Thursday, 14 April 2016

Aussie Book Review | Precious Things | Kelly Doust


"Normandy, France, 1891: a young woman painstakingly sews an intricate beaded collar to her wedding dress, the night before her marriage to someone she barely knows. Yet Aimee longs for so much more ...

Shanghai, 1926: dancing sensation and wild child Zephyr spies what looks like a beaded headpiece lying carelessly discarded on a ballroom floor. She takes it with her to Malaya where she sets her sights on a prize so out of reach that, in striving for it, she will jeopardise everything she holds dear ...

PRECIOUS THINGS tells the story of a collar - a wonderful, glittering beaded piece - and its journey through the decades. It's also the story of Maggie, an auctioneer living in modern-day London, who comes across the crumpled, neglected collar in a box of old junk, and sets out on an unexpected mission to discover more about its secret and elusive past.

Maggie has a journey of her own too. Juggling a demanding job, a clingy young child and a rebellious stepdaughter, and with her once-solid marriage foundering under the pressure of a busy life, Maggie has to find out the hard way that you can't always get what you want... but sometimes, you're lucky enough to get precisely what you need.

This is a wonderful, absorbing and moving novel about desire, marriage and family, telling the story about how we so often reach out for the sparkly, shiny things (and people) we desire, only to realise - in the nick of time - that the most precious things are the ones we've had with us all along."

In the contemporary storyline we meet Maggie, an auctioneer trying to find balance between motherhood, marriage and her career. When she buys a box of old items for herself from an auction, she thinks nothing further of its contents until one day when she is scrabbling around in it and comes across a beautifully crafted coronet.

It is when someone sees a picture in the newspaper of the coronet and approaches Maggie about helping her with some research into the item’s origins that the story begins to unfurl and Maggie’s life begins to veer seductively off course as she is drawn into the history, mystery and seduction of the object as it casts its shadow over the already lacklustre clarity of her own life, leading her to question exactly what it is that is precious to her.

Much like Kelly Doust, I have always been captivated by vintage items (especially furniture) and the stories they have to tell, often finding myself dreaming about where these precious pieces come from and what paths they have trodden on their passage through the generations.

Although I was initially confused with the structure, jumping between the various people who have owned the collar through the decades, that confusion soon lifted once I figured out what Kelly was trying to convey through her story and I began to just enjoy the stories for what they were - of the journey of a “precious thing” through love, heartbreak, grief, blood, sweat and tears, as it transformed from part of a wedding dress in 1890’s Normandy to a circus performer’s coronet in 1920’s Shanghai, coming into the possession of an artist’s muse in 1950’s Rome, until it found its way into Maggie’s life.

These shorter historical storylines are vibrantly rich, both in character and setting, contrasting strongly against the chilly air of the current day England and the life in which Maggie lives and I can only imagine how much research went into this book because the historical details feel so authentic.

There is no doubt that Kelly is passionate about vintage items, after all she has already published a number of non-fiction books on the subject, because this passion for beautiful objects bleeds through into the story with sumptuous detail as she brings her own vintage expertise and knowledge to this beguiling novel.

Beautifully detailed and intricately layered, Kelly’s writing has such a gentle cadence to it that it’s not a book to be picked up lightly and read in one sitting … it’s one to read slowly and savour as she transports you back and forth in time to exotic destinations which are evocatively described and vividly painted.

So, because it’s getting to that time of year when the chilly, shorter days of winter are slowly creeping up on you, why don’t you pour a glass of wine, curl up on your favourite armchair, drape a lovingly cherished vintage blanket over your feet and enjoy this escapist tale of duty, despair, desire, family, love and fashion.

I wish to thank HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a hard copy ARC for review.

About the Author

Kelly Doust is the bestselling author of A Life in Frocks: A memoir, vintage fashion bible Minxy Vintage: How to Customise & Wear Vintage Clothing and craft books The Crafty Minx, The Crafty Kid and The Crafty Minx at Home.

With a background in book publishing and publicity, Kelly has worked in the UK, Hong Kong and Australia, and has freelanced for Vogue, Australian Women’s Weekly and Sunday Life Magazine.

She currently lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and daughter.

Precious Things is her first novel and was published on 1 April 2016.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Aussie Book Review | Craven | Melanie Casey


"Cass thought she had experienced every kind of death...

Moving to the city, Cass Lehman hoped to leave her recent notoriety behind her. Her ability to experience the final moments of a violent death helped the local police capture a serial killer, but also meant she was almost his final victim...

With a place of her own and a new job, things are looking up for Cass. But just as she starts to feel settled, Cass is targeted by a deranged stalker.

Are the personal attacks linked to a string of unsettling deaths that have left the police stumped?

Her 'gift' is called on yet again by the one man she vowed she would never contact. Cass and Detective Ed Dyson are thrown back into each other's lives but can they overcome their feelings to put an end to the terror?

Will her experiences of death reveal the mind of the killer... or is there no such thing as a happy ending?”

Can I just start this review off by saying that I am really loving this series! I’ve never really been a fan of stories told in series but these days I find myself reading more and more of them and, in particular, anticipating Melanie Casey’s next release.

With the third, Missing, already having arrived on my doorstep, I was compelled to read this one before venturing into the third so that I didn’t lose my way in terms of how reluctant clairvoyant Cass Lehman has developed.

Continuing the story a few months after Hindsight (my review here) left off and Cass and Ed Dyson parted ways, Cass is still trying to come to grips with her gift off retrocognition and it seems that the more she uses it, the more she discovers about it, even if it does involve reliving the final moments of a victim’s death at the scene of a crime.

Having left the safe confines of her childhood home in Jewel Bay, she now lives in Adelaide (two hours away) and is currently a tutor at the Uni. When one of her new students recognises her, her tutoring position becomes entwined in her past and she finds herself the victim of a stalker.

Ed, the detective with whom she worked on a case in Jewel Bay (the one that made her a household name) is currently on secondment with the Major Crime Investigative Branch (MCIB), a division of the Adelaide Police, and has recently been presented with a case that’s proving to be far more complicated than he and his new partner, Dave, first thought. When Cass calls him for help after her car is defaced on the Uni’s premises, he’s not only surprised that she has moved to Adelaide but happy that she is trying to forge her way to independence.

It’s not long though before Ed’s undeniably familiar pull has Cass becoming embroiled in his investigation which involves trying to figure out the murder of a young man who appears to have been linked to a local Narcotics Anonymous Group. If there is a deranged serial killer on the loose how is Cass’ gift going to aid her and the police in bringing them to book?

Melanie Casey is an author that gets me as a reader. She might write crime cum police procedural cum suspense with a touch of the supernatural but her characters are not stereo-typical of most of this genre. Both Cass and Ed are people I can empathise and sympathise with because they are both flawed, thus making them real and relatable.

Written from the perspectives of Cass in the first person and Ed in the third, we get a good feel for both of these characters as well as some spine-tingling moments that had me not wanting to go near any of the windows in my house while it was dark! Seriously!

Her characters are believable and she doesn’t take Cass’ gift over the top. Perhaps that’s what I like about the struggles and challenges that Cass is faced with in not only learning to accept that what she has been gifted with is important but that she is also pretty much an average human being.

Melanie is a great storyteller and, while she doesn’t know what it’s like to be a psychic, she conveys Cass’ ability and fears well. She also knows how to maintain the pace and suspense and there’s no denying that this series is going to take her places with lovers of the genre.

A well-balanced story that will take you along for a ride through the sights, smells and sounds of Adelaide as Cass and Ed follow the procedures of an investigation while discovering more about one another, this is a well written, fast-paced and engrossing second addition to the series.

I wish to thank Pantera Press for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

Melanie Casey was born and lives in South Australia with her two young children and her husband (who didn’t know he was marrying a writer when he walked down the aisle).

After studying English Literature and Classical Studies, Melanie shifted to Law, and now works in government.

A chance meeting with a high school English teacher in the supermarket made Melanie realise that she should be doing what she’d always loved, writing! Another period of study, this time at the Professional Writing School of Adelaide’s College of the Arts ensued, helping Melanie acquire the skills she needed to put her plan into action.

Hindsight was her debut novel, the first in a crime trilogy featuring Cass Lehman and Detective Ed Dyson. Craven was released in 2014.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Aussie Book Review: Like I Can Love by Kim Lock


“On a hot January afternoon, Fairlie Winter receives a phone call. Her best friend has just taken her own life.

Jenna Rudolph, 26 years old, has left behind a devoted husband, an adorable young son and a stunning vineyard. But Fairlie knows she should have seen this coming.

Yet Fairlie doesn't know what Jenna's husband Ark is hiding, nor does she know what Jenna's mother Evelyn did to drive mother and daughter apart all those years ago.

Until Fairlie opens her mail and finds a letter. In Jenna's handwriting. Along with a key.

Driven to search for answers, Fairlie uncovers a horrifying past, a desperate mother, and a devastating secret kept by those she loves the most.

Heartbreaking and terrifying, Like I Can Love explores love in all its forms - from the most fragile to the most dangerous - and the unthinkable things we do in its name.”

In a small town in the eighties, two girls, best friends since they could walk, Jenna and Fairlie became inseparable. Then, Jenna met the man of her dreams, settled down and started a family.

Now, Fairlie has just received a phone call to say that Jenna has taken her own life. She is left floundering and feeling utterly helpless in the face of this tragic event, knowing that Jenna hasn’t been in a good frame of mind for some months, especially since Henry’s birth but could it have been so bad that she was forced to take her own life?

Compelled to find out what drove her friend to carry out this uncharacteristic act, what she discovers is that Jenna’s reality behind closed doors was far from the idyll she thought her friend was living!

It’s when she receives an envelope in the mail, penned in a familiar hand and enclosing a key, that she begins to unlock the awful truths that have brought her to this point.

Innocently … subtly … insidiously … just like Jenna’s reality, this story creeps up on you and, while I initially had some difficulty with its structure, once I got to about a quarter of the way in and the pace picked up I knew where Kim Lock was taking me and it all began to make sense.

Through Jenna’s narrative, which is told in flash-backs, Kim has vividly captured the experience of abuse, the isolation and the seductive power of manipulation while through Fairlie’s we become privy to the close friendship she once shared with Jenna, the slow disintegration of that friendship and how she now feels as though she’s lost an important part of herself. Entwined within these two narratives though, through the letters that Jenna's mother wrote to her, is a quiet strand that only becomes more prominent when a clever little twist is revealed in the climax..

Unlike her first novel, Peace, Love and Khaki Socks (my review here), in Like I Can Love, Kim severely changes tack, venturing into darker territory where she explores not only domestic abuse in one of its most subtle forms along with the grief left in its wake but also unravels the relationships between mothers and daughters and the life-changing secrets we keep.

In this chilling tale of domestic noir, Kim captures the experience of abuse and manipulation, exposing the utter terror and shame of a victim and the pieces that those left behind have to pick up in order to make sense of it all.

Using Fairlie as her key, Like I Can Love is a poignant tale of truth, deception and love in all its forms, delivered by an author who knows how to pack a punch.

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

About the Author


Kim Lock was born in 1981. She has worked around Australia as a graphic designer and volunteered as a breastfeeding counsellor.

Her non-fiction has appeared in The Guardian, Daily Life, and The Sydney Morning Herald online.

Kim's fiction explores the stories that shape people's lives, but that they hide from society.

Like I Can Love is her second novel and was released on the 22nd March 2016.

Kim lives in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, with her partner and their children, a dog and a couple of cats.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Aussie Book Review: Raelia by Lynette Noni


"Returning for a second year at Akarnae Academy with her gifted friends, Alexandra Jennings steps back through a doorway into Medora, the fantasy world that is full of impossibilities.

Despite the magical wonder of Medora, Alex’s life remains threatened by Aven Dalmarta, the banished prince from the Lost City of Meya who is out for her blood.

To protect the Medorans from Aven’s quest to reclaim his birthright, Alex and her friends seek out the Meyarin city and what remains of its ancient race.

Not sure who—or perhaps what—she is anymore, all Alex knows is that if she fails to keep Aven from reaching Meya, the lives of countless Medorans will be in danger. Can she protect them, or will all be lost?"

This second book continues Lynette Noni’s superb writing, intriguing plot development and remarkable character growth. Recently hailed as “Australia’s very own JK Rowling” in a WIN News interview, fantasy lovers are going to bask in the glory of this new voice in fantasy fiction.

Where Akarnae thrust our heroine Alex into the parallel world of Medora, introducing us to a cast of fabulous characters, Raelia picks up at the beginning of Alex’s second year at the Academy where she once again teams up with her friends Bear, Jordan and D.C.

While being back with her friends and the excitement of D.C.’s birthday party offer a slight reprieve from her gruelling school timetable, she soon finds herself being selected for Hunter’s Stealth and Subterfuge (SAS) classes. With the proverbial wool having been pulled over her eyes, her annoyance at being outsmarted is short-lived when she is transported to Raelia. What astounds her even more though is a royal meeting and the realisation that her nemesis, Aven, will stop at nothing to use her to gain access to Meya.

As I write this review, Lynette Noni is right now weaving her way around south-east Queensland appearing at special events and book signings and I’m just sorry that I’m not able to attend due to family and full-time work commitments because I would love to meet the woman whose writing and imaginative power has drawn me into the world of fantasy.

In saying that, this isn’t just another take on older fantasy stories that has been polished to a shine – it’s original and deserves to sparkle on its own as Lynette continues to create a well-developed world full of intrepid characters.

All of the characters we were introduced to and came to love in Akarnae are back with us in this second instalment and Lynette has enriched and further developed them as well as her world-building, making it a pivotal episode that sets out the scope of challenges that will come Alex’s way in the further three books in the series.

Whereas in Akarnae she started out unsure of herself and her purpose for being in Medora, in Raelia, Alex is slowly starting to accept her ability even if she hasn’t quite come to lovingly embrace the exhausting training and brutal encounters during her combat classes.

Physically and emotionally, she is still growing but is a strong and intelligent young girl who has found responsibility planted firmly on her shoulders in a world where the use of her latent gift could have the ability to corrupt her. She is likeable, admirable, relatable and thoughtful in that she thinks about the beautiful world she has been thrust into, what it means to her and its inhabitants and how she wants to continue to be a part of it and her friends’ lives. And boy can she look after herself, even if she does tend to appear in the medical ward too often!

With the narrative rooted firmly in good versus evil, Lynette has written a great story featuring a protagonist who has many good morals and positive messages to impart on her journeys. It's a thrilling voyage that will ignite all of your senses as the action scenes and the magic of this world creeps up on you, luring you into the adventure while those pages just keep on turning.

Filled with exquisite imagery and wildly imaginative adventures that offer mystery, intrigue, danger and some of the best friendships I’ve ever seen put down on paper, this is a book that will amuse and delight both the younger and older generations and, while it ends on a nail-biting cliff-hanger which definitely sets up the third in the series, I have no doubt that Draekora will see Alex fighting even harder for what is important to her:

“Life is full of crossroads, Alex. Full of choices.”

If you’ve already read Akarnae, don’t let this one get lost on your lengthy TBR pile because it’s a must-read. So, go ahead and hop on the Valispath because there is a lot of wonder to be found here!

I wish to thank Pantera Press for providing me with a hard copy ARC for review.

About the Author

Lynette Noni grew up on a farm in outback Australia until she moved to the beautiful Sunshine Coast and swapped her mud-stained boots for sand-splashed flip-flops.

She has always been an avid reader and most of her childhood was spent lost in daydreams of far-off places and magical worlds. She was devastated when her Hogwarts letter didn't arrive, but she consoled herself by looking inside every wardrobe she could find, and she's still determined to find her way to Narnia one day.

While waiting for that to happen, she creates her own fantasy worlds and enjoys spending time with characters she meets along the way.

Raelia is Lynette's second novel in her five part series, The Medoran Chronicles.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Aussie Book Review and Giveaway: The Recipient by Dean Mayes


“Casey Schillinge is a vivacious young woman on the verge of making her mark on the world. While backpacking, she is struck down by a tropical disease and suffers cardiac failure. But at the eleventh hour, Casey receives a life-saving heart transplant - and a rare second chance to begin again.

Three years later, Casey has become a withdrawn shell of her former self: she is estranged from her loved ones, afraid of open spaces and rides the line between legitimate and criminal work. The worst of her troubles come in the form of violent night terrors; so frightening that she resorts to extreme measures to keep herself from sleeping. When she can take no more, she embarks on a desperate search for the source of her dreams. In so doing, she makes a shocking discovery surrounding the tragic fate of the donor whose heart now beats inside her chest. As she delves deeper into the mystery of her donor, she realizes her dreams are not a figment of her imagination, but a real life nightmare.”

Every once in a while a really great book comes along and totally sweeps me away. The Recipient is very definitely one of those books and in fact, about a quarter of the way through the book, I even took to Twitter, asking why I had never read one of Dean Mayes’ books before!

The story opens with a heartfelt first chapter – a young woman is bedridden, her caring father in agony over her condition. Then, a phone call – one that will change all their lives in ways nobody could imagine.

One would have thought that this life-saving operation would be the end of three years of pain and fear but after receiving her new heart, Casey is severely agoraphobic and plagued by awful nightmares which affect her so badly that she resorts to the use of drugs and tries her damndest not to sleep while pushing herself physically past the point that anyone with a heart transplant should go.

No longer the carefree young woman and loving daughter she used to be, she prefers to stay within the confines of her apartment, immersing herself in working both sides of the cyber-fence while distancing herself from her parents – a mother who she sees as trying to control her life and a father who constantly worries about her solitary existence and the fact that she only ventures out for her usual doctors’ appointments or a stroll on her favourite beach.

As the nightmares become more pronounced and her sanity slinks towards the edge, she starts to wonder if there is more to them and finally seeks assistance from her psychiatrist. Their discovery and Casey’s suspicions gradually lead her to take up her own investigation which has horrific consequences as she risks her life trying to uncover the truth behind a cold case – what they discover, is both chilling and thrilling!

We've all read stories in the newspapers - "I was given a young man's heart and started craving beer"; "Memory transference in organ transplant recipients"; "Heart transplant patient gets craving for food eaten by organ donor"; "Man given heart of suicide victim marries donor's widow and then kills himself in exactly the same way" (and the list goes on) - so, when I was invited to read and review this novel I just knew it was a book that I wanted to read because cellular memory in organ recipients is a notion that has long intrigued me. I’m so glad that I ventured into this one because Dean’s writing doesn’t disappoint as he presents his story to the reader in a cinematic quality that brings Casey, her life and her surroundings to vivid life – and her dreams into reality.

Putting his own medical training as a Registered Nurse to good use, Dean starts off strong and the strength of the entire narrative doesn’t waiver as he wraps you up in a compelling intensity that doesn’t let up until the final chapters. It’s the kind of book that you can’t put down, even when you want to go to sleep – if you are able to that is!

Casey’s nightmares are absolutely terrifying and delivered to the reader in such a way that a number of times I found myself holding my breath. Her fears and experiences, too, are well-delivered, as is the rocky relationship that exists between her and her mother, Edie; the emotional connection with her father, Peter; the loving rapport she has with Pa; and her easy friendship with Sasquatch (who I really would have loved to see more of).

As Dean takes you on an adrenaline-fuelled ride that twists to a kicker of a climax, ultimately uncovering a tale of human horror that is all too real, he will keep you guessing throughout as you try and figure out just who the good guys and the bad guys are. A word of warning – trust no-one as you race towards the very satisfying conclusion of this gripping psychological thriller!

With a highly original and well-developed plot, Dean has crafted a superior page turner which fans of the thriller genre will enjoy. And, if you think that cellular memory is merely an urban legend, think again because Dean is going to change forever the way natural-born skeptics look at this theory.

I wish to thank both the publisher, Central Avenue Publishing, and Dean Mayes for the hard copy ARC I received for review.

About the Author

Dean Mayes has established himself as an author of great passion and literary style since the publication of his debut novel The Hambledown Dream in 2010 and has since gone on to grow his following even more with his follow up novel Gifts of the Peramangk (released in October 2012) - all while holding down a very busy day job involving a stethoscope.

The Recipient is scheduled for an international release on the 1st May 2016.

Dean lives in Adelaide, Australia with his partner Emily and his two children and writes regularly for a loyal following at his blog, Dean from Australia.
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COMPETITION TIME

Central Avenue Publishing are giving away a copy of The Recipient (US: Print Copy, Intl: Digital Copy), a $25 Amazon Gift Card as well as a donation in the winner's name to Amnesty International.

This giveaway is open internationally and all you need to do is follow this link:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
(which will take you to the Rafflecopter page),

so go ahead and enter now!


EXTRAS

For an exclusive extract from The Recipient, go to Dean's website, here.

The Recipient can be pre-ordered today from the following links:


If you'd like a sneak-peek of The Recipient, take a look at the international teaser trailer: