Friday, 28 November 2014

Aussie Book Review: The Great Plains by Nicole Alexander

“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 . . . ?”

“Genes and family may determine the foundation of the house, but time and place determine its form” – Jerome Kagan

In 1863, Joseph Wade had deserted his post to travel into New Mexico to bring his children back to Fort Washita after his wife had succumbed during childbirth. Ambushed en route, Joseph and his young son died in the skirmish but his daughter, Philomena, was captured by the infamous Geronimo and his band of Apache Indians, never to be seen again.

Twenty-three years later, Aloysius Wade receives news that Philomena has been sighted travelling with Geronimo  to Texas and suddenly his memories of her mother Ginny start to haunt him as the burden of patriarch begins to weigh heavily on his shoulders. Familial duty and pride for his lineage equally drive him to meet with Philomena. Unfortunately, she is no longer the little girl she used to be and they part but not before he removes her newborn grand-daughter from her custody shortly after her birth – a decision that will have repercussions on his own family and the following two generations as the Wade family crosses two continents in an attempt to eradicate a culture.

Amidst a family who has lied to her about her birth-right and the white culture of the day which was rife with racism, Serena grows into a spirited young woman displaying a love for the outdoors, an attraction to fire as well as a penchant for collecting dead things. For Aloysius, the doctor’s words of so many years before begin to ring true:

“Granted there is some dilution circulating through the child but there is no reason not to assume that she would not assimilate into society with ease. Nature versus nurture, Aloysius. The ongoing debate of whether an individual is formed by birth-right or upbringing is most definitely leaning towards nurture. This baby will be moulded by her environment. Your environment.”

and he realises, after an accident in their home, that Serena will need to be told the truth.

An epically structured story, Nicole Alexander writes in chapters that switch between the Wade men and Philomena’s descendants as she entwines the histories of two countries with Serena and Abelena’s somewhat tragic search for identity and belonging.

As usual our “heart of Australian storytelling” captures her audience by giving us fully rendered characters that you will either come to loathe, love or pity as she accurately portrays the clashing perceptions and prejudices of the white people towards the Native American Indians whilst also delving into the hearts and minds of her non-white characters, laying bare their emotional turmoil and anger at the unaccepting world they inhabit.

In doing this, Nicole shows us both sides of the coin and, while I came to loathe and pity the Wade men with their small-minded obsessions I admired Philomena’s kin, particularly Abelena, for the strength and tenacity she shows in trying to overcome her circumstances.

Nicole’s passion for the bush once again comes through in her writing as the landscape lives and breathes on its own from the treeless, semi-arid red plateau of the Great Plains in Oklahoma with its turbulent weather patterns to life on a sheep station in our own dry, parched land of Australia.

Peppered with symbolism, punctuated by stories from the Native American Dreaming and Aboriginal Dreamtime and stirring up the age-old philosophical debate of “nature versus nurture”, Nicole has added extra dimensions to this generational saga, tying up all the loose ends perfectly. I have no doubt that while the general reader will turn the final pages with a satisfied sigh, book clubs will pick it apart with unadulterated zeal.

I wish to thank Random House Australia for providing me with an uncorrected hard copy of this novel.

A Little About the Author

A fourth-generation grazier, Nicole returned to her family's property in the early 1990s. She is currently the business manager there and has a hands-on role in the running of the property.

Nicole has a Master of Letters in creative writing and her novels, poetry, travel and genealogy articles have been published in Australia, Germany, America and Singapore.

The Great Plains is her fifth novel.

Guest Post: A Sense of Place by Jennifer St George

Today on the blog I'm really excited to be hosting Jennifer St George, author of seven published Romance novels, her most recent being Tempted by the Billionaire Tycoon.

Jennifer has generously agreed to share her thoughts on one of the important aspects of writing, that of creating a sense of place.

Before we get into the nitty gritty though, I'd just like to thank Penguin Australia for arranging for Jennifer's contribution as well as Jennifer for contributing this post. Here's a bit of an introduction to her and her novels.

Jennifer is a romance author whose sexy stories feature courageous, career-minded heroines, strong heroes in glamorous international settings. She has five books - Tempted by the Billionaire Tycoon (2014), The Billionaire's Pursuit of Love (2014), The Love Deception (2013), Seducing the Secret Heiress (2013) and The Convenient Bride (2012) published with Penguin's digital-first imprint, Destiny Romance. The Convenient Bride and Seducing the Secret Heiress have now been released together in print.

The Convenient Bride won the 2012 NZ Clendon Award. The Love Deception was nominated for the 2013 ARRA Awards in the Favourite Short Category Romance section.    

Jennifer spent the first 20 years of her career in corporate marketing and management consulting roles.  Some career highlights include launching Guinness Beer in Russia; reaching 40 million people through a publicity campaign that ‘gave away’ a pub in Ireland and launching the Ford Ka brand in Australia.

In 2000, Jennifer launched an online business and started a marketing company. She won a clutch of awards including Outstanding Sunshine Coast Business Woman of the Year and the Public Relations Institute of Australia Golden Target Award. She has a graduate business degree and completed an MBA where she was presented with the Rupert Murdoch Fellowship.

A seachange to the sub-tropical paradise of Byron Bay turned her world upside down and she needed to find a new career that didn’t involve commuting to the city (not much need for high-end consulting in a small coastal town). Her sister’s love of writing led her to try her hand at romance writing and she hasn’t looked back. 

Jennifer is a past Vice-President of Romance Writers of Australia and is a member of Romance Writers of America and Romance Writers of New Zealand.

Tempted by the Billionare Tycoon (blurb after the post) is available now, as an ebook, at the following links:


I love writing romance. One of the things I love most about writing it is finding the perfect setting, and I’m not only talking about pretty or interesting backdrops but locations that shine a little light on the characters, help their stories unfold. 

Many of my romances feature an heiress or a billionaire, and with that kind of amazing wealth, you need to sketch a gloriously glitzy setting, one that is luxurious, glamorous, international. But sometimes a certain spot, a view, a walk by a river under a sheet of blue sky or a piece of beautiful architecture seen against a setting sun, will be the very thing that inspires the idea for a story.  

My first novel, The Convenient Bride, was inspired by a trip to Venice where I was entranced and moved almost to tears to see so many gorgeous but decaying historic buildings crumbling into the canals. If I were as rich as the characters in my stories, I would have purchased one on the spot and have it restored to its former glory. Long after leaving Venice, its tragic beauty continued to haunt my dreams and so I set The Convenient Bride there, with one of those Venetian gothic buildings playing a special part in the plot.

Being under the hot and harsh spotlights on a reality TV show was the experience that sparked the idea for Seducing the Secret Heiress. I took part in the Australian version of Dragon’s Den and the call for ‘action’ alone was enough to raise your heart rate.  Add judges, camera close-ups and a demanding Director, for an experience that was unbearably intense, yet exhilarating. I thought this pressure-cooker environment would make good fodder for a sexy romance. Not to mention that much can happen in a dressing room and those dressing rooms have mirrors, which adds a whole new dimension to a scene.

Parts of Seducing the Secret Heiress take the reader to London.  I lived in that amazing city for seven years. The seasons, the parks, the history, the pubs, the incredible mix of people who live there, left an indelible impression. Actually, London pops up a few times in my novels and one day I’d love to live there again. Who knows?

The Love Deception was inspired by my days working in the top end of town in Melbourne – think high-rise corporate offices with stunning views across the city, suits with high heels and stockings, business-class travel, luxury hotels. My heroine didn’t have a chance spending all those long stressful hours locked away in legal meetings with her hot boss in his private office.

A few scenes in The Love Deception are based on the terrifying experience of living through the remnants of a hurricane in North Carolina. A scary night! I’ll never forget the noise. My hero and heroine are in Barbados when they find themselves in the eye of the storm, literally and figuratively. They are only on the island for a very short time before nature unleashes itself and the hurricane hits. Of course I had them return to the island later in the book so they could enjoy everything this tropical paradise had to offer when a category five storm wasn’t causing mayhem. (It’s nice as an author to give your characters a reward when they have worked so hard to deserve happiness).

The core idea for the The Billionaire’s Pursuit of Love popped into my head after attending a seminar dedicated to saving the world’s Orangutans. The wildlife workers lived in very basic conditions, working in the mud, rain and heat to ‘mother’ the vulnerable baby Orangutans until they could look after themselves – a little like nurturing human babies. When I read an article about a man worth millions who’d designed one of the world’s most successful computer games, I wondered what it would be like if these two people from incredibly different worlds were brought together through a twist of fate that just wouldn’t let them go. 

My latest release, Tempted by the Billionaire Tycoon, was inspired by a trip to a health retreat, an experience that gave me my heroine’s profession. Another trip to France and the UK inspired the lavish, deeply romantic locations in Tempted. Each time I visit Paris I fall under its spell – again. Seeing Versailles for the first time left me in awe of the beauty and romance of France, its history and great art. My heroine, Poppy, feels this too when she visits France for the first time. My billionaire hero of course has seen it all before, but it feels that little bit different now he is with Poppy!

At the moment I’m busy conjuring up my new billionaire novel. The hero and heroine are having a tortured time in a gorgeous old stately home in the UK, complete with a beautiful secret garden. That walled garden plays an integral role in the twists and turns in the story.

I hope they both find the key!

I sure hope they find the key too Jennifer and, for those of you who have been taken in by her beautiful descriptions above, here's the blurb for Tempted by the Billionaire Tycoon:

Three strikes and you're out…

A series of strange accidents are occurring at Sirona, a luxury spa resort in the picturesque English countryside. Billionaire owner Nic Capitini wants the person responsible, the resort’s GM Poppy Bradford, sacked. But the law requires he give three official warnings. Nic checks in undercover to gather the evidence he needs.

Despite first impressions, it isn't long before Nic realises that not only is Poppy beautiful, she's a brilliant manager who runs the resort superbly. And the chemistry between them is undeniable. When Poppy herself is threatened, it seems clear the incidents are part of a systematic campaign of sabotage. Even though he believes she's innocent, Nic knows Poppy is hiding something. But will learning her secret mean losing her forever? 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Aussie Book Review: Nightingale by Fiona McIntosh

“Love comes out of nowhere for most of us, when we least expect it . . . this young man has flown into your heart and made a nest.'

"Amidst the carnage of Gallipoli, British nurse Claire Nightingale meets Australian Light Horseman Jamie Wren. Despite all odds, they fall deeply in love. Their flame burns bright and carries them through their darkest hours, even when war tears them apart.  

Jamie's chance meeting with Turkish soldier Açar Shahin on the blood-stained battlefield forges an unforgettable bond between the men. It also leaves a precious clue to Jamie's whereabouts for Claire to follow.

Come peacetime, Claire's desperate search to find Jamie takes her all the way to Istanbul, and deep into the heart of Açar's family, where she attracts the unexpected attention of a charismatic and brooding scholar.

In the name of forgiveness, cultures come together, enemies embrace and forbidden passions ignite – but by the breathtaking conclusion, who will be left standing to capture Nurse Nightingale's heart?  
A heart-soaring novel of heartbreak and heroism, love and longing by a powerhouse Australian storyteller. “

“It is a reminder that the men and women who put their lives on the line in defence of our country are owed a special debt and a special understanding” – John Howard, Former Prime Minister

Set against the backdrop of the Great War of 1914-18 and thereafter as everyone tries to piece back their lives, this sweeping story will take you from Cairo to Alexandria, England to Constantinople (Istanbul), where a brave Australian Light Horseman and a gentle nurse will unexpectedly find one another amidst the depravity and bloodshed of war. But, once the war is over, will they be afforded the opportunity of reuniting?

Twenty-five year old Claire Nightingale, a gentle but lonely British girl is one of the nurses on the hospital ship Gascon positioned just off Gallipoli. With no family to speak of, she has found her place in the war and tirelessly tends to the gravely injured men transported to the wards on the ship. While the soldiers’ boots have barely left their prints on the damp Turkish sand, she sees firsthand the devastation being wrought and requests time on shore to perform triage. For Claire, she is willing to give up her life if it means that she can save someone who has a family to go back to.

Jamie Wren is earnestly making his way to the beach in Anzac Cove with his severely injured friend Spud over his shoulders when he thinks he sees an apparition of an Angel before him. A selfless young Australian man from the Flinders Ranges, he was the only one out of his brothers conscripted to go to war as part of the Ninth Light Horse Brigade, only to discover that instead of being mounted, he would be placed in the trenches at Gallipoli. Thoughts of home and the camaraderie and gallows humour amongst the young men keep him going, despite the maggot-infested food and the stench of rotting bodies that surrounds him.

As he collapses on the beach with Spud, urging anyone who hears him to render medical assistance to his friend, Claire notices him and immediately makes her way over. Alas, for Spud, it is too late but for Jamie and Claire, an instant connection is made. Discovering that Jamie is also injured she suggests he seek medical assistance aboard the ship. At first he refuses, thinking only of his friend, but it’s not long after that he has a change of heart and realises that he wants to see her again.

Throughout their time in Gallipoli, Claire finds herself tending to him twice and as they get to know each other they form a strong bond and a promise is made. Unfortunately the war rages on and they lose contact with one another as they both continue to immerse themselves in their war efforts. Her fleeting memories and the promise they made to each other are what carry Claire through but, it is the brief friendship struck between Jamie and Acar Shahin, in the trenches, during the armistice to clear the dead bodies in "No Man’s Land", that underpins the whole story. Ultimately it will either bring these two dislocated souls together or tear them apart as Claire’s desperate search for Jamie takes her on a journey that crosses cultural boundaries and uncovers forbidden passions.

Before I read Fiona McIntosh’s The Lavender Keeper (my review here), I wasn’t very fond of historical fiction but thanks to her as well as my fascination for my adopted country's history, my horizons are expanding. Of course, add a touch of romance and I'm hooked.

For those unfamiliar with Fiona’s writing, don’t expect straight-out romance. As in the Lavender Keeper, the underlying storyline definitely holds romance, but the experiences that her protagonists face, both during and post-war, are in no way romanticised. In Nightingale, she strongly realises the depictions of life in the trenches, war hospitals and the after-effects of war, placing you firmly within her characters lives, as she explores various themes ranging from friendship, loyalty, honour, loss, kinship and bravery to love. Her exposition brings her scenes to vivid life and, for her multitude of fans out there, I can guarantee that you won't be disappointed with her latest offering.

Fiona’s vast amount of research is an additional factor which evokes much authenticity in her stories, and it is the story of a real life trooper, Darcy Roberts (a relative of her husband's family), whose name is immortalised in the Wall of Remembrance at Anzac Cove, from whose life she borrows in constructing Jamie’s story. That research goes even further, giving us insight into the lives of those selfless war nurses whose stories are not often told.

From the war-torn regions of Turkey to the dusty streets of Egypt, the sodden streets of London to the exotic culture and sultry atmosphere of the ornately gilded Hammams in a Constantinople rich with tradition and historic detail, the tastes of Turkish Delight and the scent of Rose Otto will fill your senses as you explore the many layers of this passionately wrought love story with its roots planted firmly within historical events.

I wish to thank Penguin Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy uncorrected proof.

A Little About the Author

Fiona McIntosh is an internationally bestselling author of novels for adults and children. She is a columnist for News Corp's Escape supplement and co-founded an award-winning travel magazine
with her husband, which they ran for fifteen years before she became a full-time author.

Fiona now roams the world researching and drawing inspiration for her novels. Although Adelaide is her family's home, she admits her best writing is done from the peace of Tasmania.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Blog Tour Author Round-Up: Samantha Verant, Seven Letters from Paris - A Memoir

I’m extremely honoured to be hosting the multi-talented Samantha Vérant on my blog today in celebration of the release of her Memoir, Seven Letters from Paris.

An American by birth, Samantha is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, French chef.

Over the years, she’s visited many different countries, lived in many places and worked many jobs – always on the search for the one thing that truly excited her.

Then, one day, she found everything she’d been looking for: a passion for the written word and true love. Writing not only enabled her to open her heart, it led her to south-western France, where she’s now married to a sexy French rocket scientist she met over twenty years ago, a step-mom to two incredible kids (who think that McDonalds should get a Michelin two-star rating) and the adoptive mother to one ridiculously expensive Bengal cat.

When she’s not trekking from Provence to the Pyrénées, tasting wine in American-sized glasses, or embracing her inner Julia Child while deliberating what constitutes the perfect boeuf bourguignon, Samantha is making her best effort to relearn those dreaded conjugations.

Feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her a little better.

Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Penguin Random House Australia, more particularly Emma from their publicity department, for inviting me to take part in this Blog Tour.

Please be sure to visit Paranormal Angel's blog (the previous stop on this tour) to find out Seven Things that Samantha has learnt while living in France.

Samantha, it’s a real treat to have you here to celebrate the recent release of Seven Letters from Paris.

Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here!

Tell us about your childhood.

I was born in Los Angeles at UCLA hospital in October of 1969, where I led the quintessential beach baby lifestyle...until my biological father drove off into the California sunset, leaving my mom and me in the sand. (Where are those tiny violins when I need them?) After spending some time with the grandparents at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, mom and I packed up our bags and headed to Chicago in 1972. In 1975, my mom married Tony, the only father (and best dad in the world) I’ve ever known. He formally adopted me at the age of ten, shortly before the birth of my sister, Jessica.

A classically trained mezzo-soprano, in 1985 I attended The Chicago Academy for the Performing and Visual Arts, choosing theatre as my major. In 1986, because of my father’s rising career in the world of advertising, our family moved to Boston and two years later to London. Along with these moves, my interests and dreams metamorphosed and art became a big part of my life. I traded in arias and monologues for advertising design, graduating cum laude from Syracuse University, and moved back to Chicago.

You are also the author of a children’s novel, King of the Mutants. Would you mind telling us more about your journey to becoming an author/memoirist? What’s next on the menu for you?

I’m probably the only author with a romantic memoir and a wacky middle grade adventure coming out at the same time. Bah! Who needs a pen name? The truth? It always comes out!

I began writing in 2007, right after a move and in the process of searching for a new job as a graphic designer. A bit down in the dumps, I was sitting outside with my black Labrador retriever, Ike, and a red cardinal perched itself on a branch above our heads, chirping wildly. The bird flew away and inspiration hit. I ran into the house, fired up my computer, and started writing my first book, Survival of the Weirdest, a middle grade adventure about two kids who play a role in saving the earth’s creatures from extinction. (I’m a big-time animal lover!) Three weeks later, I had written 80k. Of course, this draft was terrible, but the writing bug had bitten pretty hard. 

My road to publication wasn’t easy; it was paved with barbed wire and loads of frustrations. But, in the end, I earned my racing stripes. And I never gave up. It took me five books and seven (there’s my number) years to land a publishing deal.

As for what’s up next, I do have plans for memoir book two. In fact, I’ve already written 35k of it. It picks up where Seven Letters from Paris leaves off. I jump into a new life in France...but I forget to pack a parachute and I land pretty hard. But as I settle into my new life, and as Jean-Luc’s children and I become closer, and as the relationship with Jean-Luc and I intensifies, no matter how terrifying things appear, I remind myself I have love on my side. And with love on my side I can do anything (including renovating a kitchen and building a bedroom-- the true test of any relationship!) 

I recently finished reading Seven Letters from Paris and I personally think that your experiences have been amazing - almost like a fairytale really, with Fate playing Fairy Godmother - but for those who haven’t yet heard about it, would you mind sharing with us the story they can expect?

An American girl falling in love with a sexy Frenchman at a café in Paris could have all the makings of a clichéd romance— but only if the girl didn’t dump the guy on a train platform at Gare de Lyon, never responding to one of his seven love letters until twenty years later.

I am the American girl. And my memoir, Seven Letters from Paris, is a story about second chances in both life and in love.

Six years ago, when I lost my job in advertising, left a loveless marriage, moved home to the parents in Southern California at the age of forty, filed for bankruptcy, and became a dog walker, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. But, while questioning the disastrous state of my life, I also decided to face past regrets— starting with the easiest one first: Jean-Luc, the Frenchman I’d left at Gare de Lyon. A modern day Mata Hari, I tracked down his email and sent off a heartfelt apology explaining the reasons behind my twenty-year silence. I thought I was only looking for forgiveness; I got more than that. One email followed another, and, for the first time in my life, I opened up my heart. Lots of people in midlife search out former flames online, and in some instances may actually meet face-to-face. In my case, I didn’t just meet up with the one who got away: Jean-Luc flew me to France and we rekindled an unfinished romance from decades before. We married on the seventh of May in 2010, which was exactly one year to the day since I’d turned to Google to find him.

Is there a particular part of the Memoir that you enjoyed writing?

I loved writing the flashback chapters, which bring the reader (and me) back to 1989 Paris and the first time I met Jean-Luc. Those pages just flowed and they were a lot of fun to write!

I must admit that I was enthralled by those flashback chapters because it is apparent that you poured your heart into them. In saying that, a Memoir is a very personal piece of writing that strives for emotional truths and is also a means by which one can validate and give meaning to their life. Before you started writing, did you already have an idea (“burning question”) as to what part of your life you wanted to share with the rest of the world and how did you brainstorm the angle you sought to come from?

Love is a universal theme, and many women struggle with finding it, believing in it, or understanding it. In my case, I pinpointed the issues keeping me from truly loving somebody else and letting them love me, I got over my fears and took risks, and, in the end, I opened up my heart. I think readers will connect with the struggles I faced, along with the triumphs too— the reason I felt the need to share my story.

And what a story it is Samantha - it was really great to see the growth in you as a person. What was the best piece of writing advice you received while writing Seven Letters from Paris?

To hire an editor before pitching an agent or publisher. 

Whether you want to self-publish or ease (ha!) on down the traditional publishing road, I really can’t stress how important it is to hire a well-seasoned editor. I did. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. My editor didn't change my voice, or fix grammar issues, or re-write my story. He asked me the hard-hitting questions. He suggested cuts. And additions. Things my alpha readers didn’t catch. I told him to “bring it on,” that I had thick skin, and could handle whatever he threw at me. We revised the manuscript again. We polished the book proposal up. Finally, I knew the manuscript was ready to send off into the wild. And it sold!

Do you have any advice to give aspiring memoirists?

Oh, boy! I have tons. Work on your craft. Connect with other writers. Learn the business, albeit traditional or self-publishing. Read in your genre. Build up your platform, your social connections. No matter how supportive she is – your mother is NOT a critique partner or a beta reader! And neither is your sister, spouse, or best friend. Put your work out there. Yes, with strangers. Revise. Edit. Repeat. Prepare to work hard. Don’t let rejection get you down. Dust yourself off. Move forward. One of the best resources on the web to learn the business AND connect with other writers is Also, if you write middle grade or YA, check out Verla Kay’s “blueboards,” now located on The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators site:

And the most important advice: never give up.

Have you discovered what constitutes the perfect boeuf bourguignon yet? If not, what French dish have you perfected since living in France?

Ha! Indeed, I have. I’ve combined three recipes. It’s so delicious, the kids and my husband lick their bowls. Here’s a link to the recipe: Samantha Vérant's Boeuf Bourguignon

What a fabulous recipe Samantha, thank you for sharing. Because I’m a great lover of wine and you’re a self-proclaimed oenophile, I thought it appropriate to ask this question. What wine do you think would be a great accompaniment to Seven Letters to Paris?

A former California girl, I must mention Pinot Noir (one of my favourite wines) at least a dozen times in Seven Letters from Paris. (I’m a big fan of the Pinots from both California and Oregon). As for French wines, my favourite cépage is Gaillac, the region not so far from my home in south-western France. So, I’d pair Seven Letters with a bottle of Gaillac or a Pinot Noir! Hey, why not both?

What type of wine would you classify yourself as?

I’d classify myself as an American sized glass of French red wine. (French pours are two fingers from the bottom of the glass – meant for ‘tasting.’ American pours are two fingers from the top of the glass – meant for, well, ‘enjoying fully!’) Anyhoo, we’ll go for a Gaillac. “Balanced and elegant, with savoury, smoky notes of white pepper and dried herbs meet bright red fruits and wild plums.” I’m a Libra- I’m all about balance! And I do have a wild side! Must be the plums!

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

I am in a book club and the last book I picked was The Goldfinch by Donna Tart. I chose it because I’d heard so many wonderful things about it – plus, I’m a former art major so I was really intrigued with the premise. The Goldfinch did not disappoint!

Samantha, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you visit. Thank you so much for joining me today and adding your own unique joie de vivre to this interview. Once again, a huge congratulations, but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of Seven Letters from Paris?

Thank you! Thank you! Merci mille fois! It’s an exciting time! And I’d be happy to share the preface! It’s a nice teaser...

Tonight I’m cooking from the heart, choosing self-belief over fear.
Although I’ve always been a culinary adventuress, experimenting with recipes ripped from the pages of Bon Appétit and Gourmet since the age of twelve, Jean-Luc and I usually prepare this particular meal together—him manning the stove, me the eager sous-chef, slicing and dicing the parsley, shallots, and garlic. Now, thanks to his gentle coaching, I’m a little more confident when it comes to the art of preparing flammable French cuisine. And I can’t let a little heat scare me out of my own kitchen.
The time has finally come to conquer my anxiety of flambéing—on my own.
On the first strike, the match hisses to life, trailing a wisp of smoke. I take a step back, reach out my arm, and touch the lit tip into the Pastis with a steady hand. Flames flare up and the aroma of the anise-flavored liqueur permeates the kitchen. The blaze settles into a simmer, and I let out the breath I’ve been holding in. My technique is still not flawless though; to the cat’s delight, one plump shrimp tumbles onto the floor. Bella lifts her haunches and pounces on her prey. I may not have the pan flip down, but I have one very happy, pint-sized panther.
After setting the timer, I twist the knob on the burner to low, which will allow the flavors of the Pastis to infuse the shrimp just a bit more. Jean-Luc has already set the table outside, and I step out into the garden to join him. “Wine?” he asks.
I nod and take my seat within earshot of the kitchen, noting my husband’s handsome profile, his manicured sideburns, and his chiseled jaw with the five o’clock shadow as he uncorks the bottle of Cabernet d’Anjou.
I am just as attracted to him as I’d been when we first met over twenty years ago.
Right as we’re about to clink glasses, the timer in the kitchen buzzes. Before I can move a muscle, Jean-Luc says, “Stay. Stay.” He flies out of his chair and into the house. A few seconds later, he rushes back to the deck and places a glossy black paper bag on my dinner plate. I can make out the name of a jeweler: 18k, Montres et Bijoux.
I point, my mouth dropping open. “But you weren’t supposed to get me anything—”
“I wanted to.” He shrugs and blows air between his lips like only a Frenchman can do without looking silly.
“But the shrimp—”
“Can wait a minute. I turned the burner off.” He motions to the bag. “Ouvre-le.”
He doesn’t need to translate his words into English. With a shake of my head, I reach through layers of hot pink tissue paper to discover a bracelet resting in a satin-lined box. The clasp is delicate, but Jean-Luc manages to hitch it in seconds. The strand twists on my wrist and a small amethyst heart rests on my pulse, its facets glittering in the candlelight. Something about the way the light flickers on the jewel, almost beating, brings on a moment of complete clarity. I look to the starlit sky before meeting Jean-Luc’s gaze, trying to find my breath. I can only whisper, “Thank you.”
Jean-Luc’s hands clasp onto mine. “Sam, you never, ever have to thank me.”
Oh, but I do.
Three years ago, when I left a loveless marriage, filed for bankruptcy, became a dog walker, and moved back in with my parents in Southern California, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. But then, in a moment of longing and memory, I used the Internet to track down Jean-Luc and rekindle an unfinished romance from decades before. Tonight is our second wedding anniversary.
This is the story of how I rebooted my life and restarted my heart.
Cheers and bisous (kisses) from Toulouse,
Seven Letters from Paris can be purchased from the following links:

Monday, 10 November 2014

Aussie Book Review: Wife on the Run by Fiona Higgins

“When social media and a mobile phone expose a high school scandal and a husband's shameful secrets the only thing left to do is ... run. In the remarkable new novel from the bestselling author of The Mothers' Group a beleaguered wife and mother escapes it all on a family road trip - without technology - to reclaim her life and rebuild her family.

A mother's greatest fear... A wife's worst nightmare... What would you do?

When two technology-related disasters hit within days of each other, Paula knows her comfortable suburban life has been irrevocably blown apart. One involves the public shaming of her teenage daughter, the other is a discovery about her husband that shocks her to her core. With her world unravelling around her, Paula does the only thing that makes any sense to her: she runs away from it all.

She pulls her children out of school and takes off on a trip across Australia with her elderly father and his caravan. The only rule is No Technology - no phones, no Facebook, no Instagram, no tablets, games or computers. It's time to get back to basics and learn how to be a family again.
It all sounds so simple - and for a while, it is. But along the way Paula will meet new, exciting complications, and realise that running away is only a temporary solution. The past has to be faced before the future can begin.

A thrilling, tender and hugely entertaining story of loss, love and discovery from the bestselling author of The Mothers' Group.”

Do you know what your children get up to on social media? Do you ever wonder what your husband is doing late into the night on the computer or even his mobile phone for that matter? In this latest novel by best-selling author of The Mother’s Group, Fiona Higgins, brings the grim reality of technology’s drawbacks to the fore.

When Paula finds out that her daughter, Caitlin, has been caught in the midst of a Facebook cyber-sex scandal, she doesn’t think things can get any worse. Unfortunately, life has a few more lessons that it would like to mete out to her, so she is further shocked when she discovers that her husband, Hamish, has been keeping his own shameful secrets. Suddenly, the cracks in their marriage become painfully clear and Paula realises that it’s decision-making time. The first, however, may just prove to be one of the easier ones she’ll ever make!

With her son Lachlan somewhat embarrassed by the scandal surrounding his sister, she decides to pull them both out of school for the remainder of the year as she makes plans to take a trip around Australia (something her and Hamish had always planned to do), with her aging father, Sid, accompanying them.

She sees this as an opportunity to escape the rat-race, her mundane existence and daily drudgery of a part-time job, housework and looking after her family that has morphed into what she now calls life. Of course, the children have a choice to go along or stay with their father, but if they decide to go, there’s one condition that they’ll need to consider - the use of modern technology will be prohibited unless an emergency presents itself. At first, the children aren’t happy about this, but soon realise that Paula is serious, while Paula discovers that some of the rules she's put in place are perhaps working to her detriment.

Life on the road, however, allows her time to re-connect with her children and her aging father and the trip becomes a great chance at reflecting on her life and making changes she thought she'd never be able to make, promising to change her life completely.

When they meet an intriguing and handsome Brazilian stranger along the way Sid, wanting to teach his grandchildren real life lessons, welcomes him in to the circle of their family while Paula finds herself hopelessly attracted to this younger man. Nobody realises this will be a life-lesson in itself, even to the adults, and by the end of their journey, all truths will present themselves with some agonising decisions to be made.

A marriage in crisis, a family in the midst of upheaval, Paula’s story could belong to any one of us with a couple of kids and a house in the ‘burbs trying to fit too much into her everyday life instead of taking some time out for herself just to re-group and re-evaluate the things that are important. Fiona makes it all the more frighteningly real by giving us the story from the first-person perspectives of two flawed and deeply human characters, with chapters alternating between the voices of Paula and Hamish, and the way each of them view their relationship with one another.

As I read Paula’s story, I couldn’t help but feel empathy towards her and we began to develop quite an emotional bond as I saw her constantly struggling with self-doubt, disappointment, and body image issues. Not so with Hamish who I found to be rather shallow and egotistical, constantly thinking about his own needs and always putting those first before anyone else. Of course, when he got his just desserts, I had to contain myself from pumping my fists in the air as I was sitting under the trees at work during one of my breaks - could you imagine the looks I would have got!

While the focus of the story is on Paula and her dilemmas relating to her marriage and journey of re-discovery of self, there are plenty of other topics within the storyline that will keep you engaged from the descriptions of the scenery on their journey across Australia, the mystery man “Farken Frank” who Hamish meets on his travels as he tries to trace his family’s whereabouts and continues to pop up unexpectedly, to the warm relationship Paula shares with her father Sid.

The way Fiona recounts the lives of her characters is delightfully humorous yet achingly honest with some strong language in parts, particularly in Hamish’s narrative, but it is not at all gratuitous, instead giving the scenes the reality and frankness they deserve as she explores the gritty reality of modern day life touching on issues from the ever-increasing draw-backs of social media and cyber-bullying, family relationships, infidelity, aging and other issues that long-term marriages in today’s society face. Life lessons prevail on this journey, not only for the children but for the adults as well. You can run, but you can’t hide, and the time will come when you need to face your demons!

With modern-day problems and family drama at its core, Wife on the Run is a story that will have you laughing more than crying and will appeal to a broad range of readers and book clubs alike.

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

A Little About the Author

Born in Melbourne and educated in Sydney, Fiona Higgins has worked in the philanthropic sector over the past 15 years. Her previous roles include Executive Director for The Caledonia Foundation, Philanthropy Services Manager for Cambooya Services, Programme Manager for The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and Communications Officer at Australian Red Cross (NSW). Currently she is Director of Grantmaking and Evaluation at Australian Philanthropic Services, and sits on the board of The Caledonia Foundation and The Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Foundation.

Fiona's memoir, Love in the Age of Drought, was published in 2009 by Macmillan and her first novel, The Mothers' Group, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2012, with foreign rights sold in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

She holds tertiary qualifications in the humanities and social sciences, and lives in Bali with her husband and three children.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Aussie Author Round-Up: Nicole Alexander, The Great Plains

I’ve always wanted to host the lovely Nicole Alexander on my blog and today, I’m absolutely delighted to have her here with me to celebrate the release of her latest historical fiction novel, The Great Plains, published by Random House and being released today.

Nicole is a fourth-generation grazier and, as well as writing bestselling novels, she has a hands-on role in running her family’s property near Moree. Most days you’ll find her in the stockyards, mustering sheep or cattle, inspecting crops, or working in the station office.

Nicole returned to her family’s property in the early 1990s and is currently the business manager. She has a Master of Letters in creative writing and her novels, poetry, travel and genealogy articles have been publish in Australia, Germany, America and Singapore.

She is also the bestselling author of The Bark Cutters, A Changing Land, Absolution Creek and the WWI epic, Sunset Ridge.

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

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

Nicole, it’s really great to have you here to celebrate the release of The Great Plains.

It’s a pleasure, Marcia. Thanks for having me to visit. I’m about three and half hour’s drive from your part of the world, Toowoomba. Love the Garden City, although it’s a bit chilly in winter.

Yes Nicole, it can get rather chilly here, but we just love the open spaces and countrified feeling of living on the outskirts of the main city and it’s a great place to bring up kids. Speaking of which, please could you give us some insight into your childhood.

I grew up on our agricultural property Murki, which has been in my family for 121 years. My early education included lessons through the mail via the Correspondence School in Sydney. Mum taught myself and my siblings around the dining room table as by that stage the old school-house which still stands on the property and is now used as a storage area had been converted into extra accommodation for jackeroo’s. I had a typical bush childhood. We were always outdoors, making up our own games, getting into trouble and annoying the jackeroos. Riding horses, swimming in the creek, fishing for yabbies, building stuff - boats to drag through the puddles with a piece of twine, go-karts to race down the dam-bank, kites, all featured regularly. Looking after orphan calves, lambs and the odd baby kangaroo competed with who would get to go out with Dad to muster livestock. 

Now, I know I heard a bit about your journey during your book launch in Toowoomba recently, but for those who couldn’t make it to any of the launches being held in SE Qld and N NSW, could you tell us about your journey to becoming an author?

I was first published over twenty-five years ago but my interest in the craft started long before that. I recall when I was in my early teens reading a novella by the great American author Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea. I loved the book and subsequently read a biography about his life and I became intrigued by the man, this big game hunting, martini drinking, bull fighting aficionado who wrote half the day and partied at night and yet created these wonderful stories. It was Hemingway who inspired me to put pen to paper and by the time I’d finished my education, boarding school and then university I realised that I would have to be a little more dedicated in my writing endeavours if I ever wanted to be an author. I wrote travel articles, poetry, genealogical works and the odd short story gradually building up a list of publishing credits which in turn led to the writing of my first novel, The Bark Cutters.

The Great Plains promises to take us on a journey from the American Wild West to the wilds of outback Queensland. Would you mind sharing with us the story we can expect?

During the American Civil War, a confederate soldier, Joseph Wade gets caught in a skirmish and is killed, his young daughter, Philomena, abducted by the legendary Geronimo of the Apache Indians. This is Philomena’s story, and also that of her descendants, strong-willed women, whose destinies are altered by fate and whose lives are hampered by the prejudices of society and the mixed-blood that runs in their veins. It’s also the story of the powerful Wade family across two continents, America and outback Australia and the men who became obsessed with these women as well as the families who struggled against adversity during periods of enormous change. 

What scene did you most enjoy writing? And why?

I have to tell you my second favourite scene, so as not to give anything away. It is where the Wade men give chase to one of Philomena’s descendants on horseback. Having visited Oklahoma last year while researching the novel it was fascinating describing the landscape and characters in the early 1900s in what was still wild territory.

I read Absolution Creek in 2013 and remember how you so capably transported me to the world that Jack and Cora inhabited which made it quite obvious that you do a great amount of research for your writing. Could you give us a little more detail on that process?

It is easy to get carried away with the research side of things and I have to be quite disciplined in what and how much material I read. I find the best thing is to read widely on the subject area first and then begin writing. Getting the story down is fundamental. I’m also fortunate in that my own family archives go back through four generations to the early 1880s so I have a lot of primary source material to draw on.  

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

Redraft, rewrite, refine. Polish the kernel of an idea into a pearl.

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

Make life your muse and writing your passion. 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I would add to the two answers above, dedication, persistence, timing and luck all come into play when hoping for publication.  

That's some great writing advice from a multi-published author. As well as being a writer though, you manage the family farm in Moree. What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?

A typical work day for me starts at 7.30 am and involves a forty-five kilometre round trip along a dirt road to the main homestead where my parents live. Days can involve anything from mustering sheep and cattle, working in the stockyards, doing bookwork in the station office, checking cultivations with our agronomist or driving heavy machinery. I write three days a week, including weekends and most nights. It’s a hectic juggle, but by attempting to get 5000 words down every week somehow it works; although I invariably have to request an extension when it comes to manuscript submission time. 

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing? I would have pursued acting. I have been actively involved in live theatre since school and more recently in community theatre.

Nicole, it’s been really fabulous having you here. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join me and good luck for the last leg of your book launch, but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of The Great Plains?
‘There was a white woman with the Apaches.’ 
Aloysius stood, his chair falling backwards to land with a loud thud on the timber floor. He scanned the contents of the letter. 
‘The similarities are strong,’ Clarence said evenly, ‘but obviously we cannot be assured that the woman mentioned is –’
Aloysius tapped at the letter. ‘They say she is blonde-haired, striking in appearance,’ his eyes grew misty, ‘and aged in her thirties.’
‘The details are compelling, I admit but I urge you, my friend, not to get your hopes up,’ Clarence replied carefully.
‘It’s her. It’s Philomena.’ Aloysius’s voice grew tight with emotion.
‘I know how long you have prayed for this moment, Aloysius, but the probability that this woman is indeed your niece remains slight.’ 
The single sheet of paper trembled between Aloysius’s fingers. ‘They have found my dead brother’s daughter.’ He looked to the ceiling, ‘God be praised.’
‘If it is her,’ Clarence cautioned, ‘if it is indeed your niece, as your friend I can only advise you to temper your happiness until you learn the true nature of her state.’
Aloysius frowned. ‘What rubbish are you speaking of, Clarence?’
‘It is over 20 years since her abduction.’
‘And I have never stopped thinking of the child. She is my brother’s blood.’
‘She has been raised by savages,’ Clarence countered. ‘Please, dear friend, I share your joy if indeed the woman is Philomena, but I also urge you to prepare yourself.’
Aloysius folded the letter, returned it to the envelope and tucked it inside his suit coat. ‘I have been preparing for this moment for 23 years, Clarence. My niece was born a Wade and no Indian, Geronimo or not, can ever take that away from her.’ 
No, Clarence thought, they can’t take a name but they can take other things.
The Great Plains can be purchased from the following links: