well as heart-rending reading. 

I’ve read a number of rave reviews about Anna Romer’s debut novel, Thornwood House, so when Lyrebird Hill came up for review, I was all too eager to request it - and I’m so glad that I did because from the moment I read the Prologue, I was hooked as she garnered a true sense of mystery right from the get-go which left me continually questioning its placement within her rich, colourful and complex narrative.

Unlike some dual timelines I have come across, Anna’s are equally strong as they support and reinforce each other, and I would be hard-pressed to choose a favourite as both have different elements to offer. This strength does not diminish as the novel progresses and Anna’s storytelling abilities, rendered with a confident voice, give us a fine, atmospheric tale about family secrets and fragile relationships in which the characters seem to be balancing on a violin string - one pluck from the violinist, will have them toppling into a dark abyss.

Whilst on the subject of characters, both Ruby and Brenna are majorly flawed, suffering all manner of human imperfections such as insecurity, jealousy, fear and anxiety (amongst others) but this merely adds to their depth and humanity, enhancing them and allowing the reader to identify and engage their sympathy. But the real star of this book is the old family property of Lyrebird Hill in Northern NSW which becomes a character in its own right with the secrets that it has harboured since 1898 as well as those it keeps from Ruby’s childhood and it will only take the relinquishing of bits and pieces for the door to the past to be wrenched fully open.

Brooding and mesmerising, this is an absorbingly written and richly atmospheric novel combining suspense, intrigue and mystery with a fairytale element that will forever linger in my thoughts and I cannot wait for Anna's next contribution to the literary world.

I wish to thank Simon and Schuster for providing me with an eARC of this brilliant novel.

A Little About the Author

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.

Anna lives on a remote bush property, where she’s working on her next novel.



Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Guest Post: Let Them Eat Cheesecake by Sasha Cottman

Today on the blog, I'm really excited to be hosting Sasha Cottman, author of two published Regency Romance novels.

Sasha has graciously agreed to share her love of Regency cooking with us and, in this post, will take a Regency recipe and cheat her way through it, giving us a step-by-step guide to baking a delicious Cheesecake.

Before we get onto the yummy bit though, I'd like to thank Sasha for contributing this post and also give you a bit of an introduction to her.

Sasha was born in England, but raised in Australia, and has a love for both countries.

She lives in Melbourne with her husband, teenage daughter and a cat who thinks sitting on the keyboard is being helpful. Her family have managed to find all but one of her secret chocolate hiding places.

Letter from a Rake, her first novel, won the Book Junkies Choice Awards in 2013 and was a finalist in the Historical Romance and Best New Author ARRA Awards in 2013 as well. It was also a finalist in the Ruby Romantic Book of the Year RWA 2014.

An Unsuitable Match is the second in the Duke of Strathmore Series and was published in September.


For now, let's get onto the yummy stuff!
______________________________________________

Thanks to London being surrounded by market gardens at the time, the food was surprisingly good – and plentiful - during the Georgian/Regency period. Consequently, Londoners could easily access regular supplies of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.

The quality of food served (on the very best silver and porcelain), to dinner guests was a status symbol among London’s elite. Even a simple dinner party would often be elaborate, beginning with a soup, followed by a meat course that could include fish, beef, hot and cold sliced meats with a vast array of vegetables, and finally, dessert.

Rather than one dish, dessert was more often a range of delicious treats, including pastries, ices, nuts and fruits. Exotic fruits from far-away places were regularly brought into England from across the high seas.
If you’re curious, one of the most entertaining ways to research life during the *Regency period is to cook and sample the different dishes that people enjoyed then. I’ve had many culinary adventures doing just that and if you’d like to see my cooking attempts, go to my website www.sashacottman.com where I share recipes and photographs.

In the ‘everything old is new again’ department, it’s interesting to note that the humble cheesecake was as popular back then as it is now. This lemon cheesecake recipe dates all the way back to Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, published in 1747.

Enjoy!

* In case you’re new to historical romances, the Regency era in the United Kingdom is the period between 1811 and 1820, when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince of Wales, ruled as his proxy as Prince Regent. In 1820 the Prince Regent became George IV on the death of his father.

Lemon Cheesecake
(as it was made in 1747)

Ingredients

2 lemons
12 eggs (12 egg yolks and 6 egg whites will be used in the custard part of the recipe)
225 g brown caster sugar (I used raw caster sugar instead).
6 tablespoons of cream (save a little for serving with the lemon cheese cake).
225g butter
Shortcrust pastry sheets (or, you can make it, see below).

Method

Preheat the oven to 190C/374F.

Grate the lemon zest. Put the zest and the juice of 1 lemon into a mixing bowl. Add the caster sugar and mix with a wooden spoon.
Beat the egg yolks and add them to the mix.

Beat the egg whites until they are frothy. This must have been a hard task in the 18th century when it would have to have been done by hand! Fortunately I could reach for my trusty electric beater. Add the frothy egg whites to the rest of the cheesecake mix.

Combine the butter and cream over a low heat, until the butter is melted. Add the butter and cream to the rest of the cake mix and beat it for a minute.

Pour combined mixtures into a medium sized saucepan and heat over a medium heat, stirring until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. This takes about 8 minutes on my stovetop.

Place the pastry sheet over a 22cm flan pan (or pie dish), making sure the pastry covers the sides of the pan (there is quite a lot of custard mix).

Take the mix off the heat and pour over the pastry base. You may have some left, so feel free to pour this into a bowl and eat it before anyone else notices.

Bake the lemon cheese cake for 30 mins or until the filling has set. In my oven it takes about 35 minutes. 

Cool and serve with cream.


Shortcrust pastry (if you want to make from scratch)

1 egg yolk
225 g chilled butter
1 1/3 cups of plain flour

Method

Process flour and butter in a food processor. Add the egg yolk and 2 tsps. of cold water.

Once mix is worked through, take it out of the bowl and knead it on a board. Roll into a ball and let rest in the fridge for 30 mins. Then roll out flat when preparing to use it in the pie.

Sasha Cottman’s Regency tale of love and desire, An Unsuitable Match, is out now and can be purchased from the following links:


And, for all those Regency Romance fans out there, here's the gorgeous book trailer to watch while you enjoy your freshly baked Cheesecake:

Monday, 6 October 2014

Aussie Book Review & Giveaway: The Sunnyvale Girls by Fiona Palmer


“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 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 into their own hearts and across the world to Italy. Their quest to solve a mystery leads to incredible discoveries about each other, and about themselves.”

Fiona Palmer’s latest novel skilfully combines rural romance with a dual timeline that explores a decades-old forbidden romance that impacts all three of The Sunnyvale Girls.

Having grown up on Sunnyvale, and then managed the farm with her deceased husband, Sunnyvale is Maggie’s life and she enjoys pottering around in her garden, cooking and baking a delicious assortment of goodies, ensuring that her daughter Toni, grand-daughter Flick and farm manager Jim, are well-nourished. In her seventies, Maggie is the glue that holds the Sunnyvale Girls together, but she carries a burden that no-one has ever guessed.

Flick, her twenty year old grand-daughter dotes on her grandmother who can do no wrong in her eyes. A girl with an absolute love for the land that she lives and works on, Sunnyvale is her chosen life, no matter how hard her mother, Toni, protests and tries to get her to travel the world. All she needs in her world besides Maggie and Toni are Sunnyvale, her horse Contractor, her dog Fella and their farm manager, Jim, who has become a sort of surrogate father to her.

At fifty-three, the best thing that has ever happened to Toni, is her daughter, even if she isn’t good at showing her emotions and her family finds her even harder to live with. She’s always wanted to travel and so desperately wants Flick to have that experience - after all, it's what she most wanted to do when she was younger but circumstances didn’t afford her the opportunity. Toni is just like her dad – stubborn - and Flick seems to have inherited this same trait.

But all these traits come into question when Flick finds a stack of old letters under the floorboards of the old homestead that she is renovating with Jim’s help which in turn leads to Maggie revealing a long-held secret, painful secret. The discovery of these letters, whilst creating much discord, pain and anguish between Maggie and Toni, will lead both Toni and Flick on a journey to Italy where mother and daughter will begin to re-discover the things that make each other tick, might just pre-empt the romance which has been simmering in Toni’s periphery for the last three years but ultimately will lead to what is a happily ever after for all.

For a long while now, Fiona Palmer has been one of my go-to authors for rural-romance. I always know what I’m going to get when I read one of her stories and The Sunnyvale Girls did not disappoint.

Inspired by the Italian prisoners of war who were stationed on some Australian farms in Western Australia during WWII, along with a true story told to her by a friend and a three-week long research trip to Italy, Fiona Palmer bring us this story of love, loss, family, hope and second chances,

In a recent interview with Fiona, I asked her what she wanted her readers to take away from this story. Her response was “That hope is important. Life may not turn out as we expected but it doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of it. People make mistakes, do wrong things to protect the ones they love, but we wouldn’t be human if we were perfect.” (the full interview here)

And that’s exactly what the characters of Maggie, Toni and Flick set out to teach us – that there is always, always hope, no matter how dark you think your life may be - her characters pick themselves up in the face of adversity, a leaf which a lot of us could take out of their book.

Family and farming traditions along with life, add colourful facets to a beautifully written novel which captures time and place perfectly. In particular, the narration of Maggie’s past memories were like a time-lapse and I found myself drawn into her own beautifully rendered but sad story of forbidden and lost first love. Toni too resonated with me as she displayed her stubbornness which I can all too easily relate to and Flick allowed me to see the inner side of the young girl I used to be

As Fiona effortlessly leads us between past and present, she captivates her audience with her storytelling ability. Her characters are realistic and flawed, the story real and warm and I found that there were at least two scenes that had my tears welling – not only from sadness, but from the warmth that she put into them and the love that the Sunnyvale Girls have for one another.

Having always wanted to have an Australian farm experience (be it sheep or cattle), I particularly enjoyed these aspects which reveals Fiona’s extensive farming knowledge to this born-and-bred City of Durban (South Africa) chick who now lives in Regional Australia and I absolutely loved the interactions between her main characters and those of the sheep shearers, finding myself transported into the timeless effect that shearing sheds have on me.

This is another exceptional yarn from the pen of Fiona Palmer, which could quite easily have another two stories drawn from it, and I so look forward to reading more from her.

I wish to thank Penguin Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a copy of this heartwarming novel.

A Little About the Author

Fiona Palmer was raised in Pingaring - her Dad and Mum are contractors in town who cart grain, spread fertiliser and spray for the farmers.

The majority of her childhood weekends were spent on her Uncle and Aunty’s farm ‘Gumlea’ with her  two cousins Tammy and Sandy, and her  younger brother Chad.

They attended the Pingaring Primary School which closed its doors a few years later because of small numbers. Fiona went off to Narrogin High School where she boarded at the Narrogin Residential College. She left school after year eleven, itching to start work and begin her life.

Fiona was a third generation speedway driver, racing cars from the age of 16 right up until she was pregnant with her first child.

After doing odd jobs, rouseabouting, tractor driving and working on the CBH bins, where she met her husband-to-be, she went to Alexander College for a secretarial course. (Luckily they taught her how to type really fast, which comes in handy when typing up long stories.)

She then got a job at the Shire of Lake Grace as a secretary for three years and then changed to a Teachers Assistant before getting married to her husband Darryl and having her daughter Mackenzie and son, Blake.

It was while running the local shop in Pingaring in 2006, in a partnership with her Mum, that Fiona began writing down a story that was roaming around in her head. Lo and behold, this was the start of her writing career.

The Family Farm is Fiona's first book followed by Heart of Gold, 2011, The Road Home 2012, The Sunburnt Country 2013, The Outback Heart 2013 and The Empty Nest (ebook), 2013. The Sunnyvale Girls is Fiona's seventh book.

In conjunction with this review, I've decided to give away a copy of The Sunnyvale Girls.

All you have to do is follow the instructions using the Rafflecopter entry form below. Best of luck!

Apologies, but this competition is only open to Australian residents due to high postage costs.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There is also currently a competition being held by Penguin Books for the chance to win a holiday for 2 to Italy. All you have to do is submit a review of no more than 150 words. The closing date is Friday, 16 January 2015.

For more information on that giveaway and to enter, please click here.