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Review: The President’s Lunch – Jenny Bond

President's LunchThe President’s Lunch 
Jenny Bond
Hachette AUS
2014, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

The Depression has taken everything from Iris McIntosh. She has lost not only her job as a teacher but also her home. She’s left with almost nothing, hitching rides with other families in similar situations as they leave their homes behind and head for places they think they might be able to find work, or family that can take them in. A chance meeting with the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt changes everything for Iris and she finds herself offered a job working in the White House itself.

Roosevelt came to power in 1933 when the country was in crisis. In his second term, the world went to war and America had to do as much as they could to support the British troops without circumventing the neutrality agreement and it was no easy task getting things through a hostile congress. Iris comes to deeply admire FDR the longer she works in the White House and with the encouragement of much of the inner circle, she goes to college to complete a law degree. She moves up the ranks, becoming a trusted sounding board and adviser, her position granting her not only access to the admirable First Lady but also the President himself.

Whilst her professional life is on a defined path where she knows what she wants, the same cannot be said of her personal life. Iris finds herself torn between two men, an enigmatic and much older mentor and a young and passionate journalist. As America’s involvement in the Second World War becomes inevitable, she finds that her loyalty lies much more with a third man, the President himself. Balancing the men in her life will prove to be a difficult task as Iris wavers between security and excitement. But there’s always, in the background, the lure of the White House and the passion she has for her job. But Iris’s opinions and those of the man in charge will not always coincide and she will question everything she believes in and whether or not this is where she truly belongs.

I have to admit, I don’t know much about American history. I’ve never studied it through school or university, only in the vaguest of ways (their involvement at the end of WWII, etc). And until recently, it’s not been something I was ever really interested in either but I think this book has changed that somewhat. What I knew about FDR amounted to basically he was the last President to serve more than two terms, dying in office in 1945 after being elected to his fourth term. The Twenty-Second Amendment, which limited future Presidents to a maximum of two terms, was passed in congress in 1947 and  ratified in 1951.

I found it easy to immerse myself in the pace and energy of the White House in this book. Both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are fascinating characters both individually and also together as a married couple. In fact I was so taken with the portrayal of both FDR and his wife Eleanor in this book that I asked Jenny Bond in my Q&A with her if she could recommend some biographies of the two to read in the future. I wanted to know much more about them than this book delivered because although they play a major role at various points, it’s mostly about their relationships with Iris and how she perceived them during her time working in the White House.

I think for me, the strength in this story is Iris, her character and her personal growth throughout the book as well as her relationships with both of the Roosevelts and how they evolve. I was less enamoured with the ‘torn between two men’ portion of the book although I think that’s because deep down, I’m not a love triangle girl and Iris’s inability to make a decision, especially later in the book after I thought she’d already actually made one, got on my nerves. Whilst I think I would’ve been mostly happy with any definitive decision, I did have a bit of a clear preference on who I thought she should choose and perhaps that’s why I got a bit ticked off every time she wavered in that choice!

But the story around politics and the White House was what interested me the most and this was an interesting time and I learned a lot about the Great Depression and the measures that Roosevelt was implementing to help generate jobs and stimulate the economy. People like Iris were starving when he was elected. I also learned a lot about their involvement in World War II and the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s which were aimed at preventing America from entering the war. Roosevelt had to think of creative ways around Congress to support the British and French troops fighting the Germans. It actually made me see another side of their refusal to get involved, given how much the first World War had cost them financially and it was kind of interesting to read about America having an isolationist ideology and staying out of conflicts on foreign soil, given their role in my lifetime has been quite different and still continues to be different even now.

I’ve mentioned this before, but recently I’ve begun using fiction to fill in the gaps of my historical knowledge. I start with a fiction book that contains elements of a real person/situation/country/event/etc and I go from there. This book has definitely roused my interest in both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt as well as the time and I’m going to take Jenny Bond’s recommendations and track down those biographies to learn more about the people and the time.

The President’s Lunch is not only a fabulous portrayal of life in the White House in the 1930s and 40s but also an amazing story of a woman who hits the very bottom but takes an opportunity to rise to the top.

8/10

Book #142 of 2014

AWWW2014

The President’s Lunch is book #53 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

You can purchase The President’s Lunch from the publisher here

 

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Author Q&A With…. Jenny Bond

JennyBond3Today I’d like to welcome Australian author Jenny Bond to the blog. Jenny’s debut novel, Perfect North was released last year and focused on an attempt to conquer the North Pole via a hydrogen balloon. Her second novel is The President’s Lunch, revolving around Franklin Roosevelt’s time in the White House and to celebrate its launch I was given the opportunity to ask Jenny a few questions about life and writing. My review of the The President’s Lunch will be up later today.

Q1. Hi Jenny and welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking some time to answer a few questions for me. To get us started – when did you first begin to write and what was the road to publication like for you?

Thank you for inviting me in for a chat! My background is as an English teacher. When, after a decade in the classroom, I decided to try my hand at something new my husband suggested I write a novel. Despite spending my life and career reading and analysing books, the idea was completely foreign to me. Anyway, I took his advice and wrote Perfect North the following year. The seed of The President’s Lunch was already germinating before Perfect North was completed. I submitted the manuscript of Perfect North to a number of publishers and I was astounded when they all showed interest. I chose to join with Hachette because of the passion they showed for my writing and my stories.

Q2. Share a little of your writing routine: do you have a favourite place to write (such as a study or café) and is there anything you consider necessary to the creative process, such as coffee or music?

I have two young children around whom my work week is shaped. Fortunately, I can write anywhere and at any time, although I prefer daylight hours in the comfort of my own study. I find music, emails, Facebook and Twitter a distraction when I write and I try to avoid using the internet except for research purposes. Hot drinks (coffee & tea), and lots of ‘em, are essential for any Canberra writer during the winter.

Q3. Your books must require quite some extensive research. Are you an extensive plotter once you begin writing, or a more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type?

I fly completely by the seat of my pants. I try to do most of my research before I begin writing as I like to have all the facts floating around in my head when I begin on the narrative. While I have a general idea of the plot when I write the first sentence it is not until halfway or even further into the manuscript that I know how the tale will conclude.

Perfect North

Q4. What I know about the White House comes from binge-watching all seven seasons of The West Wing over a few months. What was your process for researching The President’s Lunch and how long did it take from first idea to completed manuscript?

Sadly, I have never seen The West Wing, although I have been told Jed Bartlet very much resembles Franklin Delano Roosevelt (minus the wheelchair). I read as much as I could about and by the Roosevelts – biographies, autobiographies, diaries and letters etc. I also researched the time period and the politics of the era extremely thoroughly. Then I took a research trip to the US and Canada and visited Franklin and Eleanor’s homes in Hyde Park (NY), New York City, Campobello Island (New Brunswick, Canada) and Washington D.C. Being guided through their houses and speaking with people who knew them was extremely valuable. The insight I gained into these two extraordinary individuals gave colour and life to the narrative.

Q5. What drew you to writing about this time in history and the Roosevelts?

My mother, a Depression-era baby, spent a great deal of her adolescence at the ‘pictures’. By feeding me a well-rounded diet of Hollywood movies from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, she passed on her love of film and a fascination with the era. My interest in American politics was born at university when I was forced to complete an American history course as a prerequisite for another course. I can’t remember what the other course was, but I became completely enamoured with America’s past.

Q6. What’s the hardest part of blending fact and fiction?

It is a very fine line an author walks when writing historical fiction. I have to know the real life characters so well before I begin writing that I feel entirely comfortable to speak and act for them in scenes of my own imagining.

President's Lunch

Q7. Are there any books you’d recommend for readers who might want to know more about FDR or this particular time in American history?

Blanche Wiesen Cook’s two volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt (Eleanor Roosevelt 1884-1933 and Eleanor Roosevelt The Defining Years) is a must-read. Likewise, Jean Edwards Smith’s award-winning biography of the president, simply titled FDR, is informative and thoroughly entertaining.

Q8. What do you like to do when you’re away from the keyboard?

I like to spend time with my husband and sons. This usually involves being outdoors, playing soccer or cycling or watching my eight-year-old master the skateboard. I am a fitness nut and enjoy running, swimming and cycling. Canberra is a great place to be outdoors. Travel is also a pursuit I am passionate about. Whether for research purposes or pleasure, going away is what I look forward to most in life.

Q9. Share five favourite authors and/or books

  • Emma by Jane Austen. I came to read Emma quite late in life and it immediately became not only my favourite Austen, but my favourite book. I also developed a serious literary crush on Mr Knightley.
  • The Cider House Rules by John Irving. I began reading Irving as a teenager and immediately fell in love with his unexpected storylines and unique characters.
  • Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. I read this book when I was fourteen and it scared the bejabbers out of me. I slept with a bible, garlic bulb and crucifix for the time it took me to complete the book. I still think it is the best horror ever written.
  • A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. I read this book about the French Revolution while I was in Paris. The experience somehow deepened my appreciation of the novel.
  • How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. I first encountered Nigella on TV when I was living in London more than a decade ago. I thought her no-nonsense style of cooking and her on-screen charisma was phenomenal. I immediately purchased her seminal work and have been a devotee ever since.

Q10. And lastly….what’s next for you?

I’m currently about seventy five per cent through my third novel. It deals with the life and career of English pirate, Samuel Bellamy.

****

Thanks so much for your time Jenny – and when you get a chance between books, you should definitely watch The West Wing. It’s very entertaining and the acting is brilliant.

Visit Jenny Bond’s website
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AWWW2014

The President’s Lunch is published by Hachette Australia. You can purchase it here

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Top 10 Tuesday 29th July

TTT

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme created and hosted by The Broke & The Bookish featuring a different literary theme each week. This week the topic is:

Top 10 Authors I Own The Most Books From

Okay to be honest, I’m mostly only guessing on some of these. I own over a thousand books and although I attempt to catalogue them, I never seem to be up to date on them. But some of them I know for certain, so I’ll start with them:

  1. Janet Evanovich: I own the first sixteen books in the Stephanie Plum series and the two in the Alex Barnaby series so at 18, I’m pretty sure this would be #1. I loved the Stephanie Plum series back in the day and even after I started losing interest (at around book 11) I hung in there, buying the next few until I finally gave up and started just borrowing them from the library.
  2. Charlaine Harris: I own 12 books from Harris, all from the Sookie Stackhouse series. I think there’s 13 in that series, I still haven’t even read #12, I know how it ends and….yeah. I just can’t bring myself to actually finish it because, disappointment.
  3. Rachel Caine, Don DeLillo, John Irving, Kathy Reichs and Alexander McCall Smith: According to my LibraryThing account (which hasn’t been updated in quite a while, mostly because I buy/receive a lot of Australian books and they’re never in the database and I get sick of adding them), my husband and I own 11 from all of these authors. I suspect that I might own 12 or even 13 from Kathy Reichs now but I can’t be bothered actually trying to hunt them down to check.
  4. Marian Keyes: I own 10 books written by Keyes – she was one of my favourite authors for many years. I still have a soft spot for Rachel’s Holiday (gotta love Luke) and Anybody Out There? which broke my heart!
  5. Maria Snyder and Richelle Mead: 9 books by each of these – I have to admit, the Maria Snyder one is a bit of a surprise and an embarrassment as I haven’t actually read any of them! I knew I owned a few, there was a discount store here that had most of her backlist for $5 each and I know I bought quite a few but I didn’t realise it was that many! It’s kind of bad that I haven’t read any of them. I must get around to them one day. Richelle Mead is a no brainer, I just need to finish buying the books I don’t have in the VA series.
  6. Graham Greene, Stuart MacBride, Judy Nunn, Kate Thompson, Madeleine Wickham/Sophie Kinsella: 7 books owned from each of these authors. The Graham Greenes are my husband’s, I really do like Sophie Kinsella’s books although I’m not that fond of the ones I have that are written under her real name of Madeleine Wickham.
  7. Margaret Atwood, Jilly Cooper, Helen Dunmore, David Eddings, Richard Flanagan, Richard Ford, Colm Toibin, Isobelle Carmody: 6 books each from these according to LT – the Margaret Atwoods, Helen Dunmores, the Richards both Ford and Flanagan and Colm Toibin books belong to my husband but I’ve sampled from each author. The Jilly Coopers are left over from my horse crazy teen days and I love both David Eddings and Isobelle Carmody.
  8. Melina Marchetta, Jane Austen, Sylvia Day, Tim Winton: 5 from each of these although I suspect Sylvia Day is wrong because it feels like I got sent at least double that for review over the past 2 or so years. I’m slowly adding to my collection of Melina Marchetta books and nearly all of what I do own are signed. I have a few Austens, mostly because I adore the English Classic Library versions and have bought several over the past few years. The Tim Winton’s belong to my husband. Actually, that should probably be 6 for him, because I bought my husband his new book last year. Which I keep meaning to read.

Ok there are about 55+ authors on 4 and 3 books so I think that’s probably enough! If this has taught me anything, it’s how hopelessly out of date my cataloging is and I really have no clue how many books I own by what authors! I only add books to goodreads as I read them so anything I owned prior to joining hasn’t been included and I am always forgetting to update LibraryThing, mostly because of the reason I already mentioned. Really need to think of a way I can improve this.

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Review: Silver Shadows – Richelle Mead

Silver ShadowsSilver Shadows (Bloodlines #5)
Richelle Mead
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 448p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Please note this review will contain general ***SPOILERS*** for the Bloodlines series, in particular the ending of the 4th novel, The Fiery Heart. 

Alchemist Sydney Sage has been taken, kidnapped by the other alchemists so that she can undergo a vigorous ‘reprogramming’ after her own sister reported her for the relationships she was developing with the Moroi and Dhampirs she was currently assigned to – in particular her relationship with Adrian Ivashkov.

The alchemists tell the Moroi that Sydney has merely been ‘reassigned’ but Adrian knows this isn’t the case. They’ve taken her and he knows they’ll stop at nothing to turn her back into the type of robot they prefer, one that disdains his kind. If they are to have any kind of future together, he must find her. And soon. But how? The Moroi can’t help – Sydney isn’t under their jurisdiction and they can’t sanction the alchemists for disciplining or reassigning one of their own. Adrian has no idea where Sydney could possibly be or how he’s going to be able to find her. And if he does find her, which is virtually an impossibility as the alchemists keep their secrets tightly guarded, then how will he rescue her? And what happens if he manages to succeed?

For Sydney, daily life has become almost unbearable but she must be strong. She must hold onto the idea of Adrian and the love that the two of them have and not allow the alchemists to break her. They can starve her, drug her, humiliate her and attempt to brainwash her and she must, on the outside, portray a broken woman who knows what she has done wrong but on the inside, she must be strong. Ready for the smallest, slightest opportunity. Because Sydney Sage remembers who she is and who she loves and try as they might, no one is going to take that from her.

The Bloodlines series was a slow start for me but the fourth book really booted things up a gear and the ending, although not unpredictable was so emotional and terrible that the countdown to this book started immediately. In an interview with Penguin Teen AU, Richelle Mead described Silver Shadows in one word as intense. And she is really not wrong. Especially the second half of the book – I think I was on the edge of my seat for what felt like hours, frantically reading. And kudos to Mead because she had me so invested in the action that I totally missed what was coming at the end of the book. A great technique.

Readers have fallen in love with Sydney and Adrian and I think this book will break a lot of hearts in both good ways and bad ways. Sydney is kidnapped by the alchemists so that they can ‘reprogram’ her basically as she’s started to see the Moroi and Dhampirs not as monsters but as friends, and in Adrian’s case, a lover. This goes against everything the alchemists believe in and the idea of it is so repugnant to them that they can’t stand it. Interestingly, Sydney finds a few sympathetic fellow-inmates in her incarceration, which suggests that she’s definitely not alone in shirking the strict ideals. Adrian and Sydney seemed so ill suited at the end of Vampire Academy and although for me, it took a few books, I think there’s been a real crafting of their evolving relationship. Both of them have struggled with things – Sydney with her duty as an alchemist and her loyalty. Adrian with his spirit madness and also with his place in the world. He’s slowly begun coming into his own in this series and he really steps up yet again in this book (after a brief fall off the wagon that he was probably entitled to). He recruits people to help him, he searches for Sydney, he plans, he basically pulls out all the stops to ensure that he can get her back and her future safety is always paramount for him. It’s hard not to love Proactive and Protective Adrian who is a long way from the slacker that stepped back and looked the other way in the past.

I think the one thing that has kind of disappointed me in these books has been the role of Lissa and Jill – I know this is Sydney’s story but she’s helping with the protection of Jill and there’s been little more than a few vague “Lissa is trying to change the rule” mentions that’s been going on for quite a while now. I wouldn’t be surprised if this series is working in nicely to setting up to spinning off for Jill getting her own books, so if that is road Richelle Mead is heading down, there’s still plenty left that she can do with this world. We’ve always seen Lissa through Rose’s eyes and I think instead seeing her through Sydney and Adrian’s does result in a big difference to how she comes across. I want to see more of Lissa as Queen and how she’s coping with that and what she’s doing exactly. So far I haven’t seen much that inspires a lot of confidence in her reign, to be honest.

However, back to Adrian and Sydney and this is a huge book for them. So much changes here and they really do enter a new level both in themselves and their inner strength and also in their relationship. That’s not to say that it’s going to get easier – in fact it seems like it’ll only get harder in the sixth book. They still have a lot to deal with and I think it’s going to be a wild ride – can’t wait to read it.

9/10

Book #140 of 2014

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Review: Fast Track – Julie Garwood

Fast TrackFast Track (Buchanan-Renard #1)
Julie Garwood
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 321p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Cordelia Kane was raised by her father after her mother died when she was just two. He worked hard and taught her the value of working hard. Her father went from being a mechanic to owning a chain of 1600 auto shops and Cordelia, now grown up is working as a teacher whilst she completes her PhD. When her father has a third heart attack, there’s no doubt that he will not survive this one. But before he passes, he manages to tell her that he’s lied to her all these years, to protect her. And it involves her mother.

Armed with this new knowledge, Cordelia can’t contain her curiosity about the woman that gave birth to her. She does a little bit of digging, helped by some friends and finds out that her answers lie all the way across the Pacific in Sydney, Australia. She’s determined to go there to get them and her friends think that for some reason the brother of her best friend, Aiden Madison, should take her in the Madison company plane.

Cordelia has loved Aiden ever since she was little girl but she’s always known that it’s never been returned. However on the trip to Sydney, things begin to change. Their relationship develops, although Cordelia doesn’t expect it to be the lasting happy ever after that she craves. When they return to America, it becomes apparent that their little visit to Sydney has ruffled some feathers, placing Cordelia’s life in danger. Aiden is determined to do whatever it takes to protect her and keep her safe.

This is the third book I’ve read in Julie Garwood’s rather loosely linked Buchanan-Renard series but it’s the first one where I really felt like I’ve missed something. Cordelia’s two best friends have appeared in previous books, finding their own happy ever after, both with FBI men and Cordelia and Aiden are obviously a part of those stories, albeit in a minor way. Here they get their own book but maybe because I missed earlier groundwork (or maybe not), I felt like this one really missed the mark in some ways.

The story is really good – I was enjoying the introduction to Cordelia and her friends and also her relationship with her father, which is only explained but you get a really good picture of how close they were and how much she admired him and how devastated she is by his passing. The bombshell he dropped was predictable but still enough to move the story forward really well but the biggest problem I had was with Aiden himself. I don’t mind a bit of an Alpha male who likes to take care of his woman (or the one he wants to be his woman, even if he hasn’t realised it, etc). What I don’t like is when they treat the woman like a child who can’t take care of herself. And this is basically what Aiden does to Cordelia. Every time she approaches him, he snaps up with a “What do you need?” Um, maybe she doesn’t need anything? And maybe if she does need something, she can get it herself? Maybe she just wants to talk, or has a question, or wants to be in the same room as another person. This became doubly annoying when they arrive back from Australia and someone attempts to kill Cordelia. Aiden whisks her off to the penthouse in his hotel in Chicago without consulting her. He has someone else pack her clothes and bring them. He places a guard outside the door that is to prevent her from leaving, unless accompanied by Aiden. And that Aiden, is where you totally lose me.

Now sometimes romance-suspense heroines suffer a little of the Too Stupid To Live syndrome and they need to be wrapped in cotton wool and locked away so they don’t hare off into the villain and get themselves killed. But Cordelia actually doesn’t even get a chance to indicate what she might like to do. Her two best friends are both married to hotshot FBI agents. I’m pretty sure either of those would be perfectly adept at keeping her safe. And because Cordelia loves Aiden, she just goes along with whatever he says. She tries to argue sometimes but Aiden basically treats her like a child and either just laughs at her or goes away. There’s a classic moment where she witnesses him being nice to someone else:

“How come you’re so nice to everyone else and so mean to me?”
His response didn’t please her. He laughed.

I’m really not sure what he finds amusing about that? They’re sleeping together by this point but when they’re not in the bedroom he really does tend to basically just pat her on the head and tell her to do what she’s told, like a good girl. The locking her in the penthouse really bugged me. There’s wanting to keep someone safe and then there’s being way too controlling and Aiden didn’t just cross the line so much as take a running giant leap over it and be happy and smug with himself on the other side. I was grinding my teeth whenever he was on the page, which was a shame, because I really enjoyed the actual mystery part of the book, with Cordelia searching for the truth about her mother.

I also liked her two friends and their husbands, so I think I might go and have a look and see if I can find the books about them (numbers 4 and 7 in the series). Maybe those books will also help me get the Aiden-Cordelia dynamic too. But I don’t know, it’s a very fine line with control and everyone has different limits with what they find acceptable.

7/10

Book #151 of 2014

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Review: Hollywood Dreams – Mae Archer

Hollywood DreamsHollywood Dreams
Mae Archer
Momentum Books
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Maree Reynard is a costume designer working on a soap opera in Hollywood. She was raised “in the business” as both her parents met on the set of another soap. Maree has known many people over the years and she’s had a few bad experiences. For this reason, she’s always made it a rule not to ever date actors.

When she meets Beau Tennant, she believes that she’s met and fallen for someone very real. Beau is a war veteran, in a wheelchair. Maree helps him out one day and the two of them go on several dates. Maree doesn’t see the disability, she just sees the vulnerable man behind it, a man who served his country and paid the price. They have fun together and she wants to spend more time with him…but then Beau vanishes, leaving behind only a note of apology.

What Maree doesn’t realise is that “Beau” doesn’t exist. Beau was really model turned actor Tom Calvert, who dreams of breaking away from the roles he’s been doing and making movies that matter. He was living as a ‘method actor’, becoming immersed in the character of Beau, who he is to play in an up and coming movie. At first, his friendship with Maree was just part of that – if he could pull off a date or two as a man in a wheelchair then he’s really living the life of someone paraplegic and negotiating all that they face. But he begins having feelings for Maree and he knows that what he’s doing to her is unfair. He can’t keep seeing her as Beau – he needs to get her to fall in love with Tom.

But Maree is heartbroken over the loss of Beau and she also has a firm policy not to ever date actors so Tom is going to have his work cut out for him. Especially as he has a pesky stalker who looks sure to become threatened by his serious interest in someone. It might not just be about getting Maree to fall in love with him – the stakes could be much higher than that.

I really liked the set up of this book. When we meet Tom, he’s already in the character of Beau, negotiating getting to a cafe in his wheelchair when he becomes stuck. He is living his life immersed in the role he has signed on for, that of a returned war veteran who is now in a wheelchair. He notices that most people tend to avoid him but only Maree, a young woman, comes to his aid. She’s pretty and friendly and there’s an instant attraction there. She gives him her card and tells him to call her and although Tom has second thoughts, he eventually does call her as part of his ‘research’ to see if he can pull off a date in his current situation.

As a good-looking and successful actor bent on shaping his career, Tom is a bit of a love them and leave them type. He’s not interested in settling down but in Maree, he also recognises the opportunity to date someone who has absolutely no idea who he is and can’t possibly want anything from him at all. This is further cemented when he awkwardly bumps into Maree when he is as himself and she not only doesn’t recognise him (as either Beau or Tom Calvert) but also gives him the brush off when he tests his disguise as Beau by attempting to talk to her. For someone who is instantly recognisable and has lots of young women clamouring to be with him, the chance to not only further his method acting and also go anonymous is an irresistable combination. The problems begin when he realises that he himself is falling for Maree but this cannot possibly ever work. For a start, “Beau” is just a character. Eventually the shoot would be over and he’d have to become Tom again. And once she finds out that she’s been betrayed, she’d never speak to him again.

Tom decides the only solution is to disappear as Beau and make Maree fall in love with Tom, the real Tom. But that’s going to be quite difficult when she obviously and openly doesn’t ever give actors a chance so he has to go very slowly, working hard at becoming her friend first. He always plans to tell her at some stage (which he has to do, given she’d figure it out when the movie of him playing a paraplegic named Beau is released!) but things keep getting in the way, leading to missed communication. When Maree does begin to fall for Tom, he’s even more panicked about what to do. He can’t take things to a certain level unless he’s confessed, otherwise everything is over. But the more she pushes, the more helpless he becomes and he just can’t seem to get the words out. Things keep happening to get in the way, including the stalker.

To be honest, the stalker story line did feel like a bit of overkill, I think the basic of story of Tom and Maree trying to negotiate through the awkward way in which they met (more so Tom as Maree doesn’t know for most of the book that they’re one and the same) was probably enough conflict. The suspense late in the book did feel a bit awkward and changed the tone and the stalker was rather easy to guess once they were introduced to the reader. However I think the core story was quite interesting and although I almost wanted to dislike Tom for being deceitful, he kept managing to bring it back and try and go about things with Maree the right way later on. He could have just been up front to her from the beginning but he was trying the method acting to stay in character for as long as possible and I understand that he didn’t want to jeopardise that or even the shooting of the movie, because the studio wanted the name of the lead actor kept under wraps as long as possible. I think he learned though that it was easy for things to get complicated and being up front is probably the best idea!

7/10

Book #150 of 2014

 

 

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Review: Rusty Nailed – Alice Clayton

Rusty Nailed

Rusty Nailed (Cocktail #2)
Alice Clayton
Simon & Schuster
2014, 288p
Purchased personal copy

What happens after you get the Happily Ever After?

Caroline and Simon are now a fully loved-up couple and for the first little bit, nothing changes that much. Simon still goes on his trips abroad, Caroline is busy working and when they reunite it’s fantastic but she also appreciates the time apart where she gets to sleep alone in the bed and slop around her apartment.

Then Caroline’s boss Jillian takes an extended honeymoon and asks Caroline (and by extension, Simon) to housesit her beautiful home. Caroline is also running the business in Jillian’s absence and her days are crazy long and busy. All of a sudden Simon is turning down overseas assignments and he’s around. A lot. And Caroline is beginning to go a bit stir crazy with him constantly wondering where she is and wanting to do things when she’s busy and needs to be at work. She’s wondering if living together is all it’s cracked up to be when really, she’d just like five minutes to herself.

Caroline still loves Simon like crazy – but everything is moving very fast, especially when Simon seems to want to make their living arrangements permanent. She’s just not sure she’s ready for everything that comes with living together, the whole growing up thing. Is there a way for their relationship to continue to move forward that doesn’t make her grind her teeth?

I’m a sucker for a sequel. I love know what comes next and although I know some people love to imagine the future of couples in romance novels themselves, or just assume that everything is perfect after they get together, I’m the sort that loves a little sneaky epilogue or even better, a sequel. So I was always going to be keen to read this. Wallbanger was a great book, I found it really enjoyable and I loved the way that Simon and Caroline developed a friendship before they developed a relationship.

Some of the things in this book, I really loved. Simon and Caroline are both great characters and they’re great together as well. Simon has never really been in a relationship before falling in love with Caroline and he’s still feeling his way through some things (such as not understanding that kissing an ex is bad, kissing the ex is much worse!) but basically Simon becomes like, a dream boyfriend from Make Believe Land and so for the most part, they’re both very happy. But for Caroline, the stresses of living together and having Simon around all of the time, combined with the extra pressures being put on her at her job, lead to her basically bottling everything up until she virtually explodes, spewing every issue she has all over Simon. Instead of just, you know, talking to him about each one as it arose.

Look, it can be hard to talk about the “serious” issues. I get that. I’ve been married for three years and sometimes I’m still like meh, nothing is wrong when something is clearly wrong and my husband is annoying the ever-loving you-know-what out of me. I know sometimes it’s just easier to shut your mouth and not drag it all out and hold it up to the light to deal with it. But basically, Caroline does that is about everything, everywhere all of the time. And that would be fine, if it didn’t turn her into such a basketcase who is a tightly wound string ready to snap at any moment. Which she finally does towards the end of the book. It was such a relief when she finally spoke up about her issues because I felt like each one was annoying me as much it was her and I could’ve snapped myself.

But the biggest problem for me, in this book, doesn’t revolve around Simon and Caroline. It revolves around Neil (Simon’s friend) and Sophia (Caroline’s friend) who hooked up eventually after both dating the wrong people in Wallbanger. There’s an issue that I don’t want to spoil but it basically drags out throughout this book and becomes a major plot point and involves a bunch of grown adults behaving like immature children in ridiculous scenarios that culminate in perhaps the mos ridiculous of all and the reader never actually gets to see how it was resolved. Because it was quite a serious issue, despite the fact that the male friends of Neil didn’t really believe it to be. And so much of the book was devoted to it – pages and pages and pages of this and then bam, it’s over and what? It really just didn’t work. If Alice Clayton wanted to give Neil and Sophia a story, she should’ve made their separation a basis for their own book instead of introducing some random, who is going to be the basis for the next book, Screwdrivered. Then we could’ve had their thoughts and opinions, instead of having it all play out basically through Caroline and on occasion, her conversations about it with Simon. Instead we get all of the ridiculousness and actually none of what it would take as mature, responsible adults that actually care about one another to resolve such an issue/separation.

I guess with sequels, you usually judge them based on whether or not they were really necessary and did they contribute much to the story. I liked this book but I didn’t love it and overall…I don’t think it really added much, which is a bit unfortunate. But parts of it were still quite a fun read and if the conflict between Simon and Caroline had just been a little bigger and Simon wasn’t so darn perfect all the time, I might’ve enjoyed it a lot more.

7/10

Book #147 of 2014

 

 

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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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