All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Promise Of Hunters Ridge by Sarah Barrie

Promise Of Hunters Ridge (Hunters Ridge #3)
Sarah Barrie
Harlequin AUS
2017, 432p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

By the time this is all over, she’ll know what it’s like to kill, or what it’s like to die.

Mia Morgan doesn’t let anything get to her. After freeing herself from an obsessive boss and saving loved ones from a serial killer, she feels like she can handle anything life throws at her. But now that killer – a deranged hunter who preys on women for sport – is coming for her. And if she runs, others will pay the price. As if that’s not enough, Ben Bowden, the brilliant detective who has made her life hell for the past four years, has some insane plan to protect her. If she collaborates with him, Mia might just have to acknowledge her true feelings. But if she keeps him out, will she let the hunter win?

Ben Bowden is sick of finding dead bodies. If being the lead detective on the biggest case in the country didn’t come with enough pressure, now the psychopath Ben is chasing has Mia Morgan in his sights. And Mia doesn’t want his help. She hasn’t forgiven him for the past, and is being less than cooperative with his investigation. Protecting her is a challenge, and the sparks that fly whenever they’re together aren’t helping. But he has to make her trust him – somehow – because she has a plan that terrifies him to the bone.

Can he convince her to work with him? Or will she risk everything to single-handedly turn the hunter into the hunted?

Oh my God. I have waited what feels like soooo long for this book! It hasn’t really been that long, maybe 2 years since I read the first one. After reading (and loving!) that one, it was Mia and Ben that I always wanted to read about. There was always so much more to their interactions – Mia’s resentment and grudge holding, Ben’s protective streak. They always had an interesting chemistry and I wanted to know more about them.

Finally, this is their story. I made myself wait to read this until closer to the release date and I also picked a time when I could read the entire thing from start to finish with no interruptions and I’m so glad I did. We pick up quite a few months after the end of book 2 and things have kind of stalled. The psychopath that has terrified Ally, Ebony and Mia remains at large. Detective Ben Bowden is still working the case, still trying to find the break he needs in order to finish things for good, make sure that no one need ever suffer again. It’s not going to be that easy though and when bodies start turning up, this time there’s something a little different about them….

Mia has been keeping a few secrets since her rescue and to be honest, quite a bit of this book is structured around Mia doing well, kind of stupid things. I understand why she does them and I think that the author takes care to give Mia some rationale, a reason why she takes these risks, keeps these secrets but at the end of it, they are dangerous, really dangerous things to do that could not only endanger her life even more (and others) but could also affect an ongoing investigation. Ben is understandably frustrated when he finds out about what Mia has been doing but at the same time he also needs some more information and so he runs with it, hoping the fact that he knows about it and can keep an eye on it will help.

But what Ben really wants is for Mia to trust him – trust him completely, with everything. He knows that he’s messed up in the past, put Mia offside when he made a mistake. But everything he’s done since then has been in an attempt to right his wrong, to make it up to them. Ally has long forgiven him and now trusts him and even counts him as a friend…but Mia is still holding back and the scene where he practically begs her…… it’s what good romantic tension is made of.  Ben and Mia are exactly what I expected – hoped, they would be. Chemistry and angst and a clashing of wills and stubbornness and flaws and misconceptions but underneath all of that, such possibility. If only the threat could be neutralised once and for all.

I’ve enjoyed the way that this story has continued to build and evolve over the three installments. The author managed to keep it fresh despite it being the same real culprit that continued to elude capture for what did seem like quite a long time. The creep factor is pretty high and there was a lot added to the story in the last book to really give Mia those reasons to take the risks and attempt to put herself in the line of fire. I spent a lot of the book getting a bit frustrated with Mia as she continued to seemingly make things more difficult than they needed to be, but as her motivations and secrets slowly unfolded, it all made sense and painted her in an entirely new light.

The road to true love never did run smooth and for Ben and Mia it was probably rougher than most. Particularly when Ben is forced to do something that he really doesn’t want to that causes Mia to turn on him yet again, to think that he’s betrayed her. It just added another twist in the story, although I have to admit I did expect a few people to be a bit smarter about the whole process considering it made little sense. But throw in emotions and protectiveness and the situation and it’s probably easy for people to judge Ben. And Mia is so stubborn, so damaged from a previous relationship that she was all too ready to believe it too.

Every element of this series has had me hooked from the first page of the first book. I’ve enjoyed the entire ride, the romantic ups and downs, the way in which the suspense element has kept me on the edge of my seat during each book, wondering how it was finally going to end…and then the kind of foreshadowing in this book, that tells you there’s really only two ways it can end. The ending was awesome and lived up to every expectation I had…..which were pretty high, given the past 2 books!

This series is why I love romantic suspense.

9/10

Book #47 of 2017

Promise of Hunters Ridge is the 16th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Close Enough To Touch by Colleen Oakley

Close Enough To Touch
Colleen Oakley
Allen & Unwin
2017, 306p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

One time a boy kissed me and I almost died…..

And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years within the confines of the house her unaffectionate mother left her when she ran off to remarry. But now her mother is dead and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world -and the people in it- that she’s been hiding from.

One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric is struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course. Then one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition….

I loved the sound of this book when it arrived – the author has given the protagonist, Jubilee, an anaphylactic allergy to humans. It’s fictional, but based very much on the way that people are allergic to say nuts. Even contact with another human can send Jubilee out in huge welts. A kiss can trigger the anaphylaxis and so for the past nine years since her mother married, Jubilee has lived alone in the house. She never leaves – she’s arranged for the garbage to be collected without having to put the bins out, she has her groceries delivered. Her mother sends her money to live on but when her mother passes away, the money dries up. Jubilee must face her agoraphobia and leave the home to find work in order to pay the bills.

I loved Jubilee – there are some days when a quiet existence filled with books and zero human interaction sounds like heaven and that is without someone else potentially killing you. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so on guard around people so that you don’t even accidentally brush against them. Meeting new people would be terribly awkward, as sometimes people want to kiss you in greeting. She has to wear gloves to prevent accidental touches or be able to shake hands etc but there are so many other brief touches. Sometimes people brush something away from your face etc. It’d be easy to hide yourself away where you didn’t have to worry about that, but I suppose the more you live that life, the more frightening the outside world might seem. Given that Jubilee had not really left her yard in nine years, I expected a bit more of an exploration of how loud or intrusive and scary going out might be. There are a few moments but she does seem to adjust rather well and basically has a job fall into her lap which meant that she didn’t have to really go out and search and interact with different people in an effort to find a job.

I also really liked the character of Eric – he had made some mistakes, including one catastrophic one with his daughter but he was also making great sacrifices too. His adopting of Aja was beautifully selfless and it wasn’t at all a smooth road for either of them. I felt sorry for Eric a lot of the time – he had a lot on and at times it felt like a lot of people were working against him rather than with him. He gets frustrated sure but I felt that he was entitled to. Aja isn’t an easy child and he’s been through a trauma. Both of them have. But Eric keeps trying, he keeps doing his best. When they meet Jubilee, it’s almost like this awkwardly perfect situation. Jubilee is in a position to help both Eric and Aja and because Aja is….slightly unusual, he’s able to embrace and respect her boundaries and difficulties. He is also slightly deluded about them but in a way that makes perfect sense when it all comes out.

Because Eric and Jubilee can’t really touch or kiss, even when they are both attracted to each other, their relationship must evolve in a very different way. It’s not all smooth sailing, there are plenty of awkward and ugly moments but also a lot of beautiful ones too. I think that’s why I felt so disappointed in the ending of this one…. I sort of understand why it had to go to the way it did but it made me feel very unsatisfied to turn the page and realise that the story had skipped ahead. There were a lot of things that felt very rushed and “magic cure!” and not having been there for the process made it seem a bit fanciful. It was very anti-climactic in a way and the interaction at the end wasn’t really the satisfying moment I was after.

This was an enjoyable novel but I just felt like it got a bit sloppy right at the end, like there was a word count that the author had reached and she had to wrap everything up in a really short amount of time – a few pages. For some the mystery of it might work but I just wanted more.

7/10

Book #44 of 2017

 

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Review: Tarin Of The Mammoths: The Exile by Jo Sandhu

Tarin Of The Mammoths: The Exile
Jo Sandhu
Puffin Books
2017, 288p
Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Tarin longs to be a hunter, but his twisted leg means he is feared and bullied. After a disastrous mishap, Tarin is forced to leave his family and travel alone across wild, unknown land to save the Mammoth Clan. Battling the hostile and savage Boar Clan, a deadly illness and treacherous terrain with twins Kaija and Luuka and their wolf cubs, Tarin realises that if they are all to survive he must conquer his greatest fear – his true self – and embrace the magic that is hiding within him.

I have to admit, I have never read a lot of middle grade fiction. I skipped a lot of it growing up, moving on to Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams romances when I was probably about 7 or 8. However now that I have kids and that both of them are strong readers for their age, it’s something I want to encourage and I want to have a bit of an idea of what they might be reading, or what books might be good for them. My 8yo well exceeds the maximum level of readers they can bring home so he is given free rein to choose his own books and books like this would probably be about his level.

This is the first in a series and introduces the reader to Tarin, a young boy born with a twisted leg that means that he cannot do what the others of his clan do. Men are supposed to grow up to be strong hunters, to provide meat for the clan but Tarin’s leg means that he cannot be fast, or stealthy as he is often clumsy. He is mostly made tend gardens with the women or left to his own devices. His clan tend to fear what is different and when a hunt goes wrong because of Tarin, they declare him bad luck and want him banished. Tarin sees a chance to redeem himself by taking a gift from the various families in his clan to the Earth Mother, in order to appease her and hopefully change the clan’s luck. The journey will be very difficult and it’s quite likely that Tarin will never see his family again – indeed most in the clan expect him to fail and perish.

To me, Tarin is still very young but to his clan he’s on the cusp of manhood and about the age where boys should be joining their first hunt and making their first important kill to provide food. Tarin, with his disability, has always struggled to fit in, to really discover his place within the clan and he cannot really see a role for him. The ways seem to be quite clearly defined and as a young male and the son of the leader of the clan, Tarin’s place should be secure with a bright future ahead of him. But anyone who cannot play a role is a liability, a weakness that the clan can ill afford during a tough winter. A mouth to feed that doesn’t contribute in return is one more mouth than they need.

And so Tarin, desperate to prove himself as useful in some way, any way, volunteers to carry a gift to the Earth Mother. I think he perhaps fears that he has brought shame on his family, that they are embarrassed and he’s desperate to do something to make them proud, even if it might take his life. On his journey he meets a girl named Kaija, who has fled her clan with her brother Luuka and they are forced to make alliances and rely upon each other for survival and it is with them that Tarin perhaps discovers what his true path will be in life.

I enjoyed the setting and the characters – Tarin is smart and thoughtful and has many abilities that could be appreciated but the conditions under which the clan live mean that had he stayed with them, he might never have been able to explore them. I liked the resourcefulness of Kaija as well, she’s a girl who can take care of herself but she also values the importance of family and was willing to put herself in danger in order to save her brother. The three of them make up a very interesting trio and I think this had the beginnings of a fun series. I do have admit a lot of the spirit stuff wasn’t my sort of thing but seems consistent with the setting and the beliefs of the clans.

I’ve passed this onto my oldest son and I’m really curious to see what he thinks of it.

6/10

Book #46 of 2017

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile is book #15 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Blog Tour Review: The Last McAdam by Holly Ford

The Last McAdam
Holly Ford
Allen & Unwin
2017, 292p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This romantic, irresistibly entertaining novel tells the story of Tess Drummond, who’s been sent to turn around the fortunes of a remote sheep and cattle station her employer has taken over. What Tess hasn’t counted on is coming up against the station’s handsome and charismatic head stockman, Nate McAdam, whose family owned the property for generations…

Passed down through the same family for over a century, the remote sheep and cattle station of Broken Creek has recently been taken over by global agribusiness company Carnarvon Holdings. Now Carnarvon has sent its best troubleshooting manager, Tess Drummond, to turn the property’s failing fortunes around – fast.

When Tess arrives to take the reins of Broken Creek she’s faced with a couple of nasty surprises. For starters, her head stockman, Nate McAdam, happens to be the same gorgeous stranger she hooked up with – and ran out on – a few weeks before.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nate was supposed to inherit Broken Creek until his stepfather ran it into the ground. Now the last McAdam on the station leads a team of men whose bonds have been forged through hell and high water and whose mission is to see off Carnarvon and Tess so he can take his rightful place.

A genius with farm work – and women – but a disaster in the office, Nate is everything Tess believes a farmer shouldn’t be. Determined not to give in to her growing attraction to him, Tess sets out to do her job, but she soon finds herself caught up in the battle of her career.

The Last McAdam is a rural novel set in southern New Zealand focusing on Tess Drummond, who works travelling around the properties owned by Carnarvon Holdings and coming up with plans to make them profitable. Tess operates under the motto of ‘Don’t Get Attached’. She comes in, she develops the changes needed in order to see profits increase and then she’s onto the next property.

Broken Creek was picked up by Carnarvon Holdings for a song after a devastating incident that they then became liable for. There are three workers left on the farm (and one extra who takes care of the homestead) which is more than it really requires and as Carnarvon is likely to want to bring in its own team,  it’ll just be a matter of settling redundancy offers. She is horrified to discover that one of the workers, Nate McAdam, who also happens to be the stepson of the last owner, is the handsome stranger that Tess almost hooked up with at a wedding a couple of weeks ago. Before she knows it, Broken Creek (and its workers) are doing the one thing that no where else has been able to do since she was a child – get under her skin. Make her want different things.

There was quite a bit about this I enjoyed. I’ve read lots of rural romance novels but they are mostly Australian with a few American ranch-style ones sprinkled in. I haven’t really read much of anything set in New Zealand, let alone a rural and I found that very interesting. The terrain is quite different to here, it being high country and the associating weather issues were not something I would’ve been aware of before this. I loved the farm stuff – I’ve always had an idealistic idea about living on a farm. I know I’m not actually suited to it in reality but the idea of it appeals to me, which is why I think I read so many rurals!

The workers at Broken Creek are all amazing supporting characters that I felt added so much to the story. Especially the character of Stan, an elderly blind man who has lived on the property for decades. He was so lovely and really contributed so much to the story – some moments with him made me genuinely teary! The two younger workers, Mitch and Harry are also fantastic. Each has their own issues, emotional ‘baggage’ in a way and at first there’s an attempt to hide this from Tess so that she can hopefully see what they bring to the property in terms of work and care. Tess has carefully crafted a plan for Broken Creek but the longer she spends there, the more she sees that perhaps it’s not what is best for it after all – it might be best for Carnarvon Holdings but Tess is able to see the potential in Broken Creek and what Nate wants to do. He might be useless with the books but he does know the land.

So I did really like everything centred around Broken Creek and the struggle that Tess faced as well, whether to finally choose to stay somewhere but I do have to admit that I didn’t connect with the romance aspect of this story at all. I didn’t really buy into the…well, anything between Nate and Tess. The hook up at the wedding felt very random, it was quite jarring as it was in the first few pages and they don’t even ask each other their names. And some of their interactions after Tess arrives at Broken Creek to “fix” it are a bit odd – some are almost childish. Nate seems to be a bit of a tormentor, one of those guys who always has a quip and a smirk and there were times I didn’t really see his appeal. There seems to be a lot of denial and avoiding things and pretending and I was just waiting for things to hurry up and actually happen. I’d like to see a book about Mitch in the future though, he was definitely more my sort of guy.

6/10

Book #42 of 2017

The Last McAdam is published by Allen & Unwin and is out now – RRP $29.99

Author website: http://www.hollyford.net

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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

aww2017-badge

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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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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