All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Monkey Business – Kathryn Ledson

Monkey BusinessMonkey Business (Erica Jewell #2)
Kathryn Ledson
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 294p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Her first mission with the mysterious outfit known as the Team is over and Erica Jewell is in a state of limbo – in more ways than one. Life has mostly returned to normal now other than the fact that she’s not really sure what’s going on between her and the enigmatic Jack Jones. Jack has already suffered a painful loss in his life and he’s not willing to get close to anyone again, in case that puts them in danger. And so Erica wonders exactly where they stand.

Jack has a mission he needs to go on – he won’t say much but Erica gets the feeling it’s quite a dangerous one. And then she receives a garbled call from Joe, Jack’s right hand man that suggests that Jack has gone missing in action. With the Team turning a blind eye, Erica decides that if anyone is going to rescue Jack, it’s going to have to be her. Jack is on the Indonesian island of St Sebastian, a small jungle-infested hot mess of instability and corruption. Erica takes some personal leave and makes her way there without a clue of what Jack was up to or how to find him. At best all she can do is stumble around asking questions and hope that she hits on someone that has an idea what she’s talking about – and might be willing to help her.

Monkey Business is the follow up to Kathryn Ledson’s debut novel Rough Diamond which was published last year. Rough Diamond introduced us to Erica Jewell who was working in a boring job to pay off her former husband’s debts when she discovered the bleeding Jack Jones in her garden. An operative for an elite and privately funded unit, Jack recruited Erica to do some of the more mundane work for the job he was on, countering terrorism attacks on Australian soil. Now Erica works casually for the same operation when required and although there’s an obvious attraction with Jack, nothing concrete has been established. Erica knows that he will have dangerous missions to complete and probably often be away.

I enjoyed the first book but I had some reservations and a few things didn’t work for me and the same can probably be said of this installment. There are some things that I think are quite interesting and I do feel that firstly, Erica does undergo some development of character here. In the first book she’s an average person with no idea about units such as the Team but in this one she has knowledge and she has determination. When Jack goes missing, there was never any chance that she wouldn’t go after him personally, once it became obvious to her that the leader of the Team was going to deny any knowledge/responsibility. It seems to work similar to the CIA – if you get caught, you don’t exist. So she books a flight to Darwin and from there to ‘St Sebastian’, an island covered in jungle. She really has no idea what she’s doing but a fortuitous meeting in Darwin with a former university friend at least gives her one contact to make on the island. Mostly she just wanders around asking anyone if they’ve seen Jack and being driven by a taxi driver who is a master at the game of ripping people off.

For me, the first half of this book unfolds rather slowly with a lot of seemingly unnecessary scenes: the football scene at the MCG, which serves to only give Erica’s insecurity about her status with Jack yet another voice, the drunken scene at her friend Lucy’s place where Erica writes herself off for no apparent reason at a Tupperware party and there are probably several others. There’s also a lot of ridiculous stuff involving Tupperware that I’m not really going to get into because it’s partially a spoiler and also because it just….seemed silly. I understand these sorts of books often contain over the top humour that verges into the crazy and you need to check reality at the door upon reading it but apparently I have more difficulty doing that than I imagined.

Fortunately, the second half of the book is much stronger, once Erica actually locates Jack and then they have to get off the island. They have a lot of things to contend with and there is a huge emotional factor as well – Jack isn’t pleased that a) Joe rang Erica to tell her that he was missing and b) that Erica took it upon herself to come here and put herself in deliberate danger for him. Jack has a bit of a problem with Erica being a target for danger but all I can say about that is well buddy, maybe you shouldn’t have nearly bled to death in her front yard and then involved her in the Team. You’ve only got yourself to blame for that one! However I kind of like the way he is expresses his frustration and disappointment about finding Erica in the jungle mixed with the fact that he’s glad to see her in a way as well. At the times the two of them have a really nice dynamic and it seems at the moment that it’s not going to be a forever are-they-or-aren’t-they type of relationship, which is rather refreshing because we all know that can go on way too long…

All in all, Monkey Business is a bit of a mixed bag for me. There were parts I liked and as I mentioned, the second half of the book is quite good. But a lot of the first part of the book had my attention wandering a lot and most of the story didn’t really work for me. There’s a third Erica Jewell book in the works and I am still interested to see where it goes. I’d like to see more of the Team and what they do, rather than have Erica mostly isolated from them, if the Team is going to be a part of the books.

6/10

Book #333 of 2013

 

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Claiming The Courtesan – Anna Campbell

Claiming The CourtesanClaiming The Courtesan
Anna Campbell
Avon
2007, 375p
Bought for my Kindle

To the Duke of Kylemore and everyone else in society, she is known as Soraya and she is the most sought after courtesan. For years the Duke had fought to make her his lover and a year ago he finally succeeded with a one year contract that guaranteed she was exclusively his.

Now the Duke has decided to fly in the face of tradition and make Soraya his bride. She doesn’t exactly greet this suggestion with the enthusiasm he expected and he gives her a day to mull it over. When he returns for her answer he finds the house he provided for her stripped of all its contents and Soraya….gone.

Kylemore is incensed and vows to find her. When he does, he discovers that Soraya is no longer and instead Verity Ashton stands before him. She was forced by dire circumstances to enter the life of a courtesan at fifteen and she always intended to make her choices carefully so that she could retire early from her “career”. She wants nothing more than to now live a peaceful life, a peace that is shattered when Kylemore tracks her down and then kidnaps her, taking her to his very remote Scottish estate.

At first Verity longs of escape, although the remote location and dedicated staff make that almost impossible. But night after night, as Kylemore takes her back into his bed, she begins to realise that when the time comes, she may never be able to leave. Kylemore is difficult, plagued by the demons of his childhood and the instability of both his parents. But although he is demanding, he is also passionate and a lot lurks beneath his polished surface. Verity can’t see a future for them, with him as a Duke and her as a former courtesan but leaving such a man twice is going to prove very difficult.

I love Anna Campbell’s historicals but they’re not for the faint-hearted. They’re not your usual historical romance and this one which is I think, her first, is a little more difficult to navigate than most. Her heroes are almost always terribly damaged and are capable of pretty horrible acts, most of which tend to be forgiveable because of circumstances/the grovelling at the end/etc. However there’s no denying that this one….well….it’s a little….

Rapey.

When I was about to start my first year at university, I moved into one of the residential halls on campus. In the first week they gave us a big sexual harassment talk – most of us were 18ish, living away from home for the first time in our lives. They gave us what we fondly called the “sexual harassment cube” which was exactly what it sounds. A cube that you could manipulate to put different sides together, all of which basically told you what meant no (for the record, everything but YES, means no. No means no, I’m drunk means no, I’m asleep means no, I don’t want to means no, I am unsure means no, I’m unconscious means no, I feel pressured means no. IT ALL MEANS NO). The Duke of Kylemore could’ve benefited from possessing one of these cubes because quite frankly, he isn’t aware that a lack of verbal consent means no. Unfortunately, sexual harassment cubes didn’t exist then and although he paid for a year of Soraya’s services, that year was up. I’m assuming here that during the contract, Soraya had to submit to his advances, regardless of whether or not she felt like it – that’s what a courtesan does, although it’s probably more enjoyable for everyone if they’re enthusiastic. However, when he kidnaps her, she’s not playing that role anymore, so his taking her when she’s sort of in two minds about it (she doesn’t want to, but her body kind of does but she doesn’t give her consent or take part really) gets uncomfortable. For pretty much everyone concerned. Kylemore is concerned because later on, he feels guilty about it but it also doesn’t really stop him from doing it again. Verity is concerned because although she didn’t want to like it, she did, because she desires Kylemore and they’ve always had chemistry. And I was trying to read this taking into account the time and situation of when it was set but part of my mind was still saying “sexual harassment cube, sexual harassment cube”.

Get past that and there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here. Justin, the Duke of Kylemore has had a pretty heinous upbringing and his mother still provides plenty of fodder for his emotional retardation. He has perfected the sort of veneer he needs to get by in society but at the same time, he also doesn’t seem to particularly care about it. It’s a ritual he goes through, something that he does because he’s supposed to and he’s willing to give all of that up in order to marry Soraya/Verity (before he kidnaps her). He was aware of her from the time she first arrived on the scene and although she had two protectors (lovers) before him, he waited for five years until he was able to secure himself as her protector via a contract for an extremely exorbitant price. When he kidnaps Verity, she tells him that the woman he is obsessed with is no more, that Soraya never really existed, she was just something Verity created (maybe because that way, it was someone else who was the courtesan?). Kylemore refuses to believe that Verity and Soraya are two separate people and sets about reconciling her to the fact that Soraya is a part of her and it’s okay for her to embrace that. It’s all quite progressive in some ways (if you ignore the regressive rapeyness).

This isn’t my favourite Anna Campbell (it skirts a little too close to a line I don’t believe should be crossed) but I appreciate the way in which she constructed this story and the characters. She excels at writing people who are flawed in many different ways and she always puts a new spin on the historical romance idea. I purchased this eBook as a 3in1 and I’m looking forward to reading the next two stories in the volume.

7/10

Book #334 of 2013

AWW2013This was the 115th book I read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2013.

 

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The Girl In The Yellow Vest – Loretta Hill

Girl Yellow VestThe Girl In The Yellow Vest
Loretta Hill
Random House AU
2013, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Engineer Emily counts cracks for a living. Whilst her friends from university have all moved onto exciting projects, she spends her days counting cracks in the concrete of a building in Perth. It’s mindnumbingly tedious but at least she has her relationship to fall back on. They’ve been together for years and Emily thinks he might be about to propose – instead he tells her that he needs “space” and breaks up with her.

Emily’s best friend Will suggests she apply to come and work on the project he’s working on in far north Queensland. Emily decides that she needs a fresh start in everything: job, surrounds, the whole works. She finds herself up near the Barrier Reef working with a team supervising the installation of a new shiploader and the work is far more exciting and interesting than counting cracks. She’s beginning to fit in with the crew on site although they’re mostly men and seem hell bent on trying to be the first to get a date with her. However Emily is surprised when it’s none other than Will that captures her interest. She and Will have been best friends for years and she’s never had these sorts of feelings for him before. She’s not quite sure what to do about them.

Charlotte Templeton is a little sick of the engineers and construction workers treating her seaside resort like a donga. They track mud in to the rooms (which they then trash), they leave their beer cans and bottles lying around outside around the pool and their raucous partying and language means that she and her teenage sister need to give them a wide berth. Charlotte’s sister is young and impressionable and Charlotte definitely doesn’t want her hanging out with the older crew of workers. Charlotte has a lot on her plate: she’s struggling to keep herself afloat financially and so she desperately needs the FIFO cheques so she can’t ask them to leave. She’s been a mother to her sister for years, despite only being in her thirties and she cares for their mother who has Alzheimer’s and spends most days thinking it’s 30 years ago and that Charlotte is a receptionist. She approaches the project manager Mark Crawford (known to everyone on site as “Caesar”) about possibly setting down some rules about respect for property and finds herself given the brush off every time. Charlotte is incensed by his rudeness and makes up her mind to teach him some manners….but she’s about to discover that Mark might not be one for socialising or politeness but he’s someone she can truly count on in a crisis.

The Girl In The Yellow Vest is Loretta Hill’s third book in a very loosely connected series that revolves around young engineers working on large projects. I really enjoyed both the previous books which were set on the same project in northern Western Australia and for this book we switch to Queensland. Emily went to university with Lena (from The Girl In Steel-Capped Boots) and she’s watched her graduating class all go on to fun and exciting jobs whilst her career has stalled, her crack-counting a source of amusement to her friends. If ever there was someone in need of a change, it’s Emily but she has remained tethered to her unexciting job because it keeps her in Perth with her boyfriend. When he decides he isn’t ready to settle down, there’s nothing keeping here there anymore.

Watching Emily adjust to her new job and surroundings is a great part of this book as she comes into her own and gets the confidence to do her job and make decisions. She’s not used to really doing much other than counting cracks and although she’s slow to find things to do, once she finds her groove, it’s all about preparing for the arrival of the shiploader. Her friendship with Will is so cute and although he’s had feelings for her for a long time, Emily has almost always been in a relationship and now that she’s out of one she’s also coming to terms with her growing feelings for her ‘best friend’. It’s a very cute kind of story. There’s lots of them finding the other attractive but thinking the other person isn’t interested, lots of misunderstandings about Emily’s former boyfriend (especially because Will is also great friends with him and he’s telling Will things that don’t really add up with what Will is also hearing from Emily, etc). However:

It’s actually almost dwarfed by the story of Mark and Charlotte. Mark is more of a Bulldog type: he’s stand offish, rude, he’s got a known reputation on site and most people stay the hell out of his way as much as they can. Charlotte barges in with all the tact of a sledgehammer to talk about him keeping his FIFO workers a little more in line with regards to the accommodation and sparks fly between them even as Mark is shoving her back out the door, brushing her off, running away and basically doing whatever it is to get rid of her. I thought Mark’s reasons for being the way he was were genuine and believable and it was interesting reading about a man in his position and how he felt about it and the heartbreak and later awkwardness of receiving his list of challenges and the determined way in which he goes about fulfilling every item. Mark definitely had hidden depths and he became my favourite character in the book. I really loved the way we were drip fed information about him that changed the reader’s perceptions and Hill put him in so many uncomfortable situations!

As long as Loretta Hill keeps writing these, I’ll definitely keep reading them!

9/10

Book #281 of 2013

AWW2013This was book #99 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

 

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In Safe Arms – Lee Christine

In Safe ArmsIn Safe Arms
Lee Christine
Harlequin Escape
2013, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Legal secretary Josephine Valenti is home alone when a notorious bikie figure in Sydney contacts her on Skype. Before he can say whatever message it is that he has for her, Josephine watches in horror as he is attacked by two men and murdered in front of her eyes. She kills the connection as quickly as she can but she’s pretty sure that one of the men saw her…and that he knows her.

Two years ago Josephine made a bit of a fool of herself by attempting to seduce Nate Hunter (a friend of her bosses husband) and she hasn’t seen him since. When she flees her parents house to go to the police with what she has seen, it is Nate that intercepts her and he is a lot…different these days. He’s dressed like a biker with long hair, driving a muscle Ute and it’s pretty clear as he manhandles her out of her car, ties her up and forces her into his that he’s not going to be helping her get to the cops. He’s been ordered by the head of a Sydney bikie gang to kill her for what she knows.

Nate has been deep undercover with the Altar Boys for two years, trying to get close enough into the circle to be included in the drop offs for the money laundering so that he can bust it wide open and make the arrests from the top of the chain down. When he agreed to go with the leader to the tattoo parlour of a rival club, he didn’t expect anyone to be there. Nor did he expect to watch as the leader of the Altar Boys murdered the leader of the rival club. Thankfully though it was Nate who saw Josie on the computer screen and knew who she was and where he could find her.

Now Nate and Josie are hiding from everyone. The world believes Josie kidnapped and probably murdered. The bikies believe Nate is a loyal member who has taken care of business and is now ready to step up to be granted full member status. Little do they know he’s looking to take them apart and when he does, it’s going to impact on Josie in ways that she could never have imagined, endangering the fledgling romance they’ve managed to build during their time together.

In Safe Arms is somewhere between a sequel and a companion novel to In Safe Hands. It features a different couple but Luke and Allegra are a part of this story too and make a couple of appearances. Josie works as Allegra’s assistant and given Allegra often defends bikies, she’s more than familiar with some of the faces but she’s unsure why the leader of one of the gangs would want to contact her instead of Allegra. It’s a bad night for Josie and it gets a lot worse when she’s kidnapped by the man she used to crush heavily on…but then it gets a lot better.

Josephine is only twenty and Nick is in his early thirties so at times the age gap between them in terms of life experience is quite significant. Josephine has been brought up in a wealthy, privileged lifestyle and although she regrets the slightly distant relationship she has with her mother, until she sees a bikie murdered on her computer screen, she hasn’t had to deal with much in the way of tragedy although she does cope remarkably well with being kidnapped, especially as she doesn’t know for a while that Nate is working undercover. By contrast, Nate has worked a difficult job for a long time and has been immersed in the bikies operation for two years, living as they do and witnessing things that he would’ve no doubt loved to stop (the murder for example) but couldn’t because it would blow his cover and the operation wasn’t finished yet. He knew there was a big man behind the scenes and he wanted to get him as well and for that he had to be patient, earn the trust of the Altar Boys and act just the way they did. Obviously he couldn’t “take care” of Josie the way that the bikies wanted him to and if they discovered that he hadn’t, it would be the end of both of them so he has to be very careful where he chooses to hide her. He takes a big risk for both of them.

I really loved In Safe Hands when I read it last year and I have been eagerly awaiting this novel ever since. And whilst I did enjoy this one too, I don’t think that Nate and Josephine had the same impact on me that Luke and Allegra did. The story is very good and unfolds nicely with clever pacing and plenty of action. I don’t know much about bikies but I’ve read a few stories revolving around them (and seen more than a couple of eps of Sons of Anarchy) and it’s such an environment that is ripe for so many different types of characters and stories. However I think I just didn’t warm much to Nate, especially his tendency to call Josephine “princess” all the time which got on my nerves a little bit. They did have some interesting chemistry and they were also quite an interesting match but I didn’t really find myself truly invested in them until right at the end and the final scenes between them made up a lot for not quite getting Nate earlier on.

I liked the character of Nate’s undercover handler….I hope he might crop up in a book soon (hint hint Lee Christine?!)

8/10

Book #324 of 2013

AWW2013

In Safe Arms is book #111 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

 

 

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The Kissing Season – Rachael Johns

Kissing SeasonThe Kissing Season
Rachael Johns
Harlequin AUS
2013, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Hannah is the black sheep of the Elliot family. While her three brothers are all settled with stable partners and hard at work in the family furniture making business, Hannah has spent the past few years travelling overseas both for adventure and as a way to avoid the fact that she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life.

It was no surprise to anyone that Hannah impulsively married a man she barely knew in Las Vegas and it seems that everyone was even less surprised when it didn’t work out. With the marriage annulled, Hannah has returned to Australia and the town where she grew up to work in the furniture store helping out until she figures out what she wants to do with her life. However what her family don’t know is that Hannah is also pregnant. She hasn’t told anyone, not since the only person she did tell, the baby’s father, turned his back on her and filed for the annulment.

When Matteo Della-Bosca strides into the family store looking to furnish the house he’s just bought, sparks fly between him and Hannah. But Hannah is trying to be good – after all if ever there was a time to start being responsible, surely it’s now. She’s going to be a mother soon and she needs to put her child first. And Matt makes no secret of the fact that while he wouldn’t mind going to bed with Hannah, he’s not really the commitment type. Hannah is torn – she really wants Matt and what’s the harm in a little fling before she has to settle down and embrace responsibility? However, she’s not sure that she’ll be able to keep her distance, especially when Matt is so generous and wonderful. But he’s made it clear he’s here for a good time, not a long time….although Hannah might be able to make him see that the long time can be just as fun.

The Kissing Season is a fun novella from rural romance Queen Rachael Johns for the holiday season that is mostly sweet but with just a little bit of spice thrown in for good measure. Hannah has spent the last little while travelling all over the world, something that culminated in an unwise rushed marriage in Las Vegas. The marriage didn’t work out and Hannah returned home to face the consequences with her family, keeping her own little secret as well. Torn between a desire to have one last fling with a good looking man and embracing her new found life stage, Hannah is kind of treading water. She’s working in the family furniture business, filling in for someone, she’s staying with her parents, she’s not sure how she’s going to go forward with her life and what she’s going to do. By contrast, Matt is very focused. He mostly lives in Melbourne but his mother is a local in the town and he has returned home to spend some time with her at Christmas. Matt is successful and spends a large portion of the year travelling around Australia and abroad so he’s never been looking for something long term. He enjoys flings and casual relationships and it’s clear that from the time he meets Hannah, he wouldn’t mind a bit of her Christmas cheer. But then he finds out Hannah’s secret and things slowly begin to change… for both of them.

It’s a novella so the story unfolds quite swiftly, especially in the beginning but with each interaction, Matt and Hannah question what they really want just that little bit more. I liked the way that Matt was so supportive of Hannah after she blurted out her secret during what has to be a very inconvenient moment! He had made it clear that he was only after some fun so he could’ve turned and ran but he also saw that she didn’t really have much in the way of support and that she was really dreading confiding in her family, who she believed were already upset with the failed marriage. Matt offers Hannah a friendly ear and shoulder and also it makes him question things he’s always thought about himself. Due to his upbringing, he had certain beliefs but once he finds himself actually possibly right in the middle of a situation he always wanted to avoid he begins to realise that he may have been hasty in his thoughts and it doesn’t have to always go the way that he experienced growing up.

The Kissing Season is a quick read, perfect for summer days at the beach or by the pool in between dips!

8/10

Book #332 of 2013

AWW2013

The Kissing Season is book #113 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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Right As Rain – Tricia Stringer

Right As RainRight As Rain
Tricia Stringer
Harlequin MIRA
2013, 387p
Copy courtesy of Harlequin AUS

Mackenna Birch thinks she’s gotten truly lucky meeting chef Adam on holiday in New Zealand. But then Adam disappears and so Mackenna heads back to her family farm in South Australia only to discover that her father has had a heart attack and been hospitalised. Her parents have hired someone without her knowledge and her brother Patrick is back from the city to help out with the farm. Mackenna begins to get the feeling that she might be being slowly shuffled out here even though it’s her that has worked the land beside her father for the last 8 years. Trained as a chef, Mackenna had a job that didn’t work out and she came home and simply never left. She loves the farm and its produce (sheep) and is passionate about the paddock to the plate. She wants to start a tasting room showcasing their product with the aim of hopefully supplying top quality restaurants and attracting people to the farm to see what she can do with the lamb. But it seems that if her mother has her way, Mackenna won’t be around on the farm at all.

Mackenna has so many ideas of changes to make, she’s brimming with them. It will mean spending a bit of money but she knows that the outlay now will reward them down the track. But with her father not being well, she can’t find the time to sit down and talk to him about her ideas for the farm. Instead she finds herself worrying about small things going wrong and where on earth the hired man is most of the time. And then there’s Hugh, her best friend of many years who has been coming around quite often lately. Has she found someone to move on with, someone that knows her? She’s even more confused when Adam turns up at the farm looking for her, claiming that there has been a misunderstanding. Now it’s not just the farm that plagues her thoughts, it’s him as well. She has everything she needs for a happy ever after right in front of her…. Will she be able to grab it?

Okay, I know that reading provokes an emotional response quite often but I have to say I cannot remember the last time I read a book that made me this mad. I actually had to stop reading it, put it down for a couple of days and then start again another time. I thought I might’ve been in an irrationally angry mood the first time but nope, it made me just as cranky the second time around. Mackenna’s mother is really the most meddlesome person and every time she was on the page fiddling around with things, it made me want to scream. There are some really unlikely things in this book starting with the fact that you can’t just leave the inheritance to the son because he’s the boy anymore. Those days are gone. Even if they do give Mackenna money it’d have to be exactly what the farm, contents and stock are worth down to the dollar otherwise any court in the country is simply going to add the assets together and divide them right down the middle for the brother and sister. You can’t even disinherit children that you have no contact with anymore, let alone ones that live and work on the farm. Secondly booked flights just don’t get randomly moved weeks forward, but that’s only a tiny thing and basically inconsequential to the plot. Thirdly… Mackenna’s parents aren’t even deceased yet. I understand wanting your affairs in order but there’s that and then there’s playing God in other people’s lives without even asking them. Also, there was nothing stopping Patrick and Mackenna from looking at their ‘inheritances’ after their parents passed on and saying, Well this doesn’t work me me… you neither? Ok, let’s swap. There are a lot of assumptions made here and it all seems to build up into a huge deal when really everyone should’ve just sat down right at the beginning. A conversation wasn’t going to cause Mackenna’s father to drop dead.

I really have huge problems with people who think they know what is best for others. Mackenna’s mother “doesn’t want this life” for Mackenna (meaning farming) but what she utterly fails to see, even when Mackenna is basically begging her to do so, is how much Mackenna loves it and how much it’s what she wants to do. Instead Louise, her mother, attempts to cut Mackenna out of the farm and shoehorn in her brother Patrick who works in marketing in the city. Patrick, although he grew up on the farm, isn’t as well versed in the techniques as Mackenna and although he’s willing to learn to help out, he doesn’t want to run the farm. Louise ignores this and she constantly sabotages Mackenna professionally which is why Mackenna keeps the tasting station a secret from her. Louise even attempts to kick Mackenna out of the house that was going to be hers, in order to give it to the worker. She undermines her, brushes her off, ignores her, dismisses her at every turn. Mackenna knows her stuff and Patrick doesn’t. Louise spends half the book shooing Mackenna away or cutting her off and the other half glaring at her or blaming her for something. There’s a half hearted attempt at the end to justify her reasons but it just seemed very weak to me and really poor. Not once did she sit her daughter down and ask her what she loves and what she wanted to do in the future. She even sabotaged Mackenna’s personal life when Adam turned up, attempting to push her towards Hugh. Even when everything comes out that Mackenna loves the farm and Patrick loves his job in Adelaide, she’s still not happy. I know I should just let it go…. but her behaviour really bugged me throughout the entire book. Especially as I don’t feel Louise ever really apologised for attempting to decide for her and making the wrong decisions and trying to cut her out.

But books are meant to provoke a reaction and this one certainly did that. I loved the rest of the story especially Mackenna and her passion for the farm and its produce. The tasting station was such a fabulous idea, showcasing her talents as a chef (and later Adam’s when he shows up looking for her) and the meat that they’re raising. She cared about the animals as well, never happy to be blase about them or to treat them as dollar signs or food. I also liked Adam although actually I thought more time could’ve been spent fleshing out his character a bit more, I would’ve liked to know more about him and see more of him and Mackenna working side by side. I don’t know if Tricia Stringer has plans for loosely connected novels but I wouldn’t mind Hugh getting his happy ever after… in another book somewhere!

7/10

Book #310 of 2013

AWW2013

Right As Rain is book #107 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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The Winter Sea – Di Morrissey

Winter SeaThe Winter Sea
Di Morrissey
Pan Macmillan AU
2013, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/The Reading Room.com

 

Sydney lawyer Cassie Holloway is going through a marriage break up and has quit her job at a high profile law firm. Keen for an escape and to just get away from it all, she heads down the south coast of New South Wales to Whitby Point, a place that her deceased father always talked about but somewhere he never took his wife and daughter when he was still alive. There she rents a small cabin and spends her days walking and just generally healing and figuring out what she wants to do with her life. Disillusioned with the direction that her career has gone in, she knows that she wants something new and she’s looking for inspiration.

In Whitby Point she meets local vet Michael after a stray dog adopts her. He and his family, the Aquinos have been in Whitby Point for generations. But Cassie’s presence in Whiby Point suddenly becomes a problem when she discovers that she has been left money by a member of the Aquino family in his will. Shunned and suddenly made an outcast by all except Michael, Cassie decides to get to the bottom of this mystery and discover why she has been made such a beneficiary.

Her quest for information takes her back to the original Aquino, Giuseppe, who came to Australia after the first World War and made a life for himself fishing the coastal waters of New South Wales. Originally from Sicily, Giuseppe was at one with the ocean and had a knack for understanding where the fish would be and where he could get a good catch. He built a dynasty but there was tragedy in his life too and as Cassie finally find someone who can shed some light on the story and reveal how her own family is connected to the Aquinos, she begins to understand who she is and what her calling is.

I’ve read a handful of Di Morrissey novels in the past and one of the things I almost always enjoy about her books is the way she captures a setting and makes the reader really want to visit there. Despite the fact that I grew up in New South Wales and spent the first 24 years of my life there, I’ve never been down the south coast. I spent most of my childhood holidays on the north coast and then moved there just before I started high school. However the south coast is definitely now on my ‘to visit’ list – all of the scenery and the food described in this book is pretty amazing! The other part of the book is set in Sicily, very close to where both of my in-laws are from. I’m unlikely to ever be able to get to visit over there, unless I win the lottery at some stage, so it was nice to read about something connected to my husband and his family. My father-in-law has been a fisherman in his life, especially for calamari, flathead etc in southern Victoria, where he moved to when he came out from Sicily. It also gave me a chance to see what life might’ve been like for them, before they came to Australia. They came out here after the character in the story – he after WWI, them after WWII but I imagine things were very similar.

So once again, I loved both of the settings in this book however at times the story did feel a little slow. It begins with Giuseppe in Italy from 1906 and his journey to Australia, all of which was rather interesting but went on longer than I expected and then it switched to modern day and Cassie. In contrast this section was actually shorter than I expected and I felt like a lot more could’ve been done in terms of her friendship with Michael and how that develops. I liked her journey towards self discovery and how, by visiting a lot of the local area she became inspired and how it and her mother helped her decide what she wanted to do in life. But all of this came very easily in an industry which isn’t easy at all. It’s all rather effortless – well it is until the fact that Cassie has inherited money from an Aquino comes out and then it turns into something really petty and silly, which is also never resolved. Cassie never gets an apology from the person who attacked her, nor does she get a chance to defend herself nor does she see the reaction of the person who wronged her when they find out the truth. It was all a bit of a let down, especially the lead up to the secret from the past being revealed and then what happened thereafter. The book also did this thing at the end where it skipped forward a year, which really left a lot of things unsaid and it left me feeling less than satisfied about the relations between Cassie and several locals who also let her down because they believed malicious gossip.

All in all The Winter Sea is a good story but definitely not the best I have read from Morrissey. I’d have preferred a shorter introduction to Giuseppe and a much longer section containing Cassie and Michael before the past was revealed. And the end definitely needed more – I really dislike it when books leave out crucial scenes where characters need to interact in order to get past what has happened between them.

6/10

Book #330 of 2013

AWW2013

The Winter Sea is book #112 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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Captivate – Vanessa Garden & Author Guest Post

CaptivateCaptivate
Vanessa Garden
Harlequin Teen AUS
2013, 291p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Miranda Sun is almost 17 and after twelve months is still grieving the loss of her parents and keeping a dark secret. She has been keeping it from her sister Lauren, too frightened to tell her in case it widens the gap between them even more. Miranda’s grandparents have taken the two sisters to their beach cottage, where they’ve spent every summer, to see if it will heal them a little more and help repair their broken relationship.

One night, when she is out swimming with Lauren and about to confess to her, Miranda is dragged underwater and taken. When she awakes days later she discovers that she is being held captive in an underwater city named Marin and that she has been taken in order to become the bride to the King, Marko. Miranda and Marko will create an heir and provide new hope to the civilisation and also stop the crown from falling into the hands of Marko’s older brother, the sinister Damir.

All Miranda wants to do is get home to her sister and her grandparents. She forms an alliance with Robbie, one of the king’s guard who is charged with watching over her. Miranda is willing to use Robbie’s growing feelings for her in order to manipulate him into taking her back to the surface so that she can go back to her old life. However Robbie is loyal to Marko and although he wants to help Miranda, he just can’t quite bring himself to do it. As the time marches on and the lure of Marin begins to take its toll on her, Miranda gets to know Marko and it makes her wonder if she really wants to leave at all.

Captivate takes deep down into the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and a city enclosed in a dome. Our protagonist is Miranda, a few days off being 17 when she is taken off the coast of Western Australia and transported down one of the tubes that connect Marin with the surface. She is to be betrothed to the King of Marin and her reluctance is not of any concern to basically anyone. Her refusal to become Marko’s wife will lead her to the Colosseum, basically a stadium filled with water….and several very hungry sharks. This is entertainment and justice and punishment and much more in the world of Marin.

The premise for this book is awesome and the cover is beautiful! It seems like a bizarre pardox, a gothic fairtytale where a young woman is ripped away from her family and wakes up in a beautiful underwater city where she is to become its Queen. Her soon to be fiancé is young and handsome with a formidable reputation but yet a softer side and although Miranda and Marko have their difficulties, she does get to see several different sides of him. She also adapts remarkably well to being yanked away from her life and virtually made a prisoner. There are a few nice moments between Miranda and a couple of the characters and her fledgling friendship with Robbie is also rather cute.

However, there’s a lot that feels quite underdeveloped in this novel, starting with the romance. Although Miranda and Marko do have a couple of moments, I’m not sure it’s really enough to make the reader feel like they’re developing a strong connection. Marko is icy with supposed hints of vulnerability and he comes across as being quite a lot older than 19. Miranda doesn’t have a lot of time to learn about him and to witness much of what goes on in his life and their escalation from captor and captive to falling in love tends to feel a bit like dependency, a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. In the beginning I wasn’t sure if Miranda was going to fall in love with Robbie, her so-nice-it-hurts guard or Marko (who are of course, also as close as brothers). I preferred Marko over Robbie (a lot, the nice guy never gets my vote!) but I do wish he’d been a larger presence in the novel. He kind of strides in and strides out, being very busy and important and the connection between them is only really briefly explored.

I didn’t mind the setting, I thought the city sounded interesting and the reason why they needed to bring Miranda down into the city to marry their King seemed like it could be something really worth exploring. The way in which the book ended really piqued my interest for another installment and I am hoping that I get to see what happens next for Miranda and Marko and if they ever do get the chance to explore a relationship naturally because it’s what they both want, not because it’s the great hope of the nation.

6/10

Book #318 of 2013

AWW2013

Captivate is book #110 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

1055 Vanessa Garden LargeAs part of the Captivate blog tour, Vanessa Garden has written a post about inspiration:

The When, Where, What Why & Who Of Captivate


When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?
I wrote a lot of stories as a child and some poetry as a teenager so I’ve always enjoyed writing. But I started to take writing seriously after I had my first child. I was home each day and had more time on my hands so I decided to have a go at writing a novel. It was a historical romance and it just poured out of me. Sadly (or perhaps luckily), it has never seen the light of day, but it was a good apprenticeship novel and despite the cringe-worthy love scenes and ridiculously dramatic dialogue, I learned a lot from writing it.

Where do you like to write?
I love to write all over the house, but especially like to curl up on the couch with my laptop resting against my knees. If I get stuck on a particularly tough scene, I head to the local cafe for a coffee and for some reason the words begin to flow again while I’m there.

What inspired you to write Captivate?
It was a song, actually, called ‘To You I Bestow’ by Mundy. Listening to it for the first time created this beautiful image inside my head of two people, a boy and a girl, standing in a beautiful garden. It kick started the entire story. I wanted to know who these two people were, where they were, and how they felt about each other.
Also, growing up by the sea, I’ve always wanted to write a story set underwater. The ocean has always inspired me.

Why did you chose an underwater setting? 
The ocean holds so many secrets, and I like the idea of a glittering underwater city hidden beneath the deep dark sea. The ocean can be both beautiful, yet mysterious and dangerous. I like to think the city of Marin is very much the same.

Who is your favourite character in Captivate?
This is difficult as I love them all, especially Miranda – she almost feels like a sister to me. But I’d have to say Marko is my favourite. He is such an interesting and exciting character to write and has so many hidden depths that I feel there is still so much to learn about him. Right now he’s inside my head, pacing the castle corridors, waiting for me to finish this interview so that I can continue writing the other books in the series.

Thanks Vanessa! Good luck with the next book in the series.

This post is part of the Captivate blog tour running from Dec 11-20. Click on the banner for more information!

Captivate Blog Tour

 

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Small Town Storm – Elise K. Ackers

Small Town StormSmall Town Storm
Elise K. Ackers
Destiny Romance (Penguin Books Aus)
2013, 451p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Erica Lawrence has returned to her home town in country Victoria, nineteen years after a shocking crime almost killed her. She’s been searching for answers about it her whole life and with her father never volunteering any information and having been absent most of her life, she’s decided that the answers must lie in the place where it all happened.

Now everyone knows she has returned and the whispers have started. And then people start dying. And all of them are connected in some way, to Erica. Many of the townspeople are suspicious, but not Jordan Hill. The local police officer and Erica’s childhood best friend has his own issues stemming from that night when he and Erica were separated, kicking and screaming but he knows she’s not a murderer. However, it’s likely that the murders are being deliberately organised and arranged to cause Erica the most amount of distress and to frighten her. And it seems likely that she’ll be the final target.

The old childhood connection between Jordan and Erica hasn’t gone anywhere. Beneath the hurts and the disappointments and the issues about what happened when Erica was a child and their subsequent separation, is the same bond that’s always been there and it’s maturing into something else, a grown up kind of connection and attraction. Jordan would do anything to protect her and give her the happiness she deserves….but to do that, he first has to catch a killer. Before they get to Erica.

Small Town Storm is a romantic suspense release from Destiny Romance. Originally released in eBook format, the publisher has chosen to release some titles as paperbacks and this one is a good choice. It’s a read that delivers far more than it promises and proves that Ackers has a real understanding of how to build tension and sustain it over a period of time. She delivers us a very damaged heroine, who is still crippled by issues arising from the crime that was committed upon her when she was just a child – it was a long crime and it caused her to suffer but the psychological damage has been far more long lasting than the physical. It also has an effect on her social life because she cannot be upfront about her peculiarities and it severely limits the amount of invitations she is able to accept and the type of social get together she feels comfortable in.

When they were children, Erica and Jordan were almost inseparable and he’s never forgotten her. When he never heard from her, he thought she was dead and when she turns up alive and well in Olinda and oblivious as to how her lack of communication towards him has affected him, he’s furious. And he lets her know it. To be honest, Jordan drove me up the wall at the beginning of the novel – he was borderline bullying towards Erica and finally someone lets him have it about how over the years, he’s twisted everything that happened into being all about him. After he is made to see that realisation, he calmed down a lot and he was more likable and I could relax into reading their interactions without getting frustrated at him and wanting Erica to tell him off. I think their childhood bond is shown as being very strong but it’s been close to twenty years since they saw each other and it’s expected that there should be some issues with getting to know each other again and catching up on each other’s lives. Jordan has a deadset hero complex (has had one ever since he was a child, possibly because of Erica to begin with) and he at times means well, but he goes in way too over the top and too hard and can’t seem to read Erica’s cues when she’s uncomfortable or really unhappy with what he’s doing or saying. He wants to help her but he can’t magically fix her issues just by telling her that he can and he needs to come to understand that. Thankfully, he does.

Romantic suspense is a very difficult genre I think, because you have to balance a lot of things in order to please the reader. You need to give the romance time to simmer and flesh out and you also need to build the suspense, keep the reader guessing and also give the ending credibility. I think Elise Ackers succeeded in several of these very well. As I mentioned earlier, the suspense is well built throughout the novel and each community member that disappeared had me drawn further and further into the story, especially with how well chosen the third victim was. I could believe Erica and Jordan’s feelings for each other, even if they were a bit too intense at times, however I have to say that I wasn’t entirely convinced by the murderer.  I also can’t really articulate why either, unless I spoil the ending and a bunch of the plot but it just seemed a little out of nowhere and a bit far fetched for me personally. The reason just felt a little bit (well ok, a lot for me) flimsy and perhaps needed a little more word count to make it seem a bit more credible.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed this book and ended up reading pretty much all of it in one sitting. I found Erica’s issues fascinating, even more so because they couldn’t be cured by the hero telling her he could, which made a lovely change from many other issues in many other romance novels.

8/10

Book #316 of 2013

AWW2013

Small Town Storm is book #109 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

 

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Perfect North – Jenny Bond

Perfect NorthPerfect North
Jenny Bond
Hachette AUS
2013, 333p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/The Reading Room.com

In 1897, S.A Andreé makes his second attempt to use a hot air balloon to reach the Arctic Circle. It is something that he has been working on for years, securing funding and putting together a team to go with him. One failed attempt to get the balloon off the ground didn’t deter him and the second is successful. Andreé takes along with him Nils Strindberg and Knut Frænkel. Nils leaves behind his fianceé Anna and his family in order to achieve greatness by being the first to reach the North Pole. It seems that almost everyone can see the foolishness of this attempt, the tragedy that it will no doubt result in, except those about to embark upon it.

Over 30 years later, a patch of abnormally warm weather melts the frozen island of Kvitøya, leading to the discovery of the frozen remains of the three explorers from 1897. Ambitious journalist Knut Stubbendorff is sent to the site to report for his paper and uncovers relics from the journey including the personal and professional diaries of the men involved in the balloon attempt. In one of the journals, he uncovers letters from Nils to Anna and finds himself intrigued about the couple he’s reading about. He wants to know more about them and why Nils would leave someone behind to head off on a journey that was so doomed from the beginning. He tracks down Nils’s family in order to find Anna so that he can pass the journal onto her and she can read her former fianceé’s last words to her.

But tracking down Anna proves to be harder than Stubbendorff anticipated. She lost contact with the Strindberg family long ago, not long after the voyage and hasn’t been seen for many years. It isn’t even known if she is still alive. Piecing together the history of Nils and Anna, as well as Nils’s older brother Eric, Stubbendorff uncovers a web of lost love, deceit, betrayal and a secret that has been kept for over twenty years.

I’ve read several stories about conquering (or attempting to) the South Pole but this is the first one I’ve read that revolves around an attempt to conquer the North Pole, something that northern European countries were quite interested in around this time. Several methods have been ruled out as a way to attempt it, given the weather and so S.A. Andreé looks into the idea of using a hydrogen balloon in order to make the trip. Although there are numerous concerns about this (ranging right up to ‘this is madness, you will all die’) once committed the team refuse to pull out or change their minds. Nils Strindberg is a young man from a good family in Stockholm, engaged to a young woman named Anna. Although Anna could’ve asked Nils not to go, begged him and he would’ve, she refused to do so and ruin something that he obviously wanted to do….even though she felt like most people, that it was a fool’s errand.

A large part of this novel hinges on the fact that Anna was not in love with Nils, although she did love and care for him. Instead she’s in love with his older brother Erik, whom she met first. When she met Erik, she found him slightly boorish and also thought that to pursue anything with him would hurt her sister, who had an interest in him (in so long as she wanted to marry well, into a wealthy family, and Erik was from one). Then Anna meets Nils and becomes friends with him and this seems to progress to a relationship. When she meets Erik again, it seems inconsistent with the way she felt about him the first time that she met him. Instead she seems to fall in love with him but I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps a lack of understanding of courtship in late 19th century Sweden but I don’t feel as though Anna’s feelings ever really made sense to me. Erik’s definitely did – he was drawn to Anna from the first time he saw her and very much wanted to pursue courting her but she rejected him, because, during the time together he bored her by talking about himself. It seems like a lot was made of the fact that Anna didn’t like Erik much or want to see him again and then the next time she sees him, it’s like he’s her long-lost love. She’s about to marry his brother and instead they engage in some sort of clandestine affair with secret meetings, touches and a few kisses (probably very risque for the time). Nils is blissfully ignorant and when he perishes, Anna is absolutely stricken with guilt.

The love triangle didn’t really work for me in terms of plausibility or making me care about the characters (except poor Nils, dying in a frozen wasteland) but I loved the writing and the portrayal of Swedish society. I’d have like more about the actual expedition itself than the brief snippets we got from the diaries that Stubbendorff finds. I think Nils’s motivation to go on the trek is a little weak too, especially when he had so much waiting for him at home and I also think the attempt at the end to reassure everything that he wasn’t in love with Anna and was just writing these beautiful words because he wasn’t coming back, was a bit trite. I think he did actually love Anna – far more than she loved him. Stubbendorff is an interesting character and his dedication to finding Anna and delivering the diaries to her gives this book a much needed lift. His conversations with the remaining Strindberg family members are lovely and the way he pieces everything together is admirable.

7/10

Book #312 of 2013

AWW2013

Perfect North is book #108 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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