All The Books I Can Read

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Dr No Commitment – Virginia Taylor & Author Q&A

Dr No CommitmentDr No Commitment
Virginia Taylor
Random Romance
2013, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When midwife Ally  moves to Adelaide to start a new job and into a share house, she is warned about her housemate Rohan Sinclair. He’s gorgeous and he’s definitely got a reputation of not sticking around. Rohan, who is about to start a new position as an obstetrics registrar and Ally will be living together and working together and Ally is determined not to ruin that with an ill advised one night stand. She’s not very experienced but she’s not interested in that and her house is too good a deal to pass up. She doesn’t want to run the risk of things going sour and having to move out.

So she keeps him at arms length – or tries to and reminds him of his giant ego at every opportunity. But it gets harder and harder for her to remember why she’s keeping him at a distance when he’s funny and sweet and he makes her feel like no one else has made her feel before. However then there’s Jo to consider – the beautiful model who is always hanging around waiting for Rohan. Ally has seen the way he sometimes tries to dodge her and she doesn’t want that to be her in the future.

But there’s only so long she can resist Rohan’s charm and determined pursuit. As their personal lives collide and work throws them together even more, Ally has to hope that she’s not making the biggest mistake of her life and that she might have just tamed the Dr afraid of commitment.

Dr No Commitment is a very fun and light-hearted romantic comedy featuring doctors and a midwife now working as a nursing consultant in a busy Adelaide hospital. Rohan Sinclair is wealthy and privileged and a regular on the Adelaide social circuit but Ally, who has just moved to the city from Melbourne, has no idea who he is and he finds this incredibly refreshing. For perhaps the first time in a long time, Rohan has a chance with meeting a woman who doesn’t know who he is and doesn’t know who his family is. Ally is down to earth and not afraid to let Rohan know when his ego is getting out of control – which is a lot of the time! The two of them live in a share house with Rohan’s cousins Angus and Hamish, identical twins who also work in medicine. The four of them have busy, demanding schedules but Rohan and Ally seem to find a lot of time to spend together and despite the fact that she’s been warned off him and has seen him and his flirtatious ways, she can’t help but be intrigued and attracted.

I loved the setting of this novel – Ally is a midwife working as a consultant (although I’m not entirely sure what this job involves) on the fifth floor at a hospital in Adelaide which has deliveries and new mothers. Rohan starts working with her soon after the start of the novel as a learning obstetrician and the two of them have several conversations about the roles of doctors versus midwifes (nurses) which are some really fun interactions. Having had two kids myself, I like stories that feature childbirth or the roles of midwives. Both of mine were born with just a midwife tending – in fact for my entire second pregnancy I never once clapped eyes on an OB. For my first pregnancy I saw one for 5 minutes at 36wks and one popped in when I was in 1st stage of labour for a minute to say she could be called if required. Watching Rohan learn about the role of the midwife and their procedures (which they expect him to follow) was lots of fun. The scenes in the hospital were some of my favourites in the whole book.

I really enjoyed the character of Ally – she was smart and funny and capable. She had a few clear issues stemming from the way she’d been raised. Her father had lavished all his attention on her brother, believing him to be the one capable of growing up and having a fantastic career, consigning Ally to probably being a mother and wife. His death and that of her brother meant that Ally’s mother then had to learn to support the family and gave Ally the driving desire to have a career and be successful. I liked the way that she wasn’t afraid to serve it up to Rohan either when he was being a bit of a jerk (which was actually kind of often). I wish I liked Rohan as much as I liked Allie. His whole character was a bit of a contradiction. Sometimes he was funny and sweet and enjoyable but far too many times he was really too pushy and arrogant for my liking and he made me roll my eyes! I really don’t like the attitude that some men have in regards to women who don’t want to have casual sex. Just because the attraction is there, doesn’t mean it has to be acted upon if it goes against their ideas and beliefs. Rohan kept calling Ally repressed which grated on my nerves a bit. Not everyone wants to have sex if not in a relationship and they shouldn’t be demeaned or condescended to because of it. I feel as though Ally could’ve been firmer with Rohan at times instead of making a half-hearted attempt and then just forgetting about it as soon as he kissed her. The only thing that kind of redeemed this for me was how desperate Rohan was at the end.

6/10

Book #305 of 2013

AWW2013

Dr No Commitment is the 105th book of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

***

Thanks to Random House AU, I got the chance to ask Virginia a few questions about her writing, Dr No Commitment and what she likes to get up to in her spare time.

Q1. Hi Virginia and welcome to my blog. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me. To start us off: what was the road to publication like for you?

The road was long and hard. I left nursing to become a writer, got myself an agent, and didn’t sell anything major. So, I stopped writing. Recently I started again minus an agent, entered a few competitions, did very well, and began to submit my manuscripts again. Then I sold to Random House.

Q2. Share a little of your writing routine. Do you write full time or balance it with another job? Is there a place you prefer to write, such as a study or café and is there anything you consider to be necessary to the creative process like coffee or music?

I am a full time writer. My creativity probably comes from my heritage. My father was a writer and my mother a painter. I am both. My older sister is also a writer but my younger sister is an academic with artistic leanings. When I run out of series of books to read, I write, and then I paint instead of reading because I don’t want any other writer’s voice in my head. I find long walks refresh my brain when needed but I couldn’t live without a glorious cup of coffee in the morning.

Q3. What draws you to the romance genre?

Ah, the romance genre. Before I started writing myself, I had never read a romance, but I had read Georgette Heyer, whom I didn’t realize sort-of wrote romance. I need a happy ending in a story, and that’s what romance provides.

Q4. What advantages do you consider there to be in publishing digitally?

The noblest advantage is to save trees, so of course I must mention that first before I ignobly say that the distribution is wider and an author can reach all markets. However, my book is not confined to a digital imprint. It will be print published in an omnibus with four other Random Romance authors in April.

Q5. Dr No Commitment involves a busy hospital setting. What made you choose the career of delivering babies for your hero?

I write heroes from all professions but in this case there’s an old saying ‘write what you know.’ I spent a lot of my working life in hospitals. Being with obstetricians day in and day out for years gave me plenty to play with in my story.

Q6. There are also some good natured moments involving the doctors vs midwives way of doing things. Is this something you have personal experience with and feel strongly about?

The conflict between an obstetrician and a midwife was too good to resist for a story. As an ex-midwife, I saw the great respect each profession has for each other and the odd moment of disagreement. Each profession is necessary and neither hesitates to call for the other when needed. Rather than having strong feelings about the differences, I applaud them.

Q7. What do you like to do to relax?

Write. I love to write. To keep my rear from spreading too far, I take time out for long hard therapeutic walks and batches of frantic gardening. Then I cook because I also love eating. I’m a perpetual decorator, of houses, gardens, cafes, and in my head, people, since I’m far too visual for my own good.

Q8. Share 5 favourite authors and/or novels.

Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies.

Dorothy Dunnet: The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolo series.

C.S. Harris: The Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries.

Everything by Ariana Franklin, and Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.

These are all books and authors that I read and reread.

Q9. And lastly….what’s next for you?

My next job is the editing of my next book to be published by Random Romance, “Losing Patients,” also in a medical setting but with a twist. In the meantime, I’m writing another romantic comedy called tentatively, “Lets Talk about Sets, Maybe,” in which the conflict between the construction manager and the set designer is played out during the scene-making for a musical theatre production.

Thank you for listening. I also love to talk.

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Southern Star – J.C. Grey

Southern StarSouthern Star
J.C. Grey
Destiny Romance
2013, 344p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Hollywood actress Blaze Gillespie has been plagued by one scandal after another. Her reputation and her career in tatters she has fled Los Angeles for country, rural Queensland and the homestead that was her grandparents’. Sweet Springs has been deserted for years and Blaze is stunned by just how much the house has fallen into disrepair. Hiding out to escape the press and the rumours and the stares, she makes a vow to restore the house to its former glory. But it isn’t going to be easy. The locals won’t help her, especially as her latest scandal is splashed across the front page of the paper. And then there’s her neighbour, Macauley Black.

Macauley has built his huge cattle spread up from nothing. His property borders Sweet Springs and it’s no secret to the locals that he’d like to buy that too. However the offers he’s made have been knocked back and it looks like the Hollywood starlet is here to stay…for now. As much as Mac wants to be hostile, he can’t help but also be very, very attracted to her. He watches Blaze transform Sweet Springs, putting in the hard yards herself. Away from the cameras and the Hollywood scene, she seems different. She wears many different faces and he is fascinated by them all.

But trouble has followed Blaze from Hollywood all the way to rural Queensland. Someone bears a grudge against the beautiful movie star and they’re trying to see that she gets punished for the most violent of acts. The more Blaze finds happiness in her new surroundings and with Macauley, the more danger she’s in. But will anyone believe that the Hollywood movie star is actually in trouble instead of being the cause of it?

Southern Star’s pretty pastel coloured cover hides the fact that quite a surprising story lies beneath it. Blaze is an ‘Aussie done good’ in terms of having made it in Hollywood playing vampy sexpot roles. She hasn’t been home in a long time but when she finds herself caught up in a savage crime and implicated, she needs somewhere quiet to lick her wounds. Allowed to leave the country but still ‘assisting the police with their inquiries’ Blaze heads for Sweet Springs, her grandparent’s property where she spent time as a young girl. She needs time away from the limelight and all the horrible things people are saying about her although she soon finds that those sorts of salacious stories have made it all the way to her new location.

Blaze is a mix of bravado and vulnerability. She doesn’t really appear to be anything like a Hollywood actress and the book doesn’t really devote much time to that side of her life. She dives into fixing up the house with gusto, sanding back paint and scrubbing and cleaning and generally doing what she can. Her relationship with Macauley begins as mutual dislike and distrust. Macauley is a bit of a macho man, self-made and married to the land his priority and he doesn’t really have time for anyone that can’t make it theirs either.. He’s a very strong and dominant character and in that he meets a good match in Blaze who won’t allow him to boss her around or run over the top of her.   At first he has a lot to be suspicious about with Blaze and his arrogance rubs her the wrong way but they also have a lot of chemistry between them and neither of them mind a bit of giving in to it. The chemistry is very good and the book was probably a bit blunter than I expected in terms of their attraction but I never really felt like it delved enough beneath the surface. Macauley assumes something really ridiculous and he gets angry at her about it but then it kind of all fizzles out and the two of them actually have a discussion but that’s about as deep as it gets. I got their attraction and their chemistry and it was fun but in terms of love and something more, that didn’t necessarily come through loud and clear. There’s strength in the secondary characters as well – I was particularly taken with the story of the builder Blaze hires to fix up her house and how he came to be that way and also the friendship she strikes up with a young local girl. I would’ve actually loved to read that girl’s story in full length novel, I think it had real potential to be lovely.

The novel built the suspense side of the story really well for the most part but I do have to say that the perpetrator was a little bit of a letdown and the motivation disappointing. I would’ve really liked it to be something meatier rather than seeming like a school yard fight gone crazy in the end. The scenes from the assailants point of view were good but there was perhaps one too many if the author didn’t want the reader to put everything together really quickly, including the reasoning behind everything. There were also things that weren’t explained well enough and maybe some liberty taken with the rules and regulations and cooperation between police departments.

Despite that, I did enjoy this book a lot – I especially liked reading about Blaze’s efforts to do up her family house and Macauley’s life on the farm. It was also interesting to read about the way in which Blaze found herself in trouble and how the press reported anything as truth. I know that I’ve read countless gossip magazines in my life and some of the garbage printed in there is clearly made up dribble and yet it gets pages and pages and sometimes, weeks and weeks of coverage even though there’s rarely ever a shred of truth in any of it. Few people do what Blaze does in this story and address the rumours and articles head on…makes me wonder what the magazines would print if everyone did!

7/10

Book #309 of 2013

AWW2013

Southern Star is book #106 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

 

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Guest Post: Escape Publishing’s Lee Christine

HappyBirthday_v2

As part of the celebrations for Escape Publishing’s 1st birthday, the digital first imprint of Harlequin Australia are offering lots of exciting opportunities and giveaways. I’m hosting several writers here on the blog to talk about their forthcoming titles and where they get their inspiration from. We’ve already had Georgie Tyler and now we welcome Lee Christine, author of the very successful In Safe Hands which I reviewed here on the blog when it was released. On January 1st, the companion novel, In Safe Arms will be released and I am so excited about this one! Lee Christine has perfected a blend of romance and suspense….here’s a little about In Safe Arms (from the publisher/Goodreads):

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Smooth, seductive and savage: Lee Christine returns to the dark, criminal underbelly of Sydney with her follow-up to In Safe Hands.

Legal secretary Josephine Valenti has no idea why a notorious bikie president would be contacting her, but when he is murdered in front of her eyes, she knows that she is in very deep trouble. Fleeing to her home, she’s intercepted by Nate Hunter, a man she used to know and lust after…a man she used to care about.

However, Nate has changed. His leathers and his bike tell of a lifestyle that Josie can’t begin to accept or understand. His is a life of drugs, money laundering and prostitution.

Though, all is not what it seems, and Josie must fight harder than she ever has before — for the truth, for what’s right, and, ultimately for the man who still has a hold of her heart.

***

LeeChristine

Where do writers find inspiration?

I’m often asked where I find inspiration for my novels. People are always interested to know where my ideas come from, and some have come right out and asked, ‘How did you think that up?’ While I’d love to say I dreamt the entire thing one night, hopped up and scribbled it all down, the truth is, my interest is usually captured by real life events, most of which come straight from the news.

The idea for my first book, ‘In Safe Hands’, came from watching the fallout suffered by certain celebrities after indiscreet postings of photographs on social media. While the celebrities, usually sports stars and models, received little more than a slap on the wrist, I began thinking of how it could spell the end of a person’s career should they be employed in one of the more conservative occupations. What if a high profile member of the judiciary, or a top surgeon, or heaven forbid a politician, was snapped naked in the shower a la Lara Bingle? And what if that photograph went viral on the internet?

I constructed a story of a high profile female lawyer, on a fast track to a partnership, who is blackmailed by naked photographs taken in her youth. Of course I upped the stakes. She’d already broken through the glass ceiling, but she needed the job and she needed the money. Publication of this kind would leave her career in tatters. This wasn’t going to end well.

The inspiration for my follow up novel ‘In Safe Arms’, due to be released on January 1, 2014 again came about from a news report. Tragically, one person had witnessed the death of another while chatting on Skype. It struck me at the time how horrifying it would be to ‘remotely’ witness something like that, and be helpless to do anything about it.

I began thinking how hundreds of millions of people use Skype every day, including myself. It struck me, that if someone witnessed the tragedy of another person having a stroke or heart attack while speaking on Skype, it wasn’t inconceivable someone could witness a murder the very same

In the opening scene of ‘In Safe Arms’ my heroine witnesses the murder of a notorious member of Sydney’s gang world on Skype. Because of the physical divide separating them, the heroine has time to flee. But she can identify the killer, and this event sets up the ‘cat and mouse’ game that drives the story forward.

I guess I have some strange preoccupation with technology, and how it can irrevocably change our lives in ways we could never have anticipated.

So, while others author may begin with a place, with observing the people who live in that place and their triumphs and tragedies, my inspiration evolves from a situation I’ve observed. And with that situation in mind, I create a character. Not just any character, but a person who stands to lose everything because of that situation. And because I write romantic suspense, naturally that’s the heroine.

My novels are very fast paced, with the story unfolding over a short period of time, usually no more than a week or two. And they centre on modern day crimes that could potentially affect any one of us.

I’m also very fortunate that my editor at Escape Publishing, Kate Cuthbert, likes romantic suspense featuring a variety of different crimes. She’s not so much into serial killers. As I don’t write serial killers, that situation suits me just fine.

***

Thank you to Lee Christine for stopping by and sharing a little about where she gets her inspiration from. I’m also happy to share the trailer for the upcoming In Safe Arms here as well.

Don’t forget you can still enter to win a giveaway of 5 Escape Publishing titles. Just see this post.

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Walking On Trampolines – Frances Whiting

Walking On TrampolinesWalking On Trampolines
Frances Whiting
Pan Macmillan AUS
2013, 334p
Copy courtesy of the publisher/The Reading Room.com

From the day Annabelle Andrews walks into her high school classroom, Tallulah (Lulu) de Longland is under her spell. Passionate, willful Annabelle and Lulu become best friends, each of them finding something to crave in the other’s lifestyle. Annabelle lives with her artistic parents in a crumbling house by a picturesque river and Lulu finds peace in the freedom to just be there, to not have to worry or look after people. And in Lulu’s comfy home with her homebody parents and her twin younger brothers, can Annabelle find the busy family she’s never been a part of. It is an all-consuming friendship and for years, everything goes smoothly.

But all things change, including people and Lulu and Annabelle drift a little apart as they grow older and want different things. Lulu finds the heady rush of first love and sinks into it. For a while things are harmonious and Lulu doesn’t see what is right under her nose until it is too late. Betrayal leads to implosion and the friendship is torn apart leaving Lulu alone when school finishes, uncertain of how to go forward with her life and what to do with it. So she stays in her hometown of Juniper Bay, working for her father’s business, taking care of the twins the way she has always done and keeping an eye on her mother Rose, who is prone to bad patches. But eventually Harry, Lulu’s father decides that enough is enough and she needs to be living her own life again, not just standing still, treading water.

Years later, Lulu has done just that. Fate puts her in the path of those who betrayed her so long ago and she is faced with a choice: to lash out, to be the one that does the bad thing, something that the old Lulu would never do or to walk away and remain that same perpetual good girl. The choice she makes will alter the path of her life and set her on the one that will eventually give her purpose.

I’ve been hearing wonderful things about this book since it was released and I was thrilled to get a copy to read. I was hooked from the first line, I think because I found so much to identify with in the story. I love reading novels that really explore the dynamics of high school friendships because they are both beautiful and so very ugly. It’s a time of your life when you often have the most passionate of friendships, where you tell each other everything and spend all of your time together. It can also be incredibly, incredibly dangerous because these friendships can turn on a dime and all of a sudden that person you’ve confided all your secrets in, is now your worst enemy. In some ways, Lulu and Annabelle is a classic example of a toxic friendship. Annabelle is the more dominant friend, she quite often sulks if Lulu wants to spend time with other friends and she can be manipulative. But she is also quite fiercely devoted to Lulu in many ways, she stands up for her and she keeps her secrets. What she does to Lulu is betray her in a very different way, not an uncommon way. Lulu, the quintessentially good girl, thought she was doing the right thing in keeping Annabelle included when she began spending so much time with her new boyfriend when she turned 16. It did not occur to her at all that this would backfire and so badly.

The characters in this novel shine so brightly. Lulu is delightful, mature beyond her years, a caring person who has worked so hard to shelter her young twin brothers from their mother’s crippling depression. Rose, Lulu’s mother is a character that could’ve been a cliche, the distant mother who can’t get out of bed but Whiting gives her such life and vitality in the stories of how she names all of her dresses, each of them meaning a different thing, a different mood. Her father is a lovely character, supportive and gentle, but also protective. This continued on through the story, each person that Lulu met being a character that stuck with the reader, that imprinted themselves upon the reader’s memory, especially her boss, Duncan a larger than life radio host with a lot of ex-wives. The bond that he and Lulu build up over the period that she works for him is so wonderfully written and culminates in true grief. Each relationship in this book, each friendship was so well crafted and defined that it was impossible not to feel as if I was right in the story and knew these people. Maybe because I felt that Annabelle was so very like a friend of my own from high school, as well. I don’t have much in common with Lulu but I easily felt I could’ve been her, or could’ve been in her situation. The characters are all also brilliantly flawed, including Lulu – at times, especially Lulu. But her flaws accentuated her even more. Actually, I liked her more because of them, after her ‘choice’ was made than I did before. She had been so passive, so ridiculously accepting of what had been done to her and allowed these people back in her life to cause her even more pain so it was actually kind of satisfying to see her lash out and do something, feel. She almost operates on automatic pilot after the betrayal and it seems like only after she has made that choice and done something, can she move forward and begin to heal and get over it.

Walking On Trampolines is a truly fabulous debut, wonderfully written and characters that come to life. I cannot wait to see what Frances Whiting has to offer readers next.

8/10

Book #302 of 2013

AWW2013

Walking On Trampolines is book #104 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

 

 

 

 

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just_a_girl – Kirsten Krauth

just_a_girljust_a_girl 
Kirsten Krauth
UWA Press
2013, 259p
Copy courtesy of the author/publisher

Layla is just 14 years old. She lives with her single mother who has turned to religion since her husband, Layla’s father left. While Margot is at work or church (and sometimes even when she’s home), Layla cruises online on her laptop in her bedroom, meeting men. She catches trains to meet strangers for hook ups, even travelling all the way from her home in the lower mountains to Newcastle, meeting up with a man in his early 30s.

Layla is perpetually bored by things – her boyfriend is older than her and has a license but she doesn’t seem to find him at all that interesting and their relationship, for want of a better term, is not one based on mutual respect and love. Her mother is far too interested in her evangelical church, one that Layla stopped going to years ago. Margot has been single for a long time now and she finds herself attracted to the charismatic and very married pastor of the church. She is torn by his affection and smiles, his kindness to her. Is he interested? Is his marriage as perfect as it seems, as his wife would have everyone believe? And does he hold the key to her future happiness? Layla also misses her father who left years ago and now lives on the Gold Coast with a succession of usually younger (male) partners. Layla visits him once a year for two weeks and his absence has had a profound effect on her life. His lack of real interest in her outside of her annual visit is something that is almost always on her mind.

Meanwhile, there’s a young Japanese man on the train that Layla makes eye contact with sometimes. She’s unaware of what he has in his suitcase although she’s going to find out.

just_a_girl was reviewed by a few blogging friends of mine earlier this year and I immediately wanted to read it based on the strength of their opinions so when I was offered the chance to review it, I jumped at it! Perhaps because I spend so much time on the internet and I remember the internet becoming a “thing”, I find books that center around it and our interactions on it, so interesting. Layla is so young – but also not really. In a time where it seems that people are growing up faster than ever, she’s already experimenting with her sexuality, making videos to send to men online, indulging in racy talk and even arranging to meet up with several of them. I was 16 when my family got the internet at home on a 28.8k dial up modem. We purchased about 60hours of pre-paid internet per month for a whopping $60. It’s actually almost inconceivable to think of that now, given how far we’ve come in terms of internet availability and speed (and bear in mind Australia still has one of the poorer standards of internet compared to similar countries). I spent a lot of time hanging out in chatting.com when I first began using the internet, fascinated by the idea that I could be talking to people from all over the world. And then when I was bored I could just log off, come back under a different name and talk to more people. There were no webcams in those days but there were still plenty of (I assume) older men cruising for teenage girls and sexual talk. And whether or not people want to admit it, chances are many have engaged in conversations that go further than just friendly chitchat.

I was most intrigued by Layla’s exploration of her self worth and her sexuality because at times she seems to be a total contradiction. On one hand, she records a video and uploads it for a man she reveals at first only as Mr C and she agrees to meet an older man for sex in a hotel hours away in Newcastle. However despite this, she does not have a fully sexual relationship with her 18yo boyfriend and when her boss gropes her at work and when she is filmed being physically assaulted on the train (which is then uploaded to YouTube) she is deeply disturbed and hurt by these incidents and they do have a profound affect on her. Despite her occasional confidence and desire to explore, it’s very much on her own terms and in situations where she believes that she owns all of the control. Push past that and she is a frightened, insecure, unsure teenage girl. I think that it’s no coincidence that most of the men who interest Layla in the novel, or whom she chooses to experiment with, are significantly older than her. She hasn’t had a real father for almost a decade – her two weeks spent mostly alone in his Gold Coast apartment while he works doesn’t really count. This has clearly had a deep impact on her and she seems unable to confide in or relate to her overly religiously zealous mother most of the time. Krauth’s exploration of Layla is expertly and intriguingly done. She doesn’t just make her a teen acting out of boredom or a desire to experiment because it’s what everyone else is doing. She gives Layla real layers of depth to her that are very easy to see and understand.

The storyline with Tadashi, the young Japanese man from the train began in a very interesting way and I was looking forward to really seeing where that was going but I feel as though it wasn’t explored enough. It needed to be taken further or perhaps left out of the story altogether because in the end it didn’t really seem to contribute that much but I think that it could have. I think the detail and ideas were fascinating and I like that Krauth included where she obtained her information in the back of the book. It’s really difficult to imagine for me, why someone might choose to do this but then I think that the author successfully gave Tadashi enough of a personality so that you could see why he would choose it. I just wish it could’ve gone that little further.

8/10

Book #288 of 2013

AWW2013

just_a_girl is book #101 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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Q&A With….. Kirsten Krauth

Kirsten Colour 01 smallAustralian author Kirsten Krauth has recently published just_a_girl with UWA press, the story of a 14yo girl and her interactions online. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on just_girl_ later today but firstly, Kirsten was kind enough to give her time and answer some questions that I had

Q1. Hi Kirsten and welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for me. To get us started, let’s talk writing: what was the road to publication like for you?

Lovely to be here. The road was long, dusty and roundabout. Although I am a fast writer (in terms of speed putting words on a page), I got the idea for my novel just_a_girl when travelling on the train (listening to teenage girls speak) and then played around with an internet-based fiction for a while. I decided to do a masters in creative writing (research based) to give myself deadlines and help me get the first draft done. Having a supervisor like Sue Woolfe was enormously helpful in moving the project along. From that came a novella, that I shaped into a novel. I sent the manuscript out to one publisher at a time so it was a slow process. But UWA Publishing were always involved and keen, and I was happy with a smaller publisher who would spend time editing the book with me.

Q2. Share a little about your writing routine. Do you write full time? Are you an extensive plotter or do you just like to ‘wing it’? Do you have a favourite place to write (ie personal study or café) and is there anything you consider essential for the creative process (ie coffee, music)?

Full time. I wish! When I have time, I like to write furiously in the morning, and then do research in the afternoon. I find letting this research fly around in my head overnight leads to interesting things the next morning. I like to wing it. In the early stages, I just write odd paragraphs, trying to find a character voice that sticks. After doing many paragraphs, the characters start to reveal themselves to me. It’s only quite late in the process that I start to structure and plot things out a bit, making connections between the material. At the moment I have two small children, so I don’t get much writing done. I like a clear table and mulling things over while I look out the window. It’s nice to see a bit of green, and the odd bunny and kangaroo, in Castlemaine I like to have a cup of tea before I begin. Sometimes I put music on, to get me started. Layla’s character was informed by Gwen Stefani, and Pink, and the title of the book comes from a No Doubt song so I’d often have them playing on Spotify as I worked.

Q3. When reading just_a_girl I had to admit it made me examine my own previous internet interactions and conversations, especially when I was a teenager. Was it intentional, to encourage the reader to do this? Or was that just me (eek).

As a writer you’re always hoping that your characters’ actions will make the reader reflect on their own, and they can relate in some way, even if what the character is doing is disturbing or confronting. I actually didn’t have the internet when I was a teenager (showing my age there!) so I had to use my imagination in many cases (although most of the scenarios in the book I had heard about in some shape or form via the media or friends).

Q4. In order to write the novel, what sort of online research did you undertake? 

I spent a lot of time stalking girls on Facebook and MySpace. This sounds verycreepy and in a sense it was, because I wanted to see what Mr C or the Newcastle man Layla encounters in a hotel could find out about a 14 year old girl, without her knowing, if he really wanted to. It made me realise how much personal information girls reveal, and how vulnerable they can be (without parental supervision). I also did a lot of research for Tadashi, talking to men in the LoveDoll community, and trying to get a sense of why they needed to connect with a doll (rather than a human being) – and it nearly always was about a search for love and friendship (rather than sex).

Q5. The internet has provided an anonymous way for people to explore their sexuality in the way that Layla does, in a way that has not been available in the past when interactions would have had to have been face-to-face. Do you think there are positives to find in this?

When I was 19 or 20, and I was just discovering the internet, I saw it as a great playground, where you could have a lot of fun using avatars, and creating fictional versions of yourself. I used to spend a lot of time in chatrooms trying to talk, but where I was continually chatted up for online sex. I had great fun experimenting here, talking back to these men (or boys), and then pretending at the end that I was also a boy, or an older woman, just to see the kind of reaction I got. I was interested in how expectations and identity are set up through a screen. There is a certain kind of safety and freedom in that. Layla also has fun experimenting with the different versions of herself online, and to a certain degree she enjoys it because she is in control. But I think when she moves things into the physical world, she starts encountering problems. She also loses control when she uploads the link. It’s the distribution of material that’s the worry.

Q6. Share five of your favourite reads and/or authors

Barbara Kingsolver – Poisonwood Bible

Christos Tsiolkas – The Slap

Lorrie Moore – all short stories

Haruki Murakami – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

Brenda Walker – Reading By Moonlight

Q7. What do you like to do away from the keyboard?

I like to curl up on the couch for days on end with a book. I like seeing my kids grow up, gain independence. I like strong US TV like The Wire and Six Feet Under. I’m always happy in the dark in a cinema. I like living in a small country town where people are passionate about life, food and the arts.

Q8. And lastly…what’s next for you and where do you see yourself five years from now?

In the new year I’ll be starting research on my next book. I have the key concept but it’s just a matter of starting. I have set aside a day a week to work furiously! I’m also hoping this year to have a writer’s residency somewhere, where I can focus for a little bit on the process. I’ve also just started writing for ABC Arts Online, covering arts in my region, so that’s exciting. In five years, my kids will be at school, so hopefully there will be more time to write fiction. I’d like to have one or more novels under my belt, and perhaps a PhD too. I wouldn’t mind trying a new genre like creative nonfiction or memoir. I’d still like to be blogging at Wild Colonial Girl, as I really enjoy it. I also have a dream of organizing a local writers’ festival in the Castlemaine area, as we have a lot of writing talent here!

***

Thanks for stopping by Kirsten. Best of luck with your future novels and the PhD someday. As the mother of two small children myself, I know what it can be like trying to find the time to get things done!

 

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Catch Of The Day – Carla Caruso

Catch of the DayCatch Of The Day
Carla Caruso
Destiny Romance
2013, 335p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Winnie Cherry is a fashion editor in Sydney but after one ill-advised moment at the office Christmas party, she finds herself “demoted sideways” and banished to the coast in South Australia to head up a beach lifestyle magazine. She’ll be living in the middle of nowhere with no glamorous fashion and social events to attend and even more, she has to eke out enough stories to fill the magazine launch issue. Winnie plans to stick around just long enough to get back in the good books and then she’s off to look for better jobs. Jobs that are back in Sydney.

On her first day in town, Winnie meets the handsome cray fisherman Alex Bass who also just happens to be the photographer hired to cover the stories for the magazine. They don’t exactly get off to the best start but the sparks do fly and the more time they spend together working on stories, the more the attraction builds. Alex has made it clear he’s not a one-girl-guy though and Winnie is done with casual flings and one night stands. She wants more, wants someone who isn’t afraid to stick around for the long haul. So they dance around each other, both avoiding the attraction and also seeking it out.

The more time Winnie spends in Kingston SE, the more she finds herself really enjoying the small community, making friends and becoming a part of the town. Even things with Alex are surprising her….until she finally finds out what he’s been hiding and why he’s been so distant at times. It changes everything and now Winnie doesn’t know what she wants.

Catch Of The Day is a charming romance offered in print this month by Penguin Australia’s digital imprint, Destiny Romance (as well as Destiny’s traditional eBook format). Set in rural South Australia, we meet Winnie Cherry who, although she grew up in Adelaide, high-tailed it for Sydney years ago and hasn’t looked back since. One slight mistake in judgement at the Christmas party and she finds herself back in South Australia, heading up the launch of a beach lifestyle magazine. To be honest, I’m not even really sure what that is, but it’s a far cry from what Winnie is used to. However, despite her reluctance to be in Kingston SE and chasing these types of stories, she does throw herself into her new role, interviewing locals and spinning stories. Along for the ride more often than not is Alex Bass, a mysterious but sexy cray fisherman who takes photos in his spare time. He of the indecipherable accent and commitment issues and Winnie get off to a bumpy start and from then on in it’s moments of sexual attraction followed by little fights, mostly Alex attempting to keep his distance. Alex is hiding quite the secret (and a bit of a wounded heart) and he reasons that by keeping people away from him, it will stop things being difficult for them down the track when what he’s running from inevitably catches up with him. Winnie is a bit curious at the inconsistencies in Alex as well as little tidbits of information about him but she’s not really curious enough to ask many questions or make an attempt to find out much about him.

I really enjoyed the way that Winnie settles in to the town and begins making friends. Some of them she has to work for and the secondary characters are all quite funny and add to the story, especially the sales director Olive, who Winnie works with in the office each day as well as the local beautician Cyndi and her friend Honey, who is ginormously pregnant with twins. The author has obviously called upon her own experience of having had twins for Honey, who quips almost constantly about the negatives of being about ready to burst. I’ve only had singleton pregnancies and I know how uncomfortable they get towards the end so I can only imagine what it must be like to have a second baby in there! Winnie’s original interaction with Cyndi was hilarious and hit just the right note. Winnie then gets roped in to being a bridesmaid for a local Bridezilla which forces her and fellow bridesmaid Cyndi to at least declare a truce but they go further than that and become friends. The local girls draw Winnie into their social circle and make her feel accepted and Winnie begins to realise that the friendships she had in Sydney may not have been as deep as she thought they were and that maybe what she thought she wanted all along isn’t actually right. I love the way Winnie grows during her time in Kingston SE. Her mother is a flaky hippy and I get the feeling that Winnie was determined to succeed in the busiest city just so she could prove she wasn’t like her mother, that she could be financially independent and successful. I love Sydney, love it with a passion but living there and partaking in the whirling fashion social scene sounds exhausting and I think after a little while down on the coast, Winnie comes to feel the same way.

The romance with Alex plays out well and has all the essential chemistry between the two characters and I liked the big reveal of Alex’s secret which was done in a pretty dramatic fashion but what I liked more was the genuine story behind it, the reason why he had chosen to live in such a small, isolated place. He and Winnie both have to accept that the conclusions they jump to about each other in the beginning are wrong and the more they get to know each other, they more they find that they actually do have in common.

8/10

Book #300 of 2013

AWW2013Catch Of The Day is the  103rd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

 

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Yours Truly (Women Of Letters) – Created by Marieke Hardy & Michaela McGuire

Yours TrulyYours Truly (Women Of Letters)
Created by Marieke Hardy & Michaela McGuire
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 448p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire have been reviving the lost art of writing letters. Beginning with Women of Letters, they invited women to write a letter on a certain topic and then read it aloud at a live event and later released the letters in book form. The events proved to be very popular and last year they invited men to join the party and released a second collection of letters entitled Sincerely (Women of Letters). This is the third collection and once again contains letters from both men and women of all walks of life (but mostly creative types) writing letters to a variety of topics.

I’m a bit of a sucker for the written letter and it really is a bit of a lost art these days, replaced by the instant accessibility of exchange in the form of emails. When I was in late primary school/early high school I used to have several pen pals including a couple from overseas. And then when I was 16 I got an email address and fell in love with the fact that I could talk to my friend, who I hadn’t seen in years without having to wait the 1-2 weeks between letters. However, I still retain a soft spot for the traditional form of communication. I think it’s why I keep all my family’s birthday cards, the anniversary cards, the Mother’s Day cards, the Father’s Day cards. I enjoyed the Sincerely collection when I read and reviewed it last year and I was pleased when this book turned up on my doorstep. I hadn’t known that a new collection was out and these books are perfect for people who like to read in bits and pieces. You can read 1 letter at a time or you can sit down and read the entire book.

With such participants as Hamish Blake and Zoë Foster Blake (writing to each other about what to write about in their letters about writing to each other in a truly amusing exchange), William McInnes, Sarah Blasko, Annabel Crabb, Jennifer Byrne, Tracey Spicer, Toni Jordan, Andy Griffiths, Corrine Grant, Bob Brown, Frank Woodley, Kram, Leigh Sales, Merv Hughes and many more, encompassing such topics as To The Woman That Changed My Life, To A Secret, To The History I’d Like To Rewrite, To My Biggest Sacrifice, To My Petty Crimes and others, Yours Truly runs the gauntlet from beautiful, sad pieces (such as my favourite in the entire collection, Emilie Zoe Baker’s confession of her secret affair with a guilty food pleasure and how it relates to a person in her past that she loved and who couldn’t love her the same way in return) to the humerous to the whimsical to the slightly horrifying (Annabel Crabb’s confession to curator and vegan, Marieke Hardy).

When I was reading it, I was part enjoying the stories and part thinking about what I might say myself for some of these topics. Some, such as To My Petty Crimes brought back memories of my own childhood as a popular theme seemed to be childhood shoplifting. I remember sneaking a chocolate myself from a supermarket before I understood the concept of paying – my mother was very quick to inform me of that and make sure that I did not repeat it! Also when I was old enough to know better, I stole a very ugly orange bangle from a cheap jewelry store just because I could really. I didn’t even like it. I hate orange. In a store full of cheap ugly jewlry, it was the cheapest ugliest thing in there! The Woman Who Changed My Life, I would dedicate that letter to my lovely Nan who plied me with books in my childhood – first the BabySitters Club, then Sweet Valley High and then she passed on her own books. She is the reason I read so much today, she is the reason I have a deep love of books. I can remember she used to always take me out for lunch, maybe a bit of shopping and the day would always end in her making me a new book purchase. I have fond memories of those days (which lasted really until I went away to university) and even now when I visit she likes to sit down with me and talk about what she has read recently. She is in her 80s now and very recently widowed and I know that every moment we have is precious. There are other topics that make me think of things deeply personal, things that I can’t imagine standing up on a stage in front of an audience and reading a letter aloud. It’s admirable, these people that lay themselves and their moments on the line for people to go and see and then read about in these volumes.

Yours Truly is another highly enjoyable collection.

8/10

Book #299 of 2013

AWW2013

Yours Truly is book #102 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

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Driftwood – Mandy Magro

DriftwoodDriftwood
Mandy Magro
Harlequin MIRA
2013, 256p
Copy courtesy of Harlequin AUS

Taylor Whitworth has the country in her blood – it’s where she longs to be. After yet another argument with her mother and stepfather about jacking in her stablehand job and going to university to study medicine, Taylor has had enough. She doesn’t want to be a doctor and she loads up her Jeep with her dog and her belongings and takes off from Brisbane for up north. She wants to find somewhere she can maybe get a job as a jillaroo.

She comes across the small town of Driftwood when a kind stranger stops and helps her after she runs out of fuel. That stranger is Jay Donnellson and he runs Waratah, a large property outside of Driftwood. He points Taylor in the right direction for a pub job and offers her work as a jillaroo come the time of the big muster. Taylor settles in to life in Driftwood like she was born for it – and perhaps she was.

She also bonds with Jay, developing a bit of a crush on him even though she’s warned not to by a local girl. Taylor decides that she doesn’t care about Jay’s reputation and rumours of his issues, she sees the man he is and he seems to like her too. They have a love of the land and horses in common and Taylor can’t wait until she can head out to Waratah and help with the muster. That’s the sort of work that she wants to do, being on the land with her horse, doing something useful.

Life up here can be perfect….but as Taylor is about to find out it can also be dangerous and destructive as the north gets hit by a cyclone that could take everything she’s come to love from her just as she’s found it.

Driftwood is Mandy Magro’s fourth novel and her first for Harlequin Australia. Taylor is in her early 20s and has been pushed by her ambitious stepfather to “do something with her life” and stop mucking around with horses and presumably, get a real job that pays well and has prestige associated with it. Although Taylor scored well in her exams, all she wants to do is work with horses. And when she can’t handle the pressure anymore, she takes off, escaping the pressure and the expectations to do what she loves.

Taylor is a very likable character – I felt sorry for her with the weight of the expectations upon her and the callous disregard by her stepfather of her feelings and her wishes. I also felt that the way in which she ran off, although a bit immature and irresponsible, especially as she didn’t tell anyone where she was going and left her phone off a large portion of the time, was probably in line with the way someone in her situation might act. I do wish she’d made more of an effort to reassure her mother of her safety rather than allowing voice mail messages to pile up on her phone for days but that just might be the parent in me talking. However I can’t imagine, even at Taylor’s age and even being angry, not at least telling my mother right away that I was safe and well. I feel as though Taylor’s family were out of sight and mind for her and although she was hurt and angry, she should still have considered the way they might feel in regards to her lack of communication. Taylor was lucky that it was someone trustworthy and friendly who picked her up and gave her a lift when she ran out of fuel (which again shows her youth and inexperience, she neglected to fill up believing there’d be another fuel station further along even though she was heading into fairly remote country).

Jay is a character who has a lot on his shoulders: his father died not too long ago in an accident, he almost lost his farm which has been in the family for five generations and his mother is spiraling further into alcoholism, unable to cope with the loss of his father. He works the farm almost singlehandedly with the help of a foreman who has been around for many years and the extra help he hires come the mustering time. He is also still heartbroken over the departure of his girlfriend who left him for someone with more prospects in the city, which has kind of sworn him off romance, although it doesn’t take long for Taylor to catch his eye and have him thinking about changing his mind even though she’s not from around here and he doesn’t know if she’ll stay around forever.

Driftwood is a very pleasant read that will surely find winners with fans of rural romance. It has a lot going for it in terms of the characters of Taylor and Jay and the setting is lovely. It does lack a bit of depth but this is countered by the inclusion of a historical story that runs alongside the contemporary which was quite enjoyable about how Jay’s ancestors came to own and work Waratah and how they left a legacy that turned up when he needed it most. For those that appreciate a nice easy-going read with minimal conflict to keep the characters apart, this will be a winner. For others that prefer their romance with a little more angst and a lot more passion, then this one might turn out to be a little too tame!

7/10

Book #284 of 2013

AWW2013Hooray! Driftwood is book #100 read by an Australian woman author for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

Thanks to the lovely people at Harlequin AUS and Morey Media, I have one copy of Driftwood to give away to a lucky Australian resident! Simply fill in the form to enter. Winner will be drawn by random.org and notified via email. Good luck!

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Pretty Girl – J.C. Burke

Pretty GirlPretty Girl
J.C. Burke
Random House AU
2013, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Sarah’s year 12 jersey says Sarah the Sensible, because that’s what she is. She’s always been known as the sensible one, the one that organises things, the one that gets things done. As a scholarship student at an exclusive boarding school, Sarah always felt a little on the outer in the core group of 4 girls. They are all much wealthier than she is, much more confident and more reckless at times. She even has a term for them and the way that they act: the genetically privileged. Sarah is settled down with her boyfriend Will now that they are all in their first year of university, things are changing. The group is falling apart.

Jess, whose jersey read Jess the Wannabe is dead, haven fallen from the roof of the residential college’s laundry. And Paige, who was Paige the Brave is in a rehabilitation and psychiatric facility after Sarah found her at the bottom of the university pool. That leaves only Sarah the Sensible and Tallulah who is perhaps the wildest and most confident of all. Sarah feels as though her life is becoming something she doesn’t even recognise and so is she. She finds that all she can think about is the handsome boy she met in the laundry. Soon he’s all she wants to be with and she finds herself sacrificing everything, just for the chance.

What really happened to Paige that night and will she ever find the key to unlocking her stubborn memories? What happened to Jess – why was she on the roof and was it just an accident? Is someone Sarah knows behind all of this and can she be the one to figure it out before she ends up the victim of the next unfortunate accident?

Pretty Girl explores a number of themes but there is a strong focus on changing friendships as people negotiate change in their lives. Sarah, Paige, Jess and Tallulah were close friends in high school, despite their differences. They were fiercely loyal to each other and kept each other’s secrets (via a catch cry of “how long is a piece of string?”) but now that they are all into their first year of university the strain is beginning to show. And now, two tragic events have fractured the core group of four: Paige almost drowned in the university pool and no one knows how it happened. She’s a professional diver and strong swimmer and wasn’t depressed or unhappy. Her parents have a secret they are keeping from her until they believe that she is strong enough to deal with it. While Paige was recovering, Jess’s body was found. She either fell or jumped from the laundry roof but like Paige, she showed no signs of depression and although she was reckless, being up there made little sense. When her toxicology results come back, something immediately shows up as odd. Sarah begins to suspect foul play in both incidents and she even has a suspect in mind but now she needs to gather the evidence, unaware of how much danger she is putting herself in by poking around instead of taking her concerns to the authorities.

Although this is a great premise, I feel as though it lets itself down in ways by spelling things out too clearly for the reader. Its immediately obvious what has happened very early on and it’s extremely easy to put everything together way before it is revealed so that when it is revealed it feels as though it’s all very old information. Because of that, it seems to take a long time for everything to come out and be resolved because the reader has known it for so long. I wish it had been a little more subtle, a little more clever, in particular with the use of names the villain chooses. Despite this, Burke manages to keep the story moving along by switching the narrative between Sarah and Paige, Sarah dealing with what has happened and trying to find out why and Paige trying to regain the use of her memory and work out exactly what happened to her. I enjoyed Paige’s narrative the most as she struggled to unlock her damaged mind and gain the strength she needed to deal with the trauma locked within. It was a stronger story and it was skilfully played out. Paige needed to slowly come to terms with what she couldn’t deal with remembering. Sarah’s story was a little bit blinkered and it began to get frustrating towards the end, because she had seen what she needed to see to help her see the truth but she was so fixated on something that she wouldn’t allow herself to.

I feel as though there should’ve been a stronger motivation behind everything that happened as well because during the dramatic conclusion, motivations were revealed and they seemed a bit weak and lacklustre. A strong suspense novel should really contain a motivation that even if the reader can’t identify with or understand, it should still seem powerful, something that would cause someone to act in ways that are not normal or regular. Unfortunately this book never really gave me that feeling, it seemed really quite random and lacking. That area of the story definitely needed more work.

Pretty Girl had some strengths and some weaknesses. The relationships and the depiction of teenage girls entering a time of change is a definite strength, as is the portrayal of Sarah feeling outcast from even her own friends. However the plot is far to simply figured out which lessens what should be a very powerful impact.

7/10

Book #280 of 2013

AWW2013

Pretty Girl is book #98 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

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