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Review: One True Thing by Nicole Hayes

One True ThingOne True Thing
Nicole Hayes
Random House AUS
2015, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Frankie is the daughter of the current Premier of Victoria, a woman who was chosen by her party after the previous Premier resigned to spend more time with his family. Now there’s an election coming up where the people have to vote to return Frankie’s mother to make her the first elected female Premier of the state. Everything in their life at the moment revolves around politics and image. Frankie’s mother is subjected to rather vicious attacks from radio and print shock jocks, there are always photo opportunities to go to, events to participate in. For Frankie and her younger brother, it’s somewhat second nature but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t intrusive.

But then something shocking surfaces about Frankie’s mother. She’s been caught in what could be a very awkward situation both for her politically and also for Frankie’s family personally. Even worse, her mother refuses to explain the photos. Frankie is subjected to humiliation at school, she’s harassed and badgered by the press outside her own home and she cannot bear the hurt her father must be experiencing. Her whole family is being dragged through the mud in public and on top of that she has a best friend who is acting strangely and then she discovers that the cute boy who likes her and that she might also like, is the one who betrayed her and her family in the worst way. Her entire life is falling apart and the one person who could fix it, utterly refuses.

One True Thing is the second YA novel by Nicole Hayes. In her first, The Whole Of My World she tackled football and this one takes a very different swing toward state politics. Frankie’s mother was Deputy Premier of Victoria until the Premier resigned and her party gave her the top job. Now it’s the public’s turn to decide whether or not to vote for her in and the election campaign is in full swing. One True Thing examines the effects being in such a public spotlight might have on a relatively normal family – mum, dad, 2 kids. Frankie and her younger brother Luke are constantly juggling their social commitments with events they need to ‘be seen’ at with their mother. Frankie lives with the constant presence of her mother’s staff and top advisers in her home, particularly given the election is so close. Some of these people have become just as close as family.

Frankie is half my age, but her passion is music, particularly the grunge bands of the 1990s – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden etc which is basically playing my song. As I write this, I’m listening to a Nirvana album. Recently I went to one of the Readings bookstores in St Kilda and when I was in there, they were playing a live Nirvana CD and I’ve been listening to them and some other bands from my high school years on and off ever since. I go through cycles with music, revisiting high school and university likes regularly. Frankie’s dedication, particularly to Pearl Jam is admirable and impressive and reminds me of my own high school days locked in my room listening to the albums of those two bands and others from that era.

One of the biggest issues in politics is – how much is the public entitled to know about the private lives of those they vote into public office? It’s something that’s happened on all levels, from local members right up to the President of the United States of America. Are their personal lives really any of our business, if they’re good leaders (and even if they’re not?) What business is it of ours to know whether or not they like to sleep with people other than their spouses? It’s not illegal. That’s not something that relates to their job and should it only be something that need concern their spouse? Doesn’t stop journalists from latching on to the smallest whiff of scandal and running with it even if they have no idea what’s happening. In this story it appears as though Frankie’s mother is seeing a much younger man – there are pictures splashed across the papers while the social and political commentators (that seem largely based on people like conservative hacks Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt) spew whatever filth they consider their opinion with little regard for anything remotely concerning facts, let alone decency and discretion, particularly for the Premier’s family. Frankie in particular is subject to a lot of cruelty as her friends are older and more socially aware, better able to read between the lines and are more likely to be the audience. Although I could at times, understand her mother’s refusal to clarify her relationship with the man in question because why should she? It’s no one’s business apart from hers, his and possibly her husband’s, I do feel as though she made a choice that significantly affected her family with little real sight of what the consequences for her silence would be. And that choice made others, Frankie in particular, feel less important to her.

This book also pokes a bit of sly fun at the ‘slogans’ politicians trot out whenever journalists are trying to take the focus off their message. In this case, it’s ‘Getting back to the business of running Victoria’. These slogans usually mean little and their continual usage only serves to irritate most people who would rather have clear and precise answers to their questions. It ties in with the above issue though – how much are we entitled to know? And unless the questions is about the message, about their issues and policies, is it even entitled to be asked? And if it is continually asked, then maybe they merely deserve the same tired old answer every single time.

I enjoyed this book a lot – I liked the presentation of politics through the eyes of an affected teen and the little extras with the romance and her friendships as well as the mystery behind what her mother was really doing. Another fantastic Aussie YA from Nicole Hayes.

8/10

Book #97 of 2015

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One True Thing is book #39 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: Normal by Graeme Cameron

NormalNormal
Graeme Cameron
Harlequin MIRA
2015, 300p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Somewhere in an English village, there lives a man. He has a lovely house with a detached garage, he drives a white van. He appears to be utterly normal in every way. Until you look a little closer. Under the garage is a reinforced room, with a cage. In the transit van are bolts and harnesses. This man enjoys taking people, taking women, and keeping them in the cage in the room under the garage until it’s time to play a game.

He’s not a monster though. He feeds them. He takes care of them. And if they win the game, they can go home, he promises.

Then the man meets a girl that’s different from all of the others. A girl that might be so special that he doesn’t want to hurt her, or anyone else anymore. The timing is unfortunate, because he still has a girl held in the special room beneath the garage and that girl is starting to play a game of her own. The net is closing in, the police are sniffing around, questioning him about other disappearances. It’s all starting to fall apart at the time he needs it to look perfect the most.

I saw this on NetGalley and the premise really intrigued me. I’ve read one or two books before with the point of view of the serial killer but I’m not sure I’ve read a book where the entire story is from that point of view,  the one who would normally be the antagonist of a story. The novel doesn’t particularly hold back in painting the picture of what the unnamed protagonist does with his victims but it’s more suggestive rather than deeply descriptive. There are glimpses into his past and he gives a bold statement to the why:

“I was born and not made. A product of nature, and nurture be damned.”

Our unnamed man is in the middle of….disposing of his latest victim when he is interrupted by one of her friends. He takes her back to his home in order to have some fun with her later. He puts her in the cage in the room built specifically beneath his garage and when she won’t eat, goes out to shop specifically for the sorts of foods he believes she likes. It is there he meets a cashier at the 24 hour grocery store and he is instantly captivated.

For the first time, he feels interested in something more than kidnapping and killing. He wants to spend more time with the cashier and they do begin a relationship of sorts, complicated by the fact that he likes killing people as a past time and still indulges occasionally, despite the fact that he doesn’t get the same satisfaction anymore. There’s also the girl in his basement, who might’ve turned the tables on him as well as a couple of detectives who are investigating the disappearance of a local prostitute and have zeroed in on him due to his white van, similar to one seen on a CCTV near where the woman went missing. Each of these wouldn’t present a problem to him on their own probably but the fact that they’re all occurring at the one time he seems to want to ‘go clean’ so to speak, means that he’s going to have to take desperate measures to make the police go away. Then he has to decide what to do with the girl in his basement, the one who was not exactly as she seemed and may have homicidal tendencies of her own.

As the name of the book suggests, the main character is disturbing because of his normality. He has a nice, average looking house. He’s not prone to flashes of extreme temper or savage violence because he ‘loses it’. He’s calm. Measured. For most of the book, he’s unflappable, even when facing the possibility of discovery. His brain is always thinking, he’s always plotting his next move should he be discovered. In some ways, he’s probably just like a thousand people you’ve met before. I’m sure the cashier probably felt that way! But then you see what happens when he takes a girl out of the cage and you get reminded, rather savagely that he’s not in any way normal at all. That he’s a deeply disturbed psychopath who is perhaps all the more dangerous because of his giving of false hope, his gentle assurances that it’s ‘just a game’. He’s someone who comes across as one thing but underneath, is something else entirely.

I actually enjoyed this a little bit more than I expected to. The twist with the girl in the basement intrigued me and I was curious to see where that would go. I actually wish it’d gone on a bit longer than it did, but I think that the way in which the book played out worked. I wasn’t exactly sure how he paid for all these fancy basement reinforced rooms because although he mentions going to work, the reader doesn’t seem to see it or know what he does. My only criticism is that the narrative feels very detached. We’re supposed to be inside the killer’s head and I’m not sure if it’s trying to portray his utter lack of feeling and empathy toward his victims but even in the scenes with the cashier he comes to care for, it feels distant and vague. Like it’s talking about someone else, not him, not his feelings. I thought the point of writing from the point of view of the killer would be to get deep inside their head but this one only really scratches the surface. Maybe that’s because there’s nothing deeper, that there’s just killing because it’s fun and everything else be damned. But it did leave me wondering.

7/10

Book #96 of 2015

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Review: Always The Bridesmaid by Lindsey Kelk

Always The BridesmaidAlways The Bridesmaid
Lindsey Kelk
Harper Collins AUS
2015, 387p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Maddie works as an assistant at an events planning and PR company, in the same position she’s been in for ten years since she finished university. Her boss is a nightmare but Maddie enjoys what she does, even if it does mean working for a reincarnation of Satan. She’s been single for two years and her ex-boyfriend is welcoming his first child with his new wife. Maddie has two best friends, Lauren and Sarah and when Lauren announces her engagement to boyfriend Michael, it’s naturally Maddie that she wants to help plan her wedding. On top of being a bridesmaid.

To further complicate matters, her place of employment has requested she apply for a job they’re advertising. It’d mean a promotion but Maddie is also aware that her friend Sarah intends applying as well. Not to mention she rather fears how her boss will react when she finds out. In order for Maddie to ‘prove herself’ on her own, her company set her a task of organising a christening for the child of a rather high maintenance couple. Soon everything is piling up overwhelmingly for Maddie and the three close friends find themselves at odds as personal and professional stresses get the better of them. Lauren is a bridezilla of epic proportions and Maddie is frantically juggling her outrageous demands as well as those of the christening couple and the friendship between the three is imploding due to external stresses, the wedding and the secrets that all of them are keeping. For Maddie, her chance to shine could mean risking everything she holds dear.

I really enjoy Lindsey Kelk’s novels and I think she has firmly established herself as a queen of this genre. This is a stand alone story featuring Maddie, a thirty-one year old whose life really hasn’t progressed much in ten years. Maddie is a very relateable character – her job stresses her out because her boss sucks, she lives alone after the disintegration of her last relationship and can’t be bothered cleaning up her flat now that it’s just her. She has two very close friends, although all three of them are very different and she likes a bit of a drink. When things get tough, Maddie gets the gin.

I had a pretty laid back wedding – no delusions of wanting to book Beyonce with a month’s notice here so I do have to admit that intensely grand weddings and the whole bridezilla thing does pass me by. I understand however, that every bride wants it to be perfect and that perfect is different for everyone. For Maddie, there’s a huge amount of pressure to deliver what her friend wants and this is basically a full time job that she’s doing unpaid for and in her spare time, on top of the full time job she already has. She’s also delicately balancing her friends, as just as Lauren is getting ready to walk down the aisle, Sarah’s marriage is falling apart and Maddie is having to pick up the pieces there, as Sarah doesn’t want to burden Lauren too much with her stories and emotions of what happens when it doesn’t work out. This does put Maddie in difficult positions, on occasion but it’s clear that she loves both her friends and is willing to sacrifice her sleep, her free time and many other things in order to be there for them in various capacities. I really enjoyed the friendship between the three women because both their closeness and the discord that develops felt very realistic and natural. Friends fight, it’s a way of life. People get stressed, they say things they shouldn’t, they keep secrets etc. All three of them play roles in the various tensions that escalate and all three of them also play roles in the various reconciliations, which shows the devotion that they all have to the friendship.

Like Kelk’s other books, there is some romance in this although it always remains in the background, second to Maddie’s development in her career and her relationship with her friends. Whilst attending a wedding she and her boss have helped organise, Maddie is roped into playing a waitress due to a staffing issue and meets two of the guests at the wedding. First impressions are rarely accurate and I have to say, I loved the way this played out. I was a big fan of one of the characters but there were some bumps in the road and the reader has to be patient for Maddie to catch up with them.

This for me was just one of those books that has you invested from start to finish. There are some laugh out loud moments but there are also some sad moments, especially between the three friends and in particular for Sarah. I loved the evolution of Maddie’s romantic life as well as her struggles with her career and trying to prove herself. A lot of the time Maddie is a victim when things go wrong, generally at the hands of her boss who doesn’t ever want Maddie to advance past being her assistant. She even sends Maddie to have a mammogram to report back on what they’re like before she’ll go and have one herself. My theory on that was probably Maddie’s boss knew just how good Maddie was at her job and didn’t want to lose her and all the endless hours that she put in, which would definitely result in an increased workload for her boss.

Always The Bridesmaid is another stellar release from Lindsey Kelk – smart, warm and funny.

9/10

Book #94 of 2015

 

 

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Review: The Incredible Adventures Of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon GirlThe Incredible Adventures Of Cinnamon Girl
Melissa Keil
Hardie Grant Egmont AUS
2015, 295p
Purchased personal copy

Alba is comfortable with her life as it is. She lives with her mother in a small town, behind the bakery her mother runs. There’s comfort in her routine, waking up and helping prepare the day’s treats. She has a closeknit group of friends and although it seems that they’re all planning their futures once they finish year 12, Alba doesn’t want to think about that. She doesn’t want to think about them all possibly being separated and having to move somewhere else, somewhere that isn’t behind the bakery. Somewhere that isn’t home.

Alba’s comfortable life is about to get complicated. Firstly, a friend that long ago disappeared has come back into her life and he’s much changed. This seems to have affected the other boy in her life, Grady, who is now acting very strangely. Her comic book panels aren’t coming together the way they should, which makes her worry even more for the future. And the weirdest thing of all is that someone has predicted the world is going to end and the only place that might be safe is Alba’s small town, which leads to an influx of colourful characters.

But the impending end of the world is the least of Alba’s problems. She needs to figure out herself and what she wants before she can focus on whether or not it’s going to be her last day on Earth.

I read Melissa Keil’s Life In Outer Space and absolutely loved it – it was one of my top 10 YA reads of that year. I was a little slow to pick up this one. To be honest, I haven’t bought anywhere near as many books this year as previous years. I think it’s mostly because the experience of going into a local bookstore and browsing has basically been taken away from me. If I want to do that now, I need to go into Melbourne and that’s something I usually have to plan to do, although I don’t live all that far from the city. Recently we have made 2 trips to bookstores in Melbourne and I’ve probably purchased more books in those two trips than I have the for the rest of this year! And this book, The Incredible Adventures Of Cinnamon Girl, was one of them.

Perhaps it was how much I loved Life In Outer Space that any book Keil released after that was going to have a terrible time living up to that one. It’s not that this isn’t a good book or that I didn’t enjoy it – because it is and I did. But I have to admit, I didn’t love it as much as I expected. Although Alba’s voice is very fresh and casual and appealing, there are times when it verges on the manic, even at the beginning of the novel before the complications begin.

The characterisation is very well done though and I did like the character of Alba. She’s creative and fun – I am not a comic book reader but I did like the inclusion of the details of the panels that Alba works on. Her passion for it it is wonderful and I enjoyed seeing her creative process. Her eclectic little group of friends felt very realistic and I thought the dynamics of their friendship had a lot of thought put into it and was well constructed. Keil manages to build really strong relationships, between Alba and her mother, between Alba and Grady, without taking a huge amount of time to establish backstory. It’s small moments captured, that leads the reader to see the intimacy and closeness, as well as the discord when it begins to show.

I have to admit, the end of the world plot didn’t do a huge amount for me. It does very little other than to serve as the way in which an old friend comes back into Alba’s life and add a cast of ‘colourful’ peripheral characters to the story, none of which really have any bearing on the plot and few of which are necessary. The core friendship group is really all it needs and is what drives it forward. Although Alba is loveable she’s also very frustrating because she’s so clueless. She doesn’t know what she wants, she doesn’t know what those around her want, even when it’s so glaringly obvious! But even that felt real, because I remembered times in my past when I’d become frustrated at friends of mine, wanting to shake them and yell ‘Don’t you see?’

There were ebbs and flows in the bulk of the story but I have to say, the ending is amazing. It’s one of those scenes you want as a reader, where all of the angst and frustration and longing between the characters pays off in one emotionally charged declaration or moment. In this book, it is absolutely fantastic and with that I was able to invest in the characters and story in a way that I really hadn’t been able to up until that point.

7/10

Book #93 of 2015

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The Incredible Adventures Of Cinnamon Girl is the 38th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Review: My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine AwayMy Sunshine Away
M.O. Walsh
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It is the summer of 1989 in a Baton Rouge town and fifteen year old track runner Lindy Simpson is raped one night, not far from her home. Once known as an upper class neighbourhood with the local children attending an expensive school, it soon becomes apparent that there’s a sinister undertone running through the wealth and privilege.

Lindy’s parents and the police attempt to find out who attacked her but all of their suspicions and their leads turn up nothing. From that point on, Lindy is a changed person, altering her appearance and changing the way she behaves as her family slowly begins to fall apart in the fall out of the tragedy.

For one neighbourhood kid in particular, Lindy’s attack consumes him as he tries to at first come to terms with what it means and then, discover who was behind it, aware that he’s somewhat of a suspect himself at various times. In his quest to discover who did this to Lindy, he and another of the children in the neighbourhood expose something even more sinister and finally find the answer he seeks.

My Sunshine Away is a coming of age story of understanding the realities of growing up, shrugging off the enchantment of youth and being exposed to some harsh realities. It’s a story of never giving up, a quest for the truth, forgiveness and how powerful that first crush can be.

I have to admit that I was more than pleasantly surprised by this story. I wasn’t sure what to expect when it arrived and it took me a while to pick it up. But once I did, I was hooked from the first page. Our narrator is never named – a boy a year or two younger than Lindy who lives across the road from her in a somewhat well off Baton Rouge neighbourhood. He’s so innocent that he doesn’t even understand what it means to be raped – the only context he knows it in is hearing his older sister’s boyfriend say it about a team that got soundly beaten in a football game.

My Sunshine Away is more than the story of a rape. It’s the showcase of a neighbourhood far into the deep South, the food, the weather and flooding, the attitudes, the rules and social structures. It was quite a foreign setting for me and I liked learning all of the background from our narrator as he attempts to paint the bigger picture. His father has left, so his mother is now a single parent and it seems as though his interactions with his father are not that frequent. Through his childish eyes we see his mother and how she behaves when his father comes to the house. The way in which she’s used by his father, left crying the next morning when he leaves again tells more about their relationship than a thousand words could. Likewise the narrator gives us the picture of the neighbourhood and the people in it the way he sees them – the kids through the games they play and the adults through the way they interact with their children.

I admired the way this story made me waver in my assumptions of who might have attacked Lindy that night. There are several clear suspects – including briefly, the narrator who had a crush on Lindy and had several drawings and a photograph of her. Naturally when his mother finds these objects she panics, even the most innocent of adolescent crushes suddenly looking sinister in the light of recent events. Slowly the story tiptoes on, several pieces of information making me question whether or not he really was capable of doing this. I enjoyed the back and forth of my mind as I kept wondering whether or not the narrator was deliberately trying to trip the reader up at some stage, presenting information in a way that made him seem more suspicious.

My Sunshine Away is stunningly written, a compelling story and told in a really appealing way. I really came to be invested in the narrator’s life, the way in which he relates his parent’s story and the tragedy that befalls them concerning his sister. I really felt like I got to see the neighbourhood through his eyes and uncover the terrible secret. I had my suspicions before it was revealed, given that I was perhaps looking for something like that and better able to interpret the clues and read between the lines.

Because I was 7 when this book took place, I have to admit I fell down a Wikipedia rabbit hole reading up on Jeffrey Dahmer and his capture, which is referenced in this book (I probably wouldn’t advise getting too intimate with those details) and the Challenger tragedy, which the narrator and other children such as Lindy watched live and which is a defining moment in his ‘relationship’ with her. In some ways my childhood was similar to the narrator’s, although I lived in a different country. We spent as much time playing outside as he and his friends did and roamed the streets in search of the next thing to do. Back then, it was safer to do so and I lived in a rural area where everyone knew everyone else. And then when I was about 10, something happened two small towns over that changed our little society and in some ways, destroyed our innocence in much the same way that the narrator experiences as he comes to understand what happened to Lindy and what was happening in the other house on his street.

This is a fantastic debut, one which I enjoyed immensely and I will be eagerly awaiting M.O. Walsh’s next novel.

8/10

Book #88 of 2015

 

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Review: What Matters Most by Dianne Maguire

What Matters MostWhat Matters Most
Dianne Maguire
Harper Collins AUS
2015, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

The lives of pediatrician Mia Sandhurst and teenager Rachel Hooper cross when Rachel is brought into hospital after a suspected overdose. When one of the staff find incriminating bruising on Rachel’s body, Mia begins to suspect that the teenager has been raped and possibly subjected to some long term abuse. Rachel however, refuses to acknowledge their concerns and instead claims her injuries are from riding her horse.

Whilst attempting to get to the bottom of Rachel’s story, Mia is also dealing with a personal crisis. Her husband has become distant and withdrawn and Mia has her suspicions confirmed that he’s having an affair. When he packs his bags and leaves, Mia is reluctant to believe that this is truly the end, until she finds out that there’s some discrepancies in their bank accounts. Mia must fight to keep her family’s beloved holiday home on the Fleurieu Peninsula on the beautiful south coast of Australia, something she came into the marriage with but may lose half of because of the longevity of their union.

Rachel’s older brother Tim discovers in the most horrifying way what is really going on with his sister but she swears him to secrecy. The weight of this secret is heavy on his shoulders and he desperately wants the truth to be uncovered so that Rachel might begin to be able to heal. When she again ends up in hospital, finally Mia is able to uncover the truth and move forward with getting Rachel the help she desperately needs and removing her from a truly toxic and terrible situation.

This story is an unflinching look at child abuse in one of its most horrifying forms. Rachel is a teenager who is brought in to hospital in a critical condition after being found in a bathroom unconscious. Her family immediately sweep aside the idea that it may have been a suicide attempt or that Rachel might have had any reason at all for wanting to take her own life. Despite the bruising one of the staff discover when they are examining her, it remains emphatically stated that Rachel is just fine when pretty much everyone can see that the last thing Rachel is, is fine.

I found that as a mother, I had a huge issue with the way Rachel’s mother behaves in this story. I understand that there’s the automatic response that no, this could not be happening to your child and insistence that you would know, if it were. But quite frankly, there are a million stories out there that confirm that no, you probably wouldn’t. And if a hospital staff member had come to me with stories of suspicious bruising on my teenage daughter and requested a full medical, I would give my consent immediately. Even when the children’s protective services visit Rachel’s family home after she’s discharged from hospital and inform Rachel’s mother that she must take her daughter to a doctor or face having her taken from her, she dithers and puts it off and gets aggressive and basically, while she’s doing all this stuffing around, Rachel is continuing to face horrific abuse. I think it just goes on for too long. The signs are glaringly obvious, Tim (who has the unfortunate situation of knowing what is going on but been sworn to secrecy) is practically forcing her to comply with the authorities and still she’s taking so damn long to do anything. Denial might be the automatic response for parents, no it could never happen to my child – but if you’re right, then what is there to lose by getting her seen to? They try to sweep everything about Rachel’s desperate acts under the carpet, oh just let her go, she needs to be in her room. What she needs is help and probably if it wasn’t for Tim and Mia, she would’ve succeeded in what she attempted to do to herself. I understand Rachel’s desperation to keep it a secret – she’d probably been groomed from a very young age. I felt sorry for Tim but I did actually commend is loyalty to his sister and his wonderfully brave attempts to protect her from further abuse. I don’t even feel that Rachel’s mother had her best interests at heart by refusing the medical, it mostly felt like she resented being told she had to take her daughter to have one and was dragging her heels as long as she could.

Despite my issues with the actions of Rachel’s mother, I thought Rachel’s story was heartbreaking and told very well. The reader was able to get a very clear sense of Rachel and what this abuse was doing to her state of mind. She had gone through so much and I think the story was very good at making this clear and giving the reader enough to truly horrify them but not so much that it became unbearable to continue. Being able to put yourself in Rachel’s shoes was a terrible but necessary experience to be able to really come to terms with how it had affected her and how deeply. It’s also good at showing that just people finding out and having the abuser stopped isn’t enough. It will likely take Rachel years and years of therapy to be able to cope, if she ever will be able to, with what happened to her.

I was less interested in the ins and outs of Mia’s story, most of which seemed like one big cliché – the husband having the affair with the younger, richer woman. Him siphoning the money out of their joint savings and then aggressively going after the beach house that came from Mia’s family in the settlement. Even the ending, which I guessed would happen basically as soon as the affair was revealed to Mia. And then the suitors that began to vie for Mia’s attention the second her husband left, it all just felt really predictable and a lot of the book was devoted to it where the strengths were really with Rachel and her experiences and how that had affected her state of mind.

7/10

Book #91 of 2015

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What Matters Most is book #37 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Blog Tour Review: Northern Heat by Helene Young

Flat Cover Northern Heat Med ResNorthern Heat
Helene Young
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

In northern Queensland, Conor is living under an assumed name, working low skilled jobs and trying to find his place in the world again. Working coaching kids at the local youth centre gives him a way to get to know some of the local community and also make a difference in the lives of some young kids.

One of his players has been talking up her mother non-stop and Conor has to admit, Dr Kristy Dark does interest him. But as she is the widowed mother of a teenager, Conor doesn’t want to offer her false hope, not while he’s still living a life in hiding. Kristy deserves better and so does her daughter Abby.

For Kristy, this posting was her chance to start again with Abby after they suffered a devastating loss and then another tragedy. She has made a home for herself in this community, she has made friends. She’s helping someone she knows, someone in a dangerous situation. Abby’s sports coach Conor does complicate things but perhaps not in such a bad way.

When Conor is first on the scene of a local murder, neither he nor Kirsty could even begin to imagine what they would discover about their town. As a dangerous cyclone bears down on Cooktown, Conor, Kristy and Abby find themselves not only at the mercy of the elements but someone who will stop at nothing to continue to get what they want. Conor could lose everything he holds dear again by the time the storm is over, unless Kirsty can trust him and they can work together in a way that just might show them both a brighter future.

If you read Helene Young’s novel previous to this, Safe Harbour then you’ll be familiar with Conor and his tragic backstory. I was very pleased when I realised Young’s next novel would revolve around Conor, moving him from supporting character to front and centre and giving him a chance to find some happiness for himself after all he has gone through. I have to say, I think this story does him perfect justice.

It’s set in Cooktown in far (far) north Queensland, quite a long way away from the furthest north I’ve ever been and definitely a new setting for me. It’s wonderful to find books that take the reader away from the capital cities or the vague “outback” and into new places and as she has done previously, Young uses the setting and the impending cyclone to flesh out her characters and also build tension.

Conor is laying low, still using a false name and still living mostly off the grid, on a boat. For Conor, there are still some dangers out there that prevent him from taking back his life. Dr Kirsty Dark is rebuilding hers and has been ever since she accepted the job in Cooktown. As the mother of a daughter straddling that difficult place between child and grown up, Kirsty faces problems getting Abby to include her in her life and there are several concerns she has, especially with the influences she fears Abby may be exposed to by her friendship with a local girl. Kirsty has made friends with the girl’s mother Freya and knows the ugly secrets behind Freya’s perfect facade as wife to one of the area’s wealthiest men.

Conor and Kirsty are two people who have loved and lost and who I think are both quite lonely for adult companionship, even if they don’t know it. Kirsty has a wonderfully giving and patient nature and her dedication towards helping Freya is only one example of how she goes above and beyond but is also discreet. I think that given the amount of woman who have been murdered by their former or current partners in this year alone in Australia, domestic violence is an issue we are going to see more of in fiction and although it’s mostly only touched on here, it’s still something that permeates the story and gives the reader the ability to place themselves in Freya’s shoes and experience the horror that she is living and what her children are exposed to. In her guest post for me, Helene mentioned that she will definitely write Freya’s story one day which makes me very happy. I think she’s a brave and wonderful character, strong and deserving of a better future and someone who will treat her and her children the way they should be treated.

Earlier I mentioned the way in which the weather is used in this story. The cyclone is a living, breathing character that is used to build the tension and suspense as it bears down on the town and Conor and Kirsty find themselves at its mercy. When the storm hits, the story has hit a peak and then the quiet eye slows the pace, allowing the characters (and the reader) to catch their breath before the second onslaught. It’s a really effective way to pace the story and control the way in which the suspense builds and although I live too far south to have ever really had much experience with cyclones, they’re such a part of Australian life during the season that it’s so easy to imagine what it would be like, even though my imagination probably still doesn’t come close to the fury and danger of being out in one.

I really enjoyed this story and the way that all of the facets were woven together so well. Conor and Kirsty complement each other and I feel as though the characters of the teenage girls were spot on too, which can be difficult to achieve. The thread of suspense running through the plot was interesting and kept the me really invested in hoping that some characters really received what they truly deserved! Helene Young is so incredibly consistent and each time I pick up one of her books I really know I’m going to enjoy the ride.

9/10

Book #83 of 2015

aww-badge-2015

Northern Heat is the 33rd book for my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Don’t forget to check out Helene Young’s guest post for my blog and make sure you visit the rest of blogs on the tour as well!

 

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Blog Tour: Author Guest Post ~ Helene Young on Songs Into Words

Helene Young Author Photo (QF) Today I am very excited to welcome one of my favourite Australian authors, Helene Young to my blog. I am participating in a blog tour to support the release of Helene’s latest novel, Northern Heat. My review for Northern Heat will be up on the blog later today so make sure you check back for that! You can find out more details about the tour at the end of this post but for now, Helene is sharing a piece she has written on the songs behind the words of Northern Heat. Thank you Helene!

Songs Into Words…

Are you a music lover? Do you have music playing when you’re working, driving or relaxing?

I love music, particularly when I’m driving. I’m one of those nutcases belting out the words sat in a traffic jam… But when I write I usually prefer silence – though of course my characters’ voices in my head can be pretty rowdy!

Up to now Shattered Sky was the only book I’d written that had a song attached to it.  I never did work out why, but I got into the habit of playing Bonnie Tyler’s rousing ‘I Need a Hero’ just before I sat down to write.  I remember running on a treadmill in the Stamford Hotel’s gym after finishing a late session training pilots in the simulator in Sydney. I had headphones on and was singing along at the top of my voice, thinking about the story and certain no one else would be up at that time of the early morning. I was more than a little embarrassed to see the cleaner with a wide smile waving at me as he left just as the song finished…

But then along came Northern Heat. It was different from the start. Several pieces of music attached themselves straight away.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu singing his beautiful song, ‘Wiyathul’, heads the list. For me the song is so very evocative of the land around Cooktown and Black Mountain. His voice has a spiritual sound that transports me with the opening bars.

Next came that plaintive ballad from A Great Big World and Christine Aguilera – ‘Say Something’. To me is speaks so strongly of physical loss as well as emotional loss and this was Conor’s song as he struggled to come to terms with losing his wife and daughter. He didn’t have the chance to say goodbye, to say any of the things that were in his heart and he was still grieving, sure that he didn’t deserve to find love again. I believed he deserved redeeming but he wasn’t sure about that himself.

Pink’s ‘Just Give Me A Reason’ was Kristy’s song. Kristy’s previous marriage had left scars that were always going to be hard to heal. Was the domestic violence real or perceived? Was he controlling or caring? Was he simply older than her and teaching her or was he changing her, ruling her.  The way that marriage ended left her with unanswered questions, left her unsure whether she did have the strength to be her own woman, despite her successful career. She questioned whether she could be a good mother to Abby or whether even there she was failing.  Was her ex-husband right and she was bad mother? Or was she imagining it?

And finally there was ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ by Labrinth. Freya is a secondary character in Northern Heat, but through her actions, and those of her family, she has a huge impact on the story. I know I’ll write her story one day. She’s a beautiful young woman who’s troubled past has taught her that she’s only as good as her looks.  She’s trapped in a marriage that’s spiraling deeper and deeper into violence, but with two children to support she’s terrified of leaving and petrified of staying. The song gave me the optimism to write her story as it was, warts and all, knowing that she would have to face her demons one day.

I hope you enjoy the four songs that provided the backdrop for Northern Heat. Capt G and Zeus are both very glad I’ve finished writing it and there’s different music onboard Roobinesque again!

I suspect the need for music was because Northern Heat, like Burning Lies, is an intimate story.  It’s about a struggling single mum juggling a busy career as a doctor, a man in need of redemption and a teenager hell bent on finding love for her mother again.  At the heart of it is domestic violence, the ripple effect that it can have on the individual, the family and the wider community. Maybe because it is a dark theme I needed music to feed my soul.

If you’re a reader  – do you listen to music when you read? If you’re a writer – do you need music playing when you write?

I’d love to hear what works for you

Helene

To celebrate the release of my sixth book I have six prize packs to give away. Four of them are duos of SAFE HARBOUR and NORTHERN HEAT and one major prize is a complete set of my six books. For international readers there is a duo of e-books to be won. To enter leave a comment here or share the post and/or the trailer on social media site and I’ll double your chances! Hope to see you through May at the following blogs:

5th May: http://bookdout.wordpress.com

7th May: http://auslit.net

10th May: http://deannasworld1.blogspot.com.au

12th May: http://www.jennjmcleod.com

14th May: http://ausromtoday.com

17th May: https://1girl2manybooks.wordpress.com

19th May: http://writenotereviews.com

21st May: https://australianbookshelf.wordpress.com

24th May: https://nevendbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/reviews/

26th May: http://teddyree-theeclecticreader.blogspot.com.au

28th May: http://australianruralromance.com

31st May: http://talkingbooksblog.net

2nd June: Wrap up and announce the winner on my blog-

http://www.heleneyoung.com

 

Northern Heat – Release date 27th May, 2015 In steamy northern Queensland, Conor is rebuilding his shattered life. Working at Cooktown’s youth centre has given him the chance to make a difference again, and the opportunity to flirt with Dr Kristy Dark. The local GP is hiding her own secrets and struggling to raise her feisty teenage daughter alone. When a severe cyclone menaces the coast, threatening to destroy everything in its path, tensions come to a head – and the weather is not the only danger. Cut off from the world and with her life on the line, Kristy will have to summon her courage and place her trust in Conor, or they’ll both lose someone they love.

Author Bio When Helene’s not writing novels she enjoys a busy career as the Queensland Regional Flying Manager with Australia’s largest regional airline. She’s worked in aviation for over 25 years and has 260 pilots reporting into her. She recently appeared in ‘Judith Lucy is All Woman’ in an episode showcasing women in aviation. She has twice won the highly coveted RWA’s Romantic Book of the Year in 2011 and 2012 and was shortlisted for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Crime and Suspense. She has also been nominated in the Ned Kelly and Sisters in Crime Awards. Helene’s last novel, Safe Harbour, was voted Australia’s 2014 Favourite Romantic Suspense Novel. This is the fourth time Helene’s stories have won the award. A motivational speaker and writing mentor, Helene lives aboard a catamaran on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef and she plans one day to sail around the world in it.

Pre-order Buy Links http://www.booktopia.com.au http://www.amazon.com.au http://www.bookworld.com.au

Northern Heat Trailer You Tube: HTML version : Flat Cover Northern Heat Med Res

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Review: The Soldier’s Wife by Pamela Hart

Soldier's WifeThe Soldier’s Wife
Pamela Hart
Hachette AUS
2015, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Ruby and Jimmy had a whirlwind courtship and swift marriage and now Jimmy is being shipped out to aid in the fight in the Great War. He’s being sent to Gallipoli and because of this, Ruby’s life must change. More and more women are getting jobs and although Ruby could go home to her family, that doesn’t interest her. She’s been keeping the books for her family business so she thinks she has skills to offer in Sydney. She gets a position at a lumber yard, managing to win over the owner even though some of the other employees regard her with suspicion. A women’s place is not at work.

Ruby’s world gets even more complicated when her boss suffers a devastating loss in the war and retreats into himself, neglecting the business. Ruby is the only person who will go to the house and speak to him, the other men in the yard saying it’s not their place. Only with a combination of gently coaxing and occasionally, verbally bullying him can she get the information she needs to keep the men paid and the mill running. There are some things Ruby can’t do though and bit by bit, she gets the boss back to work, although there are frequent setbacks.

All the while this is happening, Ruby is terrified for Jimmy. The stories coming out of Gallipoli are horrific, with heavy losses. Finally she gets word that he is being returned to her, having sustained an injury and needing recuperation. Ruby is ecstatic only when Jimmy is discharged from hospital she realises exactly what he expects. Jimmy doesn’t want her working anymore, although with his injury and war pension, they desperately need the money. And Jimmy is…changed by his experience with the war. And if the two of them are to find the happiness they experienced before he left, it’s going to take heartache and sacrifice.

This is the third or fourth book around Gallipoli that I have read in recent times, with a number of them being timed for the 100th anniversary of the landing this year. This one doesn’t give action from the location but instead focuses on Ruby, a young war wife in Sydney who is attempting to make ends meet whilst her husband is away fighting. Ruby gets a job in what is definitely a “man’s world” – a timber mill yard where at her interview she’s basically told that the conveniences are in no condition for a lady and she must go home at lunch if she needs to use one. Ruby figures out exactly how much tea she can drink at breakfast without feeling like she’s going to burst by lunch!

Reading this 100 years after it’s set, you realise just how much things have changed in terms of what women could and couldn’t do. Ruby faces scorn and ire from some men, who clearly believe her place is at home or in a kitchen somewhere. Even people who don’t work at the mill judge her for taking a job away from a man – but the thing is, there aren’t any men. They’re away fighting, or training to be sent away. And if they are still here, such as one or two that work at the mill, then people wonder why they’re not doing their duty even though the mill is by supplying timber for the war bases and camps. At times it was difficult to read some people’s attitudes towards women and Ruby in particular without wanting to grit my teeth. Ruby has to take so many things into consideration, such as the clothes she wears….skirts need to be a certain length but she also needs to be able to climb stairs. And she’s a woman working alone with many men – this brings problems as well, which she experiences early in her employment.

Ruby is lucky in that Jimmy is returned to her (mostly) in one piece after an injury and illness. But mentally, he is changed from his experience and he has horrific nightmares, including one where he attacks Ruby when she attempts to help him. Ruby also doesn’t want to give up her job and not just because they need the money but also because she has come to feel responsible for the owner and getting him to function each day as well as feeling comfortable and competent in her role and the independence she has achieved from being able to go to work. It is the cause of much tension between her and Jimmy and makes their reunion probably less than both of them imagined.

I think this book is a very interesting exploration of several war themes, such as the forced changing of roles for women and the impact on society as a greater whole as men are also forced to readjust their perceptions and accept the new roles that women are playing, whether they like it or not. For every man like Ruby’s boss, who is willing to give her a go if she can do the work, there are probably 4-5 that disapprove and make no secret of it. Ruby has a remarkable ability to be able to shrug this off and set aside her fears and insecurities. I quite enjoyed her as a character.

I tried to make lots of excuses for Jimmy when he returned. Post-traumatic stress disorder, even though it wasn’t even a recognised thing in this time, would’ve been rampant. He’s facing disability and perhaps not being able to provide for his wife and future family. He also has been away and has come back to a different world than the one he left, one where his wife is the breadwinner and works with other men. It’s obviously something that is difficult for him to adjust to. But there are times when Jimmy is thoughtlessly and needlessly cruel, especially about something rather traumatic which made me rather cranky at him. He also wants Ruby to sacrifice something that she’s good at but doesn’t seem to want to sacrifice anything himself. I’m not sure his actions towards the end credited him in much good light but it seemed to be enough for Ruby to realise what she wanted and what she was prepared to do to have it.

8/10

Book #86 of 2015

aww-badge-2015

The Soldier’s Wife is book #34 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

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Blog Tour Review: Season Of Shadow & Light by Jenn J. McLeod

Season of Shadow and LightSeason Of Shadow And Light
Jenn J. McLeod
Simon & Schuster AUS
2015, 478p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

A post-partum stroke has robbed Paige, a professional food reviewer of both her sense of smell and taste, rendering her unable to work. Her marriage is also on the rocks, despite their privileged lifestyle in Sydney and Paige has only her beloved daughter Matilda and the woman known as Nana Alice to turn to. She decides to take a holiday – she needs to get out of Sydney, she needs some time away from her husband. A chance discovery of a photo from long ago leads Paige on a quest to find what happened with her mother decades ago, despite Nana Alice’s attempts to dissuade her.

Along the way bad weather sees them stranded in Coolabah Tree Gully to avoid rising floodwaters. Paige takes a liking to the town and decides to stay, using it as an excuse to take some time out while she attempts to solve the family mystery. In Coolabah Tree Gully, Paige finds somewhere she and Matilda can really call home, more so than the large house in Sydney. Matilda makes friends and Paige finds that after her husband’s infidelity maybe she isn’t interested in a reconciliation. Here she has the chance to heal the rifts of a lifetime and make a new way for herself and those dear to her.

Season Of Shadow And Light is Jenn J. McLeod’s third novel and for me, she just keeps getting better with each release. I was lucky enough to be able to read this one early and had to read it on my computer. I hate reading on my computer, I really do but this one kept me utterly engrossed and I ended up finishing it in a day. From start to finish I was sucked into Paige’s world and her quest for the truth about her family.

Paige suffered a late term pregnancy loss and then a post-partum stroke thereafter. She didn’t get to take her little baby home from the hospital and she is still feeling the effects of the stroke. She can’t smell or taste, which as a food critic and reviewer, means she cannot really work. Her husband Robert has become increasingly distant, their marriage slowly falling apart and Paige seems lost. She has Matilda, her six year old daughter to focus on as well as Nana Alice, the partner of Paige’s deceased mother. Two years after the stillbirth, Paige still suffers nightmares, ones that she keeps to herself. When she discovers something about her husband, it’s the perfect excuse to get away, to maybe try and investigate the secrets she felt were being kept from her.

Season Of Shadow And Light is a lot of things – a mystery, a story of personal growth, a family saga, a gentle romance. It’s an exploration of love and loss as well as some tough issues, such as the late term child loss and complications arising from Paige’s stroke. There’s a very delicate constructed relationship between Paige and “Nana Alice”, the woman that loved Paige’s mother and rolled up her sleeves to take over the full time parenting role when Paige’s mother died when Paige was 12. Nana Alice has acted as mother-but-isn’t-quite and now grandmother to Matilda but she also made a promise to Paige’s mother to keep the secrets. Paige is now utterly desperate to know, which puts them at odds sometimes but you can still tell that under that exterior, they care for one another. I loved their relationship, which was portrayed so realistically because they have plenty of spats and Nana Alice has plenty of misgivings about precisely what Paige is doing taking this holiday when she should be sorting things out with her husband and she attempt to get her to go home many times. I came to understand Alice’s fear as well, her determination to keep the secrets she had promised.

I really enjoyed the setting of this book as well as the local characters that Paige meets when she arrives at Coolabah Tree Gully. At first she has no real desire to stay there but she’s cut off from her real destination by rising floodwaters and so accepts local accommodation. She begins to create friendships, connections with the locals and even the possibility of romance with Aiden, a chef from the city who is dubbed ‘Grumpy Draws’ for his somewhat brusque manner. That part of the plot was a lot of fun and I found myself warming up to Aiden very quickly.

The further you get into this book, the more intriguing and multi-layered it becomes as a mysterious character named Aurora (Rory) returns and Paige begins to attempt to put together the mystery that surrounds her family and get to the bottom of the strange dreams she’s been having since she lost her baby. There was so much going on here and puzzling out all of the pieces and watching Paige grow as a person, find a place where she could be happy was a truly enjoyable reading experience.

9/10

Book #14 of 2015

Jenn J McLeod blog tour

 

This review is part of the Season Of Shadow and Light blog tour. Make sure you stop by all of the other blogs taking part and read their thoughts as well.

aww-badge-2015

This review counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2015. It was book #3

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