All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Letters To The Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Letters To The Lost
Brigid Kemmerer
Bloomsbury ANZ
2017, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither of them knows that they’re not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. This emotional, compulsively-readable romance will sweep everyone off their feet.

Oh wow. This book gave me all of the feels!

And it was exactly what I needed. A few books I’d read recently were alright but didn’t really provoke a reaction in me one way or another. I didn’t die hard love them but I didn’t dislike them either. But I was left wanting more and so I decided to try something a bit different to what I’d been reading and I remembered that I had this waiting on my kindle. I really have enjoyed the previous Brigid Kemmerer books that I’d read so I figured it was a good time to crack this one.

Perfect, perfect choice. This book had so much emotion in it and to be honest, mostly what comes up off the page is pain. Both Juliet and Declan are both suffering so much. In many ways what they are grieving is very similar. Juliet’s mother recently (as in a few months ago) was killed in an accident and the way that Juliet connects with her now, is to write her letters. She always did this as her mother was a photographer who travelled the world, only now Juliet leaves the letters on her mothers grave. Declan is also grieving the loss of a parent who is not dead but almost might as well be. Declan isn’t also just grieving, he is furious and guilty and torn up inside. His family is in upheaval and he feels that he no longer has a role, a place there and that tears him up as well.

A little while ago Declan did something stupid that resulted in court-ordered community service and now he works at the graveyard where he finds one of Juliet’s letters to her mother during clean up before mowing. Unthinkingly he writes back and when Juliet discovers that someone has read her private letter, she’s incensed, so she writes back. Despite that, they connect – perhaps through some shared suffering. Soon they have moved on from leaving letters on the grave to creating anonymous emails and chatting and emailing that way. They both go to the same school and could choose to confide their identities but they instead decide to remain anonymous, probably preferring the freedom it gives for them to be completely honest. But being in such close proximity means that they can’t stay anonymous forever – what will happen when Juliet realises that the person she’s been confiding in is Declan Murphy, the guy who is kind of douchey to her at school? In person, Declan’s first response often tends to be anger or aggression – frustration coming out generally about other people’s perceptions of him. I really appreciated the moments with his English teacher who has seen glimpses of something in Declan, something much more than just an angry lack of interest in his school work and she really pushes him to let his natural intelligence come out. She’s not turned away by his tough facade and she’s one of the few people that really seems to see Declan as something more.

Juliet seems to feel that people want her to ‘move on’ now, begin to act ‘normally’ again – but she can’t do that. She’s not sure she’ll ever be able to do that. It felt like it was probably a bit too soon for people to be expecting that of Juliet, but perhaps by trying to immerse her in things, such as her photography, they figure they might help her healing process. Toss her in at the deep end and eventually she’ll learn to swim type of thing. Juliet feels sick at the thought of even picking up a camera but her teacher is able to well, bribe her really and it’s through those small actions such as photographing things for the school year book, going to a school dance, that spark moments and interactions. Some make her furious – but they make her feel things other than grief. She’s been struggling to connect with her father since her mother died and his talk of selling her mother’s cameras has her so incensed that he could even consider it. For Juliet I think her cameras are her mother’s essence, that one thing that she can still tangibly have/hold/etc in her life that represent her.

Both Declan and Juliet’s stories were so tragic and both were full of a few of surprises. Declan’s story had more layers than I imagined and Juliet’s journey of discovery about her mother led to some uncomfortable truths but also gave her the opportunity to finally be able to talk to her father. I loved Declan and Juliet both in their interactions with each other (as themselves and as their alter anonymous egos) and I loved them separately. I felt that this had such a realistic tinge to it – nothing was ‘fixed’ magically – there were small improvements, ways forward but both of them still have a lot to work through. The chemistry between them was powerful in all forms – even in their negative interactions before they figure out who they’re talking to. Declan is the sort of guy I really like reading about, the misunderstood juvie contender. I’m glad he finally got some validation for his feelings and there was an attempt to make him see that he shouldn’t ever have been put in the position that he was.

I loved this book – it kind of put me through the wringer reading it but that was pretty much what I wanted. I thought that both Juliet and Declan were amazing characters, flawed and beautifully believable. I loved their interactions, really enjoyed the way in which they could be brutally honest, brutally themselves without hiding anything in the emails. I adored the supporting characters too – Declan’s teacher, Juliet’s best friend, her photography student rival and most of all, Declan’s best friend Rev who is getting his own book. This excites me so much because much is hinted about Rev but there’s still so much to learn. Bring it on. I can’t wait!

9/10

Book #62 of 2017

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March Reading Wrap Up

Total Books Read: 24
Fiction: 24
Non-Fiction: 0
Library Books: 4
Books On My TBR List: 7
Books in a Series: 10
Authors I’d Never Read Before: 13
Male/Female Authors: 3/21
Kindle Books: 10
Books I Owned or Bought: 9
Favourite Book(s): Promise Of Hunter’s Ridge by Sarah Barrie, Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare, Letters To The Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Least Favourite Books: Road-Tripped by Nicole Archer
Books That Qualify For Challenges: 8

March was a surprisingly good reading month that seemed to come out of no where. I knew I’d churned my way through quite a few books but even I was surprised by the total I managed. Plenty of those books I really enjoyed as well.

Here are the books that I’ve been sent so far for review in April. Apologies for the poor lighting I took this quite early in the morning and as we’ve recently changed our clocks back and the winter sun is coming, the morning sun comes in across my desk. Very excited for the new Sara Foster and also Twist by Kylie Scott, the second in her Dive Bar series. Actually I’m even quoted on the back cover of Twist – so that was amazing to see!

As well as review books, I have a few books I’ve bought myself recently in the last month or so that I’d really like to read soon……

Starting obviously with The Hate U Give because the amount of talk that book is generating is insane and I absolutely cannot wait to read it! I only managed to buy it on Friday of last week and I’ve been busy all weekend so I think it’s probably going to be the first book I pick up this week!

Hope you all had a fab reading month. If there’s anything you’ve read that I have listed here or anything that you want to read, let me know in the comments.

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Review: Finding Hannah by Fiona McCallum

Finding Hannah
Fiona McCallum
Harlequin AUS
2017, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Hannah Ainsley has the perfect life — an adoring husband, a close relationship with her parents, a wonderful job, and amazing friends. Best of all, it’s Christmas — her favourite day of the whole year! It’s a time to share with her family and friends, and enjoy the festivities.

But this year will be like no other. Tragedy strikes and Hannah’s world is shattered. If she’s going to cope, she’s going to need all the support she can gather and draw on every bit of her strength. Life will never be the same again but it’s soon clear she has no alternative but to pull together a future from the remaining fragments.

As Hannah heads towards the next festive season she will have to make a decision — should she stay with the people who have supported her or should she leave? Could the answer lie in a delayed gift?

Fiona McCallum’s most touching novel so far is a rich tapestry of deep emotions that is sure to capture the hearts of many.

This is another difficult book to review because there isn’t really a bunch of things that happen to construct the plot. It’s about a woman named Hannah who has everything going for her – wonderful parents, great husband who is also a best friend, job she enjoys, lovely house, good close friends. Then on Christmas Day almost everything she loves is taken from her and she’s left to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

This is an exploration of a deep grief, the sort of devastation that could easily destroy a person and from that standpoint it’s quite interesting because grief is something that is very individual and it’s something that people experience in very differing ways and to degrees. I haven’t experienced the sort of gut-wrenching loss that Hannah has, thankfully but perhaps because of that I did find it a little hard to immerse myself in the story because that’s basically it. Hannah learning to live again after her loss, learning to cope and take each day at a time, adjust to this new existence that has become her life.

Despite her loss, Hannah still has very good people around her – a supportive boss and his wife, who becomes a friend, as well as a longtime family friend who lives across the road. There are also other wonderful people who provide her with strength, security, love and a sense of family. She is able to take time and space to breathe, reassess, decide what she wants to do. When she’s ready to go back to work, they welcome her although she feels the awkwardness of moments with colleagues who just don’t know what to say to her.

I think everyone has imagined themselves in various horrible scenarios at some stage or other – I know I’ve thought about how I would cope if certain things were to happen and these were things I had to think about realistically as well. They’re things you don’t want to think about but at the same time, they creep in. Books like this are a good way to explore that sort of fear I think, by identifying with characters currently experiencing tragedy. And I think that’s good because grief and loss are an important part of human nature.

But – and this is kind of a big but – I found myself wanting a bit more from this book. A bit more than Hannah just trying to put her life back together. It would probably make quite moving reading for many people but at the same time, it’s also a teeny bit repetitive and not very much really happens throughout the story after that initial tragedy. By the time I had read through 200-odd pages of that, I was ready for a bit more, a conflict or something meaty to flesh out the story. But obviously it wasn’t going to be that sort of story because it was very even in tone, a quiet kind of story, very much character driven rather than plot driven. It was about Hannah’s journey in self-healing.

Because of this, I did find that my attention wandered occasionally whilst I was reading it, especially during the New York section, which felt a bit jarring – I wasn’t sure why it was there because it felt like Hannah could’ve been anywhere. The essence or culture of New York wasn’t really coming across on the page and Hannah’s lack of real enthusiasm, a just ‘going through the motions’ might’ve taught her something but it seemed like such a long and expensive lesson to learn.

Ultimately this one was just an okay read for me – I just found myself seeking more from it and that’s probably on me.

6/10

Book #58 of 2017

Finding Hannah is book #19 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning

The Midsummer Garden
Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin
2017, 382p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {via the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.

1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists’ lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the chateau. But who will she trust?

2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn’t seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She’d thought that her fiance Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn’t make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she’s finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they’d discussed.

When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip’s kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.

I’ve had a bit of a run lately with books where I’ve struggled a bit to sit down and write the review because they’ve been books that I just unfortunately, didn’t connect with. I end up staring at my screen for far longer than I should or distracting myself with social media, etc.

In many ways, this book was another one of those. There are two timelines and they both sounded really interesting but I just wasn’t drawn into either story. In the modern day story, Pip is working on her PhD, planning a wedding and her fiance wants to buy out his parents winery, which has just had a very generous offer from a big company. When Pip wants to finish her PhD before the wedding and rethink an overseas trip, her fiance Jack can’t understand why it’s all about her when really, everything he is doing is affecting them both as well. Both Pip and Jack want things and quite frankly, their visions seem quite different. I couldn’t really understand why, after the break up, they both kept coming back together only to disagree on something (or the same thing) and part ways again. I think that if they’d actually parted ways properly it would’ve allowed the novel to have a clearer focus instead of always weaving in the reunions and conflicts with Jack. I didn’t enjoy the constant reappearance of Jack into the narrative and honestly felt like Pip was a more focused, settled person when she was on her own. She had the freedom to explore both her academic and cooking lives without the added pressure and judgement from Jack. Their relationship didn’t really seem like an equal one, both of them had their own goals and desires and at times, they seemed to really conflict.

The other story takes place in 1487 and I was kind of ambivalent about it. It was honestly hard to really get behind a female character that had so little power and autonomy. I know that this is probably historically accurate, servants belonged to the household and were subject to their whims and orders but there’s such a unlikeable character in this section that it’s almost comical. It became almost a chore to read through each section to find what sort of unfair, terrible thing would happen to Artemisia this time. The conclusion of this also seemed to escalate rather quickly! I wanted a bit more about the love story – the letters were a beautiful idea.

One thing I did really enjoy was the food component of this novel – in fact it was probably my favourite thing. Artemisia is a cook, preparing for the upcoming nuptials of the daughter of the house and the celebration is going to be lavish. She was taught a lot about herbs by the prior Abbott of the Chateau and the descriptions of what she uses are lovingly detailed. Likewise in the contemporary story, Pip works in a restaurant whilst completing her PhD and also travels overseas to work in a Michelin starred restaurant in Spain that specialises in molecular gastronomy. The love of food the characters have and respect they have in the preparation of it is something that’s very clear on the page and I loved reading about Pip digging for Tasmanian clams or tasting tapas in Spain. The locations were also depicted really well, from the icy waters off the coast of Tasmania to the hills of Tuscany. It’s just unfortunate that I found a lot of the character’s motivations a bit puzzling and I struggled to really connect to them and their situations.

6/10

Book #60 of 2017

The Midsummer Garden is book #20 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Missing Pieces Of Us by Fleur McDonald

The Missing Pieces Of Us
Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin
2017, 313p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lauren Ramsey was adopted at birth. Now a teacher, her mantra is to never let a child fall through the cracks. But she’s so concerned about the welfare of a little boy in her kindy class she doesn’t notice that her teenage daughter needs help.

At fourteen, Skye Ramsey is on the cusp of womanhood, but she’s also teetering on the edge of an abyss. Battling with the usual pressures faced by a teenage girl, including the pitfalls of social media, she’s flirting with outright rebellion.

As a child, Tamara Thompson felt unloved and overlooked. She’s now the manager of a successful business and has a partner who adores her, but her fear of rejection is threatening to overwhelm her.

All three women are searching for a happier future, but the answers may lie in shedding light on secrets from the past.

From the bestselling author of Red Dust and Crimson Dawn, comes a moving and intriguing novel about love, friendship and how the truth can set us free.

This is Fleur McDonald’s first foray away from rural romance/fiction and into the broader genre of women’s fiction or ‘life lit’. I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of her other books and so I was quite looking forward to this one and seeing where it went.

It introduces the reader to three women: mother and daughter Lauren and Skye Ramsey as well as Tamara Thompson, the manager of a local clothing store that Skye often likes to shop in. Each of the three are struggling with something. Lauren is a teacher and concerned about a young child in her class at school as well as an itchy spot on her arm. Skye is 14 and facing the pressures and stresses that friends and boys bring and Tamara is given news that she’s not quite sure how to cope with. It could also offer the chance of a new beginning with her mother, if she can let go of the past.

The core ideas are all quite good – as a pale redhead, I can relate to Lauren’s concerns about her skin, especially when she discovers a new spot that itches. She’s also a full time teacher of a busy kindergarten class and has two children of her own, the youngest of whom, Skye, is going through a bit of a ‘difficult’ stage. Connecting with Skye has become harder and harder for Lauren and at times she seems to often compare Skye to her oldest child, who is more easygoing.

Tamara is a really interesting character and at first it’s not really entirely obvious why she’s included in the story. But she has clearly had quite a hard life – many years ago she was given an opportunity to turn things around. She took that opportunity and now likes to pay it forward and so when she sees a chance to help someone else she takes it. It brings Tamara into Skye’s life in a more intimate way and because of that, into Lauren’s life as well.

And here is where I started to have a bit of a struggle with this book. I found that it was honestly, the sort of book where I ended up saying to myself “What are the odds?” several times because it’s linked together by either connections or events that are somewhat well, a bit of a stretch. I was able to guess where it was going quite a long way before it got there as well and I think that made it lose some impact and just seem a bit too orchestrated and unbelievable.

There are some serious issues tackled in this book so it’s unfortunate that it didn’t really feel as though they were explored with the depth that they could’ve been. Lauren’s diagnosis offered a lot of chances but most of what occurs, occurs off the page. That was probably deliberate but at the same time it made me feel like I wasn’t really a part of what was happening, it was all vague and left me feeling disconnected from it. I get that it brought up Lauren’s desire to connect with her biological heritage and that was quite a focus of the story but she was going through something quite alarming and a lot of it felt a bit glossed over.

But ultimately it was the way that things seemed to come together so neatly and effortlessly that I had the most problem with. So much seemed so coincidental and easy and not just the things about Lauren’s heritage. There was also a lot with Skye, her teenage daughter, that seemed quite easily fixed. Skye ends up becoming involved in a bit of a scandal and quite a lot of the fallout is glossed over as well and her relationship with Lauren seems to be magically improved.

This was just an okay read for me – some good bones but the execution felt weak and contrived at times and there wasn’t enough focus on some of the meatier issues.

6/10

Book #57 of 2017

The Missing Pieces Of Us is book #18 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Best Of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

The Best Of Adam Sharp
Graeme Simsion
Text Publishing
2016, 372p
Read from my local libary

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A novel about love, music and coming to terms with the past, from the author of the international bestseller The Rosie Project.

On the cusp of fifty, Adam Sharp has a loyal partner, earns a good income as an IT contractor and is the music-trivia expert at quiz nights. It’s the lifestyle he wanted, but something’s missing.

Two decades ago, on the other side of the world, his part-time piano playing led him into a passionate relationship with Angelina Brown, who’d abandoned law studies to pursue her acting dream. She gave Adam a chance to make it something more than an affair—but he didn’t take it. And now he can’t shake off his nostalgia for what might have been.

Then, out of nowhere, Angelina gets in touch. What does she want? Does Adam dare to live dangerously? How far will he go for a second chance?

I found this book quite weird.

And not in a good, quirky way.

I loved Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and were that the only book of his I’d ever read, my expectations going into this would’ve been astronomical. But I also read The Rosie Effect and that definitely took quite a lot of the shine off for me. So it was with interest that I picked this up from a display shelf at my local library. I was curious if I would find it as engaging as the first Rosie book or as disappointing as the second. Unfortunately for me, it has more in common with the latter.

Adam is a 50-ish IT worker and pianist from London, who out of the blue, gets an email from a woman he had a relationship with 25 years ago when he was working in Melbourne. He soon finds himself reliving their short but intense relationship and he’s unable to really focus on anything else but Angelina. When he breaks up with his partner, Angelina invites him to come and stay with her and her husband in their holiday house in France. And he actually goes. Seriously, as soon as I hit this point in the book, I remember thinking ‘no good can come of this and why would anyone do it?’. But Adam seems to deliberate not at all about this, about why Angelina might be getting in contact with him now, why she’s inviting him based on a handful of emails and one skype conversation to stay with her and her husband.

It gets way more bizarre once Adam is actually in France but it’s impossible to discuss the WTF-ery that occurs without spoiling the heck out of the book. To me this read as some sort of middle-aged fantasy about ‘the one that got away’ where a bunch of dream-like things happen but there are no actual real repercussions. It made so little sense and some of it was actually decidedly creepy. There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on that Adam is kept deliberately ignorant about and it made me quite stabby. But then he was ridiculously naive for going there anyway, so perhaps he deserved to be the pawn in an incredibly childish game.

I didn’t really like Angelina all that much when Adam met her in the 1980s in Melbourne. She was married (although sort of separated) and I found her manipulative but ultimately, so incredibly boring in her perfectness. It seemed she was merely practicing for middle age because Angelina 25 years later is quite frankly, even worse. I really disliked her and I disliked the person Adam was around her too. I had some liking for Charlie for a while but at the same time he’s weirdly okay with what’s going on and just wants to keep cooking and talking about alcohol all the time and why are you like this Charlie, because it makes no sense. Then when I realised what was happening, to be honest, his behaviour still made no sense.

There’s a lot of music in this book – Adam plays the piano in bars outside of his day job and he has a deep connection to the songs he plays. Some remind him of his father, others of Angelina and the time in Melbourne and music buffs who enjoys 60s, 70s etc may really appreciate those parts of the story. The music is a little before my time (child of the 80s, not a Dylan fan, etc) so it added little to the story for me personally.

I found myself baffled by this book and although I at first thought that the early part (the section of the book that takes place in Melbourne) had promise and perhaps it did for those that enjoyed the character of Angelina. And the idea of completely changing your life a quarter of a century later because of an email – and Adam can argue all he likes that it wasn’t because of that, but to be honest, it clearly read to me that it utterly was because of that – is just so bizarre and pointless. I felt profoundly sorry for Claire, Adam’s present day partner, who was treated in such an offhand manner, like she wasn’t even anyone important. Adam gave her as much consideration and information as he would a flatmate he never saw and then has the nerve to check her emails while he’s in France to see what she’s up to without him.

I was quite disappointed in this…..not just for the infidelity story line but also in the execution. So many implausible seeming things in one book.

4/10

Book #59 of 2017

 

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Review: Sam Junior’s Day by Adam Crettenden

Sam Junior’s Day
Adam Crettenden
Self-published
2017, 25p
Copy courtesy of the author

Inspired by a true story, ‘Sam Junior’s Day’ shows a typical day in the life of the ultimate routine dog.

Sam’s busy and energetic day is fun, exciting and rewarding. He is a much-loved family member who is determined to please all who meet him.

Guaranteed to make you smile.

This is a bit of a first to me – I haven’t ever reviewed a children’s book before. Plenty of YA and even the odd MG title but not a children’s book. My kids are 8 and 5 and reading is something that I’m super vigilant about. Each of them are required to read each night for school – about 20 minutes for the oldest and maybe 10 for the youngest. My oldest child has gone far beyond the levels of readers that the school sends home and is now allowed to choose his own books. Mine and his teacher’s thoughts are that we don’t really mind what he’s reading, so long as it engages him and he is reading. He has an iPad and an app on it that enables him to read eBooks and he’s also figured out that when we go to the shops, he can ask for a book and his father and I will never say no. The purchasing of books is much encouraged in this house!

My youngest, Rory started school this year and has taken to reading with gusto. He loves it. He’s reward-oriented and I think he finds it very satisfying to learn new words and accomplish something by reading. He loves bringing home readers and library books and we’ve started visiting our local community library as well and he’s become very into the whole process.

When I received this book, I immediately knew that I would read it with Rory – it’s perfect for him. The sentences are short and simple but with just enough words he didn’t already know to make him feel challenged. He needs that fine line of being able to construct the sentences himself but also learning and exploring new words.

In short, this book is about a border collie named Sam Junior who does the same things every day at pretty much the same time. He’s a little dog of routine and I think it’s something that kids can easily relate to because they tend to do a lot of things at the same time each day as well – get up, eat breakfast, get dressed for school, brush teeth, hop in the car etc. We were able to go through all of the things that Sam Junior does in his day and apply them to our day and in some cases, to the day of our cat Loki. We don’t have a dog anymore (up until the past year we had 2 stunningly tempered greyhounds) but I think a lot of animals are, to some extent, creatures of habit. Many thrive on routine and expect the same things at each time of the day. To be honest, Rory is a creature of habit himself and this book is kind of relateable for kids in many ways, even if they don’t have a dog or any sort of pet. He was able to connect the different things he does at certain times of the day with what Sam was probably doing at the same time.

I really enjoyed the illustrations in this book and Rory did too! We each have our favourites – mine is the one where Sam chases bunnies, Rory’s is the one where he receives his late night snack. The colours are bold and eye catching and border collies are beautiful dogs. But the illustrator has also captured a mischievous, people-pleasing personality too which is easy to see.

It’d be remiss of me to review a picture book without including a few thoughts from someone who fits the target audience, so I asked Rory after we’d read through it a couple times over the past few weeks, what he thought and this was what he had to say:

“I like Sam because he does funny things. My favourite part is when he gets his bone and when he says he might eat the horse’s food. I also like when he goes in the car because he sits in the front seat like a person.”

Thumbs up from both of us!

8/10

Book #41 of 2017

Check out my Author Q&A with Adam Crettenden here

Buy Sam Junior’s Day on Kindle & iBooks

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Author Q&A With…….Adam Crettenden

Today I am happy to have Adam Crettenden here for a chat. Adam is the author of two books and recently took the time to answer some of my questions on reading, writing, his career and life. Thanks Adam!

Q1. Hi Adam and welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me. To get us started….tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you Bree. I work full-time in the racing industry and have been a commentator for almost 25 years. I’ve done plenty of other things aside from my full-time work to make the most out of life, and writing a book seems to have been that ‘next thing’ to do.

Q2. Your first book is a non-fiction about the famous racehorse Subzero, winner of the 1992 Melbourne Cup. How exactly did that come about and what was the research and writing process like?

Subzero’s Melbourne Cup win was a turning point of my life. 1992 was the year I did a school project on the racing industry and it was the first Melbourne Cup I went to. I vividly remember the events of that day and have fortuitously encountered Subzero many times in his promotional duties in the years since. His owner, Graham Salisbury has always been keen for a book to be written and I decided to catalogue some photographs which led to some further research and from there I just carried on writing a manuscript. I loved the research and discovering the stories (many previously untold) but initially found the writing quite cumbersome because of my naivety to writing. I employed a freelance editor to work with me and I completely wrote the book three times over before I had a manuscript worth taking to a publisher.

Q3. From there you’ve expanded to writing a children’s book, Sam Junior’s Day. What gave you the idea to focus on something completely different?

A lot of Sam Junior’s Day was done before Subzero. My illustrator, Caitlin Tolsma did her work in 2015 on the project but then Subzero came along and demanded my complete attention which put the children’s book on the backburner. Sam Junior is our family border collie who is quite habitual, but a kind and playful dog who just wants to please everybody he meets. He is part of our family and it is a joy to have this book completed for him.

Q4. You’ve chosen to publish Sam Junior’s Day yourself. How have you found the process in comparison to publishing Subzero which was published traditionally with one of the “big 5 publishers”?

Completely different. Obviously, to have Penguin Random House guide me through the production of my first book was a massive help. It took away the need for me to think of printing, distributing and marketing. I could solely focus on the editing of the manuscript. Part of the Sam Junior’s Day journey was to experience the self-publishing world and I’m so glad I’ve done that because there were a number of challenges along the way and I learnt a lot about things such as formatting which is critical, depending on the platform you list on.

Q5. Having seen some different sides of publishing, what do you think is the biggest challenge as an author?

It will always be surrounding the story you are portraying. I believe Subzero was a strong enough story that it could have been written and commercially published by anyone who had the dedication and passion to write an accurate account of his life. Subzero was a strong topic, and that’s what attracted the eyes of a major publisher. As the author, I then had to produce the writing to reflect that strong topic, which was greatly enhanced by the staff at Penguin.

Q6. Are you a reader yourself? If so, what do you like to read?

I have a chuckle to myself regarding my reading habits. As a kid, I generally hated it. I was a kid who played sport and that’s all that interested me. The only book I enjoyed through my entire school life was Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. It left such an impression on me that wrote every essay I could in Year 12 on it and making English my best subject – the one subject I never really cared about! I still have that book on my shelf today. However, as I’ve grown older, I have become a reader, particularly sports biographies. I’ve collected many Dick Francis novels over the years and since many of his stories are based on horse racing, I find them quite easy to follow his fictional plots.

Q7. What does the future hold for you, writing wise?

Not entirely sure. After Subzero was released, I thought that would allow me to move on to the ‘next thing’, but I am currently considering writing something else – can’t say too much just yet though.

Q8. And lastly for a bit of fun…..if you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 things would you consider essential?

I’m a practical man so I’ll say a hammock, a pair of sunnies and a satellite telephone to call for the fully-fuelled speedboat whenever I’m ready to leave.

****

Buy Subzero from Booktopia (also available in print from good bookstores) as well as Amazon & iBooks
Buy Sam Junior’s Day from Amazon & iBooks

Check back tomorrow for my review of Sam Junior’s Day featuring a very special little guest reviewer!

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Mini Reviews: Truly & Madly by Ruthie Knox

Truly (New York #1)
Ruthie Knox
Loveswept
2014, eBook
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

May Fredericks hates New York. Which is fair enough, since New York seems to hate her back. After relocating to Manhattan from the Midwest to be with her long-distance boyfriend, NFL quarterback Thor Einarsson, May receives the world’s worst marriage proposal, stabs the jerk with a shrimp fork, and storms off alone—only to get mugged. Now she’s got no phone, no cash, and no friends. How’s a nice girl supposed to get back to safe, sensible Wisconsin?

Frankly, Ben Hausman couldn’t care less. Sure, it’s not every day he meets a genuine, down-to-earth woman like May—especially in a dive in the Village—but he’s recovering from an ugly divorce that cost him his restaurant. He wants to be left alone to start over and become a better man. Then again, playing the white knight to May’s sexy damsel in distress would be an excellent place to start—if only he can give her one very good reason to love New York.

So it seems that lately, a lot of the books in my TBR pile have been a bit depressing. Cancer, death, etc. When this happens I tend to go on a romance binge, both contemporary and historical, almost to balance it out. I came across the second book in this series and it sounded awesome but figured I might as well get the first one too. So, so glad I did!

May moved to New York when her NFL-playing boyfriend went from the Packers to the Jets. She never really embraced the city and was ready to flee, especially after receiving a humiliating proposal. Mugged on her way out of the building, she’s left with no money, no ID and no desire to return to her now former boyfriend’s apartment. She heads to a comforting bar, a Packers haven and meets Ben Hausman. Who does not exactly fill the slot of ‘kind stranger’.

This book is adorable. I loved May and Ben is absolutely my favourite type of hero – bit gruff and grumpy (ok, he’s quite a lot grumpy) and broody. May at first just wants to use a phone to call a friend, maybe borrow a credit card number to get a hotel room and book a flight back home but eventually her lack of ID seems a problem and it’s a long weekend. So Ben offers her a place to crash and ends up deciding to show her New York – the real New York.

There’s super good chemistry here and lots of realistic-feeling angst as well. May and Ben don’t know each other but I adored the fact that what Ben loves/is attracted to about May are the things she feels uncomfortable about. She’s not exactly the “WAG” type – she’s statuesque. Curvy. Ben is a chef and he adores watching her eat and the fact that they both love food. The food portion of this book was amazing too – not only what Ben cooks but the different places they eat around the city. Ben also has a really interesting (and quite random) profession (he isn’t allowed to run a restaurant for a while, for reasons explained in the story) and it’s definitely not something you’d think someone in New York City would be doing.

What I enjoyed about this story is that it felt like Ben and May had to work at this relationship. They met in a very adorable way and there was sexual chemistry in spades but both had baggage and there was also the fact that they didn’t really know each other very well. They had to get to know each other properly and it was only natural that they’d stuff up, make mistakes. But the way in which they both worked to fix things, to be together was a really powerful part of the story.

8/10

Book #53 of 2017

Madly (New York #2)
Ruthie Knox
Loveswept
2017, 283p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Allie Fredericks isn’t supposed to be in Manhattan, hiding in the darkest corner of a hip bar, spying on her own mother—who’s flirting with a man who’s definitely not Allie’s father. Allie’s supposed to be in Wisconsin, planning her parents’ milestone anniversary party. Then Winston Chamberlain walks through the door, with his tailored suit, British accent, and gorgeous eyes, and Allie’s strange mission goes truly sideways.

Winston doesn’t do messy. But after a pretty stranger ropes him into her ridiculous family drama with a fake kiss that gets a little too real, he finds out that messy can be fun. Maybe even a little addicting. And as the night grows longer, Allie and Winston make a list of other wild things they could do together—and what seems like a mismatch leads to a genuine connection. But can their relationship survive as their real lives implode just outside the bedroom door?

The blurb of this one was the reason I purchased both these books. A British hero with a fancy suit who is probably going to be quite, well, British and I’m sold. I didn’t even realise for the longest time that Winston, our hero in this book, is Nev’s douchey brother from About Last Night, who has Cath investigated and tries to ruin their relationship. A few years have passed since that book and Winston is now divorced and living in New York City working for one of the branches of the family company. He’s in New York to keep an eye on his daughter Bea who is a student at university but Bea is proving to be quite independent really.

It was weird for me then that I didn’t quite enjoy this one as much as I’d hoped I would. I really loved About Last Night and I love a bit of an uptight hero and Winston had oodles of uptight about his personality in that novel but he did seem less so in this one. The fallout with Nev and his divorce seemed to have changed him significantly and he was quite sweet really. I find it quite amusing that he had such objections to Cath and then ended up in America, falling in love with an American woman who was definitely not the ‘right’ sort of wife for a wealthy British banker who will be a Baron or whatever it is one day…. probably all of the objections he had about Cath when Nev met her.

Allie is an interesting character but I’m not sure if I liked her as much as May. She’s emotionally manipulative  and although I think she has good intentions, her choices aren’t always wise ones. She’s carried a secret for a while now, thinking she needed to protect people but in finally revealing it, only hurts them because of her secrecy. I also really didn’t like the character of May and Allie’s mother (in May’s book, she’s pretty awful to May, always on at her about her weight, etc) and this book revolves quite a lot around her and it sets up something that you think is very messy and dramatic but in the end is quite boring and disappointing, almost like the author changed their mind part way through on what the mother was really up to.

I did really like the list that Allie and Winston made and the reasons behind the making of it. And like Ben and May, I also liked that sometimes, things didn’t really pan out perfectly. Some things were awkward, or didn’t really work. It felt real, natural. I always enjoy that about Ruthie Knox’s books. So whilst I didn’t love this one like I loved the first one, I still enjoyed it. And I’m definitely buying the 3rd book when it gets released later this year.

6/10

Book #55 of 2017

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Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry (Aaron Falk #1)
Jane Harper
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 342p
Read via my local libary

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Luke Hadler turns a gun on his wife and child, then himself. The farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily. If one of their own broke under the strain, well…

When Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra for the funerals, he is loath to confront the people who rejected him twenty years earlier. But when his investigative skills are called on, the facts of the Hadler case start to make him doubt this murder-suicide charge.

And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, old wounds start bleeding into fresh ones. For Falk and his childhood friend Luke shared a secret… A secret Falk thought long-buried… A secret which Luke’s death starts to bring to the surface…

I’ve been hearing amazing things about this book since it was released close to a year ago now. When I finally got access restored to my local library, it was the first book I requested and I was surprised when it came in for pick up within the week.

Aaron Falk works for the Federal police, in the fraud squad. He hasn’t been back to the country town he grew up in since he and his father were forced out, many years ago. But a letter from the father of his childhood best friend demands his presence for the triple funeral of Luke, his wife Karen and their young son. It seems obvious that Luke, perhaps deeply depressed with the drought, has murdered his wife and child and then turned the gun on himself. But Luke’s mother can’t believe that – although times were tough, she doesn’t believe they were that bad. She begs Aaron to just have a look, just try and find something to suggest that her son couldn’t do this terrible thing. So that one day she doesn’t have to tell her surviving tiny granddaughter that her own father murdered her family.

It’s loyalty that has Aaron agreeing to look into it…..loyalty to a woman who played an important role in his life and perhaps a bit of desperation too. I think that Aaron wants to know for sure whether Luke was truly guilty of this horrible act and if there’s any, any chance at all that he wasn’t, he wants that opportunity to find out. There’s also the secret that Aaron is carrying, a secret that Luke was in on and perhaps several others in the small town. So maybe there’s guilt as well.

Aaron is an interesting character – he works in fraud now so although he’s probably seen some terrible things, he doesn’t seem to have that weariness that say a homicide cop might have. Being back in Kiewarra is definitely not easy for him and there are a few people who are quite vocal that he’s not welcome there and that they haven’t forgotten why he and his father left. There are some painful memories rooted in Kiewarra for Aaron but he makes the decision to stay and dig deeper, despite the clear messages that he perhaps shouldn’t.

The mystery here is soooo good – I found myself really wanting to know just what had happened. Was Luke really guilty? Harper takes care to orchestrate the fact that he definitely had a bit of a darker side but then again….lots of people do. It’s one thing to be a bit of a dodgy teenager, quite another to blow your wife and child away with a shotgun at close range. It’s such a horrific thing that you don’t want to believe anyone could be capable of doing this to the person they were married to, to the child they had produced. But people do, for a myriad of ‘reasons’ and I was curious how this would play out. If it wasn’t Luke, what was the motivation?

There was something about Aaron’s quiet but persistent manner that I really found appealing. He’s very thorough and the professional relationship he develops with the local police officer, who is also looking for clues, turned out to be a highlight of the novel for me. I enjoyed their discussions, the ways in which they approached things and perhaps also the way in which they were willing to consider anything. Both of them went about their investigation, which was kind of informal, and dug up small tidbits of information that they painstakingly began to stitch together.

The town itself provides a great atmospheric backdrop for the story. They’re experiencing the most awful drought and it’s made plenty of people anxious, nervous, stressed and even angry and bitter. Aaron is surprised when the river/creek he remembers from his youth, which you used to be able to hear rushing through, is little more than a dry jagged carving in the landscape. It made me remember the drought that Victoria was in the grips of when I moved here in 2006. The drought permeates the town and the story so much that it’s almost a living, breathing character.

I really enjoyed this – I read it in one sitting and it had me engrossed from start to finish and definitely kept me guessing. I like that it was able to really surprise me in some ways and in others, I felt comfortable in the familiarity of guessing what was coming. I’m also really glad to see that it’s the first in the series and that we can expect another book featuring Aaron Falk. I’d love to see him in different scenarios and his career gives many options. This is an extraordinarily well written, tightly paced crime novel that more than lives up to the hype surrounding it.

8/10

Book #57 of 2017

 

The Dry is book #17 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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