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Review: Fly In Fly Out – Georgina Penney + Author Q&A

Fly In Fly OutFly In Fly Out
Georgina Penney
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 318p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Engineer Jo Blaine works fly in fly out -aka FIFO- on an oil rig in the Atlantic Ocean. Arriving home after a long journey back to Western Australia, all she wants is her bed. However the discovery of a very unexpected man in her house has her wishing she’d stayed on the rig.

Somehow Jo finds herself being talked into accepting a room mate, someone to water the plants, feed her cat and just generally look after things when she’s on shift. That normally wouldn’t be a problem, except the room mate is going to be Stephen Hardy who orchestrated Jo’s most embarrassing moment as a teenager. A moment overseen, a whisper into another ear and Jo’s life changed forever. It didn’t help that she’d had a crush on him at the time….a crush that doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere over the years.

Stephen feels bad about what happened when they were teens and the events that led to Jo leaving home. He hadn’t seen her since and now he feels the need to make amends and maybe looking after her place while she’s away can be the way that he does that.

Jo is used to dealing with things on her own and keeping things to herself. Even as her dream starts to come true and she and Stephen become closer and closer, she can’t bring herself to confide in him the messy truth of her family history and why she really left after that night long ago. Stephen knows that something is going on but the truth is something he could never have imagined. He has to wonder why Jo kept that from him, why she would not trust him with this information about herself.

Fly In Fly Out was originally published by Penguin Australia’s digital first imprint, Destiny Romance as Unforgettable You last May. Even though it followed Irrepressible You, the events of the book occur before that one so it’s probably a good idea to bring this one out in print first. I heard extremely good things about both Irrepressible You and Unforgettable You and so I was keen to be able to read this and see exactly what everyone had been talking about!

Jo and her younger sister Amy had a difficult childhood but now they are both successful in their professional lives. Jo works as an engineer currently on a rig in the Atlantic Ocean and Amy runs her own hairdressing and beauty salon. Amy dates widely and often, Jo more rarely. The sisters are quite different – Jo is a tomboy who prefers soccer and a more relaxed fashion sense whereas Amy wears 1950’s style dresses and heels every day. They’ve had their ups and downs but at the moment are quite close and it is supposed to be Amy who looks after Jo’s cat when she’s on the rig….until Jo ends up with a house mate.

Despite adamantly not wanting a room mate, Jo is worn down relatively quickly and Stephen tries hard to make her feel as though her life is being made easier. Soon Jo really looks forward to coming home off the rig, especially when their friend’s subtle ways of pushing them together seem to be working. The attraction that Jo has always had suddenly seems mutual – and acted on.

I really enjoyed the way things progressed between Jo and Stephen. Because of her job, which is far away and often without ways of communicating, they have to make the most of the phone calls when Jo can manage them and it’s a good way for them to get to know each other as adults. From Jo ringing just to check on her cat, it turns into long snatched conversations, sometimes with a little bit of naughtiness (usually on Stephen’s end, Jo is in plain view on the communal phone). Things are going well – they’re enjoying each other’s company when she’s back in Australia, more and more. And it’s getting harder and harder for Jo to leave and soon she begins thinking that maybe, she’s had enough of the FIFO life.

Despite the fact that a huge number of Australians work FIFO on the various mines around the country or further afield like Jo, I don’t actually know anyone that does it. I imagine how difficult it must be to build relationships when you work a three weeks on one week ofs schedule or even two months on and one off. You can be dating someone for a year but only spent the equivalent of a couple of months with them. Communication can be difficult, it’s hard to read context in an email, phone conversations can be brief and impersonal. You have to do the best you can and make up for it if possible, when you’re back in the same place. Stephen and Jo I think have no problem with the physical but to be honest, both are keeping things from the other. Jo is hiding her family’s true history and why she really left the area they grew up in as a teen and Stephen is not really talking about his previous relationship, its demise and why he hasn’t really persisted in ending it properly by selling their joint apartment.

I have to admit, I didn’t expect the subplot around Jo’s family or how serious it would turn out to be. Although it probably would not have escalated to be half as serious as it was if Jo had actually talked to Stephen point blank about what was happening and what had been going on when she was younger. Especially after Stephen’s sister stayed with him in Jo’s apartment and became caught in the crossfire, in a manner of speaking. Jo really could have saved herself a lot of trouble and heartache if she’d been honest with Stephen after the first couple of incidents, rather than keeping it from him. Also Stephen was clearly scarred by his treatment of the teenage Jo (which the result of wasn’t even his fault anyway) and had become almost incapable of being assertive and stating what he wanted, such as his ex agreeing to sell their apartment so they could split the proceeds and start over.

I enjoyed this – I liked reading more about the FIFO lifestyle and I like that it was Jo who worked abroad and Stephen who was kind of left behind waiting for her to return. Turned things on their head a bit, which is always fun. I will have to see if there are plans to release Irrepressible You as a paperback. If not, I’ll be tracking it down on my kindle/iPad in order to read Amy’s story.

7/10

Book #259 of 2014

AWWW2014

 

Fly In Fly Out was read in 2014 and so still counts towards the total for that Australian Women Writers Challenge. It’s book #95

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And now thanks to the lovely people at Penguin AU, I’d like to welcome Georgina to the blog to answer a few questions.

Q1. Hi Georgina and welcome to my blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for me. To kick off – how long have you been writing and what was the road to publication like for you?

Thanks so much for having me! Wow, that’s a big question. I’ve been writing full time now for four years with a few stops and starts for international moves and the odd bad hair day.

The road to publication was so forked that it was a little hard to know what to do most of the time so I just focused on getting my writing to as good a standard as I could. The first thing I did was write three interlinked but stand-alone novels back to back. That took a year. I then spent the next year editing them, getting them professionally edited and working out how query publishers.

I managed to get super lucky when I was listening the Dear Bitches podcast one day and heard Carol George and Sarah Fairhall from Penguin Destiny chatting away about their imprint. They were so charismatic and seemed so nice, I submitted my manuscript that night. What resulted from all that was a three-book deal and I couldn’t be happier.

 

Q2. Share a little of your writing routine: do you have a favourite place to write, such as a study or in a café and is there anything essential to the creative process like coffee, music, chocolate etc.

Tea is integral. I’m a scary hairy Grinch without it and usually don’t get anything decent down on the page without at least two giant mugs. That’s for the morning. I’m not above the odd glass of wine in the evening before writing difficult scenes or anything a little naughty.

I’m lucky enough to have a dedicated study (lair) with two massive white boards that have far too much scribble and swearing on them. Once I’m ensconced behind my desk with my mug of tea that’s the working day started. Optimistically it’s thirty or so minutes of emails and social media until the caffeine kicks in and then the internet gets turned off and I get down to work. Oh, and music is pretty important. If I’m writing I like chilled out stuff. Editing? Anything loud and violent! I edited the entirety of my last novel to thrash metal.

 

Q3. Are you an extensive plotter or more a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style writer?

I’m a total pantser but I do need to have my characters and their back story firmly plugged into my imagination before I start and that can take up to a year to happen. I am crazy-lucky to also have a husband who’s brilliant at plotting. He reads my first draft scribbles every other day and tells me if I need to ramp up the tension, conflict or humour. So far we’ve managed to make it work without throwing too many projectiles at each other!

 

Q4. What attracted you to making the FIFO (fly in, fly out) lifestyle a major part of the story?

I’ve spent the last fifteen years since I met my husband around FIFO people in the oil industry and before that I had family that were FIFO before it was even an acronym. It actually didn’t seem an odd idea to have a FIFO character at all because it was such a normal way of life. However, it was only after a lady engineering friend challenged me to write a story with a FIFO gal that I really started to think of the tricksy side of a relationship between two characters when one is away a lot of the time.

 

Q5. Fly In Fly Out started life as a digital only book named Unforgettable You. It came after the story of Jo’s sister Amy, which was Irrepressible You but takes place before. Will we be seeing Amy’s story in print as well in the future?

 I hope so! I adore Amy and I have to confess, Irrepressible You was so much fun to write that it would be a little sad if she didn’t get to swan around in a print book. However, that’s up to the lovely people at Penguin.

 

Q6. When I started the book, I didn’t expect the seriousness of the situation that runs through the book with Jo’s family. It shines a light on some very serious issues – was there anything in particular that made you want to explore them or just a need to have them out there?

I think the romance genre is one where issues like domestic violence, addiction and abuse can all be explored in a way that seeks empowerment and positive solutions for the victim and sometimes even for the perpetrator. That sounded kind of stuffy didn’t it? Essentially, growing up in a difficult family myself, I found romance novels to be one of the only things that kept me sane as a young woman. The best novels I encountered back then were the ones that really got dark and dealt heavy stuff before the happy-ever-after and that’s what I wanted to write.

 

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

I’ve just moved to Scotland so there’s a lot of exploring going on. Who am I kidding? I’m basically just walking around pointing at hairy cows and trying not to stare at the guys walking around looking hot in kilts. (The day I discovered the male employees at a local bank wore kilts to work was a day I started to think a lot more about my finances!) But on the whole I’m going to say my idea of a great time is puttering away in the kitchen, glass of vino by my side with good friends and good conversation to keep me company.

 

Q8. Share five favourite books and/or authors

This is such a hard one! This last year alone has been brilliant for new books. I’ll just stick to romance shall I? Because if I don’t, things are going to get exponential.

Unrestrained by Rhyll Biest – (Hot and hilarious)

Unbound by Cara McKenna – (Hot and love her realistic hero and heroine.)

Fairway to Heaven by Lily Malone – (Soon to be released by Harlequin Escape as Fairway I think. Great book that’s even more amazing in the way the author tackles some serious lady medical issues that never get touched on in romance.)

Anything by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Anything by Joey W. Hill

 

Q9. And lastly…what’s next for you?

Hopefully more writing! And a little relaxation after the huge and horrendously stressful move my husband and I made from Brunei Darussalam to Scotland in late 2014. And there’s also that massive pile of books sitting on the shelf I haven’t gotten around to reading yet either…

***

Thanks for your time Georgina! Looking forward to seeing more of your books soon.

 

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Wrapping Up…. The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

AWWW2014

As 2014 draws to a close, I thought I’d start wrapping up some of the components of my reading of 2014. This is the third year I’ve participated in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which aims to shine a light on some of the fantastic female authors we have from this country. It hopefully redresses some of the gender bias which tends to skew towards publications reviewing and featuring male authors.

In 2014, I read 95 books that counted towards this challenge, which is slightly down on last year where I read 116 but I’m definitely still proud of my effort. As of today I have read 264 books for 2014, so that means that about 36% or just over one third of my reading is by Australian women authors. I try to read widely but I know I’m skewed towards romance/contemporary/YA however I did try to throw in some crime and non-fiction, the odd memoir. I think I can do better though and that might be a little goal for me next year. For example I didn’t log a classic by an Australian woman this year, so that might be a good place to start. I also didn’t read a lot of literary fiction either, so I’ve made a point to try and check a few titles out of my local library to get AWW2015 off to a good start. I will still obviously read a lot of contemporary and YA titles but hopefully I’ll be able to try a few new things next year and push myself out of my comfort zone a bit.

2014 was a good year – new books from favourites like Rachael Johns, Cathryn Hein, Helene Young, Jessie Cole, Fiona Palmer, Barbara Hannay, Monica McInerney, Kylie Ladd and Liane Moriarty. I also read plenty of fabulous books by new-to-me authors such as Ellie Marney, P.M Newton, Natasha Lester, Fiona McArthur, Gabrielle Tozer and Clare Atkins to name just a few.

Having farewelled the 2014 challenge, tomorrow I should have a sign up post up for 2015. I’m looking forward to taking part again.

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Review: Our Kind Of Love – Victoria Purman

Our Kind of LoveOur Kind Of Love (Boys of Summer #3)
Victoria Purman
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2014, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Anna Morelli was always the good Italian girl who did exactly what was expected of her. She’s a doctor with her own practice in Adelaide and she married a lawyer and had the huge Italian wedding. But now Anna has done something that wasn’t expected of her. Her marriage has ended, her husband preferring someone who better fits the bill of a lawyer’s wife. Anna hasn’t told her family yet – she’ll be the first person ever in their family to get divorced. And then she does something even more reckless, indulging in a one night stand when she was at a wedding down the coast in Middle Point.

Former journalist hotshot Joe Blake is back in Middle Point where he grew up. He lost his job and his wife and since then he’s been living with his sister Lizzie trying to figure out exactly what he wants to do next. When he meets Anna, there’s plenty of chemistry and he thinks he might be able to turn their very enjoyable night into a regular thing. But Anna drops a bombshell on him and then runs away.

Joe is determined to make Anna see that this can work – they can work. But Anna is carrying a lot of baggage, mostly relating to her family and she wants to avoid any complications. Just when it seems like she’s ready to jump in with both feet, she and Joe discover that they’re on opposite ends of a very important spectrum.

Our Kind Of Love is the third and final book in the Boys of Summer trilogy which kicked off with Nobody Like Him and followed up with Someone Like You. We met Joe and Anna in previous books – Joe is Lizzie’s (from Someone Like You) sister and Anna is friends with the two previous heroes and had a long-ago relationship with one of them. They’ve stayed friends and Anna attended Ry’s wedding to Julia which is where she met Joe. They had a great night and Joe took her home but in the light of day Anna couldn’t get away quick enough. Even though she’s been separated from Alex, her husband for a little while now, Anna still hasn’t told her old-school Italian family that the marriage is over. It’s something she’s been dreading and so she lies to them at regular family dinners and events, pretending that Alex is busy working. There’s only so long you can put off the inevitable though!

I married a man whose parents were both born in Sicily. They came here separately and other members of their family and community came here too, all settling in the one town and making a big, Italian bubble. My mother-in-law is a staunch Catholic who goes to church about a hundred times per week and every event is filled with people, noise and food. I get the whole Italian thing. My husband was also married before me, so he was the first person in his extended family to get a divorce (although he wasn’t married either time in a Catholic church so it’s quite possible no one really considered him married anyway). A lot is made of Anna’s reluctance and inability to tell her parents but in the end, when she does, pretty much nothing happens except of course, them being supportive and feeling for her. A bit later her mother is scandalised when Anna brings Joe to an engagement party, even though most of their extended circle isn’t aware of the fact that she’s split up with her husband and she also attempts to begin setting Anna up with new, eligible and of course, Italian men. It’s interesting, because my husband is one of three boys and none of them married or were pressured to marry, Italian women. But – he has quite a lot of female cousins and most, if not all of them, married Italian men, if they married at all. His male cousins also married non-Italian women as well…perhaps they were attempting to avoid marrying versions of their mother! A lot of the scenes involving Anna’s family were things I’ve experienced before, with the possible exception of the one where people begin asking Joe’s intentions. Do people still ask intentions in this day and age?

I liked Joe in Lizzie’s book but I found that I actually liked him less in this one. I found that he was quite bossy and pushy, trying to get to the bottom of why Anna is reluctant to see him again and I sort of just felt like saying no means no, ok Joe? His persistence made him like a dog with a bone – or like he was on the lead of a good story. He plays reporter a bit too much in his personal life quizzing people and trying to find a way in, get them to confess things and it didn’t seem fair. The story takes place over the course of about nine or ten months, so in some ways, it does seem like things evolve between Joe and Anna. Even though she resolves to stay away, she finds herself returning again and again to Middle Point, and of course, running into Joe. They do start to spend time together but just when you think they might be on the way to happy ever after, Anna discovers something about Joe that is utterly the opposite of how she feels. It’s a big issue, one that is probably a dealbreaker for many people and Anna decides that she has to end it, for the sake of herself and the thing she wants probably the most out of life. What I found a bit unrealistic was that how someone who was as adamant as Joe on the topic somehow totally turns around – obviously someone had to in order for them to get back together. But it felt very abrupt and like there could’ve been more done between them, working this issue out rather than it kind of magically resolving itself whilst they were apart.

6/10

Book #258 of 2014

AWWW2014

Book #94 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: 12 Daves Of Christmas – Juliet Madison

12 Daves of Christmas12 Daves Of Christmas
Juliet Madison
Escape Publishing (Harlequin AUS)
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Abby Solomon writes romances for a living but lives a bit of a solitary life with no significant other. When her recently deceased Grandma pays her a visit, Abby wonders if maybe all that solitude is getting to her and she’s hallucinating. But no, Grandma Charlotte really is there and she has a task for Abby.

She wants Abby to find her long lost love, a man named Dave that she waited for during the war. They were supposed to meet after it ended but Dave never showed and eventually Charlotte married someone else and had a long and happy life with him. But he’s gone and now Charlotte’s chance of happiness in the ever-after hinges around finding Dave. Abby’s research yields 12 possibilities in the area Charlotte thinks that Dave would’ve chosen to settle down and she decides to undertake a roadtrip for Christmas, visiting the 12 Daves over 12 days and seeing if any of them are The One.

It’s not easy, finding the Daves and engineering meetings that don’t look suspicious. Some of the Daves are easily discounted – too young, too old, not quite right in other ways. Then Abby meets a Dave of her own, a young doctor. Maybe this road trip might not only secure Grandma Charlotte’s future happiness but also Abby’s own.

I have to admit, Juliet Madison’s books seem to be an exception to the rule that I don’t like books with a bit of the ‘woo woo’ magic in them. This is the second I’ve read now and they’re highly entertaining and very fun to read. I really should read all the others, I don’t know what’s stopping me. Oh right, of course I do. My TBR pile of hundreds and hundreds of books!

Anyway, in this one Abby is a romance author. She quit her job to write full time, having loved romance since reading her grandma’s Mills & Boons as a teenager (didn’t we all! That’s how I got into reading romance). Grandma has recently passed away and Abby is still feeling the loss – until Grandma pops into her living room as a ghost. They can’t touch but Abby can see her and hear her and after the initial shock wears off, she’s thrilled to have her grandmother back in her life again. But Grandma doesn’t just want to sit around and chit chat – she wants Abby to help find the true love of her life, a man she never got to reconnect with after the Second World War. The details are pretty sketchy – all her grandmother knows is his name, which is quite a common one and the area he most probably settled down after he returned. Abby sleuths around and discovers 12 possibilities and decides to throw caution to the wind and head out on a road trip to meet them all and see if any are the one.

Grandma Charlotte is of course, along for the ride and each of the Daves they find are different in their own way. Some are lovely, some are not, some are too young, some are too old. All of the Daves have something that means they’re not The Dave that they’re looking for, all except one who wasn’t at home when Abby came through. Backtracking to find that Dave, Abby runs into a handsome doctor she’d seen when she first came through, although the situation she’d found herself in then is not one she particularly wants to revisit.

Abby realises she has to explain something difficult to Doctor Dave, something that he may find almost impossible to believe. But she does it anyway, desperate to help her grandmother fulfill her wish to find the person that is the key to her happiness in the afterlife. And even though Dave is skeptical, he at least hears Abby out and it seems that the two of them have found their own spark. The relationships in this novel are so fun – there are few characters, Abby and her grandmother shine for most of it. Their relationship is a very, very close one and although Grandma Charlotte stands to gain from this adventure locating the 12 Daves, she’s also pushing Abby to step outside of her comfort zone as well. To put herself out there and meet new people, because she’s not going to find her special someone sitting at home and typing on her keyboard. I loved reading their conversations as they traveled from place to place. It helped give a very good picture about Abby but without a lot of info-dumping.

A sweet and heartwarming story – really must read the rest of her books. I enjoyed this a lot, it’s exactly the sort of read that’s perfect for the run up to Christmas and it gives you that Australian Christmas feel as it’s set on the coast of New South Wales. It makes me want to do a road trip for Christmas, but I’m afraid that’s going to have to wait until next year.

8/10

Book #247 of 2014

AWWW2014

12 Daves of Christmas is book #90 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: Riverboat Point – Tricia Stringer

Riverboat PointRiverboat Point
Tricia Stringer
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2014, 387p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Savannah Smith hasn’t been living her life so much as merely existing in it. Ever since the accident that left her with terrible injuries and a limp, Savannah hasn’t been able to hold down a permanent job. She lives an isolated life in Adelaide until her brother Jaxon contacts her and asks her for help. Jaxon runs a houseboat business up on the Murray and Savannah’s future is tied up in it as well. When Jaxon disappears, saying he needs a holiday, Savannah is forced to head up to Riverboat Point and take over the business, despite not knowing anything about houseboats or how to manage them. Even more disconcerting is Jaxon’s vague warnings about watching out for one of the neighbours.

Savannah isn’t sure which neighbour he means but she’s forced to accept help from the mysterious Evan, who lives next door. Evan is a mechanic and he also possesses the license required to show the patrons how to reverse the boats out of the docks, something that Savannah doesn’t have. He helps with general maintenance work and has to be there each time a boat is ready to go out. The more time Savannah and Ethan spend together, the harder it is for her to deny the chemistry between them. Just as she lets Ethan into her bed and heart, she finds out that he definitely knew more about Jaxon’s disappearance then he was letting on. Shattered, Savannah is convinced that it’s all been a lie.

But there are bigger things for Savannah to worry about as she’s finally figured out who Jaxon was warning her about but it may be too late.

Riverboat Point is Tricia Stringer’s third novel for Harlequin and this time we head to the Murray River which is somewhere I’ve never been and always wanted to go. In fact I’ve wanted to hire a houseboat for as long as I can remember and there always seems to have been things to stop me. So I was immediately interested in this story and how someone who doesn’t really know anything about houseboats, would go running a business hiring them out. The answer is…pretty well, not without a few problems, but she has a lot of help!

Savannah is understandably annoyed at her brother for disappearing before she even arrives at his cabin, not even sticking around to help show her the ropes. She has to figure out every facet of the business herself including the banking, cleaning and stocking the boats ready for customers, not to mention the fact that she has to show them how to drive it, which you can only do if you have a special ticket – which she does not. It means she’s going to have to rely on Evan next door, who does which is not something Savannah is used to. She’s been alone for quite a while and she’s worked hard to get herself through her injuries and rehab. She’s very independent and a bit prickly – she’s not used to having to ask for help and it doesn’t sit well with her.

Despite her natural tendency to keep to herself, Savannah becomes quite a part of the Riverboat Point community as she makes friends and learns to call on people for help and provide it in return. She even manages to make friends with one half Jaxon’s other neighbour, the mysterious and flirtatious Belinda who is often popping over with bubbly. Despite a feeling of unease that there’s something a bit amiss, Savannah greatly appreciates the company and it reminds her that she hasn’t had a lot of it lately. Despite a rocky start with Evan on the other side, they come to be friends too, with the possible hint of more. Evan is a returned serviceman who twice served in Afghanistan and is still facing the demons that come as a part of that service. Both he and Savannah have their standoffish moments and their relationship seems to operate on a “two steps forward, one step back” pattern. There are several misunderstandings as well as both of their natural tendency towards isolation. However with the time they spend together, they are both becoming aware of wanting different things.

As well as negotiating the business and also Evan, Savannah ends up discovering something that’s going on nearby. She’s not sure who she can trust at first – her brother’s letter only warned her that one of the neighbours didn’t seem right. She didn’t even know if it might be Evan, despite the fact that he obviously occasionally helped her brother out. I didn’t really see coming what was going on, I’d had a few ideas and one was half right but the other was definitely a surprise. The tension was built very nicely as Savannah discovered exactly what was going on and ended up in a very dangerous situation.

I think that Savannah had quite a right to be furious with her brother, I would’ve been too to anyone who left me in that situation, no matter their motives (and to be honest, Jaxon’s motivation was a bit ridiculous). To risk not only his business but also Savannah’s financial security as his guarantor for anything less than a life-threatening situation struck me as careless and inconsiderate. Savannah wasn’t equipped to run the business single-handedly and having her rely on people could’ve gone horribly wrong, especially as Evan almost had to be in two places at once at some stages. It’s quite a large amount of pressure on Savannah and it could’ve gone wrong in quite a few different ways. Luckily Savannah’s determined and stubborn nature as well as her fitness served her very well both in the day to day running of the business and also when she finds herself in danger.

Riverboat Point is another highly enjoyable novel from Tricia Stringer and I’m really looking forward to her next release.

8/10

See more about Riverboat Point and read a chapter sample here

Book #250 of 2014

AWWW2014

Riverboat Point is the 92nd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

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Review: Nightingale – Fiona McIntosh

NightingaleNightingale
Fiona McIntosh
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 383p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

British nurse Claire Nightingale is stationed aboard a hospital ship just off the coast of Gallipoli during the first World War. There she meets Australian Light Horseman Jamie Wren when Jamie carries his dying mate to the beach in an attempt to get him on board the ship and to safety. Despite the violence of their surroundings and the fact they will be separated with no assurance of ever seeing each other again, they fall in love.

When they are torn apart, Jamie and Claire make a pact – they will meet at a certain spot on the first April Fools Day after the end of the war. If both of them are still physically able, they will be there. Even when Claire is told that Jamie has been killed after a terrible injury, she refuses to believe it. After the end of the war, she searches for him, her only clue being a prayer book Jamie was given by a Turkish soldier during a ceasefire. Jamie had made a promise to return it to the soldier’s father and Claire decides to honour that promise while she waits for April and to see whether or not Jamie will make it to their meeting place.

In Turkey, Claire is surprised with the connection she feels with the father of that Turk soldier. He’s a courteous, cultured man and Claire feels that perhaps, in another lifetime, she could have made the choice to stay with him, despite their age differences and the divides in their culture. But Jamie still holds her heart and she owes it to him and that love to journey back to England for April the 1st, to wait and see if he is able to come to her. Is Jamie still alive? And if so, will he be waiting for her on that afternoon or is she doomed to face heartbreak once again?

Not long ago, I made a bit of a resolution to read more about Gallipoli, both in fiction and also with non-fiction as I realised I’d read hardly anything set there. And with the 100th anniversary of the landing coming next year it seems a good time to really get into books that feature Gallipoli in any way. This book opens with Gallipoli – Jamie is with the Light Horseman Brigade, without a horse but instead having been deployed as a ground soldier, taking turns behind the sniper rifle. Claire is a nurse, stationed on a ship just off the coast. They evacuate the seriously injured soldiers to Egypt and the Allied hospitals set up in that area.

Claire is frustrated, partially at the futility of her task and the war and also at the system or lack thereof in terms of being able to triage the injured soldiers on the battleground and trying to prioritise those that need their assistance on the ship the most. She begs leave from the Matron to go to the beach and attempt to set up a system and it’s there she meets Jamie, who has carried the body of his dying friend over his shoulder down the cliffs to the beach. They spend a little time together, especially when Jamie makes his way to the ship and namedrops Claire to get ahead of the queue. She is able to fix up his injuries and during those small interactions, the two of them fall deeply in love.

I think I could well understand the temptation of an instant love, during such a time and place. Jamie and Claire both see horrible things all day, every day. The desire to see a little beauty, experience a little goodness, would be powerful. They’re alone really – Claire doesn’t have any family left and Jamie has left his on the other side of the world to go and fight in the war. Claire has a tendency towards the melancholy, or negative. She laments before she meets Jamie that if something were to happen to her in the war, there’s no one to inform – no one would care. Jamie has a large family who love him and would grieve him but he was unsatisfied there. He didn’t love his girl at home the way that he falls in love with Claire. For both of them, it’s an immediate and powerful force, something that becomes their driving motivation. Even after Claire is told that Jamie has been lost, there are people that convince her she’s not to give up – in a war of this size, nothing is certain unless you see it yourself. And so she continues to hope, throughout the rest of the war and then in the fragile peace afterwards, before their deadline of April 1st.

I did really enjoy this book, I liked both Jamie and Claire. Claire was strong and very capable and Jamie was fun and an easy going laidback kind of country Aussie guy. I loved their scenes together and the strong connection that the two formed in such an unlikely place. I also enjoyed Claire’s trip to Turkey and her learning of the customs, especially the relationship she cultivated with several of the women there. I’m not sure the strange bond between her and the father of the fallen Turk soldier really worked for me, it felt like it was taking too much away from Jamie and the fact that her deadline to meet him was drawing closer. I will say however that the tension was built extremely well toward the end of the novel, where Claire is arriving at their meeting place.

Another very engrossing read from Fiona McIntosh, I keep meaning to get to those books by her that I haven’t yet read. She always provides a very solid and entertaining story, something that keeps the reader hooked from beginning until end.

9/10

Book #249 of 2014

AWWW2014

Nightingale is book #91 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

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Review: Secret Santo – Carla Caruso

Secret SantoSecret Santo
Carla Caruso
Destiny Romance
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Holly is a bookseller by day but her alter ego Sultry Scarlet reviews books, particularly romance novels. Armed with an invitation to an exclusive publisher Christmas party, Holly is determined that she will meet her hero, author AJ Ruffo. Not much is known about the mysterious man, who writes under a pseudonym but Holly is pretty convinced that he’ll be tall, dark and handsome.

At the party, Holly is saved from falling by Santo Randolfi and he definitely fits the bill of what Holly assumes AJ Ruffo will look like. He’s tall, dark (Meditteranean of course!) and very handsome. And he’s admitted to her that he writes under a pseudonym. To Holly’s disappointment though, he denies being AJ Ruffo, instead hinting that he’s a romance writer, perhaps the author behind the book that Holly just wrote a scathing review of on her site….

Well it’s hard to believe, but it’s December already! I couldn’t believe it when I began scheduling reviews for this week and had to change to December in the drop down menu. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone. December means Christmas novellas and there’s a cute little one here from Carla Caruso. It’s very short, much shorter than I actually thought it was going to be when I requested it but there’s lots to enjoy.

For a start, our heroine is both a book seller and a blogger! But she writes her reviews under a pseudonym, using Sultry Scarlet to post reviews of mostly romance novels but also some other types of books, especially those by her literary crush, AJ Ruffo. Holly was relying on her more outgoing work colleague and friend to accompany her to the party but she begs off at the last minute, leaving Holly alone. Holly meets Santo Randolfi almost immediately when he saves her from falling and the two of them spend most of the party together. Holly is determined to discover the real identity of AJ Ruffo and when she meets Santo she’s certain that he’s the man behind some of her favourite books.

Although this book is very cute, it’s super short and so therefore I don’t think either of the characters are as fleshed out as they could be. We do get a bit of an idea about Holly but I’d have liked to know more about her background, particularly her relationship with her mother and how it has affected her. I do think it’s interesting the way she created this image of AJ Ruffo in her head and was clearly fascinated with him – but was it the man or the persona? In this day and age of blogs, facebook and twitter, it’s possible to access authors pretty easily so it’s feasible the mystery of a pseudonym drew Holly in just as much as the books she was reading. We learn less about Santo – only really get the bare minimum there, which makes him a bit two dimensional. I think this book would’ve actually been much more interesting if it had played out the way Santo suggested, not the way Holly assumed in the beginning. In fact, I really hoped it would.

If you’re looking for something really short and sweet to put you in the mood for Christmas then this book is a pretty good way to do that. I had to let a few things slide to enjoy the story and this one kind of reminded me why short stories and novellas aren’t always my thing. I need more usually – more information, more backstory, more between the hero and heroine, more chemistry. I think this book could’ve gone several different ways and that there was a really strong story to support any of those ways, if it had just been a little bit longer and a little bit more in depth. I like Carla Caruso’s writing though it’s just I prefer longer stories, so I can get to know the characters more and involve myself in their conflicts and resolutions. This is a nice read but I wanted more.

6/10

Book #248 of 2014

AWWW2014Secret Santo is book #90 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

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Review: In Safe Keeping – Lee Christine

In Safe KeepingIn Safe Keeping
Lee Christine
Harlequin Escape Publishing
2014, eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When widowed family lawyer Laila Richards met hotshot Evan Barclay it was only supposed to stay casual. After mourning the loss of her husband who was her childhood sweetheart for several years, a casual liason with Evan was Laila’s first step back into the game. When they end up on opposing sides in a very high profile divorce case, the conflict of interest gives Laila an excuse to end the affair. It wouldn’t be appropriate to be sleeping with the opposing counsel and Laila knows if her client were ever to find out, she’d lose the job. And Laila very much needs a high profile case. It’s incredibly important to her.

But staying away from each other isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when it appears that Laila is in danger. Evan wants nothing more than to keep her safe, especially as he fears that his client may be the reason she’s in danger in the first place. But the more he learns about something else Laila has been working on, the more he decides that they might need a bit of assistance from the husband of his boss. Whether Laila likes it or not, he’s sticking around because what they have is definitely more than just a casual affair.

Both Evan and Laila have baggage and are fighting against client confidentiality and a conflict of interests. But none of that matters because they need to find out who is behind trying to hurt Laila. With each new event, it escalates in severity and Evan has to protect her and prove to her that he’s in this for the long run. No more sneaking around.

I was excited when I saw this book pop up on NetGalley because I didn’t know about it. I’ve read both of Lee Christine’s previous “In Safe” books and absolutely loved them. So I downloaded it immediately and even though I have other books that I probably should be reading, I had to bump this one straight to the top of the pile. I actually read it on my new iPad, first book that I’ve read on it and I have to say that my poor Kindle may be gathering dust from now on!

As with the other two books, this one is super polished, smart and fast paced with likable characters and a great mystery. There’s real depth to both the story and the characters. I liked Laila immediately. She’s had a bit of a rough time of it – difficult upbringing, married her childhood sweetheart and became an Army wife, moving around to wherever her husband was posted. She lost her husband a few years ago in an Army exercise gone wrong and now she seeks to clear his name. In order to do that she needs money and a high profile divorce case will certainly help her reputation and draw other wealthy clients.

The complication is that her current…. friend with benefits is opposing counsel and Laila is far too professional and far too invested to have anything potentially cropping up that could destroy her case and damage her attempts to seek better clients. She tries to walk away, telling Evan that they can no longer see each other late at night personally and must keep their interactions restricted to the courtroom or liaising on behalf of their clients. Evan seems to think they can continue their personal relationship as well as their professional one without a problem – he’s very reluctant to let go of what he has with Laila, even though it hasn’t really progressed beyond late-night booty calls as such. When it becomes obvious that Laila is in danger, Evan is even more determined to keep her close by. It’s concern and a desire to protect her and keep her safe and it’s also a bit of suspicion. He’s not 100% sure that he hasn’t inadvertently placed her in the path of the danger, so he wants to make sure that it’s not connected to him and his client, who is someone that he cares about, that has done a lot for him.

I loved both Evan and Laila, both separate and together. Laila is strong – she’s had to develop that strength and she’s needed it to get her through some pretty difficult times. I think romance novels containing widows (or widowers) can be difficult, because it can be a challenge to blend that amount of love and respect for the deceased partner with the thrill of falling in love again, with someone just as special albeit in a different way. Lee Christine manages this perfectly – I never felt like either relationship was dominant and both were part of what had shaped Laila in the past and what was helping shape her now. Evan is an interesting character too, I found his background playing pro rugby union a fun addition – it’s definitely something new and not what I expected for a lawyer working for a big firm in Sydney. It fleshed out the man behind the corporate image nice and made him uniquely equipped to deal with the threat to Laila’s safety. As someone who had been in the public eye, he knew how to protect his privacy.

Happily for me, I didn’t guess who was behind the threat to Laila – it was something that was definitely unexpected but made sense. The whole story kept me guessing and the pacing was excellent, the way suspense built and continued to build. I hope Lee Christine continues with this loosely linked series, I would happily read a dozen more.

8/10

Book #246 of 2014

AWWW2014

In Safe Keeping is book #89 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

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Review: Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies
Liane Moriarty
Amy Einhorn Books (Penguin Group)
2014, 458p
Read from my local library

Pirriwee Public School is the only primary school in Pirrawee, a small beachside town in Sydney. Because of that, there’s an array of different families putting their students into school there and mixing at the school gate.

Madeline has done it all before – firstly as single mother with her now teenage daughter and then two years ago with Fred. Chloe is her last and Madeline is an old hand at the school routine and the mothers that congregate at the yard. Even though she’s now married again, she’s never forgiven her ex-husband for walking out on her when their daughter was just weeks old. Now Nathan lives in the same suburb as her with his new wife and their daughter is starting school with Chloe. To top it off, their teenage daughter seems to be preferring life at Nathan’s and bonding with Bonnie, Nathan’s wife. Madeline isn’t sure how to cope with this.

To everyone else, Celeste seems perfect. Married to the handsome, rich Perry who dotes on her, Celeste has a kind of beauty that stops people utterly in their tracks. She has twins and she’s always late and perpetually a bit flustered but everyone has a flaw. Now the twins are in school, Celeste will clearly be courted by all the mothers, keen to get in with her and her perfect life. But perfection comes at a price and no one has any idea what price Celeste is privately paying.

Jane is new and a young, single mother. Young enough to raise eyebrows and be mistaken for the nanny. When Jane’s son is accused of bullying a little girl in the kindergarten class, it sets in motion a chain of events that lead to a death. Madeline takes Jane under her wing, defending her passionately and soon it’s a split between the mothers – you’re either team one side or team the other.

I’ve heard such amazing things about this book and I’ve been hearing them for so long and I have finally got around to reading it! I’ve read most of Liane Moriarty’s previous books and I feel as though she gets better with each book and this book definitely proves that. For me, this is her best work yet and I loved it. I read it in just over three hours – could not put it down.

My eldest child started school this year so I was pretty interested in something that tackles the politics at the school gate. So far I’ve been pretty lucky in some ways. My son attended a different kinder to a lot of the other children so we didn’t know many other parents but through him making friends, we’ve met and made some friends ourselves. But that’s not to say that we haven’t witnessed some of the drama, changing friendships and one-upping that goes on. A lot of people keep to themselves though, we have a very varied mix of cultures at our school, something that does seem missing from this particular story. Given the book’s setting it’s probably unsurprising. The primary school in the book is the only one in a small coastal Sydney suburb (maybe the northern beaches? north shore? type area?) and therefore, you do get a strong economic spread. Celeste and her husband Perry are incredibly wealthy and there are other families too, with high flying career-oriented parents. At the other end of the scale is Madeline, comfortable with her husband Ed and Jane, a young single mother who works from home to pay the bills.

At the orientation day, one of the children is hurt and accuses another and basically, that’s the incident that sets in motion most of the rest of the book. The mother of the child that was hurt begins to wage a war and when school begins and it looks like the incidents are continuing, the campaign gets nastier. A petition is started, to get the child accused removed from the school. Bullying is a very hot topic at the moment, and rightfully so. It seems to get worse and worse each year and the culprits are getting younger and younger. And when it’s your child that’s getting picked on, it can be very difficult to keep a cool head. And I think it can be just as bad for the parent/s of the child accused of doing the hurting, or bullying. At this stage in their lives, they’re just 5 years old, barely past being babies. How do you deal with it in a meaningful way at such a young age? The irony is in that trying to protect their children, many of the mothers set a bad example for them, excluding Jane, the parent of the child accused and her son Ziggy as well, from birthday parties, etc.

There’s almost too much to talk about here, the issue of domestic violence and how it can happen to anyone, dealing with blended families, especially when your ex and his new wife live in the same small suburb. Being a single mother, possibly the only single mother in the class, etc. It’s a blistering look at the social construct and hierarchy of the school mother pyramid – I particularly liked the comment about the “Blonde Bobs”. There are a few Blonde Bobs at my son’s school as well! But what I really liked about this book was that it kept surprising me. There was lots I didn’t see coming and with each reveal, the story just went up a notch in terms of brilliance. I loved the way it was told, beginning in the present and going back to the orientation and then at various intervals in the school year before the Trivia Night where the major event happens. I loved the snippets of information from the mothers/fathers who were more minor characters in the book. It’s such a well written story, one that I think so many people can relate to, whether it be about taking your child to school for the first time or connecting to one of the more serious issues that was being explored here.

Fabulous.

9/10

Book #243 of 2014

AWWW2014

Big Little Lies is book #88 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

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Review: Wife On The Run – Fiona Higgins

Wife On The RunWife On The Run
Fiona Higgins
Allen & Unwin
2014, 419p
Read from my local library

Wife and mother of two teenagers Paula McInnes has her safe and comfortable world rocked twice in days, both times by technology. The first time involves her 14yo daughter Caitlin and a facebook picture, the second involves her husband of 17 years Hamish and some indiscretions she discovers via his mobile phone. Determined to get away from it all, Paula decides to load up her two children and her 80yo father and just get away from it all. Do that caravan trip around Australia that she’s always planned to do.

There are several rules on the trip but the most important one is no personal technology. iPods are to be communal, played in the car between destinations. Anything else Paula wants strictly prohibited, wanting them to focus on the experience, not uploading it to facebook. She agrees with her father’s suggestion that they bypass the official homework and Paula hands the kids education over to him for some ‘life lessons’.

But running away is never the answer and when Hamish sets out in pursuit and Paula and the crew pick up a traveler on the road, things are going to get a bit more complicated. Paula is going to have to sort out her head and what she wants….and then face her future.

I absolutely loved Fiona Higgins’ book The Mothers’ Club so when I heard about this one I immediately added it to my the top of books I had to read. I’m really interested in books that are exploring social media and the negative aspects of them as well, so this book plays into that interest perfectly. My children are younger than Paula’s but I feel like I’m going to need to be prepared for this sort of thing early. My son is 6 and has an iPod touch which we monitor but already he’s asking what facebook is and can he have it. When I was in high school, it was prior to the myspace, facebook etc craze and cyber bullying hadn’t even been thought of.

Paula has what is no doubt, a very bad day. Firstly she’s called to her daughter’s school to be shown a post on facebook that has been made, concerning her daughter. There’s a graphic photo and her 14yo daughter has been excused from school until they discover the culprit, get the photo taken down and sort it all out. To make it worse, after her husband has an accident, Paula discovers incriminating messages on his phone, which devastates her. It’s clear that things haven’t been going well for them for a while and she makes the decision to take off on a trip around Australia with her children and her father while Hamish is still recovering in hospital.

I love the idea of the trip around Australia, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I also didn’t blame her for her desire to get away, especially from her husband. Hamish struck me as a bit of a traditional sort of guy, he went to work and earned the money and contributed very little to what happened at home. In the book you get Hamish’s point of view occasionally and some of his thoughts made me cringe. As a woman who has had two children, his views on his wife’s body post childbirth and her lack of interest in sexual relations were really blunt and at at times, cruel. Even as he’s chasing his wife and family across the country, attempting to prove that he can change and that he wants Paula back and for them to begin a new life together, Hamish is betraying her. He seems incapable of actually putting anyone other than himself first and every time he was back on the page, I just wanted him gone again.

The journey Paula and her family take sounds like such fun, especially once Paula loosens up and turns her two kids over to her dad for ‘life lessons’. When the kids complain that Paula’s cooking is ‘crap’ he gives them the week’s shopping budget and instructs them to buy what they want with the warning that they’ll have to eat it and it’ll have to last them the week because they won’t be buying anything else. The two children go mad buying the sort of food that they think they want to eat but after a few days, it’s clear that they’re learning a valuable lesson about what sort of food their bodies need. I absolutely loved the character of Paula’s dad. He’s such a funny old bloke, full of wisdom and charm. I have to admit, I did find his luck on the punt a bit far-fetched until I saw this article, which may have been the inspiration for his success in the 2012 Melbourne Cup! I also feel a bit miffed, as I backed the winner of the Melbourne Cup in 2012 but did not get anywhere near as lucky as Paula’s dad!

I loved the way this book explored social media and its impacts on not only teenagers but also an entire family – this photo is after all, the catalyst for everything that follows. It’s also an exploration of marriage, or rather the implosion of one. Paula is horrified to discover what Hamish has really been doing on his laptop late at night, especially who he has been doing it with. Hamish’s thoughts, as I’ve mentioned, are often really hard to read. In a society where women are already judged on their ability to “snap back” to their pre-baby bodies after giving birth, hearing those sorts of thoughts from the man who fathered Paula’s children…. who watched her give birth to them….. who was supposed to love her, was horrible. I felt so sorry for her, that he felt that way looking at her, even though he didn’t voice those thoughts to her. I actually loathed Hamish far more for his view of Paula than I did for his other actions.

I have to admit, my interest did wane during some of the more fantastical parts of the road trip, such as the “Brazilian” Marcello and Hamish’s repeated interactions with a mysterious Indigenous man who appears to help him at the most desperate times. However the parts of the story concerning family and marriage and relationships kept me utterly fascinated.

8/10

Book #241 of 2014

AWWW2014

Wife On The Run is book #87 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

 

 

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