All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Mr Romanov’s Garden In The Sky by Robert Newton

Mr Romanov’s Garden In The Sky
Robert Newton
Penguin Books AUS
2017, 219p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

{Blurb from the publisher}:

Living in the commission, Lexie is left to fend for herself. Her mother is mostly absent, out searching for something to help her forget the tragic death of Lexie’s dad.

But then after witnessing the aftermath of a shocking incident, Lexie finds solace in the most unlikely of places – in a troubled old man called the Creeper. A chance, life-saving encounter on the commission’s roof seeds a friendship between the two, and when they enlist the help of Lexie’s friend Davey, the three set off on an epic journey; one that will change their lives and the lives of those around them.

I’m in two minds about this book. On one hand, the writing is really lovely and the way in which Lexie befriends Mr Romanov is very beautifully done. On the other hand, there are a bunch of things that I can’t buy into and so it made it a bit hard to truly sink into the story.

Lexie lives in a block of housing commission flats in Fitzroy. Her mother is a junkie, always searching for her next fix and dodging appointments with the Department of Human Services who are understandably concerned about the care (or lack of it) that Lexie is receiving. Her mother regularly leaves Lexie alone and it’s a struggle for Lexie to scrape together the money to go and buy things like milk, bread and eggs at the local corner store. She’s friends with Davey, a boy who also lives in the building. Davey’s father is in jail and Lexie’s has passed away. Lexie clings to her memories of her father, him pretending to camp in her bedroom with her, telling her she could go anywhere in the world she wanted to. She always chose Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.

One of the first scenes in this book is incredibly disturbing and I’m not sure what it says that I felt more affected by it reading it then anyone who witnessed it in the book. Some seemed to find it amusing and even Lexie herself, although saddened by it, doesn’t seem to be too adversely affected which I found interesting. The way in which Mr Romanov is treated by several other residents of the building is very judgemental – no one knows anything about him but they make assumptions, give him a nickname and torment him. Even now I can’t think of what happened at the beginning without getting quite sad about it and how something innocent was used in order to torture a person for no real reason other than the fun of it.

Lexie’s complex character is the highlight of the novel. She actually copes relatively well with her mother’s addiction. She wants her to stop of course, longs for her to but she still manages to function and keep things going. She checks to make sure her mother is still breathing, waiting for the day when she won’t hear that breath, which is a terrible thing for a 12/13yo girl to be experiencing. Her compassion for Mr Romanov is wonderful too, she doesn’t really take no for an answer in helping him and she’s probably the first person to really speak to him, to ask him questions about himself in a very long time. She can also be quite bossy, very assertive, even a bit selfish but at the same time, comes across as very vulnerable and needing a lot of love.

After some disastrous moments, Lexie feels the need more than ever to get to Surfers Paradise for real, perhaps she feels it will be a way to reconnect with her father and also lay him to rest in her mind. The three of them embark on a trip from Melbourne to the Gold Coast and this was kind of the part I had problems with because I have done similar trips to this in the past and I struggled with an elderly man who hadn’t driven in twenty years (with a car that had only been started once every two weeks for probably the same amount of time) doing this. With two kids in tow. Nevertheless, I do love the idea of a road trip and given that I’ve done basically 4/5ths of this one, I was interested to see how it went.

Unfortunately, I feel as though the book actually lost its way a little when they were on the trip. Making side trips, evading authorities, as well as several implausibilities just made it seem like it floundered a little. I did enjoy the bond between Lexie and Mr Romanov and found Mr Romanov to be a very interesting character. I was glad he met Lexie, who was someone who would care about him after probably having years of no one following a personal tragedy. This book made me think about people who fall through the cracks or who are vilified unfairly for no reason other than the fact that they’re a bit different.

I really enjoyed parts of this book. I just found the road trip itself required the reader to really put aside some doubts and believe in some pretty far fetched things and for me, I wasn’t really able to do that.

6/10

Book #43 of 2017

 

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Review: The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

fifth-letterThe Fifth Letter
Nicola Moriarty
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 319p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

How do you know if your friends actually like you?

Joni, Deb, Eden and Trina try to catch up once a year for some days away together. Now in their thirties, commitments have pulled them in different directions, and the closeness they once enjoyed growing up seems increasingly elusive.

This year, determined to revive their intimacy, they each share a secret in an anonymous letter to be read out during the holiday. But instead of bringing them closer, the revelations seem to drive them apart. Then a fifth letter is discovered, venting long-held grudges, and it seems that one of the women is in serious danger. But who was the author? And which of them should be worried?

THE FIFTH LETTER examines the bonds of women’s friendship groups, and the loyalty and honesty they demand, along with letting go of relationships that once seemed essential but are now outgrown.

This is Nicola Moriarty’s third book and having read and loved her previous two it was one of my highly anticipated early 2017 releases. Her sister Liane has obviously made some huge leaps in popularity with her most recent releases but I think this book could easily stand alongside any of those.

At 12 years of age, Joni befriended Deb, Trina and Eden because they were all in the same homeroom, had surnames beginning with the same letter and were the same star sign. It started off on shaky ground but over the years became a friendship that survived Eden moving interstate for a while, the transition between school and university/careers as well as marriages and children. Every year it falls to Joni to organise an annual getaway where they leave partners and children behind and just catch up properly, the way that they can’t leading busy lives.

The story is told in several timelines – firstly the girls meeting in high school, and also various moments throughout as well as the time spent in a holiday home where the titular fifth letter is written and also Joni confessing to a priest, talking out the situation that had unfolded after the letter was found but before the author was identified. I actually really enjoyed those passages and thought they added a bit of light humour to the situation.

The idea of the letters seemed disastrous before anyone even wrote one and perhaps alcohol was the reason they all agreed. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that they’ve known each other for twenty years, Joni guesses several of the authors of the letters incorrectly but the others all seem to guess which letter is Joni’s right away. What started off as a bit of a joke turns serious very quickly when the anonymous letters reveal some disturbing things that could easily fracture the friendships – but those are nothing compared to the contents of a the fifth letter, a letter one of them wrote and then attempted to destroy. That letter suggests that one of them could be truly dangerous, thinking thoughts of harm and hatred.

I have to say, I loved the way that this unfolded. Nicola Moriarty really kept me guessing with who wrote the fifth letter and at one stage I was sure I had it figured out – but of course I was wrong. Slowly the book unpicked the friendship piece by piece until you were left wondering how and why they were still friends at all. Was it simply because Joni’s tenacity, which started in forming the group at 12 years of age, never went away? Joni even mentions at one stage that the other women seem to have friends away from this core group – work friends, mothers group friends, etc. As the only one without children, Joni doesn’t seem to have other friends other than these 3 women that she went to school with, whom she formed a relationship with based on the fact that their surnames all began with the same letter and they were the same star sign.

I’m about the same age as the women in the novel – perhaps one or two years older and it made me think about my own friendships. I’ve moved interstate since I finished school and so I wouldn’t say I’m still good “friends” with anyone from my high school group. We all live in very different places – my best friend from school currently lives in Nice after stints in New Zealand, Sydney and country NSW. Her husband has a job that takes them all over the world. Through facebook we are able to stay vaguely in touch with each other’s lives – a marriage here, new baby there, new job etc and it’s the same with my other high school friends. Facebook keeps us up to date with each other but we are no longer what I would call friends. If we were all together still, living in the same place, I wonder how long the friendships would’ve lasted, or would we have just slowly drifted away one by one – or cut people loose as we evolved and changed as adults. Or would there have been a Joni, someone to shepherd the friendship along so that it survived?

I enjoyed everything about this – especially the characters. To be honest, I didn’t really like any of them as such, but I thought that they were so well written with flaws, secrets, jealousies, etc all the ugly little things that we all keep hidden underneath. I loved the mystery of who wrote the fifth letter and the way that it kept me guessing until pretty much the end.

8/10

Book #40 of 2017

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The Fifth Letter is the 13th book of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Blog Tour Review: Freeks by Amanda Hocking

freeksFreeks 
Amanda Hocking
Pan Macmillan
2017, 380p
Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The Carnival is all she’s ever known – but an old terror could tear it down.

In the spring of 1982, the carnival comes to small-town Cauldry, Louisiana. Then events take a dangerous turn. For Mara Besnick, the carnival is home. It’s also a place of secrets, hidden powers and a buried past – making it hard to connect with outsiders. However, sparks fly when she meets local boy Gabe Alvarado. As they become inseparable, Mara realises Gabe is hiding his own secrets. And his family legacy could destroy Mara’s world.

They find the word ‘freeks’ sprayed on trailers, as carnival employees start disappearing. Then workers wind up dead, killed in disturbing ways by someone or something. Mara is determined to unlock the mystery, with Gabe’s help. But can they really halt this campaign of fear?

Freeks is a ‘return to the world of the Trylle series’, I hadn’t read anything else set there and thought that this novel stood up just fine on its own. It introduces the reader to Mara, the daughter of a necromancer who travels with her mother around the country as part of a carnival. Almost everyone working for the carnival is ‘gifted’ in some way or other – pyromancer, psychic, strongman, self-healer, necromancer, etc.

The carnival arrives in a small town called Cauldry in Louisiana and most people in the travelling convoy feel that this town is a bit….different. There’s a vibe, an aura in the town that seems to be affecting those in the group with special abilities and even Mara, who doesn’t really seem to have tapped into any abilities yet, has a feeling in her gut. Some of the people want to leave but the town has promised a good cheque if they perform for 10 nights and the crew desperately needs that money to get themselves to their next location.

On her first night in town Mara goes for a walk and stumbles across a party where she meets Gabe Alvarado. The attraction is instant and for the first time Mara has met someone that makes her think about her lifestyle, about the fact that she’ll be leaving in just over a week and isn’t likely to see him again after that. Things click with Gabe but at the carnival, very strange things are happening at night. Workers disappear or are savagely attacked and the urge to leave, get to the next town gets stronger by the day for some of the workers.

This book was middle of the road for me….I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. It was okay. The setting was quite aggressively 80s – lots of mentions of listening to bands like U2 on cassette tapes as well as jokes like “You must be Corey Hart” which I had to google because I was born the year this book was set and it went over my head. To be honest I’m not entirely sure why the author chose the 80s other than to showcase some music she may have liked or perhaps to remove the option of the internet when it came to attempting to discover exactly what was attacking the carnival workers and what to do about it.

Mara and Gabe’s relationship felt very instantaneous and I know time was of the essence because Mara wasn’t going to be in town very long but I like more conversation and less drooling over what Gabe looks like shirtless in order to establish a strong connection between two characters. Gabe (and Mara, to a lesser extent) came across as somewhat flawless – he’s basically the perfect specimen of a man who instantly adores Mara and wants to do nothing more than spend time with her and help her with whatever weirdness is going on. At first Mara is even reluctant for him to know that she works for the carnival – she’s used to disdain and contempt, people who view them as trash. Despite this she chooses to meet him at the carnival despite obviously knowing everyone that works there and clearly she gets outed. Gabe is different however, he doesn’t care that Mara is a travelling carnival worker.

A lot of this book is based around the fact that despite being the daughter of a somewhat powerful necromancer and hanging around a bunch of other special people, Mara appears to have no powers of her own to tap into…..but of course this isn’t right and it’s going to be up to her to end up saving everyone from the ‘thing’ that is constantly attacking the camp. Unfortunately the execution of this reveal and Mara’s understanding of what she might possibly have to do is kind of sloppily and hastily done. A large portion of this novel’s wordcount is devoted to the build up around Mara and Gabe’s relationship and toward the final confrontation with whatever it is that’s hunting them and the climax in turn feels rushed and like it takes up less of the book than it should. I will say that Gabe’s secret was unexpected and I liked that addition but felt like more time could’ve been spent on it.

For me, the highlight of this book was the carnival itself and the workers that traveled together and bonded and developed strong family-like relationships. There were some really interesting characters among them and I liked how much they looked out for each other and how close they were. It was a really great setting for a novel and I have only read a couple of books that have included it and because it’s so different to my life, I find it fascinating.

So for me it was a great setting but a bit of a disappointing ‘mystery’ – I was hoping for more action, a bit more of an in depth story. Despite the amount of pages, it’s a lot of filler and not a lot of substance.

5/10

Book #39 of 2017

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Review: Daughter Of Mine by Fiona Lowe

daughter-of-mineDaughter Of Mine
Fiona Lowe
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2017, 512p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When your world falls apart the only person you can depend on is your sister.

The three Chirnwell sisters are descended from the privileged squattocracy in Victoria’s Western District — but could a long-held secret threaten their family?

Harriett Chirnwell has a perfect life — a husband who loves her, a successful career and a daughter who is destined to become a doctor just like her.

Xara has always lived in Harriet’s shadow; her chaotic life with her family on their sheep farm falls far short of her older sister’s standards of perfection and prestige.

Georgie, the youngest sister and a passionate teacher, is the only one of the three to have left Billawarre. But is her life in Melbourne happy?

Despite all three sisters having a different and sometimes strained bond with their mother, Edwina, they come together to organise a party for her milestone birthday — the first since their father’s death. But when Edwina arrives at her party on the arm of another man, the tumult is like a dam finally breaking. Suddenly the lives of the Chirnwell sisters are flooded by scandal. Criminal accusations, a daughter in crisis, and a secret over fifty years in the making start to crack the perfect façade of the prominent pastoral family.

A thought provoking novel about family expectations, secrets and lies.

I’ve never read Fiona Lowe before but she is the winner of multiple awards (including a RITA) so I was pretty intrigued by this one. It’s quite a complex story line featuring several generations of the same family who hail from wealthy, privileged and respected landowners – the “squattocracy”.

Harriett, Xara and Georgie couldn’t really be more different. Harriett has always been the rigid one, very driven and dedicated. Not only does she push herself hard to always be successful and almost perfect in a way, but she also pushes her daughter hard as well.  Xara has had to learn to be adaptable – as the mother of a child with a lifelong debilitating disability and also twin boys, her life is total chaos where they’re always just scraping buy compared to Harriett’s organised life and quiet wealth. Georgie is a primary school teacher (seemingly stuck with a “difficult” sort of class) and the only one to have made her home away from the local area where they all grew up and their names are an integral part of the history and make up of the town. Who they are and where they came from is of varying importance to them – unsurprisingly Harriet is the most attached the family name and reputation and it is her that reacts in the worst way when she is first betrayed and then confronted with some unexpected news.

In a way I felt for Harriett because the more rigid someone is, the harder it is for them when terrible things happen. And there’s no doubt that Harriett’s life implodes. Someone she loves, someone she respected, does something utterly horrible and she is blindsided by it and then the response to her hurt is perhaps even worse. She is also ostracised, shunned, labelled as a co-conspirator by the locals and her practice suffers greatly as a result. But it was hard to completely sympathise with Harriett because so much of what happens after that first betrayal is of her own making. She’s so rigid and so demanding on what must be done that she overlooks so many important things. She’s concerned with image and how things look and the fact that things like this just don’t happen in their family. Because they are better than that and that was an attitude that I couldn’t sympathise with at all. Despite people attempting to reason with her, she really did stay frustratingly stubborn and judgemental for the longest time. Harriett for me felt like a very interesting study for “nature vs nurture” – there’s no doubt her fractured relationship with Edwina was a product of the distance between them when Harriett was very young and also Edwina’s illnesses. However Harriett also aspired to be very much like her father, wanted to emulate him in every way. She adored him clearly and it’s very difficult for her when she’s forced to confront some of his faults, long after his death. It did make me wonder how much of her nature was because she wanted to be that way, that she thought being that way was more superior than being more like Edwina.

I don’t have a sister but everyone I know with one says that it’s a very complex relationship and these three definitely have that. Georgie and Xara are more mellow personalities, more alike probably and more able to sit and just chat. Harriett is always doing something or going somewhere and she doesn’t seem like she’s as close to the other two as they are to each other. They do rally around in times of crisis, but it’s a lot of things that pile on top of one another – Edwina’s new man friend, the betrayal Harriett experiences and resulting fall out (it also affects Xara and her husband Steve quite personally as well) as well as what happens after that and it isn’t long before fractures in the relationships Harriett has with everyone are showing.

I really loved Edwina’s story, which is told in bits and pieces throughout and I actually think that could’ve made a great book on it’s own – following her from a teenager up until the age she is at the beginning of this novel. She’s experienced a lot of heartache juxtaposed with a lot of privilege and the Edwina that is presented to the world is different from the Edwina that lies beneath the surface. Loved the character of Doug and I loved the fact that they were able to reconnect after so many years and still find something there. There were many surprises that came out of that which made for very interesting reading and added many layers to the complexity of the story.

For the most part, this is a really engaging multi-generational family story with plenty of drama, intricate relationships (some connections are very intricate!) and intriguing reveals. However there were times when for me, it felt a little bit long and Harriett’s hysteria and stubbornness over something was quite irritating. I don’t really know much about the whole squattocracy thing but sometimes the family reputation thing felt a little outdated, something that people would’ve focused on earlier but shouldn’t really seem as relevant now.

Those are little things though and this is still an excellent read.

7/10

Book #38 of 2017

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Daughter Of Mine is book #12 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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February Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 17
Fiction: 17
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 0
Books On My TBR List: 2
Books in a Series: 10
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 11
Male/Female Authors: 1/15 (I read 2 books by the same male author)
Kindle Books: 7
Books I Owned or Bought: 6
Favourite Book(s): Traitor To The Throne by Alwyn Hamilton, The House Of New Beginnings by Lucy Diamond
Least Favourite Books: Tequila & Tea Bags by Laura Barnard
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 6

And so we are two months down in 2017 already. February was a hectic month here with settling in the youngest at school and getting back into that morning routine, a few birthdays and an altered work schedule for my husband but I still managed to fit in a good number of books. February was a very steady reading month – lots of 4-star reads that I really enjoyed and a couple of 5-stars. There was really only one book I didn’t enjoy this month which I feel is a good result.

Despite reading 17 books for the month, I actually only managed to read 50% of the TBR pile I constructed for myself for February. So I still have a few left unread – one is the 2nd in a series and I haven’t read the first yet and wasn’t able to source it during this month so I’m putting it aside until I can. Another one was a book I’ve owned for a while now and it’s not going anywhere so I’ll get to it soon.

I have still put together a TBR pile for March – I know I’m not going to get through every book I choose every month but it does give me a starting point to poke through and decide what I’m in the mood for. So here are the books I have to read so far this month:

img_4771This is a super exciting little stack of books – new Nicola Moriarty, new Sally Hepworth. Some awesome sounding YA and a couple of MG novels too, one of which I’m going to be reading with my oldest son, who might also help me out with the review! Close Enough To Touch sounds awesome and The Last McAdam is a rural that already has some good buzz. But…..

TBR pile has competition in the form of new acquisitions!

img_4775

I had some birthday money left over and ended up picking up these recently. I bought the bottom three during a recent trip into the city and as a bonus, was given the Penguin Super proof as well, which was nice. And someone had recommended The Sun Is Also A Star to me ages ago and I hadn’t seen it until recently so I snapped it up then. I’m so keen to read all of these….going to have to dive in and read non-stop for all of March!

Hope you all had a great February and if you have read anything on my list or are keen to, let me know.

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Review: Pregnant By Mr Wrong by Rachael Johns

pregnant-by-mr-wrongPregnant By Mr Wrong (The McKinnels Of Jewell Rock #2)
Rachael Johns
Harlequin Special Edition
2017, 217p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Dear Aunt Bossy,

It’s no secret that my world turned upside down when I learned an impulsive night of passion left me pregnant. And the dad? He’s the devil-may-care brother of my former fiancé. He’s a heartbreaker of a man who swept me off my feet—again—before he learned I was in the family way. But our romantic reunion might not have been as unplanned as I thought.

Aunt Bossy, I don’t want a man who’s with me just because he feels it’s his duty. I want him to be as smitten with me as he is with the idea of becoming a father. As head over heels with me as I am with him…

I have to admit, I don’t often read Mills & Boon novels now. But for a long time, they were my staple – my Nan was a subscriber and from the time I was about 10 or so, she passed a few of the less risque ones onto me to read because I was growing bored of books for kids my age. I also occasionally snuck a few of the racier ones when no one was looking. My mother is a reader but a slow one and the books my Nan passed onto her used to pile up. She never noticed when there were 1 or 2 missing! From the time I was about 13 or 14, my grandmother cut out the middle man and just passed them all onto me and I read them before passing them onto my mother. There was 6 or so a month, plus the occasional special pack but after about 4-5 years, I did begin to lose interest. As everyone knows each category is written very much to a specific formula and when you read a lot of them, they can begin to feel a bit samey. My Nan used to subscribe to the “sexy” line, so bossy heroes (not as bossy as Presents though, I don’t think) and most had a sex scene. There were also “sweet” ones that turned up occasionally which didn’t contain any down and dirty. I think if I’d mixed up the categories a bit more, I’d probably have read them longer.

But they’re a good palate cleanser, they’re quick and you know what you’re going to get when you pick one up. I read the first book in this series, which was titled A Dog and A Diamond in Australia (but I think is titled It’s Not You, It’s Her elsewhere) which introduced us to the large, whiskey-making McKinnel family. The main character in this book Bailey was featured quite significantly in the first book and there was clearly a little something something between her and Quinn McKinnel. That something something becomes quite complicated when Bailey discovers that she’s pregnant to Quinn….who does just happen to be the brother of her former fiance.

Quinn is the sort of guy who doesn’t really do commitment and so Bailey doesn’t exactly rush to tell him that she’s pregnant right away. She needs time to process it, to think it through and wonder if Quinn is going to be the sort of man that she can count on. Quinn in turn is somewhat offended that she didn’t tell him right away, despite readily admitting that he’s generally not the sort of guy one can count on for the long term. He is definitely excited to be a father though and pledges to be very supportive. The chemistry between the two is also off the charts and so it makes sense to try and have a proper go of it.

I liked Bailey – I remembered her story from the first novel quite well although I was rather surprised with what had happened between her and Quinn but it was understandable in a way. She felt very neglected and like she didn’t exist and that can be a very demoralising thing. Despite her rash action with Quinn, she’s still very calm and level headed, the sort of woman who probably has a plan for everything. She’s an events manager/coordinator in her job and therefore definitely has that organisation thing down pat and you could tell she’d have adapted well to being a single mother, if it had to be that way. Quinn however, definitely dives in headfirst and he’s bombarding Bailey with all these things but he doesn’t seem to realise for quite a while that she wants more than just someone to co-parent with. She wants a loving relationship as well but Quinn is still holding onto a lot of baggage from his childhood that really doesn’t seem to allow him to want that for himself. Or to even see it as a possibility for himself.

I enjoyed this – it was a quick and very fun read. Quinn did have some tosspot moments but I really liked the way in which he came to his realisation about his feelings and the quite dramatic way that he declared himself. He and Bailey make a good couple and bring out a lot of positive things in each other. I’m pretty intrigued about several other McKinnel family members as well, they are a big family who have a lot of affection for each other and come together a lot, so you get a chance to get to know them as well.

7/10

Book #37 of 2017

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Pregnant By Mr Wrong is book #11 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: How To Tame A Beast In Seven Days by Kerrelyn Sparks

how-to-tame-a-beastHow To Tame A Beast In Seven Days (The Embraced #1)
Kerrelyn Sparks
St Martin’s Press
2017, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Luciana grew up on the Isle of Moon, hidden away because of her magical powers. But when her father arrives, he offers her a choice: remain on the island or return with him and marry the Beast of Benwick in order to save their legacy—and her father’s life.

Lord Leofric, the Beast of Benwick, has not been touched since he was a child. Born with the power to harness lightning, he is a danger to everyone he touches. When he meets his betrothed, he expects a loveless, lonely marriage…until he discovers she’s vastly more powerful than he realized. But is she strong enough to withstand his touch?

If they can survive, their love will alter the future of the kingdom. But will their extraordinary powers cost them everything?

I’ve never read Kerrelyn Sparks before but she certainly has a very strong reputation in this fantasy romance genre and she has quite a lot of books to her name as well. This is the first in a brand new series set in another world and I love a good series. I have to say, I enjoyed this one a lot.

Luciana was born on a night that the twin moons of the world embrace, leading her to be termed an “Embraced” baby. All of the Embraced are blessed with a particular gift and those gifts can be wide and varied. They’re also reviled in the place she was born so for her safety, her father hid her away on the Isle of Moon, where she could be raised without fear. Along with four other girls, also all Embraced, Luciana grew up to be well educated but also sheltered. She hasn’t even left the small island, or the company of nuns so she isn’t even aware of her privileged background until her father arrives to whisk her back to where she was born. He needs her as his daughter has been promised to the King’s nephew, Lord Leofric, a man known as the Beast of Benwick.

Like Luciana, Leo is Embraced as well and his gift is the power of harnessing lightning. It will seek him out in a storm and there is nothing he can do to prevent it or avoid it. It’s best if he goes somewhere where he can be alone so that the lightning can find him. Then he can store it in his body – and his touch is deadly. He must wear protective gloves when around people and even then, he can give someone a nasty shock. The King has been trying to kill him for years as Leo is both Embraced and a threat and the King also wants the land that Luciana’s father possesses as the Duke. To kill both of them would be the ultimate triumph but no doubt the King is also hoping that Leo will be tempted beyond belief by his beautiful bride and kill her accidentally.

Luciana is taken from a small, peaceful existence and thrust into not only an arranged marriage but also having to be presented at court. Her entire upbringing would’ve been geared towards this moment, had she been raised in her place of birth but because she wasn’t she has to endure quite a steep learning curve. She’s going to be married to a man that not only has she never even seen, but one that is called the Beast. There are all sorts of horrible rumours that fly around about Leo but Luciana is actually pretty stoic in having to face someone who could murder her with a touch. She has a strong sense of right and wrong – she didn’t have to go with her father back to his stronghold but once she heard that he would be executed if he didn’t present a daughter to wed Leo, she immediately decided that she would go. Even though she believes this man just abandoned her and she has no relationship with him she does what she believes is the “right thing” even though it could get her killed.

Luciana and Leo have a really great dynamic and it helps that although Luciana fears her fate, she doesn’t once she meets Leo and she even defends him, which is a very powerful moment for Leo, who is so used to being feared and reviled and certainly not defended. The two of them are definitely attracted to each other from the very beginning, which makes it even harder for Leo, who must not allow himself to touch her. However, a surprising twist means that Luciana just might be the one person that can withstand the touch of the Beast, confirming that this was a match that was intended to happen. They have a lot to negotiate, as Luciana is hiding something very important from Leo as well and he wants her to feel as though she can trust him with anything. They both want a real relationship with each other, especially Leo, who hasn’t really felt any human touch for years.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Luciana and her “sisters”, those girls raised on the Isle with her. Each of them will be the protagonist in a future book and their fates are all somewhat sealed from a game they played on the Isle using coloured stones and having Luciana read their futures. It’s a really interesting set up. As Embraced, the girls all have different gifts and I look forward to having each of those unfold. This was a great start.

8/10

Book #35 of 2017

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Review: The Summer Seaside Kitchen by Jenny Colgan

summer-seaside-kitchenThe Summer Seaside Kitchen
Jenny Colgan
Sphere
2017, 384p
Copy courtesy Hachette AUS via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Flora is definitely, absolutely sure that escaping from the quiet Scottish island where she grew up to the noise and hustle of the big city was the right choice. What was there for her on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, and no one will let her forget the past. In the city, she can be anonymous, ambitious and indulge herself in her hopeless crush on her gorgeous boss, Joel.

When a new client demands Flora’s presence back on Mure, she’s suddenly swept back into life with her brothers (all strapping, loud and seemingly incapable of basic housework) and her father. As Flora indulges her new-found love of cooking and breathes life into the dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour, she’s also going to have to come to terms with past mistakes – and work out exactly where her future lies… fate worse than death .

A long time ago, and I do mean a long time ago, my grandfather’s family came from the Orkney Islands in Scotland. For some reason, many generations later I am blessed with the Scots colouring – red hair, pale skin. Probably great for a location where the average temperature for the year is in single digits. However when you’re in Australia it really just means an awful lot of freckles and painful, painful sunburn. Thanks, distant ancestors. Although the setting of this book is a construct of the author, it’s very much based on those northern islands of Scotland – the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, etc. So I really wanted to read it to get a bit of an idea what life is like in those places.

And I think for that, it was really good. I loved learning about the lifestyles and traditions of Mure, the small island where Flora is from. There’s a large farming community and they face the same problems as farmers everywhere and considering Flora hasn’t been back for three years, left under difficult circumstances and is working for the rich American who is building a big resort but not using one scrap of local materials, labour or produce, she has her work cut out for her. Flora moved to London to become a lawyer and now she’s a small cog in a big wheel, crushing helplessly on a man who doesn’t even know she’s alive.

Back in Mure, it takes her a little while to find her feet. Her brothers are more reminiscent of teenagers, teasing her (occasionally it spills over into outright resentment) and letting the house go to ruin since she left, not bothering to cook proper meals or even tidy up. For something to do, Flora begins trying to prepare meals – at first she struggles, not finding the ingredients she requires at the local store to make the food she likes. But then she finds her mother’s recipe book and all of a sudden, Flora is in her element.

For the most part, I found Flora easy to relate to. The (very) country girl who moves to the big city, chasing a dream, something that is completely different to the life she left behind. And who hasn’t crushed on someone who doesn’t even know you exist, that person that is so unattainable? When she arrives back in Mure, Flora is so resentful even having to be there but slowly, slowly, her heritage starts creeping in. She becomes invested, reconnects with her mother through cooking her dishes and slowly begins to reconnect with her family as well. And even Mure itself. She keeps telling herself that it’s only temporary and that she’ll be going back to London as soon as she can but everyone soon wants her to stay and you can tell that she belongs on the island. I really enjoyed this journey of Flora’s, of finding herself….of finding her home.

There was one aspect of the story that didn’t work for me at all and that was the romance. There were two….options, for lack of a better word although I wouldn’t say it was a love triangle. I thought I had it pegged which way it was going to go (which for me, would’ve been the better way) but in the end the author went the other way and I just really couldn’t buy it. It just didn’t seem at all realistic and it felt very rushed and not something that unfolded naturally. I couldn’t see them as a couple and I really couldn’t see them lasting as a couple, building a life together. With the other option, I felt that I could see into the future, the kind of life they would have. It just felt quite at odds with the rest of the story.

6/10

Book #34 of 2017

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Blog Tour Review: Country Roads by Nicole Hurley-Moore

country-roadsCountry Roads
Nicole Hurley-Moore
Allen & Unwin
2017, 303p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The compelling story of a grief-stricken man reeling from tragedy and a hard-working female farmer dealing with betrayal who may just find love and healing with each other.

Rebecca Duprey is working day and night to keep the family sheep station, Bluestone Ridge, afloat. But Bec’s father, who’s been in a wheelchair since a farming mishap, keeps second-guessing her decisions. Now, to add Bec’s woes, her unfaithful ex-boyfriend has started lurking around, and the adjoining farm she’d hoped to buy has been snapped up by a guy from the city called Matt Harvey.

After leaving his job in advertising, Matt became a bestselling novelist. But since the death of his fiancee in a car accident, he’s had severe writer’s block and is desperately hoping his move to the country will help him deal with his grief and allow him to focus on completing his next book. Problem is, he seems to have started off on the wrong foot with his new neighbour, Bec Duprey.

Bec isn’t quite sure when she started feeling attracted to Matt, but she’s determined not to succumb to his charms. And Matt isn’t sure when his feelings changed about Bec; all he knows is he can’t get her out of his mind. Can Bec and Matt overcome their fear of loss to find love and happiness with each other…?

This absolutely compelling novel deals with betrayal, tragedy, love – and how first impressions aren’t always right.

Author Matt Harvey is new to the small mostly farming town of White Gum Creek. Having experienced a devastating loss he has sold his city pad and bought a small parcel of land complete with a cottage that needs a bit of work, hoping the peace and tranquil surroundings will help with his writers block. Encouraged by his sister to interact with his fans more, Matt is taking the step of vlogging his move and his settling in, sharing the videos online.

Matt gets off on the wrong foot with his new neighbour Bec Duprey. Firstly the land he’s bought she’d hoped to acquire for her family farm and secondly she finds Matt doing things like burning things in a bonfire on a hot and dry day and being careless where he films. The entire town of White Gum Creek definitely needs rain. The land is in desperate need of it and some families are already struggling, either selling off land or stock, or getting out all together. Bec doesn’t want that – and her frugal father’s ways ensure that there’s a safety net of money behind them. But that frugality causes friction when Bec desperately wants to upgrade things, like the farm machinery. Although she now runs the farm, her father seems to have the last say, dismissing her suggestions and ultimately overruling her. She’s frustrated and short tempered, even more so when her ex suddenly begins showing some renewed interest in her.

Matt is interested in Bec pretty much right away and he wants to make amends for doing the wrong thing in the country and kind of improve himself in her eyes so that she doesn’t think he’s quite a fool. Bec seems like the sort of person who doesn’t really suffer fools that much and she wasted no time launching into Matt and telling him what an idiot he was being – where she could’ve perhaps educated him in a slightly less aggressive way. Matt was unaware what he was doing was dangerous, he was not deliberately flouting rules. However he does kind of get her to give him a bit of a second chance and they do become friends with a strong undercurrent of attraction. Bec’s friends and a few of the locals seem a bit keen to play matchmaker as well, drawing Matt into their little social circle.

A lot of the conflict for Bec revolves around her father, who although has been forced to hand the reins over to her somewhat earlier than he would like due to an accident, still makes all the decisions. He dismisses her ideas, won’t let her buy new machinery or equipment and seems to make all of the decisions on his own despite Bec running the farm. This continues on for a lot of the book but then is basically all resolved after one conversation. It was a bit of a low key ending to something that had been such a large part of the story and had probably damaged the relationship Bec had with her father. The whole thing makes Bec’s father look quite unreasonable and like he doesn’t even want Bec in charge or think she can do anything for herself and then that just vanishes. He’s also against the idea of Bec forming a relationship with Matt as well and seems to not mind the idea of Bec reuniting with her former fiance, despite the fact that it’s the last thing Bec wants.

This was a pleasant read – I liked it but I didn’t love it. The conflict felt a little too contrived and although the romance between Matt and Bec was nice, it was just that – nice. There’s a friend of Bec’s that features in this book who has a crush on a reclusive man who sort of befriends Matt in this novel. Their story would be really interesting and I do hope that’s a book that I get to read in the future though.

6/10

Book #16 of 2017

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Country Roads is book #6 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Shadows Of Hunters Ridge

shadows-of-hunters-ridgeShadows Of Hunters Ridge (Hunters Ridge #2)
Sarah Barrie
Escape Publishing
2016, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Something’s not right in Hunters Ridge…

Ebony Blakely has her life nearly exactly where she wants it. She’s a country vet with a successful business in Hunters Ridge, a town that she loves, and has a close group of friends. The only thing missing is romance. Unfortunately, the man she wants treats her as a good friend, and no matter how much she tries to change that perception, he just won’t get it.

Lee Dalton is an ex-cop with a chip on his shoulder about his past. He’s determined to make a success of his building business – and keep his thoughts away from his best friend’s sister, Ebony. But seeing Ebony every day as he works on her surgery renovation makes that almost impossible and soon their hidden feelings begin to complicate their friendship.

When it becomes apparent Ebony’s life is in danger, she is scared but determined not to run. But following an earlier encounter Lee knows what these monsters are capable of and is forced to use everything he’s ever learnt as a policeman to keep her safe.

Because these monsters are serial killers, and they’ll stop at nothing to claim their prize.

Recently I saw the third in this series, which is about to be released and it made me realise that I hadn’t read the second. An oversight on my part but to be honest, it’s one I make more often than I’d like to admit. So many books, there are always ones that slip through the cracks or that I mean to read and somehow just don’t get around to. I really loved the first one in this series so I decided that it was time to tackle the second one so that I could be ready for the third one.

This is Ebony’s story, the sister of Cam from the first novel. She’s a very passionate vet, dedicated to her job and she works long hours and is always looking to do more, to expand and take on even more. She went through a traumatic event in the last book and is still haunted by it, particularly as the perpetrator is still on the loose. Ebony has people around her to watch out for her, especially Lee Dalton an ex-cop, her brother’s best friend and the man she loves. Ebony has so little experience with men though, she doesn’t know how to attempt to take her friendship with Lee to the next level. And Lee is pretty busy out there with a succession of casual girlfriends, although Ebony doesn’t know it’s because he’s convinced himself that Ebony is not for him….there’s definitely a bit of the “your best friend’s sister is off limits” going on as well as a few other complications.

Ebony and Lee do have a very strong friendship and they spend a lot of time together. Lee is helping Ebony with some construction work and they also socialise together with Cam, his wife Ally and Ally’s sister Mia, who travels up from her place in the city to the country town frequently. For Ebony though, these interactions with Lee are becoming harder and harder to endure because she wants so much more from him which he seems to be completely oblivious to. Lee is of course dating someone casually, a stereotypical mean girl who is jealous of Ebony and attempts to ruin their friendship on numerous occasions.

I liked Ebony and I enjoyed her dedication to her job as well as the insight into being a country vet. I feel as though she tries really hard to prove herself and to establish her reputation but when it comes to people, she’s a bit soft and perhaps not as professional as she could be. She allows an employee to walk all over her and is willing to hire someone else very quickly without even really having time to check their references and investigate their previous work. She also occasionally does that thing heroines do where they don’t want to leave their home etc even when there’s a clear threat. I don’t really understand that and as a reader, it kind of frustrates me. Your life is in danger… now is not the time for pride. Thankfully she’s a bit better later on in the book, after a few incidents and she accepts staying with Lee or having him stay with her but this seems more about establishing their relationship at times than actually being safe. It’s not sacrificing strength for someone to accept help when there is clearly a danger.

When it’s known that Ebony is the next “target” of a vicious killer who arranges hunt for sport, everyone steps up to make sure she is protected. However I feel as though they (Ebony, Lee, Cam, even Ben the lead detective) overlooked something pretty big in this story – it’s something that twigged for me right away but it’s not something that anyone else ever seems to really question at all, until it’s way too late. I did appreciate that although I was suspicious of someone from the very first time they appeared on the page, the author did make me go back and forth in my mind a few times in an “are they or aren’t they evil?” sort of way. I would be firmly convinced and then doubting myself and maybe they were just red herring and would end up being a permanent fixture of the town…but then maybe they’re not what they seem…..but then again, maybe they are…. It was quite well done actually. The tension was built very nicely as well and definitely had me on the edge of my seat towards the end.

This was definitely a very good follow up to the first book. It continues to build the overall arc as well as establishing a really solid individual one which was enjoyable and filled with suspense. There were a few small issues that I could overlook for the sake of building the story and the tension and it all came together very well.

The third book, Promise Of Hunters Ridge is the story of Mia and Ben and I cannot wait for this one! They’ve had such an interesting dynamic throughout the first two books and it’s bound to be explosive!

8/10

Book #33 of 2017

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Shadows Of Hunters Ridge is book #10 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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