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Review: Masquerade – Kylie Fornasier

MasqueradeMasquerade
Kylie Fornasier
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It is 1750 in the glittering city of Venice, Italy and the spectacle that is Carnevale is just about to get underway. Orelia Rossetti is new to Venice, a stranger to the city. She’s lost everything and now she seeks answers, finding her way to the home of her uncle, Giovanni Contarini, a powerful senator. He takes her in under the proviso that she never admit to anyone that she is his niece – instead she is to claim that she is his goddaughter, an orphan from Rome.

Giovanni’s daughter Angelique loves Carnevale – it is her favourite time of the year and the celebrations give her ample opportunities to parade beautiful new dresses and elaborate new masks. This season she’s got her eye on the biggest prize of all, the handsome and eligible Bastian Donato. He’s the son of the Doge and the one all of the girls want. But Bastian has other ideas about what he wants out of life, preferring to date widely and unwisely. While Angelique plots, Bastian and his best friend Marco D’Este make a sly little bet.

Angelique’s sister Veronica cares little for Carnevale and for love. She doesn’t want to be married and she’s worked out the most perfect plan to avoid any suitors. However Luca Boccassio, the newest man who looks to step forward and ask her father’s permission doesn’t seem as easily put off as the rest of them…

Servant to the Contarini household Anna is just one more person with a secret. She desperately needs money so that she can help someone she loves but the only way to get what she needs might be to betray someone else.

Claudia D’Este is the daughter of a prominent social climber who wants nothing more than to be accepted by the elite. But all Claudia wants is to be away from her mother’s schemes and be happy with the boy she loves. But her mother considers no one less than Bastian Donato to be suitable for Claudia and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get him to help restore the family name.

For this group of teenagers, things after this Carnivale will never be the same again.

I first had my attention drawn towards this book at the PTA Live event that I attended in Melbourne way back in April of this year. The cover wasn’t final then but it was enough and also the description, to immediately hook me in. I’m always on the lookout for books that are fresh and feel different and this one definite ticks those boxes. I haven’t read a YA books set in Venice, let alone one from 1750. And so I couldn’t wait to read this when it arrived on my doorstep.

Immediately the book hooks you in with a mystery – who is Orelia and what is she searching for in Venice? Why did her mother flee the city and never return? I couldn’t wait to know more. Not only is Orelia searching for answers, but she’s very much a fish out of water in Venice. She and her mother lived in a very small village and she’s utterly unused to the glitter and wealth that surrounds the influential families in Venice. And the politics of socialising as well as the desperate clamour by some to get what they want, but Orelia gets quite an education, especially when she catches the eye of the most eligible bachelor, Bastian Donato, who dances with her at the first ball Orelia attends. Orelia isn’t there to find a husband and even if she was, Bastian is not only the one that mothers want for their daughters, he’s the one that Orelia’s own cousin, Angelique, wants for herself as well. Which does complicate matters.

What I loved about this book was despite all of the romantic entanglements and intrigue, they never took over the story of Orelia exploring Venice and where her mother came from and trying to find out the secret behind her fleeing it. She was from a wealthy, privileged family and for her to leave and raise Orelia as a single mother, which was obviously frowned upon, with very little money, it must’ve been something very big. She is always hushed, told never to reveal who her true mother is, to stick to the story that she’s the orphaned goddaughter that has been taken in. Even when she does begin to lose her heart, she still remains focused on finding out what she wants to know – what she needs to know.

The setting is so intriguing – I don’t know much about Venice and certainly not Venice from close to three centuries ago. But the descriptions of elaborate palazzos and the dresses and beautiful eye masks. The author Kylie Fornasier has put together a Pinterest board where you can go and see some of the pictures she has gathered of some of the clothing, masks, paintings of scenery etc and I found this so helpful both when I started reading and also when I’d finished, to just browse through and let the picture build itself up within my mind. It really helps flesh everything out, especially if you’re not very familiar with that era and require a few visuals to help acquaint yourself with the setting and the glamorous lifestyle of the rich and powerful as well as the simple things like the undergarments and hairstyles.

Feels like everything was just starting to really ramp up and become more intricate and I was really excited to find out what happened next when the ending came! I think that as a stand alone, this works well enough but there’s definitely enough done at the end to set up really nicely for a sequel. There are a lot of things left unresolved in a way, for a couple of the characters. I hope there is another book, because I’d really like to revisit this world in the future. The only negative for me is that I didn’t really get the appeal of Bastian beyond the fact that he’s the son of the Doge. The bet does him no favours although the way it played out was unexpected and I really approved of that. I love Orelia for the strength and character she displays. I think another book would probably give Bastian a chance to shine and become the person that he wants to be.

This was highly enjoyable – fun, clever and quite different from the other YA novels I’ve been reading of late.

8/10

Book #149 of 2014

AWWW2014

Masquerade is book #57 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

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Review: Romy Bright – Jen Storer

Romy BrightRomy Bright (Crystal Bay Girls #2)
Jen Storer
Puffin Books (Penguin Books AUS)
2014, 250p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Romy hasn’t exactly had a conventional upbringing. For a long time it was just her and her mother, moving around, living in share houses. Then her mother met Cam, they got married and Romy had a more permanent home. Cam and her mother had two children, Jarvis and Everly and they became a family.

But now Romy is fourteen and what she wants is a bit more freedom. Her stepfather Cam is working long hours at a local radio station and her mother owns a florist. Lately her somewhat flighty mother has been even more so than normal and Romy finds herself suddenly babysitting her younger brother and sister more often than not. She’s picking them up from creche, cooking them dinner and putting them to bed. And it’s impacting on her life.

Romy plays guitar and with her longtime friend James makes up the band Indigo Sky. But in order to prepare for their first real gig, Romy needs to have time to practice and when her mother disappears off to Sydney for a week she’s needed at home more than ever. Only her burgeoning feelings for newcomer Matt remain a bright spot in her life as James drifts away. Determined to win Matt, Romy changes her look, not even realising that she might be overlooking the right one who’s been there all along.

Romy Bright is the second in the Crystal Bay Girls series following on from Quincy Jordan. Romy lives for music and her ‘girl cave’ where she gets to practice with her bandmate James. Her home life however, is slowly crumbling as Romy’s mother seems to be distancing herself from the family. Romy spots her getting out of a mysterious black sporty car late at night and although she keeps this information from her stepfather, she stews on it herself, agonising over what’s going on. The more she has to do at home, the more she resents her mother.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Romy – she’s only fourteen. That’s really still quite young and she really does do a lot of caring for her young siblings, especially sister Everly. I only had one brother who has 3 years younger than me but I had friends that had much younger siblings and quite often, they shouldered a lot of the care. Like Romy, they also came to resent their mothers/parents for what often equated to hours and hours of unpaid babysitting, cleaning, cooking etc. They would miss regular teenage outings with their friends whilst being stuck at home minding the younger children. I think it’s quite often a terrible burden to place on a teenager although there are families out there who have little choice. Often the mother is a single parent and working or like in Romy’s case, there’s another parent but he’s working hard as well. However, I felt that Romy’s mother was incredibly selfish in this book and it wasn’t particularly justified. She not only took off on the family for a week to ‘clear her head’ she did it at a time when Romy had something really important to her coming up. It just seemed very wrong. I’m a parent and I’m the first to agree that there are times when you need some time out, time to yourself. To remember that you’re a person as well, not just a parent responsible for the little people. But to run out and basically leave Romy to pick up the pieces was definitely not right. I actually feel like this was not particularly well resolved and that Romy’s mother gave rather weak excuses for what she was doing, to both her children and also her husband. Romy was entitled to her anger but at the same time, she was a fourteen year old girl who needed her mother and she was hardly going to be in the position to really demand a decent explanation and not just a weak one.

I really enjoyed the rest of the book – the characters are on the young side of YA, this is more MG so it’s really quite sweet and innocent. Romy is rather taken with newcomer Matt who is 17 and she immediately feels that the only way she might get his attention is to update her look to a more grown up one. This is something a lot of younger teen girls can probably relate to, having a crush on someone a little older who is just a bit out of reach. I like the core friendship group of Quincy, Esme, Romy and Lou quite a lot and I like the fact that these books aren’t overloaded with drama. They’re simple and rather sweet and most things get resolved by the end. Looking forward to the next 2, Lou and Esme (or maybe Esme and Lou, not sure what order they’re coming in!). These are great transition books for younger readers who are outgrowing children’s books and they’re the sort of books I’d have probably been desperate to read when I was in middle to late primary school.

7/10

Book #148 of 2014

AWWW2014

Romy Bright is the 56th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: Reservoir Dad – Clint Greagan

Reservoir DadReservoir Dad
Clint Greagan
Random House AUS
2014, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When youth worker Clint and his wife decided to have children, it made more sense for Clint to resign from his job and take on the primary caring role. This was nine years ago and now Clint is the stay at home dad to four boys living in Reservoir in Melbourne’s north. He wrangles breakfasts, the kinder and school drop off, hangs the washing and tidies the house. All the while his wife balances life between her academic commitments and her private practice.

In this memoir, Clint tackles the stigma of being a stay at home father and deals with such issues as the mad rush to get out the door on time each morning, living with his in-laws, negotiating a dad’s playgroup and how to keep the romance alive with his wife Tania through four kids. I’m mostly the stay at home parent in our house although my husband’s irregular working hours actually mean that he’s around until at least lunchtime almost every day. He deals with the breakfast shift and the school drop offs and occasionally pick ups as well if he’s still at home. He also cooks and would no doubt handle being a full time stay at home dad with ease, should that opportunity ever arise. It’s not something you encounter very often though and I think my favourite experience in reading this book was how much Greagan’s love for his children shine through on every page. Four children in about seven or eight years is a huge commitment and Greagan cycles through sleepless nights and early morning wake-ups in a fog of exhaustion but manages to maintain his sense of humour.

I have to admit I got a little clucky reading this book every time Clint and Tania welcomed a new baby boy and – the smell of a newborn should be bottled and even reading about it had me thinking about how nice it’d be to have another baby! My husband and I have two boys who are almost-6 and almost-3 and I always wanted 3 year age gaps for my kids and I always wanted 3-4 kids. But life gets in the way and kids in theory are a lot easier than in practice!

I did really enjoy reading about parenting from a father’s perspective and he’s quite brutally honest that he’s not the best housekeeper (neither am I) nor are his methods always the established norm but he’s an extremely dedicated father and husband and that’s always a joy to read about. I think I would’ve liked a little more of his wife’s thoughts on what it was like going back to work after each baby, just to get a more fleshed out picture of their family dynamic.

All in all, quite an enjoyable read and something that I think most parents would really relate to, be they a stay at home parent, a working parent or a combination of both.

7/10

Book #146 of 2014

Aussie-Author-Challenge-2014-final-badge

Counting this one towards the Aussie Author Challenge – it’s book #11

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Review: No Biz Like Showbiz – Julie Moffett

No Biz Like ShowbizNo Biz Like Showbiz (Lexi Carmichael #4)
Julie Moffett
Carina Press
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Lexi Carmichael has barely recovered from her trip to Rome but she’s had enough of sitting at home and is back at work and ready to go. And her first assignment is being sent to Hollywood to help a TV studio work out who is behind vicious hacking into their system and altering the results of a reality TV show, Geeks Get Some. Although Lexi doesn’t watch reality TV show and she’s not very impressed with the topic of this one in particular, she’s very good at finding out who a hacker is.

What she doesn’t expect is that when she discovers it looks like an inside job and that the hacker is targeting her in the most humiliating of ways, the producers want her to continue her investigation from right in the middle of things. They want her to replace the female geek on the show and actually appear in front of the cameras, going out on dates and interacting with the other geeks. Although Lexi is horrified about this, some well placed blackmail has her agreeing. It’s personal now and Lexi is going to get to the bottom of this and find out who is fixing the results.

I find with each new book, this series grows on me more and more. It’s impossible not to like Lexi, who is really quite clueless in pretty much anything other than computer security. She used to work for NSA but now works for a private company and she continually finds herself in dangerous situations due to her investigative skills regarding computers. Lexi’s life is very much complicated by the very few people who are in it. Lexi’s mother is a society type who seems to despair of her tomboyish daughter and she’d like nothing more than to see Lexi successfully matched up to an eligible young man. Lexi isn’t interested in eligible young men and she finds most social interactions excruciating anyway. But despite this, she’s not particularly without male attention. In fact, she’s almost drowning in it, between the hot Irish Finn and the uber mysterious hacker Slash who declared his love for Lexi in the previous book when they were escaping a deadly situation.

Like the books, Slash grew on me as well. I didn’t love him much in the first book but by the end of the third I was firmly in his corner and I love the direction this book takes their fledgling romance/relationship and I love the way that Lexi throws herself into situations, even when she knows she’s out of her depth, comfort wise. She isn’t afraid to ask embarrassing questions and lay it on the line and she doesn’t dance around issues or try and bluff her way through it. She does a little bit of dithering between some choices but I’m pleased to see that it looks like it isn’t going to drag out for books and books, which as a reader, ends up getting really annoying.

I have to admit, the plot of this book wasn’t one of my favourites, possibly because I’m not really a fan of “reality” TV, especially shows like this one. And I know that the story was holding a mirror up to that and how all is not as it seems and how much of it is faked or made up for the sake of ratings. But even though I didn’t mind the change of location in No Place Like Rome, I’m not sure it worked as well here, especially when everyone else started showing up. It was interesting to see Slash on the backfoot here occasionally and a bit out of his depth. He’s portrayed as so confident and so skilled at so many different things that it was good to see a few moments where he made mistakes and was clearly struggling a little bit which helps round out his character. However the arrival of Basia did have me rolling my eyes a bit. I know Lexi relies on her for help through social situations but the fact that she keeps turning up under the flimsiest of excuses is wearing a little thin. I don’t really find her a likable character. I also missed the Zimmerman twins in this one, they’re on the other end of the phone but I always love it when Lexi goes to hang out with them to chat about things. Removing Lexi from her comfort zone does have its positives though as she does power through and get the job done, despite the fact that she gets publicly humiliated in more ways than one. I’ve never really heard the term “cracking” before, which is apparently a hacker with malicious intent. I think Lexi’s solution was very much in line with her character and her soft heart.

All in all I enjoyed this book, perhaps not as much as No Place Like Rome, which remains my favourite but this one does great things in advancement of certain plots and I’m really looking forward to the next title in this series.

7/10

Book #110 of 2014

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Watching Literature – One Adaptation At A Time

GWTW02

Image from fanart.tv

A couple of times now myself, Belle from Belle’s Bookshelf and Marg from The Intrepid Reader have amused ourselves by watching movies together (despite the fact we live in 2 separate states) and conducting an in-depth analysis of them on twitter at the same time. The first one was entirely by accident – Belle was watching it, Marg put it on as well and I’d seen it the week prior (it was Dear John, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel) and we had a great time. We decided we’d watch some of the other adaptations of his novels (ok yes, it’s mostly to mock them). The second time we arranged a time to all sit down and watch and chat together and so we tackled Safe Haven.

That was some time ago but recently we’ve revived this. Turner Classic Movies, my cable TV’s oldie movie channel were playing some classics, one each week in the month of July. Belle and I were chatting about a book read-a-long we were doing and I asked if she’d seen Gone With The Wind, the first movie. She hadn’t and I hadn’t seen it in 20 years so we immediately decided we would do that one as our next watch-a-long. Unfortunately Marg was unable to join us as her son accidentally deleted her recording of GTWT from the cable box!

I read the book of Gone With The Wind when I was about 12 or 13 and it actually happened to be on TV not long after that and my grandfather taped it for me. On a BETAmax video player, no less! How’s that for showing my age? I remembered the basic storyline and we settled in to watch the first half – but of course that didn’t happen and we continued on until almost 1 in the morning watching the whole epic. We admired the dresses and Scarlett’s strong and independent spirit. Also at 12, I didn’t really get Clarke Gable but at 32, can I just say I get Clark Gable now? That look, those dimples, that grin. Belle and I decided afterwards that we’d definitely be doing this again and we began throwing up suggestions of what our next watch could be…..

North & South

Pic from Worthy Of Note

This time I had never seen it and both Marg and Belle have seen it numerous times. I’ve also never read North & South although I do own quite a few Elizabeth Gaskell novels. But I’d heard such brilliant things about this adaptation and all of the other BBC ones I have watched have been so stellar so I broke my rule of always reading the book first! I really enjoyed this – Margaret is such a wonderful, strong character who goes through so much in this. Gotta love a little hate at first sight with underlying sexual tension and a man who’s not afraid to lay it all out there. And that intense stare he has. Romance aside, it was interesting to step away from London and society and visit the more working classes and the issues that they faced during this time. I’ve got the book ready to go and I’m looking forward to seeing this play out on the page. The adaptation looked beautifully done and I may or may not watch several scenes again *cough*

We were talking after we finished watching North & South (over 2 nights for that one) and decided that there’s so much we want to watch, for many different reasons. We still have Nicholas Sparks movies to watch because we like torturing ourselves plus we have dreamworthy BBC adaptations to do and slightly dubious YA novel adaptations as well. So far we have these titles on our list of things to watch:

BBC’s Pride & Prejudice from 1995 (and then possibly comparing and contrasting it with the Keira Knightley movie version)
The Notebook (and all other Nicholas Spark novel adaptations)
Vampire Academy, Divergent The Mortal Instruments Movie
North & South adaptation from 1975 with Patrick Stewart (compare and contrast!)
Dr Zhivago
Persuasion

We will alternate between each type – next up is The Notebook, based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel, which I’ve never read or seen. Perhaps because of this, I don’t get the whole Ryan Gosling thing that the internet seems obsessed with so maybe watching this movie will rectify that? I don’t know.

What are your favourite adaptations, modern or classic? Got anything you think we should definitely add to our list? It’ll be one that grows all of the time!

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Things I Want To See At The Melbourne Writers Festival

photo (1)

The program for the 2014 Melbourne Writers Festival was released yesterday (you can check it out here) and I picked up my copy and spent most of the afternoon poring over it and deciding what events I wanted to see. There’s actually a lot of events I’m keen on this year, more than last year which is nice. Obviously I won’t be able to attend all of the ones that interest me, for both time and economic reasons, but these are the ones I’m tossing up between.

Malcolm Fraser & Bob Carr: In Conversation, Friday 22nd August 1pm

Some people will see that and think “Politics? How boring!” but my background is in politics. My degree is political science and international relations and I think this is a time when most Australians should be interested in politics, given what is happening both locally and also abroad. I grew up in NSW so Bob Carr was an institution there – he was the Premier of NSW for 10 years from 1995-2005. I’m interested in what he has to say. And I find Malcolm Fraser intriguing too because he’s a former Liberal Prime Minster who seems to pull no punches criticising the current Liberal regime.

 

Burial RitesIn Conversation With Hannah Kent, Friday 22nd August 4pm

This event had actually already sold out by the time I had re-downloaded the MWF app to my phone and updated it to the 2014 version. It’s scheduled to take place in one of the smaller venues so I hope they actually move it to a bigger location, if they can, and release more tickets. I read Burial Rites last year and really loved it and I’d love to know more about how it came to be.

 


Tiddas, Saturday 23rd August 10am

I read Anita Heiss’ book Tiddas early this year and really enjoyed it and I also really like hearing her voice on Indigenous issues, especially the ones faced in modern times. Tiddas addressed this really well so I’m keen to hear more from her.

Modern Love, Saturday 23rd August 11:30am

This is really the only ‘romance’ panel at the festival and I always make a point to support them and attend in the hope that they program more in the future. This one has Rachel Herron and Su Dharmapala talking about what makes a good contemporary romance novel and how the genre has evolved. I’ve read books by both authors so I’m definitely going to be attending this one.

Local Libraries: Library at the Dock, Saturday 23rd August 2:30pm

I’ve heard about the Library at the Dock down in Docklands and this event is with Alex Miller, who is one of those authors that I’ve always meant to read but never quite gotten around to doing so! It’s also a freebie and I’m already going to be in the city on this day so I’m thinking I’ll add this one to my schedule.

Lad Lit, Sunday 24th August 10am

This session has Chris Flynn who I saw at MWF 2 years ago (when he released his previous novel, A Tiger In Eden) who was really good and very funny and also Omar Musa. I have a copy of Musa’s book, Here Come The Dogs and I’m always trying to read more male authors.

SendingIn Conversation with Isobelle Carmody, Sunday 24th August 4pm

Anyone who has ever read this blog even in passing would know that I love Isobelle Carmody, especially her Obernewytn series which I have been reading for nearly 20 years. The final book is still to come and I am dying to find out what happens and how it all ends. I’ve always missed Carmody whenever she’s done events near me before but this will be the first session I officially book! Without a doubt.

 

 

What I Learned About Sex From Reading, Friday 29th August 1pm

With Alissa Nutting and Jessie Cole. I read Alissa Nutting’s novel Tampa and found it both interesting and really disturbing. I also have Jessie Cole’s new novel to read as well and I’m really keen to hear what they both have to say about approaches to writing sex and what they learned from it. Apparently there’s things readers can learn too! This is also a freebie session.

Book Launch: When The Night Comes by Favel Parrett, Friday 29th August 5:30pm

Loved Favel Parrett’s first novel, Past The Shallows and this one sounds right up my alley! This one is a freebie too. And is a good prep for the next even which is….

When The Night ComesIn Conversation With Favel Parrett, Saturday 30th August 2:30pm

So keen for this event! As I mentioned, I can’t wait to read her new book and maybe I’ll get a chance to do that between the launch and this event, lol. Her new novel revolves around a young girl from Tasmania who meets a crewman on an Antarctic supply ship. Favel Parrett was actually awarded an Antarctic Arts scholarship to go to Antarctica for researching this novel and I love novels that feature Antarctica in any way. And she writes so beautifully, I can’t wait.

 

In Conversation With Alissa Nutting, Saturday 30th August 4pm

I’m not 100% sure if I’ll be able to attend this event, it’s going to depend on my numbers and I’m already attending another event with Alissa Nutting but if I do have a space spare, I’ll book into this one and learn a bit more about Tampa.

True Crime, Sunday 31st August 1pm

This session has John Safran and Julie Szego talking about their Truman Capote moments. I haven’t read Julie Szego’s book but I have read John Safran’s, Murder In Mississippi and found it fascinating. Plus John Safran is really funny so I think this session would be great to attend. I don’t read much true crime (or non-fic in general) so it might also be great to see if there are some recommendations.

***

So these are the sessions that I am mostly musing on so far – some are no brainers (Isobelle Carmody!) and there are others I may not get in to, such as the Hannah Kent session. There are a couple of other sessions that are on at the same time as that session (In Conversation with NoViolet Bulawayo and Seeking Asylum) and if the Hannah Kent session doesn’t get changed, I may choose one of those. There’s also a couple of sessions on the schools program that I wouldn’t mind sneaking in to!

Anyone else heading to the festival? What are you seeing? Let me know!

 

 

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Review: The Knight Of Castle Kildare – Erin Moira O’Hara

Knight of Castle KildareThe Knight Of Castle Kildare
Erin Moira O’Hara
Destiny Romance
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Kate Manning has always been fascinated with a painting that hangs in the Castle of Kildare. The painting is of Sir Caleb, a man who lived some five hundred years ago and was knighted by Elizabeth the First. When the opportunity arises for Kate to purchase the castle, she doesn’t hesitate to do so. She’s now even more obsessed with the portrait of the mysterious man but even she can’t believe it when he steps out of the painting.

Over five hundred years ago, Caleb was cursed by a gypsy he refused shelter to on the property and he’s been trapped in the portrait of himself ever since. For Caleb to free himself permanently, it seems he must do a few things including claiming the heart of a Romany woman and surrendering his most precious possession to his mortal enemy. Caleb can’t let this attraction to Kate distract him from his goal of freeing himself properly.

Kate wants nothing more than to free Caleb permanently and she thinks she is just the right woman to do it. If only she can get Caleb to listen to her and stop thinking like it’s still 1550, she might have a chance. But the two of them are still in danger from people who want the castle’s hidden treasure and who would love nothing more than to see Caleb re-imprisoned, this time forever.

Hmmm.

I think this was a very good idea – bringing a man who lived in a totally different era into the present and exploring the sort of challenges that character might face, as well as the sort of issues a potential relationship would involve. Wrap it all up in a Romany mystery and it has the makings of a really interesting story. However I think the execution, for me, let it down quite a bit. And most of that centers around Caleb but there’s a bit that surrounds Kate as well.

Firstly – the idea of a man from 1550 suddenly finding himself in the present poses a lot of immediate issues, the first being that obviously the world is very different. Women are very different. They have jobs now, they can own property, they don’t need a man. At times, Caleb’s “I’m going to have you whenever I want” attitude was really annoying. There were a couple of scenes where Kate specifically told him no and he pretty much just ignored that and did whatever he wanted anyway. She eventually said yes of course but I wasn’t particularly into him just overriding her all the time. But then that brings me to really, what was the biggest problem with Kate: she was an epic doormat.

Basically, Kate is in love with a painting. She’s been fascinated by it since she was a child, she’s seen it several times, taken to the castle by her grandmother. Then she buys the castle, apparently all inclusive and she is even more obsessed with Caleb’s portrait. That leads to her confessing her love for him about three minutes after he falls out of it, despite the fact that she doesn’t actually know anything about him and the times they do end up talking she gets annoyed and frustrated with him because he doesn’t seem to respect her wishes or do as she asks – he just does whatever he wants. And she seems to just end up being okay with it because she loves him so much. What exactly does she love? He was a picture. And now that he’s mostly a real person he’s arrogant and high handed and on occasion, a bit cruel. Even when she tells him she doesn’t want to have sex because she wants the person she has sex with to love her, he just carries on anyway. There are a few scenes, like the one where he walks in on her in the shower really early on, like hey, you’ve just met! It’s pretty rude to walk unannounced into someone’s private room, no matter what century it is. Especially when they’re going to be without clothes. She seemed uncomfortable and embarrassed that he was there (at first, because he can pretty much make her think whatever he wants her to think after a few minutes) and he doesn’t leave, he just continues to be there. And who wouldn’t be uncomfortable? This guy fell out of a painting from five hundred years ago and is now walking in on her when she’s in the shower.

I think for me, this book highlighted some of the reasons why having a Knight from 500 years ago wouldn’t be anywhere near as romantic as it sounds. It was a different time and Caleb still thinks he’s some sort of Lord of the Manor and it made me wonder how they would actually function as a long-term couple. Kate owns the house and makes the money. What sort of job does someone who was stuck in a portrait for 500 years do? The landed gentry doesn’t really exist anymore. Not to mention he didn’t really seem the type who would adjust to society’s new parameters easily. And I need more to buy two characters falling in love. I can’t just rely on a curse to believe it. The curse can be the reason he’s trapped in the painting and the reason they meet, but I need them to interact properly and converse in a way that makes ‘love’ believable.

5/10

Book #145 of 2014

AWWW2014

This is the 55th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: Accidentally Married On Purpose – Rachel Harris

Accidentally MarriedAccidentally Married On Purpose (Love and Games #3)
Rachel Harris
Entangled Publishing
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Sherry Robicheaux loves romance and relationships and love but she’s never really had very good taste in men. Most of the mysterious, secretive types she tends to go for are that way because she discovers that they’re hiding other women. So Sherry is going to do one last crazy thing before she implements her new plan. She has a job overseeing a catering gig in Las Vegas for her family’s restaurant and she’s going to have a crazy weekend fling with someone probably very inappropriate. And then she’s going to go home, find Mr Boring and Dependable and settle down and get married.

Tyler Blue is the lead singer of the hugely popular country band Blue. They’re playing a charity gig in Vegas but he’d really just like a little weekend of anonymity. Where no one wants something from him because he’s Tyler Blue. He doesn’t have time for relationships, his music and his career is his dream. So when he meets a hot girl with purple streaks in her hair in the green room who doesn’t know who he is, he thinks this is perfect.

But then Tyler and Sherry wake up married. Tyler’s management have been pushing for him to have a girlfriend. His niche isn’t rock and roll, his fans want to see him settled and happy. So Tyler proposes that instead of a quick, quiet divorce, they stay married to boost his career. He’ll give Sherry a few things she wants in return and then after a whirlwind month of hanging out in her home town showing off for the media, he’ll go on tour and they’ll quietly end things. Sherry knows this can’t last and so she needs to take steps to protect her heart so she doesn’t fall in love with her husband…but has she done enough?

I didn’t realise when I received this book that it’s actually the third in a series, with two previous books about Sherry’s siblings, sister Colby and brother Cane. I did feel at a little bit of a disadvantage, although the previous characters don’t play a huge role, they do appear and obviously Sherry appeared in their books too so for readers of the entire series, her character was probably fairly well established.

Sherry is tired of making the wrong choices regarding men and she wants to settle down and find someone who will stick by her, someone she can count on. She’s seen her sister and then her brother find their soul mates and it seems as though if she can’t have a perfect match like they have both found, she’ll settle for at least having a match that goes somewhere. Her perfect plan is of course, ruined when she marries country star Tyler Blue in Las Vegas without actually having a clue who he is. She thinks he’s just one of the roadies, not the actual lead singer. Even though Sherry didn’t actually really follow country music or know anything about Blue, I was still surprised she’d never seen him, given how famous and successful they supposedly were. Especially as he’s from the same state as her and lots of press like to make a big deal of the local kids done good.

That aside, the ‘accidentally married but we’ll go through with it anyway’ is not a new idea and therefore it can be tricky to pull off. I think Rachel Harris does well here because Tyler and Sherry hammer out a ‘deal’ about how their marriage is going to work where each of them get to input what they want out of it. And for the most part, both of them really stick to it and as Tyler spends the month with Sherry in her hometown, he gets to know her in a way much like if they were really beginning a relationship. I appreciated this because given they married within 2 days of meeting, to build a credible future they have to actually do more than get drunk. And both of them begin to talk to the other, about the sort of dreams they have and what they want out of life. Unfortunately it appears at first that those dreams are in no real way compatible.

Because I’m not Southern, or even American, I can find Southern characters a little difficult – it’s all the “sugars” and the “baby girls” and Tyler is pretty Southern. However I found myself liking him a lot, despite his often cheesy endearments. He’s dedicated and smart and he knows what he wants and he loves his family and has always respected them. He also learns some serious lessons about misconceptions he’s had and he is a little slow in figuring out what he really wants, but he’s pretty good at going after it when he finally figures it out. I think he and Sherry definitely worked really well together and they both helped each other realise that they could have their dreams and the HEA as well.

The only thing – I have to admit, I did think this would be a little spicier than it was. It’s definitely more a sweet romance than a sexy one. I think that Tyler and Sherry did have good chemistry and it would’ve been nice for the reader to see that pay off.

7/10

Book #144 of 2014

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Review: Every Breath – Ellie Marney

Every BreathEvery Breath (Every #1)
Ellie Marney
Allen & Unwin
2013, 335p
Purchased personal copy

Rachel Watts grew up in country Australia on a farm. She went to school via distance education and her days were spent with sheep or fixing fences. But the farm is gone now and Rachel, her brother and her parents live in Coburg, a suburb in Melbourne’s north. Rachel is having trouble adapting to her new home – she misses the country and longs to return there. She wants to study ag courses at university when she finishes school despite the fact that her marks make it possible for her to do almost anything.

Rachel has struck up an unusual friendship with her neighbour James Mycroft who lives two doors down. Mycroft has a passion, perhaps even an obsession for forensics and although he’s brilliant, he’s also troubled and seems to find himself in difficult situations more often than not. When Rachel and Mycroft find the dead body of one of his homeless friends, known as Homeless Dave, Rachel finds herself unable to resist Mycroft’s impassioned plea that they investigate. He claims that the police won’t really care – to them Homeless Dave is just another number. He needs someone that cared about him to get the bottom of what happened to him and why anyone would want to kill a man who had nothing.

The more they investigate, the closer Mycroft and Rachel become and that’s not without its problems. And the closer they get to identifying the murderer, the more they unknowingly put themselves in terrible danger.

This book and its sequel, Every Word have been getting regular praise around the blogs I read and I finally got the chance to buy both of them recently. Sometimes you know from the first couple of pages that you’re really going to love a book and for me, this was one of those books. And the reason is pretty simple: Rachel Watts and James Mycroft. I tweeted whilst reading this that by page 7 I was a little bit in love with Mycroft already. By the end of the book there was no more ‘little’ about it. I suspect I could devote a thousand words alone to the Mycroft character but that would be spoiling things! I love a romance that is allowed to develop and this book does that in spades. Although we don’t really see Watts and Mycroft meeting and becoming friends, their friendship is obviously well established. Watts already knows more about Mycroft than others do, she’s seen him at probably his worst. It is amazing how much Ellie Marney manages to convey with merely a glance between these two characters. You can see so much about what they want, even if they each can’t see it in each other. This is how you do young adult romance and sexual tension and it is awesome.

The story was very engaging – I’ve lived in Victoria for about 8 years now, always within an hour and a bit of Melbourne but I don’t always spend a lot of time there. However these were places that were familiar to me: the police headquarters on St Kilda Rd, the Zoo, etc. Mycroft and Watts are amateur sleuths, taking it upon themselves to investigate quite a grisly murder, the murder of a man who doesn’t really have anyone else to advocate for him and get him some justice. Both of them are very intelligent but approach things in different ways and have different methods. Their friendship has ups and downs and there are times when they are distinctly at odds but they always find their way back to each other. I also really enjoyed the inclusion of Mai, their Vietnamese friend who can’t pluck up the courage to tell her mother that she’s dating Sudanese boy Gus. The supporting characters are all so well drawn – Rachel’s protective older brother Mike who struggles with his sibling loyalty, her tired parents who are making a new life in Melbourne, working long hours for little pay. Even the gruff Detective Pickup and his suspicion of Mycroft and his motives is a cop who balances the line well between humouring the teens and their efforts and shutting them down completely.

I always find it much harder to write reviews about books I really enjoyed, it’s hard to express that love without sounding completely gushing and over the top. But this book honestly had me hooked from the start and in Watts and Mycroft, Ellie Marney has created two wonderful characters who bounce off each other so well. Both of them have been displaced – Mycroft after the tragedy that happened to his family in London and Rachel after her family lost their farm and they were forced to move. The sparks between these two are incredible and is great example of how to address a grown up, evolving teenage relationship in fiction. In so many teen novels the romance can often feel like it’s contrived, worked at too hard but in this it’s so natural it’s like it always should have been. Mycroft is brilliant but often erratic and Rachel seems to do a lot to tether him to reality and sanity, keeping him as much on an even keel as she can.

The pace is fast and clever, the plot interesting and a little unusual and my love for the two characters knows no bounds. For everyone who hasn’t read it yet – what are you waiting for? And when you’re done with this one, you can do what I’m about to do and dive into the second book, Every Word.

9/10

Book #141 of 2014

AWWW2014

Every Breath is book #52 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2014

 

 

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Review: The Dog Park – Laura Caldwell

Dog ParkThe Dog Park
Laura Caldwell
Harlequin MIRA
2014, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Stylist Jessica Champlin lives in Chicago sharing custody of Baxter, a “goldendoodle” with Sebastian Hess, her ex-husband. Sebastian and Jessica got Baxter as a last ditch effort to save their struggling marriage and although it didn’t work, it keeps them in touch with each other as they trade Baxter back and forth each week. Sebastian works as a foreign correspondent, often in dangerous war torn areas and it was the nail in the coffin in the marriage when he was unable to give that up. Jessica couldn’t handle not being allowed to know where he was going to be or how long he was gone. Although there was never an issue of a lack of love in the marriage, it became a question of what she could continue to tolerate. And eventually they made the decision to go their separate ways. They both love and cherish Baxter and they make an effort for him, to keep things civil although it doesn’t always work.

When Baxter saves the life of a child, it’s filmed by a teenager and uploaded to Youtube. Overnight, Baxter the Superdog (named for his brightly coloured leash that Jessica had sewed stars onto) becomes an overnight sensation. The video is viewed millions of times, it is shared on news networks as their ‘feel-good’ puff piece at the end of the bulletin. People begin to recognise Baxter in the street and soon Jessica is inundated with requests about his collar and leash. She begins making them and then branches out into other items which she labels ‘dogwear’. The business really takes off and Jessica finds herself having to hire people to keep up with demand. But although Jessica enjoys the spotlight on herself and Baxter at first, and it brings its perks, all of a sudden her dark past is brought to the surface, something she never even told Sebastian about. And the betrayal comes from someone closest to her.

What was a whirlwind of positive praise changes in an instant as Jessica has to face all her secrets being made public. She finds that the one person who stands by her could also be the one person she stands to lose forever…and now she has to make a decision about what she really wants and do everything she can to make sure she can get it.

I almost didn’t keep reading this book because of the ‘goldendoodle’ thing. I don’t really buy into it as a breed – it’s a crossbred designer dog that might’ve been started for real and proper reasons but basically leaves so much open for backyard breeders to come in and sell these types of dogs, fooling people that they are a real breed. Also, the names are utterly ridiculous. A “goldendoodle” is never going to sound like an actual dog breed. It sounds like something a woman named Candy dreamed up in her backyard when she bred Fluffy to Fido. Basically what you have is a Golden Retriever crossed with a Poodle. You don’t have a “goldendoodle”. And because they’re not a recognised breed, there’s basically no way to buy them from a reputable breeder. They’re all backyard breeders, some just may be a little more careful than others and make sure they do the rigorous testing in breeding two types of dogs together that are both known for having hip problems. I googled them and although the puppies are cute (basically all puppies are cute) once they grow up, they tend to look….well, a bit weird.

But I ended up persisting and I found this book quite unusual and for that I liked it. I’ve read a few “love reunited” stories and even ones where the characters have been married before. But I haven’t really read anything where the characters are in the situation that Jessica and Sebastian are in. They loved each other madly and moved to Chicago from New York, where Sebastian was from. But eventually Jessica’s inability to deal with Sebastian’s job led to their marriage breaking down although they’re still on relatively good terms for a formerly married couple. They see each other mostly weekly during dog exchanges but they also talk and text regularly. They do have niggling little arguments at times but on the whole, things are quite good. They’ve been divorced for about two years at the start of the book and I’m assuming that none of them have really moved on to other partners before now. Jessica meets a man that she begins dating and Sebastian’s attitude about this is enough for me to assume that this is the first man Jessica has dated since their break up and Jessica makes no mention of Sebastian ever having another girlfriend after her, although it seems that in Chicago there are plenty of women he was involved with before her.

I feel as though there should’ve been a bit more about Sebastian and Jessica’s unresolved feelings for each other though. Their interactions are all really quite mundane and revolve so much around Baxter and what he is doing. I get that they both really love their dog and that’s great. But they’re also two humans that were married and in a relationship for a long time. Surely they have more to talk about than Baxter, at least I really wanted to read them talking about more than Baxter. Also I thought the way Sebastian’s job played out was a little bit crazy but it was written in a way that made me buy into it. I also liked the resolution of Jessica’s past and the fact that the author didn’t really go into the obvious route of making it turn into some sort of total love triangle or use it to spin out more drama that prevented Jessica from being with who she is supposed to be with. I think this novel is light-hearted and funny and there’s a few sad moments too but at times it really lacks the punch that it needed on the romance side. It needed a bit more feeling to really lift it up a bit more, make it into a total favourite. But it was still a pleasant story. Definitely one for someone who really likes dogs. If you’re not a fan or mostly so-so towards them then the constant dog stuff in this book will probably end up becoming quite tedious.

7/10

Book #139 of 2014

 

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