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Review: In At The Deep End by Penelope Janu

in-at-the-deep-endIn At The Deep End
Penelope Janu
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2017, 340p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

What woman doesn’t love a real-life hero? Harriet Scott, for one. The fiercely independent daughter of famous adventurers, she grew up travelling the world on the environmental flagship The Watch. So when Harriet’s ship sinks in Antarctica and she has to be rescued by Commander Per Amundsen, an infuriatingly capable Norwegian naval officer and living breathing action hero, her world is turned upside down.

Like their namesakes, the original Scott and Amundsen who competed to reach the South Pole first, Per and Harriet have different ways of doing things. Per thinks Harriet is an accident waiting to happen; Harriet thinks Per is a control freak. But when Harriet realises that Per is the only one who can help her fund the new ship she desperately wants, she is forced to cooperate with him.

Per refuses to assist unless Harriet allows him to teach her to swim. But there is more to Harriet’s terrible fear of water than meets the eye. Can Harriet face her fears and come to terms with the trauma and loss of her past? And will she begin to appreciate that some risks are well worth taking—and that polar opposites can, in fact, attract?

Eek, where to start?! This is one of my favourite reads so far this year. The sort of book I keep on hand for when I’m bored or need a bit of a pick me up. I can open it to anywhere and just start reading and sink back into the story.

Harriet is such an interesting character – her parents were environmentalists and adventurers, travelling the globe and taking Harriet with them. She never went to school, instead her education was conducted out in the field. She’s passionate about a lot of things, especially continuing the work of the Scott Foundation. Harriet provides a very public face, giving the public donating their money something to connect with. Her life has always been public and it’s something she’s used to, although she does have her boundaries.

By contrast, Commander Per Amundsen is controlled, methodical and unimpressed with what he sees as Harriet’s impetuousness. Forced to work together for mutual benefit, the chemistry between Harriet and Per is off the charts. Harriet isn’t always an easy person to be around – she struggles with a very real and terrifying phobia and often she lashes out when dealing with that. It’s clear that whatever happened to Harriet to bring on this phobia was incredibly bad and it’s still affecting her many, many years later. Some of those scenes….poor Harriet! I’ve never experienced anything quite like that before, I felt for her. And I admired her, because no matter how horrific it was, she kept going. Although she has tried avoidance tactics before and probably given up ever finding a way to overcome her fear (and she is kind of manipulated into trying again) she shows a real determination and her willingness to put herself through what had to be a sort of hell showed a real personal strength. And that is Harriet in a nutshell probably….a vulnerable centre but strong and feisty.

This book has a lot of its story grounded in environmental issues and climate change. Harriet is an environmentalist and geography teacher who works tirelessly to raise awareness for environmental issues and Per is a scientist and naval officer who is going to drill ice cores in the Antarctic to find out information about climate changes. I really liked these aspects of the book – their interest in the environment is both a big part of who both Harriet and Per are. It also gives them something in common, albeit they approach their fields in very different ways.

There was just so much I loved about this….the opening scene is all action and definitely hooks the reader in but after that it’s almost more a journey of emotional strength and connection. Per and Harriet have scenes together that aren’t exactly what you’d call romantic in terms of what Per is helping her achieve but they do actually build a real bond underneath the awkwardness and some sexual tension. Harriet isn’t particularly experienced either so quite often she misses Per’s interest in her or mistakes it for something else. Per is really my sort of character  – I do love the tall, dark and silent type, the ones who come across as a bit abrupt at first but underneath are full of heart. He’s a little bit serious, a bit standoffish at times and I thought the Polarman references were cute and fun. Per speaks Norwegian a bit but you’re not left hanging, wondering what he’s saying because Harriet is always asking him how to say things and what is the meaning of what he just said, etc.

There are just books that tick all your boxes and come along at the right time and this is one of them. For me it was just a really well executed story with two main characters that sizzled and some good supporting characters as well. I cannot wait for Penelope Janu’s next book……especially as it’s going to feature Per’s identical twin brother! But while I wait for that, I think I’ll be re-reading this one a few more times!

9/10

Book #3 of 2017

 

 

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Review: Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Remind Me How This Ends
Gabrielle Tozer
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 338p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s the summer after high school ends and everyone is moving on. Winning scholarships. Heading to uni. Travelling the world. Everyone except Milo Dark. Milo feels his life is stuck on pause. His girlfriend is 200km away, his mates have bailed for bigger things and he is convinced he’s missed the memo reminding him to plan the rest of his life. Then Layla Montgomery barrels back into his world after five years without so much as a text message.

As kids, Milo and Layla were family friends who shared everything – hiding out in her tree house, secrets made at midnight, and sunny afternoons at the river. But they haven’t spoken since her mum’s funeral. Layla’s fallen apart since that day. She pushed away her dad, dropped out of school and recently followed her on-again-off-again boyfriend back to town because she has nowhere else to go. Not that she’s letting on how tough things have been.

What begins as innocent banter between Milo and Layla soon draws them into a tangled mess with a guarantee that someone will get hurt. While it’s a summer they’ll never forget, is it one they want to remember?

It pains me to write this, but I struggled with this book.

I was really looking forward to it. I loved Tozer’s The Intern and was really excited about this. The cover is lovely and it was getting glowing reviews everywhere. I couldn’t find it in a nearby bookstore so I even ordered it in. I was so keen that I even started it pretty much right away.

It’s a split male/female point of view – Milo has just finished school, missed the cut off to apply for university because he didn’t know what he wanted to do and as a result, is still stuck in his small country town while his girlfriend and friend have moved away to bigger cities and are experiencing all that university has to offer. When he goes to visit Sal, his girlfriend, he’s rendered insecure by the raucous friendships and the closeness that Sal has developed with her fellow residentials. Sal seems to be changing rapidly but for Milo, a lot of things are still the same.

He runs into an old childhood friend named Layla who moved away some five or so years ago and Milo hasn’t seen her since. Layla is in a position similar to Milo’s in a way in that her life has become somewhat static. She’s moved out of home and is living with her boyfriend Kurt, who seems to be delving deeper into the seedier side of life for an income. Layla finds herself back in the town that is the source of so much pain for her but a bright spot is reconnecting with Milo. They were such good friends back in the day and gravitate towards each other once more now that Layla has returned. The only thing is that their friendship seems to have….become a bit more complicated, which is a bit awkward as Milo has a girlfriend and Layla has a boyfriend.

On one hand, I do find a bit of what this book explores very interesting and that is the post-high school period. A lot of pressure is placed upon year 12 students to know what they want to do, to have it all sorted out and even if you don’t, apply for something, apply for anything because once you’re in you can always switch later. Milo doesn’t know what he wants to do – he has not a single clue. He just knows that he doesn’t want to waste time and so he spends his days working in his parent’s bookshop and avoiding talks on his future. His parents seem very keen to have him do something. If he’s taking a gap year, they’re already on his back about maybe buying a house, studying this or that, doing something. His tactic is to attempt to avoid really and it doesn’t really seem like his father would listen anyway.

Where I struggled was with the actual characters themselves and their interactions. Milo – to be 100% honest I found him bland and uninteresting, lacking in anything remotely resembling a personality. He passively sits by and watches every thing else going on around him with little regard or interest in well, pretty much anything. He even ended up in a relationship with Sal more by accident than out of any real feeling for her and he seems to view the disintegration of their relationship after she moves to university with detachment.

I found Layla more interesting – actually I felt sorry for Layla in a lot of ways. But some of those ways really didn’t get much clear resolution which I felt was unfortunate. I’d have liked one scene with Layla and her father, a bonus if he actually acknowledged the ways in which his actions had made her life somewhat difficult over the past few years. Layla has very much been left to raise herself in a way and it gets to the stage where she really needs help but feels that she can’t ask for it. Her hand ends up being forced and it works out in such a way that you wonder why she was reluctant in the first place. I felt that her relationship with her boyfriend was somewhat inconsistent – well more that he was inconsistent, attempting to be supportive sometimes and at others being completely absent, uninterested and dismissive.

But what I most didn’t ‘feel’ about the story was the sort of budding romance between Milo and Layla. I just didn’t feel that any of their interactions had chemistry. The friendship was nice, but it never really seemed believable any further than that for me. What I did like? Was the ending. It felt like that’s the way it should’ve gone, that it was the right way to go for both of them, who still had much to work through.

A mixed bag unfortunately – for me this just did not live up to the hype.

6/10

Book #75 of 2017

Remind Me How This Ends is book #24 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Blog Tour Review: Words In Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

words-in-deep-blueWords In Deep Blue
Cath Crowley
PanMacmillan AUS
2016, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is a love story.
It’s the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.
It’s the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she’s back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.

This is my first Cath Crowley book although bloggers I know have sung the praises of her Graffiti Moon for a long time. It’s one of those books that speaks to a reader in so many ways, an interwoven tale of love, grief, friendship and books. What more could a reader want?

Rachel is 18 and has just failed year 12 after a devastating personal loss ten months ago. She’s moving back to Gracetown, a fictional suburb in north Melbourne where she lived up until three years ago, when she moved close to the sea. She was to start a job at a cafe in a hospital but after it falls through her aunt gets her a job at the second hand bookstore owned by the parents of a boy who was once her closest friend. She will be cataloguing all the books but it will mean working with Henry, who Rachel stopped writing to after she moved away.

For Henry, there is so much confusion. Rachel, his best friend, stopped talking to him. Amy, the girl he loves won’t stop messing with his head. She’s broken up with him again but she always comes back. And now Rachel is back too, working at the bookstore. She is suffering but whatever is causing her pain, she keeps silent on it. And now Henry’s mother wishes to sell the bookstore, which is barely breaking even and he has to decide which way his vote should go.

This is a book that will stay with you. The characters of Rachel and Henry are superb. They share the narrative and each is clearly defined. Rachel’s grief is palpable, almost leaping off the page to punch you in the face. Her loss is substantial and it’s coloured with a ‘what if’ guilt that haunts her. She loved Henry when she lived in Gracetown previously but he chose red-haired, manipulative Amy. Despite his desperation over Amy, an unlikable character in the extreme, Henry is still lovable and his dedication to the bookshop is….incredible.

Which brings me to the setting. Oh, the setting of this book. It’s like my spirit animal. I love all bookstores, they’ve been my happy place for as long as I can remember – from a 7/8yo going to Bookworld before it was bought by Angus & Robertson, picking up the next Baby Sitters Club or Thoroughbred series book to now. Second hand bookstores are just as good, the potential in there is unlimited. You never know what sort of gem you might find in there. Living in a town without a real bookstore is a struggle these days – if I want something I have to order online and wait or travel 40min in either direction to find a proper bookstore. The setting of Howling Books is such a beautiful place – this novel is littered with literary references, classical and contemporary. In the bookstore is a section called the Letter Library where patrons can read a book from the shelves there and leave notes, etc in the margins, or letters to other readers, but they cannot buy those books or remove them from that part of the store. It forms such an incredible part of the novel, which includes letters exchanged between the characters. Not just Rachel and Harry but also between Harry’s sister George and several others as well as letters and comments from Harry’s parents to each other which gives the reader such insight into their personalities and also their predicament with selling the store. It’s a good location on a big block and it will fetch such a price that all of them will financially comfortable. However for that they will trade away the bookstore and for Harry, George and their father, this is indeed a heavy price to pay.

I really enjoyed the story of George, Harry’s sister and her evolving relationship with Martin, a guy her age who is also hired to catalog the store contents. George is a prickly sort, ostracised and bullied at school and Martin, who used to date her nemesis, faces a hard road in winning her over. The character of Martin was adorable and some of his letters and moments with George were a real highlight.

Words In Deep Blue is really beautiful coming of age story, thoughtfully exploring love and grief in some of their purest forms. It’s not just about romantic love either, it’s deeper than that with homage to friendship, literature and home. I enjoyed every second of it and am putting Graffiti Moon on my ‘must acquire’ list straight away.

8/10

Book #172 of 2016

This review is part of the Words In Deep Blue blog tour. Please make sure you check out the rest of the stops listed below for some awesome reviews and author interviews.

a-cathcrowleydates-1

 

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Review: Endless Knight by Kresley Cole

Endless KnightEndless Knight (The Arcana Chronicles #2)
Kresley Cole
Simon & Schuster
2013, 336p
Read from my local library

Evie has now fully come into her powers as the Empress. She understands what she’s capable of and she understands the game that is being played. Everyone who has been reincarnated as one of the Tarot cards are in a battle to the death with the winner being granted immortality. She’s taken out one of the players already, although only because he threatened her. However there’s no denying that when her Empress persona takes over, Evie finds it almost impossible to stay in control. The Empress wants to inflict pain and suffering and it’s very difficult to pull herself away from that.

Evie decides it might be time to approach the games a bit differently and call a truce. After all, they’re bigger than the game, they can decide not to kill each other. She’s already in an alliance with the Fool, who guides her way, the Moon and the Magician and she’s sure there are other players out there that she can convince they can work together.

With the possible exception of Death.

Death has been speaking to Evie for a while now. And when he kidnaps her and takes her back to his stronghold, Evie knows that if she wants to escape, she’s going to have to employ some unusual methods. Death and Evie have a past that she can’t remember and he can’t forget. She’s also the only person Death can touch, skin on skin contact without killing them. And Death wants to touch her.

Although Evie has feelings for Jack, the Cajun boy from her hometown, there’s no denying that the more time she spends with Death, the more she is drawn to him. She begins to learn, remember, bits and pieces of their history and what they have shared over the years. The love….and the betrayal.

I read the first book in this series, Poison Princess as part of the Simon Pulse 30 Days of Reading promotion in December but it was during the time I was taking a break from blogging so I never ended up writing a review for it. I didn’t realise that not long after I finished that, the third book was due out and promos began popping up on my instagram inviting followers to comment if they were #teamJack or #teamDeath. Given Death was a psychopath who killed her in her dreams and spoke to Evie in her mind about killing her and how good it would be, I was sort of surprised that so many were showing their love for him. I figured that book 2 would be “Death’s book” and I was willing to be converted.

Well, that didn’t happen. In actual fact, I find Death kind of boring. Blah blah he’s so old and tormented, being immortal and all. He never gets to touch people so he’s all alone with no friends. He’s like the original whiny emo with a side of sadistic murderer thrown in. He has an annoying habit of referring to Evie as “creature” when he speaks to her and I really don’t get why he didn’t just kill her to begin with. He talks of ‘this lifetime’ as the one time he decided not to show her any mercy but that’s pretty much what he does. He takes her to his home, gives her food and clothing, allows her free rein (mostly, although some areas are off limits and he has incapacitated her powers). Despite the fact that he’s thousands of years old, all Evie has to do is put on some workout clothes and dance and he’s panting around after her like a horny teenager. All the while he claims he cannot be seduced but it’s pretty clear, that yes he can and will. The thing is, as their history becomes more and more clear, I get the feeling I should’ve been swayed more towards him. He’s endured a lot at the hands of the Empress’s past incarnations but I really didn’t care. He spends so much time running away from Evie that the chemistry feels lackluster and disappointing.

Look, Jack is kind of a douche too. I get that. But he’s an 18yo boy from a terrible area who has had an awful home life and been treated like dirt probably his whole life. He’s insensitive at times and this book reveals that he kept some pretty big secrets from Evie. Which she gets all super angry about despite the fact that she was keeping things from him. Jack has his flaws for sure. But I find them interesting when they’re together, even when they’re fighting. The chemistry is there when they’re squaring off and it’s there during the more gentle moments too. I feel as though the Death thing was being forced – oh there is history and betrayal and she’s the only one that can tame the killing machine. I feel as though this book played all of Death’s cards whereas Jack still has a lot up his sleeve, such as precisely who is and what role he has to play in the Arcana. I’m pretty sure he’s not just an average boy and that he does have some sort of deeper involvement.

It’s kind of weird when you don’t ‘get’ a coupling. I wonder if there’s something wrong with me or if I just tend to really go for the first guy that comes into the picture? I don’t know. I mean I’m Team Ranger in the Stephanie Plum books so I guess that isn’t true. But I really don’t get all of the love for Death. He has about as much personality as the average household pot plant for me. Gosh knows Evie isn’t perfect either, she’s spoiled and silly and jumps to conclusions and all the rest. She’s done a bit of growing and she clearly has a lot more to do. But I just don’t really see a future for them. Kind of hard to be happily ever after with a guy who kills everyone he touches and wants to kill all your friends.

The third book has been released now and I find myself torn about reading it. I actually tried to find a few spoilers around to see if it was going to end the way I wanted it to or if I was going to go through the whole thing only to get to the end and go argh! But there’s not really much around. Guess I’m just going to have to bit the bullet and see what happens.

6/10

Book #10 of 2015

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Review: Deeper Water – Jessie Cole

Deeper WaterDeeper Water
Jessie Cole
Harper Collins AUS
2014, 337p
Copy courtesy of the author

Mema lives a sheltered life, at home with her mother in a remote cottage deep in bushland. Homeschooled, Mema has rarely ventured beyond the farm, making only brief journeys to the small town nearby and the markets where she and her mother sell their pots.

During heavy summer floods Mema is out tending to a cow who is about to give birth when she sees a car washed off a bridge and into the creek. Thinking quickly, she is able to encourage the driver to smash the window and she helps him get to shore by extending a large branch for him to hold onto. Mema takes him home as there is no where else for him to go. Hamish, an environmental consultant from the city is a fish out of water in the small cottage which loses power in heavy storms, that doesn’t have a computer or the internet.

Hamish has to stay at the cottage with Mema and her mother until the waters recede and he can get to the nearby town. Mema shows him what her life involves – bodyboarding down the swollen creek, exploring the local bush and running in the rain. Sheltered as she has been, Mema has never really spent much time with a man before and he opens up a whole new world of feeling and intrigue for her.

In the last four years, I’ve reviewed a lot of books. Sometimes the words come easy, sometimes I have to coax them. The reasons for the writers block can be varied but I honestly think this is probably the first time I haven’t really known what to write because the book is so beautifully written and I’m not sure how to convey that accurately. It’s now almost two weeks since I read this book, having come down with the flu the day after I finished it. I normally like to write the review as close to finishing the book as possible, so everything is fresh in my mind. However perhaps with this book, time to reflect on it and mull it over in my mind is a bonus, rather than a disadvantage.

Mema is a truly unique character, sheltered from the outside world in many ways. She spends most of her time at her family’s isolated cabin where there’s no television and no computer. Mema’s mother earns just enough money for them to survive by selling the clay pots she makes and Mema contributes too, making mugs and smaller items to sell at markets. There’s an innocence to Mema that’s so utterly charming, she has a really interesting way of looking at nature and the environment. Her surroundings are precious to her and she has love for everything that makes up nature, even the ugly parts that no one else cares for, such as cane toads which are known pests. Seeing the world through Mema’s eyes was somewhat of a revelation as she takes the time to really see and experience what is happening around her. She takes pleasure from the simplest things – running as fast as she can manage in the rain, body boarding down the creek swollen in the floods. Her childlike enthusiasm and wonder is infectious and city boy Hamish finds himself rather swayed by her even as he doesn’t really understand her.

If this book was a romance, Hamish would turn his back on his city life and live happily ever after in the bush with Mema, building them a cabin or something. But that isn’t the way this story unfolds – there’s much more realism in this story. Hamish is trapped with Mema’s family and he is intrigued by her but at the same time it is quite obvious that Mema is innocent in so many ways, not used to men at all. Mema, although aware of her own ability to self-pleasure, has never connected this to another person before and the arrival of Hamish triggers her sexual awakening and feelings involving other people, wanting to be with another person in a way that she hasn’t before. Mema isn’t unaware of sex and she’s certainly aware of her own mother’s reputation surrounding it, but it’s not something that she seems to have ever been interested in for herself, before Hamish.

It’s hard to accurately describe how vivid the writing is in this novel. Every nuance of the bush is so easy to picture – I experienced running in the rain, the bodyboarding down the creek, even Mema pulling Hamish to safety and then searching for the cow had calved, like I was there myself. Mema’s small cabin that she shares with her mother and occasionally her sister and her sister’s two children is wonderfully depicted, right down the the occupants that occasionally invade the shower and freak Hamish out so much. Mema’s friendship with the troubled Anja is full of an unexpected depth and intrigue. I felt a real connection to Mema and her observations about life – she has older brothers who have all left home, some of which they no longer even hear from anymore and yet Mema remains, not quite ready to leave the nest. The world beyond doesn’t seem to interest her as much as her own surroundings do. Hamish shakes her comfortable existence, offers new experiences and feelings and paves the way toward a new future.

I read Jessie Cole’s first novel, Darkness On The Edge Of Town and was impressed by it but this novel showcases her evolution and advancement as a writer. It’s the sort of book that you wish went a bit longer, just so you could keep reading it and experiencing it.

9/10

Book #163 of 2014

AWWW2014

Deeper Water is book #61 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

Check out the book trailer for Deeper Water here:

 

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Review: Billabong Bend – Jennifer Scoullar

Billabong BendBillabong Bend
Jennifer Scoullar
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 289p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Nina Moore loves her local area with a passion. The beautiful Bunyip River and the marshlands on its banks are home to some rare and wonderful wildlife and she wants to preserve and protect it all. As her parent’s only child, she has taken over their farm and is slowly turning it organic and away from some of the more harsher farming techniques and produce. But her real dream is to purchase Billabong Bend, a nearby property that has fallen into some disrepair since one of the owners died and the other went into hospital. Billabong Bend is a wildlife corridor and Nina would love to see it carefully managed so that it may flourish. However she knows that others have their eye on the property too, albeit for much different reasons to hers.

When her childhood sweetheart Ric Bonelli returns to the local area, it complicates Nina’s life. She and Ric haven’t seen each other since they were fourteen, meeting down by the river for stolen moments. Their fathers have been bitter enemies for a long time and Nina doesn’t care for the way Ric’s cotton farming father works the land. It’s in direct opposition to how she believes the area should be treated. Ric disappeared to Italy when his mother left his father but now he’s back – and with his young daughter in tow. It doesn’t take long for old feelings to rekindle, despite the fact that their families complicate things dramatically and that Nina is in a long-term relationship. Nina can see a future for herself, Ric and Ric’s daughter on the river, caring for the land and seeing the birds and wildlife flourish.

But then a tragic disappearance has Nina and Ric on opposite sides as they struggle to figure out what has happened. When Nina finds out that she may lose her beloved Billabong Bend to the one thing she cannot bear to see happen to it, cotton farming, she blames Ric for the betrayal. But has he jeopardised everything? Or can they put everything aside for one more chance at becoming a family and finding a sustainable and gentle way to work together?

Billabong Bend is the third novel from Jennifer Scoullar that I have read – they’re rural romances in a way but there’s a much deeper underlying message in each one. The author is quite clearly very passionate about the environment and conservation issues and this shines through in her work. In this novel set in northern New South Wales, most of the properties are close to a rare marshland flanking a river. Droughts and unsustainable farming as well as growing crops not entirely suited to the area (such as cotton) have led to problems with the water supply and farmers stooping so low as to “steal” more than their fair share of water. Nina is a ‘modern’ type of farmer – she’s passionate about the environment and protecting it and she puts it first, not the potential yield and money. She’s been switching to organic products and she’s keen to try new ventures such as pressing her own oil with a local co-op. She has dreams for what she can do with Billabong Bend and she’s been trying for years to get the evidence she needs of rare birds nesting there to prevent it from being destroyed.

I really enjoyed learning about the wildlife and Nina’s passion and enthusiasm was incredibly well portrayed, however the romantic aspect of this novel did fall a little flat for me. They haven’t seen each other in a long time and were only fourteen the last time they saw each other. I’d have liked more time with them getting to know each other and reestablishing that teenage connection and less time spent arguing and Nina flouncing off every time Ric did something she didn’t like or his father did something that she didn’t like. I understand that she’s passionate and that she feels very strongly about the environment but Ric had only just returned to the local area to reconnect with his father and introduce his father to his granddaughter. Punishing Ric for his father’s crimes and what his father was doing seemed very pointless to me and there was a bit of push-pull in the latter half of the novel where Nina feels betrayed and like it’s over or she never wants to see him again and then in the next chapter, they’re talking. I liked Nina, I liked Ric and I liked Ric’s headstrong daughter Sophie, who I think reacted to her situation the way most kids would… I especially liked the way that story line fully played out. However I definitely think that Nina and Ric’s relationship, so to speak, needed more work. For instance, Nina is actually in a relationship when Ric returns and it takes rather a long time for that to run its course and her boyfriend Lockie is a little inconsistent, character wise. He’s kind of an ass but then he’s not and then he is again but then he isn’t. It’s never quite explained why they’re in this relationship when both of them appear to be getting absolutely nothing out of it and they hardly even see each other.

As I mentioned, the conservation message is strong in this and that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I quite enjoyed that aspect of it, I think it taught me quite a lot. I’m a coastal girl, I don’t know much about farming and the different types and what sort of farming requires what sort of watering, etc. And I loved Nina – she’s a kick ass kind of girl, she’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in and the scene where she runs off poachers/shooters in the beginning of the book is fabulous. I loved her bond with Sophie and how she takes the little girl under her wing in a way and attempts to give her some stability and some things to be excited about in her new life, which is not working out exactly the way Sophie planned. A little more devoted to the romance and this would’ve been a perfect read for me.

8/10

Book #107 of 2014

AWWW2014

Billabong Bend is the 38th novel read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

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Review: Surrender To Temptation – Lauren Jameson

Surrender To TemptationSurrender To Temptation
Lauren Jameson
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 308p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

After she walked in on her boyfriend with another woman, Devon Reid vows to change her life. She quits her job so that she doesn’t have to see her former boyfriend anymore and she finds herself retreating to a small California town she has visited on vacation before. There, in the local restaurant she meets a man who incinerates her with a single look.

After a brief interaction, he hands her a business card and tells her that if she needs a job, she will find one there. Devon fronts up to Phyrefly Aviation for an interview and is placed in the accounting section. It isn’t until after she’s given a job that she realises the mysterious man from the restaurant is Zach St Brenton, owner and CEO of Phyrefly. A billionaire going places, Devon knows that Zach is hopelessly out of her league. That doesn’t stop her from wanting him though. And it doesn’t seem to stop him from wanting her either.

But Zach’s needs are different to what Devon is accustomed to. Zach isn’t satisfied by vanilla sex and demands his lovers give up full control to him. Devon isn’t sure she likes being told what to do, or surrendering her decisions to Zach, but she doesn’t want to lose him either. Even though they both want different things and she’s pretty sure only heartbreak will await her at the end, she decides to give herself fully to him and let him guide her experiences. And maybe, just maybe, she might be enough for him to want to stay.

When I first started reading this book, I was confused. I knew I’d read the first chapter before and I couldn’t figure out how given it’s a new novel that’s only just being published (I think it was published elsewhere, perhaps online or eBook, in several parts but I knew I wouldn’t have read it there). Finally I figured out that it was a sneak peak in a copy of another Lauren Jameson novel I read recently. The beginning of this novel is very promising – Devon is buying herself some lingerie in an expensive store in the hope that her boyfriend might sleep with her in a position other than the boring missionary. When in the store she hears something about him that trips her suspicion and she goes to his place, only to find him getting busy with someone else, who wears expensive lingerie from the same store – only in a much smaller size than Devon.

After she has fled, Devon crosses paths with Zach St Brenton, an undeniably attractive and rich man who unleashes a little of the inner bad girl in Devon. She wants to experiment with him but Zach runs hot and cold, tracking her down and pushing her away before finally admitting that he wants her but he isn’t sure she’d be into what he desires. He wants a submissive, someone who will hand him complete control. Zach desires to always be in control.

I’ve read several of these types of books recently and they all hinge around the Dom knowing that the woman wants to submit to him fully deep down, even if they don’t know it themselves yet. I don’t really know about this – it doesn’t really sit right with me because I thought that BDSM was about a mutual exploration of fantasy with the Dom desiring to control and the submissive keen to explore their willingness to give up that control. Expecting someone to give that up when they don’t even know they want to sounds a little backwards to me. And the thing that concerned me in this novel is that Devon, once she decides to do what Zach wants, has a safe word. Which is fine, it’s good. However, there are a few times in the novel when she clearly feels like she might want to use it but doesn’t because she knows she’ll never see Zach again if she does. That is not the right reason not to use your safe word! That bothers me because I’m not sure it’s what a safe, consensual BDSM relationship should be about if there is a safeword involved. I know there are couples out there who choose not to have one – the submissive gives up full control to the Dom, trusting them to know their limits and push them only as far as they can go, pain and pleasure wise. However if there is a safeword then a sub shouldn’t feel like they can’t use it for fear that the Dom will spurn them and run away. A Dom should guide a sub through all of the facets of the relationship, including giving them breathing space and time to regroup if they need it. Especially when they’re totally new to everything and didn’t come into the relationship with a desire to actively submit. They should also be able to refuse an act, should they not feel comfortable. It doesn’t mean they’ll never want to do it again. However I get the feeling that some think this is ‘topping from the bottom’ when really, all it does is make a safeword useless and ineffective. I do wish that these novels would portray the message that sometimes, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and unsure. And to say no, if that’s how you feel. And not be scared that the guy will leave you because you questioned his judgement.

Apart from that issue (which I do admit, is kind of a big one for me) the rest of the book was okay. There’s a decent amount of chemistry between the characters and I liked Devon’s backstory but I felt that her history could have been better explored. Zach is damaged, as so many of them are but I didn’t predict what had caused it and it was certainly different to what I’d read before. I also understood how that event might’ve led to him becoming the way he was, but like Devon, I do feel like more of the book could’ve been devoted to exploring this. A bit less sex and a bit more depth and I would’ve really enjoyed this. I like a well-written sex scene but not at the expense of character and plot development. This isn’t a long book (or series of short interludes) and it could definitely have carried a bit more of the heavier stuff to really flesh it out.

5/10

Book #68 of 2014

 

 

 

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Review: The Lost Girls – Wendy James

Lost GirlsThe Lost Girls
Wendy James
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 280p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When the journalist approaches her, Jane doesn’t want to talk and she’s not happy that her daughter gave out her contact details. But Erin, the journalist, is quietly persuasive and Jane finds herself believing that there might be some value in talking about her experiences. It’s to help others, she tells herself. Erin is making a radio documentary on the impact on a family when a member is murdered. It’s supposed to be a tool to help others work through their grief.

Jane finds herself talking about a time long ago, when she was 12 and her cousin Angie 14. Angie was on the cusp of being truly stunning, already beautiful enough to turn heads everywhere but with the promise that she was going to blossom even more in the years to come. Both Jane and her brother Michael worshiped Angie and battled for her attention during the summer holidays when Angie was spending time with them. Angie reserved a little time with Jane, watching a movie or something but then they would walk up to the shop a couple of blocks away under the pretense of needing to buy cigarettes or milk or bread for one of Jane’s parents. Jane would linger as long as she dared and then make her way home with the items. Angie would stay and play pinball with Michael and some of his mates. She was older, the boys wanted her hanging around them. They didn’t want Jane.

Then one day, Angie never comes home. A massive search turns up her body several days later in bushland nearby. It sends shockwaves through not only Jane’s family but also the small and tightly knit northern beaches community, who believe that such things don’t happen in their area. Although Jane tells herself that she dealt with what happens to Angie, that they all did, she begins to wonder when Erin questions them all, Jane, her husband Paul, her brother Michael, her mother Barbara, about what happened to her and how they felt. Each of them have a different version of Angie that they remember, but which was the real one? And after all these years, will they finally find out who killed her?

A couple of years ago I read The Mistake by Wendy James which cemented me as a fan of her books. I also read one of her earlier novels, Out Of The Silence which was an entirely different setting but rife with the same sort of complex relationships and mystery that marked The Mistake. When I heard about this one, I couldn’t wait to read it. And right from the beginning, this story had me utterly engaged. Blended in a mix of past and present, it gives you Jane’s perspective of that summer, one that is tainted with how she felt for Angie, how much she admired her and wanted her attention. Jane was 12, on the edge of being a teenager but still just that little bit left behind, that much younger than Angie, Michael and all of Michael’s friends. Angie was granted more freedom, something that she had absolutely no problem taking, hanging around with the boys, playing pinball, occasionally stirring them up a bit with her good looks and incredible body. Angie partially inhabits a world Jane doesn’t understand yet, won’t understand for a few more years. She wants to go home and watch Elvis movies, not sure why Angie wants to do something different.

Angie’s disappearance affected her whole family deeply. Jane was devastated, Michael inconsolable. Jane and Michael’s mother felt a crippling guilt that this had happened on ‘her watch’ when she’d convinced Angie’s parents to come and let her stay for a while. Jane’s father was a cop and they believe he was probably privy to far more information than the rest of them. Jane’s feelings for Angie and the way that she seemed to draw admiration from men even coloured her relationships, including the one with her husband when she first began seeing him. For a while Jane almost tried to become Angie, dressing the way that Angie had and lightening her hair. It is undoubtedly cruel when someone so young has their life snuffed out, doesn’t have the potential to become someone, life a full life and I think Jane tried to compensate for that.

I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the character of Erin in the beginning, unsure of what her motivations were. They become quite clear throughout her own part of the story – Erin is seeking a justice she feels that no one cares about and she thinks that Angie’s relatives might hold the key to her getting the answers she needs. What she doesn’t expect is to find herself liking them (and perhaps vice versa too) and that maybe knowing all of the answers is going to be more difficult than she imagined. I enjoyed where this one went because I love a book that presents an interesting moral dilemma – there are two sides in this one and it would be fun to argue the debate with another person who’d read the book! There are some who would find it black and white and others who would be able to see all of the shades of grey.

The Lost Girls shows Wendy James’s true gift with exploring family dynamics and the subtle ways in which tragedy can wreak havoc, ways that may not even manifest until years after the fact. The writing is deft, the story easy to sink into and the setting is so quintessentially Australian that so much is recognisable from just about any childhood, even in a different decade. Another great story and now the countdown starts again to the next release.

8/10

Book #58 of 2014

AWWW2014

The Lost Girls is book #22 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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2013 End Of Year Book Survey

Book Survey 2013For the last couple of years I have been taking Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner‘s End of Year Bookish Survey. It’s always a lot of fun and you can surf around plenty of blogs and see what other people were enjoying and pick up at least a hundred new books for your TBR. Because we all need more of those!

So let’s get into it.

1. Best Book You Read In 2013? (If you have to cheat — you can break it down by genre if you want or 2013 release vs. backlist)

I am going to break this down a little because I read a lot of books in 2013 and it’s pretty much impossible to choose just one.

Best Contemporary:  The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion. What is not to love about this book? It’s so funny but yet beautifully heartwarming and serious underneath as Don, a Professor with some Asperger’s tendencies undertakes The Wife Project, to find the woman he will marry.

Best Young Adult: The Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. I resisted reading these for so long and I finally caved this year and I became obsessed. Basically everything can be summed up by saying: Rose. Dimitri.

Best Literary: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan. I think that this book is pretty well not a surprise to most fans of Australian novels. Flanagan is well known and his exploration of life on the Thai-Burma railway and love and loss is beautifully written. This book will win prizes.

Best Non-fiction: The People Smuggler, by Robin De Crespigny. Can someone give this book to Tony Abbott? Please?

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Hmmm. Okay I know I’m kind of out here alone, but I’m going to say Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I was so excited to read this book, it was pumped up so much but I have to say, I didn’t really enjoy it anywhere near as much as I thought I would. There’s no denying it’s clever but I found myself getting bored in more than one scenario and it was repetitive.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?

Probably the Vampire Academy books. I really did not expect to fall in love with them that much.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley and Hate Is Such A Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

I’ll go with the Fever series, by Karen Marie Moning, given I’ve already said VA a couple times now.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Danielle Hawkins, author of Dinner At Rose’s and Chocolate Cake For Breakfast

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

On The Trail of Genghis Khan, by Tim Cope. I really don’t read a lot of non-fiction, memoir etc but I really enjoyed this one.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

Wild Girl

The Wild Girl, by Kate Forsyth

11. Most memorable character in 2013?

Professor Don Tillman from The Rosie Project. Or Jericho Barrons from the Fever series. Orrrr….. Agnes Magnúsdóttir from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan and The Whole Of My World, by Nicole Hayes

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?

Hate Is Such A Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read?

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

I never write down quotes I like. Oops.

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

The longest is definitely Command Authority by Tom Clancy at a pretty whopping 752p. The shortest was Chained by Ruthie Knox (40p), which was just part of a book really. So the shortest complete book was No Money Down by Julie Moffett at 90p.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.)

The end of The Fiery Heart by Richelle Mead. Also Cry Blue Murder by Kim Kane and Marion Roberts and Dark Horse by Honey Brown.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc)

Romance: Nicola and Rob in The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley, Rose and Dimitri in the Vampire Academy books,

Friendships: Bill and Sticks/Lucas in The First Third by Will Kostakis,

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else

Life In Outer Space by Melissa Keil

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

I read pretty widely but probably contemporary romance

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

Good Lord, where do I start? Dimitri Belikov, Rob McMorran from The Firebird, Jericho Barrons, Shehadie Goldsmith (let’s ignore the fact that he’s 18, shall we?).

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

Going to go with something I haven’t already said – Roll With It by Nick Place

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

Chocolate Cake For Breakfast by Danielle Hawkins

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

Um, I cry in pretty much everything. It would probably be quicker if I listed books that didn’t make me cry. But the one that surprised me the most when I cried was Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I also did some serious sobbing in Paper Chains by Nicola Moriarty.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

Often I see a few books that get plenty of love overseas but not so much around the Aussie blogs/sites like The Circle by Dave Eggers. I think Me & Rory Macbeath definitely needs more love and I’d love to see books like Life In Outer Space and Hate Is Such A Strong Word do well overseas.

I always enjoy doing these, it makes me go back and really examine the books I’ve read including ones that I read so long ago that I’ve almost forgotten them or it feels like much longer ago that I read them! I obviously found quite a few books in 2013 that I really loved because there’s several I mention many times! I hope my reading in 2014 brings about just as many wonderful books.

 

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The Narrow Road To The Deep North – Richard Flanagan

Narrow RoadThe Narrow Road To The Deep North
Richard Flanagan
Random House AU
2013, 467p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley (my husband also bought a copy and I read the paperback version)

In 1943, Dorrigo Evans is an Australian surgeon in a Japanese POW camp working with others on the Thai-Burma railway, also known as the Death Railway. With the Japanese determined to get the railway built for the Emperor, they push men beyond their physical and mental limits, ignorant of the fact that they’re dropping dead of exhaustion, starvation and disease everywhere. They don’t care about the wellbeing of their prisoners and they couldn’t care less about the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war. What they care about is honour and serving the Emperor. And serving the Emperor means getting the railway built. To fail would be a loss of honour so great that no Japanese man would be able to live with himself.

Dorrigo has a position of authority and he uses it to try and negotiate more food and medicine for his men. Their camps are overrun with cholera, with dysentery, with beriberi, with tropical ulcers that are eating the men’s flesh right down to the bone. But even in the midst of all this agony, suffering and starvation, Dorrigo is still haunted by the love affair with his uncle’s wife back in Australia two years ago before he shipped out. They met without realising who each other were and embarked on a passionate secret relationship after the discovery. Dorrigo swore he’d return for her but news he receives whilst on the railway changes his life forever.

Australian author Richard Flanagan needs no introduction for most people. The Tasmanian writer has won numerous awards for his previous novels. Gould’s Book of Fish won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize and Wanting was the New Yorker book of the year, the Observer book of the year and winner of the Queensland Premier’s Prize, the Western Australian Premier’s Prize and the Tasmania Book Prize. My husband sent me Flanagan’s second novel, The Sound of One Hand Clapping when we first met as a kind of literary compatibility test I suppose. I should mention that I failed that test because this is the first of Flanagan’s novels that I have completed. But it’s a good place to start in many ways.

Flanagan’s father is a survivor of the horror of the Thai-Burma railway and this book delves deep into the reality of the prisoners of war. Flanagan spares no intimate detail as he describes what the men were forced to do, slashing their way through thick jungle over rivers in utterly miserable and life-threatening conditions. The men were starved, medicine was non-existent and the conditions brought a new meaning to the term ‘unsanitary’. And this book lets you have all of that in all of its glory. A word of warning: don’t attempt to read the middle of this book if you are eating. Or going to eat. Or ever want to eat again at some stage. It is gruesome, it is graphic, it is quite honestly, horrible stuff. My husband warned me that it was hard going but I assumed he was talking of torture, or graphically described killings. No, no he was not. He was talking of other things and although it’s difficult to get through, it’s a necessary part of the story. Because that’s what conditions must have been like in a camp that was overrun with people suffering dysentery, cholera and various other ailments that attack the physical body.

And somehow in all of this suffering, Flanagan manages to build a rapport between the men, a relationship as they struggle. They help each other, covering for each other when the weakest are too weak to work, they risk themselves to clean the sick and tend to them even though in most cases it is useless. They give the men funerals after their deaths, even after the pastor himself has succumbed. And one of the best scenes in the book for me occurs after the end of the war, when some of the survivors visit the local fish and chip shop back in Australia of a buddy who didn’t make it. They carry out something that he always wanted to do before the war and later, feeling bad for the damage they caused, they go and apologise to the owner and explain. He invites them to sit and share a meal with him, telling them to forget about paying him back. It really epitomises the bond that these men developed. Even though they got so sick of the guy’s story about the fish and chip shop, they honoured him in a way that they knew he would enjoy. Perhaps it was the only way in which they could.

Although there is a love story wound through this book, for me it definitely took second place to the story of the railway and the war. Dorrigo is at best of times, a difficult character and he’s at his most readable advocating for the prisoners and attempting to stand up to the Japanese, not by brute force, but by changing the way they think of honour. It often doesn’t work, but he tries to do it anyway. I did like the fact that the novel explained the fates of most of the characters, even long after the war had ended and we weren’t really left wondering about people.

Jennifer Byrne used the term ‘masterpiece’ to describe this novel when the ABC’s The Book Club discussed it recently. The story is grim but the writing is utterly superb. Kind of makes me wonder how I failed that test so many years ago!

8/10

Book #296 of 2013

Aussie Author Challenge

The Narrow Road To The Deep North is the 16th book read for the Australian Authors ChallengeLitExp ChallengeIt is also the 16th novel read for the Literary Exploration Challenge. This time I’m ticking off the category of Literary Fiction

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