All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster

The Hidden Hours
Sara Foster
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 367p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Keeping her secret may save her family.

But telling it may save her life.

Arabella Lane, senior executive at a children’s publisher, is found dead in the Thames on a frosty winter’s morning after the office Christmas party. No one is sure whether she jumped or was pushed. The one person who may know the truth is the newest employee at Parker & Lane – the office temp, Eleanor.

Eleanor has travelled to London to escape the repercussions of her traumatic childhood in outback Australia, but now tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. To her horror, she has no memory of the crucial hours leading up to Arabella’s death – memory that will either incriminate or absolve her.

As Eleanor desperately tries to remember her missing hours and uncover the events of that fateful night, her own extended family is dragged further into the dark, terrifying terrain of blame, suspicion and guilt.

Caught in a crossfire of accusations, Eleanor fears she can’t even trust herself, let alone the people around her. And soon, she’ll find herself in a race against time to find out just what happened that night – and discover just how deadly some secrets can be.

This is Sara Foster’s fifth novel and it immediately sounded intriguing. A death in a publishing house – so much potential!

The narrator Eleanor is young, early twenties and in London for the first time. Although her mother was English Eleanor was born and raised in Australia, including for some time on a relatively remote property while her father was building them a house. Pretty much immediately the reader is privy to the fact that there was some sort of traumatic event in Eleanor’s past, something that haunts her still and it’s for that reason that she’s in London, attempting to get her life back on an even keel. She’s staying with her mother’s brother Ian, a work-from-home architect whose formidable wife Susan is someone high up at the publisher where Eleanor has scored a job as an assistant. Eleanor attends the Christmas party hoping to get to know some of her colleagues and she wakes hungover and disoriented the day after, uncomfortably aware that she has some significant gaps in her memory of the night before. One thing she does remember though, was socialising with Arabella, the woman who was found in the Thames the next morning.

What follows is a convoluted attempt by Eleanor to retrieve her memories and make sure that it wasn’t her that killed Arabella, be it accidentally or otherwise and figure out who did, before she potentially becomes their next victim with what she can piece together. She seems to make a rather convenient scapegoat and as she stumbles around lurching from one disaster and troubled moment to the next, it’s honestly not hard to see why someone might want to use her that way. Eleanor is pretty much a mess. She’s intimidated by almost everyone. She has something quite important and she basically tells everyone she knows that she has it, even though it’s incredibly incriminating. She trusts people she shouldn’t for the weirdest of reasons and she deliberately puts herself in dangerous situations in misguided attempts to discover information like she’s a private detective.

As well as the current day story revolving around Arabella’s death and Eleanor’s missing memory, the book also contains flashbacks to Eleanor’s childhood and her father moving them into a shed on a piece of land while he builds their house. I wasn’t sure of the exact timeframe but it seems to be a task that seemingly takes much longer than anyone anticipated. Eleanor’s relationship with her parents, with her brother and her brother’s relationship with their parents is absolutely masterfully portrayed and this for me, was the highlight of the book. Particularly the orchestration of the family’s interactions with their elderly closest neighbour. I really felt a lot of dread about the way that things were playing out, because you knew from the beginning of the book that something really tragic occurs but it’s left unclear as to who it was and I sifted through several options. This part of the narrative was very strong with deliberate confusion and a real feeling of dread stitched into the story as it approached the climactic tragic event. I applauded the subterfuge, which felt refreshing.

It was for me, far stronger than the modern day portion of the story which at times, failed to hold my interest. Arabella disintegrated into a bit of a cliche and by the end I barely even cared who had killed her and how/why it happened. Eleanor was a scatty, disoriented character that was hard to really identify with or place much faith in because she was so vague and frightened of her own shadow. I understand that what happened to her was frightening but it was concerning that she even allowed herself to be in this position. It seemed she was so glad for Arabella to notice her and talk to her that she would’ve gone along with anything and it could’ve had some really awful consequences for Eleanor as well as Arabella.

Loved the story set in the past, didn’t really love the one in the present day. Idea was good, just a few things in the execution let it down a bit for me. There seemed a lack of real suspense and urgency at the conclusion of the present day story as well, which made it feel a bit lacklustre. I wasn’t surprised at the conclusion, nor did I feel as though it had much of an impact.

6/10

Book #76 of 2017

The Hidden Hours is book #25 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer

Remind Me How This Ends
Gabrielle Tozer
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 338p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

It’s the summer after high school ends and everyone is moving on. Winning scholarships. Heading to uni. Travelling the world. Everyone except Milo Dark. Milo feels his life is stuck on pause. His girlfriend is 200km away, his mates have bailed for bigger things and he is convinced he’s missed the memo reminding him to plan the rest of his life. Then Layla Montgomery barrels back into his world after five years without so much as a text message.

As kids, Milo and Layla were family friends who shared everything – hiding out in her tree house, secrets made at midnight, and sunny afternoons at the river. But they haven’t spoken since her mum’s funeral. Layla’s fallen apart since that day. She pushed away her dad, dropped out of school and recently followed her on-again-off-again boyfriend back to town because she has nowhere else to go. Not that she’s letting on how tough things have been.

What begins as innocent banter between Milo and Layla soon draws them into a tangled mess with a guarantee that someone will get hurt. While it’s a summer they’ll never forget, is it one they want to remember?

It pains me to write this, but I struggled with this book.

I was really looking forward to it. I loved Tozer’s The Intern and was really excited about this. The cover is lovely and it was getting glowing reviews everywhere. I couldn’t find it in a nearby bookstore so I even ordered it in. I was so keen that I even started it pretty much right away.

It’s a split male/female point of view – Milo has just finished school, missed the cut off to apply for university because he didn’t know what he wanted to do and as a result, is still stuck in his small country town while his girlfriend and friend have moved away to bigger cities and are experiencing all that university has to offer. When he goes to visit Sal, his girlfriend, he’s rendered insecure by the raucous friendships and the closeness that Sal has developed with her fellow residentials. Sal seems to be changing rapidly but for Milo, a lot of things are still the same.

He runs into an old childhood friend named Layla who moved away some five or so years ago and Milo hasn’t seen her since. Layla is in a position similar to Milo’s in a way in that her life has become somewhat static. She’s moved out of home and is living with her boyfriend Kurt, who seems to be delving deeper into the seedier side of life for an income. Layla finds herself back in the town that is the source of so much pain for her but a bright spot is reconnecting with Milo. They were such good friends back in the day and gravitate towards each other once more now that Layla has returned. The only thing is that their friendship seems to have….become a bit more complicated, which is a bit awkward as Milo has a girlfriend and Layla has a boyfriend.

On one hand, I do find a bit of what this book explores very interesting and that is the post-high school period. A lot of pressure is placed upon year 12 students to know what they want to do, to have it all sorted out and even if you don’t, apply for something, apply for anything because once you’re in you can always switch later. Milo doesn’t know what he wants to do – he has not a single clue. He just knows that he doesn’t want to waste time and so he spends his days working in his parent’s bookshop and avoiding talks on his future. His parents seem very keen to have him do something. If he’s taking a gap year, they’re already on his back about maybe buying a house, studying this or that, doing something. His tactic is to attempt to avoid really and it doesn’t really seem like his father would listen anyway.

Where I struggled was with the actual characters themselves and their interactions. Milo – to be 100% honest I found him bland and uninteresting, lacking in anything remotely resembling a personality. He passively sits by and watches every thing else going on around him with little regard or interest in well, pretty much anything. He even ended up in a relationship with Sal more by accident than out of any real feeling for her and he seems to view the disintegration of their relationship after she moves to university with detachment.

I found Layla more interesting – actually I felt sorry for Layla in a lot of ways. But some of those ways really didn’t get much clear resolution which I felt was unfortunate. I’d have liked one scene with Layla and her father, a bonus if he actually acknowledged the ways in which his actions had made her life somewhat difficult over the past few years. Layla has very much been left to raise herself in a way and it gets to the stage where she really needs help but feels that she can’t ask for it. Her hand ends up being forced and it works out in such a way that you wonder why she was reluctant in the first place. I felt that her relationship with her boyfriend was somewhat inconsistent – well more that he was inconsistent, attempting to be supportive sometimes and at others being completely absent, uninterested and dismissive.

But what I most didn’t ‘feel’ about the story was the sort of budding romance between Milo and Layla. I just didn’t feel that any of their interactions had chemistry. The friendship was nice, but it never really seemed believable any further than that for me. What I did like? Was the ending. It felt like that’s the way it should’ve gone, that it was the right way to go for both of them, who still had much to work through.

A mixed bag unfortunately – for me this just did not live up to the hype.

6/10

Book #75 of 2017

Remind Me How This Ends is book #24 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Shape Of Us by Lisa Ireland

The Shape Of Us
Lisa Ireland
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Four different women. The same big problem. One magical solution?

Mezz is overweight and overworked: she’s convinced it’s only a matter of time until her husband starts to stray.

Jewels is fat and fabulous, but if she wants the baby she craves, the Tim Tams have to go.

Ellie’s life looks perfect to her London friends on facebook: she keeps her waistline out of the photos and her loneliness to herself. 

Kat will do anything to keep her daughter Ami happy and safe. If she can just lose that baby weight, she’s usre Ami’s dad will stick around. 

In this heartwarming, heartbreaking story, four women who meet online in a weight loss forum learn that losing weight might not be the key to happiness, but believing in the ones you love -and yourself- just might be. 

It’s hard to know where to start with this amazing book. I’ve read Lisa Ireland before, she’s an author of several rural romance novels but this is a step into the women’s fiction or “life lit” genre that has become one of my absolute faves to read. It’s the story of four women who have little in common other than joining a weigh loss initiative (called WON or Weight Off Now!) and coming together in the section on the forum for those who have 30+ kg to lose. After a condescending couple of posts from a WON-veteran who is at her “goal weight” after losing far less than any of the four women have to lose, they take their burgeoning friendship off the official forums to a private blog where they can talk freely.

The way in which these four women develop a friendship really spoke to me. I have been an internet addict since around 1998, when we first got dial up (oh the days) in my parent’s house. Over the years I have made so many great friends online – some of whom I’ve been friends with for over a decade and a half and we’ve still never met physically. Others I’ve met in person as well and catch up with or hang out with on a regular basis. I enjoyed the way several of the women didn’t really intend to “get personal” with the others but the blog becomes an outlet for them to spill out things from their personal lives which they perhaps cannot share with anyone else. Mezz has insecurities about her fit husband straying with one of the Lycra-clad “Pony-tails” at school drop off, Jewels has insecurity issues against her seemingly perfect sister, Ellie finds herself alone in a country not her own with a partner she may never be able to truly be a family with and Kat just wants to give her beautiful daughter the dream childhood she never had after the Bosnian war, with a home of her own. All of their lives kind of start to come apart in different ways even as the women are knitting together this strong, honest friendship which isn’t without its imperfections as they all try different things in order to lose those kilos.

I’ve read books tackling weight loss issues before and so many of them involve characters finding the “magic” combination that works for them but this book serves up some grim realities when it comes to the statistics for losing weight and keeping it off. I felt that each of them had reasons for wanting to lose weight that revolved around another person – Mezz wanted to feel as though her husband would find her attractive again, having no idea that it wasn’t her size that was keeping him distant from her, Jewels has been told to lose weight in order to get pregnant so it’s her desire for a child that fuels her but her love of baking makes it quite difficult for her to even get started, Kat wants to keep her boyfriend and Ellie likewise is determined to look better for her fit other half. What I enjoyed was the realism that sees them struggle, fail, backslide, try radical things etc. It felt genuine, including the usage of one of those fad shakes/cleanse things where you consume only a certain brand of liquids and it can only be bought through a consultant that feels almost like some sort of cult. What the underlying message is for these women is that they need to come to terms with themselves, the problems in their lives and ‘love the skin they’re in’ before they will ever be happy. Losing weight isn’t going to magically make the other problems they have go away. Mezz will still feel as though people look sideways at her and ask what her husband sees in her, Jewels will still feel as though her sister steals the spotlight….unless they have that self confidence to stand in their own spotlight.

I was forewarned about the darker turn the book takes in the final quarter or so as it’s a topic I often struggle with but I felt as though it was very well handled and really did help to not only cement the way in which the women had built this friendship but also explore the different ways in which they dealt with such a serious topic. It was really heartbreaking and it’s something that I think about a lot, it’s probably my greatest fear. I had a lot of admiration for the character it concerned – actually she was probably my favourite of the four although I loved them all to be honest.

This is a superbly written, very powerful book that I think will find a home on many people’s favourites shelf. I know it definitely has on mine. It’s the sort of book where I’m still thinking about the characters days later, mulling things over in my head and reflecting on different parts of the story. Definitely one that will stick with me.

9/10

Book #74 of 2017

The Shape Of Us is book #23 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Twist by Kylie Scott

Twist (Dive Bar #2)
Kylie Scott
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 272p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When his younger brother loses interest in online dating, hot, bearded, bartender extraordinaire, Joe Collins, only intends to log into his account and shut it down. Until he reads about her.

Alex Parks is funny, friendly, and pretty much everything he’s been looking for in a woman. And in no time at all they’re emailing up a storm, telling each other their deepest darkest secrets… apart from the one that really matters.

And when it comes to love, serving it straight up works better than with a twist.

Love with a modern ‘twist’.

The second book in the Dive Bar series is here and the wait is definitely worth it. This book focuses on Joe, bartender at Dive Bar and Eric’s brother. Joe set up an online dating account for Eric but quicker than a match burns out Eric lost interest. Joe only meant to go in and shut it down for him but then he saw a message from Alex Parks, graphic designer and home renovation enthusiast. He couldn’t help responding and the two of them built a really solid friendship, confiding secrets, sharing dreams. Then Alex makes a snap decision to ‘surprise’ her online friend by showing up to his birthday at Dive Bar….only to discover that Eric literally has no idea who she is and all this time she’s been conversing with his brother Joe.

Alex is hurt, humiliated, angry. She hates being lied to and she wants nothing more than to get the heck out of town as quick as possible and forget this ever happened. But Joe, the person she has been conversing with, wants her to stay, so he can explain, so he can make her see that everything they were sharing is still real.

This book gave me all the happy feels. I loved returning to this world, catching up with the characters from Dirty and getting to know Joe a lot better. Alex was super kick ass but with a bit of an appealing vulnerable side as well. She has the guts to take a risk, to travel across the country without warning to meet Eric, a guy that she’s really ‘clicked’ with online. But with all online interactions comes a risk – and Alex discovers that actually she’s been talking to Joe, Eric’s bear of a brother who reminds her of a giant lumberjack.

Joe is a delicious sweetie who made a very big mistake unintentionally and now he really really wants to fix it. Even though he pretended to be Eric physically in that he just didn’t tell her that he was Eric’s brother, he was still himself in messaging her, in sharing things with her. He’s so contrite and so earnest that it’s hard not to feel for him, even though what he did was a bit wrong. In his defense though, I don’t think he ever expected that Alex would get on a plane and just turn up! It goes to show that you should probably watch what you give away online…Joe told her all about Dive Bar and the people in his life so when Alex shows up, she proves to them that she has a very good background knowledge of them all and she’s not just some psycho stalking Eric, when he claims that he doesn’t know her.

Because things in person got off on such bad footing, their relationship almost has to be rebuilt from the ground up. Although she was attracted to the personality of Joe, she was focused on the physicality of Eric. It’s interesting that the more Alex gets to know Joe in person, the more she finds him attractive – and the less effect Eric’s looks have on her. Alex wasn’t really on the dating app for anything permanent and she has some commitment issues but the longer she stays in town, the more things deepen. Kylie Scott has the most unique ways of developing and nurturing a friendship between her characters as well as a relationship that has sizzling chemistry. I loved the way that Joe sucked it up and apologised to Alex and then tried to do everything he could to explain and make it up to her and the way that their online connection carried over, despite the fact that Joe was a different physical person to the one that Alex thought she’d been talking to.

I’m sure a lot of series’ readers appreciate glimpses into the lives of past couples and the closeness of the characters in the Dive Bar series is great for this. We get to catch up with Vaughan and Lydia and of course the heartbreaking story of Nell and Pat continue in this book and despite the fact that it’s very much in the background (still think it should’ve been its own book) it’s an incredibly powerful part of the story. Nell and Pat are responsible for some of the most stomach-dropping angst I’ve read in ages. I love their story though and it’s amazing what has been done with the smaller amount of page space devoted to them.

Once again Kylie Scott has proven that she’s the worthy of the vote of Australia’s favourite romance author because she’s delivered another incredible story that flips everything I think I prefer upside down. Before reading this, I’d have said Joe wasn’t my sort of guy….after reading this? Yes to Joe. Yes to everything about Joe. He’s the sort of character that would win over any woman – not just Alex.

Bring on Chaser, the third installment in this series. Eric doesn’t look the most redeemable character based on his actions so far…..so I’m pretty keen to see how that plays out.

9/10

Book #65 of 2017

Twist is book #21 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

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Review: Locked Box by Eve Dangerfield

Locked Box
Eve Dangerfield
Liquid Silver Books
2016, eBook
Free on Amazon Kindle

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Julia Bennett isn’t having a great day. Funding for her video game is low, her day job is sucking her dry, and to cap it all off she’s locked in a police station with the very handsome, extremely married guy she’s been avoiding at all costs.

Max Connor isn’t having a great year. He’s getting divorced, his best friend is squatting in his house, and his inappropriate crush on the IT girl is getting way out of hand. And that was before he locked the two of them in an evidence room. Surrounded by three decades’ worth of drugs, guns, and floppy disks, Max and Julia are forced to confront the heat that lies between them with dangerous, funny, and occasionally toe-curlingly sexy results.

Ok so this was fun!

I downloaded this based on a tweet from Kat @ Book Thingo, master of all things romance. Despite having approximately one zillion and one books to read, I couldn’t resist this one because it has some of my favourite things. I am a one-click demon for a story that involves the hero/heroine being forcibly stranded or locked in somewhere together.

Locked Box is a smart, well written story about Julia, a 24yo IT worker who works at a small police station. Asked to organise some confiscated computer paraphernalia in the evidence room, some mistakes lead to her being locked in there for a long weekend with Max Connor, the sexy cop she’s had a crush on. Although Max is in the process of getting a divorce, somehow Julia has managed to miss hearing this piece of office gossip and she’s determined not to act on the attraction – she doesn’t want to be that person, even if it’s going to prove almost impossible in such tight confinement.

Julia has some commitment issues – she was raised by an alcoholic mother who had a succession of boyfriends that drew police attention. Her dad left when she was young and hasn’t played a role in her life since. She’s never had a real relationship and thanks to her proximity to her sister’s bedroom, she also knows that she’s never had really good sex in her whole life.

Max is 33 and kind of stuck. He’s still at the same small station, his marriage has ended and his best friend, a 16yo boy in a 32yo body has crashed his place apparently to provide “company” but mostly to just provide a mess. He’s been fighting an attraction to the IT girl for the longest time – way too long and it makes him uncomfortable because she’s younger than him. Faced with not being able to remove himself from any temptation, Max discovers that Julia is a perfect match for him in more ways than one.

This book is pretty hot – Julia aggressively owns her sexuality and once it’s established that Max is no longer married and is getting a divorce, it’s really only a matter of time until the chemistry wins. I enjoyed their banter and their game of ‘two truths and a lie’ which they play whilst hocking into some contraband moonshine-type stuff. I really liked that the author took time to construct ways in which to explore their characters, get them to share things about themselves prior to giving into the sexual attraction. It’s obvious that the chemistry is off the charts between them and that they both are interested in similar things but this gives the reader a bit of a chance to see just how something deeper could be established. Max is greatly interested in Julia’s work outside of her IT job – she and a friend are trying to get enough funding to get a first person female-oriented shooter game made. It sounded pretty awesome and I would’ve liked to hear a lot more about it. Julia does talk about negative backlash from male gamers and trolls online which you can apply to women attempting to do pretty much anything considered by males to be a “male dominated” industry, profession or past time. It’s nothing I haven’t seen towards feminists on twitter etc and I think it was an important thing to address regarding her secondary profession, which is something she wants to become her primary source of income at some stage.

If I had any criticism, it’s that the dialogue is a tad bit cringy at times (Max’s ginormous dick makes up most of those) and the fact that the bdsm element wasn’t really needed or desired on my part. The sex scenes were hot enough and I didn’t mind the fact that Max was super bossy during sex but quite a bit different when they weren’t interacting in that way but I just get bored of so many books I pick up having that bdsm element to them that’s almost like bdsm by numbers. They all pan out the same way with the same kind of scenes and triggers and it just feels really repetitive. The whole “say my name” is really porny and it just kind of makes me laugh and pulls me out of the moment. I understand that it gave Max some conflict in his marriage and the fact that Julia not only accepted that part of him but also complimented it with her own desires, I’m just over reading about that same thing so often. I also didn’t think the age gap was that big a deal but it was something Max freaked out with a lot and it went on for a bit. But they are just little personal preferences really and probably would only add to the story for some.

There’s a book featuring Julia’s sister Ashley, who features in this story and I think I’d like to read that, especially as Max and Julia appear too. Think I will add that to my wishlist.

8/10

Book #66 of 2017

Locked Box is book #22 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Finding Hannah by Fiona McCallum

Finding Hannah
Fiona McCallum
Harlequin AUS
2017, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Hannah Ainsley has the perfect life — an adoring husband, a close relationship with her parents, a wonderful job, and amazing friends. Best of all, it’s Christmas — her favourite day of the whole year! It’s a time to share with her family and friends, and enjoy the festivities.

But this year will be like no other. Tragedy strikes and Hannah’s world is shattered. If she’s going to cope, she’s going to need all the support she can gather and draw on every bit of her strength. Life will never be the same again but it’s soon clear she has no alternative but to pull together a future from the remaining fragments.

As Hannah heads towards the next festive season she will have to make a decision — should she stay with the people who have supported her or should she leave? Could the answer lie in a delayed gift?

Fiona McCallum’s most touching novel so far is a rich tapestry of deep emotions that is sure to capture the hearts of many.

This is another difficult book to review because there isn’t really a bunch of things that happen to construct the plot. It’s about a woman named Hannah who has everything going for her – wonderful parents, great husband who is also a best friend, job she enjoys, lovely house, good close friends. Then on Christmas Day almost everything she loves is taken from her and she’s left to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

This is an exploration of a deep grief, the sort of devastation that could easily destroy a person and from that standpoint it’s quite interesting because grief is something that is very individual and it’s something that people experience in very differing ways and to degrees. I haven’t experienced the sort of gut-wrenching loss that Hannah has, thankfully but perhaps because of that I did find it a little hard to immerse myself in the story because that’s basically it. Hannah learning to live again after her loss, learning to cope and take each day at a time, adjust to this new existence that has become her life.

Despite her loss, Hannah still has very good people around her – a supportive boss and his wife, who becomes a friend, as well as a longtime family friend who lives across the road. There are also other wonderful people who provide her with strength, security, love and a sense of family. She is able to take time and space to breathe, reassess, decide what she wants to do. When she’s ready to go back to work, they welcome her although she feels the awkwardness of moments with colleagues who just don’t know what to say to her.

I think everyone has imagined themselves in various horrible scenarios at some stage or other – I know I’ve thought about how I would cope if certain things were to happen and these were things I had to think about realistically as well. They’re things you don’t want to think about but at the same time, they creep in. Books like this are a good way to explore that sort of fear I think, by identifying with characters currently experiencing tragedy. And I think that’s good because grief and loss are an important part of human nature.

But – and this is kind of a big but – I found myself wanting a bit more from this book. A bit more than Hannah just trying to put her life back together. It would probably make quite moving reading for many people but at the same time, it’s also a teeny bit repetitive and not very much really happens throughout the story after that initial tragedy. By the time I had read through 200-odd pages of that, I was ready for a bit more, a conflict or something meaty to flesh out the story. But obviously it wasn’t going to be that sort of story because it was very even in tone, a quiet kind of story, very much character driven rather than plot driven. It was about Hannah’s journey in self-healing.

Because of this, I did find that my attention wandered occasionally whilst I was reading it, especially during the New York section, which felt a bit jarring – I wasn’t sure why it was there because it felt like Hannah could’ve been anywhere. The essence or culture of New York wasn’t really coming across on the page and Hannah’s lack of real enthusiasm, a just ‘going through the motions’ might’ve taught her something but it seemed like such a long and expensive lesson to learn.

Ultimately this one was just an okay read for me – I just found myself seeking more from it and that’s probably on me.

6/10

Book #58 of 2017

Finding Hannah is book #19 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning

The Midsummer Garden
Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin
2017, 382p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {via the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.

1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists’ lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the chateau. But who will she trust?

2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn’t seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She’d thought that her fiance Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn’t make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she’s finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they’d discussed.

When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip’s kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.

I’ve had a bit of a run lately with books where I’ve struggled a bit to sit down and write the review because they’ve been books that I just unfortunately, didn’t connect with. I end up staring at my screen for far longer than I should or distracting myself with social media, etc.

In many ways, this book was another one of those. There are two timelines and they both sounded really interesting but I just wasn’t drawn into either story. In the modern day story, Pip is working on her PhD, planning a wedding and her fiance wants to buy out his parents winery, which has just had a very generous offer from a big company. When Pip wants to finish her PhD before the wedding and rethink an overseas trip, her fiance Jack can’t understand why it’s all about her when really, everything he is doing is affecting them both as well. Both Pip and Jack want things and quite frankly, their visions seem quite different. I couldn’t really understand why, after the break up, they both kept coming back together only to disagree on something (or the same thing) and part ways again. I think that if they’d actually parted ways properly it would’ve allowed the novel to have a clearer focus instead of always weaving in the reunions and conflicts with Jack. I didn’t enjoy the constant reappearance of Jack into the narrative and honestly felt like Pip was a more focused, settled person when she was on her own. She had the freedom to explore both her academic and cooking lives without the added pressure and judgement from Jack. Their relationship didn’t really seem like an equal one, both of them had their own goals and desires and at times, they seemed to really conflict.

The other story takes place in 1487 and I was kind of ambivalent about it. It was honestly hard to really get behind a female character that had so little power and autonomy. I know that this is probably historically accurate, servants belonged to the household and were subject to their whims and orders but there’s such a unlikeable character in this section that it’s almost comical. It became almost a chore to read through each section to find what sort of unfair, terrible thing would happen to Artemisia this time. The conclusion of this also seemed to escalate rather quickly! I wanted a bit more about the love story – the letters were a beautiful idea.

One thing I did really enjoy was the food component of this novel – in fact it was probably my favourite thing. Artemisia is a cook, preparing for the upcoming nuptials of the daughter of the house and the celebration is going to be lavish. She was taught a lot about herbs by the prior Abbott of the Chateau and the descriptions of what she uses are lovingly detailed. Likewise in the contemporary story, Pip works in a restaurant whilst completing her PhD and also travels overseas to work in a Michelin starred restaurant in Spain that specialises in molecular gastronomy. The love of food the characters have and respect they have in the preparation of it is something that’s very clear on the page and I loved reading about Pip digging for Tasmanian clams or tasting tapas in Spain. The locations were also depicted really well, from the icy waters off the coast of Tasmania to the hills of Tuscany. It’s just unfortunate that I found a lot of the character’s motivations a bit puzzling and I struggled to really connect to them and their situations.

6/10

Book #60 of 2017

The Midsummer Garden is book #20 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Missing Pieces Of Us by Fleur McDonald

The Missing Pieces Of Us
Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin
2017, 313p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lauren Ramsey was adopted at birth. Now a teacher, her mantra is to never let a child fall through the cracks. But she’s so concerned about the welfare of a little boy in her kindy class she doesn’t notice that her teenage daughter needs help.

At fourteen, Skye Ramsey is on the cusp of womanhood, but she’s also teetering on the edge of an abyss. Battling with the usual pressures faced by a teenage girl, including the pitfalls of social media, she’s flirting with outright rebellion.

As a child, Tamara Thompson felt unloved and overlooked. She’s now the manager of a successful business and has a partner who adores her, but her fear of rejection is threatening to overwhelm her.

All three women are searching for a happier future, but the answers may lie in shedding light on secrets from the past.

From the bestselling author of Red Dust and Crimson Dawn, comes a moving and intriguing novel about love, friendship and how the truth can set us free.

This is Fleur McDonald’s first foray away from rural romance/fiction and into the broader genre of women’s fiction or ‘life lit’. I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of her other books and so I was quite looking forward to this one and seeing where it went.

It introduces the reader to three women: mother and daughter Lauren and Skye Ramsey as well as Tamara Thompson, the manager of a local clothing store that Skye often likes to shop in. Each of the three are struggling with something. Lauren is a teacher and concerned about a young child in her class at school as well as an itchy spot on her arm. Skye is 14 and facing the pressures and stresses that friends and boys bring and Tamara is given news that she’s not quite sure how to cope with. It could also offer the chance of a new beginning with her mother, if she can let go of the past.

The core ideas are all quite good – as a pale redhead, I can relate to Lauren’s concerns about her skin, especially when she discovers a new spot that itches. She’s also a full time teacher of a busy kindergarten class and has two children of her own, the youngest of whom, Skye, is going through a bit of a ‘difficult’ stage. Connecting with Skye has become harder and harder for Lauren and at times she seems to often compare Skye to her oldest child, who is more easygoing.

Tamara is a really interesting character and at first it’s not really entirely obvious why she’s included in the story. But she has clearly had quite a hard life – many years ago she was given an opportunity to turn things around. She took that opportunity and now likes to pay it forward and so when she sees a chance to help someone else she takes it. It brings Tamara into Skye’s life in a more intimate way and because of that, into Lauren’s life as well.

And here is where I started to have a bit of a struggle with this book. I found that it was honestly, the sort of book where I ended up saying to myself “What are the odds?” several times because it’s linked together by either connections or events that are somewhat well, a bit of a stretch. I was able to guess where it was going quite a long way before it got there as well and I think that made it lose some impact and just seem a bit too orchestrated and unbelievable.

There are some serious issues tackled in this book so it’s unfortunate that it didn’t really feel as though they were explored with the depth that they could’ve been. Lauren’s diagnosis offered a lot of chances but most of what occurs, occurs off the page. That was probably deliberate but at the same time it made me feel like I wasn’t really a part of what was happening, it was all vague and left me feeling disconnected from it. I get that it brought up Lauren’s desire to connect with her biological heritage and that was quite a focus of the story but she was going through something quite alarming and a lot of it felt a bit glossed over.

But ultimately it was the way that things seemed to come together so neatly and effortlessly that I had the most problem with. So much seemed so coincidental and easy and not just the things about Lauren’s heritage. There was also a lot with Skye, her teenage daughter, that seemed quite easily fixed. Skye ends up becoming involved in a bit of a scandal and quite a lot of the fallout is glossed over as well and her relationship with Lauren seems to be magically improved.

This was just an okay read for me – some good bones but the execution felt weak and contrived at times and there wasn’t enough focus on some of the meatier issues.

6/10

Book #57 of 2017

The Missing Pieces Of Us is book #18 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry (Aaron Falk #1)
Jane Harper
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 342p
Read via my local libary

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Luke Hadler turns a gun on his wife and child, then himself. The farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily. If one of their own broke under the strain, well…

When Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra for the funerals, he is loath to confront the people who rejected him twenty years earlier. But when his investigative skills are called on, the facts of the Hadler case start to make him doubt this murder-suicide charge.

And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, old wounds start bleeding into fresh ones. For Falk and his childhood friend Luke shared a secret… A secret Falk thought long-buried… A secret which Luke’s death starts to bring to the surface…

I’ve been hearing amazing things about this book since it was released close to a year ago now. When I finally got access restored to my local library, it was the first book I requested and I was surprised when it came in for pick up within the week.

Aaron Falk works for the Federal police, in the fraud squad. He hasn’t been back to the country town he grew up in since he and his father were forced out, many years ago. But a letter from the father of his childhood best friend demands his presence for the triple funeral of Luke, his wife Karen and their young son. It seems obvious that Luke, perhaps deeply depressed with the drought, has murdered his wife and child and then turned the gun on himself. But Luke’s mother can’t believe that – although times were tough, she doesn’t believe they were that bad. She begs Aaron to just have a look, just try and find something to suggest that her son couldn’t do this terrible thing. So that one day she doesn’t have to tell her surviving tiny granddaughter that her own father murdered her family.

It’s loyalty that has Aaron agreeing to look into it…..loyalty to a woman who played an important role in his life and perhaps a bit of desperation too. I think that Aaron wants to know for sure whether Luke was truly guilty of this horrible act and if there’s any, any chance at all that he wasn’t, he wants that opportunity to find out. There’s also the secret that Aaron is carrying, a secret that Luke was in on and perhaps several others in the small town. So maybe there’s guilt as well.

Aaron is an interesting character – he works in fraud now so although he’s probably seen some terrible things, he doesn’t seem to have that weariness that say a homicide cop might have. Being back in Kiewarra is definitely not easy for him and there are a few people who are quite vocal that he’s not welcome there and that they haven’t forgotten why he and his father left. There are some painful memories rooted in Kiewarra for Aaron but he makes the decision to stay and dig deeper, despite the clear messages that he perhaps shouldn’t.

The mystery here is soooo good – I found myself really wanting to know just what had happened. Was Luke really guilty? Harper takes care to orchestrate the fact that he definitely had a bit of a darker side but then again….lots of people do. It’s one thing to be a bit of a dodgy teenager, quite another to blow your wife and child away with a shotgun at close range. It’s such a horrific thing that you don’t want to believe anyone could be capable of doing this to the person they were married to, to the child they had produced. But people do, for a myriad of ‘reasons’ and I was curious how this would play out. If it wasn’t Luke, what was the motivation?

There was something about Aaron’s quiet but persistent manner that I really found appealing. He’s very thorough and the professional relationship he develops with the local police officer, who is also looking for clues, turned out to be a highlight of the novel for me. I enjoyed their discussions, the ways in which they approached things and perhaps also the way in which they were willing to consider anything. Both of them went about their investigation, which was kind of informal, and dug up small tidbits of information that they painstakingly began to stitch together.

The town itself provides a great atmospheric backdrop for the story. They’re experiencing the most awful drought and it’s made plenty of people anxious, nervous, stressed and even angry and bitter. Aaron is surprised when the river/creek he remembers from his youth, which you used to be able to hear rushing through, is little more than a dry jagged carving in the landscape. It made me remember the drought that Victoria was in the grips of when I moved here in 2006. The drought permeates the town and the story so much that it’s almost a living, breathing character.

I really enjoyed this – I read it in one sitting and it had me engrossed from start to finish and definitely kept me guessing. I like that it was able to really surprise me in some ways and in others, I felt comfortable in the familiarity of guessing what was coming. I’m also really glad to see that it’s the first in the series and that we can expect another book featuring Aaron Falk. I’d love to see him in different scenarios and his career gives many options. This is an extraordinarily well written, tightly paced crime novel that more than lives up to the hype surrounding it.

8/10

Book #57 of 2017

 

The Dry is book #17 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

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Review: Promise Of Hunters Ridge by Sarah Barrie

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

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This series is why I love romantic suspense.

9/10

Book #47 of 2017

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

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