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Review: Wife On The Run – Fiona Higgins

Wife On The RunWife On The Run
Fiona Higgins
Allen & Unwin
2014, 419p
Read from my local library

Wife and mother of two teenagers Paula McInnes has her safe and comfortable world rocked twice in days, both times by technology. The first time involves her 14yo daughter Caitlin and a facebook picture, the second involves her husband of 17 years Hamish and some indiscretions she discovers via his mobile phone. Determined to get away from it all, Paula decides to load up her two children and her 80yo father and just get away from it all. Do that caravan trip around Australia that she’s always planned to do.

There are several rules on the trip but the most important one is no personal technology. iPods are to be communal, played in the car between destinations. Anything else Paula wants strictly prohibited, wanting them to focus on the experience, not uploading it to facebook. She agrees with her father’s suggestion that they bypass the official homework and Paula hands the kids education over to him for some ‘life lessons’.

But running away is never the answer and when Hamish sets out in pursuit and Paula and the crew pick up a traveler on the road, things are going to get a bit more complicated. Paula is going to have to sort out her head and what she wants….and then face her future.

I absolutely loved Fiona Higgins’ book The Mothers’ Club so when I heard about this one I immediately added it to my the top of books I had to read. I’m really interested in books that are exploring social media and the negative aspects of them as well, so this book plays into that interest perfectly. My children are younger than Paula’s but I feel like I’m going to need to be prepared for this sort of thing early. My son is 6 and has an iPod touch which we monitor but already he’s asking what facebook is and can he have it. When I was in high school, it was prior to the myspace, facebook etc craze and cyber bullying hadn’t even been thought of.

Paula has what is no doubt, a very bad day. Firstly she’s called to her daughter’s school to be shown a post on facebook that has been made, concerning her daughter. There’s a graphic photo and her 14yo daughter has been excused from school until they discover the culprit, get the photo taken down and sort it all out. To make it worse, after her husband has an accident, Paula discovers incriminating messages on his phone, which devastates her. It’s clear that things haven’t been going well for them for a while and she makes the decision to take off on a trip around Australia with her children and her father while Hamish is still recovering in hospital.

I love the idea of the trip around Australia, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I also didn’t blame her for her desire to get away, especially from her husband. Hamish struck me as a bit of a traditional sort of guy, he went to work and earned the money and contributed very little to what happened at home. In the book you get Hamish’s point of view occasionally and some of his thoughts made me cringe. As a woman who has had two children, his views on his wife’s body post childbirth and her lack of interest in sexual relations were really blunt and at at times, cruel. Even as he’s chasing his wife and family across the country, attempting to prove that he can change and that he wants Paula back and for them to begin a new life together, Hamish is betraying her. He seems incapable of actually putting anyone other than himself first and every time he was back on the page, I just wanted him gone again.

The journey Paula and her family take sounds like such fun, especially once Paula loosens up and turns her two kids over to her dad for ‘life lessons’. When the kids complain that Paula’s cooking is ‘crap’ he gives them the week’s shopping budget and instructs them to buy what they want with the warning that they’ll have to eat it and it’ll have to last them the week because they won’t be buying anything else. The two children go mad buying the sort of food that they think they want to eat but after a few days, it’s clear that they’re learning a valuable lesson about what sort of food their bodies need. I absolutely loved the character of Paula’s dad. He’s such a funny old bloke, full of wisdom and charm. I have to admit, I did find his luck on the punt a bit far-fetched until I saw this article, which may have been the inspiration for his success in the 2012 Melbourne Cup! I also feel a bit miffed, as I backed the winner of the Melbourne Cup in 2012 but did not get anywhere near as lucky as Paula’s dad!

I loved the way this book explored social media and its impacts on not only teenagers but also an entire family – this photo is after all, the catalyst for everything that follows. It’s also an exploration of marriage, or rather the implosion of one. Paula is horrified to discover what Hamish has really been doing on his laptop late at night, especially who he has been doing it with. Hamish’s thoughts, as I’ve mentioned, are often really hard to read. In a society where women are already judged on their ability to “snap back” to their pre-baby bodies after giving birth, hearing those sorts of thoughts from the man who fathered Paula’s children…. who watched her give birth to them….. who was supposed to love her, was horrible. I felt so sorry for her, that he felt that way looking at her, even though he didn’t voice those thoughts to her. I actually loathed Hamish far more for his view of Paula than I did for his other actions.

I have to admit, my interest did wane during some of the more fantastical parts of the road trip, such as the “Brazilian” Marcello and Hamish’s repeated interactions with a mysterious Indigenous man who appears to help him at the most desperate times. However the parts of the story concerning family and marriage and relationships kept me utterly fascinated.

8/10

Book #241 of 2014

AWWW2014

Wife On The Run is book #87 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

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Review: Between Us (Women Of Letters) – Created by Marieke Hardy & Michaela McGuire

Between UsBetween Us 
Created by Marieke Hardy & Michaela McGuire
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Description {from the Publisher}:

Writing a letter can be an act of confession or celebration, while receiving one can bring joy, insight and vivid memories. Ambassadors for correspondence Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire have lured some of our best and brightest to the literary afternoons of Women of Letters to write and read missives of all kinds.

Bestselling novelist Hannah Kent exchanges letters about books, editing and synchronicity with her publisher Alex Craig.

Intimate and outrageous declarations of love and friendship are shared between actor Rhys Muldoon and musician Kram.

And award-winning cartoonist First Dog on the Moon expresses his affection for his editor Sophie Black through drawings (while she sticks to the written word).

Between Us is an inspiring and engaging collection of all-new letters from some of Australia’s best-loved people.

A bit over 4 years ago, Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire had a dream to revive the lost art of letter writing and they invited women of influence to read their letters aloud at the launch in Melbourne. This is now the fourth volume of Women of Letters and it’s now become a phenomenon, reaching a greater audience both in Australia and abroad. This is the third volume I’ve read and it amazes me how many times I find something that touches me. In this volume it is without a doubt, Tracey Spicer’s letter to her mother under the heading of ‘To my wake up call’. It would be impossible not to be hooked by the first line of this letter and not be affected by her heartbreaking story. Centered around a very contentious issue (euthanasia or assisted suicide), Spicer details her mother’s last days dying of a cripplingly painful form of cancer and how she couldn’t bring herself to give her mother the assistance they had promised – none of her family could. It is a beautiful letter, utterly blunt in its honesty. In fact I think you can read this letter on the Bookworld site, here. I’d advise everyone to read it, if you aren’t already a supporter of euthanasia, you probably will be after you finish it.

If humour is more your thing rather than soul-baring then there’s plenty for you in here, including some very amusing A Letter To My Other Half pairings where the other halves aren’t always who you might think, including Rhys Muldoon and Kram, Peter and Anna Goldsworthy, The First Dog on the Moon and editor Sophie Black and Claudia Karvan and Jeremy Lindsey Taylor, writing as their characters in Puberty Blues. There’s Chrissie Swan, Cate Kennedy and more writing to their 80-year old selves. And if you feel like going back into more serious territory, Kerryn Phelps has a letter under ‘To My Journey’ which talks of the fight to have same sex marriage recognised.

Between Us is another lovely collection of letters that can be enjoyed in one sitting or savoured and read slowly, picking and choosing from the categories and people that interest you. There’s a brief bio on all of the contributors at the back, which I have to admit I found very helpful as quite a few of them were unfamiliar to me. If a letter isn’t really to your liking, you can just skip it and go to the next one. Some I’ve read more than once and may go back to yet again in the future. As a fan of the written letter, I enjoy seeing these books continue to get published, raising the profile of the lost art. In a world where communication is more instant these days, with texting, facebook, email and twitter it’s refreshing to get back to a more traditional form.

7/10

Book #240 of 2014

AWWW2014

Between Us is book #86 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

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Review: Top Secret Twenty-One – Janet Evanovich

Top Secret Twenty-OneTop Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum #21)
Janet Evanovich
Bantam
2014, 305p
Read from my local library

Used car-dealer Jimmy Poletti has skipped out on his court date and that’s good news for bounty hunter Stephanie Plum who could use the cash. The trouble is, no one knows where Jimmy is hiding and if Stephanie doesn’t find her man, she won’t get her fee. With rent to pay and blown up cars to replace, Stephanie is always skirting close to the line.

In order to lure Poletti out, Stephanie is going to have to take in Randy Briggs, who was helping Poletti fiddle the books. Now Poletti is out to get him and Randy is homeless…and excellent bait. Even if he is three feet of annoying. But the added danger of towing Briggs around town is that, well most of the time Stephanie is in enough danger alone. She doesn’t need anyone else bringing bad juju her way.

To add to the mix, Stephanie’s friend, mentor and occasionally something else Ranger Manoso has found himself in trouble with an old enemy. Ranger dodged the bullet of a mass assassination plot and terrorism trial run and now his building is under federal lockdown and no one is talking. Stephanie has no idea what’s going on but she doesn’t like the thought of Ranger in any sort of danger. It’s all in a day’s work for Stephanie Plum.

I know, I know. I keep saying that my days with this series are done but then I see them at the local library and end up picking them up on a whim again anyway. I keep reading merely to read more Ranger. Most of the more recent books have, quite frankly, sucked. But every now and then there’s one that gives you glimpses of the old magic and fortunately, this one is one of them.

There’s a plot! And it’s actually pretty cool. Well, to be more precise there’s actually two plots and both of them are pretty good. Stephanie is looking for used-car salesman Jimmy Poletti who was pushing a little more than cars and has now missed his court date. Jimmy is on the run and when his associates begin turning up dead, Stephanie ends up with Randy Briggs on her doorstep. He has no desire to be a little person corpse and he thinks that somehow, Stephanie is his only hope. Probably because Randy is basically horrible and everyone has long ago washed their hands of him. I kind of like Randy and it was rather enjoyable to see him again.

The other plot revolves around Ranger, who makes an apprehension for an extradition back to Miami. Things get super complicated and it escalates into a mass assassination attempt on all of Rangeman, which is thankfully thwarted but the building is sealed off and overrun with Feds. It’s discovered this is some sort of revenge attempt on Ranger which, well has probably been a long time coming. Ranger was Special Forces and there was bound to one day be some sort of retribution that involved him. Ranger plays a pretty decent role in this book, and he actually felt more like himself. Some of the more recent books, the character has felt like a weakened or watered down version of the Ranger in earlier books. Stephanie is still with Morelli (mostly) and Joe was actually much better in this one too – no Italian arm waving and wanting antacids and carrying on about Stephanie’s job. He actually shared information with her as well and the three of them (Morelli, Stephanie and Ranger) managed to co-exist quite well without it getting irritating.

Even the animal thing didn’t bother me in this one. And the animal thing always bothers me.

Books like this one make me realise that while she’s not going to hit the heights she did earlier in the series, Evanovich is still perfectly capable of producing a readable story. It might not drive the series forward as such, with character development but I’ve long ago accepted that isn’t going to happen. It really does make me wonder why some of what she has produced is so utterly disappointing, filled with bad jokes, poor reliance on the animals as plot devices and plot structures that are incomplete, go no where or basically don’t exist. Whilst not a fantastic book, this is a very solid read and everything seems to be in place. It’s books like this one that do make it hard to let go, even when some of the others are so bad.

7/10

Book #238 of 2014

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Review: Tempting A Devil – Samantha Kane

Tempting A DevilTempting A Devil (The Saint’s Devils #2)
Samantha Kane
Ebury Publishing (Random House UK)
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Harriet Mercer is a widow but she’s wealthy and beautiful and if she were so inclined, she could have any pick of eligible men as her next husband. Married off to a much older man by her father at a young age, Harriet’s first experience with marriage has definitely not made her at all inclined to try it again. Harriet is being blackmailed by a man who wants to marry her for her considerable fortune and the only way she feels she can escape this fate is to blacken her name among the ton so badly that no one will be able to marry her and stay an acceptable part of society. She needs to convince the man blackmailing her that she’s not worth it, no matter how much money her late husband has left her.

Harriet’s childhood friend Roger Templeton is a rogue, a rake with no prospects. After witnessing (and then rescuing her from) Harriet’s attempts at a public seduction, Roger finds himself her very next target. Harry decides that Roger is the perfect man to execute her fall from grace and what’s better is that she knows him so it won’t be too difficult for her. What she doesn’t count on is Roger’s steadfast refusal to enter into a physical affair with her, despite her very best efforts at chasing him down publicly.

Roger isn’t known as a Devil for nothing but suddenly he finds himself uncomfortably noble when it comes to Harry and her honor. But as the danger from the blackmailer increases, Roger realises that he’d do anything to protect Harry. Even change his life for her.

Historical romance continues to be my poison at the moment. I didn’t realise when I requested this one from NetGalley that it was the second in a series but ultimately I don’t think it matters. Although the couple from the first book do appear, it’s quite brief and you don’t really need to know their story to read this one. I would like to read it through, because it did sound pretty interesting!

Harry and Roger were childhood friends, or as much as a 10 year old girl and a 15 year old boy could be in that she followed him everywhere and he was constantly getting her out of scrapes. She dreamed of maybe marrying him when they grew up but Roger went back to school and disappeared and Harry’s father married her off to a very rich older man. She’s now widowed after what seemed a very unhappy marriage and there’s a notorious man who clearly has some information on her that is using it to blackmail her. Harry is attempting to pay him off but what he really wants is to marry her and control her substantial fortune, left to her by her late husband to manage until her very young son comes of age and can inherit properly.

Harry’s masterminded plan to get out of having to marry her blackmailer is to utterly ruin her reputation, make her such an unattractive prospect as a wife that there’s no way her blackmailer’s family could ever condone their marrying. Considering Harry doesn’t ever want to marry again after her first experience, it’s a pretty genius plan – nothing ruins a lady’s reputation so much as ‘loose behaviour’ and double standards so she tries luring men outside at gatherings in order to seduce them. Her first attempt is interrupted by Roger – neither of them know who the other is as it’s been some years since they’ve seen each other. Harry has had second thoughts about her seduction attempt but her victim is none too pleased to be given the pointy end of a sharp stick until Roger intervenes on her behalf. There’s an immediate attraction between them, which becomes a little awkward when Roger figures out who she is. It’s obvious to him that he can’t just ruin his childhood friend Harry and he had better be in possession of all of his self-control around her. Harry definitely wants to be ruined, both because it would help her and also because Roger is the first man who has ever actually made her want to be intimate with him. It takes some time before the reader finds out just how odd and degrading Harry’s marriage must have been and the effect that would’ve had on her self-esteem and self-worth.

I did quite enjoy this story although at times I do feel like both Harry and Roger overcomplicated things for themselves. For example, Roger becomes aware that someone is attempting to hurt Harry and is sending her letters and Harry of course, knows who it is and why. Instead of telling Roger, she keeps it to herself which means that Roger wastes time trying to find out who it is and why they’d want to hurt her. Harry might’ve been embarrassed but it would’ve made things a hell of a lot easier and probably prevented some things from happening if she’d just been up front about her predicament. It sort of dragged things out a bit longer in that several people confronted her blackmailer and believed it over and then it wasn’t over. I was surprised that Harry was so cavalier about things, especially after there was an obvious display of willingness to use her son against her. You’d have thought she’d have done much more to secure her house and protect herself and her boy but she seemed to think that her little game of having an affair would work, even after it was made clear that it wouldn’t. I do think she was a little naive and underestimated how much the blackmailer needed her fortune.

A fun read and I’d like to catch up on the first one and then read the third one which is out later this month.

7/10

Book #237 of 2014

 

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Review: The Woman Who Stole My Life – Marian Keyes

Woman Who Stole My LifeThe Woman Who Stole My Life
Marian Keyes
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 531p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Stella Sweeney has found herself back in Ireland. After a year of living in New York and touring all over America to promote her self-help book, the dream is over and now she’s back in the house she got in the divorce settlement from her husband with her antagonistic teenage son. She needs to write another book but she’s got some severe writers block and she finds herself typing the same word each time she sits down at her computer.

But how did it all go wrong? At one stage Stella had people lining up to publish her book and she was taking part in a whirlwind tour that crossed the United States until she was so dizzy she didn’t even know what state she was in anymore. Someone keeps calling her but Stella won’t pick up the phone and sometimes, can’t even bring herself to listen to the messages. She’s worried about her son who seems to hate her so much, no matter what she does. And her ex-husband Ryan has clearly lost his marbles and is undertaking a ‘Project Karma’ where he aims to give away every single possession he owns and will rely on the universe providing what he needs. But Stella knows it’s going to be her that has to deal with the fallout.

Stella needs to get back to the woman she was…before all of this.

I absolutely love Marian Keyes – I think she’s one of my overall favourite authors. I’ve been reading her books since I was a teenager and there are several that I would still count among my all-time best books. I’m always excited when she releases a new book and it always goes straight to the top of my TBR pile.

The Woman Who Stole My Life is a stand-alone title featuring Stella Sweeney who was an ordinary woman living in Dublin working with her sister at the beauty shop they own. She was married to her childhood sweetheart Ryan and they had two teenage children, Betsy and Jeffrey when suddenly one day she fell seriously ill with an auto-immune illness. She was hospitalised for about a year, only able to communicate by blinking her eyes. Her family seemed to find her immobility frustrating, almost a personal insult to them at times, especially when they demanded things of her during visits but couldn’t understand her attempts to communicate her answers to them. Only one person seems to understand how Stella is feeling and what she’s trying to say and their visits to her become the highlight of her miserable hospital existence.

Once out of hospital and back at home, Stella finds that things have changed. She has changed. Her relationship with Ryan has changed as well. She begins to move forward and just as she’s doing so, a few strange things combine to give Stella the chance to publish her book in America and go and live there whilst touring. I really loved the Irish setting, because Keyes’ books are so quintessentially Irish. They’re never altered, or ‘dumbed down’ when it comes to vernacular and Irish quirks and that for me, is part of their incredible charm. I’m not entirely sure this worked translated to America, although New York is a setting Keyes has used before with Irish characters. The timeline jumps back and forth between Stella becoming ill and her time in hospital and ‘the after’, when she’s back in Ireland after living in New York as she slowly pieces the backstory together for the reader. I found her illness fascinating and very traumatic. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lie in bed for almost a year, able to see, hear and understand everything around you but not be able to move or communicate yourself. I found her family self-absorbed and frustrating, particularly her husband Ryan who it seems is an immature child trapped in a man’s body. Her children Betsy and Jeffrey are only about 14 and 13 respectively when Stella falls ill and perhaps could be forgiven slightly for their attitudes, particularly Jeffrey’s hostility and resentment that things fell apart when Stella got sick. I’m not sure what they expected, given Stella didn’t choose to get sick and there’s about a 1 in 100,000 chance of contracting the disease she developed.

A lot of the plot in the current day part of the story revolves around Ryan giving away his house, business, car and other possessions in order to reap the benefits of karma. He believes that the universe will provide for him and nothing Stella, nor anyone else says can dissuade him. I’m not entirely sure why this takes up so much of the page space because it’s not particularly relevant to Stella’s story. Ryan is horrible to Stella after they separate and continues to be horrible to her and yet it seems to fall to her to ‘look after him’ or try and prevent him from making this terrible mistake. To me Ryan kind of gets exactly what he deserves but people step in to help him pretty much immediately which is a bit disappointing actually because there was a lesson to be learned there, for him. Reaping what you sow isn’t always a good thing but Ryan is too self-absorbed and childish to really figure it out. The scenes with or about Ryan were my least favourite in the book – I just wanted him to go away so the story could get back to focusing on Stella herself, not Stella running around after other people.

Despite Ryan (and to a less extent Jeffrey, I hope that’s not what I’ve got to look forward to when my two boys become teenagers), I found this book incredibly enjoyable and ended up reading it in a single day. Her Walsh sister books are mostly my favourites but I definitely think this is her best stand-alone in a long time – perhaps since The Last Chance Saloon. It’s definitely the one that I feel is the most complete story and the one I could relate to, which I couldn’t so much with The Brightest Star In The Sky and This Charming Man, even though I did like both of those books as well. I love Keyes’ humour and warmth, these are the sort of books that although they often contain devastating moments and hard times, there’s still a beautifully upbeat tone and lots of focus on friendship, family and love. They might make me sad or even cry at some stage (Anybody Out There? I’m looking at you) but I always feel happy and satisfied when I finish one.

8/10

Book #236 of 2014

 

 

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Review: Can You Keep A Secret? – Caroline Overington

Can You Keep A SecretCan You Keep A Secret?
Caroline Overington
Random House AUS
2014, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

In 1999, American Lachlan Colbert known as Colby and his friends are making a trip Down Under for the new year. They’re spending up big in far north Queensland, booking a luxury cruiser and Caitlin is hired to serve the drinks and cook the food. Colby comes back to visit, enjoying the simplicity of life with Caitlin, drinking beer and eating fish and chips on the beach. In September 2001, he flies Caitlin to America to show her his life in Manhattan.

Caitlin is only buildings away from the World Trade Center when the planes bring them down. Crippled with anxiety and a fear of flying, she remains in America and she and Colby marry and move to a less crowded part of New York. They begin trying for a child but after a miscarriage, Caitlin turns to adoption, looking into adopting a baby from Russia. She begins a blog, chronicling their journey going forward with it.

Their life seems idyllic – Colby works long hours but makes the money and his beautiful blonde Australian wife takes an interest in interior design, renovating and furnishing their home. But behind the facade, things are never as perfect as they seem.

Wow.

I’m not sure I have ever read a book that left me feeling so conflicted before when it comes to both rating it and articulating my thoughts about it. I have read all of Caroline Overington’s previous fiction books and I’m a big fan. I think I’ve rated them all 8 or 9 out of 10 and I love the way she tells a story and digs into an issue. And for the most part, I was rather enjoying this book. The first part seemed a bit long, then it switches viewpoints and most of the rest of the story is told solely through Caitlin’s blog entries after she and Colby begin to look into adoption. I had the first inklings of unease throughout this section, like perhaps the way this panned out wasn’t going to pay off as well as I thought it would but even I was unprepared by how disappointed I was when the twist was revealed at the end of the book.

Colby and Caitlin are basically opposites – she was raised in poverty on Magnetic Island and she left home as soon as she legally could without being dragged back there by government social departments. She works at a “skimpy” bar in Townsville when she is approached by a local man she knows well who asks her to help out with a charter for a week. By contrast, Colby is wealthy. He works in market or stock trading and his company has its offices in the North Tower of the WTC. He’s used to privilege and the finer things in life and Caitlin is a refreshing change with her denim cut offs, natural tan and hair bleached blonde by the sun. She’s led a sheltered life in some aspects, in terms of travel and experience but in other ways, she’s probably more independent than Colby. She’s had to take care of herself from a very young age and not only herself but also support her mother as well, who has a serious illness and will soon need assisted living.

The courtship between Colby and Caitlin is unusual and it’s something you’d expect to die a natural death when Colby returns to New York. However he makes another visit and later on, flies Caitlin over to New York which means that she’s there when 9/11 takes place. Given that later on, the reader discovers what an unreliable narrator Caitlin is, now that I’ve finished the book I have to wonder about the validity of her anxiety and fear. I mean, it would obviously be very natural to fear flying after 9/11 and it would be something that you’d have to work to get over. But Caitlin’s found herself in Colby’s luxurious bachelor pad in New York living a life that’s far from her existence in Queensland working in a bar. I do think that there’s little doubt she sees opportunity in remaining “trapped” in America, unable to fly home to Australia. Even their marriage comes about in an unconventional way, a snap reaction from Colby to criticism from his mother.

Although the blog entries were in some way, my favourite part of the book they were also somehow the part where it all began to come apart for me. And I know how weird that sounds. As much as I was actually quite enjoying that section of the book, there was always something (well a lot of things) that didn’t quite ring true for me and it made me rather skeptical. I kept wondering what the secret in the title was and playing out various scenarios in my head but in the end, what it actually was didn’t deliver the shock I was expecting. It was almost like a “hmm, of course that’s it”. The fact that the second half is all entirely Caitlin’s blog post point of view means that a vital part of the story is missing until the end and it’s told so quickly, that there’s no real justice to it. Colby’s opinion and thoughts on what is going on are actually rather important and by the time we get them, it comes across as kind of flippant. I suppose he’s at his wits end or something but the reader has not been with him for the past year, or whatever it is. We haven’t had anything from his point of view, nothing about his state of mind or his feelings and what he’s attempted. It felt like a really large part of the story was missing and hearing it retrospectively isn’t the same.

I wish I could rate this book in sections – each part would receive a different mark. The beginning was okay, readable but nothing super exciting, the stuff when Caitlin went to New York much more so and the blog entries were disturbing and unsettling and began to change my thoughts. I’m going to have to go middle of the road, because I did like most of it but the end altered everything.

5/10

Book #234

AWWW2014

 

Can You Keep A Secret? is book #85 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: A Scandalous Wager – Cassandra Samuels

Scandalous WagerA Scandalous Wager
Cassandra Samuels
Harlequin Escape
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Lisbeth Carslake, the Countess of Blackhurst is a notorious figure. She was acquitted of the murder of her husband, the Earl of Blackhurst, getting off on a technicality. There are many among the ton who do not believe that she was innocent and that it’s a travesty that she’s still a free woman. She is known as the Black Raven and is the subject of malicious rumour and gossip in all of the clubs. She is also the subject of many wagers.

Oliver Whitely has recently become the Earl of Bellamy after the untimely death of his older brother. The family seat is almost broke and Oliver desperately needs money in order to keep things going. Although he doesn’t want to be the Earl and is finding the idea that he is hard to reconcile with, he also knows that he must do his best to fix the mess that his brother unfortunately left behind – much of which is tied up with the Countess Blackhurst. Oliver’s brother invested with the Countess’s late husband and she has not refunded the investments after his death.

A little drunk, Oliver decides to take on the Black Raven wagers in order to get some money – he also wants to find out more about her and he unexpectedly finds himself agreeing to a business proposal that Lisbeth offers. He will accompany her in society so that she can seek out the real killer of her husband and in return she will confirm that he is the recipient of all of the wagers concerning her. But when the attraction begins to simmer between them, things start to get a little complicated. Add in the danger of someone who doesn’t want to be discovered and things get very complicated.

I’m reading so much historical romance at the moment, I’m almost automatically drawn to them now. There’s something about the formula that is really appealing to me at the moment. I’ve always read a lot of contemporary romance but the historical trend in my reading has only started in the last couple of years or so. This one has some good points and some not so good points.

Firstly, I liked Lisbeth quite a bit. She’s had a horrible time of it the past few years. She was married to a terrible man, an abusive man and in some ways the fact hasn’t always made her life easier. She’s been shunned by her own family and society in general. She was charged with the murder but acquitted somehow on a technicality and now she lives in relative seclusion some two years later. People have tried to visit her, mostly men who think they might be able to woo a lonely widow (and potential murderess) in order to collect on the vicious wagers that are pledged in clubs. Lisbeth has decided that the only way she can clear her name is to find out the identity of the real murderer, and to do that she must re-enter society and she needs an escort, someone to provide her with cover and support given most, if not all other people will shun her.

Although I understood Oliver’s motives for approaching her and agreeing to be a part of the plan, I have to admit I didn’t really warm to him as a character and I never particularly really felt their attraction much. He does have relatively good connections and he’s personally invested in finding the murderer as well, considering he may receive back some of the family fortune by working with Lisbeth if it can be proven how much that his brother invested. Most of the time though he felt a bit extraneous to the plot, like he wasn’t really necessary for anything to move forward. And although Lisbeth is supposedly shunned by all, it doesn’t really feel like people are that scandalised by their appearance at social events. Given Oliver is almost broke it’s unlikely he has enough social clout to smooth the way  that much.

The most disappointing aspect of the story and the weakest in my opinion, is who the murderer is. It’s glaringly obvious from the very first time they appear on the page and it seems to take an age before Lisbeth and Oliver realise who it is and even then they basically only realise because he tells them (Lisbeth) and someone else gives Oliver the information he needs to put it all together. The story never really attained the level of suspense I felt it should, particularly in the scenes of the final confrontation. Likewise some of the scenes between Lisbeth and her husband which are shown in flashback, lack the emotional impact that scenes of that nature should.

All in all, this was an okay read – I enjoyed certain aspects of it but there were others that didn’t really resonate with me.

5/10

Book #232 of 2014

AWWW2014

Book #84 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion

Rosie EffectThe Rosie Effect
Graeme Simsion
Text Publishing
2014, 411p
Read from my local library

Don and Rosie have been married for ten months and ten days and are now living and working in New York City. There have been many changes in Don’s life since the Wife Project – he’s getting used to sharing his space with another person, especially a person who has as much in the way of possessions as Rosie does. They’ve agreed to abandon the Standardised Meal System and that sex is not something one should be scheduling.

Then Rosie drops a bombshell on Don – they have some wonderful news they should be celebrating but all it instills in Don is panic. He cannot seem to reconcile with this news in the happy way that Rosie expects and although he seeks advice from his small group of friends, in typical Don style, his best intentions often land him in trouble.

Everything Don tries to do to fix things seems to make it worse. He’s lying to Rosie (or at least, keeping important things from her) and they grow more apart with each day. Before long Rosie is talking of moving back to Australia, leaving Don behind and he’s going to have to do something drastic if he’s going to be able to convince Rosie to give him a chance. But first he actually has to come to terms with Rosie’s news and what it means for him.

So The Rosie Effect is of course, the sequel to last year’s absolute smash hit, The Rosie Project. I loved the first book so much and although I was originally excited when I found out there was going to be a sequel, there was also a lot of apprehension there too. The Rosie Project is a special sort of book, it’s full of charm and quirks and it’s something that worked really well on its own because it was fresh and new and different. I wasn’t sure how that would work in another volume and I have to say, I didn’t love this anywhere near as much as the first one. There are a few reasons why but I think Rosie is the main one.

I’m pretty sure anyone with a few brain cells can figure out what Rosie’s “special” news is after their ten months of marriage so I’m not going to consider it a spoiler to reveal it, however if you don’t want to know what she tells Don, stop reading right now!

Rosie is of course pregnant with their first child but the thing that really bothered me was that she did this without telling Don that she was going to be attempting to conceive. She stopped taking the Pill and decided to allow nature to take its course, totally not expecting it to happen so soon which I find distasteful and deceitful. Although Don mentions that he’d thought about children, it seems obvious that they haven’t discussed this as a plan for the now. Don thinks they were going to wait until Rosie was finished with some of her study or rotation, whatever it is that she’s doing but Rosie doesn’t want to wait until she’s that old. So she ends up pregnant and Don completely freaks out, partially because of a random interaction he had with a stranger a short time before Rosie drops the bombshell.

Rosie is such a nothing character in this book. She’s barely in it after she tells Don she’s pregnant, instead she retreats further and further into herself, also distancing herself from Don. She moves into another room, she’s always working on her Ph.D it’s as Don says at one point, like the housemate situation of his college years. She doesn’t ever seem to make a real attempt to find out how Don is feeling about this and I might go so far to say as it doesn’t particularly sound like she cares how Don is feeling. When it becomes obvious that is not perhaps coping with it well, she seems to take the attitude that she’ll do just fine as a single mother and Don doesn’t even need to do anything.

What?

You’re married to this person. It’s been less than a year and you are wanting to bail already because Don doesn’t process things the ‘normal’ or expected way. You knew this, Rosie. You knew what sort of person he was and you sprang that on him anyway and then basically left him alone to deal with it with very little in the way of reassurance and support. When Don tries to be supportive of Rosie, he tends to get shot down by her even though he’s trying in his own way to look out for her, help her be healthy and have a comfortable pregnancy and provide the best nutrients for the baby. And because of the fact that Don is kind of on his own, he bumbles from ridiculous situation to ridiculous situation, almost getting himself deported as a pedophile. This portion of the story really irritated me, especially when it becomes evident that Don has been assessed as not being any real danger to the public but is then used by someone because of a tragic incident in her professional past. Especially as this person has met Don in a setting outside of her professional capacity and that fact could indicate a strong inability to be impartial – in fact it’s obvious that there is an inability to be impartial. I just wanted to throw the book at the wall when it kept dragging out. Some of Don’s scenarios (most really) in the first book were quirky and amusing but this one just seemed really ridiculous.

There weren’t a lot of laughs to really be had in this one. There were some amusing scenarios and conversations but I think that what was charming and intriguing in the first book just became a bit stale and contrived in the second. It was almost too much, plus there was none of the spark between Rosie and Don. The fact that they barely interact in any meaningful way really disappointed me. Even at the end, it lacks the punch that it really needs, for me.

5/10

Book #231 of 2014

Aussie-Author-Challenge-2014-final-badge

The Rosie Effect is book #17 of the Aussie Author Challenge 2014

 

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Blog Tour Review: Seven Letters From Paris – Samantha Verant

Seven Letters From ParisSeven Letters From Paris
Samantha Verant
Random House AUS
2014, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

In 1989, Samantha and her friend Tracey holidayed in Europe. They were 19, had just finished their first year of college and were looking forward to an adventure. At a restaurant in Paris, they met Jean-Luc and Patrick. It was a perfect foursome – Jean-Luc and Samantha only had eyes for each other and Tracey and Patrick, despite a bit of a language barrier, were more than happy to be in each other’s company. The only thing was – the girls were leaving Paris the next day. They had non-refundable rail tickets and had to be in a certain city at a certain time to make a flight. There was no way they could stay longer, even though all 4 wished it were possible.

Fast forward 20 years later and Samantha is in a marriage that is going no where. She and her husband have lived almost separate lives for eight years, sleeping apart. Her husband travels extensively for work and when he’s home, he’s often frustrated and angry. Samantha doesn’t see a way forward for them, she knows that things are ending. She just has to gather her courage to do it. On a whim, she decides to track down Jean-Luc from all those years ago. After she left Paris, Jean-Luc wrote her seven perfect love letters, none of which Samantha ever replied to. She decides to apologise to Jean-Luc for not responding two decades ago. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to – there were other reasons why Samantha never got to post a letter back.

Jean-Luc, because of his profession, proves surprisingly easy to track down in today’s digital world. She sends him an email and from there it progresses to phone calls and then Samantha traveling to Paris to meet up with him again. So much has been lacking in Samantha’s life that this is exactly the sort of passionate, crazy adventure that she needs. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to get a second chance, if you’re brave enough to take it.

Seven Letters From Paris is a memoir by an American woman who ended up getting a second chance at an old love. I have to say that although I read a lot of romance books, I’m not exactly what you would call romantic myself. In fact, my husband always tells me I don’t have a romantic bone in my body and he’s probably right. The ‘grand gestures’ are often lost on me so my feelings about this were rather mixed. Some of it I quite enjoyed but there were other parts where I didn’t really connect with what was happening and the people it was happening to.

Samantha and Jean-Luc spend basically one entire night together (but not like that) in Paris when she’s 19 and he’s 26. She’s on holiday and they meet in a restaurant and he and his friend offer to show her and her friend a few sights. He asks her to stay longer but already committed to the next part of the holiday, Samantha and her friend Tracey has to leave. This is 1989, no internet or cell phones to text so Jean-Luc begins to write her letters. Most people find these letters extremely romantic but to me, such flowery language and declarations after one day feels a bit strange.

Twenty years later and Samantha’s trapped in a marriage that has gone south and she discovers Jean-Luc’s letters and decides to get in contact with him again. As times have changed, there’s an immediacy to their contact now, they can email each other back and forth all day and speak on the phone with ease. They quickly reconnect and it isn’t long before they both seem to feel the same way they did twenty years ago. I didn’t really have an issue with watching them connect this way – it is possible to get to know someone intimately via emails, phone calls, texts, Skype etc as long as each person is up front and committed to being honest which it seems both Samantha and Jean-Luc are. They make plans for her to come to Paris.

What did surprise me was how everyone in Samantha’s life was all for this. I don’t think one person really said to her hey, are you sure you know what you’re doing here, flying halfway around the world to meet a guy you spent one night with twenty years ago? Have you put in place something to ensure your safety? Everyone was so enthusiastic about the Frenchman who had a way with words, even her parents. Yes Samantha is forty or thereabouts, clearly an adult but her life is also a bit of a mess. She’s unemployed and had to move back in with parents after she left her husband, she has twenty thousand dollars in credit card debt and has basically, the clothes on her back to her name. Luckily things really work out for Samantha and Jean-Luc. The connection in person is there just as much as it is in emails and on the phone and there’s no awkward moment where they have to try to extract themselves from this. They are both wanting to move forward together, to make a life together. There are a few complications – some problems obtaining Samantha’s birth certificate, the fact that Samantha needs to be introduced to all Jean-Luc’s friends and family, including his two children but none of these things make much more than a blip in the story. There are times when this reads as almost too good to be true. I mean it’s a memoir, so it is true. They’re still married and seem blissfully happy and it’s lovely to read about people who have gotten that second chance. Perhaps I’m too used to reading romantic fiction, which almost always contains conflict!

What I did love was the scenes in France. I’ve never been overseas and France is one place that everyone seems to feel passionately about. You have to go to Paris! people say. I loved their holiday, all of the buildings and castles they saw and stayed in, the food and wine, etc. That felt really magical as well, it kind of added to the romance – what better setting to fall in love again?

Seven Letters From Paris is a light, readable story that will definitely appeal to romantics and those who want that happily ever after.

7/10

Book #233 of 2014

Samantha Verant author image

This review is part of the Seven Letters From Paris blog tour. For more please check out the previous post at Starts At Sixty and then tomorrow another review at Let’s Review Stuff

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Review: Atlantia – Ally Condie

AtlantiaAtlantia
Ally Condie
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 298p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Rio and her twin sister Bay live in Atlantia, an underwater city that was created when the land above became too polluted. Now there are two worlds – Above and Below. And each citizen of Below when they turn 18, gets to make a choice: to continue to live and work below or make the sacrifice and go Above. Rio has always dreamed of the sun and the sand and the sky and she desperately wants to make the choice to go Above when the time comes. But after they lost their mother, Bay made her promise that she would stay Below with her as only one family member can choose to go Above.

But then Bay makes a shocking choice, leaving Rio stranded Below, all alone. She finds out that there are problems in Atlantia, that there are possibilities of it crumbling into nothing. Guided by her aunt, a somewhat notorious figure in society, Rio begins to question everything – the origins of Below, the Gods, the current ruler. In order to be able to do something about fixing Atlantia and to ever see Bay again, Rio will have to go Above. But no one can go Above except those who make the choice and that was taken from her. Rio begins to look into other options of getting Above, some of them very dangerous.

But this isn’t something that Rio can do alone. She’s going to have to trust in her aunt, that her aunt knows the answers and with her amazing abilities, can help Rio find the way to save Below and re-establish the relationship with the Above.

Atlantia is a stand-alone title from Ally Condie, author of the Matched trilogy. It’s set in a futuristic world where the air has become too polluted for humans to live comfortably and so cities below the sea were created. They mine extensively beneath the ocean’s floor and in return, the Above send down food and supplies that they cannot cultivate in the Below. Each year, children of the Below make the choice to either stay and remain with their families or go Above, never to be seen again. Rio has always longed to go Above – it’s something she’s dreamed of for as long as she’s known about it. She wants to feel the sun and walk on sand but sisterly loyalty led her to agree to Bay’s begging that she choose the Below – only for Bay to betray her and leave her behind.

Stuck in a world she doesn’t want to be in, without any family and very little in the way of friends, Rio drifts. She’s already come under the radar of the new Minister, the one who replaced her mother after she died. She’s also being pursued by her estranged aunt Maire, a person she can’t possibly think she could trust. Maire wants Rio to come to her, to ask questions that Maire has the answers to but Rio would rather fumble around alone it seems, having pretty much no clue.

I loved the idea of the world in this book – Atlantia itself is a living breathing character that you can hear, if you listen closely enough. To be honest, the idea isn’t too far-fetched, not that it’s an original one. At the rate we are polluting the air, it’s definitely not too difficult to imagine a time where the air might not be suitable for longevity. I would imagine that the creation of an entire city under the water would take engineering and scientific feats, the likes of which I cannot imagine. Pumping air in (from …where if the air above is polluted?), imitating sunlight and warmth, etc.Although it feels like the world is a character, it’s also a bit of an unfleshed one. I would’ve liked to know more about what the Above send them in return for what the Below mines from under the seabed.

The story is very much about Rio and her learning about herself and coming into her own, having the faith in herself and her power. She’s had to stifle something her entire life, keep it secret. As a result of that and perhaps because of the fact that she’s a twin, Rio comes off as quite suppressed, like she’s not even really sure what her personality is supposed to be. Left on her own in the Below, if Maire hadn’t sought her out and basically demanded her attention, I’m not sure what Rio would’ve done with herself. At least Maire gives her something to feel, even if that feeling is quite often anger or frustration. She also meets a boy named True, which forms a sort-of romance. But not a lot of the book is devoted to this at all, it’s always much more about the Above and the Below and what Rio’s role is going to be.

I think that this book is perfectly enjoyable if you don’t want to ask too many questions. The world is interesting, I was really keen to find out what was happening between Above and Below and precisely what role the Minster was playing in it all. I didn’t mind Rio and I think she does grow considerably as a person throughout the book. She learns to trust in herself and to take risks and she’s always wanting to do what’s right and she loves her sister. I think she also learns that it’s best not to do certain things alone, that sometimes the voices of many are better than just one. People working together is what makes a successful society. However there were a lot of things that seemed quite vague, possibly because the divide happened so long ago that a lot of the information has now been lost and possibly because it was being kept from the people deliberately. Rio does get some answers but there’s a lot of little stuff that for me, is missing. It would’ve added the detail this story needed to make it truly shine.

6/10

Book #27 of 2014

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