All The Books I Can Read

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Review: A Chance Of Stormy Weather by Tricia Stringer

chance-of-stormy-weatherA Chance Of Stormy Weather
Tricia Stringer
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2016, 378p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Self-reliant Sydney girl, Paula, is looking forward to a new life in the country. Just married to sheep farmer Dan Woodcroft she can’t wait to escape her protective family and exchange her busy existence for a new life down on the farm in rural South Australia.

But life on the farm proves rather different to what she was expecting. Why does everyone talk about the weather all the time? Why does no one seem worried by the mice plague? And how is she supposed to feed all those shearers?

With Dan’s brusque Aunt Rowena to contend with, his gorgeous ex-girlfriend showing up with a grudge, and communication between her and Dan breaking down, Paula begins to question whether she can cope — is the life of a farmer’s wife is really for her? Forecast: stormy weather.

It was very interesting to start a book just after the wedding of the main character. City girl Paula and farmer Dan married after a very whirlwind romance and now Paula is moving away from Sydney to Dan’s property in South Australia. She doesn’t know anything about running a farm (or a homestead) and Dan seems to feel that she has a very traditional role to fill of doing up the house and providing food for himself and any workers that there may be coming to do jobs. This isn’t something that Paula is experienced in and her setting and the temperamental oven make it even more difficult.

I could be Paula, if I’d married a farmer. I don’t have any real experience with a rural lifestyle. I’ve lived in a semi-rural area and I’ve read a lot of books. But when it comes to the practicalities of it, I’m in the dark. I’d be exactly like Paula – struggling to cook hearty meals for men who expect a good feed, freaking out at the mice. When we moved into the home we live in now, we had some mice. Our house then was brand new, build in a new estate from land that had been market gardens. For the first 6 months we had mice constantly. I hated it. There was nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night to one scratching its way along the wall behind the bedhead. As annoying and disgusting as it was, we only ever had a few at a time. The mice numbers that Paula describes would probably have me fleeing.

Paula also feels left out of some of the farming – despite her qualifications in a relevant field, Dan’s Aunt Rowena won’t let her take a look at the farm’s books, which makes her feel useless and unwanted. It seems that the things she could help in she’s not allowed to, instead she has to focus on things that don’t really involve her particular skillset. Paula does make a big effort to involve herself and takes a part time job in the nearby town as well to do something for herself as well as earn some money. Most people are welcoming but there is one woman that puts her on edge, who seems to have some sort of history with Dan which makes Paula nervous.

A big thing in this book is the lack of communication between Paula and Dan. I think it’s a great show of realism because marriage isn’t the end of conflict between couples, nor are all couples suddenly able to share every single thought or concern they have with their partner for reasonable discussion. I know there are things that my husband does that annoy me greatly but sometimes I don’t tell him because a) I don’t want a fight or b) it’s petty on my behalf or c) to be honest I don’t want to know the answer to the question the discussion may involve/bring up/etc. There are also things that I’m feeling or thinking that I might stew on for a while. There are still plenty of opportunities for conflict and when Dan is away working long hours on the farm and Paula is at home either helping prepare meals for shearing or whatever with Aunt Rowena or fixing up rooms in the house, she probably has a lot of time to think on things. And when Dan gets home, probably the last thing he wants to do is have difficult discussions, so things have plenty of time to escalate and what could’ve been solved with a few minutes of honesty and discussion suddenly becomes a much bigger deal.

Dan was certainly keeping some secrets, things that seemed suspicious to Paula (and the reader) simply because everyone was so secretive so Paula had no real choice but to assume what was being hidden was negative. I think that Dan did have some good reasons for not perhaps confessing to Paula but it sure would’ve made things simpler if he had! But humans make flawed decisions all of the time and this was a well written example of how secrets can drive a wedge between a couple, no matter how new the relationship and how high the devotion.

I really enjoyed this new perspective on a rural.

8/10

Book #205 of 2016

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Review: The Three Miss Allens by Victoria Purman

three-miss-allensThe Three Miss Allens
Victoria Purman
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2016, 395p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In 1934, the three Miss Allens – Ruby, Adeline and Clara – arrive in the seaside town of Remarkable Bay for their annual summer holiday. It’s the last time they’ll spend summers as a family. Adeline is engaged, Ruby is weighing up an offer, and Clara is just eighteen and about to start her life. But by summer’s end, the lives they have known will change irrevocably and a mysterious secret will tear the family apart.

Eighty-two years later, Ruby’s great-granddaughter Roma Harris moves to the now sleepy Remarkable Bay, retreating from tragedy. Roma’s distant cousin Addy arrives too, fleeing a life with too much drama. It’s only when the women discover an old guest book that they start asking questions about the mysterious third Miss Allen. Who was she? Why has she disappeared from the family’s history?

If they solve this mystery from their past, could it change the women’s future?

I love a historical-contemporary blend. They’re one of my favourite types of stories to read but they can be difficult to balance at times. You can find yourself far more invested in one part of the story so it’s nice when both parts are equally as fascinating.

In 1934, sisters Ruby, Adeline and Clara are escaping the Adelaide heat with their mother, staying in a large B&B in the seaside town of Remarkable Bay. Adeline has just secured what is a very desirable match and is giddy over the prospect of her coming marriage. Ruby has received an offer but it’s not one that makes her dreamy. And Clara, the youngest at just eighteen, is harbouring a terrible secret that will divide her family. What should be a summer of careless fun ends up being complicated, ripe with new possibilities but also bringing terrible shadows.

In the contemporary part of the story, Ruby’s great-granddaughter moves to the very same Remarkable Bay after suffering a tragedy. Having quit her job in Adelaide and sold her home, she buys a large house overlooking the bay intending to do it up and restore it to its former glory. Joined by her cousin Addy, who she hasn’t seen for many years, the two women find a book that gives them a glimpse into their own history. They seek to unravel what became of the third Allen sister, Clara, who neither of them have ever heard of.

I really enjoyed Roma’s story. I’m a big fan of renovations both watching them on tv and reading about them as well. It’s something that I think I fantasise about doing one day but it’s also one of those things that will never really be more than that because I don’t think I’d actually be very good at it! But I love the idea of it, especially when it’s about restoring something of significance, such as the old place that Roma purchases. It’s not without its issues, having been severely neglected in the later part of its life but the bones are there and she knows what it could be. What Roma is doing is therapeutic for her as she seeks to heal from a tragedy and discover what she wants from her life now. Things have changed dramatically and she’s taking steps to move forward and although people think it’s ill advised, the house is the first step.

Roma is less than impressed when her busy brother sends their cousin Addy to check up on her. Addy is facing her own problems and once she arrives in Resurrection Bay she decides that she wouldn’t mind staying for a while to help Roma out. The two of them are intrigued by the mystery of the third Miss Allen….

….like I was. Clara’s secret isn’t difficult to guess but I do have to say that I didn’t expect everything that came after it. This book really doesn’t hold back in highlighting some of the difficult situations for women of the time….each sister experiences the troubles of being without real power in society, beholden to the rules and whims of the men in their lives in some way or other. I found each of their stories riveting but I think it was Clara’s that touched me the most. I’ve known someone in Clara’s position and although things are different now, I felt that I had the most sympathy for her, especially because of how isolated she must’ve felt. She would’ve most likely known the fate that awaited her as soon as her secret was discovered and I felt for Ruby too, who discovered it but was horrified by what came next. I found the family dynamics in 1934 very interesting. Despite the fact that their mother seems strict and careful with Ruby and Adeline, there’s still quite a lot that they manage to get up to (Ruby in particular) without her knowledge.

Back in the present day, Roma and Addy are working through an adjustment to spending time together. They holidayed together as teenagers, Addy spending time with Roma’s family and they each remember that time somewhat differently, each shaped by their own experiences. They haven’t seen each other in some time and it’s a bit of a learning curve, reestablishing their relationship and it’s not always smooth sailing. The house provides a refuge for both of them and Remarkable Bay seems a healing sort of place, where both of them discover a vision for what they want their lives to be. And who they want it to include.

I enjoyed this story from start to finish…… I liked Roma and Addy and really connected with Roma’s desire to restore the house to its former glory. The relationships in this story, the good bad and ugly are so well done and felt authentic in both timelines. I could’ve read a book twice this long with these characters, both in the past and the present day.

8/10

Book #204 of 2016

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Blog Tour Review: To The Sea by Christine Dibley

to-the-seaTo The Sea
Christine Dibley
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 447p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

On a clear summer’s day, Detective Inspector Tony Vincent answers a call-out to an idyllic Tasmanian beach house. Surrounded by family and calm waters, seventeen-year-old Zoe Kennett has inexplicably vanished.

Four storytellers share their version of what has led to this moment, weaving tales which span centuries and continents. But Tony needs facts, not fiction: how will such fables lead him to Zoe and to the truth?

As Tony’s investigation deepens, he is drawn into a world where myth and history blur, and where women who risk all for love must pay the price through every generation.

This has to be one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a long time. I’ve never been to Tasmania but it’s long been on my list of places I want to visit. Given it’s proximity to me in here in Victoria it’s also probably the most likely place on that list that I will actually visit one day. I read few books set here but it has so much potential and that potential has been well tapped here.

On a summer day young DI Tony Vincent gets a call to investigate the disappearance of a teenager, believed possibly drowned off the south Tasmanian coast. When he arrives there, he finds things very confusing. There are a large number of people staying at the house for the holidays but with the exception of perhaps the missing girl’s mother, no one else seems either a) overly concerned or b) stricken with grief at the thought of their missing sister/cousin/etc. The more DI Vincent digs into this situation, the stranger it becomes. Although one must always respect the danger of the sea, by all reports the missing girl, Zoe is an exceptional swimmer. And the conditions on the day she vanished were calm. No one actually saw her go into the water and when he calls out the divers, they’re very convinced that if something did happen to Zoe, they can ascertain the location very easily. Numerous searches bring more questions than answers….and no body.

The story is told by four people: Tony as he investigates, Zoe’s older sister, her father and her mother. Tony is warned that Zoe’s mother Eva is “fragile” or possibly unwell. Her reality may not be the reality Tony is used to. But as the days tick by and there’s no sign of Zoe, Tony begins to hear Eva’s story and in that, the story of Zoe.

The stories spun in this book are so intricate and involved and it’s utterly impossible not to be drawn into them. Eva tells the story of the women in her family going back many generations, a tale of myth and legend and strange happenings. It’s not something that I haven’t read before but this seemed to put a new and fresh kind of spin on it, finding a way to incorporate it into a contemporary world in a unique way. I don’t think it’s easy to blend this sort of mythical element into a modern day setting but Christine Dibley accomplishes this so well. The way in which the story slowly unfolds kind of alongside Tony’s investigation makes it feel quite a natural evolution.

There is a lot of blurring of the lines in this book as Tony’s ideas of what is fact and what is fiction slowly evolves as time moves on and there’s still no sign of Zoe. He’s told some impossible-to-believe things by people who swear they are telling the truth and saw it with their own eyes. There’s no sign of Zoe, alive or her body, where the currents would’ve taken her if she’d truly gotten into trouble where it was that she was believed to go missing. Despite the fact that no one saw her go down to the beach, most of her family continues to believe that she got into trouble in the bay on a quiet night and drowned. I tend to think along the same lines as Tony so my evolution almost ran alongside of his as I got deeper into the story and became more and more invested in the unusual tale of Zoe and Eva’s female lineage. In stark contrast, Zoe’s older sister is not a believer in any of the stories and seems the most convinced of all that her sister has drowned.

The writing is beautiful and evocative. The setting of the Tasmanian coast was stunning and the description of the family’s beachside mansion made me feel like I was there. But it was more than that, the whole book was able to spin a mood, a real atmosphere of mystery and intrigue. That little bit of magic in a way, that made me want to be involved with this family. Despite the fantastical element they felt very real, with the normal quirks and foibles that any family has. Discord, separation, jealousy but also love. A large age gap between Zoe and her siblings meant that none of them really seemed to know her very well at all, to the point where Tony questions everything he’s every been told since he arrived at the house. I really enjoyed the character of Tony and his approach to the investigation. He seems very young to be a DI but he’s very methodical and despite his easy going demeanor he isn’t easily intimidated or put off by people who don’t want to answer his questions or by his own superior.

I really really enjoyed this book….from the very first page. I think I read it in almost a single sitting because I didn’t want to put it down. This is a remarkable debut and I really look forward to Christine Dibley’s next book.

8/10

Book #217 of 2016

 

 

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Review: The Dangers Of Truffle Hunting by Sunni Overend

dangers-of-truffle-huntingThe Dangers Of Truffle Hunting
Sunni Overend
Harper Collins AUS
2016, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Is life too short to play it safe?

Kit Gossard’s life is neatly mapped out. A secure photographic job. A partner ready to commit. A wedding in the family vineyard for her mother to preside over. So why the apprehension? Why a hunger for something … more?

Then someone new appears. Earthy, reserved, magnetic, this new man brings out feelings she has long suppressed, and suddenly Kit can’t contain her simmering discontent. Black truffle hunting, illicit pastry lessons, vine fruit on flesh – Kit is seduced. It feels right. Before it all goes wrong.

Artful, sexy, sophisticated, The Dangers Of Truffle Hunting explores how a man can be more to a woman than a destination.

I love the food channel and watching people cook and I also love reading books that feature food or revolve around it in some way. In this novel, Kit’s parents own vineyards and her father is planning on purchasing the land next door where he has been cultivating crops for a new venture. Kit is a food photographer but she seems to have been pushed into this sort of work by her fiance Scott, who is seen as very “steady” and “stable”. He designs/creates furniture and doesn’t give Kit the sort of passion or encouragement that she craves anymore. He thinks that she should focus on her food photography despite the fact that it doesn’t fulfill her at all.

What Kit actually wants to photograph are messier, dirtier things. She doesn’t want food sitting looking perfect and fake, she wants to see it enjoyed, crushed, smeared etc. She begins photographing her own things for her own online magazine as part of a creative outlet…..inspired by a worker at her parent’s vineyard, someone who is everything that her staid fiance is not.

Kit is an interesting character but she was also quite a frustrating one although on some levels I can understand it because it seems to many people seem to want to shoehorn her into being something that she isn’t. Scott doesn’t play a particularly large role in this story and although he does seem to care for Kit, it’s in a sort of distracted way, like he cares about how their lives look. The foodie photographer and the hot furniture designer getting married and setting themselves up for a charmed life. Kit is at times, crying out for attention from him, desperately trying to get him to notice her or show her some affection but he’s disinterested and yet Kit keeps persisting with this for far longer than really seems realistic. Even after she meets someone else that challenges her and inspires her. Even after she realises that this buttoned up life is not really what she wants. She does have to deal with the fact that Raph, the person she meets working on her parent’s farm, is not exactly who she thought he was….and that seems to be her motivation for going back to what she knows is safe and secure. But….I’m not sure why she had to keep persevering with Scott when it clearly wasn’t satisfying her. Her mother is overly critical of Kit’s weight and appearance and seems more suited to being some sort of Paris fashionista rather than the wife of a vineyard owner. She’s always questioning her daughter in a manner that borders on cruel and Kit seemed wearily conditioned to accept this judgement of her looks. Her mother also pressures her to set a wedding date to Scott, accompanying her wedding dress shopping, taking over and just being generally horrible about everything. Likewise in her professional life, Kit finds herself so constricted by her uptight food magazine employer and every time she tries to attempt to add some of her own creativity to the brief, she is shot down. Everywhere she turns in her life……..except in one or two directions, there are people and things working against her.

Perhaps that is why I did love the dynamic between Raph and Kit….he had this whole mysterious “slightly assholy but not completely” thing going on and the way in which his story played out was really enjoyable and I actually didn’t see it coming which made the reveal pretty shocking. I really liked the way that he brought out Kit’s personality, made her want things and focus on the sort of photography that she was really interested in. Raph was my sort of character….interesting and hiding quite a large secret. He’s not entirely likable for a large portion of the story because he’s so mysterious and stand offish and clearly there are some possibly nefarious things afoot when his secrets begin to come out but he’s also not unlikable either. He and Kit both heave their flaws but you can see how they would actually work together whereas it was impossible to see Scott as doing anything other than stifling Kit and making her feel as though she needed to act in a completely different way.

I did enjoy this book although it was not without a few issues for me…..I didn’t really see the necessity of the plot featuring Kit’s friend and brother, which seemed random and sloppily constructed with no real sort of direction. Kit’s relationship with Scott also felt drawn out for too long to be believable, especially when people are trying to reason with her and she seems to be deliberately burying her head in the sand and ignoring all of the glaring signs. But ultimately I did very much like the read, especially the settings and the descriptions of food and the workings of the vineyard.

8/10

Book #218 of 2016

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Review: Southern Ruby by Belinda Alexandra

southern-rubySouthern Ruby
Belinda Alexandra
Harper Collins AUS
2016, 519p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In New Orleans – the city of genteel old houses and ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss, of seductive night life, of Creole culture, voodoo and jazz – two women separated by time and tragedy will find each other at last.

Amanda, orphaned as a child and suffering the loss of her beloved grandmother, has left Sydney in search of a family she never knew.

Ruby, constrained by the expectations of society and class, is carrying a lifetime of secrets. Amanda’s arrival sparks revelations long buried: a double life, a forbidden love, and a loss that cannot be forgotten.

Southern Ruby is a sweeping story of love, passion, family and honour. Alternating in time between the 1950s and the eve of Hurricane Katrina, it is also a tribute to a city heady with mystery, music, and superstition, which has borne the tumults of race and class and the fury of nature, but has never given up hope.

Southern Ruby is one of my favourite types of story – a blend of contemporary and historical where both threads of the plot are equally as interesting. In the modern day setting we have Amanda, an orphan who was raised by her grandmother in Sydney after the death of her parents in her father’s homeland America. When her grandmother passes away, Amanda finds some letters in her belongings that state that her father’s family desperately fought to be in her life, something her grandmother never indicated and deliberately hid from her. Grieving and yet also experiencing anger and frustration about the things that were kept from her, Amanda flies to New Orleans to meet her other grandmother, her father’s mother Ruby as well as her father’s sister.

Ruby is very much a Southern belle, well bred but experienced poverty as a child. As Amanda gets to know her second grandmother and falls in love with her beautiful house, she learns that it houses some of Ruby’s deepest secrets. The reader is taken back to Ruby’s life as a young girl, struggling to care for her ill mother when there was no money. Ruby had been raised to be pretty, always looked turned out well and hopefully catch herself a wealthy husband in order to improve the family fortunes. Women of her class certainly didn’t work but Ruby finds herself with no offers from men and in a dire situation.

I haven’t read much set in New Orleans but it always seems like such an interesting place with its unusual landscape and its deeply troubled history. Southern Ruby spans from the time of segregation right up until Hurricane Katrina devastated the state in 2005 and it’s a really interesting journey through time. Ruby hits adulthood around the time where there is increased campaigning to end segregation and promote integration but it’s not something that is welcomed by everyone and there are some really ugly moments.

Ruby is such a progressive character…..some of this seems to be through necessity and some of it seems to just be part of her character. She holds a very forward-thinking view on integration and is willing to actually stand up for what she believes in and be involved. Her circumstances mean that she has to make some very tough decisions and although I enjoyed her process, I would’ve liked a bit more adjustment to her completely changing lifestyle. She just seems to sail through all these different challenges effortlessly. I understand she’s both determined and motivated but it’s quite a change from the lifestyle she would’ve been raised to partake in.

Amanda really has quite an emotional journey to go on. She has to deal with her feelings over her nan’s deception during her life as well as meet and get to know the American branch of her family. She will finally learn about her father as a person, rather than someone who her nan just believes is the reason for her mother’s death. She feels at home in New Orleans, connected to that side of her heritage almost immediately. I really loved the scenes where Amanda gets to go exploring or where parts of the history are discussed or shown. Ruby lives through some very turbulent and fascinating times for Louisiana/New Orleans and it was really interesting to be immersed in those periods.

This is a decent chunkster of a book – over 500p and I’ve got to be honest, I don’t read a huge amount that are this size anymore! It’s probably a little too long – there are a few parts that do seem like they could maybe have been snipped down a bit but I have to say that I was enjoying the story far too much to really care. It seemed to take no time at all to rip through it – both Amanda’s story and Ruby’s story were equally interesting and I never wished the narrative would switch back to the other. I really felt like I was visiting New Orleans in all its glory (and it’s not so glorious too). There were a few surprises I didn’t expect or guess which I felt were revealed really nicely.

This is the first Belinda Alexandra book that I have ever read, but I do have another one on my TBR shelf that I picked up ages ago. Definitely going to have to bump it up my list because this was one of my most enjoyed books of the year. I just really loved the story and the way in which history and culture were weaved into such an enjoyable narrative.

9/10

Book #212 of 2016

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Blog Tour Review: Sapphire Falls by Fleur McDonald

sapphire-falls-coverSapphire Falls
Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin
2016, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Fiona Forrest is devastated when her husband Charlie commits suicide after the accidental shooting of his mate, Eddie. Though Fiona decides to keep farming their successful property, rumours that she intends to sell keep circulating.

When Detective Dave Burrows arrives to sign off on the investigation into Eddie’s death his suspicions are aroused by some strange anomalies at the scene. As Dave becomes increasingly convinced that something sinister is going on, Fiona finds herself dealing with a series of disasters on the farm…

By the bestselling author of Crimson Dawn, this suspenseful novel about a woman fighting to preserve her husband’s dream and a detective determined to uncover the truth will keep you guessing til the very last page.

Sapphire Falls is Fleur McDonald’s eighth novel showcasing rural Australia and the reader is introduced to young widow Fiona, whose husband has just taken his life, one tragedy after another. Although Fiona only really came to farming when she met and married Charlie, now that he is gone she finds herself motivated to stay on the property and continue their work. Wherever she goes though she is dogged by rumours that she’s going to sell, finding herself almost harassed about it.

Fiona is strong and stubborn despite her grief or perhaps because of it. She had slowly immersed herself in more and more of farming during her marriage to Charlie but there was still a lot she didn’t know, such as the finances. She pushes herself to get through the daily tasks, working mostly on her own probably doing the work of two people. Her tasks suddenly begin to seem even more difficult when there are a few suspicious incidents around the farm that are beginning to look a bit like deliberate sabotage. Coupled with the rumours that she’s selling, Fiona begins to wonder just exactly who wants her farm so badly…and why.

Detective Dave Burrows is asked to look into the investigation of the tragic shooting that occurred on Fiona and Charlie’s farm before Charlie committed suicide. A young, enthusiastic officer was quick to write it off without dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s and now it falls to Dave to tidy up some of the sloppy policework. Dave is methodical, a fan of the proper process. The more Dave digs the more he finds to make him question if this was really the tragic accident it seemed.

I didn’t envy Dave his job in this circumstance. The local community has been rocked by the tragic shooting of Eddie during an accident while Charlie and some mates were out attempting to hunt a wild dog killing stock. Charlie then took his own life leaving behind a devastated widow and a town that was trying to heal. He knew no one would want him coming in and stirring up memories again, asking questions but it was something that had to be done. Dave’s personality made the reader sympathetic towards him and his attempt to make sure that everything was done correctly. Dave is also dealing with something potentially devastating in his personal life with his partner Kim. Fiona and Kim cross paths quite by accident one night and strike up a mutually supportive friendship. Fiona needs all the supportive people she can get in her life to be honest and although the friendship did seem a bit random and rapid, the exchange of text messages seemed a format that worked well for both of them, kept busy by their day to day lives.

There’s a thread of suspense running through the story in several layers and really my only real kind of curiosity with this book was that I found it too easy to put together the pieces of what was going on quite early on which then meant I had to wait for everyone to catch up and then I got to see if I was right. It was still a clever idea, I just think that perhaps for me, it was signposted a bit too easily in the beginning and I never really had that chance to think about whether or not I was right or if there was going to be another twist. To be honest figuring it out early didn’t at all alter my enjoyment of the book because the suspense plot I think, was secondary to me behind Fiona’s development as a character and how events played out for her personally. I think Fleur McDonald did a fantastic job constructing the character of Fiona – her heartbreak and grief, her mixed emotions at the news she gets soon after Charlie’s death, her determination, her stubbornness, her fear and confusion and then anger at what is going on with her farm and her cautious hope for the future.

Sapphire Falls is a wonderfully enjoyable story with a strength in showcasing human relationships. In particular, the long distance relationship that Fiona has with her brother who lives in New York, was fantastic. It plays out via messaging online but in few words it managed to create a very close sibling relationship that was also realistic. I also really enjoyed the depiction of the rural farming town and some of the issues that farmers face in terms of weather, wild animals, stress with prices and things like spraying for weeds and pests. Fiona has such admirable determination – she could’ve leased out the farm but kept it as a legacy but she chooses (for good reason) to stay and work it herself, even though it must’ve been so exhausting and daunting to face it alone, especially while she would’ve been in such a fragile mental state. She does have a few people to support her but a lot of what Fiona does falls to her alone and she just keeps going, even when things are looking pretty grim.

This is easily a novel you can sink into and become invested. I read it in two sittings, specifically setting it aside for when I was waiting for my youngest son to finish appointments because I knew it would hold my interest and make the time fly.

8/10

Book #196 of 2016

Find Fleur McDonald online:
Twitter: @fleurmcdonald
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Buy Sapphire Falls online:
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Review: The Art Of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns

art-of-keeping-secretsThe Art Of Keeping Secrets
Rachael Johns
Harlequin MIRA AUS
2016, 464p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Little secrets grow up to be big lies…

They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought.

But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness. Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss. And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son.

When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other.

Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept.

Popular rural romance author Rachael Johns takes a couple more very brave steps outside of her familiar comfort zone with her second ‘life lit’ offering, The Art of Keeping Secrets. Focusing on a trio of women brought together by their sons starting a prestigious high school together some 5-6 years ago, Flick, Emma and Neve have developed a tight knit friendship where they probably thought they knew all of each others secrets. But as their sons get ready to graduate, each woman faces the possibility of secrets that they’ve kept from each other and perhaps even themselves coming out and their lives as they know it drastically changing.

Flick has two children, a daughter about to be married and the son about to graduate. Both Emma and Neve are single mothers – Emma for only a short amount of time and Neve has raised her son entirely on her own. Both are envious of Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage to the wonderful Seb but if only they knew….. Although Seb is a fantastic husband and father, their marriage hides a secret that Flick has been prepared to cope with for the past twenty years. When she discovers (is blindsided) by the fact that Seb wants to take this secret much further, Flick is thrown savagely into a cesspit of horror, uncertainty and confusion. She knows she needs to make a decision about what she wants to do with her marriage and it’s not going to be easy. She fluctuates, because she loves Seb but she’s not sure she can get on board with what he needs to do. Flick’s through processes are brutally honest in the book – it’s confronting and ugly and uncomfortable but quite realistic as well. She has had her status quo rocked and her mind goes to some pretty dark places, even if it’s only briefly.

Neve’s son has expressed a desire to meet his father, who has never been in his life. Although Neve expected this day to come at some stage, for Neve it means admitting to her son that she lied to him. The two of them have always been close as it’s been just the two of them and Neve fears that what she has to confess will destroy their relationship, perhaps irreparably. Not only does Neve have to confess something to her son but she also needs to track down the former love of her life and admit something to him too, the thought of which makes her feel ill. Neve’s journey takes her to New York, with Flick and Emma tagging along for moral support and the chance to escape from their own situations.

Emma is now a struggling single mother of three as her former husband left her for a much younger woman and has somehow managed to manipulate the financial situation so that Emma is left without much support. He then lavishes expensive holidays and gifts on their children that Emma cannot compete with, leaving her fearing that the children will eventually prefer to live with their father in his McMansion. She’s also harbouring some crush-type feelings on her lovely, handsome boss that everyone thinks might possibly be gay as well as experiencing some crushing headaches that just don’t seem to go away. Emma is also reevaluating her friendship with Neve after some of Neve’s secrets were spilled and although Neve is trying to make things right, Emma’s situation means that it takes some time for her to be able to to accept that.

These three women are written with such honestly. I had a range of emotions whilst reading this book from cheering for them, wanting them to be my friends to disbelief, irritation and even horror at some of their thoughts and actions. It was impressively real and made their secrets all the more believable because their reactions to theirs and to their friends were so realistic. They had ugly moments, beautiful moments, strong moments, weak moments. All throughout however, that strong friendship was underpinning everything, holding the three of them together both individually and as a group, even when there was some discord. The friendship is written as the core of the book, the secrets are in a way, what serves to strengthen and showcase that friendship as each of them face something in their lives and move through it with the help, support and understanding of their friends. Even though there are some times where things don’t always go smoothly, the three women are always able to move on and be almost better for it. This is why I love Rachael Johns’ books so much, be they her rurals or her women’s/life lit because she captures emotion and human nature so well. I enjoyed the fact that at times I viewed their actions or thoughts negatively because it was brutally honest and reflected the sort of thoughts or reactions I myself might have had in the same situation……they were things that it would be hard to react positively or thoughtfully to straight off the bat and it’s human nature at times to react first and think later. I think we also all harbour those secret thoughts, ones that we might not admit to or be ashamed to admit to but they’re there nonetheless and so I can find them quite understandable given the situations!

This is the sort of book that I think it’s best to set aside a couple of hours/a whole afternoon or evening before you start it because once you do start, it’s hard to find a break in the story to put it down. Don’t start it late at night or you could end up being up all night! It’s not just a compelling story, it’s several compelling stories woven together into one big one. I do have to admit, it did leave me with a few curiosities at the end of the story, things I was pondering over and wondering about. I’m annoyingly addicted to closure though and knowing everything, so sometimes my nosiness backfires on me when it comes to reading!

Incredible writing and a great story. A must for old fans and should definitely attract some new ones.

9/10

Book #175 of 2016

 

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Blog Tour Review: Words In Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

words-in-deep-blueWords In Deep Blue
Cath Crowley
PanMacmillan AUS
2016, 352p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

This is a love story.
It’s the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.
It’s the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she’s back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.

This is my first Cath Crowley book although bloggers I know have sung the praises of her Graffiti Moon for a long time. It’s one of those books that speaks to a reader in so many ways, an interwoven tale of love, grief, friendship and books. What more could a reader want?

Rachel is 18 and has just failed year 12 after a devastating personal loss ten months ago. She’s moving back to Gracetown, a fictional suburb in north Melbourne where she lived up until three years ago, when she moved close to the sea. She was to start a job at a cafe in a hospital but after it falls through her aunt gets her a job at the second hand bookstore owned by the parents of a boy who was once her closest friend. She will be cataloguing all the books but it will mean working with Henry, who Rachel stopped writing to after she moved away.

For Henry, there is so much confusion. Rachel, his best friend, stopped talking to him. Amy, the girl he loves won’t stop messing with his head. She’s broken up with him again but she always comes back. And now Rachel is back too, working at the bookstore. She is suffering but whatever is causing her pain, she keeps silent on it. And now Henry’s mother wishes to sell the bookstore, which is barely breaking even and he has to decide which way his vote should go.

This is a book that will stay with you. The characters of Rachel and Henry are superb. They share the narrative and each is clearly defined. Rachel’s grief is palpable, almost leaping off the page to punch you in the face. Her loss is substantial and it’s coloured with a ‘what if’ guilt that haunts her. She loved Henry when she lived in Gracetown previously but he chose red-haired, manipulative Amy. Despite his desperation over Amy, an unlikable character in the extreme, Henry is still lovable and his dedication to the bookshop is….incredible.

Which brings me to the setting. Oh, the setting of this book. It’s like my spirit animal. I love all bookstores, they’ve been my happy place for as long as I can remember – from a 7/8yo going to Bookworld before it was bought by Angus & Robertson, picking up the next Baby Sitters Club or Thoroughbred series book to now. Second hand bookstores are just as good, the potential in there is unlimited. You never know what sort of gem you might find in there. Living in a town without a real bookstore is a struggle these days – if I want something I have to order online and wait or travel 40min in either direction to find a proper bookstore. The setting of Howling Books is such a beautiful place – this novel is littered with literary references, classical and contemporary. In the bookstore is a section called the Letter Library where patrons can read a book from the shelves there and leave notes, etc in the margins, or letters to other readers, but they cannot buy those books or remove them from that part of the store. It forms such an incredible part of the novel, which includes letters exchanged between the characters. Not just Rachel and Harry but also between Harry’s sister George and several others as well as letters and comments from Harry’s parents to each other which gives the reader such insight into their personalities and also their predicament with selling the store. It’s a good location on a big block and it will fetch such a price that all of them will financially comfortable. However for that they will trade away the bookstore and for Harry, George and their father, this is indeed a heavy price to pay.

I really enjoyed the story of George, Harry’s sister and her evolving relationship with Martin, a guy her age who is also hired to catalog the store contents. George is a prickly sort, ostracised and bullied at school and Martin, who used to date her nemesis, faces a hard road in winning her over. The character of Martin was adorable and some of his letters and moments with George were a real highlight.

Words In Deep Blue is really beautiful coming of age story, thoughtfully exploring love and grief in some of their purest forms. It’s not just about romantic love either, it’s deeper than that with homage to friendship, literature and home. I enjoyed every second of it and am putting Graffiti Moon on my ‘must acquire’ list straight away.

8/10

Book #172 of 2016

This review is part of the Words In Deep Blue blog tour. Please make sure you check out the rest of the stops listed below for some awesome reviews and author interviews.

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Review: The Twisted Knot by J.M. Peace

Twisted KnotThe Twisted Knot (Constable Sammi Willis #2)
J.M. Peace
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A marked man. A damaged cop. A town full of secrets.

After her abduction and near death at the hands of a sadistic killer, Constable Samantha Willis is back in the uniform. Despite being on desk duty, rumours reach Sammi that someone in Angel’s Crossing has been hurting little girls, and before long a mob is gathering to make sure justice is served.

So when a man is found hanging in his shed, the locals assume the pedophile has finally given into his guilt. That is, until Sammi delves further into the death and uncovers a dark family secret, an unsolved crime and a town desperate for vengeance.

This is Australian police officer J.M. Peace’s second novel featuring Constable Sammi Willis after last year’s A Time To Run. After the traumatic experiences of that novel, Sammi is back at work – but she’s been on desk duty since her return, not quite ready to take that step of strapping on her gun belt and getting into a police car. Her colleagues are mostly supportive of her – her boss in particular but there are officers that believe Sammi should no longer be a cop if she can’t do all facets of the job, including having someone’s back in a sticky situation.

The station receives an anonymous note alerting them to the fact that a man suspected of being a pedophile some years ago, is now abusing someone else. The residents of the small town of Angel’s Crossing are fired up – the police couldn’t make any charges come to fruition last time and the victim was left suffering as a result. The town is determined that not happen again – either the police do their jobs or the town will do it for them. And it won’t be pretty.

It was good to see that Sammi is still struggling with what happened to her – both with her work and also at home too. Things with her boyfriend, although they’re still together and he’s supported her through her ordeal and the aftermath, are not the same. Sammi goes to work but she spends her days behind the desk, assisting when a member of the public comes in to make a complaint or inquiry that requires a police officer. Even thinking about putting on her gun belt is almost enough to send her into a panic but she still feels that she will get there, one day.

The story is an emotional one – a member of the small town was accused of horrific things years earlier but it was difficult to gather enough evidence for charges. Understandably there were many people who were furious and not just the victim’s family. It’s a terrible thing to think that a predator might be living in the town, especially in one as small as Angel’s Crossing. Now years later, there are rumours that the offender is at it again but unless there’s a victim that comes forward, willing to make a statement, the police are restricted by what they can do, something that the town doesn’t take too well.

As a parent, it’s easy to sympathise with the family of the victim and understand how the people would want the threat removed from their town. But the police are struggling because they can only work within the constraints of the law. Sometimes it means they can’t do anything at all, sometimes it means that they have to do things they don’t want to do. Sammi and her boyfriend have several discussions involving this and how as a police officer in a small town, you not only have to sometimes ignore the gossip surrounding a suspicious character but you also have to ignore what you know about someone as a friend. You have to approach everything as a police officer looking at the evidence, not as a mate knowing someone or by rumours and gossip. It’s an interesting dilemma, exploring what it’s like to investigate people you know personally or that people you are close to know personally.

The first book was about Sammi desperately fighting for her life. Her life is not in danger in this book so it’s obviously slower paced. I think it’s more about Sammi’s healing from that event, about her getting her confidence back to do her job to the best of her ability. She needed something to give her a bit of a kick to get her to actually leave the station and become a fully operational cop again, not just one who was chained to a desk. She was taking her time, not going to go back out until she was ready but I’m not sure that day would ever have come without some motivation and also, a bit of necessity. Sammi’s mind still works like a police officer’s and she knows that there are things she has to do and overcoming the fear of leaving the station and being out there where there could potentially be a situation she might freeze in is a big mental thing for her.

A point is made in the book a few times that being a cop isn’t all fun stuff – it’s not all car chases and beers with the boys after work. There’s paperwork (lots of paperwork apparently) and there’s also the message that something can happen every time you step out the door to do your job. You have to be ready for that, even in a small town like Angel’s Crossing. This for me, was a more thoughtful police procedural, giving the reader a bit of an insight into the ins and outs of day to day policing, not just the big crime solving stuff. I liked that.

A very polished second installment.

8/10

Book #138 of 2016

AWWC2016The Twisted Knot is the 31st book read this year for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016

This review is a part of the blog tour for The Twisted Knot. Check out author J.M. Peace’s website for the other spots on the tour and make sure you visit!

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Review: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

When Michael Met MinaWhen Michael Met Mina
Randa Abdel-Fattah
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 360p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Before Mina, my life was like a completed jigsaw puzzle but Mina has pushed the puzzle onto the floor. I have to start all over again, figuring out where the pieces go.

When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.

Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre.

Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.

They want to stop the boats.
Mina wants to stop the hate.

When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.

A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.

This novel has almost impeccable timing, dropping just before the country went to the polls on Saturday in a federal election. As I write this, there’s currently no result, with both major parties not yet having enough seats to form a government. During the 8-week election campaign (and honestly, for the years before that) there’s been a big thing about Stop The Boats. The refugees. Asylum seekers. Using their life savings to ‘jump the queue’ and pay a guy in usually Indonesia with a dodgy, leaky boat that may or may not even make it to Australian shores. For quite a while now there’s been a big thing about stopping the boats, turning them back, making out like those coming here are a threat to our sovereignty and safety. The Islamophobia slowly building has been gently (and not so gently) fanned in some directions too. Hello Queensland, thanks for re-electing Pauline Hanson. The 1990s called – they want their racist back. I we thought we’d moved on and maybe evolved a bit, but apparently not.

In When Michael Met Mina, Mina is such a boat person. She and her mother arrived by boat when she was a child after fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mina has just been granted a scholarship to a prestigious school in Sydney’s North Shore and so her family move from Auburn, where they’ve lived since being released from detention into the community, to Lane Cove in order for Mina to easier attend that school. It’s a brave move, considering Mina’s stepfather had a flourishing restaurant in the west and they had a community they felt safe, happy and comfortable in. Lane Cove is a bit of a different sort of vibe and Mina’s stepfather has to start again, opening an Afghani restaurant from scratch.

Michael is the son of the founder of the Aussie Values party – they don’t hate refugees, sometimes they even feel sorry for them. They just don’t want them coming to Australia and especially not doing that queue jumping thing by arriving by boat. Michael has been raised in such an environment but he’s never really questioned what he believes in, just gone along with what his parents believe in….until he meets Mina.

This book is a snapshot of society – Mina is the side who thinks that it’s not a crime to flee persecution, genocide, terror and fascism and begin a new life elsewhere. Michael, and mostly Michael’s parents are the right-wing side of politics, making some of the right noises but really just being about not wanting anymore boat people for reasons they can’t really articulate beyond “queue jumping” and “not assimilating” where they make “assimilating” sound like some sort of Jeudo-Christian brain-washing. If they do come here then they can leave their mosques, their halal food and their head-coverings behind, speak English and not band together in their ethnic groups. But mostly, it’d probably just be better if they didn’t come here, really.

Michael has been relatively sheltered, cast in the shadow of his parent’s political beliefs and he never really has a reason to query his own thoughts until he meets Mina, hears some of her views and begins to wonder just what he himself might think is right. At times Michael is a bit dense – thoughtless, perhaps, having heard one thing all his life and not maybe realised how that or variations of that, might sound when repeated to someone who went through what Mina and her mother did. And although Michael’s parents advocate peaceful, intelligent debate not everyone in their party is so inclined – and some of the acts are truly quite sickening. They’re paired with some examples of scaremongering, shoddy reporting, the sort of thing that you actually do see on commercial current affair tabloid shows or read in Murdoch newspapers all the time.

Despite the fact that I have little in common with Mina, we share similar beliefs, so for me it was easier to identify with her than it was with Michael. But I’m not a teenager anymore either and I’ve seen plenty around of all ages who share the views of Michael and his parents. In fact, a casual glance at my facebook feed after the election generated as much depressing reading as it did hopeful reading. But it is Michael that is the character that shines in a way, because he is the one that experiences so much growth. He goes from tolerating his friend, a purveyor of casual racism and sexism, to standing up against it, from blindly following what his parents believe to searching for his own beliefs. He visits a place he’s unfamiliar with really (Auburn, which the book kind of makes sound like Outer Mongolia, lol) and thinks about the plight of people, thinks of them as more than people who just arrive on a boat. He becomes horrified by some of the things his parents say and the things that some of them in their group do.

I really enjoyed this book and the pairing of Michael and Mina. The switch between points of view, which can often be difficult, felt well executed and I liked the friend that Mina makes at her new school. It’s the sort of book that would do well to be on a school curriculum to help showcase a different, more personal and relateable side of an important issue. And it’s something that could resonate all over the world as Australia isn’t the only country having the immigration debate by far. I loved Mina’s family and felt that the author did a great job of conveying how they felt about probably never being able to ‘go home’. That it was never in their lifetime going to be safe for them and even though they had gone through hell to find somewhere else, somewhere they could live in happiness and (relative) peace, it wasn’t as such, their home. Not in the way they wished. Sometimes I feel like there’s this thing that everyone should feel grateful to be in Australia….and I’m sure people do. But on the flip side, for many they’re here because they simply can’t be where their home is. And no matter how dangerous it might be, it’s still home. And many people have left behind loved ones, be they alive or not and their ties there are still very strong. It’s a delicate balance, portraying those sorts of feelings. I particularly loved the character of Mina’s Baba…..he seemed like a truly amazing man.

9/10

Book #137 of 2016

This review is part of the When Michael Met Mina blog tour. Make sure you stop and check out all the other posts on the tour.

WMM Blog Tour Poster

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