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Review & Author Guest Post: An Unsuitable Match – Sasha Cottman

9781760140427An Unsuitable Match
Sasha Cottman
Destiny Romance
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

After a mistake, Lady Clarice Langham was briefly engaged to Alex, the future Duke of Strathmore. However now she finds herself celebrating his wedding to Millie and trying to smooth over the awkwardness between their families.

The current Duke’s eldest son David has always been raised within the family although he’s not the heir. Born illegitimate, the current Duke’s wife has always seen David as her own and as a result of this acknowledgement, David is far more widely accepted in others in his position. Although he will never inherit his father’s land and titles, that doesn’t mean he has been forgotten and he’s a much cherished part of the family. And David wants Lady Clarice as his wife.

Clarice’s father, the Earl of Langham has made it perfectly clear that he doesn’t consider David to be the right match for Clarice, leaving her torn. She loves her father and doesn’t want to disappoint him but her growing feelings for David are also leading her to believe that he could be the key to her future happiness. However Lady Clarice has a few secrets of her own and she knows that to be truly happy she needs to confess them, even if it means David won’t want her anymore.

An Unsuitable Match is a follow on from Sasha Cottman’s last book, Letter From A Rake, which was Alexander, the future Duke of Strathmore’s story. I was really intrigued with David’s subplot in that so I was really excited to get to read his attempts to capture Lady Clarice Langham as his bride once and for all. David is in a bit of a unique position: technically, he’s the Duke of Strathmore’s eldest son. However he was born out of wedlock and therefore his younger half-brother Alex is the one who will inherit the title and everything that is entailed upon the estate. Despite the circumstances of their births, Alex and David are incredibly close and David has always been raised as a part of the family and considers the Duke’s wife his real mother. He’s a bit of a rogue, having had several relationships with married, bored women but now that his partner-in-crime is married and settling down, David seems to think that it’s about time he started thinking about the future as well.

He wants his future to contain Lady Clarice Langham, who was mistakenly briefly engaged to his brother recently but the two of them face several obstacles. As well as the Earl’s objection, Lady Clarice is being pursued by the Earl’s heir, a distant and recently discovered relative who seems to have very sinister motives. David’s younger sister Lucy is doing her best to help push the two of them together but it isn’t easy, especially when them being seen in public together could have negative repercussions on Clarice.

For me, historical romances have become comfort reads. Sometimes when I’m struggling a bit with a reading slump or just looking for something really entertaining and soothing, I turn to a historical romance. I really enjoyed the first book in this series and this one was just as enjoyable. Lady Clarice turned out to be a very intriguing character – she could have been boring, with her desire to please everyone and almost sacrifice her own happiness but Cottman gave her such depth and a quiet inner strength that made her the sort of character you’d want to know as a person. She was keeping some very serious secrets and I was pleasantly surprised by the way that all played out. The Earl of Langham likewise, could’ve been an overbearing, blustering snobby Earl but throughout the story, it becomes obvious that he has a very clear idea in mind of the sort of man that deserves to marry his daughter and before he gives his consent he wants to make sure that it is absolutely the right decision and that his daughter will be taken care of, loved and looked after. I thought it was very clever the way Lady Clarice’s relationships with other people evolved in this novel as she evolved herself as a character. She reaches new understandings and closeness with her father, her grandmother and also David as she accepts the secrets in her past and attempts to deal with them and move forward after laying a ghost or two to rest. She also proves to be pretty brave and a decent hand at getting herself out of trouble.

I really enjoyed this follow on from Letter From A Rake and thought that David and Clarice’s story was really well executed. I loved the slightly different romance dynamic of acknowledged member of a prominent family but who is still a bastard and the daughter of an Earl. I also loved the Epilogue, which featured David’s younger sister Lucy in a hint that she’s about to finally meet her match – definitely can’t wait for that one! I’d really recommend reading this series in order so that you can really get to know this family and understand the different make up of it.

8/10

Book #183 of 2014

AWWW2014

An Unsuitable Match is book #66 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, 2014

And now I’d like to welcome Sasha Cottman back to my blog with a guest post where she’s talking about the challenges of writing women in a regency setting.

sasha cottman author pic

Writing Regency Women

One of the many challenges facing writers attempting to portray women who lived during the Regency period (early 19th century), is to make them realistic while giving them a compelling story. Women back then were restricted socially and legally, severely limiting their lives and so many of the freedoms we take for granted.

How then do you write a heroine whose thoughts and actions, hopes and fears, absorbs and fascinates the reader? She cannot spend her time simply sitting in drawing rooms, sipping tea or eating stale cake at Almack’s Assembly rooms. (The catering at London’s most exclusive club was reputedly terrible.)

When I began writing the character of Lady Clarice Langham, the heroine in An Unsuitable Match, she was a mere plot device. I needed a muse for David Radley’s letter in the first of the Duke of Strathmore series, Letter from a Rake and she was it.

To make Clarice engaging and interesting however, was not an easy feat.  Originally, she was meant to be feisty and opinionated, someone who would give the hero of Letter from a Rake (David’s brother), considerable grief. Fortunately, final edits of the first book had not been completed when I realised I had to make changes.

My light-bulb moment came during the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Fremantle in August 2013, at a workshop conducted by Kim Hudson, author of The Virgin’s Promise (Writing Stories of Feminine, Creative, Spiritual, and Sexual Awakening). Before morning tea, everyone sitting at our table, myself included, had dashed outside and grabbed a copy of Kim’s book.

On the flight back to Melbourne I took a long hard look at Clarice Langham and began to rebuild her character. She needed a solid back-story, one that had an ongoing impact on her life. A Cinderella story began to take shape in my mind. Or rather, a Cinderella plot with a twist, for as Clarice Langham came to life it became apparent that she didn’t truly believe Prince Charming was her knight in shining armour. Rather she suspected that he had his own, more self-serving reasons for declaring his devotion.

This is when the secondary character, the formidable yet kind-hearted Lady Alice Langham, began to take shape. Cinderella needed a fairy god-mother like Lady Alice, Clarice’s paternal grandmother. Someone who could bring a more sophisticated, worldly view and help Clarice understand that she had to come out of the shadows and deal with her past and all its demons.

At the beginning of An Unsuitable Match, Clarice is a dowdy recluse who is hiding herself from the world. She has a terrible secret which forces her to believe she is unworthy of love. A slow and painful transition begins to take place in her mind and gradually, her appearance. The price she has to pay for accepting David Radley’s passionate declaration of love is that she is forced to confront her worst fears. Clarice has to confess the truth about her past to her family and to the man she loves deeply.

I could have let the story run its course from there, but to me Clarice had to become more than a beautiful butterfly spreading her wings. She had to stand alongside the hero and fight for their love. By making her brave enough to face the villain of the story, she became a stronger character, one whom I could respect. A woman who had earned the right to claim her ‘happily ever after.’

***

Thanks so much for returning to the blog Sasha! For more information on Sasha, you can check out:

Her website here
Follow her on twitter
Like her on facebook
See her page at Destiny Romance

You can also check out my review of Letter From A Rake as well as a Q&A with Sasha right here

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Review: The Summer Of Kicks – Dave Hackett

Summer of KicksThe Summer Of Kicks
Dave Hackett
University of Queensland Press
2014, 277p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It’s hard enough being a slightly nerdy teenage boy without being lumped with a name like Starrphyre. All he wants is one conversation with his dream girl, Candace McAllister. He knows that the stars won’t align for her to suddenly realise he’s the guy she’s been waiting for her whole life, but a proper conversation will do. Starrphyre and his equally nerdy friends decide that one way to get girls interested in them is to start a band.

So that’s what they do – even though they barely play any instruments and have no real idea of what sort of direction they want to go in. They don’t even all like the same music. They’re also missing a guitarist but an employee of the local vinyl shop has been advertising for a band so Starrphyre goes in to talk to him. He comes out with a job – and a reluctant guitarist for the band with the ever changing name.

When his friends sign him up for the lead role in the school musical, Starrphyre realises this could be his time to make Candace really notice him. But after all this time….is the reality of Candace ever going to live up to the fantasy in his head and is she what he really wants?

I haven’t heard of Dave Hackett but apparently he’s a presenter on children’s TV shows. My kids are probably a little young for those types of shows but no doubt they’ll tune into them eventually. I was interested in this book when it turned up because I don’t read a lot of young adult contemporary from a male perspective. It’s always good to read something different and as I’m the mother of boys, reading about teenage boys is something that interests me. I want to know what I’m in for in the next decade!

Saddled with a ridiculous name, Starrphyre lives with his mother who is a radio sex therapist not above using her teenage son as fodder for her show, his Nan, older sister Rue and now Rue’s boyfriend, known as Warren the Tool is moving in as well. Starphyrre’s father lives a few minutes away and he and Starphyrre communicate a lot via text messaging each other trivia questions about bands. Starrphyre’s father likes to test him on 50s, 60s and 70s whereas Starphyrre likes to throw his father a curveball using modern inspiration. Whilst I found Starrphyre quite an interesting and enjoyable character, at times the character of Warren bugged me enough that I had to put the book down and walk away for a bit. I think the author attempts to justify Warren’s presence in the house at the end of the book but to be honest, it kind of falls a bit flat. Starrphyre has ample time to really go to people about the things that Warren does but he just…doesn’t, which really frustrated me. When it all comes out in the end, it feels a bit overblown and unbelieveable. I’m not entirely sure the character of Warren really contributed anything to the book and it would’ve not lacked had he not been in it.

That aside though, there are some pretty interesting supporting characters, such as Sean (pronounced “Scene”), the guitarist and worker at the vinyl records shop who gives Starrphyre a job and regards him and his makeshift band with such disdain. I think Ellie also had real promise in the beginning but her character got caught up in the messy ending which, as I mentioned, didn’t really work for me. There were far too many implausible connections in this book and the web became really tangled. But I really liked Starphyrre’s interactions with Ellie earlier on and I thought the way in which he sort of agnonised over the longtime dream and the here right now was something that most people could really relate to. I think as teenagers, we all have that unattainable fantasy crush, the one that we know is never going to really go anywhere, but it can be hard to let that go and look around and see what else is on offer.

I liked this much more than I thought I would (Warren aside). I read through it in an afternoon and it made me smile a few times and I liked Starrphyre and his kind of clumsy attempts to negotiate the dramas of high school and teenagerdom. At times it’s a bit over the top for my taste (such as the ending and the high school musical scene) but at the same time, I’m almost old enough to be Starrphyre’s mother! I think this would be a really relatable book for teens, both boys and girls. It’s definitely the sort of book I hope my own kids read when they are older. It’s great to see some books depicting life from the male point of view and I think this book is very successful at that.

7/10

Book #180 of 2014

Aussie-Author-Challenge-2014-final-badge

The Summer Of Kicks is the 14th book read for my Aussie Author Challenge. It also ticks off the YA genre, a new-t0-me author and a book published this year.

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Review: Rock Addiction – Nalini Singh

Rock AddictionRock Addiction (Rock Kiss #1)
Nalini Singh
TKA Distribution
2014, eBook
Copy received via NetGalley

Molly Webster is a librarian in New Zealand and despite the fact that her sister is a famous publicist in LA, Molly keeps out of the limelight. A scandal when she was a teenager left her harrassed and traumatised and now she seeks a quiet life away from the possibility of ever being in the public eye. She has her job and her friends, she’s forged a good relationship with her half-sister, discovered after the scandal involving their politician father erupted.

Then Molly meets Zachary Fox, known as just Fox, the singer for the latest rock band sensation, Schoolboy Choir. To her surprise, she would like nothing better than to take him home, experience a night with him – and that is something that Molly just doesn’t do. She’s sure that Fox would never look twice at her anyway, not with all the beautiful groupie types that are always hanging around.

But Fox does look – and more than twice. From the moment he saw Molly, he knew that she was the one. Now he just needs to convince her of that. Problem is, Fox is a tattooed bad boy that the paparazzi just loves and the women love him even more. And Molly still bears the scars of that scandal and life with someone as in the public eye as Fox might not be something she can cope with.

I’ve never read any Nalini Singh before but I’ve heard really good things about her paranormal series books. When I saw this one on NetGalley I thought it would be a good way to try her writing, but without having to begin a huge series because this is the only one released so far. When I requested it, it didn’t have a cover so I didn’t realise that this was a dip into the New Adult genre.

Warning: There are some ***SPOILERS*** ahead.

Virgin heroine/manwhore hero isn’t a favourite pairing of mine and this book showcases a lot of the reasons why. I know romance books are a fantasy, an escape but there’s only so much fantasy I can take in one book and Molly and Fox’s sexual gymnastics became relatively exhausting very early on. The writing feels really dramatic and overblown with lots of “Open up baby, I want in”s and “Are you wet for me?” or variations thereof and no one talks like that. And if they did, the other person would burst out laughing because it is ridiculous. Also this is a really, really bad case of instalove. Fox and Molly both spot each other at a party and immediately start fantasising and Fox’s in particular just really doesn’t ring true. He knows she is the one and he must do whatever it takes to convince her of that fact as well, not realising at the time that Molly absolutely does not ever want to be with anyone that would possibly put her in the public eye. Of course, the one person she falls for is one of the world’s most famous rockstars. What are the odds?!

My issues with this book were many, starting with the cliched and over the top sex scenes but I also had a problem with Fox’s temper and manipulation of Molly. Fox is basically a sulky little boy whose mother didn’t love him so therefore he needs Molly to pretty much devote her entire life to being his love. When Molly realises that hey, this is much more than mindblowing sex and she cannot bear the thought of Fox leaving to go back to his LA rockstar life, she agrees that they will give it a “proper” go, as in be in a relationship not just a casual sex thing. This immediately means Molly has to quit her job in New Zealand and go and live with Fox in his home in California because he can’t cope with anything other than her being around all of the time. And Fox’s job is obviously way more important than Molly’s so therefore she’s the one that has to make the sacrifice. But it’s okay, he knows that after the scandal she fears having no financial independence so he sets up some trust fund for her where she gets $15 million if she stays 2 years and it increases thereafter the longer she stays. It’s invested and in the first two years, Molly gets the interest off the principle.

No. No, no, no, no, no. No.

think I kind of understand where Fox is coming from here, I mean after all, he demanded she give up her job or they were not going to do this so therefore she should receive some sort of financial compensation. But his whole idea of that is just so ridiculous and also, insulting. Thankfully Molly actually uses her skills to source herself some work in California and shows little interest in Fox’s wealth. I found the idea of a trust fund for her staying with him so unattractive. If you wanted to give her independence Fox, maybe you could’ve asked her what she wanted to do and supported her in achieving that? Basically her financial security is tied to her being with him and the longer she stays, the more she gets a pat on the head for being a good girl. It was really weird. I mean obviously this is heading for a HEA and she’ll have no need of this trust fund but the idea of it? Yuck. But to be honest, it feels like Fox shows zero interest in what Molly does, other than in bed.

End ***SPOILERS***.

I think mostly though, Fox and Molly are boring together. It seems like it’s all sex, sex, sex or Molly being insecure about groupies/the press and Fox being demanding. There wasn’t really that amazing chemistry that makes you believe in them, that makes all of their scenes shine. In fact I was way more interested in the drummer David and his attempts to convince Molly’s sister to take a chance on him (which is lucky, because the second book, or really more of a novella, is about them) and Molly’s best friend Charlotte and her new boss that she nicknames T-Rex. In fact I loved the snippets on Charlotte and the mysterious T-Rex and I desperately wanted to know more about them! Despite the fact that T-Rex appears in the book only once in person for about a page, he and Charlotte had way more in the way of chemistry and an interesting dynamic than Fox and Molly. Or, as someone nicknames them in the book, “Folly”. Haha, did Singh choose those names deliberately so she could coin that couple term? I really hope we see Charlotte in her own book in the future. That is a book I would like to read.

5/10

Book #178 of 2014

 

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Review: The French Prize – Cathryn Hein

The French PrizeThe French Prize
Cathryn Hein
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2014, 339p
Copy courtesy of the author

Ever since her grandmother told her the stories of Charlemagne warrior Roland and his sword Durendal, Dr Olivia Walker has been hooked. Now an Oxford scholar with a premier reputation, she has dedicated her life to finding out everything she can about the possible location of the famed sword. And now she has had a break through.

Olivia is bankrolled by the Frenchman Raimund Blacard, a descendant of Roland and his family but Raimund has his own ideas about what they’re going to do with the sword when they find it. Generations of Blacard men have protected its location but not without personal cost. When Raimund’s brother was kidnapped, tortured and killed by a man who believes he is the rightful heir to the sword, Raimund made a vow to himself – and it’s a vow he intends to keep at all costs.

Now Olivia, who wants to find and preserve the relic for all to experience and enjoy, finds herself torn. On one hand, she has hunted for the sword, seeking to solve it’s mystery for almost her entire life. The scholar in her wants to preserve and study. But on the other hand, Raimund is the man she has fallen in love with and she may not be able to stop him from seeing his promise through and destroying the sword.

The French Prize is a new novel by acclaimed rural romance author Cathryn Hein – but it is definitely not a rural romance! In this one she moves away from farm boys and country Australia and instead we’re in Europe with a sexy but rather aloof Frenchman and the search for an ancient relic. As a reader, it can be quite difficult when an author you enjoy tries something new – will you like it as much as the others? Will the differences make or break?

Fortunately I found it all too easy to celebrate the differences in this book. The action is fast paced and clever, with Olivia and Raimund battling to stay one step ahead of Raimund’s murderous foe, who killed his brother and will stop at nothing to deliver the same to Raimund in order to claim the sword. As the last of the Blacards, Raimund is the only thing standing between him and the sword. A soldier in the French Foreign Legion, Raimund is skilled and capable but also grieving and weary. He’s tired of this game, centuries spent protecting something that has caused much heartache and loss. Raimund is very different from the previous heroes in Hein’s books but he’s still undeniably attractive. He’s much more closed off on the surface – definitely a soldier used to following orders and giving them. At times Olivia wonders if he actually has a sense of humour but scratch the surface and Raimund is full of surprises! Olivia is smart and capable, extremely dedicated to the quest (at times almost to the detriment of her own safety) but the further along they get, the more confused she becomes. She started out wanting to discover the sword for the academic benefits, giving the world a chance to see learn about something that most people thought was just a fairy tale. It’s consumed a lot of her life, it’s often made her the topic of ridicule but she’s never wavered in her beliefs that it existed and that she would be able to find it. But the more time she spends with Raimund, the more she learns of how this has almost cursed his family, how it has taken so much from him and how desperately he wants to destroy it and end it once and for all, the more she becomes torn between the academic side of her and the romantic side of her that wants Raimund to be happy. The two of them have some really good chemistry, made complicated by Raimund’s promise and his reluctance to become involved, seek a happiness for himself that he doesn’t believe he can achieve.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been much of a history buff. I never took history in high school, never picked up an elective at university and it’s only later in life that I started to find an interest in it. I learn through reading now – fiction leads me to research and non-fiction a lot of the time and I’m slowly attempting to fill in the (large) gaps. I loved the historical element in this because it wasn’t too extensive – it was fun and exciting and just enough to get you intrigued. There’s lots of mystery and puzzling out of clues as well as some tricky gadgets and fast cars. This book is a virtual treasure hunt in an exotic location, filled with vivid descriptions of food and wine that’s enough to make anyone’s mouth water. I found myself wanting to drink a wine I’d never even tried before – and the thing is, I don’t even really like wine!

The French Prize has a little of everything – romance, mystery, action, food and fun. It’s taken Cathryn Hein out of the rural romance box and proved that she has a lot more to offer readers with a complex and enjoyable story. I’ve always loved her rurals but I have to say, I love this one just as much!

9/10

Book #177 of 2014

AWWW2014

The French Prize is book #66 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: Not Quite A Wife – Mary Jo Putney

Not Quite A WifeNot Quite A Wife (The Lost Lords #6)
Mary Jo Putney
Kensington Books
2014, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Laurel was barely eighteen when she married the twenty-one year old James, Lord Kirkland. She was young, blinded by the heady rush of first love and it’s very soon into her marriage that she doesn’t know her husband at all. She witnesses him do something horrible, something that she can’t forget and she ends up fleeing. Her parents, disappointed in her with leaving an Earl, disown her.

Almost a decade later and Laurel has set up house with her brother who has studied to become a doctor. She also helps fund (with her purse money from her husband) and run a home for women who have been victims of abuse, particularly in marriage. Her brother also has a sort of surgery/clinic where he treats those in need. One night when Laurel is home alone, a man is brought to her in the grips of a fever. He has been beaten and robbed in his weakened state and then left in the street. To Laurel’s shock, it is her estranged husband.

She knows how to treat his malarial fevers and gives the required care to nurse him back to health. However a moment of weakness with the man she can’t deny she still has feelings for has long-lasting consequences and Lord Kirkland has decided it’s time his wayward Countess came home. There’s no doubt he wants a proper reconciliation but in order for that to happen, Laurel is going to have to be able to come to terms with the darker side of her husband’s nature.

I didn’t realise this was part of a series when I requested it and you get quite a way through the book before it becomes obvious. The series centers around a group of men who were all sent to the same school, who became friends. Some are titled, some aren’t. Several have been part of the wars, spying on the French, or were captured. Despite coming in at the sixth book, I really enjoyed meeting all of Lord Kirkland’s friends and would love to go back and read some of their stories to see how they got their happy ever after’s. Without having read the other novels I can’t say for sure how strong this one is compared to them but on it’s own it does work relatively well.

Laurel met James when her brother brought him home. Her social-climber parents encouraged the rapid match due to James’s wealth and titled and they were married very swiftly. Laurel had no idea that her husband was actually a spy (for England during the Napoleonic wars) and she wasn’t able to reconcile with this part of him, especially when she saw him react as as one when a stranger entered their home. She ends up basically fleeing without giving him the chance to properly explain himself. I know Laurel was very young when this occurred and she’d probably had a sheltered upbringing as befitted all ladies of breeding, etc at the time but honestly, if James didn’t react that way, it’s quite possible she could’ve been killed herself. Her views seemed a bit rigid and naive – to totally sever the marriage without a backward glance or giving him a chance to explain didn’t strike me as the most intelligent reaction. She does have an abhorrence of violence but I think she seems to view violence as very black and white and it isn’t until she’s forced to defend and protect some beaten down, weaker people in danger that I think she begins to understand that in the right circumstances, anyone can be driven to violence. That doesn’t mean that she copes well with it either and I must admit, her emotional overload got a little tedious at times.

Much more interesting was the subplot, revolving around a slave girl taken from Jamaica and brought to England. Laurel rescues her with the help of some local men and takes the girl into her own service when she returns to London withe James. In doing this, Laurel has aroused the ire of the captain of the trade ship that bought the girl for his own personal use and he seeks to hunt both of them down to get his revenge. I quite enjoyed this and the way in which Lord Kirkland and his friends all band together when Laurel and her maid are in danger. The camaraderie between them all was entertaining and I liked the relationship between their wives too, which was not without it’s own mysteries.

All in all this was a pretty good read although I do think it took a little too long to go through James and Laurel’s history and get them to the point where she joins him in London to make a go of their marriage. I’d have liked to see more about that, more about them getting to know the people that they are now, ten years into the future. I would like to go back and read the other novels though, so might look and see if they’re available.

7/10

Book #167 of 2014

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Review: The Rapunzel Dilemma – Jennifer Kloester

Rapunzel DilemmaThe Rapunzel Dilemma
Jennifer Kloester
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 327p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Growing up in wealth and privilege, Lily de Tourney has had it easy her whole life. She’s never wanted for anything and has always been able to achieve what she wanted. Now what she wants is to become an actress and she has a chance to audition for the London Drama Academy, despite the fact that she had to run out early on the summer program she took recently.

Although Lily does get accepted, it seems her reputation has preceded her and the other students are resentful of her second chance and hardly what you’d call welcoming. This is Lily’s only chance to live her dream however so she’s determined to put her head down and not let the lack of friendliness from her room mates bother her. She needs everything to go perfectly but it seems like things are just getting worse. She’s distracted in her classes and keeps messing up, earning herself criticism from her idol. The pranks on her escalate, becoming so serious that Lily knows if they take it to the head of the college, she would be kicked out in disgrace. She needs to try and find out just who is staging this vendetta against her.

The only bright spot is the mysterious Ronan Carver, a student at the art school adjoining the drama academy. They’re from very different walks of life but Lily is deeply intrigued by him. He might just be the only friend she has, if they can both navigate their differences and other people’s reactions to them.

The Rapunzel Dilemma is the companion novel to The Cinderella Moment, this one focusing on Lily, who so cunningly convinced Angel to go to Paris in her place so that she could go to a drama school in London. The Rapunzel Dilemma picks up not long after The Cinderella Moment leaves off, with Lily doing her audition to be accepted into to London Drama Academy as a student. Angel is busy working for Vidal, learning fashion design and Lily is in London, not only with the pressure of having to audition but also harbouring a terrible secret, something that is weighing on her.

To be honest, I found myself a bit bothered by Lily’s secret. She’s manipulated in this book by her aristocratic grandmother who wants her to join some Debutante Club whilst she’s in London so that she can acquire some “polish” and also by her father, who really puts her in the most horrid situation. I was kind of questioning to myself how this was something that could be forced for most of the book other than by parental guilt and disappointment, the thought of which was pretty horrible.

I enjoyed a lot of the drama stuff at the academy, learning about the classes that Lily was undertaking which were far more intensive and varied than I realised. I’ve read books with people performing theatre before but not whilst they’re learning the craft at an academy so that was really interesting to learn about. The story with her being targeted because the students she had been given preferential treatment because her father is extremely wealthy (not an entirely unfounded belief either) was relatively predictable but I think the perpetrator was not.

I liked the introduction of Ronan and I think his first few interactions with Lily were really fun and exciting but I have to admit, my interest in them tapered off a bit after that. Once she knew who he was and they began ‘hanging out’ as such, the mystery kind of collapsed and there didn’t seem to be a huge amount of chemistry. I never really ‘got the feels’ with them as a couple – I think I liked them both much more separately than together. Ronan’s back story was a good mystery and definitely not what I was expecting and I liked the contrast between his upbringing and Lily’s. I think I’d have liked a bit more information about his school as well. They all seemed like a lot of fun!

I found Lily quite a passive character for most of this book – I actually would’ve thought she’d be more proactive at trying to find out who was framing her and why. Instead mostly what she does is just kind of complain about it and hide from people. Also, perhaps this is just because I’m older, but part of this can be seen coming from a mile away and Lily just does not get it! Not even after she stumbles upon something that a) she shouldn’t have seen and is b) highly suspicious. She just kind of files it away in a box and forgets about it until everything has pretty much all come out already at the end. I also didn’t find this book’s tie in to the fairytale in the name anywhere near as believable as it was in the previous book unfortunately.

The Rapunzel Dilemma is okay. I liked it enough but I could see that for me, there just wasn’t quite enough depth to the characters and the story was a little flimsy. Parts of it were really promising but others just didn’t really work for me. I think the basics were there but in the end it perhaps wasn’t overly the sort of story I could fall in love with.

6/10

Book #176 of 2014

AWWW2014

The Rapunzel Dilemma is book #65 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

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Review: One Kick – Chelsea Cain

One KickOne Kick (Kick Lannigan #1)
Chelsea Cain
Simon & Schuster
2014, 387p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

When Kick Lannigan was 6, she was kidnapped. She was rescued at age 12 via an FBI raid on the place she was being held. Since her rescue almost a decade ago, Kick has tried every type of therapy there is. So far, the only thing that seems to work, is learning to fight and defend herself. She has mastered various types of combat as well as shooting, throwing knives and stars, archery and boxing. Never again will she be helpless or a victim.

Each time an Amber Alert is issued, Kick feels things. She wants desperately to help, thinking that she can provide an insight to what might have happened to these children but each time she is rebuffed – until now. A mysterious man shows up in her apartment, telling Kick she can call him Bishop. And he wants her help on the abduction of a young boy, a boy that Kick is already familiar with. She has felt an affinity to this boy from the moment that she heard he was missing.

With Kick’s knowledge of how underground pedophiles behave, the types of houses they look for and of course her connection to the man who took her, who is now in jail and who has never given up any of his contacts, Kick is perfectly placed to aid in this somewhat unusual investigation. Kick has worked hard to free herself from the demons surrounding her years in captivity but it seems that to find this missing boy, she’s going to have to revisit and old role.

Wow! What a start to a new series from Chelsea Cain. I’ve read her Beauty Killer series and really enjoyed that so I was interested when I heard she was doing something new. She always has unusual characters and Kick Lannigan fits the bill completely. Abducted as a child (it’s left up to the reader to imagine what was done to her, but there’s mention of movies that are among the most popular on p2p sites between pedophiles) she was rescued during a FBI raid. However by then she had been completely reprogrammed almost and had almost entirely forgotten her life prior to being taken. It’s been a long road back for her – she now goes by the name ‘Kick’ and she obviously still has many issues but she has managed to carve out an independent life for herself.

The arrival of Bishop turns that upside down, for several reasons. But it also gives Kick a sense of purpose, a feeling that she might finally be able to use the trauma she experienced to help other people. She has to do terrible things in order to be able to do this, including facing the man that took her when she was a 6, a man she then came to believe was her father, thanks to his brainwashing. She hasn’t seen him since she was rescued and to be honest, the scene where she visits him in the prison hospital was extremely hard to read. It made me feel quite uncomfortable – after what she’s been through, she shouldn’t ever have to put herself in situations like that again to act like that again. But Kick is deeply motivated to help other children and she’s in the unique position of being able to because of the fact she was once just like them.

The character of Bishop intrigues me. We learn little about him to begin with, other than the fact he has expensive toys at his disposal,  that he wants Kick’s help and he knows the FBI agent that rescued her. Slowly pieces of his story begin to come out by the end of the novel but in many ways all they do is raise more questions than they answer. Despite the fact that Bishop is enigmatic and quite obviously highly skilled, I liked the fact that he wasn’t perfect and made some mistakes. He and Kick have an interesting dynamic, especially the way their working relationship progresses throughout the book and I really look forward to seeing where this goes in future installments. Even though he was sort of using Kick for the information she has locked away inside her, it’s also obvious that at times, he’s quite uncomfortable with what she’s having to do, even when some of it is her own idea. Although we don’t particularly see it much, it does suggest a softer side to him, a more concerned side underneath someone who wants to find missing children at any expense. I hope we learn more about how he came to where he is – his motivation has been briefly outlined but I think there’s a lot more there.

One Kick is a fabulous start to a fresh new series that promises a lot to come. Kick is one heck of a heroine, kind of equal parts strength and determination but also vulnerability and neurosis. I can’t wait for the next book.

8/10

Book #175 of 2014

 

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Review: Golden Boys – Sonya Hartnett

Golden BoysGolden Boys
Sonya Hartnett
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 238p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Freya Kiley is the eldest of five in a household that is bursting at the seams and yet, the babies keep coming. She finds herself beginning to question why this is so when the family doesn’t have the space or money to really accommodate them. Her father Joe works at a printing press and her mother stays at home with the children. She can see no real affection between her parents either, just a tired resignation and on the days Joe drinks his pay away, not even that.

Then Colt Jenson and his younger brother Bastian move into the neighbourhood. It’s clear right away that they are quite different. Their charismatic father Rex is a dentist and obviously they’re wealthier than the other families. Rex showers Colt and Bastian with gifts – BMX bikes, skateboards, slot car racing tracks, an above ground pool – making their house the place for all the other children to congregate. Freya’s two brothers Declan and Syd, local bully Garrick who comes from a notorious family and Avery, who lives with his grandparents and is often left to his own devices out on the streets all enjoy the perks at first – swimming in the pool, playing with the expensive new toys, being provided with never ending food and drink. But it seems that hanging out at the Jenson property just might come with a price.

Sonya Hartnett’s new novel is a rather understated but yet unflinching look at two families, different for very many reasons who are brought together when the Jenson family move into the Kiley family’s neighbourhood. The story is told through the eyes of their eldest children, Colt Jenson and Freya Kiley who are both about twelve. Both are old enough to know that their families have cracks appearing but probably still young enough not to really truly understand why. Freya in particular is beginning to question things, such as why her parents keep having children. She doesn’t know where they come from or how they really come into existence, just that her parents keep doing whatever it is that makes them arrive. There are seven in the family, squeezed into a small 3 bedroom house. Much of their house revolves around the moods of their father Joe and whether or not he has been drinking on payday.

Colt is confused about his family’s move to this suburb, this neighbourhood which they clearly don’t fit into. He harbours resentment for his father, a deep and dark simmering feeling that he keeps tightly locked down as Rex plays his games and showers them with their presents. As a reader you don’t quite understand in the beginning just what Colt’s resentment is really all about. The innocence of his younger brother Bastian is a stark contrast to Colt’s already cynical way of looking at his parents and their situation. He doesn’t want the toys, the shiny playthings. He finds his father embarrassing.

To Freya, Rex is something like a hero. He’s so much different to her own father, who tends to not really even register her presence most of the time. Rex listens, he seems to really care what she is talking about and he offers advice when Freya brings up personal situations. She won’t hear a bad word against him and wishes that her own father were more like Rex, who doesn’t drink to excess and always seems to provide well for his family. Rex is the person Freya turns to when she needs help and to her, it seems like he might be the only one that can stop what is happening.

Golden Boys isn’t a long novel but at the same time, it manages to have somewhat of a slow build up. It creates an atmosphere, showcasing the neighbourhood and the people within it for quite a long time before you get the inkling of what is going on behind closed doors, or something that could potentially be about to happen. This is set in a time of neighbourhood freedom, where kids spent from morning until dusk outside, roaming the streets, visiting each other’s houses. It’s an area that seems bordering on the edge of poverty (or tipping over into it) and so the affluence of the Jenson’s stands out as something to aspire to, especially for Syd, who covets the pool and the expensive toys and wants to buy a house when he grows up where there’s one room for each person. But for Colt, there’s something uncomfortable about it – the continual moving of houses and the shiny toys given to keep them quiet and happy. The attracting of all the local kids to their house as a focal point. I have to admit that after such a slow build, I did want a little bit more out of the ending. I dislike abrupt, ambiguous endings at the best of times but I feel as though there could’ve been a bit more here, given how complex the story became. I wanted more to unfold although perhaps the most disturbing thing is that I can probably guess for myself, how things go for several of the characters.

I think the most interesting thing about Golden Boys is that it speaks from the point of view of the children and Sonya Hartnett, who has written numerous novels for young adults, captures their interactions both with each other and with adults perfectly. She manages to hit just the right notes between sullen forced politeness, inquisitiveness, naivety and cynicism, depending on the child. It’s a snapshot of outer surburbia and the people within it. This is not a book that I loved, but it is a highly skilled novel, well crafted and written and it’s the sort of story that sneaks up on you and leaves you thinking about it long after you’ve completed it.

7/10

Book #174 of 2014

AWWW2014

Golden Boys is book #64 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

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***GIVEAWAY*** – Signed Copy of Quick by Steve Worland

Quick

Thanks to the fabulous people at Penguin Books Australia, I have one signed copy of Quick, Steve Worland’s new exciting action/adventure novel based around the world of F1 racing, to give away to a lucky reader. If you’re curious for more about Quick, you can read my review here.

All you need to do is simply fill out the form below. Entries will be closed Tuesday 9th September and the winner will be notified by email. Open to Australian residents only.

Good luck!

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Review: Moonlight Plains – Barbara Hannay

Moonlight PlainsMoonlight Plains
Barbara Hannay
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 369p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Sally Piper is working as a freelance journalist, picking up what work she can find. She’s still in mourning for her husband, who died in an accident just over two years ago but her friends are convinced that it’s time for Sally to start living again. They want her to put herself out there a bit more, meet some new people. Against her better judgement she attends a ball in Charters Towers with a war theme and decides that the ball might make a good focus for a story for one of the country life magazines.

At the ball Sally meets Luke Fairburn and learns of his plans to restore his grandmother’s homestead. This is something Sally is interested in herself and she journeys out to Moonlight Plains to see the home and decides that it would also make a great story. Although sparks fly between Sally and Luke, she’s not quite ready yet – she can’t seem to let go of Josh and move on and find happiness.

Moonlight Plains has seen a lot in it’s time, including some war action when some Allied planes crashed on its land during the Second World War. Young Kitty Martin was home alone at the time and although terrified of what she might find, she hears the planes come down and heads out to investigate. What she discovers brings her the experience of the tragedy of war and heartbreak but also the promise of something beautiful.

Years later as Luke plans to unveil the new Moonlight Plains to the entire family, a deep secret looks like being exposed.

In recent years, a story that blends the contemporary with the historical has come to be one of my favourite types to read. I also really enjoyed Barbara Hannay’s two previous books surrounding the Fairburn family, Home Before Sundown and Zoe’s Muster and had been waiting eagerly for Luke’s story. The two stories blend together quite seamlessly here as we visit Townsville in 1942 and the Allied troops that are stationed there, perfectly placed for missions into Asia. Japan was looking towards Australia, keen to expand its territory and all that land sparsely populated must’ve been tempting. They’d already bombed Darwin and there were rumours of “the Brisbane line” where everything north of that city wouldn’t be defended. Kitty Martin was sent inland to Moonlight Plains, her great-uncle’s farm to keep her away from those flirtatious American soldiers….only to meet American soldiers when they crash their small crafts onto the property!

I loved Kitty’s story – in fact I could’ve read a whole book devoted to just her and her life both before and after WWII. She was strong and independent and hadn’t been cowed by her rather strict religious grandfather. There was plenty of romance in her story but also practicality and I found it very believable that it would play out the way in which it did. I also loved learning about the restoration of the old homestead. I watch too much lifestyle television and restoration shows or building projects, are some of my favourites so I was always really interested in everything Luke was doing and how it was all going to come together.

Which brings me to Sally and Luke! I already knew Luke so I had to get to know Sally and it was hard not to empathise with her. She was terribly young to have already lost a husband and the grief she was experiencing was still rather strong but there was also guilt too. Guilt that she could be attracted to Luke and want to act on it as well as I think, guilt that perhaps she and Luke had more in common than she’d had with her late husband Josh. Sally had an interest in old homes, she had wanted to buy a fixer upper herself (and had almost done so with the insurance money, only the guilt stopped her) whereas Josh had preferred a modern apartment for their home. He was a lawyer, so not a handyman type like Luke. Sally was the type of girl who would want to get her hands dirty and help as well, learning how to help brand and ear-tag cattle as well as pitch in with ideas for the homestead. They were so good together, it was obvious they just worked and Luke was definitely ready for something long term. Sally was different though, she definitely still had some things to work through. I was a little surprised at how angsty Luke was, he is quite brooding….but not unattractive!

Moonlight Plains has taken the rural romance genre and then gone one step further adding in a historical romance element as well that deals with the troubles of war and the beauty that can come out of such times. Both the 1942 story and the current day story work well both separately and together and I was equally invested in both. I think Barbara Hannay did a great job balancing them out and making sure that each story had the attention it deserved. I was equally connected to Kitty and Sally and their very different journeys toward happiness.

This one can be read as stand-alone but I would recommend picking up Home Before Sundown and then Zoe’s Muster beforehand just to really get familiar with the Fairburn family.

9/10

Book #166 of 2014

AWWW2014

Midnight Plains is book #63 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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