All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Fatal Mistake by Karen M. Davis

Fatal Mistake (Lexie Rogers #3)
Karen M. Davis
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 342p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Detective Lexie Rogers is tough, smart and at the top of her game. She’s seen it all, from bikies, blood and betrayal to drugs, deviants and deception … and the violent knife attack that almost killed her as a young cop on the beat.

Lexie’s sent on the job of a lifetime — to go deep undercover, as beautiful Lara Wild, a drug distributor, to expose a huge dealing ring among Sydney’s most treacherous criminals. What she discovers is that being undercover is the safest place to be, especially when you’re a cop with target on your head, but one false move means she’ll die. And creeping from the shadows is the darkness of her past, something she can never outrun.

Lexie knows she can’t trust anyone — but the trouble is, she’s not even sure if she can trust herself.

This is the third book in the Detective Lexie Rogers series and it’s been one of my most anticipated books for a couple of years now. In fact I’ve just looked and realised that the second book came out in 2014. I hadn’t realised it had been that long.

Lexie is about to start her first undercover operation, working with a familiar face in Rex Donaldson. Lexie is posing as Rex’s niece to get close to a drug supplier and she’s playing the role of a beautiful, confident but unattainable woman in order to get their target’s attention. While she’s working this job her boyfriend Josh is in northern NSW working another job looking for drug plantations. Soon not only do both of them discover far more than what they bargained for but also threats to their relationship from different directions. Then Rex faces a challenge of a different sort leaving Lexie without his protection and backup in meetings. This forces her to take a more confident role and places her even closer to the target.

I have really enjoyed this series. This one gave a really interesting glimpse into what it might be like to be an undercover operative and I liked reading about the tactics and how everything came together, especially when several separate operations begin to blend into one large one. The book starts with a big bang and to be honest that kind of sets the tone for the whole book. Between Josh, Lexie, her colleagues at her station and also Rex, there’s so much going on here that it feels fast paced, even when Lexie is only laying the groundwork and gathering information. The action revolves between 5-6 or so key players, including a couple of new characters. As well as her undercover operation, Lexie also has an up and coming court case hanging over her where she will have to give evidence against the man that tried to kill her. Her life is pretty stressful at the moment, she has to make sure she plays her role to perfection. One slip and she will be dead. And if someone else has their way, she’ll be dead anyway, blown or not.

The author is a former detective and undercover operative herself and I think she takes care to portray the difficulties involved in each role and the danger that officers constantly face in their day to day lives. Lexie over the course of the three books has been attacked in various ways, other officers are killed in explosions or on the job in some way, there are constant threats to their safety. Despite this, they go on doing the job, dedicated to trying to make a safer environment for people. Lexie lost a brother and has suffered from that and her other experiences but she keeps picking herself back up and getting back into it. I find dedication like that admirable – and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I also find it a tad bit crazy!

Even though I’m sure Lexie could be revisited in the future if desired, things at the end of this book felt quite final – well wrapped up so it’s possible that this is the last Lexie Rogers novel and the author may move on to something else. If that’s the case then I think this has been a very well executed trilogy and I’ve loved each of the books for the insight into police procedure, a glimpse at a seedy underworld I’ll hopefully never be acquainted with in reality and a protagonist that was entertaining and gutsy. My personal favourite character has always been Rex Donaldson, for many reasons, I just think he felt so unique and layered from the very beginning and I’ve really been invested in his story arc.

I’d happily recommend this book (and the entire series) to anyone who enjoys a good gritty crime novel.

8/10

Book #121 of 2017

Fatal Mistake is book #39 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

1 Comment »

Review: Secrets Of The Springs by Kerry McGinnis

Secrets Of The Springs
Kerry McGinnis
Penguin Random House AUS
2017, 353p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Orla Macrae receives a letter asking her to return to the family cattle property where she grew up, she does so grudgingly. Her estranged uncle Palmer may be dying, but he is the last person she wants to see, not when she’s made a new life far away from where she lost so much. But on his deathbed he utters a few enigmatic words about a secret locked away and a clue as to its whereabouts. 

Intrigued, Orla decides to stay, reconnecting with old friends and taking a chance on a long-time dream of opening the homestead to tourists. Continuing the search for her uncle’s elusive secret, she discovers far more than she bargained for – a shocking truth about her parents’ marriage, and the confession of a chilling murder. 

Set in the stunning countryside north of the Barrier Ranges near Broken Hill, this is an authentic tale of life on the land and a gripping mystery about old family secrets and finding love in the harsh Australian bush.

This is the third Kerry McGinnis book that I’ve read and I’ve really enjoyed them all. They all have quite remote, very unusual settings. This one takes place near Broken Hill in very outback New South Wales and revolves around an old farming family. When she was still just a teenager, Orla left the home she was raised in after the death of her parents but a letter has summoned her back. Her former guardian, her uncle Palmer is dying and he has expressed a wish to see her before he dies. Although reluctant, Orla travels back from where she’s been living, mostly to put affairs in order. But a few muttered words from her uncle about an old secret have Orla rethinking her plans to leave as quickly as possible. Instead she finds more reasons than she could’ve imagined to stay.

Interestingly this book is set some time ago – around the late 1970s, so it takes some time for Orla to be found as she’s living on an island off the coast of South Australia. No one has cell/mobile phones and travel and communication is slower and more laborious. Technically it’s not that long ago but technology has come so far that it feels a very different time, in terms of communicating with people and also advertising and marketing a business.

After the death of her parents in a car accident, Orla went to live with her uncle Palmer, her father’s brother. He was not a demonstrative person and although he fed and clothed her, he didn’t show her affection or love and she got the feeling she was an inconvenience he couldn’t escape due to familial duty. Instead Orla found comfort and affection from her uncle’s cook/housekeeper who is still in residence when she arrives back when her uncle is dying. Also still working on the family farm is a man Orla once loved, a man she also left but it’s a love that’s so tied up in pain that she’s not even sure how to act around him.

This book was really way more than I expected in terms of mystery and intrigue. Orla had always thought the death of her parents was a tragic accident, until her dying uncle muttered a few words and then all of a sudden she found herself investigating what turned out to be a murder. I really enjoyed Orla returning to the town she grew up in, reconnecting with some of the locals, shunning some others and struggling with the desire to tidy things up and go versus the idea that maybe she could actually make her home here again. For financial reasons it makes no sense to sell the family farm and so she must come up with a way to make it profitable and her ideas are very good.

The romance in this is unusual but I found that it really worked for me. The beginning of it, before Orla fled, was certainly different and in the time that Orla has been gone, both her and Mark have known terrible grief and loss. They have something of a second chance, once Orla stops allowing her pain to hold him at arms length, almost like she’s punishing him. Orla, whether she likes it or not at the beginning, fits into this community. I felt that it really showed that she still belonged there, even after the time she’d spent away. Circumstances forced her back, forced her to address the aspects of her past that were so difficult for her and it just felt like she should always stay. Her ideas for how she can support herself are innovative and clever, making the most of herself and people she knows. She begins building relationships and friendships, links with people. I loved the setting as well. I’ve never been to Broken Hill or the surrounding area, it’s an interesting in town in that it is located in one state but actually shares more with another, including taking on the timezone of its neighbouring state. I haven’t read too many books set there or near there either so I really enjoyed being able to ‘visit’ somewhere new and learn a bit about what living there would be like.

I really enjoyed this and found it a refreshing take on the rural genre. The choice to set it in the past but not back in the early 1900s set it apart for me and I found the story riveting. I was invested in Orla’s attempts to unravel the mystery her uncle left as well as find her place. It reminded me that I have still a half dozen or so of Kerry McGinnis’ back catalogue to read and I really need to get around to fitting them in because I like her books so much.

8/10

Book #104 of 2017

Secrets Of The Springs is book #34 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

 

Leave a comment »

Review: Kakadu Sunset by Annie Seaton

Kakadu Sunset (Porter Sisters #1)
Annie Seaton
Pan Macmillan AUS
2015, 373p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In the ancient lands of Kakadu, it’s not just the crocodiles you should be afraid of…

Helicopter pilot Ellie Porter loves her job. Soaring above the glorious Kakadu National Park, she feels freed from the heavy losses of her beloved family farm and the questions around her father’s suicide. But when a search-and-rescue mission on the boundary of the older property reveals unusual excavation works, Ellie vows to investigate.

The last thing she needs is her bad-tempered co-pilot, Kane McClaren, interfering. The son of the current owners of the farm, her attraction to him is a distraction she can’t afford, especially when someone threatens to put a stop to her inquiries – by any means necessary.

Ellie will have to trust Kane if she is to have any hope of uncovering the truth of what is really going on. Between Ellie’s damage and Kane’s secrets, can they find a way to open up to each other before the shadowy forces shut her up…for good?

So recently I read the third book in this loosely linked series where each book features a Porter sister. I enjoyed it but there were definitely aspects of that book that I felt would’ve been more powerful if I’d read the previous books and understood the sisters’ background a little better. Thanks to Pan Macmillan AUS I now have both the previous books and dived into the first one, set near beautiful Kakadu. I’ve read a bunch of books recently with Northern Territory settings and it’s just making me really want to go there.

Ellie works as a private chopper pilot, doing scenic flights for tourists. The second pilot has just disappeared and her employer has hired Kane McClaren although there’s been a bit of miscommunication. Kane is happy to work as an engineer, seeing to the helicopters and making sure they’re in pristine condition but he no longer flies – at all. Ellie will have to take all the flights, something that doesn’t particularly endear Kane to her at the beginning.

Whilst on a flight, Ellie notices something very odd going on at the farm her parents once owned. Now owned by a local politician, Ellie knows what she sees – and not only is it illegal, it will have devastating affects on the local environment. She’s determined to find out what is going on there and why no one knows about it, which sends her into a very dangerous situation that could cost her and others their lives.

Ellie is so awesome. A feisty, confident woman with a really interesting job that she absolutely loves. It’s clear that she has lingering feelings related to her old farm. It was a place of hope and failure, love and terrible loss. What’s going on there now she knows is very wrong, despite some false assurances from the current owner. She isn’t the sort to just sit by and see what happens either, she investigates and noses around a little, questioning people and trying to get to the bottom of it, despite a few subtle warnings.

Kane is new to Ellie’s work, good looking but with a shadow hanging over him. Ellie has always maintained a strict platonic relationship with her colleagues but Kane definitely makes her think twice about that rule. I loved Ellie and Kane together. Ellie seemed quite serious but Kane brought out a more fun, light-hearted side in her and in return she gave him a friendship he so desperately needed as well as support through some difficult times. The two of them really complimented each other and fit seamlessly together as a couple with a strong friendship base. Kane wasn’t disrespectful of Ellie’s job, like some men were when they found out they were being flown by a woman and he knew she was a competent pilot and respected her skills. Kane has some issues from his past prior to arriving in the Northern Territory which are detailed in a very believable and raw sort of way. I really felt for him and you could see how hard he was struggling to control it through sheer willpower alone.

The mystery was really good as well – lots of players and the behind the scenes political stuff was quite interesting too. Bribes and pressure to vote a certain way – I’m sure it probably happens in real life too, to some extent. It kept me on the edge of my seat towards the end, there was lots of action and quite a few of the characters were in precarious situations. I’m really glad I was able to read this as it definitely gave me some good background knowledge on the death of the girls’ father and how it had affected them all. This book gives them the kind of closure that they need in regards to what happened, although the trauma of it still hangs over Dru in the third book. I’m really looking forward to the second book and Emma’s story.

8/10

Book #119 of 2017

Kakadu Sunset is book #38 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

Leave a comment »

Review: Diamond Sky by Annie Seaton

Diamond Sky (Porter Sisters #3)
Annie Seaton
Pan Macmillan AUS
2017, 356
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The Kimberley can be a haven for those who can stand the heat, but its isolated beauty can also be deadly, if you’re not paying attention…

The remote Matsu diamond mine in the Kimberley is the perfect place for engineer Dru Porter to hide. Her insignificance in that vast and rugged landscape helps her feel invisible. And safe. Surely the terror she left behind in Dubai will never find her here.

Security specialist Connor Kirk knows from experience that beautiful women are capable of treachery. When he arrives at Matsu to investigate a diamond theft, he immediately suspects the reclusive but obviously capable Dru Porter. He knows she’s hiding something.

As Connor’s investigation deepens and Dru’s past catches up with her, their instant, mutual dislike threatens to blind them to the true danger lurking in the mine, one which could leave them both at the mercy of the desert…

This is the third in Annie Season’s trilogy of books about the Porter sisters, each set in a quite a glamorous but remote Australian location. This is actually the first I’ve read – I didn’t realise it was linked to other books until I received it and I think it reads well enough alone although there were a few things about the girls’ father that I was curious about that may have been addressed in the previous two books.

Dru Porter works as an environmental engineer at a large diamond mine in remote Northern Territory not far from Lake Argyle. The area is famed for its coloured diamonds, most noticeably pink but also violet, which Dru’s mine produces. Unbeknownst to almost everyone working at the mine, several diamonds were smuggled out and so the company has hired security expert Connor Kirk to go undercover at the mine and find the weaknesses in their security and also, get the evidence required to prosecute the thief and prevent it from ever happening again.

So I really enjoyed the story in this book and I really liked Dru herself but oh wow did I dislike Connor and his attitude. Honestly, the last thing you want is a security expert who cannot be impartial and who comes into a job with hang ups from his past. Connor was once betrayed by a woman and now he knows that women are not to be trusted….. Especially beautiful ones. And beautiful confident ones? They’re obviously hiding something. Probably the fact that they’re a huge diamond thief. At least, this is the way that Connor feels. His internal dialogue about Dru is really unflattering. And it clouds his judgement in almost every way and his incompetence honestly nearly has the most horrid of repercussions for Dru. He doesn’t dig deep enough or conduct a professional/impartial enough investigation – Dru is highlighted by the company as a possible suspect for a location reason before he arrives and it takes Connor no time at all to decide she must be guilty because of stupid reasons, his prejudice and some really half baked circumstantial evidence that he doesn’t actually take the time to follow through on. Some of his methods are also very invasive of someone’s privacy and I thought Dru was entitled to be a lot more angry than she was about his actions.

Connor aside, the book is really enjoyable. Loved a bit of a peek into what it’s like to live/work on a remote mine. Dru works two weeks on followed by two weeks off in a FIFO (fly in fly out) situation and most of the others are similar. The shifts on site are long, it’s a ‘dry’ site (no alcohol, although this is often broken) and the oppressive heat is a burden. I liked Dru’s backstory as well, the real reason she left Dubai as well as the events in her childhood that had shaped her to be the way that she was. I resented a lot of the attitudes toward her though – the whole Ice Queen thing, uptight bitch could do with being taken down a peg or two, doesn’t like men because she hasn’t slept with anyone on site….etc. There’s a bit of a list. I suppose perhaps it’s what you could expect on a mine that’s predominantly staffed by men but it doesn’t make it okay. The conflict between the mine and the local Indigenous population was a good element to the story too, one that I was quite happy to see addressed in significant detail. Part of Dru’s job is liaising with the local Aboriginal community in order to do the best she can at returning the site to how it was before the mine and her connection with Rocky, an Indigenous man who has worked at the mine for many years, was really nice.

Overall I really did enjoy this story and I’d like to read the other two books that came before this one about Dru’s sisters. It’s just a shame that I didn’t really like Connor as a character and never felt felt as though he was redeemed for me, even when he discovered just how colossally he’d gotten things wrong.

7/10

Book #111 of 2017

Diamond Sky is book #36 for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Leave a comment »

Review: Amber And Alice by Janette Paul

Amber And Alice
Janette Paul
Bantam (Penguin Random House AUS)
2017, 389p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Take a hilarious road trip into the Australian outback in this witty romantic comedy, with an enticing family mystery thrown in!

When Amber Jones wakes up in her sister Sage’s speeding car, with no idea how she got there (though the hangover is a clue), all she wants to do is go home. But Sage is convinced a road trip to Alice Springs will finally answer the burning question: who is Amber’s father? Because nine months before Amber’s birth, her late mother Goldie made the same trip . . .

Armed with just a name and Goldie’s diaries, Amber agrees to search for a man she’s never met in one of the world’s biggest deserts.

And that means spending two weeks in a convoy of four-wheel-driving tourists and camping in freezing desert nights. To make matters worse, her fellow travellers hate her and the handsome tour leader Tom thinks she’s an alcoholic.

But slowly the desert starts to reveal its secrets – and Amber must decide which horizon to follow…

I love road trip books – they’re an autobuy for me so when I read the blurb of this one I knew I had to get it. The thought of doing this sort of trip really intrigues me and it’s definitely something I wouldn’t mind doing in the future. But Amber, our main character, wakes up with a thumping hangover in a car with her sister, heading to a meeting point for a tour to Alice Springs. Despite declaring last night (under the influence) that she was up for it Amber is horrified and wants to leave immediately and make her way back to Sydney. Her sister Sage won’t hear of it though, begging Amber to stay on the tour, dangling a choice piece of information in front of her that this trip might lead to answers about her father, a man Amber has never met and has no information on other than his name.

Amber rather spectacularly lost her job after a drunken rant at an event the previous night so really she has no commitments. A childhood spent mostly on the road with her nomadic mother though has made Amber somewhat of a driven workaholic where she had goals and worked towards them. Her career is important to her and until her meltdown, which has gone “viral”, she’d been very successful in her chosen field. She wants to be looking for another job, not gallivanting around the country with her hippy sister….but the carrot of finding out more about her father is too hard to ignore.

Amber gets off on the wrong foot with pretty much everyone on the tour – she makes a less than ideal first impression and is bad tempered, her reluctance to be involved obvious. Even when she tries to do the right thing it doesn’t really work out, whereas Sage seems to slip in effortlessly. The good looking tour leader Tom also seems to think she’s an alcoholic, based off what he’s seen so far and the two are always struggling to keep up, often making the rest of the group late setting off.

I really enjoyed a lot of the aspects of this novel – I loved Amber, flaws and all. I sympathised with her, because although some people would thrive on that sort of upbringing, it wouldn’t be for me and I understood how she’d become because of it. Her mother was a frustrating figure and Sage was definitely more like her than Amber. Amber had always felt the odd one out in her family, Sage was a copy physically of their mother as well whereas Amber didn’t look anything like anyone in her mother’s side of the family and her mother always refused any information on her father which led to her feeling isolated. It’s why the thought of being able to find anything on him at all from this trip to Alice Springs, is so attractive, so much so that she agrees to stay with the tour (after several false starts).

I do have the say that the character of Sage drove me nuts….from pretty much the first page but what she does at a point on the tour to Amber infuriated me. So much so that I had to put the book down for a while because it made me want to throw it. It felt quite contrived unfortunately, I could see it coming from the time they arrived in Coober Pedy. It just felt like the flakiest, most stereotypical thing a character like Sage could do in order to frustrate Amber and also throw her together with Tom in a more intimate manner. And yet there’s very little payoff because the romance in this book is very low key and doesn’t really kick off until the book is almost over – I’d have liked a bit more to be honest. There are some nice interactions between Tom and Amber but it does feel like it takes a bit of time to get where it’s going.

Overall though I did really enjoy this – loved the setting, travelling west through New South Wales to South Australia and then up into the Northern Territory.  I enjoyed the different characters taking part on the tour and the little quirks and quibbles that came up from spending so much time together in such a way. As I mentioned I really liked Amber as well and hoped that she got the information that she was after. Only Sage annoyed me and I would’ve liked a bit more in the romance stakes but those are quite small quibbles really. This book had humour and charm – Janette Paul is better known as Jaye Ford, writer of crime suspense/thrillers but she could definitely carve out a nice rural niche for herself too, if she chose to.

7/10

Book #107 of 2017

Amber And Alice is book #35 of the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge

 

Leave a comment »

Review: Lake Hill by Margareta Osborn

Lake Hill
Margareta Osborn
Bantam
2017, 320p
Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House Australia

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

All her life Julia Gunn has been weighed down – first by a controlling father, then by a staid older husband, and always by a long-buried secret from her teenage years.

Now she’s going to do something for herself.

Except en route to a new life on the coast at Lakes Entrance she finds herself – courtesy of a rockslide – stuck in the remote mountain town of Lake Grace.

Yet maybe fate is on her side. Because Lake Grace is home to Rick Halloran – ex-rodeo king, sculptor and grazier – and the man with whom she enjoyed a brief, unforgettable romance twenty years ago.

Not only that, but Julia has dreamed of running her own cafe, and she’s just spotted a For Sale sign outside the prettiest little tea-room by the lake . . .

Julia is finally on the verge of the life she’s always wanted.

Then her long-buried secret knocks at the door . . .

In Margareta Osborn’s 5th full length novel we head to the beautiful Gippsland area in eastern Victoria where Julia Gunn is on her way to a new life. Having been widowed young, only in her thirties, she’s resigned from her job and has decided to move to Lakes Entrance and buy a cafe/tearoom. Only fate intervenes and she finds herself stranded in the mountain town of Lake Grace – not quite where she wanted to be, but lovely nonetheless. Especially when she spots something for sale that will work perfectly with her dream.

Lake Grace is also the home of Rick Holloran, Julia’s first….well, everything. Many years ago they shared a brief romance as teenagers before Julia’s strict pastor father whisked the family away to another town. Julia has never forgotten Rick, nor what eventuated from that romance. When they cross paths again, a lot of the chemistry they experienced as teenagers is still there.

I’ve always wanted to go visit that part of Victoria – I’ve never been. The coastline is stunningly beautiful and there’s some lovely high country too. Julia has left Melbourne behind after the death of her much older husband and is determined to finally be able to live her own life. Having been dominated by first her controlling and abusive father and then to a much lesser extent, her husband, who always had certain expectations, she no longer feels that pressure and can finally just be herself. Live her own life.

Julia has definitely been through some difficult times and now, even some twenty years later, they still weigh quite heavily on her. A fresh start won’t banish those thoughts but I think that for Julia it’s the first step in perhaps moving forward. Fate lands her in Lake Grace and she is regarded with suspicion for being a journalist at first – Lake Grace is highly protective of some of its residents for reasons that are probably very genuine and admirable but at the same time, Rick Halloran in particular is well, a bit of a jerk to her. He doesn’t recognise her immediately, although he’s aware that she’s familiar and he’s too caught up in assuming that she’s a journalist come to harass him.

Those with the Halloran seal of approval are welcomed with open arms though and the community rallies behind Julia after that first awkwardness to help her once she buys the tearoom with the intent to reopen it. Julia makes a friend in Rick’s much younger sister as well as the locals who run the pub and work for Rick in various capacities. As well as this, there’s the budding friendship with Rick himself, which definitely has potential. Julia has something that she knows she needs to confide in him, but she fears his reaction.

There are a couple of good twists in this book and a little bit of mystery running through the story too which was good. It creates good conflict for Julia and Rick as they are attempting to establish their relationship. Certain things in his past have made Rick….well, a bit of a control freak to be honest. He’s quite bossy and he likes basically having what he says goes. Both his sister and Julia are grown ups and don’t need to be told what to do and I thought it was good that they called him out on it. Rick definitely needed to learn to ‘let go’ and step back a bit!

I really enjoyed this story, particularly the way that all of the characters came to life and played an important role. I do have to admit that in the scene where they were all introduced in the local pub, I found it a tad overwhelming – but as Julia got to know them all properly, I did too. I really liked the character of Ernie, the town’s retired doctor who offers to help Julia out in the kitchen, hiding a talent for some baking. Many of the characters had sadness or secrets or something that just added to the whole picture of the town that Osborn had created here. I also liked the way that Julia really found something of herself in Lake Grace, a place to settle and call home and an occupation that made her happy. There was romance but it was never really the strongest feature of the novel – it was about Julia and her journey, coming to terms with what had happened in her past, trying to make her peace with it and move on to a stronger future. There were people she’d met along the way that were clearly going to be a part of that future but her individual journey was for me, the strongest part of the book and this was well represented.

8/10

Book #98 of 2017

 

Leave a comment »

Blog Tour Review: Girl In Between by Anna Daniels

Girl In Between
Anna Daniels
Allen & Unwin
2017, 311p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Lucy Crighton has just moved in with some gregarious housemates called Brian and Denise . . . who are her parents. She’s also the proud mother of Glenda, her beloved 10-year-old . . . kelpie. And she has absolutely no interest in the dashing son of her parents’ new next-door neighbour . . . well, maybe just a little.

When you’re the girl in between relationships, careers and cities, you sometimes have to face some uncomfortable truths . . . like your Mum’s obsession with Cher, your father’s unsolicited advice, and the fact there’s probably more cash on the floor of your parents’ car than in your own bank account.

Thank goodness Lucy’s crazy but wonderful best friend, Rosie, is around to cushion reality, with wild nights at the local Whipcrack hotel, escapades in Japanese mud baths, and double dating under the Christmas lights in London.

But will Lucy work out what she really wants to do in life and who she wants to share it with?

Girl in Between is a warm, upbeat and often hilarious story about life at the crossroads. Featuring an endearing and irrepressible cast of characters, it will have you chuckling from start to finish.

This debut from Anna Daniels takes the reader firstly to the Queensland town of Rockhampton where 32 year old Lucy Crighton has moved back in with her parents after a failed relationship. She’s broke and has decided that her future lies in writing the next great Australian novel so she’s taking some time to complete her first draft.

I’m a couple of years older than Lucy, not really enough to make a difference, so we’re kind of the same age but to be honest, it didn’t feel that way. It felt like Lucy read quite a bit younger than 32 – she seems directionless, like someone who had just graduated from university at 22 or so and didn’t know what to do next. Bumming around in her parent’s house, having to scrounge around in their loose change for enough money to go out and buy herself a coffee was sort of more sad than funny. I know that sometimes circumstances force people to go back rather than forward but for a large portion of the story Lucy seems content to just….drift like this. She doesn’t really look for work all that actively, she doesn’t look to move out or regain some independence. She is gifted a trip overseas and then goes to London because her best friend does. For a girl in between everything she sort of gets a lot of things.

There’s a romance running through this, it’s by far not a dominant part of the story and the good part is it doesn’t really define Lucy, nor does she sacrifice anything for it the way that she did in the past, giving up her job in television to follow her boyfriend only for him to break up with her. However I didn’t love the character of Oscar. At first he seems great but then something is revealed about him that changed my opinion of him. He drifts in and out of Lucy’s life as he visits his mother next door and then turns up when Lucy is living in London, seemingly finally getting her life together. It seemed like quite a selfish thing to do to be honest and didn’t endear him to me at all.

I did really enjoy quite a few of the supporting characters, especially Lucy’s parents who are believably quirky and quintessentially laid-back country Australian. A lot of the references and interactions in the parts set in Rockhampton are very Aussie – playing the drinking games with the clothesline, the references between QLD and NSW State of Origin rivalry. They’re the type of thing that almost every Australian is going to be familiar with and there’s a sort of comfort in that, seeing your own experiences recognised and realised on paper. To be honest, I didn’t dislike Lucy…..I found her frustrating at times but she was also quite endearing at times too. I couldn’t help but cheer for her in a way, I wanted her to find her true passion, to get herself back together because it just seemed like the more time she spent drifting, the more unraveled she became. Moving to London and working in a bookshop actually gave her a lot of grounding and it seemed like she was the most settled there. She found a tribe, fellow employees at the bookstore, one of the flatmates in her share house. I liked the time in London, it was probably my favourite part of the book.

I was in two minds about this book for nearly the whole time I was reading it. As I mentioned, I liked Lucy at times but she frustrated me as well and some of the humour wasn’t really my humour. I didn’t do any laughing out loud although the were a few amusing moments littered throughout. The idea of finding yourself is probably one that a lot of people can relate to but there were times when I thought Lucy was more waiting for things to find her, rather than attempting to find what she wanted for herself in a proactive manner. There were some good friendships and an interesting rivalry between Lucy’s mother and another woman in Rockhampton as well, which was something a bit different. But some of the core stuff didn’t really work for me and I was quite put off by some aspects of the romance.

Somewhere on the fence on this one! Didn’t love it but I didn’t dislike it either. I’d recommend it to Aussies who enjoy a bit of cultural humour.

6/10

Book #86 of 2017

Girl In Between is book #30 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017

This review is part of the Girl In Between blog tour. Make sure you check out the other stops on their relevant days!

Girl In Between is published by Allen & Unwin and available now, RRP $29.99

Follow author Anna Daniels on social media:

 

1 Comment »

Review: The Secret Science Of Magic by Melissa Keil

The Secret Science Of Magic
Melissa Keil
Hardie Grant Egmont
2017, 314p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A captivating novel about two extraordinary teens, and the unsolvable problem of life after high school.

Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?

In life and love, timing is everything.

This is Aussie author Melissa Keil’s third novel and I’ve read both her previous and enjoyed them so buying this one was a no-brainer. I was really intrigued by the premise.

Sophia is an incredibly intelligent year 12 student but she struggles with interactions and social situations. She only really has one friend and there are a lot of things that seem to trigger anxiety. Sophia is at the age where high school is almost over and it’s time to make decisions about the future – what university to apply to, what course to do. Her friend intends to study overseas and seems to want to make sure that Sophia is going to be okay when she’s not around. But Sophia is fixated on Russian mathematician Gregori Perelman who declined to accept a famous award and is now a recluse. She seems to view him as a potential caution for child prodigies in a way, perhaps fearing that she may one day face the same fate if she doesn’t understand why he chose to turn his back on prizes and mathematics and drop off the face of the planet.

Joshua isn’t a genius and he’s interested more in history and magic than science and maths. But for years he’s had a crush on Sophia and admired her from afar. Timing is everything and Joshua has decided that now is the right moment. He’s going to show his hand, so to speak. But that’s going to be hard to do when you haven’t even really interacted.

On the surface, this book is very cute but there’s an awful lot of deep and clever stuff going on below that surface. Sophia is really very interesting – she’s incredibly smart, very advanced and can do things effortlessly that other students cripple themselves studying over. However, in order to push her out of her comfort zone slightly, she found herself talked into taking drama in order to perhaps get her to express herself or tap into some hidden feelings or emotions. She’s often accused of being quite emotionless, almost robotic and even her own brother says it’s weird she never cries. She struggles to even connect with and confide in her best friend and doesn’t even seem to notice that her best friend has some concerns and issues that she’d like to talk about. It’s not deliberate though and she spends a large amount of time trying to figure out her brother’s thoughts and perhaps discover the reason he seems to resent her so much and she’s very upset when she realises that she’s been hurting her best friend’s feelings. But there is no denying that Sophia doesn’t process things in quite the same way as others and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will connect with that, as well as with the demanding pressures of school, either by oneself or family.

I really liked the character of Joshua, for many reasons. I found the interest in magic a bit dorky, but an endearing sort of dorky and I loved the fact that although Joshua seemed perhaps a loner at school without any friends, away from school he had quite a developed social life and friendship circle. It’s a good way to stress that high school isn’t everything and that you don’t need to be popular there in order to be happy. Plenty of people find their tribe outside of the people they know merely through the circumstances of going to the same school and Joshua never seemed to particularly care about the fact that he didn’t have friends at school. He actually seemed quite comfortable in his own skin. He does face pressure from his father to choose a university course and there’s no doubt that he feels this but he doesn’t really seem to let it bother him too much. I liked his relationship with his sister as well and I thought that the little tricks and things he did in order to catch Sophia’s attention were quite cute. Although a lot of his crush was based before they had any real interaction, it deepened after he spent time with her and got to know her properly, quirks and all. In fact Joshua liked Sophia because of the way she was, her essential personality which was off putting to some people, was really engaging and appealing to him. He didn’t care about her blunt way of speaking, abruptness and sometimes awkwardness and he really admired her intelligence. And realising that she cared about Joshua didn’t change Sophia but she did grow throughout the book. She learned that she can fail and the world keeps turning.

I really enjoyed this and fans of Melissa Keil’s first novel will enjoy a little cameo appearance in this one. I know I did!

8/10

Book #88 of 2017

The Secret Science Of Magic is book #32 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

Leave a comment »

Review: The Beast Of Hushing Wood by Gabrielle Wang

The Beast Of Hushing Wood
Gabrielle Wang
Puffin Books
2017, 180p
Copy courtesy Penguin Random House AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

By the award-winning author of The Wishbird. A powerful magic realism story about Ziggy Truegood, a young girl who has a premonition that she will drown on her 12th birthday.

Ziggy Truegood lives in a tiny town deep in Hushing Wood, where strange things are happening. The townspeople are fighting, Ziggy feels like something is hunting her, and her beloved woods have become dark and hostile. When exotic Raffi and his grandfather arrive in town, Ziggy finds herself strangely drawn to them. But are they there to save Ziggy, or are they the hunters?

Thought-provoking and engaging, The Beast of Hushing Wood is a lovely blend of action, fable and magic realism.

I’ve been reading a bit more middle grade fiction of late as that’s the stage my oldest son is about to head into and I’m curious to see some of what’s around for this demographic that isn’t about bums. It’s a bit of a tricky age, especially as my son is an advanced reader but perhaps slightly immature. “Baby books” bore him but he struggles to find middle grade books that hold his interest so I’m always keen to try and find something that might interest him. Although I quite enjoyed this, I’m not sure he would to be honest. I get the feeling he’s too literal to embrace the whimsical side of this book!

Ziggy lives with her mother in a small town that borders a wood. The town is quite insular, suspicious of outsiders. Ziggy’s father was an outsider who ended up leaving and Ziggy’s two brothers went with him. Ziggy misses them all terribly and she hopes to visit them someday but her mother’s fear of leaving the town at the moment makes that impossible. Ziggy spends a lot of time in the woods near her house and doesn’t fear them as many others do. She also spends time with grandfather, a wise man who is now in a home because his mind is slipping.

Ziggy has begun having the same dream every night, that she will drown on her twelfth birthday which is in in the coming weeks. She has confided this to her two closest friends but not to anyone else and seems to be mostly struggling to deal with this on her own. At around the same time we meet Ziggy, a new student named Raffi comes to the school and Ziggy is immediately suspicious that he might have something to do with her dream.

Ziggy is a fun character, she’s brave and funny but with vulnerability to her too. I liked her affinity with the forest and her lack of pretense. She dresses differently to the other girls at school and acts differently but she stays true to herself. There are a lot of themes in this book that revolve around that sort of thing – being different, bullying and ostracisation at school, small town small mindedness, that sort of thing and I think that a lot of children within the 10-13 year age range would find things to identify with.

I enjoy magical realism so I liked the way that was woven into the story and there were some really interesting things happening but the build up felt better than the pay off, like it all rushed toward a conclusion in a way and the the conclusion took up a very small amount of page space. I have never read Gabrielle Wang before and the world of middle grade fiction is new to me. I didn’t even really read it when I was at the age it’s aimed at – I was always aiming to read higher. I feel like I need to learn more about it and books like this are a really good place to start. I’d love to read some more from this author, particularly The Wishbird.

I found this book quite a nice story, tackling some pertinent themes but there were times when I definitely wanted a little more from it – a fleshing out of characters, some supporting information or even just another conversation. The illustrations are cute, simple and yet somehow detailed as well and would probably serve to break up the text for struggling readers and give them a visual.

6/10

Book #83 of 2017

The Beast Of Hushing Wood is book #28 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

 

1 Comment »

Review: The Scent Of You by Maggie Alderson

The Scent Of You
Maggie Alderson
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 499p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Perfume blogger Polly is in crisis. Will her husband’s absence break her … or make her? A novel of perfumes, exploring life, love, loss and forgiveness – Maggie Alderson’s new bestseller.

Are you still married if you haven’t seen your husband for months?

Polly’s life is great. Her children are away at uni, her glamorous mother – still modelling at eighty-five – is happily settled in a retirement village, and her perfume blog is taking off. Then her husband announces he needs some space and promptly vanishes.

As Polly grapples with her bewildering situation, she clings to a few new friends to keep her going – Shirlee, the loudmouthed yoga student; Guy, the mysterious, infuriating and hugely talented perfumer; and Edward, an old flame from university.

And while she distracts herself with the heady world of luxury perfume, Polly knows she can’t keep reality at bay forever. Eventually she is forced to confront some difficult truths: about her husband, herself and who she really wants to be.

I’ve never read Maggie Alderson before but this book caught my attention immediately when it arrived because I love perfume. I’m not in any way knowledgeable like Polly, the main character is. She runs a perfume blog and gets invited to a lot of exciting events and launches for fragrances and is really quite well known. Her mother was a very famous model decades ago, for houses like Dior and has always had a very large perfume collection but favoured some signature scents. Polly always associated several scents with her mother – her going to a party perfume for example and she’s taken this into her everyday life. She seemed to have a very developed sense of smell, picking out a seven or so ingredient elements in a perfume very easily. I found this really interesting, so I googled the perfume I’m wearing today. According to the website, it has topnotes of pomegranate, coconut water and boysenberry, heart notes (I don’t even know what that is) of butterfly orchid, honeysuckle and blooming magnolia and base notes of blonde woods, skin musks (that sounds kind of gross to be honest) and gilded amber. And if I’m completely and utterly honest the only things I really pick up are the coconut and orchid. Maybe a touch of the boysenberry, now that I know what it is. I love perfumes though, I’ve got about a half dozen which is nothing compared to someone like Polly but I found that I really do have a bit of a “pattern” for how I choose to wear them. I have my at home perfume, which is one I just spritz on when I’m not going anywhere, maybe just the school run. I have my perfume that I wear when I’m going out but not really anywhere special, just to the shops or maybe out to brunch. I have my expensive perfume which I wear occasionally when I’m going somewhere nice, my “night” perfume which I wear out to dinner and my summer perfume which I wear only really during the warm months. Then I’ve got my “something different” perfume for when I’m bored of all of those and feel like something new. My perfumes aren’t really expensive and I don’t have  a “signature”. I buy whatever intrigues me at the time but I get the association of scents with people. My mother wears Opium and I can’t smell it without being transported back to my childhood.

So obviously this book has a lot about perfume in it as running the blog, going to events etc is part of Polly’s job and she identifies so strongly with scents that it makes up a large part of her life. But it’s not all there is to it – Polly’s personal life is in a bit of a crisis. A few days before Christmas, her husband David disappeared, leaving only a note telling her that he needed time alone and not to contact anyone or basically talk about it. Having been married for 24 years with two grown up children both at university, Polly is feeling the sting of the empty nest and David’s disappearance has only amplified that. As well as running the blog, Polly also teaches yoga each morning at her home and the loneliness she’s feeling leads to her forming friendships with several of the women who frequent her class. Through visiting her mother in a very posh retirement village (but not as we would know it) Polly has also reconnected with a former college friend, and these things all provide a distraction for her, a way to ignore the fact that her husband has vanished without warning and she doesn’t know where he is.

I found myself getting really invested in the mystery of “where is David and what is going on?” as the book progressed. At first it seems like it might be the stereotypical mid-life crisis, leaving the wife and family and taking off for a life of no responsibility or perhaps on a long work trip where he probably could be in contact but didn’t want to. But the more that you read into the story, the more that it becomes something else and when it all unfolded it was definitely something that I didn’t at all suspect and I definitely appreciated the fact that it was something unexpected and really different to anything else I’ve read where a character finds themselves in a situation similar to Polly’s. I also really liked her relationship with her children – she was very close to them and loved them very much but it felt like a realistic exasperation at times as well as pain when she finds that one of her children has been placed in a difficult position by her husband David. I felt as though Polly’s reaction to that felt very raw and real but also liked that once she had calmed down and thought on it, she didn’t hold a grudge and she was able to be a support for her children as well as they were to her, through David’s disappearance. Their family unit felt really tight but also genuine.

Some of the supporting characters were a bit too quirky – mostly the perfumer Guy, who might be brilliant but seemed to be unable to distinguish social cues and interactions and to be honest, some of his behaviour was a bit creepy and I felt like I couldn’t discern whether or not he’d end up a lifelong friend or someone that Polly ended up taking a restraining order out on. But I also felt like Polly enabled some of his outrageous behaviour as well, or wasn’t firm enough with him when he crossed boundaries and was generally acting in ways that could be seen as inappropriate. I noticed that Polly really was quite non-confrontational across the board. She preferred to retreat and calm down before facing people again, rather than just tell them that what they were doing was upsetting her etc. I could relate to that, it’s the way I tend to be too because I’d rather just avoid having to talk to people when they’re doing something that makes me angry or upset or uncomfortable.

I really enjoyed this book – loved learning more about perfumes and what goes into making them and the way in which different perfumes are included in families. It was also really fun to read about a blogger who had turned a passion into something much more and I’ve never read about perfume before. I spent about an hour after I finished the book googling the perfumes I have and learning what was in them and I’m pretty sure I’ll be googling perfumes I want to buy, seeing if they have anything in common with the ones I already own and like.

Definitely going to be looking for more Maggie Alderson books to read in the future. Not only did she take something that’s a part of my everyday life that I never thought about before and made me think about it and also enjoy thinking about it, but I also really liked the way she wrote relationships and friendships of all varieties.

8/10

Book #84 of 2017

 

The Scent Of You is book #29 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

 

Leave a comment »