All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Through The Cracks – Honey Brown

Through The CracksThrough The Cracks
Honey Brown
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 298p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

The day has come where young teenager Adam Vander has grown tall enough and strong enough to hit back at his violent, abusive father. To turn the tables and have that man cowering in fear, instead of being the one who does the cowering. Kept a prisoner in a secret room, Adam now has the freedom to explore the house and the backyard but he’s faced with a myriad of things he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know how to work the stove. He doesn’t know how to leave the house and get to the shops. In order to get new food, he has to force his father to do what he wants, all the time keeping his guard up so that the tables don’t get turned again.

For the first time in a long time, Adam tastes freedom when a young man named Billy helps him escape from the prison he’s been kept in for over a decade. Billy takes Adam on an adventure around the streets of Melbourne, teaching Adam things and giving him simple experiences as they seek to avoid police and a sinister Mission Group. As Billy peels back the layers surrounding Adam’s mysterious existence, questions begin to surface. Billy knows that Joe Vander wasn’t Adam’s father but Adam cannot remember any different.

But revealing Adam’s identity isn’t simple and straight forward – it could be extremely dangerous for both of them because it means revealing secrets that powerful and important people would best want to keep hidden. In order to Adam to get his fair chance at a life outside of where he was kept prisoner, someone else might have to take the fall.

I’ve read nearly all of Honey Brown’s books and enjoy the way in which she builds suspense and creates twists and turns that I never see coming. However, I think this might be one of the most understated but creepy books I’ve ever read. You don’t get graphic details in this book but you don’t need them. In fact, it’s entirely left up to the reader to imagine what has happened to Adam for most of his young life, and to young boys like Billy as well and it’s all too easy to imagine the horror these boys and others like them have experienced at the hands of predators and people they should be able to place their utmost trust in, like their parents and church missions. But the cold reality of life is, sometimes the people who trust the most are the ones who betray you the worst.

Adam believes that Joe is his father and he has lived with a lifetime of abuse, locked away from the world, unable to read or write and with no life experience. When Billy sees Adam’s situation, he helps him escape, perhaps seeing a chance for Adam to escape from the path into the life that Billy has found himself in. He helps Adam lay low, away from the police until he realises the full horror of Adam’s story and then Billy decides that Adam must turn himself in, make his true identity known. The danger of that is influential people who will be exposed and who seem willing to do horrible things to have their secrets kept. For Adam and Billy, it is about trying to stay one step ahead of the people that want to find them and using Billy’s street smarts to help tip the outcome their way.

So much that happens or that is alluded to in this book is so hard to fathom and yet you know that it happens in the real world. There are people like Joe out there who pay well to indulge in their habits and there are kids like Adam and Billy, innocents who are snatched away or given away into a horrific situation. And yet despite the fact that this book is horrifying and that there are so many characters I’d be happy to watch burn, there’s also some positive in this book, such as Billy and Adam’s rapport and the hope for a better future, that the two of them can escape the cycle and perhaps have a chance at some sort of normalcy. You know that it’ll be hard, given what they’ve experienced, and maybe even unattainable but the hope is there. The two boys are both great characters and carry this story so well – most of it is the two of them together, Billy trying to figure out the puzzle of Adam at first, always protecting him and keeping him safe and making sure he can make his own choices. When he realises who Adam is, he knows that they have to make the discovery known, it’s just a matter of being able to manage it. I thought the balance between the awful, horrifying, creepy stuff and the beauty and hope of Adam and Billy’s friendship was magnificently done. In all of the terribleness of young boys being exploited and treated abominably, the glimmers of hope for their future are something for the reader to cling to.

For me this book has a different feel and execution to her previous books but maintains the same high standard.


Book #92 of 2014


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Review & Giveaway: Rocking Horse Hill – Cathryn Hein

Rocking Horse HillRocking Horse Hill
Cathryn Hein
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 312p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Ever since she was a child, Emily Wallace-Jones has loved the family property Rocking Horse Hill. Even though her brother Digby inherited the property and technically owns it, he has promised Em that it will always be her home and that she need never fear losing it. Emily lives there with her assortment of animals including horses, donkeys, chooks, a duck and her beloved Miss Muffet, a Smithfield collie.

When Emily hears that her brother is engaged, she is happy for him. Digby deserves happiness and even though none of them know Felicity, the family makes a big attempt to welcome her with open arms. Only Emily’s eccentric grandmother doesn’t quite see the news as a happy occasion, making her suspicions about Felicity’s past known to Emily, who doesn’t want to hear it. It seems Felicity is slipping right into the family, almost too easily. She leaves Emily feeling a bit left out when she begins learning to cook with Emily’s mother, starts wearing the family jewellery and when Digby brings her out to Rocking Horse Hill, Felicty is delighted with it. Perhaps a little too delighted. And when Digby agrees to let Felicity buy and keep a horse there without consulting Emily, she begins to wonder just how much she can see Rocking Horse Hill as her permanent home.

But Emily once made a big mistake with snobbery, ending a relationship with her first love in a way that devastated him and made him feel as if he wasn’t good enough for one of the esteemed Wallace-Jones family. Now Josh has returned to the local area and he seems willing to give Emily a second chance. When even he seems to have suspicions about Felicity, Emily feels compelled to stand up for her, to back her brother and his fiancee all the way, determined that no one should judge her for being poor or from a bad area. In her choices, Emily could not only be making a huge mistake for her and Josh but she could also be putting her own life at risk.

Rocking Horse Hill is Cathryn Hein’s fourth novel and this book blends a delicious rural romance story with a healthy sprinkling of suspense and family drama as well. Emily is a member of a very esteemed and also quite wealthy family (although she herself is not wealthy really, given the way the family structure and inheritance works). She does have a home to live in courtesy of her brother and she’s passionate about the property and she also has a very deep love for her family. Emily is somewhat shocked when she gets hit by two pieces of news at once – her first love is back in town to support his mother through an illness and also, her brother has become engaged to a woman no one in the family has ever met before.

Cathryn Hein creates some stellar heroes in her books (I still have a girly sigh and a soft spot for Aaron in Promises, her first novel) and the lovely Josh is no exception here. Although he’s still a bit bitter towards Emily and the savage way she ended their relationship when they were younger (with good reason), the two of them find that the old attraction is still simmering away and they fall into what is totally a relationship again, even if they’re both trying not to label it. The two of them are very easy together, even when a bit uncertain about what’s going on, there’s a comfortableness in their interactions. They know each other and they are quite perfectly suited but they do need to deal with their past together and make sure they can both move forward cleanly.

I really felt the suspense was built very well throughout this book – I kept dithering back and forth about whether or not Felicity could be trusted, if she just seemed a bit sinister because they were looking at her through suspicious eyes or if she was really causing the family to begin rotting from the inside out. It kept me guessing right up until the moment that revealed all but I also loved how it wasn’t quite so black and white in that was she evil or was she not. Despite the fact that she’s only really a peripheral character and there are very few interactions with her in the novel one on one, she’s fleshed out very well and evokes everything from frustration to sympathy.

Rocking Horse Hill is full of such beautiful descriptions, especially of the property and the landscape that surrounds it as well as the homestead in ‘town’ that Emily’s mother and grandmother reside in. Emily is a bit of a foodie (much like the author) and the meals she prepares for herself and her two friends or herself and Josh are mouth-wateringly to die for! There’s also lovely imagery of Emily’s passion of recreating old manuscripts and Josh’s cabinetry and wood-working skills. And if Cathryn Hein ever decides to try her hand at stepping back in time for a bit, maybe to the 40s or 50s then I think there’s definitely a story in the character of Granny B! I know that several ‘spin off’ novels are planned after this one, perhaps for Emily’s two friends and maybe another character or two. I think that Granny B has potential for her own story too one day, should it ever decide to make itself known!

I think with each novel, Hein takes a step forward. Hers have always contained exploration of family dramas and emotions but she’s refining her skills and creating more depth and trying new things. The romance is strong in every book but it’s never just the focus – there’s always so much more going on and the talent is that everything blends together seamlessly without feeling crowded and the focus never feels uneven. I think that without a doubt, this is her best book yet.


Book #79 of 2014


Rocking Horse Hill is the 33rd book read that qualifies for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

Thank you to the fabulous people at Penguin Australia, I am giving away a copy of Rocking Horse Hill to two lucky readers! All you need to do is fill out the form below. Australian residents only please. Entries will close May 5th and winners will be notified by email and have 48 hours to respond. If I do not receive a response, I will draw another winner, same rules apply. Thank you to everyone who enters!



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Review: Winning The Player – Leesa Bow

Winning The PlayerWinning The Player
Leesa Bow
Destiny Romance
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

As a teenager, Aubree Taylor was a gifted basketball player with her whole future mapped out: a couple years at the Australian Institute of Sport followed by playing college basketball in America. A catastrophic knee injury that meant she’d never be able to play competitively again ruined all of her dreams and instead Aubree fled overseas. After a long time, she’s back in Adelaide, Australia and one of the first people she runs into is her best friend’s cousin, Hunter Stone, the one person she really does not want to see. Aubree ran out on Hunter one night, hopping on the plane to take her overseas.

Hunter Stone is an AFL player at the top of his game and he thinks that he and Aubree need to talk but Aubree doesn’t agree. She doesn’t want to talk about why she ran away from him two years ago, she doesn’t even really want to see him – or so she keeps telling herself. Aubree doesn’t do casual hook-ups though – for her it has to mean something. She’s seen enough of the AFL culture and heard enough about Hunter Stone’s prowess with women to know that that’s not a mistake she wants to make. She had a lucky escape two years ago and she needs to make sure she doesn’t slip up again.

But Hunter shows Aubree another side of him, a side she really likes and both of them are unable to resist the powerful attraction between them. However Hunter’s arrogance and distrust of women stemming from an incident in his past make it hard for Aubree to believe that he’ll always be there for her. Her instinct is to run again, before he really breaks her heart. It seems that every time Hunter shows something that convinces her to stay, there’s something else that tells her that this is never going to work.

This title was showcased at the #PTALive event I went to in Melbourne on Monday night and I love my AFL so I thought I’d give it a go. I have read a heap of books about American college football and whatever. I don’t understand the NFL – I don’t even know what a quarterback is/does but I do know Aussie Rules! My beloved Sydney Swans might be playing woefully enough to make me want to cry but there’s plenty of other things to watch.

Joel Selwood

Like Joel Selwood, captain of the Geelong Cats. He’s a very *cough* fine player.

Aubree has had the life she wanted, trained for, lived for for years, taken away from her by an incredibly serious knee injury. She’s spent the last few years avoiding her future really, by travelling from one place to the next and putting off thinking about what she’s going to do next. However the time has finally come to return home and of course on her first night back out in Adelaide, she runs into Hunter stone, her best friend Maddy’s cousin and her almost one night stand of a couple years ago. Aubree is deeply attracted to Hunter but she has big reservations about him – there’s the lifestyle and ‘player’ mentality and his arrogant attitude as well.

This book takes a good look at what it’s like for the “ordinary” girl to catch the eye of a sports superstar. Hunter is at the top of his game. I can’t remember if it says what position he plays but he’s the star of his team, the Adelaide Blackbirds (that kind of made me LOL because obviously they can’t use real teams however anyone can see where the inspiration for this made up name has come from!). Aubree quite often feels inferior to the sorts of girls that hang off the arms of the players out at clubs and all of the rumours often swirling around speak of sexual conquests, not steady girlfriend. Aubree doesn’t want to be anyone’s conquest – she wants a proper, steady relationship with mutual love (or something that can evolve into it) and respect.

I can see how the prospect of dating a footy player would be intimidating. Many of them are famous for model/actress/whatever girlfriends and much is made of the fact that Aubree is a tall and muscular size 12. Not large by any means, but also not skinny either and she feels uncomfortable in short clubbing dresses – but this doesn’t really stop her from wearing them when they go out. Aubree does a lot of drinking in this story and part of me wondered if she did shots a lot when she was out to help up her confidence when she was in a place that most of the time, she really wasn’t interested in being. Maddy almost always had to twist her arm to get her to go anywhere.

Despite being footy’s current golden boy, Hunter is a bit of a mess at times and I think there are a couple of things that aren’t really addressed properly here that should’ve been. The first is his sexual history – he brushes Aubree off when she tries to ask him about things that she needs to know in order to trust him. The whole thing where he takes pick ups to his spare room is sort of weird and his treatment of a girl that’s part of the hangers-on really isn’t great. She might be an epic bitch to Aubree and I suppose the reader is supposed to dislike her but I ended up feeling sorry for her. Also Hunter’s behaviour to Aubree after he catches her with Connor is not satisfactorily dealt with at all. He’s really quite rude towards her and that temper would be a significant red flag unless he acknowledged and it and showed that he was dealing with it and working on it. It’s explained why he’s mad but it’s not really a good enough reason and it’s also something he doesn’t want to talk about as well, along with his father. It seems like there’s a whole bunch of stuff that Hunter doesn’t want to discuss that gets stuck in a box and Aubree, who wants trust and disclosure, just has to deal with it. I definitely feel she gives Hunter too many chances here to redeem himself and he keeps royally stuffing them up in the same ways! When he lies to her about the reason he’s in Melbourne, I wanted to smack him. Hunter, learn from your mistakes buddy! Perhaps the professional football playing lifestyle both enhances and stunts maturity. After all players can be drafted when they’re barely adults, often moving away from home to train and play, travelling interstate, etc. It would make you grow up in some ways but in others….well you’re used to everything going your way. Being able to do whatever you want. Hunter does need to learn that he won’t always get his own way here and I think that Aubree does a good job of teaching him that she’s her own person and can think and act for herself and the only thing that will change her mind is her.

I actually really enjoyed Aubree as a character. I think it would be incredibly difficult for her to go through having her whole life thrown up into the air like that and she struggles with what she should do with her life. However she gets some really good ideas from people around her who support her and want to see her back involved in the sport that meant so much to her. She was occasionally a bit negative but she was dealing with quite a lot of things and she seemed to come out the other side a lot stronger. I liked how she stood her ground a lot of the time to Hunter, about issues like Connor and how she also stood up for a girl who was so drunk it was unlikely she would remember what was happening in the morning. That sort of behaviour, footy players taking advantage of that, isn’t a good look and Hunter’s casual dismissal of her fears I felt really put them on different sides. Aubree is the girl who knows what it will be like the next day, Hunter is the guy who would probably barely give that girl another moment’s thought. He does come around to her way of thinking in the end and admits he was a dick, which was good. If you’re wrong, you should admit it. I even liked them together, especially when Hunter was being playful and not moody but I think as a couple, they had issues that could’ve been explored a bit more thoroughly. I did really like the football details – Aubree isn’t really an AFL fan so mostly it comes from other people telling her what’s going on but it was good to read an Australian story focused on an Australian game.


Book #87 of 2014


Winning The Player is book #36 read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014



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Event: #PTALive In Melbourne April 2014


Taking a little break from reviews to recap a bookish event I went to last night in Melbourne with Marg from The Intrepid Reader. #PTALive is hosted by Penguin Teen Australia and I went to the first one three years ago which was held in a board/meeting room of their old Camberwell building. There were probably less than 20 of us there but we had a great time chatting books, learning about their new titles and having a Skype chat with Marie Lu about her Legend series. Last year I went to the second Melbourne event which was held in their flash new digs in Spencer Street and the turn out there was quite large – maybe close to 100? However for this third event, we knew it was going to be big when they moved it from Penguin HQ to the Hoyts cinema at Melbourne Central.

Yep, a cinema.

According to host Felicity who works in Media & Marketing for Penguin Teen AU, there were about 350 avid readers, bloggers, booksellers etc. When I arrived at Melbourne Central (running into Braiden from Book Probe Reviews and one of his book-selling colleagues) we made our way up the cinema and the line up was already huge. It was amazing how much this has grown, probably attributed to Penguin Teen AU’s presence on social media and the interaction that is maintained with readers. They’re always around for a bookish chat, to answer questions or to fangirl with over something exciting and readers respond to that.

Firstly, they flashed up some Penguin AU favourites:


All of which got a big reaction of course! I’ve read all of these books except for Side Effects May Vary which is currently sitting on my TBR shelf.

What I love about these events, is that they’re not afraid to talk about those other books that they’ve loved which are published by different publishers! This slide, which included some of those, also got a lot of love.


And YA titles they want!


There was of course, discussion about the YA books that are being made into movies - Vampire Academy, Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars, If I Stay, to name just a few and also about other forms of media, such as the adaptations of Pride & Prejudice and Emma by Hank Green and Co, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved as well as mentioning the webseries of The Morganville Vampires. I’m kind of looking forward to the MV Vampires one – it’s going to be real interesting. It was funded by kickstarter and so far the casting seems quite appealing!

There was also some talk about community!


There’s a huge focus on the community, which is a really enjoyable part of being a blogger and a reader! It’s great to have people to talk about when you’re obsessed with something and let’s face it – we’ve all been there! There’s facebook and twitter and blogs and Penguin Teen AU last year started a Wednesday night chat which starts around 7:30 with a different bookish related topic each week. Like these events themselves, those chats have grown and flourished as people flock to places where they can air their thoughts and passions.

Next Felicity aired the movie trailer for The Fault In Our Stars which is forthcoming this June as well as a little extra piece and talked about Bookworld’s competition where you can win tickets to an advance screening. Incidentally, Bookworld were present at the event selling books and that seemed like a great decision. I didn’t purchase any myself (to be honest, I own most of them!) but I saw numerous people lining up and purchasing great stacks of books. What better way to hook someone in with chat about a title and then go, hey you can buy that right now!

Next we got a sneak peak at the first episode of Penguin Teen AU TV and this was quite fun because there was a super secret special guest……


Yep, Richelle Mead! Chatting about Silver Shadows and The Immortal Crown and cliffhangers and how she’s sooo appallingly cruel to her readers. Apparently Silver Shadows is best summed up in one word as “intense” and there is a “smaller cliffhanger”, nothing quite so epic as The Fiery Heart and it’s also quite romantic… so bring it on!

After that Felicity introduced Nicholas Wheeler, who plays Adrian Ivashkov in the book trailer the publisher does for the Bloodlines books. Okay, this was a hugely popular guest. There was squealing and giggling and when Nicholas was available for photos the line basically went the length of the room and I am not even kidding.

Then it was time for 2014 titles!

PTA Live Collage

Ok there were far too many to post all the screenshots individually so I turned them into this (kind of weird looking) collage. To sort it out a bit, the books (in order of publication) are:

  • Winning The Player, by Leesa Bow {14th April}
  • Popular, by Maya Van Wagenen {15th April} ** This was also the book everyone got in their showbags.
  • Breakable, by Tammara Webber {7th May}
  • Dangerous Creatures, by Kami Garcia & Margarent Stohl {20th May}
  • The Immortal Crown, by Richelle Mead {28th May}
  • Masquerade, by Kylie Fornasier {23rd July}
  • Silver Shadows, by Richelle Mead {29th July}
  • The Rapunzel Dilemma, by Jennifer Kloester {27th August}
  • The Revenge Of Seven, by Pittacus Lore {28th August}
  • Shatter, by Erin McCarthy {September}
  • The Infinite Sea, by Rick Yancey {14th September}
  • Unwanted, by Amanda Holohan {24th September}
  • Afterworlds, by Scott Westerfeld {24th September}
  • The Blood Of Olympus, by Rick Riordan {7th October}
  • Gathering Darkness, by Morgan Rhodes {December}

Some of those sound so amazing, I’m particularly looking forward to Masquerade and Silver Shadows. There’s another couple of books there that are part of a series that I’m hoping to get to soon at some stage, preferably when all of the books have been released. I have enough books where I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment.

Felicity also announced that they are looking at doing some topic-specific events, such as how to get into working in publishing, how to get into writing, or blogging, etc all of which sound like a fantastic idea. It’s pretty obvious that these events are getting really huge now in terms of showcasing their upcoming titles and some smaller, more intimate events where fans or aspiring writers, etc have the chance to meet and speak to authors or people involved in the bookish industry would definitely be beneficial.


That was the end of the night so thank you Penguin Teen Australia, especially Felicity, who is an amazing host and the very hardworking Penguin team!

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Review: Rose Harbor In Bloom – Debbie Macomber

Rose Harbor In BloomRose Harbour In Bloom (Rose Harbor #2)
Debbie Macomber
Random House AUS
2013, 384p
Read from my TBR pile

After losing her husband in Afghanistan, Jo Marie sold up everything and moved to Cedar Cove in Washington and bought an inn. She decided that she needed a change and so far, everything is working out well. She’s enjoying the day to day running of the inn and meeting people and getting to know them. She bakes cookies, muffins and other treats and invites them for cups of tea and a chat. She’s slowly becoming a part of the Cedar Cove community – she’s made some friends and has adopted a dog.

To honour her late husband, Jo Marie has commissioned local handyman Mark Taylor to help construct a beautiful rose garden. Jo Marie was hoping it would be ready for her open house but Mark always works to his own schedule and based on what is a priority for him. Mark and Jo Marie have had their moments but she’s come to consider him as a friend, even with all his quirks and brusque mannerisms and she hopes that he feels the same way about her. However when Mark injures himself, even Jo Marie is surprised by his aggressive reluctance to allow her to help him.

Annie has come to the Rose Harbour inn to organise her grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. All her life she had loved and admired them and the strength in their marriage which has lasted so long. Shattered from her own broken engagement, Annie desperately needs that faith in love at the moment, only to be surprised by both her grandparents inability to get along and the fact that they’ve brought their old neighbour with them, someone Annie doesn’t want to be around. However, this surprise party has a lot in store for more than just Annie’s grandparents.

Mary is staying at the inn for some closure in a way. She’s had a very successful career but it’s come at a cost to her personal life. Now diagnosed with a serious illness, she has returned to Cedar Cove to take a step back into the past and maybe try and make some amends for the decisions she made.

When Jo Marie gets some disturbing news, it brings all her grief and hope back to the surface but she can’t let it distract her from the life she is making at the inn. She has guests and maybe they’ll both find what they’ve been looking for during their stay.

This is the second book in the Rose Harbour series (as always, I have to use our spelling) and although I enjoyed the first one, I have to say that this one lacked a lot for me. Firstly, I’m going to start with Jo Marie and Mark, her mysterious handyman. We were introduced to him in the previous book and he was prickly then, along with a slight undercurrent of mysteriousness for the reader to make assumptions on why he might be so. In this novel he takes a step past prickly and lands himself in ‘rude’. Jo Marie hired him to do a job and he sort of meanders around at his own pace because he doesn’t feel it’s a “priority” right now. If someone is paying you to do it, it’s a priority. Especially when they want it ready for their big open day, a day where Jo Marie has invited many people from the local community to come and have a look at what she’s done with the inn. A half dug-out garden isn’t really an attractive look. Mark also injures himself in this novel and when Jo Marie tries to help him several times, he is so nasty to her that I don’t know why she didn’t just turn around and walk out and leave him there. He’s gone past mysterious and broody and into jerk territory and Jo Marie sticking around and pandering to him just ended up making me annoyed with her. I suspect this is the ‘romance’ Jo Marie is going to find several books down the track but at the moment it’s really unappealing.

The rest of the book was okay, although some of it felt a little (okay, a lot) heavy handed. Annie has just ended her engagement and her ex keeps calling her, refusing to believe it’s actually over because he’s an idiot and it made me wonder why Annie got involved with him in the first place, he was written so ridiculously. I did like her grandparents though, even with all their bickering. They kind of reminded me of my grandparents, who were married for sixty years. I loved how much Annie looked up to them and how much effort she went to in order to celebrate her marriage, although she did get a bit carried away, not involving them so much in the celebration.

Mary’s story was also quite predictable and relied on a lot of coincidence and luck but I enjoyed reading it and especially liked the ending. Given that several characters from the first book are mentioned in this book, I hope that in later books, there’s a bit of an update on Mary and her condition.

I’ve read a lot of Debbie Macomber books – really enjoy most of the Blossom Street books but others have been hit and miss and unfortunately, this one is a bit of a miss. There’s a lot of time devoted to Jo Marie and Mark but nothing actually happens except him being short tempered and snappy and Jo Marie constantly apologising to him when she really hasn’t done anything wrong. If Macomber plans to move this into a relationship, then things need to begin being revealed about Mark and they need to at least develop some form of attraction to each other and chemistry because at the moment, there’s nothing there. And if Mark isn’t Jo Marie’s planned HEA, then I’m not sure why he’s even there.


Book #86 of 2014


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Review: Too Wicked To Wed – Cara Elliott

Too Wicked To WedToo Wicked To Wed (Lords Of Midnight #1)
Cara Elliott
Forever Publishing
2011, 349p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Lady Alexa Bingham hasn’t been raised in quite the same way as other ladies of noble birth. She enjoys independence and plain-speaking. She has also seen to much of the family’s country estate and is practical and knowledgeable, having received an education that would be similar to the one a boy would. Needing to find the whereabouts of her brother, Lady Alexa ventures into a brothel and gaming house, owned by the notorious Earl of Killingworth, aka The Irish Wolfhound.

An unreformed rake, the Wolfhound agrees to help her locate her brother in return for a kiss and Lady Alexa is surprised that the only man who has ever interested her is a man such as he. In Town for a season, she finds the young men boring and insipid and isn’t surprised when they aren’t interested in her either. After all, she’s not one to quietly sit and simper and hold her tongue. But the Wolfhound is different – although titled he’s also impoverished and has turned to replenishing the family fortune by way of peddling debauchery. When the Earl of Killingworth is taken for a ride and a large amount of his cash is stolen he is forced to take a loan from a friend. A proud man, he stakes half his business on the loan, which his friend promptly then loses in a card came….to Lady Alexa Bingham.

Now business partners, Lady Alexa and the Wolfhound are together when someone makes an attempt on his life. They know Lady Alexa’s identity too and it is decided that for the safety of them both, they will retreat to the Earl of Killingworth’s entailed estate for him to recuperate and while his close friends investigate in Town. This of course, places Lady Alexa in a very dangerous position. If anyone were to know that she had been secluded away with him, she would be ruined.

However, being ruined is starting to look like a very attractive option…

So recently my eldest son was struck down with a terrible form of the flu. It took the rest of us down brutally, especially my youngest son and for a while, sleep was scarce and life was a never-ending cycle of taking temperatures, distributing medicine (my eldest will take anything but the oral steroids the doctor prescribed made him nauseous so I had to hide them, my youngest views most medicine as evil being sent to destroy him and I basically have to ram it down his throat) and feeling like utter crap. Because of that, I couldn’t really concentrate much on reading so I tried to pick lighter books, ones that didn’t require a huge amount of my attention and that I could put down if I need to attend to one of the kids (which was often). I found this one on my kindle – I probably requested it a couple of years ago, if the publication date is anything to go by, and never got around to reading it. I was in the mood for a historical romance and decided to give it a go and for the most part it delivered exactly what I wanted it to.

Both Lady Alexa and Connor, the Earl of Killingworth, aka the Irish Wolfhound are quite different to others in the Ton in that Lady Alexa has had a less than conventional upbringing and Connor has needed to secretly resort to trade in order to replenish the family fortune that his father gambled away. He had a deeply miserable childhood (don’t they all?) and hasn’t returned to his country estate which is entailed and could not, therefore, be gambled away, in many years and in fact never intended to return to it ever again. However circumstances beyond his control lead to him being taken there by Lady Alexa after consultation with one of the Earl’s friends after he is shot. It’s very remote and no one will know where they are, which will allow him to recuperate in safety and also keep Alexa safe too, as they know her identity. Although the Earl is very unhappy to be back in his childhood home, he slowly comes to be very impressed by the ideas and enthusiasm Lady Alexa has for it. It need not be shut up and crumbling into a ruin, with a bit of care and attention it could become a thriving estate and a way for him to earn back some of the money he needs. And if he’s willing to let it, it could also become a home for him, with Lady Alexa.

I quite enjoyed the developing attraction between the Earl and Lady Alexa from their first encounter up until they’re bascially living as a married couple at his estate. Because they’re both quite different from their social group, with Lady Alexa being outspoken and educated to run an estate and oversee all of its capacities, and the Earl having to engage in trade, which is a big no-no among the titled, they are both looking for someone to accept them as they are. Although the Earl has not had exposure to many positive marriages and seems uninterested in entering one himself….until he realises just what damage he will cause Alexa by having her with him. It’s secluded but there’s always the possibility of word escaping. The sexual attraction between the two of them is off the charts for both of them and he begins to feel as though he might be able to make it work, given the right amount of effort.

However despite enjoying their relationship and their sparring with each other, there’s no denying that the story lags in the middle and goes no where for a while. What should be interesting as they’re cooped up in the Earl’s family home isn’t anywhere near as much as it could and should be. Also, the ending is really weak and didn’t really seem motivation enough for the crimes that were being committed and the culprit was kind of funny but not really all that believable. It kind of took away from the mystery element of the story which dragged down the overall experience a bit. However the two characters that make up books 2 and 3 of this series were really interesting in their little snippets and I’d be interested in following it on and seeing what happens to them and maybe getting a glimpse or two of Connor and Alexa in the future.


Book #85 of 2014

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Review: Talk Dirty To Me – Dakota Cassidy

Talk Dirty To MeTalk Dirty To Me (Plum Orchard #1)
Dakota Cassidy
Harlequin MIRA
2014, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Notorious bad girl Dixie Davis is being forced to go back to her home town of Plum Orchard, Georgia for the first time in a decade. In high school, Dixie was a ‘mean girl’, excelling at making the lives of Plum Orchard girls a misery. Some time after that she’d turned over a new leaf, including getting engaged to local golden boy Caine Donovan. But then Dixie messed up spectacularly – she lost any respect she might’ve gained and even more importantly, she lost Caine.

Now due to the death of perhaps the only friend she ever truly had, Landon, Dixie has been forced back to the suffocating small town for his funeral and also to hear his will. Landon has left Dixie a challenge – if she can stick it out working at one of Landon’s very successful businesses, living in his big house, she’ll inherit it. Free and clear. There’s only a few complications:

  • Firstly, she’s in competition with Caine, who has the same opportunity to inherit as Dixie
  • Secondly, she needs to live in the big house with Caine
  • Thirdly, the business phone sex – Dixie needs to learn the ropes and garner as many customers as possible. More than Caine.

Whoever gets the most clients will become the new owner of Call Girls. Dixie needs this, more than anyone could ever know and she’s determined to win it and win it fairly. The old Dixie wouldn’t hesitate to cheat but new Dixie is going to win fair and square. She also needs to deal with the local contingent of women who want nothing more than her gone again, preferably in even more shame and disgrace than before…and who will do anything to achieve it!

The first three books in this new series are all on NetGalley and I came across the third one first, not realising that it was actually part of a series. I really wanted to read it but then I noticed another one…and thought I’d better check out if I’d missed any. Luckily I hadn’t. I thought the idea of a series revolving around a phone sex business was such an interesting idea – and definitely not one I’d ever read before!

Dixie has a long and chequered past in Plum Orchard Georgia. She’s one of the daughters of the wealthy and influential families and was always popular at school but she mostly used her powers for bad, not good. She delighted in making others feel inferior or miserable and when she grew up and realised her mistake, she tried to make amends. Unfortunately Dixie couldn’t resist just one more competition with another girl and it brought about her downfall. Now ten years after that, in her thirties, Dixie has to return to her childhood home even though most people can’t stand the sight of her. The exception, the one person who loved Dixie no matter what, was Landon and now that he’s gone Dixie absolutely has to honour him and their friendship, no matter how difficult it is for her to be back there. In return, Landon screws her seriously in his will, making her live and work in competition with her former fiance and the one great love of her life, Caine Donovan.

This book is really, really Southern and I suspect you might need to be Southern, or at least familiar with it to get some of the sugary mannerisms and the way Mamas bring up their daughters and the social hierarchy. Being not Southern and not even from America at that, little parts of it did drift over my head at times. Dixie is an interesting character, she’s kind of unlikable even in her current form which mixes that diva Southern Belle with a girl who has seen more and lost it all in Chicago. She swings back and forth between trying to prove to herself that she’s turned over this new leaf and sinking back into her old ways, albeit for better causes and in defense of people she has come to care about. There’s no denying though, that she’s still a bit of a loose cannon and perhaps always will be. She has fighting spirit and her determination to win this gig and the way she plans to use the income has proved that. She begins making a tentative friend in Em, a woman Dixie was horrible to in their school days and the friendship is definitely not a smooth one. Em has to convince herself that this isn’t some huge joke, that Dixie isn’t going to ruin her again. I really liked Em and her battle to believe in Dixie and I’m happy that her story is the second one in this series. Cassidy sets it up perfectly in this book and I can’t wait to read it.

I found it a bit difficult to get on board with Dixie and Caine, mostly because Caine is an ass throughout most of the book. He may have his reasons but he got a bit tiresome for me, especially his tendency to slip into impressions of famous people which he is apparently very gifted at. He sort of won me over by the end with the way the competition played out and even though he was pretty sneaky, especially at getting Dixie to confess things, I think that he did it for the right reasons. I didn’t fall in love with him as a hero but I mostly liked him by the end. The highlight for me was really Landon and the way he’d managed to maintain such deep and close friendships with both Dixie and Caine, even after their epic fallout some 10 years before.

A promising start and I think I’m looking forward to books 2&3 more.


Book #84 of 2014


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Review: Skeletons – Jane Fallon

Jane Fallon
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 438p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Jen has been married to her husband Jason for over twenty years and they’ve just seen off the second of their two daughters to university, leaving her with a bit of an empty nest syndrome. As a family unit they worked but Jen finds that with her and Jason on their own, life isn’t exactly as she expected it would be. She feels a bit empty, lost without anyone to look after and she and Jason don’t really seem to be connecting. The bright spots are visiting Jason’s parents at their large country house – for Jen who grew up with only a mother in her family, Jason’s larger, colourful family are amazing. She loves them all and loves being a part of their closely knit clan.

But then Jen discovers a secret about someone – by accident. She’s not sure what to do with the information. She could tell Jason but in doing so she would destroy his view of someone and quite possibly her marriage as well as someone else’s. But keeping this secret to herself is proving to be more difficult than Jen imagined. It’s festering away inside her head, longing to come out even though she knows the damage it would do would be irreparable. Jen doesn’t want to risk being cast out by Jason’s family either. She’s been a part of it for over twenty years and to be put out now would be unthinkable.

But if Jen doesn’t spill the secret, someone else threatens to. And that could be even more catastrophic than if Jen were to do it. She has to make a decision and quickly because secrets have a way of coming out, no matter what.

Skeletons is the fifth novel of English telelvision producer Jane Fallon, who has worked on shows such as This Life, which was one of my absolutely favourite shows as a teenager. It only ran for a couple of seasons but it was a punchy kind of show about a bunch of twenty-something lawyers sharing a large house in London. It probably helped launch the careers of Jack Davenport, now best known for his roles in the Pirates of the Carribean movies and the TV shows Flash Forward and Smash and Andrew Lincoln who has also appeared in the movie Love Actually and now stars in the cult hit The Walking Dead. Jason Hughes also appeared in the first season and then went on to become DCI Barnaby’s sidekick in later episodes of Midsomer Murders so This Life even 20 years later, has held up casting wise. I haven’t read any of Jane Fallon’s previous novels but I’ve heard some good things about Foursome so I was very excited to read this.

Jen’s father walked out when she was 8, leaving her with just her mother. She longed for more of a family and when she met Jason and his incredibly closeknit family, she was overjoyed to become part of it. They quickly married and had two young daughters, further cementing her within the clan. She soon preferred spending time with Jason’s family rather than her mother and became best friend’s with Jason’s sister Poppy. For Jen, life is perfect until her two daughters leave home for university, leaving her restless with Jason. When she discovers a shocking secret about someone she cares deeply about, a secret that would ruin her family, she becomes torn about what she should do.

Jen as a character, drove me nuts. She did so many things that made the situation worse, she festered on it, allowed herself to become obsessed by it, she made it personal by applying it to her own situation and in a way, making it all about her…but yet did nothing about it until she couldn’t keep it in anymore and spewed it out at possibly the most inappropriate time. When she was blackmailed, I don’t know why she didn’t just go to the relevant person and say something like “Look, I know your secret, I’m being told to tell or else, sort it out”. Or maybe she should’ve just told her husband in the very first place if she was so concerned about his feelings. Instead I had to read through a lot of pages of Jen swinging back and forth and agonising over what to do constantly, allowing it to affect her work. She spends a lot of time waxing lyrical about how she can’t look people in the eye and trying to get out of events and picking fights. It becomes a bit tiresome to be honest, because it makes this book feel about 100 pages longer than it should be.

However what rescued this novel for me was Jen’s decision at the end of the book. When she realises that some things she’s always seen as wonderful and desirable, are in fact, not really and that maybe what she longed for all these years, wasn’t worth actually longing for in that way. It felt to me much more realistic in terms of an ending than the other possibility that the author poses, which would’ve left me with a really sour feeling about this book. I appreciated Jen’s evolving feelings about her situation and the way she decided what she needed to do and who she wanted. It made me wonder what I would do in Jen’s situation – I like to think I’d tell my husband even if I knew it would upset him, because keeping secrets from him is not something I’d be comfortable with and even though the messenger inevitably gets shot, I’d rather get shot straight away and have the chance of them realising that anger is misplaced, than be shot for knowing and not telling and giving them a much more genuine reason to be resentful.

Skeletons is an interesting look at different family dynamics and the whole ‘grass is greener’ feeling. I had some issues with it and it did feel longer than it needed to be but overall it was certainly an interesting exploration of relationships and secrets within a marriage and what people decide to do with information relative to how it affects them.


Book #83 of 2014

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Review: Colours Of Gold – Kaye Dobbie

Colours Of GoldColours Of Gold
Kaye Dobbie
Harlequin MIRA
2014, 395p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Annie Reuben is an art restorer, working in a business with her father that is well known and respected for restoring historic items and architecture to its former glory. Her latest project is a painting found in the basement of a hotel – a Trompe L’oeil depicting the life of a young girl. Annie becomes intrigued by the painting and the people in it and she wants to find out more about them. All she has to go on are a couple of names and where the painting was found but she decides to start digging, starting with the paddleboat that appears in a portion of the painting.

In 1867, a young girl is found in a barrel on the Murray River. Rescued by the captain of a paddleboat, he takes the young girl home to his wife, knowing that his wife will take care of her. About eight or so, the young girl has no idea what her name is and so she is named Alice. What most people don’t know is that Alice has a gift – she can see colours around people and in some cases, the colours tell her something, like impending doom. Sometimes she finds it hard to keep quiet about her gift which leads to people becoming wary and suspicious of her, believing that she brings bad luck. After it happens yet again and she loses someone very dear to her, Alice runs away with a friend named Rosey to try their luck on the goldfields. They don’t end up panning for gold but they do join a troupe of entertainers, setting in motion the course of events that will lead to the painting being completed as Alice attempts to find her history…and escape the man in the black coat who has always pursued her.

As Annie becomes more and more involved in the painting, she finds herself seeing the same man in the black coat. Who is he and what does he want? If she discovers his connection then maybe she can give him some peace and satisfy her curiosity about the girls in the painting and her connection to it.

I love a good history/contemporary dual narrative which was why I requested this book even though I was a bit dubious about Alice’s ‘gift’. I’m pretty skeptical about a lot of things like that and so when it began unfolding into the story, I was hoping that I would find it easy to believe and accept it and I’m pleased to say that I did. Although it’s a very strong part of the story, it doesn’t totally dominate. Both the contemporary and the historical parts of this book are well constructed and written and I was able to switch back and forth between them easily without being overly concerned about getting back to one part of the story or the other. That balance can be hard to achieve, to run two stories side by side giving equal attention to both and not having one of them be far too dominant for the reader’s attention.

In the present day, Annie is a single mother working in her father’s restoration business. They apply many crafts in order to maintain or restore historical artifacts and architecture but Annie’s current work is a painting, a Trompe L’oeil, which is a kind of painting that creates an optical illusion and looks three dimensional. It has fallen into a state of extreme disrepair from being shut up in a basement of a condemned building for many, many years and Annie has to examine it and decide what she will do to repair it. She becomes so fascinated with the characters in the painting and the story that she believes it’s trying to tell her that she immediately sets out to find more about them. This is how Annie and her father work – they take on expensive projects and put all their focus and energy into them because it’s their passion. They could make more money taking on more jobs that are less interesting and don’t require so much work but that simply isn’t the way Annie is wired. She throws herself into things, whole heartedly and perhaps even obsessively and although it’s admirable, it means that their business is not exactly thriving any longer and this stress is placing a strain on her father’s health. Annie knows that he wants her to take over soon but she’s not exactly sure she’s ready for that – she likes being able to lose herself in projects that interest her. However she also has her young daughter to think of as well – her responsibilities mean she might have to choose between a well paying job far away and the chance of future personal happiness locally.

In the historical setting, Alice is a foundling that possesses a sort of Sight and also a variation of synesthesia where she sees colours swirling around people. Different colours mean different things and when Alice sometimes tries to warn people they end up regarding her with fear and suspicion. She spends a large part of her young life on the run with her friend Rosey, who has her own past that she’s running from too. Both of them kind of lurch from one disaster to the next as they attempt to outrun a figure that terrifies Alice, a man in a black coat that she believes is hunting her down. Finally for some peace, Alice realises that she needs to find out about her past before she was discovered and try and discover who the man in the black coat really is and why he causes such conflicted feelings inside of her.

I really enjoyed this book – towards the end I found myself frantically turning pages, racing through the story to find out more about Alice’s past and exactly what the story was with the man in the black coat and his motivations and wondering why Annie had seen him as well in the present day. The more I got into the story, the more invested I was, in both the historical and the contemporary parts.


Book #81 of 2014


Colours Of Gold is book #34 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014



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Review: One Step Too Far – Tina Seskis

One Step Too FarOne Step Too Far
Tina Seskis
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 364p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Emily is running away from her life. She’s leaving behind her home, her husband, her family – everything. She becomes a new person with a new name and no attachments, commitments or responsibilities. She finds a place to stay in a share house in north London and a job temping. She makes a friend in Angel, another woman in the share house and she steadfastly refuses to think about her old life, how her husband must be feeling and more importantly, the tragedy that led to her fleeing without a word.

Now known as Cat, she moves in entirely different circles to her former life. With Angel she finds herself drawn into a heading world of shopping and partying and as she moves up the chain in her new found job, she needs a little more recreational help to get her through the day. Always looming, getting ever closer is the anniversary of the day her life splintered apart, changed forever and even this new Cat hasn’t worked out quite how to cope with it yet.

Eventually Cat has spiraled down so far, some of it not of her own fault but all that is left is the bottom and it allows all she has run from to come looking for her. Her secret will be out and she will have to face the things she ran from head on and see where there is left for her.

Emily Coleman had everything going for her. She was married to a wonderful man named Ben whom she loved very much and who loved her. They had a beautiful baby boy and Emily had just found out that she was expecting again. And then something happened that made Emily walk out, away from her life without a word. From there she is lucky to find somewhere to stay although it’s a world away from her former home – a share house where everything that isn’t the kitchen or the bathroom is a bedroom, rented out. The conditions are somewhat less than ideal but she immediately makes changes to make the room more comfortable and is out looking for a job, despite the fact that her CV is totally made up. She can’t go back into the field she was working in before – it would be far too easy for her to be discovered that way.

The narrative flashes back and forth with Emily/Cat in the present day, fleeing her life and making a new one interspersed with her memories of the ‘before’ (ie before the terrible thing happened). We see how she met her husband, get glimpses of their courtship and wedding and peek in as they make their life together in a new house. There’s also a lot devoted to Emily’s family, which is somewhat troubled. Emily has a twin sister who has had some difficulties and her parents have had issues in their marriage too. The back story is carefully and meticulously revealed but with deceptions as well. Many times I thought that I had worked out what had happened to send Emily running but I was wrong every single time. We are also at times privy to her husband Ben’s thoughts as well and how he has coped since she left.

For a lot of this story, I was utterly engrossed and couldn’t wait for the big reveal so that I’d finally know what had happened to tear her apart so much and led to her decision to turn her back on everything and attempt to start over again in such a way. However I do feel like it began to lose its way a little, when Emily/Cat ends up by accident in this new career and begins partying and meeting men who fall in love with her or want to be with her. I can understand why she’d turn to some of the methods she did – it enables her to keep memories at bay and keeps her functioning, or at least appearing to. However what really interested me was Emily’s state of mind and the circumstances surrounding what caused her to leave and some of the events late in the book seemed to distract from that and edge a bit into far-fetched territory. I’m not sure why the book needed such a dramatic episode to enable her husband to locate her. I also thought the events of the book would’ve had more of an affect on her state of mind but that seemed to be very much glossed over – almost as if it happened to someone else and she wasn’t there. Perhaps that was a coping method but it did come off as quite cold and callous and had the effect of alienating me from Emily at a time when my sympathy for her should’ve been at its peak. Also the last part of the book is told in fits and starts that skip ahead in time and it has the feel of being a bit disjointed.

Despite that, One Step Too Far is a compelling story of what does it take to push a woman who seemingly had everything to the edge and make her want to leave it all behind. I really enjoyed the guesswork, trying to figure out what had happened – I didn’t mind being wrong. In fact I think being wrong is good because it means the author did her job in keeping it a nicely shrouded mystery. Although she seemed remote at times, Emily was someone I wanted to get the help she needed and resolve her feelings over what had happened and try and find some sort of happiness again. What she had in her new life as ‘Cat’ wasn’t happiness. It was existing, and at times, poorly. But I understood her motivations and what drove her to leave in the end and I think that came across well.


Book #80 of 2014


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