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Review: The Three Miss Allens by Victoria Purman

three-miss-allensThe Three Miss Allens
Victoria Purman
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2016, 395p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In 1934, the three Miss Allens – Ruby, Adeline and Clara – arrive in the seaside town of Remarkable Bay for their annual summer holiday. It’s the last time they’ll spend summers as a family. Adeline is engaged, Ruby is weighing up an offer, and Clara is just eighteen and about to start her life. But by summer’s end, the lives they have known will change irrevocably and a mysterious secret will tear the family apart.

Eighty-two years later, Ruby’s great-granddaughter Roma Harris moves to the now sleepy Remarkable Bay, retreating from tragedy. Roma’s distant cousin Addy arrives too, fleeing a life with too much drama. It’s only when the women discover an old guest book that they start asking questions about the mysterious third Miss Allen. Who was she? Why has she disappeared from the family’s history?

If they solve this mystery from their past, could it change the women’s future?

I love a historical-contemporary blend. They’re one of my favourite types of stories to read but they can be difficult to balance at times. You can find yourself far more invested in one part of the story so it’s nice when both parts are equally as fascinating.

In 1934, sisters Ruby, Adeline and Clara are escaping the Adelaide heat with their mother, staying in a large B&B in the seaside town of Remarkable Bay. Adeline has just secured what is a very desirable match and is giddy over the prospect of her coming marriage. Ruby has received an offer but it’s not one that makes her dreamy. And Clara, the youngest at just eighteen, is harbouring a terrible secret that will divide her family. What should be a summer of careless fun ends up being complicated, ripe with new possibilities but also bringing terrible shadows.

In the contemporary part of the story, Ruby’s great-granddaughter moves to the very same Remarkable Bay after suffering a tragedy. Having quit her job in Adelaide and sold her home, she buys a large house overlooking the bay intending to do it up and restore it to its former glory. Joined by her cousin Addy, who she hasn’t seen for many years, the two women find a book that gives them a glimpse into their own history. They seek to unravel what became of the third Allen sister, Clara, who neither of them have ever heard of.

I really enjoyed Roma’s story. I’m a big fan of renovations both watching them on tv and reading about them as well. It’s something that I think I fantasise about doing one day but it’s also one of those things that will never really be more than that because I don’t think I’d actually be very good at it! But I love the idea of it, especially when it’s about restoring something of significance, such as the old place that Roma purchases. It’s not without its issues, having been severely neglected in the later part of its life but the bones are there and she knows what it could be. What Roma is doing is therapeutic for her as she seeks to heal from a tragedy and discover what she wants from her life now. Things have changed dramatically and she’s taking steps to move forward and although people think it’s ill advised, the house is the first step.

Roma is less than impressed when her busy brother sends their cousin Addy to check up on her. Addy is facing her own problems and once she arrives in Resurrection Bay she decides that she wouldn’t mind staying for a while to help Roma out. The two of them are intrigued by the mystery of the third Miss Allen….

….like I was. Clara’s secret isn’t difficult to guess but I do have to say that I didn’t expect everything that came after it. This book really doesn’t hold back in highlighting some of the difficult situations for women of the time….each sister experiences the troubles of being without real power in society, beholden to the rules and whims of the men in their lives in some way or other. I found each of their stories riveting but I think it was Clara’s that touched me the most. I’ve known someone in Clara’s position and although things are different now, I felt that I had the most sympathy for her, especially because of how isolated she must’ve felt. She would’ve most likely known the fate that awaited her as soon as her secret was discovered and I felt for Ruby too, who discovered it but was horrified by what came next. I found the family dynamics in 1934 very interesting. Despite the fact that their mother seems strict and careful with Ruby and Adeline, there’s still quite a lot that they manage to get up to (Ruby in particular) without her knowledge.

Back in the present day, Roma and Addy are working through an adjustment to spending time together. They holidayed together as teenagers, Addy spending time with Roma’s family and they each remember that time somewhat differently, each shaped by their own experiences. They haven’t seen each other in some time and it’s a bit of a learning curve, reestablishing their relationship and it’s not always smooth sailing. The house provides a refuge for both of them and Remarkable Bay seems a healing sort of place, where both of them discover a vision for what they want their lives to be. And who they want it to include.

I enjoyed this story from start to finish…… I liked Roma and Addy and really connected with Roma’s desire to restore the house to its former glory. The relationships in this story, the good bad and ugly are so well done and felt authentic in both timelines. I could’ve read a book twice this long with these characters, both in the past and the present day.

8/10

Book #204 of 2016

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Author Q&A With…….Victoria Purman

victoria-purman

Today I am very happy to welcome South Australian author Victoria Purman to the blog. The author of over 10 books, Victoria was kind enough to answer a few of my questions on writing and life to celebrate the publishing of her most recent book, The Three Miss Allens.

Q1. Hi Victoria, welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking some time to answer a few questions for me. To kick off – when did you first start writing and what was the road to publication like for you?

I always harboured a dream to be a novelist and began writing terrible World War Two romances with a high school friend when we were fifteen. Fortunately, they never saw the light of day! Life got in the way (husband, work, three sons) but I finally realised about five years ago that I should go back to that dream. So I went to a writing workshop at the SA Writers’ Centre, joined Romance Writers of Australia, wrote my first book and have never looked back!

 

Q2. Let’s talk writing routines! For starters, do you have one? Or do you write whenever you can find the time?

I have to be very disciplined because I have deadlines to meet. For instance, I have three this year already. So I do try to write every day. I’m writing single titles books of about 130,000 words, I simply can’t fall behind. So I do words every day. I work part-time so that gives me two whole days a week to write – unless the dog needs to go to the vet!

 

Q3. Do you write full time or balance it with other work? Is there anywhere in particular where you prefer to get your writing done?

As I mentioned, I do balance my writing with other work. It’s actually good for the soul to go into an office and talk to people. One, it gives me the excuse to get out of my thongs (summer) or ugg boots (winter) and put on make-up! And two, writing can be very solitary, so talking with a wide range of people actually inspires me. One of my work colleagues was actually very inspirational when writing “The Three Miss Allens”.

 

Q4. Always an important question…..are you a meticulous plotter or do you sit back, type and see where the story takes you?

Oh god, no. I’m not a plotter at all! I so envy those people who can plot. I find that it makes me bored with the story and then I get distracted. I like to have a general idea about what will happen in the final pages, but there were some plot twists in “The Three Miss Allens” that literally came to me as I was typing. And I think they are some of the strongest parts of the book.

 

Q5. I’ve never been to South Australia but your books make me want to! Can you share a little about the setting of The Three Miss Allens?

You definitely should come! The Three Miss Allens is set in a fictional town – Remarkable Bay – on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula. The peninsula is real, but I decided to create a town for the book. It’s always easier that way, I think, because I can take some artistic licence with businesses and landmarks. Having said that, Remarkable Bay was totally inspired by the lovely seaside town of Port Elliot. It sits right on Horseshoe Bay, which is totally gorgeous.

three-miss-allens

 

Q6. How much research did you have to do for the historical component of the story?

I did lots of research for the 1934 and wartime sections of “The Three Miss Allens”. Everything from the clothes women wore, beach etiquette (it was frowned upon for men to swim “topless” in South Australia back then and there were police patrolling the metropolitan beaches!), to food and the dairy industry! The beauty of the internet means that I can type in absolutely anything and be taken to reputable sources of material from which to learn and take inspiration. And I did do numerous visits to Port Elliot for inspiration, too.

 

Q7. In the modern-day portion of the book, Roma has bought an old house that needs restoring to its former glory. I’m a bit of a tragic for TV shows featuring renovations/restorations and it’s something I’d love to do one day. Have you ever done anything like that or would you, if given the opportunity?

 

My husband and I have renovated two houses and we’ve now sworn never to do it again! I do love makeover shows – most especially “Selling Houses Australia” – it’s amazing what a decent paint job and a couple of throw cushions can do! I’m pretty handy with a paintbrush and filling in small cracks, but I’m a firm believer in getting in good tradespeople to get the job done properly! We’re planning a major bathroom reno to get rid of a 1980s spa bath and I’m dreading it! All that red brick dust…

 

Q8. Would you prefer to be a modern-day heroine or a belle of the ball from historical times?

Definitely a modern day heroine. I do think that for the majority of people, the good old days weren’t such good old days. In “The Three Miss Allens”, I made a particular point not to romanticise the past. I don’t think it was a great place to be if you were poor, living with a disability, or were different in any way. And if you were a young woman pregnant out of wedlock, it could be hellish.

 

Q9. What’s on your summer reading list?

I’m interviewing authors at Adelaide Writers Week again this year so I have a box of books to read for that. I’ve just finished “His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet and I’m about to start “The Good People” by Hannah Kent and “Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms” by Anita Heiss. As well as a deadline on my next book, they’ll keep me busy!

 

Q10. And to finish off, what can your readers expect to see from you next?

I’m in the final stages of my next book, a family saga which begins in the post-war years in Australia and follows four families through to the present day. It’s loosely based on my own mother’s story of migration to Australia and her time with her family at the Bonegilla Migrant Camp near Albury. More than 300,000 Australians went through Bonegilla, and I thought there were some fantastic stories to explore about that era in Australia’s history.

Thanks for having me, Bree!

***

Thank you Victoria, for your wonderful answers and I am looking forward to seeing that family saga (hopefully) soon!

My review of The Three Miss Allens will be up later today.

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Review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

a-perilous-undertakingA Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell #2)
Deanna Raybourn
Berkley Books
2017, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed….

I enjoy this series but I have to admit, it’s probably one where it’s best if you don’t think about it too much. There are some things that pull me out of the story when I’m reading but I just ignore it and keep going. It’s when I’ve finished that all those things kind of resurface and I find myself thinking about them.

There are pros and cons. The pros are that I just really love books set in this time period and I love the dynamic between Veronica and Stoker which gets more and more interesting. I do also enjoy that Veronica is the more forward one at times and that she can make Stoker blush and splutter a bit when she’s suggestive. The attraction between them still simmers but is complicated in this installment when Stoker says something during a rare intimate moment between them. Although it’s frustrating, as it drives them further away from anything truly satisfying happening between them, it also does make sense as there is still a lot of unexplored territory. There’s still a lot to be revealed about Stoker and a lot for him to deal with. I enjoy the intellectual conversations that Veronica and Stoker have and the fact that he’s quite happy for her to traipse around investigating things and doing things. Even though Stoker seems the more conventional of the two (raised in a titled family, etc) he’s still unconventional enough not to want to put Veronica into a box.

But then there are cons. And a big con is that Veronica’s voice can get, on occasion, well, a bit…..grating. I think so much is made of trying to portray her as different and fresh and modern that she comes across as preachy and irritating. Always banging on about her life experience and how she has these opinions on this or that or has done this or that and other people who don’t do such things are a bit dull. Sometimes her observations are amusing but other times they are quite know-it-all and a bit judgmental. She seems to make assumptions about people a lot. Veronica seems to have done pretty much everything there is to do. She’s travelled around the globe numerous times. She knows various languages, has had many lovers, has had a variety of crazy experiences on her adventures. But we don’t really learn much about these other than having her recite them in her head which makes them difficult to really well, believe. You have to wonder why she’s loafing around London looking into little mysteries with Stoker when she could be trekking through a jungle somewhere exotic or something. It’s not entirely believable that this position she has is that amazing, especially seeing as their benefactor has to postpone their planned expedition because he tripped over a tortoise (yes, really).

The mystery that they were investigating in this one was fine, there were a few twists and turns, a couple of things where you had to stretch your imagination but for the most part it was pretty interesting. It held my attention and I really found that I did want to find out what on earth had happened. I’m not sure how much of this series is going to revolve around members of Veronica’s ‘family’ (I use the term loosely, people who have read the first book will understand what I mean) but I am not sure it’s something that can keep going for very long. Various members popping up to secure her services because she’s had some knack solving a couple of things. It’s not the securing that’s unbelievable, it’s the fact that these people would seek her out, I think, for me. I hope Veronica’s world expands a little. I’d love a few books to be set during some of these adventures they’re apparently going to be going on!

I enjoyed this but I didn’t love it. At the moment I feel as though the next 1-2 books will be crucial in whether or not I begin to love it or the little things here end up becoming big things that bother me.

7/10

Book #7 of 2017

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Review: Wicked In His Arms by Stacy Reid

wicked-in-his-armsWicked In His Arms (Wedded By Scandal #2)
Stacy Reid
Entangled: Scandalous
2017, 300p
Copy courtesy the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Tobias Walcott, the Earl of Blade, has learned it is best to exercise rigid control over his passions and emotions in all that he does. Uncaring that it makes him seem cool and aloof to most in the ton, he is content with his desire to only woo agreeable and demur females. Then unforeseen circumstances see him trapped in a closet at a house party with the last woman he would ever make his countess.

Lady Olivia Sherwood is everything he should not desire in a female—unconventional, too decisive, and utterly without decorum. But passion ignites between them and they are discovered. Honor demands they wed, and while Tobias finds himself unwillingly drawn to the bewitching beauty, he must do everything not to tempt the passion that burns in him for her, lest it leads to disastrous consequences.

I adored the first book in this series, Accidentally Compromising The Duke and was super excited for this one because I thought it would be about the Marquis of Westfall. However it’s not – looks like he’s going to be book 3. Instead we got a friend of both the Duke of Wolverton (from book 1) and Westfall, Tobias Walcott, the Earl of Blade. Tobias is a ruthlessly controlled sort, firmly holding all emotions in check and never allowing a breath of scandal to touch him. Enter Lady Olivia Sherwood, with the taint of scandal still firmly upon her thanks to her father’s actions. Her stepfather has sent Lady Olivia to his cousin, the Earl’s mother for some “social polish”.

Lady Olivia rides like a hoyden raised by her now deceased father to do a lot of things young ladies shouldn’t know how to do. She’s not like other ladies in society and she is the very thing Tobias does not want in a wife. She’s the sort who would court a scandal, not do her best to avoid one and Tobias has had enough of scandals in his family. He wants a calm wife, someone who will always do and say the right thing. It’s important that he not have any real feelings toward his wife either. Those lead to yet more scandals.

I didn’t really care much for Tobias in the beginning. I found him insufferably antagonistic toward Lady Olivia. Half the time he seemed to go out of his way to bait her and then they bickered like children – it’s suggested in the book they fought like an old married couple but for me it was more like hideously annoying siblings. Tobias makes it very clear he doesn’t want this or that for a bride, doesn’t want to court scandal…etc etc and then ends up in a closet with Lady Olivia in about three minutes. Okay. Good plan.

At least he does insist on doing the ‘right thing’ but Lady Olivia wants him to love her. And Tobias believes that love is some sort of weakness that will lead to you doing ridiculous things in public. Have a guess where someone who spurns all of this is going…..yes, pride goeth before a very large fall and I have to say, the end of this novel redeemed for me. Tobias, once he does figure out how he feels about Lady Oliva, does become rather awesome. This was something the previous book excelled at too – once the hero pulls his head out of his backside and realises what he has, there are so many feels. Stacy Reid does tortured hero and angst super well…..which is I think why I am sooo looking forward to the book with the Marquis of Westfall because that one is already tortured and angsty and we haven’t even got to the romancey stuff yet!

After a bit of a shaky start, this book definitely redeemed itself for me and I ended up really enjoying it. Tobias ended up really needing someone like Olivia to show him the sort of life he really wanted. Once Tobias let go of that rigid control and fear of weakness leading to scandal, the two of them were perfect together.

7/10

Book #5 of 2017

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Top 10 Tuesday 17th January

TTT

Tuesday has rolled around again, so it’s time for Top 10 Tuesday, hosted by The Broke & The Bookish. This week, our topic is……..

Top 10 Underrated Books Read In 2016

This one had me thinking a bit…..underrated is something that everyone can have their own definition for. What I consider to be underrated might be well popular to someone else, etc. For me, I picked some books (well actually, a lot of these were series’) where I didn’t read any reviews for them or just didn’t really see them around much. Doesn’t mean they aren’t being read or reviewed though.

  1. Confessions Of A Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman series, by J.B. Lynn (qualifying to mean books 1-13. I didn’t like book 14 or the direction I think it might be going in now). I underrated this myself actually. I picked it up because the title of the first book was funny, but I have to admit, I thought it was going to be a bit lame. The heroine can understand animals, after something happens to her and she gets a knock on the head. However I ended up becoming slightly obsessed with this series and read all 14 of the ones released when I started in something really stupid, like 3 days! They were exactly what I needed at the time….
  2. Headline In High Heels series by LynDee Walker. A smart and funny series about a crime reporter who always gets the scoop. The sexy slightly-probably-most-likely-ok-definitely-a-criminal Mafia love interest adds a lot of elements. Mostly I’m just super grateful for a competent heroine who is excellent at her job and isn’t bumbling through life.
  3. Southern Ghost Hunter series by Angie Fox. I’m not really a ‘ghost’ sort of person, but I really enjoy these. Love Frankie in all his gangster, Prohibition-era glory and Verity and Ellis have chemistry. Can’t wait for the next one.
  4. Rose Strickland Mysteries by Terri L. Austin. I like these because they’re a bit familiar but also a bit different. Rose is a waitress putting herself through community college after her rich family cut her off for not wanting to attend the college of their choice. She becomes a bit of an amateur private investigator, searching for a missing friend of hers which leads to her crossing paths with an enigmatic and dangerous sort of man. They’re fun. There’s only 4 so far, I hope there’ll be another.
  5. A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester. I loved this story about a woman fighting to become a doctor in 1922s Manhattan. I hope it gets some recognition in the rest of the world.
  6. Melody Bittersweet and the Girls’ Ghostbusting Agency by Kitty French. Oops, another book with ghosts. Not bad for someone who says that she doesn’t really like books with ghosts! I hope there’s a 2nd novel very soon.
  7. An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire. Another Aussie book, a crime where the focus was more on the fascination and media obsession with a pretty victim. It was very powerful and Emily Maguire is a fantastic writer. All of her books are underrated to me.
  8. A Few Good Women by Camilla Chafer. The 9th (and most recent) in the Lexi Graves series. Another series I devoured and now I have to wait for each new one to come out. I hate waiting! Lol. This series is super fun and one of the rare instances I seem to have picked the correct ‘ship to champion.

I think that’s really about it for my ‘underrated’ books in 2016. I read a few others that I don’t think have perhaps gotten the attention they deserve but they were only released in the last 2 months of 2016 so perhaps it’s a bit early to tell!

What about you? What do you consider to be underrated?

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Review: True Colours by Kristin Hannah

true-coloursTrue Colours
Kristin Hannah
Pan Macmillan
2017 (originally 2009), 393p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The Grey sisters have always looked after one another. Growing up on a sprawling ranch with an emotionally distant father, they had nowhere else to turn after their mother died.

Winona, the oldest, craves her father’s approval. Happier reading a book than riding a horse, she knows she isn’t the daughter he wanted – but she’s determined to prove her worth. Aurora is the peacemaker, trying to keep everyone happy, whilst hiding her own feelings. Vivi Ann, the youngest, is the star of the family. Beautiful and spirited, everything comes easily to her – until a stranger comes to town.

When Vivi Ann makes a fateful decision to follow her heart, everything changes. Suddenly the sisters are pitted against each other. Loyalties are tested, secrets revealed – and then a terrible crime threatens to tear their whole community apart.

Compelling and provocative, True Colours by Kristin Hannah is an unforgettable novel about jealousy, betrayal, passion and forgiveness – and what it means to be a family.

This is actually the first Kristin Hannah novel I’ve ever read, although I’ve seen and heard a lot about her books, particularly The Nightingale so I jumped at the chance to read this one. It certainly went a few directions that were quite different to what I expected and I had some mixed feelings.

The first maybe half to two thirds of the book feels very slow and very much a long “set up”. A lot of it is Winona, the eldest sister, being terribly jealous of Vivi Ann, the youngest sister. Winona is overweight and lacks an affinity with horses, which means that she never really gained approval from her rancher and farrier father. Even as a child, Winona felt excluded from his affection, most of which seemed to be given to Vivi Ann, who was fearless with the horses and has a real bond with most of them. Vivi Ann is also beautiful and even though Winona has built a successful career as a lawyer and is in a secure financial position, she lacks the things she desires the most: her father’s approval and the love of a man. Things are made even worse when her high school crush moves back to town and immediately falls in love with Vivi Ann.

There’s a middle sister, Aurora but her presence is ghostly. She has almost zero personality and her sole reason for existing seems to be an attempt to keep the peace between Winona and Vivi Ann, a job that grows more difficult with each passing year. Winona’s jealousy increases terribly and she does and says some pretty awful things. And for her own faults, Vivi Ann is clueless. She coasts through life, not really realising how her actions affect other people, or how people see things differently to her. Even when things go wrong for Vivi Ann, she almost always ends up coming out of it better than when she went in…..until the one thing that she cannot fix happens.

The last third of the book is where it really shines. The story suddenly gets a lot meatier, with real depth to it and becomes less about sisters bickering and more about trying to mend a broken family. Winona has said and done some terrible things, believed some even worse things (falsely) about someone. But when she suddenly realises that she can possibly help her sister out in some way, she really does go above and beyond. In many ways she does owe Vivi Ann, even though her wrongs ended up setting Vivi Ann on a better path.

This latter part of the book also really focuses on Noah, who is probably the most interesting character of all. I didn’t always enjoy Noah’s narrative – he’s a sulky, angry teenager after all, but I did feel that it was really well done. I felt his anger, his frustration and his pain regarding the hole in his life. Poor Noah, he had a lot of questions but it takes him an awful long time to get any answers. I became really invested in the story through Noah, wanting him to be able to get the answers and the interaction that he needed. I felt frustrated towards Vivi Ann at times, for some of the choices she made and how they affected Noah.

Overall, I did really enjoy this book, but that was because the last third was so good. It felt almost like a different story it stepped up so far. The sisters, (well, Winona and Vivi Ann only, Aurora is still a nothing character who doesn’t get to really take part in the story as anything other than a mediator. Everything interesting that happens to her, happens off page) suddenly become that much more complex and I felt I could finally understand Winona’s actions, whereas in the past everything she’d done in the book had alienated me. I felt that finally there was some form of Vivi Ann understanding how her actions had affected those around her, rather than just not noticing or having the time for it. She also came to understand just how cruel a person her father could be, having previously dismissed Winona’s (and to a lesser extent, Aurora) thoughts on him, because Vivi Ann had always been the daughter that could do no wrong. She finally saw the side of him that her sisters saw and realised how much she had never noticed. However I can’t deny that the first part of the book seemed to drag on for a long time and quite often, I found my interest waning. I’m glad I didn’t end up putting it down because when it was good, it was really good, but I did come close on a couple of occasions. I’d definitely read more Kristin Hannah in the future though, I would really like to get to The Nightingale one day.

7/10

Book #2 of 2017

 

 

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Blog Tour Review: A Quiet Kind Of Thunder by Sara Barnard

quiet-kind-of-thunderA Quiet Kind Of Thunder
Sara Barnard
Macmillan Children’s Books
2017, 320p
Copy courtesy Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

I’m not sure where to start….so many things to say!

This book was one of those reads where I just clicked with it right away. Steffi is an amazing narrator. She’s been selectively mute for most of her life. That’s quite a misleading term, ‘selective mute’ because it’s not something at all that Steffi chooses. But she can talk – there’s nothing physically preventing her from talking. There are just a range of things that make it impossible for her to talk in many situations. From the time she was a small child, Steffi has struggled to speak. Things have gotten better for her at some times and then regressed. In high school now, with her best friend having left, Steffi finds it very difficult. She is introduced to new student Rhys on the flimsiest of reasons. Some time in the past, Steffi learned some sign language as an alternative way to communicate and because Rhys is deaf, they’re thrown together. Steffi’s sign language is pretty rusty but Rhys can also lip read if people are looking at him and speaking clearly.

Steffi isn’t just a selective mute. She also has several other diagnosis including anxiety and this book is one of the best depictions of that I’ve seen. Steffi’s internal thoughts provide such an accurate picture of anxiety, how it can strike at any times, even when everything is going well for her and how she can panic about the smallest of things. When I was reading about Steffi going through one of these attacks, it was almost like experiencing it. I don’t have anxiety….I have things that make me nervous and I have a fear of public speaking that’s so great I feel physically ill just thinking about it, but I can do it. But this definitely helped me understand what life is like for someone who has a condition of anxiety.

Another thing I appreciated about this book was Steffi’s relationship with her family. For a long time I read YA books where parents were absent or just non-existent in the story but this is not the case here. Steffi’s parents are divorced and both her parents have remarried. She spends time at each house and interacts with her parents, her stepmother and stepfather and younger half sister. She wants to go to university when she finishes school but it’s something that she and her parents, in particular her mother, are at odds over. Steffi’s mother doesn’t believe she would cope in such an environment and her mother seems to have ‘markers’ for her, things that if Steffi can accomplish she might be able to do these things. Of her parents it definitely seems that her mother has had the hardest time accepting Steffi’s mutism and Steffi details some of the ways in which her mother tried to get her to speak as a child. All of the parental-offspring interactions felt real, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I loved Rhys as a character. He was a nice guy, a sweet guy. There were plenty of awkward moments between him and Steffi but so many cute ones too. The evolution of their friendship/relationship felt realistic as well and I liked the multiple ways in which they communicated, including by text and an app. Those sorts of ways enabled both of them to be on level footing…..Rhys didn’t need to be lipreading and Steffi didn’t need to be mixing her signing with writing down words she didn’t know how to sign. There’s just something about how easy they were with each other that was very appealing. Being with Rhys made Steffi brave in lots of ways and she really does have a moment where she has to act on her own and I think she learns a lot about herself. The way in which she accepts her issues but also that they are for no one else to fix, that she’s not for anyone to ‘take care of’ is an awesome moment of true acceptance of herself but also belief that she can and will improve. There’s no ‘magic’ solution for Steffi, she knows that. And she needs to make sure that others know it too.

Reading this book was just a really good experience – it encompassed so much. A sweet story or love and friendship, a girl’s struggle with an unexplained condition (and several other diagnosis’) and a complex but realistic family dynamic that contributed to the story. This is the sort of book where you think about the characters long after you’ve finished reading it. The sort of book where you want to recommend it to everyone you know. A book not just for the quiet ones, but for everyone.

8/10

Book #216 of 2016

 

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Review: To The Bright Edge Of The World by Eowyn Ivey

to-the-bright-edge-of-the-worldTo The Bright Edge Of The World
Eowyn Ivey
Tinder Press
2016, 461p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Winter, 1885. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester accepts the mission of a lifetime, to navigate Alaska’s Wolverine River with a small band of men. The Wolverine is key to opening up the newly acquired territory of Alaska, and will transform at a stroke its destiny and that of the people who all it their home. And once Forrester and his crew pass beyond the edge of the known world, there’s no telling what awaits them.

Forrester leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he never expected to have. Adventurous in spirit, Sophie does not relish the prospect of a year confined to a military barracks while her husband carves a path through the wilderness. What she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage and fortitude of her that it does of her husband.

For a long while now, I haven’t really had a local bookstore. We had a Collins Books, it closed a few years ago and if I didn’t travel into Melbourne I had to rely on either buying online or buying at the department stores, which always feels a bit…..weird. Then they refurbished and extended our local shopping centre and we ended up with two new bookstores. One is a bit of an oddball, has a variety of discount books and some new releases but it’s not the sort you can count on to have plenty of new offerings although they will order in anything you want if you ask. The other is a branch of a well known independent and is beautifully decked out with a large range. They also offer “Blind Date With a Book” stands, which feature books wrapped in brown paper with three words written on the front to give you a bit of a clue. On our first trip in there, my children got to choose a book each and I couldn’t decide what to get when my attention was caught by the Blind Date books. The first one I picked up had ‘Alaska, Intricate, Myth’ written on it. I was sold on the first word. I love books featuring Alaska. I bought it straight away.

When I unwrapped it, I found this book, which made me quite happy because I’d liked the sound of Eowyn Ivey’s previous book, The Snow Child enough to buy it (let’s not talk about the fact that it’s still on my TBR shelf). I decided to add this to my January pile and figured if it went well, I might get myself another Blind Date book!

I spent most of last Sunday evening reading this and absolutely loved it! There are quite a few stories going on here – Allen Forrester (based on a real life person, Lieutenant Henry T. Allen), referred to in most cases by his men as the Colonel. He travels with several men (the party is sort of fluid, it grows and shrinks at various points) on foot and occasionally by canoe up the Wolverine River in Alaska. Waiting for him back at a barracks in Washington is his pregnant wife Sophie, younger than him and the sort of woman who isn’t going to idly keep house and take tea with the other ladies whilst she waits for his return. In the ‘present day’ there are letters of correspondence between Walter, a 70-something, a great nephew of Allen and Sophie and Josh, the young curator of a museum in Alaska, to whom Walter has entrusted the Colonel’s journals and papers.

Allen’s journal entries are fascinating…..the Colonel is a straight-forward man who mentions time and time again that he doesn’t have much use for mysticism and strange occurrences. However there are times when he finds it hard to explain what he has witnessed and heard, during his time in Alaska. Their journey is hard, they are plagued by difficult weather, trouble with provisions and their way of transporting them, a lack of viable game to supplement their provisions and various other problems that are so long you could fill a phone book. But they keep on, meeting various villages of the Native Alaskan people, learning to communicate, hearing their stories, seeing their different ways of life. Rumours abound of Native Alaskan’s slaughter of Russians as well as practices of cannibalism. As much as I love reading books set in Alaska (and I’m a sucker for TV shows about it too) I have to admit that I don’t have a huge knowledge of its history. Just the bare basics and most of my reading has been contemporary and tended toward the romance. I just find the landscape really fascinating….and beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful. Allen’s narration of his journey was articulate and straddled that balance between matter of fact scientific ‘this is what we are doing because it is my duty and this is how we will do it’ and ‘weird things are happening here that I am not sure about’ but such was the atmosphere of Alaska that it was possible to believe that anything could happen. I loved Allen’s narration, how he included things he couldn’t explain in his personal journal. I also really enjoyed reading his letters to his wife as well as his thoughts about her. The book began after their marriage so stories of how they met and their courtship were told through letters or Allen or Sophie’s musings about the other in their journals. I found myself imagining what it would be like for Allen and Sophie to read each other’s words after they were reunited…. and then as the book went on and Allen’s party found more and more treacherous conditions and steadily lost provisions and supplies, I began to wonder even if they would be reunited. Or if Sophie would receive Allen’s journals years into the future as some other exploring party stumbled across them.

I found myself surprisingly enamoured with the small additional story line of the letters between Walt and Josh. At the beginning of the book, Walt has sent Josh the Colonel’s journals and papers as well as some of Sophie’s writings and clippings, despite Josh gently refusing them due to a lack of resources. Their letters slowly share more of their personal lives and develop a genuine affection, rather than just a business-like tone. The two are very different but they connect over the journals and papers and as Josh gets drawn deeper into the story he shares more and more snippets of what he knows as a native Alaskan of mixed heritage, some of which ties in with the Colonel’s trip. Their letters just added a really nice touch, something to give a bit of a glimpse into what happened in the years after the Colonel’s expedition and in more recent times.

This is a beautiful book, written in a truly engaging way and sensitive to the beliefs of the Native peoples it depicts. Colonel Forrester is a thoughtful and amiable narrator and although he has hard decisions to make he still weighs up options and takes into consideration the opinions of others. I really enjoyed learning about his relationship with Sophie through his writing. Sophie herself was a fun character too, her developing interest in photography gives her something to do whilst Allen is away and her desire to be different, to not care what others think of her is somewhat refreshing. I enjoyed reading her feelings about her husband just as much as I did his on her.

My Blind Date was a roaring success! So much so that I think I’ll venture to the store and choose another. And I’m digging out my copy of The Snow Child and adding it to my February reading pile because this has just convinced me that I’ve let it go unread far too long.

Brilliant.

9/10

Book #6 of 2017

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Rule Maker by Jennifer Blackwood

rule-makerThe Rule Maker (The Rule Breakers #2)
Jennifer Blackwood
Entangled Publishing LLC
2016, 280p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Ten Steps to Surviving a New Job:

1. Don’t sleep with the client. It’ll get you fired. (Sounds easy enough.)

2. Don’t blink when new client turns out to be former one-night stand.

3. Don’t call same client a jerk for never texting you back.

4. Don’t believe client when he says he really, really wanted to call.

5. Remember, the client is always right—so you can’t junk punch him when he demands new design after new design.

6. Ignore accelerated heartbeat every time sexy client walks into room.

7. Definitely ignore client’s large hands. They just mean he wears big gloves.

8. Don’t let client’s charm wear you down. Be strong.

9. Whatever you do, don’t fall for the client. You’ll lose more than your job—maybe even your heart.

10. If all else fails, see rule number one again.

I’m forever requesting books without realising they’re part of a series. I’ve done it here again with this one, which is the second in a series. I think you can probably read these stand alone although there might’ve been a bit of background between these two characters that probably would’ve helped if I’d read about it rather than just had it rehashed here.

Some time ago (presumably in the first book) Zoey and Ryder had a one night stand and then he disappeared without calling her. Now Zoey is again working for Ryder’s brother Jason, redesigning the interior of a ski lodge that Jason has purchased. Instead of Jason turning up to help her, to her shock it’s Ryder. The professional snowboarder is currently out injured and is helping out his brother.

As soon as Ryder sees Zoey again, the commitmentphobe realises that he wants more than his usual one night stand. And it appears that Zoey isn’t over Ryder either, despite firmly telling herself to not get involved for a myriad of reasons, two important ones being a) Ryder is her client, working as Jason’s proxy pretty much, and b) she’s already been there, done that and Ryder up and vanished without a trace. But the more time Zoey spends with Ryder, the harder it is to keep resisting him.

I really liked the premise of this but unfortunately I didn’t end up loving the execution and I think it’s solely because of Ryder. I found him very childish and immature, constantly taunting Zoey and smirking at everything and he came off as very smug and unlikable. Zoey is attempting to do a job and Ryder keeps making things difficult for her at first, thinking that Jason has made a mistake purchasing the property. He delays responding to her emails and when they are finally working, he constantly crosses a professional line. I felt like the “set up” was drawn out far too long and Zoe and Ryder had too many frustrating interactions where he pushes her buttons. I didn’t really find their banter funny and most of the time I would’ve felt sorry for Zoey, who had a job to do and who had been told that basically her position within her place of employment hinged on how well she could continue to foster the relationship with Jason’s company. However Zoey was so thick at times that it made it almost impossible to feel sorry for her. She was almost unbearable when Ryder was around, also acting immature and unprofessionally, so maybe they were a perfect match for each other.

I think that probably the last third of the book was by far the best as things got moving much better in that section after dragging out in the first two thirds. Ryder seemed to finally come to the conclusion that he’d met someone who he could have more than just one night with but he had the difficulties of his career versus his heart to contend with as if he returned to professional snowboarding he would spend large amounts of time away competing. He also began to stand up to himself with his family however I did feel like there were a few confusing moments at the end where things weren’t really explained as well as they could’ve been.

For me, the most interesting thing of this whole book was the story of Ryder’s brother Jason. It’s only mentioned briefly but I found him far more appealing as a character than Ryder and I think if there were a book that featured Jason in the future, I’d be pretty tempted to read it. He seemed like he might have depth to him, whereas I found Ryder quite shallow and uninteresting. He got better by the end of the book but unfortunately by then all his smirking and unpleasantness had made its impression.

5/10

Book #4 of 2017

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Top Ten Tuesday 10th January 2017

TTT

Feels like forever since I have participated in one of these! It probably is six months or more. But I’m going to try and get back into participating regularly. It won’t be every week but hopefully I can do a couple a month. This one is a particularly pertinent topic for me! Hosted as always by the girls at The Broke & The Bookish, this week’s theme is:

Top 10 2016 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn’t Get To (But Totally Plan To)

  1. Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil by Melina Marchetta. I honestly can’t quite believe I still haven’t read this yet. I bought it back in August at the Melbourne Writers Festival where I heard Marchetta speak on it. It seems like I waited for ages for it to come out and then never ended up getting around to reading it. I wasn’t reading a huge amount at the end of last year though so I definitely hope to get to it hopefully late this month or maybe early February.
  2. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I was sent this for review last year but it was another one that somehow didn’t make it off the TBR shelf. I have mixed feelings about Picoult. The first couple I’ve tried by her I didn’t like at all but I’ve read a couple of her recent ones and really enjoyed them – The Storyteller was really good. Hopefully this one is too.
  3. Leave Me by Gayle Forman. Why haven’t I read this yet either? Honestly, I buy so many books!
  4. Feverborn, by Karen Marie Moning. Okay I know why I haven’t read this. I haven’t seen it in store to buy and the eBook was ridiculously expensive and I refuse to pay that much. Also this series…..I don’t really think it’s still worth ‘autobuy/read’ status. I’ll probably borrow it from the library when I have finally paid my fine.
  5. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave. Okay I’m a bit behind with my Chris Cleave reading because I haven’t read Gold yet either. My husband bought this one and read it really quickly and it’s been sitting there for me to read ever since. I’ll get to it!
  6. The Sun Is Also A Star, by Nicola Yoon. This comes highly recommended from several people I know.
  7. Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist, by Sunil Yapa. I saw this in a bookstore in February or so and really wanted to get it but ended up getting something else at the time – the 4th Neapolitan novel I think. I always meant to go back and get it (this was when I didn’t have an actual bookstore and had to travel into Melbourne to buy anything interesting) but never ended up getting around to it.
  8. Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler. Anne Tyler was referenced quite a bit in a few sessions I was at during the Melbourne Writers Festival. I haven’t read her and this had come out just beforehand so I was seeing it everywhere as well. I definitely want to read it at some stage and find out what I’m missing, not having read Tyler’s work yet.
  9. Fight Like A Girl, by Clementine Ford. If there was ever a year to read something like this, 2016 was probably it. However I’m not sure any of the issues it is concerned with are going away anytime soon, so 2017 will probably be just as good.
  10. Rosie Batty: A Mother’s Story by Rosie Batty and Bryce Corbett. I’m cheating with this one as it was released in late 2015 however I bought it in 2016 after the seeing her speak at the Melbourne Writers Fest. This woman’s courage, honestly. Although she’s a well known name in Australia, people overseas may not be aware of her. In a nutshell, Rosie Batty’s 11yo son Luke was murdered by his father, a known violent man who was granted access to his son whilst his son was playing public sports, despite numerous investigations into violent behaviour, restraining orders against him and even a child pornography investigation. He used that to murder his son in a cricket net at cricket practice and since then, Rosie Batty has been an unwavering campaigner against domestic violence. She was Australian of the Year (a title that often comes with public scrutiny and judgement) and was constantly criticised for “grieving in the wrong way” by many people, including women and mothers. I will read it when I think I have the strength to, because I’m sure it’s going to be a very difficult book to read.

So these are the 10 books I had hoped to read last year but will now aim to read this year. I need to keep track of these posts, to kind hold myself accountable to the statements I make! Looking forward to seeing what everyone else intended to read but just didn’t quite get the time to fit in.

 

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